Mark Twain and the Real Injun Joe

IMG_4563You’ll find the town of Hannibal in eastern Missouri, just north of Mexico and Louisiana, Missouri. For our summer road trip we drove from Winnipeg to Williamsburg, Virginia. On our way back we decided to stop in Hannibal, hometown to Mark Twain (and the unsinkable Molly Brown). Just outside of town we found Mark Twain Cave, hideout of Jesse James and the very cave where Twain dropped Tom and Becky in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

It was exciting to walk where Twain once explored. I’m always curious about where others get their inspiration and I too found the cave inspiring–threeIMG_4517 and a half miles of twisting and turning passages to explore and get lost in. The tour guide regaled us with stories–this is where Becky ran into the chandelier of bats, this is where Tom shared the wedding cake with Becky, this is where they found Injun Joe dead.

And then she came to a very interesting story. A cut-throat, sinister, murder in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe was a real guy. Someone Twain knew well. It’s no secret that writers draw characters for their books from the people around them. I’ve always felt a little bit bad about this. I’m careful to give them a different nIMG_4543ame, and join traits from a couple different people, so no one can say this is Bob or this is Sally. I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel bad. Twain, however, did not have the same reservations.

Joe, the tour guide reported, was actually a very nice man. He was an ophan who had survived getting scalped and a case of small pox. And he had the scars to bear witness of both. Children in town teased him and would run away from him on the street. After Tom Sawyer gained popularity Joe approached Twain and ask him why he made him into a villain. Twain informed Joe that he was the ugliest man he’d ever seen, so he made the perfect villain. This didn’t make Joe feel any better, so Twain told Joe to get back at him by outliving him. Twain died at age 75, while Joe lived to a ripe 102 and died from eating a bad batch of pickled pigs feet.

And now you have the rest of the story.

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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.

Great Beginnings 3: Where Beginnings Hide

“The fundamental purpose of a narrative’s first paragraph is to make the reader continue to the second paragraph.  And the purpose of that paragraph is to make him read to the second paragraph.” 

Tom French in Sequencing: Text as Line from ‘Telling True Stories’, Penguin, 2007

For me, beginnings are tortuous things to write. Occasionally, but rarely, a strong one appears off the hop, freeing me to write the rest of the narrative no sweat.  More often, though, it’s lurking somewhere in a jumble of words and thoughts, waiting to be teased and cajoled before accepting an invitation to surface.

Apparently, I am not the only one with this problem. At a recent Vast Imaginations meeting others in the group confessed to similar experiences.  We discussed the reasons, strategies that we had tried, ones that encouraged us to write on, others that stalled us in our tracks.

In Margaret Atwood’s words, “the story is in the dark”. It’s hiding in the shadows, and it is as we write that we discover the story’s ebb and flow, its characters and true meaning.  There is light at the end, but the journey to the end is a winding one, pocked with pitfalls and blind curves. Little wonder beginnings are so difficult to write. It takes many small acts of courage to hang on through the rough ride.

Just where and how to begin depends on a number of things.  The type of story – whether it’s fantasy or true adventure, for example – sometimes dictates the beginning.  Point-of-view is a factor, too. But mood, style and theme are just as instrumental.  Besides transmitting information about plot and character and enticing readers to turn the page, beginnings set the tone for the entire story.  Will it be dark and haunting?  Soft and ballad-like?  Light-hearted and humorous?  Those first words set expectations for what is to come and provide a framework for the entire piece.

So how do you find your starting point?  Here are a few strategies that our group has used that might work for you:

  • Outline the story.  Find the first point of complication or conflict and start there.
  • If you know the ending, write it first. Many stories have a circular feel, and knowing how the story ends can sometimes indicate how it should begin, too.
  • Find change in your story – a shift in action, a revelation about character, a wrinkle in the plot.  Often those make good tension-filled beginnings.  You can always fill in the gaps with a bit of backstory.
  • What is the story’s theme?  The theme is the story’s destination and its larger message. Is the story about honesty?  Love? Fairness?  Faith?   Incorporating a passage or scene at the beginning that echoes or contrasts the theme can be a perfect start to the story.
  • Write the entire story, telling it chronologically as if it is unfolding by the clock.  Put the draft away and reread it a day or two later.  Often the true beginning – the most enticing point of entry – jumps out after a cooling-off   period.
  • Draft several beginnings. Chances are that one will have greater appeal than the others
  • Write a key word or phrase from your story on a sheet of blank paper.  It could be the name of a character, an overriding emotion, a central location – whatever you feel represents an important part of the story.  Create a word map by spinning out connections on the page, allowing your mind to explore possibilities without restraint until you feel an urge to write. In my experience, this often happens at an ah-ha moment when I know, just know, exactly what I want to say.

For more about this topic, you might want to read:

Great Beginnings 1: The Five Line Test

Great Beginnings 2: Six Classic Ways to Start

Larry Verstraete ( is a Winnipeg educator and author of non-fiction books for young people.  Currently he is working on a number of projects including a novel for middle grade readers.

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.

Anaphora: Repetition of Leading Words

Anaphora: Repetition  of the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. The technique adds emphasis to the point being made.

For example:

In a speech by Dwight D. Eisenhower (April 16, 1953)
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched,
every rocket fired signifies… a theft from those who
hunger and are not fed…”

When compared to “Every gun that is made, warship launched, rocket fired… ” The quote above packs more punch.

Another example:

From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator,
his sole assignment, his sole residuary legatee,
his sole friend and sole mourner.”

The reader get a clear understanding of  Jacob Marley’s character, and some insight into what to expect from Scrooge as well.

So try anaphora next time you want to emphasis a point to your reader.

Source:  Rogers, Cindy. “Worth Saying Once, Worth Saying Twice.” Word Magic for Writers: Your Source for Powerful Language That Enchants, Convinces, and Wins Readers. West Redding CT: Writer’s Institute Publications, 2004. N. pag. Print.

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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.

Planning Ahead

“This is more of a back story.”

“This is a very rough draft and you are searching out your story.”

“Where is your point of action?”  

“I got lost trying to figure out where your story is going.” 

“This is just an information dump.” 

“You have lots of unique ideas for a story but it doesn’t start at a point of change.” 

Recently I sent what I thought might be the opening chapter of a novel for middle years readers to the members of my writing group for critique. It was my first stab at novel-writing and after receiving the comments you see above I realized I needed to do some research and study before I proceeded with further chapters. 

I took a few books out of the library and spent time doing online research. I learned that while there are writers who use the method I was trying, of just sitting down at the computer with an initial idea and letting the story find its own way, most experts recommend planning and outlining a novel first before you begin writing it. 

So how to outline and plan?  Well I discovered there are many different methods and strategies you can use. In this post I’ll look at two ways you can start thinking about your novel and planning it in a very basic way like……….

james bell plot and structurethe lock system James Bell describes in his book Plot and Structure

L- Lead character- Who will it be?

O- Objective- What is your character’s main purpose?

C- Conflict- What will stop your main character from achieving their goal?

K- Knock out punch- How will it end?

Or you can think of your story using the four box analogy of blogger Larry Brooks. 

box 1Box 1 is the Set Up. It has the inciting incident. You establish stakes for your protagonist by having them become aware of an obstacle they must overcome or something they want to achieve. You introduce the antagonistic force. Your main character is like an orphan unsure of the future and what will happen next.

box 2 Box 2 is The Response. Your protagonist is reacting to the antagonistic force-  observing, planning, analyzing, recruiting or whatever they need to do to move forward. Your main character is like a wanderer ready to set out on a journey. 


box 3 Box 3 is The Attack. Here your protagonist becomes proactive attacking obstacles, conquering demons, moving ahead with courage and creativity. In this box your main character is like a warrior doing battle with the antagonist.


box 4
Box 4 is The Resolution.  The protagonist solves the problem, reaches their goal, saves the day, attains fame or conquers the antagonistic force. They may die in the process. In this box our main character becomes a martyr or a hero. 

I’m going to begin my novel writing again and try to flesh out my plot with these two methods. In future blog posts I want to look at more detailed ways to plan and outline novels and examine some different strategies and methods that can be used. 

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……….

Chicken Soup

 Writing Funny

Say It In A Letter

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next? 

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

Hell Yes — F*()% No!

Is swearing in young adult (YA) fiction appropriate?

Teens in the ‘real world’ swear all the time, so to be true to our characters, shouldn’t dropping the f-bomb be acceptable?

In a word—No.

I’ve attended workshops where this exact topic instigated a hot debate. Magazine articles and many a writers’ group discussion has ensued over can we, should we swear?

Summing up all I’ve learned, minor swears are free game, use them at will. However, the heavy duty words are not appropriate or at the very least, should be used only when no other word will do. Simply stating “Discovering her ransacked locker, she swore,” is completely acceptable. Your reader can fill in whatever word he/she would use or whatever he/she thinks your character would use.

Of course, you’ll find many examples in published works for YA where many high-flyer words decorate the pages. Obviously, some publishers are more open to use of swears than others. This is a discussion you’ll have with your editor.

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•* 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.
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