Monday, March 1, 2010
WRITING IS FANTASTIC!
Author Melinda Richarz Lyons creatively explains why she thinks writing is
F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C as she shares some of the things she thinks are important when it comes to writing using her latest book—a young readers book entitled Murder at the Oaklands Mansion --as an example.
F—The “F” in fantastic stands for fun! Writing is fun! When you write fiction—just think about it. It is the only time in your life that you can make things up and get away with it. You can make up a story that is not true when you write fiction. Now it is important to remember even if you make a story up you still need to write about what you know. Like the murder in my story is made up, but the facts concerning the Civil War that are in the book are true and the things about Murfreesboro, where the story takes place, are true. Because first of all, I lived in Murfreesboro, and second, I did a lot of research on the Civil War before writing the book. So write about what or where you know and then do research if you need to. Your story can be made up but your background information has to be believable. It is also fun to create characters out of thin air. Like in my book, I needed a bad character and thought, “what do I want him to be like? How do I want him to look?” So I just made up a name and started creating this murderer. I decided to make him older. Then I decided to make him an aging hippie and decided he would have a long gray ponytail and he would drive an old flowered bus. I pictured him as scruffy and it was fun to dress him and put words into his mouth that made him sound mean. So remember, writing is fun because you get to use your imagination.
A—The “A” in fantastic stands for action and activity. Nobody wants to read something boring. Think about the books you like to read. They have action in them, don’t they? And you have to create action and activity. Let me give you an example. In my book, I have the main character, Brooks, witness a murder. Okay—I could have just written something like “Brooks heard a loud noise that sounded like a gunshot. Then somebody fell down.” That tells what happened but it isn’t very exciting. So instead I wrote, “Brooks heard several loud crackles and then he felt something fall against him. It was the man who had been standing right next to him. The man was just lying there on the ground bleeding! Brooks stood there frozen and then he heard someone scream, “Call 911!” Both those passages basically say the same thing, but the second one adds a lot more action and activity. Don’t just tell your reader what is happening. Make your reader hear the gun, see the man fall, and use details. It is a lot more effective to say the man was bleeding. That makes you see the fact that he really is hurt. So make your writing have that A in it for action and activity.
N—The N in fantastic stands for never. You never need anything but your mind and your English skills to write. You can write anywhere anytime and it doesn’t cost anything. You can use a computer or just a pencil and a piece of paper. Writing never has a time limit, either. You can write for fifteen minutes or you can write for five hours. That is one of the things I love about writing. Like with my book, I would think of something I wanted to add to it or change, and I would sit down and write. I never had to write in a certain time period or in a certain place. And you almost never have any limits on your writing. By that I mean you can go wild with your imagination. You can create a character and a situation right out of your head. And think about this--you are almost never too old or too young too write. I was 11-years-old, the first time I got paid for my writing. So remember, the N stands for never.
T—The first T in fantastic stands for teach because writing teaches you so much. You know when I was talking about the fact that you need to try to stick with what you know, even if you write fiction so your background information will be accurate. Like with my book, I started with what I knew—my town of Murfreesboro, TN, and I did know quite a bit about the Civil War. But I wanted to make sure all my facts were correct, so I did a lot of research at the library and on the internet. Doing the research took a lot of time but it was really fun. And just think how much that research taught me. I learned all kinds of things about the Civil War. Also each time you write, it teaches you to be a better writer. Remember when you learned how to swim or skate, or ride a bicycle. At first you weren’t very good. You feel off your bicycle a lot. But then with practice you got better and better. Writing is like that. The more you write, the better you get. So the T stands for teach as writing teaches a lot of different things.
A—The A in fantastic is for accomplishment. When you finish writing something, you feel like you have really accomplished something. Your words are on paper. What was in your head is there for anyone to read. There is no better feeling than when you write something and it touches someone else. Like if you write a poem for your Mom and she reads it and cries. How great is that? Writing is very powerful. You can make people cry or laugh or get angry—just with your words. One time I wrote something and a woman who read it sent me flowers. I felt so very accomplished. Like I had done something important and touched someone with my words. What I wrote meant something to someone else. So the A stands for the accomplishment you feel when you put your words down on paper. It feels like you have done something important and you have!
S—The S in fantastic stands for success. But becoming a successful writing involves a lot. First, writing is very hard work and takes a lot of time. I often say that the word writing may be spelled with one r and no e’s. But actually when you think about it writing has two r’s and by that I mean writing involves rewriting or revision and rejection. You don’t just jot something down and you are done with it. Like with my book, I spent more time on the rewriting and revision than I did actually writing the book. I think many authors spend a lot of time making their writing as good as it can be. Now the other r that is involved in writing is rejection. If you write much at all, at some point you will face rejection. I have enough rejection letters from publishers to paper a room. Honestly! But what you have to do is take rejection as part of writing and try to learn from it. Just like when you teacher corrects something on your paper. Most of the time, if you change it, your paper will be better. And the e’s that are actually part of the word writing go along with this—edit and effort. You have to spend a lot of time on those revisions and rewriting. You have to edit your work and then it will be edited by others, like your publisher. It takes a lot of effort to be a writer. But to be a success at anything in life, you have to work hard. Now if you decide that writing is what you want to do for a living, there are many different ways you can do that. You can write fiction or non fiction books, or be a journalist. You can work for a newspaper, a magazine, or a tv or radio station as a writer. You can also find success writing speeches for a congressman, or writing commercials for an advertising agency. Or you can teach writing! So remember, S is for success and that takes a lot of time, rewriting, revision, rejection, editing and effort.
T—The second t in fantastic stands for tools. This is very important. You have to have the right tools to write! Learning grammar is vital. Proper use of the English language is very necessary for any writer. I know sometimes that seems kind of boring, but if you don’t have the basic tools, your reader might not understand what you are trying to say. Writing is about communication, and without the basics you can’t communicate your thoughts on paper to anyone else. It is just like building a house. You couldn’t just start building a house, without having some education about how to do it. And you would have to have the proper tools to build your house. You couldn’t even put up a wall if you didn’t know how to use a hammer. So you have to learn basic rules about grammar and sentence structure and things like that, to be able to write. And it doesn’t matter if you ever want to make your living as a writer. Everyone needs to know how to write because good communication skills are the key to success in any job or career. No matter what you do, you need to be able to communicate. And that takes education and tools. So remember your T is for tools.
I—Inspiration. I am often asked where I get my inspiration. The answer is simple. All around me! I see someone who looks or acts interesting and I think about how I could use that to build a character. Or I see something happen and it inspires me to write. Sit outside some day and just look around. Do you see an old man walking across the street? What do you think he is like? What if you made up a story about him? What would it be? Imagine a story built around something you see right in front of you. For my book, I got my inspiration from a real situation. My neighbor across the street had a little boy. He and I started doing things together and that is where I came up with the idea for the book. I decided that the little boy could be the main character in Murder at the Oaklands Mansion. Then I made the woman across the street from him his aunt. Then I took some of the things we really did do and put them in the book. For example, we really did go see the ice sculptures at the Opryland Hotel and we really did go to a movie audition. And—we really did go visit the Oaklands Mansion. I started with those things and then I thought, well that wouldn’t be very interesting. What could I have these characters do that would be interesting? Oh—how about getting them involved in a murder? So you can get inspiration from things all around you and again—it sometimes goes back to what you know. Your inspiration is often right in your own backyard. Sometimes writers can get inspiration from an event. Like in the movie “The Perfect Storm” that was about a boat sinking. The storm really did happen and the boat really did sink, but the writer who wrote the book made up the things that happened at the end. He wasn’t on the boat and everyone went down with the ship, so he really had to make up what they said and did right before the boat sank. So he was inspired by a real event. Or sometimes a writer is inspired by something that he feels strongly about or is upset about. Or a writer can even be inspired by another person. That is how biographies get written. So the I in fantastic stands for inspiration.
C—The C in fantastic—our last letter—stands for construction in creation. It is important to have a plan when you write, just like when I was talking about having the proper tools. Think of it like building a house again. You have to have the proper tools and education to build a house, but you also would not start building a house without a plan or a blueprint. Writing is the same. Most writers, including me, start by brainstorming. Before you can create, you have to construct. That is what brainstorming is all about. I sit down and think about what I want to say. What is this book or story about? Where I want to start and how I want to end my story? What kind of characters do I want? How do I want to develop them as I go along? You can always change things when you rewrite. But you have to have a basic plan about what your goals are with each piece of writing. For example, what is your purpose? Like with my book, I first wanted to write a book that kids would enjoy reading. I wanted it to have some funny things in it, some action, some suspense and some mystery. I also wanted it to be informative about the Civil War. I always thought history was boring, because when I was growing up, history in school was just memorizing dates and names. History is much more than that and I wanted to make it exciting to learn about the history of the civil war. So I tried to include as many interesting and sometimes scary or even funny things about the civil war in my book. As I went along, I did change some of my original plans as I was writing the book. But I started with a basic construction plan so that I could create. So C is for construction in creation.
Melinda Richarz Lyons, an amazing author and individual, earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas, and has been a free lance writer for over forty years. Her work has appeared in many publications, including True West, Cats Magazine, Nashville Parent, Frontier Times, Cincinnati Family Magazine, Kids, Etc. and The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a co-author of WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty (Echelon Press). Ms. Lyons’ story “Twice in a Lifetime” was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love (2009). Her current book is Murder at the Oaklands Mansion. For more about the author and her writing: http://www.melindalyons.com/