Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ten Tips for Strengthening Your Novel

No matter how great your idea may be, or how skillful a writer you are, there are always ways to improve the manuscript you're working on. Perhaps you've already tried some of these, you may be too far along in the process to benefit from others, and a few won't work for every novel. Still, the chances are you can find something here you could use.

Of course, keep in mind these aren't magic spells. They won't breathe fresh life into any story, just because you went through the motions. You have to learn to use them wisely and well. That's true of any writing skill; you need to take the time to know and master it. Whenever you blindly follow a set of rules you don't understand, everything you write will come out wooden and unnatural.

1: Keep writing!

Don't hold back because every word, or every story, might not be perfect. Even if the result isn't always your best work, you'll have more chances of writing a masterpiece if you keep on writing. And that fleeting thought as you struggle for the perfect word might be just as important. So get as much as you can down on paper; you can always go back to rewrite it later.

2: Write yourself into a corner, then find a way out.

When your characters, or your plot, run into trouble, make sure they, and you, are focusing on the real problem. Consider every possible angle of attack. Look for answers that aren't obvious. Real, tough problems you have to struggle with keep your readers interested. Difficulties you have ready answers for look dull and predictable on paper.

3: Understand every character.

Each one must have reasons for what they do, hidden traits, and contradictory impulses. The most evil villains often believe fiercely in their choices, and the purest of heroes must battle baser motives. Brutal men have family and friends, who may even view them as kind. Decent men are lured into awful deeds by good intentions. No trait is as simple as it seems.

4: Combine the unexpected.

Pairing mismatched characters, or plunging your protagonist into a setting or situation utterly alien to them, is certain to generate excitement. Force a biker to cooperate with a book dealer. Strand a sailor in the desert. Relocate a hillbilly in the midst of a huge city. Make a recluse get involved with an acting troupe. Then stand back and watch the sparks fly!

5: Don't take shortcuts.

Resist the temptation to save your characters, and yourself, a lot of work. When they have to accomplish something to move the story forward, make them do it honestly. It's much more interesting reading about their struggles to build a raft to escape the wilderness than about the convenient discovery of an old boat that just needs a little moss stuffed in the cracks.

6: Pursue paradox.

Train yourself to recognise the opposite forces at work in most situations, and to explore them in your writing. This will add depth to your work. Explore the issues many paradoxes raise. They can lend extra dramatic tension to your story. Handled skilfully, such a treatment may even highlight the ironic aspects of life, or illuminate some of the deeper truths life has to offer.

7: Let your characters fail!

If you find your protagonist about to make a serious mistake, avoid the temptation to intervene. Instead, follow them as they deal with failure and its consequences, then pick themselves up to try again. Watching them go through this process enriches the story for your readers, and allows your protagonist, and your readers, to savour success even more when it comes.

8: Build up layers of metaphor.

While metaphor can be an excellent way of describing things in a fresh way, there are other ways to use it in your story. Look for unexpected similarities between very different things, then weave these into the fabric of the story itself. Such a technique can enhance your theme by providing fresh insights into the topic you have chosen to explore.

9: Save everything.

When you find passages or scenes that must be trimmed, don't discard them. Put them in a separate file instead. This will free you to cut out parts that need to go, secure in the knowledge they won't be lost forever. Later, review what you've kept. Well written scenes or passages might, with some changes, be the nucleus of a sequel or even an entirely different book.

10: Live your own book.

It's fine to jot down descriptions of your characters, or notes on your setting, but don't rely solely on those. Try to see your characters in your mind, hear them talk, sketch places where they spend their time. Get to know even minor figures. The better you know the people, places, and events in your book, the more real you can make them seem to your readers.

By Ray

To read more from this writer stop by The unending Journey of the Wandering Author

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Accident

12 years before The Wake...

Cassandra hated begging. But she would beg for this man. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make Marcus see her, really see her and her heart.

They were standing in the hall by the restrooms at The Celtic Heart, at the end of a long night of drinking ale. Their six friends- the rest of the group that always seemed to be together- were scattered at the darts, the bar, the pool table. Living out their own dramas of unrequited love and jealousy.

But all Cassandra could think of was that Marcus had just kissed her for the first time. Right after she said, “Happy Birthday, baby,” her words soft and private. He had leaned over and let his lips meet hers, giving in to what they both wanted at last.

“Don’t pull away,” she said as he did just that.

“I shouldn’t have.”

Too long they had danced around this. Because he was dating Melissa, because they were just supposed to be friends, because Andrew loved her and no one wanted to hurt Andrew. But Cassandra couldn’t stop her need for this man. Marcus was who she wanted for herself- the rest of them be damned.

Too many times she put them all first, tried to keep them all together, to make these college friendships last a lifetime. But now she needed to think of herself. She needed Marcus to kiss her again, to slide his arms around her and pull her close, to take her away from this crowded bar and home to his bed.

“Melissa...” he started, his dark eyes meeting hers.

“Tell me that you love her more than me. Can you say that?” Cassandra watched his eyes, seeing how dark they were with desire. “I didn’t think so.”

Marcus took a step back, adjusted his clothes, and slipped back into the role he played instead of living. The script that made him seem the perfect boyfriend, the loyal friend, the one with the bright political future. Only Cassandra knew that without alcohol he couldn’t even fall to sleep at night.

While his girlfriend Melissa had some kind of otherworldly ability to not see the truth about him. Especially if that truth didn’t suit her unblemished image of her first love.

“Don’t go there, Cassie.” He gave her a sad smile. “I’m going to get another drink. Want one?”

When she didn’t answer Marcus shrugged and headed for the bar without her.

Peter danced with Cecily but his eyes and mind stayed on his friends. He watched as Melissa and Andrew sat in a booth, their heads leaned closer together, obviously sharing secrets. Her eyes were clouded with warring emotions that he could see even from across the room.

This group clung so tight to each other they were destroying the very thing they claimed to be fighting to protect: their friendships.

Peter figured they had spotted Marcus and Cassandra in that lip lock, bodies pressed desperately close to each other, as everything they kept under the surface for months finally came to life. All his friends thought they kept their desire hidden and their envy unspoken but Peter saw it all.

“You’re daydreaming again,” Cecily scolded.

It wasn’t the first time she begged him to get out of his own head and come back to her. But in his mind was the only place he could be with Cassandra. Where she loved him and didn’t fawn after that over privileged trust fund brat Marcus.

“Just thinking about you,” Peter lied to his girlfriend.

During the next song, Cassandra rushed from the bar with tears in her eyes. Peter counted to five and then, just as he thought would happen, Andrew was headed out the door after her. Melissa stalked over to her best friend, not her lover, Jake and started ranting. It wasn’t long till he was out the door after Cassandra too.

Peter seethed inwardly. Soon it would be his turn to be the one Cassandra turned to... or else....

Twenty minutes later, Cassandra was sobbing in the passenger seat of a borrowed Jaguar.

“Cassie, sweetie, come on. Stop,” Jake encouraged her. But her shoulders kept shaking, seemingly in rhythm with the rain that slapped against the windshield. “He’s not worth all this.”

Cassandra straightened, her tear stained face turned toward him. “I only wanted Marcus to love me. Why won’t he?”

Jake had no answer for her. He couldn’t even make sense of his own life, let alone the messy ones his friends led. He dug around his mind for some sooting lines that wouldn’t sound like a cliche.

Cassandra cried, “I don’t want to live without Marcus anymore!”

His head jerked to the side, in time to see the wild and broken look that flashed in her eyes. Then the tires started to slide and before he could refocus on the road they were in a spin out.

The Jag spun, tossing them, the past, and the future around like a kaleidoscope, leaving everything in a different place as they smashed into the utility pole.

At the bar, Tina showed up late as usual. She spotted Melissa sitting in their normal booth.

“Where’s everyone else? I missed all the fun?” Tina asked

“Fun?” Melissa laughed, the sound hollow and bitter. “They all took off a while ago. Cecily got a cab after fighting with Peter for not paying her enough attention again.”

Tina laughed as she sat down. “Nothing new about that. I can’t believe they got engaged when they can’t go a week without having a row.”

Melissa took another long drink of her ale.

“I hate that I missed Marcus birthday but I got stuck late at the lab again. I swear I am dropping out of the pre-med program. It just drains me to spend every second of the day studying or working.” Tina noticed the far away look in her friend’s eye. “What did Marcus do to you this time?”

Melissa met her eyes. “Nothing. Everything is fine. He’s the perfect boyfriend, you know that.”

Tina could tell her smiled was fake and that something must have gone down here tonight. Her curious mind would not stop mulling over the possibilities until she could figure out a way to get one of her friends to spill the truth. Tina decided to ask Cassandra. She was never any good, unlike the rest of them, at keeping secrets.


Marcus knew he shouldn’t be driving.

No matter how drunk he ever got he couldn’t quiet that part of his brain that sounded like his father’s booming voice, “Don’t embarrass the family with a scandal! This country won’t elect you if you give them any little reason to see how incompetent you truly are.”

But keeping up appearances was wearing him down. So whenever he found the chance he threw back as many drinks as he could, long before tonight when he turned the legal drinking age of twenty-one. Because when he was drunk he could not think so hard, try so hard, or feel so much.

The rain grew more intense, making it hard to see the deserted country road he was flying down. But instead of easing off the gas pedal he pressed down harder. Jake borrowed his car when this old Caddy wouldn’t turn over. Marcus fiddled under the hood and got it going a little while later. He sped out of the parking lot determined to meet Cassandra at her place and talk more about them.

Marcus told himself he didn’t plan to sleep with her. But that was just a lie to make it okay to go over there. Once they were alone, he knew, this would be their night. That kiss earlier hadn’t been enough to quell the heat in either of them.

He slammed on the brakes when he spotted the Jag in the ditch, its front end crushed against a metal pole. Jerking onto the side street, he parked the Cadillac and then took off in a run toward his friends. His feet slid over the wet pavement , bringing him to his knees, but he scurried onto both feet again.

Jake lay in the grass on his back. Marcus bent and felt for a pulse, it was strong beneath his fingers. He moved to the car, finding the door pulled open already, and saw Cassandra in the driver’s seat. Her eyes were open but there was no life in them.

Marcus took her in his arms, his body wracked by sobs, “Cassie, hey, come back.....please...Oh my”


Peter sped threw the downtown city streets at full speed, moving as far and fast away from that country road as he could. His breaths came in gasps, his hands shook.

Why was she moaning Marcus’ name? the angry thought repeated in Peter’s head over and over.

Only covering her mouth and nose, ever so gently, had been enough to make Cassandra stop.

She had looked so pretty.

The police found Marcus still holding her. They had their doubts about his version of the events. Especially when they went to look for Jake’s Cadillac and found it gone, stolen if Marcus was to be believed.

The official story was Cassandra was driving when the car spun out. Jake couldn't remember anything to say otherwise. Marcus refused to speak to any of his friends again after that. He folded into himself and all but disappeared. Wandering around Europe in the years that followed, he did his best to forget the way her eyes looked when he found her, the way her lips tasted earlier that night.

The group fell to pieces, leaving each person searching on their own for a version of the truth, looking for a way to live as a survivor when Cassandra was gone.

But that was the thing. Everyone knew there was more to the story about what happened out there that night but no one could prove or disprove what it was....


By Sara Pufahl

This story is my version of a prequel to The Wake.

To read the story that inspired it check out the first five entries on this blog.

The Accident is dedicated to my fellow Brand New Aspiring Writers member Salmah for coming up with the idea to have each of the four writers of The Wake write down their ideas about what happened the night Cassandra died.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

1589.81 Miles

Reaching, never touching,
but reaching nonetheless
for that burning star,
that heartfelt dream within
a dream, constant thought,
caressing comfort shattered,
stained glass on the pavement.

Roaming and watching
for the one, perhaps only
chance to be the breeze
and ride to the matching beat
a newfound heart makes
in love.

Made better by the tangible
that is, in this moment,
intangible for both sides,
for it, the heart,
the soul, the being, is
exactly 1589.81 miles away,
leaving me exactly 1589.81 miles
away from where I want to be.

My name is Jaime McDougall. I'm twenty years old and a freelance writer,novelist, poet, short story writer, etc. I can be found at talking about the highs, lows, and annoyances ofthe writing trade.
-- - A creative writing site with advice,writing exercises, and more.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Wake

The moment Marcus Garfield stepped into the pub he felt the tension in the room change. He knew they were there before he saw them, huddled in and around a booth near the pool table. His eyes connected with the ones that belonged to his first love then skirted away and took in the aged faces of the rest of his former friends.

He stood by the door of The Celtic Heart and gave himself a moment to adjust to seeing them again. No one smiled at him. It wasn’t grief that kept them somber, if only it was that, grief was survivable, something they could recover from in time.

He stopped at the bar and ordered six pints of Guinness and when he reached them he didn’t bother with hello. Placing the tray on the table he lifted a glass and said “To Andrew, the best of us.”

Glasses clinked signifying the first time they had agreed on anything in twelve years. Too bad Andrew had to die to force this reunion. Self sacrificing until the bitter end.

Marcus had to admit he was surprised they all remembered the drunken promises they made over 15 years ago, after Andrew slurred out, “When I die, no listen to me, I’m serious! When I die you all come here and give me a proper Irish wake. ”

Marcus nodded, smiled and made inane barely sensible small talk, all the while wondering if anyone would dare bring up the reason they lost touch.

He shivered as her face came into his mind. Cassandra. She would have laughed and cried the loudest tonight. She hadn’t been just one of the group. She was the one they all revolved around, their sun, and the one whose death destroyed their friendships.

THE END of Part One.

By Sara

As the group manager of Brand New Aspiring Writers she strives to help fellow novelists and poets reach their dream of publication while at the same time pursuing her own. An American from the Midwest all her novels, and her real life, takes place in the suburbs surrounding Chicago, Illinois.

Part Two of The Wake

Jake Landon downed his cup of Guinness as he looked around at everyone around the table. Each person there had once been a huge part of his life, especially with helping him through his gambling problem. It was because of them that he had quit. Marcus had done the most though. When he’d first quit and was trying to get in the habit of doing things other than gamble, Marcus had been there. He’d stay in contact with him, doing whatever he could, that is until she died and they all fell apart.

Jake jabbed his hand into the pocket of his gray suit jacket and found what he was looking for, his lighter. He knew smoking was another one of his bad habits, heck Andrew had always said something about his smoking, but he had to or he’d go crazy. He hated the feeling of tension; every since he was a little boy whenever he felt it, he’d feel sick inside and when he got older he found a way to relieve the tension in himself.

No one was talking as Jake continued to look around, knowing that at some point he would have to bring up what Andrew had wanted done with his things. That was his job and sometimes he hated, like he did now. Jake was a lawyer, how that happened he didn’t know because he’d always been the bad boy, but that’s what he ended up being. Andrew had given him his will about a month before he died, making Jake promise not to say a thing about it until now. Before he did anything though he had to have a smoke, give them a little more time to be silent and for him to calm his nerves.

“I’m gonna have a smoke.” Was the only thing he said as he got up from the table and walked towards the pool table.

Pulling a cigarette out he thought about what Cassandra had said the group the last night they were all together.

“Each of you is the glue that holds this group together, you stick together. I think if something happened to any of us, y’all would still be together.” That was one of the few things she’d been wrong about. When she died they were through, more than hope would allow them to be more than just civil to each other.

By Mel

Read more about this writer at

Part Three of The Wake

Sitting at the end of the table, still quiet, still the wallflower she was back in high school, Melissa Adams fiddled with her drink, her eyes trailing Jake Landon as he excused himself for a smoke. He looked nervous. And that made her feel nervous. She dreaded this day for the past twelve years. She dreaded it ever since the day Cassandra died.

The best of us. They way they toasted him, you'd think Andrew was a saint. The rich, obedient son; the loyal, generous friend; the popular, smart student. Voted the one most likely to succeed back in high school.

Melissa bought all of it once. She really believed Andrew was a saint. Even when she was going out with Marcus, she'd worshipped the ground that Andrew walked on, like the big brother she never had. Andrew was her hero. That was, until she saw the real Andrew Vassar that night twelve years ago.

She was the only one who'd seen Andrew stripped of his halo, fallen from his pedestal everyone placed him on. He was no saint. Underneath it all he was just like one of them back then - scared, confused and in love. And Andrew, back then, had been deeply and madly in love with Cassandra. And nobody knew it, but Melissa. Now that Andrew was gone, she wondered if he'd taken the secret with him.

"Is Jake handling Andrew's estate?" Marcus' voice snapped Melissa out of her flashback.

Nobody answered. She knew Jake has been handling a lot of Andrew's legal affairs when he was alive. His nervousness tonight is a tell tale sign he may also be handling Andrew's legal affairs post mortem. But she didn't feel it her place to announce it. Jake can for himself when he gets back.

Melissa's eyes rested on Marcus. He'd aged quite elegantly. They would have been perfect together, she thought. They would have been married with two kids by now if it hadn't been for lovely, sweet, cloying Cassandra. Melissa caught herself before she fell back into her toxic brooding over a woman twelve years dead. She shook her head, willing herself to forget all that mess.

The last thought that went through her head was, 'Cassandra should have accepted Andrew back then... everyone knew that.'

By Sal, an ex-travel writer, now struggling housewife and aspiring fiction novelist. She lives in Malaysia with British husband and dreams to publish her first novel and adopt a Siamese cat one day. Though not necessarily in that order.

Part Four of The Wake

They all make me sick, Cicely McGovern thought.

She had one reason for attending this wake. To call Marcus Garfield out.

“You don’t think Andrew left you something in his will, do you?” she asked Marcus “After what you did.” She laughed, the sound like broken bottles being stepped on.

Melissa’s face contorted, begging Cicely to not say anything more. The sight only pushed the angry woman forward.

Her eyes glittered with disgust when she asked, “You think you got away with it?”

“Enough!” ordered Peter. But her ex-husband had stopped being able to control Cicely years before.

“You killed her. She was young and sweet and full of life. And you killed her. Then didn’t even show up at the funeral.”

Everyone at the table reacted to Cicely’s accusations.

Peter stood up and told her “Nice job,” before walking over to the bar.

Melissa started murmuring, “No, no, no. Don’t blame him.”

“He got behind the wheel of his precious Jag and drove her right into a pole,” Cicely spat at Melissa. “Who should we blame? The bartender that served him twenty-one shots on his 21st birthday? The liquor company? God for making it rain that night? No, Mel, it’s his fault. It falls on Marcus and no one else.”

“You’re right,” Marcus’ voice booming with anger directed fully at himself. He lifted his glass of ale and downed it.

Peter and Jake wandered back over, not wanting to hear this but not able to stay away either.

“So you admit it ?” Cicely asked “You drug Cassie into the driver’s seat that night after the crash? Let a dead woman whose only crime was loving you take the fall?”

“And if I say yes? Then what?” His voice was calm, yet traces of anguish slipped into his tone.

By Sara

As the group manager of Brand New Aspiring Writers she strives to help fellow novelists and poets reach their dream of publication while at the same time pursuing her own. An American from the Midwest all her novels, and her real life, takes place in the suburbs surrounding Chicago, Illinois.

Part Five of The Wake

Tina LaRue steeled herself. The next few minutes were bound to be tough. Everyone was so focused on Cicely; they hadn't even noticed her slip inside.

"Then, the real killer gets away."

Despite the circumstances, she almost laughed. Even Cicely was silent for a moment. Marcus gaped, Jake seemed like he might throw up any moment, Peter stared like he'd seen a ghost, and Melissa looked like a trapped deer.

Marcus whirled on her. "What do you mean? What do you know?"

"I know something upset Cassandra that night. She asked Jake to drive her home. His car wouldn't start, so he took yours."

Jake swayed in his seat. Melissa let out a little shriek. "Jake - not Andrew?!"

Marcus raised his voice, just a little. "He doesn't remember anything. I don't believe he put Cassandra in the driver's seat. She must have tried to crawl out after him."

"I was... driving? That night?" Jake's voice squeaked.

Tina didn't want him to suffer, so she continued quickly. "I knew about Jake at the time, but a few other things bothered me."

Peter's voice shook. "What things?"

"Little questions I couldn't answer. I became a detective because of those questions. I kept looking into her death whenever I had the chance. Finally, I put the pieces together. Jake went off the road, but he and Cassandra weren't badly hurt. Until someone else came along. Someone so jealous he wanted to kill Cassandra for refusing to be his." Tina paused, studying their faces, waiting until he was just about to break. "Isn't that right... Peter?"

"You can't prove anything. Besides, she could have had internal injuries..." Peter hesitated, then turned to run.

Tina had him down before he reached the door. "You have the right to remain silent..."


By Ray who has been obsessed with books, writing, publishing, and everything related to them for as long as he can remember. His first book, a collection of poetry, was self-published in a high school graphic arts class, to the great bemusement of the teacher. Formerly a professional genealogist and currently working as editor of an upcoming blog, he hopes to develop a working strategy for overcoming the limitations the publishing industry currently imposes on writers and their careers and publish much more of his work.