10 tips for a successful live reading

10 tips for a successful live reading

At last! A real live poetry reading! Gwynn’s local Indie Book Seller, Let’s Talk Books in Cobourg, Ontario is kicking off an in-person Fall Reading Series beginning this coming Wednesday, September 15, and she’s on the bill with her new poetry book Ten of Diamonds.

She’s thrilled with this opportunity to put her work out there. It’s a gift, she says, and now is not the time to be a shy wallflower. Here are 10 tips for a successful reading, not just poetry, but any literary form:

  1. Find out all the practical details about the event well in advance. Do you know when you are expected to arrive? Do you have to supply your books for sale or is that being handled? Where can you park? Can you get a drink or snack there or nearby or should you bring your own? Who else is reading? Will there be questions from the audience? Will there be a signing table? How long are you expected to read?
  2. Research the demographic. Find out who else is reading and what kind of audience is expected. Researching your fellow readers will arm you in pre- and post-event chit chat to sound informed and experienced. Knowing your “competition” helps you choose work to read that is different and makes you stand out (in a good way), and that suits your audience.  
  3. Advertise the event through your own platforms and networks. Ask friends and colleagues to spread the word. The more marketing you do in your circles and their extended circles, the greater chance of an audience that will buy YOUR book and cheer YOU on.
  4. Remember a reading is entertainment. Yes, you want to sell books. Yes, you may be a wonderful poet/writer, but your primary job is to entertain, to intrigue, to wow, to leave the listeners energized and wanting more……of you and your book. Don’t get maudlin or depressing or worst of all – boring!
  5. Choose your reading piece wisely. Switch it up; show your range or your signature or why you are different. Remember your audience is listening only and auditory skills are not the general public’s greatest strength. Long pieces requiring focused listening will demand too much of your crowd. Go for shorter pieces and variety. Not only will that help with attention span, but if one excerpt/poem doesn’t appeal to a listener, maybe the next one will. Reading a novel excerpt out of context without set-up will confuse and alienate. Poetry that relies on clever line breaks or special formatting on the page will fail. Remember #4 above. Entertain. Keep it light, funny, uplifting, mysterious. Paint word pictures rather than engage in intellectual whah-whah-whah.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Many writers are introverts; the very idea of speaking in front of a group is terrifying. And the only way through that is to practice and prepare. Read your piece/s out loud. Do it often. Print your pages in a large easily readable font. Don’t just practice the way you will read, but the way you will stand. Planting two feet slightly apart is best. Practice relaxing your shoulders; practice looking up to make eye-contact between lines. Practice speaking your intros without having to read them. Practice staying within the allotted time.
  7. Stay within your time limit. Don’t overstay your welcome. Remember that your time limit includes any introductions you make about your piece. Keep the intro short, giving just enough context for the listener to enjoy the excerpt. Not every piece needs an intro; sometimes a simple, “I’m reading from Chapter 2 where we first meet Olga” or “This poem was inspired by my grandfather who was a lumberjack” will do. 
  8. Organize your reading pages. You never know what the lighting situation will be or if you’ll have a podium to support you. Mark the pages in your book with Post-its for easy finding or better yet have your reading printed on separate pages in a large font. Put your reading papers in order in a folder so you don’t fumble about or waste precious reading time shuffling for them. On the radio or outdoors, put individual pages in plastic sleeves so they don’t rustle or flap in the wind. Make sure you can handle and support them easily if there is no podium.
  9. Don’t be a pain to the organizers. Be prepared to fit in with what they have planned. Be self-sufficient. Bring an extra copy of your bio in case. Bring your own pen for signings. Have some pleasant signing phrases ready to use to help the signing process to move along. Have extra copies of your book available in your trunk in case. Help with set-up or take down if needed. Always say THANK YOU.
  10. Make a good impression. Pay attention to the image you project right from the way you dress, to the way you engage with others, to the “smile” in your eyes. Anticipate what people might ask you and prepare some friendly engaging answers. Arrive early and be prepared to stay late if the signing lines are moving slowly, or patrons want to chat. Remember always you are selling: yourself, your work, this book and the next book. When you get up to read, project confidence: read slowly and clearly and make eye-contact whenever you can.

Gwynn’s poetry chapbook is available at Let’s Talk Books bookstore in Cobourg. “In a series of 10 constraint poems, this beautifully designed chapbook explores human frailties and strengths with vivid imagery and a skilled understanding of form.”

10 Free Apps for Writers

10 Free Apps for Writers

Last week’s post There’s an App for That may have been a fun tongue-in-cheek take on writing apps, but it got us thinking about what was out there for writers. The short answer is “way too many apps and programs to even scratch the surface in one blog”, but let’s start with 10 apps that are free.

Many great programs and apps like Scrivener and iAWriter have free trial periods, but the ones listed below are entirely free. Please note, that we are not endorsing or recommending here, just passing along what we have discovered is out there. Have fun trying them out.

1. yWriter

Designed for Windows in a similar vein to Scrivener, yWriter breaks your novel into scenes rather than chapters. You can track your progress using a storyboard, daily word counts and the status (written/to-be-written/in progress) of your scenes.

2. Reedsy Book Editor

This app is for formatting your book for publication. Drag and drop chapters, insert images, and create front and back matter. Then export it as a file that can be uploaded to any ebook retailer or print-on-demand supplier.

3. Grammarly

Useful for writers who want to proof short pieces, it is more than a standard spelling and grammar checker. It also provides a label and detailed reason for each correction, so you can learn how to avoid that mistake. You can also set audience, formality level, and tone (confident, urgent, etc.) and analyze for clarity, engagement, and delivery.

4. Hemingway

This app is free if used online. Like its namesake, Hemingway is designed to keep things short and sweet. This editing app gives feedback on sentence length, word usage, reading level, passive voice, and adverbs using different-coloured highlights.

5. Readable

Like Hemingway, Readable’s focus is on plain language, but is also useful for text analysis. This app keeps tabs on estimated reading times and scores on multiple readability scales such as Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog.

6. NaturalReader

We always recommend reading work aloud to catch awkward bits and missing words etc., but sometimes your eyes and brain conspire to read what isn’t there. This text-to-speech app will read it for you. You can choose reading speed and a voice you like and follow along with the text. You can pause, rewind, and fast-forward too.

7. Airstory

Airstory combines the research, outlining and writing process with its divided screen. On one side, you add cards containing notes, references and ideas. On the other, a bulleted outline of your project. Great for essays and non-fiction or historical fiction.

8. OneLook

Free online, OneLook is a collection of dictionaries—over 30 orthographic, linguistic, explanatory, and other anthologies. It also has a reverse dictionary and a synonyms feature where you look up by describing a definition.

9. FocusWriter

Exactly as the name suggests this app’s interface looks like a sheet of paper, and lacking any fancy formatting options or research notes to distract you, you have no choice but to write. You can still track progress and set a timer, but not much else to derail a squirrel brain.

10. Portent’s Content Idea Generator

This app asks you to define the main subject of your article (even one word is enough), and then supplies headline and content suggestions. Great for bloggers.

10 Ways To Use Personal Papers

10 Ways To Use Personal Papers

Paper is the writer’s friend, especially when you have a great idea in a restaurant and want to scribble down the main points but your cell phone is dead and your laptop is back at home and the idea is losing its thread and you’re desperate…ah-ha! The crumpled napkin from your lunch sits next to your pen and…you create a masterpiece outline. Too bad it fell out of your pocket as you left the restaurant. See #10 on what might become of your great idea.

There are all kinds of personal papers just waiting for writers to mine the gold found within. For July’s 10 on the 10th, here’s 10 takes on what you might discover.

1.   Excerpts from diaries and journals can fill in details in a story without being an “As You Know, Bob” moment. Be careful though — avoid info dumps or long boring passages — create excerpts that seem real while providing only the details the character (and readers) need to know.

Use this technique if it’s a logical addition and not “oh yeah, the reader needs to know there’s a secret rendezvous place so let’s have the character who can barely read suddenly have a journal with all the details conveniently hidden under her bed…”

2.   Actual diaries and journals can be a tremendous research rabbit hole for writers to fall into. Tantalizing pieces of history are on offer that often set up more questions than answers:

Today, we stopped at Aunt Mable’s farm. Cousin Dedalaus refused to come out and say hello. After we left, Papa said we weren’t to ever go back there. Mama just smiled and said We’ll see.

3.   Shopping lists can give insights to character personalities such as someone who claims to be on a diet yet has ice cream, sugary drinks, cookies and candies on their list.

Or how about a character who writes their shopping list in alphabetical order: apples, auger, bananas, bread, garden hoe, jam, measuring cup, milk, onions, plywood, yams, yellow spray paint.

Or a character who creates a shopping list by cutting out the pictures from grocery store flyers and pastes them onto a sheet of paper?

Why not just take the flyer along and circle the items to buy? Well, maybe she needs items that are not all shown on one store’s flyer. Or maybe he has a thing for certain coloured foods. See how you can play with it, writer?

4.   Shopping lists (or lists in general) can create questions when there’s something strange in the mix such as:

  • take the dog to the vets
  • pick up order from hardware store
  • call Calli’s dance teacher to rebook
  • rotate the body in the freezer

5.   Letters can deliver surprises – Twists and turns in your plot can arrive in the mail — and of course, that can be via email. But there’s something offered in an envelope that email can’t capture. Before pressing SEND, consider ideas around handwriting versus typed addresses, and scented paper, or fancy seals on the flap.

Email will deliver the news but anyone who mails a letter or card these days is offering a bit of insight into who they are and perhaps even their motivation:

  • Hello. You don’t know me but your father and my father were the same person. Call me if you want to know more. (what reader isn’t going to want the character to make that call?)
  • Dear Homeowner, did you know your house is built over the remains of a sacred Druid site? (again, the reader’s interest is piqued)

6.   Letters can add layers to relationships — Again, there are differences offered in snail mail vs email. But no matter which you opt for, the opportunity to enrich your story is there for the taking:

Dear Algernon, I haven’t been able to sleep more than an hour or two each night without knowing if you have any feelings for me. Last weekend at the dance, you spent almost the whole time with other women. But when you took me in your arms for the last dance, the warmth of your hand on the small of my back and the intensity of how you looked at me almost the whole time — Algernon, please tell me I’m not imagining things. In breathless hope, Hortense

7.   Letters can reveal character — So, about that layering of the relationship. What Hortense perceives can be made clear to the reader if her correspondence gets this kind of reply :

Dear Hortense. Thank you for your charming letter. I confess to being confused, however. As an instructor, I’m required to dance with all the women in class. As you must know, it would be difficult for us to waltz without placing my hand on the small of your back. As to intensity of expression, that might have been my effort to avoid your rather sharp heel landing on my feet. Again. And it might also explain my waiting until the last dance before escorting you to the dance floor. I wish you only the best in any future dance classes. Regrettably, my classes are all full for the foreseeable future. Sincerely, Algernon

8.   Classified ads can be a treasure trove of inspiration and ideas. Who hasn’t been moved by this famous six-word story, attributed to Ernest Hemingway and framed like a Buy & Sell advert: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

But actual classified, “For Sale: Gently used prosthetic arm”, and especially the personals, can inspire or confuse – or both. Like this gem culled from New York magazine early-1990 archives:

Lovely, Lively, Literate — Lean, Lollobrigida-like NY lady — longs for love, laughter, languid lunches, lunar libations, with legally-free, long, lean, literate, loquacious non-lunatic, 40s–50s. recent photo, personal note.

Was she a writer with a penchant for alliteration? The possibilities loom large.

9.   Glossy ads and feature articles are full of interesting characters and scenarios that can inspire ideas, such as beautiful happy people driving shiny sports cars with the top down on treacherous mountain roads. What’s waiting beyond the next bend?

Some ads are deliberately provocative, such as Australia Ad Standards: If You Are A Woman Don’t Bother Reading This Ad, meant to highlight unacceptable issues in advertising like sexism, racism, and other social issues.

And some ads are simply head-scratchingly inspirational for backstory, as in who thought a sarcastic ad about zits and a teen’s lovelife was a good idea?

10.   Discarded scraps with phone numbers, cryptic notes, and even doodles can trigger ideas, questions and creative thinking. The Litter I See Project features poetry and prose based on found litter.

Since June 2015, Carin Makuz, has been sharing intriguing images of her trash-on-the-ground discoveries on her website and Facebook page, and more than 100 writers have answered her call. Visitors to the website can donate directly to Frontier College, a well-respected national literacy program for adults, youth and children.

Now that’s taking lost, forgotten or unloved items to a very good place. And the poems and stories are terrific examples of what you can do with scraps and scrawls.

10 Books for kids by Indigenous writers

10 Books for kids by Indigenous writers

Following on from yesterday’s blog on resources for educating ourselves on Indigenous issues and perspectives, here is a list of children’s books and resources to share with the little people in your life. These suggestions came from Ruth’s daughter, Alexis, an Indigenous Studies teacher and an active ally. (It was hard to choose; there are so many wonderful titles out there. This is just a start.)


1.  Fatty Legs –  Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, an inspiring memoir of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s time in residential school.

2. When I was Eight – Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, this book is written to make Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s memoir accessible for younger readers.

3.  The Water Walker – Joanne Robertson, a magical book that introduces children to how they can change the world by caring about our water. From Second Story Press, the book is available in a dual-language (Anishinaabemowin/Ojibwe and English) edition.

4. As Long as the River Flows – Larry Loyie (Oskiniko) and Constance Brissenden. A sensitive and evocative story of a Cree family’s last summer together before Larry (an award-winning author and playwright) was taken to residential school.

5.  I am not a Number – Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer. Beautifully illustrated, the story follows 8-year-old Irene at residential school. On her return home, her parents decide she and her brothers will not go back. From Second Story Press, the book is also in a dual-language edition (Nishnaabemwin (Ojibwe) Nbisiing dialect – English)

6. When We Were Alone – David A. Robertson. Robertson, a Swampy Cree author and graphic novelist wrote this book in response to the Truth and Reconciliation call to action for more curriculum resources. He saw a big gap for younger readers and wrote a beautiful story about strength and empowerment even when everything is taken away.

7. Bear For Breakfast / Makwa kidji kijebià wìsinyàn – Robert Munsch and Jay Odjick. Donovan wants to catch a bear for breakfast — but what does the bear want? Expect the unexpected from Robert Munsch and when he teams up with artist, writer and television producer from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabe community, Jay Odjick, the images are kid-appealing. Scholastic publishes this title in English and Algonquin dual languages.

8. & 9. Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe – Nicola I. Campbell- (these two are by far Alexis’ favourites, and they go together. A rendition of Shi-shi-etko  via film gives her goosebumps whenever she watches it.) To quote the first book: “Can you imagine a community without children? Can you imagine children without parents?”

10. Baseball Bats for Christmas – Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak. When a bunch of spindly trees are dropped off in Repulse Bay 1955 (present-day Naujaat, Nunavut) the kids aren’t sure what to do with these “sticking up” things. But then…

We know it’s 10 on the 10th, but we couldn’t help ourselves. We wanted to include these resources, too:

Illustration by Jeff Lemire

Secret Path – Songs by Gord Downie, illustrations by Jeff Lemire. Inspired by the tragic story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack’s 1966 journey home from residential school, the late Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip wrote 10 poems from Chaney’s perspective. Downie collaborated with music producers Kevin Drew and Dave Hamelin, and acclaimed graphic novelist and comic creator, Jeff Lemire, resulting in an award-winning 10-song album and an 88-page graphic novel by Lemire, both of which inspired The Secret Path, a television documentary. In the video, Downie’s words and Lemire’s illustrations bring to life Chanie Wenjack’s story along with many others who tried so hard to get home.

From the Royal Ontario Museum’s Indigenous Voices program, the ROM-at-Home series offers young people activities and insights into indigenous cultures in a fun and engaging video session:

10 Effects Mothers Bring to Stories

10 Effects Mothers Bring to Stories

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, where mothers are brought breakfast in bed, given floral bouquets of appreciation, and celebrated by everyone with Hallmark sentiments. Well, perhaps not “everyone.”

North American social norms tell us mothers are this mid-twentieth century wonder woman, taking care of her children, ensuring they are fed and nurtured in every sense of the word, juggling the needs of the family and always putting herself second.

Except mothers are people and therefore complicated human beings who can find a home in your stories far outside of the ideal. Here are 10 “kinds” of mothers you can consider in your writing. These mothers can offer conflict, safe spaces, scene-stealing, selfishness — they can hold the promise of the future or inject fear, confusion or coldness into your stories.

Villains or saints, mothers hold power in your fiction.

1.  Birth Mothers

This group of mothers offers readers reflections of beginnings, the vital importance of nurturing and often suggests a position of power/strength. Birth mothers hold the promise of the future through the next generation. They also hold the lineage and that echoes the stories and traditions of the past.

In Camilla Gibb’s acclaimed novel, Sweetness in the Belly, the story begins with a birth in a rain-damp alley behind an old hospital in London, England. The infant girl’s “mighty and unconscious wail” sets the tone for power even in grief that our main character, herself an orphan, must draw on.

2.  Grandmothers

Long held to be vessels of great wisdom from years of life experience, grandmothers are seen as elders and teachers rich in unconditional love. A fine example of a selfless grandmother is in Roald Dahl’s The Witches. In Dahl’s usual quirky style, this grandmother is a retired witch hunter, and teaches her grandson (an orphan) how to spot the evil witches in their disguise. Expect the unexpected in any Dahl story.

And who can forget Little Red Riding Hood’s dear sweet bedridden grandmother? But if we go “unexpected” in this classic tale, what if Granny conspired with the Big Bad Wolf to get rid of Little Red? Can you think of a reason for Granny to turn bad? There. We knew you could do it.

3.  Stepmothers

Long painted as the villain in fairy tales, stepmothers work well as an interloper/newcomer character. They can add the quality of the unnatural, of being outside the family “clan” and subject to suspicion and even hatred and perhaps a target to kill off. From Snow White’s cruel stepmother to the artificial stepmothers in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale where slave women are forced to bear children to be raised by ruling class women in a patriarchal dystopia.

But turn the “evil stepmother” upside down, and you have dear Mrs. Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The second wife to deceased Mr. Dashwood, she suffers at the hands of her stepson and his conniving wife. Kicked out of the family home with a small annuity, she must find husbands for her two daughters.

4.  Absent Mothers

These characters will serve any longing for/searching for scenarios in your stories. Because mothers are key figures in our lives, an absent mother calls our attention. Like stepmothers, absent mothers are not “natural” in terms of social expectations. A fine option for a mystery can be made with a missing mother. Or a simple set up could be a mother who is dead. But even there, fiction holds a lot of possibility and complexity.

In Yann Martel’s brilliant Life of Pi, we see his mother as a loving and caring parent. But with her death, as related by Pi to investigators about the ship sinking he survived, readers are never 100% certain about what happened. Except that she is gone during much of Pi’s story. And because she was a memorable character, we feel her absence.

5.  Adoptive Mothers

Like the grandmother figure, an adoptive mother can be a source of unconditional love. She symbolizes a form of motherhood but from a distance. Whether she adopts by choice or adopts by circumstances, the adoptive mother can be either wonderfully selfless or perhaps an opportunist.

In Heather Tucker’s haunting novel The Clay Girl the caring adoptive mother figure is found in Aunt Mary who offers Ari temporary sanctuary by the sea but constant unconditional love. But what if there’s an inheritance to be had or the need to put on a show and appear selfless? There’s room for a calculating adoptive mother to find life on a page somewhere. A page of yours, perhaps?

6.  Neglectful Mothers

Careful writer. This one is a minefield of missteps if you don’t bother to humanize even the most neglectful mother. We’d all like to believe that no mother could be intentionally neglectful. If you’ve read Tucker’s The Clay Girl, you already understand why Aunt Mary is so necessary to Ari’s tender soul as her birth mother consistently and completely misses all the marks for even basic motherly instinct.

Fiction is full of selfish, vain, flighty, inattentive mothers, or mothers who (Jane Austen once more) like Elizabeth’s mother Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice who manipulates and plans and frets to get her daughters married off. But she’s not a cardboard character once you recognize the fate of husbandless women. Mrs. Bennet is highly motivated but neglects the fact that like and love are essential ingredients in a happy marriage.

7.  Overprotective Mothers

Well, the average mother might question herself on whether she’s being too cautious in the raising of her children. So, it’s good to have your mother characters doubt themselves from time to time.

But in the hands of the psychological horror master, Stephen King, the overprotective mother can get notched up to an awful (in)human being. His blockbuster of a first novel Carrie gave us Margaret White, Carrie’s fanatically religious mother who swears to keep her daughter “safe” from her developing teenaged body. The results are, well, an inevitable explosion of repression let loose with horrific consequences.

8.  Animal Mothers

From Bambi’s ill-fated mother to Peter Rabbit’s cautioning mama, there are plenty of animal stories that feature loving mothers. Animal mothers are instinct-driven, protective and nurturing. The top animal that demonstrates all this and more is the female elephant. Pregnant for 22 (!) months, these massive beasts deliver calves that are blind and completely dependent. But that mother instinct kicks in for the entire matriarchal herd, and all the females (grandmothers, aunts, sisters, etc.) pitch in to nurture and protect the very young. Unless you want a full-on trampling, never be a threat to a baby elephant.

Some females in the animal kingdom offer the ultimate sacrifice after doing their “mother” thing. For example, salmon, octopus and squid devote all their energy to laying their eggs before dying.

And then there’s the not-so-perfect animal mommas that neglect their young or kill and even eat their newborn young. Pigs, rabbits, prairie dogs, and other species commit infanticide but fortunately, it’s a rare behaviour. Check out Wikipedia if you want to follow that “rabbit hole” of horrifying facts.

9.  Mother Earth/Mother Nature

Oh my, this Mother has been personified and worshipped for as long as sapiens walked the ground. In Greek mythology, she is Gaia. To the ancient Romans she is Terra. In Indic faiths, she is Prithvi (the Vast One) or Bhumi (the mother of gods) representing the earth. Throughout the world, various cultures and faiths cast our planet as an all-encompassing nurturer and revere her for her many gifts.

And yet, we do make a mess of Mama Earth, don’t we? And sometimes, Mother Nature gives us a good whipping: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, droughts, landslides, avalanches and — dare we suggest it — pandemics serve to remind us that she, like most mothers, is a powerful force. And silly us, we’re not serving her very well. Let’s hope that with more interest in harnessing her renewable resources and reducing our carbon footprints, we might get her to settle back down.

10.  The Mother Of All…

So it seems only appropriate that this figure in all our lives — yes, until cloning becomes fully automatic, we all have to be born — that this figure should somehow represent the ultimate, where we can simply use any noun to notch up something to the biggest, the greatest, the most impressive. The mother of all construction projects. The mother of all vacations. The mother of all wedding receptions. But it is not always complimentary. For example, the mother of all headaches. The mother of all snowstorms. The mother of all… well, you get the drift.

So, as we’ve just got through the second pandemic-restricted Mother’s Day let’s not wait for the next second Sunday in May to celebrate a woman special to you. Mother, grandmother, stepmother, adoptive mother and so on, why not designate a random day in the future to make it The mother of all Mother’s Day.

10 Senses Writers Should Know

10 Senses Writers Should Know

In our regular Wednesday Top Drawer blogs, we been exploring the five senses which are so helpful when a writer wants to immerse readers in their stories. Sound, taste, touch, smell and sight are all basic tools in any storyteller’s toolkit.

In today’s 10 on the 10th, we’re offering up a few of the other senses that exist for human beings and which will be just as useful in your toolkit as you write and edit your work.

1. Original Five This is our go-to when working with writers in editing and workshops. It’s vital that all writers are conscious of the value of the senses in stirring connections for readers. The constant in writing is sight – it’s obvious because how else can you get readers to “see” what’s happening. But if you want your readers to feel character emotions, to recognize mood and tone, and to immerse themselves in the story instead of hovering above, successful writers use the other four basic senses.

But read on to discover nine other senses the complex human body has to contend with.

2. Proprioception.  This is one sense you don’t really think about. Let’s test it: Go ahead. Close your eyes. Now touch your nose.

Your body uses three main things that help it with proprioception – skin, muscles and joints. These tell us where our body parts are in relation to the rest of us. With your eyes closed, you can find your nose with your finger, scratch an itch on your big toe, or clap your hands together because proprioception tells you where your arms, legs and head are positioned.

But what if you have a character whose proprioception is not working well? Bruises, bumps, trips and falls would be far more common.

3. Nociception: Ouch! This sense lets you know when you are in pain. That sensory system carries three main receptors: the skin, bones and joints, and your organs. When we feel pain, we recognize it. The greater the pain, the more it takes up our attention. But when it’s over, the intensity of it leaves us, fades and in some cases, is completely forgotten.

When you’re writing a scene that involves great pain, you have to recall moments in your life when you experienced it. Remember how your body felt – a cut on the skin is different from a twist of an ankle, smack against the skull from a baseball, or spasm in the gut from food poisoning.

4. Time: Oh my – have we been gone that long?Connected to our brain functions, time is being debated by science over whether this is a sense at all. They do agree, however, that our ability to sense time is stronger in younger people. But overall, science recognizes that humans are surprisingly accurate with measuring time. Our brains process time through the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia found deep in the brain.

So imagine what might happen to a world that has a shift in time, a shutdown of existence for a few seconds and then, back online. How would that mess with our sense of time? What would our world look like now?

5. Thermoception (external): Time to turn on the furnace, dear. This sense is our body’s ability to notice external temperatures.

6. Thermoception (internal): Can you take my temp because I feel like I’m burning up? This sense is our body’s ability to notice our body’s temperature.

Numbers 5 and 6 have the same name but they are two distinct senses. Our bodies have two separate hot & cold receptors, but we also have is a different type of thermoceptor in our brains to detect temperature. These thermoceptors in the brain are used for monitoring internal body temperature.

So what happens if one thermoceptor (say, the external) goes wonky. The body would feel internal heat but external heat would not exist? Wow. Talk about conflict in your writing.

7. Equilibrioception:Whoa! Where is up and where is down? Anyone who’s ever had vertigo, will know immediately how this unbalanced moment feels. The sense that let’s you keep your balance also is the sense that recognizes when things speed up and change direction. Astronauts in gravity-free space notice this sense the hard way when they return to Earth and, suddenly, gravity is back with a bang.

Buried inside your inner ears, this sensory system is the vestibular labyrinthine system. When you lose your balance, this system is where the search for balance is taking place. So without this system, a body cannot sense what is up and what is down. Besides the nausea, people with vertigo often shift into fear – the unknown takes over and distress sets in. Fortunately, for most, it’s a temporary condition. But when it’s not…

8. Magnetoreception Haven’t you always wondered how birds know to fly north in the spring and vice versa in the fall? Besides the fact that the temperature is changing, they know their direction from their ability to detect Earth’s magnetic field. It sets them off in the right direction each time.

We are not like birds, so we don’t have much in the way of magnetoreception. But it is there – experiments show we’re not entirely without a sense of north and south. There’s a theory that ferric iron deposits in our noses (our noses? really?) may be part of our sense of the magnetic field. It might be worthwhile to research magnetic implants. Some people implant magnets in their fingertips to gain sensory perception of magnetic fields. Now, THAT’S an interesting character, don’t you think?

9. Synesthesia:This sensory phenomenon is experienced by about 3% of the population, and most often people who experience it are born with it or develop it in early childhood. Synesthetes have a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one sense also stimulates another at the same time. I see numbers and words in colour; my granddaughter asked me to “turn down the music” on a painting I was doing.

Could a character who hears voices be a synesthete and not suffering from delusions as others think he is? Perhaps for the child who refuses to eat, it’s not disobedience, but the fact that this plate of food tastes “pointy” and hurts.

10. Extrasensory perception (aka – ESP or sixth sense):From mixed up senses in synesthesia to senses beyond the physical, ESP is sensing through the mind. Scientifically we don’t know much about the how and why of this sense, (yet) but many of us have experienced it or known someone who has.

It occurs often enough that we have many names for it: intuition, telepathy, psychometry, insight, clairvoyance, visions. That sense of retrocognition – knowing what went before, we often call déjà vu; precognition – knowing what is about to happen can be experienced in something as simple as knowing who is calling when the phone rings.

Literature is alive with this sense, from people who see and interact with ghosts to prophets or wise sages declaring destinies. But you can include it in small ways too, the chill some-one feels when a particular character approaches, or the dog who growls at a new visitor.

10 lists to spark creativity

10 lists to spark creativity

In last week’s blog on jumpstarting your creativity with a playful artist’s date, one of the activities mentioned was creating a bucket list. The first image below is a fun, creative way to do that.

The image was so inspiring to us, that we went searching the internet for similar creative list images that could be used as jumping off points for nudging your imagination. Be creative in designing your own list to work from, or use one of these.

Let us know in the comments below what these lists inspired in you.

Bucket list for any age
I can’t image life without…
Unusual grocery list
I am….
A list of lists
Looking back I wish I’d known,,,
Me from A to Z
Things I want to learn
Christmas list for Santa
Things I cannot stand
10 Chocolate Inspirations

10 Chocolate Inspirations

With Valentine’s around the corner, we’re exploring 10 ways that chocolate can inspire us. The cacao bean grows inside pods that are harvested and then the beans removed. From those beans comes the chocolate that so many of us love. But we’re also offering some facts about the little bean that might surprise you. Don’t you love surprises? We thought so.

Chemical Love

Chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine which releases pleasure endorphins in the brain. Love potion? Chemical manipulation? Love substitute? How could this phenomenon be adapted to story?

Let Myths and Legends inspire you

Myths and legends are always great inspiration for writing or indeed actions of many kinds. Ancient Mayan calendars led many to believe that the world would end in 2012. It didn’t, but Qzina Specialty foods were inspired to create a 9-ton replica of the Kukulkan temple in Chichen Itza, Mexico. It took the company’s pastry chef 400 hours to build and beat the previous Guinness World Record for the largest chocolate sculpture.

A smoking hot bean

Since 1500 BC, cacao was a staple in Central American diets. Mayans served chocolate drinks as a mealtime staple, creating chocolate concoctions with chili peppers, honey or simply water. That tradition continues. Today’s savvy cooks add a touch of unsweetened chocolate, or cocoa powder, to their bubbling pots of chili. Why? Because cocoa enriches the flavours of the peppers and spices in a yummy pot of chili. But just like any flavour-booster, that chocolate is a tiny addition to the whole pot. Otherwise, it will overwhelm the rest of the flavours bubbling away. Use the chocolate-in-chili concept in your writing: a teaspoon of effective description is much better than a page of every little detail that overwhelms your reader.

Happy Accidents

Surprises keep stories fresh, especially when the outcome seems inevitable. The surprise serves double duty when it surprises the characters as well. It really happened to Percy Spence, a scientist working on WWII radar and weapons projects. Percy noticed that being near a magnetron melted the chocolate bar in his pocket. The idea that magnetrons might heat food at incredibly fast rates, gave birth to the microwave oven.

Story starters

  • Zeus stared at me. “I hate chocolate. It’s only for weak mortals.”
  • When Cindy opened her eyes, the world was made of chocolate…
  • I’ll have a hot chocolate please- double whipped cream…
  • Brad skied up to the kiosk at the end of Dragon Run and ordered two hot chocolates…

Chocolate movie inspiration

The Mexican love and social drama Like Water for Chocolate is set prior to the revolution of 1910. Director Alfonso Araus’ film is based on the novel Como agua para chocolate (1989) written by his wife, Mexican writer Laura Esquivel Valdés. Great movie for studying family relationships.

Chocolat – One Taste is all it Takes is based on the novel Chocolat from British writer Joanne Harris (1999). This fairy tale for adults set in the French countryside towards the tail end of the 1950’s stars Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. ’Nuff said.

Ignorance is not always bliss

While cacao beans were first harvested in Mexico and Central America, 60% of cacao bean harvest comes from the west coast of Africa, specifically Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. So, there must be lots of chocolate there too, right? Guess again. Imagine what it must be like to taste sweet chocolate for the first time. In 2014, a news crew from VPRO Metropolis filmed a farmer and his family and labourers tasting chocolate for the first time. Their delight and amazement is humbling to watch. For many of us, we have hundreds of ways to enjoy chocolate. But for many of the people who grow and harvest that lowly bean, few have ever had that sweet confection melt in their mouths. Why? They’re paid very little for this labour-intensive crop. What can your story introduce as a first-time moment?

Favourite Things

Chocolate makes it to many people’s list of favourite things. What’s on your character’s list of favourites? Why? What does that tell you about that character? Try this exercise with villains, side-kicks—any character that needs fleshing out.

Prescription: Chocolate

Oh yes! Something delicious that is also good for you: chocolate has flavanols, which, besides being rich in antioxidants also can lower blood pressure. But before you devour that caramel-butternut chocolate confection, you need a few more facts. Processed chocolate – milk chocolate or Dutch-processed cocoa powder – loses most, if not all, of those lovely flavanols. So choose dark chocolate and remember that even that choice can be a highly processed product. Ah, choice. It’s one of the best ingredients in any plot. When a character has to make a choice, much can be revealed about who they are and it ups the tension which, as readers will tell you, that’s a very sweet thing to have happen. Does your story have enough choice?

Show me the (Chocolate) Money

The Aztec culture believed cacao beans were a gift from their god. So valued that Aztecs used the beans as currency for trade and religious ceremonies. Consider how something ordinary could be transformed into a sacred item. Look around your home and imagine one lowly object being a gift from a god. A vacuum cleaner? Crystal vase? Magnifying glass? Write a scene where a character begins to doubt the belief.

10 Words from Writers

10 Words from Writers

It’s a new year and, while last year’s issues linger on, we writers are ready to take on whatever else 2021 will hand us. After all, it’s life’s experiences that fuel us, inspire us and challenge us to pull out the best possible words in the best possible order and place them on the page.

At least, that is the theory. To underscore that concept and to keep you in a positive creative space, we’re sharing 10 quotes about the craft from 10 different writers. Energizing? A calorie-free fill-up, we hope. Inspiring? Probably. Challenging? We surely think so.

You be the judge.

What is a writer?

Aristotle: We are what we repeatedly do.

Susan Sontag: A writer is someone who pays attention to the world.

John Updike: Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.

How does a writer work?

Anne Lamott: Very few writers know what they are doing until they’ve done it.

Anais Nin: The role of the writer is not to say what we all can say but what we are unable to say.

J. K. Rowling: Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.

Robert Frost: Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

Why be a writer?

Jorge Luis Borges: When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.

Franz Kafka: A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.

Last word on writing

Stephen King: An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

We expect that at least one of these intriguing quotes from writers might nestle next to your muse and help keep your pen filled with unstoppable ink. As the year unfolds, keep in touch. Let us celebrate your wins and soothe any scrapes or bruises that might come your way.

10 Quotes for Our Time from Children’s Books

10 Quotes for Our Time from Children’s Books

Our strange times present us with new situations to face almost daily and how to think about and celebrate the holiday season this month is just one of them. In olden times, before the printing press, the court jester held up a mirror to the events of the day and gave people different perspectives to consider. Literature does that too—including children’s literature.

Below are just ten of many wonderful quotes from children’s books that are beautifully relevant to our times.

Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever; you just have to live. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

There is nothing sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light. –Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be. –A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you. —The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are. —Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Words can be worrisome, people complex, motives and manners unclear. Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear. Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman

It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then. –Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. –Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

And even though 10 on the 10th shares just 10 in a list, here is a final quote that hopefully will lift the spirits and warm the heart of every writer:

So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone. ―Matilda by Roald Dahl