Category Archives: Writer

Want to Critique My Synopsis?

I’ve been working to wrap up my submission for the 2010 MWA Novel and Short Works Contests. The novel is done (middle still needs polishing), which leaves the one-page synopsis.

What’s it About?
Sent to rebuild America’s nuclear pulse-damaged infrastructure, a recovering alcoholic must defy orders to save an isolated Midwest town from a local militia’s sinister agenda.

What Can You Do?
I am looking for volunteers to give my synopsis a read-thru and let me know where I can improve it. It must not exceed one page, double-spaced, so I need to make sure that every word counts.

Thank you to everyone who offered comments and suggestions for making my synopsis better. I submitted this one-page synopsis for the 2010 MWA Novel contest.


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How Do You Prepare to Read In Front of an Audience?

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Problem: I agreed to participate in the SPARK exhibit in Alexandria, VA with a reading/reception of work from Round 6 this Saturday, January 16th. I’ve never really read my stuff out loud to an audience, family and friends excluded. I’ve read before a local writing critique group, but each time I sounded like a lame teenager reading his summer essay before a snickering class.

Background: For those of you who aren’t familiar with the SPARK Project, it is a fantastic opportunity for pairs of writers and artists to collaborate on a project “sparked” by the creative work of their partner. I had the great fortune to work with a great impressionist painter named Marty McGihon and look forward to next round this spring.

Does anyone have advice to offer? How would you prepare yourself to read before an audience who will only remember you if your story is dynamite (or you totally crash and burn by freezing up/stammering/sweating profusely)? It’s only a short story, so shouldn’t take more than the allotted 7 minutes…


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Who changes more – you or your characters

At the end of a story, the main character usually has changed in some way. What about you as a writer – have you changed as well?

I found that getting to know characters as I write about them changes how I look at people in my daily travels. Not in some “he’s-lost-his-grip-on-reality” way, but by understanding how people change over time as life happens.

A while ago, I decided to add depth to one of my characters by making him an alcoholic. It would have been easier to stick to the scripted paths you see in countless TV shows, but as he grew in the story he felt too real (to me) for that to work. I wrote each scene with him normally, then made changes to his actions and emotions based on two desires – his need to atone for past mistakes, and the fear of succumbing to self-destructive habits. The results left me sensing a hint of fear behind my character’s decisions and brought forward his sometimes desperate push to maintain a sense of control, especially during stressful encounters.

Did I end up with an accurate portrayal? I can’t really say. I may not have nailed the struggle that alcoholics face each day, but I cannot deny that I think and feel differently about it.

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Falling in Love with your Story Again

I hate my novel.

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Many of you pursuing your NaNoWriMo dreams may understand, just past the half-way point, that your lovely story has turned on you and become an albatross hanging ’round your neck.

“What happened?” you may ask. Nothing, really. This is supposedly a normal phase of writing experts describe in countless books to amateurs like me. Keep writing and the love will return.

I disagree. When my pink and wrinkly ‘baby’ was first born, umbilical cord severed with the words “The End”, I marveled at how it’s intricate subplots came together to form this testament to perseverance.

Now the pretty is gone. I’ve reworked my outline, coaxed the characters to speak in turn, as well as patched so many plot holes that the whole thing reeks of Bondo.  It has reached the ‘terrible twos’ and become a monster that won’t stop crying for attention, turns everything I feed it to crap, and scampers off to get into mischief whenever my back is turned.

Where has the love gone?

When first conceived, my story was a world I imagined arising from the devastation of losing our digital way of life. Instead of the gloomy zombie filled post-apocalyptic tales saturating today’s markets, we didn’t surrender our humanity at the first sign of trouble and people banded together – not just to survive – but to reconnect society through shared moral values.

I think this is what the so-called experts meant by “theme”, but it is hard to tell when their nebulous term is applied like baby powder to every story element that chafes as you write.



Take Home Quiz:

Go over your story and describe why you fell in love with the idea of it enough to write it in the first place. Go ahead and be sloppy- I won’t grade you on spelling or grammar.

Use this description as a reference while you write/revise your work. The plot, characters, even setting may change as you go, but keep this picture in mind as your baby grows and it just might survive long enough to become ready for the world one day.


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How to Unleash Your “Spark” of Creativity

Yesterday marked the beginning of Spark Round 6 and I’ve given permission for another soul to dig into one of my precious stories to find inspiration of a sort.

What’s this “spark” thingie, you ask? Where are my manners – the Spark Project is a volunteer collaboration between artists and writers to produce new works based on your partner’s contribution. Created by Amy Souza in 2008, this event is held once a quarter and is open to writers and visual artists of all kinds.

This is my first time participating, so it is still a bit early to say how much this will help get my writing juices flowing. I am definitely inspired to write and the 10 day deadline doesn’t leave much room for my usual time-wasting antics (this blog excluded.)

I’ve got my partner’s artwork, so I guess it is time to start getting creative. I can hear the ol’ inner monkey sharpening pencils even now. Wish me luck.

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Writing Fiction from my Iphone

Last Thursday on my way home from work, I decided to try writing my short story submission from an earlier post. I dug through my backpack for something to write it on, only to discover I’d not packed my Alphasmart 3000 (my preferred method.)

When I write, I constantly fight the urge to go back and correct my errors. This can often lead to spending too much time with the “eraser” and not enough “pencil” on the paper.

My AlphaSmart helped in that it only showed 4 lines at a time. If I don’t look up when I’m typing, potential distractions go by and I stay in author mode longer.

I see the same benefits when I enter these blog entries from my iPhone. The auto-correct feature catches a lot of my usual blunders up front, which also helps keep thw words flowing.

So when I found myself staring at the blank sheet of notepaper, my heart sank a little and I went to the internet to see what other iPhone app writers were using. Nothing leaped out as a cure-all and I reminded myself that every minute spent online was one that did not produce words for my story.

I opened up Notes (a default notepad app) and jotted down a quick note to check for more apps later. My inner monkey started jumping up and down, banging his hairy fists on the old Royale typewriter he used to compose great works of literature. I looked around to see what excited him and realized what I was doing- writing a short piece on my iPhone!

For a monkey that doesn’t seem to get out much, he’s pretty smart.

I finished my first draft of the flash fiction on the ride home. I sent the “note” to my email, where I could cut-n-paste it into my favorite word processor and was ready to edit in less that two minutes.

Conclusion: stay simple, the best tools have more than one use, and always listen to your inner monkey.

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Cold and Flu Season

Last Friday,  I found myself a victim of the seasonal bug going around and most likely brought home by my daughter from her school.  Fortunately it was only a cold and not one of the serious strains of influenza currently spreading like wildfire.

I ended up spending the expanded weekend curled up in my recliner instead of doing the list of things that normally take up my non-work time, including a Friday post or a few more scenes in my novel.  I tried a couple of times to rally my mental troops but they were barely able to wave their tiny flags in support before the hordes of pro-blanket and chicken soup mauraders overran the camps. 

During a moment of lucid thought, I wondered why none of my characters caught a cold or something?  I mean, they were in the Midwestern plains during the winter!  I did include a devastating flu epidemic that wiped out a lot of people, but that was primarily to explain why there weren’t so many people around anymore.  Six years later, they should still be dealing with the ravages of Mother Nature like everyone else.

I grew up in that part of the world and can tell you from experience that the winters are not kind to man or beast.  It was expected in some fashion that you would miss a few days of school due to a bad cold or possibly the flu.  I remember being swaddled in a big quilt and lying on the couch, with the smell of Vicks Vapo-rub heavy in the air.  Meals were either chicken noodle soup with crackers or, if your stomach was up for it, tomato soup (made with water, not milk) and a grilled cheese sandwich.  Mom would be constantly yelling at me to “keep that thermometer in my mouth” and I would struggle to balance the glass rod so it stayed under my tongue without using my hands.

Now that I am on the mend, it is time to return to my writing.  Be forewarned, my fictional town.  Doc Grady will be busier than first expected as the coming winter sends a seasonal wave of sickness to fill his hospital beds.  Probably won’t be a major epidemic, but just enough coughing and runny noses to keep things hopping.

I guess getting a cold was good for me and my writing after all.


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