Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

One Man Wanted

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2011 at 9:47 am

I want a date for Valentine’s Day.  The internet let me down for New Years, so I have decided to try a more conventional route.  I know, what you’re thinking, Natalie that isn’t like you!, but I have to be realistic and get my head out of the clouds this year.  So, I have a new plan.

Want ads.

I haven’t had much luck in the guy department in the past.   But it isn’t like I’m not looking. 

Trust me. I’m looking.  Everywhere

I’m an avid reader of Lasso, our company’s new in-house magazine that is supposed to be all about how to get a man and what to do to keep him; though half of the bloody thing is filled with advertisements for naughty call-in lines.  It actually started out as a bit of a blip and not even our own designers wanted to read it.  They soon discovered, though, that if you pay enough people loads of money then anything can be a success.  Now, Lasso has a readership of over fifteen thousand a month (though the press package says it is twenty).   Every issue, it tells us lonely hearts that men want a woman who has a mind of their own, are independent and outgoing.  I read this every month and do you know what I do?  The exact opposite.  I meet a man and tell him verbatim exactly what I think he wants to hear.

As I was drinking a terrible cup of coffee that my co-worker Rachel just made- which I always tell her is the best I have ever tasted- I was flipping through the February edition, looking at all the lovely shoes I know I would never get my feet into, let alone be able to walk in, when I came across it.  It was as if a light went on all around me and I could hear the ‘hallelujahs’ in the background.  There, on page one hundred and ninety-three was the beginning of the rest of my life.

Looking for a man, but seem to be looking in all the wrong places?  Wondering what is wrong with you and why you are so blue when you should be saying “I do”?  Did you know that only 7% of women that meet men in a bar or club end up having a lasting relationship?  No matter what your mother says, it’s not you and there is something you can do to find Mr. Right- right now!  Place a want ad in next month’s issue for our Month of Love special and see what fate has in store for you.  Don’t spend another holiday alone, hopeless and resorting to desperate measures- resort to them now!  To see your ad in the Love Wanted section just send a maximum sixty word description of your ideal mate with twenty pounds to Lasso Love Connection, 128 Foxham Street, London and see what love has in store for you.

That was it.

*For more Natalie’s Nook please click here.

*To learn more about the author, Emily Harper, please click here.


In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 at 11:26 am

One of the things which has most pleasantly surprised me about the novel writing process is what I have learned about myself and what I have learned about what I didn’t know that I knew.

When I sat down to start my novel, blank screen in front of me, I literally had no idea what I would write about.  I knew only that I had long harboured a desire to write a novel and the biggest stumbling block preventing me from actually doing it was the thought that I had absolutely no idea of what I would write about.  Unlike many other writers I had not mapped out a detailed outline, written up complex character sketches or outlined the goals and motivations of my main characters.  I had nothing but a blank page and an open, empty mind.

From this blank space a mental picture gradually emerged.  A cold winter morning, a man standing on the bridge of a boat staring into the misty distance, rubbing his hands together and stamping his feet to keep warm. Who was he waiting for and why?  I started asking questions about him and allowed my imagination to provide the answers and slowly his story has unfolded.

This is a fascinating process because it feels like I am reading the book as I write it. Like the reader, I have no idea what is going to happen next and I am on a voyage of discovery, but I am journeying not only into the life and mind of my characters, but also into my own subconscious.

Every now and then it coughs up something unexpected on the page and I stare in amazement.  Where did that come from?  I didn’t know I was thinking that.  I didn’t know I knew that.  Sometimes it feels like I’m coughing up a hairball; dry and scratchy and I really want to get rid of it. Ugh. There, it’s out.  I look at it on the page. It’s ugly, but it adds something to the story.  Mmm…I can work with this.  Other times something rich and delicious rises within me and I roll it around the back of my mouth like a smooth single malt.  Yes, I want to hold on to this, savour the flavour, even let it mature a little more before I let it out on the page.

And so, as I have embarked on the exciting journey of writing my first novel, the unexpected by-product has been, in parallel, a journey into self-discovery.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a work of fiction, the characters and plot are all a figment of my imagination, so fictitious in fact, that I too did not know they resided somewhere within.  What I am discovering is the vast and wonderful expanse of imagination, of what resides within my mind while I am busy with life. And all that I have needed to access this rich and interesting place is the discipline to sit down each day and write. 

Apart from the satisfaction derived from putting words on the page – not just any word, but the word which conveys exactly the fact and sentiment intended – apart from the rhythmic pleasure of the language and the technical attention to detail, I have also enjoyed this journey into the unchartered territory of imagination.    It is in this place of imagination that my subconscious comes out to play and it is in play that, like a child, I am learning surprising things.  For that reason alone, and even if my book is never published, it will have been well worth the effort I am putting into it.


*To find out more information about the author please click here.

Creating a Great Protagonist

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 10:10 am

Recently, on this site, Linda, in her article, Eating the Elephant, touched on some points on how to tackle writing – one piece at a time.  In that article, one of the keys that Michael Hauge stresses is to very quickly create, in our reader, identification with the hero or protagonist.  Linda further details some of his suggestions to do this.

1. Make the reader feel sympathy for the hero
2. Put the hero in jeopardy – make our reader worry about him or her
3. Make the hero likeable – even if the hero is not good, they must be someone the reader cares about
4. Make the hero funny, or
5. Make the hero powerful

 Another interesting take on creating a great protagonist, comes from Hal Croasmun of Screenwriting U, an excellent site that offers courses in screenwriting and all its associated skills.  Occasionally they will post free phone sessions detailing how to address and improve areas of your script, which of course can also be applied to your novel.  Yes, the sessions are to encourage you to sign up for a course, and you might want to. 

His suggestion – and I think it is a great one – make sure your protagonist is inherently dramatic.  Does the profile you have created for your character inherently bring drama to the scene?  Are they a naturally dramatic character who brings tension to every scene because of their characteristics?

He suggests the following advantages if you are able to create a naturally dramatic protagonist.

1       Inherently dramatic characters naturally create dramatic situations

2       Are more interesting

3       Engage the reader or audience

4       Are easier to write

5       Are more attractive to actors

As an aside, let’s face it, we all want our book to be made into a movie and it can’t hurt to have an outstanding protagonist.

A)  Give your character a trait that creates conflict, such a being constantly cynical or selfish.

B)  Give him a flaw.  Perhaps he is bitter about something that happened to him and it colours his response to everything, thus creating drama.

C)  Give him a serious dilemma or problem that will create the drama you are looking for.

D)  Give him a motive that might create dramatic subtext in your scenes.

For my next lead character I am still going to keep him likeable (gotta be likeable!)  but I am going to try Croasmun’s approach. 

I’ll let you know how it turns out. 


I’ve Had a LOVEpiphany

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 9:25 am

I’ve often wondered if my man troubles are really my fault.  I mean, I’m not picky.  I try and have an open mind about his occupation (though I could never get my mind around dating that gynecologist…).  I’m not even that concerned about looks (though if he should happen to have even a remote resemblance to Johnny Depp I feel extra points are warranted).

Though, as I was reading through my magazine the other day I  came across an article which I think has changed my life forever…

I’m sitting in my room, listening to Cheryl yell something to Ben about him being a lazy git, when my eye falls to the next page where an article entitled “GET A MAN AND KEEP HIM” catches my eye.  The by-line reads,

“From the acclaimed relationship expert Dr. Rebecca Gonnard; this is a comprehensive guide to get you past the first date with a man and straight to the altar.  Carefully followed you are guaranteed to turn your pitiful and for some non-existent love life into a storybook ending.” 

I carry the magazine over to my bed and begin to read the article. 

Did you know that a man will go out with an average of twenty-six women before he settles down with one woman?  Did you also know that a woman will be rejected by an average of twenty-nine men before she will be in a committed, long-term relationship?  If you are worried that there just doesn’t seem to be any good blokes out there for the picking then think about this: for every hundred females there are one hundred and five males in the world.  The odds are in your favour ladies, and yet statistics UK state that you have to suffer through twenty-nine ghastly dates until you find a man willing to commit to you!  So what’s the problem? 

For starters, we, as women, look internally for the solutions to life’s problems.  What can we do to improve, what can we change to be accepted? Women are constantly adapting to the world because they are terrified that the world will not adapt to them.  This way of thinking must be broken in order for you to achieve your goal of securing a healthy and substantial relationship.  Are you tired of meeting loads of chaps but not finding the right one?  If so, then you have to stand out from the flock of women fluttering all around you. Don’t be one of a hundred girls, be the one and only you!

I do like those odds better…

The first step to standing out in the crowd is to be different from the crowd.  Stop listening to all your girlfriends’ advice on what to do with men because chances are they haven’t got a boyfriend either.  Learn to forget all that you have heard and done in the past, in fact it’s most likely best if you just do the exact opposite of what you used to do. 

Always arrive early on a date as to not keep him waiting?  DON’T!  Try arriving at least fifteen minutes late on your date; not only will your man be anxiously awaiting your arrival for a change, it also lets him know who will be in charge. 

Always let the bloke pick what to do on date night? DON’T!  Let him know from the start that you have no intention of spending the night on his pullout couch, watching the telly while you share a pork pie. 

See, I knew I shouldn’t have done that with Adam.

No one is going to treat you special if you don’t tell them you’re special. 

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, don’t have sex with him until at least the fifth date.

Fifth date!  Bloody hell that’s a bit long with no sex…

No, it’s not too long to wait.  Think of it this way, men look at things from an investment standpoint.  If you’re a quick cash grab, they may potentially buy you[1] now but with no long term commitment or grand expectations.  However, if you are different from the other investments and- most importantly- challenging, then the lads will approach you with the mindset that they are in it for the long haul.

This is all making complete sense; I am an easy investment- I’m a penny stock!  I need to be a cool, exclusive stock like Berkshire, or that new company from the telly that sells appetite-suppressing lip gloss.

You must believe in yourself if you want others to believe in you too.  You must make the commitment to change your life and go after what you want. 

Are you up for the challenge?  If so, I want you to say this out loud and begin committing to a new you!

I am strong.

I look at my door quickly to make sure it’s still shut.  Don’t get me wrong, Cheryl and I have a pretty open relationship.  However, I don’t think either of us has quite forgotten last week when she caught me examining myself- I won’t tell you where.  Before I know it the words are tumbling out. “I am strong.”

I am invincible.

I can do this, I know it.  I read somewhere about this thing called the placebo effect which is basically if you believe something is going to work, even if it’s a complete blip, it will still happen because you believe it- at least I’m pretty sure that’s how it goes.  “I am invincible!”


“I am-” Wait, isn’t that Aretha Franklin?

[1] Editor’s Note: Lasso in no way solicits prostitution in exchange for goods or happiness and hereby relinquishes all responsibility or suggestion of said act.

*To read more of Natalie’s adventures or find out about the author please click here.

Photo: Valentine

Photographer: Salvatore Vuono


In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 10:10 am

So while your hero has been undergoing all sorts of adventures and challenges on his outer journey, he has also been undergoing some sort of inner turmoil and change.  Our own hero, Michael Hauge, has a fair bit to say about this as well.  Here is my summary of some of his key points which I have found helpful:

First of all, Michael reminds us that, for readers, stories begin on the level of plot and that we need to see a visible journey before we can explore the deeper meaning imbedded in the story.  While the outer journey shows your hero overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve a visible goal, the inner journey reveals your hero’s path to fulfillment, peace and some sort of inner change. 

Michael says that quite often in stories the hero starts out being defined by others and by the end of the journey, she has defined herself.

Michael identifies certain qualities which he says all heros have:


All heros want or need something.  Some heros may be aware of this need and express it and others may not verbalize it, but on some level it is apparent that their lives are deficient.  Something is missing.  If it is expressed it is a longing, but the hero is paying lip service to it and is too afraid to actually go after what he wants.  If the hero is unaware of it, and doesn’t even express it, then it is a need but the hero is too afraid to even admit that there is something missing from his life. 

It is your job as the writer to present the hero with an opportunity to go after what it is that he wants but is too afraid to pursue. This creates a level of emotional conflict in your story.


The hero must have suffered some wound before your story even begins, or very early on in the story. Whether or not this is referred to explicitly, there must be a sense that your hero is damaged in some way and that this wound is a source of ongoing pain and avoidance behaviour in your character.  The wound is a source of fear in your hero and this is the reason he or she is not going after the fulfillment of their need. Did your hero have his heart broken by someone else?  Was he abused by his father? Was she humiliated by her boss? Did someone close to her die?


Out of your hero’s fear grows his or her identity.  Identity is the way the hero defines himself to the world (this is true of us too).  It is what he sees himself as being and it serves the important purpose of protecting the hero from his fear.  It is the outer shell.  Identity is what the hero is, not who he is.  Constituents of identity are: job, family, location, beliefs, money, position, role, upbringing, etc.  Identity protects the hero but also prevents him from being who he truly is. (Rings true doesn’t it?)


Now, if you take away everything your character is attached to, what would be left? Strip away title, status, job, geographical location, family, financial standing, public position, etc.  And what is left is who he is.  What is left is the spiritual, deeper self – the essence. 

And here is the nub: In order for your hero to achieve her visible goal (outer journey language) or to fulfill her longing (inner journey language) she will have to get rid of her protection, shed her identity and stand up for who she really is.

The inner journey is the journey from IDENTITY to ESSENCE and this journey parallels the outer journey in pursuit of the external, visible goal.  Character arc stories are essentially stories of life and death, not necessarily actual death (as would happen in the outer journey) but death of the identity in order to fulfill the hero’s longing and allow him to live true to his essence.

This transition from identity to essence is not instant, it takes time (generally the length of your novel) and is a gradual process during which the hero gets stronger, is tested, and is finally able to shed his identity and find his essence.  (In a tragedy, however, the hero may not learn anything, may not change, and goes through inordinate tribulations for nothing –that’s why tragedies leave us feeling so hollow.)

Before I leave you to ponder, and hopefully incorporate some of Michael Hauge’s valuable insights into your own writing, here is an interesting little exercise you could try.

To figure out your hero’s identity complete the following sentence:

“I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal, just don’t ask me to ______________ because it’s just not me.”

You might learn something about your own identity too!

Happy writing!


To find out more about Linda Dorrington and her novel “Mungo Joudry” click here.

To find out more about the Hero’s Inner Journey, click here.

Writer’s Inspiration

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Look here every Saturday for a weekly writing exercise that will get you warmed up and inspired to return to your novel. Who knows, it could turn out to be your next short story or even the next chapter of your novel! When you complete the exercise, share it with us by posting it on our blog as a comment.
This week’s exercise:
You have received a believable-looking, business-sized white envelope in the mail. The return address is from a company called Peerless. Printed on the envelope, in bright red letters, are the words, “You May Have Already Won.” Tell the story of what it is you may have won – or what it is you didn’t win. Tell what you do with this envelope.
Start with: Life takes some funny twists and turns…

This week’s inspiration is taken from the book, The Write Brain Workbook, by Bonnie Neubauer.

The Dark Waters of Critiquing – Part 1

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

This image was taken from Stephen King’s On Writing

Critiquing:  Take Aim and Fire?

So your mom or dad, brother or sister loves your story or novel.  Right.  We all know where this is going.  No matter how hard they try to be subjective, they love you, they don’t want to hurt your feelings and they might just not know a well written story from a publisher’s nightmare.  Hence the need for someone a little more removed, and, hopefully, skilled in the art of critiquing.

Critiquing someone’s writing is a huge commitment.  It, like writing, must be learned.  It must be done honestly, skilfully and tactfully.    There is a sensitive human being at the end of the gun barrel, who may not as of yet developed the distance needed to accept criticism, even constructive criticism.

Make no mistake.  Unless you are an editor with years of experience in reading all kinds of material, critiquing can be challenging and hard work.  You don’t write or like science fiction but someone in your writing group needs their piece critiqued?  It takes away from your time to write your novel.  Are you still willing to commit the time to do a good job?

So what is a good critique?  First, some generalities. 

 I think we must keep in mind that it is their story that they are telling, and we must critique within that framework.  We are trying to make suggestions that improve this story.  Help make the story better, not different.

It is not enough to tell the author that something isn’t working.  Tell them why you think it isn’t working and if possible make a suggestion as an alternative.

The author needs to know what is working as much as he/she needs to know what is not working.  It will build their confidence and help them focus on examples that they can emulate.

At what stage of the writing process is the particular piece?  Is it a first draft and they are looking for feedback on story structure and character arc?  A final draft and you are doing a line by line edit?

Review your critique and be organized in your presentation of your thoughts and ideas.  Stumbling around will make your opinions seem unsure and less worthy of consideration.

Don’t let your personal feelings or views of Mary, or the subject of her writing, influence your objective critique.  It can happen easily without even being aware of it.

Sometimes the longer you work with someone, the better you get to know them, the more difficult it gets to remain objective.  Just like Mom and Dad, you don’t want to hurt their feelings.  You must be professional and keep the whole reason for critiquing in the forefront.

Those are some general thoughts about critiquing.  In part 2 I will offer a process to try using to critique a piece of writing.

Til then, keep writing.

Dan Side

My Mum’s New Gardener

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2011 at 9:20 am

Thank you for all the responses.  Well, the two responses I got.

And George I know that “I don’t mind you undressing me with your eyes” was you. 

You might not, but my eyes do.

In the end I had a lovely date with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and we rang in the New Years together with tears, a few hiccups and a strong headache the next morning.

I would say overall one of the best dates I’ve had.

However, a new year comes with a new problem with my mother.   You have to hear it to believe it.

As I sit upright in bed and seriously contemplate calling in sick this morning I can hear Cheryl shuffle over to my door.  “Nat, phone’s for you.”  If it’s possible Cheryl actually sounds worse then I feel. 

I walk out of my bedroom wearing my peach fuzzy dressing-gown over my nightie, which I thank God I threw on as Ben is lounging on the sofa with his briefs bunched up his scrawny thighs watching last night’s Eastenders.  The phone is lying on the coffee table and my mother’s voice is booming out of the receiver, yelling at who I can only assume is the gardener. 

“No, I said move the Petunias over there! Hablos es English? El Petunias over ici!”

“Mum? Mum are you there?”

“Natalie? Yes, of course I’m here, where else would I be?”  I can hear shuffling and a thud in the background while Mum sighs.  “Natalie, I’m so glad I caught you.  I’m having a terrible ordeal with the gardener.  You know when Joan recommended him I didn’t think he couldn’t understand bloody English.  I mean don’t get me wrong he does fantastic work- you should see Joan’s roses.  And the price he charges is quite reasonable, I couldn’t get anyone domestic for it-”

“Mum.” I’ve learned from the past that if you don’t interrupt she will just go on forever. “I really can’t chat right now, I have to go and get ready for work or I’ll be late.  How about I ring you back tonight when I get home?”

“Oh, oh alright then.  If you’re busy, then not to worry dear.”  I can hear the disappointment in her voice.  “Just give me a ring back- you know, when you have time to spare.”

You know, I have always been a sucker for a guilt trip.

“Mum, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to you,” I say in a placating tone, “I just can’t be late for work again.”

“Oh God, they’re not thinking of sacking you are they?  And in this economy you’d be lucky to get a job checking bags at Asda.”

“No, they’re not thinking of sacking me,” I assure her. “I just don’t want to be late.”

“Oh thank goodness.  Yes, well don’t keep chatting away all morning with me then.  We have to prioritize.  In this economy-”

Honestly, if I have to hear one more thing about our bloody economy- especially since I know my mother gets her news about the “economy” from Geraldine her perm and setter at the parlour.

“Mum, I really have to run.  I’ll ring you tonight though- I love you.”

“Yes, yes, you too dear.” But I can tell my mother isn’t paying attention anymore. “Carlos!  Begonias over avec el arbol!”

I know I should relax and concentrate on my love life.  Trust me- it needs a lot of attention, but I can’t help but feel my mum may have a lawsuit on her hands shortly.  The image that keeps running through my head is her shouting and pointing with a pair of gardening shears in her hand.  You know, not that she would intentionally do anything, but, just incase-anyone out there a good lawyer?

*Please note if you are a handsome, successful, single lawyer I would love to hear from you.  Obviously for your professional opinion on the situation. 

   If we should happen to discuss it over a romantic candlelight dinner that would also be acceptable.

Click here to read more of Natalie’s adventures in Natalie’s Nook.


In Uncategorized on January 3, 2011 at 10:21 am

Continuing from my post on December 7, 2010 regarding the hero’s OUTER JOURNEY, I am going to share with you Michael Hauge’s six-stage breakdown of plot structure.  In keeping with my “elephant eating” approach to novel writing, these bite-sized chunks are easy to digest:

Michael’s focus is on Screenplay Structure and, while a novel is rather more elastic, I have found his structure guidelines very helpful. 

Stage 1 – The Setup

This is where you introduce your hero, drawing the reader in to the setting of his or her everyday life.  Right at the outset, establish identification with your hero by engendering our sympathy or anxiety for him, making him likeable, funny or powerful.

Turning Point 1 – The Opportunity

Between stage 1 and 2, your hero should be presented with an opportunity which creates in him or her a visible desire.  This is not the overall goal which governs your story, but rather something which sets your hero off on a new course of action and moves the hero into a new situation.

Stage 2 – The New Situation

The hero is now getting used to the new environment, he or she is perhaps feeling excited about this situation, may feel optimistic that any challenges faced here will be easily overcome, and is unaware of what really awaits.

Turning Point 2 – Change of Plans

At this point in the plot your hero is suddenly faced with something (a decision, a challenge, etc.) which will transform his or her original desire into a visible goal with a specific end point.  This is where your hero’s outer motivation becomes clear and your story is now in full swing.

Stage 3 – Progress

The hero appears to be succeeding in his or her plan, there are obstacles and conflict, but he or she is managing these and overcoming them.  Things seem to be working.

Turning Point 3 – The Point of No Return

Roughly halfway through your plot, things become much tougher than your hero anticipated and he or she is confronted with significant obstacles to achieving the visible goal.  At this point your hero must cross the point of no return and commit 100% to achieving his or her goal.  This is where she takes irrevocable steps and is now closer to the end point of the outer journey than the starting point.

Stage 4 – Complications and Higher Stakes

Your hero is struggling with difficult challenges and the conflict continues to magnify, he doesn’t give up though, because the stakes are higher and he can’t go back, remember.  It seems that success is within his grasp.

Turning Point 4 – The Major Setback

Now something terrible happens and it seems that all is lost.  But your hero is fully committed and he or she really has no choice, things are critical, so he has to make one, last, desperate effort to win, escape, stop something or retrieve something (remember Michael’s basic categories of visible goals).

Stage 5 – The Final Push

The conflict at this stage is huge, your hero is risking everything against tremendous odds, the pace and conflict is intense as your hero battles the obstacles to achieve his or her visible goal.

Turning Point 5 – The Climax

At this point the hero faces the biggest hurdle of all and her destiny is in her own hands and the outer motivation or visible goal is resolved.   Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean the visible goal is attained, the hero could fail, but there is resolution of the goal one way or another.

Stage 6 – The Aftermath

Now, in the final stage, you reveal your hero’s new life following the completion of his or her journey.  How has she changed, what has she learned, how has the completion of her journey impacted the lives of the other characters?  This is not a very long stage, but is necessary to provide the reader with a sense of closure.

One final tip from the guru (Michael Hauge that is, not meJ): Michael says that most problems with progressing your story can be solved by going back to your hero’s OUTER GOAL or MOTIVATION.  Look at this carefully and determine what makes it impossible for him or her to achieve this.  That should help you figure out where to take your story next.

Next week I’ll give you some of Michael’s insights into the hero’s INNER JOURNEY.

Happy writing


Click here to read Linda’s post on the Hero’s Outer Journey.

Writer’s Inspiration

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Look here every Saturday for a weekly writing exercise that will get you warmed up and inspired to return to your novel. Who knows, it could turn out to be your next short story or even the next chapter of your novel! When you complete the exercise, share it with us by posting it on our blog as a comment.
This week’s exercise:
Write a dictionary-style definition for the word ECDYSIAST (pronounced eckDIZeeAST).
Use ECDYSIAST with your fictitious definition in a story. Your first line is:
It all started when…

This week’s inspiration is taken from the book, The Write Brain Workbook, by Bonnie Neubauer.