November 2016 Meeting Recap

OWLS has gone short! Short story writing that is. During our monthly meeting, we laid out the basics to short story writing with a challenge inviting all who attended to take part in our Short Story Writing Challenge. Over the next 6 months, we will work directly with anyone who would like to try their hand at crafting a short story, poem, creative journal, or a combination of any of those.

The first steps to crafting a short story is to understand just what goes into one. The first step is to develop a premise that will work in the short story format. Shorts tend to be anywhere from 1,500 words on up to 10,000, so a story line should take that in to consideration. Think of it as a moment in time, a glimpse of real life so to speak. Short stories are often true to life in that they give us a picture of someone’s life in a snapshot, real or imagined, rather than an entire life story. Like taking a picture instead of a full length autobiography. Mindy Klasky says in her article, Keeping Time, ” Timelines frequently factor into the narrative tension of our stories; short timelines often “raise the stakes” for everyone involved.” Like a novel, short stories must contain several key elements, an intriguing sentence that leaves more questions than it answers, memorable characters, meaningful dialogue, pivotal change, a powerful climax and finally, an ending that wraps it all up.

You may ask, why write a short story then if you already do all of that in a novel. Well, let’s take a look.

“A short story is not really a novel in miniature, but it has many of a novel’s features, from fictional characters to rising and falling action. Stories that are traditional narratives (as opposed to fragmentary vignettes or character studies) mirror many aspects of the novel. For example, one aspect of writing that writers often struggle with is how much information to give the reader and whether their own thoughts about the story have made it to the page. Sometimes, a writer knows the story so well they fail to convey essential information. Short stories give a writer the chance to practice revealing information in different ways without having to do this over a longer arc. Writing short fiction is also a useful exercise in conveying important themes quickly as the main action of the story unfolds.” Now Novel

There’s quite a bit of an advantage to taking on a short story even if you are currently working on a novel. Short stories allow you to experiment with plot devices without the commitment of a full length manuscript. This can add a new level of understanding of how plot devices can not only make your writing stronger, but can create more conflict, tension and depth to your longer pieces without the headache of getting three-quarters into a novel only to have to go back and rewrite it all when your plot falls apart.

Other benefits are, being able to edit out those “darlings” that get in the way and not lose any of the important detail. Oftentimes in writing a novel, we tend to overwrite only to have to go back and trim away all the excess word vomit and risk losing the integrity we intended it to have all along. Keeping to a shorter word count forces you to make the words count. Our characters become stronger, leaner, more alive without all the extraneous descriptions. Dialogue becomes distinctive, leaner, more concise and important. We learn what’s necessary and what is not, which then carries over into novel writing, creating stories that grab the reader and hold them to the end and ultimately, tell the story we intended all along.

Of course, there are a whole host of benefits we gain when we tighten up the word count and dare to stay within it’s boundaries. Line by line we learn to write sentences that speak what we want them to say. Short stories are great for implying a character’s flaw, fear, past, etc without telling everything about them.

So, if you are up for the challenge, either reply to the November Short Story Writing Challenge email that was sent out with the words, “I’m in” or if you are not in our email mailing list, then email us at with the keywords, OWLS Short Story Writing Challenge, I’m in. Please be sure to include your personal information in the email so we can follow up with you. If you are hesitant, we have an incentive for you. Every month that you meet the deadline, you will receive $1 off your yearly membership dues, which could potentially take $6 off. We will send out reminders to keep you on track and each month you attend a meeting, we will give you feedback designed to help you develop and perfect that story.

So, if you are ready to get started, the first deadline is December 31st. If you don’t already have a story idea you’ve been mulling, use people, events, and situations around you for inspiration; the holidays are coming to provide ample opportunity to witness family interactions or tensions among fellow shoppers, because inspiration can come from anywhere and stories can be dark, full of romance, charged with underlying tension, or warmed with humor. Open your mind to possibilities and be inspired!

Our first goal concerns idea-generation and character elements:
• Main Characters–briefly outline at least 2; consider what they hate, what secrets do they have, memories that might influence them, illness, phobias, quirks, faults?
• Main Conflict–what is at the center of this story
• Central Event or Moment–when does the conflict occur or why
Setting–interpret as broadly or minutely as necessary to begin to visualize the situation

You may produce these ideas in any form you like: rough outline, brief sentences, sketched-out notes. Remember to keep them brief; these are initial notes to get something of your inspiration on paper.
Submit this part-one material to OWLS by email no later than December 31. Be sure to include your name in the email and use Short Story Challenge in the subject.

We have included the websites in this post with tips, ideas and guidelines for getting started which we have drawn from to explain the process. Please read through them and take notes as they offer up more information than I could ever put in one posting.

Through the coming months, OWLS will guide you through the short story development and creation process with relevant articles, meeting discussions, and feedback. We’ll help you set reasonable goals, hold you accountable, and offer support along the way. When the seminar series is complete, you’ll have a story/poem/anecdote worthy of final polish, and with some determination, the potential for submission to contests, journals, and anthology calls–or at least the experience and methods to do it all again with a specific purpose in mind. We look forward to the next six months and everything we can accomplish together.

Keeping Time

How to write a great short story: 7 simple steps

How to write a short story and improve your writing skills

December’s meeting will not be held, rather, we invite all OWLS members and their families to our OWLS Christmas Dinner held at Thunder Bay Grill, 7652 Potawatomi Trail Rockford IL. Cocktails at 6 p.m., Dinner at 6:30 ordered off the menu, dutch treat. Please RSVP to Dawn at 815-289-2860 or Sarah at 815-218-7563 no later than 8 p.m. on December 1st with the number of guests in your party.

October 2016 Meeting Recap

Timelines…those pesky strings which record all the events our characters get into or try to get out of and drive us absolutely nuts with trying to keep straight. Did he shoot the burglar in the garden after dinner? Or was it his wife that did stab someone in the library before dawn? Keeping track of timelines can be as tedious as well, a timeline. (Cue the drum and cymbal) All puns aside, Timelines can be your best friend when you know how to properly craft and utilize them.

This month, we discussed various ways to develop, track and incorporate a timeline into your Work In Progress. Mindy Klasky, a USA Today Best-Selling Author offers several tools to develop a workable timeline in her article, Keeping Time, originally published in the magazine, Romance Writers Report in September 2010.

“As authors, we need to manage timelines for our characters. Whether we’re counting the number of days until the Season begins in Regency England or the number of nights that remain before a werewolf-transforming full moon in contemporary America, we authors must know how long our characters have been in action.”

There are ways to do just that. Many are simple, such as using paper, index cards or a white board. Ms. Klasky says, “Some authors simply grab a standard calendar, scribbling in the key dates for their characters. This straightforward method of timeline management works best for authors of contemporary novels, where specific dates and timed devices (e.g., phases of the moon) are not material to the plot. The truly detail-driven author who uses real calendars will need to keep a number on hand; taking Leap Year into consideration, our Western calendar repeats every twenty-eight years. Fortunately, many word processing programs, including Word, include templates for creating calendars.” Other authors will use old computer paper, spread out over the floor to record and track their timeline.

If being more technical and utilizing electronics is more your style, Ms. Klasky suggests using spreadsheets and text management software. “While spreadsheets evolved as accounting tools for handling numerous mathematical calculations, they are often used to mimic complicated database management software, tracking multiple “fields” of information in columns or rows. Spreadsheets can be used to record detail about people, places, and dates.” Also, “text management software – computer programs designed specifically to assist writers in manipulating large amounts of text – also often include timeline solutions. For example, yWriter is free Windows-based software that permits authors to save “chunks” of their novels as easily-moved scenes. Each scene can be assigned a specific time and date, and the author can define the duration of each scene, in terms of minutes, hours, or days.”

You can find yWriter at Apart from yWriter, the web offers several options for timelines. One such option is “the cloud.” Writers are able to upload information onto the cloud and work offline in a variety of computer platforms and storage choices. “The cloud” is available from any Internet-connected computer, without regard to platform; it can be very useful for authors who work in a variety of physical places and for authors who collaborate with others.”

The final option Ms. Klasky shares is the Web. Sites such as Google and Dipity offer calendars which can be customized to each writer’s specific need.

Of course, once you have a working timeline, the question then becomes, how do you incorporate time into your WIP? Well, there are a number of ways to do so. In the article, How to Effectively Handle Time Shifts In Your Story, Jane Friedman offers several solutions.

“Everything that happens in your fiction should occur at the moment when it will evoke the greatest response from a reader. This means that even if your fiction’s timeframe begins at point A and then moves forward till it ends at point B, the story doesn’t need to progress lineally. Instead, your story should move forward emotionally, building momentum toward its climax.”

Building that momentum isn’t difficult as long as certain questions are answered.

1) When is a Time Shift Appropriate? Moving from one scene to another can be seamless, even when the scene crosses time. Ms. Friedman suggests, “As any agent or editor will tell you, it’s best to get your story’s “present” going at a good pace before you slip into its past. One of the errors I often see in early drafts of novels is a time shift in the first five pages. A good rule of thumb is to get at least one-tenth into your narrative before you begin going back in time.”

2) Why is this Time Shift Now? It’s not always a good idea to place a shift into a scene simply for the sake of the scene. Time shifts must always be necessary and must propel the story forward, even when the shift is a flashback.

3) Is this Time Shift for me or my reader? This is self-explanatory. If the shift is only to fill a scene, but has no bearing on the plot, or the final outcome, then it is not necessary and can bog a story down, causing the risk of turning away readers.

Questions 4 and 5 ask, Does the story need this particular Time Shift and Do I need a Time Shift that’s not here yet? Ms. Friedman answers them by saying, “Extraneous information is extraneous whether it occurs in the past or present of a fiction. Remember, the most important purpose of a time shift is to keep your fiction moving along while revealing something from your character’s past that colors his present in some significant way.”

If you are going to incorporate Time Shifts into your story, be sure to ask these all important questions to prevent bogging your work down with unnecessary and slow-moving information. Learning how to cut the fat will allow you to create a smooth, tension-filled plot that will keep your reader coming back for more.

How to Effectively Handle Time Shifts in Your Story

Our final article addressed a bit more of the technical tools you can use to create timelines. Jamie Todd Rubin’s article, Building and Managing Story Timelines in Scrivener offers an in-depth look at Scrivener with step by step instructions for developing your own timeline.

Building and managing story timelines using Scrivener

OWLS members had a chance over the past few months to read through the proposed by-laws for the Ogle-Winnebago Literary Society and this month’s meeting was the final vote to either adopt or reject them. After going over a minor change, the by-laws were proposed by Dawn Johnson and seconded by Sharon Boehlefeld. The vote was then taken and carried unanimously by all present. This begins the 2017 fiscal year for OWLS and the beginning of our fourth year!

The final topic to discuss was the “The Only Story” writing contest. Due to the website being temporarily down, the decision was made to put off the announcement until the website was back up and running. Now that it has been fixed the results will be soon be posted.

Looking forward to the end of the year meetings, the November meeting will be held at the Cardinal Cafe in Stillman Valley on 15 November 2106 at 1:00 p.m. Come early if you want to grab a bite to eat.

Due to the holidays, we will not be having our usual meeting in December, but will instead we will host a dinner at the Thunder Bay Grille at 7652 Potawatomi Trail, Rockford, IL 61107 on 2 December 2016. Cocktails will be served at 6:00 p.m. and dinner will be at 6:30 p.m. Dinner will be dutch treat and spouses and families are invited to attend. We request a firm commitment by no later than November 30th of all guests attending.


September 2016 Meeting Recap

Have you ever encountered a situation where a memory is not quite what you had remembered it to be? Though our ability to record memories is perfect, our recall is faulty and oftentimes we will remember someone as having worn a white shirt when in actuality, they wore a blue shirt. This happens, you ask? Yes, more than we realize. So, the question begs to be asked, if our memory recall is faulty, shouldn’t our characters’s be as well? The answer is a most resounding yes!

Writing your characters with a perfect recall of an event, person, place or thing not only makes them come across as too perfect, it makes them unrelatable. Writing an Emotional Scene? You Could Have an Unreliable Narrator, by Faye Kirwin, we learn that “it’s time to introduce a touch of unreliability.”

“Humans aren’t recorders. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you don’t remember everything perfectly, even when you’re trying to. Memories fade, details get distorted, some features you never remember in the first place. The scene in your mind and the scene that actually happened can be very different things.”

Writing characters who misremember something important makes them truly come alive off the page as well as adds for interesting twists, conflicts and situations they might not otherwise ever encounter. But, it’s not just about misremembering, it’s how to write it that really counts.

In Faye’s article, False Memories in Fiction: How Emotional Scenes Can Create Unreliable Narrators, Ms. Kirwin goes into more detail about applying this to your writing in such a way as to make your character’s fault work for them, or even against them, depending on how you choose to write it.

“When you sit down to write a scene, think about what emotion your point-of-view character is feeling. If she’s positive and she’s just completed a goal, then include both the central and background features of the scene in your descriptions (as long as they’re relevant, of course). Because emotion affects attention (present) and memory (past), your happy character could be taking in the central and background details in her current scene or remembering both types of details of a past scene.”

“As with feeling positive emotion when pursuing a goal, negative emotion can narrow attention and memory to the core features of a scene. And it makes sense—if something causes you a negative emotion, like fear or anger, it’s likely a threat, and so you zoom in on the thing making you feel that way. The stuff around it is less important and so you’re less likely to remember it.”

“This is particularly fun to apply to writing. Imagine your character’s been caught up in the middle of a bank robbery. Is she going to pay attention to the glossiness of the marble floor or the armed thief a few feet away? Unless the glossy floor factors into a plan she’s devising or provides a sharp contrast (e.g. if there’s blood on it), she’s unlikely to remember it—or she may misremember it.”

When writing those pivotal scenes, perhaps think about having your character misremember some little detail about it and see where it takes him. He might just find out his perception isn’t exactly what he thought it was. Have fun with it and be creative. You now have full license to do just that, because no is perfect, so why should our characters be?

Saturday was the deadline for The Only Story Writing Contest and submissions will no longer be accepted. We are pleased to announce, the interest and response was greater than we’d anticipated. Thank you to everyone for submitting. We are excited to sit down and read through them all. Results will be announced at the October 15th meeting.

We have also released the proposed by-laws for OWLS and ask that members take the time to read through them and email us any questions you may have by October 1st. A full version of the proposed by-laws can be found under the NEWS tab. We will be voting on the by-laws at the October 15th meeting. If you are not a member and are interested in voting on the by-laws, you are invited to join OWLS. Annual dues are $25 a year/$45 for two years and you can join on the website under the Membership tab.

Again, thank you all who participated in The Only Story Writing Contest! We’ll see everyone in October!




August 2016 Meeting Recap

This month, we concluded our discussion on how to do a close reading by taking a look at the books our OWLS members read and analyzed. As you recall, in July we challenged members to find a technique they wanted to study and then bring their close readings to share. Books like, Something Wicked by Carolyn G. Hart, Submerged by Alton Gansky, The Gold Bug by Edgar Allan Poe, Exodus by Leon Uris and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. We learned about how to grab a reader with the hook at the very beginning of the book through Rachel Bradt’s annotation on Submerged, descriptive language and detail with Anna Boehlefeld’s sharing of The Gold Bug. How to describe horror and devastation with Sarah Hernandez’s report on Exodus by Leon Uris and Sharon Boehlefeld’s overall summation on Something Wicked.

At the end of the discussion, Dawn shared from her close reading on subtext from The Remains of the Day. In her discussion, she read some from The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter;

“A novel is not a summary of its plot but a collection of instances, of luminous specific details that take us in the direction of the unsaid and unseen…fiction writers create those visible and invisible details, how what is displayed evokes what is not displayed.”

Subtext is writing the unwritten, it is revealing hidden and unspoken traits, habits, thoughts and emotions in a particular character or characters without actually coming out and writing it. It is in essence, writing between the lines so to speak. In the Remains of the Day, Mr. Stevens’s subtext is his obsession with being a better butler than his father, to the point of being incapable of any emotion other than his idolized worship of his employer, Lord Darlington. Mr. Stevens never comes out and discusses his inability to care for anyone, it is written into the way he interacts with his father, and the others in Darlington Hall as well as his willingness to accept demeaning behavior directed at him by Lord Darlington’s guests.

Overall, everyone brought some really great close readings and came away with a much broader sense of what it takes to analyze reading for themselves. Several said they planned on taking a second look at some of their favorites as well as finding new favorites to start analyzing. The challenge was sent out and everyone agreed to start looking beyond the usual go-to’s for a close reading and instead, broaden their scope of what is available to critique.

We have extended our deadline for The Only Story  short story contest until September 17th, 2016. All other rules still apply. Please refer to the Contest Entry Page for further details.

We look forward to reading your stories and poems. The September 2016 meeting will be held on the 17th at the Cardinal Cafe in Stillman Valley, IL. at 1 p.m. Come early if you want to enjoy lunch first and as always, you are welcome to bring a friend. We look forward to seeing you and as always, keep writing!!

July 2016 Meeting Recap

Ever read a book and wondered how the writer did a particular technique or thought to yourself, gee, I would love to find out how to incorporate more symbolism, realism, characterization, or any other technique better into my writing? Well, you can.

The practice of close reading leads to writing better fiction. We learn to look deeper at writing and all its elements to understand what makes it good, bad, different, unique, fresh, stale, or even hopeless. We learn the most from analyzing great writing but we also learn from analyzing crappy writing, so never think you can’t learn from even the poorest attempt at fiction (even if all you learn is what NOT to do). In the process of learning how and why to read others’ writing like this, we gain insight into our own as well.

You may ask yourself, what is close reading, or annotating a book or poem? Close reading is a valuable skill for writers. The practice opens up a broader and deeper view by critical, thoughtful reading of prose or poetry. It is deeper than reading for pleasure; it is about analyzing rather than being entertained. The analysis involves many facets of the work, including awareness of why and how it entertains (or fails to!). The effect of close reading others’ work teaches you to analyze your own when you are preparing to edit.

Ok, then how do I do it? To do a close reading, you choose a specific passage and analyze it in fine detail, as if with a magnifying glass. You then comment on points of style and on your reactions as a reader. Close reading is important because it is the building block for larger analysis. Your thoughts evolve not from someone else’s truth about the reading, but from your own observations. The more closely you can observe, the more original and exact your ideas will be. To begin your close reading, ask yourself several specific questions about the passage.

I. First Impressions:
 What is the first thing you notice about the passage?
 What is the second thing?
 Do the two things you noticed complement each other? Or contradict each other?
 What mood does the passage create in you? Why?

II. Vocabulary and Diction:
 Which words do you notice first? Why? What is noteworthy about this diction?
 How do the important words relate to one another?  Do any words seem oddly used to you? Why?
 Do any words have double meanings? Do they have extra connotations?
 Look up any unfamiliar words.

III. Discerning Patterns:
 Does an image here remind you of an image elsewhere in the book? Where? What’s the connection? [Doesn’t apply to our exercise.]
 How might this image fit into the pattern of the book as a whole? [Also doesn’t apply.]
 Could this passage symbolize the entire work? Could this passage serve as a microcosm–a little picture–of what’s taking place in the whole work?
 What is the sentence rhythm like? Short and choppy? Long and flowing? Does it build on itself or stay at an even pace? What is the style like?
 Look at the punctuation. Is there anything unusual about it?
 Is there any repetition within the passage? What is the effect of that repetition?
 How many types of writing are in the passage? (For example, narration, description, argument, dialogue, rhymed or alliterative poetry, etc.)
 Can you identify paradoxes in the author’s thought or subject?
 What is left out or kept silent? What would you expect the author to talk about that the author avoided?

IV. Point of View and Characterization:
 How does the passage make us react or think about any characters or events within the narrative?
 Are there colors, sounds, physical description that appeals to the senses? Does this imagery form a pattern? Why might the author have chosen that color, sound or physical description?
 Who speaks in the passage? [Not dialogue but who the POV addresses.] To whom does he or she speak? Does the narrator have a limited or partial point of view? Or does the narrator appear to be omniscient, and he knows things the characters couldn’t possibly know? (For example, omniscient narrators might mention future historical events, events taking place “off stage,” the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters, and so on).

V. Symbolism:
 Are there metaphors? What kinds?
 Is there one controlling metaphor? If not, how many different metaphors are there, and in what order do they occur? How might that be significant?
 How might objects represent something else?
 Do any of the objects, colors, animals, or plants appearing in the passage have traditional connotations or meaning? What about religious or biblical significance?
 If there are multiple symbols in the work, could we read the entire passage as having allegorical meaning beyond the literal level?

The above outline proposes thoughtful points of observation in the form of questions. Don’t be overwhelmed by them. Consider them a guideline for ways to look inside the passage and read deeper, read critically for everything from grammar and language to poetic phrasing, metaphors, and pacing.

The process of close reading, or reading critically, teaches a writer to not just take in the ideas on the whole but to look at how the writing presents them and the methods the author uses to produce that writing. It’s like the difference between looking at a building and appreciating how tall and wide and brown it is versus inspecting how the architect designed the roof beams and window frames to create the result. It’s about studying the construction rather than simply acknowledging the building exists.

This month, we have decided to do something a bit different. After reading the information regarding close readings and how to do one, we are asking that you, OWLS, actually do one. Pick a technique you want to learn about, anything you need to improve on in your writing and then find a book, novella, poem or short story where the author uses this technique and read to analyze how they did what they did. Then, once you have read, write your own close reading. Yes, you can read and learn without writing a close reading, but it is in the act or writing it that you truly cement your knowledge, and after all, we are writers, right? Bring your close reading to the August meeting where we will go over them and analyze the close readings to see what everyone got out of them.

Hope to see everyone in August, and don’t forget, August 20th is the deadline for our “It’s the Only Story I’ll Ever Tell” short story contest. Details can be found under the contest tab.

June Meeting Recap

Wow, hard to believe the year is half over. Our topic this month was how to eat, Grandma as compared to how to eat Grandma. If you’re a bit confused, no worries. We learned how to properly use punctuation in dialogue, hence, eat, Grandma.

In the article, Talk it Out: How to Punctuate Dialogue in Your Prose, by Taylor Houston of Lit Reactor, we were given several examples, complete with commentary on the proper and accepted methods of punctuation. For example, Mary said, “Call me tomorrow.” the comma comes before Mary’s comment. In the example, “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said, the comma comes after the comment. This is true even when the dialogue tag reverses from Mary said to said Mary.

In the sentence, “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said. “Have a nice evening.” the first part is identical to the first example, however, since there was an additional comment made, it is added after the period following, Mary said, and starts with a capital letter. This does not ring true for the phrase, “Call me,” Mary said, “tomorrow.” This sentence implies that Mary wasn’t quite finished with her statement and the writer chose to break it up by placing the dialogue tag in the middle for a change of pace, perhaps.

In the article, Commas Before Quotes, by Sesquiotica, we delve further into this topic.

“When the quoted material is within a narrative frame-even if it’s the only thing in the narrative frame-and we are being taken to the scene, as it were, a comma is generally used. But when the quoted material is being treated as an instance of an utterance of that phrase, and the verb is the main rather than being an entrance point to dialogue (in other words, when the quoted material is truly the complement of the verb rather than an act of locution introduced) a comma is not called for.” 

One example used is:

These are the sort of people who say “Sure thing” and then don’t do anything. [no comma there – it’s not bringing in an actual dialogue situation].

In this example, though there is a reference to dialogue, the reference is simply an observation rather than an actual phrase that was spoken, so the comma is not needed.

Throughout the article, several more examples were given to show when a comma is needed and when it is not, providing a great reference tool for writers to use in those pesky sentences where you’re just not quite sure whether or not to place a comma. We highly recommend everyone take a look and bookmark the pages for later use.

Our Summer Writing Contest is still open and entries are still being accepted.

OWLS 2016 Writing Competition, The Only Story*, open to fiction and poetry. Just $10 per submission or FREE with paid OWLS membership. Entries due by August 20, 2016. Go to OWLS’ website Contest Entry page for more details and entry form. Contest open to all writers. (* You may interpret the topic [This is the only story I’ll ever tell.] in creative ways. It could be the only story you, as the author, will ever tell; it could be the only story a character will ever tell in their life or the only one about a special topic–for example a grandfather sharing just one story about going to war with his grandson. Use your imagination but make it clear that this is somehow someone’s “only story.” You are NOT limited to using first person point of view.)

Dawn and Sarah are still working on the upcoming release of the OWLS mission and bylaws and expect to have them completed by the September meeting for everyone to read.

Our next meeting will be at the Cardinal Cafe in Stillman Valley on July 16th. Come early and grab lunch with us! And as always, if you know of anyone that likes to write, bring them along. The first two meetings are free and membership is only $25 a year after that. Hope to see you all there!



May Writing Retreat Recap

Good Morning OWLS!! The Lake Summerset Writing Retreat was a HUGE success. Writing Gals welcomed OWLS to their lodge for a day of writing inspired by the most amazing views of the lake, lunch outside in one of the many sunny spots and finishing up with a jam-packed OWLS meeting. All told, it was a day much enjoyed by all. Thank you Writing Gals!!

The topic on the agenda for the monthly meeting was, Resources & References, Benefits, Uses and Cautions.

Dawn and Sarah brought several of their favorite thesauruses for us to peruse and gander at. Books like, the Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Roget’s Thesaurus on Phrases by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Arms and Armor in Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Charles Boutell, The Bibliophile’s Dictionary by Miles Westley, A Concise Dictionary on First Names by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges, the Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering, the Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, the Positive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi and finally, the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

In K.M. Weiland’s article, Is the Thesaurus Your Friend?, “writers are surprisingly divided over the value of a thesaurus. Some consider it their secret weapon; others regard it as a crutch.” Stephen King says, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. ”

Still, we have to wonder, is this really true? Can a thesaurus be used without it becoming a crutch or a way to plug large, important sounding words into our writing with the intent of impressing an agent or publisher? Ms. Weiland goes on to say, yes, it is possible, but one needs to be cautious of using the correct word. Just because a thesaurus says it is a synonym does not mean it’s the right word for your WIP.

Daily Writing Tips’ article, Hint to Writers: Use the Thesaurus With Caution mirrored the same cautions as Ms. Weiland’s article, advising writers to become more comfortable with the vocabulary they are most familiar with and to use a thesaurus sparingly if at all.’s article, Historical Fiction for Writers by Catherine Lundoff showed us ways to find information while researching. Ms. Lundoff says, “Historical resources can be broken down into two basic categories, primary sources which are contemporary records of the time period that you are researching; and secondary sources which are written after that time period.”

Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Primary sources have the advantage of being an immediate source that clearly reflects the mood, dialect, and observations of that time period. However, the disadvantage is that the person recording the information is often limited to their own perspective with no real understanding of the big picture. Secondary sources offer a wider range of information, but often in a more contemporary language and thought pattern without the perspective of those who are experiencing it.

With all the talk about thesauruses, the website, offers multiple resources. The Descriptive Thesaurus Collection offers a vast assortment of possible scenarios to explore, items such as the Physical Feature Thesaurus, Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus, or Emotional Wounds Thesaurus offer writers answers to any question they can think of.

All in all, our minds have been vastly expanded on the subject of thesauruses and research. The world is our oyster. At least the research world is. We look forward to seeing everyone for the June 25th meeting at Meg’s Daily Grind in Rockford. Details will be forthcoming. Have a safe and fun-filled Memorial Day weekend!


OWLS was recently invited by the In Print Professional Writers Organization to their 5 Year In Print Celebration, and included in the invitation was a request for Dawn and myself to speak about OWLS to their members. Thank you In Print!! It was a true honor to be able to share our fledgling organization with you. For those of you who don’t know, In Print is an organization started by several women with the idea of helping writers to grow and develop their craft, much as we are. To see such a group of writers come together was inspiring and exciting because we know in just a matter of time, we will be there, too.

Today was a reminder that hard work pays off. We started OWLS just over two years ago with just a dream, and in those two years, we have grown into an organization that is now being recognized by our peers. And we owe it all to the great members we have that keep us coming back month after month. This year, we will celebrate three years since we first started and we are confident that this is only the beginning of great things yet to come.

Character Development

WOW! What a productive time we had last month! I don’t know about you, but I thought the character chats went smashingly and thought everyone did a superb job with presenting their characters. With that in mind, I ran across an article on Pinterest (yes, that evil, time-sucking site that I simply cannot avoid) and thought I would share it on here. We talked briefly about the Meyer-Briggs scale and how it can help you to really develop your character in a more realistic fashion. So, I know you are going to love this article as it goes into detail on over 200 possible combinations you can apply to your character’s development. Check it out and let us know what you think!

As always, keep writing and remember, everyone writes horribly at first. But it’s the successful ones that look beyond the crap and see the diamond hidden underneath!