OFFICIAL Writing Uniform

Date: Sunday December 2, 2012
Posted in: Reading,writing

Okay, so the ‘uniform’ is actually pajamas. 😉

A few facebook author friends and I were having a discussion re: how we hadn’t put on real pants that day (i.e. were still in our pajamas)  and so one challenged me to come up with an OFFICIAL writing uniform, which of course was a challenge I could not resist. I put a few designs for writers and readers up on Cafe Press and lo and behold–they became a bit of a hit.

Here are a few of the designs!

There are apparently a lot of writers/readers out there who like to by cozy!

Anywho, I ordered the OFFICIAL writing uniform for me and the OFFICIAL reading uniform for each of my chicklets and they were just delivered yesterday and look fantastic.  And so cozy!

Here’s the link to the Cafe Press store in case anyone would like to put a pair on their holiday list:

Read. Write. Be cozy!


First Draft 15™

Date: Thursday July 8, 2010
Posted in: Random,Writer's Toolbox,writing

Just for giggles, I am guest blogging about ‘Writer’s Butt’ on the GotYA blog, wherein I share my handy diet tips (kinda) to help combat the First Draft 15™.


Come see!  Come see!

Running Is Evil, Write Books Instead

Date: Sunday September 14, 2008
Posted in: Acadian Star,writing

I’ve never been the patient sort, but my recycling box full of empty diet coke bottles tells me I should find a new hobby to keep my mind off the several things I’ve had on simmer these past few weeks:

To keep my mind busy, I thought I’d take up running. I even signed up for a 10 k race coming up on November 2nd. I’ve gone twice so far. Phht! Yeah, that’s going well.  At least the entry fee is going to the local hospital. Should come in handy when they rush me there by ambulance partway through the race.

But the nice thing about running is that your mind goes to interesting places while trying to ignore every cell in your body screaming THESE ARE BIRTHING HIPS, NOT RUNNING HIPS while you curse the sensibility of that maternity nurse who advised you to PRACTISE YOUR KEGEL EXERCISES SEVERAL TIMES A DAY. I should drop in and thank her when they cart me in on race day…

But I digress.

So, to avoid running, I’ve been writing. Working to expand RED DUNE ADVENTURES from an early chapter book (8 k) to a Young Reader (18 k). This darn manuscript has been to three different editorial boards and turned down each time. One editor wants to see it again in a longer format. Never to turn down an editorial request, I thought I’d give it a go. No problem, right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Until I started revising and realized that it’s not just a matter of adding a subplot, fleshing out a few scenes. Nope. It’s a whole new book.

And like I mentioned, while running, (Remember? My whole body is screaming to stop and I’m thinking evil thoughts?) I realized I had to do something really mean to one of my characters. But man, that’s gonna totally change the whole thing and I’m gonna have to start again from scratch, and I already had 11k words written of an 18 k book.

Yeah, yeah, quit whining.

So, I had been avoiding getting started. That is, until I went to a CANSCAIP meeting on Wednesday and got inspired by one of the speakers discussing Robert McKee’s script writing techniques. The presenter talked about a script writing technique using the three act model. Okay, I’m not even going to pretend that I remembered all the technical terms she used, but it inspired me to come up with an iteration of my own.

I’m calling it the Running Is Evil Write Books Instead (RIEWBI) technique to plotting. I opened a new document (ah, clean white page, so many possibilities, rubs hands with glee) and this is what I came up with. First, I began with this:

PRECIS: André must clear his grandfather’s name when Conservation officers charge him with illegal lobster fishing after an anonymous tip. That is, if André’s cousin, Josie, doesn’t drive him nuts first.

This is the mission statement for my manuscript. By boiling down my story in a few sentences like this, I hope it’ll keep me on track as I work my way through the writing. Then, on to plotting. I’ll give you the break down I’ve come up with here and discuss each stage afterward. Don’t worry if my outline doesn’t quite make sense yet, I’m still filling in the holes. Hopefully it’ll become clear when put in context further downthread…


Main plot:
Grandpa mistakes a lobster trap for his own while out fishing with Andre and his cousin, Josie. He hauls it aboard his boat. (action)
Conservation officer is tipped off and stops Grandpa for fishing with an illegal trap. (hook)

Josie’s come to PEI without her parents this summer and is driving Andre crazy.

Chapter 2

Main plot:
Grandpa’s boat is seized. (action)
Back to port and meet Jimmy Foote. Something suspicious about that guy. (hook)

Josie is a know-it-all. André is annoyed

Chapter 3—PLOT POINT ONE—bad!

Main plot:
Go to beach to see if Sanford saw anything suspicious while moss harvesting. (action)
Sandford’s horse, Thunder gets injured. (hook)

Begin to doubt what Josie’s saying.

Chapter 4

Main plot:
Andre’s veterinarian dad comes to attend to the horse. (action)
Mom closes the beach. (hook)

Subplot: X

Chapter 5

Main plot:
Andre and Josie go to the clinic to check on the horse.
Paint the fence.


Chapter 6—PLOT POINT TWO—badder!!

Main plot: 
Andre and Josie sleep over in the barn loft to keep an eye on the horse. (action)
An intruder enters the barn in the middle of the night, then escapes before discovered. (hook)


Chapter 7

Main plot:
Andre and Josie have a conversation with one of Andre’s friends. (action)
Andre figures out that Josie’s been lying about why she came to PEI on her own this summer. (hook)

Subplot: Josie comes clean.

Chapter 8—PLOT POINT THREE—baddest!!!

Main plot:
Andre and Josie snorkel to find the object that caused Thunder’s injury (action)
It’s a second illegal lobster trap! (hook)

Subplot: André begins to see how much Josie loves the island.

Chapter 9

Main plot:
Go to conservation office with second trap to clear Grandpa’s name. (action)
Doesn’t prove anything. Grandpa still in danger. Pressing charges. (hook)

Subplot: X

Chapter 10

Main plot:
Andre and Josie go back to beach to get their bikes. (action)
They find the buoy in the moss and it has distinctive markings, pinpointing the poacher. (hook)

Subplot: X

Chapter 11—CLIMAX I—The fuse!

Main plot: 
The buoy is the proof! Jimmy Foote is the poacher. (action)
Jimmy has been watching them offshore and rides in on his speedboat to confront them. (hook)

Subplot: X

Chapter 12—CLIMAX II—The burn!!

Main plot:
Jimmy spills all, but no one will suspect him once he gets the buoy back. (action)
Josie throws a coil of rope to tangle in his feet and they make a run for their bikes. (hook)

Subplot: X

Chapter 13—CLIMAX III—Kaboom!!!

Main plot:
The kid’s escape, with Jimmy in hot pursuit. (action!)
Jimmy is apprehended. (hook!)

Subplot: X

Chapter 14—DENOUEMENT: Conclusion

Main plot:
Everyone lives happily ever after.
Lingering questions are answered.

Andre comes to a new understanding about his cousin and her situation.

So, still a few holes to fill, but the main gist of it is that every story starts with an INCITING INCIDENT. Then the narrative happens in three acts or PLOT POINTS. The tension builds with each PLOT POINT until we reach a CLIMAX. The climax in itself has trajectory of bad, badder, baddest until Kaboom! And then the resolution or DENOUEMENT trickles down from the climax to resolve the story in a wholly satisfying way.

That’s the plan, anyway.

First the INCITING INCIDENT, or the r’aison d’etre. While trying to rework this story, I kept getting feedback from my crit group that they only had a teensy inkling of what my story was about after the first two chapters. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to pull the action to the front end of the story. Then, I realised I had to have Grandpa arrested for poaching from the get go (the really mean thing I was talking about) and aha! I had an INCITING INCIDENT.

Before I move on to plot points, I want to touch on conflict and tension. This book will be for young readers (7 to 10 year olds) so there needs to be an internal engine that drives the story forward. Well, let’s face it, every story needs that, but with this age group one needs to be even craftier to keep those pages turning. A tangible way to hook a reader and keep them reading is to end each chapter on a tension-filled high note so that the reader will want to find out what’s next. I’ve built that into the outline here.

An intrinsic technique to engage the reader is to introduce conflict. Conflict is the fuel that drives a story. To me, conflict in a story exists on three levels.

Global conflict: The big idea. Man against nature. Man against the machine.

Character to character conflict: Man against man. How the characters in the story interact with each other.

Internal conflict: Man against himself.

And btw, I’m totally making these terms up, though I don’t promise that I didn’t steal them from somewhere else, subliminally. No matter what age level you’re writing for, each level of conflict needs to exist to fully engage the reader.

In my little tale, the global conflict is the fact that Grandpa has been arrested.

The character to character conflict is between Andre and his ‘away’ cousin, Josie.

The internal conflict is Andre reconciling his contempt for Josie and growing to understand her, and possibly even (will wonders never cease) liking her.  

As far as pacing, this story starts with the INCITING INCIDENT (Grandpa gets stopped for lobster poaching), then goes from bad: PLOT POINT ONE (the horse gets injured) to badder: PLOT POINT TWO (an intruder in the loft) to baddest: PLOT POINT THREE (a second illegal trap). Cause all good stories happen in threes (think the 3 little pigs).

Just when you think things can’t get more horrible, the worst happens! (CLIMAX)

But not just any old CLIMAX. I like to think of the climax in three parts. For all you Wile. E. Coyote fans, this will be familiar:

CLIMAX I (lighting the fuse!)
Jimmy Foote is guilty

CLIMAX II (holding your breath as the spark makes it’s way toward the dynamite…)
Andre and Josie try to escape

CLIMAX III (kaboom!)
They get away and Jimmy is arrested

Throughout, the characters need to grow and change. I’ve kept track of this through mapping out the subplot. I still have some work to do on this, but hopefully you get the idea. Andre will grow and change regarding his attitude and understanding of his bossy, know-it-all cousin. At this point, this is enough for me to go on. And for sure, things will change as I write my way through the story.

For now though, I feel like I have a far better grasp of my story and I understand if it doesn’t make too much sense to you, my dear blog reader, but I hope that this glimpse into my new Running Is Evil Write Books Instead (RIEWBI) technique was helpful.

I almost forgot the best part of the outline! The very end where they all live happily ever after. (and eat lobster :-) )

Please, if anyone has anything to add, feel free to comment. Oh! And a vote:

___Hélène should keep training for the 10 k despite the obvious pain and fool-hardiness
___Hélène should think of other, less painful and fool-hardy diversions to recapture her youth

ACADIAN STAR at Book Expo!

Date: Tuesday June 17, 2008
Posted in: Acadian Star,Good news!,writing

So okay, it wasn’t the book but a poster of ACADIAN STAR (to be released this fall by Nimbus Publishing). And right next to Sheree Fitch’s book–how cool is that??

And it wasn’t actually me who snapped the pic but my amazing book-seller-extraordinaire friend, Sheri, from Chapters/Indigo. (I forgot my camera at home. Duh. Oh, who am I kidding? I never remember my camera. And I don’t own one of those fancy camera phones either. Double duh.)

But it’s MY BOOK!! And it’s BOOK EXPO!!!

Very, very cool…

According to plan…or not

Date: Monday May 5, 2008
Posted in: writing

I’m a list maker,  a task master and a goal setter. Nothing pleases me more than to tick off items on my list. I love mapping out my day, my month, my year, my life and checking off milestones as I meet them.

Anal? Yes. Absolutely.

In fact, I assert this mentality on others whenever I can. Who was the one who instigated the ‘Goal setting’ exercise within my critique group? Guilty. But don’t mock, the monthly exercise is still going strong two years later.

How many times have I set out to lose those last 10 lbs, itemizing each workout week after week? Moi. (But don’t ask me how well that’s gone…sigh)

So it should come as no surprise that in my writing work, I’m an outliner. Not your–and then this happens, and that happens, which causes this to happen–kind of outliner, but I definitely have a method to my, um, madness.

First I set up my Word document with all of my chapter headers in a neat document map. Ah, so pleasing to the eye. Then I put in a sentence for each chapter of what I figure is going to happen. Then I draft my first three chapters. Then I write my last chapter. Then I fill in the holes in between. What could be more logical, more sane, more civilized?

What I haven’t told you yet is the initial plan I start off with is usually NOTHING like the end result. You see, these mad gremlins leap out at me as I write and yell at me–“NO! Your main character would NOT do that, you idiot!!”  or “Don’t be a sissy, make him squirm!!” or “You need to kill that character. Do it! Do it! You know you want to!!” and the wheels fall off of my best laid plans.

And you know what? Even though the gremlins are ugly and they make me squirm and I want them to go away because I had a perfectly good plot before they poked their snotty little heads into my story, sometimes they’re right. So I pat myself on the back and say “Good now, I listened to you  and yes, you’re right, the story IS better, so get out of my manuscript, I’m the writer here.  Bugger off, ugly, snot-nosed gremlins, I have a book to write.”

So I keep writing, but now I have a NEW outline, a BETTER plan and I think it can’t be any better than this and I’m writing along my merry way, feeling pretty smug.  “I’m so clever,” I say to myself as I make my character squirm, just like the snotty-nosed gremlin said to and it works out great, and I continue along my NEW and BETTER outline. But even though I have planned and planned and planned…I hit a snag.

So I go have a shower, cause I do my best thinking in the shower. Maybe it’s all that steam opening up my pores and metaphorically it’s also opening up my MIND pores–yeah that’s it– and I’m thinking and thinking and wondering what ifs and I’m lathering, rinsing and repeating when all of a sudden there’s a tap on my shoulder and I look back to see this snotty looking, ugly gremlin and he flicks soap in my eye and I say “HEY!”

But the snotty looking, ugly gremlin ignores me and says, “You moron, I told you to make that character squirm and now look what you’ve done!” and I say, “But I did! And quit flicking soap in my eye.” and the snotty, ugly gremlin says, “Why not? That’s all you did to your character. A mere flick of soap in his eye. SO WHAT? You’re being too nice!! You’re making it too easy! RAISE THE STAKES! Don’t be a pansy!”

So I go back and see that yes, I have made it too easy. And darn that snotty, grubby no-good gremlin, but I take the plunge and RAISE THE STAKES and flick more and more soap in my character’s eye and my character now hates me but it makes him work harder and it makes him do things that I never knew was in him and makes other characters react to him in surprising ways and it makes the book better and the story more interesting and the ending all that more exciting…

And then I finish the first draft and have to start the process all over again.

Well, that’s the plan anyway…


So show of hands–are you a planner or a pantser?

Tales from the ER

Date: Sunday April 13, 2008
Posted in: Random,writing

I’m not the sickly type by nature (thank goodness) but have been to the ER twice in my life.

Once was while writhing in pain equivalent to 14 knives being impaled into my abdomen (not childbirth–kidney stones) and another was when a skin infection became unbearably painful during a long weekend.

 The first time, I was whisked in to a waiting emergency room, amidst withering glares from the weary occupants of the waiting room. The second, I was the one cursing the 15 people who skipped the queue before me while I worried my finger was about to fall off. So how exactly do ER staff prioritize patients’ care? While researching my latest non-fiction project, this is what I learned:

Each patient that comes through ER goes to triage. There, a nurse gives their condition a rating:

• Less urgent : like infected fingers (apparently).

• Urgent, but not life-threatening: like kidney stones (apparently).

• Immediately life-threatening: which I didn’t qualify for (apparently).

The sickest get seen quicker, even if they come in later.

So what about you? What are some of your ER stories? Where would you have landed on the triage rating?

Things I learned today…

Date: Wednesday April 9, 2008
Posted in: Random,writing

Telesurgery is performed on a patient by a surgeon from a distance away. On February 28, 2003, the first hospital-to-hospital surgery was performed in Ontario, Canada. One surgeon worked at the patient’s side. The other was 400 kilometers away and operated with the help of a computer-controlled robot.

Trepanning is an ancient surgery dating back to the Neolithic caveman. Early man drilled holes through the skull to release the evil spirits that caused headaches or epilepsy. This operation was done without anesthetic (ouch!) with a surgical tool that looked like a manual drill (double ouch!).

Image:Peter Treveris - engraving of Trepanation for Handywarke of surgeri 1525.png

Cool, huh? I love my job!!

Marvelous Monday

Date: Monday April 7, 2008
Posted in: Good news!,writing

Got a lovely note yesterday saying that my middle grade story, ACADIAN STAR , had taken second place in the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick’s Literary competition:

2008 WFNB Literary Competition Winners Announced
By Kellie(Kellie)
Helene Boudreau of Markham, ON, takes Second place with “Acadian Star.” Third place goes to Lindsey Morris of Amherstburg, ON for “The Hotdog Bun.” Carmelita McGrath judged the Sheree Fitch Prize for Poetry written by a youth.
Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick –

Snoopy dancing!!

How is writing like a Hannah Montana concert?

Date: Sunday February 17, 2008
Posted in: writing

Little M and Little C were absolutely thrilled when I surprised them yesterday with tickets for the Hannah Montana movie in 3D.

Squeeee! (That’s the actual sound fans make when she comes on stage.)

Did it matter that I went to three different theaters to get tickets? (Why didn’t I bring the movie listings with me?)

Did it matter that I finally gave up and bought tickets on-line?  (At a premium with a $1 surcharge per ticket for the privilige?)

Did it matter that I went to the WRONG theater the day of, and ended up arriving during the previews and had to sit in the very front seats, developing a not-altogether-comfortable crick in my neck? (What is it with me and directions?)

Nope. The girls had a ball!

And it got me to thinking, hmm, how is writing like a Hannah Montana concert…(Oh no! you say, THIS should be good *rolls eyes*)

Humour me for a sec. For those of you not familiar with Hannah Montana, (and if not, where the heck have you been? Or maybe you just don’t have little girls) HM is the mega blockbuster Disney enterprise starring Miley Cyrus, daughter of Billy Ray. Miley/Hannah has a hit TV show in which she portrays a girl living a double life–one of a regular girl and the other as a popular music star.

After giving this a Great Deal of Thought (not) I will now demonstrate how Hannah Montana and writing are actually quite similar. Allow me a bit of latitude here…

HM gives her fans what they want

She knows her audience. The lights, the special effects, the dancers and the great singing–all elements that thrill, excite and leave her fans screaming for more.

Writing for children is similar. You need to know your audience and deliver. Is the reader a boy or a girl or both? How old? What is their reading level? What style and elements do you need to draw from to engage that reader? Yeah, yeah, I hear you out there. But shouldn’t you write about what you are passionate about? How can you cater to an audience, isn’t that squashing your creative process? Hogwash.  In my opinion, the two don’t need to be at war with each other. There is plenty of opportunity to draw on creativity while still keeping the reader in mind.

HM goes all out, holding nothing back

That girl has pipes, wow! She sings like a songbird, engages her audience, is all over the stage and puts on a GREAT show.

I think writers also need to give it all, spend it all and not hold back. Annie Dillard said it best:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”

HM doesn’t make excuses

That girl has the energy of an Energizer Bunny. Gadzooks. A hit TV show, writing and composing her own music, concert tours. Makes me want to take a nap just thinking about it.

I think writers can fall into the trap of, ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘As soon as things settle down’ or ‘My office is too messy–how can I write like this!’ Heck, I’ve used all those excuses too. But no writing can get done until you get your butt in the chair and get down to it. Plus, there are so many resources out there (check out my Writer’s Resources tab), there is really no excuse for putting off what you want to do and learning how to get better at it.

HM faces her fears and shows her vulnerabilities.

There is a scene where HM is afraid to do a dance stunt since she got dropped the first time. She works through her fears and gets the job done. Another scene, she bares a piece of herself and sings a song about when her Granpa died. *sniff*

As writers we need to spill it all out on the page. Be unkind to your characters. Put them in the worst possible situations and see how they react. Face them with their worst possible fears and let them rise to the occasion (or not). Susan Adrian had a great post regarding this subject HERE. She says it way better than I ever could.

HM leaves them wanting more.

At the end of the concert, everyone goes home humming the songs. Even today, I’m catching myself singing “This is the li-iiiiife….”

Good books should do this too, leave a residue, a feeling or a sentiment that you can’t quite shake. I remember feeling that way about LIFE OF PI and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. What was it about those books that made such an impression on me? I think it was the fact that the authors touched on universal truths and made me care deeply for the characters.

It’s sort of akin to the way I feel every time I have to leave from my visits home to Cape Breton. It’s bittersweet. On the one hand, I really enjoyed my visit, but it’s so hard to leave it all behind.

Whew! I think I need coffee after that! Likening writing to a Hannah Montana concert this early in the morning–what was I thinking?

Am I crazy or does this make any sense? And hands up all you Hannah Montana fans…I know you’re out there…

Well documented

Date: Tuesday September 11, 2007
Posted in: writing

Just a few pointers when using Microsoft Word

Headers and Footers

If you go in “View” “Header and Footer”, two word fields will show up at the top and bottom of your page. Here you can put all of your information that you wish to include on each page in a protected text box. Things like your title, your name, your word count and the page numbers can be put in this field and when you “close” it, it isn’t affected by the rest of your document as you type. It is unchangeable until you “View” “Header and Footer” again. Inserting page numbers is a bit tricky, but I see that when I started typing ‘Page’ it gave me an option in a callout box of choosing “Page x of y'” which automatically formats your page numbers. Otherwise, the Header/Footer task bar that pops up has a way to do it manually, if you fiddle with it, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

Document Map

In microsoft word there is a function under View called Document Map. I set my Document Map up with Chapter Headings to navigate around my WIP. If you want to set it up with Chapter headings you will need to View/ Toolbar/Formatting to see the Headings function on your toolbar.

Set up your chapter headings, by selecting say “Chapter 1″ and formatting it as a Header from the Header drop down list. Once you have all your Chapter headings set up, when you look at your Document Map, you can click on each chapter and skip from one to another.

In my chapter heading, I put the Chapter #/Word Count/Grade level/short description. That way, I can skip to the chapters that need work with one click instead of having to read through.

I usually get the first couple of chapters going, then do a rough sketch of the other chapters.This helps me get a sense of my story as a whole. I guess it’s kind of an outline, but changes if need be depending on the unexpected turns my story takes as I’m writing. It’s immensely helpful keeping me on track and helping me to work out the plots and subplots. Especially when I know where I need to end up. (ie the thrilling conclusion-haha) Where my ideas need fleshing out, I insert the marker EXPAND in blue. That way, I can do a Edit/Find for the word EXPAND and know immediately the areas that need attention.

Readability Statistics

If you use Microsoft Word, you can use the Flesch-Kincaid index inherent to the program. Select the portion you would like to grade and select “Tools” and “Spelling and Grammar” from the drop down menu. Once the S & G tool has gone through your selection, you will get a large window with all the stats. At the very end is the Flesch-Kincaid grade level score.

And now, dear friends, you know how truly anal I really am.

Peace, out!