Thursday, August 28, 2014

Layering Backstory to Create Conflict

Last time, we discussed how to avoid backstory plot holes. This week, we offer ideas for layering backstory into your plot to create conflict.

1. You can reveal your protagonist's critical flaw by explaining something that happened in the past. The critical flaw is revealed near the beginning to explain why Dick is drawn into the story problem and trips him up along the way. The flaw, his kryptonite, can stem from a traumatic episode from the past.

2. The secret weapon is revealed early on to explain why Dick, and only Dick, can solve the overall story problem. It can be a talent, strength of character, belief, or an actual object. You can show him using his secret weapon, or refusing to use it, in the past before he is called upon to use it in the present.

3. Whatever skills or failings Dick has, don't whip them out at the last minute by saying, "Oh, yeah, back in school I used to (fill in the blank)." That is backfilling and it is a no-no.

4. Backstory can raise questions rather than answer them. You can show Dick doing or saying something in the past, but not explain why. Mystery keeps the reader invested.

5. Backstory can be revealed in layers, like peeling an onion. Each reveal adds a slightly different twist to the reader's understanding of what happened. Write the backstory then select the bits you want to reveal and order them in the most effective sequence. Slip them in when needed.

6. If Dick did something in the past, he can repeat the action or find himself in the same dilemma in the present day, only there is an obstacle this time. His old method no longer works or he knows better now and this time it's uncomfortable.

7. Backstory can create conflict for Dick by presenting him with difficult choices. In the past, the decision might have been easy. The current situation, or new knowledge, makes the same choice more difficult.

8. Backstory can reveal change. If Dick is afraid of spiders because he was bitten by one as a child, he may have to take on the giant spiders that invaded Earth at the climax. If Dick was a coward in the past, he can be brave in the present. If Dick denied his feelings in the past, he can embrace them in the present.

Stay tuned for our wrap-up on how to use backstory effectively.

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, August 27, 2014

Write What You Love...Or Love What You Write

Image by Helfin Owen via Flickr
We hear it all the time, and I mean ALL the time: write what you love. Just about every writing advice guide out there tells us to learn the craft, pay attention to the industry, but in the end, write what we love. Because if you try to chase trends or if you write solely for the Benjamins, your heart will not show through in your work and it will fall flat.

And I believe this. Really, I do. But I also write historical western romance. Have you ever tried to pitch historical western romance to a traditional publisher? Let me just tell you, it’s not pretty. The thing I hear over and over in the romance world—seriously, like a broken record—is that the hot genres in romance right now are contemporary and erotica (and that vampires are dead, historicals are on their way out, and westerns were DOA years ago). To a certain extent, sales reflect this, although not nearly to the extent that the industry would have us believe.

The problem remains, what I love isn’t hot. And chances are that if you’ve been in any part of this industry for the last decade or more, what you write has been not hot at some point too. The thing is, I would very much like to be able to pay my bills without having to succumb to the beige cube hive of Corporate America. So how can I follow the advice to write what I love when what I love isn’t getting any love?

Raise your hand if you’ve been there. Uh-huh. I thought so.

Recently, I’ve come to think of this whole write what you love thing in a different light. As I see it, there are degrees of love. Historical romance will always be my first and dearest love. Right there, that’s my baby. But I have a very warm spot in my heart for science fiction, and I’ve also been known to ruminate on a few contemporary ideas (although my actual efforts to write them have fallen as flat as a peanut under an elephant’s foot). Those genres are like my nieces and nephews. I’d jump under a bus for them, but I’m okay with sending them home at the end of the day.

I’m fairly certain that most writers are able to multitask to some extent. Imaginations as big as ours tend to stretch through several genres. This may be our greatest asset. And believe it or not, the world may actually be ready for us to write outside of our first love comfort zone. I’m continually surprised at how many of my indie author friends write multiple genres under multiple pen names. In fact, I suspect indie publishing may be the perfect set-up for authors to write all of the things that they love.

But I digress. The biggest change in my thinking on loving writing has to do not so much with sticking religiously to the genres that you love, but opening yourself to love the story that you’re working on as you write it. I may or may not be brave enough to try out some of my contemporary romance ideas on the world (while that’s still the hottest romance genre), but if I do, the key to that success will be in loving every word of the story I’m writing. It’s the same thing as the “write what you know” advice. I don’t technically know what it’s like to be a pioneer heading west on the Oregon Trail, but I know what it’s like to leave home and to try something new and dangerous. I do that every time I type the first words of a new book.

So if you’re bold enough, if you’re daring, and if you’re up to the challenge of tapping into today’s hottest genres in spite of the fact that they’re not what you usually write, I say go for it. Build a world that you love, even if it’s not in the time period you usually love. Find characters that you would spend an afternoon with (or not, if they’re the villain), even if they aren’t part of the crowd you would usually hang out with. If you’re up for experimentation, I believe you can still succeed in a genre that you aren’t in love with as long as you find the love for that particular story that needs to be told through you.

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Inspiration, Concentration, Dedication

PictureThis via morgueFile
As a writer, where do you get your ideas? Let’s talk about inspiration. What inspires you enough to make you concentrate on your story line and dedicate the time and energy required to write your book? We’re told stories are everywhere, but is this so? Does everyone really have a story to tell?

Yes and yes…sort of. Stories are definitely everywhere: homes, schools, the workplace, prisons, homeless shelters, nature, and the list goes on. People who have lived long enough to articulate their stories might open up and share their experiences; then again, they might not. In either case, a story unfolds—revelation or speculation.

Because I have no way of knowing what inspires you, I will tell you what inspires me. Then you can share what drives you to the keyboard or writing pad to birth your stories.

News articles and reports are great grist for my writing mill. Whether the headlines shout of wars, terrorist attacks, beheadings, shootings, natural disasters, kidnappings, young children left to die in overheated cars, abuse and killing of helpless animals, or some obscure human interest story that merits only a passing comment from the media, I find in each something about the human condition that begs for expression from my writer within.

lespowell via morgueFile

People-watching also makes my fingers itch to translate my observations and imaginings into a gripping tale. Whether or not those in my line of vision say a single word, their body language speaks volumes about who they are and what’s happening in their lives. From there it’s a short journey to my story line.

Others’ books have driven me to write. Whether it’s because the author’s story goes in a direction I don’t like or due to my presumptuous—and possibly unfounded—notion that I could write it better, I have on more than one occasion put down another writer’s novel and begun to pound out my own. I’ve also been inspired by a great book to see if I could create a story to match the quality of the one I’m reading.

earl53 via morgueFile

More inspirations include sunsets, full moon on a winter night, summer storms, a lake in the North Country, falling snow, stray dogs, troubled lovers, autumn colors, and another list takes shape. Laughing children and well-seasoned seniors challenge me to invite them onto my pages. Family problems touch the hearts of many, and I’m no exception. Nearly all my stories address some aspect of family dynamics.

So what inspires you? Does inspiration come first when you write, or do you begin with a setting and/or a cast of characters? How do you determine the most effective way to weave your inspiration into the fabric of your story?

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

Monday, August 25, 2014


Image by Tammy Strobel, via Flickr
At the end of every movie, in the endless list of credits, you’ll always see Continuity. It’s the job of the continuity people to make sure the hero’s shirt—or the shirt of an extra—doesn’t change colour in the middle of a scene.

Continuity is equally important in a novel, of course, unless you’re Douglas Adams and have just invented an Infinite Improbability Drive, or Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen.

Part of a copy-editor’s job is to spot inconsistencies and confusions. However, most authors want to present a manuscript containing as few of either as possible. At least, I don’t want to get a manuscript back with problems to be sorted out that involve rethinking and rewriting. It’s not always a simple matter like the colour of a shirt.

I’ve just finished writing a book, my 22nd Daisy Dalrymple mystery and my 57th (I think) novel. Before sending it to my editor, I always print out and do a final read-through—I find it much easier and more accurate to edit on paper than on the screen.

In the course of this “final” edit of Superfluous Women, I came upon one of my characters, Vera, wishing she’d never mentioned something she did not in fact mention. I found myself thoroughly confused by two gardeners and where they lived. And then there’s the Mystery of Two Chapter Twenty-sevens...

I’ve also been reading the proofs for the coming reissue (in trade paperback) of my very first mystery, Death at Wentwater Court.

One thing I discovered was that two recurring characters, DS Tring and DC Piper, had developed over the course of the series in a way I hadn’t allowed for in the first book, before I knew them well. Once you get the page proofs, the time for extensive changes is past, but Tom Tring made a comment that I just couldn’t let pass. Luckily I was able to change it in a way that wouldn’t mess up the pagination.

I’d made a mistake on page 3 that a reader happened to point out just at the right moment—I had Daisy travelling in a 2nd class compartment of the train. The book is set in 1923, and the railways dropped 2nd class in 1875. Come to think of it, I ought to see if I can get that corrected in the ebook.

Otherwise, the necessary changes were pretty much just typos, though I did think for a while that I had my detectives driving the wrong cars about the countryside. I had to do quite a bit of rereading to sort out that I’d got it right the first time.

Whew! They’re both out of my hands now.

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Third Person Omniscient : The Joys of Multi-Vision

All Seeing Eye in the Monastery of the Holy Cross, Jerusalem
Photo by Ze'ev Barkan, via Flickr
I’ve always loved adventure fiction. As a child, I read and re-read novels like Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, the works of Raphael Sabatini, and C. S. Forrester’s Hornblower chronicles. Adventure novels like these feature (a) multiple point-of-view characters; (b) parallel events taking place in multiple locations; and (c) complex action set-pieces: hair-breadth escapes, elaborate ruses, natural disasters, and fight sequences—everything from a one-on-one street brawl to a full-scale clash between rival armies.

When I started writing (at the age of 10), I instinctively followed my favorite models, not only in terms of content and structure, but also in terms of writing technique. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I discovered I was using Third Person Omniscient narration.

The term “omniscient” comes to us from the Latin omnis (all) + scire (to know). In Third Person Omniscient narration, the “omniscient” agent is the author who has a God’s eye view of his/her sub-creation in all its aspects. From this pinnacle of knowledge, he/she selectively distributes the narrative amongst a range of different characters.

There are a number of advantages to using this technique. For one thing, it enables the author to expand the narrative framework to include a widely-diversified—sometimes far-flung—set of locations. This tactic lends scope to the story, giving the reader the sense that he/she has stepped into a larger world.

A second advantage has to do with stage-management. Shifting the angle of vision around enables the writer to juggle several parallel plot lines with relative ease. It also enables him/her to play around with competing thematics: what one character perceives as good may be anathema to another. (To cite a topical example: with the Scottish independence referendum pending, it’s a matter of perspective whether you regard Robert the Bruce as a national hero or a filthy traitor.)

A third advantage has to do with keeping a sinister and provocative distance between your principle villain and the rest of the cast. It enhances his/her mystique if readers only ever get to see him/her through the eye of his/her henchmen, lackeys, prisoners, and discarded lovers. There’s delicious scope to crank up the suspense by making information available to your reader which is not shared by your protagonists. Having watched the villain set a Cunning Trap, we’re powerless to warn the hero against blundering into it.

Best of all, using multiple point-of-view characters allows the writer to imitate aspects of cinematic technique. This is especially effective when you’re orchestrating complex action sequences. If your novel climaxes with a naval battle, using Third Person Omniscient enables the reader to follow the action from several angles at once. One minute, we’re surveying the field of combat through the eyes of the admiral in charge of the fleet. The next minute, we’re at one with a member of an individual gun crew awaiting the order to open fire on the enemy.

All of which explains why Third Person Omniscient remains my favorite narrative mode.

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Narrowing the Gap

Last week, Amazon sent out a notice that now, KDP members (indie authors) would be able to make their books available for pre-order, something that had been denied them until now. Why is this significant?

In traditional publishing, rankings—making those best-seller lists—was based on sales during the first few days of a book’s release. However, publishers could take orders prior to that date, and all those sales showed up on the book’s release date, making it appear that all those books sold on that date (or week). You might still see notices from Big Name Authors with the Big Publishing Houses saying their book will debut at #X on the NYT list, even though it hasn’t been released.

Well, now, Amazon has joined Kobo and iBooks in allowing indie authors to get their books into that same kind of system. And, given that Amazon rankings seem to carry the most weight, being able to have pre-orders show up as sales on the day your book goes live can give it a boost. The better the ranking, the more likely the book will show up in searches.

For me, the timing couldn’t be better. I’ve got an almost-finished version of the new Blackthorne, Inc. book, Windswept Danger, and Amazon’s system, just like those of Kobo and iBooks, doesn’t require the book be in final form when you set it up for pre-order. Kobo will take a dummy file. Amazon requires that the book be "close" because they’re still going to run it through whatever quality control approval system they use. And, of course, you have to make sure that the final version is uploaded in enough time to get through the system to go live on the release date you choose.

One thing I have to consider is pricing. The typical price for my e-books is $3.99. Do I set that price and stick with it, or offer it at a bargain-basement price of 99 cents while it’s on pre-order? If my goal is higher rankings, then a bargain introductory price as incentive to buyers would be better. Given the royalty rates shift from 35% to 70% at the $2.99 price point, if it’s about higher royalties, then having the 'reduced' price set at $2.99 makes sense. I’m leaning toward rankings, which would mean pricing the book at 99 cents during the pre-order phase, then moving it to its ‘regular’ price of $3.99, like the other books in the series when it goes live.

How to attract readers? For big NYT Best-Selling Authors, it's easy. Tell your readers your new book is available for pre-order, and they'll grab it. But what about the rest of us? There are no free sample downloads until the book is live, so people are less likely to buy something sight unseen. For me, I'll have the first chapter on my website, just like I do for all my books.

Do you pre-order books? What criteria do you use when you choose?

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Finishing a Difficult Novel

Getting to the end of the first draft of your book is a major accomplishment for any writer. Getting to the end of the first draft of Backlash, the third book in my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series was flat-out torture. I’d never struggled to finish a book before. As a typical pantser—one who writes by the seat of her pants—I write a chapter at a time, with only a glimpse in my brain to where I’m going with the story, possibly two or three chapters ahead at most. So why was this book giving me so much trouble?

Expectations. Both mine and my readers.

Over the past year, people wrote to ask me when the next Diana Racine novel was coming out. OMG, people were waiting for it. Those readers had obviously liked the first two well enough to look forward to the third. I published the last one, Goddess of the Moon, in October of 2012. That was almost two years ago. I published one other standalone in between.

Though the first book, Mind Games, wasn’t published until March of 2012, I wrote it way back in 2003 or 2004. My agent spent a couple of years trying to sell it to a publisher, with no success. Then I got distracted writing a few erotic romances under a pen name, published by two very good e-publishers. With no large or small press interested in Mind Games, I decided to self-publish it and the other suspense books I’d already written. At the time, I had no intention of writing a series until I had an idea for a second book, and Goddess of the Moon was born.

Both books received pretty good reviews. How could I possibly live up to them with a third book? I didn’t want to rely on the same formula—I hate that word when it applies to books—that I used in the first two books, namely, Diana in trouble to be rescued by New Orleans police lieutenant, Ernie Lucier, the love of her life. Was there enough excitement? Suspense? Even humor?

One of the main criticisms in longtime series is keeping the characters from becoming stale and repetitious, thereby relying on contrived storylines to make up for the lack of characterization. Since Mind Games was written as a stand-alone, I had to dig deep to advance my main characters in Goddess of the Moon. What was left to know about them? How could I keep them fresh in the third book without losing the traits I had worked so hard to cultivate? Does the relationship between the two protagonists evolve naturally?

You see where I’m going? I began to second-guess myself, fearing Backlash wasn’t up to the two that preceded it. I agonized, edited, rewrote, and in the process lost my objectivity.

I always knew the ending, but getting there took every bit of perseverance I could muster. I’m reading it aloud now, patching inconsistencies, and will send it to a beta reader for her opinion and to my editor for her superb editing skills. My brilliant critique partner has already given it her stamp of approval, surprised by a twist at the end. I’ve announced a September publication date because I think on the whole it’s as good as I can make it.

But what a trip.

Writing a series, though popular with readers, adds extra pressure for me as a writer. Maybe I put that pressure on myself, but I’ve read so many second and third books of a series that can’t hold a candle to the first one. Don’t ask how I feel about the tenth or fifteenth book in a series. I admire those authors who can pull off a long series without disappointing his or her readers.

Will I write a fourth? I doubt it unless I have a major brainstorm, and the story is written in my head from beginning to end. Of course if the producers of the Jason Bourne series want to try another movie franchise…

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Amo, Amas, Among?

Woman Shpping
Graphic courtesy of
August has arrived in full toasty glory, dearies. There were whispers of a relatively mild high of 102 degrees, but the glare from the outdoor thermometer prevented verification. As the heat is causing my tomato blossoms to pop off of the plants, I’m inspired to post a pop quiz. Leave your bens and grab your pens!

1. Between or among? Which word is used to denote an undefined relationship?
2. Censer or censor? Which one seeks to suppress?
3. Flaunt or flout? Which one might get you arrested?
4. Illegible or unreadable? Which is the lesser of two ‘writerly’ evils?
5. Staunch or stanch? Which one describes the purpose of a tourniquet?

Pens down, if you please. It’s time to see just how well you’ve done. Admirably, I expect; I have yet to be disappointed in any of you.

1. Among. When discussing collective or undefined relationships, among is the proper choice. Civility among shoppers flies out the window if the discount is steep enough. If the relationship is one-on-one, between is appropriate. Between you and me, those shoes are hideous. And according to the CMOS, amongst anything is a no-no.
2. Censor. While a censer is used to waft incense, a censor is prevailed upon to filter out objectionable language, scenes, or anything else that may not sit well with the powers that be. Of course, if the manuscript that crosses your desk truly stinks, you may need a censer as well.
3. Flout. It may be fun to flaunt your style sense with that fabulous new coat, but it isn’t wise to acquire it by flouting the law and stooping to theft.
4. Illegible. Having handwriting so terrible as to be illegible is one thing; writing that is rendered unreadable by being “incomprehensible or intolerably dull” is quite another.
5. Stanch. I am a staunch supporter of healthy levels of hemoglobin, which is why I took great pains to stanch the blood flow when I accidentally punctured myself with a buttonhook last week.

And there you are! Quick and painless, unlike a typical Midwestern summer. Ah, well. It’s a good thing that so many charming outfits are being made with cotton nowadays; polyester could be considered a crime against humanity in some climates. Speaking of cotton, I hear my loom calling. There are new dish towels to be woven, and so I’ll leave you to your day. Wear something light, drink plenty of water, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

Having discovered that her green thumb was due to an overtight ring, the Style Maven is resigned to the fact that she will have to procure garden-fresh produce from someone else's garden. You can follow her continuing adventures as The Procraftinator at

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kill Your Darlings?

Image by Henry Söderlund, via Flickr
I’m at the stage of editing my book where I’m starting to suspect I’ve been molly-coddling a darling or two. “But,” I wondered, “how does one tell?” Kill Your Darlings was a slogan of the Blood-Red Pencil for some time, so I thought I would ask my fine colleagues the following questions:

1. How do you determine what might be a “darling” - either in your own work or a client’s work? What clues do you pick up?
2. What differentiates a “darling” from a valuable plot thread?
3. Are darlings always evil? Do they destroy a book if they are allowed to live?
4. Have you ever killed a darling and then regretted it?
5. Have you ever relocated a darling to another book where it forms a genuine piece of the plot?

Linda Lane When I wrote my first book, I finished with 20,000 words too many in the inflated first draft. Some of the descriptive passages were so near and dear to my heart. Bottom line: lovely as I thought they were, they didn’t move the plot forward. I still remember the lump in my throat when I deleted one particular segment. Was it evil? Not at all. Did it paint an incredible word picture? I thought so. But the wordiness of the book had to be trimmed to a viable size, so the delete key became my new friend...although I didn’t view it as very friendly at that time. I also seem to recall getting rid of a character, but that’s a vague memory. Obviously, I must not miss him or her now.

As an editor I am much less emotional about cutting the fluff. Again, if a character or scene doesn’t serve a useful purpose in moving the story forward, it needs to go. I’ve had a number of intense discussions with writers who did not share my point of view, but in many cases they agreed after pondering the matter. One in particular insisted on keeping her story “as is”, and I wonder how she’s faring with her sales.

Morgan Mandel I relocated some of my darlings from Forever Young: Blessing or Curse and put them in a second book instead, which was a Collection called Blessing or Curse. The first book had too many characters to start out with, and I was afraid it wouldn’t hold the readers’ attention.

Terry Odell Tough as it is, you have to ask “Does it advance the plot”? I’ve put back a couple of cut scenes when I republished the book as an e-book, since I wasn’t hampered by word length, but I’m more likely to put them in my “From the Cutting Room Floor” section of my website. Anything that sounds writerly -- cut it.

Diana Hurwitz 1 and 2. A darling is anything that an author finds fun, touching, interesting, but doesn’t move the story forward or define character in a useful way. In one of the works that my group critiques, the author is very fond of her story world. She loves piling in world details. She loves her multitude of characters. But very little happens in the chapter and the details don’t necessarily add anything. She’ll say but all these cool things appear, yet there’s no conflict. It’s okay to keep some of the details, but something has to happen. The details can be spread a little thinner.

3. They are not inherently evil, but if they don’t serve the plot in some way, they slow the flow.

4. I can’t say I've ever cut a darling that I regretted, but I have cut a darling or two I loved. The story was the stronger for it.

5. I have not relocated a darling, but I do believe in keeping a file with all the cuttings that could be repurposed later. A friend cut a character from a story and he ended up with his own.

Dani Greer Darlings are mostly those things the writer is attached to and simply WON’T cut. A sure sign that it’s a darling!

How about you, dear readers? How do you determine if something has darling-status? How would you answer the questions I posed above? Curious editors want to know.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why Do You Write?

When asked why I write, I usually come up with one of a few common answers, the most frequent being “I have stories to tell.” They rattle around in my head until I finally give up and commit them to paper (in recent years my hard drive). But then a period of reflection reveals a different reason—or reasons—so I am telling you why I write before asking you why you do it.

Image via Dave on Morguefile
One thing that comes to mind for me is my soapbox. (This can’t be obvious because it will turn off the reader.) I never promote a political party, a religion, or a cause. But I do have a very subtle (I hope) agenda. My first novel, for example, dealt with domestic violence. It’s an integral part of the story, and the victim is a major character—though not the protagonist. And it isn’t the primary plot. Still, much of the story’s emotion and connection with the reader evolves from her situation. Also, every incident of abuse is one that either I or someone I know lived.

Other works address situations that have also touched my heart and will, I hope, do the same for readers. The first book in my current series explores the fascinating interactions between men and women, misunderstandings that can arise from making assumptions, and the life-altering effects of substance abuse. Its sequel delves into the long-term results of child abuse, as well as the perils of becoming involved, however unintentionally, with drug pushers. Will a third one be added to this series? That has yet to be determined. A young adult novel also on the table tackles conflicting views of ranchers and animal activists regarding wolves in Colorado. Another “gentle thriller” focuses on family dynamics, racial discrimination, and Medicare fraud. Still another dramatizes how tentacles of infidelity can, years later, flood innocent and even unconnected lives with drama, danger, and death.

Image via Hotblack on Morguefile
All these scenarios call out to me and make good grist for my writing mill. Handing them to my various characters to face and run with makes my stories realistic and may (hopefully) shed light on some of my readers’ lives. Yes, I want to tell stories, but I also want to entertain, enrich, and enlighten all those who read my books.

So why do you write?

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, August 14, 2014

You Can Do It

How many hours a day do you spend writing? Do you have a place where you go to write? An office, a table, a chair with your computer in your lap? I have an office, a desk and a chair. The guest room is my "office" except when guests show up. If we have guests, I move upstairs to a fold-out table and a chair.

For close to two months now, I've been in my office working at a card table and a chair. That's because everything that was upstairs in our bedroom has now been moved to the loft area. The desk is still in my downstairs office, but there's not enough room for the chair now that the couch is folded out with three mattresses atop it. (We had to take a smaller mattress from our son's bed in order to fit our mattress onto the couch.) This is not where I'm used to working, but I'm getting work done on my next book.

Why am I working in the guest room? Late one night, the roof of our house was mostly blown off and rain poured in, seeped into the carpet, through the flooring and down into the kitchen.

A neighbor sent over one of his employees to put the roof back on. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This past Tuesday was the first time people recommended by our insurance company came out to assess the damage and determine what needed to be fixed. It'll take a bit of time since there's a lot to do. The upstairs deck was torn apart. All the carpet will have to be replaced. Wood beams in the kitchen downstairs will have to be removed and replaced, as will part of the ceiling above the sink. And on and on.

What I'm wondering is where do you write? If you could not write there, what would be your second choice of a writing spot? Do you write with the TV in the background? I can be easily distracted by the TV in the living room or the phone ringing. If there are people here watching TV, I shut the door to my office.

Do you need silence? Or do you have music or the TV playing in the background?

I'm a "silence" writer. If it's quiet, I can hear characters talking in my head.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. 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 SometimesDismembering the Past and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in 2015.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mid-Week Fun For Writers

It's time for our mid-week, almost mid-month, break from the challenges and drudgery of writing to laugh a little. The following jokes were stolen... er, borrowed from a professor at Villanova University Karyn Hollis, who first posted them on the University website.

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

A visitor to a certain college paused to admire the new Hemingway Hall that had been built on campus.

"It's a pleasure to see a building named for Ernest Hemingway," he said.

"Actually," said his guide, "it's named for Joshua Hemingway. No relation."

The visitor was astonished. "Was Joshua Hemingway a writer, also?"

"Yes, indeed," said his guide. "He wrote a check."

How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb? 

Two, but it's actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one's shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence. They co-existed in a parallel universe, though.

How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb? 

Three. One to screw it in. Two to hold down the author.

There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer.

When asked to define great, he said, "I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level, stuff that will make them scream, cry, howl in pain and anger!"

He now works for Microsoft writing error messages.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  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 series. To check 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 thinks laughter is very good medicine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Point of the Story

Image by Oran Viriyincy, via Flickr
Ten years ago I was teaching my memoir-writing class “Making History” at a local Senior Center. It covered the decades of the thirties, forties and fifties, and encouraged the participants to share their stories of those years. One of the topics we talked about was the enormous changes in the status of Americans of color during those decades (Jackie Robinson comes to mind), although all the people in the class were white. But they had a lot to say – racism has always affected us all, no matter what our color. Here’s one of the stories told that day, by a white woman almost 80 years old.

She was 21 in 1947, an office worker in downtown San Francisco. Every day she took the bus to and from work. The bus was always crowded. One evening she boarded the bus and was lucky to find a space on a bench seat facing the aisle, next to an elderly black woman. At the next stop, a man got on the bus. He was a middle-aged white gentleman, probably in his early fifties, wearing the traditional businessman’s attire of tailored suit and hat, and carrying an umbrella. He made his way down the aisle, and stopped directly in front of the office girl and the elderly woman. After a few seconds of staring at them, he suddenly raised his umbrella above his head and brought it down – thwack! – across the shoulder of the old lady.

The bus became absolutely quiet. No one said anything, not even the old woman who had been struck. She stared straight ahead. As if taking their cue from her, the rest of the passengers stared straight ahead too. No one said or did anything. But inside the office girl, a tortured debate was going on.
What should she do? What could she do? What he did was wrong, of course, but sometimes that was the way things were. But maybe she should say or do something. Say what? Do what? What good would it do? What if the man struck her too? What if she made it worse?

She was still debating internally when the old woman got off the bus at the next stop. An audible sigh of relief from the rest of the passengers could be heard.

And that’s the end of the story from 1947. But in 2004, the now-78-year-old ex-office worker looked around the room. “I should have done or said something,” she said. “At least I should have asked her if she was okay, or put my arm around her. That’s what I would do now. But at the time I didn’t know I could.”

She added, “I’ve never told that story before. I guess I tried not to think about it, because it made me feel so bad.”

For fifty-seven years she had carried that untold story around with her, a story that made her feel guilty and ashamed. But her guilt and shame is not the point of the story. She is forgivable, after all – a young woman, unexpectedly confronted with an evil act, is momentarily paralyzed by indecision. We can understand her reaction. I hope that by telling her story, she has forgiven herself.

And of course, she actually did nothing wrong. She simply did nothing.

And that’s the point of the story – doing nothing. I bet all of us have had moments when we’ve seen something we know to be wrong, but we did nothing. Because we were afraid, or because we didn’t know what to do, or – God forgive us – because we were too busy.

But doing nothing has a price. Fifty-seven years of guilt and shame, unacknowledged but still alive and festering under the skin. Fifty-seven years.

I hope that woman was transformed by telling her story. But even if she wasn’t, I was transformed by listening to it. Now I begin nearly every morning with a quiet vow: Today, I will not do nothing.

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 8 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tips for Writing Great Short Fiction

In March 2013, I started a website with two authors, Jennifer Coissiere and Pachet Spates, titled SNAPS 1000 Words: Where Images and Words Converge. We (along with new snapper, author and PR guru Makasha Dorsey) provide weekly stories of 1000 to 1100 words that are inspired by pictures. It's something I've always done on my own as I love photography and writing, but I thought it would be cool to create a website where we could showcase some of our writing and where we could further develop our skills as writers.

Writing short fiction, just as in writing poetry, requires wordsmiths to practice astute word economy, to pay even more attention to the point of attack for their story, and to figure out the heart of the matter quickly so that a full, engaging story can be told in a short space, among other important tasks.

I asked my fellow snappers to provide some tips to writing short fiction (some might call it flash fiction or any number of other terms). I hope you find the tips as useful as I did!

All three women mentioned word count in their tips. While Jennifer is all for writing without the word count in mind, both Pachet and Makasha find some importance to thinking about word count prior to writing.

Jennifer: Write without the word count in mind. When you begin writing, if the only thing you think about is the limited word count, you will never get beyond the first line. Focus on getting the story written down. When the story is finished, go back and cut out the fluff.

Makasha: Have a word count goal before you decide to write.

Pachet: Hate word counts? Me, too, but when I divide the word count by three (beginning, middle and end), I am able to organize my story idea and do my best to stay within my word count limitations. (BOO!)

If you're going to write short, you should have a plan of attack before you jump in; both Pachet and Makasha share this tip.

Makasha: Have a clear beginning, middle, and end for your story.

Pachet: Brainstorm your premise. Doing so helps you get a good idea of where you want your story to begin and end.

Another important tip Makasha shared that ties into this theme is "Have a reason for your character’s journey/behavior." If you don't have the reason prior to writing short fiction, you might find yourself doing extensive edits and cuts after the fact.

Jennifer offers another tip that ties into this theme: "The reader can assume back-stories. In novel-length stories, the back-story can make or break a story. However, in a short fiction, all the words need to be worthy of the story. You don’t want to use up your word count on back-story fluff. Readers are smart, so leave the back-story off and allow them to create their own back-story while they enjoy what you wrote." Remember, brevity is key. What are the most essential components needed to write your short, engaging story?

Both Jennifer and Pachet share this as an important tip while also stating the importance of self-editing.

Jennifer: Read the finished product out loud. Whether you’re writing for academic purposes or for creativity, always read out loud the finished story. I know when I am reading my story my eyes and mind see and say one thing while my mouth says something else. I find I catch discrepancies and tense issues. Yes, I know an editor will catch the mistakes, but the less an editor has to do to perfect your story, the better.

Pachet: Reread, edit. Reread, edit and repeat. Short stories may be quick to read; however, it takes awhile to write a good one. Be sure to read your short story aloud and to others a few times to make sure that it flows well and that it features a beginning, middle, and end.

Jennifer Coissiere is a second grade teacher whose mind never turns off; therefore, she has to create stories to free up some mental space. Follow her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Two SNAPS 1000 stories you should read from Jennifer: "Zaftig" and "Blood Sisters"

Pachet Spates is a soul blogger and undercover Autobot (hehe) behind The Optimist Kit, a bimonthly service designed to deliver the art and leisure or journaling to your door.. Follow her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Two SNAPS 1000 stories you should read from Pachet: "Haunted" and "Love's Catch 22"

Makasha Dorsey is an award-winning author, motivational speaker and publishing industry publicist who recently re-released her debut novel First Family Secrets, book one of The Church House series. Follow her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon author page.

Two SNAPS 1000 stories you should read from Makasha: "Spanish Guitar" and "The Rocks Will Cry Out"

Those of you who write short fiction, what other advice might you offer tellers of short stories?

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 author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Brave New World of Outlining

Image by Karen Woodward, via Flickr
Okay, I have a confession to make. I’m in the process of going against everything I believed about my writing style. As long as I can remember, I’ve started the writing process with nothing but my characters and a situation in mind. It’s the way things have always been. I, Merry Farmer, was a pantser.

As comfortable as pantsing has been, though, I’ve had this sense that there might be a more efficient way to do this novel-writing thing. Over the years my pure pantsing style has evolved to having a clear idea of the end of the book and a few major plot points along the way, then writing notes about what I’m writing as I write it to make sure I’m still on track. It’s served me well…and caused a lot of editing and revision.

This summer, a light bulb of sorts went off for me. I started talking to several authors who write super fast. The common thread between them is that they outline their stories extensively before they start writing.

So I thought, I have a huge “To Be Written” list and more ideas than I know what to do with. Maybe if I could outline those books and write with a pre-scouted path to guide me, I could get some of those books written sooner.

And so the journey has begun. Now, I don’t know what kind of outlining methods other people use, but the trick or tool that I found most helpful in exploring this process is my old standby of writing notes. When I say “notes”, I mean that I whip out my handy legal pad and an old fashioned pen, find a quiet space, and write freehand anything and everything I know about the story. I naturally incline to writing about the characters’ back story, their current motivations, what just happened to them, what’s happening to them now, and where I see their story going. I write continuously with no concern over continuity…or spelling or even legibility. I just write. I come back and write more notes any time I get stuck. The surprise to me is that outlining is not a matter of evolving your plot in bullet point form like a math problem. My brain doesn’t work that way, and I suspect a lot of writers’ brains don’t. The change that I’ve made to my story construction method is that I took a lot more time at the beginning of the process to write notes that covered the entire arc of the story plot. I basically told myself the story in short by writing it in scatterbrained note form on a legal pad. The revolution for me has come in then taking those notes, scanning back over them, and distilling each action, twist, and reaction into short, descriptive sentences. From there, I lined them all up in order. Voila! Outline!

Okay, that sounded much easier than it’s actually been. And to tell you the truth, I’m also in the middle of taking a course on outlining offered by Patti Larsen. I hope to impose a little more method to my madness. The result I’ve had so far, though, is that I’ve gone from my standard 2k words a day in first draft mode to an average of 4k per day. Not only that, because I already know what’s going to happen, I feel like I’ve been able to concentrate more on the craft of the prose than on discovering the plot as I write.

Yes, outlining has improved the quality of my writing, not just the speed. I still don’t know if outlining is for everybody. I do think it’s about to revolutionize my own writing style. Who would have thought? I would have sworn that I would live and die a pantser, but results are results. I urge all the pantsers out there to give outlining a try. If it doesn’t work for you, if pantsing really is your modus operandi, then hey, awesome. But unless you try something new, you’ll never know.

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Avoid Backstory Plot Holes

Backstory, when used properly, enriches a plot. Used poorly, backstory creates a plot hole that your reader is forced to skip over or sludge through. Most readers skip past the boring bits.

The problem with backstory is often two-fold: too much too soon, or way too much information.

Backstory can be related through dialogue, flashback, internal dialogue, thoughts, and narrative. Over the next few posts, we'll explore the finer points of using backstory with mastery.

1. Don't begin your novel with backstory. Invest your readers in the current situation before trying to explain the character's history. Otherwise, why should they care?

If the action has already passed, we know the characters lived to tell about it. It may have bearing on what is happening now, but the characters survived and have moved onto what is happening now. The reader may feel there is no need to read a long passage detailing what happened in the past if the characters are clearly functioning in the present.

2. Backstory is best presented in short bursts: no long-winded information dumps. The delicate balancing act is giving the reader enough backstory to help explain the current situation, but not so much that she is derailed from the forward momentum of the story.

3. If you feel a section of backstory requires a full scene with its own beginning, middle, and end, it should contain tension and a scene goal. A chapter or two of backstory loses the reader. She pages forward until she gets to the part that matters. That is not the kind of page turning to aim for.

4. Bits of backstory can be related through narrative, but keep it short and simple. Transition in and out and don't offset it. A paragraph or two should suffice. Resist the urge to insert large sections of italicized words. You should be able to transition into and out of backstory without resorting to special fonts or italics.

5. Backstory is not the same as a subplot set in the past when weaving separate story threads together. A subplot set in the past has its own story arc and every scene should contain conflict.

6. Backstory should not cram in the character's past history all at once. People don't tell each other everything about themselves and their lives the first time they meet. If they do, their psychological boundaries are fuzzy. They make people nervous by offering too much information. You don't need to tell your readers everything up front either. If you do, your structure is fuzzy. Build a relationship with the reader first then begin sharing stories from the past.

7. Backstory works well in internal conflict scenes when your protagonist struggles with his personal dilemma. His personal dilemma can be rooted in his past. It could be the partner he didn't save, the girl he didn't get, or the friend he failed. The backstory makes the current situation more poignant and should be relevant to the overall story. Resist the urge for a long memory scene. It is more powerful if the character is remembering while doing something to progress the currrent plot.

8. Backstory must, above all, be relevant. Don't spend paragraphs telling us about Dick's botany hobby unless he uses botany to solve the overall story problem. It bores your readers. They don't need to know about every Civil War battle, every lover the protagonist ever had, or the life stories of everyone who sank with the Titanic. Backstory that has no relationship to the current story is irritating. Readers flip past it or skim read it. If it happens often enough, they put the book down and walk away.

Stay tuned for more discussion on how to layer backstory to create conflict.

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, August 6, 2014

Shakespearean Writing Encouragement

Sheep #1: It's time.

Writer: No.

Sheep #2: It's really time.

Writer: Go away.

Sheep #3: Actually it's way past time.

Writer: Go far far away.

Sheep #1: (blares trumpet) Time to get to work! Time to press that nose to the grindstone! 

Writer: That would leave a mark.

Sheep #2: We're not being literal.

Writer: Oh.

Sheep #2: Remember "Time and the hour run through the roughest day".

Writer: Now you're quoting Shakespeare?

Sheep #1: Why not? We're learned.

Sheep #2: Don't judge us harshly just because we're sheep.

Sheep #3: We bite.

Writer: I thought you were meek.

Sheep #3: (snorts) Seriously?

Sheep #1: Remember "I wasted time and now doth time waste me".

Sheep #2: Richard II.

Sheep #3: Act 5, scene 5.

Writer: (quietly) Wow.

Sheep #1: Just get to work.

Sheep #2: We'll keep quoting all day if you don't.

Writer: Fine. "Courage and comfort, all shall yet go well."

Sheep #1: Hey.

Writer: You're not the only ones who went to school. 

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Favorite Twitter Hashtags

I'm on Twitter quite often, but am still searching for the most effective way to use the site to promote my books.

One thing I have learned is that using hashtags is a good method to draw people to what you'd like them to see.

Hashtags are words or phrases with the # sign in front of them. When a person clicks a particular hashtag, out pops a bunch of tweets which include that hashtag. That comes in handy for people who want information in a hurry, without sifting through everything.

Here's a smattering of the ones I use:

#romcom - short for romantic comedy

Since all but one of my books are available on Kindle Unlimited, which seems to be the next big thing at Amazon, I'm also planning on using #kindleunlimited and see what happens.

What about you? What are your favorite hashtags? Which seem most effective to you?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its new sequel, A Perfect Angel, or the standalone reality show romance: Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com