Archived Writer's Notebook Messages

from March 12, 1998 to April 16, 1998

Colleen Thu Apr 16 18:48:47 PDT 1998

Our discussion on YA novels has been wonderful. I still enjoy reading my favorites (even though it has been some time since I was a YA and tomorrow I'll be l more year from the exciting period of life-bummer.)
Katherine Paterson has some excellent books out, you would enjoy them as well as my personal favorie, Madeleine L'Engle. L'Engle uses science and technology so skillfully in her work. "A Wrinkle in Time" is a good start.

Davidson Corry Thu Apr 16 17:01:54 PDT 1998

Cindy Clarke writes: I was just wondering, is there anyone out there who finds the most difficult part of [writing] to be the isolation inherent in the process?

Well, yes, but not in the sense you mean. *Getting* some isolation seems to be the most difficult part for me. I find it necessary to be isolated from distraction, so that I can pursue an idea to a nicety, when I'm writing. ANY kind of writing: fiction, magazine articles, computer code.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not entirely anti-social. Human contact is essential to my well-being. But I seem to have lower settings for both minimum daily requirement and toxic dosage levels than most people. Unfortunately, while my family thinks me an occasionally tolerable human being, they find me a *wonderfully* useful draft animal. !-)

As a result, I've developed an ability almost Japanese to go off by myself inside my own head. This is not always A Good Thing. If you've never been all by yourself in a room full of loving friends and family, and felt lonely thereby, you haven't learned what "lonely" means.

On the other hand, while I can 'write' the first draft that way, I absolutely need to be left alone while typing!

About the genre thing: I took one of my "fifteen minute vacations" on the way back from lunch at Barnes & Noble today. Noticed a new magazine (2nd issue, apparently) called (I think) WRITING FICTION. In it, straight-fiction author Evan Hunter laments that his publisher has him confused with police-procedural writer Ed McBain -- promotes the straight book with phrases like "Suspenseful! A taut thriller!" -- just because McBain and Hunter happen to share a body. Offered as further evidence that genre (or the abandonment of it) is marketing-driven.

Toby Buckell Thu Apr 16 14:56:00 PDT 1998

They make 4-wheel drive porsches...don't they? Don't know about gunracks though...


Joan Thu Apr 16 04:46:50 PDT 1998

Hi--thought I'd jump in while there's still water in the pond.

Young adult writing: I agree that this is a cross-over area. Much young adult fiction is classic and read by adults. However, at one point I sent a young adult novel in to Harper Collins. It came back with a very encouraging rejection (oxymoron!) asking to see other stuff I had written. I had no other young adult material, but thought my adult fantasy might do, so I sent that along. Came back straight away with a note that holistic healing (one of the main concepts in the book) was not a subject that age-group of readers would understand or relate to. So, there's one example of a difference. I've been told if you're writing young adult, the main characters should not be younger than 13, and probably should be at least older teens, since kids relate most to characters a few years older than themselves.

Be back tonight with genre comments.

(P.S.---wish I had a Porsche, but in Montana it wouldn't be complete without a gun rack and rope hanging in the back window. Oh, and it'd have to be 4 wheel drive. Sigh!)


Michele Thu Apr 16 03:11:19 PDT 1998

It's true that Hayden sent me the Porsche but the money situation being what it is . . . only kidding Hayden. I still have it in a safe place . . . for the time being at any rate.

I included my webpage URL for the newcomers here who may be interested in checking my site out, and if anyone who knows me is interested I've added one or two things to my web site in recent days.

I don't know if the cents make any sense.

With regard to "on-demand" publishing - I've heard of this also - it was in the UK press a little while ago. It could be good for us and our readers . . .


Hayden Grayell Wed Apr 15 19:48:46 PDT 1998

Thanks to everyone for the pennies towards the new Porsche. I sent the old one (dents included) to Michelle the Listener. If you want to see it in action you will have to approach her. When I have my new blue Porsche, I'll get Jack to post it up here for you all to see (if at all possible)

My new novel is taking shape well, thank you all.

Clyde Dixon Wed Apr 15 12:43:53 PDT 1998

A NOTE ON PUBLISHING: Quite by accident, I found an article in the September 1996 issue of “Architectural Digest” (of all places), about On-Demand Publishing. It seems that Xerox, and other companies, have the technology, its just a matter of putting it to the correct use.

The Xerox DocuPrint equipment can print up to 180 pages a minute. The image is printed from an electronic file, so it is no hardship to print a few copies instead of thousands. Copy centers around colleges use this system to run-off those “bastard books” (various chapters from various books and magazines) that professors are so fond of these days. The copy center pays royalties to the publishers for the content used.

The National Academy Press (the National Academy of Sciences) has an on-line bookstore. If you order one of their backlist items, they print you a copy and send it out.

I envision bookstores using this equipment in-house to service the backlist and any low volume seller. Sample books of the first chapter, or so, could be kept on display, and/or viewed on a PC.

This sort of technology could keep the midlist authors rolling in royalties--with no returns. Perhaps by the time I have a book slipping off of the shelves and into the dustbin this technology will be in common use--I’ve given them a darn good head-start.


Rhoda Wed Apr 15 08:59:05 PDT 1998

What can anyone buy with a penny these days? I can spare Hayden a buck. With that and a few of Goodweed's pennies, Hayden might afford a gallon of gas for his Porsche.

Harry Wed Apr 15 04:27:23 PDT 1998

There's another aspect of genre writing we haven't discussed: reader expectations. And I'm not talking about a magic sword in a fantasy novel or a slapped cheek in a romance.

Readers most often read fiction for the emotional charge it gives them. The different genres elicit different emotions from readers, and that's what they wander into seperate parts of the bookstore to find. SF gives readers a sense of awe and wonder; mystery a feeling of a world gone wrong and put right again; horror, thrillers and romance, well, horror thrills and romance. It's part of the package, part of the buyers' expectations.

Some genres have subgenres, especially mystery, with its cozies and hardboiled crime. But the emotional impact is just as vital to the definition of their genre as their story conventions

Goodweed of the North Wed Apr 15 03:40:03 PDT 1998

But do the cents make any sense, that is the question.
Heh heh heh :-D

Toby B Tue Apr 14 19:34:56 PDT 1998

So many cents flying around. Someone might get hurt! :)

Goodweed of the North Tue Apr 14 18:33:59 PDT 1998

So just what is the difference between literary and genre fiction? I have read equally good work in the Science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mainstream.

Where does a book like "Catch 22" fit in. Certainly I don't live in that surealistic, yet historical world. Another world exists for others. Yet it is as real to them as my world is to me. For instance, I have little concept of the powers of Chi used in martial arts. Many swear the concepts are valid. Others say its nonsense. Who is to say what is fantasy and what is real? I have seen truly miraculous events attributed to prayer. I choose to believe that God is the reason for these miracles. I also know that others have explanations they truly believe are just as valid. I guess I am somewhat tired of those who stick their collective noses in the air over some supposed failure or percieved weakness of one form of writing over another.

I think of my departed father who stated often, "What is that you're listening to? That's not music. It's just a bunch of noise."

I choose to say to my children; I don't care for that music. I don't want to have to listen to it. You can listen to it in your room. I won't expect you to listen to my music (unless you are in my car, then the radio is mine!), and I don't expect you to force your music on me. I can see the talent in many forms of music I don't like. I can also see the talent in many forms of genre work.

I'm almost embarrased to admit it (a guy thing I guess) but I picked up one of the romance novels my wife was reading and started to read it to see just what she could find enjoyable in such "worthless pulp". To my surprise, I found the writing enjoyable and intelligent. The characters were three dimensional and the storyline was good. It's true that the story wasn't as thought provoking as something written by Ellison, or Tennesee Williams. It wasn't as depressing either. Any well written work has value. To say one form is supperior to another is ludricous.

Was Asimov less of a physicist because he wrote science fiction? If so, then how come his text books were so widely used?

That's easily four cents for you hayden.

Seeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Michele Tue Apr 14 08:18:23 PDT 1998

Any folk out there who know me may like to note that I have reverted to my Geocities e-mail address as I'm going to be wired for e-mail at home before I leave the current day job !

With reference to isolation being the most difficult part of the writing vocation - no that's not the most difficult part for me. For me the most difficult part of the writing vocation is explaining to people that writing is a an unbidden vocation - I don't think many people realise that most people don't decide to become writers in the way that other people decide to take up golf, bridge or abseiling. Most non-writing people don't seem to realise that often writing is an inner compulsion that one has to obey or go mad. That's MHO anyway !! Others may disagree . . . feel free to do so.

Personally I like the isolation of being a writer - when I can get people to leave me alone to write that is - which isn't that often - usually someone comes and interrupts me with some gossip or trivial request to pay attention to them . . . I love my family dearly but sometimes I wish I was an orphan !! (Or at least that I lived alone !!)

I have another biog. of Sassoon posted but unless lots of people are desperate for the URL I won't post here but say - e-mail me and I'll send you the URL - OK ?


Carol Tue Apr 14 08:11:17 PDT 1998

Perhaps it would be less limiting as writers to think of "genre" as targeting your readers by their general interest. I agree that many bestselling mainstream authors began as strictly "that thriller writer" or "that mystery writer," or sci-fi, etc. When the "hook" became less important than the writer, and a base market was already there, they were able to blur the lines and "cross over." Initially, you're writing for audience "share" -- paying your dues, so to speak. Once you have, you're permitted a great deal more freedom. I think of Sharyn McCrumb, who started with "typical," light mysteries, and now writes books whose tone is being accepted as "literary mainstream." Michener didn't begin his career with 1,000 page historical fiction. Instead, shorter works and story collections allowed him to go on to do what he truly loved.

I'd submit that writing a successful "genre book" takes just as much work as any other type of writing. It's all the same process. And that there's nothing inherently "wrong" with pure entertainment, though some would have you believe it so. In fact, there's a lot right in teaching people to enjoy reading when many do not. And if it opens a few doors for more diverse literature later on -- give me those formulas!

Bob Luthardt Tue Apr 14 04:59:36 PDT 1998

The current topic is one for which I have little to offer, however, there was a post regarding the protection of one's work, and I always like to contribute to such threads

I always like to refer to the story of the well-spoken Art Buchwald who represented himself in court successfully. He testified that Universal Studios had stolen his script and used it as the basic premise of "Coming to America" staring Eddie Murphy and Aresnio Hall. His only evidence - a one page, manually typed outline where an unamed prince from an unnamed country comes to Queens New York to find his Queen. Also included was a copy of his proposal to UA for a screenplay based on his outline.

The catch - he mailed the letters to himself using registered mail, and for a cost of $3.95, won a multi-million dollar suit, and was legally allowed to take credit for the movie, "Coming to America".
Comiedian Jay Leno joked that United Artists offered Mr. Buchwald an additional 3.2 million if he would take credit for "Leonard part VI" and the entire "Police Academy" series.

Cindy Clarke Mon Apr 13 22:32:15 PDT 1998

I was just wondering, is there anyone out there who finds the most difficult part of this vocation (writing) to be the isolation inherent in the process? After spending the day scribbling out another few pages, and listening to the silence press in around me, I thought it would be nice to chat with someone of like-mind who also misses the sound of another human voice, even if it is only the virtual sound of another human. Any takers?

Davidson Corry Mon Apr 13 17:17:46 PDT 1998

All this is necessarily speculation on my part, since I haven't sold any of my fiction yet...

I see genre as being entirely marketing-driven -- or more accurately, being an effect of the human tendency to simplify by categorizing and compartmentalizing things. You put cereal on the Cereal shelf. Put it over in Canned Vegetables and it doesn't sell very well. Likewise, you know where to look for a box of Historical Romance and a couple cans of Space Opera, even in the smallest bookstore.

My guess is that publishers tend to resist buying works that straddle or defy categories, simply because you lose part of your potential market whatever shelf you pick to put it on. A genre-bender had better be very, VERY good, if it wants to get sold and read. Or be by a well-known author, who still risks his readership by surprising them.

But stories don't always write themselves for a market. I wanted to write SF... but the very first story that came to me involved a faerie changeling who wanted to become an astronaut. In another story, NOAA hires a vampire to do weather control. (Turns out he was already on the Federal payroll, as an IRS auditor...)

I did not intend to attack genre restrictions, honest. The stories just came out that way. But I wonder sometimes if they haven't sold because editors think I'm being unprofessional by "writing against the market".

Couldn't POSSIBLY be because I need to learn to write better, now, could it?

Rhoda Mon Apr 13 10:14:52 PDT 1998

I've been away for so long, I feel that I must make up for lost time. I really wish to respond to the subject of sagging middles of novels.

I have had little difficulty doing the middle of a book. The hardest part is the beginning. For me the beginning takes three times the time to write than does the middle and end.

Pacing is everything in the middle. By the time you get there you should be working from a good outline or synopsis. I personally write the first draft with every concievable theme and subplot I wish to use. On the second draft I read and cull the scenes and plot developments that weigh down the pace of the book or garble the main confict. I don't believe that every writer has a good idea how a story is going until they have the opportunity to read it from beginning to end. Inevitabley, some subjects or themes were understated while others overstated.

After these initial changes are made, I pass the novel on to a trusted friend or reader whose judgment I respect. I have them read the book. If they can't plow through the whole thing, I will have them tell you where they stopped and why. Strangely enough, that hasn't happened. On THE RELUCTANT BARBARIAN, I've been told it drags at the beginning and even that I gave it a weak ending, but everyone who has set out to read the book finished it.

These are my thoughts on the old topic. Now I must get back to work on the oversized monstrosity I call a novel. Hopefully I can get the lead out of it and cut through the pages of excess verbage.

Take care and happy writing!


Rhoda Mon Apr 13 09:54:26 PDT 1998

It is great to be back after a week of house-hunting. I still don't know whether we will move our family to Liberal, Kansas or to one of the many little communities in the Oklahoma Panhandle that are close to my husband's plant. I would have to say that finding the right schools for my children is the hardest thing. Private schools are very few and far between in this part of the world, and if the public school where we live doesn't work out, then I will have to consider home schooling.

People in that part of the world are friendly. I would venture to say that I will be able to hook up with a fair amount of writers. I didn't meet any, but I did have the good fortune to meet other types of creative people. The worst part of the trip is that we all came down with the flu, and then a couple of us came home with some bad secondary infections.

As far as genres are concerned. I believe every genre impacts the other, so it is easy for the distinctions to become somewhat blurred over time. Actually, a romance can be derived out of any genre--mystery, historical, western, etc. What catagorizes this book a romance instead of one of the other genres is the emphasis. If the plot is tied up in sexual tension and interpersonal conflict, it is a romance. By the same token, any genre can have a considerable amount of romance in it without being characterized a romance.

Much confusion does exist. Take Diana Gabaldon's books, DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, VOYAGER, etc. Everyone I know who reads these books considers them to be romances. Often these books are shelved in the romance section of the bookstore, but as a senior editor of Simon & Schuster assured me once, they are NOT considered romances. They are historical novels.

I am not an expert on this subject, but I do know that genre romance does follow explicit rules, and the aforementioned books do not abide by them. I believe that Diana Gabaldon is really a mainstream writer as is Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, and Laveryl Spencer. A mainstream book does not really have to follow the specific rules of any genre. As far as genres are concerned, the rules that define them are the opinions and thoughts of the select number of editors from the precious few publishing who work with the genre. As the editors change, the rules of the genre change also.

A wise writer will know his or her target market and genre before he or she sits down and writes the book. Many writers I have run into in the various writing groups I've been in, scoff at genres and wish to write mainstream because genres are just too confining. I was one such person until I started going to writer's conferences and talking to the agents and editors. I also observed many of my friends who have drawers and cabinets full of unpublished manuscripts they have never been able to sell.

Breaking into today's writing market is very difficult, but breaking into mainstream is even more so. Some people luck into it, but most "mainstream" authors earn their place there by being wildly successful in the genre markets. Every publishing house has a list of guidelines for the lines they publish. It is a good idea to have a copy of any list for any line that might conceivably use your book. I think some of the hard and fast rules for romance are silly and confining, but until I can prove myself successful as a writer, I am very reluctant to mess with them. I have learned to consider it a test of my creativity to create a good story in spite of these guidelines.

Sometimes relatively minor changes can be done to a novel to change it from one genre to another. A romance novel can be made into an inspirational novel, a western, historical, thriller, etc. by developing some themes and downplaying others. When you fail to market a novel in a particular genre, read it over again and try to determine whether it might work somewhere else. Avail yourself of opportunity to run your work by a different set of editors and agents by rewriting it and repackaging it.


Wilmot Deal Sun Apr 12 21:46:32 PDT 1998

I went through a very traumatic experience over the past two years. It has left me in a melancholy state and I have this strong urge to get it down on paper. I think I can do that however, once documented, if I decide I want to have it published, how would I go about it? Do I need to copyright it? I plan to write it as a fiction short story and change the names of the people and places. I would gladly accept any direction you would care to give. Thanks for your time and consideration.


Jack Beslanwitch Sun Apr 12 20:05:39 PDT 1998

    Given my absence, the Young Adult discussion has faired quite well. I was wondering if we might want to continue that discussion and discuss the strengths, difficulties and distinctions between different genres of fiction and its writings. What are the characteristics that uniquely distinguish Young Adult from adult, Science Fiction from Romance, Fantasy from Techno Thriller and so on. Of equal interest is where the distinctions are blurred or the marketing blurs this issue. In this last category I am thinking of the cross time romances that are almost a staple of romance literate, but borrow heavily on a time honored plot line of science fiction


BKJ Miller Sat Apr 11 13:20:28 PDT 1998

Firstly, I'd like to ask you to read one of my stories on Writer's work book. Does anyone know of any sci-fi publishers for short stories in England?

BKJ, 14

Victoria Fri Apr 10 16:33:06 PDT 1998

I couldn't resist commenting on the issue of YA novels. I've written three of them, and in terms of style I didn't write them any differently from my adult novels, nor lavish any less effort on them, nor get any less involved and passionate about them. There are certain things the copyeditors flagged in my YA books--complicated punctuation, multi-syllable words--that wouldn't have been a problem in the adult books. And I couldn't be too dark, or too ambiguous, or have an unhappy ending. Other than that, the editing was exactly the same (but not promotion or publicity--but that's another story).

However, the perspective of a YA novel is radically different from that of an adult novel, because it's told from the POV of a teenage protagonist. Teenagers don't think as adults do; they have different priorities, less experience, and there is much more of the world that is a mystery to them, though they may not know this. The voice of a YA novel is quite different from the voice of an adult novel--not less complex or nuanced, but differently focused and differently toned, with a different perspective on basic issues.

I still love to read YA fiction, and there is some very good stuff coming out right now, especially in the fantasy field. But I no longer want to write it. After 3 books I came to find the YA voice extremely limiting. I wanted to tell stories from the POV of characters closer to my own age, with more experience and a greater understanding of the world. I didn't want to have to worry about how much sex or violence or bad language I could put into my books, or how dark they could be, or political correctness (unfortunately YA publishers are very big on PC concerns). So I moved on to adult novels. At this point I can't ever see myself going back. Though I guess I shouldn't say never.


Davidson Corry Fri Apr 10 13:23:59 PDT 1998


> Lots of stories are filled with spear carrier characters, and they should be treated like spear carriers if that's their role.

True. What I was saying was that I too easily consign a character to that role. The article I mentioned suggested that bringing such characters to life can make an otherwise dull scene sparkle. Ask Bill (or Tom Stoppard, for that matter) about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Thanks for the encouragement about the Christmas story. Yeah, it's at least a draft away. But it'll get there.


If you've only read Dorothy Sayers' fiction, you've missed some of her best stuff. Towards the end of the Lord Peter series, she became a Christian and fell in with the Inklings. "The Mind of the Maker" is deeply involved with orthodox Anglican Trinitarian doctrine. It is not that she fits artistic creativity into that mold, so much as that she sees the basic structure of the Trinity in it.

The book itself was long out of print when I found a copy at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library 20 years ago. Just last year I borrowed a newer paperback edition from the Bellevue Main branch of the King County Library. And I just found a 1987 paperback edition on (Along with one of her other books, "Are Women Human?" -- now THAT ought to stir up a little talk! )

Everest Fri Apr 10 08:53:08 PDT 1998

I am just beginning in this field even though for years I knew I would ultimately get here. I am presently using writng as self healing therapy.When dealing with plot driven vs character driven pieces, I do believe that it trully depends on the perspective the author might have on life in general. Plot driven appoaches provide a more controlled environment. Character driven approaches broadens the parameters. I would compare the situation to a car that is made from a chassis or one that is made as a unibody.

Pat Christensen Thu Apr 9 20:36:03 PDT 1998

Davidson Corry --

Where can I find that Dorothy Sayers essay, "The Mind of hte Maker," you mentioned? I'm a HUGE Sayer's fan and am trying to find as much of her work as I can. I'm familiar with her fiction, but didn't realize there were any essays.

Where can I find the one mentioned?



Ben Woestenburg Thu Apr 9 13:05:26 PDT 1998

Well, I seem to have stirred up a good can of worms here. Too bad I can't get around to this place more often. I've missed a lot of good discussions and have to admit I'm liking this one. I also have to agree with practically everything everyone has said about the difference between YA and Adult. I like Toby's definition of what works best. I told my own children they can read whatever they want in my bookcases, and though my oldest keeps asking me about IT and THE STAND, I think the size keeps him away for the time being. My daughter on the other hand will read anything she can get her hands on. She reads GOOSEBUMPS, and she reads the Yellow and Blue fairy tale books (I can't remember who wrote them: Lange?) and now she wants to read THE ARABIAN NIGHTS. It doesn't matter to her what she reads, and I don't care either, as long as she's reading. But that brings me back to my own writing scenario. I'm writing to entertain myself basically. I merely thought that if there was a market for it, it would be Young Adult. I didn't mean to say I was writing it directly for that market. It was just something I found in my files. Something I felt was entertaining, like TREASURE ISLAND or THE THREE MUSKETEERS. A Romance, (with a capital R); the kind of story I like.
Hell, I've got nothing but time now that I'm laid off. Unfortunately for me, the little woman seems to think that I HAVE nothing to do and keeps giving me these little chores: brush the dog(1 hour almost), walk to the store and pick up bread (25 mins.[That's where I am right now.]), sweep the garage(20 min), make lunch for the kids because they're coming home from school. So now I have to rush off and get everything done before she gets back and finds out I've been screwing around again. I guess that's when she'll be taking me aside and I'll drop my head sheepishly and tell her I should know better, and, No Dear, it won't happen again (an obvious lie we both know).

So now I have to run off. Se ya.

Thu Apr 9 09:23:16 PDT 1998

Hi Everyone!

On the topic of YA novels, I always interpreted the difference between YA and adult novels to be not so much in the in the writing style, but in the plot. Obviously, teenagers deal with different problems and concerns than adults, and the YA books I remember reading focused on those teenage concerns - parents divorcing, young love, peer conflicts, peer pressure. While there are some kids who would rather read adult novels, I think many young adults would rather read stories that relate more to what they are currently facing in life. Sorry if I've echoed someone else's comments. I've been so busy that I've only had time to skim through recent posts.

Well, I just thought I'd contribute my two cents toward the Hayden Porsche Fund (Hayden, you must be paying ALOT in insurance for that car!)

; )

Michele Thu Apr 9 08:36:09 PDT 1998

Hi folks !

Re: gender issues - I have a fair bit of detective fiction - half by men and half by women - all are good. I don't have any S/F fiction by women - because I haven't found any I like. I don't read romance or horror and I've read very little (almost none) WW1 poetry by women. To me the gender of the author is irrelevant - the only deciding factor is is their writing (IMO) any good.

Re: writing for young people - speaking as someone who still buys "Children's" books - ones I've read before and new-to-me books, to a certain extent, I don't know why they bother defining children's/YA books - I began reading "Adult" books before I was into my teens - but then I'm a voracious bookworm and always have been ever since I learnt to read. Sometimes I read the children's/YA books because I know they're "a good read".

Anyway I must wander away - it's getting towards going home time - and I have a day off tomorrow - for which God be thanked - I NEED a month but will have to make do with tomorrow, Sunday and Monday - I have to work Easter Saturday - which is just my luck ! But while I am off I will do some more research.


Harry Thu Apr 9 04:07:58 PDT 1998

Hi Phillip,

I guess I misunderstood your intention when you posted the Venus/Mars thing. I thought you intended to defy the odds, rather than defy the stereotype.

And saying "Women write romance" is not the same as saying "Only women write romance." I know some of those romance writing men, too. Also, look at what's happened with SF in the last couple decades, as far as women entering the field. Hopefully it will only take a bit more time before people write in any genre without bias (or pen names).

Good luck on your novel.

Hi Davidson,

I like Orson Scott Card's suggestion that characterization is a tool, not a virtue. Lots of stories are filled with spear carrier characters, and they should be treated like spear carriers if that's their role.

Sorry to hear about your christmas story, but it sounds like you're a draft away from finished.

Hi Jack,

Though I am a Northwesterner, I'm saving my pennies in case I'm accepted to Clarion or Clarion West. I've never been to a con, though. Maybe next year?

Jack Beslanwitch Wed Apr 8 22:19:17 PDT 1998

      I have to concur to some extent the comment about jumping almost immediately to more adult material. Or, at least, what I thought was adult material. I remember quite clearly the time when I attempted to get Ben Hur out of the library at which point the librarian informed me that at my age I was not able to read it. I popped the cover and began reading from the first paragraph. In the end I believe that I had to get a written permission from my parents or some such to be able to get it and other more adult fair out of the library. However, I will admit that I quite happily was gobbling up Heinlein juveniles while I was reading Ben Hur, The Source, Hawaii and shifting quite quickly on to Lord of The Rings, Dune and Stranger In A Strange Land. Although, most of those last were gotten by buying them and not out of the library. The distinction between YA and more adult fair is considerably blurred. It really depends on how it is marketed in some cases. Anne MaCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy are through and through YA, but I got back to them again and again. The whole notion of coming of age which is integral to this type of literature is also integral to some of the great epics of myth and archetype. Joseph Campbell in the Heroes Journey could well have been describing many of the YA as well as the adult fair. Then there is the whole question of being scared, which has made horror such an integral part of the current best selling YA.

    Well, enough of a ramble. I am off to Norwescon 21 Got a chance to meet Neil Gaiman tonight and shake his hand as part of the staff for Norwescon. Plan to get some of my copies of Sandman signed. If anyone from the Northwest who frequents the Notebook is planning to check out Norwescon, please stop me at one of the panels I will be doing and say hello. Among the others I will be doing one on Internet Resources for Writers with a number of others as well as a panel on the Future of HTML, Good Web Page Design and Nuking the Spammers.

    I more or less have tested the guestbook script and have it working after a fashion in the password protected area. I still have not set anything else up. I am hoping to have a policy page up and somewhat more updated user interface ready to go before I set things in motion. Also, as soon as I am ready I will announce things here and solicit emails from everyone who wants to be a part of the Private Area. I will have more to say on this sometime the middle of next week. Take care.


Toby Buckell Wed Apr 8 17:28:19 PDT 1998

Sorry- as a kid, and I'm still pretty close (as far as society is concerned to that classification,) I never read YA. I always viewed it as a great conspiracy by adults to keep even more stuff out of my reach. I started reading 'adult' books first, then threw in a few Hardy Boys out of curiosity. I believed then, as I do now, that books are books, and to write YA, or down, was to stop the development of a reader. I have classmates in college who read Stine etc for daily reading. It's 'disgusting cool-aid shit', I wrote that at the tender age of 13, I won't be as judgemental now, but that is my 13 year old self speaking for you. You can yell at me, judge for yourself, but if you write YA, please, please, disregard the title and write a book, not a YA book, a book. I love Tolkein just as much then as I do now, a good book should be read regardless of age, and I hate classifications that mess things up like that.

Speaking for the child within :)

Davidson Corry Wed Apr 8 17:24:18 PDT 1998

Yes, the Web's a time tar-pit for my writing, but not as bad as my day job!

I'm not a writer of weak characters, but sometimes I have to admit I'm a weak writer of characters. Incidental ones I often pull out of Central Casting -- who doesn't? But even main ones don't always make it from my head (where I have a clear image of who they are and why they act that way) onto paper.

I wrote a Christmas story for my wife this year, about a seven year old who wants to give her mother an impossible gift. Elaine thought it was sweet, and liked the daughter, but didn't see why Mom was so important to her. And yet I had it clear in my mind how strong the bond was between them and *thought* I had written it down -- maybe a third of the pages were about Mom, and yet E. couldn't see her.

Ends and middle:
Most of my stuff isn't really long enough to have a middle all that distinct from the ends. Also, I find stories are "complete at their conception" in one sense, while still having to flow from start to finish in another -- read Dorothy Sayers' "The Mind of the Maker" on this, one of the best and most tough-minded essays on writing I've ever read.

When I "work from the ends" I usually write the ending first, then do the beginning and go from there. I usually find either that the beginning flows right into the end OR that it stubbornly insists on going to a completely different end, no matter how hard I try to manhandle it where I thought it ought to have gone.

I usually do the first several "drafts" of a story in my head, watching the scene happen. Sometimes I'm not even aware this is happening. My first story came to me while I was changing my son's diaper at night, although I didn't realize it until I sat bolt upright in bed at 3 a.m. with the complete story in my mind as if dictated. (And I was useless all day until I gave in and wrote it down. Exhilarating, but scary!). Another story, as God is my witness, came to me complete between two notes of a Huey Lewis song as I was driving to work.

I must also confess to a weakness for Twilight Zone-style twist endings, which tend to leave you no wiggle room anyway. I'm trying to wean myself off of these!

Colleen Wed Apr 8 17:02:35 PDT 1998

Hi everyone,
Just a quick note to respond to the matter of writing for juveniles and children in general. It is my hope that we always give them material with literary quality and substance. Any person who writes for children will tell you how challenging it is to write well, yet maintain length etc. that is appropriate for children. Every single word counts, EVERY SINGLE ONE. It gets even more complicated when working with a picture book manuscript in which word count is limited, yet content is crucial and the quality needs to be there too. I may spend months on a few parargraphs in a manuscript, working out the very best combination of words to express my ideas. Children deserve the best. I guess I feel that it is important not to underestimate their abilities. They also have keen insight when it comes to something that is good. Some things we write may not be overt, but the essence of it may touch them in some way. Don't underestimate what it takes to write for children. I think those who do it well know what I am trying to say.

Philip Wed Apr 8 16:39:10 PDT 1998


Please do take issue with the gender premise but please also read it was not my own - I was merely the messenger. In your reply you may have fallen into another generalisation that only women write romances, eg: men may have written the particular plot driven romances you read, ask Bob. And let's not forget the success of Robert James Waller's 'The Bridges of Madison County'. Do I hear you say let's do forget it? Of course there are exceptions, you say you've read plenty, I haven't, but I've read a few. Clancy's and Otto's books being of widely different genres may also be indicative of gender preference of subject, advancing the original generalisation.... and posing other questions. Why don't more women write adventure thrillers and men more romances? Is this a literature branch continuation of the Venus and Mars argument? Or are there really boy books and girl books? I am imagining the rush of concerned parents giving their boys Anne of Green Gables to read (although this approach didn't appear to work with toys).

I also took issue with the gender premise which is why I took on the challenge - I've now written a character driven novel of 95,000 words and enjoyed the 'different' thought processes necessary for me to have achieved it.


If you are having trouble dealing with the middle bits maybe you are not ready to write the full length novel (publishers say this is 80,000 words plus). There is nothing wrong with writing short stories or novellas, many great writers have and do. I am about 25,000 words into my next novel (it looks like it will be a fairly long manuscript in excess of 120,000 words) and while I'm having fun now, I personally can't wait to get to the middle bits.



Micheal: I don't mean to sound condescending when I say I have to keep it simple as far as Young Adult novels are concerned, I just mean in my own head. My first book took forever to write -- too long when I consider my age now and the age I was when I started it. I use my children as a sounding board, because I know they enjoy good books, and will not accept anything that might be construed as simple or mundane. I don't mean to imply that I'll be using simple, monosyllabic words. I simply mean the structure. Howard Pyle's MEN OF IRON is a classic tale of knights in shining armour, and was written for young boys. KIDNAPPED, TREASURE ISLAND, HUCK FINN, TOM SAWYER, the list seems to go on and on. They were not really written as children's books because they are books that have been enjoyed generationally by adults as well as young adults. I just don't want to write something resmbling a GOOSEBUMPS book, even though they sell millions and millions and have made R.L.Stine a very wealthy man...what the hell am I talking about? At this point in time, of course I'd settle for that. The guy's made over a hundred million bucks.

As for the middle of the book, that's the part I enjoy the most. As long as the plot works, and the characters can act to what is happening around them, or to them, why wouldn't we enjoy it? Who wants to write something where you set it up, get bored and decide to end it as quick as you can? I enjoy my writing, and basically write to entertain myself. I don't look for a general market because I am the market I'm looking for. Wrong way to go about it? Probably. But enjoyable? Definitely.

Now I have to go and do a little more in depth research about King Arthur. I love those stories. If I could just find my copy of Mallory I'd be in great shape.


Joshua "Sparky" Bazzel Wed Apr 8 10:38:14 PDT 1998

Hello, My name is Joshua Bazzell, I am 16 and I write a few poems and stories every now and then, I have wrote a poem that I titled "The World I Know" and it has to do a great deal withcurrent ordeals that are facing this planet, I may just be starting in the world of writing, but I would appreciate it if someone could give me some feed back on my work. Here it is:
What is the point of saving ourselves?
We are all going to die someday,
Satan is going to feed on our souls,
unless we change our ways.
Drugs are like a savior of fools,
Draining them of their life.
But they don't care, they just need the high
cutting through them like a knife.
Guns are slowly finding their ways,
into our childrens hands, babies being shot,
lives being lost, in every single land.
Wars are starting to destroy our world, and all
of our precious land, the number of lives
taken away is greater than grains of sand.
Peace is an idea lost, a long way to be found,
But even though it is hard to find, we must
search the world around.
God will soon let the judgement winds blow,
And that is the world that I know.

Joshua Bazzell

Bob Luthardt Wed Apr 8 05:55:21 PDT 1998

Due to a pesky script error on this page, I can' see the new topic - no window appears. But I think I can get the general idea from your responses.

I think that it is a *misconception* among the reading populace that not only do women write better characters, but that they flat out write better books. Many writers are urged, myself included; to opt out for a female pen name. I was told to my face that my book would not sell with a man's name on it because of what society has come to expect from a detective noir / mystery novel. However, with a woman's name, the book would become something marketable. I don't know - I don't believe it is so much a gender issue as an emotional issue. If you know how to "tune in" to your emotions; to "feel" - then you can write characters who feel.

I *loathe* the middle of my books because of the reasons many people enjoy them. Yes, you can explore some "alternate" issues in the middle, but I can't shake that "I'm not getting anything accomplished here" feeling. In the beginning, you have clear, established goals that your chapters must accomplish. At the end, you have more clear goals. However in the middle - I mean, at what point do you decide that you've blown off enough pages to make your book thick and heavy? I usually run out of patience with the "middle stuff" after about 3 chapters, and then I set the end-game wheels into motion.

Initial Draft: 7 chapters, 87 pages.

Harry Wed Apr 8 03:25:42 PDT 1998


I'm going to disagree with your gender-division remarks. I know, I know, you said "generally," but I believe you'er wrong even with that qualifier.

I've read plenty of plot-driven books by women, mostly but not all of them romances. The authors and readers may not have considered them plot-driven, but I suspect few do.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Lots of people love those books, and more power to them. (Romance fans can be pretty humorless if they think their genre is being criticised; right now I'm not doing that).

But Clancy's and Otto's books are of widely different genres. I would suggest the difference lies their, and not the gender of the writer.

Michele Wed Apr 8 01:53:26 PDT 1998

With regard to the Net being a time sinkhole - the beauty of ONLY having access from work is that it doesn't eat into my writing time since I do all my writing at home. If I ever do get Internet access at home I WILL be in a pickle !!


Michael Parish Tue Apr 7 21:15:41 PDT 1998

Far be it from me to be the bringer of contention, but I feel I must respond to Ben Woestenburg's comment regarding "juvenile" literature. He says he might be able to send one of his novels to a juvenile market if he keeps it simple and entertaining. Where is it written that a YA (Young Adult) novel takes a different approach in its structure than an adult novel, and why is this approach perceived to be an inferior one? To my own personal dismay, countless authors try to write YA novels as "practice" for when they start writing adult (and supposedly more difficult, elevated) novels. This approach rarely works because it is borne out of a lack of respect for what YA authors do.

Let me give you a related example. Plenty of literary authors have failed to find a market for their work, and then decided to switch to genre because it's more lucrative. But rather than conform to the standards and traditions of the chosen genre, many decide they're going to "transcend" or "transform" the genre, using their literary genius. Ten minutes into the game, and they already feel superior to anyone who's ever played. Ninety-nine percent of these people fall flat on their face.

Since I want to write YA novels, I've heard all the comments about the supposed "inferiority" of stories for younger people. To me it's total b___s___. I've read Young-Adult novels that have literally blown me away, and adult novels that almost pale by comparison. As far as I'm concerned, the only difference between YA novels and adult novels is that a YA novel must pack the same punch in 200 pages as the adult novel does in hundreds more. And if I may be blunt, there are plenty of long-winded 750-page novels out there.

Regarding the matter of being simple in storytelling, simplicity is a quality that should apply to all stories, juvenile or otherwise. One of my favorite quotes is "All great stories are essentially simple stories. If your story is not simple, its complexities will not make it great."

In other news...

Colius Tue Apr 7 18:57:02 PDT 1998

Thanks for the URL, Harry. I found the Writers Beware section especially interesting.

I do have a question that, i'm almost certain has been covered here already but I could use some input. Is there anyone out there that has found the Internet to be a HUGE time sinkhole? I've found that my once adequate amount of self-discipline concerning time spent on my writing has been completely overthrown by the vast amount of information available on the Net. Certainly, there are good points to my constant net browsing and my search led me here :), but I am finding it hard to spend as much time on my novel as I once did. I'm interested in hearing how all of you have managed to avoid that particular pitfall.

As to the MIDDLE, I do acknowledge that it can be a wonderful place for the development of subplots and such, but I do agree with what was said earlier about it being the place where the 90% persperation is used. :)

Philip Tue Apr 7 18:08:38 PDT 1998


Jack, Jack, Jack.... a topic to raise hell with. I assume a leaning more to one or the other is what you're aiming at exploring here and not a total absence of plots or characters (an absence of either appears an impossibility in a novel).

I was told some years back that, GENERALLY, women write books that rely more on character and men write books that rely more on plot.

As for examples of these approaches, two jump off my bookshelf at me: Executive Orders by Tom Clancy and How to make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto. Clancy does of course develop characters (as all writers must do) but he is better known for his strong, adventurous plots. On the other hand Otto has relied almost exclusively on several female characters who she reveals to us in masterful detail, and in doing so, reveals hidden feelings and long kept secrets and conflicting personalities. Both develop plots and characters but in greater or lesser measures.

When I learned about this gender plot/character analysis I immediately set to writing a character driven novel and have almost completed my tenth redraft of this manuscript. For my story I deliberately developed a different narrator's third person voice from my usual plot driven work and, borrowing from Hemingway, I wrote a large slice of the final chapters in the first person. This harsher storytelling voice (than the one I started with) allowed me to set up and clinch an even stronger ending.

THE MIDDLES OF BOOKS: come on guys this is one of the fun parts of writing. Britomart wrote on these pages that the middle bit is where you can indulge yourself, and she is right. Get those subplots and back stories going, whole chapters which may or may not advance your story but fill it out wonderfully. Unless you're attempting a relentless paced story (akin to sprinting the marathon), the middle is where your story settles into a unhurried tempo which is actually the calm before your planned stormy finish.

HAYDEN: congratulations! I hate to say it is "an honour just to be short listed" but you know it really is. Your odds at winning the prize must now have shortened from 1,500 entries down to something like 4-1 ... not as short as Pharlap or Secretariat but pretty bloody good nonetheless.

Well done mate!


Toby B Tue Apr 7 12:56:50 PDT 1998

Go Ben!

Ben Woestenburg Tue Apr 7 12:21:50 PDT 1998

Hello I'm back.
As you can see I have a new email address. Since this is a shared computer, I decided it would be easier to go with the original owner's mailing address since anything I send out comes to her anyway...go figure.

Kiity: Consequently, I'm sorry to say that I didn't get your email, but I know I will now. So feel free to talk to me because I've missed you a lot over the last year.

Things at work have gone from bad to worse. But at least it's left me with what could be a lot of writing time if my wife would just stop distracting me. She's not my biggest distraction, but certainly my best and favourite. She took an old notebook of mine she found laying around somewhere and left it out for my son to read. He says he can't read the printing but I think it's just a line of bull. I can read it and refuse to think that I have messy penmanship. Okay, maybe the teachers in school did ask me to stop writing and print me essays, but I think I print rather neatly. Anyway, I digress as usual. Seeing that old notebook from the seventies prompted me to think of other things I had written. I remembered a story I wrote based on the Arthur legends and went looking for it. I found it. 150 pages of handwritten novel that I just about shit when I saw it. Plotted out to around chapter 35, first dozen already finished. I told myself I could write this story out in a few months probably and sell it off in a juvenuile market if I kept it simple and entertaining. I force my children to sit down and listen to it, thinking I'm being mean and nasty. They might start off being bored by the whole idea, but in the end they both walk up to the desk to look at the computer screen wondering what the heck they're hearing. They don't even realize they are being my best critics. I even got Renu to sit down and listen to it. She loved it. I knew she was telling me the truth because she was still awake when I finished reading it.

So the first chapter works, and reads great. But I think it's because of the enthusiasm I put into the words when I read it out loud. It's definitely a story I started as a plot driven text twenty years ago. The characters are easily felshed out though because there's a world of difference between what I knew and understood twenty years ago compared to what I know and understand now -- or there better be. I think that's why I never finished it in the first place.

I haven't heard anything from the agent I sent my manuscript to at the beginning of the new year, and everyone is becoming concerned except me. I've always said that patience was the one thing you had to have. If she takes more than two or three months to get back at me, maybe it's because she likes it? What if I bug her and ask her what she's been doing with it all this time, and she gets the idea that I want it back because I don't want to work with her agency? What if she's shopping it around already? Too many factors to consider. I wrote a letter to the agency last week or so -- maybe it was two or three weeks? -- but have to remind myself that there's a lot of paper going in and out of the office. I'll write another one by the end of this week, and then phone an assistant or underling. The point is, at some of these writier's conferences I've been to, I've hjeard stories of people who sent in manuscripts and the agents and publisher wouldn't look at them because they were so big and intimidating. Personally I don't find 750 pages that big, but maybe she does? It could be sitting on her shelf collecting dust? But do I want to say to her sent it back unread? What if she does? So I'll send a letter and make a phone call and try to approach the situation like a pro while I secretly sit at home and worry and fret without telling anyone how I really feel about it.

Great. Now I've spent so much time trying to catch up and read the past entries, I've run out of time here. Renu's just phoned me and says she wants to go shopping for groceries. Now that I'm sort of laid off she wants me to be her personal driver because the door's screwed on the car and she can't close it. She has to crawl in through the passenger side door. In the famous words of the Arnold: I'll be back!

Lydia Sweet Tue Apr 7 08:09:49 PDT 1998

Just wanted to drop off this E-Mail address as well as my original one. It might be easier for some of you to reach me through Yahoo. Thanks.

Harry Tue Apr 7 04:04:05 PDT 1998

Colius check out this website for more fantasy writer links.

Thanks, Mike. We all do the best we can. But I'm looking for someone willing to shrug and say they are plot driven, utilizing only as much characterization as they absolutely need.

Colius Tue Apr 7 02:43:52 PDT 1998

Wow, this is an impressive site. I was beginning to wonder if i was the only fantasy writer online. I've been working on my first fantasy series for the last 2 years and could use someone interested in the field to have a look at it. If anyone is interested in swapping stories for critique, i would be glad to hear from you.

Mike Jones Mon Apr 6 18:39:55 PDT 1998

To tell the truth I don't know if my characters are good. I think they are what I need for my story, but are they good or not? I know I work hard on them and try to make them real fleshy. That is all I know. If they are 2 dimensional or cardboard I hope someone tells me. Other than that I just try to write them as good as possible.

Harry Mon Apr 6 18:29:37 PDT 1998

Oops. That Book of the Sword post was mine. Forgot to enter my name. Sorry

I have to ask this question: Anyone out there who does NOT think they write good characters? I have yet to meet a writer who considered their characterizations cardboard or two dimensional, and that includes the big clown in the mirror.

So tell me: Is there anyone in this notebook who considers themselves a writer of weak characters?

Kay Curry Mon Apr 6 17:26:43 PDT 1998

Nothing to do with the current subject, but this wierdest thing happened and I had to tell someone, so I'm telling you guys.

I've been working for two years on a story that takes place over exactly one year. I've never actually plotted out the timelines, however, just set the actions within particular months or academic quarters. Sometimes the narrative covers a few consecutive days, sometimes just one day in a big block of time is described. So today, I finally got out the big desktop calendar I bought for the purpose, and started plotting. I worked from the end backward at first, because I had printed out the last chapter for review. Then I printed out the rest from the beginning and started at day one.

They met in the middle.

No kidding.

Purely - what?????

I am just blown away. I'd figured I'd have to move major bits of action, rewrite extensively, maybe drop sections that wouldn't fit or try to pad empty spaces.

Anyway, thanks for being an audiance.

P.S. I have been following the dialog, just not coming up with anything constructive to say. You guys say it for me. Also, I upgraded software and have finally been able to send in a biography.


Lydia Sweet (penname Mon Apr 6 14:54:54 PDT 1998

Hi, I dropped of my first chapter for your review today. I left my Bio Friday, but I don't see it yet. Hope it posts soon.

I find my character drive the story, they have a life of their own and although outside forces form some of the turns in the story for them, their own personalities drive me.

By the way I read all the comments the other day and tried music. I can tune out the world a lot easier than specific music. A top 10 radio station is ok, but if I tune into music I specifically like, such as jazz or classical, I found I lose my train of thought for my writing.

Just my 2 cents worth. And Hayden, your welcome to my 2 cents.

That's all for now. Bye.

Michele Mon Apr 6 07:22:19 PDT 1998

Sorry folks - if I had a brain I'd be dangerous - as it is I'm merely forgetful !

I only put half my email address on that last posting - I do have a valid reason though - I picked up a Support call in the middle of entering that post and didn't notice that I hadn't put the rest of my email address in . . .


Michele micheletfry Mon Apr 6 07:19:39 PDT 1998

Hey gang !

I haven't got anything to add to the discussion - just thought that I'd let you know that I'm still here ! Haven't gone yet - only 13 working days, and 1 3/4 hours to go !!

I wish I could get that Porsche back - I should never have let Hayden have my pennies - Joan is very sensible not to allow Hayden to have her two cents worth !!

Seriously - oh heck ! Must I be serious ? - though, I am hoping to set my PC at home up for email access and if I can get a temporary job once I leave here I will go for the full PC upgrade. So hopefully I will still be communicado !!


Mon Apr 6 02:45:16 PDT 1998

Hi Stacy,

Can I recommend _The Book of the Sword_? Also, you might want to take fencing classes, or interview a fencing or kendo teacher. Or read about it, to learn the names of each attack and defense.

Sun Apr 5 21:13:17 PDT 1998

To me, the difference between plot-driven and character driven is in the direction action flows. A plot-driven story has events acting upon the characters (to be simplistic) as in some of Michael Crichton's books. In a story that's character-driven, events flow from the characters actions or interactions to direct the plot. For instance, in mysteries where the crime/s flows from the nature of the victim, suspects, or perpetuator.

Stacy Sun Apr 5 14:45:19 PDT 1998

Sorry everybody I have no idea what I did to make my message come up twice! :)

Mike Jones Sun Apr 5 12:50:40 PDT 1998

I think the distinction between Plot and character driven stories is in the writeing not the finished product. This means that it could be very hard to spot the difference between the two in a finished story or novel. The finished story should have strong characterization and good plot but what do we start with to get to the end?

Ray Bradbury writes very strong(Hu Hu Really, smack in the head to me) character driven stories. This is the man who sat down at a typewriter and wrote "Fairenheit 451" in an afternoon. Now to plot driven...HMMMM. I am not sure of anyone specifically who writes Plot Driven stuff. But I think that this type of writer starts with an outline and a story then fits a character into it.

A plot writer would write the outline do the research and then make a character to fit into the story. A character driven story would start with a vague story idea and a character. And the end would come to you while writing.

Anyhow, that is my take on the character/plot driven story thing. I am definitely a character writer. I have an idea, I write the intro and characters appear in my head which I put down on a seperate sheet to flesh out and I see the end a couple of paragraphs later. It's like I know these people and that the enemy will do what he does so everyone will fit. But then again I have some trouble with middles so my approach may not be the best.

In the end we will never know because like I said at the beginning if the story is good it is good. Who cares how you wrote it? Only us writers and no one else. It is all in the tale.

Toby B Sun Apr 5 10:01:48 PDT 1998

The middle. The middle is that murky undefined territory that it seems one is never too sure of. Yeah, in moments of feverish inspiration we've come up with; an idea; a character; a beginning; a great stunning twist of end. How the hell do I get between all that. That's where writing (I think) becomes the ten percent inspiration ninety percent perspiration. The middle is where we work. It's not easy. Whether you have a character to lead you through the dark, or an outline, you have to sludge through it all. And it never really reads that well. But that's what revisions are for.

russ thibeault Sun Apr 5 07:23:02 PDT 1998


I think it was Fran Liebowitz who said "Everyone knows the words are in the cigarettes"

Hayden Sun Apr 5 03:41:36 PDT 1998

Well, OKAY so I used the money to buy the Porsche. BUT, if you really think about it, all of you have been driving around in it while I have been negotiating with the law courts to get reclaimation rights on it.


Well...just SO.

Joan Sat Apr 4 21:23:59 PST 1998

P.S.--IS there a clearly defined difference between a plot-driven and character-driven story? Can someone give examples of published works illustrating each?


Joan Sat Apr 4 21:21:25 PST 1998

Hi all, and welcome to the new folks,

The dreaded middle! I've been avoiding this topic like the plague but will be gone tomorrow so thought I'd better put in my 2 cents (and NO Hayden! you may not have this 2 cents because you've already taken all of Michelle's, hehe; besides which you allowed that pretty Porsche to be vandalized while you were soaking up suds in some seedy pub).

The best method I've found is to just let the character follow his or her nose. Sometimes this is a little like falling off a cliff in the dark. You don't know when or where you'll land, it may be painful when you do, and you'll probably still be lost--but you'll (hopefully) be that much closer to your destination. There are certainly draw-backs to this. I've had to back up several chapters and take a different fork in the trail. Sometimes if a section is particularly difficult, but I know where it's heading, I go ahead and do a very very loose outline of what may happen. But I always go back to the character and what he or she (or it) will do. In that respect, to get back to Jack's topics, I'd say my stories are character driven. But as someone else mentioned, the character and the plot are entertwined.



Stacy Goudy Sat Apr 4 12:31:39 PST 1998

Hello everyone. I have been watching the meassages for quite some time and have learned alot from all of you. Well I need a question answered and thought it fitting to introduce myself first.

I am a 23 year old housewife, mother, and college student(late start but hey I made it). I live in Norfolk, VA My husband is active duty Navy, I was in for over 2 years but got out when I had my daughter. I am so new to writing it is pathetic! I write fantasy adventure and love Forgotten Realms. If anyone wants to know more about me or would like to introduce themselves, please feel free to E-mail me. I would be delighted.

Now for my question, as I said before I write fantasy and I am having trouble with fight sequences. I have a nasty habit of switching persons in the middle of one. If anyone has any specific or general pointers on sword fights and such I would greatly appreciate all advice.

Thank you and everyone have a good day! :)


Stacy Goudy Sat Apr 4 12:24:50 PST 1998

Hello everyone. I have been watching the meassages for quite some time and have learned alot from all of you. Well I need a question answered and thought it fitting to introduce myself first.

I am a 23 year old housewife, mother, and college student(late start but hey I made it). I live in Norfolk, VA My husband is active duty Navy, I was in for over 2 years but got out when I had my daughter. I am so new to writing it is pathetic! I write fantasy adventure and love Forgotten Realms. If anyone wants to know more about me or would like to introduce themselves, please feel free to E-mail me. I would be delighted.

Now for my question, as I said before I write fantasy and I am having trouble with fight sequences. I have a nasty habit of switching persons in the middle of one. If anyone has any specific or general pointers on sword fights and such I would greatly appreciate all advice.

Thank you and everyone have a good day! :)


Harry Fri Apr 3 19:49:24 PST 1998

I have to admit I'm suspicious of the terms "plot-driven" and "character-driven". Focussing on one is like admitting a weakness in the other.

In truth, I think the two should be inextricable. Character is the state and behavior of a single person in the story. Plot is the state and behavior of every character and setting in the story. With this mental framework, character becomes part of plot. A protagonist's pride gets him in trouble. A protagonist's troubles injures (or inflame) his pride. One should not be separate from the other.

The Story is the teaming of plot and character, and stories should be story-driven.

Enough of that. I think it's simple to keep a reader's interest through the middle part of a story. If the writer is interested in it while writing it, the reader should also remain interested. It's the writer's interest that contains the spark.

Jack Beslanwitch Fri Apr 3 10:16:44 PST 1998

Quick comment to anyone who was trying to check out the early part of the Archives. I just discovered that some of the files did not get transferred over. That has been corrected. You will now be able to get the first three archived files for 1998. Also, hope to get to the Workbook first of next week. I have plans to do a bit of a redesign for the entrance to the Workbook - which will explain how the Workbook will work - that it is password protected - and some of the assumptions about how things will work. Take care.

Pat Christensen Thu Apr 2 16:05:49 PST 1998

Re: "Plot-driven vs. character-driven"...I like to know where my story is going, in other words, I have to have a plot, but it's not an intricately-detailed, precise, cast-in-stone outline. It's What Happens.

To Who is the main driver of all my stuff. My stories are all character-driven. The best plot in the world can't bolster a thin, one-dimensional character, but vividly-realized characters can carry a paper-thin plot from now 'til doomsday.

That's not the goal, of course. Having both is preferable, in fact, essential, from my point of view. But strong, fully-developed characters can get you past all kinds of dull, high "middle humps."

In fact, I have one, a pushy little nun, who absolutely won't let me abandoned a novel I've tried three times to bury decently. She insists on being written and she insists on being writtin into THIS particular story. Sigh. I've never been that fond of nuns in real life. Must they plague me on the page too? And my own page at that!

It's true. God does hate me more than canned okra.

Goodweed of the North Thu Apr 2 03:58:43 PST 1998

I create characters and situations to support the main character/s. My goal is to lead the reader through a series of fast paced and exciting adventures, build the good guys and the bad guys, so the reader comes to know them deeper than he knows his own freinds. Then, when the characters are begining to take shape in the readers minds, I create the long term goals for both protagonist and antagonist. The middle of the story is filled with the preperations, and pitfalls caused by the human factor, which carry the characters to those goals. I also develop a supporting cast and infrastructure, and describes the worlds in which they live. I always try to keep in mind that both sides will do anything they can to disrupt and undermine their opponants strengths and capitolize on the their opponants weaknesses. This gives me a lot to write about. In fact, as some have stated, the story seems to write itself.

Hope this helps others.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Jack Beslanwitch Thu Apr 2 01:03:33 PST 1998

     At least until I can get some time to get started on the new Workbook area I would like to generate some additional direction for the Notebook with the following suggested topic. As always, strike out on your own if you wish in other directions. But I thought this might be of interest.

      The question about how to get the middle in between the literal bookends of beginning and end is a valid one. In many cases, the kernel of an idea that blossoms into a story can suggest the beginning and the end, but leave us all woefully out to sea when it comes to the center. How do we craft the elements of our plot from our knowledge of how it begins and how it ends. We have dealt with plotting in the past here, but it might be time for a repeat performance, but with a slight twist here.

     I want to suggest that we discuss the distinctions between a plot driven story and a character driven one. Both are valid approaches for filling out the middle portion, but can come up with some dramatically different styles of writing. What does everyone feel is their approach to this question.

Michele Thu Apr 2 00:19:55 PST 1998

Someone else reads Henry David Thoreau ! That's amazing !! Colleen, have you read his essay "On Reading" ?

I haven't got anything to contribute in terms of getting middles of books (why do I write non-fictioin when the rest of the world writes fiction ??) - so I'm going to go away again . . . catch you later folks.


PS. Only 22 Calendar days till I leave here !!

Mike Jones necros@cwnet.con Wed Apr 1 16:35:23 PST 1998

Hi again. Just looking for suggestions on getting the middle of a story right. I tend to do a good intro and have the end set in my head when suddenly I can't get the middle. Any suggestions are welcome.

Harry Wed Apr 1 16:18:08 PST 1998

Hayden, congrats on Supplejack. Will it be for sale in the USA?

Rhoda, I'm having the same problem with one of my projects, but it sometimes helps to write straight through toward the end. In the middle, some little detail you throw into a scene for texture can spur the ideas for a fantastic ending. I'm not sure you need to have the ending down pat right from the start.

But as I'm always hearing, "Everyone works differently."

Colleen Wed Apr 1 16:04:05 PST 1998

Congratulations Hayden! We share your joy. It is so nice to hear such happy news and have a place to share good tidings with others.
JOAN-Thank you for thinking of me. I need all the help I can get. Thank you so much.
Everyone-(no I haven't learned to play my didjerido yet....)
but I have a neat quote that fits my situation so well, and I wanted to share it with my cyber-friends here. It is from Henry David Thoreau: "If one advances confidently in the directions of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, He will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. If you have built castles in the air your work need not be lost. Now, put foundations under them." This is hanging next to my keyboard. This is another way I keep motivated. Read lots of inspiring quotes and good literature.

Bob Luthardt Wed Apr 1 07:16:30 PST 1998

Way to go, Hayden.
Your success is shared in some small part by everone here, I'm sure.

I'm bummed out today because I left the Zip drive at home and I dare not store my manucripts on the machine at work - I have not installed Magic Folders yet.

FYI: If you are like me and you use your office tools for writing, I suggest you download Magic Folders and install it. Without the password, you can 100% hide away directories on your PC - they even remain invisible from the Files entry in the Start Menu.

Michele Wed Apr 1 04:24:33 PST 1998

Hayden !!!!!

Many congratulations on your shortlisting. But why does the Porsche look like a Ford - where did you find these panel beaters ? Were they cowboys ??

I've been adding bits to my web site if anyone wants to check it out - the most additions are on the links page (you can see where I work and where I live) and I've extended the biog. of Siegfried Sassoon.

Catch you later folks . . .


Goodweed fo the North Wed Apr 1 04:12:28 PST 1998

HoooooHah; That's the closest thing I've got to an exuberant yell. Congrats to Hayden. No one deserves it more.

Rhoda; You know I'll respond in kind. Send along the synopsis.

Jack; Good work. I have every confidence in you. You are a patient, but tenacious kind of guy. I too work in electronics, computers, and system programing, though mine is in telephony. Previously, I fixed airplanes and deep-submersibles for a living. So I understand what you are going through. Good luck to you and your efforts.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Hayden Grayell Wed Apr 1 01:11:10 PST 1998

Well, my hard work over Christms has finally paying off. I have been shortlisted for the George Turner Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary prize here in Australia for my novel "Supplejack". I will have a few months to wait, but this is a great thing to get. Thought I'd share it with you all.

Oh, and I thought I'd go to the prize giving in the refurbished Porsche. The panel beaters did a good job, but it doesn't look quite the same. It looks more like a Ford...must be just my bad memory.


Rhoda Tue Mar 31 21:57:12 PST 1998


Glad to see you on the Notebook. I enjoyed your comments, and I appreciate your knowledge of Celtic music. Hope you will join the fun and post often.


Forgive me, but I have only done a cursery reading of your synopsis. You seemed to have improved it greatly. I will read it more carefully and e-mail to you my comments. Be prepared to return the favor, for I am almost finished with mine and will be sending it to you soon.


I intend to submit to your QCORP guys. I believe a critique on ten pages is worth the few dollars in postage. Thank you for the tip.

The novel is going well, though I've been working on the first three chapters rather than trying to finish it. This probably isn't the best way to go about things, but I feel really stumped right now on the ending. Maybe a little time spent in the opening chapters of the book might spur me on to more lucid thinking.

Got to get to bed now and get my much needed beauty sleep.

Happy writing,


Joan Tue Mar 31 19:52:14 PST 1998

Hi all--

Mike, welcome, and thanks for the info on Silly Wizard.

I agree with Philip about QCorp. What have we got to lose by sending in 10 pages? The worst they can do (I think) is tell you they need more in order to critique---in which case I'd just forget them. I'd already been thinking of sending in the first chapter, since it's only 9 pages, when I read Philip's message. Will let you know what comes of that.

COLLEEN---There's a good article on writing for children at the Writers on Line (or something like that) website. The article is by Rafe Martin, who apparently is an award-winning children's writer. You can see the article at

Jack, thanks and thanks and thanks for all your good work on this site and the Workbook.

Goodnight (YAWN!).


Mike Jones Tue Mar 31 19:28:17 PST 1998

I don't really have any rituals other than being ready to write. I will write any time I feel like it from early morning to late night. As to music : I listen to whatever I like. The Doors, Irish Folk, Modern Celtic Folk you name it. Nothing bothers me including the TV when it is time to write.
On a side note. Someone had a question about the band "Silly Wizard" that I didn't read a response to. They are a very good modern celtic band. I have listened to them and found it refreshing music.
I usually start my story by writing a first paragraph. I have an idea I put in the first paragraph. After that I have at least one character maybe two and I work out their details. After a few more paragraphs I know what I need to research. After the research I just write the end of my story and go back to edit the whole thing at once.
This is my first post here. I am glad to have found this site, and would like to say Thanks to whoever administrates it.

Jack Beslanwitch Tue Mar 31 18:11:57 PST 1998

To let everyone know, I have actually successfully gotten the directory where the new Workbook will be located to become password protected. I did so with the tech standing over my shoulder via the phone. However, when I attempted to replicate to make sure the process will be modifiable, I ran into problems. If you want to see the password prompt go to When I have a little more time I will debug and use my UNIX shell programming book and attempt to figure out what I am doing wrong. However, we are close, very...very close :-).

I am off to a Seattle version of the party for the release of the Netscape source code that San Francisco folk will be going to tomorrow. Details can be found at Mozilla Dot Party Hope I do not have too big a hangover ;-). Take care everyone.

Dandi Mackall Tue Mar 31 05:10:05 PST 1998

If you'd like your kids to be young authors, I'm editing a book for Prima Publishing, WHY KIDS BELIEVE. We needs kids 10 and under to write several paragraphs or a page or two (younger kids can dictate) explaining God. Don't prompt--just let them ramble and think in writing. If we use their "essays" they'll be in the book (name, school, city, State) and get a copy when it's out. Check me out at or or . I've authored over 150 books. Email me for details at Thanks! Dandi

Philip Mon Mar 30 16:34:32 PST 1998


Re: QCORP Literary Agency.

I have no connection with this American agency and would recommend if someone wanted to have ten pages of their work professionally critiqued to go ahead and do so. Plus I think it particularly beneficial if your work is critiqued by an agent who may be interested in representing your work.

For heaven sake, just zip up your pockets, you don't have to pay a dime to anyone.

They don't say you must have all your manuscript critiqued, in fact they say it is to your advantage to use this service and only submit your first ten pages (or less).

The $200 maximum fee (per annum) for overheads is in my contract with my agent, so I obviously don't object to that.

If you want eight or nine pages of your work critiqued, I can see no reason why you wouldn't give this mob a crack at it.

If there is any suggestion of paying any money... simply don't pay.


Kitty Mon Mar 30 07:21:21 PST 1998

Hey y'all! It has been awhile, but I am happy to see that the Notebook remains a busy, vibrant place. A tribute to your efforts, Jack.
As to the TOTW, I don't have any writing rituals, beyond closing the study door. When I am writing, I am pretty focussed. I have been known to nibble a Godiva while deep in thought. But that's not a ritual, is it?
When embarking on a new project, the first thing I do is jot down the idea as detailed and complete as it first presented itself to me. This may take a couple of sentences or pages. Since an idea can come to you anytime, anywhere I always carry around a steno pad a pen.
Britomart, a belated but heartfelt congratulations to you on your success with The Infernal.
Philip, your posts continue to be thought provoking.
Samuel, how are you coping with jet lag from all the back and forth travelling?
Ben, did you get my e-mail?
Prolific writing all!

Mon Mar 30 07:19:40 PST 1998

Michele Mon Mar 30 05:16:59 PST 1998

Re: Music while you work - I haven't heard the Titanic theme track (haven't even seen Titanic) except bits of the Celine Dion song - my current favourite is a film theme album - Vanglelis's 1492 - I haven't seen that film either (not much of a film goer because our nearest cinema is 14 miles away and having no transport doesn't help) - that's pretty much all instrumental, apart from 1 track. But I also listen to Chris Rea and M People - recognisable lyrics aren't a problem for me - I often don't hear the words at all - I frequently put a CD on and suddenly become aware that it's finished, and realise that I've not heard a word so deep has my concentration been - I only become aware it's finished because the music has stopped !!

I like Celtic stuff as well - I've got Mike Oldfield's Voyager which is Celtic - I used to listen to that lots but now I listen to Vangelis lots instead.

(I should think Hayden's got nearly enough to pay for that panel beating job now.)


Harry Sun Mar 29 10:39:24 PST 1998

Hi. Dropped by for the first time today and am throwing my two cents in.

I also write before work, but I have to get up too early for music. When I can write to music, on the weekends and holidays, I like stuff without English Language lyrics, which distract me from the words in my head. I play Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan or Klesmer music, or some classical. Anything without words I recognize.

Usually I nerd around the Internet until the coffee's brewed, then I get to work. The "gotta leave for work" deadline keeps me focused.

The only preparation I do is visualize my scenes as much as possible, while trying to decide what elements each story absolutely has to have. I only outline (on paper) if the work is long or especially complex.

How's that?

Sun Mar 29 07:11:21 PST 1998

Joan Sat Mar 28 19:59:43 PST 1998

Hi, I'm back---and I can't say trying to stay off the Net for a week helped me get any extra writing done. You guys are just too much motivation!

Writing rituals. Hmmm. Like Goodweed, I usually do most of my writing in stolen time--before work, maybe a late night or evening hour grabbed here and there, and at work on breaks or lunch hours.

But best of all is when I get a rare weekend day alone or take a day or two off that is completely devoted to writing. What bliss! I usually have a cup of coffee, turn the music up, and the day is gone before I know it. Music helps lots. Jack, I vote for Titanic, too. And Colleen, I also love celtic music. Phil Coulter is more or less a constant writing companion--especially "Scottish Tranquility", then the Braveheart soundtrack and others.

Has anyone ever heard "Silly Wizard?" They're a celtic band that Charles de Lint mentions often in his books, but I've never actually heard them.

Starting off on a new book may take more concentration, depending on how elusive whatever follows that first scene is. However, picking up wherever I left off is pretty easy because I just read the last few pages written and get carried away into whatever comes next. I often work through rough spots while taking a run. Running is hard work for me (I never have had a "runner's high"---I'm always too busy trying to find that next breath!), but if I'm thinking about the solution to some troublesome scene, it speeds things up considerably.

And I'm sure my characters are invariably relieved when I quit bouncing them around my brain and get them back onto paper---maybe relieved enough to behave and do what I think they should. Hah!


Colleen Sat Mar 28 18:37:14 PST 1998

It was a relief to see that other writers had certain "rituals" to induce the writing muse. I have found that it does take a particular frame of mind to get the flow of words I need-or a deadline. I like deadlines, at least for the grants I've written so far, as they get me on the keyboard. I have found that music is also helpful. I like celtic instrumentals. Usaully I take a peak at The Purple Crayon site for children's writers as well as a few other children's writing sites to get motivated as well as to review information on the business of writing itself. Take care everyone.

Sat Mar 28 16:33:44 PST 1998

Victoria Sat Mar 28 13:22:49 PST 1998

I checked out the QCorp literary agency website, and I have to say I am not impressed.

Firstly, agenting and paid critiquing do not go together. It's a conflict of interest for an agent to charge an author to critique a manuscript he/she is supposed to be considering representing.

Secondly, QCorp charges the author for ordinary expenses such as photocopying, phone calls, and postage, up to a maxiumum of $200. They do say they'll take it out of the proceeds of a sale rather than charging the author directly. But an agent really shouldn't charge at all for such routine expenses. Extraordinary expenses, such as overseas phone calls, are another matter, but regular phone and postage should be covered by the agent's commission.

Thirdly, unpublished writers can submit to QCorp only through their critiquing service. They say that this is "a convenient way for QCorp to scout new talent without being forced into a cursory glance or being inundated with manuscripts." Yes, and it's lucrative, too. It's true, the critique of the first 10 pages is free. But after that there is a charge. An agent isn't going to want to represent you without reading your entire manuscript, so this basically means that an unpublished writer would have to pay for a full-ms. critique in order to be considered for representation by this agency. Whatever name they choose to give it, this is a reading fee.

Unlike the outright scam agents like Woodside, QCorp is completely up-front about their charges. Reputable agents, however, do not do business in this way. Give these folks a miss.


Jack Beslanwitch Fri Mar 27 20:47:27 PST 1998

Bob: Congratulation.

Everyone: Just a bit of an update. Attempts to get the password area working are still running into some technical roadblocks. I have a call into technical support at my ISP and hopefully will hear back from them on Monday to square away how to get this rolling on the domain name server. Before then, I hope we can discuss our rituals.

Of late since I have been more involved in web design than writing, I am afraid I would have to distinguish between very similar habits. I start as soon as I get through dropping my wife off at work at Children's Hospital and get back here and go non stop except for occasional breaks to veg in front of the television until I pick her up and then again until wee hours of the morning. If I am writing rather than working on research or web design, it generally involves putting on some music, getting relaxed and plunging in (all too rare of late). My favorites have been the sound track from Titanic, but also Jethro Tull Songs From the Woods, Tingstad and Rumbel, Queen and heavy doses of Dvorak New World Symphony, Bethoven and Mozart. The other rituals are the talking to death phase. (this is dangerous). We have a particular plot in discussion and that my wife and I have been toying with for ten years and talk about at almost every juncture. If I wrote one one hundredth of the time I talk about that particular plot...well...:-) Take care everyone.

Bob Luthardt Fri Mar 27 10:06:38 PST 1998

I'm back from Florida well rested and a single man no longer. Oh well - can't be a batch for ever, eh?

I write fiction from historical periods, and I find that it is usually "that one song" that helps get me set. For my Knights Templar manuscript, nothing can touch "Moonlight Sonata". For my Noir manuscript, it has to be anything from the the Harry Connick, "We are in Love" CD.

I also find that it helps to pick a few of the most recent paragraphs and read them aloud - act out the voices. It helps to keep the pace steady and the characters "fleshy".

I NEVER STOP preparing. Even in mid stream, I'm like a big sheet of flypaper. I could be driving my car listening to the radio and something will stick - and in the book it goes.

For example, I've already nabbed Pat Christenson's reference to cats as "wee beasties" and tucked it in my shirt pocket. Look for it in a paragraph near you soon!
Thanks Pat ;)
I also find that the best preparation is picking a topic you want to learn more about - make the research fun. I've always been intrigued by the Crusades, but knew little about them. My current manuscript was such a pleasure to research, I had to discipline myself away from the libraries and into the word processor.

Philip Thu Mar 26 20:05:22 PST 1998


I just stumbled onto the following site:

As far as I can gather, Qcorp are a literary agency and offer a free (for the first ten pages) critique of an author's work, line by line. This seems to pose a convenient double purpose approach: agent and/or critique, all under one roof.

I can't vouch for Qcorp but some who read this may want to try their services.


Joan Thu Mar 26 19:39:14 PST 1998

Hi guys,

Sorry! Frozen braincells from the Frozen North. I'm finally here (tho I'm not supposed to be---I tried to stay off this week). Will address the topics this weekend.

Phillip--thanks for the comments! I'll E you this weekend.


Clyde Dixon Thu Mar 26 16:29:27 PST 1998

Habits and such:
Well, in college I did all sorts of journalism stuff (newspaper, radio, TV). That kind of copy must be written and used quickly, so it is standard practice to type it correctly once and copy edit the page before use, if needed.

Never being one to waste time doing things twice, I carried this idea over to my other studies and to fiction writing. The best story that I have so far completed, was typed directly onto the page in one sitting with no editing. This, of course, was way back in the early 80’s before computers were common.

I bought an Apple IIe, with the idea that it would make it easier to write (I think I really bought it because the computer store smelled like the radio station at school.) I’m not sure that the computer helped much--though I did write more--perhaps living alone in a strange town contributed to my productivity.

That computer has since departed, and I now have a 200mmx Pentium and a great HP LaserJet 6. I also have a couple of notepads (paper not computer!) I bought one a month ago, and walked up to the community college and just hung-out, making notes as I walked here or there.

It is just so much easier to get a grip on your work and notes when you can spread out the papers and see them. So like Michele, I think I prefer to write on paper.

I have many story ideas and plots stored away on scrapes of paper, but somehow I have always froze-up when I tried to transform my ideas on paper into a story on the blank computer screen.

So, for now at least, I use paper from first ideas through first draft. Then I type the story into the computer for spell checking, editing, printing. So far so good, but I hate typing from paper rather than from the brain!

One last advantage of paper, it can’t dial-up the internet, so one less distraction/temptation.


Toby B Thu Mar 26 14:58:18 PST 1998

Writing rituals:

Here it is: I like microsoft word (don't hiss and boo, it's just me), and I split the screen into two, leaving the bottom section only three-four lines wide, and the top, where begginning of the story is, has the characters, descriptions, snippets of text, and outline (whether it be open or very detailed), and listen to music on headphones.

Music cuts me away from my surroundings, and forcing myself to write in four lines makes me stop looking at earlier errors and fixing them (an earlier hangup that would slow me down). I tend to write better and more fluidly in the constricted space as I'm not worrying about editing, but writing. Later I can go back and fix errors on a full screen. But that's my trick.

Also, a glass of water or something that is light and carbonated (sprite etc), and chewing gum.:-)


Kirstin Ramey Thu Mar 26 14:42:35 PST 1998

Writing ritual - Because of school I don't have time in the morning or during the day to do any writing that isn't school related. After school I have all my reports and assignments to do so I don't get around to writing until late at night. I either sit down at my electric typewriter or I sit on my bed and write. My dog is always at my side when I write and therefor he gets put into many of my short stories. I write the best sometime after 10 pm and when my brother isn't around.

As for preparing for a new story to write, I don't have deadlines to meet so I can take my time coming up with a topic or picking from my ever growing ideas list. After I get my main idea and a few pages written my friends always beg to read it. My friend Jenni asks me for character descriptions and she draws all of my main characters for me. She is a very good artist and just looking at the pictures normally inspires me to write more. I also ask my friends for ideas and they normally come up with something I would have never thought of but works better than what I originally thought of.


Jack Beslanwitch Thu Mar 26 12:24:03 PST 1998

Rosemary: OK, I changed thing to cornsilk on a black background with a Verdana font. Hope this works better.

    Also, in regard to writers groups. Without informed critique and hard critique at that you run the risk of just a congratulatory support group. A writer, any writer, needs to be edited. Witness Steven King. My own group, Writers Cramp has several Clarion West graduates and a Writers of the Future winner. So, that may fulfill your requirement of having experienced people. However, Writers Cramp began many years ago as a group of aspiring writers with no sales to our names and a simple wish to write and we worked our way into the present situation. We criticque words on paper, but we critique. We do not pull punches about what does and does not work. We are a large enough group that you get a mixture of views, peering at the onion from different points, peeling back one layer here or patching it back there. And we get conflicting views in this regard. The usual rubric with us is the more heat the better the story. If we did not find something to be excited about we would not spend the kind of time we do. This does not eliminate personality, it accentuates it. We will be edited and critqued, whether by a writers group, an editor at publishing house or, ideally, by the reader of the published piece. The best point to get the hardest (and not harsh) critiques is at the beginning. My 2 c. worth

    Still, this is a good question. When the new area is ready and that is what I am going to start experimenting with after posting this, we will have critique areas - at least one for Prose Fiction and one for poetry. Questions about what constitutes good edits and critiques is a valid one. And one that will probably get a lot of coverage and heat as things get rolling. Critiquing the critquing may inded become part of the task at hand in learning the craft of writing. However, I suspect that running a piece through the fiery crucible does not leach the life out it, but makes it stronger. Take care everyone and good writing. Just wished I was one of the ones doing some ;-)


Rosemary Thu Mar 26 09:14:45 PST 1998

It might be my computer, but your pop-up box was so dark I couldn't read it. Someone forgot to turn the lights on.

Writing ritual? A deadline is my main incentive. I wait until the day before it is due to start the project. I find that working on it earlier causes many re-writes and by the time its to be turned in, I hate it.
This method won't work for everyone, but it has for me up to now.

Good Writer's groups provide a lot of encouragement and incentave. I would never have finished my novel without mine, but I have mixed feelings about critique groups. You have to be experienced enough to know what to accept and what to reject. Sometimes paring your writing down to the bone eliminates all personality. Do you want your writing to sound just like everyone elses?

Goodwee of the North Thu Mar 26 03:52:53 PST 1998

I guess I'm just driven. I get up at 5 a.m. evryday so no one else is up to distract me, check the notebook to see if there is anything pertinant to what I'm working on at the time, then start banging away at the keyboard. As far as getting inspiration for the stories, I haven't been at this game long enough to get writer's block. New ideas for stories just seem to pop into my head. I have three seperate novels being workied on at present. I find that once I sit down, the words just start to flow.

I also take every lunch hour and work on the novels. Sometimes, if the kids aren't taking there turn at the computer, I'll spend an hour or two writing in the evening.

Hayden; It won't be long now. I'm down to a 640 word synopsis. Every time I start work on it again, I find about 200 more words of fluff which can be elliminated. It is getting harder though. The work has gone from 2-1/2 pages of synopsis down to less than 1-1/2 pages. Great exercise by the way. Thanks. I needed that.

Seeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Jack Beslanwitch Thu Mar 26 02:58:44 PST 1998

Given my current lack of time, I greatly appreciate the suggested expansion of topics. To that end, I have picked up on Hayden's choice of topics and made it the official one. Have fun with writing rituals. In my own case it would probably be appropriate to discuss web design and computing rituals. I'll try to make some time to discuss all of this sometime tomorrow.

Michele Thu Mar 26 00:46:11 PST 1998

Hayden - I don't believe a word of it !!!

Writing rituals - at last a topic I can comment on. I write everything in long hand - don't like typing straight into the WP - it gives me bad habits - I forget about real punctuation (just read some of my posts if you don't believe me !!). So I pull out the old notebook (or possibly a new one), put on a CD - can't work without music - and write for my life. As for finding the inspiration - well I read a lot of Siegfried's poetry and prose, started trying to find out a bit about his life, found there were hardly any books about him (there are a couple more since I started work on mine) and decided that I would do something to remedy this lack. Filthy lucre isn't a morivating force - of course if people buy the book and I get some money that will be nice - but I want people to buy the book because I want to spread the news about what a good (IMHO) writer Siegfried is - and what an interesting character.

(See what I mean about punctuation ??)

Anyway there's more than two pennies worth there - Hayden !!!


Pat Christensen Wed Mar 25 22:15:24 PST 1998

Let's see, writing rituals...well, leaving aside the issue of the entrails of a dead cat (having nothing whatsoever to do with writing, but I'm allergic to the wee beasties) all depends on how serious the writing job is.

If it's non-fiction, I just transcribe my notes. Doesn't matter if they're already transcribed, I do it again anyway. I hate transcribing notes. This serves to keep me on task while writing, since, if I quit before I'm finished, I have to transcribe the bloody things all over again!

If it's non-fiction, I have two tricks. One is to edit what I already have. From the beginning, if necessary. This pulls me into the wee nuts and bolts of the bugger and by the time I hit the part I stopped at before, if it's not 2 a.m., I'm ready to roll and sufficiently engrossed. Just reading it over doesn't do it for me. I have to actually change something. It helps to be a rotten speller. Trust me, never spell check before quitting for the day. You'll have nothing constructive to do the next day.

Failing all else, well, some people work on inspiration, pure and holy; some people work for the love of the art; others maintain their energy level solely on the beguiling promise of filthy lucre...I juice up on caffiene.

I never drink coffee after 5 p.m., and rarely after 3 p.m., unless I'm doing serious fiction writing. If I plan to be at it for more than a couple of hours at a stretch, (something I seldom have the time to indulge in anymore) and I'm writing fiction, I have to have a pot of coffee around. Have to. Can't function without it. And heaven help me if I run out of liquid creamer, because at my age, the coffee tears the lining of my stomach up something fierce and that powdered junk just doesn't cut it!

But with a pot of coffee at my elbow and sufficient creamer, I can lick the world, or at least chapter seven. No problem.

Mind you, getting to sleep afterward is a tad problematic, but nothing is foolproof (because wefools are just so damn ingenious, don'tcha know!)

Rhoda Wed Mar 25 20:27:21 PST 1998


You are so good at coming up with topics I believe that Jack should hire you to do it full time, though Jack comes up with good ones also.

I personally don't have a ritual for writing. I just sit at the computer, boot it up, get on line, check the Notebook and then go over to Wordperfect and stare at the screen until I can think of something to type. Maybe a ritual would help. Music is great though I often write while listening to Rush Limbaugh in the background (I am entitled to at least one vice, am I not?). Maybe I just find politics intellectually stimulating. Even if I don't aways agree with Rush, I do find he has a great vocabulary and an outstanding ability to articulate his postions.

The most fun thing to do when I am editing a manuscript is to take the kids to MacDonalds for lunch. While they play on the equipment, I sit at a table, drink a Diet Coke and watch them while I do rewrites and edits. This way I am free from the many distractions that hinder me at home. Long trips in the car are good for this too.

As far as hashing out a new story, I do that everywhere and anywhere. Oftentimes while folding laundry or weeding the garden I brainstorm a plot. When I decide on an idea or plot I like, I then discuss it with a couple of my writer friends, and they help me to refine it.

I don't know how weather is in other parts of the world, but it is hot here. It got up to almost 80 degrees F. today. Here in New Mexico most of us use evaporative cooling for air-conditioning. You normally set up the unit when all danger of freezing weather is past (usually the middle of April). Till then you just open the windows, run the fans and bear the heat the best you can.

Well, now I must log off and switch over to Wordperfect and stare blankly at my screen for a time until inspiration or sleep takes over.

See you all soon,


Robin Wed Mar 25 17:38:27 PST 1998

I haven't checked in with this group for a little while, but had to send this along.
I just came across an article that I thought was interesting, reminding me of the discussions we had in February about morphing words. You can find the article in the Writer's Digest of April 98. "A Writer of Fire-New Words" by Richard Lederer. He examines the way Shakespeare frequently made up his own words or coined new ones by putting familiar ones together. He ends the article by inviting anyone to comment to him about language at


Hayden Grayell Wed Mar 25 15:55:32 PST 1998

Jack, et al

A suggestion for the new websites launching topic. How about the following, which could be fun, and maybe a way of dealing with writers block, family life etc.

"What rituals do you have to prepare for writing during the day? Do you close al;l the windows and put on Vivaldi? Do you fill the coffee urn and pull the telephone out of the socket? Do you open your eyes in the morning and stumble over to the wordprocessor? etc."

Or you could do a similar theme:

"How do you prepare for a new writing project? Do you take a long drive in the country until your mind is so numb that inspiration will walk in? Do you purchase 15 reams of paper stock for the printer, and then head for the library to do some research? Do you purchase a few books on a theme you would like to write about, and abscond with them without paying so you won't have to acknowledge the other writers' contribution to your work?"

Oh, and Michelle...I would offer to drive the Porsche over there, but I can't see to find the engine after I parked it in a seedy back alley near the pub. We also lost four wheels and the tail fender, but we did get four lovely bricks to start the garage with.

Tyson Freeman Wed Mar 25 10:00:08 PST 1998

I currently research and write about the state of real estate markets across the U.S. I am trying to kickstart an effort to write about things other than real estate (it's actually not as boring as it sounds, though). Pipe dream is to invest/renovate in small real estate projects (I am currently considered a real estate economist) and write for a living....yes, I will probably be poor for quite some time.

Michele Wed Mar 25 05:27:14 PST 1998

Not yet we're not - there are one or two people not here yet . . . but hopefully soon.


Goodweed of the North Wed Mar 25 03:32:56 PST 1998

It's working in the heart of Great Lakes country on the U.S./Canada border. Gotta try the visual thesauris.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Vicky Morris Wed Mar 25 03:01:15 PST 1998

I'm an English girl who wishes to develop a career as a freelance writer of newspaper articles. This seems like the ideal place to pick the brains of those who have found sucess in this field of writing. Any experiences or advice anyone has to share with me which may be of help will be gratefully received. I have no journalistic exeprience, but am a competent writer with the innovation, insight amd 'edge' that is much sought by quality press. I am not interested in covering breaking news, but prefer to research and discuss national or international issues of current importance. My primary concern is how to address magazines and newspapers with my work, encouraging them to read before binning!

YOU CAN help me! I look forward to hearing some intelligent ideas on marketing oneself!


Jack Wed Mar 25 01:38:47 PST 1998

Correction. I said the heck with it and just archived the old site and created an automatic switch to here. Let me know what you think of the Visual Thesaurus. I am green with envy at what it would take to put together a site like this :-).

Jack Beslanwitch Wed Mar 25 00:49:46 PST 1998

Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus is something not to be missed. It is a site I just discovered and have absolutely become fascinated with. It looks to require a lot of computing power, but for those who have the horsepower this is very very interesting. It is a visual way to interact with words and their meanings in a non linear sort of way. Try it out and see what you think. I'll drop this off both here and on the old site.

Pat Christensen Tue Mar 24 19:57:34 PST 1998

Yep, I made it here. You're playing well, deep in the wooly heart of the midwest, zingin' 'cross those Great Lakes like nothin' a'tall.

Guess I'll have to break down and bookmark it. So, are we all present and accounted for?

Rhoda Tue Mar 24 17:51:57 PST 1998

Took me awhile to catch up. This 75 degree New Mexico heat is making me slow.


Colleen Tue Mar 24 17:36:58 PST 1998

Ok, it took me a while to catch on....I am operating on limited megabites. Got you here loud and clear.
Take care everyone. (I was afraid I'd lost you all.)

Colleen Tue Mar 24 17:36:53 PST 1998

Ok, it took me a while to catch on....I am operating on limited megabites. Got you here loud and clear.
Take care everyone. (I was afraid I'd lost you all.)

Brendalee Tue Mar 24 14:53:20 PST 1998

Reception is clear north of the border. No rabbit ears required!

Rosemary Tue Mar 24 09:21:04 PST 1998

It made it all the way to Texas. Congrats.

Hayden Grayell Mon Mar 23 23:22:42 PST 1998

As I was saying...

Philip Mon Mar 23 14:34:37 PST 1998

Works well from DownUnder Jack.


Clyde Dixon Mon Mar 23 14:19:15 PST 1998

Seems to work!

What, no ribbon for third?


Toby B Mon Mar 23 13:24:01 PST 1998

And I'm in second! Cool.

Michele Mon Mar 23 03:04:19 PST 1998

I got the first post !!!!!!


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