Monthly Archives April 2013

Great Stuff for Writers, April 29, 2013

Frantically trying to get caught up after spending the last 3 days volunteering with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, something I do every year to honor the memory of a friend of mine who was killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building here. I’ve been a part of the event every year, as a volunteer, runner, or both, and this year was even honored with a profile interview in The Oklahoman, the city’s newspaper, even if the writer did misspell my name.

But enough of that! This is a writing blog! There’s lots of Great Stuff included this week: foreshadowing, characters who pop, pitching, the benefits of writing short fiction, book marketing, the value of reviews, burnout, learning from writing, and even some fun: one 2-year-old’s takes on books based on their covers...

Read More

Critique Technique, Part 5: Weak or Missing Hook

Before I begin, remember that for each of the items I’ll discuss from now on, you have four questions to ask:

  • Did it happen?
  • Exactly where did it happen?
  • What exactly is the problem? Or what just worked really well?
  • What can the author do to fix it, if something needs fixing?

OK, so what is a “hook” and how can it be weak or missing? Whatever you’re writing—fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose—you need to catch and hold your reader’s interest: you need to hook them. And you need to do it early. How early? Well, in a poem it has to happen right away, in the first few lines, since a poem is likely to be brief...

Read More

Another Step

This morning I took another important step on the road to publication: I sent the manuscript off to a proofreader/copy editor. Whew. Little by little, The Eternity Plague is turning into a “real” book, as opposed to a manuscript.

There are still a few loose ends to tie up: either getting permission from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to use the Center’s name in the story, or changing the name to something else; and getting a reading on whether the song lyrics my reporter character, Lisa Lange, quotes from time to time can be considered “fair use” or if I have to get permission to use them too.

If UT-Southwestern says no, that’s an easy fix: global find-and-replace is a wonderful thing. Getting permission for the song lyrics could take longer, if I have to...

Read More

Great Stuff for Writers, April 22, 2013

If you read nothing else this week, read Joel Friedlander’s piece on the destruction of the writing web site Publetariat down in the Technology section. Protecting your blog or web site needs to be high on your priority list because there are slimeballs out there who will destroy web sites just for the pleasure of destroying them. If you have a site, I point you to a resource that will help you keep your site safe.

In addition we have posts on picking titles, getting everything right in a story, ending it well, ebook publishing options and resources, going to writers’ conferences, writer’s courage, and the differences between Microsoft Word formats and why that matters to you.


Kris Montee, one of the sisters who write as PJ Parrish, has plenty of great advic...

Read More

Critique Technique, Part 2: Series Overview

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty details of what to critique and how to do it, I want to give you a high-level overview of what the rest of this series is going to cover. We’ll look at twelve broad categories:

  • Reader response
  • Beginnings and endings
  • Characters and characterization
  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Flashbacks, flash-forwards, and backstory
  • Narrative and dialogue
  • Pace
  • Description
  • General story-telling problems
  • Mechanical errors
  • Positive reinforcement, and
  • Other topics

Whew, that’s a lot! “But wait, there’s more!” Much, much more, as you’ll see in a minute.

Positive reinforcement gets its own section because writers need positive strokes, to hear that something they wrote actua...

Read More

Late to start, late to finish

It’s been a crazy week ’round here and things that should be getting done either aren’t, or are, but late. Like this post.

The good news is that one important task, finishing my last edits, including deleting an entire chapter, got done today. So, all that’ s let to do is write the Acknowledgements and front matter (at least in rough draft form) and the manuscript of The Eternity Plague will be ready to head off to my copy editor. And just in time, as other tasks await.

Meanwhile, in virus news, the latest strain of avian (bird) flu in Asia, an H7N9 strain, is once again killing a large percentage of the people it infects–while infecting very few people...

Read More

Great Stuff for Writers, April 15, 2013

It’s Tax Day in America, which is anything but a holiday, with millions of people frantically trying to do what they could have done any time in the last 10 weeks, but then, who LIKES paying taxes? So this week we have one post on that very subject, plus pieces on blogging, storytelling, characterization, publishing, “tweetables,” and making time for writing. Enjoy!


I know for some people there never seems to be enough time to write, so adding one more writing task seems counterproductive if not impossible. But Dan Blank (@danblank) makes the case for 4 Ways Blogging Will Make You a Better Writer on DIY MFA. He argues that blogging (1) makes you publish, (2) focuses you on writing and getting read, (3) adds new ways to connect to readers, and (4) builds the habit of writing (I’...

Read More

Critique Technique, Part 4: Authorial Intentions and Tracking Your Own Responses

I wrote in the previous article about keeping track of how a piece of writing makes you feel when you’re reviewing it. In this post, I was going to explore identifying why it made you feel that way, but I discovered I should introduce another topic first: “Is that what the author wanted me to feel?” Both questions—that one and “How did this piece make me feel?”—need to be followed by the questions, “Why did the piece make me feel this way?” and “Why did the author want me to feel that way?”

Now, of course, you can’t have perfect knowledge of the author’s intent if you’re not the author  (and sometimes not even when you are) but som...

Read More

Hacking and Cutting

A couple of events conspired recently to turn into an important revelation.

The first event was getting the feedback from my beta readers. One told me a certain chapter stopped her cold and it took her a couple weeks to pick the manuscript up again. Uh-oh! Another told me she struggled through the same chapter. Double uh-oh!

Then, about two weeks ago, as I was reading through a chapter of a novel by a member of my writers’ group, I experienced a similar problem. Half-way through I just had to put it down. Uh-oh again! As I thought about why that was, I realized that while his chapter was well written in many ways, its major flaw was how much backstory it contained.

That’s when the 25 Watt light bulb over my head began to flicker.

My problematic chapter had a similar problem: too much b...

Read More

Great Stuff for Writers, April 8, 2013

Welcome to the first full-week edition of Great Stuff! We’ve got craft pieces on info-dumping, writing sex scenes, and overusing particular words; business pieces on publishing, KDP Select, and book bloggers; floundering through social media; a tech article on how Google Glass might be used to read books in the future—or might not be; and a writing life piece on building good relationships with your readers.


Ah, the dreaded info-dump. If, like me, you’re a current or former professional who also writes, you can fall into the trap of killing the flow of a story by dumping information on the reader. Independent editor Jodie Renner (@JodieRennerEd) provides strategies for providing Info with Attitude that get the key things the reader needs to know across while keeping the action ...

Read More