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  • The Helpful

    Posted on January 30th, 2013 jean 2 comments

    Come see what I built!

    I’m moving my writing posts over to The Helpful! That means the great posts you’ve come to enjoy here will now be found over on The Helpful But don’t worry if you have linked to something here, your link will still work as the archives will still be here, hiding, waiting to be snooped through.

    Come see what I've built

    Click here to read the latest post on How to Write a Killer Scene. And if you have subscribed to the posts on so you don’t miss one, you can do that over on The Helpful Writer as well!

    I look forward to seeing you there!

    Thanks for reading.

    Tweet the news: Jean Oram’s writing tips blog has moved to The Helpful!

  • Got Publishing & Writing Questions?

    Posted on November 23rd, 2012 jean No comments

    Ever wondered what to put in your query bio paragraph if you are a writing world ‘nobody?’ Could you use published short stories to build up your credentials?

    And the query itself–should you give away the ending of your story?

    What about hiring an editor before you query? (Are critique partners enough these days?)

    What about a plot that goes on forever and you just don’t know what to cut? Or even if the timing is right for that wonderful manuscript? What if you genre hop? Or quote material that is under copyright?

    Or maybe your concerns are the marketing itself.

    Wow. So many things to consider.

    Don’t worry, I won’t leave you with those questions burning a hole in your precious mind. Over on From the Write Angle a bunch of us writers and authors from different writing stages and backgrounds have weighed in and answered these questions. Why? To give our thanks to our wonderful readers (are you one of them?). So, pull up with a cup of coffee and click over there right now to read the answers to these writing and publishing questions. We won’t steer you wrong!

    ASkgiving banner

    Readers asked. We answered.

    So? What do you think? Do you have questions we didn’t answer? Is there an angle we missed? Weigh in here (comment section) or over on From the Write Angle.

    P.S. Looking for more tips? Did you see “Who to Follow on Twitter” (by me) over on The Indie Chicks? 5 great tips on finding the best people to follow in your niche–and get ahead!

  • Vital Writing Tips For Novelists

    Posted on October 16th, 2012 jean 8 comments

    One of the biggest things that has improved my own writing has been helping others with theirs. Over the past few months I have been tweeting writing tips for novelists under the #writingtips and #editingtips hashtags. In an effort to remind myself as well as help more writers/novelists, I have gone through my feed and compiled those tips here. These are common things I keep finding in my own writing as well as in other writers’ works. Take a look at the list and see if there are any you can use as well as ones you’d like to add in the comment section.

    I’m going to do this crazy-like so if something strikes your fancy you can retweet it straight from this post (my apologies if you are reading this from somewhere other than straight from the web post–some of this might look a bit wacky.):

    Every dialogue tag does not need an action tacked onto it.


    Don’t cook and write at the same time. You’ll burn your lunch.


    If you publish a story a second time (in a different yr) & have made changes–use BOTH copyright years on the © page.


    If you are going to write time period pieces, make sure you know enough about it to get the details correct.


    “Peek” means to look, “Peak” means tip.


    Beta readers are awesome for finding word echoes in your writing. 🙂


    Use dialogue wherever natural to show backstory or a character’s reaction.


    Adding more adjectives to make your writing seem ‘better’ shows immaturity. Every adjective must be evoking & purposeful.


    Adding more adjectives does not make your writing more literary.


    Name your manuscript, synopsis, & query files with the date so you know which draft is the newest.


    If you can reveal it (show it) in dialogue instead of “telling” it and still keep it real–do it.


    Your character’s actions should always bring about a reaction and a consequence for that reaction.


    Don’t forget the tiny habits and character quirks to make them come alive.


    If in doubt write. And keep writing.


    But in the end, “When writing–give your readers credit.”

    Do you have a favourite writing tip? Share it in the comment section. (If you make it tweetable–short, sweet, and include your @ I’ll copy and paste it into Twitter and tweet it.)

  • Scene and Sequel

    Posted on August 24th, 2012 jean 4 comments

    I’m over on From the Write Angle today talking about a recent literary smackdown I received (and deserved) and figured, what the heck, let’s serve another one here as well.

    What, pray tell, did I get smacked down over? Well, my FTWA post is about creating (accidentally) unlikeable characters (ouch) but here I’m going to talk about a flaw the editor would have come across had he or she read further. It’s a basic issue that I know we all have from time to time and therefore is worth talking about.

    What is this issue? Scene and sequel. (Some call it Scene and Sequence.) Or in other words (as I like to think of it courtesy  romance author Susan Meier), one action has to bring about a reaction and then some sort of conclusion or consequence which then leads to a new action setting about a new reaction. Sounds basic. Makes sense.

    But oh so easy to forget. Especially if you are winging it. And, I guess, even when you are planning and outlining.

    Let’s dig into it.

    How to Tell if You Have Scene and Sequel Problems

    You might have this problem if you have ever heard things like:

    • Your story is fragmented
    • Your story is a series of nice vignettes/excerpts
    • There are plot holes
    • Your story lags/drags/feels unmotivated
    • Your characters’ actions don’t make sense
    • Your story has no flow
    • There doesn’t seem to be a consequence for your characters’ actions
    • Your story doesn’t really start/get good until several chapters in

    Wow. That’s a lot of big problems falling under one umbrella, isn’t it? The nice thing is that it is easy to fix once you wrap your mind around it.

    Here’s how.

    How to Fix Scene and Sequel Problems

    Every single scene in your story MUST have either an action, reaction, or consequence/conclusion. Every. Single. One.

    Think of it this way, when you are telling a story to a friend, you go from one event to the other, right? You tell it in logical order saying things like, “She told him off (action). And then he ran out onto the street (reaction). The neighbour got upset when he stomped through the roses (consequence of running out) and called the police (action). The police came (reaction) and told them all to smarten up or they’d all get tickets for being a disturbance. They all went inside again (consequence.)”

    We wouldn’t run off part way through the story and talk about how the roses were lovely yellow roses that smelt best at dusk and that the city had given them to every citizen. Unless this is backstory that is vital to the reader. If say, these roses were given by the city and were protected by law, then it becomes vital because we begin to think that maybe this guy is going to get in serious trouble when the police come. In other words, you know those annoying ladies who go off on tangents all the time while telling a story and the tangents don’t seem directly related to the story they are trying to tell you and you just want them to get the point–there is a point, right–and the tangents might be interesting or make sense if you’ve lived in town for 40 years and care that Millie had her baby after trimming rose bushes all day and that the drugstore used to have the best milkshakes back in the 50s which were a great postnatal treat. And where was I? Oh yes, tangents, when not meaningful for the reader–no matter how beautiful and interesting we think they are… need to go.

    Cutting room floor.

    If it doesn’t move the story forward… axe it.

    Kill your darlings.

    Scene and Sequel. For every action there must be a reaction.

    But back to scene and sequel and all that jazz.

    Yes, your scenes can have a pile of actions and reactions and consequences/conclusions all in one because sometimes a lot happens at one time. The trick is deciding if something is important enough to call an action/reaction/consequence.

    For example, say you have a break up scene. Part way through the phone rings and they answer it. Not an action per se. Especially if they hang up and continue the fight with no change in the course of the story. If, say, that phone call changed the course of the story, then it is an ‘action’ or ‘reaction’ or ‘consequence.’ For example, the phone call somehow changes the fight from a break up to a proposal then it is a catalyst of some sort for sure. That fact that it happens changes the course of the story and can’t be removed without creating a hole in the story and its sequencing.

    Exercise to Identify Your Scene and Sequel Problems

    If you feel you are having issues with lags, character actions, or any of the above issues (including writer’s block), try this:

    Grab a pile of sticky notes, a marker (no fine point stuff here–we want to keep it brief) and your story. Each sticky note represents one scene. Describe the  scene in a few words on the sticky note. The first scene in your story should be an action, so label it A (action). If you can’t find an action, then maybe your story hasn’t started yet. That’s okay. We’re just identifying issues here. If you find it easier to start in the real action (several chapters in), start there. (I like to label the sticky notes with numbers and stick them to a big piece of cardboard to help keep them straight.) If you happen to have an action and reaction in your first scene, place an ‘A’ and a ‘R’ at the top of the sticky note. Carry on, scene by scene (going in an A-R-C-A-R-C… circle. Your story should end on a ‘C’), paying attention to whether you have gaps or not. Maybe you skip from A to C. That’s okay. Identify the holes now. Fix ’em later. (Sometimes you only need one measly paragraph to fix a hole.) This is a tricky exercise the first time, so be patient with yourself.


    Have you had any of the issues identified here? Have you tried this method or a similar one? How did it work out?
    And don’t forget to check out my writing unlikeable characters post on FTWA, you may find it surprising as well as helpful–even if you think your characters are perfect.

    An easier way to tweet:

  • Just One Thing: Write in the Weather

    Posted on July 3rd, 2012 jean 4 comments

    Put Weather In Quote by Joseph Hansen (author)

    If there was just one thing you could do today or this week to improve your writing would you do it?

    Sure you would!

    Just one thing that could add to the conflict, themes, and the push and pull between characters.

    A very simple thing.

    Something to ground your reader and make your scenes come alive.

    What is it? The weather.

    Stunningly simple.

    As writer Joseph Hansen was quoted, “Put weather in.”

    The more I write, the more I critique, and the more I edit, the more I realize how defining the weather can be in a story.

    Can you imagine a day without weather? A day where everything is going wrong in your life and the weather isn’t there to either contrast or enhance that awful day? It would be like going outside and there being… nothing. So why would we do that to our characters? To our readers?

    It’s like a huge snow storm on the morning you plan to escape Christmas via an airplane. (Think the movie Four Christmases.) Think of the man going to his father’s funeral in The Stranger (by Albert Camus) and the way the heat saps him.

    Weather, weather, everywhere. Messing with the characters.

    Take a look at one of your works in progress. Is there somewhere  you can “put weather in?” Go forth and report back.