Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Often writers who are new to the craft panic at the long line of "he said" and "she said"  on their page. They try it solve the problem by searching their thesaurus for synonyms for "said" - shouted, explained, retorted, intoned, exclaimed etc.

I tried inserting "said synonyms" into a passage from my book "Whiteout." This is what it sounded like:

"I don't eat meat," April explained.
Molly's eye's widened. "None?" she questioned.
April buttered a bun calmly. "Nope," she replied.
"Since when?" Robin shouted.
"For awhile. I thought I told you about it," she retorted.
"I guess I forgot," Robin muttered.

Sounds terrible, right? Said is considered an invisible word. The reader doesn't notice it. But the reader will notice all these other variations of said. They are distracting and just plain annoying.

That doesn't mean you should never use a synonym for said. But use said most of the time.

Especially watch out for synonyms that are physically impossible - he laughed, he giggled, he smiled, he grimaced.  "I don't like onions," he grimaced. "Come to my house," she smiled. Try it. Hard to do, right? "Come to my house," she said with a smile works much better.

Said is invisible, but a long string of them can be monotonous. Use a beat of action instead. Back to that passage from "Whiteout."

"I guess I forgot." Robin stirred grated cheese into her steaming chili and watched it melt.  The action of Robin and her chili tells us who is talking. You don't need "she said" as well.

When the dialogue goes back and forth between two characters, it is often obvious who is talking and you don't need anything.

"Dad?" Robin said.
"Did these steaks come from one of Kim's family's cows?"
"Yes. What's the matter? You're not going over to the other side too, are you?"

You can go along like this for awhile, but it will read better if you stick in an occasional beat of action. You never want your reader to have to stop and figure out who is talking.

Another pitfall to avoid: propping up your "saids" with adverbs. He said angrily, she said wearily, they said enthusiastically etc.

The emotion should be contained in the dialogue.

"I can't believe you did that to me!" he said angrily. Angrily is unnecessary and distracting.
The best way I know to steer clear of these problems is to read your passage of dialogue out loud. Even better, record it and play it back and listen to it. You will naturally hear where to insert the beats, when you need to up the emotion in your dialogue, how to eliminate the distracting words.

"It's fun to read your dialogue out loud," the author said. "You can pretend you're on the stage."
"I'm going to try it." The reader reached for her manuscript.
"Good luck!"


Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Hollis Woods has been in so many foster homes she can hardly remember them all. When Hollis is sent to Josie, she’ll do everything in her power to make sure they stay together. This is a Newberry Honor Book and has been made into a movie with Sissy Spacek.



Hollis Woods has been in so many foster homes she can hardly remember them all. When Hollis is sent to Josie, she’ll do everything in her power to make sure they stay together.


Sunday, October 13, 2013


Every writer deserves a place to write - even if it's a table tucked into the corner of the living room, away from the traffic of everyday life. It's a place where you can leave a few things of your own to inspire you, maybe your laptop, your writing journal, a stack of fresh paper.

For years, I shared a room with my husband's desk, computer and photography paraphernalia. It was not ideal (Too much stuff! Too much clutter!) but it served its purpose. When my stepson left home, I inherited his old bedroom and I've stayed there ever since. I can close the door and no one will disturb me.

My writing room isn't fancy. No interior decorator ever got loose in there!

But it is special. I've filled it with shelves of kids books and how-to-write books. I have a photo of my writing group, a bulletin board of inspirational sayings (my favourite is: "Never take the reader where the reader wants to go") and lots of stationary "stuff" ( my weakness) - multicoloured file folders, bright post-it notes, yellow legal pads, stacks of recipe cards. There's a cozy rug and a heater and I'm thinking of adding a kettle and a teapot!

I feel good when I go in my room and that's important because I spend a lot of time in there, alone with my characters.

Sometimes I venture out to write - to our shady porch in the summer or to our cabin in our meadow, where the views are a little too distracting! I have moderate success when I take my laptop to my mother's for a week long visit and no success when I take it on holidays. I'm not one of those lucky people who can write on planes and in hotel rooms. I just don't feel like it. Some of my "writing" occurs on a walk.  I take along a little pocket sized recorder (an Iphone would do the trick too) because some of my best ideas occur when I am far away from my writing room. I haven't tried to follow  in J.K. Rowlings footsteps and write in a cafe but I might one day. My daughter has a favourite writing place on a windy beach in Victoria.

Find yourself a spot, make it personal and make it yours and write!

Thursday, October 3, 2013



Writers call it "The Wall." It's that horrible moment that occurs in most first drafts when you can't move forward. You are immobilized by: fear, frustration, boredom, despair . . . even loathing.

You grind to a halt.

You have writer's blocK.

What can you do about it?

I find it helpful to do a diagnosis, just like a doctor, to find out what exactly is wrong.
The causes of my writer's block have included:

- literally not having a clue what happens next

- self doubt

- distraction (all those millions of things I would rather do!)

- the next scene is just too hard to write

Some remedies that have worked for me:

1. Take a break for a couple of days. Go for long walks with a tape recorder. Let the story percolate. Stephen King calls it letting "the boys in the basement" work.

2. Stop your daily writing in the middle of a scene.

3. Set a smaller daily word quota (maybe only a hundred words) until you get rolling again.

4. Set specific goals that are easily obtainable.

5. Be less judgemental of your writing.

6. Read out loud an earlier scene that you are proud of.

When you slam into The Wall, you need to know:

- when to forge on

- when to change direction

- when to allow yourself to stop.

Sometimes I am just not ready to write more. I need to do more outlining, research or some character profiles. Sometimes I need a vacation. Writing is a job, right? All jobs have some vacation time built into them.

If I have a lot of other things going on in my life, that might be a good time for a vacation from writing. It's better to declare a few weeks or even a month, or two,  of vacation time rather than feeling guilty every day because you are not writing.

During my vacation, I might meet with other authors, work on promotion, read OR I might do nothing related to writing. Then when I come back to my computer, I am refreshed and ready to go!

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

Sometimes the reason your writing refuses to budge is not because you are blocked but because the idea isn't ready. Like a seed in winter, your novel may be biding its time . . . If your idea is not ready, keep it watered and warm, check at intervals to see if anything is sprouting - but don't force its growth


If I Just Had Two Wings by Virginia Frances Schwartz

Winner of the Silver Birch Award and the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fictio

Indigo Chapters review:  Thirteen-year-old Phoebe has always dreamed of leaving her life as a slave behind. She has heard whispers about a secret path to freedom, and she has seen what can happen to those who take it and fail. But freedom means more to Phoebe than anything, and when she meets Liney, a strong young woman who picks cotton next to her, they form a plan to escape together.