Dressing at conferences

Angie Breidenbach over at F.A.I.T.H. blog posted a great article on dressing professionally at conferences. She's talking specifically about the ACFW conference coming up in September, but her advice is great for any writing conference with the exception of the more casual ones like Mount Hermon and Oregon Christian Writers Conference, which are on campgrounds in the woods. Many other conferences, like ACFW and RWA, are set in hotels, and Angie's article is exactly the advice you need for how to dress. ACFW Conference Wear

Scene transitions – switching POVs

Switch character point of views at scene changes, not within a scene. While it’s not technically wrong to do one POV switch in a scene, it is very jarring to the modern-day reader. Readers ten years ago probably wouldn’t care as much, but the trend these days in publishing is one POV per scene. As a reader yourself, notice if there’s a POV change in the middle of a scene. Does it jar you, even just a little? You absolutely don’t want to pull the reader out of the story world even a little. 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

Scene transitions – follow Scene with Sequel

I’m a big proponent of Dwight Swain’s Scene and Sequel concept because I’m a psychology major, and I’ve read a few books that explained why Scene and Sequel works so well psychologically in readers. It all makes sense to me that our brains are geared a certain way, and Scene and Sequel resonate with most people psychologically, which is why they’re so effective. However, when you transition to a Sequel, make sure you keep up some type of conflict or tension in the scene. This is something Swain doesn’t mention, but Donald Maass recommends constant tension and conflict in order to keep the reader reading, and that applies to the more reflective Sequels in your novel. The conflict or tension doesn’t have to be something major, but just something minor as a thread throughout the scene. It can even help form that rise at the end of the Sequel. For example, in chapter three of Sushi for One , Lex has a Scene where she finally is able to ask this guy out on a date. In the following Sequel i

Scene transitions – ending hooks

End each scene/chapter with a hook sentence or paragraph, just like your opening. This is sometimes referred to as a “rise.” If you are using good scene structure (which you should be doing like a good writer), you’ll be following Dwight Swain’s Scene and Sequel pattern, which naturally gives you a rise at the end of every scene or sequel. This keeps the reader reading, because it presents something surprising or curious at the end of the scene, and they want to find out what happens next! “Just a few more pages …” Aaaah, music to a writer’s ears. “It’s gonna be okay, Mom.” She wrapped her arms around her son. As far as she was concerned, things couldn’t get much worse. Then a beam of light sliced through the darkness as someone pushed the front door open. Nowhere to Hide by Debby Giusti Back out on the porch, she lifted the shotgun and said, “Come any closer and I’ll shoot you.” Buried Secrets by Margaret Daley I glanced out the [plane] window a final time. Saginaw, M

Scene transitions - opening hooks

Start each scene/chapter with a hook sentence. You can also have a hook paragraph if the paragraph isn’t too long. This is not just for the opening sentence of a book—use this technique for the opening of every scene. Something mysterious, curious, dangerous, ominous. Grab the reader’s attention from the get-go. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen “Saints above, girl. What are you doing here?” the shackled man hissed. A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist It was not the rock—it was never the rock; it was the air. In High Places by Tom Morrisey A dead man spoke to her from the shadows. The Dead Whisper On by T.L. Hines It was raining the night he found me. Demon: a Memoir by Tosca Lee “Move and you’re dead.” Buried Secrets by Margaret Daley Rule for Women Ministers No. 1: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain on church premises—especially on the Monday morning after E

Character description – emotional reaction

Instead of just describing a person, you might want to think about integrating the description with the point of view character’s emotions in reaction. For example, rather than: The tall blonde walked into the room, a scarlet dress swirling around her long legs. A man near the bar turned to look at her. Charlene sat at her table and stared at the strange woman. You can instead write: Charlene started and sat up at her table as the tall woman swept into the room. The stranger tossed her blonde hair in a flirtatious gesture, calculated to make the men at the bar look at her. Hussy. She’d probably chosen that red dress because the side had a slit up to her hip, revealing more leg than was decent. Or Charlene looked up as the tall woman swept into the room. She had gorgeous blonde hair—Charlene would have killed for that long and heavy mass down her back. Her scarlet dress swirled around her body, giving tantalizing glimpses at long, slim legs that Charlene could never have no matter how


Hey guys, I lost power here on Friday night and I'm posting this from the library. We're not getting power back until Tuesday, and I'm traveling on Wednesday, so I'll resume my Story Sensei posts on Friday. Camy

I've written a novel and I have no clue what to do next!

Congratulations! Typing “The End” is one of the best achievements of a writer’s career! No first draft is perfect (except God’s first draft), so now’s the time for the revision process. If you haven’t yet read my first article, “I want to write a book and I have no clue what to do,” go back and skim through the resources listed there. There might be a few books, articles, or resources you haven’t seen yet, and they might be useful to you for tightening structure or deepening characterization. The following resources are for the revision and submission process. Do a little large-scale revision. Often, even the best manuscript needs some larger scale revision—shifting scenes, changing character goals, rewriting the climax. The one thing I notice the most in manuscripts that I do for freelance editing is a need for more conflict in the story. Most people avoid conflict in real life, but in fiction, conflict is what keeps a reader reading. The best books I read for figuring ou

I want to write a novel and I have no clue what to do!

Congratulations! You’ve decided to take that wonderful, scary step and write that novel burning inside you. Writing is an art, just like music. A musician wouldn’t expect to sit down at a piano or take up a violin and immediately crank out a perfect rendition of Mozart. Good music requires learning and practice. Good writing is the same way, requiring learning and practice. Thanks to the internet, free and inexpensive resources are readily available to anyone who wants to write their first novel. This article lists some tips, books, articles, and websites that I found most useful when I started writing. Join a writing community. The best money I spent was in joining an online writing organization. Writing groups have informative discussion loops, workshop archives, and sometimes critique groups. Often, published authors are on the email loop to give advice that you can’t read in a book. I joined American Christian Fiction Writers , which is a large organization that has a liv

Pitching to editors and agents at conference, part two

My previous article on pitching to editors and agents was in informal settings. This is more targeted information about when you have an appointment to speak to an agent or editor. Because you have several minutes, the purpose of an agent/editor appointment at a conference is more than just pitching. It’s a chance for you to learn about the agent/editor’s personality, and if they’re someone you want to work with. This is very important. A business relationship is more than just professionalism—it’s how personalities work with each other, kind of like a marriage. Therefore, use your time wisely. I’m going to break this down into writer experience level, because I agree with Randy Ingermanson when he talks about Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior level writers . (If you haven’t read his article yet, please do so before continuing with this one, since I’ll be referring to it.) For Freshmen, Sophomores, early Juniors: My suggestion is not to officially pitch your story at all. I’ve h

Interview with agent Wendy Lawton

(reprinted from Camy's Loft blog) The ACFW Conference is only a couple months away! I’m totally excited about the awards ceremony. Besides the Genesis contest winners, ACFW will also announce the Book of the Year winners, the Mentor of the Year, the Editor of the Year, and the Agent of the Year! Today I’m very happy to have my agent Wendy Lawton with me. Wendy is one of the nominees for Agent of the Year, and I heartily hope she wins it! Wendy Lawton, me, and Debbie Macomber You've attended various conferences over the years. In your opinion, what makes ACFW's conference stand out from the others? The content is focused entirely on fiction, the presenters are knowledgeable and approachable, the atmosphere is fun and friendly and the attendees are among the best prepared anywhere. Any advice you'd like to offer to a 1st time conference attendee? I'd love for attendees to remember that building a writing career is usually a slow process. It takes a number of meetings,

Backstory should foster more questions

I got this tip on backstory from Brandilyn Collins: Any knowledge you give to the reader has to cause the reader to ask more questions. Let me repeat that: Any knowledge you give to the reader has to cause the reader to ask more questions. What that means for you as the writer is that any narrative or backstory has to be very carefully chosen and given. Any narrative or backstory has to have a very specific purpose for the story, and that narrative or backstory should work to make the reader ask more questions about the character or storyline. You want to foster that sense of “What’s going on?” for the reader that will make the reader keep reading in order to find out. For example: He sidled up to Anna, two hundred pounds of male testosterone, smelling faintly of tobacco and whiskey. “Hey, good lookin’, want some company?” She saw through his rough-and-ready façade. He worked for the Evil Triumvirate. She had crossed three state lines to try to escape them, but they’d found her at la

Some tips for using flashbacks

Flashbacks can be great things because they show backstory in real time, versus just narrative (which is “telling” rather than “showing”). However, they tend to slow the reading flow—either with the content of the flashback or the initial transition into the flashback. So you have to place and use flashbacks very judiciously. 1—Be careful about WHEN you go into flashback. Since the transition will slow the reading flow, specifically time your flashback for when you want to create a lull in the reading pace, maybe after a tense or conflicted scene. 2—Be careful about HOW you go into flashback. The best thing is to have the flashback triggered by a very significant event in the story. Don’t just morph into a flashback from a scene that’s already meandering, or else you could lose reader interest. 3—Make the flashback as CONFLICTED and TENSE as you can. The transition is already going to slow the reading pace, so make the flashback powerful and vivid to keep the reading flow going smoothl

Emotions and contrast

One great way to show emotion is with contrast. You can contrast the character’s emotions to another character, or maybe the surroundings. The man’s gaze didn’t waver, and she shivered in the hot noon sunlight. She turned away from the child’s sunshine smile, sodden and shivering from the thunderstorm in her heart. Contrast can both intensify the emotion and enable ways for you to be creative in your emotional writing. Don’t fall back on clichés (like I did in the first example above, although the second example isn’t too bad). Be original and richly emotional at the same time.

How to Network at a Conference, part two: Questions to ask

(Part One is here .) When I first started going to conferences, I had the Hello down pat, but couldn’t think of what to say after that. I had to learn the art of conversation, but I discovered it’s actually not that hard. More than a list of questions to remember—which you won’t remember when you’re nervous and meeting people—here are a few tips on how to keep the conversation going. Keep up with publishing news. This is useful for conversation with editors, agents, and even writers. You can ask editors questions about their publishing house based on information you might have read, or you can ask the agent questions about a certain genre market. For example, there were several personnel changes in a specific publishing house in a short period of time, and I had read about it. I chatted with an employee for that publishing house at a conference and asked her how things were going, if things had settled into a routine, if the personnel was replaced yet, etc. Keep yourself well informe

How to Network at a conference

I am not a natural extrovert, but I exert myself when I’m at a conference because I want to meet people. However, since I’m not naturally an extrovert, I had to teach myself how to meet people at a booksigning, or while walking the floor of ICRS, or when mingling with writers at a conference. These are a few tips for writers who are introverts like myself. Much of it is simply common sense or common politeness, but it’s good to reiterate here so you are aware of specific things to avoid doing, and specific things to exert yourself to do. DON’T go up to chat with someone you know if they’re talking with someone else. Be sensitive. They might be in an important conversation with their agent/editor/publicist/marketing director. If they wave hi to you but go on talking to the other person, definitely don’t crash their conversation—just keep walking past. However, if they pause the conversation to give you a hug or say a few words, then it’s fine for you to approach them. DON’T gush

On haitus, and a question for you

I'm at ICRS until late next week. Also, any particular writing craft or business topics you want me to cover on this Story Sensei blog? Camy

Don’t forget the emotion

Sometimes a scene will seem flat. It might be because you need to add more emotion to the scene. The richness of physical description, character actions, dialogue, thoughts. In his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer , the very first thing Dwight Swain talks about is emotion , because it’s one of the important aspects of fiction writing. No matter if you write action, women’s fiction, suspense, or chick lit, emotion is the key factor in any scene. Whether it’s your hero’s dogged determination and rush of adrenaline as he runs from an exploding oil refinery, or it’s your heroine’s angst and frustration at her matchmaking, meddling mother. Emotion is what drives the character, and rivets the reader to the action or drama on the page. When you read your scene, what emotions do you feel? What emotions do you want to feel? Focus on the emotion and write it—write what matters to you, what you want the reader to care about. Ramp up the emotion in your scene to give it depth and vitality.

Common problems in first person POV, part three

First person internal thoughts also tend to be a lot of backstory, which slows down the reading flow. It might be fun and quirky narrative, but it’s still a backstory dump however you look at it. Mom ran off years ago with the family lawyer, and while I can’t say Dad was all that great, the lawyer was worse. She finally clued in when she found him groping his admin in his office one day. Mom, being Mom, told him, “I have decided to seek new legal representation.” And then she walked out. Anyway, the entire incident has made her gunshy about hiring any lawyers, which is why she now bothers me to bother my boyfriend, who will give her free legal counsel without the inconvenience of actually paying for it. Gasp! The cure for this is the same as in third person POV: a) Give only snippets of backstory, not a whole bunch at once. b) Mention backstory only when it’s absolutely vital to the current action. c) Make a character absolutely need to know—that way your reader will also absolutely ne

Common problems in first person POV, part two

In first person POV, especially, writers have a great deal of narrative and internal thoughts. While that narrative tends to have some conflict in it, too much narrative means less movement in the scene. And you can’t really substitute true conflict (action and dialogue) with the conflict in a long paragraph of internal thought—the scene drags and meanders. I look at the call waiting. It’s my mother. Mom has this annoying habit of calling right when I’m about to watch CSI . Even though I’ve told her again and again that she can’t call on this particular night at this particular time, she blithely ignores me. I might as well be talking to the cat. And at least the cat answers with a polite meow. Mother barely acknowledges I’ve spoken, much less what I’ve said. All this narrative is more “telling” than “showing.” Instead of all this internal thought, why not show the information in action and dialogue? I look at the call waiting. It’s my mother. I stab the TALK button. “Mom, it’s CSI ni