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.