Writing Wednesday: Doesn’t Matter Where You Get Your Inspiration, as Long as You Come Home for Dinner

August 23, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. 

–Jim Jarmusch

In the Top Five Most Frequently Asked Question Posted to Writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” usually ranks first or second. When I was fifteen or so and really getting into writing, I squirmed when the question was asked, but now I tell everybody: I get it from where ever I can, and that’s usually from other people’s works.

No, it’s not plagiarism, though for a little while I used to wonder if it was. I was afraid to tell people that I’d get my ideas from books and movies and things like that, because I thought that meant I wasn’t original as a writer. Then I found out that just about everybody and their grandma steals their ideas from somebody else. People are inspired by, steal and recycle ideas all the time.

No, I’m serious! Look, remember the movie Clueless? That’s just a modern update of Emma. Dietland was inspired by Fight Club. The Lion King is Hamlet. James Joyce’s Ulysses and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou were inspired by The Odyssey. Bram Stoker was heavily inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s story “Camilla” when he was writing Dracula. West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet, which Shakespeare himself stole from the poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. And that’s just for starters!

Honestly, a vast majority of my characters and story ideas have been inspired by other people’s books, TV shows, movies and mythology. My idea for the demon hunter Savannah Rain came from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer guide that featured a picture of an actual demon hunter’s field kit, and I got the idea for Savannah’s ancestor Fiona Rain while watching Three Sovereigns for Sarah, a movie about the Salem witch trials. Noel Ruthven was a fan character for The X-Files, Awen was a fan character for Gargoyles, and I got the idea for the knight Faustine while watching Willow. And as I’ve stated before, my 1996 version of Nike was just mostly a collection of rewritten Xena, Warrior Princess episodes. Oh, and I got an idea for a short story about a mermaid while watching the Ghost Adventures episode about Poveglia while simultaneously reading books about mermaids. And there’s more where that came from.

So, a lot of my work has been inspired by other’s people work. Am I embarrassed by that? Hell no! I’ve come up with some great ideas that way, if I do say so myself. What would be embarrassing would be if I directly plagiarized the other person’s work, i.e. took the plot of The Matrix and changed a few details (like names) but generally kept everything the same (oh, and The Matrix was inspired in part by the anime Ghost in the Shell, dontchya know.)

And you don’t have to get your ideas just from books and TV. It could be a painting, a talk show, a poem, a song, a cartoon, comic book, a character, whatever—anything that lights that creative spark in you is good, just so long as you make the idea yours. And if you’re still unsure, check out Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon … the whole book is about how you can get your inspirations, and why it’s perfectly okay to draw on other works for help. (And it has LOTS of examples of famous people admitting to being inspired by other people’s works. LOTS.)

You’re not a hack. Go write.

Writing Wednesday: Imitation vs. Plagiarism

August 17, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


I mentioned in a few blogs back that it’s okay to imitate your favorite authors’ style, but you should never (repeat: NEV-ER) plagiarize their writing. Let me just clarify the differences between the two:


I’m pretty sure that every aspiring writer deliberately imitates another author at some point in their life. New authors who are just getting into the craft and haven’t developed their own style will draw on the styles of a favorite author in order to learn how to construct an illustrative sentence, storytelling method, dialogue or physical description and that’s perfectly fine. Mimicry is a natural way of learning to do … well, basically anything …

The cons to mimicking another author’s style is that if you get too into the habit of doing so, you’ll never develop your own voice. You might want to have James Patterson’s sales numbers, but honestly, you don’t want his voice. James Patterson is James Patterson, you’re you. You want to be unique, to stand apart from other authors. Furthermore, imitating another’s writing style can have disastrous results: I mentioned before how I really enjoyed Anne Borchardt’s description of food from ancient Rome so much that I tried to emulate it, but the tone was so jarring compared to the rest of the story that it really ruined the flow.

Plus, your readers might not appreciate your attempts at trying to sound like Mark Twain if a) they don’t like Mark Twain or b) they do like Mark Twain but you just sound like a gluten-free, diet-soda version of him (you know, it’s not bad but always seems just a little bit off, which makes it distracting and unpleasant?)


When you plagiarize someone, you have blatantly copied their work without giving them credit for it. Like, you took all of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and slapped your name over JK Rowling’s. If you took sections or large portions of a book and changed some details (such as characters’ names) that’s technically referred to as copyright infringement, but it’s still the same thing in the end: you stole somebody else’s creation rather than putting in the work yourself.

So now I know you’re asking me, “But Kara, I’ve read books that had very similar plots. Is that plagiarizing too?” Well, that depends; two books can have similar plots but are executed differently enough that you can’t say they’re plagiarized. You might be able to argue that the idea was stolen, but sometimes that can be hard to prove. For example, about a year ago fantasy author Sherrilyn Kenyon sued YA author Cassandra Clare for plagiarism, claiming that Clare stole the idea of a group of warriors defending the planet from a supernatural menace from Kenyon. Seeing as how that theme can be found in various forms in mythology—mythology that’s thousands of years old—that’s going to be really hard to prove that it was stolen. Before that, Andriana Pichini sued the studio that produced the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button¸ claiming that they had stolen from her story “Arthur’s Return to Innocence,” which was published in 1994 … except that the movie is actually based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, published in 1921. So who’s copying who here?

Honestly, these ideas are not that difficult to dream up. About five years ago I had a great idea for a story about Nazis camping out in Dracula’s castle in Romania, only to be terrorized by vampires all night long. Imagine my irritation when three friends of mine said (in unison!) that the idea had already been done!

Oh, and that brings me to one more point; I’m sure by now you’re saying, “But Kara, what about books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? That was a book that was already written and some dude just took it and added zombies. Isn’t that plagiarism?” Actually, copyright law states that ownership of an intellectual work (be it book, movie, song, whatever) is credited to the original author for the length of their natural life plus an additional seventy years after their death. Once that time is up, the work then becomes public domain and is therefore free to anyone who wants to use it for their own profit (the Disney corporation is currently sweating over this because starting in the year 2024 cartoons like “Steamboat Willie” are supposed to enter public domain. But don’t you worry, they’ll find a way to extend the copyright. God forbid it should enter public domain and therefore enhance society’s storytelling capabilities.) That’s why you see so many book and film versions of things like Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, The Three Musketeers and so forth, and it’s a good thing because that’s how societies and cultures enhance their stories—creating a new mythology, if you will. All the same, that still doesn’t grant you ownership of Dracula, it just means you can use him in your book without getting sued.

Writing Wednesday: Showing, Not Telling

August 9, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”—Anton Chekov


“SHOW, don’t TELL.”

In my junior year of high school, I was thrilled to be able to finally take Dr. Stocking’s writing class, but not so thrilled to frequently see this message emblazoned across my work in his thin but bold handwriting. Show, don’t tell. When I first saw that, I was confused; show, don’t tell. I didn’t get it—what as the difference?

Dr. Stocking, a giant bespectacled, bow-tie wearing man with a gentle voice that didn’t match his height, was more than happy to explain it to me. “You write very well,” he said kindly. “But you frequently slip into this mode where you’re telling the reader what they’re supposed to be looking at or what they’re supposed to be feeling. Don’t tell them … show them. Illustrated it so they can feel it, see it. Make it so the reader feels like they’re there.”

It took me a bit to fully understand what he meant, but one day I was looking over a story I had written for class and all at once, I understood: the paragraphs that described the scenes and actions were very powerful. The ones that just kind of stated what was going on had no punch at all and were very bland and passive. The scenes that were showing me the images and feelings made me care, while the point-blank stated scenes made me feel like I was getting talked at. The illustrated “shown” scenes sounded like they were written by someone who had developed their skill over a long period of time, whereas the “told” scenes sounded like they were written by a sixth grader.

Confused? That’s okay, let me give you two examples:

“Told” scene:

They walked down to the river. It was cold out so it felt like it took them a long time to get there and they were tired. When they got on top of the bank they saw the river water was up high because of all the rain. It was flowing very fast.

“Shown” scene:

Together, they trudged down to the river. The biting chill in the air made the trek seem to take much longer than it usually would, and both of them were exhausted by the effort. Reaching the top of the bank, they saw the river below them, swollen by the storm’s downpour. The dark water snarled as it rushed its way onward.

So in the first scene, the reader is being told what’s going on: the unnamed characters are walking to a river on a cold day. While the description is to the point, it doesn’t make the reader very interested in what’s going on. The “told” scene is the prose equivalent of a stick figure drawing. In the second version, the reader is given more detail: the characters “trudged” to the river—so therefore this requires more effort than just walking. The air is so cold it seems to bite at them—this is a particularly chilly day. The walk seemed to take longer because of the cold and they were both exhausted—this is ordinarily a short trek but it’s so cold out that the characters are expending more energy to get to their destination, and we know that they’re not just tired, they’re exhausted. They reach the top of the bank and saw the river below—a more active description than “got on top” and having the characters look down at the river helps the reader visualize what the area looks like. The river was swollen from the storm—more dramatic than the previous version, adds to the description. The dark water snarled as it rushed by—the reader senses that the river is discolored and moving so quickly that the characters (and the reader) can hear it.

This is also important in showing emotions:

“Told” scene:

She was scared and stepped back away from the monster, trying not to touch it. She tried to scream.  She was so scared she wanted to cry.

“Shown” scene:

Reeling back in terror, she drew her hands in close to her body, not wanting to touch the thing’s slimy skin. A scream hitched in her throat as tears began to blur her vision.

In the first scene, we’re told that the character is in a presence of a monster, that she’s extremely afraid, doesn’t want to touch it and is ready to cry. The lack of description makes the reader unafraid for the character; okay, so she’s scared, so what? In the second version we see the character reel back—she’s moving backwards so quickly that she’s barely in control of her balance. She draws her hands in close to her body—the reader sees that the character is trying to withdraw, maybe to protect herself. She doesn’t want to touch the thing’s slimy skin—the reader sees that the character is confronted by a “thing” (which I know doesn’t sound highly descriptive, but this illustrates that we don’t know what the creature is, which makes it more frightening) that has gross skin covered in slime that she doesn’t want to touch, and how can we blame her? A scream hitches in her throat—she’s so scared that she can’t even get a scream out, and the “hitch” hints that she experiences a little bit of pain as well. Tears began to blur her vision—stronger than just saying that she wanted to cry, by stating that tears are blurring her vision, the reader now knows that the character is not only scared enough to cry, but that the unfallen tears are making it hard for her to see, adding to the danger.

It’s also important when describing landscapes, plants, houses, cars, whatever. Don’t tell me it’s the oldest tree in the neighborhood, show me that it’s gnarled and has a big chunk of the bark ripped off because somebody skidded on the ice one winter and banged into it with their car. Don’t tell me the house has fire damage, show me the boarded-up windows and the black smoke stains stretching across the walls like straining fingers. Don’t tell me that the car is red, show me that it’s a sparkling metallic red, or a shiny tomato red, or that it used to be red but it’s mostly just patchy rust spots now. Like Chekov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Just a word of warning though; don’t go overboard on the descriptions either. Especially with the physical descriptions of your main characters. I know one thing that drives me up the wall EVERY SINGLE TIME is when a writer goes into way too much detail about their character’s description when we first meet them—I get so bored, I usually wind up skipping that paragraph(s) altogether. I don’t need to know that your character has jet black hair the color of a stealth bomber flying through the dead of night, that they have jade green eyes the color of a foaming Mediterranean sea in late spring, skin of alabaster white as smooth as mother of pearl, that they have a scar on their left pinky toe from the time when they were five years old that they scraped against a nail that was protruding out of their kitchen floor—gaaaaaah! ENOUGH! These descriptions are good, but packed into one paragraph it’s information overload. Quit showing off and get on with the story already! (I’ll go into more depth on character descriptions later on.)

There are exceptions to the “show don’t tell rule” though; if you’re writing books aimed at younger readers, say 3rd through maybe 5th grade or so, you don’t have to spend as much time describing scenes because you don’t want to make reading tedious for kids who are just really starting to learn how to do it. When writing in a first person point of view (stories were the main character is the narrator, using “I” statements—sorry if this seems obvious, but there are actually quite a few people who get confused on point of views) and you’re going for a less refined tone—say your character is more Forrest Gump than Sherlock Holmes—your character is likely going to be “telling” the readers what’s going on; the average guy is more likely to say “the river was flowing really fast” whereas a more educated or spiritually deeper character might say “the river was roaring as it flew past.”

(And since I know there are those of you out there who are smugly thinking this: yes, Hemingway was famous for his sparse descriptions, but he still was showing his readers what was going on. I swear the guy had some kind of supernatural ability to do that.)

Oh, and before I finish for today, just a reminder—don’t stress out about it. Write the story first, then go back and see what you can punch up. Trying to get the descriptions right the first time around will stress you out, but the more you practice the easier and more natural it becomes. Trust me on this.

Writing Wednesday: A Day in the Life of an Author at a Local Book Fair

August 3, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

I signed up for the New England Authors’ Expo in Danvers, Massachusetts a few months back, and thought I’d keep a record of my day. ‘Cuz, you know, you might be wondering what it’s like to be an author at one of these things. (P.S: the times listed aren’t precisely exact, but it gives you an idea.)


6:45 AM: Wake up in confused daze, 1st mini-freak-out about work, realize that I changed my schedule so I could get to the book fair.

6:47 AM: Doze off.

7:30 AM: Wake up, start stressing about the book fair.

8:00 AM: Up, eat, dress, out the door.

8:15 AM: Hey, traffic’s not too bad right now.

8:16 AM: Crap.

8:18 AM: I HATE rotaries.

8:22 AM: Okay, traffic’s picking up …

8:24 AM: Crap again.

8:30-8:50 AM: Making good time.

8:59 AM: That’s right, you acted like a jerk and now I’m cutting you off. Suck my exhaust!!

9:00 AM: I’m supposed to be taking exit 22, WHY ARE THE EXIT NUMBERS GOING UP?!

9:21 AM: I better not be lost …

9:21:15 AM: Better get out the GPS.

9:21:45 AM: Oh thank God, there’s the exit! Still don’t know where I am though.

9:29 AM: GPS: “Take the next right …”

            Me: “Okie-dokie.” (takes a right)

            GPS: “After this one.”

            Me: “God dammit …”

9:30 AM: Arrive at venue.

9:32 AM: Unpack car, head towards building, realize I don’t know which door to use. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing, because people stop me and ask for directions.

9:33 AM: Meet another author who very kindly leads me to the correct door. We authors have to look out for each other.

9:34 AM: We’re the first two inside, so I get a super-sweet spot just to the right of the main doors.

10:00 AM: Meet Olga Morrill, the author of Vagabond Quakers. The book sounds so good, I’m more than happy to trade a copy of Nike for one. Thanks!!

10:20 AM: Break out the tablet and start drafting a chapter for Nike, Part 3. Why the hell is the “a” and the “w” not working on my Bluetooth keyboard?

10:30 AM: Author Ceara (pronounced “Kara”!) Comeau, author of Memories of Chronosalis stops by and is really interested in Nike: The Demon Road.

11:00 AM: 2nd mini-freak-out about work—I am going to be so tired tomorrow.

11:01 AM: Freak-out over.

11:27 AM: Resolve to work hard at writing and marketing to earn enough to hire an intern & publicist to do most of this crap for me.

12 PM: Go to a panel on getting interviews by Mike Morin. Good info, nice to hear tips from an actual professional interviewer on what interviewers want.

1:00 PM: Realize I need lunch. Learn that no food is being served.

1:45 PM: Not wanting to leave the venue to get food and risk getting lost—because that’s what would happen—I download GrubHub and order locally.

1:50 PM: Place order, am told it could take up to 50 minutes to arrive. I hope not. I don’t want to get hangry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry.

2:30 PM: Food arrives early, yay!

2:31 PM: Discover that I should have specified certain details about food in order to avoid a very dry sandwich. Plus, I learned that a “small” order of fries is a relative term.

2:35 PM: Ceara Comeau comes back, we have an amazing discussion about writing, scifi, women heroes, the ridiculousness of “Mary Sue” and how we didn’t have many female heroes growing up. I eagerly offer to trade Nike for a copy of her first novel, Memories of Chronosalis. Thanks Ceara! Hope to hear from you soon!

2:36-2:45 PM: Eat lunch, wonder what the hell I’m going to do for dinner

2:50 PM: 3rd mini-freak-out about work on Thursday. That’s right, for a split second I forgot that I had to work. It was a blissful second, over all too quickly.

2:55 PM: Freak out over, now I want chocolate. No chocolate to be found.

3:19 PM: Downtime, do some proof reading

3:24 PM: Huh, it’s raining really hard outside.


3:24:05 PM: Scoop up valuables & bolt out into rain

3:24:18 PM: Return to venue after successfully closing car windows. Feet, legs & half of chest soaked from running out into the rain, then returning with umbrella only to have incredible wind gusts whip rain under the umbrella’s edge.

3:28 PM: Get back to table after visiting restroom, proceed to reapply lipstick, have people decide this is the perfect time to talk to me.

3:28:08 PM: Pause w/ lipstick half applied to answer question just to have the question-asker be distracted by somebody else’s question to them.

3:29 PM: Rain stops.

3:56 PM: Fellow author Artemis Crow wants to buy my book. AWESOME!! Take her card and swipe it through my card reader. Nothing happens.

3:57 PM: Try again. Hope I didn’t just overcharge her.

3:58 PM: Damn it.

3:59 PM: Damn it.

4:00 PM: DAMN. IT.

4:01 PM: FINALLY get phone to accept the payment.

4:11 PM: Get the approval to use entire table for display. It’s all mine, do you hear me?! MINE!!!!


4:12 PM: Artemis Crow gives me one of her bird-skull necklaces in thanks. How cool is that?!

4:25 PM: Public is starting to trickle in.

4:28 PM: The AC kicked on again, so now I’m feeling cold. I put my sports jacket back on, but it’s still damp from the rain and I’m feeling chillier. Is it possible to get hypothermia indoors in July??

4:31 PM: Offered a visitor some tips and advice on self publishing. Didn’t sell a book. Eh.

4:33 PM: Another author came over to ask about my serval stuffie and to ask what a serval was anyway. Didn’t sell a book. Sigh.

4:40 PM: Telepathically instructing people walking by to buy my book. Apparently, my psychic powers are lacking.

4:54 PM: This going to take a while—HEY, DID SHE JUST WALK BY WITH A HUGE TRAY OF FOOD???

4:56 PM: No, it’s crackers and cheese. Well, better than nothing for now.

5:08 PM: Annnnnd it’s dead again.

6:00 PM: I am dragging now. Time to go on the hunt. Need caffeine.

6:01 PM: Bought the way cool, way-cute coloring book 33 Amazing Women (… and one overeducated gorilla) from author & illustrator Bridget Finnegan. I love the variety of different women in it. Thanks Bridget!


6:09 PM: Sweet, they’ve got tea out and OH MY GOD, THAT IS HOT.

6:15 PM: The guy whose mini Snickers bar I swiped from his table? That was Tim Baird, author of The Dragon in the Whites and Washington’s Dragon Hunter. I thought I recognized him, we met back in April at the Bigelow Library’s Book Fair in Clinton, MA! It was great meeting him again and we traded books. Thanks Tim!

6:18 PM: The tea is no longer surface of the sun hot. Awesome.

6:25 PM: Looking at people’s author photos. I don’t have an author photo. Do I want an author photo? Maybe I could wear a wig. I could pose with a sword—maybe a naginata? Nah. I could do a fall-themed one, but everybody does that. How much does it cost to fly out to the Parthenon for one photo? I could save money by doing a selfie … either I’m getting too much caffeine or not enough right now.

6:39 PM: If I climbed up the balcony, jumped off and started swinging from the chandeliers, would that help me sell my books? If it will, I’ll do it.

6:43 PM: A nice lady encourages me to do lectures about Nike at schools. And she took a business card to look up the book later. Thank you, kind citizen!

6:57 PM: Somebody asked me what age group Nike is appropriate for. I never focused too much on age group; I tried to write the book so it would appeal to adults but also be enjoyable for teenage readers as well. But put it this way … if you tell me that your 11-year-old wants to read it and I look at you in stark horror, that’s a good indicator that it’s not for kids.

7:22 PM: Authors are starting to clear out, even though the event goes until 9 PM. Do I stick it out? Well, less competition if I stay, I guess.

7:50 PM: Had a nice chat with Katrina Fiorella, the author of Calliope (I plan on getting a copy of that book too when I get a chance—all these books sound so good!)

8:05 PM: Well, if nothing else, everybody loves the book cover …

8:35 PM: Okay, everybody else is packing up, I might as well too.

9:00—9:45 PM: Reenact Death Race 3000

10:00 PM: I see a glorious neon light on the hill—fast food restaurants!

10:10 PM: Burger King. Haaave ittt yooourrrr waaaaay—and I plan on that.

10:55 PM: Home

11:50 PM: Okay, going to bed now.

11:50:02 PM: Crap, did I set the alarm for tomorrow?!

And next year I’ll do it all over again. Why? Well, I sold only one book, but I did a lot of networking with other indie authors, which makes it all worth it … although I might Uber it next time. People are idiots on the road.

Writing Wednesday: Book Recommendations #1: Writing Guides

June 28, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

Thought I’d make this a quick blog and share some books on writing that I recommend to everybody:


  1. On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. One part writing guide, one part autobiography that explains the madness behind the man, Stephen King wrote a great book on writing that is easy to read, engaging, and never talks down to the reader. King offers a lot of good advice on flow and description and includes helpful little tidbits on things like giving your characters names that aren’t tedious to the reader.
  2. The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keyes. If you’ve ever experienced writer’s fear—fear of not being good enough, fear of not succeeding as a writer, fear of being a hack, fear of whatever—and you feel like you’re the only person on the planet to experience this, you’re not, and this book proves it. Ralph Keyes describes a number of famous writers (including E.B. White—I never knew how anxious the poor man was!) who have dealt with the crippling effects of writer’s fear, as well as describing the symptoms of all those fears and how to confront them.
  3. Around the Writer’s Block, by Roseanne Bane. If you’ve never experienced writer’s block (the inability to write due to frustration or loss of inspiration or fear), you’ve either haven’t experienced it yet or are a total liar. For the rest of us who have dealt with and still deal with writer’s block, this book helps break down the reasons behind your stuck-ness and provides tips, exercises, assurances and exercises on how to get around it.
  4. Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. If you’ve ever worried about being unoriginal or being a hack because you were inspired by somebody else’s idea, this book is here to help you get over it. Austin Kleon does a great job collecting examples of how many great artists (authors, poets, musicians, art artists) got their ideas by “stealing” somebody else’s idea, and he explains not only why is this a good thing, it’s totally natural (and no, I don’t mean plagiarizing, that’s different.)
  5. The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook, by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Naming characters is one of the hardest parts of writing fiction, and harder still if you’re writing about a culture that’s not your own. Sherrilyn Kenyon put together a very nice dictionary of popular names (both worldwide and historically), along with the most common surnames according to each culture. Each first name comes with a translation too, so you can give your characters especially relevant names, if you’re so inclined.
  6. 100,000+ Baby Names, by Bruce Lansky. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s book of names is good (especially since it includes surnames), but Bruce Lansky’s name book is great because it includes THOUSANDS more names, both popular and ultra-rare, all with translations and alternate spellings. One drawback is that unlike Kenyon’s book, this book doesn’t divide the names up according to culture, instead keeping the cultural source with the definition, so you’ll have to hunt around for names for a specific country. On the flipside, it does have a great array of lists, such as popular names by year, state or country, names of famous real people and fictional characters, names of drinks and video game characters, names based on number of syllables, and even a list of celebrities’ weird-but-kinda-cool-but-still-weird names.

Hope you like them, and keep writing!


Writing Wednesday: Ten More Writing Tips from Yours Truly

May 17, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

Once again, I thought up some more tips to help you with your writing. All of these I’ve learned on my literary journeys and have been a big help to me. Hope they help you too!

1. Have everything you need at your desk: I might go into more depths about this later on, but when you sit down to write, have everything you need close by so you’re not constantly getting up to go look for something. Tissues, waste basket, a drink (preferably not right next to your electronics, if at all possible—you might want to invest in a resealable container otherwise), dictionary and thesaurus (for when you’re going nuts trying to find the right word and your computer has no clue what you’re trying to spell, or to look up definitions—your computer’s dictionary might be limited and going online to look it up can lure you into checking other sites instead of writing. TRUST ME ON THIS), blank discs for backing info up, notepaper and pencils or pens, for starters. Keep the loose stuff like pens in your desk drawer or in a cup, and whatever doesn’t fit on your desk put on a nearby table. The idea is to stay at your desk and keep writing, not jumping up to run upstairs for Kleenex when you’re right in the middle of an awesome scene.

2. Save A LOT, save OFTEN, save on DIFFERENT DEVICES & MEDIAS: It’s gonna happen. You may like living in denial, but one day you’re going to be really into a story you’re writing, the best one yet and then—PFFT!! FIZZLE!!—it’s gone. Maybe your computer glitches or dies, maybe you accidentally deleted it, whatever, you’re going to lose the story you’ve been working so hard on. First, go into the settings on your preferred word processor and look up the auto-save options (you can find directions online) and set the timer to automatically save every five minutes or whatever you prefer. On top of that, make it a habit to hit the Save icon periodically, just to be sure you don’t lose anything in between auto-saves. Frequently save or transfer your story and all related documents to an external hard drive or cloud storage—or both!—and burn the story to disc at least once a month. If you can afford it, it might be a good idea to print copies of your story each time you make substantial revisions too.

3. Get beta readers: Sigh. I know, this one sucks. It’s intimidating and annoying, but it’s necessary. You need somebody to read your story—somebody that would be in your target audience, ideally—to read it through and find any weirdness, like plot holes or run-on sentences, inconsistencies with the characters, etc. You’re not going to see them all the first time you read through your manuscript (or the second time, or the ninth time), and you want to have their opinion on how good or (shudder) bad the story is. You can ask friends and family, and there are sites online like Wattpad where you can post and have strangers read for free (make sure the site will protect your work first!)

4. Develop a thick skin: Newsflash: people are crap. Okay, okay, that’s nothing new, but that’s something you have to remember if you’re going to let anybody read your stuff. You’ll run into people who, for whatever reason, are just outright jerks, and they have no problem saying something that’s going to hurt you. Who knows or cares why they do it, they just will. Others are just missing that chip in their heads that says, “Huh. Maybe I should choose my words carefully so as not to upset this person who has put a lot of effort and love into this book,” and they’ll just blurt out something stupid. They think they’re being helpful—and that sad thing is, they are—but they’re just so freaking blunt that it comes across as insulting. Oh, and beware the “author wannabes”: they’ll get so into your book/story that they’ll start making suggestions or even demands (this has happened to me) that you change something in it because they didn’t like it or that’s not what they would have done … it’s not their damned story, so don’t listen to them.

5. Don’t set up “due dates”: Ugh. Due dates. One of THE biggest mistakes you can make as a writer is setting up self-imposed timelines for your work. You might be sitting there and thinking, “Okay, so I didn’t get any writing done today, so I’m going to make sure that by Sunday I’ll have written TWENTY pages to make up for the time I lost,” or “I’ll have the finished final draft of this ready by August.” For the love of God, don’t do that! If you’re not working for a magazine or blog that demands that you hand in written material by such and such a date, you’re only going to add more pressure on yourself and make your writing time more stressful. Worse, if you don’t manage to accomplish what you wanted to do by the date you set for yourself, you’re going to feel frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Don’t set up due dates because you’ll only be setting yourself up for failure. Let the writing come naturally and in its own time.

6. Avoid jealousy and enviousness: This is a hard one. It affects everyone who does anything creative (it probably affects anyone who does anything at all) because deep inside we want to be the best and we haaaaaaate it to see somebody else who’s “better” or more successful than us. Writers have it pretty bad because we tend to have our objects of scorn staring down at us from our bookshelves—all those books are sudden reminders of our competition, or people you have to live up to. And if you’re in a writing group and trading stories off with other people, you suddenly feel very inferior to the person sitting next to you. It’s especially bad when you read books by people who really have no business writing books at all, and these travesties to the literary world suddenly become mega-bestsellers. I spent a year or so seething over that, trying to understand why books that were so freaking bad were getting printed, whereas I couldn’t get an editor to so much as give me the time of day. I then worried myself sick that I could never become as good of a writer as Insert Name of Big Time Author Here, and therefore no one would ever bother with my books. Please please please don’t do this to yourself; you are a good writer, you will become a better writer with time, everybody’s writing abilities and styles are unique, and book trends come and go … and seeing a cruddy book being ultra-successful should just drive you to write an even better book.

7. Research: Hear the sacred law of Kara Newcastle and obey: YOU MUST DO RESEARCH. No, you don’t have to get a doctorate in engineering or memorize every little nuance about Gothic architecture, but when you write a story or book that has an element of real world in it (in other words, not a zany fantasy where the laws of physics don’t apply), you need to be as accurate as possible in your descriptions. Make sure that if you’re writing a story that takes place in a certain time period (one that is not like an alternate universe-type story, i.e. Harry Turtledove’s books) that you have the right descriptions of clothes, food, language, societal structure and historical events. If you’re trying to remain historically accurate, you can’t say that the colonists used Bowie knives on the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War (Bowie knives weren’t invented yet) or in a medical thriller that the patient’s heart was located in their stomach (it’s not), or in a non-scifi spy novel that the hero was able to single-handedly carry a nuclear warhead out of enemy territory (even the most ‘roided out dude on the planet couldn’t pick up one of those suckers.) Not doing your homework on these things will make you look careless and amateurish to your readers, particularly the ones that have a lot of knowledge on the subject (that’s probably a big reason why they picked up your book/story in the first place!) And for God’s sake, if you’re not writing about characters or a culture that is your own, do your research; different countries have different cultures and they’re not going to appreciate it if you don’t represent them accurately. Ignorance is one thing, willful ignorance is never acceptable. Do your research.

8. Take breaks: When you feel like you need a break, you really do need a break. Forcing yourself to keep writing when you’re tired or frustrated is just going to lead to bad prose, and you’ll just get irritated with it later on. Get up and get a drink, take a walk, rest your eyes, read a book, do whatever you need to rest and recover before writing some more. Not only will you feel more relaxed, you will think more clearly, and that could help you get past that tricky part you’re hung up on.

9. Adjust your screen brightness: People have a weird tendency to stare unblinking and wide-eyed at a computer screen for hours on end, and that is not helping your eyes any. Tinker with the settings on your computer to find a setting that dims the screen enough that it doesn’t feel like a million pixelated needles are stabbing you in the cornea all the time, but still bright enough that you can see comfortably without strain. I also highly recommend using the night light feature if you have one on your computer; you set the start and end times, and the computer will automatically dim the screen at night to reduce the blue light. This reduces strain, and helps you sleep better too, since blue light has a weird ability to mess with your sleep cycles.

10. Have fun: It’s my genuine opinion that at no time should writing ever feel like chore or like a job; putting a rigid attitude on something that’s supposed to be creative and rewarding is a sure-fire way of wrecking it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take your writing seriously, but if you feel like you’re trudging reluctantly to your computer every day to write, dreading it, not getting any enjoyment out of it, THEN YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously. Let go of whatever expectations you have or disappointments you’ve accumulated or frustrations that build up. Have fun writing.

Writing Wednesday: Starting in the Middle (or End, or Wherever)

April 11, 2018

Kara Newcastle

 They (rough drafts) don’t necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that’s most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there.

—Beverly Cleary

I think most people who write get too hung up in the “process” of writing a story/book/essay/whatever, thinking that when you sit down to write something, they always have to start at, for example, “Once upon a time” and end at “Happily ever after.” They feel that when writing the story, it can only be begun at the beginning, at the opening moment. And that’s tough, because the beginning, the very first page, the opening line can be paralyzing for writers—myself included. They may have a general idea of how the rest of the story goes, but no clue as to how to actually begin it and may become so freaked out that they don’t start writing at all.

When I first started writing Nike, I didn’t have this problem … largely because as a thirteen-year-old new writer I was essentially just re-writing what I had just read or seen on TV and thought was cool. Later on, when I began writing more original stories, I often found that I had a hard time just starting a new story because I couldn’t figure out what would happen on the first page or first chapter. I could picture almost everything else exactly as I wanted it to happen later on but finding a way to set the story up in the beginning was sometimes so difficult that it took me weeks to write anything—if I bothered at all. At that time, I was convinced that the only way to properly write a story (or anything) was to start with the beginning, move on to the middle, and then finish up at the end.

And then one day I got so frustrated with being unable to come up with a perfect beginning that I just skipped over it and started writing the earliest scene I had already mapped out. After a while I went back, reread what I had, and was finally able to create a good opening scene. Eureka! I found the secret! You didn’t actually have to start at the beginning after all!

But … that didn’t make me a real writer, did it? I mean, there’s a sacred process to writing, right?

Those thoughts bugged me for a little while, until I was about fifteen years old and figured that A) who the hell cared and B) at least I was writing something, dammit. My realizations were later justified when I began reading many how-to-write books and found that pretty much every single one of them—and all of these are written by professional big-name authors and literary agents, mind you—said exactly the same thing: if you’re stuck at the beginning, work on the middle, or even the ending. Work on whatever scene you have an idea for, and then go back and add in the missing parts when you’re ready to. (Sometimes what I do is open a new document for each scene—I could write a scene that happens early in Chapter 1, then open a new document and write a scene for the middle of Chapter 16. It helps cut down on the stress for me!)

Such simple advice, but it works! Yes, your manuscript is going to look like a jumbled mess with lots of empty spaces, but it’s a rough draft and not meant to look perfect the first time around. Don’t beat yourself up for not “writing in the correct sequence,” even authors like Beverly Cleary didn’t do it that way. It’s better to write something than to stare at a blank document, not doing anything at all.

Writing Wednesday: The Comparison Trap

March 22, 2018

Kara Newcastle

Tagebucheintrag by August Müller

I’ll let you in a little secret: anybody who writes—whether they’re a newbie fanfic writer or an award-winning, bestselling author who’s been writing for years—always feels like there’s somebody out there who’s a better writer than they are. Writers are always comparing themselves to the other writers, always worried that their prose is hokey or their plotline improbable or their characters unlikeable, that somehow, some way, for some reason, they’ll never be as good as Insert Name of Big Time Author Here. This usually leads the writer to either start copying their idolized Big Time Author (which ranges from everything to mimicking style to outright plagiarism, which will get to another time), or to quit writing completely.

To both points, I offer three words of advice: KNOCK. IT. OFF.

Seriously. Stop comparing yourself to others. You’re not them, you’re you. If you start obsessing over being “as good as that guy,” you may discover that you’ll never be any good. No matter how much you write, how much you improve, you’ll always feel inferior to those other authors. That can destroy your self confidence as well as your ability to write.

Now, on the other hand, emulating authors that you admire isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the best ways to learn how to do something is to watch how the masters do it. By reading Stephen King, you can learn how to creep your readers out. By reading JK Rowling, you can learn how to much magic fun and believable. With Jeannette Walls, you can learn how to write characters that can be endearing and repulsive at turns. Reading Tim O’Brien can teach you to write characters with emotions that are subdued but powerful. Writers like Sue Monk Kidd and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can show you how to create stories of beauty, struggle and hope, and writers like James Patterson show you how to write in a fairly simplistic but engrossing style.

With that being said, don’t go off and start copying their style as if the authors themselves are writing your story. I don’t mean plagiarism here, I mean don’t try to write exactly the way they do. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if you are not Gillian Flynn and you try to write something the exact same way Gillian Flynn would write it, in her style with the words she likes to use, it’s just not going to come across as sincere, honest writing. It’s not going to be you.

To tie these points together, here’s my experience: about ten years ago (give or take) when I started to really seriously focus on Nike, I spent a lot of time thinking that I sucked as a writer. I had been writing for a long time, long enough to develop my own style, but I kept thinking that I sounded amateurish, bland, boring, so on and so forth, and that I could never hope to compete with “real” writers. It really affected my writing at times, made me frustrated and depressed and consider giving up writing entirely.

Now, this part may seem kind of arrogant, but I’ll tell you one of the big reasons why I decided to keep writing; aside from realizing that I was my own person with my own style (which I’ll relate to next), I went through about a few years of reading really, really crappy books. I mean REALLY. The kind of books that were so bad you’d think that the publisher was being blackmailed into printing it or something. So bad that everybody who gave it a glowing, five-star review had to have been paid off or stoned or read a better version that mysteriously appeared here from an alternate universe. I mean they were BAD. And I started thinking, “I know I can write better than this … I know that I do write better than this. And if these nimrods can get their crap published and read, then so can I!”

And I did.

But I did struggle with developing my own voice at first. For example, while in the middle of writing my book, I really got to like a series of werewolf books written by the late Alice Borchardt. One of things I thoroughly enjoyed was the way she would described food; she could describe an ancient Roman dinner so well I half expected it to be served at my college cafeteria that night. I liked her style so much that I deliberately copied it (the style, I mean, not her actual writing) into a scene in Nike, The Demon Road. I was quite proud of it …

Until about three years later, when I was reading through the book looking for errors, and I found that paragraph. I was so jarred by the change in style and tone—it was so different from the paragraphs before and after it—that I actually thought “Ew!” There was nothing wrong with the section itself, but it didn’t match the style of the rest of the book—it was clearly Borchardtian and not Newcastleian, if you get my drift. It was like watching Batman Begins, then midway through it changes to a clip from the overly bright 1960s Batman TV show where Adam West is Bat-dancing with a bunch of go-go girls, and then it switches back Christian Bale-Batman is beating the crap out of the Scarecrow. THAT kind of jarring. THAT kind of change in tone and style.

It just wasn’t me. It felt like somebody stole my book and snuck something into it. It made me feel like a fraud. I didn’t like those feelings, so pretty much the first thing I did was delete that paragraph and rewrite it, made it Newcastle-esque, and I was much happier about it.

And you’ll be much happier too once you stop comparing yourself to other writers. You are you. Be yourself. Keep writing.

Writing Wednesday: To Write or Not to Write (Every Day)


November 16, 2017

By Kara Newcastle

 Writing a Letter Home, George Godwin Kilburne, 1875

This is a topic I’m asked fairly often, and something I find to be the topic of heated debate in writer’s groups and on writing websites: is it really necessary to write every single day?

Stephen King thinks you should, and he himself aims for about ten pages every day … but then again, he’s Stephen King, and he’s been doing this for a while. On the other hand, Anne Rice doesn’t feel that it’s necessary to write every single day, and usually tries to get at 3,000 words … but, again, she’s Anne Rice, and has been at this for a while.

Me personally, I feel that you should write (even if it’s just a little bit) every day that you’re able to. Let’s face it, there are going to be days when things are too crazy to find the time to write. You got home too late, you’re too tired, you’re not feeling well, you have more important things to take care of … and there might be a day when you just plain don’t feel like it. That’s fine; if you can only write four days out of the week, or only have time to write a paragraph here or there, that’s better than not writing at all.

If you’d rather take a header off the nearest cliff that face the computer screen at that moment, by all means, take a day off … but I strongly advise against more than two consecutive days off. It’s really easy to lose your momentum that you had when you first started writing whatever you were working on before you took a break. It’s possible to forget exactly where you were headed with that particular piece too, because you become distracted by middling other things that draw your attention and your emotions away from your story (trust me, it happens.) You might even get so comfortable with not writing that suddenly, watching that rerun of The Curse of Oak Island—the one that you’ve seen nine times before already—becomes more important than finishing that scene you were working on.

Writing every day isn’t that hard. What is hard is finding the motivation to do it. Writer’s block and writer’s fear aside (subjects of future blogs), some people resist writing every day because it feels like work and they don’t see any payoff. Well, think of it this way; the only way to get better at anything is to do it over and over again. Practice. Repetition. Every day. Just like learning to walk, read, write, ride a bike, sing, act, swim, ANYTHING—you gotta do it every day, and then when you notice how much you’ve improved or accomplished, then you see the payoff.

But take a day off to recover if you need it.

It takes roughly thirty days to form a habit (or so I’ve heard), so if you’re able to write a little bit every day for thirty days, it won’t feel like a chore. And if you can write a little bit every day for thirty days, you’ll find it easier to write a lot every day for thirty days. Eventually, you’ll be surprised by how weirded out you feel when you miss a day of writing. All the same, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to make up for all the time you took off—putting that extra pressure on yourself is a surefire way to get you stressed about writing. Just write however many words that you’re capable of writing.

In case you’re wondering, how do I do it? Well, I try to write about 1000 words (about three pages) a day when I can. I don’t write every day, aiming for at least five days a week, and there are some days where I’m lucky to get a paragraph down. I used to beat myself up for not writing X-amount of words every single day, but when I realized that it was doing nothing but making me discouraged, I resolved to be happy with whatever I could get written. Like I’ve said before, it’s better than not writing at all!

(Oh, and P.S.: the only exception to the whole “not-writing-every-single-day” would probably be Nanowrimo, which you spend every day writing at least 1667 words a day. Just FYI.)

Writing Wednesday: Writing Badly

November 8, 2017

Kara Newcastle


joshua wolf shenk


“Have the courage to write badly.”

-Joshua Wolf Shenk

Like the Ernest Hemingway’s “The first draft of anything is shit,” this was another quote I hung on my wall by my computer. It’s reassuring in its simplicity—have the courage to write badly.


It’s something I struggled with for a time, and something that all writers struggle with at one point or another; for some reason I started thinking that I had to write a masterpiece every time I sat down to type. Didn’t matter what I was working on, a short story, a novel, fiction, nonfiction, fanfiction, a blog, an article, I believed that everything had to be perfect and eloquent and amazing and beautiful the first time I wrote it … and that didn’t do anything except stress me the hell out.


Why I started thinking that way I’m not entirely sure—maybe it was an ego thing. I do remember reading a lot of crappily written books at the time, and being irritated that these no-talent hacks were getting published and I wasn’t, constantly telling myself that I could write better than they could. And yet, whenever I wrote something down, I wound up deleting everything a few seconds later. I started obsessing over the perfect word or wording, coming up with original metaphors and executing perfect grammar every time. I started thinking that I wasn’t good any more, that I had lost my talent or—horrors!—maybe I never was talented to begin with. After a few months of this, I went back and reread my old reviews and wondered why people kept saying they enjoyed my writing when I didn’t think I was any good at it.

Then I went back and reread some of my old stories and realized that, actually, they weren’t that terrible. That got me to think about when I wrote my very first Nike story back in 1996. I broke out the old Trapper Keeper and reread those stories. They weren’t great. They were rife with mistakes and inconsistencies … but I remember writing them. I remember writing them and not being worried about whether they were good or bad. I just wanted to write.

Upon that epiphany, I went online and did a little research, trying to figure out what I had done to derail myself and whether or not anyone else suffered the way I had. It turned out that every writer has had a period of time where they thought they had to write perfectly every time they sat down to work (and other crises, which I’ll get to in the future), and this led me to a series of quotes from authors on writing. I made a list of the quotes, but Joshua Wolf Shenk’s was one of my favorites because it’s so to the point and yet reassuring. I read that quote and could imagine him standing beside me, patting me on the shoulder and saying, “It’s fine. Just write whatever you want. You can go back and fix it later.”

So go ahead and write some crappy stories. If the most colorful sentence you can come up with is, “The dog was brown,” don’t worry about it. There’s plenty of time to go back and tweak whatever you’re not satisfied with AFTER the story is finished (or after you’ve written several pages worth of stuff.) Don’t let yourself get bogged down with perfectionist thinking. If you feel like you’re writing badly, then write badly.

Just make sure you write.