The room was packed! In fact, the staff had to add additional tables and chairs to accommodate more than 50 writers who turned out to listen to Margo talk about "Everything You Need to Know about Writing You Learned in Elementary School."
Margo's presentation was energetic and informative and filled with helpful hints for writers to use the tools they learned many years ago, but may need a nudge to remember. She focused on the 6+1 traits of writing: Ideas, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Voice, Organization, Conventions and Publication.
Here are some notes I jotted down during Margo's presentation:
* Ideas. Sources for ideas can be your life, the Internet, newspaper articles or cartoons, books, just about anywhere. According to Margo, you don't only have to write what you know. You can research a topic or talk to other people. She used the example of traveling to Vicksburg to research her recently released book, Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg. One fascinating tip was using the "potato" method for generating ideas. Don't use the first idea that comes to mind; dig a little deeper to get something fresh beneath the surface. She also talked about how, like potatoes, ideas can become rotten if you don't do anything with them.
* Word Choice. For advice on word choices, Margo recommended reading On Writing by Stephen King, who cautions writers about overuse of adverbs and adjectives. Instead, use specific nouns and verbs. Watch for passive voice. Use word choices that fit your genre. For description of a chacter, don't be like a J.C. Penney catalog, but mention distinct characteristics. When using colors, be specific, don't overuse, and have a reason why one color is mentioned several times. (I took that to mean that, for example, does the color red signify an angry or passionate character?) Send overused words to the "word graveyard, where words go to die." Overused words include: very, good, bad, happy, sad, just, little. Also, watch for repeat words. I found this humorous list on AskMen of overused words, some of which I use more than I should.
* Sentence Fluency. Vary the length and type of sentences, and vary how your sentences begin. During the editing process, study your manuscript. Watch for the first word of each sentence. Always read your work out loud. If writing in first person, watch for starting sentences with the word "I." For third person, don't repeat the character's name too much. Instead, use pronouns--although to avoid confusion, when characters are speaking in dialogue and both are the same sex, it's okay to use their names. To build suspense use shorter entences and action words. Longer sentences help readers catch their breath.
In my next post, I'll share what Margo had to say about: Organization, Voice, Conventions and Publication.