Tag Archives: writing tips

Sometimes all you need is a plan.

On-WritingI’ve been having trouble getting going on a book… getting stuck – procrastinating – doing other things – napping – getting stuck again… you get the picture. So today I revisited notes I took while reading Stephen King’s great book On Writing.

He says that the first draft of a book should take no more than three months. He aims for ten pages a day, or 2,000 words. Some days he’s done by 11:30 am, other days it can take him until 1:30. And all he needs is a “serene atmosphere”.

So my atmosphere here is pretty serene, ridiculously serene even. I should have no excuses!

I don’t get to write every day – I’ve got a lot of projects on the go right now – but by keeping my goals humble (1,000 words per working day, 3 or 4 days a week) I hope to have the first draft of a sequel to Eldritch Manor done by the end of January. Of course I also have going for me the fact that a YA novel is way shorter than one of King’s books!

I also have as a secret weapon an Outline, one I’ve been pondering and building on for a year or more. That’s enough time to percolate… now I’m going to get to work!

After the first draft is done, he recommends setting it aside for six weeks and not looking at it or talking about it. Once you’re thinking of new projects and immersed in other things, then it’s time to pull it out, get reacquainted, and get back to work on it.*

I love having a plan! (Today’s 1,000 words – check!)

* Stephen King, On Writing (New York: Scribner, 2000), pp. 154, 211-212.

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Writing Club: Killer Openings Part 1

Photo 2013-10-07 4 45 46 PM

5-minute Prompt: GRANDMOTHER

(5-minute, stream-of-consciousness exercise, write whatever pops into your brain on the topic. Don’t bother with sentences, paragraphs, or punctuation. Just write.)

For this one you can write about your own grandmother(s) or grandmothers from movies or books. What do you think of when you think “grandmother”? Continue reading

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Some Advice Regarding Villains

I just read a good article about creating effective villains here – “5 Characteristics of an Epic Villain” by Antonio del Drago, who is right on the money when he says Darth Vader is a fantastic example of an Epic Villain.

His advice and 5 characteristics are good, but it really depends on the style of your piece how powerful and brilliant you want to make your villain. There is a whole continuum available here, from the flawed/foolish/not-so-bright/extremely human baddie to the all-powerful/crazily dangerous/nearly-unbeatable villain. Which fits the best in your world?

A real gem to keep in mind is this, from the comments: Remember that the villain is the hero of his own story.

Though the author says you shouldn’t create dumb villains who make foolish mistakes, don’t forget that if you’re writing comedy, or for very young children, this is actually the perfect villain to have. You don’t want to scare wee ones right out of their socks, and allowing them to feel a little superior to the bad guy will help them to enjoy the story. (Remember King John in the old Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood, who cried for ‘mama’ and sucked his thumb? For preschoolers that is comedy gold!) The bottom line: know your world/genre, and know your audience!


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Writing Club: Where do story ideas come from?

IMG_2611Another meeting of the Writing Club has come and gone. We’re still working out who’s coming and when, but we seem to be settling in… Here’s what happened:

5-minute Prompt:  MY HOUSE

(5-minute, stream-of-consciousness exercise, write whatever pops into your brain on the topic. Don’t bother with sentences, paragraphs, or punctuation. Just write.)

Continue reading

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Writing Club: And so we begin…


We had an excellent first meeting at the library on Monday. Having a room full of energized, motivated writers was a lot of fun. (And exhausting!)

I’d like to share some of what we talk about at these gatherings. (I’ll group them in the category “Writing Club” for easy reference.) This week we began with introductions, then got right down to work —

5-minute Prompt: WATER

This is a 5-minute, stream-of-consciousness exercise, write whatever pops into your brain on the topic of water. Don’t bother with sentences, paragraphs, or punctuation. Just write.

Continue reading

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Writing Club starts today!

Just prepping for this afternoon – my first afterschool Writing Club meeting. Seems to be a fair amount of interest out there, I’m hoping for a good turnout.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, and you are in the 10-14 age range, join us: Salt Spring Public Library at 3:45, in the Teen Room

If you’re not in the neighbourhood, I’ll be sharing some of our exercises and topics on this blog as we go.

And for those of you asking, yes, I’m starting to think about a workshop of some kind for adults too!

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What Would Hitchcock Do?

alfred_hitchcockThis is quite a good look at the mechanics of scriptwriting and how the great Alfred Hitchcock put together his immensely popular thrillers.

A meticulous craftsman, Hitchcock made movies that are textbooks on the art of effective visual storytelling.

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That Devil Exposition

hero_art1Exposition is a necessary evil. Exposition is that part of your story that introduces background information to your audience, for example the setting, the characters’ back stories, or any events prior to the start of your story that your reader needs to know. The devilishly difficult part is finding a way to present the information without being obtrusive, awkward, annoying, obvious, boring, or all of the above.

And don’t just think you can just dump it into the dialogue, either, unless you don’t care that your characters sound robotic or brain-dead. (“Remind me what the plan is again?” or “Your half-sister from your mother’s second marriage is at the door.” or “You’ve hated this place ever since you arrived, when was it? Eight years ago?”)

Filmmakers have a huge advantage in the exposition game, as they have more senses at their beck and call: visuals, sound effects and music in addition to narration and dialogue. But the need to communicate a lot of things right off the bat is still a challenge. How can you impart a lot of details quickly and effectively, without hampering the momentum of the story? Here is how a master does it; take a look at the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear WindowContinue reading

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The Shape of Stories

My week of teaching Writing Camp is at an end and I’m tired! It was a lot of fun but that much brain work makes me want to sleep for a week.

One of the topics we covered was The Shape of Stories and story graphs. Here’s a terrific talk by the great Kurt Vonnegut on the subject.

Now whether you chart your plot with a ‘happiness’ X-axis or an ‘action’ X-axis, it’s important to give some thought to the shape of your story.

Here’s the classic version of the plot graph, with Excitement/Action replacing Happiness on the vertical axis:


In a 3-act structure, Act I would end at the top of that first hillock, and Act II would end in the last valley before the rise to the climax. Of course there’s no limit to how many roller coaster dips there are along the way, but you certainly want to save the highest point for the climax of your story.

If you are working on a story right now, how would it look as an Action or Happiness Graph?

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Writing Detective Stories: Remember the Fans!

dare_devil_detective_stories_194201Here’s an interesting post entitled 20 Rules for Writing Detective Stories by S.S. Van Dine (found on the website Socialpolitan: Fiction Writing Craft). They are useful and interesting rules, but the most important lesson to be learned from them is this:

When writing genre fiction of any kind, keep in mind the opinions, likes and dislikes of the Rabid Fans of your genre. I’m not saying you have to cater to them necessarily, but if you’re looking for popularity and love from the crowd who follow your genre, you have to know what they like!

Always remember there are fans out there who take their Genre very, very seriously. As a writer you may or may not be as obsessive on the topic as they are, but you should at least listen to them. A bit.

These rules are also a healthy reminder not to take the easy way out when faced with a plot problem. Being even a little lazy when concocting your story can leave your readers feeling totally ripped off.

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