The Lost Art of Listening

11049228_sI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is an epidemic of people not listening. You only need look next to you or across the room to find an example of this. People ignore each other, people put words in the mouths of others, and people just aren’t reliable listeners.

Writers cannot be unreliable listeners. It’s just not an option, folks. Not if you want to be a good writer anyway. Here’s why….

In order to tell a good story, you need to be able to recognize a good story (and why it’s good). Quality stories come in a variety of forms like books and movies. The best stories often come from the people around you. Unbelievable and astounding things happen frequently and we need to catch those gems. I don’t mean you should go and copy the stories you hear. I do mean you should practice the art of listening and see where it takes you.

For me, tidbits of stories that people tell me inspire other ideas and they grow from there. For example, in my third book, I knew the general plot before I wrote it, but a story that a pastor told me about her experiences tending people on their deathbed changed my story. It added an element that was not like anything the pastor told me, but was inspired by it. The novel grew much stronger because of it.

Other times when we listen, we can discover character traits that we might not have thought to use. (This requires observation and listening.) Maybe the way the story teller describes the story is memorable because of the way they move their hands, change their voice, or do neither and tell it straight faced and expressionless. Or maybe the way they describe other people offers inspiration. Any of these possibilities could be a learning opportunity if you’re open to it. After all, writing comes from our creativity, but creativity does not spring from a vacuum. It comes from living and observing life.

Understanding the art of listening is imperative within our stories. Our characters will be more believable if they cover the gamut of real listeners in the world. If conversation carries on with everyone always understanding the full meaning of each speaker, you’ve created a fictional situation that may not be believable. Why? Because the world is full of bad listeners and some of your characters should be bad listeners too.

So, take your listening skills to the next level. Sit back and listen to people, ask them questions, and go talk to people you don’t usually talk to. You will learn something, you may change, and you will certainly become a better writer. Then, throw some bad listeners in your stories (some good ones would be nice too) and let the fun begin.

Happy Writing,
Madelyn March

Now, I See

18786916 - pencil drawn anatomy of a human eye

My second novel is almost done! I can see the finish line. The manuscript if off to the editor in a few weeks and I’m talking cover design with my designer. I can’t believe it!!!

If this is the finish line, the whole process has been a marathon. I had the idea for this book many years ago. I wrote it two years ago, then changed the whole thing to first-person present tense, and then let it simmer for awhile before final revisions. Now here we are…nearing the finish line.

I have a working blurb (emphasis on the word working) and I’d like to share it. Feel free to let me know what you think.  Happy Writing!  –Madelyn

What if circumstances beyond your control made you question everything you believed about yourself and your life? This is what happens to Amy Clark. Her structured ways and reclusive tendencies offer her no protection against the changes to come. 

Amy’s life begins to unravel after a fateful phone call.  Her estranged father is dying. She returns to her childhood home in Northern Michigan to find that she can no longer control her life. Voices and hallucinations come uninvited and she is powerless to stop them. Even more terrifying, she experiences shocking visions about the lives of strangers that she encounters.

These glimpses into other people’s lives convince Amy that her sanity is slipping away.  She struggles to understand if there is any meaning in her visions before it’s too late. She questions her choices and her path. Did she make a mistake creating a purposefully isolated life? Does she have the courage, or time, to change?

How Misdirection Makes Your Novel Interesting

38689511 - hand drawing arrow sign in opposite direction from others

I never know where I’m going and neither should your reader!  Okay, never is an exaggeration, but I have what I like to call directional dyslexia. I know they haven’t created this term yet (that I know of) and I’m not belittling dyslexic people (many of my students are dyslexic) but I literally get directions turned around in my head. If I make five turns, then reverse order, I often want to go the opposite way! I don’t know why! If I think it through, I can get it, but it is tough for me!

Why am I sharing this embarrassing detail? Well, I feel like books need to do this to us on occasion. I don’t mean never let your reader know where your story is going, but certainly don’t give them a perfect map with precise directions. Give them MIS-direction.

I have to be honest here, if I read a book and I know within the first few chapters where the story is going, I feel cheated! Why should I give up my precious time to something so predictable? I’ve read lots of books, watched my share of movies, I have an idea how these things work. It doesn’t mean that I need the tables turned 100% every time, but give me something interesting. Don’t just replicate a story that’s already been told! UGH!

How do we do that? There are lots of strategies to achieve this. The one we’re focused on today is misdirection. Misdirection means exactly what you’d think…point your reader in one direction while going the other. This can be subtle or a big part of the story. Use your judgement for what is best for your book.

There are many ways to accomplish this. The options are limitless. Want grand examples? Think of Snape in Harry Potter. What did you think of him in the first few books as opposed to the end? Remember the movie Sixth Sense? The whole movie rests upon masterful misdirection. I’ve added some links below if you want to further explore this technique.

Just make them wonder. Respect your audience. They don’t want to be spoon fed a story. They want to be enthralled with one. Misdirection is one of the things we can do to help accomplish this.

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-create-tension-through-misdirection

https://www.writing.ie/resources/the-unreliable-narrator-the-art-of-misdirection/

https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/articles/the-art-of-misdirection

Happy Writing,

Madelyn

 

Something to Muse about…

img_9694-edit
The Muse Crew

Do you like books? Do you write books? Are you a person, with a pulse? Well, you’ve got to check out my newest project.  The Muse Crew 

These ladies and I have shared so much through the years…thought provoking discussions, tear-inducing laughter, and the tremendous growth of our writing skills (which both tears at the ego and then rebuilds it).

Now, we’re ready to share the wonders of our group with the WORLD! Yes, I’m thinking big here…world! So, if you like to read books, then take a look, because we’re working to find the best of the bestbooks. Writers, we’ve got your back because we’re willing to review your high quality books.

Please, come and join us, you’re sure to find something to make the visit worth your time at The Muse Crew.

Happy Reading,

Madelyn March

 

Unbound

 

I am bound by my maladies–

fears, pain, insecurity, perception,

they keep me from seeking,

they keep me from being,

all that I could be–

my dreams, possibilities, potential,

left like limping question marks.

They shall claim my life no longer.

Freedom is not free,

but I am ready, willing, able

to stake claim and break these chains,

no longer shall fear shackle and bind me,

it will not control me.

I will chart my route, take the steps,

not without fear, but in the face of it.

 

Madelyn March

 

Inspiration in the Woods

 

This summer I had the privilege of visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For those who haven’t been there, it is a rugged sort of beauty, one in which outdoor lovers are in their element.

Now, I’ve spent lots of time there in the past, but it’s been awhile.  Yet, I’ve been there, in my mind. The Upper Peninsula is almost like a character in my book, The Nature of Denial. It was part of what inspired the story.

I remember working through the entire book in my mind over hiking and camping trips. I snuggled in my sleeping bag, listened to the snores of others, and imagined how the rugged nature of the U.P. could help heal a person so badly in need of healing.

Anna (my main character) is not taken from my life or any  other person’s life, but the scenery is very much what (for the most part) I’ve seen on my own. And it has, in many ways, healed me, again and again.

Visiting some of my old “haunts” was exhilarating for me, like meeting an old, dear friend. I couldn’t help but smile at references in my book that only I would get as I passed an old (not to be named) questionable motel, a dazzling waterfall, or heard the calming whispers of the forest leaves.

So, that was a part of my inspiration for the book. The other parts are too long to get into for this blog (maybe another one?) but they have to do with themes that I seem to revisit in my writing–struggle, hope, friendship, and love.  The world is full of darkness, but there is light around every corner.

Happy Writing,

Madelyn March

 

 

Dreams

“Dreams.  Don’t be afraid of them.  Immerse yourself in yours.  Remember, they exist today, in the here and now, in the what you do in this very moment.  Dream big, break goals down small, and start checking them off the list.  It’s empowering.”

This is part of an email I sent to some of the high school students that I work with.  One of my jobs is to mentor students in an online program.  Many of these teens need to hear that they are capable, that dreams are possible, and other positive affirmations.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s important for all of us to dream, and dream big.

Whatever the goal–being a writer, promoting world peace, making a decent living doing something you love–it is okay, imperative even, that we are dreamers.  Dreamers have created the beautiful parts of humanity and advancements that have altered how we live.  So, go ahead, dream a little, and if you have kids, encourage their dreams too!

29001346 - dream big and stars

United We Write

20353363_s (2)

I am a lucky gal.  I’m part of a writing group that challenges me to be a better writer, tells me when my writing rant has gone horribly wrong, and notices my strengths.  I suspect that I might not have finished three novels without their continued support and I’m certain that my stories wouldn’t be as good without the critiques of my writing sisters.

We didn’t set out to be a women’s writing group.  We’ve had men before, they just didn’t stay.  Could it have been that we have some romance writers?  I mean some of their stuff makes my cheeks glow fire red.  Maybe it was too much for them.

I’m not suggesting that you seek out an all male or all female group (so stop writing the hate mail right now).  I am insisting that you find a writing group that feeds your talent. I’ve said it before, you can’t grow as a writer without input from people reading your stuff. You can’t!!!  Or, if you can, it’s at a snail’s pace.  Trust me.

Anyway, I’m thinking about my sisterhood of writers, otherwise known as the Muse Crew, because we’re going to start a writing and reviewing website/blog.  We’ve been working together for years, expanding our writing skills, critiquing the work of others, and exploring countless nuances of the writing process.  Now, we’re going to invite others to share in our discussions and help other authors (many of them will be self published) by reviewing their work.

Did I say that we’re not any ordinary group of writers?  We all come from vastly different life experiences and writing backgrounds.  That’s part of what makes this group so special. (Am I partial? Yes, but you would be too!).  Our group combines expertise in the areas of writing, editing, psychology, teaching, business, and more.  We have writers in different genres of fiction and non-fiction.  Our varied backgrounds give us unique perspectives to what we read and have enriched the way we approach authorship. We are driven by our shared passion for the well-written page.

You can probably tell that I could go on, and on…. and… well, you get it.  It’s a great group of women and I look forward to expanding our writing journey online.  I’m telling you so that you know and if you have suggestions about what you would like in a website and blog like this, please share them in the comments.

Happy writing!

Madelyn

 

 

Let Go of Fear

5622775_s

If you truly enjoy writing, never give it up. We have this one life, and if writing gives you joy, then keep doing it. I’m not saying give up your day job, live in a box, and write. I am saying—don’t stop. Don’t let that nagging voice in your head defeat you, don’t let that bad review or critique get you down, just keep going. Why?  Because fame is just around the corner and that’s why you should write. Okay, that is total bullshi*, I just wanted to see if you were listening. Writing success may or may not be around the corner, but if you don’t write, you’ll never know.

I don’t think most of us are drawn to the page, compelled to fill it with stories, because we seek riches (although they would be nice). Writing gives us a way to look at the world, make sense of it, and to explore human truths. When we’re tired of the world we live in, we create new ones. Writing is a way to connect to life and imagine the possibilities. Writing is not only an exercise; it’s a way of being.

So, my advice to you on this dreary Michigan day is this: no matter how cheesy it sounds, don’t give up on writing. It has things to teach you if you’re willing to continue with the journey. Who knows where the adventure will take you, but writing will make the journey a more interesting one. And isn’t that worth something?

"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words." -Mark Twain

Who’s Driving This Story?

39437148_s (2)

Yes, I’ve had a bit of a blogging break, but I rarely take a break from thinking about writing.  What’s been on my mind this summer is an issue I’ve had with my second novel.  I’ve been revising it and changing the POV and tense.  I’m changing it from third-person past tense to first-person present tense.

I’m not switching tense and POV for fun because it is TOUGH work!   In fact, I dragged my feet in protest, but the story insisted on being told this way.  I think the present tense and first-person narrative will increase the tension, intensify the action, and give the reader more insight into the character.  My goal is to create a mind-bending novel and I think this approach will help. If it were any other novel, I would likely write it in third-person past tense or at least past tense.  It is tough writing this way.  Did I already say that?

(I would give specifics about why it works for this story, but I hate giving the plot away to books that aren’t out!)

As I researched the advantages and disadvantages of this POV, I found that some people are very offended by this type of writing.  I’ve read horror stories from other writers that people have given them bad reviews for this POV without even reading the book!!!  How do you feel about this POV and tense?

Sometimes stories demand certain things from us.  They may scream it from the mountaintops or whisper it in our dreams.  In this case, my story kept pushing to be told from this particular perspective.  What are some demands your stories have made of you?

If you’re facing this dilemma, here are some resources that will help:

https://preciseedit.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/writing-fiction-in-the-present-tense/

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-tense/

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-tense/

http://booksbywomen.org/writing-advice-past-tense-present-tense/

Another great resource is to read authors who have written good stories from this perspective.

Happy Writing,

Madelyn