Tag Archives: criticism

Writing with Style 5: Writing Discomfort

While its easy enough to simply say a character feels uncomfortable, I find that showing the discomfort goes  a long way in making that discomfort feel real. First, it’s important to identify a “symptom” of the characters discomfort. This could be anything as long as its repeated throughout the event you are writing. It could be a look, sweat pouring from the character’s forehead, cottonmouth, or anything else your imagination can contrive. despair-513529__180The trick is repetition. In the excerpt below, you’ll see my approach to showing discomfort in a new coming of age novel I’m working on. Like everyone else who writes bildungsroman, I’m trying to write the next Catcher in the Rye. I’ve bolded the repeated “symptom” so you can easily see what I’m talking about. Check it out:


from Untitled

“Jordan!” she said with a gasp and her hand over her chest. “I double checked my calendar twice. I was so worried. I—I thought you must’ve been in an accident or—I didn’t know what to think—I—”

“It’s fine, Grandma,” I said as I hugged her. She smelled like old-lady perfume and incontinence. “There was a bad traffic jam and I was sitting in it for over an hour. Must’ve been a ten car pile-up. I saw two ambulances coming back the other way before it all cleared up. Looked pretty bad.”

She gasped again. “That’s horrible.”

I felt a little bad because she didn’t think to question me, but what was I going to say? “Hey grandma, I’m late because I slept off a hangover, got in a fight, popped some painkillers, did a line of coke, had some sex with a girl I’m not dating, and then hung out by myself at the skatepark as I came down from the drugs.” Obviously, I couldn’t say that and if I did, it would break her tiny old lady heart. It’s the same with mom. You have to lie to them for their own good. They don’t want the truth. They just want to hear that you’re doing well and you’re happy and they don’t need to worry about you. That’s all they want.

After that my visit with grandma was uneventful. We watched the TV and drank tea and played cards at her little kitchen table. We didn’t talk at all while we played gin rummy and I couldn’t help but focus on her tiny ashen hands, so white I could see the green and blue of her veins. A fine mist from a humidifier sprayed into the air behind her and the room was so hot I stripped down to my white undershirt.

I still felt the hangover from the night before, and the smell of old person caused sweat to bead-up on my forehead. After the final hand grandma looked up at me and leaned back in her chair.

“You’re mother says you’re doing well in school. All A’s?”

“Yea,” I said and I wasn’t lying. I had straight A’s since freshman year.

“And you’re applying to colleges this summer?”

My palms were sweating now and I was glad we were finished with the cards. “Yea. We made visits last year. And mom wants me to apply to five schools.”

Grandma nodded her head and smiled. She was pleased. “No one from our family ever went to college. I wanted to go but there wasn’t enough money. Your mother is so lucky to have met your father. Without him, you would have grown up like everyone else in the family. You’re a lucky boy.”

I felt like I’d puke right there and my eyes started doing this thing where the bright light made them twitch. Sweat stung my eyes, and I couldn’t look at her anymore. Every time I looked at her the light in the room pulsated around her head.

“We’re all so proud of you,” she said.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Well,” I said. “I have to get going. I’m meeting up with a friend tonight. We’re studying for a test in physics.”

“Ok,” she said. “Is it with that friend I met last summer? What was her name? Hm. Miranda?”

“Yea,” I said quickly. Grandma must’ve forgot I go to an all-boys school.

“She was such a nice girl. So polite. And pretty. That’s the type of girl you hold on to and never let go.”

“I better not be late then,” I said. And as I stood up and grabbed my shirt from the back of the chair, I started to feel good again. I hugged grandma in spite of the old-lady perfume and incontinence. “I’ll see you next month.”

Writing as Art 2.0: The Rython Kingdom

Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. Well, its supposed to at least. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. But that doesn’t mean the excerpts are artistic or even well-written. You see, when I first started posting these excerpts, I provided running commentary  demonstrating the authors artistic th (12)choices. I don’t do that anymore because my readers thought it was weird and hard to follow. So instead, I just post the excerpts that are sent to me and let my readers decide. Some are good. Some aren’t. Either way, let me know what you think in the comment section below the excerpt. Don’t feel like you need to hold any punches. Bash it or praise it; either way, I’m not bothered and will keep my responses technical.

For this week, we have an excerpt from Mandy Eve-Barnett’s novel The Rython Kingdom. Check it out and let me know if you see it as cleverly composed art or just a bunch of the same old regurgitated crap. Here it is:


from The Rython Kingdom

A wizened old lady shuffled her way towards them aided by a striking looking woman, who took Guillem’s breath away. Her beauty stunned him into silence.

“Is this he?”

“This indeed is the troubadour I told you about, Elviva.”

“The tale you tell, is it of your own making?”

“I…well it is in some manner…the tale came to me in a dream.”

The old woman grasped Guillem’s hand, her flesh thin, akin to paper.

“As I suspected she has bewitched you storyteller. The tale you tell is of her design for some dark purpose. Tell me are you near story’s end?”

“My narrative will conclude this very evening.”

“Are there incantations within?”

“Yes, words I shall not speak as they burn in my mind. I dare not voice them.”

“I shall need parchment and quill, majesty.”

“Take what you require, Elviva, there is plenty at your disposal here.”

The old woman beckoned her granddaughter closer and whispered into her ear. Guillem watched the young woman divide the parchment into six pieces and dip the quill into ink.

“You will recite the first two lines of the incantation to me while Juliana notes them.”

“But… will we not incur the wrath of Malgraf?”

“It is only when the words are spoken in their rightful order do they release their power. Follow my instructions precisely and the evil shall be contained.”

Guillem relayed the words in the order, Elviva directed while Juliana wrote them on separate pieces of parchment.

“Careful not to let the edges touch or to read the words together, my child.”

“As you say, Eldenma.”

At the strange endearment, Guillem looked up at Juliana. Their eyes locked and he experienced a yearning never before felt. Such dark eyes… seemingly fathomless.

“No time, story teller for other matters, let us continue.”

The old woman’s husky voice broke into his trance. How could this maiden entrance him so – had he not had his fill of willing maidens?

“The last lines will be spoken separately and noted the same.”

Juliana moved the last piece of parchment to the opposite end of the table and then stood at her grandmother’s side.

“Your majesty, there is a part of this ritual that requires you play a part.”

“Elviva, I am willing to assist if it means destroying the sorceress. What will you have me do?”

“Blood must be spilt…”

“Blood, come now, is this necessary?”

“Quite necessary, sire, for without it the papers will assemble releasing the words then no amount of fighting will conquer the pure evil contained therein.”

“We must be guided by Elviva, Guillem; I have every reason to trust her.”

“Your majesty, I shall be guided by your example.”

Elviva unsheathed a small dagger that caught the firelight on its blade. With a deft movement, she pierced her palm and let blood drop onto one part of the transcript. Juliana held out her hand and did not flinch when the blade cut, even though Guillem did. Not wanting to be diminished in the maiden’s eyes Guillem held out his palm. The dagger sliced, beads of blood seeped onto another page. Then Elviva faced the king who nodded his ascent. His hand was steady as the soothsayer punctured it with the blade’s tip. Each of the six sections were smeared with blood and cast into the fire. As the parchment burnt, flames of intense purple flared, all the while Elviva chanted under her breath.

“I shall fashion new words for you to speak, tale teller, which will reveal those shielded by magic. His majesty has made provision for extra guards within the great hall, I do believe.”

“Indeed, Elviva, some disguised as servants and others as courtiers concealing our true number to tackle any opposition.”

“More parchment, Juliana.”

Guillem watched as Juliana gently placed more parchment before her elderly companion and then dipped the quill into the ink. The insertion of the quill had his thoughts on delights he could enjoy with this enticing maid. The quill tip scratched across the dry paper. Elviva’s hand shook making the letters spidery in form.

“Read what I have written, Guillem, but do not voice it. If you are unsure of a word please point it out to me.”

Guillem took the offered paper and read the text. The scribble before him took some time to decipher but he did manage to read every line. He nodded his understanding to Elviva.

“My part is done, your highness. If I may take my leave, this work leaves me undone.”

“You have been of great service this night, Elviva; I have made arrangements for you to stay within the castle tonight.”


And that’s it. If you liked Eve-Barnett’s writing, check out this link to her book on Amazon: LINK TO AMAZON


Writing as Art 2.0: Mirage

th (12)Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. Well, its supposed to at least. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. But that doesn’t mean the excerpts are artistic or even well written. You see, when I first started posting these excerpts, I provided running commentary  demonstrating the authors artistic choices. I don’t do that anymore because my readers thought it was weird and hard to follow. So instead, I just post the excerpts that are sent to me and let my readers decide. Some are good. Some aren’t. Either way, let me know what you think in the comment section below the excerpt. Don’t feel like you need to hold any punches.

For this week, we have an excerpt from Jean Blasier’s novel Mirage. Check it out and let me know if its art or just cleverly written or just a bunch of crap.




The cab turned left off Sunset, past the Bel Air Hotel now emerging from the fog, its manicured lawn glistening with dew.

Lily put on her glasses and checked the directions again.  “Are you sure this is the right road?” she asked the cab driver for the third time since they left the airport.  And for the third time the cab driver responded, “Stone Canyon.”

Inside the mansion at 1520 Stone Canyon, Tim Michaels was looking out the front window, as nervous as his soon-to-arrive guest was excited.

“Dad, sit down.  I’ll get you a cup of coffee.”  Molly Michaels, Tim’s daughter-in-law, hated to see her father-in-law all wrought up about this woman who, after all, had invited herself to California.

“I don’t want any more coffee, sweetheart.  Does this sweater make me look fat?”


“Did I ever show you a picture of Lily from grade school, Molly?”

“Yes, you did, dad.  But that was a long time ago.”

“Thirty eight years.  She moved to Pittsburgh after eighth grade and  broke my heart.”

“Seems odd, doesn’t it?   All these years and you never heard from her.”

“We moved to California and lost track of Lily.”

“Until last Saturday.”

“You could have knocked me over with a feather when that letter arrived telling me she was coming here.”

“How do you suppose she got your address?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe one of those searches on the internet.”

Molly fluffed up one of the pillows on the sofa.  “Did you ever try to find her with one of those searches?”

“Yeah, I did once, after Barbara died, but there was no trace of a Lily Spitzer who used to live in Sandusky, Ohio.”  Tim picked up one of the chess pieces off the small table in front of the sofa, polished it on his sweater and returned it to the board.

It was the perfect time for Molly to say something she’d been wanting to say ever since she heard that this woman was planning to visit for an indeterminate stay.  “I think you should be careful, dad.  I mean, you don’t know anything about this woman.”

Tim looked out the window once more.  He checked his watch.  “You’re going to love Lily, Molly,” he said, ignoring his daughter-in-law’s counsel.  “She was the life of every party.”

“I’m just saying, I can’t believe she invited herself indefinitely.”

“Just until she gets settled.”

“Did she say that?”

“She said she’s hoping to stay with me for a couple of days to look around.  She’s never been to California.”

The cab pulled into the circular drive of the mansion and stopped at the front door.  Lily and the cabbie had a few words about the fare before the driver got out, walked around and opened the rear passenger door.  He picked up a scuffed, cardboard suitcase from the floor of the back seat and then helped Lily out.

While Lily stood there looking up at the brick and columned two story house, the driver walked up the three front steps and set the suitcase on the Carrara marble entry.  The suitcase looked ridiculously out of place.


That’s it. Let me know what you think by commenting below. Oh and if you’re interested in the author, Jean Blasiar, she’s a playwright and author of the Emmy Budd mysteries. Check out her website: Jeanblasiar.com


Bad Writing Advice

We’ve all received bad writing advice at some point or another. Usually, the advice starts with one of the following: “always do this” or “never do that.” I actually work with someone who tells her students that they should “never use the word ‘that'”. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows THAT I don’t believe in limiting our choices when it comes to expression. I think it’s best to know how and why certain words, literary techniques, literary devices, etc. are used so that we CAN use them when it’s appropriate or when it serves our artistic purposes. untitled (5)So, to help battle against all the bad advice out there, I’ve made a list of literary “TRUTHS” that aren’t actually–well, true. Here’s the list of bad advice:

  • Never use personal pronouns when you can use a characters name
  • Don’t end a sentence with the word “it”
  • Never use digression
  • Never use flashback
  • Every character should be well-developed
  • Never place a comma after a prepositional phrase when it begins a sentence and is under 5 words
  • Never use an oxford comma
  • Always use an oxford comma
  • Always use the word “and” before the last item in a list
  • Never use sentence fragments
  • Never use dialect
  • Spell everything “correctly”
  • Don’t use a “hard” period
  • Don’t write in short sentences
  • Don’t write in long sentences
  • Don’t ever use flowery language
  • Avoid using plain or simple language
  • Don’t be repetitive
  • Always describe your settings in detail, so the reader can see what it looks like
  • Don’t ever bore your reader by describing the setting. Let them picture it for themselves
  • Always attribute your dialogue so the reader knows who is speaking
  • And most importantly, don’t ever use the word “that”

Well, I hope this list is helpful, and the next time you hear someone sharing one of these literary truisims, don’t be afraid to question them: “Why can’t I do ‘THAT'”



Writing as Art: A,B&E

thNCEN8Z70Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.


For this week, we have an excerpt from the opening of  Mark Nash’s novel  A,B & E. Let me know what you think of it.

from A,B&E

Oh, don’t mind if I do! Thank you very much. Isn’t that just a sight for sore eyes? A Black Russian in the a.m. Vitreously fleshy. Caffeine intake at its smoothest. For nudging you back into the daylight. A tender kiss of life, to expel the deathly, dried spume from the small hours dousing. Nyx you utter tart, I salute you! For guiding me home once again and delivering me safe and sound into the arms of dowdy old Eos! A toast to…Priapus. God of the vineyard and the other thing of course. Double bubble. All my hobbies rolled into one figurehead. My ideal consort of an evening. A Greek God to top all Greek Gods. Top of the morning after the night before to ya! Na zdorovia! Eis igian! As we say here in Greece.

(I like how we jump right into this conversation. It’s exceptionally one-sided of course, somewhat like talking to a stereotypical mother-in-law or an old rich lady who’s been around the block a view times. She’s handed a drink and off she goes. She’s not completely typical, however. The several allusions, many of which I couldn’t place, could be used to show how disconnected she is from the majority of humanity. This will continue in the following paragraphs. She also has fun with word play. Specifically, she uses epanalepsis. This is the repetition of the first word/phrase from the beginning of the sentence, at the end of the sentence: “A Greek God to top all Greek Gods.” She’s smart but full of herself)

Present company excepted of course, but I find revenge is a dish best served flush across the bloke’s cranium. Well, the Greeks are all for cracking the crockery. So when in Rome and all that. Besides, they were the first ones to craft an art form from vengeance. No wait a tick, it was my second husband Damon, who really elevated it to Olympian heights. The final word in retribution. Where they look in his unblinking, guillotine eyes and heed there’s no coming back at him. Nipping any escalation in the bud. A la thalidomide.

(More fun with words here. Some alliteration and assonance with “cracking the crockery” and I like how Nash transforms the idiom revenge is a dish best served cold. This narrator takes ownership over language through this transformation. This is reflected in her claim that her second husband “really elevated” revenge to “Olympian heights.” A pretty hefty claim. It appears that she owns stock in language and revenge)

An avenger therefore, ought to be up close and personal. Doesn’t merit the soubriquet, if the recipient is ignorant as to who’s responsible. Nor on what grounds. Eyeball to eyeball, Damon’s was a pinpoint perlustration. The polygraph of his blue ice chip eyes, needling whether a man was with Damon or against him. His laser red sight, locking on to the cornea’s yellow spot. Myself, I was granted more biddable access, always with a lascivious wink.

(The big words do three things here: they further disconnect her from the rest of humanity which doesn’t know the definition of “perlustration”, they make her seem all the more full of herself, and they further show that language is her tool of choice. What do I mean by that? Allow me an analogy: Saw is to carpenter as language is to this narrator)

untitled (4)Yet even cherished in lodestone adoration, I never located the bottom of those frozen pools. And when I reversed my polarity through betrayal, I bailed out of my own ducking stool ordeal and skipped the concrete verdict.

So you see I had a good mentor. Since when immersed in an alien culture, you can’t help but have some of the local custom rub off. But I suppose I must also have borne a propensity for it. Damon always said I fucked like a woman but fought (and thought) like a man. A heady cocktail. Diamond cut diamond. That’s what made me attractive to him. How I could gain privileged entry into his fierce Brotherhood. Honorary member without member.

(Another epanalepsis “Diamond cut diamond” and a bunch of big words. Although I can’t say that I like this narrator, not as person, she’s incredibly intriguing. As a narrator, she’s both an original creation, and oddly reminiscent to some of the narrators in Poe’s short stories. She assures us that we can trust her, but she’s oddly unreliable)


And that’s all folks. Honestly, that one impressed me and I think I might need to read the rest. If you’d like to pick up a copy, here’s the link: A,B&E . And if you want to check out other books by Mark Nash, here’s a link to his Amazon author page. Thanks for reading!

Letters on Literary Devices 17: Take a Crappy!

Hello world,

It’s been a long time since my last letter. Inspiration hasn’t struck and that sort of thing can’t be forced. Recently, however, after spending a weekend with the in-laws, a strange occurrence involving my daughter and mother in-law re-awoke the mock-epistolary muses, breathing metaphorical life into the words streaming out of my fingers, onto the keyboard, into my computer somehow, and across the inter-webs.

But first, allow me a moment to share a tiny bit of background information. Here’s what you need to know: I have a two-year-old daughter who is recently potty-trained. However, she still doesn’t like pooping. It isn’t that she doesn’t like pooping in the potty. It isn’t that she prefers pooping in her pants. thOHI8V64NNo, she just doesn’t like pooping–and yes, I know, that’s weird. I mean seriously, for many people, a good poop is often the highlight of an entire day. But my daughter isn’t interested. She can’t be bothered with it.

Well, anyway, last weekend my daughter starting whining because her stomach hurt. As you probably guessed, her stomach hurt because she was holding a big one. And while sitting across from my mother-in-law, having a drink perhaps, and maybe some fancy appetizer or hors d’oeuvres or something, I said to my whining daughter, “Yo kid, why don’t you take a crap?” To which my mother-in-law, her face frozen in horror, replied, “You’re in pleasant company–its a–poopy.” To which I replied, “Yo kid, why don’t you take a crappy,” adding the “py” ending, thus softening the word for “pleasant company.”

And that interchange, followed by laughter and several other pleasant ways to say poopy; such as, “dumpy, stinky, number-twoey, shitty, etc.,” is the motivation for today’s letter. For it begs the following question: Why is “poopy” pleasant, and “crap” unpleasant? Why is the former cutesy and the latter ugly?

Well, being that I’m an English teacher and all that, I can give you a really clear answer: its the way the words sound. Yes, its that simple. “Poopy” has several sounds or syllables that are pleasing to the ear. It is an example of euphonious diction. Whereas, “crap,” has sounds or syllables  that are disharmonious to the ear making it an example of cacophonous diction.

Now, when I teach euphonious and cacophonous diction to high school students, I teach the specific syllables that sound ugly and pretty. thQ84C1P47I won’t do that here, but if you’re interested, here’s the website that I have students reference. Basically, hard or harsh sounding syllables or words are considered cacophonous. Whereas soft and flowing syllables and words are considered euphonious.

Each has its purpose. When a writer portrays ugliness; for example, its not a bad idea to use ugly, discordant words. Or, if they’re going for irony, they might use euphonious words to describe the ugliness and vice-versa. Still don’t get it? Check out this spontaneous two-line poem I just wrote about my daughter pooping. It won’t win me any awards, but I’ve italicized syllables that are euphonious and underlined the cacophonous ones to help you see the difference:


Shit, sting, crap, ouch,

Finally, it flows from bum to bowl.


There are a few things to notice here. First, it’s not a single syllable that makes the first line cacophonous nor a single sound that makes the second line euphonious. In both cases, its the preponderance of these syllables in each line that creates the effect. Second, cacophonous sounds are ones that your tongue stops on. Whereas, euphonious sounds roll on to the next sound. Say this out loud: “Flows from.” Notices how flows, flows right into from. There’s no hard stop between the words. Do the same with “Shit, sting.” Notice how your tongue stops the word “shit.” And that’s essentially the difference. A prevalence of stopped sounds, sounds ugly. A prevalence of flowing sounds, sounds pretty. And this is regardless of content. Both lines of my poem are about pooping, but the first sounds ugly and the second sounds pretty.

So, why can’t I say “crap” in “pleasant company.” thGF34V1MXWell, that’s easy. “Crap” even if I add the “py” to the end is still ugly. Both the “cr” sound and the “ap” sound are cacophonous. So even when I add the euphonious “py” it still sounds ugly. And “Poopy” which combines two pleasant sounds, “poo” and “py” will always be more appropriate while spending time with my mother-in-law.

That’s it! Have a lovely day!



Eric (I never realized how euphonious my name sounds) JamesOlson

Epic Fail: Bad Writing…well, not quite epic

A week ago I thought it was a good idea to ask authors for excerpts of their earliest writing in its original and unedited form. A week ago I thought I’d be sifting through submissions. Clearly, that didn’t happen. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time, but it seems obvious to me now that no one enjoys exposing their flaws. You see, I thought it would be fun, looking back at old manuscripts and pointing out the mistakes we would never make again. But again, no one wants to do that. th (9)

The reason is obvious and I know I’m not the first person to say this: as writers we’re constantly running away from our earliest attempts at fiction. There’s no point in dwelling on those early attempts because we’ve already learned from them.

I did, however, receive one e-mail. Yes, that’s right. I received one whole submission. It’s  from a writer working on her first novel. Here’s the message she sent me describing her excerpt: “The main issue I see with this excerpt is telling not showing. The narrator also has an inner voice sounding between 12 and 14, when she was supposed to be 16. Since doing revisions from this draft I’ve learnt much about showing emotions through actions and facial expressions, and the novel has developed to be a YA/New Adult (not quite sure yet) with an inner voice between 18 and 21.”

And here’s a paragraph from the excerpt: “I was too busy watching Lei, interpreting his expression that I only just heard Harley’s sigh of relief. Whatever that meant, sometimes it really sucked caring for people. I just couldn’t let him believe I wanted to kiss him. Or that I liked him. It’s best to be true my feelings even if that means Lei’s aren’t spared.” You’ll notice that she hit the nail right on the head. We all made these mistakes in our first books. I’m particularly touched by the phrase “interpreting his expression.”thG54L7ATM I always used to have characters interpreting or analyzing expressions. I also liked “it really sucked caring for people.” Yep, 12 year old girl. But none of this matters because we already know this. Jo Carter, the author that sent me the excerpt, she already knows this and that excerpt we all just read has already been edited. I mean seriously, none of this benefits anyone. There’s nothing to even say about it. She’s already fixed it.thN8WEX1ZP

But I shouldn’t despair at bad ideas. It’s better to move on and all that. Halfway through the week I received a message from a fellow author that said this: “How about first attempt vs edited attempt – same scene. That would be cool to see,” suggesting that I should’ve taken excerpts that show a before-and-after, a look at the decisions an author made in the editing process. And he’s right, that seems much more productive. So, learning from my mistake last week, allow me a second attempt. Please, if you are reading this and wouldn’t mind sending me a short excerpt of your writing, both before and after the editing process, send it to ejamesolson1@gmail.com. Or, if you would like to send an unedited excerpt and would like a semi-professional critique either public or private, send that along. Yes, I just offered a free critique. And like always, I’m responding to everyone.  And hopefully this second attempt will prove more productive. Thanks, and have a good day.




Send me your firstborn! I’ll feature your excerpt

Hi folks,

Next week I’ll be writing a post on the common writing errors we all made when we first started–well, writing. thE6RXNWOLPersonally, I know I’ve come along way since my first novel and I still cringe when I look back at my first attempts at describing a setting, a character, or even a feeling. Back then, I used too many adverbs, I over-explained, and I made choices with spelling that could be described as either unconventional or flat out wrong depending on who you ask. If you have an example of your early writing that you wouldn’t mind sharing, please send me an excerpt. I can’t do this without you, and I’d like to feature as many authors as I can. Here’s how you submit:

  • Send an e-mail to Ejamesolson1@gmail.com with the following:
  • Your name
  • Your  excerpt (200 words or less…less is better) pasted in the body of the email (Sorry, but I’m not opening attachments. I’m dreadfully afraid of viruses)
  • (OPTIONAL) A short explanation of why it was bad or what was wrong with it or what you learned from it
  • Title the subject line with the word “Submission Bad Writing” followed by your name. Like this: “Submission Bad Writing Charles Dickens”

thM9HIJKJFI respond to all submissions and will let you know if your excerpt has been selected. All genres are welcome, but remember that the focus is on making bad writing better. If I decide to feature your excerpt, I’ll include a link to your blog, Goodreads page, or Amazon page,  a great opportunity for anyone looking to increase their visibility. Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to hearing from you!

How to Write an Ugly Character

Good evening folks. As you’re  aware I’ve been sharing a lot of other people’s writing lately. But tonight I figured I’d show off some of my own fiction. The excerpt below is from an unpublished novel I wrote. I chose this as an example of how to create an ugly character. “Big” Jim, the character described below, was my attempt at creating the ugliest character possible. He’s intolerant, racist, sexist, abusive, and uses terribly offensive language. th6SFZ10U9But before you read it, I’d like to mention three important things to keep in mind. First, even though I created him, I don’t condone anything he says or does. Second, in my life I have met people very similar to him. People like “Big” Jim exist in the real world and I’m going for realism here. Third,  you’ll likely notice that his strange speech patterns and mispronounced words seem grating. Although this is set in the Eastern Panhandle, he still speaks a little strange.  This is done purposefully to put the reader on edge. You might also notice a preponderance of hard syllables. This gives the passage a cacophonous and unsettling sound. Hope this gives you ideas for the next time you sit down to write an ugly character.



from From A to B

“Big” Jim is 6’2” and three-hundred pounds. His head is round and balding gray. He shaves it to keep it “lookin’ neat”. His face is red and bloated; he looks at your chest and then down in front of him and then your chest when he’s talking to you. His eyes are always shifting, and he always has something dangerously attractive to say.


Well, let me tell you about it.

That son-in-law-uh mine, Gene, that is, he pulled up just ‘round five or six. It was Friday night and I could already feel my hand shakin’ if you know what I mean.

So, I went right ahead and just popped one open. Figured-uh beer would do the trick just fine. Didn’t need to start mixin’ the liquor drinks just yet. It’d be a late night I figured, and I didn’t want to get all crazed up too damn early.

Teresa, my old lady, she wasn’t set to get back from the vet clinic for another hour and Gene was just unloadin’ his shit, so I figured I’d just set right there on my own sippin’ my beer till the family was ‘bout ready to join me. I’ve found that when I’m throwin’ a party, it’s always best to start drinkin’ ‘fore the crowd gets settled. That way, when they see you there drinkin’, they’re liable to want to do some drinkin’ too. And then when other folks get there, they’ll see that everybody’s drinkin’, and that’ll get them thinkin’ “Hell, I could go for a drink myself.” One thing goes ahead and leads to another, and ‘fore you know, everyone’s there drinkin’ and carryin’ on and actin’ like it’s the god damn fourth of the god damn July. Know what I mean?

Course you do. Anyway, I’ll tell you how it was. Well, first of all, it’s wasn’t the Fourth of July. I said LIKE the Fourth of July. It was actually Memorial Day. Well, not the actual day. But the weekend that goes with the day. And I was excited. I got to admit that. You see, I knew Gene’s dick would be all hard because there hadn’t been any snow days earlier in the year, meaning that he only had a week left of work and then he’d be free for summer. Last time it happened that way, Gene drank so damn hard I almost died keepin’ up with him. Uh night to remember.

Well, like I was sayin’, I was just settin’ there on the porch sippin’ from my beer can. It was right out the cooler and goin’ down like water. Then Gene and that damn daughter uh-mine and that little boy uh-their’s came round the side of the house. Somethin’ was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but somethin’ just wasn’t right. Gene’s mustache. He shaved it off. Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. You’re thinkin’ I’m some kinda fag for noticin’. But I didn’t really notice it, or its significance just then. Just then, all I noticed was that somethin’ was off.

He was holdin’ my daughter’s hand like a queer and that boy of theirs, he was standin’ there behind him.

“Gene, my boy, come on up here. I got a cold one right here in the cooler. It’s for you buddy boy.”

I went ahead and reached in the cooler for him. I was just so damn excited if you know what I mean. Well, I pulled out uh-beer for the boy and when I looked up he was still holdin’ the hand uh-my daughter like some type-uh fudge packin’ dick-lickin’ faggot. Just standin’ there while the beer I pulled out for him was burnin’ my damn hand with cold.

“Got your beer for you boy!” That’s what I said and he just kind-uh looked at me with this funny faggoty grin.

Well, that’s when that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine opened up her big damn mouth and started sayin’ somethin’ about Gene bein’ off the stuff, sayin’ that he ain’t drinkin’ no mo’.

“What kind-uh dick-lickin’…” I started to say but cut myself off when I saw that little shit of-uh boy-uh their’s lookin’ at me fawn-like.

“What the hell got into you woman?” I said to that no good daughter-uh mine. “What the hell! What did you do? What did you do to the boy? Gene, my boy, what the hell’d she do to you, boy?”

I could see right then that I had an effect on him. He wasn’t gonna budge right then. He couldn’t. But he looked at me. Then he looked at that slut of-uh daughter-uh mine. He looked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and shit. And I knew it right then. Right then I knew his new attitude wasn’t at all set. Just a little coaxin’. That’s all it’d take. Just a little coaxin’.


That’s it. Let me know what you thought. And if you have an ugly character of your own, feel free to send me an excerpt for next week’s Writing as Art:


Thanks and have a good day

Writing as Art: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality


Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other. I start off the conversation by incorporating annotations every few paragraphs. (These are surrounded by parenthesis and written in bold) But my annotations are only the starting point. I encourage you to comment, critique, disagree, agree and argue the literary merit of each piece.

For this week, we have an excerpt from Henry Martin’s novel Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of it.


from: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality

The food sits comfortably in my stomach, washed down with a few glasses of Riesling wine. Strange bar, strange city—but for all its strangeness, no advancement has been achieved today. The wine, the food, and the atmosphere were making me sleepy, drowsy, and indifferent—in a nonchalant way. Nice, the land of art, beaches, riches and fame—the land where one should be fortunate to be. Do I feel that way? No. Across the sea, across the border, across a zillion stories lies the place I want to be. Where? I do not know, but I am certain that it is not here. Perhaps my quest will never come to an end; perhaps I am never to feel peace and harmony. The stillness and lethargy of the Pyrenee annoyed me, yet, the indifference and apathy of the Cote d’Azur is not proving to be a better medicine. Only a few hours ago, I thought Nice was nostalgic, colorful, friendly, and refreshing. Now, under the veil of darkness, it shows its true face. Or, it is that my eyes have opened? Am I finally seeing things for what they are? Will I ever find a place that will not reverse my perception after only a few hours?


(Martin blends form with content intelligently in this opening paragraph. Let’s start with content. The narrator, unnamed in the paragraph, first appears in a liminal state, a purgatory, stuck in a “strange city” miles from where he “want[s] to be.” Yet, he’s seems to be at the cusp of a realization. Perhaps it isn’t the city that irritates him. He acknowledges that Place doesn’t matter. Regardless of where he goes, his “perception” spoils “after only a few hours.” To express this, Martin chooses both his words and setting carefully. This takes place in Nice, a beautiful city on the French Riviera. But at the same time, the word “Nice” in it’s common form has a separate meaning of it’s own. Nice could also mean nice. It could also be interpreted as it’s philosophical form “Niceness.”   th89L7RA6PWhile the narrator believed that the “Pyrenee” and “Cote d’Azure” would be “friendly and refreshing,” he only found “stillness” and “apathy.” While these places promised to be “Nice,” he realizes that it looks different “under the veil of darkness.” He uses diction and juxtaposition to create this ironic effect. The philosophical form “Nice” as well as the city of Nice transform into darkness as the sun sets. Friendliness is stillness. Refreshing is apathy. The positive becomes the negative as he asks “Am I finally seeing things for what they are?” And the questions are important too. The questions further reflect the narrator’s liminal state even after his “eyes have opened.” Another part of this paragraph that interested me was the ambiguity of the second sentence: “no advancement has been achieved today.” For who? I’m not sure, but I think the ambiguity puts the reader in a similar state of mind as narrator. The line “across a zillion stories” had a similar effect. What stories?)


Leaving the bar behind me, I stroll back towards the harbor. This time my eyes are open, as if the short experience in the bar had corrected my vision. Nice at night is not the same as Nice during the day. The air remains warm, only now it seems to be charged with perfumes, scents, and electricity. While I was inside, enjoying my late meal, someone had turned the street upside down, replacing all the well–dressed couples and families with hookers, pimps, dealers, and lonely men driving around, aimlessly looking for an exciting fuck. Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street; some have the decency to hide their profession in shadowed entryways. On the hood of a Renault sits a woman old enough to be my mother. Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips. Her hair, dried out and bleached, is tied in a ponytail; her eyes and face are covered in so much make–up that it almost overpowers the presence of the man penetrating her with swift moves—her legs thrown over his shoulders. Pandemonium, circus, humanity. Amidst the trash, the cigarette butts, the luxurious yachts, and the cars and buildings lies a street where human genitals are pre–positioned, dancing with each other, dangling in the air, ultimately swallowing one another like the mating dance of a praying mantis—Ballare, Ballare, a formal dance in this informal setting. Yet the justification to dance is a righteous one, as long as they are touched and held.


(Martin further develops the ironic reversal of Nice by describing the ugliness of the streets at night. Again, this is done mostly through word choice and negative connotation. Check out this line: “Everywhere I turn, there is a whore. Some are eating the flesh of their clients right on the street.” Ugly right? Prostitutes don’t have to be ugly, but when they are “eating the flesh of their clients,” they’re definitely ugly. Check this one out: “Her exposed skin hangs loosely over her leather skirt, which is rolled up well above her hips.” Pretty ugly. And yet, I found the final line perplexing. He seems to excuse the ugliness for the basic needs of human nature)


These streets may as well be the streets of Constantinople. These prostitutes are but Roman whores, sitting on the steps of the ancient basilicas, and these lonely men, searching for the cheapest and the most exotic of meats almost mirror the anxious warriors of the Empire, returning from some bloody war—eyes and hair shining through the night, diluted and dyed in phosphorus—smiles so innocent and evil at the same time, resembling a poisoned strawberry, glowing with a lustrous sheen. Lust, lust, lust—like an unexpected avalanche the covetousness and cupidity knows no feelings, no boundaries. Sex to kill the boredom, sex to feel better about the self—does that really work? The worm made out of the two counterparts in this trade keeps swirling and swishing, growing wider and larger with each new arriving client. Concubines and business suits take over the harbor and the surrounding streets, while the bums jerk off in the alleys. Not befitting to this unorganized orgiastic swirling, I leave the harbor behind, marching away like the soldier of God, left, right, left, right…until the scent of sweating bodies can no longer be found in the air, until the trees and bushes provide me with a comfortable hideout. The street lamps glow far below, their light reflecting off the water like a burning inferno, but up here, I am alone, a cigarette in my mouth, watching the true life show before I settle for the night.


In the morning, I awake to the sounds of sea horns, traffic, and birds. Like a mad shivaree for civilization rather than newlyweds, it bounces off the green leafage, vibrates through the leafhoppers, and comes out of their tiny buttocks in the form of a sound, spreading everywhere like cosmic dust. I brush away the few leaves dropped on me as I slept, stand up, light a cigarette, and inhale. Exhaling a puff of smoke into the brisk morning air, I take a look at the harbor. Nothing left resembles last’s night imagery—the calm sea gently rocks the docked ships; the street is deserted. I descend back onto the main road, my body rested like royalty. It is no wonder that I feel like royalty; the castle in the background, standing proud on top of the hill, is certainly suitable for royalty of any kind, including me. I smile.


(I felt a certain sense of closure with the final sentence. “I smile.” Short sentences tend to have that effect. Now that the narrator sees the civilized world for what it is, “unorganized orgiastic swirling,” he’s happy to find his Place amongst the “green leafage” and “trees and bushes” describing the natural world as a “castle in the background…suitable for royalty.” I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the novel to see if the natural world also “shows it’s true face.”)


51BtuEKMatL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_And that’s it. Here’s a link to the rest of the book: Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. If you have an excerpt from a novel or a short piece of fiction, please e-mail submissions to Ericjamesolson1@gmail.com And as always, please comment. It helps us all out.


Henry Martin was born in 1977. 6583769Aside from his regular job at a preschool, he spends his nights writing fiction and poetry, which predominately deals with the often-overlooked aspects of humanity. He is the author of three novels: Escaping Barcelona, Finding Eivissa, and Eluding Reality; a short story collection, Coffee, Cigarettes, and Murderous Thoughts; and a poetry collection, The Silence Before Dawn. He is currently working on a joint project with an Australian photographer, Karl Strand, combining one of a kind images with short stories. He lives with his family in the Northeast. Check him out on Goodreads: Henry Martin


%d bloggers like this: