Recipe for a Story Cake

How to Bake a Story Cake
by CWI Volunteer, Ariel Pakizer

Warning: This is a complicated recipe. It does allow a little room for change, but if you miss a basic ingredient, the results could be disastrous.

3 cups of passion
1 cup perseverance
1 cup discipline
3 cups focus
Preventing air bubbles
2 ½ cups criticism
1 cup knowledge
Emotion to color
Pour gently
Fold in imagination and depth
Let ripen overnight and taste for flavor
Garnish, and enjoy!


Find a quiet place to work. Baking a story cake requires time and concentration.

Locating the first ingredient: shop for the best idea in likely places, such as a beach, or a photo album. Reminisce with old songs. Think about family, friends, or pets. Don’t look for an idea – let the right one come to you.

When you’ve chosen the right idea, stir 20 minutes or until it becomes pliable and tangible. Add at least 3 cups of passion. More, if needed. Too little will make it dry.

Add patience, 1 teaspoon at a time and stir gently. If you rush this process, the story cake might fall. In due time, add 1 cup of perseverance, 1 cup of discipline, and 3 cups of focus, mixing well after each addition.

The best bakers are critical of their own work and willing to listen to suggestions. To keep your storyline from puffing air bubbles, let a friend check it. After consultation, blend in 2 ½ cups of criticism. Add 1 cup knowledge and stir well to form solid characters filled with gusto.

Now that you have the basic story dough, add just enough emotion to color it well. Be careful. Too little can make a dry plotline, and too much will make it frothy.

Blend, set aside, and let ripen three days. No peeking.

Now it’s time to pour your story cake into a mold. Arrange by layers and garnish with imagination and depth.

Let the finished product set one more night. In the morning, unveil your masterpiece! There it is. A story cake to be proud of, well measured, well blended, bursting with plump characters and filled with zest. Maybe you should sell it.

Like this? Then please rate it. Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

*Practical Christmas Gifts for the Writer*

by Annie Evett, Creative Writing Institute Editor

Writers the world around want relevant gifts to encourage their hearts, make creative writing easier, prevent writer’s block, and increase their stash of writing tools. Sit on old Ho Ho’s knee and ask for these cool items:

1. A personally tutored writing course, at
2. The Chicago Manual of Style by University of Chicago, about $35 on, or The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., $10 and up. These are excellent reference books that will answer all your questions about grammar and offer guidance in literary composition. A must have for any writer.
3. The Writer’s Market – Learn the latest from editors and those in the know! The best marketing tool ever. Easy to understand, easy to use, offers a variety of support tools, names the editors, and points you to the right market to sell your work. Ask for the online edition because they update it monthly whereas the book is updated yearly. Find it at for $30-$40, depending on which one you choose. A must have!
4. The Writer Magazine< – highly recommended. Stay up to date on trends at
5. A writing journal to record the events of your life.
6. Business cards – tell Santa what color you would like and what you want them to say – or make your own on good card stock!
7. Personalized stationary for that “special” correspondence – or – make it yourself!
8. Great books on writing: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (for ideas and motivation); Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (highly recommended); <On Writing by Stephen King (half autobiography and half lessons for writers); On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser (lots of non-fiction writing tips). Buy used books on
9. A ream of paper to print your creations (specify exactly what weight you want)
10. Printer ink – Oh yeah!
11. A gift certificate
MONEY to enter writing con from a bookstore.tests!

Don’t forget to LIKE US and RATE US before you leave! Thank you.

Get more writing tips in Creative Writing Institute’s newsletter, The Writer’s Choice, at, and watch for our Bonus Bargain Christmas $ale.


Carving a Pumpkin is like Writing a Book or a Short Story

Just one more article on fall before we jump into Thanksgiving and Christmas. This one is by by Julie Canfield, a CWI Volunteer.


You’ve got to love fall. The cool temperatures, shorter days, colorful leaves, football, and little kids in costumes.

Carving a pumpkin is so much like writing. Think about it. Before we can carve a pumpkin, we have to pick one. We go to the patch and look at hundreds until we find the perfect one. We take it home, study it, and painstakingly draw the face in pencil. Satisfied with the sketch, we cut the top and scoop out the insides. Next, we carve the face and place a lighted candle inside.

Now think about writing a book or a story. We sit down, ready to write, full of ideas. At last, we choose one. We decide what genre and length we want, and unleash the words, like sketching a face on a pumpkin. Satisfied, we take the next step in editing, which is akin to cutting the lid on the pumpkin. It’s time to scoop it out, inspect it, and scoop some more. At last, we’re ready to polish (carve the face) and submit (light the candle, which scares away the evil spirit of writer’s block).

We writers are in some phase of pumpkin carving every day. We’re always finding ideas, thinking about writing, editing, polishing or submitting, even when we’re not physically working on it.

Carving a pumpkin is tedious, messy, time consuming, and frustrating. It takes energy and thoughtful planning to achieve the face we envision. Writing takes time, too – planning, editing, frustratingly searching for words, sucking our energy, and messing with our minds until we finally give birth to that book or story.

As writers, we are blessed to have the daily chance of finding a pumpkin (story idea) that we can carve (write). The world turns, the seasons move on. Fall changes to winter but we have a way to connect to the wonderful season of autumn whenever we want.

*Julie Canfield is an aspiring writer who currently lives in Richmond, Va. She shares her domicile with her husband, daughter, one cat, and two dogs. She has published short stories and articles on the web and in literary reviews.

Check us out at Join our volunteer team. Here’s a special invitation to pop in for a quick visit!


Elements of of Writing
by Pat Decker Nipper, Volunteer Staff

Labor Day is a good day to reinforce your labor of love — that is, your love of writing. Since you’re reading this article, you’re already working in that labor of love, but as you get more experience, you might consider writing to be more love than labor.

METHOD #1: The elements of writing leads to the love of words. The novelist Joseph Conrad was fluent in three languages—his native language, Polish, French (which he spoke without an accent), and English. He wrote in English because he loved the nuances of English words. When you consider the various definitions of a single word, you can understand what he meant.

Take for example the word “joy.” In Roget’s Thesaurus, 19 different words extend the same meaning. In the online version, over 40 synonyms are given. Some of them are: delight, happiness, gladness, exultation…and so forth. The Thesaurus is a valuable tool, but be careful when you use it. Be sure the meaning and interpretation fits your needs.

METHOD #2: Another element of writing is ideas. Everything written comes from one or more ideas. Great fiction revolves around the ideas of possibility. When you get stuck, ask yourself “what if…?” and your mind will plunge into a story.

For example:
* What if General Custer had won the battle at the Little Bighorn?
* What if Custer had become President of the Unite States?
* What if he were the one to assassinate President Lincoln, instead of John Wilkes Booth? How many ways would that change history?

“What if” will give birth to a lot of ideas.

METHOD #3: Clustering is another great element. Start with one word and associate from it. For instance, start with the word water and you might list:

* Boat
* Life preservers
* Paddles
* Canoe
* Accident
* Swimming
* Sharks
* Panic

Clustering is a great way to snare an idea. And yet another method of creation can be triggered by something you’ve read, or experienced.

METHOD #4: Another writing element is to put yourself in someone else’s adventure. For example, if you want to travel in space, imagine yourself as one of the astronauts, or manufacture your own flight to the moon. Colonize the moon. Build a city on Mars. The sky (or space) is literally the limit.

What Lies Ahead?

New poetry courses will debut at Creative Writing Institute this fall. The first will come out within a few weeks and a second one is in the brew, along with two more courses, Advanced Wordsmithing and Journaling.

We’re always open to new ideas. Writing elements are what writers thrive on. What subject would you like to see discussed? Red herrings? Inference? Arcing? Warts? Send your suggestion to

Drop by for a visit. Don’t forget to *like us before you leave! You can post a comment quickly and easily. See you next time!

How to Develop Style, Mood, Tone, and Unity

Writing Style, Mood, and Tone

by Mr. Lynn Carroll, writing tutor

Writing style is the elusive Holy Grail of the serious writer. Where does one find style? Certainly not on a store shelf or where X marks the spot on a treasure map. It isn’t written in ancient code, so where is it?

You’ll learn good writing stye when you study the masters — and also make it a point to study literature that has been published in the last five years. Can you copy style? Perhaps, to a certain extent. Here’s how: choose two or three paragraphs from an author you like. Read them over a few times and then rewrite them in your own voice. Read everything that author has written and a bit of it will rub off on you. Sorry, but that’s as close as you can get to copying someone else’s style.

Even the great painter, Michelangelo was once an apprentice. He unashamedly imitated the masters for years before he matured to his own style.

Style is something that comes from within. You can influence it, but you can’t change it to a large degree. Relax and be yourself. Since you’re a unique being and there is only one of you, your style will be unique.

Writing Mood and Tone

Mood and tone are part of style, and you can pull these two tools out of your toolbox at will, depending on the audience and needs of the article. Before you begin writing, set the mood and tone. What will it be? Light and breezy? Dark and gloomy? Informal and humorous? Somber and informative?

Whatever your choice, you must maintain the same mood and tone throughout the piece. This is part of what is known as unity. After you’ve made your choice, don’t try to mix somber with humor, or formal with informal.

There is much more to learn on this subject, and Creative Writing Institute will be happy to teach you. You need not wait for a new term to begin because we don’t use terms. Every student receives a private tutor. You can sign up today and start tonight. There’s no better way to learn than with a tutor, and no one will give you more individual attention than CWI. Be sure to enter our SHORT STORY CONTEST for BEGINNERS, now in session. Find information at CASH PRIZES!! Ends August 31, 2012.

How to Format a Short Story

Formatting Tips

by Pat Decker Nipper

Formatting a story is designing how it looks in print. Determine the layout of your manuscript by setting parameters. Look at examples of written material. Are the letters large enough to read comfortably? Are the lines far enough apart? How are the new paragraphs formatted?

Professional formatting will make your work shine. If you follow these standards, your manuscript will be ready to submit, whether in hard copy (paper) or online. Although the following is a commonly accepted standard for formatting, individual publications occasionally vary, so be sure to check before you submit.

The 2010 Writer’s Market has illustrations of formatting and includes good advice. They say to use white 8-1/2 x 11 paper, and “ …no artsy fonts.” They also suggest you use a laser or an ink-jet printer.

Below are the common formatting standards, as developed over years of creating documents.

1. Leave one inch of space on all four margins of the paper—top, bottom, and both sides. 

2. Left justify your pages. That means every line should align on the left. The right margin is not justified, or in other words, it remains “ragged.”

3. Indent five spaces at the beginning of a new paragraph.

4. Choose an easy-to-read font. For PC users, try Times New Roman or Verdana. Macintosh users might like Palatino.

5. Set the font size at 12 point for easy readability.

6. Stay away from italics, except where needed to be grammatically correct.

7. Avoid bold, except in headings and areas where you want to emphasize text.

8. Double-space if you’re printing on paper. Single space if you’re submitting electronically, and in such case, double space between paragraphs.

9. In dialogue, each new speaker starts a new line.

10. Add your personal information in the upper left corner of the page. The title can carry over to the additional pages, along with a page number.

11. Center the title of the story and your name under it on the first page. Some publications want you to start the first page about one-third of the way down. Check their style and follow their example.

12. Avoid hyphenation at the ends of lines. e.c

These are general rules. Needless to say, guidelines always take president. For extra information, check The Chicago Manual of Style. You can even find it online. Another good one is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. There are many more style guides on the Internet.

Pat Decker Nipper is a native Idahoan and former teacher, now living and writing in San Jose, California. She is the author of Love on the Lewis and Clark Trail and a number of short stories and articles. For more information visit

Join the beginner’s short story contest at Contest closes Aug. 31, 2012. Please FOLLOW the guidelines so your entry won’t be disqualified. Don’t forget to click “like” before you leave!


How to Win a Short Story Contest

Secrets of Winning a Contest
By Bob Bruggemann, volunteer staff for Creative Writing Institute

Beginner’s Short Story Contest Listed Below.

If you want to win a contest, the first thing you must do is follow the guidelines. Many submissions are disqualified because they don’t meet all the requirements. If formatting guidelines have not been given, single space the text and indent the paragraph. If the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, a 1200-word story, however brilliant, will hit the trash pile. If the short story contest calls for G-rated material (which means no swearing, vulgarities, or erotica) and your entry contains just one swear word, it will be discarded.

Welcome to the judging world, where judges go strictly by the rules. Assuming you follow the guidelines, the judges will then look at the following four elements. Let’s look at each one and see what they mean.

• Originality
• Creativity
• Style
• Technique


Short story contest winners come from second, third, and tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme, such as, “Wedding Day.” What’s the first story idea that comes to mind? Whatever it is, forget it. You can bet everyone else will have thought of it, too. A large percentage of submissions will be so similar that the competition will be fierce. Give yours an original angle and the judges will love it.


Don’t wrack your brain for an idea. Relax. Get your conscious, critical mind out of the way and allow ideas to bubble up from your subconscious. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, how, and ‘what if?’ Let your train of thought go where it will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a unique story.


In short story contests, you’ll never wrong with the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Sweetie.
Don’t try to impress the judges with $3 words. Like any other reader, they want a story that is easy to read.

Every sentence must move the story forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. He/she wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning and what will happen next. Stick to the point.


A short story contest calls for three distinct parts: the beginning, middle, and end. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The beginning introduces the main character and what the story is about. The middle develops the theme and keeps the reader hooked. The ending must be believable, resolve the problems, and leave the reader satisfied.

Above all, don’t overlook simple formatting rules.

· Make a new paragraph for every new speaker
· Single space your short story and indent paragraphs
· Run the spellchecker!
· Watch your punctuation

Last, but not least: write an original story specifically for the contest – but if you decide not to do that, at least rewrite your story to fit the guidelines.

Creative Writing Institute’s fourth annual beginner’s short story contest is now in session. Accepting entries from July 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012. This is a small contest and your chances of winning are good. Invest in yourself and get your entry ready! For details and submission instructions go to

This short story contest is especially for beginners. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. First prize is $100 or a free writing course plus miscellaneous gifts. Second prize is $50 and miscellaneous. Third prize is a tutoring session with our CEO, Deborah Owen, and miscellaneous. We will also recognize honorable mentions. Above all, have fun! Hey! Wait a minute! “Like” us before you go.

Plot is an Egg

The Process of Learning How to Write Plot and Everything Else
by David Ebenbach, Professor at Georgetown University

Plot and I have had an up-and-down relationship, one that really got complicated in 2002. That year, the people at Gotham Writers’ Workshops invited me to contribute a chapter on plot for their upcoming book Writing Fiction. I jumped at the chance, in no small part because I had been thinking a lot about the subject lately; I was teaching fiction classes for Gotham, and the students always wanted to know about plot. Until then, my writing had been focused more on character, but it turned out that I liked thinking about this stuff. And plot does matter.

After all, even in literary fiction we need something to happen; that something draws the reader forward to find out what else might happen. That concept has been with us for a long time. In Aristotle’s Poetics, we learn that each story/novel raises a single yes/no question (e.g., Will the protagonist find love? Will the protagonist defeat the monster?) and then goes on to answer it—yes, no, or maybe. In this understanding, plot is the difficult arc where the protagonist moves from the question (raised early on) to the answer (offered by the end), a journey of ups and downs, challenges, forward steps and obstacles. The reader hopes things will turn out well but can’t be sure, and keeps reading.

Well, because plot was so much on my mind, the chapter came together pretty easily, and I felt good about it. Even looking back a decade later, I still stand behind what I wrote then. That said, for about six months after I wrote that chapter, when the topic was so clear in my mind, I wrote a string of stories that were—no doubt about it—bad. They moved from turning point to turning point inexorably, mechanically. And characters? Dragged along behind, like dead weight. Instead of stories, I had written plot machines. Now, to be fair, after those six months or so, I started to write stories I liked again. In fact, those new stories were better than the ones I had written before I ever got involved with the plot chapter.

Here’s the obvious point: learning is a process. Every time we engage with some new aspect of craft—plot, the use of setting, writing realistic dialogue, making characters sympathetic, or whatever it might be—we have to go through that process. More specifically, I think we go through three stages.

1. There’s the stage of more or less ignorance: we write without really knowing what we’re doing, perhaps lucking into some good moves and accidentally making a lot of bad ones. We all start here, and there’s no shame in it.

2. We study that aspect of craft, and we come to know something. Some of us will treat our new knowledge like a new toy, playing with it compulsively and ignoring all our other toys. No shame here, either, but this produces some unbalanced fiction. Also, because it’s new, we’re usually pretty clumsy with it. In that sense learning to write is like learning to drive, where, in the beginning, we have to be conscious of our every move as we make it. But we’re thinking too much, and this is where mechanical, inorganic fiction comes from. At some point we reach the third stage.

3. The culmination of learning is the moment when the shine comes off the new toy, when it becomes just one of many things that interest us, and balance is restored; the moment when we’ve worked mechanically with our new knowledge long enough to forget about it, so that it’s internalized and we start applying it naturally, without conscious effort or thought. This is when knowledge starts to work for us.

As far as plot is concerned, I now think of it (when I do think of it) as the egg in a cake. If a cake is good, you usually don’t sit around admiring how eggy it is; ideally, the egg just does its job quietly, giving the cake form and structure, so that the other ingredients have a suitable vehicle in which to deliver the real taste experience. Of course, that’s true of all the ingredients: each one has to do its own part without overwhelming the others. It takes time to learn how to make that happen, with plot or with anything else, but eventually you can get everything in perfect balance—and without getting caught up in the measurements.

Bio: David Ebenbach is the author of two short story collections—Between Camelots and Into the Wilderness (forthcoming)—and a non-fiction guide to creativity called The Artist’s Torah (forthcoming). Ebenbach has an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and teaches at Georgetown University. Find out more at

FATHER’S DAY SPECIAL: Get a $50 rebate off privately tutored courses at Offer ends June 30, 2012.

Self-publishing – Pros and Cons

Self-Publishing – Poverty or Opportunity?
by Mr. Lynn Carroll, tutor at Creative Writing Institute

When you consider self-publishing, consider these things:

1. How hard it is to make an e-market platform (unbelievably difficult if you aren’t already established)
2. Good and bad writers are all piled in the same e-market lump. If you’re not a top-notch writer, this is a good place for you, but if you are, you’ll have to fight to hold your ground.

Some readers will be smart enough to look for award-winning writers first, as that is the only way to sort the meaty from the wordy. Others won’t care. They’ll read almost anything.

Seasoned writers that have earned their stripes the hard way have a right to view self-publishers as upstarts who bypass the hard work of learning the craft. By in large, (but not completely, by any means), the new self-publishing crowd is the generation that texts while they brush their teeth and could care less about correct punctuation. They have no time to fret over wordiness, proper spelling, comma usage, capital letters, and other such trivia.

It’s sad to see literature go the way of the fast food market. I shudder to think of the Bible, a beautifully written book of prose and poetry, rewritten in the unedited world of e-books.

Success is gauged in how many units they can sell. Self-publishing is the fastest growing method of publishing. The industry is pulling in millions of dollars, saving trees, reducing bulk, storage space, postage, ink, and everything else – but is it a good thing? Fortunately, it’s a self-policing business. Those that are horrible writers will sell very little. Those that produce a good product might make some money. In the end, the best marketers will come out on top, regardless of their product.

I have yet to do a study of what it is that makes e-mags and e-books so popular to the readers (other than ease of access and articles and books that can be read in one sitting), but I do understand why it’s so popular with the authors.

I’m a hard-nosed editor from the old school. I teach students to use correct grammar and punctuation. I confess to having a definite bias. I still believe that new authors should earn their stripes before being afforded the luxury of such publicity.

Despite the fears of some traditionalists, I don’t think self-publishers will replace the conventional publishers, just as McDonald’s didn’t replace traditional restaurants. In the end, the market will sort itself out and there will be ways to locate the good and the bad. Each will have its own place in the grand scheme.

Today’s savvy writer will have to adjust to new ways in order to survive, but thing about this – suppose all the world knowledge goes to computers and idiots hack the database? Sorry. You’ll find me at the antiquated library.

Where do you stand on self-publishing? Do you see it as a threat?