Tercet and Triad: Writing the Poetic Forms

Tercet Stanzas

The tercet is a poetry form with Italian roots. One of the most famous examples of the form is Dante’s The Divine Comedy (aff). At heart, this is a stanza form more than a form for a complete poem. In most cases, multiple stanzas are combined to create a single poem. The poem may be be a string of several tercets. In other cases, the tercet is one component in a poem composed of other stanzas such as couplets or quatrains.

The Divine Comedy was composed of three line stanzas. Every first and third line ends with a rhyme. This is the classic version of the form. It is a three-lined poetic stanza in which the first and third lines rhyme. The second line is blank (unrhymed) verse.

Today, we call this rhymed form an enclosed tercet because the two rhymed lines enclose the blank line. Most modern tercets employ unrhymed or blank verse. An even more stringent form of the tercet is the Sicilian Tercet. The Sicilian Tercet incorporates the enclosed form, but also requires that the poet write in iambic pentameter.

TercetThe tercet is rarely a complete poem in itself. Instead, poets write multiple stanzas to create longer works. A famous English example of a poem using tercet stanzas is Percy Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, which includes:

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow



The triad is a specific form of tercet. The origins of the triad are Irish and Welsh. A triad is a poem composed of three tercets. It is a consideration of three things and their effect on a person. Welsh versions of the Arthurian legends make heavy use of this form.

Here is a sample triad that I have written:

Cold Comfort

My favorite glass folds upward.
Three curved echoes.
Growing large enough to hold comfort.

My blender can spin ice to powder.
Gentle as snow in my hair.
Eager to provide relief.

Parrot Bay and pina colada mix.
Turn snow to sweet cold liquor.
And I can smile now.

The triad is one of the lesser know poetry forms, but it is an enjoyable outlet for expression. You can add as much challenge as you wish. You can simply write in three-line stanzas or you can use iambic pentameter and enclosed tercets if you wish to increase the writing challenge.

Additional Reading

This article was originally published at power.com in 1999. It was revised in December, 2013.

Epistle Poetry Form: How to Write an Epistle

Epistle as a Form

Epistle (pronounced e-PISS-ul) is a poetic form that dates back to ancient Rome and to the Bible. It is a poem written in the form of a letter. The term epistle comes from the Latin word epistola, which means letter. Epistle was used to express love, philosophy, religion and morality. In many cases, the epistle would go on at great length. Many older epistles were thousands of words long.

Most people who think of epistles think of the Bible. Many of the books in the New Testament are epistles, especially the Epistles of St. Paul. The poet Robert Burns also frequently wrote epistles, as did Alexander Pope. There are contemporary poets who use this form, but it will always be associated with The Greeks, the Romans, and the Bible. Nonetheless, it is a fun and loose form to write in if you can get away from the ancients.

Your Poem as a Letter… or Tweet

EpistleOver the past hundred years, as the telephone took over for letter writing, letters became less personal and more formal or business related. The concept of writing letters to relatives, friends, colleagues and lovers went out of fashion. In the last few years, however, letter writing has had a rebirth of sorts as the Internet grew in prominence and people began to send e-mail to each other. Over time, this has grown to include tweets, Facebook posts, text messaging, and more. Today, a long letter is an unlikely gift of time and effort. An epistle is an even more unlikely gift.

Luckily, the epistle is a very adaptable form. If you want to write a poem as if it were a series of tweets or updates, that is still within the realm of epistle. I’m not sure if Burns or Pope would agree, but time passes for everything.

No Meter or Rhyme Needed

There are no meter or rhyme requirements for an epistle. Epistle is more a form of voice and persona. A poet can address their epistle to a real or imaginary person and express their views or take on the character of a different writer. The wonderful quality of an epistle is that it can be such a freeing form. The tone can be formal or use very personalized voices. The poems can be many pages long or as short as a post card.

Epistle Guidelines

Some things you should keep in mind when writing the epistle are:

  • Who is writing the letter?
  • Who is the letter being written to?
  • How you would address that person?
  • What would interest the writer and the recipient?
  • How formal or informal would the writer be when addressing that person?

Below is an epistle I wrote several years ago. I think it is a good example of how fun and flexible the form can be. An epistle doesn’t have to sound like a formal letter. This one takes the form of unsent notes.


Notes To Shelly


Anyone who would give me
A Winnie-the-Pooh book for Christmas
Deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Still, what will it be
To have you disappear?
Don’t make it forever.


Got your postcard today.
Read all twenty-four words
Twelve times.


Saw Rocky Horror again tonight.
And I thought about your first time
And your devirginization.
Afterwards I drove under
Every overpass I could find.


First date since you left.
Took her to dinner
At the Mexican restaurant
You told me gave you food poisoning.
I never told you I’d wait.
But I didn’t want to take her
Anywhere I’d go with you.


I had a feeling this morning
That I would find a letter from you
In my mailbox.
You know better than I
That it was empty.
That sounded bitter, didn’t it?


Reading Marquez.
Love in the Time of Cholera.
Wanted to recite to you the passage
About the ship captain and the Manatees.
Instead I read it to the palo verde in the yard
Much to Mr. Parra’s consternation.
It is important to maintain my image.


Ran into Maria at the mall today.
We asked each other about you.
Must be fun to be so mysterious and everything.
Maria and I ate lunch together.
She told me she’s marrying Jimmy.
She took my address
So she can send me an invitation.


Happy Birthday.
On your behalf
I spray painted the walls
Of my living room black.
And splattered little specks of color all over
To make it look like space.
The effect was different than I expected.
I feel like I’m in one of the less exiting rides
At Disneyland.


The invitation arrived today.
John and guest.
There’s nobody to take though.
Dating really didn’t work out
After you left.
I expect I’ll send my regrets.


Went to the wedding after all
Because I thought somehow
You would make an appearance.
It would have been a good moment.
Like the mail though
The appearance didn’t come.
Instead I started talking to Tammy.
We started dancing together.
Drinking half the punch.
She’s getting over somebody.
She said I can call any time.
I won’t though.


Called Tammy today.
We got even drunker than at the wedding.
We had to walk back to my house.
She took off her clothes
In the bathroom
And slept on the couch.


Of course your postcard
Would arrive today.
From Arkansas of all places.
Your message simple.
Just wanted you to know I’m alive.
Don’t worry.
I know.


I didn’t answer the phone today.
I sat in the living room.
I watched the walls.
Late in the day I decided
It’s time for me to buy a TV again.


I repainted the living room today.
My lease is up and I decided
That I didn’t want to stay here.
I’ve been sending out my resume
For a couple months now.
And I heard back from a company in Sacramento.
It seems everybody is leaving California.
Which makes it probably
The most appropriate place for me to go.


Tammy came over last night.
This time we didn’t go drinking.
This time she didn’t sleep on the couch.
This morning, just to be different
I asked her to come with me.
Just to be like you
She’s quitting her job
And jumping lease.
For the first time in a long time
I know I will see you again.
But then, I’ve been wrong before.

More Information

Cinquain Form: Writing the Cinquain

Cinquain History

Cinquain is an American poetry form. Despite its French-sounding name it was created by an American. The form was started by Adelaide Crapsey. Crapsey was influenced by Japanese haiku. He developed it to express brief thoughts. It also serves to make statements. Carl Sandburg and Louis Utermeyer popularized the form. The form is not as popular as haiku. It is growing though. Teachers use it to introduce students to poetry. Cinquain poems are brief. They are ideal for beginners.

Cinquain Form

Most cinquain poems use a single, 22-syllable stanza. Sometimes stanzas are combined into longer works. A cinquain consists of five lines. The first line has two syllables. The second line has four syllables. The third line has six syllables. The fourth line has eight syllables. The final line ends with two syllables:






Line length is the only firm rule. There are other guidelines, but no firm rules.

Cinquain Guidelines


  • Write in iambs. Iambs are two syllable groupings. The first syllable is unstressed. The second syllable is stressed. For Example: i DRANK she SMILED we TALKED i THOUGHT. For the last line of the poem both syllables should be stressed, NICE BAR.
  • Write about a noun. Cinquains are too brief to be about complex subjects. Pick something concrete.
  • Don’t try to make each line complete or a single thought. Each line should flow into the next. Otherwise, the poem will sound static.
  • Cinquains work best if you avoid adjectives and adverbs. Focus on nouns and verbs.
  • Build toward a climax. The last line should conclusion earlier thoughts. Often, the conclusion has a surprise or turn.

One possible format:

Line 1: Title Noun.

Line 2: Description.

Line 3: Action.

Line 4: Feeling or Effect.

Line 5: Synonym of the initial noun.

I prefer to use the noun as a separate title. Others make it the first line.


Tucson Rain

The smell
Everyone moves
To the window to look
Work stops and people start talking
Rain came

Opening Game

Game time
Season looked good
National champions
We told ourselves as we sat down
Not now

New Bar

The street I went
To drink at the new bar
I drank she smiled we talked I thought
Nice bar

More Information

Cinquain Poems: Examples of cinquain poetry

Cinquain in the Wikipedia: Wikipedia’s discussion of the poetry form.

Cinquain in an Instant A tool for writing Cinquain poems

Cinquain.org A scholarly publication about the poetry form.

Article was first published in 1999. Updated December, 2013.

Copywriting Basics: Writing to Sell

Copywriting, what is it?

A copywriter writes documents (copy) intended to sell a product or service. Copywriting can take many forms. Copywriters create advertisements. They write brochures. The develop product announcements. The sometimes put out press releases. They may create speeches. Sales letters are a big money earner. Web sites are another major market.

Who do copywriters work for?

Copywriters often work for advertising agencies. they may work for marketing firms as well. Many copywriters work directly for the company that sells the product. There are catalog companies. There are storefront web sites. Many companies are involved in direct consumer sales. Many copywriters freelance.

Is copywriting the same as business writing?

Copywriting is not business writing. On some projects they may overlap. Overall the jobs are very different. The rules of copywriting often fly in the face of the rules for business writing. Perfect grammar may not make for good copy. Word usage is critical. Brevity is vital. Word choices make sales. That doesn’t mean you need a huge vocabulary. Most ads can be read by anyone with a fifth-grade education. Writers do need a firm grasp advertising writing rules. They need to know the differences between words that seem interchangeable. Consider the difference between these two sentences.

The new Tivoli Storage Manager provides the system-wide backup your corporation needs, but it won’t break your IT budget.

The new Tivoli Storage Manager provides the system-wide backup your corporation needs, and it fits your IT budget.

The first sentence conveys two positive aspects of the product, separated by a word with negative connotations, while the second used a more positive link. That sort of detail may not ruin an advertising campaign. It may only be the difference between a hundred sales and a hundred and one sales. Given the option, however, any company would want that extra sale. By the way, you get extra credit if you noted that the word break might not be the best word to use in a product description.

CopywritingHow much can I make copywriting?

Because of their ability to get the details right, the best copywriters are highly valued. Writers who know all of the tiny differences between one word and another, and can use them to sell a product, are worth the high prices they charge. Those prices can lead to jobs that pay in the six figures, especially for freelancers. Established freelancers currently charge as much as $200 an hour.

What are the challenges in copywriting?

Copywriters have several goals. They first get the customer’s attention. If the copy never gets the the customer’s attention, anything else that follows is useless. There are many ways of getting a customer’s attention. The general rules are:

  • Keep it short.
  • Be specific.
  • Use language that attracts interest.
  • Focus on the benefits.

Copywriters should also be able to make a product distinguishable from the competition. Whether there are three or thirty other similar products or services on the market, a copywriter should be able to identify what makes this product special: craftsmanship, cost, reliability, customer satisfaction and support, speed, style, or anything else that makes the product or service distinct.

These are just some of the things a copywriter must consider. Another major issue is credibility. You must be able to back up any claims made in your advertising, and any direct comparisons with other product must be based on proven facts. False advertising is illegal.

What does it take to be successful at copywriting?

To be a successful copywriter,  be both a writer and a salesperson. If the idea of sales and marketing appeal to you. If you consider writing one of your talents. This can be an excellent and lucrative career choice. To get started in a copywriting career, you should first develop and test your skills. You should begin by reading more on the subject. There are several guidebooks listed at the end of this article. You should also pay attention to the advertising around you. Look through a magazine and critique the advertisements. A good way to develop your early skills, and to create a portfolio to show prospective employers and clients, is to take existing advertisements and improve on them. Don’t limit yourself to magazine ads, however. Look at all of the different types of copy listed in the first paragraph of this article. You may want to practice all of the different styles, or you can focus on the types of copy that are most interesting to you. Copywriters often have specialties.

How do I get started in copywriting?

After you are more familiar with copywriting, look for your first employment opportunity. Look for a junior position at an advertising or marketing firm. You also might find small jobs for the people you know. Offer to produce free or inexpensive brochures/fliers/ads for your people you know. Little jobs like these will give you experience working with new copy, and they will also get you used to working with clients, even if the first clients don’t pay. The key is to improve your skills, and to build a portfolio of your work. From there you can branch out to bigger clients and better paying jobs.

More Information

How to Avoid Copywriting Rewrites

How to Choose a Major and Minor for a Career in Writing

Copywriting FAQ

Copywriting Presentation (PowerPoint)

Copywriting Tips




Finding Time to Write Means Making Time to Write

Finding Time to Write

Most people who say they want to write don’t make writing a high enough priority. They intend to write, but end up running errands or doing a thousand other things. People use these activities as excuses not to write. Turn that around. Make writing an excuse not to do other things. Finding time to write means making writing a priority. This is easier said than done.

Change the Kind of Writing You Do

Finding time to write is sometimes a matter of choosing the right thing to write. You may only have a half hour a day to devote to writing. That is still a significant amount of time if you do it every day. Unfortunately, writing the Great American Novel may become a depressing task if you have limited time. Try writing personal essays, or poetry, or short stories. Pick projects you can complete. Build up your chops before setting out on a project that may take years. If you do have a long project, don’t let lack of progress depress you. Write something else for a while then come back to it. The key is to keep writing something. Finding time to write a poem or an essay is easier than finding time to write a novel.

Train Yourself to Write Fast

Remember in high school and college when your evil instructors made you write timed essays? Make yourself do the same thing. Give yourself 45 minutes to write a coherent article or short-short story. You may not be successful every time, but that is why you keep working at it. It’s a skill you learn to develop. Finding time to write is easier when you write quickly.

Simplify Your Life

Finding Time to WriteTake a look at all the projects you are currently working on. This means more than writing projects. Look at your whole life. Try to eliminate a few things. Analyze your days and figure out exactly where the time is going. Cut back on some of the less important tasks. Watch two hours of TV instead of four. Give up on that afghan you’ve been knitting. Go out twice a week instead of every night. Decide that you aren’t going to bring home your work. Make some sacrifices. Decide that your writing is worth it. Finding time to write means figuring out what you don’t want to be doing instead of writing.

Figure Out the Best Times of the Day for You to Write

The best time to work is a combination of when you are most alert and when you have free time. Pick that time and write. It may be the middle of the night or the middle of the day, but having a regular time when you write makes it easier to keep writing.

Don’t Answer The Phone

Don’t come to the door. Don’t Tweet. Don’t update your Facebook status. For as little or as much time as you are writing, do only that. Finding time to write means making the most of the time you spend writing.

Decide Whether Or Not Writing Is A Priority

Writing is not for everyone. If you keep trying and failing to make the time to write, then writing may not be for you. You may want to write, but if the desire is not enough to keep you from doing more entertaining or pressing activities, then perhaps writing isn’t for you.

Writing may become more meaningful to you at another point in your life, but don’t feel guilty about letting it go. When it is important enough to you to make some sacrifices, you’ll be able to make them. Adjust to the fact that writing is something you like, but not necessarily enough to be a writer. I would love to take up painting. It looks like a wonderful hobby. I realize though that I just don’t have the time to devote to it now. At a later stage in my life, who knows? But I guarantee I don’t feel guilty about not doing it now. Finding time to write is great, if it is really what you want to do.

Additional Information

Finding Time to Write was originally published in September, 1999. Finding Time to Write was revised on December 19, 2013.

Creating Memorable Characters in Fiction

Creating memorable characters is a challenge.  It is work to come up with compelling characters that interest the readers and fit the story. Fitting the story might seem like the lesser of the two considerations, but it really isn’t. Beyond being interesting, the character must also be the type of person who will respond to your plot. Whatever the action of your story is, it needs to matter to your characters. The readers must care about what is happening to a character. They must be interested in what the character will do or fail to do.

Creating Memorable Characters Starts with a Spark

Creating memorable characters begins with some spark. The spark may come from anywhere. It could be a voice, a physical feature, a profession, a line of dialog, or a plot you want your character involved in. Whatever the spark is, you need to need to explore it. You should expand upon that voice, that physical feature, that dialog, that profession or that plot. Whatever the first spark of life is, expand upon it until it fully takes shape.

Create a Character Profile

After you have moved beyond the original spark, you need to create a profile of your character. You should start out very simply. Is the character male or female? How old is the character? How does the character look? What kind of clothes does the character wear? Is the character generally happy, sad, angry, lonely or indifferent? These are all very basic questions, but it is surprising how often they are ignored.

Explore the Character’s Background

When creating memorable characters, explore your character’s background. Is the character working, getting an education or doing something else that occupies their time? Where does the character live? What is the character’s family like? What kind of friends does the character have? What kind of things does the character own? That last question can be surprisingly informative. You can approach it from several angles. What is in the character’s home? What is in the character’s office at work? What is in the character’s pockets or purse? How many keys does that character have and to what?

Pick Your Character’s Name

Creating Memorable CharactersAfter you assemble the pieces of the character’s personality and life, it is a good time to pick a name. When creating memorable characters, you want to know who they are and what they are like. Knowing your character increases your ability to give them a name that fits them. Names should match the character, but without being cliche. A boxer named “Punch” is a little silly, for example. A nickname may spring up that mirrors the character’s personality, but their given name should only suit the character. It should not stereotype the character. Whole volumes can be written on naming characters alone. it is a good start though, to buy a book of baby names and go through it until you find a name that works.

Dig Deeper into Your Characters

You can try all sorts of additional ways to delve deeper into your characters. Interviewing characters is a good exercise. Ask the characters questions. Interview them as if you are a reporter for Rolling Stone, People, the local newspaper, a therapist, an investigator or someone else who will ask probing questions. Let the character speak. If you have already developed other characters for your story, ask them about your character. What do the other characters think about this person? Do they see the character differently than the character sees himself or herself?

Visualize Your Character’s World

Another way of creating memorable characters is to visualize them in their world. What route do they take to work? What stations do they pick out on the radio? How do they act at a party? How do they respond to their boss or to their parents? What are their most common facial expressions? What are their hobbies? What household chores do they perform or ignore? What are their finances like? Picture the character five or ten years before the story takes place and five or ten years in the future. Where have they come from and how will the circumstances of your story change them?

Create a Clear Character Description

Once you have explored your character in detail, you need to finish by creating a short, clear portrait of that character. What makes the character interesting, compelling and different? Try to come up with both a single sentence character description and a single paragraph character description. Each of these descriptions should vividly portray what kind of person this is. It is important to have a clear portrait of your character that can guide you as you write.

Allow for Contradictions

After you have created your character, it is important to remember that they must be treated as individuals with their own needs and agendas. Allow your characters to have secrets, quirks and contradictions. Most people have a thousand little contradictions, even if their basic nature remains steadfast. Do not, however, make a character violate their basic nature just to suit the plot. If this character’s actions would change your plot too much, you need to either re-examine the plot, or create a more suitable character.

Respect Your Characters

The most important advice I can give you is to respect your characters. Treat them as important people, whether you like the individual character’s personality or not. Remember that the character’s feelings and actions must reflect who they are and that the progression of the story must be important to them. What happens to them must matter. If you don’t find your character compelling and worthy of exploration, how can you expect a reader to?

More Articles about Creating Memorable Characters

Creating Memorable Characters in Fiction was revised and updated on December 12, 2013. Creating Memorable Characters in Fiction was originally published on October 23, 2004.

Dialogue (Dialog) Exercises for Writers

Dialogue is one of the most difficult aspects of writing to master. There are many pitfalls to avoid.

Stilted Language

This is dialogue that does not sound like natural speech.

Filler Dialogue

This is dialogue that does not advance the scene or your understanding of the characters.

Expository Dialogue

This is dialogue in which the character explains the plot. It can also be dialogue in which the character repeats information for the benefit of the audience.


This occurs when one character uses another character’s name to establish identity. People rarely say another person’s name back to them. It is the character trait of a stereotypical used car salesman.

Overuse of Modifiers

This is the overuse dialogue modifiers such as shouted, exclaimed, cried, whispered, stammered, opined, insinuated, or hedged. Modifiers such as these can be useful is small doses, but don’t rely on them to convey your character’s moods or thoughts. Use the word “said” unless you have a good reason not to.


  1. Write down the things you say over the course of the day. Examine your speech patterns. You don’t have to get every word. You may find that you say less than you think. Many people speak in short statements. You might find you rarely speak in complete sentences.
  2. Find a crowded place such as a restaurant, a bar, or a shopping mall. Write down snippets of the conversations you hear. Avoid trying to record whole conversations. Follow along for a brief exchange and then listen for your next target.
  3. Test responses to the same question. Think of a question that will require at least a little thought. Ask it of several different people. Compare their responses. Focused on their words. Write them down as soon as you can.
  4. Record several different TV shows. Some choices include: sitcom, news, drama, talk show, infomercial, sporting event, etc. Write a transcript using just the dialogue and people’s names. If you don’t know the names, just use a description such as announcer or redheaded woman. You can also transcribe two shows of the same genre. Use one show you like and one you dislike. Compare dialogue between fiction and non-fiction shows. Look for such things as greetings, descriptions of physical actions, complete sentences and slang. Look for verbal ticks such as like, you know, uhhhh, well, etc. Compare how these dialogue crutches change according to the show format and quality.
  5. Rewrite one or more of the shows in exercise 4 as prose. Try to recreate the show as accurately as possible. Note how easy or difficult it is to work in the entire dialogue from the show. Does it seem to flow naturally and read well? Does it get in your way? Rewrite it, eliminating any dialogue you feel is unnecessary. Try not to change dialogue until your final draft. Work with what you have. You don’t have to rewrite the whole show. Do enough to be sure you have the feeling for it.
  6. Rewrite one of the the transcripts from exercise 4 using as much of the dialogue as possible, but changing the scene. Change the setting. Change the people’s intent. Change the tone. Observe how easy or difficult it is to give the same words a different intent.
  7. Write the dialogue for a scene without using any modifiers. Just separate each statement by line. Write down the conversation as it flows. After you complete the dialogue, add narrative description. Don’t add dialogue tags such as “said”, “shouted” or “ordered”. Instead, work the dialogue into the action as a logical progression of the statements. Finally, add any dialogue tags that are absolutely necessary. Keep them simple such as said, told, or asked. Again, only put them in if you cannot find other options. Compare this to the previous dialogue you have written. See what you like or dislike about the changes.
  8. Write a scene in which one person tells another person a story. Write it as a dialogue, not just a first person narrative. Clearly have one person telling the story and the other person listenin. The second person should ask questions or make comments. The first goal of this scene is to have the story stand alone as a subject. The second goal is to have the characters’ reactions to the story be the focal point of the scene.
  9. Write a scene in which one person is listening to two other people have an argument or discussion. For example, a child listening to her parents argue about money. Have the third character narrate the argument and explain what is going on, but have the other two provide the entire dialogue. It is not necessary to have the narrator understand the argument completely. Miscommunication is a major aspect of dialogue.
  10. Write a conversation between two liars. Give everything they say a double or triple meaning. Never state or indicate through outside description that these two people are lying. Let the reader figure it out. Don’t be obvious. Don’t let one character accuse the other of lying. That is too easy.
  11. Write a conversation in which no character speaks more than three words per line of dialogue. Again, avoid crutches such as explaining everything they say through narration. Use your narration to enhance the scene. Don’t use it to explain the dialogue.
  12. Write a narrative or scripted scene in which several characters are taking an active role in the conversation. This can be a difficult aspect of dialogue to master. The reader must be able to keep track of the motivations and interests of all the characters. This can be especially difficult in prose. The time between one character speaking and the next is often interrupted by action or description. See how many characters your can sustain within the scene. It must still make sense and be engaging.


Articles about Writing Dialogue

Isolation as a Writer, How to Overcome Isolation

One of the hardest problems writers face is isolation. Writing, especially freelance writing, is a solitary task. There are many advantages to this, such as the lack of distractions and the ability to work in (or out of) your rattiest clothes. There are disadvantages as well. Isolation can cause loneliness. Lack of structure and interaction can deprive you of valuable feedback. Here are some methods for dealing with isolation.

Consider Coworking

Coworking is a way many freelancing professionals overcome isolation. Coworking sites are offices or rooms where people gather to work. Most charge a nominal amount for you to set up. They try to keep prices down. Some places are even free. These places thrive on community and cooperation.

Eat Lunch Out

Break your isolation by going out, especially for lunch. Most friends and associates who have jobs will be free for lunch. Your lack of a boss makes it easier to meet them on their schedule. Don’t fret over the lost time of an hour and a half lunch. Instead, schedule your errands around lunch so that you can get your day’s trips out of the way.

IsolationJoin Professional Groups

There are many groups that cater to writers. Many more cater to professional in general. The Public Relations Society of America, The National Writer’s Union, and the Toastmasters are worth looking into. Look for groups that meet at least once a month. Bring business cards. Make connections.

Maintain Structure

The advantage of working at home is NOT working without a schedule. The advantage is creating your own schedule. Put what you plan to do that day down in writing. Check it frequently. Develop a workable schedule. For some people it’s a list of the day’s activities. Others us a fixed timetable. Find what works for you. Stick to it.

Consider a Part-Time Job

Even for people who can afford to only write, a part-time job is worth considering. If isolation is your problem, look for a job that will keep you in contact with people. Find a job that will help you meet people with similar career goals, or try a job that has nothing to do with writing.  Just be sure that you don’t spend too many hours at your job. Ten hours a week is a good diversion. Anything over twenty is a distraction. Consider volunteer work. It will make you feel good.

Join a Health Club

Sitting in front of a computer 8 to 12 hours a day isn’t good for the body or mind. Balance your work with exercise. Joining a health club is a good way to both stay fit and avoid isolation. Schedule it as part of your routine. Exercising at the same time every day will help you make friends because you’ll be seeing the same people every day.

Make Friends Online

The wonderful thing about having email, Facebook and Twitter friends is that you can take a break and write them whenever you are feeling isolation, and they can do the same. Also, if you make friends in the industry, you can often get feedback on your work. Just don’t spend all your time writing letters instead of working.

Get Outside

I often forget the outside world exists. Sometimes, just stretching your legs and breathing a little fresh air will keep you going when you need to get a project done.

Play Music or Other Audio

Television is too much of a diversion while working, but silence can be just as problematic. Turn on the radio, preferably to a type of music that won’t be distracting for you. Some people like to turn to a news station, but I found myself listening to news rather than working. Rather than music I often play atmospheric sounds such as waves or rain.

Break The Routine, Break the Isolation

Schedules are important, but every once in a while you need to go out and do something that your nine-to-five friends don’t get to do: going to a matinee, hiking, visiting a museum, having a picnic or whatever suits you. Again, remember that you still need to spend the same amount of time writing. That means either starting earlier or working later.

Additional Reading about Isolation and Productivity

This article was updated on December 17th, 2013.

Fictional Characters Need Adversity to Thrive

Creating fictional characters requires adversity, There are few happy stories in the world. There are happy endings. There are happy characters. Few stories revolve around the good things that happen to people. If they do, there is a downside to the “good things” that happen to them.

Stories are about adversity and conflict. How characters deal with adversity can create comedy, drama, romance, action, and mystery. Without adversity, there is no story to tell.

Creating Fictional Characters Using Physical Adversity

Physical adversity is death, injury, illness and threat. These are the most adverse situations fictional characters (and real people) face. Death or injury can happen to a fictional character or to someone close to them. Death is a universal theme. It dates back to the first stories ever told. The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and The Bible all contain people dealing with death.

Creating Fictional Characters Using Miscommunication and Deception

This is a classic plot complication. One fictional character misunderstands another fictional character or circumstance. All of the characters must deal with the consequences. Miscommunication is a classic Shakespearean theme. Romeo and Juliet die due to miscommunication. King Lear disowns his daughter because of miscommunication. MacBeth believes he is invulnerable due to miscommunication.

Deception is similar to miscommunication, but it involves deliberate lies. While the three witches in MacBeth technically tell MacBeth the truth at all times, Richard III uses both miscommunication and outright lies in his rise to the throne. He does so with malicious glee. He destroys the lives around him. Eventually he is destroyed by his own deceptions.

Creating fictional characters using miscommunication and deception is good, but be careful, you don’t want your characters to seem like idiots. You also don’t want a plot that could easily be resolved if not for a simple miscommunication.

Creating Fictional Characters Using Displacement

Fictional CharactersDisplacement is another popular adversity that fictional characters face. Characters enter a situation in which they are uncomfortable or at odds. This can be as fanciful as Alice wandering through Wonderland. It can be as dramatic as Trisha McFarland lost in the New England forest in Stephen King’s The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon. It can also be as simple as sending an introvert to a party. It is important to note that the displacement works both ways. The focus of a story doesn’t have to be the displaced character. The story can be about the other character’s reactions to the disruption to their lives by the displaced character.

Creating Fictional Characters Using Desire

Every good fictional character has unfulfilled wants and needs. Sometimes they are stated and sometimes they are unstated. One of the classic stories of unfulfilled desire is Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, in which most of the characters are consumed by the desire to own an almost mythical piece of art. Unfulfilled desire is as key to action novels as it is romance novels. The witches’ cryptic messages ignite MacBeth and Lady Macbeth’s desire for power, but it is their desire that dooms them to destruction.

Creating Fictional Characters Using Relationships

Creating fictional characters requires conflict in relationships. Relationship conflicts run a wide spectrum, and are not limited to human relationships. They can extend to animals, nature and environment. Relationship adversity is often the result of the previous adversities, but it is worth a separate category because this is where most resolutions are centered. A fictional character must change the relationship, be changed (or even destroyed) by the relationship, accept the relationship or be doomed to fight the relationship (such as in the Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit).

Life without Conflict is Boring

There are many other conflicts and types of adversity that a character can run into, but the adversity itself is not the key component of a story. The key is in how your fictional characters react to and deal with adversity. It is difficult for the reader to care whether or not the adversity is overcome unless they care about the characters. It is equally difficult to care about fictional characters that have no complications in their life.

The Pleasantville Dilemma

A perfect example of this phenomenon is the movie Pleasantville. In that movie, two characters are transported from their modern life into a fifties era family sitcom in which everything is pleasant and perfect (Displacement). At first, the fictional characters inside the television show have no adversity to deal with. At that point, they are not fully developed characters and their only interest to the audience is the humor of seeing these happy people through the eyes of the two modern, jaded teenagers. The presence of these two outsiders, however, eventually throws this perfect world into chaos. Soon the characters are plagued by injuries, miscommunication, and deception and especially by unfulfilled desires that grow with each new discovery. Adversity turns these people into interesting fictional characters. The mother, the father, and the soda-shop owner become fully realized people and what happens to them matters to the audience. As happy people these characters were a joke, but in the face of adversity they become the heart and soul of the film.

Adversity is a Tool

The key to creating fictional characters is to use adversity as a tool. Use adversity as a tool for character development rather than using the characters merely to further the action. To do this, you must explore your fictional characters. Not only do you need to develop a clear sense of what decisions they would make normally, you must develop how their thinking process changes or fails to change as a result of their actions. If a fictional character makes the same decision two times and it does not work either time, the character has not learned. This does not mean the character has not developed, just that they have failed to change their actions as a result of their circumstances. This is as much of a character trait as a character changing their actions.

A patriotic character may sacrifice themselves for their country more than once, only to be injured or to lose something important to them. They have repeated the same action, but has their reasons changed? The exploration comes in why they choose to make the same sacrifice again, if it did not help the first time. Are they more resigned to their course or do they start to waver? What thoughts lead them to repeat the same action without reward? On the other hand, a patriot might sacrifice the first time and not the second. This is a major change in thinking, and for the people reading or watching the story, the choices must not only be within character, but they must develop the character.

Accomplishing the development of character through adversity is a challenge for even the most experienced writers. The keys to accomplishing this are:

Know your Characters Well

The more time you spend analyzing your fictional characters and deciding what their thinking process is, the better prepared you will be to decide how they will react to the adversities they face.

Decide how you want your fictional characters to change and how you want them to remain unchanged. If you know how you want your character to develop, then you can adjust your plot accordingly. This does not mean that you tailor the plot to the character. If you want the story to be about blowing up a building or developing a vaccine, then that is your plot. What you want to analyze is how your character would go about accomplishing that task, and what obstacles they would face.

Don’t be Afraid to Change the Circumstances

An idea that seemed good in the planning stage may not always work in execution. Sometimes events must happen to develop a plot but in the writing process your characters might have strayed from your original ideas for them. Take the time to work the conflict through. Sometimes the same event can take place if you change one or two minor details in a story. It is simply a matter of being creative.

Mix  Things Up

Some actions are out of character only until a character does it. You may think that your character would act a certain way in a given situation, but sometimes you’ll want to experiment with having them do something else. People are full of contradictions, and they don’t always act the way they think they act. A self-image can be a very deceptive thing.

In the best stories, plot development and character development work together. Rather than sacrificing one to develop the other, each is used to the benefit of the other. It is the proper blending of plot and characters that makes great stories work. When a great story is over, the reader should feel like the distinct way it developed could only have happened with those set of characters, yet they should find that entirely acceptable. While it is OK to think that a character should have dealt with the adversity differently, the reader our audience should not think that that character would have done it differently.

Read More about Creating Fictional Characters

This article was updated and revised on December 12, 2013.


John Hewitt’s News, Prompts and Thoughts #5

Hi everyone. I’ve been making some site changes lately. Once again, I have changed the look and feel of the site. I’ve also stopped posting individual jobs. There was a time when those seemed to drive a lot of traffic, but I think people have gotten used to other sources, and I just can’t devote the time to it and expect to write new material. Still, I don’t want to abandon people who are on the hunt for new gigs, so I am aggregating job ads in these posts. I hope it helps. You can also always visit jobs.poewar.com to view new gigs.

I have a lot of writing in the pipeline, some of it is for this site, some of it I plan to publish on a new site, and some of it I plan to publish through Kindle. I’ll discuss those more in the next newsletter.



One of the interesting things about growing older is that you become conscious of how the language has changed over the course of your lifetime. Words get added to the language, words fall out of use, and sometime words change meaning or at least add new meanings. Catch phrases get popularized, and sometimes become so popular that people forget they come from pop culture. I think that if I magically traveled back in time and entered my 1983 body, I would say a lot of things that would confuse or at least raise the eyebrows of the people around me. I’d also miss my iPad. This brings me to the word because. While the meaning of the word because has not changed, its usage is going through some dramatic changes, and those changes are definitely not going to please everyone. Why? Because Internet!


Writing Skill Builder (A Quick Exercise)

Make a list of words you don’t like to hear.

Poetry Prompt

Write a poem that includes something melting.

Short Story / Fast Fiction Prompt

Write a story in which a character loses one thing, then finds something different.

Essay / Non-Fiction Prompt

Write about your experiences as a fan of something.

Jobs Round Up