Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo: The Graphics Fairy
Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends in the United States. We're thankful for you!

From the Writing North Idaho team

Monday, November 24, 2014

Murder Mystery Event: How It All Turned Out

The murder mystery event was a success! (For background, the previous post on this topic is here.).

Quick recap: As a fund-raiser for a local history museum, I wrote an audience-participation murder mystery set in our town in 1920. Along with a core group of actors who carried the story, each guest was assigned the role of a specific townsperson: a pharmacist, a car salesman, a schoolteacher, etc. Throughout the evening, actors and guests mingled and clues and red-herrings were shared. Guests could then vote by ballot for whoever they thought committed the murder. At the end of the evening a winner was drawn from all those who had chosen the true murderer.
Chautauqua Performer meets Suffragette

Here are some tips for doing something similar to promote interest in the history of your town:

*Start with your local historical society and/or public library to read about the history of your town and determine a time period/theme for your story. In our case, the 1920s were a time when a lot was going on, locally as well as nationally.

*Research, research, research. Go through local newspapers, archives, and histories of the period and make note of interesting things that happened. While your story will be partly (or even largely) fictional, sifting in as many true facts as you can helps your audience learn real history.

*Stick with a classic storyline and broadly-drawn characters: heroes, villains, allies, enemies, etc. Go for comedy and old-fashioned melodrama; this is not the time for nuanced subtlety, a depressing story, or incisive commentary on the human condition. People are coming to have fun.

Sheriff and Train Conductor
* When casting roles, let actors play to their strengths and interests as much as possible. Got a guy with an interest in trains? Cast him a conductor! Encourage participants to research their own characters and help them find the resources to do this.

*Have fun with the time period. Since Prohibition was in effect in 1920, we enjoyed calling the wine "punch." A surprising number of people were seen carrying hip flasks. We also urged people to support the Nineteenth Amendment giving women nationwide the right to vote (women in Idaho already enjoyed that privilege--another fun fact unearthed in our research).

*Be respectful of the people you portray and their descendents. Even if the true-life characters in your story lived a long time ago, observe the same standards regarding slander and libel that you'd observe with a living person today. When in doubt, assign an evil deed to a completely fictional character. At the end of our production, we had the actors give a short summary of which parts of their characters were true and which were made up for the story.

Here are a few other miscellaneous lessons I learned from the process:

* It takes a village, or rather an eager team of people willing to take charge of various aspects of a

"Intrepid Girl Reporter" and Sheriff
production of our size. Not only did we need the actors (who in turn rustled up their own props and costumes), but as with other fund-raisers, we needed a venue, food, decorations, music, silent auction, etc. In our case we put someone in charge of the drama/story/theatrical portion (me) and someone else in charge of everything else (the museum director, who did a bang-up job but was also mighty tired), and lots of willing volunteers. Next time, we'll let some of those volunteers take a larger management role.

Obviously a smaller mystery party held in a private home would need less coordination. But at an event on the scale of ours, one or two people could burn out trying to manage all the details.

* Grown-ups still love to play make-believe. I was impressed by how many guests really got into their roles. In spite of being given only a line or two about their character plus a few tips on 1920s culture, slang, and fashion, many guests played their parts with great enthusiasm, and seemed to have fun doing it.

* Guests had fun AND learned something. Not only were funds raised for the museum, but another goal was achieved as well--each guests left the party knowing more than they did before about the history of our area. Mission accomplished!

I hope this series on planning and writing an audience-participation mystery party has been interesting to you. If you have any questions about our event or the process followed to put it together, please post it in the comments.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How to Record Your Own Audiobook: Give the gift of your writing for Christmas

Last year a friend, Rebecca Cook, asked me to write a 30-page Christmas story that she could record as an audio book to be used as a Christmas gift.  I decided to give it a try and the result was a delightful gift we shared with friends and family. 

Rebecca narrated the story and her nieces and nephews gave voice to the elves who bravely faced the computer glitch that threatened Christmas. (They also created the artwork for the CD cover!)  I was lucky.  Because Rebecca records audiobooks professionally, she already owned the required recording software and the skill to edit our book.  

But being a professional isn’t a requirement with the technology available today.  If you are interested in recording an audiobook yourself, just write your story, find a free recording software program on the Internet and start recording.  Asking your friends, students, children, or grandchildren to record different characters makes the book even more special.  You can upload the book and send it to others or make a CD to wrap as a gift under the Christmas tree. 

I found some great advice for writers who want to record their own book on  The article, written by Guy McDowell, outlines the steps needed to make your own videobook.  Check it out at:

A couple of tips from Guy McDowell:
We’re going to talk about taking something that you’ve written or read, and putting it into sounds so that you can either listen to it yourself, or share it with others. We’re also going to do this on the cheap.

Tools Needed
Headphones (The over the ear kind are best.)
Microphone (Preferably one with either foam over it or a pop filter.)
Sound recording and editing software (I like Audacity, but there are other Audacity alternatives.)
Something written (After all, it starts as a book.)
Pencils, maybe even colored ones.

Let’s move forward assuming that you have your recording software installed and have gone through the rudimentary tutorial that probably accompanies it. You’ll probably find that in the menu under Help. Let’s also assume that you have plugged in your headphones and microphone, and tested them out a little bit.

We’re also going to assume that you have chosen, or maybe even written, the book that you want to record. I want to take a little bit here to talk about the book you’ve chosen. Let it be something that, if no one else ever heard your audio book, you’d listen to it at least once a year. Let it be something that, if your descendants should hear it one day, it says something about you and what you believe in. That’s my take on it anyway. Just a suggestion.

Prepping Your Material
Re-read the book, with your pencils nearby. You could use sticky notes or something else if you want. As you go through the book, make notes about how you want things to sound. Think of these as stage directions. I suggest using a coloured pencils so that you have a visual cue as to what you want to do or sound like when you read a certain part. You know, maybe red for anger or blue for sadness. I think you understand where I’m going with that.

Also take a few seconds to just record the ambient noise in the room that you’re recording in. Record the silence. It comes in handy later to fill in gaps or to lead into or out of speech, instead of maybe rustling papers, or coughing.

Check out the rest of Guy’s advice at:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Principles, Perfection, or Probation: Why grammatical purists should leave their red pens at home

Being a strict grammarian doesn’t always pay.  Are your corrections sometimes met with annoyance or even outright anger?  Have you been ostracized for your well-intended corrections?  If so, you may be overdoing it, and now might be the perfect time to step back and reconsider your need to remind others of their bad grammatical habits. 
You might be right, but as Dr. Phil says, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
 Need some proof being right isn’t always the best thing?  Consider the story about the two young men who undertook corrections that led to their arrest by officials who didn’t appreciate their dedication to grammatical perfection:

In August of 2008, two men were sentenced to probation, banned from national parks for a year, and fined over $3000 to repair a more than 60-year-old, hand-painted sign at Grand Canyon National Park. According to an AP article of August 8, 2008, the two twenty-somethings removed an unnecessary apostrophe and added a comma to the sign during a trip across the United States dedicated to wiping out errors on government and private signs.

The sign, located inside a rustic 1930s watchtower, was printed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the architect who designed the watchtower and other Grand Canyon-area landmarks.

Authorities learned of their identity from an Internet site one of them operated. The name of their site: Typo Eradication Advancement League, or TEAL. The problem is, what they considered correction, officials labeled vandalism ... and bragging about it landed them in big trouble.

Read the full article:

Still dedicated to being a member of the force? Considering relaxing your standards? Share a comment with us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers

The following blog post was written by writer and author Linda Formichelli. Carol Tice reprinted the article on her popular blog, MAKE A LIVING WRITING … practical help for hungry writers, where it garnered 153 fascinating comments.

In Tice’s words, “I consider the occasional mistake the price paid for generating as much content as I do. It happens…and it’s OK. And people who zoom in on that one mistake instead of using the info you’ve given them to go out and earn more have misplaced priorities. Thanks for this post, Linda!"

4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers
By Linda Formichelli

The other day I received this email in response to a marketing message I sent out to my subscription list:
Basic grammar forbids the use of double negatives, “…using the wrong set of skills for the wrong job”. An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.
(I so wanted to let this guy know that “the wrong skills for the wrong job” is hardly a double negative, and that some of the greatest writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? But I took my own advice and hit Delete.)

And here’s a small excerpt of a 400-word comment I got a few months ago pointing out two typos in a post:
This the very first article of yours that I have read and I already have an image of you built in my mind. A harried, hair all over the place woman who rushes around to get her work done! Not very flattering, is it.
I DO NOT think that of you, but I could and all because of two little mistakes in your writing! A person’s writing is a reflection of them, is it not? Given that you are teaching writers how to make a living from this wonderful craft, is it not prudent to be as perfect in your advise as possible?
I know other professional writers get all kinds of emails pointing out their typos and grammatical errors. So what’s the problem? People need to know when they’re wrong so they can improve, so why not be the one to let them know — right? Wrong. Here’s why you should retire your Grammar Police badge forever.

1. Grammar Police aren’t perfect

Did you notice the mistakes in these two Grammar Police messages I received? In the first one, he put the period outside of the quote marks. (And I know he’s American, so he has no excuse.) In the second, he wrote “advise” for “advice.” (And there were many more mistakes in the rest of the 400 words he posted.

People in glass houses and all that.

If you want to criticize someone else’s writing, you better make damn sure yours is absolutely perfect. And who wants that kind of stress?

2. Grammar Police waste time

The time and energy you spend policing other people’s grammar is better spent elsewhere— like, say, writing.

I just had to look up the guy who unsubscribed from my Morning Motivations emails because of a perceived double negative, and discovered that he has a book on Amazon. A book with a flabby three-star average rating (out of five stars). And reviews calling the book “boring.”

With all the time he spent getting PO’d about my grammar, writing and sending me an email, and unsubscribing from my list, he could have improved his own writing by reading a writing blog, reading chapter of a book on the writing craft, or editi ng some of his own work.

I guarantee you will never see, say, Stephen King shooting off an email to a writer admonishing her for a typo. He’s too busy, you know, writing bestsellers.

3. Grammar Police have bad attitudes

I love it when people write to me and say, “You may not have noticed this, but I wanted to let you know you have a misspelled word in the title of your post.” That is constructive criticism and that writer doesn’t earn the moniker “Grammar Police.”

I think the term “Grammar Police” refers specifically to people who berate you for your grammar errors — all out of proportion to the severity of said errors. Those who tell you your writing won’t be taken seriously with typos, or who paint a picture of you as a frazzled writer who can’t cope with life.

If that’s the attitude you display to other writers, you’re going to have a hard time networking and making friends in the writing community. And we all know how important contacts are in this industry, right?

4. Grammar Police have trouble writing

People who are sticklers for grammar and who blow up over typos tend to be perfectionists who never get their writing out to the world because they’re too concerned with making it perfect — which it will never be.

When you see a writer who is ├╝ber prolific, you’ll find that they make the occasional error. That’s because they don’t get hung up on getting it perfect — they get hung up on getting it done.

Also, show me someone who gets hyper about grammar and I’ll show you someone whose writing is probably stilted, businesslike, and boring. I mean, “An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously”? Snooooze.

Good writers know how and when to bend — and break — the rules. For example, sometimes purposely breaking a grammar rule adds emphasis, or makes a piece of writing more conversational and reader-friendly.

Okay — time to hang up your Grammar Police uniform for good, and instead spend your time writing, writing, writing.

Linda Formichelli has written for over 130 magazines, is the co-author of The Renegade Writer and blogs about writing at The Renegade Writer. Her new book is Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race and Step Into a Career You’ll Love.

MJH: I know I'm occasionally guilty of being a judgmental grammarian and often find myself agonizing over my own writing mistakes. Linda's post and the reader comments lifted a little of that guilt from me. I hope you’ll feel the same after you read the post and then head on over to MAKE A LIVING WRITING to check out some of the comments at the address below:

Be sure to leave a comment for us if you've had a run in with the grammar police or are considering hanging up your badge ! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Need a Wife

We are pleased to offer a guest post by Kelly Sullivan

I need a wife. But I am one. In there lies a predicament.  I don’t want a modern wife, a liberated one with her own goals … like me. I want the other kind, like the ones from the fifties who freshen up before you arrive home, mix you a cocktail, clean the house, make dinner – and manage all of the small business details of your artistic career. 
OK, I really just want one who will manage all of the small business details of my artistic career.
Striving to be a better painter takes continual ‘work’ if I can call it that. It takes time. And the better you get, the more you want to put out there so that it is seen, and it sells, and it grows. Unless you are ‘kept’, you need to feed your pigment habit, as well as your family. This forces either economic success, or an alternative income. If those are my options, well... there is no option.
I’m fortunate. I stumbled into a nice career of finger painting (believe it or not). I've managed to create a income as an artist, though my tactics were far from traditional. My success depended as much on my ability to produce a proposal as it did the art I created on site. The balance of business and art were equally weighted, no doubt about it. As the years move on, I’ve become more and more dedicated to classical art, and the study of it.  All I’ve ever wanted was to be an artist, surrounded by peers, making a difference in the world.  My vision has become more focused, and my dedication and passion for it has not wavered.
But all the tenacity in the world doesn’t change the fact that if art is to be your business, there is business to be done. There is as much going on behind the easel as there is in front of it: web sites, blogs, shows, frames, marketing, client contact, press releases, finance and taxes.  It is almost too much for one creative mind to absorb, let alone accomplish. Complicating the issue is that the more time I spend in front of my easel, the less time I want to spend at my desk. But it seems that their demands for attention coincide. One without the other is only half the recipe, and your cake will flop – unless of course you have a good wife. Then perhaps it will show up well frosted. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath

The greatest dialogue in plays, films, or books, manages to impart that which is said and that which has been left unsaid. The elephant in the room, as it were, will keep everyone guessing. A literal definition of subtext describes a message which is not stated directly, but can be inferred. It pertains to the hidden, less obvious meaning perhaps archly delivered by some of our greatest actors.
How is it done? Isn't dialogue hard enough without adding this to the mix? The answer is yes.
Studying the book entitled, Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath, by Linda Seger I have gained some insight as to how a writer can manage to achieve this. If the audience is let in on a secret, there will be much that can be read into the simplest of statements. A daughter may pretend to like the suitor her father picked out for her, but if we know that she secretly loves someone else, there will be a subtext to all she says. If a mother only wants what is best for her son, but does not want a daughter-in-law who is above her in social standing, she may seem to be welcoming this newcomer, but we will read into her attempts to be friendly. In some cases, such as the world of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the whole of Denmark can be slightly rotten. If the road to power is suspect, the dialogue will be full of subtext. Obviously, Shakespeare was a master at this skill. He would even have a character walk downstage and let the audience in on a few secrets. A sudden windfall, an unlikely suitor, a change of leadership, or even a new invention, can put all known truths under a new microscope. Perhaps everyone is trying to make an adjustment, but no one wants to. There you will see subtext.
A character at odds with the culture about which the audience is familiar will provide many a laugh as the poor fellow bumbles along, unaware of his missteps. Subtext is an essential tool in the comedian's toolkit. In a tragedy, the very elements left unsaid, can be the ones propelling everyone to their doom.
While thinking about this topic, my thoughts lead me straight to a much- loved play, namely, The Importance of Being Ernest. Oscar Wilde states it flat out in Act 1, Scene 1. Two characters, Algernon and Jack, have a discussion while waiting for guests to arrive for tea. Discussing names Jack says, 

"Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country."


"I have always suspected you of being a confirmed Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it now."


"Bunburyist? What do you mean Bunburyist?"


"I'll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable expression as soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in the country."

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious and modern literature a complete impossibility."

By the time the guests arrive, we have learned that both Bunbury and the Jack/ Ernest situation, are used as an excuse. When in town Ernest must leave at once as his brother Jack is in a pickle. When in the country, it is Ernest who calls him away, thereby providing the perfect excuse to escape social functions to which he is less than enthusiastic. Bunbury provides a similar ruse. Through the remaining scenes of this immortal play, all references to these characters are loaded with subtext.
Characters sometimes do not know themselves. Their most basic drives and instincts may be covered up by social convention, or self-delusion. The stage may be full of actors whose roles are at cross purposes. Therein lies the subtext.