Category Archives: Courses & Workshops

Using Anger in Your Story

Using anger in your story can do a lot of terrific things for your character … and you know that at some point in your novel, your protagonist is going to get angry.

And that’s good.

Here’s why:

Anger can show a side to your character that no one ever knew he had. It can be righteous anger, or petty anger, or even violence. Maybe he even destroys something precious – great for conflict!

You can use the outburst to set your character off in a new direction. Maybe the eruption is so bad, it makes him regret his behavior and he transforms. Or he can dive down into abusing drugs. Anger can make a person unpredictable.

Anger can also be used as a manipulation tool – a sort of emotional blackmail. Some of us cannot bear ‘the cold shoulder’ and will do anything to avoid it, even confess or apologize for something we’ve never done it. Think of how you can use a situation like that.

But anger is a strong emotion that needs to be portrayed correctly. It is always a reaction to something else, to some problem that has arisen. No one gets angry for no reason

1. What is the motivation behind your character’s anger?

Consider whether she is confused, frustrated, hurt, jealous, embarrassed, powerless, rejected, worried – what else can you think of? All these emotions are motivations for anger and should be integrated in the story.

2. Body language is another great way to show how angry your character is.

Think of how people react when they are super angry. Some rant and rave, and get hysterical. Others close down completely – perhaps all you notice are flared nostrils or a thin line of lip. Make a mental (or physical) note when you see someone get rip-roaring mad, then use those observations next time your character is super angry.

3. Passive or aggressive anger?

We all behave in different ways. Some of us lash out when we get angry. We have to spill – yell and scream and get it all out of our systems. Others are like volcanoes. They let the magma build and build, until it bursts. Then get out of their way. If your character is the latter type, show him turning the other cheek, and withdrawing when he’s angry with someone until she explodes and wow! what a fantastic scene it will be.

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest:

Amazing Bookstores

Literary pilgrims – look for these amazing bookstores while you travel the globe. Thanks to the New York Times Dec. 7, 2016 travel issue for this post. I’ve cut and edited it for space.

Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal

The 110-year-old structure could easily be mistaken for a church. Topped with spires, the finely wrought Gothic-style facade opens onto a soaring space with columns, ornate medieval motifs and a dazzling stained-glass ceiling that hovers over the marquee attraction: a sinewy blood-red double staircase that coils like a strand of DNA.

According to bookshop lore, J. K. Rowling drew inspiration for her young-adult novels from the shop’s creaky interiors while teaching English in Porto in the early 1990s.  


 Credit: Zhongshuge Bookstore

Zhongshuge Bookstore

When you walk into the shop in Hangzhou, China, the books appear to reach impossible heights and stretch clear into the distance, an effect created by the perfect symmetry of the dark wooden shelves and the clever use of mirrors on the ceilings and walls. In an amphitheater-like room for readings and lectures, the impression is amplified by the reflection of the curved wall in the mirrored ceiling; it feels as if you are completely surrounded by a rainbow of book spines. In yet another room, the books are arranged on thin columns placed randomly around the room like trees in a forest, with benches interspersed for reading. Again, a mirrored ceiling makes the shelves appear as if they are not just trees, but towering redwoods.


Credit: Horacio Paone for The New York Times

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of Buenos Aires’ most remarkable landmarks, a sprawling space whose history mirrors the cultural development of Argentina. The grandeur of the former theater belies the rather prosaic merchandise provided by the bookshop chain that owns the current incarnation: The open interior is surrounded by tiers of balconies that, especially when lit in the evenings, make it easy to imagine the ballet and opera and tango performances of a century ago.

On the ground floor at the very back of the store is the stage, still bedecked with red curtains, and now supporting tables and chairs: This has become a cafe and a good place for foot-weary tourists to down an espresso. The books include works carried by chain bookstores (there’s a small English language section) but the music selection is excellent, a small reminder of the heritage of the Grand Splendid.


Plotters and Pantsers

Credit: Ann Again

Plotters and pantsers is a literary phrase often used by writers.

I confess I’m a pantser. I’ve tried hard to plot. In fact, right now I’m in the midst of an excellent book on writing called The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. And everything he says makes absolute sense … except for the fact that I find it overwhelming. He’s fantastic; he gives you examples for everything he talks about … but nevertheless, if I was to follow everything he mentions I would go raving mad and totally incapable of writing a single word.

Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files (which I love – please God, let him finish the damn books) has a whole series of articles on writing a novel. He breaks down the craft into more manageable nuggets which I will paraphrase and share in forthcoming posts – sometimes teaching someone else something helps to drill it into your own brain. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

The final person who I’ve looked to for help is Chuck Wendig whose maniacal posts are not just a hoot to read; they actually do help you to understand some of the ways you can improve your writing skills.

But the bottom line is when you are writing your first draft, it’s just too difficult to think of breaking everything down and plotting your story with a mind to symbolism, theme, moral argument, beliefs and values, desire, drive … yikes! I’m already getting a headache.

I think that all comes after you’ve got the essentials of your story down. I start with an idea, and that idea changes many times before I’ve got it down pat. Once the characters have some kind of personality, I let them do the talking, and let them suck me into their world and tell me what they’re doing and what the plot is; what they have to overcome and how they plan to do it. That, to me, is what pantsers do (so called because they fly by the seat of their pants).

Plotters of course plot everything out before they write – and that’s a good thing if it works for you.

Plotters or pantsers – let me know what you are.

Author Brand and Platform

Author Brand and Platform are words that writers keep hearing over and over again. But many writers have no idea what these words mean.



What does Author Brand and Platform Mean?

Bev Burgess Bell, local creative writing coach, will present a free ‘AUTHOR BRAND AND PLATFORM’ seminar for creative writers. This 2-hour seminar is designed to de-mystify what Brand and Platform means to a writer who has not yet published his/her first novel.

The seminar is FREE, but you need to register. Email to save your seat.


When: Monday, November 14, 2016
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at
Where: Unity Church of Mississauga, 3075 Ridgeway, Dr. Mississauga.
Cost: FREE

To reserve, or for more information, call (289) 795-0307 or email me at

First Page Critiques by Literary Agents

first52First page critiques by literary agents are gold for writers. At the Toronto Writing Workshop, held a week ago, we were fortunate to drop off our first page for critiquing. As we all know, the first page is enormously important. It can make or break your book.

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

Stacey Donaghy-Donaghy Literary Group

A panel of 11 agents read the first page (they picked random people). My fellow writer, Linda and I were in the front and were chosen to yell out ‘Six’ when six agents held up their hands which meant the first page had bored them and they wouldn’t read any further. (We did our job with aplomb!) About 12-15 first pages were read and almost every one was cut short because 6 agents raised their hands. In every single case, at least 4 agents raised their hands.

Here are some of the comments from the agents:

Opening with dialogue is a red flag

– Introduce your plot right away

– If your first paragraph has major issues, it introduces red flags for the agent

– Red flags for an agent – Character begins novel by waking up, seeing what he/she looks like and weather

– Make sure every word belongs on the page

– Expository dialogue – stuff you wouldn’t say, but is the author giving info

– You can introduce the reader to something shocking but don’t spoil it by taking the reader out of the action

– Grammatical errors are totally fixable but turn the agent off

– Role of profanity. Use it when it works – not for shock value. Must be authentic

– Swearing in description is really difficult – ex: shitty little apartment (doesn’t work)

– Don’t open with a bored character. Your reader might get bored as well. Don’t make your reader bored along with the character

– Don’t lose your effectiveness by overusing certain words

– Starting with a date might turn off some readers. Only use if really necessary

– Lack of flow is a problem

– Skin doesn’t become hyper aware. Be aware of how you are in your head

– Be careful of looking like you’ve pulled something out of the thesaurus. Don’t be too creative with your words (meaning using high-falutin words) it pulls the reader out

– Don’t start getting technical right away. If the reader doesn’t know who’s talking, you will lose them

– Nix the wordiness. Agents will immediately assume the rest of the manuscript is wordy too

– Description overkill – you have an entire manuscript to build your world. Don’t do everything on the first page. Sensory overkill

– Recognize that telling every detail can be better served by showing it

I wish they had picked one of the five of our first pages. I guarantee there would have been
no raised hands.

Grammar and Vocabulary Matter



Do grammar and vocabulary matter any more? It wouldn’t seem so when you take a look at texting, email and even some blogs. Have to confess I use shortcuts when texting – no upper case, abbreviations that only make sense to someone in the 21st century  and, yes, I’m also guilty of ignoring punctuation.

Why? Because of the nature of the beast. Texting is instantaneous, like chatting. We don’t necessarily speak in perfect sentences or with good grammar so this seems to work for texting and the casual email.

 AUG. 15 The Dreaded Synopsis Made Easy (click here) 

AUG. 29 – Draft Your Query Letter (click here)

SEPT. 5 – Learn How to Find a Literary Agent  (click here)

But when it comes to writing a novel, or your blog (which literary agents, publishers, readers and the general public may judge you by)  you should use proper grammar and the correct vocabulary. Yes, grammar and vocabulary do matter … especially if you are a writer.

As writers, words are the tools we use to construct our story. And vocabulary is one of the most powerful of those tools. After all, if someone doesn’t understand what we are saying, then we have failed miserably. A good vocabulary allows you to communicate not only your ideas, but the thoughts and emotions of the characters that populate your novel, plus it allows the reader to visualize the world you have created through the art of description. The right word at the right time makes all the difference.

Just remember that having a rich vocabulary is not about using the most intricate or difficult word you can find, or using jargon. Think about vocabulary as choosing the best dress for the occasion.  dressesYou may have twenty-five gorgeous dresses in your closet, but the blue jewel tone is the one that will best display your assets for that particular occasion. That’s the one you go with.

In the same way, grammar can make or break your story.  Many writers whine that grammar is not their best suit. So learn it. It’s a bad carpenter that blames his tools for his shoddy work and it’s a bad writer that blames grammar for a poor story. Just like a carpenter needs to use a saw, so too, the writer needs to  acquire a rich vocabulary and to learn the rules of English grammar.


2016 Summer Writing Classes in Oakville

Creative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Aug.2 – Sept. 13 (no class Aug. 9)

Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10)

For more details click on the links or email

Learn to Write a Query and Synopsis



Writing a query and synopsis for your novel is, arguably, more difficult than writing the darned story itself. How do you condense 90,000 words into a mere 3-400 words (for a query) or a page for a synopsis?

Join me for the following workshops and learn to do the impossible. You’ll leave with a working copy of your own query and synopsis.

Monday, August 15 – Synopsis WorkshopThe Dreaded Synopsis Made Easy (you’ll work on your own synopsis. Bring laptop.) 12:30 – 3:30 p.m. Cost: $40 Email to register and for location

Monday, August 29 – Query Workshop Draft Your Query Letter (you’ll work on your own query) 12:30 – 3:30 p.m. Cost: $40 Email to register and for location

The final piece of the puzzle is finding the right agent to help you get your book published. With hundreds of agents in both the United States and Canada, finding the one that suits you can be challenging. This workshop gives you the tools to find the right match for you and your manuscript.

Monday, September 5– Workshop – Guide to Finding a Literary Agent 12:30 – 3:30 Cost: $40 p.m. Email to register and for location

How to Create a Complex Villain

villainAll novels need a villain – and a complex villain at that. No cardboard, one-dimensional Darth Maul need apply. The only type of villain I enjoy is one who is so bad and with so many layers that he’s gooooood!

Disclaimer – for the sake of ease of reading, I’m using the pronoun ‘he’ but everything applies to ‘she’ too.

Villains, especially complex villains are fun to create. You get to use all the flaws, imperfections, negative traits and disgusting quirks that you’ve compiled over the years in the lovely little notebook that every writer carries wherever he or she goes – no, your phone doesn’t count! As far as I’m concerned, little ratty notebooks are the only ones that matter. The notebook that’s been stuck in your purse so long that it has lipstick and blush marks on it, pieces of gum stuck on and its pages are dog-eared. That notebook has undoubtedly captured the essence of whatever you have observed and need to note down.

Add Some Shoe-Shine to Your Baddiedownload

It’s simple. A complex villain is never simple. He doesn’t just want power or money just to be rich or powerful.That’s boring. Give your villain motivation. Perhaps his daughter or his favorite dog was killed by vicious drug lords or mad scientists and he’s out for revenge. Nothing will stop him.

Give Him a Past (and a horrible one at that)

Maybe he drowned rats as a kid or burned ants with a magnifying glass. It’s the type of thing that can lead to ever more repugnant deeds. You need to decide how deranged, vile or immoral he should be.

Are Villains Born or Made?

It’s nurture versus nature. Was your villain born or created because of something horrific happening in his past? All the psychological thrillers on television seem to have psychopaths who have become that way because their mothers fed them gruel or forgot to pack their lunch. Yes, I’m making light of this, but do your homework and either have something vile happen to your villain as a little boy or else have him born that way. Look around your child’s playground. There is always one kid who is bullying and tormenting the others. You can’t tell me that toddlers have learned that behavior – chances are they were born that way.

Give Him a Soft Spotwith cat

Stroking a fluffy cat while pondering evil deeds is always a classic – James Bond villain in You Only Live Twice does this with aplomb as does Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. But try something fresh. Whether it’s a love for a hairy tarantula or a guinea pig, give him something to soften his evilness. It doesn’t even have to be a pet. Perhaps your villain enjoys the sweet scent of jasmine or is a master gardener.

What kind of villains do you enjoy creating?


2016 Summer Classes in Oakville

Creative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Aug.2 – Sept. 13 (no class Aug. 9)

Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10)

For more details click on the links or email


Exquisite Words and Fancy Sentences



Sometimes we get so involved in writing exquisite words and fancy sentences that we forget to go with our gut. For sure, as writers we must write well, but not at the expense of beautiful sentences with no actual story to bind them together.

Where’s the Beef?download

Never a truer piece of advertising! You can be as lyrical and poetic as you want, with elaborate descriptions and detailed narrative but if you do not grab your reader by the gut and twist it, they will just wonder what the story is about? The intricate descriptions may hold their attention for a while, but in the they will put the book down because they don’t know where and what it is leading to.

If you can write as well as Ernest Hemingway but have no plot, no characters that grab you by the throat and prevent you from breathing, no twists and turns and no exciting adventures that leave you panting for more – you have nothing. You must have a story … and an interesting one at that. The fancy writing comes second.

Fantastic writing, a great way with words and vivid dialogue will only get you so far. A juicy plot is what you need first. Good writing is second. Why? Because if your story is gripping, your reader will want to know what comes next. J.K. Rowling will never be in the same literary class as V.S. Naipaul but who cares?

There are only a select few who even know who V.S. Naipaul is (FYI – he is a Trinidad-born Nobel Prize-winning author) but there is almost no one in the world who does not find Rowling’s Harry Potter series gripping or who has not heard about them.

download (1)Rowling can bring a story alive in a way that most writers cannot and that’s because she has such a compelling story. You just can’t wait to find out what happens to poor old Harry Potter. His future is so unpredictable that we cannot help reading on. Even her secondary characters are fully formed and have lives of their own that we can’t help getting invested in.

What does our gut want?

  1. A Juicy Problem

Our story must open with something crucial to the hero that takes him out of his comfort zone and instantly gives the reader something and someone to root for. They must know what the point of the story is.

Know what your protagonist wants.

  1. An Emotional Connection

The reader wants to connect with the story in a visceral way – with a gut feeling that he/she is going to love or hate the main character. Reading fiction is not a cold and dispassionate activity – you can leave that for studying something dry and dull like statistics. With fiction, we want to feel that connection to the protagonist and insidiously experience whatever the heroine is encountering – her fears, risks, adventures, her love – whatever.

  1. A Deeper Meaning

Your whole story is not just about the plot and the twists and turns it may take. It’s about the protagonist and how he changes as a result of whatever he has to go through. In other words, the reader doesn’t just want to know how the main character solves his problem. The reader wants to know how the character will evolve and see the world differently because of how he surmounted the problem and achieved his goal.

What is your reader really rooting for when they read your story? It should be more than just your heroine achieving her goal.


2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville (space still available)

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville (FULL) 

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville (1 spot left)

For more details click on the links or email

Writing Workshop for Moms

When: March 24, 2016

image001 (1)Oakville Parent Child Centre

Write a story for your kids … OR about your kids.

Capture their crazy escapades, their hilarious antics and their poignant moments.

What to Expect: Fun, laughter, memories and the ability to flex your creative muscles

Walk Away With:

– Outlines of several stories

  • – Writing and practices to inspire you
  • – Ideas about what to do with your stories
  • – Creative momentum
  • For more information or to register contact OPCC at 905-849-6366


2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email