Monday, March 23, 2015

Book review of "Writing For Story" by Jon Franklin

Writing For Story:
Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner 1986

Post by B.J. Campbell 

Casually in search of more history on the topic, I Googled “how to write non-fiction.”  Got 159,000,000 hits.  Just for fun, I asked Google for the same info on “fiction.”  Over 28,000,000 came up.

My profound conclusion:  Lots of people have wondered about these two topics.

If you are always able to sit down at your desktop and create a compelling fiction or non-fiction story that satisfies readers, leaving no one confused or disappointed, good for you! Perhaps you are a natural storyteller among writers…or you have read and applied Jon Franklin’s book, Writing for Story.

According to Franklin, what readers most want is story, which is to say---structure. So he dedicates much of his book to the elements of a story.  Whether we write non-fiction or fiction stories, or would write one or the other if we could figure out the structure, his book is for us.  Anyone who is serious about the craft of writing stories should read, enjoy and apply this book.

Franklin, pioneer in creative nonfiction, demonstrates generally basic, yet amazing, insights into the craft of writing.  He delivers those so easily, I wonder why I didn’t think of them myself.  As his innovative approach, he looks at old familiar issues for writers from a new perspective.  Franklin offers two of his own short stories for scrutiny, the book’s Chapters 2 & 3, responsible for two of his Pulitzer-Prizes.  In the rest of the book, he analyzes these two stories.  The result is a clear, manageable, step-by-step guide to constructing a convincing story in either fiction or non-fiction.

Franklin studied repeated patterns in successful stories.  Naturally, his own writing style came to rely on, and handily illustrates, how writers can apply most structural concepts of his plan to both genres—fiction and non-fiction.  He wants to help us make our plots work in either genre.  Then, with his engaging approach, he shares the secrets of writing non-fiction in a fiction style.

As one sample of his approach, he bases writing on his theory that all dramatic stories have three parts, components or focuses.  He defines and examines them with key words, like this.

·       Complication:  simply any problem encountered by any human being.  It is an event that triggers a situation that complicates our lives.
·       Development:  the character’s actions as he attempts to resolve the complication.  This tends to be long but easiest to write.
·       Resolution:  simply any change in the character or situation that resolves the complication.

It is from this structural beginning that Franklin launches his plan for a story-development technique that applies to both fiction and non-fiction writing.  Subsequent chapters give writers further insight to apply his practical theory, and literary techniques of complication/resolution, flashback, foreshadowing and pace.

Writing for Story is well worth more than one read.  I recommend this significant book to any author who wants an effective delivery plan for a good non-fiction or fiction story.  If writers practice what Franklin advises, some day, eventually, our writing will not only improve...our writing will shine.



Notes from Reviewer, BJ Campbell:
All of the stories listed below are from my book, Close Calls: The True Tales of Cougar Bob.  At www.cougarbob.com   under the section heading “About the book,” these non-fiction stories are posted.  You are invited to read Franklin’s book first, then to read the Campbell stories below and decide which stories employ Franklin’s method.

          “Going Bananas”
          “Learning to Count”
          “Running”
          “Hound Music”


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Proper English? I Don’t Think So

Noah Webster wrote a dictionary published in 1826 incorporating the words Americans used. Notice I wrote “Americans” not “English speaking people.” During the Revolutionary War, he felt strongly that the geographical area of what soon became the United Sates of America make a total break from England. No more aristocratic rule, no taxation without representation, no ruling from afar, no more class system and no more aristocratically separating speech. In working toward this goal, Webster expounded every chance he had that there should be a new country with its own rules and its own language. 

Webster went about changing British language to American language. He heard new words being used like moccasin, skunk, tipi and raccoon. He saw that many words in British English did not make sense so why spell them that way? Gaol was pronounced ja-il so why not spell it similarly? We say theater but it was spelled theatre, center but spelled it centre and judgment not judgement. Besides wanting to change language to be more logical, he wanted to unify a group of states that spoke different dialects and native languages brought from Europe that made it hard to understand one another. Standardization of language and writing brought unification that was needed to build a united country after the Revolutionary War.

What happened to our language in 239 years? English speakers today are governed by Strunk and White and other rulers of grammar and punctuation. They and grammarian gurus dictated what
proper English was well into the 20th century. All other uses of the language are wrong, wrong, wrong I say to you! But, the Internet has changed what English is and how it is used. Yes, we have to have some cohesive standards so we can understand other English speakers and writers but why do we say we cannot end a sentence with a proposition or split an infinitive? The (ironic) definition of a preposition is "A word you mustn't end a sentence with". Winston Churchill once used a preposition at the end of a sentence and was called to task for it. “Do you know who you are dealing with?” As the story goes, Churchill replied, "That's the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put."

Why are we so worried about the correctness of our writing and speaking when so many rules no longer make sense? It now sounds awkward to say “Firstly, I want to…” versus “First I want to…, second ….” Either way is correct in today’s American language but to grammaticians “Firstly” is formal usage.  Creeping into common use is “they” as a single pronoun. “Somebody left their umbrella on the table.” To some “She will blame you and I” sounds correct so why not use it? 

A rule written in the 1800’s states writers are supposed to learn not to split infinitives. Infinitives are “to” followed by a verb. “To diligently follow “ or “To graphically illustrate his point” are examples of split infinitives. “To boldly go where no man has gone before” sounds perfectly normal. “She urged me to casually walk up and to quietly introduce myself ” sounds normal. It sets in the reader’s mind the picture more quickly than “She urged me to walk up casually and introduce myself quietly.” The newest Merriam-Webster dictionary, a many times updated version of Noah Webster’s first dictionary, lists hundreds of words and phrases that do not meet the stuffy rules of a former era of grammar but instead reflect how Americans speak, write and spell today.

If it is general use, then that is what the preferred language is. Pedantic rules insistently enforced are becoming old fashioned. In society today, people want quick, fast, immediate. The emphasis is on being understood rather than being grammatically correct. Of course, in some writing such as formal, literary, scientific papers and for your dissertation, following the rules is wise. In a lot of other venues, to go boldly where no man has gone sounds good and it is accepted by your reader.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Do you want to own a bookstore?

Being an avid reader, my dream job has long been to own an independent bookstore. That was until I met the real owner of a new indie bookstore. I decided it was not the life of sipping tea and reading all the New York Times best sellers that I envisioned. In May 2014, Melissa Demotte opened The Well~Read Moose, a delightful, well-stocked bookstore in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Running a successful small bookstore has many more facets than appear on the surface and not all of them have readily available answers. The following questions and answers are paraphrased but the recall is true.
ROVA: What is your background?
            Melissa has a background in business administration and is a CPA. She earned her living as an accountant before taking on the exciting task of running her own bookstore. She has had a long passion for books, travel and the outdoors.
ROVA: How did you learn what to do?
            There is a company that runs weeklong seminars on how to own and operate a bookstore. She took this class and was able to brainstorm with the class teachers afterwards to discuss specific questions and answers. The name of the store, The Well~Read Moose, came about over a cup of coffee during this meeting. Ms Demotte has a love of anything to do with moose. Her store logo is a sophisticated, whimsical moose with Harry Potter glasses reading a book and sipping a hot beverage. The seminar teachers and Melissa worked on the size of a potential bookstore as well as how to find the right location, how to determine inventory levels and how to handle consignment programs.
ROVA: What is the hardest part of owning a bookstore?
            Inventory management. What to buy, why to buy it, what not to purchase, how long to keep a book on the shelf and anticipating consumers' needs. Her accounting background means that she is organized and likes things to be in logical order. This doesn’t stop her from moving around the books in her store especially during this time of a high learning curve. She wants the store to look curated and fresh. She and her employees are continually straightening, dusting and changing “face outs.” ( Face outs are books that are displayed with their front covers showing versus the books' spines.) Ms Demotte feels it would be much more difficult to manage a bookstore without a business-accounting background
ROVA: What is the best part of this venture?
            Talking to the customers. Learning what customers like, what they are looking for and having conversations about favorite books or the latest best sellers. Part of this philosophy is that the employees build a relationship with frequent customers so they are able to recommend books that the patrons will buy. The customers learn to trust what the employees are telling them.
ROVA: What tools are available for bookstore owners to select books?
             Memberships in The American Booksellers Association and its regional arm the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association are the biggest aids in determining what is happening in the industry, what are hit sellers, and trends and predictions. The PNBA covers the states of Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Montana. She spends a lot of time reading these web sites gleaning trends, spying potential problems and sharing the foibles and pleasures of running an independent bookstore. She reads galleys and constantly does searches using, among other web sites, Edelweiss, an e-list she subscribes to managed by smaller publishers. Paper catalogs are also a part of her options. Ms Demotte says there is an overwhelming amount of data available and she is learning which sites help her the most. Her goal in her work has always been to be as efficient as possible.
ROVA: How do you target readers?
            The staff found that a book display of books made into movies was instantly popular. The Well~Read Moose is half a block from a large theater complex and people wander in before or after a movie or a restaurant meal. The genre of Young Adults is always changing and there is a need for good literature here. She feels a big challenge is to figure out what the next popular fad will be.
ROVA: Are there genres you do not stock?
            Mass romance, pornography, obscure subjects and used books.
ROVA: Can you send back books that do not sell?
            Yes. She buys eight per cent of the inventory through wholesalers. However, the return numbers and prices are not as good and she has to pay the freight and restocking charges. With bigger publishers, there is no restocking fee. She is finding about 18% of orders are returned which is average for the size of the inventory. The Well~Read Moose sells two to three hardcover books to every twenty paperbacks.           
ROVA: What strategies have worked so far and what surprises did you encounter?
            A billboard close to downtown drew a lot of tourists as well as advertising the new bookstore to locals. Displays of books that are specific to this area and activities available locally have sold well. Seasonal books displayed prominently are also on the learning curve. She said she missed the garden books season because she opened the store in May but when I was in the store in late February, I spotted a large cabinet holding regional books and general gardening books that were selling well. Children’s books are flying off the shelves. Parents will buy a hard cover book as a present and then buy some paperbacks for themselves as well.
ROVA: What drove the idea to serve coffees, teas, wines, muffins plus hand made candy?
           Melissa determined she wanted an atmosphere of comfort and the ability to linger if the shoppers chose. She overruled staff objections and allows people to walk around the store holding a cup of hot liquid or a glass of wine. There has been only one minor spill and it resulted in a purchase.
            There are several book clubs that meet at the store and she gives a 20% discount to members of those book clubs when they purchase any of the listed books. A frequent purchase discount is also available.A successful idea was to offer a children' story time where adults could enjoy a glass of wine and browse while their children were listening.


Melissa Demotte generously shared her insight during a long session of questions and conversation. She is a delight to talk to and willing to share her love and knowledge of books. Her deep understanding of the business world coupled with an enthusiastic, well-trained staff almost guarantees The Well~Read Moose will be operating in Coeur d’Alene for years to come.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why you should take a second look at that headline

Mary Jane found in local cornfield
Back in the early 70s a headline in our local newspaper made me the talk of the campus.  I walked into Sociology 101 to find the front page taped to the front wall. In three-inch high letters, the headline read, “Mary Jane found in local cornfield," ... it took me awhile to live that down.

While this headline was awkward for me personally, other headlines make you think twice ... and chuckle every now and then.

Double Meanings From Around the World:
 Headlines that have a double meaning often sneak past editors. Some of these are hard to believe:
  • Governor Swears in Legislature 
  • March Planned For Next August 
  • Patient At Death's Door--Doctors Pull Him Through 
  • Stadium Air Conditioning Fails--Fans Protest 
  • Queen Mary Having Bottom Scraped 
  • Prostitutes Appeal to Pope 
  • Child's Stool Great for Use in Garden 
  • Idaho Group Organizes to Help Service Widows 
  • 20-Year Friendship Ends at Altar
Opposite meaning:
Lawyers Give Poor Free Legal Advice

A little too clever:
Lingerie Shipment Hijacked--Thief Gives Police The Slip

Stating the obvious:

  • If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last A While
  • Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
  • Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told
  • Man is Fatally Slain
  • Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Hershey Bars Protest
  • County Officials to Talk Rubbish
  • Farmer Bill Dies in House
  • Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case 

  • Just plain funny:
    • Blind Woman Gets New Kidney from Dad She Hasn't Seen in Years
    • Stud Tires Out
    • Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
    • Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead
    • Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
    • Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
    • Miners Refuse to Work after Death
    • Stolen Painting Found by Tree
    • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
    • Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge
    • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
    • Prosecutor Releases Probe into Undersheriff
    • Some Pieces of Rock Hudson Sold at Auction
    • Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request Training
    • Many Antiques Seen at D.A.R. Meeting
    Do you have a favorite headline mishap you remember?







    Monday, March 9, 2015

    5 Tips to follow if you want to write a killer headline

    Photo courtesy of Bizzebee.com
    There is an art to writing headlines and titles for the articles and stories you write.  In the newspaper and magazine world, it is an editor’s job to come up with the perfect words that will draw readers to your article.  In the online world, that job falls to the writer; and the more you know about writing headlines, the better your chances to entice readers into reading your words.

    WordStream: Online Advertising Made Easy offers a ton of great advice for writing outstanding headlines on their blog of July 17, 2014: 19 Headline Writing Tips for More Clickable, Shareable Blog Posts.  A few of their tips are shared below, and I urge you to check out all 19 tips on their blog.

    19 Headline Writing tips
    for More Clickable, Shareable Blog Posts
    It’s easy to let headlines take the back seat in your writing process. Headlines can wind up as a quick afterthought, but really should be treated with much more consideration. In fact, your headline is arguably more important than the article itself. After all, who cares how great your blog post is if no one even reads it?

    Out of all the folks who read your headline, only 20% will read the article copy. Whether it’s for email subject lines, blog posts, ebooks, or webinars, you need a powerful, sexy headline to make readers swoon.

    Modern online article headlines are tricky – they need to be SEO (Search Engine Optimization) keyword friendly, but also should be unique and creative. The end result needs to be super clickable, irresistible headlines.

    If you’re like me, your eyeballs encounter nearly a hundred headlines before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee. What makes you read one story over another? It’s all about the headline – that magical string of words that allures and excites.

    1. Numbers, digits, & lists
    Starting your headline with a number helps the headline stand out. Just as the human eye is drawn to contrasting colors, we’re also naturally drawn to the juxtaposition of digits resting beside text. A list also gives readers a clearer idea of what to expect in your post, as well as promising a quick, scan-friendly read.

    Some great list words to get you started:
    • Reasons
    • Ways
    • Tips
    • Tricks
    • Secrets
    • Ideas
    • Techniques
    • Strategies
    • Facts
    • Methods
    • Statistics

    2. Educate the Masses
    People often search online to educate themselves or learn more about a particular concept. They want to learn how to build a fire pit, where to see an off-Broadway musical, how to eat an apple core (hey, I don’t know, people are wacky!)

    Many successful headlines use the “how to” concept with some extra embellishment. Starting all your articles with “how to…” gets really boring really quickly, so think of creative ways to present a “how to” educational article, for example….

    • 3 Best Methods for Peeling a Mango
    • 6 Strategies for Deterring Burglars
    • Build Your Own Firepit: A Beginner’s Guide
    • Teaching Your Dog to Fetch: Canine Training 101

    Hot headline writing keywords like “101” and “Complete/Beginners Guide” are great to include in educational posts. Using words like these reassures readers that your article will be in layman terms that they can understand, marketed towards beginners. 

    3. Remember the Five Ws
    In grammar school you probably remember learning the 5 Ws:
    • Who
    • What
    • When
    • Where
    • Why
    These engaging, interrogative words are used to gather information. By using them in your headlines, you articulate to readers the kind of information you intend to provide.

    4. Address Readers in 2nd Person
    While writing prose in 2nd person is infamously awkward, it’s the perfect form for headline writing, grabbing the attention of readers by calling them out.
    • You Think You Know Game of Thrones? Take Our Quiz and Find Out!
    • 3 Ice Cream Recipes You’ll Drool Over This Summer
    • 5 Emergency Tools You Should Never Leave Home Without
    5. Use Images to Complement Headlines
    Headlines are a big deal, and in many cases on the web, they are the one and only way to introduce your article to the world. However, many social sites like Facebook, Instagram, Pintetrest, and, more recently, Twitter, make it easy to add images alongside your link headlines. This is awesome news because images are insanely powerful and can do a lot to boost the success of your headline.


    As Buffer notes, you can’t just use any old image to compliment your headline. The image you should provide a strong visual clue to the topic of the article.

    Wednesday, March 4, 2015

    D.I.Y.



    April L. Hamilton's, ‟The Indie Author Guide”

    "The Indie Author Guide" by April L. Hamilton was published in 2010. This is a guide for do-it-yourself authors who are considering or already publishing their own books. April has crammed a lot of information into about 300 pages and while it's already 4 years old in a fast changing industry, there's still plenty of relevant information. The author is an experienced writer and supporter of the indie author crowd. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of Independent Authors. You can look up more about the author at www.AprilHamilton.com or Publetariat.com.

    One look at the title, written entirely in lower case, gives the idea that this book was written by a do-it-your-self-er but it's well organized and comprehensive in coverage. Quick to read with a double column format and interspersed with headings and subheadings, it includes an ample mix of images which make the book easy to scan if you're looking for specific guidance. The material is so well organized and specified that you may not need a highlighter in hand when reading it, although if your prone to dog-earring pages, you're likely to create an abundance of them in this little volume.

    Chapters deal with an assortment of things from organizing your computer to branding and author platforms. There's also information on publishing optionsformattingediting and revision.

    Inside, you'll find a section on book covers and e-book formats as well as chapters on promotion and for those interested, a chapter on transitioning to traditional publishing.

    Bonus material in the back of the book includes not one but two appendixes. The first contains sample worksheets for calculating costs, royalties, break-even points and record keeping as well as worksheets to track contact or membership information, info on author websites and events. The author gives a web-link to download the worksheets online at indieauthorguide.com (look for the "Worksheets" tab). The worksheets download as a single PDF.

    The second appendix is an HTML primer in the familiar two-column layout, organized with sub-heads and a number of images so readers can see what the author is talking about. Material includes a brief explanation of how web pages work and goes on to touch on syntax, formatting and dealing with non-breaking spaces. It ends with a section on best practices and a summary table of commonly used tags. It's worth noting that being four years old, the information on HTML may not conform to the latest HTML5 conventions but it still gives the reader a basic understanding of what is sometimes considered scary computer stuff.

    Whether you're considering indie publishing or just looking for information on building a platform, this book will serve as a well rounded starter resource, keeping in mind the mercurial nature of the industry. It's not an exhaustive, technical manual but it's pretty darn meaty.

    Ironically the book is published by Writer's Digest. Cover price is listed at $19.99 but check Amazon for better prices, my new copy was purchased for $14.99

    Monday, March 2, 2015


    My Muse is Full of Beans


    I envy writers whose faithful muse hangs on their ear like a blue tooth; a steady connection to the mystical universe of creativity. Spontaneous and confident, these writers view the world through prose colored glasses and everything they write goes viral.

    But not all writers have such a potent and vigorous ally welded to their shoulder. Some of us would give our left adverb if it would get our muse to show up and cuss.

    I usually picture a muse as a girl of some sort. An ethereal, wispy, slightly opaque vision, floating around the universe like a mischievous nymph. She lights on her writer's shoulder and leaning close, she cups one hand to the side of her mouth to whisper. In this fleeting moment, she conveys an idea that will swell into glorious prose or poetry as soon as the ink touches the page. Lucky writer.

    I haven't actually seen my muse but I gotta tell you, I think mine is a guy. He never whispers the rudiments of literary glory into my ear. He never thrills me with hints of exotic adventure. He never swoons me with the sultry whisper of a romance. Not my muse. When he visits, I get beans. Hard, dry, ten-year-shelf-life beans that must first be soaked in the tears of frustration. And he brings only a few at a time as if they're some kind of treasure. Like they'll grow into some kind of bean stalk that will lead to a golden goose. He's not a proper muse. I don't think this is his normal line of work. He must have lost his regular job in the economic downturn. He's got an attitude a lot like my old boss: “Always keep them hungry.” What a rotten muse.

    Sometimes, I wish I could post a want ad for a new muse. Mine would go like this:

    Wanted: Experienced muse. Must be prolific, punctual and a good speaker. Grammar should be polished but edgy, no profanity please. Muses with a sense of humor will be given priority. Position is live-in, but may consider an on-call for the right muse. Knowledge of social media a plus. Employer is allergic to legumes. Muses full of beans need not apply.

    If it were that simple, perhaps my name would be perking up the covers of several best sellers instead of hanging around down on the mailing label of a writer's magazine.

    But for now, I've got beans. And beans are hard to work with. It's still hard to tell if they're going to grow into something or end up a bunch of hot air. But in the absence of a proper muse, I keep trying to grow them. Some days they sprout and some days they stink. That's how it is with beans. That's how it is with my muse.

     I hope your muse is different. I hope you have a shimmery, wispy muse with an ear fetish that visits you daily and lingers on your shoulder for hours but if not, remember this:

    Even a preoccupied, cantankerous old wraith that shows up once a month in a moth eaten sweater carrying a bottle of two buck to dump a train load of purple prose on you is better than a displaced elitist who's full of beans.

    What's your muse like?