Tag Archives: creative writing

Exploring Theme part 2: Jane Austen #amwriting

Born in 1775, Jane Austen is remembered today for her six novels, the most famous of which is Pride and Prejudice. Austen touched on familiar themes throughout her work, including romance, youth, wealth, and poverty.

plot is the frame upon which the themes of a story are supportedEven today, her humor shines with sharp-edged wit delivered without condescension. Her most memorable protagonists rise above the trivialities of life that absorb the sillier characters.

Via Wikipedia:

With the publication of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816), in her lifetime she achieved modest success and, as the books were published anonymously, little fame. She wrote two other novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began another, eventually titled Sanditon, but died before its completion. She also left behind three volumes of juvenile writings in manuscript, the short epistolary novel Lady Susan, and another unfinished novel, The Watsons. [1]

Austen’s work delved deep into the issues women faced, which were not discussed in polite company, and she did it while navigating the shark-infested waters of her society. Her central themes were:

Financial insecurity: The need for a gentlewoman to marry well for financial security rather than love.

Patriarchy: The sure assumption that men know best and the societal value of a man’s opinion as opposed to a woman’s opinion.

Women as property: The value of youth; a young woman is more desirable than an older woman, no matter how intelligent and thoughtful.

Hubris: Pride – and the humbling of pride.

The six published novels deal with social class, gender and society’s expectations, and morality.

What is right, moral, and proper? This theme of honorable morality winds through all her work.

And the other major theme, one opposing honorable morality, is pride. Pride loves power. It is listed as one of the world’s seven deadly sins because pride can become so powerful that it creates its own morality, crushing humility.

hubrisPride is a powerful theme because it is the downfall of many characters in all literature, not just Jane Austen’s work.

These two themes, pride and morality, power Austen’s satire, give weight to her humor and support the triumphs and tragedies of her characters. Austen saw pride as a form of hubris.

Jane Austen’s novels have inspired many debates. Some claim they are politically conservative, and others argue they are progressive. Those who see conservatism in her novels claim her heroines support the existing social structure by doing their duty and sacrificing their personal desires.

Those who see progressive tendencies in her work argue that she is skeptical of the patriarchal right to rule, evidenced by her ironic tone.


Illustration by Hugh Thomson representing Mr. Collins, protesting that he never reads novels

Austen understood the political issues surrounding the gentry. As a member of that society, she was able to pose questions relating to money and property, framing them in such a way they were entertaining while being thought-provoking. Her satire exposed the patriarchy, the arbitrary inequality of inheritance laws, and the perilous economic position of women. In an era when few career choices were available for women, the social system enforced a lifetime of servitude, either as a wife, possibly a teacher/governess, or as a servant.

Throughout Austen’s work, there is a tension between the prerogatives of society and the desires of the individual. Austen is often considered one of the originators of the modern, interiorized novel character.

How did she achieve this?

Again, Wikipedia tells us:

Austen is most renowned for her development of free indirect speech, a technique pioneered by 18th-century novelists Henry Fielding and Frances Burney. In free indirect speech, the thoughts and speech of the characters mix with the voice of the narrator. Austen uses it to provide summaries of conversations or to compress, dramatically or ironically, a character’s speech and thoughts. In Sense and Sensibility, Austen experiments extensively for the first time with this technique. For example,

Mrs. John Dashwood did not at all approve of what her husband intended to do for his sisters. To take three thousand pounds from the fortune of their dear little boy, would be impoverishing him to the most dreadful degree. She begged him to think again on the subject. How could he answer it to himself to rob his child, and his only child too, of so large a sum?

[…] However, Page writes that “for Jane Austen … the supreme virtue of free indirect speech … [is] that it offers the possibility of achieving something of the vividness of speech without the appearance for a moment of a total silencing of the authorial voice.” [2]

Pickering_-_Greatbatch_-_Jane_Austen_-_Pride_and_Prejudice_-_This_is_not_to_be_borne,_Miss_BennetClearly, Mrs. Dashwood feels that ensuring her sisters-in-law are not impoverished would make her only son less rich. Less appealing to other affluent families.

So, Jane Austen used her characters’ thoughts and their spoken conversations to subtly weave her themes of pride, the human tendency for greed, and social inequity throughout the narratives of her novels.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: when your writing mind has temporarily lost its momentum, and you are stretching the boundaries of common sense, it’s time to stop and consider the central themes.

I find it helps to remind myself that theme is one of the elements that drives a plot.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Jane Austen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jane_Austen&oldid=1073632619 (accessed March 15, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Styles and themes of Jane Austen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Styles_and_themes_of_Jane_Austen&oldid=1063968945 (accessed March 15, 2022).

Media: Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Houghton Typ 805.94.8320 – Pride and Prejudice, 1894, Hugh Thomson – Protested.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Houghton_Typ_805.94.8320_-_Pride_and_Prejudice,_1894,_Hugh_Thomson_-_Protested.jpg&oldid=351956491 (accessed March 15, 2022).

Media: Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Pickering – Greatbatch – Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice – This is not to be borne, Miss Bennet.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Pickering_-_Greatbatch_-_Jane_Austen_-_Pride_and_Prejudice_-_This_is_not_to_be_borne,_Miss_Bennet.jpg&oldid=351959807 (accessed March 15, 2022).


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World-building part one: climate #amwriting

Hello from a small town near beautiful Olympia, Washington. June was a strange month, climate-wise. We usually have the same climate as those of you in Wales or England.

MyWritingLife2021BOn June 27th, within the space of days, we went from temperatures well below average, low to mid-60s, and pouring rain to suffering from temperatures well above 100 degrees—108 at my house, 111 at my sister’s house 10 miles away. We use Fahrenheit in the US, but for you in the UK and Europe, we topped out at around 44 degrees Celsius. For more on the week from H**l, see this article in the Seattle Times.

Now we’re back to temperatures that are slightly above normal, getting up to the mid to upper 80s, and we feel like that’s a cool breeze.

Air conditioning isn’t as commonly built into homes here as in other parts of the US. Those of us who have the occasional A/C window unit are the lucky ones. This is because, until recent years, summers here never really began until July 5th or so, with low clouds and drizzle for much of June, and they never became unbearably warm.

When the sun did arrive, temperatures, for most of the time we have kept records, ran into the high 70s or rarely, low to mid-80s. We are said to have a generally mild climate, and while that is changing, we hope it will remain mostly temperate.

When the heatwave hit, our free-standing A/C unit saved us, but when the outside temperature reached 108, the temperature in our back hallway was still 89 degrees.

Until this year, that seemed uncomfortably warm.

Now we’re grateful for a day that doesn’t end with us prostrate.

So, let’s look at the weather as a factor in world-building.

What follows is a plan to help you lay the groundwork for the world in which your novel is set. First, what sort of world is your life set in? When you look out the window, what do you see?

I always think that if an author can inject enough reality into a fantasy or sci-fi setting, the world will feel solid when I read it.

The weather can be shown in small, subtle ways. Usually, authors use the weather as background to give a sense of place to our characters’ interactions and the events they precipitate.

The path was slippery and required scaling the cliff in some places. By the time they arrived at the clifftop, the sky had begun to clear, and the low fog was dissipating. Patches of blue peeked from behind the gray clouds, and the wind had picked up.


Haystack Rock in the Fog

Other times, weather becomes the star of the story. Tornados, hurricanes, bizarre heatwaves—these weather events can be the villain our heroes must overcome.

Once you have decided your overall climate, do some research on how the weather affects agriculture and animal husbandry.

The best way to make the fantasy world real is to visualize the scene clearly and place yourself there. Blend what you know about the natural world into it. Write out all the details that will never make it into your story, things you as the author must have set in your mind.

Now we get to the tactile parts of the setting:

How does the weather make the characters feel? Is it too warm, too wet, or is it pleasant? If your novel’s setting is a low-tech civilization, the weather will have a different kind of effect on your characters than one set in a modern society.

Parker observed the beach from his balcony. Far down at the north end of the cove, Leo and Claire walked beside the surf, with Leo’s gestures emphasizing his words. Claire was hunched against the sharp breeze in her hooded sweatshirt and agitated. It was clear her agent had told her something she didn’t want to hear.

In any era, the weather affects the speed with which your characters can travel great distances and how they dress. Bad weather always has a detrimental effect on transportation, a serious point to consider.

For example, when the heatwave was just beginning, when it was still only building, we made a trip 80 miles north to visit two of our daughters. We stayed the night in Snohomish, then stopped in Bothell to have lunch with our second oldest son. We left our last stop in Bellevue at 3 pm to head home.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapThe journey from our youngest daughter’s house to our home 60 miles south of there took 3 ½ hours, a trip that should take an hour. Unfortunately, traffic had ground to a halt in many places. At times, we would speed along at 5 miles an hour, sometimes as fast as ten. Many drivers couldn’t handle the 94-degree heat of that day, and their short tempers combined with several stalled vehicles made for a miserable journey down I5.

But enough about the wretched climate and the effects of global warming on my life. Our next post will talk about location, and why I make simple maps for every fantasy world in which my work is set.

Credits and Attributions:

Haystack Rock in the Fog, © 2016-2021 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

Map of Mearth, © 2015-2021 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.



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Semicolon; comma splice; comma (revisited) #amwriting

Here we are, entering the second week of National Novel Writing Month. It’s a good time to review the rules for the punctuation that we use (and abuse) so regularly. This essay first posted on March 14, 2018, so if you’re already up on these rules, thank you for stopping by and happy writing!

First up, the semicolon.

This joining punctuation is not complicated, once you know the one rule about when to use semicolons:

If you join two clauses with a semicolon, each clause must be a complete sentence, and they must relate to each other. In other words, they must be two short sentences expanding on ONE idea.

If your two short sentences don’t relate to each other, use a period at the end of each clause and make them separate sentences. You’re an author, for the love of Tolstoy. Use your creativity and reword those little sentences, so they aren’t choppy.

Two separate ideas done wrong: We should go to the Dairy Queen; it’s nearly half past five.

The first sentence is one whole idea: they want to go somewhere. The second sentence is a completely different idea: it’s telling you the time.

Two separate ideas done right, assuming the mention of time is important: We should go to the Dairy Queen soon. They close at eight, and it’s nearly half past five.

If time is the issue in both clauses and you want it to be once sentence, use a semicolon, reword it to say, “The Dairy Queen is about to close; it’s nearly half past five.”

On the other hand, you can join them with the em dash. My personal inclination is to find alternatives to both semicolons and em dashes, as they can easily create run-on sentences.

I don’t dislike them, as some editors do, but I think they are too easily abused and misused. My rule for you is this: Semicolons should not be used if you are in doubt.

Some authors will do anything to avoid using a semicolon, which is ridiculous. However, they see their work is a little choppy, so they join the independent clauses with commas.

That is a grammar no-no. You do not join independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences) with commas as that creates a rift in the space/time continuumthe Dreaded Comma Splice.

If you join independent clauses with commas and we all die, you’ll only have yourself to blame because I did warn you.

Comma Splice: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu and I like it, the dog likes to ride shotgun.

Same two thoughts, written correctly: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu, and I like it. The dog likes to ride shotgun.

But what do we join with commas? Commas are the universally acknowledged pausing and joining symbol. Readers expect to find commas separating certain clauses. Some simple rules to remember:

  1. Never insert commas “where you take a breath” because everyone breathes differently.
  2. Do not insert commas where you think it should pause because every reader sees the narrative differently.

We do use commas to set off introductory clauses:

  1. In the first sentence, “because he was afraid” isn’t necessary.

I italicized the introductory clause in the above sentence to show that it is not a stand-alone sentence. This clause introduces the clause that follows it, and its meaning is dependent on that following clause.

A comma should be used before these conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, yet, or, and so to separate two independent clauses. They are called coordinating conjunctions.

However, we don’t always automatically use a comma before the word “and.” This is where it gets confusing.

Compound sentences combine two separate ideas (clauses) into one compact package. A comma should be placed before a conjunction only if it is at the beginning of an independent clause. So, use the comma before the conjunction (and, but, or) if the clauses are standalone sentences. If one of them is not a standalone sentence, it is a dependent clause, and you do not add the comma.

Take these two sentences: She is a great basketball player. She prefers swimming.

  1. If we combine them this way, we add a comma: She is a great basketball player, but she prefers swimming.
  2. If we combine them this way, we don’t: She is a great basketball player but prefers swimming.

I hear you saying, “Now wait a minute! My English teacher very clearly taught us to use commas to join clauses.”

I’m sorry, but she probably did explain that exception. It just didn’t stick in your memory.

Two complete ideas can be joined with ‘and’ and you don’t need a comma.

Think of it as a list: if there are only two things (or ideas) in a list, they do not need to be separated by a comma.  I am buying apples and then going to the car wash.

If there are more than two ideas, the comma should be used to separate them, with a comma preceding the word ‘and’ before the final item/idea. This is called the Oxford comma, or the serial comma.

I must buy apples, go to the car wash, and then go to the library.

Oh yes, my friend. We do use serial commas to prevent confusion. In March of 2017, the New York Times reported that the omission of a comma between words in a list in a lawsuit cost a Maine company millions of dollars.

One habit I had to unlearn the first time I sent my work to a professional line editor:

  1. Do not place a comma before the word ‘because’ unless the information that follows is necessary to the sentence.

Grammar doesn’t have to be a mystery. If we want to write narratives that all speakers of English from Seattle, to London, to Mumbai, and to Brisbane can read, we must learn the simple common rules of the road. To this end, I recommend investing in The Chicago Guide to Grammar and Punctuation. It is based on The Chicago Manual of Style but it’s smaller and the contents are easier to navigate.

If a sentence feels muddled but you think a reader won’t notice, you are wrong. Be a little daring… crack open the grammar book or go online and look up the rules. You will become more confident in your writing, and your work will go faster.


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Four rules for writing conversations #amwriting

In my last post, we talked about internal dialogues, or thoughts our characters may have. But what about that which is spoken aloud?

How to punctuate dialogue can be confusing for those who are just starting out. I will warn you—from the reader’s perspective, punctuation is to writing what gravity is to the universe. It holds everything together.

We obey traffic signals when driving, so we don’t cause wrecks. In the same way, our written work must abide by specific fundamental rules, or it will be unreadable—a wreck.

What is spoken must be easily distinguished from the ordinary narrative. Therefore, punctuation is for the reader’s benefit. While we can take some liberties with grammar and dialect when writing conversations, following the established rules of punctuation is essential.

Many people are confused about how to punctuate conversations. It’s not that complicated. Here are four rules to remember:

Rule 1: Surround everything that is spoken with quotation marks. “I’m here,” she said.

Begin and end the dialogue with “double quotes.” These are called closed quotes. All punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. This is a universal, cast-iron rule that we must follow.

Rule 2: When quoting someone else as part of a conversation, you should set the quoted speech apart with single quotes (apostrophes, inverted commas) and keep it inside the closed quotes.

You can do this in two ways:

  • John said, “When I asked her, Grace replied, ‘I can’t go.’ But I’m sure she was lying.”
  • John said, “When I asked, Grace replied ‘I can’t go.’”

Note that in the second sentence, 3 apostrophes are placed after the period (full stop): 1 apostrophe and 1 double (closed) quote mark. This is in keeping with the rule that all punctuation in dialogue goes inside the quotation marks.

Indirect dialogue is a recapping of a conversation.

  • When asked, John said Grace couldn’t go.

We don’t use quotes in indirect dialogue. Also, in the above sentence, the word that is implied between said and Grace.

Rule 3: Commas—Do not place a period between the closed quotes and the dialogue tag. Use a comma because when the speech tag follows the spoken words, they are one sentence consisting of clauses separated by a comma:  “I’m here,” she said.

  • When leading with a speech tag, the comma is separating two clauses, so it is placed after the tag and is not inside the quotation marks: She said, “I’m here.”
  • Dialogue that is split with the speech tag is all one sentence: “The flowers are lovely,” she said, “but they make my eyes water.” Note that the first word in the second half of the sentence is not capitalized.

Rule 4: When a speaker’s monologue must be broken into two paragraphs, lead off each with quotation marks but only put the closed quote at the end of the final paragraph. A wall of dialogue can be daunting in a story but happens sometimes in essays and when quoting speeches.

In the following example, I tried to include all four of the rules:

    “We’ve forgotten one important thing,” Jan said, “barbarian or southerner, we’re all descended from the Remnant. We are all Aeos’s people, barbarian, southerner, or midlands farmer.

    “During my vision quest,  she told me two important things I didn’t understand until now. ‘Build my clergy’ and ‘lead my people back to the path of righteousness.’ I thought she only meant that I should guide the tribes, but now I know her true plan.”

The things readers won’t forgive are what I think of as the seven deadly sins of dialogue, often committed when writing the first draft:

  1. The info dump: “Ralph, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  2. Repetitively naming the characters being spoken to: “Ralph, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  3. Bizarre speech tags such as ejaculated or spewed.
  4. Long, drawn out thoughts and ruminations that are a wall of italics.
  5. Spelling out accents to the point they are visually incomprehensible. “Oive got a luverly bunch uv coconuts…”
  6. Leading off with verbal tics. “Aahhh…ummm…”
  7. Erratic and amateurish punctuation.

Something else I’ve mentioned before: Never resort to writing foreign languages by using Google Translate (or any other translation app). A single word used consistently here and there to convey the sense of foreignness is one thing, but in general, if you don’t speak the language, don’t write it.

These are the fundamental rules of the road that readers expect authors to be educated in. When authors don’t obey these rules, readers leave comments on Amazon like, “one star, could not finish.” Those are reviews of the worst kind.

If you have more questions about punctuation, good answers can be found in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan A. Garner. This is a handy book I regularly refer back to whenever I have questions about grammar.


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On Poetry: Interview with Alan Shue, creator of the Bug Rhymes Stories

This is the fourth and final installment in my series of interviews on the craft of writing poetry. Today Alan Shue, author of the hilarious Bug Rhymes Stories series of children’s books, talks to us about his approach to the craft.

Writing for children is a bit different than for older readers, and Alan kindly explains why.

CJJ: When did you begin to write poetry?

AS: I began to write poetry in small amounts during the 1960s and 70s, mainly in the form of song writing (little of which I can find now). In the 80s I started writing poems mainly for Christmas, family birthdays and other events to send out with cards and found I really enjoyed it. After a while I branched out into writing just for fun, playing with alliteration and various rhyming patterns and broadening my mix of topics to include humorous, romantic, and more serious themes. When I retired in 2008 I also started writing rhyming stories for children.

CJJ: Your published work is primarily children’s books. When did you realize this was your calling as an author? Have you written in other genres?

AS: I’m not sure I’ve had a calling as an author per se – I more or less stumbled into writing children’s books. When I reached retirement I knew I wanted to spend more of my newfound free time writing poetry and maybe also take a shot at writing short stories or novels. One warm summer day in 2008 I lay on my back in a grassy area in a park, looked up into a clear blue sky, and casually thought about what kind of writing I’d like to do. Within moments a few rhyming lines and silly plot ideas about fleas and other bugs popped into my mind. They felt fun and funny enough that I decided to give rhyming children’s stories a try, to see if I could create something I liked. That impulse turned into a series I call Bug Rhymes stories.

I have tried a few other genres. In the poetry realm I have written lyrics for a set of “New Age” compositions whose melodies I loved so much I felt compelled to put words to them. In the past five years I have also tried my hand at adult prose in the form of a short story (more like a novelette) and a fiction novel currently in progress. I find writing prose for an adult audience to be far more difficult than writing goofy rhymes for kids.

CJJ: What do you enjoy most about your work?

AS: I like the creative process of trying to communicate ideas and stories via rhyme. I enjoy the challenge of finding unusual and clever rhymes, giving rhythm to poetic verse, and employing alliteration to make lines and quatrains “roll off the tongue” (although admittedly I sometimes create tongue twisters). I’m a member of a local writing group and like the learning process involved in receiving critiques of my work and making improvements to it. It also has been a pleasure to visit elementary schools to read my books aloud and talk to students about writing. My greatest enjoyment comes when I receive feedback from kids and adults who have had a good laugh or a nice feeling from my ditties and stories.

CJJ: What do you find easiest about writing for children, and conversely, what is most difficult?

AS: My children’s stories tend to “anthropomorphize” bugs, i.e. they put bugs into situations faced by humans. I think having bugs as characters allows me the freedom to make the stories as humorous or dramatic as I want while still appealing to a child’s sense of fun and fantasy. I can create my own culture and world, e.g. a pair of bedbug bicycle cops on the trail of a bedbug bed burglar.

My greatest difficulty is keeping my children’s stories as short as most publishers recommend. Many children’s books are just a few hundred words long. My stories sometimes creep up to around a thousand, plus or minus, which can exceed the attention span of some who are in my target 3 to 9 year age range.

CJJ: What advice would you give other authors who want to write for children and who may be just starting out?

AS: My books are all self-published, which is far easier to do now than it was in 2008, so I would suggest considering that approach as it is far quicker and easier than acquiring an agent or publisher. By all means join a good critique group where you can get constructive criticism from other authors. I was not academically trained as a writer and listening to other writers has resulted in far better finished work from me. Read as many children’s books as you can to see what is getting published, what the market is looking for, and what your niche could be. Think about your goals. My niche has been the adventures of bugs scorned or overlooked by most other children’s book writers (e.g. fleas, mosquitoes, bedbugs, gnats, etc., no butterflies) and my goal has been to write stories kids and adults will enjoy, not necessarily to achieve commercial success.

CJJ: Finally, what are you currently working on?

AS: I’m about 35,000 words into my first full length novel. I’ve discovered that it takes far more research and skill for this type of writing – to make it realistic and keep adults engaged – than for fantasy-based rhyming stories for children. Additionally, I have several more finished Bug Rhymes stories that need illustration to become books. Kudos to my wife Linda (creative director and colorist) and my illustrator Elisa Wilson for the three Bug Rhymes books completed so far. I’ve found my participation in the illustration process immensely interesting and rewarding, but expensive, so am not sure what the future holds for additional books. I am also still writing poetry as new ideas, events and holidays stimulate.

Thank you for allowing me to prevail upon you, Alan.

I highly recommend Alan’s books for the fun rhymes, the overall stories, and the wonderful, detailed art.

My 7-yr-old grandson, Byron, loves “Grant the Ant.” We had a long discussion on the phone about the redemption of Zeater and what a great ending the book has.  After all, in Byron’s mind, the best stories have fun words, a lot of action, and a certain amount of “ew!”

Also, Byron thinks I should add a glossary at the end of my books as he liked the one at the end of “Grant the Ant.” I’ve always listened to marketing advice from my grandsons, as they are rarely wrong.

This series of interviews with working poets/novelists has been fun. I’m always interested in how other authors work. In case you missed them, here are the links to the three previous interviews:

Stephen Swartz

Shaun Allan

Maria VA Johnson

Writing poems doesn’t stop us from writing novels, or vice versa. We can give ourselves permission to approach the craft of writing in whatever way makes us happy.

Beginning Monday, I’ll continue the series on poetry and short fiction with Drabbles (100 word stories).

About Alan Shue:

Raised in Las Vegas, Alan moved to the Pacific Northwest to attend Oregon State University and then made Olympia, WA his home. As a published author Alan has a not-so-secret love for the written word and rhymes in particular. In addition to writing children’s stories, over the years he has written a great deal of poetry for family, holidays, and just fun.

As a contrast, during his career Alan wrote thousands of pages of information systems analysis and technical design. So, a little right brain here … a little left brain there … add in some bugs, rhymes, goofiness and imagination, and you have the origins of his Bug Rhymes Books series.

Alan lives with his wife of 50+ years, Linda, who has been instrumental in the illustration of his books. His published works so far include: Chee the Flea, Tweeter and Jeeter, and Grant the Ant. Alan is coordinator for the 150+ member Olympia Writers Group.

To find out more about Alan’s books visit his web site: http://bugrhymesbooks.com/

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Guest Post: Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot by Suzanne Hagelin

This is the third in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

Today’s guest post is by Indie author Suzanne Hagelin. Suzanne is a USA Today best-selling author of science fiction. I’ve enjoyed her work and look forward to hearing what she has to say!

What could be more delightful than a great story told well? Homer continues to gain “Iliad” fans after thousands of years and Shakespeare retains his reputation as a master playwright. How did they assemble the parts to create a satisfying whole? Is it possible to find a common denominator for all the successful plots out there? The approaches to building a story are so numerous and versatile that it could be daunting to pull out a basic principle that works for all, but this might be a good starting place.

A good plot cooperates with the way human minds process information.

The key to processing and digesting information is organizing it in a way our brains can use. Reading books is no exception. A simple narrative with few characters can get away with a scattered tossing of events and ideas, but the more complex a story becomes, the more essential it is to have a well-organized plot.

When we organize a plot, we’re creating a pattern of events, forming the basic structure of the story. The author’s success in weaving them together depends on how the pieces are coordinated. Ideally, authors lay out their stories in ways that make sense and don’t require too much guessing or backtracking on the part of the reader.


Reality happens in order—at least as far as we know in this branch of the multiverse—but we experience reality in complex ways because of how we process information; reviewing memories, comparing facts, dealing with trauma, struggling with questions. Our minds are existing in the present, and branch into the past and future as well, as we evaluate our lives. This is why we can enjoy stories told out of sequence and why breaking up the chronology of a plot can work.

In fact, it can be masterfully done.

“Memento” is a film about a man who can’t form permanent memories because of a traumatic incident that included the death of his wife. By showing only what he experiences and moving backwards, the movie captures what it’s like to be this man and shows us at the same time what is actually happening. It’s intense, tragic, and disturbing. The author set up the pattern very carefully so that, even as scenes were moving in reverse in time, our understanding of who the characters were and what was happening progressed in a logical way forward, building solidly. The viewer’s experience was sequential, like walking backwards in the snow, watching the ground so you can set each foot in the print you left on your way there, only seeing one at a time.

Most stories are told sequentially with occasional visits to the past.

Ways to organize the chronology of your plot

By characters

Take each of your main characters and jot down the flow of the story from their point of view. Let their motivations and personalities clarify gaps or redirect the plot. For example, “Joe” wouldn’t just be sitting there for seven chapters while “Mary” is battling a monster. Of course, you don’t have to write what Joe is doing, but you should know.

Once you’ve got each character’s thread, look at how they cross and interact. You may find some plot peaks and valleys this way.

By timeline

Take the space of time your story covers and place events on it. The most logical approach is to tell the story in the order it happened, within reason. You wouldn’t interrupt a scene to throw in what was happening at the same time somewhere else unless it were essential to tie the two events together immediately. You may want to interlace chapters that deal with different segments in order to preserve the forward momentum of the plot.

If you aren’t telling your story in the order it happened, why not? Memories and flashbacks happen within the mind. Whose mind are you connecting it to? It could be a specific character or the reader, as if they had found a historical resource to draw from.

Ask questions like:

  • Is there a good reason why this isn’t happening in chronological order?
  • Who is linked to this and how will I maintain the continuity of the plot?
  • Would putting this section back into the timeline make more sense or improve the plot?
  • Does this help the reader to know what I (the author) know or does it confuse them?

One of my novels was really suffering until I did this. I laid the scenes out on a timeline and realized how I had been botching it by neglecting the importance of chronology. Reorganizing the flow helped me regain momentum not only in the story progression but in my writing.

By key points

There are specific landmarks you need to get to, pivotal events in your book that are essential. Identifying those and placing them in strategic places will help you decide what should happen between them. I may not have decided how to accomplish this, but I know that about halfway through the book, that character has to be in this situation. Anchoring these might change the structure of your plot somewhat but that’s good. Now you know where you’re going.

The reader will sense that direction even if they don’t know where you’re taking them.


When composers craft a symphony, writing musical notes in patterns, choosing instruments and how they blend together, they are weaving a story with sound. The conductor interprets the notes, expanding or contracting tempos, creating highs and lows, excitement or calm, making it individual. The musicians follow the conductor’s instructions, but each one has their own level of skill, talent, and nuances of style.

Stories are compositions, like music. When authors sketch out a storyline, adding characters, locations, sequences of events, and dialog, they are composing a story with words. The style of writing fleshes it out, like a conductor, and determines the impact the plot will have.

Consider your book from a musical standpoint. Where are your crescendos and decrescendos? Are there long, legato passages and short staccato ones? Have you built a rhythm and pace that conveys emotion? This approach can identify long dull patches or consistently tense ones that never have peaks or valleys.

When you’re sitting down to organize your plot, there are several things to look at. You want to consider:

  • The structure of the timeline in the story, what happens when
  • The flow of how you tell the story, which isn’t necessarily the same
  • Where your characters are at each point in that flow

This is helpful because:

  • You can identify transitions and make sure you handle them the way you want.
  • You can make a note of where support characters come in and how much the reader needs to know about them that hasn’t happened on the pages.
  • You can get a feel for the tempo of the book, where it’s dragging or when it’s rushing at a steady clip for too long, and choose places to add pauses or excitement, as the case may be.

Tools for organization

My favorite tool for organizing plots is Excel. I can track as many things as I wish through the plot because there’s always room for another row or column. Sometimes it’s basically an outline. Sometimes it’s a lot more.

There are times, though, where I can’t get what I need on a computer no matter how many sheets I have open or how big the screen is. I need something that can be moved around or scribbled on or torn up with bare hands. Then I turn to 3 x 5 index cards, sticky notes, torn pieces of paper. Laying it all out and sometimes marking it with colored codes, I can solve problems that can’t be tackled any other way. I can see at once where everyone is, everything that’s happening.

This rescued that book I mentioned, spreading it out made me realize I had approached the flow all wrong. The how and when of the story had to change completely. Fortunately, it didn’t mean a lot of rewrites, but it did alter the pace drastically. Chapters I had written that had a good tempo acquired more of a rushed feel, but since the plot as a whole wasn’t working before, the gain was worth the cost.

Talking about the plot out loud can be handy as well. Listing the sequence of events may reveal a hole. Talking about character motives may indicate scenes I left out. Maybe something I thought was great actually sounds dumb when I say it aloud.

Scene flow

Organizing your plot extends into the details and can be an asset to writing individual scenes.

Once a scene has been written, I always go back and look at the flow. I have a tendency to jumble my ideas together, associating them in ways that aren’t sequential—especially when I’m comfortable with them and already blazing ahead in my mind to what comes next. A painting can do that. It can present all the pieces of its image together and let you choose how you examine it. One person may prefer to consider the colors first, and another looks for faces, but authors are only giving a piece at a time and if we aren’t careful, we can lose the reader before the picture is complete.

This sounds obvious, but sometimes I have to remind myself that the reader is reading sequentially.

Present ideas in order

The woman enters the room and sees the wild animal before pulling out her weapon with a shriek. She doesn’t scream first, shoot, and then enter the room. This seems obvious, and the example is kind of simplistic, but the truth is I usually have to go back and make sure I’m not doing this.

“Shrieking and pulling out her Glock, the woman blasted the creature repeatedly as she entered the room where the beast had broken in through a window.”

Reorganizing the progression makes it easier to follow.

“Entering the room, the woman shrieked at the sight of the beast, covered in glass from a broken window, and within seconds had pulled out her Glock and unloaded over twelve plugs into its bulk.”

This isn’t beautiful writing, but it’s easier to follow when the sequence makes sense.

Organize the flow of action, then identify and fill in missing pieces.

Final thoughts

The reader has no idea about our story until we present it to them. They can’t see what we can see or know the characters like we know them. If we want them to enjoy the process of entering into this world so they can experience the adventure we’ve prepared, we need to assemble the parts in an easily absorbed way.

A story that sweeps you up into its grasp and carries you off into the sunset doesn’t happen by accident.

Someone laid a well-crafted snare.

Thank you for this highly detailed post, Suzanne! 

Her first post in this series was “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”. You can read the second installment in this series here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, and the fourth post will be on William Cook’s Blog next week.

Graphic made with photos by NASA Hubble and Christophe Ferron on Unsplash

USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium




Filed under writing

The Depths of the Word-Pond – Word Choice #amwriting

The depths of the Word-Pond we call Story are clouded and visibility is poor. Who knows what creatures prowl down here, waiting for their next meal?

Exposition, the Kraken of the Deep is down here somewhere, lurking. How will we get out of here alive?

In a balanced narrative, some exposition is essential in order to provide context. How much is inserted and how it is delivered is what makes or breaks a story. The same goes for those subversive packets of inadvertent exposition: adverbs.

Some newly converted zealots loudly repeat mantras uttered by their personal gurus, whispering prayers to the demi-god Elmore Leonard– an author whose advice was good, but who would be surprised to learn he’s been elevated to such heights, his short list of advice turned into a holy text. The crusaders can be recognized from a distance because they’re all standing on soapboxes shouting, “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Kill every Darling who uses an adverb!”

That kind of devotion is short-sighted. Words like “later,” or “everywhere,” or “never” or “alone” are adverbs. Do these well-meaning fanatics really believe they can write decent prose with no adverbs whatsoever?

As with all religious cults, there is a solid kernel of truth to that arrogant fixation, but to think you can ban exposition and adverbs from the narrative completely is a delusion. Chuck Wendig, in his post The Danger of Writing Advice from Industry Professionals, says,

“And so the advice really should be, don’t use adverbs or adjectives when they sound awkward, or when they fail to tell us something that we need to know.” [1]

Other Word-Choice Mantras bring discord to the ranks of the newly converted. The word ‘very’ comes in for a lot of abuse in writing groups and writers’ chat rooms.

Suppose you decide to simply eliminate every instance of the word “very” because you have discovered you overuse it. You are savvy—you understand your word-processing program well and know all the shortcuts. You open the navigation pane and bring up the advanced search dialog box. In the ‘Replace With’ box you don’t key anything, because you know this will delete the word and are convinced this will eliminate the problem and tighten your prose.

Before you click ‘replace all’ consider three common words that have the letters v-e-r-y in their makeup:

  • Every
  • Everyone
  • Everything

Deleting every instance of ‘very’ could mess things up on an incredibly large scale. Context is everything. Take the time to look at each example of the offending words and change them individually. You’ve already spent a year or more writing that novel, so why not take the time to do it right?

“Actually” is another word to look at individually. Perhaps you have been told it is a ‘weed word,’ and, feeling mocked by the more experienced authors in your writer’s forum, you experience a nearly uncontrollable gut reaction to eliminate it entirely in a scorched earth campaign. Before you obey that compulsion, examine the context.

Have you used the word “actually” in a conversation? If so, you may want to keep it, as dialogue must sound natural, and people use that word in conversation.

Just as the laws of physics break down at the center of a Black Hole, the inviolable laws of grammar break down in conversations. And, just as gravity still rules, keeping chaos constrained in the singularity, punctuation still reigns in conversation, holding our sentences together.

Now that we have adverbs and religious zealots out of the way let’s continue on with word choice. Words, carefully chosen and used properly, have power. Choosing your words with care and binding them into small packets inserted into conversations is how you distribute your exposition (backstory) without resorting to a blatant info dump. Dole it out in small portions, delivered only when the reader needs to know it.

We choose words with power. In English, words that begin with hard consonants sound tougher and therefore carry more power.

Verbs are power words. Fluff-words and obscure words used too freely are kryptonite, sapping the strength from our prose.

  • Placement of verbs in the sentence
    1. Moving the verbs to the beginning of the sentence makes it stronger.
    2. Nouns followed by verbs make active prose.
      1. I ran toward danger, never away.
  • Parallel construction
    1. When two or more ideas are compared in a sentence, each part of the sentence uses the same grammatical structure.
    2. What parallelism means can be shown by a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, who used the phrase “I came; I saw; I conquered.” in a letter to the Roman Senate after he had achieved a quick victory in the Battle of Zela. Caesar gives equal importance to the different ideas of coming, seeing, and conquering.
  • Contrast
    1. In literature, we use contrast when we describe the difference(s) between two or more things in one sentence.
    2. The blue sun burned like fire, but the ever-present wind chilled one to the bone.
  • Simile
    1. Similes show the resemblances between two things through the use of words such as “like” and “as.” They are different from metaphors, which imply that something “is” something else.
    2. The blue sun burned like fire.
  • Deliberate repetition.
    1. Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
    2. Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
    3. Repetition of words or phrases in the opposite sense.
    4. Repetition of words broken by some other words.
    5. Repetition of the same words at the end and start of a sentence.
    6. Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
    7. Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
    8. Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
    9. Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
    10. Repetition both at the end and at the beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
    11. It can also be a construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause.

Every book is a quotation, and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Prose and Poetry. [2]

  • Alliteration
    1. The occurrence of the same letter (or sound) at the beginning of successive words.
      1. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled p
      2. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, (The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe 1845) [3]
  • When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees, (Birches, by Robert Frost 1916) [4]

Poets know and use all the above word choice concepts to convey large ideas and entire stories with a minimum of words.

How we add depth to our prose without adding kryptonite involves verb placement and using ordinary words that most people know and don’t have to look up in a dictionary. Craft happens when you combine those common words in unexpected ways, forming extraordinary passages.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] The Danger of Writing Advice from Industry Professionals, by Chuck Wendig, Terribleminds,  The Ramble, http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/12/12/the-danger-of-writing-advice-from-industry-professionals/  ©2017. Accessed 31 July 2019.

[2] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works. Published in 1904. Vol. VIII. Letters and Social Aims, VI. Quotation and Originality, Bartleby.com, accessed (31 July 2019)

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “The Raven,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Raven&oldid=908701892 (accessed July 31, 2019).

[4] Wikipedia contributors, “Birches (poem),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Birches_(poem)&oldid=886359747 (accessed July 31, 2019).


Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Print, Three ships surrounded by monsters, ca. 1590 (CH 18553601).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Print,_Three_ships_surrounded_by_monsters,_ca._1590_(CH_18553601).jpg&oldid=276506077 (accessed July 31, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Black hole – Messier 87.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Black_hole_-_Messier_87.jpg&oldid=359992100(accessed July 31, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Childe Hassam,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Childe_Hassam&oldid=831999910 (accessed April 6, 2018).


Filed under writing

What we can learn from midlist books #amwriting

As part of my ongoing quest to improve my writing skills, I have been reading a series of novels written by a midlist author (whom I am not going to name), trying to decipher what it that I like about her work and what I don’t like.

Midlist is a term used by the traditional publishing industry referring to books that aren’t bestsellers, but which sell enough to justify their publication. If these authors can build a consistent sales record, the big publishers will probably want future books from that author.

Most books published today are midlist titles. Bestsellers earn the largest portion of overall royalties, but midlist novels are steady earners over a long period, and many of these authors have devoted fans.

So, I have been binge-reading this series of mystery novels, trying to decide why she sells enough to keep her publisher buying her books, and in the process,  I have figured out why she’s not a bestseller. I have come up with a list of strengths and shortcomings, things I can look for in my own work.

The positives:

  • Her plots tend to be intriguing. She is creative with her murders and doesn’t rely on cliché situations.
  • She knows how to sink a hook. The details of how and why each of the murders are discovered is interesting, and at the beginning, logical, so you keep reading.
  • She has good skills in world building. The ethnicity of the immigrant Armenian neighborhood feels solid, as if you know it well.
  • The main characters reveal themselves slowly. They have an air of mystery around them. You never feel like you know all there is to know about them.

The negatives:

  • Her books tend to follow a formula that is recognizably hers, which is why she can put out four novels a year. In that regard, they are like romance novels. Once you’ve read the first three in the series, you know the basic story line.
  • They’re not memorable in any way. The one thing that keeps you reading is curiosity to discover who out of the many possibilities actually did it.
  • Toward the middle and the second half, the story arc becomes jerky, at times almost flatlining. The eye wants to skip pages.
  • Then suddenly, it’s so chaotic it’s impossible to follow what just happened, and no matter how many times you go back and re-read it, you can’t understand what is going on.
  • References to habits, such as obsessive chain smoking, start out doing the intended job, conveying a personality. But these references soon become repetitive, over-used, inadvertent crutches.
  • Her political and technological references place these books firmly in a certain period – a double-edged sword. The political references are the biggest Achilles heel. She began writing the series in in the early nineties. Publishing schedules being as slow as they are, these references immediately made the books feel slightly out of date, rather than set in an era.
  • By book three, the Main Character hasn’t grown or evolved. They’re still locked firmly in their own time-warp.
  • Her publisher misses a lot of proofing errors. This is every indie’s nightmare, so it’s annoying to find so many flaws in a book by a reputable publisher.

In retrospect, I like this author’s work, but certain of her writing habits annoy me as a reader. So, why have I subjected myself to reading so many of her books if I’m so ambivalent about them?


We all know what we love when we see it. But unless we out-and-out hate something, being able to identify what we don’t love is sometimes difficult.

And this concept is especially true about our own work. Those of us whose vocation is writing fiction must work to ensure our voice and writing style is current and fresh. It is a quest that can take a lifetime and involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Books on craft are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. This is why I study how books in all genres, both good and bad, are constructed.

When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study them. What did you love? What did they do right and how can you incorporate those techniques into your work?

When you don’t like a novel, ask yourself why it failed to move you. What did the author do wrong and how could you write it better?

Read widely, dissect what you read, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.


Filed under writing

Conflict #amwriting

Winter has embraced my Northern home. For the last two weeks, cold and clear days have been followed by freezing, foggy nights. Each morning the roads have been covered with black ice, making the morning commute an adventure. We expect black ice here, but we don’t enjoy it.

The sun was so brilliant I had to locate my sunglasses when I went to my writing group last week. Driving east as the sun rose was like driving into a solar flare.

Alas, this week the rains have returned. But I am warm and dry here in the Room of Shame. I am now rewriting what was spewed forth during NaNoWriMo, turning garbage into something marketable, I hope.

I am taking a piece set in Neveyah, my Tower of Bones world, and rewriting it, so it is a story. This is something that happens to me all the time—4,000 words of a character talking, with no reason for them to be there. I loved the character that emerged, and I wrote what I thought was a story, but something was lacking.

Situations like this are why it is good to have a group of fellow writers whose opinions you value, and who can be trusted to see your work with unbiased eyes. I sensed something was wrong with it but didn’t know what, so I showed it to two of my writing friends, and they both gave me good insights.

What I had written was a character study. My characters are engaging, but there is no obvious obstacle for them to overcome, other than a minor quest for self-knowledge. So, now I am taking these people and that quest and turning it into a larger quest, making it a real story.

The story is for an anthology and can be only 5,000 words long so only one quest will be explored. That quest will not be the obvious quest, in which the hero believes he must free a kidnapped girl. The real quest will be for self-knowledge, and for his superiors, who see promise in him, to help him develop humility.

If I do this one right, there should be ample opportunity for hilarity.

So how do we create conflict in an established story?

We must ask our characters three things:

  1. What is the core of the problem? In the case of my story, the core of the problem is my Main Character is a cocky, arrogant sort, a young man who is good at everything and is quite “honest” about it. His Mentors fear his boasting will hold him back, as no one wants to work with him.
  2. What do the characters want most? The Main Character wants to be just like his childhood hero, or better. He desires approval and admiration. Everything he does is calculated to make him look like a hero. His Mentors have plenty of heroes on hand and just want a mage that can be relied upon to get a job done well and with no fanfare.
  3. What are they willing to do to get it? The Main Character has boasted many times that he will overcome any obstacle no matter how difficult the path to success is. His Mentors devise a simple quest with dirty and disgusting obstacles that he hasn’t planned for, and they ensure that when he does “rescue the hostage,” he gets their message quite clearly.
  4. How will it end? Quite messily, and with all the acclaim the young hero could ask for. But somehow, he won’t feel quite as proud as he thought he would. (Cue the evil laughter.)

I started with the core conflict: his arrogance. I didn’t see the way to take that arrogance and make it a story until my writing friends showed me what it was lacking. They didn’t tell me what to write, but their input gave me that “Ah hah!” moment where I knew just what had to be done. I think this will be one of my favorite Neveyah stories, as it is not dark—it’s full of gallows humor, detailing the deeds of a hero who becomes a man.

Credits and Attributions:

The Green Knight, by N.C,Wyeth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Boys King Arthur – N. C. Wyeth – p82.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Boys_King_Arthur_-_N._C._Wyeth_-_p82.jpg&oldid=304597062  (accessed December 9, 2018).


Filed under writing

Many will begin, few will succeed #amwriting

Every year, many writers begin writing on November 1st, fully intending to get their 1,667 words (or more) written every day, to get their 50,000 words by November 30th. In my region last year, 245 writers created profiles and began an official manuscript at www.nanowrimo.org.

The reality sets in within the first week. Last year 64 writers in our region never got more than 5,000 words written.

Some are young people just out of school who “always wanted to write a book.” They usually don’t have any idea of what they want to write, and no clue of how to be disciplined enough to spend two hours a day writing any words, much less the number of words it takes to make a novel.

They start, get 30 to 1,000 words in, and realize they have nothing to say. But 34 people made it to the 10,000 word mark before they stopped writing. That is almost a novella.

Others do well for a week, or even two, and then, at the 20,000 word mark, they take a day off. Somehow, they never get back to it. Someday, they may actually succeed in finishing that book. Just not this year.

Even seasoned writers may find the commitment to sit and write 1,667 words every day is not doable for them. Things come up—life happens.

But 78 writers out of the 245 in our region made it to the 50,000 word mark, and 5 exceeded 100,000 words.

It takes personal discipline to write 1,667 new words every day. This is not revising old work—this is writing something new, not looking at what you wrote yesterday. This is starting where you left off and moving forward.

For me, having the outline keeps me on track.

I’m not a good typist. The words that fall out of my head during this month are not all golden, just so you know. Some words will be garbled and miskeyed. This means I sometimes have a lot of revising of the work I intend to keep.

Some of what I write will be worth keeping, and some not at all. But even among the weeds, some passages and scenes  will be found that could make a story work. I will keep and use them because they say what I mean to say, and the others I will revise.

One flash fiction that came out of November 2015 fully formed and required little in the way of revisions is The Iron Dragon. The story wanted to be told, and I wrote it in two hours one morning.

Yet another very short story came out of NaNoWriMo 2015, The Cat, the Jeweler, and the Thief. That story remained very much as it began, and also was written in one morning.

I had the prompts and basic ideas of what I intended to write when I sat down. The words fell out of my mind, and the stories told themselves.

For me, as a NaNo Rebel, this is my little vacation from the serious novels that take up most of my time. I don’t accept any editing clients during November or December—my attention is on writing in November and cooking in December.

It’s a matter of getting the ideas down and putting the words on paper. If you don’t get those ideas out of your head and onto paper, you can’t revise and reshape them into something worth reading.

How do we develop the discipline to write every day? This is my list of suggestions for how to have a successful NaNoWriMo, and end November with that winner’s certificate:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you.
  3. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Just write and think about where you want to take your real story. Write about what you would like to have happen in that story. Soon, you will be writing that story.
  4. Check in on the national threads and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  5. Attend a write-in if your region is having any or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  6. Delete nothing. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.
  7. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the stories later. That way you won’t lose your word count.
  8. Validate your word count every day.

These suggestions require you to actually sit in a chair and write. Talking about what you intend to write isn’t getting the book written—for that you must sit your backside down and write.

That is what NaNoWriMo is all about. Writing, and developing discipline.

Authors write. Authors have finished manuscripts to show for their efforts, whether they are good or bad.

If you don’t actually have time to write, you may be a dreamer and a story teller, but you aren’t an author – yet.

Set aside the time to write, develop a habit of writing, and don’t let anything get in the way of your writing time. Don’t allow your writing time to be infringed upon, but also, don’t let it eat into your family time. In 1989, as a single parent with one child still at home, I found myself writing on the bus as I rode to work. I hadn’t ever had the thought that someone would want to read my work, but I had one hour of peace and quiet each way in the morning and evening, and so I wrote in a notebook.

Find the least intrusive block of time for you to have to yourself. What would happen if you dedicated two hours an evening to writing your novel instead of watching TV? What if you got up an hour early and wrote before you went to work every day? Make it your rule, your daily habit to use that time to write 1,667 new words a day for the month of November.

That is how you can get your first draft of a novel written in 30 days and still have time for your family.

Credits and Attributions:

Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Notebooks, by L.Marie (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lenore-m/2812598573/) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Filed under NaNoWriMo, writing