Resources I Found Interesting While Writing My Novel

August 2008 to April 2009

Am Rewriting

I got an idea for rewriting the first few paragraphs of the first chapter. It was something Kim’s blog said about the tone of the narrator (referred to about two posts back). She referred to the narrator voice of Austen and Rowlings and that started me off. This will not show up yet on the pages I have online because I was working on something that will change my main character anyway and so putting up changes piecemeal will not work. I hope to have the new version up within a month and will keep the old version available so that people can see how things change.

More on Kim’s Craft Blog

Just discovered Kim’s Craft Blog through the last blog post and there is a lot here. It will take time to go through it all but I suspect it will be a great resource. She describes it as discussing “writing craft issues that arise in her workshops at the Cambridge Center in Harvard Square and in her own writing.”

Kim’s Craft Blog

Style, Syntax and Tone–Creating a Memorable Voice

There is a close relationship between a writer’s voice and the writer’s style and syntax….

…tone is hard. To get the right narrative attitude going, the writer must fully understand his or her story and the characters, so that the narrator may be variously wise, ironic, dispassionate, shocked, fascinated–whatever tonal variations are required to make for a truly distinctive and sure narrative voice….

I think the solution lies in recognizing that we frequently don’t get these things right in the early drafts. And we need to be prepared, once we do know the story well enough, to go back and really let that narrative voice rip, with all its tonalities, attitudes and syntactic variations. We should not be afraid at that point to wade back into our manuscripts.

Note from editor April 26: The actual blog post examples (not quoted above) gave me ideas for rewriting my first few paragraphs. I always hoped I would be inspired in just that way to make things better — warning, however that I find when I rewrite, I think things are getting close to perfect and later find it isn’t as good I thought it was…

Stupid Gun Mistakes

I thought this was an interesting article for anyone who has guns in their story and there are a few in mine although I don’t think any of these apply to the war setting. Stupid Gun Mistakes Every Writer Makes.

Novelists Learn from Actors

This book sounds really interesting. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins.

Amazon’s product review says, “Drawing on the Method acting theory that theater professionals have used for decades, this in-depth guide explains seven characterization techniques and adapts them for the novelist’s use.”

It goes on to list what help this gives the novelist:

  • Create characters whose distinctive traits become plot components
  • Determine each character’s specific objectives and motivations
  • Write natural-sounding dialogue rich in meaning
  • Endow your characters with three-dimensional emotional lives
  • Use character to bring action sequences to exuberant life
  • Write convincingly about any character facing any circumstance

And John C. Dunbar’s customer review says this,

This book seemed to be one-half Lajos Egri (The Art of Creative Writing) and one-half John Cleaver (Immediate Fiction). Like both of these authors, Brandilyn Collins explains how to create well-developed, compelling characters that you can let loose in your stories.

All of the author’s techniques tie back to Stansislavsky’s “Method Acting.” Each chapter starts with an analysis of one of techniques of Method Acting. Then that technique is summarized in terms of ficiton writing. The remaining chapter fills in the details and gives examples.

Writing Programs

New York Times article about writing programs goes into two books:

Mark McGurl suggests in The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing that writing programs are the best thing that ever happened to American fiction, and he pursues his case not on economic grounds — the great number of writers whose careers have been subsidized, in effect, by the university — but aesthetic ones.

Then there is The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays From Tin House which the Times article says”is a pretty fair summary of where actual writing instruction is at these days. Most of the essays originated in writing workshops run by the literary magazine Tin House, and they include advice on sex writing by Steve Almond, on what you can learn from Shakespeare by Margot Livesey, and on revision by Chris Offutt, who compares the process to ‘draining the kitchen sink and seeing what’s in there, which is usually a mess.’ He also says, ‘There are no rules. . . . Don’t pay any attention to someone who tells you what you should be doing.’”

The Times article also says these books come to the conclusion

That you learn to write by writing, by seeing what works and what doesn’t, is the consensus here, and much of the advice offered is along the lines of the swing tips offered by golf pros — little thoughts that work for a while and then have to be replaced by other thoughts. One contributor points out, for example, that “show, don’t tell” is a good principle to keep in mind, except when it works better to “tell, don’t show.”

In “The Program Era,” Mr. McGurl does have some smart things to say about the evolution of this creative writing movement — he documents it as part of the rise of progressive education in general — and about the many paradoxes involved when universities get in the business of trying to structure, codify and reward artistic endeavor. Not the least of these is that few of even the most ardent teachers of creative writing believe it can really be taught.

Quotes on Writing

Just discovered another website with quotes on writing ( including

Unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible.
Anthony Hope Hawkins

Easy reading is damned hard writing.
Nathaniel Hawthorne(1804-1864)

Indian Proverbs

Indian Proverbs from Wikipedi

And another set of Proverbs from India

And Indian Proverbs Quotes

More Indian Proverbs

Even more Indian Proverbs

Chinese Proverbs

Chinese Proverbs (just in case you have a character who has some connection to the Chinese).

On Emotions in Fiction

Maya Reynolds has an interesting blog that I occasionally check out. On Mike’s Writing Workshop (a Yahoo Group) she recently referred to an old post of hers about emotions in genre fiction. It says:

The purpose of all fiction is to evoke emotion in the reader. One of the things that differentiates one genre from another is the specific emotion the reader expects to experience. For instance, horror evokes terror, mysteries evoke curiosity, thrillers evoke excitement and romance evokes a warm, sexy feeling.

Then she posted this link to a post by Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent which also talks about emotion in both genre and literary fiction:

Most genre fiction involves a character propelling themselves through a world. The character is an active protagonist who goes out into a world, experiences the challenges of that world, and emerges either triumphant or defeated. Think about every genre novel you’ve ever read: sci-fi, westerns, romances chick lit, thrillers…. They are all about a character with a certain level of mastery over the world in which they are in bumping up against the challenges of that world and trying to achieve their goal. Sure, the character might have an inner struggle and be a richly rendered character, but for the most part genre novels are about the exterior — they are about how a character navigates a unique world.

So the plot in a genre novel usually involves things happening — action sequences, love sequences, chases, shootouts…. The best genre novels fold these action sequences with the inner life of a character, but make no mistake: genre novels are really about how a character interacts with the outer world. The things that happen are pretty much on the surface, and thus the reader can sit back and watch and see what happens.

Now consider literary fiction. In literary fiction the plot usually happens beneath the surface, in the minds and hearts of the characters. Things may happen on the surface, but what is really important are the thoughts, desires, and motivations of the characters as well as the underlying social and cultural threads that act upon them. The plot may be buried to such a degree (like GILEAD) that if you have to describe the book in a short sentence it seems plotless — an old man writes a letter to his young son and reflects on his life. There doesn’t seem to be a plot there. But there is a plot in GILEAD. It is about how the protagonist comes to terms with his life and how he reconciles his desire to leave something behind for his son with his impending mortality. GILEAD has all the ups and downs of a genre novel, but the plot points all relate to the inner mind, and the climaxes and nadirs are almost hidden in quiet moments and small-but-powerful revelations.

Even when the prose is straightforward, literary fiction is more challenging to read than genre fiction because it requires the reader to infer a great deal of the plot rather than simply sitting back and watching the plot unfold. It requires empathy to relate to characters as humans and to deduce the hidden motivations and desires that lurk beneath their actions. The reader has to recognize the small turning points and the low points and the high points based on what they know of the character and about human nature. And there’s a reason very few literary novels end with a shootout (er, except for THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG) — what happens out in the world isn’t as important in literary novels as what happens within the minds of the characters, and thus the climax might be something as small as a decision or a new conviction.

So there’s a reason there are genre busters like Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard, as well as the hybrid genre of commercial literary fiction. These novels tend to be told with more straightforward prose and are accessible, but they have a deeper emotional complexity. They fuse the out-in-the-world plotting of genre fiction with the in-the-mind plotting of literary fiction. The novels have traditional climaxes that also resolve the inner battles of their characters.

Secondary Characters - Fire in Fiction 1

Writer’s Digest has published an interesting excerpt from The Fire in Fiction. It includes some examples and also these tidbits:

How is it, then, that protagonists in many manuscripts seem to live in blissful isolation, self-sufficient, wholly self-made, and dependent on no one? Who are these people? They are not real. Consequently they are also unreal for readers. If they are to keep us deeply involved for several hundred pages, protagonists need a personal history….

Singular human beings may be rare in life, but this is fiction. You can build them as needed…

PRACTICAL TOOLS — Creating Special Characters

STEP 1: Look at the special character through the eyes of your protagonist. List three ways in which they are exactly alike. Find one way in which they are exactly the opposite.

STEP 2: Write down what most fascinates your protagonist about this special character. Also note one thing about the special character that your protagonist will never understand.

STEP 3: Create the defining moment in their relationship. Write down specific details of the place, the time, the action, and their dialogue during this event. What single detail does, or will, your protagonist remember best? What detail does she most want to forget?

STEP 4: At the end of your story, in what way has this special character most changed your protagonist? At the story’s outset, in what way does your protagonist most resist this special character?

STEP 5: Incorporate the above into your manuscript.

Stories Revolve Around Decisions


NY Times - Published: March 18, 2009

Most great stories revolve around decisions: the snap brilliance of Captain Sullenberger choosing to land his plane in the Hudson, or Dorothea’s prolonged, agonizing choice of whether to forsake her husband for true love in “Middlemarch,” or your parents’ oft-told account of the day they decided to marry. There is something powerfully human in the act of deliberately choosing a path; other animals have drives, emotions, problem-solving skills, but none rival our capacity for self-consciously weighing all the options, imagining potential outcomes and arriving at a choice.

Traiting Up

Someone mentioned on Mike’s Writing Workshop (list from Yahoo) about a post on character traits by Barbara Poelle

Checking it out I found this:

quirks are the traits that make characters. And the more individual the quirks are, the more solid the character. They can be as clearly stated as Adrian Monk, or as subtle as Miss Marple. I mean, who doesn’t love the fact that Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes or that Arnold Drummond needs clarification on Willis’s thought processes? That is what makes them characters.

As an exercise,

I asked one of my authors who was struggling with book 2 to write down 20 character traits about their protagonist that may or may not be clearly stated in the work.

You can shake open the fiercest fist of writer’s block with 20 traits,

Nobody wants to read plots. Everybody wants to read characters. So make them readable. Make them interesting. Make them secretly cut out pictures of dogs in clothes, make them afraid of ice cubes, make them murmur the lyrics to “Baby Got Back” when nervous.

Experimenting with POV

Interesting article/workshop from Issue 50 of “Vision, a resource for writers” by Lazette Gifford. Talks about the three Points of View and gives the aspiring writer exercises (which is why it is called a ‘workshop’).

Scene & Structure #2

More from Jack M Bickham’s Scene & Structure.

I am learning a lot from this book and plan to put it into the revision of the first chapter I am working on offline and plan to replace soon.

…stories start with a character jarred out of his sense of ease by a disturbing development of some kind that represents threatening change in the status quo. The character…then forms an intention or long-term goal, the attainment of whicih will make things ‘right’ again. The reader looks at this story goal statement and turns it into a long-term story question…. with the result that the reader reads avidly seeking an answer to the story question. (p. 24)

Development of a story depends on your ability to interpose obstables between your hero and the attainment of his goal. Most often, this interposition of obstables is accomplished by putting someone in the story’s cast who will provide llive ongoing opposition.” (p. 25)

[Each] scene begins with a stated clear cut goal…. most of the time the character actually states his immediate scene goal in obvious unmistakable fashon. (p. 25)

[The short-term scene] goal relates importantly to the long-term story goal and the story question. (p. 25)

The scene question… is specific, relates a definite immediate goal, and can be answered with a simple yes or no. (p. 25)

…conflict—the give-and-take between two charactes—will make up 95 to 98 percent of the length of the scene (p. 26)

…the final twist in a scene… [i]s thoroughly bad—disasterous to the attainment of the immediate scene goal, and so a terrible setback in the quest for the story goal. (p. 27)

Any time you can build a scene which leaves your character in worse shap, you have probably ‘made progress’ in terms of your story’s development! (p. 27)

‘Yes, but’ disasters are often better than a simple ‘No!’ because they put the hero on the horns of a moral dilemma… (p. 27)

Well-planned scenes end with disasters that tighten the noose around the lead character’s neck; they make things worse, not better. (p. 44)

Readers will put up with a lot if your scenes will only keep making things worse. (p. 45)

Scene & Structure #1

Another great book by the Jack M Bickham who wrote The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. Am only part way into it but am already learning a lot from Scene & Structure.

I think he overuses italics in his writing but there is a lot to be learned here (at least for me):

…at least 95 percent of the popular novels published today… depend on the structure of the scene to make them work. (p. 3)

…plan to keep your movel’s length somewhere between 60,000 and 90,000 words. (p. 5)

…it’s been psychologically proven that the self-concept is so deeply engraved and so devoutely protected that most poeple will go to almost any lengths to protect it as it stands today. (p. 7)

For maximum effectiveness, you should start your story at the time of the change that threatens your major character’s self-concept. (p. 8)

Every good fiction character is… goal-motivated. (p. 8)

…a story starts with changw, which leads to a goal, which raises a story question in the readers’ mind. (p. 9)

…you end the novel… by answering the story question you posed at the outset. (p. 9)

While the workings of luck, coincidence, fate, etc. may be shown from time to time, fiction must make more sense than real life if general readers are to find it credile. (p. 12)

…the fiction reader demands more credibility than he usually gets in real life… for every effect you plot out, you have to figure out a cuase that would make it happen. (p. 13)

I suspect that when you write a story that makes sense through cuase and effect, you are also implying, somehow, that life is worth living. (p. 13)

…the pattern of a scene….

  • Statement of goal
  • Introductuion and development of conflict
  • Failure of the character to reach his goal, a tactical disaster. (p. 23)

The proptotypical scene begins with the most important character — invariably the viewpoint character — walking into a situation with a definite, clear-cut, specific goal which appears to be immediately attainable. This goal represents an important step in the character’s game plan—something to be obtained or achieved which will move him one big step closer to attainment of his major story goal. (p. 24)

I am not doing man of these things. Last night after reading this, I decided on additional changes to the first chapter which I am currently working on a major revision of.

Checklist for Style

Advice on Novel Writing by Crawford Kilian

Plain text handouts from a college professor, Crawford Kilian.

This is just part of one section that I found interesting for things to check (nothing remarkable, just reminders):

  1. Do any sentences begin with the words “There” or “It”? They can almost certainly benefit from revision. (Compare: There were three gunmen who had sworn to kill him. It was hard to believe. or: Three gunmen had sworn to kill him. He couldn’t believe it.
  2. Are you using passive voice instead of active voice? (Compare: Is passive voice being used?) Put it in active voice!
  3. Are you repeating what you’ve already told your readers? Are you telegraphing your punches?
  4. Are you using trite phrases….
  5. Are you terse? Or, alternatively, are you on the other hand expressing and communicating your thoughts and ideas with a perhaps excessive and abundant plethora of gratuitous and surplus verbiage, whose predictably foreseeable end results, needless to say, include as a component part a somewhat repetitious redundancy?
  6. Are you grammatically correct? Are spelling and punctuation correct? (This is not mere detail work, but basic craft. Learn standard English or forget about writing novels.)
  7. Is the prose fluent, varied in rhythm, and suitable in tone to the type of story you’re telling?
  8. Are you as narrator intruding on the story through witticisms, editorializing, or self-consciously, inappropriately “fine” writing?

In the dialogue:

9. Are you punctuating dialogue correctly, so that you neither confuse nor distract your readers?
10. Are your characters speaking naturally, as they would in reality, but more coherently?
11. Does every speech advance the story, revealing something new about the plot or the characters? If not, what is its justification?
12. Are your characters so distinct in their speech–in diction, rhythm, and mannerism–that you rarely need to add “he said” or “she said”?

See also his Ten Points on Plotting

And his section on Symbolism

This is very interesting.

Messy First Drafts

I must admit this is something I sort of already do:

Writer’s Digest: Get Messy with your first drafts by Elizabeth Sims.

One of the things she says is, “Why does a coherent first draft give birth to a stilted finished product? Because it means you haven’t let it flow. You haven’t given yourself permission to make mistakes because you haven’t forgiven yourself for past ones. Admit it: Unless your throttle’s wide open, you’re not giving it everything you’ve got.”

Well, I have to admit that even my messy first drafts don’t “flow”, though.

The author goes on to also say,

The common wisdom in writing workshops is that you shouldn’t stop to revise. But let’s be honest: That’s unrealistic because sometimes you really do see another possibility right away, and you should be free to pursue it. I recommend over-writing as you go.

If, in a single moment, you think of two different ways of saying something, just write both, one after the other. Later you’ll be able to decide which is better.

Write a box around a phrase; stack two competing adjectives atop each other; make notes in the margin. I use the margins for research notes such as, “what’s position of Sirius over L.A./August?”

Character Traits

The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein has the following:

Characters must be durable, fallible, and able to grow and change.

I thought this would have more than I found. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it. May come back to it later.

Survivors Club - Newsweek Excerpt

Newsweek’s February 2, 2009 issue had a Book Excerpt for The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life by Ben Sherwood (Grand Central Publishing, January 2009) - currently 40% off at Amazon. This book sounds really useful if you are writing about people who keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs (not the ex Illinois Governor who quoted Kipling on that). The excerpt contains the following:

Why do some people live and others die? Why do a few stay calm and collected under extreme pressure when others panic and unravel. How do some bounce back from adversity while others collapse and surrender?

How do these people endur their trials? Were they always so strong and resiliennt—or did these abilities suddenly materialize? And what do they know about surviving and thriving that we don’t?

After two years of research, I discovered that everyone has a crisis personality—a Surviovr IQ—that they marshal in a moment of adversity: a mindset and ways of things about a situation. The best survivors and thrivers understand that crisis is inevitable, and they anticipate adversity. Understanding that even misfortune gets tired and needs a break, they’re able to hold back, identify the right moment and then do what they need to do. Psychologies have a clunky term for this: active passiveness. It means recongnizing when to stop and when to go, In a critical sense, doing something can mean doing nothing. Action can be inaction, and embracing this paradox can save your life.

In any emergency people divide into three categories, [Dr. John] Leach [who teaches an advanced course in survival psychology at Lancaster University] says. First, there are the survivors…. Second, there are unavoidable fatalities: people who never had a chance…. Third, there are victims who should ahve lived but perished unnecessarily…. First, around 10 percent of us will handle a crisis in a relatively calm and rational state of mind…. around 80 percent will ‘quite simply be stunned and bewildered.’ We’ll find that our ‘reasoining is significantly impaired and that thinking is difficult…. We’ll behave in ‘a reflexive, almost automatic or mechanical manner.’ …we’ll experience ‘perceptual narrowing’ or tunnel vision…. The key is to recover quickly from brain lock or analysis paralysis, shake off the shock and figure out what to do. The last group—the final 10 percent—is the one you definitely want to avoid in an emergency…. the third band does the wrong thing. They behave inappropriately and often counter-productively…. they freak out and can’t pull themselves together. And they often don’t survive.

Professor [Daniel] Simons…. [says]…. ‘Distinctive and unusual objects do not automatically capture our attention.’ ….Many… studies have demonstrated that it’s difficult—if not impossible—to be aware of everything going on around you, or even right in front of you.

Neuroticism is a personality trait of people who tend to be ancious, tense and sensitive to stress…. people will high levels of neuroticism are very serious and intense about the assignment…. People with low levels are calmer and less sensitive to stress…. lucky people usually are more laid-back and open to life’s possibilities… while unlucky people are more uptight, nervous and closed off.

“If you want to test yourself, take a quick look at this domain name sometimes used by stress researchers;”

What do you see? For many people, the web site seems discouraging: opportunity is nowhere. But others see the exact opposite: opportunity is now here. When it comes to hidden messages, lucky people perceive more of the world around them…. Wiseman writes in his book The Luck Factor This ability (or talent) ‘has a significant and positive effect on their lives.’

‘Luck in not a magical ability or gift from the gods,’ Wiseman writes. ‘Instead, it is a state of mind—a way of thinking and behaving.’ Above all, he insists that we have far more control over our lives—and our luck—than we realize…. Wiseman….believes tht only 10 percent of life is purely random. The remaining 90 percent is ‘actually defined by the way you think.’

“Wiseman has concluded that there are four reasons why good things happen to certain people.”

First, lucky people frequently happen upon chance opportunities. ‘Being in the right place at the right time is actually all about being in the right state of mind,’ Wiseman writes…. lucky people are more open and receptive to unexpected possibilities. They tend to be more relaxed about life and they operate with a heightened awareness of the world around them…. they spot and size upon openings that other people miss. They also tend to be more social and maintain what Wiseman calls a ‘network of luck.’

…Second, lucky people listen to their hunches and make good decisions without really knowing why. Unlucky people, by contrast, ted to make unsuccessful decisions and trust the wrong people….

Third, lucky people persevere in the face of failur and have an uncanny knack for making their wishes come true. They’re convinced that life’s most unpredictable events will ‘consistently work our for them.’ …while unlucky people expect that things will always go wrong…. unlucky people gave up before they even started.

Fourth, lucky people have a special ability to turn bad luck into good fortune. Of all four defining factors involved in luck, Wiseman believes this one plays the most important role in survival.

There is a lot from this Newsweek article and I suspect even more from the book, I think I will look into getting the book myself.

Get Feedback on Your Writing

Writer’s Digest sent off a notice about FanStory with a link so I investigted and it looks interesting. This is what says about themselves:

“Share your writing on and you will receive detailed feedback for everything you post.”

The benefits of our membership for writers:

  • Beginner to Pro - All forms of writing welcomed including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, book chapters, and scripts. Learn from feedback that will be written on everything you write.
  • Contests - Participate in free writing contests and you can win cash prizes. Over 50 new writing contests are opened (and always free) every month. In addition, a new writing prompt contest is announced daily.
  • Rankings - If you are talented enough you can earn a top rank or even the #1 spot in the rankings. Every comment counts towards your rank.
  • Pressure Free Feedback - You will receive at least three reviews for everything you post. These reviews are included with your membership. A large reviewer base means you do not have to write reviews to get reviews.
  • Magazine Subscription - Your membership includes a subscription to Lava Flow our online magazine for writers.
  • Fun - Enjoy an online experience with no match. Put your writing to work for you and enjoy the friendly and competitive nature of
  • Great Value - Free membership will get you started. Membership for writers is as low as $2.80 per/month. Order risk-free with our trial membership. Pricing details.

For over nine years has been helping writers improve their craft.

Self-Publishing 1

Also from Writer’s Digest: Reader Feedback: Sound Off on Self-Publishing

Just a couple of the the comments from this (there are many more):

I have self-published 4 books. Promoting a self-published book is the hardest and most important part of the process. I have found one little thing that works wonders. Bookmarks. I use my computer and CorelDRAW to design and print bookmarks with a photo of my book’s cover and a blurb about the book and where it is available. I give these out at every opportunity. I always leave one with my check at restaurants. I have received invitations from to do book readings and made many book sales with these little bookmarks.
———–Daniel Burch Fiddler

If considering self-publishing understand the effort that will be required to get your book in the hands of perspective readers. Book stores are a vital distribution point, and though its not impossible for a self-published title to get in, it’s very hard. Have a solid marketing plan with dollars attached. Gaining awareness of your book is neither easy nor cheap. Know there are certain readers who will never buy a book off the internet. Can you be successful if cyperspace is your only distribution channel? …There are no short cuts but there are lots of opportunities to wander off track.
————–Denise Williams

If you use a POD publisher, make sure that they can get you listed on Ingrams. If you are not listed on Ingrams, you won’t be able to do book signings at the major book chains. They have to order their books, they can’t buy from the author.
————Marianne Powers

Novel Blueprint

Writer’s Digest has an online article on doing a Story Plan Checklist by Karen S. Wiesner.

“a Story Plan Checklist… targets the key considerations necessary when building a cohesive story that readers will find unforgettable.”

The author gives details on each of the following:


• Working Title

• Working Genre(s)

• Working Point-of-View Specification

• High-Concept Blurb

• Story Sparks

• Estimated Length of Book/Number of Sparks


• Identifying the Main Character(s)

• Character Introductions

• Description (outside POV)

• Description (self POV)

• Occupational Skills

• Enhancement/Contrast

• Symbolic Element (character and/or plot-defining)

• Setting Descriptions


• Character Conflicts (internal)

• Evolving Goals and Motivations

• Plot Conflicts (external)

Where I’m at in Writing 2009-01-23

This is like a diary post. I am not getting anywhere with my writing. I have been writing in my head which isn’t the same thing. I am still doing research but that is taking time though giving me great ideas! I want to completely re-write this novel starting with the first chapter but I am not even getting in to start.

13 Tips for Dialogue

My Lucky Thirteen Tips for Dialogue

By Keith Pyeatt

This and the previous couple of links are from an online magazine called
Vision: A Resource for Writers

Choosing POV

An article on Choosing Point of View

By Joylene Nowell Butler

I need to go back and read this. No time at the moment. May refer to it later when I do read it. I am having a little trouble with POV and keep thinking I might want to switch to first person.

This and the previous couple of links are from an online magazine called
Vision: A Resource for Writers

How Not to Write a Novel

A review of How Not to Write a Novel

The book:

How Not to Write a Novel – 200 Classic Mistakes and

How to Avoid them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

By Howard Middlemark and Sandra Newman

365 Writers Tips

Get a new Writing tip emailed every days for a year - $2 until February 2009

Internet Writer’s Workshop

Internet Writer’s Workshop

Want this link for later.

And they have a blog.

38 Mistakes - part 3

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes has more. Mr. Bickham also says,

If you want to succeed as a writer of fiction, you must never hide from your own feelings because they provide for you your most essential contact with your story characters — and potential readers. (p. 82)

Fiction characters who only think are dead. It is in their feelings that the readers will understand them . . . sympathize with them . . . care about their plight in the outcome of your fiection. (p. 83)

Strong emotion — so often ducked or ignored in real life — must be at the center of your stories. (p. 83)

The first roadblock, of course, is that you may not know your own feelings very well. (p. 83)

…you cannot write fiction without being aware of the feelings inherent in your story people… [and] to put that down on paper…. (p. 83)

38 Mistakes, part 2

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes is very useful so I have another part here and probably another part later on. About Scenes Mr. Bickham writes,

Readers are willing to worry about virtually any scene goal as long as you make clear to them that the goal is vital to the character’s story quest. (p. 62)

…the conclusion of your scene has to answer the question posed by the goal in the first place. (p. 62)

To maintain reader tension… you should seldom provide a happy answer to the scene question. (p. 62)

About the kind of scene with a bad ending, the author says, “We call this kind of scene ending a disaster.” Then he goes on to say, “How do you create disaster? Whatever your viewpoint character wants, he must not get it at the end of the scene. For if he does… story tension relaxes….” (p. 62-63)

And also on page 63 see his discussion of steps in writing a scene. Then he goes on to say,

A character wants and strives and is battered back; tension increases and so does reader sympathy, then the character strives again. (p. 63)

The structure of scene . . . one scene inevitably leading to another scene . . . gives your fiction straight-line development. In addition, the structure powerfully implies something wonderful about life and the human condition. In using scene structure, you show people who struggle and try to take charge of their lives; indirectly you are saying that people in real life can do that, too…. you imply that life is not just blind fate…. Finally, by showing a character meeting serious disaster after such a struggle, the getting up to struggle again, you say something positive about human strength and courage. (p. 63)

About character, he says,

Character portrayal is no place to be subtle…. characters often are brought to life only by exaggeration. (p. 73)

Tips for Writers: Jan 16, 2009

Review of How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published

  • “Plot: Not just a bunch of stuff that happens”
  • “As a writer you have only one job: to make the reader turn the page.”
  • “Of all the tools a writer uses to make a reader turn the page, the most essential is the plot.”
  • ” Typically, the plot of a good novel begins by introducing a sympathetic character who wrestles with a thorny problem. As the plot thickens, the character strains every resource to solve the problem, while shocking developments and startling new information help or hinder her on the way. Painful inner conflicts drive her onward but sometimes also paralyse her at a moment of truth. She finally overcomes the problem in a way that takes the reader by surprise, but in retrospect seems both elegant and inevitable.”
  • ” A great many plot problems that show up in unpublished manuscripts can be resolved with a single strategy. Know what the chase is, and cut to it.”

Question and Answer Session with the authors.

From January 19, 2006

Out of all the mistakes made by would-be novelists, what’s the single most common error you’ve come across?

HM: “Much greater fascination with the details of a character’s backstory than the novel can sustain. There can be a sort of puzzle-solving satisfaction in figuring out all the details of your character’s history, almost an endorphin rush when it all comes together and it all makes sense, even when those details are completely irrelevant to the story you’re telling. Details like this can be useful for the author to know, but they should inform the character’s behavior, not be explained whenever a character behaves.”

SN: “I think the one I see most commonly is bad scene management. This has to do with how a writer moves you in and out of scenes, and how they integrate background information into the narrative. Often scenes crop up out of nowhere, only to suddenly morph into a scene from the following day, then a scene on a cruise liner, then a scene of early infancy.”

Dialect - January 09

This is mostly for me:

Writing Visual Dialect in Fiction by Tony Burton

1) “…a Brit would not say he hauled out the trash. He or she would have “taken out the dustbins.”

2) “After you have an idea of the things that are most representative of the dialect, choose a few which are very distinctive and easy for a reader to understand. Use those to establish the idea and ambience of the dialect. Too much dialect gives a caricature of the local speech rather than the flavor of it. Just as in writing ordinary dialogue it is not necessary to repeat every grunt, throat clearing, ‘hmmm,’ ‘huh,’ and inapplicable word of a conversation, it’s not necessary to totally mimic the sound of the dialect speaker.”

38 Mistakes, part 1

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham is very interesting. I am enjoying some of his comments such as:

Good fiction starts with—and deals with—someone’s response to threat…. Every good story starts at a moment of threat. (p. 11)

Fiction is movement. Description is static…. to decribe something in detail, you have to stop the action. But without the action, the description has no meaning. (p. 14-15)

This one is strictly for me: “He’ll always be lighting a cigarette, asking for a match, putting out a cigarette, puffing smoke.” (p. 18)

In real life people often seem to do things for no reason we can understand. They act on impulses that grow out of things in their personalities that even they sometimes don’t understand. But in fiction there is considerably less random chance. While good characters are capable of surprising readers—and should sometimes do so for versimilitude—such characters are always understandable on fairly simple later analysis. (p. 19)

You mustn’t forget whose story it is:

  • Every story must be told from a viewpoint inside the action
  • Every story must have a clearly dominate viewpoint character.
  • The viewpoint character must be the one with the most at stake.
  • Every viewpoint character will be actively involved in the plot.” (p. 36)

Dialogue without any sense impressions, thoughts or feelings of the viewpoint character gets totally abstract; it stops making sense; the reader gets lost. I am not suggesting great, purple patches of stuff—just enough to keep me oriented. (p. 50-51)

The author talks about including with dialogue information on what could be seen, heard, smelled, thought, felt and to “be aware of the goal of the viewpoint character….” (p. 50)

What makes a female character likable

This question has been asked and one answer offered at:

Q : “…what character traits for a female character make her so likable, that when something tragic happens to her, you feel it as well? Think about all of those times anyone has ever felt bad or cried for a character in a movie, why did you do or feel that emotion?”

A: “I always have pity for martyrs. There’s something tear-jerking and saintly about an ego-less helper. She has to be average-looking, but really funny, witty, creative, and musically appreciative (think Juno). But humble/modest. But she should also be headstrong compared to guys (NOT fragile or overly feminine or weak). I cry for people in movies when a mistake happened, and the character loses somebody or alters her life irreversibly, and then she sacrifices her pride for the right thing.”

Well, I have no intention of creating an ego-less martyr, but some of the other aspects suggested seem to be things I might want to keep in mind in my current search to make my lead character more likable.

For Chapter 4

For chapter 4

For chapter 3

For later

And to make a place for Chapter 2

This will be for the current Chapter 2/

I am going to start archive through the blog- chapter 1

To have a copy of this version as I am about to change the four chapters serious, especially chapter 1

(First draft: last updated 10/13/08
suggestions on readability, understanding & accuracy encouraged & acknowledged)

Between the Devil and the Desert(September 10, 1942, early to mid afternoon)

North Africa: territory controlled by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, “the Desert Fox” of World War II [1]

The crashed plane still burned in one spot making a convenient bonfire into which the young head nurse could place papers from the plane’s dispatch bag — one or two at a time, ensuring every single piece turned to ash.

As she did so the sun’s heat penetrated through Katherine’s khaki uniform cap deep into her skull and down through her neck. Waves of heat also rose from the burning sand through her military issue shoes to her feet and then her legs. But the worst heat assailed her from the fire and that was accompanied by smoke which assaulted her eyes and throat, adding to her suffering.

Her body demanded that she move away from the fire, and find shade from the sun and sand. But she reached deep within, telling herself it would just be a few more minutes. Her mind rebelled but something in her continued to operate her hands in the repetitive motion of removing papers and placing them in the fire, but she had to fight for each second telling herself she would rest when the Germans soldiers arrived to take them prisoners.

She had sent the other two British nurses in her team a few yards off in opposite directions so that all possible approaches could be watched. At first each of the nurses had rolled up their khaki sleeves thinking to relieve the heat but each rolled down those sleeves again within minutes as the sun burning rays struck bare forearms as if with fire. The sun and sand burned at Mary and Joan with the same intensity as they fell on Katherine, but the others were away from the fire and all they had to do was watch the horizons - although just standing in this heat felt as if your body started cooking. So each of the other two had found something that served them as a cover, a makeshift umbrella without the convenient pole to hold onto. Katherine needed both her hands and so could hold up no cover.

Jeff, their pilot, had done his best for them. His map showed this was one of the crossing points for the trading routes through the Sahara. Routes now being used by armies that had invaded the area, doubling or tripling the number of people usually in this borderland between Libya and Egypt. Jeff had crashed on a ridge — the most solid and flat surface he could find for landing a plane that had been in a sandstorm that had blown them off course using up their petrol and infesting the machinery. He had died doing his best for them.

The ridge dropped off to the north giving them a good view for some distance in that direction although they couldn’t see much coming in along the bottom of the ridge. To the south there was also good visibility. But to the east it was rocky and hilly and you couldn’t see reliably. It was from the west, where there were something like dunes, that they were most concerned since it was from there they had passed over a German column just moments before the crash landing. And from that direction they could see a dust cloud indicating something big was moving towards them. But Katherine had had little time to really look at the desert. There was too much to do before their enemy arrived.

Mary shouted, “There!” and rushed up pointing west. “Katherine, I think it is the German column we flew over just before the crash.”

Katherine brought her brain back into some slight degree of focus to hear the subtext behind Mary’s words. While continuing to put papers into the fire, Katherine mustered enough sense to answer, and she spoke loudly so Joan could also hear, “In the Sahara, the Germans are our rescuers. Field Marshal Rommel’s troops fight a semi-civilized war, I hear. Our pilot knew that and actually seemed to have signaled the Germans as we passed over them. He died hoping that the Germans would find us here, knowing it was our only hope.”

Mary remained unconvinced by Katherine’s analysis of the situation. To Mary the Germans were the enemy. She had heard horrible things about this enemy and she made no allowances for Rommel and his troops to be different. “I’d rather die of thirst than fall into the hands of the Hun.”

“You only think that because you’ve had a drink recently. It would have been better if we hadn’t been blown off course by that sandstorm and if the sand hadn’t affected our engines. Nothing we can do about that now so we may end up spending some time in a prisoner of war camp. One thing at a time. First, we need those Germans with their water and their transport to get out of here.”

Her evaluation got an startling response from her other nurse, “Do we need two columns of Germans? I assume these are Germans as well.” Joan was always as calm and steady as Mary was excitable.

Katherine looked up from her papers to check out the new sighting. “At a guess, I would say that any column in this area will be German, or, maybe, Italian. The British could have something around here, but it would take tremendous good luck to run into them. And I don’t really believe in tremendous luck. And you are right, two enemy columns may be more than we need.” Then she shrugged. “But who knows what opening that might provide.”

The new column looked German to her. She looked back and forth between the two oncoming squads. “They can’t see each other yet – but they might be in touch via wireless. I do wonder if they know each other, no reason why they should - Rommel has a hundred thousand men here and they can hardly all know each other.” She realized she was rambling out loud and so changed her voice to reflect casual calm as she turned back to the papers, “Keep me informed if either does anything other than continue driving straight towards us.”

She sped up her burning — not being quite as careful to make sure every molecule turned to ash — to be sure to finish everything well before either column was close enough to interfere. All the papers needed to be burnt, but it was taking a devastating toll on her. As she finished, glancing at where the Germans were, she called out to her team to gather them away from the plane and from their belongings to a more exposed area, “Come on over here. Sit down, make no sudden moves and keep your hands in sight. And take off your caps for a few minutes so they can see more clearly that we are all women, make sure your Red Cross bands clearly show so they know we are nurses even though we are in uniform. The Germans don’t put their nurses in uniform but then there are, of course, no women combatants in uniform so they should realize at once what we are.” She took off her own cap and, taking the pins out of her hair, let down her braids, rubbing her hands up to make her hair fuzzy, less attractive. She alone remained standing.

The two columns had now seen each other. Officers in the lead vehicles each had binoculars out. They had each focused initially on the group by the downed plane but they could see they were just women and assumed they were nurses as Katherine had figured they would. So, now they looked more to their counterparts, each having easily dismissed a small party of only women as being suspicious but not as potentially dangerous as the other column. Katherine could see that one of the German columns had a couple of trucks of heavily guarded prisoners. British prisoners? Some of them waved. Now she could tell: definitely British.

The two German officers got out of their transports a fair distance from each other; each sent a couple of guards toward the nurses and then they walked towards each other. Katherine had trouble hearing what they were saying at that distance, though at first they were talking loudly since they began their identification questions and answers while still some distance from each other. She could tell that one of the first things they discovered was that they were both Berliners. And she heard the name Heidelberg and figured one or both might be a graduate of that university or maybe had some relationship to that city. She just picked up a word here and after that as they were close enough now not to have to shout. Soon they were laughing, a picture of German camaraderie, and she got the impression there was the beginnings of trust between them - why shouldn’t there be; still she had had hopes that something would provide an opening for her team — not that she could imagine what kind of an opening there could was possible.

As soon as the German guards got to the nurses, Katherine slowly put on her cap, making sure no one saw her movements as threatening. Then she told her nurses to put theirs back on, slowly. The sun was merciless against bare heads — just as menacing as the armed guards around them, maybe the sun was part German. She was the only one of the nurses standing so when the captain of the column with the British prisoners looked over in their directions, he motioned to one of his guards who immediately understood to bring her to them.

The designated guard had previously poked at the ashes to see if anything could be salvaged and now he picked up the empty dispatch bag and the rifle next to it and motioned Katherine to walk ahead of him. She moved with slightly more listlessness than she felt, she wanted to be sure they continued to see her as no threat at all.

When they got to the German officers — the other column was commanded by a lieutenant (what Katherine knew was called a Oberleutnant). Her salute contained a slight deference and lack of confidence that she deliberately projected . The most she got in return was a distasteful wave of his fingers from the captain (the German rank of Hauptmann, the Germans reserve their title of ‘captain’ for those in the navy). They obviously couldn’t believe in the military status of women in spite of her uniform and the pips on her shoulders.

While, the guard showed the dispatch bag and told about the burnt papers, Katherine had a chance to check over her captors. She immediately saw that the captain/Hauptmann was career military, she recognized the signs. On top of that he looked like a God-damned German propaganda poster with his crisp uniform, air of no-nonsense arrogance and the blond hair that peaked out from beneath his cap. And he had the bluest eyes she had ever seen, but maybe that was just the light. He wasn’t quite tall enough, however, to be the perfect Aryan specimen — he just came closer than anyone she had met before. The younger, Oberleutnant, looked less crisp, less arrogant and had brown hair and eyes— the German propaganda ministry would never put him on a poster. He could have been British, in fact the British were descended from Germanic tribes as well as French invaders. And during the Great War the royal family had changed its family name to disguise its German roots.

When the report ended, the captain/Hauptmann turned to her and demanded coldly, harshly, in only slightly accented English, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

She knew he was trying to intimidate her with vocal tones that suggested heartless indifference to any human needs. But she also recognized — was her brain actually working again? — that she was judging him by his appearance, believing the posters — of course she didn’t yet have any other means by which to judge him. But she wanted to appear intimidated so she let herself appear a bit fragile, that was there stereotype anyway. She was not a person who fell easily into a pattern of obedience to authority, but she could pretend that temporarily, something she had learned early from the Roma — the Gypsies had developed techniques that occasionally deflected violence .

She decided to appear willing to tell them everything she knew so that they wouldn’t suspect she was holding anything back. She spoke fast to suggest nervousness and so she didn’t appear to be thinking about what she revealed and she didn’t meet either of their gaze for long — she needed to stifle her normal self-confident manner. “Let me see if I can answer all your question in one fell swoop. My name is Lieutenant Katherine Bowman. I am the head of a team of two other British nurses. Our plane must have gone completely off course when we hit the edge of a sandstorm. The pilot tried valiantly to go around it when he saw it coming, but his maneuvers carried us south, way off course. He wouldn’t tell us anything except that everything was under control when it obviously wasn’t. I could tell he was desperate by the time we crash landed; the instruments had gone crazy and the engine had been coughing and sputtering for some time. He tried to find some place where we had a chance to survive and only decided to try for a landing after we saw your column, Captain, and then he found what he could assume was solid ground here.”

She paused to catch her breath and while doing so decided to lie about why she burned the papers so she didn’t seem too smart or capable.

“We are nurses: non-combatants, although assigned to the military and given a rank as of last year. We, of course, expect to be treated according to the Geneva Convention. Before the crash the pilot told me about the dispatch bag and indicated that I should burn the contents and I did so. He had a side arm and it is still with his body. A rifle of some kind was in the plane and you have it now. As far as I know those are the only weapons. I did a quick search the plane, after I was sure it wasn’t going to blow up, for anything I thought might be useful, but I mostly just found our personal effects, a medical kit, and the dispatch bag.”

“Is that your idea of name, rank, and ID number?”

“I gave my name, my rank is visible, and I have no idea what you would do with my serial number at the moment, but I am willing to give it at the appropriate time. Now, if you want.”

The officers accepted that but had more questions, the Oberleutnant also turned out to understand a little English. But to almost all of their questions, Katherine said she didn’t know, except for the one about where they had taken off from. She declined to answer that one — she figured she could hardly make them believe that she didn’t know it. They didn’t seem to think it was important enough to push her on it right then.

She learned from their private conversation in German that the captain’s name was Kichner — the other was never addressed by name in her presence. And then they were all distracted.

A guard ran up. “Die Englander,” he said, pointing towards the edge of the ridge. She realized that a British column must be coming in below them off the ridge and wondered if it could have seen the smoke from any angle it would have had before the fire had gone out - had the column been traveling at the base of the ridge and was that why they hadn’t seen it before? So, if it hadn’t seen the crash, what were the British doing here? Hadn’t she said it would have taken tremendous good luck to run into the British here. Wrong on two counts as this luck wasn’t good - Damn! Bloody damn bad luck. The Germans had the high ground and were unseen and probably unsuspected!

The two officers had rushed off to the edge of the ridge to check out the column. She moved slowly ever so slightly, keeping her slouch and barely lifting her feet, towards the ridge to see and hear what she could of the situation. The change in her position was so slight her guard didn’t seem to mind. Captain Kichner spread the word for quiet. Mortars were being set up by the Oberleutnant’s men. The British column would be a sitting duck if it got well within range before they started firing and that was surely the tactic for which they were preparing.

Katherine stopped moving any closer and relaxed into what she hoped was a cloak of near invisibility amongst all the movement. She didn’t want to be noticed right then. An idea had come to her. A picture in her mind of a way to warn the British. A crazy picture, obviously a pipe dream without a chance of success. She was, after all, in the midst of about 45 German soldiers. But she was the only person close enough to do anything, but she knew it was hardly a chance at all. But she had learned long ago that the obvious wasn’t always the truth.

The crazy idea was founded only on her juggling skills and the fact that her army general uncle had once showed her how a mortar worked - it was a simple tube with a firing pin type thing at the bottom and once it was set up on its tripod and primed, someone just drops a shell down the tube and at the bottom it is propelled forcibly upward to fire out the tube towards the distant target the tube was aimed at. She had picked up one of the ammo shells and she remembered that they were very heavy — which added to her evaluation that her idea was next to impossible. Even if she did it right, even if she might only have to carry it a few feet, she would have to do it on the run with barely a pause to bend down to pick the shell up.

She checked for variations — she didn’t really regard it as a plan — depending on where she was and what was going on when she started. Would she have to turn after picking up the shell? That wouldn’t be possible.

And she would need time to place the shell exactly over the barrel. It had to fall smoothly, she knew, since if it hit the sides, it might not hit right at the bottom and therefore wouldn’t be fired. Would it explode instead. He uncle hadn’t told her that.

Not that any chance existed that she would get that far. Someone would shoot her. She wondered if the British column would hear such a shot - probably not while they were in their trucks — the vehicles would make too much noise. But who knows.

Absolutely crazy. Both the idea and her. She knew her brain had been affected by the sun. She had once read that people had gone crazy under the Sahara sun. She could hardly suspect that she was immune. A good brain gone bad, such a shame!

Anyway, what she imagined, seemed almost impossible. Almost, but maybe not completely, impossible. That made it sticky. Even if it was crazy, if it was possible, maybe she should try it. Crazy ideas sometimes succeeded just because they were so unexpected.

She couldn’t see the British column, but she assumed a column might consist of 15 to 30 men. At an outside chance, she might be able to save them. Could she give up on such a chance?

She went over it in her mind, back and forth considering the chances, looking for variations, picturing everything step-by-step. She wasn’t seeing any better way — it would be tricky if it was even possible, a snowball might have a better chance of surviving out here. No one would blame her for not taking such an imagined opportunity. No one else would even assume a possibility had ever existed, not for her anyway. But she knew she had a chance. A minimal chance but a chance. And she wanted to avoid a life filled with regrets, recriminations and sleepless nights going over things in her mind over and over again after it was too late to do anything about it. No one would ever know of the idea, or she could even tell them she had thought of it and they would say she was right not to have attempted it. But if 15 men died because she had never tried, she would have to live with that. Risking death might well be easier.

And then she had an advantage. Even German soldiers, especially those under Rommel, might hesitate to shoot a woman, a nurse. And they might not assume she had any chance, which would mean they didn’t feel threatened by anything she could do. With all the disadvantages she had, an advantage would help.

Katherine went back to her imagined chess game problem. Everything depended on just where all the German chessmen were when she was taken back to her nurses, assuming that is what they did with her - it was the most logical thing, Mortar crews mulled around the second and third mortar, but the crew members who should have been manning the closest one were off getting more ammo, and she had seen one of them prime the mortar so it would go off when a shell was dropped down the barrel. That mortar momentarily stood alone. And the crews of the other two weren’t looking in her direction.

So, Katherine watched the German in charge and when he looked up and she thought she was at the edge of the his vision, she took a step forward.

Captain Kichner noticed her and motioned her guard to take her back toward the other nurses; the path would indeed take them behind the mortars. The guard motioned his rifle in that direction and she moved in compliance with an slight smile of resignation, innocence, vulnerability,and helpless fragility. It fell into his preconceptions, and so was believed perfectly.

Now or never, she had to make her choice. Her guard was nowhere nearly alert enough to react appropriately when she started running toward the ridge and the unmanned mortar.

Only one of the Germans reacted immediately, but she didn’t know that, as she had to run all out and at the same time she had a lot to judge. She would only get one chance. She vaguely heard the order not to shoot, but she was focusing solely on her objective, committing herself completely — it no longer mattered that she was sure there was no hope of success. Hope no longer mattered.

Kichner had issued the order not to shoot as he began to run – he didn’t shout, but his order reached everyone in the area. A couple of soldiers were closer to her than he, but they couldn’t figure out what she was doing or what they should do about it. The captain figured out what she was planning by an instantaneous process of elimination –– able to see nothing else she could be doing — well, she might be just running to the edge of the ridge to wave, which would be useless and he just didn’t think she’d bother. Kichner didn’t believe it was possible for her to do anything that really had a chance of warning the British except the possibility that she would try to fire the mortar. She couldn’t succeed, of course. A mortar shell was too heavy for a woman to lift from its stack on the run and then still on the run to drop it properly into the set up barrel. If she paused to drop it right, he would reach her first. He adjusted his speed.

She grabbed the shell firmly with both hands then continued on two steps, bent over the short barell and without a pause dropped it smoothly. And that was as far as she had planned – she had ignored the fact that her momentum would carry her in front of the mortar or onward over the cliff. The captain was now right there, he braked with his right foot and pulled her back and down by grabbing her arm sharply. For a moment, however, he thought they would both go over the cliff no matter what he did.

As the mortar went off right next to Katherine’s face as the captain pulled her down and away. The sound of the explosion deafened her. The shell missed her face by less than an inch. She felt its heat sear past her cheek just after she felt a yank on her arm pulling her away. But Kichner found that digging in his feet wasn’t compensating enough against the inertia pushing both of them towards the cliff. So, he slid dropping his whole body into the sand and pulling her with him. The captain and the nurse rolled almost to the edge of the ridge. She soon found herself beneath him and he swung his right fist against her left jaw — his knuckles knocked her teeth into her cheek.

While she was dazed by the blow and choking on her own blood, he stood up grabbing both her hands and dragged her two steps away from the cliff. He forced her slightly upward to her knees, and put her hands on top of her head. She was choking, but he ignored that. Just then, the Oberleutnant ran up.

Before he could get off his first indignant syllable, Kichner accepted full blame, “This was all my fault. She was my prisoner. It was my guard who was assigned to her, and I am the highest ranking officer here and it was my choice to try to stop her physically instead of just shooting her - I thought she was going to only try to wave at the British and that wouldn’t have been seen and therefore would have done no harm. None of this will be blamed on you. I can’t believe I was taken in by a mere woman!”

Kichner judged rightly that the Oberleutnant had indeed been afraid he would take the blame in all this, especially since it was his men who had left the mortar unguarded. The captain’s acceptance of the entire responsibility caught him off guard and since his first and main objection had been answered, he was momentarily mollified and wasn’t quite sure what to say next.

Kichner had glanced below them at the British column and told the Oberleutnant, “The British column has stopped out of range. I think we are going to have to call it a standoff, — if we just drive off, they may see our dust and come after us at a time and place where they have the advantage. Now we can bargain with them by giving them the nurses, who do us no good anyway.“

“Not her!” Although he was the lower ranking officer his demand was certain and emphatic.

Kichner calmly ignored the Oberleutnant’s tone but agreed with his conclusion. “No. She is now a prisoner of war, no longer to be regarded as a non-combatant. She’ll go with my prisoners back to base.”

He switched languages smoothly and just as smoothly brought her to her feet. “Do you want to save your nurses from being prisoners and get that British column out from an attack by two German columns who have the high ground?”

Still dazed and choking on blood Katherine couldn’t even wipe her mouth, but she still had adrenaline to draw on and used it to say, haltingly, “That’s… why… I did… that.”

“Hmm. I thought you were just juggling ammo for practice.”

It wasn’t a good joke, but she was surprised at even a hint of humour after she had put him in this position and she responded in kind, “Practice… needs to be… done daily.”

“You will remain a prisoner.”

“Thought… you’d… still be angry.”

“’Angry’ doesn’t cover it, but the rules of war do. You need to convince your team not to give us any trouble over the transfer and to accept the fact that you aren’t going with them.”


He called over his Untersturmführer, and again smoothly changed languages, back into German asking for handcuffs which his younger officer supplied although with a surprise that had him question his superior, Although still dazed, she easily followed their German. “Do you think those are necessary to control a woman, Herr Hauptmann?”

The captain looked at him as he put the handcuffs on his prisoner. At first his look had included a flash of anger — he immediately controlled that, but his icy blue stare caused the Untersturmführer to change his stance, suitably chastised before his commander said a word. When he did speak, the captain’s words reached only those in this circle of four. “Untersturmführer Hofmann, she is to be treated as if she is a two meters tall, full-fledged, male, enemy commando — neither you nor I have ever seen or probably imagined a female soldier but I want you to believe in it now. She may never act like a full fledged commando or even soldier again, but she did it once and she must never be given the chance a second time. I will punish anyone who offers her even a centimeter of leeway, as if that person is an enemy of the Reich.” His voice was cold and menacing. “Take her back to her nurses and watch her as if she is a British soldier who hasn’t yet surrendered — since she is a woman, neither her honour nor her word could be relied upon even if she did offer her parole. How do I know how to treat a woman soldier. Who could imagine such a thing?”

Switching back to English, he told her, “You must convince your nurses to be ready to head for the British column, I am going to try to arrange for them to walk there.”

“They will need water to walk down the ridge.”

“You, I might send off with no arrangement for water, but I will not send them that way.”

“How are you going to communicate with the British?”

“If they were Americans or Canadians, I might try smoke signals, but I doubt the British could read them.” Katherine was again surprised at the attempt at humour even if it was again feeble - although she knew that no one was exactly what you expect them to be, this man struck her as harder to read than most. Maybe because she believed in his appearance. “I suspect we can find their wireless frequencies. Or we will flash Morse code signals at them or something. That is my job. Your job is to control your nurses. If all goes well, we will all live to try to kill each other on some other day.”

“Agreed.” She would have liked to have added something sarcastic about her supposed lack of honour, but she didn’t want them to know she understood any German at all, well enough that it was her first language; she had learned English on her father’s knee at about the same time, but she had lived in Germany and been surrounded by German for the first seven years of her life.

Kichner nodded to the Untersturmführer who then motioned her to walk ahead of him. She doubted he now agreed with his captain’s assessment of her, but he would obviously obey orders and try to treat her as if she was a dangerous animal who might do anything. She wondered if Untersturmführer Hofmann spoke English and assumed he did as she suspected the captain would have assigned someone who would report back on what she said. Didn’t matter since she planned to do just what she had agreed to do. That was going to take both finesse and intimidation if she knew her nurses. She hadn’t even looked in their direction since before starting her run towards the mortar. They would have seen him hit her. They would see the blood that had flowed from inside her left cheek, the handcuffs, etc. They would be indignant on her behalf.

Then seeing it from their standpoint, she realized that they were wrong. She should be dead. Kichner should have let her fall over the cliff. At the very least, she should have a broken jaw. Of course, the Germans would have had to fight the British if the British knew a woman had been allowed to fall off the cliff, and it would have been stupid for him to burden himself with a prisoner with a broken jaw. But she had expected uncontrolled anger that led to stupidity, not such total control. He not only pulled his punch to just the amount necessary to daze her — how, she wondered, had he known just the right amount? — but he had thought through the new situation immediately and figured out a way to put things back into a state of equilibrium, since there could no longer be an easy triumph for his side.

As they approached, Mary and Joan started to rush to her. She gave an order: “Go back and sit down!” Her tone of voice stopped them from moving forward. Good enough. She softened her voice and changed the way she gave the order to the nurses under her command. “Go on, we need to talk.”


“Go on. When you are seated, we will talk.”

“You’re bleeding.”

“My cheek has pretty much stopped bleeding no treatment needed although if either of you has a small piece of gauze or clean cloth, that might help.” Joan came up with something. “You are to be repatriated. A British column is over that ridge just out of range of their mortars.”

The two nurses hadn’t seen anything of what the commotion was about and this came as a shock.

“Is that what you were doing?”

“Yes, I fired a warning shot before they got into range. What I need you to do is to get ready to walk in the heat of the afternoon sun. Make sure you have no sand or anything in your shoes. Make sure you have a thick head covering. Prepare for an ordeal.”

“Do you have to walk in handcuffs?” Joan asked.

“I’m not going. Gave up my non-combatant status.”

“We won’t go without you!” Mary had an unfortunate tendency to make snap judgements.

“You will do as you are told by the head of this team. And I am your commanding officer until you reach the British column. Add it up, two of you, maybe thirty British soldiers down there, minus two columns of Germans who have the high ground and more men. I am one person. Look at this logically. You have been taught to control your emotions in order to survive as front-line nurses — has your training been useless? Well? Should the government get its money back for your training?”

Mary finally hung her head just slightly. It was enough for Katherine to continue, “I will stay a prisoner of war whether you stay captive or go free. So, why would you not be repatriated? I expect you to make what I did worthwhile. I expect you to do the rational thing, and I demand that you follow my orders. And my orders are: one, you are to walk to that column and two, once there you are to remember that if they follow and try to attack the Germans, they are likely to get me and the other British prisoners killed even if they are able to destroy the Germans without getting themselves, and or you, killed or captured. So. don’t pressure them to follow us – discourage that. Although they may not listen to you, try. This engagement is over. Everything is being arranged by others. You are to play your part and live to treat British war wounded and save lives, which is what you came out here to do. I will go with these British prisoners and see if they need a nurse. When we reach German headquarters and you have gotten back to British troops, you can see about them trying to arrange a trade for me if that turns out to be possible – it will be easier after they stop being so angry at my interference in their little ambush!”

The captain’s words echoed in her mind and she ended up using the concept; at first without realizing she was close to quoting him, and then she continued because he was right. “We will all live to fight another day. I have risked my life for just this outcome. I will not have you screw it up thinking you are helping me. You can help me by surviving to save British lives. And if you want to help me even more you can get back to some place and tell them to look into trading for me — I just repeated myself didn’t I? Because I want to impress upon you that that is the best way to help me! Can you see that?”

They were quiet in the face of her lecture.

“I don’t like it.” Mary again. Katherine sighed. She didn’t do it often but they had learned to translate that long suffering sigh as extreme disappointment. Mary was already less defiant than she had been with her last insistence, so she didn’t have as far to go to end up embarrassed with downcast eyes. Only then did Katherine go on.

“Not asking you to like it. You will like it less during the walk in the hot sun, I am hoping they find a path that is mostly in shade but even that will be terrible in this heat. That walk is not going to be a picnic. It is going to be a walk in hell in a physical body and I don’t envy you having to do it. But that is what is going to save everyone’s lives. You will need to help one another, or you might not make it. You are going to envy me sitting up here or riding in a truck. Stop worrying about me and start worrying about yourselves. That walk is going to be the worse thing either of you have ever been through. You must not dawdle and you must not hurry. Just walk a good steady pace. I suspect you will reach the bottom of the ridge in a little over two, maybe as much as three hours. If the British commander is smart, he will pack up you and the rest of his column and get as far away from here as he can tonight. Make yourself ready. Good luck.”

“Good luck to you.” That started a hug fest, but Katherine didn’t let it last that long. She turned and looked at the Untersturmführer who took her back to the captain. When they got to him, Hofmann summarized in German everything that had gone on.

Katherine waited until he finished and then asked the captain, “Did the British agree?”

“I don’t think they believe I have two of their nurses to send them, but as soon as they see them, they will agree to the terms.”

“You have water for my nurses?”

“I have arranged for the British to supply water at the bottom of the ridge and we will give them all the water they can drink before they start and a couple of canteens of water to take with them. Carrying too much water would make it harder for them to get down safely – my people have found a decent path down that will be mostly in the shade. At the bottom of the ridge will be one British soldier who will have binoculars and a signal light to inform the column that nurses have started the climb down.”

He looked over the ridge. “A vehicle is starting off now to set the soldier and the water at the bottom of the path. As they start off, let me introduce you to the ranking officer of my British prisoners — he is so anxious to meet you that one of my guards had to knock him down to keep him from rushing to protect you from my unchivalrous behavior in hitting you.”

She moved her left hand up to her jaw, and he asked, “Does it hurt?” Neither his tone nor smile had a trace of cruelty, but they also had no trace of guilt. He obviously felt he had been justified. She admitted to herself that he had been, but she’d admit none of that to him.

“It hurts, it’s swollen and I could use a little water to wash out the dried blood.”

His expression changed just slightly and now he looked a tiny bit chastised. He took off his own canteen and handed it to her saying, “Now, I am properly shown to be what the British call a boor. I should have offered you such water immediately.”

“A gentleman would have. Of course, no gentleman would have hit me like that no matter how much he wanted to.”

“How would such a gentleman control a woman who acted like a soldier?”

“A point. Still, I claim you have proven yourself no gentleman.” Kichner spoke the language well enough that he could hear the sarcasm in her tone of voice.

“Fortunately, Germans are no longer bound by such British definitions.”

“So, you admit that the modern German officer is not a gentleman? I had been hearing as much.”

“And I had heard that British ladies didn’t spit.” She had been taking water from his canteen, rinsing it through her mouth and then stopping to spit it out onto the sand.

“Well, at least ladies who hadn’t had their teeth knocked into their cheek — or was my cheek knocked into my teeth?” She noticed the Oberleutnant’s column was packing up. Her nurses were disappearing over the ridge on a path they seemed to see down the side. Joan waved at her and she nodded back. She took another drink from the canteen and this time swallowed it. And another. And a couple more. And then handed the canteen back to its owner just as they reached his other prisoners.

The major looked as stereotypically British as the captain looked German. Katherine had a split second vision that both came from a Hollywood movie with unimaginative casting. He walked bent a little forward and holding his side. “Are you all right?”

Instead of answering immediately, she stopped and saluted. He paused with surprise. She figured he had been here for a year or so and so hadn’t gotten used to nurses or any other women officers. He was seeing her strictly as a woman not a military officer. Finally he straightened up and saluted back. She realized he was taller than she had at first thought. It broke the stereotype just a little.

Captain Kichner took the moment to say, with a gleam of amusement, “I think it is my responsibility to introduce the two of you. Fraulein Katherine Bowman, allow me to present Major Carl Cleere of the Long Range Desert Group. Or should it be the other way around, you introduce a man to a woman but a lower ranking officer to a higher ranking officer. so which should prevail here?”

They ignored him, “Miss Bowman, allow me to tell how impressed the other chaps and I are by what you did. It took a lot of pluck and I dare say was exceedingly marvelous. Never seen anything so jolly good. Damned fine show and all that. But are you all right?”

She heard his sharp, crisp, precise upper class pronunciation and the phrasing to go with it - she had gotten used to that at Oxford but out here it sounded quite ridiculous. “Are you? I hear you tried to come to my rescue. That was gentlemanly of you.” And, yes, she emphasized the word, though she refrained from looking at the German captain.

“I feel absolutely dreadful that I couldn’t come to your aid.” He turned to Kichner, “Captain, I protest your beastly treatment of this lady. It was shockingly bad form. Unpardonable. You had no right to hit her.”

“Major Cleere, if you had done what she did, would I have had the right to hit you?”

“Of course. But that’s not the same thing at all - it is a ludicrous comparison. Miss Bowman is a woman, a nurse, and a non-combatant.”

“She was. But now she is a prisoner of war. Her sabotage was done out in the open for everyone to see. I had to take note of it. And besides, I did not hit her to punish her but to stop her from any additional shenanigans. I do admit her actions were perfectly understandable, but it changed her status and gave me no time to treat her with the kid gloves – did not have any around anyway.”

The major turned to Katherine, “Captain Kichner is an appalling barbarian with no pretense of chivalry, I’m afraid. German colleagues I knew ten years ago were civilized, really quite decent fellows. Recently, the whole country has lost its way. But, let me be honest and admit to you that Captain Kichner has been quite decent to us.”

“Maybe you didn’t ruin any of his plans of conquest, glory and promotion,” she said noting that now she could be expected to know Kichner’s name.

“Well no, we surrendered to an overwhelming force from which Captain Kichner was assigned to escort us back to his base. Hardly a shot was fired before the capture as we could all see it was hopeless. Rommel has convinced us all that his prisoners of war will be treated decently so the men have little enthusiasm to fight to the death in hopeless situations.”

“Do I get the impression that you think this is a strategy of his, not just that he is a good human being who is never-the-less in a position of power fighting for a country that has gone mad?”

“Of course, it is likely to be both. Rommel is called the Desert Fox because of his ability at tactics. He may well have figured out that it would be to his advantage for his opponents to have no great reluctance to surrender. His own men have the right to expect to be treated when captured as they treat their own prisoners. And fewer of his own men would be killed in last ditch fighting by his enemies. So far I’d say it is working to his advantage.”

“Are you an expert at military tactics or strategy, then?”

“What me? Certainly not. Taught archeology before the war. Only started observing warfare when it started affecting me after I joined the army a couple of years ago.”

The captain interrupted. “Reuniting the British is really a charming part of my job. but we need to be going.” Kichner turned to Cleere. “See if you can find an extra pair of goggles for her and whatever else she might need.” To her he offered, “Do you want to take any personal items?”

“May I?”

Kichner called over Untersturmführer Hofmann to take her to get some things that had been saved from the plane. He told Hofmann to check out everything before handing it to her. She could tell him where to look and what she wanted but she couldn’t touch anything until he handled it first. With those instructions, Hofmann took her back towards the plane while the captain and the major engaged in a heated discussion as they left.

“Really, captain, you are treating her as if she is a poisonous snake, Surely, that is not necessary. And, and you should take off those handcuffs.”

“Major, I really would like to treat her delicately but I am concerned for the consequences. I would feel far more comfortable with her chained in a dungeon.”

Cleere was appalled. “That isn’t a seeming image.”

“Why, Major, whatever do you mean?” She could hear the captain laughing but couldn’t tell if it was good-hearted or sinister: from the subject matter, she would suspect sinister, but she was realizing she had reason to doubt her ability to read him.

The major was disconcerted and was only able to come up with, “You are just afraid of a woman!”

“That’s right: A woman who could do what she did. Of course, it helped that she is a woman and so no one believed she could do any damage — I know I didn’t believe she could do it.”

The major agreed, “Actually, never seen anything that so well exploited a moment. Couldn’t have done it myself. Would like to set it up as a training exercise. Astonishing good show that.”

“Your countrymen… women… are….”

The two groups were out of earshot of each other and Katherine never clearly heard another word of the conversation. She was amused that this German captain took her so seriously. She felt that his sense of humour seemed incongruous, but that might well have been prejudice on her part. And his relationship with the major was odd, almost chummy — both seemed to be able to separate out their jobs from their ability to work together now that their positions had changed into captor and captive.

She and Untersturmführer Hofmann passed close enough to the ridge that she could see the British soldier’s jeep at the bottom waiting for the nurses. “Sir, can I see where my nurses are?”

He glanced back at his captain still talking to the major and decided to allow this although he took precautions - grabbing her arm and keeping her under control as he took her to the edge. He was at least six inches taller and infinitely stronger and was sure he could control her, and she was sure he was right.

She saw her nurses making their way down the ridge. The nurses were going to keep the British here for quite sometime as the column couldn’t get transport up to help them and therefore were stuck until the nurses got down on their own thus giving the Germans several hours head start away from them.

After picking out some useful things, she noticed the Oberleutnant’s column was moving out to the southwest, away from the British column. Also someone had dug a grave and buried the pilot. And the captain’s men were making some odd arrangements. Although, they weren’t showing themselves often over the ridge, they had been doing so occasionally. But out of sight they were now packing to go and had rigged up a line that she suspected would show some movement along the ridge. She couldn’t see how it would work, but she could tell it was meant to give the impression they were still here after they left. When it was ready, she was taken to the first vehicle and put behind the driver and the captain, alongside the major. Behind her and the major was a heavily armed German guard. Major Cleere told her that he wasn’t able to talk the captain into taking off her handcuffs but he had found goggles, and then he also told her where the canteen was.

She had taken from the plane a thick cotton scarf which she tied around her nose, mouth and neck under her uniform cap. And she had also been able to bring a second uniform, and a few other things. And the Untersturmführer (now that he was talking to her in English) had recommended that she take a coat though she couldn’t imagine needing a coat in this place. She had spent a couple of months in a desert a few years ago and remembered that it had cooled off in the evening, but she had never experienced anything like this oppressive heat and couldn’t imagine that this desert could cool off much.

Now that she had nothing else to think about, the heat enveloped her and seeped deep into her until it started to be all she could focus on. She knew she was suffering from extreme adrenaline depletion as well. But when she glanced at her watch, she realized that the crash had happened less than an hour before. It had been a busy time and now she had nothing else to do so she found herself rapidly falling into a stage of complete mental, emotional, as well as physical, inertia.

And she wasn’t looking forward to this trip — it wasn’t going to be a trip to grandmother’s house - unless it was Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, and these wolves had more powerful weapons than sharp teeth.

Before going on to the next chapter please take one minute to make at least one comment (see below) on this chapter - whatever you are thinking at the moment. If you want, you can use “anonymous” as the name, as the email address and “none” as the website. Thank you very much for taking the moment to leave a comment.

See Chapter 2, Late Afternoon and Evening of Day One

Copyright 2007-2008 by B. E. Warne: All rights reserved. Registered & Protected

Notes from “The Unthinkable”

A few months ago I mentioned hearing about the book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why by Amanda Ripley. I finally got a chance to read it and have made the following notes that might help writers figure out how their characters might act if they find themselves in a crisis:

What Prince discovered in Halifax was that our diaster personalities can be quite different from the ones we expect to meet. But that doesn’t mean they are unknowable. It just means we haven’t been looking in the right places. (p. x)

As Huntet S. Thompason said, ‘Call on God, but row away from the rocks. (p. xviii)

…we need to know our oldest personality, the one that takes over in a crisis and even makes fleeting apperarances in our daily lives. It is at the core of who we are. (p. xvii)

Real life doesn’t usually follow a linear arc… (xix)

My breath became effortless. My mind no longer wandered. Suddenly I wasn’t there anymore. I was just watching….The sounds were far away, and I was just hovering. I had no emotions. (p. 4)

We have a tendency to believe that everything is OK because, well, it almost always has been before. Psychologiest call this tendency ‘normalcy bias.’ The human brain works by identifying patterns. It uses information from the past to understand what is happening in the present and to anticiplate the future. This strategy works elegantly in most situations. But we inevitably see patterns when they don;t exist. In other words, we are slow to recognize exceptions. There is also the peer-pressure factor. All of us have been in situations that looked ominous, and they almost always tun out to be innocuous. If we behave otherswise, we ris social embarrassment by overreacting. So. we err on the side of underreacting.” (p. 9)

…everyone… can manufacture self-esteem through training and experience…. soldiers and police officers will tell you; that cofidence comes from doing…. the brain functions much better when it is familiar with a problem. We feel more in control because we are more in control. (p. 92-93)

I started to say, ‘Ok there is option one, option two. Decide. Act.’ I didn’t say, ‘Oh the boat is sinking.’ I didn’t even think of the wider perspective… I just saw my own little world. (p. 173)

Our brains search, under extreme stress, for an appropriate survival response and choose the wrong one. (p. 175)

Animals injected with adrenealine are more likely to freeze. (175)

Heroism, much as we revere it, is rather incomprehnsible. Isn’t it exactly the kind of behavior that should get naturally selected for extinction? (p. 180)

…heroes feel a nonnegotiable duty to help others when they can (p. 190)

I was pretty sure I was going to die…. But that was OK. I had internal calm. (p. 192)

A sense of empathy, combined with an identity as someone who helps and takes risks, may predispose one for heroism. (p.196)

Basically, you’re doing it for yourself… because you wouldn’t want to not do it and face the consequence internally…. he was afraid of disappointing himself. His determination at the crash site grew out of confidence — and insecurity…. Confidence because he knew he had the strength and skill to try to swim to those passengers… He didn’t jump into the river to be a hero, he did it to avoid being a coward. (p. 197)

… can come across as a man carefully guarding a large store of anger. (p. 215)

skill is my ability to do something autormatically, at the subconscious level. I don’t have to think about it. It is preprogrammed. How do I get that? I do that by repetition, by practicing the right thing. Ihe only way you can learn it — on a response level — is to program it (p. 246)

Winnie and the Wolf

Quoted in the NY Times review of Winnie and the Wolf:

Is our capacity to love another person… often (always) accompanied by an inability to notice what it is that prevents the majority of other people loving them?

Library books 11/08

This note is for me so I remember to get them again later:
I have to return these books which I haven’t yet finished (most I never got to start)

  • Nazi Germany and the Jews / Saul Friedlander. 940.5318 Friedlander v.1
  • Nazi terror : the Gestapo, Jews and ordinary Germans / Eric A. Johnson. 940.5318 Johnson
  • The Nazi officer’s wife : how one Jewish woman survived the Holocaust / Edith Hahn Beer with Susan D 940.5318 Beer
  • The Nazis : a warning from history / Laurence Rees ; foreword by Ian Kershaw. 943.086 Rees
  • Resistance : a woman’s journal of struggle and defiance in occupied France / Agnes Humbert ; transla 940.5344 Humbert
  • The unthinkable : who survives when disaster strikes and why / Amanda Ripley. 155.935 Ripley

Haven’t Posted in a Month and Women and Likability

Sometimes life interferes with all the other things you want to do and so, I have not only not posted in more than a month, I haven’t touched the novel in more than two months. In The Last Lecture Randy Pausch makes the point that the obstacles in our way aren’t to stop us out but to stop all the other people who don’t want it bad enough. Well, it turns out I may be one of those other people. It isn’t writer’s block, I know what I want to write. But life puts up blocks just because there isn’t enough time to do everything that urgently needs doing. In my case Family was coming to town and then they did. The house had to be cleaned up which took all my free time and most of my vacation time for the year for over two months to do, and that is in addition to hiring help for four hours. So, I got behind in everything else in my life and then I was so far behind, I almost got depressed just seeing the mountains of things that had to be done.

But I am beginning to see some light at the end of the four day weekend that is coming up — assuming I actually do things then. And after that I need to get back to the novel.

A friend says the main problem is that my main character, Katherine, is not likable. She said the character isn’t vulnerable enough and she is right. But there is more to it than that.

During Hillary’s campaign, stories were written about studies that showed people could either find a woman competent or likable but not both (they could find her neither, of course, but not both). (See the bottom of this post for more.) I have seen this at work in researching what fans like and don’t like about the TV show “House” (sometimes called “House MD”). I have a website on “House” (should be a link to the right) and the fans who like the show enough to talk about it in the forums tend to hate most of the women: They hated Stacy the most. Cameron was second until Thirteen joined the team and then people tended to hate Thirteen more. Most people tend to like Cuddy for some reason.

My favorite female fictional characters are not terribly likeable:

  • Cordelia from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor is someone who doesn’t seem to have any close female friends and her only long term love relationship had been with a guy who ended up cheating her out of a promotion. But she is my favorite character in all of Bujold’s books and I can see why Aral falls in love with her.
  • Harriet from Dorothy L. Sayer’s Lord Peter series, is so cold she almost gets convicted of murdering her boyfriend just because she isn’t showing enough feeling about the guy or the situation.
  • Emma Peel of the Avengers (TV show from the 60s) is a sort of chartoonish character in many ways but at least the guys like watching her move with her karate chops and kicks. She broke all the rules for likability but she was liked. It helps to be attractive as well.
  • Servalan of “Blake’s 7″ — of course she is the villain of the piece so we weren’t suppose to like her.
  • Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett wasn’t considered sweet enough by her contemporaries.

For the time being I can’t think of many other female characters who aren’t likable but are extremely competent. I need one that I can use to figure out how to make Katherine more likable. I have some ideas but…

More on women being competent and likable:

  • American Psychological Association
  • The Washington Post - This article actually gives me something to work with when in speaking of one of the studies conducted by Heilman on how people judged the same description of a person depending on whether the name of the persom was Andrea or James, it says, “When Heilman added elements to her descriptions that showed James and Andrea were especially warm and caring people, the psychological bias disappeared entirely. Equal numbers of volunteers now said they would be happy to have either Andrea or James be their leader.” But how to you write about a “warm” character when you, the writer, aren’t like that at all and hardly know anyone who is.
  • WomensMedia - ” Women who do not temper their agency and competence with warmth and friendliness risk being disliked and less influential; men face no such necessity to be agreeable while exercising power.”

So, my friend’s reaction has given me a great deal to think about.

Why We Read What We Read

I found Why We Read What We Read: A Delightfully Opinionated Journey Through Bestselling Books by Lisa Adams and John Heath very intersting. What makes one book succeed so much more than another. There were no real answers but it was a great discussion.

Advice on Novel Writing by Crawford Kilian

I haven’t read through these things thoroughly yet, but what I saw was interesting and I wanted to make a note to myself to check this out further: Advice on Novel Writing by Crawford Kilian

True Enough

I have discovered a remarkable book that is only slightly related to writing (related because it discusses human nature): True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo

I haven’t finished the book yet (for the same reason I haven’t posted recently, life has interfered) but I read a great review and didn’t think I could equal it so I wanted to quote from this Amazon review by “watzizname” (read the whole review on the page about the book on Amazon (book name linked above).

Manjoo tells the story of the ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,’ who created an almost entirely fictional story of John Kerry’s service in Vietnam to discredit his record as a war hero, because they were deeply offended by his declaration of opposition to the war before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after he returned from Vietnam. The SBV version was first presented publicly on numerous radio talk programs, with conservative hosts and audiences, to whom that version was truthy because they already held a low opinion of Democrats in general and a high opinion of George W. Bush. It felt right to them, and they accepted it as true, an opinion many hold to this day, despite conclusive evidence that Kerry did, in fact, genuinely earn his medals, and was truly a war hero.

This accords well with the observation of cognitive scientists that when the facts don’t fit a person’s frame, the frame stays and the facts are ignored or denied….

Manjoo tells about a study by Stanford professor Shanto Iyengar and Richard Morin of the Washington Post, in which they obtained a list of headlines in six categories: politics, Iraq war, race, travel, crime, and sports, and randomly placed beside each headline one of four logos: BBC, CNN, Fox, and NPR. Democrats somewhat preferred CNN and NPR, and Republicans very strongly preferred Fox. The Fox logo tripled the interest of Republicans in stories about politics and Iraq, and even increased Republicans’ interest and decreased Democrats’ interest in headlines about travel and sports. Professor Iyengar says that people “have generalized their preference for politically consonant news to nonpolitical domains.”

…consider the study by Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach, in which 237 students were asked what they thought about people who were different from them and what they thought was going on in the TV show ALL IN THE FAMILY.

“The majority of those surveyed found ALL IN THE FAMILY hilarious. But bigots and nonbigots harbored vastly different ideas about what was happening on the show. It was a classic case of selective perception. When asked who seemed to win most of the arguments–was it Archie [the bigot] or his hippie [non-bigoted] son-in-alw, Mike?–the bigots thought it was Archie. Those who weren’t bigoted thought it was Mike.”

There are 16 reviews on Amazon, four were four stars, one was one star and all the others were the maximum five stars. Most people found the one above (which was one of the five stars) to be the most useful. There is a lot in this book that I was not aware of including the “All in the Family” study (although I did have doubts that of all the people watching when this show was in the top 10 everyone got all the jokes in that the way they were meant). But I didn’t know a study had been done.

I have gotten the impression recently that more and more people are less and less interested in the real facts. Instead they prefer impressions that reinforce their own beliefs. But then who doesn’t. But when the facts show us to be wrong, we really do need to rethink what we believe and it seems many people won’t do the work that that entails.

Interesting when developing fictional characters that are fully human although there might be a tendency to be too blatant about this.

Another Amazon reviewer (Jean E. Pouliot) said of the author of True Enough, “He cites examples from both sides of the aisle — the attack of “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” on Senator John Kerry’s Vietnam heroism as well as the claim of certain Democrats that George W. Bush had stolen the 2004 election in Ohio and Florida. Manjoo exposes the personal vendettas (Swift Boaters) and the mistaken calculations (Dems) that started the ball rolling.”

More on Sway

Earlier on this blog, I mentioned hearing about a new book called, Sway, The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. I thought it was important for a person writing about fictional characters to understand.

I finally got the book by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman and found it interesting. They are concerned with “How often… do we turn a blind eye to objective information.” (p. 3) One of the ways we become irrational is over avoiding loss: “The word loss alone… elicits a surprisingly powerful reaction in us.” (p. 20)

As Columbia Business school professor Eric Johnson explained to us, the more meaningful a potential loss is, the more loss averse we become. In other words, the more there is on the line, the easier it is to get swept into an irrational decision. (p. 21-22)

Nobel Prize-wining economist Daniel Kahneman, who together with Amos Tversky, first discovered and chronicaled the phenomenon of loss averson, offers a telling reflection of our psychology during such situations. ‘To withdraw now is to accept a sure loss… and that option is deeply unattractive. When you combine this with the force of commitment, the option of hanging on will therefore be relatively attractive even if the chances of success are samll and the cost of delaying failure is high.’ (p. 39)

They go from talking about how we become irrational in our decisions that involve loss and commitment to how we judge people. “Once we attribute a certain value to a person or thing, it dramatically alters our perceptions of subsequent information.” (p. 55) And then they quote Dan Ariely, study author who has found, “expectations change the reality we live in.” (p. 56)

We do need to attach labels, however, we need to be aware of what we are doing it seems.

Each day we’re bombared with so much information that if we had no way to filter it, we’d be unable to function. Psychologist Franz Epting… explained… ‘Once you get a label in mind, you don’t notice things that don’t fit within the categories that do make a difference.’ (p. 75) …explained Epting: ‘The baggage that comes with labeling…. causes us to distort or even ignore objective data.” (p. 75)

To get over the sway caused by commitment, the advice is:

When we find outselves unsure about whether or not to continue particular approach, it’s useful to ask, ‘If I were just arriving on the scene and were given the choice to either jump into this project as it stands now or pass on it, would I choose to jump in?’ If the answer is no, then chances are we’ve been swayed by the hidden force of commitment. (p. 175)

And then there is the fairness sway where we are so focused on someone else not being fair that we ignore our own goal just so that person doesn’t get away with being unfair.

When it comes to the fairness sway, our emotional reaction can be… intractable and difficult to set aside. One way to counter the fairness sway is to try to weigh things objectively and not succumb to emotional maneuvers or moral judgments (would I rather achieve my goals or teach the other person a lesson?). (p. 178)

Steve Berry

At the 2008 Maui Writers Conference, bestselling thriller writer Steve Berry says there are eight key rules that all writers must know and follow.

Writing Tips

I started this book at another website and started a page about writings tips which I put up there June 21, 2008 and having just discovered this, I am putting it here.

Have decided to look into the advice about not using the verb “to be” much, looking at the use of “had” and deleting almost all uses of “There are” etc. Trying to think of “action verbs” instead.

At the moment this page is mostly for me - instead of having a memory.

Things I am learning about writing a novel:

  1. Get some words down — in ink or electrons — then rewrite.
  2. A novel is not so much written as re-written.
  3. Most rewriting seems to be done on the first chapter.
  4. Dialogue: Each character must speak differently — by May 5, 2008, I have not accomplished this, only one of my characters sound slightly different from the others. Next step is to work on the Italians.
  5. Just because you can visualize a scene in your head, doesn’t mean you can make your readers visualize it as well, without a lot of work.
  6. Even the best editor, cannot edit their own work very well since they know what they mean and so aren’t reading that carefully.

I found the following links useful about writing:

More about writing dialogue (I have yet to read some of these and haven’t put any of it into practice yet:

I found the following links useful about specific dialogue problems of non-native English speakers:

Recommendations from Mike’s

Jim over at Mike’s Writing Workshop recommended “Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham and Dare to be a Great Writer by Leonard Bishop.” I will keep a look out for them.

Writing Mysteries

Like the last book I am finding interesting information in books about writing in this one genre. Writing Mysteries by Margaret Lucke (1999 Self Counsel Press — one of the Self Counsel Writing Series) made me read 150 pages before I found anything worthwhile. But after that I found a lot of new and useful information that I intend to make use of like:

Suspense arises naturally out of the conflict you set up in your story. It is the tension between reader’s hopes and doubts. Will the conflict be resloved happily or not. Will the main character accomplish his or her goal or not. (p. 159-160)

…turning doubts into fears. You are dealing with life-and-death issues, making readers wonder not only whether the [main character] will achieve his or her goal but if… important characters will even survive. (p. 160)

She goes on to say, “Writing a mystery is like performing a magic trick. A state magician once told me his profession’s secret to handling audiences: ‘First you make them care, then you make them wait.” (p. 160)

She agrees with those others offering the advice that the writer has to keep escalating the conflict:

…your job as a writer is to get your [main character] in trouble then in more trouble then in worse trouble yet. Your watchword is ‘escalation’…. Make it increasingly difficult for your [main character] to avoid failure. (p. 161)

Both the characters and readers should always be aware of the menace lurking in the background of even the calmest scenes, whether or not they understand the nature and source of the threat. At any moment, violence should be a possibility. You can raise the suspense level by having threats to your characters emanate from more than one source and be of more than one type — psychological as well as paranoid. (p. 162)

…the atmosphere of peril that permeates the story: the ongoing sense of uneasiness that both characters and readers feel because they believe something is about to go terribly wrong. (p. 162)

And the Ms. Lucke also suggests, “To be believably human, your [main character] should err on occasion, or discover that his or her own efforts… have only made matters worse.” (p. 162-163) And then she goes on to say,

Your [main character] should encounter knotty predicaments and ethical dilemmas where the right course of action is not obvious, yet the wrong choice could have devastating consequences. A key factor in reader’s engagement in a mystery is their interest in the personal issues and concerns of the main character. The problems that arsise from within — from the detective’s own flaws, misjudgments, and errors… Internal conflicts raise the stakes… and heighten the suspense. (p. 163)

Accelerate as you approach the high points. Shorten your scenes, paragraphs and sentences when you want the pace to quicken…. Because they area reading faster, the story itself seems to speed up. (p. 166)

Provide end of scene or end-of-chapter hooks. AT the conclusion of each scene, readers make a decision to keep reading or to put the book down. You want to provide every reader an incentive to continue….

Before they can set a novel aside, readers need to achieve a sense of closure. This technique denies them that. By impelling them to turn the page for just one more chapter before they stop reading, you pull them straight through the book. (p. 166)

The book seems to be out of print at the moment but Amazon has it available from second hand dealers, and there is a lot more I had to leave out.

You Can Write a Mystery

I am not writing a mystery but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from a book on writing them. You Can Write a Mystery is by Gillian Roberts, 1999, Writer’s Digest Books and has a lot of useful information. I took more notes than I can publish here:

Tension, the charge that keeps those pages turning, comes from the battle between the challenge and the character’s need and ability to meet it. He has to do it — but it’s so hard. He’s repeatedly foiled, but he must keep trying…. when you’re developing your characters, you’ll build in the reason for this compulsion…. (p. 10)

And on the same page:

The laws of physics apply to fiction — actions produce reactions. Events do not simply happen and hang there. They happen because something else happened, and then the reaction to that happened…. There has to be this internal logic — things happen because other things happened.” (p. 10)

I have been resisting making things get gradually worse since things start off pretty bad in my novel but Ms. Roberts insists:

Not only do bad things keep happening to [your main character], but the things that happen keep getting worse and more intense because of pressure being brought upon her (cause and effect again)…. Think of your story as a snowball, gaining breadth and heft becasue of where it’s been and what it’s picked up along the route.” (p. 10 again)

Finally we get to the next page! And I had never thought of this:

The picture of the situation is readjusted; the opinion of a character is altered. We feel in motion as readers because each of these shifts is a change, and when we realign our perspective, we get an almost unconscious sense of motion, of something happening. You could write a nonstop round of fistfights and chases, but if things were the same at the end of them as at the beginning, the reader would feel that nothing much happened.” (p. 11)

There is a lot more, but I can hardly get away with quoting the whole book. So skipping ahead there is:

…we…. want our readers to identify with out characters and to feel emotions of horror, confusion, elation, fear, relief, excitement — something…. Fiction tries to reproduce the emotional impact of experience. We don’t want you to read all about it. We want you to live it, to reach understanding via gut-level reactions rather than through an appeal to your mind. (p. 60)

And the author goes on to say something that a lot of movies need to pay attention to and at this point in my novel, I doubt I am doing. And I wonder if it is different depending on who your target audience is. Do men react more to novels and movies with little or no emotional involvement and do women need more of it and if you want to have both men and women in your audience do you need to walk a fine line between too little and too much emotion?

If readers aren’t emotionally moved by the actions of the characters, they won’t care what’s happening, no matter how significant the theme, how clever the concept or how many car chases, violent deaths and semiviolent matings are part of th4 action. We want to care, we want to feel, we want to be personally involved — to be the characters, live their lives, feel their emotions. (p. 61)

Ms Roberts also says, “Do not attempt to raise the tension level by withholding something your point-of-view character knows.” (p. 71)

And further on,

Remember that change is what you’re writing about and what readers care about and what provides the sense of forward motion. Build to your big moments. Don’t spring them on us. Let your reader share the second-by-second anxiety and growing tension. When something really matters and is emotionally saturated, it happens for us in slow-motion, nightmarish hyper-real time. Play it that way. (p. 75)

One final thing:

Good dialogue is action. Think of it as arrows shot at someone with a purpose — to hurt, inform, spite, confuse, delight, seduce, and so forth. And no arrow should be wasted. (p. 85)

These just give you some of the many gems I found in this book.

Just discovered

Sponsored by the Arts Counsel, England. And says it is “The free website to help new writers develop and to help talented writers get noticed and published.”

So, as I understand it, you upload some chapters and people review them and you are allowed to make changes and then

Each month on the top five writers receive a free professional critique from established authors, and editors for leading literary agents and publishers including Curtis Brown, Orion and Bloomsbury, who represent writers such as J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Elmore Leonard.

Sounds interesting especially for me since my book deals mostly with the British and this seems to be a British organization so it may be especially useful if I have any of my Britishisms wrong.

Another resource for later.

Writing Realistic Dialogue 1

After three disappointing books, I found Harvey Stanbrough’s Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction, A Thorough Primer for Writers of Fiction & Essays (2004; Central Avenue Press, Albuquerque). Among the things he says are:

Just as a whisper will cause a listener to lean forward in her chair and pay closer attention, so will an incomplete sentence cause the reader to lean further into the book and pay closer attention. And besides, dialogue written in sentence fragments presents the spontaneity and free-flowing rhythms of everyday speech. In other words, it’s more realistic.” (p. 32-33)

And later

Too many complete, grammatically correct sentences in dialogue render it linear, stilted, and boring. Of course, that isn’t to say you can’t write a story in which a particular character speakes only in complete sentences, choosing and enunciating each word carefully. But most people (and characters) don’t talk like that.” (p. 34)

I thought these were also useful: “Allow the character to use certain favorite words or catch phrases.” p. 49 and “Allow your characters to interrupt each other.” (p. 49)

And then there was this:

Every good salesman knows that the person who asks the questions controls the conversation…. If you want to indicate a struggle for control, one way is to allow your characters to bounce questions off each other for awhile…. any struggle for control is a conflict and a way to create or intensify tension. (p. 49)

He goes on to say, “A longer sentence conveys emotions and shorter sentences evokea sense of drama.” p. 50. “Reading to many long sentences in succession can confuse or tire the reader.” (p. 51) And “…too many short sentences in sequences waters down the sense of drama and renders a choppy reading experience.” p. 52. He then gives his opinion that, “our susceptibility to the emotional or dramatic impact of longer or shorter sentences is hard-wired into the human mind.” (p. 53)

The author then does a discussion of meter and also how some words take longer for a reader to read just because of the letters in the word. It is complicated and goes over several pages so I recommend that you read that from the book itself. I have seen no other discussion like this, other people just mention doing things with rhythm (rarely even mention meter at all).

After that he says,

As a writer, you must learn two things in order to apply meter: You must learn to ready your work aloud shamelessly, wit the necessary emotion, and you must learn to trust your ear. Reading aloud will allow you to hear the rhythms of your prose. Even if you don’t know anything about meter, and even if you think you can’t recognize whether your prose is flowing smoothly, you will notice when you stumble or when your tongue ties iteself into a knot over an awkward construction.” (p. 64)

And he says, “…if great writing is about anything at all, it’s about conveying and controlling emotion.” (p. 67) and he says, and this I have heard elsewhere and it is so hard to do, “…avoid the state-of-being-verbs unless you’re intentionally describing a state of being…. am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been.” (p. 117)

Elizabeth George’s Write Away

Another book I found nothing to even take a note about. Am I finding so many that I find useless these days because I’ve enough books to know the general advice? Or did I just read three that I didn’t take a single note from because these books didn’t speak to what I am looking for in advice.

Writer Beware Website

This website at has a lot of advice on copyrights and scams that target writers.

Spunk & Bite

I was sure Spunk & Bite: A writer’s guide to punchier, more engaging lanugage & style by Arthur Plotnik was just what I was looking for in my quest to use better words in my descriptions and to find better action verbs. Turns out I was wrong. It is actually about breaking the rules that are normally taught even to using words that your audience won’t understand. For my purposes, this was a waste of time.

“Master Class” by Paul West

The subtitle is “Scenes from a Fiction Workshop”. I assumed this was about writing, but I was wrong. It is a literature class, I think, but my opinion of it was that it broke all the rules of sensible, interesting writing. I advise people who are looking for writing advice against bothering with this book.



Writing.Com is the online community for writers and readers of all interests and skill levels. Whether you’re an enthusiastic, creative writer looking for the perfect place to store and display your writing online or a casual reader searching for a good story, Writing.Com is the website for you!

With 645,540 members and 1,367,631 literary items created since inception, this community is bursting with activities, inspiration and creativity.

Free memberships are available to everyone. Each membership includes an online writing portfolio, numerous writing tools, email services and the chance to meet and bond with fresh creative minds, just like you! No other website services the Writing world better than we do.

I haven’t joined yet but it looks interesting — you have to join to learn much more.

Nick Pollotta

From a page called How to Write Fiction by Nick Pollatta


This is a fabulous trick I was taught long ago. Take your favorite book - not the book you most enjoy to read - but the novel whose literacy merits you most admire. This decision is important. Do not make the choice lightly. Then with magic marker, pen and paper, totally dissect the book line by line. Take voluminous notes. Analyze how this person established tone for that spectacular scene, the little details that helped create the dimensional effect. The wooden chair arm oily smooth with polish, the salty sweat stinging his cracked lips, etc.

Now, this procedure, if done correctly, will greatly assist you in quickly establishing a style of your own. However, it will also totally and forever destroy this book for you. Never again will you be able to enjoy reading this work. It is a simple straightforward sacrifice. You kill a favorite book to glean every kernel of knowledge from the novel.

It’s cruel, it’s cold, it’s hard. But this does work.

The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman

Subtitle is “8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life”. This is the same author of The First Five Pages which tells about how far an agent or editor will look into a manuscript before usually rejecting it (assuming the first couple of paragraphs doesn’t turn them off before that). I have notes on that book which I read before I started this blog.

This one has some interesting quotes. This is from page 1:

Begin with an individual and you find that you have crated a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created — nothing. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

The author says, “Ultimately human beings are impossible to predict, and there are factors we just cannot anticipate.”

This is another quote (from page 25) I thought interesting although I have never read the author it is from:

I would never write about someone who is not at the end of his rope.” — Stanley Elkin

And the author says on page 81-82, “…story telling is not about giving away information but about withholding it; the information itself is never as important as the path you take to in disseminating it…. The destination, we find, is never as important as the journey itself.”

More Writing Resources


Five Tips from Kris Saknussemm

Five Tips to Avoiding Total Disaster as a Novelist
by Kris Saknussem

I found Tip Five to be different and interesting:

Ignore all reasonable sounding advice like ‘write about what you know,’ ‘read as much as you can,’ or ‘try to write every day.’ If you need to hear this advice you are in the wrong game. But more importantly, reasonableness won’t get the job done. One day in an ice-stricken back alley in Boston I saw a fat little Irishman beat the daylights out of four larger, stronger assailants. When it was over, and it was over astonishingly quickly, he brushed himself off and said simply, ‘I had to get unreasonable with ‘em.’ Unless you are willing to face the unreasonable in yourself — unless you are willing to entertain some strange notions (and deal with them when they stick around) — unless you are willing to get lost, confused and even terrified — then what you’re doing won’t have any meaning. The famous device of conflict upon which all stories are supposed to hinge starts within the writer. You are all the characters in your dreams and so too with a novel. You can’t put your creations into jeopardy or into embarrassing or miraculous situations without going there yourself, and that is not a sensible ambition for a grown person to have. As a writer who has made more mistakes than most, my goal above all else is to be very, very unreasonable.

“Make a Scene” by Jordan Rosenfeld

I picked up Make a Scene, Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld from our local library. I was terribly disappointed and felt the author didn’t have anything new to impart. It is quite likely that some other writer somewhere will find information in this book that is of some value. But I didn’t find anything that I felt was relevant. He gave a couple of pieces of advice which I felt would be just wrong for what I was doing. And other than that, he seemed to just repeat what everyone else was saying. But maybe that was just me and the kind of thing I am doing. So far I have found most of the writing books I have picked up to offer several things I wanted to take notes on. But not this one.

We have added a World War II Blog

We now have a blog just to collect the research we are doing on World War II which figures greatly in the novel we are writing. We have always take notes when we read but usually we just fill up notebooks. It might be better if we got some of these notes online. We are not sure this will make the information more accessible but we thought we would try it although it will slow things down considerably since writing something is faster than typing it and definitely faster than writing it and then typing it into the blog. And if this slows things down, it will slow down the rewriting and the continuing writing of the novel. On the other hand, we have always felt the need, desire to not only collect but also spread information. Our new blog is at:


Under Historical Fiction in the Writer's Digest forum "jmar2"  posted this link on 2008-03-31:

GenDisasters ... Genealogy in Tragedy, Disasters, Fires, Floods | 
Events That Touched Our Ancestors' Lives

That might be useful at some point.
But it seems to just be things that happened in the U.S.  or Canada so not useful for me.

Writer’s Digest Forum has a Critique Section

Writer’s Digest Forum you are asked to critique others as well as ask for critiques. Maximum is 2500 words. The critiques come from other writers in the genre, not from anyone connected to Writer’s Digest.

I just joined so I have no other information at the moment.

Eavesdrop Writer Blog. Listen, Read, Write!

A Writer’s Inspiration from Easvesdropping

Promoting Books

Mike’s Writing Workshop ListServ (see below) had a post from

“PSGifford” on Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:56 am

with this link: Authors Promoting Authors Blog “works on the pay it forward principal.”

This seems to be the intro post for the site (it seems to be a newish site/blog):

Here are a few things, Authors Promoting Authors can use a hand with, please let me know if you would be willing to help with any of it:

-It has been suggested that a banner be created so folks who want to spread the word can put it up on their blog or site. My skills do not shine brightly in this regard, so if someone wants to take this on….

-Authors Promoting Authors now has a Facebook group. There is bundles of potential with this and if anyone wants to help run the group, I’ll go in and make you an admin.

-Spread the word!-The word is getting out about APA but I feel that we need a bit more of a boost. If anyone has any suggestions of where I can brag about APA, or if you want to go ahead and link back from your blog or site, or write a post about APA, go ahead!

-Submissions-I am looking for articles, poetry, what have you, anything that relates to the art of writing, for the off days (Sun, Tues, Thurs, Sat) it would be neat to see things that are really unique and off the wall. Of course, book features are also welcomed and we are now booking into September.

-Send your site-Authors, I am in the process of adding your links to this blog, but a lot of you have many different places on the web. Please let me know which one you would like to be posted here.

-Website is being developed. I am envisioning a site where all authors have some space to showcase their books and reviews and a way to connect with readers. This is a long term project and won’t really be started until September but I am open to ideas, suggestions and free labour.

You can always email me with any questions, submissions or concerns: .

It is my joy and pleasure to be able to offer this service and I hope it continues to grow into a grand success.

Personality Tests

New York Times list of personality Tests

Lois McMaster Bujold

I didn’t get to Denvention (didn’t even know Lois McMaster Bujold was going to be the Guest of Honor for this year’s World Science Fiction Convention) to see my favorite living author. News is that she is working on a new Miles book.

An interview with her said “Her working definition of genre is a group of books in close conversation with one another. Genre is also a marketing category; labels were invented as soon as there were too many books for one person to sort through easily….”

The interview goes on to say “Romance is a fantasy of love; mystery is a fantasy of justice; and SF is a fantasy of political agency. The different psychology of genre readers gives different results to similar themes.”

And “Her approach to writing is to ‘think of the worst possible thing to happen to the characters and then do it’ and the worst possible thing is to force her characters to deal with politics…. the new Miles book… is packed with politics, worldbuilding, and chickens.”

I Haven’t done much Writing

I put a “1″ in the file name of this post because I think it will come up again. While reading “The Courage to Write”, I did get two ideas and have just added a couple of sentences to the second (end Day 1) and another couple to the third (Day 2) chapters of the book. I have sent off the first four chapters to two more friends so I don’t want to do much revision there until I hear back from both of them. But I should be revising Day 4 so that I can add it to the publically available work.

More from “The Courage to Write” by Keyes

“When we think of ‘risk takers,’ we usually think of wire walkers, mountain climbers, and sky divers…. But death-defying risks aren’t necessarily the hardest ones to take. During many years of interest in the subject, it’s become clear to me that the risk most universally feared is that of looking foolish.” p. 183

Editor’s note: And what could look more foolish that someone who thinks they can write and can’t, someone who thinks they have something to say but doesn’t, someone who shows the world what comes out of the mind and finds that the world thinks it isn’t sane, rational or useful. And how many people will think I am speaking of a past time that has no bearing on the current time and that I am doing it in a non-realistic way that makes it just a childish fantasy. Okay, now I am scared.

But as Keyes also says, “One reason for writing is to create an alternative universe in which to play God.” p. 175

That might just trump fear.

Writer’s Digest Forum

I just discovered that Writer’s Digest has a forum at

And also from Writer’s Digest November is National Novel

Information on how people deal with Disasters

This is information to use when someone is in an unusual situation:

“In every kind of disaster, writes Amanda Ripley in her excellent and moving study of disaster psychology (’The Unthinkable: who survives when disaster strikes – and why’, Random House Books 2008), we start in roughly the same place and go through three phases. The first phase is denial. According to a 2005 National Institute of Standards and Technology study drawn from interviews with nearly nine hundred survivors of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, the average survivor waited six minutes before heading downstairs. One survivor commented, ‘The building started to sway and everything started shaking. I knew there was something wrong. I ran to my desk and made a couple of phone calls. I dialled about five times trying to reach my [spouse]. I also called my sisters to find out more information.’ Despite the physical evidence of smoke and the smell of jet fuel, about one thousand individuals took the time to shut down their computers. Once through the initial shock of the denial phase, we pass into deliberation (’We know something is terribly wrong, but we don’t know what to do about it. How do we decide ?’). Our processes of thought and perception are altered. Eventually we reach the third phase of the survival arc: the decisive moment; ‘We’ve accepted that we are in danger; we’ve deliberated our options. Now we take action.’” —

I have ordered this book.

“The Courage to Write” by Ralph Keyes

Subtitle is “How Writers Transcend Fear”

I picked this up at the library and didn’t think it had much to do with me but I thought I’d look at it.

I hadn’t thought much about needing courage to write until I got ready to show an early first draft to two close friends. I wasn’t afraid they would criticize the writing, that was the purpose of sending it to them. I wanted criticism. But I was afraid of revealing too much to these two people from whom I had never kept secrets.

The author writes, “Even though novelists and short story writers ostensibly deal in fantasy, they are the most self-exposed authors of all…. Fiction writes are judged by the emotional authenticity of their work. To create authentic feelings in their characters, they must first call up their own.” p. 67

And “Polls routinely confirm that public speaking is our number-one feat. (Dying ranks sixth, according to one such poll.) Writing is merely public speaking on paper, but to a much larger audience.” p. 8

“The best work that anybody ever writes,’ said Arthur Miller, ‘is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.’” p. 20

“‘Literature: proclaiming in front of everyone what one is careful to conceal form one’s immediate circle.’” — Jean Rostand p. 37

“Every word we write for publication subjects us to scrutiny.” p. 39

“To write well [writers] must write honestly; not in the literal but in the emotional sense.” p. 40

“We all keep thoughts to ourselves in a zone of privacy. The bigger that zone, the worse our writing.” p. 64

Mr. Keyes also says, “Feeling unpopular as a child gets one in shape for serious writing. This is true for a number of reasons. Misfits spend a lot of time alone. Future writers use that time to make up imaginary playmates.” p. 81 (editor’s note: when you introduce your imaginary characters to others, you run the risk of being locked up like Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Harvey”.)

More from “Guide to Fiction Writing” by Whitney

“Problem, Purpose, Conflict, Goal — all build interest and suspense…. keep these elements at the back of your mind while you write. When you come to revise, check to make sure all four have been included in every chapter, in nearly every scene. If you omit any one, the omission should be intentional.” p. 71 (Editor’s note: Now this is something I am not doing and I don’t think I’ve read about all four together before.)

I make sure that all my characters have secrets that will be revealed gradually during the course of the novel.” p. 75

“Contrasts in behavior, in surroundings, in reactions can offer an inexhaustible find of suprising plot material.” p. 75

“One of the comforting and reassuring things about writing is that there is always a way, always an answer.” p. 79 (editor’s note: I have also found this. If I think about a problem I have in getting from Point A to Point B when it looks like there is no road between the two, I will find a way. Maybe it is the amount of reading I have done throughout my life. I don’t know, but it does come to me — eventually, usually quicker than I would have expected.)

“Knowng what each character thinks about all the other characters, is an important part of the process.” p. 96

“As a writer, I learned early on how to take criticism. As a teacher of writing, I could distinguish at once between professional and amateur because the beginner always falls apart emotionally when a manuscript is criticized.” p. 113

“…good books aren’t written; they are rewritten. Revision is a key phase of your novel.” p. 124 (editor’s note: I think this was originally said by someone else but I can’t remember who.)

And check out her questions to help you check your own word during revision on pages 125-128.

Speaking of Friends

When I first had the first four chapters down into a website and checked over and rewritten, I then turned to friends. Fortunately I have chosen my friends for their intelligence and almost all of them read for pleasure. And they know me well enough to know that when I ask for criticism, I mean it. Some people have told me that others have asked for criticism and when honest opinions were offered, friendships were lost. Being a natural critic myself, that is what I expect from others. Hearing “I really liked it.” does me no good since I am unlikely to believe it.

I started off asking two people to read it at a time and then I had to do the hard part and wait until they both got back to me before I started changing things. If I didn’t wait, I would get in criticism that no longer applied. So, I waited.

The first person who got back to me stated that there was too much dialogue and not enough narration. Well as a matter of fact I usually skip narration and read from dialogue to dialogue but when I looked at it, I realized I really hadn’t “set the scene”. The desert didn’t feel hot, etc. Then this same person (Carolyn Cooper) said she didn’t believe in the plane crash so I gave a reason for it. And she felt that my main character went from being super heroic to being a whimpering fool. I thought about that and decided that that was just what I wanted her to do. She could do something heroic when called upon but when she didn’t have to, she could collapse. Now Carolyn suggested that I made her heroic when I felt like it and she went too fast from one state to the other just because I wanted her to. But don’t we all do that. We can collapse after a hard day but if a child has a real emergency we are back into take charge mode. Will is not universal and an always thing, it is a come and go thing for use when it is necessary and sometimes not to be found when it isn’t. And I believe you become acclimated and may find yourself for a day or two completely destroyed by being too hot and to cold and later you find you get better at dealing with it.

I was a little concerned that my main character may turn into a Perils of Pauline type (which I would really hate) but she is really out of her element at times (what is she doing in a war zone without any preparation? how could she be prepared for it?) and will not always be able to save herself. On the other hand I hope to have her save the situation as often as she needs to be saved from it. But she is not Wonder Woman to always save the world and leave nothing for anyone else to do!

WeBook website

I didn’t know this existed. Seems to be a place where you can post your book, get it reviewed and voted on. They say:

“WEbook is a revolutionary online book publishing company, which does for the industry what American Idol did for music. (Modestly speaking, of course.) Welcome to the home of groundbreaking User-Generated Books. WEbook is the vision of a few occasionally erudite people who believe there are millions of talented writers whose work is ignored by the staid and exclusive world of book publishing. It just makes logical sense that if you create a dynamic, irreverent, and open place for writers and people who like reading to meet, write, react, and think together, the results are bound to be extraordinary. Cue, an online publishing platform that allows writers, editors, reviewers, illustrators and others to join forces to create great works of fiction and non-fiction, thrillers and essays, short stories, children’s books and more.”

I found this from a Google ad on the A little further along after I have exhausted my friends (having asked each one for a critique once), I definitely intend to take advantage of the groups here to see if someone will read and offer criticism.

Just Discovered Mike’s Writing Workshop Listserv

It is a Yahoo Group. Seems to have a lot of people willing to critique. Like a giant writer’s group. But keeping up with the incoming emails may be more than I can manage. Did read Camus Nobel acceptance speech in trying to bring myself up to date on what was going on.

And another post had an interview with Syd Field and listed his website: Interview said:

So what makes a great screenplay?
Field: The two big answers: Strong characters and strong action. But what I’ve found with most young screenwriters, they try to tell their story through dialogue, through words, and not with action. What they don’t understand is, film is behavior, creating an emotional situation that the character reacts to.
— interview by geffy1

And then there is a new blog from the person who runs this website:

From there check out: “Seven Things You Should Know About Your Book” By Jeanne Lyet Gassman (Vol 1, Issue 8 Aug. 5, 2008)

Be Your Own Editor

Just started this. Thought it was worth making a note of: “Be Your Own Editor” By Alex Keegan. Then there is Part II, Part III (dialogue), and Part VI (theme). Somehow, you cannot get from Part I to the other parts.

I have definitely decided that I agree with the quote (from someone else), “You don’t so much write a novel as rewrite it.” I have had the first four chapters since November. Since they are not right, I haven’t done any future writing. My research suggests that there are two main ways to write:

  1. Sit down and write the whole thing and go back and rewrite.
  2. Write the beginning (in my case I had to have all four of the first four chapters done or someone would have little idea of who some of my characters were) and then rewrite it until it is readable - it is never “right/finished/done”, which is why I want this to be an online novel that I can change as I want to. Since I feel it is now getting to be almost readable, I have started on the next two chapters. But they are not ready for local cable yet, well enough Prime Time. I will rewrite them and then put them up and then rewrite some more as I get feedback and then go on.

Am reading “Guide to Fiction Writing”

It is by Phyllis A. Whitney (I think she is a romance novelist but am not sure).

Points I found interesting:

  1. “Start with a character with a problem doing something interesting.”
  2. “You will need to involve the reader quickly with your viewpoint character, arouse curiosity, and give the casual browser who picks up your book a feeling that he or she must know more about what this character is doing and why.”
  3. “When you try for an arresting opening, however, beware of overdramatic action. Readers aren’t interested in watching people they don’t know run around frantically doing something that isn’t clear…. Involvement is the key word.” p . 53-54
  4. “Every piece of fiction should start with a state of crisis, out of which future action grows. This crisis must affect and be resolved by the action of the main character; it can’t be someone else’s problem or solution.” p. 63

Maybe I like these selections so much because I am, I think, already doing most of them or trying to.

Spending too much time on research

I love doing the research. Reading books about the time and place and watching documentaries. I must do the research but it takes away from the writing and the rewriting.

I Started the Novel in November 2007

I had most of the first four chapters visualized in my head. But found it wasn’t that easy to get the scenes from my head onto the page. The first time I showed it to someone asking for criticism, I got it — I have friends who were kind of enough to tell me what was wrong and not mince words about it. Since then I have been reading writing books, etc. And making it better and asking other people to read it when I thought it was better.

I need to bounce the story off of other minds I respect — like using another brain to see the problems. I am a great editor of other people’s stuff, but I know what my writing is supposed to say and I am likely to bring that in when I read it and it makes me not be able to see the readability problems. Since I need additional brains, I have been asking my friends for critical, editing help. They have only needed to read the first four chapters and they only need to do it once per year. I cannot risk burn out from them. They are doing me a tremendous favor by helping out and I cannot overuse them, even if they say they like it and want to know what happens next — I assume that even my most critical friends are going to say those kinds of things.

Previous to this the novel was at a free site which didn’t allow me as much leeway. But I only started the blog when I moved to this place (within a domain that was one of my first sites).