Tag Archive 'Jan OHara'

Lessons from the UnCon: I Surrender. I’m Finally Ready to Be Naked

Method Writing (and Eating) with Brunonia Barry at the Witch’s Brew Cafe–photography credit Mike Swift

If you attended the inaugural UnCon in Salem, this post is an attempt to recreate a bit of its inherent magic. If you couldn’t attend, this is one explanation of why you’ll read reviews like this paraphrased quote: “What have you people done to me? I’m forever changed and so is my writing.” 

Several decades ago, an excessively young, naïve, and nervous version of myself began […]

Deconstructing Micro-Tension

If you had to guess, what portion of the hundred-thousand-mile journey to basic fiction-writing competence would belong to the pursuit and mastery of micro-tension? Ten percent? Thirty? I personally don’t have a clue, yet I’ve been persuaded of its necessity since first being introduced to the concept by WU’s Donald Maass. Accordingly, I’ve done my best to read everything he’s had to say on the subject, several times. I’ve picked apart books that demonstrate micro-tension. (How about that Gillian Flynn’s […]

Wanted: Grim Reaper As Writing Coach

The Grim Reaper by Trish Steel [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Last month, through pure serendipity, I stumbled across an intellectual exercise which I’d like to recommend to all my fellow writers.  I believe it will be of particular benefit to those of you who  a) are overwhelmed with life and yearn for a reset button b) wish to clear away the cobwebs of smugness and complacency, or c) like me, write genre fiction that others might call “quiet” or, in […]

C-c-considering Cadence: Understanding One Quality of Voice

The Oxford Dictionary defines cadence as “a modulation or inflection of the voice, a rhythmical effect in written text, a fall in pitch of the voice at the end of a phrase or sentence” or simply as “rhythm”. For purposes of discussion today, I have a brief illustration of how it can affect reader experience.

Consider the following lines:

I do not like green eggs and ham,
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.

A classic by Dr. Seuss, yes? But take a simple stanza like […]

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 […]