Tag Archives: creative writing

Put ‘Em Up; Put ‘Em Up!!!

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In the last post, I discussed the various types of protagonists. Yay for the heroes! Today I was going to discuss the other guys, the ones that we love to hate—the antagonists!

But I realized before we can really dig deep into the antagonists, I have to introduce conflict because what would a protagonist and antagonist be without conflict? They’d just be a couple characters strolling down the street and waving ‘hi’ at each other. A little boring…

This post will only be a quick overview of conflict, so I will discuss conflict more deeply in a later post.

What is conflict?

It is the heart of your story. It is the tension between the protagonist and someone or something else that pushes your story forward. Read this and think how much this story does or doesn’t interest you:

            Terry and Sam were lying stretched out on the beach, the sun turning their skin warm and golden.

            “Hey Sam,” Terry drawled. “Are you glad we came to the beach? I’m sure glad we came to the beach.”

            “Yes, I love the beach,” Sam replied. “Are you getting hungry?”

            “Yes, I am. Would you like a sandwich? We have tuna and ham. Which would you like?” Terry asked.

            “I would love a ham sandwich.”

            “That’s good because I love tuna,” Terry replied.

            The two men quietly ate their sandwiches and looked at the waves lapping on the sand.

            “Should we go home now, Terry?” Sam asked.

            “Yes, I think we should.”

            The two men stood up and left.

Deadly dull, isn’t it? Now try this one:

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            Terry and Sam were lying stretched out on the beach. Sam dozed quietly, soaking up the sun. Terry lay on his side, turned away from Sam, back rigid, legs tight, and toes curled under. His entire body was as unyielding as the concrete breakwaters thirty feet out into the sea.

            “Hey.” Terry spat the word out as if chewing on a slice of bitter, unripened papaya. “Are you glad we came to the beach?” He sneered without looking back at Sam.

Here we have only covered a tiny portion of the story, and already it’s more interesting. What makes the difference? Conflict.

Without conflict, there can be no antagonist, and without some kind of antagonist, there cannot be much of a story.

There are six types of conflict.

Character versus themselves

This kind of conflict happens within the character. This might be a struggle with illness or morality. Think of Emma by Jane Austen, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear, and the films Cast Away, My Left Foot, and A Beautiful Mind.

Character versus character

This is an external conflict between two or more characters that can be as brief as a fistfight or as long as the multiple fights and battles in Game of Thrones. Other examples are S.E. Hinton’s YA novel The Outsiders, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Character versus nature

In this case, it is an external conflict in which a character is pitted against some form of nature: temperature, extreme weather, a natural disaster, a wild animal, etc. Think Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and parts of Collins’ Hunger Games, as well as the films Cast Away, and The Revenant.

Character versus the supernatural

When the protagonist is up against metaphysical phenomena such as ghosts, monsters, demons, zombies, and so on. Think about the  Harry Potter series, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

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Character versus technology

In this case, the protagonist is pitted against technology of some kind. Think about the novels Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, On the Beach by Nevil Shute, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, or pretty much any novel by William Gibson.

Character versus society

Protagonists here are in a battle with the power of society for survival, freedom, or morality. Think Orwell’s 1984, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, or Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Walking the Subtlety Tightrope

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Is subtlety a good thing for writers to insert into their stories?

            Subtlety is a tightrope, sometimes a tightrope in a windstorm. When you write subtlety into your story and ask someone to be a beta reader, if that person is another writer, probably they will get your subtlety. If you ask someone who just likes to read, probably they won’t. The issue with having a writer read your story or novel is that they have spent hours, days, and often years evaluating stories for just such subtlety. If you ask a friend or colleague who is not a writer, they don’t have that experience. These folks may not have the writer’s vocabulary to tell you what does and doesn’t work, but if you listen to them carefully, you can glean what problems your writing may or may not have, including too much subtlety.

            To write with subtlety is, as I mentioned above, a tightrope. A story with not so much subtlety could give your story popularity with a wide audience, however a story with a great deal of subtlety can be extremely powerful, but not everyone will get it.

            It is at this point that you, the writer, must make a decision in regards to power versus popularity. Something to keep in mind here is this: if you tip too far into the Subtle Sea, and you get reader feedback that they didn’t understand your story, it is not the fault of the reader. This is the writer’s story and so any decisions we make as writers fall strictly in our laps. If our readers do not understand, it is our error, not theirs. So be strategic. Think about what you really want. Do you want everyone to love your book? Then less subtlety. Do you want a very powerful story to knock the socks off some of your readers? Then more is better.

Has subtlety always been part of storytelling?

            Intuitively we may want to answer ‘Yes, of course!’ but we would be wrong. In fact, it was not until the last century that adding subtlety became fashionable. In the 19th century, almost all of writers wrote in third person omniscient making subtlety unnecessary. The omniscient POV allows the reader to look into the minds of ALL the characters. Think Jane Austen or the Bröntes. At the very end of the 19th century, Henry James began releasing stories written in the 3rd-person limited POV. In doing this, the readers no longer had the ability to see completely into the minds of all the characters. Even the protagonist can be unreliable for the reader. The reader can only truly be aware of what the protagonist is aware of. This is where subtlety can be important to the understanding of the theme, or even the basic plotline. Certainly, the growing popularity of the theories of Sigmund Freud had an impact on this change. People were slowly coming to realize that people don’t always know why they do what they do. In this case, subtlety becomes important. Your characters may never figure out their own motivations but as long as your readers can, then you are fine.

What can subtlety add to your writing?


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As I said above, subtlety can make your story much more powerful. A very short story that has been incorrectly attributed to Hemingway is this:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

This is the height of subtlety. We do not know what the story is until the final two words—the death of a baby before she began to walk—and even then, a reader not used to subtlety might miss the meaning.

            “The Chrysanthemum” by Steinbeck is a story rich with subtlety. This multi-layered story hints at the relationship between the protagonist and her husband as well as the protagonist’s inner workings. You have to read very carefully between the lines, but if you can get the subtlety, it is a very powerful story.

            “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber shows us a protagonist who is, to the reader, clearly ridiculous, but Walter Mitty is oblivious. Actually, oblivious is not quite the right word. He is vaguely aware of his ridiculousness, but he chooses to ignore it. So, instead of ‘oblivious’, it seems that ‘in denial’ would be a better choice. The subtlety comes in the intersection between Mitty’s real world and his imaginary world.

            “The Story of an Hour” AKA “The Dream of an Hour” by Kate Chopin is only three pages long, making it as short as some flash fiction. This story is ambiguous and because of that, intriguing. In three short pages, she hints at an analysis of death, marriage, and personal needs and desires. It is an hour in the life of a woman who has just been told that her husband is apparently dead. Because the story is so short, Chopin could only hint at these themes, but in doing so gives us a powerful story.

            Another author who wrote with subtlety was Yukio Mishima. His collection of short stories under the title Death in Midsummer is masterful. He was able to write stories that are almost painfully subtle, however his readers are relieved of the burden of figuring out the underlying message because Mishima had complete control, not only over his entire story, but also over his last lines. These final lines are so strong, they feel like the proverbial punch in the gut. I found myself frowning when I first read his stories. I struggled to understand, and then–BOOM–the last line knocks you flat. In doing this he has the best of both worlds—the subtle and the obvious—making his stories truly powerful. The description on Amazon for Death in Midsummer  sums up everything nicely:

Nine of Yukio Mishima’s finest stories were selected by Mishima himself for translation in this book; they represent his extraordinary ability to depict a wide variety of human beings in moments of significance. Often his characters are sophisticated modern Japanese who turn out to be not so liberated from the past as they had thought.

            I strongly recommend reading Mishima’s short stories, or even his full-length novels.

I will wrap this up by saying, yes, be subtle, but not about anything that is critical to the understanding of your story. Another writer might figure out the intricacies but a nonwriter might just miss that which is critical. So jump on that tightrope and enjoy your balancing act as you swing to that perfect balance between powerful writing and popularity.

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Discovering a New Facet to the Diamond that is Writing

Last night I did something that I had been intending to do for… well, years.  I attended and read at a spoken word event.  In my little town, there is a funky little performance space called The Duncan Showroom.  It is a favourite location for musicians because of the intimate atmosphere.  Nick and I had gone down on Sunday to hear Sam Weber and his band play.  Sam was a student of mine and was in the same grad class as my daughter so I was truly looking forward to hearing him play.  I wasn’t disappointed. He and his band were fabulous and fun and it was a great show.  


When we were leaving, I looked up on their bulletin board and noticed a little piece of paper. As small as the paper was, the words seemed huge and they reached out and grabbed me by the throat.

For The Love of Words

Well, this seemed like a sign – and last night I showed up, added my name to the list and plunked my bottom into a front row seat. There is something that you don’t get from the solitary action of plunking away at your computer that is available in abundance in a reading – feedback. As I read, I could hear chuckles and out and out guffaws as I read my “Open Letter to an Unnamed GPS Executive”. And later, several people came up and congratulated me on my writing.  What a great feeling that is! I will be back there again to read something else – probably some poetry – later in the summer. So… here I am, reading last night.

**warning – there are a couple of f-bombs and a bit of other adult language.



If you want to see the whole show, click here.



Mando Method #amwriting

 This morning when I was – well let’s be honest – procrastinating over my writing, I found the hashtag #mandomethod followed by a number. I was intrigued. I clicked on #mandomethod and found all kinds of tweets that were similar – #mandomethod 417. #MandoMethod 381. #Mandomethod 591, not bad! What the heck was this Mando Method?  It didn’t take much searching for me to find the original blog post that explained what the Mando Method was. I won’t explain it. Just click on the link and you can read the post for yourself.  “Well, hell!” I said to myself. “This sounds like a great idea!” So, I set the stopwatch on my phone and started writing.  Twenty-one minutes later I had 201 words. TWO HUNDRED AND ONE!  If you took the time to link back to the original blog post, you would have seen the following:

Hour 1 – 493 words

Hour 2 – 644 words

Hour 3 – 602 words

Hour 4 – 596 words

Hour 5 – 677 words

Hour 6 – 550 words

Hour 7 – 585 words

Hour 8 – 781 words

Each of those represents 15 minutes of writing.  A quick search on Twitter and I came up with pretty similar numbers… including the following:

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 10.01.46 AM

Eight hundred and fifty-one? Really?  It’s not that I doubt @RidiculouslySpeedyWriter at all.  I have no doubt that this person wrote 851 words in 15 minutes.  What gets me is that I wrote 201 and that took me 21 minutes to write.  No wonder The Bastard of Saint Genevra took me five freaking years!  

So, I have decided that I am going to blame this on menopause.  New hashtag… #amwritingthroughmenopause.


The Best Kind of Currency


There are many ‘ironical’ things about writing. A surface cursory glance tells the observer that it is a solitary venture. I know that there some authors out there who write as a team, but for the most part, those of us who write, do it alone. The truth, however, it that writing is much less a solitary venture that it first appears.  Sure, as I write this, or my short stories, or novels, or poetry, or essays I am placing my fingers on the keys and I am putting my thoughts into pixels that will be saved onto this blog or that doc or the other pdf and I am clicking save.  But when I finally get enough pixels and characters and words together to create a book or an article, this begins a long road of others who are every bit as important to the final outcome as I am. These include editors and agents, publishers, printers, illustrators, booksellers and, of course, readers.

And while writers may not think we need other writers – and, in fact, we could do this crazy avocation of ours completely isolated from our kinfolk – we grow exponentially when we meet and connect.  When we share our knowledge and experience and frustrations and joys.  

This weekend I had one of those precious opportunities to share with other authors. The Federation of BC Writers hosted a workshop on publishing and self-publishing. The four speakers shared on the Vancouver Island Public Library Story Lab with its Espresso Book Machine, on publishing with traditional publishers and finding an agent, on working with an editor and on the difficulties and advantages of self-publishing.  

While all of these were important, and I will post more about them later, what was most important for me was to talk with other writers – some published, others brand new. There is power in the feeling of being recognized by others of your kind.  There is comfort and comradery in commiserating with the kin and kind who struggle the same way you do. 

I spent 7 hours listening, discussing, and chatting with other writers and when the day was done I left energized and filled with ideas and strategies and hope.  And, believe me, for a writer, these are the very best kinds of currency out there.

How to Set Yourself Up in One Easy Lesson

Last night I was on the Facebook page of author, Kathy Reinhart. Kathy was the winner of the 2009 Brighid’s Fire Books  Fiction Manuscript Contest for her book Lily White Lies (great title btw). On her Facebook page she has announced the summer 2016 release of her new book, Cry Like a Girl

This got me thinking.  I don’t think I have mentioned that I am currently working on two collections – one is a collection of flash fiction and the other is a collection of humorous (I hope) haiku and tanka poetry – a collaboration with my husband if he would ever get off his butt and write some when he gets the time to write.  I only have some control over the haiku collection but I have total control of the flash fiction collection… it’s just a matter of putting my butt in the seat and writing.  

I have always intended to publish this collection independently so the date and time of the publication is completely up to me. On March 12, I’m heading up to Nanaimo (home of the ridiculously delicious Nanaimo bars) for a publishing and self-publishing workshop.



So, here is my question: Do I announce the release of my flash fiction collection before it is done?  This leads me to a plethora of other questions. What do I name my book? Who will do the cover? Do I go with Createspace, Bookbaby, Blurb or some other publishing organization?  If I do this, am I setting myself up for gut-wrenching, hair-ripping, writer’s block-inducing writer’s stress? 

Stay tune for my decision after the workshop on March 12th.

Retirement and Other Ways To Find Time to Write (or not)


Dear reader,  

I am a writer. I am a writer because I say I am.  And also because someone else looked at my writing and thought it was good enough to publish (Yay!).  The thing about writers is, well, we actually have to write to be a writer.  I am also a retired teacher & librarian.  My last novel took me five years to write because during the school year I found it difficult to get enough time to put more than a few sentences down on paper – or in my computer.  ‘Wait till I retire!’ I told myself.  ‘I will be writing my brains out! All the time.  It will be amazing!’ Well, I am now officially retired.  Three weeks into retirement to be exact.  Have I been writing my brains out?  Hardly.  I’ve heard from so many of my retired friends that they became much busier after retirement than before.  I can attest to the veracity of this. You would think that it would take a few weeks to work up to the “much busier” status.  Nope.  Literally the next day, I found my days were so full that I couldn’t possibly get everything done.  Those of you who haven’t yet retired are very likely saying to yourselves, ‘What could these retirees be doing that makes them so busy?’ I asked the exact same question.  Here is my answer.

  1. Volunteering at the local fair trade store.
  2. Taking time for meditation in the morning.
  3. Reading.
  4. Journalling.
  5. Attending a whole wack of 12 step meetings.
  6. Exercising.
  7. Doing housework. (Really?  You want to do housework instead of write?)
  8. Playing World of Warcraft. (OMG.  How old are you?)
  9. Planning meals and cooking.
  10. Facebook. (Worst reason ever to not write)
  11. Twitter. (Second worst reason ever to not write)
  12. Going for walks with friends.
  13. Going for coffee with friends.
  14. Going to appointments at the doctor/dentist/pension board/bank/accountant’s office
  15. Napping. (Best reason ever to not write)
  16. Binge watching Downton Abbey/Homeland/House/Grey’s Anatomy/Midsomer Murders/Friends/The Good Wife/The IT Crowd/Death in Paradise/Doc Martin on Netflix. (I can ‘justify’ this as ‘giving me plotline ideas’ which is, of course, a GBFL*)
  17. Watching Youtube videos on writing.
  18. Watching creepypastas on Youtube.
  19. Watching cute babies/puppies/kittens on Youtube.
  20. Reading Damn You Autocorrect. (This would be the third worst reason ever not to write if they weren’t so damn funny)



What are some other excuses writers give for avoiding writing?  I did a little online research. 

  1. I have writer’s block.
  2. I’m too tired to write.
  3. I’m too distracted to write.
  4. I’ll write later.
  5. It’s too late.
  6. I need to do some research. (Oh, how ironic!)
  7. I’m more creative if I leave it till the last minute.
  8. I need to read some more writing tips online.
  9. I need to work on my author webpage.
  10. I should look for examples of possible covers for my newest book (that I haven’t finished-started writing yet).
  11. I just can’t find the right place to write.

In the interest of avoiding plagiarism… I found some of these at:

Better Writing Habits

Solitary Spark

Successful Writing Tips

So, having now shamed myself into getting off my butt and writing, I think I had better sign off and go and write something, dammit!


*Great Big Fat Lie