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Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby WriterFearNot » Mon Jan 13, 2014 5:38 pm

Thanks for your feedback on the Vilfred piece, Jan. Yeah, my writing is all over the board: nonfiction of many sorts, inspirational fiction, romantic fiction, humorous fiction, and yes, fantasy. The character Vilfred the troll has been with me since I began writing. Someday, it might just turn into a full-length story.

It's the same with my reading preferences--all over the board. But I do love fantasy. One of my favorites is CS Lewis' Till We Have Faces, which is more like a retelling of mythology. My daughter read this series called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which was like Wizard of Oz mixed with Alice in Wonderland, high off Mad Hatter's tea. I loved this book. It was so imaginative, with continuous and delightful plays on words. (Hey, you might like this book, too). This is another type of book I would love to write someday.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby lish1936 » Mon Jan 13, 2014 6:11 pm

Having just bombed out on this week's challenge, Jan, reading your "Yellow" entry made me once again bow in awe at your ability to construct a story. I can't imagine why it missed out on any rating, except perhaps the sensitive subject of race. There was only one reference to yellow- the "fresh butter" dress that may have contributed little to the story. Minor, for sure. But on topic? Absolutely!


I think my entry for "Sizzle" may be exhibit A for trying to be so original that I went off topic. Even though the prayer touched on something that I was experiencing at the time, I guess I overreached. I'd love your feedback on topic relevancy and anything else. :D It's a shorty.

Thanks,

Lillian

Not an Easy Prayer

Father,

Let me not shrink from placing my hopes and dreams on the hot coals of surrender and watch them sizzle and evaporate. If that’s what You demand of me, I will not try to put out the flames.

Help me to run from any thought of avoiding the fiery trials that purify my soul. Remove my every desire to search for a way out. May obedience consume me.

Give me the grace to cast my fleshy desires into infinity’s blazing furnace, to listen to the crackle and pop of pride and discontent as they shrivel under fire; and rejoice in hearing You say, “Well done.” Show me how to throw my anxieties and resentments onto the altar of sacrifice and let the flames burn away their influence in my life.

Teach me how to transform the stones that I would throw at others into flints of fire that reduce my unforgiving spirit to smoldering ashes. Let me take Your hand and walk boldly into the Refiner’s fire where I am changed from what I am to what You want me to be.

No fire escapes, Lord, until I am as pure gold.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 13, 2014 6:42 pm

lish1936 wrote:I think my entry for "Sizzle" may be exhibit A for trying to be so original that I went off topic. Even though the prayer touched on something that I was experiencing at the time, I guess I overreached. I'd love your feedback on topic relevancy and anything else. :D It's a shorty.

Not an Easy Prayer

Father,

Let me not shrink from placing my hopes and dreams on the hot coals of surrender and watch them sizzle and evaporate. If that’s what You demand of me, I will not try to put out the flames.

Help me to run from any thought of avoiding the fiery trials that purify my soul. Remove my every desire to search for a way out. May obedience consume me.

Give me the grace to cast my fleshy desires into infinity’s blazing furnace, to listen to the crackle and pop of pride and discontent as they shrivel under fire; and rejoice in hearing You say, “Well done.” Show me how to throw my anxieties and resentments onto the altar of sacrifice and let the flames burn away their influence in my life.

Teach me how to transform the stones that I would throw at others into flints of fire that reduce my unforgiving spirit to smoldering ashes. Let me take Your hand and walk boldly into the Refiner’s fire where I am changed from what I am to what You want me to be.

No fire escapes, Lord, until I am as pure gold.


Lillian, I'd have given this a strong mark for the "on topic" criterion. It certainly couldn't have been written without the concept of "sizzle," and the concept is revisited in different ways. In addition, the imagery and the metaphor are well done.

My favorite hymn of all time contains the lines:

The fire shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

Very similar sentiment to your piece, which was written without cliches.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby CatLin » Mon Jan 13, 2014 6:53 pm

Jan, I didn't have to re-read your first linked story to recall how impressed I was with how you wrote for the topic. The term "high-yellow was all I needed to hear to bring back memories of how your entry affected me. BUT... rereading it in context of this lesson, I noticed how often you refer to the topic in offhand ways. It's almost like a foreshadowing of the attitude the new bride is about to encounter. Her dress is "the color of fresh butter"; her groom's mother wears a "yellowing lacy shawl", Mrs. Montgomery's "filmy and jaundiced eyes" ....

I can't really imagine this story without "Yellow", (and believe me, I've been trying for five minutes).


I hadn't read your "River" devotion before, and I'm SO glad you linked to it! I'm amazed at how you managed to pack so much story into the word count. Regarding the topic, I'm wondering if "River" is more of the backdrop for your story rather than the central theme. But as I ponder more, I wonder -- if the "backdrop" - the scene, setting, and circumstances were different, would the story have the same impact? My conclusion is "No". My only "red ink" would be the last sentence. In my very humble opinion, it doesn't seem to fit... or I'm missing something.


I also remember your advice to throw out the first 5 ideas (but I remember it as the first 10) and I do just that. Or I go back and see if I can turn one of them on its head and inside out to creatifiy it. I think I did that well in my "Empty Nest/Retirement" entry. One of the "throw away" ideas was "our retirement home". I started thinking "what if...", and ended up writing my highest ranking entry ever! #2! :D

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=31784



And on the other end of the scale is my "Don't try to walk before you learn to crawl" story. I was SO disappointed that most of the commenters said they didn't see the topic at all. I guess I tried way too hard not to be obvious. :)

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=20849
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 13, 2014 7:21 pm

CatLin wrote:But as I ponder more, I wonder -- if the "backdrop" - the scene, setting, and circumstances were different, would the story have the same impact? My conclusion is "No". My only "red ink" would be the last sentence. In my very humble opinion, it doesn't seem to fit... or I'm missing something.


LOL, Cat--when I re-read that piece before posting it here, quite a few things made me cringe, and most of all, I cringed at that horrible last sentence! You've got a good feel for "not quite right."


CatLin wrote:I also remember your advice to throw out the first 5 ideas (but I remember it as the first 10) and I do just that. Or I go back and see if I can turn one of them on its head and inside out to creatifiy it. I think I did that well in my "Empty Nest/Retirement" entry. One of the "throw away" ideas was "our retirement home". I started thinking "what if...", and ended up writing my highest ranking entry ever! #2! :D

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=31784



And on the other end of the scale is my "Don't try to walk before you learn to crawl" story. I was SO disappointed that most of the commenters said they didn't see the topic at all. I guess I tried way too hard not to be obvious. :)

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=20849


Just re-read these, Cat, including my comments the first time around. I remember the "Retirement" one very well; it made quite an impression on me then as a depiction of depression, and the last few paragraphs still made my heart seize a little bit when I read it again today. Needless to say, that's the kind of "on topic" that I like: it wasn't ABOUT retirement, but it couldn't have been written without it.

As for the other story--I must have read it before, because I commented on it, but it didn't stick with me the way the first one did. And to tell the truth, I still can't see the topic in it...eek, sorry. I'm glad you were willing to share this one, as an example of being so far outside of the box that you lose sight of the box altogether.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby Verna » Mon Jan 13, 2014 7:59 pm

To my list of topics I like, please add "quotations." I find those to generate lots of ideas for me.

And I must admit when I first read your piece about the river, I was new to the challenges, and I was so awestruck by your talent, I almost gave up trying!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby Allison » Mon Jan 13, 2014 9:06 pm

CatLin wrote:


And on the other end of the scale is my "Don't try to walk before you learn to crawl" story. I was SO disappointed that most of the commenters said they didn't see the topic at all. I guess I tried way too hard not to be obvious. :)

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=20849


He Cat! Good to see you around again. I read this, and even with my "analyze things to death" I can barely see the topic, and that was actaully, just now as I was typing this. I really didn't see it as I was reading it. Were you trying to get the point across that the MC wouldn't be able to recover until someone showed her what was wrong? If that's what you were going for, I think I'd have made it a bit more obvious. Maybe even have her in a treatment facility, but refusing to cooperate. Then have someone, a nurse, perhaps, point out that nothing can be done until she realizes there's a problem. Something like that.

I also find it somewhat humorous that we both bombed on the "topic" category the same week, but for opposite reasons. :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:26 pm

And just to bump this back up to the top of the list--are there types of topics which you really dislike, or which you don't particularly understand?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby CatLin » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:31 pm

I'm so glad I can laugh about it now, because I still see the topic - I think it's so obvious to me! She wanted to lose weight and be thin, but instead of going slowly and carefully, she ran full steam ahead to get to her goal as fast as possible. And it backfired....

I did a lot of research on anorexia for this story - it's causes, effects, and the warning signs to watch for - and I guess my zeal in writing about the result of her walking (going to weight-loss extremes) before she learned to crawl (a responsible diet & exercise plan) completely overshadowed the underlying cause..
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby CatLin » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:36 pm

glorybee wrote:
CatLin wrote:But as I ponder more, I wonder -- if the "backdrop" - the scene, setting, and circumstances were different, would the story have the same impact? My conclusion is "No". My only "red ink" would be the last sentence. In my very humble opinion, it doesn't seem to fit... or I'm missing something.


LOL, Cat--when I re-read that piece before posting it here, quite a few things made me cringe, and most of all, I cringed at that horrible last sentence! You've got a good feel for "not quite right."



:thankssign
(Can you imagine how many times I edited that "red ink before I got the nerve up to post it? :lol: )
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:49 pm

CatLin wrote:I'm so glad I can laugh about it now, because I still see the topic - I think it's so obvious to me! She wanted to lose weight and be thin, but instead of going slowly and carefully, she ran full steam ahead to get to her goal as fast as possible. And it backfired....

I did a lot of research on anorexia for this story - it's causes, effects, and the warning signs to watch for - and I guess my zeal in writing about the result of her walking (going to weight-loss extremes) before she learned to crawl (a responsible diet & exercise plan) completely overshadowed the underlying cause..


Well, sheesh. It makes perfect sense to me now.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:52 pm

CatLin wrote:
glorybee wrote:
CatLin wrote:But as I ponder more, I wonder -- if the "backdrop" - the scene, setting, and circumstances were different, would the story have the same impact? My conclusion is "No". My only "red ink" would be the last sentence. In my very humble opinion, it doesn't seem to fit... or I'm missing something.


LOL, Cat--when I re-read that piece before posting it here, quite a few things made me cringe, and most of all, I cringed at that horrible last sentence! You've got a good feel for "not quite right."



:thankssign
(Can you imagine how many times I edited that "red ink before I got the nerve up to post it? :lol: )


Silly girl. I meant it when I said I could take criticism. I feel funny about always posting my own links, putting them out there as if I'm some Super Writer. I just know how to find them, and I don't want to go wading through archives for other people's examples for my lessons, and then have to ask them permission to post them.

So criticize without fear, m'dear!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby RachelM » Tue Jan 14, 2014 2:08 am

I was so excited when I learned that you were going to go through the judging criteria for the writing challenge. Being new to this, I just don't have a feel for which entries are going to do well and which will do poorly.

I ordered two feedback reports from Deb and found them incredibly helpful and well worth the money, but I know that she is terribly busy, so I haven't requested anymore.

Your lesson has helped me to see this from a judges perspective. Thank you!

I read your examples and was powerfully touched by both (in very different ways.) I'm glad that you started with topic, because that's where we start when preparing for the writing challenge. You've given me a glimpse into your own mind as you take a topic and make it your own.

Both of your entries are dependant on the topic, but oh so fresh!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby Vonnie » Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:41 pm

Jan, I really appreciate this lesson and all the good advice. I read your story about the river and believe it was on topic. The river was essential to the story and was part of the story in three different instances. I usually try to Google the topic or look it up in the dictionary to get some ideas. I'm still quite new to the Challenge so don't know too many topics that were used. At this point, I would say I like one word topics the best.

Here is a link to one of mine that I knew was stretching the topic. The topic was "Bark is Worse that His/Her bite. I just couldn't think of anything else for that topic and I just wanted to write something every time. Now even though I write something, I don't always enter. I want to force myself to at least try. http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=46927 Thanks again for these lessons. LaVonne

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Writing on topic

Postby glorybee » Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:50 pm

Vonnie wrote:
Here is a link to one of mine that I knew was stretching the topic. The topic was "Bark is Worse that His/Her bite. I just couldn't think of anything else for that topic and I just wanted to write something every time. Now even though I write something, I don't always enter. I want to force myself to at least try. http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=46927 Thanks again for these lessons. LaVonne


Vonnie, thanks for being willing to share this link. I think you're right that it's pretty weak for the topic. "His bark is worse than his bite" indicates a person who seems on the surface much more dangerous than they really are, and your character is not really dangerous at all.

But what I do appreciate, so much, is your eager spirit, and your willingness to learn, to stumble, and to keep on going. That will get you far on this site, and in your life.
Jan Ackerson

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