10 Tips for Effective Writing

10 effective writing tips for for clear, powerful, and effective writing.

In this video, I’m sharing 10 red flags that I look for when revising my writing, a list I’ve built up over the years, distilled from a combination of my own experience and others.

The core is based on a little book I was given when I first went to university several decades ago, and still have in my bookcase: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, a little goldmine for writers first published in 1918, and now in it’s 4th edition (with a 2011 Revised edition by the original authors and William Strunk, Junior).

Feel free to make suggestions for other videos and multimedia online courses you would like to see in future. Reply with your suggestions, or tweet @vanessa_grant

Vanessa

Seeking input: Hero’s Journey – at the heart of storytelling

Hi everyone, please could you help me?I am planning on creating an online course for storytellers on how to incorporate the Hero’s Journey into their creations. Right now I’m in my research phase and I’m looking for input.

If you were to take a course in Hero’s Journey – at the heart of storytelling what questions would you hope it would answer for you?

Image licensed under Creative Commons by Esbjorn Jorsater

Thank you so much for taking a moment to help me with your feedback!”

Vanessa Grant
Coming soon …
Muse PD – Professional Development for Storytellers

Dick Francis, master of mysterious beginnings

First published on PenWarrions.com

I told the boys to stay quiet while I went to fetch my gun. (Twice Shy)

Twice Shy by Dick Francis

When I read those first words of Twice Shy by  Dick Francis, my immediate thought was, “Now there’s a powerful opening hook!”  Then I put the thought aside and kept on reading, because first and foremost I love a good story. Time enough to analyze how Francis hooked me and try (hope) to bring that power to my own writing after I’d read the story. 

So began my study of beginnings. The opening hooks I loved most were the ones that not only promised, but also delivered an amazing read. Many of them were written by Dick Francis.

E. C. Sheedy introduced me to the idea of searching for the power words in writing that impresses me. Gun is definitely a powerful word, associated with violence and death. Paired with boys, which implies youth, it becomes even more dangerous and powerful. The command to stay quiet implies a threat, increasing the dangerous stakes.

In seventeen words, Dick Francis completely hooked me. When the next paragraph reveales that the first person narrator is a Physics teacher in a boys school, using the gun as a prop for a lesson on ballistics, I’m even more intrigued. I know the gun is going to be important – after all, this is a mystery. The narrator will be the detective character, and I’ll be staying up late to read this book.

Dick Francis didn’t disappoint me.

I intensely disliked my father’s fifth wife, but not to the point of murder. (Hot Money )

Hot Money begins with the above statement by jockey Ian Pembroke, whose mother was his father’s second wife. I love the way the author blends powerful words  like intensely, disliked and murder with details that skillfully reveal the murdered wife was preceded by four others, one of whom will be Ian’s mother. I anticipate family discord, and I expect Ian to be the innocent prime suspect.

Hot Money delivers on the promise of its opening sentence with a delightfully complex family arranged in factions around three ex-wives, an intriguing mystery, and the delight of discovering Ian’s complex relationship with the father who, when his own life is threatened, turns for help to his estranged son – the one person everyone else suspects of the murder.

Here are a few more great openings from Dick Francis novels:

Dying slowly of bone cancer, the old man, shrivelled now, sat as ever in his great armchair, tears of lonely pain sliding down crepuscular cheeks. (Wild Horses)

I had told the drivers never on any account to pick up a hitchhiker but of course one day they did, and by the time they reached my house he was dead. (Driving Force)

I don’t think my stepfather much minded dying. That he almost took me with him wasn’t really his fault. (To the Hilt)

StraightAnd then there’s Straight, which I believe is Dick Francis’ most brilliantly crafted novel:

I inherited my brother’s life. Inherited his desk, his business, his gadgets, his enemies, his horses and his mistress. I inherited my brother’s life, and it nearly killed me. ( Straight)

The violence implied by killed is preceded by a tantalizing blend of what seem to be small details (his desk, his gadgets) and the threat implied in inheriting his enemies and his mistress.

What elevates this book beyond the status of a truly great mystery is the way every one of those inherited items became meaningful: not only in solving a murder, but also in painting the evocative portrait of the uncompromisingly Straight man whose death preceded the story’s beginning.

Dick Francis was a master who continues to fascinate me. Every time I re-read one of his novels I hope to soak up some of the magic of his storytelling.

Dick Francis died on February 24, 2010, survived by two sons and a legacy of best-selling mysteries. The fascinating story of his life and its real-life mystery is revealed in family friend Graham Lord’s biography Dick Francis: A Racing Life, which I discovered (and bought) while writing this blog.

The Truth About Trish – free this weekend

the-truth-about-trish600x900My romance novel The Truth About Trish is enjoying a “free” promotion on Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords this weekend.

It seems a suitable time for this particular title to be on free, as I’m giving a workshop today on character-driven plotting, and pacing to maintain tension – and this story was very much a result of character-driven plotting, because I had to dig deep into the characters of Abby (the heroine) and Ryan (her hero) in writing their story.

So pick up a copy and enjoy – and for those of you with Kindles, although Trish is priced at $.99 on Amazon, you can get your free kindle version at Smashwords.

Vanessa

 

Workshop: Character Driven Plotting, Pacing to Maintain Tension

Writing RomanceThis Saturday I’ll be giving a day-long workshop for the Romance Writers of America’s Vancouver Island Chapter. If you’re in the Nanaimo area, come along and join us in an exploration of character-driven plotting, and pacing your novel to maintain story tension.

Workshop Details

When: November 2, 2013, 9:00 to 4:00 (registration from 9:00 to 9:30)
Where: Vancouver Island University, 900 Fifth Street, Building 255, Room 170, Nanaimo (Campus Parking Map)
Cost: $40.00 if registering after October 19th or at the door. Lunch, coffee, and tea is included.

Session 1—Character-Driven Plotting
In this workshop, Vanessa explores character-driven plotting, and the technique of using the hero and heroine’s personal territory to build a bridge between character and conflict. We all want the magic formula to work: characters + conflict = a great story. Sometimes, we need a little help, and adding a territorial imperative to the mix could be exactly what your story needs.

Session 2—Pacing to Maintain Tension
Pacing a book involves finding the balance between showing and telling, between emotional intensity and distance, between slow and fast. Vanessa makes this complex technical subject clear with graphic examples. Topics include time and the writer: story time, reader time, and writer time; the simple rule that covers it all; and how pacing relates to viewpoint and narrative style.

I’m looking forward to a great day with this group of enthusiastic writers!

Vanessa

Workshop Handout

Book Recommendation – Killing Bliss by EC Sheedy

Killing BlissKilling Bliss by EC Sheedy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book when I read the initial release in 2005, and I’m loving it all over again now reading the Kindle edition.  Wonderful story, great characters, and I can’t write a better blurb about it than the author’s own, which starts:

One night. Two bullets. Three runaways.Addy Michaels, living her careful life on a forgotten back road, thinks she’s safe–that the past and its corpses are long buried. Surely after fifteen years the cops have quit looking for the street kids believed to have kidnapped a baby and killed their prostitute foster mother¬, Belle Bliss.Addy couldn’t be more wrong.A cold case.Hot again, when the missing child’s grandmother hires renowned profiler Cade Harding to find her grandson. Cade tracks Addy to her safe haven in a remote area of Washington state. Their attraction to each other is immediate, dangerous, and badly timed because…Cade isn’t alone.

A twisted killer

Faceless and unknowable, a murderer follows in Cade’s footsteps–on the hunt for anyone who can tell the truth about killing Bliss.

All roads lead to Addy.

 ~~~

EC Sheedy has a wonderful knack for a beautiful turn of phrase that has served her well in romance. In her romantic suspense novels, EC reveals a talent for spooky atmospheres and gritty, street-wise characters.

The author is one of the Pen Warriors, a group including myself and 4 other writing friends. At our regular writing retreats, I have the great pleasure of hearing scraps of her stories before they come out. That wets my appetite for the real thing – and I’m heading back to my eReader right now to read a few more pages before my family come for a Sunday night dinner.

Vanessa

View all my reviews

THE HIT – by David Baldacci

The Hit (Will Robie #2)The Hit by David Baldacci
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a definite fan of David Baldacci’s Will Robie series. I read this book on the heels of Baldacci’s first Will Robie book. The Innocent. Both are excellent, although I connected more deeply with The Innocent, and loved its character-driven plot.

The Hit is an exciting read, and I will be watching for the third in the Will Robie series. Baldacci is a skilled craftsman when it comes to writing thrillers peopled with vibrant, believable characters. My favorites are some of his early titles, particularly Absolute Power and Absolute Power The Winner The Winner.

Vanessa

View all my reviews

Wool places author Hugh Howey among Science Fiction’s greatest authors!

Wool Omnibus, by Hugh Howey
I just finished reading the Wool Omnibus, and I’m floating. WOOL is everything a great Science Fiction should be – amazing, visceral, delightful story filled with powerful characters caught up in an epic search for meaning!

The birth of a great science fiction author is a very special event, and WOOL puts its author up there with the greatest Science Fiction writers – those who write (and wrote) books about real characters, searching for meaning, searching for their own truth, fighting and losing and winning and – above all – grabbing readers by the throat and carrying them on an amazing journey.

Wool goes up on my electronic bookshelf, along with a few select read-them-again-and-again-over-the-years Science Fiction novels, right between Alexai Panshin’s RITE OF PASSAGE and Robert Hienlien’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.

Thank you, Hugh Howey!   (and thank you @versoe for recommending this book!)

Vanessa Grant

A Powerful Memoir of Healing and the Spirit of Survival

Tonight I finished reading one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time – M. J. Adam’s Unforgiving – the Memoir of an Asperger Teen

I met the author at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference a few weeks ago, and talking with her was a pleasure from the first moment. How could it be otherwise when she told me that she’d once learned something very important about writing from a workshop I presented in Surrey – that when you’re writing about relationships, there must be personal growth for the characters.

Learning that I’d helped a developing writer made my day, and before the conference ended I had the pleasure of sharing the special kind of conversation that writers treasure. I went home with her memoir and promised myself I’d read it soon.

Well, I’ve  just finished reading Unforgiving, and I want to tell everyone what a great thing M. J. Adam has done.

Unforgiving – the Memoir of an Asperger Teen is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

M. J. Adam has crafted an inspiring book, a definite must-read for anyone who has, knows, is, or was an Asperger’s teen. I highly recommend it for anyone who cares about child survivors of any kind of trauma, or for teens struggling to understand themselves and the world they live in.

The events that happened to Margaret Jean should never happen to any child. Yet they did happen, and each page of Margaret Jean’s memoir rings with love, the amazing power of healing, and the spirit of survival.

I cried. I laughed. I cheered Margaret Jean’s indomitable inner strength, and felt honoured that she had shared herself so deeply with this reader.

Buy this book. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Vanessa Grant

Plotting 2012 – aided by Covey, Milk, and synchronization

(This post also appeared at PenWarriors.com)

It’s January and I’m plotting my life in 2012. As with most tales, there’s a backstory:

  • SETTING: Vanessa’s newly remodelled study. Fresh paint, new carpet, several years of hoarding cleared out. Time: mid-December
  • GREMLIN (Vanessa’s internal critic): Here it is 2012 and you’ve got a todo list the size of the Grand Canyon. Get organized, woman!
  • VANESSA: I visited the grand canyon back in 2011 and I KNOW it’s a mile deep. Maybe I can sort this mess into a stack of smaller piles.
  • GREMLIN: You need a system.
  • VANESSA (sorting):
  • GREMLIN: Look at that heap of TODOs! I suppose you think you’re Superwoman now?
  • VANESSA: Shut up. I’m setting goals.
  • GREMLIN: Hah! You cleaned out your office last month, now you’re going for world’s worst task hoarder!
  • VANESSA (looking for lethal weapon): Kill the gremlin … kill the gremlin.
  • GREMLIN: You need a syst–No! No! Don’t shoot! You– (GREMLIN slinks out of room, slamming door and leaving blood behind on new carpet)
  • VANESSA (Locks door behind GREMLIN, then starts looking for a system…)
  • CRITIC (whispers through door): I told you so!

Obviously, this story is never going to hit the bestseller lists, but thankfully as December rolled towards January, I embarked on a search for a … (okay, GREMLIN, you win) a system for managing my Grand Canyon sized TODO list. Back in October (see Necessary Lies, Stephen Covey, and This Writer), I resolved to follow Stephen Covey’s suggestion of focusing on those important but not urgent tasks that build towards future goals (Quadrant II goals). I succeeded in putting First Things First for ten days and spent the first part of each day on my novel, NECESSARY LIES. On the eleventh day, unfortunately, NECESSARY LIES got buried by a pile of important AND urgent tasks, and GREMLIN woke up.

  • GREMLIN: How can you call yourself a writer, if you’re not writing? You’ll never finish that book.
  • VANESSA: Yes, I will, but other things are important too! I just need a system that keeps the most important things in front of me.
  • GREMLIN: System, smystem. You gotta USE your system. Every day. Like brushing your teeth.
  • VANESSA: Well … yeah.
Gremlin isn’t supposed to win arguments … or sneak through locked doors.
So I went looking for a system that would help me focus on important goals while keeping my life under control. My requirements were:
  • keep Quadrant II goals in front of me each day
  • remind me of urgent-but-not-important commitments (Quadrant I)
  • give me a way to record (and remember) time-sensitive commitments
  • allow me to access both urgent and non-urgent goals and tasks on my iPhone, iPad, and any computer I use.

At least one of my goals had been achieved – with my wonderful husband’s help, we’d transformed my study from a hoarder’s hell into an inviting study. Now it was time to organize my goals and my life. Over Christmas, I tried out a few ideas:

  • I read the Michael Hyatt article, “Is that task important or merely urgent?” which mentioned using Priority Matrix  to emulate the Covey 4-sector organizer. I downloaded Priority Matrix (for Mac, iPad, and iPhone). I installed the software and put my  TODO list into Priority Matrix sectors. Here’s a simplified version of what I did:
  • Priority Matrix + Covey trial: I found Priority Matrix flexible, and definitely easy to work with using Covey’s 4-quadrant model on my Mac, and I was pleased to find that the Apps for the iPhone and iPad synchronized well. (I also learned that Priority Matrix is in alpha development for Windows.) By Christmas I had realized that while I loved the 4-sector view and synchronization features of Priority Matrix, for the system to be effective, I needed to visit it every day. The best way too make sure I did that was to use the same application for appointments, other time sensitive commitments,  and goals. Priority matrix didn’t have the scheduling and reporting features I needed.
  • Getting Things Done Remember the Milk – Over Christmas I talked with my son about his experience using David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system with Remember the Milk, a Web/Android/iPhone app. GTD sounded too high-maintenance for me, but if you’re a GTD fan, check out Advanced GTD with Remember The Milk, and also take a look at the simplified version described in Monk to Done.
  • Covey + Remember the Milk –  If Remember the Milk could work with GTD, maybe I could make it work with Covey’s First Things First model. I decided to try out the free version of Remember the Milk (RTM) and soon realized that this friendly, flexible application could:
    • be used on in all common Web browsers, Android phones, iPhones, and iPad
    • synchronize across all installations, i.e. phone, tablet, Web (daily sync is free, more frequent sync requires upgrading to the pro version)
    • have separate lists for different category tasks (achieved by setting task “category” and adding your own lists and/or modifying RTM’s default lists. Some of my categories are WRITING, RESEARCH, PROMOTION, BUSINESS TASKS, PERSONAL) Tasks can be viewed by category, or in a big list of “All Tasks”
    • optionally set due date and time, specify repeating intervals for regular tasks, plus time commitment for tasks (I’ve set Quadrant II goals I want to visit every day to “repeat: every 1 day”)
    • prioritize (priority 1, 2, or 3), categorize, and tag tasks
    • create saved searches using  lists  (I Googled “rtm + Covey” and found links to a number of posts on RTM’s website (the Google search gave me better results than RTM’s own internal site search)
    • send a daily list of tasks, and also a 15 minute reminder of individual tasks, to my phone.
    • It would be wonderful if RTM allowed me to choose either its Priority 1, 2, 3 system or a Covey quadrant model of priorities, but many RTM users have found ways to make Covey’s First Things First and RTM work together.
  • Result = RTM + Covey. I tried using RTM’s priorities, but I couldn’t get the result I wanted. When I read  Using the “First Things First” Paradigm with RTM  and got the idea of simplifying the author’s system and tagging items as “important” to flag them for my Quadrant II list, then using the Due Date to determine urgency. I then created 2 saved searches based on Due Date and “important” tag status, and named them Q1 and Q2. I’ll probably refine the searches over time. I can see from what others have done that there’s lots of room for tweaking the system.

The beginning of a New Year is a great time to be playing with plotting the year ahead, and I’m pretty happy with how my new system is shaping up. I’ve been using Remember the Milk for about a week now. I spent the first day getting enough tasks and appointments into the system to allow me to experiment with searching, tested that the syncing was working well across my iPhone, iPad, and computer (Web). Then upgraded to the Pro version to allow unlimited synchronizing.

Alright, Gremlin. I’ve got a system I like and I’m USING it. It’s even got a name I like – Remember the Milk has a friendly casual sound. I’ve got my January appointments recorded and RTM sends my iPhone reminders of important-to-me, time-sensitive things like my daughter’s birthday dinner yesterday, while giving me a way to track less urgent, but still important items like this blog and a commitment to myself to write every day (tag: important and repeat:every 1 day) .

So there, Gremlin! I can too do this.

Vanessa

Check out my new release: Storm – the Author’s Cut, now available on Kindle