Monthly Archives: April 2013

Monday Craft Tips #15: Structural editing problems that prevent a story from being interesting

wordsIt never ceases to amaze me that writers published by a legacy publisher still manage to produce work that has not been properly edited. Forget the typos, what I’m talking about are structural editing problems.

Without mentioning any names, I will simply say that I recently read one novel by someone employed by a top MFA program that was clearly lacking in basic storytelling skills, i.e. how to hook a reader and keep their nose glued to the page, another written by someone in another well-regarded MFA program about a couple of passive-aggressive characters in a stagnant story, and a third, also a teacher in a well-regarded MFA program, who wrote a novel with too many characters.

What to do? And how can one tell if the story at the center of our attention really works as a story?

Print your scenes on separate sheets of paper and ask yourself a couple of questions:

  1. Can you change the order of your scenes? If so, then it’s likely that your story isn’t sufficiently driven by consequence.
  2. What happens if you cut your protagonist out of your story? If the only thing you would lose are the protagonist’s interior monologue, then it’s likely that you story isn’t sufficiently driven by agency.

For a story to work, it needs to have both consequence and agency. Without these ingredients, your story won’t engage the reader. And they will throw your novel away, half-read.

Just another gem, I thought I’d pass on. Have a fabulous week!



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Friday’s Internet Goodies: From England comes Novelicious

InternetGoodiesNovelicious is a book review blog that is run by a group of people.

Kirsty Greenwood is the founding editor. Here is how she describes herself:

Kirsty is a  27 28 29 30 year old story lover currently living in Saddleworth. She likes American telly shows, roast potatoes, flittery book covers, green clothes and smiley people. She doesn’t like the Ironside theme tune or the word ‘drinkie-poos’.

Kirsty is represented by Hannah Ferguson of The Marsh Agency and her debut romantic comedy is out now!

Kirsty tweets at @KirstyBooks

Debs Carr is the deputy editor. Here is what she says about herself:

Debs Carr lives in Jersey where she spends her free time writing novels in a shed with a grumpy Miniature Schnauzer for company.

Her idea of exercise is walking the dog on the nearby beach with her gorgeous husband, and her book, Broken Faces, was a runner-up in Good Housekeeping 2012 Novel Competition and given a ‘special commendation’ by the Harry Bowling Prize 2012.

Debs tweets at @DebsCarr

Amanda Keats is a contributor:

Amanda is a 29 year old book and film buff from North London. Delighted that she’s developed a bit of a reputation as being hard to please when it comes to books, Amanda is not afraid to speak her mind. As Novelicious’s roving reporter, she has had the absolute pleasure of interviewing some of her favourite authors including Jodi Picoult, Rosamund Lupton, Jane Green and Nicholas Sparks. Her favourite book from recent years is still Sister by Rosamund Lupton but she loves a mixture from Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’.When not reading or watching a film (or talking about it non-stop) she enjoys writing, nights out with her gals and nights in with popcorn and a film (or, if it’s on – Doctor Who, Downton Abbey or Grey’s Anatomy).

Amanda tweets at @filmvsbook 
Kira Slaughter is a reviewer:
Kira is a 24 year old bookworm from Solihull in Birmingham. She’s a budding writer and has experienced more than a few moments of waking up in the night to write down ideas! As well as writing, Kira dreams of getting a job in publishing.

Kira tweets at @fatmonica27

Then there is Anna Bell, who is an aspiring author:

Anna Bell is an aspiring author who can still claim to be in her twenties (just). She daydreams far too much about being a full time writer and living in a tropical paradise with her hubby to be. Until those dreams come true she is a museum curator and lives on the South Coast.

She loves chick lit and when not writing she can usually be found with her head in a book. Her favourite authors include Sophie Kinsella, Freya North, and if she has a good supply of tissues handy, Elizabeth Noble. She also loves a good boogie to cheesy music with her friends, backpacking and strolling beside the sea.

Anna tweets at @annabell_writes

NoveliciousNovelicious’ review policy is as follows:

We want to review books that fall under the chick lit and contemporary female fiction umbrella. These must be published or about to be published. While we occasionally cover self published books of our choosing, we do not REVIEW ebooks, self published books and non-fiction at this time.

We prefer to receive coverage requests via our email rather than on twitter or facebook.

To enquire about reviews/interviews, competitions and guest posts please

To find this site, point your browser to:


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THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS by Christopher Booker

TheSevenBasicPlotsTHE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS by Christopher Booker is a provocative book. The basic idea is that any story can be boiled down to one of seven plots:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

What is excellent about this book is the amount of learning involved and the interesting connections made between authors as disparate as Jane Austen and Luigi Pirandello. However, this is a big book at over 700 pages, and I think that part of it could have been condensed.

Like other readers, I believe that the strength of the book lies in Part One of the book, titled THE SEVEN GATEWAYS TO THE UNDERWORLD. The following three parts are less strong, mainly because of Booker’s contention that any narrative, such as Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, which doesn’t conform to what Booker takes to be archytypal norms, is fatally flawed. That this can’t possibly be true is borne out by the fact that is ranked at number 59 on Amazon’s list of Bargain Books. Readers continue to love this book some 200 years after it was published. So it obviously isn’t “fatally flawed” for them.

If you are interested in reading a provocative interesting account of stories, and how they might relate to our psychology, this book is for you. For my part, I think that a strong editorial hand was needed on Parts Two, Three and Four, which were too often filled with silly Freudian cliches. Three stars.

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Monday Craft Tips #14: Avoiding verbal tics

In the course of polishing the text, a writer’s task is to get rid of verbal tics that can turn into clichés.I make a list of words that I think I’m using too often so that I can go back and do a search to figure out just how many times I’m using these words.

Here is a partial list of words from the manuscript I’ve been working on:


With that knowledge, I can then open one of my huge dictionaries and find a more unusual or interesting word. In that way, you can write prose that is more like this:

For example, “my feet whispered across the floor”

as opposed to this:

“all of us wore what we would’ve worn in the States during the winter

I suggest that you make lists of words when polishing your text. Have a wonderful week!

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Help me celebrate CARPE LIBRUM!


If you happen to be going to Washington DC (my home town) in the next month, until May 15, then head on over to 1030 17th Street NW to participate in Carpe Librum.

This event was brought to my attention by Robin Crowell, who is the Operations Coordinator for Turning the Page, a DC-based Non-profit. Here is what she says:

 Turning the Page works with DC pubic school parents to help them become more active and effective participants in their children’s education. Every spring we hold a large, month long book sale, called Carpe Librum, at a downtown DC location to help fund our year-long programs. This year will be Turning the Page’s 12th annual Carpe Librum and we expect to have over 50,000 books on sale (as well as CDs and DVDs).

Here is an opportunity to buy good books at great prices (most items priced at 1 to 4 dollars) or donate used books for us to sell.

Happy Weekend!


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Friday’s Internet Goodies: Clover Hill Book Reviews

InternetGoodiesMichelle is a Mom, or more specifically a Mum, with two boys who sometimes help her reviews books. Yes, you got it, she resides in the UK. Here is how she describes herself and her review policy:

Due to time restraints, I do not accept requests from vanity presses or self published authors. I welcome receiving books to reviewfrom publishers and mainstream authors only.

I am happy to receive books in ARC format, galleys, or as finished copies.

On receipt of a title for review, it will be placed in my reading mountain. pile. Please let me know if you have a review time line, and I will do my best to accommodate you, otherwise I reserve the right to review sent books when I’m able and without a deadline.

CloverHillBooksI enjoy reading a mixed bag of books.  I love reading young adult titles, paranormal, crime novels, mysteries, thrillers, romances, fantasy, coming of age novels, and anything in between.  I’m also happy to read non fiction titles.  My children, Shaun and Harry are also happy to review childrens books and suitable titles. (Shaun loves Enid Blyton, spy books, living education titles and comics, Harry doesn’t read himself yet, so any parent led and easy reader books are fine).

We are a hands on family with education, and also blog about some of the resources we use, including books elsewhere.  I also review on

I welcome taking part in blog tours, author interviews and hosting giveaways. Time permitting I may share my review using Facebook (Networked Blogs), Amazon UK, Twitter, Goodreads, Shelfari and LibraryThing.  All posts are auto-sent to Twitter.

My reviews will be fair and honest.  If there’s something I don’t like about a book I will give those reasons, as well as the positives.  I won’t foul mouth a book because it wasn’t for me.

To find Michelle’s site, point your browser towards (NOT toward):

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This volume performs the feat of looking at Nazi Germany in a new way. TRAVELS IN THE THE REICH, 1933-1945: FOREIGN AUTHORS REPORT FROM GERMANY is an anthology of the letters, diaries, personal reflections and excerpts from published works by authors such as Virginia Woolf, Thomas Wolfe, William Shirer, Samuel Beckett and others, who visited or lived in Germany between the years 1933 and 1945.

Some of these entries will make you cringe, some are just first-rate writing. But what is surprising is how much these foreigners were aware of the turn Germany had taken when Hitler came to power in 1933. As Christopher Isherwood put it: “I can’t altogether believe that any of this has really happened.”

Speaking for myself, I discovered two authors I had not known before. I loved getting to know Martha Dodd, the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Berlin from 1933-1937, as she described various incidents she witnessed, including the Night of Long Knives in June 1934, which occurred on a hot, beautiful day in Berlin. I was in awe of the power of the writing of Thomas Wolfe, whom I had never heard of before. Here he is describing a train journey that he took when he left Berlin for the last time. At the Belgian border, a fellow passenger runs into difficulties:

They marched him right along the platform, white as a sheet, greasy looking, protesting volubly, in a voice that had a kind of anguished lilt. He came fight by us. I made a movement with my arms. The greasy money sweated in my hand and I did not know what to do. I started to speak to him. And at the same time I was praying that he would not speak. I tried to look away from him, but I could not look away. He came toward us, still protesting volubly that everything could be explained, that all of it was an absurd mistake. And just for a moment as he passed us, he stopped talking, glanced at us, white-faced, smiling pitiably, his eyes rested on us for a moment, and then, without a sign of further recognition, he went on by.

Five stars. A bookclub recommendation.

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Monday Craft Tips #13: An example of how NOT to write prose

Recently, I talked about two very talented writers, Janet Fitch and Juliet Marillier who both write engaging prose that reflect the content of their novels. Ms. Fitch’s prose in WHITE OLEANDER, set in contemporary LA, was suitably hard and edgy. Ms. Marillier’s prose in SON OF SHADOWS, set in 9th-century Ireland, was gorgeous and poetic.

But I’ve also recently read prose that just doesn’t work. And I wanted to show you an example of what I mean. This excerpt comes from Suzanne Weyn’s THE NIGHT DANCE, a re-telling of THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES to which she has added elements of the Arthurian legend of The Lady of the Lake. I thought her retelling of this Grimm’s fairy tale was one of the most interesting versions (and I’ve read several of them recently.) But she really disappointed me with the ending, which seemed rushed, mainly because the quality of the writing was far below that of the rest of the novel. Read the passage below, which comes from the end of the novel, and bear in mind that it is supposed to be set in 5th-century England. I quote:


At the end of the wedding party, Sir Ethan announced that he would be leaving with Vivienne, though they most certainly would be in touch. Any of the girls who wanted to come with them and study mystical ways were welcome…Gwendolyn, Helewise, Chloe, Isolde and Mathilde thought life on Avalon sounded exciting, though.

“Could Ione, Brianna, Bronwyn, Cecily and I stay here at the manor?” asked Ashlynn…we’d like to turn the place into an inn.”

There was a murmur of approval as this seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.


I cringe at expressions such as “would be in touch” “were welcome” “sounded exciting” and “seemed like it would be a fun enterprise.” It seems so insensitive to write Valley Girl or even modern British slang when you’re supposed to be conveying what 5th-century England would feel like.

A lesson in how NOT to write, when you do an historical novel!

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Friday’s Internet Goodies: Brazilian Bookworm

InternetGoodiesMay Arend lives in Brazil and wants to help any author or publisher by reviewing a book. She doesn’t say much about herself, but one can infer that she must be fluent in both English and Portuguese. Here is her review policy:

As of August 2012 I have officially changed my Review Policy.

– I do review e-books now. However, I am much more picky with them. With paper books I will read almost any sort of book, almost any genre (save the ones listed further down), but with E-books I will only pick what really makes me think “OMG I NEED TO READ THAT” since it takes me much longer to read on my cellphone.

– For that reason, I am shutting down the Unread Interview Project.

– I have no issues with indie authors. I prefer, if I can, to read your work on paper, but if you are a digital-only author, I can work with that too, if you are really good.

brazil_riodejaneiro_travel_review all genres of fiction (except for the very small list on the next item) that I can get my hands on, but my favorites are fantasy (high fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, everything), sci fi andhistorical fiction (anything based on history is awesome). My least favorites are drama and non-fiction. I do review those aswell,  but there might be a higher chance of a “loving” review if it is the first ones. I am a bookworm, though, and am willing to try every genre presented to me. For e-books, I will only accept the ones on my “love” genres or things that are related to those genres.

 I do NOT read Self help or highly religious books (christian fiction). I do NOT read non-fiction.Books that talk about religions, discuss it or try to make a small religious moral by the end are ok, but a book that is Christian-religion-centric is not – there must be a plot, characters and all well developed that is NOT centered around religion. For some idea of what is ok, read my review of The Job. That one was good. Also, other religions are usually ok, I am very interested in studying other religions.

– It may take up to a month for me to answer your review request. I know, too long. I swear it isn’t that I am ignoring you, everyone has to wait, I just don’t have as much time as I used to, to reply and all, so I just answer them all at once. I try to concentrate my time on blogging (and not even THAT is working as it should).

 I live in
. So if you are sending a book here, it will, most likely, take a month to get here. I read review books as soon as they get here, but when I receive more than one, they get read by “first come first serve” so yes, it may take a while for me to read them and then some to review, but it WILL be done. It will not be forgotten. That’s something I made myself promise me when I started blogging.

To find her site, point your browser at:

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TO THE BITTER END by Hans Bernd Gisevius

To_The_Bitter_EndTO THE BITTER END: AN INSIDER’S ACCOUNT OF THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER 1933-1944 is an interesting take on Hitler and his dictatorship, written by someone who was a quiet maverick and mischief-maker, and also a somewhat unreliable narrator.


Hans Bernd Gisevius wanted to be head of the Gestapo in 1933, when he was a young and up-coming lawyer. He was rejected. Perhaps that rejection stung, or maybe, he was revolted by the Night of Long Knives, which took place in June 1934. In any event, he became disillusioned with Nazism, and by 1937 was part of the “Schwarze Kapelle”, a shadowy group of people gathered around Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, ostensibly head of the Abwehr (German intelligence) but in actuality gathering around him people who devoted their lives to quietly resisting Nazi rule.


And so File:Gisevius_2_460426_NARAGisevius is well placed to discuss not only the Oster Conspiracy of 1938, but also the July 20 plot of 1944, both attempts out of many to assassinate Hitler. Alas, the only person who successfully assassinated Hitler was Hitler himself, and many had to pay the price.


Gisevius does not come across as a pleasant person, he is too sly and devious for that. But he does provide many astute observations about Nazi rule. What I found most memorable about this book was his account of how Hitler’s government lurched from one crisis to another. Here is a description of the beginning of the second world war:


Our mood, however, was tinged with fatalism; we no longer doubted that the marching orders would be issued. Although we had virtually abandoned hope, Schacht and I waited throughout the day, firmly resolved that the moment the command was given we would try one last desperate step. Twice Schacht tried to see Halder of Brauchitsch. Both times he was refused. Everything was hanging in the balance, they declared; there would be no point to a conversation.

Around four o’clock word reached the Abwehr that the order to advance had been given. Admiral Canaris’s key position by no means entitled him to any priority in receiving news of important decisions. We got into Schacht’s car to hunt up Thomas, at his home perhaps. After a painful wait of more than half-an hour, we saw Oster instead of Thomas approaching us. “That’s what happens when a corporal tries to conduct a war,” he said. “What now?” I asked. Oster looked at me in frank astonishment. “The Fuehrer is done for.”

Five stars. A bookclub recommendation.


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