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 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

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.

Reflections on authorship

By Alex Binkley

I wrote the column below in 2016 and three books later, it’s all still true.

There are few events that match the rush of holding your own book for the first time. All the hours of writing, editing and incorporating friendly suggestions and helpful hints into the final product are in your hands.

Yet this is just one step in a long process. Throughout the writing process, the author encounters wise advice about how completing the book is just the beginning of the adventure. Ahead lies marketing it and that process is just as time consuming and challenging as writing, the sages said. A few months out from the release of Humanity’s Saving Grace, published by Loose Cannon Press of Ottawa, I can only say they were absolutely right. 

Unless you have a big publisher and or a brand name, the author is his or her own marketing director. The launch is a good start followed by signings at book stores and participating in large sales like the ones we have several times a year in Ottawa. You have to be prepared to talk up your book at any opportunity in case a potential customer is present. You need to have a couple of copies of the book with you all the time. Then comes looking for ways to talk about it to potential readers through the Internet. That’s no small task because of the thousands of books always coming on the market. It’s one that I certainly have to work on.

There are personal web pages and author pages where you can promote it. They all take time and finding a fresh angle. You have to listen to any suggestion for the book including the local artist who is considering it for a graphic novel. That’s something I wasn’t expecting.

Another aspect of marketing is reviews. In the past, I periodically wrote them for books, but it was never top of mind largely because there weren’t many places to post them. The Internet, especially social media, has changed that. Now I know about and other review sites such as Amazon. And whenever someone says they finished my book, which I take as meaning they enjoyed it, I ask them to consider writing a review in hopes that enough positive comments will convince readers who have never heard of me to buy the book. Hopefully, they will enjoy it enough to tell their friends and write reviews. So reviews matter a lot.

Especially the ones that come out of the blue and clearly show how much the story clicked with the reader. Suggestions for a sequel have been very motivating even when it wasn’t part of my writing cycle plans. I do have four other novels in varying stages of development. However, an outline for a sequel set 30 years after Humanity’s Saving Grace is under development. And for those who’ve read the book, the Biot Genghis Khan plays a major role.

Humanity’s Saving Grace is a science fiction novel which isn’t nearly as big a genre as crime and mystery or romance and their many sub categories. That means I have a smaller pool of potential readers. So I try to appeal to their sense of curiosity. The story is really about humans admitting that climate change has so badly disrupted Earth that they really have no choice but to agree to aid an embattled alien species, which has the technology to reverse the environmental damage to our planet. As well, readers would probably enjoy meeting the Biobots, the biological robots that serve as helpers to the aliens and finding out why the Biobots convinced the aliens to seek Earth’s help. And the mysteries the humans encounter in space that will inspire some of them to a life of research and discovery.

While I don’t remember my first newspaper byline, the memory of seeing my book for the first time will always be with me.

A guide every writer can benefit from

Author and writing coach Rayne Hall has published a guide for self-published and small press authors that is loaded with helpful ideas for all the steps from writing to publishing to marketing a book.

Why Does My Book Not Sell? draws on Hall’s lengthy experience in the publishing business, teaching on-line writing classes and authoring numerous novels and books on the craft of writing. She also has a guide Twitter for Writers on how to promote books and engage potential readers using that popular social media. Hall is an active contributor to Twitter and offers advice on how to create followers without becoming a nuisance.

She brings a down to earth approach to writing, publishing and marketing including imparting the lessons she’s learned from her own missteps. Her starting point for a writer is to create a book that will appeal to the intended audience otherwise no marketing strategy can make it a success.

Why Does My Book Not Sell? is an eye opener on the first read through that should resonate with anyone who had completed a book. Like a trusty style manual, a writer will want to consult Hall’s book regularly for advice on the details of book cover design, the blurb, which are often the first words a prospective buyer encounters, the kinds of readers the story might attract and onto the all-important marketing phase. It has often been said that writing a book is a major task. Marketing it is just as difficult and requires a whole different set of skills that Hall’s book walks the reader though. 

She also has plenty of suggestions for not letting social media interfere with life and writing and adapting to the ever changing book promotion and marketing techniques.

Why Does My Book Not Sell? should be in every indie writer’s resource collection for regular consultation. It is available as an e-book and a print version is in the works.

Check her website for many other books full of helpful ideas for writers.

Keeping organized is hard to do

This is the first of a series of articles on tips for writing that fellow writers and editors have prepared. Its author is Stephen Nelson, who has two decades of experience in editing and writing publishing policy. Retired after 35 years from the Public Service, he edits novels for yet published and published authors as well as manages his Facebook Page called Growing Up On A Dairy Farm. He writes and posts farm related stories and photos. He is also a NaNoWriMo participant and achieved the 50,000 word count twice.

Keeping organized is hard to do
By Stephen Nelson
Sometimes I wonder if I work more on the preparation before I start writing my novel. I know I’m a Planner, but I expect most people don’t organize to the extent I do. Hopefully, what I share here will benefit other writers.
Whatever genre or subject matter I write; keeping material in different electronic folders is a handy way to efficiently access them when needed.
The main directory name is the subject matter title or the working novel title. The main directory holds the following folders or files:Raw Notes. This folder is where I put all the information I find about the subject or ideas for the novel.
By experience, URLs can be broken and inaccessible when I go back to them to retrieve the material I want to read again or use. It takes longer and makes a bigger file, but I copy and paste the information from the URL or website into this file including the URL, its title and date retrieved in the Source. This is good to have when compiling a bibliography.
Journal. This file is where I keep track of the day-to-day activity I do on the subject matter or novel. It could be from creating characters, researching, writing the post about someone, sending emails etc. Depending on the length of the project in time, I might colour code the entries by topic to find them easier.
Writing new entries above the last entry makes it easier to locate and avoids scrolling down through the file to begin.
Research. This folder contains the files for each item or subject researched. You never know what you might find that will be useful for your novel or story. A science fiction novel allows the imagination to roam. Science magazines can provide material that the average reader might not about. The writer could use the ideas as a base point to think “outside the box”.
Historical genres require research in weather (if non-fictional and critical to the story), occupations, toys and games, society, fashion, transportation, language, culture, current events of the day. You don’t want to have an invention used in an historical novel which wasn’t invented yet, unless it’s speculative science fiction for example.
Photos of houses, landscapes, fashion, toys, vehicles and people can give inspiration for writing descriptions. The facial features of different men or women can be combined into a character.
Contacts. I use an Excel spreadsheet file for my contacts. Column headings are the Name of the person contacted, Website URL or Magazine, Email Address, Phone No. and Approved. I put the approved email in a Permissions folder.
Bibliography. I list the sources I use as I write in a Bibliography file which saves me from doing it at the end of the process. It also avoids missing a source if I do the bibliography when I am finished the story or novel.
To Do. I keep a file where I identify things to add or delete. Under the novel’s chapter numbers, I keep track of any research needed, changing character names, adjusting chapter content, location and setting verification etc. I add the items I did to the Journal folder.

NaNoWriMo Tips

by Stephen Nelson

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, writing a word count of 50,000 words or more in November is the goal.

Some hints or tips to increase your word count are simple. Revising the rough draft after November will decrease the word count, but at least the concept and idea of what you want to write is a bare bones skeleton.

Ideas to increase the word count are:

  • Identify each Chapter by Chapter followed by its number as Chapter 1, Chapter 2 etc. you can delete the word Chapter when revising if you want. Some writers have a title for each Chapter.
  • If you write addresses with numbers or phone numbers, spell out the numbers. The number 365 counts as one word, but three, six, five counts as three words.
  • I find that conversation or dialogue between characters is an easy way to add word count.
  • Describe a location, house, or room in great detail. Some authors dislike description because they want the reader to use their imagination. For NaNoWriMo, it’s a way to freewheel your writing. Sometimes more detail will give the writer inspiration for additional scenes.
  • Write scenes or chapter using the different senses.
  • Don’t forget to incorporate the weather conditions and time of day into a scene when it is appropriate.
  • Give characters a first name, a middle name and a surname. Identify the characters by their three names each time you write their name. You can call them by their first name or first name and surname in the final edit.
  • Adding a salutation to the character’s name will identify their profession, rank in society, gender and marital status. Doctor, Professor, Sir, His Royal Prince, Miss, Ms., Mrs. and Mister are examples to consider.
  • Do not use contractions. The key is to have more words in the November written novel or short story. You can always make contractions in December or later.

Try writing, you may really enjoy it

This is the first in a series of blog posts on writing, editing and story telling. I will be glad to answer any questions.

Every now and then someone, after learning I’m a journalist and writer, will say something along the lines of I’d like to write a book or some poetry. Or I couldn’t do that.

My response is always a version of “Get started. You learned to walk, to ride a bike, drive a car—writing is the same. You only learn by doing.”

You may not end up a famous writer or poet but you can certainly learn to a create a book or a sonnet that means something to you at least. Odds are that it will to others as well.

One of the best ways to try your hand at writing is participating in National Novel Writing Month, which is held every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a first draft in 30 days. That’s about 1,700 words a day, not easy but not impossible. You’ll learn to make time every day for writing.

The important point to remember is if you only reach 3,000 words or 27,000, you have taken an important first step. NaNo is cleverly designed to encourage you along the way with ideas to keep you motivated and writing.

Start by going to, join and pick your region so you can become involved in a local NaNo group if there is one. In Ottawa, there is a very active chapter and you can meet plenty of others-fledgling and experienced. You’ll find a lot of helpful folks.

Remember you’re writing a first draft. It’s like going on a long walk; you just keep typing. Don’t edit. Read what you’ve written only for reference. Don’t worry if you regard what you type one day as a pile of drivel. Think of it as idea trying to get out. Or a character or a plot trying to take shape.

The great thing about writing on a computer is you can save copies of everything you write. So, an idea or plot twist that doesn’t fit in the end can be stored for use in another story.

Back up whatever you write. I have a second email account that I send whatever story I’m working on to with the date in the message. Use memory sticks or an exterior drive or one of the cloud storage systems.

In future posts, I will provide editing tips that I’ve learned working as journalist for many years and as an author for the last 10 years or so.

But remember if you don’t try to write, you’ll never find out that you can.