Category Archives: Exercises

Thoughts on Point of View

Our most recent around-the-table discussion…

photo by Marcie Schwindt

photo by Marcie Schwindt

Elizabeth McCallister
I think point of view is one of the most difficult things that new writers can face. It seems like a simple enough task – are you writing in the first, second or third person.

It gets more complicated when you actually get down to doing it well. In a sense, you must inhabit not only the personalities of your characters but also the world that you have created. A narrator who describes someone or something seems the easiest route until you realize that you have written something from one of the characters’ POV.

Trying to write from more than one character’s POV can be one of the most difficult tasks. How do you clearly separate the two characters’ POV so that each rings clearly?

Which is the final most difficult task – creating a character who seems fully human.

Jockie Loomer-Kruger
I like first person especially ideal for memoir which is my preferred genre. I [also] like it for the poetry I write.

Second person – sounds like a lecture. Thou shalt not…

Third person – can add a different type of detail from first. Good for fiction with various characters.

Omniscient – All knowing and able to get into everyone’s thoughts – best for descriptive scenes, for commentary on a character.

Barbara Lefcourt
From 1st person, there are unlimited POV – age, sex, ethnicity, personality, stage of life. What first person POV do you feel comfortable writing from.
What kind of minds are you able to get [into] and imagine being?

A major reason I love to read novels is to be able to get into the body and minds of persons totally different from myself.

My own writing of course grows from my personal points of view that have changed with age and with living in totally different environments.

Kathy Robertson
[POV] should convey the author’s opinion without being obvious.
Metaphors are effective tools in conveying imagery.
The true meaning should be elusive, not fully comprehended until the end.
One image building on the other until the complete meaning is fully realized.

Becky Alexander
I like to use the antiquated POV known as the “omniscient storyteller,” the guy who knows all, sees all and this includes knowing (and telling) what the characters even think, let alone what they do, see, etc. Think of the writers of the Bible.

I like this form as it is time tested, has survived for centuries and is the easiest form (for me) in which to write.

Case in point: I hate second person POV. [Sounds like a lecture].

Wendy Visser
Narrative style a) where narrator stands outside the story b) where narrator is part of the poem or story

Humour – writer writes from humourous perspective
• form of entertainment
o should not be forced but natural.

3rd person perspective – work written in 3rd person allows easy access to the reader. Can identify more with the situation – empathy.

First person -[works] depending on subject matter.

Marcie Schwindt
When I think about POV, first, second, third, whatever, just seems like an obvious choice based on the character’s voice and how intimate the reader needs to be with him/her to “get” who they are.

What’s more interesting, I think, is choosing which character’s viewpoint to write from. Personally, I choose the weakest character to showcase because they always seem to pull the most interesting text from me. Strong characters are boring. Weak people have to “fake it”, still have to learn how to cope. They have the greatest potential character arc because they have less to lose from taking risks.

Life is too short to waste writing on boring characters. The next time you need to decide whose story to tell, pick the less obvious choice: the character who might otherwise have been the sidekick. Give the non-speaking stock character a voice. Their story might surprise you.

Rob Quehl
1. In my opinion, if an author switches from one character’s point of view to another’s, then the style of writing should change to reflect this, so much so, that after a few chapters, the reader should be able to flip open the book at random and know whose point of view is being shown at that point.

2. I like the second-person point of view. If done well, it can pull the reader in and get them involved in the story, as it makes it sound like YOU, the reader, are the main character. A wonderful example of second-person for children is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books. (See example below.) I have also read second-person for adults, and found it unique and engaging.

Your Very Own Robot (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) synopsis:

Your parents are scientists and inventors. One day, they throw some pieces of a robot into the trash. If you can figure out how to put the pieces together, you’ll have a robot of your very own! But do you know enough to control it? Are you ready for the adventures your very own robot will bring?

Lee Anne Johnston
I find first person narration comes naturally to me and seems to flow. I feel too artificial using third person, although this is just me. First person has obvious limitations, i.e. your narrator can not get into the minds and hearts of others, whereas an omniscient 3rd person narrator can easily float from and into many characters.

Happy Mother’s Day

Photo Writing Prompt

photo by Stuart Miles |

photo by Stuart Miles |

Is the Pen Mightier?

by Rob Quehl 

A few months ago, I met with some writers at a coffee shop. Most were participating in the National Novel Writing Month competition. Every one of them had their laptop in front of them. They type, type, typed away, before, during, and after the meeting, while my dinosaurian hand grasped a ballpoint.

Keeping notes in the 21st CenturyI own a laptop, and had tried to make the switch several times, hoping to save time by inputting directly into my computer. But for some reason, I always went back to my old way: writing the base story with pen on paper, then typing it in later. I didn’t know why it worked better; I just thought it was because I was a terrible typist. But recently, I found the difference aptly described in Susan Bell’s book: The Artful Edit.

Susan discusses Judith Freeman’s experiment in handwriting her novel Red Water. In the past, typing directly into her computer had made the writing process choppy.

Judith Freeman:

“When writing longhand, the brain and the hand are connected. Once you let an idea unfold, you keep unfolding it. Ink flows, ideas flow with it. When writing longhand, I am not tempted to constantly go back, scroll up, stop and reread. When you type, especially into a computer, you don’t give your imagination the chance to really follow things through.”

Susan Bell expands on the idea:

“Clean and professional looking, the typed page can induce the illusion that the sentences on it are finished and ready to be inspected. It is impossible to make that mistake with a hand scrawled note.”

In the same book, Tracy Kidder discusses this concept with respect to editing:

“One of my gripes about the computer is that it encourages a kind of editing that I don’t think is very useful. That is, you can move stuff around endlessly. I did a little editing for the late lamented New England Monthly. One writer was writing a piece that we really needed and all he kept doing was taking the same bankrupt paragraphs and moving them around.”

Amen! Exactly the same thing happens to me when I attempt to edit “tough spots” in my book. I stare at the screen, cut and paste, move it back again, switch words, but get nowhere until my eyes go buggy staring at letters on the screen. At this point, I’ve learned to turn off the computer, calm down, take a break, then go sit somewhere in a nice coffee shop, with nothing in front of me except a pen and a blank piece of paper. It’s only then that I can start from scratch and write something fresh that can solve the problem I’ve been stuck on. It takes time, but it always works.

So my intention is not to argue that you should come back and join me in the Stone Age, but only to consider handwriting as another option, especially if you reach a tough spot in your work that has you stumped.

Good luck.

Rob Quehl lives in Kitchener and is currently working on two novels

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing our Canadian Friends a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving

photo by David Schwindt

What will you be thankful for, and thinking about, on your pre-Turkey walk this year?


by April Bulmer

Are you a poet suffering from writer’s block malaise? Here’s a quick remedy: take five minutes and write down every word that comes to mind. Then link the ideas and images to create meaning. The result can be a quirky and unique piece.

Here’s a poem I wrote using this method:

Eartha: Indian Bands

My spirits come
in good makeup
and little white gloves
for it is the winter
of mine husband.
I wear bust lace,
but outside
the Natives gather
in buck pants.
They have brought
an offering of blood.

It is true I love him
and he has grown
his hair long
through the seasons.
It is the red of autumn
and of snake.

I have smoked
my gown in fire.
My veil I have hung
from a tree.
It bears the breath
of step dance
and Langdon Lake.

I touch his hand
we eat a pretty cake.

All night, the Indians
cry like virgins,
their voices torn like lace.

Previously published in Tower Poetry Winter Edition 2008-2009

April Bulmer has published six books of poetry. The poem above is an excerpt from her new manuscript Women of the Cloth. Her work has appeared in many national and international journals including the Malahat Review, PRISM international, Arc, Harvard University’s Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and the Globe and Mail. She recently placed second in the Trinity College Alumni Fiction Contest and was a judge for the Hamilton Literary Awards.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

by Marcie Schwindt

photo by Marcie Schwindt

My goal this summer was the same as every summer—to finish one novel and start another, and for me, that meant it was time to hit the road. I love the hurry-up-and-wait rhythm of road trips, the exploding energy of the explorer’s spirit when the car finally stops and everyone pours out. Some years, the road trips are short getaways. Harbinger’s Kiss, for example, embodies the trek of the weekend cottager. This year, my family went further afield, soaking in Atlantic Canada for two whole weeks. I’m hoping to get two novels from that experience, though only one story has formed itself enough at this time. What inspires you to write? People, places, things?

Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow and can be found on Twitter @marcie8

Why I Write

by Wendy Visser

photo by Stuart Miles from

Recently, someone asked me why I write. My immediate quip was, “Well, it beats cleaning toilets or sticking my head inside a dirty oven.”

On later reflection, her question deserves a more in-depth response, so why do I write? And why is poetry my genre of choice?

It’s the challenge of covering the human condition from cradle to grave reducing it to a page. I can assume any identity. Let it travel to exotic places, let it loose in back alleys, or settle it humming softly before a mantel fireplace.

I can capture (eavesdrop on) strangers’ conversations. Put their words into stories and poems. I can kill and not be held accountable; champion the underdog, banish monsters from underneath the bed, or open closets and bring skeletons out to play. Dig in the trenches, and excavate the price of war from the sounds of buried sighs.

I love living dangerously− especially on paper.

Writing is a lonely, and often poorly-paid occupation. Sometimes ideas lead to words that fill the page as easily as a stroll in the park and at other times, it is like a trip to the dentist or a visit to your local blood donor clinic. But through it all, the urge to create is the driving force behind my need to write. It’s been said that everyone has a ‘book in them’. That’s like saying everyone can be an athlete or an actor, a doctor or a plumber and that is simply not true. People may have stories they want to share but the ability to attract an audience is an art that demands diligence and discipline.

Nothing else fulfills or satisfies or identifies me as much as completion and publication of my work. I live to write and write to live.

Wendy Visser is a long time CWC member. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies nationally & internationally and many of her poems have received awards. She is the author of ‘Riding A Wooden Horse’,an award-winning collection of poetry and her second poetry book,’This Side of Beyond’ was launched in November of 2011.

Short Story Challenge

by Marion J. Smith

The short story challenge: Some years ago the collective gave themselves the challenge of completing a short story on a postcard. This is a great way of getting straight to the point. I find this a good exercise for cutting and editing unwanted words. Sometimes one word can be found to replace two or three others just by rewriting the sentence.

July 1908.
Dear Mama,

You will be so proud of us. Yesterday morning nearly a thousand ladies assembled on the Southwark bank of the Thames. As Big Ben struck nine we marched. It was an amazing sight to see the suffragettes in their white dresses with green and purple sashes, marching across Westminster Bridge toward the houses of Parliament.

Mama dear, I wish you could have been there to see how our movement of “Votes for Women” has grown in the past ten years.

I was honoured, not only to be a banner barer but, to walk right along-side Mrs. Pankhurst herself. That brave lady suggested I be one of the team of suffragettes to chain our selves to the railings of the Parliament buildings.

This I gladly performed along with ten other ladies fighting for our great cause.
Quite a stir ensued when we were arrested. The police used cutting tools to free us from of our chains. We were herded into a Black Maria and brought here, to Holloway goal where we spent last night.

We are presently awaiting trial for trespassing and public nuisance. There are other suffragettes here who have been in the jail for some time. They are on hunger strike. The awful thing about that is they are forced fed through rubber tubes. I’m praying I will be free before I get to that stage.

A policeman and jailor are now here to take me to the courtroom. Wish me luck and don’t worry we will take care for each other and ourselves.

—c. 2012 Marion J. Smith.

Marion has been a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective for almost 18 years. She enjoys writing short stories and poetry. Marion has published “After Sunset” a selection of her poetry. Other work has been published in various anthologies. Marion is also a lifelong thespian and watercolour artist.

In a Writing Rut?

Does what you’re writing now seem somewhat familiar? Are you constantly reusing the same words, phrases, or imagery to describe something? Do your characters sound alike? Are you mindlessly producing thousands of words per day? If you’ve answered yes to any one of these, then perhaps you’re stuck in a rut.

This week’s assignment is to try something different.

Image: Grant Cochrane /

  • If you normally write on a computer, instead try paper.
  • If you normally write with a pen, use a pencil.
  • If you normally write in solitude, try a coffee shop or write alongside other writers.
  • If you normally write in the morning, write something at night.
  • If you normally drink coffee when you write, instead drink something exotic.
  • Have you ever written while wearing Groucho Marx glasses or clown shoes?

Mixing It Up: Artistic Interpretations

by Bill Ashwell

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

I received an email back in February from Brenda Turnour, an award winning local acrylic/watercolour artist with an invitation to participate in an intriguing creative concept. She and Cambridge photographic artist Judee Richardson Schofield had come up with an idea for a collaborative project showcasing the diversity of art interpretation. They’re calling it “Mixing It Up: Artistic Interpretations”.

As I type this, there are approximately 20 local artistes of all stripes, including yours truly, teamed up across the city creating and collaborating in their respective milieux. At a point in my creative life when I thought, through my various artistic networking efforts, that I knew or was acquainted with most of the artists in this city (they/we are a rather tight-knit bunch) I found myself teamed with a complete stranger, a wonderful Preston-area artist by the name of Heidi Hirschmann. Heidi and I were tasked to create work of art combining her talents as an artist and mine as a writer. Much like the 5-Minute Writing Exercise and the Homework Assignment at CWC meetings, Heidi and I were given the topic “Babbling Brook”, and then given carte blanche to come up with something unique and original. I’m not going to spoil the surprise and share with you what we jointly created. You’ll have to wait and see.

The project will be unveiled at the Cambridge City Hall Thursday, May 31 at the Cambridge Fall Fair, and some pairings may be included at the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts and Cambridge Arts Festival.

Gee, I can hardly wait myself. See you on May 31. You won’t be disappointed.

A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including the Cambridge Arts Festival.