Saturday, September 29, 2012

Books, Glorious Writing Books

I confess. I’m one of those people who reads books about writing. A lot of them. I suppose it’s the teacher in me – we tend to be perpetual students, always looking for something new to learn, to reinforce, to pass on.

Since buying Kindle and Nook e-readers, I’ve also downloaded a number of new books, many of them free and available only in e-book format (one of the boons of e-writing programs like Kindle and Smashwords, available to us all).

One new book stands out in caliber and focus — The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make UsHuman by Jonathan Gottschall. Presented in entertaining categories that read like a thriller, the premises are firmly based in brain science. The author dishes out facts in palatable bites about why humans not only have a taste for story, but why almost everyone cooks up fantasies as real as their very lives. In fact, we spend more of our mental functions involved with imagination than with any actual physical tasks at hand.

Here are a few morsels from the book:
 Tens of thousands of years ago, when the human mind was young and our numbers were few, we were telling one another stories. And now, tens of thousands of years later, when our species teems across the globe, most of us still hew strongly to myths about the origins of things, and we still thrill to an astonishing multitude of fictions on pages, on stages, and on screens — murder stories, sex stories, war stories, conspiracy stories, true stories and false. We are, as a species, addicted to story.
 Our responses to fiction are now being studied at a neuronal level. When we see something scary or sexy or dangerous in a film, our brains light up as though that thing were happening to us, not just to a cinematic figment.
 Every night of our sleeping lives, we wander through an alternate dimension of reality… While the body lies dormant, the restless brain improvises original drama in the theaters of our minds.
The storytelling mind is a crucial evolutionary adaptation. It allows us to experience our lives as coherent, orderly, and meaningful. It is what makes life more than a blooming, buzzing confusion.
We have religion because, by nature, we abhor explanatory vacuums. In sacred fiction, we find the master confabulations of the storytelling mind.
Don’t let moralists tell you that fiction degrades society’s moral fabric. On the contrary, even the pulpiest fare usually pulls us together around common values.
Story — sacred and profane — is perhaps the main cohering force in human life.
Does the book sound intriguing to you yet? Here’s more from noted neuro-scientist, Dr. David Eagleman, in his review of the book for the New York Times.

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. She writes, edits, critiques manuscripts, blogs, and is Special Projects Coordinator for Little Pickle Press. In her spare time, she knits. Much of her incessant musing involves air guitar.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Conflict and Suspense Belong in Every Kind of Novel

Please welcome bestselling author and popular writing seminar leader James Scott Bell to The Blood-Red Pencil! His guest post addresses our back-to school theme about new writing books by introducing his newest from Writer's Digest Books—Conflict & SuspenseIts advice will help any author keep the reader turning pages.

What is the goal of the novel? Is it to entertain? Teach? Preach? Stir up anger? Change the world? Make the author a lot of money?

It can be any of these things, but in the end, none of these objectives will work to their full potential unless they forge, in some way, a satisfying emotional experience for the reader.

And what gets the reader hooked emotionally? Trouble. Readers are gripped by the terrible trials a character goes through. (There are psychological reasons for this that are beyond the scope of this post.)

That's where conflict comes in. While there are writers who say plot comes from character, let me say that's too simplistic. Character actually comes from plot. Why? Because true character is only revealed in crisis. Put your character into big trouble (plot) and then we'll see what he or she is made of (character). If you don't believe me, imagine a 400-page novel about Scarlett O'Hara where she just sits on the porch all day, sipping mint juleps and flirting. Gone With the Wind only takes off when she finds out Ashley is going to marry Melanie (trouble) and then the Civil War breaks out (big trouble!).

Another way to think about it is this: we all wear masks in our lives. A major crisis forces us to take off the mask and reveal who we really are. That's the role of conflict in fiction: to rip the mask off the character.

Now, this conflict must be of sufficient magnitude to matter to readers. That's why I teach that "death stakes" must be involved. Your lead character must be facing death—which can be physical, professional, or psychological.

Genre doesn't matter. In a literary novel like The Catcher in the Rye, it's psychological death. Holden Caulfield must find meaning in the world or he will "die inside." Psychological death is also the key to a category romance. If the two lovers do not get together, they will lose their soul mate. They will die inside and forever have diminished lives (That's the feeling you need to create. Think about it. Why was Titanic such a hit with teen girls? It wasn't because of the special effects!).

In The Silence of the Lambs, it's professional death on the line. Clarice Starling must help bring down Buffalo Bill in part by playing mind games with Hannibal Lecter. If she doesn't prevail, another innocent will die (physical death in the subplot) and Clarice's career will be over.

And in most thrillers, of course, you have the threat of physical death hanging over the whole thing.

That's why, novelist friend, trouble is indeed your business. Without sufficient conflict readers aren't going to care enough to finish the book.

The second element is suspense, and I don't just mean in the suspense novel per se. Suspense means to "delay resolution so as to excite anticipation." Another way to say this is that it's the opposite of having a predictable story. If the reader keeps guessing what's going to happen, and is right, there is no great pleasure in reading the novel.

Thanks Jim! For more on how to deliver memorable conflict and spine-tingling suspense that grips your reader by the imagination and never lets go, check out Jim's latest book, Conflict & Suspense.

James Scott Bell, a former trial lawyer, now writes and speaks full time. A former fiction columnist for Writer's Digest Magazine, he has written four craft books for Writer’s Digest Books: Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers, and Conflict & Suspense. His popular titles include thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie; he is at work on two series, pulp style boxing stories featuring Irish Jimmy Gallagher and the vigilante nun series Force of Habit; and under the pen name K. Bennett he is also the author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series, which begins with Pay Me in Flesh.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Our Century-Old Grammar Watchdog: The Chicago Manual of Style

Since its first edition came out in 1906, The Chicago Manual of Style has set the standard for formal, grammatical, American English writing. Published by the University of Chicago Press, the sixteenth edition—which is 104 years younger than the original—will soon yield place to the seventeenth, currently in the works.

We all know grammar rules have undergone major changes since 1906. What keeps such an old style guide relevant in today’s very different and rapidly evolving media world?

A book that covers the gamut of editorial practice from grammar and usage to document preparation and from novel writing to preparing a doctoral thesis must by its very nature be massive, as well as intimidating. Add to that the fact that it also includes full explanations of proper references, footnote/endnote citations, bibliography, and extensive information on formatting and you have a serious writing tool. Can you even imagine researching, preparing, editing, and proofing such a book as a full-time job? Keep in mind that the current edition exceeds 1000 pages!

According to Wikipedia, the sixteenth edition can be had in hardcover or online. (The fifteenth is also available online.) “The online edition includes the searchable text of both . . . editions with features such as tools for editors, a citation guide summary, and searchable access to a Q&A, where University of Chicago Press editors answer readers’ style questions. An annual subscription is required for access to the content of the Manual,” but the Q&A can be accessed free. If you think you might find the CMOS useful, you can take advantage of the 30-day free trial subscription offered on the Chicago Manual of Style website. You can also tour the site, an excellent idea if you want to get a real understanding of the power offered by this comprehensive writing and editing tool.

Historically, the time lapse between editions has varied from one year to twenty years. The variations are based on the speed with which the publishing industry changes, and now ranges between five and ten years. The tremendous growth of the Internet and resultant resources that are now available to writers and all others has opened doors never before available to the masses, and the CMOS has kept up with the times and the needs of the writing public. Likely, those who worked on that first edition in 1906 never imagined where their fledgling publication would be today. But it has withstood the test of time by growing and changing with the times to meet the ever-evolving needs of the publishing industry.

Do you use The Chicago Manual of Style? Have you visited the website? Why not take the tour today and tell us what you think?

Style Maven 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 through websites: and

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meet the Plot Whisperer

Today I'm pleased to turn the Blood Red Pencil over to Martha Alderson, a writing coach who has a series of books and workbooks to help writers at all stages of their writing careers.

I'm intrigued by your title, Plot Whisperer. How did you come up with the idea to call yourself that?

The short version is that, years ago, when I first started teaching plot, writers called me the Plot Queen. I never really liked that title, so, when it came time to start a blog, I surveyed friends and family and writers for ideas on what to name the blog. Because the blog is based on plot consultations with writers, someone came up with Plot Whisperer. The name stuck.

I'm familiar with a horse whisperer or a dog whisperer. I'm trying to see how their techniques apply to your program. Do you encourage writers to "stare down their plot?" (Smile)

Great idea! I’ll have to try that.

During a plot consultation, writers recount the scenes and events, ideas and vision for their stories. I probe for the 4 most important scenes first and then, if appropriate for that writer’s specific needs, we work through the story scene by scene.

In this way I pull the writer away from the word level to view her novel, memoir, or screenplay as a whole. We concentrate on the overall effect of the piece, focusing on the dramatic action plot, the character emotional development for the protagonist and major viewpoint characters, and the thematic (and, when applicable, the historical, romance, and/or mystery) plot structure(s).

Throughout the process, I whisper plot parameters, offer tips on theme and nuance, character and depth, tricks for layering and pacing, all with the hope of reawakening in writers the rhythm of the Universal Story.

What experience and expertise do you bring to your program?

Before I started writing, I founded a speech, language, and learning disability clinic for children. In my work with writers, I join what I know about the ways people learn with what I know about plot from having analyzed hundreds of novels, memoirs, and screenplays.

I developed two unique approaches, the Plot Planner and Scene Tracker, to provide writers with as much sensory feedback as possible at both the overall story level and at the scene level. Writers who can “see” the information with the help of charts, and fill in the templates themselves, do better than only hearing or reading the information.

As an educational specialist, I believe I bring vision, clarity, inspiration and motivation to writers of all ages, and make explicit what writers already know intuitively about the structure of movies and stories to give them a conscious plotting tool.

This is the 2nd book in the Plot Whisperer series. The workbook offers a series of hands-on, practical exercises for the plot and structure ideas found in the core book of the series, The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master.

The workbook focuses you tightly on the structural issues you’ll need to address, and the skills you’ll need to master, in order to develop a compelling plot.

The 3rd book in the Plot Whisperer series is coming out in December. The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts: Easy Exercises to Get You Writing provides daily plot prompts guaranteed to move you from where you are in your imagining and writing to bringing the story all the way to the end.

The Plot Whisperer book provides in-depth explanations for the plot and story structure concepts necessary to create a plot for your story. The PW Workbook gives you a place to pre-plot your story, or, for those further along, a place to test the plot you’ve written. The PW Prompt book helps a writer write the scenes that advance the plot of the story.

I noted in your blog something you called the 4 Energetic Markers. That is something new to me. Can you tell us what that means?

4 scenes or Energetic Markers are found in every novel, memoir, and screenplay. I recommend that as early as possible, writers attempt to identify these four energetic markers and then allow the rest of the story to fall into place around these key scenes.

The energetic markers are: 
  • End of the Beginning
  • Halfway Point
  • Crisis
  • Climax
Is your book geared toward beginning writers or will writers at all stages of their careers find it helpful?

From the feedback I’ve received from writers, the book is appropriate for writers of all writing levels and at every stage of their writing careers.

What do you hope writers will take away from your program?

The skills necessary to write a complete story with a plot.

And now just for fun. What is your family's favorite story to tell on you?

I was a non-verbal dreamer who lived in a fantasy world as a child. Well… though I’m pretty verbal now, I’m still quite a dreamer and I still spend a lot of my time in a fantasy world.

My siblings love to tease me about the time we went to pick up my father from the airport and, in a world of my own, I dragged behind me my sister’s stuffed tiger with no eyes from a rope posing as a leash. Mortified, my brother and sisters walked way ahead of me and pretended not to know me.  


Martha Alderson has taught plot and scene development and historical novel writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz Extension, Writer’s Digest University, Learning Annex, Writer’s Store, writers conferences and in plot workshops.
You can connect with her via the following links:
Plot Whisperer Blog (Best Writing Advice blogs as awarded by Writer's Digest 2009 & 2010 & 2011 & 2012)

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Kindle Grammar Books

My grammar school days are long gone. Much of what I learned is but a dim memory. Thank God for editors!

Still, I do have some pride. I know better than to submit a manuscript to my editor without carefully vetting it first. So, when in doubt, I've been known to check online resources.

I've also discovered another way to get answers. Amazon offers quite an array of Kindle grammar books.

Below you'll find a short list, but there are plenty more grammar books to choose from. I'm not including their prices, since they could change by the time you read this, but at last look SOME WERE FREE!

1. The Grammar of English Grammars by Goold Brown
2. The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need: A One Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment by Susan Thurman
3. English Grammar, Punctuation and Capitalization by Girard Sagmiller
4. Higher Lessons in English A work on English Grammar and Composition by Brainerd Kellogg and Alonzo Reed
5. The Best Little Grammar Book Ever! 101 Ways to Impress With Your Writing and Speaking by Arlene Miller
6. Word Study and English Grammar A Primer of Information about Words, Their Relations and Their Uses by Frederick W. William
7. The Elements of Style 2011 Revised Edition by William Strunk, William Strunk, Jr.
8. Painless Grammar (Barron's Painless) by Rebecca Elliott Ph.D.
9. Practical Grammar and Composition by Thomas Wood
10. Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (Quick and Dirty Tips) by Mignon Fogarty
11.English Grammar For Dummies by Geraldine Woods

For more, check this Link.


Morgan Mandel's recent release on kindle is the romantic comedy, Her Handyman. Her other novels include the thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, the romantic suspense, Killer Career, the romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams, and the mystery, Two Wrongs. She's also a contributor to The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories.

Find Excerpts and Buy Links to Morgan's Books at

Twitter: @MorganMandel

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Brags: Kathryn's Book Deal!

It's Saturday, and I know all your brains are resting, so I'm going to use fewer words and more pictures.

I got a book deal!!!

Yes, this is my actual reaction.

I have a picture of it because the call came in while I was hosting a writing retreat for women at my summer home in northern New York State. There we were, some writing on our own, others conferring.

When an e-mail rang through from my agent, Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Subject: News
Body text: "Call me!"

Those words sparked an emotional charge that had to work its way through my system. Once I calmed down, I called Katie.

The offer was from Sourcebooks, a large independent publisher. Here Katie is telling me the initial offer, and her negotiation strategy. I am sitting in front of my computer screen, which has fallen asleep. I see the retreater who took this picture reflected in it—she's around the corner, where I can't see her directly—but I see her signing to the other women as if to say, "Would she wrap it up already?" They are dying to know what's going on.

They know about the nine years I've been working on this novel, refusing to give up until I got it right. About the 112 rejections I received from agents, until last December when I found Katie, my novel's perfect advocate. They know it's been out on submission since April and that the first round of editors still interested had been dwindling.

I have wanted this so long—indeed worked towards it since my first husband's suicide fifteen years ago—that the news is overwhelming. All of my faith and perseverance, kept aloft by what ever means possible, now exploded with meaning.

More details will follow—I'll be temporarily replacing my "Busted!" series with a new column that will follow my experience with traditional publication.

But for now I just wanted to share the good news. Like I did that night with my retreaters. Let's just flowed, and plenty of vintage dance music played.

What made the news super sweet: I got the call two days before my birthday. My husband, who has somehow kept the faith through all these long years, took me out to dinner. I tried my first chocolate martini (cleverly, my husband got in the picture—you can see him in the mirror behind me snapping this pic with my phone).

And when we got back to Pennsylvania, these arrived:

The first time my husband sent me flowers was when I'd reached to 50,000-word mark on my first novel. He makes me work harder for them these days—but what a journey it's been. One I'll share with you here at the Blood-Red Pencil in my new "first Fridays" column, "Countdown to a Book."

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency and her debut novel is forthcoming from Sourcebooks in late 2013. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Selling a Book By Its Cover

Ask any published writer to talk about cover art, and you’re almost certain to touch off a diatribe on the subject. I myself have had my share of bad book covers, the worst of them arguably being the cover for the second volume of the Adept series which I co-wrote with Katherine Kurtz. Anybody who hadn’t previously read the first book would never have pegged The Lodge of the Lynx for an edgy occult mystery.  On the contrary, the cover painting would have been better suited to a teen adventure romp titled, The Fat Famous Five Go Caving.

This raises the question:  To what extent does cover art influence sales figures?  I.e., can a good cover successfully boost sales of a bad book?  Conversely, can a bad cover scuttle the chances of a good one? 

Regrettably, the answer to both questions is “yes”.

In the first instance, an eye-catching cover can occasionally seduce even a canny reader into buying a lemon represented as passion-fruit.  (We’ve all been had, now and again.)  But this trick only works once.  The next time a glossily packaged title by the same author appears on the shelf of your local book store, you’ll know to give it wide berth.

Matters are more serious in the second instance, where the sales credibility of a good author is at stake.  In the perennial scramble for record-breaking  profits, marketing teams are often less interested in promoting a particular book on the merits of its content than they are in devising a cover concept which they can exploit in their annual sales campaign.  Unfortunately, in some cases this results in conveying mixed messages to the reading public. If this happens, you get stroppy letters from disgruntled readers who bought your book on the strength of erroneous assumptions.  Worse, the people who bought your first book won’t buy your second one, and there’s a better than even chance you’ll end up in the publisher’s sin bin.

When this happens, what can the writer do?  To be brutally frank,  where the big publishing corporations are concerned, the answer is “bugger all.”1  Cover approval is a privilege granted only to best-selling authors – whose books, ironically, would probably sell equally well if they were bound in plain brown paper.

Fortunately, writers can now circumvent the “New York Giants” of the publishing industry to make their books available to their readers by various alternative routes, including self-publication or working through small independent publishing firms.  (See Terry Odell’s excellent and informative post of the 17th of July on the subject of POD publishing.)   This means that writers are no longer at the mercy of a professional marketing team when it comes to selling a book by its cover.  On the contrary, thanks to the wonders of IT, books that don’t fit into the marketing agenda of a big corporation can still reach receptive readers.

1 Readers and writers alike can console themselves with the knowledge that, even when the cover concept fails to sell the book, the marketing teams employed by the big publishing conglomerates still continue to retain their highly paid jobs. 
Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Learning the Craft of Writing

I’m not a big proponent of books on writing. I know, I know, lots of folks swear by them.  From the old Strunk & White to Julie Cameron’s inspirational works and everything in between, writers plow through countless tomes to help them pen that next bestseller. And I’m not saying some study therein isn’t helpful. It surely can be, and there are a couple I recommend, but only in very specific instances.  More to the point, however, is that you can’t learn to write well just by studying the process. Writing is a doing endeavor.

Countless writers query me, wanting to employ my services, who haven’t written much. Perhaps a few chapters, with an idea of where the rest of the book is going. Perhaps even a first draft. Often this is their initial stab at fiction, and, before they’ve even contacted me, they have already signed with an Indy house, have the cover and pub date. Possibly even a publicist. Oy! 

That somewhat boggles my mind. In fact, I won’t work with the latter at all. Serious writers are those willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to learn this very exacting craft. And that doesn’t mean publishing a first effort in its infancy. In the days of yore, those initial efforts routinely ended up in a drawer somewhere, and almost always deservedly so. I’m always fond of quoting the Hemingway story where he lost his first three manuscripts, leaving them on a train. Devastating at the time, but later he said that was the best thing that ever happened to his craft.  

I can and do work with writers at very early stages, but not often. I counsel them to do their own legwork first, and that means, as the mantra goes, to write and write and write some more. Then, study others’ works, which means, of course, read and read and read some more. Oft times, new writers do read, although only in the genre they’re pursuing. But the point is to read widely, including the classics, both pre-twentieth century and the more modern ones. I do laugh at how often my writers tell me later that I’ve ruined reading for them, as they’re constantly picking through substantive mistakes in others’ work. But I assure them that’s temporary—that while they’ll always find ways to make books better, they’ll eventually truly and so-gratefully appreciate great works. And they do. 

When a writer has done the above, working with a gifted editor proves so much more effective. That sounds quite obvious, but the reason has more to do with just skill level. The writer himself is then in a place much more conducive to learning, with a broader foundation upon which to build his craft and his book. Getting there just takes time and effort. It takes rolling up your sleeves, doing the hard work, mastering some patience, and also allowing your skin to thicken a bit in order to absorb criticism and learn from it rather than bristling and blaming the messenger. 

And it speaks to something deeper and more numinous as well. For it’s those who stick it out through all of the above who, indeed, have a wondrous love of this craft we call writing. And it’s from those writers that brilliance comes, and we all remember why we do this in the first place, which in the end is the love of the word and the reverence for great writing. The ability to take the reader’s breath away in a few lines, and leave her longing for more. 

Which is, of course, not a taught thing in the end. Yep, the pieces can be learned in many ways, but the putting together of magic emerges from that quiet, well-lighted room . . .    

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Three Ways to Make a Good Story Great

Why does a powerful story grip us? A tale that gives our feelings a roller-coaster ride will certainly keep us turning the page but will we remember it a year later? Perhaps not. Yet another tale might linger in our memory for a lifetime. Why? Because it has a strong theme.

A theme is a re-enactment of some primal human drive. It’s the essential meaning of a story.

If a police officer is promoted to a top job for his success in arresting drug dealers, that’s a news report. But if he turns down the job because he wants to carry on arresting drug dealers - maybe drugs destroyed his family - that’s a story. Why? It has a meaning. Its theme might be ‘there’s no ambition sweeter than revenge’.

How do you deepen a story with a powerful theme?

One way is to detect the pattern of primal emotions already present in a story - and bring that pattern out. Arguably, ‘meaning’ is the detection of pattern. Find pattern in a well-written story and the story acquires ‘meaning’. A tale that engages us has played on our emotions. It has stirred some primal drive, some timeless pattern. Just clarify that pattern.

If you can’t state it as a proverb, howsoever crassly, you don’t have a theme.

Another way is to build a story around a theme you acquire from elsewhere. Does the process sound formulaic? It is. But it works.

Find a Dictionary of Proverbs. Take two proverbs and set them in opposition to each other. For example, ‘a fool and his money are soon parted’ could be contraposed with ‘you have to speculate to accumulate.’ Then toss in another proverb at random, for example: ‘you have to be cruel to be kind’.

Suppose a man gambles foolishly. His fiancée throws her engagement ring at him, hoping it will shock him into his senses. He overcomes his addiction, joins Gamblers Anonymous and woos her back.

On their honeymoon, she asks him suspiciously ‘How did you afford our sumptuous wedding?’ He beams. ‘I put your ring on a no-hope horse and it came in 50:1!’

What’s the theme here? Take your pick. But perhaps the story has emerged with a new theme entirely: ‘it’s the no-hope horse that wins the greatest prize’.

Take proverbs off the shelf - and mix them together. Use your creativity to weave them into a fresh story and the result will not seem formulaic at all. But the story will resonate with ‘meaning’.

Another idea is to adapt an old fable.

A wonderful source is the Fables of Poggio, a 15th century humorist, but any old jest book will present fables grounded in a timeless proverb or truism. Just give the fables a new twist.

In one of Poggio’s tales, a merchant away from home writes a letter to his shrewish wife and a lecherous one to his mistress. Both on the same day. But he muddles the envelopes. Each woman gets the wrong letter. When he returns home he finds his wife - delighted by his amorous letter - a changed woman. This is just as well as his mistress, angered by the coldness of his letter, refuses to see him again.

What’s the theme here?

Maybe that ‘we are blind to the treasures we already possess’? (Oscar Wilde used that theme to great effect in A Florentine Tragedy.)

It wouldn’t be difficult to craft a modern story in which a man or woman emails their lover but sends it, by mistake, to their spouse. Or vice versa. Or somebody tangles up their address book and emails an old lover with a message intended for a new lover. And the accident changes their lives.

In summary, a story must have a great theme. But there are no new ‘themes’, because each theme is founded in our basic natures, the DNA of the human race. Simply find the theme that’s already inherent in your story and foreground it. Or take several themes off the shelf, mix and match them, and so create a story that appears entirely fresh but will glow with primal meaning.
Dr John Yeoman passed away in 2016. He held a PhD in Creative Writing, judged the Writers’ Village story competition and was a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. Prior to getting his doctorate degree, he spent 40 years as a commercial author and chairman of a major PR company. His Writers’ Village short story contest drew 1500 on-line entries each year from all over the world. Some of his blog posts are archived here, (however the writing class enrollment and downloads are no longer available).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Getting On An Editor's Good Side

September is "Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month." I'm not sure Hallmark has a card for that one, so what can you do?
I don't think I've ever been unkind to my editors or fellow writers, but I have been working diligently on my current WIP in order to turn it in to my editor on time. I know she's got a schedule to keep, and if I'm late, the domino effect can make her life miserable. I also owe it to her to turn in the cleanest possible manuscript, and that means not simply hitting send immediately after writing The End.

What I do after I type The End is save the document in a different font. I type in Times New Roman, which is more or less industry standard. TNR is a serif font (has the little squiggles on the edges of the letters). My eyes have been staring at that font for months as I work on the manuscript, so I'll choose a sans serif font for my final printout. Two good examples are Arial and Calibri.

Next, I change  the format to two columns. I narrow the margins and reduce the font to a readable, yet small enough size to conserve paper. I'll print it out on both sides of the page, again to conserve paper. My goal is to be reading the manuscript like a book, because although I don't want to have my editor deal with typos and technical errors, I'm more concerned in not turning in something with glaring plot holes or continuity errors that will end up requiring major revisions. Those are the time-killers.

I mark the manuscript using my trusty red pen (I don't have any negative feelings about red—my teachers back in the day used red for good comments, too!). Although I want to read the story I'll circle repeated words and other technical issues. If there's something that looks like a plot or continuity problem, I'll make a note in the margin or attach a sticky. I also keep a notepad handy for jotting down things I'll need to search the manuscript for later.

I try to read about five chapters at a sitting. Enough to remember what the story's about, but not so much that I get caught up in the story and forget that I'm supposed to be editing.

Once I finish, I go back to the original manuscript on the computer and deal with my edits and revisions. Since I'm a firm believer in editing as I write, for this process, I started with what I'd hoped was a relatively clean document and can usually have the official draft ready to send to my editor in less than a week.

As for being nice to writers—author Nancy Cohen blogged about that not long ago, and she's summed it up perfectly. I hope you'll all pop over there to see what you can do to support them. 

Terry Odell is the author of the popular Pine Hills Police Series and the Blackthorne, Inc. Series. You can find out more about them, as well as her stand-alone romantic suspense novels HERE.  Her newest release, Nowhere to Hide, can be found here.  You can find her at her Web site. If you've followed her blog (or want to start!), note that it's moved and is now HERE. You can follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Writing Purple

A very long time ago, around 40 BCE or so, the Roman poet Horace wrote this in his Ars Poetica:
“Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches.”

It has been said that from this sentence by Horace comes the phrase “purple prose.” I used this phrase in a speech I gave a few months ago, and was surprised when many in my audience did not know what I meant. This may be because they were would-be authors, not editors. Editors are on the lookout for purple prose – so they can kill it.

Purple prose means a word, phrase, sentence, or any written passage that is too ornate, too flowery, too over-the-top – in fact, too anything. Purple prose draws attention to itself and away from the story.

The most obvious kind of purple prose is romantic or erotic prose. It’s the easiest place to go over the top. Perhaps because the words we give to sexuality are usually either too clinical or too crude. If you say “He patted her mammary glands” it’s not very exciting, but “He grabbed her boob” is crude. Neither is purple, though. Purple would be “His sweaty hand gently caressed her hot heaving bosom, leaving a slimy trail on her rose-colored nipples.”

As I told my audience, your stories will shine brighter against black and white. Even if you are tempted to write purple, remember Horace and keep those flashy purple patches to yourself. Although I admit that I kind of like my sentence about a slimy trail on a hot heaving bosom. I may have to find a place for it anyway, despite Horace.

Do you have a favorite purple passage?
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 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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Friday, September 14, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Q and A

This month’s question comes from a man whose first book was published in the early 2000s after a decade of futile efforts to place his manuscript with an agent. Despite some good feedback from his submissions, he received no offers of representation. His disappointment and frustration spurred a multitude of questions that we will consider, among others, over the next months.

Here is one that applies to many aspiring writers—one that doesn’t always receive the consideration it deserves. Does a writer need to identify “market” before starting a book?

Consider this scenario: You have a terrific idea for a story. Do you sit down at the computer and begin writing? Do you decide first who will likely be your reading audience? Does it make any difference who reads your book?

I’ve heard writers say, “My book is for everyone.” Really? Think about it. Does this even make sense?

Let’s suppose your story involves an African safari. How would you write it for your five-year-old son, grandson, or nephew? Would you focus on the animals and how they live? Would you team up with an artist to create cute drawings of animal families in the jungle?

What if your safari tale is aimed at preteens and/or young adults—how would it differ from the five-year-old version? Do you think a more sophisticated storyline would be in order? Perhaps you might want to interject a mystery or something about attempts to create an animal sanctuary.

On the other hand, an adult safari story might be a thriller, a tale about poachers, or the threatened extinction of a species that’s being hunted and slaughtered for some expensive body part. Or it might be nonfiction, a report on the need for more refuges as humans continue their relentless encroachment on natural habitats. This might include photographs and on-site reports that support your book’s premise and help you make your case. As you can see, the adult approaches differ from each other as much as they do from the juvenile and YA stories.

Clearly, market needs to be identified. Just as one size clothing does not fit all, one approach to storytelling does not meet the needs of all age or interest groups. Nor does a book aimed at the technical computer market fit the bill for someone who wants to become an online business whiz. We have the clichéd apples and oranges.

How do you write for your market? Have you written for more than one age or interest group? As a reader, how do you choose books you buy or borrow from the library?

Linda Lane and her editing team want to help writers learn to write well. She will soon be opening an online bookstore of family-friendly books that promote literacy and encourage renewed interest in reading for pleasure. Visit her editing team at

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Summer of ePublishing

It's September, which signals the final phase of summer. Summer used to be the time of entertaining kids and finding ways to keep them busy. Instead of focusing on kids, this summer I've been focusing on writing and publishing.

I have three non-fiction books out with a publisher. Earlier this summer I decided to do an e-book. To do that, I set up my own company, High Canyon Books. At this point, the company has only one client, me.

 Angel Sometimes is now available as an e-book on Amazon. My plan is to next get it ready for printing. Then I'll work on putting it up on other sites via Smashwords. You may take a different path. I have a good friend who went print first, then Amazon. She has been a wonderful mentor and learning partner. You can check out her book on Amazon.

I've hired a publicist to help once it's out in print.

I keep using the word "I", but I've had a lot of help from friends, both online and in the real world.

 If you're thinking about self-publishing, I recommend you hook up with others like you. You'll have people to turn to when you have questions. There's nothing worse than getting so confused or stuck on something that you're ready to tear your hair out and you have no one to rely on for help.

Remember to always get your manuscript edited before you upload it or put it into print.

If you're thinking of self-publishing your book, this summer is a good time to do it. In some parts of the U.S., summer is almost over, so get your act in gear. If you live in Texas, the summer heat will take you through October, so you've got a bit more time. (I'd insert a smiley face, if I knew how to do one, other than ;-)

What are your plans? e-publishing? Already e-published? Working with a publisher? Writing a book? Tell us in the comments section. While you're there, if you're published, leave the title of your book and one link to where we can look for it.

 Helen Ginger is the author of Angel Sometimes, as well as 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series. You can find two of her short stories in the anthology, The Corner Café. Her free ezine, Doing It Write, now in its thirteenth year of publication, goes out to subscribers around the globe. You can follow Helen on her blog, Straight From Hel, on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. She is also Co-Partner and Webmistress for Legends In Our Own Minds® and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Elspeth's Writing Sheep

Silence. Darkness.

WRITER: (timidly) Hello?


WRITER: (louder) Hello?


WRITER: (even louder) Is anyone here?

There is the flash of a match being struck and a lantern lit in the distance. A white shape becomes visible.

SHEEP #1: Yes?

WRITER: Are you one of the writing sheep?

SHEEP #1: Yes.

WRITER: I thought you lived somewhere else.

SHEEP #2: (moving into the lantern's glow) We’re everywhere.

SHEEP #3:  If you need us, we will come.

SHEEP #1: That’s dangerously close to plagiarism.

SHEEP #2: It’s a phrase which has become part of the vernacular. It's  a huge compliment to the author of said phrase.

WRITER: Can they not handle the truth?

SHEEP #3: (pointing a hoof) Don’t start.

SHEEP #2: Ignore them. (takes a step forward) How can we help?

WRITER: I just wondered…

SHEEP #1: Don’t use that word.

WRITER: What word? Wondered?

SHEEP #1: No; just. 

SHEEP #2: We hate that word.

SHEEP #3: It clutters up manuscripts.

WRITER: Sorry.

SHEEP #1: Don’t worry. This is your first draft. ‘Just’ at will.

WRITER: I wondered what you get asked most often.

SHEEP #2: Our best bits of wisdom?

SHEEP #3: Our greatest hits?

SHEEP #1: Easy. Stop reading about writing and write.

WRITER: Excuse me?

SHEEP #2: Why? What did you do?

SHEEP #1: Did you leave a mess? Do we need a mop?

SHEEP #2: Have you ever noticed that the mop looks a lot like Uncle Murray?

SHEEP #1 & #3: Poor Uncle Murray.

WRITER: What happened?

SHEEP #1: It was a tragic case of A Fence Too Far. Well, too high, really.

SHEEP #2: We’ve digressed.

SHEEP #3: Sorry.

WRITER: You were saying…

SHEEP #1: Writers need to write. It sounds simplistic, but it’s not. It’s far easier to read about writing or write about writing --

SHEEP #2: Or talk about writing.

SHEEP #3: Don’t get me started. Get thee behind me, Facebook!

SHEEP #1: If you want to finish something, then finish it. Writing is work. 

SHEEP #2: Sometimes I think it was easier when writers were up in their chilly attics, pounding away on their typewriters.

SHEEP #1: Or dipping their pen nibs into bottles of ink.

SHEEP #3: Taking a break to warm their chilblained fingers before a flickering coal fire.

All three sheep sigh.

SHEEP #1: But now, you’re all posting status updates and commenting on blogs and tweeting and pinning and complaining you’ve got no time to write.

WRITER: But writers need to network.

SHEEP #2: Ah - but are you writing to network or networking to write?

WRITER: Wow. I've never thought about it like that before.

SHEEP #1: Of course you haven't. But we have. 

SHEEP #2: We’re the sheep.

SHEEP #3: Go away now. Write.

WRITER: Yes, sir. (Writer leaves)

                                                     Sheep #1 blows out the lantern. In the dark:

SHEEP #2: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "The Great British Bump Off?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.