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Friday, September 28, 2007

Scene goals

I’ve had a couple people ask me about scene goals.

Basically, your point of view character should have something they need to accomplish when they walk into that scene. It could have something to do with the character’s External Goal, or it could not.

For example, Grissom needs to find Sarah, who’s been kidnapped by the psycho miniature killer (bear with me, I just watched the season premier of CSI). This is his External Goal. But when he goes into the interrogation room to question the suspect, his scene goal is to get the psycho killer to tell him where Sarah is. (For you CSI fans, you know he doesn’t get his information and he fails his scene goal, but he hasn’t failed his Story Goal. Yet.)

Here’s an example from Single Sashimi, the third book in my Sushi series (I just turned in the macro edits for this puppy, so it’s fresh in my mind): My heroine Venus is on her way to her cousin’s house to indulge in chocolate truffles. Her determination to have chocolate within the next hour is her scene goal, which has nothing to do with her External Goal for the story (starting her own company). Lots of things happen to prevent her from eating her chocolate right away (obstacles), although she eventually accomplishes her scene goal and has those truffles.

Now, chocolate is a very minor sort of scene goal, but what it does is introduce tension and focus for the scene. The obstacles in the scene that interject to prevent her chocolate craving are actually important, because they convey information to the reader and move the story forward. However, since these conversations block her scene goal by preventing her from having chocolate, the information is more interesting than if I’d just had Venus have a conversation on the telephone.

Look at your scenes. Does your viewpoint character have a scene goal? If not, can you add one? It doesn’t have to be major—it can be something as minor as a craving for chocolate.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fictioon 101 and 201 sale

I just got this message from my friend Randy Ingermanson. If you're an auditory learner, this is a fabulous writing series and a great deal:

Today, September 27, 2007, I am running a rare event:
a 24-Hour Special on my two top-selling products,
Fiction 101 and Fiction 201.

These are my flagship products. I've taught these courses
at writing conferences across the country.

Last year, I created them as software products that run
in any web browser. They let you SEE my notes and
HEAR me lecture.

Fiction 101 and Fiction 201 are available on CD or as large
electronic downloads.

The reason for this 24-Hour Special is to celebrate freedom.

Recently, I've outsourced the CD distribution to
That means FREEDOM for me from the drudgery of packing CDs
in envelopes and mailing them off. It saves me MONEY, which I
can pass on to my customers in lower prices. I have already cut
the price of the CDs by about 20%.

To celebrate that FREEDOM, I'm slashing the price of a CD by
ANOTHER 50%. Just for today, September 27, 2007.

I rarely run a 24-Hour Special, but when I do, hundreds of
people typically take advantage.

Many of you already have Fiction 101 or Fiction 201 or both.

If you don't have one of these and you want it,
TODAY is your chance.

To learn more about the 24-Hour Special on Fiction 101
or Fiction 201, click here:

Best regards,
Randy Ingermanson

Randy Ingermanson
President and CEO of Ingermanson Communications, Inc.
2210 W. Main St., Suite 107, Box 103
Battle Ground, WA 98604

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Hey guys,

I'll be traveling and at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference for the next couple weeks. I'll try to blog writing tips I hear at the conference, but no guarantees. I should be back in business on Friday, September 28th for sure.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Hooking your reader to your character

When I start a novel, I give the author about three chapters for me to like the main character. I’m actually pretty generous—in a bookstore, your average book buyer reads the first page, maybe the second. Usually not more than that.

Depending on how fast they read, the first page or two takes approximately twenty seconds.

That’s it. You need to hook your reader into the story and give them a character they can like within those first few pages.

In Writing for Emotional Impact, Karl Iglesias lists these three “categories of appeal”:

* We care about victims—characters we feel sorry for

* We care about characters with humanistic values

* We like character with desirable qualities

Victims—You don’t have to just think stalker victim here. Don’t we love the underdog? The downtrodden? The kid who gets beat up in the schoolyard? The man without enough money to pay for coffee? The woman beat up by her husband? The teenager who can’t read?

Humanistic values—Show your character doing something nice or being heroic. Helping someone else, being kind to children or animals, rescuing someone.

Desirable qualities—These are personal traits (versus humanistic values) that don’t necessarily influence another person in the opening scene, but which are qualities most people admire and respect. The character is someone the reader would like to be—powerful, glamorous, courageous, passionate, clever, skillful, athletic, persistent, rebellious.

Your first pages are your most vital. Make sure you start with a character who will hook your reader.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The lowdown on marketing for writers, part two

Okay, we talked about brand. Now buzz.

Internet marketing is like regular marketing, there's really no way to know if it's doing a whole lot of good. But it's stupid not to do internet marketing because it's so easy and cheap.

Website—This is a non-negotiable. All writers must have a website, whether you’re published or not. It’s your business card on the web. Keep it updated once a month.

Blog—Only blog if you enjoy blogging. Too many people blog who don't really like it, and I think that a bad blog is worse than none at all. If you don't like blogging, don't let anybody make you feel guilty for not blogging. Only do what you like doing, because life's too short to waste on stuff you don't want to do.

Email loops and forum boards—This is something unpublished writers need to start doing early. And I'm not talking just writers loops and boards, but non-writing loops and boards. And if the loop topic touches on your brand, all the better.

Participation is key—you have to be a willing and frequent contributor. Again, if you don't like it, then don't do it. But if you do like it, then the contacts you make, especially on a non-writing loop, will help create buzz for you when you do sell. It's like magic—suddenly you have all these people who knew you before you were published and they're thrilled for you. They're an automatic readership who will buy your book and talk about it, who are most likely to love it when they read it.

Say your brand is New York humorous women's fiction with some mystery, but you always incorporate a NY restaurant. You can join a loop or forum board about NY restaurants. If Colleen Coble weren't published yet, she could join a loop on Rescue dogs. I've joined some knitting loops because I love it and my next books will incorporate some knitting.

Newsletter—start one now, even if it's only your friends. YahooGroups is free and easy, or you can think ahead and get a paid newsletter service with lots of features. If I'd been smart, I'd have started with a paid service rather than YahooGroups, but I'm also pretty happy with YahooGroups because they're easy to use and most people can receive emails from YahooGroups. I can also build my readership to as large as I want with YahooGroups without problems because they're such a huge system.

Commit to sending a newsletter quarterly, just something short, giving the scoop on your writing. Also, give some kind of "value added" in your newsletter, something people will get free out of it, that has something to do with your brand. Give free stuff.

I have free short stories for my newsletter subscribers, and because I like to promote Christian fiction, I also give away a free book each month to my subscribers—they email me if they want to enter. Other authors give away small cheap but cute things that are in their brand.

My suggestion—write a few short stories in your brand and make them available only to your newsletter subscribers. That way people can not only read your writing and like it, they have a reason to sign up for your newsletter.

Internet Marketing is all about interaction with potential readers. Anything you can do to find and interact with readers will help you in your internet marketing campaign.

It also helps if you start this before you're published. The people who know you now will be most excited for you when the book hits the shelves, and, in the words of Pyromarketing (Greg Stielstra), they're your driest tinder. They are most likely to buy your book and like it.


Monday, September 10, 2007

The lowdown on marketing for writers, part one

Marketing is two things for an author: brand and buzz.

Brand: This is where you decide as an author what to write so that you stand out in the market.

Jenny Crusie is the queen of real-life snark.
Tom Clancy is spy action.
John Grisham is legal thrillers.
I am Asian Christian chick lit.
Robin Caroll is Cajun/Southern romantic suspense.
Cheryl Wyatt is military action romances.
Deeanne Gist is slightly edgy historical romances.
Brandilyn Collins is small town suspense.
Colleen Coble is small town romantic suspense with animals.
Donna Fleisher is angsty military women's fiction.

This is the hardest part for writers to figure out. You have to actually tweak your writing so that your books will stand out from all the other pitches editors hear.

If you have a solid brand, editors are much happier to read your stuff because you're classified in a certain file in their heads. They can sell you easier to the VP of Sales and VP of Marketing because you're branded. An editor may love you but they're dictated to by Sales and Marketing, which is why so much good writing is not contracted.

It's not just looking at what you've written, but also looking at what you're willing to write, or willing to revise. Branding isn't just looking at your completed manuscripts and trying to find a common theme--it's looking at your own desires in writing, what you're willing to write about, how you can tweak your writing so that it's more marketable.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Scene transitions – POV, time, and place

When you start a book or any new scene, you’re setting your reader down in a completely new place, often in a new time, sometimes with a new character. Make your point of view character, time, and place obvious in the first couple paragraphs.

You don’t need long descriptions of the new room the heroine is in, or to tell the reader that we’re now in the hero’s head, or to let the reader know that six months have passed. These things can be conveyed with a well-chosen phrase that immediately triggers a certain picture in the reader’s head.

For example, say the previous scene ended at night in the hero’s POV.


A girl could choke on the cholesterol in the air.

She stood in the doorway to the diner, cringing beneath the sticky cloud of bacon grease mingled with the perfume of over-cooked eggs and maple syrup.

The reader immediately knows it’s (a) the heroine, (b) a greasy diner, and (c) the next morning.

Go through your manuscript and look at scene openings. Can you add a well-chosen sentence or phrase that will clue the reader into POV, time, and place?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Scene transitions – scene break syndrome


Yes, I’m yelling. I’ve seen this done often in both contest entries and even in published books—the writer will insert a scene break, continue the scene in the second character’s POV for a page or two, then insert another scene break and continue the scene back in the first character’s POV.

Here’s an extreme example:

Eat and leave. That’s all she had to do.

If Grandma didn’t kill her first for being late.

Lex Sakai raced through the open doorway to the Chinese restaurant and was immediately immersed in conversation, babies’ wails, clashing perfumes, and stale sesame oil. She tripped over the threshold and almost turned her ankle. Stupid pumps. Man, she hated wearing heels.

Her cousin Chester sat behind a small table next to the open doorway.

“Hey Chester.”


“Oooh, you’re late.” As usual, but Chester wasn’t about to actually say that to his cousin. She might bop him in the nose. “Grandma isn’t going to be happy. Sign over here.” He gestured to the ridiculous guestbook his sister had decorated. Pink lace glued to the edges almost drowned the ugly thing.

“What do I do with this?” Lex dropped the Babies R Us box on the table.

He grabbed the box and flipped it behind him with a practiced flip of his wrist. Man, he’d been doing this for too long today. When could he get out from behind frilly welcome table? He felt like a chump.


Lex sighed. Poor Chester looked miserable.

This is just too jarring to a reader. Remember, you don’t want to jar the reader out of the story world—you don’t even want to nudge them a little.

This is why I always suggest to unpublished writers trying to break into print at a traditional publishing house—stick to one POV per chapter. It prevents the “scene break syndrome.” Yes, it makes it harder to write the scene, but so what?—you’re a writer. Stretch yourself.

Go through your manuscript looking for the scene break syndrome. It will hurt, but eradicate the syndrome from your writing!
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