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!

April Meeting & May Update


When – Saturday, April 16 at 1 to 3 PM

Where – Meg’s Daily Grind, Alpine & Guilford

Discussion Topic – Resources & References, benefits, uses, and cautions

Pre-meeting Reading – Is the Thesaurus Your Friend? by KM Weiland, Hint to Writers: Using the Thesaurus with Caution by Jennifer Blanchard, and Historical Research for Fiction Writers by Catherine Lundoff       Where can I get some? Some of the resources we’ll discuss in the meeting are available here: Writers Helping Writers


Please Note:

MAY MEETING UPDATE OWLS has been invited to participate in the Lake Summerset Writing Gals May 21 writing retreat at Lake Summerset’s lodge by the lake. This falls on our regular meeting day. There will be writing/editing time in the morning, a brief break for lunch, and then we’ll hold our OWLS meeting at the lodge, afterward, there’ll be more writing time or discussion or whatever keeps you feeling creative. OWLS members, friends, guests, and all writers desiring to log some writing hours are invited to attend. More details, including RSVP requirements for admission to the Lake Summerset community, will be included in the May meeting announcement.

CALL FOR ENTRIES –  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.)

March Meeting Recap

What a great day! An enthusiastic band of writers gathered at Cardinal Cafe in Stillman Valley where we began the meeting with a discussion about creating scene arcs that use emotion to resonate with the reader. From this month’s pre-meeting reading,  KM Weiland’s article:

You may be surprised to learn this secret is not scene structure (in the classic sense of goal / conflict / disaster / reaction / dilemma / decision), although it’s closely related. Like the integers of structure, this secret is all about creating a scene arc. But this particular arc isn’t the physical one of plot, which we find in the shift from positive scene goal to negative scene disaster. Rather, this an emotional arc.

Of course one cannot discuss emotion in a scene without noting that those emotional moments are all about the characters. As Peter Selgin says in By Cunning & Craft:

What readers of fiction most want to learn about is people. Not ideas, or philosophy…. Novels and short stories fascinate us because, as Flannery O’Connor put it, they show us, “how some folks would do.” That’s what fiction does best, why it gets written and read. Call it an enlightened form of gossip.

People are not fiction’s main subject: they are its only subject. Ahab, Don Quixote, Leopold Bloom, Holden Caulfield, Scarlett O’Hara, Miss Jean Brodie, Hamlet–we remember the characters in fiction like real people we’ve grown to love, fear, or despise. They fascinate us.

Through our meeting discussion we explored examples of emotional arcs from classic and contemporary literature, including how a character’s starting and ending emotions in a scene can reveal strengths, weaknesses, determination, or collapse, and in the process set the tone for the next scene or even one several chapters on. The discussion was full of examples, questions, and observations. I think we all learned something we can use in our works in progress. There was a clear consensus that unless you’re writing in a distant, objective point of view, emotional arc and using it wisely gives scenes and characters much more purpose.

Back to KM Weiland:

Q: What is a Scene Arc?   A: Emotional Shift

I pondered quite a few titles for this post, trying to get down to the heart of the concept. Originally, I just wanted to call it the “principle of opposites.” After all, isn’t that what a shift is all about? It’s about moving from one thing (in this instance, an emotion) to another. If there is no movement–if there is no contrast–then there is no shift, and certainly no arc.

The whole article is worth reading if you haven’t already. As she says at the end: “If you can create powerful scene arcs, one after the other, throughout your book, you can be 100% certain of giving readers a compelling reason to keep turning page after page. Try it out!”

After we thoroughly explored the technique topic, including how it could apply to poetry, we went round the table and introduced ourselves, giving everyone a chance to talk about what they like to write and/or their current projects. We had a few new faces at the meeting and were very pleased to welcome a couple new members.

I hope you’ll join us at the April meeting in Rockford at Meg’s Daily Grind at Alpine and Guilford.

Of special note is a change of location for the May 21 meeting. We’ll be joining the Writing Gals at Lake Summerset (in the lodge by the lake) for a retreat that day. Tentative plans are to come early and write in the morning, then break for lunch and have the OWLS meeting in the afternoon. More details to follow!


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.

March Meeting

When – Saturday, March 19 at 1 PM

Where – Cardinal Cafe on N. Walnut St. in Stillman Valley –

Discussion Topic – Writing scenes and creating arcs with a new perspective

Pre-meeting Reading – How to Create Awesome Scene Arcs that Surprise Readers by KM Weiland

~ ~ ~

CALL for ENTRIES – OWLS 2016 Writing Competition, The Only Story, open to fiction and poetry. Entries due by August 20, 2016. Go to Contest Entry page for more details. Contest open to all writers.