Never throw anything away – the paper edition

Hi, first, this is not a post for hoarders to use to point out they don’t need help. This is about keeping information that might be useful in your writing.


I generally clean house periodically, and I’m not someone who keeps things, I like clean spaces and lots of room. But, I do tend to keep books. Over the years I have purchased a lot of ‘how to write’ books. Most I’ve glanced through and kept them because they make my bookshelves look writerly. But, today I was clearing out my storage – preparations for moving house – and I found three books that I have used more than once.


Looking through this is inspiring and gave me lots of ideas when I started to work on Closing the Circle.


I have to say there’s nothing like a dip into religions to give you ideas on building your own world.


Any help on building a coherent myth – or borrowing one appropriately, is worth it’s weight in Leprechaun gold.


Encyclopedia of Mythology



Do you have any writing books that you keep returning to time after time?



Creating Characters

Hi, I just read this great post on Ask The Publishing Guru


Great tips for creating characters – and shameless plug for my own comment about incidental character development.


Happy writing



Writing retreat or writing conference

One of the things that a writer needs to do is develop their craft.


Simply writing more stories and stretching yourself to write new genres or working on the part of writing you find hardest will improve your skills. But, like most things in life, you can make bigger leaps if you work with others.


A conference is an organized series of talks or workshops. Some conferences incorporate writing time, but for the most part, you are there to learn skills, techniques, or career lessons from the pros. Shaw Guides is a great place to find writing workshops. It slices and dices the listing so you can easily find a workshop/conference when, where and for what skills you need.


Writing retreats are different, you will find some on Shaw Guides. but you can create your own. You can find a resort, or a B&B in some location – maybe where you’ve set your book – and go alone, or get some writer friends together, and set up specific writing tasks.


If you are trying to get started on a book, have a two day retreat on outlining or character building, or world building. If you are trying to get the first, second, five thousandth or last revision done, take a long weekend, get away from distractions. Then do it.


The benefit of taking a writing friend – not just friends who will want to golf or shop or whatever – is that you have someone to eat meals with who will understand if you are in the groove and don’t want to stop.


One conference I’ll shamelessly plug is the Canadian Authors’ Association CanWrite! 2010. June 2010 in Beautiful Victoria BC.


Happy Writing



Writing blogs, who do you follow?

How do you decide which blogs to follow? What topics do you find useful or entertaining?

Here’s a list of some of the blogs I follow.

A Newbie’s guide to publishing

Ask The publishing guru

Just a Kid with a Keyboard

Magical Words

and of course Sue’s Blog As it comes

They are a mixture of advice, personal journey and informative. When you pick a blog to follow what is it that you look for?


If you don’t read it can you provide value as a critiquer

When we got our first horror submission I was worried. I didn’t read horror and didn’t have any idea what to say. Also, I don’t read it for a reason – nightmares, baby.

We often get work submitted that doesn’t fall into what either Sue or I read. In addition, both Sue and I belong to critique groups. So I spend a lot of time reviewing and giving advice to people about books I would never read. Before I started doing it, I didn’t think it was possible.

I have found that I can give and accept critiques across genres. Here’s how I take on a review like that.

I start by looking at the premise, is it credibly set up. For horror, is it frightening? Is the ‘evil’ thing bad enough but still believable within the archetype – let’s not talk about sparkly vampires.

If that’s there, then I just start looking for the same things I normally do. Does the story start at the beginning of the action? Is the dialogue and description engaging? Does the author have a strong voice?

As I read, I look for grammar and punctuation issues. Not that I’m an editor in that sense but sometimes it jumps out. And then I try to decide if I would read the book. I have to say a few books I’ve read outside my normal taste have intrigued me enough to dip my toe into the genre.

On the flip side, I listen very carefully to critiques from people who don’t read/write in my genre. I have to know the conventions of my own genre to write a good story, but my critiquer doesn’t. So, I have to sort through the suggestions to find ones I can work with and discard the ones that I can’t because of the rules. One of my critique groups keep telling me ‘I would like to know more about the background of this person’ or ‘why didn’t you tell me about this aspect’. I thank them because I needed the reader to be wondering at that point – it’s a mystery.

I guess the suggestion here is that you don’t need to find someone who writes or reads the same books as you. Feedback is valuable. If you don’t have a critique group, go find one.

Happy writing


Free opinions – are they worth anything?

I think the answer to the question is, yes they are. Sometimes they are just worth gaining an interesting new perspective, and sometimes they are the first step in getting to the next level. What’s the best free opinion? One you agree to hear.

So, we’ve sent out two tweets offering a free first read and opinion for writers out in our followers, and the followers of our followers, and – with luck – the followers of our follower’s followers. Okay that got me wondering if follower is really a word.

So, the first call gave us three great stories. They weren’t perfect but wow, there was talent there. We were able to get back to people really quickly. Today we sent out the second call – okay Sue did the work – and we’re hoping to get  few more submissions before the offer ends.

The benefits are huge for us, and I hope the authors. PaperBox Books benefits from the opportunity to talk to new authors and the author gets a bit of free critique from a publisher. What is cool for me is that I also get a chance to look for the same blemishes and tics in my own work. Something I become better at as I go through critiquing.

If you are thinking about sending in something, please know we’re here to help, not to destroy. We are writers, too. We know how hard it is to hear that something isn’t working, but we also know it sometimes takes a fresh eye to find out what needs work, and what kind of work it needs. And, even better for the fragile writer’s ego – what is working. We give the good and the bad.

Happy writing.


Indie Publishing or Self Publishing

Hi, there are any number of conversations going on around the blogsphere and the tweet world, and I’m sure off line in that old fashioned medium of voice conversations about this subject. Sue and I have had these conversations off line, too. It comes down to why would an author choose to work with an indie publisher rather than self publish, especially e-books.

We think it comes down to quality and reputation. I have bought some e-books recently, not so much because I wanted entertainment but to research. I’m not going to name names but here are some observations.

First, I bought books from and Smashwords, to ensure I had something from both ends of the spectrum.

What did I see?

  1. Stories that hadn’t started by the time I hit delete on my iTouch. So many of the books I read gave a ton of back story.
  2. Stories that had inconsistent point of view, or a point of view that allowed the author to tell the story, not show it.
  3. Stories with lots of ’stage direction’ – character stops the car, turns off the ignition, opens the door, crosses the lawn, climbs the stairs, takes out the key, unlocks the door, opens the door, and walks in. (I’m not exaggerating)
  4. Stories with stilted dialogue. The big trigger is to look at the grammar in your dialogue, not even English teachers speak in correct and complete sentences all the time.

When it comes to uploading your book to Smashwords or to Amazon, you can pretty much do it with a click of the mouse. If you only revised with your own opinions, you won’t have seen what needs to be done. If only your mother, or sister, or friend, have read it, you won’t have professional advice on making the book readable and compelling.

An indie publisher will work with you to make the final changes to your manuscript to make it a marketable book. The readers for indie publishers aren’t reading for enjoyment – although that’s a nice bonus – they are reading to see if you have grabbed your reader enough to make they want to read to the end, they are looking for structural issues, and the last thing they will look for is grammar and punctuation.

If you think you need to work with someone who will give you advice on story revising and polishing, check out our submission guidelines at PaperBox Books

Happy writing.


Movie flaws and what a writer can learn

I have seen three movies in the last short while and my reaction to them was very different. It made me think of what I expect in a movie – and wonder if I’m expecting too much. And, then, of course I took that to the concept of books.

So, here are the three movies, my reactions, and what I think a writer can learn from them.

Avatar, 3D Imax - really the only way to go for the special effects. I was impressed with the effects. I was not impressed with the story. All the money spent on the effects was so that the aliens couldn’t be men in rubber suits. But, the story had them acting as men in rubber suits. If only they had spent a few more dollars to get a story with some depth.

For the writer, I think the lesson is for you to create characters with depth and stories with complexity. Make sure your villain isn’t cardboard. Remember, they never know they are the villain. Make sure your protagonist isn’t pure. If they have no flaws, they aren’t interesting.

What would I have done – hey, what the heck, it’s my blog. I would have had more of the soldiers realize they were doing wrong. I would have had one of the scientists take the side of the soldiers. And, I would have had corporate guy try to stop the madness. And the blue aliens; come on, one of them should have been a traitor, one of the tribes should have refused to fight.

Alice in Wonderland, 3D – not sure why it was in 3D. The story was full of cool characters with quirks and brave hearts and evil plans. Actors gave great performances and the bandersnach and jabberwocky were cool. But, not the use of effects. I didn’t understand why the white queen needed to be such a ditz but it didn’t ruin the film for me. I was just disappointed.

For the writer, I think the lesson is to go for it. If you’ve put something in your book that is the printed equivalent of 3D – don’t just dip your toe, dive in over your head and struggle until you gasp for air.

What would I have done? The Jabberwocky’s head would have landed in the laps of the audience.

The Green Zone – regular D. A great story. Only predictable in hindsight (the sign of a great story). I won’t say too much because it opened yesterday and I don’t want to give spoilers. The flaw only affected me in the theatre so I can’t really say it was a problem. The camera jiggled so much I got seasick. There were no safe spaces in the film where I could relax my eyes. I had to leave the theatre twice.

What can the writer learn? OMG – if you can write a story like this you don’t need my advice. Even through the nausea I was engage with the characters – even the villains. I understood how people can get caught up in something and take a side which turns out to be wrong. I believed the ending, but I would have believed any one of three other endings.

What would I have done differently? Either steady the camera or make the seats move with the action.

Happy writing

Point of view

Picking a point of view for a story is both really easy, and really difficult. Much like writing in general.

One challenge is that point of view slips happen because writers need to show some action, or some emotion from someone other than their protagonist. When you jump in and out of character’s heads it can pull the reader out of the story. As the writer you want the reader to get on board your story and take the ride of their lives until you let them off at the end, breathless and desperate to get back on the train.

One rule of writing that I think is golden is – you can only break the rules when you know how to follow them (Okay maybe I made that rule up). So, let’s have a look at three different points of view and how best to use them.

Omniscient – Okay, I’ll be honest, I don’t think you should use this. The omniscient POV is out of fashion, mainly because it distances us from the characters and actions. If you imagine yourself in a room where the story is being acted out, the omniscient POV is told by the director, someone who can see everything and know everything. The challenge with this one is that if you are not skilled in using it, it will look like you are a) point of view slipping and b) telling not showing. You should use it if the story demands it. If you are telling your story in the fashion of Dickens, you’ll need to use this POV.

First person- the favorite of detective stories and chicklit among others. In first person you talk for the main character – It’s all about I and Me. The reader only knows and feels what the main character knows and feels. It works for detective stories is because other people can lie to the detective and the reader will believe if the detective believes. The challenge for the writer is that you cannot change POV to another character easily. And, if you do, you can’t use first person for the other POV. Imagine a chicklit where suddenly your heroine’s roommate starts telling the story in first person – the reader won’t know who the I is. Use this POV when your story needs the reader to follow the protagonist through a puzzle, or a life change, or a major revelation.

Third person – this one comes in two flavors, limited and not so limited.
- remember that room where the story is being played out? The limited (or intimate) third person story is being told by someone sitting on the POV characters’ shoulders, plugged into their thoughts and feelings.
Not so limited
- this one is where the story is being told as though there was someone walking around with a camera and we see/hear what the POV character does, but we’re not privy to their thoughts or emotions.

Third person is probably the most common at this point in literary history. It’s flexible. You can change the POV character – usually when the scene or chapter changes, but if you are very skilled, in the middle of a scene.

It is important to know who your POV character is, and set your reader firmly into that POV. In each scene you need to understand who is most important and write from their POV. If your hero is about to be betrayed, the POV character is either your hero or the betrayer. If your villain is planning a dastardly deed, what better way to show dimension than to use his (or her) point of view and show us why they think they are doing the right thing.

Whatever POV you choose, stick with it (until you skillfully change it) and use it to engage the reader with the character and the conflict.

Happy writing


Polishing tips for writers

I’ve learned in the process of getting a manuscript ready for submission that two things are true.

  1. it’s never perfect but you need to get as close as possible
  2. there will be changes when the editor reads your story

Getting close to perfect involves sharing and listening. First, when you have revised it a couple of time, it’s ready for critiquing. There are a number of ways to get a critique. Posting on-line to a writing and reading community. Finding an in-person writing group and inviting 4 or 5 people into a writing circle.

Writing circles generally share specific numbers of pages on a regular schedule. You provide and you get advice on structural issues, character development and description – the bigger items. A critique group can agree to do line editing so it’s important to understand the guidelines of the group. When you get critiques the rule is that you don’t argue – you can decide you don’t agree, but it’s not cool to try to bring people to your point of view – you are there to find things you can’t see in your writing.

Online groups can be useful if you keep in mind that you don’t know who will critique. There are lots of site out there, Sue posted some earlier today. My favorite is Authonomy a Harper Collins site. Your work needs to be at least 10,000 words to make public but once it is, people will give you comments and ask you to give them comments back. What makes this community great is that you get comments from readers and writers. You need to develop a professional attitude here, that’s a good thing, you’ll be a better author for it.

The key to success for critiquing – online or reality – is to participate. You give as much as you expect to get – and more.

Happy writing