Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Surgery for Your Manuscript

By: Terry Odell

Whether you’re traditionally published, indie published, or working on getting published, you want to present the best possible reading experience. I edit as I go, with much appreciated feedback from critique partners, but even so, when I hit “The End,” it signals the beginning of the real editing process. It’s highly unlikely the manuscript is ready to turn in at this point.

A tip: You want to fool your brain, because you’ve been looking at the manuscript on screen for months. Print a hard copy. You’ll be amazed at how much more you “see.” Also, use a different font. If you’ve been working in a serif font, like TNR, use a non-serif font. In fact, this is a great place for Comic Sans. I also print it in two columns, which totally changes the line length, and the words line up differently. More glitches will be visible.

Start with Major Surgery

So, you have your manuscript ready to go. First: the major surgery. This is a read-through with one big question in mind: Does it advance the plot?

Often, the answer is no. I’m not a plotter, so my characters lead the way much of the time, and sometimes they insist on a scene that’s brilliantly written, but doesn’t help the story. Or a plot thread that turns out to be unnecessary.

Cut the threads, then, right? Or the scenes. Trouble is, threads don’t exist in nice, tidy packages. There are other things to watch out for. Did you foreshadow that scene or thread? Did you follow up? Make a reference, even in passing. Those have to go. Then, you have to go back and deal with transitions. Consider this phase reconstructive surgery.

It’s more than likely the scene before the one you cut led into it. That will have to be adjusted. Likewise the one after it. If you ended the scene with a page-turning cliff hanger, that cliffhanger now sends readers into an abyss with no bottom.

Same goes for any shorter bits you’ve cut. Watch what happens right before and right after, and smooth out the edges.

One tip for dealing with these spackling jobs is to note key words from your threads and search for them. It might be the name of the character, or some specific scene detail, like what they ate for dinner, or what they were wearing.

An example: After deleting a thread, there was a subsequent reference that included a trigger for a reaction from my hero, and I needed that reaction. But the conversation was no longer viable, and when I cut it, there went my trigger.

I went back quite a few chapters, and found another conversation that had shown a much milder reaction from my hero. By snipping it from that scene and including it, with the requisite modifications, I was able to salvage the trigger I needed, plus the reaction.

Don’t Leave any Instruments Behind

Once you’ve dealt with the big things, and have checked to be sure you didn’t leave any instruments or sponges in the body after performing the surgery, it’s time for minor surgery. Your story might be finished, but you need to deal with the inevitable excesses. Words that don’t add anything to the story. In fact, they might add distance, keeping a layer you don’t want between your readers and the characters. Or, there might be awkward bits.

How do you deal with these?

You probably have your list of crutch words and filler words. Words that are the written equivalent of throat-clearing, or the ums in spoken conversation. Word lets you search for those. However, there are the inevitable words or phrases I’m not aware of, and new ones crop up in every book. I use a program called SmartEdit, and highly recommend it. The cost is nominal (I get nothing from the company—I just like the product)—and I think there’s also a free version. This program does not check for grammar, which is hard to do for genre fiction anyway. Also, grammar is not a problem for me. The minor errors I make, my editor catches.

What kinds of things does a pass through the SmartEdit program flag?

  • An Adverb Usage list
  • Repeated Phrases list
  • Repeated Words List
  • Possible Misused Words List
  • Foreign Phrases List
  • Profanity/Swear Word List
  • A Sentence Length Graph
  • Dialogue Tags (this doesn’t work as I expected it to, so I don’t use it.)
  • Proper Nouns list (This is more of an “anything that begins with a capital letter” list, but it’s helpful in catching a name you thought you’d deleted, or two spellings of the same name. In my Mapleton books, there’s always at least one place where I spell my protagonist’s name Helper instead of Hepler.
  • Sentence Start List
  • Suspect Punctuation List.

Going through all of these is tedious, to be sure, but as you work through them, you’ll see places where your can tighten your writing, so there’s an extra bonus.

Microsurgery

At this point, I’m comfortable sending the manuscript to my editor, but there’s one last step. Microsurgery in the form of listening to the manuscript. I do this after I’m done dealing with my editor’s feedback, because it’s another tedious process, and I’d rather listen to the “finished” product. Like it or not, there will still be clunkers and minor typos.

There are those who suggest reading the manuscript aloud yourself, but your brain still knows what’s supposed to be there, and you’ll miss things. I use Word’s “Read Aloud” function (it comes with Office 365. If you don’t have that version, there’s “Read Selected Text” which does almost the same thing.) There have been a lot of improvements in the voices, but it’s still going to be a computer. The plus side is that a computer reads exactly what you’ve written. There are pronunciation issues, but I find those make sure I’m paying attention. You’ll hear ‘clunkers’ as well as actual mistakes.

Here are a couple of examples of errors nobody caught.

She drove the up the dirt lane. A beam of sunlight shone through a break in the gray winter sky, reflecting off a sprawling white two-story house, as if to say, This is your light in the darkness.

Did you catch the mistake?

Or, a potentially embarrassing one: A line was supposed to say “Come in here” but as written, it was “Come in her.” That made the extra listening step worth it!


Terry Odell, Author

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.


Cover, Fresh Starts

FRESH STARTS, Pikes Peak Writers first anthology will be released April 9th.
From more information, visit our webpage.

Producing a Novel – Part 11

Self-Editing

By Donna Schlachter

Okay, you’re getting close to the end of writing your book. You’ve checked the character arcs, the plot lines, sub-plots are all concluded, satisfying ending. Time to type THE END and send it off to your agent or one of the dozens of publishing houses languishing for want of your book, right?

Wrong!

Now it’s time to edit your book until the prose shines. Until you make your word count squeak because you’ve tightened the writing so much.

There are several ways to approach this stage, but I will suggest the steps I usually take, and I’ll toss in a couple of options for you, as well.

The Process

Regardless how much editing you might already have done while writing the book, the following steps are critical to the success of your book. Having already spent hundreds or thousands of hours getting the book written, you don’t want to skip any important steps. If you do them in the order laid out below, you won’t waste time because getting the steps out of order will duplicate the work.

  1. If you haven’t already, you should put as much of the book as possible through your critique group. Everybody should have a critique group. Online or in person, it doesn’t matter. And once you receive feedback, incorporate it appropriately. Each member of your group should have their own particular skills. A grammar queen, a sentence structure guru, a big picture boss, and a story expert should comprise the basis of your group. So for example, if your big picture boss says to put a comma here, but your grammar queen says no, listen to the one who knows the grammar and punctuation best.
  2. Use an online tool such as Grammarly or ProWriting Aid. Don’t use this tool instead of a critique group. Use it after the critique group. Listen to what the program tells you, but choose wisely. In particular, use the Grammar & Style, Echoes, and Overused Words functions. Check the readability and strive to get your book to fall into the parameters listed. For example, if the program says your Readability is difficult to read, check out the Stats to find out why. Or if the program says your Passive Index is 45, and the target is up to 25, listen to them.
  3. If you have beta readers, send it to them now. These could be folks you’re related to, or friends, or strangers who offer to read your book for free when you ask for help. If you have a launch team, this could be them. When they send you feedback, listen to them and incorporate their suggestions.
  4. Print your book out in the format in which it most likely will be published. If you expect it to be a 6X9, or a 5X7, or a mass market size like 4.75X7, set the margins and print the book. I know, it will be a lot of pages. Still a great investment. Then read the book as if you were a reader. Mark any changes you want to make in red. Move paragraphs around inside the document with arrows and notes. You will sometimes see things on the page when it’s printed this way that you wouldn’t see otherwise, such as if every paragraph on a page or in a scene begins with “she”. Then make your changes to your digital document.
  5. Print the book out again, this time with regular margins on regular paper, single spaced. Find a quiet spot, and read it out loud. No, mouthing the words doesn’t count. Out loud. Mark where you stumble over words, where there are echoes—when you use the same word more than once in a paragraph, such as vehicle, book, hospital, tree, gun. Look for places where you can change the wording to eliminate the echo, such as identifying the kind of tree, vehicle, or gun. Make those changes to the digital version.

Things to Watch For While You Edit

  1. Pet words. We all have them. I tend to overuse: just, nearly, managed, begin(ning), start(ing), try(ing)
  2. Overused phrases: be able to; be going to; barely managed to; in fact; goes without saying;
  3. Redundant phrases: shrugged his shoulders; nodded his head; sat down — cut the underlined words

Make sure you have:

  1. Lots of body language – switch out dialogue tags (he said, she pouted, he whispered, she hissed) with action.

For example:
“Where are you going?” he whispered. “And can I come along?”
A better way to say it:
“Where are you going?” He gripped my sleeve. “And can I come along?” 

We can see the desperation or the boldness in the clutching at the sleeve.

  1. Highlight tension between and within characters through internal dialogue, particularly when what the character is thinking is opposed to what they say.

For example:
Jane twirled around the living room. “Don’t you just love this dress?”
Orange always did make her look fat. Paul gritted his teeth. “Lovely.”

  1. Tension on every page. Doesn’t matter what kind: physical, mental, relational, spiritual, internal, external (like with the elements or nature). Doesn’t have to be life-threatening, but make it important enough for the reader to ask, “Ooh, what’s going to happen next?” Tension keeps the reader reading. You can identify weak areas by underlining tension in red then going back and looking for places where there is no red ink.
  2. Make sure every scene and chapter starts by anchoring the reader in the character’s Point of view, and the time and place. Avoid going backward in time in the story. Keep the story moving forward.
  3. End every scene and chapter with a question, a problem, a danger, or a twist. Something that makes the reader want to keep reading to find the answer, solution, rescue, or explanation.
  4. Foreshadow what’s happened in the past and how it affects the character, and also suggest how it will have an impact on choices the character will make when pushed into a corner or out on a limb. Do this as if you’re sprinkling cinnamon on your oatmeal, a little at a time.

What’s Next?

Depending on many factors, you might want to hire an editor for a final set of eyes on your work. If several of your critique group or beta readers mentioned the same issues, such as not liking your main character, not believing your premise, not understanding why a character did or didn’t choose a certain action, then you might choose to hire a developmental editor to look at the story as a whole and make suggestions about structure, premise, plot, or characters.

If you find yourself asking yourself questions as you work through the above process, like, “does a comma really go there?” or “how should I format this paragraph”, you might choose to hire a copy editor or a proofreader.

In reality, there are as many kinds of editors as there are problems with manuscripts, each with their own price tag and level of expertise attached. Ask your friends for recommendations, or your agent. Just remember: a reputable agent or publisher will never charge you to edit your work. NEVER.

If you have any questions, while I don’t pretend to know all the answers, feel free to email me at donna@historythrutheages.com

Looking forward to seeing your book in a bookstore soon!

Resources:
Below I’ve included several websites and resources you might also find helpful. Many of these articles have a plethora of other useful articles on writing, and some include free downloads, newsletters, and blogs you can follow:
How to Edit Your Own Work
How to edit a Book
The Ultimate Guide to Editing Your Manuscript
10 Self-Editing Tips
How to Self-Edit a Book With Specific Strategies for Success
Self-Editing Your Manuscript
Self-Editing Basics: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book
Self-Editing Explained
Top 10 Golden Rules of Self-Editing
Mastering the 3 Stages of Manuscript Editing


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

9 Newsletters for Writers

By: Jenny Kate

There are so many reader newsletters out there that it is hard to keep up with.

I know you keep asking yourself: where is the best place for my money?

Hopefully, this will help.

Book promotion newsletters or eblasts are basically an email readers opt into that tells them what new books are available in their favorite genres. Those emails are sometimes advertising sales or free books or just new releases. It just depends on what the newsletter offers.

There seem to be a gazillion newsletters out there that promote books for authors but the 9 below are probably the best. Authors have found great success with some of these and terrible success with others.

The best advice I’ve got is to try them out and see what works for you.

I didn’t include BookBub because it warrants its own blog post and you can find it here. 

1- Freebooksy

  • For free books only
  • 400,000+ readers across several genres
  • Thrillers and mystery genres have the most subscribers with romantic suspense close on their heels

2-  Bargain Booksy

  • A discounted ebook of at least 100 pages at $3.99 or below
  • No minimum review requirements for standard ads
  • At least 20 4-star reviews on Amazon for Deal of the Day features
  • 294,000 subscribers across several genres

3- NewInBooks

  • New books released in the past 120 days
  • At least 100 pages
  • Advertised across all Written Word Media Brands
  • 80,000 readers across several genres
  • Includes an author interview on their website

4- Red Feather Romance

  • Books with at least a 3.5-star rating on Amazon
  • Be more than 50 pages in length
  • 120,000 readers of steamy contemporary romance

5- Reading Stacks

  • Promotes Kindle Unlimited or audiobooks
  • Books with at least 20 reviews and an average 4-star rating

6- Ereader News Today (ENT)

 ENT started in 2010 and their goal is to advertise free or discounted books to readers. They don’t have nearly the reach as Bookbub with only about 200,000 subscribers, but exposure is exposure. Their deals are much cheaper than a Featured Deal on BookBub, so for that reason alone is worth considering. You might gain a few new readers with ENT. For approval, they recommend reviews and a high-quality book – professional book cover and edit. ENT has two options available to you.

 Book of the Day sponsorship

  • Posted to 475,000 Facebook fans
  • Emailed to 200,000 email subscribers
  • Most prevalent demographics of its fans are women between 35 and 55

Bargain or Free Book

  • Book must be at least 125 pages
  • Must be available on Amazon
  • Must be free or on sale

 7- Robin Reads

 Just like with ENT, Robin Reads is a newsletter for readers looking for a deal.  They have almost 200,000 subscribers as well.

  • The book must be free or $0.99.
  • Mystery is its largest subscriber list with over 130,000 readers.
  • Romance comes in at a super close second.
  • Things that will help you get listed: good reviews and a high-quality book with a professional cover and edit.

 8- The Fussy Librarian

  • Fussy Librarian produces two daily newsletters: the Most Bargain Ebook Newsletter and the Free Ebook Newsletter.
  • The Most Bargain list has 120,000 subscribers.
  • The Free Newsletter has 200,000 subscribers.
  • These prices are way cheaper than the others, but the lists are smaller.
  • For example, Contemporary Romance has about 80,000. Regardless that’s still 80,000 readers who like your genre.
  • If you advertise with the free newsletter, you’ll reach an additional 120,000 but they may or may not read your genre.

9- BookGorilla

This is another discounted newsletter service, but it has slightly more subscribers at 350,000.

  • Not surprisingly Mystery and Thriller are its top genres.
  • The outlet requires the book be less than $3.99, and according to the site, books in the $1.99 or less range do better.
  • It should also have more than five reviews on Kindle with an average 4-star rating.
  • You can pay for a Starred Title but it’s not a huge jump from what you’ll already receive.
  • BookGorilla reports 88% of its subscribers opt to receive 25 or more book recommendations a day.

 Keep watching the author groups to see which ones folks are having the best luck with. Always check out the site for their most up-to-date submission requirements and prices, but more importantly, look at their subscriber rates. Ask around to see how effective they are.

If you want to join us for the most up-to-date marketing and publishing advice and news, Writer Nation FB Group is open to all PPW members. You will find a great group of writers to help you with your writing, marketing and publishing.  Click here to join us! (Please remember to answer the security questions.)


Jennifer Lovett

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

What’s in a Name?

Tips for Naming Characters

By: Terry Odell

Naming characters has always been a challenge for me. It seems my creativity comes to a screeching halt when I have to find a name for a character. One of my writing friends keeps a name bank, adding names she finds interesting while watching television. Maybe I should do that.

I tend to hit the Google Machine. “Male (or female) Names Starting with …” is a frequent search. Another thing to add to that search is the year that character was born. Name trends change with time. (I had a shocking realization when seeking a name for a character in a recent book, but I digress.)

Moving forward.

Pitfalls to avoid

You have names for your characters. But there are pitfalls to avoid so you don’t confuse your readers.

Names have to “match” the characters to some extent. For me, it’s a loose match. When I am stuck for names, and Google hasn’t given me anything I like, I go to my Facebook page and ask for suggestions. Some people ask me what the character’s background is. Honestly, our country is so much of a melting pot that names often don’t match one’s ethnicity, and it’s often a stereotype to try to give them “appropriate” names. I recall my daughter, when she was in school, asking if her friend Kiesha could come visit. What’s your first visual? Probably not the blue-eyed blonde who showed up. But if I want an ethnic name, I just add that to my Google search.

Another tip I picked up at a workshop was the reminder that the characters should sound like their parents named them, not you.

Keep each name unique.

Major warning: Names shouldn’t be too similar to other characters in the book. This mean no Jane and Jake, or Mick and Mack, or Michael and Michelle—and that includes nicknames. If everyone calls Michael Mike, and there’s another character named Norman, but Norman’s last name is MacDonald and everyone calls him Mac, then you’re setting things up for reader confusion. I recently read a book where the author had fixated on the letter B for character names, and these were major players, not bit parts. I don’t think I ever got them straight.

Many readers see the first few letters of a character’s name and connect it to whatever image they’ve created for that character. Your character might be named Anastasia, but the reader might be thinking “The blonde woman with the A name.”

Keep track of your characters names.

So, how do you keep track so you don’t confuse or frustrate your readers?

The late Jeremiah Healy prefaced one of his workshops—on a totally different subject—with a very vocal complaint about character names in books. He said, “How hard is it to take a sheet of paper, write the alphabet in two columns, and then put first names in one, last names in the other?”

Now that we’re using computers, instead of a sheet of paper, I use a simple Excel spreadsheet. When I name a character, I fill in a blank field in the appropriate line. This lets me see at a glance when I start to fixate on a letter. I hadn’t been to Healy’s workshop when I wrote What’s in a Name? but when rights reverted to me, I used the spreadsheet and was shocked at what I’d discovered. THREE characters named Hank? Okay, only two, but the third was Henry “but you can call me Hank.”

In addition to making minor revisions to the text, you can be sure I updated the character names. Here’s the “after” spreadsheet.

Unfamiliar names

Other considerations. Foreign names might be realistic, but what if a reader is unfamiliar with the name, or its pronunciation? One of my critique partners wrote a book with a family of Irish descent, and she’s calling one of the characters Siobhan. (If I were naming a character Siobhan, the first thing I’d do would be to set up an auto correct, because I’d probably spell it wrong more often than not.) But typing it right is the author’s problem, not the reader’s. Do you know how to pronounce Siobhan? (shi-VAWN) If the author tells you, when you see the word do you “hear it” or is it strictly a visual?

Pronunciation

On that note, in another book by a popular thriller author, there’s a character named Venice. The author makes a point the first time the character appears, that it’s pronounced Ven-EE-chay. Do I think of that as I read? Quite honestly, my brain says “it’s NOT Venice”, but I don’t run it through my head as Ven-EE-chay. If anything it slows me down a bit because I’ve got that ‘seeing’ versus ‘hearing’ thing going. I know what I’m seeing/hearing is “wrong”, but I don’t remember what the right pronunciation is.

What does it sound like?

And then, there’s a whole new set of problems. Audiobooks. When I started to put my books into audio, I had to focus on what things sound like as well as look like. In my book, What’s in a Name, the heroine’s ex-husband’s name is Seth. Her sister’s name is Bethany. They don’t look very similar on the page, but when spoken, I’m concerned that they’ll sound too much alike, especially if they’re in the same sentence. Or even paragraph. I don’t want my narrator stumbling (or calling them both Sethany).

I hope my simple tracking chart system might help some of you avoid problems with character names.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.






Further Reading:
What’s in a Name? By: Robin Windmar
By Any Other Name By: Darby Karchut

Can You Spare a Few Minutes?

By: Margena Holmes

When I decided to write this blog I thought, “How can I—a person who doesn’t manage her time very well—write this?” Well, like a true writer, I researched!

Writing—any kind of writing—takes up a lot of time with planning, writing, or editing. Some people have oodles of time to get their writing done, while others have to eke it out in small increments each day in between jobs, school, kids, exercise, or whatever else is going on in their lives. A lot of these authors are pretty prolific, too.

What do other authors do?

Since I’m one of those writers who gets distracted at the drop of a…squirrel! Oh, sorry…I asked other authors how they managed to find time to write with their busy schedules.

Jeannie Fredrick, author of Abruptly Alone, found twenty minutes here and there to work on her book. She was patient and determined and even though it took her four years, she got it written.

Leslie Heath, author of the Nivaka Chronicles series and other fantasy books, was a busy ER nurse when she wrote most of her books. She told me she reserves an hour each day and made that time sacred—no interruptions.

When I sit down to write, if everyone is home, I put up a sign by my desk so I’m not disturbed. I’ve done that since my kids were little, and now with a grandson, he understands that when Grandma’s sign is up, I’m not to be disturbed (though I will accept quiet hugs).

Ooh, shiny!

If you have trouble staying focused, the Pomodoro Technique might work for you for managing your writing time. What is that? The Pomodoro Technique is where you break up writing time by setting a timer for 25 minutes. At the end of that time, you take a five minute break. After 4 Pomodoros, you take a longer 15-30 minute break. This is especially helpful if you tend to lose your focus after only a few minutes. This method could work for any project or chore you have to do.

Time Suckage

Social media is a big time suck. One can spend hours just scrolling through looking at all the cat and Bernie Sanders memes. If you’re like me, you have a few writers groups you participate in, so banning yourself from social media isn’t an option. One thing I learned recently from Inkers Mini Con was to track all your time for one week, writing down everything you do in one day for the week, no matter how small. You’d be surprised how much time is wasted on social media and other non-essential activities.

Plan Your Day

Another way to stay on track is to plan out your day, either on paper or on your phone with a to-do list. As you complete a task, check it off. Treat your writing time as you would everything else on your list. Just because it’s “writing time” doesn’t mean it’s any less important than doing the laundry. As with other appointments, put your writing time in your planner.

If you’re having trouble finding time to get your writing in, distraction-free, hopefully one of these methods will help you squeeze in that sacred writing time and you’ll have your novel written in no time!


photo of margin 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.

Resist the Urge to Explain

By: Terry Odell

When I began writing, my crit partners would often return my pages with passages labeled R.U.E: Resist the Urge to Explain. I think it’s a common “beginner’s” mistake and I thought it might be worth a mention.

Anyone who’s undertaken writing has heard “Show, Don’t Tell”—probably more times than they’ve wanted. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, because often telling is more efficient than showing, and done well, gets the point across. But too much telling, especially when it comes across as author intrusion can put the brakes on the pace of your story, and can do exactly the opposite of what the author intended.

For example, “Mary laughed so hard, she was afraid she’d pulled a stomach muscle. Susie had just told the funniest joke Mary had ever heard.” The second sentence isn’t needed; it’s explaining something the reader would be able to figure out in context.

The goal of any fiction writer is to get readers to care about the characters. We want there to be an emotional connection, so we often tell our readers exactly what the character is feeling. However, saying “Mary was depressed” doesn’t pull the reader in as effectively as showing Mary’s actions. Did she stay in bed until noon? Eat a box of chocolates? Not eat anything at all? How did being depressed affect Mary’s actions? That’s what you need to show.

Another pitfall—telling something, then going on to show it. Let’s say you’re beginning to understand the “show don’t tell” and you do put the action on the page. For the sake of example, a simplistic passage might be written as follows:

After Bill canceled their date, claiming his aunt was sick, Mary was depressed. She took one bite of chocolate cake, then pushed the plate away.

The second sentence shows what the first tells. If you find this in your writing, use your delete key on that first sentence. A better approach:

Mary had been looking forward to her date with Bill for weeks, and he’d cancelled, giving some excuse about a sick aunt. She moved the chocolate cake around the plate with her fork, then pushed it away.

The reader gets the information, and can see that Mary’s depressed without having to be told. You can use the same to show other emotions. Maybe Mary was angry, not depressed, after Bill canceled. Maybe she throws the whole cake against the wall.

What about this?

Mary’s feet felt like lead. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape the man chasing behind her.

Cut the first sentence. You don’t need both. What about: Mary ran, but her feet refused to move fast enough to escape the man chasing her. Or, Mary’s feet moved as though encased in lead shoes.

Sometimes, we tell the reader too much.

Mary twirled up two strands of spaghetti and waited for the excess sauce to drip onto her plate. Leaning forward, she manipulated the fork into her mouth, then wiped her mouth with her napkin. She was a very careful eater because she hated getting stains on her clothes.

Don’t insult your reader with the last sentence. No need to explain. We can see for ourselves Mary is a meticulous eater.

Another common place writers need to Resist the Urge to Explain is in dialogue. Too often, we tack on tags or beats that tell the reader what the dialogue has already shown. Are you adding adverbs to your dialogue tags?

“I’m sorry,” Tom said apologetically.

Those adverbs are usually signals that you’re telling something the dialogue should be showing. They’re propping up your dialogue, and if it needs propping, it wasn’t strong enough to begin with. All that ‘scaffolding’ merely calls attention to the weak structure beneath.

Will your reader notice these differences? Probably not, but they might not enjoy the read even if they can’t explain why. However, agents and editors are tuned into them, and if you’re submitting, you don’t want to send up any red flags.

Check your manuscript for ‘emotion’ words, especially if they’re preceded by “was” or “felt.” Are you describing your character’s feelings? Don’t tell us how your character feels. Show us.

Check your dialogue tags and beats. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? If so, you don’t need them. If not, your readers will be confused, trying to reconcile dialogue with the action.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.

Producing a Novel – Part 10

Writing a Series

By Donna Schlachter

As with all of the posts in this series, the information below is only a summary of how to write a series. As with all good books, most of the work comes at the beginning. In the case of penning an ongoing series, that beginning point is the first novel, and preferably before you write it.

However, that aside, my alter ego, Leeann Betts, just concluded a 12-book mystery series, and when she sat down to write, she had no idea (a) if she’d even finish one book, let alone a series, and (b) she didn’t know it would be a series until she wrote The End, realized she loved her characters and didn’t want to say good-bye, so resolved to write at least two more and see where that led.

So, despite what I say below, you can write the first book and not know you want it to be a series. However, before you publish or submit said book, read this article and make sure you’re ready for the next, because there are tough questions you should answer before you begin.

Ask Yourself…

  1. Is my genre suited to a series? The best genres are fantasy, sci-fi, crime/mystery, historical fiction, and children’s/young adult. Otherwise, a standalone is probably your best bet.
  2. Is my plot suited to a series? Plots told from multiple points of view that weave together are best, as are stories that happen over a longer period of time. If there is room for extensive character development, world building, and multiple subplots, your story could be a candidate for a series.
  3. Are my characters suited for a series? Again, characters who need to grow and change do this best over a long period of time. Also, if you have a huge cast of characters in mind, planning to introduce them one book at the time might avoid reader confusion.
  4. Can I commit to writing a series? Once you start, readers will expect at least one book every year, with two books being better, and three or four better yet. Readers of a series don’t want to wait two years for the next installment. They’ll go on to something else and forget about you in the meantime.
  5. How many books do I need in order to tell my story? That depends on the genre, the cast of characters, subplots, and your character arc. Please don’t try to drag a three-volume series out into seven or ten just to increase sales. Readers are not stupid. They’ll see right through you and quit reading.

Tips for Success

Once you’ve answered these questions, the following are a few pointers on making sure your series has a good chance of succeeding:

  1. Writing a series is different than writing multiple books with unique characters in each. It requires planning from the get-go. You need to have a story too big (not necessarily the same as too long) for just one book. Longer-term or series-wide developments such as character growth needs to be present. Generally in a series, there is some amount of time between the happenings of each book, ranging from a few weeks to several months to years.
  2. Make sure your central conflict is enough to sustain readers’ interest. In crime or mystery, the sleuth’s expertise or involvement is often enough, while in other genres, an ongoing battle with the villain, an ongoing character arc, or a generational saga can keep readers coming back.
  3. Create a world that readers want to come back to. Make it rich in imaginative detail without boring the reader; make it distinct yet familiar; and give each setting its own character.
  4. Some would advise outlining your series in advance. That would be helpful for pretty much all genres except crime/mystery, where a notion of what that particular book is about should keep you going.
  5. Establish the central characters early in the story but don’t reveal their entire backstory. Let the reader see the wounds that the protagonist overcomes, one at a time, and reveal the source of the wound in that book.
  6. Introduce new characters in each book to keep the series moving. Consider changing out the setting to afford that opportunity, if needed. Put your central characters in new or unexpected settings to force them to act and react.
  7. Stretch out each character’s developmental arc, healing wounds slowly. Give them faults they struggle to overcome, show how their environment impacts and changes them, and keep a list of how they change from book to book so you don’t repeat any.
  8. Each book in your series should have its own strong central event, just as a standalone would, the catalyst for the protagonist embarking on this journey.
  9. Make sure your middle books in the series are strong and exciting, or else readers will give up on you.
  10. Tie the series together with a compelling series name and tie the titles together in some way, such as a pattern of words or numbers. Think Sue Grafton’s ABC murders, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, and so on. Or Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who. . .  series.

Writing a series can be a very rewarding endeavor, but at some point, it must end. The final installment should wrap up all the plot lines of this book, as well as any outstanding plot lines remaining from previous books. The character arc should be completed for all major characters, and the conclusion should be satisfying yet hopeful that these characters have a happily ever after ahead of them.

****

Resources:
Ultimate guide: How to Write a Series
How to Write a Book Series – 10 Tips for Writing Smash Hits
How to Write a Series: 8 Novice Mistakes to Avoid


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

How to Keep a Writer’s Journal

By: DeAnna Knippling

Learning changes your brain, and it can, at times, feel exhausting. Don’t give up when things look their worst—because you might be giving up at just the moment when you learned something new.

A writer’s journal is a way that writers (and other creative types) can use the nature of how the brain learns to help make small, incremental changes, generally without too much stress.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Get a cheap journal of standard letter size.
  • Every morning write three pages longhand in your journal (try to remember to date them).
  • Once a week (or when the journal is full), review your journal by rereading the entries.
  • Keep the journals.

This is a lot of work; however, it is less work than trying to learn how to write without a journal, for many people. 

If you have a different way of connecting your conscious and subconscious minds, use it! But those of us who struggle to stop overthinking may find this useful.

What should you write in your journal?

Whatever crosses your mind.

Your goal, when journaling, is literally to write the first thing that comes to mind. If you find your thoughts outpacing your writing, write what you’re thinking now. Don’t bother to finish your current sentence, but catch up to your current thoughts as soon as possible. Doodle if you need to. Draw arrows, circle, underline, cross things out. Put notes at the top of the page for things that need to be done later.

If you find yourself staring into space, thinking about some tangent, stop writing about your current topic and write about your new one.

Interrupt yourself. Whine. Complain about hangovers, family members, jobs. Write about the noises you hear, the grayness of the day, the latest pop song. Anything.

When you first start writing, you may have to suffer through a lot of statements like, “Journaling is stupid.” I’ve been journaling for years, and I still start about a third of my entries with some sort of complaint about having to journal. Don’t worry about what you sound like; petty complaints are pretty normal.

Reread Your Entries

At the end of the week (or at least when you reach the end of the journal), reread your entries. They’re handwritten, so this will might take longer than you expect. You will notice some patterns.

Anything that you write in your journal on more than three separate days is something that is currently defining you, either something you believe about yourself (fairly or unfairly), an obstacle you currently face, or an opportunity that you’re playing with.

Pay Attention

That’s it, really. A lot of us haven’t paid attention to our inner selves for years. When you pay attention to yourself on a regular basis, then you teach your subconscious mind that it’s safe to speak to your conscious mind, to be creative. You also teach your conscious mind that it’s safe to listen to your subconscious mind, that the world won’t end if you listen.

It’s easy to tune out your subconscious mind when it’s constantly saying that something in your life needs to change. Your subconscious is a rebel; it’s always threatening some small part of the status quo.

Journaling, like meditation, won’t force you to make radical, sudden changes. But it will slowly help you investigate alternatives, one after the other, until you find one that works for you.

What journaling can do:

  • Open you up to your own inner thoughts and voice—making it easier to write.
  • Allow you to set aside your inner editor for a while—making it easier to write clean prose the first time (because you’re not overthinking it).
  • Negotiate a peace settlement between your subconscious and conscious selves—making it easier for you to write what you want to write and get away with it.

Writing a journal out by hand seems to be particularly helpful in changing one’s mental state; writing out anything by hand seems to make the information more likely to be stored in your long-term memory. But it’s better to journal, period, than not to journal because you have difficulty writing journals by hand.

Other techniques that might be useful:

  • Working on other types of creative work, like music, painting, or crafts.
  • Following a wide variety of disciplined spiritual practices.
  • Practicing meditation or yoga.
  • Talking to yourself (and listening).
  • Taking long walks, particularly with dogs.
  • Doing any sort of routine tasks that requires both creativity and strict attention (like cooking something from scratch).

I have seen all of the above help integrate people’s conscious and subconscious minds and help make writing fiction smoother and less stressful.

But writing in a journal also teaches you how to put thoughts down on a page; it teaches you that no page is so blank that it can’t be filled up with a mental discussion about your favorite type of pen, or how much you hate going in for checkups, or where your neighbor needs to stick that nose of hers—not in your business, at any rate.

Journaling makes words easy.

In addition, the more you listen to your subconscious, the more available it is to solve problems for you.

Complaining that “I’m tired of being stuck on this story…” on the page has often led me to a solution that has gotten me unstuck. “I don’t know what to write next.” “I don’t know where I want to go with my career.” “Why am I not famous yet?” “Why did so-and-so get that award, and not me?” and so on.

The act of asking our subconscious—if we’re in the habit of listening to the actual answer, and not just talking over our subconscious selves—can help work out all sorts of problems.

You may not get an answer to the big questions right away. But every time you ask, another small piece of the puzzle will fall into place.

On a side note, if you want to be particularly good to yourself, when you read through your previous week’s entries, write a note in the margin saying “good job!” whenever you accomplished or realized something; write “better luck next time!” whenever you had to suffer through something that was less than successful.

Of such small moments of compassion, a sense of self-worth is made.

***

Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted, with permission, from DeAnna Knippling. It originally appeared in her Writing Craft: Lessons in Fiction for the Working Fiction Writer on Patreon.


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Improv Writing for Better Writing

Or – How to love not knowing what the hell you’re doing.

By: Bowen Gillings

I am a huge fan of Pikes Peak Writers’s Write Drunk, Edit Sober improvisational writing events that occur on the second Wednesday of each month. Deb Courtney provides a grounding lesson at the outset that sets the theme, if you will, for the evening. Then a series of writing prompts are given out, each designed to be the opening line that drives you the writer forward for the next ten minute span to let you brain steer the train down whatever track opens up first.

When the timer goes off, that train hits the station whether you’re ready for it or not and then you’re off again, chugging down the tracks with a new thread to pull on led by a new prompt and, if you’re brave enough, allowed to take the wheel of you’re creative self all on its own until the clock dings and time is up. Then the whole crazy excursion starts again. Only the boundary of the clock following the final prompt halts your cross-brain zephyr. Then it’s upstairs for a final cocktail and a bit of sharing with your fellow writers.

What is Improv Writing?

Improvisational writing, that is writing based on the directive of a third party and limited by time to force creativity, is a wonderful, powerful, and inspirational tool all writers should make use of. Improv writing is fun, invigorating, and eye-opening. It is from one night at Write Drunk, Edit Sober where I wrote about four paragraphs that I then expanded into a short story which was published in Allegory. That short story provided the opening chapter for my first completed novel manuscript which won at the Zebulon Writing Contest and became a finalist at the Colorado Gold Rush Literary Awards. Without improv writing, I would not be able to call myself a published, award-winning author. Did I mention I love improv writing?

Four Benefits of Improv Writing

Allow me to share with you four benefits of improvisational writing and I think a) if you have never tried it, you will want to, or b) if you’ve dabble in it as a fun release, you’ll grasp it’s true potential to release the great writer in you.

  1. Improv Writing Kills Your Internal Editor

By having a hard time limit, you are forced to drive the story forward. You can’t afford to go back and make your effort pretty, to select a better adjective, to tweak a phrase so that it rolls better of the tongue of the mind. You have to move the story along and that is key to getting through the first draft of any work. Improv writing allows you to ignore the blemishes of what is already on the page and just get the story that is swirling in your mind onto the paper or screen in front of you.

2. You Will Discover Your Voice

Voice is something each of us has. It is what makes us different from the next schmuck with an idea for a novel. Voice is the you in your writing. It is that special something that makes the story yours versus someone else’s tale of a non-binary werewolf looking for love while touring the Dutch tulip fields in 1973. Improv writing brings your voice forward like no other tool I know.

For the longest time, I was convinced that my writing destiny lay in epic fantasy. I loved, lived, and breathed that genre. I set out to write a trilogy set in my own magical world. Yet I struggled to move it forward. I started and fought and sputtered and started again. Then I dove into improv writing and found that, when pressed by the constraints of the medium, my brain never went to fantasy. I wrote contemporary stories dripping with wry humor, offbeat characters, and odd scenarios. My voice emerged of its own accord and it was not in any way the voice I saw as mine until it popped out and said, “Yo, douchebag. What took you so long?”

3. You Can Try Things Out

Let’s say you have a work in progress. You have a character you love or a scene you want to expand. Improv writing is an opportunity to flesh out that character, reimagine that scene, play around with the structured narrative of your current project. Maybe in your story your protagonist would never attack an innocent. But, in the freeing realm of improv, a writing prompt may just let you experience what your character would do or how they would react to doing just that, or sitting by while that happened, or maybe they shoplifted a Snickers. I don’t know, but you get the point. Improv lets you play with aspects of characters and events that you won’t reveal in your story, but will add to your understanding of that character’s depth, that scene’s importance, and what the consequences would be to your fictional world if you changed just a tiny aspect of your work.

4. Exposition Go Bye-Bye

Okay, we have all read or been guilty of writing the hated info dump opening. These are the “here’s how my world works” first five pages that agents and editors stop reading after paragraph one. Improv writing forces you to ditch exposition. There’s no time for backstory and world building on the page when you only have ten minutes to vomit out an opening narrative. This is a good thing! You quickly realize that, no matter the genre, readers don’t need or want a lengthy setup of the world in which the story takes place or the traumatic history of the main character. That info can come later, at the time and place the reader and the character need that knowledge revealed. Your story features complicated social norms? Improv writing forces you to show them to us through interactions with your characters, not by telling the reader how things work before starting us along the path of the story.

Improv writing is like a trip to the gym for your creative muscles. It hits your weak spots. It lets you flex your strengths. It leaves you tired but energized and eager for more. I challenge you to tackle an improv writing event at you earliest opportunity and experience how your writing will metamorphose. Pikes Peak Writers offers improvisational writing every second Wednesday. Check out Write Drunk, Edit Sober on pikespeakwriters.com for details.


Bowen Gillings

Bowen Gillings is an award-winning author writing to appease the story demons in his head. A former president of Pikes Peak Writers, he currently hosts Open Critique and Writing with a View each month (both on COVID-induced hiatus). He has been featured in Allegory e-zine, Voices and Views and Rocky Mountain Writers podcasts, Ghosts of Downtown, Writing is Art, and the Writing from the Peak blog. He holds a Master of Education in Adult Education and is a travel enthusiast, nature lover, and closeted RPG nerd. He enjoys cooking big meals for family and friends, hiking wooded mountain trails, and seeking Zen through mixed martial arts. Born in Wisconsin, he grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, matriculated in Minnesota, and then bounced around Europe with the Army. He’s lived on both coasts, danced on the Great Wall of China, and driven a Volvo from Alaska to Louisiana before settling in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Check out his website and look for his latest work in the anthology from Pikes Peak Writers due out in 2021.

Avoid Deus ex Machina with Foreshadowing

By: Terry Odell

When you write, you’re likely to be throwing a lot of obstacles in the paths of your characters. You’ll be giving them skills to solve their problems. Whether or not your readers will believe what they’re reading depends, to a great deal, on proper foreshadowing. Without proper foreshadowing, what you’ve got is a deus ex machina. A magical event that appears, implausibly, out of nowhere.

Prepare the Reader

Johnny Carson said, “If they buy the premise, they’ll buy the bit.” So, you have to sell the premise early on. You can’t stop to explain a skill set at the height of the action. You have to show the character using those skills (or fears) early on, in a ‘normal’ setting.

Think about Raiders of the Lost Ark. If the movie had opened with Indy in the classroom, would viewers have “bought” that he was really capable of everything he’d have to do in the movie? No, but by showing him in the field in a life-and-death situation first, we’ll accept that he’s a lot more than a mild mannered college professor.

And, you have to be a bit of a magician. Think sleight-of-hand, although in this case, it’s more like “sleight-of-words.” No waving red flags. If readers stop to say, “Oh, that’s going to be important; I’d better remember it,” you’ve pulled them out of the story.

Hide Your Clues

Show the skill or event early on, in a different context. These Setup Scenes can occur throughout the book, and will foreshadow things to come.

An example from my book, When Danger Calls. Ryan, the hero, is in the midst of emotional turmoil. He’d confronted his father about removing all traces of Ryan’s mother after she died, as if his father didn’t care. Now, in this scene, his father hands him a box of mementos from his childhood:

Ryan leafed through the snapshots while he waited for the earth to start revolving again. He knew which one he wanted as soon as he saw it. He remembered the day it had been taken, right after he’d won third prize at the fair with Dynamite, his pony. He’d been so sure he’d get the blue ribbon and hadn’t wanted to pose for the family picture his grandfather insisted on taking. He was eight, Josh was eleven, and Lindy was barely out of toddlerhood, holding a wand of cotton candy. He saw the look in his mother’s eyes, as she looked at him, not the ribbon, not the camera. So proud, she’d made him feel like he’d won first prize after all.

The reader sees this as a scene showing Ryan’s emotional history and relationship with his mother. But later, when Ryan is stuck with a couple of kids, and he braids their dolls’ hair, readers should accept it. Here’s that bit:

“Mr. Ryan knows how to braid hair,” Molly said. She twirled around, revealing her now-braided ponytail, neatly adorned with a blue ribbon. “He did our ponytails, and our Barbies’, too.”

Frankie peered above their heads where Ryan stood behind them, his face marked by a grin more sheepish than Cheshire.

“He gave mine two braids,” Susie said, handing her doll to Frankie.

Frankie made a show of scrutinizing all four coiffures. “Everyone looks beautiful.” To Ryan, she said, “Where did you pick that up?”

He shrugged.

Molly chimed in. “On real horses. He used to braid their hair. For shows.”

Frankie smiled at Ryan, then got up and hugged the girls. “Well, that makes sense. Horses have real ponytails, don’t they?” She flipped their braids. “How about I fix you some sandwiches, and then Ryan and I need to talk.”

Stopping for Ryan to go back and explain about how he learned the skill would stop the action, even in a ‘quiet’ scene like this one.

The above example should show how even a “mundane” scene can be helped with subtle foreshadowing. When you’re writing, ask yourself if the details in the scene you’re writing are going to show up again, regardless of their significance. If the answer is “no” then you probably don’t need the details. Readers don’t want to waste time remembering things that won’t show up again.

In Lee Child’s Gone Tomorrow, I’m impressed by how he uses every detail. When a fellow passenger rambles on about the different kinds of subway cars in New York, it’s not idle conversation. That tidbit shows up front and center later on. And even the little things, that might not be plot points, such as the origin of the use of “Hello” to answer the phone will appear, letting the reader know that the character was paying attention, too.

Is your character going to have to survive in the wilderness? We need to know he was always going camping as a child. Do you need to show a scene of him camping? Absolutely not. A mention of it in a discussion with another character, preferably mixed in with a lot of other stuff sets the stage but doesn’t shout.

Don’t Wait Until the End

Maybe you’re trying to reveal a clue that will be important later on. This is especially true in mysteries, where it’s unfair to spring things on the readers at the conclusion when you’re wrapping things up. But maybe your character is packing or unpacking a suitcase or purse. Your clue can be one of many objects you show the readers. And even better if the unpacking is done while you’re showing something else about the character. Perhaps your main plot point is that he is angry or upset, and he’s being haphazard about the way he takes things out or throws them in. Or maybe another character is watching, noticing his emotional state more than the actual objects.

As for fears – we know Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes at the very beginning of the movie. So we can fear along with him when he looks into that snake pit later. (And because of that opening scene, we know to expect something with snakes, which adds to the tension.)

Keep it Believable

So, let’s say the hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, “Of course. I’m a crack shot,” and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). Not only that, but she is an expert in first aid and manages to do what’s necessary to save the hero’s life. Plus, she’s an expert trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish. And she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches. All without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.

She’s the heroine who can fill in for a missing musician, be it a rock band or a symphony orchestra. And she can sing like the proverbial angel.

(I’d like to say I’m exaggerating, but not by much.)

Believable? Not if this is the first time you’ve seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she’s cleaning up after a fishing trip. Or she’s doing a solo in her church choir. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don’t want to dump an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she’ll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.

When you’re writing, it’s important to know what skills your characters need to possess. You might not know when you start the book, but if you’re writing a scene where one of these skills will move the story forward, and there’s no other logical way to deal with the plot, then you owe it to your readers to back up and layer in the requisite foreshadowing.

Before James Bond pulls off his miracles, we’ve seen Q show him the gadgets that will save his life. We know MacGyver has a strong background in science, so he’s got the theory and knowledge to pull off his escapes.

So when you give your characters jobs, hobbies, or put them in precarious situations, don’t forget to look at all the skills they need. Can they visualize what an empty space could look like? I can’t—that’s not in my skill set. Are they able to look at a blueprint and know exactly how many bricks to order, or gallons of paint it’ll take to cover the walls? Know those ‘sub-skills’ and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they’ll be called upon to do later in the book.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Find her at https://terryodell.com Twitter: @authorterryo Facebook: AuthorTerryOdell