Sunday, June 30, 2013


No time to write! Have you caught yourself saying that? For the moment it eases the guilt (yes, almost all the writers I know battle with guilt). You want to write, you call yourself a writer, you have all kinds of wonderful ideas for plots and characters but . . . darn it, you just don't have time to write.

There are meals to cook, laundry to wash, perhaps a day job, demanding children, demanding pets, meetings, gardens to weed, groceries to buy, movies you'd rather watch . . . the list is endless. No wonder you have no time to write! 

The solution? You have to MAKE time. Writing has to become one of your priorities. At least as important as laundry!

James Scott Bell talks about learning to snatch time. Find those moments in a day when you could write for ten or fifteen minutes.  How about while you're waiting for something to cook on the stove, in waiting rooms, on the bus? There are so many portable lightweight devices available that make it easy to carry your writing along with you. Good old fashioned pen and paper works too!

I like to make a quick schedule for the day, usually last thing before I go to bed the night before. I allot a slot for writing and I make a commitment that I will write at that time. It's great if you can write at the same time every day (the writing will generally come more easily) but it's more important to write. Any time.

Put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door. Turn off your phone. Refuse to answer emails. Do whatever it takes to give yourself the time to write.

When I was teaching school, I got up every day (well, most days) at five o'clock and wrote until seven. Now I have the luxury of being able to sleep in and I kind of miss those early mornings. Those two hours were incredibly productive - probably because I knew they were the only two hours I had.

Some advice from Nigel Watts in Write a Novel and Get it Published . . .

Free time will rarely come knocking at your door. You must make the time if you're serious about writing.

Elizabeth George in Write Away can't put it more directly .  . .

I suit up and show up. I sit down at the computer and I do the work, moving it forward a sentence at a time, which is ultimately the only way there is to write a book.


Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

I love this story of a family who brings an eight day old chimpanzee into their home as part of a scientific research project. Half Brother has won all kinds of accolades including winner of the CLA Book of the Year for Children Award.

GoodReads says: Half Brother isn't just a story about a boy and a chimp. It's about the way families are made, the way humanity is judged, the way easy choices become hard ones, and how you can't always do right by the people and animals you love. In the hands of master storyteller Kenneth Oppel, it's a novel you won't soon forget.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013




Handling the passing of time in your novel doesn't have to be tricky.

Most of my novels take place over a relatively short period of time. A week or two. Sometimes a month. When I'm writing the first draft, I keep a timeline beside me. I list the days down one side of the page, eg Wed June 8. When I finish a scene, I make a brief note beside the date. Some days will have three or four scenes beside them. Some days are blank.

Is it okay to have nothing happen for a few days? Of course. You don't have to tell what your character does every single day.  Or every moment of the day. If it's not important what your character ate for breakfast, skip it. You should only write scenes that move your story forward.

The time line helps me keep  track of where I am. It also prevents me from making mistakes - something happens on Monday and four days later it's only Wednesday. Readers will pick up on those errors.

Another bonus of the timeline is when you are finished you will have a neat summary of the story's action on one or two pages.

Our horse Dylan
 who was the inspiration for the pony Lucky in The Way Home
There are lots of phrases you can use to pass time:

the next day
a few days later
that afternoon
two days later
the next week
by the weekend

Another device is to leave a double space on the page - that indicates to the reader that some time has passed. You can do that several times within a chapter.

Remember: If it doesn't move the story forward, leave it out.
Some advice from Alfred Hitchcock!

Drama is like real life with the dull bits cut out.


Ida B . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster and (Possibly) Save the World  by Katherine Hannigan

This book is a lot of fun! The voice of Ida B is engaging and chock full of personality.

Amazon Review:

Ida B. Applewood believes there is never enough time for fun. That's why she's so happy to be homeschooled and to spend every free second outside with the trees and the brook. Then some not-so-great things happen in her world. Ida B has to go back to that Place of Slow but Sure Body-Cramping, Mind-Numbing, Fun-Killing Torture—school. She feels her heart getting smaller and smaller and hardening into a sharp, black stone. How can things go from righter than right to a million miles beyond wrong? Can Ida B put together a plan to get things back to just-about perfect again?




Monday, June 10, 2013



Characters feel things. That's why the reader identifies with a character. But the story will fall flat if you write "John was afraid" or "Sally was embarrassed."

When I taught a class for the Summer School of Arts in Wells, B.C., we made a big chart with the headings:

                   EMOTION                               ACTION

Then we brainstormed.

Some of our ideas:

Anxiety    jittery, stomach ache, unable to focus, blinking, stammering,                   wringing hands, playing with hair, sucking thumb, difficulty

                 breathing, biting nails, picking at cuticles, looking away, jiggling                     knee, rattling keys or change in pocket, wants to throw up,

                pacing, tossing and turning in bed, shredding a styrofoam cup

Anger       flailing arms, red face, cold eyes, pursed lips, narrowed eyes,

                 scowling, shouting, glaring, spitting, slamming things, stomping,                          pulsing vein,  muscles tightening, roaring in head, throwing

                 something, breaking something, clenched fists                         

Fear         wide eyes, pounding heart, racing heart, butterflies, falling

                stomach, goosebumps, cold sweat, prickles up spine, weak knees,

                trembling, shaking, shivering, curling into ball, backing away, hard

                to breathe, dry mouth, frozen

Other emotions to try: embarrassment, loneliness, guilt, grief, confusion, shame, envy, worry, pain, sadness.


Keep your word lists handy and reach for them when your character feels something.

Do a word check of your manuscript to make sure you're not using the same action too many times eg. Does your heroine's heart pound on  every page?

And don't overdo it! You're writing a novel, not anatomy text book!

Some advice from Nancy Lamb in The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children .

Whether it's joy, anxiety or sadness, find interesting ways to show the reader what the hero feels. You'll be rewarded with a more intriguing portrait for your efforts and a more enthusiastic audience for your book.


Jane of Lantern Hill by Elizabeth Montgomery

I read this book at least 10 times when I was a kid! It's sentimental but I guarantee you'll fall in love with Jane. The setting of Prince Edward Island is enchanting and Jane's grandmother is a satisfying villain.


What if . . . you found a diary hidden in your attic with a secret in it that could change your life? What could that secret be? What would you do?


 Next week:

Monday, June 3, 2013




One of the trickiest things for me when I write a book is fitting in all the stuff that happened to the characters before the story begins.

It's not hard to invent this prior life - a mother's death in a horse riding accident, moving from town to town, a devastating fire, a string of foster homes and changing schools are a few examples of the things that have happened to some of my characters before their story begins. These events from the past add layers of interest and depth to a character. They explain why a character behaves or thinks in a certain way.

So why is it so hard?

As soon as you switch to backstory, no matter how interesting, you take the reader away from the immediate action. And that slows the story down.

There are two ways to deal with backstory. You can insert the information into the dialogue or thoughts of a character without leaving the present action. Or you can actually go back in time and write a scene called a flashback.

Be very wary of flashbacks when writing for children. Young readers can quickly become confused. Make sure there is a compelling reason to use a flashback.


*It must follow at least one strong scene set in the present so the reader has a sense of the character (if you don't care about the character today, why will you care about the character in the past?)

*Make it clear exactly when the flashback occurs.

*Avoid overusing the word "had" which will quickly become annoying. Use it for a few times and then switch to the regular past tense.

*Make the scene dramatic with strong dialogue and conflict.

A better way to tell the backstory when writing for children is to insert it into the character's thoughts or dialogue. But be careful it doesn't become an information dump. Tell only as much as you have to. If it's not important, leave it out.

Avoid a lot of backstory in  the first chapter. You might be surprised how easily it slips in. I once highlighted all the backstory in one of my drafts of a first chapter and was shocked when I saw how much there was.  I imagined the reader saying, "Get on with the story!" I deleted, deleted, deleted.

I believe one of the most common reasons a child finds a book boring is because there is too much "telling" of backstory.

No matter how you choose to tell the backstory, you'll need a trigger. A strong sensory detail works well. In my book Missing, the smell of hay in a barn reminds Thea of her mother and the horse barn on their old farm.

          The heavy door creaks when I push it open. I'm immediately hit with the smell of hay. An image of another barn slams into my head. . . It's four years since I've been in a horse barn. Four years since Mom died.

          From there, I was able to insert relevant details of Thea's past life with her mother.

So, let your imagination soar and invent all kinds of details about your character's past. But only use the most important ones!

Some advice from Nancy Kress in Beginnings, Middles and Ends . . .

A writer always pays a price for flashbacks. Any flashback, no matter how well written or interesting, will distance your reader from the action . . . Are you more thrilled by a kiss you experience today or one you remember from a year ago?


 Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Winner of the Silver Birch Award!

A gripping story about a girl sent to a Nazi slave labour camp. Look for the companion novel Stolen Child.