The ocean helps me remember 5


The character in Alison’s piece has trouble remembering anything at all – but the ocean takes her back to where she needs to be.

I don’t remember anything much these days. Life has become a kind of haze, where nothing starts or ends, it just suddenly is – then, is not. People loom into my view – my eyesight is not so good now – they give me food, or a drink, or pills… and then they fade away, and as often as not I feel sleepy and close my eyes for a bit. This woman in a blue cardy came to see me, said she was my niece. Well, she might have been and she might not, how can you tell? Truth has become a thing that bends and fades round the edges.

I still remember my lovely boy Connor though. Connor comes to visit me a lot. And sometimes he pops me in a wheelchair and makes a joke about me being behind the wheel of the Jaguar, and don’t go too fast Mum, the cops’ll be booking you for speeding. He wheels me out to the garden and we have a lovely chat out under the trees. He tells me all sorts of things I don’t remember now – but he’s such a lovely boy. He’s so kind.

 It’s daytime. We’ve had lunch. And now I see Connor striding into my room.

“Off to the beach we go, Mum. Are you ready?”

I look startled.

“I told you yesterday, Mum, I’m taking you down to Bronte for a bit of a look at the sea. You used to be a swimmer, Mum, real fast. And a surfer.”

Some pictures drifted through my muzzy head. Water foaming up around me, getting up my nose. An ice cream on a stick, with chocolate to lick off the outside. My pink bubble swimmers.

And my arms slicing through the water, strong and brown.

“I swam?” I say.

“Mum, you were a champ. Remember?”

And, weirdly, I do remember.


The ocean helps me remember 4


Jane remembers the feel, the physicality of ocean, her own history with it, and its relationship to all of us.

The ocean helps me remember to breathe. That might sound odd, especially if you’ve ever been caught underwater, the astounding pressure of water above, the inconsequential grains of sand below. It is the rhythm of the tide, rolling in, pulling out, relentless and seemingly without end. It reminds me of days spent in blinding sunshine, water eddying and eroding moated castles built with care a distance away from the ocean’s edge, but there’s the trick. There is no singular defined limit of an ocean, no perfectly marked boundary. Just as no breath is quite the same as the next.  

How I love to look at the horizon, that very slight curve far off in the distance that makes me realise the transitory nature of existence, how the ocean goes far beyond what I can see. The sheer scope of it. The hidden depths, the dangers and delights contained within. It reminds me of boat trips, fishing expeditions, even plane trips. How being perched up in a seat, high above the ground with a bird’s eye view didn’t make the ocean less magnificent. If anything it made it more so.

It makes me think of long journeys, centuries ago, across oceans melding into one another, no clearly defined frontiers, just endless blue horizons with occasional interruptions of land. It reminds me of journeys taken by boat, the vague sense of unease as moorings are left behind and we chase the horizon. The relief as land finally comes into view, the toss and tumble of the ocean’s passage soon becomes a memory.




The ocean helps me remember 3


The ocean helps Raewyn remember childhood holidays at the beach.

The ocean helps me remember endless days of childhood freedom.

Long summers at the campground just across the bitumen from the beach. At first in the blue bubble caravan, later in the bigger tan one with the striped annex. Being the eldest I was allowed to sleep out there on the canvas stretcher with the grey steel frame. This was Ohope in the seventies. Not crowded at all, with families of kids from all over who had the similar beach dream. Come evening, the bikes, scooters, and roller skates, and later skateboards, came out to play and the gaggle of all-age kids formed a tribe.

My mother always ensured we had these two weeks at the beach, mostly to get my father off the farm, but for our good as well. They both loved the beach. Dad was a one for body surfing, or blowing up the long blue lilo and thundering in on the huge swells that were common in those summers.

Mum’s joy was endless reading on a low fold-up beach chair in the breeze under the beach umbrella, its white tassels beating a wild, windy dance.

“Make sure you don’t drift, keep in line with the umbrella”, was always the instruction whenever we entered the surf. It was easy to allow the tow to take you sideways as you beat an endless path in and out of the broiling shore-bound waves.

I am grateful to have become a life-long lover of the endless summer beach and the deep, quiet blue ocean. The ocean helps me remember my childhood self.


The ocean helps me remember 2


The narrator in Richard’s piece associates the ocean with quite different memories, and we sense a political context here.

The heat is worse than usual, and the flies are relentless in their search for moisture, swarming at my eyes and nose and mouth.

This track I have chosen goes through the stink of the piles of garbage that have built up over the years, so the flies are inevitable. But that, I hope, makes the path a safe one, and I trudge on, drawn by a distant susurration.

I hear voices ahead – loud, arguing voices – and I slip off the track and crouch in the bushes.  The beer-fuelled argument stutters along the track towards the camp from which I have come, and I am thankful they have found something to argue about.  I glimpse a bottle being waved about, and can see that at least two of the four men have bush knives strapped to their waists.

When they are gone, I resume my trek towards that soft sound. It grows louder as I creep through the last trees and out onto the gritty beach.  There is no one in sight, so I can walk to the edge of the beach and let the tepid salt water surge around my ankles.  While sea-birds wheel and dive beyond the reef, as I stand, searching the blue expanse.

The Ocean helps me remember where I came from, and where I hoped to go, before they put me on this island, in that camp.


The ocean helps me remember…

Recently our writing group considered the thought-starter “The ocean helps me remember.” We decided to blog the interestingly different responses to those five words.

Therese’s response is poetic, philosophical.


They say that life began in the ocean, floating around in the Earth’s own amniotic fluid, so the ocean is where everything came from. We can all trace our ancestry back and back and back through time to some unicellular organism whose whole world was water, that eternal blue, sinking down into the black depths.

Perhaps everything is held there, all of evolutionary history, so I imagine the ocean as a place filled with memories. My own as well. All of the world’s memories mingling with flashing schools of sardines and echoing with whale song.

It is not often that I get to stand by the ocean, living inland as I do, but once or twice a year I hear the call, and I cannot help but respond, as if the whales themselves are summoning me. Their song can travel vast distances underwater; but on land, I think the ears of the heart can hear them just as well, can feel the deep vibrations of their sea voices. They call, and I go, finding some quiet corner of a beach where I can be with myself, and no one else.

The smell of salt water and rotting seaweed, the sound of gulls. It all reminds me of summers past, childhood holidays. Sitting on the beach shivering after taking a dip only to be wrapped in a towel baked warm by the sun. Sand stuck to my shins. Fruity ice blocks and fish and chips.

But these are only skin memories, some moving deeper, into flesh, being powerfully felt in the body; but most light on the surface, shallow. What I want is bone memory, and the ocean gives me that, transferring stories, histories, as if by osmosis. When I wade out into the water, and I feel the pull of the waves around my ankles, the push and suck of the tide, the gentle swish of seaweed against my leg, something deeper comes. Bone memory. Ocean memory. Something so ancient it cannot be put into words.


Critique, elevator pitch and deep POV workshop by Lisa Chaplin


This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a writing workshop hosted by author Lisa Chaplin. It was an all-day program that covered topics ranging from plot and learning the Triple Arc in the morning, to an entire afternoon on Deep POV for your characters.

Prior to the workshop, Lisa had each of us send her a sample of our manuscripts or works-in-progress. From there, she took the time to, not only assess our writing, but also tailored the workshop around aiding us in our individual writing journeys.

We started the day learning how to write a professional elevator pitch for our manuscripts, as well as how to capture readers with an irresistible first line. After morning tea, it was an intensive session on learning how to plot using the Three Arc structure, a story board and a very cool visual synopsis, all the while applying what we learnt to our own manuscripts.

In the afternoon, we worked on developing deep point of view for our characters, where were surprised with all kinds of sensory aids in helping us to tap into the inner workings of our character’s minds. Then finally, at the end of the day, we were granted our, line-by-line, critiqued ten pages that we had handed in to Lisa before the workshop.

Needless to say, we came out of the workshop with our minds full, and our writing fires burning hot. It was a fantastic day, a definite must do for anyone and everyone interested in developing their writing skills and taking those fist steps into the publishing world.



A little about Lisa:

Lisa has written over 20 titles worldwide for publishers ranging from Harlequin to Harper Collins. Not only does she have an extensive resume in writing, but Lisa has had the opportunity to mentor other writers, many who have even gone on to sell their own books. Her latest book, The Tide Watchers was published by William Morrow Books (a division of Harper Collins, NY) and can be found on shelf in one of the Blue Mountains libraries.

For anyone interested in attending one of her workshops, more information can be found on her facebook page:

Self-Publishing: Tools of the Trade

self publish

On Saturday, 21st May, Blue Mountains City Library and Varuna, The Writers House hosted a panel discussion on self-publishing in conjunction with the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The event managed to sell out very quickly which left many interested persons disappointed and without a ticket.

The panel discussion turned out to be hugely successful with many enthusiastic, question-loaded participants and lots of answers on anything and everything to do with the self-publishing world. It was information we deemed so valuable that we have decided to upload a detailed synopsis of the program here on the blog. So grab a cuppa and a pen, and settle in, here’s what happened on Saturday.

The panellists:


Link to larger version of image: Profiles


The panel started at 10am and went for 3 hours. It was split up into two sessions: Discussion 1: Editing, Submission and Publishing, and Discussion 2: Sales, Marketing and Promotion. Each discussion was hosted by a panel of writing and publishing professionals.


Panel One: Editing, Submission and Publishing



Carla: Is a writer and a teacher for the Mountains of Stories workshops that the Blue Mountains Library is hosting. She is fond of Kindle Direct publishing and thoroughly enjoys self-publishing.

Kit: Started out as an editor in traditional publishing. She noticed that the industry was changing and became less geared to publishing books and more into the business side of things. Editors in traditional publishing houses these days work less for the editor and more for the publisher. She found she was disappointed in having to turn away great works just because there wasn’t a market for it at the time. Now she works for the author, and is passionate about making sure authors’ books are the best they can be. She works with both traditional published and self-published writers.

Jody: Worked in editing with traditional publishing which was very exciting until the market changed. She experienced the same disappointment as Kit when publishers geared more toward business. She is now an editor for self-published authors. Her advice: “Storytelling is key in publishing!”

Jenny: Went right into the self-publishing industry. She helps writers on their journey to self-publish. She notes self-publishing is much more acceptable today than it ever has been in the past. There are so many outlets to publish ranging from print runs to print on demand to eBooks and Kindle publishing. The world is moving toward self-publishing.


Question 1: What is editing and why is it important?

Kit: People tend not to understand the editing process which is a shame because it’s so important. There are different types of editing:

Appraisals- a general overview or appraisal of your manuscript.

Copy Editing- ensuring content is accurate. Flows. Free of errors etc.

Structural Editing- checking the content, plot, flow, themes etc.

Proof Editing – making sure everything is ready for publication.

It’s hard for an author to know what’s working and what isn’t in their manuscript. Having it looked over by an editor is essential in picking up on everything you didn’t. Your first port of call should be having an appraisal done. It’s a necessary step in getting your work ready for the world.

Jody: Editors help create the relationship between writer and reader. An unedited book is like a table with a wobbly leg, it’s irritating! Faults in a book lose the reader. Think of the reader! Editors can be brutal but they know how to connect your book with your audience. You owe it to yourself.

Carla: “To have an editor look at my work is so useful. It’s great to have another eye.”

Jenny: Editors make you push your boundaries. They help you to be a better writer.


Question 2: What do authors want out of their writing/publishing process?

Jody: As an editor you end up in the writer’s head . Your job is to say things that are and aren’t working (for your book). You’re also acting as the reader and asking questions about the book that the reader would ask.

Kit: A good editor is both your friend and your foe. Editors help the writer through the process and make them comfortable. But they also say when things aren’t working.

Carla: “I love writing. And I love getting word back from the editor.” When you do get word back, and it won’t always be what you want to hear, be sure to go away and think on it first before confronting the editor. See the changes they suggest as a game or a challenge.

Jenny: Constructive criticism is heart breaking so (most) editors try to be gentle. As a self-published author, you can actually reject the editor’s suggestions, which is a luxury that traditional publishing houses don’t normally offer. If that’s the case, get a second opinion.

Jody: Editors are facilitators of your work. The key is having a positive working relationship with them. They work to get the author’s point across as clearly as possible.

Kit: Your editor needs to be someone you’re comfortable to work with. You are entrusting them with your baby.


Question 3: How do you provide information and advice on publishing?

Kit: Most want to go down the traditional route and that’s fine. Part of establishing that professional relationship with the author is seeing what path they want to go down and helping them reach that goal.

Self-publishing is not a lesser goal. Publishing houses want things to fit to a mould. Self-publishing is freer and more open. The possibilities are endless, but you also have to build up your audience.

Carla: If you want to publish independently, Google (research) it and see what other writers are doing in your chosen genre.

Jody: As a self-published author, you need to build your social media network. You have to be on places like facebook, Instagram, blog websites, etc. Be aware of where you’re pitching your market. You become the publisher. You’re responsible.

Jenny: Not everyone wants to sell their book. Some just want to publish to tick something off their bucket list or share their work just with family and friends. This includes family history and autobiographies.

All books published with an ISBN go into the National Library so they can be found and read by people in the future. Your book could become a valuable literary asset one day.


Question 4: How does the National Library get my book?

Jenny: By law you must send them a copy if your book is published with an ISBN. Generally you send them a copy of your book along with a cover letter.

If you don’t have a print edition of your book, then they want the eBook. If you have both then they prefer the print edition.

Jody: It’s also a great idea to register your book with TROVE. It’s an Australia-wide online database of books catalogued in libraries.



Q: What’s the difference between working with a fiction author and a non-fiction author?

A: The story arc is key whether your work is fiction or non-fiction. It needs to be readable to your audience. Think of your reader market. Editors adapt to whatever the author is writing. Another key component is physical layout and design. Whether is made for print or eBook.

Q: How important are face-to-face meetings between editor and author?

A: Depends on the author. Some like face-to-face and others prefer email only. It’s nice to meet the author but not necessary. That being said, doing a ‘cold read’ by not actually knowing the author prevents bias. You tend to not see what’s missing in the manuscript if you already know the author.


Final Comments

Carla: You can put ANYTHING on Kindle and sell it for however much you want. You are welcome to get in touch with me if you need help with that.


Kit: We do a lot of editing and author support.

The Manuscript Agency.

0422 783 313


Jenny: I help people self-publish through IndieMosh.

1300 644 380


The Blue Mountains Library is a supporter of aspiring writers by providing writing workshops and our own ‘editor in residence’ program. Visit the library website or your local branch for more information.


Panel Two: Sales, Marketing and Promotion



David: Delved into the purpose of this panel this which was centred on two assumptions.

  1. You’re here because you want to be in the business (of writing).
  2. Your book has been edited/designed and is print ready.

It all costs money! So how much will you commit? Can you (or do you desire to learn to) pull this off?

He then turned to the remainder of the panel to gather their introductions.

Gabriel: Has self-published several books but knows this industry is not for everybody. Though it does open the writer up to unprecedented possibilities. It’s very rewarding and it is possible to be successful.

Sarah:  Also goes by the author name S.L. Mills. She is a self-published author who feels self-publishing is a fantastic journey and a marvellous industry!

Amanda: Started out writing just because she could and she enjoyed it. After several unsuccessful attempts to break into traditional publishing (though she received some invaluable feedback), decided to delve into publishing eBooks. After that she was also able to publish with a traditional publishing house. She feels the advantages of self-publishing are the fact that you have complete control over your work. The advantage of traditional publishing is that you have access to resources you normally wouldn’t as a self-published writer.

Steven: Published both traditionally and self-published. He makes a living from his writing and selling his self-published books on He has found it to actually be a better seller than he thought it would be.


Question 1: Why did you go with self-publishing? What’s the big buzz about it?

Sarah: “I have the patience of a gnat and I’m fiercely independent,” laughed Sarah. She started out on the traditional publishing route by sending her work to an agent and when she was rejected (after waiting a long time to hear back from them) she decided this was taking too long, she would be old by the time she got anywhere. And she didn’t like the idea of having to plead with them (agents and publishers) to get her book published. So drawing on her experience in journalism and decades of marketing experience, she set off on her self-publishing journey. And she had the sufficient funds to back her (which is incredibly important because it’s an expensive endeavour. Sarah reports to have spent around $15,000 on getting published as she opted for a print run).

Gabriel: It was always Gabriel’s dream to be read by as many people as he could. That was his motivation to write. He also brought out a valuable point that when someone reads your book they are, in effect, giving you their most valuable resource. They are giving you their time.

Self-publishing is liberating and brings with it incredible potential. You are in control and you stay in control. Also keeping in mind, you stand or fall, are either praised or condemned by your readers by the quality of your book. He couldn’t emphasise this enough. Success rests on quality and finding that niche in the market.

Amanda: Writing for her started out as a hobby, but she then figured, “Why leave it on your hard drive when you can get feedback for your work?” The process of self-publishing takes you to a whole new level of “Oh my god! I have to make this readable!”

Goodreads is a great platform to get your work read and reviewed, as well as a great platform to reach out to and connect with your audience.

Steven: Wanted to change genres but didn’t believe traditional publishing would be keen on the idea as it was completely different to what he normally wrote. He also expressed that he was curious to explore the market.


Question 2: How far ahead (of launching your book) do you have to start the marketing process to be launch ready?

Gabriel: “If no one knows it exists then no one will read it.” With self-publishing you don’t have the luxury of relying on a publishing house to market you. You are on your own. It takes about 6-8 months at least to prepare for the launch.

Your tools? Social Media! Best sellers are made possible through marketing on social media and social media marketing strategies.

Personal appearances are important. Get out there and meet potential readers.

Amanda: Putting it out and seeing what happens is sometimes successful. Most times it just doesn’t (happen). Start with the title. Make sure it’s unique and searchable on Google. You need to be findable! If you don’t have a unique name then make yourself a unique writer’s alias.

Steven: “My author name (and the fact that I had been traditionally published before) didn’t help at all.” (Writing different genres will do that). Make sure you have a REALLY GOOD blurb with Amazon. Make sure the first 20% of your book is also REALLY GOOD as it is downloadable for free on Amazon. Amazon does the rest of the work in the ranking system.

Sarah: Get your book launch ready. Book the venue 3 months in advance. Organise marketing collateral, business cards, banners and of course a great cover for your book. A great cover is important! Join organisations and make reviews on Expect a 6 month to a year timeframe to do all of this in.


Question 3: So you’re launch ready. How are you going to sell your books?

Steven: Amazon currently holds 74% of the eBook market. They’re the biggest. They even provide a lending service (in some countries) where they ‘loan’ your book out to readers and you still receive a royalty for every loan. Amazon does the selling for you.

Sarah: “I’ll sell anywhere I can, as long as it’s legal and appropriate!”

+Book stores.

+Popup events like at supermarkets.

+My website.

+Other websites such as booktopia.

+Schools (as it is a childrens/teen book).


+Holding writer and publishing workshops.

+Conventions like Supernova/Comic Con/Ironfest.

+Rotary and Linked in.


+Fairs and stalls.


David’s response: “This is the business of being an author!”

Amanda: Went the least effort route. She published with Kindle. Though even that was still a lot of work. Word of mouth. Get it into book shops – which is difficult so take the time to get to know the owners. Have a business card ready to give to people who you mention your book to. And make sure you have your website ready.

Gabriel: You must have a KILLER website! It’s your window into the cyber world. Make sure your social media presence funnels traffic to your website. This is the gateway to people learning about you (the author), your work and where to purchase it. Your website is your centrepiece.

Also making appearances is important. Meet new potential readers. Being in a book club or two (or more) is great.


Question 4: So you’ve launched. You’ve generated sales. How do you keep it going?

Steven: “Amazon’s rankings did it all for me.” Be active on social media and get involved in groups that are associated with the genre of your book. It is (hopefully) your interest after all. Make it (the subject you’re writing about) your life.

With traditional publishing you sell a lot on the onset and then it fizzles. Self-publishing takes time to build up sales but then it takes off.

Writing multiple books is great for keeping sales going because if people like you, they will search for more by you. Series’ are popular nowadays.

Keep writing books!

Amanda: Agreed. Write another book. Make writing a top priority in your daily time allocation.

Gabriel: Agree. “Strive for excellence. Keep writing. The rest will come.”

Sarah: Agree. Good products sell for years. Also people like novelty. Build your brand and make sure you keep yourself in the spotlight and at the forefront of people’s minds. Be a regular at events and get inventive. As hers was a fantasy book, Sarah took the initiative to have trading cards made up. Set yourself up to have repeat business ie, readers want to buy your books for friends and family as presents etc.


Audience Q&A

Q: Is it possible to self-publish a school text book? How would I go about doing that?

A: It’s not impossible if you can devote resources to the market and distribute. Speak to distributors who distribute to schools like Scholastic.

Q: How do I navigate the legal minefields in self-publishing?

A: You are on your own when it comes to the legal side of self-publishing. A proper disclaimer in your book is always useful. As is taking out public appearances insurance for when you make appearances. And remember if you want to quote songs or other sources you need permission and it can get expensive on royalties etc.

Q: How do you improve your rank on Amazon?

A: Some people like to cheat. They will get their friends and family to give them 5 star ratings and great reviews. On a side note, if you get a bad review, you can get it bumped off the top of the list by getting a friend or family member to provide or ‘like’ a good review.

Q: How do you get a good review the honest way?

A: Give away your book to people (who will review it) for free or get onto review websites who will review it for you. Writers and reader groups such as the Australian Women Writers. If you get a bad review, DON’T ANSWER IT. Just let it be. It’s more professional and dignified that way.


Final thoughts.

Think ROI. “Return on investment!” Invest time, money and emotion. And you will be successful!

Gabriel: Has published a guide on self-publishing called ‘Going it Alone; a case study. A personal guide to self-publishing.’ It can be found on his website:


Steven: Can be found on his website:


Amanda: Can be found on her website:


Sarah: Can be found on her facebook page:



Steven’s top tips for self-publishing

  1. Choose a genre that suits your knowledge and abilities. RESEARCH ebooks in your genre – what works and what doesn’t.
  2. If you have time to write 60,000 words, time to learn the process of self-publishing. You don’t need ‘experts’ – just patience and application.
  3. Download FREE ‘Building your book for Kindle’- Amazon leads you step-by-step.
  4. Visit Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog – it has everything you need on self-publishing.
  5. Use an online photo editor to design your cover- iPiccy or Picmonkey. Make sure you have a thumbnail!
  6. Design your manuscript like a real book – title page, copyright page, ‘about the author’, TOC, dedication. The more it looks professional the better.
  7. Manuscript ready? Nope! Loading it on Kindle Direct Publishing and Amazon will highlight spelling errors and typos for free! Not grammar though. Now go back and fix each one.
  8. Now go to CreateSpace and load your manuscript. Get a paperback proof copy posted to you so that you can re-edit!
  9. Publish on Kindle and CreateSpace. Join Kindle Unlimited.
  10. Amazon Author Central.
  11. Reviews – get as many as possible from friends and family.
  12. Be active on social media, NOT just to sell your books but also contribute to the issue/subject that you are writing about.
  13. The answer is on Google. Just work on the correct questions.
  14. Self-publishing takes time to build up sales but then it takes off.
  15. Evaluate your progress after 3, 6, 12… months. List your successes and failures. Don’t repeat your mistakes, repeat your successes!



Do’s and Don’t’s of dialogue.


Someone asked me what is my absolute favourite writing resource that I’ve come across in the library yet. The BMCC libraries offer a wealth of information on the topic so I really had to stop and think about it. What I settled on was a book written by editor Jessica Morrell called ‘Thanks, but this isn’t for us: a (sort of) compassionate guide to why your writing is being rejected’ (try say that fast ten times).

I referenced her in a prior blog post but I’ve decided I want to make a return to the book (seriously guys, it’s a great book). This time I want to touch on the do’s and don’ts of writing dialogue.

In her book, Jessica brings out that several writers already have a natural talent for writing great dialogue. However, most tend to need a little push in the right direction (or in rare cases, a down right shove). “Dialogue is never a copy of real-life speech – it’s more like conversation’s greatest hits,” states Jessica. “Good dialogue is spontaneous and natural, but it leaves out the boring parts of life and is often a power struggle or power exchange… it shows instead of tells.”

So what sorts of dialogue works and what doesn’t?

Types of bad dialogue may include:

As you know Bob “This type of dialogue is implausible because the characters already know the information but are chatting for the sake of dispensing information.”

Chitchat “Often writers include chitchat in their dialogue because they wrongly believe it lends an air of reality to the story. The truth is, chitchat is deadly in a story.”

Clipped “Beware of the characters who sound like an Englishman after dental surgery (“Precisely. I say. Exactly. Just so.”),” states Jessica. “While dialogue is necessarily concise, if it is too clipped and understated, it will not contain the breath of life.”

Drama Queen “Sometimes characters are drama queens and every time they open their mouths what comes out is excessive or hysterical or crazed or outraged.”

Expert Witness “Some genre writers, such as mystery writers, have special problems because they need to introduce a series of witnesses or experts to explain important facts or happenings in the story,” states Jessica. There doesn’t need to be a wall of text surrounding the witnesses’ story. Instead “use a character that is quirky or a character who is giving information under duress to create tension in the scene. Break up the dialogue with action and reaction along with mannerisms, gestures, or small bits of setting woven in to keep the scene from bogging down.”

Name Dropping “This means that simply the characters repeatedly refer to one another by name,” states Jessica. “We (just) don’t do this in real life.”

On the Nose “On the nose dialogue is a screenwriting term,” states Jessica. “It means the speaker says exactly what he means all the time, and explains exactly what he wants or needs.”

Preaching and Speech Making “The problem with preaching and speech making in fiction is that it is often the writer’s thinly disguised opinion on weighty matters,” states Jessica. “Now, there’s nothing wrong with writing about topics that matter to you – in fact, your best writing will often stem from your passions. But it is wrong to concoct characters who give speeches to espouse your views.”

Adverb Explosions “Good dialogue doesn’t rely on speech tags (she said wearily, he spoke wearily, Bob ventured sullenly) to express emotions or describe what is being said,” states Jessica. “In general, keep the speech tags to a basic, “he said,” “she said” format because we want the tag to be invisible. Use substitutions for “said” sparingly. While the best attributions are simple, use verbs when it’s necessary to describe the quality or volume of a voice, but not to describe the content of what’s being said.”

So what are some ways to come up with effective dialogue?

In this chapter, Jessica also brings out some ‘Quick and dirty tips for writing dialogue’.

-Eavesdrop on life, paying attention to how a variety of people talk.

-Listen for places where people don’t say what they mean.

-Collect quick comebacks.

-Learn the rules for punctuating dialogue and avoid exclamation marks.

-Ask yourself what your characters are feeling as they talk.

-Read your dialogue scenes out loud to hear where they lag, become entangled, or are just plain dull.

-For realism, look for places in your story where your characters might interrupt one another, their sentences trail off unfinished, and their dialogue overlap.

-Don’t think too hard or overanalyse what your characters need to say. Good dialogue comes from our instincts and intimacy with your characters.

-While it’s fine to demonstrate what the speaker is doing or to insert gestures and mannerisms, don’t make the character’s actions overshadow what he says.

Most importantly of all, have fun!

Happy Writing. 🙂


Source: Thanks, but this isn’t for us: a (sort of) compassionate guide to why your writing is being rejected by Jessica Morrell

Character Building: Likeable vs Unlikable Protagonists


Characters are one of the most important elements of a work of fiction. It’s hard to imagine a novel or short story without one. They connects us to the pages in a relatable, human way (no matter if they’re human or not).  This means that it is also important to get your main protagonist right. In her book ‘Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to write the bad guys of fiction’ Jessica Page Morrell touches first on the protagonist, creating two lists – likable versus unlikable.

Likable traits

  1. He (or she) is approachable, someone the reader can understand and come to know. “After all, a person who has secrets is difficult to come to know and trust,” states Jessica. “If your likable character does have a secret as part of the plot, the story events will reveal it.
  2. He is flawed and human. “That does not mean that he is a wacky bundle of neuroses…” states Jessica. “rather, he is imperfect. His flaws are ones that we can all relate to, such as feelings of inferiority, an easily triggered temper, or an inability to get along with family members.”
  3. He has mostly redeeming qualities and positive dominant traits. “These qualities could include stoicism, generosity, compassion and intelligence,” states Jessica. “You’ll want to create fresh traits for your likable characters from the many possibilities you’ve observed in real people or conjured in your imagination.”
  4. He somehow instils hope and belief in the reader so that the reader can take on his cause and goals. “Hope comes in many guises,” states Jessica. “But it is often present in fiction and speaks about the endurance of the human spirit. Perhaps the character is trying to find love, right a wrong, or understand something important about human nature.
  5. He has a certain toughness and courage. “When the chips are down or the bullets are flying, he somehow fights back, even when the struggle puts him at risk.”

“When a likable protagonist appears in a story,” states Jessica. “a reader can imagine being him, taking on the problems and complications of the plot.

“When it comes to unlikable characters, on the other hand, I believe that  although we can sometimes understand their emotions and mindset, we cannot ever imagine being them.”

Yet, it is interesting to note that unlikable characters seem to be cropping up in popularity these days. Still though, it is a delicate balance to get that level of ‘unlikability’ just right.

Some unlikable traits can include:

  1. He (or she) has mostly negative dominant traits. “he might be vain, egotistical, cruel, insensitive, power hungry, devious, promiscuous or any other traits that most of us like to think we don’t possess,” states Jessica. “If your unlikable protagonist is going to be redeemed, he will also have at least one positive trait, such as loyalty, intelligence or ambition.”
  2. He creates pain for other characters, especially vulnerable characters. “His actions, based on his primary traits, and usually somehow linked to his backstory, always cause large ramifications in the story.”
  3. He is his own worst enemy, even though he usually doesn’t possess the insight to understand this. “Like people in real life, he might possess the sort of traits that make us avoid people,” states Jessica. “The trouble is the clueless, unlikable protagonist cannot understand that he possesses these behaviours or traits until the story’s events and other characters slam into his reality.”
  4. He creates uncomfortable feelings in the reader. “He might elicit feelings of vulnerability,” states Jessica. “Especially if he is someone who the reader can relate to because he’s had similar problems with the type in real life.”
  5. He draws in the reader. “While the reader cannot identify with unlikable protagonists, he also cannot turn away when the character is on the screen or page.”
  6. He has complicated reasons for his actions and personality traits. “It’s simple,” states Jessica. “If you don’t know the character’s backstory, you won’t be able to make him convincing. Maybe he experienced a trauma in his childhood; maybe his parents spoiled him; maybe things have always come too easily; maybe he’s never been loved. The trick is that the character’s backstory reinforces his current position in the story.”

So whether it is a likable or an unlikable protagonist you want to portray in your piece of work, keep these handy hints in mind as you flesh them out.

Happy writing, 🙂


Writing: what it takes

A room of one’s own, a little divine inspiration, a dash of perspiration, a strong cup of coffee, and the ability to remain wholly undistracted by the internet – is that what it takes to write, or is there something else to it?

Streaming live from Bendigo Writers Festival, Emily Sexton talks to Alli Sinclair, Fleur Ferris, Luke Carman and Alicia Sometimes about how they make the writing life work – including getting started, finding their way, and riding the waves without going under. Tune in, Saturday 8 August 2015, 9.30am-10.30am at