The Right and Wrong Ways to Use Backstory


Recently, the final book in Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic horror series, The City of Mirrors, was released. I loved the first two installments, The Passage and The Twelve. For close to four years, I had eagerly anticipated the finale to a great story.

I was mostly pleased with the final book. Very gratifying wrap-up to the series.

About two-thirds of it, that is.

In the middle of the book, Cronin plunks a very long flashback that dramatizes the backstory of the story’s major antagonist, a vampire-like creature who controls an army of other vampire-like creatures. Continue reading “The Right and Wrong Ways to Use Backstory”


Game of Thrones Season 6 Premiere: Minor Characters Matter

As a reader of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, it felt decidedly strange going into the Season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones. With the exception of some parts from A Feast of Crows, going forward the TV series is moving beyond events in the first five published books. We’re still waiting for publication of The Winds of Winter, the penultimate book in the series.

Continue reading “Game of Thrones Season 6 Premiere: Minor Characters Matter”

Why Writers Should Listen to the Hamilton Soundtrack

Hamilton, the hip-hop musical about one of our most fascinating Founding Fathers, has garnered a huge number of devoted fans. This is mainly due to the original cast album. If you can’t see the show (and most of us can’t, even many who live in the New York City area) you can listen to the album. It’s as close as you’ll get to experiencing the show because, with the exception of one scene, the entire show is in song.

Continue reading “Why Writers Should Listen to the Hamilton Soundtrack”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Return with the Elixir

This is the 11th and final post in my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. After being reborn and purified through a resurrection experience, our hero finally returns from the Extraordinary World.

The journey has ended. The circle is complete. The hero has, in some sense, returned to the point where she started.

2. It is not unusual for heroes to find themselves waking up in the Ordinary World after their adventure in the Extraordinary World. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Return with the Elixir”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Resurrection

This is Part 10 of my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. This stage is the climax of your story.

The Ordeal was the major crisis; now your hero is facing his final and most terrifying confrontation with death.

2. It is often a major set piece sequence. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Resurrection”

Julie & Julia And The Lives Of Writers

Very busy getting the house ready to go on the market this weekend–no time to write a new post! Hope you enjoy this one from the archive.


I recently watched (again) the charming movie Julie & Julia. It stars Meryl Streep as television chef and cookbook author Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about making every recipe in Child’s book Mastering The Art Of French Cooking over the course of a year.

The movie alternates between telling the stories of both women. Child and her husband are living in France during the 1950s when she decides to learn French cooking. This eventually leads to a partnership with two French women to write a cookbook specifically for Americans, and, of course, her cooking show and status as America’s first celebrity chef. Julie Powell, frustrated with a job she doesn’t like and feeling directionless in life, decides to start a blog about cooking, which eventually leads to a book and movie deal.

As Julie cooks the recipes and writes about them…

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Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Road Back

This is Part 9 of my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. The Road Back is the transition from Act 2 to Act 3 of your story.

The hero has completed her initiation and is now an evolved hero. It is time for her to begin her transition from the Extraordinary World back to the Ordinary World.

There’s still a long way to go, however. The road back is filled with more danger and challenges for the hero.

2. At this point, antagonists may have been completely vanquished . . . or not. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Road Back”

6 Things You Need To Know About Story Concept

Having a busy weekend, so thought I would reblog this old post. Enjoy!


1. It matters. It’s the key to selling your story to other people. It’s one of the first things, along with genre and word count, that you’re going to put in a query. It’s the reason why someone is going to buy your book after they pick it up off the shelf or read the blurb online. It’s why blurbs exist–to convey the story’s concept.

2. It has to convey to people what is both unique AND familiar about your story. Humans are funny animals. We like things that are familiar, but have contempt for things that are TOO familiar. We like something unique, but if it’s too weird, we’re often repelled by it. When creating a concept, you need that balance. Sneer all you want at E.L. James’ 50 Shades Of Grey, but if nothing else, it’s a conceptual triumph.

3. Immediately cast out any snobbery you may have…

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Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Reward/Seizing the Sword

This is Part 8 of my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. After surviving the Ordeal, the hero now claims a reward.

The reward may come in many different forms: treasure, an object that helps the hero return home, a declaration of love/friendship, knowledge, power.

In The Wizard of Oz, this is the point where Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion claim their rewards from the Wizard in exchange for killing the Wicked Witch.

2. The “reward” may be something that has always been a part of the hero.

In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard doesn’t literally bestow a brain, a heart, or courage. He instead makes the characters realize that they always had these things inside them. Emmet in The Lego Movie survives his Ordeal and emerges as a Master Builder – which is really just a realization of his own potential. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Reward/Seizing the Sword”

10 Things I Love About This Character: Ellie Linton, The Tomorrow Series

Last year I wrote an article about the “strong female character” which was very well received. (It was even featured by WordPress in their “Freshly Pressed” section.) Since then, I’ve been thinking about doing a series devoted to individual characters that I consider “strong.”

This series will not be limited to female characters–I will include male characters–and may even decide to write about a few that aren’t human.

As I said, I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, but really got excited about starting it a few weeks ago. Because I encountered a character that I believe is perfect to kick off this series.

I had heard many good things about Australian writer John Marsden’s young adult Tomorrow series. The first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, first came out over 20 years ago, in 1993. There are seven books in the series, and a sequel series called “The Ellie Chronicles.” I finally downloaded the first book from Audible and was immediately blown away by the characters and the story.

Continue reading “10 Things I Love About This Character: Ellie Linton, The Tomorrow Series”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Ordeal

This is Part 7 of my series on the hero’s journey, or monomyth.

1. The ordeal is the first major confrontation with the main forces of antagonism.

After undergoing many tests, forming alliances, figuring out enmities, gaining some respect in the extraordinary world of the adventure, it is time for the hero to experience her first major battle against the antagonist(s).

2. This generally occurs at the mid-point of the story.

The ordeal is not interchangeable with the climax of a story. This is the major crisis, not the end of the journey. It doesn’t have to be at the mid-point. It’s fine if the ordeal occurs later, but it’s important to remember this is not where the story ends and that it’s not necessarily the last confrontation with the forces of antagonism. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Ordeal”

Emma Thompson’s Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility: The Best Austen Adaptation?

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Click HERE for a list of the other posts for Week 3: The Crafts.

I can already hear cries of “blasphemy!” just because the title of this post. (I did put a question mark at the end!)

I would venture to guess if you polled Jane Austen fans, the most popular adaptation of her work would far and away turn out to be the 1995 six-part BBC TV mini-series of Pride & Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. It is certainly the adaptation that kicked off the now-20 year long resurgence of Austen’s work.

As lovely as that series is, and as perfectly cast as it is, it doesn’t quite do it for me as far as capturing the Jane Austen novels I love so dearly. I know when people hear Austen’s name, they think first and foremost that she wrote romances. I, on the other hand, would argue she did not write romances at all. She actually satirized the romances of her day. Her stories are survival stories, where marriage is the only respectable way for most of her heroines to escape poverty. Even in her novel Emma, that features a heroine who is wealthy and of the highest rank in her small sphere, there are two secondary characters–Harriet Smith and Jane Fairfax–for whom marriage is a vital matter of economic survival and respectability.

Continue reading “Emma Thompson’s Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility: The Best Austen Adaptation?”

I’m a Project REUTSway Winner Two Years in a Row!


In November 2013 I participated in Project REUTSway, a short story contest held for the first time by REUTS Publications. Two out of my three submitted stories were chosen for the anthology, Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After, which was published in October 2014.

The first version of contest had participants twist a well-known fairy tale with some kind of horror element: vampires, zombies, demons, werewolves/shapeshifters. This year, instead of fairy tales, the contest theme was world mythology. Each week a different culture was featured: Egyptian, Celtic, Asian, and Eastern European. Each challenge had a twist.

Continue reading “I’m a Project REUTSway Winner Two Years in a Row!”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Approach to the Inmost Cave


This is Part 6 of my series on the hero’s journey, or monomyth.

1. This stage of the journey is when the story begins to coalesce around a major confrontation with the antagonist.

The part of the journey that falls under “Tests, Allies and Enemies” can take up quite a bit of the story after the hero crosses over into the world of the adventure. But now everything has to begin to come together and focus on the main battle against the forces of antagonism.

It’s at this point where the main task in The Wizard of Oz changes from “off to see the Wizard” to “acquire the Wicked Witch’s broom and bring it back to the Wizard.” The Scarecrow says, “But we’d have to kill her to get it!” It’s when the Ghostbusters realize there’s more going on than just random ghost sightings, and that an ancient Babylonian god is returning to destroy humanity.

In other words, this is when sh*t starts to get real for your hero.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Approach to the Inmost Cave”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Tests, Allies, and Enemies


This is Part 5 of my series on monomyth or the hero’s journey.

1. After your hero crosses the threshold into the world of adventure, the rules of the new world are a good place to start when it comes to testing your hero. Here are some ways he can get into trouble right away:

Ignorance of the rules: For instance, in Back to the Future, Marty doesn’t realize at first that he has traveled back into the past. When he crashes the DeLorean into someone’s barn and emerges from it in a hazmat suit, he looks utterly alien to the family who own it. He is surprised to find himself on the business end of a shotgun and must find a way to escape.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Tests, Allies, and Enemies”