Monthly Archives: January 2016

Point of View

When writing a novel, the author needs to choose a point of view (POV). And point of view is one of the major problems new writers have to contend with. What point of view or POV means is – someone must tell the story. It could be the main character or several of the characters taking turns; it could be a narrator who knows a certain amount of information about all the characters or it can be the author’s voice itself narrating the story.

What was that? Isn’t the author telling the story anyway? True, but read on to find out how and why you need to decide on a specific POV before you even begin writing.

Certain forms of genre fiction also lend themselves to certain POVs. For example, Young Adult is almost always written in first person.

Different Points of View

  • First Person 

IIn this, the perspective of the story unfolds through the eyes of one specific person – the narrator. This is the type of novel that uses the word “I” to recount the action. For ex: “I stood up, my chest heaving in frustration.” The author only needs to worry about defining the narrator’s voice and since the narrator tends to be the main character, the voice is distinctive. The narrator has to be in every scene and the reader is limited to knowing only what the narrator sees or senses. It is not possible to have other characters’ views except as seen or experienced by the narrator. There are exceptions of course where you can use another POV separated by a chapter or scene break, but for all intents and purposes First Person POV is only the person telling the story.

  • Second Person 

youThis POV is almost never fiction as it doesn’t work very well and gets fatiguing to read very quickly. Second person POV is when you use “you” to tell the story. Ex: “You find yourself out cold on the floor and when you open your eyes, your head feels like several drummers are banging on their drums inside.” Use second person POV as an exercise to find out how difficult and cumbersome it is. NEVER use it in a novel.


  • Third Person Limited (he, she, it, they, them)

he or sheThis is, perhaps, the most common POV used by novelists. Like in first person, the reader experiences the thoughts and actions of one person either throughout the novel or per chapter or scene. However, instead of using “I” third person pronouns such as “he, she, it, they, or them” are used. In this POV, the story is told strictly through the eyes of the person narrating – so nothing can happen that he or she has not seen or experienced.


This is probably the easiest POV to write in especially for novice writers. Master this POV before attempting any of the others.

  • Third Person Omniscient (he, she, it, they, them)

michael angeloIn this point of view, the narrator acts like an all-seeing, all-knowing God who can pop into the heads of any of the characters at any given time. In this POV, the author’s voice usually shines through whenever there is a narration or exposition. This POV can be difficult to carry out because, unless done correctly, the reader can become confused about who is talking.

Also, in this POV the narrator’s voice actually is part of the story and has a specific and unique voice of its own. It may sound like it’s the easiest POV to use since you can just tell the story, but in actual fact it’s probably the most difficult. Do not attempt until you have become a more proficient writer.

Which POV do you feel works for you?



Plagiarism Versus Inspiration

What is the difference between plagiarism versus inspiration? I think there is a huge difference. First, let’s try to look at it through simple definitions. According to Merriam-Webster, plagiarism means to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas. Fair enough, no one can argue with that.


Inspiration, on the other hand, according to Merriam-Webster again, is something that gives someone an idea about what to do or create or a force or influence that inspires someone.

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” Voltaire

How do you know when you are writing a story whether you are being completely original? Well, sadly, it’s highly doubtful your plot line is completely original. According to Christopher Booker and his 2004 book The Seven Basic Plots:Why We Tell Stories, there are only … well, seven basic plots. They are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

So, I guess with only this many original plots, what’s an author to do? Well, that’s where inspiration comes in. If you copy a book word for word, or make small changes like substituting a name that is like the original, but close enough that it is recognizable, you are plagiarizing for sure. But if you take a story you admire, and base your own on it, then you are drawing on the original for inspiration.

In actual fact, plagiarizing is quite difficult if you set out to write a story. Try it. Take a novel you wish you had written and begin to copy it. Change the names of the protagonists and the setting and begin. Within a page or two you will find that your story has taken off and your characters have achieved a life of their own. What you thought was plagiarism was inspiration.

It’s actually very difficult to imitate someone else’s writing style since we each have our own unique voices. Take the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I loved reading that series. Sadly, Robert Jordan died before he could complete the last two books, which were finished by Brandon Sanderson who did a phenomenal job. But … there was just something missing – that indefinable stamp that gave the books that came before that je ne sais quois. That’s what I mean – it’s extremely difficult to copy anyone.

Do you agree?


2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript”  







How to Become a Writer

What do you think? Does acquiring a creative writing degree teach you how to become a writer?




I think not. You may have a piece of paper in your hand, and a few years of writing in a school environment but until you begin to think creatively and start jotting down your own thoughts, all you have is a degree. A degree may provide you with a certain set of skills – how to string together a list of words, grammar, copy editing … and that’s great. But the talent has to come from within you. To a certain degree, you have to teach yourself to become a writer.

I have a degree in journalism and that qualified me for writing articles. I did a lot of medical writing – not that I was well-versed in medicine or science, but a journalist learns on the job and translates those skills into something understandable by the general public. But could I write creatively when I started down this path? I was sure I couldn’t until I tried. Lo and behold, I discovered a talent I never knew I had.

So too can it be for you. How can you know if you can write until you try. Creative writing classes will help you along the way because such classes do teach you about passive versus active voice, points of view, how to create interesting characters or villains and how to come up with a hook that will grab your audience. It all provides you with a built-in peer review for what you write and trust me, comments from your classmates are very helpful. Not only do they steer you in the right direction, quite often they will help you brainstorm what should come next.

What do you need to become a writer? 

You need:

  • one or more unique ideas (Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind, had only one great idea but who wouldn’t give their fanciest pen up for that one fabulous idea
  • the discipline to write for a minimum of half an hour a day (it doesn’t have to be on the novel you’re working on)
  • a thick skin to reject rejections
  • staying power
  • belief in yourself and your stories
  • the ability to write good prose
  • be an above average and voracious reader
  • the ability to enjoy writing for the sake of writing
  • forget jargon and pompous words
  • learn to write simply and directly

Follow these points and you’ll wake up one day realizing you are the writer you always wanted to be.






Read for Fun

Scrap your picture of the tortured artist – Hemingway, James Joyce, Robertson Davies et al. Yes, they came up with some great novels – well, Hemingway did. Personally, I can’t stand James Joyce or Robertson Davies. I find their writing pompous and difficult to read. I struggled to read Ulysses three times, then gave up. As for Robertson Davies – yawn! As far as I’m concerned you should read for fun. download (1)There are times when you want to learn something, but that’s another story.

Just because a book is deemed a classic doesn’t mean you have to love it. My personal library overflows with classics that I love: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen … to name a few. Can I stomach Dostoevsky? No. Most times, I’ll force myself to get through certain classics because I feel I should read them. Sometimes, I just can’t – not when there are so many great novels just calling out for me to jump into. 

I would never be able to list all my favorites. There are far too many, but here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

  1. Love you Forever by Robert Munsch 
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
  3. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe 
  4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  5. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orcey
  6. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  7. We the Living by Ayn Rand
  8. The Horses’s Mouth by Joyce Cary
  9. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  10. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  11. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  13. All books by Enid Blyton
  14. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  15. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (and most of his other books)
  16. The Dragons of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
  17. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  18. The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
  19. The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning
  20. The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan
  21. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
  22. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  23. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  24. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  25. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  26. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  27. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  28. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  29. The 100-year-old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  30. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman

What are your favorite reads?







Secret to Success

If you’re a habitual quitter, stop reading right now. Quit. If you want to succeed, I’ve got a secret for you. The secret to success is very simple: DO NOT QUIT. Most people who make it to where they are get there because they don’t give up. Take a look at the dandelion below. How it can squeeze its way through asphalt is unbelievable. But it does!


Lots of people quit when anything starts pinching or hurting or becomes boring. Those are the people who will never succeed. Oh yes, I’ve quit umpteen times – my favorite is going to the gym. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve started with gusto and then slowly drifted away. Most times it was because I didn’t do enough work, hence nothing changed. I didn’t lose weight, I didn’t get toned and worst of all, I got bored and so I quit. So where am I now where the gym is concerned? Back to square one. If I had never quit, I wouldn’t be in this position.

The good news? It’s never too late to start again.

There have never been more people publishing books because these days it’s so easy to say you’re a published author. People who have blogs, who self-publish, who publish their works on other people’s blogs or their stories on sites that publish them without payment all call themselves published authors. And I guess they are, in a way. But my measuring stick is payment, american-dollars-9679748moolah, bread, bucks, cash, greenbacks __________ (fill in whatever your favorite slang word for money is).

If you have never been published before, these non-paying sites are great to give you the satisfaction of seeing your name in print. But why give away what you can get paid for? And that’s where never giving up comes in. I’ve got new for you. Getting paid for your work is TOUGH. It’s hard to get through the slush pile. Rejection does a number on your psyche. It’s depressing. But if you don’t give up, you’ll eventually get there. Your writing will improve, you’ll make the right connections and the secret to success will be yours.

Do you agree that the secret to success is to never give up?



20 Texting Acronyms

Not so long ago LOL meant Lots of Love. If you still believe that’s what it means, you’re stuck in the wrong century. LOL in today’s lingo means Laugh Out Loud. Texting acronyms and abbreviations don’t always make sense for those of us of a certain age, and sometimes we’re a little worried about appearing out of touch. But now, at a touch of a few keys on your keyboard you can tune into any subject and learn what is current. 

No need to be afraid of the latest fad. While texting may take a little while for some of us, help is on the way to transform you from old fogey to hipster.

download (1)

Start your coolness factor off with this short list of 20 texting acronyms.

  1. BRB – be right back
  2. BTW – by the way
  3. 2moro – Tomorrow
  4. 2nite – Tonight
  5. K – okay
  6. LOL – laugh out loud
  7. L8R – later
  8. LMAO – laughing my ass off
  9. OMG – oh my god
  10. R – are
  11. U – you
  12. CU – see you
  13. TTYL – talk to you later
  14. Np – no problem
  15. POV – point of view
  16. RBTL – read between the lines
  17. Thx – thanks
  18. SH – Sh** happens
  19. TMI – too much information
  20. XOXO – hugs and kisses

These twenty short cuts won’t necessarily put you on the cool and awesome list, but they’ll set your feet in the right direction. What you do after that is up to you.

What you do need to do is practice. Practice makes perfect as we all know. Suddenly, your thumbs are doing the texting with a life of their own and you’re actually looking forward to the tinkling sound of a text message coming in. 

Let me know what other popular texting acronyms you use.

How to Develop Creativity

When I began writing novels a few years ago, I didn’t believe I could write creatively. I was a good freelance writer (which is quite different from creative writing) – no, make that a damn fine freelance writer. I could take whatever I was given, re-work it and churn out something my clients were always pleased with. But how to develop creativity was something that escaped me. I was sure it was not possible. I just was not that type.

My son Kyle changed all that. He challenged me to write something creatively and I began a memoir. Surprise, surprise, the writing flowed and I discovered a new talent and something I enjoyed far better than regurgitating someone else’s words.

Everyone has a creative side to them. I’m convinced of this. The trick is to discover it. This doesn’t mean everybody can write creatively. On the contrary, creativity takes many different paths: art, sculpture, painting – and those are just the ones we generally associate with creativity. But what about gardening garden.07.23or flower arranging, event coordination, tailoring a wedding gown, baking an upside-down pineapple cake, creating a wreath made of wine corks. Creativity takes so many forms.

What works for one person does not necessarily work for another when releasing your creative side. When beginning a new writing project most writing teachers tout the usual:

  • Brainstorm
  • Outline and begin drafting
  • First drafts are no good (I disagree)
  • Revise till you can’t stand the novel any longer
  • Polish

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these steps, but I realize I don’t do this … and maybe you don’t as well. I toss around ideas in my head for a long time. Sometimes what sets me off is a great lede (this is a journalism term) – something I was always good at when writing for the Ottawa Citizen in my interning days. That hook generally sets me off in the right direction and the characters start flooding my brain with their stories.

I hate outlining. Instead of helping it hinders me. I feel obliged to follow the formula I’ve arbitrarily set up and it works against me. What I do instead is mull over my ideas during my walks with my dog Indy. Indy.3He rares off looking for uneaten sandwiches that school children have chucked in the ravine and I march along thinking. Something always comes to me.

Another great way of boosting creativity is to let your subconscious do the work. Keep pen and paper handy by your bedside. Close your eyes and let your subconscious work on where your story (or whatever creative project you’re dealing with). 

What’s your creative secret?