Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Balance Your Marketing and Your Writing

By Jenny Kate

Here’s the deal. There are 250,000 authors signed up as Draft2Digital authors. Writers upload roughly 50,000 books a month to Amazon. If you want to make a living selling books, you must market your work. There’s no way around it.

Ten years ago, I would have told you 10 minutes a day was plenty of time to spend on your marketing.

Not anymore.

In today’s climate, you’ll more than likely spend as much time marketing as you will writing.

It’s where you focus that marketing time that matters.

Return on investment is not just a buzzword. It’s how you figure out what to spend your time on. If you post away on a Facebook Page and don’t pay to boost any of your content, the likelihood you reach anyone is next to none. That makes the return on your time investment next to nothing.

It’s the nature of modern social media. Organic growth has basically gone the way of the dodo bird. Social platforms have figured out how to make money and they aren’t going back.

If you blog but don’t put time into SEO and quality content, your blog won’t go anywhere.

If you have a newsletter but rarely send out email or just include buy links, that won’t help you.

If you create ads and put them out but you haven’t done the market research to know if it will resonate, it’s wasting time.

So, what should you spend your time on?

Things that work. It’s that simple.

Let’s start with social media.

If you spread yourself too thin, nothing will work. That’s why when people ask me if they should be on every social outlet, I give an emphatic “no.” You need to be on a social platform you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, your followers will feel that and it won’t be fun for anyone.

Pick one. One that you like. Then study how to make it work for you.

TikTok is the hottest thing right now and it’s still the wild west. You hear of people making bank using TikTok. Should you be on it?

Do you want to learn a new platform?

Do you have the time?

If you answered no to either of those, then don’t.

If you answered yes, then go for it.

TikTok has about a year or so left for organic, free growth before they figure out a way to monetize it and it will go like all the others.

But remember, there are two great reasons to be on social media and it’s not selling books. It’s reader groups and email lists. You can build a following that can translate into street teams and superfans.  Those folks will give you their email addresses and that’s where you make bank.

So be very deliberate about which platform you decide to use because it can be a colossal time suck.

Next up is your newsletter.

The reason you want a newsletter is because you own the audience. If you have every email address of every follower you have from your Facebook Page, then you wouldn’t need Facebook. And no one can take that list away from you. Ever.

Email open rates blow social media view rates out of the water, even with a social ad buy. The only social media outlet that allows you to see everything is Twitter. All the others have algorithms that aggregate content based on certain criteria. That means most people won’t see what you post unless you boost it.

Email, however, is shown to everyone who signed up. They told you they want to see your material. The only algorithm you have to beat is the one that calls your email “spam.” Easily avoidable if you don’t sound like a used-car salesman.

Spend time creating quality content and send it out once a week or every other week. That’s it.

Develop your ads skills.

Whether you focus on Facebook or Instagram ads, Bookbub or Amazon, learn what makes a good ad. Just because you like your book cover, doesn’t mean it will resonate with readers.

Ad copy is not prose. It’s marketing and that’s an entirely different skillset to use.

And audiences? Are you sure, absolutely sure, you understand who your reader is? Because if you don’t and you advertise to the wrong audience, your book will not sell. 

What is your ad budget? Is it enough?

Do you know who your comparative authors are? Build that list before you get started.

Think about the platforms. Amazon wants to sell products. That’s its only objective. So if you only have one product (i.e. book) to sell, its algorithms aren’t going to help you out much. Wait until you have at least three or four books before trying to navigate the Amazon behemoth.

Facebook or Bookbub ads work better for authors with fewer books. I like BookBub’s platform because it’s super simple. Facebook is a little harder but not as hard as Amazon.

Final thoughts.

Before you even think about ads or any other marketing, ask yourself if you even have product to sell. Are you books finished?

Do not replace your writing time with marketing time if you have no products to sell. I would have told you differently years ago, but not now.

The market is too much like a three-ring circus for you to make a dent without a product. Concentrate on writing the best book you can. Then take the time to learn the marketing.

And make that marketing a priority part of your day. The more you plan out your content or ads, the less time you’ll have to spend in maintenance. That’s how you balance between writing and marketing.


Jenny Kate

Jenny Kate is the author of “Social Media for Authors: Marketing for Writers Who’d Rather Write” and “Ads for Authors: Advertising Basics for Writers Who’s Rather Write.” Her most recent book, “Instagram for Authors: A Quick Primer for Busy Writers” published April 8, 2022. Find her at www.thewriternation.com

Metaphorical Thrills

By: Deborah Brewer

What’s not to love about metaphor? Our language would be impoverished without its contribution to our poems, jokes, stories, and rhetoric. Metaphors enlighten us about one thing by relating it to something else. This connection flashes through our brains like an epiphany, one of the best feelings in the world. In his book, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor, James Geary jests that “metamorphine” is a habit we all get into as children. We love to chase life’s ah-ha moments, those thrills of discovery—the satisfaction of our innate curiosity.

Writing with metaphors is fun, and adds so much to our work, but working with them can be tricky. Before we discuss how to write metaphors well, let’s review their definitions.

What’s in a Metaphor?

In the “The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) pp.653,” is found the following reference:

METAPHOR … (1) All figures of speech that achieve their effect through association, comparison, and resemblance. Figures like antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy, simile are all species of metaphor.

In case, like me, you’ve half-forgotten, here are some short definitions:

  • Antithesis is the comparison of opposites.
  • Hyperbole makes an obvious exaggeration. 
  • Metonymy is name-calling or name substitution.
  • Similes are explicit (explained) comparisons.
  • Metaphors are implicit (implied) comparisons.

All of these are useful for adding interest to stories. Try adding hyperbole to humor, and metonymy to romance and fight scenes. You might use similes and metaphors when your characters unite, but antithesis when they go their separate ways.

Characters and Setting

When crafting a metaphor for your fiction work, consider the characters and setting in your story. Use an image consistent with that context, whether the setting is 1920’s America, or the narrative voice is that of a child. Keep in mind, that a good metaphor, like a good joke, requires some commonly understood background or a little setup for success.

It’s good when an effective metaphor aids in understanding, but it can also be destructive when deployed as a negative stereotype, or meaningless when it has degraded into an outworn cliché. Restraint is recommended when weaving a single metaphor throughout a work. Repeat it one too many times and it will lose its impact like a boring old joke. Outdated, overused, mixed, and bad metaphors are all well avoided.

The Old Cliché

These historical metaphors are so outdated they’ve lost their cultural context:

Stan sold goldbricks and well-watered cattle. The other landscapers hated him for it.

Do Stan’s competitors hate him because they are envious of his lucrative business model? No. A goldbrick is a counterfeit gold bar and watered cattle are those that have been watered ahead of an auction to tip the scale, and sales price, higher. Stan’s competitors hate him for being a crooked businessman, but owing to these outdated terms, modern readers might not understand.

A frozen metaphor has completely lost its original meaning and taken on a new one, while a dead metaphor has become so ubiquitous it no longer brings an image to mind. Here are examples of both:

            The time before the author’s deadline was running out.

The word “deadline” is a frozen metaphor. It was first used during the American Civil War. A line was drawn around a prison. If prisoners dared to cross it, they were shot dead. Now it means “due date.”

The metaphor of “time running out” is dead. It refers to the sand in an hourglass. Modern readers know what it means for “time to run out”, but the image of an hourglass won’t likely come to mind.

Here is a metaphor first without, and then with, some background to give it clarity:

She was like a daisy with the paparazzi.

She was a daisy, heliotropic, turning her eager face toward the light of the paparazzi sun.

This is a mixed metaphor full of clichés:

When the opposing team closed in on him, Marty lost it. Claws out and teeth bared, he was a cat’s-eye marble short of a bag, playing hard-ball for all he was worth.

When baseball’s the game, the cat’s out of the bag, the marbles are lost, and for all Marty was worth, he was still a few pennies short of nickel, the image of Marty resisting attack is not made any clearer.

Troubleshoot Your Metaphors

If we think of a metaphor as a meaning machine, how do we troubleshoot a broken one? In Geary’s, I Is an Other we find a hint in the example of Carl Jung. When a patient used a phrase such as “a ticking time bomb,” Jung would follow up with questions.

A writer might ask whether there is more to learn about the nature of this bomb. What happened in the moments before the bomb was set? What happens when the bomb explodes? Is there a way to defuse it? There is no need to include every little thing about the bomb in a story, but if the metaphor isn’t first clear in the author’s mind, neither will it be clear in the mind of a reader.

A metaphor comes in two main parts; the target and the source. These are connected by a verb, which is usually “to be.”

A bad, or “broken,” metaphor is, more likely than not, suffering from an identity crisis. The true identity of the metaphor’s target is for the author, still unknown. Thus, the first question to ask would be, who or what is the bomb? Who or what exactly is about to explode?

Consider this example:

She was a ticking time bomb, incessantly nagging until her husband blew up.

Who is the bomb? It can’t be both she and her husband.

The fix:

She was a ticking time bomb, incessantly nagging until she blew up. Her husband was on constant alert for the fallout.

A couple of years ago I read several books on metaphor and set a goal of writing 50 for practice. Here are two that struck literary notes:

She was a fancy font—so ornate and complicated, she was hard to read.

She met him at the library but decided not to take him home. He had a great cover, but his pages were all glued shut.

I encourage you to experiment with metaphors. While the little thrills of epiphany are alone worth the effort, it may also improve your writing skills. You might even discover a silken thread to tie one of your stories together.

Further Reading:

While there are many books about metaphor available, listed below are a few I’ve personally enjoyed.

I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World by James Geary, 2012. An exploration of how metaphor touches every aspect of our lives. Find “metamorphine,” on page 151; Carl Jung on page 215. Borrow it from a library.

I Never Met a Metaphor I Didn’t Like by Dr. Mardy Grothe, 2008. A collection of metaphors from an author who has made collecting quotes a lifelong hobby.

Dream, the PPW 2022 anthology. The short story “Dream Crush” by Cepa Onion, and flash fiction stories, “Sleepstone” by John Lewis, and “Blanket of Joy” by Uchechi Princewill, all employ memorable metaphorical language.


Deborah Brewer

Deborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology,  Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.

Building Believable Characters, Part 3

Craft a Convincing Villain

By: Donna Schlachter

So far we’ve talked about the importance of building believable characters and why that’s so critical to the foundation for any story. Last month, strong secondary characters were discussed, and we learned that not only do these secondary characters support—or oppose—our main characters, they also assist them—or deter them—along their journey of emotional, physical, and spiritual growth.

This month, we’ll talk a little about villains. The bad guys. Sometimes called the antagonist. These are the characters who have the most to lose if the main character accomplishes his/her goal. Or, said another way, they have the most to win if the main character fails.

We’ve all watched movies and read books where we hate the villain, where we cheer for his/her demise and leave feeling very satisfied and smug when they do lose. If they do, that is. Somehow justice seems to have been served, and when that’s the basis of the story, it’s the ending we want.

Then there are those stories and movies where we want to cheer for the character that we know is bad, has bad intentions, and makes bad choices because maybe—just maybe—there’s a little bit of a redeeming hope within them. We don’t really want them to change, but simply knowing perhaps they could is enough.

To craft believable villains, we must keep these things in mind:

  • Nobody is all bad. Not even the worst villain you can think of. Just as nobody is all good, even bad guys have a mother they love, a dog they’d never kick, and a flicker of empathy occasionally.
  • Bad guys don’t see that what they do is bad. It’s simply the way they view the world. Most are narcissists who believe they deserve to have whatever they want because they want it. Some are sociopaths, with little to no empathy for others, so they don’t understand that their actions are harming other people. In fact, most villains believe that their choices will make their world a better place.
  • All villains have a story, a backstory, if you will, that explains their current actions. Figure that out, and you can find all sorts of ways to endear your villain to your reader. For example, if you decide your villain was sexually abused as a child, you can see why he progresses from pulling wings off flies to killing kittens to physical and sexual abuse of other characters. Perhaps your villain was abandoned as a child. Had a domineering woman. Read resource books about mental illness and personality disorders and come up with a unique combination of backstory and how your villain tries to diminish his pain.

As you develop your villain, you must make sure that his/her strengths equal but don’t exceed your main character’s. In this way, overcoming the villain is a difficult struggle for your main character, but it can be accomplished when your main character grows in their story arc, but not before that point.

Just as with your main character, reveal your villain’s backstory a little at a time. Your goal isn’t for your reader to like your villain—but to understand why they are they way they are.


Donna Schlachter

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both.

www.DonnaSchlachter.com Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!

www.DonnaSchlachter.com/blog

 

Waxing Poetic

By: Deborah Brewer

What writer doesn’t want to improve their prose? Let me recommend dabbling in poetry to do just that. Reading, studying, and practicing verse have improved my fiction writing experience in several ways, improving my mood, my vocabulary, and my emotional expression. You might try it too.

Use Poetry to Ease the Blank Page Syndrome

Writers are often intimidated by the emptiness of a blank page. Poetry eases my blank page dread and replaces it with enthusiasm. Writing a very short piece that no one else may ever see removes the pressure from performance. I can revel in my imagination and create something that never existed before without imaginary critics looking over my shoulders. I don’t need to write melancholy verses to enjoy poetry’s benefits either, I can write silly poems that lift my mood. This mindset of joy and confidence stays with me as I write my fiction, helping me overcome procrastination and feelings of inadequacy. If this were the only benefit of writing poetry, it would be reason enough.

Break Out of Your Vocabulary Rut

Writing poetry also breaks me out of vocabulary ruts. Poetry requires rich, concentrated meaning from a very few words. Once I’ve exhausted my memory for poetry words, I call on my second favorite “dinosaur,” the thesaurus, for help. I might also research my poem’s subject online to refresh my memory of descriptive words or enter “Words that rhyme with…” into my online search engine. It’s common for people to comprehend more words than they regularly use in writing and speech. Searching for the perfect word, rhyming, alliterative, or otherwise, is a great way to limber and strengthen working vocabulary.

Find the Emotion in Your Writing

Emotion is at the core of poetry, as it is at the core of fiction. Poetry puts me in touch with my feelings. A poem is more than the mere sum of its words. Word placement, rhythm, and allusions all contribute to the emotion of a poem. While I do want to put more emotion in my fiction, I often don’t because emotions are scary. Writing poems helps me shed this reticence. It provides me with a safe place to play with my feelings and learn how to control their expression.

Now if perhaps, you’re wondering;
In my loneliest girlhood dreams,
Though other creatures joy did bring,
The brontosaurus reigned supreme!

Even writing terrible poems makes for great writing practice. For me, attempting a highly structured poem form, like a sonnet, haiku, or a quatrain, is a more entertaining brain exercise than working sudoku or crossword puzzles. You, too, might enjoy the puzzle aspect of highly structured poems.

Poetic Form – A Closer Look

There are so many variations of poetic form—ancient, classic, and contemporary—that you are sure to find one or two that suit you. Sonnets are grand. Haiku poems are meditative. Limericks are good fun. Odes of praise are usually serious, but can also be silly or satirical. Even highly structured poem forms are often written with irregularities, and you are certainly free to create a form of your own.

To a Button Lost

Oh, button iridescent,
Sweetest pearl of milky white,
Freed from m’ lady’s “precious” sweater

In the middle of the night.
Our dalliance was jolly
As we frisked about the house,
Until you hid between the floorboards
Like a timid little mouse.

Your snub has left me sullen;
My lady is fuming sore.
You have departed, dearest button,
Lost to me forevermore.

To improve my poetic capacity, I did a personal study of haiku poetry in late 2019. I remembered enjoying haiku in grade school and thought I might recapture some of that feeling. I read about the history of the form and its masters. I explored haiku organizations and publications online. I read lots of haiku. Finally, I wrote 50 haiku poems myself.

What is haiku? It’s a very short, poetic form adapted from Japan in the late 1800s, in which two images from nature are juxtaposed to invite feelings of quiet awe and inspiration.

During my studies, I chose some guidelines for my poems that would satisfy most haiku enthusiasts:

  • A seasonal reference (snow, flowers, fruit, falling leaves)
  • A focus on nature
  • Two concrete images with a change to a new image at the 1/3 or 2/3 mark.
  • A story or feeling is created by the marriage of the two images
  • Evokes a sense of quiet, awe, and/or the sublime
  • Uses sentence fragments
  • No rhymes or alliteration
  • No titles
  • A lower-case letter at the beginning of each line
  • The classic, English language grade-school structure—three lines and 5/7/5 syllables—or not

Below is a selection of winter haiku. The first poem changes images after the first line. The second poem changes images after the second line. The third poem eschews the classic syllable count.

a walk with my love
cottontails luxuriate
in winter’s soft light

owls hoot together
on a snowy moonlit night
dogs whimper and bark

tall pines
snowflakes fall
like petals

Freeform Poetry – Laugh at Yourself

When I can’t come up with haiku or don’t want to, I write whatever poems come to mind. One day, reflecting on an experience at a Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I wrote this short poem to capture a memory.

My smile full spent,
I retreat
to scones and tea

But a year into my poetry practice, I found this new poem to be more emotionally open.

Four hundred voices
Eight million eyes—
Refuge in a toilet stall

Perhaps you too have felt that way at a conference.

I’m not a published poet, nor do I aspire to be, but I enjoy and benefit from writing poems all the same. My own poems are included in this blog so you can see the very amateur level of my work and know that you too can write such mood-enhancing poems. If you need a use for your poems, consider writing them inside greeting cards, on bookmarks, or collecting them in a journal. Write poems about subjects you love.

I heartily recommend both the study and practice of poetry. Read some books, take a class, maybe attend a poetry reading. Then set a goal to write some poems of your own. (I usually write a full draft of a poem on the first day, and fiddle with it a few days more.) The practice may not make you into a poet laureate, but your prose will surely wax poetic.

A writer thought writing appealing,
But mostly, she stared at the ceiling.
To enliven her tomes,
She wrote flirty poems;
And now, writes with passionate feeling.

 

For further reading:

Write Like Issa: A Haiku How-To by David G. Lanoue (2017). An English professor and former president of the Haiku Society of America gives insight into the creative process of a haiku master.

Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns (2013). This broad anthology includes poems both ancient and modern, an introduction by poet laureate Billy Collins, and a historical overview by Jim Kacian, the founder of the Haiku Foundation and Red Moon Press.

The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes (2001). Mayes, also the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, writes that “…almost everyone can learn to write good poems.” I hope that means me.


Deborah Brewer

Deborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology,  Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.

Writers Conferences—What’s The Difference?

By: Margena Holmes

No matter what stage of writing you’re at, going to a writers’ conference can be fun and informative. I have a few conferences under my belt now, and no matter where it’s held, there is always something new presented to the attendees.

The topics presented are as different as the conference itself. Some will focus on just craft, some on marketing, some on building your readership, and everything in between. There are some for Romance writers, Mystery writers, or any writer in general. You don’t have to be a published author to attend a writers’ conference. There are many first-timers who haven’t published anything, to those with multiple books released.

Meals and Hanging Out

How each conference is run varies as much as the conference topics themselves. I know some, like Pikes Peak Writers Conference, budget for meals for all the conferees. That makes it nice as we can sit with people we know or find a whole new group of people. I also love how there is a “host” for each table, usually one of the presenters. Having meals this way makes it easy for us introverts to find a place to sit and get to know other writers more one-on-one. If you get a really fun table host, you’ll laugh your way through lunch or dinner, and get a lot of information not covered in the presentations.

Other conferences* may have lunch and dinner “on your own,” meaning you can go eat anywhere your heart desires. Doing it this way, there were times that I ate alone, as I hadn’t met anyone to hang out with, but another time I found a group of ladies who wrote in the same genre as I did and we went to lunch together and tossed around ideas. We also exchanged emails to contact each other after the conference.

Some conferences will have a formal Mixer, where you can go and mingle with other writers, and there may be a short presentation before dinner is served. Others will have an informal “Bar Con” at the end of the day where you can go if you want and not miss anything if you decline. 

Making It Fun

One writer’s conference does very informal Cosplay themes for each day, where you can dress up in costume. There is also a contest to get your picture taken with the organizer’s father.

Another fun game is getting words or phrases from the staff and writing a short story using those words or phrases. The winner is announced at the end of the conference and the story is read aloud. There have been some pretty entertaining stories!

Advantages and Disadvantages

The past couple of years with Covid have made going to conferences a little harder. Last year PPWC was held online via Zoom, and it was easy to pick the classes to attend via Schedule. The advantage of doing a conference this way is that you don’t have to travel, thus saving money, and also no lines for the restrooms between classes!

Another advantage of attending a conference online is that you may get a recording of the presentation after the conference is over. In case you missed something or had to step away from your computer, you can go back and rewatch the segment. This also helps if there are two presentations at the same time you want to see; you can go back and watch the other one later.

A disadvantage of doing the conference online is there may be more distractions at home than at the conference (though having the replay helps with this). Also, you may think, “Oh, I’ll watch it on this day,” but the day comes and other things take precedence and before you know it, two months have gone by and you haven’t watched the recording. One way around that is to put it on your schedule and don’t commit to anything else at that time (this is where having a planner comes in handy). Treat it like any other appointment that you wouldn’t skip. Your writing is worth it!

There are so many different conferences and many different ways to attend, there’s bound to be one you can sign up for. I hope to see you all at the end of April at PPWC2022! Happy writing!


Margena HolmesMargena Adams Holmes has been writing ever since she can remember, writing her first poem in 1st grade. At her day job, when she’s not kicking young kids out of R-rated movies, she’s sweeping up spilled popcorn from the hallways and aisles (she’s not your mother, though, so please take your trash out). Her days off consist of writing science fiction, short stories, and more movie theater shenanigans. Reading is a close second to writing, and she normally has her nose buried in a book. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.


 

*There are many conferences which are held throughout the year. PPWC2022 is only one of many. Below are links to other conferences you might be interested in.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
Quills Conference
Writers’ Workshop Tour (NEW!)
Romance Writers of America
Tucson Festival of Books
Left Coast Crime

Conference Benefits

By: Catherine Dilts

When I began my writing journey, I listened closely to advice. One universal bit of guidance was to attend writers’ conferences. The Pikes Peak Writers Conference didn’t exist when I became serious about writing fiction. I didn’t have a clue about conferences, or their benefits.

Three Bits of Universal Writing Advice:

  1. Attend a writing conference
  2. Join (or create) a critique group
  3. Write

I began #3 with consistency when I took a creative writing course at UCCS. I learned about goals and deadlines in class. The instructor suggested students form critique groups when class ended. A few of us did, and I ticked off #2 from the advice list. One member became a lifelong friend. That group faded, but I learned the value of exchanging writing evaluations with other serious writers.

After that class, I felt adrift. I craved more professional guidance. A local chapter of Romance Writers of America was the only game in town. Many folks who didn’t write romance joined. It was a lively group of serious published and aspiring authors. The learning experience was valuable, even though it wasn’t my genre.

PPWC2022 logoThen the Pikes Peak Writers Conference began in 1993. I’m foggy on precisely which year was my first, but I was definitely there in 1995. I placed second in the writing contest. I was fortunate that one of the best conferences in the nation took place in my backyard. When I attended my first conference, it knocked my socks off. And checked #1 off the advice list.

I had not yet begun my professional career, and money was tight. The scholarship was a blessing. The welcoming atmosphere helped me believe I belonged. I hung out with my critique group. We fancied ourselves up-and-coming authors. We pursued agents and editors with our amazing stories. It was emotionally awesome.

I was certain I was on my way. I eagerly drank from the firehose of information, wisdom, and encouragement. Over twenty-five years ago, my world was small. The PPW Conference kicked in doors and opened windows I hadn’t even known existed.

Three Benefits of Attending a Conference:

  1. Education
  2. Encouragement
  3. Networking with professionals

Seventeen years later, I finally achieved my goal. I became a published author. I now have nine traditionally published novels, and a dozen published short stories. There are many reasons it took me that long to “arrive.” (Among them are the long stories behind my multiple name changes.) But the fact that I arrived at all, even after that length of time, owes a lot to my early dedication to PPWC.

If you have never attended a writers’ conference, I encourage you to consider PPWC. I wish for you the excitement I felt. Believing that all things are possible. Finding acceptance no matter where you are in your writing development. To make connections with people who understand your brand of crazy. To learn more than you ever thought possible.

Best Things I Got from Conferences:

  1. Friends – Julie was standing in the hallway at her first PPWC. My critique partner Joyce suggested we talk to her. So we did. Later Beth and Sharon attended PPWC with us. And we’ve all been friends ever since.
  2. Finding my tribe – realizing I belonged as a writer.
  3. Professionalism – learning to treat writing as a career, not a hobby.

At your first conference, you might feel like you’re drinking from a firehose. Some things may not apply to your journey. Others may not make sense the first time around. But I’m guessing you’ll feel the same exhilaration combined with exhaustion that I did. Conference might be the spark that gets you going, or keeps you going, to eventual publication.

My journey had a lot of detours and dead ends. I finally arrived, and I owe much of my determination to those early conferences. PPWC was a life-changing experience for me.


Catherine Dilts headshotCATHERINE DILTS prefers writing cozy mysteries and short stories surrounded by flowers on her sunny deck, but any day – and anywhere – spent writing is a good day. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, and the stand-alone Survive Or Die with Encircle Publications, Catherine also writes for Annie’s Publishing, contributing three books for the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library and two for the new Annie’s Museum of Mysteries series. Her short story HazMat Holiday appears in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine January/February 2022 issue. Visit her website here.

Building Believable Characters Part 2:

Strong Secondary Characters

Last month we looked at why it’s important to create believable characters for our stories. You can check that out here if you missed it. Hopefully, you’ve had the opportunity to practice some of the pointers I mentioned in that article.

This month we’ll look at Strong Secondary Characters: why we need them; why they make a difference; and how to create then write them.

Put Away the Cookie Cutter

Just as with your main characters—usually, a hero and a heroine, perhaps an antagonist/villain and/or a protagonist/mentor—readers don’t want cookie-cutter characters. They want to say, “oh, yeah, I know somebody a lot like that” without really knowing one single person. As with our main characters, secondary characters should be a conglomeration of types who remain true to themselves.

Secondary characters should have some relationship to the main character(s). They don’t have to have a connection to both leads, but at least one. Otherwise, they aren’t a secondary character. They could be a walk-on, or a tertiary character, somebody you need in the story to check out groceries or teach a class or perform an operation—but these will be characters with minimal description.

A good secondary character impacts on the main character’s story arc, helps them through it, or prevents them from getting to their goal. They are involved in the life of your main character in some way, getting together, speaking, and sharing memories. The main story plot belongs to the lead, but a secondary character could be the subject of a subplot.

While the secondary character has a backstory, it usually isn’t as important to the plot and story arc as the main character’s is. However, you should know their backstory, even if it never appears on the page, because that’s what defines their reactions and inner turmoil. However, to justify their actions, a little insight into their history can be helpful.

Make sure you create your secondary character with more than one personality trait, just as you would your main character. In truth, a secondary character is simply not the one the story is about—that’s your main character. But as in real life, we all need somebody to bounce ideas off of, to love, to hate, to spend time with.

A great secondary character isn’t a “yes” man to the main character. They can tell the story from their point of view at times, but the main character should hold the majority of the scenes. Limit the number of secondary characters so the reader doesn’t get confused, and make sure their names and characteristics are distinct from others in the story. If you find you need another secondary character, consider combining roles. For example, if you need a firefighter and a next door neighbor, make them the same person.

Secondary characters can be good, evil, or somewhere in between. Just as with creating main characters, nobody is all one way or the other. When thinking about secondary characters, look for at least one contrasting characteristic. For example, if he is loyal to the lead, show one way he is shallow or cowardly.

If you’re concerned the reader may get confused about who is who, you can limit a secondary character to one location. Perhaps she works with the lead, and they don’t socialize, so all their interaction is at the workplace. Maybe he lives next door to the lead, so they meet in their neighborhood. Or the secondary character could be a professional in the lead’s life, such as a doctor, lawyer, or librarian.

Crafting secondary characters might take up word count that’s not available, so one way to overcome that problem is to use tropes. Put a fresh spin on their character so readers will want to invest in them.

There are several kinds of secondary characters:

  • Dynamic – they change a lot throughout the story – but don’t let them change more than the lead
  • Static – they change little but have a substantial role throughout the story – readers will know how they will react
  • Round – they reveal your main character’s true colors, sometimes presenting obstacles, but they grow alongside the lead.
  • Flat – they have one unchanging trait throughout the entire story

In conclusion, like every element in our stories, secondary characters must serve a purpose. Use this checklist to make certain you have exactly the right number of supporting characters, and that they are in the scenes they need be in, and no more:

  • Does the character advance the plot in ways the lead cannot?
  • Are they creating conflict that keeps the lead from achieving their goals?
  • Are they revealing your lead’s characterization?
  • Does their presence deepen the discussion of a theme?
  • Are they motivating the lead?
  • Does their presence reveal elements about the story or lead?

Next month we’ll discuss how to craft convincing villains.

Resources:

https://www.well-storied.com/blog/how-to-craft-spectacular-secondary-characters

https://nybookeditors.com/2016/02/your-guide-to-creating-secondary-characters/

https://www.writerscookbook.com/secondary-characters/

 


Donna Schlachter

A hybrid author, Donna Schlachter writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published 50+ times in books under her name and that of her alter ego, Leeann Betts; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both.

She lives in Denver with her husband and two cats, finding mysteries wherever she travels. You can find her books on Amazon under both her name and that of her former pen name, Leeann Betts. Follow Donna on her websiteblogGoodreadsBookbubTwitter, and Facebook.

 

Building Reader Loyalty

By: Kim Krisco

Like most writers, I have honed my writing skills by reading countless books, attending workshops, and joining writer’s groups – all with one goal: to get published. Then it happened, a London publisher accepted one of my novels. It wasn’t long after I popped a celebratory champagne cork that I recognized that I now had a different goal – one I should have had from the start . . . writing stories that keep readers coming back for more. These two goals are similar, differing primarily regarding where to put your emphasis and attention as you write.

Three Attributes to Garner Reader Loyalty

I hoped that there was one book or workshop that addressed reader loyalty. And while I found that many offerings touched on reader loyalty, no single article, book, or workshop focused on this topic. However, pieced together some of the best advice and condensed it to three attributes that garner reader loyalty:

  • Enriching subplots,
  • characters that readers relate to and
  • employing highly relevant themes.

As we explore these you will likely discover that you currently employ some or all of these in your stories. Congratulations! Now . . . if you can infuse your stories with all three attributes consciously and intentionally, your storytelling will become even more masterful.

Enriching Subplots

A subplot is a side story that runs parallel to the main plot, and it often involves a secondary character who plays a minor role in the main story. Subplots not only add richness and nuance to your tale but become a device for sharing background about your main protagonist that might otherwise come off as clumsy and contrived if you did it within the main story. In the Harry Potter anthology, a ripe example is Harry’s aunt and uncle, who believe Harry’s powers are evil. They enrich the “good versus evil” battle that is the central theme and reveal important character traits in Harry that come into play later in the story.

My primary protagonist, Tessa Wiggins, has reoccurring subplots that follow her through my novels: crushing guilt for having abandoned her little sister in an orphan asylum, an on-again/off-again love affair with Clark Button, and an ever-present belief she is ‘never good enough.’ Each story also introduces a new, unique subplot. For example, in The Magnificent Madness of Tessa Wiggins, she struggles to find ways to repay the kindness of her childhood friend Sherlock Holmes. Of course, even the best subplot won’t be enough if you don’t have a protagonist that readers learn to love.

Characters With Which Readers Identify

One of the reasons we follow a particular author is that we become invested in one specific character – usually the primary protagonist. Think Mildred Wirt Benson’s Nancy Drew, or Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (the most popular fictional character of all time). People tend to follow characters rather than authors, so how do you write characters that readers will invest in?

The formula, while logical, is multifaceted. People identify with characters who are likeable, are in jeopardy, flawed, vulnerable, courageous, and (here’s a big one) get in touch with their own power. The first five attributes are familiar, but the last is often glossed over or simply chalked up to “agency.” But characters who are or get in touch with their own power is more significant.

To oversimply, the act of claiming personal power requires overcoming character defects such as crippling low self-esteem, overpowering ego, crushing fear(s), etc. While readers do not necessarily possess these character defects in the extreme, everyone is familiar with them to some degree because it shows up in negative self-talk. This internal battle within your protagonist is, in some ways, the actual conflict that takes place within a story. The proof that your hero has won this battle comes in the climax when they risk it all to achieve the goal motivating their actions from the start.

All these characteristics come together for me in my protagonist Tessa Wiggins, a turn of the twentieth-century Irish lass who grew up in the impoverished, crime-ridden borough of Spitalfields in London’s East Side. With that beginning, it is easy for me to create sympathy for Tessa, who struggles against all odds to become a hero with which everyone can identify.

The final attribute needed to gain reader loyalty, if mentioned at all, is usually done as an aside; but I believe it may be most important.

Highly Relevant Themes

Great authors had great themes that resonated with the times they wrote. Charles Dickens’ themes were the misery of the proletarian classes and the exploitation of child labor coming into the public’s consciousness during the industrial revolution. Jane Austen’s works revolved around the theme of self-improvement through courageous self-examination and education. Her novels were written when women were beginning to stand up to the patriarchy that had been smothering them for centuries.

Let me propose that relevant and timely themes woven within the core story are one of the primary things that engages and maintains loyal readers. Like the ones noted above, the themes were relevant in their time, but may or may not resonate with today’s readers. My chosen themes are gender equality (particularly women’s rights) and environmental sustainability. I hope we can agree that these are relevant today.

The wonderful thing is that consciously and intentionally employing relevant themes help shape your story in new and surprising ways. For example, my commitment to building my stories around women’s rights and environmental sustainability led me to research Celtic history because the Celts enjoyed a harmony between the roles and rights or men and women that is not based upon the superiority of one sex over another. In the world of the Celts, women were warriors, poets, and even Druids — the latter being more powerful than any monarch. While I might have written stories set in the time of the Celts, it was more impactful to bring the Celtic ethics and beliefs into a more modern era to draw a sharper contrast. I picked the post-WWI period because women’s suffrage was taking root then.

My last three novels: Irregular Lives, The Celtic Phoenix, and The Magnificent Madness of Tessa Wiggins, roll out chronologically as Tessa grows from a London street urchin into a powerful Celtic woman and Druid priestess. Within these three stories, readers are introduced to the Celtic ethos, and through magical realism, readers meet a diverse cadre of formidable women. Not all of them are good or perfect, but all are powerful in their own way. I hope that the next century will be one in which men and women no longer need to indulge in an unwholesome gender rivalry that has undermined all of us for centuries.

In conclusion, nothing offered here is meant to discount the importance of a great story or well-crafted prose, but rather point toward the kind of fiction that keeps readers coming back for more: enriching subplots, characters that readers relate to, and highly relevant themes. Keeping all those literary balls in the air is what makes writing so challenging and rewarding.


Kim Krisco

Kim Krisco is the author of four novels: Sherlock Holmes—The Golden YearsIrregular Lives: The Untold Story of Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, and The Celtic Phoenix— published by MX Publishing in London.  His latest release, The Magnificent Madness of Tessa Wiggins, features a formidable 1920’s Irish lass from the London slums who strives to become a Druid priestess.

Prior to writing full-time, Kim served as a consultant, trainer, and coach for business and non-profit organizations and their leaders.  You can find out more about Kim and his books on his website.

He and his wife, Sararose Ferguson, live in the Rocky Mountains in tiny homes that they built themselves on the North Fork of the Purgatory River.  Kim likes to say that “living on the Purgatory River may not be heaven, but it’s a writer’s paradise.”

Off the Grid

Disconnecting to Stay Motivated & Ward off Procrastination

By: Jenny Kate

Did you know, Americans spend an average of 6.5 hours a day on the internet. Pew Research found that most of us spend almost a full day on the internet a week. That’s nuts!

Does the internet help you procrastinate? Does it distract you from writing? Do you ever get sick of being online?

For me, yes to all of the above.

Going to Costa Rica

A year ago, we had to cancel plans to Costa Rica because of COVID. This year, we finally went. And I’ve been thinking about the positive effects of being off the grid. Especially for writers.

I was off the grid, completely, for ten days. No phone. No tablet. No internet. In those ten days, I read five paper books. I slept. I meditated. I swam, surfed and hiked. I ate good food. Took some Spanish lessons on the beach. I wrote by hand.

But I was in Costa Rica.

Get off the Grid!

Back in the day, that would have mattered because we really were unreachable. These days, we’re completely reachable no matter where we are. I had to deliberately put myself off the grid.

So, could I do this at home?

We live our lives online. My day job is spent on the computer. And because I’m in marketing and communications, it’s also spent on social media and news sites. The other day, I was in two meetings – at the same time. One on Zoom and one on Microsoft Teams AND I was answering emails and watching my phone in case a text came in.

How ridiculous is that? Am I supposed to write after that? Um, no. After that, all I want is a stiff drink and some mindless television.

But I don’t have that kind of day on the weekend or holidays. So could I go off the grid in some sense, and rejuvenate without having to fly across the planet to do it?

An Experiment

A little experiment told me yes. But it’s not off the grid in the way living in the Alaskan bush is off the grid. It’s more like deliberate breaks from my devices.

My experiment lasted three weeks. Here’s what I did:

  • Logged off the internet by 5:30 every day during the week.
  • Left my phone to charge downstairs (not by my bed). Every night.
  • Left my tablet downstairs and read paper books instead of watching TV before I went to bed. Every night.
  • Turned off all notifications on my phone after 5:30pm and all weekend. (I did have an exception for my daughter and my husband. They have their own ringtones for calls and texts).
  • Wrote by hand on a yellow notepad. Then transferred that to my Atticus program during the week.
  • Continued my daily walk habit (this has been a gamechanger for me the past two years).

The Results

I felt less overwhelmed and less anxious. And way more productive in my writing over the weekend than I have in quite some time.

Will this work for you?

Maybe not this exact scenario, but think about your life and where you can experiment with being off the grid. Maybe it’s an internet blocker while you’re writing? Apps like Freedom, Cold Turkey, or AntiSocial are good ones to block internet distractions and let you focus on writing. Business Insider found Fortune 500 company execs were way more productive when they used these types of apps.

How about taking all social off your tablet and use it only to read your Kindle books? Leave the social for your phone and designate a time to scroll. Then stick with it.

Or put a reminder on your phone to get up and walk around every hour?

One of the reasons I think it was so easy in Costa Rica was because there was a lot to do other than being on my phone.

So what can you do that is motivating and fun offline?

Well, one thing is write. We’re writers. That’s what we do. The minute you feel the itch, ask yourself is there something you could be doing to advance your story instead? Create a story bible. Do a character sketch. Draw a map of your setting. Create a family tree. None of these have to be done online.

Another thing is live your life. It’s a little hard to write about life if we really aren’t living it anywhere but on a 4×5-inch computer in our hands. Become a tourist in your hometown. Visit museums, parks, other attractions you’ve saved for “one day” and haven’t gotten around to. Take up tennis or hiking or sailing. Whatever. Find a weird, fun, quirky habit you enjoy. My daughter paints. I cook. We both like to make soap.

Whatever you decide, let it feed your soul and keep you motivated.


Jenny Kate

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram

  

 

Could A Scene List Help You Write Better?

By: Kim Olgren

Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, you need to know about scene lists. This is a tool that can change your life as a writer. Pantsers don’t run away. I promise I’m not trying to convert you I’m trying to help you. Don’t be afraid of the big, bad spreadsheet program.

What Is a Scene List?

A scene list can be as simple or as thorough as you want it to be. As a pantser, you might just make a simple list of scenes in a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Docs just for quick reference as to where something happened. Especially if you’re writing in a program like Word where you looking at one, large, running document. I mean, scrolling through a 100k Word document to see where you first hinted at that smoking gun has to be one of the most tedious and unnecessary actions one can be bored to tears doing. On the flip side, plotters, you’re probably already thinking about tracking all those pesky little details floating around outside of your beautiful outline.

What Can a Scene List Do for You?

Your scene list can be so useful that it can assist you from the maze of the (gasp) outline and first draft, all the way through the bog of revisions, bypassing the junk fields altogether, and right up to publishing castle. A scene list can help with everything from character traits to timelines.

Here’s the hand-written scene list from Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22.

Looks complicated? It’s not. Remember all these squares were filled in over a long period of time. As writers we all know this stuff takes time and odds are it’s not going to look the same as when you first started. However, a scene list can help keep you on track. Especially when you’re wandering around in the purgatory of the soggy middle. Your scene list can put you back on track and moving forward.

Finally, you’re down to the nitty-gritty. It’s time for editing. But wait! You know there’s some missing scenes and some that need to be sent to the abyss. But which ones? Never fear! Your handy scene list is here! Need to drop that meaningful backstory comment that foreshadows why Jane is so afraid to let anyone get close? Browse your scene list. You know you have to pull that scene where that one thing happens that, as it turns out, is totally irrelevant to the story? Browse your scene list. You can highlight what you want to keep or toss in different colors, or highlight POV so you can track how much page-time your characters are getting. The possibilities are endless.

Get the most from your scene list

Here’s some information you might want to include to get the most out of your scene list (you can do more or less, or do it completely differently, it’s all up to you):

  • Scene number
  • Chapter the scene is found in
  • Estimated word count
  • Actual word count
  • A short scene summary
  • POV
  • Other characters involved
  • The scene’s structure
  • Date the scene takes place within the story
  • The setting in which the scene takes place

You can use a spreadsheet, some kind of outline form in a word processing program, the cork board in Scrivener, sticky notes on a wall or in a folder, graphing paper, or some other helpful writing tool you prefer. Your scene list can be the map to your novel, showing you all corners of the world you’re building and everything within it at a glance. Your all-seeing eye gazing into your newly forming world.

May your pen be swift, prolific, and true!


Kim OlgrenK.A. Olgren has voraciously read anything she could get her hands on for as far back as she can remember. She’s always been a sucker for a good mystery in any form. By the time she’d entered elementary school she was writing her own stories and squirreling them away for her own eyes only. She’s worn many hats but writing has been her constant companion. When not wrestling with words or curled up with them (it’s a complicated love/hate relationship), she can be found flipping houses with her husband, volunteering within the local writing community, crocheting badly, traveling sporadically, or hanging out with her family and faithful German shepherd/lab mix in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Visit the author’s website.