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What Type of Writer Are You? Part 2

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In addition to a writer's preferred method of approaching the task of writing, there is a spectrum they fall on when it comes to the types of feedback they prefer.

Dick belongs to the Sensing tribe. He wants the facts and only the facts. He isn’t interested in Jane’s theories or flights of fancy. He keeps it real. He bases his opinions on what he thinks he knows to be true and dismisses anything that counters it. Critiquing Dick's work is challenging because he has already made up his mind about it. He listens (or pretends to listen) then says, “Yes, but.” At the extreme end, Dick can be so fixed in his position, he isn’t willing to change things that aren’t working.

Dick is good at pointing out factual inconsistencies in your plot. His critique is practical. He may get lost in correcting grammar and lose sight of the heart of the piece. He isn’t open to experimentation and thinks writers should stick to what has already been done, whether it is poetry or novels. Sometimes his advice is relevant. Sometimes his advice wastes your time.

Jane belongs to the Intuitive tribe. She doesn’t care how you come up with the idea. She is only interested in whether the idea is intriguing. She loves stepping outside the box. She loves experimental work. Her critiques focus on the possibilities. She makes suggestions that ask you to expand or deepen your idea. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t.

Jane isn't attached to her own opinion, so she is willing to change anything. She struggles when she receives conflicting advice. Asking her to revise her work can send her into a terminal loop of self-doubt or cause her to stall.  At the extreme end, she can get so lost in exploring possibilities she never finishes.

There are far more Dicks than Janes in the writing world. There is a 70/30 split in the general population. They face off in workshops, classrooms, and critique groups. Agents or editors paired with their opposites guarantees conflict, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings.

Dick thinks Jane is undisciplined, unorganized, and erratic. He dismisses her advice as unrealistic and impractical. He resents her creative suggestions for how he could fix his plot. Sometimes Jane has a point. He should open his mind a little and consider the merit of the advice before dismissing it. Jane can offer a global perspective when Dick gets too lost in the details. She can help him avoid major plausibility plot holes. She can explain the emotional context.

Jane thinks Dick is plodding, boring, and too rigid. She dismisses his advice as short-sighted and simplistic. She should listen occasionally because Dick can help her fix speed bumps and cause and effect plot holes. His nitpicking can force her to make her work tighter when she has strayed too far from the point or added too much filler.

These opposites can help each other shore up their weak side. They may wish to strangle each other at times, but by working together they encourage each other be the best they can be.

Next week, we will continue to explore writer temperaments.

For more tips on how to craft believable characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book, and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook, also available in paperback and E-book.

What Type of Writer Are You? Part 1

Every writer is as individual as a snowflake. Having said that, temperament plays a big part in the method to their madness. We will examine how writers can represent the extreme examples of their temperament. A writer's temperament can be a strength or a weakness. The more evenly balanced they are on the spectrum, the easier it is for them to be successful.

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Both types can learn a lot from each other. So when choosing your writing tribe or attending classes or conferences, don't automatically dismiss someone completely different from you.

Jane is free form. Free form writers are affiliated with the Feeling tribe. She writes with an ear to the emotional content of the piece. Whether it is a poem or a novel, Jane goes for pleasing words and meandering flow. She sits down and lets whatever is in her heart pour onto the page. She doesn’t need to know where she is headed. In fact, she’d rather not know. She wants to explore and release the pent up longing in her soul. At worst, she can meander a really long time and go completely off track. At best, her approach results in something uniquely beautiful. She feels bludgeoned if her work is rejected because it is a piece of her heart.

Jane balks when asked to outline or learn structure, be it poetry or novel writing. She prefers free verse to sonnets. That doesn’t mean she can’t be taught how to construct a sonnet, or any of the other delicious sounding names for poem structure. It means her native preference is stream of consciousness. Oftentimes, when it comes to taming that stream or being asked to define it, she gets blocked or quits. She resists the idea of genre and category, though she wishes for the reader to be pleased by her words.

Jane grows as a writer by learning about story architecture. She may never sit down and come up with an outline. However, when she understands the crucial underpinnings of story, she is better able to channel it with her free-flowing approach. She can then bend and twist the structure in creative ways. Free form writers who refuse to embrace the concept of structure often struggle with the publishing game when it comes to story outlines, synopses, and marketing. At the extreme end, Jane may sit at her desk and scribble endlessly but no one ever sees her work. She may enjoy the process more than the outcome.

Dick is structured. Structured writers tend to belong to the Logical family. He likes knowing the plan before he begins. He is less anxious when he knows where the road ends and thinks through all the twists and turns along the way. He likes to consider all the contingencies. Dick can get so lost in the set up, he grows bored and never finishes the book.

Dick enthusiastically embraces structure. He likes having a road map to success. His work may be technically brilliant, but not entirely satisfying. It may lack depth. He is interested in writing well, not necessarily the emotional response of the reader. He struggles with impromptu writing prompts and thinks free verse is a bit suspect.

Dick balks when asked to reconsider a piece. It’s already done. He hit all the marks. What the heck is the agent’s or editor’s problem? They’re just too stupid to get it. Dick is good at handing in a logline, synopsis, and chapter outline. He falls apart when asked to change things. The idea of going back to the drawing board to start over gives him a migraine. He is irritated by the slow pace of the publishing process. He frets and waits anxiously by his in-box for news, especially when the process hit snags and delays.

There are slightly more Janes than Dicks in the writing world. They often bump heads in critique groups, workshops, and classrooms. Jane thinks Dick is too clinical, formal, and wastes too much time thinking and planning before writing. She is put off by his tactical approach. If Dick is her agent, she is frustrated by his demands to firm up her story structure and come up with a logline. Her feelings are hurt when she is asked to cut her darling bugaboos.

Dick thinks Jane is too wishy-washy, undisciplined, and stubbornly shortsighted when it comes to what the industry demands. He appreciates that her heart and soul went into the project, but that doesn’t move units. If Dick is her agent, he may find her work too artsy-fartsy for his taste. When he reads her work and gets to the end, he may state, “But what is the point? I don’t get it. There are lots of pages, but it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Both must push past his or her native inclination to grow and thrive in the business. If they understand their different approaches and are open to the critique, t
hey can balance and aid each other. Dick can help Jane see where her structure is weak. Jane can help Dick see where his work is soulless.

Next week, we will continue to explore the writer's temperaments.

For more tips on how to craft believable characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book, and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook, also available in paperback and E-book.

Description Exercises

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Now that we have spent time honing our observation skills, let's take them for a test drive.

The following exercise is courtesy of best-selling writer Julie Hyzy, author of the highly enjoyable White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House Mysteries available on Amazon.

At a workshop she gave at the annual Midwest Writer’s Workshop in Muncie, Indiana, we were asked to come up with five paragraphs composed of five sentences. Each paragraph should feature one sense: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

In the workshop, I was riffing on an idea I had for a story about a couple, Ana and Rudi, who have been drifting apart when they go on a bus tour and end up solving a mystery.

1. Sight

We followed the ratty fleur de lis runner to room 113.

Rudi’s shoulders brushed the Hessian wallcovering.

The door fell open willingly.

Two twin-sized beds huddled together, close but not touching.

A small television was mounted to the wall, the only nod to modernity.

2. Sound

The lock squealed in protest but obeyed.

Birds ceased their chatter on the window sill, startled but not frightened.

Water drip-dropped from the tap in the bathroom.

Tired rumbled over the cobbled street below.

The ocean shushed them all.

3. Smell

The must and mold tickled my nose.

The armoire held the perfume of centuries: old roses and peat fires.

Rudi stripped and stepped into the shower, filling the room with herbal steam.

I sat on sheets smelling of bleach and waited my turn.

My clothes reeked of anxiety and sweat.

4. Taste

I filled a glass with water, wincing at the metallic tang.

I popped a stale Tic-tac.

It didn’t complete erase the acrid taste that comes from viewing a decomp.

I rooted through my sack for the peppermint mouthwash and swished.

Not enough. I searched for the squished remnants of a Reese’s cup and the comfort of chocolate and peanut butter.

5. Touch

The mattress was thinner and harder than a gym mat.

The comforter was a wisp and the pillows a mere suggestion.

The sheets were rough against my legs.

I fumbled for the remote, sticky from strangers’ hands.

I pushed the rubbery on button and waited. No service.

Then you choose what you consider the best of the five and combine them:

"We followed the ratty fleur de lis runner to room 113. The lock squealed in protest but obeyed. The armoire held the perfume of centuries: old roses and peat fires. I filled a glass with water, wincing at the metallic tang. I fumbled for the remote, sticky from strangers’ hands."

You can see the value of not always choosing the first detail that pops into your head. You can expand, tweak, and tighten it for your manuscript.

This exercise really helped me because I write a bare bone draft (dialogue and choreography) first, then feather in details, like adding a color wash to a pencil sketch. I sometimes struggle with what details to put in and which to leave out.

I hope this exercise helps you too.

For more information on scene writing visit for free downloads and pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in e-book and print.

Lessons in Detection Part 4

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Scene Writing Tips

So far we have investigated a car, a house, and a coffee shop

For our final exercise, we are going to walk or drive around a neighborhood (yours or someone else’s) and take notes. Look outside your window if you are feeling particularly lazy.

1) Who comes and goes?

2) What type of cars pass? How frequently?

3) How upscale or derelict is the neighborhood?

4) Do you see police cars on patrol or parked?

5) What do the houses say about the people who live there?

6) Which yards are well groomed, which ignored?

7) What do the mailboxes, paint choices, yard ornaments, and foliage say about the occupants?

8) How does a particular house make you feel: irritated, enchanted, worried?

9) What can you tell from the outside about the occupants?

10) Are there toys on the lawn or seasonal decorations? Are they elaborate or laughable?

11) Are the newspapers piled up?

12) Can you tell whether someone is home or not?

13) Do they have uncovered windows that allow you to see inside? During the day? During the night?

14) Do they have fences or pets?

15) Do they have sliding glass doors?

16) Does anyone sit on their front porch, back deck, or in lawn chairs in their garage?

17) Is there a lot of traffic or a little?

18) Are children playing outside or are children’s toys outside?

19) Is the neighborhood welcoming or spooky?

20) How easy is it to attract attention when walking through the neighborhood?

21) Do people look out and see you? Do they wave hello? Do they stay locked inside?

22) Is it one of those places where everyone is gone during the day? Does the dynamic change after 6?

23) Is it one of those places where everyone leaves after 6p.m.?

24) Is it close to a park, forest, or other greenspace?

25) Are there signs of wildlife?

Hopefully, these exercises have helped you look at your surroundings in a new way and you can better assist your characters with their detection. 

Even if you don’t write mysteries, these exercises are a good way to hone your observational skills because every character lives, works, and plays somewhere!

For more information on scene writing visit for free downloads and pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in e-book and print.