Friday, May 22, 2015

Tips for Managing Your Files

Spring has sprung and it is time to do a little spring cleaning. For me, that means sifting through and deleting old computer files I no longer need. The chore is made easier by having an organized filing system.

I’d like to offer the following tips on organizing and maintaining your precious manuscript documents. The tips apply no matter what platform you use: MAC, Windows, or Linux. Having an organized system makes it easier to find the document you are looking for and for finding the documents that need to be backed up.

Many users do not realize that you can create a folder on your Desktop (the screen that comes up when you turn your computer on with all of your program icons). If you want to get fancy, you can choose a specific icon to represent your project.

A program called Iconator allows you to create an icon from any jpeg image you have saved on your computer. You change the icon by hovering over the folder image, right click the mouse, select Properties, select Customize, select Change Icon and upload the desired image, then Save.

You can create subfolders in My Documents instead if you prefer. You can change the icons for those folders as well.

I start with making a master folder on my Desktop for each book project or group of projects, such as a book series.

To do so: Pick a blank area on the Desktop, right click the mouse, select New, select Folder, name the folder the title of your project in the box that appears, and hit Enter to save.

The next step is to create folders within the main folder such as Characters, Setting, First Draft, and Research.

You can create subfolders by the same process, right click a blank spot within the folder, select New, select Folder, name the folder, and hit Enter to save the change.

For example, create a subfolder Characters and within it create a folder for each character. These character folders can contain a photo of someone you want to base your character on, clothes they might wear, things they might own, and a character profile document.

For Setting you can include images, maps, and a setting profile document containing all your notes about the various settings in your novel: worlds, cities, weather patterns, moon phases, rooms, layouts, chase routes, etc.

Research can contain documents supporting your story world, laws, technical information used in your story, articles, letters, etc.

Name a subfolder Drafts. Within that folder create a folder named First Draft which can contain individual chapter or scene files.

You can create a new folder for Revision 1, Revision 2, and so on up to Final Draft. This keeps your original documents safe if you decide you need to go back to a previous version of a chapter, you lose part of a chapter by accidentally erasing it, or the computer crashes in the middle of it.

If you self-publish, create a folder named Formatted Files with subfolders for Kindle, Nook, Create Space, Smashwords, etc.

Next time, we will discuss ways to back up your folders and subfolders.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memos for Plotting

Among other things, today is "National Memo Day." A memo, or in its original, longer form, memorandum, is defined as "a short note designating something to be remembered, especially something to be done or acted upon in the future; reminder."

As a non-plotter, it's important to keep track of ideas, clues, story reveals, character development and all the myriad details that keep those dreaded plot holes and continuity errors at bay.

Some writers use lengthy outlines, some jot notes on legal pads, some use voice recordings (I know one author who dictates all his novels while hiking), some keep a separate document file, or use a program like Scrivener to help them keep track of their stories.

I use a foam core board and sticky notes, and it's as close as I can get to plotting.

There's no particular ordering of my notes. If I place a clue in chapter 6, I'll note it on my board. Then, when it's dealt with, I can toss the note. As the book progresses, my board gets emptier, unlike my story tracking board, which gets fuller. (But that's another topic.)

And, as a non-plotter, I don't know a lot about my story at the beginning. As I write a scene, or, more likely, when my critique partners give me their feedback, I might realize that Adam should have a laptop. Or that Derek's ranch is losing money. Or who put the envelope in Sabrina's coat pocket?
Character ideas get noted as well, such as Derek's love for big words, so I can remember to adjust his dialogue as needed. And, since I write mystery-themed books, there are always clues and questions that crop up. I don't want readers wondering what happened to that gun on the mantel in chapter three. (Chekov's gun rule).

Or worse, why there's a dog in chapter one, and he hasn't appeared again and I'm writing chapter thirty-six. My board will have lots of question notes, because I'm always asking myself why or how something could happen. Some of them need to be answered sooner than others, but at least there's less of a chance of me forgetting to deal with them. And, when the writing slogs, it's nice to have a reminder that you haven't mentioned what kind of a car Merry has, and that's a quick and easy fix.

I do prefer to keep moving forward, but I also prefer to fix problems before they're going to require dealing with a 350 page manuscript. There are always times when I'm waiting on research, or have only a short block of time to work. That's when I can look at my board, and go back and deal with some of my notes. Like getting Charlie the dog into a few more scenes.

How do you keep track of your story?

(And, on another note, I have a new release, Deadly Production, and I'm offering it at the introductory price of 99 cents through the end of May.)

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kindle Scout

My book, Indiscretion, has been on Amazon’s Kindle Scout program for an entire week as of today. It’s been on and off the “Hot and Trending” list, which I guess is natural. This is measured by how many people read the sample and nominate my book during a thirty-day period. I’ve done some promotion, but there’s a fine line between promo and overkill. I try to be cognizant of where that line is. That said, self-promotion has never been an easy fit for me.

So what is Kindle Scout, you ask? This is from the Kindle Scout website:

“Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

Bloggers have debated the pros and cons of the program. From my point of view, the answer depends on where you are in the publishing world. I’ve self-published seven books with Amazon. The difference with Kindle Scout, besides the nice advance, unheard of for an indie writer, is the strength of Amazon’s marketing that I wouldn’t get otherwise.

No longer can writers just write. Due to the increased number of indie and hybrid writers and the plethora of free book promotions, we must now be creative to keep our books from falling into obscurity, in contrast to those days when I first started, way back in 2011. We now pay companies to advertise our free or specially priced promotions to their huge reader mailing lists, many times at high costs. The outlay is usually refunded by greater sales. We are social media experts, bloggers, promotional gurus, Pinterest pinners, LinkedIn joiners, Google+ members, and Twitter tweeters. We join groups to support each other and share writing tips and posts about the things we learn on our writing journey.

In order to submit to the program, Amazon Scout insists on a professional cover, editing, and formatting. If my book is chosen by reader nominations and the Amazon Scout Powers-That-Be, it will receive a complete edit.

I created the cover for Indiscretion, but after 25 years as an illustrator, and eight book covers under my belt (one for my alter ego), I have no problem immodestly calling my covers professionally designed. I would have to meet the same criteria if I decided to self-publish, so I’m used to the parameters established by Kindle Scout. From what I’ve tracked, most of the books chosen in the first few groups are doing well.

I tried something new with Indiscretion. I incorporated an actual crime, Boston’s 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, with a fictional story. SO, unwilling to miss an opportunity, here’s my pitch for Indiscretion in 500 characters or less:

“Separated from her controlling husband, romance author Zoe Swan meets a charismatic art history professor on the beach and begins a torrid affair. But who is he really? By the time Zoe finds out, she’s on the run with her husband, his jewel thief brother, and a priceless painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the FBI and the murderer in pursuit, the trio heads to Boston. The only way to prove their innocence is to make a deal with the very people who want them dead.”

There’s a sample on the site. If you like what you read and would like to read more (if my book is picked, everyone who nominated it receives an electronic copy), consider clicking “Nominate me.” Sorry for the blatant self-promotion.

Here’s the link.

Thank you kindly if you do.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Manual Dexterity

So there you are, clattering away at the keyboard and filling page after page with enthralling dialogue and vivid imagery. Suddenly, your fingers halt as your brain wrestles with a question of grammar. You have a sentence in mind, but you’re not quite sure if the phrasing is acceptable.

What do you do?

Do you forge ahead, risking potential editorial wrath? Do you take the not-quite-easy way out and re-write the entire line, thus avoiding grammatical conflict?


You grab that coat by the lapels and consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Now in its sixteenth edition, the CMOS gives definite and definitive answers to your most pressing prose questions. Is the singular they acceptable, or is the more formal (if slightly stilted) he or she required? Are social titles always abbreviated? What on earth is an em dash, and when should you employ one?

Even a first-time reader will find that the CMOS is user-friendly, with clearly marked sections, a cross-referenced index, and a how-to section for editors. After a few consultations, you’ll have no trouble flipping to the correct page for the answer to almost any question.

While it’s not the sole authority on composition—publishers often have a house style, and other countries have established rules of their own—the CMOS is an excellent reference for novice and novelist alike.

Oh, dear. There is one thing that the Chicago Manual of Style can’t help with, and that is bailing out a flooded basement. Three and a half inches of rain in an equal number of hours? Sigh. Thankfully, my sweaters are stored in the attic. Have a lovely week, everyone. Stay dry, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Grateful that any bailing to be done does not involve jail, The Style Maven makes up for a chronic lack of sleep by consuming vast amounts of caffeine. You can read about the adventures of her alter ego, The Procraftinator, here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Late Bloomers

In 2011, the Oscar for writing was given to David Seidler for The King’s Speech. He was 73, and it was his first Oscar and first nomination. In his acceptance speech he said his father had told him he’d be a late bloomer. The audience laughed, since obviously his father was right. David Seidler also said he hoped that his record as the oldest person to win this particular award was broken quickly and often.

I’m with him. Some might say I’m a late bloomer too, because I didn’t start my writing career in earnest (that is, quit my ‘day job’ and went full time) until I was nearly 50.

My writing flowers may have begun to bloom in the autumn of my life, but I had plenty of other flowers blooming in the springtime too. Who says we have to plant the same flowers all our lives? Like tulips in the spring, sunflowers in the summer, dahlias in the fall, and poinsettias in the winter, we can bloom in every season of our lives.

As David Seidler and other late bloomers like him show us, it is never too late to bloom. We live in a youth-worshipping society, and that is so sad. Youth is beautiful, but it’s only one part of life. Age is beautiful too. If we denigrate age, we should not be surprised when we are denigrated ourselves when we’re no longer young.

It’s always struck me as silly that no one wants to die young, but no one wants to get old either. Yet, those are your only choices. If you don’t die when you’re young, you will get old. I think we need to adjust our attitudes. The David Seidlers of the world help us do that.

We writers are lucky. You’re never too old to write. Plus you just might have more to write about when you’re old than when you’re young.

Bloom early, bloom late – the important thing is to bloom.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 10 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, May 15, 2015

Different Gardens

Creating a beautiful flower garden is an art—whether it’s to grow May flowers, bright summer blooms, or richly-hued blossoms that rival autumn leaves for vibrant color. Great writing is also an art, and flowers can play a vital role in our stories—from the bouquet that delights the protagonist to the vase of buds that sends chills down the back of a terrified character.

Covers, too, offer great opportunities for flowers to promote our stories. One of my new branding techniques is to include some kind of flower on each of my book covers, and I've updated my first two cozy thrillers to reflect that. Treacherous Tango, for example, now depicts a black rose with drops of blood falling onto it from the title. A Brother Betrayed shows a yellow rose licked menacingly by raging flames. Both bear significant relevancy to the stories within—a necessity if a reader is to tell my book by its cover. No matter how gorgeous or striking a cover may be, it will let the reader down if it’s false advertising. Personally, I am first drawn to any book by its cover, but I am put off if, after reading it, I discover that cover has not honestly portrayed something important about the story.

However, the application of flowers to writing extends beyond covers and content. Symbolically, we begin our writing careers as fragile buds. With appropriate preparation (learning our craft), proper cultivation (developing a basic storyline, outline, and character sketches; doing necessary research), planting (sitting down and beginning to write), weeding (eliminating passages that don’t move the story forward), and fertilizing (editing), those buds mature into gorgeous blossoms that grace library shelves and readers’ bookcases. Isn’t that what we all want to happen?

(Books shown here are currently unavailable but are scheduled to be reissued this summer: A Brother Betrayed in June and Treacherous Tango in August.)

Do you use flowers in your writing? Have you utilized them to raise tension and cultivate emotion? Did you ever compare your development as a writer to planting a rose (or any flower) garden?
Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at Coming soon:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Writer and the Secret Fan

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee
When I read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret FanI was captivated by the idea of two women sharing a history by exchanging notes in the folds of a fan. I teach young writers for Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and I decided to create an exercise using fans. The opening of a fan is a vivid metaphor for storytelling.

I often talk to writers about scenes in terms of opening a fan or accordion. It’s a dynamic way of visualizing the question, “What’s happening between the lines?”

Sometimes we get so caught up in pushing a scene from point A to point B that we glide over opportunities for a more intimate look at the character’s experience. We may offer sensory descriptions, but overlook imbuing those descriptions with the way a character's emotional state and personal history affects the way the view looks, the way tones sound, the memories that smells evoke. We may write dialogue, but neglect to reveal the physical tells or intruding thoughts that communicate more than spoken words alone. Or, we may dart from action to action, instead of pausing to drive home the impact of each action.

When I see the scene as a fan, I envision unfolding its inner life, exposing things I didn’t know were there, revealing what’s under the surface. Closed, it simply looks like red-and-gold paper, but open it up and...ooh, look at the white crane hidden inside! The fan reveals layers, and so does the scene, opening opportunities for surprise.

Here’s my favorite part of the fan metaphor: fans are fun! I've seen writers young and old respond to this idea.

I recently taught an elementary school workshop in which we used construction paper folded into fans. (In truth, they looked more like window shades.) Each sheet yielded about five creases, or ten folds—twenty if you count the back. I asked the children to write five lines from their stories-in-progress into every other fold, leaving the folds in between blank.

Then I asked them to write a new sentence into each blank fold, one that offered more detail about what happened in the previous sentence. The goal was to read all ten sentences in order and have them make sense as a scene.

Some kids grasped the idea, opening up the story with new sentences. Others simply rewrote the sentences they had already written. Either interpretation was fine, because they all expanded their scenes with more details.

That same week, while giving a talk to parents on the subject of creativity, I had them try a variation of the fan exercise. They wrote a flash-fiction story on every other line. Then they added sentences in between. Afterward, several looked up in surprised delight, and a couple of them said, “This really is a better story!”

The folds do more than you might think, because you cannot get away with simply making the scene longer. Instead, the new information must illuminate what’s already there. Otherwise it won’t flow with the rest of the story.

There are many possible variations on the fan exercise, such as: 1) write dialogue on every other line, and then add physical tells or internal monologue in between, 2) tell a group story in which each person contributes one line, or 3) create a fictional correspondence between two people à la Lisa See. 

I’m preparing for a summer writing camp at Lighthouse, and my fellow instructor and I want to order either white folding fans or a fan-making kit. I love writing on objects that have another purpose, such as paper cups, cereal boxes, or even airline barf bags. (Those are fun for letters because you can tuck in the tabs to create a self-contained envelope.) I believe when we take writing into a three-dimensional space we open ourselves and our stories to reveal more than we first imagined.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles TimesDenver PostConnotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.


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