Archived Writer's Notebook Messages

from February 2, 1998 to February 14, 1998

Kathy Edgmon Sat Feb 14 20:21:13 PST 1998

For years I wanted to write . . . but pushed, literally shoved it out of my head because I didn't have the self-confidence to do it. Instead I began to paint portraits (no money in that). Then I decided to go to school and ended up eight years later with a Masters in English and no money. During that time I had a professor who was a wonderful teacher. He encouraged me to write and through his encouragement, I did just that. I wrote a novelette that I can't get published. I don't know about all of you, but many times I just think that all that hard work is going to end up in the trash one day. Maybe I will get the nerve to post some of my things (I also write poetry and short stories), but that will take a lot of nerve!!

Kay Curry Sat Feb 14 17:36:18 PST 1998

I'm fascinated that the postings on romance, and by extension, love, coalesce to sex. There is love without, of course. In fact, most love is without sex. Parental, sibling, intellectual, of literature, of gardens, or flowers, of skiing.... Then you get just flattened by Georgia O'Keefe's flowers, that ooze sex, or Robert Mapplethorpe's same same. So I'm lost. Is sex integral, or extraneous? Well, construct the tribal lays as you will. My versions include the act, despite the fact that I was at least nineteen years old before I could bring myself to say the word in the presence of other people.

Lots of great input here, and serious postings on the Workbook. I'm going to put another short story there, and hope for serious response.

Hope we all survived Friday the 13th, and Happy V Day!

Michele Sat Feb 14 02:43:52 PST 1998

Hi all.

I've read through the interesting comments everyone has made on this week's topic, and can't help agreeing with quite a few. I don't however agree with Hayden that if there's no mention of sex/sexual tension then a character is 2-D (but that's my personal opinion). I have to say that I tend to get bored with descriptions of the sex act but I can cope with sexual tension in a book - but perhaps I get bored because there's no Hero in my life to stimulate my interest (no rude comments please !! :-) I know stimulate wasn't necessarily the best word to use in that context but what's a girl to do (except invent new ones ? ! ) )

Anyway I found the topic interesting and look forward to the next one. Have a good Valentine's Day y'all !

Colleen - there's nothing wrong with being a member of te 4-eyed species. I admit I was very angry when I first needed glasses for more than just reading (I'd lived a long time without needing them and as everyone else in my immediate family wears them I was pretty cross about it) - however I now wear varifocals (just to be different) and to be honest I can't imagine how I managed without them - having 2 pairs of glasses (as I previously did) was just to much hassle. I bet your specs make you look intelligent - the distinguished author !!


Goodweed of the North Sat Feb 14 01:19:55 PST 1998

I've got to say; Ladies and Gentlemen, I am amazed at the depth and intelligence found in the notebook. Your remarks about sexual tension, gratuitous sex, the difference between Romance and romance, are, dare I say, brilliant. This has been both entertaining and enlightening. My own novels shy away from sex, but not from sexual tension. I'm just a Disney kind of guy, but with a more realistic idea of what humanity is. We do hunt, we are the unltimate predators. We are to some extent, selfish.

That is part of the reason men and women view sex differently. To many men, the woman is a prize to be won. She is the trophy in a competition. Like it or not, men have to compete for everything in our society. It makes life harder than it should be.

I wish it weren't so. In a perfect world, we would all be helping each other and placing others before ourselves. That is usually the case here in the notebook.

I can't say any more because Hayden, Gary, Rhoda, T.M., Ben, Toby, you have said it all.


Seeeeya; Goodweed of the North.

Colleen Fri Feb 13 18:07:38 PST 1998

Hi everyone,
Nice subject Jack. I never gave it much thought, but entries here have been enlightening. I think it's best in context of the story line as stated. Married ten years you forget about romance-ro-what? Just kidding. The key is we like to live vicariously through our reading. It is a safe venue and when created tastefully and skillfully it can be an assest to a well written story. It is, after all, a part of the human experience. But no doubt men and women view this differently, venus and mars you know....
Well, this will be my last post for a while, guess who has to get reading glasses? It will take a week for my green, rimmed beauties to arrive. many romance novels maybe? You are a great group. I will write again when I am officially one of the 4 eyed species.(I am not happy about glasses, but it explains a constant headache I've had for months now.) Take care and thank you again for this great site. I really look forward to it and the information is very professional.

Rhoda Fri Feb 13 16:26:43 PST 1998


Sorry I jumped to conclusions. I think I better understand where you were coming from when you mentioned the tragedy in romance. I can also think of the movie, BRAVEHEART, and how the violent death of William Wallace's wife at the hands of the English shadowed everything he did thereafter.

I believe that much of the Romance fiction falls into the regrettable pitfall mentioned by Victoria and T.M. I have heard it said that many published authors have a mind to meet a certain minimum word count, and sex scenes help to do that. There is a little term known as "sexual tension" that is considered an essential element in good romance. Sexual tension is to romance what conflict is to every other story. In fact, sexual tension is conflict, but more internal. A good romance author sets a conflict or internal impediment between hero and heroine. When these two individuals meet, they either have no desire to get together or circumstances make the prospect unthinkable. At the same time the author makes clear that the two are attacted to one another. As the novel progresses and these two characters are thrown together, they must struggle internally with their growing attraction and need of one another. At some point in the story, they face a point of no return where they except their feelings for each other.

It is in this area of sexual tension where many romance authors fail to deliver a meaningful story. They either make the initial confict so bitter that love between the two people concerned is too unbelievable. Most often the author goes the other extreme and resolves the sexual tension long before all the other matters in the book are resolved. Good sexual tension must be sustained to almost the end of the book, and that is hard to do when the characters are constantly in bed together. I might add that sexual tension has little to do with sex(in the athletic or technical regard.) JANE EYRE had no sex in it, and yet this book is full of sexual tension. Sexual tension is best brought out in dialogue, facial expressions and eye contact. What holds the reader's interest and engages their emotions is what the hero and heroine wish to do and can't rather than what they actually do when they consumate their love.

Many times I lose patience with romance novels I read. I am extremely selective about what I read now, because there are so many bad romance books. I know it is a matter of taste, but I do find that so many fall into the trap that T.M. and Victoria mention. A good romance book has to have interesting characters and a good plot as well as romance. If the book is totally relational, I find it extremely boring. The best romances involve other issues besides romantic love. As has been posted before. Love is part of life, but it is only one part. I would personally worry about anyone whose life is centered totally on romantic love, and it is the core of their whole existence. An interesting character has to have a life outside the bedroom.

Enough said by me on this subject. I hope I have finally done justice to Jack's weekly topic. May you all have an enjoyable week-end and a happy Valentine's day with the hero or heroine in your life.

Happy writing,


Ben Woestenburg Ice Fri Feb 13 14:38:42 PST 1998

Hello Rhoda:

It's great to be back, and hopefully I'll be here more often next week as well. (The wife will be working more next week than she has this week so the romance in my life will fall off dramatically.) But I feel I have to explain something about myself first before I try to get into this subject.

I'm not as educated as I'd like to be, and whatever info I might have is what I remember from school or books that I've read. The one thing I do know is the difference between the two ROMANCES. The one with the capital R depicts the Romantic period of literature we are all so familar with: Byron, Keats, Shelly and the lot. It was a period in English lit that I find fascinating. The one with the lower case letter is the love and life we all try to emulate. In Romance, we have THE PRISONER OF CHILLON, as well as THE REVOLT OF ISLAM, (Byron and Keats respectively.) This is the Romance I feel is the one that must involve tragedy. The romance literature of today, although there's no denying it's a great seller and widely read by millions, is the romance people have come to expect with Cartland and her contemporaries.

So when I say it has to involve tragedy, it's because I'm looking at it from a different perspective. In the book I wrote the hero and heroine fall in love, and that's the tragedy of it all because I know they can't have their happily ever after. She has to die, not because it will make the story better, but because of the circumstances involved. She's a Christian who is arrested in Rome during the first persecution of Nero. She becomes a Roman Candle at one of Nero's banquets. A grizzly death involving self sacrifice if ever there was one, but necessary all the same. The love they shared lives on because the hero is present went it happens. So you see, that's why I feel tragedy is the key to Romance, and happily ever after is the key to romantic fiction. I like happily ever afters just as much as the next guy. THE FIRM is a fine example of it, even though it's not a romantic story. (I'm just using it as an example because I just finished reading it last week.)

I'm not the cold blooded type who wants to kill everyone because that's the thing to do. (That's what you get when you read Micheal Slade: HEADHUNTER, GHOUL, CUTTHROAT.) If it moves the story, kill them and don't look back. Remember Janet Liegh in PSYCHO? When it starts off, you think she's a main character. Boom, shower scene and she's dead. Moved the story on though, didn't it? I know these aren't examples of Romance/romance. But how about LONESOME DOVE? Gus dies. I didn't want him to die. I really liked him. But that's the tragedy of it all, and I feel that book has got to be one of the best I've ever read for a western. Romance doesn't just have to be its own genre, because we find romance instilled in everything. It's just that I don't believe in happily ever after anymore, but if there is, there has to be an elemnet of tragedy that makes it all worthwhile.

I'd like to think I can be as romantic as the next guy in my writing, but something just creeps in and things change. I like conflict and resolution, and if that involves death, or parting, it makes it easier to come up with a conclusion. What can be more sad than a love lost? It's the romance that leads up to that love that we all enjoy reading about. That's why I still enjoy THE SAND PEBBLES and TAI-PAN. You mourn the tragic loss of love with the death of the heros.

That's all I can say right now, kids are out of school and I've got to run home and say: 'hi' before I go to work.
Ben Fri Feb 13 14:28:00 PST 1998

To all,

As in most cases, you folks seem to have said it all on the subjects of romance, sex (gratuitous and otherwise) and all such matters dealing with the treatment of intimacy in fiction.

Victoria makes a good observation on the "sex scene" in fiction. Is it constructive and relevant, or is it gratuitous and indulgent? Is there an antonym for gratuitous? Victoria's namesake was famous for stopping the action unless my history lessons serve me poorly.

Hayden makes the point that sex, like the object in the song, is "...ever on my mind." Of course, Victoria suggests that this is because my sexuality is of the heterosexual male persuasion. In any case, it's true that men, at least, are predisposed to carnal considerations to a remarkable extent. I believe it is this proclivity that has lead us to invent new meaning for the word, "nubile." Where T.M. points out that "nubile" simply means "of a marriagable age," the human male, beast that he is, tends to concentrate on the visible physical attributes implied in this stage of female development. Such hackneyed adjectives as "plump, ripe and juicy" come to mind, and women, quite rightly, find such observations to be repulsive, where they are simply reactionary in men. The definition seems to allow that young men can be nubile as well as young women, yet the idea is somehow, alien.

I agree with Hayden that sexuality is inseparable from human nature and no deep characterization can be made in fiction while totally ignoring it. It is when the sexuality of the reader and not the character becomes the driving force, that sex becomes gratuitous in writing. It is easy to spot such passages in reading matter and I routinely skip over them. I know from my own experience what the writer is doing and the trickster will not be tricked.

The men's adventure fiction to which T.M. refers, normally deals with sex divorced from romance. Such material shuns the romantic as being inconsistent with, and counter-productive to male fantasy. Such material is often objectionable to women. As pointed out, romance fiction has a greater appeal to women than it does to men. It deals with intimacy from a point of view more popular with women and less appealing to men. I believe the key here is "involvement."

I know I should avoid stating the obvious, but I have gone on, here, at length.

So long for now,

Gary S

T. M. Spell Fri Feb 13 04:10:21 PST 1998


Nubile just means "of a marriageable age," although it is also commonly understood to mean of child-bearing age, and for some reason in men's action adventure type fiction, means "over fifteen and ready to explore the sexual horizon."

I'm off to work now. Bye all.

Michele Fri Feb 13 03:03:24 PST 1998

Hi folks

Just a message to let you know that I'm around again and that later (or possibly not until tomorrow) I'll read through everyone's posts on the Notebook/Workbook - having had a week away (virus smirus !) I have rather a lot to catch up on so I may not get to the reading until tomorrow (when I'm working but it should (touch wood) be quieter !).

Glad to see some new "faces" here.

Must go - catch you all later,


Goodweed of the North Thu Feb 12 20:31:40 PST 1998

Hayden: The name of that song is "Paradise by the Dashboard Light". If I could remember my electronics formulas, or calculus like I remember rock & roll songs (I'm a regular cache of trivia about rock and roll, especially from the late 60's through the mid eighties) I'd be making megabucks! So frustrating!

Anyway, I need serious help. I have placed an exerpt from my second novel into the workbook. You will find it redundant in its use of pronouns. Therein lies the problem. Here is the history of the scene. It takes place in a dense forest called "The Kalb". The creature being described is from my first novel. It is a member of a race of beings called the Mindos. Its name is Nocktos. In the previous book, Nocktos lost an arm in battle with Telgar, King of the Northron people. Telgar of course had a sword with runes of protection to help him. Nocktos has obviously healed at the current place in the second novel. He is looking for revenge against Telgar.

I don't want to give away the identity of Nocktos to any who read the first novel. I'm trying to increase the suspense by hinting at Nocktos' identity without telling the reader who or what Nocktos is. I am having trouble finding suitable pronouns and/or titles to make the writing flow. To me, it reads clumsy. Let me describe the Mindos for you.
They are a race of nocturnal bipeds with short, strong legs, large powerful chest, and long, ape-like arms. They are much like apes except that their heads are a much like the popular alien head found in the rag newspapers, but with a flatter skull which tapers back like a bicycle helmet. Its neck is thin and flexible. The race was driven into caves by humans who feared and hunted them. They became extremely light sensitive do to their subteranean life style.

Anyone with ideas how to make this read better, I could use the help. The rest of the book is much more engaging to read.

Thanks; and

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Thu Feb 12 20:31:34 PST 1998

Thu Feb 12 20:31:23 PST 1998

Thu Feb 12 20:31:15 PST 1998

Hayden Grayell Thu Feb 12 19:57:48 PST 1998

Give me romance or give me sex!

Friends, Romances, Countrymen, give me your bits!

"You love me? Well, I'll be...f***. "

Let's face it; because it is such a powerful body "urge" sex is one thing your character is either going to be thinking about, be having, be remembering, or be keeping as far away from their Godly minds as they can. If there is no mention of sex anywhere in the piece they are going to look like 2d versions of a real person, or merely vessels to carry some other metaphysical idea across to the reader. If you are creating a world around a character, then you must flesh it out all the way or be doing yourself an injustice.

If you are writing a short story and sex will just get in the way, leave it out.

Romance? I will have to think about it. Mind you, I might prefer to think about sex, but I wouldn't tell you that.

Victoria's remark on "stopping the action" is very good. And the language of sex is limited only if you use it. Remember the lyrics from Meatloaf's album (Bat out of Hell?)where they superimpose a baseball game commentary over what the teenagers are up to in the car. (What the hell is that song called? "Forever"?) Now, *that* is a clever language use to describe a sex scene (even though they don't go into the length of the bat or how firm the bases are). Also it develops what plot there is in the song.

It reminds me that I wnated to comment that when "nubile" is to describe a character, it should be from someone else POV other than the first person. Nubile suggests "let's get physical" (appropriate apologies where required) so you wouldn't use it to describe yourself...or then again you might if you were a little wayward with your sexuality.

But maybe that is just my impression with the word. I'll wait to hear what you all think.

I wish you all a great valentines day, you nubile lot.

Victoria Thu Feb 12 18:42:48 PST 1998

Re: this week's topic--One of the problems with sex scenes in a lot of books is that they basically stop the action. You're reading along, caught up in the story, identifying with the character's emotions and reactions, and then suddenly--BOOM!--you're on the ceiling, watching a blow by blow (no pun intended) enactment of a set of physical reflexes, kind of like being at a sports event. You wouldn't spend two pages describing every forkful of the character's dinner, would you? Or maybe you would--but only if you had a specific literary goal in mind. Sex scenes and fight scenes (and sometimes sports scenes--I'm thinking of Pat Conroy here and his interminable basketball descriptions) are the only scenes in literature where a clinical description of sequential action routinely takes the place of narrative, for no good reason.

Another problem with writing sex scenes is that the language of sex is, perhaps, more formalized (not to mention cliched) than almost any other: a series of stock phrases that, let's face it, are little more than euphemisms, ways of saying something that allows us not to really think about what we're saying. Can you think of any part of the sex act where a stock phrase, used a thousand times in a thousand bad novels, doesn't spring immediately to mind?

I came face to face with these difficulties in the last book I wrote. My previous novels were for young adults--definitely No Sex Allowed--and I'd never before written a sex scene. So I had no experience and no confidence in my own critical ability in writing such a scene, and I had tremendous difficulty with it. Finally, after a lot of struggle, I realized that I had abandoned my character's POV, becoming instead an omniscient narrator describing the scene from the outside, and also that the reason I wasn't happy with what I was saying was because I was using all those stock phrases rather than my own words. So I stepped back and asked myself, what is the character feeling emotionally rather than physically? What does this experience mean to her? Where will it take her? How can this scene serve the narrative, as opposed to stop it dead? How can it move the story forward? Once I came down off the ceiling and got back into my character's head, I had a much easier time.

Sex and love in a book (and violence too) must serve the story just as plot and action do. Otherwise they're just gratuituous. And boring. I'd just as soon read an autopsy report as some of the sex scenes I've encountered.


T. M. Spell Thu Feb 12 17:32:46 PST 1998


I used to be in a writer's workshop with Jackie Weger, a full-time contract writer for Harlequin. Although she has since moved on to a Romance Writers of America workshop somewhere upstate, I learned a lot from her during the time she ran her own workshop. I even made good use of that knowledge in the science fiction story I wrote that won a Writers of the Future award. There is a long love/sex scene in the story that is pivotal to the plot. I doubt I could have created this scene nearly as effectively without the insights I gained from Jackie Weger. I have a great deal of respect for this category, although it is not one that I read heavily in, as with sf/fantasy/horror/mystery.

In your previous post, you wrote:

I think when men look at this subject, it turns into Playboy. Women, on the other hand, generally don't experience the same erotic reaction from looking at a photo of a nude stranger, which is why porn-for-men is a $5 billion-a-year business but an almost non-existent market for female readers.

Women do not wish to divorce their sexuality from their emotions or imaginations. So we have romance fiction, wherein heroine and hero must forge an emotional, mental, *and* physical bond for the fantasy to be complete. And while Fabio on the cover is nice, women don't require any photographs or centerfolds to get the picture -- the author's words create the only images they need.

But I'm not trying to sell men short, here. Many of them read women's fiction, just as many of them watch soap operas when they can. Fewer admit to it than do it, I suspect.

Rhoda Thu Feb 12 16:37:17 PST 1998

Toby and Ben:

I am thrilled to see both of you back on the Notebook. Even though you guys are so busy, I appreciate you getting back and telling us how you are doing. Now that has been said, I must confess that I worry about you two. Someone must die in a romance??!! (forgive the excessive punctuation.)

No, No,

Sometimes one or both die, but that is the exception. Hero and heroine meet and face several seemingly insurmountable difficulties, but love and goodness triumph in the end and they both live happily ever after. I know it sounds naive, and it is probably unrealistic, but even in a country where over 50% of marriages end in divorce, 48% of all books sold in the United States are romances--the boy meets girl and they all live happily ever after sort.

I suspect there is a world of fiction out there that many male members of the world are hardly aware of--that of romantic fiction. In some circles, it is refered to as women's fiction. There are several sub-genres--historical romance, contemporary romance, time travel, and romantic suspence. It would be interesting to explore what it is that makes these books so popular with women. They hardly ever appeal to men. Could it be that men and women look on this subject differently?

I want to say more about this subject, but I cannot devote anymore time right now. I am giving a party in about an hour and I must do some last minute things.

See you all later,


What a topic! It is one close to my heart since I am both a romance writer and a romance reader.

Toby Buckell Thu Feb 12 15:06:43 PST 1998


Good point on Romance/Love plots, I agree- Shakespeare was pretty good at killing off everyone and providing a hell of a love story.

Ben Woestenburg ice Thu Feb 12 15:01:52 PST 1998

Hello one and all. It's good to be back, and even better to see Phillip back here. I wish I could get out here more often, but life has a way of getting complicated. Now I'm working oevrtime of all things! I think it's because I'm an O.T slut. It hurts the writing, but I still manage to get some done at work. And a lot of reading.

I started a short story last week, and then changed its setting and decided to add it as one of my TALES OF THE VIENNA WOODS. It's taken longer than I thought it would, but that's because I come home at 1:00 a.m., turn on the computer, and then wake up at four or five wondering what the hell happened. I know it's because I was getting up for day shift and working O.T., and not sleeping properly. My body might catch up with me next week, but by then I'll be swinging back to day shift and be totally screwed for another week. The only good thing about swinging again is that it gives me more time to spend with my wife who is concerned about helping me celebrate my 40th -- as if I really want to celebrate that milestone. She can't understand why I don't want to have a big blow out of a party. I told if she just gets me drunk and tries to seduce me I'll be more than happy. (Of course drunkeness and seduction are tantamount to a truly forgetful night in the sack, I'm still basically a guy at heart and know that I should be getting laid at least two or three times a year: birthday, Christmas and New Years.)

I don't ever seem to have the time to read and reply to everything that's in here, so I just browse through and then log off. But I might be able to get on here tonight at work. It would be nice to get here more often, but that's the way it goes. I finally solved my car problems by getting myself another beater. 250 bucks, and it's better than the one I've got right now.It even has power windows! And the radio sort of works.

I enjoyed reading about characters and how everyone approaches them so differently. I'm a firm believer of less is more, and feel that the way the story reads will bring out the character in the mind of the reader. As long as he/she's fleshed out so that you know if they have long or short hair, red/black/brown or blonde hair, two eyes, a nose, and lips, I feel the reader can better picture them as his/her ideal of what the character should look like. Sometimes a minor character will be more dramatically fleshed out than a main character, but that's because the main character is always there, and whatever tics, or idiosyncracies the minor character might have will be acted on by the other. Kind of silly, sort of lazy, but it seems to work for me. And if there's one thing I've learned from reading and writing over the years, it's: "whatever works for you is what works".

As for this new topic of love and Romance (or is it romance?) sex, et al, I think subtlety -- did I spell that right? -- is the key for me. Scenery and personal warmth are the setting, and tragedy is what it all hinges on. A love story is not a love story if there is no conflict and loss. Even the girl dies in LOVE STORY. Tarzan doesn't get Jane in the original story. Scarlet loses Rhett. Romeo and Juliet. It's not the love they have for each other, but the circumstances of that love. That's why TITANIC is such a popular movie. The love is a subplot for me. I don't know how anyone else feels about it, but if they just meet, fall in love and live happily ever after, well...boring. Kill them all, or just one, or both of them, it doesn't matter. Just kill someone!

And as much as I'd like to go on with all of this I have to go. The kids have come home from school and are looking for me. I can't hide from them anywhere, can I?

See ya tomorrow?

Jeff England Wed Feb 11 16:18:51 PST 1998

Hello everyone,

My name is Jeff England. I've been kind of lurking here for the last couple of days just to get a feel for how this page worked. It seems like a great bunch (and strong writing, from what I've read so far).

I'm just a novice at the writing business, and I hope I don't come off as too naive here. I haven't taken any classes, and my degree is in art--I write because I love to, but up until recently it's just been for myself.

I have posted part of a story I'm working a couple of days ago. I would really appreciate any comments or suggestions, if anyone has the time. I've always found it difficult to get any kind of useful feedback on anything I've written.



Jack Beslanwitch Wed Feb 11 12:18:26 PST 1998

Well, I guess I go back to the drawing board in regard to my voice operating system. Actually, I will delete the posting entirely since it puts additional overhead on the Notebook's load time. The two responses have been "I could not hear it or nothing happened". So, I'll print out what my voice was trying to impart in the button bar below in my last message:

I would like to welcome everyone to discuss the central themes of Valentine's Day as we are about to celebrate it. How do we use romance and love and sexual themes in our writing to best effect. What are the pitfalls and what are the special gems of wisdom that people can share in this regard.

Joan Wed Feb 11 04:33:37 PST 1998

Hey Jack--

I can see the buttons, but when I press play (or the others) nothing happens. I assume I have a sound card, since I can play and listen to music CD's.

Neat graphics.


Toby Buckell Tue Feb 10 17:52:44 PST 1998


Welcome aboard!


I still exist! Finals approach, my writing will suffer... no sleep... the desperate attempt to bring grades back up in classes that one has been ignoring...ay.

Someone a few postings down asked if any of us have lives. I do, I actually do. Really, but here's the catch- I have to choose between writing, academics, soccer, reading, social life. Writing and soccer are my more important loves. I love being physical and pushing my self to the limit, then comes reading, then social life. Academics are last. Ignoring academics actually gives you a load of time! I mean, I may have a 2.6 average, but I have a lot more fun, and I never stress out (except the two days a quarter where finals take place). Is this a good thing. Hell no. But hey, I use to dump Academics in favor of reading. I would rather do this than have a sterile bookie life of A's which don't mean anything at all to me.

By the way, my parents are so thrilled by this it's indescribable.

Much fun writing everyone!

Brendalee Tue Feb 10 15:01:25 PST 1998

What a delightful crew assembled for the purpose of this notebook. I have been reading the words for the last couple of weeks and only now have the courage to come out of the closet and declare myself as present. Thank you all for the touches of humour, the slaying of dragons, and the words of wisdom from those who have wandered these paths for some time. It has been salve for the soul to see that there are others with the same angst as I in starting to write. I have had a story inside of me, burning to see the light of day for many years and I've denied it life, until now. I began to write it a few days ago, and quite frankly scared the heck out of myself! So I came back to this page to be vicariously encouraged thru the support I see given to others. It has become a goal to one day be able to post to the workbook a part of what I have created, so that it to may be critiqued and I can make one more step out of the closet and claim the light.

Once again I touch my heart in thanks.


Pat Christensen Tue Feb 10 12:43:06 PST 1998

Colleen -

Lot's of ways to get there, try some, try them all. Mine is write something, anything. Doesn't have to have an idea behind it. Just a string of words. If that's too much, just one word. Then another. Don't have to be connected. Then another. A few more. Find the connections and you have a sentence. A few more like this and you have a paragraph. Eventually, you have a theme.

Once you have some idea, any idea of where you want to go with it, you can write an outline or a synopisis, or just a sentence saying: I want to write about...(fill in the blank with the words of your choice). Tack this up somewhere you'll be sure to see it.

Time. No time. No time here often either. But a sentence a day will give you something. Try to write at least one sentence a day. Or even in a journal. And, if you don't have time to come up with a sentence, write "I don't have time to do this tonight, but I'll be back tomorrow."

Sometimes, just the act of putting words, any words at all, down on paper, or on disk, unlocks founts of other words and ideas you didn't even know where there. Sometimes not. But it never hurts to try.

Good luck.


Colleen Tue Feb 10 12:11:32 PST 1998

Dear Everyone,

(Through tears....) Thank you so much. I will persue my interest in the aboriginal muscial instrument in question, now I am even more intrigued. Thank you Philip. Isn't it amazing that out there in the world there are so many kind souls? I am so touched. You are a special group of people and I hope in the future I can be of some help to you too.
I will write more later... my child, enormous dog and dinner are calls. Check out Phillips didj' site-very cool instrument-they state that it draws on your own spirituality-Very cool....
Take care, I will write more later, Thank you again, Colleen

Philip Tue Feb 10 03:17:48 PST 1998


The above site will tell you what you need to know and they'll also sell you a didj' if you want.

Jack has it right... basically it's a small hollowed out log that resonates as you send vibrations down it from your lips as you expend air. Difficult as hell to play.

I have a long, traditionally decorated didj' leaning against the wall next to my music stand, acoustic guitar and piano.


Goodweed of the North Tue Feb 10 03:14:39 PST 1998

Colleen; An outline is a device used to structure a story or subject. That is a true statement. It need not be a rigid struture or be set in stone. I use an outline to remind me where I want to go with a story. This helps me because I'm trying to make each of my fantasy works both a stand alone story, and part of a larger series.

I don't need to change the outline once it is written because I keep it in the back of my head so to speak. It does provied guidance. When a "brilliant idea" pops onto a page, it adds to the general story but does not detract from the theme.

The outline should be general enough to capture what you want to do with the entire story on a single page. You don't need to outline every chapter. That would be restrictive for me.

As for juggling all the things life places before me and still get writing accomplished, I write during my lunch hour, at 5:00 A.M. before work, and occasionaly for an hour or so before I go to bed. My family demands most of my time with work taking a close second. Religeous functions take third in actual hours spent (though I try to live and practice my beliefs every second of my life). There has to be a little relaxation and/or fun time thrown in. I really want to be published though which both hinders and helps me. This is the case because I am constantly trying to find better methods and increase my skill. I end up revising nearly every page I write while I'm writing the first draft, let alone the numerous rewrites and proofs by others. I expect to be published. It is not a dream but a goal. I will do what it takes to be skillful enough both with the story, and with the art of getting an agent. If the artist in you is crying for time, let it out. But it does require sacrifice.

As far as the Souza/Grayell dialogue goes, quite entertaining.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Jack Beslanwitch Tue Feb 10 01:03:56 PST 1998

Hayden or, actually, Philip could probably pick up the Didjeridu question with more authenticity than I, but it is a musical instrument. A very long piece of hollow wood that is a real test of skill to attempt to get music out of. I know. I have tried. But has an extremely haunting and resonant sound that is uniquely its own. Hope this helps. Mon Feb 9 23:35:48 PST 1998


I'm one of the writer's who has trouble with working to an outline. The difficulty with an outline--a definite idea about what is going to happen in every chapter up to the last--is that often it requires us to ignore a brilliant idea that we get when we're into the writing, or to dump the outline and take a whole new course. Personally, I don't do well with outlines and have no resistance to a "brilliant" idea that comes to me along the way.

This would make one think that books done in such a way must be disjointed, chaotic and rambling but I assure you that it is not necessarilly so. In fact, I wrote my last novel with only a premise in mind and simply made the whole thing up as I went along. In the end I was amazed that such a procedure could produce an orderly and cohesive story, but it did.

I will have to let others promote the opposing method of outlining. since I have no authority on the process. I can
suggest Kipling's "...nine and sixty ways to" (tribal somethings) "and every single one of them is right." Except for Hayden's, and maybe even his.

I put off writing for thirty years, I don't really regret it. Like you, and many, I had too much to do. I don't recommend that you postpone your dreams, but I remember a time when I felt that life itself was rushing by, just beyond my grasp. In the end it was only an illusion. A popular quote these days is, "Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans."

I lost a lot of years of writing but I didn't lose one day of life and neither will you. It surely hasn't left me in a last minute rush to get it all done. God knows, look at all the time I spend in this notebook.

It will all fall into place for you. Like my last book, it will just happen.

Regards to all,


Colleen Mon Feb 9 19:30:22 PST 1998

Hi again,

I have a quick question for Hayden. I'm working on a musical story and need to know what a "Didjeridu" is.(No this is not word quibble again!) Can you help me? They are found in N.Australia-probably a wind instrument.

Thank you kind sir.


Jack Beslanwitch Mon Feb 9 19:28:01 PST 1998

Just to alert people. I have archived the Workbook. At some point in the near future I will most likely zip those files as well for easier download and viewing.

Colleen: You have struck on the dilemma of many who are not full time self employed writers or otherwise independently supported. The trials and tribulations of daily lives stand as a source for our writing, an impediment to it and the reality we have to work with. Surprisingly, consistency and stubborness are a commonly suggested prerequesite for this enterprise we are about. A daily dose of writing as little as a half hour or even fifteen minutes can lead inevitably to satisfying results. I guess what I am saying is not to put off your dream, but to scale down the chunks you endeavor to savor. This may make things more manageable. Others may have different takes on this. In regard to putting structure on what you are endeavoring to write, this has been touched upon many times here. I am not sure that there is a real concensus or even that there should be. Eahc of us has to work out what works best, whether via an outline, letting our characters take us over and walk us through what they demand the plot to be or what have you. Take care.

Joan Mon Feb 9 18:47:18 PST 1998


Oh Holy Grayell--or is it Grail?!! I must confess, I do believe I've now been psychosnobbed by the best (Moore or Les). A bit of laziness on my part - combining your first and last into Grayden. Perhaps it's the whale in me! hehe (for want of a more whalish sound). xox Jhona

Colleen--been there, done that---still doing it! I'll E-mail you!


Colleen Mon Feb 9 18:17:52 PST 1998

Hi Everyone,

I know this is off subject, but I am struggling with some issues I could really use some help with.
First, I have ideas...but I have difficulty organizing them
into plot or outlines. If you have any methods to improve my organizational skills please let me know. What works for you. I've been told to outline first etc. what do you all think? Also, do you people have lives? I don't mean this unkindly, I just can't seem to fit writing in as a priority. I struggle because I know I write best at night, but I teach kindergarten and have a family and I am exhausted. Do I put my dreams off until a later date? I know this is way out in left field, but it scares me to think life is passing by and this is something I will never do. I think if there is an artist in you trying to get out you will understand where I am coming from. Thanks for listening. I am begining to feel a bit hopeless in this area and could really use some concrete suggestions or a little inspiration. Thank you Jack for a forum in which we can ask questions of those who can really relate to our struggle.
Bye for now, Colleen

Rosemary Mon Feb 9 17:34:41 PST 1998

Hi Everyone.
A quick note off the subject if no one minds. (too late) My local writers' group has a new web page. We are very proud of it since it is a first try for all of us. I would love it if you would check it out.

Needless to say, I don't really expect all off you to show up at our conference, but it's funn showing it off.


Rosemary Mon Feb 9 17:34:40 PST 1998

Hi Everyone.
A quick note off the subject if no one minds. (too late) My local writers' group has a new web page. We are very proud of it since it is a first try for all of us. I would love it if you would check it out.

Needless to say, I don't really expect all off you to show up at our conference, but it's funn showing it off. %0

Mon Feb 9 17:34:27 PST 1998

Mon Feb 9 17:34:21 PST 1998

Kevan Mon Feb 9 17:08:40 PST 1998

Be Here Now-Here Now Be-Now Be Here.

Hayden Grayell Mon Feb 9 14:19:12 PST 1998

Okay. Now that the peace pipe has been smoked, the blood-brothers with gashed thumbs have traded blood, the dogs of war have been lashed to the sled of reason, the sabres wrapped in felt and tucked in the cupboard, we can get down to bagging Gariess about...about...

Puppy, huh? A goddamned pee-on-the-carpet, chew-your-slipper puppy, huh!! A goddamn slobber-and-yap, dig-up-the-garden, bury-the-car, frighten-the-chooks kinda puppy. HUH!!!!

You come near me buddy, and I'll hump your leg!


Rhoda Mon Feb 9 12:09:15 PST 1998


The title to the last e-mail I sent you will be very odd. I hit "enter" when I meant to hit "back-space," so I have no idea what gibberish actually got sent in that subject title.

Rhoda Mon Feb 9 12:05:04 PST 1998

I want thank Gary, Robin, and Kay for the helpful comments on my posting of the scene from VALERIE'S SONG. I've found the insights and suggestions very helpful. I also want to thank you, Jack, for maintaining this very unique and enjoyable site.

I didn't know you lived in Sault Ste. Marie. I have some special memories of that part of the country. Twelve years ago, my husband, father-in-law, and a few of our friends had a wonderful hike behind the locks on the Canadian side. My husband's parents own a summer cottage near Harbor Springs. Our family flies up there almost every August. We have taken several hikes and excursions on the upper peninsula. It is so beautiful up there in the summer.

Goodweed Of the North Mon Feb 9 05:03:26 PST 1998

Hey Guys and Gals:

Thanks for setting me straight. And Phil, I have done it again, pointing things at you which were not things you said. Sorry. Guess I'll have to take notes on who's saying what.

Anyway, I understand the game. I have played it and do play it on a regular (daily) basis with those I work with. I have always been a natural peace maker. Sometimes, I jump in where it is not necessary.

I think the comraderie is not confined to New England states and Astralia. I made imediate and strong freinds in Perth many years ago. Granted, it was partly because the Aussies were practitioners of the same religeon as myself. That just opened the doorway however. Like Canada, Australia has a special magnetism for us Yanks. I live in right where the three largest of the Great Lakes come together in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I feel that pull toward Australia. Though we are on opposite sides of the world, I think we are great neighbors. As to New England, Love to visit, but too many hurricanes for my taste. I'll take our rather benign weather here, thank you. Other than that, no differance between you and I (exception is that we have the strongest and most gifted collegiate hockey programs in the nation).

Gotta get to work now.
Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Sun Feb 8 23:04:20 PST 1998


You are sensitive to percieved strife and you are not to bear blame for this. I do, however, believe that the reparte in the last week or so has been strictly good natured and I doubt that anyone was being hostile.

New englanders, for some reason sense an immediate kinship with the aussies and have a tendency to fall at once into the friendly bantering described by Hayden, Notice how he posts and parries at my affectation with my name (he's levelling off the sunflowers or whatever the hell he calls it; bringing me down to size). Notice also how I continue to ignore his nattering as I ignore a boisterous yapping pup who is all threat and no bite. Believe me, it is all in good fun and eventually the pup will back away in his usual and exsidious fashion.

I have now knowledge of what occured in the notebook in the past but I see no danger at the present.

All for now,

Gary S.

Hayden Grayell Sun Feb 8 22:00:48 PST 1998

Thanks for the timely note of caution. I was the poor sucker who used the word Psychosnob, though I do not mind being bagged about it. Here in Australia it is common practice to "have a go" at others over small things like this. It is a way of sharing the pitfalls of being human with others, by lambasting them for things they do that have an edge of "other" to them, of things out of the normal. But the rule is you have to be perfectly willing to recieve the same sort of response for anything you might do. In a mild form, this "bagging" someone is seen as a cheeky flippant disrespect for them, without potencey, but as comments grows more and more cutting they become what is called here "the tall poppy syndrome". Anyone who achieves something which elevates them above the normal is cut down to the correct height. It is a nasty cruelty that we all are so aware of when we work, though sometimes it gets away from us. (I would suggest that the gutter press are those who have perfected the art of the tall poppy syndrome, or those whose leaning is towards psychosnobbery.)

If my recent words have offended ANYONE, then I truly beg forgiveness. My one-upmanship is just harmless bagging. Please feel free to retaliate at will.


Goodweed of the North Sun Feb 8 20:56:12 PST 1998

Hi everyone:

I may be taking things a bit too seriously. If so, I apologize in advance. I have noticed a bit of 0ne-upmanship of late. I have read and enjoyed postings on this site for quite a while now. I think it's one of the most enjoyable sites on the internet (Thanks Jack). I caution to remind everyone to respect everyone else. Philip, your writing and advice are good stuff. I think you have been run down enough for your use of the word; psychosnob. As far as excideous goes, it's been beaten to death. Let the dead lie. I believe we have too much talent here to waste it bashing each other over small differences of opinion. Hayden, you have helped me with your advice also. My first novel is better for haveing visited this web. My second novel has better characterizations, so far than the first. My third, which is science fiction rather than fantasy, is better than either of the first two. That is because I am more familiar with science and engineering than with mythology. Also, I tend to think very logically. You have to in order to succeed in my field.

Anyway, I love it here and hope to never see another explosion of personalities which I witnessed many months ago. That caused a rift which broke friendships and drove some away from the notebook.

Good writing to all of you, and thanks for being out there.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Sun Feb 8 20:56:05 PST 1998

Hayden Grayell Sun Feb 8 18:38:38 PST 1998

Hi Gang,

Email now working like charm. I've replied to most of you, and will get around to the rest asap.

Joan, Gariess(Woops...I mean Gary S) :
Psychosnob: The performer of psychottic snobbery: the severely neurotic/paranoiac act of turning every word and deed of others into proof of their inferiority, and retaliating with acts of elitism.
(How's that for an exsidious explanation.)

Also Joan...You got past me with the "Grayden" in your original posting. But I saw it finally. As an act of psychosnobbery I would have to retaliate with something like "Jhona, Whale Swallower."

I'm struggling with my new novel, which may teach me not to get fired up in a bunch of half-baked ideas. (what is that word for clay that has been fired prior to glazing...oh yes...) I am like a bisqued author. I've been thrown on the wheel, cooked under critical flames, and now I await the final slash and splash of the grand narrative potter.

Yeah....I'm waffling. Regards to you all.


Jack Beslanwitch Sat Feb 7 22:12:25 PST 1998

Just to let everyone know. It has been a while since the Writers Workbook got archived. In the next day or so I will archive it, perhaps even zip it, leaving the last several days of posts on the new Workbook. 172 k is getting a little on the high end. Take care.

Rhoda Sat Feb 7 21:55:43 PST 1998

I can't believe I did it! It is done, and it is too late to change it. Anyone who looks at my selection on the Workbook, forgive me. I know better than to put wonder in place of wander. At least I caught it here before I sent it off somewhere with that.

Rhoda Sat Feb 7 19:28:46 PST 1998

It is quiet here. I can't believe I am the only post so far this day. Undoubtedly everyone is having a wonderful, fun- filled time with family and friends, or working hard on their writing porjects.

I am posting on the Workbook the first scene of VALERIE'S SONG, my current project which is about 2/3 finished. I want the first chapters of this book to really shine. My first scene should contain an acceptable hook, that quality that convinces the agent or editor to spend his or her time reading the rest of whatever is sent. Please tell me if I have succeeded. Have at me, and let me know what I can do to improve this scene. Over the next few weeks I will post successive scenes (if I don't lose my nerve).

Be considerate please, but brutally honest. I can handle it.

See you all later,


Joan Fri Feb 6 18:48:57 PST 1998

Hi all,

Hayden---Psychosnob? Isn't that kind of an Exsidious type of word???

(Sorry, Gary---couldn't resist! hehe)

Joan Fri Feb 6 11:45:43 PST 1998


You're living in Nice, and you're asking us questions. Man, I want to know what you've been doing.


More show and less tell is the preferred order. Did you make a boo boo?



gotta go,

Gary S.

Rhoda Fri Feb 6 09:30:29 PST 1998


So good to see you at the Notebook. Congratulations on your almost completed project. I would suggest that you buy a copy of the 1998-1999 WRITER'S GUIDE TO BOOK EDITORS, PUBLISHERS, AND LITERARY AGENTS by Jeff Herman. If you can't buy it in Nice, you should be able to get it through Amazon. This book will give detailed descriptions about each publishing house in the U.S. and will tell what type of books they publish. It also gives the names of editors. You probably should try to find an agent. Several agents are listed in this guide.

I have found this book fairly helpful. The second best thing that you could do in marketing your book is check out the Notebook every so often, and get in touch with other writers in your local community. Not only will other writers give you support, but they can exchange good marketing information with you.

Hope all this helps.


Boyd Gunn Fri Feb 6 03:42:18 PST 1998

Bonjour everybody, my name is Boyd. I was recently emailing avec Jack from Web Witchery about finding some publishing companies that work with books on self development. I am from New Zealand, 34yrs old and living near Nice on the Cote D'zure. The book is nearly complete and it's time to find a company that can put it in print. Jack suggested posting this here in case someone in any english speaking countries knows how to track down suitable companies. Any sugestions would be greatfully received as I'm new to this particular business. If you have any ideas please email me
Cheers, regards Boyd

Kevan Thu Feb 5 18:09:15 PST 1998

The only way I've been able to pull off description without it being "too much show and not enough tell", is through action. Showing the character doing something typical of him or her and describing the physical world along the way.

But hey, like the bumper sticker says: "Don't follow me, I'm lost too!"

Hayden Grayell Thu Feb 5 17:35:50 PST 1998

Hi gang.

Boyd Gunn(?) and all those of you who have emailed me, our server has a small problem with out mail, so even though I have tried to reply, I aint getting past the gate.

Maybe I shouldn't have bit the postman. It makes me look like a pyschosnob.

Joseph Lord (writers block) Thu Feb 5 14:00:29 PST 1998

Charachters come to life through expressing what we see in words that best define them. Starting off with the persons strongest quality or description and in time defining there habits and everyday actions.

Rhoda Thu Feb 5 09:47:39 PST 1998

I'll take a stab at the topic, though I must admit I don't decribe characters as well as I would like to. I've talked to other writers who do as Phillip does. They write out the character's history and description. Some fill out a questionare on them. I have always thought these were wonderful ideas, and I would advise everyone to do something along this line. I don't do them. I always intend to, but I keep putting it off until I am well into the novel. Then I tell myself, "Why bother?".

When I begin a novel, I always have at least the haircolor, height and maybe eye color in mind. I also think of my character as some general type--stunningly attractive, studious, proud, vain, important, etc. Though some of these are not physical characteristics, they do effect the appearance of the person and determine their mannerisms, how they wear their hair, or how they dress. Like T.M., I sometimes might have actors or actresses in mind, but only partially. I might envision a herione as having the same coloring as Elizabeth Taylor, but I don't see her looking like Elizabeth in my mind's eye. There might be a beguiling, but stong quality in Arnold Swartzenegger that I'd like to see in my hero, but I certainly wouldn't want the character to be Arnold or even to look like him. I often play the mental game of selecting the cast of the movie renditions of any of my two novels.

I do more physical description in the second draft than in the first. I believe description is something that must be carefully planned, for having not enough takes away color and depth from the story, and having too much makes reading the thing too much of a chore. It is also so important to add description in the right place at the right time. Description whether of a person or place or a thing in a novel is like the touchup on a painting. It is not directly critical to the plot or action of the story, but it is the polish that if done well makes the writing professional, and if not done well bespeaks an amateur.

I try to add as much description in the form of action. Describe the height, hair, etc as it interacts with the story, such as, "Branius bent his head to avoid hitting the lintel of the tavern doorway. Being two inches over six foot, few doors could comfortably accomodate him." Appearance should unfold naturally after the character is introduced.

See you all later. Write productively this week and remember to "flesh out" those characters.


Victoria Wed Feb 4 19:05:10 PST 1998

Describing characters...I think the key is not just to describe physical details, such as hair color and eye shape, but to tie the description to an image that will evoke a picture in the reader's mind, like TM's cartoon-dog eyes. You can say someone has liquid black eyes, but when you say "cartoon dog" there's an instantly recognizable image to go with the physical detail. I also thought Pat's description was a very clever way of solving the problem of description in first-person narrative--and once again, it includes a central image the physical details can gather around. As does Philip's description, where the physical details are also linked to an image, of the effect the character has on others.

One of the more facile pieces of advice given to beginning writers on describing characters or making them distinctive is to give the character a tic, a characteristic catch-phrase, a particular habit. You often see this in movies--Face/Off is a good example, where each of the main characters has a particular gesture he makes, which is supposed to convey realms of meaning about his inner being. For me, this is just lazy shortcutting, a substitute for real depth of description and real character-building.

By the way, Jack--the last few times I've logged onto the site I've gotten a Javascript error message.


Pat Christensen Wed Feb 4 16:53:48 PST 1998

I just couldn't resist this one. I hate trying to describe characters, and use almost any tactic to avoid doing so in any real detail (it always seems like too much "tell" and not enough "show"), but I did one description in a mystery novel (as yet unfinished) that I am somewhat fond of.

I like it because it tells you as much about the personality of the person described as it does the physical appearance. And yet, I'm still working on it, because I'm just not entirely happy with it.

The narrative is in first person, not a form I'm used to, and I needed the reader to have some idea of the main character's physical appearance, to further remove her from the world of the woman who's death she's investigating, a drop-dead gorgeous woman.

I dropped this particular piece of narrative into the first chapter (you should know that, prior to this, I had established that the character filed her nails obsessively as a means of dealing with stress and that she prefers short, businesslike names, such as the murder victim's).


"My mother named me Christine. She never liked that I shortened it to Chris. She likes that I have nice nails, though.

"I've never understood how she could so carefully raise a short, dumpy, slightly mean daughter while seeming to honestly expect that, any day now, I'll suddenly bloom into this willowy, gracious blond. Until that day arrives, however, my nails remain her greatest joy."

"It's a small price to pay for being allowed to live my own life, so I try not to mess with her illusions."


O.k., so it's not Great Art, but it's more description than I usually give. In fact, this whole story has more physical description of its characters than is normal for me.

A breakthrough? Nah, probably just another baby step on the way to my goal of actually learning how to write properly some day.

T. M. Spell Wed Feb 4 16:14:22 PST 1998

Jack asks: "How do we set about describing the characters we create? Not necessarily how we come up with the characters we do, but how we describe them, how
we flesh them out and give them life."

Following are descriptions of characters from two stories of mine, both of which I've sold:

1) He pulls the cord in the ceiling that lights the bulb that
reveals his face. An average face, a neighborhood cop's
face, complete with receding hairline and big,
Barney-from-Mayberry ears that you can see the light shine
pinkishly through when he turns his head to one side or the
other. His eyes are blue, gas-flame twins in his average
face, and so full of rage it's a wonder he can move at all
without igniting. (From "Brain Dam," published in Dream International Quarterly)

Okay, meet the bad guy, who is about to do some bad things to the protagonist. I modeled this character's physical appearance on one of the finest horror movie actors alive today, but whose name shall be uttered nevermore, lest I be sued.

When I create the characters who will carry the action of a story forward, it is almost as if I am casting a movie in my imagination. I have solid mental images in my mind of the characters who are interacting with one another and (I like to think) a pretty fair grasp of a character's emotional "range" at this point. I have also decided -- or discovered -- what sort (not what "type" if I'm doing my job right) of person I'm writing about, what their history and motivation is, and that helps to determine what a character does and says in response to circumstances or other characters.

Then it's a matter of creating a description, based on this image, of the character in action. How someone looks to you just before he comes into your cell to beat you brutally with a nightstick will differ in detail from how the same character looks to you if you think he's a nice guy or if you're sexually attracted to him.

2) Faster than a cockroach, Jeffrey scuttled around her and got his hand on the driverís side door handle before she could. "Yes, maíam," he said, pretending not to notice the adversarial glare she gave him, "Grace said youíd indicated you didnít want a driver today. But Mr. DíAnjou thought youíd be safer with me along. After all, I am trained in the martial arts and licensed to carry a handgun."

Julia put one hand on her hip and gave Jeffrey a sweeping glance up and down. He was an inch or so shorter than her -- a thin, unimposing, narrow-faced, dark-haired man in
a three-piece charcoal gray suit. He had big, liquid-black eyes like a cartoon dogís, and they studied her nervously during this scrutiny.

"Iím sure youíre trained in a great many arts, Jeffrey," she said, finally, "but Iím just going to the shopping mall, not a Tyson-Holyfield rematch. And Iím going to be meeting a friend, so Iíll be perfectly safe." (From "Red Tide, White Tide," a Writers of the Future Contest-winner)

This second, longer, example describes a character (Jeffrey) who will later be revealed to possess a great deal of emotional strength and (I hope) depth. But at the moment, he is an obstacle to the much-needed autonomy of the heroine, who, in a previous scene, was abruptly dumped by her husband. So, here, he seems a bit silly, with his "big, liquid-black eyes like a cartoon dog's."

Jeffrey's appearance is described partly subjectively, through the heroine's eyes, while at the same time keeping the characters in motion and interacting with one another.

His physical appearance, too, was borrowed from a another actor of whom I am fond, though the character is original and I try throughout this story to develop him as three dimensionally as possible.

Some writers prefer to create their descriptions from "real life," by which they mean people they know personally, or have met. Others combine traits from different people they've known or seen. And perhaps this "movie star mania" approach of mine doesn't work so well if the actors/actresses you focus on are the pretty, but basically vapid ones, like Tom Cruise. I mean, after you've said someone is tall, dark and handsome, what's left? In the second story excerpted above, the pretty characters are described minimally, and even then only in terms of their interaction with one another. (I didn't actually take this minimal approach consciously; I just did it and then noticed it later.)

However, I gravitate strongly toward the tremendously talented character actors who generally get all the crappy roles in films because they aren't physically stunning, but who certainly are capable of and deserve more. It also doesn't hurt to be a fanatical film buff who can view a movie a dozen or more times and dissect it scene by scene to get a better feel for what an actor is reaching for in a difficult scene or role. Actors are themselves "creating" characters as they act and it is possible, I think, to learn by watching them bare a character's soul without the benefit of interior monologue or a narrator in the background explaining that character's motivation or history.

But of course then you have to be able to translate that visual impact into print when you create an original character for an original story. As a writer, you're using a different set of skills, but the one art (fiction) can feed off the other (film) without being either shallow or cliched.

Philip Wed Feb 4 13:57:43 PST 1998


Characters: I think what has been written here already on this has been extremely good, practical and useful. I use all these techniques.

Once I had a villain introduce himself to my reader in the first person when the rest of the novel was written in the third person. He told us of his past crimes - he spoke about himself in some detail. It was disturbing as you (and I as the writer) were inside the head of this maniac. I kept coming back to this guy throughout the book so we all got to know him fairly well and were not surprised he ended up being a shocking, psychopathic, rapist murderer. In the screenplay based on this book the bad guy speaks (voice over - off screen) while other, incidental parts of the story are being visually presented - double story telling.

Another thing I do is write miniature biographies about my main characters - give them a past. Some of my biographies go on for pages, back to how the parents of the individual met, to establish the circumstances of my main person's birth. Usually these character pieces are about a thousand to fifteen hundred words each. They make for interesting deviations (sub plots or sub stories), they can be a welcomed change of pace when they're carefully placed in your storyline.

In simply describing what a character looks like I don't see the need to always be so smart and clever. I just describe their appearance. Or sometimes I might use another character's eyes, eg:

She looked at Gary. He was tall, taller than she had thought when she had met him yesterday at the railway station. His dark brown hair appeared almost black in the dim light, his light blue eyes and his perfect teeth disarmed even the coolest of her friends when he smiled.

You can give us bits and pieces about all of the characters as we travel deeper into the story but make sure your main characters are firmly entrenched in the early chapters. Don't introduce main players late in proceedings - it frustrates the hell out of people. It's generally seen as sloppy work, as a copout, as convenient after thinking.

I'm one of those who say don't be brief when it comes to telling us about your main characters, show us how good you can write, make a real effort, stretch.


Gary S. Wed Feb 4 11:10:00 PST 1998

A quick P.S.

Richard Curtis has declared the word agent to be usable as a verb in his book, "How to be your own literary agent." This permits me to paraphrase an old axiom: "Those who can't, agent." Remember, even if the pen *isn't* mightier than the sword, it sure as hell is sharper.

Ta Ta,

Gary S.

Wed Feb 4 10:55:01 PST 1998

To all,

Have to agree w/Joan that corn-ball devices in characterization are pit-falls if one has nothing knew or refreshing to put into it. The 'looking in the mirror' is an example of a thing that would defy a new angle.

I have one problem with the cut and paste method described by Joan and is my own method. I find that it challenges me to add depth to a character to the extent that I minimize characterization and leave it to the reader to fill in. This doesn't settle the question of depth and tends to leave my characters more two dimensional than I like. Sometimes I think I prefer my characters this way. Mystery, after all is light stuff. Still, I would like to develop more in this area.

I think this gets into the very nebulous and hard-to-define
area of the art.


Keep strokin'

Gary S.

Joan Wed Feb 4 10:12:42 PST 1998

Dear all--

And I do mean DEAR. First of all, thank you all SO much for all your kind comments and very perceptive suggestions. It is so helpful!

Michelle---I'm E-mailing you today, and thanks!

I've taken the day off from work so get to spend a little time at this site before going back to revisions. What a wonderful feeling to have the time to do those things.

About characterization: For me, since I have no formal education on what's best about writing, I move mostly by intuition (which is why other people's comments are so helpful) but--with that disclaimer in mind-- I would say a good deal of my own characterization or description of characters is done by showing the characters' actions. How does he or she walk--do they skip or slog along, limp, scurry? How they relate to animals and old people or children tells me a lot about them. Can they not resist passing a dog without stooping to pet it or talk to it or even kiss it's muzzle? Or would they go around the block just to come back by and try to run one down?(!) Do they have an apartment full of cats? Do they have a grandparent they remember with tears in their eyes or that they visit all the time or maybe live with or play poker with? Do they like kids or do kids make the hair stand up on the back of their necks? Did they torture insects when they were young? The actual physical description is, I think, a bit trickier. I've heard the "looking in a mirror" thing is a bad idea. In one story, I changed point of view for a scene, and the person observing the heroine touched on small bits of her description---but not a lot. In another scene, he actually told her what she looked like to him. So, I guess how other people react to the character also tells us a lot about how they "are."

Bye for now---and thanks again!


Sandy Zentgraf Wed Feb 4 08:54:13 PST 1998

Hi Jack, It has been awhile since I had checked your site. Still very interesting. I will be having more chapters on soon on my story. I am open for any and some more suggestions from those who visit your sight. I still need advice. Thanks for letting me share those shattered dreams. I still climp mountains and cross bridges each day. I also look for tomorrow.


Robin Wed Feb 4 07:32:43 PST 1998

One of the ways I showed character is by using two points of view to flesh out my protagonist's character in the book I'm working on. Everyone's character is seen through either subjective or objective eyes. The strengths that I think I have, may be perceived to be weaknesses by others, and so forth. So near the start of my story, I have my protagonist and her husband get into a debate about what her weak points are. They are being lighthearted about it all, using cheap shots, and stereotypical claims ("you always..." "you never...") She denies it at first but as the story progresses, she understands the truth about herself, that she needs to work on these weaknesses in order to achieve her purpose, and solve the murder case. And like all of us, she has strengths that she never knew she had, that she taps into. Her self-perception changes from begining to end. She may still be flawed, but she won't be blind.

So I would say that dialogue is one my favorite tools, it can show the objective and subjective views of the characters. It gives them life by observing how they react to other's truths.

The next, closely related to dialogue, that helps me to show a character to be real is by showing some of the thoughts of the viewpoint character. By peeking into his/her mind, we see if someone is too quick to draw conclusions, and mostly off-base or even quick and accurate to read the other characters in the story. When I read, characters that don't have thoughts and feelings are shallow and dead to me. I will try to post in the workbook to show my example.

Goodweed of the North Wed Feb 4 04:58:57 PST 1998

Characters are a difficult subject to address. The first character is created with a pesonality to satisfy a requirement. He/she must be able to introduce the reader to the plot. They are then fleshed out by genral description, interactions with other characters, and further defined by reaction to challenging situations. The types of responses used by each character difines their personalies. Subsequent characters are developed either in supportof the main character, or as a challenge.

The names of the characters are also important, as has been infered previously by others in the notebook. Names are weighted by society. Eric, for instance is a name often used for an adventurous, clear-headed leader, especially in stories reminicent of the Norse civilization. Womens names don't carry as much baggage with them and so are a bit easier to use. There are exceptions to this though so you still have to be careful with names. Also, the names need to fit the time period or the place.

Characterization has many facets. I have only touched a few. This topic will be interesting to watch. Gotta go to work, so I'll be reading the responses and postings tonight.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Michele Wed Feb 4 01:55:54 PST 1998

Joan - can I clarify my request for more of your story - I didn't mean could you post more of it on the Workbook - rather can you send me more - or tell me where I can buy a copy (if it's gone into print that is !) ?

Rhoda - I've never been to Cornwall in my life - but I have a friend who has - e-mail me your questions and I'll see what I can find out for you.

Philip - thank you kind sir for your kind comments - I don't know how you managed to find the biog. or find out about it but I appreciate the comments. (I appreciate any comments from people who take the time to read my work - adverse or not !)

Hayden - you get dafter by the day I swear but you made me smile so don't stop now !


Michele Wed Feb 4 01:52:10 PST 1998

Jack Beslanwitch Wed Feb 4 00:47:25 PST 1998

Actually, I think that Hayden may have it right. I was thinking about how to best move things from the generality of plot to the particular of character. I was leaning towards character creation, but that has been touched upon in the past. So, if nobody is averse, how about the general topic of how best to bring a character alive for our readers or as I put it in the opening box:

How do we set about describing the characters
we create. Not necessarily how we come up with the
characters we do, but how we describe them, how
we flesh them out and give them life.

If anyone has a better idea, please feel free to come up with that as well.

Clyde Dixon Tue Feb 3 18:52:04 PST 1998

According to my unabridged Webster's:
AUBURN originally, whitish or flaxen-colored; now, reddish brown.

I have had some personal experience with auburn; reddish brown would be a fair description.

Good Writing All,

Philip Tue Feb 3 16:44:57 PST 1998

If you haven't already done so, check out the wonderful piece written by Michele at the above site. It's a fine piece of writing, a magnificent debut.

Well done Michele!

Rhoda Tue Feb 3 15:12:56 PST 1998


I loved reading the sample from your book. Keep posting on the workbook. I want to see more.

While we are discussing description, I'd like some help in clearing up a question. What really do we mean when we say someone has auburn hair. I thought it was sandy, sort of a strawberry blonde. One of my critique partners claims that it is brunette red. My mom and pop dictionary is sadly deficient in defining it.


Have you ever been to Cornwall? My current project takes place there and I have a few questions regarding flora and rocky little coves I have only read about but never seen.

Got to run. Take care, folks.

Rhoda (not Joan)

Hayden Grayell Tue Feb 3 14:55:53 PST 1998


Understanding is not enough! You must breath the words I create. You must stand in the shower and turn your face to the faucet, and as the steaming stream slashes against you, you must open your mouth and utter the words for all to hear. You'll sound like a throttled weasel, but hey, the message will be indelibly etched into your heart, and you will sense the truth behind the meaning! That or you will drown out any thought of ever reading my posting again.

As to meeting Philip, I doubt that evenuality. First of all, I don't know him from a bar of soap (I don't know many bars of soap either) and secondly, the chances of someone of Philip's fame ever coming down to my neck of the woods to do a book signing is as slim as you standing in the shower trying to read a print out of what I had to say. But, I support those who speak with me, and if they have a book in print then I will get it, and eventually might even have it autographed by them.

Not that I am afraid to meet any of the people who chat here. As long as they don't mind ducking flying spittle, or putting up with the eyestrain caused by my "loud" clothing, or having their leg hugged by my pack of dobermans.

And again you have given us an entrancing subject to pick over--Character description.

You have already hinted at what you look like, Jaba, but when it comes to the description of characters in novel how do you go about leaving it out, or hinting at what "sort of" person fits the shirts. Considering most of us carry around cliched versions of "Pilot", "Fireman" "Doctor" and "Nurses" (MMMmmm...NURSES... Woops) even a name carries a loaded "mental picture" of the character. But to break the mold from the cliche, we need other clues. Especially when dealing with unknown professions. How do we describe a word-engineer, or a nano-biologist, or a PAN-warrior? Of course "engineer", "biologist", and "warrior" have some weight, but there is still the other attachments to sort through.

Working in the first person requires even more delicate handling of description. After all, you are dealing with the reader's perception of themselves, in a metamorphical sense. Having your character look in a mirror is so cliched that any attempts get scoffed at. I use what I call my "reflections off the mud" technique, where I let the reader choose their own description, and then guide it with some early patching to give them a general list of unusual attributes. Within the first few pages, the reader will know that the "I" has three left feet, an amputated forefinger and fifteen earings in her right ear (all to balance out the extra feet).

I see that I am posting here more than most, which means my mouth/pen is working overtime. Which also means I am neglecting my new novel. So I'll shut up and go away (for a short time).

Michele Tue Feb 3 03:09:21 PST 1998

Joan !
How could you ?? Fancy posting the middle of a novel - can I please have the rest of it ?? I really enjoyed reading and was incredibly intrigued to know what went before and what comes after - please don't torture me like this ! I WANT MORE !! (please ?!)


Tue Feb 3 00:27:23 PST 1998

Hello all.

Joan and Rhoda, My apologies for confusing one of you with the other. I trust you each knew to whom I was speaking because I no longer recall, myself. That whole business with the word was excruciating. I'm glad it's all archived and I can get on with my life, but for the final(I Hope)slash and jab of Hayden's drop dead wit. I notice he has taken to satirising my affectation with my name. Such a small indulgence I would have thought, could go unmolested. Such is the burden of the gifted, alas.

Adding my welcome back to Philip. Glad you are here.

Hayden, do you and Philip plan to meet? Have you already done? If not, I hope you are prepared for the changes in your relationship that will occur when you surrender the anonimity you have had in the notebook. I for one would not
want to meet anyone from here in person. This is not strictly owing to the striking resemblance to Jaba the Hut which I bear, personally, but the risk to my "pictures" of you all. I prefer to settle for your persons that exist in my mind, than to chance the damage that 'seeing' you could do to them.

Agatha Christie was known to protest having Poirot played by an actor because she felt that readers had their own idea of Poirot in their minds. To this purpose, she avoided ever writing a detailed description of Poirot in all those many books. I never heard whether she protested the money but I have always understood her objection.

You must excuse me for now. I'm beggining to understand Hayden's writings and it has me a bit concerned for my state of mind.

I love you all,


Hayden Grayell Mon Feb 2 17:53:04 PST 1998

Philip: Congrat on "The Lightning Man". I will be getting a copy as soon as it becomes available. I'll demand the right to get you to autograph it when we meet. Is that OK? (So much for the DEMAND.)

Re "the gut-burning need". There is ringing applause from this end of the chatline. And confirmation that there are stories we just MUST write before we die so we batten down the hatches and face into the wind. Howl the weather or freeze the deck, we'll be found swashing our way through the buckles, hacking thews from dragon's throats, drifting the void lost amongst the galaxy of possibilities. Our course is into the weather's fickle eye!

Re charting: Oft times the words begin to flow even before we see the forest beyond the trees. Twice now I have found myself twenty thousand words into a piece and then came the stutter, the "what the hell is happening here" that needed the imposition of order. It's as if my writing is like a frontier town that builds around a gold strike. Soon as the the first crimes start to happen, and that's when I bring in the lawmen to protect the citizens from themselves. Maybe I slaughter the gunmen and rebuild freedom and beauty; maybe the gunmen are so strong that they take over the place and Boothill becomes filled with flawed peacekeepers --who are revenged with even greater powers later on. But most often, it is the hard slice of the town planner chosing which impact statement is most suitable to make the town fit in with the future needs of the citizens.

Joan: Comments to follow.

Joan Mon Feb 2 16:59:55 PST 1998

Hi all---

Phillip---Great to see you back! Congrats on the upcoming Harper-Collins publication.

Grayden--Hail to the word.

Bob Hanford, where are you?

I dropped a few of my own words off in the Workbook yesterday. If anyone feels so inclined, I'd welcome some criticism!


Philip Mon Feb 2 14:56:52 PST 1998


I would like to address Jack's topic(s). I am offering this for the beginning writer, published authors who read these pages will be familiar with this stuff.

To the topics of plot, develop and writing art, I would add a fourth element, discipline: this being the key essential for a successful outcome.

Writing a full length novel means embarking on a mighty long haul. Months, sometimes years, are set aside for the encounter; it's the mother of all marathons; it means months of solitary confinement, intense cerebral introspection and a great amount of schizoid activity; it requires anti-social behaviour and very understanding family members and friends. All this after you decide on your plot, plans and methods of development (hopefully you've found your voice for this particular piece - but that is another story).

Plots are stories. For me they must be gut-burners: stories that burn at your guts and force you to write. You will have tapped into the depths of your rawest passion to reach these tales. They must be stories you know you have to write, there is no way out of this life until you do. I can't say I'm now going to spend a year writing a story about man vs nature superimposed over a love story in a faraway land, then take time to invent the characters and chart the course. The essence of the gut-burner is something you immediately know is worthy of spending a year or two of your precious life creating - it is at once passionately exciting.

The development or charting of stories is dictated by personal choice. Most of the published authors I've asked about this say they plot and lay out a plan of the entire manuscript. The story is divided into (thirty) chapters and are sometimes given a heading, each chapter becomes a unit to be written to make up the whole. But there is a minority group who don't do this, including myself. I write a brief outline of about a thousand words and allow my work to find it's own way to the desired ending (although I did change an ending, having developed a better one enroute). Mostly, I have no idea where my journey will take me for the next year but I know it will be a fascinating excursion, I only hope I am physically ready for the experience. Mentally, I've been preparing my whole life for this artform.

Charting does lock a writer to the promise of what was intended. Non-charting offers a free uncaged form of expression. The sculptor Henry Moore once said he would not explain his work because that would lock it into a cage of expression, that there was little conscious forethought in its creation. I like this approach to art and apply it to my own work.

When I've finished my manuscript I require about another fifteen drafts to complete the work, to polish it. The difficulty is knowing when to stop writing the blasted thing. Some writers have to have their works physically taken from them in order to have them published. Morris West told me his last work was not finished, it had pages of additions and corrections that he wanted to go into it - they didn't make it.

On a personal note: for those who followed the development of 'The Lightning Mine' in these cyber pages, it's finished, I've been paid and it will be published by HarperCollins in July/August of this year. I missed out on the commissioned biography for which I was short listed but I'm well into my next gut-burner titled 'Utopia'.


Hayden Grayell Mon Feb 2 14:31:30 PST 1998

Just to remind everyone of what we were discussing in the last few listings. Word creation.

Can you imagine Gary S floating in the void saying unto himself:

"In the beginning there was the word, and the word was Exsidious!"

And from that one word has sprung the worlds of own endeavours to discredit the word, or to research the word, or to bend the word to our own wills. The temples are filled with followers, the altar is covered with fatted calf-length sox, and many a dictionary has been slaughter in offering. Woe unto they who blaspheme upon the word. Woe unto they who curse the name of the Great Gariess for his creation.

And remember, you foolish mortals, this is but his first creation. He will create perfection on his second attempt.

Gosh...will he will have a second coming? *shudder*


Jack: Thank you for the arena in which Gariess has created his word. May I humbly suggest that when you archive postings that you leave one...maybe two...entries on the page to give some continuity to the discussion. You could always cut and paste the entry to a new page if you needed to.

Jack Beslanwitch Mon Feb 2 12:30:18 PST 1998

Yikes!!!! 120k and counting. We have been very very busy here :-). In case you missed it, I have archived. And, later today, I will be dividing the archive for 1997 into three easy zipped chunks that will help reduce the overhead on my server and possibly make it easier to download and read at your leisure.

     Also, if anyone would like to make suggestions for better categorizing all the many links in Writer References and Writer Resources", by email me, that would be helpful.

     I have enjoyed the conversation about invented words. One book that you might take a look at that employs invented words and the fusion of English and Russian is A Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. A good book in its own right and a great romp in terms of playing out a number of premises both culturally and linguistically.

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