Best of 2012: Write With Focus

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

With 2012 drawing to a close, we wanted to share a few of our favorite articles from DIY MFA with you. But before we get to that, here’s a recap of how DIY MFA works.

While in graduate school, I discovered that the typical Creative Writing MFA boils down to one simple formula. Some graduate programs might be balanced between these three components while others might emphasize one more than the others. Regardless of the approach, though, most graduate degrees incorporate some combination of the three into the curriculum. Here’s that formula:

Writing + Reading + Community = MFA

At DIY MFA, our goal is to help you discover ways to build these three components of the MFA into your life without going to school. We’ve compiled round-ups of the best DIY MFA articles in each of these three categories and over the next few days we’ll share them with you.

Write with Focus

There are three main parts to writing: creativity, craft and motivation. DIY MFA can help you boost your creativity so that you always have a story idea (or two, or ten) handy when you’re ready to start a new project. In terms of craft, it’s important to learn the basic “rules” first, then break them for effect rather than by accident. And finally, you need to persevere even when writing becomes challenging. DIY MFA can show you a few ways to keep up your motivation so that you can push onward and reach the finish line.

Here are few links to boost your writing.

Nontraditional Outline Techniques  Outlines aren’t for everyone. We all learned that I, II, III, A, B, C method at one point in our lives but unless your brain works in a linear and orderly fashion, this format can do more harm than good. Here are four alternatives to the traditional outline, especially geared toward visual and non-sequential thinkers.

Five Promises You Make to Your Reader  Before you dive in and start writing your novel, it’s important to understand the five key promises that you as writer must make to your reader. You must set the stage for all five promises right away. I do my best to hit all the promises by the end of page 5 in the manuscript, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule and sometimes you can delay one or more of these promises for effect. Just remember that the longer you make your readers wait, the more likely that they might become impatient and put your book down. Also, once you’ve made a promise , breaking it could cost you the reader’s trust. And there’s nothing more valuable than knowing that your readers trust you and willing to follow you into your story.

Make Your Character Come to Life  This article was a recap from a session at a conference I attended but I probably learned more about character development from this one-hour session than in the whole two years of my MFA. The trick, I discovered, is not just to find out who your character is but to understand what he or she could be.

5 Archetypes for Supporting Characters  The main purpose of supporting characters is to add depth to the protagonist. There are several archetypes of supporting characters and in this article we explore the five most common. Supporting characters of different archetypes play different roles in the story, but ultimately they have one thing in common: to give us a more in-depth perspective about the protagonist.

Plot Archetypes and Power Plays: Where Does Your Story Fit?  At DIY MFA, we love archetypes because they’re easy to remember and can help you keep track of the many options available. In this case, we look at different plot lines and the central conflict at the heart of each one.

The Last Point of View Cheat Sheet You’ll Ever Need and Past, Present and Future: Making Sense of Verb Tense  These articles go together because both point of view and verb tense contribute to how you impart your story to the reader. There are so many options for different points of view that I developed this cheat sheet as a way to help me keep all the options straight. As far as verb tense goes, there are very few options, but depending on what you decide to do, it can have major implications on how your reader perceives your story.

5 Ways to Liven Up a Description How do you make description lively and exciting? When description drags or feels too flowery and self-conscious readers can lose interest fast. But those glorious moments when description transports us to another world, that’s when the story comes to life for us and we forget that we’re reading at all because we’re caught up in the “narrative dream.”

Nine No’s of Dialogue  The Nine No’s is a list I compiled for the workshop I teach to help students avoid those stumbling blocks that can make dialogue fall flat. Note: while these are nine “no’s” they are not “nine nevers.” The goal is to break these “rules” if you need to, but to do it on purpose rather than by mistake.

5 Stages of Writer’s Block  Writer’s block is how writers grieve because they are unable to write. In order to break the nasty cycle there is only one solution: start writing again. This article looks at writer’s block through the lens of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, figure out which stage you’re at and recognize how this aspect of the block is keeping you from writing. Then sit down at your desk and write through the block.

True Colors: Using Color Theory to Boost Your Writing  In the past I worked in design (graphic, product and packaging) so I often see my writing through that lens. I added this article to the list just for fun. Color theory has helped me understand my characters and for all you “visual thinkers” out there maybe this will help you too.

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