From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Fives of 2009

As a celebration of the end of another year, I thought I'd share some things that have brought me joy and inspiration in 2009. They're not necessarily new to this year, but I really discovered them this year and they have meant something to me. I look forward to another year of awesome artistic output and discovery. My list will definitely reveal my quirky taste in things, but use it however you want.

Top Singers/Songs

1. Billy Joel: And So It Goes/Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)
2. David Archuletta: Angels
3. Adam Lambert: Mad World/A Change is Gonna Come
4. Susan Boyle: I Had a Dream/Wild Horses
5. Mika: Love Today

Top Movies

1. Julie and Julia
2. Sense and Sensibility (New BBC version)
3. Last Chance Harvey
4. Dan in Real Life
5. North and South/Gone with the Wind (Not new movies, but both GREAT!)

Top TV

1. Glee
2. The Office
3. Monk
4. Big Bang Theory
5. Star Trek: Next Generation

Top Books

1. Bellwether by Connie Willis
2. Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card
3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
4. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
5. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Top Websites

1. Facebook/Twitter
2. Blogger/GoogleReader/GoogleAnalytics
3. Flickr/Youtube
4. Duotrope
5. MyLifeIsAverage/MysteryGoogle

So there's my list. What are your Top Fives of 2009? What has been helpful or inspiring to you this year?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar vs. Sherlock Holmes

As the two big movies of this month, I thought it might be fun to compare the two and see what we can learn from them. So here goes.

Avatar: The most exciting thing in this movie was definitely the graphics. They did a good job with the spectacle aspect. Also, I thought the general premise was interesting, but I didn't quite feel like the film as a whole lived up to its premise. The story itself was pretty cool, but the actual writing wasn't anything special. Neither was the acting. It wasn't particularly awful, but it wasn't great either. Like I said, the graphics were definitely the most exciting thing, and I really didn't think it lived up to all the hype.

So what can writers learn from Avatar? An exciting premise is a wonderful starting point. Have the adventure and excitement and spectacle. But don't let those things get in the way of subtle plots and sub-plots and deep characters. You want characters that your readers can really relate to and that they will remember for years to come.

Sherlock Holmes: Really, really great character acting by both Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law. It is so awesome to see good looking guys willing to get crazy and dirty. The story itself was just as good as Avatar's, and I would say better, and the actual writing of it, the dialogue and everything, was much, much better. It was fantastic, in fact. I think both the story and the characters had the subtlety I was missing in Avatar. It was great visually as well, with wonderful cinematography. It ended with a very obvious cliffhanger, which makes me excited for the sure-to-come sequel.

What I learned from Sherlock Holmes is this: you've got to have characters that readers can really root for. RDJ played a wonderfully quirky Holmes that we can enjoy, and RDJ as a person is someone movie goers have come to admire and support. We love struggling yet somehow victorious characters, and both Holmes and RDJ give us that. Also, though spectacle is fun and exciting, more memorable and successful stories are created with subtlety and ambiguity. Subtle stories are also ones that you want to read over again, and when you do, you catch something new.

And the winner is: Sherlock Holmes, definitely. It has more intriguing subtlety and plain old good writing and acting then Avatar, and would be more exciting to see a second time. The story and characters are much more memorable, and not just because Holmes has been part of our culture for a long time. To me these movies show just how important character is; more important then setting or plot in terms of creating literature that will become part of the culture for years to come.

So create memorable, subtle characters. Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Naming Characters

This is a very individual process, but I think a few words on the subject might be helpful.

Dickens is the master of meaningful names. Names like M'Choakumchild instantly signify who the character is in the readers mind. Your names don't have to be Dickensian, but they should mean something. And just keep in mind that there are inherent differences between names like Kenneth Elsington III and Butch.

What I usually do is have a picture of my character in my head. I try and grasp them as a person, both their personality and how they look. Then I try and find a name that matches, even if there's no real logic behind it. I sometimes like to have a significant meaning behind the names I choose, too.

Here are my favorite baby name sites to help you pick names:

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Monday, December 28, 2009

Video Games and Creative Writing

As an oldest child with many younger siblings, the last few days have been very full of video games. I've been wondering if there is anything writers can learn from video games, and here are some ideas.

Memorable characters: Mario, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, etc. Everyone knows them. They've become iconic. Its not like they are deeply developed characters, but they have specific characteristics that make them memorable and meaningful. Try to do that with your characters.

Sense of Accomplishment: With reading a book it may be harder to apply this, but be creative. I mean, reading a book is an accomplishment in and of itself, but by making what your characters go through a big deal at least to them, then the reader can feel a sense of accomplishment through your characters.

Unique: The worlds and characters in video games have places and powers and stories that are different from real life, and that makes them exciting. This can apply even if you mostly write literary fiction, like I do. No matter the genre you write in, your world and characters have to be unique.

Filled out: Good video games have complete worlds, characters and stories that form a filled out whole. Things have meaning and purpose and are there for a reason. Apply this to your work, and make sure you don't leave any gaps.

Direct: When you play a video game, even when its difficult, you know who you are, what side your on and what your ultimate goal is. There isn't confusion. Often in literature we appreciate subtlety and ambiguity, but the story should be ambiguous because there is more then one legitimate option, not because the writer couldn't decide how it should end. The story can be subtle and complex, but the reader must be able to follow along.

Happy gaming!
Sarah Allen

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Years Resolutions for Creative Writers

Its that time of year again, when we attempt to remotivate ourselves to do the things we should have done last year. I encourage you to make New Years resolutions for your personal life, because I believe you need to be your best self to create your best work. You know for yourself what personal things you need to work on, but in terms of creative writing, there are definitely ways to use New Years resolutions to enhance your writing and your writing career. Here are some ideas of New Years resolutions that you writers out there may be able to use.

Finish. Finish that novel or poetry collection that you've been working on. Set a word goal for yourself and write every day until your done.

Re-edit. Take some old pieces that haven't been doing as well as you wanted them to and revitalize them.

Expand. Try a form, style or genre that you've never tried before. Try writing a script, and practice your dialogue. If you never have, try poetry or speculative fiction. You may find you enjoy it, and it will no doubt help you in your normal writing.

Expand even more. If you're really ambitious, try a completely new art form: painting, photography, musical composition, acting, etc. If you stick with it your general creativity will be expanded, and you may meet some awesome new people who share your love of artistic expression.

Submit. Make a goal that you won't let a piece sit for more then 24 hours before you re-submit it (unless you're re-editing, of course). Get your work out there. Research some writing competitions, make a list of them, and then make a goal to enter every single one. You never know what great things will come of it, even if its just some more good writing on your part.

Marketing. Find 3-5 new marketing outlets or tactics and make a goal to use them this year. If you don't have a blog, start one. Use social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn. Use your newly discovered artistic talents and reach new people with sites like Flickr and YouTube. Join an online article community like eZine and meet new people through your articles. Then once you get your book finished and published, you'll have a whole entourage of people who can help spread the news.

Hope those help. Good luck getting ready for a new year!
Sarah Allen

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After: Christmas Presents

Well, we've made it. It's now the day after Christmas, time for picking up broken presents, wrapping paper, and finishing off all the random chocolate around the house.

If you have a diary, make sure to write down all the memories, happy and sad. If you don't have a diary, start one. Christmas memories are great creative fodder. Write down the crazy things your family said, did, and gave.

Use the presents you received. I for one got amazing presents that I can definitely use for inspiration, organization, and pure enjoyment. But even if you got something you don't think you could ever use it, then be creative and use it as a marketing gimmick. Make a funny youtube video or something with it. Start a giant White Elephant party and meet new people.

Also, use the holidays to renew old friendships and acquaintances. This will help you keep your social network strong, but more then that, its just good to be kind and keep relationships strong. I can do better at this personally, but the holidays are a good reminder.

What are your reactions to the holidays? What have you learned? What about Christmas will make the future better for you?

Sarah Allen

P.S. If you haven't already, start thinking of New Years Resolutions you're going to make for both your personal life and your writing career. More on this later.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What to do with mini writers block

There are times when something is really wrong, and you just absolutely cannot write for weeks or months at a time. I'm not talking about those moments today. I think something more common is moments of mini writers block, and those happen several times a week, at least for me. These are more just bumps in the road that you are constantly having to drive over, and here are some things that may help when you hit one of them.

Revel: After I've watched an incredible movie or show, or something exciting is happening, I usually can't make myself focus enough to write. If this happens to you too, just let it happen! Get your writing done before exciting stuff happens, and then just enjoy life as it comes. Its ok if you can't write for a few hours, or until you've slept it off, because it will wear off and then you can get back to serious writing. But in the meantime, revel in the excitement. Learn from it. Your writing will benefit from it.

Think Positive: Often it can go the opposite way, and something so frustrating and negative can happen that you just are too upset to write. I'm not talking huge, life-changing crisis, I'm thinking about all the little annoying, depressing things that happen all the time. When this happens, give yourself a bit to cool down. Talk to someone who always makes you feel better. Listen to some great music. Read, and let yourself forget about it for a while. Eat some chocolate. Then go back and see if you're ready to write.

Revise: Sometimes a project just isn't going the way you want it to go. You just get stuck. Try going back and pin-pointing the spot where you got off track. Go from there, and see if things flow more easily.

Relax: Yes, there are genius writers out there. No, you may not feel like one of them. But so what? Everything can't be written by Shakespeare. There are stories only you can tell. Don't let yourself be overly intimidated by genius writers, because they will always be there, and you will probably always feel intimidated by them. Don't let it keep you from writing. Learn from them, enjoy them, envy them, but write!

Write: Sometimes it just takes sitting your butt down in the chair and writing the next sentence. It may not be great, but thats what revision is for. Just do it, just get the words out there. You may only need one sentence to get you back to your old writing self. So just write!

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Traditions and Creative Writing

Everyone has traditions that shape their memories and feelings of Christmas. In terms of creative writing, this fact in and of itself can help you shape character, theme, and plot in your work.

For example, for the past few years my family has given a dinner for all the widows in our neighborhood. We just did the dinner tonight, and sixteen of them came. We served them dinner and then they each went around and talked about their childhood, and their life, and which decisions have been good and which bad. One of them is a woman who grew up in England next to Sherwood forest. Another grew up Mississippi, has the accent and everything, and is getting over cancer. Some had unhappy first marriages and found happiness later, some are still madly in love with the man they married decades ago. All the different stories and the different ways they were told make these women who they are.

Whatever your traditions are, learn from them. Learn what they say about you and what matters to you. You have to know yourself to create meaningful, passionate writing, and Christmas is a good time to find out what you care about.

What are your traditions? What about those traditions makes you who you are?

Sarah Allen

Saturday, December 19, 2009

25 Days of Christmas Stories: Creative Writing Prompt

A while ago I wrote about 25 Days of Christmas Stories, about how one of my family traditions is to read a Christmas story every night as a countdown towards Christmas. I think writing my own 25 Christmas Story Countdown would be fun, and suggested it as an idea for you writers out there. If you have written something towards this idea, I hope you had fun and hope it worked out for you. If you're stuck, here is a beginning that I wrote a few weeks ago. I may want to keep going with it later, but for now you guys can use it as a prompt for your own stories. I hope you like it, and I hope it helps:


My middle name is Blitzen. I would tell you my first name, but if I did there’s no way you’d stick around. Besides, it doesn’t matter, because all my real friends call me Blitzen anyway.

You’d think having a name like Blitzen, that I’d like Christmas a whole lot or something. To tell you the truth, I do like Christmas. Kind of. But when it’s come and gone, I’m always left feeling sort of disappointed. To tell you the real truth, in all honest to goodness truth, I’d have to say my favorite holiday is Valentines. But don’t tell my friends that. They’d never stick around.

I’m not quite sure why my favorite is Valentines. I mean I’ve never gotten a card or even those disgusting chalk heart things that say fruitcake things on them, and taste even worse. Except once I saw one that said ‘I thee jilt.’ It made me laugh, but I couldn’t think of anyone to give it to.

Hope this helps! Happy Holidays!
Sarah Allen

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dialogue and Screenwriting

Dialogue is one of the hardest, yet most necessary aspects of creative writing. Whether your writing fiction or script, I think reading dialogue is a good idea. So here are a couple links to a database of movie and tv scripts. Take a look, read some of your favorites and it may turn out to be very helpful for the dialogue in your own creative writing.

Internet Movie Script Database

Hope this helps, and enjoy!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Spotlight and Creative Writing Lessons: Julie and Julia

I'm going to try to keep this from becoming just a Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci love fest, and actually take some good writing lessons from the movie, but I want to just start out by saying how incredibly talented and stunningly superb both Streep and Tucci are. They are both so believable and, in this movie, utterly adorable. I could very easily go on, but let's look at some specifics and see what we can learn.

Adaptability: If you look at the last movie Streep and Tucci did together (Devil Wears Prada, another amazing movie), you see the stunning adaptability both of them show in going from the characters in that movie to the new ones. Particularly Streep. She went from being one of the most believable snarky witch bosses ever on screen to a very successful portrayal of a sweet, vulnerable, real life woman. Within a book, you've got characters as diverse as those ones that have to come from your own head. Look to Streep's performances as a brilliant example of how its done. And this is applicable not only for character, but genre. If you've never written speculative fiction, get out of your comfort zone and try some. Maybe try a screenplay or poetry, if that's something you haven't tried before. It may turn out to be fun, and will most likely improve your writing in whatever genre you typically write in.

Vulnerability: The lesson from this is that there absolutely must be conflict. In this movie, the Childs' marriage is practically perfect, and provides some wonderfully poignant and passionate moments. The conflict is not between the two of them. But then we get these scenes of vulnerability, where we see how unsatisfied he is with is job, and how she wants a baby so badly she sometimes just can't take it. These moments show how much the two rely on each other for emotional strength and support, and makes the happy moments in their marriage mean so much more. So if you want a sweet, poignant romance in your book, that is wonderful and will touch many readers. But the trick is to make the characters vulnerable in other ways, to show how much the happy relationship is needed. Every character must be vulnerable in some way so we can relate to them.

Balance: Streep way out-performed Amy Adams, not just in talent but in story. Make sure that if you have two leads you either deliberately make one better then the other, or make them equal. Even with antagonist and protagonist, you can't make one less powerful or interesting then the other. They need to be deliberately matched, or else its unbalanced, which, if thats what you're going for, then great. I think this is just something to be aware of so we don't misuse it.

Hope this helps! I highly recommend this movie/Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. Learn from it, but also, just enjoy it!

In the words of Julia Childs, Bon Appetit!

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Writer's Social Life

Pretty non-existent, right? Wrong! I am naturally an introverted home-body as most writers are, but having some sort of social life is beneficial for your mental and emotional well-being, and may even be helpful creatively. Being social doesn't necessarily mean being the life of every party, or even going to every party. But I still think its healthy to get a little outside your comfort zone and meet a few new people.

Don't be afraid to talk about the things your interested in, even if you think it's nerdy. Recently I met a really nice girl when we discovered we both are really into Victorian romance novels and movies, like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. (Ok, Austen isn't within the Victorian periods time frame, but her style is arguably 'Victorian'...but thats another post.) If you're a Trekkie, use it to meet people who share your interests, whether dorky or not.

Be willing to just talk to people. Join conversations. My biggest fear is usually that it will be awkward and whoever I'm talking to will think I'm weird, but you know what, I am weird, and so what. Just be yourself, and if someone has an issue with that then they're not worth worrying about anyway.

Writers can use social experiences as inspiration for characters, plot, dialogue, marketing, and lots of other things. You never know what opportunities you're missing out on when you shrink from social situations. Even getting some friends and going to a play or a movie will be both fun and creatively inspiring.

Take advantage of all the Christmas parties going on about now. This is a good time to start putting yourself out there, because people are more charitable and understanding during the holidays. So just do it and have fun!

Sarah Allen

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chistmas Gift Ideas for Writers

For the writer in your life, here is a quick list of some Christmas gift ideas:

-Notebooks: an obvious one, but for a small nice gift or stocking stuffer, notebooks are something writers can always use.

-Books: Be careful with this one, because writers often have more books on their to-read list then they can get to. But books are always wonderful anyway, and it might end up being just the one they wanted.

-Audiobooks: These are more expensive then regular books, and writers may actually need them more. They can upload them onto their iPods and have them in their car for long drives. For me, listening to writing out loud helps me with my own voice, and your writer may find it helpful too.

-Classical music: I used to think I couldn't write and listen to music, but lately I've been listening to classical while I write and it actually seems to make me write faster. At least it feels that way. And its nice to not be sitting in silence for hours on end. So for someone who may be interested in that kind of stuff, it may help.

-Printers: I always like having a hard copy of my piece when I'm editing, and if the writer in your life does too, then a good printer may be a good gift idea. That way they can have their pieces with them to work on wherever they go. Binders and folders to carry the pieces in would be a good idea as well.

-Trinkets: This stuff can be used to market your writers' book. Get them custom bookmarks, t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, business cards, etc. They can distribute them to get the word out about their book.

-Subscription to a literary journal: Its always helpful for writers to see what kind of stuff is being published. It gives inspiration and helps see the competition. If there is a particular magazine your writer wants to be published in, get that one. If you don't know where to start, I suggest the New Yorker, Harpers, and Atlantic Monthly.

Anyway, those are my suggestions. What other Christmas gift ideas do you writers have?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Act of Christmas Kindness Challenge for Writers

In honor of the season of kindness, I have a challenge for you writers out there: use your writing ability to serve someone around you, whether family, friend, or someone you barely know. Use your talent to make someones Christmas season a little brighter. Here's a list of some ideas of what you could do:

-Help a student with an essay or English exam.
-Write your significant other a love poem.
-Write a stranger a love poem and leave it somewhere to be found.
-Write a Christmas story and read it to a kid as a bedtime story.
-Help a kid read a more difficult Christmas story, like Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"
-Start a family Christmas tradition of writing stories, poems, songs, or plays together.

Be creative with this, but use your writing skills to bless someones life. If you have any other ideas, please post them. Also, I'd love to hear about any experiences you have in doing this. I hope you do it, and I hope it turns out to be a good experience.

Sarah Allen

Monday, December 7, 2009

Meeting your local booksellers

One idea I've heard lately, and I think its a good one, is that writers should meet the employees at local bookstores. To me this makes total sense. If these people are going to be responsible for selling or not selling your book, you want them on your team, right? This is especially true for independent book stores.

So go to all the bookstores in your area and introduce yourself. Come frequently, and buying a book every once in a while couldn't hurt. Make friends with the people behind the register. Talk to them, ask them what there favorite books are. You may even consider giving them a copy of your book for free. It may be well worth it.

You can use sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to see if you already know anyone who works at a bookstore. That may be incredibly useful, by giving you an extra in. Take your bookseller friends and their coworkers out to lunch, and invite them to a release party of your book. Be creative in how you do it, but the more bookseller friends you have the more people you'll have on your team, pushing your product. That could end up being the biggest support you have.

Sarah Allen

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What every writer should have in their car

In todays crazy busy world, we spend a huge amount of time on the road. To help make the most of that time, here are some ideas of what creative writers and other artists should always keep in their car:

-Notebook. You should have this with you wherever you are.

-Audiobook. Keep a couple in the car for those times when you'll be in there for a while.

-Cigarette lighter adapter for your laptop. For those times when your stuck in the car for a while and someone else is driving. Then you don't have to worry about your laptop battery running out.

-Business cards/bookmarks. Make a goal to give out five a day. I've even heard of people sticking them inside books at the bookstore.

-Copy of your portfolio/book. Letting someone hold in their hands a book with your name on it has a much bigger impact then just saying your a writer. Keep copies of your book with you to sell, market, or occasionally give away. And keep copies of your short work too, poetry and short stories. You never know when you'll meet a magazine editor or publisher who wants to take a look at it.

-Bumper sticker. Ok, so this is to keep on your car, but you may as well use your vehicle as a marketing device.

Hope this helps. What other things do you writers keep in your car as a useful tool?

Sarah Allen

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sarah Allen's TV Guide for Writers

I wanted to do this for two reasons. First, whether you're specifically writing in the TV script genre or doing other stuff, I think all writers can learn a few things from what works in certain shows and what doesn't. One of my goals here is to look at my favorite shows and see what makes them work. Second, there are just some delightful and awesome shows out there, and talking about them makes me happy.

So here is Sarah Allen's TV Guide for Writers. Hope it helps:


For me, I can sum up the best thing about this show in three words--David Hyde Pierce. His portrayal of Niles Crane is honest, poignant and frankly adorable. Mostly I am referring to his infatuation with Daphne. One lesson I take from Niles is that quirky characters who are madly in love with someone they don't feel they could ever get are pretty much always totally loveable. The best parts of Frasier are the moments when Niles' love for Daphne becomes uncontainable and he almost spills the beans. So lesson from Niles is: quirky lovesick characters=good.

Another lesson from this show came from the fact that I actually don't really like Frasier himself. I don't know if this is the character himself or Kelsey Grammar, but I just think Frasier himself can be conceited and annoying. What is interesting about this is that I still adore the show, even though I don't quite connect with the main character. This makes me think of Harry Potter in some ways, particularly book five, when Harry himself becomes particularly obnoxious. Its all the characters around Harry (Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Neville, Lupin, Snape) that make the books particularly worth reading. This seems to say to me that your main character can be almost dislikable as long as there is at least one other character thats worth rooting for.

-The Big Bang Theory-

This show is simply delightfully written, and all the cast does such a great job. Again, the arguably main character, Leonard, is whiny and one of the more annoying characters, yet he is also a quirky character in love with someone he thinks is out of reach, which makes him likable. What is awesome about this show is watching a group of guys who don't fit in try and fit in. You see the characters struggle through awkwardness, waiting for moments when they get what they want. What I think we can learn from this show is that even characters that you may not think you can relate to (i.e., genius scientists with doctorates working at a university) can be made very accessible through real life, very human emotions like wanting the beautiful girl next door, and the struggle between wanting to be yourself and wanting to fit in.

-The Office-

In many ways this show is like Big Bang Theory in what it can teach us writers; most of these characters are awkward, average or just plain weird, and yet they have very human wants and hopes that help us relate to them. We watch the show, waiting for these very awkward, quirky characters to have moments of poignancy when they get what they've been wanting for a long time. At points this show is almost too awkward to bear, but those poignant moments when things work out are so satisfying, and are thrown into relief by the surrounding awkwardness. For example, Steve Carrell's portrayal of Michael Scott is brilliant; he is one of the most awkward yet lovable characters on TV. Most of the time he is being ridiculous, making the audience shake their heads and say, "Oh, Michael." But then he gets emotionally beat up and abandoned, and then we cut to a downtrodden and lonely Michael handing out Halloween candy to a bunch of kids, and then we feel deeply for him, and say "Oh, Michael" in a very different way. Those moments make us love him, and want him to be loved, even though most of the time he can be really frustrating.

Those moments are one thing that work for The Office, but look at it this way too; what if we related to those characters not because of their moments of niceness and poignancy, but because of their awkward loneliness? Which one is it? I think its probably both.

-Star Trek: The Next Generation-

Ok, I'm admitting my geekiness on this one, but I had to get something scifi out there, didn't I? And this show actually does have some great creative lessons. This show has a sense of awe for the universe and humanity that gives it scope and makes the viewer feel somehow grand. What I take as the best lesson from this show, (spec fiction writers take note), is that they use non-human characters to explore humanity. The best example of this is Data, brilliantly portrayed by Brent Spiner. Data is an android intrigued by humanity, and he explores human characteristics and what makes someone truly human. Again, this gives the characters and show scope. But it doesn't have to be speculative fiction in order for this principle to work. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge in Christmas Carol; he's an "inhuman" character who finds his humanity. This is what Star Trek does best.


There are so many things to learn from this show. Obviously action/adventure shows like this rely more on plot then on character, but I think I want to start with the latter. Like Frasier and Harry Potter, the main characters like Jack and Kate can often be frustrating and annoying. There are a couple awesome characters (Hurley) but actually, most of the characters on this show are not that memorable, and in all honesty a lot of the acting is just ok. With one ginourmous, incredible exception: Michael Emerson, i.e. Benjamin Linus. Every time he opens his mouth I am blown away. His line delivery and intensity are stunning. But despite my bias towards his superior acting, there are other reasons why I think Benjamin Linus is the best character on the show. It goes back to the moments of poignant humanity thing. As a character, Ben does some awful things, like killing his father and an entire town of people. He is manipulative, dishonest and makes things hard on everyone around him. But here's the thing; he is also very conflicted and confused, emotionally and physically beaten up and tossed aside, desperately lonely and in love. All this, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Emerson, creates one of the richest somewhere-between-villain-and-anti-heroes ever seen on television.

As for plot, the obvious lesson comes from the season three mistake; because the directors and writers had so much time to stretch out this story, it was stretched out too far. Questions weren't being answered and things weren't moving along. Once they got a deadline and started making things happen again, the show got back to its awesome old self. So never let your story lapse, always keep it clipping along. On a more positive note, the complications and story and intertwining of characters on the show is frankly genius, and just plain awesome. Any book would be made more intriguing with the complex, involved kind of plot that Lost has.

Anyway, there's some of my favorite shows and what creative writers can learn from them. I'm sure I'll be writing about them in the future, but this is a good start.

Hope it helps!
Sarah Allen

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quick Meals for Busy Days

Today was one of those days when I could hardly find time even to eat. I'm sure everyone has days like that, or even days when you're in the creative zone and don't want to take too much time away from working even to eat. So for days like that, here's just some quick things I love to eat when I don't have time to make something more substantial.

-Spinach sandwich-drizzle italian dressing on bread, slap on spinach and tomatoes

-Cold cereal

-Yogurt and berries-my favorite is the Light 'n Fit vanilla yogurt. Sometimes I crunch up chex into it too.

-Toast with sugar free blackberry jam

-Bananas and peanut butter

Sort of a random post, but on your crazy days of writing or just plain old business it may help. Have fun with the writing!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

25 Days of Christmas Stories

For as long as I can remember my family has owned this tattered blue folder with 25 Christmas stories and poems inside. The aim is to read one a day until Christmas, as a sort of countdown. It's one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Now, I can't give you the folder, but here are some sites that have lists of Christmas stories and poems that you can start with, if you're interested:

The Gift of the Magi
Christmas Story List1
Christmas Story List2

Lately, in thinking of this tradition, I have been thinking how fun it would be to write my own 25 Christmas Story anthology. If you like the idea, feel free to steal it and start working on some Christmas tales this month. Here are three ideas that I've come up with so far that you can use as a starting point for your own ideas:

-The Other Reindeer: write a story from one of the non-Rudolph reindeer's perspective. Give all of the reindeer characteristics and challenges and turn them into a story. Its basically reindeer fanfiction :-)

-A Christmas Tragedy: Create a character and show how their Christmas goes terribly wrong. I.e., a single mother of two loses her job and can't afford to buy presents.

-Cross holiday: Take a leaf from Tim Burton's book and combine a couple holidays. I've always wanted to know what Cupid does for Christmas.

Anyway, there are some new ideas for a new month. Enjoy, and good luck!
Sarah Allen

Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of National Novel Writing Month

As you know, I made the unfortunate decision to not participate in NaNoWriMo this year. But many of you did, and as I'm writing this you have 23 minutes to finish up those 50,000 words. Good luck!

To those who have finished, congrats! You obviously worked very hard, and have a talent that I most definitely don't; the ability to sit down and crank out words. I have been working on my novel for months, and I still only have 11,253 words as of this moment. Every writer can take a leaf from you NaNoers book and practice the ability of sitting butt in chair and just writing. Me included. So good work!

To those who didn't finish, don't be hard on yourself. There are actually a few reasons why its good to not finish. First of all, you have a great start on a novel, but you can finish it and work it now at your own pace. That can enhance the quality of your work and just provide some major relief. Obviously you still have to write something, but there is no longer the break-neck pace deadline looming over your head. Use this to make your piece more publishable then it would have been if you had written it in a month.

I hope all you who did do NaNo learned something valuable about yourself as a writer, whether or not you finished. Just keep working and you will have a finished product that you're proud of.

Sarah Allen

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swine Flue Marketing for Artists

I've heard a little about this idea lately, and I think its something good for all kinds of artists to keep in mind in terms of getting publicity for their work.

The idea is that you take advantage of big news concerns, like the swine flu, and use it to get the word out about your product or business. Now, this sounds sort of cynical, but the idea isn't to manipulate people; its to show involvement and concern for society, and people want to get to know you more when they feel that you care about what they care about.

This has mostly been a small business thing, from what I can see, but I think it can apply to writers and artists just as well. Here are some ways you can use the swine flu 'viral' marketing system to market your creative writing:

-Write about it directly. For example, write a poem, personal essay or short story about swine flu, or whatever the big news item is. You can send it to any of the normal literary magazines you submit to, but you might try looking in to different types of publications, like news magazines or publications that address your topic specifically.

-Apply the news to previous work. You may not have a book about swine flu specifically, but you may have a scifi book about epidemics, or a mainstream book about living with illness. Blog about it, tell your friends about it, and people who may not have noticed your book before may notice it.

-Apply it to your personal life. If the big news applies to you or a loved on personally, use the internet, local news and whatever else you can think of to not just draw attention to you and your work, but to the issue itself, and maybe do some good while your at it. Win/win situation for everyone.

***Even if the big news doesn't affect you personally, still be involved, and address it in your social networking, blogging, local news, or whatever. Its good to convey to your audience that you are socially concerned and aware.

-Target Audience. Target the people the news sources that the big news affects most of all, and see if you can use those outlets to get the news out about your work. Obviously you don't want to spam the news sources and bug people, because that backfires. But as a member of the community and an intelligent person with something interesting to say, this can be another means of social networking, and that is always a good thing.

So use the news to your advantage and get your work out there!
Sarah Allen

Friday, November 27, 2009

More Creative Writing Title Ideas

A while ago I posted some creative writing title ideas, and I think for today it may be a good idea to do that again, as well as discuss the process of titling your piece.

For me, titling is one of my favorite parts of a piece. Its a very intuitive process, and what works for me may not work for you, but there are certain things that may help everyone. And remember, writing down prospective titles in the back of your creative writing notebook is a great thing to do. Remember to make your title match your piece. You don't want false advertising. Let your title hint at the issues in your piece, but don't give everything away. There are no real rules for titling, so do what works for you. But just as a starting point, here are some "formulas" that may give you some ideas:

-'The Noun' or One Word titles: The Mask, The Notebook, The Road, The Stand, Macbeth, Les Miserables, Twilight, Frasier, Lost

-Pairing: (if you pair quirky things this can be pretty fun) Guns 'n Roses, Cats and Dogs, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

-Person and Phrase: Dan in Real Life, Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends

-Known Phrase: I can't really think of specific examples for this one, except I have one short story called 'The Title of My Life'. Also the title of the novel I'm working on is a phrase from a Shakespeare play...which I will reveal at a later date :-)

-Word + Qualifier: Star Wars, Happy Feet, Star Trek, Silent Spring

-Verb(noun) + Phrase: Running out of Time, Interview with a Vampire, Touching Spirit Bear, Pushing Daisies

Anyway, those are just some basic ideas that may help, and here's just a random list of titles from the back of my notebooks that you can steal/use to get your own ideas:
-I Love You, Take a Right
-Your Whole Death Ahead of You
-In Between Raindrops
-Dissonant Peace
-Pickled Down
-Dead of 87
-This Narrative Woman
Hope this helps, and hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Beauty and the Beast rose for Thanksgiving Creative Joy

Sending a red rose to you, originally uploaded by SivaTian.

This is just an incredible photo I found on Flickr, and thought it might make you all as happy as it made me. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sarah Allen

What I'm Thankful for as a Writer

Here is just a quick list of what I'm thankful for:

The Internet
Good books
The smell of books
Egg nog
The Macey's thanksgiving day parade
My black leather notebook
The dog show
Good food
My computer
Brigham Young University
C. S. Lewis
Charles Dickens

Thanks everyone! Hope you have a fantastic day!
Sarah Allen

P.S. Here are my new GoodReads and Flickr accounts, if you wanna check them out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to use Thanksgiving to your creative writing advantage

As we begin preparations for the Thanksgiving holiday, here are some ways you can use the holiday weekend to your creative writing advantage:

-Write. Yes you're probably going to be spending the next 48 hours in the kitchen, or gabbing with relatives or babysitting children and what not, but we have a break from normal stuff like school and work and whenever that happens you never know what random opportunities may come up for good writing time. Take advantage of it. Take a break from cooking and go write!

-Get stories. There's no better way to find awesome quirky characters then by hanging out with your crazy relatives. Watch them and find meaningful nuances and stories.

-Read a book or go see a movie. Again, take some of the free time you may or may not have this weekend and read that book you've been meaning to get to, or take your family to some of the awesome movies that have been coming out lately.

-Send off your stuff. Finish up your piece and send it off. That way your piece will be ready and waiting when editors and agents come back from their holiday.

-Collaborate. With family sitting around, why not get some of them together and start a new piece as a group? It could give you something new to work on, and it could turn out to be way fun.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Creative Writing: the Next Sentence Rule

You've been working on your novel or short story. You finish for the night, and spend the next day in school or meetings or driving kids or whatever. Finally you have a moment to yourself, and you go to sit down to continue working on your piece. You open your file, put your hands on the keyboard, and nothing comes. You sit there, trying to think of the best way to continue the story, but before you can get anything down you are called away on another errand. This happens to me pretty much every time I sit down to write. Ok, not every time, but a lot. So what I've come up with to maybe help with this problem is what I call 'The Next Sentence Rule.'

Basically what the next sentence rule says is this: write down or memorize the last sentence you've written of your piece. While you're in classes, school, the car, wherever, have that sentence with you (in your head or on paper), and write the one that comes next (in your head or on paper). That way when you sit down back at your computer you will have something to get your fingers moving. You'll have something to start back up with, and a lot of times thats all you need to get cracking.

So while your driving home for the holidays, sitting around the table with your family, going to classes, work, or whatever, be thinking and be ready with your next few words for the next time you sit down to write.

Hope this helps, and happy holidays!
Sarah Allen

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poet of the Day: Thomas Hardy

One of the best ways to improve your own craft is to learn from the experts, so I figure looking at some expert writers--authors, poets, lyricists, screenwriters, etc.--will help all of us aspiring writers. In one of my classes we recently studied Thomas Hardy, so I figured he was a good one to start with.

Thomas Hardy

Though you most likely know him as the author of Tess of the D'Ubervilles, I'd like to look at his poetry. First of all, poetry is shorter, second of all, Tess of the D'Ubervilles is just...not easy. So to give you a glimpse of his poetry here is a snippet of one of his best poems, 'The Darkling Thrush'

'At once a voice arose among
the bleak twigs overhead
in a full-heated evensong
of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
in blast-beruffled plume,
had chosen thus to fling his soul
upon the growing gloom.'

Why I Love Him

Almost everything he writes is negative or pessimistic. Sometimes it is just so refreshing to hear someone really say how they feel, but what I love about his sad tone is that it is so passionate and intense; he is almost desperate to the point of hopefulness. Like in the poem, it talks about this frosty, grey, gloomy, hopeless place and the frosty, grey, gloomy, hopeless character in it. And then this little ragged bird starts singing, and you get the feeling Hardy is desperate to find someone or something that feels hope, even if he can't feel it himself. Its sort of a desperate pessimists cry for optimism, and even though he is so pessimistic, that makes me happy. In another one of his poems, 'Neutral Tones', he writes the line "alive enough to have strength to die", and I think that describes Hardy's level of hope. He has enough hope to live, but just barely. And thats where I get the desperate voice that draws me in so intensely.

He is such an incredible crafter of words. From the one word level (how great a word is 'Darkling'), to phrases--'fling his soul.' Every word is emotionally fraught and meticulously chosen.

His insight on humanity is incredible. In 'Tess,' even the way he describes her mouth is insightful. Tess' lover is describing her lips, and he says, "Perfect, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand. But no--they were not perfect. And it was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity." How awesome is that? It makes me feel so much better about myself and life. And all he was doing was describing a country girls mouth.

Why I Don't

Almost everything he writes is negative or pessimistic. Sometimes its just really difficult to get through it. It can just be so depressing, because there seems to be no hope. But you can find hope if you look hard enough.

Some of his dialogue is a little ridiculous. Not that I'm in any position to really critique the writing style of Thomas Hardy, and I'm sure every word of his dialogue was purposeful, but it can just be frustrating sometimes. Which, I'm sure, is exactly what he wanted.

Have you read Thomas Hardy? What did you think of him? If not, if you feel up to the challenge I think his brilliance is worth the temporary depression and difficulty.

Happy reading!
Sarah Allen

Friday, November 20, 2009

Top Three Creative Writing Books

Here's a quick list of my top three favorite creative writing books. Here you go:

1-On Writing, by Stephen King

2-Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass

3-Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell

Happy reading, writing, and weekend!
Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What authors can learn from Stephanie Meyer

As a significant portion of our population waits with baited breath tonight's midnight showings of New Moon (which I will be going to, I admit), I figure it might be useful to see what can learn from this craze and the author of it, Mrs. Stephanie Meyer.
Let me start off by saying that regardless of anyone's opinion of her actual artistic ability, Meyer has done something right, and any writer wanting even a smidgen of the type of success she has had would do well to see what leafs we can take from her book. Here are a few that I've thought of.
-The Erotics of Abstinence: I can't remember where I heard that phrase, but I think it sums it up well. I think it could also be called something like 'The 90% Principle'. So many artists think that just laying it all out there and holding nothing back is what will satisfy readers. But what Meyer shows us is that by not giving the reader 100%, they are left pleasantly and addictively unsatisfied, and will keep coming back for more. And this can apply to more then just love scenes. As a general principle, by taking your reader only part of the way, it makes it harder for them to leave you.
-Gimmickability: Meyer created a world that can be expanded upon. The story can be made into Twilight dolls, music, posters, fanfic, stickers, whatever. In other words, its everywhere. I think gimmickability is a lot easier in the fantasy genre, and a writer can't build their piece around the hope of character barbies, but in whatever genre you're writing it may end up being a successful marketing strategy to have a few quirky symbols, images, characters or whatever that can creatively be used as marketing gimmicks. Look at it this way: even black book covers with white and red front images is now a Twilight gimmick.
-Fan involvement: From what I can tell Meyer is very involved with her fans. She answers their questions, encourages them to write their own stories, and basically just lets them be involved in her world. This way readers feel welcome and excited to be a part of something.
Hope this helps, and enjoy the movie tonight. It promises to be...interesting.
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creative Writing Podcasts

I thought I'd compile a list of some of the best creative writing blogs for those times when your cleaning, working, driving, walking, or whatever and just want to listen to some good advice about writing. Here you go!

The Writing Show
Writers On Writing
The Secrets
Barnes and Noble podcasts
Washington Post Book World Podcast
I Should Be Writing
Write Where You Belong

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 16, 2009

Creative Writing: The Small and Simple Things

Have you heard people make the statement that after ten years of hard work they were an overnight success? Honestly, I think that this is just the way life works. We look at writers like J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer and wish we could wake up as rich and famous as they are. In rare instances, I suppose success can come from a quick stroke of luck, but for the vast majority its all about persistence and hard work. Like that old formula, something like 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. There are the nitty-gritty things we can do every day that may not seem like they're getting us anywhere, but its the build up of time and effort that is the only thing that can guarantee payoff in the long run. So here are the things writers need to work on every day:

-Write. This is the most important one. Get your butt in the chair and write. I think it was Stephen King who said that the writer is the one who doesn't leave the room. Make a daily goal for yourself and don't go to bed until you've met it. Ever. You can't be published until you have something to publish. This is one I am going to work on. Just sit down and write. Right now. Just do it.

-Blog consistently. Blogging is one of the most effective ways of building a readership, so don't slack off in this area. Put out new posts consistently, comment on other blogs, do the best you can to get your blog as big as you can. When you have a book out there waiting to be bought, you'll be glad you did.

-Send out. When a piece is finished, never let it sit on your hard drive for more then 24 hours. Keep your pieces in the system, keep them flowing. Take them in for edits when you need to, but then get them back out there as soon as you can.

-Daily Marketing. Be creative in how you do this, but do it. Blogging is part of this, but spend a little time on other sites where you can build a following. Build connections with local journalists and other people who can help you get the word out. Build a following on social networking type sites. (Scribd, Facebook,Youtube,Flickr are some good basic ones). Get your friends to link to your blog or write a 5-star review of your book on Amazon. The way things are in the publishing world right now, it seems like the more a writer can do for themselves publicity wise, the better off they'll be. So do something every day. Just don't let it take away from your writing time.

-Research. Check publishing news. Read blogs. Research different agents and editors. Find book clubs in your area that might be interested in your stuff. Look at whats on the top of the best-sellers list. Keep up on local or national creative writing competitions that may be coming up. Just keep up on whats going on in your field so you can be ahead of the game instead of being left behind.

-Write. Did I mention that you should be writing? Yeah. Just do it.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, November 14, 2009

World Literature Condensed

This is from a plaque that my grandpa gave to me a couple years ago. I have it on my desk and thought you might enjoy it as much as I do.

World Literature Condensed:

Moby Dick
Ahab chases whale. Whale chases Ahab. Whale prevails.

Romeo & Juliet
Two teenagers fall in love and then they die.

Gone with the Wind
Scarlett's a yuppie. The South falls. Rhett splits.

A Tale of Two Cities
Good times. Bad times. The peasants win. Marie loses.

War and Peace
A lot of Russians with long names doing complicated things. The Czars lose.

Enjoy! Have a fun and creatively productive weekend.
Sarah Allen

Friday, November 13, 2009

What writers can learn from Project Runway

I'm sitting here watching Project Runway, and thinking of what I can learn from this show that will help me in my own work. It may not seem like a reality show about designers and real life creative writing may have much in common, but here are some things to keep in mind:

-Be ready to push through sickness, time constraints and surprises. These designers get things thrown at them all the time, but in order to make it, they have to be ready to deal with it. So do writers.

-Be dedicated. Work as hard as it takes to make deadlines. The difference between you and your competition is how hard you work.

-Be professional but also unique, both in your writing and as a person. The girls have to follow the rules and create pieces that fit modern style and the tastes of the judges, and writers do too. Our readership is our judge. We can't create something so out there they just don't get it, but we don't want to create something that just blends in with the crowd either.

-Be teachable. From what I've seen the girls who make have the most success are willing to take advice from professionals. Again, you can't give up your own unique voice, but don't discount advice from people who have made it further than you have.

-Be observant and attune. Get inspiration from everything around you, especially things that other people might not notice. This is one situation where I can imagine it would be helpful for writers to carry around a camera, and just practice seeing the world through a photographers eye. But don't just observe visually, be aware of sounds, insinuations in things people say, smells, the way things feel under your fingers. Let it all inspire you.

Hope this helps. Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kenneth Burk and identification in Creative Writing

I'm in a History of Rhetoric class and we've been reading Kenneth Burke's A Rhetoric of Motives. He says some awesome things that I think can help us creative writers.

Burke says, "You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech,l gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his" (p.g. 55). To me this is something important for writers to know and understand.

We are trying to persuade people to two things: 1) to read our work, and 2) that our work is high quality, well-crafted and worth reading. We can use Burke's idea of identification for both of these things. First, we need to use the identification principle in real life, as an every day person. We need people to be on our side, to support us, and if they relate to us and feel like as a person we deserve help and support, then they're really going to get behind us and our work.

Also, we can use this principle in our writing itself. The story and tone of the work in general need to have something in them that readers can relate too. If you are honest with yourself, and let your humanity show through, in your 'gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea,' etc, then your readers will connect with what you write. Also our characters must have something in them that makes the reader feel like they're a real person. Even the antagonists need to be sympathetic in some way, and following Burke's principal of identification will allow all your characters to leap from the page and grab the readers heart and imagination.

So be real and honest, let your readers see the real you, and make your characters true to life. Happy writing!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today's Podcast Recording Session

For my post today I think it might be useful for me to just go over what happened at the recording session today, because I for one had no idea what to expect, so anyone else whose being recorded can maybe learn something from my experience.

It wasn't too complicated or stressful. The girl took me to the recording studio, which is two small rooms, one a sound booth. I sat on a stool in front of the microphone with my story on a music stand in front of me so I wouldn't make any rustling noise. The girl asked me questions about my story and I had to answer in complete sentences, and then I did a read through of my story. Then it was done. Not too bad.

The biggest thing I learned from today is about preparing for the questions. The main questioned they asked me was about my writing process and where I go the idea for my story. Those are pretty obvious questions and I had thought of answers to those questions before hand, but I still feel like my answers were a little stupid. Not that stupid, and probably most of it is just me being self-conscious, but I still think it would have been a fantastic idea for me to have had an ready answer memorized word for word. I'm not even joking. Next time I'm going to write out an answer to the questions I'm sure they're going to ask and memorize it so I know my answer will be clear, concise and intelligent sounding. That is my biggest suggestion for anyone going to be interviewed about there writing.

Best of luck on writing everyone, don't let local opportunities pass you by!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Asking for creative writing critique

I should probably start with a disclaimer that I am writing this post mainly for my own benefit. I have serious confidence issues and letting anyone even see my writing totally awkwards me out. But I figure that if I have this issue maybe a few other writers out there do too, and we all may as well admit it, suck it up, and ask for help.

One of the reasons I think I personally have this problem is that I am afraid of people reading in to me as a person when they read my work. For example, if I write a poem about a grandfather whose addicted to tobacco (which I have) or a chubby fifteen year old who can't relate to her beautiful vice president mother but who finds solace in a job at a breeders house, helping with the dogs (which I also have) I want people to read it for what it is, and not bring me and my life in to it. First of all, sometimes its flat out wrong. (Neither of my grandfathers smoke). But the hard part is when its people who know you well reading your stuff, and you're worried they may relate the story to you. (I was a chubby fifteen year old, I completely adore dogs, and my mother is actually quite stunning.) But I am still not that character, my mother is not that mother, and I don't want people to read too much into it. I'm still me, and I don't want people's opinion of me as a person to change after they've read my writing.

Whatever the reason for the awkwardness and embarrassment at letting people see your work, it needs to stop, including for me. It can be the hardest with the people who you are closest too, but they're your base group for critique. They're who you have for support from the very beginning.

As a hopefully encouraging story, I have a really awesome professor this semester who offered to critique my work as soon as he knew I wanted to be a writer. Obviously I was ecstatic to have an English professor help me with my writing, but with that came the anxiety and awkwardness. But I knew this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, so I sucked it up and sent him my portfolio. His response was very kind, unexpected, and helpful. His favorite piece was one of my least favorites, and he didn't even really address what I thought he would like the most. But he gave very insightful reasons about why he liked what he liked, about my strengths and about how I could use those strengths to improve my weaknesses. His advice has really helped me.

So don't stress about letting people read your work. They will still love you, you will be the same person you were before they read it, and you may get some great help from them, or at least some support. So suck it up and find someone to be your best reader.

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pyramid of Abstraction: the importance of detail in creative work

The Pyramid of Abstraction is one of the fundamentals of creative writing in my opinion. The main idea is that every work of creative writing, or any work of art for that matter, should be based on solid, concreted details with a few abstractions on the top.

In a piece of creative writing its the detail that really draws the reader in, helps them identify with the characters and the story and are what readers remember when they leave. Writing that's too abstract is difficult to connect with and is sometimes even hard to understand. Even if what your trying to communicate is a universal abstract idea, the best way to guide your readers to an understanding of that idea is through stunning, concrete detail. Use sight, smell, touch, taste and sound. Every sensual detail like that will evoke emotions in the reader, and that is the best way of making sure your reader connects with your work. Think of it this way: which is a more interesting sentence? a) "An aura of sadness hung over the room," or b) "Gloria's tongue felt like she had been sucking lemon, but even so, she and the white-haired man sitting next to her on the pew, who had spent the last hour fidgeting with his wedding ring, were the only ones in the whole church who hadn't cried."

Using awesome detail will make your story and characters as real to your readers as they are to you.

Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Some creative writing title ideas

Here are some titles I've pulled from my creative writing notebooks as beginning of the week creative thought provokers. Hope they at least spark some ideas in your own mind.

-The Darker Side of Yodeling
-Fundamentally Bailed
-The Oil Lamp Stories
-Rate of Decay
-A Dirty Job and Lamb
-I Blow with the Harmattan
-Witches, Wives, and Wonderbread
-Chimeras and Red Wine
-Burial 116

Anyway, there are some random titles from the back of all my notebooks. Remember to just keep your butt in the chair and write!

Sarah Allen

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Update on my work being podcasted and creative writing in real life moments

I got another email from the Writing Center, and though I wasn't the winner, I was a close enough second that they want me to come in too! I'm so excited! I go in on Wednesday for recording, and the podcast will air sometime in December. Here's the link for the podcast: Word of Mouth.

Also, some pretty crazy/unusual things happened to me this weekend, and it made me think that all the not normal things that happen to us are exactly the kind of thing we writers are looking for. For example, this weekend I dropped my phone in a bowl of cereal. It died. I now have a new phone. Also, I had my first eye exam ever and ended up with a prescription for glasses. At least I found some cool shnazzy red ones. Ok, so maybe killing your cell phone and getting your first pair of glasses aren't such out of the ordinary things, but at least for me they are telling things; telling about what makes a difference to people, about personalities, relationships, and its those real life details that make characters and plots seem real life.

So don't let those telling moments pass you by unnoticed, use them for artistic/creative writing inspiration. I hope your in the middle of a weekend full of them. Hopefully the good kind.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ways to advance your creative writing career during dumb classes and meetings

So, while I was in my afternoon class (wicked grin), sitting there wishing I didn't have to worry about school and just write and work on the stuff I wanted too, I thought to myself, why not do both? Obviously its important to get an education and earn a living, but there's such a thing as multi-tasking. So here are some things I thought of during my class that writers can do during boring classes and meetings, especially with no computer, to help get done whats most important to them.
-Write/Outline: For an artist or designer, meetings and classes are a perfect time to sit and doodle. But at least for me, its hard to be sitting in a class and actually get any good writing done. If your brain can manage that, more power to you, but what I was thinking is that perhaps this might be a good time for character sketches or plot outlines. Maybe fill out your main characters best friend, our outline the next chapter of your book. Or maybe look out the window or around the room until you find something you want to write a poem about. There's my first and most obvious suggestion.
-Edit: What spurred this whole idea for me is that in my class I was wishing I had brought a hard copy of some short stories to edit. This may be a good time to polish up some shorter pieces before sending or re-sending them out as submissions.
-Memorize: If, like me, you think that knowing good writing helps you create good writing, why not scribble down a poem or snippet from your favorite book in your notebook and work on memorizing it? This will not only help your writing, but make you sound really smart.
-Text Marketing: Text anyone in your phone who you know is involved in blogging or some online community and tell them to put in a good word for you; put in a link to your blog or your book on Amazon. Remind them of your upcoming book release. Every bit of marketing helps, and you're probably texting during class anyway, right?
-Plan/Write your next Blog post: Guess what I worked on during my class today? *wink*. The more you can consolidate things that don't involve working on your creative projects, the more time you can spend working on those projects.
Work and school are important, and you can't afford to slack off on those parts of your life, but when you feel like you can manage it, why not multi-task and work on the part of your life that's most important to you?
Hope this helps, and happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My work is being Podcasted!

A couple weeks ago I submitted a 100 word (including the title) story to a flash fiction competition given by the Brigham Young University Writing Center. The stories had to be 100 words or less, and the top stories would be read aloud on the Writing Center podcast, 'Word of Mouth'. Today I got an email saying that my story, called 'Diamonds Are' is a finalist! That means my story, along with 4 others, is going to be read aloud on the podcast sometime in December. The five stories are passed along to a professor, and the author he chooses as the winner will get to come read their story themselves, and answer a few questions about it. We'll see how that goes. But regardless, my story is going to be read aloud on the podcast, which is way exciting.
Don't miss out on local opportunities! I already mentioned Craigslist as a great source, and iGigz is another good source if you live in the west. Check your local news, meet with writers and book groups in your area to find these opportunities.
Happy writing!
Sarah Allen

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Audio books: What creative writers should have on their iPods.

I recently uploaded the last few chapters of 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows' onto my iPod and have been listening to them as I walk to school. Not only has it made the walk more enjoyable, but I've noticed that hearing the words out loud has helped me be aware of J.K. Rowling's voice, phrases and word choice in a way you just don't pick up from words on a page. I think listening to music is great too, and there are some incredible lyricists out there, but why not try shaking it up with some audiobooks, and using your iPod time to be taught and inspired by the greats.

Now, audio books are pretty expensive, and writers aren't typically known for their vast financial resources, so unless you have parents or friends with an awesome audio book library that you can mooch, there are a few things you can do to keep expenses down. I've been haunting the 'Free on iTunes' section of the iTunes store, and have found a few gems. I've found excerpts from newly released novels, and even a section of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' read by Roald Dahl himself. And if you don't mind unprofessional readings, LibriVox has a huge audio library of public domain books. Here is a list of sites that offer free public domain audio books but LibriVox is the main one. Also, iTunes offers free podcasts of some of the classics, and that might be worth checking out.

If there are better/more sources for audio books out there, I would love to know. Happy listening!

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 2, 2009

More Sources for Creative Writing Prompts

So my first post was about creative writing notebooks, which I think is probably the most useful prompt source a writer can have at their fingertips. However, there are lots of other very good ways to give you the creative spark when you need it, and here a few that have helped me:


When your stuck, one way to get things going again is to look through old photos. Look for details you haven't noticed before. Look for expressions on peoples faces, and try and remember what was said right before the camera clicked. Here's a photo to get you started.

A statue I saw once in Germany. See what you can do with it.

The news

The news is a good way to find real life plots and characters. Maybe something you hear about in the news is exactly what needs to happen next in your novel. Perhaps there's a detail about someone who committed a crime that is exactly what you need to fill out your antagonist, or even your main character. It depends. Check the news wherever you live, and here are a few big ones that might help:

The New York Times
L.A. Times
Fox News
Google News (a good combobulation of news from all over)
Al Jazeera English (a great source for a different perspective, which is what we writers are looking for, right?)
London Times (stories from our friends across the pond. Always fun.)

Web comics/humor strips

This one is fun. I like these because often they provide poignant glimpses into human nature, not to mention hilarious situations, that may give you back some of the enjoyment you're missing in your writing. Here's some of the ones I like:

MyLifeIsAverage (If you don't know this one, you are missing out, and probably haven't been online since Easter)
A Softer World(Unique and artistic)
xkcd (hilarious and intellectual)

Hope those help. Just remember not to spend more time browsing then you do actually writing.

Sarah Allen

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why I am not doing National Novel Writing Month, even though I probably should

On November first, I figure any writing blog must address the phenomenon of National Novel Writing Month. Thousands and thousands of writers will be furiously scribbling and typing away, creating an entire work in less then one month. Unfortunately, I will not be one of them.

Two of my roommates are doing NaNo this year, and though I will be writing with them, I won't actually be doing NaNo. See, I have a novel already started that I have been working on for quite a while now, and even though I'm only just over 10,000 words into it, I don't want to put it on the back burner quite yet. And I don't want to use that particular novel for NaNo, because I feel like I need to take it at a more relaxed, intimate pace then I could if I was doing it.

However, NaNo is a great opportunity to learn how to get your butt in the chair and actually produce something. I will try to glean that from the frantically writing aura of all you NaNo-ers all over the world, and make myself write along with you, though not quite as hectically. As always, whatever I learn in my journey that may help you in yours during this crazy month, I will be sure to help in any way I can.

Good luck NaNoing!
Sarah Allen

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What writers can learn from Lon Chaney and silent film

Tonight my roommates and I went to the 1923 silent film adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, staring Lon Chaney as Quasimodo. I thought it might be interesting to see what the silent film genre and its actors have to teach me about my own work, and here is what I came up with:
Lon Chaney was extremely dedicated to his work. He spent lots of time and effort working with makeup and finding ways to contort his own face and body, without regard to pain, and it is for good reason he is called 'the man with 1,000 faces.' Chaney clambered up, down and around Notre Dame wearing a nearly 50 pound hump and harness that kept his body twisted and contorted. That’s what I call dedication. Now, writing and art don't generally involve facial and bodily contortion, (if it does, you may want to reevaluate your writing process), but emotionally and mentally, it can sometimes be torture. When that happens, remember Lon Chaney, and just be glad you're not gallivanting around Paris with a 50 pound hump on your back.
Another thing Chaney demonstrates is this: The best monsters and horror characters are also somehow sympathetic. Chaney's Quasimodo obviously and poignantly craved affection; that is something every human can understand. We all fear the grotesque and unlovable within ourselves. If as an artist you are going for more than just blood and guts, you can look to Lon Chaney for an example.
One last thing I think we can learn from the silent film genre in general is what I guess I could call significant expression. I'm sure we're all familiar with the over-the-top style of acting in silent films, and we don't need to go that far. But I think that what we can take away from this is that every glance, movement, and action has an obvious meaning and deep significance. If everything your characters did, said, or expressed meant something important to the reader, how much richer would those characters be? Again, I'm not saying we need to be didactic or unnatural, but taking away the parts that don't mean much to your characters takes away the parts that won't mean much to your reader.
Anyway, there's my Halloween artsy experience. Hope all of you had a fantastic Halloween, and now that it’s over, happy NaNoWriMo!
Write on!
Sarah Allen

Creative Writing Marketing

No matter if your writing the next best thing in the English language, without good marketing strategies, no one will know. I'm just beginning to find my way in the marketing world, and look forward to better, more advanced suggestions, but here are the basics of what I've found so far.


This is a great site for just plain old publishing your work. It is a searchable listing of thousands of places for you to be published. Find hundreds of publications that are looking for the kind of thing you write, and keep submitting until


This is an obvious one, but a very good one. Craigslist provides a listing of local writing opportunities, and you never know what gems of experience you'll find. Keep track of what writing opportunities are happening in your own town, and help build your local following. This is one to check regularly.


This is also an obvious one, but a very good way of spreading news to hundreds of people at once. This is an incredibly useful supplement to your blog. Keep your followers aware of publication dates, readings, signings, etc.


You want people to find your book. This site is about people finding the next thing on their reading list. Its a perfect match.


This is one I'm still trying to figure out. Obviously its for video, not text, but it is also one of the most popular sites in the world right now, and any creative ways of marketing your writing using this site will, I'm sure, be of great help. Perhaps video of readings, home-made book trailers, interviews, etc.


This is in the same vein as YouTube, in that its for photos, not text. But again, its a hugely popular site, so any way of marketing through photo on this site has the potential of reaching tons of people. Here's another site similar to Flickr that can be used similarly: deviantART

Gaming Sites

Ok, so this one is a little weird, but there are lots of people on gaming sites that could potentially be turned in to readers if you can reach them. Besides, its fun! Just don't let gaming get in the way of writing. Here are a few big sites: Zynga, Neopets.

Social Networking sites

One of most necessary and useful online marketing tools. Here's a short list of the top ones:

Random Interest

Look for local or national groups that may not have to do with writing specifically, but still are applicable to you. Make friends with people who love dogs, theater, medicine, or whatever it is your interested in, and you will have expanded and diversified your readership.

So there's the basics of what I know about reaching people and finding new opportunities. I hope these ideas are things you can use.
Sarah Allen

p.s. Here's a list of the top sites in the world, and any of them that you can use to market your creative writing will definitely help: Alexa

Creative Writing Notebook

There's a reason my first post is about writing notebooks:

How can you write if you don't have something to write with and something to write on?

I have carried around some form of notebook since I was in 8th grade, and it has been one my best weapons against writers block.

My notebooks are a sort of creativity dumping ground. I write down story ideas, little details, something neat that I saw, a cool phrase I overheard, or even just how bored I am sitting in class. I like to use the back of the notebook for titles, and those have become my favorite thing to jot down. Even if you never end up using anything from your notebook directly, its a great way to get the spark you need when you're completely blank.

I sometimes use creative writing notebook for businessy things as well. I jot down random ideas I have about marketing my writing, or a new outlet I hear about, or a new idea I hear about how I can make money with writing. Then I usually transfer this kind of information to a more organized list later. But for those random times when you hear about a neat opportunity, its always good to have a consistent, convenient way of recording it.

The notebook idea is useful to more then just writers. Wouldn't it be useful for an artist to always carry around a sketchbook? I can even see how it might be helpful for an actor to carry around a notebook to write down the small, significant details they observe in people going about their daily life to use later in their work. And it doesn't have to be an expensive, heavy, leather-bound thing either. Your kids old notebook from second grade works just as well, or even a few 3x5 cards you carry in your pocket. Or if your one Whatever works for you.

Just remember to always have it with you. At work, school, shopping, by your bed, wherever you go. When that sudden spark of inspiration comes, you'll be glad you did.

Sarah Allen
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