May 2017 Meeting & Comp

How’s that song go from Camelot? It’s May! It’s May!

It’s May, time for your imagination to flower! Be inspired, owls.

When – Saturday, May 20 at 1 PM        Where – Cardinal Cafe, Stillman Valley

Our Topic:

Life experience and your writing… We’ve all heard “write what you know” at least once, but that advice is unrealistic and limiting. Imagination is a broad place and the reality of creating among its many diverse planes is that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to what we know. What we must do is examine our experiences, see into them, and apply what we observe, experience, and feel to our characters and scenes to enrich and enliven them. It’s what we bring as individuals to any idea–our own, a prompt, a competition–that makes it unique. We’ll explore and discuss this more at the meeting. Don’t miss it!


Kayla Dean’s blog article: How to Enrich Your Writing with Your Experiences


OWLS’ 2017 Short Story competition. Topic or theme: Heroes aren’t made. They’re born. Open to fiction and poetry. Just $10 per submission or FREE with paid OWLS membership. Entries due by August 31, 2017. Visit the OWLS Content Entry page for length requirements, details, and entry form. Contest open to all writers.

Please share meeting, competition, and membership details with writer friends, groups you know, or even on Facebook or other social media. Help us spread the word about OWLS! Guests are always welcome at meetings.


March 2017 Meeting Details

When – Saturday, March 25 at 1 PM
Where – Cardinal Cafe, Stillman Valley, IL

Our Topic:
Theme and Character – Better Together
You feel your story or novel is going great, yet there’s something missing. Something deeper. A higher purpose or at least a purpose! Writing is meant to entertain, inform, and very often, with subtlety and finesse, it teaches. Ideally, it teaches through the characters with such shrewdness, readers are only barely conscious of being shown anything of import at all. Almost without exception (yes, there are some…there are always exceptions), theme is presented through the behaviors, thought processes, and choices of characters. This month we’ll revisit that old chestnut, theme, and explore its association with character.

K.M. Weiland to the rescue! Click here: The All-Important Link Between Theme and Character Progression.

Short Story Seminar, Part 4
Thought we forgot about you, right? Oh no! We did sadly neglect to provide you with a reminder about progressing to your rough draft. But honestly, if you’re taking this process seriously, you were eager to leap into that, weren’t you? Therefore, we’re going to think positive, and feel confidant that you’ve been hammering on the first draft of your short story, poem, or non-fic composition. Now, officially, your rough draft (or first draft) submission deadline is: April 1, and we’re NOT fooling!
Before then, however, we want you to consider how theme plays in your project. Is it even playing at all? Did it stay home, confined to a dog crate, not allowed to come out and play? Well, put it on a leash (theme needs regulating and control, after all, so it doesn’t run fat, muddy paws all over everything) and bring it on out. Without that hairy companion to shed its downy fluff, your tale is quite possibly an empty lark and your characters likely shallow and samey, start to finish. So, what’s next, BEFORE you send us that draft? This WORKSHEET (<— just click and print), that in your mind should be titled: How MY Character(s) Help Develop MY Theme. read your draft, fill out the worksheet. Where do things stand so far? Did you come up full and delicately themed? Or did you come up empty, and realize that your draft is falling short on this character-depth and substance issue? Between now and April 1, annotate that draft, make margin notes (you can use the Comments feature in MSWord to do this “in the margins”), identify what’s missing in your character development and progression, and brainstorm ideas about how you can fix it in the next draft.
(Poets: An outstanding poem is more than just pretty words and word-painted images, there’s an underlying message communicated too–for example, think about how one may love winter’s visual beauty, which comes from harshness, causing hardship for those who cannot escape it–flora, fauna, homeless humans…)

Excited? We are too! See you Saturday!

March Meeting Change

Due to several daunting conditions, I have concluded that tomorrow’s meeting will need to be postponed until March 25. The first issue is that our Stillman Valley location, Cardinal Cafe, is holding an event tomorrow where they are hosting local vendors until 2 PM and have invited customers to come dine and browse. Regrettably, this would make our meeting there nearly impossible. (Although I’m fairly certain we’d all have a good time looking over the vendors’ wares!) I’d thought a great alternative meeting place would be the new coffee house in Byron but they are currently closed for vacation.

And a few other, smaller issues threw a few more wrenches into the machinery.

So, to overcome all these negative tidbits, it seemed that rescheduling the meeting to March 25, 1 PM at Cardinal Cafe, would be the most promising.

I hope it won’t inconvenience anyone overmuch and that you’ll be able to join us next week. Between now and then, look for another message regarding topic and an update on the Short Story Seminar.

We’re also pleased to welcome two new OWLS members, Kennece Coombe and Karen Fackler. Glad you could join us!

Please share this date change with anyone else you know who may have been planning to attend and members of In Print or other writers groups where folks may have an interest in attending.

January 2017 Meeting +

When – Saturday, January 21 at 1 PM

Where – Cardinal Cafe, downtown Stillman Valley

Discussion Topic: Short Story Submissions & Formatting

Some writers consider themselves novelists only; others believe their work is more suited to writing short—stories, poems, profound journals, light humor. The truth is, even if you’re a novelist you can learn a lot from writing short works. Doing so is intense; limited space forces you to measure every word and action. This month we’re going to jump ahead a little and explore how getting a short story/poem/anecdote published works and how doing so can build an author’s platform. This process is part of both goal setting and getting legs under you that will be noted by the next editor or agent you approach.

Pre-meeting Reading – This month’s articles are focused on general information. Some of you are doubtless already familiar with this information; others may not be. We’ll address some of this in the meeting and connect it to our seminar challenge. Click to read:

Get your head–and words–in the game!  Avoid Submission Mistakes
Formatting a fiction manuscript: Proper Manuscript Format by Shunn
Formatting poetry submissions: Poem Format by Shunn
What is an author’s platform? A Definition, What All the Fuss is About

Short Story Seminar Breakdown

Part 2 Details:
Part 1 asked you to work out the following: 
Main Characters, Main Conflict, Central Event or Moment, and Setting. For Part 2, focus on developing an outline of the main story movements or actions based on those part 1 elements. Your outline can be formal, informal, a paragraph–whatever works best for you. Your goal here is to create a summary of your pending story in a progressive manner that you can use as a contemplation vehicle and guide as you begin to write. Consider what we’ve read and talked about that’s important in a short story as you craft this important step. (If you need a refresher on any of these items, refer back to the invitation email with links and information. Poets and journalists, remember that these exercises can help you too; consider the information and adapt to your area of interest…and go for it!) Submission deadline for Part 2 is February 11.

  • Write a short story, practicing what we discuss in the seminar segments, beginning with basic elements and culminating with a workable, strong story draft. 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.
  • Not a short story writer? read on…
  • Whether you’re recording life’s anecdotes through journaling, composing epic poems, or feeling determined to write a great American short story, you can benefit from this seminar series. We mention journaling and poetry here, alongside fiction, because all types of writers will take away an important understanding of the “short writing” process and gain insight into what makes short-anything appeal to readers and wow them in the end.
  • Missed the deadline for Part 1? No worries! Check your in box for the email inviting you to participate and jump in any time. Then, get determined and hit the part 2 deadline. You can do it! Start 2017 the write way.

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.

And the winners are…

It’s time for The Only Story Competition results at long last. Please join us in congratulating

Gabrielle Moticka

Her story, “It Eats Away,” has been awarded First Place.

Tricia Wagner

Her poem, “The Music of Egyptian Spheres,” has been awarded First Place in the Poetry category.

Bill Mathis

His story, “Vern and Frank,” has been awarded Second Place.

Rachel Bradt

Her story, “Eternity Kills,” has been awarded Honorable Mention.

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!




OWLS Drafts Bylaws

Sarah and I are excited about how much OWLS has grown and changed since we first discussed the possibility of starting a writing group on a rainy day in the parking lot at Tinker Cottage. Since then we’ve been planning and doing, generally winging it, as we work to grow the group and bring writers great content and resources. earlier this year, we expressed our goal to make OWLS a more formal organization and secure its not-for-profit status. Part of that plan involves developing bylaws. Now, we’re still “young” and sure to undergo many more changes, but we’ve put our heads together to draft a document for adoption–basic bylaws that allow room and provisions for growth and change as we gain members and activities.

For members’ review in anticipation of an agenda item and motion to adopt at our October meeting, here is the review draft of the bylaws for the Ogle-Winnebago Literary Society:

Meeting: September 2016

OWLS September Meeting ~ 

When – Saturday, September 17 at 1 PM
Where – Cardinal Cafe, downtown Stillman Valley
Discussion Topic: Emotional Scenes & Unreliable Narrators. Many well-known stories and novels feature unreliable narrators, that is POV characters who, for one reason or another, misguide the reader with false information, sometimes even due to the character’s own faulty memory. There are plenty of reasons for the narrator to be unreliable, from the purposeful deception to emotional avoidance of truth, or pure, natural imperfection. What if rather than perfect recall, we allow our POV characters to carry the same flaws of memory we all live with?
Pre-meeting Reading – Click to read: Writing an Emotional Scene? You Could Have an Unreliable Narrator
And: False Memories in Fiction: How Emotional Scenes Can Create Unreliable Narrators
October Teaser: All stories and novels take place across time. A minute. An hour. A day. Or even whole lifetimes and centuries. How do writers manage timelines? Decide when big events should happen and how much living goes on in between? In October we’ll explore this writing challenge and ways to manage it.