Category Archives: Writer Tips & Tricks

Tips from writers or for writers.

I was listening to Radio 4 “Open Book” yesterday afternoon and heard some very worrying news. Apparently, in the US and maybe here in britain too, no debut novel will be looked at if the writer doesn’t have an MA in Creative Writing! Ye gods! Formulaic writing here we come. This is a dreadful idea, you don’t learn to write by doing as someone else tells you, however you may learn to write so that an accountant likes it. OMG …

Another worrying suggestion came through the programme too … you won’t be looked at if you’re over 40!

Publishers are going to lose it if they try to restrict  things in this way. If you’re a writer I suggest you really consider self-publishing, the small presses. I find Lulu very good, gets you into Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bowdlers. the rest is up to us writers to tell good stories :-).

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

Wye’s Women Twin Taverns Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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The pagan with the pen

Where does art come from?

Some might say the subconscious, or the imagination. Some may cite the id as the bubbling cauldron of ideas, or the need to define certain childhood experiences or emotions. Perhaps the answer varies from person to person. I personally feel that creation, in its purest form, is a sacred act.

There are definitely times when I’m writing that I feel like I’m channeling something rather than creating something.  I’m not alone in this.  One will often hear artists saying that their strongest works seemed to ‘write themselves’ or ‘play themselves’ or ‘paint themselves’.  It’s wonderful when this happens. More commonly, things don’t come that easily. That’s where craft and discipline come in. Divine inspiration or not, it takes work to shape the final piece. Muses can be fickle things. They can whisper while one is absorbed in mundane daily tasks, scream at inopportune moments and then, when given a chance to speak, be strangely and stubbornly quiet. They can abandon us at crucial moments, standing just out of reach. Muses must be fed, on a constant influx of inspiration. (Mine seems to also enjoy a glass of red wine.) And to open your output valve, you also have to open your input valve.

In art and in life, our influences and experiences are our teachers. The songs we listen to and the movies we watch and the books we read imprint new patterns on our brains. Healthy minds are always changing, evolving, factoring in new experiences and adjusting outlook accordingly. As we never stop learning (hopefully) we should never stop seeking new sources for inspiration. Frequently this search leads to the past, to the myths and lore and legends of old. And if one follows those threads of influence back, inevitably one will find oneself in the realm of myth. Stoker didn’t create Dracula out of whole cloth. The Count was the lovechild of myth and history. And without the Count, we likely wouldn’t find ourselves being inflicted with glittery baseball-playing vampires.  

The line where myth and art meet is not a clear one. If you’re looking for them, you might recognize archetypes and/or dieties at play in the least expected places. You might find a hint of Aphrodite working through Miss Piggy. You might find traces of Loki at play in a mischievous character. One of my favorite TV shows ever, Sons of Anarchy, is loosely inspired by Hamlet, which was inspired by the 13th-century Vita Amlethi, which was in itself inspired by something else, something older.

Art is the line between dream and reality, between the future and the past, the seen and the unseen, the sacred and the profane. Art is the embodiment of emotion. Art is one way in which we interact with the universe, how we express  our thoughts and emotions. Art is as necessary as breathing for some of us. There are many of us who simply feel driven to create. Whatever one’s art, there are going to be roadblocks at every turn. Rejection, uncertainty, lackluster product, even a lack of confidence can lead one down a dangerous dead-end road. Sooner or later, we all run out of gas. The way through these roadblocks can sometimes come through unexpected places, such as meditation or ritual, as well as research. I’ve found characters in meditation, and resolved plot problems while staring at a solstice moon.

When one is ‘borrowing’ a god or goddess for a muse, it can become a bit complicated. There is a fine line one treads when working with deities in art. Some deities do not take lightly to being adopted. You cannot work against them. You have to let them come to you on your own terms. I realized this recently when working with Hecate. I found myself blocked, and realized that I had to open myself to the goddess, rather than force her myth to open up to me. The pagan and the pen, indeed.

Where does art come from? The natural, or the supernatural? I think it’s a bit of both, but either way, art is a chain that stretches back to the beginning of time, and if nothing else, in that aspect it becomes sacred. If one can transcribe emotion and cause an audience or a reader or a listener to react emotionally, that’s a very powerful and profound thing . One of the things that drew me to druidry in the first place was the fact that it recognizes creation as divine.       

Some might argue that the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, and their stories, are nothing more than pieces of us, the human race, embodied in specific forms and tales. You can certainly put those labels on them, if you choose. This goddess represents sexuality, this one rage, this tale is about hubris, this one is about love. Myths certainly are mirrors; we see ourselves reflected back in them, and if we’re paying attention, we can learn valuable lessons from them. The spirits of the ancient dieties will shine through us if we let them.  And if you look, you might find them waiting for you in some very unexpected places.

On Nurturing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert

This video comes from TED, a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.

This talk is with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love. The focus is on writers nurturing creativity and ego from a spiritual sense, and the information is too good not to share.



From the website:

“The annual TED conferences, in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Oxford, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).”

“On, we make the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free. More than 700 TEDTalks are now available, with more added each week. All of the talks are subtitled in English, and many are subtitled in various languages. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.”

Character flaws in fiction

Having started poking around the subject of flaws yesterday, I thought it worth exploring in further detail. From a writing perspective, character flaws are very important (Druid perspective tomorrow!) Real people are flawed, after all. Perfect people are dull, and predictable, so once you get beyond very simple children’s stories, flaws become very important in character creation.

A rounded character needs weak points, failings, blind spots, and things they are rubbish at. These open the way for narrative, as through them, events unfold that the character cannot quickly or easily deal with. Failings actually make a character more endearing, I’ve found. People who are too nice, too good, too kind, too reasonable can actually be hard to empathise with. They might be the sort of people we ought to like, but they aren’t quite human and are a lot harder to engage with.

So, how do you go about putting flaws into a character? You might need to consider it in light of the needs of the plot. The character may need to be blind, or agoraphobic, or clumsy for the story to work. You might grow the flaws out of their personal history – in the form of fears and anxieties, beliefs about themselves or the world, old problems that haunt them, and so forth. You might want to give your character a physical disadvantage of some sort – from injury, illness or birth. You might consider a mental disability. Then there are personality traits – anger, jealousy, paranoia, depression, and so forth. Obsessions compulsions and phobias can flaw a character in some very interesting ways, giving you all kinds of scope to play with them creatively. You could make them a bit lazy, bad at handling money, gullible. A combination of flaws can make for a very convincing person.

Of course, if you make a character too flawed, they become unsympathetic or hard to engage with. A selfish, lazy, clumsy heroine who swears compulsively and hates cats and children may be hard to engage readers with. She might however, make a very good problem ex-girlfriend to have complicating the main plot. Getting the balance right with enough flaws to make a character plausible and likable, is not entirely easy.

Writing …

except it’s afternoon !!!

Just arrived here as spent morning sorting out the Ogham post – it goes up here  tomorrow.  It was good fun getting the info together, if rather like herding kittens . there is just soooooo much that each tree relates to I feel I could write a damn encyclopaedia (sheesh! spelling … need coffffeeee!). I am putting the whole into a book – out next year at this rate.

I love trees. The lore they give you if you choose to journey with them is fantastic, and doing so is like an hour with your best friend, exchanging Q&A. Every time I go to write about them I found something new arrives and wants to be mentioned.

Writing’s like that … you set off with an idea and then the story wakes up and writes itself, you just have to stop it wandering off into indigestible and incomprehensible ramblings … again like herding kittens LOL. I’m having the same round-up scenes with the latest novel too. Having begun with a 14 yr old heroine, I’ve now got a 40 yr old hero, with fiddle, itinerant musician, with red hawk and now (since last Saturday) two ferrets as well … Yikes! And he’s going to fall in love with the heroine – who may grow to 16, sigh! – although nothing happens, which is probably very sad for them both but we’ll see.

Arrrrgghhh !!! back to the grind of writing … but I absolutely love it. except there’s a mountain and a half of work to do in the garden too. And I can’t wait for Paul to bring Fabrice’s french bread back from Fodders … Yummmmmmmmmmm !!!

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What a good novel should have …

Of course, this is only my opinion but for a good novel must have the following attributes …

  • Fully 3D characters
  • Excellent description of places, so you feel you are there
  • Complexity – nothing is simply black or white
  • Heroes who get it wrong some of the time
  • Bad guys who get it right some of the time
  • Events and characters that explode cliches
  • The ability to make you think, turn your values upside-down, if only a little
  • The story should grow you, your attitudes, as it does those of the protagonist

Novels that have all this do not grow on trees :-).

I’m currently re-reading Frank Herbert’s “Whipping Star”, it has all of these qualities and is still brilliantly thought provoking after 38 years.

What do you think? What makes a good novel for you?

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Soul Mates

There are a few couples I’ve encountered who seem so profoundly with each other, that the term ‘soul mates’ feels applicable. A tiny minority of the lovers I’ve met have appeared this way to me. Those few have something between them that carries a magic of its own, illuminating all that it encounters and affecting the people who come into contact with it. These are the pairs about whom stories are told, and whose relationships bring inspiration.

The majority of people have relationships of other shapes – which may be powerful, engaging and rewarding, but are different. Not everyone wants to spend their life in the throes of a grand passion on that kind of scale. For some, a relationship that gives comfort, companionship and answers sexual need is more than enough. It’s better to go for the relationship that suits your nature and needs rather than being boxed into social expectations about serial monogamy, romance, and happily ever after.

The world of romance-erotica fiction is full of destined soul mates and one-true-love scenarios. Far fewer stories explore the reality of relationship as most people encounter it, which I think is a great waste. It adds to the feeling that everyone should be seeking this one earth shattering experience of finding the right person to be with forever. You can miss out on a lot of very good relationships and opportunities if you’re focused on a quest for the ‘perfect’ one. Soul mates are people too, flawed and complex and not perfect, just very right together. Seeking perfection in anything is an enterprise doomed to fail because nothing in this world is ever free from flaw or complexity.

Much of the ‘one true mate’ fiction is paranormal – frequently featuring werewolves. It’s very easy then to give your character a supernatural way of ‘knowing’ they have found ‘the one’ and thus removing the whole experience that bit further from real life. I’m going out on a limb here to suggest this may be because the vast majority of writers have no idea what a soul mate relationship looks like anyway. It’s really easy to write ‘I will love you for all eternity, he said, and they did, happily ever after.’ Any five year old can give you that kind of story ending. From what I’ve read, many authors resort to ‘telling’ this one, because they have no means of ‘showing’ it, not actually having experienced it themselves. What it creates is a fantasy of perfection that is more likely a hindrance in learning about real love than any kind of help.

Being a hopelessly romantic soul, I hit my teens looking for true love. I learned very quickly that certain boys will trade affection for sexual favours, and I settled for affection and trading. Aged nineteen, I found someone who rocked my world, inspiring wild and unfamiliar emotions in me. I cocked it up, and hit my early twenties believing that I had already found, and irretrievably lost the love of my life. Other relationships followed, and I invested what I could, and found nothing like what I needed. Told that bestowing affection on me was like pouring it into a black hole and a total waste of time, I came to the conclusion that I was the problem. I wanted too much. I had swallowed all those dreams of romance and they were wrong, and I was a fool and should make the best of what I had. Recently, I found I had been mistaken in this, and everything else. These were happy discoveries.

I did not magically ‘know’, when I first encountered Tom some six years ago, that he was the person I should spend my time with. Falling in love with him was not the earth shattering event of romance novels. In fiction, it happens once, and then people deal with the aftermath. Falling in love with Tom is a process, and I do it all over again on pretty much a daily basis. It is always new, always surprising, and a year in, it gets more so, not less. Once the rush of hormonal ‘new love’ has worn off, relationships normally settle down or burn out. One True Love fiction tends to step away well before that happens. Real life does not fade to pink, you get it served up day by day, and you have to live your love affair, in whatever form it takes.

I wondered, before now, if I had found the person I should be with. That’s perhaps the easiest difference to pin down. I do not wonder about Tom. I know. That knowing deepens as we progress. Time and oceans cannot weaken it. Sometimes I think the challenges we’ve faced have made it clear to both of us how serious we are – insight we might not have had if getting together had been quick and easy. But then, love conquering obstacles is another romance fiction favourite. Perhaps with reason. When you test a thing, you find out what it’s made of.

I have a number of conclusions. Live, and do not be trapped by dreams into missing what you do have, or be trapped by loss of dreams into not going after what you truly need. Write what you know, and if you do not really know what it means to find your soul mate, don’t add to the hollow, empty mythmaking that feeds other people’s despair. Write about life and love as you understand it, celebrate what is good. The passion of soul mates and happily ever after are not intrinsically linked. Think of Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Iseult. Make the best story you can, in life, and in fiction.