Jeanette Taylor

About Jeanette Taylor

Jeanette Taylor has four nonfiction books in print, on the history of the British Columbia coast. She’s a nonfiction writing instructor and coach; and she regales passengers aboard the historic Columbia III with coastal tales. Jeanette can otherwise be found in the office of her 120-year-old log house on Quadra Island, overlooking orchards, gardens, fields and the sea. She’s currently at work on a history of the colonial era, told through one man’s experiences.

Nonfiction Writers Must Delve Deep Into Their Characters’ Lives

Writing about People in Nonfiction
Intriguing people are at the heart of most stories and you need to know them intimately, whether you’re writing a community history, a travel piece, a memoir or a biography.

Hemingway advised writers to compile comprehensive information about their lead character’s personality and life. Only the tip of an iceberg of details will show in the final piece, he advised, but all of it informs your storytelling.

Compile Everything Known into a Chronological List

There are multiple benefits to such a list. It underscores gaps where more research is needed; and periods of intense accomplishments or duress (great story dynamics!) It may point to anomalies in this […]

Write clear, bold sentences in an ‘active voice’

Write Straight to the Point
The passive voice—with its side stepping, roundabout phrasing—lacks clarity, punch and immediacy. Many of us speak in this suggesting-things way, but when it slips into our writing it both deadens the impact and requires more words.

I know this, but in a bid to strike a conversational tone, a passive style sometimes slips into my writing and hides there, true to its obsequious nature, through multiple edits.

Like many Canadians, my initial attempts at an active writerly voice seemed brash, brazen and downright rude. But it’s not. It’s the basis of clear, forthright and succinct communication.
Examples of Passive and Active […]

Two Mysterious Deaths in the Nixon Family of Twin Islands, BC

The Mysterious Deaths of Harpur and Margaret Nixon of Twin Islands, BC
Reverend Harpur Colville Nixon, a well-to-do Anglo-Irish gentleman, bought Twin Islands, BC in 1912 or 1913. He and his wife had a farm on Denman Island so this new place was purchased as a haven for himself and his second eldest son James–who was just 23 when he married a 48-year-old widow named Margaret (Street) Butler in Vancouver in 1912. The newlyweds were a sociable couple who made friends with the Mansons of nearby Cortes Island, who preserved most of what’s known about these intriguing people.

Margaret was an Englishwoman who had trained as a […]

Bring a flat character to life through a writing exercise

Get to Know Your Story Characters
Whether it’s a real person you’re writing about, or a fictional one, you need to know everything about her. The good and the bad qualities, the quirks and charms. Only the tip of the iceberg of information you gather will ever surface—to borrow Hemingway’s analogy—but it all comes to bear in the reactions and choices of a fully rounded person.
Pose Questions
If one of your characters seems flat, push for depth by answering these questions:

• How does she look and act (clothes, facial expressions, height, gestures, verbal ticks, habits, conversation)?

• What’s her social standing, class, education? […]

The Galleys of Harbledown Island, BC

Settler Women’s Hidden Lives
Marriage was a gamble for Victorian women, a decision based upon intuition and promises. And it was for keeps, no matter what a husband’s life choices might bring–including immigration and isolation.  Relatively few women settlers left an account of their lives, but a chronicle of their circumstances speaks volumes.

Charlotte Gower was in her late teens when she married William Galley. He was a mason, a solid profession in mid-19th century Britain, but he wanted more from life so they set off for Canada. They had a toddler and a second child was born as the deep […]

Family Story as Bestseller

Two Great Reads That Draw on Family Stories
Does your family’s history have the drama needed for a wide readership?

The answer lies not in content but in your ability to find its story threads, the glowing strands that have relevance and insights for others. That’s a tall order—often requiring multiple rewrites to get distance and objectivity, overcome familial objections, and to filter genealogical minutia. But there are a growing number of writers who are doing just that to gain an international following.

Here’s two widely different examples: the novel Postmark Bayou Chene by Gwen Roland, and The Juggler’s Children, creative nonfiction by Carolyn Abraham.
Postmark Bayou Chene
This is […]

Lifelike writing to engage readers’ minds

Showing Versus Telling in Your Writing
There are two different narrative modes: the breezy, dash through background information or set up, in which the narrator tells us what’s happening—and sometimes even what to think. The advantage here is the ability to move fast through subject matter and time.

But to engage a reader’s full attention specifics are needed, complete with sensory details and dialogue or, in nonfiction, quotes. Writers offer snippets of showing within the general narrative flow or fully unleash its dramatic effect within scenes. That’s showing, and for those new to creative writing—as opposed to correspondence or term papers—this form must be mastered. The goal […]

Writing a Setting into the Story

The Role of Settings in Fiction & Creative Nonfiction
The setting might be of minimal importance in a story that focusses upon a character’s inner struggles, as in Nuala O’Faolain’s creative nonfiction biography Chicago May. Or place may be so important it takes on the importance of a character, as in Michael Crummy’s Sweetland, with a protagonist who remains behind when his remote island home is abandoned.
Does the setting play a major role in your story?
If setting is key to your narrative, use its drama to flesh out your theme (the essential core idea of your story). The landscape, weather or season, or a specific […]

Writing About History

The Art of History, Unlocking the Past in Fiction & Nonfiction, Christopher Bram
Books about writing history are hard to find, so this new addition to the canon is a prize—in every sense. The Art of History is a slim volume that packs a lot of punch.

Christopher Bram is a passionate consumer of history, and a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. His homage to the subject covers all the dynamics of craft, from story structure to the use of details. And scattered throughout is an eclectic mix of fiction and nonfiction examples, because “they’re two sides of the same mountain.” Bram unpacks these […]

The Big Snow, a Winter History Tale from the BC Coast

The Big Winter
Mary Bryant’s First Year on Quadra Island, BC

Loneliness plagued most of the bachelors who settled on the Discovery Islands in the 1890s, when the Euro-Canadian gender balance was about ten men to one woman. It wasn’t so bad in spring and summer, when men worked in logging camps to earn a grubstake. It was the short days of winter, working alone to clear their land, that wore them down. “Snowed a bit in night,” a settler wrote in his diary of December 1890. “Got out a few [fence] rails, drizzling rain in afternoon. Feeling very lonely, tired of reading.”

Jack Bryant of Quadra […]