Tag Archives: writing classes

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:

Strong Female Characters


hermioneTen Tips for Creating Strong Female Characters

1. Strong female characters should be people first and female second. The fact that they’re women shouldn’t get in the way of their other traits – whether good or bad.

2. All the women in your novel need not be sexy. Are all your male characters gorgeous with no other characteristics?

Winter 2016/2017
Crafting Your Novel – Tues. afternoons Jan. 3 – March 21 in Oakville – details HERE 

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 4 – March 22 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 5 – March 23 in Oakville – details HERE

3. Most women are not wispy waifs or voluptuous Victoria Secret models. A woman can be attractive and not fit a stereotype.

4. Just because a woman is competent, strong and independent does not mean she has to be a Plain Jane. Think Buffy, Hermione Granger and Scarlett O’Hara.

5. Making your female character good at stereotypical boy things like an auto-mechanic in order to depict she’s a strong character is a cop-out. Sure, she can be a mechanic if that’s what she likes to do, but don’t do it for reason.

6. A lot of women will probably notice bad skin or frumpy outfits on another woman, but beyond that they won’t scrutinize the other woman too hard. They’re way more likely to notice a snooty expression or a false smile.

7. Not all women want marriage and children. Some want one or the other, some want neither. Likewise, not all women want to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Some want to be psychiatrists or artists or teachers or musicians…or whatever else – just like men.

8. Female characters should probably not be solely motivated by a need to have the approval or attention of a man. Or all men in general, really. Female characters who do this ought to change by the end of the story, and realize that their happiness shouldn’t depend on the whims of menfolk.

9. Avoid overly ‘man-hating’ women. Being empowered doesn’t mean she’s terrible to men just for being men—it just means she’s not stepped on for being a woman

10. Don’t have a female character just to have a female character. Make her a whole person.

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

Real People in Fiction

kim-karMany times your plot might call for using real people in your story – is that kosher? Can you do it without being sued? For example, you might want to use the crazy Hell’s Angel character who happens to live on your street or a celebrity you may have met, or know about. Would you be sued?

Winter 2016/2017
Crafting Your Novel – Tues. afternoons Jan. 3 – March 21 in Oakville – details HERE 

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons Jan. 4 – March 22 in Oakville  – details HERE
Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons Jan. 5 – March 23 in Oakville – details HERE

A Short Guide

  • Rule for celebrities are different than for us common folk. Their names and faces are worth money, plus they have the dough to sue you if they don’t like, or object to what you have written about them. If it is a dead celebrity, the rule is different, although there are exceptions (people who have died in California and some other states still have rights or perhaps it is their estates that have the right – you will need to find out about this for sure before you write about someone from such states).
  • Generally, once a person is dead, their rights die with them.spock
  • Generally, you cannot use a live person as a character in your book because it invades their privacy and there is a possibility that they could bring a libel suit against you if you have them (as your character) say or do something that goes against what they might actually do or say in real life.
  • Cameos are acceptable, especially if you use an actual event they attended or spoke at. Anything that you cull from an interview with the person can also be used. You cannot change the facts. If you say that your character looks like Paul Newman in one of his movies, that’s fine.
  • Ordinary people like your weird uncle or crazy aunt also have privacy rights. They may not sue you, but they will despise you and perhaps turn your family against you … or they could lap it up. You never know.

Strategies if you have to use a real person

  • Change their name and details so they cannot recognize themselves
  • Don’t make them look absurd or turn them into criminals. Most people would love the notoriety, but you just never know

There’s no law against using someone’s story to inspire your own. In fact, it is a common way for authors to get ideas. Alice in Alice in Wonderland was based on Alice Liddell as everyone knows and there are so many others.

In fact, we often use anecdotes and stories from our own life to kick-start our novels. And that’s great. It brings a certain veracity to your story. Just remember that there are others who are involved as well who might take exception to what you say – it is part of their life too, after all.

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

Voice in Writing

what-voice-should-use-useVoice is the distinct style that you bring to your writing … and you need it big time. Think about listening to a person who has a boring, flat, monotone voice. Do you phase out and almost fall asleep listening to that person? It’s the exact same thing in a novel. If the voice you choose to write in has no color, no personality and no rhythm, your reader will glaze over and toss the book.

You can develop this voice only by allowing your inner self to run free. If you constantly worry about how someone will judge you by the words you use, you’ll end up getting stuck and your dry and boring prose will show it. Forget about what others think, let you imagination soar and allow your characters to shine through.

Steps to find the right voice for your story:5-steps-to-finding-your-writing-voice

  • Know the genre of your book. After all, someone writing a kid’s book will write in a different tone to someone writing a romance.
  • Visualize the characters. One of my writers (you know who you are) is fantastic at bringing to life old Hollywood characters. When I read her versions of characters like Ava Gardner and Truman Capote, I feel they come straight to life for me. The rhythm, cadence and choice of words are bang on. You can do this by watching, listening and imitating until you get it down pat.
  • Point of View is also important as the entire story unfolds through someone’s eyes and thoughts. Even omniscient voice must have a distinct personality – that of the narrator’s.
  • Choice of words can affect the voice of a story. Teenage girls talk in a particular rhythm and use specific slang. Some of my writers are really good at transcribing this particular voice (you know who you are) and when they sometimes falter and allow their own voice to show through – it is noticeable and jarring.

tonegraphicIs Tone and Voice the Same Thing?

No. Voice provides the personality of the story while tone sets the mood. And this mood is set by the author. It depends completely on whether the author wants the story to unfold in an amusing, grave, edgy, tragic or romantic effect – you get the drift.

Movies do tone perfectly. When you see a movie, you can immediately figure out they way the director wants your mind to work by the way the music builds. Jaws is a perfect example – when that ‘dadadaddadadada’ music starts up, you just know that shark is going to come and do something horrible. We even use that sound effect in our daily life when we want that same effect. That’s the tone of the movie.

Think about these aspects when writing your novel and make sure it is consistent throughout the novel.

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

Convincing Dialogue

talkThe best way to write convincing dialogue is to remember that dialogue in fiction is NOT conversation.

It is a way of furthering the plot. It is never used just for the heck of breaking up the narrative.

If you listen to people talking in daily life, they use a lot of ‘hems’ and ‘haws’ – they leave sentences hanging and sometimes lose the thread of what they want to say. Donald Trump is a perfect example. Listen to him, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. He makes no sense at all.

In fiction, people talk it perfect sentences and they don’t waste valuable time making small talk. In fact, even greetings are short and to the point, if used at all.

What Can Dialogue Do?

Dialogue in fiction is used to propel the plot and to flesh out personality traits or characteristics conversationof the people populating your story.

  • Give a character a speech impediment or accent (just don’t overdo it or it will cause problems) or even have them mis-use words. Ex: Mrs. Malaprop from Dickens
  • Use them to bring in backstory in a natural and convincing manner
  • Fill in gaps in the storyline through a dialogue between two characters
  • Gossip or talk about another character thereby allowing the reader to discover more about the absent person
  • Allow one person to eavesdrop on another’s conversation

Potential Mistakes

  • Having dialogue for the sake of it. Dialogue must always have a purpose.
  • Unnatural speech. Let the dialogue flow naturally. Make sure the speech is right for the character talking. Example: if the character is uneducated, he will talk a certain way. If a character is a teen, she will speak like someone in high school with slang words (don’t overdo or you will date your piece).
  • Very long monologues can be boring. Break up the speeches with some give and take between the characters and also make sure we know what they are doing while they are talking.
  • Dialogue tags should be unobtrusive. Once in a while, you might want to use an adjective or adverb, but use sparingly.
  • Go easy on the accents, or jargon, or slang. A word here and there to give the flavor of what you’re trying to convey goes a long way.
  • Try varying your characters’ speech patterns. We all have different ways of talking. I have a neighbor that starts every line with “Nothing …” and then launches off into a long story. Give your characters some personalized traits.

So even though dialogue is written as if two people are conversing, somehow you have to convey that it is natural. Not an easy task to do. The best way you can do this is to write the dialogue and read it out loud. When you read it out loud, certain aspects will stand out and you’ll be able to adjust so that the words flow more normally.

When you read a book you enjoy, parse it to see how the dialogue is written. I will often devour a book I enjoy and then go back and read it at leisure to understand why I enjoyed it so much. What worked? What made it so compelling? This is why it is so important to read if you want to write. You can learn so much.

RELATED POSTS from Writer’s Digest
5 Things You Can Do to Bring Your Writing Ideas (and Career) to Life
5 Tips on Writing & Illustrating Children’s Books From Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Writing the Supernatural Thriller: How to Turn Old Fables into New Tales


4 Tips for New Writers

aliexpress-tips-reviewTip No. 1

New writers – this is your first, best, and most important tip. DROP the ‘wannabe’ moniker and recognize that you are a writer. If you think you are a ‘wannabe’ then you’ll never be anything but that.

Tip No. 2

So what if someone writes a similar story – someone once said (can’t remember which great mind said this) there are no new stories: everyone steals from everyone else and changes it to become their own. As long as there are different elements, all will be well. After all, a mystery is a mystery, a romance is a romance and so on.   Just do it and your story will turn out different.

Ask any of my students and they will tell you that I have a terrific knack of re-writing in their voice BUT – there is no way I would ever be able to write their novels because I just don’t think like them. I have no idea what choice of words they will use, where their plot meanders off to, what their characters will do and say and what exactly will happen in their story’s climactic moment. What I’m saying here is that if I were to write someone else’s story (I’m not talking about ghostwriting) that story would end up becoming mine because of the way I think, and the words and phrases I choose to employ. My style of writing is different from yours or anyone else’s.

So if your story starts off being similar to someone else’s, chances are it will become your own after just a couple of pages or so. Copying someone else’s style is a good way to begin writing and learning the ropes. What do musicians do? They sing other people’s songs and play other people’s riffs until they feel confident in doing their own material.

Tip No. 3

Each person’s writing is unique.  One way to discover your own uniqueness is to try writing in different genres until you find the style of writing you enjoy. And of course – read, read, and read some more.

Tip No. 4

Start with a short story on something you know very well – for ex: if you come from a small town in Quebec, try your hand at a mystery that occurs in the Quebec wilderness. You’ll be able to bring that whole landscape alive – imagine something horrible happening in the aluminum mines of Shawinigan or someone falling into the vats of pulp at the paper mills in Trois Rivieres. It will give you a chance to do a nice accent for interest as well – just some ideas.

I used the Jeffrey asbestos mine (from Quebec) in one of my stories because I know Quebec fairly well.

Think about it. It’s easier to start with something small and then you can flesh it out.

Check out these links from Writer’s Digest:

Complex Vocabulary in Fiction

Credit: mind42.com

Credit: mind42.com

Don’t get hung up on complex vocabulary.

Writing should always be simple and direct. The whole purpose of writing a story is to communicate your ideas to the person who is reading it. So if you confuse your reader with big words, you will be doing yourself a disservice.

Now, you could have a character in your story who is addicted to using big words. You can have fun with a character like this and way back in 1775, Richard Sheridan did

Credit: richardmajor.com

Credit: richardmajor.com

this to great effect in his play The Rivals. His character, Mrs. Malaprop thought she was extremely high and mighty and used words she thought were correct, but were wrong.

Example: Mrs. Malaprop said, “Illiterate him quite from your memory” (she meant obliterate) and “She’s as headstrong as an allegory” (but meant alligator). As you see, the words almost sound right, but are actually nonsensical.

While you don’t want to talk down to your reader, you do want to write in a simple way that is understandable to all. If you read masters like Hemingway and John Steinbeck, they write simple and elegant prose and rarely use complex vocabulary. Learn from them and ditch the big words. They won’t serve you well. You will just come across as a pompous writer who is talking down to the reader.

Learn more through these links to Writer’s Digest:

4 Tips to Improve Your Writing Instantly
Write a Standout Chapter 1
A Writer’s Guide to the Web

Follow Bev on Twitter @bev_bell and on Facebook

Skilled Writer or Rambling Idiot

writerSkilled writer or rambling idiot? That is the question most writers ask themselves (or wonder) on completion of their first draft. Most writers write reams. They dawdle on parts that are dear to themselves, feast on platters of description that don’t necessarily go anywhere or do anything extra for the subject matter and stuff the first draft with adjectives, adverbs and countless exclamation points.

draftPut your draft aside for a few weeks and return to it and you would well ask yourself – “Skilled writer or rambling idiot?” Those words and phrases that were perfect pearls now appear phony. This is when a good critiquing eye comes in. If you are part of a critiquing group or are taking part in a writing class (especially one like Beyond-the-Lamppost where you present your work every week) your peers will be able to cut the extraneous bits that you find difficult to. If more than one person zones in on an area, have a good look at that paragraph, sentence or character. It is a problem and you need to fix it.

Beyond-the-Lamppost classes are small (never more than 8-10) so everyone gets a load of attention and heavy feedback. Each week, you send in 1,500 words that are critiqued by all members of the group. Lots of hard work, but lots of fun.

FALL 2016 – 12-week Writing Classes

Creative Writing 101 – Tuesday afternoons Sept 27 – Dec. 13 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Wednesday afternoons Sept. 28 – Dec. 14 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Crafting Your Novel – Thursday afternoons Sept. 29 – Dec. 15 from 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Fee: $160 for 12 sessions – To register and for location details, email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Boring Writing

boringWe’ve all read books with boring writing. For myself, I love such books. They give me hope. If writers such as these can somehow get published, then – there is hope for myself and all the other good writers out there. All we need is perseverance and the ability to find the right literary agent to champion our book.

What is Boring Writing?

Sure, you can recognize boring writing when you read it. It’s the type of stuff that makes your eyes close and is way cheaper and better for you than sleeping pills. But how can writers recognize whether their writing is boring or not? Here’s what to look for:

Hackneyed, Overworked Plots – these are the ones you’ve seen done over and over again. While there are only so many plot structures to go around, it is our job as writers to see  how we can refresh these plots, and re-work them so they are fresh and unique.

mad scientistStereotypes –  think the smart-mouthed detective, the Pretty Woman hooker, the mad scientist. What can we do to rescue these characters from their cliched existence?

Soul-searching – yeah, yeah, all very well but thenavel reader can take only so much navel gazing. There is a time and place for introspection in your novel, but too much of it turns the reader off. Get of the stupid couch and do something for god’s sake!

Where’s the Action? – if your character has no objective and just sits on his butt and thinks, well – where’s the story? Readers want action from their characters: they want to vicariously live and enjoy what they can’t necessarily do themselves. Give it to them or risk them tossing your book.

Crisp, Exciting Writing

The best way to ensure your writing is exciting, dynamic and has that un-put-downable quality is to present your work in writing classes or writing groups that you know will give you honest feedback. Family members don’t count – they like you too much to give an honest opinion!

When to Stop Editing

It’s tough enough to start writing a page, a chapter, a complete novel. But what’s even more difficult is to know when to stop editing your work … and it’s as important as writing the entire manuscript.

Trust Yourself

download (3)You have an inner voice – I call mine Beverley 1 (and this other Beverley is much cleverer than me). I trust that other ‘person’ implicitly. You might have other names for the inner voice: gut, instinct, feelings, urges, intuition. Trust it.

Having said that, that inner voice can only be fostered and cultivated by reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing. If you have a piece of your earliest writing, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Your voice will have matured, the way you string words together will have improved, your choice of metaphors and similes will be less clichéd and so on. That inner voice will show you your weaknesses and yes, your strengths too. It will also let you know when you’ve done enough. Trust it.

Enough is Enough

Leave tinkering to the tinkers. If you have the perfect Goldilocks i.e. it is just right – leave it be. Chances are your goldilocksintuition is correct. If you want to save deleted scenes go right ahead, but save them in another file. Once you are rich and famous and have a magnificent website that thousands of fans click onto, you can showcase those deleted scenes and your fans will love you. Until then, leave well alone.

Recognize the Good, Ditch the Bad

Sometimes, as an author, you’ll find your story just doesn’t work. Something seems to be inherently wrong with it. No amount of plotting, planning, changing or editing can make the darned thing work. Time to let it go. Start fresh. Look for other ideas that are workable. You job as a writer is to come up with something unique, fresh and yes, marketable. If it smells like barf, it probably is.

Scrutinize All Parts of Your Novel

A novel must contain certain essential elements for it to work such as plot, setting, characters, dialogue and conflict of course. Does your novel have this? Analyze your work, pretend to be a coroner and do a little post mortem on the story. Are your characters lively, interesting? Is your plot gripping? Honest? Does your conflict work? If yes, it’s time to stop fiddling and work on your query and synopsis.

Listen to Your Readers

listenIf five out of the six impartial (family doesn’t count) and trustworthy people who read your story point to the same problem – you have a problem. If they all concur that the story is good to go, it’s probably time to lay down your pen. Leave your novel alone for a few weeks. I find this painfully difficult, but in truth, it works. You will be able to come back with a fresh and discerning eye.

An Agent or Publisher May Think Differently

Hooray! You have an agent or a publisher. All those worries you had before will probably return to haunt you. Agents and publishers are notorious for changing or editing a novel to suit what they deem to be correct. It is up to you to decide/argue/reason/debate with the agent or publisher as to how the story should unravel.


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 beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com