Would You Be a Mermaid If You Could?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my unbelievable real life feature. Today I’m taking a look at one of the most unusual “schools” I’ve ever heard of–mermaid school.

Apparently, mermaid schools are cropping up all over–in the Philippines, in Germany, and even in Canada. While it’s never been a dream of mine to be a mermaid (though swimming underwater with sea creatures is extremely appealing), I’d love to try this for the workout.

Does being a mermaid appeal to you? If you had the opportunity, would you try out mermaid school–if for no other reason than that it’s supposedly a good workout?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen (it’s only 99 cents). Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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Behind the Scenes: Sara Litchfield and How Genetically-Engineered Triplets Became Night Butterflies

Welcome to 2015! I’m excited to be able to start the new year with a guest post from dystopian author Sara Litchfield. Sara and I share the belief in the power and importance of hope, one of the main themes in her debut novel, and when I read her book, I was impressed by how different the voices of her first person narrators sound from each other. I’m glad she agreed to come share some of the inspiration for her book.

So before I hand this blog over to Sara, let me tell you a little bit about her.

This is Sara :)

This is Sara 🙂

Born in the English midlands, Sara earned a Masters in Theology at the University of Cambridge before becoming a reluctant big-four accountant in London. She is now recovering in the southern hemisphere where she devotes herself to all things words and wonderful from her base in Middle Earth (sometimes known as New Zealand). She blogs on happiness and hope at, which is also home to her editing business and publishing division, RIW Press – all aim to make the right mark on the wall of the world.

Take it away, Sara!


Since the release of my debut novel, The Night Butterflies, I’ve been asked several times how this work of dystopian fiction came by its title.

I tell the story of how the moths came to the window while I was writing, tapping to come in and touch the light but reaching into my story instead. I mention how the phrase stayed with me, brooding and beautiful, after I heard it voiced as the succinct explanation of a ‘moth’ given to a French-Canadian asking for a definition. How it loitered in my subconscious until the themes of change and evolution emerged in my novel and it presented itself as the title.

In my novel, the moths referred to as the night butterflies are the shadow of their colorful cousins but, remarkably, they’re the only creatures to have survived the nuclear war that has ended the world without becoming poisonous themselves. The scientists left in the ruins of an English university town have worked for years to understand how this is possible, in the hope they can come to survive without the Anti-Poison they’ve created to keep their people alive. Part of Project Eden, dedicated to the survival of the community, involves breeding the next generation and attempting to make them hardier to life’s dark, lethal conditions. The nightmare result is a batch of triplets, violent and cruel, who keep their mothers living between constant fear and drug-induced escape.

It seems to be a matter for debate, but I read that the reason some insects are attracted to light is that they have an internal navigation system and use the moon to guide themselves by keeping it at a constant angle. It’s a behavior called transverse orientation, but artificial light sources affect it adversely – keeping a bulb at a constant angle can send them into an obsessive spiral, sometimes to their death.

The desperation of the night butterflies to reach the light embodies both the struggle of the children to change and that of the remaining people to find hope, however futile the quest might be, given the world they are left with. But they fight to emerge from the chrysalis imposed upon them by the regime in control; they fight for a chance at a life of love and light and hope, despite their circumstances.

Wells called hope ‘the essential solvent without which there’s no digesting life’. The inspiration behind The Night Butterflies is the absolute necessity to seek out color amidst shadow, light amidst darkness, and hope amidst horror. It’s a message that seems more important than ever as the news reports atrocity after atrocity, and the fearful idea of society sliding into oblivion, despite the lessons of history and literature, becomes ever more a future possible.

You can connect with Sara on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Goodreads, and on Pinterest!

The Night ButterfliesAbout The Night Butterflies

It is always dark. Warmer than it should be. The sun is a dull glower of reproach, only sometimes visible through the fallout. A once-majestic university town is crumbled, ashen and divided. The Men have made their home the Facility, where they develop the medication to combat the radiation that would otherwise kill those left alive. Another day at school for Teacher. Another morning of bullying and torment from a batch of doll-like triplets more violent and unbalanced by the day. They are the nightmare product of Project Eden, the operation devised by Leader for the survival of the community, seeded in the Mothers without their consent. Teacher has hope. She has a secret. When it is uncovered by Jimmy-1, a triplet who might be different, what will it mean for his future and hers? Not just another dystopian novel. New author Sara Litchfield explores what it means to be a child, a mother and a monster in a chilling world devoid of comfort.

Get a copy of The Night Butterflies on Amazon!

What cataclysmic event do you think would be most likely to happen to the world, and what would be humanity’s biggest challenge in terms of survival once it did?

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Unbelievable Real Life: The Crystal Cave of Giants

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

My husband and I love caves. I’ve been to the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, together we visited Luray Caverns in Virginia, and we’ve even been spelunking at Metcalfe Rock near Collingwood, Ontario. So we’ve seen a lot of crystal formations, stalactites, and stalagmites. We’ve never seen ones big enough to walk on like a bridge.

Image Credit: Alexander Van Driessche, used under Creative Commons license

Image Credit: Alexander Van Driessche, used under Creative Commons license

Welcome back to my Unbelievable Real Life feature, where I showcase weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy or science fiction story. Today we’re going to the Crystal Cave of Giants in the Naica Mine in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Take a look…

You’re close to 1,000 feet below the surface in this mine, and some of the gypsum crystals are four feet around (I’m only 5 foot 2 inches tall!) and 35 to 50 feet long (that’s the width of a high school basketball court). They can weigh up to 55 tons.

After their discovery in 2000, the question became how did they get so big?

One of the geologists who discovered them studied tiny pockets of fluid inside the crystals and concluded that the caves were once filled with water that stayed at a stable temperature and was rich in minerals. The water is long gone, but the crystals that formed over thousands of years remain.

Sadly these mines aren’t open to the public. Would you want to go if they were?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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The Hobbit: Where There’s Treasure, There’s Always a Dragon

Hobbit By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Bilbo Baggins and the band of dwarves continue their quest to steal the Arkenstone back from the dragon who has it (the Smaug of the title), along with all the dwarven treasure stored inside the Lonely Mountain.

Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf who is heir to the kingdom of the Lonely Mountain, desperately wants the Arkenstone because he believes it will reunite the scattered dwarven families so they can destroy the dragon who stole their home. He wants to rule over his rightful kingdom. He wants the gold. It’s the dream that drives him.

As the band finally reaches the mountain and Bilbo heads into the depths to steal the Arkenstone, the oldest of the dwarves pulls Bilbo aside.

“If there is a dragon sleeping down there,” he says, “don’t wake it.”

The problem is that if you want the treasure, you’ll never be able to get it without waking the dragon.

It’s a truth well known to fantasy fans. It’s a truth that’s equally true in life.

The only difference is that the treasures we seek in real life aren’t piles of gold or magical stones. They’re usually less tangible—the dreams and goals we have for our lives.

And the dragons…they don’t have impenetrable scales and they don’t breath fire. But they’re no less dangerous. They’re doubts. Fears. Insecurities. Sometimes they’re even people or circumstances standing between us and the thing we most desire.

Dragons are scary things, so when we first realize they’re standing between us and our treasure, sometimes it’s easier to give up on the treasure. That’s the path the unhappy Thorin had chosen until Gandalf encouraged him to go after the Arkenstone, dragon or no dragon.

When we first try to reach the treasure, we often take the same tactic Bilbo took. We try to sneak around it, hoping it won’t wake up. Hoping it won’t see us. We try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

But dragons, in real life like in fantasy, can’t be tiptoed around. Trying only delays the inevitable.

When we wake the dragon and have to face it, many of us will try to bargain with it or trick it. I’ll only do this, if this happens. If I do this, it doesn’t really mean I’m that kind of person. I don’t have to do thus-and-so to succeed. I’ll follow my dream when a certain perfect situation occurs. I didn’t really want it anyway.

Like when Bilbo tried to flatter Smaug, dragons won’t be tricked by words and rationalizations.

And so we’re left with only one option if we want the treasure.

It won’t be easy. We’ll come out the other side a little more battered than when we went in. The costs may be higher than we ever thought.

But it’s the only way.

Because if we decide to give up on this treasure and chase another, we won’t be avoiding facing a dragon. We’ll only be changing dragons.

Where there’s treasure, there’s always a dragon. The dragon always wakes. And if you want the treasure, there’s only one way—fight the dragon and slay it.

January is the time when most of us think about where we want our year to head. What’s your treasure and your dragon? Have you managed to face it?

Special Announcement: I’ll be releasing a book of suspense short stories in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

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What Do You Do When You Reach the End of Your Rope?

Finding NemoBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Some of you might have noticed that two weeks ago I had a week where I disappeared from the online world. I posted on Monday morning, but didn’t reply to comments. No Wednesday writing post. I didn’t tweet, and popped on Facebook only once or twice, briefly, mostly in groups where I felt safe.

I had one of those weeks. You know the kind. Where if it can go wrong, it will.

I came down with a serious sinus infection the Friday before. Puffy face, teeth that felt like I had a mouth full of cavities, and pain bad enough I suffered through four sleepless nights. On Monday, we had to say goodbye to our seven-year-old Siamese cat after three days of rapid decline because there was nothing more the vet could do for her. (My pets are part of my family.) The rest of the week became death by a thousand paper cuts.

By the weekend, I ended up curled in a ball in our recliner sobbing over the death of a character in a TV show. I knew the death was coming. I was prepared for it. And I’m not the kind of person who cries over TV shows or movies. But my anger over the death of that character proved to be more than I could take.

When we have days, weeks, or months like this, it’s normal to want to pull the covers back over our heads and allow depression to swallow us up. We feel like giving up because nothing we do is going to turn out right anyway.

We actually need to do the opposite.

Almost everyone has seen the movie Finding Nemo, but in it, clownfish Marlin lost his wife and all his eggs but one in a barracuda attack. When his only surviving son, Nemo, is captured by a diver, Marlin sets out to find him and bring him home. Dory, a regal tang with short-term memory loss, soon joins in his search.

Marlin and Dory find the diver’s mask with his address on it. They need to find a fish who can read, but in the process of escaping from a shark, surviving a mine field explosion, and barely missing being crushed by a sinking ship, the mask falls into a deep, dark crevice.

Marlin thinks the crevice is too deep and too dark to find the mask again. All seems lost. He doesn’t want to go on anymore, because everything just ends in disaster. He’s given up hope.

Dory pushes her face close to Nemo’s and makes pouty fish lips. “Hey, Mister Grumpy Gills, when life gets you down, you know what you got to do?”

“I don’t want to know what you gotta do,” Marlin says.

“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

Later in the movie, when they have Nemo back and are headed home, Dory gets caught with a bunch of other fish in a fisherman’s net. Nemo swims in to help her encourage all the fish to swim down together and tear the net from the boat.

The other fish are panicking and start to give up when it doesn’t work immediately. It seems like Marlin will lose the only two fish who matter to him. Then he remembers what Dory said.

“Just keep swimming,” he yells at them.

The principle is simple but profound. When everything is going wrong, the best thing to do is to keep moving. Keep trying something. Just don’t give up.

Because if you just keep swimming, eventually things have to change for the better.

What do you do to get through the tough times?

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 Related Posts:
How Do You Deal With Grief?
Do You Need to Slow Down?

Four Situations When We Should Tell Rather than Show

When to Tell Rather than ShowBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Blasphemy! After my previous post where I gave four techniques to help you show rather than tell, how dare I suggest we should sometimes tell rather than show?! Won’t that lead to weak, flat writing.

I’m not recanting on what I wrote last week. When you come across one of the four ways that suggest you’re telling rather than showing, you should rewrite.

But times do exist when it’s better to tell than to show. In 2011, I had the privilege of being mentored by Randy Ingermanson (of Snowflake Method and Advanced Writing E-Zine fame) at a conference. One of the things I remember best is what he said about showing and telling—it’s all about balance.

In these four situations, telling is actually better than showing.

1) You’re Dealing with an Insignificant Fact

When he needs to decide whether to show or tell, award-winning science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer asks, “Will it be on the test?” In other words, when you take the time to show something, readers assume it’s important to the story. If you spend two paragraphs showing the snow and ice, later in the story you’d better have someone’s car slide off the road or someone near death from hypothermia. Otherwise, just tell the reader “It was snowing, and ice covered the roads.” 

2) During Transitions

Sometimes you just need to get a character from point A to point B without bringing the story to a grinding halt by describing it.

The next morning, Marilyn drove to Bob’s house.

We don’t need to see Marilyn drive to Bob’s house. We just need to know she did. We don’t need you to describe the sunrise or the morning traffic jam in detail to try to get around telling us she went in the morning.

Half an hour later, they arrived at the mountain summit.

If nothing eventful happened on the climb, if it wasn’t essential to the story for us to see them climbing, we don’t need the blow by blow.

Sometimes, narrative is the most efficient, best way to get the job done.

3) When Showing Would Bog Down Your Story or Confuse Your Reader

Sometimes the reader absolutely needs to know a fact that all the characters already know, and creating a scene to show that fact is going to slow down the story and feel forced.

For example, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, the first in the series about the colonization of Mars, depends on complex technological and biochemical ideas. Robinson can’t stop and create a scene every time he needs to give the reader a piece of information. The story would be unreasonably long and slow. He also can’t leave it out or the story wouldn’t make sense to readers.

Here’s an example with the telling element in red. Frank is pushing his arm into a special plastic.

[Frank] stopped breathing. He felt the pressure of his molars squeezing together. He poked the tent wall so hard that he pushed out the outermost membrane, which meant that some of his anger would be captured and stored as electricity in the town’s grid. Polyvinylidene diflouride was a special polymer in that respect—carbon atoms were linked to hyrdrogen and flourine atoms in such a way that the resulting substance was even more piezoelectric than quartz. Change one element of the three, however, and everything shifted; substitute chlorine for flourine, for instance, and you had saran wrap.

When you’re telling in a situation like this, make sure you do it in small bites and that you make it interesting.

(4) In Your Opening Sentence

This might sound crazy at first, but look at a lot of the strong first lines from bestselling and award-winning novels. You’ll see what could be considered telling. (Personally I prefer to call it compelling narrative.)

Rivka Meyers knew something was wrong when she bumped into a wall that wasn’t there. – from Transgression by Randy Ingermanson

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. – from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

He had the look of a man who was afraid that tonight would be his last on earth. – from The Forgotten by David Baldacci

Carla knew her parents were about to have a row. – from Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Telling isn’t always bad.

The trick with writing is that we have to learn the rules before we can break them, and when we break them, we have to be sure we’re breaking them because it makes the story better rather than because we want to be rebels, because we’re lazy, or because we think the rules don’t apply to us. The rules do apply to us, lazy writing is crappy writing, and there’s no value in being a rebel just for the sake of it.

What do you think? Am I right about the need to sometimes tell rather than show? Do you have a favorite author who manages to perfectly find the balance?

Image Credit: Via

I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

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What Does Your Behavior Say About Who You Are?

Captain America The First AvengerBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Does our behavior at the worst of times say as much about us as our behavior at the best of times?

At the start of Captain America, Steve Rogers is a ninety-pound asthmatic who’s been turned away from serving in the US military five times, despite their need for soldiers to fight the Nazis.

No one can understand what Dr. Erskine is thinking when he invites Steve to be part of the group of men in the running to become the first in a new generation of “super soldiers” enhanced by the serum Dr. Erskine created. Steve can’t even keep up in any of the exercises or drills they’re put through.

With all the great soldiers in the group, Steve doesn’t understand why he’s the one chosen.

“The serum amplifies everything that is inside,” Dr. Erskine explains. “So, good becomes great. Bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen.”

Erskine chose Steve because he stood up to bullies, he thought outside the box, and he was willing to sacrifice himself for others. The serum would magnify the good qualities inside Steve, as well as making him physically stronger. If Erskine had chosen the soldier who seemed the obvious choice, the bullying tendencies the man usually controlled would have been intensified.

The rough patches, long days, aches, and disappointments in our lives act like that serum. It can bring out the best in us, but it can also bring out the worst.

When I’m impatient after a long day, or when I’m grumpy because my back hurts, or I’m selfish because I’ve been working for 10 hours straight and I just want to be left alone, I like to think that’s not who I really am. I can easily blame the circumstances. They caused my bad behavior, almost as if they were injected into me from the outside. It wasn’t my fault.

But the truth is, those tendencies must have been there, in me, all along. My circumstances, no matter how sad or frustrating, didn’t create anything.

And what scares me is the thought that perhaps it’s only in those times when we’re tired, hungry, frightened, or stressed when our true selves show up. Our defenses are down, and the unpleasant circumstances serve to magnify what’s at our core and has been there all along.

Both good and bad.

If those qualities are always there, though, it means if we’re aware of our bad qualities, we can work against them when the times are happy. We can cultivate their opposites so that maybe, just maybe, the next time we face the serums of life, what comes out will be better than the time before.

When do you think our true selves show themselves best? When things are good or when things are bad?

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Related Posts:
Do You Love Yourself Too Much? The Story of Narcissus
Do We Need to Be a Little More Old-Fashioned?
Could You Be An Evil Person?

Would You Sleep In A Hotel Made of Ice?

Ice Hotel in SwedenWhat do Captain America, Brendan Fraser, and Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel have in common?

No idea?

They were all frozen in ice and re-animated years later.

Far be it from me to argue with the writers of Captain America, Encino Man, and Ice Age, but even though it would mean prolonging my life, the idea doesn’t appeal to me. An ice hotel, on the other hand, where I can sleep for a night rather than for years…kind of does.

Ice hotels are what the name suggests. Each year, they’re built fresh, the best using nothing but ice and snow for support. Because they depend on sub-zero temperatures to survive, the season could be over with an early thaw.

Who Decided Sleeping on Ice Was A Good Idea?

The first ice hotel, aptly named Icehotel, started as an art exhibit in the village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. In 1990, a French artist displayed his ice art in an igloo there. One evening, the village didn’t have enough rooms to house all the visitors overnight, so the overflow stayed in the exhibition igloo in sleeping bags laid on top of reindeer skins. The first ice hotel was born.

Ice Glasses at the Ice Hotel in SwedenThe Icehotel expanded until it became not only the first but also the biggest ice hotel in the world. It covers 64,600 sq ft., which is larger than a U.S. football field, and houses 100 guests. The inside of the Icehotel remains at a relatively constant 23 °F (−5 °C).

When you check in, you leave your luggage in a nearby warm house (where the washrooms are also located), and slip into the warm winter clothes, gloves, and shoes provided by the Icehotel so that you look like a giant blue marshmallow. Once you’re checked in, you can visit the Icebar, where you’ll be surrounded by original ice sculptures and blue lights to reflect off the snow as your lips melt your glass of ice.

Aurora BorealisOutside, the Aurora Borealis treats you to one of the world’s most spectacular shows of yellow, green, blue, and red streaks of colors in the sky. Their name comes from Aurora, Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, what the Greek’s called the north wind. The lights play across the horizon exactly as if the wind stole the colors of the dawn and now taunts her in a game of keep-away.  

Like the first Icehotel guests, when you finally return to your room to sleep, you’re sleeping in an art exhibit. Each room is designed by an artist, and the honor of creating an Icehotel room draws creatives from all over the world. Staff wakes you in the morning with a hot cup of lingonberry juice, like a sweeter cranberry juice, served to you in bed.  

Can’t Travel to Sweden? No Problem

The coolest (no pun intended…well, maybe a little) thing about ice hotels is that you don’t even have to leave North America to visit one. Hôtel de Glace is located 10 minutes outside of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. It was the first ice hotel in the world to make a bed entirely out of ice.

What do you think? Would you spend a night in a hotel made entirely of ice?

This has been the first in a new regular “unbelievable real life” feature where I’ll be showcasing weird creatures and offbeat places on our planet that seem like they should belong in a fantasy. Be sure to sign up below so that you’ll receive free updates and won’t miss the next edition.

Image Credits (in order): Tom Corser (Creative Commons), Jacopo Werther (Creative Commons), and Skeezix1000 (Creative Commons).

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Three Common Dialogue Challenges and How to Beat Them

Common Dialogue Challenges and How to Beat ThemBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

What do we do about a character who speaks in a dialect? In historical fiction, how do we manage to keep our dialogue true to the time period without allowing it to sound stilted? Should we use contractions in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction?

Even if you’re normally confident when it comes to writing dialogue, these questions can give us hives as we struggle to find the answer. I hope to help chase the hives away.

What do we do about a character who speaks in a particular dialect?

If you’ve ever tried to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe, you’ll know how frustrating it can be to slog through dialect written out phonetically. You don’t want your reader to have to work that hard. So how do we find the balance between authenticity and readability?

Just name it.

She had a heavy New York accent.

He sounded like he was from the Deep South.  

Is this telling rather than showing? Yes, but it’s one of the situations where it’s actually okay to tell. In fact, if you don’t know how to replicate a dialect well enough to do it correctly, this is the wise option.

This technique works most successfully if you’re choosing to name an accent your reader will immediately be able to call to mind.  

Filter it through the ears of another character who isn’t familiar with the dialect. I personally love when an author does this well, but it only works if your character isn’t familiar with the dialect.

Jim glared at her. “You spoiled him. And after all, that ain’t no real kindness.” It came out like You spiled ‘im. And arter all, t’aint no real kindness.

You don’t have to do this more than once for the reader to understand what your character sounds like when they’re speaking.

Point out a distinctive word here and there. This option works in the same situations as the one above.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realize.” When she said sorry, it sounded like soar-y instead of sari. I couldn’t get past the mental image of her covered in seeping wounds.

Forget copying it exactly, and instead think in terms of rhythm, word choice, syntax, grammatical mistakes, and missing words. Abileen’s chapters in The Help by Kathryn Stockett could be a master’s class in this. Listen to part of The Help’s first paragraph.

Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

She uses “a” instead of “of.”
“I done” not “I have.”
“Them” and “they” instead of “those” and “their.”

Small but important grammatical mistakes.

Stockett chooses the word “mamas” over “mothers.” She chooses “toilet bowl” rather than “potty” or “bathroom” or “crapper.”

Syntax is basically about the patterns that form sentences and phrases. Stockett could have written, “I take care of white babies.” But she didn’t. She wrote, “Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do.” She reversed the normal and expected order.

And when you write dialect this way, you’ll not only make the read easy and immersive for your audience. You’ll also avoid stereotypes and condescension.

A great source for preliminary dialect research is

In historical fiction, how do we manage to keep our dialogue true to the time period without allowing it to sound stilted?

I asked this question to award-winning historical romance author Jody Hedlund during my interview with her.

You can read Jody’s full answer by clicking the link above, but in a nutshell, she said, “I don’t try to imitate the time period speech exactly. I usually pick out distinct words and assign them to particular characters to use throughout the book.”

When in doubt about whether a word is too modern, look it up. Jody suggested as her go-to. will also often tell you when a word originated. You don’t have to stick solely to words from the era you’re writing about, but the closer you can come, the better.

A word might also sound too modern even if it isn’t. Occasionally, you’re going to run into a word that’s ancient but sounds modern. Technically you’re correct in using it, but I’d recommend changing it. Not all readers are historical scholars. They go by what sounds right. 

Should we use contractions in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction?

In every critique group, fiction intensive, or mentorship class I’ve ever attended with other fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction writers, this question has come up. And the class divided down the middle on the answer.

Those who felt contractions were acceptable argued that taking them out made the writing sound stilted and awkward. Those who felt contractions were unacceptable argued using them made the writing sound unauthentic and modern.

In a mentorship class I took from Randy Ingermanson, he pointed out that most languages, even ancient ones, had a way of shortening words or slang that made certain words and phrases easier and quicker to say.

Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman point out in their book Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language that Old English used contractions. For example, ne is (“is not”) contracted to nis (“isn’t”) and ne wolde (“would not”) contracted to nolde (“wouldn’t). Contractions went in and out of fashion over the years, more so in writing than in speech. Even among the upper classes, contractions would have been used and tolerated in speech when they were considered unacceptable in writing.

So where does that leave us? We need to always strive for dialogue that sounds smooth and natural. If an excessive removal of contractions leaves our work feeling stilted and awkward, we should look for other ways to give an authentic feel.

We can instead rearrange the syntax of our sentences. We can remove contractions at key moments for emphasis (and downplay them throughout). We can replace modern-feeling phrases with ones slightly less common.

Do you have any other tips for handling these problems? What authors do you think handle them well?

If you missed out on the earlier installments in this series, click the following links to read 5 Basics About Dialogue You Need to Know, 7 Tricks for Adding Variety to Your Dialogue, How to Write Dialogue Unique to Your Characters, and Does Your Dialogue Deserve to Exist?

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How Much Responsibility Should We Take for Others’ Actions?

Responsibility for Others' Actions and VoyagerBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

How would you feel if you were being held legally responsible for someone else’s actions?

In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Random Thoughts,” the crew of the starship Voyager is visiting the Mari homeworld. The Mari are a telepathic people who’ve virtually eradicated crime by outlawing violent thoughts.

A man bumps into Voyager’s chief engineer, B’Elanna Torres, while she’s on the surface negotiating a trade. Being half-Klingon and having the temper Klingons are infamous for, B’Elanna thinks about hurting the man who bumped into her. A few minutes later, he beats up another man in the main square and claims he doesn’t know why he did it.

B’Elanna is arrested for harboring violent thoughts. The punishment is a dangerous medical procedure called an engrammatic purge, which is designed to remove the offending images from her mind. The equipment isn’t designed for Klingons and could leave B’Elanna with permanent brain damage.

Captain Janeway argues with the Mari officer that B’Elanna can’t be held accountable for something someone else did.

“His mind was contaminated by the image,” the officer says, “and it resulted in a loss of control. He may have committed the physical act, but it was instigated by you.

B’Elanna barely restrains herself from going toe-to-toe with the officer. “Where we come from, people are responsible for their own actions.

I can see both sides of the argument.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about people being “infected by examples.” Studies have shown that when a suicide is highly publicized, the suicide rate skyrockets for a few days after. The effect is so powerful it even determines the mode of suicide. For example, if a single person kills themselves by driving into a pole, that kind of suicide increases. But if a person commits a murder-suicide instead, that kind of suicide increases. To someone who’s already troubled, another person’s actions make it more acceptable for them to act in a deviant way.

Gladwell gives an example we’ve all had experience with—jay-walking. You’re standing at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change…right up until someone crosses against the light. Somehow their law-breaking gives you permission to break the law, and you’re trotting across the road after them.

While I don’t think B’Elanna (or any of us) should be held legally responsible for someone else’s actions, I wonder if we don’t have some moral responsibility for the way what we do affects others.

Yes, we’re all ultimately responsible for the choices we make. None of us has the right to blame someone else for what we’ve done. But, on some level, aren’t we also responsible for how our actions hurt, help, or push someone else toward a specific path?

What do you think? Should we feel any responsibility for how our actions influence the actions of others? Or is what they do 100% on their heads?

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