Tag Archives: Creative Writing

3 Best Writing Books

Choose one or all of these writing books to gift the Shakespeare in your life.

kingOn Writing by Stephen King

This is my favorite book on writing – strange because I’m not a big fan of King’s mostly because I don’t like horror and find his writing style not very appealing. He is a master of plots though and has a wicked imagination, which I admire. What’s great about On Writing is the advice he gives. It is clear, meaningful and written is plain English. Buy it, you won’t regret it.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. Whitestyle

So many writers today have no idea how to string a sentence together and as for grammar and spelling – well, they seemed to have bypassed that class in grade school. You can’t write a novel the way you text, so if you want to learn the elements of writing – begin with this book.


bellPlot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell

Whew! that’s one heck of a title, but read through that and you’ll get a super idea of how plots work and how to create them. James Scott Bell writes suspense and thrillers (not my favorite genre) but when it comes to teaching someone how to craft a novel – he’s No. 1 in my book.


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January Creative Writing Classes

Start the New Year off with a creative writing class. If you are new to writing and want to learn how to turn your idea into a novel, Creative Writing 101 on Tuesday afternoons is the one to choose.

You can come with your own ideas, or tempt your brain with some writing prompts.If you have a manuscript you’ve been working on for some time, and have gotten nowhere with – the Wednesday or Thursday class will be ideal for you. This is a challenging course where you submit 1,500 words each week. It is intended for writers who want to strengthen their manuscripts and move ahead rapidly. Be prepared for lots of hard work but plenty of fun.

Creative Writing Classes

WINTER 2017 – 12-week Writing Classes

imagesCreative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Jan. 10 – March 14  from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Jan. 11 – March 15  from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Thursday afternoons Jan. 12 – March 16 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Location: Unity Church, 3075 Ridgeway Drive, Mississauga
Fee: $160 for 12 sessions – To register, email: beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Rules for Writers

rulesRules I Agree With

Never open a book with weather – Agree (Boring)

Never use the words “suddenly”. Agree – within reason.

Winter 2016/2017
Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons Jan. 10 – March 14 in Oakville – details HERE 
Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 11 – March 15 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 12 – March 16 in Oakville – details HERE

Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Agree – it can become fatiguing quickly

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. Agree completely

Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK – Agree.

Carry something to write on at all times. Agree – you never know when inspiration will hit

If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick – Agree – don’t be stupid

If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. – Agree. Doing nothing gets you nowhere

Give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Agree – it will bring your book alive

Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. Agree, within reason. If you keep changing your mind, you’ll get nowhere

A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk – Agree, or sleep on it

Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. Agree – your job is to finish your book

Keep a diary. Agree – if you don’t you’ll regret all those great thoughts or character you forgot to jot down

Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. Absolutely agree – don’t depend on just one idea

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. Absolutely agree – just do it.

Rules I Disagree With

Avoid prologues – Disagree (I read them all and find them fascinating)

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue – Disagree – Said is one of the best dialogue tags to use, but mix it up every now and then for variety

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” – Disagree –  They can be powerful when used with a discerning eye

Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Bah – humbug – Disagree –  J.K. Rowling uses them by the handful – on each page

Don’t write in public places. Disagree – Write wherever is right for you

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


From Idea to Story

Credit: designshack.net

Credit: designshack.net

There is no easy way to get from idea to story.

Ideas themselves are a snap to acquire. But what you do with them after is the key. You can get ideas in your dreams, in everyday life, in overheard conversations and on the television. You religiously jot them down in your idea notebook, but when the time comes to begin writing that masterpiece the muse has often taken wing and flown off. Those magnificent words you logged with such gusto stare back at you in meaningless mots of drivel.

Is there anything a writer can do?

Yes, there is. Keep jotting those ideas down, and then begin asking yourself some pertinent questions such as:

  • Does this idea lead anywhere?
    What does the character want?
    Is this a mystery, a romance, fantasy?
    What conflict does the main character face?
    How will he resolve this conflict?
    Does he have goals and objectives?
    Can I stuff obstacles in his way to prevent him from reaching his goal?
    What kind of change will the character experience during the process?
    Is there a way for me to populate my character’s world?
    What sort of resolution does my character want?
    Which part of the original idea excites you (the writer) most?
    How can I let my imagination run free and take this snippet of an idea and build an entire world around it?
    Can I take this boring idea and revitalize it by placing it in a genre where it would be fresh and exciting?

If you can answer these questions, then you are on a roll and should be able to flesh out your idea into a story. Start off thinking in terms of a short story if that is more helpful to you. As long as there is a beginning, a middle and an end, it will serve as a guide or synopsis for you on your way to creating a full novel-length manuscript.

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Start Your Novel

Credit: joshuamowll.wordpress.com

Credit: joshuamowll.wordpress.com

How you start your novel can be a fun, spontaneous process, or one filled with forethought and planning.

Many people have different ways of approaching writing and no one way is right or wrong. Sometimes, the perfect first line can lead you to creating an entire imaginary world – it’s like the story erupts within you, based on that cue. People who work in this way are called ‘pantsers’ meaning they fly by the seat of their pants.

Other times, it is necessary to think and draw up a story arc to plot exactly where you are going. People who work this way are called ‘plotters’ because they plot their story in depth. There is no right or wrong way. And in actual fact, you do need elements of both approaches.

Having said that, if you are new to writing it would make sense for you to answer these

Credit: deadline.com

Credit: deadline.com

questions before starting:

Do you have a storyline?
Who is your protagonist is and what does he or she want?
What is their goal, their objective?
What is the inciting incidents that sets the protagonist on their path?
Who is the antagonist or villain?

Once you can answer these questions, you can start fleshing out the characters and develop sub-plots, a climax and a way of ending your story on a satisfying note.

Writing a novel is consuming and fun, but you need to let your imagination take over. When writing a first draft, let the story flow in an organic way. Re-writing will take care of making sure everything makes sense in the story. Joining a writing class or a critiquing group will help you move your story forward and learn the elements of good writing.

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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.

Pitching to Literary Agents

20160820_092501Five of us Beyond-the-Lamppost writers attended last Saturday’s Toronto Writing Workshop in where we pitched our stories to several literary agents who were attending the conference. There were eleven literary agents there:

Marisa Corvisiero of The Corvisiero Agency
Moe Ferrara of the Bookends Literary Agency
Chris Bucci of The McDermid Agency
Cassandra Rodgers of The Rights Factory
Ali McDonald of The Rights Factory
Olga Filina of The Rights Factory
Rachel Letofsky of The Cooke Agency
Ellie Sipila of_____
Sue Miller of the Donaghy Literary Agency
Stacey Donaghy of the Donaghy Literary Group
Veronica Park of the Corvisiero Literary Agency

We all did 1-2 pitching sessions each. The results were better than we expected:

1 request for a full manuscript
Several requests for partial (50 pages) manuscripts
High interest in the pitched novel with a request to send query and first chapter once it’s been
Edited to required word count
Solid advice on the pitched query
Solid advice on the pitched story and how to make the plot even more exciting

It was worth the fear, the anxiety and the wet armpits. In the end, I think we all figured out that literary agents aren’t the demons we made them out to be in our minds, but were human beings just like us. And if we talked and behaved in our natural way, good things would come.

The excitement has come, the fulls and partials sent out but the work is not done. They could still be rejected and no offer of representation offered. So, as every writer knows – keep plugging away at sending out the queries and Write On.

Adding Conflict to Your Story

conflictWithout conflict, a story would be a lovely collection of thoughts and words but going nowhere.

What is Conflict?

Conflict is a problem that faces the main character. How he or she solves this conflict is what makes your story juicy and interesting.

Conflict can be about multiple things. It can be about something physical as in having to give up a job, a house, a family, a lover. Or it can be about what a character values and then is taken away from them. How will they get it back?

 Such things as:cash

  • Money
  • Friendship
  • Marriage
  • Honesty
  • Eco-friendly practices
  • Veganism

Things of value don’t always have to have a monetary value. It can be someone’s good name, love and a good marriage as in Pride and Prejudice or the prospect of never going hungry again as in The Hunger Games.

Ways to Create Conflict for Your Character

  • Give him a clear objective. Then something or someone has to get in the way big time to prevent him from achieving that goal.
  • Macro and micro – by that I mean your main character has a macro goal – something big, but he must also have micro goals to get him to his intended objective and that will help you to increase tension throughout each chapter.
  • Failure is your best option – your character must fail repeatedly, then get up and try to obstaclessurmount the huge obstacles that block him every way he turns.
  • Let disagreements and misunderstandings The more confusion you can create for your character the better the conflict and the story will be.
  • Make the situation worse. Whatever is happening, just make it ten times worse. Whatever is happening must happen at the worst possible time in the worst possible way.
  • What does the person risk? Make sure it is terrible.

Readers are not interested in happy, boring lives. They want something to happen, they want drama. They want to see their hero conquer all odds and win. There has to be a big change from beginning to end.

Do you have conflict in your novel?

Setting and Location of Your Novel

alienOnce you have your unique idea for a story, you have to decide on setting and location. Where should your story take place? This is dependent on many factors, not least of which is what type of novel or short story you are writing.

  • Fantasy – you’ll need to build your own world with its own set of rules
  • Mystery/Romance/Contemporary etc. can be set in our own world … but where, and when?

Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10) For more details email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Setting your story in a city you know well and love always makes sense. You’ll be able to bring it to life and people who know it will be able to recognize it – always thrilling to recognize familiar landmarks in a book you’re reading.

Here’s a little exercise for those of you interested in trying your hand at writing. Choose one of the following prompts and write 250 words or one page about it. Let your imagination run riot. Send it to me if you like and I’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t. The worst thing you can do is think too deeply here. Enjoy the process of thinking anything is possible. If you enjoy writing the exercise, try the other prompts as well. You never know – you just might end up writing a short story or novel about it.

  1. A castle filled with ghostscreepy castle
  2. Your home when you were six
  3. A major city like New York or Los Angeles seen through the eyes of someone who has only lived in a small village or hamlet
  4. Earth if you were an alien
  5. The ocean as seen through the eyes of a mermaid

Instead of writing straight narrative description, try to look at the setting and location through the eyes of the person discovering the beauty or strangeness of the scene. Try and become the person, seeing the scene through that character’s eyes. 

Describing Characters

godfatherUnforgettable characters are – well, difficult to forget. Some such characters that come to mind are The Godfather, Harry Potter, Gollum or Dracula. But instead of trying to create memorable characters, many writers get obsessed with convoluted plots in their novels and short stories. What we need to remember is readers rarely remember entire stories. What they do remember are unforgettable characters.

Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Aug. 3 – Sept. 14 (no class Aug. 10) For more details email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Here are three very different examples of character descriptions. In the second piece – A Clockwork Orange – the main character uses made-up words. Nevertheless, we can understand what he means. It still evokes sharp images in our brain, and that’s the essence of what a character description strives for.

Allow the reader to visualize the person described, not as a cardboard cut-out, but as a flesh and blood person.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowlinghagrid
“If the motorcycle was huge, it was nothing to the man sitting astride it. He was twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild — long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, he had hands the size of trash can lids, and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins.”

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess clockwork
“These sharps were dressed in the height of fashion too, with purple and green and orange wigs on their gullivers. Each one not costing less than three or four weeks of those sharps’ wages, I should reckon, and make-up to match (rainbows round the glazzies, that is, and the rot painted very wide). Then they had long black very straight dresses, and on the groody part of them they had little badges of like silver with different malchick’s names on them-Joe and Mike and suchalike.”

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
“He was a funny-looking child who became a funny-looking youth — tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola.”

The most important asset that a writer has is her sense of observation. Always carry a notebook and pencil and sketch out the eccentrics you encounter in your daily life. Sit at a café and people-watch. You’ll be surprised how much research and material you will collect.

Example: A few weeks ago, my husband and I were walking down Bloor when we almost bumped into a man with a white stick tapping it as if he was blind. He was clearly not. He kept shouting as if he was at a carnival “Nickel, dime or dollar, spare your nickel, dime or dollar.” If anyone gave him anything he’d say, “See you tomorrow.”

Real life is full of such oddballs that you can shoehorn and create unforgettable people to populate your novel or short story.