Letters to Alice – Fay Weldon

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Letters to AliceLetters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen isn’t strictly fiction, but it is written by a fictionalized character.  Novelist Aunt Fay has a niece she’s rarely seen – 18 years old and believes that she knows everything about the world of fiction after taking half a course of English at university.  While Alice wants to write, she is reluctant to pick up anything by Jane Austen to read.  Aunt Fay writes 15 letters to her niece, helping her to see the intricatisies of fiction and the marvels of Austen.

This book is beautifully written, with passages that float across and lift off the page.  For any huge fan of Austen (and I certainly count myself among them), Weldon manages to point out much of Austen’s brilliance and reminds you why you fell in love with the pioneering writer in the first place.  Though Fay doesn’t seem like to Sense and Sensibility much, (an appraisal with which I disagree), she does an in-depth look at all of the books that Austen wrote in her short life.  She examines the time period, the expectations, her family life, and what her life as a spinster really meant.

One thing in particular that I loved were Weldon’s descriptions of fiction and writing in general as building houses and villages.  Good novels are well constructed houses, genres live in different areas of town, and the flashy brilliant celebrated masterpieces often fall by the wayside in a few years.  Contained in the first letter, it is worth reading that section of the book for that description of writing alone.

However beautiful Letters to Alice is, it still did not manage to engage as much as I had hoped.  It is not a book one picks up for a casual read, but rather a scholar would study for its perspectives and depths.  I wish this had been around when I was a student, but picking up the book now did not feel like much of a Saturday leisurely read.

I still loved the book, and will treasure certain passages, going back to read them as I get stuck on my own writing goals.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a hankering to read an Austen again.


Ian Rankin’s 10 Writing Tips

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On Monday, Most Wanted publishing is announcing Ian Rankin’s newest book title and revealing the cover.  With a new maybe-Rebus on the way, I wanted to celebrate tonight with Ian Rankin’s 10 Writing Tips.  I love the bluntness of his advice, and that he recognizes there’s a lot of luck involved with getting published (look at how many publishers rejected J.K. Rowling after all). What do you think of the Scottish Crime King’s tips?

Ian Rankin Writing Tips

Image Text:

  1. Read lots.
  2. Write lots.
  3. Learn to be self-critical.
  4. Learn what criticism to accept.
  5. Be persistent.
  6. Don’t give up.
  7. Have a story worth telling.
  8. Know the market.
  9. Get lucky.
  10. Stay lucky.

Source: Guardian

Awesome Creative Writing Apps

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Writing AppsAs our virtual writing group closes up today (don’t forget to sign up or email me at breathingfiction at gmail.com or contact me through the Facebook page for questions), I was thinking of the different things I’m already using to help my writing along, and those things that I want to start using to help.  One thing that I have become increasingly dependent on is my Galaxy SIII.  Sure, I prefer taking notes in an actual notebook (I’m a bit OCD, too, where the notebook has to reflect the story or MC) and I write using Scrivener, but I often have my phone and not the other things I need.  To digitize and make things easier, I started using a few apps and I want to share my favorite writing apps with you.

Name GeneratorThe first one I’ve been using for years.  It’s called Name Generator and it does just what it says.  Select a country/language of name origin, choose male, female, or both, and select how many results you want.  It’s really simple, but I can’t tell you how many characters I’ve named with the help of this thing.  I often can’t think of what name works, but I have an idea of how I want it to sound.  Since it also gives you first and last names, you can mix and match to find the right combination.  I personally love it especially for side characters.  It’s fast and you can have endless results.



WriteOMeterI have been looking for a motivation tool to help me write.  While it’d be nice to have on my laptop, so many windows open, etc just distracts me.  I found WriteOMeter though and I love it.  If you put it on a timer, it’s mean to you and reminds you to keep writing.  It helps you set daily word count goals, project word count goals, and you can even put in a goal date for finishing.  I think this is going to especially come in handy when the virtual group gets in full swing.




WriterLast but not least is Writer.  It’s a fairly straightforward smartphone word processor, but it works really well.  You can have lists, numbered lists, and other formatted niceties that a normal phone memo pad misses out on.  This has already come in handy for me to jot notes down on the train/bus when I don’t have my notebook(s) on me.  If I get a mini-bluetooth keyboard, it’s going to be even more helpful.




Do you have a favorite app to help with your creative writing process?  What is it?


Writing Tips from J.K. Rowling

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Did you check out last week’s post about our virtual writing groups? Don’t forget to sign up before Friday 15 March.

J.K Rowling Writing CafeToday’s featured author is none other than the creator of the boy wizard himself.  As everyone knows, Rowling got her start writing in a cafe in Edinburgh, hoping to turn her imaginings into something that could pay the rent.  What she gave the world was beyond magic, and it shaped millions of childhoods (and adulthoods, too).  While her adult novel may not have lived up to the hype, we can all agree that when it comes to crafting an enchanting story, Rowling knows how to do the job.  And it’s hard not to admire a woman who was once on benefits and now has influenced the lives of countless readers and encouraged many stubborn readers to pick up other books as well.  So, let’s check out J.K. Rowling’s 5 Writing Tips:


JK Rowling 5 Writing Tips

  1. Write in whatever time you have.
  2. Planning is essential.
  3. Rewriting is just as essential.
  4. Be aware of plot and pacing.
  5. Write your passion.

Join In – Virtual Writing Group

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Virtual Writing GroupI have posted a lot of writing tips on here recently, many from great authors such as Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon.  And searching for all of these got me to thinking about my own writing, and the people that are obviously interested in writing themselves, because each posts has gotten hundreds of hits.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to slack when it comes to my own writing.  I make my living partially on the written word, but not for writing novels.  And I want that to change.  Do you?

I propose then a writing group, virtual since this is a website.  This would consist of roughly 4-8 people who want to share work, get feedback, and help other writers progress.  Writing groups are also great because they force you to write, to provide something for the group to read.  I have been in a few in the past, and I dearly miss that now.

Why 4-8?  Well, reading a lot of work in one week would be difficult, so I propose 2 members of the group would submit 5-10 pages each week.  This means once a month you would get to have your pages read and critiqued, and then the other 3 weeks you get to help out the others in your group.

What if more than that want in?  Here’s where this can get really cool.  If we get a great turnout, I can split off people into groups.  Tell me what kind of novel/short story/play/movie/TV show you’re writing, and if you know anyone else who is submitting their name for fun as well.  Then tell me what part of the world/state/city you’re based in.  If we’re lucky, we can put you near someone local, but we’ll definitely put together groups with friends and similar writing interests.

How do you sign up? Right now I’m just garnering interest, but if we get a good response, full steam ahead!  Fill out this Google Form, then I will get back in touch with you.  And hey, if it’s only a few of us, we’ll get to work together!

Want to think on it? I will keep the form open for two weeks, until midnight PST March 15, 2013.  If you happen to stumble on this post after the deadline, please email me at breathingfiction at gmail.com.  There might be a group with space, or more to join in!


New Directions in Old Places – LTUE

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Life the Universe and EverythingLife, the Universe and Everything is a Science Fiction and Fantasy conference that takes place in Utah every year.  My good friend Heather Muir, a former guest-poster of this blog, was able to attend again this year.  I asked her to share her experiences with us as an aspiring writer and how attending the conference has helped her achieve those goals.

I’ve been going to LTUE (Life, the Universe and Everything) forever and this year I was not excited. Last year I vowed I would not attend again. I was critical and annoyed at the panels, many of which are repeated every year. I had heard it all before. Don’t write a love triangle. Write what you love, not what’s popular. Don’t stalk editors in the bathroom. What not to put in your query letter. Wait thirty days, ninety days, a year before you revise anything. Never give up.

I had heard it all three times over. I constantly read all the writer, agent and editor blogs I can keep up with. I attend every conference I can afford, local and worldwide. I’m in a writing group, online and off. And I felt like this conference was for the total newbie.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that whining drowns out sense. As soon as I stopped whining, I had an epiphany. I was miserable because I acting like a newbie. I’d heard all of this advice ten times over but I was not following it. I had written three first drafts of three different novels and was working on a fourth. But I had yet to take the next step to revise. Or the many steps after that towards publication. I was not approaching authors because who was I to talk to such amazing, talented people? I was feeling like a newbie because I was acting like a newbie.

So this year, I decided not to be the newbie. I still attended a few panels but I spent more of my time talking to authors at their table in the dealers room, in between panels and in small groups in the hallway when I was lucky enough to squeeze in. I talked for hours with an old friend, catching up, recommending books and sharing what we were working on, which recharged my batteries more than anything. I spoke with random people I had never met before, practicing my pitch for the novel I had just finished. I asked every author I could for advice about revision (gulp!). My knees shook every time I approached someone.

By the end of the conference, I had a new friend from the front row of a folklore panel. She gave me her email and invited me to join a writing group.Two of the biggest names there remembered me from previous workshops, one of them remembered my story “fondly.” I almost squealed! I talked about gardening with another author. I sent an email to another writer, a follow up to our conversation, and got an email back! I shook the hand of a favorite local artist and made him smile.

Will all of these people remember me next year? Not without prompting for sure. Not without me gathering my courage and walking up to them with a smile. Did I learn anything new? Yes and no. But I changed my expectations. I was here to network and recharge my passion for writing. I succeeded in both ventures and am happy to say I will be going back every year. Hopefully with a novel to truly pitch. Besides, how can you pass up a three day conference that has a crazy amount of talent and community for only $30?!

Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips

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NaNoWriMo ends today and while I didn’t have time this month to compete, those of you who did might appreciate Joss Whedon’s writing rules.  While his skew more towards writers of visual stories, novelists will no doubt appreciate what he has to say.

Joss Whedon is the writer and creator of such cult TV shows as Buffy, Angel, Firefly and the acclaimed writer/director  of box-office smash The Avengers.

Joss Whedon 10 Writing Tips

Whedon also included some explanations for his above tips, and you can find them below:


Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.


Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.


This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’


Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.


Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.


When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.


You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.


Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’


Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s f***ed the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.


The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.