Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

How Can Flash Fiction Improve Your Writing?

By: Tammila Wright

Flash fiction fascinates me. Some think of these micro-stories as sloppy attempts at writing. But I am consistently blown away by these condensed pieces of art, precious Picasso’s earning their rightful places in the Louvre Museum. Flash fiction authors can take an entire essence of a story and reduce it to one breath. One “breath” that the reader can consume in seconds or minutes rather than hours. Talent with the ability to clarify what most of us would require many pages. How?  By adopting their Voodoo of clarity to reduce extra words can enhance all genres of writing. Their unique ability instantly captures the reader’s attention with the subtilty of a jackhammer. The reader is encouraged to ask questions, and their imagination is left unhinged. Can’t we all benefit from such genius?

What is this “gold mine” called flash fiction?

Flash fiction goes by other names such as microstories, micro fiction, sudden fiction, or short-short fiction with a word count of somewhere between six and 1000 words. The stories are tight and clear, sucking the reader in quickly, with each sentence moving the plot forward. It contains a complete plot, the beginning, middle, and conclusion involving only one or two characters.

The beginning of the flash fiction contains the hook, the main moral dilemma, and the character’s needs, as in a traditional full-length story. The middle speeds toward the obstacles, moral or physical,  which the character is experiencing. And the end shows the character’s goal completion but with a surprise or a twist which sets it apart from a prose poem or vignette. The overarching theme is complete.

An unknown author created one of the most famous micro-fiction stories:

 “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

Ernest Hemingway may have comprised the micro-story, but historians disagree. Regardless, it is a simple example of flash fiction containing a beginning, middle, and an end.

In Alex Keegan’s short-short fiction, Bones, he gives us a great example of leaving the reader wanting more:

“He had twenty-three minutes, a third of an hour and then a twentieth, thirty-three-and-a third percent of an hour plus five-per-cent. Find the bones, they said…”

Where I believe we get bogged down is character descriptions. Show not tell is our mantra. Does your audience need to know what your character’s first dog’s name was? Yes, you are cool for creating the deep back story, but all of that takes precious word space. Micro-fiction can push us to summarize feelings or emotions tied to an event instead of needless backstory. How can you go wrong with creating instant physical descriptions so the reader can immediately envision the characters and move on to the juicy bits?

To improve my screenwriting, I found a treasure trove in flash fiction.  In screenwriting, an entire scene must be four-line paragraphs, including character descriptions. James Cameron is many things, but you might not know that he is a master of character description in his scripts. For example, perusing the first pages of Titanic, Cameron’s description of the centurion, Rose Calvert:

“The old woman’s name is ROSE CALVERT. Her face is a wrinkled mass, her body shapeless and shrunken under a one-piece African-print dress. But her eyes are just as bright and alive as those of a young girl.”

For other characters, Cameron uses actions such as “sings softly in Russian.” We instantly understand the submersible’s pilot is Russian without looking at his name. What about the character, Brock Lovett’s description?

“…a salvage superstar who is part historian, part adventurer, and part vacuum cleaner salesman.”

The full Titanic screenplay is available online for free, and I encourage you to review it even if you know the ending.

How can flash fiction help in other areas of writing?

How about during the editing phase? By reading and writing flash fiction, we can develop a knack for identifying unnecessary words. Stephen King says he writes his first draft for himself and edits his second draft for his readers. He understands the need for unrestrained creativity but reels it in for the second draft. Also, by developing a “flash fiction mindset” during editing, you may discover information that we commonly repeat. Get rid of it.  

As an exercise, take a random sentence from something you have written. Reduce it to ten words. Now five words. Three? Hand it to someone to read. Ask them if they are confused or want to read more? Can you reduce it to two or one? You might have found your title. Consider these examples, Jaws, Brave, Elf, Rocky, It, The Godfather, Gone With the Wind (yes, that is four, but the novel is HUGE). Flash fiction titles are a study all of its own. The authors make stunning use of every word that delivers a punch. For example, Joyce Carol Oates’s, Widow’s First Year,  is about surviving grief and, Damon Stewart, Déjà vu You Too, Champ, the main theme surrounds reincarnation.

By training us to whittle down our character description, their actions and intentions become clear and concise, improving our reader’s experience. Hopefully, the story will prompt the reader to think deeply about the story’s true meaning instead of drowning in a sea of useless descriptions dragging down the pace. Decongesting the story creates room for the addition of a twist at the conclusion. A twist that might change their understanding of what the story meant instead of confusing them. A twist that answers the central question by surprising the reader rather than frustrating them. Please make sure to include the character’s reaction to the resolution, so you fulfill the reader. 


Tammila K. 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. Her past production projects allowed her to work for The History Channel, Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS, and Animal Planet. Her screenwriting has paved the way for two exciting projects in 2021, soon to be announced.  She is a staff blog writer and member of Pikes Peak Writers.

Tammila resides in Manitou Springs with her husband of 32 years, an astonishing daughter, and operates The Feather W Bird Sanctuary. Catch up with Tammila on her website.

Top Ten SEO Tips for Writers, Part 2

By: DeAnna Knippling

This is a two-part post. Part 1 covered how to pick article subjects for SEO. This week’s post covers a series of small tasks to take to optimize your website and post for SEO.

Now that you have your article written, let’s dive into the world of optimization.

SEO can get hugely complex. But, honestly, if you’ve written a good article (as in the first part of this post), then you’re good! If it comes down to a choice between trying to get everything perfect and posting, just post it! SEO is a long-term strategy. It’s better to follow these optimization tips, but don’t get wound up about them!

6. Website tweaking. 

Here are the things you should make sure your website does before you do anything else (or have your web guru do for you):

  • Check that the links for your individual posts have words in them (based on your article title), and not dates, numbers, or other short codes. This is often a blog setting.
  • Find out whether you can automatically create custom snippets or “rich” snippets. If not, you may need a plugin that does that (I use RankMath.)
  • If you’re a guru, make sure your blog posts/articles can be crawled. If you don’t know what that means, ask your web guru to make sure. If you don’t have a web guru, you should be fine, because this is the default setting.

7. Post tweaking.

Here are the things to tweak before you post:

  • Pick a main keyword (word or phrase) to use on the post, like “gothic horror fiction.”
  • Put that keyword in the title of the post somehow.
  • Put that keyword in the text of your post 2-3 times, preferably with one near the beginning.
  • If you are set up for snippets, write a custom snippet that sums up your article and includes your keyword.
  • Check that your title delivers what it says it does.
  • Consider whether someone searching for your keyword would be pleased to read that post, or go, “That wasn’t what I was looking for!” and hit the back button. If the latter, redo your title.

8. Set up metrics (OPTIONAL!).

Here’s a link on how to set up Google Analytics, via Hootsuite: blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-set-up-google-analytics

(Please note that the title clearly shows the title of the article!)

Once it’s set up, check whether you’re getting more overall website traffic by finding the Behavior report section, then clicking Overview, and expanding the date by clicking on the date range and adding more dates, so you can see your numbers going up 🙂

There’s a lot more you can do with Google Analytics (and, sorry, they can only track the data after you installed Analytics on your site), but the big satisfaction and motivation comes from watching your overall numbers rise.

9. Keep your expectations reasonable.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be patient. SEO builds slowly.
  • You don’t need to post SEO-optimized posts on a regular basis. Again, writers are so bad at this that any optimized posts are bound to be better than none. They do take extra work.
  • Type your keywords into a search engine and eyeball the top results. If you think you can write a better article, go for it!
  • Make sure the article you write benefits you. If you’re writing about the top ten best space operas of 2020 and you don’t mention your book in the article somewhere (“while I was researching for my new novel, Space Opera for the Tone-Deaf, released this year, I read a number of new space opera novels! Here are my top ten…”), why bother? You put in the work, you get to promote your stories!
  • If you want to go one step further on minimum work for maximum effort, use Google Keyword Planner: ads.google.com/home/tools/keyword-planner. You don’t need to sign in or have an account. Click Go to Keyword Planner, then Discover New Keywords, and then type in your keyword (word or phrase) in the search field, then Get Results. You should get a bunch of keyword ideas. Pick the one with the highest Avg. monthly searches with a Competition rate of Low. Warning: the keyword tool isn’t intuitive. Save this for a day when you have some extra brain cells.

10. Links and sharing.

While SEO is a way of attracting readers without having to do active promotion, you can also promote your article, both to get people to read it, and to improve your SEO rankings. SEO doesn’t just depend on keyword use, but on how people treat your articles once they get there.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Share your work. Be amusing and reader-focused about it rather than whiny or pushy. But get in the habit of sharing your work!
  • The more people link to your article, the happier the search engine will be to send more people to your article.
  • The easier your article is to find from your main website, the happier the search engine will be to send more people to your article (if it takes more than three clicks to get there from your front page, that’s a no-no).
  • The more you link out from your page, the better (within reason), even if you’re linking to your competition.
  • Linking to somewhere else on your own website also reflects well on you, as in, “See my other articles on writing sales copy for writers for more detail: link, link, and link.”
  • If someone else who might be interested is listed in your article, contact them! Maybe Stephen King doesn’t want to know about your favorite Stephen King novel of all time, but maybe his publicist does. This falls into the “it couldn’t hurt to ask” category. I can guarantee that anyone you interview wants to know when your article goes live—and you can gently remind them to share the article.
  • Share other people’s posts. This is another area writers are horribly bad at. Share posts promoting your work, even if it’s a short story collection and you’ve already been paid. Share posts that promote work in your genre (unless you hate the specific author/work). Share posts related to your “where you get your ideas from” list. Share posts related to things your audience might like. Share things that interest you. While your biggest wins on SEO happen on your website (and not on social media), in-person networking happens mostly on social media. Yes, it’s hard to translate followers into blog readers. You can whine about it, or you can be nice and share links 🙂

As a writer, you’re probably doing most of this already, or you meant to do most of this already but have been tangled up in other issues, or are not sure what’s the most important thing to start with.

To strip SEO down to its bare minimum for those who aren’t already blogging:

  1. Set up a website.
  2. Figure out your genre.
  3. Write nerdy or fan blogs related to your genre.

The rest is tweaking. A little tweaking can have a long payoff, over time.

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert; you just have to be brave enough to keep writing down what you love.

And, as a writer, you do know how to do that!

Did you miss Part 1? Check it out here!


Deanna Knippling

DeAnna 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 snow blower, 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, Wonderland Press, also on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 10 SEO Tips for Writers

By: DeAnna Knippling

This is a two-part post; this week’s post covers how to pick article subjects for SEO. Next week’s post will cover a series of small tasks to optimize your website and post for SEO.

And the best of all SEO tips for fiction writers is…to blog.

Ironically, fiction writers can be scared to use their powers of wordsmithing for anything other than fiction writing. Query letters, synopses, book descriptions, ad text, log lines, bios, and other promotional material can all seem terrifying. I was no different, until I realized that learning good sales writing techniques could not only help me sell books, but write better fiction.

I’ll go into more depth about that another day.

Today, let’s talk about the easiest, most no-brainer sales writing for a fiction writer: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

In writer terms, SEO is:

  • Having a blog.
  • Figuring out what niche or sub-sub-subgenre you write in.
  • Brainstorming an accurate answer to the question, “Where do you get your ideas from?”
  • Writing a 1000-word article on one element of your inspirations that you have already researched for your story.
  • Tweaking a few things before you hit publish.

Using good SEO techniques won’t solve all your writing and publishing problems, and it won’t make you a superstar overnight. But it will bring in more eyeballs to your website, and it will train you to write reader optimized content, less focused on what you feel like writing that day, and more focused ono what your audience is interested in.

Personally, I felt like the hard part was figuring out my niche, which took me more than a few years. If you’re not sure about your niche, just make your best guess and jot it down for now; you can change your mind or refine from “mystery” to “house restoration witch cozy with dogs” later!

Here are the tips:

1. Set up a website with an “about” page and the ability to post articles—that is, a blog.

I also recommend setting up a sales page, but that might be a task for another day. Do make sure that you update your social media profile information with your website link right away, though! If you already have a website set up, check your social media profiles anyway, to make sure no links are missing or broken.

2. Figure out your niche.

More specifically, figure out who loves your fiction beyond all reason and what makes them do that. If you don’t know of anyone who loves your fiction that way yet, ask yourself what makes you write the stories that you do (other than “entertain people” or “make money”). Some soul-searching may be involved here.

What you are looking for:

  • The name of your sub-sub-subgenre or niche.
  • The type of person who loves your fiction, and any demographical patterns you see (for example, I have a fair number of readers who are high school teachers). If you’re not sure, then you are your #1 fan for now.
  • Why those people love your work beyond all reason.
  • Why you write the fiction that you write.
  • Ideally, why your fiction is unique for the people who love your work beyond all reason.

A good template for this might be:  “I write [niche] for [audience with these traits]. [Audience] wants [list of demands!]. I’m a [relevant background or personality, writing skills]. What makes my work unique is [unique trait among same types of work].”

One example (not mine!) might read something like, “I write LitRPG for Gen-X and Millennial video gamers who can’t connect with classic SF, dabble in manga and light novels, and want drama about hacking systems without the extreme darkness of an old-school cyberpunk novel. They want to be with characters who defeat systems using their own wits and knowledge, and they want it in incredible detail. I’m a long-time video gamer who knows how to make the nuances of stat choices clear and emotionally resonant, and I can tie those micro-choices to larger questions like dealing with mortality and grief and finding one’s purpose in life. What makes my work unique is that I have a great familiarity with classic SF works, and can come up with scenarios that out-game and out-twist what’s coming out of the video game industry currently.”

Like I said, this is the hard part. Just do your best! Once you know this stuff, you can sleepwalk through a lot of sales writing! In sales terms, you’re identifying your product, audience/persona, what audience needs it addresses, and your unique selling proposition (USP). On an SEO level, this is how you’ll pick keywords.

3. Brainstorm a list of keywords.

Keywords are a list of words or phrases that your readers might type into a search engine in order to find new books, like “new mysteries 2020” or “what to read after Hunger Games.”

This can get really nerdy and number-crunchy. My advice here is: don’t bother. You don’t need to perfect your techniques here! Most writers are so bad at SEO that any thought you put into this is going to improve the number of readers you receive.

Here are my minimum-effort, maximum-result suggestions:

  • Brainstorm a list of terms that’s related to your sub-sub-subgenre or niche.
  • Plug those terms into Google and see if the results on the first page are mostly related to books. (For example, if you type in “time travel,” you’ll get theories about time travel, not time travel books.)
  • The terms where mostly fiction shows up on the first page of results are your new keywords. Yay!

4. Brainstorm where you got your ideas from.

You can do this in general or by picking one particular story/series that you’ve written. KEEP THIS LIST!

What you are looking for:

  • You are an experienced reader/fan in your niche, either classic tales, recent releases, or both.
  • You have life experiences related to this niche, or that have given you a twist on this niche.
  • You have researched areas or have experience related to your particular story.
  • You got your ideas from a news event or nonfiction event.
  • You got your ideas from an event that happened to you personally.
  • You got your ideas from wondering about something specific.

The more of these you can come up with, the better!

5. Write your article!

Pick one of the topics from your “where you got your ideas from” list, and write about it.

Shoot for 1000+ words with bullet points and/or separate sections.

While you can always write what you want, when you want, and post it on your blog, writing articles with an eye for SEO means writing longish articles that you can break up somehow. There are a ton of techniques for this, but, again,  most writers are so bad at doing this, that anything that keeps your article from being a bunch of really long paragraphs is good.

You don’t need to worry about keywords yet! You can include a keyword if something suggests itself, like writing, “My Top 10 Motorcycle Club Romance Novels to Read After a Divorce” if you a) write motorcycle club romances and b) binge-read them while you were getting divorced.

Now that you have your article written, it’s time to make a few tweaks to optimize your website and content. We’ll cover that next week!



Deanna Knippling

DeAnna 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 snow blower, 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, Wonderland Press.

How to Write Female Characters

(if you’re a guy)

By: Jason Evans

When I read fiction written by men I sometimes am surprised by how bad the female characters are written in them. It doesn’t happen most of the time, so when it does, it’s glaring. Today I want to write specifically to men who write female characters on how to make them feel authentic to female readers. This should be paramount to any writer because 2/3rds of all books in the United States are purchased by women.  

So let’s get started.

Don’t confuse social expectation with biology.

In the west, we expect women to express their emotions more frequently and publicly than men. This is not biological, this is culture. There are emotional men and quiet, stoic women. While culture is important – especially in world-building – ask yourself if the trait, habit, or reaction your female characters show is probably more about culture than biology.

If you remember this, you can write your female characters differently, allowing them to contrast with each other and making them unique. It will also allow a larger range of options for your female characters when they react to the events of your plot.

Sexy is not a personality trait and women don’t see themselves through men’s eyes.

It can be hard for men to understand this, so let me make this patently clear. Women don’t actively try to entice all men. Yes, many women will dress up, put on makeup, and do their hair to impress one man. Very few women, however, get up every morning and consider whether their blouse will support their plans for world domination. Guys, they aren’t concerned about you. In fact, many women have confided in me that they’re more inclined to dress to impress each other than they are to impress the men around them. (After all, we’re not that hard to impress.)

Therefore, sexy is not a character trait. This does not mean there aren’t women who dress provocatively on a daily basis. But this is usually because they find the provocativeness empowering. Sometimes it can be for deep-seeded reasons that, again, have very little to do with us men.  

Women have agency, too.

In older stories, it was common for the female character to be helpless in some way. This allowed the male protagonist to rescue her. While this can be a legitimate story on its own, we forget that women have agency. Your female characters should have full lives outside of your male protagonist. Things like careers, hobbies, families, and colleagues outside of the male protagonist.

Let them react to the story villain in unconventional ways. Better yet, have your female characters make their own contingency plans. I know many women who have created a network of friends and acquaintances that have skill sets and resources they don’t have. They are quick to call upon that network when emergencies occur.

Show your female characters accessing that network! Show the reader your female character turning in markers and horse-trading to get things done. Or, let her be the boss lady threatening underlings and dangling bonuses and promotions to solve a problem. Regardless of the route you take, remember your character is not a dead trout. She can react and solve problems just like men.

Femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive.

We’ve all consumed media with the tough tomboy stereotype. We’ve all seen the fussy, girly-girl who squeals whenever bugs or mud shows up. These are stereotypes. Just because a woman likes to wear make-up or get her hair done, does not make her vapid or weak. Women can like girly things, gentlemen, and still be strong and competent. (See the paragraphs on agency above.) Besides, having a strong supporting female character who wears Jimmy Choo shoes and loves pink lipstick makes the character interesting. Try it, fellas. You’ll see.

Speaking of femininity, there are some women who do get marriage or baby fever. But even in the midst of wedding planning or baby planning, female characters should still have full lives outside the baby bump and the bridal shower. If you have scenes where two or more females are talking alone, please have them talk about something other than babies, weddings, and the guys in their lives. Try passing the Bechtel Test. (Two or more female characters converse and don’t talk about a man.)

Pump the brakes on female suffering.

Your male protagonist burst in minutes or hours later to find out that the woman he loves has been violated and what is his reaction? Does he comfort her? Does he call for an ambulance or doctor? No. He grinds his teeth and clenches his fists and goes on a murdering spree of backwoods country justice. Can’t you just hear the banjos in this?

This is BAD writing! It is a cliché for a male protagonist to have a dead wife or mother. It is an even bigger cliché for that male protagonist to have a wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter who is the victim of sexual violence and it needs to stop. First of all, some statistics say 2/5 males and 2/3 females in the U.S. have been sexually assaulted. So when you write your big reveal scene with your helpless female victim, your fans are probably putting the book down. How many will ever pick it up again? 

But the other reason this is BAD writing is that it reduces your female character into a plot device and personal motivation for your male protagonist. (Remember the agency conversation above?) She has no other purpose than as a McGuffin. If your female characters exist only to be eye candy, damsels to be saved, or plot devices to get through Act Two, then you need to re-think your approach to your female characters. Your female characters should have as much depth as your male characters. They should be interesting in their own right, and not because of their physique.

So, how do you get there?

Find women to read your manuscript. If you have a choice, work with a female editor, too. (I know mine improved my novel immensely.) But get women outside your immediate family to read your story. Old women, young women, women of color, straight women, lesbians, and trans-women, too. They will tell you when your female character is off. LISTEN to what they say.

If we can get out of our own heads and write better women characters, we will evolve into better writers. That alone makes the journey worthwhile.  


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.

NaNoWriMo

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

It’s that time of year when writers around the world go a little crazy by attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. Will you be one of them this year?

In the past, Writing from the Peak has posted a number of articles to help you through this month and the list below will hook you up with some of my favorites. First, and most importantly, hop over to the official NaNoWriMo website where you will find a plethora of information on everything NaNoWriMo.

Links to get you through the month

Hopefully, by now, you are ready to write starting on Sunday, November 1, 2020. As for me? This year will be dedicated to editing, but I’ll be cheering all of you crazy writers to reach whatever goal you have set for yourself.

Best of luck to all of you!!


KJ Scrim, head shot

Managing Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, 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. You will find her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter: @kjscrim.

Villain Checklist

By: Brittany Lawrence

Villains, we love to hate them. When building a villain, I ask myself these five questions.

1. Are they convinced they’re the good guy?

Every villain somehow feels they are the good guy. They may see what they are doing is not moral, but necessary or justified.

Have I shown on stage my villain’s perspective? If not, how can I show or imply that perspective?

2. Are they likeable?

Maybe they volunteer for a soup kitchen. Maybe they feed the neighborhood stray. Maybe they return their grocery cart to the corral.

No matter how many relatable, positive qualities I give my villain, the negative must outweigh them. It’s not about balance but a tipping of the scale.

3. Are they a worthy opponent for my hero?

There is nothing like building your character up through out the story to meet the villain and the hero is too strong. Where is the challenge?

If I find myself in this position, I take a step back and retrace my steps. Sometimes I need to add more information as to why my villain can catch the hero unaware. Perhaps, an even stronger villain is pulling the strings in the background?

When in doubt, I give my villain more tools.

4. Do I like when my villain is on stage?

If I don’t get excited when my villain is on stage, the reader won’t get excited either.

It’s time to awaken my inner five-year-old and start asking why. Why are they here now? Why are they saying what they are saying? Why are they doing these things to my hero? Why don’t they excite me?

5. Is there a part of my villain no light can touch?

I always give my villains the option to be redeemable. Some even take me up on the offer. No matter how they grow and change I enjoy reading a villain with a darkness they cannot wash away. We all have scars.

If your villain makes you hate them just a little bit, you’re on the right road.


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.

Producing a Novel – Part 8

Overcoming the Middle Muddle

By: Donna Schlachter

The Middle of Your Novel

The middle of your novel comprises about 60% of your book and is the part of the story where stuff happens. The problem that happens in many books and movies—usually the ones we don’t finish watching or reading—is that the middle is boring. Unfortunately, the middle of our novel sometimes becomes a series of similar situations and circumstances that take up time and give the characters something to do, but doesn’t really move the story forward.

That’s the Middle Muddle.

Don't let your book suffer from Muddle in the Middle.

Causes:

  1. We don’t know where the story is going so we ramble on and on, revealing a little more of the character’s backstory here, explaining (or excusing) their behavior because of their past over there, alluding to what might happen, what could happen, what should happen.
  2. We write more about the past than the future, or more about possibilities than actualities, that’s a sure sign of a Middle Muddle.
  3. We spend a lot of time in the middle of the book trying to figure out what genre we’re really writing in.
  4. When we don’t start the story in the right place, we spend too many chapters getting to the First Choice or the First Turning Point.

Solution 1: Make the Goals Clear

Everybody has goals. Cinderella wanted to get to the ball to meet the Prince to get out of her life of drudgery. The ugly step-sisters wanted to get to the ball to meet the Prince and have him fall in love with them. The wicked step-mother wanted to get her daughters married off so she could enjoy a life of luxury. And the Prince wanted to find the woman of his dreams.

Even villains have goals. Few set out to destroy the world just for destruction’s sake. They usually want revenge, or power, or wealth, and they’re willing to do whatever they think it will take to accomplish that goal.

The power in every story is when the reader knows what the character’s goals are—even if the character hasn’t verbalized them or even acknowledge them—and then complications are thrown in to prevent them from reaching their goals easily or at all.

Complications can be internal, external, or spiritual. They can be evident to everybody but the character. They can involve only a personal struggle, or they can include the outside world, as in the case of overcoming an epidemic or a ticking bomb.

Solution 2: Add Tension

Begin each scene and chapter with a hook to catch readers’ interest, have a specific struggle or problem that is worked out in that scene or chapter, and reach a conclusion that propels the reader into the next scene or chapter.

Another technique is the cliff hanger, where the problem isn’t concluded at the end of the scene or chapter, but the reader is left hanging, and they want to keep reading to find out what happens. 

Repeated images, phrases, themes, and thoughts can also increase tension. So if every time a character asks, “What else can go wrong?” and something does, the reader wants to keep reading whenever that phrase is uttered.

Giving the reader a break from the action by ending a scene or chapter at a high point, and switching to another scene, perhaps of lesser intensity, with other characters, can also increase tension.

Solution 3: Add Subplots

A subplot is a secondary story within your story. It often uses some or all of the main characters, and explores another part of their lives. Just as we all have different overlapping circles of friends, family, and acquaintances in our lives, so do our characters.

While a subplot might feel like a rabbit trail, in reality, a new story actually enhances the telling of the original story, since the reader will wonder how the two (or three or four) are connected. Which they might be. Or not. These subplots should arise naturally from the characters and the circumstances, and should never be the destination—simply to scare or worry the reader. At the same time, subplots should delay and prolong that anticipation.

Introduce different subplots at varying times in the middle of your story, then resolve them at varying times and degrees of intensity, some before the third act, and some in the third act. All subplots will generally be resolved by the end of the story, however, for the reader to feel satisfied that all the “loose ends” were tied up.

Solution 4: Add Turning Points

A turning point could be the introduction of a new character, a new obstacle, new information. It could be a shift in attitude which alters how things happen. It could be a revelation—either internal or external—such as revealing a character’s secondary role or their realization that they aren’t willing to persevere to their original goal, or the understanding that they are going to be forced to do something they never thought they’d do. It could be a challenge or a disaster.

We can increase the impact of turning points by using strong verbs; introduce foretelling; give new meaning to ordinary objects; or put our character into an unfamiliar setting.

Conclusion:

Rule #1: Don’t think that you must incorporate everything in this article into every book.

Complete your first draft. Do a quick revision on it with regards to using stronger verbs, get rid of –ly adverbs, and tighten the writing, particularly dialogue.

Then ignore the first and third acts. Start reading where your first turning point happens. Are you still intrigued with what’s happening? If not, where can you interject tension or another subplot? Is the pattern of your intensity predictable? If so, how can you re-order your scenes to change that? Do you have enough turning points for each problem that faces the main character? If not, add some more.

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Resources:

I don’t know everything about the Middle Muddle, but I am happy to answer questions or offer insight, so feel free to contact me at donna@livebytheword.com  at any time.

I have written two books on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold and More Nuggets of Writing Gold, comprised of articles on all aspects of the writing life as well as targeted exercises to apply the information in those articles. They’re available at Amazon and Smashwords.

I offer two quarterly newsletters, one for fans of historical novels and one for contemporary. When you subscribe, you’ll receive a free novel as a thank you, and you can also follow my historical blog and my contemporary blog for helpful articles from other authors, as well as book and author spotlights.

Here are books I used to develop this article:

  • Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis
  • Write Your Novel in a Month by Jeff
  • The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

And here are websites with great articles on writing in general:

Daily Writing Tips   
Writing to Make You Better
42 Fiction Writing Tips for Novelists
Writing Tips

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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
Outlining Your Book – Part 7


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter 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 ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.

Pro Writing Aid – A Review

By Jenny Kate

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Grammarly. It’s a nice little program to proofread your work. I mean, it’s cool and all. But have you heard of Pro Writing Aid?

It’s like Grammarly on steroids with a PhD in writing.

I’ve become a BIG fan!

What is Pro Writing Aid?

Chris Banks, the brainchild behind Pro Writing Aid, developed it because he wanted something to help him take his writing to the next level. PWA has extensions for Chrome and Word and even Scrivener.

The entire point of PWA is to help you become a better writer.
Not a better proofreader, although it will help with spelling and grammar. It’s to help you build better stories.

You know how Stephen King says no to adverbs? PWA will point out every adverb you have and then it will suggest a way to replace it.

Passive voice? Same.
“That” “very” “great” – yes to all those.

One thing I think is fantastic for fiction writers is its dialogue check and contextual suggestions – in other words, too many long sentences or too many short ones.

Let’s Compare

Grammarly was built as a proofreader and is probably a little better at that than PWA. But PWA offers way more recommendations for fixes than Grammarly.

I plugged my academic paper into Grammarly and then into PWA. Then I plugged in my fiction work in progress, both caught misspellings, punctuation and grammar, but PWA gave me nearly 20 reports to look at. Grammarly gave me far fewer but was pretty spot on with what it caught. PWA caught more. And by that I mean sentence structure, readability, overuse of words.

For nonfiction, academic work, I think Grammarly has the edge for now, but I don’t expect that to last.

For fiction work, PWA has the edge. Hands down. If you use Scrivener, it’s integration with that alone is enough to sway me.

Remember this is an artificial intelligence machine reviewing your work at warp speeds. So make sure to read through each suggestion, just as you would with your editor. Some rules will apply to your work. Some won’t.

One final thought.

PWA is way cheaper than Grammarly and has the edge. But if you’re buying for academic writing as opposed to fiction writing, Grammarly may be better because it has a wider plagiarism checker database than PWA. For now. Either way, if you’re in the market for an AI editor, definitely check out Pro Writing Aid.

P.S. Chris Banks was recently on the Self-Publishing Formula podcast. If you’ve got a half hour, listen in.

Editor’s Note: For more information on software for writers check out,
The Best Writing Software


Jennifer Lovett

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group 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 WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest: @writernationjen

The Best Writing Software

9 Writing Tools for Authors to Create, Organize, and Edit

By: Jennifer Wilson

Finding the software that works best for you is a great debate amongst writers. There are a lot of options, and none are wrong. But some are better than others.

I use a whole slew of software during my process including Plottr for scheming, Scrivener for writing, ProWritingAid and Grammarly for editing and then Word for sending to editors/betas. AND there’s even more options out there. It can be overwhelming, so I’m breaking down some of the top programs for you—what they do, how much they cost and their pros/cons.

Plotting Software:

Plottr software image

Plottr – Outline faster, plot smarter, and turbocharge your productivity today with the #1 visual book planning software for writers.

  • Outline plot
  • Create Story Bible
  • Create notes on Character and Places
  • Attach notes to plot points
  • Simple click and drag interface
  • Starter templates
  • Ongoing updates and support

Cost: 30 Day Free Trial – $25 one-time payment for desktop app

Pros:

  • Works with Mac & PC
  • Easy to use
  • Lots of tutorials
  • Good for visual thinkers
  • Exports into Scrivener and Word

Cons:

  • Can’t print the screen
  • Growing pains of new software – glitches happen

Scapple

Scapple – It’s a virtual sheet of paper that lets you make notes anywhere and connect them using lines or arrows.

  • Brain storming focused
  • Write loose notes
  • Connect ideas
  • Tidy thoughts as they progress

Cost: 30 Day Free Trial – $18 one-time payment for desktop

Pros:

  • Works with Mac & PC
  • Easy to use
  • Good for free thought
  • Can import images and text files
  • Good for visual thinkers
  • Can drag notes into Scrivener

Cons:

  • Requires many steps to reformat notes
  • Not structured
  • No plotting templates
  • Doesn’t export to other writing programs

Writing Software:

Word screenshot

Word – Word helps you put your best words forward – anytime, anywhere and with anyone. Basic writing software.

  • Formatting tools
  • Word count
  • Built-in editor
  • Desktop and App versions
  • Built-in thesaurus
  • Auto-save & OneDrive cloud sync
  • Read Aloud feature
  • Tracks changes

Cost: Free Browser option – $69 Year for desktop – $139.99 one-time purchase for desktop

Pros:

  • Works with Mac & PC
  • Most people are familiar with it
  • Best built-in editor
  • Can track changes when sent to editors

Cons:

  • Hard to navigate chapters – one massive file or lots of little ones
  • No plotting options
  • No note-taking storage
  • Manuscript templates are lacking
  • Export options very limited

Scrivener screenshot

Scrivener – Scrivener is the go-to app for writers of all kinds, used every day by best-selling novelists, screenwriters, non-fiction writers, students, academics, lawyers, journalists, translators and more.

  • Structure writing by Chapters and Scenes
  • Create Notecards
  • Store project notes and images
  • Basic formatting tools for writing
  • Footnote support – Non-Fiction
  • Word count
  • Basic editor
  • Desktop and App versions
  • Templates
  • Set and Track Goals
  • Import from Word
  • Export to Word, PDF, Epub, Kindle, +more
  • Auto-save & Dropbox sync

Cost: 30 Day Free Trial – $49 one-time payment for desktop – $19.99 one-time payment for iOS Apps –  $80 one-time payment for bundle

Pros:

  • Works with Mac & PC
  • Dropbox cloud syncing prevents lost work or multiple versions
  • Customizable view
  • Stores entire project in one place
  • Export to Epub & Kindle
  • Lots of tutorial videos
  • Updates are free

Cons:

  • Very simple editing capabilities
  • Stiff learning curve
  • Not the most user-friendly interface

Wavemaker screenshot

Wavemaker – Easily structure your book into chapters, scenes, make notes and shuffle them around easily.

  • Structure writing by Chapters and Scenes
  • Create color-coded Notecards
  • Store project notes and images
  • Basic formatting tools for writing
  • Word count
  • Basic editor
  • Export to Word & PDF

Cost: Free

Pros:

  • FREE!
  • Makes navigating your manuscript much easier
  • Can connect to Google Drive
  • Good tutorial videos

Cons:

  • Only works in Chrome – can be used offline with extension download
  • Very simple editing capabilities
  • Still in growth phase so tech glitches happen
  • Must manually sync files with cloud storage – if you forget to sync and computer crashes… get the tissue box!
  • With multiple device access – you can accidently create multiple versions of the same file if you forget to sync
  • Not super intuitive software

SmartEdit Writer (was Atomic Scribbler)

SmartEdit Writer – (was Atomic Scribbler) free software to plan your novel, prepare and maintain research material, write your novel scene by scene and edit chapter by chapter in a modern Windows-ish application.

  • Structure writing by Chapters and Scenes
  • Store project notes in same file with images
  • Word-like formatting tools
  • Tracks daily word counts
  • Basic editor
  • Desktop program
  • Import/Export Word docs

Cost: Free

Pros:

  • FREE!
  • Makes navigating your manuscript much easier
  • Has a similar look and feel to Microsoft Word
  • Auto saves & backups

Cons:

  • PC only
  • Very simple editing capabilities
  • Window is visually cluttered
  • Save button hard to find
  • Opens a lot of extra windows to view notes and images
  • Not a lot of tutorial videos

Editing Software:

Author Note: None of these programs catch everything. For the best results, use several free versions and one paid option. Also, not all proposed edits are correct, so make sure to read all suggestions with your human brain before going click change crazy.


Hemingway App

Hemingway AppThe online version of Hemingway Editor is completely free. The creators have indicated they intend to keep it this way.

  • Critical grammar and spelling checks
  • Readability
  • Passive voice
  • Hard to read sentences
  • Word count

Cost: Free online – $19.99 one-time payment for desktop

Pros:

  • FREE!
  • Give Readability score
  • Highlights different issues by color code

Cons:

  • Very simple editing capabilities
  • Browser editing a little glitchy
  • Not the most user-friendly interface
  • Doesn’t catch everything

ProWritingAid

ProWritingAidProWritingAid is the only platform that offers world-class grammar and style checking combined with more in-depth reports to help you strengthen your writing.

Reports include:

  • Writing Style
  • Grammar
  • Overused Words
  • Clichés and Redundancies
  • Sticky Sentence
  • Readability
  • Repetitive Words/Phrases
  • Sentence Length
  • Pronoun Report
  • Transition Report
  • Pacing Check
  • Dialogue Tags Check
  • Plagiarism + more!

Cost: Free Trial – $20 Monthly – $79.00 Yearly  – $299 Lifetime

Pros:

  • Most in-depth analysis available
  • Lifetime membership with constant updates
  • Runs directly in Word and Scrivener

Cons:

  • Cost, but lifetime worth it for career writers
  • Can crash computer (I suggest scanning one chapter at a time to avoid this)
  • Doesn’t catch everything

Grammarly

Grammarly – Grammarly Premium goes beyond grammar to help you ensure that everything you write is clear, engaging, and professional.

  • Critical grammar and spelling checks
  • Conciseness
  • Readability
  • Vocabulary enhancement suggestions
  • Genre-specific writing style checks
  • Plagiarism detector

Cost:  Free version (base grammar and spelling only) – $29.95 Monthly –  $59.95 Quarterly –  $139.95 Yearly

Pros:

  • Browser extensions
  • Desktop and app options available
  • Stores all writing in backup cloud
  • Can adjust tone of voice to your writing style

Cons:

  • Only integrates with Word and only on Windows
  • Cost – not cheap long-term
  • Free version very limited
  • Doesn’t catch everything

Editors Note: Writing from the Peak will take a closer look at ProWritingAid and Grammarly next week. Check back then!


Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of the young adult New World Series. The gripping trilogy spans RisingAshes, and Inferno. Jennifer is constantly on the move, always working on her next story line and drinking way too much coffee. When not writing, she is enjoying life in Colorado, rock climbing, camping, exploring new foods, playing with her golden retriever, Duke, and sharing life with her heroically supportive hubby. You can connect and nerd out with Jennifer on FacebookInstagramTwitter and on her website.

Misconceptions of Self-Publishing

By: Margena Holmes

In this day and age there are many ways a writer can become a published author. There’s the traditional way of submitting your work to agents and publishers with no promise of getting accepted. There are independent publishers, where you submit your work and with it being a smaller company, you may be accepted more readily. Then there’s the self-publishing road. You do everything yourself and hit Publish and your word-baby is out in the world.

Once people find out I’m an author, the questions come fast.
“Oh, you’re an author? Who’s your publisher?”
“Where did you send it to?”
“Can I buy it in Barnes and Noble?”

When I tell them I’m a self-published author, the light slowly fades from their eyes.

“Oh,” they say, as if it’s some kind of disease.

Somehow self-publishing has gotten this stigma that it’s a bad thing, a lesser thing. Here are just a few misconceptions:

Misconception #1—It Can’t Be Any Good

There have been quite a few well-known authors who first were self-published. Andy Weir the author of The Martian, first published his work a chapter at a time on his website. His readers begged him to make it available as an e-book, which he did, and it became an Amazon #1 bestseller! That’s when it caught the eye of a traditional publisher and very soon after a movie was made.

Lisa Genova, the author of Still Alice, is another who started out as a self-published author. After being rejected by everyone, she published it herself. After gaining popularity, Simon & Shuster picked it up.

Misconception #2—It Will Be Riddled With Mistakes

There is no doubt that some will have the occasional typo in it, but most self-published authors—the ones who care about their work—will have given their work to a critique group, a beta reader, and then an editor before it ever sees the light of day. Having those extra sets of eyes cuts the mistakes down to a minimum. Most self-pubbed books I’ve read have been edited meticulously. Being traditionally published doesn’t mean your work won’t have a mistake or two. I’ve found missing quotation marks, continuity problems, or misspelled words in books written by well-known authors.

Misconception #3—Self-Publishing Is Easier Than Traditional Publishing

It’s only easier in that we can see the fruits of our labor more quickly than a trad pub author. As self-pub authors, we have to do everything ourselves, or hire someone to do it. Editing, formatting, covers, marketing—none of that is easy (or cheap!). It can take hours just to format a book for print. Marketing—ha ha! How to market, where to market, we have to learn how to do that, and it takes time.

Misconception #4—Self-Published Books Are of Lesser Quality

It depends on where you go to have your book printed. I have print books from different self-pub authors, and honestly, I can’t tell the different between them and a trad pub print book. Will the inside of a self-published book have same quality (i.e. no mistakes) as a trad pub? See #2 above.

I read a lot, both traditionally published authors and self-published authors, and I feel that the self-published authors can hold their own when it comes to comparing them to traditionally published authors.

Additional Reading:
Indie vs Traditional – Which Would you Choose?
How to Self Publish and Keep Your Sanity


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.