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Joseph Campbell said to follow your bliss. My bliss is making up stories and experiencing them as if I’m inside the character’s head. (Sometimes I hear their voices, but they shut up once I put them on paper.)

At one point, however, writing became as excruciating as pulling teeth and jamming them back in.

A little background:

I always believed that in order to write professionally you needed to outline. So I did an outline for a novel that I always wanted to write. I had everything completed. I had a scene list, a timeline and a character sheet.

I was prepared.

But when the time came to write, I choked.

For some reason I couldn’t write. I had been enthusiastic when I was creating the outline, but that enthusiasm didn’t translate over to actually writing the story.

I went into writing depression for months. I got out of the funk when I read that Stephen King, Terry Pratchett and, to some degree, George RR Martin were discovery writers. For those who don’t know, discovery writers don’t do outlines. They’d jump in the story without an outline to buoy them.

Writing without an outline? Sounded crazy. And scary. But at that time, I had nothing to lose, so I experimented. I started small, wrote a short story without an outline.

Tell you what, it was fun.

I felt like a kid again, that kid who tapped on his daddy’s typewriter, writing stories, conceiving of worlds and scenarios that delighted me and me alone. Bliss. Oh childhood bliss!

After that, I learned I was a discovery writer . . . to some degree. You see, I still outline. I enjoy outlining actually, mapping out how the story unfolds in those ugly bullet-points. But here’s the kicker: I outline only after the first draft.

It is my process. It is my bliss. Some are discovery writers. Some are outliners. Some are just maniacs who type gold.

Campbell said to follow your bliss; for us writers, it’s find your process.

Everyone has their own way of writing a story. For me, I’m slowly discovering it although I’m not sure I have it pat down. Take a gander of my trainwreck of a process:
  • 1st Draft
    • Write the damn story
    • Keep a free writing file to keep track of thought process
    • Outline as you go. Use the beats format below. (VERB-ING, Etc.)
  • 2nd Draft
    • Phase 1: Read through, note taking and commentary
      • Work on a print out for this
    • Phase 2: Create Proposal Outline for 2nd Draft
      • Don’t fill in the Action/Reaction Beats. If there’s Action/Reaction Beats that needs to appear, make note of it, but don’t fill it all.
    • Phase 3: Write the 2nd draft with an Active Outline as a guide
      • Similar to “outline as you go,” fill in the Action/Reaction Beats on the outline
  • 3rd Draft
    • Phase 1: Silent read and revise as you go.
      • Do 10 pages at a time, then rest
    • Phase 2: Read out loud and revise as you go.
      • Work on the computer using a pacer
      • Do 4 pages at a time, then rest
    • Phase 3: Read out loud, and apply final edits, polish and touches.
      • Work on a print-out of the manuscript
So how do you find your process? Well, think back on how you crafted your novel or short story. Go through the process in your head and write the steps down. You can outline it or whatever. It’s your process. Do what you want.

Break them down in drafts, like the one I have above. Next step is to label the phases for each drafts. Phases are actions or to-dos or special rituals, like summoning Cthulhu, within each draft. With my process above, you can see the phases I go through on the second and third draft. Use that as a template, then fill out your own process.

You hear about how artist steal. Well, my fellow artist, here you can steal my writing process. (But why?) Your brain might be repulsed by it, and to that I say, “good.” My brain was repulsed when I outlined my story. Oh, here’s a secret: the writing process above is stolen from multiple writers. It is literally a Frankenstein of writing processes.

But why write it down? The very act of writing it down makes it tangible. You can see areas where you can improve, innovate and, more importantly, experiment. If I hadn’t experimented on writing without an outline, then I wouldn’t have finally finished my first novel. And having it written down is like capturing your trade-secret as a writer.

Does that mean you have to follow your process every time you write a story? Of course not. Like I mentioned earlier: improve, innovate and experiment.


follow your bliss; find your process.
I have an idea for a rough outline that’s tailored for discovery writers. I’m no expert (and not a published author yet) so this is a system devised by a budding author.

I thought of this rough outline based on advice, how-tos, interviews and lectures from different authors. This also borrows concepts from “Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne and “Take off Your Pants” by Libbi Hawker.

A bit of background on myself. I am finishing the 3rd draft of my novel which began as a short story, which mutated into a novel. The 1st draft was written by the seat of my pants. I didn’t have an outline nor did I have any guides to where I was going. I just wrote and wrote until I reached the ending.

I liked my story, but 80% of it needed to be rewritten. Although time is never wasted when you’re having fun, I still feel I could have saved time for myself.

An outline was off the table. I had used outlines before, and I don’t like it. Pages upon pages of bullet points felt like a chore rather than a journey. So I looked for other solutions, a compromise between a pantser and a plotter.

“The Story Grid” had a concept called “Foolscap Method.” You can search it up and see for yourself. Basically, it is a one-sheet that delineates your three acts, and in each act, you list five essential scenes that ends with a bang. I grew interested with this concept, but the details it required was daunting and felt like outlining. What I liked about it, however, was its restriction of keeping it on one page.

The next one was Libbi Hawker’s quick outline. In there she asks you to list your main character their flaw, their goal, their ally, the antagonist, the ending and theme. Good points to keep in mind, but she then asks you to outline some essential scenes.

With those in mind, I borrowed some of their concepts and created my own system. I call it a compass because it’s only four items, and it will be limited to only one page.


Here are the items:
  • What If Statement
  • Inciting Incident
  • Protagonist’s Weaknesses/Flaws
  • Potential Climaxes/Endings
With these, you have enough to cook up a novel and enough room to play and discovery write.


The What If statement captures the uniqueness of your story and the enthusiasm you have towards it. It is something akin to a mission statement. Almost all stories can be captured in a what if statement (What if we’re inside a pedophile’s mind? What if people are used as batteries for robots? What if you woke up one day as a cockroach?)


This is the event that pushes the protagonist out of his comfort zone, the moment when their problem begins. The inciting incident is not necessarily the first scene of your story. It could be a scene or two until the fun begins.

Write down the inciting incident. You can be terse by writing one sentence that begins with When (example, When the power dies in Jurassic Park; when Humbert meets Lolita; when Neo meets Trinity).


When you start with your discovery writing, you don’t want to have a cardboard cutout of your protagonist. You might already have a character sketched in your head, have a certain trait or quirk in mind, but writing down their weaknesses or flaws would help limiting them.

Here you will list possible weaknesses and flaws for your protagonist. You could put one or more, but don’t go crazy. Their weaknesses or flaws must be pertinent to the story. Positive traits can be a weakness or a flaw.


This is your target, your destination. I labeled it as “potential” because you might discover a better ending as you write your novel. Having a potential climax or ending gives you direction for your story, preventing you from snaking around or writing endlessly.


There you have it. Four points, just like a compass. Anything between, from inciting incident to the ending, will be discovery-written.
This is just a tool, a simple one at that. If you have any questions or feedback, please post below. It is a work in progress that I’m trying out myself.

What If...
  • What if humans had lost a war against robots? Then they were enslaved and then used as batteries to keep them alive?
Inciting Incident
  • When Neo meets Trinity
  • Inexperienced. Neo is new to everything and is still fresh from being awakened from the matrix.
  • Self-Doubt. Neo does not believe he is the chosen one despite people telling him otherwise
Potential Climaxes/Endings
  • Neo becomes the ONE and destroys Agent Smith
  • Neo doesn’t become the ONE, but still destroys Agent Smith
  • Neo dies, but returns to become the ONE, then destroys Agent Smith
I've been participating in writers' groups for a very long time. More often than not these days, I'm the one answering the questions, and I'll be very forthcoming about why people like listening to my answers. It's not because my answers are the best, it's because my answers are unique.

Because I've been around so many writers' groups, workshops, classes, labs, and forums over the last ten years, I've been able to collect a lot of data. And what does that data show? It shows that people have been giving the same lame answers to writing-related questions for at least ten years. My goal is to buck that trend, because I know that hearing “you should read more” for the ten-thousandth time is not going to help you write.

The writing community is still asking the same basic questions, and that tells me that the answers they're getting are garbage. Plain and simple. As writers helping writers, we owe it to our contemporaries to not waste their time by regurgitating the same cookie-cutter advice that has been floating around for decades. The writing community needs new answers, smarter solutions to the problems that plague us all.

Toward that end, I'm going to answer the most commonly-asked question I've ever come across:

Where do you get ideas?”

This is not a simple question, yet so many people give it a simple answer. “Read more fiction” is a simple answer, but it's also a crappy one. Yet, so many writers say it, repeat it, and swear by it. Why? Because we all enjoy reading and, heck, it sounds like a decent way to get ideas, right? Not so much. It's more likely to set you up to steal ideas, and you won't even be doing it intentionally.

You know darn well that many new writers produce work that reads exactly like someone else's story. That's because knuckleheads keep telling them to read more, and then these new writers take the advice and read their 900th R.A. Salvatore book. Then they're surprised when their own work continues to read like a bad R.A. Salvatore fan fiction. What do you expect?

Now, I've seen even worse answers to the “where do you get ideas?” question. Some folks will talk about sitting on their porch, taking walks, or playing with their kids, offering these up as advice to “get ideas.” These are also crappy answers. They are ephemeral, personal exercises that aren't universally actionable. At best, they're distractions. They can play a part in the innovation process by freeing up your subconscious mind, but that's still not an answer to the underlying question.

Why am I so obsessed with getting down to the hard answer? What's wrong with telling another writer to sit on their porch when they need a creative boost?

Look, when someone is asking how to come up with ideas, it's like they're asking for help finding food. They're starving for a creative spark. If a hungry person were asking how they can eat and not die in front of you, you wouldn't tell them to go for a walk. “Go play with your kids and maybe you'll think of a way to get food!” No.

You also wouldn't tell them to watch you eat until their stomach is no longer cramping from hunger. Watching someone else succeed at eating won't sate their hunger! We all know this, yet so many writers are quick to apply that stupid logic to writing. “Go see how another writer created a novel and you'll get creative ideas!” Nope. It doesn't work that way.

Let's go all “parable” on this; If someone needed to feed themselves, the best course of action is to teach them to fish. In doing so, you're showing them where the food comes from (the river) and how to get it (hand grenades. Or a fishing pole. Whatever.)

Likewise, the best answer to “where do you get your ideas” is to explain where ideas come from and how to catch them.

The problem, right off the bat, is that most people have no clue where ideas come from. That's why I'm here. I'm going to tell you.

Ideas are produced by a largely-subconscious synthesizing process. The human mind is incredibly good at taking multiple concepts and combining them into new ones. It takes A, adds it to B, and creates C. Every new thought in your head is a product of that math, although you don't see it happening.

It's like this: At some point in history, someone looked at a potato, then looked at a hammer, and mashed potatoes were born. The idea of mashed potatoes didn't just fly into someone's head while they were playing with their kids. The idea was a synthesis of two existing concepts within the creator's mind; In this case, it may have been “I can smash things with a hammer” and “potatoes taste good.”

The point of that barely-adequate illustration? If said person had no idea what a potato was, they couldn't have come up with mashed potatoes. A+B=C. They would have lacked the required conceptual raw materials to assemble the idea.

The more concepts you have in your mind, the more creative you can be. Think of knowledge as a pile of Lego bricks. The more of them you have, the more things you can build. Therefore, the first step to becoming a never-ending wellspring of creativity is to stockpile your mind with conceptual raw material. Yes, this means learning about the world and experiencing its many facets for yourself.

Now, go back to the Lego analogy. You may have a pile of blocks as high as your waist . . . but what if they're all blue 4x4 blocks? You can only build so many things when you have a pile of the same block, because your creative options are so severely limited. You get the same outcome when you learn about, read, or experience the same things over and over again. You'll have tons of “stuff” in your head, but it's all variations on a theme. Thus, the second step to unlocking your creative mind is to diversify your conceptual raw material. Reading nothing but science fiction novels will fill your brain with all the same blocks. Where's the fun in that?

I never run out of ideas. When other writers are stuck with their own stories, I can usually come up with a solution in seconds. Why? Because I have a huge, diverse stockpile of raw concepts. I enjoy writing fantasy, but I haven't read a fantasy novel in two years. I read naval history books, magazines about celebrities, National Geographic, biographies, and non-fiction books about photography. And guess what? I've gotten more original ideas for fantasy fiction from reading photography textbooks than I ever did from reading fantasy. The reason is obvious: if you're getting ideas for your fantasy story by reading fantasy novels, you're going to have a hell of a time being original.

When it comes to raw innovation in storytelling, you can forget “The Hero's Journey.” Forget outlining and all of the technical methods. It's the assortment of knowledge, the raw materials, in your brain that matter. Star Wars exists because George Lucas watched Flash Gordon and old samurai movies. His creative mind combined elements from what he knew to assemble what he created. He didn't just pull the ideas from the air . . . nor did Lucas ever claim to. He'll openly tell you where his ideas came from, and if he'd never learned about a variety of genres, Star Wars would not exist. That's that.

Ideas do not come from some other dimension. They are not magical or bestowed by the muses. They are the product of intelligence. They are the product of diverse knowledge. There's a good reason why most successful writers are bright-minded folks. If great ideas magically appeared from space, everyone would have them. There would be no bias leaning towards intelligence, but there is. If you want better ideas, focus on learning more about the world.

Don't take offense to that previous remark. If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that average people don't aspire to write. (These days, statistically-average people don't even read.) If you desire to be a storyteller, you're already ahead of the curve on the whole “smart” thing. The next challenge is to feed your brain with a diverse spread of knowledge. Reading fiction is easy, but reading to learn can be a challenge. And that's where most aspiring writers cut their own throats. They read novel after novel, usually in their preferred genre, thinking that it will have some impact on their own ideas. Reading non-fiction, especially if it has nothing to do with what you're planning to write, will give you a far greater creative advantage. I promise.

As a writer, it's your job to constantly learn. Broaden your horizons, and do not have a “wheelhouse.” You don't want to specialize, because specialization will kill your creative mind. Learn about psychology, history, dancing, agriculture, textiles, stock markets, auto repair, avionics, biology, and everything else. It's what you don't already know that will be assembled into your next great idea.
Writing through Experience: Put the Phone Down.

By Justin C. Miller

How many of you witnessed the lunar Eclipse (if you were in the correct part of the hemispheres.) just recently? How many of you just sat there and watched it? Listened to the crickets chirp, or the cars drive by, the wind blow rustling the trees? Who soaked in the feeling of something you may only get to see one or two more times in your life? Who did it without their phone?

Ah see that’s where that question gets tricky. We experience amazing things, and yes we capture them on our phones and share them with the world around us; and it’s one of the most foolish things as writers we can ever do. Of course we never want to forget this moment and so it’s best to record it… until your storage space is maxed and then it’s not that important anyway.

We rely so much on our technology to remember things for us and capture things for us that we miss out on a very important part of it all. The feelings, the emotion, the smells, the sounds, the life of it.

When 9/11 happened in American I remember the moment of the second crash vividly. I was in school, Journalism class. It was a pleasant day outside. The sun shining through the windows. It was a warm day too, we had the windows open and I remember smelling the fresh cut grass from the lawn being mowed earlier in the day. The teacher was teaching us to pay attention, not to him but to everything. Now he was teaching this as an important lesson to journalism telling us that news can happen anywhere, and not more than 30 seconds after he stated that the TV turned on and I witnessed the tragedy that almost all the word knows of. I remeber thinking it was a video he put into the player. I remember the announcement telling students to get to a classroom and wait for further instructions, I remember the panic that night the fear in my parents faces... the quiet of the streets... no one was anywhere but home. And I remember crying for all those poor people, none of them who I knew. ( I am sorry if this part of the article brings back bad memories by anyone affected by that horrible day. Not my intention, just one of the most vivid memories I have)

The life lesson learned there is that it’s important to look, not with just your eyes but your spirit or soul or whatever else you want to call you’re something that makes you who you are compared to the guy next to you. Those little details missed while worrying if the shot if centered in your phone or if the sound is right, can never be brought back and can never fully be appreciated later. your terror, joy, calm, peace, love, happiness. These feelings cannot be recorded. The acts of them can be, but the memory of them cannot be.

This article is obviously an opinion, but I feel it’s true. For any creative type. Instead of sharing x even y moment or z happenings with the world… Just put down the phone, be a little selfish, and soak it in.

We used to tell events by retelling them as stories, it was never about the accuracy of the story... just the telling of it. That is why we want to be writers after all.

Getting story ideas – Thinking inside the box

When designing a story to really grab a reader's attention, the phrases, “writing what you know” and “using your imagination” can sometimes be misleading and unhelpful. I find that they're often far more useful with guidance.

If someone asked me to write a story right now, I would, naturally, be imaginative while also relying on what I know to inform the text. Unfortunately, with such free reign, my idea would be in danger of bending towards an idea that already exists.

Who else has been reluctant to test read the epic historical fantasy novel with multiple narratives, a rich back-story, bloody violence and steamy/twisted romance plots from a talented fellow writer who just happened to be a massive Game Of Thrones fan? Who else was reluctant to read the abstract prose from a friend who fancied themselves as the next William S Burroughs? These writer's imaginations were filled with the imaginations of other writers. What they knew was other people's work.

I probably sound quite cynical here but I'm mostly talking from bitter personal experience. You may be able to fill your story with rich characters and have a beautiful writing style but you may still stumble at the final hurdle: the psychic, cynical part of every reader's brain that pounds: “I can see right through this. If I know better than the author, why should I care?”

There is a trick to bypass this part of the reader's brain. Here's a method that I find helpful:

Make your idea more original by giving it some strict guidelines.

Let me illustrate an example. I've always wanted to write a cyberpunk story. I've got the genre (the floor). Now I just need a roof. I don't have much time right now so I'll think of something at random.

Okay... the main character has to be a pig.

I've got some guidelines. Ridiculous guidelines, sure, but they're there. Now, I have to think: what is the best possible idea I can think of that involves cyber-punk and pigs? Do I make it a comedy? Should it be a children's book style parody of Blade Runner where the characters are talking farm yard animals (with the potential title: “Do Electric Pigs dream of Android Sheep?”?) Should I make it a dark reflection of our own world; perhaps a look at the theoretical implications of future technology impacting the meat and farming industry? Should it be from the Pig's point of view? What kind of language would a Pig use? How will I balance the tone? Already my idea is starting to germinate. You're creativity can sometimes create better ideas inside a set of specific guidelines over being given total freedom.

(Another exercise that I like to do is to walk into the section of a DVD store, pick a random DVD off the shelf, look at the cover, the title of the film and the tag line. I imagine what the story of the film would be based only on those scraps of information and then I read the back. If you like the idea you come up with and it turns out to be completely different from the film's actual plot, you have one idea totally free of charge!)
Theme for me is the backbone of my story. The sum of what it's all about. It can be something as vague as revenge to something more exact like learning to trust and accept offers of friendship.

A good theme can also be wrapped up in an idea. It can appear before you start writing or it can be found as you write either way works, and no idea needs to remain fixed. Initial themes can be traded up or added to. Good fiction can have transparent themes, or more complex multi-themes. I don't know if there is such a thing as a bad theme. But there is a feeling of wasted themes that happens in bad fiction/movies. Especially when it relies too much on the cliches of its genre or recent trends.

Take for instance the rather lame-brained but 'fun' ( I liked it ) 1993 movie, The Crush. For those who haven't seen it, it is a movie about a young researcher named Nick who has just moved to a new city and is looking for a nice place to stay. After nearly running down a young girl who is roller blading, he notices the estate she wheels into is offering a guest house for rent and seeing the dreamy, over-the-garage little haven, moves in. The parents who constantly work are grateful to have someone around to keep an eye on their precocious ( and gorgeous ) fourteen year old daughter, Adrienne ( originally called Darien.) The girl develops a fast crush on Nick who is too dim to notice. Even when a female co-worker points it out he scoffs. And it's not until Adrienne kisses him, breaks into his apartment, rewrites his articles, and leaves a hundred messages on his answering machine in one day that he starts to get a clue. But by then it's too late. Adrienne is trying to off the competition – Nick's legal-aged gal-pal ( by sicking bees on her ), - wreck his job, scratch his car, and when all else fails cry rape. There's a goofy showdown in an attic with a full scale carousel so the movie can have a 'Hitchcock' moment.

All in all it trucks along like any other 90's psycho-thriller; thin on the whys, open ended, leering and veiled in a sketchy theme. I mean what is after all the theme of this movie? That Nick should've told Darien from the get-go any relationship between them would've been inappropriate? – but would it have mattered if she's a psycho? See what I mean about trends and sketchy themes.

But you know what, if you take the time to dig through this movie there's some terrific themes lurking about that could become better, brighter stories. And that's all you really need to do. You don't need to look for a theme you just need to start examining ideas, and notions and questioning them.

For instance the moment when Darien does Nick's work ( rewrites his article ) and does it better, it's a tremendous hit to his ego.

What a terrific idea for a theme – ego and age. Why is it so damning when someone younger does something better than an older person?

Or how about a crush on someone's ability not the actual person?

How about all those moments when Darien appears to pose for Nick putting her body on display – another great idea. What if Darien watched and read Lolita and was grooming herself into a type hoping to snare herself another type – her Humbert Humbert. Another cool idea for a theme – identity forsaken for archetype. Or pop cultures influence on behavior.

How about some of the basics, when the character of Amy asks if Nick has done anything to encourage the crush – great theme there – taking advantage of a situation or ignoring a situation because it's flattering.

How about something more complex - her sensing her sexuality as a source of power, and because of her age can wield it without the consequences falling on her.

Themes can be found anywhere. Something in a conversation can spark a theme, or a trend, or an event in the news. Pop culture has the ability to give you a multitude of themes to work with that can take you, if you have a discerning eye, beyond trends. You can even find them in junk movies, cartoons, articles, books, ads anything. All you have to do is notice something, and mentally examine it. Allow thoughts to spin the notion into another story. I'll try a few more.

How about a Flintstone's episode? – The one where Fred's terrible singing drives out the maid – delusions of grandeur – or Delusions of an ability that drives others away. Interesting.

How about songs? – Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing – lol - spicy! The Cure – Why can't I be you – gender envy, identity issues.

Here's another movie, Pretty Smart, some dumb exploitative comedy that I thought would be cool because it had a nearly all female cast. Sadly, not so.

The story is about two drastically different sisters who don't much like each other – Ziggs, a counterculture punk with resistance to authority, and Jennifer, a prep. Both are shipped off to a rundown boarding school in an old castle in Europe. Given it's comedy roots the castle still gives tours to collect money, the classes are a joke, and the principal keeps the students divided, the subs ( offbeat students ) vs the preens ( the preppy bitches ), in order to control them. This in itself would've made for an interesting story but it being the 80's, it needs a sleazy touch. The principal is allowing boys from another boarding school to have sleepovers so he can film the students 'together' and sell the tapes, and if that wasn't bad enough he uses the girls ( unwittingly ) as mules for drugs. In the end the sisters discover his criminal habits, unite the two groups and drive the principal out of 'their' school.

The story has some great themes that were ignored or over shadowed by the seamier aspects of the story.
First of all these girls are in another country and the culture shock issue is barely raised. These are girls so seeped in American culture – preps and punks - now thrown into a place that doesn't seem to favor either so what are they clinging to?

Here's another – the most obvious – manipulation and abuse of authority. But what if the reason wasn't so seamy. Imagine the power of a teacher/principal picking and choosing who was bullied and who was favored and all the whys.

Your source doesn't have to be trash either it can be something great like The King's Speech – the embarrassment of a disability, or how easy it is to undo a reputation with something so minor.

Try it out yourself. Take notice of something – a photograph, a twitter comment, a Youtube video. The idea is to keep mentally picking away at something, catching a thread of thought and holding on. It doesn't even have to be about the story/movie itself, it could an impression that sparks a theme.

And the great thing about this technique is - the themes are timeless. A movie from a half a century ago can spark a theme that can be just as relevant/interesting to todays reader as any recent movie.

Discover something that speaks to you.
Hey, you! Yes, YOU!

I've seen you mention the book you have published through Amazon.
You post about it all the time!
Why haven't you asked me to plug your book into our bookstore so it can get some exposure here?

What are you waiting for? An invitation? Well, here it is!
If you have a book available on Amazon, traditionally published, indi-published, and self-published, and you're an established member of the Writing Forums community, drop me (Wreybies) a PM and I will happily get your book listed in our store.

"Story Fire" sets the stage for "Faction" by reminding writers that stories, though fiction, have the power to change lives. "Faction" can help writers put meat on the bones of their characters and get blood flowing in their veins by fleshing them out in a specific, realistic context.


Don’t say, “I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.” Fiction is the truth!

Storytelling is the art of compelling readers to admire and respect the characters, cheer for their success and identify with their problems. But every effort to escape the jaws of the enemy puts them in greater peril. We become more and more anxious for their safety and frustrated they are repeatedly unable to outwit and overcome an increasingly vicious and powerful enemy. Just when the conflict takes the darkest turn, our heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We share in their success as if it were our own. In a good story, it is.

But some people think fiction isn't true and therefore inferior to fact. Yes, stories are made up but writers seed their imagination with what they see, hear, learn and remember of the real world.

How can a story be less true if it really happened? Because we seldom see our own lives as stories. We're too busy to look back, connect the dots of cause and effect and paint our own story with a plot and a point.
Stories give us that look back. We become the young hero, the wise old woman, the transformed fool. That makes fiction truer than real life—psychologically valid, emotionally realistic and loaded with clues for shaping and navigating the sticky web of real life.

Some stories paint life as fatalistic and hopeless while others fill it with dreams come true. Some emphasize our deep connections with other people while others exaggerate loneliness and individualism. In some stories, people enjoy serendipity while in others they suffer bad luck. Stories can show people living authentic lives, being dishonest with themselves and others, choosing one path over another or stuck in a rut.

Despite these difficulties, or because of them, stories are connections between what could be and is. This evening, when the day star winks over the horizon, light a campfire, fire up the barbecue or put a handkerchief over a flashlight. Call it your story fire.

Look up and see those other story fires. We call them stars, but imagine a planet like ours orbiting the one you are looking at, and somebody like you sitting around their fire looking down at yours.

Read your story aloud. Set aside what your neighbors might think, and imagine them sitting quietly on their side of the fence, enchanted with your story. Imagine it carrying you, and them, like smoke drifting through the pines, to once upon a time in a land far away.

When you've finished the story and the embers of your fire are glowing softly in the dark, ask yourself: Is this story truer than if it had really happened? Does it tell me how my values and abilities fit into the scheme of things? Does it reveal a path to my hopes and dreams? Could I apply this approach without moving to Mars or having a frontal lobotomy?

Fact and fiction dance in every story; they can bring us face to face with who we are. If we find them truer than if they had really happened, they can be connections between what is and what could be—reminders it is never too late to become who we can be.


Peggy Lee sang "If that's all there is, my friend, then break out the booze, and let's have a party..." Does the story paint life as meaningless and deterministic? Or make you aware of grace, serendipity and synchronicity? Who puts on a happy face as if positive thinking alone would change the way things are? Do the characters have valid or invalid reasons for feeling good or bad about life?

Ray Charles sang "They say that time heals a broken heart, But time has stood still since we've been apart..." Tragedy brings pain and fear, doubt and questions: Why me? Why this? Why now? When happier times come, our need for answers fades—until something bad happens again. Time itself doesn't heal anything, but it does provide a playing field for things that do. Who brings courage, competence and compassion onto the stage? Are the questions buried, answered, transformed or forgotten?

The same wind that propels you across the lake of life propels my sailboat, too. Our course and bearing are determined by the set of our sails, not the wind. Who understands that? What are the consequences?

Throughout history, the main focus of a culture has been revealed by its tallest buildings: in the Dark Ages, it was cathedrals; in the 19th century, it was castles; in the 20th, corporate skyscrapers dominated society and the skyline; and here in the 21st century, cell phones are the ubiquitous evidence that people are obsessed with personal communication.

Today, reading material is a better indicator of the primary focus of society: in the 40's and 50's it was LIFE magazine; in the 70's it was PEOPLE and PLAYBOY; in the 80's it was US; and today it is the INTERNET and a magazine called SELF. Who or what is an icon in the film you watched or the story you read? Who orbits the icon? What are the consequences?

The Internet is a world-wide web of special-interest, compartmentalized connections. Who is a participant, not a spectator, in the lives of the other characters? Who partitions themselves off from the other characters, refusing to play a part in anyone's story but their own? Why?

Coincidences are meaningful only when you see yourself as part of the WEB of life. Does anyone meet just the right person at just the right time? Do they interpret the chance encounter as meaningful or meaningless? What is the outcome of their interpretation?

Who finds the gold, silver and precious gems buried in the ashes of their life—things which could not be consumed by the fires of unfortunate circumstance and foolish behavior?

Does the story paint the hero's journey as revolutionary or evolutionary? How? Does anyone leave the "system" or abandon their traditional views? What problems do they encounter? Does he or she return to the interpreted path? Why?

Does the story show the male and female points-of-view competing or cooperating? Which character is in touch with the male and female aspects of their personality? The man or the woman? Does the story give any clues why?

Which character listens with a warm heart and open mind? Which character faces life with courage, insight and humor?

What "mind games" do the people play to control and deceive each other? Who buys into the games? Why? How? Does anyone bring openness and honesty into the control dramas? What is the result?

Does anyone keep running into the same type of person or situation? Does the story explain why this character attracts people and circumstances like that?

What is the unfinished business of the main character? Where is he or she stuck, going through the motions or camping on the same old turf?

What kind of future do the characters see for themselves and the world? What do they do to help or hinder that vision? How do they merge their personal vision and their world view?

Are any of the characters victimized? Do they solicit sympathy and keep it coming by rejecting solutions? Why? Are they being punished by their mistakes or for them?

Which character tries to solve his or her problems by treating the symptom instead of the cause? Do any of the characters withdraw from life to solicit attention or avoid criticism?

Do the characters find the courage and opportunity to convey their values and feelings to others? How are their views received? Who is always finding faults in others? Do they gain the recognition and approval?

Who uses anger and violence to get attention and dominate others? Why? Fear of scarcity? Being controlled? Who sacrifices being true to themself by clinging to another? Or to the idea that life is about having someone rather than being yourself?

Who uses their membership in an organization to avoid becoming their own person? Who needs to know where they are going? To know when they've arrived? To choose the right path? Why?

Do bad things happen to good people or good things happen to bad people? How do the good people react? How do the bad people react? Why?

Time flows uninterrupted into eternity like a river—things can be tragic, but only for a season. Who is a prisoner of fate, preoccupied with what happened in the past as if today and tomorrow will be just like yesterday? Who is waiting for absolute certainty—unwilling or unable to make choices in the midst of both mystery and meaning?

Who is a prisoner of fame or fortune, caught up in keeping up, preoccupied with what is happening now, as if today is all there is?

Who is a prisoner of fear—preoccupied with what might happen, as if tomorrow is a...

4 popular misconceptions about plagiarism

For most of you, the idea of plagiarism is shrouded in secrecy. Not everyone knows what is plagiarism, what it is not, who usually commits plagiarism or what does copyright law include. That is why I've decided to disprove 4 popular misconceptions about plagiarism.

  1. Plagiarism is not a serious problem
In the days of the Internet, when there is unlimited access to the online data, many people believe that the content they're using is shared and plagiarism doesn't concern them. Nothing could be further from the truth! Everything, from printed and electronic text through graphic and movies to pictures, is the subject to the copyright law. According to the data on Plagiarism Level on Internet, each day there are 2 million new posts, users spent 4.7 million minutes on Facebook, they update 532 million statuses and spent 864 000 hours on watching and sharing YouTube videos. No wonder that plagiarism online is getting more and more common. In 2005 only 25% of the content published online was plagiarised, 5 years later the percentage raised to 39, in 2011 more than 44% of the online content originated from already existing sources, while it is estimated that in 2014 the percentage of plagiatized content will reach 63. These figures speak for themselves, online plagiarism happens commonly, thus it is worth paying attention to the scale of the problem as well as its consequences. According to the international Berne Convention, copyrights are protected by default, they don't require registration or any copyright notes. Penalties for copyright infringement vary from state to state and are controlled by different rules of law.

2. Only students commit plagiarism

Even though it's usually inexperienced and unaware of breaking the law students who commit plagiarism, the problem of copyright infringement concerns every level of education, including experienced researchers. There are cases of people all over the world holding high offices, who also commit plagiarism. Well-known cases of politicians, who plagiarised their doctoral theses prove that stealing someone else's intellectual property is not only the specialty of students, who are said to copy-paste all of their school homeworks. These incidents only sustain the view that plagiarism is a far-flung problem.

3. Plagiarism is always intentional

Stealing someone else's idea is not always intentional, as there are different types of plagiarism, direct and accidental being just the two of them. And even though both of them are considered as copyright infringement from the legal point of view, there are significant differences between direct and accidental plagiarism. The main difference between these two types is that direct plagiarism consists in copying of the whole work or its fragment while accidental plagiarism may happen to anybody and is not intentional. One reason for an accidental plagiarism is that we are not able to control every idea of each person in the world. Another reason for an accidental plagiarism is ignorance about the precise definition of plagiarism. Of course plagiarism, whether accidental or not, can not be justified, which is why a plagiarism checkers like were designed. Due to the functions provided by, you can check if your idea has not yet been published by someone else and thus avoid being accused of committing plagiarism.

4. Copyright protects everything

According to the US law, there are certain categories of works that are not eligible for copyright protection. These are:

  • Facts
  • Works created by the United States Government
  • Works not fixed in a tangible form of expression
  • Ideas, concepts, principles, or discoveries
  • Words, phrases, or familiar symbols
So, you've fulfilled your requirements and waited the two weeks, posted here and there in the forum, chatted, made friends, given your two requisite critiques and now you're ready to post your own work. Exciting and slightly scary. You hope for good, positive, constructive feedback. You post your thread. There it is. It's in public view. It feels a little like going to a nude beach and even though everyone else is also nude, all you can think is that people can see your wiener! You pray that no one will be cruel. You worry that someone is going to point at your junk and snicker behind their hand.

But something even worse than that happens: nothing happens at all.

Your thread sits there. The threads of other members who posted around the same time are getting all kinds of play, the critiques racking up, the conversation lively and engaging and enviable. Nothing is happening in your thread. You start to worry. Is my writing so bad that no one will even point and snicker? Even a point-&-snicker right now would be better than nothing because at least that's a prelude to some kind of conversation.

What do you do? My advice is to check the technicals first.

1. Did I fix the missing line spaces between paragraphs?

Like it or not, members in all forums across the internet get turned off by wall-o-text. It's too hard to read on screen and yes, even this little finicky point will make members look for other threads to critique. It happens because the character that your word processor uses to denote a carriage return is different than the one used by online forums and doesn't get recognized.

2. Have I honestly checked the work for SPaG and random typos?

Posting a sloppy item for critique says volumes about you to a critic. Even the most expensive cut of meat can be ruined by poor preparation. What faith does a critic have in the "meat" of the work if the preparation is shoddy? It's also a visual distraction to the reader when they run across SPaG errors and punctuation issues. The read should be as smooth as possible so that the critic can focus on the actual writing, not errors.

3. Is my excerpt too long?

Very long items are daunting to critics. We do not have - and we're not imposing - any rules for the length of an excerpt, but history says that the 1500 word mark is a threshold. It's not that you can't get critiques for longer samples, but there's a steep dive after that mark where it's quite a bit harder to get them. If you feel that a longer item is a must to post because shorter just won't do, then make sure that everything else is spit-spot. Give a critic more than one reason to look elsewhere and it starts to look grim.

4. Have I given genuine, best-effort critiques?

All of us in this forum, and in any forum, know that everyone starts at the beginning. We all have a first critique that we gave where we didn't really have a clue what to do, maybe disagreed with the whole process, didn't grok or twig or anything. Members who are more seasoned know this and are very able to spot the difference between someone who is trying their best and just doesn't have much experience, and someone who sees the obligatory two (2) critiques per new item as a PITA and just wants to get it out of the way with something inane and vapid so they can post their work and brace themselves for the flood of ecstatic adulation that is surely coming. When we see the latter from a member, there's less positive interaction to make a member want to critique their work. When we see the former, we see someone who is trying and wants to learn the stuff and the terms and the smarty-pants things everyone else is talking about, and this member gives others positive interaction and reason to want to help them.

5. Have I explained too much?

Some members feel the need to give a long preamble in front of their posted item to explain things. A short preamble to let us know where we are in a novel excerpt is fine, but more than that is a distraction. The point of posting is that the work should speak for itself, and your critic is meant to tell you if it does or doesn't. A little lead in if the excerpt is from deeper in a work, but not more than that.

6. Is my post in a strange font, font size, font color?

Many writers have an inner Luna Lovegood. Some writers have her on the outside. She's a precious, affected little thing, and we all love her, but... When you post your work, it's your words that should be front and center. Now is not the time for artsy affectations in your presentation. Critics see this and know that your focus is not... focused. Posting your work like that makes it look like you're not taking the task or the goal seriously.

7. Are you arguing with your critics?

There's a fine line between defending one's work and flat-out arguing. When new critics come into a thread and see that the OP is defensive and sensitive about their work, they walk away. No one is going to put the time into critiquing an item just to have the OP fight with them. It's important to remember that nothing that happens in this forum is by obligation. No one here is an employee or getting paid. When your work is critiqued by a member, they are doing you a service. You are free to agree, disagree, or even disregard the words of others, but getting argumentative drives people away, or worse, attracts other argumentative people and in the end all you have is a debate thread and not a critique thread. Using the critique process as a way to hone your argumentative skills as to "how people are totally wrong about your writing" is a pointless endeavor. If/when you ever get published, you will have no access to the readers of your work to argue about how "wrong they are", and if you're not interested in hearing how people engage and absorb your work, you're wasting your time, and the time of others.


Keep these things in mind when posting your work. The dynamic that will come into play when you finally send your work off to a publisher is very similar, so now is the time to practice that regimen and have it become second nature to you.