All posts by katiemerkelwriter

Katie Merkel is a writer, actress, and teacher. She has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish education and a minor in German from Millersville University and is a certified Spanish teacher in the state of Pennsylvania. She has an associate’s degree in performing arts from Harrisburg Area Community College. She currently works at a preschool.

Strong, Clear, Concise Writing

Hello everyone!

It is easy to recognize bad writing and to identify why it is bad.  However, it is harder to explain why a piece of writing is good.

Below is an article and an infographic which helped me to identify weaknesses in my own writing.  I also included some of the strategies I applied to correct these shortcomings.

Active VerbsIn writing, it is always better to show than tell.  “Don’t Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose” by William Noble explains when and how to use adverbs and adjectives.

Laurie Wallmark directed me to 5 Basic Rules of English Writing That Everyone Should Know (Infographic)” by Jennifer Frost.  After reading the infographic, I found that I am guilty of regularly breaking rules three and four.

Rule #3 – “Do not use words whose meanings you are not sure of.”

When I’m writing, I will sometimes use a word that I am 90% sure means one thing.  Before I started blogging, I liked my chances of having used the correct word.  Now, I either look up the word before using it or change it’s color in the rough draft, so I will remember to confirm it’s meaning later.  I’m glad I started doing this.  Sometimes, the word means exactly what I thought it did and other times the meaning is vastly different.

Rule #4 – “Use concrete rather than vague language.”

thV903596HI tend to be sparse in my descriptions of cities and scenery during travel sequences.  For example, I might write “While walking through the forest, a tree branch whacked him in the face.”  What type of forest was he in: coniferous, deciduous, or rainforest?  Is it dark or is there lots of sunlight?  Was the tree branch leafy, flimsy, spiky, thick, dry, etc.?  (Remember Noble’s advice concerning adjectives.)  Since I am more drawn to witty dialogue and dynamic characters than descriptions, it can be difficult for me to recognize this lack of specificity.

After acknowledging this tendency, I began training myself to watch out for bland descriptions in my writing.  First, I reread portions of The Hunger Games, Eragon, The Maze Runner, and Divergent to get a sense for how some successful Dystopian Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors described their worlds.  I also re-watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy, paying special attention to the different looks of elven homes (Rivendell vs. Lothlórien), human cities (Edoras vs. Minas Tirith), and the changing landscapes.  My brother, who studied film, recommended that I look at photos of whatever biome my characters are traveling through.  I could then assign the locations in my world specific photos and consult them before writing the descriptions.  I am hoping that these exercises will help me to eliminate vague language from my writing.

My challenge to you is to read “5 Basic Rules of English Writing That Everyone Should Know (Infographic)” and then look at your own writing.  Which rules do you regularly break?  After identifying them, take the necessary steps to reform.  Your writing will be stronger if you do.

Happy writing!

Katie

Tension in Storytelling Is Essential

Hello everyone!

One important element to storytelling is tension. No one wants to read a bland story. Readers want the protagonist’s urgency to transport them from one event to the next. If something is not emotionally, financially, physically, politically, relationally, or spiritually important to the protagonist, why should the reader care?

Any situation or task, however boring or mundane, can become stressful and increase the tension of your story if the conditions are right.

Tension 5Have you ever been in a car with someone who was mad at you or walked into a room where someone was crying? Awkward! How about doing your taxes, mailing them in two days before they’re due, and then realizing that you did them incorrectly? (Yeah, that one might be somewhat autobiographical, and I still have the second set of Certified Mail receipts to prove it.)

Writing Challenge

Choose one or more of the activities below and write a tense scene. If it has potential, try developing the story beyond just that scene. In order to achieve the desired level of tension, you will have to do some character development.

Mundane Activities:

  1. Eating cereal
  2. Getting the mail
  3. Grocery shopping
  4. Going to the dentist (Okay, this is an easy one.)
  5. Returning a phone call

Happy writing!

Katie

How to Create a Successful Blog

Hello everyone!

While preparing for the 2017 NJ SCBWI Conference, I thought back to September 2015 when I became serious about getting published. I researched how to make a living as a children’s author (FYI – The answer is to publish a lot of books or get insanely lucky.). Then, I explored how to make myself appealing to agents and editors.

One term I kept seeing and hearing was “platform.” Somehow, I didn’t think they were referring to a wooden plane. Eventually, I figured out that a writer’s platform is his/her following – the people who will read the author’s newest book just because he/she wrote it. I concluded that I needed to grow an online presence.

In January 2016, I decided to create a writer’s Facebook page, website, and blog. My friends joined my Facebook page, but my blog was a graveyard. It was so disheartening to post weekly and not have anyone read my work. I wanted to delete my blog, but knew that was not a good marketing strategy. So, I stuck with it.

In early 2017, I discovered the magic of using tags and other bloggers started to find my posts. I also started using more photos to increase the visual appeal of my blog. After almost a year and a half of blogging, I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and I still have room for improvement and adaptation. Isn’t that the majority of the writing process?

Below are some articles I wish I’d read before I created my blog. I hope you also find them helpful.

The Author’s Dilemma: To Blog or Not to Blog” by Claire E. White

How to Craft a Blog Post – 10 Crucial Points to Pause” by Darren Rowse

How to Use Tags on Your Blog or Website” by Michael Gray

Traffic 1Happy writing and may you get lots of blog traffic!

Katie

Fractured Fairy Tales

Hello everyone!

“Tale as old as time. Tune as old as song.” – Beauty and the Beast

Many of us grew up hearing fairy tales told the same way. There may have been some slight variation from one retelling to the other – for example, in the original Cinderella story the ball lasted for three nights instead of just one – but the essence and elements of the fairy tales always stayed the same.

More recently, I have noticed authors altering our beloved tales by deviating from the traditional outcome, moral, characters’ roles, etc.

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to choose a fairy tale and rewrite it in an original way.

Below are a few examples for how to “fracture” your fairy tale:

  1. Put it in a different time period.
  2. Switch the characters’ roles.
  3. Switch the characters’ genders.
  4. Cut or combine characters.
  5. Change the plot.
  6. Change the ending.
  7. Create a backstory explaining why the hero or villain is doing what he/she does.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Your imagination is the only limit to your fracturing abilities.

Below are a few picture book examples of fractured fairy tales:

Prince Cinders by Babette Cole

Falling for Rupunzel by Leah Wilcox; illustrated by Lydia Monks

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka; illustrated by Lane Smith

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub; illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This prompt was inspired by an acting project Brenda Eppley, one of my theater professors, assigned while I was earning my Associates in Performing Arts at Harrisburg Area Community College. My group’s story was Aladdin. We fractured the fairy tale by setting it in Chicago, making the Sultan the head of the Mafia, Jafar a dirty cop, and Aladdin a con artist. We further fractured it by making the Genie and Jasmine siblings. Jasmine wanted to take over the Mafia after her father, but he thought that his daughter should be innocent of the family’s illegal activity. The Genie, on the other hand, was the Don’s chosen successor, but he wanted to be free from his Mafia ties.

Happy writing!

Katie

The $10 Million Dollar Comma Omission

Oxford CommaHello everyone!

Shocking news, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit made a comma ruling which will cost a dairy company approximately $10 million.

For the synopsis, read “Case Dismissed!” by Cherie Tucker http://authormagazine.org/articles/2017_04_tucker.html

For those of you who want it straight from the horse’s mouth, you can read the opinion here: http://media.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/16-1901P-01A.pdf

For punctuation guidelines, check out my blog post: “Punctuation: Commas, Colons, and Semicolons.”

Happy writing, and watch your commas!

Katie

Truer Love

Hello everyone and happy Easter!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (NIV)

Your writing challenge for the next two weeks is to write a story involving a minimum of two characters who have some sort of love relationship. Remember, love does not have to be romantic.

A few potential character pairings are:

  1. Two friends
  2. A parent and child
  3. Siblings
  4. A romantic couple

Something to consider: Both characters do not need to have the same depth of feeling.

Sometimes in relationships, one person feels more strongly for the other and/or invests more in the relationship. One of the characters could be ambivalent or even hostile towards the other’s love.

Important: You must have a strong plot.

Having a good relationship dynamic is not the same thing as having a good story. Choose a conflict or issue which your protagonist must resolve. His/Her relationship with the other character can be the conflict, but your story will probably be more interesting if the conflict is something else. Use the relationship to add pressure or to interfere with the resolution of the conflict.

As an additional challenge, do not use the word “love” in your story. Focus on showing the reader the relationship between the two characters through their actions, body language, facial expressions, and the way they talk to each other.

Happy writing!

Katie

April is National Poetry Month

Hello everyone!

In honor of April being National Poetry Month, below are four links which poets ready to be published and writers wanting to try their hand at poetry may find helpful.

“Writing and Publishing FAQ” https://m.poets.org/poetsorg/text/writing-and-publishing-faq

“Poetry: Submissions & Letters to the Editor” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/submissions

“How to Write Poetry” http://www.creative-writing-now.com/how-to-write-poetry.html

“Types of Poetry” http://www.poeticterminology.net/

Happy writing!

Katie