How to Make Your Writing Dynamic

Dynamic is a big promise! Luckily, it is easy enough to undertake—most writers just need a few examples and a bit of explanation and BAM! It comes down to three major categories: images and imagination, word choice (diction), and placement.

Images and Imagination

You are looking at a tree. What do you associate with it? Green, brown, tall—what if you kept that associative process but got closer—magnifying your images. Rough? The bark would be rough, leaves could be silky—that could create all sorts of possibilities. Silk like linen, clothes, nature could clothe you—maybe? If you follow associations, your mind will lead you down mysterious and wonderous paths. Just daydreaming and free associating can create fresh images. Everyone thinks and daydreams differently, so those associations and descriptions will be vastly different for every writer. THIS is terrific news! It boggles the mind that just from daydreaming words become captivating and paragraphs and lines no longer feel “stale” or “cliché.”

Exercise: Look at something you see every day. Describe it differently this time. That tree is tall and green, but looms like a giant about to enfold you in its arms… etc. Look at the minuscule that is overlooked or the magnitude that gets lost in the everyday. Let your mind just go. Remember in writing, there are no wrong answers, just unwritten ones.

Word Choice (Diction)

Word choice (diction) can create incredible images in any genre. So, diction—now what? What difference does using the word “hazel” instead of “brown” create? It may make your piece sparkle a bit more. But, if the color is not hazel, and it must be brown—how can you get around being flat? I do not like food references and certainly not when describing people. I would say “glistening brown” or “purpling brown” if describing fruit. The other use of diction is using words that are not normally used in that context. So, what if an angry person’s “brow purpled”—that’s not “turned red”—that of course, is a well-used (cliché). 

Kim’s Pro Tip: If you get stuck on finding the “right” word or the “perfect” word—know that there isn’t one. There are just multiple choices for the right word. You can open a physical thesaurus or an online version—they are more exact. But if you want to free-associate and find a “different” word—then go into your document, choose the thesaurus function—and DON’T use those words on the list. Is there one that might work? Hit on it. There are most likely five different branches of what the word could mean as well as the words associated with it. Maybe you will find your “perfect” word here, maybe you won’t. Hit on another—maybe one that is not as similar to your original word that you typed in. I find that it is in this place—maybe five or six clicks through that I find the “perfect” word for the “right now”—because revision might strip the line out completely. Poetry is not permanent, which means you can play with words as many times as you need to.

Exercise:

Write down five words you use a lot. Then, try to find synonyms or substitutes that pop! Remember you can dig for words using Kim’s Pro Tip.

Placement

Placement means everything in a poem. Having a “hard” word (one that has a harsh or biting sound) hit in a soft place draws attention and its opposite does as well. The same technique works in prose. When you read your work, you can hear how some words “flow smoothly” and others might be “jagged” or “rugged.” The key reason is placement. Think about setting a table. It might not matter which side silverware is on, but what if the fork is placed on top of the bowl—would you notice? The same is true of writing. 

Kim fell into darkness spiraling awake.

Well, that might be true—but is “awake” in the right place?

Kim fell into darkness falling awake. Better—a bit speculative if you like that.

Awake, Kim fell into darkness, spiraling. Doesn’t that sound different? 

Each one can be argued to have a different connotation—but we are going on sound.

Exercise:

Take a line or a sentence that has been bothering you. Rearrange the words. Play with them. Keep the necessary ones and see if you can make the sound smooth.

Music as a Writer’s Block Cure

Recently, I’ve felt the heavy weight of “writer’s block” bearing down on me. Between life, preparing for upcoming classes, and working on the print version of hinterlands, I’ve found what little inspiration I’ve managed to scrounge up slinks away. To get back that creative energy, even if it’s only a smidgen, I’ve been listening to music. Have you rolled your eyes yet? This is the part where you’re probably throwing your hands in the air shouting at the screen, “How is that anything new!?” It’s not. We all know it’s not. It might not even be the sound that’s inspiring, maybe it’s the visuals of the music video. Maybe it’s the vibrations of the bass through the floorboards beneath your feet. Maybe it’s just the lyrics. Whatever it is, whatever strikes your fancy and gives you that inspiration—hold on to it. Because I’m about to ask you to write.


Was that all an elaborate, and no doubt inelegant means of shoehorning in a prompt that pertains to music. Yes, yes it was. Doesn’t mean I didn’t mean any of it. I actually have been listening to music—well just one song really…on repeat. And as I do so, I write what I interpret the song as. Then the next day I do it again, only this time I try to interpret it in a different way. I try to see how many stories one song can inspire; and how many different ways I can view one thing. And once I feel I have no more stories for that song, I move onto the next.


So…I’m asking you to do the same. Find that song that really gets you going and write as many different stories about it as you can.

Snow, Snow, Snow

If you live in the US, there’s been a lot of snow lately. A lot of snow. Here are borrowed solace all of us editors live in areas where there’s typically snow this time of year, so we are used to it in some ways (our hearts and prayers are with those in the south and in Texas who aren’t used to these frigid temperatures and are dealing with awful problems from this weather), and in other ways, we’re still a bit…over it, just like many of you.

While we’re dealing with cold and snow, snow, and more snow, it definitely allows for lots of time to think about and work on creative endeavors. The nice thing about writing is that you don’t even have to have electricity to do it (though we sincerely hope all of you have electricity right now!) a pen and paper will do. You can create worlds with just some ink and paper, or a keyboard and a monitor.

So whether you are battling the flakes that have already fallen to the ground or are bracing for another round of the white, fluffy stuff to fall from the sky, don’t fight it–use it to inspire you and spend that extra time bundled up indoors to write. Start a new story about a futuristic universe where snow is as valuable as gold. Think about how settlers during the great westward expansion battled blizzards on the Oregon Trail and create the characters who would have been there. Take your first-hand experiences and write about them creatively, scribbling pages that one day might end up in your memoir.

There’s inspiration all around us, and this snowy weather we’re experiencing is no exception. Even if you simply take advantage of the extra time you might be facing stuck indoors right now to write more words in that novel you’ve been working on, or polish up a poetry collection you’re preparing to send to publishers, snow can serve all of us as writers.

If all you’re thinking about and all you’re dealing with right now is snow, snow, snow, don’t let it go to waste. Find inspiration where you’re at–even if that’s buried under inches (or feet) of powdery white stuff.

The Argument for White Space in Poetry—Why do we need it?

I admit it. I was a white/blank space dissenter. A true non-believer. Why must there be blankness in poetry? Isn’t that artificial? SOOOO—overdone and an artsy cliché. As I’ve read and dived into craft, however, I am beginning to become a white/blank space advocate. Now, I admit there is purpose and necessity.

White space or blank space is when the poet or author uses blankness or emptiness to visually create an aesthetic. It is purposeful. Poetry is both seen and heard/spoken. That blankness also creates lack of sound or changes the sound. This makes writing dynamic—visually, orally, and audibly. The term white space comes from the idiom “the blank white page.” This is also true of the term blank space. Both are correct and can be used interchangeably. There are many types and variations of white/blank space. Examples are endless. I suggest trying some in your verse or prose—slide in an extra tap of the return key or an extra indent.

I am going to explain only a few of the reasons to use white/blank space—I believe them to be the most important and the most used, and more importantly, the most relevant. I will explain the reasons for indentation and collapsing the frame, putting space between words in the same line, and creating stanzas (both why a new stanza and what it does it do when adding that space).

Collapsing the frame sounds like taking a photo and crushing it to pieces—and in a sense that is what will happen to the poem or flash fiction that is being condensed spatially. I usually use a 1-inch margin, many lit mags provide guidelines as well, but by condensing the frame a square or box becomes apparent. Lines bleed together. When read, the pacing is fast, breathless even, and individual words pop out, but do not linger. There is no hesitation. Visually, this creates a capsule. It shows potency and density. Prose poems and flash fiction benefit particularly from this method. 

Timothy Liu is an excellent example of collapsing the frame. “What the Magdalene Saw,” in Typo he writes:

on thread-bare sheets to shroud a beat-up
mattress scarred with tiny cigarette burns
as towel-wrapped lunchtime gents line up
outside the door–peccadilloes that turn

The imagery is dynamic in of itself, but the white/blank space creates a cramped look on the page and a jarring pace while being read. If you want poetry or prose to a have power, collapsing the frame is a valuable and sometimes necessary tool.

Indentation is a variable of collapsing the frame. I mention it more for prose writers, but the technique can be just as formidable in poetry. An indent creates or signals a new line or sentence, and arguably a new thought. This is completely true, but visually, the indent allows the reader to blink and for the prose to appear less daunting and dense. This is the opposite of the collapsing of margins. Indenting gives space and pause and lets both the last word from above and the first word starting the line/sentence to be highlighted. In poetry, the same is true of the visual. However, by indenting the line, the pause is highlighted more than the words leading up to it and the word that follows.

Placing white/blank space in the line allows for pause and reflection on each individual word. In poetry, each space represents a pause to the reader. This means that the pause will be accented as well. e.e. Cummings is well-known for unconventional craftmanship, but “Crepuscule” is a brief example of what white/blank space does to the line. He writes:

I will wade out
                                 till my thighs are steeped in burn-
ing flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth

The poem continues on, allowing images to settle on page and words reverberate on the tongue. If a word or phrase needs to resonate, this tool is effective. While it is used in poetry, it can powerfully create drama and builds intrigue in prose work. Speculative fiction and genre bending writing would greatly benefit from this technique, but as with all creating, imagination is limitless and so are the possibilities.

Finally, stanzas create dynamic and jarring pauses both on the physical page and when read aloud. This is important because emphasis and readability need to be remembered when writing. If there are many short stanzas, the pace is broken up repeatedly. This is good if you want thoughts to linger, bad if you want to have more movement down the page. If there are no stanzas, the pace is usually less broken and a box shape is created. This means the poem will read fast and that the end word of lines will be heightened. Stanzas can be viewed as small scenes, the white/blank space encapsulating and separating images.

There are no wrong choices. But, every poet/writer/author should know why they are choosing a particular method and what the effect of the tool is. There are happy accidents, but nothing beats creating with authority and knowledge.

Write Forevermore

If you’re like me, you’ve probably already listened to Taylor Swift’s new album, evermore, multiple times this morning. Or maybe you’re a normal person who didn’t wake up and immediately play the new album and lay in bed reading the lyrics as you listened. Either way, I would encourage you to use evermore (or your favorite album from your favorite artist that came out recently) as writing inspiration!

I find that I get my inspiration from the oddest places at times, but something that almost always can serve as inspiration is music. Music is essentially poetry put to instruments. Lyricists rely on words to tell a story through their music just like writers use words to create other worlds. Words are the foundation upon which we stand, so why not take inspiration from the words of others?

evermore is an album made up of stories. Taylor Swift created people–some imaginary, some based on real-life–to write these songs about. Some of them are characters from her folklore album released earlier this year, some have tragic storylines, some wind up with their true love at the end. But they are all stories.

So today, if you are looking for inspiration or somewhere to start with your writing, I’d encourage you to pick a song from evermore (or another story-driven album) and write the backstory, what happens next, or the other character’s perspective. Turn your writing into a response song, or a poem, or a short story. I’m sure you could even find enough inspiration to write a novel if you tried!

As always, we are eager to see what you come up with. Share in the comments below or, if you are so inclined, submit it to the journal for consideration!