Tag Archives: writers

Our gift as writers

I recently read A Fault in Our Stars by John Green and one line has attached itself to me like the scabies parasite that burrowed into my abdomen after one summer camp canoe trip at age 12. I was itchy and red and uncomfortable because these little mites had taken refuge in my body. Gross. It took days to get them out of my system, and even though I couldn’t physically see them, my thoughts were consumed by them simply knowing they were there, gnawing at me physically and mentally.

OK, so the line from Green’s novel that stuck with me isn’t gross nor uncomfortable like scabies, but it has been equally consuming mentally. Like the parasite in my abdomen, this line has penetrated and settled itself into my psyche and each day it gets itchy in thought, until now I’m compelled to write about it.

In the book, the main character, Hazel, is trying to figure out what she believes happens after we die. With all the suffering she has seen, she can’t imagine there is a magical place like heaven with harps etc, but she also isn’t comfortable with death just being the end. Her father thoughtfully responds to her saying “I don’t know if heaven exists, but I had a math teacher in college once say, ‘Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.’ That’s what I believe. I believe the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”

I read those lines and I was instantly hit Batman style: “BAM!” “SMACK!” “WHOMP!” I had to re-read it a few times to really absorb the impact of the punch. “Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.” Yes.

Through A Fault in our Stars, Green deeply notices not only the harrowing experience of cancer, but the angst of teenage years, the complexity of family and friendships, and the intricacies of love. He elegantly describes both the destruction and beauty each leave in their wake.

When I asked my two teenage nieces about their reactions to the book, they said things like:

  • “It was practical and normal…and still I never got bored.”
  • “There was a truth to it…about what it’s like to be a teenager.”
  • “He didn’t trivialize the experience.”
  • “He didn’t avoid the pain. Pain happens, but there can still be beautiful things within it and in spite of it.”

Green noticed. He observed. And then, through the elegance of his words, the elegance of the universe came to life for his readers to take in and take pause. That’s the gift of great writing.

Whether it’s through the meticulous description of radiation treatment, a forest, or a heart breaking, we take the time to notice when others do not. We respond through our prose to the universe’s desire. And our words have the power to bring depth to a world where most scurry like rats foraging the surface for survival each day. Our calling is to remind others to stop and pay attention. You’re moving too quickly.

Many of us struggle to know if the sweat and tears we shed to find the right words really matters to anyone but ourselves, but I beg you to remember the last time you got Batman smacked by a line from a good book. Finding the right words means noticing. Really noticing. It is needed. It is essential. It is our gift to the world.


Filed under Uncategorized

Me & CBC

This Huffington Post article by Amy Wruble, 40 Effed Up Things About Being 40, is making the rounds on my Facebook feed. It made me laugh. I just turned 40 last year but found myself relating to many of Amy’s observations – the correlation between the ingestion of pancakes and my waist size in particular. May my old metabolism rest in peace.

There is one more item I would add to this list – not so much “effed up” but definitely in the category of a “new trend” for me since I turned forty. I have become a fan of CBC Radio. That’s right, I said it, I am a late bloomer to CBC Radio.


It’s not that I didn’t know it existed, it’s just that growing up I largely considered CBC Radio to be “boring” and for “old” people. I like to think I was just wrong all these years, of course it may be that now I am old and boring but either way CBC Radio is suddenly appealing to me and often the first thing I put on the radio when I get into the car.

I’m still learning my way around the programming schedule but am super happy when I land on shows like The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers or Writers & Company hosted by Eleanor Watchel. These programs offer up a great forum for discussions with authors. I love hearing about what compels them to write and inspires their stories and characters. Studio Q with Jian Ghomeshi is also a great place to hear fantastic interviews like this one with Khaled Hosseini  (Kite Runner, And the Mountains Echoed) last week.

Turns out there’s a whole world of radio/talk shows for writers out there, just opening up to boring-old-40-year-old me. Here are just a few that I found. I’d love to hear from others about their favourites.

Talk Shows for Writers (www.freelancewriting.com)

Best Podcasts for Authors (http://www.bookbuzzr.com)

5 Must-hear Podcasts for Writers (http://www.fromthewriteangle.com)

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Filed under Author Interviews, Inspiration, Writing ideas, Writing resources

The Dance of Dialogue: 21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes

Writing conversations that sound natural can present a challenge for some writers. It’s akin to composing a melody, which clearly, does not come easy to everyone. Unless of course you run with Brahms or Beyonce. Yeah…

We (being: me & Maria) attended Brian Henry’s (Quick Brown Fox) dialogue workshop this week and have some useful advice for others trying to perfect the knack of writing good dialogue.

We managed to collect some useful tidbits, like: 1) the plot is the superstructure for entertaining the reader; 2) if two characters are too similar, you must kill one of them; and 3) forget show-don’t-tell, instead show what’s important; tell about the stuff that’s not! Gotta love new takes on old rules—go Brian go!

So, now dripping of dialogue do’s & don’t’s, I’d like to share them with you.

21 Tips for Writing Great Scenes:

  • Dialogue and narrative must play off each other.
  • Every scene must have a point and advance the story. Subject your scene to the “so what?” test.
  • Always make your characters interesting. Like, give ’em a verbal quirk.
  • Characters should always have their own agenda.
  • Treat your characters as “tour guides.” It’s their job to guide the reader.
  • Dialogue is dynamic. It should not travel in a straight line.
  • Remove extra words! Use words that are pithy & colorful.
  • Do not overdo narrative interruptions.
  • Use contractions freely in dialogue (and in narrative too).
  • The simpler the dialogue tag, the better. “He said” and “She said” are the most common. They’re also so unobtrusive that they’re almost invisible.
  • Trust your dialogue and resist the urge to explain everything.
  • Use narrative to keep characters grounded in their setting.
  • Cut greetings, intro’s, inquiries into people’s health, and/or the weather.
  • Aim to have more than one thing going on at once.
  • Milk the tension! Good dialogue requires tension or conflict.
  • Engage characters in another activity while talking (avoid the obvious: smoking & leaning).
  • Employ irony: create a gap between what your characters say and what the reader knows is the truth.
  • The more dialogue you have, the more readable your story.
  • Ask yourself: Will readers pay $ for what I have just given them?
  • Hook the reader from the beginning; hook the reader as the story develops; and hook the reader by leading them into the next scene.
  • Umm. Did I mention, hook the reader?

 List compiled from: Writing Dialogue Workshop, Brian Henry, July 17, 2010.

The best thing you can do is to READ IT OUT LOUD. This is a great way to test your dialogue. And when you do, perhaps lock yourself in a sound-tight room to avoid the people in white coats…


Need more help? Dialogue Writing Resources:

Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella

Writing Dialogue for Scripts by Rib Davis

Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan Rosenfeld

Upcoming Writer’s Digest Webinar (July 22, 2010): Write Great Fiction: Craft Sizzling Dialogue


Filed under Motivation, Writing resources

We’re 1 year old and already toilet trained!

It was a year ago that our little band of restless writers was born. We met like most people do these days – online. I posted a ‘group wanted’ notice on Brian Henry’s most excellent blog and the rest is history.

Beckie is our social media maven – a commenting crusader who tweets ‘til it hurts. Without her, our following would likely be limited to immediate relatives and each other.

Maria is the queen of the quill – an enormously talented and technical writer with a limitless supply of resources for writers in all stages of their vocation.

And me? I just write about how I never have the time or space to write.

Since coming together last year, we have collectively:
· Revised a 300-page women’s fiction manuscript
· Consumed over 20 bottles of wine while scarfing 8 rounds of brie
· Revised a young adult fiction manuscript and children’s non-fiction proposal
· Guzzled Sangria as we nibbled on truckloads of baguettes (with associated dips)
· Uttered, “Holy crap!” countless times when reading Maria’s charmingly disturbing short stories
· Convinced Maria that at least 3 of her short stories must become full novels
· Drank enough Strongbow Cider to fill a hot tub

Our second year looks to be even more promising, with writing conferences and retreats in the works (and, of course, lots of wine). I hope you all keep dropping by our blog…we’ve loved having you…

As for you, Beckie and Maria: happy anniversary…I love you, bitches!



Filed under Group meetings, Inspiration, News