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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Write "Your" Slice of Life

I love to share interesting tid-bits that I run across on the net. Below is an article by Judy Wright that I wanted to share. Her advice is simple and common sense. You'll probably read it and say, "Gee, I already knew those things." But, sometimes it is the basics and simple things we forget or unintentionally ignore. Besides, her article is very cleanly written and a good example to emmulate.

So, here it is...

Write "Your" Slice of Life: 6 Quick and Easy Steps to Writing a Personal Essay
By Judy H. Wright

Do you know why the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series is so popular? Aside from terrific marketing and unequaled publicity, readers love the stories and personal essays. They are short, personal and teach a lesson or moral. If you would like to be a better writer of the personal essay, opinion pieces, reports and letters to the editor just follow the suggestions listed below:

1. Be brief. Many written reports or stories are 500 words or less. However, there is a general rule that an essay is between two and twenty typed, double-spaced pages. The most important criteria to remember is that a good piece needs to be an unbroken reading experience. The reader will lose interest if it is too long or wordy.

2. Tell a story. A personal essay is a story that has happened to you or that you know about firsthand. The reader assumes that it is nonfiction and that it will contain details and descriptions with which we are familiar. Structure your story around examples, using a pencil as your paintbrush to evoke images and paint a picture in the reader’s mind.

3. Make a point. You will want to illustrate your point, teach a lesson, explain a specific topic, or even support or criticize an idea. Your goal is to win sympathy or agreement. Do not turn it into a sermon or a soapbox to present the superiority of your ideas by including "shoulds" or “musts" aimed at the reader.

4. Use your senses. Enliven your essay with sensuous detail like how it smelled, tasted, sounded or felt. Make the reader feel like they are seeing and experiencing it through your body.

5. Tell about the ordinary. Personal essays are often best when they describe a common but freely shared experience. It doesn’t have to be about being a survivor of the Twin Towers. Talk about your reaction to 911. Or tell us about watching a sunset or baking bread. When you talk about walking your dog, take us along.

6. Make it engaging. An essay should arouse curiosity about life. Instead of preaching, invite us to consider your point of view by sharing the particular experience that brought you there, describe what happened, how you reacted, and why you interpret your experiences the way you do.

Think about your own interests and areas of special knowledge, activities, skills, attitudes, problems as well as typical obstacles faced in life. Teach us what you gained or lost in your life lesson. It is much easier to be convincing when you can draw from personal and firsthand information. Write it today. Submit it to Chicken Soup for the Soul or your local newspaper and become a published author. There are readers out there who want to share your slice of life.

© 2005 Judy H. Wright

This article has been prepared for your use by Judy H. Wright, author and life educator. You have permission to reprint it in your ezine or newsletter as long as the author and her web address is included; 406-549-9813. Check out the website for upcoming workshops, tele-classes and books. You will also find FREE articles and be able to subscribe to the ezine The Artichoke-finding the heart of the story in the journey of life.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Punctuating Dialogue 101

So, you're going along, pounding away at the keyboard, the words flowing sweet and smooth like honey rolling downhill. Suddenly, a shiny object sitting beside your path distracts you. The temptation to stop for a closer look nudges you closer. You really should come back to examine the shiny object later. After all, you're in the writing zone, and if you stop, you might not be able to slide back into that coveted state of being.

The shiny object is dialogue punctuation, and for newer writers, it can be a pain in the rear. Even experienced, published authors flub it up at times. No one is perfect, right?

Prime examples of making every dialogue blunder in the book are my short original fiction and fan fiction stories. They were written long ago and are posted at After reading this article, feel free to copy one of these stories into a Word document and edit it for practice. This will help solidify the rules of dialogue in your mind. A couple of links follow to help you get started. Please note the story rating before viewing. Rated: NC17 Rated: PG13 - R

Now, it's time for the basics. We all know to put quotation marks around the dialogue, make clear who is speaking, and to start a new paragraph each time a new person speaks.

"So," the moderator said, "let's get started."

"Well, it's about time," the reader grumbled.

Notice the comma after so and time. This is done because a tag instead of a beat follows them. Also, notice where all dialogue related punctuation is placed. American convention dictates that punctuation be inside the quotation marks, as opposed to British standards.

Tag: "What's the difference between a tag and a beat?" the reader asked.

Beat: "Tags identify the speaker and beats are little bits of action interspersed through a scene." Kendra shuffled her notes and double-checked a page. "Yes, I believe I said that correctly."

Notice two things about the tag sentence. 1.) A comma and closing quotations end the dialogue when followed by a tag except when a question mark or exclamation point is called for. 2.) The tag is not capitalized except in the use of a proper name.

A beat is a stand-alone sentence denoting action within dialogue and should be capitalized normally.

What about the ellipsis and dash? When should I use those? Here, I'll quote *The Grammar Wench:

One, if your speaker gets cut off, you still need punctuation at the end of his or her speech inside the quotation marks. That punctuation should be a dash, not an ellipsis, as I commonly see. Speechus interruptus is an abrupt thing, not a dwindling.

"You call that good-" the reader began.

"Shut your cake hole. I'm just getting warmed up," the Grammar Wench said.

Incidentally, the Chicago Manual of Style likes a comma after the dash when there's a speech tag afterwards, though just a dash if it's at the end of a sentence. I've seen it both ways in reputable printed material.

Since I know you love it, your darling, dotty ellipsis can be used when the speaker's words flutter off like a stack of student essays in a spring breeze.

"I guess...." said the reader with a sigh.

Refer to any Barbara Cartland novel on how to overuse ellipsis points in dialogue. The grand old gal made a very meaningful mark on the field of romance fiction, but imitating her love for the dots isn't a form of flattery I recommend. When it's four dots, like above, that means there is pause at the end of a complete sentence. The first dot is the period; the next three are the ellipsis points. Use only three dots when your speaker's words don't form a whole sentence, ie:

"Don't just guess when you can..." The Grammar Wench's voice trailed off when her reader wandered away in search of an article about writing sex scenes.

Again, the Chicago Manual likes a comma after the ellipsis if the dialogue is followed by a tag, as in the first example. So, that's kind of grey. Grey like athletic socks after your son does his own laundry for the first time at college.

Since divided dialogue is one of my biggest challenges, let's hear what *The Grammar Wench has to say about it.

Sometimes you stop the gush of words for speaker identification but find yourself forced to continue since your character just won't shut up. If the dialogue before the interruption is the same grammatical sentence in the second part, you punctuate it differently than if it's a brand new sentence.

"My daughter," the Grammar Wench said, "is sitting in my lap and won't let me type!"

"My daughter is sitting in my lap etc." is a single sentence, so the interruption is wedged in with commas and the second half begins with a lowercase letter. An example of two different sentences:

"A likely excuse," the reader said. "More likely, you're sick of working and want to go read a boring grammar book or something."

After "said", I inserted a period, bopped ahead two spaces, and started the next bit of dialogue with a capital letter. It's up to you to decide whether or not your separated speeches are one sentence or two. When in doubt, rewrite so that you're no longer in doubt!

One last thing, and I'll call it a night. Browne and King claim that one should favor "the reader said" over "said the reader" because the second version sounds like it's from a children's book, not an adult book. You're on your own there, but if a lot of editors consciously or subconsciously agree, I suppose it's worth noting.


Works Cited:

*The Grammar Wench is author Jody Wallace. She is a member of the Music City Romance Writers, Middle Tennessee's RWA(r) Chapter. You may learn more about her and read excellent grammar articles at

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Welcome Work At Home Women - WAHW (Wow)

I would like to extend a warm welcome to our newest Work At Home Women (pronounced "wow") members in the DirectMatches Business Networking Community!

These are women from around the world, working in different industries, and are a true inspiration to us all. They personify dedication, a positive attitude, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Please take a moment to visit their websites and support these stellar individuals!

Michelle -
Erin -
Donna -
Samantha -
Stephanie -
Leslie -
Bonnie -
Traci -

Welcome Ladies!

Get your free DirectMatches Business Networking/Advertising profile here -

Art of Vin Diesel | Fan Fiction and Roleplays ::

I am so excited!! The Art of Vin Diesel | Fan Fiction and Roleplays :: is finally back - redesigned and better than ever!

The site currently has 514 stories and 156 authors in it's archive. If you are a Vin Diesel fan, this is THE site to begin your journey of feeding your fan fiction addiction.

The entire site is rated 18+ to be on the safe side, but there are fanfiction stories of all ratings archived there.


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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Common Writing Mistakes - Are These Holding You Back From Writing Success?

Common Writing Mistakes - Are These Holding You Back From Writing Success?
by Marg McAlister

During the years that I’ve been teaching writing and participating in writers’ critique sessions, I’ve seen some real talent. There are writers who produce such sparkling prose that you know publication is only a matter of time.

There are others who have wonderful ideas, terrific plots and lively characters—but who may never see their work in print. The reason? They are making one or more writing mistakes that will cause an editor to toss their writing aside. Often, when these mistakes are brought to the writer’s attention, she makes comments like ‘I can’t believe I didn’t pick that up!’ or ‘Oh no, I feel so stupid’.

It’s so easy to see those mistakes when they’re pointed out to us—but it’s also far too easy to go on for years doing the same thing if we’re not alerted to the problem.

Here are some of the most common writing mistakes. Read through them to see if there’s a clue here about what might be stopping you from getting a ‘yes’!

Technical Mistakes—Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation

1. Changes in tense.

The writer starts in the present tense then slips into past tense or vice versa. Sometimes this happens only once during the scene or story; sometimes the tenses switch back and forth all the way through. Tip: Quite often this happens after the writer has moved into the present tense to show the character’s thoughts. For example:

Laura ran down the steps. She shaded her eyes and stared down the road. There was a plume of dust at the bend. Is that Robin? Will he remember me?

She races off to meet the car, her heart leaping.

2. Changes in person.

The writer starts off in third person then slips into first person:

Laura was incredibly happy. She had never expected to see Robin again. Now he was here, looking taller and more handsome than ever.

I flew into his arms. “Robin! You’re here!”

“Laura,’ he acknowledged stiffly. He didn’t return my hug.

Often this occurs at dramatic or emotional moments, when the writer tends to identify more strongly with the viewpoint character. Sometimes, as with changes in tense, it follows the use of the character’s thoughts.

3. Misuse of the apostrophe

This is an incredibly common mistake. If your manuscript is peppered with apostrophes in the wrong place (or you leave them out altogether) you won’t create a good impression. Some people seem to think that every word ending in ‘s’ should have an apostrophe in it—so you get odd constructions like this:

Laura recognized the suitcase. It was her’s all right, with it’s broken clasp. She’d used it to store all of Robin’s letter’s to her.

In particular, learn to differentiate between the possessive pronoun its and the contraction it’s. The possessive pronoun never has an apostrophe. (She recognized its broken clasp.) The contraction it’s (which is short for it is or it has) always has an apostrophe. It’s quite easy to work out which is which — if you can substitute the longer form ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, then use it’s. If you cannot substitute these expressions, then you are using the possessive pronoun which does not require an apostrophe.

4. Spelling.

Your first resource is the spell check on your computer. However, this won’t pick up everything—if you’ve made a typo that is also a real word (such as typing ‘met’ instead of ‘meet’) the spell check won’t pick it up. Nor will it pick up the use of ‘beach’ instead of ‘beech’, since both are real words. If you know that spelling is a weakness, try to get a friend who is a strong speller to check your work.

Mistakes in Style

1. Head-hopping.

The writer decides it would be nice if the reader could be privy to what was going on in everyone’s mind, so hops blithely from one head to another. (I’ve seen stories with half a dozen viewpoints in one page.) Sometimes it works to let the reader know what is going on in the minds of two characters in a scene, but use this very carefully or you can lose your reader. You’ll get much more emotional punch into your work if you let the reader ‘become’ your viewpoint character, seeing everything (and feeling everything) from one person’s point of view.

2. Overuse of ‘As…’, ‘…’ and ‘’

Check your work to make sure it is not sprinkled with sentences that begin with ‘As…’ or ‘’ words, or that have ‘as’ joining two actions. Usually this has the effect of slowing the pace and setting the reader at a distance. The participle construction (‘’ words) has a particularly amateurish flavour when placed at the beginning of a sentence. When you can, use alternatives.

3. Overuse of qualifiers

Some writers like to use liberal doses of words like ‘very’, ‘extremely’, ‘fairly’, ‘somewhat’ and so on. This weakens your writing. Use strong verbs instead. Rather than ‘he was extremely happy’, say ‘he was delighted’; instead of ‘somewhat annoyed’ say ‘irritated’ or ‘irked’ or ‘furious’, depending on the degree of annoyance!

4. Dull or stilted narrative.

There are lots of reasons for this one—some of them fit into pacing problems (see following section) as well. However, if your writing seems flat, look at these things:

  • Repetitive sentence beginnings. When you revise your work, watch for too many sentences starting with ‘He’, ‘She’, or ‘I’.
  • Repetitive sentence structure. This can apply anywhere in your text. In dialogue, it could be that you’re using the same pattern all the time—e.g. speech + tag + action: “I don’t think I can do that right now,” she said, walking to the door, and “Leave me alone,” she yelled, hitting him on the arm.
  • Overly formal and correct sentence structure. People don’t think in formal sentences and they often speak in sentence fragments. Let your text reflect this.

Mistakes in Plotting and Pacing

1. Starting too early or having too much description in the early pages.

Don’t feel you have to explain everything to the reader in the first two pages—or even the first chapter. Yes, you should make it easy for the reader to identify with the main character, and that means giving some pertinent details—but don’t feel that you have to give a detailed description of what the character looks like and long-winded descriptions of everything that led up to the present situation. Weave details in at pertinent spots—and never dump in too much information at once.

2. Pace too slow

Pace should be controlled through scenes. Create scenes with plenty of action and conflict, then slow things down to let the character (and the reader) catch his breath by using a ‘sequel’ - the aftermath of a scene, where the character decides what to do next. If you need to speed things up, keep the sequel short. If you want to slow things down, expand the length of the sequel.

If your story still seems to drag, look at these other things:

  • The length of your sentences (too many long sentences slow the pace)
  • The amount of description (too flowery? Too wordy? Not allowing the reader to bring their own experiences and knowledge to the scene?)
  • The way you handle dialogue (do your characters use overly formal sentences? Do you use too many speech tags or do you have too much narrative between exchanges of dialogue?)
  • Your use of flashbacks. Flashbacks always slow the pace. They stop the forward motion of the story while the character remembers something that happens in the past.
  • The amount of thinking done by the viewpoint character. She mulls over this and agonises over that until the reader is ready to scream. Think: action!

3. Lack of believable motivation.

It’s painfully obvious when the writer is forcing the characters to take action simply because that’s what the plot dictates. Treat your characters like real people. Allow them to behave and react in a way that suits their personalities. (For example: don’t let your heroine fail to take action just so you can place her in jeopardy, when any sensible human being would yell for help or run like hell.) Don’t ever risk having your reader say in disgust ‘As if she would really do that!’

4. Writing from an adult’s point of view in a children’s story

Many adults think they’d like to write for children. However, they forget that kids identify with other kids. Your young readers don’t want to be looking on from an adult’s point of view when the main character is involved in the action. (Ask: whose story is this? The adult’s or the child’s?) Learn to look through the eyes of a child. Plot your entire story from a child’s viewpoint.

5. Plots that go nowhere.

Beware ‘slice of life’ stories that are essentially scenes rather than stories. Your story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. There should be conflict and character growth. Make sure there’s a story question (your reader keeps turning pages to find out whether the heroine does get her man (or how she gets him) or if young Jack succeeds in finding out what was causing the mysterious noises in the night….)

Mistakes in Editing and Polishing

1. Not leaving enough time to edit.

This is the number one problem with the work not only of beginners but writers at all levels. The temptation to go quickly through that draft ‘one last time’ so you can get it in the mail is almost overwhelming.

DON’T. Leave your short stories for a week. Leave your novels for at least a month—the longer the better. You need to see your work with fresh eyes. If you’ve just finished your story, you’re far too close to it to be objective. You’d be doing yourself a favour to send it out to a few carefully selected readers when you finish, before you even look at it again.

2. Glossing over plotting problems.

It’s easier to fix errors in style than to fix plotting problems. If you strike problems with the plot, it can mean rewriting large chunks of the book. This is painful, so writers avoid it whenever possible. They become ‘blind’ to their own mistakes more because they don’t want to face the pain of a structural edit than because they don’t recognize the problems.

The best remedy for this is to ask yourself: ‘Would I rather get a rejection from an editor because of the problems I can see myself, or fix them now and have a better chance of getting an acceptance?’ Even more pertinent: ‘Do I want reviewers to point out the problems with the plot after the book is published, or fix them myself now?’

These are just a few of the common mistakes that writers make. If you belong to a critique group, or you exchange work with another writer, try identifying these and other mistakes in each other’s work.

(c) Copyright Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at

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Creative Perspectives Newsletter

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Creative Writing - Getting Started

I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who struggle with creative writing. Writing is easy! Admit it. How hard is it, really, to stare at a blank piece of paper and curse at it until either your blood pressure shoots through the roof or words start magically appearing?

You see? It wasn't that hard at all.

Granted, some writers seem able to constantly fill page after page with nary a hitch, like silk flowing through their fingers. Well, that's what they'd like you to think.

How often have you said, "I know what I want to write. I just don't know how I'm going to write it?" Everyone has those moments, including the best writers.

Whether penning fiction or non-fiction, creative writing is the imaginative use of language to convey ideas or events. Having a great imagination or a strong grasp of grammar and punctuation is not always a guarantee of success. I have read stories that were based on a wonderful idea, but were written so poorly, I cringed inside. I have also read stories that were error free, flawless and completely boring.

Are you creative, imaginative, a skilled wordsmith, and a technical wonder? No? Don't sweat it. You will be.


Planning, Practice and Perseverance

Three basic ingredients are needed to build the foundation for becoming a skilled creative writer – planning, practice, and perseverance. Whether your goal is to improve your writing for personal pleasure or to earn a living from playing with words, the process is the same.

Planning – Set aside at least a little time to write every day! Create a private, comfortable place to put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard and get to it!

Practice – Creative writing is a craft that improves with practice. As a matter of fact, your imagination can be improved with practice, too. Take an idea or topic and write a paragraph or two about it. Then, write some more! Don't worry about the quality of the end result. We'll get to the mechanics of writing later.

Perseverance – Keep at it! Maintain a positive attitude and believe in yourself. Everyone, from the simplest soul to the most outgoing extrovert, has something valuable to say to the world, be it a story to tell, a lesson to teach, or an experience to share.

Yes, I know I've over simplified the process. That's okay. We are just beginning, and we'll take it one step at a time.

What's Next?

So, now you've set up a comfortable spot, carved some time out of each day, and plastered a smile on your face. What's next? Toss out the excuses and ignore self-criticism. Here are some quick start suggestions:

Brainstorm – Fill a page with story ideas. Write whatever comes to mind, no matter how outrageous. Then, pick the one that really lights your fire and write a short story around it.

Picture It – Think of something that happened to you recently, something you would find interesting enough to tell a friend or relative about. Instead of hopping on the telephone, write a letter to your friend or relative, telling the story on paper.

The Old Switcheroo – Are you sitting in front of your monitor, staring at a blank document screen? Grab a pen and notebook! Sometimes changing your method of writing is enough to jumpstart the creative flow.

Hopscotch – I often find myself writing several short scenes that are completely unrelated. The challenge is to tie these unrelated shorts into a larger story. This method can be quite fun and broadens your imagination at the same time.

Finally, read! Read great works of literature, trashy novels, and everything in between. Expose yourself to different writing styles and feed your imagination.

Write on. Right on!

Copyright 2005 - Karen Campbell

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday To Me!!


Monday, February 14, 2005

Fanfiction @ - Fan Fiction Update

Fanfiction @ has added a new series to the Fanfiction page!

Read the Mara Series by A.J. Bates. Based on the Anita Blake - Vampire Hunter books by Laurell K. Hamilton.

Action, Adventure, Angst, Romance, and Humor - The Mara Series Has It All!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Creative Perspectives - Punctuating Dialogue 101

So, you're going along, pounding away at the keyboard, the words flowing sweet and smooth like honey rolling downhill. Suddenly, a shiny object sitting beside your path distracts you. The temptation to stop for a closer look nudges you closer. You really should come back to examine the shiny object later. After all, you're in the writing zone, and if you stop, you might not be able to slide back into that coveted state of being.

The shiny object is dialogue punctuation, and for newer writers, it can be a pain in the rear. Even experienced, published authors flub it up at times. No one is perfect, right?

Well, don't miss the current Creative Perspectives Newsletter for a quick lesson on punctuating dialogue. It's free to subscribe!

Copyright 2005 by Karen Campbell – Questions, Comments: klynn @

Karen Campbell is a freelance writer and the owner of, an original fiction and fan fiction archive with numerous writing resources. She is also an affiliate of the DirectMatches business networking community located at and is committed to building a network of work-from-home professionals for knowledge sharing, support, and socializing.