Archive for April, 2010

One of my blogging friends, Kathleen Wall, shared some info regarding free online workshops being held in May, and I’m passing it on to all of you.

Coyote Con is setting up chat rooms hosted by “authors, editors, publishers and other industry professionals” for one-hour sessions on writing and publishing. All of them are free, and most of the sessions will be on a first come, first served basis. A few special sessions require separate registration to keep the number of attendees reasonable. I have “tickets” for 4 of those, and plan to attend several others that are open to as many people as they can fit in their online chat room.  

My tickets are for Ghosts, Steampunk Romance, Writing the Mentally Ill Without Getting It Wrong, and The Speculative Christian. The Steampunk Romance session is full, but the others are open as of right now. There are still several other special sessions available, too.

I have no idea how helpful these will be as I’ve never attended anything like this, but I’m excited about the chance to get together with others interested in the same things I like. Take a look at the schedule and let me know if you will be attending. Classes start this Saturday, so if you’re interested, sign up quick!

Will you be at the Coyote Con chats? If so, which ones? Do you know of other free online workshops related to writing, publishing, or books?


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According to the Encarta dictionary:

Chapter: one of the main sections of a text, usually having a title or number as a heading

 Scene: a short section of a play, movie, opera, or work of literature that presents a single event

Chapter breaks are generally used at crucial points in a story in order to build tension. Scenes show what happens during a specific time period, or in a specific location. A long scene might make up a whole chapter, but sometimes chapters include several short scenes.

Scene breaks are indicated by leaving an extra line, usually with a special symbol—such as #–centered on that line to clearly signal the reader that something is about to change. It may be a switch in the point of view character, a move to a different location, a flashback, or the return from one.

Short chapters and scenes can build suspense and increase the pace of a story. However, quickly switching back and forth between point of views or settings can also be confusing. Rather than “head hopping” or using lots of short scenes, you might consider using a narrative summary of certain events, or an explanation within dialog, to make the story flow more smoothly.

Approximately how long do you think a chapter should be?  Does it depend on the genre of the story? Do you prefer point of view changes to be done with new chapters, or does it matter to you?

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A homeless dog showed up this weekend and started camping out on my patio furniture. We’re trying to find him a good home, and in the meantime we’re meeting his most basic, and apparently insatiable, need: food.

Looking for a Good Home

The last few nights have been chilly, so yesterday I decided to make a temporary shelter for the little guy. I gathered up a laundry basket, towels, and blankets to construct a cozy den. I imagined him snuggling into it, looking at me with adoring eyes as I gave him the pièce de résistance—a beef flavored rawhide chew toy to help him occupy his time. I grabbed my video camera so I could record this touching scene to send my daughter, who fell in love with the beagley vagabond this weekend when she was visiting us (to get her birthday presents!).

The dog was blocking the patio door, so I trundled out the front door with my supplies, barely able to keep from dropping everything. As I rounded the house, Beagle Boy raced toward me, knocked the basket out of my hand, grabbed the rawhide, and disappeared into the weeds I call a flowerbed. I raced after him with my video camera, desperate to record his enjoyment of the only treat I’d bought him. Thinking I was trying to take it from him (yes, that’s a break in point of view—but I’m sure that’s what he thought), he ran into the woods and hid it.

He came back in a few minutes to watch me finish his shelter, and even crawled inside it. For several minutes I filmed him laying there, staring into the woods. The odd part of that is that when I wanted a still picture to email everyone I know, I had to take 45 pictures to get one that wasn’t blurred by movement. Now I have a 3 minute video of him not moving so much as a muscle.

So, you’re probably wondering how I could possibly relate this to writing. Fortunately, nearly everything I see or do reminds me of writing, so I can make that transition quite smoothly.

As we prepare our manuscripts, we gather our ideas and supplies, and work hard to reach that final, fantastic climax. We anticipate the finished product being worthy of our efforts, providing us deep satisfaction—possibly even winning us the adoration of agents, publishers, and countless fans. Then reality takes over.

No matter how wonderful the ending is, how cleverly written or exciting the final climax may be, it can’t sustain the whole story on its own. Like the rawhide chew toy, it can get buried in the woods and remain unappreciated if everything leading up to it doesn’t work out right.

Start with a great hook and end with a satisfying resolution, but don’t forget that the middle must do the brunt of the work. When the hook you’ve polished so hard isn’t followed by an enticing middle, with rising action and/or tension, you may lose readers. When the story threads unravel, when the writing is disorganized, readers will notice. They may not continue on to that fantastic ending you’ve planned.

Go ahead and save the best for last, but make sure you’ve got something good to offer throughout the whole story.  


How do you keep the middle of a story from sagging? How do you add interest or tension without getting to the main climax too early? How many chapters or pages do you think are suitable for tying up the ending, after the major climax has occurred? Are you a dog person, or do you prefer cats—or neither?

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Tricia Sutton wrote an interesting post about opening hooks a few days ago. She wrote down the first sentence out of 10 books, and asked which ones interested her blog readers enough to want to read more of the story. Only 1 caught my interest.

Since my own novel’s opening is causing me problems, I thought I’d copy Tricia’s idea and take a look at some of the first sentences in the genre I’m working in—suspense. I randomly chose 6 of the suspense novels I own, and looked at the first sentence. Here they are:

“I told you this was a great place.” First sentence of the prologue of Killer Dreams, by Iris Johansen

“Embraced by stone, steeped in silence, I sat at the high window as the third day of the week surrendered to the fourth.” First sentence of Chapter 1 of Brother Odd, by Dean Koontz

“The one called the Gavel waited patiently.” First sentence of the prologue of In Silence, by Erica Spindler

“Ten-year-old Liza was dreaming her favorite dream, the one about the day when she was six years old, and she and Daddy were at the beach, in New Jersey, at Spring Lake.” First sentence of the prologue of No Place Like Home, by Mary Higgins Clark

“The cutting edge of a winter storm made the old house sigh and moan as if someone was dying.” First sentence of the prologue of Always Time to Die, by Elizabeth Lowell

“It began when Mary and Brad Johnstone went to the psychic fair and happened upon the tent offering readings.” First sentence of the prologue of Deadly Harvest, by Heather Graham

What I found interesting wasn’t so much the first sentences as the fact that 5 out of 6 used prologues, which I’ve frequently read are not popular. Each of these books was published within the last 5 years, so I don’t think it’s a matter of being outdated. Perhaps prologues just fit the suspense genre better than others.

Getting back to the original topic of opening hooks, I have to admit these didn’t really affect my decision to buy the books. These are authors I’m familiar with already, so a quick perusal of the back cover or jacket flap to see what the story is about would have been enough motivation for me to plunk down my money. I’m more likely to read a few paragraphs before buying a book by an unknown author, but I still wouldn’t judge one by the first sentence.

The point of what I’m saying here is that I think many of us worry too much about our novel opening. What appeals to one person won’t necessarily seem like a great hook to everyone else, and there are other factors that affect someone’s decision to read a book. A great opening line is helpful, but it isn’t going to be enough to keep anyone reading if the rest of the story stinks.

The important thing, in my opinion, is to write the best story we can, with an opening that suggests what’s ahead, followed by sentences that each flow naturally into the next one. Hooking the reader with every sentence will work better than counting on one sentence or paragraph to do the job.


Do you read the first sentence, the first paragraph, or several paragraphs when deciding whether or not to read a book? If the opening pages of a book you start reading don’t interest you, how likely are you to finish reading the rest of the book? Do books in the genre you read most usually have a prologue? Do you buy books by certain authors without bothering to see what the story is about?

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Setting is the time and place where a scene occurs. It can help set the mood, influence the way characters behave, affect the dialog, foreshadow events, invoke an emotional response, reflect the society in which the characters live, and sometimes even plays a part in the story.  It can also be a critical element in nonfiction as the setting provides the framework for what is being discussed.

To make the setting come alive, it’s important to include significant details. That doesn’t mean describing everything the characters see, or giving a complete history of where the scene occurs. Giving enough information to help readers visualize the setting is important, but too many minor details will bog down the story rather than move it forward.

There are ways to clarify the setting without using long descriptive passages. For example:

a) The type of vocabulary the characters use can suggest where they live or where the scene occurs. Teens from Chicago will sound different from teenagers in rural Kentucky. Ordering a Caramel Macchiato implies a more sophisticated restaurant than if the character orders an orange soda (although I personally order pink lemonade where ever I go—except in winter, when I want a hot chocolate with whipped cream on top.)

b) The weather can indicate the time of year, or general location of the scene. Mentioning a hurricane, or snow, will give readers clues as to where or when the story takes place. The fragrance of a certain flower wafting on a gentle breeze suggests a different setting than the smell of asphalt permeating the air.

c) Describing a dark, gloomy house or a shadowy forest can suggest something suspenseful may occur, setting the tone as well as giving details about the location. Candles flickering can either hint at romance or suggest a religious scene; adding other details will help clarify their significance.

d) Give the setting a purpose to fulfill. An exotic location can be a backdrop for a steamy romance or a wild adventure. A mountainous terrain can be a source of danger and add suspense. A hospital waiting room can suggest trauma and pain, adding tension to the story.


What part does the setting play in your writing? Do you prefer having most of the details left to your imagination or do you like having the setting clearly defined? What books can you think of that use setting as a major element in the plot? Do you ever choose books to read based on their setting?

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According to The Free Dictionary, voice means “The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.”

Our voice is a reflection of who we are. It develops from our unique experiences and expresses our feelings and beliefs. The choices we make regarding the topics we cover, the themes we focus on, the details we include, the sentence structure and vocabulary we use, and the tone of what we write are all part of what makes ours sound different from everyone else’s writing.

Even though we each have a unique voice, it isn’t easy to let it show in what we write. Here are a few tips to help you develop the voice that reflects “you” on the page:

1. Practice writing without self-editing. Don’t worry about how it sounds; just write freely and save the editing for later.

2. Analyze what you’ve written to see where you may need to improve, but also recognize your strengths. Try to do better in all those areas.

3. Think about who you are writing for, and whether or not your writing fulfills the purpose you intend. Determine what you might do differently to communicate more effectively.

4. Write like you’re speaking to a friend. You’re most likely to write honestly if you’re comfortable with who you’re addressing.

5. Consider the experiences your characters would have had, and imagine yourself in their place. Write from their perspective rather than your own to keep all the characters from sounding the same.

6. Read a wide variety of books, not just ones you know you’ll enjoy. Think about what those authors did, how they sound, and the style they used. Practice writing like authors you admire to get a feel for what they’ve done, and apply what you learn to your own writing.

(For more on voice, see my posts from 6/23/09 and 6/17/09 on this topic.)


EDIT JULY 6, 2010Agent Chip MacGregor has a great post on his blog about the meaning of “voice.”  Check it out here.


Do you have a distinctive voice? What makes it unique? Are there any authors whose writing you recognize even when their name isn’t mentioned? What are some other ways to develop “voice?”

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In honor of Easter Sunday, I’m not posting about writing this weekend. However, I posted a book review for Plain Paradise, which you can read by clicking on that title on my Book Reviews page or in the side bar of my blog. It’s an excellent novel with an emphasis on love and faith in God.

I hope those of you who observe Easter have a wonderful celebration of our Lord’s resurrection.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

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