5 Thou Shalt Nots of the Writing Craft

Writing Mirror – June Perkins

Once we have beaten writer’s block, found our stories, and drafted them, then comes the intense process of editing.

This is where we put ourselves to the mirror as writers and start to notice the blemishes and strong sides of our writing.

Over time there are rules that we learn from editors, teachers, readers, bloggers and other writers that make that looking glass moment bearable.

These vary from ‘Thou Shalt not’ to ‘our writing will be stronger if we do …..’

Then there are specific formulas to poems, novels, genres within novels that gradually  become set in stone, and then are challenged by those who don’t want to follow rules but make new ones.  Before we break rules it is good to understand them, and then work out why it is we might depart from them or reinvent them.

Writing Looking Glass – June Perkins

Thou Shalt Nots’ tend to stay around for longer and follow each new rule.  The main ones I have heard continuously are:

1 – Don’tTell, show, (I like to think I am a camera with this one, and it works well with sensory language and seeing a character through their actions and not just their words.’

2- Don’t add useless words, make every word count (there are huge lists of these, very, really, but I’ve come across lists saying avoid saw and sit and find new words)

3- Don’t use words that are overused and mundane, be surprising (this list might include words like saw and sit and it changes as the popularity of words changes, this one is a tricky one, but lots of editors are aware of this list, which can remain secret unless you read a lot and see that truly some of the best writers avoid these words like the plague).

4- Don’t use overly predictable plots, provide twist (there are set plots that are frequently used, polyplots, and yet the challenge is to put something extra in and play with the expected).  Some of the most annoying plots might be ‘then I woke up and it was all a dream’  and the romantic plot where the two main protaganists hate each other at the beginning and end up together)

5- Don’t sink into cliche, surprise (again it’s about the unexpected and surprising situation or image, and so love and rose becomes something to avoid it is so over done, but also there are so many crime stories it is becoming harder and harder to avoid cliches, they then start making the characters the unique thing to avoid cliche even whilst working in the set plot (more on this in future posts).  One thing I love with the use of cliche though is humour and a twist, here it begin with the cliche but ends in a different direction.)

With writing that surprises, the twist is never seen,  the plot is keenly anticipated and theorised yet tricky, the image is unique, every word is doing work and there isn’t any  padding and love is raised above the expression of desire and roses;  yet even as we learn and follow these ‘thou shalt not’ rules there has to be something in the story that people recognise and follow that has its origins in the past.

One of the surprises we learnt about when I was studying modern fiction was the rise of the ‘unreliable narrator,’  where the character narrating a story is lying to you, and yet you don’t realise it until almost the end of the story.  At the time this began being employed as a technique it was surprising, and yet now it can be cliched as people took up the trend and employed it in their writing.

Memoir has always fascinated me because we have come to expect the author to be as reliable as possible, even as they write from a slanted perspective, and yet there are now some highly publicised memoirs, that have turned out to be mostly fictions.  If only they had been written as fictions their authors would not be being sued by publishing companies, but the catch is that these authors have sought the authenticity mantle as a selling point for their work and cheated the public reading it for that element.

The challenge for  contemporary writers, is perhaps how can we keep it surprising when so many have come before us and set up patterns.  This then is the role of the imagination and pushing ourselves with our craft.

Who are the contemporary writers who most impress you with how they do any of the above?

Creatavist – a place for digital stories


Time for Saturday writing sagas to begin again.

I have discovered the joys of building on creatavist.

You can check out my creations there by visiting Gumbootspearlz Creatavist.

Now keen to start putting sound and media into the next creations.

I have been working hard to understand ebook formatting options and ereaders and applications.

Finally after two weeks of solid googling, I feel I’m making some progress.

Conclusion, we need a universal language of ebooking, that also allows for fixed page format that can cope with complex graphics, but also encourages people to innovate and extend their online storytelling and embrace scrolling text and addition of video that is integrated into the reading experience.

The possibilities are exciting, and I was born to experiment with stories. How about you?

Saturday writing sagas is about to begin explorations of the digital publishing art forms and applications.

Stay tuned!

Being Visible, being understood, Sally A. Knornschild


Sally A Knornschild is one of the Soul food bloggers I met  on the Serpentine Road, through Heather Blakey’s creative story worlds maze  and writing trigger blogs.

She was a great support when I first set out into the world of blogging and then more creative fantastical writing.  It was  interesting to hear how she feels about writing.

 1) What is easiest about writing for you?

This is the hardest question! I have a great love of reading and words put together in sentences that invoke emotional, visual, or inspirational responses. Reading and writing have always sustained me during difficult times and gave me something to do during those vast times of being alone which I preferred.

 2) What is the most difficult?

The most difficult part of writing is just doing it. Writing is so much a part of me that I sometimes feel guilty making it a priority in my life. Instead I tend to think of my writing as a treat to be done as a reward for doing tasks I dislike such as housework. In addition, when I write and share my words then don’t receive response, I feel discouraged like I’m not good enough or failed to move someone enough for them to want to comment. Writing would be easier for me if my deepest fear of not being good enough weren’t tied to it.

3) What career wish would you like most to come true?

I love my creativity and am now both an author and artist which has been my dream since childhood. However, I would love to be able to push myself to doing more of it and putting myself out there to possibly earn money from it.

4) Why do you write?

My parent’s divorce when I was nine affected me greatly. Since people didn’t talk to their children about their feelings back in the early 1960s, I took to writing in my first diary around the age of 10 or 11. That turned into writing letters to my father when he joined the Merchant Marines and went to sea shortly thereafter.

I had so much to write about; so much I was learning about life and intuition that I couldn’t talk about but found ways to write about.

I love writing about real life magic, how pieces of life fit together in a puzzle. I love to write about feelings and places and I love to write poetry. I have written some fiction which I find incredibly fun and the same is true for comedy. I also write because, for some reason, I have found that speaking words can trigger reaction and cause people to think I am crazy, bizarre, etc. But when people read the written word they tend to have a different response. Perhaps it is because they can reread those words and take time to respond rather than react…except on facebook where they often react without reading or rereading!


5)  Have you met any inspiring writers and who were they?

I have met so many writers, aspiring and professional. Christopher Allen Poe, Edgar’s great-great nephew, is my most recent friend.  His enthusiasm for the written word and the paranormal (one of my most favorite subjects) inspires me. Zoe Keithly, Write Yourself Well has shown me the benefits of using writing as a tool for health. And you, my dear June, for you have endless energy, motivation, and boundless creativity. In fact I have been inspired by all of my friends from the SS Vulcania and Hestia’s Hearth…but you more than any!

[That’s so sweet Sally]

6) What makes you keep writing?

I keep writing because it helps me to heal, it satisfies me, and because my friends keep encouraging me to write. The challenge I am overcoming is the effects of being unacknowledged and invisible both in childhood and adulthood. Writing helps me to feel better about myself.

Writing then reading what I have written shows me how amazing and intelligent I really am for even I cannot deny my own words. I truly know the power of words and have seen my own words bring people to tears or move them into gales of laughter. I write because I hope that all people come to understand the power of words and what an incredible affect and opportunity for so many changes words can bring to the world.


You can find Sally at her blog: http://writersheart.wordpress.com/ 

Keeping the Magic Alive: Writing Sagas Guest Dimity Powell

Dimity Powell 2010 (1)It was a real pleasure to catch up with Dimity Powell, who I meet with online every Monday for the Monday Writing Sprint Group.  This was the first time we’ve had a phone conversation.  Her passion and commitment to writing came through like a shining light in the conversation. She even, without me asking, generously gave some writing mentoring, which I was delighted to receive.  It is wonderful to receive feedback from a person and writer you respect.

Dimity was born in Townsville to views of Magnetic Island.  She spent her schooling years in Adelaide, South Australia, learning to hate locust plagues and to love home grown apricots.  She quickly developed a preference for books to people (and locusts) which led to a devotion to writing. 

She aspired to be a Vet because she found animals as compelling and quiet as books but chose a career in Hospitality instead.

Her paying occupations have included being Director of Sales and Marketing in the Leisure, Boating and Hospitality Industries. She now writes for considerably less but enjoys it more. She loves eating cake with ice-cream, sailing on the beam and writing in her diary although combining all three makes her nauseous.

 Her work has appeared in school magazines, on line and in various anthologies. Her short stories and picture books have gained numerous writing for children awards. And her debut junior novel for children PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail?, filled the Christmas stockings of hundreds of young readers last year.


 1) What is easiest about writing for you?

There is nothing easy about writing.  It’s easy to have the desire to do it but this doesn’t stop it being challenging. I adore writing for kids and this makes it easy to want to do.  Even though the stories still must be believable, writing for kids allows a greater sense of freedom of ideas, random word play, and magic. I love that I can feel like a kid again and act and believe as they do – so much more fun than being a grown up at times. My debut junior novel Who Stole Santa’s Mail?  is an example of that where I keep that sense of magic alive.

 2) What is the most difficult?

One of the biggest challenges writing for kids is the word count.  You need to be succinct, and can’t always tell the full story, but need to keep the readers hooked and keep them going.  Being succinct is not my natural forte. You only get one chance to grab the reading attention of kids of any age group. It’s a real challenge to write something pithy, exciting, gutsy and meaningful that will hook them and keep them with you. Telling the full story in the required word count is tricky at times too. Finding time to get all this right is the hardest thing of all for me most weeks!

The picture book realm is fascinating.  I find picture books an elixir. They are great for adult writing workshops too and have been included in Queensland Curriculum for youth readers. In 32 words you can be taken on the most interesting journey.  There is something magic about a well written picture book. I don’t think we should ever stop reading them however old we are.

A challenge that many writing have, and it’s mine too, is finding the time to get it right. If I could shut myself away in a room and do it I’d achieve it a lot quicker, but I have a young child and have to juggle my time with family and writing.

3) What career wish would you like most to come true?

My goal is not for fame, or money, not even for publications (although they are great to have).  I have a marketing background and have no problem with promoting my work, but once I am happy with it.   For now I am going with traditional publishing.  I did self-publish one book when I was fifteen.

I would love one day for my work to be recognised as a worthy contribution to the genre, and for people to see clearly the passion, belief and desire that has gone into creating those books.  I’d like my books to sit alongside other amazing ones on children’s book shelves.

Martijnvandalen – Flickr Creative Commons

4) Why do you write?

As a young child I had an epiphany that you could learn anything from books.  This has always stuck by me and is one of the reasons I write – to give that same feeling to young readers.  I’d like kids to enjoy the magic of reading, and would be touched if even just one child remembered one of my stories from his or her childhood.

I write because I love to read. The desire and comfort of curling up with a good book is perhaps more intense than the need to create one of my own however much I enjoy the challenge, discipline and art behind the craft. I write for children because it’s fun and they are often so much smarter than adults. Words and stories shaped my world as a child.

(We discover  we share a love of Morris Gleitzman’s work)

5)  Have you met any inspiring writers and who were they?

I adore Morris Gleitzman’s work.  He often tackles contemporary issues so well.  Sometimes I have an idea, and there it is already in a newly released Morris Gleitzman book. I don’t know how he does it so fast.   I have never met him face-to-face.

I the last 7 or so years I’ve been very fortunate to come across numerous writers and illustrators from different genres and stages of their writing careers. Nearly every single one has been a fountain of hope, support, encouragement and enlightenment.

I have gained something from each encounter, some of which I have incorporated into my own work. Mostly I have been able to exult in the wonderful warmth of their friendship. This is something I am conscious of when meeting other (first time) writers too.

In grade four I sat at the feet of Colin Thiele, the writer of Storm Boy, and felt like I was listening to a rock star.  Many years later I met his daughter at a writing festival and had to let her know how much her father inspired me as a child – that was a very special and emotional moment for me.

I adore Narelle Oliver’s work and I meet with her quite often in Brisbane.  She’s a contemporary.   She inspires my love of picture books.

Another writer I enjoy is Peter Carnavas, a retired teacher from the Sunshine Coast.   He has a quirky comical writing style and his books often have an interesting story going on in the illustrations as well which contrasts with that of the written narrative of the story.  He, like Narelle Oliver, uses a technique called decalage. Decalage is where the text expresses or tells a different point of view from the illustrations. eg; Narelle Oliver’s use in Home where the towering pink cliffs are actually the skyscrapers in the drawings.

Oliver and Carnavas also use unreliable narrative; for instance Carnavas’s The Great Expedition, where the text and pictures don’t match up the story line leads us to believe one thing but the pictures are hinting at another.

Steven Michael King, has a quirky, comical, illustrative style which I enjoy.

The work of all these mentioned writers is very inspiring and resonates with me.

6) What makes you keep writing?

The kids.  I certainly don’t do it to move in children’s author circles although they are lovely people. I hope I can astound, entertain and even shape them in some way as was done for me as a child.

Sue Berton – Flickr Creative Commons and Ebook illustrator

7) What do you like the best about writing?

The hours, and that I can do this mostly from home and fit it around being a full time mother; my main job! I also like where it takes me from time to time; schools, libraries (to present and share) plus my childhood memories. It has allowed me to recall, relive, recount and enjoy all over again being a kid in many ways. I owe my child and my occupation much because of that.

Discover more of Dimity’s story and work at:



Making the most of the spoonfuls of health- Talitha Kalago author of LifeSphere

From Flickr Creative Commons Angus Veitch/SmokenMirrors

It is a great honour to welcome Talitha Kalago as a guest blogger to Writing Sagas.   Here’s her take on making the most of your health, and the sacrifices she makes to embrace a writing life.

I am chronically ill. So chronically ill, that on a bad week I can’t cook for myself, clean the house or do my own shopping. I take 33+ pills a day and there is no cure—there is barely even a treatment. At the very best, my doctors hope to make me comfortable.

I am 28.

So please understand that when I say ‘I have to make big sacrifices for my writing’, I am not talking about holidays or settling for a cheaper car. My dream is to be able to support myself with my writing. And by support myself I mean ‘buy a house/afford a mortgage and pay my bills’. It’s not a small dream by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it’s a fair one. I don’t want a boat or a holiday apartment, though a veggie patch would be nice.

Wanting to feel like you are paying your own way is a big deal when you can’t even microwave some soup.

A lot of chronic illness sufferers are familiar with ‘spoon theory’, an idea presented by Christine Miserandino (www.butyoudontlooksick.com) which is that healthy people have an unlimited number of spoons each day, but sick people have only a few.  Each task you perform each day, such as getting dressed or doing laundry, uses up a certain number. When you run out of spoons, you can’t do anything else that day—due to pain or exhaustion, depending on your illness.

Having a very limited number of spoons means that every day I have to make difficult choices about how to spend my time.

Do I want to do washing or write? Have a home cooked meal or edit a chapter? Going out with friends often tires me for days at a time, so even one outing a week would mean I never got to write. In order to work on my career, I am only social once a month or so.

However my literary success has been quite impressive, given the circumstances. It started with short stories and poems in anthologies, as most authors’ careers do. Then I signed an 8 book contract with Harlequin under a pen name. In May of 2013 I self published a YA novel and in the first month and a half over 2000 copies have been downloaded.

Lifesphere jpg small

I am currently working on both my Harlequin contract and the next book in my YA series. Cheques are coming in slowly and they are still small. However they are coming. And they are paying small things like phone bills.

I have a long way to go before I reach my goals and it will be more difficult for me than most people. However the hope that I can achieve it gets me out of bed each morning. It makes me excited to start the day. And writing brings me joy—it has always brought me joy, even before I had my first story published.

Often, that hope and happiness is much more valuable to me than having clean dishes or clean clothes. Some nights I go to bed hungry because I am too tired to heat something up, but I am still pleased because I managed to write two thousand words that morning.

If you want a creative career you have to make sacrifices, and they will HURT. However if a creative career is right for you, they will be worthwhile. You might go to bed hungry, but you’ll go to bed happy all the same.

Talitha Kalago


Born in 1985, Talitha Kalago lives on the beautiful Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She loves reading, video games, documentaries, horror movies and vegetable patches. She lives with an alarming collection of previously abandoned or unwanted animals that include dogs, cats, birds and snakes. She loves aquascaping and dedicates too much time to her numerous aquariums and aquatic invertebrates. You can visit her website here: http://www.traditionalevolution.com/

 Talitha’s first young adult novel Lifesphere Inc: Acquisition tells the story of Eli, a thirteen year old orphan living in an immense garbage tip that rings the city. He sells trash to survive, while on the Topside, citizens live in hedonistic luxury. Eli dreams of obtaining citizenship by becoming a handler; bonded with a bio-organic life form called a meka. On the Topside, handlers are celebrities, pitting their skills in televised meka battles. But new legislation will only allow those with citizenship to become handlers and Eli can’t raise the money to buy a meka before the law is passed. A grifter named Kalex offers Eli a trade: meka of his own, if he competes in an illegal fight to the death.

 You can find it FREE on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Lifesphere-INC-Acquisition-ebook/dp/B00CXGD8PS) and Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/318159).