So many novices offer critiques to other novices about form and style. And often they both miss the fact that fiction isn’t, and shouldn’t be gone about as, essay writing.

They are two different animals.

I read a long time ago that what’s going on while characters say things is just as good writing as using a tag to tell the reader how something was said.

Here’s an example of what I mean. This excerpt below shows a school counselor taking to a girl who’s had a bit of a meltdown in welding class.

Read the rest of this entry »

Before we begin today’s post:

There are still a few opening left for this Post-NaNo offer for coaching and edit work.

So contact me for your January 2013 re-writing help.


Now, about writing in a newer way to know your characters better.

Novices are encouraged to build Character Templates to get to know their characters better.These tools help novices get a grip on the facts about who they are writing about.

They help a lot, but they aren’t the end-all of knowing your character, because lot of times when you are working with a character template, you’re basically looking at the story-facts about them.


Nickname, if any
(if so, explain its origin – e.g. who created it?):
Does s/he like the nickname?
Birth date:
Place of birth:
Ethnic background:
Degree of religious practice
(e.g. orthodox, casual, lapsed):
Current address:
Does s/he rent or own?
Brief description of home
(apartment, house, trailer, etc.):

While this type of knowledge about your character might help you know who they are. Can it help you see them in action? Does it help you to see them in scenes that tell a story?

Do you think that after beginning with templates there’s more to figure out?

Consider this new way of knowing your characters to take you deeper into their lives. I made this up a long time ago, it’s cool Because no 2 lists are ever the same.

It works like this:

Some of the best writing uses the character, with her actions and her reactions, her motivations, and her emotions to tell a tale.  Unless the story-facts on a Character template are an integral part of the story, where can these story-facts take us, your reader? How do they story-facts about character become the scenes you are building?

All those template answers can be used but as ‘story-facts’, but they’re not always what gets the story going.

So, once you finish with character templates, consider building yourself a Question template: questions about your character’s “what-ifs?”– the things that are going to get you from one scene to the next. The things that will brng something concrete to your story telling

Here’s some samples “What if?” questions to get your scenes going:
1. What if this character who never cries is suddenly faced with a situation where tears come, What will she do?
2. What if this character knows she’s been awful but can’t stop herself, how would she feel about not stopping, knowing she’s wrong?
3. What if this character loves somebody – how can she show it never using words?
4. What if this character has stood up for herself, but because of it all hell’s broken loose– How would she now react to this new dire situation?

You can create as many of these as you can figure out.
You can also build them for writing buddy and each of you share each others’ list so that you’re not writing from your own “what-ifs?”.

So, What actions or reactions would your characters have to these situations:

Someone refused to make any more eye-contact.

A female giggles high, the way some ladies’ do.

While walking on a city street, the new smell wafts up from an open car window.

A dog trots up and sniffs at a character’s leg.

A waiter drops a coffee pot or tray.

The smell of chili cheese fries invades a space.

The radio/TV suddenly dies, and the room is silent.

Where do you think this kind of character template will take your story?
Hope these helps someone, somewhere.

As I’ve said in the Nanowrimo threads, plenty of times in plenty of places, I’m a pantser…not a plotter.

Cat at laptop, writing fiction

Mitten’s 2012 NaNo effort


I’m working without an outline and very little pre-planning.

Essentially, in order to gear up for 2012 Nanowrimo, I just started talking to myself. Well actually, talking to myself and listening.

Basically, it went like this:

“So, what you want to write about?”

Me: “People. I think this should be character driven.”

“Okay. How many people do you want be writing about?”

Me: “Three’s a nice uncomfortable number let’s do 3.”

“3. Good, so um, how many men, how many women?”

Me: “That’s ah, one woman, older, and then, uh, a guy and another woman, yeah.”

“This isn’t, ah, going be like a Lifetime movie triangle thing is?”

Me: “I beg your pardon?”

“Just kidding, ha ha h– oww! You punch hard. So tell me about the lady, older?”

Me: “Let’s make her a writer. Older than the guy… [Spoilers].”

“Okay, I can accept that in a non-Lifetime-movie, elevated kind of way. And the guy? How about him?”

Me:  “He’s some kind of editor, or agent, maybe… [ more Spoilers].”

“And this is nothing like a Lifetime movie?”

Me:  “Oh ye of little faith.”

“Fine. So what’s going on with the young lady?”

Me:  “Ah! Here’s where it gets good, see,…[Even better Spoilers]…

At this point I open up Scrivener, and try to get down a few ideas of how I want all this to look. It’s pretty basic. I don’t actually write plot points– that stuff stays in my head fermenting. It’s the only way to get that yeasty batch of ideas to rise.

I firmly resist putting them down until they just come spilling over the edge of the bowl. Nearly full-formed in the struggle to be noticed.

So, What I get down in Scrivener, are craft elements. Here are a few of my cards so you can see what I’m talking about.

I run a short Q/A card to remind myself quickly about what I eed to keep in mind.

But then I write out a longer version of it too, with examples of what I mean – for the moments I’m too weary to figure out my own shorthand notes:

Scrivener's Corkboard/ index card view As you can see, I also set up the Chapter cards  with the same info–

so each one will help me keep pace on the craft elements the story requires.



I don’t really need precise outlining.

For me, the ideas really will never stop coming. I’m never paranoid that I’ll run out of them. What does worry me from time to time is that I’ll forget that better writing doesn’t come accidentally. That there is a craft behind it. And I keep reminding myself about those craft elements.

The gift of storytelling is there, I was born with that. It’s the skill of writing stories that preoccupies me the most, for many of us this has to be learned.  And I learn and re-learn that each and every time I start up, edit, refine, and send out something.

Let’s hear from you, how are you pantsing it this November?

NaNo '12 ParticipantAs a run up to National Novel Writing Month for 2012,  we’ve been talking to writer, Samuel Snoek-Brown, my guest for the past three weeks. He wrote a short story that really caught me, and we’ve been deconstructing it and discussing it’s structure.

I seriously recommend novice writers try doing this with work they like. It’s a great way to teach yourself about what it is that goes into a story.

So first, take a look at his short story, Lightning My Pilot.

Then, if you haven’t yet, see our talk over the past two weeks:

Writers Discussing Writing – pt I

Writers Discussing Writing – pt II

I really didn’t expect us to have that much to discuss, but you know writers… especially deadly serious ones. Here it is…

Blog three of three

EJR: As we left off last time: talking about short stories and breaking them down to their beginning, middle, and end. And then into their various scenes. So I can identify what’s been going on craft wise­– What’s the beginning, middle, and end here in this piece?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: A beginning, a middle, and an end, right. Well, if I was breaking by scene, here in this story– there happen to be five scenes here, and if we take that down to less scenes? Humm. We might skip any overt exposition and jump right into the rising action, or we might eschew resolution altogether.

EJR:  So skip exposition, and we’d jump in at rising action. And skip the resolution. Two down to three. Cool. I never saw it from that view before. How simple can you get?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: My story feels a lot more traditional, though. However compressed it is, that first section is explicitly expositional: the mother is introducing the subject matter and the main problem of the story: the clouds, and how to explain them to her son, which, of course, is part of a larger question of how to explain the world to her son.

EJR:  Yes, I can see how you went for 5 but I like that you did it in such a short manner. Exposition didn’t seem like exposition. It felt like I was seeing a story, not a writer telling us a story. No wasted energy in this piece.  Short but complicated I might point out.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. because then the second section is all about the “fighting” that clouds do during a storm, and it complicates the story she was telling her son about the clouds. This is also where I introduced the absent soldier father (is he still at war? did he die in the war?), so it’s complicating the story she’s trying to tell her son about the world, too.

EJR: Keep going. I like talking writing and using the better terms for it all.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Well… I’m not so sure that the climax comes in the third section. In a way, I realize, looking at it now, that the third section — which is about the darker implications of the “war” in the sky as well as the real wars in our world — is really a further complication of the story. It’s more rising action.

Even the fourth section, where the mother/son mythology about the clouds slips out into the real world, in the kid’s classroom, isn’t really the climax, although it does re-reference the father and the sacrifices he’s made, the world the kid and his mother are living in.

EJR:  So you set out for a structure then allowed yourself to mix it up as it came to you. Great. Sometimes the structure is only found after the piece is written. Right?

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint a traditional climax, because there isn’t really any external antagonist or external conflict that will come to a head. The only real conflict is between the mythology this mother is building with her son and the real world that her son has to plug this story into. If there’s an antagonist, it’s the mother, but she’s also the one driving the story, both the one we’re reading and the one she’s telling her son.

EJR:  Good to bring up traditional antagonists. They’re not always so cut and dried in the better-written pieces. That can be all for the good.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: That fourth section, though, is where the story begins to get away from her, where her son begins to take over, and in that way it could serve as a kind of climax that leads to the confrontation with the homeless god-admiral in the end.

But if I had to point to the climax, I’d say it’s that confrontation with the homeless man. It’s that moment where mother and son, side by side, have to find a way to reconcile the story she’s been telling her son with the real world. It’s the moment when the mother comes ->this<- close to having to tell her son the truth. The REAL truth.

EJR:  So let me repeat from your ideas so far: “The falling action that results from that happens extremely fast: it’s the time it takes to walk her son back to their car. It covers one sentence. Maybe two or three, if you include the final question her son asks and the mother’s consideration of a response.”

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Yes, This is a very shallow triangle, if you look at it graphically. That’s three whole sections — in my Word document, that’s five out of seven pages — devoted to rising action, and then BAM, in the course of a few very short paragraphs, the action falls and the story wraps up.

EJR:  What a ride! Visually I think I can see what you’re getting to. My readers are going to love this.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The way I see the story, that first scene, in the car where the mother first explains the god-ships, is clearly the setup.

I’ve always preferred to view the beginning/middle/end model as an overlay of the three-act  narrative, so that the beginning of a story is its setup, the middle consists of confrontation, and the end presents a resolution. But of the five scenes in the story, that last one is by far the longest. Each of the first four scenes is roughly a page long, but the last one is three pages all by itself.

EJR:   And anyone can take a story and rip it apart like this to find how it was done. And them doing so can create a frame to practice on. A very low-risk activity for beginners who need those training-wheels.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Wait! There’s more!

EJR:   Laughs. Go for it!

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The next two scenes are about warfare in the clouds — storms and rain. That’s the first part of the complication, and it’s abrupt and violent. The fourth scene is more extended, dealing in a longer time span, and it’s returning to exposition in a way. But with the illustration of warfare in the boy’s drawings, and the reference to the father’s military photo and insignia on the living room, it’s clearly a part of the middle section. It’s heading toward resolution (the mother is siding with her son against a world that fails to understand or accept their mythology), but it isn’t quite there yet.

The resolution — the mother and son successfully bringing their worldview to an outsider — occurs in that long final scene at the park.

All of this together, rising action, complication, resolution, means that we have a one-page beginning, a three-page middle, and the three-page ending.

EJR:   Brilliant. I can’t thank you enough. This made my day. I hope the readers who are just beginning to be deadly serious about stories are feeling the same. Thank you so much.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Thanks, EJ — I enjoyed our conversation tremendously, and I’m looking forward to sharing your blog with loads of people!  Keep being awesome.

Work Hard Quote



Spent late last night coming up with a skeleton for my expected 20 chapters for November 2012 NaNoWriMo’s Literary Fiction effort. I’m going for 80K.

So I’m planning on writing up some Scrivener cards like this:

Which level of a five-part structure is this scene, chapter or character at?

  • Inciting incident,
  • rising complication,
  • crisis,
  • climax, or
  • resolution.

This goes for the character’s arc too, not just the story’s arc. So maybe there will be more like three cards here:

  • scene,
  • chapter,
  • character(s).

Subtext info
I figure each chapter will need some sub-textual imperative – a reason why folks are doing what they are doing – but that reason will go unspoken, by narration or in dialogue, Still, it’ll be understood by the reader.
So, I’ll want to know it to write towards it. There’ll be its own card to track that

This current action will lead to…
How does this action at the scene or chapter’s end lead to the next reaction by a character?
I figure each action should have a good strong reaction to keep the plot moving forward. Like knowing how a pool shot will move the ball it hits.
This will be good for motivations and reactions from

  • one character to another,
  • a character to self, or
  • a character to circumstances.

So that’s my plan, not really an outline,
more like a journal of my NaNo journey as I’m writing it.

I think all this will keep the background concerns of writing a good, strongly structured Novel on notes, while I’m busy clicking and clacking on that higher plane of immediate creating.


Sense Memories and Your Writing

August's Winner's Badge

August’s Winner’s Badge

I finished my Camp NaNoWrMo August event with 55,400+ words written. It was a blast. And I think I took my writing to a few new places I hadn’t tried for before.

It was a great time, even though it happened alongside a summer Teaching Practicum and the delivering of my newest Manuscript to my Publisher, Inspired Quill.

Life is what happens while we’re busy making plans.  I won’t have changes a minute of the summer. it was full of creativity and  risks I’m so glad to have try.

One thing I found was this new way for attacking my writing: Deconstruction as a way in to you own work.

It really turned this August writing effort into something  unexpected. That new method for me, coupled with the normal way I work brought up some much deeper and I think, more profound

My normal method of writing works something like this:

  • I think about stuff for a while… then,
  • I begin to remember things: incidents, voices, images, opportunities (taken & lost)
  • I start taking notes
  • I ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions
  • I twist things beyond recognition
  • I plan what I’ll write
  • I start writing
  • I stray way afar from my original plans
  • I stick to and enhance some of my original plans
  • I think about upcoming edits I’ll be doing once my first draft is done
  • I manage to finish a full first draft.
  • I think about stuff for a while…

Today, we’ll just review that second item, Remembering Things.  For me it works like this:

I cast my mind back and remember:

a time I was at a mini-writer’s conference (an informal, 3-day weekend kind of get together), and after some ribbing from a fellow writer, bantering that got a bit too close to the bone in its teasing tone, I pointed a finger, leaned into the table we sat around, and heard myself saying, low: Just because I’m smitten with you doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass.’

 That is a sense memory.

There are two things I might do with this memory in my fiction writing.

I could take the ‘Writing What You Know’ road, and excavate this life-moment. Creating a thinly disguised scene that takes nearly all of its content from the actual event in my life.

There’s nothing wrong with writing like this. But frankly, I really don’t think my life experiences are al that riveting. For me, when it comes to writing, sticking too closely to reality is a bore.

So I tend to take the other path: The ‘Using What You Know in Your Writing’ road.

I spend some time thinking a bit on that line:  ‘Just because I’m smitten with you doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass.’

Then, I start taking notes. They are usually ‘What if?’ types of notes.

What if this was said one gay guy to another?

What if these two guys were 18 or 19 at the most?

What if one of the guys was the big brother of a Main Character?

What if she overheard this line, and it drove her to some type of action?

What if she had a younger brother too, who was getting into drugs?

What if these three kids were alone for some reason one summer?

What if the Mom in this piece was sharp-tongued and a bit flawed?

What if the middle sister in this story hated that she was the same way?

What if ….?

For me, this list of writing possibilities will beat, hands down, any real-based story I can cull from my actual life.

True, I’m not a gay guy. I’m no longer 18. I was never a middle sister, between two brothers. There were seven siblings in my family, not three. Etc. etc.

But that butt kicking phrase is very real. I can use it, in my writing, because I know it.

Deciding to take this path, rather than the one that recounts a 3-day weekend with fellow writers, is a choice I’ve made.

Anchoring a story upon a single remembered phrase is another.

Twisting the origin and use of the line is another choice.

NOT  using the line for the Main Character is something you may not have thought to do, so that’s another choice it’s possible to make, if you choose this method.

Using your sense memories in this not-literally manner, the possibilities in your writing are as endless as you allow them to be.

What do you do with your sense memories?

Post a comment and let’s get a discussion going. I’d love to hear from some writers on this.


Camp NaNoWriMo Participant badge

Camp NaNoWriMo Participant badge

Advice for novices eager to write fiction

Getting going writing isn’t always a fun thing you’re doing. Sometimes there’re stuff that stops you.  Outward or inward things, either or, they create a halting place that seems likely to keep you at a stand-still.

Sometimes you can use a bit of help. When this problem comes up for me, I turn to folks who’ve already managed to get something down on the page that’s wonderful (in my eyes anyway).

I look to writers I admire, envy, and those I re-read, because I love their work.

So to get me going for the August Camp NaNoWriMo event, I took a great short story that I love and deconstructed it to see what it was made of.

It ended up that the story totaled 11 scenes. The longest scene was 51 lines long, the shortest– 5 lines.



The whole story was about 2,500 words in length, if we go by the idea that each line of text holds approximately 10 words when you average out the whole piece.

So that’s 11 full-on scenes crafted from 250 lines of text.

That’s some sharp, clean writing. The moment I read it, for me, it became the best story ever.

The type of things I made notes on where mostly questions like these five here:

  • What’s the difference from the beginning of the scene to the end of it?
  • What’s the emotion/motivation/ or reaction of this scene?
  • How did this scene lead to the next one?
  • How did this symbol work in telling the story here?
  • What wasn’t said here at all, but I got it anyway? How’d they do that?

Then I took my investigation on to a new round of deconstruction and I asked things a bit more concrete, having to do more with structure work, the mechanics of things. I moved though the story scene by scene:

Scene one: Does this scene intro the character alone, or the character and their problem? What else, (other element) is introduced here?

Scene two: How many lines are used for far backstory? How many lines for closer backstory?  Out of the full 51 lines what’s the ratio of the present/far backstory/ and closer backstory?

And for scene three I noted: What will I need to do to get a scene this powerful, with this much subtext, into 13 lines of prose?

I don’t make notes of what actually happened in the story – that stuff belongs to the author, not me. I’d be a thief taking that with me.

It’s the questions the story brings up, in my excavation of its secrets, that I want, Not the writer’s words or their plot, or character’s roles with each other. Taking any of that is outright plagiarism.

I continue on with my dissection of this great story, dismantling it and making notes of my discoveries, until I have a page or two about how to write better than I write now.

Then I turn to my own characters,  I sit down to write. I review my notes,  ask these folks who are living in my own mind some of my questions. And together we try writing something that’s better than what I write now.

That’s all mine.

Happy August Nano (and other) writers.

Happy Writing.


Epic’s avatar on NaNoWriMo


 A teen pen’s an epic writing pep-talk to herself, and us all.





I’m an avid NaNoWriMo’er, have been since 2001, and I’ve made many acquaintances on that site. Some who I return to year after year for more support and camaraderie in my (and their) writing.

The questions about craft run though most every thread in their forums and you can learn a lot if you are a novice and not sure how to get a grip on your writing.

Just recently I came across a fellow-Nano’er who’d posted something I thought was quite interesting and I asked if she’d care to be a guest poster to my blog.

Epic, as her user name shows, is just that. Here’s a sample of her work from the 2011 event.

She’s a teen and she’s participated in the 2011 November event as well as this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo in June and August.

It’s the wonderful post she made yesterday that brings her to my blog.

Epic’s cogent take on writing via her insights from a found volume of The Art of War just has to be shared, So here it is:

Soooooooo… Pep talk time! (Yes, this is written almost entirely for me. I write myself pep talks and then they’re all awesome-ish and I throw them out for the rest of yous)

I found this awesome website of free books and music ( and the suggestion for books was The Art Of War. Having never read it, I wandered over.

The first thing that book says? “Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”

Hold up. That sounds exactly like any sort of writing. Can you imagine what will come down on a page if you bottle up that inner editor, tell yourself “I can write awesomely, even just for today. Tomorrow I can suck again, but today I am going to write and write well.” Bonus points: It’s never tomorrow. It’s always today. See what I did there? Moving right along.

If we could all just get ourselves to the point where we decide that we’re going to spend one hour writing, playing piano, knitting, sketching, whatever, and telling ourselves it’s good, that it’s good for something done by us at the very least, can you imagine what would show up? Now, we might not be the next Stephen King, the next Art Tatum, the next Da Vinci, but want to know their secret?


So seeing as Sun Tzu was pretty awesome already, I kept reading. The next thing I found was, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Hold up. The more I take a chance, the more chances will present themselves? Well, quite frankly, yes. Think about it. A MC is walking through the woods, and suddenly, there’s a house on the left. They can keep walking, or seize the opportunity and walk into the house. The first way, nothing happens. The second way, anything can. Maybe they just discovered the secret corporation trying to rule the world, the home of a past lover, the home of a future lover… anything.

At this point, Sun Tzu sounds pretty smart. And then he said something that blew my mind.

“To find victory, you have to believe in yourself.”

Did you get that?

To win (whether the war, or just finish the first draft of a novel) you have to believe in yourself. It isn’t going to happen if you say you can’t. It just won’t. If you tell yourself you can, if you have it determined that you are going to (“The victorious man wins and then enters battle. The defeated man enters battle and seeks a win.”) YOU WILL WIN. There’s no maybe here. There’s no “see appendix A for circumstances where this is untrue.”

Nope. You will win.

So. What did we learn?

-We all start out badly. Tell yourself that for the next hour you are going to write well, and you will.
-Seize the opportunities presented to you and more will appear.
-Believe in yourself and you will win.