Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

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

Did you miss any installments of this series?
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
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


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

Wishing You the Best!

It is finally happening! The day we have all (at least most of us) have been looking forward to – the end of 2020. Even though it has been a tumultuous year in many ways, it has also been a year to celebrate. Faced with the challenge of not being able to meet readers face to face, many, many authors launched books, held readings, and virtually held launch parties throughout 2020. If you are curious to see all of Pikes Peak Writers’ successes, head over to Sweet Success on our website.

This past year also brought you over 50 articles from fellow PPW members covering subjects ranging from marketing and social media, to inspiration and every other aspect of writing. Writing from the Peak is chock-full of everything you need to write and stay inspired.

Most important of all?

YOU!!

Thank you for your support throughout 2020. Everyone here at Writing from the Peak wish you and your families, friends, and loved ones, the best of this holiday season, and may 2021 be the brightest year for all of you.

Keep on writing!!



Producing a Novel – Part 9

Racing to the Finish

By: Donna Schlachter

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far as we discover the steps and craft elements needed to write a novel. However, we mustn’t relax now as we arrive at an important place in our book—writing a successful ending.

Quick Review

As a quick review, based on the Three-Act structure for a novel, your first act, or the opening/ hook/introduction, which comprises less than 25% of your story length, introduced your characters, setting, the problem, the lie, and the strengths and weaknesses of your hero and your villain.

Then the second act, or the middle of the story, which comprises the bulk of the book, the next 75% to 90% of the story, placed your characters into difficult situations, building in intensity, forcing them to make harder and harder decisions. You also introduced more characters and story lines, or subplots, in this part of your story.

And now you’ve arrived at the third act, where you’ll wrap up the plot lines, the character arcs, provide a satisfactory outcome (however that’s defined for the genre), and, if it’s a series, prepare the way for the next book. This third act should take up 15% to 25% of the book, but less is usually better.

One thing to remember about the three-act structure is that the first act will enable the reader to decide if they want to keep reading; the second act keeps them interested in the story and the character arc; but the third act will sell your next book. Resolving all the plot lines and questions creates a satisfying ending that gives the reader confidence that your next book will also be worth reading.

The Big Lie

What keeps readers reading is the Big Lie, what your character believes about themselves that wounds them so deeply and makes them question themselves and make poor choices, brings tension and conflict into their arc and the story. Alluding to the Big Lie in the first act, bringing it to the forefront and having it cause all kinds of problems in the second, naturally leads to the realization of the lie and the desire to overcome that belief by taking heroic measures in the final act. These actions should be based on what we already know about the character, which you would have told us previously, including any special abilities or talents. Don’t simply spring this on your reader in the final act.

Readers want your hero and heroine to confront the Big Lie and overcome it, but the process should elevate the stakes more than ever in the final act. Their final struggle is the Climax, which should take place in the final 5% to 10% of the story, where they have to make the toughest decisions and embark on the most dangerous journey to succeed. This victory isn’t all about external action; it should also include internal conflict. And it will solidify the story’s theme.

Regardless of the genre, this confrontation and victory must happen, or the reader won’t be satisfied with the outcome. They have been rooting for your hero and heroine to change, to meet the obstacle and overcome it, and to come out better on the other side for having done so.

Loose Ends

After the Climax, now is the time to tie up the loose ends. Make sure your hero and heroine have met their story goal, which might have changed from the beginning. If there were situations where the hero or heroine made a poor choice during their quest, now is the time to right those wrongs.

Once that is done, introduce your hero or heroine’s new normal, which should be a juxtaposition of where the story began. Show that they are different, they act different, and they’ll make different and better choices going forward.

Cover Your Bases

Here’s a list to double-check your ending to ensure you have covered all the bases:

  1. Don’t cheat – grow the ending from the seeds you planted along the way, and don’t rely on coincidence.
  2. Use callbacks and motifs – have a character repeat or restate something said earlier to tie the end to the beginning; thread a motif through the story, using the motif in a new and different way because of the changes in the character.
  3. Highlight the theme – while you should have alluded to the story’s theme throughout, now is the time to make that final point
  4. Wrap up any loose ends – keep a list throughout your writing of all the issues, topics raised, plot lines, and questions, and make sure you have resolved those. If you’re writing a series, you don’t have to solve every problem or resolve every issue, but at least give the reader the promise you’ll address it again soon.
  5. Don’t drag out the ending – the goal of the ending is to be unique, succinct, and satisfying. If you’re finding the ending, which should be less than 5% of the book, is long and convoluted, perhaps you have too much going on in the book. Cut some plot lines and save them for the sequel or another book.

The Final Act

One you enter the final act, no new characters and no new situations should be introduced unless you foreshadowed them earlier. Your hero and heroine should serve as the primary catalysts—they drive the climax, not simply respond to it. The hero and heroine should grow and change internally, learning from their past decisions, and emerging as a better person.

You want to emotionally vest the reader in the story right from the beginning so they feel the ending through the heroism of your characters.  To do that, plan the ending every bit as carefully as you’ve planned the rest of the book. Even if you’re not an outliner, make sure you’ve included all elements of a successful ending to ensure the reader wants to buy your next book. Folks love characters and settings, but it’s really the ending that they remember best. And that’s true whether they consider it a good or a bad ending. You want them to remember your book favorably.

Resources:
How to Structure a Killer Novel Ending
How to End Your Book: 5 Steps to Writing a Fantastic Final Chapter
The Third Act: How to Write a Climactic Sequence

****


Did you miss any 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
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with her 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, devotional books, and books on the writing craft. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, Capital Christian Writers Fellowship, 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.

Finding the Perfect Gift for the Writer in Your Life

The holidays are coming up quick and gift giving is at the heart of the holidays. Have you thought about what to give that writer in your life? Here are just a few ideas that any writer I think would love (I know I would!).

Never Enough Notebooks

As a writer, I’m always jotting down ideas whenever something strikes me, so how about some nice notebooks in different sizes? I know in this age of smart phones, notebooks are very low-tech, but I know of some writers who prefer to write their story ideas—or even first drafts—down on paper. Small notebooks can fit into a purse or back pocket, and bigger ones are nice to write out your scenes.

Writing Instruments

They will need something to write with in their notebook, so why not some nice pens? You can find out which pen your writer prefers and buy a few packs of them. Especially if they do book signings, having a pen they like will make life easy for them knowing they have several pens on hand.

Subscriptions

How about a subscription to a writers magazine? There are so many to choose from—Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, The Writer, and Writer’s Forum are just a few magazines geared toward the craft of writing. Each has their own format they follow, whether it’s articles on the craft, where to submit your work, or info on conferences and competitions. Most of these are available online or on Kindle as well as a printed copy, so find out what your writer prefers.

Refreshments for the Soul

Coffee or tea, and a cute mug to go with it. We writers need to keep our brains awake and the creative juices flowing, so we need that caffeine. Again, find out their caffeinated beverage of choice and buy a box or three for them. Or if they just have to have their Starbucks coffee, buy them a gift card so they can get their venti Pike Place with cream and nine sugars.

Send them to a Writing Conference

Maybe you could pay part of their way to a writers conference. A little pricier than the other suggestions, but the writer in your life will love you for it if you can manage it. They are a great way for a writer to learn about many aspects of the business, from writing to editing to marketing.

Craft Books

Have they ever mentioned any books on the craft of writing? There are MANY.  Stephen King’s On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, and Become A Successful Indie Author by, Craig Martelle, have helped many writers with their work. All you need to do is search on-line for writing craft books if your writer doesn’t have a preference.

Buying a gift for the writer in your life doesn’t have to be difficult. Most of us are happy with anything, but having a little thought put into the gift-buying will bring a smile to their face. Happy shopping!


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.

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.