Getting Involved in the Writing Community

Cold Outside by the Italian Voice, Flickr

Cold Outside by Italian Voice, Flickr

This article was written in 2010 and was updated in January, 2016. It covers the following:

  • My experience with the local Vancouver writing community
  • How online critiquing works
  • Pros of online critiquing
  • Cons of online critiquing
  • Tips for using an online critique group successfully

In October of 2010, I volunteered at two writing and reading festivals, the ViWF and the SiWC and they were very valuable and enjoyable experiences for me.   I met a lot of writers, local and international, and I even had the chance to have conversations and learn from several successful authors. Continue reading

How to solve plot problems with a simple technique

In this article, you’ll learn a simple, yet powerful technique to solve all of your plot problems. If you’ve come here from Wattpad, you probably just want the Solving Plot Problems Template that you can use for your own plot problem today.

Especially in science fiction and fantasy, or in any longer story with a large amount of elements or characters that you need to keep track of, there are the inevitable plot problems that can really stump us writers.

plot problems

Writer’s Block by Jonno Witts on Flickr

I’m sure you’ve experienced it…. “If Character X does this, then that will affect Character Y in this way, which doesn’t work because people in World Z don’t do that kind of thing. But if Character X doesn’t do that, then how does she do it?”

I found while writing my first novel (an epic science fiction spanning multiple generations with 5 main characters) that these kind of plot problems could be so severe and intimidating that I often gave up working on my novel for weeks, months or years at a time. I would wait for the answers to “hit” me like bolts of magical inspiration lightening. Sometimes they did hit me — sometimes in the strangest places, like in the shower, or driving my car, or just after waking up. But often they didn’t hit me and I was left with plot problems that felt like I’d never be able to solve. EVER.

Then I discovered this technique, which I’m about to show you. And now, whenever I run into a plot problem, I sit down and use it and it ALWAYS works. It’s simple and will take you less than 30 minutes to learn how to use for your own story. Continue reading

Plot Design & Story Structure: Joseph Campbell vs Christopher Vogler

Joseph Campbell's Hero Cycle

Joseph Campbell’s Hero Cycle

In this article, I will discuss my process for developing plot and share  the incredible tools that I discovered to examine, critique and improve the plot of my novel. You might also want to download this Campbell & Vogler Plot Design Worksheet that will help you design your plot by examining if and how your story follows the hero’s journey.

Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler

The two writer’s classics, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, cover the various elements of plot and storytelling from two different perspectives. Campbell was an expert in comparative mythology. He looked at stories from around the world and found common themes and plots, and went on to develop theories to describe his discoveries. His views were based largely on inductive reasoning, and his writing is very academic and difficult to access for the average reader. Vogler, on the other hand, is a Hollywood script-writer. His work is based largely on the work of Campbell, although he altered it to fit the standard methods used in Hollywood movies and scriptwriting. His views are suppositions, or educated guesses, about what makes a (Hollywood) story successful, and his writing is very accessible for the average reader.

These two books have been invaluable to me as a writer and I highly recommend them for anyone who is struggling with plot.

Where I got stuck with my plot

I was wading through about 80,000 words of the first draft of my novel and was struggling to fill in key plot holes. I’m not a writer who writes from beginning to end; rather, I jump around and write whatever scene is pressing at me to be written. This is admittedly not the best way to go about it, but it’s my first novel, so I’m not exactly an expert on this yet. So I had all these islands of writing, and when it came time to start tying them all together into one continuous, flowing plot, I found I had a lot of gaps and a lot of questions: Continue reading

3 Reasons to Write Accountable Content On Your Blog

Academics & Grumps, by Griffin Johnston on Flickr

Academics & Grumps, by Griffin Johnston on Flickr

This article is an update of my February 2011 article, It’s Time for Accountable Content on Blogs. Since then, I have learned three solid reasons to write accountable blog content:

  1. Your readers will trust you more
  2. Your site will rank higher in search engines
  3. You will make more money

In this article I’ll cover these 3 reasons why you should write accountable, *quality* content, as well as give you some criteria for what I think *quality* content is. Continue reading

A beautiful long sentence about long sentences – Long Sentence #2

Pico Iyer wrote a playful and eloquent article for the Los Angeles Times about his decision to write long sentences as a form of protest against our world’s obsession with speed. He explained that as a young journalist he had succumbed to the need for speed and crunched his writing into short soundbites, but as he matured in his writing and probably in life too, he discovered the glory of, and more importantly (to me), a powerful rationale for writing longer sentences. I’ve always wanted to find a solid defense for the long sentence, so that I could write on without inpunity, but had never come up with anything clever, and so it was a real pleasure for me to find this article.

Follows is the most beautiful, and one of the longest sentences in his article that gives a colourful, heartfelt explanation of his decision to write long sentences. Prepare to be amazed.

Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can’t be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won’t be squeezed into an either/or.

To learn more about Pico Iyer, see his website.

Create your own personal writing style guide

'Writing' by jjpacres on Flickr

Does your writing have style? 'Writing' by jjpacres on Flickr

In this post I’ll give you a free style guide template to work with, and I’ll cover the following:

  • What is a style guide?
  • Why create a personal style guide?
  • How to create a style guide.

In university we learn about style guides such as MLA and APA, which are so confusing that you practically need a guide to use them–especially if you take a psychology and a history class at the same time!  But style guides don’t have to be complicated or long–they can be as short as one page!

My first run-in with a simple, personalized style guide really delighted me, so I thought I would share this simple tool with you. Continue reading

What is grammar?

So, what is grammar?  One of the best definitions of grammar that I have heard comes from a book called The Practice of English Language Teaching (link opens book on Scribd), which defines grammar as:

the description of the ways in which words can change their forms and be combined to form sentences.

For example, “I pie eated” is not grammatically correct, because the word “To eat” has not been formed ‘correctly’, and the order of the words is ‘incorrect’.  The grammatically correct form is “I ate pie.”

Grammar has two aspects:

  1. Morphology : the forms a word can take (how words change: eat/eats/ate/eaten or city/cities/city’s/cities’ or do/doable/done/undone/did/redo).
  2. Syntax : the order that words go in (how words are ordered in a sentence: I ate pie–subject/verb/object).  See Wikipedia or the Practice of English Language Teaching, for more info. Continue reading

25 Reasons to Read William Gibson’s Neuromancer

For the writers (and readers) out there who have not read (or who have not finished reading) William Gibson’s Neuromancer

NEUROMANCER!  Well, I don’t want to come across as a book snob, but I do have to ask: How can you call yourself a well-read fictionado without having read Neuromancer?  (In classic Lily-style) I’m going to give you at least 25 reasons why Neuromancer is an amazing book, and a must-read for anyone delving into the finer points of fiction-writing (and reading). Continue reading

7 Types of Sentence Fragments and How to Use Them

This article is for beginner to advanced native and second-language English speakers and teachers. For a shortened version of this lesson, download my lesson, Advanced Sentences, and feel free to use or adapt it, without copyright.

This article contains the following sections, feel free to jump down to any of them:

  • The Importance of Grammar
  • Types of Sentences
  • What is a Sentence Fragment
  • The 7 Sentence Fragments
  • Examples of the 7 Sentence Fragments
  • Examples of Long Sentences Using Many Fragments
  • Sentence Fragment Lessons for English/ESL Teachers

The Importance of Grammar

Run! by Glenn~ on flickr

As an ESL teacher, I found that my own writing drastically improved once I started teaching grammar to my students–especially the 7 different types of sentence fragments. I had learned English grammar in high-school, but those classes were boring; I had more important things to concentrate on, such as the outfit I was wearing, or how dreamy Cory Haim was in License to Drive. When I started teaching grammar as an ESL teacher, I was actually re-teaching myself, and the most valuable aspect of grammar that I re-learned was the 7 sentence fragments.

Understanding how to use these fragments properly will help you:

  • Write sentences that are grammatically correct, because you will finally understand grammar
  • Write longer sentences
  • Write sentences that have different structures, which is important for rhythm and flow (the musical aspects of language)
  • Use commas properly, because you will finally know where to put them!

I am convinced that most writers–beginner and advanced–need more practice in understanding and using sentence fragments properly, and I hope this lesson will help you learn to write more eloquent and grammatically correct sentences.

Continue reading

It’s Time for Accountable Content on Blogs

Frustration, by Sybren A Stuvel

Frustration, by Sybren A Stuvel

Information Overload

We live in what is called the ‘information age’ and the world has been called the ‘Content Nation‘; people are now able to create content at rates that were truly unreachable even 20 years ago, and share that with people on the other side of the world.  It’s amazing–and very overwhelming.  Pete Cashmore (of Mashable) predicted that ‘content curation’–organization and sharing of the ‘best’ content online–would be one of the biggest web trends of 2010. Continue reading