What Is Free Writing?

This week, we will discuss how to generate ideas. Writers are frequently asked where their ideas come from. A number of techniques exist to spur creativity. One such technique is free writing. This popular technique involves selecting a topic, allotting a given period of time, and then during that time writing every thought that comes to mind about that topic without censoring yourself at all. Many writers begin free writing only five minutes at a time and increasing their time by five minutes every three to four days.

During free writing, it is important that you do not censor your thoughts or concern yourself with proper grammar or whether your writing even makes sense. The benefit of this technique is to allow subconscious ideas to emerge to a conscious level. Free writing can be used to overcome writer’s block as well as apathy.

Much of what you write during free writing will not be usable. However, after you complete your free writing exercise, you should review your writing and attempt to find links between her thoughts to further develop intriguing ideas that may emerge. Circle any words or phrases that are repeated.

Do you use free writing to generate ideas? What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) topics for free writing? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

What Point of View Should I Use?

As an author, one of the decisions you will need to make about your work is the point of view. Should you use first person? Third person? Which version of third person? There’s so much to consider!

One word of caution: never use second person when writing fiction. Using second person takes the reader out of the story by inserting the author’s voice into the narrative.

There are a number of reasons to use first person, including creating a specific voice. First person uses the pronoun “I” and is a subjective viewpoint in which the story is told entirely from one character’s point of view, usually the main character. We see other character’s reactions and filter their words through the lens of the main character. First person draws the reader in and allows for an emotional connection with the character. When writing in first person, you will want to ensure that you retain the character’s voice throughout. Do not allow your own voice to come through as the entire story will be told through your character’s point of view. An example is Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Third person allows for a more objective viewpoint. All characters are referred to with the pronouns “he,” “she,” “it,” “they.” After you decide you want to tell your story in third person, you will need to decide if you prefer third person limited or third person omniscient. Advantages and disadvantages exist with each.

In third person limited, the story is told through the eyes of the main character, and like first person, we only see what that character sees and know what that character knows. Third person limited allows for a little more freedom than first person in that the reader often knows more than the character does. This allows for dramatic irony. A classic example is Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Third person omniscient allows the reader to know everything that is happening. In third person omniscient, the author will switch from one character’s viewpoint to another’s. This is effective when you want to include the thoughts of each character. An example is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter.

Third person omniscient is the most difficult point of view to write and should be avoided if you are a beginning writer. It takes lots of practice to be able to write well from multiple viewpoints.

Which point of view do you prefer? How do you decide which one to use? Share your thoughts with us!

What Is Alliteration?

Alliteration is a stylistic literary device that refers to the repetitious use of sounds in words that are closely connected. This repetition may occur at the beginning, middle, or end of the word and may involve consonants or vowels. Alliteration is used in both prose and poetry, but it is often most effective in poetry due to the rhythm it creates.

Repetitious consonant sounds are called consonance. Consonance is found in the following lines from “T was later when the summer went” by Emily Dickenson using the letters c, p, s, t, and w: ‘T was later when the summer went/Than when the cricket came,/And yet we knew that gentle clock/Meant nought but going home./‘T was sooner when the cricket went/Than when the winter came,/Yet that pathetic pendulum/Keeps esoteric time.”

Repetitious vowel sounds are called assonance. Assonance is especially used in poetry to add rhythm or alter mood. The following is an example using the letter e from “Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe: “Hear the mellow wedding bells,/Golden bells!/What a world of happiness their harmony foretells.”

Writers use alliteration to call readers’ attention to a particular passage. The use of alliteration creates a musical rhythm, slows down the pace, and sets the mood of that passage. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe uses d and l sounds in the opening sentence, “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day…” in order to slow down the pace and create a melancholy tone. The repetition of the letter s in a work can conjure up images of snakes, hissing, and deceitfulness.

Alliteration is related to onomatopoeia because both engage the sense of sound. In onomatopoeia, the word imitates the natural sound of something, such as “bam” or “giggle.”

Do you use alliteration in your writing? Do you find alliteration more effective in prose or poetry? Share examples of your favorite passages of alliterative sounds in the comments below.

What Is Active Voice?

As writers, we hear the advice to use active voice early in our careers. For new writers, this can be a challenge. Even those of us who have been writing for a while can use a refresher.

What is active voice? In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action. This is in opposition to passive voice, in which the subject receives the action. To decide if you have an active voice or passive voice sentence, find the subject first and then decide if the subject is the one doing the action or receiving the action.

Using active voice means avoiding “to be” verbs: is, was, were, are, be, being, and been. These verbs tell instead of show. The active voice also allows you to be specific about character or setting. Using active voice clarifies meaning for readers and provides succinct sentences. Passive voice, on the other hand, can be wordy and cloud the meaning of your sentences. For example, “I have a puppy,” provides little detail, but “I chose the runt of the litter, a small, feisty Yorkshire terrier,” gives you a glimpse of a tiny dog with a big attitude.

Occasionally, you may wish to use a “to be” verb. Using a “to be” verb is not a grammatical error and may be necessary in some instances. However, you will want to be aware not to overuse passive voice because this will weaken your writing.

Years ago, I asked one of my English professors to critique an essay I had written for his class. I had revised it several times and thought it was pretty good. He ripped it apart. His advice: change all passive voice sentences to active voice and watch my transitions (a blog topic for another day). As I revised the essay again, I was surprised to see the number of times I had used the passive voice without even realizing it. By the time I was done with my revisions, I had an A paper.

How do you ensure that you use active voice? Do you make a conscious effort to use active voice in your first draft, or do you go back and revise to eliminate passive voice sentences? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

What Is Allegory?

Most of us are familiar with allegory through high school English classes. But if you’re like me, that may have been the last time you even thought about allegory as a storytelling device.

Throughout history, allegory has been used in all forms of art. So what is an allegory? It is a story or tale with two or more levels of meaning: a literal level and one or more symbolic levels. As an extended metaphor, allegory uses symbols to represent characters, places, or events. While allegory uses symbols, it is different from symbolism in that allegory tells a complete story. Allegories are used to share a moral, teach a lesson, or impart a principal.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which is part of his larger work, The Republic, is one of the most famous allegories. In this work, a group of people have been chained up inside a cave for their entire lives. They stare at a blank wall with shadows of the outside world dancing across it. One person escapes the cave and sees the items producing the shadows for the first time. When he goes back into the cave and tries to describe the outside world, the people inside do not believe him. This allegory symbolizes the difficulty a philosopher has expanding the worldview of common man.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is one of the most important Christian allegories in literature. The names of the characters and places in this work represent character traits of each one. For example, the protagonist, Christian, meets Evangelist, Obstinate, and Pliable on his journey. Christian is from the City of Destruction (the world) and is seeking the Celestial City (heaven).

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is one of the most famous recent examples of allegory. In this work, the farm represents Russia, the practice of Animalism represents Communism, and the animals represent various sectors of Russian society. An example of Communism is found in the following line: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

What are your favorite stories that are allegories? What do these represent? Do you use allegory in your own work? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!