Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Producing a Novel – Part 7

By: Donna Schachter

Outlining Your Book

I know. I can see some of you out there rolling your eyes at the title of this installment. Outlining. Plotting. Plodding. Taking all the fun out of the writing process.

Then there are those of you who are rolling up your sleeves, doing high-fives, and enjoying yourself before you ever get down to work.

For the former, I hope I can alter your perception of how outlining can benefit you and your writing. For the latter, perhaps I can add a new dimension to your process.

Confession Time

First, let me share a confession with you: when I wrote my first mystery novel, I didn’t have a clue. I joined NaNoWriMo, determined to write 50,000 in a month. I sat down on November 11th and started writing. I spent two chapters developing my main character, telling her complete backstory, and sharing a prequel story to boot—just so readers “got her”.

About three chapters from the end—or what should have been the end—I realized I didn’t know whodunit, or why. I had no suspects, no red herrings, no nothing except characters I loved or hated, depending on who they were, and a town I felt like I’d grown up in.

So I had to spend time, in the last five days of NaNoWriMo, when I should have been writing, to go back, write in the suspects, the clues, the motive, amp up the crooks, until I figured out who and why. Only then could I go back and finish the novel. Which I did, writing more than 7,500 on November 30th to complete the goal and get the badge.

I learned a huge lesson with that book: if I don’t know where I’m starting (not two chapters of backstory and prequel), and I don’t know where I’m ending (whodunit and why), and I don’t know how I got there (red herrings and suspects), how can I expect to complete the journey?

So let’s talk about Outlining.

What Outlining Is

  • outlining is a long or short summary of the story – you choose
  • outlining includes character descriptions, motivations, goals, and obstacles
  • a great start to your synopsis, which an agent or editor will ask for
  • a chronological record of how the story goes
  • a place to make note of foreshadowing points, secrets withheld, information learned

What Outlining Isn’t

  • a carved-in-stone document
  • a road map with every single twist and turn
  • a verbatim reciting of the story
  • dialogue record
  • a way to steal your joy of writing
  • the only possible way to tell the story
  • the concrete way you’re going to tell this story

Hopefully, the list above will have settled some of your concerns. An outline can be as simple as one sentence (or part of a sentence) about each scene in each chapter. Maybe you’re not even sure where the chapter breaks should be. That’s okay. Write down each scene as you envision it, then decide later where the breaks are.

How to Develop an Outline

There are many ways to develop an outline. Here are a few that I’ve used in the past and the one I use now.

  • Index cards – for those who don’t write their story chronologically, write a sentence or two on an index card for each scene. This lets you go back and rearrange the scenes without being hindered by paper or cutting-and-pasting on your computer
  • Chart – most stories are crafted either on the Three-Act structure or the very similar Normal World—Inciting Incident 1—Decision—Inciting Incident 2—Decision—Inciting Incident 3—Decision—Point of No Return—Climax—Resolution structure. Simply jot a few words about each scene in the squares. If you’d like a blank copy of the chart I have used in the past, email me at: donna AT livebytheword DOT com and I’ll send it to you.
  • Sticky Notes – works much the same as Index Cards, but you put them on a white board or window or wall and move them around to make your story flow as you want it to.
  • Four colored pen technique – on a sheet of paper, down the side of the page, list the number of chapters you anticipate your book will contain, for example 20 chapters. Then make 4 columns across: Plot, Emotional Arc, Spiritual, Romance (if there is any, and face it, most books have some amount of romance). I like to use Green ink for Plot; Black for Emotion; Blue for Spiritual; and Red for Romance. Write a few words or sentence about what happens in each scene/chapter, then it’s easy to check that you have every element covered in every scene and chapter.
  • Write (or type) the key elements in the story in a single document, with one paragraph per scene, deciding later where to make your chapter breaks. This lets you see the story in four or five pages, sets up your synopsis, is easy to change if your story veers off plan, and throws a spotlight on holes in your plot, emotional arc, spiritual thread, or romance. This is the system I currently use, because I got tired of having to re-read the book to compile a synopsis.

A Few Links

Needless to say, there are as many other ways to develop an outline as there are authors, so I’m including links to a number I found online. I can’t attest to their effectiveness or ease of use, but am providing for information only.

How to Outline Your Novel in 5 Steps: Master Novel Template
How do you Write an Outline for a Novel? 7 Easy Steps
How to Outline a Novel with Template
How to Outline a Novel (with Template) from Squibler
Book Outline (with chapter by chapter template)
How to Write an Outline for a Romance Novel
7 Steps for Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story


Did you miss previous installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.

How to Write Characters Outside Your Culture

By: Jason Henry Evans

For many years I have taught a class at writing conventions called, “How to Write Authentic African-American Characters.” Today I will distill the basics of that class and apply to anybody who wants to write characters outside their ethnic group in a few of easy steps. The goal here is to avoid stereotypes and to create characters that are authentic to their own culture while also making them full of depth.

I want to caution you though. Deciding that you want to write characters outside of your ethnic group, characters you have no experience with culturally, is a HUGE undertaking. It requires research, sensitivity, respect for that culture, and a thick skin. Why a thick skin? Because someone is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. All you can do when that happens is sit down and listen to those people with patience and respect. It doesn’t make them right and you wrong, but you do have to be open to the criticism.

In order to write these complex characters you will have to do research on the following:

  • Their history as an ethnic group
  • Their culture’s religious expressions
  • Culture
  • The culture and history of poverty

History

Whether you’re writing science fiction, historical romance, steampunk, or thrillers, you have to know the history of the ethnic group your character comes from. History reflects people’s values and perceptions. If you’re writing about a character that comes from four generations of home owners, as opposed to renters, that will definitely change how they value things like security and money. In addition, you will probably discover interesting tidbits about said group that will color and deepen the way you write about your character. Learn the history of the ethnic group you want to write about. It doesn’t have to be an expansive knowledge, but getting the highlights are super important to start out with.

Religion

The actual religion of your character may be inconsequential to your story, but knowing the religious leanings of the culture can help deepen character development. See, religion, whether it’s practiced or not, colors people’s perceptions and values. Understanding that can give you better insights on the values of your character. For example, let’s say you have a black character who’s an atheist. But he grew up in an Islamic family, going back three generations. While he doesn’t practice Islam, he still may avoid eating pork, because he didn’t grow up eating it and never acquired a taste. See what I did? That character is slightly more unique, just because I gave him a background in Islam, even though he doesn’t practice it.

Culture

Now it gets hard. Researching culture should lead to a breakdown of its component parts. How your targeted ethnic group values work, marriage, family, music, fashion and food, among many other things. Do you have to be an expert on every little thing? No. But you should be generally aware of at least some of these things in order to make your character feel authentic. For example, let’s say your protagonist is visiting her friend Betty, who is Chicana. When your protagonist gets to her house, she smells wonderful exotic spices because Betty is making a batch of tamales. Don’t describe how Betty is filling the corn husks with seasoned chicken and jalapenos. This would be cultural tourism. The reason why Betty is making tamales is far more important to her character. Tamales can be labor intensive. Making a big batch is an act of love. Who is Betty trying to express her love to, within the confines of her culture?

While researching culture can be hard, it can be a treasure trove, too. There are dozens and dozens of films, TV shows, comics and novels that deal with these issues all the time. Search them out and consume them. Become immersed in the culture of your character. Listen to their music, read their stories, understand their values by participating honestly. It may not be easy, but it can be very rewarding.

Culture of Poverty

It’s very important to understand how poverty intersects with culture and history when writing about ethnic and culture groups outside your experience. Again, this has to do with values and expectations for your character. This is especially true if your story takes place in the U.S. and is also applicable to many characters in many settings.

Because group survival trumps individual expression, many people who are the children of immigrants (or slaves, or Native Americans), have felt this tension between the obligations of their family and the desires of their heart. If your story has room, a little research here can go a long way towards creating depths for your character and an interesting subplot, if you so choose.

Some Final Thoughts

If you’ve never done something like this before, start small. Write minor characters before you create a story whose protagonist is ethnically and culturally different from you. It gives you the opportunity to experiment without having to rewrite an entire novel as you learn more about your characters and their backgrounds.  

Once you’ve done your research and written your story, you need a sensitivity reader to take a look at what you’ve written. This is to give you insights on things you may have missed when doing your research. It can also prevent you from embarrassing yourself over something you innocently missed.

Creating vibrant characters who are ethnically and culturally different from the group can be a rewarding experience for both the writer and the reader. I fundamentally believe anybody can write characters and stories outside of their own milieu and do it well enough that people within those cultures and ethnic groups will see themselves in that story.

You must do your homework. Once the work has been done, you can experiment. Not every Jew practices their religion. Some Koreans go to Baptist churches. A lot of Black people listen to country music. Our world is a vast tableau of connectivity and overlapping experiences. If you come across these ethnicities and cultures with respect and passion, your characters will be authentic.


Jason Henry Evans says that life is funny. In 2004 he moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. He dedicated himself to public education and realized his heart was not in it. So he moved on. At the same time he stumbled into a creative world of art and literature he now calls home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.

Pandemic Productivity

By: Brittany Lawrence

Have you been less productive lately? Many creatives are feeling your pain. Here are a few ways to get back at it.

Rest

You read that right.

Rest.

The creative brain sometimes needs to slow down. Rest, smell those roses. Many psychologists are calling the Corona pandemic a traumatic social event. And it is. Who here hasn’t been stressed out in the last four months, for any number of reasons?

Give yourself the grace you deserve. Society has trained you to work, work, work. Produce, produce, produce. Media, and even todays social influencers, make everyone look like slackers. The fact is, they have teams of people working to make their single profile as consistent and productive.

Read

Take this time to read. Writers need to read. It’s how you grow as a writer. Let your heart explore why it wanted to become a writer in the first place. It’s also very relaxing. You know, when the author isn’t killing off your favorite character. Looking at you George. . .

Hobby

While you may be restricted to your home for the time being, do what makes you happy. As a creative you’re bound to have more than one creative outlet. Utilize those other opportunities. Know, when you’re meant to write you will. Let those hobbies inspire you.

Schedule

Pencil yourself ten minutes a day to write. Don’t overwhelm yourself with large word counts or long hours writing. Start small. Ten minutes is enough time to dip your toes into your work and spiral into hours of muse written genius. Or, you may only get a few words.

It is enough.

Right now, especially, it is enough. Be kind to yourself. You’re characters need you to be kind to yourself. Without you, they don’t exist.

Micro Journal

Writing, any kind of writing, spurs more writing.  It’s the mental version of a bunny. You blink and there are more!

What do you have to lose?

Spend five minutes with a journal and write what comes to mind. Don’t judge yourself. Just feel.

Spend Time with Your Family

You may be tired of these people at this point.

No one will judge you.

Try taking the observation skills you would use at a coffee shop and turn them on your family. What are their ticks? How do they sit? How do they react to winning or losing a game? You will gain some insight into those you live with and, maybe even your characters. If nothing else, you will be making memories with the most important people in your life.

Exercise

Focus on the physical here and now. Feel your body. Feel how strong it is. Do what you can. Maybe even chair yoga.

When your brain gets the opportunity to focus on the here and now, the subconscious does it’s own thing. That plot tangle will straighten itself out.  

Explore

Go outside. Smell the fresh mountain air. Spend some time in the quiet of nature. It doesn’t have to be into the deep woods, though if you can go for it!

Watch the clouds pass by. Hear the birds singing to you from the trees swaying in the breeze. Get back in touch with your senses. Narrate what you see, smell, hear, and feel.

Be kind to yourself. Your creative process will change over time. This is a rough time. You won’t be productive every day. You won’t always feel like it.

Trying is enough.

Find what works for you and know it is enough.


Brittany Lawrence

Brittany A. Lawrence has seventeen years of writing experience under her belt. From self-publishing her first novel at fourteen; to contributing to Felt Tips an erotic anthology, her writing experience is vast. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and tortie, Midnight. You can find her writing as B. A. Lawrence on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pintrest.

Colorado Writers Collaborative

Coming September 2020

By: Bowen Gillings

Necessity is the mother of invention. COVID-19 forced closure after closure of public events this year, including a slate of great writers conferences across Colorado. Writers still want new tools for their toolboxes and want insight on the current publishing world. What to do?

Colorado Writers Collaborative

Writers organizations to the rescue! In a great confluence of inspiration, cooperation, and serendipity, Northern Colorado Writers in Ft. Collins, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Denver, and Pikes Peak Writers got together and to find a solution. That’s how Colorado Writers Collaborative 2020 was born.

Running on YouTube September 1-30, CWC offers video workshops created by outstanding authors, agents, and editors on topics ranging from world building to building your media footprint. There are big name, NYT Bestselling authors like John Gilstrap, Bob Mayer, and Rachel Howzell Hall presenting as well as local favorites like Debbie Maxwell Allen, Carol Berg, and Johnny Worthen.

Colorado Writers Collaborative is completely FREE. You have the whole month of September to watch and rewatch over 30 educational, motivational videos. This entire project was made possible by folks volunteering their time and effort to give YOU something good this year. Check out Colorado Writers Collaborative 2020 to get a good, conference-esque shot in the arm. You can subscribe at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCB4EqMzuIe-EnG-BUj3LBSQ.


Bowen Gillings

Bowen Gilling’s writing has appeared in Allegory e-zine, was selected for “Ghosts of Downtown,” “Writing is Art,” the “Writing from the Peak” blog, and has placed in the Zebulon Writing Contest. He is a member of Pikes Peak Writers and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and participates in Colorado Tesla Writers and Colorado Writers and Publishers groups.

Producing a Novel – Part 6

Character and Story Arc

By Donna Schlachter

So, you have a story idea, a couple of characters that just won’t leave you alone. You’ve come up with the perfect opening line, and you even have an idea of where the story is going and how it will get to the end.

That’s all you need, right?
Wrong.
Now you need something to happen.
But that’s the job of the plot and subplots, isn’t it?
Not quite.

Give Characters Something to Do

Merely giving characters something to do doesn’t make a good novel. It doesn’t even make a good short story. Or a good television comedy. Unless you’re Seinfeld, which the majority of us are not. Thus, we cannot simply write a novel about nothing happening.

Action and activity don’t translate into something going on in the story. The reader doesn’t want to meet the main character or characters in the opening line, only to find out that while there was plenty of action and activity, the characters are exactly the same at the end.

That’s not real life, is it? Every single event, every word spoken to us or about us, every dream we have that we achieve—or we don’t—changes us in some way. And readers expect the same of our characters. Otherwise, why bother? If we want mindless entertainment with everything the same at the end for us and the participants as at the beginning, we might as well watch professional sports. They get paid whether they win or lose. And tomorrow, our lives will be the same as today, no matter the outcome.

Okay, no more sports bashing, promise.

Characters and Story Arc Need to Grow

A story where the character doesn’t change isn’t real. So we have to figure out how to make our character different at the end. Your story and character arc start in the character’s real ordinary world, and are propelled in an entirely different direction because of the circumstances and situations facing them, and their decisions and reactions to those changes.

Here is a series of questions to ask about your hero, heroine, and villain to ensure they are forced to change: (I am using the masculine pronoun only to keep it simple. These questions apply to whatever gender your characters inhabit or adopt)

  1. What does he want?
  2. What will he die for?
  3. What would he never do?
  4. What would he never say?
  5. What is one good thing about him?
  6. What are three bad things about him?
  7. What is his one redeeming feature?
  8. At the end of the story, what does he really want? What can he not live without?

When you have the answers to these questions, now you can place the characters in circumstances and events and situations that tear at the thread of their core, that threaten their stability, and that bring out the best and the worst in each character.

The Police Officer

For example, let’s look at a police officer who is squeaky clean but knows half of his department is taking bribes from the mob to look the other way. He says he’ll never accept dirty money, but:

  • What if someone close to him needs an operation or medical treatment? His mother? His wife? His daughter?
  • What if the police medical care insurer won’t cover the cost because they say it’s a pre-existing condition, or brought on by poor lifestyle choices?
  • What if he needs the money, but he can’t beg or borrow enough for the treatment to commence?
  • What will this good guy do to change the inevitable outcome? (Think Breaking Bad)

And once he steps over that line into the grey area, how will that change him? Will he apply this new thought process to his everyday beat cop duties? Will he try to stifle his rage over the unfairness of how he’s treated? Will he lash out? Will he give up?

Let’s look at another example: a group of retirees who can’t live on what their pension plan pays them. The bank threatens to foreclose on their homes. They stumble upon a bag of money, and realize that they can rob banks, nobody gets hurt, and they keep their houses and eat meat every day. (Think Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

The Villain

Let’s look at your villain: a hitman who kills for money. BUT only as long as the target deserves to die. So he contracts out to abused women, ill-treated employees, victims of hit-and-runs and drive-by shootings so he can get them justice. But he would never shoot a man of the cloth. Except:

  • He learns about a televangelist who is on the run from the Columbian drug lords because of something in his past.
  • And he learns this televangelist, loved by millions, sells drugs to elementary school kids.
  • And he beats his dog.

Do you think this hitman might make an exception to his rule? And what will that do to him? Will he begin to question all of his decision-making parameters? Will it change what he does? How he thinks of himself?

Conclusion

As you can see, every choice our characters make changes them for better or for worse. Every time we put them between a rock and a hard place, they discover new strengths and new weaknesses about themselves that will now be reflected in their actions and thoughts. Usually what happens in a good story is that the main characters realize that what they thought they wanted at the beginning isn’t what they want now. Perhaps they’ve had to let something—or somebody—go. Perhaps they’ve had to admit that their dream wasn’t worth pursuing, but something else was. Perhaps they understand that dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Whatever this discovery is, by the end of the story, the reader should find the outcome satisfying. They should have been able to see it coming, and it should resolve any questions they had about the character’s motivation.

In fact, the ending should feel like it really did happen, not simply that it could happen.


Did you miss previous installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Submitting to an Anthology in 5 Easy Steps

By: KJ Scrim

Having your work published in an anthology is a great way to expand your writing horizons and add another notch on your writing resume. Most anthologies are open to everyone, no matter if they are a seasoned professional or just getting started.

Submitting to an anthology is, in general, simple.

  1. Write a story – be sure it is well written, grammatically correct, and it fits the theme.
  2. Find an anthology open for submissions
  3. Have a cover letter or query just in case
  4. Read and follow every step of the guidelines
  5. Hit that submit button

Simple, right? Now, let’s look at each step in more detail.

WRITE A STORY

There are two basic ways to write your story. You can either write the story you love, then find an anthology that fits it, or write a story specifically for a themed anthology. I have found the latter is somewhat easier to write for. If you have a story already written, the hunt for a matching theme is tedious.

FIND AN ANTHOLOGY

Finding the perfect anthology for an already written story can be, as I said, painstaking unless you use a couple of tools to help with your search. Like anything in this digital world, searching on the internet is a good first step. A few other resources that you can use are online data bases like Duotrope, Submittable, or New Pages. Be aware that some of these require a monthly fee.

Easier yet, is to do the same search but read what they are looking for and write to the theme. This can be a great exercise to expand your skills as a writer and increase your diversity.

COVER LETTER OR QUERY

Not all anthologies require a cover letter or a query, but if they do, I suggest you have this ready to go. You may find that perfect publication only to learn their deadline is in an hour. If you already have a cover letter written you won’t have to put yourself through any unnecessary stress.

READ THE GUIDELINES

I’d like to put this in huge letters, all caps, highlighted, and in red ink. READ THE GUIDELINES!! No matter how many times you read the guidelines, read them again until you have precisely what they editors want. If your story only “kind of” fits the theme, don’t send it until you have made the necessary rewrites, so it fits perfectly. If they say, “no gratuitous gore”, take the time to do a simple rewrite to remove any unwanted portions. If the guidelines specifically want the metadata removed, get it out of there. Check and double check your submission to be sure it meets every point the guidelines make. These steps are a sure way to avoid the reject pile on the first pass.

HIT THE SUBMIT BUTTON

STOP! Don’t hit submit quite yet. No matter how sure you are of a submission this is the stage of no return. Once you hit that submit button, it is gone. There is no turning back. Take a deep breath and review the submission guidelines one more time. Open your story and re-check it for typos and grammar one more time. Check the formatting one more time. Review your query one more time. You will be surprised at what you might find that you missed the first 50 times you went over everything.

BE PATIENT

Once your story is in the hands of the editors. BE PATIENT. Most publications will send an auto response saying they received your submission so trust that they did get it. If you haven’t heard back from them by the deadline set, then it is ok to inquire what the status is. Until then, maintain a level of professionalism by sitting on your hands and waiting. Some publications can take up to six months to let you know if you have been accepted, others just a few months. The best way to pass the time while you wait? Write more stories and submit them on a regular basis then repeat. Time will fly.

Having your work included in an anthology is rewarding to say the least. Following these easy steps will help you stay out of the reject pile and get your work read. You never know, you might find yourself published alongside someone you admire.

Additional reading:

The Advantages of Being in an Anthology
Editing an Anthology
Fresh Starts, PPW’s Anthology


KJ Scrim, head shot

Kathie “KJ” Scrim, Managing Editor of PPW’s blog and Co-Editor of Fresh Starts (PPW’s first anthology), is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Space Opera

Can you hum a few lines?

By: Margena Holmes

Whenever I’m asked what I write and I tell them space opera, I either get a blank look, or the inquirer exclaims, “Space opera? Oh, I love opera!” I then have to explain to them, no, it’s not OPERA. My characters don’t sing their way across the galaxy. So, what IS space opera?

Back to the Beginning

Let’s take a trip back in time, to the 1950s, back when radio was the main means of communication and entertainment. Radio stations broadcast serial dramas during the day, mostly when housewives were at home. The serials were often melodramatic, as operas tend to be, and open-ended, continuing with the story each weekday, and they were often sponsored or produced by soap manufacturers (“This program has been brought to you by Palmolive. Softens hands while you do dishes”), hence the term “soap opera.” Going back even further, to the 1930s, “horse opera” was first coined to describe a clichéd and formulaic Western movie. The term “space opera” was a play on words from both genres.

What Makes It “Opera”?

First of all, there’s no singing involved, just like there is no singing in soap operas, though the lone cowboy may sing about his troubles in a horse opera. In 1941, fan writer and author Wilson Tucker first used the term space opera, describing it as a “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn.” You can see why it was first used as an insult to describe some science fiction back in the day.

“Opera” in Italian means “work,” referring to the collaborative labor of all involved. Soap operas are known for their melodramatic plots, which is also true of most operas, and could also be said Westerns, and some science fiction. Take Star Wars, which is considered space opera. It also has its collaborative work, and the melodramatic storyline (save the princess, fight the bad guy, the hero saves the day), but is also (with its spin-offs and Expanded Universe books) an on-going story like the soaps.

Why Not Call It Science Fiction?

I feel that space opera is one of those genres that gets lost in the shuffle. It’s a sub-genre of science fiction, but as opposed to hard science fiction, which is the more technology-based aspects and usually adheres to the laws of physics, space opera is “lighter” (for lack of a better word) though it can have hard science fiction elements, as seen with Dune. Space opera often emphasizes space battles, melodramatic adventures, and maybe a little romance, on an epic scale.

Because there is little understanding of what space opera is, I’ve taken to calling what I write “space fantasy” but that really isn’t what I write. The word fantasy tends to relate to made-up ideas and magic, which could be true about some space opera, but also could mean that no real technology is involved, no science, which space opera does have, albeit in unexplained or poorly explained ways (midichlorians, anyone?).

You may have inadvertently stumbled upon some of the best space opera authors. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams are just a few books which can be classified as space opera books.

Next time when someone mentions “space opera” perhaps now you will think more along the lines of Star Wars, and less along the lines of La Traviata, characters blasting their way across the galaxy instead of singing about their tribulations.


Margena Holmes

Margena 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.

How to Write the Other Queer Character

By: Jason Evans

We have returned for the second part of our conversation with queer authors Nonir Amicitia and Olivia Wylie. (Read Part-1 HERE).

Jason: When writing about the queer community, what are some things, you find, that the queer community worry about, fear, or have anxiety over? Can you give me some examples?

Nonir:  Though there are some common fears that involve things like our rights being taken away, getting misgendered, being outed in a unsafe place by people who don’t know better or aren’t thinking. Basically, depending on where they are and what society looks like there, it’s varying shades of worrying about safety—which, again, can also apply to cishet folks as well.

Olivia: We’re not carrying any more diseases than you are. We’re not contagious. We’re not infectious. We’re not self-loathing by default. We do not have awful lives. Those are harmful tropes. Please dump them.  If someone gets to know us and then talks about being under the rainbow themselves, it’s because we gave them the freedom and the language to describe themselves. Oh, and we’re not here to fix the straight main character. The magical negro is a trope that needs to be tossed, right? So is the Supporting Queer. Don’t make us sidekicks by default.

Jason: How, would you suggest, I incorporate that into my writing?

Olivia: Write characters who you could see living in your neighborhood. They will be embedded in a matrix of friends and family. They will have close ties to their community, their favorite hangouts, and the person they call when they’re down. Don’t tokenize your queer character by writing them like something exotic. They’re not a zebra. They’re a person FIRST.

 Also, read more materials on the experiences of these communities. I’ve included a list of non-fiction resources below. For fiction, read these books with characters all over the rainbow. I tried to get something in from all sorts of genres.

  • The Bird Bright Shadows Series– E.V. Grieg
  • Psions of Spire– Alex Silver
  • The Dalí Tamareia Series- E.M. Hamill
  • The Nel Bentley Series– V.S. Holmes
  • The San Andreas Shifters Series– G.L. Carriger
  • Bone Dance-Emma Bull
  • A Fall In Autumn– Michael Williams
  • Waking the Dead-Jason Dias
  • The Voyage of Cinrak the Dapper– A.J. Fitzwater
  • The Out of Time Series– C.B. Lewis
  • The Custard Protocol Series– Gail Carriger
  • The Stars May Rise And Fall– Estella Miari
  • Also take a look at this listing: 13 Nonbinary Writers and Comic Creators Changing Science Fiction and Fantasy

Jason: What are some HUGE misunderstandings people outside the queer community have about people inside the queer community? Do you address those issues in your writing? How?

Nonir: The most common ones that come to mind are: a) being queer doesn’t define your personality or who you are (unless you want it to); and b) not everyone in the queer community is supportive of everyone else. As much as I’d like to say we’re one big happy rainbow family, it’s not true in the slightest. Though we do tend to travel in packs if we have the opportunity.

Olivia: We’re not all sassy. We’re not all slutty. We are NOT BROKEN. You can’t ‘straighten us out’ by showing us good straight sex. Or by scaring us about who we love. There is nothing to fix. There is nothing wrong with us.  And I repeat: We’re not carrying any more diseases than you are. We’re not contagious. We’re not infectious. We’re not self-loathing by default. We do not have awful lives. Those are harmful tropes. Please dump them. 

Oh, and last thing: we’re not all in-your-face. We’re not all sensitive. We’re not all ANYTHING. We’re people. Please treat us that way.

Jason: Do you have any suggested readings that would help our understandings?

Nonir: Blogs and nonfiction books by a variety of queer folks, especially those in the subsection of the community you’re interested in writing about.

Olivia: Reading list below

Trevor Lifeline: If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Or text START to 678678. 

  • Oh Joy Sex Toy: Oh Joy Sex Toy is the sexual education that everyone in the world needs. One of the most queer-friendly, colorful, and out-right positive webcomics out there. Got questions, go here:
  • Susan’s Place Transgender Resources: a peer support website for transgender individuals. The site is intended to be a safe space where transgender people can assist one another, and it has the additional mission of educating the public.
  • ACLU LGBT Rights: The ACLU works to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people can live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association. If you are having legal or workplace issues, go to
  • Transgender American Veterans Association: Founded in 2003, the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) is a 501 (c) 3 organization that acts proactively with other concerned gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) organizations to ensure that transgender veterans will receive appropriate care for their medical conditions in accordance with the Veterans Health Administration’s Customer Service Standards promise to “treat you with courtesy and dignity . . . as the first class citizen that you are.” Further, TAVA will help in educating the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) on issues regarding fair and equal treatment of transgender and transsexual individuals.
  • Everyone Is Gay: This is a collection of voices lending advice and support to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) youth, and also offers comprehensive lists of nationwide LGBTQIA resources.
  • Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Realities: This book, written by Lee Harrington, is a solid and approachable manual on transgender issues with an entire chapter of resources. If you’re exploring, it’s a great read. Take a look on the Zon at
  • Transcending Flesh: Gender and Body Diversity in Futuristic and Fantastical Settings, by Ana Mardoll: This guidebook contains a series of essays covering settings which feature fast, easy, and widely-accessible body alteration, including the futuristic BodyTron5000 (“step right in and we’ll jiffy up a uterus!”) and fantastical trips to the Gender Witch for magic potions. These settings have ripple effects on trans people both on and off the page, and writers must consider multiple angles of gender presentation and body diversity when creating new worlds. Grab it on the Zon at

Jason: What’s the one thing you want to leave the reader with?

Nonir: Writing queer characters doesn’t have to be hard, and shouldn’t be intimidating. Approach it respectfully and create interesting three-dimensional characters who are more than their sexuality or gender, and you’re off to a great start! 

Olivia: Remember that you’re writing for people who are looking for characters they can see positive representation they can identify with. They’ve been denied it a very long time. It is a responsibility. But it is worth taking on.

Beyond that, just write people. We are people, with all the wonder, diversity, insecurity joy and pain that encompasses.

We are people. Just like you.


Read more about Nonir and Olivia’s hope-punk series at: www.aceshighjokerswild.com

Check out Nonir at www.wanderingjotun.com and at www.argentumbooks.weebly.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @wanderingjotun

Visit Olivia’s author page: https://www.amazon.com/Olivia-Wylie/e/B07G67WZKC, Olivia’s also hangs out at https://www.etsy.com/shop/LeafingOutArt.

As a followup, see these reports:


Jason Henry Evans says that life is funny. In 2004 he moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. He dedicated himself to public education and realized his heart was not in it. So he moved on. At the same time he stumbled into a creative world of art and literature he now calls home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.

Producing a Novel – Part 5

Hooking Your Readers

By Donna Schlachter

Writing a novel is a lot like fly fishing: you tease, you tantalize, you toss your quarry a tidbit, and once they are so captivated by your offering, you reel them in.

And while our readers are a lot more intelligent than a fish, the principle works the same.

Readers want to get caught up in your story. They want to keep reading your book. They want to end with a huge sigh of relief because the story has concluded in a satisfying manner, answering all the questions that your opening paragraph, the cover, the genre, and the back cover copy promised.

If you don’t, they probably won’t read another of your books.

Unlike fishing for fish, hooks in books don’t just happen once—they’re an ongoing event. Every scene and chapter should begin and end with one. Readers won’t care about your characters and their predicaments unless you dangle a dilemma, pose a problem, or catapult a catastrophe at them.

So let’s look at hooks, their purpose, and their construction.

What is a Hook?

In literary terms, a hook is a sentence or paragraph, either at the beginning of a scene or chapter—the opening hook—or at the end of same—the closing hook—that makes the reader want to keep reading. We accomplish that goal by:

  • Asking a question
  • Suggesting a problem
  • Foreshadowing something to happen
  • Leaving our character in trouble (hence the old-fashioned term cliff hanger)

The form doesn’t really matter, but it’s wise to change up the structure so you don’t always begin with a problem and end with a question. That gets boring quick.

Opening Hook

The first opening hook, in either the Prologue or Chapter 1, is designed to draw your reader into reading the rest of the paragraph, the scene, the chapter, and ultimately, the entire book. This hook makes a promise to the reader that you will resolve the issue by the end of the book, in a satisfying manner.

Which is exactly why dream sequences are such a let down to the reader, since nothing is really resolved by starting the book with a dramatic nightmare. You get the reader wanting to know what’s happening, and why, but then CRASH! Ha, ha, it was all a dream.

The opening hook doesn’t have to be in the first line, but the sooner you grab the reader, the better. Absolutely the hook should be in the first paragraph. We get fifteen seconds from a reader for them to decide if they want to keep reading. They’ve already used some of that for the cover and back cover copy. Don’t waste time—let them know trouble is on the way.

That said, here are other ways to ensure the opening hook is well-constructed and reader-grabbing besides no dream sequences:

  • No weather, unless it’s used as a metaphor for the tone of the book.
  • No everyday stuff, like a character shopping, watching TV, making dinner, unless you get to the problem right away.
  • Anchor the reader immediately in the setting and time period.
  • No useless telephone chatter like, “Hi, how are you?” Go right to the punch line.
  • Make sure the tone and language is appropriate to reader expectations for the genre.
  • If possible, introduce the Point of View character for this scene immediately.

            Examples:

Bad: Mary stared out the window. It was raining. Would the rain never stop? She felt so bad because her husband just died.

Better: Mary turned from the window. Staring out there wasn’t going to get the laundry done. Or the kids fed. Or the bills paid. And she was the only one left to do all three.

Best: The rain buffeted the window like gunshot pellets. Mary jerked back, the image too raw. Too new. Sheets of water obscured her view of the pier where her husband’s fishing boat bobbed on raging waves. No, not her husband’s. Hers.

Here we see, in the Best example, showing, not telling. Rain buffeted. Gunshot. Sheets of water. And questions are raised: why did the sound of gunshot pellets upset her so much? And why is the boat now hers, not her husband’s? Is he dead? Did they divorce?

Closing Hooks

These are the sentences that end a scene or chapter, and are every bit as crucial to keep the reader reading. That’s our goal. We want to hear that our readers couldn’t put the book down, that they stayed up all night and slept in the next morning. Like the opening hook, closing hooks pose a problem, suggest a situation, or quicken our hearts with a question.

The closing hook can lead directly into the next scene or chapter, or the topic of the hook may not be addressed or resolved again for several scenes. However, once that point of view character comes back on the scene, the bigger the issue, the sooner it must be resolved. In real life, we don’t simply ignore problems and situations—we deal with them.

Examples:

Bad: She could do nothing about Tim’s love for her right now, so instead she went to the mall. Shopping always cheered her up. She didn’t need a man, right?

Better: Tim was a jerk, and the sooner she was rid of him, the better. Now, should she go shopping, or should she fix dinner? Shopping it was—fewer calories.

Best: She strode into the mall, her heels tapping an angry staccato. She passed a bridal shop but kept her eyes straight ahead. A month ago, she’d window shopped at this very store, envying the slim models and trying to figure out how to make even the least expensive frothy gown fit her budget. Well, no more worries about that. Not only wasn’t the gown worth it, neither was Tim. The jerk.

In the Best example, once again, we see the scene instead of just hearing about it. Strode, angry staccato. Kept her eyes. . . ahead. Envying . . . slim models. We hear her heels. We feel her anger. Her humiliation. A suggestion about her body image. Even a mention of her small budget. Then we see her determination to get over it and get on with her life.

Conclusion

The best hooks will do what good writing should: show, not tell. They will be full of description, strong nouns, and active verbs that convey the mood and emotions of the character. They will also quicken the reader’s heart rate and page turn rate, endearing you to them so they continue to purchase subsequent books.

Did you miss previous installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.
Find Donna on:  FacebookTwitterAmazonSmashwordsEtsy

Setting Writing Goals

By: Tammila Wright

Think back to New Year’s Day. We were optimistic. Were you setting goals with your writing in mind? I was. Armed with a new topic and one book set to launch by March, my excitement mounted, and then, COVID-19. Daily uncertainty became our new reality. Would anyone have money to buy books? Then, a new horror went to the extent of people using books as toilet paper! With the world on “fire”, how could I focus? Will there be an entertainment market left? We don’t know what is coming, but I do know that when everything calms down, I will have something, maybe a lot, to deliver.

Get Control of Your Life By Setting Goals

Goal setting is crucial to success in all areas of our lives. It is one of the few things we have control over in our new world. But first, how about dreaming by identifying what you want your life to look like in a month, and then, a year. It has been all the rage to look at a five-year plan, but for now, with so much uncertainty, lets focus on no more than a year.  What do you want? Why do you want it?

Dream Big

Some of the best scenes created are written backward. Why not goals? Start with what you can see for yourself first in the end, a big commission check, or holding a finished book in your hand. Analyze multiple paths that lead to the result you want. Think hard, jump on the internet to research. What do the goals look? Maybe you will expose a path that would have lead to nowhere because you didn’t have the correct tools, but now you know.  

Create a plan with small steps and write them down to make them real. Remember that old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Here is a little secret. Word count goals do not work for me. Oh, spitting out 2,000 to 3,000 words is easy, but my quality suffers. As a result, I set a scene completion goal and celebrate when I’m done. I did it. Find an easily measurable goal fitting your writing style. Some writers like a “consequence” if they don’t complete a goal in a certain amount of time. For example, one author writes a check, gives it to a friend with instructions to deposit it if they don’t reach their goal. The check is written to the political party they hate.

My Goals Are Haunting Me

Create a vision board and place it somewhere you have to see it. Place a picture of a trigger object that represents your book’s subject, along with items that remind you of the result of your goal list. The vision board doesn’t have to be big but obvious. For example, place a small vision board on the bathroom mirror where you brush your teeth, morning and night. Don’t worry. Your family is used to your odd behavior because you are a writer.

Before March 2020, I would have encouraged everyone to set a time limit on your goals. But the one thing that we have learned from the pandemic is that we can’t add time to the mix. Time is the one unpredictable factor for now. Which leads to “expectations”.

Managing Expectations With Flexibility

One cannot talk about goal-setting without mentioning managing expectations. Summers filled with swimming pools of happy, splashing children, picnics filled with tons of family, fireworks on the Fourth of July, and lawn concerts. It is what we expect. My book was supposed to be released in March. But it is delayed. Most things are delayed or canceled. Of course, our goals will come with expectations that we placed on them. But, say hello to flexibility. Check your goals each day, week, or month to see what changes need to be applied. “Life” is a toddler with pudding covered hands heading your way. It’s cute but messy. Flexibility gives you a choice to get out of the way, laughing at the absurdity of it all, or stand there and get messy too.

You Are Not Alone

Even though we have to social distance, finding an accountability partner is easier than ever. Someone you can set writing goals together and motivating you to write. Pikes Peak Writers is a great source by connecting to their Facebook page and posting a request. Joining as a member of Pikes Peak Writers will give you access to an entire local writing community at your fingertips.

Time to Get Defensive

You have your list of goals, you know your path, now defend it. Here is your license to protect your path with a vengeance. Because if you don’t believe in it, who will? Respect your goals, and others will respect them too.

We are all going to make it through this new reality because writers contain a unique mental edge. Not because we are social distance masters but because we can focus on our projects, keep moving forward, and thrive during the pandemic.

Here are a few additional resources to help you set your goals:
Set SMART Goals
The Benefits of a Crash and Burn
What’s in Your Planner


Tammila Wright

Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Tammila has been involved in projects for Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS and Animal Planet. Her first full novel, Mirror Memory, will be released in May 2020 and is a member of the Scriveners of Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak Writers. Learn more at Tammila’s website.