creative writing

How Well-Written Prose Elicits Emotions and Draws Out Passion

Erik Armitage paid tribute on Montana Public Radio to author, James Welch, and the lessons he learned through his universities studies readying the author specializing in Montana history and storytelling.

Taking a writing class at UM seemed like a good idea for someone who likes to read, especially someone who likes to read about Montana history. Maybe I’d even learn how to write something meaningful. Lord knows I’ve tried. I wasn’t attempting to write a best seller, just trying to chronicle some of my own family history on paper. “How hard can it be to just tell a story the way it happened?” I told myself after reading my own drivel. I was reminded of my wife telling me to make white chicken chili. “How do I do that?” I said. “All the ingredients are on the counter. Do this, this and this. I’ll be home at 6:00”. Ok, simple enough. When it was done it tasted like dishwater. After doing the dishes. Writing is the same way. I have all the ingredients; Pen, paper, an ability to read. I’ve read dozens and dozens of non-fiction books so I should have some grasp of at least being able to form a sentence, right? Dirty dishwater.

Armitage wrote about the ethos Welch brought to his writing, telling stories of “sadness heaped on sadness,” and how the author connected with the reader through emotion. He summed it up with:

It is an incredible thing to form words together to elicit emotion and draw out passion. To make you laugh or cry, to make you smell gun smoke. To make you want to talk to your dead grandmother just one more time.

Each Monday (and the second Saturday of the month), Writers in the Grove members struggle with a new prompt by exploring emotions to elicit passions in others in their 15 minute creative writing ventures. We explore sadness, relationships, loss, happiness, joy, mystery, self-examination, doubt, wonder, curiosity, jealousy, anger, regret, and every emotional state to help tell our stories.

We’ve learned to show not tell as we write in a hurry before the countdown ends. We’ve learned to create characters easily recognized, and tap into storytelling techniques that connect with readers, sweeping them into our stories.

If we don’t connect with our emotions as we write, it’s all dishwater. We have the ingredients, so why do we tend to write dishwater.

That’s the secret sauce for writers shifting from just writing to true storytelling. The recipe before us is the same stuff available to everyone. It’s your passion for the final result that makes your main entree a success, and makes the writing not taste like dishwater.


Prompt: Sensations Without Sight

The prompt this week was:

Think of an episode or event in life, childhood, or adulthood. Think of where it occurred, when, what season, and those involved. Think in terms of senses other than sight. If you were a sculpture, what would the texture be for the sculpture you would make of this? What are the sounds, smells, touch, sensations other than sight? Use sight minimally or not at all to tell your story.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Unleash Your Descriptive Inner Voice

As you work your way through NaNoWriMo and your novel, memoir, or whatever writing you choose during the November writing sprint, unleash your inner descriptive voice and make your sentences more interesting by adding more descriptors. Look for words or phrases that paint a picture.

The ball hit the window.

The black and white soccer ball Bob kicked with all his might hit the Peterson’s large front picture window with a dull thud.

Close your eyes and picture the scene. Pay attention to all your senses. Can you hear the sound Bob might make as he kicked the ball? Can you hear the thud of the window rebounding from the collision? Can you see Bob? Is he dripping with sweat or have glowing red cheeks from the exertion?

Let your imagination become a paint brush with strokes that put us in the middle of the action, feeling everything you do in the moment.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

Meeting Our Selves

The following was written and submitted by our Writer’s in the Grove member, Ralph Cuellar.

Our “selves” are like spirits
Until we meet in the flesh
and misunderstand each other
When we’re offered information
we’d rather not accept
When we’re confronted with alternate
versions of our dreamed reality.
Our external world is like a series of
collisions in a bumper car amusement ride.

Prompt: Limerick

The prompt this week was to write a limerick. A limerick is a poem style that gained popularity in the early 18th century and has a strict form and rhythm. It is such an accepted form of poetry, many can finish the last line if the writing compels them to do so with rhythm and rime.

According to Wikipedia:

Limerick is a form of poetry, especially one in five-line, predominantly anapestic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The third and fourth lines are usually shorter than the other three.

According to some experts, a limerick isn’t a true or pure limerick unless it has an obscene element, and that clean limericks were just a “passing fad.” Edward Lear (19th century poet) truly popularized the form and was published in the papers, though he claimed these were not limericks.

An example of an early form of limerick by an unknown author is:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

A limerick consists of the standard form of a stanza of five lines. Using the measurement of a “foot” as the limerick’s meter and pattern, it is ta-ta-TUM, an anapaest. The first, second, and fifth rhyme with each other and have three “feet of three syllables each.” The third and forth lines are shorter and rhyme together with two “feet of three syllabus.”

The storytelling order of a limerick is:

  1. Introduce a person and a place, with the place words at the end of the first line.
  2. Line two continues the action, and rhymes with line one.
  3. The third line sets up the “fall” of the person and is short and sets up the rhyme for the next line.
  4. Another short line continues the action and rhymes with the line above it.
  5. The last line is the punch line, and rhymes with the first and second lines. Sometimes this is a repeat of the first line through a twist of works, but not always.

One of the most famous examples of limerick forms is:

There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.
– Anonymous

The prompt was to write a limerick. Play with rhymes and storytelling, and attempt to create a twist at the end.

Prompt: The Haven

The following prompt comes from the book “Beasts in My Belfry” by Gerald Durell from chapter 2, “A Lust of Lions.” The following describes an official building at Whipsnade Zoo in the UK, one of the first zoos to attempt to provide “natural” quarters for their wildlife, and his adventures as a young man working there, determined to become a wildlife specialist.

The nerve centre of the section was a small, tumble-down hut hemmed in by a copse of tangled elder bushes. The hut wore a toupee of honeysuckle at a rakish angle, practically obscuring one of its two windows and so making the interior dark and gloomy. Outside it sported a battered notice-board on which was the euphemistic title “The Haven.” The furnishings were monastic in their simplicity – three chairs in various stages of decay, a table that rocked and jumped like a nervous horse when anything was planed on it, and a grotesque black stove that crouched in one corner pouting smoke through its iron teeth and regurgitating embers in quite incredible quantities.

The prompt was to describe something, preferably an inanimate object, using anthropomorphic descriptions. Make us see the character of the thing.

Writing Tips for June 2015

Our writing tips posts usually feature a variety of articles from around the web offering great tips for writers, specifically those writing fiction and memoir. Today we’re going to do things a little differently because we’ve found a great resource stuffed with writing tips.

Botham Writers offers “Writing Tips from the Masters,” a collection of writing tips and advice from top authors including Neil Gaiman, P.D. James, Jack Kerouac, Michael Moorcock, Elmore Leonard, Billy Wilder, Joyce Carol Oats, Henry Miller, Joss Wedon, Struck & White, and a wide variety of classic and modern writers. It covers all types of writing, from general writing and professional writing tips to writing scripts and published material.

Examples include:

Get through all of these and you might find the secret sauce in good writing.

Prompt: Bystanders

The prompt for this week’s Monday Writers in the Grove Workshop was:

Bystanders are sometimes more than passive, they can be perpetrators, people who inject themselves into the story. Write a short piece on how a bystander moves from outside of the event to inside.

If you would like to participate in these prompts, please do so on your site or personal journal. If you would like to discuss them, please comment below.