Welcome to the class

Here are your instructions.


"If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word."

- Margaret Atwood


Warning from Ernest H.

"Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn't, doesn't."

— Ernest Hemingway


Great new software for novelists/screenwriters

As are most writers, I'm always on the lookout for something that makes our tasks as writers easier. Sometimes that's a technique; sometimes that's a new piece of hardware or software. I am convinced that over the years I have tried out every single word processing, script writing or novel writing program. With the exception of MS Word, I've found just about everything else lacking for writing prose and Final Draft for screenwriting. But I have to say that I've been very impressed with Scrivener.

This is a program that allows you to tailor it to the way you write and has more options than a Mercedes Benz. And the developers of this program allow you to download a free trial. So you can't go wrong.

The software is $40 or less and comes in both Mac and Windows versions. I'm a couple of weeks into using the software and find that I'm using MS Word less and less each day.

Warning: Scrivener is as comprehensive and has about as many bells and whistles as MS Word does. As such, the learning curve is about the same as MS Word. So give yourself a couple of weeks to get really comfortable with it.

You can find this software at www.literatureandlatte.com


BlueParrott wireless headset for voice recognition

BlueParrot offers a very freeing wireless headset that connects to your computer by USB Bluetooth adapter (that comes with the headset). It is comfortable to use and allows you to use voice recognition software without the bother of a headset cord.

Since posting this, BlueParrot has come up with an improved version.

New for Mac users

Nuance.com (makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Dragon Dictate for Mac voice recognition software) has just released a new compact version of a voice recognition app for Macs called "Dragon Express." It is inexpensive, by comparison, and is quite useful for small dictated passages. You can buy it by going to your "Apps for Mac" menu on your Mac.

Good writers

"A good writer is basically a story-teller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind."

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Pro versus amateur writer

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."

— Richard Bach


Best site for ebook authors

If you are planning on preparing and ebook for publication on Amzon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook or any of the other outlets, be sure you first visit The Unruly Guides website. This is the best place to find out the how-to of the process.


A shameful plug

If you haven't already purchased it, my latest novel, "A Requiem for Crows," is now available through Amazon's Kindle Books and Barnes & Noble's Nook books.


Inspiration? Maybe not

Beware of new inspiration when writing a novel.

Way too many new novelists have secumbed to the siren's song of "inspiration." So many good first novels have jumped the tracks when the novelist took a detour to write a suddenly-arrived idea that showed more promise and felt like it would be more fun than what the writer was already writing.

It's not inspiration. It is exhaustion. By the time we are several hundred pages into a first draft or even a couple of drafts down the line, we cannot help but tire of the story we are living with night and day. So our brain gives us an opportunity to goof off under the guise of being an inspired notion worthy of a momentary diversion to get it down before it flees. Most often, it is not inspiration and it is not worthy of our novels. And when we get back to what we were writing it is cold.

What's the solution? When a new notion arrives, jot it down in a ToDo or reminder form and get back to your manuscript. If it is a good idea, it will still be good after you finis your currrent project.

Profluence and Throughline

A plot or subplot follows the efforts of the protagonist within that plot to achieve his primary goal. He does this by attempting to accomplish all the lesser goals necessary to achive the primary goal. (If he is going to kill someone he has to go get a gun first.) This path to the primary goal is the plot's throughline. It is vital to the life of your story.

Recognition of this throughline by the reader gives the reader confidence that there is profluence to the story. Profluence is the clear sense that things are moving toward something, getting somewhere, flowing forward, have a direction and a destination.

The reader demands some reason to keep turning the pages. He won't do it just because the setting is interesting, the character is unique, pages are filled with endless detail or your writing style is fresh. The story needs to be going somewhere. How do you do that?

— You quickly and clearly make it obvious to the reader who the central character is.

— Make it clear what he wants, needs or desires.

— Resist the urge to explain or offer unnecessary backstory.

— Remind yourself that you are writing a story and not a biography or a resume.

— Don’t dwell in that character's history, past, earlier experiences or anything from the character's life that wouldn't fall into the category of being absolutely necessary to the story's forward motion. History is final, done, behind the character and has already occurred. The minute a novelist begins to explain what happened when the character was six or what life was like years ago the reader knows that whatever it is it didn't result in the worst thing that could happen or the character wouldn't be present in the story.

— Ask yourself with each scene if it is clear that the scene is a logical step toward the protagonist's ulimate goal.

We can't write like previous generations of novelists. Start your story on a train in motion or at least pulling out of a station.

Evidence of continued profluence is the presence of causally linked scenes in pursuit of what's most important to the protagonist. Stories without profluence are normally populated by a lack of causally linked scenes and the presence of unrelated scenes showing no progression or connection to other scenes other than being about the same characters.

Know what your character wants and let your story be about his struggle to get there.


Getting the writing done

"Successful writers write no matter what."

— Kelly L. Stone


Struggling with the urge to pile on backstory?

"If you want to know your past -- look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future -- look into your present actions."

-- Chinese Proverb


Where to do the writing

Writing gets done somewhere other than at your keyboard. Waiting for the kids to finish soccer practice, unloading the dishwasher, between the shampoo and the conditioner are all places where you make up what you want to write up. All you need to do is pick the place and time in your novel you have not yet written and focus on it. See the characters, understand their needs in the moment, place them somewhere to interact. Then hear their words. What words? Characters say and do what they think will get them what they want in the moment. If you know what they want you'll know what they will say. If their goals are not compatible you will have dramatic tension. If you have dramatic tension you will hold the reader to the scene to find out how it ends. The key to all this is directing your idle brain time to the task of visiting your story.


Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. 

-- Anton Chekhov


Wanting to write but not writing?

Most likely the major problem is not that we want to write. It is that we want to write perfectly, right now.


Becoming a better scene writer

We can learn something from the Cold War Soviets. They often created weaponry from reverse engineering weapons the US and NATO invented in the 60s and 70s. They'd start with reconnaissance photos of something and then work backwards until they had a similar weapon.

As writers we can use a variation on the same technique to become better scene writers. Scenes are the basic increment of the novel, the heart of everything we write and not an optional skill to master.

Improve your scene writing skills by watching a favorite DVD or recorded TV program and paying attention to one scene. Watch it, turn it off, go write what you just watched. Then play it again and see if your prose was complete and effective at what you see in the scene. Doing this often, and with favorite scenes, will sharpen your skills as a scene writer. Good scene writers become good novelists.


Want to write more?

First start by shutting out your internal critic and editor. There is a time and a place for your sharp editorial skills and your critical eye. But writing early drafts is not the place. Make a deal with yourself to postpone checking for spelling, punctuation, syntax and overall excellence until you have made some solid decisions. Those include:

  • Deciding what's going to stay in your story.

  • Where in the manuscript everything will finally be.

  • Eliminating all the flab that needs to be cut.

    Once you have worked your way through enough drafts to have finalized the above, that's the time to start getting picky. Doing it any earlier is a source of productive avoidance. It looks like writing. It isn't. It's tinkering too early.

  • 9/16/2007

    Eight rules for writing fiction by Kurt Vonnegut

    1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
    2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
    3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
    4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
    5. Start as close to the end as possible.
    6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
    7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
    8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

    – Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.


    First drafts

    The first draft of a story is the writer's clay.

    -- Bruce Coville


    Help with your visualization

    If you are having trouble actually visualizing what it is you will ultimately sit down to write it is more than likely just lack of practice. Another part of it is choking up over having to visualize your own story material that you aren't even sure about yet.

    A solution to this feeling of awkwardness with visualization is practice. But practice on something less nerve wracking than the novel you are trying to create.

    Go get a copy of your favorite movie or dramatic television show and pop it into your DVD player or VCR. Find a scene that includes two characters and some confrontation over opposing goals. It doesn't have to be Earth shaking or life and death. It can be as simple as a difference of opinion between a boss and employee over whether the employee deserves a raise or not.

    Now, sit back and watch the scene. The whole scene.

    • Rewind. Watch it again paying particular attention to Character A, as if you were at his or her shoulder.
    • Rewind. Watch it again paying attention to Character B this time.
    • Next, turn it all off and go sit down and write what you just saw.
    • Then go back and watch it again and see how close you came to recreating on paper what you saw on the screen.

    Do this several times with various favorite scenes from films or television shows you are fond of and you will soon find your ability to transpose visual and audio experiences you play on your VCR or in your head onto paper.


    A small tip

    Fear of change is one of the very best conflict and emotion generators in life and in fiction.


    Don't read it. Don't fix it

    Don't read what you've drafted (first draft) that day or the previous day's work. Just move on. Finish the draft first.

    Confused? What would be the point of tinkering with an incomplete draft?

    Reading what you just wrote has a very high probability of giving you what you don't need at an early point in the writing process: discouragement. It is rough, raw, incomplete, bloated, off point, poorly written, and pretty much a mess. But this is all you can hope for in a first draft. Be happy you have that. The good news is that all of this can be fixed and subsequent drafts.

    "Why would you make that recommendation?" you might ask. At this stage of the writing process you are unlikely to read anything and from it be able to make any sound decisions about changes you want to make, things you want to add, move, or polish. This is because you have no idea yet what the whole draft looks like. You are in the incomplete draft. Trying to read yesterday's material under the guise of looking for improvement/changes to make is like buying furniture for a house you haven't seen. Neither do you know what is already in those rooms.

    The best way to get momentum going and keep it moving in a first draft is to outline as much as you can as well as you can, write fast and move forward. It is after you have completed a first draft that you are in the best position to make some informed decisions about what changes/improvements to making your next draft.

    Keep an eye on other writers. You will discover that those who insist on going back and reading mid-draft material (first draft) subsequently get despondent, become disappointed with the product and quite often consider quitting. This is because he/she was looking for too much progress too soon – no matter what reason he/she gave for reading that material.

    In your first draft, go for speed and completion. All else will follow in due time. Trust the process.


    Why write?

    It is a strange way to make a living. But if you are lucky, it will be what you do as well as what you love. If you don't love it, don't try it. But if you'd love to write and find it incredibly difficult, painful and stressful, then learn how to do it. The more you study your craft, hang out with writers, read and the more you write, the quicker you see your frustrations fade.

    No one hits the street right after buying a #2 pencil and pad prepared to become a writer. Sure, you might have the urge, but do you have the skills? Not likely. It is a craft that, like all crafts, requires and apprenticeship, years as a journeyman and then furtive leaps toward becoming a master.

    I can guarantee you periods of great frustration while your aspirations outreach your skill level. But you can count on them becoming fewer, less intense and farther apart as you progress from apprentice to master.

    Why would you want to do this -- this writing thing?

    • It is a trade you can ply anywhere
    • Every single time you sit down to write, you get better at it
    • It requires almost no tools, inventory, apparatus or cash investment
    • You are completely responsible for the end product
    • You can take full credit for success
    • It is an occupation you can do even after your back goes out
    • Your words will be in print and available long after you are gone
    • And because it is a joy to end your day with something you can print out, read and enjoy

    Writing is not for the faint of heart. It is for the courageous and daring.


    Lower the bar, raise the output

    The urge to write something pushes you to get to your favorite writing place, pour your thoughts onto the page or computer monitor and you feel that special sense of excitement only writers know. All that happens -- but you don't seem to get the writing done. What's the deal? Why do you want to write and find yourself not writing?

    This mismatch of desires and actions come from one or more of the following:

    • You come to the keyboard with only desire and nothing prepared
    • You are expecting to get too much done
    • You have unrealistic expectations of the quality of your efforts

    You've heard it before: "Perfect is the enemy of good (enough for now)." We are all sucked into the myth that truly gifted writers simply sit down and magic leaps from their fingertips. Speak to as many published writers as you can corner and ask them about the quality and quantity of their first efforts. You will find that almost without exception their first drafts are rough, awkward, incomplete, disorganized, poorly structured and of very poor quality. But what most will tell you is that they know this, expect this, aren't worried about it and have confidence that with revision and rewriting the quality of the writing will improve -- without fail.

    No one wants to disappoint himself. We don't go write when we know, instinctively, that we simply aren't prepared to do the level of writing we aspire to or the amount we have set as our goal or both.

    Preparation leads to product. All writers eventually discover that the writing really gets done before they sit down to the keyboard or lined pad. It is a matter of focus, visualization and goal setting for the upcoming writing session. The more time the writer spends preparing himself by visualizing the scene(s) he intends to write, the more excited he becomes about actually getting to the writing and getting it on paper.

    Bottom line: If you aren't writing, you aren't prepared. Or, you are expecting too much too soon. Or both.

    Lower the bar, spend more time thinking about what you want to write before beginning and watch what happens.


    The recipe's easy

    Here's the recipe: It seems so simple that most new novelists don't think it can be the key to a story, but it is. It defines the spine of the story, the direction and the source of the conflict. Ready?

    Find out what it is your protagonist passionately wants or desperately needs. Start him/her on the path to attaining it and then put something almost insurmountable in the path.

    This is all there is to it. If you do this, you have your story engine. If you don't, you will keep circling the parking lot looking for the on ramp.

    You might as well schedule accordingly

    Being a writer means having homework for the rest of your life.

    -- Lawrence Kasdan


    Experience needed

    Some of you may be feeling as if you simply can't get the character you are creating in your head onto the page. Relax. This is normal for a first draft.

    You WILL NOT know your characters until you are at least well past the halfway point or, for most of you, through the end of a complete first draft. This is because you need to put your characters through their paces.

    You need to:
  • Put them in confrontation after confrontation
  • Afford them plenty of opportunities to lie, cheat and steal and see how they act
  • See them at crossroad after crossroad where one path is in their best interest and the other is the right path, or the heroic path, or the unselfish path. In short, the second path is more likely to be the best moral choice.
  • Until you have put your characters through the first draft of your story you will not only continue to feel like you aren't fleshing them out, but you will feel a little unsure about who they are and what they would do given the chance to cheat on their taxes, cheat on their wife, steal from the boss or give to charity anonymously.

    And until you have done this and get much more comfortable with what makes your characters tick you won't be able to use one of the very best tools available to you to reveal character -- interior monologue. You can't know what they'd think until you know what makes them tick.

    Just have confidence that if you force yourself and your characters through a difficult (conflict-wise) and focused experience to get something they want, avoid something they fear or eliminate something they must remove from their life you will gain that intimacy with your characters. It is this intimacy gained through story experience that will give you the understanding you need in second through fourth drafts where you more precisely use actions, dialogue and interior monologue to reveal character.

    Body Language

    If there is a common problem for new novelists it is shrugging off the hard learned instincts formed in writing non-fiction in K through 12 and college.

    There we were schooled in "telling" the reader everything he needs to know. We gathered lots of data and sifted it. We then organized it, packaged it, summarized it and delivered it in consumable formats that make the process of gaining information from us a near passive act on the part of the reader. We did all the work for them.

    There is only ONE rule of fiction writing: Don't bore your reader.

    There is nothing more boring than being told everything by a narrator, having all the decisions made for you by the narrator and wading through endless information, exposition and explanation.

    Today's readers want to be the judge of what they read. They don't want to be told a character is an evil man. They want to see that character do something evil and then draw that conclusion themselves.

    Readers don't want to be told a character is angry. They want to see him put his fist through a wall. They'll decide if he is angry based on his actions and his words.

    Just as you form opinions about people by their words, posture, gestures, actions and expressions in real life, you can do the very same with your fiction. Let the total character add up to the tone or emotion, attitude or mood you want to project by revealing it rather than by stating it.

    And often overlooked technique for the fiction writer is body language. We send lots of messages by our gestures, signs and body language cues.

    So for those of you worried about making your character clear to the reader, resist the urge to explain (RUE). Instead, provide a collection of non-verbal indicators by adding body language to behavior and speech.

    You can find endless lists of body language definitions on the internet. Find one you like, print the list out and keep it close at hand.


    Avoid embarrassment

    When sending manuscripts, emails, etc off to agents and editors, you might be alarmed to know that what you send is not always what they get at the other end.

    Microsoft will tell you: "When you distribute an Office document electronically, the document might contain information that you do not want to share publicly, such as information you've designated as hidden; or information that allows you to collaborate on writing and editing the document with others. There are also cases were your manuscript document will contain segments of completely different documents -- unrelated ones, even personal ones.

    The Remove Hidden Data add-in is a tool that you can use to remove personal or hidden data that might not be immediately apparent when you view the document in your Microsoft Office application."

    You can get that small program free from Microsoft at: Microsoft download

    Or, you can use the built-in menu option in the new version of Word found in Office 2007. There you will find an "Inspect Document" feature that will allow you to look for "... hidden metadata or personal information." Doing so will allow you to review and remove any or all:

  • Comments, revisions, versions and annotations
  • Document properties and personal information
  • Custom XML data
  • Headers, footers and watermarks
  • Hidden text

  • I hope this will avoid some embarrassment which could occur.


    On plotting

    "As regards plot I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots. And as I think a plot is desirable and almost necessary, I have this extra grudge against life."

    -- Ivy Compton-Burnett

    Sling Ink

    Here's a suggestion that might help some of you when you are considering making a change to something you've already written.

    The temptation that faces each of us day after day is that when we are dissatisfied with a scene or even a paragraph we have just drafted we try to fix it by tinkering with it. By that I mean we go back and reword sentences, revise, cut, rearrange phrases, etc.

    The trick I learned a long time ago from a wonderful mentor of mine, Academy Award winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, is to do this instead:

    Don't go back to the passage that needs fixing and start banging it into shape with hammer. Instead, read it if you need to, and then write a whole new version -- from beginning to end. Don't try to make the first failed effort acceptable by body and fender work.

    What's the difference? You'll find it when you compare a passage you are unsatisfied with that you have pounded into submission with one that you have rewritten completely from beginning to end that the latter has a much more consistent flow and often is more complete, coherent and clear. And you will soon find the second time you write something completely it is almost always better than fixing up the first time effort.

    Now, this suggestion can work almost anywhere in the process of writing a complete manuscript. But there does come a phase in the process of successive drafts where you will spend your time doing minor tweaking, wordsmithing, polishing and checking for punctuation and spelling. By that point in the process you have pretty much decided what goes in each passage, paragraph, scene or chapter. And not much of that will move. So making small adjustments to a semifinal version is often more appropriate there.

    Get in the habit of slinging ink. Instead of fixing a rough draft write a new draft and watch what happens to the quality of that second effort.


    First Drafts

    The purpose of a first draft is not to get it right; it's to empty your pockets and discover what you've got to work with in your upcoming drafts -- where the real writing gets done.


    Moving a story forward

    For a sure fire way to move a story forward put more conflict in your protagonist's path than in his past.



    One of the best story decongestants is to take stock of agendas. By the time you find yourself bogging down and getting nervous about where your story is going you have also added a number of characters to your cast.

    If you are like just about every other writer those characters tend to be more in like helpers, partners, facilitators, sidekicks or even smaller versions of one of your principal characters. As such, they tend to have more compatible and complementary agendas than antagonistic or complicating agendas when held up to the agendas of your protagonist and antagonist.

    Do these two things to get the flow going again:

    1. Write down the name of every character and next to it that character's agenda. What does that character want?

    2. Then go back through those agendas and mark those that are supportive or present no obstacle to your protagonist and the same to your antagonist.

    You will suddenly discover there's bit too much cooperation and normal/non-conflicting motion in your story.

    Don't be afraid to make characters needy, ambitious, selfish, self-centered or protective to realign agendas so that character relationships are far more tension, friction or conflict filled than cooperative and helpful.

    Misalign your agendas, don't merge them into the traffic flow. Put characters on a collision course and even let those with compatible agendas at least have a different sense of urgency or difference of opinion on how to get somewhere or get something done. The is the source of conflict and conflict is the currency of novelists.

    Watch what happens to your story then.


    Your job vs. the typesetter's job

    Yes, your word processing program is filled with nifty little formatting, style and appearance options you can include in your text. But remember you are writing a manuscript, not publishing a book. Let the typesetter do his job and you do yours.

    If you want something in Italics, underline it. If you want an em dash in your text indicate it by using a double hyphen (--).

    Of course, if you are going to publish your manuscript yourself as an e-book you get to do all the typesetting.

    When lost

    If you are having trouble knowing what your character will do or say next, ask: What does he want at this very moment? What does he want, ultimately?

    Characters do or say what they think will get them want they want in the moment or in the long run.


    Good writing advice

    "Nothing in storytelling fails like letting the lead character succeed."

    -- Jack M. Bickham


    Chick Lit

    For those of you interested in writing Chick Lit, here are some sites:
  • Chick Lit Writers
  • Authors On The Web
  • Chick Lit Publishers:
  • Chick Lit US
  • Red Dress
  • Downtown Press
  • 5/23/2005

    Looking for a literary agent?

    Make sure you cruise by the Association of Author's Representatives to find out about an agent or look for one.


    Want help with research?

    Did you know that you can let the internet help you do research about contemporary and changing info? All you have to do is create a Google Alert and every time the words you specify show up somewhere on the internet you'll get an email alerting you. Just go to Google Alerts to set one up.


    Proofreading Marks

    If you need proofreading and typesetter's marks, go to this site.

    Great source of books

    Want to shop competitively for new and used books? Click here.


    How do I copyright my work?

    You can find all you need here -- at the Library of Congress Copyright Office.

    BTW, Copyright registration rates will increase from $30 to $45 on July 1st, 2006.

    Grammar headaches?

    Go to this site for help with your problem.


    Plotting/Writing software

    I had a question about what I recommend to aid in plotting. In increasing order of cost I'd recommend:

    Welcome to my blog

    This site is not threaded in any particular order. As the need arises to post resources, place explanations or examples of writing here the item will appear in the order of discovery, need or demand.

    If you let me know how I can help you, I'll be happy to post a response you and anyone else visiting here can read. Just drop me an e-mail with any request you have.

    About Me

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    Whitefish, Montana, United States