Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

FIRST A FREEBIE ANNOUNCEMENT - Click this Amazon link from 12/31/13 through 1/3/14, for a freebie copy of my romantic suspense mystery, Killer Career, for downloading to kindle/pc/e-reader 

This is a repeat of my original post here on November 10, 2008, but in my part of the country, it still applies. Maybe in yours as well.

It happens often enough, but I still can't get used to it. I'm never ready when it comes. Dare I say that naughty, four letter word?

SNOW@!# - Yikes, I've said it.

My area of the Midwest gets hammered with that pesky stuff quite often, as evidenced by the photo to the left. Instead of looking on it as something evil, which is easy to do since it gets in my way when I want to drive or walk, I'm trying to think of it as an opportunity for better writing. Snow can be useful, that is, if it's included in a manuscript.

When doing this, it's best not to dwell on the obvious. Almost anyone can describe snow as pretty, white, or cold. The trick is to use snow as a vehicle of moving the plot forward.

Here are some examples:

Common Occurrence: During the winter my newspaper often gets buried in the snow and doesn't get discovered until later when the stoop is shoveled.

Opportunity: What if an important article about a rapist or mass killer were in the paper, but a victim wasn’t alerted because snow covered the paper?

Common Occurrence: Snow covers car windows, fogs up glasses, and makes it hard to see.

Opportunity: Your character is involved in a vehicle accident due to poor visibility. Take it a step further. The ambulance can't get there because of a traffic buildup. The hero performs CPR on an accident victim, or maybe a person stuck in the snow tries to walk and suffers from hypothermia and/or frostbite.

True example: One winter I slipped in the snow and banged my head on the sidewalk. For a moment I felt disoriented, but then was able to get up and walk away.

Opportunity: What if your character slipped, was knocked unconscious and suffered amnesia?

True example: Snowstorms often delay my mail.

Opportunity: What if your character is waiting for an important letter, but it slips from the mail carrier’s hands in the wind and gets buried in the snow a few doors down? Maybe the letter was an apology or love letter and turns up years later, after the people involved had moved on with their lives? Maybe even married someone else?

You get the picture. Sure, snow is pretty, but it’s also a useful vehicle. See how many ways you can make snow do things for you. Can you mention some?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Memorable Characters

Good writers ask, "What if?"
Great writers ask, "Why?"

More than any other detail in your story, readers are captivated by characters the most. They may forget the plot points, the setting, perhaps the ending. However, an unforgettable character will stay with them forever.

A few examples: Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jack Reacher, Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Bilbo Baggins.

Boring characters rarely make history.

There are many articles here at the BRP that explore the importance of characters. Here are links to a few:

Creating Compelling Characters

Characters in a Series

Calling For Back-Up: Sidekicks and Henchmen

Love Your Characters

For more information on how to build believable characters, check out Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and the Build A Cast Workbook. They apply the concept of personality types to building characters that behave and misbehave exactly as you need them to.

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict Ebook

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and the Build A Cast Workbook

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and the Build A Cast Workbook - Ebook

Great characters can sometimes overcome weak plot points or weak writing. If you focus on one thing for your next novel, make it your cast.

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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fight the Good Fight

This post originally appeared at The Blood-Red Pencil on January 26, 2011, and since has been updated. Sadly, much of it still rings true for me!

Killer Career's new 2013 cover
I published my romantic suspense, Killer Career, in August, 2009. When I was writing that  manuscript, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a four-day work week, which gave me some, but not a whole lot of free hours to write. With the advent of economic uncertainty, my four-day work week turned into five. I barely had time to market Killer Career, perform my day job, and make attempts to continue my work in progress. I'd try to get pages done while commuting, but as soon as I got into the story, it was time to get off the commuter train.  I also found other reasons for not completing my manuscript, such as books I'd rather read, or friends I'd like to converse with, while riding the train. When I got home, more often than not, I was too wiped out to do anything but relax with the DH and my dog.

Those were my excuses for not completing another manuscript, but even then I suspected more was involved.

I learned my suspicions were correct when I read The WAR of ART by Steven Pressfield, subtitled, Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. 

In it, Pressfield explores an all too familiar bugaboo of mine and, I suspect others, known as Resistance. According to Pressfield, some of Resistance's traits, but not all, are: Invisible, Internal, Insidious, and Impersonal.

From reading this book I realized I'm not the only author who battles fears. Two that I own are: Fear of continuing a manuscript because I might not be able to think of what will come next, and Fear of completing my manuscript and taking the chance of losing my dream that people will like it when they see it.

With the advent of 2011, I lost my day job. Since then, I don't have the same excuses to fall back on. Supposedly, I have more time at my disposal, but marketing seems to take up a huge block, which before had been dedicated to writing. Still, I feel obligated to connect with writers and readers.

Also, I'm lured by weird impulses to see to home projects, which have been neglected for too long. I had to give in and arrange for the painting and carpeting of the living room and dining room, which resulted in considerable chaos of displaced items. My desk happens to sit in the dining room, ordinarily a handy spot.

Since losing my job, I did manage to eke out three more books: the thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, it's sequel, the Blessing or Curse Connection, and the romantic comedy, Her Handyman.

Still, as I write this, I realize I could have accomplished much more. I need to get back on the bandwagon. My first priority should be to fight the good fight. To that end, I've  resolved to type The End on the last page of a manuscript sometime in early 2014, and on another by the end of the same year.

What about you? Do you suffer from the same fears and procrastinations? Or, do you have others you'd like to share?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Revision Is Half The Battle

Good writers compose sentences. Great writers craft language.

One thing you will find plenty of on this blog is advice on how to edit your manuscript. Tight editing can make all the difference. It is important if you decide to submit to agents and editors. It is essential if you decide to go the independent route.

Here are a few of my favorite posts on revision.

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: How to Identify Dragging Narrative

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Fine-Tuning Sentence Structure

Top Ten Things I Know About Editing

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Analyzing Sentences for Redundancy and Wordiness

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Cleaning Up Those Dialogue Tags

I created Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers to collate all of the advice I had collected on how to revise my own work. This book will not turn you into a professional editor. It will, however, help you present the cleanest and tightest manuscript to your agent or editor. If you self-publish, it is a critique partner that helps you polish your work.

We examine common plot holes. We identify speed bumps that affect the readers' enjoyment of the ride you are taking them on. We explore rhetorical devices and how to use them to craft expert-level cumulative sentences. We spend a little time proofreading.

Revision is the most time-consuming, mind-numbing, aggravating part of writing a book. Taking it one step at a time gets you through it and keeps you from burning the manuscript. You’ll be tempted to quit and go spearfishing in Fiji. It only delays the inevitable.

Life is too short for bad fiction.

Buy Story Building Blocks III - Revision from Amazon.com

Story Building Blocks III Revision ebook

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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Little Mistakes Can Kill a Story

This post first ran on Thursday, April 28, 2011

Okay, maybe I’m too picky when I read. My husband keeps telling me to quit reading like an editor and just read to enjoy the book. And sometimes that works. Sometimes I do get so caught up in the story that I overlook little mistakes that would otherwise jerk me out of the story.

But when I first start a book and haven’t yet connected to the character or the plot, those little mistakes keep prickling me like the thorns on my blackberry bushes.

For instance, we really have to stop and think about the words we are using and what they mean or convey, especially the misuse of reflexive pronouns. “I smiled in spite of myself.”  What exactly does that mean? Perhaps it would be better to write, “I smiled, despite my glum mood.”

Inappropriate sensory descriptions can also be a problem. “My own voice sounded dank…” Dank is a smell. It can’t be heard.  “Soft-smelling hair.” Soft is a touch, not an odor.

A common dialogue attributive is also problematic. Authors often have a character mutter to himself, which to me implies that it is not something the other people in the scene heard, even though the muttered dialogue is written out in full. But if the character simply mutters, leaving off the “to himself”, it is more believable that the other people could hear it. That is most important when the narrative is in first person and the reader has to know that the central character heard what the other character muttered. 

I know these are silly little details, and we all see them over and over in published works, but I don’t think that is a good enough reason not to take a little extra care with what we write. Well, actually rewrite. Because it is in the editing and rewriting that we find these little mistakes and fix them.

Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store.  Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Men Are Not Women With Chest Hair - Terry Odell

This post first ran on Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A while back, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop given by best selling romance author, Linda Howard. While the focus of the workshop was the Twelve Steps to Intimacy, I've already done a number of blog posts on that topic, (you can read a summary here)

Most of my books are romantic suspense, which puts them under the romance umbrella, which means the majority of my audience is female. I know there's an XY reader contingent of this blog, so any feedback from them is welcome.

I write books from the points of view of both men and women. Obviously, it's easier to write "female" but I do try very hard to make sure my men are actually "men" and, as the title of this blog suggests, not women with chest hair.

One of the topics Linda Howard covered was writing details. She pointed out that this was one place where men are really different from women. Women write detail in sex scenes, while men write detail in action scenes. And, since we were an audience of women, she told us we had to work especially hard when writing action scenes from a male character's POV.

She said that writing details in scenes of violence takes guts, but that we should suck it up, describing things that make us uncomfortable. And she urged us to remember the emotional detail as well as the physical. Violence, danger and sex have an emotional price, and that needs to come across on the page.

She used Barry Eisler and Vince Flynn as examples of suspense authors who write extremely detailed action scenes. Their fight scenes show every detail. She went on to say that Vince Flynn once said he wished he could write love scenes as easily as Linda Howard.

But, she said, if she had to write an action scene, this would be her first draft:  "He was shot. It hurt. He shot back. The other guy died." (From that example, I'll let my readers extrapolate how a man might write a sex scene—and I've read all too many of them!)

So, while she (and most women) struggle to write an action/fight/violent scene accurately from a male character's head, men must dig deeper to write love scenes

Some observations: Men tend to focus on one thing at a time. She compared them to a rifle: one shot, one direction. Women tend to be more like shotguns, with shells scattering their contents in a wide array. Men are less likely to get sidetracked.

She closed with the point that there is one underlying quality we must understand, and that is how much men love women. Howard mentioned a friend of hers whose wife had passed away. He said he missed waking up in the morning, holding her in his arms, smelling her scent and falling back to sleep.

I know that if I leave the bed before my husband gets up, I will almost always find him on my side of the bed shortly thereafter. Whether he's aware of it or not, odds are, it's the familiar scent that draws him over.

And, in closing, to reiterate the power of the sex drive, Howard, who has been married to her husband for 36 years, said that once they were in the middle of an intense argument. When it appeared that there was no way for her to win, she said, "You may be right, but I'm the guardian of the gate to paradise."

He stopped.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense 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. Look for Terry's newest release. DEADLY SECRETS, A Mapleton Mystery, is her first non-romantic suspense novel. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who tries her best with the action scenes and the love scenes, and appreciates all the good advice that has been shared by other writers and editors.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pantsing Versus Plotting

This post first ran on Sunday, October 19, 2008

Any method of writing is valid if it produces something worth reading.

I am a writer who outlines meticulously. But I do know that all of the different methods can work really well for the type of writer that they suit. Call it what you will - pantsing versus plotting, freewriting versus crafted writing, plus the third option (a bit of both: start with the beginning and end in mind, freewrite until you get stuck then plot your way out of it) - all these methods work somewhere for someone. Once you've figured out how you need to write to suit your personality, you've got it made. And when you do reach that point, do not let the so-called pros convince you that you're doing it wrong.

Stephen King has said some nasty things in the past about writers who outline before they write. He's softened his tone, though, in the last twenty years. But I'm going to poke back, anyway, with the comment that many of Stephen King's books could have done with some plotting - Dreamcatcher and the Dark Tower series come to mind. These books could have been really clever with a bit of hindsight. Mr King is in too much of a hurry to publish. But then, aren't we all?

I hope he gets a chance to reconsider his anti-plotting stance. I know it's not for him, but there are really good writers who plot. Everyone is different, and different is good.

Seriously - this is really a case of semantics. What Stephen King does in 3 months pounding out a first draft, I tend to do for a similar time period in my head. I like it in my head. Stephen likes it down in black and white.

I just know that when I'm plotting my soul sings. When I write what I've plotted it's like watching bread bake - it wouldn't rise (for me) without all the hours of kneading and waiting beforehand. Perhaps Stephen King uses baking powder, requiring speed of mixing and a rush to the oven before the chemical reaction dissipates.

I prefer to weave layer upon layer of plot threads and tighten them all in the first and subsequent drafts. But I would never tell another writer that this is the only way to write. I would certainly not tell him he is a dullard and his writing is weak without even having read his work. It's a silly presumption to make.

The only point I will make is that any manuscript needs work after the initial writing is completed. Without wanting to generalise too much, I believe that craft writers are more willing and prepared to put in this editorial work. Freewriters can very easily get caught up in the ease with which the manuscript is produced and come to dislike the tedium of editing and rewriting, or even basic proofreading. And you can't expect that your publisher will be able to provide you with an editor to fix any errors that you haven't caught yourself.

So, do I have to have every word lined up before I start writing? No, of course not. So much still surprises me, no matter how tightly I've plotted. I certainly don't need to know every word, and I've easily changed endings and let the characters run with new plot threads. It's a balance between knowing where you're going and knowing when to let go and let the story happen.

Over-plotting can box your characters in, making them behave like puppets with no life of their own. You do need to know when to trust the story, but that's the easy part: your characters tell you.

Elsa Neal
Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, due out in 2014. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Moving the Story With Dialogue

This post first ran on Monday, June 22, 2009


…That day she dined early, at six, and talked to William as he stood behind her chair, bidding him close the door to visitors in future.

“You see, William,” she said, “I came to Navron to avoid people, to be alone. My mood is to play the hermit, while I am here.”

“Yes, my lady,” he said, “I made a mistake about this afternoon. It shall not occur again. You shall enjoy your solitude, and make good your escape.”

“Escape?” she said.

“Yes, my lady,” he said, “I have rather gathered that is why you are here. You are a fugitive from your London self, and Navron is your sanctuary.”

She was silent a minute, astonished, a little dismayed, and then: “You have uncanny intuition, William,” she said, “where does it come from?”

“My late master talked to me long and often, my lady,” he said; “many of my ideas and much of my philosophy are borrowed from him. I have made a practice of observing people, even as he does. And I rather think that he would term your ladyship’s arrival here as an escape.”

“And why did you leave your master, William?”

“His life is such, at the moment, my lady, that my services are of little use to him. We decided I would do better elsewhere.”

“And so you came to Navron?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“And lived alone and hunted moths?”

“Your ladyship is correct.”

“So that Navron is also, possibly, an escape for you as well?”

“Possibly, my lady.”

“And your late master, what does he do with himself?”

“He travels, my lady.”

“He makes voyages from place to place?”

“Exactly, my lady.”

“Then he also, William, is a fugitive. People who travel are always fugitives.”

“My master has often made the same observation, my lady. In fact, I may say his life is one continual escape.”

“How pleasant for him,” said Dona, peeling her fruit; “the rest of us can only run away from time to time, and however much we pretend to be free, we know it is only for a little while – our hands and our feet are tied.”

“Just so, my lady.”

“I would like to meet your master, William.”

“I think you would have much in common, my lady.”

“Perhaps one day he will pass this way, on his travels?”

“Perhaps, my lady.”

“In fact, I will withdraw my command about visitors, William. Should your late master ever call, I will not feign illness or madness or any other disease, I will receive him.”

“Very good, my lady.”

One of my favorite bits of dialogue and a marvelous set-up for the rest of the story! From it, think about these questions:

What kind of relationship between the two speakers?
When does the story take place?
Who is William?
Who is Dona?
What can you discern about the female character’s place in society?
What can you extrapolate reading between the lines?
Do you recognize the novel this is taken from and the author?

Leave us answers or a comment.

Dani Greer is a founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil and is having far too much fun this summer reading her favorite old novels.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Training Our Inner Editor, Part 1

This post first ran on Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Because top-notch editing is a crucial element in raising the quality bar on independently published books, I modify my writing manual to train editors. Just as all writers are not created equal, neither are editors. Nor do we come to the table with the same training, experience, and education. However, it’s reasonable to assume that all editors started out as readers, and many of us are also writers. The purpose of my manual is to level the playing field, as the cliché goes, and create a win-win-win for writer, editor, and reader.

Taking the step from reader/writer to editor requires a significant degree of thought adjustment and introspection. How do we feel about grammar rules? Do they take on new meaning when we learn that they can be broken without garnering a big red X from the English teacher? Can we accept that not only can they be broken, but they sometimes should be broken?

Consider this, for example: Those fragments that drew the ire of our pedagogues—along with dire warnings of our future failures if we didn’t learn to write a proper sentence—can be very effective in making an occasional point or answering a question or creating dialogue. Of course, the writer’s adherence to the rules in most other instances heightens this effectiveness because it indicates purpose rather than grammatical error.

From that discovery, we move on to parts of speech—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and so forth. They all perform specific functions in a sentence, and we need to know what those functions are and how they relate to one another. No doubt we learned all this in school. Nonetheless, these single words can be troublesome, as noted in an ongoing thread about pronoun/antecedent agreement—an outgrowth of the “political correctness” discussion. And then we have those pesky adverbs (-ly words) that crop up like weeds in the garden in place of the powerful verbs that could make the sentence or passage blossom with color and life.

Is that inner editor stirring yet?

Another problem occurs with “proper” sentence structure. Bottom line: A properly constructed sentence may not, itself, hook the reader. Consider the following examples, which describe the same scene:
Mary saw the bulldog running toward her. She pedaled her bicycle as fast as she could, but the dog was faster. It grabbed hold of her leg and refused to let go. Mary screamed and fell off her bike. The bulldog released its grip and walked away.
Our inner editor twitches to life.

We get the picture, but do we care? Have we been pulled into the scene? Are we rooting for Mary? The sentences are complete, but are we compelled to read the next paragraph or the next chapter? How would we relate this little event?
The bulldog bounded out of nowhere. Mary pumped her six-year-old legs harder and harder against the oversized pedals. The dog’s hot breath drove her onward as strings of saliva slapped her bare legs. Sharp teeth punctured her calf and refused to let go. She screamed. Her bike teetered back and forth, then fell. The bulldog released its grip and pranced away.
Wow! We feel Mary’s panic and the bulldog’s triumph. The scene lives and breathes, and we want to read on. Great job, we tell ourselves. Or is it?

Our inner editor, now alert and feeling frisky, slips into the mind of the writer and sees our rewrite . . . as ours. The writer’s style has changed; her voice has been lost. The editor’s partnership with the writer—an alliance that must never become visible to the reader—sticks out like that proverbial sore thumb. This can’t happen. How do we fix it?

Next, we plunge into the meat of editing and discuss the writer’s voice—keeping it intact.

Linda Lane, editor of two national award winners, will release her second novel, Treacherous Tango, this summer. She owns Pen & Sword Publishers Ltd., an independent editing and publishing house, and has gone back to work after taking time off to write her book.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Types of Writers

This post first ran on Friday, March 16, 2012

When it comes to working methods, what kind of a writer are you?

Broadly speaking, writers fall into one of two basic categories.  On the one hand, there are the Map-makers.  On the other, there are the Trail-blazers.

Map-maker Method:

The Map-Maker Method is a highly disciplined way of writing. A Map-maker does a lot of thinking up front: you plot the central story arc from start to finish.  At the same time you assemble a body of support material:  character profiles, narrative timelines, maps, etc., so that when you finally sit down to write, you know how the story is going to end.

Using the Map-maker Method has the following advantages:
  • Working the bugs out of the plot in advance helps you avoid plot-holes and narrative inconsistencies during the writing process. 
  • Having a comprehensive overview of the story enables you to recognise and exploit opportunities to play with foreshadowing, build suspense, and highlight important themes. 
  • Knowing where the story is going and how it’s going to end helps you keep the book on track.  I.e., the Map-maker finds it relatively easy to avoid including gratuitous sub-plots.
But there are also liabilities:
  • Map-makers tend to be slow, careful writers.  They can get hung up on revising a single chapter for weeks when they would be better served forging ahead and damn the torpedoes.
  • Having produced a narrative blueprint, they’re often reluctant to alter it in favor of any interesting possibilities that may come up during the writing process. 
  • In the worst cases, a Map-maker can get so caught up in deep structure that it becomes an end in itself. 
The Trail-blazer Approach:

The Trail-blazer Approach, by contrast, is intuitive rather than analytical. You take the seed of a story–a plot concept, a central character, an intriguing opening scene, whatever fires your imagination–and simply start writing, the aim being to let the story unfold and develop organically. 

These are the advantages to using the Trail-blazer Approach:
  • By not imposing too strict a structure on the story from the outset, you’re free to welcome new ideas as they present themselves. 
  • By not ascribing to anyone’s rules but your own, you leave yourself free to experiment with different writing techniques. This can help you develop your own distinctive narrative voice.
  • Best of all (especially in the case of novice writers), the Trail-blazer Approach lends itself readily to generating text, and completing a first draft.  Completing a first draft is the essential goal on which everything else depends.
There are also corresponding liabilities:
  • The Trail-blazer approach offers no built-in safeguards against the unchecked proliferation of sub-plots. Too many sub-plots can wreak havoc with your narrative continuity and give you galaxy-class migraines when you try to tie them up.
  • If you’re using the Trail-blazer Approach, characters, incidents, and situations are going to crop up at intervals during the writing process that you didn’t foresee when you started writing. This forces you  to interrupt the narrative flow to explain how/why this element is relevant, which makes for clumsy exposition.  It’s no big deal when you’re working on your first draft, but if you don’t go back and disguise the info-dumps, you might as well be smacking your reader in the face with a newly-landed flounder. 
  • The Trail-blazer Approach doesn’t lend itself to pre-emptive trouble-shooting.  If you prefer to use the Trail-blazer Approach,  you may find you’ve got a substantial amount of work to do during the revision process to rationalise your setting, plot, characters, and themes.
Although I’ve treated these two methods as if they were mutually exclusive, most writers utilize aspects of both. This is because both approaches are equally valid in their own way. That said, if you can recognize and understand your prevailing tendencies, you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble in the long run.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Layering Conflict

This post first ran on Thursday, May 16, 2013

In previous posts, we discussed choosing a central question and a story skeleton, also known as genre. We have bent and twisted a premise many different ways. What happens next?

That depends on whether you are a pantser or a planner. Developing a conflict outline can keep you from getting mired in the middle. If you are allergic to outlining, you can wait until the end of the rough draft to examine each scene and identify the type of conflict it addresses.

The four layer method I use is simply a new way of looking at conflict in the story. It ensures that every scene is earning its page time and is placed in an order that has logical “cause and effect.”

First chapters are easy for most writers. The inciting event occurs. The protagonist makes an important decision or takes an irrevocable action. The antagonist knows of this decision/action and is prepared to oppose him. Then the writer loses momentum or doesn't know where to take it.

The layering process helps you develop the middle and end. You may not have a complete idea of how everything will come together. In breaking it down into layers, ideas will come to you. You may not stick with your original idea. The plot may change as you go. It's part of the process. The magic of dialogue, descriptions, exposition, and actions are not easily outlined, but scene conflicts are. They act as one sentence prompts that keep you from getting “stuck."

There are four layers of conflict to work with. All layers pertain to all genres. Even if you don't have a "bad guy" antagonist in your story, there are characters that work against your protagonist's best interest.

1) External scenes are the verbal camera at its widest angle. They focus on the overall story problem that all of your characters are caught up in and can feature any combination of characters. They address the central question and include the inciting incident, main turning points, and climax. Your protagonist should be present in these scenes. The love interest is a co-protagonist in a romance, so these scenes could follow the love interest if your verbal camera (POV) allows it.

2) Antagonist scenes narrow the focus to the antagonist, or antagonistic forces. The antagonist is the person most opposed to your protagonist's story goal. If your verbal camera follows the antagonist and/or his henchmen, these scenes can focus on them. If not, they are scenes where the protagonist is in direct contact with the antagonist/antagonistic force.

3) Interpersonal scenes focus on interactions with the friends and foes that help or hinder the protagonist and antagonist. Depending on the point of view you choose, they can be in direct contact with the antagonist, protagonist, or working their own agenda. If the friends and foes are involved in a subplot, these scenes address the subplot.

4) Internal scenes focus on the protagonist’s internal journey and lead up to his point of change. They explore his flaws, his strengths, and his thought processes. They include the personal problem that complicates his efforts to solve the overall story problem. If there is a love interest, and your verbal camera follows both characters, these scenes explore their individual struggles as they consider the pros and cons of the relationship.

There have to be both positive and negative interchanges. Two people constantly bickering with no happy moments do not make interesting characters or friends. Constant battle scenes and explosions with no softer moments are exhausting. Cycling between overt and subtle conflicts gives your story the satisfying S-curves the reader enjoys meandering (or speeding) through.

Your story may weave several plots together or explore separate protagonist’s journeys in a consecutive manner. Each subplot or protagonist will have his or her own layers. You would develop each subplot or protagonist’s journey in the same way.

Every scene should have at least one specific conflict and resolution. If your scenes are full of dialogue and people and static motion, but no tension or conflict, they fall flat, encouraging readers to skim over them and that is not the type of page turning to aim for.

The goal is to start off with at least ten ideas for each layer. Forty ten-page scenes result in a four-hundred page novel. The number of scenes vary according to your story requirements.

Changing the way you look at each scene makes writing them easier. Asking hard questions at the beginning saves major rewriting at the end.

We will discuss each layer in detail in upcoming posts.

The four layer method is laid out in Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, available in paperback and e-book.

Previous posts on this topic:

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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Far Can You Go?

This post originally appeared here at The Blood-Red Pencil on January 4, 2010, but still applies, although I've since retired from my day job.

As I was walking to work in Downtown Chicago and doing my best to bypass the slippery remnants of the latest snowfall, I realized how distance can be relative. Here are a few examples:

1. Temperature – What would ordinarily be a short walk seems endless on an extremely hot or cold day. Even a drive is torture, if the heat or air conditioning in the car won't function when needed.

2. Terrain – A few steps can take forever if you're trying to negotiate an icy patch. I know this for a fact. (grin) Swimming a few feet against the current can seem like a mile.

3. Injury or Illness – If you’ve hurt your hip, leg, foot, ankle, etc., walking a short distance can be time consuming. If you’ve injured your shoulder, arm or hand, lifting that member or moving it a few inches can be a nightmare.

It may seem like traveling to the end of the world for someone with heart disease or bad lungs to walk across a parking lot from the car to a store or restaurant. Even if they're dropped off by the door, it could be difficult.

4. Age - Similar to Injury or Illness – The elderly can’t usually walk as far or as fast as the rest of the population, with the exception of those who regularly follow an exercise regimen. (I know one lady over 80 who can outdo me in Fitness Class.)

5. Direction – Climbing stairs takes longer than going down stairs. How about climbing a ladder in an elevator shaft, as the heroine does in my romantic suspense, Killer Career? That's no picnic either.

Can you think of other instances? Or, maybe you’d like to share how you’ve used distance in one of your novels.

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Help With Our Writing

We are having fun here at BRP revisiting some older, popular posts. This one was originally published in March of 2009, about the time we decided it would be fun to have a little humor now and then. Did you know how beneficial it is to laugh or smile every day? That releases a whole lot of endorphins, so let some of yours go.

Years ago when I first started writing, my children were all young and the formidable task of "writing around them" was daunting.

I remember one time in particular when one of my two-year-old twins, Danielle, known lovingly as Chicky, had just settled down beside me to help or hinder my writing. That depended totally on one's viewpoint.

She contributed a few words of dialogue consisting mainly of a few well-placed “Mommys,” spiced with a few unintelligible words of praise or criticism. Also, dependent on POV.

When she left the room, I breathed a sigh of relief and raced to get a few thoughts on paper before she came back. But alas, she’d gone into the kitchen to get the box of cereal I left on the counter and was off sharing it with her brother.

Should I have been delighted she was sharing for a change? Or angry because she snitched the cereal and hid in the laundry room and was now pouring cereal into the washing machine? If I hadn’t beaten our dog with my child-psychology book years before that, I could have looked for the answer. (A note to all the dog-lovers who are about to call the Humane Society. Our dog was much larger and harder bound than the book, and he loved the extra attention.)

That’s the way my writing life went for years. The moment I thought I had the most subtle, cynically amusing thought, matching the excellence of an Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry mapped out in my head, I was interrupted.

I remember thinking that if it weren’t for my kids, I would’ve been famous years ago. I could’ve sat beside Johnny Carson when he was still doing the Tonight Show and chatted amicably about my latest thought-provoking novel or my charming little anecdotes on life, If it wasn’t for the endless “MOMMYS”.

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
“Mom, what is…?”
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“Mom, would you tie my shoe?”
“Mother, if you don’t keep those twins out of my room…”
“Mom, why is it raining outside?”
“Mom, where is my homework…my lunch…my shoes…my coat?”
“Mom, if you’re not doing anything important, will you…?”

Maryann Miller
is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She believes in the value of a good walk or a good chuckle.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Countdown to a Book 15: Author Quotes

In today's world, credentials are king, marketability (your ability to make people believe in your product) comes a close second, and publication completes the trifecta. With less than two months to go until The Art of Falling releases, I am in the throes of answering interview questions for my blog tour. Now that I have a book coming out, it’s as if I’ve tripped over a line of wisdom, and people want to know what I have to say.

But advance degrees and marketing savvy are artificial qualifications as concerns gaining wisdom. Wisdom comes from the school of hard knocks, when life pushes you up against a wall and says, "this is NOT working!" Since this is the place we send our characters to see what they are made of, quotes arise from our stories as our characters fight towards hard-won wisdom.

People love such quotes, that they can print out and paste on their wall. Just look at the number of “highlighters” that litter the pages of your Kindle. Here’s one from Roland Merullo’s novel, Breakfast with Buddha: “When you are a crank, you put yourself on the top of the list of people you make miserable.” Great quote, right? Turns out 292 people (and counting) agree with you.

Want to guess which philosophers came up with these quotes?
1. "To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive." 
2. "All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh." 
3. "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." 
4. "No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently." 
5. "It is within my power either to serve God or not to serve him. Serving him, I add to my own good and the good of the whole world. Not serving him, I forfeit my own good and deprive the world of that good, which was in my power to create." 
6. “We don’t get to choose our gifts, just as we don’t get to choose the shape of the vessel into which they are poured. If you fail to claim the gifts, what will you have? The same vessel—just empty.” 
7. "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist though any other medium and will be lost." 
8. "Where there's life, there's hope." 

1. Robert Louis Stevenson
2. Doris Lessing
3. Anais Nin
4. Agnes de Mille
5. Leo Tolstoy
6. Kathryn Craft
7. Martha Graham
8. Kathryn Craft

Hmm… Who is this “Kathryn Craft”?

Since we didn't study wisdom literature in my health and physical education masters program, my quotes didn't arise by any credential other than story. These two came from the mouth of my character Marty Kandelbaum, who is a deep-thinking baker. I love the notion that philosophers travel among us, unlabeled as such, yet still capable of functioning as a spirit guide. This will come up again and again in my fiction—the archetype would be the mentor or crone.

That’s why, when Dani did her post on creating memes to promote books, I thought a meme campaign would be just right for mine. The illustrations on this page are what I’ve come up with so far.

I’ll be adding a few more over the course of the next two months. But if you like what you see here, and have a Facebook account from which you’d like to share them, feel free to go to my Facebook page and share away—I’d love to see these spread far and wide!

And thank you, Dani, BRP's head red pencil pusher—one of the great benefits of being a blog team member is the sharing of such ideas and resources.

Next: Countdown to a Book 16: Ten Book Launch Considerations

All Countdown to a Book posts 

How has the Blood-Red Pencil affected your writing life? Have you tried creating memes thanks to Dani, or Bitstrips thanks to Shon? Sharpened grammar thanks to the Style Maven, or taken away useful techniques from any of the other authors and editors here? In this holiday season, we’d love the gift of your feedback in the comments.

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, 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. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Rule of Three - Terry Odell

This post first ran on Tuesday, November 15, 2011.

Have you ever noticed the rhythm of an author's writing?

There's something about the "rule of three" that seems ingrained in us as human beings, from the Three Little Pigs, the Three Stooges, to the Third Time's the Charm. (Did you notice the use of three examples?)

When writing, giving three examples of things seems to make the narrative flow better. We'll often list three things a character does or says. Somehow, it doesn't feel as "right" with more or less. The three-act structure is the basis for plays and writing books.

Repetition helps readers remember. Things presented in threes just seem to stick with us: Faith, Hope. and Charity. Winken, Blinken, and Nod. Blood, Sweat and Tears. Stop, Look and Listen. Stop, Drop and Roll. How many more can you name? Dozens I'm sure.

Here are some examples of using the rule of three in writing fiction:

He took off his boots, sank onto the couch and stretched his legs out in front of him.

He flopped down beside her, drew her close and was out.

Jungle noises filled Dalton’s ears. Monkeys chattered, birds sang, insects buzzed.

At the top of the stairs, a pair of double doors stood open. Classical music drifted down. Two men in black trousers, white shirts and red jackets greeted guests.

Following the flashlight’s narrow beam, she rushed toward the voice, stopping two paces into the room.

Repetition shows you meant it. If you repeat a word twice in a paragraph or a short passage, there's a "clunk" or "echo" effect. However, using the word three times is effectively telling the reader you meant to repeat the word.

As a matter of fact, the US Marines found that grouping things in threes helped people remember training, which in turn, helped keep them alive. They experimented with a rule of four, and retention and effectiveness plummeted.

However, as with anything else, overuse of any pattern can get monotonous. So go back over your manuscript and see if you've got too many things happening in threes.

And, after finding out that I'm finally getting rights back to two of my earlier books, I've begun working on a third. Readers seem to like threes—hence the popularity of trilogies.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense 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. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who loves the rhythm of words and writing.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

To Plot Or Not To Plot

To plot or not to plot, ah, that is a thorny question.

There is no right or wrong answer.

If you prefer to sit down and wait for the muses to visit, what you end up with as a first draft may need some reverse engineering.

If you plot first then write, the story may change and your first draft is dramatically different than the plan you started with.

Both are perfectly acceptable, as is any method in between. The important part is to keep writing, growing your craft, and enjoying it.

Over the years, our contributors have weighed in on the debate:

Pantsing Versus Plotting

Types of Writers

For more information about the layering method, check out Story Building Blocks I: The Four Layers of Conflict, which is available in print and e-book versions. It would make a terrific addition to your Christmas wish list or a gift for other writers in your life.

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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Spotlight Important Prose

This post, originally published on February 25, 2011, is chock full of advice that will ensure that you are communicating well with your readers. 

As your reader engages with the first of your 100,000 words, she wonders where to look for meaning. She seeks clues that will orient her. And she is counting on you as author to point the way toward the material that is most important.

First let me say this: all your words should be important.

But while all words must serve a function, you’ll want some information or images to linger. Here are some of the tools authors use to throw a spotlight on the most important info, with some links to previous BRP posts that explore these techniques further:

Word count
The more words you devote to a character or situation, the more important the reader will expect it to be. This is as true for a paragraph as it is a whole book.

Whether an anachronism or the only detail offered, one detail made prominent will stick in the memory and define a character or situation.

Quotation marks are like flashing neon: “Pay attention. This is important.” So watch that you only put words in the mouths of important characters, and then only important words.
Keep things simple by only naming characters that will be important to the plot. Supporting characters with no developed arc can sometimes be referred to by the roles they serve.
The reader will pay attention as you add words that will slow the pace and evoke the action in gripping detail. Speed up and he’ll snap to attention.
I sometimes call this using the voice of God. Leave no room for doubt.
The rules of grammar set up certain reader expectations; dropping them shakes things up. So go ahead, start a sentence with a preposition. Use truncated phrases. Or one word sentences. When important details drown within long, fully orchestrated passages, you’ve got to do something. Pluck.

Important material will be noticed more if you place it at the end of a sentence, where it can resonate across the space created by a period, section break, or chapter end. As long as you don't let the technique hijack your prose, you can amplify the effect by letting the sentence stand alone as its own paragraph.

Em-dashes, semi-colons, colons, and parentheses
These punctuation marks, less often used, can grab attention in ways a comma or period cannot.

Purposeful repetition
It’s like pounding the gavel twice: those who didn’t get it the first time might pick it up the second: That's when he tripped. Tripped right over the makeshift sound system and fell face down into the wedding cake.
Generally a nonfiction technique, I have seen this used to great effect in fiction as well.
(Please note that I did not mention italics, capital letters, and exclamation points. Why use surface glitter when we can power our stories with real craft?)

The heat generated by a spotlight reminds us it is a powerful tool, so watch out. Use it too often and you’ll burn yourself; use it indiscriminately and you’ll confuse the reader and forfeit his confidence in your ability to tell your tale.

If your readers have sometimes missed important details in your storytelling—or worse, missed the point altogether—see if using these techniques might help you communicate more effectively. And if you have other techniques, please share!

Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. 
Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, will be released by Sourcebooks on January 28, 2014. It is now available for pre-order. Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the StormConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oh, Those Details!

This post first ran on Sunday, September 21, 2008.

There are so many things to think about when you're writing a book--plot, characters, POV, opening hooks, chapter hooks, dialogue, narrative, show-don't tell, and on and on. Well, here's one more--the mood of the story.

I'm not talking genre, like romance, mystery, horror, suspense, etc. A Romance can be eerie and gothic. Horror can be humorous. A Thriller can be tongue-in-cheek. By mood, I'm talking atmosphere of the book.

Think about the atmosphere you want to create for the plot, the characters, the setting. Then establish that mood through your use of details, the way you put words and sentences together, your use of the senses.

A character walks down a long hallway, dark and quiet. A clock sounds. Is it the deep bass bonging of a grandfather clock? Or is it the shrill clucking of a coo-coo clock?

The setting of a scene is a lawyer's office. How do you, as the writer, furnish the room? Big, heavy furniture; lots of wood; a Tiffany desk lamp? Is that all? Or is there, hidden among the knick-knacks, a worn-leather book on ancient incantations? One thing that throws the scene, the atmosphere, off-kilter.

Your character goes to church. What kind of church is it? You can't just say it's a big fancy church--you have to show us. And what you show us about this church sets the mood. Do we see the long pews, the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows? Do we see a rubber duckie floating in the baptismal tank? Is the choir dressed in royal blue with white collars, or ill-fitting faded purple robes? Does conversation come to a deadly stop when a certain character enters? Does a cell phone ring during the sermon and we see a head of curly brown hair slide down in the pew?

Details, details. Sometimes you put those details in as you write. Sometimes you see where they’re needed as you’re editing. You realize you can’t see the scene or you can’t envision an object or a room – not based on what’s on the paper. So you have to put in the details. And you have to put in the right amount of details. Not so much that your readers skip to the next paragraph. But not so few that they don’t feel as if they’re in the story.

So think about the details as you edit. Make them count.

Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and writer. You can visit her website and blog, follow her on Twitter, or join her newsletter, Doing It Write.
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