Shelly Lowenkopf on 21st Century Personal History

21st Century personal history and 21st Century fiction follow the same principles. Dramatic narrative takes us beyond description. Screenplays and scripts for motion pictures and television dramatizations are roadmaps for performance. Novels, short stories, and personal essays are roadmaps for reader engagement. The best way to describe a person, a place, or an object is through action. Action is a character responding to a stimulus. Any variation is a description or a tell.

We’re all trying to pursue dramatic writing, not descriptive writing,

The dramatic information comes from what our principal characters know or experience. We can’t slip in the stage directions. We can tell them it’s cold outside, that they’re hungry or apprehensive. We have to put them into situations where they become aware of and respond to the cold, the hunger, the curiosity, or the apprehension.

Relying on descriptions and laundry lists because of past times when readers or listeners gave you props for the poetry of your prose, most of “them” have imperfect concepts of both poetry and prose.

Story is action that leads to emotion.

First thing to happen after a play or film has been cast, the actors assemble in a situation much like our Zoom sessions, in which the director goes through the script line-by line, marking the action that is to take place. Through these table readings, the actors get the sense of who they’ll be dealing with, the emotional, cultural, and political attitudes of each to the other. This process, known as blocking, reminds us how actors got their name. They act. They feel.

You don’t have to ask the actor portraying you what you feel, but you have to do better than describing how you felt to your reader. You have to become the you at every discreet moment in your narrative, then engage it. Comfortable won’t get it. You have to find a way to conduct yourself that allows someone watching you to see your intended emotion, or you have to in some way cause another character if you feel okay because you don’t look so hot. And you have to respond with a bit of a heavy hand to convey you’re over protecting yourself, that you’re fine, damnit.

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Shelly Lowenkopf’s Advice to a Workshop Student

You’re strong on story concept, weak in execution, still writing in the early and mid-twentieth century narrative traditions. How to advance? Thought you’d never ask.

  1. Only one point of view per scene.
  2. Keep yourself out of the narrative. Stay with the POV character’s perception of the story at hand.
  3. Edit out as many stage directions as you can find.
  4. Forget about the reader.
  5. Write for the characters.
  6. You don’t need to explain things to your POV character that the character already knows.
  7. In the current story, remove all traces of you. The narrator is too busy to explain things, should not have time to explain things to himself that he already knows.
  8. Sad to say, because of what Toni calls “head shifting,” or switching from one point of view to another, the first readers of literary agents and book publishers would stop reading after about the first 500 words because of POV shifts and egregious stage directions or “tells.”
  9. Consider, for a moment, your Zoom session mate, Lisa. For all practical purposes, she’s Toni’s first reader. She needs to read your work all the way through because her task in this case is to provide valuable clues and hints of missing or misused technique. If this were not a teaching-learning session, her instructions would be, “Read until you can stop.”
  10. If you were to produce a first novel that sold between 20 and 30 thousand copies, your next title could use the narrative approach you chose here. But not now.
  11. Your choice. Take yourself out of the process. Stop explaining things to the reader and characters. Pick one person to be the driving force of the story, Let him carry the water. Let him pursue his agenda, even to the point of misreading the agendas of the other characters.
  12. In the most direct terms, Antony, good story concepts such as this will get you only so far. To get beyond them you need to get inside your characters to the point where you can see their individual versions of reality.
  13. Another way of saying this: Listen to your characters. Forget about your opinion.
  14. Worth your time to consider these points if you wish to move the total effect of your story beyond description and into the artistic world of drama.
  15. Your choice. Stay here or take the next step.
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I’m about to buy, own, read, and mark up these new books

I’m about to buy, own, read, and mark up these books new to me:

Murder Your Darlings: And Other Gentle Writing Advice from Aristotle to Zinsser
by Roy Peter Clark

First You Write a Sentence.: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life.
by Joe Moran


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July 1: Dialog is the heart and soul of your novel or memoir.

July 1 Meeting
6:30 to 8 pm
Goebel Adult Center
Thousand Oaks, CA

Dialog is the heart and soul of your novel or memoir.

Learn from publishing pro
Toni Lopopolo how to create charged, dynamic interactions between your characters.

Click here to learn more–>>

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Toni talks about how to write a query letter for a novel

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Join Toni at the 805 Writers Conference in Thousand Oaks on Sunday, May 20

Wired for Story: Techniques To Write What The Human Brain Craves in Stories, with literary agent and instructor, Toni Lopopolo

LET’S FACE IT. We’re all busy people, no matter what we do, we feel we should be doing something else.  So, how will your novel, narrative non-fiction or memoir induce your reader to fall, engrossed, into your story, and forget what’s going on around them?

Neuroscience writer, Jonah Lehrer says: nothing focuses the mind like surprise. So when we pick up a book, what our brains crave, what humans want/need is this: something out of the ordinary is about to take place.

This course will show you examples of how all this happens in recent novels, non-so-recent novels, plus how this year’s award-winning films and TV series succeeded in doing exactly that, and why you, the writer, must cause this to happen in the stories you want readers to buy and get lost in.

We’ll learn how the human brain became wired for story, and that through human brain development, craves how stories must enfold to keep readers interested, to keep them binge-reading, turning the page because they cannot not. We will discuss every element needed to make this happen, read aloud from writing you bring to find out if your story can pull the reader to turn that page, learn how your protagonist’s quest, desire, unconscious desires must make us care.

We’ll go over essential techniques for writing engrossing fiction, and how these techniques crossover to nonfiction, including memoir.

Topics to be discussed:

  • How to avoid endless drafts that won’t work
  • How your first draft will read like a fourth or fifth
  • The brain’s hardwired with the desire to know what happens next
  • Analyze what the human brain expects and needs in a story
  • Learn why the law of cause & effect becomes your most important tool
  • Creating & keeping a sense of urgency; the importance of narrative drive
  • What triggers the dopamine rush in a reader (this may be giving too much away)
  • The CEN profile for each main character
  • Why conflict is the Agent of Change
  • Why subtext in dialog is most necessary


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So You Want To Become A Writer? Do You Have What It takes?

The Ability to Communicate

Writing is the art of communication. You need to be able to clearly express your ideas, thoughts, and emotions when speaking or writing. As an author, one of your goals should be to connect with your readers in a voice they can understand and relate to. This requires the ability to listen to and communicate with others, ask the right questions, and clearly express your ideas in your own unique voice.

The Power of Observation

On some level, all authors possess the power of observation. An author is equal parts psychologist, therapist, researcher, observer, and intuitive. You need to be able to figure out what makes people tick. Why do they think, feel, and act the way they do? When creating a character, you have to get inside their head and truly understand why they do what they do.

To hone this skill, become an active observer of the life that is all around you. Dig into people’s inner thoughts and emotional quirks. Listen and watch. Develop your observation and research skills to document the world around you, or even create your own new world!

Reasoning and Problem Solving

As a writer, you’ll need to think of new ideas or come up with creative and original ways to solve problems. You’ll need to develop the ability to analyze your ideas and use logic to understand your characters’ strengths and weaknesses. You will also need to understand new material and information quickly and sometimes combine several pieces of information to draw your conclusions.

To help with this, develop your reasoning abilities to identify and solve problems. Make sure you can identify problems in your characters thoughts, storylines, research, and writing. Review your information, then develop and apply solutions.

Knowledge of Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

It may seem obvious, but using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation are important writing skills to develop for effective communication. Your readers will form an opinion of your work based on what they see, not only based on content but also presentation. Of course there are always exceptions; for example, if you are writing dialog or developing a character with a unique speech pattern, you may want to take advantage of “grammatical liberties”.


Don’t be afraid to write from your heart. Be willing to be rejected. Be willing to be terrible at first. Writing takes courage. You need to be able to go deep into your character’s psyche to get to the truth. Embrace the uncertainty fearlessly, and be true and honest in your writing. Be daring!

Practice good writing skills every time you pick up your pen or sit in front of the keyboard. Before long, you’ll master these writing skills and they will become embodied in every piece of work you produce. New York Times Best Seller list, here you come!

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Get Published Radio Interview

Apr 9, 2017

Special guests writing coach Toni Lopopolo and editor/publicist Flo Selfman join host Gerald Everett Jones and his co-hosts Cheyenne Cockrell and Thomas Page discuss:

  • How can a writer find her voice?
  • How do approaches differ for fiction and nonfiction?
  • How can an author engage readers?
  • What’s the biggest mistake authors make?
  • Is a writers’ group a substitute for a coach?
  • And more!

And, as ever, there’s lots of advice on how to get published, including the support resources at our website

This episode aired on Hella Radio, KNNN-FM 87.7 Redding, Calif.

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Neat Tricks.

‘The sinister doctor pointed a long emasculated finger …’
(Lionel Fanthorpe as Trebor Thorpe, ‘Voodoo Hell Drums’, Supernatural Stories 39, 1961)

‘I am among the last to retire, brushing my teeth with one drooping eyelid.’
(Tim Dowling, The Guardian, 4 March 2017)

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How NOT To Write (Thog’s Masterclass )

These are published authors.


Facial Dept.:
‘Her nose held the memory of Spanish conquistadors. Her skin was the color of leaves just starting to turn. And beneath her dark eyes were full lips that looked as if they’d never smiled.’
(Weston Ochse, Grunt Life, 2014)

Dept of Inspiration.:
‘An idea suddenly gurgled up in her mind.’
(Kate White, Hush, 2010)

Was It Perhaps Circular?
‘Madame Rosa’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I took Victor’s hand to read his palm. It was the life-line, Doctor … I could see no end to it. They must be immortal, those Brains!”‘
(Sidney J. Bounds, The Robot Brains, 1958)

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