Monday, November 30, 2009

The Writer's Brain

Guardian: Welcome to the writer's brain. I've been waiting for you.

Sheep #1: We're late because she couldn't get to sleep. (looks around) This is cramped. Why are some of our faces changing?

Guardian: She's thinking about her characters. There's a plot point she's stuck on. Look out!

Sheep #2: I didn't see the mud puddle. I'm stuck. And muddy. I hate mud.

Guardian: So does the writer. See those sheep frolicking? They're in the part of the plot that's working. As you've discovered, right here, there's mud.

Sheep #1: What's with the rainbow?

Guardian: That's the writer's fantasy of finishing this draft. Enjoy the view of the sunshine and the green grass. You can't get there from here. Too much mud.

Sheep #2: I could use some help here. I just had my hooves pedicured.

Sheep #1: Hey! You sheep with the weird faces! Come help! If we all work together we can get our sister out of this mess.

Group of sheep: We're busy. One of us is a murderer and we don't know which of us it is. It's rather unsettling.

Guardian: The writer knows which of you is the bad one. That plot is fine.

Group of sheep: Why all the glass?

Guardian: Sub plot.

Sheep #1: Who's the sheep walking softly carrying the big stick?

Guardian: Grammar sheep. He's cranky.

Sheep #1: And that one over there? Wearing the flowers and dancing around?

Guardian: Thesaurus sheep. Don't start him talking. Trust me.

Sheep #2: Something's happening. I'm feeling light. What's going on? What am I doing suspended up here? There's very little dignity hanging in the air.

Guardian: She's had her inspiration. It's lifted you out of the mud. Let us rejoice and carry on.

Sheep #1: Are we at the rainbow yet?

Guardian: It's closer. Every night it's a little closer.

Sheep #2: My hooves are ruined.

Guardian: New sub plot.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What Would They Buy?

The newspapers are full of reporting that today is the day we are all supposed to hit the stores and start our Christmas shopping in earnest. Please notice I'm not shopping, I'm doing my blog. I'll shop when I'm ready. I'm not there yet. However, this retail frenzy got me thinking: why not use this as a character exercise?

Here's a new way to explore your characters in your current WIP: take them shopping. Imagine them going into a mall: where do they go? What do they buy? How long do they stay?

I'm dealing with one character who would head straight to a used bookstore. I've another who would sit in a coffee shop drinking espresso and people-watch. He might venture into a kitchen store for new copper pots. I've two characters who would head to the designer boutiques. One would buy new clothes in every available store and put them all on a credit card. And there's many more...

I recommend giving this a try. It makes you think about your characters in a way I'll bet you've never thought about them before.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving on Television

In honour of today being American Thanksgiving, I thought I would veer away from writing about writing and give you, instead, some of my favourite television episodes with Thanksgiving scenes. All of the shows are no longer on the air; which probably says something about my age that I don't want to think about.

To all of you celebrating Thanksgiving today; have a wonderful day! I'm so very thankful to have discovered this online writing community and I'm constantly moved by your warmth and support.

So here's the list:

  1. Friends: The one where Rachel makes the trifle.
  2. Friends: The one where Brad Pitt guest stars.
  3. WKRP in Cincinnati: The one with the turkey giveaway.
  4. The Gilmore Girls: The one where they go to 4 Thanksgiving dinners.
  5. The West Wing: "Shibboleth".
All of these are funny, but the last one will also move you to tears.

Do you have a favourite Thanksgiving television show episode?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Word Cloud

This is the word cloud created by the first 10,000 words of my WIP. I did it for two reasons: first, I wanted to check what words were appearing the most and second, for fun!

I was pleased with the result; the biggest word is the surname of my main character (he's usually known by his last name) and all my other characters are there as well.

I would suggest you try it yourself. You can make your own word cloud at It's a fun way to see if you're over-using certain words or if your choices are correct.

See your writing as a piece of art! Amusing and informative; you just can't lose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


People's moods change from day to day, even from minute to minute. A day that starts out clear and sunny may end with a ferocious thunderstorm; your smile may morph into a grimace. I've noticed my mood leaks into my writing. Is this common?

Characters grow and change. I do character sketches before I begin but the little creatures continue to astound me. As I continue along I've noticed each of them has their own rhythm; which has necessitated me going back and making sure it's consistent. Some are incredibly well-spoken, some are not. Some have trouble putting their feelings into words. Some (bless their hearts) just want to think about the food. However, they're all picking up my mood.

Yesterday was a very grey and rainy day here and my mood had the same forecast. It was one of those days where you think 'what's the point?' and 'I'm never going to finish this monster' even though my word count is getting fairly healthy. My characters picked up my mood. They began to quarrel. Someone who I had thought was fairly polite said something that made me take my hands off the keyboard and look twice. I may have uttered a colourful metaphor. Fairly polite and gently-brought-up girl has a bit of an attitude. Who knew? Other characters were saying things simply to get under one another's skin. Tensions rose. One character got up and left. These people are not getting along; which is tricky when they're stuck with each other for quite a few pages yet!

I'm pleased their polite masks are starting to slip, but what is going to happen if I'm writing when I'm in a terrible mood? I have visions of discovering instead of one murder, my poor detective is going to be surrounded by a bloodbath. On the other hand, perhaps everyone will shake it off and continue with their day.

I think, as writers, we're so deeply involved in our characters that we can't help it when they pick up our vibrations. I certainly feel for them and their situation. I have dreadful guilt about some because I know their endings. I'm very happy for others. All of them make me laugh.

Take a quick look at what you're working on right now. Can you tell what mood you were in when you wrote it? Are your characters sponges?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Not So Quiet Characters

Everyone had that kid in their class who sat quietly in the back of the room. They were friendly, they did their schoolwork, but they were quiet and happily followed the leaders. Sometimes, they would start to speak and an entirely new personality would emerge. You could discover quiet little Sheila studied karote or went to Egypt in the summer and now quiet little Sheila isn't being quiet anymore.

This is the situation I'm facing at the moment. Within my rather large group of characters I've had someone who had been dozing rather contentedly on the sidelines. A few weeks ago I had admonished him to either start talking or accept he would be leaving and suddenly he began to talk. I've discovered all sorts of things about him. He has a wonderful sense of humor and a large sense of pride. He adores his wife. He's an observer. He likes things to be done properly. Now my problem is he won't shut up.

Don't think I'm not grateful, because I am. He has added another dimension to my story coming from an older perspective. I suspect that he and my oldest female character are going to form some sort of alliance as there is a great deal being said in the argument of tradition versus moving with the times. I adore him and am feeling somewhat guilty I threatened him with the delete key. But he needs to know his place.

This is a secondary character. Secondary. I have enough characters vying for the spotlight, I cannot have another. I can't let him take the place of one of my top tier characters; it throws the balance off. I have considered it and so far, I can't see a way to make it work.

My hope is that he's going to fade back to sleep for a while and show up again later. I do, however, have the suspicion I'm being optimistic. I seem to have awakened a monster.

How do you make your characters go back to sleep? Or do you go along for the ride?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who's in Charge?

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my current WIP; far more time than actually writing it. I think about it as I making dinner, as I'm getting ready for bed, certainly before I go to sleep. I mutter dialogue in the car, which would explain why I am the recipient of the occasional odd look. (actually, that had better be the reason!) I'm happiest when I know where I am in the story so when I actually open up the laptop and start typing I've got a fairly good idea what I'm going to write.

Some writers prefer to create freely. They sit down and let the words flow and let the story lead them instead of them leading the story. Honestly, this method would never ever work for me. I like knowing how deep and how warm the pool is before I jump in. I'm sure an argument could be made that writing is a creative pursuit, so the more creativity in the process the better. I understand this; but it's not for me.

Of course, things happen. Characters say things I wasn't expecting them to say which may start a new subplot or show me a new motive. That's great. Humourous exchanges or situations occur when I wasn't expecting them; that's great too. I don't want to think of myself as a mindless drone endlessly tapping away on the keyboard, but I do want to be in charge.

I outline. I do fairly extensive character biographies. I know who dies and whodunnit. I know why. I know why every suspect would have committed the crime. I know who likes who and who dislikes who. In short, I don't start writing until I know the road. I'm all for surprises and inspirations, but I like being able to know immediately that an idea, although fun or interesting, isn't going to help the plot or the subplots.

Who's in charge when you write? Is it you or is it the story?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Actor Writes

As I spend more and more time focusing on becoming a decent writer, I spend more and more time being grateful for all the years I spent as an actor and a director in the theatre. I had never given it much thought, but upon contemplation I have realized my theatrical history has given me many advantages.

As an actor I spent years (and I do mean years) getting inside other people's heads. I've played career-driven women, women with relationship issues, women hungry for power and women looking for love. I've even played a man with emotional troubles; it was the psychiatrist Martin Dysart in Peter Schaffer's classic play Equus. I learned all different types of dialogue, from comedic to tragic to Shakespearean. I honed my sense of comedy. I learned how people react to different situations and how to portray that (both emotionally and physically) on stage.

As a director I learned to 'look at the whole board' instead of concentrating on one specific piece. I learned to ensure the pace was swift and the interactions between the characters were real. I learned how to build suspense or how to make the most of a comedic moment. I learned when people should be quiet or when they should be loud. Most importantly, I learned how to make the play a cohesive whole.

All this experience has made writing much easier. I can get inside each of my characters' heads and look through the world through their eyes quite easily. I know what vocabulary each of them use. I know their rhythms. Most importantly, I know what each of them want. My directing experience has helped me look at my WIP as a whole, and aided in my knowledge of when the plot has stalled or the pace is dragging. In a play every scene has to move the plot forward and I try to apply this rule to my writing. Every unit has to either move the plot or let the reader learn something new about a character (or characters). I try not to have large descriptions of settings, unless it's vital to the plot. Many times it's the people and the events that are important, not the colour of the paint.

Every actor learns how to discover their character by the phrase "what do I say about me, what do I say about others and what do others say about me". Take a look at whatever you're writing at the moment and apply this. It may change how you view your characters or it may help you realize you're writing it exactly the way you want!

In the theatre instead of saying 'good luck' we say 'break a leg'. In that spirit, to all you writers I say 'break a pen or keyboard'.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


*Many, many thanks to those of you who left comments on my post yesterday. Your kind wishes meant a great deal to me. I'm continuously amazed at the support of this wonderful online writing community.*

I spent most of yesterday in a state of fear; a lump in my stomach (which erased any sense of hunger), a heightened sense of awareness, short temper and feeling as if I was holding on to my sanity by my fingernails. It wasn't a good day. I dealt with the aftermath of a tree hitting our house the best I could; I got our electric wires reattached to the house, phoned about our cable service being fuzzy and surveyed the giant tree now covering our side yard. Luckily, none of the tree is touching our house and the only damage seems to be a broken gutter. However; another windstorm is supposed to hit tonight and there's still the other half of the tree standing in our neighbour's yard. I'm still terrified.

On the plus side, I can now write how characters would feel when everything goes out of control. Their tempers flare. Emotions rise to the surface. They would jump at the smallest noise. Despite the awfulness of yesterday, there was a part of my brain saying "You can use this. It will make your writing better." I guess if you're a writer you think about how to describe everything; or I certainly do!

Think about your characters and the situations you put them in. Do they have anyone to lean on or do they have to be frightened by themselves? How would they handle fear? How does it affect their relationships? Do they feel they must be brave for the sake of others or do they collapse?

Recognise how you deal with situations and use it in your writing. I believe the more real your characters the better your story.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Sorry. No post today. We had a large windstorm here last night and our neighbour's giant fir tree split and hit our house. Luckily, the house stood. But I've got a day of phoning for electrical repairs (wires came detached from the house), gutter repairs and a side yard full of tree. To add to the fun there's another storm showing up tomorrow night.

Writing lesson? Expect the unexpected.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Words, words, words...

POLONIUS: What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET: Words, words, words.

Every writer is told (either by contract or by reading publishers' guidelines) approximately how many words they need to write. That number, for some, sits out at the end of the journey with a large beacon shining up into the sky. "Here I am!" it says, "Come closer. Come to the light...". Some writers fixate on that magic number and worry only about getting closer and not about the quality of the words that are getting them there. Other writers tend to ignore the beacon and concentrate more on the quality of their steps, even if they're baby-sized.

The questions that many of us get constantly asked play into this fixation. Right after we get asked "Did you write today?" will often-times be the question "How much?". These are times I want to throw something heavy at the well-meaning questioner. Bless their hearts, but I'll tell you if I want. I'll give details if I want. Saying "I wrote 3,000 words today" to a non-writer is somewhat pointless; they don't know how long it took or if that number is significant - to you or to your manuscript.

I don't like fixating on word counts, but it seems to be unavoidable. I know where my total should be and given where I am in the plot I should be around X. Am I way over? Am I way under? At the end of every writing session I check to see how many words I've written. Some days the total is small; but they're good words. Some days the total is larger and I'm not as pleased with them.

I've tried to let the word count leave the front of my brain and just let my characters move through their plot lines; but it's tricky. For the sake of my sanity ( and the feeling I have some control) I like to incorporate as much logic as possible into my writing process and I'm afraid if I just let it go then my story will careen out of control and I'll end up not only with a tome that makes Gone With the Wind look like a light afternoon read; but also a manuscript that will demand months of editing and purging. The other fear is that I'll finish and realize I need to add countless chapters to make the manuscript the length its plots and subplots demand.

How often do you look at your word count? Do you think (like me) by this point I should be at this number, by this point I should be at that number? Or do you just let the words fly and worry about the actual count once you've come to the end?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the Thirteenth

In honour of today's date, I thought I would share with you a list that I found on the internet of people's top ten fears. I found it rather fascinating. Here we go...

1. Speaking in public
2. Snakes
3. Confined spaces
4. Heights
5. Spiders
6. Tunnels and bridges
7. Crowds
8. Public transportation (especially planes)
9. Storms
10. Water (as in swimming and drowning)

I will admit I share some of these; snakes, heights and spiders are not my friends. I have no fear of planes when I fly by myself, but if I'm flying with my kids it's a different story. Tunnels and bridges are fine; which is good considering where I live. Crowds? Fine. Storms? Fine as long as I'm home and safe not stuck out on a boat or in a car with the wind howling and various bits of debris flying across the road. I swim very well, so water is fine. Confined spaces? I have no real experience, but I've been in some fairly cramped spaces in various theatre productions and I was fine.

I've always been grateful that the number one fear of public speaking has never been a problem for me. Put me up in front of a small or huge group; as long as I'm prepared I say "Bring it on!".

Do you share any of these top ten fears? Have a wonderful Friday the 13th. Revel in it!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I admit when they were handing out the gift of patience I must have been hiding behind the door. When I want something I want it now, not tomorrow, not next week or next year; now. Now imagine my frustration when my WIP resolutely refuses to magically finish itself. Fun picture, isn't it?

I don't mind waiting in line at the grocery store; I read all the covers of the shiny magazines and discover who's breaking up with who and who's having another baby.

Digression: Why am I still supposed to care about Jennifer Aniston's love life? If I see one more headline hinting that she and Brad are secretly still in love I may spit. In public.

I don't mind waiting in line at the bank ( yes, I still have one account with no ATM card; it forces me to think whether or not I really want to spend money on something). I don't mind waiting for many things, but this one word at a time thing with writing can drive me a little nuts.

I have an on-going fantasy of opening up my word processing program and discovering my word count has increased by thousands overnight. So far, this fantasy goes unfulfilled but every morning I have fresh hope. My word count does climb every day, but slowly. Why can't I be one of these writers who sit down and, presto, novels flow effortlessly from their fingers onto the screen? I have good days and bad days, but never presto days. There are times I think I can see a light gleaming hopefully in the distance, but most days I'm fairly sure it's a mirage.

I'm trying to be practical. I tell myself everyone writes at their own pace. I look at my word count which is higher than it was a few days ago and say "See, you're getting there." But where are the word elves? Just one little elf...

Are you a patient writer? Do you rejoice in putting one word at a time onto the page? Or, are you too, looking under the bed hoping to find a word elf?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

When I was in school we never had November 11th off. The principal (who had driven ambulances in London during the Blitz) believed this day of all days should be spent working not sleeping in or watching television. We had a service at 11 o'clock and for many years I read the poem printed below as part of it. I recommend you read it out loud.

A soldier's prayer

(This poem by an unknown writer was found in the desert during the battle of El Agheila, December 14th, 1942. It was quoted by Field-Marshall Montgomery in his personal message to the 21st Army Group before the attack on the Rhine, and reproduced in the English Digest.)

Stay with me God. The night is dark,
The night is cold. My little spark
Of courage dies. The night is long,
Be with me God, and make me strong.
I love a game, I love a fight.
I hate the dark, I love the light,
I love my child, I love my wife,
I am no coward. I love life

Life with its changes of mood and shade,
I want to live. I'm not afraid,
But me and mine are hard to part -
Oh, unknown God, Lift up my heart.
You stilled the waters at Dunkirk
And saved your servants. All your work
Is wonderful, Dear God. You strode
Before us down that dreadful road.

We were alone and hope had fled.
We loved our country and our dead,
And could not shame them, so we stayed
The course, and were not much afraid.
Dear God, that nightmare road! And then
That sea! We got there... We were men,
My eyes were blind, my feet were torn,
My soul sang like a bird at dawn!

I'm but the son my mother bore,

A simple man and nothing more.

But - God of strength and gentleness,

Be pleased to make me nothing less.

Help me, Oh God, when death is near
To mock the haggard face of fear,
That when I fall - if fall I must -
My soul may triumph in the dust.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Alone Again, Naturally

I have been pondering the ironies involved with being a writer. We are exhorted to 'show, don't tell' and to fill our manuscripts with fast-paced plots peopled with interesting, extroverted characters. Yet, we write alone. Each of us sit with his or her pen and paper or computer and write without anyone shouting or dancing around us. I find it amusing that many introverts spend their days (or nights) writing about extroverts with lives crowded with incident.

You couldn't write a book showing the realistic life of a writer as they create a manuscript; it's too boring. Hours upon hours of staring at a blank screen or typing away. Certainly, there's cursing. There may be laughter. There may even be chocolate or cake. But this writer can never be a main character unless you're writing about the life that happens away from the computer. Ironic, isn't it?

We write about colourful characters involved in life-changing (or for us mystery writers life-ending) circumstances. Would you want to be living the life of one of your characters or would you rather be left alone so you can write? As for me, I'd take the lifestyle of some of my characters in an instant but not their problems. There are days, however, when I think it might be nice to be surrounded by people and have real conversations instead of spending my hours making up conversations for my characters. I never quite fit into the traditional 9 to 5 world, but the companionship was nice and there are days that I miss it. On the other hand, I'm extremely grateful that I am able to spend several hours a day writing (or trying to write). I know if I had a full-time job outside the home it would be impossible (for me).

So we continue to sit alone as we spin our tales; the only voices the ones inside our heads clamouring for their stories to be told. I do like being a writer. But sometimes, it would be nice to look up and see another face!

Do you cherish your time alone and wish you had more? Would you want the lives of your characters? Or is just the price we have to pay for being writers?

Monday, November 9, 2009

What's It Like Outside?

One of the first things I do every morning is check the weather; not only by looking out my window but by watching the weather on the morning news. Weather affects everything; what I'm going to wear, whether or not I'm going outside, what I'm making for dinner, to name a few. But, how often do we use weather in our books?

I admit I don't use it as much as I could.

People stuck inside because of inclement weather can lead to all sorts of interesting situations. A beautiful summer day is the time for picnics or rowing on a lake. People slow down in hot weather; there's always time for a cool drink or an extra ten minutes of conversation. On the other hand, hot weather can cause temper flare-ups; not many people are agreeable when they're dripping on the floor from the heat.

Imagine sticking your main character on a deserted road in a car that's run out of gas on a summer evening. Now imagine the same situation in a raging snowstorm. Which is the more threatening?

Windstorms cause power outages; always fun. Snowstorms isolate people; there's a reason Agatha Christie used them! Horror is always worse when it's juxtaposed with beautiful weather; sunny days are supposed to be happy days. But that's not always the way it works...

I'm not suggesting placing every mystery on a 'dark and stormy night'; but indications of the weather place our characters in the real world. Real people curse when it starts to rain and they've forgotten their umbrellas. Strangers become more talkative while they're waiting out a storm in a cafe. People get crabby when their feet are wet or cold. Everyone's lives are affected by the weather; shouldn't our characters be the same?

Take a moment and think about the project you're working on now. How would it change if you mentioned the weather? Or does it already play a large role in your plot? Make it real; let your characters get hot and crabby or shiver beside the fire. I think it adds another layer of reality to any story; regardless of genre.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Little Voice of Judgment

Every writer has it; that little voice in their head saying "Why did you write that?", or "That's an incredibly awkward sentence", or "This is possibly the worst thing ever written". It's not there all the time, but when it starts to shriek it is rather off-putting.

I am at that stage in my WIP where I am starting to question everything. Are the characters real people? Are their motives real or contrived? Are there enough plot twists or should I add more? Most importantly; will anyone want to read this???

I've experienced this before, of course, my little voice usually starts gaining in volume as I work my way through the middle of the plot (which is where I am now). I start worrying I've made the plot too easy, or too complicated. I question my choices on what methods I'm using to write it. I question everything. I worry my word count will be too low. I worry my word count will be too high. I really worry I'll never finish the damn thing...although I know I will.

I'm trying to tell myself that I've been through this before and I always find my way out of the quagmire. I try to reassure myself my plot is interesting and my characters are growing and changing as they travel through the plot. I re-read some of my chapters and honestly like what I see, although I'm making copious notes about inserting or deleting scenes.

It all comes down to self-confidence, doesn't it? Every writer must have self-doubts, but if they listened to them nothing would ever get written. I'm sure even the greats have had moments when they wanted to throw their manuscripts into the nearest fire. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my house doesn't have a fireplace. So I soldier on...

I shall remind myself that the only thing I can do is my best. I shall remind myself how much I love these characters and how I really do want to tell their stories. I shall try to ignore the shrieking voice.

But sometimes, it's hard.

How do you handle your little voice of judgment? How on earth do you tell it to be quiet?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

People not Characters

"When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters."
Ernest Hemingway

It is one of the first questions any writer asks themselves when they are embarking on a new project: "Who are these people?" You suddenly have all these people popping up in your mind demanding to be heard; but who are they? It can be a complicated question with an equally intricate answer.

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of preparation. I figure out each of the characters in my plot long before I actually start writing the story. I know when they were born and where they went to school. I know their home situations; I learn about their hopes and dreams and their fears. They become real people, not flat characters on a page. All this work pays off once I start to write because I know each of their voices. I know who's funny or who's uncomfortable. I know who's never really gotten over their first love and who is only interested in creature comforts. I love them all, even the ones who drive me a little nuts.

It's easy to go with stock characters; the warm-hearted barmaid, the shallow social lion, the slightly chubby best friend. But I try to resist the temptation because I would like readers to meet people they've never met before in someone else's book. I try to write about 'why' and that doesn't work with flat characters. I need to write people with all their myriad of quirks or my plot fails.

Even with all my preparation there are always surprises. A scene I was going to write with two characters suddenly has a third one poking his nose through the door saying "I need to be here too!" I discover two characters are far more alike under the skin than I first suspected; or one I thought would be trustworthy is definitely not. There are new discoveries every time I write.

Think honestly about the characters that you are writing. Are they truly real? Are they serving the plot or is the plot serving them? How have they changed by the end of your story? No one is static; events inevitably change us for the better or for the worse. Get to know your characters; your people. It's time well spent.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

100 Days and Counting

It starts 100 days from now. The 2010 Winter Olympics. It was the top story this morning on every local TV news program. Here they come...

I'm a huge fan of the Olympics, both winter and summer. I spend hours every 2 years in front of my television. Any Olympics are magical, but some of my favourite moments of the winter games are:
  • The magic and theatricality of the opening ceremony. Watching the Olympic flag come in, the lighting of the flame and the entrance of the Canadian team always brings a tear to my eye.
  • The grace and athleticism of the figure skaters
  • The amazing speed of the downhill skiers
  • The sound of the cowbells ringing from the Swiss fans as their bobsled teams race down the track.
  • The ice hockey (I AM Canadian!)
  • The insanity of the luge and the skeleton.

This is Vancouver; I live about 50 miles to the left of the picture.

This is Whistler; home of the downhill ski-ing and bobsled, luge, etc.

The speed-skating oval; already the recipient of a world-renowned architectural award. Huge amounts of the wood used is from trees damaged by the pine-beetle (a nasty varmint that traveled here from Asia about 10 years ago).

The Olympic flame arrived in Victoria last Friday. It now travels across the country before arriving in Vancouver for the opening ceremony February 12, 2010. It comes through my town February 11. Trust me, I'm there.

100 days until it all begins. I can't wait.

All photos found on Google Image.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Need to Know

How sharp a picture do readers have of your characters' appearance? How sharp a picture do readers need? I don't decide this question, my characters do.

I want readers to know my characters from the inside out rather than from the outside in. I want people to know Charlie is always hungry or Suzanne is afraid of heights. Someone's fear of poverty is far more interesting to me than what colour of shoes they have on their feet. However, does this character have a fixation about shoes? If so, I'm going to describe each pair they choose to wear in detail.

I'm certainly not suggesting saying nothing about outward appearances; readers want to be able to develop characters' pictures in their heads. I'll let people know if Mike is so tall he needs to duck through doorways or Cynthia's feet don't touch the floor when she sits. Hair colour? Probably. If they're heavy or slim? Yes, but in an indirect way. I'll describe the character feeling the pull of a shirt that's too tight or admiring their profile in a mirror. If other characters take note of someone's startlingly blue eyes, then that's great. Someone has to wear thick glasses; readers will know about it because of the limitations that character faces. How well do they maneuver without the glasses? Ahh...perhaps he/she can function perfectly well and what does this mean? Or perhaps they can't function at all so what happens when the glasses get broken? Is she/he the type to have a spare pair (or maybe more)?

People can't help the way they look (well, in this day and age they can if they have the money, but my WIP takes place 70 years ago). Some people spend their lives blighted by their hatred of their nose; some simply don't give it a second thought. A character may have curly hair; I mention it if she hates it but constantly receives compliments about it. Everyone is initially judged by external appearance, but the story lies in people's internal workings.

Do you ensure readers have perfect photographs of your characters? Is it important? Do you have a different view when you're the reader? For me, inside wins over outside every single time.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I have decided writing can be like trying to perform a juggling act while balancing on a wire high up in the tent. There is so much for a writer to try and keep track of: Is the plot moving forward quickly enough? Are the characters compelling? What about the setting? Add to this worries about grammar and vocabulary and I admit (for me) the urge to let loose with a primal scream becomes almost overwhelming.

The Plot Ball

Is it a good plot is the first question I ask myself; and then continue to ask over and over. Is it logical? Are there huge holes in the action? Is my solution reasonable or will it have people hurling my book (if it ever actually exists) across the room in well-earned frustration?

The Character Ball

Are all these characters real people? Do I understand why they do and say what they do? Are there too many of them; or (good grief) are there too few? Who gets the leading roles? Who's important but secondary? Who has bit parts? Then there's the issue of the names; not too similiar to each other but not too out-of -this world either. As a reader, I get bounced out of the story line when I have to spend 10 minutes wondering 'how on earth do you pronounce that?' There's also the character-arcs to remember; what are their individual journeys? How do they evolve as the plot progresses?

The Setting Ball

First off, does it matter where this story takes place? If it does, how much time do I need to spend describing it? This is often where I find my over-flowery sentences (which earn an eye-roll and the delete key).

The Grammar and Vocabulary Ball

This (for me) is the most frustrating part of the task. I am still learning American grammatical rules, which are quite different from the rules I learned here in Canada. I have a fairly extensive vocabulary but I don't want my manuscript to read like I've swallowed a dictionary.

Perhaps I was behind the door when the juggling gene was being handed out. There are days when I think I'm doing okay, but then there are days when I'm sure every one of those balls just went tumbling onto the ground.