Recognizing a Writer’s Work by Christine Duncan

I had an argument with a Meme presenter the other day. The meme was a video and it was beautiful. It was about love. It was a synopsis of The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. I objected as no where on the meme was there any recognition of that fact. And I was pretty blunt. I said he had ripped off a classic.

The videographer played it coy at first. It wasn’t ripping something off to share the meme. It was what the meme was meant for. When I clarified that I felt he should have given attribution to O. Henry, he said that most people, except for the very young, would know that was the story’s origin so it wasn’t necessary.

When I persisted, saying that as a writer, I wanted to make sure that the author’s work was recognized and he should tag it, he called me ridiculous. I couldn’t let it go. If it was such a little thing, then how hard was it to put, “Based on the work of O. Henry” on the meme?

O. Henry is long dead. The story is probably not under copyright any more but I’m tired of this. If you do any other work, you expect recognition of it. And you are paid. If you are a writer, you are ridiculous for wanting that. So people attribute quotes to the character that spoke them, or the actor that played the part, not to the writer who wrote the lines. Or, they’ll say something like, “someone once said, Blah, blah blah.”

Someone didn’t just blurt this stuff out. A writer sat down and worked. That writer should get recognition.


It’s very late at night. I’ve been sitting here, pen in hand, for ages. I have a character I need to be dark and moody, but I am worried I’m just creating a cliche. How can I lift him out?

Damned if I know, I’ve been struggling with this all evening.

Maybe I’ll give him a quirky hobby. Train spotting? Obscure dialects of the Alps? But if I do that I’ll have to do a massive amount of research into that hobby, and I don’t want to do that.

Maybe I’ll give him a good reason to be mean and moody. To be honest, he has one. He has several. But, again, that’s been done. Maybe he’s just a bit of a sod. Maybe nothing motivates him to be like that.

He could say something that isn’t moody. But that doesn’t read right.

All I can do is start to write him. Then, once I’ve written a few pages of him, I’ll stand up and pace around my room and act his scene out. It’s by far the best way to get into his head. I’ll figure out how he sits, and walks, what makes his backache, what makes him laugh. I’ll find a way to make him alive.

Mean and moody may be a cliche, but cliches can be real too.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Tax Day is Coming, Authors by Christine Duncan

It’s the weekend where we put the clocks ahead and that means…April 15th is not that far behind. So do you forget what money you’ve earned writing? What about keeping receipts for the money you’ve spent on writing. You know you spent some but really, how much?
Do yourself a favor and get a checking account just for your writing. Get a free one at your local credit union. Put every bit of money you earned from writing into it, yes, even the money you get for the books you sold at the back at that talk you did. Make sure you pay for your office supplies, and other expenses, (you drove to that talk, didn’t you?) from that account. Tax day will be that much easier.

Rules for My Short Story

So about that short story –

I’ve never been any good at writing short stories (except ghost stories, oddly). I tend to try and pack too much into just a few words. I have a tendency to write very long, complex plots with lots of characterisation and description. All this is fine in a book, but stretches a short story too far.

But – I had to learn, or I won’t sell any and then I won’t get paid. So, lesson one – that plot doesn’t need to be complicated. One twist at most, if you even need a twist. Keep it simple. Arthur Conan Doyle’s shorter short stories tend to have a quite basic plot (the more complicated the plot, such as The Adventure at Wisteria Lodge, the longer the story.)

Lesson two. Cut down the description. Not out, completely, but learn to do it in a few evocative words, not sentences.

Lesson three. Characterisation can come from what someone says as much as my description. Someone can be chatting along, telling everyone what is happening and their reactions, and language and phrases can describe them as much as any story I write about them. Personally, I love dialogue. I love to read it, I love to write it, and a well written passage of speech can tell you as much about a person as pages of characterisation. Again, see Arthur Conan Doyle, who did this excellently, best exemplified in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.

Lesson four. No one needs to know what happened after the story. If you must, a short line will do. Same with before.

Those are my lessons. They’re strictly for myself, and my own style and genre of stories. They don’t suit all short stories. Some stories are all description, like Katherine Mansfield, some are all characters, like James Joyce. But these are the rules that get a decent short story out of me.

The ” target=”_blank”>House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Money and Writing by Christine Duncan

Writer’s Guild writers are going on strike. The headlines about T.V writers wanting more money caught my attention. What exactly do T.V. writers make? I wondered. Not one article brought that one to light.

So then I wondered what do most writers make. A quickie internet search brought me to a Guardian article from October of last year “Most U.K. authors annual incomes still well below minimum wage” and a current article fro the NZ Herald “Kiwi Writers struggling to make a living from their craft.” I could relate although I live in the States.

Fine so what about U.S. writers? I had a hard time finding data. Some of that may be due to the search engine’s pay system of making sure that people who want you to find their stuff get in there first. So a lot of what I found are articles that said, Make money at home, writing! I found a neat report from May of 2016, “May 2016 author Earnings” at that compare indie author sales and best sellers

Then there was a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics that I immediately dismissed as fiction about the median annual wage for writers and authors being $60,000.00 with half making less.

I think most of us have day jobs and there are a heck of a lot of us writing for way less than that. But here in the U.S. we are not as up front about pay as Kiwi and U.K writers. Either that, or Kiwis and the U.K pay google to get results in the top of the search field.

Last Words

We all know first lines are important, but what about last lines?

I was thinking about this at the weekend, when I was writing a short story and spent an hour agonising over the exact structure of the last line. I wanted it to leave an impression, to close the story and yet leave a tease so the reader would go to the next story.

I thought of my favourite last lines, such as

‘Well, I’m back,’ he said

From The Lord of the Rings. It’s so simple and yet so final – after all the adventures, Sam has made it home.

Or from 1984

‘He loved Big Brother’

Again, utterly simple, and yet chilling and echoes everything that went before.

Gone With The Wind is good

‘After all, tomorrow is another day!’

An evocation of everything Scarlett O’Hara is.

And my favourite last line all of time (incidentally, from the book that gives me one of my favourite first lines) from Dickens Tale of Two Cities

‘. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far betterĀ rest that I go to than I have ever known’

It is a reflection of everything that has gone before, the battles that have been fought, the souls ripped apart in those horrific times and the final, good act of a careless drunkard. It makes me sob every time.

So I think spending just as long on the that last line as I did the rest of the story was worth it.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Instagram Anyone? by Christine Duncan

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t use my social media as well as I should for writing. I started out with the best of intentions. But it has devolved to my using Facebook to keep in touch with family, other writers and to do political rants.

Twitter is semi-writing oriented in that I do promote this blog there. But I usually check it to see what the news is.

And Instagram is fairly new to me, and to be honest I don’t have a clue how to use it. Someone told me that they post photos of what they do during the day–a sort of photo journal of their writing. I thought that sounded great so I signed up. Besides, I suspected I was missing some great pictures from my family.

Then reality set in. A photo journal of my writing would consist of only two pictures. One picture would show me madly typing. The second picture would show me, staring off into space somewhere, trying to decide what I need to type next. I could post that one over and over and over.

So all of you great promo folks out there, what do you use Instagram for? I could use a clue.