Sunday, March 31, 2013

Southern Utah Writing Boot Camp

Do You Want to be an Author or a Writer

Heritage Writers Guild, the Southern Utah Chapter of the League of Utah Writers is sponsoring a Writing Boot Camp on May 18, 2013, from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm.

~Keynote Speaker~

Jack Remick is a poet, short story writer and  novelist. In 2012, Coffeetown Press published the first two volumes of Jack’s California Quartet series, The Deification and Valley Boy. The final two volumes will be released in 2013: The Book of Changes and Trio of Lost Souls. Blood, A Novel was published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press, in 2011. You can find Jack Remick online at  or

Workshop 1: The Three S’s Story—Archetypes and core story: Myth base and story arc.
                Stories are told with action and image
                Archetypes: Dressing the Archetype— Time, Place.
Structure—Scene and Narration
                Narration compresses time
                Scene stops time
                Scene and Plot tracks
                               Scene Structure
                               Scene template
Style— Image and Action
                Breaking down the Paragraph
              Verbs: Generic versus Style verbs
               Nouns : Concrete versus Abstract Nouns

Workshop 2: Firsts and Lasts—Characters and Their Objects
The First time X appears, the next time X appears, the Last time X appears…
List of Characters with associated objects.

One: Bring a one page passage from your current Work in Progress. That's about 250-300 words. If you don't have a work in progress, we'll provide an example from an anonymous source.

Two: There will be a writing exercise based on a character or an object in the work in progress. If no work in progress, we will develop one with in the workshop beginning with this sequence: 
    I want to write a story about;
    I'm writing a story about a character who wants; 
    I'm writing a scene about this character in which she or he...

Here's an example from Gabriela and The Widow of the First Time, The Next Time, The Last Time:
·  The first time we see Gabriela, she buys a real dress with blue and red flowers on it and she buys a pair of real shoes with laces. What we don’t see is that she has no idea how to tie laces.
·  Next we see Gabriela she is dressed in Levis and a chambray shirt. She wears Nike running shoes like the shoes las Norteñas wear when they came to the shop where she worked.
·  The Last time we see Gabriela she is dressed all in red. This is the Revenge scene back in Tepenixtlahuaca.  

Three: We will run a third exercise using the work in progress or the provided page as a start. In this exercise writers will list the characters in their WIP or the provided page, and they will then associate each character with an emblematic object.

The thrust of this workshop is to develop the notion of structure based on either character or an object.

Additional training sessions by Heritage Writers Guild members include: Your Brain is a Playground – Creative Thinking, by Barbara Funke; Shadowing – Developing Living Characters, by Traci McDonald; and Making Stories Come to Life, by Jon Thompson.

Registration fees include lunch:

LUW/HWG Members $30

Non-members $40

There is an early bird registration discount of $10 off the LUW/HWG member, and Non-member fee for registering before April 20, 2013.

High/College Students $15 (with student ID) in advance or at the door the day of the workshop

For more information about this event, to register and for other Heritage Writers Guild events, visit

Saturday, March 30, 2013

This and that

WIFYR, the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers conference, still has spots available. The early bird special price will be ending soon. Go to for more info.

This blog’s “30 Days, 30 Stories” Project will kick off the first of April. Each day of the month a new person contributes something. Expect any genre, fiction or non-fiction, poetry, whatever. Illustrators can add their art as well.

I’ve agreed to provide a story to this event and have put some thought in what kind of thing to contribute. I considered revamping something I’ve already done until the recent traffic on the utahchildrenwriters listserv about publishing work in such a format.

To do this I’ll probably come up with a short story. That will be a stretch as the format is different than the book length stories I’ve been working on. In a novel, the characters & plot evolve over time. Not so with a short story. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

A timely Writer’s Digest article appeared this week that addresses story ideas. Brian Klems’ How to Develop Any Idea Into a Great Story offers some interesting thoughts. Klems says to take your idea then bend it, amp it, drive, or strip it. He uses examples from some of our greatest literature and well-know writers. The Great Gatsby idea was bent into the Fight Club. Margaret Atwood drove Cinderella’s plight in The Handmaid’s Tale. Hemingway stripped the war theme in War and Peace down to his own war experience in Our Time. The article makes for an interesting read.

Enjoy 30 stories.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Buys Goodreads

by Scott Rhoades

The book world, blogosphere, and online news sites are abuzz with yesterday's news that Amazon is buying Goodreads.

Over the last few years, Goodreads has become my favorite place to track my  reading and to look at book reviews. As an independent site peopled by folks who love to read, I trust their reviews more than I trust, say, the reviews on Amazon. Plus, I can see if my friends have read a book I'm thinking about getting, and what they thought of it.

I will take a wait-and-see approach to what this really means, but I'm skeptical. I love knowing there's a place where I can get independent reviews that have nothing to do with a particular bookseller, a place where I can click links to various sellers if I want to price or buy a book, and a place where books can be discussed by book lovers without the overseeing eye of a seller and publisher. Goodreads is a place where it doesn't matter whether you read on a Kindle, a Nook, or prefer to read your books the old-fashioned way: on vellum scrolls. I love knowing I can review a book or add one to be to-read or have-read lists without that information being mined by somebody who sees it as a way to sell more books or target more ads. I have nothing against selling or targeting ads, if I'm on a site where the goal is to purchase or window shop, or if I'm on a site where I've become resigned to the knowledge that it's happening, like on Facebook or anything owned by Google (including this blog site). I just like that there's still a place where it doesn't happen, where people share information for the joy of sharing something with people who have similar interests.

I don't expect any of those things to survive this acquisition. Maybe they will, but, like I said, I'm skeptical, and my skepticism makes me hesitant to continue adding information to the site. I also wonder how long independent will remain in the English vocabulary.

What do you think?

More Info

Official press release
Goodreads statement
New York Times
Forbes article on how this acquisition hurts competition

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 11, Sophistication

Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication, The AS and -ING of Bad Style

Notes, highlight, thoughts and frustrations from Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 11, Sophistication

As per my previous chapter reviews of this very helpful book on writing, my thoughts are encased with parenthesis. I hope this helps someone out there, besides me.
One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to AVOID two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers, namely:
"Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him."
"As she pulled of her gloves, she turned to face him."
Both the as construction and the -ing construction as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously...if you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.

Another reason to avoid the as and -ing construction is they can give rise to physical impossibilities. (There is one solution to this problem on page 194, if you care to purchase the book yourself! In fact, page 195 has an example with, then without, the as and -ing constructs. I must say, the latter does read better.)

Another way to keep from looking like an amateur is to avoid the use of cliches (Amen)...When you fall into characterizations like these (a list of common cliches), the result is a cartoon rather than a character.
There is one caveat: in narration, there may be times when you need to use a familiar, pet phrase-yes, a cliche, to summarize a complicated situation. But before going with a cliche, give some thought to the possibility of 'turning it', altering it slightly to render the phrasing less familiar.

In Chapter 5, we warned you to watch out for -ly adverbs when you are writing dialogue. (Stephen King said the same thing in On Writing, if I recall correctly.) But even when you are not writing dialogue, be on the lookout for -ly adverbs, for the sake of sophistication. (The next few paragraphs offer some great suggestions on resolving this problem.)

This approach may be all right for a first draft, but when you self-edit, you can root out these verb-adverb combinations like the weeds they are. (I like that metaphor.)

When you use two words, a weak verb and an adverb, to do the work of one strong verb, you dilute your writing and rob it of its potential power.

A simple departure from conventional comma usage can also lend a modern, sophisticated touch to your fiction-especially your dialogue...This comma usage, if not overdone, conveys remarkably well the way speech actually falls on the ear.

There are a few stylistic devices that are so "tacky" they should be used very sparingly.(I just gave you one, there are three others in the book, one involves sex. Really. It does.)

What is true of sexual details is also true of profanity...profanity has been so overused in the past years that nowadays it's more a sign of a small vocabulary. (A great, humorous example follows.)

The surest sign that you are achieving literary sophistication is when your writing begins to seem effortless, not that it will be effortless, of course.

The goal of all this careful, conscious work is to produce a novel or short story collection as though there no hard labor were involved in producing it. Fred Astaire worked tirelessly to make dancing look like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. And that is what you are tying for.

Please, stay off the damn walls. I just painted.

B Y Rogers
The Iron Writer

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Politics and Narrative Conflict

by Deren Hansen

One of the truisms of storytelling is that your protagonist is only as good as your antagonist. If, like the Monty Python sketch about the self-defense class, your antagonist threatens everyone with (wait for it) a banana, and your protagonist uses his pistol to save the day, we've learned nothing* from the story because the only stretching the protagonist was forced to do involved reaching for his pistol.

Part of what makes stories superior to daily life is the presence of a clearly defined villain (that and the fact that a good story-teller skips the boring bits). You may object that there are plenty of stories where the villain doesn't have a face or is something that can't be embodied in a single person. While that's true, those stories still ultimately reveal the nature of the antagonist (or antagonistic forces) and show how the protagonist overcomes (or at least deals with) them.

Conflict is the fuel that feeds the story engine. That's why a great deal of writing advice (like the Christopher Walken cow bell sketch on Saturday Night Live) boils down to, "Ratchet up the conflict." But you can't have engaging narrative conflict if the parties and their conflicting objectives are not clear.

When story needs to motivate as well as entertain, the need for a clear-cut antagonist is all the more pressing. If you were told two stories, one with rainbows and bright flowers about puppies who learn they should be nice to each other, and one about oppression and wrongs to be righted--right in your very own neighborhood--which is more likely to move you to do something more than turn to the next story?

The crux of the motivational problem is that we live in a world whose name, if we had to follow the convention of a large, U.S.-based toy retailer, could be, "Ambiguities R Us."

I should have foreseen the present partisan and cultural divide coming: parties need an enemy--a threatening "other"--to call their partisans to action. During the Cold War, one of the partisan battle fields was a tug-of-war (pun intended) over who was strongest on defense (which was code for who would stand up to the Soviet Union). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we've had a parade of mostly Middle Eastern dictators and terrorists. The latter, as a nebulous threat, haven't lived up to their narrative potential to provoke fears entirely out of proportion to their actual activities. So now, without a strong external threat, we have no choice but to look inward and find even more fearful threats at home. In other words, our lust for narrative conflict drives us to turn on ourselves.

For a significant portion of the middle ages, an irrational fear of witches served very nicely to keep village congregations huddled together. We now look back, tut, and shake our heads at such superstitions, and then, in practically the same breath, rise up in righteous indignation at their modern counterparts.

I'm not asking for enlightenment--or even tolerance. I'm simply pointing out something that as storytellers we, of all people, should understand: we're not the only ones who go out of our way to manufacture conflict because that's what a good story requires.

* Except that you should carry a pistol if you're likely to be attacked by fruit-wielding maniacs.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Monday, March 25, 2013

Agent, Editor, or Self Publish

By Julie Daines

I've been getting asked a lot recently if it's better to get a literary agent, go straight to a publisher, or self publish.

My answer is always the same. I think all writers should carefully consider what they feel is best for them, set goals, and stick with them.

Don't let discouragement or the opinions of others lure you onto a different path than the one you have your heart set on.

No path to publishing is easy, they each have their pros and cons. And no path leads to guaranteed success. Changing course for the wrong reasons will only lead to regret and disappointment.

That is my advice.

If you're not sure what the difference is between literary agents and in-house editors, here is link to a quick article on that topic.

A few pros and cons in my opinion:

Agents are great because they will do everything they can to sell your manuscript to the best publishing houses, get you the best deals, and help negotiate contracts. Usually they will help you polish the manuscript before they query the editors.

However, having an agent is still no guarantee that your manuscript will sell, and on average they take 15 percent of commission on book sales.

Going straight to an in-house editor cuts the middle man, but, many of the editors in larger publishing houses won't accept submissions from un-agented writers. Plus, you're on your own to negotiate the contract unless you hire an attorney with experience in publishing.

Many smaller or local publishers won't accept writers that do have an agent, so if you're willing to start off at a smaller press to get your foot in the door, bypassing an agent makes sense.

Of course self-publishing bypasses agents and editors altogether. Because of that, it is possible to make more money from a self-published ebook than a print book from a publisher.

However, it is extremely rare for a writer to generate enough sales on their own without the marketing help of a publisher to make self-publishing lucrative. Sometimes, authors who have already developed a strong readership find that switching to self-publishing makes them more money than royalties alone, but only because they already have a following.

If self-publishing is your goal, it is crucial that you get your book edited by a competent freelance editing company. Depending on the length of your story, this can easily cost hundreds of dollars, so make sure you factor that into your decision. Many writers who self-publish skip this essential step, and that is the main reason why self-published books often carry a negative stigma.

What are your thoughts on this subject? I've only mentioned a few quick pros and cons, what do you consider important about making publishing decisions?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Writing, briefly

Confession time. I’m busy, I’m behind, and I don’t know what to post. In looking for ideas, I found this Paul Graham article on his site during an Internet search. It is about writing essays, but the ideas apply to fiction. Here is the whole thing, in one long sentence. I’ve broken it up to ease reading of it.

As for how to write well, here's the short version: Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can; rewrite it over and over; cut out everything unnecessary; write in a conversational tone; develop a nose for bad writing, so you can see and fix it in yours; imitate writers you like;

if you can't get started, tell someone what you plan to write about, then write down what you said; expect 80% of the ideas in an essay to happen after you start writing it, and 50% of those you start with to be wrong; be confident enough to cut; have friends you trust read your stuff and tell you which bits are confusing or drag; don't (always) make detailed outlines;

mull ideas over for a few days before writing; carry a small notebook or scrap paper with you; start writing when you think of the first sentence; if a deadline forces you to start before that, just say the most important sentence first; write about stuff you like; don't try to sound impressive; don't hesitate to change the topic on the fly; use footnotes to contain digressions; use anaphora to knit sentences together;

read your essays out loud to see (a) where you stumble over awkward phrases and (b) which bits are boring (the paragraphs you dread reading); try to tell the reader something new and useful; work in fairly big quanta of time;

when you restart, begin by rereading what you have so far; when you finish, leave yourself something easy to start with; accumulate notes for topics you plan to cover at the bottom of the file; don't feel obliged to cover any of them; write for a reader who won't read the essay as carefully as you do, just as pop songs are designed to sound ok on crappy car radios;

if you say anything mistaken, fix it immediately; ask friends which sentence you'll regret most; go back and tone down harsh remarks; publish stuff online, because an audience makes you write more, and thus generate more ideas; print out drafts instead of just looking at them on the screen; use simple, germanic words; learn to distinguish surprises from digressions; learn to recognize the approach of an ending, and when one appears, grab it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Master Documents in LibreOffice and OpenOffice

by Scott Rhoades

One of the biggest benefits of using either LibreOffice or OpenOffice as your word processor--besides being full-featured, Word-compatible word processors that are available for free--is that you can use the Master Documents feature. You can sort of do the same thing in recent versions of Word using outlines, but it's a little more complicated and Word's history of not playing well with master documents in earlier versions (master documents tended to corrupt files) makes me a little nervous. Also, the way Word manages templates and styles is not especially friendly with their kludgy master document outlines.

A master document, for those who don't know, is essentially a document containing links to other documents. Typically, a master document might contain links to several chapters. One of the main benefits of a master document is that you can keep your scenes or chapters in separate documents, which can be especially useful during early drafts. This is often easier than trying to manage the pieces as parts of one huge document. All editing is done in the subdocuments, and those changes appear automatically in the master document.

Master documents are also useful if you want to collect several of your written works, such as stories or poems, into a single document. You don't need to copy the pieces into a bigger document. Just link to them from the master document.

This last point is where the way templates and styles are handled is especially useful. In LibreOffice and OpenOffice, any styles defined in the individual documents are retained in the master document, unless you've defined those same style in the master document. Styles in the master document take precedence over the individual documents. This is a good thing. All documents in the master document use the same styles, providing a uniform look, even if they are styled completely differently in the individual documents. If you change a style in the master document, the subdocuments are not affected. This is important if you want to style your collection a certain way, but want to keep the individual documents styled another way for separate distribution.

So, if you get tired of trying to manage long projects in Word, or if you are looking for a way to organize several pieces into a single whole while keeping them separate, consider downloading one of these free office suites and taking advantage of the powerful Master Documents feature. I prefer LibreOffice, but either works great.

Free Dan Brown:
If you haven't heard yet, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is now available for Kindle and Nook (and, I assume, in iTunes) free until March 24. It contains the prologue and first chapter of Brown's new book, Inferno. So, if like me, you are one of the few people who hasn't read this yet, and you're not sure you want to put out the money for it, now is your chance to get it for nothing. The way I figure, it has to be worth at least that much.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 10, Once Is Usually Enough

The Redundant, Revenant Recidivist

Notes, highlights, comments and thoughts from Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 10, Once Is Usually Enough. Use them or lose them.

"Despite its tireless narrative energy, despite its relentless inventiveness, the book is bloated, grown to elephantine proportions... Repetition is the problem; the same stories are told several times, accruing more dealt in with each telling. Also, the principal characters have a way of regurgitating what they've learned, even through the reader was with them when they learned it."
Patrick McGrath, in a New York Times review of The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice.

The problem Mr. McGrath describes is one we see regularly in the writing of both novices and professionals; unintentional repetition.
The repetition of an effect can be just as problematic. Whether it's two sentences that convey the same information, two paragraphs that establish the same personality trait, or two characters who fill the same role in a plot, repetition can rob your story of its power. In fact, repetition is likely to weaken rather then intensify the power of that effect.

When you try to accomplish the same effect twice, the weaker attempt is likely to undermine the power of the stronger one.

One form of repetition that we've seen more often in recent years is the use of brand names to help characterization. The mention of what type of scotch hour hero drinks or what kind of car your heroine drives may help give your readers a handle on their personalities. But when all your characters glance at their Rolexes, then hop into their Maseratis to tear out to the house in the Hamptons, where they change out of their Armanis to pour themselves a Glenliovet-you've gone too far.

Interior monologue is also prone to needless repetition.

Keep an eye out for unconscious repetitions on the smallest scale-especially repetitions in which the repeated word isn't used in the same sense as the original word. ("She heard a sharp crack, the loud spring of her bed springs.")

A fringe benefit of getting rid of unnecessary repetitions is that it frees up the power of intentional repetitions.

Why would you want to repeat an effect? Roshomon Technique!

As you come to see what each element of your story-each sentence, each paragraph-accomplishes, you can learn o accomplish more than one thing at a time.

If each element of your story accomplishes one thing and one thing only, then your story will subtly, almost subliminally, feel artificial. When everything seems to be happening all at once, then it will feel like real life.

Another way in which the writers indulge in the large scale overkill is in the creation of the characters.

Then there is repetition on the largest scale, from book to book...of course, there is room in the world of fiction for the formulaic novel, it's been said that every James Bond novel has the same plot. (Oh, don't get me started. IF any of you EVER think that I am writing the same plot, over and over again, by simply changing the character names and the location, then, please, do not shoot me in the ass. Aim higher and put an end to my drivel.) (I refuse to read formulaic novels.)


Thanks for following (Get the hint?). I hope this is helpful to someone out there. It has certainly improved my writing. Please comment and share the blog. Who knows, it may make the difference to someone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Internal Conflict: Sine Qua Non

by Deren Hansen

There's an entire set of words and phrases which have come down to us from Latin that we're slowly losing because a knowledge of ancient languages is no longer a hallmark of a good education. Even Harry Potter hasn't been able to resurrect more than a few spell phrases from that dead language.

It's unfortunate because some ideas are best expressed in other languages. For example, sine qua non is a Latin legal term that we must translate into the more awkward, "without which it could not be." Sine qua non, captures the notion of something so necessary it's definitional.

I thought of that phrase when in a comment on Non-character Antagonists and Conflict, Anne Gallagher said:

Sometimes I think dealing with internal conflict makes a better story. Character driven narrative rather than plot driven.

I'm also under the impression (in my genre I should clarify -- romance) there ALWAYS needs to be internal conflict for either the hero or heroine. One must always be conflicted by love.
Anne is right: internal conflict is the sine qua non of story.

Some of you, particularly if you equate internal conflict with navel gazing or whiny teenagers, may roll your eyes at that assertion. You may say, for example, that your story is about action and plot and your characters neither want nor need to take time off from dodging bullets to inventory their feelings.

I understand your objection, but answer this question: what's the common wisdom about characters and flaws?

If you said (thought) something along the lines of flawed = good (i.e., relatable and interesting), perfect = bad (i.e., boring or self-indulgent), you've been paying attention. (And if your answer includes, "Mary Sue," give your self bonus points).

So why do we like flawed characters?

Is it because they allow us to feel superior?

No. It's simply that flaws produce internal conflict. That's what people really mean when they say they find flawed characters more compelling than perfect ones.

Internal conflict gives us greater insight into character. There's nothing to learn from a perfect character: if we can't compare and contrast the thought processes that early in the character's development lead to failure and later to success, we can't apply any lessons to our own behavior.

Internal conflict also creates a greater degree of verisimilitude (because who among us doesn't have a seething mass of contradictions swimming around in their brain case).

Internal conflict and the expression of character flaws arises from uncertainty. If your characters are certain about how to resolve the problem, you don't have a story you have an instruction manual.

Ergo, conflict is the sine qua non of story.

That said, stories where conflicts at different levels reflect and reinforce each other are the most interesting because their resolution can be the most satisfying.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Beehive Book Award Nominations for 2013-2014

Saturday, March 16, 2013


The local chapter of SCBWI sponsored an event last night where three dozen writers listened to Carol Lynch Williams discuss the art of critiquing. Carol knows her stuff. She writes, she blogs, and is a creative writing instructor at BYU. Carol heads up the annual WIFYR conference. In her quiet but humorous style, she shared her thoughts.

The purpose of critiquing is to improve writing. We get too close or so attached to our own work that we can’t see the flaws. We need fresh eyes to look at it and that is what a critique group can provide. It is a mutually agreed upon thing. You will look at another writer’s story and try to make it better, trusting they will do the same for you.

It is important to find the right people with which to form a writer’s group. There is a lot of trust involved, not only that each member will dedicate their time to your work, but also they will do so in a positive, yet constructive manner. Ask not only what your critique group can do for you. Ask what you can do for them. It usually is the same things.

The rules and expectations should be clearly laid out ahead of time. Dates for submissions and meetings should provide enough time for all participants to read through and make comments. Obviously the faults of a work must be pointed out. A mention should also be made of the positive points, the things that worked well. Carol says the one being critiqued should remain silent, that if there is anything they need to explain, it should have come out in the writing.

Some writers fear a critique. They spend hours on a piece, massaging it to perfection, then don’t want to share with others who could find its flaws. An ideal critique group will treat your precious baby with tender care, offering suggestions for its growth and development.

Ultimately with a critique, you are the writer. Your group can make suggestions but it is your work. It is your story, your vision, so go with your gut.

Carol said there were four steps to do before sharing with a writer’s group. You should first read your piece silently on the computer and make changes. Then you should read it aloud on screen and make changes. Then print the piece and repeat the steps. I’m okay with the silent reading. It’s the reading out loud that struck me as problematic. Not sure the rest of the family wants to listen to that and I don’t feel like sitting in my car doing so. Yet as a teacher, I’ve asked my students to do the same. I made little reading phones out of PCV pipe. Kids can whisper their story without much disruption of the rest of the class. It is amazing the mistakes you find when listening to your own writing. I may have to pull one of those things home.

If you want a pat on the back, go somewhere else. If you want to improve your work, take it to a critique group. Then be willing to listen with an open mind.

Matt Kirby once told Carol that he would rather not be published at all if his work were not the best writing he could produce.