Villanelles And Story Structure

Villanelles and Story Structure. What do they have in common?

Absolutely nothing.

Well, except for the purely personal connection that I studied them both this week. Also, if you think about it, villanelles have a very rigid structure that- huh. Maybe they do have something in common. But I digress. Or do I? I’m not sure anymore.

Let me start again. This week I discovered a structured form of poetry known as villanelle thanks to Harriet Goodchild, who besides being a talented (and rather terrifyingly clever) author, is also a talented poet. Basically, a villanelle is a poem with five stanzas of three lines, followed by one stanza of four lines (a total of nineteen lines, if you’re counting). According to Wikipedia, “It is structured by two repeating rhymes and two refrains: the first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. The rhyme-and-refrain pattern of the villanelle can be schematized as A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 where letters (“a” and “b”) indicate the two rhyme sounds, upper case indicates a refrain (“A”), and superscript numerals (1 and 2) indicate Refrain 1 and Refrain 2″.

Basically, it’s the sudoku of poetry. The second lines of each stanza have to rhyme with each other, as do the first and third (until you get to the sixth stanza, where the first, third and fourth lines all rhyme with each other). It’s incredibly structured, and incredibly difficult to write. (Yes, I tried). It’s also oddly freeing to write, and the structure feels more like a guide than a constraint.

Besides being interesting in it’s own right, it was also interesting to consider the villanelle in light of the fact that I’d been musing on story structure at the start of the week. I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with story structure: partly because I’m primarily a pantser (meaning I most often just sit down and write without doing any planning in writing) and partly because it took so long for me to understand what story structure actually is. I’ve since done a lot of study on the subject (aka, read a lot of books by Steven Brust and Patricia Wrede, and paid special attention to any other book I read where the structure leapt out at me), and it has been borne in on me over the years that the structure of my own books requires more work. Interestingly enough, I received a crash course in structure this week and last, over at Janet Reid’s blog. Janet periodically runs flash fiction contests on her blog, which I love to enter as a form of practise even though I’m seriously outclassed by most of the writers there. I was going over the finalists’ entries a week or so ago, and though quite a few of them aren’t my style of preference for reading, it struck me how very much they could say in very few words (100 words max). This turned my interest from looking for flash fic I liked, to flash fic that really worked, without regard to preferred style.

And that, of course, brought me to structure- for it was the structure of each of the pieces that gave each so much depth. The closest thing I can compare it to is looking in a telescope. There are so few words used, but the effect is wide-ranging and immensely vast. It feels as though there must be so much more than 100 words there. I learn best via reading (and perhaps osmosis of words) and let me tell you, reading those flash fic pieces over the last two weeks has been the schooling of my life. I so much appreciate all those talented writers who enter the contests.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. You want to know if I succeeded in writing a villanelle (shush, child, shush: of course you do). I did write my own villanelle, and it turns out that the only thing I feel really poetical about is my morning cup of tea. (My magnum opus is Ode To A Cockroach (RIP), so that should give you some idea of my poetic range). Therefore, enjoy this villanelle about my first morning cup of tea, and be thankful that there are no insects involved. It has no real rhythm, meter, or in fact merit, but it was fun to write.

The First Cup Of Tea

Cup meeting saucer, bergamot in flight
Amber swirls from the tealeaves and sinks fast
A curl of steam variegated through light

Silence that rings with a chink! clear and bright
Teaspoon abandoned, steam rising ‘gainst glass
Cup meeting saucer, bergamot in flight

Dreams linger gently, away out of sight
Fingers curled ‘round the cup, warm to the last
A curl of steam variegated through light

Plate piled with shortbreads: a secret delight
Beside glazed honey jumbles- saved for last
Cup meeting saucer, bergamot in flight

Eyes flutter shut, open wider and bright
Smile as I savour this morning’s repast
A curl of steam variegated through light

Dappled light playing on walls painted white
First warmth of sunshine through icy-cold glass
Cup meeting saucer, bergamot in flight
A curl of steam variegated through light

Experiments (Of The Kind That Don’t Go Boom)

I’ve been doing a few experiments this week (and last). Unfortunately none of them involved high explosives, but ya can’t have everything, right?

Mostly my experiments have been with ads: Facebook ads, Twitter ads, Goodreads ads, etc. I wanted to see which (if any) provided bang for buck, and which (if any) would provide hard sales. I began with Goodreads ads, which I’ve had some success with in the past. I ran an ad and a giveaway for my new book Wolfskin. Those are still running, but my conclusions from this and past campaigns is that Goodreads, although providing a few scattered sales, is mostly good for name awareness. It gets my books out there for the notice of readers. And that’s not accounting for the slow burn of sales: each of my books on Goodreads is on a couple hundred To-Be-Read shelves. I’m hoping that will mean sales in the future.

Facebook ads. Well, I tried. I got no further than using my book cover as an image. Initially, the ad was approved. Five seconds and two click-throughs later, it was disapproved. Why? Apparently it had ‘more than 25% text’. It’s a book cover. It has a title and an author name. What you gonna do? Until FB ads allow book covers, they’re going to be pretty useless to me. I canceled the ad and won’t be bothering again.

Twitter ads. Huh. What can I say? Oh, I know: don’t bother. Not unless you love being retweeted and faved by fake accounts. I don’t know whether it’s a dodge by Twitter themselves, to earn easy money, or whether it’s just a whole bunch of fake accounts that love retweeting and faving random stuff, but it was next to useless. I got a heck of a lot of click-throughs, but since all the retweets and faves were from fake accounts, I’m not holding out much hope that the hundreds of clicks are from real people either. I guess the next couple days of sales will tell. At this stage, I don’t think I’ll be bothering with another Twitter ad, though. It’s too much to pay for fake interest.

Pic from

Pic from

have been doing other things these last couple weeks, though, so All Is Not Lost. I’m very close to being able to start final edits on Spindle, I’ve written a guest blog post over at Tiger Hebert’s Blog (entitled The Problem With Self-Publishing– check it out!), and I’m having lots of fun on Twitter apart from bogus ads and fake followers. Oh, and I just sent off the review copies for my Xpresso Book Blog Tour of Wolfskin! It’s a week long from July 6-10, and will have 2 Guest Posts, 2 Author Interviews, and roughly 10 book reviews, so YAY! Also keep an eye out, because There Will Be Excerpts!

Maybe next week I can start with the kind of experiments that do go BOOM.


Did you guys know that printed books should always be odd-numbered on the right page? Or that text should be right and left justified? Or, for a matter of fact, that when you shorten the front of a word with an apostrophe (ex. ‘leave ’em alone’) that the apostrophe must face the same way as one that shortens the end of a word (ex. ‘doin’ what comes naturally’).

I didn’t until I started self-publishing. Got any idea how long it takes to go over 300-odd pages of text, looking at every flamin’ apostrophe? Oh yeah, and MS Word just puts ’em through as regular apostrophes. You gotta think about every shortened word as you type it. (Well, there’s probably a function I can turn on somewhere in the recesses of the program, but beggared if I know where it is.)

Also on today’s housekeeping: both Masque and A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend: Volume One are on a Goodreads giveaway at the moment, until about mid-April. I’ve got three signed copies of each to give away, so if you’re interested, click through the link on either above, and enter to win. A handy little feature of Goodreads that I found out about just a few days ago, and that I’m very happy to make use of!

And as I announced on my Facebook and Twitter pages, Wolfskin is at present being sent out to bloggers and reviewers. If you’re interested in getting a free copy (either ecopy or paperback) for the purposes of a review, contact me at gingellwrites [AT], through the comment section, or from the form on my Contact page.

Fourthly and lastly, I’ve been bingewatching On The Up with the wonderful Dennis Waterman, delightful Sam Kelly, inimitable Joan Sims, and pot-stirring Jenna Russell. SO MUCH FUN. So many glorious one-liners. And I’m completely in love with the ending.

Well, that and the equally wonderful live-action version of Black Butler. I’ve watched it three times now. It’s become one of my all-time favourites along with Alice (mini-series version with Andrew-Lee Potts), The Fall (Lee Pace), and City of the Lost Children (Ron Perlman).

Seriously. Watch any of these.

Over and out.

(What? You didn’t think my housekeeping would include actual work, did you? Well, apart from all the apostrophes.)

Let The Games Begin! (Aka, Masque Is On Tour, And So Am I)

Let the games begin! The book blog tour for Masque has kicked off at The Indy Book Fairy, where you can read an excerpt and enter to win a paperback copy of Masque. Come on along and say Hi!

Further stops will be:

15th- I Heart Reading (Starter Party)

17th- Nat’s Book Nook (Promo Post)

18th- Books, Books, and More Books (Promo + Excerpt)

20th- Howling Turtle (Promo Post)

22nd- Mystical Books (Guest Post)

24th-100 Pages a Day (Book Review)

25th- Tea Talks (Promo Post)

26th- Jooniel Obsesses Over Stories (Book Review)

28th- Literary Musings (Book Excerpt)

28th- Dreams Come True Through Reading (Promo + Excerpt)

29th- C.J. Anaya’s Blog (Book Review and Character Interview)

So follow along with me as I traipse merrily across the blogosphere: and don’t forget to enter into the rafflecopter draw to win a paperback copy of Masque!

(I’ll even sign it for you. Hmm, draw or put-off . . . ?)


When Beta Reading Makes Your Writing *cough* Beta *cough*

I don’t do a whole lot of beta reading. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read. Also, when I read nowadays, it’s not without my back-brain saying things like ‘oooh, I like how they did that!’ and ‘yer, bet I could do it better’. But beta reading is different. If you enjoy it, that’s a plus; but you don’t want to be enjoying it so much that you let things slide because you liked the book as a whole. You get into the nitty-gritty and point out the tiny inconsistencies and mashed sentences. You argue with your writer friends about tenses, and old versus new spellings, not to mention Australian versus American spellings. You tend to be more ruthless, even to nit-pickyness. Something that you might glide over in a run-of-the-mill book you’ve picked up, you don’t glide over. And that’s how it should be. That’s what you want in return. But it is hard work.

Book pile

Besides the obvious benefits of beta reading (someone who reads your work in return, someone with whom to discuss the ins and outs of writing) is another, overlooked benefit. In my mind it’s probably the biggest benefit.

It’s the benefit of recognizing in your own work the very thing you picked at in your friends writing. Come on. You know what I mean. You’ve just highlighted that part of the MS you’re beta-reading: the niggle that keeps happening in their writing. You add a note to remind them that this is becoming a habit. You put aside the MS for the time being, exhausted with your efforts, and settle down to work on your own MS. And as you’re reading the last paragraph you wrote last night in order to refresh your memory, you realize that you’ve done that thing. That thing that you just highlighted a dozen times in the novel you’re beta-reading. You look at it in horror. Go over the last chapter. Find you’ve done it another half-dozen times. Shriek and pull out your hair. Go back to the start of the MS and find the time after time that you’ve done that thing that annoyed you so much in your friend’s book.

It’s annoying. It’s exhausting. But in the end, beta reading is so very worth it. It makes you look at your writing like an outsider again, and if you don’t want your readers being constantly annoyed by that thing, it’s an essential habit to cultivate. Don’t be afraid of the irritation: it’s all part of the process. And if you’ll take my advice, do some beta reading.