Category Archives: writing

Spider Therapy

Here’s a quick and fun story I wrote this morning in one sitting. For those who follow me on social, you’ll know I have a tumultuous relationship with spiders in my house. I thought it would fun to sit down with a spider and hash out our differences. If I were the spider, what would I say? From this, perhaps there is a way for me to show more empathy toward my unwanted housemates.

“I understand you two are having a bit of tension in your relationship,” the therapist said.

“Oh no, we don’t have a relationship,” Gary was quick to point out.

“Here we go,” the spider scoffed.

“Very well then,” the therapist said, sitting back in a large armchair, looking at the two as they sat across from each other, forced to make eye contact. “Gary, why don’t we start with you? What’s on your mind?”

“Yes, what’s on your mind, Gary?” the spider said with pent up frustration. “Let’s hash it out once and for all.Tell the good doctor here what’s your problem with me.”

“What’s my problem with you? Where do I start?” Gary said, letting out a deep breath. “You climb up walls and show up places where I’m not expecting you.”

“So?”

“So? You’re the only bug that does that. I hate it.”

“First of all, don’t call me a bug, okay. That’s rude. Second, I’m not the only insect that does that. Silverfish, ants, centipedes, cockroaches and other kinds of beetles, moths… and in some parts of the world, they even have geckos that climb on walls.”

“We’re not talking about geckos and beetles or moths, we’re talking about you. You’re fast—”

“Okay, so you’re getting upset at me because I’m fast? I didn’t know being fast was a crime.”

“You interrupted me, I wasn’t finished making my point,” Gary said.

“Go on, Gary,” the therapist said.

“Thank you. Like I was saying, you’re fast, you stick to stuff, you dangle from webs. You make webs that I walk into and have to clean up. You scare the cat—”

“We were playing.”

“He’s not playing with you. He doesn’t even like you, bro!”

“Whatever.”

“You know what, this is another one of your problems, you don’t listen. You’re stubborn. You’re never willing to admit when you’re wrong or when something is your fault.”

“Are you?” the spider retorted.

“Plenty of times.”

“Please.”

“Alright, let’s not get too heated,” the therapist interjected. “Why don’t you address each of these issues one by one?”

“The way I look at it,” the spider began, “is that I have to do all those things to survive, okay? You would do the same thing if you were me. How about you show a little empathy.”

“Empathy? What are you even talking about?” Gary said with a furrowed brow.

“The webs — they help me catch food and get around. A fish needs to swim, a squirrel’s gotta get a nut, right? Well, I need my web. Without it I die. But, that’s really not your concern is it… if I die?”

“You bite!”

“I have to.”

“Silverfish don’t bite.”

“Come on, bro, are you really comparing me to silverfish?”

“You brought up silverfish earlier!”

“They’re simpletons, half-wit scavengers, living in walls and only coming out at night like cowards. I bite to survive. In case you haven’t noticed, you are a million times bigger than me. What am I supposed to do when you come at me, bro? You don’t think I have things to do later? You don’t think I have places to be? You don’t think I have others who care about me? I have a family — a family that loves me and wants me to come home safely with some dinner, which by the way is doing you a favour.”

“A favour?”

“You know how many more creepy crawlies would be in your house, in your bed, buzzing around laying eggs and multiplying. You should thank me.”

“HA!”

“Look, at the end of the day, I’m exhausted and I just want to return home, see my wife and my kids, kick my feet up and relax. If I bite you, it’s because you were trying to take me from my family. Just because you grew up without a father, doesn’t mean my kids have to.”

“What did you just say?”

“All, I’m saying is that it was self-defence.”

“Ah, so it was self-defence?”

“Exactly.”

“What about the time you bit me in my sleep? I didn’t do anything to you.”

“Okay, here he goes again,” the spider said in an exaggerated tone. “He keeps talking about the one time I bit him in his sleep. First of all, that was a lifetime ago.”

“It was last week.”

“Some of us don’t live as long as you.”

“Whatever.”

“No, don’t whatever, you brought it up, so let’s talk about it. Was I in your bed? Yes, but your bed takes up most of the room. I needed to get home and that was the quickest way. You rolled over and I may have acted in haste, I’m willing to admit that, and I bit. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m proud of what I did, and I already apologized to you. Besides, I didn’t even inject you with any venom.”

“Like that matters.”

“It does matter. It shows intent. I didn’t want to see you get hurt, I just wanted you to roll over and get your leg off me. I think that should be noted. If I was trying to hurt you, you would know. In fact, you weren’t even aware that I bit you until like two days after. I was in the bathroom when you noticed the bite mark. You thought it was a pimple.”

“No I didn’t, I knew right away you bit me and I was pissed. You’re lucky I didn’t find you, I would have squashed you.”

“Hence why I have to hide. You see now what I have to deal with, doc?” the spider looked over at the therapist, trying to win sympathy.

“It’s my house! You’re in my house, I have every right,” Gary shouted.

“Your house? Really? I’m glad you brought this up, let’s talk about it. You humans are so entitled, aren’t you? My family has been in this neighbourbood before it even was a neighbourhood. There were trees, and bushes, and endless food. Then one day you humans come along and put up some walls around my spot and suddenly it becomes your home. What about me? Where is my family supposed to live?”

“Outside where you belong.”

“Ouch, I’ll pretend you didn’t just say that.”

“What was offensive about that?”

“You basically just gave me the ‘go back where you came from’ speech. I thought you were above that. Guess I was wrong.”

“No I didn’t.”

“You did and I have a witness. Doc, back me up?”

“Okay guys, stop,” the therapist said. “What does each of you hope to come from this?”

“Respect. Plain and simple,” the spider said. “I want to be able to live comfortably, spend time with my family, pursue my ambitions, nurture my talents.”

“Pff, talents,” Gary scoffed under his breath.

“I’m sorry, do you have something you’d like to say to me?” the spider shot back. “You ever try making a web? I assure you it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s a skill like any other that requires a great deal of patience and focus, but I wouldn’t expect you to know anything about that.”

“You see what he just did? No respect. How can you demand respect when you don’t give it?”

“He’s right, you know?” the therapist said. “I’m not taking anyone’s side here, but from what I have seen today, you both have shown a lack of respect toward each other.”

“Better put some ‘spect on my name,” the spider said.

“Okay, spider.”

“You know how derogatory it is to call me ‘the spider’. I have a name… it’s Gary.”

“Wait, I thought you were Gary,” the therapist said, pointing to the human.

“My name is Gary, he copied me.”

“I didn’t copy no one, my mother gave me this name.”

“Oh, your mother, the one who lived rent free in my basement for three years. I wonder where she came up with that name?”

“Yes, my mother, the one that you sucked up in your vacuum. Had a really great Christmas by myself that year. Thanks a lot.”

“Better I do the sucking that she.”

“Yo, what did you say about my mother?”

“Gentlemen, please. Gary, what do you hope to come from this meeting?”

“I want that spider out of my house. I don’t want to constantly be checking over my shoulder, being paranoid that he’s hiding under my covers, on my pillowcase, crawling on me at night. I don’t want to be reaching for something and he thinking I’m trying to kill him and biting me again.”

“That was one time.”

“You’re missing the point!”

“Okay, everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down. There’s far too much hostility between you today and I don’t feel we will resolve anything in this one session. May I propose we put a pin in our conversation and reconvene the same time next week?”

“Fine.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Alright then. In the meantime, try not to kill each other.”

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My Favourite Quotes on Writing


There are a million quotes about writing on the internet so coming up with a short list was hard. Quotes are great because they put beliefs into words or capture it in a perfect way. They can also be inspirational to hear successful authors talk about the craft and shed light about their process.

In preparation of this post, I read several hundred quotes as well as used some that I’ve heard over the years to bring you my top 10 favourite quotes about writing.


“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”
— C. J. Cherryh


“Sorry I wrote such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”

— Blaise Pascal


“The first draft of anything is shit.”

— Ernest Hemingway


“If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die.”

— Mik Everett


“What no wife of a writer can ever understand, no matter if she lives with him for twenty years, is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.

— Burton Rascoe


“Use one exclamation point per year.”

— Professor Irvine


“Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”

— Henry David Thoreau


“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

— Thomas Jefferson


“Don’t get married to any piece of writing.”

— unknown


“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

— Barbara Kingsolver


“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

— E. L. Doctorow


“Good is the enemy of great. Don’t write to just finish something. Take your time to make it great.”

— Jim Collins


“I write to discover what I know.”

— Flannery O’Connor


“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work.”

— Stephen King

Additional Resources

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The Passenger Theory of Storytelling

Have you ever heard of the Passenger Theory of Storytelling? I suspect you haven’t because, frankly, I made it up.

I’ve hinted at this theory in other chapters, namely How to Overcome Consumption Obstruction and What is Good Writing.

The theory is basically this — when you put a book into the world with the hopes of someone picking it up and reading it, you are essentially asking them to get in your mind and take a journey with you.

For some, they are willing passengers and will gladly follow you where ever you take them. Others, need a little more information. Their time is valuable. They need to know what journeys you’ve taken in the past, where are you, where are you going to take them, how are you getting there, why should they care, finally, let’s go now before I change my mind. And keep in mind, at any point, they can bail from the trip.

To keep them happy passengers, you need to develop your plot in a engaging way, have a clear direction in mind, have a logical structure so they can follow along, and have a little sense of danger, a little urgency if you will to keep them from passing out.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about structure. In the Passenger Theory of Storytelling, there are only three stops along the way in any book – the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Respect the readers time and attention span. Don’t ramble, don’t take them off-roading, don’t get stuck in the mud, don’t take them on any crazy detours, and definitely don’t go backward. Stay on track.

You need a central theme or plot line that unfolds in a logical manner that they can follow. Having subplots and multiple character arches that intersect is actually an advanced technique. It would be like being a white belt in karate and then wanted to fight in the UFC. Most likely, it’s not going to go well for you. So why attempt this in writing if you don’t have the skills to pull it off?

I could probably spend another 30 minutes diving deeper into this metaphor, but the last reference to the Passenger Theory I will say is have checkpoints along the way, at least this is what I do. A checkpoint is a recap at certain points throughout the story to remind the reader where they are and where you’re taking them. It may be a character saying something like, “It was crazy how we snuck into the museum, stole this painting. Do you really think we can sell it to your friend?” This is a checkpoint statement. It allows the reader to re-calibrate with the story if they are lost.

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I get that you may meander a bit, tell a bit of backstory in a flashback, or whatever. I’m just saying, be mindful not to overdo it. I think sometimes writers tend to meander with their thoughts and take the reader on tangents that aren’t relevant to the plot.

Instead, be discipline enough to cut out unnecessary detours. Get on with the story. Take us on a journey, and show us a good time. That’s all we ask of you. If you can do that, maybe I’ll take another ride with you. Maybe I’ll tell a friend. Maybe I’ll even give you a good rating.

Additional Resources

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What is Good Writing?

Do you ever wonder what makes writing good or bad? You often hear that, so and so is a good writer, or this was terribly written, but what does that even mean?

As a storyteller, our job is to be an effective communicator of ideas. In another chapter, I talk about Ideas being Currency and to treat them with respect.

Your readers cannot read your mind, they only know what you tell them, and what they infer from your writing. You need to tell a compelling story that engages them, moves them, challenges them, makes them laugh, makes them escape their reality, and potentially reshape the way they think about the world. We need to enter the minds of our readers, paint a thousand pictures, write music, create worlds that come to life in the minds…and all we have is our words.

This is no easy task.

So, the better we are with our words, the better storytellers we can become.

The tricky thing about good writing is that it looks very simple, creating unreal expectations of the skill. In fact, to get to a skill level where your writing looks clean, simple, and error free takes many years of practice.

Writing well is more than having proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar, it’s about:

  1. Being clear
  2. Being concise
  3. Having purpose

Clarity — use plain language and write in an informative way that doesn’t confuse the reader. Avoid complicated or obscure words (you’re not trying to impress people with your vocabulary), provide proper context so readers are grounded within the scene. For example, having two random people talking – we have no idea who they are, where they are, what relevance this has, and so on. Word choice has a lot to do with clarity. Some words are ambiguous, vague, or leave too much open to interpretation, or they are colloquial and don’t connote the same meaning in other cultures or regions.

Having your ideas connected and organized in a logical manner makes a big difference. One sentence should naturally flow into the next, and one paragraph should flow into the next. Having non-sequitur sentences and paragraphs will confuse readers and make you appear amateurish.

Conciseness — being concise is actually very difficult and takes a lot of practice. There’s a really great quote from Blaise Pascal where he was writing a letter to his sister and he said, “I’m sorry to have written you such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one. The obvious implication here is that writing concisely is more of a challenge. Novice writers tend to use more words to explain something that an advanced writer could explain using fewer words. More words tend to overwhelm the reader and add to their confusion.

When looking at a paragraph, ask yourself the following:

  • Does this provide value to the story or reader?
  • If I remove this part (word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, section) will any important details of the plot be lost?
  • How can I say this with fewer words?

You may find that you can omit redundant sentences, choose more appropriate words, or scrap entire parts altogether.

Sometimes you need to make tough choices with your writing. For instance, if you spent a month writing a chapter and it’s the best thing you’ve ever written, but it doesn’t fit the story, then it has to go. You must be willing to let go of your beloved text. If you don’t want to delete it, cut and paste it in a separate file, but leave it out of the story. Despite what some authors think, not every word they write is important.

Purpose — another mistake novice writers often make is they meander with their thoughts. Good writing is focused, it has direction, it has purpose. Every word and paragraph is there for a reason to drive toward a particular point.

A common examples that comes up often are:

  • Off topic or irrelevant information
  • Redundant information
  • Fluff that adds no value other than to pad your word count
    • Meaningless scenes or conversations

All these things just convolute the purpose of the story, which is to communicate ideas effectively.

It’s not easy to write a full-length novel and it may be tempting to pad your story with fluff to make up the difference. Unfortunately, this will not make people excited to read your work. Writing that has no clear direction or lacks purpose will turn readers off.

This especially comes up a lot with dialogue, where two or more characters engage in a conversation for the sake of having a conversation.

Ask yourself, “Is this conversation necessary?” or “Does it drive the plot further?” If the answer is no in both cases, you should probably revise it or take it out completely.

Additional Resources

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Writing Hack: Embodying the Character

In this chapter, I want to talk about a technique I use to flesh out characters and make their dialogue a little easier to write. I call in embodying the character.

Basically, what I do is I write extensive backstories about each of my main characters such as:

  • Where do they live
  • Where are they from
  • How did they grow up
  • What are their motivations and desires
  • Were there any formative events that happened in their lives that shaped them
  • and so on

I may never show anybody these notes, and it may never be brought up in the story — these are for me to understand who these characters are — much like an actor might do a similar exercise to figure out who their character is.

Once I have a reasonably good grasp on my characters, I can begin to create a mental image and embodiment of the character. I then jump back and forth and figure out what they will say, how they will say it, how they behave and act in certain situations, and so on.

Additional Resources

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10 Tips for Writing Proper Dialogue

A lot can be said about dialogue, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just ten tips that come to mind when I write dialogue.

Tip 1

Nothing frustrates me more as a reader than reading pointless dialogue, and I’ll say pointless scenes as well. If there’s a scene in your book where two people are talking and it doesn’t

a.) develop the character in some meaningful way;

b.) reveal some information relevant to the plot

I strongly suggest revising it, or omitting it altogether.

Authors often use dialogue as filler because it takes up a lot of page space and it’s relatively easier to write. Please avoid this temptation in your stories.

Tip 2

An important lesson about writing dialogue is that it is a bit different than how people actually speak. In normal speech, people stumble over their words, we say uh and um, we misspeak, we go off on tangents. However, in writing, this doesn’t really work. Unless it’s integral to the plot or the character such as a stutter when someone is lying, nervous, or guilty. I would strongly encourage you not to overdo these common speaking mannerisms in everyday speech.

Tip 3

In normal speech, we also greet people with hello, how are you doing, I’m fine thanks, and you? However, in writing, you can omit these. The reader will assume they greeted each other, or you can just write, “After exchanging pleasantries, Bill said, …” and then just get to the relevant part of the conversation.

This is also true for outros as well. In writing, you can just end dialogue abruptly and the reader will assume they gave each other a proper goodbye.

Tip 4

I’ve said this in another one of my writing tips, but I’ll include it here as again. Use Ctrl H to find any dialogue that starts with ‘Well’, and replace at least 90% of them. I see this a lot, even in my own writing. For whatever reason, it’s tempting to start a piece of dialogue with the word ‘Well’. I’m not even aware of how many times I do this until I use the find and replace function.

Tip 5

You want your dialogue to sound natural, right? When you write an email or an essay, you generally write every out long form such as: “Yes, there will be plenty of people at the party so feel free to join us. You are more than welcome to bring a guest. It is my last day in town.”

However, if we were speaking, we’d likely say something like, “Yeah, of course I want you to come to my party. It’s my last day in town so you should definitely come. And feel free to bring someone. What’s up with that girl you were seeing? Bring her.”

Notice in the second example, I use slang ‘Yeah’ instead of ‘Yes’, I conjugate phrases like ‘it is’ to ‘it’s’ and I make it more personal. So instead of ‘bring a guest’ it’s ‘What’s up with that girl you were seeing? Bring her.”

Tip 6 

Read dialogue aloud. You can either read it yourself, or have someone read it to you. I use a program called Final Draft to read me my dialogue. I’m sure other programs do it as well.

Tip 7

Embody the character. Write character profiles so you know exactly how each of your characters speak, what motivates them, what they would say and how they would respond, and so on. I like to become the character almost like an actor might try to get inside the head of a character they’re playing. I do the same thing and it makes writing dialogue feel a lot more natural.

Tip 8

The next trick I use, which I’ve mentioned in other posts, is to use placeholder conversation. If I don’t know exactly what each person will say, but I know what message I’m trying to convey, I will use placeholder text. I will write something like, “TK make plans with friend. TK friend is reluctant…” I use TK because I can then use ‘Ctrl H’ to come back later and write the dialogue.

Tip 9

I should say that this next piece of advice, like most of my advice on this channel, is coming from a place of someone who has been writing fiction for over ten years and reading fiction for even longer. So I’m by no means an expert, perhaps you you’re your own opinions. It is my opinion, that opening a chapter, especially the first chapter, is usually not a good method. I’ve read in other writing tip books not to do this so I don’t feel as though I’m the only one who doesn’t like this. When you open a story with dialogue, it can be very difficult for the read to ground themselves.

In another video I talk about going from big to small, which is showing a series of descending establishing shots to set context such as city > building > scene. In other words, set the table before you serve the food. So when you open with dialogue, the reader is scrambling to find footing. They need to know:

  • What year is it?
  • What country are they in?
  • What does the world look like?
  • Who’s talking?
  • What’s the relevance of this dialogue?
  • Why should I care?

Chapters other than chapter one can open with dialogue, but I would do so sparingly. Again, that’s just my opinion.

Tip 10

Lastly, I will say this about dialogue — when you close a chapter with dialogue, you often don’t need the response from the other person. It can be much more powerful if you leave the statement hanging. For instance, if you have a scene where one person says to the other, “I am your father”, that is a ‘dun-dun-dun’ moment that will be spoiled if you have the other person say, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Another example would be, “We’ll meet back here tomorrow to rob the old lady.” Just close the chapter there, you don’t need the other person saying, “Okay” or “See you later.”

Additional Resources

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How Sentence Length can Improve your Storytelling

There’s a reason why writing is considered an art form. Especially writing fiction. Reading fiction requires a lot more from the reader than non-fiction. Readers not only have to think about what’s being said, but they also have to create mental images, juggle characters, plots and subplots, come up with voices, anticipate what’s to come, and so on.

Reading fiction is a skill, unlike reading a blog or piece of non-fiction, which tends to be more linear — you just follow along as someone tells you something. Reading fiction is often much harder to read because it requires more mental effort.

Why am I telling you this?

This is a roundabout way for me to tell you that one of your jobs as a fiction writer is to remove some of that pain. I talk at length about this in another post called How to Overcome Consumption Obstruction.

Your sentences should flow effortlessly. You can achieve this in many ways such as using the right vocabulary, reduce the number of large paragraphs and chapters, have logical order of your ideas, and so on.

There’s a really great quote from Gary Provost, from his book 100 Ways to Improve your Writing, which states:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

As you can see, having no variation in your sentence length can read a bit stiff or robotic, and in fact, it can be distracting. I think to be proficient at writing and storytelling, you want to create an immersive experience with as few distractions as possible. Your words are almost like musical score under-toning the mental picture the reader creates in their mind. If you have jarring sentence or language that lack elegance and flow, it’ll take the reader out of the story, they’ll put your book down, and likely never read anything by you ever again.

Play around with different sentences lengths. You can combine two sentences, cut out unnecessary words from another, have a really short sentence consisting of only one word. If done right, it can really elevate your storytelling and captivate the reader’s attention. It’s almost like a spell. Readers may not even be aware of what you’re doing, and they couldn’t necessarily explain why they like your writing, but they do. They find themselves falling deeper and deeper into your world like a trance.

You can also play around with paragraph lengths. This is something that I do. I tend to want to break up large paragraphs just so that it’s easier to read and creates more white space on the page. Again, like sentences, a short paragraph consisting of only one word or a few words can have a lot of impact if done right and not overdone.

So there it is, today’s writing lessons. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Additional Resources

 

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