Category Archives: Writing Experiment

The Power of Three for Characterisation

Recently, the number three has been haunting my writing and reading: tripartite goddesses, ‘Love, Death and Robots’, Kathleen Jennings musing on story structure, three act plays, and so forth. I have been reading ‘How to write’ books by Diana Wynne Jones, Angela Slatter (rereading), Kate Wilhelm, among others, and I’ve come across a clever way to define a character, using the power of three – Three different viewpoints.

When you are first coming to grips with a character, have three different people describe them. The first one loves them, be they a lover, a child, a parent, a sibling, or a close friend of the character. Let this love influence their description. The second one loathes or hates them, and so they see this character from a different perspective, with their hatred colouring their description. Lastly, have someone meet the character for the first time character , and so they have little urge to have emotions tinge their opinions.

This contrasts to my usual technique, which is to ‘interview’ the character for their personality traits, like and dislikes, and personal history. This isn’t defining the character by their own traits so much as how others perceive them. So, you get less of their internal life and more of how they interact with other people. It makes my story telling flow better when I know how my characters interact. Feel free to try this out for yourself.


Filed under Characterization, The Writing Life, writing, Writing Experiment, Writing Style

The Pouting Pen … an article I wrote ten years ago.


The Pouting Pen

Think of me as “Dear Abby”, except I only give advice on your relationship with your pen, typewriter, word processor, or computer.  Are you suffering from writer’s block?  Uncertain of the definition of a writing term?  I’m here for you.  If I don’t know the answer, I will point you in the right direction.

I won’t be giving advice on anything to do with university assignments…if you are having difficulties with those, see your tutor or Student Services.



Dear Pouting Pen,

I am having trouble with finding a title for my novel.  Where do I look for and find a good title?


Tongue-tied with Titles.


Dear TTT,


There are fashions in titles, just like everything else.

The classic book title takes the pattern of ‘(The) **** of (the) ****’. I can look over to my bookcase and see four such titles in that style: ‘The Dolphins of Pern’, ‘The Wheel of Time’, ‘The Mystery of the Ruby Glasses’, & ‘The Sword of Shanarra’. This could mean that this style is overdone, but it just means that it is a classic form. It works, so don’t knock it. Oh, and the ‘of’ may be an ‘and’ in some titles of this type, like ‘The Power and the Passion’.

Then there is the clean and simple use of a one word title. Gregory Maguire favours this type: ‘Lost’, ‘Wicked’. So do many other authors. It has the advantage that you can use words that have multiple meanings, and you don’t give away anything major of the plot. A single word title is strong and powerful. The addition of a ‘The’ in front of a single word doesn’t weaken the effect, like in ‘The Awakening’ or ‘The Bribe’. Next level is adding a modifier, like an adjective, e.g. ‘The Little Country’ or ‘The King’s Buccaneer’.

Quotes are often a good source of titles. ‘Band of Brothers’ is from Shakespeare…you can’t go wrong with Shakespeare as he covered everything about the human condition in his body of work. Personally, I like to use bits from old sayings: ‘Rosemary for Remembrance’, ‘Stuff and Nonsense’. You can use lyrics from songs, anything that gives your title meaning. You can also twist a saying, particularly if your book is a parody…’Wyrd Sisters’ by Terry Pratchett is an example. The cleverer the twist, and the more appropriate to your novel, can make this style of title a zinger.

Lately, there has been a flourish of longer titles. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ is an excellent example of this type. I avoid this style myself, but when it works it works well. The Victorians loved long titles, and they also liked to add a comment under the title. If you are writing Steam Punk or historical novels, this style is very suitable.

What a writer wants from a title is a cluster of words that are memorable; something that encompasses the theme of the work, without giving too much away. Some people like to put titles on their chapter headings (guilty). Titles are important, as a weak title can drive away readers before they even get to read the main text.

Some writers have a natural knack at picking a good title. If you know someone like this, cultivate their friendship. (Joke, joke.) However, you can work at your title to improve it, just like anything else. Make a huge list of titles, and cull down to the one you like. Use a working title, and then change it when something more appropriate takes your fancy. Buy book of quotations, or start looking up lyrics on the internet.

If you are getting too frustrated with finding a title, just leave it for a while. Come back when you are calm and relaxed. Reread your piece. Sometimes, the title will be hidden in the very words in your story.



Dear Pouting Pen,


I am unsure of the genre of my short story – in fact, I am unsure what genre really is.  Can you help me, please?


Yours in confusion,

Genre Geronimo


Dear Gerry,

Genre is how various categories of writing are recognised. Genre is a marketing tool, and a useful method for hunting down books you might enjoy, and it is used in judging books for awards. When you go into a book shop, usually the books are separated by genre: Cook Books, Humour, Reference Books, etc. These are very basic categories, often covering an enormous variation in the types of books lumped together. This is often why very original books, like Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’, may end up in the children’s fiction area of a bookshop. No one knows what genre it should go into, because it covers so many genres.

Genre can be broad…Fantasy. Or it can get very specific, like Victorian-era, London-set, Steampunk fantasy aimed at a twelve year old audience. Every genre has its own rules and traditions, such as sword and sorcery genre books should have swordmen/swordwomen and wild magic as basic plot elements. Does that sound straight forward? It isn’t, as many genres overlap, and new genres are forming all the time.

For a writer, genre can be both restrictive and wonderful. Big Picture: I write Fantasy, and I dabble in horror and Science Fiction. I don’t think I will ever write a war-based novel or a Western. However, my fantasies tend to be adult fairytales in an urban setting. Little Picture: You might call it Urban Fantasy, or Magic Realism, or Feminist Fairytales. I wouldn’t.

I don’t like to be pigeonholed, as it restricts what I can or can’t do. However, if I was going to market such a book to a publisher, I would pick one of those genres so that the publisher has some idea of my style. And booksellers will know to put it in the Fantasy bookcases in their stores.

But what if I wanted to write a science fact book, when I am known as a fantasy author? If I am a popular fantasy writer, publishers may reject this out-of-genre book, as my fan base might be unhappy. Ditto if I write young adult, and then I write a book aimed at an older audience. Of course, I can change to another pen name…but why should any author be so restricted creatively?

There are any number of good books that can help with an understanding of genre. This note is just a starting point, to get you thinking.


Dear Pouting Pen,


Who the heck is an unreliable narrator?


Yours Sincerely,

This is not for an assignment, honest.



Dear Honest,

Erm.  Instead of giving you an outright definition of an unreliable narrator, I will share with you my personal views on unreliable narration.  You can then make up your own mind who or what an unreliable narrator is.

There is a perception in our society that some texts are reliable, and some texts are not. I would argue that no text can be constructed as completely reliable, as it is human nature to pick and choose what facts will be represented. The presentation of the facts, what order they are in, what has been left out, are all constructs of the author of a text.

The news story reported by a respected journalist; the critique of a historical event by an academic; and the article presented by a scientist; all these texts are just as unreliable as the authors. Each individual has chosen their topic, which means they have ignored other topics. They have decided how to represent the topic, highlighting some issues and ignoring others. No matter how unbiased the text may appear, there will be gaps and ambiguities – because the authors are not omniscient and are only human.

As well, truth can not be set in stone. What is consider only right and normal in one time and place, will be seen as strange or criminal somewhere and somewhen else. The truth itself may change. This means that a reader should never passively accept a text on face value. The reader should remain alert and question the text. She should look for gaps in the meaning, for what is left out is often as telling as what has been included in the text. What is the context? What was the author of the text trying to achieve? What constraints are their on the author and the text?

Of course, the author of a text may be deliberately setting out to misinform or mislead the reader. However, most authors of a text have attempted to supply the text in good faith. It is up to the reader to stay open-minded, and try to avoid accepting any text as the complete and utter truth of the matter.

Sorry, Honest.  I’m aware that I haven’t given you a straight forward answer…so am I a reliable narrator?  Or not?


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Filed under The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Writing Career, Writing Experiment, Writing Style

Poetry – Seasonal Haiku

Rain in the gutter

Turns bright Autumn leaves into

Bitter Winter tea

Black branches of trees

Tatting a stark lace to drape

A cold Winter sky…

Rain makes the frogs sing

Joyful songs for the Summer

Season, wet and hot.

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Filed under Haiku, Poetry, Writing Experiment

Why you should be proud of your Fanfic Juvenilia.

The Doctor and the Master

The Doctor and the Master

When I was eleven, I wrote this fanfic based on The Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell. I copied Mitchell’s style, settings, plot lines, and just about anything else to do with Thowra (who I visualized as a snow-white gray and not a palomino).  It was my very first attempt at writing a novel, because up until that point I had been writing short stories. I was so into the Silver Brumby series that I overlooked the purple prose; to be truthful, I was rather taken with the lyrical overwriting and copied that too.

My next attempt at a novel was in the Science Fiction genre, as Fantasy and Science Fiction was my favourite genre for any form of entertainment. I was a huge fan of Doctor Who – and still am. This second narrative was much less derivative on any one author’s work. It was written in snatches between studying and caring for my horse in Grade Twelve, and in the end of year break before I went to university for my first round of tertiary studies. It was quite dreadful, but it was an enormous improvement over my brumby book, as I had made attempted to have an original plot, setting and characters.

When I started my second round of tertiary studies, I wrote a little more fanfic, usually to experiment with the characters in these universes. It helped me to find the confidence to use my own voice.

Writing fanfic gave me practice in all the skills I needed as a writer. It taught me the discipline to sit down and write thousands of words. It taught me about the interwoven relationships between characterization, setting and plot. It taught about how to give a character a voice of their own. It wasn’t a waste of time.

So, I applaud all those individuals brave enough to put their fanfics online for others to read. You need passion to write such fiction, and it is a good way to discover your own talents as a writer.

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Filed under Doctor Who, Fanfic, writing, Writing Experiment, Writing Style


Writer's Clock

I have a long list of people who have influenced my writing style. My very first major influence was Elyne Mitchell, who wrote the Silver Brumby series. I loved her purple prose with a passion. (Try saying that fast without spitting. And let me just say here … at no point did I suspect Thowra was a palomino, since he was supposed to disappear in snow. To me, Arrow was a palomino, and Thowra was a milk-white grey.) My very first attempt at writing a novel was a Silver Brumby fan fiction; though no one called it fan fiction back then, called Allinta, the Flame. Allinta was copper-coloured mare with a golden mane and tail, and all her adventures were pale echoes of events in The Silver Brumby series. My writing style was florid, without the authentic touch that Mitchell brought to her work. She knew the Snowy Mountains and I most certainly did not.

I was just a pre-teen when I wrote Allinta, the Flame. As I grew older, into my mid-teens, I lost interest in finishing Allinta’s adventures. I had become a huge fan of Star Wars, and now I was writing excruciatingly bad Space Opera. I suspect my main character was a Mary Sue, and I base this suspicion on the fact that my two male protagonists were physically based on my two crushes at the time: Leif Garrett and Ike Eisenmann. I managed to finish this story, and – as I recall – it did show some actual flashes of originality. But it was still terrible, as I had only a vague idea of what it took to write a novel. It was a series of adventures with no real central theme to link them together.

During the time I was studying zoology at university, I found less time to write. I did attempt another Fantasy, thanks to a sudden passion for The Sword of Shannara. Alas, I spent more time studying than writing, and that story faltered in its early stages. I wrote a little poetry and the less said about that the better. I graduated with a Bachelor in Science. I got a job completely unrelated to my degree. I got married to the wrong fellow.

Then I reread some of my juvenilia. Oh dear. It was obvious to me that my talents didn’t lie with literature, and for over ten years I did other things. I took drawing lessons. I even did a diploma in Art & Design. Art tried to fill in the hole left by writing. Of course, it couldn’t.

I had a baby. I got divorced. I thought that my social life was over, at over thirty with an infant and a whole lot of baggage. I was wrong. I met the right man. I remarried. I had another baby. And even while she was a sweet little bundle of cuddles, my muse was whispering in my ear. “Write down these feelings. We can use them.” My second husband is an enabler. When I mentioned I was drawn to try writing again, he encouraged me. I joined an online writing group. I did a TAFE course in short story writing. Then I took the plunge, and decided to do a second degree, this time in writing, with his full support.

I had spent a long time having nightmarish dreams about being lost on a bus. The minute I started my degree, those dreams disappeared. I had found my way at last.

Catbus bus

Now my life is submerged in writing, and I am content. I have found my own voice, my own style, and even if I am never published as a novelist, I feel a part of the writing community. It was at this point I decided to start this blog, and give back to the community that supports me. As well, I do volunteer work related to writing, such as judging the Australian Aurealis Awards, helping out at writing conventions, and giving seminars on the Steampunk genre. I run Steampunk Sunday, Queensland Australia on Facebook. I’m a tadpole in a very big pond, but I’m still swimming.

These days, my major influences for Fiction are Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, Angela Slatter and a score of other writers. My Science writing is heavily influenced by Isaac Asimov. I’d love to write like Terry Pratchett, but I don’t have his genius for humour. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are. That is why I did the Writing Experiment online, to take a risk and push my envelope. There is always something new to learn.

Isn’t it wonderful?

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Filed under Dialogue, Getting Started, Personal experience, writing, Writing Experiment

Writing Experiment – an update.

I am surprised at how confronting it is to share a first draft with the world, even when you have planned all along to share that draft. It feels like I am cutting myself open and showing off my cringing, cowardly insides. I didn’t think I would feel this way as I consider myself fairly egoless for a writer. I was wrong. I have plenty of ego.

I am afraid people will see how terrible and talentless my first drafts can be.

And yet, I hope this is encouraging other writers to be brave and take risks. You can only learn through taking risks.

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Writing Experiment: a new scene for the first draft

Etty looked down at the young man on the stretcher, and felt the shock of recognition. It was Nick! Even though she hadn’t seen him face to face in a couple of years, she knew the lines of his face as well as her own. He looked awful, his skin was grey-tinged and he was covered in bleeding scrapes and scratches.

She took his hand, and he opened his eyes. Etty hid her concern and gave him an encouraging smile. He tried to grin, and winced.

Etty said, “Well, what sort of excitement have you been getting into?”

“My bicycle didn’t take a corner. I was trying to avoid one of those big Hummers and was lucky it didn’t clip me,” he grumbled.

“Sounds as if you’re lucky not to end up under its wheels!”

“Not likely. The edge of the road dropped off dramatically. I tried to steer down the slope, but it was too steep.”

As he spoke, Etty and the nurses were checking Nick’s injuries. He groaned as they gently investigated his left arm, which was sitting at an awkward angle.

“Well, it looks like you won’t be back on your bike for a while. You have most certainly broken your arm, and we will have to get an x-ray,” said Etty, writing down notes on his chart. “Lucky I know your head was too hard to hurt – though I see hear you were wearing a helmet as well. I want to check you for internal injuries as well, so we will be keeping you in overnight.”

Nick saluted her with his good arm. “Yes ma’am. Is that the royal ‘we’? Should I call you Doctor Princess or Princess Doctor?”

“You can call me Etty, like always.”

Nick grinned, and retook her hand and gave it a squeeze. He said, “I feel much better knowing you’re here.”

Etty grinned back, though her heart fluttered at his warm expression. “You might not be so pleased with me in a moment. Can you remember the last time you had a tetanus vaccination?”

“Um. No.”

“In that case, guess what my next procedure is going to be?” She held up a needle.

Nick groaned again. “Well, don’t look so pleased. Do your worst.”

As it turned out, the broken arm was Nick’s worst injury. It was a clean break that didn’t need pinning. However, this didn’t stop his mother from having mild hysterics when his parents made it to the hospital.

“My poor boy,” she shrieked when she caught sight of him in his hospital bed. She burst into tears.

“There, there, my dear,” said Nick’s father, patting his queen. “Every looks to still be attached.” He turned to Nick and winked at his son over her head.

Nick said, “Hello, Dad. Oh Mum, please don’t cry. I’m being released this afternoon.”

His mother suppressed her crying, and subsided into some hiccupy sobs. She wiped her eyes. She said, “Oh darling, I’m sorry. It was just the shock of the phone call and the trip, and then seeing in that horrible cast.” She tried hard to give him a damp smile.

“I understand, Mum. It was a bit of a shock to me, too,” joked Nick. “And you’ll never guess who my attending doctor is. It’s Princess Odette.”

“Doctor Odette,” insisted Etty, coming in at that moment, as if summoned by the mention of her name. “I just have to take Nick’s blood pressure and pulse. Then you can take him home.”

She took hold of Nick, and pushed his sleeve up to take the blood pressure cuff.

Nick’s parents stared.

“Etty! You’ll get hives,” said the queen. “You’re not wearing any gloves.”

Etty and Nick froze. Etty had been looking after Nick for hours, and it was obvious she wasn’t having any sort of allergic reaction. She had been too caught up in doing her job to remember the old deception, and poor Nick too shaken up. It was too late in the game to make excuses.

“How extraordinary,” said the King. “I’ve heard of children growing out of allergies, though generally they were food allergies.”

Etty left a wave of relief. She looked at Nick, and he gave her the ghost of a nod. Neither of them wanted to admit that her ‘allergy’ had been a long-standing ruse.

“How wonderful,” said the queen. “After all these years of loving each other, you can finally get married.” Her expression had changed from worry to joy in seconds.

Panic overwhelmed Etty for a moment. Then Nick took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. He turned to his parents. “You’ve got to give me the chance to ask her, this time,” said Nick.

His father coughed. “Of course, of course.” His eyes were twinkling. He took his wife by the elbow and steered her out of the room. “I believe the children might need a moment alone,” he said, and closed the door behind him. The queen went without a single protest, but her step was buoyant.

“Phew!” exclaimed Nick. “I didn’t think they would go so easily.” He turned to Etty. “You know, you’ve been my best friend for years. What would you say if I told you that I love you, and not like a sister, but really and truly love you? Will it ruin our friendship?”

Etty burst out laughing, a rich, golden laugh of relief. “Thank goodness,” she gasped, at last. She took a few breaths to calm herself, and said, “I’ve loved you for ever so long. I don’t regret not marrying you five years ago, but if our parents had pulled the same trip yesterday…well, I wouldn’t have connived with you to ruin the wedding.”

“Really,” said Nick.

“Really. And if you weren’t all battered and bruised, I’d kiss you and show you how much I love you.”

Nick pulled her close. “I’m not dead. I’m pretty sure I can survive true love’s kiss.”

“Oh good,” said Etty.  



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Filed under First Draft, Writing Experiment

Second Half of the First Draft

The allergy specialists were flummoxed.

It was obvious to both courts that Princess Odette couldn’t marry Prince Yannick, even if the couple were willing. The two countries were going to have to find alternate ways to strengthen their diplomatic ties, rather than making an alliance through marriage. It was a disastrous result after so much planning.

It was Odette who made the suggestion that they turn the wedding celebrations into a festival. After all, she argued, people had travelled from all over the world to see a royal wedding, and it would be unfair to disappointment them completely. It was Nick who suggested that they turn the event into a yearly festival, to draw the tourist trade. They offered to help organise the festival.

When they met, they were always very careful not to touch. Most of their communication was by email and phone. Over the years, they became firm friends, even each other’s best friend. After all, they shared many of the same experiences, as the scions of royal houses.

***There needs to be an incident that brings them back together.***

By ‘declaring their love for each other’, their respective families can’t try to marry them off to other people!! A win/win situation for them both. They seem to be adhering to the plans their families made for them, and so no further attempts can be made to marry off the ‘tragic couple’.

Just after Odette had obtained her medical degree, they suddenly realised they were in love. In fact, they had been in love for years.

The last scene should be of them eating wedding cake.


Filed under First Draft, writing, Writing Experiment

Writing Experiment: where to stop the story.

If you are like me, when you are fond of the characters and setting of a story you find it hard to stop. You want to keep exploring the characters, until they are old and grey and have great grandchildren. This is fine if you are planning to write several brick-sized books, but a bit senseless when writing a short story.

I am very fond of Etty and Nick. But I was also very fond of the bumbling diplomat, and yet he has bitten the dust (though he may turn up somewhere else). This is one of those ‘kill your darlings’ situations. You have to draw a line, and not in sand but in cement.

So, how do you find an ending?

I’m fairly lucky in that there is a natural ‘break’ in the story at the point the wedding is called off. This is where I can wrap up the plot tidily. However, sometimes it isn’t so easy to know where that stopping point should be. This is a particular weakness in my own skills, but I know that other writers suffer the same weakness.

A good ending should have all the ends snipped and neatly tucked away, giving the reader a satisfactory resolution to the ‘problem’ that spurred the plot forward. But it shouldn’t be too abrupt (my major fault). At the same time, you shouldn’t meander and dribble your way to the last sentence. It might take you a few attempts to get something that feels right. I recommend taking as long as you like to get a snappy resolution that doesn’t feel too rushed or too slow.

In the cake story, we won’t get to see Etty and Nick finish their educations and get married. But the expectation of such a happy conclusion to their tale will be made evident.


Filed under writing, Writing Experiment

Writing Experiment: the conclusion of the first draft.

So, what should happen to Etty and Nick?

I’m running with a happily-ever-after scenario with a twist. As most of you have probably guessed, the young couple have arranged the ‘allergic’ reactions being suffered by Etty. You might ask how come the medical tests aren’t picking up the cause of Etty’s reactions?

I’ve been tricky. There are compounds that are completely harmless by themselves, but when combined become an organic irritant. Nick coated himself in one, while Etty imbibed the other. Hence her reaction to Nick and only Nick, while there appears to be no trace of an allergen in his clothes and soaps and such. Tah-dah!

Of course, plotting and carrying out this plan means the two star-crossed lovers spend a lot of time talking with each other. And they actually do fall in love…

However, they still don’t want to marry until after they get their educations finished.

So, do you like this ending? Or did you all have something else in mind.


Filed under Steampunk, writing, Writing Experiment