Posts Tagged ‘writing from the peak’

The Short Story

You have decided to write a short story. Congratulations! Short stories can be great fun to write, and like any writing project, they can be a bit daunting. So, what is a short story, and how do you write one?

It is Short

The first thing to keep in mind when writing a short story is pretty obvious, but I will say it anyway. Short stories are…well…short. They can range anywhere from 6 words (flash fiction) to 7,500 words. I have seen some accept 20,000 words as a short story, but that is more the realm of a novelette. I like to read short stories in one sitting so 7,500 is a nice top end.

It’s a Mini-Novel…Almost

Second thing to keep in mind is that a short story is almost a mini-novel. I want to emphasis the word almost. It is a mis-conception to think that a short story is written just like a novel because there are a lot of things a novel has that a short story doesn’t.

A novel will usually have many character and places, along with multiple story lines. A short story has only a few characters who may visit just a few places, and the plot lines through the story are limited to one or two. Of course, there is an exception to every rule, but in general this is how a short story plays out.

It is like a novel in that it has a beginning, middle and end. There are protagonists, antagonists, an inciting incident, a challenge to overcome, and a solution to the problem. All of these are squeezed into a compact story rather than an epic novel adventure.

Give it a Plot

When writing a short story the plot needs to be tight and concise. In short stories, every scene, paragraph, and sentence needs to be spot on with the plot. If you find yourself meandering between the North and South Poles then you might consider a novel instead.

The Hook

In the short story the hook looks a little different than in a novel. First, it usually comes in the first paragraph of a short, but better in the first few sentences. There isn’t much real estate in a short story so the hook may turn out to be only one or two words that are strategically placed to capture your reader’s attention.

The Draft

Everyone has their own way of getting words from their imagination to paper. My version of writing may not fit your’s, but that’s the beauty of writing. You can test different methods and find the one that fits you. My method is a bit sloppy, but it works for me. It’s like testing to see if spaghetti is cooked; slap it on the wall and see what sticks.

My mind skips around like a leaf blowing up the street. Sometimes it goes in a straight line, and sometimes it gets caught up in a dust devil. So goes my writing method. I usually don’t have a plan, goal, or idea when I start. I just crank out words that pop into my head and write them. Within about five or ten minutes of pure nonsense a plot forms and the story takes off.

Every once in awhile I will start with finding the main character’s name. I love odd or tongue-twister names. I wrote one story where I did an internet search for odd surnames and found Quackenbush then wrote a story around it.

The most important lesson I learned about writing short stories is to not fiddle too much. Frustrations will get you down and kill your creativity. If you get your story pounded out, without editing or second guessing as you write the draft, you will have an easier time in the editing phase.

The Hair Pulling

Once you have the bare bones of a draft you can move on to editing, revising, and hair pulling. During this phase you should be trimming the fat. Again, scenes need to be tight and concise. Make every word count.

In the draft you create where the story will start, where it will grow and thrive, then where it will conclude. The editing phase should only be about tweaking what you already have. Get rid of every word that doesn’t count, squeeze it until it sings.

But I Write Novels!

If you are a novel writer then you have to write short stories. They give you an opportunity to test out ideas without writing the entire book. Do a quick short story draft of your novel idea. See how it feels. If it writes into a good short story it could be a great novel too.

What if you already have several books under your belt? Then add a short story to your repertoire. If you’re not sure where to start here’s one idea; find a thread within the novel that you loved, but the story line didn’t let you fully explore. Expand the scene into a full short story that diverges from the main plot of your novel. Or, take a single character who is minor in your novel and write a short story with them as the protagonist.

Get Unstuck with a Short Story

If you get too bogged down in novel, then a short story will give your creativity a quick vacation away from the work. It may even give you ideas that will help move your novel forward. A quick short story will clear the cob webs.

When you are stuck on a short story then stop and write something else. Make it far out or goofy. Write about how Ford Parker learned to drive, or about Kenny Penny’s school days. A story can always be found in characters like Harry Baldz and his furry friend Shaggy. Have fun and keep on writing!


KJ Scrim, head shot

Kathie “KJ” Scrim is the Managing Editor at Writing from the Peak. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder the same year Roald Dahl published Matilda. Kathie’s 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. She scribbles every now and again on her blog, and you can follow her on FB and Twitter (@kjscrim).

The Five Insurmountable Problems of NaNoWriMo

By DeAnna Knippling

So you’re thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. Or you’re thinking about doing better this year. Or you’re partially through NaNo and you’re stuck and you hate life and you’re reading NaNo blogs because you just like to punish yourself for not being good enough as a writer.

Um, yeah.

NaNoWriMo is a kind of hothouse of writing.

NaNoWriMo is a kind of hothouse of writing. It brings up all kinds of ugly things that encapsulate our failures as writers – or at least the failures as we see them.

So let’s get past that, not by treating NaNoWriMo as a kind of writers’ resolution, (”This year, I will write 50,000 words, mostly by…I don’t know, just forcing myself!”) but by looking at the root causes.

Here’s my premise: anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

1. I don’t know what to write.

Tip: Pick the first memorable person you think of, drop them in a memorable setting (it’s easier if you know the setting reasonably well), and give them a problem they can’t solve using their normal M.O. (that is, don’t give a firefighter a fire to put out–give them a parent with cancer).

It’s not that we don’t know what to write. It’s that we get hung up on finding the perfect thing to write. Why is that? Because we’re secretly convinced that stories aren’t about how the story’s told, but about the idea that sets them off.

And yet. Everybody who’s ever admitted to being a writer in public has heard this: “I have this great idea for a book. Why don’t you write it for me – I’ll even give you a percentage of the profits. Fifty-fifty!” As though the idea was worth half the work in the book. You’d laugh at that person…if it wasn’t you.

If you’re held up on the idea, then coming up with the perfect idea has got to go. Because anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

2. I have no time to write.

Tip: Give up Facebook and Twitter for November. If you want to get really extreme, give up all non-job reading and entertainment for the month…no reading, no games, no going out, no socializing…but them’s desperate measures.

You have time to write. I’m sorry, you do. It’s not about time, it’s about fear.

I once had a talk with my daughter about math class, which she normally likes and finds easy. She had a math teacher who threw things at her faster than she’s comfortable with. I could have a talk with the teacher about slowing things down for her or helping her somehow. Maybe getting her a tutor (well, other than me). Instead my daughter and I discussed learning and what it feels like, and how easy it is to run away from feeling like that. I told her that part of a good teacher’s job is to unsettle you, to get you used to and over the terror of learning.

I told her it’s okay to take breaks from your homework, but she can’t run away.

You have time to write; it’s just easier to justify cooking healthy meals and spending some extra time with the kids and doing laundry and Dr. Who and even puttering around on Facebook than it is to face learning something new. If you have fifteen minutes, you can have a page of fiction.

Yes. You can. When you’re not screwing around like a kid trying to avoid homework. When you’re not paralyzed by fear.

Telling yourself you have no time to write stops you from writing–it’s a bad writing technique.

3. I write nothing but crap.

Tip: Check all the items on this list:

  • Did I drink enough water?
  • Have I eaten? Have I eaten something other than crap during one of my last two meals?
  • Have I had enough sleep?
  • Have I had enough exercise?
  • Have I journaled/stress relieved lately?

Some people are surprised to find out that mental effort is physically draining, and learning something new is even worse. NaNo is a writing marathon, and it will burn energy and other resources faster than you’re used to. When you feel drained and horrible about your writing, first check that your body (or subconscious) isn’t trying to send you a message: I need fueland/or repairs.

The other part of this issue is the nature of crap.

The bad news is that we all write crap. The good news is that when you know you’re writing crap, it means you’re ahead of the game–seriously. In order to learn something new, you have to be uncomfortable with where you are now. Viscerally. Painfully.

The idea that you have to feel like you’re writing well in order to be a good writer sounds logical but it will keep you from writing and improving. It’s a bad writing technique!

4. I wrote for a while, but now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do.

Tip: Write the next thing. Or maybe back up a paragraph or two, delete that, and then write the next thing.

A few years ago I took up knitting as a bucket-list kind of thing. I’d failed miserably at it as a kid – my mom’s right-handed to my leftiness, and she’s no good at explaining things from the other direction. I thought I was doomed. However, then I realized I have the Internet. I must have gone through fifty knitting videos on learning how to get started knitting before I found The One That Made Sense. At one point, I could have watched knitting videos all day. Instead of actually, you know, knitting.

You can, and should, and will do research to find out what works for you. But it has to be based on your personal trial and error, not on other people’s advice. No class, no mentor, no co-author can replace Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard. The only way to get comfortable with writing is to write.

But what if you’re stuck? Seriously stuck? And you can’t write another word?

You can. You must.

During any long writing project, you will more than likely get stuck at some point, especially as you realize you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’ve been doing, or what you’re going to do next. I’ve talked to writers at various levels of experience. As far as I can tell, this feeling never goes away.

So you look up and realize you’ve painted yourself into a corner. Oh, no – there’s no way to get the characters out of this situation! Clearly, it’s time to completely rewrite the entire book. Or just quit writing. FOREVER.

Except there always is a way out of every fictional situation, no matter how bad, because the characters get to destroy the walls and tramp all over the paint. Nuclear bombs? Alien invasion? Falling in love with someone else entirely? That’s what edits are for: rewriting the opening so the ending fits.

When you get stuck, write the next sentence. It might be weird, ungrammatical, awkward, annoying, offensive, etc., etc. Just plain wrong.

It is also yours in a way that the best-planned, structurally pretty sentences will never be. When you have pushed past everything you can think and plan, then you enter into a territory of naked honesty, which is often ugly and just plain wrong.

This is where the art of writing lies. The rest is craft. You need to know craft. I love craft. But this is where the art is, where you go, “I have nothing. I know nothing. I am writing out on a limb, on a one-sided bridge off a cliff with no opposite bank. I am skydiving without a parachute. I am a fake. I am full of crap and so is this.”

But that’s where the good stuff is.

This idea that you’re stuck because you’re at a dead end – it’s a lie, it’s fear talking. It stops you from writing – so it’s gotta’ go. You’re stuck because you’re at the edge of the cliff. The next sentence you write must be magic. Not because it was good (although it will be, if you let yourself recognize it), but because you were able to write it at all.

5. Now what?

Tip: Continue to be a pain in the butt and do what’s right for you as a writer.

At some point, you’ll decide that you’ve finished your NaNo novel, or that you’re not going to.

In either case, you’re going to hear some negative things about NaNo authors, or people who don’t finish, or people who do, or new writers in general, or whatever. The people who depend on you will be relieved that it’s over. You will be relieved that it’s over.

You’ll be left dangling. Now what?

People will give you advice. A lot of it will sound really logical.

However, if it makes you want to stop writing, it’s a bad writing technique. No matter how logical it is, no matter how long people have been doing it. It’s bad. If you just want to work on something new and not finish your NaNo project – do that. (If you never want to do NaNo again – then don’t!) If you want to keep writing every day despite the fact that people tell or imply that you suck – then write. If the idea of submitting makes you want to never write again – then don’t submit (yet). If the idea of having to perfect your work before you can submit it makes you want to roll up in a ball – then submit before it’s perfect. If getting too many rejections kills you – then take it slow, or wait until you’ve written five other things and you don’t care whether that old thing gets rejected or not.

Work around the problems until they aren’t problems anymore. Learn one thing at a time, not all at once. Be kind to yourself. Keep writing.

Everything else is a bad writing technique.


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 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.

Marketing During NaNoWriMo – Are you Crazy?

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

National Novel Writing Month is right around the corner, and I’m going to talk to you about marketing while you’re writing. I know what you’re thinking: Are you nuts?

Writing 1667 words a day every day for 30 days is daunting enough, and now I’m asking you to think about marketing while you’re doing it. Why yes, I am.

Wait! Hang in there!

What’s awesome about NaNoWriMo is the flood of ideas that rush in your head while you’re furiously writing your book. A lot of those ideas won’t make it in the book, so I want you to write them down.

Why?

Because writing down any ideas you have while you’re in the midst of this windstorm of fiction will give you exactly what you need to focus your marketing later.

Huh?

Marketing is simply finding a way to reach readers. That’s it. In order to do that, you need content. Anything you have in a story can be used for your author brand. Drink the Koolaid because no matter if you traditionally publish or go indie, you’ll be doing the bulk of your marketing.

Writer’s Digest hosted a panel at their annual conference in August with publicists from Hachette and Penguin Random House, and right up front, the moderator said, “All authors should have a fundamental understanding of marketing.” 

I’m not going to get into an explanation of the fundamentals of marketing right now. I’ll have a post on that after the maelstrom of NaNo is over. In the meantime, I just want you to be prepared and ready to go.

So, after you’re done writing for the day, take three minutes and make a quick note. What burst in your brain today about these characters and the story? Think about it like a book bible. Simply write down the pieces.

Use the list below to help you.

  • Character names
  • Character jobs or careers
  • Character hobbies or interests
  • Settings
  • Locations
  • Histories of the town or the people
  • Minor characters your MC came in contact with..their jobs and hobbies
  • Restaurants that appeared in the story
  • Businesses that appeared in the story

Not only will this list help you organize your thoughts about the story, it gives you tons of fodder to develop a marketing plan in December. I’ll walk you through it. Until then, simply take notes.


Jennifer Lovett

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
You can find her on her
 WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

A Visit with Laura Ingalls Wilder

By: Margena Holmes

My husband and I recently celebrated our 33rd anniversary by taking a trip to South Dakota. He wanted to visit Mount Rushmore and I figured if we’re going to go there, why not take a trip to De Smet to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites and museum? Laura Ingalls Wilder is the biggest influence of why I’m an author today, so visiting De Smet, where the last five books in her series take place, has been a Bucket List item of mine ever since I found out you can visit the site and see where she lived.

Open prairie at the Homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Open prairie at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder

In her writing, Laura’s use of description painted a picture of everything she saw. As a young girl, she had to become good at describing things. Her sister Mary became blind at the age of 14, so Pa Ingalls told Laura that she had to be her sister’s eyes and “show” her the scenery. That is why as writers we must show what is happening in our stories instead of telling.  We paint the picture for our readers so they can see what the characters see, and experience what is happening in the story.

We first toured the surveyor’s house. While reading the books, I understood the houses that she lived in were small. “Small” to me was having a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The surveyor’s house did have four rooms—three downstairs (the kitchen with a small pantry, and bedroom, and the parlor) and one upstairs (another bedroom). Laura, used to living in smaller houses, called it a mansion! It was about this point of the tour that I found out that Laura was tiny—4’11”. So, when Laura’s father called her his little “half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up” he wasn’t joking!

Claim shanty at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Claim shanty at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Next we drove out to where the Ingalls family had their homestead. The house was gone, but there were other things to experience. The five cottonwood trees that Pa Ingalls planted for each of the girls and Ma Ingalls were still standing. As I stood in that area, I tried to imagine how Laura might have seen everything for the first time. I could truly see why Pa Ingalls had spent the night at the land office to make sure he got that parcel of land. Everything was as Laura described. The Big Slough with its coarse grasses, the soft grasses of the prairie, and the flat land with little prairie swells, though there are more trees there now than were probably there in Laura’s time. Pa Ingalls said at the time that tree claims would put trees all over the area, and it looks to be true.

Author Margena Holmes enjoys the trees around the homestead.
Author Margena Holmes enjoys the trees Charles Ingalls planted around the homestead.

There was also a replica of the dug-out house that they lived in on Plum Creek in Minnesota. It was exactly as Laura described it in her books—dirt floor, sod walls, and you wouldn’t know it was there until you had gone down the hill. I remember reading this as a young girl and I could smell the scents of the dirt as I read. This smelled just like I remembered reading.

Through Laura’s description of the area, I felt like I had seen these places already. That is why, as writers, we need to make our descriptions as real as possible, to bring the reader into the story. Laura did well in describing her life on the prairie.


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

Juggling Multiple Projects

By Catherine Dilts

Eight years ago I received a helpful bit of writing advice. A multi-published author recommended having a minimum of three projects going at a time.

If you’re struggling to complete a story, this may sound like bad advice. Juggling multiple stories can become an avoidance technique.

Writing the beginning of a story involves one type of brainstorming. Endings are a different game altogether. If you’ve never completed a short story or novel, push everything else aside until you get a rough draft finished. Only then will you have an ingrained roadmap required for simultaneous creative trips.

Why should you try working multiple projects?

The Simmering Pot stage:

Let’s presume you have finished a short story or novel. It may be a very rough first draft, or you may plan to submit it soon to a magazine or agent.

  1. Set that story aside for a week. Even a month. When you come back to it, you will see it in a more objective light. Everything from typos to plot holes will jump out at you.
  2. While that completed draft is resting, begin a new project. Those creative juices tend to stagnate if not kept flowing.
  3. You start working, and an idea occurs about the first project. Like a pot on the stove, you set it aside to simmer, but find yourself returning to stir frequently. Resist the urge to do major editing. Instead, jot down your thoughts on a sticky note, in the margins of your manuscript, or in red in the electronic file.
  4. Return to the second project, slamming out a hasty draft. When that’s roughed out, step things up by jotting notes for a third story. Only then do you return to polish the first story.

The Shifting Priorities stage:

When you have three stories going at once, you can allocate attention to the project that best suits your mood or time constraints. You do not work on all three stories every day, or even every month. You can focus on one story at a time. The point is, if you get stuck creatively or time-wise, you have something else waiting for your attention.

  1. Marathons – You may require stretches of uninterrupted time to plot. Maybe you get bogged down in character development or research. Final edits may be when you most need several continuous hours to work. Save your longer writing sessions to do this work.
  2. Sprints – Work or family obligations make it impossible to get in a good brainstorming session. When you have three stories going at once, one may be at a stage where you can effectively work in fits and starts. There are points in my short story process where it makes sense to carry a manuscript around, jotting notes as they occur to me.
  3. Passion – One story jumps to life, consuming you. Focus on that tale until the fire wanes. Remember though, writing isn’t all about the Muse inspiring you with intense creative bursts. Be ready to put in the plodding along hours, too.
  4. You get a nibble. A request to send chapters to an editor. You can drop the other two projects to work on the one most likely to get a contract.

The main reasons I like having multiple projects going:

  1. Your pace of production will increase when you juggle multiple writing projects. Once a project is completed, and pushed out of your creative queue, start another to take its place.
  2. You won’t experience blank page syndrome, that empty feeling when a story is finally really finished. Instead, you’ll pick up a work-in-progress and hit the ground running.
  3. When a story is with an editor or agent, you won’t be as anxious waiting for a response if you’re working on other projects.
  4. When an agent asks “what else have you got,” you have an answer.

You may have experienced writer’s block. Sometimes, setting a story aside can get you “unstuck.” The danger is that you’ll never get back to that story, or writing in general. You don’t want that to happen.

Nor do you want to skitter from unfinished story to story like a frog hopping across a pond. Or like that aunt with a sewing room jammed with piles of fabrics in various states of un-done-ness,  jutting pins and fraying edges a testament to procrastination. Finish your projects – unless one proves to be totally unworkable. I have several completed novels and short stories that will never see the light of day, but finishing them taught me valuable lessons.

The friend who gave me the three project rule is a short story author. I write both short fiction and novels. This technique works juggling a mix of long and short fiction. A short story may cycle through the queue faster, while a novel may work slowly through the process, but it still keeps my production high.

Give it a try. You may find yourself turning out more stories, and at a faster pace.


Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library with two novels, Ink Or Swim and A Thorny Plot. Working in the world of hazardous substances regulation, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. The two worlds collide in the humorous mystery novel Survive Or Die. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at http://www.catherinedilts.com/

Sweet Success for David Slayton

by: Darby Karchut

David Slayton is pleased to announce that his contemporary fantasy, WHITE TRASH WARLOCK, will be published fall 2020.  Here’s the official announcement from Publishers Weekly:

“#OwnVoices David Slayton’s WHITE TRASH WARLOCK, in which estranged brothers from rural Oklahoma must reconcile or fall prey to the immortal powers using their family as pawns in a game Death herself is determined to win, to Rick Bleiweiss at Blackstone Publishing, in a very nice deal, in a three-book deal, for publication in fall 2020, by Lesley Sabga at The Seymour Agency (world English).”

Congratulations to David!

David grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. Now he lives in Denver, Colorado and writes the books he always wanted to read.

In addition to writing, David has taught workshops and appeared on panels at Denver Comic Con, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, the League of Utah Writers Quills Conference, and the Seymour Agency Winter Retreat.

By day he’s a software implementation consultant.

You can learn more about David on his website or follow him on social media at Twitter and Facebook.


Sweet Success is coordinated by Contributing Editor, Darby Karchut.

Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by, Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.

If you have a Sweet Success Story to share, please contact Darby at: SweetSuccess@pikespeakwriters.com

ADDING DETAILS ON THE FLY:

Five fast tips to help your worldbuilding.

By: DeAnna Knippling

So, there I was, writing a story but didn’t have time to stop and research a few points.  Just kidding!  I always have time to stop and research.  My problem is taking too much time to stop and research.  I can research literally all day while chasing details down the rabbit hole.

Other people struggle to identify opportunities to do research.  “I’ll just name the character Bob,” they say. “And why would I bother to describe this hallway? It’s just a hallway.” Yet when they get feedback that the story didn’t grab their readers, they’re mystified.

If you’re looking for a) ways to write details that don’t require reading six nonfiction books and a pile of research, or b) ways to stop naming all your characters Bob and putting them in Everytown, USA, then here are five tips to help you find a balance between going down the research rabbit hole and forgetting to add details to your setting.

1. Research character names

Quick mental exercise:  How old is a woman named Evelyn?  How old is a woman named Madison?

Even common names (both of them come from the Social Security Administration’s top names over the last 100 years) can reflect different character backgrounds, ages, and characters.  Does Madison go by Maddy, Mads, or her full name?  Is Evelyn an Eve, a Lynn, or an Evvie?

Here are some quick ways to snag names that will help with your worldbuilding:

  • Look up cemetery records for your settings.  I love Interment.net.
  • Work out the year the character was born and look up popular baby names that year.  I like the Social Security’s website, which can sort by decade, state, and more. 
  • If you have a character in a historical or secondary world (an alien, elf, etc.), try looking up character name generators.  One of my favorites is the Dickens Character Generator.  Today’s name: Virgilius Bummitch. I also like the Fantasy Name Generator site, which covers far more than just fantasy names. 

2. Research interior locations

No character is ever in just a “house,” “office,” “school,” or “hallway.”  The walls aren’t uniformly white, and there isn’t always a picket fence in the front yard.  Do a quick image search and find two things you expect to see, and one you didn’t, or one that really struck you. 

Some good location tips:

  • Real estate websites.  I like Zillow, because it lets me sort by location, price, house size, year built, and other details. Could my character afford it?
  • Image searches.  The trick here is to include words like “interior” and add a location name.  A search for “hospital” will get you a lot of bland white rooms with people in scrubs.  If you see a lot of similar, non-specific results, then you’re probably getting stock photos and not pictures of actual places.  

3.  Get a feel for the area with Street View

No two areas are exactly alike.  If your characters tend to end up in “Everytown, USA,” then it’s time to narrow your focus. It’s perfectly okay to pick locations you’re familiar with, even if you change the names to protect people’s privacy.  Please change the names of businesses!

Zoom out to the country you want to use, then start clicking until you zoom in on a town that’s about the right size for your story.  Use Google Street View by dropping the little yellow person icon on a street.  Congratulations! You now have a location.  Some things to look for:

  • Is the area more urban or rural?
  • What kind of climate does the plant life (or lack thereof) imply?
  • What else is nearby? If your character needs certain resources (like a grocery store), are they close?

Describing an area with two elements you expected and one element you didn’t is almost always a good idea.

4. Unimportant characters still deserve their own faces.

Probably you’ve picked out the identities of your main characters before you start writing. But what about everyone else?

  • Do an image search for the person’s location and job title, then pick the first face that “grabs” you. 
  • Search Wikipedia for “[location name] demographics.” Pull up a random number generator like Number Generator for the numbers 1-100, and start playing the odds to determine the character’s gender, race, age, relationship status, and more.

My advice is not to give more than three distinct elements to a background character, or to use the same three elements every time. 

5. YouTube = sounds and movement.

What does your character sound like?  Take a moment to search YouTube for “[location name] accent,” “accent challenge,” or “accent tag.”

Most of the time when writing an accent, you want to focus on word choice and rhythm—not using apostrophes or misspellings to indicate sounds. You may notice that people slip deeper into an accent when they’re around people with the same accent, or try to use a more “neutral” accent if they want to sound smart!

What does the setting feel like?  Look on YouTube for your location name to see if you can find YouTubers in local settings, not talking but just recording what’s going on around them. 

Often you can search for “[location name] driving” and get a video of people driving through different neighborhoods.  Another good search is “[location name] wilderness.” Videos without music are best. Another good search term is “tour of [location name].”

And yes, you can do this for non-real locations.  NASA has the first video that pops up for “tour of spaceship.” It’s pretty cool. And often the game Assassin’s Creed has amazingly detailed locations with a lot of historical accuracy, which players will record and post on YouTube for you.

These are simple, no-brainer tips; often when we’re writing, it’s just a matter of remembering to use them.  Every place outside of a Twilight Zone episode is a real place—or at least real to itself—and it’s filled with people with distinct identities, accents, and attitudes. 

If you leave your settings on “default” or “who cares, it’s not important to the plot” all the time, you’re missing a major chance to make the reader feel like you’ve built them a real world to play around in—whether it’s in space, the past, a fictional location, or a fantasy one.


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 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.

ZEBULON – What’s New?

By: Amy Armstrong

Almost exactly two years ago, I moved to Denver with a lot of debt, a broken heart, and the urge to finally take my writing seriously. At 37, I was beginning to worry that I could die before I was published. My mom consoled me though. I have been published already. It was a short article in ArtCalendar about resume writing for artists, but she seemed to believe that item is now off my bucket list. I still want to write a novel that is traditionally published and I continue to nurture my big dreams because Pikes Peak Writers has been there for me since the start. Consequently, when SM Rose contacted me about volunteering to be part of the Zebulon 2020 Committee, I immediately agreed.

 Over the past few months, I’ve often wondered if I bit off a lot more than I can chew. Actually, I know I have, but I’m trying my best to stay afloat here because the Zebulon is a valuable part of everything we offer writers through PPW. It’s an opportunity for feedback that many writers receive on their writing for the first time as well as visibility for emerging writers.

The Zebulon Logo

 Unlike a submission to a literary magazine, The Zebulon accepts novel excerpts (most literary magazines do not) and provides each contestant with feedback in the form of ratings on various aspects of their piece. For an extra $25, contestants can receive a one-page critique from one of our judges.

The Judges

 The judges are another part of The Zebulon that are particularly special this year. I make a point of networking with authors throughout Colorado as well as around the country, and several of our judges are professionals I reached out to personally to help our writers grow and refine their craft.

No contest will ever be perfect. However, we have worked hard on The Zebulon relaunch to make it even more helpful to writers, and I hope that the changes are beneficial.

Here is a list of highlights of changes we have made:

  • Entries are sent via Submittable to remain consistent with our contest’s goal of mirroring professional publishing’s submission process.
  • We no longer require a query. Novel excerpt entries now consist of only a synopsis and the 2,500-word sample.
  • The short story category is back. Writers now can submit up to a 5,000-word short story from any genre.
  • Prizes are now monetary to encourage a diverse pool of applicants. While we hope everyone will want to join us at Conference next year, we know that is not always possible.

 Making these changes has been challenging. Some people within the organization embraced them more readily than others, but growing pains are part of the process. I’m still happy I agreed to volunteer for the committee. Anyone who wants to discourage me is going to need to try harder.

The Zebulon opens September 1st, 2019 and closes November 1st, 2019, 12:00 p.m, MST. Only the first 200 entries will be accepted.

Hosted by Pikes Peak Writers, the Zebulon gives fiction writers at all levels the chance to get their work in front of professional agents and editors. The contest simulates the real process of submitting to an agent, serving as an excellent learning experience. Do you have what it takes to get published? The Zebulon will help you find out.


Amy Armstrong

Amy Armstrong has been doing a little bit of everything in the writing community, since she came to Denver in 2017. She participates in live storytelling and readings throughout the Denver area. Locations include BookBar, The Mercury Cafe, and the Whittier Cafe. She volunteers for Pikes Peak Writers as Coordinator of Social Media and was recognized as the 2019 Volunteer of the Year. 

Obnoxious is Obnoxious – Email Marketing for Authors

by: Jennifer Lovett

So, there’s this narrative going around that marketers are telling authors to do email marketing and do it in a way that makes you besties with your list. Let me disavow you of that notion right now. Do NOT make besties with your email list. That list is for your reader to get to know you, not the other way around.

I feel email marketing is the new “buy my book” on Twitter thing that was going around a few years ago. Someone somewhere said, “All authors should be on Twitter,” but that “someone” didn’t teach authors how to do Twitter and thus, authors became obnoxious tweeting their buy links out every five seconds. Email has become the latest thing. And obnoxious is obnoxious no matter the platform.

Email marketing is a chance for you to develop a brand for yourself over time. It’s a long-term strategy, not a hard sell strategy. I do recommend it for authors, but I recommend it at a level you are comfortable at. Email once a month and make it fun for you and the reader. If you can’t do this, then just collect emails until you are ready. If you are chatty and have fun things to say, email once a week. Do not email more than that. Open rates plummet.

The more you can make the email sound like one from a friend, the better your open rates will be. Because I want you to use email successfully, I created a checklist for you:

Why do authors need an email list?

  • Email usage is up. Nielsen and Pew Research both report an increase in email usage. 71% of email users admit to looking at them first thing in the morning
  • Email is seen more often by the recipient than any social media post. Social media is saturated scrolling and your followers may or may not ever see your post. If you run a business profile, those followers definitely won’t see it without paying for ads.
  • Open rates. Organic reach on a Facebook Page is 3-5% (it can get as high as 10-12 with good engagement). Twitter is about the same. Instagram is slightly higher. Open rates on email are in the 25-30% range.
  • You own the list. Forever. Your social media followers don’t give you their address and the platform owns the list. If they go under or out of style, remember Google+ or MySpace, you lose that list. Forever.

How do you build the list?

  • Pick an email service provider. Free ones up to a certain number of subscribers include MailerLite, Mailchimp, SendinBlue, or Drip.
  • Create a freebie or magnet. This should be something the reader wants: free book or novella, scenes, maps, case studies, recipes from a series. Get creative.
  • Build your landing page. This is where readers will sign up for your list. Not too cluttered and to the point. Make it fun.
  • Use the double Opt-in. This keeps you out of ANTI-SPAM law trouble.
  • Create an automated email trail. This is a series of introductory emails for the reader – to you, the stories, the setting, the character, releases, appearances, events. ONE email with a place to buy your books is good. No more.
  • Segment your list. This will tell you who actually opens your emails. This will matter when you start having to pay for subscribers.
  • Split test. Test subject lines, photos, contents, anything to increase open rates. Test only one component at time or you’ll receive skewed results.
  • Avoid spammy words. FREE, BUY, OPEN NOW, PROMISE, OBLIGATION. Google for more. These will get your emails kicked to spam.

What should I email?

Anything beneficial to the reader. Email is for the reader not you. Keep that in mind always. Don’t try to become their best friend. If they want a relationship with you, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, email should provide them with insight into your books. It also helps them get to know you, because readers enjoy buying books from people they know or think they do.

  • Progress reports on the current work in progress.
  • Book launch announcements.
  • Events and appearances.
  • New blog posts.
  • Research.
  • Photos of your last trip and what you learned (keep the size small so you don’t clog up their email box).
  • Positive reviews your book received.
  • Interviews with research subjects or other authors.
  • List of your favorites (books, authors, movies, plays, music).
  • Promotions and/or giveaways.
  • Deleted scenes (also good for a freebie).
  • Milestone news (anniversaries, birthdays).
  • Backstory (you know, all that stuff you wanted to put in your book but your agent made you take it all out).
  • Quotes and questions.
  • Photo – one SMALL photo. You don’t want to make the email size too big.
  • Call to action (buy the book, attend the event, respond to a question, meet the author). Use Calls to Action sparingly so the reader doesn’t feel spammed.
  • Use a P.S. because they are the highest read section. You can let them know what to expect in the next edition or something fun about your character. The best ones are a Call to Action that get them to click on your website or social media.

Subject lines.

I get questions about subject lines quite often. There are several schools of thought. Marketing Guru Neil Patel recommends one-word subject lines or anything that resembles a note from a friend.

Think about how you use subject lines and apply them. Don’t use spammy words because they’ll likely end up in spam. Try using emojis (increases open rates 45%) and the word “video” – those are getting high open rates.

Alchemy Worx analyzed 25 billion emails and found the subject lines with the best open rates included jokes, congratulations, the words: you, revision, forecast, snapshot, token, voluntary, deduction and free. Here are some other ideas:

What…?
Do you….
Don’t open this email!
Check out my new ….
Pairs nicely with
As you wish
Day at the beach?
Avoid these people
Where do I get ….
Stop wasting …
How to survive ….
Hey I forgot …
Good news! ….
Are you coming?
Vanilla or Chocolate?
Seriously, what?

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

I Want to Write a Book Someday

By: Margena Holmes

We’ve all heard that phrase before, either from someone we’ve just met (once they find out we’re writers), or someone we know well and they want advice on how to start writing. What do you tell them?

Is it easy?

Most people think that writing is easy. You just sit down and write, right? Well, yes and no. What are you going to write about? When people tell me they want to write a book, most of the time they have no clue what they want to write about. I’m pretty sure they think being an author is some kind of glamorous life where lots of money is to be made, and we get inspiration every day. Well, news flash—it doesn’t always work out that way. I wish it did!

What makes your story unique?

Be Unique

That is the hard part—thinking about something to write, and writing it in a different way that hasn’t been done before. Remember, every topic has pretty much been written about before so what makes YOUR story unique?

Write, write, and write some more!

People (mostly teens with their parents) have come up to my table at comic cons and say they want to be a writer, and what should they do? Heck, if I had all the answers, I’d be making millions! What I DO know and can tell them is to read, read, read, and then write, write, write. Write about your day, write about a scene you might have witnessed. Practice your craft as much as you can. These kids are usually sincere about wanting to be a writer, and I will help them in any way I can.

What about the ones who say they want to be a writer and when you ask them what they want to write about, they give you a blank stare, or tell you, “Oh, I don’t know yet”? I’ll tell them the same thing as I tell anyone else—read and write and practice. I can always tell if they are serious by what happens next. If they get excited over the advice and start asking more questions, they genuinely want to write. If they say, “Oh, I don’t think I need to read, I just want to write something.” Welp, they’re enamored by the thought of it but don’t want to put in the work.

Writing is a process

And it is work. You have to think of what to write, outline it (unless you’re a pantser), write it, rewrite it, then either have a critique partner or beta reader read it, make more changes, THEN it’s ready for the editor. You’ll probably want to read books about the craft of writing, attend some writers conferences (which isn’t work to me because I love to learn), and read some more.

I’m still waiting for the ones who’ve said they want to write a book (and have asked for my advice) to write their book. How many people have told you they want to write a book? What do YOU tell them?


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.