A Must-Have Book for All Writers

Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View:

  • Short (only 60 pages)
  • To the point
  • Focuses on one aspect of writing.
Applying what Jill Elizabeth Nelson teaches will instantly improve your character development. And as she states in her book, if you apply these techniques properly, show don’t tell becomes a problem of the past.

I love it! Love it! Love it! The easy to apply techniques have changed and improved my writing hands down, by far, more than any other book on writing (and I’ve read a lot of books on writing!) I tell every writer friend of mine to buy it. And now I’m recommending it to all of you.

Available at Amazon Canada (USA here)  in paper book or Kindle version.

To see other books recommended by Vast Imaginations members, see Recommended Resources.

What books have you read that you think every writer should read?

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(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Much Curiouser Beyond Zebra

Any writers worth their pepper are exigently nosey people. I mean, can you imagine a book with no questions in it? No unknowns for the reader to anticipate outcomes for?

Curiosity. Questions. They are the kindling that set our stories aflame and make readers want to come and warm themselves until the last mercurial embers reveal all.

As per this handy little chart here let’s try the thin questions.

Who–has seen the most ghosts in their lifetime?

What–do you call a group of cats?*

Where–do butterflies sleep?

When–do tadpoles lose their tails?

Why–are blondes called “dumb?” (Seriously?)

How–was Stone Henge created?

So far fairly basic. But if we go On Beyond Zebra as Theodor Seuss expressed it best, “In the places I go, there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.”

But now, let’s brainstorm: onto the thick questions–

Who would dare– steal the mayor’s yacht then display it in front of City Hall with all the monkey’s from the zoo turned loose on it equipped with ultra-adhesion marine paint in neon colours? And why?

What if–all the radio waves and electronic waves of every kind that zip around in the air unseen, transmuted some people by supercharging them. Horns, 3 tongues, elephantine trunks, probes growing from their foreheads, or a usb port below their ears?

Where — do all the used up days really go? If time is a dimension, wouldn’t days be tangible things that can’t simply disappear as we think?

When –did someone first look at a cow’s udder and say, “I think I’ll squeeze this and drink whatever comes out of it.”

Why–is no one allowed to actually enter the ring of Stone Henge? Are there druid spirits that rise at beltane or samhane and perform strange rituals on trespassers?

How –would you make pants for a 3-legged person? And would he need 2 left shoes and 1 right, or vice versa?

You can go back and take all those who, what, why’s and take them to ever thicker levels, with one question leading to another and on and on.

You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found
Once you go beyond Z and start poking around!

“If you stay home with Zebra,
You’re stuck in a rut.
But on beyond Zebra,
You’re anything but!
When you go beyond Zebra,
Who knows…?
There’s no telling
What wonderful things
You might find yourself spelling!WRITING!”

But you can’t do it without Curiosity. Psychologist Chris Peterson has found that along with gratitude, zest, hope, and capacity to love, curiosity is one of the strengths most closely related to greatest life satisfaction. It has also been found in at least one study to be associated with a long life. Both reader and writer benefit and–did you catch that–curiosity is a strength?!

To keep your readers wanting the answers to the questions in your stories, blow your nose, wipe it well and start sticking it in corners, up the road and into people’s lives and conversations. Right into the corners, not just the center where anybody sees.

Warning–I’m not liable if you get caught, but I’ll read your book.

*A group of cats is a ‘clowder.’ Not that you see cats in groups much.

Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)

Use of the Dreaded Comma, 3

Comma Use #3 : To Separate Interjections and Similar Non-integrated Sentence Elements

Numbers 1 Silver Clip Art The comma sets off interjections that are included in sentences:

Oh, you scared me.

Hello, how are you today?

If the interjection is within a sentence, then commas are placed on both sides of it:

I tried so hard, alas, to do it.

Use a comma to set off any words that behave as interjections. Yes and no are frequently used as interjections:

Yes, of course you can play.

Terms of direct address are also typically used as interjections:

Norman, put the knife down. 

You young man, finish your vegetables.

Effect Numbers Silver Clip Art Words like however, nevertheless, therefore, and furthermore, and phrases like on the other hand, in addition, etc. are sentence modifiers. To make it clear that they modify the sentence and not just a single word, a comma is required.

However, I disagree with the dog.

In addition, she bought shoes to match.

Effect Letters Number 3 Silver Clip Art Use commas to set off absolute phrases.

An absolute is made up of a noun and its modifiers. It may precede, follow, or interrupt the main clause and is then preceded, followed or surrounded on both sides, respectively, by a comma(s):

His blonde fur billowing in the breeze, my dog soaked in the radiance of the beautiful day at the park.

My dog soaked in the radiance of the beautiful day at the park, his blonde fur billowing in the breeze.

My dog, his blonde fur billowing in the breeze, soaked up the radiance of the beautiful day at the park.

An absolute allows us to move from a description of a whole person, place, or thing to one aspect or part.

See the series on commas by clicking the following links:

Proper Use of the Dreaded Comma, 1

Proper Use of the Dreaded Comma, 2

Hopper, Vincent F., Cedric Gale, Ronald C. Foote, and Benjamin W. Griffith. Essentials of English. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, 2000. Print.

“Absolute phrase.” About.com Grammar & Composition. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Picking the Brain of a Bestselling Author

I recently won a short story contest and one of the prizes was a dinner with NYT bestselling author Kelley summoningArmstrong. I walked into the restaurant with a head full of questions and, four hours later, walked out with answers that allayed some of my fears, raised new ones, and provided encouragement.

A few things I learned:

1. EDITING. Resist the urge to explain (R.U.E.). I’ve made this mistake a lot in my writing. I tell my readers everything they need to know, yet spend words explaining it anyway.

             Example: She stomped her foot. “I’m not going!” she said with an angry shout.

            People don’t stomp their foot and say, “I’m not going” when they’re happy. I can cut the last five words because the action and the dialogue reveal it.


2. BEGINNINGS. I’ve read in other blogs that agents and publishers may only read a couple paragraphs and make a decision about your manuscript and that had me on edge about my own opening. Ms. Armstrong’s answer: Absolutely not. You can’t tell anything about a book from the first couple paragraphs. Your first chapter is very important, but you get more than those first paragraphs to wow them. Exception:  if your first couple paragraphs are poorly written they will assume the entire manuscript is that way and toss it aside.

She said beginnings are a promise of what’s to come in the rest of the book. Simple. The reader should know what to expect in the rest of the book based on your beginning and then deliver in the pages that follow.


3. MARKperseverenceETING. She shared about her experiences while marketing her first couple books. Signing books at bookstores and having people avoid her table. Sitting for hours and hours and only selling a handful of books. This topic nearly sent me into a smoking man day—is that what I have to look forward too?


4. PUBLICATION. She confirmed the difficulty of getting published, but also said that it weeds out those who want to write for notoriety and those who are writers. The latter will persist through the rejection and the former will give up and walk away. Her encouragement for me was to persevere.


  ◊  ◊

Melinda Friesen writes novels for young adults and middle grades, as well as short stories. She is a full-time mother of four and part-time student at the University of Winnipeg.

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

A Story is a Story…Or is It?

Bear with me for a moment please, and read this opening paragraph to a short story. You’ll soon get my point.

Saroo’s past haunted him.  In dreams or in quiet moments, images from more than 20 years earlier floated into his head – a bridge, a train station, a dam overflowing with water.  He saw himself as a young boy, running down dusty streets, over train tracks, to a mud hut that looked familiar.  A family lived there – his family. Occasionally Saroo saw their faces… his mother…his brothers…his sister. Were they still looking for him?  What happened to Guddu that day?

Now for a question:  Is this piece of writing fiction or is it non-fiction?


Although you might hazard a guess based on the unfamiliar names in the text, really both are possibilities.  There are no definitive clues to say for certain whether this is a fictional story or a true account, and that really is my point.

This paragraph is the opening to a story I recently wrote for a yet-to-be-titled non-fiction book for 9 to 14 year olds that will be released in 2014. It’s a true story about a real person – Saroo – who searches for a family he lost long ago.  Although the paragraph might read like fiction, the details that build the story are real.  The bridge, the dam, the family names are facts and Saroo’s quest to unravel the past really happened.

The paragraph is a small sample of creative non-fiction, a branch of writing that is sometimes so closely aligned with fiction that it can be difficult to tell them apart.  At the heart of both, though, is a well told story, only in the case of creative non-fiction that story is real. According to Lee Gutkind, a guru of creative non-fiction, the goal “is to make non-fiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.”

Picture1Creative non-fiction presents its own brand of thrills and challenges as I discovered when writing Surviving the Hindenburg (Sleeping Bear Press, 2012; illustrated by David Geister). The picture book tells the story of Werner Franz, the 14 year old cabin boy aboard the doomed airship that went down in flames at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. Even before I began writing the book, I faced an onslaught of questions and decisions.  Most are fairly typical for anyone wanting to write creative non-fiction for young people.

Q: Is this a ‘story’ in the narrative sense, and can it be told as a story? 

A:  Not all historical events have the necessary ingredients for storytelling.  Some fall flat – no ups, downs, curve balls, drama or standout characters who face problems and conquer them or became transformed in the process. This one had it all, though – a compelling protagonist (Werner), a problem situation (fire), an interesting setting (the interior of the zeppelin), rising action (efforts to escape), a climax (at last, a way out!), and a satisfying resolution (survival).


Q: Is the story suitable for youngsters? Would it interest them?

A: The Hindenburg was the pride of the Nazi fleet and the larger story is a political one, set at time when the world was bracing for war. This side of the story might interest adults, but kids – not so much.  The story of a 14-year old boy who is trapped in a fiery airship that just happens to a rather famous one– now that’s a different matter. Telling Werner’s personal story within the context of the larger Hindenburg story would not only interest kids 8 years old and up, but also put them front and centre to a history-changing event.

Q: Is there access to research material?  Is there enough to flesh out details and tell a vibrant story?

A: Fortunately, the Hindenburg tragedy was well documented.  Film crews, reporters, broadcasters, and photographers were on site when the airship caught fire.  There was also a full investigation afterwards, and dozens of books, audiotapes and DVDs were available should I need them.  If anything, there was an overabundance of material, always a bonus for non-fiction writers striving for rich details.


Q: If so much information exists, why bother writing yet another account?  What will be unique about this book? 

A: Werner’s story appears mostly in sidebars and footnotes. To my knowledge, it’s never been fleshed out in full detail in a picture book.  Furthermore, most accounts of the Hindenburg disaster are told from ground level, from observers outside the airship.  My story would be told from inside the airship, from the perspective of a single survivor.

Q: If the story occurs inside the Hindenburg, how will you handle descriptions of the interior when, aside from a few charred remnants, nothing of the great airship exists?  

A:  Knowing just where Werner was, and how he found his way out of the airship in the 32 seconds it took for Hindenburg to disintegrate was essential to the story.  Fortunately, blueprints, scale drawings and interior photos were all available for examination.  So, too, were a few experts who knew the Hindenburg like an old friend.


Q: How will you handle dialogue?  It’s a 75 year old story.  Almost everyone involved has either died or is inaccessible.

A: Creative non-fiction demands accuracy.  For purists of the form there can be no invented dialogue, no invented scenes, and so this is a huddle to cross when dealing with historical material. To tell Werner’s story properly, I felt I needed to know what he was saying and thinking, and what motivated him to make the choices he did.  Fortunately, Werner Franz had been interviewed over the years for various newspapers, books and film productions.  He also kept a journal.  Werner’s own words furnished the dialogue and gave me the opportunity to hear his story first-hand.


Larry Verstraete is a Winnipeg educator and an author of non-fiction books for youngesters.  For more information about  Surviving the Hindenburg or for links to Hindenburg sites and other resources, please visit Larry’s website at www.larryverstraete.com

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.
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