Monday, March 31, 2014

Naming Fantastic Characters

Writers search for the ‘right’ names for the people who populate their books (or, they should!). There are many resources available for finding everyday names, of course. At the foot of this post you’ll find a suggested list; but wait a moment before you drop down there.


Because here I want to invite you to consider the naming of characters living in invented worlds. Fantasy, of whatever sub-genre, generally requires names that aren’t in common use. Read any epic fantasy and you’ll find it brimming with constructed names, some memorable and others that ought never to have been forced onto the reading public. In fantasy, perhaps more than any other genre, it’s essential to invent names that don’t appear in other books, otherwise readers may associate your masterpiece with the work of another author.

But, how to do it? How do you ‘invent’ names?

For me, the most important aspect is the ‘mood’ or ‘feel’ of the work. When preparing the background for my fantasy A Seared Sky I started with a map: maps in fantasy are almost essential if your reader is to gain a proper understanding of where the action takes place. I named the places on my map by employing less commonly used alphabet letters, or, where those letters were common, by using them in unusual combinations or by doubling them. I applied the same rules to my characters, to give a sense of unity amongst place and character names.

I started with simple names, as I wanted them to be easy to read and to stick in the minds of readers. But, because of the need for exclusivity, I ran each invention through a Google search to make sure it wasn’t already out there. In many cases, my simple names were already in evidence, either as fantasy characters, or as names or words used in foreign languages, sometimes as the names of real people. A point here: beware of accepting your made-up names without checking. There’s always the possibility that you’ve named your treasured heroine with a word that actually means ‘ugly moron’, or something worse, in another language!

I had to modify my original choices in many cases. An original male character, ‘Gladron’, became ‘Aglydron’.  I transposed letters, changed initial letters, added an odd ‘h’ or doubled the vowels, even inserted a hyphen or an apostrophe. A lot of effort? Perhaps. Especially since I’ve 93 named characters in the trilogy. But, I hope the names are memorable, easy to pronounce and sufficiently different to be distinguishable from other works of fiction.

Pronunciation is another consideration: as the writer, you have a sound for each name in your head, which you try to translate into letters. But readers may well read these in different ways. I named one of my heroines ‘Tumalind’, which I pronounce as ‘Tewmallind’, but my wife, who does my beta reading, and my publisher, both pronounce the name as ‘Tummalind’. Does it matter? Do I mind? No. As long as readers are happy with the sound made by the letters, I’m happy for it to be read that way. English is a notoriously flexible language and it would be amazing if we were all to pronounce every word in the same way. I’d considered supplying a pronunciation guide but decided against, simply because that gives the reader choice, and reading is an active, not a passive, pursuit.

Finally, as an author, you’ll want your names to reflect, as far as possible, the gender of the character. This is, to some extent, a matter of individual taste. But I tried to make my female names a little softer and my male names a little more brittle. I know some will see this as an unwelcome capitulation to perceived stereotypes, but I’m writing fantasy here, not making a political argument (although there are plenty of political analogies in the text for those who care to dig for them). My point is that I want to make the work as comfortable in terms of actual reading as possible. I don’t want to place barriers in the way of understanding by naming a male character, say, ‘Chellyth’, one of the lesser female names, or a female character, ‘Feldrark’, one of the more important male names. I believe names have a ‘sound’ that indicates gender and, whilst I accept that there’ll be differences in opinion about the particulars, I hope that the general rules have worked to support my choices.

To sum up: check your choices against Google, or some other large search engine, to avoid embarrassing coincidences, try to maintain some consistency within the naming scheme, and attempt to match name to gender, if possible.

Writing fantasy is great fun. It allows enormous freedom for the imagination. But it also requires a degree of discipline, if it isn’t to descend into the farcical. I enjoy the whole process of writing. I hope my readers enjoy the results and that writers have gained something useful from this post.

List of Random Names          
Name Berry : Lists

To buy a copy of Joinings in the UK click here. In the US, click here.

Stuart Aken has been writing since before the flood and says ‘antediluvian’ was a cliché even when he was young. He has seven books out and his most recent, the first volume of an epic fantasy trilogy launched on 30th March. You can discover more about A Seared Sky: Joinings on his blog, and be sure to connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Countdown to a Self-Published Book 1 : Making the Decision

We’ve followed the multi-talented Kathryn Craft through the engaging and triumphant story of her journey from pitch to traditionally published book (which is doing fantastically well – congratulations, Kathryn). Now it’s my turn to count down to publication, with my about-to-be-self-published book, Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin.

Thirty-four days to publication date: 1st of May
(draft cover)
 Why Self-Publishing?

(I promise this wasn't intended as a follow-up to Stephen Tremp's excellent guest post yesterday.)

I started and finished the first draft of Maddie (I nickname all my books for easier reference) while I was pregnant with my second child, more for the sense of achievement than anything else. I wrote it knowing that I would be shelving it for about two years before I would be able to begin the process of finding an agent and a publisher for it – because, with my time and energy focused on two small children, the likelihood of blowing deadlines and not meeting the publisher’s expectations and requirements would be very high. Worse than a rejection would be an acceptance that is revoked or a contract breeched.

So, at first I was still considering finding a traditional publisher. But then I made a lucky connection and was offered an editing job I couldn’t resist. The unexpected lump-sum was a perfect amount for a publishing budget. Could I, perhaps, do it myself?

I began putting some feelers out, and came across the now-notorious John Locke e-book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. Locke had already owned two highly-successful sales businesses, and made the point that the publishing industry is the only industry in the world that stigmatises those who choose to start their own businesses. I had a conversation with my neighbour, who owns and runs a garden landscaping business with two employees, and he agreed: there’s nothing weird about being a small-business-owner.

So I took Locke’s analogy further and applied it to myself and my own little corner of the universe. My world has been affected by another industry that seeks to stamp out anyone choosing to trust their own natural instincts and manage their own process–obstetrics. Here in Australia, we’ve been lobbying to preserve our rights to choose where we birth and with whom. It jumped out at me that pursuing a traditional publisher would be tantamount to driving Maddie to the hospital and handing her over to a bookstetrician. Some authors have different needs; the key is having the choice, and not being ridiculed for making whichever choice it is you went with. And that applies to both sides of the industry.

Right or wrong, that thought brought out my stubborn streak. I homebirth and I home-publish. And I’m proud of it. But self-publishing hasn’t meant taking any shortcuts, as you'll see in my next post.

How about you? Have you made the decision yet? What did you decide, and what helped you make the decision? Or are you still on the fence? Tell us your publishing story in the comments.

Elsa Neal
Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, which is now available on Kindle. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. To keep in the loop about “Maddie”, join her mailing list here, or find her at or

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stephen Tremp Wormhole Trilogy Blog Book Tour

Now that I have completed a trilogy of 325,000 words, I’m reflecting on what just happened while wondering what direction I need to move forward.

I chose to self-publish mainly because I keep 100 percent of royalties while maintaining control over the content and cover art. I also maintain the rights. It’s a passion thing, not a money thing, although I do like money. For my initial launch into writing, publishing, and promoting I had to do it myself. And now that the trilogy is completed, at least the writing and publishing part, I feel great. Like I accomplished something similar to scaling a high mountain or running the Boston Marathon.

Accomplishments to Date: My first two books, Breakthrough and Opening, have been sold in Borders Books and Barnes & Noble bookstores in every major city from Los Angeles to Boston. I’ve had over 10,000 in sales and downloads.

Moving Forward: The cover art is not a maker or breaker though. Neither is keeping all the royalties. If a publisher can result in more sales, then I will gladly give up a percentage of my royalties. I think for my next two books, which will be stand alone novellas around 150 - 175 pages, I will look for a small publisher. Maybe there is value there. Then I’ll come back to more of the adventures of Chase Manhattan. My main concern is signing on for three to five years with someone while I do all the work like writing and promoting. I have to wonder what’s in it for me to sign on with a small publisher?

The Credibility Factor: When someone is searching Amazon for a book to download, does even a small no-name publisher bring more credibility to a book and its author? Could the maker and breaker come down to a self published book versus a published book, even if the publisher is a small one the buyer has never heard of?

Promoting; What I Have Learned: If a self published or indie writer wants to go beyond the mere satisfaction of writing and publishing a book and really supplement their income or make a living writing, then it’s a good idea to build a platform and a brand. Enlarging your social media network such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. is not enough. These are tools that are helpful to build platform, but are not going to make you a lot of money over the long haul.

Social media is not a way to grow your “fame”, it’s a reflection of your fame. Your social media following will grow as your popularity grows - Tim Grahl

When people see your platform and brand, they will ask: What Is It? What Do I Get? How Does It Benefit Me? - Eban Pagan

My Platform: 

What Is It? Breakthrough Blogs: Where Science Meets the Supernatural.
What Do You Get? Help bridge the gap between science and the supernatural.
How Does It Benefit Me? Help explain our universe and our place in it.

My Brand: It’s not a slogan like Coca Cola’s It’s The Real Thing or McDonald’s I’m Lovin’ It. It’s not necessarily an image, although it could be. I want people to think of me when they hear the word wormhole. That’s it. Simple, yet effective.

Final Thought: I had to write the Breakthrough trilogy. It’s a passion. I could not imagine lying on my death bed, having never written and published the series, and wondered, “What if ...”

Book 3 in the Trilogy
Question: When you are searching for a book to download and you scan a dozen or so potential good reads, do you lean toward the published book even if you never heard of the publisher? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. To buy a copy of the Escalation e-book, click here.

Stephen Tremp is the author of the Breakthrough series. Together, Breakthrough, Opening, and Escalation follow the lives of the unlikely participants from innocence to a coming of age through sacrifice, betrayal, passion, lust, unconditional love, and hope. Escalation will appeal to fans of modern-day science fiction, action, horror, and even romance.
Stop by Stephen’s Blog for more information on the Breakthrough series.
And to download Escalation: The Adventures of Chase Manhattan CLICK HERE

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Talking About Titles? A Capital Idea!

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng
Hello, dearies! After a touch of R&R, I’m back for a bit of Q&A. It seems that a dear friend is at a loss; she’s come up against a crop of royal characters and is anxious to ensure that there’s no mix-up between Queens and queens. Off we go to the CMOS, trailing our cloth of gold behind us.

When dealing with titles and offices, the general rule is that “civil, military, religious, and professional titles are capitalized when they immediately precede a personal name and are thus part of the name.”

There are, naturally, exceptions to this; after all, people have been known to wear white after Labor Day. It stands to reason that the world of writing has few hard-and-fast rules. For the time being, we’ll stick with the use of royal titles.

If you’re using the word alone, such as the queen of Denmark or the sharif of Mecca, you may omit the capital. But, when used as a title, these same words “form an integral and … permanent part of a person’s name and are therefore usually capitalized.” Prince Thomas, Lady Elaine, and so forth are examples. British usage allows for the term duke to be capitalized for royal dukes but not for nonroyal dukes.

There are a number of special cases that go along with the many layers of British titles. For example, the wife of an unspecified earl would be called the countess, while the Countess of Shaftesbury is appropriate when speaking of the lady herself. The baronet is called Sir Whatsis Name, and his wife is known as Lady Name. Their daughter would be known as the Honourable Whatser Name. For a comprehensive look at styles and titles, have a peek at Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage.

Since many royals have a full style and title longer than most of my hemlines, honorifics and short but respectful forms of address have evolved. These are always capitalized, which makes for at least one easy-to-remember rule. Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Your Excellency—oh, dear. It appears that I wrote too soon. The honorifics sir, ma’am, my lord, and my lady are not capitalized.

Well! Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I’m off in search of my lavender sachets. Although Mother Nature dropped snow on us yesterday, I’m still hoping for spring. Time to pack away the heavy coats and sweaters and bring out the cotton tops and denim. Keep your fingers crossed for warmer weather, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew
In direct protest against miserable winter weather, the Style Maven has been ordering spinning fiber in bright colors and bulk quantities. You can read about her latest yarn mishaps by visiting The Procraftinator.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Professional Editing

Sending out your work without a careful edit is as unthinkable as sending your daughter to the prom in her nightgown and slippers. But it may be a challenge to find exactly the right editor, especially when you're just starting out. That's why the Story Circle Network created its Editorial Service. Story Circle has vetted each editor and stands behind her work. You can trust her to be reliable, efficient, and thoughtful-exactly the kind of editor every writer wants and needs.

--Susan Wittig Albert, bestselling author and founder of the Story Circle Network--
So, you've worked hard on that article, short story, book of poems, memoir, or novel. You've taken Anne Lamott's advice and sat down every day and written your story, bit by bit, bird by bird. Some days your fingers moved like lightning across the keyboard; on others, you spent more time gazing out the window wondering what it would be like to be on a beach in the Caribbean, far away from a computer screen. You've gone through your work two or three times, polishing this, changing that, totally trashing this other thing that, clearly, someone else must have come in and written because you never would have even thought anything so dumb. Point is, as far as you're concerned, it's done. What's your next step? Do you upload it to Createspace, price it at $4.99 as an e-book and call it a day? Do you send it off to fifteen different publishers and hope for the best?

If you're smart, you do neither one of those things. Instead, you invest some time and money in finding an editor to work with you to help you put the finish on your work that it deserves. One big mistake many of us writers make is that we think that we can do it all: SuperWriter Syndrome. We come up with a brilliant idea and actually follow through (this is the work part) and craft it into a compelling story. Then, while our heads are still big from the rush of success, we decide that we don't need no stinkin' editor and blaze ahead, red pen in hand, and do our own editing. Bad, bad choice. Better to duck into a phone booth, remove our capes, and find a professional to help us out. The trick is, where do you find a good editor? One quick, easy way is to check out Story Circle Network's Editorial Service. Story Circle has already vetted each one of their editors, and stands behind their work.

The SCN Editorial Service offers several different services including copy-editing, conceptual editing, comprehensive editing, proofreading, ghostwriting of personal stories or memoirs, and manuscript evaluation for both writers and publishers. Since the program's inception, its professional editors have helped many writers shepherd their projects to the publication finish line. And the best thing? Story Circle guarantees the work of their editors:

"Editing is an art and a craft and no two editors will suggest exactly the same changes. However, because we've selected experienced, respected, and highly qualified editors, we know you will be satisfied with the results. We stand behind our work."

Photo by Rod Waddington, via Flickr
Khadijah Lacina is the coordinator of SCN's editorial services. As a member of SCN's board of directors, she is head of the publications and membership committees. She is a translator, writer and editor at Taalib al Ilm Educational Resources, as well as a writer, translator, herbalist, fabric artist, and teacher. She homesteads near Alton, MO, with her husband and seven of her eight children and blogs at and

Monday, March 24, 2014

Creating Your Character’s Backstory

Many writers like to do a character profile before they write the story. You can also create one as you go along. It’s handy to keep track of small details like hair and eye color, relationship to other characters, etc. But it can also help establish a backstory—the character(s) personality, motivation, quirks, philosophies, and why he/she might act a certain way when confronted with an obstacle.

Along with the name, age, and birthplace, here are some characteristics you might want to think about:

· Physical description (any scars, a limp, etc?)
· Family background: (financial & social status, get along w/parents etc.?)
· Occupation:
· Hobbies:
· Marital Status/children/pets?
· Moral standards:
· Extrovert or introvert?
· Taste in music, books, food:
· Character traits (strongest and weakest):
· Philosophy of life:

And digging a little deeper to help with your plotline:

· What does he/she care about so much he/she would risk everything for?
· Obsessions?
· Fears?
· Character flaw:
· Present Problem:
· How will it get worse? (obstacles/antagonist)
· How will character solve it?
· Has a secret?
· An object associated with? (i.e. luck rabbit’s foot, smokes a smelly cigar, likes white roses, etc.

Do you create a character profile or do you let him/her develop as you write? What characteristics do you like to establish when developing your character?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Whose Line Is It?

14:46 Edinburgh (Regent Road) to Stirling bus station via Kirkliston, Bridgend, Linlithgow and Polmont
Photo by Ingy the Wingy, via Flickr
If you’ve ever taught high-school English, you’re familiar with the time-honored dictum that characters reveal themselves through (1) what they do; (2) what they say; and (3) what other characters say about them. This article is concerned with Item 2.

You can tell us – in detail – what a character looks like. You can even tell us what kind of voice a character has (squeaky, gruff, sexy, etc.). But the single biggest challenge for the writer is the question: how much information can you convey about a given character on the strength of dialogue alone? Ideally, your readers should be able to distinguish which character is speaking on the strength of diction, grammar, and syntax, and speech mannerisms indicative of age, gender, and cultural background.

To illustrate the point, I’ve prepared two sample scripts.

Conversation One:

I want to go to the train station. Is this the right bus stop?

Yes, but you’ve just missed it.

That’s unlucky. How long will it be until another bus comes along?

According to the schedule, it will be about a quarter of an hour.

Do these buses usually run on time?

That depends on how heavy the traffic is. If you’re in a hurry you could take a taxi.

That would be expensive.

You’re right. If you have the time to spare, it’s more economical to wait.

I wish there was someplace to sit down. My feet are tired.

Now the quiz:

1. How many speakers do you detect here?

2. Based solely on the content of the dialogue, what personal information can you deduce about the speakers?

Ok, let’s try this again.

Conversation Two:

Please, I want the train station. This is the right bus stop?

Aye, mate, but if you’re wanting the Number 5 to Kirkliston, you’ve just missed it.

Ach, no! Will another bus come soon?

The timetable is posted here on the wall. Let me see if I can make sense of it for you. Oh yes, here you are: the next Number 5 should be along in about fifteen minutes.

These buses run on time?

Only when you’re running late. No, seriously: the traffic’s hellish this time of day when the schools let out. I have to leave my flat at half past two every day to pick up my kid at half past three.

Sorry: I couldn’t help overhearing. If you’re in a hurry, you could always take a taxi.

I wouldn’t advise it, pal, unless you’re a merchant banker.

That’s very true. It really is shocking what cab drivers charge these days! My late-husband would be scandalized. If you aren’t pushed for time, it’s probably worth waiting.

Ma! Ma! I’m tired. I wanna sit down.

Ok, now take the quiz again.

See the difference? ‘Nuff said.

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The 12 Steps to Intimacy, Part 2

Last month, our theme was sex and romance. I was talking about the 12 Steps to Intimacy which romance author Linda Howard adapted from Desmond Morris's book, Intimate Behaviour. There wasn't enough room for all 12 steps in that post, so I'm continuing them here.

If you missed that first post, you can find it here. However, if you missed that post, then you missed the link to the foundations for human sexual behavior, so you might want to start here.

A quick recap of the steps, for those who simply want a refresher without the details:

1. Eye to Body
2. Eye to Eye
3. Voice to Voice
4. Hand to Hand
5. Arm to Shoulder
6. Arm to Waist

Moving on to the last 6 steps:

7. Mouth to mouth
Kissing. The first kiss is a milestone in any romance novel. Both parties are vulnerable. Look at the romance books you've read and see how many of these 'first kiss' encounters are cut short. The author is creating tension by pulling the characters apart. How is the kiss described? Is the author pushing the characters together with their reactions to the sensations?
In an erotic romance, this might be the first step. It's also going to happen very early in the book. However, for a believable HEA ending, the couple needs to backtrack and lay the foundations for the relationship beyond the scope of sex.

8. Hand to head
This is done by both men and women. Whereas the initial kiss may have been only a touching of lips, as the relationship develops, the woman may run her fingers through the man's hair. The man may cradle the woman's face. Allowing someone to touch one's head shows a deepening trust. Does the woman allow the touch, or does she pull away?

9. Hand to body
This step moves the couple into the beginnings of foreplay. This is another area where the author is likely to use the external plot to pull the characters apart. The phone rings. Someone knocks on the door. However, it's still quite possible for the emotional pull-apart. Is the character having second thoughts? Is there too much guilt?

10. Mouth to breast
This step shows a great deal of trust. It's still possible for the woman to pull back, although this is another step along the foreplay route.

11. Hand to genitals
Most of the time, this is the point at which there's no turning back. The commitment has been made. If the woman does change her mind, it will be very frustrating for the male (a MAJOR conflict). It's also likely to label the woman as a "tease."

12. Genitals to genitals
This is the sex act. It may happen on or off the page. However by now, the reader should be at least as anxious for the relationship to be consummated as the characters are. Perhaps more.
After this point, the author is challenged with maintaining tension. Just as the ratings plunged when the stars of "Moonlighting" finally slept together, once the hero and heroine have had sex, the author is likely to be spending more page time on the plot conflicts. In non-erotic romance, further sex scenes tend to be less detailed.

I hope these two posts have helped you understand how to show a relationship develop, and how to insert that all-important tension into your scenes. Remember, it's not just in a romance novel that these stepping stones to a relationship are important. It can work in any genre where you have characters in a relationship.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Yoga for Desk-Bound Writers

Right, writers - here is your reminder to move and stretch your bodies so your dedication to your craft doesn't end up causing you physical pain.

Here's a video chosen by our Style Maven to make it easy for you to get moving:

And some previous yoga- and exercise-related posts you might want to browse through: Stretch Your Body To Revive Your Writer Mind I've Got My Eye on You  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Busybody Ghosts

To be successful, ghostwriters must be more than good writers. We also have to be part therapist, part marketer, part bartender, and part busybody. Ghostwriters have to ask a lot of questions.

During my association with a client, I ask hundreds of questions, many of which arise spontaneously during conversation. But I have some standard questions that I almost always begin with. Here are ten of them:

1. Who are your desired readers? (Do NOT let them get away with answering “everyone.”) Be as specific as possible.

2. What do you want your readers to learn? Why don’t they know this already? Why would they want to learn it? Why wouldn’t they want to learn it?

3. How do you want your reader to feel? What emotions do you want to awaken, and why is it important to you that they feel this?

4. What is the purpose of this book? Make money? Educate? Entertain? Save the world?

5. What are the hot buttons, hot topics, or controversies in your subject? If there is a lot of interest in your subject, what is your stance on the controversies? If there is little interest in your subject, why is that and what can you do about it?

6. Are there Facebook or other social media groups that focus on, or are related to, the subject of your book? Do you belong to these groups? If not, why not? What are the people in these groups most interested in?

7. Have you tweeted questions or teasers about your subject to test the waters of interest? What has been the response on Twitter?  

8. What other books deal with your subject? Have you read these books, and if so, what is your opinion of them? If you haven’t read them, why not? In what ways do you want your book to be different?  

9. If no one reads your book, what will happen – to them, to you, or to the world at large?

10. If many people read your book, what do you think will happen, to them, to you, or to the world at large?  
The answers to these questions give me valuable insights into the way my client thinks and feels, helping me to “get” his or her voice. They also help me understand what kind of readers I’ll be writing for, and what is important to them.

By the way, these questions are also the ones I ask myself when I first begin to write a book of my own. And I don’t let myself get away without answering them.
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

Friday, March 14, 2014

March's Gifts to Writers

March is the month of whimsies, contrasts, and change. Consider the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C. Contrast that with the merriment of St. Patrick’s Day just 48 hours later, when liquid spirits flow freely and the “wearin’ o’ the green” identifies those of proud Irish descent worldwide.

What about the weather? In Colorado, March can send six inches of snow to cover the ground one day and melt it with sixty degree temperatures the next. In several areas of the country, early-blooming perennials peek through the ground, only to be snowed upon or frozen before they have a chance to blossom forth in all their glory. Whether it comes in and goes out like a lion or lamb, only one thing is certain: March is most predictable in its unpredictability.

What does March teach us about writing?

First, we are inspired not to write predictable stories. (Can “predictable” be a synonym for “boring”?) While groundwork for events that affect our characters needs to be laid, it can be subtle enough that the reader (and character) gasps—at least figuratively—when the unexpected occurs.

In our “whodunit,” is our bad guy/his motive obvious from the start? Or do we keep our readers and characters guessing while we drop occasional tidbits to create a firm foundation for what will transpire? This is essential if we are to avoid a disenchanted “where’d-that-come-from” response among our readers. Remember our goals to write a great book and to build a fan base—we want our readers waiting eagerly for our next book. This means our present book had better be interesting, compelling, engaging, and memorable.

Second, how do we incorporate March’s contrasts into our stories? Think of scenes and characters as colors as the month progresses from winter’s starkness to spring’s vibrancy. While black and white offer the greatest contrast, life rarely comes in black and white. Gray areas in myriad shades abound. Yet gray is nondescript to the point of blandness. Do you like colorless characters and bland scenes? Will your readers? Think color.
  • Red: energy, strength, power, danger, passion, love
  • Orange: enthusiasm, happiness, encouragement, creativity, fall, harvest
  • Yellow: warmth, cheerfulness, energy, instability, cowardice
  • Green: growth, harmony, freshness, stability, healing, rest for the eyes, money
  • Blue: depth, trust, loyalty, wisdom, intelligence, faith, truth, heaven, masculinity
  • Purple: wealth, extravagance, dignity, independence, ambition, luxury, mystery
When you envision and write a scene, you can promote its connection to your readers by using “Technicolor.” It’s not necessary to describe every detail of the colors you “see,” but use the feelings they represent to charge your scenes and your characters with life, reality, and a spectrum of emotions that keeps your readers turning pages.

Is this “living color” contrast really necessary in building your story? Consider how you feel when
viewing a black and white photograph of a stunning sunset and then the same scene in rich, colorful tones. How about a battlefield littered with bodies? Black and white photography cannot bring the horror of war to the viewer as vividly as can a color picture that shows broken, blood-soaked corpses and sanguine puddles where lives have drained from breathing, viable people like you and me onto the unfeeling ground—the same ground that may, ten years later, host a laughing child running through daisies and wildflowers. Use color to bring contrast to your scenes and hook your reader.

Finally, let’s revisit weather as it vacillates from warm to cool, windy to still, freezing to stifling, and interferes with plans, changes abruptly, gives life, and brings danger and death. The circle of life can be compared to the seasons, beginning with the birth of spring on March 20 and ending with the death imposed by winter. Use these changes to inspire you as you write stories that come full circle and promote character growth.

Instead of bemoaning the unpredictable whimsies and contrasts of March, consider the gifts they bring to those who listen to the month’s often blustery commentary on life. Translate those gifts into your writing.

How do you use the lessons of March (or other months or seasons) to enhance your work? Do you construct your stories in living color to bring contrast to your readers? How do your characters change throughout your books?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Build a Platform for Your Book

Platform One at Minehad Railway Station
Photo by Ross Hawkes, via Flickr.
One thing that agents and acquiring editors often look for is whether the author has a platform. 

Exactly what a platform is can cause people to stutter while trying to explain the term. Some say it means you have a cause. Your book is about curing cancer. Or your protagonist is a recovering alcoholic. Or … you have something to talk about that might get you publicity. Even more so, if you yourself have conquered cancer or been sober for twenty years. 

Some think it means that your book touches on a topic that is hot, like the politics in the Middle East or the two lovers end up together because of their work on global warming. Because those topics are relevant, you could get on talk shows.

Although all of that would most likely be a help in promoting your book and can be part of a platform, it’s not really THE platform.

Your platform is your ability to get publicity and sell your book. You are already a well-known speaker with an active line-up of appearances. You’re an established expert in the field you’re writing about. You’re a celebrity who could get on TV for blowing your nose. Everyone knows your name because you have a radio show or you’re a columnist at a major paper. Or you have contacts. Lots of contacts.

You and I may not have fat black books crammed with networking contacts. But all writers can start trying to build a database of people they could turn to for blurbs, help, recommendations, or promotion. And the time to start is before you publish that book.

Start collecting names and contact information on everyone you meet or know. If it’s a passing acquaintance, record how, when and why you met. If that contact has a contact that might be valuable, note it. If possible, put it in a searchable database. Be diligent.

A platform doesn’t appear overnight. It takes time to build. Get your tools out and start hammering.

Helen Ginger
is an author and blogger. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2014.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Time Out For a Little Fun

Ladies and gentlemen, and all the little children we pretend we wouldn't rather be sometimes, it is once again time to throw off the shackles of responsibility and deadlines and marketing and all that other stuff we writers have to do and just have fun. In recognition of the brutal winter we have all suffered through, I thought we'd start with a joke about the weather.

Image Courtesy of
In B.C. by Mastroianni and Hart, B.C. peeks out of his cave and sees that it is raining, so he goes back inside to get an umbrella. Then the rain stops and he comes out to see that the sun is shining, so he closes the umbrella and takes it back into the cave, coming back out with fishing pole in his hand. Then it starts to snow, which has him go back into the cave and emerge later with a pair of skis. Now the snow has stopped, and the sun is back out, so he once again goes into the cave, coming out with a golf club. As he steps out of the cave, the snow starts again. B.C. throws up his hand and yells, "Make up your mind."

To which Curls responds, "March Madness."

Speaking of March Madness, here in the U.S. we had our own March Madness with primary elections. Anyone who has read my personal blog, It's Not All Gravy, knows that I have strong opinions about how the political system has disintegrated. That's why this recent strip from Shoe by Jeff MacNelly struck my funny bone.

Shoe and Cosmo are at a briefing where a press spokesman says, "As you know, Sen. Belfry has been working very hard this year. He really needed to get away for a few days to recharge his batteries."

Shoe asks, "Where did he go?"

"It's a Caribbean resort just for politicians."

Cosmo says, "Oh. Scandals."

Image Courtesy of Comedians Nationwide where you can book your very own show.
In Scott Hilburn's Argyle Sweater, two little green spacemen are standing in front of a counter at a gas station convenience store. The man behind the counter is reading a newspaper and doesn't look at them. He says, "Third cooler in the back, second shelf from the bottom, next to the 20oz bottles and... Oh, never mind."

Then he pauses and looks toward a clerk heading to the back,  "Mike, can you take these boys to our liters?"

I know, I know, that was a real groaner, so we will end with a few neat quotes:

“I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.” ~ Groucho Marx

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ― Madeleine L'Engle

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” ― Maya Angelou

Posted by Maryann Miller - 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, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the Season's Series. 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 joke and a good walk.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


If there's any single word in the English language that expresses this concept, I don't know it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: The spirit or genius which marks the thought or feeling of a period or age. Another way you could put it would be the ethos or customs of the times.

Having written books set in three distinct periods, I've come to the conclusion that, important as correct historical detail may be, still more important is to understand--and accurately present to the reader--the Zeitgeist of your chosen setting.

Included in this term is the status of women, the possible paths open to them, and the consequences they were likely to face if they stepped outside the conventions. Your female protagonist may  do anything she chooses, but if she acts in an unconventional way for the times, you must explain why, and how she suffers as a result.

For instance, in my Regency novel, The Improper Governess, my heroine goes on the stage in order to support her younger brothers: Not a possible career or a fun adventure, as it might be here and now. Actresses were assumed to be courtesans, and Lissa suffers the consequences.

Writing a mystery series (Daisy Dalrymple) set in the 1920s, I can't make my female protagonist a police detective. The UK had few women police, those who existed had extremely low status, and many people disapproved of the very concept.

By 1970, women police were more acceptable to the authorities and the general public (though London's Metropolitan Police did not, officially, have female detectives until 1973). They still took a lot of flak from their colleagues (recommended reading: A Different Shade of Blue by Adam Eisenberg). So, in my Cornish Mysteries, the niece of my amateur protagonist is a woman detective, the only one on my imaginary Cornish force. DS Megan Pencarrow has to struggle for respect and do her best not to overreact to slurs and teasing.

Besides sex discrimination, other attitudes that have changed significantly in the two centuries between the Regency and the present are class distinctions, racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-gay sentiment. Though all are still present, alas, they are for the most part unacceptable in modern society. However, when you're writing about characters in the past, you have to take the general viewpoint of society into account. If you want to create a sympathetic protagonist who doesn't hold such unsympathetic beliefs, you have to show him or her as out-of-step with his/her surroundings.

For recent history, I find reading novels written in the relevant period to be a more useful guide to Zeitgeist than any number of history books. Such little things as Never Going Out Without a Hat in the '20s tend to escape the notice of serious historians. Daisy even feels slightly improper taking off her hat in the train (Murder on the Flying Scotsman) on a 400-mile journey. Incidentally, well into the 1990s, my great-aunt Never Went Out Without a Hat.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Taking Inventory of Your Cemetery of Stories and Ideas

Writers Anonymous: There are not enough cemeteries to hold all the dead characters I left behind by not finishing stories.

"Old Graveyard" by Evgeni Dinev from

Every writer I know has a folder. What's IN this folder? Every note, every picture, every first line, every character sketch, every idea for a story you've ever had.

I have one. It's quite large. It's called WRITING. Inside the folder, you will find other folders that represent various "states" of projects. I have a NOVELS folder that contains novels that are completed, novels with outlines, novels with ideas. I have a SHORT STORIES folder that contains the same elements as my NOVELS folder. I have a STORY IDEAS folder that is full to the brim of ideas. I even have a NEW STORY IDEAS folder because of course those ideas are different from the those in the STORY IDEAS folder. I have a SNIPPETS folder that contains hundreds of notes, each note has a line that I heard or that came to me and I just KNEW I had to write it down for a story... that has not been birthed... yet.

I have nearly thirty folders within the WRITING folder, and each of those folders contains several folders as well.

Some of the material within the WRITING folder is over ten years old. I think the oldest thing in it is about twenty years old.

There are some items in this folder I know I will never touch again. During the time I've been collecting these bits and pieces, I have grown as a writer and will no doubt continue to do so. Some of the ideas do not fit into genres I love to write in, and some no longer pull on me, begging me to write them.

Just as we make time to write (or well, we should make that time)... just as we make time to organize our current writing and to promote and market the published works (or well, we should make that time), we should also make time to take a deep breath, sit before our computers, enter the Cemetery of Stories and Ideas, and take sincere and honest inventory of what we find among the dying pieces. There are no doubt gems worth resurrecting, and there are no doubt things you know in your gut that you will never come back to.

It's not necessarily about hitting the DELETE button and removing those things from your life forever (though technically, some of it does probably need a good, proper burial). It's about organizing a space that is important to your writing life so that when you come to the digital space you work in, you have the most useful tools (including stories and ideas) at your disposal for quick and immediate production.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Busted!—Authors Caught Raising Questions in Opening Sentences

When considering how to open their stories, authors too often ask themselves:

What information do I want to feed out to the reader at the start? 

This approach is fraught with problems. If you are a writer, you undoubtedly already know that we change our minds about this a lot, until our openings become the most often-rewritten aspect of a manuscript.

Make no mistake: opening a novel can be tricky, and the effort deserves all of the time and attention you are willing to apply. But a surer approach can be found with a different question:

What is it my reader wants from my opening? 

The basic answer: He wants to gain orientation to the story while questions are raised. These questions create little mysteries that tip him into the story.

Since this technique works regardless of genre, let’s look at the ways a few disparate authors successfully employ it—with only their first three sentences.

The Salt God’s Daughter by Ilie Ruby
We ran wild at night, effortless, boundless, under a blood-red sky—to where and to what we couldn’t have known.
I’m hooked already by what she’s fed out—the running wild, that blood-red sky—but Ruby has also raised questions. Who are they? Why couldn’t they have known where they were going?
We craved it, that someplace. 
"Craved"—great word. Introducing a deep desire helps us bond with the character. But Ruby stretches out the mystery by referencing the unknown place. What is it, and why do they crave it?
We were two little girls, sisters, daughters with no mother, distrustful of the freedom we were given, knowing she shouldn’t have left.
More information: the “we” is defined. Yet she raises a new mystery: although they have no mother, the mother is referred to as having left. And while we were told they run “wild” and effortless,” they are distrustful of their freedom. This suggests conflict that orients the reader to this specific story.

Note that even without a label, the literary genre is clearly conveyed through word choice alone. I would read on to find out about these little girls. Would you?

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand 
All he could see, in every direction, was water. 
This information orients us to setting yet raises the question, where is he? Who is he?
It was June 23, 1943. 
Just an info dump? Not really, since Hillenbrand trusts that her reader will know this is during World War II, and wonder whether the war is part of the story. The specific date, added to the storytelling beginning, suggests that this is a historical narrative. The book jacket will tell us it is nonfiction.
Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Army Air Forces bombardier and Olympic runner Louie Zamperini lay across a small raft, drifting westward.
Our war suspicion is affirmed but with intriguing details that make us worry for this man: he is a bombardier in a small raft, and a runner with no land. What will happen to this defenseless man in a war zone?

I am thoroughly intrigued by this opening, and while no huge fan of war stories, I would read on to find out what happens. Would you?

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson 
Gram is worried about me. 
Great opening, with an emotion word as its centerpiece. Why is Gram worried?

It’s not because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I think about is sex.
This is a great way to orient the reader to both the character and the young adult genre. It does smack of what the writer wants you to know, but remember, orienting the reader is a good thing! And Nelson doesn’t forget to raise a question. I, for one, am dying to know if her grandmother knows that all this character thinks about is sex!
She is worried about me because one of her house-plants has spots.
Such non sequiturs always make me hear my dad saying, “What does that have to do with the price of eggs?” (Note that this is a question raised by the prose.) Or is it a non sequitur at all? The next sentence tells us—wouldn’t you read on to find out?

These and many other authors teach us this about openings:

Give a little information, raise a question.

Give a little more information, raise a new question.

Continue this recipe until your inciting incident, through its storytelling magic, indelibly cleaves your reader to your protagonist for the rest of the book, and you will have an opening that will not allow your reader to put your book down.

Flip through some of your favorite books. Do they exhibit this technique? If so, feel free to share the first three sentences!

Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service, and the author of The Art of Falling, a novel by Sourcebooks. Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the StormConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gold Medal Writing

You probably think I'm going to talk about how you should practice and never quit trying until you win. Nope. Though that is true.

Instead, I'm going to illustrate what tension looks and feels like.

My husband and I love watching the Olympics. We're not all that caught up in who wins. We genuinely want all the athletes to do well as they take their history-making runs.

We sit on the couch to watch the skiers and snowboarders. My body tenses as they start off. I'm leaning forward, alert.

I'm practically holding my breath as they defy gravity to make it down the hill. I fist pump when a move goes well.

"Yes! Did you see that? Wow."

I gasp and raise my hands to my lips when they fall.

"Oh crap. Are they okay? That must suck."

I exclaim when the judges, in my humble opinion, get it wrong. Irritation ignited a verbal response.

"What the heck were they thinking?"

"That other guy totally did better."

"This guy didn't even finish his run."

"Yes, I know there are levels of difficulty, but he only did three elements. The other guy did six."

And so it went, event after event.

The entire experience was visceral. We were in it. Our bodies reacted to it. I felt the tension and the elation and the letdown.

I want the same experience when I read a book. I want your plot and characters to be that real and the conflict that intense. I want to feel the highs and the lows and the unfairness.

Honestly, it doesn't happen that often for me. There are a lot of silver and bronze writers out there. I put down the books that don't deserve a medal.

If you give me an Olympic run, I will never forget it. If I had a supply of gold medals, I'd hang one around your neck. I will certainly anticipate your next run.

Here are a few articles to help you win the gold:

Seven Proven Ways to Pack Suspense

Pacing in Writing


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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Siren Song of an Idea

INT. Late afternoon. The WRITER is sitting at her desk, typing on a laptop. The typing is slow but steady.

SMALL VOICE:  (in a sing-song manner) HelllOOOOoo.


SMALL VOICE: Look at me. I’m shiny.

The WRITER continues to type, now bending over the keyboard and typing with, perhaps, a touch more force than necessary.

SMALL VOICE: Hey. Pay attention to me. I’m so shiny.

WRITER: Go away.

SMALL VOICE: And glittery. Look at me, I can spit sparkles. I’m a living firework display over here.

WRITER: Go away.

SMALL VOICE: Are you sure?


SMALL: But I’m soooooo shiny.

The WRITER stops typing.

WRITER: Okay. You win. What are you?



SMALL VOICE: A new idea. An idea for a plot far, far better than that tired old thing you’re working on. This idea is fresh. It’s bold. It’ll set the world on fire.

WRITER: I can’t think about you right now.

SMALL VOICE: Yes, you can. C’mon. Think about me. You’re not finished. You’re nowhere near finished. Why not put that old thing in a drawer where it belongs? You know it’s not that good. You’re sick of it. Close the file. Shut the door. Move on.

WRITER: Why does this always happen? I need to finish one project before I start another - otherwise nothing gets finished. I know this. I’ve learned.

SMALL VOICE: Soooo shiny. Right here. Right now. Write me. You won’t be sorry.

WRITER: Maybe not, but give it a month or two and do you know what’ll happen?


WRITER: It’ll be late afternoon. I’ll be typing. And then, out of nowhere will come a small voice saying in a sing-song manner “HelllOOOooo.”

SMALL VOICE: But...I’m shiny.

WRITER: I don’t doubt that you are. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to open a new file and write down your basic premise.

SMALL VOICE: You won’t regret it.

WRITER: I might. I might not. But I know the only way to make you shut up is to write you down.

SMALL VOICE: But….I can spit sparkles.

WRITER: Honey, so can I.

Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her murder mystery games A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the internet. All thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her newest games, Humpty was Pushed, and What the Dickens? will be published soon by Red Herring Games. Her 'writing sheep' are being featured this year in a series of columns in the European writers' magazine Elias. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Antonelli, Author.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hosting and Guesting on Blogs

I've heard from various sources that the best way to get noticed and respected in the book industry is to do unto others, and not engage in blatant self-publicity.

To that end, I concentrate on my group blogs more often, instead of my personal one, except when I have a special book promotion.

At my group resource blog, Book Beat Babes, for my day, I often invite other authors to share posts containing information or observations about the publishing industry, or writing in general.

Book Beat Babes

Before a post runs, I include the guest's name and something about that person in my preview column to the right.

In the post for that guest, I start with a small introduction at the beginning about the guest, and follow that with my name in a smaller font. That way, I'm not trying to steal the stage from the guest, yet also show that I had something to do with that guest being there.

On the guest's day, I tweet, I Google Plus, I put the link on my timeline and in author groups on Facebook that are related to the guest's writing genre. I also mention the guest's appearance on various loops, and include a link to the post.

I make sure to leave a comment on the blog welcoming my guest, and send an email to the guest with the permalink.

That's what I do. Now, here's what I expect a guest to do:

  • The obvious, which some seem to miss - Send me an email with everything I've asked for, with enough lead time for me to set it up without rushing. Don't send me a link to get your pictures. Send the jpegs themselves. Make things as easy for me as possible. 
  • On the day of the post, respond to comments. Now, some guests have day jobs, and can't respond right away, but catching up later in the day is perfectly acceptable. Also, stop by the next day to catch the stragglers who didn't find out about the post the first day.
  • Spread the word about the post. At times I get a guest who seems to look on me as a personal publicity machine. Guest blogging is a two-way street. I don't get paid for hosting, and should not be the only one drawing attention to a guest's blog. It's also perfectly acceptable to, in addition to spreading the word about the post on the day of, to also use the permalink to draw attention to your blog at a later date. 
  • Clicking to follow the blog on Google is also a nice gesture to show appreciation.
Now, as far as whether or not my hosting produces any sales results for me, it's hard to say. However, I like to think I'm spreading goodwill and am more respected in the industry by helping others.

Have I missed anything? What are your thoughts?

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