Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Gift Certificate for a Detailed Edit!

We at Inspiration for Writers have done something we've never done before and most likely will never do again. But we've done it for the fun of it, for the excitement of it. We've done it as a special Christmas gift to some lucky writer out there. What have we done? Are you sitting down? We are offering a gift certificate for the detailed edit and critique of a book-length manuscript (fiction or nonfiction, your choice, up to 100,000 words) on eBay. The starting bid is just ONE DOLLAR. There is no reserve. If there's only one bid, well, the winner will get a gift certificate worth up to three thousand dollars for that buck. Yep. For real.
The winner will also get the same personal care and professional quality we give every client. 
Want to know more? Better yet, want to submit a bid? Just go to If you have any problems with the link, go and search for item number 90646489420. 
And if you still have problems, email me:

But whatever you do, hurry. The auction will end on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

Please help us get the word out by putting this on all enewsletters, list-serves, email groups, blogs, facebook, twitter--anywhere you can. Thanks so much.
Sandy Tritt, CEO
Inspiration for Writers, Inc.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Tips to Help You Get Published

by Pam Zollman                                                                                             

1)      Age – Aim High.  Word Count – Aim Low.

2)      Never sleep under the same roof with a rejected manuscript.  Send it out again as fast as possible!

3)      A manuscript in your file drawer is rejected.  A manuscript in the mail is not.

4)      Always have a list of places to send your manuscript.  That way, if it comes back, you can send it right out again without doing more research and using that as an excuse for not resubmitting it.

5)      An editor rarely calls and asks to buy what you have in your file drawer.  So mail that manuscript today.  You can’t sell it if it’s sitting in the drawer.

6)      Enter contests.  Giving yourself a deadline is a good way to make you finish that manuscript.  If you lose, so what?  You have a perfectly good story to submit to other publishers.  Besides, you never know…you might win.

7)      A writer writes every day.  A writer writes the best she can in everything she does.  A writer experiments so that her writing doesn’t become stale.  A writer tries other fields of writing, because she might discover another area she enjoys.

8)      A writer reads every day.  A writer reads in his field to keep up with the market.  A writer reads outside his field to broaden his mind.  A writer reads for research, and a writer reads for pleasure.

9)      Use the Buckshot Method of Submission:  Submit 10 manuscripts to 10 different publishers. You have a significantly better chance of selling than if you submit 1 manuscript to 10 publishers.

10)  The Secret of Successful Writing:  Put the seat of your pants in the seat of your chair and write!

Feel free to contact me, Pam Zollman, if you have problems with your stories.  I'd love to help!  My email address is pam (at) anauthorworld (dot) com.  Visit 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pantser or Plotter?

by Pam Zollman

At our AAWC ( meeting yesterday, we talked about whether we were pantsers or plotters.  These are individual writing styles.  Which are you?

A pantser writes by the seat of his pants -- he just sits down and starts writing, without a plot or knowing exactly where he's going.  He allows his characters to dictate where to go; he loves the spontaneity of his writing.

The pros of this type of writing is the freedom it allows.  You don't have to have anything more than a vague idea in mind before you start writing.  You can allow emotion and intuition to guide you, rather than a formal outline.  You can go off on as many rabbit trails as your heart desires.  Most beginning writers start off this way, and many professional writers still do this.  Any outline they might have, they keep inside their head.  Pantser feel this style of writing gives them the most creativity.

The problem with this kind of writing?  Well, you might wind up with a rambling story and confusing plot.  It may be overwhelming, especially for a beginning writer, to revise and fix.  The inconsistencies and logic flaws can snowball into a huge amount of revision work.  It's easy to get writer's block because you don't know where you're going with the story.  You'll have pages and pages that you'll have to discard because they don't add to your story (even if they were fun to write).

A plotter writes down a detailed outline of his story before he even starts.  He knows his beginning, middle, and end of his story; he even knows all the parts in-between.  He has detailed character sketches, so that he knows everything he needs about each character and how these details will fit into the plot.  All the backstory is worked out ahead of time.  He can catch and correct any inconsistencies or logic flaws either before hand or as he writes.  He can write fast because he knows where he is going and how he's going to get there.  Writer's block usually isn't a problem.

The problem with this kind of writing?  Well, you could wind up with stale prose.  All the creativity went into making the outline.  Sure, you can write faster, but is the emotion still in it or has it all been drained out?  Your brain thinks it's already written the story because of the detailed outline.  You write fast because you just want to get it over with; the love is gone.  You can feel confined to following the outline, even though your characters and your heart tell you to change course.

And then there's the plantser:  that's someone -- like me! -- who outlines her story ahead of time, but not in such detail that she becomes chained to it.  I do a detailed character sketch ahead of time, so that I know my characters very well.  Then I use my characters to dictate my story.  I know my beginning, my ending, and all the major plot points in-between.  But since I haven't outlined my entire novel, I have the freedom of letting my characters dictate much of the story.  However, I don't let them change the major plot points or ending, unless I realize that their way is better It's not always -- sometimes it's just a fruitless rabbit trail they wanted to follow, and I have to know this and stop it before I spend too much time and energy going in the wrong direction.

So which are you?  A pantser?  A plotter?  A plantser?

Whichever one you are will depend a lot on your personality.  For some people, writing any type of outline just kills their creative spirit.  For others, they are totally lost without their guide map, their outline. There is no one right way.  I have successful, multi-published friends in each catagory.

So which are you?  It doesn't matter, as long as you sit down and write.

If you need help with your writing, feel free to contact me at pam (at) anauthorworld (dot) com.

Monday, October 10, 2011

8 Ways to Beat Post Conference Blues

I've been attending large writing conferences for twelve years and they all have ONEthing in common—post conference blues. It’s only natural. A week-long conference is an exciting, grueling experience. Just physical exhaustion alone could get anyone down—add to that the mental and emotional effects and you have the perfect set-up for a huge let-down.

For those who aren’t expecting the post conference blues they can—worst case—derail your writing career for a year or more. At the least they can set even an experienced writer behind several work days.

The feelings can run the gamut of a vague sense of unease to out-right panic. I’ve found that once I’m at home all the nice things people have said about my writing morph into something ugly.
  • They were just being polite—they didn't really like my writing.
  • They don’t really want me to send in that proposal.
  • hey’ll never publish that (article, devotion, whatever) they told everyone to send something in.

All of these are lies. I've sat on the editor side of the desk and believe me when I say this. Less than 30% of the writers I request something from actually send something in. I’m convinced that a big reason is the post conference melt down.

Here are some tried and true ways I’ve found to minimize the effects.

  • Give yourself permission to feel deflated when you get home.
  • Arrange your schedule so you have a few days to recuperate.
  • Pamper yourself. Sleep in, go out to eat, spend some much needed time with family.
  • Before you dive into conference generated work take time to evaluate what happened.
  • Make a list of things you want to accomplish over the next year, next six months and next month.
  • Develop a plan to stay in touch with new friends and contacts.
  • Reach out to others who may be feeling the same way.
  • Take your next steps in small increments.

All of these things can help you navigate the post conference blues. Now it’s your turn. Have you experienced the let-down? If so, what have you found to help you cope?

Sunday, September 25, 2011


by Pam Zollman

When most readers reach the middle of a chapter, they start counting the pages to see how many are left.  They do this to find a good stopping point.  The problem is that sometimes, if the book is slow, the reader will not pick up your book again and you’ve lost him.  The trick to keeping him turning pages and keep your story fast-paced is to use scenes and sequels to create hooks at the beginning and end of chapters.

Your story should start with some sort of hook to make the reader want to continue.  Most often action is used to sweep the reader along.  After using the scene-sequel pattern, you come to the end of the chapter and must decide where to stop.

Chapter Endings:  If at all possible, try to end each chapter with a cliff-hanger to force the reader to turn the page.  The cliff-hangers can vary in intensity, but should make the reader curious enough to find out what happens next.  The best way to do this is to use one of the following:

1)  Disaster – End the chapter at the end of the scene with the point-of-view character being hit with the disaster.  The reader will want to turn the page to see if the character survives it and what happens next.

2)  Dilemma – End the chapter in the middle of the sequel with the point-of-view character having to decide what to do.  His choices aren’t great, but he has to do something!  What will he do?  The reader must turn the page to find out.

3)  Decision – End the chapter at the end of the sequel with the character having made up his mind what he will do.  He’s picked the best of his bad options, and the reader will turn the page to see if the decision was a good one or not.  Plus, now the point-of-view character has a new goal, and the reader will want to read on to see if he can achieve this one.

Ending a chapter with Goal, Conflict, or Reaction are weaker choices.  However, even these can be very effective with the right plot situation.

Chapter Middles:  End chapter 1 with either Disaster, Dilemma, or Decision, so that chapter 2 starts out in the middle of the scene-sequel cycle. By the time the reader reaches the middle of the chapter and starts counting pages, you’ve started the scene-sequel cycle all over again.

Chapter Beginnings:  Whichever part of the scene-sequel cycle you ended the previous chapter with, you start the next chapter with the next part of the cycle.

Next time we'll discuss how to use Scene and Sequel to pace your story.  Feel free to contact me at pam (at) anauthorworld (dot) com, if you need help with your writing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Conference Etiquette

Today I’m finishing up my series on attending a writers conference with a great post from my writing and critique partner—Vonda Skelton. She originally posted this on her blog in 2009. Read the original here. She offers great advice on how to be a gracious addition to any conference!

Vonda Skelton is a national speaker, freelance writer, and the author of four books, including Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries for kids. She is the owner of The Christian Writer’s Den Writing Blog, She and Gary have been married 41 years—and they’re still happy about it! 

Conference Etiquette
Here are some suggestions on how to be a gracious receiver of an editor's or agent's or other faculty member's time and input:
  1. Seriously pray about and consider who you should meet in faculty appointments. Don't just take an appointment because there's an opening. I did that the first year. Signed up to talk to just about everybody-even if I had no intention of ever writing what they'd be interested in! Wasted my time and theirs.
  2. Be on time for your faculty appointments and be considerate when the faculty member says the time is up. I think most instructors are like me and try to stay on schedule in fairness to all those with appointments.
  3. Listen more than you talk. Like many others, I tend to talk too much when I'm nervous. And before I learned this lesson, the less I knew, the more I talked! The best use of your time is to make a short introduction, tell a little about your experience, ask a sensible question, and then listen. Don't plan your next question while the person is answering the one you just asked. Really listen. Take notes if necessary. Follow up with other questions as time allows.
  4. If you're getting a critique, don't defend every point the critiquer makes. If you do, you're wasting valuable time you could be using to learn. Of course, you may have questions you need answered for clarification, but don't argue or rationalize every point. Sincere questions are one thing, continually being on the defensive is another.
  5. Realize that instructors will most likely be unable to take your manuscript home from the conference. Remember, you're one person. Multiply that by 300-400 students. If they are interested, they'll give you instructions for sending it to them.
  6. Faculty members love to eat with students, answering questions and giving encouragement. But don't hog the conversation at meals. Occasionally there are those who dominate the conversation, treating the opportunity as one-on-one time.  Not good.
  7. One more thing about meals with faculty: It's really nice when they can get a bite or two of food in.
  8. Be considerate: Don't shove your manuscript in their faces in the restroom. Don't interrupt a conversation or break in line to speak to someone.  Don't bad mouth one instructor to another. ;-)
  9. And a common courtesy that's often missing in our culture today: thank you notes. Handwritten ones are especially nice, but email ones are certainly acceptable. I cringe every time I think of those kind people who invested in me...and yet, I never even wrote a thank you note. Sadly, that wasn't something that I was taught as a child, and I didn't even take such notes seriously until someone mentioned it regarding conferences. Now I try to write notes to everyone who does a kindness to me. Sometimes I forget, but it is something I want to do. They've invested time in me. The least I can do is invest time to write a note.

So there you have it--suggestions on how to present yourself as a professional writer, as well as a kind, considerate person. ;-)

Now it's your turn - have you witnessed any crazy behavior at a writers conference? Have you seen anyone go above and beyond at a conference? I want to hear your stories.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

We all know how important the right decision is. The more important it is, the more time we take to process all the information we know that concerns that decision. Your character has reacted to the last scene's disaster. He has realized his dilemma of not knowing what to do next. After weighing all his options, he now makes a decision. And, yes, this is a very important decision!

The decision your character makes will determine his next course of action. This decision of what to do next becomes the goal for the next scene. The decision section of Sequel leads your character back to the beginning: the goal of the next Scene.

Be sure to make your character proactive, that he actually makes the decision and that one is not forced on him (making him passive and not as interesting). Give him options, but don't make any of them easy. The more risky the decision, the more intensely involved is the reader. This is another way to raise the tension.

However, be sure that the decision is workable, even if the percentages are small (otherwise, you paint yourself into a corner). Now the reader is forced to turn the page to see if the decision is the right one and if it will work.


3 parts to a Scene




3 parts to a Sequel




Scene and Sequel work together to move your story forward. Next time I'll show you how to use Scene and Sequel in all types of fiction.

Visit AnAuthor World's website ( for information on our fall writing conference, The Story Continues. It will be Saturday, October 15, 2011, at Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC. If you have questions about the conference or just writing questions in general, feel free to contact me at pam at anauthorworld dot com.

Monday, August 22, 2011


by Pam Zollman

“What do I do? What do I do now?”

Your main character has been through a scene where he had a definite goal to accomplish, but ran into trouble. That trouble or obstacle caused conflict between your character and another person or nature or society or even with himself. This conflict didn’t turn out the way your character hoped; instead, it was a disaster. He didn’t achieve his goal; in fact, things probably just got worse. Your character reacts to this disaster with horror, grief, surprise, sadess, disgust or some other emotion.

Now your character has to ask himself, "What do I do now?"

The second part of Sequel is Dilemma. Your character now finds himself in a bad situation. During this part, you will raise the tension as your character goes through his options. His options should be few and none of them good. Even if your character does nothing, that is a choice and usually a really bad one. As your character examines all his options, your reader will be on edge, worrying about what will happen next.

How much time do you spend on Dilemma? That all depends on your story and where you are in your story. As discussed in previous blog posts, the bigger disaster requires a longer sequel. A small disaster requires a smaller sequel. Sometimes all your character can think (or is implied) is, “What do I do now?” Other times, your character must weigh all his options before he takes another step. If the plot calls for it, let your character work through his choices, even if this slows down the pace. If this is a major decision, then your reader will want to experience the character’s thinking process. Otherwise, don’t let your character agonize over every single dilemma in the story.

For example, if your character finds that he’s standing on a landmine at the end of the scene (okay, that’s a pretty big disaster), his reaction and dilemma will have to be explored. After all, this is life or death, or, if not death, then maimed for life. If your character finds that he has a flat tire at the end of the scene, it’s probably not life or death. His reaction is probably frustration because he’s on his way to a job interview and his dilemma might be whether to change it himself and get dirty, but be on time, or to call for help, stay clean, but be late for the appointment.

Don’t skip Dilemma, even if it’s so small as to be implied. At least imply it. Your reader may not know why, but he will be dissatisfied. The missing piece, no matter the size, could pull your reader out of the story as he tries to figure out why your character does what he does.

Questions? Feel free to contact me at and I’ll try to help you with any story problems.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Google Plus - Will it Live up to the Hype?

Have you heard the hype? Google is out to change the world—or at least the online part of it. Chances are, if you’re connected at all, you've heard the rumblings that have marked Google’s entry into the social networking arena with Google Plus.

I’m a small player in a big world, but I’m loving the view from the sideline. I’m observing the polarizing effect this is having as the big dogs take sides. I, for one, am cautiously impressed. After a short time of experimentation I’ve found Google + a big improvement on many of the other options out there.

Here are the things I particularly like:
  • Privacy settings. For me, they were easier to navigate and gave me more options than those I've been able to decipher on Facebook. It’s not perfect, although I can choose from more options, once I share a post with someone they have the option to share it and I can’t stop them.
  • Circle concept. I like being about to separate my conversations. Many writers (and other professionals) have had to decide whether or not to enter the social networking arena for friends, family or profession. The circles allow me to have ONE account and still keep my private life private.
  • Post editing. I can’t help it—I’m an editor at heart—and I like to edit. In Facebook or even Twitter, once I put something out there it either stands or falls . . . as is. With Google + I have the option to edit things I've already posted and decide whether or not to allow comments. 

Granted Google + is still in beta mode, but I’m enjoying this new universe. I recommend you find a way to wangle an invitation and begin to test the water. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scene and Sequel: Reaction!

The three parts of a Sequel are: Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision. Readers read for emotion, and sequels provide an abundance of that. Sure, there's emotion involved in scenes, but your character doesn't have time to really experience it. Now, in the following sequel, he can.

Every action has a reaction. And after experiencing a disaster at the end of the scene, your character will experience a reaction, an emotion of some sort. A disaster hurts your character. How m
uch of a reaction or a hurt that your character experiences will depend on how big the disaster is and what it involves.

During "reaction time," your character is off-balance, reeling from the disaster. When your character hurts, your readers hurt for them. So, don't be afraid to hurt your characters and then allow them to feel the blow.

Remember, though, to keep the reaction appropriate. A pimple may just be an annoyance to a business woman. A pimple is a major disaster to a teen girl on prom night. The business woman's pimple may be a small "disaster" in that it may have resulted in stress that she doesn't want to show. A teen girl, on the other hand, may agonize over a pimple on that special night.

Sometimes, a series of fast-moving scenes with end-on-end disasters will not allow much time for reactions. A wave of emotions may flicker across your character's face as he speeds through the sequel, or your character may be operating in shock. However, there will come a time that your character will have to process all that just happened, and the first thing he proces
ses is his reaction to what just happened.

Also remember that in real life, people don't like to be around others who moan and groan constantly and have a woe-is-me attitude. And in books, readers get feed up with characters who do the same. In life, people leave. In stories, readers close the books. So, if you feel that your character must moan and groan, make sure that it's something really important. Then let him do it in the appropriate sequel...and everyone will be pleased.

Next time we'll cover: Dilemma!

If you have questions, feel free to contact me at: And visit AnAuthor World's website:

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Scoop on the Dreaded Fifteen Minute Appointment

I've had several people ask me what to expect when they having a fifteen minute appointment with an industry professional. Many even wonder if they should take advantage of an appointment. My answer? ABSOLUTELY. Even if you don’t have something to pitch, an editor, agent or even well known author can give you valuable insights to help you focus your career goals.

Let me give you some idea of why professionals agree to be part of the faculty.

They want to help you. By and large, those on the faculty at writers conferences are there because they have a heart for helping new writers. They know what it’s like to sit on your side of the table. Others have helped them achieve their goals and now they want to give back by helping someone else.

They’re looking for new writers. The market is constantly changing and there is always room for new writers. Recently I had someone ask me why a publisher is looking for new writers if the book market is shrinking.
  • First, it’s not shrinking—it’s changing.
  • Second, writers come and go.
  • Third, every choir needs more than one voice for each section. It’s the blend that makes the music beautiful.

Now, onto who you should speak with at a conference.
Editor (for books or magazines)—these professionals are a good choice for two reasons.
  • One—you have a project that fits their line and want to pitch it.
  • Two—they know the market and can give you an idea of their opinion about where it’s headed.
  • Three—they can give you input on an idea you have.
  • Four—they can give you career advice.

Agent—these are good for the same reasons above.
  • One—you have a project that fits who they rep.
  • Two—they know the market and can give you an idea of their opinion about where it’s headed.
  • Three—they can also give you input on an idea you have.
  • Four—they can give you career advice.

Published Writer—these professionals can do a lot of the same things. They can also:
  • Commiserate about challenges you’re facing as a writer.
  • Give you advice on where a particular project might fit or who in the industry might be looking for something similar.
  • Give you encouragement.

You’ll sometimes find other industry folks at a conference, such as marketing professionals, speakers, publicists, etc.

I encourage you to make your appointments and try not to be nervous. They are there to help, not tear you down. And a lot of good things can come from those appointments—way beyond career stuff. I’ve made friends, gotten validation that I’m not really crazy and had the opportunity to be prayed for and to pray for others.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Scene and Sequel...Continued

by Pam Zollman

Quick Review:
Scene has three parts: Goal, Conflict, and Disaster.

A scene must have action that moves the story forward in some way. It has a goal -- it's going somewhere specific. It has conflict -- something that elevates the tension. It has disaster -- something that makes the reader want to turn the page to see what happens next; it increases the reader's interest.

Sequel has three parts: Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision.

Every Scene has a Sequel. Sometimes sequels are extremely short, so short, in fact, that you might not even notice that they're there. But when they're omitted, you notice...even if you're not sure why. You just know that something is missing. That "something" is usually motivation. Sequel gives the motivation for why a character does something. It sets up the following scene, giving it its goal.

After the disaster, your character has to figure out what just happened and what he should do about it. This tells the reader why your character has made a certain decision. It gives your character a chance to recover from the disaster, if even for a moment. It also gives your reader a slight break in the tension, although the decision that your character makes should ramp the tension/suspense back up again.

Next time we'll go into detail about the first part of Sequel: Reaction.

If you have questions, feel free to email me at Also check out AnAuthor World's website ( for upcoming events, workshops, classes, and conferences in the Upstate South Carolina area.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Get Organized for a Writers Conference

For those who’ve known me for any length of time are aware that organization isn’t my strong suit—at least not in the conventional meaning. My desk is covered in stacks of paper and the walls of my office are papered with rainbow hued sticky notes. It’s a system that works for me—but I quickly discovered it didn’t translate when I went on the road.

So I found another way to keep myself on track when I’m away from the office and my conference notebook was born.

It’s really pretty funny. The moment people see my notebook they immediately assume I’m this ultra-organized whiz. Actually, the opposite is true and my notebook is just a last ditch effort at self-preservation. Another thing I’ve noticed is that this notebook works well no matter what your natural bent toward organization.

The primary idea for this notebook is that it contains everything I need at a writers conference so I don’t have to dig through bags or be constantly returning to my room for something I’ve forgotten.

So let’s get to it!

First, I choose a one and a half inch three ring binder. Mine is green because green is my favorite color. I make sure there’s a sleeve on the front cover to slide a cover into because it hold my contact information if I should lay it down and leave it somewhere.

Next, in the front I have a small zippered pouch with a couple of pens and some paper clips. I can also slide in a small lipstick, some band-aids and tissues.

After that, I have a neat insert that holds several different size and colors of sticky notes.

Then, I add 4 pages of clear business card holders. I use the kind that are the size of a full page, so I have plenty of room to add business cards. I keep the first three empty and use them to store business cards I get from others. The last page is full of my personal business cards, so I always have plenty to hand out. (Don’t know what to include on a business card? I posted a blog on that here.)

The next part is divided into sections with tabs. Each project I’m pitching has a section. Here’s what would go into a section.
  • A clear plastic sleeve containing my one sheet for that project. (Don’t know what a one sheet is? Click here for a post on one sheets).
  • An outline for the project—if it’s non-fiction.
  • A synopsis for the project—if it’s fiction.
  • A sample of my writing for the project. This can either be a couple of sample devotions (for a devotional book) or the first couple of chapters in a book (fiction or non-fiction).
I have several copies of my one sheet, outline, synopsis and sample—just in case the person I’m showing it to wants to keep it or mark it up with suggestions.

Finally, after the section for projects I stock the back of the notebook with notebook paper and extra clear plastic sleeves and tabs.

Extras, you can include in your notebook might be a bio sheet, a list of topics if you're a speaker or even a list of articles you might want to pitch. The nice thing about this kind of notebook is you can personalize it to fit your needs.

With this notebook, no matter where I run into an editor or agent, I’m always prepared. I literally have everything at my fingertips. During a conference I NEVER go anywhere without my notebook.

So what have you found to help keep you on track while at a conference? We’d love to learn from your experiences too.

Monday, July 11, 2011


by Pam Zollman

Come on, admit it. You slow down at the scene of an accident. You can’t help yourself. You want to know what happened.

When there’s a hurricane or an

earthquake or a bomb blast, you stay glued to the television. You can’t help yourself. You want to know what happened.

When you see a friend upset or crying, you want to know what happened. It’s human nature.

So what does this have to do with writing scenes and sequels? Disaster is the third building block of scenes. The first two, goal and conflict, are set-ups for the third, disaster.

Disasters can be huge or they can be small. In my book, Don’t Bug Me! (Holiday House 2001), Megan has to collect 25 different bugs, mount them on cork board, and label them for her science project. When she goes into her room and sees that all her bugs are missing, that a big disaster for her. In another scene, Megan works hard at catching a cricket, only to lose it as it slips between her fingers. Her little brother scoops it up and claims it as his pet. Although not as big as losing all of her insects, this is still a disaster. Be careful, though, of making the disaster so big that you character cannot recover from it or so small that your reader either doesn’t notice or thinks it’s “much ado about nothing.”

· * Every scene has a disaster.

The disaster, big or small, must be the result of the conflict. It can’t come out of left field, unless you’ve set it up in previous scenes. It can’t be there just for “effect.” It must move the story forward.

· * Every story has a disaster.

The major disaster of the story comes at the climax and makes the reader wonder if the main character will achieve his goal after all. A story, though, will have at least three major disasters (one at the end of the “beginning,” one half-way through, and one at the end of the “middle”) before the climax. All of these disasters are related to the main character’s goal in some way and prevent him from achieving it, while moving the story forward.

· * Every character has disasters.

Your character will have lots of disasters, most of which are minor, but all hindering him in getting what he wants. Your character grows through these disasters; they strengthen him. He learns from the disasters. You decide which conflicts and disasters to give your character based on his fears, his weaknesses, his flaws. When you hit him with these, you knock him down. But you never want to knock him down so hard that he doesn’t recover. It’s okay if it takes him a few minutes to get back up, but your character must get back up; otherwise, your story is over.

Conflict creates tension. Disaster elevates it. So use human nature and our curiosity and concerns about disasters – whether man-made or natural – to keep your reader on the edge of her seat.

* * * * *

You can contact me at if you need help with your story.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dress for Success at Your Next Writers Conference

Today I’m going to continue my series on getting ready for a writers conference. One of the most asked questions I get is about appropriate attire. Below is my opinion—you’ll find others who disagree—but it’s always worked well for me.

First let me say this, you’ll see a little bit of everything when comes to what people wear at writing conferences. But, and this is important, just because you see someone wearing it doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.

I always treat a writing conference like a job interview—and really that’s what it is. You are meeting people who are deciding on whether or not to invest in you and your work. It may be a small investment—like an article; or a large investment—like a book contract.

Here are the guidelines I use when I plan my conference wardrobe.
  • Business casual always works. For women, slacks, casual skirts, nicer jeans or capris. For men, slacks, nice jeans, polo’s, even some t-shirts if not sloppy. Suits are definitely NOT required. I like my style to look effortless and timeless.
  • Keep it comfortable, for shoes at least. I don’t know about you, but I can’t concentrate when my feet hurt. I try to avoid athletic shoes because of their ultra casual nature, but I would choose them if they were the only ones I could be comfortable in.
  • Dress in layers. No matter what the temperature outside—inside is always a roll of the dice. Some rooms will be hot, some cold. So I always try to top an outfit with a light sweater or jacket, and usually a scarf.
  • Leave the perfume (men, this means cologne) at home. I know lots of folks who get headaches from or are allergic to different strong scents—and their definition of strong isn't always the same as mine. Some conferences, like ACFW, bill themselves as perfume free. 

And although this isn’t actually a piece of clothing, you’ll need to choose something to carry. Men and women need something to tote their laptops, notebooks, handouts, business cards, etc. Pick something with a wide strap, because it can get heavy by the end of the day and don’t forget to pack extra pens, tissues and breath mints!

Now it’s your turn—how do you plan your wardrobe for a conference? 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Honing Your Conference Pitch

Attending a writers conference can be a stressful undertaking—even for a seasoned writer. A lot of writers have gravitated toward our profession because we’re not comfortable with crowds, especially crowds of strangers.

That’s why I’m posting this series on writing conferences. It’s not to add to your stress—but to alleviate it. For me, when I know what to expect and am prepared, I’m less anxious. No one likes to feel like they're under the gun. I assume I’m not alone in this feeling.

So the first subject we’re going to tackle is the one that makes most writer’s stress levels spike off scale—pitching.

Over the years I’ve had people tell me they’re not worried about pitching—they’re just going to learn. Nice thought, but not based in reality. I hate to break it to you, but if you’re standing in line or sitting beside someone and they ask you what you’re writing, if you answer them, you’ve just delivered a pitch. I could post pages of stories from writers who wished they’d been prepared for this unassuming little scenario.

The idea behind a pitch is to get the person you’re talking with to ask for more.

Simple concept, harder to execute. So here are some of the do’s and don’ts of pitching.

  • Set up an intriguing scenario.
  • Introduce your main character.
  • Give a hint about their situation and goal.
  • Tie in the disaster or obstacle to that goal.

  • Go over 2 sentences—try to keep it to one sentence.
  • Answer all the questions the listener might have.
  • Substitute cleverness for specifics.
  • Give away the ending.

Now, here are some real life hooks or tag lines from popular movies. I’d love to read some of your favorites as well. 
  • "She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees." —Erin Brokovich
  • "To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman." —Silence of the Lambs
  • "What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?" —Sleepless in Seattle 1993
  • “A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend” —Pretty Woman
  •  “When you can live forever, what do you live for?” —Twilight
  •  “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” —Jaws 2
  •  “In space, no one can hear you scream.” —Alien 

Now it's your turn to chime in. Do you have any questions or is anyone brave enough to try their pitch out here?