Here are some of our favorite takeaways:
Ground your piece in a concrete scene or scenes. Put your readers there in a specific moment; make them feel like they’re experiencing something firsthand. They’ll love you for it.
Action is your friend. We’ve all heard the expression “actions speak louder than words.” What your characters do and how they do it shows who they are, what they care about. And that’s what keeps the reader turning the pages.
Separate tone and mood. Tone is the ‘voice’ of the storyteller – matter of fact, sardonic, celebratory – it’s what’s there on the surface and should be there from the very first line. Mood is the emotion underneath and it’s generally something you have to build. Part of the energy of most stories and poems comes from the contrast between tone and mood. And, with intense, painful material, if tone and mood are the same, the piece becomes at best unenjoyable and at worst unendurable.
Use specific details and make them count. So often it’s those unique details that really make a poem or story sing. The details you choose and how you describe them contribute to the tone or mood and help reveal your character.
Find the emotional heart of your story. You need to understand the core relationships and desires that drive your characters – that’s what shapes the arc of your story, not “plot”. Often the only way to find the emotional heart is to keep writing until it shows up on the page.