Monthly Archives: August 2013

Incrementalism: the art of fine-tuning change

I call incrementalism a basic principle of life: if you don’t work every day to make it better, it will get worse. ‘It’ can be anything at all.

Not all change can be effected by a sweeping pronouncement: “I am quitting smoking as of now.” “I will never think of him again.”

Instead, most changes fall in the category of ‘a little bit better’ or ‘a little bit worse’ every day. Continue reading

Use acting to find your writing voice

Writing voice is the prize: why we like particular writers of fiction and non-fiction determines what we read. Voice makes you salable.

The original question was: How to find your blogging voice.

But of course MY brain always goes from non-fiction to fiction, especially since I started blogging to have an outlet for my fiction, rather than my blogging leading to me writing fiction, so my fiction answer is longer, and it relies on something I never thought I’d use this way: basic training as an actor.

Voice creation/discovery

It is an odd question – how to find your voice – but most writers who read a lot have to consciously:

a) become aware that they are using voices from their reading, or from their teachers in school, or from wherever they’ve picked up ‘how you do voice.’

b) re-find their own. Continue reading

4 Lessons about readers from the chinchilla

Our chinchilla, Gizzy, turned 2 on the 4th of July, and has lived with us for over a year and a half of that time. She is what they call a ‘legacy pet’ – one inherited from one’s children.

chinchilla sitting on a hand

Gizzy deigning to sit on my hand

I am not a pet person – but the kids were moving to Houston, and were afraid they couldn’t keep her cool enough. Chinchillas are animals of the high Andean mountain desserts, and will fry if they get too much over 70° F, plus can’t stand much humidity. Think of it: there she is, my little Gizzy, wearing a thick coat of the softest fur on the planet, but she can’t get rid of excess heat because she doesn’t pant and has no sweat glands. The only way she cools is through her feet and her ears, which will turn bright pink to warn you she is approaching heat stroke.

Chinchillas are not pets, not really. They are wild animals we sometimes keep around, but it is a symbiotic relationship at best, and basically I am allowed to have an exotic little creature in my house, and interact with her as much as she will let me, on her terms. Observing her and taking care of her has led to a lot of thoughts about Readers and Writers.

Chinchillas are like Readers

Living with a chinchilla makes certain truths evident, Continue reading

Plot twists and the Moment of Truth – a customer service analysis for writers

Novelists don’t think of themselves as being in ‘Customer Service.’ But we are – we are in business to satisfy our customers – readers – with our work: a constant stream of words, properly presented, for the entertainment and delectation of the person who honors us first with his money and then with her time.

We want to keep that customer satisfied. Basic customer service.

A satisfied customer will:

be happy he spent money to acquire our book for entertainment purposes

be happy she read our book

buy future books from us

tell other readers about our book personally, on a review site, on his blog – in positive, possibly glowing tones

become a true fan

possibly even become a friend.

In contrast, an UNsatisfied customer will, after throwing the book against the wall (TTBATW): Continue reading

Group characters, epigraphs, and Dramatica – a novel use

Dramatica was developed for screenwriters, and some of the features are much harder to implement in a script than they are in fiction, with its variable length and format. One of these is the concept I will call a ‘group character,’ and I will show how I implement a group character using epigraphs.

Most people consider a ‘character’ to be a single entity (say, a human, or HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey) which behaves in a more or less self-consistent way, and either stays the same or changes in a character arc as the story progresses.

Dramatica has a goal: to help create stories which are complete, meaning the argument put forth by the author has been examined from all applicable points of view, and the author has made his/her case for the conclusion presented. Dramatica calls this kind of story a Grand Argument Story (GAS).  Continue reading

Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 6, Scene 3

This week’s post is Chapter 6, Scene 3 (1.6.3).

Feedback welcome. Thanks!

Still looking for more beta readers; if interested, email me at abehrhardt [at] gmail.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN Table of Contents

End of previous scene, followed by the link to the new scene:

End of Chapter 6, Scene 2

She pouted penitently, interlocked her fingers primly in her lap like an attentive schoolgirl. “Proceed, please.”

Good. She could laugh at herself. He lifted the bottle in assent. “Colonel Strathmore––that’s me––forbids her to see young Winston––that’s John––but her sympathies are shifting. It’s complicated because my freed slave––Peter Hyland––doesn’t trust the insurgents…” He let the cool bitter liquid slide down his throat. Not bad—for colonials. The big room, the fire, the view, and the perceptive questions conspired with the lager to soothe him into his story. It amused him, how safe and peaceful she made it seem.

Since when do I crave peace?

~ ~ ~

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 6, Scene 3

Copyright by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 2013.

The art, science, and necessity of epigraphs in novels

Epigraphs are curious little pieces of text. Almost like roses made out of frosting, they feel decorative – and somewhat frivolous.

My dictionary on the Mac offers two recognized meanings:

an inscription on a building, statue, or coin.

short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme

In a novel, epigraphs are used in several places:

at the beginning of the book, a part, or a chapter

as a chapter title Continue reading

Writing the triangle story: bending Dramatica to the writer’s will

I seem to be attracted to writing triangles. My work-in-progress, Pride’s Children, is an adult love triangle. A play I wrote, Tangled Webs, is another triangle story, this time about a young woman who finds out she’s adopted – and is the bone of contention between her two mothers.

I am fascinated by triangle stories: Agnes of God, by John Pielmeier, tells the story of a young nun who has an unexpected child – and the fight over her soul between the Mother Superior of her convent and the court-ordered psychiatrist who must try to figure out how the baby ended up dead. Eleemosynary, a play by Lee Blessing, tells the story of three generations of women in a family.

A proper triangle has two-person interactions between each pairing. The interest comes from the rotating interaction between three characters – if a story is merely that a guy is interested in two different women, and picks one over the other, it isn’t what I call a proper triangle: the women MUST interact separately of their interaction with the man, for it to pique my interest.

So what makes a proper triangle story? Continue reading

Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 6, Scene 2

This week’s post is Chapter 6, Scene 2 (1.6.2).

Feedback welcome. Thanks!

PRIDE’S CHILDREN Table of Contents

End of previous scene, followed by the link to the new scene:

End of Chapter 6, Scene 1

“You should’ve seen your face.” He’s teaseable. He followed as she went to the kitchen. “In-house joke. But isn’t it colder than Guinness in pubs in Ireland?” Ack!—damn brain. Would he notice she knew his favorite? Shades of Misery. She added ice to an insulated mug, filled it with cold water from the refrigerator tap.

He opened the beer. “Water?” He leaned an elbow on the counter, his face a comical look of pure horror.

He looked so domestic she needed him out of her kitchen. Now. “Come on back—I’ll light a fire—to kill the chill.” She talked over her shoulder as she led the way back. “Can’t tolerate much alcohol, I’m afraid—and I still have work to do.” Damn. That’s exactly the wrong thing to say.

~ ~ ~

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 6 – …gathering his fools in one basket to see what would hatch… – Scene 2

Copyright by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 2013.

Consistent point of view (pov) in writing and revision

In the process of revising the scene I’m working on, I made my self a note:

It’s a credible draft, and everything I wanted to put in there somewhere is there.

But it lacks 1) a consistent pov – Andrew fades in and out

I took a minute to ask myself why I had this thought, and realized that it happens regularly: a scene feels as if the point of view is going back and forth from a general omniscient pov to the first or third person pov I’m aiming for. Continue reading

Using Scrivener to store structure – Scene template, Part 8

Update 10/25/13: If you would like a blank Scrivener file with all this structure stuff already in it, drop me an email address to abehrhardt [at] gmail. I tried really hard to upload it – but WordPress won’t let me, and Dropbox won’t let me make a file public. I have it all ready and will just attach it to a reply email. No obligation whatsoever. Use or modify to suit yourself.


This is the final Scene Template post, and I will discuss where I currently store all the template’s structure bits in my Scrivener file. Scrivener is incredibly versatile – there are places to store anything you can think of. If you’re not a writer using Scrivener who is a plotter, it will all be gobbledegook – with screenshots – and I recommend you skip the whole thing.

If, like me, your current system is getting overwhelming, jump right in. I wish I’d been able to get a copy of someone else’s complete system BEFORE I made the transition, so I wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel.

There are advantages to having the template on a single page and filling it in as a single file, but, for me, that entailed either burying the structure in the same file as the text (using Word’s Hidden text feature) – or maintaining a second, parallel set of files, and updating that simultaneously. Needless to say, the ‘simultaneous’ part of the updating was often out of date.

And for ebook publishing (my eventual aim), having a Word file laden with buried hidden text would have ended up a complete disaster. Continue reading

DragonFlys construction Sunday Aug. 18 – canceled because of rain!

If you’re following Holly’s tiny house:


PLEASE CHECK HERE before showing up to help!

If there are changes to Holly’s schedule, I’ll post them here when I hear from her – please check first! We don’t want people to make a big effort and then not get a chance to work.



August 18, 2013: UPDATE

From Holly:  There won’t be any building today – everything is too wet, and there’s a 60% chance of rain. Maybe next weekend.

Left Brain righT: Brain Hemisphere Wars and Writer’s Block

In an insidious form of ‘writer’s block,’ I used to be brought to a complete standstill by something I didn’t even realize was going on: each side of my brain wanted to be the one in control, firmly confident that IT had the ONLY correct method for writing. EVER.

The LEFT side of my brain was convinced that we HAD to start by MAKING A LIST. It had good arguments: once everything is written down, I could then focus on each item, do it and check it off the list.

The RIGHT side of my brain was convinced that, no matter where we were in the writing process, it was much better to gather up ideas, possibly writing them all down to generate even more ideas – the number of notebooks generated by the WIP approaches 20 – and the ‘writing down’ was already a compromise: my attempts to nap were filled with wild flights of imagination. Continue reading

DragonFlys construction Sunday Aug. 18

If you’re following Holly’s tiny house:


August 14, 2013: UPDATE

Holly will be building this Sunday, Aug. 18, in Yardley.

She sent: “We are going to be at the house on Sunday – putting up the beam!! & Roof.”

This will be exciting – having a roof on makes such a huge difference to a tiny house – and to the workers, who spend a lot less time covering up piles of parts with tarps – we’ve had such a rainy summer!

See you there. Email me if you don’t know the location and want to come help.

Don’t wait until you’re disabled to

Thanks to Dave Hingsburger for the thoughts that led to today’s post.

Don’t wait until you can’t walk –

to become aware that there are people out there – ordinary people – who, for whatever reason, need a little more space to get through an aisle, to park their car so they can get out, to clear a path for a chair or a scooter or a stroller.

Don’t wait until your son or daughter brings home a love of a different ethnicity –

to get over your automatic ‘other’ thoughts about anyone who doesn’t look exactly like you do.

Don’t wait until you are in a hospital bed – Continue reading