Most Popular Posts: False Apology Poems

A book of False Apology poems for young readers.

My number one post this past year — False Apology Poems.

Yesterday I wrote about the poetic form called the reverso.  I even shared my own attempt with you although I think it is majorly bad.



And today’s attempt looked just as bad until I had an epiphany.

Have you ever done something and felt compelled to apologize in spite of your lack of sympathy?  That’s basically the point of a False Apology poem.

False apology poems are inspired by the poem that William Carlos Williams penned after eating the plums his wife was saving for breakfast.


This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

The rules are simple — you have to apologize for something and not really mean it.  Think insincerity.  Or sarcasm.

Throughout my first attempt at a false apology poem I kept thinking, “I don’t apologize if I’m being insincere.  I don’t even bother.”  And, thus, my first attempt was stinko.

Then it hit me — depending on how you do insincerity it can be an awful lot like sarcasm.  I live and breathe sarcasm.  Suddenly it looked much more do-able.

In a false apology poem, you’re supposed to be a little mean.  That said,  William Carlos Williams’ poem doesn’t seem even a little mean to me.  Nope.  Not happening.

His poem is three stanzas of four lines each and all of the other false apology poems I’ve read follow this pattern.

Here is my second attempt – much, much better than my first attempt.  This is a frustrated parent poem.  Sorry folks, this is just where things stand today.


They Feel Responsible

You can’t find
your DS?
It’s missing?

It must
have run away
with your

They were so sad
when they heard
you got a D
on a test.

Not great but then I never claimed poetry as a talent!


Rising Tension: Test Your Story to Be Sure You Have It

Dot TestThis is my second most popular post of the year:  Rising Tension: Test Your Story to Be Sure You Have It.

Your character has to have a goal and it has to be something that is of great importance.  As she works her way toward this goal, obstacles get in the way.  She tries and fails, tries and fails and then, when all seems lost, succeeds!

That’s a super simply take on story structure.  The point being that we all know that tension needs to increase throughout our stories. Sure, there need to be places where it drops off slightly but for the most part it is up, up, up.

The problem is that we have a tendency to assume that our stories have it.  “Oh, yeah.  I toss obstacles in the same way. It is a real thrill ride.”

But have you tested the tension in your story?  One way to do this is the plot dot test which I first saw at Adventures in Agenting.

It is fairly simple.  Draw a line across the page. This is your base line, the level of tension in scene 1.  Make a dot at the beginning of the line and label it 1.

Read scene 1 and then read scene 2.  Is the tension higher in the second scene?  If so, make another dot to the right and slightly above the first.  If the tension is the same, the dot for scene 2 should also be on your base line.

Read through your manuscript scene by scene.  Compare each scene to the one just before it.  Draw the dot to add that scene to your graph.

Ideally, your scenes will plot out something like a traditional story arc.  You need to have a climb toward the climax with tension dropping off several times immediately following an attempt by the hero to solve her story problem. A story that continually climbs in tension but never drops off even slightly, may seem tiring and burn the reader out before they finish.  A story that plots out as a horizontal line isn’t climbing towards a climax.

I’ve got a new story to test.  It is for preschoolers so I may want to plot out a published story or two for the same audience.

If any of you try this technique, let me know how it works for you.


Most Popular Posts: Passive Voice: Pros and Cons

Passive voiceThis is my third most popular post of the year:  Passive Voice: Pros and Cons.

Big Bad Rule:  Eliminate passive voice from your writing.

You’ve heard this rule.  I’ve heard this rule.  Pretty much everyone who has been writing for over a week has heard this rule.  Unfortunately, there are two problems with this rule.

  1. To eliminate it, you have to be able to identify passive voice.
  2. Sometimes passive voice is necessary.

Passive voice, simply put, is when the action happens to the subject.  “The Zika virus vaccine was invented by Dr. No.”*   The vaccine didn’t do anything.  It is passive (and not just because it is inanimate).  Following this advice, I would rewrite the sentence as “Dr. No invented the Zika virus vaccine.”

Unfortunately, many people see whatever conjugation of the “to be” verb and they start labeling every sentence that contains a version of “to be” as passive.  The problem with this IS that this is a perfectly good group of verbs that help us avoid needlessly convoluted sentences.  For example, what if I decided to rewrite “The Zika virus is a flavivirus”?*  I could change it to read “The Zika virus falls within the flavivirus genus.” Or maybe “The flavivirus genus includes the Zika virus.”  While the latter rewrite isn’t 100% awful, it lacks the sleek, simplicity of the original.

The problem with completely eliminating either passive voice or to be verbs is that sometimes they are essential.  With them, you can create sentences that are clean and concise.  They also give you a bit more flexibility on where you direct your reader’s attention.

“The Zika virus vaccine was invented by Dr. No.”  This emphasizes the virus and the vaccine.

“Dr. No invented the Zika virus vaccine.”  Shorter, simpler and the emphasis has changed.  I would go with version 1 if I was writing about the virus and version 2 if I was writing about Dr. No.

Thank you to Keith Cronin.  His post on passive voice reassured me that I’m not the only one with a problem with this Big Bad Rule and helped me clarify my own thoughts.


*Note: Dr. No did not invent a Zika virus vaccine but the Zika virus is a flavivirus.

Most Popular Posts: Mood Rings

mood rings
Writer’s Mood Ring Colors, by M. Kirin. Want more writerly content? Follow!

Monday I posted about fitting your writing in during the holidays.  A lot of it comes down to making smart choices and using your time wisely.  With my family home, another day of celebration and a road trip before the end of the year, I’m giving myself time to work on my novel but reviewing my five most popular posts of 2019.

#4 is Mood Rings.

What is it that is getting in your writing way?  Here we have a great predictor – mood ring colors for writers.  Granted, not all of these are suitable to what I write but it still cracked me up.

Most Popular Posts: Don’t Dumb Down Your Characters

Stupid, Dumb, Thinking, Brain, Symbol, Sign
Yesterday I posted about fitting your writing in during the holidays.  A lot of it comes down to making smart choices and using your time wisely.  I’m doing this, in part, by not writing new posts for the rest of the year.  Instead I am going to repost my five most popular posts.

My fifth place post is “Don’t Dumb Down Your Characters.”  I have to say, I still feel this way about characters.  A mystery DVD set just went back into the library bag because the characters all lacked basic intelligence.  So without further ado, here is “Don’t Dumb Down Your Characters.”

Recently, I caved in and joined twitter.  Since I’m trying to find an agent, I’ve been following the site #MSWL.  If you’re unfamiliar, that stands for “Manuscript Wish List,” and they catalogue #MSWL posts from twitter.  Unfortunately, they’ve been going through a site re-design so no new posts for quite some time.  I finally had to actually to to twitter.

Perhaps the most popular #MSWL post at the moment is this:

So many agents and editors have reposted this and commented on it.  Apparently, they have all received quantities of manuscripts in which the plot is driven by the main character’s stupidity.

My own favorite exampled involves a story in which the main character is at home alone when someone knocks on the door.  Opening the door, she finds a bloody man holding a knife.  She ends up letting him inside because she couldn’t leave her dog outside with someone who just might be a knife-wielding maniac. Seriously?  I took this book back to the library without reading another word.

Apparently editors and agents are sick of this kind of thing too. They’d like to see plots with smart characters.

How do you move the story forward if your characters are smart?  Here are a few possibilities:

There are no good choices, only bad choices.  I’m currently listening to Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.  About half way through the book, Ellsberg has to decide whether he will betray his friend or his country.  Put your character in a situation where there is no “winning” scenario.  Something must be sacrificed either way.

Or you could have two characters who are equally brilliant on opposite sides.  One of them is going to fail but who?

I’m sure there are other ways to “write smart” and it is up to us to find them.  Just think of the amazing stories we could create.  Me, I’m thinking about how differently Romeo and Juliet would have played out if they weren’t both complete dunces.


Writing: How To Be a Writer During the Holidays

If you are anything like me, you may be a writer but you are also a wife, a mom, and any number of other things – choir member, PTG president, etc.  So I don’t need to tell you just how busy this time of year is.  How do you manage to find time to write?

Scale Back. Yesterday I read “3 Magical Ways to Keep Writing through the Holidays” by Julie Duffy.  One of the things that she suggests is scaling things back during this busy time.  You want to spend time with your family and friends but if you are in the middle of something big you may not want to quit writing altogether.  You want to keep your story voice and your characters active in your imagination.  So don’t try to write 1000 words.  Write 500 or 250.  Just keep things moving.

Write Small.  If you tend to write long, you might also try writing short.  Draft a handfulf of new poems.  Try a micro-essay.  Write up a couple of crafts.  Working on something bite-sized is still writing and by the time the New Year rolls around you may have something to submit.

Jot Things Down.  Maybe you are inspired by a conversation with your Aunt Mertyl or the story told by your mother-in-law sparked an idea.  Tale a few notes.  Write the first paragraph.  Jot down what you need to jot down to capture that moment.  You can take setting notes.  Write down the sensory perceptions that came to you while making fudge or bakign a special Christmas cookie.

Journal.  It is easy to see how jotting things down can easily become journaling.  Write your impressions of the holidays.  If you’ve been working on dialogue in your stories, jot down a few lines of dialogue each day.  Or note setting details.  Or how someone reveals their emotions in how they move.

We’ve all heard the advice – write every day.  I would amend that to “be a writer every day.”  During the holidays, that may mean collecting the information that you can use in your writing throughout the coming year.


Writer’s Work Spaces

The writers that I know work in a variety of places.  My friend Kris loves to write in coffee shops.  I’ve tried it.  Apparently, I’m a hobbit.  Everytime someone with food walks past me, I look up.  “Mmm.  That looks yummy.”

Another friend told me that she checks out a study room at the local library.  She likes it because she can’t be distracted by household things or pets.  Apparently, her dog is a bit of a clepto when ignored.  For me, this works to a point but the study rooms have a glass wall.  I would still be able to see people walk past and I would look up because they might have food.

Seriously, I am really easily distracted.

I have an office here at home.  My desk faces a wall.  My friend Ann can’t write with a wall or window only two feet away.  She needs to be a in much larger space.  She prefers the dining room. That’s funny to me because sometimes I work in the dining room.  The table is big enough for me to really spread out when I’m doing hard copy edits.

My only problem with my office is that if my husband is working out I can hear his music.  Really well.  Even with headphones on.  My son points out that I need much better head phones.

The best thing about my work space?  My muse.  That’s her above.  Her name is Gypsy.

I also have a walking desk.  I’m not terribly good at walking and writing.  Let’s just say that I’m not that coordinated.  But I do like to walk and read.  And watch webinars.

Recently Robert Lee Brewer, Writer’s Digest editor, posted photos of his work space.  In part, he did this because the magazine is asking writers to submit photos of their work space.  If you follow the guidelines, your space may appear in the the magazine. Deadline for entries is December 31, 2019.  You can find the full guidelines here.

Where do you work?


Picture Books: Know What Is Being Published Now

When I saw that Matt de la Peña had done an NPR interview on picture books that are loved in his household, in spite of hip deep Christmas preparations, I took the time to click through and listen.  De la Peña is the 2016 Newbery winning author for the picture book Last Stop on Market Street.  Reminder, the Newbery is given not for illustration but for text.  A picture book won the Newbery.  I just want you to get how amazing that is. But de la Peña is also the father of two small children.  His son and daughter have very different taste in picture books.  So what books would he recommend?

You can see his recommendation list or listen to the interview, “Kids’ Books To Read Again, And Again, And Again, And Again, And Again, And …,” here.  He chose titles for a variety of reasons –

  • They are popular with one of his children.
  • The book shows young characters dealing with difficult realities the way that children would really deal with them.
  • The rhyme isn’t simple (mat and rat) but sophisticated and thus surprising.

These reasons alone make these books excellent mentor texts.  The other reason?  Only one book dated to 2015.  The rest were current titles.

If you are writing picture books (or novels, or essays), you need to read what is being published today.  Recently, I heard an agent say that she always asks prospective clients what their favorite picture books are, if they are picture book writers, or young adult books, if they write young adult.

She does this not only to see if their tastes are compatible with her own but also to see if they know the current market.  If you read only the classics and tell an agent that your favorite picture books are Where the Wild Things Are, Chicka-chicka-boom-boom, and Green Eggs and Ham, red flags will go up.  Why?  Because they will wonder why you don’t like anything being published today.  Do you not read new books?  Do you only like old books?  Either one is a problem for someone seeking to publish today.

So before you compile your list of favorites, visit the library.  Look for books published in the last three years.  Then get busy reading.


Tropes: Using them to their best advantage

During a recent snowday, my family took our positions in the family room and watched Anna.  For those of you who don’t know the movie, she is a beautiful girl who is also a brilliant Russian assassin.  “How many times are they going to make the same movie?” asked my son. “We saw the same thing with Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow.”

The next day, I read Margo Dill’s blog post on tropes.  For those of you who may not know the term, a trope is a common story line or story element in a particular genre.  Spy/assassin movies?  Someone is going to be a double or triple agent.  Romance?  The couple end up together?

The problem is that when you don’t know the tropes, you don’t know what readers or viewers expect.  Romance?  They are going to end up together.  Adventure?  They are going to find the treasure or make the escape depending on the adventure.

I could only think of one cozy trope – the amateur detective will solve the mystery.  So I wondered what other mystery tropes I might need to know about.  Poking around I found several lists.  They included:

  • The butler did it.
  • The murder victim is a jerk so there is no shortage of suspects.
  • There are no clues.
  • The closed circle where everyone is stuck in a limited area.  Maybe they are snowed in, on a train or traveling through space.
  • The victim is found in a locked room.
  • The detective chats up the murderer who gives himself away by revealing a clue that has not been made public.
  • Red herrings.
  • The old dark house as a location.
  • The suicide that is murder.
  • The fake weapon that wasn’t fake.
  • Dying onstage.

At this point, I’m only making use of the amateur detective and the jerky victim.  Oh, and red herrings.  I’m seriously not sure how you would do a mystery without red herrings.  But this list has definitely given me something to think about as I continue to write.