Friday, January 28, 2011

Creative Writing Success

I absolutely guarantee you will become a better writer, immediately after executing this half hour exercise.

Write a 5 to ten page dialog involving only two characters. Do not use dialogue tags (he said, she said, he replied, etc.)

Try to evoke character and conflict and plot using dialog only.
Avoid long analog expositions
Use context, not explanations.

Here is an example of an exercise I created. I will use it in an upcoming short story.

“Why are you looking at me that way?”
“You know more than you’re telling us, don’t you?”
“Like what for example?”
“You know who did it.”
“I don’t know anything. “
“Then tell us, why did you run?”
“You came down the alley driving like crazy. You didn’t have any sirens on. How was I supposed to know you were cops?”
“You could have jumped out of the way if you thought you were in danger, but you didn’t. We chased you damn near two miles on feet, all the while screaming, police stop. But you didn’t stop did you?”
“What do you want from me?”
“Names. Addresses.”
“Like I said, two guys were running from the building when I got there. I didn’t see their faces.”

“And you didn’t have a conversation with them?”
“No. I don’t usually stop armed men and make friends with them.”
“Then why would someone testify that you did?”
“Who said that?”
“Did you?”
“Did I what?”
“Did you talk to the killers?”
“Someone saw you talking to those men in front of the library, yesterday.”
“Yesterday? Yes, I …I talked with two strangers ….at the….library, yesterday.”
“Why did you deny it?”
“I didn’t deny anything. Are you trying to tell me those strangers are the same men who killed those people tonight?”
“Who said someone was killed?”
“I heard gunshots. People often die from that you know?”
“How many shots did you hear?”
“Five. Six or more. No more than ten.”
“But probably more than five?”
“I thought you said the men were fleeing the building when you arrived.”
“They were.”
“But you heard shots. How much time exhausted between the time you heard the shots and the time you saw the fleeing men?”
“Where were you when you heard the shots?”
“Just around the corner. About ten feet away.”
“And then you approached the building?”
“You put yourself in harms way after you heard the gunshots?”
“I work there.”
“So, because you work there you decided to walk in the directions where you heard the shots.”
“You weren’t afraid.”
“I guess not.”
“You weren’t afraid of the bad guys, but you ran from us…the cops? Do you own a gun?”
“Let me guess. A nine millimeter. Silverplated?”
“Where is it?”
“It was stolen.”
“Did you file a police report?”
“What are you getting at?”
“I’m getting at two men. Men you know and met with yesterday. Men who killed tonight.”
“You’re not gonna plant this one me. I don’t know anything about it. I was simply going to work when the killing started.”
“What time do you normally report to work?”
“Seven forty five.”
“Seven forty five sharp over the past three years isn’t that right?”
“But you were late today. Why?”
“I stopped for donuts.”
“Any reason why we would find a nine millimeter silver-plated pistol ten feet from where we stopped you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Any reason why your fingerprints should be on it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Donuts. Where?”
“Where What?”
“Where’d you stop for donuts?”
“Krispy Crème.”
“Which one?”
“The one on Peachtree and tenth.”
“Will anyone remember you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you often stop there?”
“Why stop by this morning?”
“I was hungry.”
“Those men, the suspects stopped by Krispy Crème this morning, also. The clerk said there was a third man. Know who that might be?”
“I wanna see my lawyer.”
“You’ll need one

. Stand up and turn around. Put your hands behind your back.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creative Writing Critique for Thrillers/Suspense/Mystery

Perfect your writing skills by joining a crit group. I write thrillers/suspense and some mystery. I will crit the work of experienced thriller writers. I also recommend you do the same. This is an effective means of refining your writing skills. Acquire sound feedback and develop greater insight into your strengths and weaknesses by getting involved in a good writers crit group.

Although, my interest is in thriller/suspense, as you know, we can learn much from writers of any genre, romance, horror, YA, etc. I am personally concentrating on thriller/suspense because I have a novel written and nearly ready to publish.

Should you find an interesting group along those lines, please notify me at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Top 20 MFA Programs in Creative Writing

There is not a federally sanctioned accredited body to actually rank creative writing programs in terms of an MFA program, especially in creative writing.

This ranking is based, in part, upon the reviews of published authors who have read books by authors from these universities coupled with the results of avid readers of fiction who were impressed to the extent that they surrendered rankings based on their readings. We then followed up by contacting those authors to arrive at the schools to which they attended and/or earned an MFA in creative writing.

We took into account that many world renown authors do not have an MFA, therefore, we asked them "Which school would you attend toward earning an MFA if you were just starting out?"
Rankings are strongly dependent on the success of the MFA students toward publishing and gaining national recognition for their novels. Again, many famous authors do not hold a degree in the arts. That's one reason their evaluations of schools is necessary.

We credit the following resources for their contributions: Poets & Writers Magazine,, acclaimed novelist and The Atlantic Magazine.

We dissected a preponderance of information to arrive at this list. Here they are in the order of their rankings.

(1)The University of Iowa - Iowa City
(2)The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
(3)The University of Virginia - Charlottesville
(4)The University of Houston - Houston
(5)Boston University - Boston
(6)The University of Massachusetts - Amherst
(7)John Hopkins University - Baltimore, MD
(8)New York University - New York City
(9)The University of Texas - Austin
(10)The University of Wisconsin - Madison
(11)Cornell University - Ithaca, New York
(12)Brown University - Providence, RI
(13)Columbia University - New York, NY

(14)Indiana University - Bloomington
(15)Syracuse University - Syracuse, NY
(16)The University of Georgia - Athens
(17)The University of California - Irvine
(18)The University of Oregon - Eugene
(19)The University of North Carolina - Greensboro
(20)The University of Utah - Salt Lake City, Utah

Most Memorable Single Line in Opening Chapters

There are many strong lines in opening chapters. The thriller and horror genre, by nature requires shocking openings, however, there are some writers who simply have the knack for grasping the readers attention right away, without compromising style or flow of the story. The writers listed below are among them.

I dare say this is an exclusive list, but it is the best based on the books I've read to date. There is much yet to read. I will update this list to the best of my ability and rank in order as I discover more. If I have missed your book, forgive me, and please make suggestions as I will read it.

These rankings are obviously based upon my judgment, however, for whatever it is worth. I write and read thrillers, religiously.

Here's a line within the opening chapter of The Listener by Shira Nayman. It moves me for reasons I will not explain because I want you to discover it for yourself, otherwise, it's like attempting to explain the meaning of a particular painting, subject to interpretation.

The doctor is visiting an asylum where she treats patients. Patients are on the grounds working with hoes and rakes. I think it's clever that the author, Mrs. Nayman did not mention the doctor's name, but kept us in the story. Here it is:

...perhaps the smell of fresh dirt really is a primal palliative that makes a mockery of our talking cure.

The author followed up with tremendously suspenseful dialog. Check it out at

Creative Writing: How to unlock your imagination, develop your writing skills - and get published

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shira Nayman Speaks

Welcome Shira Nayman, Author of The Listener and Awake in the Dark. The Listener is a great read. Many of us have read it. To those who have not, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy. The Listener is in my personal library along with books by James Patterson, Stuart Woods, John Cannally, Lee Child, Sarah Paretsky, Karim Fossum and more. As you know, I absolutely love The Listener.

Here is a copy of the missive Shira sent me in response to our blog post entitled, Words Matter.

Writing Matters
Reading your latest blog posts….
What amazes me about Sarah Palin’s response to the shootings in Tucson, is her self-absorption, defensiveness, and utter lack of proportion. When six innocent people have lost their lives, and other lives hang in the balance, as a result of the shootings, to focus on her own grievances about the press, and to make reference to an accusation—“blood libel,” that invokes the deepest, most destructive kind of religious prejudice and persecution, and resulted for generations in countless murders and untold suffering—reveals a tremendous amount about the person doing the speaking: about her ignorance, selfishness and compromised character. You are very right that writing—words—matter; and as a sage philosopher of the twentieth century remarked, when listening to someone, one must always remember who it is who is doing the speaking. I suppose the point here is that we assess people who are in the public eye based on what they say and what they do. We know Sarah Palin through her actions and through her words—both of which reveal a comprehensive portrait of a person whose astonishing egotism is only overshadowed by a truly impressive ignorance.

When we fall in love with a speaker—or writer—we fall in love with a way of seeing, a point of view. I have often thought that being a writer is not so much an occupation (though it is also that) as a mode of being, a way of experiencing the world: not so much a skill set (though it of course involves skills) as a spiritual condition. The writers I admire and connect with appear, from early in life, to have an intuitive understanding that words matter; that what we say and how we say it has an impact on who we are, and on the world. Jean Paul Sartre cogently talked about how when we take on and espouse a belief, we are, in a sense, defining how we believe the world should be: we are declaring this is the idea or belief we would have all of mankind think or believe.

(Back to Palin—in this sense, when she put cross-hairs over those congressional districts, the implicit intention is that this is a vision she would have all people share; in declaring this image as representative of her and her views, she is propagating a vision of political discourse and response, she is setting forth her prescription for political rhetoric, which includes a call to citizen involvement—a declaration to supporters that this, too, is how you should think, this, too, is how you should act in relation to your fellow citizens. Of course, she could not “know” that a mentally unstable person might literalize her call; however, any savvy politician—and surely, she would consider herself savvy—knows that there are wayward elements in the population, extremists and the easily-influenced-unstable, which is why responsible politicians steer away from the potentially incendiary. In this sense, figures in power do indeed have a responsibility to speak and act with forethought, with knowledge, with awareness that their words and actions can have wide impact. An important aside here, is that as a doctor would be irresponsible, indeed, culpable, if she remained ignorant on matters that affect her patients—a heart surgeon, for example, not staying current with new developments in her field—so a politician who is ignorant regarding matters that deeply impact her job (such as having an awareness of basic geography, or of the meaning and deep resonances of hot-button historical flags such as “blood libel”) is not only irresponsible, but also to some extent culpable, given that this ignorance has consequences. The words and actions of any prominent political figure obviously have very-real potential impact on the public’s views and actions.)

When reading a novel, my internal sensors hone in immediately on what feels like the pulse-point of the writer’s soul; I sense, pretty quickly, if this author is on a hunt for some kind of truth—or more concerned with fancy-footwork and impressing. I suppose it’s not unlike when one meets someone new and immediately finds one’s intuitive faculties sniffing things out. Who is this person? What kind of a journey is he embarked upon? What kinds of moral stances does she take in life? How does she treat people? How does he understand the world and his place in it? We may not go too far down that road in every chance encounter, but for me, those kinds of questions always hover beneath the surface, certainly an any encounter that is prolonged; it is based on such delicate judgments that we decide if we are going to take this person into our lives.

When I pick up a novel, I find those same kinds of fibrillating assessments coming into play; and when I fall for a writer, I fall hook, line and sinker. When I tell my husband that I’m taking a new, already beloved book to bed, I mean this in the deepest sense; I am in some way making this author my lover, if to be one’s lover means to commune in the most profound way, spirit touching spirit, all the way.

After finishing Joseph Roth’s two masterpieces—The Radetzky March and Job—I came across another of his books in which there was a photograph of the author, circa late 1930’s, sitting on a suitcase at a train station in Germany, a notebook in his hands. Staring into the grainy, black and white snapshot, I found the tears welling—and cried for an hour or more, I couldn’t stop. Here was this man, with whom I had just had a passionate affair of the spirit; here was his gentle, troubled, fiercely intelligent face, the light of a pure and troubled soul pouring across the decades right into my own, the force of his honor and courage in what was a pained, lifetime search for truth so powerful it knocked the breath from me. My husband came into the bedroom to find me sobbing; years ago, he might have found cause for concern. This time, he only shook his head kindly and patted my hand. “Joseph Roth,” is all he said. I nodded, miserable and inspired, shattered with the pain and joy and troubled, ecstatic journeying which is the work—the life, the soul—of Joseph Roth, comforted to be joined in this strange, enlivening, darkened cave and to have my husband beside me, looking at the flickering, shadowy images being projected onto the wall.

Look forward to further writing insights from this wonderful author.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing, A Most Honorable Art

Here is a poem I wrote sunday morning. It is a poem about us....about all writers gifted with an insatiable need to write, a master class if you will. Because we are so spiritually masohistic, I believe we deserve an occassional inspiration that reflects upon the nobility of our profession.

(c)copyright 2011 Hamdani

Wisdom of the Pen

We are quiet blessed you know,
an enigma manifested by the words we throw,
an intangible skill, clothed by precepts of magic.
By stroke of pen worlds are changed,
thoughts transformed and convictions,
thwarted and so compelled to travel vicariously
to places a land of open minds.

Oh, how we discover the province of freedom!
Roads yet unmapped. Once closed minds
now filled with doors without knobs,
windows without locks, illustrated by faces without color
...a cleansed soul that knows not hate.

In the beginning, God created us in his likeness and in his kind,
Aha! By stroke of meaning undefined...we create worlds without war,
giving birth to disincentives to conflict by reflection
and we find that all is settled in time.

Oh, Mighty pen, most distinguished warrior!
How wise you are to enter stubborn hearts and minds,
a valiant sword transforming beastly ideas
from muddy waters to wine.

Sanity and peace emerge from your tracks-
footprints that should have been conveyed by soldiers;
victories acknowledged by ink...a spiritual technology
thus soldiers blood made obsolete
and individuals, families, cities and nations made free,
one-by-one by stroke of your intangible genius.

Oh, fellow writers, how we meditate gracefully
in supplication to the voice of reason
as the breath of God most high forms the next season
with the clay of words otherwise forgotten,
made immortal by a message betrothed to history.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Creative Writing, The Color of Difference

Discover the hidden treasure in our differences by interrogating your characters. Show no mercy when doing so. Probe, diligently to discover your characters sense of prejudice. How does s/he judge differences?

Focus on the positive aspects of "difference." Where there is difference, there is opportunity. Differences in people creates interest. Let's take a look at the difference in individual traits, culture, sexual preference, race and language to name a few. In each case, our minds are opened to different perspectives, therefore, we grow. In the heart of our differences lies the key to strength, better communications and an overall superior cognitive intelligence. Obviously, difference is relative. For example, I am American and I'm sure most people from other countries will consider I have an accent. Obviously, accents are relative. By understanding the words I pronounce boldy and by observing words Americans do not pronounce with a strong "accent," non english speaking people develop an insight into how english is properly spoken. By paying close attention to a foreign accent, the foreign language in question becomes easier to learn. This happens through the process of assimilation. The mind naturally, gravitates to difference in that it will grasp difference unequivocally.

It is what we have learned (our beliefs) that determines whether "difference" is good or bad. The mind does not distinguish positive from negative.

Because we Americans make up a diverse society, we have come to appreciate the strengths and spiritual values of difference. I consider us a microcosm of the human universe with all of its pecularities. When focusing upon what makes a character tick, we see common human motivations at play. As we look across a disparity of nations, we see that there is no difference in the human make-up, psychologically, physiologically, spiritually or emotionally.

Human prejudice is the gross result of the judgement of differences. Principally, sound and sight triggers deceptions pre-embedded in what we have been taught. We hold strongly to the traditions of what we have been taught because we believe that traditions define us. I challenge you to reconsider. It is by tradition that the better person remains undefined.

Okay, now let's take a look inside the mind of our characters with the above understanding in mind. Let's cast a blanket statement and then begin to make it more narrow, develop more perspective and allow our character's to grow. People grow by having held onto beliefs that were eventually proven untrue. which of your beliefs have changed over time?

We grow when our experience (reality) contradicts convention. We become better people when tradition is challenged by change. If this subject frightens you, you should look in the mirror and ask, " What am I afraid of?"

The measure of a persons ignorance is in direct proportion to the gravitational pull of tradition that does not pan out in reality. Let's view this thought in light of controversy. That should wake us up. Let's take interacial marriage, for example. I bet you have a few thoughts there, don't you? Ok. sure you don't. I believe you. It's okay, you can put the mirror away, if you don't like what you see.

Let's try another angle, here. How about same sex marriage? It doesn't bother you, does it? Good. A good question might be, " Why does that bother anyone? "

Ok, since you're fine and spiritually unencumbered by ignorance, let's move on. How about religion? Touchy, isn't it. Yet, God calls all of us his children. If we know that then why are we afraid?

God saw the intrinsic value in difference. Maybe, that's why he made Cardinals (red birds) and bluejays (blue birds) and a great variety of birds indigent to particular areas. If we saw a flock of blue jays fighting with a flock of red birds, we would consider this a freak act of nature, wouldn't we? Of course, because we are a more intelligent species, aren't we? Yet, we war and raise hell based on our differences. Have we not learned anything after so many years on this planet? We have unwritten laws with invisible guards standing at the door in the hallway that separates people. We say we are free, yet we remain at war. We say that we believe in a loving God, yet we hate. And the religious people? God help us. No institution known to man is more segregated than the Christian church. Difference should enlighten us. An intelligent perspective of difference should (at worse) unite. At best, it separates an actualized individual from a puppet.

How does your character respond to such controversy? Hmmm.....who is she, really?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Psychology of Sex, God's Greatest Invention

The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of LifeSex As God Intended

The first known act among people on earth involved sex. Irrespective of ones religion, the annals of history, the genesis of mankind and one of the most potent sources of inspiration If I could give God almighty a gold medal, I would. It would be engraved: In honor of the World's Greatest Invention. If i could email him, let's say, at, I would and with tremendous gratitude.

No, i'm not carrying on about anything that may have happened last night. I am simply inspired by some of the great authors I've read lately, many of whom are relatively unknown, but their work is second to none. Among those writings I've found a most fascinating common denominator. It exist somewhere between romance and exotica. This is not going to be a sexually inflamed post, so hold onto your pants.

It is the compilation of scenes leading to romance that intrigues me most. The intellectual foreplay between characters who are not yet intimate can be promising. Even if nothing develops between them, the idea of what might happen creates romantic suspense. On the light side, author, Kathy Herman hinted at it in her novel, "Never Look Back" (Multnomah Books 2007). Her characters, Ivy & Rue pulled it off with classic appeal.

It's not the simple act of sex that makes a character exciting, but rather, the energy and passion we readers sense in the interaction of personalities involved. It represents a most profound representation of the old cliche, "anticipation is greater than realization." Rarely, is the physical manifestation greater than passion, an ongoing intimacy that far outlives the act.

I am not a clinical psychiatrist or therapist, however, my undergraduate degree in the field does allow a layman's insight adequate to build realistic scenes and plausible characterization with the help of practicing professionals. The end result is a scene that actually jumps off the paper. The use of passion helps us to arrive at authentic cliff hangers at the end of a chapter or scene.

Allow us to sneak inside your characters mind. What is her sexual fantasy? Let's hear from a pro. "Sexual fantasizing is a natural human phenomenon similar to dreaming," says Wendy Maltz, M.S.W. and co-author with Suzie Boss of the newly released book, Private Thoughts: Exploring Women's Sexual Fantasies.

Readers like to go behind the scene and discover what the character is not willing to otherwise reveal. I suggest we writers encroach more upon the characters privacy. What does she think is right or wrong about sex, for example. What were her past sexual disappointments like and which did she enjoy most? Take us there with your writing and we will not put your book down.

Character Definition

We can better demonstrate the psychology of our fictional character by exaggerating his emotional attitude toward sex. Maybe, he is so wrapped up in the idea of making money that he neglects his wife, sexually. Maybe, she has made her career a priority and waits too late to start a family, in her opinion. Maybe, she believes their is a value in suffering, or maybe she is practicing the moral extreme. Explore it. In the words of Pamela Madsen, Fertility/Sex educator, blogger, author of Shameless and founder of The American Fertility Association, "suffering is highly overrated and unnecessary."

Does your character suffer from this self imposed prison?

Sexual Motivation

Explore what motivates her, sexually. You might start by asking that question of yourself. I understand that you are not your fictional character, but you are human and therefore share, at least, some of the same motivations. Take myself for example, I am strongly attracted to intelligent women who are spiritually balanced. Such stimulus is the beginning of a demonstration of passion toward such a person. I might project this source of stimulus upon a fictional character by having his or her partner naturally exhibit intelligent interpretations of simple ideas.

For example, a lady to whom I am attracted, is intellectually inspiring, spiritually reflective and has an aura of quiet sophistication. A nude woman could not move me more. Below is part of a genuine conversation i had with this person, leading to something quiet special. I hope it helps you toward building more romance, passion and sexual intimacy among your characters. Again, i believe God's creativity toward creating people and then sex is a viable path toward understanding who we really are.

She is a native Spanish speaker and my first language is English. We are discussing language but our mutual interest far exceeds the veneer of our dialog.

Here it is:

Me: Pronunciation in Spanish is quiet challenging. It has been an eye opening experience.
Her: How?
Me: Because I have not only learned the language, but it has given me insight into the culture
in terms of how others feel, think and process information.
Her: Interesting. Tell me more, Barry.

Me: I am learning from the mistakes of native Spanish speakers who are learning English. I
think we learn more from our mistakes and failures than from success. The teachings of
success are limited and not always transferable.

Her: I agree...non-transferable due to a wide disparity of human ingenuity, background,
aptitude, etc.

Me: ...the way nouns proceed adjectives in Spanish and (Le, Te, etc.) is quiet formal.

{at this point I began to address her with articles and words that are informal, such
as "tu" for you, rather than "usted."}

She: Is that part of your attraction?
Me: Yes, there's a certain stimulus involved there, isn't it.
She: Yes, it is elliptic in nature.
Me: Elliptic in that in can be inseparable of the person...the source of an attraction.
She: Tell me more.
Me: I think you know.
She: But, I don't guess.
Me: Ok. So i am very much attracted to you.
She: You're making my day.
Me: There are many things different about you that I find fascinating. Do you know what they
She: Tell me.
Me: Part of it permeates from your culutre. For example, of the (hacerse, ponerse, volverse a
convertise) many ways of expressing change and adaptation, you are more inclined towards
the spiritual, the unwritten, the unspoken genuine communication. And I talk too much, some

She: But I'm not complaining.
Me: I hope you realize where this is going. But, you're not a guesser, so I'll tell you.
By the way, I'm often wrong about practical things but equally right about the spiritual,
sensory based stuff.....the abstract....the genuine.

She: So, tell me.
Me: If i could turn back the hands of time, I would place more value, principally, upon
intellectual impetus
She: Really
Me: Energy
She: Wooowww. That's great.
Me: Inspiration....
She: Thank you
Me: Reflection
She: So, am I to understand you've turned back the hands of time and embraced those values?
Actually, Barry, you have long ago done so. That's who you are.

Me: I guess so. That's what I value above all.
Above money.
Above beauty.
Above all. (all of which describes you, of course)

Romance builds. The best that sex has to offer is often implied.

Color Your Writing with Controversy

" You know what piss me off about white people?," Jane Doe asked.

How about that for an opening line? Make it controversial and color your writing with interest.

Maybe, Jane Doe was Latino and lived in a small southern American town. Maybe, there was a small concentration of Latinos there. Perhaps, a crime took place. The townspeople were disturbed. The sheriff could not find the culprit and the people needed a scapegoat. They blamed her brother, Jose Doe. I know it is an old plot, but it is real. Real people with real blood running through their veins experience such injustice everyday, worldwide. Allow them to "happen" on paper.

Get in touch with broken characters. Talk to people you meet and look for it. Who knows, you may be the turning point toward their healing. I'm not suggesting you "fix" people, however, I am suggesting you observe "brokeness." Most of us are or have been broken somewhere throughout life. Have you ever had a broken heart? I'm willing to bet you were not the most pleasant person to associate with at the time, were you? Okay, take that thought and exaggerate. This will help towards character development.

Okay, get busy. Write.