Tag Archives: writing

Writing the Short Story part 5: The Narrative Essay #amwriting

We’re working our way through a series on writing short fiction. However, we’re not done—yet another short form of writing to explore is the essay. For Indy authors who wish to earn actual money from their writing, the narrative essay is often easier to sell to reputable magazines. This is because they appeal to a broader audience than genre fiction does.

narrative essayNarrative essays are drawn directly from real life, but they aren’t necessarily factual or accurate representations of events. They often detail a fictionalized experience or event that affected the author on a personal level.

One of my favorite narrative essays is 1994’s Ticket to the Fair (now titled “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All“) by David Foster Wallace and published in Harpers. Told in the first person, it is a humorous, eye-opening story of a “foreign” (east coast) journalist’s assignment to cover the 1993 Iowa State Fair.

At the outset, Wallace states he was born several hours drive from the fair but had never attended it. A city boy, he has no knowledge of farms, farm culture, or animals. After high school and college, he had left the Midwest for the East Coast and never looked back. When the essay opens, Wallace hasn’t really thought about the fair beyond the fact that he is getting his first official press pass for covering the fair for Harpers.

Wikipedia summarizes Ticket to the Fair this way: Wallace’s experiences and opinions on the 1993 Illinois State Fair, ranging from a report on competitive baton twirling to speculation on how the Illinois State Fair is representative of Midwestern culture and its subsets. Rather than take the easy, dismissive route, Wallace focuses on the joy this seminal midwestern experience brings those involved.

The primary purpose of an essay is thought-provoking content. The narrative essay conveys our ideas in a palatable form, so writing this sort of piece requires authors to think. You must consider both content and structure.

Just like any other form of short fiction, a narrative essay has

  • an introduction,
  • a plot,
  • characters,
  • a setting,
  • a climax,
  • an ending

oxford_synonym_antonymChoose your words for impact! Writing with intentional prose is critical. A good essay has been put into an entertaining form that expresses far more than mere opinion. Narrative essays sometimes present deep, uncomfortable concepts but offer them in a way that the reader feels connected to the story.

Good essays offer a personal view of the world, the places we go, and the people we meet along the way. Names should be changed, of course.

Literary magazines want well-written essays with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics. Some will pay well for first publication rights.

If you want to be published by a reputable magazine, you must pay strict attention to grammar and editing. Never send out anything that is not your best work. After you have finished the piece, set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are actual words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you, the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Digits/Numbers: Mis-keyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.
  • Dropped and missing words.

Don’t be afraid to write with a wide vocabulary. With that said, never use jargon or technical terms only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece geared for that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be a little bold. I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace and George Saunders because they are adventurous in their work. Saunders’ style is always approachable, but others may find Wallace wordy and difficult to wade through. He was often accused of being too “literary” in the arrogant sense of the word.

real-writers-writeAnd on that note, we must be realistic. Not everything you write will resonate with everyone you submit it to.  Put two people in a room, hand them the most exciting thing you’ve ever read, and you’ll get two different opinions. They probably won’t agree with you.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

This is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground—if an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, respond with a simple “thank you for your time.” If it’s a form letter rejection, don’t reply.

And when you receive that email of acceptance—crack open the fancy cider and celebrate! There is no better feeling than knowing someone you respect liked your work enough to publish it.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Supposedly_Fun_Thing_I%27ll_Never_Do_Again&oldid=815132504 (accessed January 9, 2018).


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Writing the short story part 4: making it submission-ready #amwriting

You have written a short story and edited it. You have decided what publication you want to submit it to. Now you must format the manuscript to make it submission-ready. Your next steps will show the prospective publisher your level of professionalism.

WritingCraft_short-story-formattingEditors at magazines, contests, and publishing houses have no time to deal with poorly formatted manuscripts. Their inboxes are full of properly formatted work, so they will reject the amateurs without further consideration.

You must learn to use your word-processing program. I use Microsoft Word, but Google Docs and Open Office are very similar.

FIRST: Read the submission guidelines your prospective publisher has posted on their website and follow them.

Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part, this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

Running across the top of the page in your word-processing program is the ribbon (toolbar). Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. Sometimes you can’t see it, and this is because it is hidden.

On the far right-hand side in Word is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon. We are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need. If you are using a different program than mine, don’t be afraid to google how to unhide the toolbar/ribbon for your program.

Formatting_final_Fonts_2_LIRF03292020First, we must select the font. Every word-processing program has many fancy fonts you can choose from and a variety of sizes.

Use the industry-standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts and have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and click on the tab marked ‘Home.’ In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the Editing group, click: select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the manuscript still highlighted, go to the font group on the ribbon’s left-hand end. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body),’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by clicking on the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Courier (depending on the publisher’s guidelines). Click on that, and the font for the entire ms will be that font. If you have clicked on the wrong font, it can be undone by clicking the back-arrow. Once you are satisfied with your changes, click Save.

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments and is easier for an editor to read.

Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. If you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs, the indents might fail when the manuscript is electronically uploaded. This creates a wall of words with no way to tell where one paragraph ends and another begins.

If you have done that, you can fix it by using one of the two following ways.

To remove tabs from a manuscript in Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (right side of the ribbon on the home tab). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (Caret + lowercase t) (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t). This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard: ^t.

Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. One click on “Replace all” will remove every tab.

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever. This will temporarily make your manuscript look like a wall of words, but you will resolve that the proper way.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.

Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.

FIRST: SELECT ALL. This will highlight your entire manuscript.

select-all-printscreenStep 1: On the Home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it. A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced, and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the dropdown menu, select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (Some publishers will specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double.’

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

  • margins of 1 inch all the way around
  • indented paragraphs with no extra space between
  • double-spaced text
  • Align Left. This is critical.

formatting_paragraphs_in_MSWord_Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text gives you straight margins on both sides. However, this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is published. At that point, the publisher will handle the formatting.

Now we need to make the “Header.” This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, consisting of page numbers, title, and author name. If an editor likes your work, they might print it out to look at it more closely. If the printout of the manuscript falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled because the pages are numbered.

We insert the header by opening the “insert” tab and clicking on “page number.” This opens a new menu. We add the page numbers using the small dropdown menu.

This is how the ribbon and menus look:

Headers and Page numbers prnt sc 2Now your manuscript is submission-ready. It is in Times New Roman or Courier .12 font, is aligned left, has1 in. margins, is double-spaced, has formatted indented paragraphs.

The header contains the title and your pen name. The first page contains your legal name, mailing address, contact information in the upper left-hand corner, and the word count on the right.

First_page_topThis may seem like overkill to you. If you are serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be as professionally formatted as is possible.

I hope these general instructions will help you find success, but be sure to check the publisher’s website as each publisher may have different requirements. If you don’t follow your prospective publisher’s submission guidelines, you have wasted your time submitting it.



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Writing the short story part 3: extremely short fiction #amwriting

If not having the time to sit down and write a novel is holding you back from writing, you have another option: extremely short fiction.

WritingCraft_short-story-drabbleYou are more likely to sell a drabble than a short story in today’s speculative fiction market. You are also more likely to sell a short story than a novel.

Many online publications are looking for drabbles (100-word stories) and flash fiction under 500 words. These editors are looking for new, unpublished work, so this is an opportunity to use the limited time you have for writing and still get published.

Perhaps you’ve heard other writers use the term drabbles, but you don’t know what one is.

Drabbles are extremely short fiction. In 100 words or less, they offer everything the reader needs to know, so drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. A good drabble tells the story of one scene and makes the reader ponder what might have happened next.

Writing drabbles teaches us how to write a good hook in only one sentence.

In literary terms, what is a “hook“? Wikipedia says: A narrative hook (or just hook) is a literary technique in the opening of a story that “hooks” the reader’s attention so that they will keep on reading. The “opening” may consist of several paragraphs for a short story or several pages for a novel, but ideally it is the opening sentence in the book. [1]

Writing a 100-word story takes far less time than writing a 2,000-word short fiction or a 70,000-word novel. However, itOregon Sunset Taken August 12, 2016 CJJasperson does require plotting and rewriting the prose until the entire story is told in exactly 100 words. You should expect to spend an hour or so writing and then editing it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

A 100-word story has the same essential components as a longer story:

  1. A setting.
  2. 1 or 2 characters.
  3. A conflict.
  4. A resolution.
  5. No subplots are introduced.
  6. Minimal background is introduced.

Every sentence propels the story to the conclusion. Trying to tell a complete story in 100 words or less teaches you several skills.

  • You are forced to develop an economy of words.
  • You begin to see what the core plot elements of a story might be.

When you have a backlog of drabbles and extremely short pieces, you also have a vault full of ready-made characters and premade settings to draw on.

First, you need a prompt, a jumping-off point.

prompt is a word or visual image that kickstarts the story in your head. The prompt for the following drabble was sunset. Some contests and publications give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and some will post an image. The difficult ones are those with no prompt at all.

I break short stories into acts by taking the number of words I plan to fit the story into and dividing it into 3 sections.

A drabble works the same way. We break it down to make the story arc work for us.

For a drabble, we have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

For this drabble, I used:

24 Words (opening): We sat on the beach near the fire, two old people bundled against the cold Oregon sunset. Friends we’d never met fished the surf.

51 words (middle and crisis): Wind whipped my hair, gray and uncut, tore it from its inept braid. The August wind was chill inside my hood, but I remained, pleased to be with you, and pleased to be on that beach.

Mist rose with the tide, closed in and enfolded us, blotting out the falling stars.

25 Words (conclusion): Laughing at our folly, we dragged our weary selves back to our digs, rented, but with everything this old girl needed—love, laughter, and you. [2]

Sunset_Cannon_Beach_05_August_2019The above drabble is a 100-word romance and is an example I have used here before. It has a beginning (hook), a middle (the conflict), and a resolution. The opening shows our protagonist on the beach with someone for whom she cares deeply.

The conflict in this tale is the weather. Wind and blowing mist make it too cold for our protagonist to stay on the beach and forces her indoors.

The resolution is a romantic evening spent indoors.

Drabbles contain the ideas and thoughts that can easily become longer works, such as this drabble did in my poem, Oregon Sunset.

If you are thinking about participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), write your story ideas in the form of drabbles and flash fiction. That way, you won’t forget them, and you can save them for later use as the seeds of a longer work.

Submitting the drabble/flash fiction to a publication or contest won’t ruin whatever novel you think it might later become. Whatever it grows into will be vastly different than the 100-word premise.

Sometimes, you reach a point where you can’t write any further on the novel you’ve given your soul to. That is when it’s time to take a break from that project and do something completely different.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapThe act of writing random ideas and emotions down in drabble form rejuvenates your creativity, a mini-vacation from your other work. It rests your mind and clears things so you can return to your main project with all your attention.

Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest/small press or not is your choice. The important thing is this: that idea is written down and accessible when you need a new project.

I have always considered drabbles as the literary equivalent of dried beans and rice. They are the staples we can set aside for later when we need inspiration.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Narrative hook,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Narrative_hook&oldid=1010359448 (accessed April 10, 2021).

[2] Oregon Sunset Drabble, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2016, All Right Reserved.


Oregon Sunset, © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, author’s own work.

Sunset on Cannon Beach, © 2019 Connie J. Jasperson, author’s own work.


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Writing the Short Story part 2: indirect speech #amwriting

In a short story, our words are limited, so we must craft our prose to convey a sense of naturalness. Scenes have an arc of rising and ebbing action, so let’s consider how conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

J.R.R. Tolkien said that dialogue must have a premise or premises and move toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the conversation is a waste of the reader’s time.

What do we want to accomplish in this scene? Ask yourself three questions.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. How many words do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

So now that we know what must be conveyed and why, we find ourselves in the minefield of the short story: 

  • Delivering the backstory.

Don’t give your characters long paragraphs with lines and lines and lines of uninterrupted dialogue. A short story has no room for bloated exposition.

Let’s look at a scene that opens upon a place where the reader and the protagonists must receive information. The way the characters speak to us can take several forms:

  1. Direct discourse. Nattan said, “I was going to give it to Benn in Fell Creek, but he wasn’t home, and I had to get on the road.”
  2. Italicized thoughts: Nattan stood looking out the window. Benn’s not home. What now?
  3. Free indirect speech: Nattan stood looking out the window. Benn wasn’t home, so who should he give it to?

Examples two and three are versions of indirect speech, which is a valuable tool in your writer’s toolbox

Wikipedia describes free indirect speech this way:

Free indirect speech is a style of third-person narration which uses some of the characteristics of third-person along with the essence of first-person direct speech; it is also referred to as free indirect discoursefree indirect style, or, in Frenchdiscours indirect libre.

Free indirect discourse can be described as a “technique of presenting a character’s voice partly mediated by the voice of the author” (or, reversing the emphasis, “that the character speaks through the voice of the narrator”) with the voices effectively merged. This effect is partially accomplished by eliding direct speech attributions, such as “he said” or “she said”.

The following is an example of sentences using direct, indirect and free indirect speech:

  • Quoted or direct speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.
  • Reported or normal indirect speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
  • Free indirect speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

According to British philologist Roy Pascal, Goethe and Jane Austen were the first novelists to use this style consistently and nineteenth century French novelist  Flaubert was the first to be consciously aware of it as a style. [1]

When I began writing seriously, I was in the habit of using italicized thoughts and characters talking to themselves as a way to express what was going on inside of them.

That isn’t necessarily wrong. When used sparingly, thoughts and internal dialogue have their place. When they are used as a means for dumping information, they can become a wall of italicized words.


In the last few years, as I’ve evolved in my writing habits, I am drawn more and more to the various forms of free indirect speech as a way of showing who my characters think they are and how they see their world.

The main thing to watch for when employing indirect speech in a short story is to stay only in one person’s head. Remember, short stories are limited for space, so it’s essential to only tell the protagonist’s story.

In  longer pieces, such as novels, you could show different characters’ internal workings provided you have clear scene or chapter breaks between each character’s dialogue.

If you aren’t careful, you can slip into “head-hopping,” which is incredibly confusing for the reader. First, you’re in one person’s thoughts, and then another—it’s like watching a tennis match.

When you are limited in word count, you must find the most powerful ways to get the story across with a minimum of words. Showing important ruminations as an organic part of the unfolding plot is one way to give information and reveal a character while keeping to lean, powerful prose.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Free indirect speech,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Free_indirect_speech&oldid=817276599 (accessed March 30, 2021).


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Writing the Short Story part 1: experimenting #amwriting

Before we begin, I hope you’ll bear with me as I learn to use the unnecessarily complicated dashboard WordPress calls “Gutenberg.” For a person who relies on images as much as I do, this isn’t a good fit, but I will make it work. They have removed the Admin Dashboard, which was perfect for uploading and positioning images and text. Please bear with me as I find ways to write my posts despite being forced to use the least intuitive dashboard the geniuses at WordPress could have come up with.

When it comes to learning how to write, experimentation is good. The best form for learning learning to write in different styles and genres is the short story.

Last week, we discussed why authors should write short stories and looked at one way to lay out the story arc. There are other ways, but that is my most commonly used method. If you are curious, this is the post: Gaining Readers Through Writing Short Stories.

This week we are going deeper into the many elements of writing a good, gripping story. Most of these features will be found in any length of story, from drabbles to novels. Today we are still focusing on getting all the elements into a piece that is less than 2,000 words long.

Before we go on, we need to remember that setting, atmosphere, and mood are intertwined.

Today’s example is from The Iron Dragon, a 1,025-word story I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2015. That was the year I focused on experimental writing, putting out at least one short story every day, and sometimes two.

The first paragraph of the Iron Dragon begins in the middle of a story:

Earl Aeddan ap Rhydderch turned his gaze from the mist to the strange iron road that emerged from it and then to where the road entered the cave. “Tell me again what happened.”

The opening sentences establish the story, set the scene, and introduce the first protagonist. The following three paragraphs show the world and establish the mood:

The peasant who had guided the earl and his men said, “The mist, the iron road, and the cave appeared yesterday, sir. We saw the beast entering its lair, and a fearful thing it is, too. No one dares to approach it, but the monster can be heard in there. It’s a most dreadful dragon — we found the carcass of a large wolf that had been torn to shreds, trampled until it was nigh unrecognizable.”

The man’s companion said, “Everyone knows wolves are Satan’s hounds. It must have angered its hellish master. We found it lying cast to one side of the Devil’s Road.”

Aeddan looked back to the iron road, seeing where it emerged from the mist. He walked to the low-hanging fog bank, seeing that the road vanished just after it entered the mist, leaving no marks upon the soil. He turned and strode back to the peasants. “I agree it’s the work of the Devil, but why does the Lord of Hell require an iron road that leads nowhere?”

The paragraphs that follow present the danger, the problem Aeddan must overcome:

A faint grumbling sounded beneath Aeddan’s feet. “A light! Look to the mist!” shouted one of his men.

Turning, Aeddan saw a white glow forming in the fog as if a large lamp approached from a great distance. “That’s no ordinary lantern. Mount up!” Moving quickly, he leaped into his saddle and turned his steed to face the demon.

A few sentences further on, I showed more of the world at the same time as I introduced the antagonist:

The light deep within the fog grew and strengthened, as did the rumbling noise.  It waxed brilliant, and the earth shuddered as if beneath the pounding of a thousand hooves. Smoke filled the night air, reeking of the sulfurous Abyss, combined with a howling as cacophonous as the shrieks of all the damned in Hell.

What emerged from the mist was impossible — an Iron Dragon of immense height and girth.

At this point, Aeddan knows that he must resolve the problem and protect his people:

The fiery light emanating from the burning maw lit the night, and the ground shook as the beast roared and raced ever closer. As the beast sped toward him, a burning wind blowing straight out of Hell knocked Aeddan and his horse to the side of the Devil’s Road, and using that opportunity, the Iron Dragon thundered past him, heading into its lair.

Stunned, Aeddan scrambled to his feet, staring as the beast passed him by, the body taller than a house and long, like an unimaginably giant, demonic centipede. The length of the beast was incomprehensible, lit by the fire within and glowing with row upon row of openings. The faces of the damned, souls who’d been consumed by the ravening beast peered out as they flashed by. Sparks flew from its many hooves.

Terrified his men would be crushed by the immense creature, he shouted for them to back off, his voice drowned by the din.

There is more to Aeddan’s side of the story, of course. But in what you have read already, you have made some guesses and are already aware that this is a story with two sides. Aeddan’s point of view is not the entire story.

Again, we must set the scene and establish the mood and characters. Here we meet the second protagonist, an engine driver named Owen:

Mist shrouded the small valley just outside of the village of Pencader. Engine Driver Owen Pendergrass looked at his pocket watch and opened the logbook, noting the time and that they had just departed Pencader Station. He said to the fireman, Colin Jones, “We should be approaching the tunnel, though it’s hard to tell in this mist. We’re making good time despite the fog. We’ll be in Carmarthen on schedule.”

“Sir! Look just ahead! What…?” Colin pointed ahead.

A group of mounted men dressed as medieval knights, complete with lances lowered as if prepared to joust, appeared out of the mist, attempting to block their path. “God in heaven — what next!” Blowing the whistle to scare them off the tracks, Owen pulled the brake cord, but there was no way the train could stop soon enough. In no time at all, the train was upon the knights, scattering them and blowing past. Owen looked out the window to see if they’d survived, but they were gone as if they’d never been.

The final paragraphs wind it up. They also contribute to the overall atmosphere and setting of the second part of the story. The story in its entirety can be read here: The Iron Dragon. It is an imperfect story, but as a practice piece, it has good bones. I didn’t feel that particular piece was suitable for submission to a magazine or contest.

Word choices are essential in showing a world and creating an atmosphere that feels believable. I had challenged myself to write a story that told both sides of a frightening encounter in 1000 words, give or take a few. I also wanted to show two aspects of a place in Wales but tell one story as lived by two protagonists separated by twelve centuries and a multitude of legends.

This brings me back to the layout aspect of a short piece. Some speculative fiction stories work well when the flow of the story arc is shaped like an infinity sign, a figure-eight laying on its side:

Instead of the usual bridge shape, the story arc begins in the middle, circles around, comes back to the middle, and circles around a different way. It ends where it began.

Writing short fiction offers me the chance to experiment with both style and genre. It challenges me to build a world in only a few words and still tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Sometimes what I turn out is worth sharing, and other times, not so much. The act of writing something different, a little outside my comfort zone, stretches my ability to “think widely.” It makes me a better reader as well as a better writer.

>>><<<                                   >>><<<                                   >>><<<

Credits and Attributions:

Excerpts from The Iron Dragon, by Connie J. Jasperson, ©2015-2021 All Rights Reserved.

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Gaining readers through writing short stories #amwriting

We all want to gain readers. How do you, as an indie, get your name out there and gain awareness of your work? You earn your “street creds” by writing short stories and submitting them to magazines, anthologies, and contests.

Every time your short work is published or wins an award, you gain a little respect. You stand the chance of gaining fans, and it’s nice to have a little extra cash in your pocket.

Despite the changes in the publishing industry as a whole, writing short stories is still the way to increase your visibility. Reputable magazines that are SFWA approved are seeking submissions.

Submitting to contests is good too. If you have a story that was a contest winner, you may be able to sell it to the right publication. By doing this, you learn how to write to a specific length and theme.

I have a system for this. The following story has been used as an example here before. I wrote the original story for a 2015 contest with the theme of Truth and Consequences. The genre was epic fantasy, and the word limit was 2,000 words.

This meant my story had to adhere to that theme and word count, or it would not make the cut, no matter how well it was written.

My story was titled A Song Gone Wrong.

The Premise: Because he was a bit too specific when putting a local warlord’s fling with another man’s wife into song, our protagonist is now a wanted man. I had 2,000 words to show what happened.

I divided the story into four acts:

Act 1: the opening. I had 500 words to show these plot points:

  • Setting: the weather was unseasonably cold.
  • In an alley, a bard, Sebastian, hid from the soldiers of the lord he had humiliated.

My task in the first ¼ of the story was to introduce the protagonist so that his personality was clearly defined at the outset. I had to place him in the setting by showing the scents and sounds of his environment.

The theme, Truth and Consequences, had to be strongly shown throughout the story. Sebastian had told the truth and now faced consequences he was unprepared for.

My bard’s thoughts and observations were critical in this tale, but I had to be reasonable. At 2,000 words, I didn’t have a lot of room for mind wandering, especially in italics.

Another thing to consider was point of view—I went with first-person as I felt the protagonist could best show and interpret events and relate emotions while keeping to the number of words allotted.

Act 2: First plot point: I had 500 more words to show how:

  • The soldiers surrounded and captured Sebastian.
  • The irate lord threw him into prison and sentenced him to hang at dawn.

What Sebastian saw, smelled, and heard were the crucial means of showing the environment with a minimum of description from the first paragraph to the last.

Those noises and odors helped drive home the consequences part of the theme. Sebastian’s reactions told us a lot about who he was as a person.

So, where was this story going to go? I asked myself, “Does Sebastian regret being imprudent in mocking the nobleman, or does his punishment fire rebellion in him?” This was an opportunity for the circumstances to reveal his courage and still keep the plot moving forward.

I went with rebellion.

Act 3: Mid-point: I had 500 words to explain how:

  • Sebastian met a dwarf, Noli, also sentenced to die.
  • Noli was a member of an underground society trying to overthrow the current lord. He was on the verge of managing an escape, but time was short. He needed help with one last thing.
  • Noli and Sebastian managed to complete the escape route. Unfortunately, the guard seemed suspicious, hanging around their cell door, hampering their escape.

The whispered conversations between Noli and Sebastian gave us the background information. Noli had information Sebastian didn’t know.

This was the point when the reader also needed to know that information. Everything the reader already knew didn’t need repeating. Conversations were critical as they conveyed the personalities and the minimal backstory of the piece.

At this point, I set the final obstacle in their path.

This is where I have to emphasize one of my mantras: when writing to a strict word count limit, you must choose your words carefully. Find and use words that are strong and evocative, words that convey the most information concisely in one or two sentences.

Act 4: Resolution–I had 500 words to show how:

  • The smart guard was finally relieved by a less wary guard, which allowed Sebastian and Noli to squeeze through the escape route.
  • They were spotted at the last minute, but Noli’s friends were waiting, and they made their escape.

The fourth act is where you wind up the story and end it so that the reader feels satisfied. You hope they are left thinking about it, wondering what might have happened next.

Once you know how many words you are writing to and what must be done at what point within your story’s arc, you divide it into 3 or four acts. That is the way I structure most of my work.

This is true for any story, from 2000 to 20,000 to 200,000 words. Once you know the length a given tale must be, you can mentally divide it into acts and just write for fun.

I always outline short pieces that are intended for submission to contests, magazines, and anthologies. Magazines especially have strict parameters for what they accept, so you will have better success if you tailor that work to that particular publisher.

The contests and anthologies that are challenging to figure out are those whose guidelines tell you the theme but give you no indication of what genre they are looking for. You have no idea if the person reading your work prefers hard sci-fi or romance, so their personal preference can go against you.

That is a risk we all take. Remember, you have no control over what a prospective editor likes or dislikes. Rejections are more common than acceptance and shouldn’t be taken to heart. What one editor rejects, another will buy, so save it and submit it elsewhere.

Write short stories and only submit your best work. Expect to have them rejected and don’t take it personally. Turn them around and submit them elsewhere, because someone will accept it.

And always, always—celebrate the stories that you do sell.


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Writing Around the Distractions #amwriting #writerlife

Life has hit one of those inevitable snags, where writing has become more of a refuge than ever. My amateur nursing skills have been called into battle once again, as hubby has undergone a total hip replacement.

Four hours after the surgery, he was in the car, and we were going home. The minute the anesthesia wears off, they check the patient to make sure they’re alive and able to urinate, then send them home.

To be cared for by enthusiastic, panicking amateurs.

Two days in the hospital would have been better for him, but this is life in the USA. Even before COVID19, they sent patients home before they were able to care for themselves.

Thanks to having two children with seizure disorders and other family members with debilitating illnesses, I have acquired some of the skills necessary to handle this. My only problem is that he is 6’ 3” tall, and suffers from severe arthritis, so he has limited strength. I am just glad my brother is here to help when I need it.

We are 3 days into it, and hopefully, things will become easier as this next week progresses.

Everyone has family, jobs, external demands that limit the amount of time you can devote to writing. For me, the most important thing is to care for my family first. That means I do whatever housework is on for that day, make sure everyone is clean and fed, and if one of them is ill, I make sure they are comfortable and can rest.

I’m not a superwoman, so I do what I can around the house and don’t worry about what I didn’t get done. Some days that means just keeping a path cleared to the front door. Other days, the place is “fit for company,” as my grandma would say.

After surgery, blood clots can be a problem, so modern technology has devised an $80.00 solution, the PlasmaFlow Sequential Compression System. They are prescribed by a physician for use in the home to help prevent the onset of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) in post-surgical patients by stimulating blood flow in the extremities. They do this by stimulating muscle contractions. These are battery-operated, rechargeable cuffs that go around the patient’s calves.

The surgery was on Friday, so of course, they failed at about noon Saturday. This didn’t seem to surprise the on-call physician at the other end of the telephone. They quit charging, and we can’t get replacements until Monday. So, I am making sure he does some extra exercises and helping him do the ones he can’t yet do independently. Regular massage and exercise should do the trick.

Sleep the first night was like the first night you bring the newborn baby home. Sleep for an hour, get up to resolve something, sleep for an hour, get up to resolve something—not a lot of rest. But the second night, he was able to sleep straight through, so that was good.

I have plenty of downtime between things, though. That is when I write or work on whatever revisions are needed. You would be amazed at what you can get done in ten-minute bursts.

The fact is, I rarely watch television. While I do play a little Stardew Valley (see my game review here), my real interests are reading and attempting to write the stories I wish I could read.

This week I have been trying to think up decent titles for two of my works in progress. So far, nothing has risen to the top. “Accidental Novel” is a fair enough working title but probably won’t sell the book.

Before hubby went in for surgery, I sent my Accidental Novel to my structural editor for a beta read. I have a gut feeling that the ending is weak, so I asked her to give me any thoughts on reworking it. All the rough spots will be resolved once I get Irene’s revision notes back. The external eye is crucial at this stage. Having a trusted reader who is also an excellent editor is a gift from heaven.

So, all in all, life is good. Once we get through this week, my husband should be on the road to better health, and we will be able to settle into a routine.

Life can be a bumpy road. The key is to focus on the good things and laugh at the annoyances. Make a little time to do what you love, and always make time for the people you love.

Credits and Attributions:

We Can Do It, by J. Howard Miller, Restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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Choosing a publishing path: Traditional vs. Indie #amwriting

The publishing industry is in a state of flux, as is the rest of the world.

According to the December 2020 Statshot of participating publishers, the Association of American Publishers, published February 25, 2021, total revenues across all categories for December 2020 were down 8.5% compared to December 2019, coming in at $1.1 billion.

In terms of physical paper format revenues during the month of December, in the Trade (Consumer Books) category, Hardback revenues were up 14.2%, coming in at $312.5 million; Paperbacks were up 2.4%, with $248.1 million in revenue; Mass Market was down 1.6% to $25.9 million; and Board Books were up 6.2%, with $16.7 million in revenue.

eBook revenues were up 18.4% for the month as compared to December of 2019 for a total of $89.7 million.  The Downloaded Audio format jumped 30.0% for December, coming in at $66.0 million in revenue. Physical Audio declined 6.7% coming in at $1.9 million. [1]

In this publishing world, what share of the market is claimed by Indie book sales? For Indie books, those published without ISBNs, the Amazon market share accounts for roughly 83% of US purchases.

What do these numbers mean when trying to decide whether to self-publish or attempt to go the traditional route?

In recent months, the traditional publishing industry has undergone a shrinkage. Where they once were the Big Five, they are now the Big Four: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Penguin Random House.

Literative.Com says: Authors who publish with them may still not have boatloads of money (depending on how many books they publish in a year), but they certainly have prestige. [2]

The fact is authors, either Indie or traditionally published, rarely earn enough in royalties to support their families. This is because publishers, large and small, don’t waste budgets promoting work by unknown authors. They spend their money on the few who have risen to the ranks of their guaranteed bestseller lists.

So, why should an author consider going traditional? Why go to the trouble of wooing an agent and trying to court a publisher?

The fact is, the traditional publishing industry offers many legitimate perks to those who get their foot in the door.

  1. Once you are signed with a reputable publisher, you have an editor who works with you personally. Most of the time, you can forge a good working relationship with this editor. If you go Indie, you must hire a copy editor, which is not cheap. (And should not be.)
  2. While they may not treat a new author the way they do Stephen King, traditional publishers will dedicate a small budget to marketing your work for its launch. It will be more money than you might be able to pony up as an Indie.
  3. Once you have proven yourself, traditional publishers can get your work into markets like Target, Walmart, Costco, airports, and grocery stores.

That is a huge thing, assuming your publisher considers your work worthy of such a commitment on their part. Their confidence will have to be earned. You must expect to find your work on the slow track for a while as the publisher tests the water and sees how well your work is received at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

  1. Once you have proven yourself, you will have a wider distribution, make far more sales. With those sales, your work will meet the criteria to be considered for industry honors and awards, which will help sell your books.
  2. There is an air of respectability, the cachet of being able to claim you’re traditionally published.

These are valid reasons for attempting to sell your work to the traditional publishing industry.

However, if you seek a legacy book contract, you must go through a gauntlet of gatekeepers. You must pass the assessments of literary agents, acquisition editors, editorial committees, and publishing-house CEOs.

These people all must answer to the international conglomerates that actually own the majority of American publishing companies.

This is why you are most likely to be stopped by a rejection letter. It’s not the quality of your work; it’s the publisher’s perception of what the reading market will purchase and what it means to the accountants, who in turn must answer to their shareholders.

As an Indie, you may not become a bestseller, but you’ll make more money on what you do sell. In most standard book contracts, royalty terms for authors are terrible, especially for eBook sales. Most eBooks are sold through online retailers like Amazon.

For the traditionally published author, if a publisher prices their eBook at $9.99, this is how the Amazon numbers break out (and remember, Amazon is still the Big Fish in the Publishing and Bookselling Pond):

  • Amazon takes 30% of the list price, leaving about $7.00 for the publisher, agent, and you to split.
  • The publisher will keep 75% of that $7.00, or $5.25.
  • The publisher will pay you 25% of that $7.00—just $1.75.
  • The author then must pay their agent a 15% commission—or 26 cents.
  • The author nets just $1.49 on each $9.99 eBook sale.

This is assuming the publisher honestly reports your sales and royalties. In my personal experience, while most small presses are honest, some small presses fail to pay royalties and can have an author’s work tied up in legal limbo for years. Investigate small presses before you sign with them. This is where knowing your legal rights and having a lawyer read your contract before you sign is a good idea.

If you self-publish your eBook at $4.99 or even $2.99, you stand to sell books and make a decent profit.

If you self-publish, you’ll get paid quickly. When a publisher accepts your book, he offers you an advance against sales. Advancements are often paid in installments stretched out over long periods and are tied directly to how well or how poorly your book is doing in real market time. Publishers report sales and pay royalties slowly, as royalty statements are usually issued semiannually. Your royalty checks arrive later, so you can’t rely on this income until you have become an established author in their world.

Conversely, most eBook distributors like Kindle Direct Publishing and Draft2Digital report your sales virtually in real-time. Best of all, they pay your royalties monthly, with just a sixty-day lag from the time sales began.

Finally, and from my point of view, most importantly, you retain all rights to your work. Legacy book contracts are a terrible danger zone for the author.

Most of us are not lawyers. The complexity of negotiating a contract can be confusing and intimidating.

You must hire a lawyer specializing in literary contracts or risk unwittingly signing away secondary and subsidiary rights to your own work forever.

Quote from the Authors Guild post of July 28, 2015:

Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades. [3]

Regardless of whether you choose the traditional route or not, you must do the work and absorb the initial costs of getting your name out there. You must find bookstores willing to host you for a signing, and you must get yourself to conventions and conferences.

You must still work your day job to feed your family either way.

Both paths are valid, and both have positive reasons for choosing that direction, as well as negatives.

How you go forward in publishing your first book is a serious decision. Choosing your publishing path deserves deep consideration of all the many pros and cons.


[1] AAP December 2020 Statshot Report © 2021Association of American Publishers https://publishers.org/news/aap-december-2020-statshot-report-publishing-industry-down-8-5-for-month-up-0-1-for-calendar-2020/  (Accessed March 16,2021)

[2] Literative.com Popular Books Published by the Big Four, by Jennifer Mendez © https://literative.com/writers-resources/popular-books-published-big-four/#:~:text=HarperCollins,%20Simon%20&%20Schuster,%20Hachette%20and%20Penguin%20Random,in%20a%20year),%20but%20they%20certainly%20have%20prestige. (Accessed March 16, 2021)

[3] A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever, The Authors Guild, © 2021 https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/a-publishing-contract-should-not-be-forever/, (Accessed March 16, 2021)

Image: Quill Pen, PD|by author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.


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Speculative Fiction: the Liberation of Ideas #amwriting

The overarching genre of speculative fiction can be broken into two main categories: science fiction and fantasy. Each of them is subdivided into many smaller sub-genres.

Consider what the words “speculative fiction” mean for our purposes.

Speculative = conjectural, suppositional, theoretical, hypothetical, academic, abstract, risky, hazardous, unsafe.

Fiction = novels, stories, creative writing, prose literature, narration, storytelling, romance, fable, imaginative writing, works of the imagination.

Put together, speculative fiction takes risky abstract ideas and expresses them through prose.

Those words give an author permission to leave the boundaries of our known world and go off to explore profound and meaningful concepts through a fictional environment.

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust qualifies as a speculative fiction novel that is a “literary fantasy.” This is because it is a fairytale told with beautiful prose in an unhurried fashion. Lean prose can be leisurely, poetic, and still pack a punch.

That is what true writing is all about, conveying a story in a crafted style with a voice that is uniquely that of the author.

Fairytales always offer us morals, and in Stardust, Gaiman shows us truth. He lays bare the lies we tell ourselves through the simple fairytale motif that real love is not gained through prodigious deeds. All through the narrative, we see the difference between desiring a person and loving them. By the end, we know that love requires truth if it is to survive.

Neil Gaiman trusts his readers. That is something we all need to do. Sometimes a story needs to emerge slowly and be told with beautiful, immersive prose, and we need to trust that our readers will enjoy it if we craft it well.

There is room in the bookstore for books with a less urgent story to tell, as well as those that ambush the reader and beat them bloody with non-stop action.

In 1953’s Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov took us into the future, a time when humanity had divided into two factions—spacers and earthmen. The Blurb:

Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to the Outer Worlds to help track down the killer. 

The relationship between Baley and his Spacer superiors, who distrusted all Earthmen, was strained from the start. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw.  Worst of all was that the “R” stood for robot—and his positronic partner was made in the image and likeness of the murder victim!

In 1953, racism was endemic, institutionalized. When Asimov wrote this novel, he took on bigotry and equality in a palatable way by showing us a civilization where androids are denied equality. To murder a human is a crime, but in this society, many otherwise good people doubt that robots are sentient beings with a right to life. Yet, in R. Daneel Olivaw, we meet a sentient being and feel compassion for him.

Isaac Asimov trusted his readers too.

We write because we have a story to tell and concepts to convey. To that end, every word we put to the final product must count if every idea is to be expressed.

Asimov showed us that tight, straightforward prose works.

Gaiman shows us that sometimes you can just have a little fun with it.

The genre of speculative fiction grew out of the the repression of the 1940s and 1950s, and has always been the literary field in which ideas that challenge the norm were sown. Radical concepts could be conveyed when couched fantasy and set in fictional worlds.

Dedicated authors are driven to learn the craft of writing, and it is a quest that can take a lifetime. It is a journey that involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Those are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture. The rest of the education is within each of us, an amalgamation of our life experiences.

Whenever I come across an author whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes me out of my comfort zone, I go back and reread it. The second time, I take notes. I study how they crafted their work, look at their word choices. I ask myself why it moved me.

I do the same with those whose work left me feeling robbed—where did they go wrong? What can I do to avoid this in my work?

I always learn something new from looking at how other authors combine and use words to form the moods and emotions that drive the plot. For me, writing is a journey with no finite destination other than the satisfaction of making small steps toward improvement.

Sometimes my work is good, other times not so much. But when I look back at my early work, I see improvement over time, which is all we can ever hope for.

Don’t lose heart, and don’t give up just because you think you can’t write like your favorite author. Write for yourself and write because you have something to say.

And don’t quit until you arrive at the place where you write “the end” on the last page.


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The Role of the Trickster #amwriting

My lead characters always have companions, and one of them is usually the trickster. In his famous book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, philosopher Joseph Campbell discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies.

Christopher Vogler takes Campbell’s concept of the monomyth and applies it to modern storytelling.  His 2007 book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, offers insights into character development and takes the mythical aspects of the hero’s journey and places it into pop culture, from movies to television, to books.

I am on my third copy of this book.

In my last post, I mentioned that tricksters:

  • Cross Boundaries
  • Break rules
  • Disrupt ordinary life
  • Charm us with their wit and charisma

Wikipedia tells us:

All cultures have tales of the trickster, a crafty creature who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. In some Greek myths, Hermes plays the trickster. He is the patron of thieves and the inventor of lying, a gift he passed on to Autolycus, who in turn passed it on to Odysseus. In Slavic folktales, the trickster and the culture hero are often combined. [1]

Often in mythology, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery.  When I need a thief, I automatically think of Loki—the consummate trickster of Norse mythology. Loki sometimes helps the gods and other times he is the villain. Loki is the god you love to hate.

Who is a good example of the trickster in modern mythology? Let’s look at the first three Star Wars movies, and the character of Han Solo.

This is a man who is slightly older than the rest of the cast and has been around long enough to become jaded. He’s contradictory, in that he doesn’t believe in the force but relies on his luck.

Always courageous but not stupid, Han Solo takes incredible chances, and usually comes out on top. He rarely learns anything from his failures.

Han Solo’s primary role is keep everyone grounded. No one gets to be a princess around him, not even an actual princess. He points out to our hero that a blaster is more reliable than the force, and has no problem cold-bloodedly murdering a bounty hunter in a crowded bar.

What I love about the character of Han Solo is the way he livens things up. He is the ray of sunshine in what is actually a dark tale.

Vogler describes the trickster as: someone who embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change. [2]

I think the word energy is key. The rogue’s job is to inject energy into the story.

The loveable rascal is an important component of any epic tale. In the book versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Pippin and Merry tend to go their own way sometimes and by doing so, they serve in the role of tricksters.

Quote from Wikipedia: The critic Tom Shippey notes that Tolkien uses the two hobbits and their low simple humour as foils for the much higher romance to which he was aspiring with the more heroic and kingly figures of Theoden, Denethor, and Aragorn: an unfamiliar and old-fashioned writing style that might otherwise have lost his readers entirely.

He notes that Pippin and Merry serve, too, as guides to introduce the reader to seeing the various non-human characters, letting the reader know that an ent looks an old tree stump or “almost like the figure of some gnarled old man”. The two apparently minor hobbits have another role, too, Shippey writes: it is to remain of good courage when even strong men start to doubt whether victory is possible, as when Pippin comforts the soldier of Gondor, Beregond, as the hordes of Mordor approach Minas Tirith. [3]

The trickster brings the essence of fallible humanity to a group of characters that can be otherwise too perfect. Their influence on the hero also offers us moments of hilarity and pathos.

The character who plays the trickster guides us through the darker aspects of a story with their wit and ironic humor. Thanks to them, the story is not quite so frightening, even when things are really bad.

The trickster sometimes emerges in my work, but I don’t always recognize them until my reading posse gets my manuscript. They will point out areas where I could use this character to better show certain aspects of the action.

I highly recommend The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. It is one of the foundation books in my reference library, and I refer back to it often, especially in the early stages of a manuscript.

Hero, villain, mentor, or trickster—knowing what archetype a character embodies helps me identify their potential role within the story.

Credits and Attributions:

Star Wars movie poster © 1977 Lucasfilm Ltd., via Wikimedia Commons. Production company: Lucasfilm Ltd. Distributed by 20th Century Fox Release date May 25, 1977 (United States) Fair Use.

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Trickster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trickster&oldid=811022016 (accessed December 5, 2017).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Writer%27s_Journey:_Mythic_Structure_for_Writers&oldid=804454608  (accessed December 5, 2017).

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Pippin Took,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pippin_Took&oldid=1010711687 (accessed March 9, 2021).


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