Thursday, July 11, 2019

What Type of Story Gardener Are You?

How often have you answered the question, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” with “I’m a bit of both” or “I’m somewhere in the middle”, or something along that line?

In this video, at around the 50:30 mark, you can listen to Carrie Vaughn and Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) author George RR Martin discussing their approaches to writing and referring to “architects” and “gardeners”, which is an analogy Martin has used before instead of “plotter” and “pantser”. Presuming Martin is referring to landscape architecture (as opposed to building architecture, which would make less sense used as a metaphor alongside gardening) this analogy gives us a spectrum of different writing approaches, rather than the more dualistic argument of pantsing versus plotting.

The Landscape Architect

Like a professional landscape architect who has to produce an extremely detailed blueprint of their proposed design, sometimes down to the actual species and number of plants that are to be planted in each section, the author on this end of the spectrum first plans out their book in great detail. This might particularly apply to a non-fiction author who has to get approval from a publisher, or a traditionally-published fiction author sending in a proposal for several books in a series. Authors of fantasy, science fiction, and historical novels might also be in this group due to the world-building and research aspects of these genres. If you enjoy developing character profiles/biographies, in-world encyclopedias, and what I like to call fictionaries (fictional dictionaries) pertaining to the world of your book(s) then you might fit somewhere in this section.

The Landscape Gardener

A little more hands-on from the beginning, this author creates a relatively quick sketch before digging in to the work itself. This author probably has a lot of experience and now knows where they can take shortcuts. Like a landscape gardener who takes soils samples in order to work with or alter the pH of the soil or the drainage conditions, authors in this column continually analyse their market and know their genre extremely well.

The Sculpture Gardener

Like the artists in charge of beautiful public and private manor gardens which require a great deal of vision and a lot of time pruning and shaping and attention to symmetry and elegance, these authors spend a lot of time on rewriting and editing to create a true work of art.

The Botanical Gardener

These authors pay strict attention to themes and/or accuracy. They might collect notes on, or write about, a bit of everything, but they are well organised and logical in their output.

The Farmer

Working hard to produce a large volume of nourishing work that brings in an income, writers in this field might be producing articles, text books, early reader books, quick chapter book series, or even what was called “pulp” fiction in the past. To be this prolific requires a solid system, professional tools, and commitment to regular high-quality writing that needs as little editing as possible. Farmers cannot operate without the back-up of their families or paid staff since this kind of workload leaves little time for distractions such as holidays, leisure time, or even housework.

The Vegetable Gardener

Perhaps less prolific than the farmer, these are authors who are working to produce books as quickly as possible, but they also have pesky loads of laundry to deal with. Concentrating on getting the words right as much as possible in the first draft can help to cut down on time-consuming rewrites, getting those books out to harvest on a regular cycle.

The Constant Gardener

This is the writer who must write, who cannot breathe without writing. Daily “morning pages” are like fresh air. Getting words on the page is the only goal. But with all this time immersed in the work, this author notices everything that needs attention and the necessary pruning and shaping happens organically. Just as new projects arise out of this gardener’s awareness of how their garden is used and enjoyed by others, so the author using this approach understands what their readers want and need and tries to bring joy and usefulness into being by the way they shape their works.

The Weekend Gardener

Like the average person with a day job who escapes into their garden on the weekend, these authors have other commitments that leave them only a very specific window of time in which to write. These authors would benefit from keeping detailed notes and a solid planning system so that they can easily pick up where they left off and get writing. It also pays to aim for clean copy in the early drafts to avoid spending precious hours on rewriting and editing.

The Cottage Gardener

The cottage gardener doesn’t do much planning, instead choosing plants mostly on a whim or through long experience and trial and error. They may be set in their ways, or willing to plant anything once. They might take cuttings from plants in a friend’s garden. Likewise, the cottage author is attracted to a variety of different genres, doesn’t plan much beyond the initial idea and perhaps the ending, may abandon a work-in-progress in favour of a new idea, and usually prefers to let the characters and story develop organically through the writing process. Some might enjoy writing fan fiction, or building upon classical stories and motifs, or collaborating with a co-author or illustrator.

The Wildflower Gardener

This author does no planning whatsoever. They arrive on the garden of their page and scatter the seeds that come in the moment. The plants of their words are allowed to grow where they will and the author does little more than the equivalent of watering, nourishing, and any obvious weeding (always bearing in mind that what looks like a weed today might be the prize of the garden in a few weeks). The wildflower author is content to soak up the beauty of placing words on the page and enjoy the surprise of what those words become. Many poets find themselves in this column.

Over to you. Have I left any gardeners out? Where do you fit in such a spectrum? Has this given you (ahem) food for thought? Are you using the most beneficial writing approach for the body of work you’re trying to produce and the time and resources you have to work with? Do you need to consider a different approach?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at or

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Writers Independence Day

Known for its celebration of Independence Day in the U.S., the month of July inspired this discussion about a different kind of independence—one desired by a number of fiction writers. This Independence Day, however, is not observed on a specific date. It is celebrated any time an author chooses to step outside the proverbial box when writing a story from the heart.

What exactly is Writers Independence Day?

A recent BRP comment comparing genre fiction to literary fiction made me revisit those diverse methods of story writing. The person who wrote the comment stated she had not to date found a literary fiction book that engaged her sufficiently to make her finish it. No words exploded off the page to keep her reading. In what way does literary fiction differ from genre fiction?

Several years ago, when I began researching how a book qualifies as being one genre or another, I discovered that specific rules dictate the writing of a genre story. These formulaic guidelines had to be followed for a manuscript to be accepted in a given genre by a big publishing house. Being a bit of a nonconformist, I rebelled at the thought of adhering to certain rules. Nonetheless, I couldn't argue against the successes of books written by guideline-following authors. For generations those books have been extremely popular with huge numbers of loyal readers.

Called escapism by some reviewers, genre fiction entertains its readers in a world of make believe. Typically plot-driven stories do not require strong, three-dimensional characters, although they're welcomed. Great writing is a plus and often recommends a story on just that merit. I have dubbed genre fiction as extroverted fiction. Why? It lures the reader out of himself/herself and into a place where personal problems can be temporarily put aside.

Literary fiction doesn't do that. Powerful characters bare souls and secrets, pulling readers into their emotional journeys. Happy endings may occur, but they're not guaranteed. Rather than allowing readers to escape the rigors of reality, literary fiction draws them into characters' lives and circumstances that may parallel a reader's own situation. Often eloquently written, its carefully chosen words can profoundly affect readers by granting them unexpected and occasionally disconcerting personal insight and self-realization. I call literary fiction introverted fiction because of its effect on the reader's (and writer's) self.

As noted previously, genre fiction usually follows rules that determine when, where, and how a particular event occurs and what obstacles lie between the beginning and end of a book. In other words, the author may not be allowed free rein regarding the tale's development, trajectory, and ending.

Writers of literary fiction have a free hand in developing their stories.This freedom—or independence from publishers' rules—allows the author and the characters to journey from beginning to end without imposed inclusions or restrictions. However, that independence imposes heavy writer responsibility to readers. The author must keep theme, characters, trajectory, and purpose from going astray.

The above is not intended to discourage anyone from writing a literary novel. To the contrary, I prefer literary writing. Just keep in mind that, while hard and fast guidelines may be nonexistent, the rules of good writing always apply. In fact, literary prose may indeed be a beautiful work of word art, painting a picture in the reader's mind so vivid and so real that it reduces that reader to laughter or tears as though he or she were a participant or close observer in the depicted scene.

It's important to remember that traditional houses may not be open to accepting literary works for publication. Historically, such books are often not great sellers. If a work is rejected on this basis, what's a literary writer to do? Some smaller publishers may not enforce the guidelines of the past and therefore may be viable options. Self-publishing, sometimes referred to as independent publishing, might also be a possibility.

Authors who opt to write literary novels control story content and trajectory in order to create a work in the best possible way to convey their message. Those who take the leap into this uncharted territory—silently celebrating their self-declared Writers Independence Day—must always bring to their readers a well-written, memorable tale.

One final thought: Boredom is not a requirement. A literary story can be as exciting, compelling, and dynamic as any genre novel. It's all up to the author.

Do you know the differences between genre and literary fiction? (See the list below for articles that discuss several dissimilarities.) Have you ever written a literary work? Do you read literary fiction? If so, who are your favorite authors?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thriller stories. You can contact her at her websites: and

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Give Your Book a Listen

Is the story on the page the same as the story in your head?  When you finish revision and final proofreading rounds, it is a good idea to give your finished manuscript a listen. 

The process of listening to the narration highlights problems such as:

1. Smoothness of flow.

2. Awkward transitions between scenes or chapters.

3. Repetitive word usage.

4. Clunky, run-on, or repetitive dialogue and dialogue tags.

5. Missing and redundant information.

6. Awkward choreography of action scenes.

7. Boring passages.

8. Ratio of narrative versus dialogue and action.

9. Spelling and grammar errors.

10. Missing words.

Unless you can bribe or coerce someone to read your story to you, there are several tools to do the task. Most of them are free, or free for the basic program. Some offer additional voices or functions at a cost. The "narrators" sometimes stumble over words, but it won't insert words that aren't there the way your mind fills in gaps as you read.

Having your story read aloud gives you an idea of how your manuscript might sound as an audio book. Some programs give you the option of turning the narration into an audio file. But please, for the love of books, don't upload the file as an audio book. Audio books are more complex than that. They require a script and file specifications not provided by a text to speech program.

Learn more about audio book production:

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.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Writers Gotta Read, Right? – June is bustin' out all over

It's JUNE, the start of summer and perhaps a little more reading time for us all. If you delve into this list of June holidays, there's a mountain of holiday themes to plan your reading around. So, without further ado, here are a few holiday-themed June reading lists.

Earlier this month, BRP blogger Maryann Miller offered up some Father's Day reads. Here are a few additional lists to consider:
 Now, how about the rest of the month? Well, June is Gay Pride month.

Image by Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay
One reason to hold your rainbow flag high with pride is all the LGBT+ book lists out and about. Here's a sample.
Also, as BRP blogger Linda Lane noted in her post of June 13th, the month includes a lot of chocolate holidays. 
 June is also Candy Month (!!), Aquarium Month, and National Adopt a Cat Month. What's more, June 4 is Hug Your Cat Day. However if I were to list all the books involving cats, well, this post would be very, very long.

We'd love to hear what's on your reading list for June. Please share the title of a book you are currently reading and what you think of it so far.
Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit for more information.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A National Month (or Twelve) Just for Me

There’s a big fat whirlpool trying to suck me back into total retirement mode. It lures me closer with its siren song of book titles (novels and non-fiction releases) I want to read, hobbies I want to revisit, new skills I want to learn (like playing that stupid ukulele I bought).

What is constantly being pushed to the bottom of my priority list? Writing, revising, editing, blogging, and everything related.

In order to keep up with my critique group, I’ve switched to submitting hurried first drafts of short stories which I intend to submit to anthologies if I get around to revising and submitting before the deadlines. I did get two stories submitted to two different anthologies. One was accepted and will appear in Five Star’s November 2019 release of The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West.

I haven’t heard back about the submission to the Northern Colorado Writers 2019 Anthology called Rise (which has beautiful cover art).

Two other organizations I belong to have announced anthologies as well. If I can pull myself together long enough to produce a completed story for each, I’ll be amazed. The whirlpool is pulling me closer, my Want to Read stack is calling, and then there are those new Netflix releases (Dead to Me and Murder Mystery).

As I tried to think of decent blog topics for here and for my own blog, I looked for the usual prompts, especially those wonderful lists of National Months, Weeks, and Days in June. There were important observances there, but none that seemed to really fit my mood.

What I needed was a National Lollygagging Month. Or a National Put Off Until Tomorrow Month.


I pulled back from the whirlpool as my weird little brain took off on a brainstorming rant of national months that don’t exist but should:

National Spring Fever Month
National Summer Doldrums Month
National Relaxation Month (There is a Relaxation Day on August 15th, clearly not enough)
National Goof Off Month (Goof Off Day was March 22nd)
National Do Nothing Month (Nothing Day was January 16th)
National Take Time Off Month
National Procrastination Month (There was a Procrastination Week in early March--I probably participated without realizing it was official)

And especially for us writers:

National Do Not Write a Word Month, and
National Writer’s Block Month

That’s eleven. Does anyone have a suggestion to fill in that 12th slot? That would cover me for a whole year of lollygagging! Just think how many books I could read.

While I’m at it, let me highly recommend two novels from Colorado authors Charlotte Hinger (The Healer’s Daughter) and Peter Heller (The River). Charlotte’s vivid and poignant novel is historical fiction based on the true story of the all-black Kansas community Nicodemus, established just after the Civil War. Peter’s novel is a literary adventure thriller with so much tension you need to set the book down once in a while to catch your breath.

Happy reading (and lollygagging).

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Seven Books I Love

A friend on Facebook tagged me a few weeks ago to name seven books I loved. In no particular order, here are my seven choices and why I loved them.

1. Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane. To me, Mystic River is the perfect crime novel. It starts when three boys are playing in the street, and a big car pulls up. A man who claims to be a cop chooses the one boy who doesn’t live on the street and tells him to get into the car. He does. The story picks up about thirty years later, and how that one incident comes back to haunt them all. By the way, I crossed the Mystic River Bridge, now known as the Tobin Bridge, every day going to college.

2. Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Kruger. A coming of age novel where a middle-age man looks back on his thirteen-year old life and the death of a friend and the family members who shaped his manhood. Beautifully written and evocative of time and place.

3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Again, the main character looks back on his childhood in Afghanistan at a time when the country was on the verge of revolution. It’s a story of friendship, betrayal, and redemption. It’s not an easy read in some places, and I cried for its power.

4. The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton. The main character, mute since the age of eight, finds the one thing he can do better than anyone is open locks. Of course, this leads him to a life of crime. He lands in prison at the age of eighteen, which is where he narrates his story. That leads to uncovering the tragedy that rendered him mute. Loved the character because for me, great characters are why I read.

5. The Other Wife, by Michael Robotham. It’s not fair to pick just one of Robotham’s Joe O’Laughlin series, because they’re all terrific, as are his standalone novels. In this one, Joe discovers his parents’ sixty-year marriage isn’t what he thought when his father is brutally attacked, and there’s a strange woman, covered in blood, crying at his bedside. Joe is a psychologist with Parkinson’s Disease. The symptoms progress along with the series, but Joe forges on. Each book stands alone, but if you can, read them in order.

6. L.A. Requiem, by Robert Crais. An Elvis Cole/Joe Pike book, and the first one that highlights Joe, who is one of my favorite characters in crime fiction, along with Will Trent in Karin Slaughter’s series. I was never a big fan of the wise-cracking Cole, preferring the darker Pike. This is one of the few books I’ve read twice, so take that with a grain of quinoa.

7. Iron House, by John Hart. This is a dark story of two brothers discarded by their mother into a freezing river and rescued by hunters. One is a newborn, the other is ten months old; one is weak, the other strong. They wind up in Iron Mountain House for Boys. That violent beginning shapes the divergent paths thrust upon them into adulthood. It’s a haunting, beautifully written story.

Honorable Mention, or a few other books that easily could have been one of the seven: The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd; Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; The Bone Collector, by Jeffrey Deaver, The English Girl, by Daniel Silva, Dixie City Jam, by James Lee Burke, and of course, a book on almost everyone's best list, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. 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.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

June and Chocolate Go Together Like Love and Marriage

June 3 is National Chocolate Macaroons Day.
June 7 is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day.
June 11 is National German Chocolate Cake Day.
June 16 is National Fudge Day (chocolate, of course).
June 20 is National Ice Cream Soda (a personal chocolate story's attached to this one).
June 22 is National Chocolate Eclair Day.
June 26 is National Chocolate Pudding Day.
June 27 is National Ice Cream Cake Day (definitely chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream).

In case you haven't guessed by now, I'm an incurable chocoholic. For as long as I can remember, chocolate has topped my list of favorite treats—with one temporary (thankfully) exception. More on this later.

My feelings about chocolate can best be stated by the following poem (and with profound apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning):

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My arm can reach, when hidden out of sight
The creamy, sweet confection that I crave.
I love thee purely, as on thee I gaze.
I love thee more as each and ev'ry day's
Most yearning need, both morning and at night.
I love thee freely—thou art my delight.
I love thee with the passion known to those
Who long for choc'late's gift of sweet repose.
Upon the tongue thee slowly melts away
And transforms doldrums to a special day.
I love thee with a love I'll never lose
As long as I retain the right to choose.
When on the day I draw my final breath,
When friends and loved ones all around me stand,
I'll go smiling full of sweetness to my death.
And bequeath all my choc'lates to their hands.

Now comes the story of the chocolate soda. When I was about four years old, my family traveled from Indiana to Wisconsin on a bus to visit my dad's sister. Just before getting back on a bus to head home, my mother bought me my favorite treat—a chocolate soda.

As a youngster who had occasional bouts of motion sickness, I probably still lacked the foresight to choose a less dangerous treat. Mama, on the other hand, should have known better. (I don't remember crying and begging for the soda, but then it's been more than three-quarters of a century ago.)

Long story short: my stomach was not pleased with my food choice, so it decided to throw it back at me . . . or rather at the Catholic priest who sat on the seat next to me. Fortunately for this embarrassed little girl and her even more embarrassed mother, he was the epitome of graciousness and understanding, never once complaining because he had to wear my soda all the way to his destination.

I obviously survived this humiliating experience, but I was a teenager before ever daring to drink another chocolate soda. Do any of you have embarrassing moments involving chocolate—or June?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her at websites: and