First Novel Hazards

"Excellent advice from a seasoned author and writing coach" - Alex

By Barbara Florio Graham

Most of the authors I mentor come to me with their first book, often a novel they’ve wanted to write for a long time. In many cases the author has already written a first draft, and wants help to refine this, find a publisher, and prepare a professional book proposal.

I’ve noticed some common mistakes first novelists tend to make, comparing them to water hazards on the golf course. As is the case with golf, it’s often a matter of selecting the right club, the right stance, and keeping your eye on the ball!

To read the rest of her advice, you need to join Ottawa Independent Writers.

The group meets monthly except during the summer outside of pandemic times. You can meet a wide variety of writers and hear excellent presentations on the craft. And even meet Barbara, a most gregarious soul. You should check out her web site.

Being A Biographer

By Stephen Nelson

Biography is a genre perhaps some authors wouldn’t think about writing. A biography can be of someone who is or was famous, infamous or unknown to readers until they read about them. Not many people can identify the author(s) of biographies unless the readers follow the genre.

I’ve decided to try writing a biography for genealogical purposes. This project has made me think of many factors before even starting to write a biography.

Some factors for consideration are:

1. Be comfortable doing research, notetaking, doing interviews, being organized and  possibly travelling to places significant to the subject’s life. 

2. What is the subject’s appeal and if readers would be interested in them?

3. Have any biographies been written before on the person?

4. Too many published biographies can diminish interest in the biography you considering to write. On the other hand, if there hasn’t been a biography written about someone, is there enough interest in the person to warrant one being written?

There should be a reason about the subject to keep you interested in writing the biography. 

5. Know your target audience. An adult wouldn’t be as interested in a teenage singer and a young adult would not be as interested in an historical figure. Write the biography to the educational level of the target audience.

6. The information sources used in the biography being written should be compiled in a bibliography. Fans of the subject, biography genre readers and fact checkers will want to know where the facts and details are obtained.

7.  Keep a copyright authorization folder or file and backup to protect you as an author against any legal action. Written permission from the living subject or their estate and any source is required to use their photographs or documentation. Documentation requesting permission to use something in the biography and the authorization correspondence should be retained.

It’s better to be prepared before starting to write.

Camp NaNoWriMo Tip

For all you writers, aspiring or experienced, below is a link to a great story continuity check list from National Novel Writing Month to refer to. Thanks to Stephen Nelson for suggesting and providing it.

Camp NaNoWriMo Tip

Continuity Check

How often have you read a book or watched a television show or movie and noticed something wrong?

I don’t mean errors in spelling or misnaming a character.

It could be a character’s physical appearance has changed like having a mustache in one scene and not enough time passed since the previous scene to grow a full moustache.

Does a character wear different clothes in the same scene or chapter without an explanation?

I find a “cheat sheet” helpful when I’m writing. I use a Word document with the essential details of each character.

I was surprised at the number of times that I referred to it when I write. It saves time when editing as well. 

The headings and descriptions I use are as follows:

HeadingDescription
Character’s Full Name  (Maiden Name) if applicableThis could include adopted name or name legally changed.
AgeBirthdate, age at the start of the novel or when certain characters meet.
Place of BirthUseful when it explains customs and traditions a character has. Maybe the character immigrated and when to what region
MarriedName of Spouse and maybe the wedding date
Occupation(s)Past (if applicable) and current occupation
Eye ColourObvious
Hair Colour and Facial HairHair colour: Blonde, brunette, black, salt and pepper, grey, natural colour, dyed what colour, full head of hair, bald, thinning, beard, goatee, mutton chops, mustache  
Body typeTall, short, weight etc
Markings and LocationTattoos, moles, liver spots, scars
FearsGive the fear and why they might have it.
Hobbies What are they and how they were introduced to them. Did a family friend or family member get them interested in them?
WishSomething they would put on a bucket list to do or are unable to do.
Sense of fashionDepends on the era they live in and what their income might be.  Are they influenced be others?

© Stephen Nelson 2020

Patricia K McCarthy: On Writing Fantasy Fiction

Patricia K McCarthy is an Ottawa writer and author of six paranormal fiction novels. If you have any interest in the genre or modern fantasy, they are well worth reading.

In January, she made a presentation to the Ottawa Independent Writers on science fiction and fantasy. It sets out the history of the two genres and what makes them special to their followers. It contains a lot of good advice for any aspiring writer.

If you enjoy the presentations, check out her web page  www.patriciakmccarthy.com for more information on Patricia and her books. If you get the opportunity to meet her, say hello. She’s very friendly.

Patricia K McCarthy: On Writing Fantasy Fiction

Patricia K McCarthy is an Ottawa writer and author of six paranormal fiction novels. If you have any interest in the genre or modern fantasy, they are well worth reading.

In January, she made a presentation to the Ottawa Independent Writers on science fiction and fantasy. It sets out the history of the two genres and what makes them special to their followers. It contains a lot of good advice for any aspiring writer.

If you enjoy the presentations, check out her web page  www.patriciakmccarthy.com for more information on Patricia and her books. If you get the opportunity to meet her, say hello. She’s very friendly.

Writing tips and style guides

If you’re working your way through a NaNoWriMo manuscript and or a novel or short story you started on your own and are wondering if it’s ready to submit or have printed, one matter you should pay close attention to is how well it follows standard publishing spelling and grammar rules. Many of these topics are covered in style guides.

One helpful one that is available through the Ottawa Independent Writers has been developed by Ottawa writer and publisher Bob Barclay. It’s a great starting point for new and experienced writers trying to get their literary efforts honed for public review. A PDF version is available for download.

The Canadian Press offers The Canadian Press Stylebook and The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling books for all those tricky words writers have to contend with.

The Pilcrow can be a good editing tool for a writer

By Alex Binkley

After months if not years of writing, the story is finished and the crucial job of editing it well begins. You have plenty of goals in this step—making sure it makes sense, will hold a reader’s attention and doesn’t contain grammar and spelling mistakes. You can also work at removing repetitious and superfluous words.

As you probably wrote it on your computer, print it in a different font and edit the paper version making notes about areas that need fixing. After you’ve inputted the changes, hopefully your manuscript will be error free, tighter and better over all. Make sure you back up the story several different ways. I use memory sticks and my Gmail account.

Then you reach the day when you think it’s ready to be read by others. Beta readers are invaluable if they are experienced writers or possess expertise in your genre. My science fiction stories have been aided by readers with real science creds. Hopefully the beta readers will also be proficient at catching any remaining spelling and grammar errors and other slip ups.

There are other editing tricks. One is to read the manuscript from the end to the beginning. When you read it the usual way, you can become caught up in the storyline, which you are already familiar with. If you read it backward starting with the last paragraph, you actually check it line by line. You’ll be surprised at how many missing words and punctuation marks you’ll find to say nothing of those characters or places that sneak into the wrong part of the story.

It’s during this process that it’s a good time to turn on the Pilcrow. What’s that you wonder? It’s the old mark for a paragraph. If that doesn’t help you find it in the assortment of editing tools at the top of the page, search online for Pilcrow and you will receive far more information than you probably ever wanted to know about it. In my computer’s Windows 10 program, it’s in the middle in the first row of editing marks and tools when the Home button is selected.

Turned on, the Pilcrow will reveal all the editing marks and more in your story. It’ll show a dot for the proper space between words. You can find out if you’ve properly and consistently indented the paragraphs. At the end of the paragraph it’ll tell you if you have left extra spaces between the final period and the pilcrow, which moves the computer to the new paragraph. Extra spaces between words and sentences and at the end of paragraphs are generally considered as the mark of a real amateur.

Another good editing trick is to read the manuscript out loud. That will help you find clumsy wording and missing words. Some people even record themselves reading the story and play the recording so they can hear how it sounds.

If you have any editing tricks you’d like to share, email me at alex.binkley@sympatico.ca

The Circle of the Chosen: where to buy it

The Circle of the Chosen is now available on most of the usual distribution channels.

In paperback:

Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook book format.

Chapters Indigo

E-books—Can-AM books, which is my distributor, says The ebook platforms such Kobo and Barnes & Noble all have the title for sale. Let me know if there is a problem.

Smashwords has it available as epub.

In Ottawa the books are in stock at Books on Beechwood.

I usually carry one or two copies with me.

A Top Ten Books List

This is not in order of preference. I like all these books and their authors.

  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham was my introduction to science fiction. I read the rest of his books with equal fascination and admiration.
  • The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov but he also wrote so many other stories that I enjoyed.
  • 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke. Like the previous two, he wrote so many great books. Someday I will reread them once I have finished all the ones I now have to read. These are the writers who inspired and influenced me the most. If I could come anywhere near emulating them, I would be happy.
  • Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Overwritten but still wonderful. Read it several times.
  • The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Again overwritten but such a sweeping series.
  • Catch 22 by Kurt Vonnegut who turned me onto fiction and humour.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams who further showed me the value of humour.
  • The Neanderthal Parallax / The Hominids Trilogy by Rob Sawyer. This is what-if fiction at its best with lots of science to back it up. He has many other great books.
  • Beneath Vaulted Hills by Sean Russell. The first book in the River into Darkness trilogy—excellent fantasy.
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. This is storytelling as good as it gets.  

Watch That Moon

Bob is a local author and publisher at Loose Cannon Press. Here are some suggestions on writing from him.

By Bob Barclay

I would like to encourage my fellow writers to pay attention to the moon. It is one of our most powerful natural symbols, and we all use it to set our scenes. But, like everything else in the natural world, the moon obeys the immutable laws of the universe, so we should treat its appearance with respect.

Even well-known professional authors forget that plausibility does not cease at the edge of the atmosphere. For example, and internationally acclaimed author and winner of prestigious awards writes that “a crescent moon was rising in the west.” Impossible: as the Earth rotates, all celestial objects, including the moon, rise in the east and set in the west. The crescent moon rises in the east before dawn.

Another award-winning author describes her protagonist walking out to the ice rink late at night, lit only by the thinnest crescent moon. Again, not possible: the new moon is a dusk phenomenon, and it would have long since set; the scene could only be illuminated by a waxing moon, half or greater.

“The full moon, amid a field of a million stars, lit the scene as bright as day,” writes a well-known Canadian author. However, when the moon is full and high its glare washes out the stars. Only the brightest of stars can be discerned at the full moon.

One can have a million stars, or one can have a brilliant full moon, but not both. I have read of a full moon floating high in the sky at sunset, when orbits dictate that as the sun sets in the west, so the moon rises in the east.

One must also be careful to address the passing of time. In one classic novel, a raft passing down a river is lit by a full moon, while the very next day the moon has become a crescent. Such inattention to detail causes the reader to question the plausibility of the entire world the author has created, so let’s try to avoid opening fissures in our narrative by ignoring the operation of the orbs.