Monday, December 27, 2010


The week between Christmas and New Year’s—when the regular world almost stops (except for those after Christmas returns and shoppers), business go to skeleton staff, and writers don’t expect contracts may have a January 3rd deadline looming. (I have two due on February 1st).

I won’t talk about goals ... it’s not quite the New Year. But I will reflect on the past year. Has it been a successful year in terms of my writing career? All in all, I would say, yes. I’ll look at four areas of writing (Janice Thompson talked about the four books she was writing at any one time, and it’s stuck with me): the book I’m developing, the book I’m actually writing, the book I’m editing, and the book I’m marketing. To those four I’ll add a fifth: how I’ve helped other writers.

Development. I’ve pushed out at least five proposals between deadlines this year, and have come to trust my judgment about what stories “work” for my publisher. In other words, I’ve increased my chances of landing contracts. At the moment I have two contracts pending. I also went on a research trip to Texas.

Writing. I am writing better. My first drafts require less work to polish than they used to, most of the time. And I’m more aware of nuances in writing to improve my craft. I write fast—when I write. I need to improve my discipline.

Editing. I faced my first truly negative content review—and survived. I just learned the book has gone on to the next stage. Phew.

Marketing. While I feel like a neophyte, I must be doing something write because people are beginning to recognize my name. And oh, yes, I’ve discovered a talent for selling books one-on-one in unusual venues, like craft fairs.

Helping other writers. I’ve spoken to a couple of writers groups, but two new ventures for me were judging the Carol awards for ACFW and, more importantly, partnering with a new writer who will get her first contract in February!

As you look at those five areas, how have you grown? Have you grown in ways you didn’t expect? Where do you see the need for improvement?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Things a Novelist Needs to Know About Writing for the Internet

Many novelists that I run into tell me they don’t need to know how to write for the Internet because they only write books. That’s not exactly accurate. If a writer has an online presence—a blog or a website or they contribute to a blog or a website—they need to know how to connect to the Internet reader. Otherwise, they’re wasting their time, and let’s face it—no writer I know has time to waste.

So here are the basics:

People Read Differently on the Internet
One of the great things about the Internet is the ease with which people can find information. Readers are often looking for information fast. They want to be able to read or scan the content quickly to find what they want. That means the author must make organization and readability of primary importance.

Studies also show that people generally read up to 25% slower on computer screens. The reasons are complex, but here are a few:
  •  Computer monitors are harder on the eye than paper
  • They generally have fairly low resolution, so the words aren't as sharp
  •  Also, while the contrast between ink and paper is usually strong and fairly consistent, monitor settings can vary widely depending on type and settings 

Because of these factors, most people find it tiring and even frustrating to read long articles online.

Here’s how to compensate:
  • Utilize short paragraphs, never more than 100 words in length
  • Don’t indent paragraphs, but skip a line between them to allow time for the reader’s eyes to rest
  • Front load information utilizing the inverted pyramid to disseminate information
  • Utilize headings, lists and bullet points
  •  Use active verbs and specific nouns
  •  Write tight 

These tips will make your online presence much stronger, making it easier for your readers to find you. 

Monday, December 13, 2010


It had to happen sometime. My editor hated my baby, my latest manuscript. She didn't like the characters, she didn't like their motivations, and thought they overreacted.

Of course I've had (many) manuscripts rejected before, and I've had edits on all my books. However, this was the first time I've submitted a contracted book that came back from the editor asking for a transplant.

We've all been there: the manuscript we've slaved over and poured our hearts into has come back, rejected. Sometimes the editor is kind enough to explain why, and that can hurt worse than simply saying "no."

So as I write today, please don't take this as a complaint against my editor. She's the greatest, and more than that, I believe she's right (as difficult as it is for me to admit that.) What have I learned through the process?

Listen to your critique partners. I was resistant to this degree of change, even though I suspected it might be coming. Others had warned me. Discover the fine line between opinion and genuine problems.

It's not personal. Although I discovered this was a very personal story as I examined it. The raw emotions reflected the time in my life when I first wrote the story (dealing with teenage angst in my children, over a dozen years ago.)

Take the time to do it right. I have also discovered that the areas I let slide--although I suspect they could be better--come back later for revision. Trust myself in the first place and redo.

Manage my time better. Part of the problem with taking the time was that I hadn't given myself enough time. My grandson came two weeks early and threw my whole schedule off. But if I had been better prepared ... it would have gone more smoothly.

Trust the process--and the Lord. I am asking God to make this book one of my most powerful.

Real life doesn't always seem real in books. I based my heroine's employer loosely on the place where I worked for ten years. Yet my editor kept saying "that's not believable"--about things I had experienced first-hand. I had to change or explain better.

What are some particularly difficult rewrites or rejections you've been asked to do? What did you learn from the experience?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How to Format a Manuscript for Submission

Every industry has standards and the writing community is no different. However, since the advent of email submissions, the rules have gotten muddy. Today I’ll share some general rules to follow that will help you present yourself professionally.

Font Size and Selection
Times New Roman or Courier – 12 point – are still the gold standard. Try not to vary from these two options unless the submission guidelines request it.

Spaces Between Words and Sentences
There should only be ONE space between words and sentences. Many of us learned to type during a time when it was the rule to hit the space bar twice after the ending punctuation of a sentence. This is no longer the case. There are many reasons for this change, but one is that it saves paper on a book length manuscript.

Always justify your margins left. NEVER justify them left and right (like a newspaper).

Line Spacing
There are two ways to space a document for submission. In times past, there was only one acceptable spacing option, double spacing. This has changed with the formatting needs of the Internet.

Special Note: When submitting the sample chapters of a book length manuscript double spacing is the ONLY industry standard accepted.

Single Spaced Document
The entire document is single spaced and paragraphs are NOT indented. An extra space is added between paragraphs.

When painting your garage floor the first thing you have to do is prepare the surface. You need to give it a thorough cleaning. Consider using a pressure washer to save time when you need to remove stubborn dirt and debris. If the garage floor has been painted in the past, it’ll be necessary to remove all traces of the old paint.

After cleaning, allow the concrete time to dry. This may take several days depending on the climate and weather. After it’s dry you’ll need to fill any cracks or holes. You can find the correct supplies at your local hardware store. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying.

Double Spaced Document
The entire document is double spaced and paragraphs ARE indented. There is NO extra space between paragraphs.

      When painting your garage floor the first thing you have to

 do is prepare the surface. You need to give it a thorough cleaning.

Consider using a pressure washer to save time when you need to

remove stubborn dirt and debris. If the garage floor has been

painted in the past, it’ll be necessary to remove all traces of the

old paint.

      After cleaning, allow the concrete time to dry. This may take

several days depending on the climate and weather. After it’s dry

 you’ll need to fill any cracks or holes. You can find the correct

 supplies at your local hardware store. Be sure to follow the

manufacturer’s directions when applying.

All of these rules are not just arbitrary. They help an editor avoid eyestrain when reading hundreds of manuscripts during the course of a week. They also help those who upload or in rare cases, typeset the submitted material.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Paralyzing Fear

Paralyzing fear, also known to those of us who scribble as a living as writer’s block. Most writers have experienced this at some point in their career. Traditionally, we define it as a time when the well runs dry in the middle of a project.

I have a different opinion. I’ve talked with (okay, occasionally ambushed) many writers over the years and find the conversation might go something like this.

Me: “Have you ever had to deal with writer’s block?”

Anonymous Writer: “No, never. Once I start a project I just keep going, no matter what I’m feeling.”

Me: “What about before you begin a project? Have you ever postponed it because of doubt in your ability to do it justice?”

At this point the person I’m speaking with usually takes a step back and begins to hem and haw. Most writers don’t include being afraid to start a project writer’s block. I would beg to differ – anything that keeps you paralyzed and unable to write is, by definition, writer’s block.

Funny thing is that the people who suffer most from writer’s block are writers who’ve had a modicum of success. Maybe they’ve won a contest or two, or written regularly. Far more often I find that they’re afraid they can’t live up to what’s gone before. I also find it when a writer is trying a new genre. They might be going from fiction to non-fiction, or from writing devotions to writing a column. Let’s face it, trying something new is always a daunting prospect.

Now that we’ve defined it, how do we combat it?

First, quit putting it off. Make a commitment to spend a certain amount of time in front of the computer – writing – and do it. Sound hard? Of course it is, otherwise everyone would be a writer!

Begin by writing what you’re afraid of. Fear of failure? Write why it matters. Fear of inadequacy? Define it. You’ll find that it looks small and actually a little silly when you actually write it down.

Next, remember how you got here. Recognition in the writing world comes (99.9% of the time) from putting in time. It comes from being willing to let others see your work and getting back at it after rejection. Give yourself some credit – you’re obviously not a sissy, or you wouldn’t be trying to become a writer.

Finally, give yourself permission to try and fail. Just because this one project doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. I would say the contrary is true. If everything you’ve tried, succeeded, maybe you’re not trying much.

So get out there, quit procrastinating under the guise of ‘I have to think this through before I start.’ Blow a raspberry a writer’s block and hit those keys!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


This week Americans will be celebrating the day set aside to give thanks for the abundance of things God has provided for us. So I will turn our thoughts towards a writer's thanksgiving and invite you to share your thoughts.

  • Which writing tool are you most thankful for?

Having begun my writing career on an electric typewriter, I am most thankful for my computer! And as an author of historical fiction, I'd be lost without

  • Which writing friend(s) are you thankful for?

God blessed me this year with new critique partners: Susan, Cindy, Carla. And God did something special when He crossed my paths with Christian reading enthusiast Beverly, who has become a stalwart supporter. And there are soooo many others!

  • Which book have you read this year that you are most thankful for?

My favorite nonfiction was 90 Minutes in Heaven, especially when my own dear mother went home to be with the Lord less than a month after I read it. No, I won't repeat my annual books in review. For fiction, I'll just mention Stealing Home by Allison Pittman, the Carol award winner, as one of my favorites.

  • What has happened in your writing journey that you are thankful for?

God has built my tribe and given me contracts ... and I've matured as a professional over the last twelve months. Thank you, God!

I could say a lot more - but I'd love to hear from all of you!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Do I Really Need a Writers Group or a Critique Partner?

Only if you want your writing to improve! Writing for publication is an endeavor built on forging relationships. And those relationships can ultimately determine your success or failure in the writing industry. Here’s a list of those relationships.

  • Between you and other writers
  • Between you and the reader 
  • Between the reader and the subject or characters
  • Between you and the editor
  • Between you and your agent
I listed the relationship between writers first, because surprisingly, it’s often the most vital in your writing life. The actual act of putting words on paper is a solitary act and because of that it’s easy to lose perspective. Writing in a vacuum can give us a false sense of whether or not we’re effective in our endeavor. We either wind up thinking we’re a genius or sink into the depths of despair because we can’t string two coherent sentences together. Rarely is either perspective accurate.

We need others in our profession to give us feedback, keep us grounded and provide encouragement. You may be tempted, like I was at first, to insert friends and family into this role. Unless they’re also writers this dynamic just doesn’t work. They’ll unwittingly encourage you when you need a swift kick in the pants and administer the kick in the pants when you need encouragement.

That’s where a writers group, critique group or critique partner will help. But you have to be careful—some critique and writers groups can be toxic. I’ve visited some where the purpose appears to be to build up the one delivering the critique by tearing down the hapless author. You want to avoid these groups at all cost.

Here’s a list of what to look for in a group or a partner
  • An encouraging atmosphere –not all sweetness and light—nobody improves on false compliments. But I’ve almost never found a manuscript that didn’t have some redeeming quality.
  • A mutually beneficial relationship. You should both bring something valuable if it’s a partnership—you may excel at writing dialogue and your partner is a whiz at description.
  • A hunger to improve. If it’s a group there should be a movement toward growth in the majority of members. Even if you’re all beginners, if you’re all reading writing books and attending classes you’ll be able to grow and learn together.
  • A timekeeper. If someone’s not willing to keep track of the time not everyone will get a chance to be critiqued. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it!
Now it's your turn. What experiences, and consequently, advice can you share about critique groups and partners?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An Important Announcement

Hey all,
This is Daniel DeGarmo with DeWard Publishing Company.
I'm sure all of you are aware of Sandi Rog's latest battle (with cancer - Type T-cell Lymphoma) that just began last week. As you can imagine, she's devastated, especially considering the timing of all this as her first novel, The Master's Wall just released last Monday.

Well, considering we are a small publishing company and can pretty much do whatever we want, my business partner and I have agreed to donate an additional $1 per book to a Fund that I'll be setting up this week.

Just so no one thinks we are being shady about the whole deal, this is above and beyond the royalties that Sandi (and her agent) is already incurring with every book sold. The purpose of this fund is to help out Sandi's family (husband and children) while she is laid up fighting for her life.

What I need from you is simply spread the word. For every copy of "The Master's Wall" that is sold (including Kindle) we will donate $1 to this Fund. I'll also be setting it up so that it can receive regular donations if anyone is interested in just helping out financially.

I hope to have more information to share in the next day or so but at least for now I would ask that you would do whatever you can do direct people to buy Sandi's book.

Sandi has been copied on this email.....Sandi..Please forward this message on to anyone you think would help us out in getting the word out.

The same goes for you if you've received this email.
I want to close by lifting the following prayer up on Sandi's behalf:

Father, I lift my sister before you as her body has been stricken with disease.
You know, O God, that she has used her gifts to glorify You and spread your wonderful message of grace and love.
It is my humble plea that you would bring her healing and complete recovery. I know You can do this, You are the Great Physician.
Please bring Your Spirit into her home as her husband and children continue to live life without her there. They need You.
May all that is done bring You glory as our God and Father.
In Jesus' name - AMEN!

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

R.U.E. (Resist the Urge to Explain): How Much Is Too Much?

Quick Interruption!
Before we turn this post over to Darlene, I wanted to let everyone know that Sandi has temporarily turned the reins over for The Book Doctor. Sandi is currently in the hospital undergoing treatment unrelated to MS. Please join us in praying for her and for her family. We know she'll be back with us soon and we'll keep things going here until she returns. We'll be posting periodic updates, so keep checking back.
The Crew at Book Doctor

R.U.E. (resist the Urge to Explain)
The writer creates between two opposites: the reader wants to know and R.U.E. (resist the urge to explain, or more colorfully put, the reader's not stupid!)

Example of "the reader wants to know" (taken from the copyedit of my next published book, Love's Raid, coming out next March from Heartsong Presents):

The grocer’s wagon flew past Clara Farley, the wheels spewing dirt and rocks, coating the skirt of the dress she had chosen for this special occasion.

The copy editor said, "I couldn’t immediately figure out if she was walking, on horseback, or driving." Okay. I need to put in a word or two indicating she's on foot.

Example of R.U.E., from my current WIP, Knight Music, scheduled for release next October. It comes at the end of the first chapter:

Why did he feel like his success would depend on Sonia? Of all people, Sonia was the one person he couldn't count on.

What's the R.U.E. section? The second sentence. The first sentence says it all. Out it goes . . .

How to we know when to add and when to delete?

Adding usually is needed when we need to clarify something. If the heroine arrives somewhere by horse, I need to show her taking care of the horse before she goes inside.

Deleting is harder to detect. Some examples:

  • Overemphasis? Am I overemphasizing something that makes no difference in the story, the equivalent of the gun in the room? In my current WIP, the heroine (Sonia, of course), is sketching in a prayer journal. I use it as a means to show her thoughts about the hero. When I say people like to peek into her journal, am I implying later in the story someone will peek into the journal--and see something they shouldn't? Either I delete the comment--or I add a bit more about the journal later in the story.
  • Planting hints? When is enough enough? The hero in my WIP (we eventually discover) has a dark secret in his past. My hints must walk a fine line between making it believable when the reader discovers the truth; or hitting the reader over the head with it. Examples:

--Maybe that was what happened when her best work was stolen and she lost her sense of direction. He ought to know. Hadn’t he come to Ulysses for much the same reason? His mouth twisted at the irony of it.

--Four pages later: He could tell the truth, up to a point.
--One page later: “And I apologize for soaking your shirt. So we’re even. Sort of.”
If only she knew the truth.

--A page after that: He knew exactly what he intended to do to get back into his family’s good graces, but he wasn’t about to tell anyone.
--Four pages later: Ty wandered downe the aisle ahead of her, and with the arch of an eyebrow, grabbed a box of cereal with a cartoon vampire on the front. “I’m like this cereal. I’m irresistible, but ultimately, I’m bad for you.

Looking at it this way, I suspect I'm overdoing it a little. Hmm. Good exercise.

In your own work, look for both problems:

Is something unclear that needs additional explanation?

Is something overstated and needs to be shortened?

Feel free to share examples from your writing and let us help!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

Many of you know that November is a special month for those of us who write novels. It’s National Novel Writing Month. For those that have never heard of it, here’s the scoop. NaNoWriMo, as it’s commonly called, is a time for writers all over the world to ban together and encourage each other to write a 50,000 word novel.

It’s not a competition in the sense that there’s only one winner. If you write 50,000 words you win. We’re not competing for monetary prizes, but for the sense of accomplishment it brings. With that accomplishment comes the small gold crown that you are awarded for display on your website or blog. 

Sign up is free. To register, visit the official home page. Once you’ve registered, you’ll find forums to answer your questions, as well as regions and even local groups that meet in person.

It sounds crazy, but it’s actually one of the most freeing things you could ever try. It forces us to blast out the story, ignoring our inner editor in favor of word count. It allows our creative to dominate our need for perfection.

I’m going to be there and I encourage you to give it a try as well! My NaNoWriMo name is emelson – look me up and we can be buddies. If you’ve participated in NaNo let us know your thoughts and chime in to let us know if you’ll be participating this year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Raising Readers

On my first visit to my granddaughter, I brought baby-proof cardboard books of nursery rhymes. They were Jordan's first books of her own, and I teased my son and daughter-in-law that they had waited too long. (She was all of two months old.)

Now she is 22 months. When she climbed into her toddler-sized rocker, I asked her, "Do you the know the story of the three little bears?"

Lickety split, she ran down the hall and came back with The Spooky Old Tree. As soon as I opened it to the first page, I understood why: three little bears going into the spooky old tree. She knew the story.

Later, she brought me a Dr. Seuss book, My Eye. I pointed to the word "eye" and said it.

She pointed to the picture of an eye and said "eye." She pointed to the word eye and said it. She pointed to her own eye and said it a third time.

You'll forgive a grandma bragging, won't it? One of those aha moments, when she made the connection between the word on the page, the two-dimensional picture, and the actual physical object.

My son reads, all the time. Serious books of religion and philosophy.

My oldest granddaughter (14) doesn't read much beyond books required by school--but she will carry the impact of books like The Giver and The Hunger Games for a long time.

My middle granddaughter (11) has read all the Harry Potter books and the Twilight series.

Jordan is joining a family of readers.

Without readers, we authors serve no purpose. Most of us are also avid readers.

Read to your children. Read to your grandchildren. Read yourself. They figure out for themselves that books are important!

What the earliest book that you remember? For me, probably The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.

Monday, October 18, 2010

POV—It’s Not as Unfair as You Thought

A lot of new writers I meet tend to get frustrated with the writing rules in regard to POV (Point of View). The unwritten rule is that the author is only allowed to write from the point of view of one character per scene. Many quote this as a rule that can NEVER be broken. But if you read any novels at all you’ll see it’s broken rather regularly—usually by well known writers.

  • So let me say first—be skeptical of anyone who quotes an ALWAYS or NEVER rule of writing. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single rule that can’t occasionally be broken for a good reason.
  • Second, let me be quick to add that you need to know how to work within the rules before you can effectively break them.
  • Third, here’s an important quote to remember. I’ve heard it attributed to several editors and I believe it’s applicable. “After you’ve made your first million you can make up your own rules—until then, you’ll follow ours.”
That little caveat out of the way let’s get down to the business of POV. A scene with correct POV allows the reader to know everything the POV character knows and thinks. It’s as if there were a camera attached to that one character’s head and it records everything. Conversely, that camera can’t record anything the POV character can’t see or experience. Let me show you what I mean by showing you what NOT to do. Here’s a common scene, one we can all visualize, written the way a beginner might write it.

Jill sat at the small table, twisting the napkin in her lap and trying not to stare every time the restaurant door opened. She couldn’t imagine why she’d let Susan talk her into a blind date, but she had and now here she sat, waiting for Nathan to show up. She forced as smile as the waiter refilled her water glass.

“Can I get you anything else while you wait?” Sam disliked waiting on a table with a blind date. His tip depended on so much he couldn’t control. If the date went well, great. If not . . . well all the excellent service in the world couldn’t make up for that.

Jill sat up a little straighter as a tall man approached her table. “Are you Jill?”

“Nathan?” She mentally crossed her fingers. Susan hadn’t exaggerated his good looks.

Sam scooted backward to let Nathan take a seat. “May I get you a drink?”

“Just water, thanks.” Relief quieted the butterflies in Nathan’s belly. Jill was quite beautiful—perhaps this wouldn’t be a waste of time after all.

This scene is a perfect example of HEAD HOPPING—a definite no-no in POV. Head hopping is where the reader knows the thoughts or is in the head of more than one character in a scene. You can see that in this scene we start out in Jill’s head, move to the waiter’s and end up in Nathan’s.

I can already hear the groaning from some of you. When I teach this workshop I barely get the example finished before these comments reach my ears.

“How else is the reader going to know what’s going on?”

“I have to be able to show what’s happening!”

In my humble opinion, Head Hopping is the lazy writer’s way to tell the story. Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes, let me explain. As an author we have an amazing ability—a gift even—we read minds, the minds of our characters. And we can be tempted to think that for the reader to truly understand and GET the story, we have to share this gift.

Not true. And here’s why. You and I go through life without one shred of mindreading ability. Yet, we’re able to GET what’s going on and figure out what’s happening. We’re not handicapped by this lack. In fact, most people I know get along better without it. As a writer, our job is to let the reader EXPERIENCE the details in a given scene and draw their own conclusions. If we write the sensory details well, they’ll have no trouble at all.

Here’s the same scene rewritten.

Jill sat at the small table, twisting the napkin in her lap and trying not to stare every time the restaurant door opened. She couldn’t imagine why she’d let Susan talk her into a blind date, but she had and now here she sat, waiting for a stranger to show up. She forced as smile as the waiter refilled her water glass.

“Can I get you anything else while you wait?” He fingered his order pad and let out a small sigh.

“No thank you.” Jill figured it couldn’t be easy to wait on a couple who were on a blind date. She caught a movement and sat up a little straighter as a tall man approached her table.

He cleared his throat. “Are you Jill?”

“Nathan?” She mentally crossed her fingers. Her friend hadn’t exaggerated his good looks.

Sam scooted backward to let Nathan take a seat. “May I get you a drink?”

“Just water, thanks.” Nathan grinned. “I have to admit I was worried.” He cocked an eyebrow. “But for once my brother was right on target.”

See, it is possible to convey what everyone's thinking without butchering POV. Here’s a quick check list to help round out the details.
  • Use all five senses.
  • Describe the setting details through the perception of the POV character.
  • Let the interesting parts of the story happen WITHIN the quotation marks.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave some things out—it will keep the reader interested in turning the page.
The key to POV is to trust yourself and trust your reader!

Monday, October 11, 2010

TO BE OR NOT TO BE: What is “passive” writing?

Before Darlene gets started, I wanted to invite all of you to Dave King's Facebook Fanpage for Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Hope to see you there.

Now, back to you, Darlene. :-)


Recently I presented a workshop for my local ACFW group on self-editing tips. For preparation, I took my current work in progress and made note of things I corrected in my own work.

The first problem I identified? “Avoid passive verbs when possible.”

But what is passive writing?

We can define passive writing grammatically:
• Verbs of being: To be. Also to seem, to appear, to feel, to become
• Passive tense: where the subject is acted upon instead of doing the acting. “I was hit by a car” vs. “I hit a car” (or “A car hit me.”)

But “avoiding” passive writing goes beyond those two rules of grammar.
• Another related rule of grammar involves participles: “She was going to the store.” Notice the “was.” Can we instead say, “She went to the store”?
• We avoid passive statements by showing rather than telling. Rather than saying “she felt sad,” we can show her feeling sad. (See last Monday’s blog for more on showing emotions.)
• “To have” often is used in a passive manner. “She had nine bags of groceries.” Instead of “had,” we could use bought, carried, gave away. Any one of those choices sharpens the meaning of the sentence.

Am I suggesting that writers never use passive voice? Of course not. As you may have noticed, I have used it liberally in this post. A few suggestions:
• One article I read said to keep passive voice to 2-3 occurrences a page. Most writers use more than that (some, many more).
• My personal rule: no more than one passive verb per paragraph.
• In critiquing, I don’t mention passive verbs in dialogue.
• During revisions, I use “search and replace” to change the font color of all passive verbs. That way I have to make a conscious decision about whether to keep or rewrite.

Do you have questions about “what is passive?” and “how to I rewrite this?” Feel free to share your questions and comments below.

Monday, October 4, 2010

After the Conference—Now What?

Many of us have gotten to attend a writing conference this year and many of us are just a couple of weeks back from the ACFW conference in Indianapolis. We’ve been inspired by the faculty and amazed at the ideas and abilities of fellow writers. While there, the adrenaline is pumping and we know when we get home we’ll be ready to take our own writing to the next level.

Then life happens. In the tired excitement of coming home, I have to reintegrate myself into my normal life. My family needs attention and I’ve missed them, too. Work has pressing deadlines and laundry has managed to multiply and take over my downstairs. These things tend to eat away at my time and energy until I’m so drained my conference experience seems like a lifetime ago.

By the time I catch my breath and return to writing I’ve found my confidence has deserted me and I’m left overwhelmed and confused. There’s so much I want to accomplish—revise my manuscript, start a blog, follow up with editors and agents. Instead I begin to listen that voice inside that says things like -

"That editor was just being nice—she isn’t really interested in my novel”
“My novel needs so much work, I ought to just start over.”
“Who am I trying to fool? There’s no way I could ever be a real writer.”

So how do I combat this downward spiral? I make a plan. I took time to time out my conference experience—I knew each day what classes I wanted and who I wanted to meet. I have to have that kind of a schedule to put into action the things I learned at the conference.

First make a list of what you came away wanting to do and prioritize what needs to be done first.
  • Start with thank you notes for those who took time to help you are a must. If you have an address send one through the mail, but often times you don’t have that information. If not, send a quick email—trust me—they’ll remember you took the time to say thank you.
  • Next evaluate your deadlines. Let’s say you have to revise a manuscript for one editor and send a proposal for another idea to a different editor. In this case, decide which one is easier to accomplish and start there.
  • Also look at the things you wanted to accomplish personally. Maybe you decided to spend more time each day writing. Or you committed to a personal word count goal. Don’t’ let those get pushed aside—start implementing the changes. This can be an incredible confidence builder.
  • What about other writers you met? Did you promise each other to stay in touch? Be brave and reach out to new friends.
  • Most important, accomplish something writing related every day. Some days that may be reading a chapter in a writing book. It might be reading a novel written by a writer you want to emulate.
Now it’s your turn. How do you combat the dark cloud that seems to descend after a conference?

Monday, September 27, 2010


I am currently working on a book I originally wrote in 1998. I polished it then to the best of my ability. I have read it several times. Time hasn’t given me objectivity; instead, I am more in love with the story than ever.

I am thankful for an honest critique partner, and she more or less hates it (she wouldn’t say so in so many words).

What’s the truth—a fairy tale romantic story or a dismal failure? Ultimately, my editor and my readers will decide.

But it brings up a problem many writers struggle with: how do we bring fresh eyes to a manuscript we’ve rewritten half a dozen times or more? Am I seeing this manuscript through the fond eyes of a mother or with a critical editor's eye?

I have no easy answers to that question, but here are a few ideas:
• Move on to another project if you have time.
• Leave this project alone between edits for as long as you can.
• If you have time and willing friends, give the manuscript to someone who has never seen it before.
• Read the manuscript aloud. Even better, have someone else read it aloud.
• Read the book from end to beginning.
• Dialogue with a trusted partner. What were you trying to do? How did it fail? (How) can it be fixed?
• Look at individual elements of the story, such as: character descriptions (consistent?); dialogue (each person unique?); timeline.

What ideas do the rest of you have? Do you struggle with this problem and if so, how do you handle it?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Don’t Get No Respect!

This seems to be a common refrain I hear from writers, especially those at the beginning of their career. They’ve finally worked up the courage to get serious about writing regularly and some of their closest family and friends won’t respect their time. They get calls during the times they’re writing and attitude if they don’t stop to talk. They hear comments that undermine their newfound confidence.

“You can do that, after all you stay home all day.”

“Oh come on, you’ve got nothing better to do.”

And my favorite. “It’s not like you have a real job.”

So what’s a writer to do?

First, take a deep breath and realize this problem isn’t unique to writers. It happens to everyone who works from home—I should know—my husband and I have shared a home office for the past eleven years. For some people an office isn’t an office if it isn’t off site. Not logical, but an all too common misconception. I’ve fought this battle—sometimes more successfully than others—and these are the strategies I’ve come up with.

  1. Make certain you’re setting the example you want followed. By that I mean keep regular hours. Notice I said regular hours—not to be confused with normal ones. For years I wrote with young children in the house. That meant writing in the afternoons and after they were in bed. Just because you’re working odd hours doesn’t mean you can’t have a schedule.
  2. Treat what you’re doing like you’re serious. If you blow off writing for shopping and lunch several times a week your friends and family won’t understand if you don’t stop for them.
  3. Be consistent. If you’re not accepting calls from your mother-in-law because you’re working, don’t spend the afternoon on the phone with your best friend. Stay focused on your writing. This is even more critical if your time is at a premium. 
  4. Recruit a support team. Instead of adversaries, enlist your friends and family to help you reach your writing goals. Communicate those goals, clearly and frequently. Ask for their help to reach them. After all, what mother doesn’t want to help her baby succeed!
  5. Share your victories. Let those who love you share in the joy of goals accomplished and milestones reached.
These five things have helped me immeasurably over the years. But they’re not a cure all. There will still be those who think what you do is just for fun and not work. Expect that, anticipate it even. Knowing it happens to everyone takes away a little bit of the sting. Most of all, don't let it stand in your way!

Monday, September 13, 2010


Many of our readers will be going to the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference this week. Have fun! I hope to see you next year. This year I'm staying home to play grandma.

That also means many of you will be seeing an editor and/or an agent. You will talk with them at the dinner tables, in the hall, during an appointment. It's entirely possible all of your carefully practiced "elevator speeches" will fly out of your head. (It always does mine. I rarely get it in a single sentence and I've still managed to sell more than a dozen books.)

So I thought I would share some of my observations and experiences.
  • Your passion for your story will come through and impress the editor.
  • The editor is more interested in hearing from you than looking at the one sheet.
  • It doesn't hurt to mention why you think this story is a good fit for their company.
  • Bring samples of your writing. They won't take your chapters with them (probably) but they will read and get a sense of your ability to write.
  • Accept rejections with grace.
  • Don't feel you have to leave as soon as they say "no" (although you may). The appointment isn't only a sales pitch; it's also a chance to talk with an industry professional.
  • The fact you are at the conference speaks volumes about you. You are committed to learning and improving. Editors appreciate this; they will be more willing to look at things from you in the future, regardless of what happens this year.
Most of all ... relax. Be yourself. Share your heart. Build a friendship. And leave the results to the Lord.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Feeling Emotional—Don’t Tell Anyone!

Instead show them.

Telling the story, instead of showing it, is one of the most common mistakes beginners make. During the first draft almost all of us, no matter how advanced, tend to tell a lot of the story. It’s only natural. This is the time when our manuscript comes together and telling allows us to develop the bones or structure of the story before we refine it into a compelling work of fiction. But beginners often stop the refining process too early. So how do we take a story from just bare bones? One of the best ways is to add depth by showing how our characters feel without naming the emotions.

Now, I know a lot of you are probably having the same reaction I did when I first heard it wasn’t a good idea to name an emotion. I had a rather loud conversation with the writing book that first shared this nugget of information.

“You have got to be kidding me! Who made up this stupid rule? How can I tell the reader what’s going on if I don’t use words like scared or angry?”

And there is the crux of the problem—beginning writers always default back to telling the story. Writing fiction is hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book and write it well. You already know this—after all that’s why you’re taking the time to read and study about how to improve.

Like I mentioned, I didn’t have a positive reaction to my first exposure to this convention. But now it’s an aspect of rewriting that I enjoy and even look forward to. I look on this as a challenge—a game of sorts. The best part of this game is that when I, the author wins, everybody else does too. Am I nuts? Absolutely, but I am, after all, a writer!

Let me give you some examples. I’ll start each out with an excerpt where I name the emotion. Then, in the second, I'll let you see how I changed it to let the reader name the emotion by interpreting the character’s actions.

Example 1
Emotions Named:
She began to cry as shame and anger warred inside. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Her voice sounded hoarse as she tried to control her frustration.

Emotions Implied:
Tears flooded her eyes, making his features blur as she lifted her head and tried to focus. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” Her voice came out like a croak and she tried to clear her throat, but choked on the unshed tears.

The first excerpt tells the reader what’s going on. Granted, the writing is clear, but we’ve all heard the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words. The second excerpt is that picture. It invites the reader into the action and leaves them to draw their own conclusions.

Here’s another one.

Example 2
Emotions Named:
Manaen rose, her anger giving her strength as she faced her brother. “Do not think to intimidate me.” His arrogance amazed her even as it infuriated her. “I am not a child to be bullied. My Lord’s Spirit speaks to me as clearly as to you.”

Emotions Implied:
Manaen rose in response, her eyes almost even with his as she drew herself up to her full height, oblivious of her feminine garment. “Do not think to intimidate me.” Her jaw worked as she gritted her teeth. “I am not a child to be bullied. My Lord’s Spirit speaks to me as clearly as to you.”

And a final one.

Example 3
Emotions Named:
Rage sent Josiah shooting to his feet. “I tell you, Manaen, I’ve never witnessed any Elder behave in this manner.” Josiah paced, feeling like his world was collapsing. Confusion made him restless. “I just don’t understand.”

Emotions Implied:
He shot up from the desk, upsetting the chair. “I tell you, Manaen, I’ve never witnessed any Elder behave in this manner.” Josiah prowled through the briefing area of their quarters, picking things up and setting them down again. “I just don’t understand.”

Now it’s your turn. Take one of these two sentences and show us the emotion in place of naming it.

Example 1
Susan’s agony flooded through her as sorrow mingled with guilt. “What have I done?”

Example 2
“Hello? Who’s there?” Jenny’s fear reached a crescendo as the footsteps above moved toward the stairs.

I can hardly wait to read what you come up with!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I've Finished My First Draft - Now What?

I talk with lots of writers who struggle with the editing process. It leaves them feeling overwhelmed and confused. Many are uncertain of where to begin. As a professional editor, I have a specific process I follow, whether I’m working on a client’s manuscript or my own. There are a lot of things to look for in a manuscript and I’ve found that it takes multiple editing passes to catch everything. I take things in small bites—editing no more than a chapter at a time. I also go from the big issues to the small details. Here are the steps I go through when I’m getting a manuscript ready for publication.

First Pass – I make certain that each scene (if there’s more than one per chapter) has strong conflict and is necessary to move the story along. I’m ruthless here—good writing alone NEVER justifies a scene’s inclusion in the finished product.

Second Pass – I check my timeline and the sequence of events. I make sure everything is logical. For example, I look to see if I have a character giving a response before an event happens.
  • Elisa jumped when a loud pop echoed in the chamber.
  • The loud pop echoed through the chamber and Elisa jumped, knocking her head against the back of the chair.
In the first example the reader sees Elisa jump then reads about the pop.
The second example puts things more logically.

During this pass I also check to see if I have a balance of speaker beats and speaker tags.

Third Pass – I check for passive writing. I do a search for the word was and study each usage to make certain it’s past tense—not passive tense.
  • Stuart was walking across the yard.
  • Stuart walked (or better yet, strolled) across the yard.
Was Walking is passive in the first example.
In the second example the verb is much stronger.

Fourth Pass – I look for telling, instead of showing. These are some clue words I search for:
  • Felt
  • Remembered
  • Knew
  • Watched
  • Saw
  • Looked
  • Was
  • -ing words
  • -ly words
These words let me know that something might be wrong.

Fifth Pass – I look for times when I’ve named emotions instead of showing them.
  • Bethany felt panic course through her system. Had she waited too long?
  • Bethany could feel her nails cutting into her palms as she fisted her hands. Had she waited too long?
In the first example I name the emotion – panic. In the second example I let Bethany’s actions lead the reader to her emotional state. The first example also has a clue word—felt—that would help me see that changes need to be made.

Sixth Pass – I look to see if each scene contains all five senses.
Here are two senses I had to add to the scenes I was working on.
  • Substandard lighting and circulation led to the lingering odor of sulfur mixed with leaching compounds. At almost two clicks beneath the metropolis the noxious haze, unable to dissipate, lingered to burn the throat of any unfortunate worker.
  • Dawn had broken, but instead of beauty, a dank haze hung over the city. He could still taste the metallic bite in the polluted air.
Seventh Pass – I read the entire chapter out loud, making notes about whatever hits me as slightly off.

This is the process I always use. It won’t catch everything, but it gets me a long way down the road. After going through these seven steps I set the chapter aside and move on to the next one. This gives me my second draft.

There are many good books out there on this subject, especially Self-Editing for Fiction Writers  by our own Dave King. All I’ve done is break the process down into one I could replicate with any manuscript. What are some tricks you use when you’re in the editing process?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting Ready to Write: A Special Person

Much of becoming a proficient writer is based upon experience (actually doing the writing) and on learning the craft of writing. However, it is difficult to see our own writing with the same clarity that an outsider can see it. So, there comes a time when we need to seek advice from others.
            Many writers turn to their spouse, lover or best friend. While this person may have our best interests at heart, he or she (unless also a writer) will rarely have the insight we need to make our writing better. So what is a writer to do?
·         Join a writer’s group. Check your local library, check the listings in the Arts and Humanities section of your newspaper, or check the Internet to see if a writer’s group exists in your area. A good writer’s group will consist of at least one or two people who are knowledgeable in the art of writing and who are interested in sharing that knowledge with others. The members of a good writer’s group will be constructive in all criticism, and never sarcastic, egotistical or jealous.
·         Create your own writer’s group. Join up with a couple of your writer friends and meet regularly to review one another’s work. Use the same precautions in creating this group as listed above.
·         Take a Creative Writing class at your local college.
·         Attend as many writer conferences and workshops as possible. Again, pay attention to notices at libraries, art centers and schools for information about upcoming events. Also watch for advertisements in writing magazines or scan the Internet.
·         Submit your writing for a professional edit and critique. Find these services in the classified section of writer magazines or by scanning the Internet for “manuscript critique.” These services most often charge, and the rates can vary greatly. Some things to look for: does the fee include both line-by-line editing and an overview critique? Are follow-up conferences provided? Are references available? What are the qualifications of the provider? Do you feel comfortable with the person?

            In the best of all worlds, every new writer would have a special mentor—someone who is knowledgeable in the art and the craft of writing, someone who has already gone through the growing stages, someone who has a special interest in the new writer, and someone who is willing to encourage, challenge and teach that new writer. Keep your eyes open, and don’t be embarrassed to ask.

On the left sidebar you’ll find numerous recommended writing groups and sites. You’ll also find high quality editors on this blog (namely Darlene and Edie who work hard to teach everyone here the craft).

Have any of you started a writing group, joined a writing group, or are looking for a writing group? Please share your experiences and suggestions with us!

Monday, August 9, 2010


Before Darlene gets started, I'm going to interrupt this post to announce that Darlene Franklin's book A STRING OF MURDERS is a finalist in The Carol sponsored by ACFW! CONGRATULATIONS, Darlene!


When a reader picks up a book, she enters into a silent pact with the author. I am willing to believe in your fictional world, as long as you make it real. Don’t say or do something that makes me remember this is just a work of fiction.

I was reminded of this while listening to the radio the other day. One DJ said, “I’m going to spend a week on the beach in Maine.”

If I had read that line in a book, the author would have lost credibility with me. Because I grew up in Maine, I know that while it has some beautiful beaches, most of its more than 2,000 miles of shoreline consists of a rugged, rocky coast. The same thing happened in a book where an author named a town in Colorado “Maple Gap.” A strange thing to name a place in a state where maple trees aren’t common. Other than that, the book was wonderful, but it made me wonder: does the author know her setting?

I even made the same mistake myself, misnaming the river that flows through San Antonio in my first book, Romanian Rhapsody. Oops. For every person who pointed out my mistake, ten must have noticed and lost a little faith in me as a writer.

How do you keep the reader in your fictional world?

• Get the physical details right. If possible, visit the place, so you can experience it with all five senses. Study it online, through books, first hand accounts. Talk with people who have been there.
• Get the words right. This applies mostly to historical novels. In my current work in progress, I discovered that “scat” was used in 1845, but that “squishy” didn’t appear until 1847. This also applies to fashions, machines, and items of every day life.
• Get the characters right. In my current WIP, my hero looks at the heroine, thinking she looks like an angel. I added a great punch line. “Satan was an angel of light, he reminded himself. Don’t let her looks lead you astray.” The problem? She has done nothing to suggest she will lead him astray, nor have I portrayed the hero as paranoid about women. I have to rethink that line.
• Keep the details consistent. If the heroine has green eyes in the first chapter, don’t change them to hazel in chapter ten.

I would love to see examples of setting in your writing. Send a paragraph or so description and let us savor a different time (if applicable) and place. Below are two snippets of my recently released book, Prodigal Patriot, a historical romance set in northern Vermont.

Josiah brushed at the mosquitoes that buzzed around any exposed patches of skin,
far worse here than in Maple Notch. Transporting Van Dyke to his home via Lake
Champlain had seemed like a good plan when Solomon suggested it. On the water,
Josiah wasn’t so sure. Every insect in two states decided to feast on them en
route. . . . .

Van Dyke guided them through milfoil and water chestnuts
toward the bank, where trees grew so dense Josiah didn’t see how even a fox
could squeeze through. The canoe glided underneath the cool canopy, the lake
only a slender line of blue through branches blurred by foliage.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Organizing Your Days on a Weekly Basis

A lot of writers ask me about my writing schedule. As a full-time writer, I have multiple streams of income so I have to manage my time carefully. But it doesn't matter whether you write as a calling, a hobby or a business. We all perform better when we have expectations and a way to judge results. For those of you just starting out, here are some suggestions.

  • Set small, measurable goals
  • Under estimate the time you'll be able to put in
  • Adjust your goal setting to a weekly mode, rather than daily
  • Weekly Word Count Goal
One of the things I've found most helpful when setting word count goals is to set my goal for the week rather than the day. I still have two teenagers in and out of the house so sometimes life interrupts life. To combat this, I set a weekly wordcount goal for my fiction endeavors. Then, I break it down into daily totals. If I miss a day's goal, I can make it up later in the week and I don't wind up feeling like I've failed.

Weekly Project Goal
some of you may work on more than just a novels. You may also work on smaller projects, like articles or devotions. If that's the case, try to set a goal of one devotion or article a week, instead of a word count for those projects.

Revolving Weekly Goal
You might want to try something I call a revolving weekly goal. This is where you have a different goal every week for 3 weeks and then it starts over. The first week you might complete a small project. The next week, you look for markets where you can sell it. The third week you might spend learning about the craft of writing. Then you begin the cycle again.

Whatever method works for you is the BEST method.

Just remember, that no matter how early or how far along you are on your writing journey we all need to spend time studying the craft of writing. That can be done through reading books, attending a seminar or conference, or reading blogs and websites.

All of these are necessary for us as writers to improve our craft.

So what have you found works best for you? Share your insights with the rest of us - please!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Getting Ready to Write: A Special Place, A Special Time

Many successful writers advise that it is important to have a special place set aside in which to write. A room, a desk, a closet—somewhere that is reserved only for the act of writing. I think this is wonderful. If you can do this, and if this helps you get into the “writing mood,” do it.
            Many writers also suggest setting aside a special time to write. To sit in your special place for 30 minutes or 4 hours or however long you’ve set aside, and discipline yourself to write. Again, I think this is great. Some writers are very disciplined and get up at 4 a.m. to have 3 hours to write before starting their workday. This impresses the heck out of me, but I know the snooze button on my alarm would be worn out if I tried it.
            In fact, none of this has ever worked for me. I write any where, any time. I keep a pad of paper by my bedside, so when I awaken at 3 a.m. with the solution to my writing dilemma, I am ready to write. I keep paper in my car, so when I’m waiting to pick up my kids or stuck in traffic, I can write. I keep paper in my oversized handbag, so while I’m at the doctor’s office or the PTA meeting, I can write. And I keep a laptop computer in my living room, in the same room as the television set and the energetic teenagers and the dog and the husband and the birds, and while I’m enjoying family time, I write.
            For me, finding the time to write or the place to write has never been the problem. For me, forcing myself to finish my chores before I write, making myself accept my other responsibilities before I write, is the problem.
            Writer’s Block? Uh-uh. I believe that writer’s block is what happens when we don’t know what comes next in our story. So start another story. I always have several projects open at a time—two or three novels, two or three short stories, and usually a few nonfiction or workshop projects. Anytime my brain gets tired or stuck on one story, I’ve got another to go to. Of course, the danger in this is that it is easy never to actually finish any one project, but that, again, is where discipline comes in. I try to assign “priorities” to my work. I usually have one fiction and one non-fiction project that is my current priority, and I don’t switch to one of the other projects unless I am truly stuck and need a break.
            It is also easy to be overtaken by distractions. During the day, when I am home alone, I never turn on the television set. And those wonderful computer games that are so compelling? I have to admit, I love them. I compete against myself constantly in trying to do better all the time. But I only allow myself to indulge in the late evenings, when my house is usually so active that I would have difficulty concentrating on writing anyway.
            I wrote my first novel while working full-time with three small children at home. I wrote during lunch breaks, while stirring spaghetti sauce, while pumping gas. I wrote at every possible snippet of time, and when I wasn’t physically writing, my mind was busy working out plot and such so that when I could grab a pen and paper, I’d be ready to go.
            The moral of the story: if you want to write, you will find the time and you will find the space. If you are the type of person who needs structure, then give that to yourself. Set aside a desk and a special time. However, if you have such a burning desire to write that nothing will stop you from doing it, then don’t limit yourself to a special place or a special time. Just do it.

What is your special time or place to write?

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Candy, evangelism, Texas, ranch

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Come up with an elevator pitch for a story encompassing those four words. Any genre or time period acceptable.

I look forward to seeing your suggestions in the comments.

I chose those four words because they were the four elements I wanted to include in my latest book proposal. (I won’t bother you with the reasons why). My chosen genre was historical romance. How did I get from those four words to a nine page book synopsis?

I start by asking questions.

• Who are my hero and heroine? What occupations might include candy, evangelism, or a ranch?
• What problems keep them apart? She is a missionary committed to service overseas. He’s a fisherman who once asked her to marry him.
• What problems might interfere with those occupations? The missionary has to stay at home because of family problems. The candy shop fails. Someone unused to a ranch has to learn how to ranch.
• When and where will this story take place? I’m a sucker for natural disasters. Dressed in Scarlet is set during Colorado’s worst blizzard; Beacon of Love takes place in a lighthouse during a hurricane; Bridge to Love examines the infamous Year of No Summer. So it’s no wonder that I was drawn to the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

Okay, with those questions I had enough for an elevator pitch. Next I started on structure: the inciting incident, one or two plot change points, and the black moment.

We’re told to start with action; what is more action-packed than a ship at sea during a hurricane—trying to pick up stranded fishermen? The black moment? Make something happen so that it appears the hero and heroine won’t achieve their hearts’ desire—then resolve it. For my couple, she’s afraid she can’t go back to the mission field, and he’s afraid she will.

In between, though, it gets tougher. One method makes things get progressively worse; the problems escalate. Another resolves the first problem but presents a second.

I used the second method. So by now I have four plot pivots: opening chapter; two change points; and a black moment at the end.

So far I had a page at most. Not much.

Next, I let my mind wander freely. I list scenes and problems as they occur to me, in incomplete sentences, one or two lines each. I don’t enforce any order. Questions I ask myself include how do the hero and heroine get from point A to point B (how do they get from the hurricane-tossed ship to Galveston to evacuation?) Given what I know of my characters, how are they going to react to what’s happening? What problems might arise along each step of the way?

This netted me four-five pages of short ideas. I put them in order, write them into full sentences and paragraphs, add connecting threads and make sure I show emotions and romantic development ...

And I’ve got a nine page synopsis.

Please accept your mission. I look forward to reading your ideas.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Silencing Your Inner Editor

I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who have trouble disconnecting their INNER EDITOR. This overly helpful person lives inside most of us and comes in handy when we’re putting the finishing touches on our manuscript. But when we’re in the midst of a creative surge, that same person can short circuit our progress.

There’s a scientific reason for that roadblock. The creative act of writing your first draft stems from the right side—or creative side—of the brain. Later in the process, when polishing begins, the left side takes over. Here are some of the characteristics of each side.

Right Brain
  • Visual in process, focusing more on patterns and images
  • Generally intuitive, led by feelings
  • Is the epitome of multi-tasking, able to process ideas simultaneously
  • Progresses from the big picture to the details
  • Lacks organization, utilizes free association
Left Brain
  • More verbal, needs to find specific words to express ideas
  • Analytical, led by logic
  • Takes things step by step, one idea at a time
  • Organizes details first before moving to the big picture
  • Very organized, utilizing lists and detailed plans
Mixing up the process—trying to use both sides of the brain at the same time—can lead to a tangled mess and a major roadblock. All of this information is good to know, but what if our left-brained, Inner Editor won’t go away? How do we make her be quiet? Unfortunately, there isn’t one way that works for everyone, but here are some tips that should help.

  1. Don’t give in to temptation. Our Inner Editor gets stronger the more frequently we give in to her demands. If she thinks you need a certain word before you can finish that sentence, stay strong. Type XXX and go on. Later, during the rewriting process, you’ll have plenty of time to find the right word. This goes for anything that demands you slow the creative process. At this point in your manuscript speed is your best friend.
  2. Set a daily and weekly word count goal. This can often sidetrack the Inner Editor because of her need to meet a goal. Sometimes, in her drive to succeed she can even become an ally.
  3. Make lists in a separate notebook. Use your computer for the story, but if the need for details overshadows the creative urge, make a quick note in a notebook. Don’t let yourself get bogged down, but let the free association part of your right brain give you ideas to explore later with your more logical left side.
  4. Don’t give in to fear. Many times our Inner Editor is driven by fear. Fear that this draft isn’t good, won’t work or just doesn’t make sense. Remind yourself that this version isn’t written in stone. Sometimes just giving ourselves permission to write what Ann Lamott calls the sh*%&# first draft is all we need to derail our Inner Editor.
All of these tips can help, but I’d like to know what tricks you use to keep your Inner Editor quiet.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Getting Ready to Write: Inspirations

Writing a novel is a lonely job that has few rewards until it is finished. Therefore, it is imperative to stay focused and to stay positive. Surrounding yourself with reminders is one of the easiest ways to do this. (The other way—paying people to constantly tell you you’re doing great and so forth—becomes costly.)
            When I first started submitting material to agents and received my first rejection letters, I was enthused. Now, some people would think that a rejection letter is a depressing thing, but not to me (not then, anyway). It made me feel like a “real” writer, made me feel like I had made contact with the “real” writing world. So, I taped every rejection letter on the wall. On top of each rejection, I taped an inspirational quote. I called it my “Wall of Shame.” As I received awards for my writing, I added these to my wall. I also copied any checks I received for readings or competitions, any thank-you notes, anything that had to do with writing. Pretty soon, I had half of one dining room wall “papered.” Eventually, my handy husband decided to remodel and my wall came down, but it had served its purpose when I needed it: it kept me focused on writing and connected to the writing world.
            Don’t be embarrassed to do whatever you need to do to bolster your morale. And quit referring to yourself as “wanting to be a writer” or a “writer wannabe.” Once you actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you are a writer. Say that out loud: “I am a writer.” Say it again: “I am a writer.” One more time: “I am a writer.” Make that your new mantra and repeat it several times a day. You are a writer. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post.

What inspires you? Please share it with us. You never know who else you may inspire or encourage, whether it’s a quote, something someone said or did in regards to your writing, or perhaps it came in the form of a rejection letter.

Inspire us!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I have had one of the weirdest weekends of my life. So much so that people have said, "This sounds like something out of a book."

In fact, it does sound an awful lot like the book I just finished, U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton. Her PI, Kinsey Millhone, first encountered her estranged family a few books back. She always considered herself a loner since her Aunt Gin died, and now she's being invited to a family gathering to meet the grandmother she thought had rejected her.

This morning I received an email from a total stranger. A stranger, except that we shared the same maiden name. She said she had received my information from my half-brother who had been "very excited" to locate me at last. She was my father's first cousin. She included enough information to make her statement believable.

Jolt. My father died 11 years ago. Jolt. My half-brother and step sister, whom I thought weren't concerned about me, and hunted me down. Jolt. My cousin introduced me to 38 more cousins on Facebook. Jolt. My stepsister invited me to come and visit.

I feel like I'm Kinsey in my own personal novel.

Will any of this show up in a book some day? Probably. I don't know how I feel about it all yet.

What part of your writing stems from personal experience? Do you know of any true life stories that are weirder than fiction? As any editor will tell you, it's not enough to say "but it really happened that way." The author has to make it believable.

Feel free to share some of those strange, humorous, eventful circumstances that have threaded your life.

FYI: Check out for an interview and giveaway of my latest release, Prodigal Patriot.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How Well Do You Know Your Characters?

Have you ever read a book and come across a character that doesn’t act or react the way you thought they should? I have and at times I’ve even found myself arguing with the book. “That’s ridiculous. She’d never do that!” Usually when this happens it means that the author hasn’t portrayed the character accurately.

Let me give you an example. The writer may have set up the main character as shy and retiring and then has a scene where she’s up on stage and comfortable. This is an obvious flaw, but I’ve actually seen writers make this mistake. So how do you avoid this? You must spend time prewriting—evaluating who your character is and what your character’s motivations are.

These are the things you must determine.

First, what is your character’s greatest fear? Knowing this can set up your book’s climax by forcing your character to face her fear.

Second, what does your character want most in life? This will allow you to give your character believable motivation.

Third, how does your character see herself? Is she a rescuer or maybe a peacemaker? This will help you keep your character true to herself.

Fourth, why does your character see herself in this role? Is there a defining event in her life that led her to this determination?

Fifth, how does your character need to grow? What does she need to learn?

You should answer these questions for all POV (point of view) characters. This will help you write well rounded characters, as well as give you a wealth of possibilities for plot points and subplots.

There are several writing books on this topic that I highly recommend.
Getting into Character
By Brandilyn Collins

From the Inside Out
By Susan May Warren & Rachel Hauck

Let’s play with characterization. DON’T mention the book, but share an example you’ve found where a character didn’t act right.
Based on Darlene's comment, let's also talk about books that did characterization well!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

After our pastor’s sermon on the faulty thinking of the “save the planet” slogan (only Christ can save the planet, after all), I debated about the wisdom of this title! But it still captures what I want to say today.

Over the years, writers tend to pile story/article ideas, partially finished manuscripts, rejected manuscripts ... we need more and more space (whether digital or physical) to keep track of our writing family.

What can we do with the growing junk pile? Recycle it.

The “reduce” rule would make an excellent topic for a post on writing tight ... I’ll save that for another day.

But ... reuse and recycle. Those both apply to our “leftovers.”

Reuse I think of in terms of research. Some people have made a career out of writing about the same setting (time, place, and/or culture). Beverly Lewis and Wanda Brunstetter and their Amish books come to mind, although both women have written books in other genres as well. I belong to a marketing group that started among writers committed to American history 1860-1876, Civil War through Reconstruction.

The same time period is the setting for two of my published books as well as a third that an editor has expressed interest in. I keep reusing my understanding of the Year of No Summer in new ways. (Beacon of Love and Bridge to Love)

Researched a story about storm chasers that didn’t sell as a romance? How about reworking it as suspense? A contemporary novella I proposed about a fire in Mesa Verde National Park has morphed into a historical novel about a film producer filming the Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde.

Use topics you researched in depth for publicity. Offer yourself as a speaker on that topic. Blog about it. Write articles. I wrote an article on witnessing to Buddhists which involved a lot of research. I used and expanded that research to write a second article on a biblical view of reincarnation. (Both articles sold.)
  • Your assignment: Find a story you have written and/or sold. How can you use the same information you accumulated during writing that book in a new and different way

Reprints. If you write articles and short stories, keep looking for places to sell reprint rights. My short story The Ultimate Survivor has appeared in three separate places.

Rewrite. Write on the same topic with a slightly different slant. I wrote three articles on using “the arts” in children, one for a parenting magazine and two for teaching magazines.

Prolong. If you’ve written a stand alone, and a publisher wants a series, find a character (or characters) that demand their own story. That’s what I did with my first book, Romanian Rhapsody: Carrie’s best friend Michelle will have her own romance in Plainsong.

  • Your assignment: Think of a character from one of your books who could be the center of another story; or research ways to resell or rewrite articles you’ve already sold once.

Reminder: For an opportunity to win one of my books (as well as books by Susan Page Davis and Karen Witemeyer), please leave one or more comments on my blog during the month of June.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It's Time For Show and Tell!

One of the things I see most often in the manuscripts I edit is a writing style that tells the story instead of showing the action. Even if you've heard it all before - we all need to constantly be on guard against telling our story. Today I'll share some examples of how to connect with your reader through active verbs and specific nouns.

Example #1

The scent was fresh and new like a flower after the rain.
Verb choice - was
Noun choice – flower
This sentence isn’t bad, but it could be great. The writer in this example is telling instead of showing.

Example #2

The fresh scent hung in the air like a late blooming rose after the rain.
Verb choice – hung
Noun choice – rose (specifically a late blooming rose)
This sentence is great because it doesn’t tell us about the smell. Instead, the writer invites us to remember a smell. This is showing. It draws the read in and invites them to experience what’s happening.

Let’s look at two more examples

Example #3

Susan felt restless.
Verb choice – felt
Noun choice – Susan
Again, the writer is telling us how Susan felt

Example #4

Susan paced across the floor, wearing a pattern in the dust.
Verb choice – paced, wearing
Noun – Susan, floor, dust
Can you see the difference? The writer is again pulling us in with word pictures, showing us the action.

Special Note: There are times when telling is better than showing. You want to use telling when the action isn’t important or when it’s a common action that doesn’t need emphasis. For example, you don't have to say, "Susan bent her knees and lowered herself into the chair." Unless, you're trying to emphasize the WAY she's sitting to let us know her emotion. If she just sat, say, "Susan sat in the chair."

There are some words to watch for - words that can let you know you're telling instead of showing.
words that end in ing
words that end in ly

Okay, now it's your turn. Take one of the following sentences and make it great.
The morning was foggy.
Jacob was so mad he couldn't speak.
The smell made Penny sick.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting Ready to Write: Advice for Beginners

Please welcome Sandy Tritt and her first post with us on the Book Doctor Blog. This lady is not only a wonderful editor, she's a kind, helpful person and goes above and beyond to help writers improve their craft. You can find Sandy, not to mention her entire staff, at Inspiration for Writers.


So you wanna be a writer when you grow up, huh? My first word of advice is don’t. Don’t become a writer. Not for money. Not for glory. Not for any reason other than that you have a passion in your gut that is so strong that nothing can prevent you from writing. Unless you have stories in you that you must tell, and writing them is as important to you as eating and sleeping and breathing. And sometimes more important.

With that out of the way, I assume you have passion. So, what do you do with this life of yours to pave your way to the writing world? Read. Observe. Write. Live. Those are the four main ingredients to preparing yourself to write.

Read everything you can get your hands on. Read classic literature, read literary fiction, read commercial fiction. Read books on the craft of writing. Read books on writers. Read dictionaries. Read cereal boxes. Just read.

Observe. If there is one attribute a writer must have (other than his passion to write), it is the ability to notice details. What is it about the way she walks that captures your attention? Is it her clothes? Her figure? Her wiggle? What words could you use to describe the preacher’s snorts between shouts? What do his eyes look like when he says “Hell”? What keeps his hair from falling into his eyes (or onto the floor)?

Look at your surroundings as though you’re showing them to someone who’s never been to your area. Notice the sounds you would hear if you listened. Notice the smells, the colors, the textures, everything you normally take for granted. Think of new ways to describe old things.
Write every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dozen words or a dozen pages, write. And don’t limit your writing to your passion—try writing poetry, fiction, journal entries, essays. Keep a journal or notebook with you at all times and jot your thoughts as you think them.

Live. Can you write about New York City if you’ve never been there? Probably—if you’ve seen enough movies and read enough descriptions, you could write with integrity about a city you’ve never seen. However, you would not be able to add new insight. For me, a small town girl, it was the vastness of the big city that took my breath away. And that most of the thousands of people all scurrying to some place would gladly pause a moment to give directions or advice.

Visit as many places as you possibly can, but also consider actually living in as many different types of places as you can. Yes, you can get superficial impressions of cultures during a seven-day vacation, but to truly understand a culture, you need to experience it more deeply. I’ve lived in small towns, large cities, suburbs, villages and deep in the country. I’ve lived in apartments, houses, complexes, dormitories, alone, with friends, with family. I’ve lived in Appalachia, the Midwest and the Deep South. And each of these has left an imprint (as well as an accent!).

Experience as many aspects of life as you can. Can you really understand the pain of heartbreak if you’ve never been loved and left? Can you understand the intensity of a mother’s (or father’s) love if you’ve never experienced it? Can you understand the thrill of surviving the bunny slope on down hill skis if you’ve never put your life at stake?

This isn’t to say you must become an alcoholic to understand alcoholism (although it does help :-)) or a bank robber to understand a thief. What it does mean is that writers need to take more chances than the average Joe, need to experience more of life in order to write more knowledgeably. It also means that writers must have empathy to understand people and situations beyond their personal experience.

What kind of job should you hold while waiting to publish? Well, many successful writers have had successful careers in business, law, medicine, education or any area you can think of before becoming published. So it doesn’t matter a lot what your “day” job is, just don’t go into debt. Live humbly and within your means, because once you sign that car loan, you are obligated to your 8-5 job.

Of course, some jobs will give you more “material” to incorporate into your writing than others. If you are just passing time, here are some suggestions:

Work with people from diverse backgrounds, such as you can meet in airports, resorts, hotels and restaurants. These give you plenty of characters to draw from.
Work physically. Manual work doesn’t occupy your mind. I do some of my best creative thinking while washing dishes by hand and mopping floors.
Work where you have free time to write, such as night desk clerk, night guard at a business, bowling alley clerk (on the slow shift), car lot attendant, and so on.

I am fond of saying that there are two aspects to writing—the craft and the art. The craft is that which can be learned—grammar, using active voice, the basics of dialogue and so forth. The art is the God-given talent that a writer is either blessed with or isn’t. It is the ability to “see” the details in a setting and relay that in interesting, unique words to make the reader feel the location. It is the ability to understand human nature and empathize with even the most dastardly villain. If you have that talent, and if you have that passion to write no matter what the odds, you are a writer. And nobody can take that away from you.