Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How NOT to be a Writer: A Cautionary Tale

File this under the category: 'Stranger than Fiction'.

A review from a small, on-line site, Books And Pals reviewed a romance called 'The Greek Seaman' by Jacqueline Howett, who published the book independently.

Copy and paste to your browser the address below:

Over 300 comments were posted before the site banned further posts. It's long but I recommend you read at least the comments up to March 28, 12:24pm (the climax) and then skim the rest, as I found many of them to be quite enlightening.

I think you might find this to be hilarious, sad AND appalling. Appalling for her behavior, but also the behavior of the vultures circling this event: the ones who are only commenting to gloat and laugh. This has gone viral, currently being reposted and discussed all over the Internet.

This is also sure to reinforce the public's miconceptions placed on self publishing.

The best thing we can take away from this, is to view it as an example of what not to do.


Monday, March 28, 2011


Feeling stumped? Try outlining.

Now, now. I know. Whenever I bring up outlines, people tend to scratch their heads. Others back away. There are outlines and then there are *gulp* outlines. You know, from school:

I. Big Idea
A. Smaller
1. Even Smaller
a. Smallest

*ugh* rest assured that I will not go there. School is over and done with and we are free to form our outlines however we wish, whatever works for you. When we writers say outline, we're really just talking about planning. And different writers plan in lesser or greater detail.

There are basically two categories of writers: mechanical and organic.

Mechanical writers plan things in advance. They have lists, descriptions, and character charts. They know before they begin writing the opening paragragh of their book, for example, that Chapter 8 will contain an important plot twist. Depending on how much they plan, they'll know where the whole story must go, step by step.

Organic writers, for the most part, go with the flow. When they write, they know beginning and the overall theme of the book. They know the ending. And that's usually it, except for the major plot points. Then have to figure out how to connect it all together.

Now then, doesn't it looks like organic writers have more freedom, more spontanity. This must be how to outline, right? Otherwise creativity is stiffled and there are no surprises, right?


There is nothing wrong with either method, its about what works best for you. Mechanical writers do get surprised. They just get their surprises earlier. I should know, I do mechanical outlines. For my planning, I find I function best when I don't need to worry about prose and just spew it all out of my head and onto the page, ungramatical and ugly. The surprises still come, I'm still being spontanious. And don't think I feel stiffled by the outline. If when doing the actual writing that I feel I now want to take a detour... or three, off I go. The outline is just that, a plan. Both methods, or a mixture of both, have their merits.

The true sin is writing without a plan: it's not wise to write without an outline the same way it's not wise to build a house without blueprints. You'll ramble along, lose sight of details, make mistakes, and you'll either run out of steam and abandon the project or, you'll complete it, but the structure will be shakey, and eventually tip over in the wind.

The plan is the thing.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Chores

It's a cool and windy Sunday afternoon and I have a long list of chores awaiting my attention. The baby shower gift I bought on Thursday for my niece is wrapped, but will have to wait until next Sunday to be delivered. I thought the shower was today, until I reread the invitation and noticed that the 20th of March was the date to RSVP not the actual date of the shower. The hubby got a good laugh over my mistake.

My beef stew is in the oven and the hubby and dog are snoring (not sure which one) in front of the TV. I've sneaked upstairs with a glass of wine and some chocolates (leftover from Christmas that I found in the back of a cupboard) to attack my absolutely favourite chore.

I'm sorting through a monthly supply of magazines. How many do I buy, you ask? Well, I suppose it depends on my will-power de jour. I always buy Womans World, which comes out once a week. I think it's the catchy front page guaranteeing I'll lose ten to fifteen pounds with the latest diet craze. I should know by now that losing weight takes common sense, less food and moving more, but what the hell, if I can sit on my ass, drink wine, nibble chocolates and lose weight swallowing a herbal supplement I've never heard of, I'm game.

The magazine pile is high and some are keepers, like my UK fiction mags that I use as reference for my writing. Maybe once a year I'll sort through those and clip a few stories before tossing them in the recycle bin. I've been buying Bliss Victoria for years and storing them in boxes in the basement. Every now and then, I'll pull out the musty boxes and drool over the photographs of gorgeous houses, lush gardens and scrumptious recipes I'll never make. The Food & Drink magazine, compliments of LCBO, is really good this month. Check out page 17--Shiraz with Braised Brisket. I'll make that for sure.

Martha Stewart's Living magazine is full of tips on growing your own vegetables. I've been growing herbs and tomatoes for years, but now that Tom's father is gone, I'll have to plant green onions, cucumbers and green onions as well. Fresh is so much better than store bought, even when they're in season. The free magazine from the health food store had some tips for curing colds and flu's and a list of herbal remedies for women to take after menopause to suppress hot flashes, although the photograph of the youthful female doctor who wrote the article tells me the closest she's ever come to a hot flash is in a tanning bed.

Chatelaine has delicious comfort food recipes, which they claim take next to no time to prepare. First they have page after page of fattening pastas and fresh bread and then an article on burning calories with power yoga. Maybe if I skip the lasagna, I won't need to exercise. I'm about to toss this magazine until I find a page dedicated to fiction: Jane Austin's, Pride and Prejudice, complete with a photograph of Colin Firth. Too bad it's not the one where he's emerging from the lake, dripping wet.

Last but not least in the pile is Soap Opera Digest. OK, I haven't bought this mag in years (REALLY!) but someone on my favourite soap died and I wanted to read the article. I'm saving it for a friend. (REALLY!)

Well, I'm finally finished sorting through the magazines and now I have a pile of loose pages of recipes, beauty tips, home decor photos (and Colin Firth) to file into folders.

Hope your afternoon was more productive than mine.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Leiningen Versus the Ants

One of the best parts of belonging to a writing circle is sharing the books and stories you love with other members. At the last meeting, David referred to a famous short story in the piece he read. I'd never heard of it, but as usual, I wrote down the title and looked it up on-line. Leiningen Versus the Ants was written by Carl Stephenson and published in the 1938 December issue of Esquire.

I just finished reading it (all 8,881 words!) and thought it was truly wonderful. Thanks for recommending this story, David, and if the rest of you want to read it, just click on the underlined title and it should take you there.


I notice that my link didn't work, so you might have to go to the Wikipedia site about the story and scroll down to the bottom where there is a link that actually works!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I was reviewing all of the posts we've contributed this year and noticed that I never logged in to a link that Chris recommended in his post: Let the Games Begin.

Games Writers Play has a long list of prompts to help writers with the problems we have getting started, keeping motivated and focused, etc. I've added the link here so you can click onto it easily.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Good Reads on Writing

Here's another excellent article that includes numerous links on other topics that you can go into and view as well:


Friday, March 11, 2011


No, I don't mean belly fat, I'm referring to the middle of a story or novel. How many times have you read a book and loved the first few chapters, only to grow bored with the plot? The first chapter informs us that the protagonist has a specific goal or problem and yet, halfway through the book, the writer uses inessential details and drags the plot to an early grave.

I find the middle of a story is the most difficult part to write. The beginning introduces the characters and their problems and the ending ties everything together, but middles can get saggy or worse, boring.

Every scene needs tension or conflict. It must raise a question or advance the protagonist towards a goal. If a scene doesn't advance the plot or deepen characterization, it's just filler.

Open each scene with a hook and end it with a dilemma. Stretch tension by slowing a scene down. Use setting to increase tension. Suppose your main character is fishing in a small boat that runs out of fuel. Add a thunderstorm and you've escalated the tension.

Don't forget to use emotional and physical tension such as anger, fear, jealousy, illness or injury.

Raise the stakes by putting the protagonist in the middle of a conflict where he/she must make a difficult decision.

Here are a few tricks to writing a more creative scene:

Leave out a crucial detail or introduce a red herring to keep the reader guessing. Every mystery writer uses these techniques.

Tell things out of order. This could include a flashback or simply moving time back and forth to show what each character is doing.

Let the reader know what is going to happen before the main character finds out. For example, someone expecting a huge inheritance buys an expensive item, but the next scene shows the lawyer reviewing a will that disinherits the protagonist.

End the scene in the middle of a dilemma, disaster or introduce an unexpected development.

Now for the fun part--pull out an old manuscript and review a couple of scenes, using some of the tips listed above.

Let's make a pact to keep saggy middles out of our work.