Creative Writing and Memoir Writing

Things to Do in Philadelphia the Weekend of July 2-4
Have a Happy Fourth of July!
Image borrowed from

Carol Brennan King  June 30, 2021

About prompts: I give them, you do not have to use them. If you have a good thing going, keep writing. If you are feeling stuck or want to try something new, give one of these prompts a try.

For Both Classes: write something related to an anniversary of some kind. Think beyond wedding. What about the anniversary of the day you got a challenging medical diagnosis, the day you left home, graduated, started a job, broke up with someone, met someone else, experienced a historical event (Kennedy’s assassination (Nov. 22 – same day C.S. Lewis died), maybe a weather event – where were you when Hurricane Agnes ripped through our valley?

Try writing a journal entry or a news story or an essay about the growth and change coming from that anniversary.

Creative Writing

We spent some time talking about editing our work, primarily about not editing as you write. This tends to be like writing while you are walking through mud. It slows you down so much that you get too tired and out of energy to complete the work. So, write first. Let it flow from your fingers to the page. And when it is done, then it is time to edit.

We talked about common mistakes writers make, and these are easy places to begin to check when you are editing.

  • Have you written oversimplified characters? You gave your reader a look at the character doing the job you want them to, but the reader knows nothing of why the character did that thing or any other thing. Remember, people read and love what they are reading if they can see themselves in it or relate to someone in the story. So maybe your character is not a carbon copy of you but write the rest of your characters so that the reader can recognize them in real life – maybe even identify with one or more. You must know who this character is and why they are in the story. How do they matter to the story. I suggested that you write a bio for each of the primary and significant secondary characters. If you don’t know their stories, why should your reader care, and then why should they read the book or story?

  • We have talked a lot about conflict, and how boring a story is if there is no conflict. Even your secondary character must be somehow involved in conflict, they must have something they want, something they are pursuing and finding it challenging to achieve. Maybe the secondary character wants the main character’s job or fame, or loved one, and no one knows at first, but you and the character.

  • Do not neglect research. Verify every fact or every thing or event that is supposed to be real or possible. Check dates. Check definitions. Check spelling. I just learned that one error of this kind can get your entire manuscript tossed without further reading. PS, I did not learn this the hard way.

  • Write the whole thing, then revise. If you try to revise as you are writing..well go back and read the first paragraph again.
    • Then go through the manuscript several times in the revision process, each time looking for different kinds of issues.
    • Look for spelling issues. Spell checks get it wrong sometimes because the new word they have substituted for your misspelled word may be a word alright, but it is not the word you meant for that sentence.
    • Then look for story flow. Is it natural? Do you have things out of order, or the order that would make for the best story.
    • Have someone else read your work? And don’t trust your best friend or spouse to tell you all the mistakes you might have made because that is a mean thing to ask them to do.

  • Do not forget to show your reader things to feel or smell or touch or hear. Sensory details bring the reader into the scene and the more they feel, the more genuine the story will be.

Well, that is really a lot for today, so make you own check sheet of things to check when you are reviewing your manuscript.

PS. There are more things to look at, but this is a good place to start.

Memoir Class

I got much of the following material from this article: How to write secondary characters that stand out from the crowd from      

Remember, a memoir is not just your story.

Who else shows up in it?

What have you given to your reader to help them know why this character is part of your story?

If it is a sibling, how many years older or younger than you is she?

Or how many siblings do you have and how did you  relate to each one? Some you may have adored, others not so much.

So you need to show that.

Let us hear them talking so we can tell what you relationship is. Now, make a list of all your favorite characters.

Chances are, more than a few of them won’t take leading roles in the story but exist to support action and add splashes of color to the main arc.

Here are three tips for creating secondary characters that are protagonists in their own right.  

In storytelling, a protagonist is the main character or principal character or group of characters in a story.

However, writers don’t always tell their stories through the protagonist’s eyes—they can also tell stories through a third-person point of view, or through the eyes of a supporting character.
  1) Give them a want/need: All good stories feature a protagonist who wants/needs something and must go on a physical or emotional journey to get it (or later decide that it’s not what they wanted/needed after all). Give your secondary characters this same arc – what’s important to them? Why are they acting like this? Make us believe they are the leading character in their own story.

2) Give them a quirk, an identifying mannerism or speech pattern: Maybe they have a knack for nature (Dickon in The Secret Garden) or are part-giant (Hagrid in Harry Potter). Giving your character a physical or personality trait helps build them into memorable characters – especially if they’re only there for a few short paragraphs.

3) Avoid cliché: If your automatic writer brain starts creating a character you’ve seen a million times before – stop it. Check yourself and turn that stereotype on its head. Your reader will notice that your characters are predictable and boring. You must be conscious of your responsibility to help make literature as diverse as real life.

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