Tag Archive 'Jan OHara'

Because Size Matters: McKee’s Four Tips on Writing a Big Story

You know how certain types of feedback get under your skin like road rash, so that months or years later the grit is still working its way to the surface? Well, eons ago, as she contemplated a novel I’d set in my province, a critique partner sent me metaphorically skidding on the asphalt in a pair of Daisy Dukes.

The comment she dropped  which I found so distressing? “I think this would appeal to readers outside of Canada.” (Meaning, as I [...]

All Hail Dilemmas: Why Your Characters Need to Make Tough Choices

Last month I began a series on story lessons learned or refined during my multi-day Story seminar with Robert McKee. (It was fantastic. If you get a chance to attend, I highly recommend it.) The first post was about cultivating the gap between reality and expectation, or Turning Points. This month, I wanted to talk about the necessity of giving characters agency, or setting them up to make active, well-structured choices in fiction. (Even if their ultimate choice is not [...]

Cultivate the Gap and Watch Your Readers’ Eyebrows Bounce

When my youngest was a wee lad, there was a period when I knew I was failing him as a parent. Day after day, from the moment I woke him up to take him to the sitter’s until I tucked him into bed (for the last time), we were locked in one power struggle after another.

I wanted him to have a playful, imaginative childhood, yet the word I uttered with the most frequency was no.

Worse, while I retained the upper [...]

There Are No Mwuahaha Villains in the Artistic Life

You know that if two artists are married, only one is going to be successful. And in your family, it’s going to be [your husband]. So why don’t you just understand that and look after the house and the kids?*

If these words were directed at you, would you give up? What if they came from someone you trusted, someone who knew your capabilities versus your spouse’s because he was your collective teacher and faculty adviser? What if you were a [...]

Songs on Surviving the Midlist: from Opera Singer, Circus Performer & Novelist, Gretchen McNeil

When I learned the theme for this month was “a peek behind the publishing curtain”, it was an easy decision to invite today’s guest for an interview. For as long as I’ve known her, Gretchen McNeil has been a model of grace and resilience under pressure; a woman who feels passionately and has a big personality, yet who makes pragmatic writing decisions when they’ll benefit her career.

Her flexibility has earned her editorial trust and loyalty at a time when such [...]

To the Disconsolate Writer Who Hates Her Pace

Moai Rano, Easter Island from Wikimedia Commons

From an anonymous email:

Dear Jan: I’ve seen you describe yourself as a slow writer. I am one also, and it makes me discouraged to the point I’ve considered quitting. Do you have any advice?

Ah, yes. Speed-of-sloth is the precise phrase I use, and while at one point it was a way of laughing through my pain and frustration, now I type it with a sense of peace. It’s simply become a way to [...]

What’s a Pantster to Do When They’re Stuck? Go Tell It TO the Mountain.

Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper, Alberta

In the medical world, when a patient becomes sick, it’s important to establish a chain of causation as soon as possible. Understanding the “why” of an illness means you’re in a better position to understand its trajectory and how to interrupt it—how to get the person back to a place of wellness as soon as possible with the minimum of effort, cost, and side effects.

This is so critical, doctors invest years to acquire [...]

Be Bigger Than Chickens: an Interview with Joshilyn Jackson

I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K. It was on a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a Georgia summer so ungodly hot the air felt like it had all been boiled red. We were both staring down the barrel of an ancient, creaky .32 that could kill us just as dead as a really nice gun could.

The opening lines of Someone Else’s Love Story belong to Shandi Pierce, a young, virgin mother [...]

4 Science-Based Resources to Build a Drama-Free Writing Routine

Few things in life give me more pleasure than a gorgeously written blog post validating my choice to write, particularly if I’m fresh from a difficult critique or my characters have gone silent. That’s when I scan my environment, looking for people brimming with positivity. If you’re one of them, I glom onto you. I yearn to be swept up in your narrative.

And if you’re drinking hope’s sweet ambrosia and if you’ll allow me to sip from your cup, maybe [...]

Never Go Naked to Scrabble: Authorial Words Containing “BIC”

For the past month I’ve been adrift, Unboxeders, and I don’t care for the feeling.

I’ve been a morning mist without a lake to blanket, a hummingbird without a fragrant flower from which to sip.*

Everyone needs a sense of purpose. We deserve a life of meaning, thrive when engaged in useful work.

All this explains why I’m deeply grateful to have rediscovered a mission I took up last fall: arming you for your next tournament of Strip Scrabble so that if you [...]

This Mystical Thing Called Branding

It began with a contentment-producing ritual.

Weather permitting, most Saturday mornings, I stroll a safe and pleasant three miles to the mall where I visit the library, the bookstore, and the grocer. I pick up fresh produce for dinner—the more salad-makings the better—then loop around and head home.

On the way back, I’m usually euphoric, flush with endorphins, time outdoors, and the knowledge that I’ve facilitated my family’s health and made a minor contribution to fuel-conservation.

But on one recent occasion, as I [...]

The Cadaver Wore Text (aka the Case for Plot Dissection)

I managed to enter med school without attending a funeral or viewing a single dead person. So at age twenty, as I boarded the elevator which would take me to my first practical session in Human Anatomy, and with it my first encounter with a cadaver, I roiled with emotion.

Though we didn’t speak of it, I could tell my classmates were in a similar state. (Even then, the “code” was to maintain emotional control in front of one another.)

I recall [...]