Often while I’m writing I reach certain epiphanies. I think, man, I got it all figured out. Then I ease back and enjoy the ride on the creative rollercoaster before the eventual crash of another writer’s blockade. I’ve found that writing down ideas from the brief moments of enlightenment helps me to remember them. Then I’ve found that sharing the knowledge to hopefully help some other author on a journey to success is another step in my own success. After all, I enjoy reading others – sometimes even more than reading my own. So here’s to those who will provide me with quality reading material.
Disclaimer note to non writers: This page features boring shop talk that, for you, might ruin the magic of reading quality stories.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Writing an effective op-ed
The priceless tool now at your finger tips
Learning how to write a convincing, persuasive opinion article can give you a tremendous advantage in not only your writing, and your potential career in writing, but in nearly all areas of your life.
We’ve all read those pieces that grab our attention and call us to action. We put down the material and think to ourselves, what an amazing read it was. But then, a dark cloud rolls over our writer’s mind and we think, why didn’t I write that? It was brilliant, so of course I should’ve written it.
The good news is that effective op-ed writing can be learned.
Effective communication really does benefit your life in many areas beyond writing. Our opinion based on our understanding of a subject is one we feel should be heard. The idea is to persuade readers to a side of an issue, to a belief, or to an action. The persuasion comes in your message. Show the reader what is wrong now – why you’re writing. There is an issue you want them to take one side of. So tell them what is wrong. Enlighten them as to how the issue affects them, now. Tell them how it can be changed from bad to good. Anticipate and address any opposing views and show them why the naysayers’ message is false or no good. Then end on a positive note.
The hard part comes in delivering that message in a clear, concise, and complete article. If superb communication can benefit you, read this “how to.”
Op-ed pieces originated as “opposite the editorial page” of a newspaper. Editorial pieces are written by the paper’s editorial staff and feature more than just straight facts like the news sections of the paper. They state opinions and give the paper a voice. The page opposite of the editorial page started featuring opinion pieces from voices not affiliated with the paper. The writers would be, and still are, major players in society. They can be politicians or a respected voice of the subject being written about.
The first guideline to an effective piece is to have extensive knowledge on the subject you’re writing. Have the credentials that back up your expertise in the area. On the subject, take an editorial view and come down firm on one side of an issue. Open your piece with this view. Your opinion’s final conclusion should start the article. Keep your opening narrow and to the point. Immediately following your opening, you will follow with facts to back up your opinion.
Facts are not only going to give the opinion a leg to stand on but hopefully two or four legs. The more legs the better. Facts are going to give your piece life. In the opening you started with your conclusion. The body of the piece is going to work around the conclusion, building on it and stating exactly how this truth came to light. Do not underestimate the importance of hard evidence and reliable sources of the information you’re sharing. Readers should not be expected to take a writer’s word for it.
The goal of your argument is to be the side of reason and to give a complete story. In sharing your opinions and facts, it is important to remain conversational. Outrageous claims are best left to the outrageous voices. There’s no room for them here. Take care not to sound too conversational, though. Don’t let a passive voice and redundant statements allow the reader to lose focus or interest in your topic.
You’re going to use an active voice to educate the reader on the issue. Give them insight. After reading the piece, they should have a well rounded understanding of the issue. That’s right – as you stand on one side of an issue, you will provide the arguments from the other side. Here, you may include both the outrageous and the reasonable questions and statements made by opponents of your stance. Here’s where things get real. You’re anticipation of those opposing views help provide a clear rebuttal. A well thought out and respectful answer to objections of your views will turn readers into believers.
Now, when you have your audience’s attention, give a call to action. They’re convinced, and the topic is at the forefront of their mind. Now is the time to inform them on what they can do to make a difference in the problem you’re commenting on.
Some other basic elements of a good op-ed include:
· Writing on a timely subject. Current issues are going to reach the interest of the most people.
· Keeping it Succinct. These pieces are often printed at around 500 words and rarely go beyond 750 words. Make every word serve a purpose because hot button issues can be hard to explain in so few words.
· Don’t ramble. Comes as common sense after the previous tip, but it’s important to remember that you’re not writing a piece that you’re going to allow to unfold itself over time and length. You’re jumping right into the subject and the point.
· Avoid clichés. If they’ve heard it all before, it’s a waste of time.
· Appeal to the average reader. An op-ed is not the place to impress the public with uncommon words. Keep the reader interested by keeping the message simple.
Like I said, implementing this information can benefit your writing in more areas than one, and can benefit your life in all aspects of communication.
Writing prompt: Choose a controversial topic local to your current home town, one you have a firm stance on, and write a 500 word, maximum, opinion article on it. Follow the guidelines listed above and polish the final piece to a standard which you would feel comfortable submitting it to the local newspaper. Then, why not submit it?
Thursday, January 05, 2012
Defeating procrastination… today
Discovering how to start the most essential step in the writing process
If you’re like me, and I think many writers are, sitting down and starting the writing process can be troublesome. Depending on the assignment, it may even cause worry and angst. Picture this scenario: you have your assignment; you have your facts, or data, or story, or whatever you’re writing on; you have a clear idea of what you’re going to write, but procrastination is starting to chew time away. Why do we procrastinate? We chose to be writers because we love to write, right? We love to play solitaire and we have no trouble starting that.
The fact is, the most important step to the writing process is sitting down and actually beginning to write. Finger to keyboard, pencil to paper, spray paint to wall – we all are writing because we have important things to say. Only the most brilliant psychological minds will figure out why writers procrastinate on projects they can actually get excited over, but one theory I like is that writers know the daunting task that lies ahead. To actually get what’s in our head into print in a clear, concise, and interesting manner can make most of us queasy just thinking about it. It’s hard for us to get our creative, right-brained ideas onto paper in the manner we want, and that’s OK because that’s a sign of some kind of geniusness. I don’t know what kind; you tell me what kind of genius I am.
Everybody’s remedies to defeat their procrastination demons are going to be different because we all face different reasons for the delay. But here are a few helpful hints for getting to work.
1. Use a stimulant: Whether it’s coffee or beer, something to kick start our minds is helpful in inspiring us to write.
2. Read: Read similar works to what you are about to create and hopefully that will inspire some kind of motivation to get working.
This list is to help overcome procrastination. Everyone who has something important to say has the right to be successful in doing so. The best way to honor the freedom of speech is to have a well thought out message that the rest of the world is going to want to hear.
Writing Prompt: Stop what you’re doing, even if it’s spending time on my blog, and start writing now. If that is impossible right now, how about setting aside at least two solid consecutive hours in the next 24 hours to do nothing but write? Don’t read about writing, don’t meditate about writing, just write.
Monday, December 05, 2011
Making them memorable and defining them as efficiently as possible
Without strong characters to tell stories through, stories disintegrate into nothing. There is no story without the characters, so I feel a good place to start writing talk is at character development.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, but when I read books, I have a hard time getting the names of different characters straight in the beginning. It’s just like in real life when I meet people and I instantly forget their name or what they do. Sure memory loss has been the central point in many great stories played out in action/drama movies and on daytime soaps, but that’s not how the reader deserves to be treated. The one struggling to find out who everybody is should not be the reader. Keep the memory loss storyline on the page.
We want to make the characters memorable and keep the story moving along. One tip to build a memorable character is to use his or her characteristics as part of the story. Let’s take an example character named Paul. He has an easily forgettable name and is surrounded by a crew of workers who also have common names. By the time we introduce a few characters to the reader, it becomes difficult to remember who is who. Remember, readers are reading during their spare time in real life. Readers have constant distractions from the real world trying to take them out of the story.
So we take Paul and give him bad breath, which actually becomes an essential part of the story since, remember? He is surrounded by a crew. After the initial introduction to Paul and the unique fact that he has bad breath, we can refer to him however we want and we have a unique characteristic to attach to him to remind the reader which character is present. In describing his relationship with another on the crew we can mention that because of his bad breath, his coworker stood at a distance. That already starts to paint a picture for the reader and they will always remember him and his face because of the unique fact that his breath stinks. For this trick to work, it is important to not give anybody else bad breath or the reader gets confused again about whose stinky breath they’re listening to.
Writing prompt: In 400 words or less, write a scene with a crew of three workers. The scene is mostly dialogue and they are talking about who they think will win a football game that night. Give each one a unique trait that can be placed easily into the story to remind readers who they are.
1. When writing the initial profile for a character, define a strong trait so you can make a quick reference to that later.
2. By the end of the scene, make sure readers have a grasp at who the characters are.