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.

Rearranging The Bookshelf

Rearranging The Bookshelf

Ruth E. Walker

A recent exchange of ideas on Facebook in a writers’ group page caught my interest. In short, a post from a writer was asking other writers if they felt “pressured” into including “LGBTQ” and “mixed race” characters into their stories.

The writer went on to suggest that the immensely popular (and rather sexy) Bridgerton series on Netflix was an example of political correctness because, despite being set in 1815 England, it included persons of colour among the aristocracy and upper classes. Oh my.

For me, it was a bit of head-scratcher. Casting on Bridgerton is, among other things, meant to challenge viewers to rethink history and imagine what might have been. It was a delightful binge watch and, frankly, it didn’t take too long for me to absorb the fiction of the tale and just sit back and enjoy the story.

No pressure here

I don’t feel pressured to include characters of colour or of indigenous heritage or those who are LGTBQIA2S+ any more than I feel pressured to write in a particular genre or narrative tense. I write the stories I’m meant to write with the characters who show up.

And isn’t that the role of fiction? To entertain, yes. But also to hold up the mirror and see us as we are? And what better way to remind us what we have lost over the years of separation and “difference” versus inclusion and shared visions? Bridgerton was refreshing.

I do know that books by marginalized authors are sorely underrepresented on mainstream bookshelves. So it makes sense to me that, as an understanding of an underserved market dawns on agents, publishers and booksellers, the demand for those books will increase. Rightly so.

But they are not books being written for any underrepresented groups. They are for everyone. Remember that those books will show us who we are. Those writers will hold up the mirror for us to see ourselves — ALL of us who make up our country. High-quality books will arrive on the bookshelves, some will be made into films or inspire television programs or win prestigious literary prizes. But more importantly, they will be read by a diverse, engaged audience.

It’s Black History Month in Canada

Black History Month in Canada was proclaimed nationally in December 1995, when the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month. There’s more than a proclamation needed to create understanding. But it was part of a journey we’re all still on and there’s lots to learn.

For example, this week I learned that the church that Harriet Tubman attended in St. Catharines, Ontario, while tirelessly rescuing others through the Underground Railroad, still stands. The Salem Chapel counted Harriet “Moses” Tubman as a congregant from 1851 to 1862, at which point she returned to the United States.

According to the the church’s website: the majority of her clandestine Underground Railroad rescue missions started and ended in this British Canadian town. In 1868, when asked where and why she guided the freedom seekers, Harriet Tubman said, “I would’t trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer; I brought them all clear off to Canada.”

Want to learn more about Harriet Tubman? Cornell University features a selection of several biographies. She may soon appear on the US $20 bill, but this courageous woman left a lasting influence on Canada and our history. And I, for one, didn’t even know that much. Clearly, I need to expand my reading choices.

Back to writing

So what does diversity in publication mean for non-marginalized writers? You must still craft the stories you are inspired to write. But it’s time for the majority of us to make room for those who have had fewer opportunities to have their words heard.

And if you want to expand your reading library, check out 49th Shelf online, a curated resource of Canadian books with a wide range of categories to choose from. From diversity and inclusion in Young Adult to African-American fiction, 49th Shelf is open for readers to discover a treasure trove of homegrown writers.

Moving Foward

Moving Foward

Guest blogger – Christopher Cameron

“I write for the same reasons I run: not for expiation but for exaltation; not to pull myself up from the depths, but to fly higher. I cherish the whole endless, chaotic process of writing, from first spark of inspiration to final revision.”

So says author and editor, Christopher Cameron on his website, and today, with permission, we repost his blog about running that originally appeared on January 1, 2021 on the Northumberland Festival of the Arts blog  A Journal in Time of Pandemic and Lockdown.

Moving Forward

Some runners wear headphones and listen to music or audiobooks, but I love hearing the sound of my shoes hitting the road as I run through the hills of Northumberland. Different sounds for different roads: pat-pat on pavement; critch-critch on gravel; and a kind of a wash-wash on dirt roads.

It isn’t unusual for me to run for several hours, and some people are amazed that I actually enjoy this. My reward is the peaceful contentment that comes from moving myself forward from one place to another under my own power. In the years since I moved to Meyers Island, south of Campbellford, I’ve run all of these pathways countless times, and most are as familiar to me as my own driveway.

Yet somehow, each run is slightly different, each path finds something new to throw in my way, and it is those differences that keep me guessing and engaged. Every step forward adds to my knowledge and experience for the next time.

You don’t have to go out and run for hours to know that some things are hard. Home-schooling children is hard; trying to run a storefront retail business is hard; isolating yourself from loved ones is hard. They were hard during what people are calling the “before-time.” They’ve been even harder this year. There have been more hills to climb, more trees fallen across the path.

People seem to like lamenting the loss of the good old days, and everybody is looking forward to a return to normalcy. Some on social media have been billing 2021 as some kind Elysian fields, where we can all go back to the wonderful life we led before the bad old days of 2020.

It reminds me of a Facebook group I followed for a while: a lot of people wondered why life couldn’t be like it once was, when ice cream was only five cents. I suspect that if Facebook had been around back when it “once was,” there would have been a group wondering why life couldn’t be like it was when ice cream was only one cent.

There were no good old days, unless you count Carly Simon’s maxim that they are happening today. There are just days, one after another, like steps along a path. We move forward, by running, walking, wheeling, or simply by living. We clear the hurdles any way we can and we keep going. When needed, we stop to help a fellow traveller along.

I think we should congratulate ourselves at the end of this year. It’s good to see how far we’ve come and to collate what we’ve learned so we can use it on the road ahead.

I used to have a mantra I repeated in the tough parts of a very long endurance event, when the night had settled over me and all my energy was gone: I’m alive and I’m moving forward. As long as these two things are true, nothing else can stop us.

It’s probable that 2021 will throw stuff at us we can’t even imagine yet. As the late Gilda Radner reminded us, “It’s always something.” Who knows? Maybe someday we will look back on 2020 and sigh wistfully, remembering when all we had to do was wear a mask. But we will have our experience, our vision, and our humanity to help us navigate our way home.

And isn’t it marvellous that we still have ice cream?

Meet Chris

Christopher Cameron enjoyed a long and successful career as a professional opera singer, performing on opera and concert stages across Canada. In 2009, he began a career as a freelance writer and certified copy editor.

His first book, a witty, irreverent memoir of his singing years, Dr. Bartolo’s Umbrella and Other Tales from my Surprising Operatic Life (Seraphim Editions), was published in 2017.

Chris lived in Toronto for most of his life until he and his wife Karen relocated to the banks of the Trent River in Campbellford in June 2017. Chris is also an ultramarathon runner, long-distance cyclist, and seven-time Ironman triathlon finisher. He blogs about reading, writing, and athletics on his website.

Postcard Storytime

Postcard Storytime

Ruth E. Walker

Earlier this month, Gwynn explored the idea of story length and short story forms in a blog about story size, Does Size Matter? In it, she lists several forms of short fiction.

I have a soft spot for the power of a postcard story. I’ve taught a couple of workshops that take a close look at that form, a kind of snapshot story of few words.

Like all super-short forms, it is extremely hard to write a compelling tale that engages readers and challenges them to consider another world, another life lived. But it is a brilliant exercise for any writer to attempt. Why? Because it helps you learn the value of a few words that can say so much. And that, my friends, is a vital editing skill for any writer.

What is a postcard story:

Originally, a postcard story was supposed to be short enough to fit on a postcard. A beginning, middle and end boiled down to only the absolutely necessary words to set a scene and deliver an emotional impact.

For a long time, it seemed that 250 words was the magic number as a word-count maximum. But it is in the eye of the beholder and some contests have set higher and lower word counts.

For our purposes, let’s just focus on 250 words maximum. How can anyone write something that short that is also powerful to read?

Start 30 seconds before the end

Unlike a longer work, your opening in a postcard story is almost your ending. There’s no room to set up characters or setting. Backstory is implied without explanation and with the barest of detail.

We’re told to start a story in the middle of things happening – in medias res. But for successful postcard stories, that needs to become in quae tandem – at the end of things. So think in terms of moments, like the smoke rising from the barrel of a shotgun, the click of a closing motel door, a cold breeze through a broken window.

Great postcard stories capture the moment just after something significant has happened and because of it, everything changes.

Be suggestive

You are not setting up complex themes; rather this is a single scene with one main idea at work. But if you want a postcard story to work as well as a longer work, you need that scene to contain richness and depth—even if it is only ‘implied’.

  • characters must appear to have a life
    • Use Action:
      • brushed dirt from his pants
      • slips off her ballet shoes
      • takes a sip from the broken cup
  • setting may be a mere blink but with that blink we ‘see’ specifics
    • Describe with energy
      • hairline cracks in the paint
      • fireball sun sets behind the mountains
      • whisper of dust on the bookshelf
  • your plot must be larger than its 250 words
    • Go Big thematically (but keep it small)
      • death/birth
      • conflict/peace-making
      • letting go/taking charge

End with a bang

The last line is the killer in all short fiction and never more so than in a postcard story. It makes the final “sense” of the snippet, the ah-ha. It suggests what is to come without stating it. The very best last lines in a postcard story will make you suck in your breath and then hold it for a moment before releasing it.

I can’t help you to know how to write this last line. But I can tell you that you’ll recognize when you have it right because you will suck in your breath and then hold it for a moment. And then, release it.

Job done, you’ll say.

Curious about postcard stories?

Visit award-winning Irish writer Jan Carson’s site to view some of her postcard stories, published by Emma Press. Cheeky. Clever. Disturbing.

Job done and done well.

Curious about short fiction in general?

More on writing short fiction in Gwynn’s post Thoughts on Short Fiction. And you can read our winning entry in last year’s under-500 words story contest: Woman with Cigarette by Helen Bajorek-MacDonald

Writing Speeches for Profit

Writing Speeches for Profit

Guest Post by freelance writer Dorothea Helms

Helping people put into words what they want to say in public can be a fun and lucrative source of revenue for freelance writers. Ghostwriting speeches and/or remarks for businesspeople is like writing dialogue in fiction: you have to put yourself into the “voices” of your characters rather than write how you’d say things. Here are a few tips on how to approach speech writing for clients.

Before you write

  • Know the main purpose of the speech. Is it to entertain? Inform? Educate? Inspire to action? This should affect everything you write for the job.
  • Keep in mind the rhetoric (speaker-audience-message) triangle. The words you weave must be appropriate for all three.
  • Know your speaker. Have a conversation with the person to discover their speaking style. Does your client speak with flowery words or in straightforward business talk? If you cannot meet in person, at least video call or chat over the phone.
  • Know your client’s event participation and timing. Will they be giving a formal speech or adding some remarks to an agenda? Will your client be the emcee? How long should the presentation be? Most people speak at approximately 140 words per minute. If your client speaks slowly or quickly, adjust your word count accordingly. If your client is the emcee, you’ll need to add some occasional (DIRECTIONS) in caps and bracketed to indicate when introductions and other parts of the event occur.
  • Know your client’s audience. Who will your client be addressing? The presentation must be appropriate for the audience.

THE SPEECH ITSELF:

There’s an old saying that is still valid in today’s professional presentation world: Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; then tell ‘em; then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. This is a good rule of thumb for a formal speech. Regardless of any speech’s length or purpose, follow these tips for effectiveness.

  • Research – be sure that any statistics or other information your client uses are accurate.
  • Use powerful verbs – a good power verb will always be more effective than an adverb and a weak verb (think “crept” rather than “walked slowly”).
  • Add humour only if appropriate – again, think of the audience. People can be easily offended. Audiences are diverse, and it’s wise to use a light hand with jokes or funny anecdotes.  
  • Add personal or other appropriate anecdotes – this can give a personal slant that connects the speaker to the audience. “I wonder if this has ever happened to you…”
  • Simplify language and read your draft aloud – remember, writing for speaking is different from writing for reading. If you stumble over a sentence when reading out loud, rewrite that sentence.
  • Stay in the active voice throughout – this will have much more impact on the audience.
  • Avoid blanket sweeping statements – a statement that can’t possibly be true will turn off an audience. An example: “Everyone knows that …”
  • Be positive – whenever appropriate, say what it is, not what it’s not – use the power of a positive voice. The subconscious processes only the positive, so when you say something like “real estate sales cannot get any worse,” you plant the seed that they can.
  • Make the tone conversational – The audience should feel as though the speaker is communicating with them.
  • Be ready to edit – Your client may love the speech as is; however, remain open to making changes if you are asked to. Often, a client looks at remarks differently once they are written down. That person might realize something should be added or removed. One of the speeches I wrote went through six drafts before being approved. The client was happy with the results and the fact that I didn’t take suggested changes personally. This point is appropriate for all business writing. 

How to get speech writing assignments

  • Your website
  • Business cards
  • Add speech writing to your Facebook, LinkedIn and other profiles.
  • Advertise to local organizations, wedding planners, new businesses, etc.
  • Corporate newsletters
  • Trade journals
  • Networking
  • Existing clients (this is a major source of speech writing jobs for me)
  • Word-of-mouth

I have written speeches and remarks for all kinds of events from Bar Mitzvahs to condominium openings. You can too. My motto is: If you write well, you can write anything well.

From a college creative writing course to a freelance writer earning six-digit figures yearly, Dorothea Helms has come a long way, baby. Now semi-retired, she is still in demand for her writing/editing services, including ghostwriting speeches for business professionals. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications including Chatelaine, CBC.ca/Parenting, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Architecture & Design, LICHEN Arts & Letters Preview, Stitches the Journal of Medical Humour, and Homemakers, to name a few. Yes, four of those publications are no longer in existence, but Dorothea accepts no responsibility for their demise. Wherever Dorothea goes, humour follows.

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.

The Gifts of 2020

The Gifts of 2020

Gwynn Scheltema

As Ruth said in last week’s blog, I’m a master planner. I’ve always set goals, had a plan, been S.M.A.R.T. But I gave up writing New Year Resolution lists years back because, for me, they always seemed to be lists of my future failures, lists of not meeting my own expectations.

Instead, I switched to thinking positively about myself, mentally listing all the small and large achievements over the past year. I also began allowing myself to dream and visualize and imagine what I wanted to do—and not do. I learned to strive for balance in my writing life and life in general.

If there’s one thing that I have learned over this last year, it’s the importance of kindness and acceptance and the finding of joy and fulfilment in the unexpected, big and small. And part of that is the acceptance of self, flaws and all. 

So, in 2021 I’ve decided I am going to put kindness to myself first in any plans I make or goals I set and strive for participation and passion, not perfection.

Unexpected writing gifts

Someone once said that if you think your glass is always half empty, then pour it into a smaller glass and quit whining. I tried to take that approach in 2020 whenever new annoyances and problems arose, and realized that out of a seemingly all-bad year, a number of things did go well for me in my writing life.

I live out in the country, a good hour from all the people and events and activities I like to engage with. By May, a general acceptance of ZOOM and work-from-home meant I didn’t have to spend so much time travelling. That gave me more time for myself and my writing—a true gift.

And technologically, ZOOM was just the start. I gained a whole gift bag of new skills:  I learned how to make videos, how to work with MP4s sent to me from people’s phones and convert and edit them for podcasting. Ruth and I took a stab at giving online workshops, learning all about break-out rooms and gallery views and split screens and converting in-class learning materials to the screen. An arts group I volunteer with went virtual with Google Groups and Google Meet and is planning virtual arts activities I would never have imagined were even possible.  

I took part in virtual critique group meetings, online workshops and paint nights. I had time to read more. I enjoyed countless free offerings of art of all disciplines from around the world. So much to fill my creative well and give me new ideas. Another wonderful gift.

Being stuck at home allowed me to work on habits—breaking old bad habits and cultivating new good ones to replace them. On the writing front alone, I have been able to get back into journalling morning pages, into genuine regular creative time. I’ve had time to sort through years of journals and boxes of scraps of paper to find half-written poems and story ideas and put them into digital files where I can find them again. I’ve been able to spend quality time on putting together my poetry collection, so that in 2021 it may actually finally be done! The gift of moving forward even when everything seems static.

Of course, my 2020 gift list is much longer, full of good things that happened or that I came to appreciate, but you get the drift.

Moving forward

So now as I head into 2021, a big part of my plans and dreams and visions for the future is going to be influenced by what I learned in 2020:

  • Be kind to yourself and don’t expect perfection
  • Do more of what feeds your soul, your passions and your creativity
  • Do less of what others say you should be doing
  • Be flexible and willing to change direction and do it positively
  • Be present, mindful, grateful, and notice and appreciate
  • Go with the flow

Achieving writing goals is all very well, but if they are achieved at the expense of your health or your family relationships and other important aspects of life, then perhaps you need to reconsider. Take time to live.  Take time to grow. Take time to love.

Above all, be kind to yourself and others. Look for the good in everything. Enjoy the writing journey you’ve chosen for yourself. Enjoy life. Be positive and you’ll get there. Have a wonderful 2021.

The Write Goals are Best

The Write Goals are Best

Ruth E. Walker

My colleague, friend and partner in Writescape, Gwynn, is a masterful planner. So, it’s no surprise that at all our business meetings, setting out a plan on paper is our foundation. Once the plan is on paper, the tasks are divided up along the lines of who can best accomplish each one. Add in the deadlines for each task and voila! A workable plan with accountability.

Try this!

Gwynn brings that focused approach into our writing retreats. No first gathering of participants misses the opportunity to work on a plan for their writing escape. Everyone considers the big picture of “ideal” accomplishments during the retreat and then – and this is the most important part – breaks it down into manageable pieces. And then they choose the top pieces to complete. Anything more accomplished is a bonus…once the main steps are achieved.

Looming ahead of you is a new year. No doubt you have writing goals you want to accomplish. Maybe it’s just one big goal, like mine: finish the first full draft of the second book in my science fiction/fantasy duology. Or maybe you have several smaller or more general goals for 2021: take some workshops, sign up for at least one writing conference and finish a short story.

No matter your goals, it’s helpful to put them down on paper and then check them off as you accomplish each one. Here’s some ways to do that.

Make a list

Review what you hope to accomplish and then break each goal into steps. For example, your goal is to get one of your finished stories published:

  • First, create a list of magazines you want to get stories published in.
  • Second, create a list of stories that are ready to submit.
  • Third, read each magazine’s guidelines (word count, deadlines, themes, submission methods) and match with any of the stories on your list with that magazine.
  • Fourth, pick the best story for that magazine.
  • Fifth, submit the story
  • Sixth, create a table or spreadsheet or even a handwritten list of what you sent, where and when you sent it, how you sent it and make sure you leave room for the response.
  • Final step? If the story is accepted, celebrate! If the story is rejected, take another look at it and see if you can improve it at all. If you’re satisfied it’s the best it can be, choose another magazine.

Make a visual

If you need more than words on paper, develop something to tickle your creative self. Again, I take a page from the Book of Gwynn. She comes up with the most creative techniques to excite the imagination while being practical and focused.

A favourite of mine is the daisy:

The heart of the daisy holds the broad or large goal: Develop Fiona’s character more.

And then each petal contains a different way to develop or deepen a character: Up Fiona’s stakes. Who is her best friend? What are Fiona’s fears? What does she want? What does she need? List her positive attributes. What is a small obstacle? What is her biggest obstacle? Create a chart of how others react to her.

Once all the petals are filled in, participants choose 3 to 6 petals that can be accomplished over the course of the writing retreat and then commit to focusing on them first.

Set yourself a time frame: 6 days or 6 weeks and you can use the daisy to break down a big writing goal into 3 first steps toward that goal.

Make a promise

Pull out a sheet of paper and write down in a sentence or two that describes one simple task or small accomplishment that will help you take a step toward a big goal. Stick it in an envelope, add postage and mail it to yourself. Remember to write on the back of the envelope: Step #1. When it arrives in your mailbox don’t open it until you have accomplished Step #1.

Move on to Step #2. Then Step #3. And so on.

Variations: If you knew Steps #1 through #5 right from the start, go ahead and prep them into individual envelopes.

You can even mail them all at the same time if you want. But you only get to open them as each one is accomplished. That combines accountability with keeping you focused.

2021 is not 2020

Yes. This almost-over year has been one for the record books. And far too many of those records have been too terrible to bear. A strangeness settled over everything. A few of my writer friends refer to it as “a fog” and for many, it made the simplest tasks a massive challenge.

And our plans…oh those lovely plans we had for our lives, for our livelihoods and for our writing — they were thrown out the window months ago. If we only had started on those plans in January, by mid-March we might have accomplished…

We can’t predict what 2021 will bring us. But we can be better prepared to dive in to our plans right away. By the end of the year – even if global disruption strikes again – we can look back and know that some of what we planned for came through.

Here’s to a New Year when your muse fills your pen with unstoppable ink and your plan keeps you on track.

All the best from,

Gwynn & Ruth

Season’s Greetings

Season’s Greetings

Thank you to all our subscribers and clients for your continued support of Writescape. 2020 has been a tough year for so many, so we hope our wee bit of holiday lyric editing puts a smile on your face and ink in your pen.

With a tip of the toque to Winter Wonderland*

The muse is calling, are you listening?  
Poems and stories; ideas glistening
So pumped we can write
We're happy tonight
Writing in our winter wonderland                                  
Go away 2020 
Here to stay words aplenty
Good wishes to all
As the words form and fall
Writing in a your winter wonderland
May the muse be always with you,
Gwynn and Ruth

*Winter Wonderland: composed in 1934, lyrics by Richard Bernhard Smith & music by Felix Bernard. The song is so popular, it has been recorded more than 200 times. Now, how’s that for inspiring?

Does Size Matter

Does Size Matter

Gwynn Scheltema

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on writing short fiction and in the comments, someone asked, “How short is short fiction?”

That’s a loaded question because, like poetic forms, short fiction comes in a host of forms and lengths and changes with the times.

This sample list of interesting short fiction forms and their word counts comes from a seminar I gave a few years ago at the Ontario Writers’ Conference:

Six word stories

Should provide a moment of conflict, action, and resolution that gives the sense of a complete story transpiring in a moment’s reading.

@twitterfiction

Fiction in 140 characters or less.

Expresso Stories – 25 words or less

A literary form for today’s frothed-up, on-the-hoof, want-it-all-now consumer lifestyle: complete stories that take no longer to read than an espresso takes to slurp.

Hint Fiction – 25 words or less

A hinting story, should do in twenty-five words what it could do in twenty-five hundred, that is, it “should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.”

Trifextra – exactly 33 words

Stories written from prompts, and having something to with the number three.

Trifecta – no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words.

A competition in which writers are given a one-word prompt, use the third given definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary to write a story between 33 and 333 words.

Minisaga, mini saga or mini-saga – exactly 50 words [AKA ultra-shorts or microstory.]

Started by The Daily Telegraph and used in business as an educational tool to stimulate creativity. They are often funny or surprising and are described as “bite-sized lessons for life and business.”

Dribble Fiction – exactly 50 words

An offshoot of Drabble with the word count reduced to 50 words.

55 Fiction – 55 words

From the New Times short story contest. 55 Fiction has: a setting; one or more characters; conflict and resolution.

Postcard Fiction – usually 50 words or less but up to 250

Literary exploration, usually inspired by photographs and able to fit on a standard size postcard.

Micro fiction – under 100 words

A complete fictional story in a limited number of words in any genre.

Drabble Fiction – exactly 100 words

Originated in UK science fiction fandom in the 1980s. Drabble calls for brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space.

Feghoot or Shaggy dog story – usually 100 to 250 words

Usually sci-fi, centers around or concludes with a pun, has a title character in a dangerous situation, any place in the galaxy, any past or future time. Can involve the travelling device with no name, represented as the “)(“.

Haibun – usually 100 to 1000 words.

English haibun is of one or more paragraphs of prose coupled with one or more haiku. It may record a scene, or a special moment, in a highly descriptive and objective manner or may occupy a wholly fictional or dream-like space. Accompanying haiku has a direct or subtle relationship with the prose.

Short Story 1000 to 15000 words.

Word count varies with publication form: collections, anthologies, magazines, or journals; print or on-line; genre or not. Print costs for journals, magazines and anthologies usually keep the count between 2000 – 4000.Genre stories for anthology collections can go to 7500 words. Single author collections often have one longer story up to 15000 words coupled with shorter stories.

Novellette – 7500 to 17500

Novella – 17500 to 40,000, sometimes 50000

Bottom Line:

  • Write your story the length it needs to be without thinking about word limits. Decide afterwards if you want to edit it to fit a certain count.
  • If you hope to sell your story, figure out what magazines or anthologies would be the best fit for the content/genre/style of your story, then look up their submission guidelines.
  • For contests, don’t ever exceed the stated limit.