May 30, 2012

Small changes, consistency, and big results

Guest Blogger: Terri Main
Photo by Kriss Szkurlatowski
I know many writers, myself included, often put ourselves down for small word counts at the end of a day. But those small numbers add up. Here are a few to think about.
  • 100 words a day = 36,500 words in a year. That's half a novel or 10 short stories for writing less than half a page a day (double spaced).
  • 200 words a day = 73,000 words in a year. That's a full novel or 20 short stories writing a little less than a page a day.
  • 250 words a day = 91,250 words in a year. Writing just one page a day gives you a novel and a novella or close to two novels or 30 short stories.
  • 500 words a day = 180,500 words in a year. That's close to three novels or 60 short stories or 6-7 novellas. That's two double spaced pages a day.
  • 750 words a day = 271,750 words in a year. That's about four novels or 90 short stories or 10 novellas writing three pages a day.
  • 1,000 words a day = 365,000 words in a year. That's 5-6 novels, 100 short stories or 12 novellas writing just four pages a day.

It doesn't take a lot of words per day, it just takes some consistency.

I knew a psychologist who had been a Navy commander. One day he showed me a map and marked New York City on one side and the west coast of England on the other.

"If I set course from New York to this place on the British Coast and change it by just one degree..." He paused and took out a protractor to measure off one degree and drew a line. "I end up in northern Africa. Small changes maintained over the long run make a huge difference."

The same goes for small increases in our writing output. Just because you can't write 2,000 words today doesn't mean you should forgo writing. Even a hundred words adds to your total.

Creative Calisthenics

Terri Main is the author of Creative Calisthenics: The Ultimate Workout for the Writers imagination. Visit her online:, or follow @terrimain on Twitter, where she gives daily "minidevotions" and periodic writing tips.

May 24, 2012

A beautiful fairy tale. Literally.

I Am Ocilla I Am Ocilla by Diane M. Graham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Diane Graham brings new life to an old genre, the fairy tale, with her vision of five kingdoms separated and oppressed by a cruel overlord. Her storyworld contains all the old favorites: dragons, fairies, talking animals, evil curses, and true love.

The first-person, present-tense voice takes some getting used to, but it totally works. Since Ocilla is an amnesiac, all she has at the outset is her "here and now." As the story progresses, she discovers her world and herself anew.

The story is an episodic quest, as Ocilla and her allies travel across the five kingdoms, breaking curses and preparing for the final showdown. It's all wrapped in lyrical, beautiful prose. Vivid sensory details put you right in the story.

Most of the story progresses through slow, lyrical periods of discovery alternating with moments of sheer terror. The first 80 or 90 percent of the story proceeds at a measured pace, but the ending comes in a rush -- almost too hurried, leaving some questions unanswered. But this is a quibble. Great story. Great characters. Happy ending. And it has what I've come to see as the essential element of great speculative fiction: a storyworld you'd like to go visit. Often.

View all my Goodreads reviews

May 18, 2012

You have to start somewhere

Fiction writers often tell this lie to one another: "Don't use words like started or began." I've even heard it referred to as "the start rule."

Photo by Robert Linder •
They don't realize they're lying, of course. But this not a rule. It's advice. The more accurate way to express it is to say, "If the character is going to 'start' doing something, make sure it's an activity that will continue awhile."

Not recommended:

Blayse started to take a bill from her wallet. "Can you change a twenty?"


Blayse pinched the bill in her wallet. "Can you change a twenty?"

The removal of a bill takes a second, so here "start" is inaccurate. She either takes it out or she doesn't. But some actions take longer. For example, here's an excerpt from my current work in progress:

Blayse started down the stairs. “Will you come to church with me?”

Slider followed. “Umm…no. Thanks."

“You went with Reuben and Marisol.”

“Marisol made me. You don’t think she wanted to leave me in her house alone, do you?”

“I think more likely she wanted to get you into the church.” She turned down the second-floor hallway and looked over her shoulder at him. “You liked the music.” What was she saying? She didn’t encourage people to attend worship for the music.

"Started" works there, letting the reader know the stair descending continues through the subsequent lines of dialog. If I blindly followed "the start rule," I'd have put "Blayse walked down the stairs," which would sound as if all of her subsequent dialog happened at the foot of the stairs.

Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to edit me. I have thick skin.

What "rules" have you heard that seemed too absolute or far-reaching?