10 Ways to Write about War

10 Ways to Write about War

On the eve of Remembrance Day, veterans of war and those who fought and died are on our minds. November 11 is just one day but the solemnity and memories of the day carries an emotional intensity that many of us bring into our stories.

Writers have been chronicling battle stories since ancient times. Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid, offers us a searing immersion: so all had one longing, to let the sword decide.

We’ve been letting the sword (or gun or cannon or bomb or laser beams or…) decide ever since. Naturally enough, we writers have mined (pun intended) humanity’s predilection to fight and there’s no end to the kinds of books – biographies, histories, poetry, stories, novels – that explore that motherlode of emotion and power. Here are ten possible approaches:

1.  Heroic battles – Here the writer has a vast landscape and nobody does it better than the ancient storytellers, such as Virgil, Homer and Sophocles. Their legacy can be found in all the epic scenes of warrior hordes (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones) with clanging, clashing, slashing swords and axes hacking their way to the castle gates. Those scenes echo into modern history where swords are replaced with bayonets and rifles. Futurists imagine the same scenes but played out with visionary weaponry.

2. One-on-one Combat – Move beyond the broad landscape and get up close and personal with the dance between two enemies. It is a tension-filled moment that deserves a slow burn to reach a full roiling boil. Two characters, circling one another, gauging each other’s weaknesses, holding back until the moment to engage is clear. Now think beyond the battlefield and examine other kinds of fights between two characters: for example, a marriage falling apart. Warren Adler’s The War of the Roses chronicles the emotional costs of the legal battle and the soul-sucking aftermath.

3. The Homefront – Who’s left behind? How are they surviving? Pacifists, injured, too young, too old, too frightened – stories that focus on everyday people who can never forget what is happening in the wider world. Keeping the war in the background has been excellent inspiration for kidlit authors such as beloved writer Bernice Thurman Hunter and her novel The Girls They Left Behind. In adult fiction, the WWI Homefront is explored beautifully in Frances Itani’s Deafening. If you plan to write a novel set during our current and relentless pandemic, reading books about the Homefront might give you some needed distance.

4. From the Enemy’s POV – Writing through the enemy’s perspective is an exercise that can offer writers entry into their antagonist’s motivations. This is an excellent tool to breathe more life into that character. And sometimes, it might be more interesting to write the whole book with the villain as your Main Character. Oscar Wilde did it with the classic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and more recently Gillian Flynn’s delightful Gone Girl.

5. Turf War – From schoolyards to neighbourhoods, boundaries real or imagined are instant tension points. Opposing gangs have a long history in literature: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a classic example. In Richard Scrimger’s Ink Me, Bunny, a mentally challenged 15-year-old, gets the wrong tattoo and that gives him entry into a gang about to do a high-stakes deal. Often funny but never patronizing, readers get a glimpse into the world of gangs and that of young adults who are differently abled. In Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, readers get a deep dive into complex issues of racism, police brutality, activism and social justice – all of it framed within the context of boundaries held by gangs, organizations, institutions and families.

6. Civil War – A nation divided, rebellion, cults, rumours and secrets. Any social unrest is pure gold for tension and a fascinating cast of characters. Suzanne Collins dove into that world when she created The Hunger Games and you know how that turned out for her. But if you want a lived-experience to flavour the writing, Civil War Stories by Ambrose Bierce, a veteran of the American Civil War, is great writing. Ahead of his time, Bierce has a speculative fiction touch that offers us more than battle stories.

7.  The Aftermath – From Ancient Greek playwrights (Euripides’ Trojan Women) to cold war novelists (Nevil Shute’s On the Beach) to post-apocalyptic authors (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road) much of post-war life, real or imagined, is never easy. Trauma, starvation and uncertainty can be counterbalanced with resilience, foraging and rebuilding both physically and socially. It’s up to the writer where to place the greatest weight.

8.  The Peacemaker  Diplomats, politicians and kings. Historical fiction is rich with books about peacemaking in world history. Tolstoy’s War and Peace gives us a sweeping saga plucked from history. But writers have a way of taking the known and applying it to the unknown. Erin Bow’s masterful YA novel, The Scorpion Rules, takes diplomacy onto an intergalactic scale that holds hostage the lives of world leaders’ children. No war between worlds and no kids get euthanized. Simple genius.

9. Undeclared War – Nothing underpins a story’s tension meter with more energy than a seething simmering dance between two enemies. As up close as a divorce in the making (The War of the Roses) or as broad as worlds balancing on the verge (Peter George’s Red Alert, inspiration for the classic film Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). When the threat of war is constant, readers keep turning the page.

10. Tools of War – Speaking of loving the bomb, a war without weapons is a schoolyard turf war. Come to think of it, even that situation has its own weapons: taunts and gestures can ignite a war of words; fists, knees and teeth can up the scale. So, as much as big shiny boom machines can have an impact on a battle, remember that your reader’s emotional journey will accelerate with the smell of sweat, taste of blood, squeeze of skin and screams of battle, not to mention the look on combatants’ faces: jubilant in celebration or horrified in defeat.

No matter how large or how small the scale, a story of war offers writers so many possibilities and these ten musings are merely a long view with a pair of binoculars. It’s up to you to find the emotional heart in your story’s battle and bring it beating and alive for your readers.

On November 11, you will be asked to offer “a moment of silence” at 11 a.m., the date and time the Great War officially ceased in 1918. Writescape suggests that “a moment” as you well know, it merely a breath, a blink of the eye or a swallow. Those who have given their lives for their country need more than a moment to be remembered. War, no matter the cause, is hardly a reason to celebrate because the human cost is far too great and death is forever. Keep that in mind with all your war stories.

10 ways to Nano-prep for writing your novel

10 ways to Nano-prep for writing your novel

In a few weeks, writers around the globe will commit to writing 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in 30 days. Will you be one of them? National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo begins on November 1, and if you don’t know much about NaNoWriMo, check out our previous blog post NaNoWriMo 101.

That means that October, affectionately known as “Preptober” is a month for getting all your ducks in a row, so you’re ready to actually write on November 1. Below are 10 ways to get ready to write, for NaNoWriMo or indeed for any new novel project.

  1. Create a project hold-all to keep all research, writing, notes and ideas for your new novel. This could be a new folder in your computer, or a “new project” in Scrivener. Try a three-ring binder scrapbook, with sections for research notes, character sketches, random ideas, checklists lists etc. Handy for quick reference, for validating research used, for trying out rough writing, for reference as you write. More than that, though, it is a tangible way to make the project real and a good way to stay focused and organized.
  1. Decide what you are going to write. Easier said than done. We all have stacks of ideas of what we could write about, but choose something that interests you. If you’re not passionate about your project you will find it hard to live with it daily and write productively. Choose a story you are spilling over to get out, or write a story that involves something you really want to spend time with. If you love Russian history, set a story in Russia during the revolution. If you’ve always wanted to know about perfume making, write a story where the protagonist is a perfumer. To help make it more real, choose a working title.
  1. Start with sketching interesting characters. If you’re a character-driven writer, begin with writing profiles of your protagonist and antagonist. Then as you work through your plot ideas (step 5) and new characters emerge, do character sketches of them too. If you’re a plot-driven writer, you may want to do step 5 first and return to this step afterwards. Remember these profiles are not just physical, but include your character’s history, flaws, emotional baggage, hopes, dreams, fears and relationships. You might find yourself returning repeatedly to these sketches to add details as you get to know them better.
  1. Ask yourself whose story you are telling and how it would best be told. Whose POV will best tell that story? One POV or multiple? What tense and person? Who is the reader you are aiming at? What genre? As you start to write, you may change these decisions, but start with a plan.
  1. Write your book jacket blurb. This may seem like it’s putting the cart before the horse, but it’s not. The book jacket blurb answers the all-important question “What is this book about?” The answer to that question helps to distill the thrust of the story: the conflict, the stakes and the character arc. It also helps define what age group and genre it is, because it focuses on the main thread of the story.
  1. Brainstorm story ideas. Outline potential plots. Ask yourself the simple but effective “What if?”, or use the base of all ancient myths and tales: the three act structure. If you know how you want your story to end, consider working backwards too. You might want to check out these tried and true variants of the three act structure too.
  1. Define your story world: place and time. This could be as simple as “Russia pre 1917 revolution” or “Haliburton 1956”, or as complex as a new fantasy world or imagined planet. Or it might be a mix, say a fictitious town called Halbury based on Haliburton. Setting is important to ground your story and your readers. The more complex your setting, the more up-front “world-building” you need to do: Government? Religion? Rules of magic? Climate? Etc. Prep work can include maps and floorplans.
  1. Outline potential subplots. Make sure they serve the thrust of the main story, that they have their own story arc and that there are no dropped threads.
  1. Sketch important secondary characters. Make sure they exist as a counterpoint or foil or supporter of your main characters. Like main characters, they too should have their own wants and needs and motivations. Ask yourself if one secondary character can do the work of two to keep the number of characters to a minimum, and to make each one stronger.
  1. Work on character arcs for all characters, primary and secondary. Each character must have their own motivations for doing what they do.

And one thing more

Get support. We all have lives to live and people in those lives. Talk to them about what you want to do and get them to realize you are serious. Enlist their help, whether it is to honour the time you set aside as uninterrupted writing time, or whether it is practical help like supervising a session of the kids’ online learning, cooking dinner or creating a separate writing space for you during November. Prepare them for your plan and then……START WRITING!

10 things poets can teach us

10 things poets can teach us

Brevity — economy of words — to say so much with so few words is far more powerful than filling a scene with tonnes of description. It works the same way that bulleted, step-by-step directions work better than long paragraphs of first set out all your tools and triple check that you have everything you need and then open the box and take out the hoozits and then you put the hoozits into the whatzits, turning all the way and making sure you haven’t…etc., etc

Sound – rhyme, near-rhyme, alliteration – our ears are engaged with words that share similar sounds when placed close together or in patterns. Amidst…pussy-willow pads of labs, a sudden set of deer tracks – Barry Dempster 

Repetition — always with a specific purpose to underscore a meaning or idea — your slightest look easily will unclose me / though i have closed myself as fingers,  e.e.cummings

Ideas have power — taking us to places in unexpected ways excites our imaginations — To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower… Wm Blake

Imagery — picture words are effective to convey far more Who made the grasshopper…who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down… Mary Oliver

Structure — the scaffolding on which a poet hangs their words — just as any genre of prose has expectations and writers work with and, often, challenge those expectations, poets take familiar forms and upend them. 

Risk — poets, like all artists, take risks with more than just structure. Cowboy Poetry is a venerable form, evoking images of the Old West, cattle drives and breaking wild horses.  But modern Cowboy Poetry can be a different story: …the bridge abutment already signed
with 4 white crosses for those who did not
quite
       make
             this
                curve
because of booze, because of snooze…Paul Zarzyski

Symbolism — it’s like holding a flash card designed to evoke meaning, a symbol instantly takes us places. Consider a flag — now make it a white flag — now a Confederate flag — now a nation’s flag upside down — it is still a flag but each time, symbolizes something different. Where the flag is placed can change the symbol it represents. Is it tattered and falling from dying hands? Is it held high during an attack? Is it being consumed by flames on a roadway?

Pacing  – Use long languid lugubrious multisyllables with loads of vowels to slow the reader or short sharp words with hard consonants to pick up the pace. Somnolent through landscapes and by trees / nondescript, almost anonymous, …P. K. Page

Breaks – line breaks, stanzas, dashes all signal to the reader to notice, to pause and let what has just been said sink in and prepare for a new thought. Writers have similar signals at their disposal: white space when changing POV, time or location; paragraphs, chapters or a statement all on its own line.

10 Sites for Writers

10 Sites for Writers

Websites for writers can be a treasure trove of inspiration and resources. For this month’s 10 on the 10th, we’ve compiled, in no particular order, a list of ten helpful places for you to visit. These are websites that, as writers, we’ve found useful and upon occasion fun. Happy surfing!

#1 Writers’ Digest has been around for decades, first as a magazine and now also hosting a massive site that’s loaded with articles on just about any topic a writer might want to explore. Sign up for their newsletter — it’s full of advice and ideas. https://www.writersdigest.com/

#2 Literistic. Imagine receiving a monthly list of contests and magazines with upcoming deadlines for submissions. Literistic caters to people who write poetry, fiction and nonfiction in Canada, the United States and Britain. There’s a free shortlist or you can choose the $8.50/month list that is curated with only the markets and topics that you select. https://www.literistic.com/

#3 One Stop for Writers is a great site with a range of tools for writers. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (co-authors of six best-selling resource books including The Emotion Thesaurus) joined forces with Lee Powell (creator of Scrivener) to build what they term a “library” for writers. You can register for free and if you like what you see, sign up for a monthly paid subscription. https://onestopforwriters.com

#4 49th Shelf is a website focusing on the books of Canadian writers (but a great discovery for writers outside our borders). Why are we featuring a website about books? Let us quote an American writer here: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” from Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers. Yup. We agree. https://49thshelf.com/

#5  Word A Day. Five days a week, 52 weeks of the year, receive the gift of a daily word. Not only do you get a word, you get its pronunciation, meaning(s), and the history of that word. Each week is thematic. Last week’s theme: weird plurals. Who knew more than one charisma are charismata? Or on the theme of words that don’t mean what you think they do, bloodnoun — it has nothing to do with the stuff in your veins; instead, it’s another word for bullfrog. Words, words, words! https://wordsmith.org

#6  GrammarlyThe more you write (and read) the stronger your own store of grammar and spelling know-how should develop. However. There are times when having a quick resource to check for clear writing and correct grammar is appreciated. Like 3 a.m. when the deadline is looming and you need to feel confident. You’re welcome. https://www.grammarly.com/

#7  WorldCat Need an out-of-print book? Researching for a historical novel? Get connected to world-wide library catalogue system. A 3-minute YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vos5ivBeZ5c  gives you a walk-through on how to use WorldCat. Search by subject, title or author. Create your own lists of resources and add or delete items as it suits you. Locate books in a multitude of languages. Read and/or post reviews. A gigantic library at your fingertips. Meow!  https://www.worldcat.org/

#8  Poets & Writers Like Writers’ Digest, this is a wide-ranging website for writers, but it’s a non-profit organization. And we like seeing “Poets” listed first and foremost. Yes, there’s lots here of a general note for writers but P&W gives attention to those of us who work with fewer words on the page. The Bard would approve.  https://www.pw.org/

#9  The Writers’ Union of Canada  This website offers writers some free resources, such as lists of Canadian writing-related associations, literary agents in Canada, award programs for self-published authors,  and many more links. In addition, the union’s resource books for writers are low-cost and high-value: for example, negotiating your own contract, or estate and legacy planning for writers.  https://www.writersunion.ca

#10  Freerice This fun online word game is perfect for writers who want to challenge their brain while helping out a good cause, The Word Food Programme of the United Nations. The ad-supported site generates words with multiple possible meanings. You contribute 10 grains of rice for every correct answer. Increase your speed to raise the stakes and shift out of your comfort zone. Playtime for writers in English, French, Spanish, Italian or Korean! http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/6116

By no means is this a complete list of useful or interesting writerly websites.

What sites have you discovered that other writers will find helpful? Suggest them in the comments section.

Ten Ways to NOT Win

Ten Ways to NOT Win

One of our most popular workshops has been Write to Win, a full-day focus on writing contests with Dorothea Helms and Ruth E. Walker.

Since Writescape is in the midst of wrapping up the first-tier judging of our own writing contest, we thought it might be fun to share one of the tip lists from that workshop.

Here’s the Top Ten Tips to Avoid Winning Writing Contests:

1. Don’t enter. Contest judges can only assess the entries they receive. Have you ever looked at winning entries and thought that your story is just as strong–or maybe stronger? Dorothea and Ruth have both been judges for regional, national and international writing contests. And frankly, we’re not always looking at the very best writing. You never know who has entered, how strong your work is in comparison and what might catch a judge’s eye. In short, you are guaranteed never to win–if you don’t enter.

2. Exceed the word count for prose or line count for poetry. Word counts are there for a reason. No matter how brilliant your words are, if there are more than the contest limit, you are disqualified. Read the guidelines and follow them.

3. Forget to include the entry fee. Online submissions often make this part easy but sometimes paying the entry fee is a separate step. And there are still a few contests out there that ask for mail delivery. IF you do forget after pressing SEND, you can try to contact the contest administrators and ask if they’ll accept your fee arriving late. NOTE: Dorothea and Ruth will tell you that running a professional writing contest takes time and money (advertising, judge honoraria, etc.) and that the entry fee is meant to offset those costs. For literary journals, writing organizations and other non-profits, contests can be part of fundraising. So it’s a good thing to not forget that fee.

4. Send something inappropriate (e.g. poetry for a prose contest or vice versa). In the same way that you don’t send a thriller novel manuscript to a publisher of children’s literature, make sure you have a submission that fits the contest. As an editor for a literary journal, Ruth received fiction entries to the annual poetry contest. Just like exceeding the word-count guidelines will get you eliminated, ignoring what the contest is about moves your entry immediately to the NO pile.

5. Enter with previously published material if the rules specify that it be original and unpublished. Dorothea and Ruth have each experienced this awkward situation in separate contests. In both cases, the top three winners and honourable mention entries were already informed of their status when one of the winning writers revealed their work had been accepted and published elsewhere. Not only did both of these writers get disqualified but some of the other top three entries suddenly found they “progressed” in the contest. While it was good news, finding out you are now getting the gold medal when you were celebrating silver is less than ideal.

6. Put your name on your submission when the rules specify not to. It’s an easy mistake to make as most writers have their name in the footer or header of their work in draft format. But it will probably get you disqualified.

7. Leave out your contact information. Unless the guidelines tell you to, don’t put it on your entry (see #6) but your cover letter needs to have it. With online submissions your contact info is part of the process. But there are still contests that ask for mail delivery so make sure contest administrators have a way to reach you.

8. “Decorate” your entry, hand-write or use a BOLD or italicized font throughout. Keep your entry professional and simple in appearance and tone. Unless the contest rules state otherwise, default to standard formatting (2-inch margins, double spaced) with Times New Roman 12 pt font. As we’ve noted before : Read the guidelines.

9. Don’t read previous winners to see what a successful entry looks like. Contests are like any kind of submission. You research what the literary agent is looking for in a client. You check out the books a publisher produces to see if your book fits. When you read past winners’ work, you get a sense if your story or poem or novel excerpt might fit.

10. Don’t bother to double check before pressing SEND. Oh the agony. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Been so confident our work was ready. Or so tired and it’s 10 minutes to deadline. Or so distracted and busy we just want to get it done. And we do. We press SEND. And then we read the entry at some later point and slap the side of our head because the typo in the third paragraph is YELLING at our eyes. So. Stop. Think. If you can, put it away to look at one last time tomorrow. And then press SEND. Or drop the envelope into the mailbox. Because, you know, #1 on the list.

10 Signs You Need A Writing Retreat

10 Signs You Need A Writing Retreat

10 on the 10th for March 2020

When your usual source of inspiration has packed up and moved elsewhere or just thinking about sitting down to work on your writing feels more like a chore than a delight, it may be time for you to escape somewhere to write.

Of course, we’d love it if you joined us at our annual writers retreat Spring Thaw this April but there are other options. From renting a cabin in the woods to pitching a tent in the backyard, there are ways to arrange your retreat from the world. No matter your choice, it’s up to you to get inspired once more and put your focus on your work in progress.

Here’s 10 signs that just might be pointing to your need to get away and write:

1. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are far more interesting than your current work in progress…even if you fooled yourself into thinking you might find inspiration from other writers posting their success stories.

2. When friends or family ask you how your writing is going, you change the subject. Repeatedly.

3. You spend a lot of time looking up recipes to at least be creative somewhere. That soufflé might be amazing but it won’t look great on your bookshelf three years from now. Your book will.

4. Your day job drains every ounce of creativity you once had and even the days off are lost causes. You yearn for vacation time but then remember that it’s booked up with family events.

5. The name of your main character is hard to remember…or the working title of your book…the name of the antagonist…or why you set a science fiction novel at a seaside resort…it’s all so vague now.

6. You have nightmares about winning the Giller Prize where everyone boos and calls you a hack and they take the cheque back. Really? Doesn’t every writer have that nightmare?

7. You yell “plot hole!” repeatedly at the television and then worry your novel is nothing but plot holes.

8. You can no longer imagine your book being published — in fact, you’ve forgotten why you started the darn thing in the first place.

9. The noise level at home is a constant distraction: kids, pets, neighbours, the dishwasher — you name it, there’s no quiet zone to just reflect.

10. You avoid meeting up with other writers to avoid hearing how well it’s going for them. Not that you don’t care, but really, it is hard to take when you’re in a literary sinkhole of nothingness.

Some of these may be a bit tongue-in-cheek but there’s a ring of truth in all of them. We know, because we’ve experienced them in one form or another. That’s why we offer our escapes.

And for 2020, we’ve opened our country properties to writers who want a self-directed or supported writing escape. Choose from a cozy lakeside home in the Northumberland Hills or a traditional riverside cottage in the Haliburton Highlands. Send us an email at info@writescape.ca for more details.

There are probably 110 signs that a writer needs a writing retreat. Add to our list in your comments.

10 Tips on Book Covers

10 Tips on Book Covers

You can’t tell a book by its cover but you can hint to readers what the story is about. The choice of text, colour, font and images carry messages for potential readers and can either invite or dissuade purchasers from picking up your book. Many authors are choosing to self-publish or publish cooperatively and sometimes they miss the mark with their covers

You can’t control how a reader will react to your story but you can entice them to at least turn the first few pages with a great cover. Once they’re inside, well, the rest is up to you and your story, author.

1. Start by considering your genre: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, memoir, history, self-help, instruction manual — for each genre, readers will respond to clues you plant with your cover about the genre

2. Look at other book covers, especially those in your genre. Remember that traditional publishers don’t always get it right when it comes to book covers so look for books that were bestsellers for debut authors. Covers for established bestsellers don’t have to work as hard as that first cover and for series book covers, they take on a kind of cookie cutter appearance.

3. Think about the overall book structure: is this a standalone book or one of a series. If it’s the first in a series, you are free to establish the “look and feel” of your cover, knowing that you’ll continue that with the subsequent titles. BUT if it’s the second book, everything you do should somehow connect back to the first cover — the same font and title — the overall appearance should echo the series

4. Consider your concept: complex plot or character driven — this will affect the images you choose — character-driven should give us a “person” as the central focus; but if this is a complex plot, intriguing illustrations or images may take the forefront

5. What about the mood of your book: high stakes excitement or slow unfolding discovery — deciding on this will help with colour palette for the background and the fonts. Too many self-published authors choose a colour for their cover text that disappears into background colours. You want readers to notice your title and your name. If they’re squinting before they open the book, they are already in a negative space.

6. Use images that carry an element of your story: pictures, illustrations, and signs can be integral to your book cover. A springtime tree suggests new beginnings, growth. A barren tree suggests an empty life or one about to end. There are images that symbolize just about anything and photos that can evoke all sorts of ideas and emotions.

7. Experiment with fonts — once you found those perfect images, look for the type of font to match. Horror writers will choose a different font from a romance writer. But what if it is a horror with a romance at its heart? It can get tricky to choose the best style of text for your cover. And what looks good in small type can be ghastly in large letters plastered on the front of your book. Keep going back to existing book covers in your genre and look at the fonts they chose.

8. Mock up your cover — place the image(s) on “dummy” book — print out the image in different sizes and move it around on the blank surface. Of course you can do this digitally but it is not the same as seeing it in trade paperback or hard cover size. See how different lights affect the look. Think about high gloss versus matte finishes. It will all make a difference.

9. Print out the cover text with different fonts and font sizes then try out various layouts with the images and colours you choose. Will your name be on the bottom? Will the title fit on one line? Or is breaking it into two lines more eye-catching? Remember, this is experimentation and will take time until you feel you’ve got the final cover. But this a huge part of your marketing plan: your book title and your author name.

10. Many readers go to the back cover before reading anything inside. So open up that mock up to create the back cover and the spine. Again, you can do this all digitally but what’s the fun in that if you don’t have a tactile connection with your cover? You’ll need to spend some time deciding on what compelling text you’ll add to that back cover. Often, it’s a variation of your pitch, your logline, your #pitmad golden egg that you slaved over to help promote your book.

10 Silent Energy Zappers

10 Silent Energy Zappers

Your story may be dynamite, but stylistically these energy zappers could be undermining it. They’re subtle but can do damage nonetheless. Avoid them to add energy, or use them to dampen when you want to.

  • Negative constructions 

“Is not” and “do not” sap energy, because readers prefer to hear about what something is or what someone does. Often negative construction is paired with weak verb choices too.

Ralph did not like the way Bill treated Liza. 
Better: Bill’s treatment of Liza disturbed/disgusted/horrified Ralph.
  • Wishy-washy constructions

Be confident about what you write. Is your character walking or not? Is the baby crying or not? Did Jimmy understand or not? Using started to/began to/seemed to constructions weaken the action.

Tom started to get up and close the door.
Better: Tom jumped up and closed the door.
  • Unnecessary tags in internal dialogue

When we are “in the character’s thoughts” seeing, feeling and hearing what the character sees, feels and hears, using “I see”or “I hear” or “I feel” is unnecessary, and distances the reader and lowers energy.

I hear a phone ring in the telephone booth.
Better: A phone rings in the telephone booth.
  • Nominalization

Avoid turning an action word into the subject of the sentence i.e.  using the noun equivalent of a verb. To up the energy, re-order the sentence to let the verb do the work.

They had a discussion about .
Better: they discussed
  • Verb weakeners

Re-order the sentence to eliminate these “weakeners”: need to; should; might; could

You need to get motivated.  
Better: Motivate yourself.
  • Neutrality – non-human references.

Readers feel close to people not things. So whenever you refer to a person in a non-human way, you distance the reader.

If you're the type of individual who likes luxury, Gateway Spa is for you.  
Better: If you love luxury, Gateway Spa is for you.
  • Redundancies

So easy to do. How often do we hear about the new baby; or joining together. By default, babies are “new”; joining things results in them being “together”.  Restating the obvious sucks energy.

Sam kneeled down to examine the sword 
Better: Sam kneeled to examine the sword
  • Passive construction /Grammar expletives

No, we aren’t talking swear words here. In grammar circles, a grammar expletive is any word or phrase that does not contribute meaning. The most common culprits are: It is; there are; there is; etc.at the beginning of a sentence.

It is two hours before the sun rises.  
Better: The sun rises in two hours.
  • Meaningless intensifiers.

Really, very, so.What is the difference between a tasty dinner and a really tasty dinner? If you want a degree more of tastiness, use a stronger verb rather than an intensifier. A delicious dinner.

He knew Dana was very smart.
Better: He knew Dana was brilliant.
  • Latinate vs. Anglo-saxon words

Latinate words (those ending in -ate. -ite. -ation and other Latin bases) usually refer to areas of law, administration; government and abstraction. It’s a throw-over from the days when England was governed by Rome and later by France. Anglo Saxon words were the tongue of the governed, the workers – words to do with farming and labouring. That’s why they carry a more earthy energy.

He excavated a cavity. (Latinate)
He dug a hole. (Anglo-Saxon)
10 Important Tasks for Dialogue

10 Important Tasks for Dialogue

Dialogue is not filler, nor is it secondary. For readers, dialogue is the illusion of active listening, of ‘looking’ from person to person as the conversation unfolds. There are technical effects from dialogue that support and enhance your story. The following 10 on the 10th blog shares some examples of the important work of dialogue:

1. Develop Plot: To ensure you’re not writing “filler”, give your characters dialogue that moves the plot forward, develop scenes.

"Pete, meet me at Crawley's barn at sunset. I'll bring Billy." 
"Want me to bring a gun?"
"Nah. If I find Billy before sunset, we won't need one."

2.  Move in Time:  When the story needs to shift into a new scene, or you want to cover a period of time without going into detail about that period of time, offer a line that sets up the new scene:

“Good then. I’ll see you next week." 
 or “So it's settled, we leave at dawn.”
or "Give me an hour or two and I'll call you back."

3.  Reveal underlying tensions:  Characters, like real people, have emotional baggage and secrets. Dialogue can give a clue that a character has something they’re hiding.

“Just what did you mean by that?” she asked. 
He shrugged. “Nothing. Now let’s just move on, okay?”

4.  Enrich themes/mood:    Characters can help readers pick up on the mood of a piece by what they say.      

“I hate this damp and cold. And those dark clouds can only mean
we're in for more rainfall.”
or "Come on, Charlie. Let's jump in every puddle we see."

5.  Echo time/era/culture: Dialogue can add authentic details to bring out the story’s genre, culture or time period.  

“Ach, lass. Will you no be gettin’ down from there?”
or “My lady, 'tis unseemly to be about at this late hour.”
or "Golly. Is that one of them new tellyvisions?"

6.  Establish setting:  Setting a scene through description alone can turn into a laundry list of what can be seen. Let dialogue do some of that work so that readers get enough detail to fill in the rest. More importantly, let dialogue help readers to stay connected to characters by “seeing” what they see and with the emotion they see it.

"Zargon! Power up the hyperchute—enter that wormhole!”
or "Bring me that beautiful leather bound volume from the top shelf."
or "Careful now! Mind you don't step in that stinking muck." 

7.  Imagine geography: Not all stories need large scale world-building but many fantasy, science fiction or quest stories will involve creating a world that readers can believe in. Dialogue helps to make it real because it’s real to the characters.

“Wait. I think I see a body of water through the trees.” 
or "This map doesn't show......."
or "That desert's got to be five day's walking or more. And not even
 stones or scrub for cover."

8.  Reveal facets of character: Dialogue is an active way to reveal character emotions, backstory and motivations.

"Please don't leave me alone with him; I can't go through that again.” 
or “How amusing. You dare to speak. Guard—kill him.”
or "I'm going to tell you a secret...."

9.  Focus on dynamics: How chracters talk to each other reveals not only clues about each character but also about their relationship with one another.

“You just can’t leave me alone, can you?"
“Ah, but if I did, you’d start to hate me all the more.”

10.  Show don’t tell: Dialogue is one of the easiest ways to give tired prose an energy lift, and turn “Tell” into “Show”. And that includes the body language and action beats in between the words. It’s dramatization that the reader can be immersed in, can “hear”, “see” and therefore feel.

Tell: Her father was abusive, but she had long since stopped caring.
Show:"Jesus girl. What's this slop ya call dinner?" Pa swiped the dish from
the table. Ma's best china plate shattered against the door. "And look
what ya made me done now, ya good-for-nothing..."
Mary scooped up a shard and turned to face him, looked  Pa square in the
eyes. "You can break me all ya want, Old Man, but ya'll never touch another
thing what belonged to Ma."

                

10 Canadian Autumn Books

10 Canadian Autumn Books

Ah fall! We love this season of harvest and slanted light and cozy fires. What better time to curl up with a good book. As Stephen King so wisely reminds us “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

So here is an autumn tribute to Canadian authors. You’ll find fiction, non-fiction, memoir, short stories, YA, poetry and children’s books, all united by this wonderful season. Happy reading!

Season of Fury and Wonder by Sharon Butala (2019)

This collection of short stories presents the lives today’s old women, who understand that they have been created by their pasts, and that some things cannot be learned when you are young.

All Things Consoled: A daughter’s memoir by Elizabeth Hay (2018)

Winner 2018 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction. A memoir about Lizzie the so-called difficult child. By looking after her parents in their final decline, she hopes to prove that she can be a good daughter after all.

Days by Moonlight by Andre Alexis (2015)

2017 Windham-Campbell Prize; Winner 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize A dark comic novel that explores what is real. Alfred Homer takes a journey during the “hour of the wolf,” that time of day when the sun is setting and the traveller can’t tell the difference between dog and wolf.  It is a land of house burnings, werewolves, witches, and plants with unusual properties.

 Homegrown: Celebrating the Canadian Foods We Grow, Raise and Produce edited by Mairlyn Smith (2015)

More than a cookbook, Homegrown celebrates what makes Canadian products unique and why “Made in Canada” stands as a mark of excellence. Recipes alongside humorous stories and sidebars showcase the best of Canada.

 21 Days in October by Magali Favre (2014)

In this YA novel set during the troubled period of Quebec’s and Canada’s history in October 1970, young people deal with gruelling factory work, unemployment, harsh police and military action, and imprisonment, but also, hope, political commitment and first love.

 My October by Claire Holden Rothman (2014)

2014 Shortlisted for Governor General’s and Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller. Set in Montreal and told in three voices, My October is the story of a family torn apart by the power of language and of history. Hannah is the daughter of a man who served as a special prosecutor during the October Crisis, and her husband Luc is a novelist. Their troubled son, Hugo, commits an act that sets them on a collision course with the past.

Autumn Leaves by Manolis Aligizakis (2014)

This lyric poetry collection from a Greek-Canadian poet who emigrated to Vancouver in 1973, is about longing and desire through the passing seasons. The poems have a Mediterraean flavour and were originally written in Greek.

Grateful by Marion Mutala, illustrated by E. R.(2014)

Be grateful for all your blessings. A poignant conversation between parent and child across the years.

October by Richard B. Wright. (2008)

Globe and Mail Book of the Year list.  A man accompanies an old acquaintance on a final, improbable journey searching for answers in the autumn of his life.

Autumn Rounds by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman (2002)

On a whim, a man joins a touring marching band he sees from his Quebec city apartment window. Among the troupe is a woman he recognizes and so begins a tale of love that arrives in the autumn of life.