Category Archives: Rewriting

A Better Beta Read: Guest Post by Ev Maroon!

Since today is my birthday, I’m taking my Weekly Writing Workout day off. Everett Maroon has stepped up to put a post in my place.

I had the pleasure of working on Ev’s book The Unintentional Time Traveler, which is set to be released at the end of this month. It’s the story of an epileptic boy who begins to travel through time via his seizures, only to find himself in a completely different body—a girl, Jacqueline, who “defies the expectations of her era.” There’s some serious trouble brewing, and when he, as Jacqueline, falls unexpectedly in love with a boy in that past, Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs.


I really enjoyed working with Ev on his book and invited him to post in my absence. Have a great week!  

~   ~   ~

A Better Beta Read by Everett Maroon

There’s a moment in every long form writing project of mine when words transform into vines, twirling around my thoughts like malevolent beanstalks. They obscure everything in the manuscript except the tiniest of details. Suddenly all I can take on is “How does this sentence sound? This syllable? Is this paragraph conveying the tension between these two characters?”

Although we must immerse ourselves in the universes we’ve built, as we drop further and further into our own creations we may stop asking the bigger questions that readers will ultimately require we answer as writers. While we’re parsing through the various nuances of using “threadbare,” “frayed,” or “worn,” and wondering how each conveys its own sense of mood and narration, the reader may be ready for the next plot point and frustrated that we’re dwelling on someone’s dress quality.

Beta readers are great for keeping us honest. If writing is about providing enough detail to sustain interest and leaving enough in the way of gaps for readers to fill in with their active imaginations, then beta reading helps ensure balance. Whatever grand plan we have for the Next Amazing Novel, if we’re losing our audience on the level of readability, none of our intelligence matters, nor the innovative characters, fresh word choice, nor witty banter between characters. Beta reading can tell us if the protagonist is likeable enough, even the flawed protagonist with an Achilles heel the size of Atlanta. Outside readers, at specific points in the revision process, can give us a 30,000-foot reaction to our work.

Framing what we need from them as writers of not-yet-completed manuscripts helps readers give us targeted feedback. I ask beta readers a series of questions that are of particular concern to me, but other authors may have their own preferences for these:

•    Was it interesting? Did you like the voice, the characters, the plot?

•    Does it slow down or move too fast?

•    Did any part of it kick you out of the book—awkward language, a scene you didn’t like, a character who wasn’t believable?

•    Did it have you on the edge of your seat at any point? Did you care about anyone in particular in the story?

•    Did it start fast enough? Did you like the ending, and if so/not, why/why not? Did it resolve enough details in the story for you?

•    Did it ever sound preachy?

•    Did it remind you of anything else you read, and if so, did it live up to that other book?

•    What would you tell me to work on and improve?

Reviews can be framed in any number of ways, but I use a question format because I find that they open up discussion rather than close down what kind of feedback beta readers can provide. They also hint at the writer’s priorities—it’s okay to know one’s strengths and weaknesses, writers—and where one thinks they could use the most help. Beta readers are happy to get a chance to roll these diamonds in the rough between their fingers, but they’re also combing through manuscripts because they’re interested in giving useful advice and responses. Helping readers hone in on what aspects of feedback to provide will help them have a good experience, and get writers the best content in response.

Other things to remember:

•    Give beta readers a reminder, about a week beforehand, when you’ll be sending out the manuscript for review. Don’t get fancy with the font or styles—keep it easy to read and in a format everyone is familiar with.

•    Keep a long window—like a month or so—for them to get back with their feedback. Life happens, and people are busy. Don’t expect to hear back in five hours or a week.

•    Don’t pester them while they’re reading. First, it’s annoying, and second, you don’t want to negatively bias your readers. Also remember that reading to give advice is a slower process than just reading, so they need more time than usual.

•    Thank the beta readers profusely for their time and attention. It’s a great service they’re providing.

Beta readers will likely come back with different, sometimes conflicting advice. If that’s the case, check out this post of mine for filtering through all of the responses.

~   ~   ~

5759590Everett Maroon is a memoirist, pop culture commentator, and speculative fiction writer. His first book, Bumbling into Body Hair (Booktrope Editions), is a “comical memoir about a klutz’s sex change” and was a finalist in the 2010 PNWA literary contest for memoir. Everett has written for Bitch Magazine,, RH RealityCheck, Original Plumbing, and Remedy Quarterly. He has had short stories published by SPLIT Quarterly and Twisted Dreams Magazine, and has a short story, “Cursed” in The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, from Topside Press. You can find him at trans/plant/portation.



Filed under behind the scenes, on my bookshelf, Rewriting, Science Fiction

Recovering From the NaNover

Another year, another NaNoWriMo gone by.

On the NaNo website it says that there were over 310,000 participants from all over the world (596 regions), though I’m curious as to how many crossed the finish line (if anyone can point me in that direction, please do). But even if someone wrote only 10,000 words, that’s still 10,000 more words that they didn’t have at beginning of the month. That’s something.


I’m also curious as to how the process went for others and what they do once they’ve finished. Editing is certainly as personal a process as the writing part is.

This year was COMPLETELY different than when I wrote my first NaNoWriMo (INTERGALACTIC) novel two years ago. In 2011, I had been mulling the story and characters over for a few months, I had written an outline (what I call a sequence and beat sheet) and some brainstorming exercises around it all, I had wound myself up, started off with a bang, kept up a steady pace, and even finished early. I also had enough time to hang out in the forum and see how everyone else was doing.

This year I only had the seed of an idea (a location in space and time and 2 characters), had completed one brainstorming exercise, had a fuzzy direction with no sense of how the story would end, and I PANTSED it like crazy. I didn’t have much time early on, or in the middle, so with a week left to go I was still at 18,000 words. I wrote the last 32,000 in the final week. I didn’t have time to reread what I had written the previous day, just went for it. Also, the only contact I had with other NaNoWriMoers (NaNoWriMoists?) was on the @nanosprints twitter page where we encouraged each other to do things like write 1,000 words in 30 minutes.

Both times I was writing something out of my comfort zone. Trying on a new genre. In 2011 it was more plot-based genre fiction (a comedic YA sci fi), this time is was YA contemporary lit. Well, okay, I THOUGHT it was going to be magical realism, but it ended up more in the realm of “unreliable” narrator. The protagonist simply views the world differently than most folks and she’s a little mentally unstable. When it comes time to pitch it I think I’ll call it “The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Queer Girls.” Right now it’s called WINTERSPRING AND SUMMERFALL (although I’m thinking of changing that to Summerfall and Winterspring, whichever sounds better).

I am definitely more of a “planner” by nature when it comes to novel writing, though totally willing to go in new directions if inspired in the moment. I definitely let the magic happen during the creative process. The fascinating thing for me about “pantsing” it this year was that the story still emerged, even without the plan. It sprang from the ethers and I just had to trust. I had to let go of any expectations and just see where it took me.

One of my favourite aspects this time around was when a particular character emerged out of nowhere. A minor character (a gay teacher whose partner is dying from AIDS – this story takes place in the 80’s) turned up, who not only took the story in a wonderful new direction, he added drama, an ally for my protagonist, and a subplot that rounded out the story really magically at the end.

I keep saying that I have a “hot mess” on my hands, but I think when I finally read it (I’m setting it aside until my holiday break), it will be more cohesive than I believe it to be. That happens a lot to me and I have enough years of writing behind me for it to be so. Structure happens a bit intuitively for me due to my fabulous drill sergeant screenwriting instructors at the University of Washington.

So, how did you do? Did you pants it or plan it?

Are you going to give it a break or read it right away?

Set it aside to germinate or dive right into your edit?

And, most of all, what were some of your favourite magical moments?


Filed under behind the scenes, do something different, Intergalactic, NaNoWriMo, novel adventures, Pantsing, Rewriting, YA literature

End-of-Year Plerk-out!

It’s funny how little down time I allow myself by before I feel the need to get something done. My husband’s the same way. We like to be productive.

During the “holidays” one would most likely find us in our respective offices brain-deep in some type of creative or career project: digitizing rare audio cassettes, typing up old journal pages, writing a proposal for a conference, a class, a book.

Between the productivity we take a walk to a local coffee shop and the subject of how we rarely relax comes up. “It’s because we like our work,” I say to him. “But our work is our play. We don’t work; we plerk.”

(SIDENOTE: we discussed the spelling of the combination of “work” and “play” and decided against “plork” because no one would pronounce it right.)

Plerking for me is writing this now. It’s editing a manuscript. It’s jotting a poem down, capturing a melody, brainstorming TV movie ideas. Plerking is when one enjoys the work of one’s life so much that it doesn’t feel like work – which is not to be confused with the ease of the endeavour.

Play can be just as challenging as work. Have you ever played sports? Sports are challenging physically and mentally, but we never ask, “what sport do you work?” Not even to professionals.

A few weeks ago I gave myself (and invited others) the challenge of writing a short story by the end of the year using a paragraph from the 50 First Lines exercise. I posted my top 5 and ended up choosing the following paragraph:

Green, red, blue . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge? He lay his head back down on the institutional hospital pillow. The nurses didn’t know what to do with him. He had red blood spurting from a gash in his arm and green blood coming from his nose. He reached up and touched it. His nose. Where Karmen had punched him.


I was on a panel about editing at VCon with four other authors. All of us had different techniques and rituals around editing. The only thing we all completely agreed upon was the importance of it.

When someone asked if it was possible to spend too much time editing, I said, “Perfectionism is the opposite of done, but I have never heard anyone say, ‘Wow, that was a great story, too bad it suffered from over-editing.’ It’s a bit of a balance.”

Here are some basic steps I take when I edit a short story:

-After I pound out the first draft, I usually read it over a few times and do some straight intuitive editing.

-I tend to explain too much in the first drafts of my short stories. If I explain anything I first ask myself, is this information necessary? If so, is there a way to show it in action or dialogue instead?

For instance, here’s a doozy:

Karmen had always loved attention, had loved flaunting her nerdy boy toy with his natural, baby-faced good looks. One-hundred percent human, not like those trendy “mutants” with their artificial modifications. She liked showing him off like a pet, daring any man, woman, or hermaph to challenge her claim.

Instead of explaining all of this, I could have a scene where she takes her boy toy to a party and threatens someone or makes a snide remark about a “mutant.”

-I examine each character individually. What is her motivation? What is his character arc? Who is this person? I visualize each character in my mind doing something. I think it’s important to visualize them in action, not just what they look like physically.

-Once I’ve edited it a few times, I give it to one or two people in my crit arena. I get some feedback, take some notes, read over my notes, and then set them aside. (I don’t obsess over notes. If something clicks, it will reveal itself in the rewrite)

-I PRINT the story out and read it OUT LOUD. This is vital. I read every line for “sound” and “sense.” Meaning, does it sound good and does it make sense for the story.

-I question my “darlings.” If certain lines make me feel clever, I examine them in the context of the story. Yes, cleverness is good, but I was a bit in love with the last line of my story so that each of 3 versions of the ending still contained that final line. I wanted to make sure the last line actually worked.

-I look for the logic of the story. The overall holds-together-ness of it. If I look at it objectively, do the pieces of the story fall together so that the outcome is believed to be a necessary conclusion?

Sometimes when I’m editing I freeze up and procrastinate, fearing that I will somehow “ruin” the story by editing. That I’ll make it worse. I can’t say that has ever happened. I have to remind myself of that. I always save each new version just in case, but I rarely find that I need to refer back to it.

Your End-Of-Year Plerkout:

If you’ve started a short story, use that. If not, find something you’d like to “plerk” on that needs finishing (assess that it is finishable in 6 days). A poem, a song, a collage, even a novel – but only if you’re that close to the end.

The idea is to FINISH something, as in, ready for submission. An actual edit and polish so that you can start the New Year with a brand new story to toss to the story-catchers.

Have a Great New Year and Be Safe.











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Filed under 50 First Lines, Rewriting, writing exercises

Going through SPLAT


I’m in the middle of a rewrite for Book Three of the White Forest series. Last week I wrote a whiny note to a few of my author buddies that said right now I hate book three. okay, hate is a strong word. but it sucks, it sucks, it sucks. I’m stuck in the middle of my rewrite. it’s so different from my original vision that I can’t follow my outline any longer. i’m procrastinating working on it. i want to work on anything else. bleh.

My friend Sara wrote back and said You’re going through SPLAT!

I laughed and had to agree. “Splat” was a term used by one of our screenwriting instructors Stewart Stern when Sara and I were in the University of Washington screenwriting program together. He actually borrowed the idea from a B.C. Cartoon strip in which one of the characters had to go through a big SPLAT in one panel to get to the last panel of the cartoon.

We learned that there is no getting around splat. Splat is where our characters have to go because only on the other side of it will they find redemption. Sure, they could turn around and walk away. You can try to make it easier for them. But the story will suffer for it (or you’ll have a tragedy on your hands if splat swallows your MC alive).

We humans live through our own splats, big and small. When we want to get that degree, start that career, repair that relationship, make that life change we have to go through splat to get there. We have to face our fears, doubts, and whatever else stands in our way that is uncomfortable, messy, painful, or scary.

When our characters come up against splat, and they are standing on the edge of choice, staring at IT, what do we have them do? Do we have them turn around and walk away? No, we want a more satisfying resolution.

Do you see that same satisfaction after propelling yourself through your own life’s splats? Some days I take splat head on, other days I can only dip in a toe. But I know, I know the other side is a much more interesting place.



Filed under Rewriting, writing life

Tour Thanks and Weekend Workout

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a weekend workout. I knew that would happen, though, as I’ve come to the conclusion that writing and blogging do not get done while I’m on tour.

If you wanna just scroll down to get your workout and skip all the “thank you” stuff, there’s a visual marker below that says WEEKEND WORKOUT.

Before I get to the workout, I want to express my appreciation for all the people that made my tour a tour. I want to thank all the teachers, parents, principals, students, and especially the librarians at Regnart, Murdock-Portal, Blackford, Christa McAuliffe, and Gardner Bullis elementary schools, Gale Ranch Middle School, and Wingra School who all hosted me as a guest.

a 6th grader works on her imaginary world

I want to thank to Laurie, Bridget, and Christine at the Weekend With Your Novel Conference, Alison at the Wisconsin Book Festival, and all the citizens of Madison, WI for being fantastic human beings in general.

Sesame Street Birthday singalong at the capitol in Madison

I want to thank all the people at the indie bookstores who work so hard in their communities, sponsoring readings and launches, selling book at schools and festivals (and who now carry copies of Brigitta of the White Forest and The Ruins of Noe):

Kepler’s Books and Magazines (Menlo Park, CA)
Hicklebees (San Jose, CA)
Read Booksellers (Danville, CA)
Room of One’s Own (Madison, WI)

I want to thank my friends and family who treated me to coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, and gasoline, let me sleep on their couches and in their guest rooms, and adopted me for Halloween.

And thanks Life in General for the numerous surprises that kept my tour interesting: getting to see/hear Michael Chabon interviewed at Kepler’s Books, getting to hang out with thousands of people at a Bruce Springsteen Barack Obama rally, discovering what a gem Wisconsin Icon Michael Perry is, and getting to drink beer and explore Madison’s Children’s Museum with hundreds of other 21+ children (once a month their Children’s Museum is Adults Only!).

It was a pleasure through and through! (okay, it was a little stressful, but over all a good time was had)

Oh, yeah.

I have friends who are at every stage of writing a novel right now. A few just started something brand spanking new. A few are in the middle of NaNoWriMo. A few are editing and a few doing total manuscript overhauls. And my rewrite is so off course I might as well call it a new book.

Whether I’m writing something new or rewriting, I’m constantly checking and rejigging my sequence and beat sheet (my version of an outline). Stories are organic, sometimes plots twist differently than I intend or characters appear where I had none planned. Like today…

I was trying to figure out a way to increase the stakes and tension in an escape sequence, so I decided to trap Brigitta and Jarlath between two search parties coming for them from either side. How would they escape? There was no way out. Unless there was a secret way that only one person knew about. Which meant, I now needed an ally to appear to show them the way. The ally who appeared was a complete surprise to me, but made perfect sense. And she wasn’t even a blip on my original outline. Adding her changed the direction of the sequence and a new adventure ensued.

I forget, sometimes, that one way of changing the scene’s dymamic is to introduce a 3rd character to that scene. It could be an ally, enemy, or stranger – each would cause the story to go in a different direction.

Your Workout

Pick a scene you’ve been working on or are about to work on that is a 2-person scene. At some point in the scene, have another character enter into the scene and see how it changes the action, the tone, the dynamics, the tension, etc. Try different scenarios! Drop an ally in, then a stranger, then an enemy. Write out the scene each time (or at least outline it) and see if it works BETTER than it did before.

Have a great weekend!

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Filed under Book Tour, novel adventures, Rewriting, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend (Re)Writing Workout – A Change of Scenery

I’ve been a delinquent blogger and now that the crazy that was my July is over, I hope to post again on a regular basis.

Instead of the usual timed writing workout I post for the weekend, I thought I’d give you something fun to try if you’re in rewrite mode and have come across an undynamic 2 person scene. Maybe it reads flat, just talking heads.

(And if you’re not in rewrite mode, you can still do the exercise, just write a scene first)

I used to have my screenwriting students write an exchange of dialogue between two people in conflict (the start line was “I can’t believe you just …”). No description, no action, just dialogue.

Then, I’d have them rewrite the scene twice, placing the characters in two different locations. For instance, say they wrote a scene where a woman is breaking up with her boyfriend. First, they’d just write the dialogue. Then, they might rewrite the scene at an amusement park on a roller coaster. Then again at the produce isle of a supermarket.

click image for source

People sometimes forget how useful setting is. And props! Instead of having your characters express themselves by rolling their eyes, looking out the window, biting their lips, crossing their arms or putting them on their hips . . . have them squeeze an avocado so hard they get in trouble from the grocer, or so angry that they trip getting out of the roller coaster car, or slam their fist into a table in a 5-star restaurant sending a fork flying through the air. Give your characters something to do, either absent-mindedly or purposefully (perhaps that avocado will go flying at someone’s head).

And if you put your characters in a restaurant, how does the scene change if it’s not a 5-star restaurant, but a Chuck E. Cheese?

If you’ve got a flat scene with “talking heads” – think about where you could place them so that the characters can interact with their surroundings and express themselves through their environment. As well, the language you use to describe the setting could reflect the tone of the scene or the objects could be metaphors for what’s happening in the story.

Settings my students have used: theme parks, libraries, trains, elevators, office parties, the sky (skydiving), the ocean (scuba diving), convalescent hospitals, airplanes, kindergartens, doctor’s offices.

Have fun and have a great weekend.


Filed under Rewriting, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: What is The Thing?

During the week, to prepare for Weekend Workout, I pay attention to my own writing practices in order to come up with the The Thing that will trigger inspiration, a new idea, and a way to move our work forward. Something expansive.

The Thing for your main character functions in kind of the opposite way. The Thing for them is what drives them deeper into themselves. It’s a kind of motivation, but a self-destructive one.

By Michael Vincent Malano (click for link to more work)

We are all self-destructive on some level. Not necessarily in a Leaving Las Vegas kind of way, but self-destructive none-the-less. We’ve sabotaged our relationships our careers our dreams. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit it and see that it’s The Thing for us. We fear The Thing.

In fiction writing, The Thing grows from what we call The Wound. The Wound that shapes your protagonist’s life. It’s why she’s angry or bitter or doesn’t allow people to get close to her or why she doesn’t believe in herself, etc, etc, etc.

Too often (mostly in YA fiction), I find one-dimensional protagonists. They act like the walking wounded, but it’s as if the author knows she’s supposed to make a character act this way. There’s a thin backstory and presto, our bitter loner teenager appears and does bitter loner teenager things. Then what’s supposed to happen happens and presto, she’s a new person! It’s very unsatisfying and feels inauthentic.

This Wound needs to be an organic part of your character, something she carries around with her the entire story until the climax, where she either addresses The Thing head on, or self-destructs. Addressing The Thing is called Redemption.

Myself, I like happy endings, or at least bitter-sweet, so Redemption feels good to me. This has nothing to do with whether the boy gets the girl, the girl gets the grail, or vice-versa. Your protagonists can lose the race and still be redeemed.

One of my critique partners took a look at Intergalactic and said the opening was a bit bombastic. I had piled on too much of my imaginary worldness without establishing my character’s THING first. It was hard to care about her right away.

IdoLL pretends she’s more confident than she is. She pretends she doesn’t need anyone. She pretends she’s cool and collected. In public, that is. Behind the scenes, we see her little breakdowns. Through some thinking and writing I discovered that The Thing for her is that she’s afraid of being abandoned and afraid of being alone.

And this stems from her Wound, which wasn’t some big tragic event. It was simply that her activist parents were so busy fighting for AIP rights (that’s Artificially Intelligent Peoples) that she felt neglected, abandoned, and unloved.

What is the Wound that shaped your protags life? How does this Wound show up in his or her story? How has This Thing become self-destructive? And how does he or she face The Thing at the climax?


Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start at the top of the page with the following startline: The Wound that shaped my protagonist’s life was formed when . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes. Start with the following line: The Thing that destroys my protagonists dreams must be faced or else . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes. Start with the following line: My protagonist will be redeemed when . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

Have a Great Weekend!


Filed under Rewriting, weekend workout, writing exercises

Holiday Writing Workout ~ Don’t Say It With Dialogue

Oh my, I now have a complete author crush on John Green. Any writer puts video of mating goats on his blog and whose fans are “nerdfighters” and booktour is called the “Tour de Nerdfighting” is up there in my world. As well, he has a non-profit giving and lending org called The Foundation to Fight World Suck.

I’ve always had a fondness for smart funny guys. And I used to be into anagramming, like the protag from An Abundance of Katherines, although I did it on paper, not in my head. I’m no prodigy (Mod Pig Irony).

Not only is Green super at creating messy characters, he is also fantastic at dialogue. Funny, witty, real dialogue.

One of my favourite scenes in Abundance of Katherines reminded me of a writing exercise I used to do that involves only writing in dialogue.

In the scene the protag (Colin) and his new friend (a girl) end up in a pitch black cave together. They can’t even see their hands in front of their faces. The scene is written ENTIRELY in dialogue. No description. Not even any dialogue tags (i.e. he said, she said). Even their silences are written as dialogue (“. . .”). It’s funny, it’s tender, it brings that fabulous teenage tension – you know, when you might like someone new but aren’t sure or don’t know if it’s a good idea.

Oh, yeah, and there’s a jar of moonshine in the cave.

“Do you want to drink it? The moonshine?”
“I never really drank before.”
“Color me surprised.”
“Also, moonshine can make you blind and what I’ve seen of blindness so far hasn’t really impressed me.”
“Yeah that would suck for you if you couldn’t read anymore. But how often are you going to find yourself in a cave with moonshine? Live a little.”
“Says the girl who never wants to leave her hometown.”
“Oh, burn. Okay I got the bottle. Talk to me and I’ll come over to your voice.”
“Um, hello my name is Colin Singleton and it’s very dark and so you should come over here to my voice except the acoustics in this place are really w– oh, that’s me. That’s my knee.”
“Ladies first.”
“All right . . . sweet holy shitstickers, it tastes like you’re washing down a bite of corn with a pint of lighter fluid.”
“Did it make you go blind?”
“I have absolutely no idea. Okay, your turn.”
“AkhhhhhhEchhhAhhh.Kahhh. Ehhhh. Wow. Wow. Man. It’s like French-kissing a dragon.”
“That’s the funniest thing you’ve ever said, Colin Singleton.”
“I used to be funnier. I kinda lost all my confidence.”
“. . .”
“. . .”

The conversation goes on and the cool, clever, funny exteriors give way a little and they reveal some things about themselves to each other and a few more awkward moments. But before long they’re back to cool, clever, and funny. Why?

There is something underneath good dialogue called subtext. Much of Colin’s clever wit hides what’s really going on for him. If you were to rewrite this entirely “on the nose” as they say, it would look more like:

“Hi, it’s dark. I kinda like you and you kinda make me nervous. Let’s have a drink.”
“You make me nervous, too. You’re quirky and cute, but I’m afraid of girls because they always dump me and break my heart. Wow, that’s a strong drink.”


This is the first assignment this week that it’s important to do in its entirety. Also, please HAND write this exercise, just like the others.

Pick a scene between 2 characters that either:
1) You’ve been avoiding
2) Is a confrontation that needs to happen
3) Is a vital turning point in the story
4) In which one character reads flat, undeveloped, and uninteresting.

Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start at the top of the page with the following startline: Character A doesn’t want Character B to know . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 5 more minutes. Start with the following line: Character B doesn’t want Character A to know . . .

NOW, set your timer for 10 – 15 minutes and write a “scene” entirely in dialogue (no descriptions, no actions, not even any tags). Remember the things your characters don’t want each other to know? Well, have each character do whatever they can NOT to let the other character know this thing. Start with Character A or B asking “What are you doing?”

People don’t talk on the nose. They question, cajole, demand, evade, react, defend, etc, etc. Think TACTICAL maneuvers.

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.


Filed under Rewriting, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Holiday Writing Workout: Yay Mess!

So, I wrote a blog post yesterday and it disappeared. Blipped out of existence just like THAT (snaps magic fingers). Strange. Perhaps something was trying to tell me to get back to my rewrite.

This is part of my mini-series: Holiday Writing Workout – for those working on a post NaNo hangover or who just want to keep the motor running through the holidaze.

I liked the exercise inspired by book post from Monday, so I decided to explore that again.

Right now I’m reading John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. Just kick me in the shins this minute for waiting so long to pick up one of his books.

I love, love, love the relationship between the protagonist and his best friend. Green writes the American YA version of Nick Hornby’s books (High Fidelity, About a Boy), methinks. Both have the uncanny ability to create romantic comedies that DUDES can like. I’m seriously going to sneak this book into my husband’s reading stack.

Green also does one of the things I SO appreciate as a reader: he makes his characters messy.

Let’s say for all intents and purposes, that everything you write is for me. I’m begging you – please, please, please do not make your characters infallible and perfect. Do not make your MC’s boyfriend willing to wait 7 years for her while he fights the monsters away, his golden locks cradling his angel face and his heavy romantic sighs rippling through his chiseled body while he helps old ladies carry boxes of puppies across the street. Just don’t.

Flawed, wounded, and carrying baggage. That’s interesting. That’s what makes them real.



(those are links to previous entries on messy characters for your reference. i’m very passionate about this topic)


Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start at the top of the page with the following startline: When my protagonist looks in the mirror he/she sees (or thinks)…

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, go to the center of that exercise, pull out the middle line, use that for your next start line, and write for 7 minutes more. Repeat for 10 minutes.

Now go back with a highlighter or another colour pen and mark the things that make sense to you.

Use this exercise on ANY character you’d like to develop more.


Filed under on my bookshelf, Rewriting, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Holiday Writing Middle Grade Monday Workout (or something like that) with Harriet the Spy

This is going to take some skill. I’m attempting to make my Middle Grade Monday entry and my Holiday Writing Workout somehow coalesce into a kind of genius new writing exercise via a book review.

I haven’t had much time to read lately, but an NPR mention of a lesser known Louise Fizthugh novel called Nobody’s Family is Going to Change (now on my reading list) reminded me about one of my favourite MG books when I was a kid. Harriet the Spy.

I loved this book so much I started my own neighborhood spy route – albeit nowhere near as risky as Harriet’s. I never snuck into a stranger’s house and besides, I’m pretty sure no one in my middle class neighborhood had a dumbwaiter I could hide in.

from Fizthugh’s bio on GoodReads:

Fitzhugh’s best-known book was Harriet the Spy, published in 1964 to some controversy since so many characters were far from admirable. It has since become a classic. As her New York Times’ obituary, published November 19, 1974, states: “The book helped introduce a new realism to children’s fiction and has been widely imitated”.

Harriet is the daughter of affluent New Yorkers who leave her in the care of her nanny, Ole Golly, in their Manhattan townhouse. Hardly the feminine girl heroine typical of the early 1960s, Harriet is a writer who notes everything about everybody in her world in a notebook which ultimately falls into the wrong hands.

Harriet is very much a Tom Boy, and in my teenage years I began to question Harriet’s sexual orientation, even though there was no intimacy of a sexual nature in the story at all. And I didn’t find out until recently that Fitzhugh herself was a lesbian.

As someone who has kept a diary since she could write, I completely understood the absolute horror when Harriet’s classmates read her journal (I was then so afraid of someone reading my old diaries that I went back and crossed out all the names of boys I’d had crushes on). Harriet becomes the outcast of her entire 6th grade. Even the “unpopular” kids are a part of a club they start. Not only is Harriet the only one in the class who is not a member, the club is specifically about catching spies, namely her.


One of our greatest fears and anxieties when we are young is not belonging. Of being isolated from our friends. And there is nothing meaner than an ex-best friend, and nothing scarier than an ex-best friend who has a gang of buddies to gang up on us.

When I do character work I always think about the wounds that shape those character’s lives. Today I’m specifically thinking about the wound of isolation.That’s a deep chasm that extends into adulthood.

If we are writing a Middle Grade or YA story, the story itself might be about this wound of isolation and how we overcome it. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak addresses this really well.

If we are writing adult literature, that wound of isolation can haunt our protagonist, creating a barrier between him/her getting what he/she wants (or needs).


Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start at the top of the page with the line: The wound of isolation that shapes my character’s life happens/happened when . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, go to the center of that exercise, pull out the middle line, use that for your next start line, and write for 7 minutes more. Repeat for 10 minutes.

Now go back with a highlighter or another colour pen and mark the things that make sense to you.

For a list of other MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY writers, CLICK HERE


Filed under Middle Grade Mondays, Rewriting, weekend workout, writing exercises