My craft article appeared today at Women on Writing. Ta-da! :)
“Break Out Your Cameras to Enhance Your Image Writing”
By Melanie Faith
For a year, off and on, I shot a series of photos called "In the Green." The series included many different subjects, some that you might expect (from an emerald, leafy landscape to the green whirls of a decorative cabbage I saw at a farmer’s market), and others that might surprise. A perfect example of the latter was the mint-hued upright piano I spotted at a craft store in the Midwest while visiting my sister one summer. Needless to say, I couldn’t let that piano, which also sported a giant ivory stencil of a splash of roses above the keyboard, go undocumented.
Not all of the elements in each shot were green—such as three clover-shaped skeleton keys I couldn’t resist from an auction—but I incorporated a Kelly green into the background.
Each image, several of which have been published over the past year, including in Fourth & Sycamore, includes at least one aspect of the color I’d chosen, which also happens to be my personal favorite. (A little trivia for you.)
My photography practice has enhanced my writing practice for years, and vice-versa. What can photography bring to enhance our writing skills on the page and screen?
- Photography is imagery-focused, just like writing. Do you like to take photos of your family dog or cat? How about landscapes? Or food shots from restaurants or your own kitchen? What about your children or grandchildren? Or sports? In each of these types of shots, and more, there is a subject in your composition that you zero in on, to the exclusion of other details in the shot. The same is true for our writing. In our writing practice, we narrow down the subject we’d like to explore and the best genre to explore it (poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and flash, to name a few options).
Just as in our compositions we decide if we want to take a long, wide view (as in a landscape) or the close-up view (as in a macro or micro shot), in our writing, we make choices about how we will present the protagonist(s) or antagonist(s). What will be their main motivations? What action will be the catalyst for beginning the story in conflict, in media rest? What word pictures will bring to life the tone and theme in our poem?
- Photography evokes numerous senses within visual imagery, just as good writing does. No, we don’t have scratch-and-sniff photos yet, but a great photo of a box of popcorn triggers our memories and associations with the scents and textures of popcorn just as multi-sensory imagery in prose or poetry within the minds of readers.
- Photography teaches us about connections, symbolism, and resonance. Just like in our writing, in photography there’s the surface subject—perhaps a platter of enchiladas—and then there’s the deeper meaning of the picture—your grandfather taught you to include a lime wedge to garnish them and so you always make yours with limes at the ready. The evocative personal and background details in such a shot will influence not only why you chose to document your delicious dish, but also will affect the way that viewers approach and appreciate the composition, even if they don’t know 100% (or any) of the backstory. Good photos, just like good writing, reveal key, carefully-selected details that draw in the audience.
- Photography, much like writing, is self-expressive and just plain fun. It can be easy, amidst craft talk, to forget that there’s a magical and exciting sense of exploration in both art forms. Many times, I’m surprised and entertained by the subjects and themes that both my lens and pen create and how much they share in common.
Try This Prompt! Choose a color from the ROY G BIV spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Make a photo every day for four or five days of something with this color. Warning: it’ll only take a day or two until you notice the color everywhere.
Feel free to use the camera on your phone, if that’s easier than hauling around a larger camera.
On the last day, use one of the images from your photos as a prompt to kick-start a new poem, short story, scene, or essay. Include unique descriptions to denote each color in your writing. Thesaurus.com is a wonderful resource for hue synonyms.
Consider continuing to take photos in your series for as many days or weeks as the idea appeals, and then repeat this exercise as often as you’d like with a piece of writing inspired by your new photo compositions.
Need more inspiration? Consider my upcoming Imagery Power: Photography for Writers class.
My spotlight article was published today at Women on Writing. Enjoy!
“Three Reasons Why Flash is the Genre for You”
By: Melanie Faith
Don’t let the small size of flash fiction and nonfiction fool you—there’s a ton to recommend this little-genre-that-could.
· Got sci-fi? Got a personal essay? Got romance? Got magical realism? Great! Flash is diverse in subject matter. Just like its longer contemporaries, flash is a hot genre sought by many markets. I’ve seen seeking-submission ads just this week for flash fiction in anthologies, magazines, and for conferences. One market sought speculative fiction, which includes science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and slipstream subgenres. Another market asked for flash memoirs, romance, horror, adventure, and cowboy tales. Still another market seeks environmental and travel narratives in flash. I’ve seen (and submitted my own flashes to) markets for humorous flash as well.
Both fiction and nonfiction flashes are prized by editors, so whether you like to write about yourself or to create characters, there’s room in flash for either. Or why not try writing flash in both genres? In my craft book, In a Flash! Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose , I offer oodles of practical tips and prompts for exploring and marketing flash in fiction and nonfiction.
Clearly, just about any topic you could spend a novel, novella, (auto)biography, or short story writing about can translate well as a subject for flash, too.
· Another advantage of flash is that most markets want multiple flashes at once. This is great news, because if they want three or five stories at a time, then you have three or five chances to wow them. Include what you think is your strongest flash first in the submission packet. Not sure which is your strongest piece? Ask a friend which piece stands out to them.
· Worried about not having enough plot development within such a small space? No worries. Many of us writers are already used to writing texts and Tweets. Trying our hands at flash in its many styles should be a snap.
Flash is economical but also has wiggle room to fit any plot. While the top word-count for flash is often set at either under 1,000 words or 750 words, that’s not the only length markets seek for flashes they publish.
Ever head of the “drabble?” That’s a flash of exactly 100 words. There’s an excellent book by Michael A. Kechula, called Micro Fiction: Writing 100 Word Stories (Drabbles) for Magazines and Contests , that details more about how to write and submit these 100-word gems.
There are also fifty-word stories, two-sentence stories, and even six-word stories (you read that right). I’ve seen contests and literary magazines, like Narrative Magazine , that seek six-word stories and often pay for them.
Whatever subject, style, or word-count works for you, there’s sure to be a market eagerly awaiting your flash submission!
Want to learn more?
Check out my upcoming online workshop that begins on Friday, March 15th. Here’s the scoop and the skinny:
Signed copies of my book for writers that is chockfull of great tips and examples for nonfiction and fiction flash writers, In a Flash: Writing & Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose, available at WritePathProductions.
A sale book bundle, of both my flash- and poetry-writing books, is also available for book lovers at Etsy.
Thrilled to announce that my article, “3 Tips for a New-Year, New-You Journal at Any Time of Year,” was featured today at the createwritenow blog. Check it out for some writing inspiration.
While you’re there, please peruse Mari McCarthy’s motivating Journaling Power book (I’ve read it and found it super helpful on my own writing journey) along with her inspiring courses and authentic mentoring, guaranteed to kick-start your 2019 to new levels of awesomeness.
My craft article was published at Women on Writing today. Enjoy! :)
“3 Tips for Developing Theme within Poetry”
By: Melanie Faith
I started as a fiction writer before discovering the wonders of poetry at the grand age of 17. (Thank you, Mr. B!)
One quality shared by resonant poems I read in literary journals, anthologies, and from my students' pens is a strong theme.
How can we explore theme to deepen our own poetry?
1. Imagery is where it's at. As poets, we are all about compression. Can we say it in fewer words? Can those few chosen words be rich in the five senses? Can the chosen diction include a symbol for a bigger idea? All of these questions help lead us to imagery that razzle-dazzles our readers.
If I wanted to write a love poem about tentative love, it's unlikely my readers will be as stirred by my flat-out stating, "We were on-again, off-again," as they would with a simple mention of a flickering candle on the windowsill.
Imagery is economical and meaningful. It also creates vivid pictures in your readers’ minds that they’ll remember long after reading your work and, in many cases, invite them back for further reads.
2. Characterization and setting can get the job done. I hear a boatload of discussion in fiction and nonfiction classes about creating realistic characters, and for good reason. This same technique can be applied to poetry to create fantastic engagement from readers and underscore your theme without the dreaded (drumroll, please) telling instead of showing [shiver].
Writers can create poems from numerous characters’ POVs to underscore theme. Persona poems develop a narrative and can be read as individual works of art, such as Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” or paired together to develop a longer narrative, conflict, and/or setting. Great examples include Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 classic Spoon River Anthology, Traci Brimhall’s Saudade (2017 Copper Canyon Press), and poems in my most-recent collection, This Passing Fever (2017 FutureCycle Press).
Paired poems may move back and forth through time and setting (as they do in Brimhall’s work and my work) or remain in one town or place (as in Masters’ collection).
3. Subtlety is your friend.
Sometimes, once we have chosen a theme for our poem, we excitedly write lines that spell out our meaning with all the charm of a doornail. For instance, using the word “grieving” and “died” in a poem whose theme explores death, or stating “flowers always make me happy” in a poem about the therapeutic powers of gardening.
Many poems I see that run off the rails do so when poets begin to explain (or over-explain) rather than trusting readers to intuit the theme on their own.
How can we provide clues for our readers so that they will be sure to deduce the theme?
Glad you asked: figurative language aplenty. Figurative language is understated yet satisfying. Similes and metaphors are often great indicators of theme. As are usage of symbols and imagery. Incorporating sound effects, such as words with hard d sounds for dramatic or tense themes or words with soft m or n sounds for quieter or peaceable themes, can other excellent thematic indicators.
Try this prompt: Choose a poem where you have stated part or all of the theme directly in your poem. Make a list of three images, symbols, characters, or settings that could highlight your theme instead. Pick one detail from your list and, after omitting your theme-stating line, add in details related to your chosen image, symbol, characters, or settings. Compare drafts.
Looking for inspiration to jump-start your Muse in early 2019? Have I got a class for you! Vigorous and Vibrant Verse: an Online Poetry Workshop.
My craft article was published as a spotlight today at Women on Writing. If you’re interested in writing more flash, check out my online class that starts on November 2nd. :) In a Flash
“How Sweet it Is: Writing Resonant Flash Prose”
By: Melanie Faith
When I was a kid, my dad used to stop on the way home from work each night to get the newspaper for my mom and a candy treat for me and my sister. One of our favorite treats was wrapped in a long, thin piece of see-through cellophane. Inside, was a string of thick white floss that had elasticity, and strung along this floss were shiny, bright candies. These circular gems, in popping pastel shades of yellow, pink, orange, and blue, were vaguely-sweetened like fruit and floral flavors (the yellow was slightly tart yet banana-ish and the blue, I recall, tasted like a cross between raspberry and the way a rose smelled).
Each candy bead had the kind of brittle crunch that a child relishes—chomp-chomp!—but which would make my adult teeth weep. The hues of the candies melted with each chomp until the string was bare and vaguely pinkish-whitish-yellowish-blue-orange by the time the last candy was presto-change-oed. After just a few moments, the candy dye bled onto fingertips, tongue, and face, revealing opaque-white candies’ underbellies.
A vivid sense memory I repeat is the internal debate—holding the cellophane-wrapped treat, after a hug from my dad: should I rip into the cellophane immediately and wear the candy-pretty necklace (sometimes I doubled it around my wrist like a fancy lady’s bracelet)? Yet, there was the candy, so tantalizing, that who could resist just a tiny bite? On the other hand, once bitten into, the string was sticky and not really conducive to wearing—destroyed, in a sense, for displaying.
It was a catch-22, albeit one of the best kinds, and the tension between knowing when to hold onto something and when to begin was the kind of life lesson that doesn’t have a perfect answer and yet which gets repeated, unbeknownst to the child’s mind, again and again in life. Timing— whether strung on a string or not, whether involving choosing a major or a love interest or a house or a car or another job or having a child— is an infinite loop of weighing pros and cons and, eventually, just diving in. A lesson, as a Type A elder daughter, I struggled with endless times, weighing the sour against the sweet, second-guessing myself: Was it too soon? But could there be a too late? Even after the satisfying crunch, the soggy, lone string.
In the above flash nonfiction, I began with a simple note I’d jotted this morning in my writer’s notebook while still half-asleep and making my to-do list for the day. Idea: candy necklaces we ate as kids. Hours of student correspondence, errands, lunch, and dishes passed before I sat down again, opened my notebook on my desk and commenced to write the above passages.
Clocking in at just under 400 words, my creative process and this piece highlight some of the best facets of the flash genre. Let’s examine them:
· Flash begins with—well, a flash! Ever used a writing prompt? Sure, most of us have encountered them in writing classes, writing groups, and in books. The genius of a prompt is that it revolves around one idea. Good flash starts with a kernel of a topic which the reader then writes into in discovery. In the case of my candy-necklace flash, my random memory (which popped into my head after seeing a necklace online of white beads) became the prompt I explored.
· Flashes are focused. Notice above how I say “one idea?” In flash, there’s not room for asides or diversions. Any details about the rest of my childhood—the scented dolls I adored, the children’s jokes I loved to tell and invariably flubbed the punch lines of, have no place in this piece—they need to be moved to their own flashes. One is plenty in developing flash.
· Flashes are about what they are about, and they are also about something bigger than their subject, too. In other words: readers learn about you and your characters but they also learn something resonant about humanity. Sure, this is a flash centered on a personal memory, but it also has a theme that readers can connect with their own experiences: timing. How do we know when it is the right, or the wrong, time to do anything? The reader should walk away asking and connect to circumstances in their own past or present. Consider universal themes.
· It’s all about the imagery, baby! Without hitting readers over the head by spelling out theme, how can we explore themes and other literary language? One of the easiest ways is to develop imagery. Just like in poetry, another condensed form, flash nonfiction and flash fiction often employ plenty of sensory images to get the job done (as does this flash with taste, smell, auditory/sound, and visual imagery).
· Flashes include tension. Without the final paragraph of my flash, there wouldn’t be a lot of resonance or conflict in my piece. Most of the other paragraphs are a nice memory involving candy—perhaps interesting for my nieces to read or some other Gen Xer or Baby Boomer who remembers this type of candy, but not the stuff of literature per say. The final two paragraphs introduce the pressure of both leaning on one’s own internal judgment and the suggestion (without spelling it out) of external conflict/judgment over choosing something too soon or being too late to spoil the fun.
Try this exercise: Set a timer and write for fifteen minutes without stopping about a food associated with your own childhood. Incorporate at least three of the five elements of successful flash either as you write or when you return to edit your piece after writing.
My craft article about creating artistic imagery using tropes appeared at Women on Writing today.
Image by: Jose Alonso
"Tropey-Dokey: Enhancing Imagery with Tropes"
By: Melanie Faith
12:30 in the afternoon was a sacrosanct time for my grandma and my mom. It was the starting time for their favorite soap. As in their “stories.” Month after month, year after year, from two houses a half-town apart both of which used rabbit-ear antennas so popular in the ’70s and ’80s, they tuned in five days a week. Eagerly, they followed the unfurling complications of characters both glam-tastic and down-on-their-luck in a fabled city that had the same name as a European city (which didn’t hurt the appeal).
Okay, so sometimes the plot lines were admittedly fantastical—amnesia and never-before-mentioned twin siblings, anyone? Still, the protagonists (and often the rascally antagonists, too) were likeable in their emotional conflicts and botched intentions.
Soap operas— like most novels, visual storytelling such as photos and movies, and plays— are based on comforting tropes, you know: those recurring motifs and literary devices that we can often foresee but still wait around to watch how it all shakes down anyway.
Unlike learning calculus or molecular biology, we don’t have to strain to notice bits and pieces of what it’s like to struggle and to celebrate human foibles and small triumphs within the characters whose lives unfurl scene by scene, even if our own lives don’t involve heirs/heiresses, ballrooms, or jet-setting.
Lest you think soap operas are solely low-brow and cheesy escapism, think again: tropes can be traced as far back as the ancient world. In Classical Greece the term meant “turn,” and is still used in modern Deconstruction Theory. Aristotle, in Poetics, discusses common tropes in tragedies and epics.
The important part about tropes is that viewers, readers, and artists all relish patterns. Also, these recognizable patterns can lead to some wonderful extended narratives. I’ve seen many photo series based on developed tropes from fairy tales and other imaginative and recognizable patterns.
In short: tropes, my friends, are our friends.
It’s not rocket science, but that’s not usually what we need from the art we enjoy or the art we create-- art is the balance of tension between the familiar and the human need for escape from drudgery. Resonant art has elements of the recognizable as well as elements of transcendence. Too much of one over the other leaves us cold, with no connection to the material. Too little of both, and it likely won’t catch much less hold our attention in the barrage of sights, sounds, and events flooding our days.
Tropes might seem a shortcut, but they provide a meaningful jumping off point for riffs on numerous human experiences.
Timeless recurring tropes explored in the visual and written arts include:
· Misunderstood or conflicted protagonists, commonly in youth but occurring in other life stages, too
· Changes of personal or group identity, mistaken identity
· Changes of locale/geography, escape
· Love gained, love in trouble, love lost, love regretted
· Death and the dying process
· The un-suppressible secret
· The unexpected accident and its aftermath
· Retribution/Payback (whether delivered person-to-person or on its own)
· Changing seasons—both geographic and internal/metaphorical
· Rescue—of others, of self
· Reunions of individuals (former friends, former enemies) or groups
Try this Prompt! Pick three of the above tropes. Jot ideas for ten minutes, without stopping to censor yourself, for how you might express these common tropes using your own unique talents and photo-taking skills.
Also consider locations or backdrops and possible props or subjects you might incorporate into each of the three tropes.
Compare and contrast the notes you take on your chosen three tropes. Cross out the most-cliché or obvious description of the three, and pick one of the other two tropes to make into a photo session or a photo series. Go!
My "Photography for Writers" online class starts on September 21st. I'd love to get to work with more creative, inspired folks.
No previous training with a camera necessary (you can use a camera phone or any other types of cameras you might enjoy).
Guaranteed to inspire your Muse and enliven your written imagery as well.
More details about the four-week course: "Photography for Writers."
Care for some tips about writing flash fiction? Check out my craft article that was just featured at Nunum:
Photo by: Sagar Patil, www.unsplash.com
Curious about the impact of writing notebooks in the life of authors? Want some tips on how to keep a submission notebook?
My craft article was published at Women on Writing today.
"Image Power: Click-Click to Enhance Your Writing"
By Melanie Faith
"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." ~ Dorothea Lange
What one art form has most enhanced my writing?
Photography. Hands down.
What makes photography such a great sibling to our poems and prose? What can we learn through photography that will inform our writing for the better?
- Both are imagery-based arts. Many of the same instincts and thought processes I use when writing also come into play when I make photographs. Paying attention to specific details is a key part of making written and visual art.
- Both photography and writing involve knowing not only what to include but what to exclude for the strength of the piece.
- Photography often follows similar themes as our writing. Perhaps you are drawn to family dynamics in your writing? Photos of children, babies, parents, grandparents, and more may shed light on a new aspect for you to consider in your writing. Or perhaps you enjoy writing about nature--from flowers to animals. Studying and taking photos outdoors can underscore elements to explore with detail in your writing.
- Both arts explore symbolism. Metaphors are often involved as well. Are there certain shapes or colors that recur in your photos? They likely recur in your writing as well. Are you interested in tumbling sheds or impressive arches and flying buttress beams in architecture? Then I bet you've written about structures--from apartments, trailers, and houses to dormitories and other buildings you've experienced--and what they symbolize personally and culturally from time to time, too.
- Both arts are great fun. Let's not overlook the joy of creating both media. There's never been an easier time to write, with computer software and online workshops, or to take photographs. Most cell phones have amazing cameras in them and digital photography has brought photo sharing to a wide audience. Not only are there amazing tools to unleash your creativity and to explore your questions about life, spirit, and love, but also the process of creating can be relaxing, fulfilling, exciting, and meaningful. You don't need to spend a ton of money on the latest lenses or equipment to make gorgeous, meaningful pictures or to write publishable verse and prose. Basic tools and a little time can yield amazing results.
- Both arts encourage variety and a slowing-down to focus. Exploring new ways to develop my still-life photos has also encouraged me to try new formats in my poems, essays, and fiction. At the same time, photography has taught me much about slowing down and being in the moment, something that's equally important in photography and writing...and daily life.
Try this Prompt!
List two subjects you photograph and/or write about repeatedly. Describe this object, person, or place in 150 words. Then list two reasons why you repeatedly revisit this subject. What about this subject might you see from a new angle or describe with new words? What do you think these subjects symbolize in your current life or the life you'd like to lead in the future? What qualities do they represent about you as an individual artist? Break out your camera and take a photo of this subject in a way or from an angle you've never thought about before now.
Interested in a class that combines photography and writing? Click the link below.
Instructor: Melanie Faith
Workshop Length: 4 Weeks
Class Dates: Friday, March 9, 2018 - Friday, April 6, 2018
Cost: $155, which includes e-mail critique and positive feedback on student writing, and access to a private group for student interactions.
Limit: 10 Students
Description: "Fiction, like dreams, exists in images... Fiction must exist in images, not abstractions," wrote John Dufresne. Indeed, the ability to develop imagery is important in all forms of writing, from poetry to essays and all sorts of descriptive writing. The art of photography, an evocative visual art, frequently helps authors hone our image-seeking and development skills. There won't be technical jargon of F-stops or aperture priority in this course and you are free to use any form of camera you already own and love--from camera phone to digital, DSLR to Lomo, instamatic, you name it; this class is about cracking open the everyday extraordinary, about the kind of seeing and focusing on detail that will enhance your writing and spark ideas for months to come.
In this four-week workshop, we'll take a daily photo-taking prompt for a spin, post our response, and describe what inspired each photo at our class group. During the second week, you will begin a piece based on one of the photos you've taken that you will share (in part as an excerpt or in full, up to you) with the class during our fourth week. Handouts on topics covered will include: Truthiness: Adding Layers to Your Art with Art; The Genesis and Development of Imagery: Example Sheet of Published Work; Submitting Your Work to Literary Magazines & Other Venues Looking for Photos: Cover Letter Tips; Photographic Resources to Check Out!; Tips for Writing about [Our] Art; How to Match Your Photographic Style to your Writing Style; Ekphrasis and You: Writing in Tandem with the Visual Arts; and Tips for Writing Fabulous Writer/Artist Bios.
There will be a private group for students to discuss our creative process and share daily responses to each prompt and for sharing of literary resources, such as markets and quotations about the image-making process.