Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Post from Melissa Ann Goodwin - "The Two Techniques that Improved My Writing the Most" and Special Giveaway

I am pleased today to welcome Melissa Ann Goodwin to Donna's Book Pub as part of the WOW! Women on Writing author's blog tour.

Melissa and I have been blogging friends for quite some time and have gotten to know one another through her friendly and helpful posts. She also has been a frequent visitor to my blog, always leaving uplifting comments.

So I was so happy to hear about publication of her book, The Christmas Village, and even more excited when Robyn from WOW! asked if I would like to host Melissa on my blog.

"Of Course!" was my immediate answer.

Melissa is author of the charming children's book, The Christmas Village. Here's a synopsis of the book: "Jamie Reynolds wished that he could live in Grandma's miniature Christmas village, and now that wish has magically come true. But is the village really what it seems? What stunning secrets does it hold? And how will Jamie ever get back home? Join the fun, come along on the adventure, and find out!"


Here's what Melissa has to say about the two techniques that helped improve her writing the most.

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As writers, we’re always looking for tips and techniques to make our writing better. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses. Some people are naturally adept at creating realistic dialogue; others paint us vivid pictures with their words. I’ve realized that I’m naturally pretty good at dialogue and plotting, but I have to work hard on description, and I have to be careful to avoid redundancy. There are two key activities that have helped me strengthen my writing and I’d like to share them with you.


Reading Your Work Aloud

The first activity I use to tighten my work is reading it aloud. The brain is a funny thing – when you think of a word that fits perfectly, your brain likes it so much that it wants to use it again – two sentences later! Reading aloud helps you to catch redundancies when silent reading does not. It also clearly shows up words or sentences that don’t flow smoothly and it helps you catch missing words and errors. Poor dialogue is especially highlighted when you read aloud – if it doesn’t sound realistic when you say it out loud, it won’t sound real to the reader either.

Including Description of All Five Senses

The second activity I recommend is making sure to use descriptors in all five of the senses. It’s pretty easy to describe sight and sound, but we usually have to dig deeper to effectively convey touch, smell and taste. The effort is well worth it though, because including a broad range of vivid descriptors is one way that we achieve “showing” versus “telling” - which is what makes our story come alive for our readers, and helps them get lost in the worlds we’ve created for them.

To illustrate, let’s take these sentences excerpted from page one of my book, The Christmas Village:


“ … They had been driving all day through gloomy weather, stopping only for bathroom breaks and a greasy hamburger at a place called Red’s Diner … The overly warm car smelled like stale air and leftover fries. Jamie’s eyes had grown weary from reading the book that now lay face-down in his lap. The monotonous thunk thunk thunk of the windshield wipers made him drowsy. To amuse himself, Jamie squinted so that the lights whizzed past in a kaleidoscope of streaks and swirls.”

I wanted to show that the characters have been driving for a long time on a dreary night. But more importantly, I wanted to show that Jamie’s mood is gloomy too. Using descriptors that crossed all the senses helped me achieve both those goals.

I found that using these two techniques tightened my story and brought it to life in a way that I’d never achieved before. I hope that you’ll find them helpful to your writing process too.

***

Thanks for sharing those tips, Mellissa. Using examples from your book is especially helpful. And thanks for generously donating a copy of your wonderful book to one lucky visitor who leaves a comment on my blog about your post. The Christmas Village makes a great gift for a child or grandchild--or anyone who loves the magic of Christmas. 

If you would like to win a copy of Melissa's charming Christmas story The Christmas Village, leave a comment here by November 17. The name of the lucky winner will be announced November 18.

25 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this guest post. I love writing and reading children's stories. I find reading aloud is very helpful in finding mistakes. I also have to try harder at including the five senses. Would love to win the book! Thanks for the give away and the post.

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  2. Hello to Melissa, and thanks to Donna for hosting this stop on Melissa's blog tour so we can all read about it! The book sounds delightful. I usually don't read my own work aloud, but I'm going to try Melissa's tip and see if it works for me. Of course, I'll have to warn the others in my household, so they don't hear me upstairs and think I'm muttering to myself again. :)

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  3. Reading your own work aloud is something that elementary teachers use with their students to help find left out words and sentences that don't make sense. Remembering to include the 5 senses is a great tip. The sentence she gave really showed how it helps the work come alive.

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  4. I would definitely love to win this book! The writing tips are terrific, and I love the way Melissa illustrated description using the senses by sharing a passage from her book.

    Donna, Thanks for introducing Melissa to your readers.

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  5. Janet, thanks for your kind comments. I've had to work so hard on the description end of writing, but now I've come to really have fun with it!

    Dianna - I actually made my poor husband sit outside with me in summer - day after day - as I read aloud to him. Together we found so much that needed tightening. Yes, he IS a saint! :-)

    Nancy, I actually checked every chapter of the book for all five senses. Sometimes I let it go if it just seemed gratuitous to put something in, but generally, I made sure that at least several senses had been used.

    Clara - hello! I've followed your blog for a while too. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    Donna! Thanks again, so much for hosting me here on your wonderful blog. It's like hanging out with an old friend.

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  6. Both tips are excellent. I have used the reading aloud, but I tend to forget about all the senses! Thanks for sharing Donna and Melissa!

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  7. I have eight grandchildren and would love to win a copy of your book. You're right about it being harder to add touch, smell and taste (unless I'm describing chocolate). I'll have to work on that. Thanks for sharing you're writing tips.

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  8. Melissa, thank you for sharing your wisdome with us. I am excited to also be participating in your blog tour and learning from you! Your book is so cute! :)

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  9. Reading my work out loud is critical...and I'm heading back into my ms to add more senses -- got the same good advice in a class I took on Sunday. Nice post!

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  10. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving comments for Melissa. I'm sure she appreciates. I certainly do!
    Donna

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  11. Lynn, Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Alice - 8 grandchildren! That's a whole lot of fun! Yes, taste is especially hard to include when you aren't talking about food!

    Margo - thanks for the kind words, and thanks so much for being one of my hosts. Tomorrow!!

    Patricia, I really have found that reading aloud works like nothing else!

    Donna, you are a great host and I really appreciate this time to chat with folks on your blog. xo

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  12. oops - Margo - that's THURSDAY I'll be over at your place. :-) With traveling, I don't know what day it is!

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  13. Another great post of Melissa's. Thanks, Donna for sharing it with us. Don't include me in the give-away because I already have the book!! Hi Melissa! Congrats on all your wonderful book sales!!

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  14. Great advice! Sounds like a very cute book.

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  15. Very interesting info! I know reading aloud helps but I have fallen away from doing it. Thanks for the pep talk and encourging me to get back to it!

    The story sounds very creative! Since I have a small collection of special Christmas books, I would like to add this to it. Please put my name to win!

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  16. Hi Becky! Nice to see you!

    Tammy, nice to meet you, thanks for coming by and saying hi.

    Bookie - it's funny how we fall out of those habits...I hope you'll all love the book :-)

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  17. I so agree with the reading out loud suggestion. Since I'm now critique groupless, I have become my own critique partner. How weird is that????

    Pat
    Critter Alley

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  18. K9friend - that made me laugh - but it's true!

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  19. Donna, thank you for hosting Melissa, and thanks to Melissa for the encouraging tips. I must work harder at getting in ALL five senses. My nine year old grandson would love this book.

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  20. Hi Linda and Everyone who left a comment,
    Thanks for you support for Melissa and for continuing to visit my blog regularly.
    You all are the best!
    I wish you could all win. I will post the name of the winner on Nov 18.
    Donna

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  21. Melissa, thanks for sharing these writing tips. Reading my work out loud always makes such a huge difference for me when I'm self-editing.

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  22. Thanks again to everyone who stopped by and said hello. it's so nice to meet you all.

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  23. Melissa, thanks for the great tips. Sometimes I think I have written something pretty well until I go back and read it! Reading it out loud makes so much sense! It really makes the characters come alive..good or bad. I also love the idea of incorporating the 5 senses. I am going to try to be more mindful of my own 5 senses so I can build up a bank of senses! Your book sounds like such an original. I can't wait to read it. I hope I win one!

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  24. I really enjoy seeing the two examples, it solidifies the concept so much more. Who looks at those Christmas villages and dosen't wonder what it would be like to live there? Great idea.

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