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Month: February 2021

Two Poems

Reading the Canon


A word parts like obedient water
along the milky seam
of its own destruction
Fumbling into tonal valleys green
with your delight

I’m not there, scaling the memories
of my own country word
by jagged word
Footfalls on the tongue’s
unfamiliar stairs, like ambush

Or worse? Soft exterior stained
with accommodation
there was a poem I once mis-
remembered, about the chinky Chinaman

who delivers the news
Flare of his foreign nostrils
Pink unsoothing lips
Moody intelligence of the poem’s
own face as it regards him

Does he have a soul?
The poem’s curiosity flickers, illuminates,
dulls and kneels, negotiates
itself to death
Please, Mr Chinaman was my father
You can call me something all-
together new:

Unlucky heirloom, an eager match
struck on the lips
Both lips struck against the curve
of the sound and its vicious hollow

Alien words and the velocity
in all directions
with which they find you






Names of the River


I did wrong by all ideas of nation, haunted
by the after-
life of speech, of public acts wagging
their dutiful tails
I sat down
in the cross-winds of a feeling, too wild
to write it out how the velcro parts
of me unstuck themselves

But do you too, alone, ever
feel incompetent? If in one hand holding
a wet tissue for dignity
when the Yangtze view
leaves you cold?
Somewhere in America a white boss
in a dandelion dress shirt is raising
his voice again
A quick pivot to the page where
I stare down the verbs and am afraid
to make a recitation of myself—
am I unimitable, or, is this just another feeling?

By all accounts the river
was yellowed over time, a yolk
running over land, and yet in places:
pearly foam, like clouds
like the overlook I might
have photographed, sinewy green and the snow-
pricked thumb
of that mountain
(I’ve forgotten
its name)
under which nobody
I still remember
to call was born
in the days when they came
and tried to take my mother
away in a van
to the county hospital
for procedures
against her will
for the good of the poulation
growing too fast
because of dumb ugly
country folk
like her

had the day not been hot
and mean, a government calling me home
by a different word
I would have made a record of everything
there flowing
from the mouth of the river:

‘The Yellow and Deep Water’

‘The Big Mouth’

‘The Five Stars’

‘The Tao’

One reminding me now of the next, heavier
than foreign air,
their yellow names soaking the page

Image © Rod Waddington



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A Summary and Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Minister’s Black Veil’

‘The Minister’s Black Veil’ is one of the best-known and most widely studied short stories written by the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. Subtitled ‘A Parable’, the story originally appeared in a gift book titled The Token and Atlantic Souvenir in 1836, before being collected in Hawthorne’s short-story collection Twice-Told Tales, […]

Get A Literary Agent With The First 15 Pages Of Your Novel | Writer’s Relief

Our Review Board Is Open!


DEADLINE: Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Once you’ve finished writing, proofreading, editing, and formatting your book, the next step toward getting it published is to try to get a literary agent for representation. While each literary agent’s submission guidelines are different, the submission strategists at Writer’s Relief know you’ll need to prepare a query letter, synopsis, and the first fifteen pages of your novel—and only the first fifteen pages—to effectively query agents. So it’s vital that your first pages make a great first impression, hook your readers, and leave them wanting more! Here’s how to get a literary agent with the first fifteen pages of your novel.

How The First 15 Pages Of Your Novel Will Help You Get A Literary Agent

Some writers might feel the first fifteen pages aren’t their strongest and would rather submit the entire manuscript. But literary agents know these are the pages book buyers will read first, and it’s important they are drawn into the story and want to keep reading. It doesn’t matter how great the middle of your story is or how clever the plot twist and ending are—if your first fifteen pages don’t intrigue the agent or your readers, no one’s going to keep reading.

Writing Tips For Boosting The Impact Of The First 15 Pages Of Your Novel

Begin with an opening sentence that packs a punch. What do you want your very first statement to communicate? Don’t just set the scene. You can create mystery, incite conflict, or start drama all with your first sentence. Not only will it keep the agent reading, but it will set the tone for the rest of your work.

Introduce your hook. The hook tells us who your protagonist is, what their life is like, and how they deal with the conflicts that arise. Set the plot in motion and give the reader someone to root for and a reason to cheer on this character! Use these first fifteen pages to set the tone for the rest of the story.

Add emotion. Your novel can be cleanly written and grammatically correct, but without emotion, the story will be flat and boring. Readers will want to know how your main character feels about what is happening. The emotional response from your protagonist raises the stakes for your plot, and inviting an emotional response will have an agent invested in your novel.

Establish plot, character, and setting. You want to introduce these elements in a way that will intrigue readers so they’ll commit to reading more. Once you’ve completed your novel, go back and reread your first fifteen pages to see if you need to cut anything out or add in certain details. You may even find yourself completely rewriting the opening pages in order to best bring in your plot, characters, and setting.

Avoid too much exposition. While it’s necessary to include details about your plot, characters, or setting, be careful not to treat the first fifteen pages as a setup or prologue for the actual story. Don’t write paragraphs of telling what your character looks like or what kind of weather is happening—show who the characters are through their words and actions; reveal the weather through its effects on the protagonist.

End the first chapter well. Don’t let the first chapter drag on—find a stopping point that will encourage the reader to continue to chapter two! Introduce a new character, add a plot twist, or leave readers in the middle of a conflict so they are eager to know what comes next.

If you can grab an agent’s interest in the first fifteen pages of your novel, you’ll boost your odds of getting a request to see more pages or the entire manuscript—and of ultimately landing a literary agent. Follow these easy writing tips and you’ll be sure to leave readers wanting more of you and your book!


Question: Tell us the title of a book you think has a great first fifteen pages.

A Short Analysis of the ‘St Crispin’s Day’ Speech from Henry V

The ‘St Crispin’s Day’ speech is one of the most famous speeches from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, a history play written in around 1599 and detailing the English king’s wars with France during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). Henry V himself delivers the St Crispin’s Day speech in the play. […]

Three Poems

Pass It


Pass it to me, I said.
I want to make long and delicate incisions
in which these gathering clouds can sleep –
they’re hoarding up fatigue
as they travel from one end of themselves
to the other.
Pass me this hazy bit of sky
above a sea that’s been dead since forever,
though no one knew it.
Pass me this pit in the earth
from which the singing of a hopeless people rises.
Enter the next room
and pass me my death.






On a Train to Aswan


I’m not dead yet,
so why are the mourners here?

I’m sitting in the dark and writing.
Here, the purebred horses on display
and the mules kicked by their riders as they race down the
are equals.
Here, Lord Byron confronts a train full of men
who are heading to Aswan—
the vultures are waiting for them
at the Suez Canal.

It’s 2014 now, and the letters they never wrote
are still reaching me.
One of the men places a hunk of damp bread
on the table in front of me.
How many lives have I lived?
How many must I die?

The sea breaks over Haifa.
I died so many times,
but the mourners never came.
Must I arrange
even my own funeral?

I’m sitting in the dark and writing
the letters they never sent.






An Obituary


He hoped his obituary would read as follows:
He fought the invaders as best he could.
He wasn’t victorious,
but neither was he defeated.
In oblivion he made a life
for a thousand years to come.
He died fulfilling his poetic obligations.


Image © Jim R Rogers


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Using Direct And Indirect Characterization To Make Characters Seem Real | Writer’s Relief

Our Review Board Is Open!

Submit Short Prose, Poetry, and Books TODAY!

DEADLINE: Thursday, February 18th, 2021

Using Direct And Indirect Characterization To Make Characters Seem Real | Writer’s Relief

Even the best story will fall flat without spot-on character development. At Writer’s Relief, we know that good characterization is vital to a short story or novel. But bringing a character to life may sometimes seem complicated—what writing techniques should you use? Both direct and indirect characterization will make your characters seem more real. Here’s how to use characterization to help breathe life into your characters and move your plot forward.

How To Use Direct And Indirect Characterization

5 Writing Tips For Using Direct Characterization

Direct characterization is a very straightforward method of developing your character. You tell readers what they need to know about the character by describing specific attributes, routines, and desires. This method of characterization can be extremely useful for introducing a new character and making sure they take root in your readers’ minds. To use direct characterization in your writing, answer these questions:

What are your character’s physical attributes? Physical attributes—hair and eye color, height and body size, any scars or tattoos—will help readers to create a picture of your character. The more unique, the better! You can also include details about the character’s fashion sense.

What does your character do? This can provide an important piece of the character’s foundation. Telling readers your character’s job, whether or not they’re good at it, and whether or not they like their work, reveals a lot about who that character is.

What are your character’s hobbies? What does your character like to do with their spare time? This will give readers information about the character’s personality: A character who prefers quiet, intricate puzzles may be more patient and inquisitive, whereas a character who prefers skydiving and hiking may be bolder or perhaps even reckless.

What does your character like and dislike? Opinions and quirks come together to build your character’s worldview. Food preferences, pet peeves, and what they look for in friends are all details that will help round out your character.

What does your character want? By answering this simple question, you begin defining and communicating a character’s motivation. What goal are they working toward? What drives them forward? Understanding a character’s motivation is crucial to building readers’ knowledge of who that character is and what their story will be.

6 Writing Tips For Using Indirect Characterization

Indirect characterization lets readers get to know a character through thoughts, actions, and speech. This type of characterization focuses on how your character interacts with other characters, as well as the world around them. To use indirect characterization in your writing, answer these questions:

How does your character’s voice sound? In narration, thought, and dialogue, it’s important to develop a unique, recognizable voice for your character: Do they tend to use flowery, drawn-out language rife with similes and metaphors, or do they prefer to get straight to the point without mincing words? Does the character have an accent or any defining speech patterns? Whether a character talks a lot or lets others do the talking is also a good personality indicator.

Does your character choose to act or stand aside? Choosing to take initiative is hugely defining for a character, whether it’s during a dangerous situation or simply in day-to-day decisions. Do they confront situations head-on, or do they prefer to stand back and watch as things develop? Is the character a leader or a follower: Would they take charge of their friends or coworkers if necessary?

How does your character react to big events? It’s important to consider how your character will react under pressure or stress. Does your character stay calm or panic when they’re up against a crisis? Is “fight” or “flight” more your character’s M.O. (method of operation)?

How does your character treat other characters? It’s important to show how your character interacts with those socially below them as well as with their equals and superiors.

What are the consequences of your character’s actions? How does your character handle the consequences of their choices and actions? Do their motivations affect their reactions to consequences?

How does your character interpret the story’s setting? It’s important to show readers how the character describes the surroundings. Two characters might describe the same scene totally differently, depending on how observant they are and what they’re feeling at the time.

Both direct characterization and indirect characterization have benefits and drawbacks. For example, using too much direct characterization can make a character feel distanced from the readers, since you are only using superficial descriptions. But using too much indirect characterization can result in your readers struggling to put together a full character arc from a rootless series of actions and reactions. Each character has their own story, and it’s important to use a combination of direct and indirect characterization to create a three-dimensional, full character who will seem real to your readers. Check out this “interview” our experts put together—79 questions to help you discover all you need to know about your characters!


Question: What do you find most challenging about creating a character?