Marcella Kampman

Author of Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths and Legends from Sumer



Welcome to My Blog! This is the place to come if you're curious about me and my writing and wish to learn more. And this is the place where I will come when my curiosity gets the better of me and I wish I knew more. Here I will do as Clarence Budington Kelland once said,"I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop." Enjoy!


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Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)






"It's all about seizing the day."


Today I wanted to share with you a great 'funny' I found several years ago. This particular little story has saved my life, well, at least my sanity and my sense of ha ha over the years. Perhaps one day it may even save yours. Enjoy!


 It was well known that an all-knowing, all-seeing guru lived on top of the highest mountain. Now a young, aspiring writer learned of this guru, and wanted to learn from this wise old man the secret of success, the secret to becoming the most successful writer in the world. And so the aspiring author climbed the mountain and asked the guru, "Where can I find success"?


 The guru merely pointed off in the distance, and the aspiring writer charged off in the direction indicated. Soon afterwards the writer was struck down by a terrific SPLAT! The writer picked himself up, dusted himself off, and trudged back up the mountain. He stared at the wise old man and said, "I must have misunderstood you. I need to know in which direction I must go to find success."


  Again the guru pointed off in the same direction. Again the aspiring writer headed back down the mountain in the direction given. Again he was struck down by a mighty SPLAT! Again he stumbled and crawled and hauled himself back up the mountainside. Again he stood panting and bloodied in front of the old man and said, "Now I know you misunderstood me. I want you to tell me where I can find success."


The guru raised his arm in the same direction. The aspiring writer shook his head. "I'm not going to fall for that same old trick. I'm not going that way. All I find in that direction is nothing more than SPLAT! You're supposed to be this all-knowing and all-seeing guru. I want you to tell me where I am supposed to find success."


 The guru nodded wisely and said, "Success lies just beyond SPLAT!"


  And so I have this to say to all you aspiring authors out there. The published writer is the aspiring author who didn't quit. Keep writing, and one day you too will make it beyond SPLAT!


 In the meantime, carpe diem! Seize the day!

Write What You Know & Know What You Write

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

They say there are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what those rules are. Be that as it may I just so happen to have my own three rules, which I intend to share with you at the end of this article.

In the meantime, let’s explore one of the most common pieces of advice that’s practically made it to rule level, and which is given to all writers, aspiring or otherwise.

Write what you know.

That’s great advice if you’re planning on writing your memoirs. One would hope that you know yourself well enough to be able to write about yourself. But maybe writing your memoirs wasn’t quite what you had in mind. So, instead of writing about yourself let’s say you were planning on writing about an axe murderer, and you’ve never murdered anyone. Does that mean you have to become one, or know someone who is to make your story sound believable? I should hope not.

Or what if you want to write about a pilot flying a small engine plane through the eye of a storm? This scene actually takes place in my novel, Promise Me. I am not a pilot, nor have I ever flown in a small engine plane. Actual pilots have read the flying passages in my book and have commented to me on how believable my scenes read. With, of course, a bit of artistic license so that the story still reads smoothly and is presented in an interesting manner.

So how did I achieve this level of believability? The answer is simple.

Know what you write.

In order for me to be able to write the flight scenes down in a believable manner, and for the pilot to sound plausible, I had to do a lot of research.

I began with the Internet. I wasn’t sure what kind of small plane I wanted my pilot to be flying, so I studied and compared all the popular small engine planes available. I looked up flying schools to see which planes they mainly used. Once I’d narrowed my search and picked my airplane of choice, I had to learn how to fly the thing.

As an armchair, or rather computer chair pilot, my next stop was the library. Librarians have a wealth of info at their fingertips. From them I learned that I could access books from various archives and museums. I was allowed to go into these facilities, browse through their various collections of books on planes and flying, talk to the archivists, and then return to my library and place the request for the books that interested me. I found some outstanding how-to books on flying a small engine plane.

The next stop was the museum. Right here in our city we just happen to have an Aviation Museum, and I learned that people who work in museums absolutely love to talk about what interests them. And those who work in an aviation museum just so happen to know all kinds of interesting things about planes. Some were even pilots themselves and shared some of their more memorable flying adventures with me. I got to know a lot of people who worked down there quite well. I met this one fellow who used to own a Cessna Centurion, my airplane of choice, and he would take me on the plane’s mock-up that they had there on display at the museum. As my scene began to shape up more clearly in my mind I would brainstorm with him how to make the scene more believable.

By this time my story and pilot character were beginning to take shape. I decided she had to have an emergency landing in an airfield similar to the one that just so happens to be not so far from where I live. So I introduced myself to the airfield controller, learned all the jargon, especially for an emergency kind of landing, and bounced ideas off of him. He was immensely helpful and even managed to direct my story along a very exciting path of what ifs and how tos. He introduced me to the local flight instructor as well as some other local pilots who berthed their planes there. They would let me clamber about their planes so I could get a sense of size and space. I had thought of hiring one of them to take me up, but as I get terribly motion sick I didn’t think I’d benefit much from that course of action.

Naturally, my research would not be complete without talking to some of these actual pilots. I sat down with a couple and got the real inside scoop on how it felt to fly such a small airplane. How the plane would respond, how the pilot would react. It also helped that a good friend of mine was a pilot in the air force. He flew Challenger Jets, but he had also been a flight instructor at one time. Several times, over the writing and endless re-writing of the airplane scenes he would sit down with me and hammer out the details to make it all sound as real as I could make it. He would let me know if my ideas would work, or he’d help me figure out what to do to make them work, or he’d even suggest something entirely different that sounded quite interesting and I would then find a way of building his suggestion into a scene.

All of this research took me months to collect and turn into something usable. Remember, I knew nothing about airplanes or flying when I first began this project. But the more I studied the more I learned which led me to realize that I was beginning to know what I was writing about.

I don’t know how many times I re-wrote those airplane scenes, but I do know that by the end of it I felt that I could fly an airplane. Certainly my pilot character could, and I think she did a darn good job landing them safely through that wicked storm. That’s when I knew that I had brought those seemingly impossible scenes to life.

Now, in a little aside here, the scenes are not written exactly the way they would have happened in real life. That’s where artistic license comes in. To have written all that research into the book in a letter perfect manner of exactly how and when such-and-such a thing would have happened would have made it lose its story momentum. For instance, I give a feel for the conversation with the tower by using static only a couple of times and by having them speak in air-talk jargon only a few times, but then I go over to a more conversational mode to continue on with the story. I felt it would be too clunky to keep up the static and breaks and pauses and roger this and over-and-out that for too long.

In this kind of a novel the setting is only a backdrop, I didn’t want the reader to be so aware of all the external events that they lost sight of the characters and their feelings while it was all happening. My use of artistic license allowed me to give the airplane scenes balance and immediacy.

By the time I began writing my novel in earnest, I was confidant that I could write what I knew and I knew what I was writing about.

Remember at the beginning of the article when I mentioned that I was going to share with you my three rules of writing? Well, here they are.

1. The first rule is read, read, read. Read anything and everything, but most of all read in the genre of books that you yourself want to write in. You can’t become a writer if you’re not first a reader.

2. The second rule is write, write, write. Write first and foremost for yourself. Write what you yourself are passionately interested in. Don’t write what you think the publishers are looking for. Write what you want to write. Write what you want to read.

3. And my third and most important rule is this – never give up. The professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit.


Critical Critiques

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

When I finally finish a writing project, I love to get feedback. Following is a checklist which I like to give to my "first readers", people whom I know to have an interest in the particular subject upon which I have just written. These particular questions aid them in how to think critically, and the answers aid me in giving me a clearer direction in what I need to fix. I hope this checklist can help you, too.

Following is my list of suggested questions for my First Readers:

1. Title: Did you find the title of the book suitable or intriguing? After reading the story, return to this question. What do you think of the title now? Can you suggest another one?

2. Beginning: Does the beginning of the story have a good “hook”? Does it present you with enough “questions” to make you continue reading?

3. Middle: Does the middle sag or does it maintain momentum? Is the plot exciting enough to hold your interest through to the end?

4. End: Is there a good resolution? Do you feel satisfied with the ending? Were any story questions that may have been presented in the story answered?

5. Is this story ‘driven’ by the plot or by the interaction of the characters?

6. Were you ever bored? Did you find your mind wondering? Where in the story did this happen? Mark down the places where you lost interest. (This is crucial.)

7. What did you think of the main character(s)? Did you like him/her? Hate him/her? Or did you keep on forgetting who he/she was?

8. Did any of the story events or actions taken by the characters seem contrived? Did anything just happen because the author wanted or needed something to happen at that moment, but that action taken was not true to what a particular character would really do in that situation?

9. Was there anything you didn’t understand? Was there a section you had to read twice to get what was happening? Are there any parts of the story where you got confused? (Again, this is crucial.)

10. Was there anything you didn’t believe? Any time you said, “Oh, come on! Get real.” Even in a fantasy the story should be believable? Is the ‘story world’ believable?

11. What is good, bad, or unique about this story?

12. Is this a good story? If you were recommending it to a friend, what would you say?

13. Did you find the author’s style of writing entertaining? Did you like the ‘voice’? If not, what did you not like? Was it too ‘wordy’? Sentences too long, too short, not varied enough? Was there too much repetition of words or concepts?

14. Finally, what comments would you give that would help to make this a better, stronger, tighter, more interesting story?

Note for First Readers – when giving a critique think “Sandwich”. In addition to any main questions (such as the above questions) which you may or may not have answered, also give the author your own personal feedback in a critique sandwich. This means find something to praise (something which you genuinely liked) then give the negative comments (and you should find something you didn't like as nothing is perfect) and then end with praise (again something you found appealing from the characters to the author's writing style). Always end with a positive comment and then end your critique right there on that feel good note.


The Main Selling Tool - The Synopsis

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Synopsis writing is the single most important “selling” tool of the writer’s trade. You may have written the next bestseller, but if you can’t get your synopsis past the editor then no one will ever find out.

You have to learn to write the best synopsis you can in order to impress the editor enough to ask for your manuscript so that she will buy it enabling you to become that best selling author. It’s that simple. See, I’ve just given you your own goal, motivation and conflict. Now all you have to do is find that of your story.

Start with a hook. It’s that basic little sentence that tells all in a nutshell. You must be able to sum up your story in just a couple of lines, preferably under thirty-five words. If you don’t know what your story is about, then how will you hope to convince others that it’s worth their time and effort? Take your story’s premise and turn it into an interesting hook designed to grab the editor’s attention. For example, we’ll use the basic premise from“The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. An angst ridden teenage girl gets blown far away from home in a tornado to a strange new land where she must overcome several obstacles before she learns the true value of family in order to return home.

The first and foremost question you must answer in order to find your story premise is not what but who is this story about? Remember, people enjoy reading about people. Yes, the plot details are important as they are what drive the story onward, but place more emphasis on the protagonist’s reactions to what's going on in the plot, as it is her actions that ultimately becomes the fuel powering the way the plot turns.

After your hook give a brief description of your main characters. This description should include each of their goals, motivations, and conflicts or barriers that will keep them from achieving their respective goals. There is no need to go into such depth of detail on any secondary characters unless they bear a direct impact on the main protagonist, such as the villain. Remember, conflict will arise from all of your characters wanting something different.

Now, just by enhancing the initial premise even more, we get the makings of an actual short synopsis – Dorothy, an angst ridden teenager who feels out-of-place in her ordinary world and is contemplating running away from home, gets blown far away from her aunt and uncle’s farm in a tornado to a magical, strange new land. In order to find her way back home she must seek aid from a wizard. On her way to the wizard’s castle she saves three strange beings, who are all in some peril or other, and she convinces them to join her and seek help for their troubles from the same wizard. The wizard sends them on a quest first, to bring him the wicked witch’s broomstick. Only then will be grant what each desires. The witch, meanwhile, has her own agenda, to get from Dorothy her ruby slippers, which will in turn give her the power to become the strongest witch in all the land. Together, Dorothy and her three friends successfully complete their quest, but not before undergoing several exciting and harrowing adventures. They vanquish the witch and return victorious to the wizard, only to find that he never had the power to grant their wishes. After he deserts her in the strange and magical land, Dorothy realizes that with the aid of the ruby slippers and her own heart’s desire she has the power to finally get home. Dorothy learns that “There’s no place like home.”

As you can see here in our example, The Wizard of Oz has all the elements of great fiction: a sympathetic heroine, a great cast of supporting characters, exciting events, a menacing adversary, a particularly dark moment, clear character growth, and a satisfactory resolution to an unexpected ending (which, by the way, are all the elements for a great plot).

How can I build my own synopsis to that level of great fiction, you may very well ask? By asking yourself these questions:

1) Who is the story about? What does she want? Why does she want it? And what's keeping her from getting it?

2) What is the inciting moment? When exactly does the story take off?

3) What actions does the main character take that drive the plot forward? What are some of the key plot turning points?

4) What is the black moment? How does this affect the main character? What does it make her do?

5) Don’t forget to include the resolution. How does the story end? What has the main character learned or achieved?

In a romance novel you must also show the development of the romance. The inciting moment should show when the hero and heroine first meet. Woven throughout your synopsis you should include how they react to their first kiss, as well as showing their reactions when they first sleep together. This should lead to how the hero and heroine will finally commit. You should show their barriers breaking down and show the choices they must face before true love conquers all.

Take your short synopsis and build it up. Question yourself as you write your new and improved synopsis in order to give the enhanced version more detail. In a longer synopsis include such information as theme, tone, setting, and time period. Add more action points and barriers and the reactions to these barriers, but do not add bits of ‘filler’ description. Even in a longer synopsis you need give only the things that are really necessary. Leave out all the fluffy descriptive phrases describing the sunset and your main character’s hair and eye colours.

A few technical pointers to keep in mind when writing your synopsis:

1. The synopsis should be written in narrative form and in the present tense.

2. Use strong verbs to describe the plot and precise adjectives to describe the main character.

3. Don’t ever leave the editor hanging; give her everything upfront including fascinating plot twists.

4. Unless otherwise specified, double-space your synopsis in Courier New 12, and make sure your name appears at the top of the page along with an address or email address. You don’t want the editor to love it only to find there’s no record of who wrote it.

5. KISS – Keep It Short & Simple

Writing a synopsis may sound a little like making magic, but it isn’t. Know who and what your story is about, tell it in as engaging and concise a manner as possible, and the editor will be sure to ask to see your manuscript in full. Then the real magic begins.


Finishing Touches

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I decided to remind you of the technical details involved when entering a contest or submitting to an editor, as so many folks don’t really know what to do when they’ve finally finished that manuscript they’ve laboured on for so long.

Neatness counts.

When your work is being compared to dozens of other entries, or is sitting in a slush pile on some editor’s desk, then the presentation of your manuscript can make the difference between winning or being read. I believe that every entry should have received a ten for manuscript presentation. Alas, several of you didn’t. The mistakes ranged from handwritten amendments to improper tabbing to submitting in an incorrect font.

Now, you may say that you only lost one or two points for this, but those one or two points may have placed you higher than someone else’s entry or simply shown the editor your professionalism, encouraging her to read on.

Follow the instructions.

This is the second point I’d like to mention. When you are entering a contest, and the contest specifically asks for the first significant meet between the hero and heroine, then show it. Don’t give the judges backstory, don’t give us the very beginning of the novel where one or the other is involved with his or her work and the inciting moment hasn’t yet happened, and don’t give us a glimpse where they pass each other like the proverbial ships in the night. Unless the hero and heroine are bound to collide. Then give us the collision. And in that collision give us interaction. Not each other’s internal monologue. Get them out of their boats and talking to one another, or shouting, or something.

The importance of following directions is paramount when submitting a novel to an editor. When she asks for spunky, kick-butt heroines that always save the day in urban America, don’t bother sending her your paranormal romance set in a Scottish Highland uprising. Give her what she wants.

And keep on entering contests and submitting.

It takes a lot of courage to put your work in front of others to read. All of you who entered contests or have submitted a manuscript, you’re well on the way to getting published. Just remember this, the published author is the one who never quit.


To Whom It May Concern

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

“After being Turned Down by numerous Publishers, he had decided to write for Posterity.”

— George Ade


The trick, of course, is not to get turned down by numerous Publishers. Or, at the very least, not by every one. And as for writing for posterity, isn’t that what every writer dreams of?

The first piece of writing any editor will see of yours is the query letter. If she can’t get past that initial introduction to your work, then the chances of her looking at the rest of your submission package are pretty slim. The first rule then, for the aspiring author to observe, is to write your very best first. Impress the heck out of the editor so that she will want to read on. The same is true whether you’re querying an agent or an editor.

Following is a list of things to include in your query letter.

1. KISS up to your editor. – Keep It Short & Simple. Query letters should be no more than a single page long.

2. Hook the editor from the start. If you don’t already have a title for your work, then use a working title for your story.

3. Present a complete idea. Don’t sound vague about your story. Don’t tease the editor. Readers like suspense, editors don’t.

4. You must be able to sum up the story in one sentence. Think TV Guide blurb here. Example: in L. Frank Baum’s, “The Wizard of Oz” let’s use this single sentence to state our premise – An angst ridden teenage girl gets blown far away from home in a tornado to a strange new land where she must overcome several obstacles before she learns the true value of family in order to return home.

5. Write your best. Be clear and concise. Check spelling and grammar. If you don’t make a good impression at the very beginning, you can bet this editor won’t go any further than this first page.

6. Give the projected length and state the intended line you are hoping to sell to. Remember – the word count must fit the intended line. Do your homework; know your intended audience, and from that you will target the correct publishing house.

7. Shine the spotlight on yourself. Tell why you are the best person to write this particular story. Mention pertinent associations you may belong to, or contests you may have won, anything which may be considered writerly for this particular editor.

8. Thank the editor for their time.

9. Above all – be professional.


The Hero's Journey

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

“At heart, despite its infinite variety, the hero’s story is always a journey.”

— Christopher Vogler

We don’t want another hero – or do we? Of course we do. We love stories about ordinary men and women who, for whatever reason, become extraordinary. Somehow, over the course of their adventures, they change – usually for the better. Their stories give us hope.

But what makes someone a hero? What qualities set a hero apart from the rest?

The answer to that can usually be found in the journey the hero must undergo in order for his or her transformation from ordinary to extraordinary to occur. The path the hero follows, the challenges faced and overcome, the enemies fought and vanquished, the treasure sought and found, the choices faced and made, all come together to make of him or her a True Hero.

This article is not about the journey, for the stories and possibilities are endless, but rather, about the kind of character you wish to create to take that journey.

Following is a list of possible Heroic Archetypes with examples to use when trying to figure out what kind of a hero is going to star in your story.

1. The Willing Hero is already a Hero. He has no real angst or fatal flaws. He just charges off and does the right thing all the time. Think of Richard Cypher/Raul from The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind or Harry Potter from the series written by J.K. Rawlings. Both characters are active, gung-ho, committed to the adventure, without doubts, always bravely going ahead, and self-motivated. Harry goes through normal growing pains and relationship problems and grief at the loss of his parents, just as Richard goes through relationship problems and some pretty wild adventures, but in the hero department neither one of them changes. They have those qualities in them from the word get go. The Willing Hero doesn’t change much, only the adventures and troubles around him seem to get bigger and worse, but he’s always able to deal with whatever the baddies can throw at him. He never truly doubts himself (we only ever think he might be doubting himself) but no matter what happens, he never fails. The Willing Hero doesn’t undergo any great transforming change.

2. The Wounded Hero starts out with Heroic traits. He may have given up on love or on trust or on caring to be a main player in the society he’s in. He may have turned rogue, but that’s not where he started. A lot of romance novels use the Wounded Hero model. This Hero hasn’t necessarily hit rock bottom, he could still be the president of a big company, but he just doesn’t care like he once did. Take Edward from the movie Pretty Woman. Edward is a big business executive into corporate raiding who’s given up on love and business ethics. Until he meets Vivian, a prostitute, who shows him how to love again and teaches him that constructing something is more worthwhile than destruction. In the end he gives up his corporate raiding and decides to go into shipbuilding. Then he pursues her, to save her and to admit that he needs her in his life. At this point his true heroic qualities emerge. The Wounded Hero changes and redeems himself in the end by returning to his once True Heroic state.

3. The Fallen Hero starts out as a Hero with all the qualities of a True Hero, only something or someone has deterred him from his Heroic path. We know the Fallen Hero had been at one time Heroic, only when this story opens he’s at rock bottom. He’s given up the heroic path, either behind drink or in a hermitage. He usually needs a “catalyst” to kick him in the butt and set him back on the path to heroism and redemption. Think of Kid Shelleen in the movie Cat Ballou. Kid was once a fearsome gunslinger now turned alcoholic. In order to help Cat, whose father was murdered and whose land is now being threatened, Kid has to dry out and learn to shoot straight again. Maybe not exactly heroic qualities, but his driving need to help the young woman from being the next murder victim redeems him. The Fallen Hero changes and redeems himself in the end by returning to his True Heroic state.

4. The Anti-Hero starts out as a rogue already standing outside of the law or outside of society. He has never been in it. Think of Han Solo in the movie Star Wars. Han is a gambling mercenary from the very beginning, only looking out for number one, and he never wants to get involved with anyone or their problems. His initial involvement is purely mercenary; he’s only in it for the money. But then he develops a friendly relationship with Luke and he falls in love with Leia. Hints of his ability to have redeeming qualities are sprinkled throughout the story by his friendship with Chewbacca and his traits of loyalty. He’s a rogue, but a rogue with a heart, which will ultimately make of him a True Hero as evidenced when he comes through at the end to save his friends and win the hand of the woman he loves. The Anti-Hero changes the most by transforming into a True Hero.

5. The Loner Hero starts out with Heroic traits. He may not be a True Hero in the full sense, but he’s definitely a good guy with tons of good qualities, which are most likely hidden and only come out when put to the test. He’s not hit rock bottom like the Fallen Hero, nor is he outside of it like the Anti-Hero, but he’s somewhere in between the two. Think of Richard Sharpe in the Sharpe’s books by Bernard Cornwell. Sharpe is a rough and ready soldier with a bit of rogue in him and a lot of heroic qualities. For all his rough exterior, drinking, swearing, fighting, he is a hero at heart and always does the right thing and comes through in the end. Circumstances around him may look grim, and choices may seem impossible, but he doesn’t have to redeem himself because he’s already heroic and has always been heroic and will always make the right choice. The Loner Hero changes very little because he was always a Hero inside, it’s just that at the end of his story everyone can see the True Hero that was always in him.

6. The Unwilling Hero may or may not have any Heroic qualities within him at the beginning. He may be a Wounded, Fallen, Loner or even Anti-Hero at the start of the story. Unwilling Heroes are full of doubts and hesitations, passive, needing to be motivated or pushed into the adventure by outside forces. What the Unwilling Hero needs is a catalyst, someone or something that kick starts him onto the Heroic Path. Take Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. He’s your average teenage kid who daydreams about grand adventures, but when faced with going on one he balks. Obi Wan tries to be the catalyst and get him to join him in helping the rebels in their fight against the evil empire, but he fails. The catalyst that finally convinces Luke to set out turns out to be the murder of his aunt and uncle by the evil empire. The war has just become personal. Obi Wan then takes on the role of mentor. Over the course of the story Luke learns to become a Hero. The Unwilling Hero changes quite a lot on his journey in becoming a True Hero.

7. The Tragic Hero starts out already knowing and believing that he’s a Hero by demonstrating Heroic qualities. His belief in himself may make him strive even harder to attain perfection, and it is here where he fails and begins to struggle. Think of Sir Lancelot in the Arthurian Saga. Lancelot is the strongest, bravest, most brilliant knight who has ever sat at the round table. But that’s not enough for him; he has to be better than the best. He has to be pure in body as well as spirit. He is the paragon of perfection until he meets Guinevere. His love for the wife of his best friend, whom he loves as a brother, will be his ruin, and nothing in the end can redeem him of the betrayal he commits. Even though he may be sympathetic to the audience, and even though we may want him to prevail, in the end the Tragic Hero fails. The Tragic Hero may or may not change, but in the end none of that matters because he is fatally flawed, and that flaw can never change, therefore he will always strive and struggle and ultimately fail.

The key thing to remember when writing your epic heroic story, is to remember who the story is about. Your hero. Whatever kind of hero you choose, remember to make him or her human, which means to include faults and flaws along with all their seeming perfections. It is in this seemingly humanness where your reader will come to identify with your character, where they will care or believe in what you are trying to tell them, and where they will connect with your character as your hero takes them along on his journey.

As Christopher Vogler wrote in The Writer’s Journey: “Heroes are a symbol of the soul in transformation, and of the journey each person takes through life.”


He Said; She Said

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

“The difficulty with this conversation is that it's very different from most of the ones I've had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees.” – Douglas Adams

The purpose of dialogue is multifold. Use dialogue to provide the reader with information that will either propel the plot forward, create a sense of time and/or place, or even introduce something new or summarize something which has already happened. But above and beyond these reasons, use dialogue to reveal character. For example, the above quote, if set in a conversational context, reveals humour.

Dialogue is what brings your characters to life.

Your characters should have something to do when they talk. Dialogue should be fast-paced and interactive (not a long drawn out sermon or monologue) and the action associated with the conversation should also move along quickly. This does not mean your characters need to be having a conversation while they are in a race for their lives, but rather that the sentence structure surrounding the dialogue is snappy and necessary. Think action rather than dialogue tag.

Example: “You can't be serious,” he said angrily. Versus - “You can't be serious.” He pounded his fist against the wall.

The first example is poorly written. Don't pump up the tag line, which is the word “said” with weak adjectives and adverbs, which is the word “angrily”. Instead, in the second example which is far better written, notice how the phrase following his spoken words convey his anger with short, snappy action, while at the same time revealing something about his character. If you feel you must use a dialogue tag and don't wish to have the secondary phrase present (for rhythm and flow of sentence structure this is sometimes preferable to having two short sentences) then use a stronger verb to replace the word “said” such as shouted, cried, screamed, etc.

Give the dialogue the look and sound of natural speech. Don't overuse speaker address, which is to call someone by name before speaking, as most normal people don't use another person's name in conversation except for a very particular purpose. If the speaker is meant to sound formal and stilted, use a very particular syntax to reveal information about the character. The same thing could be said in different ways and will in turn convey different characterization.

Example: “I should like very much to have a cookie please.” Versus - “Gimme a cookie, now.”

The first example portrays a proper, well-mannered child while the second reveals a rude, spoiled brat.

Dialogue tags are only necessary to show who is speaking. If it is clear who is speaking, don't use a dialogue tag. If you feel the dialogue requires a tag to identify the speaker, then use the word “said” as it is so common as to be practically invisible. Also, pay attention to the proper mechanics of writing, as it is much more natural to put the pronoun before the noun as in “he said” rather than “said she.”

Use dialogue tags such as snapped, growled, wailed, bemoaned, etc. sparingly as such words call attention to themselves. Concentrate on what is being said, not how it is being said. The words you put in the character's mouth should be self evident. If not, reword the dialogue to suit. Also, pay close attention to speaker attributions to insure that you're not mixing up words to come up with a dialogue tag that is physically impossible like “he grimaced” or “she smiled” as such expressions cannot convey sound, which dialogue is all about. But, and this is a big but, remember that you can use such phrases independently after the dialogue.

Example: “I hate unsweetened lemonade.” Jack took a sip and grimaced.

Note in this example how the second phrase replaces the dialogue tag completely, yet it acts like a dialogue tag by naming the character who is speaking and emphasizing his words with a little action.

To keep your readers interested in what is going to happen next, add tension to your dialogue, indeed, to the entire conversational scene. Drop hints, give incomplete sentences, even end the conversation with unanswered questions. Don't give everything away. And don't use dialogue to give lengthy explanations about something. If you have to explain some plot point to your reader, do it in another way. Characters who speak in long, boring monologues will lose your readers, even if they are supposed to portray a professor or a preacher. You don't want to put your readers to sleep while they're reading your book.

Here's some technical advice to keep in mind when writing dialogue. Start a new paragraph whenever a new character speaks up, even if they only say a single word. Break up sections of prose and narration with conversation as dialogue is usually short with lots of “white space” around it, making it appealing to the reader's eye.

Use dashes rather than ellipses to show an interruption, then in the next paragraph begin with the dialogue or event which caused the interruption. Ellipses, on the other hand, are only used to show how a speaker's thoughts trail off.

Example of a dash:

John crossed his arms over his chest. “How could you do this to—”

“I didn't know he was going to race off with my car!” Jane yanked at her hair.

Example of using ellipses:

Sarah bit at her lip. “If only I hadn't been so mad back then...” She turned away and wiped a tear from her eye.

Finally, read your dialogue out loud. Dialogue is meant to be spoken. Look for places where you are tempted to change the wording, as that will give you a clue to making it sound more natural. Reading out loud can also help you to “see” where you might need to insert some action in place of a dialogue tag. Notice where you use long and unwieldy words and change them for more everyday language that becomes more invisible. Remember, the writing style should not be jarring, as that takes the reader out of the story.

You want the reader to find your characters memorable, not your gyrating linguistic gymnastics. (Try saying that three times fast!)

“Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.” – Emily Post


The Plot Thickens

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

“Whoso loves

Believes the impossible.”

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Myths are familiar plots and themes that are readily recognizable to most readers. Myths, when judiciously used, can enhance your story. Use myths whenever possible and/or applicable to your writing. Use common myths to reinforce your story.

One romantic myth is that men and women form strong, loving, binding relationships. This myth is crucial to romances. (Although bonds such as this do happen in real life, for some reason it is perceived more as a fantasy than reality).

Another romance myth supports the idea that any beleaguered couple can overcome any conflict through love. This is a myth all romance readers believe. Indulge in the fantasy. Throw the works at your characters, and when they’re down -- kick them some more. In a romance, happy-ever-after is guaranteed. The reader knows this, indeed expects this predictable state-of-affairs, it is the new twist on the old theme which she is anticipating.

A good theme for a romance story is ‘change’ or ‘redemption’. Make the main character have done something reprehensible in the past, but make sure he had a very good reason for doing what he did. Clearly show that reason, then very clearly show that he can and has changed. Allow him to redeem himself. Show him seeking atonement.

Fairytales provide an excellent source for ‘theme gathering’. The classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ myth can be used in an endless variety of ways to show how the Hero brings love and freedom into the dormant Heroine’s life, or it can be an excellent theme to reverse and have the Heroine awaken the Hero and save him with her love. Then there’s the ever popular ‘Cinderella’ myth where the Heroine, trapped in the lowliest state, attracts and captures the love of the highest status Hero. ‘The Frog Prince’ is a classic in which the main character is transformed (emotionally, physically or professionally) for the better. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ analogies can make us take a good look at the gentle side of the Beast and the strength within Beauty. A compassionate, tender, loving Beauty is the perfect foil to show that the gruff, hardened, cynical Beast is really fragile and human after all.

It’s always a good idea to set up characters who are opposites. Make them have to work hard at resolving the conflict. Always evoke emotion. The Hero and Heroine should have believable emotions and should be passionate people. Heroic characters should still have human flaws and frailties. An interesting take on portraying a character realistically would be to intentionally make him or her perfect. Herein lies the conflict -- the impossibility of maintaining that high standard would become a genuine problem.

No matter what theme you have woven into your story, show that the main characters have a great deal at stake. Make the goals they long to achieve worthy of a Hero and Heroine. Remember -- their love ‘is’ the plot and affirming that love is what resolves the conflict.


The Magic of Writing

Posted by marcellakampman on May 8, 2012 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)

“Reading is magic. You’re all alone when you read, yet you hear the author’s voice. Think about that spell, that curious suspension of reality that is reading. As a writer you must try to create and sustain this spell. It is an unspoken, unwritten covenant between the writer and the reader.”

If reading is magic, what then is writing? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as it seems. You can’t just wave your fingers over the keyboard and voila! a story appears told in a unique voice with sophisticated style, and all, of course, grammatically correct. You say that writing is difficult, of course it’s difficult. It’s just you and the keyboard and whatever is in your head at that moment. But it helps make it less difficult when you know the basics.

In this article let’s address some of those basic elements of writing.

1. Style.

It’s in the style of your writing where you’ll find your voice. You know, that unique, distinct, strong new voice that every editor is looking for. Here is where they’ll find it – and you. Style is in the how you write, not the what. Keep your writing simple, the meaning clear. Use the active voice where the subject is doing the action in the sentence. Use precise nouns and strong verbs. Avoid wordiness; that’s where you embellish your meaning with adjectives and adverbs. Also, avoid repetition; again that’s where you say something like “small dwarf”. We already know a dwarf is small. Avoid repetition in concepts. You don’t need to write two sentences that convey the same information, or two paragraphs that establish the same personality trait. Learn what it means to “show and not tell”. Example: Telling – Fred was angry. Showing – Fred clenched his fists, his face growing redder by the minute. Beware of monotonous sentence rhythm where you’ve constructed sentences in the same length and in the same way. Vary your sentences. You can’t reach for style; it will emerge in your writing. But you can help polish it up by ensuring that every sentence, every word, has a purpose and is being used for effect.

2. Pacing.

You will often be given the advice to begin your story ‘in medias res’, which means ‘in the middle of things’. The best way to involve your reader is to start them off in the middle of something exciting. Modern readers are fairly sophisticated; they don’t require pages of backstory or scene setup. Your novel is competing with the TV and/or a computer for the reader’s attention. Don’t throw your first big chance away. Once you’ve got your reader hooked, you have to know how to keep them interested. That means you have to keep the story moving by writing scenes or story events. Make things happen. A fast pace means that something happens, then something else happens, and then still more things happen. Long passages of narrative summary or description will put your reader to sleep. Don’t allow any sections where nothing is happening in your story. Another key element to holding the reader’s interest is to make him/her care about what is happening to whom. Readers want to read about people, people undergoing tremendous struggles, people to whom things (usually bad things) are happening. Remember, a story is not every single little thing that ever happened to your character, it’s every important thing that happened to him/her that forced him/her to act, to grow, to change. To keep your reader interested and involved the story must get on with it.

3. Plot.

Think of plot as the framework, the organization of your story. The usual framework is beginning, middle, end. But plot is more than that simplistic format: it is events (actions) and their sequence (reactions). To effectively tell your story you need to know what events and in which sequence to place them. Use tension to effectively impart that information and to make it have the best impact on your characters. Tension is the very thing that makes a reader turn the page. You must place your reader in a state of uneasy suspense, then keep her there. Your plot should travel in a logical sequence, yet to the reader it should remain uncertain. Make your reader question what will be coming up next, make it unpredictable. Try not to give your story too strict a formulaic format. Leave it room to take off in an unexpected direction, give it more layers than the more generic plots of its genre, and best of all, let it surprise the reader.

Keep in mind the four basic plot elements: 1. The story must be about a sympathetic character; 2. Conflict must happen to that sympathetic character; 3. The conflict must lead to a climax; and 4. The story must end on a satisfactory note.

Remember that your goal is to make the writing work, not just for you as the writer, but more importantly, for your reader. Good writing allows your reader to have faith in you and to suspend his/her sense of disbelief. You want your reader to forget the knowledge that what he/she is reading is made up. You want them to believe every word that you wrote.

Closing words from Donald Maass…

“Delight your readers with your own brand of story, then continue to delight them in a similar way (only better) on a regular basis.”


1. Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel. Writer’s Digest Books, 2001

2. Provost, Gary. Make Your Words Work. Writer’s Digest Books, 2001

3. Provost, Gary. Beyond Style. Writer’s Digest Books, 1988