Showing posts from 2008

Happy Holidays!

The Story Sensei blog is taking a break from Christmas to New Year's. Have a great holiday season!

Getting to know your characters better

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101. Knowing Your Characters Some Tips for Getting Into Your Character’s Story Here are some ways to know your character more deeply, which might solve plot or story problems as you write your novel.
 Many times, when a writer has hit a wall when writing their novel, it could be that the writer just doesn’t know the character well enough. It doesn’t take much to hinder the creative process. Even not knowing a character’s preference for vanilla or chocolate ice cream can cramp the flow of words. Not knowing more major things like the character’s deep core values behind their motivations can be equally deadly to a novel’s progress. So whether the writer is someone who plots the story before he/she writes or who just goes at it, exercises for getting to know the character can be done either before or during a novel’s creation. Utilize Character Charts There are several good character charts available on the internet these day

Setting the stage

There are some stories I've read where the author didn't introduce the setting very well, and I felt like I was dropped into a black pit with two people talking in the dark (or, at best, surrounded by fog or fuzzy light). Ever feel like that? Other times, the author opens with SO MUCH SETTING DETAIL I'm bored silly before the end of page one. You can avoid both of those scenarios. This is especially important for historical and fantasy/speculative fiction writers who need to introduce an entirely new world for the reader within the first few pages without sounding like a travel guide and without confusing the reader. (I think the only exceptions are Regency and possibly medieval writers whose genres are so rampantly published these days and whose time periods are limited to a few years in history. They can introduce the setting with a date and place or a few words and the loyal reader will know exactly when and where they are. For example: “Lord Montgomery entered

The Career Novelist by Donald Maass

You can download the ebook FREE from Donald Maass's website: The Career Novelist “Packed full of fine analysis, solid advice, and thoughtful reflection on the state of contemporary publishing. It’s further distinguished by more common sense than any book of its type that I have ever read. A treasure.” — Dean Koontz, author of Intensity “ indispensable volume for all libraries, and for anyone interested in learning about the world of publishing...” — Ed Gorman, Mystery Scene

Effective Brainstorming

Brainstorming is one of my favorite parts of writing fiction, but I'm very careful to make sure my brainstorming time isn't just time wasted daydreaming. This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101. Effective Brainstorming How to Make the Most of Collecting Ideas Brainstorming all aspects of a story can be made more effective and efficient with these simple tips. Brainstorming is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal. A writer can brainstorm all aspects of a novel, from large scale to small scale. A writer can brainstorm high level element like theme and premise. A writer can also brainstorm mid level story elements like character personality, external goals, backstory, career. Also story setting, possible villains, etc. A lesser known but equally powerful use for brainstorming is for very small scale elements like a character’s goal for a particular scene, possible character decisions in a scene, variety of conflict or obstacles in a scen

Building a blog, part 7

Read part 6 here Blog Content, continued Focus on your blog readers. Your blog might be about you, but to build a blog readership, you have to think about what you can give to your blog readers. People visit a blog because of what they get out of it. What do people get out of your blog? Hopefully you’re entertaining. Get some feedback. Figure out which are your most popular posts—and why they’re popular. Can you write more like them? What are your more unpopular posts? Why were they unpopular? Are your blog posts all about you, or do you have things that might be interesting or informative to your readers? Remember to post things that your readers would want to read. Are your blog posts mostly information with very little about yourself? Add some personality to your blog posts. Building a blog readership will take time. Don’t be discouraged and don’t have expectations too high for your blog traffic. All blogs take time to build. Just keep blogging consistently, and also do a few thing

Building a blog, part 6

Read part 5 here Blog Content, continued Blog about personal themes. Think about any personal themes you might have. They can be deep or shallow—but everyone has personal themes. So blog about them. For example, my personal themes are: (a) Asiana because I grew up with a lot of things that are new and different to my blog readers (b) humor because I’m naturally rather irreverent and like funny stuff (c) Christian fiction because I’m an avid reader (d) knitting because I’ve gone gaga over my new hobby (e) my dog because I don’t have children Cheryl Wyatt has themes of both military related things and also funny embarrassing moments for herself (her “Blush and Cringe” posts are hilarious!). Sharon Hinck has a theme of encouragement, so she blogs short encouraging devotionals rather frequently. ChristianFictionQueen blogs not only about Christian fiction but also on BBC movies and miniseries, and also on musicals and other CDs. Look at your own personal themes and build on them. Go wit

The top five things to look for when revising your rough draft

I'm over at Danica Favorite's blog with my list of The top five things to look for when revising your rough draft .

Comfort reading

My friend forwarded me this really inspiring post on Murderati, which is both encouraging and energizing for writers: Comfort reading by Toni McGee Causey

Building a blog, part 5

Read part 4 here Blog Content, continued Post about your hobbies. Most of us pursue hobbies that lots of other people around the world pursue also. So post about it on your blog. This is a great way to add some personal touches to your blog posts, and it also draws people to your blog who have the same interests as you do. Pull in all the things you’re interested in. Anything can make a blog post—your current knitting project, your garden’s first tomato, your spin class’s new instructor, etc. This adds points of interest to your blog and also helps create a community between yourself and your blog readers. Post about current events. Blogs that post about talked-about items tend to get lots of traffic from people Googling those items. If you have something to say about some news or popular item, then blog about it. It doesn’t have to be current news events—it can be anything people are talking about. World events or fashion, politics or cooking. Anything. For example, when the seventh H

Building a blog, part 4

Read part 3 here Blog Content If your blog logistics are all correct (see previous posts), it’s the content on your blog that keeps people coming back. Return visitors are very good. Here are some tips for creating great content for your blog. Be personal. Blog readers like to hear about personal stuff about you. Anything you’re comfortable sharing. A blog that’s purely theme or product related can be boring. Successful blogs have both information and some personal touches. For example, in Stephanie Quilao’s Back in Skinny Jeans blog, she blogs mostly about health issues, body image encouragement, and comments on health and fashion related news on the web. However, Steph also blogs about her own personal struggles with weight loss and body image, making her posts personal as well as informative. Her writing style is also funny and entertaining. Be safe. The flip side of including personal information on your blog is to also be very careful about what you post. Do not post things that

Utilizing Subtexting in Dialogue

One of my favorite writing books is Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins. The chapter on subtexting is one of the best I've ever read. Subtexting is a powerful writing tool that isn't used enough by beginning writers. Think about all the times you've said one thing but meant another--that kind of dialogue in your novel can convey layers upon layers of powerful emotional meaning. This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101. How to Utilize Subtexting in Dialogue Take Dialogue to a Deeper Level Add subtlety and richness in meaning by incorporating the tricks of cross-talk in dialogue. Subtexting, or cross-talk, is when characters say one thing but mean another. Dialogue doesn’t always need subtexting, but it adds weighty significance to certain dialogues within the story that you might want to emphasize. It can bring emotions to light with even more power than if they were stated. Here is a passage

Interview on Missy Frye's blog

Missy Frye asked me about writing and the writing life on her blog: What is your writing routine? I start off doing emails and marketing in the morning, and move to writing in the later part of the day, with a few email breaks in between. I try to be disciplined but that doesn't always happen. :) Click here to read the rest of the interview.

Building a blog, part 3

Read part 2 here Blogging Logistics, continued: Give your blog a unique design. Make your blog design uniquely “you.” It will serve as a visual cue to readers to know they are entering your happy place and can expect a fun read. A cheap way to alter your blog template is to ask a computer savvy teen or twentysomething to help you “pimp” your blog. Many teens know html b/c of their experience personalizing their myspace pages. An expensive way is to hire a blog designer. Check out several of your favorite blog designs and figure out who the designer was. Then email them to ask for prices. Keep the visual distractions to a minimum. A blog with too many little ads or too many widgets on both sidebars can be distracting to a reader. Aim for clean lines and good visual cohesiveness. Incorporate lots of white space. Overall, make sure your nice unique blog design isn’t overshadowed by ads or widgets or flashing bling. Turn off the music. Blogs with music playing tend to be distracting. Turn

Building a blog, part 2

Read part 1 here Blogging Logistics, continued: Keep your blog posts short. Blog readers tend to skim when the blog posts are very long. The ideal length for a blog post is 250-400 words. Yes, you read that right. The longest a blog post should be is 750 words, although if a blog post is a short fiction story, they can be as long as 1000 words. Short blog posts also enable you to blog more—a long blog post can instead be broken up into several parts, making two or three days’ posts out of one long post. Utilize boldface to draw the readers’ eyes down the page. This is a technique from business writers who want to make sure the reader hits the pertinent points. Boldface also helps the reader keep track of the main points as they read the blog post. However, italics are harder to read than boldface or regular font, so use italics lightly. Choose eye-friendly colors. In general, white typeface on a black background is hard for a person to read on a computer screen. It messes with the eye

Bumping your dialogue up to the next level

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101. Writing Riveting Dialogue Tips For Taking Dialogue to the Next Level Here are a few key elements needed to make dialogue sparkle. Before, I wrote about how to make dialogue sound more natural , but what if you want to bump your dialogue up to the next level? What if you want to make your dialogue really pop? Dialogue Is War In the words of Randy Ingermanson , “Dialogue is war.” Dialogue should have some form of conflict or tension. The characters don’t have to be shouting at each other, but there should be some sort of tension that keeps the dialogue from being a nice, easy conversation between two nice, easy-going people. Nice, easy-going dialogue is boring. In good dialogue, a character should be fighting for something: fighting to retain information, or fighting to extract information, or fighting to convey information. Don’t make it easy on your characters—make the conversation a battle for at least one of th

Building a blog, part 1

These days, blogging is a great way to express yourself and/or to market a product you might have. Blogging is cheap, easy, and can be a lot of fun. But while anyone can blog, how do you create an effective blog? Here are a few tips, broken down into Blogging Logistics and Blog Content. (Before I begin, I also want to mention that blogging isn’t for everyone. Not everyone likes to blog, and that’s perfectly fine. I think that no one should feel forced to blog—if you don’t like blogging, then don’t blog. But if you do enjoy blogging, this is a series of articles to help you make a better blog.) Blogging Logistics: Blog consistently. Good blogs have bloggers who post consistently and often. Most of these bloggers post five days a week, taking Saturday and Sunday off since blogs usually have lower traffic on weekends. Ideally, a blogger who wants to improve their blog traffic and effectiveness should post five days a week. If that gives you a heart attack, try to commit to posting three d

Writing more natural-sounding dialogue

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101. Writing Natural Dialogue Tips For Making Dialogue Smoother and More Realistic Here are tips for making dialogue flow and sound more natural when a writer has been told the dialogue is stilted. Sometimes a writer will get feedback that sounds something like: “Your dialogue is stilted” or “Your dialogue doesn’t sound natural” or “Your dialogue doesn’t sound realistic.” How to make dialogue sound more natural? Beware the Info Dump “Info dumps” are lines of dialogue that are there solely to inform the reader. For example: “As you know, Jane, our sister Lydia ran off with your ex-lover George and robbed a bank with him last month.” Jane already knows this, and her sister wouldn’t repeat the information to her—instead, she’d speak knowing what Jane already knows. “Doesn’t it pain you?” “Lydia and George? No, don’t worry about me. My relationship with him was over long ago. But the public shame of Lydia’s behavior hu

Interview with Steeple Hill editor Melissa Endlich

There will be a great interview with Melissa Endlich (Senior Editor for Steeple Hill) on Seekerville tomorrow. PLUS, Melissa will be popping in to answer any questions people post in the comments, so make sure you head to Seekerville to participate in the conversation!

Interview with Cathy Bryant

I'm on Cathy Bryant's blog, talking about my own writing life, some tips and book recommendations: WordVessel

Interview on blog tours

I'm being interviewed on the He Said She Said blog about blog tours . This will be informative for any of you who are wondering about blog marketing, especially for fiction. Some of you may not even want to think about marketing right now in your writing journey, but for those of you who are published or agented, this will help you formulate your marketing plan. 1. How did you first learn about blog tours? I don’t quite remember. At the time, they were still very new, so I know that when I started planning my first blog tour for Sushi for One, it made a hit because a lot of people hadn’t heard of a blog tour before, or they’d only seen small ones, or ones with just book blurbs—not original content. 2. Which of your books have you taken on a blog tour? Click here for the rest of the interview.

A Writer’s Genre

One thing I never got a chance to talk about in my article on finding your brand is when you want to nail down the basic genre you should write in. I know lots of writers (myself included) who would love to write in several different genres. Before I was published, I had to decide which genre to focus on, which genre I would want to break into publishing in. It's not an easy decision, but I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, that gives tips on how to pick your genre, as well as the reasoning behind why you need to pick one. Tips for Novelists Trying to Determine a Genre For novelists who write a variety of genres, here are a few tips for how they can nail down which one(s) to focus on. While there are many published authors who write in several genres, for an unpublished author trying to break into the publishing industry, it’s good to find one genre to commit to for at least a few books. Why Commit to a Genre? This helps out the editor, who c

A Writer's Brand

Under the post on Writing in different genres , we had a lively discussion on brand. I had more to say that would have made too long a comment, so instead I wrote an article on tips for discovering your writer's brand, which originally appeared on Suite101. Tips for Discovering a Writer’s Unique Niche in the Market A writer’s own particular brand can be hard to discover, but here are a few tips for helping to brainstorm your own unique writing brand. These days, publishing houses often want to see how a writer’s “brand” sets them apart from the thousands of other manuscripts they receive. It’s become more difficult to become published by traditional publishers, and a writer’s unique brand is often what raises them to the top of the slush pile. But it’s equally difficult for a writer to determine what their brand is. Here are a few tips. Read Extensively, Not Just in Your Own Genre. With the lines between genres becoming blurred, it’s important to be well-versed in wha

Episodic writing

I recently got a few questions on what episodic writing is. Earlier, I posted the link to an article on episodic writing , but I also wanted to address it myself. In this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, I talk about how to recognize it, and some things to get rid of it. Make the Character Proactive Rather Than Reactive Eliminate episodic scenes by giving the character an External Goal, Obstacles against that goal, and Forward Movement in the story. A story is more than just good writing. A story plot must have forward motion and a sense of movement that pulls the reader along. Sometimes writers will get feedback that their story “lacks purpose” or is “episodic.” What exactly does that mean? Episodic Writing is Reactive Writing in Vignettes. A character needs more than just to fall into an alternate world and face Scary Monsters. He needs to have a purpose and doggedly pursue that purpose. If he simply goes from one Bad Thing to another, the story lacks direc

Writing in different genres

Many of you already know that I've sold a romantic suspense story to Steeple Hill's Love Inspired Suspense line when I'm already published in romantic chick lit. Genre-hopping for writers is a hotly debated topic. And actually, before selling my romantic suspense, I would have advised writers to stick to one genre until they're better established. What I didn't take into account was the publishing market's tightening of their belts in the past year. Things to consider: Some genres don't sell as well after a while. For example, chick lit is no longer a "hot" seller because the market was glutted with it. There are still lots of readers who enjoy romantic, funny women's fiction (which is what chick lit is), but they've read too many single-girl-wants-a-man-and-can't-have-him-for-some-reason stories, and they want variety. If your genre is on the downturn, it might be time to jump to another genre. However, my suggestion is not to stray to

Pounding out a manuscript (NaNoWriMo)

Tina asks me about my writing day and NaNoWriMo (just around the corner!)

The publishing industry in a disastrous economy

Agent Terry Burns gave a talk at the Glorietta writers conference on The publishing industry in a disastrous economy and it's really worth a read. It's a bit sobering, but it's also got some solid advice: I guess what I think it says is that we’re going to see a more cautious approach to acquisitions over the next months and see it taking longer to get decisions. The advice at the beginning of this talk to stay calm and have patience is appropriate. That gives us time to make that submission as good as possible, because the competition is going to be stronger than ever. Books that are simply “finished” won’t get it done, because the market is looking for books that are excellent. Should we quit writing and quit submitting? Of course not! Just keep doing business as usual . . . with a little more patience. Thanks to agent Terry Whalin for the link to the article.

Setting the Stage in the First Page

In this article, originally published on Suite101, I'm giving tips on how to plunk your reader into your story world on page one without confusing them or making them feel like they've been drop-kicked into an alien culture. This is important because you want to introduce the setting and make the reader feel at home, and often you only have the first page to do that. It's not impossible! Immersing the Reader in the Novel Story World Skillfully drop the reader into the setting of the story by intriguing them without confusing them. The hardest place to set your reader down into your story world is the first page. But the reality is that readers in a bookstore and editors paging through thousands of manuscripts will usually only give you one page to catch their interest. One page. That first page must hook the reader and orient them in the novel story world without confusing them. It’s a tall order, which is why it’s best for novelists to spend the most time revi

Crafting a Riveting Opening Hook

In this article, originally published on Suite101, I'm breaking down a good opening hook into four types of hooks. Does your opening hook fall into one of the four categories? Grabbing the Reader’s Attention From the First Paragraph A novel needs to start with something so captivating that the reader is compelled to move on. This is called the Opening Hook. These days, the Opening Hook is important not just to hook readers, but to hook editors. In an informal survey of more than 50 editors and agents, author Cheryl Wyatt reports that 99% of them admit to only reading the first page of a submitted manuscript. If the story does not intrigue them in that first page, they won’t read on. That puts a great deal of pressure on unpublished writers to have an astounding first page. If the editor, who reads thousands of manuscripts a year, is not hooked, then that manuscript will only garner a form rejection letter. Work Hard on a Killer First Line. Lots of writers pooh-pooh havi

Making character voices distinct

I’m guest blogging at Love Inspired author Missy Tippens’ blog about how I make my character voices so distinct.

The Inciting Incident - Getting a Story Underway

This article I wrote, which originally was published on Suite101, is for any of you who might be wondering about some of the key elements to keep in mind as you start your novel. It can also be a checklist for your novel's opening. Getting a Story Under Way In popular fiction, every story should start with some sort of Change to indicate to the reader that the story problem is beginning. Dwight Swain ( Techniques of the Selling Writer ) says, “The function of your story’s beginning is to let your reader know there’s going to be a fight ... and that it’s the kind of fight that will interest him.” Swain doesn’t mean a literal fight, but something the character is fighting for. The Inciting Incident is the Change that propels the hero to fight for his External Goal. Most people, whether we like change or not, understand that when something changes, we can expect a new era or time of life to begin. The same principle applies to a reader—when he sees change in the story, he kn

The Five Basic Story Elements

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101. The Key Elements Needed Before the Novel is Written In order to craft a more cohesive story, writers should make sure they have these five elements in mind before they start or very soon after they begin writing. There are many different ways to write a story, and no one way is the “only way.” Some writers write as the story comes to them. Some plot out each step before they start writing. Some do a combination of both. But there are five main elements of a commercial story that are crucial for ensuring a strong storyline. Writers should try to nail these elements down before they get too far into the novel. If they don’t, they might end up writing themselves into a hole, or the story might end up being very aimless and episodic. 1. Introduce the Main Character Make sure there is a focal character or hero. Even if there are two main characters, there is always one who is more important to the story, or whose journey is

Characterization and archetypes

I talked about characterization and archetypes on MaryLu Tyndall's blog

Blog Marketing

I wrote an article on Blog Marketing at Christian Fiction Online Magazine: Blog Marketing I don't know how long the article will be up for, so read it quick! LOL

Time Management

I wrote about time management on Christa Allan's blog .

Character arc

This article originally was published on Suite101. How to Plan a Character’s Journey In popular fiction, every protagonist goes on a journey, whether physical or emotional. In Techniques of the Selling Writer , Dwight Swain wrote, “Anything endangering survival or happiness creates fear.” And the point of creating fear is to introduce tension. Tension is what hooks readers. A protagonist’s character arc should progress from happiness to fear to tension (for most of the book) and back to happiness. It’s cyclical. Create a Short Setup This establishes who the character is before the events of the story. A writer should show what the character desires, what constitutes happiness for the protagonist. Keep this section short, or incorporate the information within the action of the first chapter or two. Most editors prefer a quick start to the story. Hit the Protagonist With the Inciting Incident Also called the Catalyst, this is an external event that propels the charact

Quote - Writing is a business

“Never be: Afraid. Aggressive. Arrogant. Unhappy. Difficult. Depressed. Make an editor roll her eyes. Too much artist, not enough business.” --Brenda Schetnan (writing as Molly Evans) in her article, “After the Call--The First Year” Remember, writing is a business. Much as art is a part of your writing, you also have to put on a business hat and think logically. Think market. Think audience. Think improvement.

How many manuscripts should you have in your "inventory"?

This question came up on one of my writing loops, so I'm shamelessly stealing it for this blog post. How many completed manuscripts should you have under your belt before you query? 2? 5? 20? How polished should those manuscripts be? And what about series ideas and sequels and prequels? Camy here: The more I talk to agents and editors, the more I realize that they want to hear lots of IDEAS. Polish of the manuscript can come later, but if they don't like your first pitched idea, it doesn't matter that the book finaled in contests and is polished to a high pitch. You better have another idea to pitch to them if they say no to the first pitched idea. This is what happened with my Sushi series. The pub board hated the first book idea (an old version of Trish's story), but they wanted to see the second book idea/manuscript (Lex's story in Sushi for One ). I have several writer friends who have between 5 and 10 finished manuscripts. Don't freak out, many of them have

Episodic writing

One of the Steeple Hill editors forwarded this link to an article on Episodic Writing that is simply fabulous: Plotting Problems - Episodic Writing

Synopsis worksheet endorsements

I recently put together a Synopsis Worksheet that will guide you through the process of writing a synopsis. The best part is that you don't need a full completed manuscript to use the worksheet--just a general idea of your characters and storyline. The worksheet is available as a .pdf file download for only $5. In case you were wavering about whether to buy it or not, here are a few endorsements from happy clients who used the worksheet in my recent Synopsis writing class: Camy Tang has a unique gift for guiding you through the process of putting together a synopsis. Her great insight helps you wrap up the main ideas step by step. I love the way she ensures you have a strong spiritual or internal arc in your synopsis. I can’t say enough good about her Synopsis Worksheet. You can’t go wrong with it. Debbie Lynne Costello Camy's Synopsis Worksheet was just the tool I needed! I dreaded writing my most recent synopsis— summarizing a 95,000 word novel into a few short pages? Aah! B

When should you hire a freelance editor? Part six

Click here for part five If your answers to the previous questions were “yes,” then it’s time to hire a freelance editor. If you’ve gotten feedback, entered contests, studied the craft of writing, finished a book, and done your market research, you have most likely moved from a beginning writer to an intermediate or advanced one. At that point, a freelance editor can use her experience to figure out how to push you to the next level of writing craft. You might have submitted your manuscript to a few agents or editors and gotten some rejections. Sometimes the rejections are form letters, sometimes they’re a little more personal (although it’s still a “no, thank you,” which can be frustrating). Often, your manuscript will get many rejections and while your critique partners are sympathetic, no one can pinpoint why your manuscript keeps getting rejected. Maybe you’re finalling and winning various writing contests (consistently finalling and winning), but you’re still getting rejections f

Blogging for promotion

I blogged at Seekerville yesterday on Blogging for promotion , even if you're not yet published.

How to write a query letter

I blogged at LaShaunda's blog yesterday on the five main parts of a query letter and give an example of one: How to write a query letter

The Story Crucible

This article I wrote originally appeared on Suite101. The Factor That Keeps the Character in Trouble Every story needs a firm reason the character can’t just walk away from the story trouble. This is called the story crucible. If a character is able to walk away from the story problem at any time, readers will feel dissatisfied with the story premise. The character needs a solid reason why he struggles on and doesn’t just take the option of giving up. The Crucible Has to be Something Vital at Stake. The character cannot continue with his external goal simply because he’s too stubborn to give it up. There has to be more at stake for him. Someone’s life has to be in danger, whether figuratively or in actuality. It could be the character’s life or it could be someone the character cares for. There’s something vital on the line that can’t be ignored or sacrificed. For example: In the movie and series Buffy the Vampire Slayer , Buffy is the Slayer, the chosen girl who has po