Showing posts with label the craft of writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the craft of writing. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 7

Murdoch Mysteries: The Characters

Murdoch Mysteries: The Characters

I love Murdoch Mysteries. I’ve watched the entire series, twice! It's a terrific series and enormously popular in Canada and the UK. My question: Why? What is it about this series that has not only captivated me but millions of others.

That's what I'm going to try and puzzle out in this mini-series. Today I'll talk about the characters and in my next post I'll dissect the structure of an episode.

Murdoch Mysteries: The Characters

Have you heard of Frank Gruber? Gruber once bragged that he could write “a complete mystery novel in 16 days”![1]

Gruber was a prolific writer in the age of Pulp. He wrote “more than 300 stories for over 40 pulp magazines, as well as more than sixty novels, which ... sold more than ninety million copies in 24 countries, sixty five screenplays, and a hundred television scripts. Twenty five of his books have sold to motion pictures, and he created three TV series...”[1]

Why I mention Gruber here is that he wrote a terrific article that The Thrilling Detective has reproduced, one that I think can help us when talking about murder mysteries and characterization.

The Protagonist

While the detective isn’t always a hero he tends to be, especially in English Murder Mysteries. Gruber writes:

“THE HERO. A hero must be colorful. He must have an occupation that is colorful or he must be a colorful person. In general, I have followed the theory that a regular policeman or detective is not colorful. Just think a moment about the greatest detective in all detective fiction - Sherlock Holmes - and you will quickly grasp what I mean by colorful.”[2]

Let’s take a look at Detective William Murdoch. What are his traits?

Detective William Murdoch

Murdoch invents forensic techniques and gadgets that are echoes of common technologies that exist today. He then uses his inventions them to solve cases.

Pro: Because of Murdoch’s use of these techniques he is able to solve crimes no one else can.
Con: His unconventional  methods open him to the ridicule of his peers.

  • Murdoch is mild, the opposite of bold and colorful.
  • He is Roman Catholic in a city that is aggressively protestant.
  • Murdoch has no patience—or aptitude—for politics.

Now for the questions:

a. Does William Murdoch have a colorful occupation?

Is a police detective colorful? I think so! It’s certainly an interesting profession to a number of people. Think of how many shows have been wildly, insanely, popular and that had detectives as their main characters (CSI, Law & Order, etc., etc.)

b. Is William Murdoch a colorful person?

NO! Decidedly not. He is the sensible one, the one who never (or practically never) loses his temper. He is self-controlled, logical. But this gives the other characters a blank—or bland!—canvas to bounce off of. Drabness, Mildness, is Murdoch’s thing!

Murdoch's very drabness, sets him apart from everyone else. It’s not just drabness, mildness, but EXAGGERATED drabness. And, as such, it is, in its own way, colorful.

The Sidekick

FOIL. The sidekick is also called a helper and is often a foil for the protagonist, someone who emphasizes the detective's exceptional qualities by having contrasting ones. For example, Watson’s more ordinary mind provides a nice contrast with Sherlock’s brilliant one, just as Watson’s grasp of social niceties contrasted with Sherlock’s complete ignorance.

SUPPLIES A CRITICAL CLUE. Often the sidekick will supply the detective with the thought, the clue, the idea, that makes everything clear. Usually this is something that seems to be completely unrelated to the case, but it sparks something in the sleuth, he makes a critical connection he wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t heard it.[4]

Constable George Crabtree

How does this tie in with George Crabtree? Let’s see:

  • Technical expertise. Generally speaking, George doesn’t have technical expertise and doesn’t especially desire any, though he doesn’t have trouble completing the tasks Murdoch sets for him and even, occasionally, comes up with a unique insight or two.
  • Rather than being mild and retiring, George is outgoing and sociable. He finds it relatively easy to connect with others.
  • Office Politics. George has more of a head for politics than Murdoch.
  • Loyal. George is intensely loyal to both Detective Murdoch and Inspector Brackenreid. This is a trait he shares with William Murdoch.
  • Unconventional thinking. One of the things I love about George is his ability to come up with a supernatural explanation for unexplained phenomena. He is the opposite of Occam’s Razor!

The Relationship Character

The relationship character, generally speaking, carries the theme of the story. Here’s what Gruber says about theme:

“THEME. This, to me, is the most important element of any mystery story plot. By theme I mean subject matter, what the story is about in addition to, over and above, the ACTUAL MURDER plot. To illustrate:

“‘Death and the Main’ is about fighting cocks. I give a reasonably inside account of how gamecocks are raised, how they are fought, etc. This is knowledge not possessed by the average reader and believe me, I did not know it until I read up on the subject, for the purpose of this story.

“My book, The Lock & the Key, was about locksmiths. A liberal education in making locks and keys was thrown into the murder plot. I knew absolutely nothing about locks and keys until I did research on the subject. I know no more than is in the book.

“If you have ever read Dorothy Sayers' excellent English mysteries, you will find that THEME figures superbly. In The Nine Tailors, the reader learns all about church bells, the art of bell-ringing, etc. In Murder Must Advertise, Miss Sayers discusses advertising in all its phases.

“HOWEVER . . . knowledge of a subject should be used sparingly. The mystery reader may not be as interested in the subject as you are.”

Dr. Julia Ogden

How can we apply what Gruber says about theme to Julia? To answer this, first, let’s look at a few of the good doctor’s defining traits.

  • Doctor Julia Ogden is a modern woman, eager and more than able to shed confining Victorian prejudices.
  • She is blunt, straightforward.
  • She is Murdoch’s ally.
  • She shares Murdoch’s fascination with science and gadgetry.
  • Her family would prefer that she stopped working, married and had lots of children.
  • Although she has no patience for politics she can navigate these waters better than Murdoch.

Julia’s function in the story is to help Murdoch solve the case by giving him information about the victim,  about the manner of his/her death, about what the victim was like in life—whether they had children, their age, how long it took them to die, relative fitness level, what they’d eaten, and so on.

Further, she is a nice contrast to Murdoch. She is often (in the best possible way) a complication, something that upsets the orderliness of his life. Something that makes him stretch himself as a person (e.g., because of Julia, Murdoch took dancing lessons! As did Julia herself.).

The Murderer

Frank Gruber writes:

“VILLAIN. Let's face it, the hero of detective fiction is a Superman. The villain must therefore be a super-Superman or have plenty of assistants. The odds must ALWAYS be against the hero.”[1]

Who the murderer is will, of course, vary from episode to episode, though there are commonalities between all, or at least most, of them.

  • The murderer is almost always introduced within the first few minutes. Often, they seem to be a sympathetic character. 
  • There is often some compelling reason why we don’t suspect the murderer. Perhaps they seem nice and Murdoch might have a crush on them. Perhaps they are acting as a consultant to the police and, generally speaking, police consultants aren’t murders. Or perhaps the murderer is a police detective.

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

How to Write a Mystery, by Larry Beinhart.

I first read this book YEARS ago and it’s great! Larry Beinhart talks about narrative drive, plotting, openings, scene construction, hooks, all the good stuff! Although Beinhart has written quite a bit he is perhaps best known for his book American Hero which was adapted into the film Wag the Dog.

All right! This post is only the beginning. On Wednesday I’ll go over the structure of a Murdock Mysteries episode.


1. Frank Gruber, Wikipedia

2. Frank Gruber's "Fool-proof" 11 Point Formula for Mystery Short Stories.

3. Murdoch Mysteries, Wikipedia.

4. Mystery Writing Basics: Characters & Plot, by Angela Ackerman

Monday, January 23

4 Ways to Choose a Blog Topic Your Readers Will Love

4 Ways to Choose a Blog Topic Your Readers Will Love

One of the most difficult things about blogging is deciding exactly what to blog about. To be honest, I think picking a topic is something of a dark art. For years, it was a source of agony but then I developed a few strategies.

I’ll confess that I was stumped about what to write about today (it was difficult to rip myself away from working on my book!), but instead of going through this process myself—which I do on a regular basis—I thought I’d share the process itself.

I find that, often, creativity needs a nudge. Like an oyster needs a spec of sand around which to form a beautiful pearl, so writers often need inspiration to get their ideas flowing.

In any case, if I don’t have a topic in mind to write about, then here’s how I choose one. But, before I get to that, let me show you what I affectionately think of as, ‘The Test.’

The Test

In order for a topic to get the green light it has to pass two checks:

A. Would my readers be passionate about this topic?
B. Am I passionate about this topic?

You are wildly interested in a topic but your readers? Not so much. 

Let’s face it, if your readers aren’t interested in a particular topic then, even if you’ve written the most erudite article, why torment them? Do write the article, but publish in another venue!

You think your readers would love to read about a certain topic but you’re not passionate about the topic.

I’ve had this happen. A few years ago I received several requests from readers to write about how to record an audiobook, and I thought that was a great idea for a blog, or even a series of blog posts.

But, for whatever reason, when I sat down to write the darn article it felt like I was trying to eat sawdust! I had to force myself to pick up and move the pen and the time stretched on and on and on and ... well, you get the idea. (I did eventually write the post, and I enjoyed doing it! Often our muses just need time to figure out how to make a topic our own.)

Sometimes a topic will sound great—perfect!—but you are so profoundly uninspired by it that it would take you ages to write it. That’s not making efficient use of your time. There are many topics that will inspire both you and your readers. Write about those and be happy! ;)

1. Podcasts.

Here’s what I do: As I’ve mentioned before (see: 6 Inspirational and Informative Writing Podcasts), I love listening to podcasts! And quite a few of my favorites are about writing.

One thing I do when I’m looking for topics my readers might love is to go to the podcast’s home on iTunes and sort the episodes by popularity so that the most popular podcast episodes are at the top. I then read the top 5 or 10 podcast titles and run them through The Test (see above).


What Buzzsumo does is show you a site’s most shared blog posts. Plug in a domain name and up will pop that particular site’s most shared blog posts. I use the free version and so can only see the 5 most popular posts, but that’s enough!

Select your five favorite sites and run their domain names through Buzzsumo. Look at the titles produced and Test them to see if any would be a good topic for you.

3. Your most popular Tweets.

One of the many nice things about Twitter is that it tells you which of your tweets and retweets were the most popular. This is a terrific way to see what topics your readers like to share!

4. Your most popular posts.

Practically any blogging platform will give you statistics; at the very least, it will tell you how many times a certain blog post has been viewed. If you’ve linked your blog to Google Analytics you’ll also be able to see, for example, how long visitors stay on the page. This will give you a more accurate idea about what viewers prefer, but if you don’t have Google Analytics, use whatever you have.

In what follows I’m going to talk about several ways you can get blog ideas from your own most popular posts.

a. Write a part two.

Many times I’ll come to the end of a blog post knowing there’s much more I could have written. When I go back and take a look at the most popular posts I ask myself, could I write a part two? You don’t have to call it part two, just blog about it and link back to the older post.

b. Give a detailed example.

You could give a detailed example that deals with a topic you wrote about in one of your more popular posts. For example, let’s say you wrote about how to write a Create Your Own Adventure story. You could create an outline and write the beginning of a small adventure then, for the blog post, share the materials and step through what you did to create them.

c. Write about the X most popular Y.

Let’s say your 3 most popular blog posts have to do with the same topic, say, “How to select a vacation spot snorkelers will enjoy.” Since you’ve got 3 posts about this as it is, maybe you don’t want to write a 4th! That’s okay, vary the kind of blog post. For example, “4 Snorkeling Paradises For Your Bucket List.”

d. Curate posts: your 5 favorite blog posts that week.

If you’re a blogger, chances are you read a number blogs. If a few posts stand out as being well written, then include them in a “best of the web” post.

For each article you use, give the title, the authors name and be sure to link back to the article itself (that’s important!)—in other words, attribute the article. This is also a good way of meeting other bloggers, I’ve had a number of folks whose material I’ve reviewed leave comments thanking me!

Those are my ideas, I’d love to hear yours! How do you choose a blog post?

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending a TV show: Lucifer

Lucifer is filled with lighthearted irreverence, I find it a wonderful way to unwind. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a critical rating of 75% and an audience score of 89%. It's is based on the DC comic of the same name.

That’s it! I’ll talk to you on Wednesday. Till then, good writing!

Monday, January 16

Write a Book in 15 Days: Part 3 of 3

Write a Book in 15 Days: Craft the Title, Write the Book, Write the Introduction, Should You Use a Pen Name

This is the third and final post in a series on how to write a book in 15 days. In the first and second posts I talked about picking a topic for your book, creating an outline and the importance of finding the right subcategory for your book. Here are the links:

1. Write a Book in 15 Days
2. How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book

Now that we’ve picked a topic and created an outline it’s time to decide on a title.

Craft the title.

You might be wondering why I’m advising you to choose a title now rather than after you’ve finished writing. It’s because I find knowing my title helps keep me on track because it contains the promise of my book.

For example, “20 Idyllic Scuba Diving Locations That Won’t Bankrupt You” or “20 Christmas Cookies Your Mother-In-Law Will Love.”

These titles make a promise to the reader. For example, “20 Idyllic Scuba Diving Locations That Won’t Bankrupt You” promises that if you go to one of these spots to scuba dive, you’ll have a wonderful time but spend less than if you went anywhere else.

Do Market Research

The single most important thing you can do to help sell your book is to look at bestselling books in the categories you’ve chosen.

I won’t go into market research in any depth here, the topic is too big, but here’s the gist:

a. Find your target categories.

I went through an example of this on Friday. Here are the categories I came up with:

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Small Business
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Home-Based
Books > Business & Money > Small Business & Entrepreneurship > Home Based

b. Use the top 5 books in each category as examples.

Buy and read the top five books in each category. Look at how these books are structured, what topics are covered, what tone the authors adopt (comedic, impassioned, detached, and so on).

The idea is to get a feel for what books do well in your chosen categories as well as why they do well. (If you can, buy and read one or two books in each of these categories that aren’t doing well. Ask yourself, Why is this book not doing well? What is the difference between the two)

c. Look at the covers.

As far as I can tell the single biggest determiner of a book’s success is its cover. It may sound odd to put it like this, but the actual content of the book doesn’t sell the book, it sells the next book.

Look at the covers of the bestselling books in each category and break them down into their component elements. Does the cover contain text only, or is there an image? Is the image a cartoon or a photograph? Is there a focal image? That is, does one image clearly dominate the cover? If the cover primarily contains text, is the text bold or italic? Which font was used? (If you don’t know which font it is, try sites like identifont or fontsquirrel.) And so on.

For example, if you look at the "Thrillers & Suspense" category most of the top ten books prominently feature photographs. On the other hand, many self-help books contain only text.

I want to stress that the idea is not to copy the cover. We just want to understand what characteristics are common to the covers of the books that sell the best in your categories. Of course you want a unique and distinctive cover, but the idea is for it to be easily recognizable as the cover of a certain kind of book.

Write the book.

If you write 2,000 words a day for 15 days you’ll have 30,000 words. If writing 2,000 words a day seems daunting, keep a couple of things in mind.

First, you don’t have to write 2,000 words a day! If the most you’ve ever written is 200 words a day, 2,000 might seem impossible. In that case shoot for 200 a day and after you feel comfortable, try increasing it to 300, and so on. Even if you only write 500 words a day it will only take two months to write a book!

Or perhaps you can write a considerable number of words in a day but can, say, only write one day a week. In that case, one would need to write 3,500 words in one sitting once a week. At 1,000 words per hour, that would only take 3.5 hours!

Second, write a Zero Draft. A Zero Draft is what I like to call a vomit draft. The idea of a Zero Draft is to get your unfiltered thoughts down on paper as fast as you can. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Research is a must, but put off as much of this as you can until the next draft. For example, if you’re not sure about something like the spelling of a name or a date, just put in a placeholder and, if it survives into the next draft, do the research.

Why? If you’re anything like me then as much as 25% of the words you write for the Zero Draft won’t find their way into the next draft. If you pause to do detailed research on this 25% then that is time wasted.

Write an introduction.

After you’ve finished writing the book, write the introduction. Since the introduction is all about what you’ve written, even if you do write it first, chances are you’ll have to completely rewrite it. Why? Because the only way to know exactly what you’re going to write is to write it!

In the first part of the introduction tell your readers why yours is a book they need to read. People have ‘pain points,’ areas that prevent them from fulfilling their goals, from accomplishing what they want. What are your readers’ pain points? Do they want to plan the perfect vacation but are feeling overwhelmed by all the information, all the possibilities? Or do they want to learn ways to unleash their inner vagabond while not completely blowing their budget?

Tell readers how your book is going to help eliminate these pain points.

For example, let’s think about someone who shops on Amazon and who is interested in German dessert recipes. Perhaps she’s not German herself, but her significant other is and that means going home with him for the holidays. Which means that you have to cook something to present as a gift. The question: what to make? Well, cookies made with German culinary traditions could help remove that particular pain point!

Hire the best editor you can afford.

It’s 15 days later and you’ve written 30,000 words. You have an introduction and you have 10 or so chapters.

What you need to do now is send your book-baby off to the best line editor you can afford.

Before you do this, though, put your manuscript in a drawer and leave it for a week. If you can’t stand to leave it for a week, then put it in a drawer for a couple of days.

When it’s time for your manuscript to come out of the drawer, read the manuscript through. You can also have your computer read the file to you—this functionality is build into both the Mac and PC. Try to make the manuscript free of grammatical and spelling errors.

Then, and only then, send it off to a line editor or proofreader—someone who will make sure that you’re using the appropriate words in the appropriate places, someone who will double-check your spelling and grammar, and so on.

I kid you not, every time I send a manuscript off to an editor I’m sure I’ve caught everything and every time they have pointed out mistakes I made that would have been embarrassing.

Should you use a pen name?

There are many reasons to use a pen name.

Discovery. If you write in several genres, or if some of your books are fiction and others are non-fiction, then using a different pen name for each genre can help keep readers from being confused. For instance, if a person likes reading sci-fi, they know what name to search for.

Privacy. Also, using a pen name gives you privacy. Readers have been known to use an author’s name to track them down in real life. Even though most of these people are harmless it can be disconcerting for an author to open their door to a stranger who seems to know all about them. Even if you’re not worried about being stalked, if you write in sensitive genres such as erotica, you might want to keep that information from your family or your boss.

But there are also reasons to use your real name. If you use a different pen name for each genre you write it makes it more difficult for readers to discover all your books (sometimes folks want to read, or at least look at, whatever you’ve written). Granted, this deficit can be largely overcome by listing all your books on your author website, but these days some authors are electing not to have one. Instead, they share everything through their various social media accounts.

If you would like to read further about this, I’ve written an article on the subject: Should You Use A Pen Name?

Create an eye-catching cover

You have a manuscript but it’s off with the editor so you’re left twiddling your thumbs. Now’s the time to work on your book’s cover. You have the title, you’ve decided what name you’re going to publish under, you know what you want your cover to look like, so what are you waiting for?

Note: Look on Google the subcategories you’re interested in and see what sort of images folks have pinned.

Should you create the book cover yourself or have an artist create one for you?

If money's no object, definitely get an artist to do one for you. If you can’t spend a huge amount of money but can manage $200 or so, think about using

If money is tight and this is your first book and you’re just testing the water, then I would suggest you try to create the cover yourself and see how it goes. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free image processing program that’s quite powerful.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote about where to find free, public domain images: Bloggers: 10 Sites With Public Domain, High Resolution, Images.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I am wholeheartedly recommending a book by one of my favorite writers, Chuck Wendig: 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer. Chuck Wendig’s blog,, is one of my favorite writing blogs but be warned! It is NSFW due to his creative use of the English language.

That’s it! The next step is formatting your manuscript and uploading it to Amazon. If anyone wants me to continue this series by talking about how to do that please let me know! If enough folks would be interested in me continuing this series, I will!

UPDATE: For your convenience, here are links to the other articles in this series:

Part 1 of 1: How to Write a Book in 15 Days
Part 2 of 3: How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book
Part 3 of 3: How to Choose a Title, Create the Artwork and Write the Darn Book!

Wednesday, January 11

Write a Book in 15 Days

Write a Book in 15 Days

When someone writes a book in a week it's usually a nonfiction book, though it's perfectly possible to write a novella in 15 days. After all, many people write 2,000 words a day for NaNoWriMo, writing 2,000 words a day for 15 days will get you 30,000 words. Depending how you look at it, that’s either a long novella or a short book!

Pick a topic.

Everyone knows a lot about something: computer repair, day trading, painting, marketing, cooking, baking, traveling, home repair, woodworking, scrapbooking, film, music, fitness, weight loss, relationships, sports, raising kids, and so on.

What interests you? If you’re on Pinterest what are most of your pins about?

Not sure what you’re good at? Ask yourself: What do your friends ask you for advice about?

Narrow the topic.

Okay, so, now you know what kind of book you want to write but the topic still needs to be narrowed down. For example, if you’ve decided to write about cooking, what kind of cooking? Vegetarian, Vegan, food for omnivores, eating local, eating raw, the Paleo Diet, gluten-free cooking, and so on.

Since you’re writing a very short book, even that doesn’t narrow things down enough. You’re only going to be writing a about 30,000 words or so, therefore you have to get specific.

For example, if your current passion is eating vegan, then you might want to write about how to create a delicious vegan meal in 15 minutes or less. Or perhaps even something like 40 delicious, gluten-free, avocado recipes. And so on.

 Or if baking is your thing, what kind of baking? Do you love desserts? Or, even more specifically, cupcakes? You could write a book about your 20 favorite chocolate cupcake recipes. Or perhaps your 20 favorite cupcake recipes inspired by halloween. Here are a few more ideas:

  • 15 minute meals for folks trying to lose 30 pounds in 30 days.
  • 20 delicious German gluten-free cookie recipes.
  • 20 French dessert recipes that melt in your mouth, cost under $5 and won’t blow your diet!
  • 20 Japanese meals for the North American palette ready in under 15 minutes.

The possibilities are infinite!

Create an outline.

After you’ve decided on the general topic and then narrowed it down it’s time to create your outline.

How is this done? For example, if you’re working on a book about rock climbing (a subject I know nothing about) there is going to be equipment unique to that sport.

Also, just about every sport has beginners, folks who want to try it out but don’t want to look silly by knowing nothing about the subject. These people have never, say, gone rock climbing before and would like suggestions about how to ease themselves into the sport. Should they start climbing indoors or outdoors? Does it matter? What kind of equipment should a beginner buy, if any? How can one find a qualified teacher? And so on.

If you want to write a 30,000 word book, then plan to have each chapter come out to about 3000 words which means you’ll have 10 chapters. Of course this could change a bit as you write, but it is very helpful to have as detailed an outline as possible before you begin writing.

The idea is for each point in your outline to become a chapter, or subsection of a chapter. For example:

- Introduction (to be written last)
* What pain points do your readers have? What do they want help with? Talk about how your book will help. Talk about what value your book has for your audience.
* Tell your readers what you’re going to tell them.

- What is rock climbing? 
* The history.
* How rock climbing has changed over the years.
* Why rock climbing is a fun sport that’s good for you both physically and mentally.

- Your first rock climb.
* How old do you have to be to rock climb? 
* Is rock climbing okay for seniors, or should they consult with a doctor first?
* What equipment is absolutely necessary for rock climbing? Can you rent it or must you buy?
* What kinds of rock faces are best for the beginner? Indoors or outdoors?

- How to become a better rock climber.
* Are there exercises one can do? Perhaps a special diet? 
* Must one practice frequently?

- Competitive rock climbing.
* Are there clubs devoted to rock climbing? Competitions? 
* How much per year can one expect to spend if one becomes serious about the sport.

- Extreme rock climbing.

And so on.

I hope what I’ve written, above, makes sense! I’ve never gone rock climbing and know nothing about it. But that's exactly why I picked it: I wanted to show completing an outline doesn’t require any specific knowledge. It's the other way around, you use the outline to see what research needs to be done.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

If you’re thinking of writing a cosy mystery a terrific place to begin is, Writing the Cozy Mystery, by Nancy J. Cohen. At the present moment (Jan 11, 2017) Nancy Cohen’s book, though only 50 pages long, is a steal at $0.75! From the blurb: “Do you want to write a mystery but don’t have a clue where to start? Or maybe you’ve begun a story but are stuck on the plot? Perhaps you’re already writing a series, and you need tips on how to keep track of your material? Writing the Cozy Mystery is a valuable guide on how to write a traditional whodunit. This concise tool will show you step-by-step how to develop your characters, establish the setting, plot the story, add suspense, plant clues and sustain your series.”

That’s it for today! I’ll finish this post up on Friday by talking about categories and keywords, how to craft an eye-catching cover and many other things. Till then, good writing!

UPDATE: I've finished this series. Below are links to all the articles:

Part 1 of 1: How to Write a Book in 15 Days
Part 2 of 3: How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book
Part 3 of 3: How to Choose a Title, Create the Artwork and Write the Darn Book!

Monday, January 9

Writing Resolutions for 2017

Writing Resolutions for 2017

I usually don’t make writing resolutions, but this year is different. There are several things I would like to improve and the New Year is as good a time as any to start.

1. Make more time for writing.

Mornings are not my best time. It often takes me an hour before I’m fed, sufficiently caffeinated and ready to write. I want to get that time down to, say, half an hour. And I think I can do it if I’m more organized, more focused.

Which begs the question: How does one become more organized? There are a lot of techniques one can use but one thing I’ve found helps is to record everything I do for a week. It’s difficult at first—I’ll forget to keep track—but after awhile I get better. At the end of the week I’ll have recorded enough of my activities to get a fair picture of how I spent my time.

Whenever I do this exercise what I discover always surprises me! In the past, one of my big time-wasters has been, believe it or not, research. I used to do a lot of detail work on my first draft then, when I end up cutting half the material, all that precious time I spent researching is wasted.

What I do now: On the first draft I use a placeholder for what I don’t know. If a sentence makes it into my second draft, then I do the required research.

My resolution: Have my butt in my writing chair half an hour after I get out of bed.

2. Embrace my voice.

First of all, what do I mean by "voice"?

In researching this article I came across a wonderful description of what we mean by “writer’s voice.” Rachelle Gardner writes:

“To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.

“Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.” (What is Writer’s Voice?)

Developing One’s Voice

I’ve talked before about the advantages of writing a Zero Draft. One of these advantages is that since this is a vomit draft—a draft I will never, EVER, show anyone else—I’m free to explore (and perhaps develop!) my voice, my unique writing style.

After all, no one will see my zero draft and, if anyone does sneak into my office and take a  peek ... well, then they can hardly complain!

(NSFW -> Chuck Wendig wrote a terrific article about a writer’s voice: 25 Things Writers Should Know About Finding Their Voice)

My resolution: On my zero draft, take more chances. Be more expressive.

3. Try something new.

I’ve been writing non-fiction since 2010 in the form of blog posts. For most of that time did I think about publishing a nonfiction book? No! Why? I have no idea.

We don’t know whether a particular kind of book will be popular until we’ve tested the waters. That doesn’t mean writing and publishing the book, it means getting in touch with your readers and asking them what they want. What are their pain points? What can you help with? Granted, this method isn’t foolproof. Sometimes folks will say they want something but then your book doesn’t sell. That’s okay! It’s part of the learning process. I believe that old saying: If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.

Also, you often don’t know what you’re going to be good at before you jump in and do it. So try new things! Experiment.

My resolution: Try one of the things from the following list.

Things to Try:

- Try writing in a new genre. Or, if you’ve only written fiction up to now, try writing non-fiction (and vice versa).

- Make your creative work available in a different medium. For example, if your books are only available as a Kindle download, make them available through CreateSpace as well. If you don’t offer an audio version, record one of your books as an audiobook. If you’ve done all that but you don’t podcast, give podcasting a try!

- Make your creative work available in other locations. For example, if you haven’t used Kindle Unlimited, try it! Or if you’ve only sold books through Amazon, take one of your books and branch out. Offer it through Smashwords, Kobo, etc.

- Try new ways to market your books. Never tried BookBub? Do it! Never used free days (or discount days) on Amazon? Do it!

- Try different price points. If you’ve only offered your books for $1.00 each, try $2.99. Or, alternatively, if you generally sell your books for $2.99 each, try a higher price point. Or try to get new readers by offering your work for free, at least for a few days.

- Write about something that terrifies you, something that makes your heart beat faster and your palms sweat.

- Write every day. Set a schedule and write at the same time every day for a certain amount of time. To start off, this might only be five or ten minutes. After a few days of meeting this goal, increase your writing time by a minute. Do this until you’re writing, say, 1,000 words a day. At that rate it would only take about 2.5 months to write 80,000 words!

- Read eclectically. Read in a genre you normally don’t. Don’t read the newspaper? Read it! Don’t watch TV? Watch some! Don’t see movies? Go see one! But don’t read (or watch) passively. Be critical. Dissect the stories. Diagram them. Read critically.

- Experiment. If you prefer writing in the first person, try writing a piece of flash fiction using the third person perspective. Alternatively, if you prefer writing from a subjective viewpoint, if you like laying your character’s thoughts and emotions bare, try writing from an objective (fly on the wall) perspective.

Or try writing in a genre that is more ‘hard-boiled,’ one that traditionally favors an objective perspective, switch things up and try something like free indirect discourse. And vice versa. Urban fantasy or horror often employs a subjective viewpoint so that the reader will feel all the thrills and chills the viewpoint character does.

- Mingle. Reach out to other writers in your area. Go to a writers’ convention (if you do, I've found it helps to print out business cards with your name, email, website address and social media hangouts).

If none of these options appeal to you, create your own! I’d love to know what your New Year’s resolutions are.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

In the Shadow of Lakecrest, by Elizabeth Blackwell, reminded me favorably of Mary Stewart’s work. As a teenager I loved Stewart’s writing but then wandered away. This book was, for me, like re-discovering the kind of stories Stewart created. It was a lyrical, immersive, read. From the blurb:

“The year is 1928. Kate Moore is looking for a way out of the poverty and violence of her childhood. When a chance encounter on a transatlantic ocean liner brings her face-to-face with the handsome heir to a Chicago fortune, she thinks she may have found her escape—as long as she can keep her past concealed.

“After exchanging wedding vows, Kate quickly discovers that something isn’t quite right with her husband—or her new family. As Mrs. Matthew Lemont, she must contend with her husband’s disturbing past, his domineering mother, and his overly close sister. Isolated at Lakecrest, the sprawling, secluded Lemont estate, she searches desperately for clues to Matthew’s terrors, which she suspects stem from the mysterious disappearance of his aunt years before. As Kate stumbles deeper into a maze of family secrets, she begins to question everyone’s sanity—especially her own. But just how far will she go to break free of this family’s twisted past?”

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on Wednesday. Until then, good writing!

Friday, December 23

Writing a Review

Writing a Review

In elementary school I dreaded writing essays. I had no idea how to proceed.

That all changed in high school. I had an amazing teacher who made essay writing understandable, even simple! Here’s the key: the rule of three.

The Rule of Three

This rule dates back to Ancient Greece. Don’t ask me why it works, but it does. For instance, pretty much everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. People, events, stories and even essays.

The Structure of an Essay

Beginning: Say what you’re going to say.

Middle: Say it.

End: Say what you’ve said.

Let’s look at this in more detail. Let’s say you have to write an essay about what makes Gadget1 a better gadget than Gadget2. Breaking this task down:


The beginning one or two paragraphs (it depends on how long your essay is) contain your thesis statement. This is your claim, your statement, the idea you are going to argue in favor of. For example, let’s say that you claim:

Gadget1 is better than Gadget2.

Of course this isn’t enough. Why is it better? Just stating that one thing is better than another isn’t going to convince anyone. We need to give reasons. Here again we draw on the rule of three. Here’s the complete thesis statement:

Gadget1 is better than Gadget2 because it costs less, works faster and is more aesthetically appealing.

So, for instance, the opening paragraph might go something like this:

Gadgets are ubiquitous in our society. At this point it’s not possible to get through a normal day without relying on one gadget or another. Two of the gadgets people use most are Gadget1 and Gadget2. Both of these do pretty much the same thing which raises the question: Which is better? After rigorous testing I can definitely say that Gadget1 is better than Gadget2. As we will see, Gadget1 costs less, works faster and is more aesthetically pleasing.

Of course by stating this we’re implying that any gadget that costs less, works faster and is more aesthetically appealing is better. But that’s okay. That’s a defensible claim. If I need to buy a can opener and was presented with two can openers and the first cost less, worked faster and was more aesthetically appealing I would definitely buy it! So, moving on.


At it’s core an essay is an argument about an issue that isn’t easy to settle. If you and a friend disagree about what year World War II ended, a quick internet search will settle the matter. Why? Because there is a simple, straightforward and universally accepted answer.

In the case of our example, though, it’s not quite so straightforward. Different folks may receive slightly different results from their testing. Different folks may appreciate different things in a gadget. In this sort of question rational people can disagree and in this sense there is no one universally correct answer in the same way as there is for the start and end dates of WWII.

Here, we’re not concerned with coming up with the RIGHT answer, as much as we are interested in coming up with a REASONABLE argument.

So, what are our reasons?

Gadget1 costs less than Gadget2

This is simple and straightforward ... or so it seems! How many stores were surveyed? Was Gadget1 less expensive at every single one? It’s important not to cherry-pick results, mentioning only those that help support the thesis statement. But if, say, the price was checked against that of a major online retailer (*cough* Amazon *cough*) and it was markedly less expensive, that’s significant.

Also, the size of the price saving is significant. Would you save less than 1% of the purchase price by going with Gadget1 as opposed to Gadget2? If so, that’s hardly worth mentioning unless Gadget1 and Gadget2 are very expensive.

Gadget1 works faster than Gadget2

How much faster? 10%? 5%? 1%? Did it ALWAYS work faster or were there certain conditions in which it was slower? Many of the same questions we raised above are relevant here as well.

Gadget1 is more aesthetically pleasing than Gadget2.

So far we’ve talked about fairly objective measures. This one is subjective. That said, you and others have your reasons for feeling one looks better than the other. Give them, be specific, and your readers will likely agree.


Summarize what you’ve said. There really isn’t more to it than that.

Depending on the kind of article you’re writing it can be nice to take a chatty informal tone. As with everything, make it your own and try to have fun with it.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to you. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

I’ve read and reread The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby. For those of you who are more pantser than plotter, you will find Truby’s books a breath of fresh air. From the blurb: “John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry, and his students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood's most successful films, including Sleepless in Seattle, Scream, and Shrek. ”

That’s it! Have a wonderful Christmas! I’ll talk to you again on Monday. In the meantime, good writing!

Sunday, November 6

How To Tell If Your Book Is Ready To Publish

How To Tell If Your Book Is Ready To Publish

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 
—Frank Herbert, Dune.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. If the threat is real and your fear makes you act in adaptive ways then the system is working. Often, though, we’re afraid of things that never happen or that, in the big picture, just aren’t important.

Today I want to look at one fear that holds writers back from publishing their work: fear of receiving a one-star review.

If you publish enough books for long enough, you likely will get a one-star review. But let’s look at what that actually means.

1. Your reader found the book irritating to read.

If your story is poorly edited or if the formatting is off, your book could very well get a one-star review.

But these are easy problems to fix. These days it’s easier than ever to find a line editor for every budget. As for formatting your ebook, you can do this yourself using Scrivener or Vellum. If money isn’t an issue, and you have better things to do (like writing your next book!), my advice would be to pay someone to take care of this for you.

Remember: Never give someone a royalty for editing or formatting your work!

2. Mismatch between the kind of book readers thought they were buying and the kind of book they actually bought.

I think this is, hands-down, the most common reason for one-star reviews. Your story could be the best romance story in the long and colorful history of romance stories but if someone bought it thinking it was a science fiction yarn, they’re going to hate it with a passion!

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help accurately communicate what kind of book you’ve written:

a) The Cover

One of the things your cover should communicate is the genre.

Look at the covers of best selling books in your genre and subcategories. What themes do they display? Get specific. If you’re writing a cosy, look up cosy mysteries on Amazon. Look at the subcategories. Which subcategories are selling well? What kind of covers do these books have? How does the cover communicate the theme of the book? What sorts of objects are on the cover? And so on.

b) The Blurb

Take a look at 10 of the best selling books in your genre. If you have the money and time to buy these books and read them, I encourage you to! But at least read the blurb. Is the blurb consistent with the genre? Since they’re best sellers it’s a good bet it is. Now look at your blurb and your cover. Are the themes mentioned in the blurb consistent with the cover? With the genre?

c) The Title

Same thing. Take a look at your list of 10 books. Look at the titles. Is it clear from each what the genre of the story is?

Friends from your social networks can help you out here. Ask them, When you see this cover, or this blurb, or this title, what genre do you think of?

3. The reader hates (say) murder mysteries but decided to give your book a try because it was free.

There’s nothing you can do about this. It happens most often when you offer your book for free, but even if you don’t, eventually someone who intensely dislikes the kind of book you wrote will read it, become upset and give you a one-star review. When that happens reach out to writers who have received their own fair share of one-star reviews. Then get back to writing! :-)

5 questions to ask yourself before you act:

1. If you do this, what is the WORST possible outcome? What would you lose?

2. How likely is the worst possible outcome?

3. If you do this, what is the BEST possible outcome? What would you gain?

4. How likely is the best possible outcome?

5. Is there anything you can do to lessen the likelihood of the worst possible outcome and increase the likelihood of the best possible outcome?

If the best outcome doesn’t get you all that much and the worst outcome could completely obliterate your business then perhaps embrace the saying, “Caution is the better part of valor”! But do examine if there is, perhaps, a way to mitigate the damage that the worst possible scenario represents.

On the other hand, if the worst possible outcome wouldn’t damage your business and the best outcome is tempting, why not go for it?!

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell. From the blurb: “Filled with plot examples from popular novels, comprehensive checklists, and practical hands-on guidance, Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure gives you the skills you need to approach plot and structure like an experienced pro.”

That’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow about another key scene. In the meantime, good writing!

Word count so far: 9,008 words
Word count today: 977 words
Word count so far: 9,985 words

Friday, October 28

Writing to Entertain

Writing to Entertain

I’m going to pick up the thread of my last blog post where I talked about two things that drive us to write: First, the desire to communicate. This is the desire to share ourselves, our thoughts, our souls, with others. Second, the desire to entertain.

Today I cash out what exactly I mean by entertainment and look at how, as writers, we can entertain our readers. The answer: To evoke a reader's emotion, the reader needs to identify with the character. Which means she has to have clearly defined goals, obstacles to those goals, she needs to have something to lose and something to gain, and there needs to be some sort of urgency.

In short, eliciting emotion has everything to do with story structure.

Entertainment: The Evoking of Emotion

Most readers want to be entertained. To entertain another person is to evoke their emotions. Even in some of Agatha Christie’s more cerebral whodunits there was the sedate emotion of curiosity.

Stephen King writes for many reasons but one of them is to entertain others, especially his wife. The following passage is from his book, On Writing:

“When I write a scene that strikes me as funny (like the pie-eating contest in “The Body” or the execution rehearsal in The Green Mile), I am also imagining my I.R. finding it funny. I love it when Tabby laughs out of control—she puts her hands up as if to say I surrender and these big tears go rolling down her cheeks. I love it, that’s all, fucking adore it, and when I get hold of something with that potential, I twist it as hard as I can. During the actual writing of such a scene (door closed), the thought of making her laugh—or cry—is in the back of my mind. During the rewrite (door open), the question—is it funny enough yet? scary enough?—is right up front. I try to watch her when she gets to a particular scene, hoping for at least a smile or—jackpot, baby!—that big belly-laugh with the hands up, waving in the air.”

Making someone else feel good—or feel anything for that matter!—is a thrill. Seeing them laugh or even smile. Seeing them tear up, it’s ... well, as King says, I just love it. It’s a high.

That’s entertainment.

And if you give people a story that makes them laugh and cry, love and hate, they will think their time well-wasted.

But how does one do that? How does one manipulate a reader’s emotions?

The Writer’s Quest

The question of how to evoke a reader’s emotions has defined my writer’s quest for most of my adult life. I want to write a story my father would have loved so much he would beg me to tell another.

Being able to make another person laugh is a valuable skill. Being able to make everyone within earshot hang on your every word has always been advantageous. Even before we had currency, travelers who could tell engaging stories bartered their skill for food and lodging. (In fact, this still happens. My friend was nearly killed on her last vacation—she’s fine now—and, in her words, ‘ate out on that story for a month’!)

What entertains us? You might think that the obvious answers are: sex, violence, death, and so on. And that’s probably right as far as it goes but I think it misses the point.

If I showed you the picture of someone who had been brutally murdered, my guess is that you would not be entertained. In fact, you’d likely be vaguely nauseous and not at all happy with me.

But, yes. For obvious reasons death interests us. A few days ago a friend called to tell me his dog, Zeus, had passed away. I had walked Zeus for years and, of course, had become attached. We both cried and reminisced. But then I asked: How did he die? That mattered to me. As it happens, he died peacefully in his sleep at the end of a long life. I took some solace in that. But I would have felt very different if, say, he had been hit by a car.

Yes, we slow down to gawk at the van with the crumpled front end on the side of the road, but what question do we ask: What happened?

I believe that humans aren’t interested in death as much as we are the story behind it. We want to know: Why? When? What? Where? How? We don’t want that horrible thing to happen to us. We think if we know, maybe we can avoid it.

Going back to something I touched on a moment ago, if I showed someone—let’s call her Beth—a picture of a gruesome murder, I doubt she would be happy with me. The picture itself isn’t entertaining. But Beth would be very interested in the answers to the following questions:

  • Who was the victim? Was he a stranger or did I know him? 
  • Where did the victim die? Next door or two states over?
  • When did the victim die? 50 years ago or yesterday?
  • Who killed the victim? Is the killer a stranger or do I know him?
  • How did the victim die? Was it a quick death or was it slow and painful?

Reading this, putting myself in Beth’s place, it isn’t the photograph of the dead man that entertains me, it is that one of my goals is put in jeopardy: keeping myself and those I care about safe. It is that automatic, vicarious, sense of danger that puts all my senses on high alert.

These are also the kinds of questions we ask when we’re writing a story.

Beth’s goal: To protect herself and her family from the killer.
The opposition: The killer.
The Stakes: The lives of her family.
Urgency: If the victim lived next door and was killed a few hours ago, then the situation is urgent.

As I see Beth act I identify with her. I care whether she achieves her goal. I care when she suffers a setback. I care when she reaches the All Hope Is Lost Point and it seems she cannot succeed. And, finally, I have a warm cozy sense of well-being as the hero/protagonist bests the forces of opposition and, against all odds, achieves her goal.

My point is that entertainment isn’t static, it comes from the structure itself, from the arrangement of the many parts.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I would like to share a link to one of Dwight V. Swain’s excellent books, “Creating Characters: How to Build Story People.” I bought this years ago and it has helped me enormously. Here’s the blurb:
“The core of character,” he [Swain] says in chapter 1, “lies in each individual story person’s ability to care about something; to feel implicitly or explicitly, that something is important.” Building on that foundation—the capacity to care—Swain takes the would-be writer step-by-step through the fundamentals of finding and developing [characters].

That’s it! I hope you could make some sense of my ramblings. NaNoWriMo is starting soon! My next post will be on Halloween, Monday, October 31 and then I will post every single day in November, outlining a key scene in a novel. So, if you’re NaNo-ing this year, swing on by!

Monday, October 3

7 Steps: How to Write a Story Description

7 Steps: How to Write a Story Description

I like writing descriptions for my stories about as much as I like eating day old spinach. So! In the best tradition of procrastinators everywhere I decided to write a blog post about how to quickly write a good description. 

By the way, if you think this topic sounds familiar, I’ve written about it before, though with a slightly different focus. Here are links to those posts: 

Let’s get started!

How To Write A Pain-Free Story Description, Quickly.

If you outlined your story this process should be relatively pain-free. If you didn't outline, answering these questions may help strengthen your story's structure.

i. Who is the main character?

In J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular children’s story, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we’re given the main character’s name right in the title!  Harry is an orphan who lives with his odious Aunt Petunia, her intolerant husband, and their spoilt child Dudley.

ii. What is unique about the main character? What is their special gift? What can they do that no one else is able to? Has their special gift marked them in some way?

Harry Potter had been able to mortally injure Voldemort. In Lord of the Rings, only Frodo could carry the One Ring to Mount Doom. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson gives Lisbeth Salander elite computer skills, she can do things that none of the other characters in the novel can do.

iii. What is the initial setting?

As a baby, Harry was left with his obnoxious Aunt Petunia Dursley, Uncle Vernon Dursely and their bratty child Dudley Dursley. Harry is not accepted for who he is and he is constantly reminded that his aunt, uncle and Rodney all hate having him around and wished he would leave.

iv. What is the main character’s initial goal?

Harry’s initial desire—the thing he wants most when we’re first introduced to the character—is to be part of a family. He desperately wishes his parents weren’t dead, that he was living with them. Or even that he knew more about his parents. Harry, like all of us, wants to find people who accept him for who he really is.

v. What person or force opposes the main character achieving his/her initial goal?

In Harry’s case, his Aunt, Uncle and their spoilt son Dudley oppose Harry. They are his antagonists, his tormenters. 

vi. What is the story goal?

The story goal is the main character’s overriding goal. Whether the main character will attain the story goal is determined at the climax of the story.

Harry Potter’s overriding goal in the first book is to protect the only home/family he has ever known, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from harm. He wants to figure out how Voldemort is endangering the school (and the world in general) and stop him. Specifically, he wants to prevent Voldemort from getting hold of the Philosopher’s Stone and getting back his power.

vii. Description of Antagonist.

What person or force opposes the main character achieving his/her story goal?

Voldemort opposes Harry. Or, to put it another way, it is impossible for both Harry and Voldemort to both achieve their main goals. 

viii. Positive stakes: If the main character achieves his/her goal what would the consequences be for the main character, the main character’s allies, the antagonist, the antagonist’s allies and the world in general?

- Harry: Will be able to stay at the only place he’s ever felt accepted, it’s his only real home.
- Voldemort: If Voldemort doesn’t get the Philosopher’s Stone then he won’t be able to get his power back which means he won’t be able to take over the world and remake it in his image.
- Harry’s allies: Life can go on as normal.
- Voldemort’s allies: Their dreams of attaining wealth and power will be dashed.

ix. Negative stakes: If the antagonist achieves his/her goal, what would the consequences be for the main character, the main character’s allies, the antagonist, the antagonist's allies and the world in general?

- Harry: Harry would be dead.
- Voldemort: Voldemort would, eventually, rule the world and kill billions of people including Muggles.
- Harry’s allies: Dead.
- Voldemort’s allies: Bloated with wealth and power.

x. Break into Act Two.

What happens, what occurs, to transition, to carry the main character into Act Two?

Hagrid arrives to grant Harry one of his wishes: he tells Harry what he really, truly, is—a wizard—and gives him the incredibly welcome news that he will be attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the fall. The school, or rather the people there, become Harry’s new family and give him the sense of belonging he sought.

xi. The Special World of the Adventure. 

Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter discovers he’s a wizard and that he has been accepted into a school created just for people like him. Not only will he fit in, he is regarded as  something of a hero.

xii. Complication/Antagonist/Pinch Point.

Voldemort is attempting to get his power back. If he does he will destroy the entire world, Harry and Hogwarts included.

xiii. Test and Trials.

While in the Special World of the Adventure, the main character learns about his parents and himself. He discovered how his parents died, why and how he came to live with the Dursleys, why he has the scar he does, and Ron Wesley’s family accepts him.

Putting the Description Together

Okay! You will notice that not all of the above points directly contribute to the description, but they help lay out the essential structure of the story, it’s backbone. 

By this time you should have one or two sentence descriptions for each of the above points. Now let’s knit this information together into a description. (Not each and every point will be used, but they allow us to  double-check that our story is well-formed.) By the way, I’ve taken this particular description from the publisher’s book page.

Initial setting: “Eleven-year-old Harry Potter is an orphan living with his cruel aunt and uncle when ...”

Break into act two: “... he makes a discovery that will change his life forever: he is a wizard. He is whisked away to the mystical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ...” 

The Special World of the adventure: “... to learn magical skills, from potions to spells to flying on broomsticks.”

Complication/Antagonist/Pinch Point: “But an evil power is rising, the same one that threatened to destroy the entire world when Harry was only a baby. 

Test and Trials: “As Harry learns the truth about his family, his childhood, and his mysterious lightning-bolt-shaped scar, he finds unforgettable friendship, a loving surrogate family, and ...”

Description of Antagonist: “... the courage to face the darkest force ever to menace the wizarding world.”

That's it! If you'd like to read more about story structure, here are a few links:

Monday, September 19

Submit Your Work: 7 Paying Markets

Submit Your Work: 7 Paying Markets

Even if you practice the art and craft of writing for the pure fun of it, it's always nice to get paid! In light of this I thought I'd do something a bit different and list a few paying markets that are (at the time this was written) accepting submissions.

Be sure to examine submission guidelines closely before sending off your work, and read a few of the short stories/articles published by the market to get a feel for what the magazine wants. Good luck!

(The following markets were taken from the extensive market listing over at

Fiction Markets 



Submission Guidelines: 

What they're looking for:
"We are always looking for thoughtful, well written fiction. Our definition of what constitutes science fiction, horror and fantasy is extremely broad and we love to see material which pushes at the boundaries or crosses between genres." 
Payment: 0.06 cents per word. Prefer stories between 2,500 and 8,000 words.


If you get accepted by Analog, 99.99% of other science fiction writers will be green with envy. It is, along with Asimov's, one of the best markets in the world for science fiction.


Submission Guidelines: 

What they're looking for:
"Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without the science and you'll see what I mean. No story!"

"The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn't be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be."
Payment: Between 6 and 9 cents per word. 

Andromeda Spaceways 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:
"We accept science fiction, fantasy and supernatural horror works up to 10,000 words in length."

  • Short Fiction: 1 cent/word (AUD) with a AUD$20 minimum and $100 maximum per piece.
  • Poetry, and Flash Fiction (under 1000 words): AUD$10 per piece.
  • Non-fiction: AUD$10 for articles of 1000 words or greater.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:
"Beneath Ceaseless Skies publishes “literary adventure fantasy”: stories with a secondary-world setting and some traditional or classic fantasy feel, but written with a literary approach."

"We strongly prefer under 11,000 words. We will consider stories over that length, but the longer a story is, the better it must be."
Payment: 6 cents per word.

Non-Fiction Markets 

A List Apart 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:
  • Features: 1,500 to 2,000 words. Pays $200 per article. 
  • Articles: 600 to 1,500 words. Pays $100 per article. 
  • Mini-Articles: 500 to 600 words. Pays $50 per article. 

Alaska Parent 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:

  • Features: 800 to 1,200 words. 
  • Short Features: 500 to 800 words. 
  • Tips: 150 to 600 words. 


  • Original articles: $40 to $200
  • Reprints: $25 to $40



Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for: Articles about apps.

Payment: Around $60 per article. See submission guidelines for details.

Want more writing markets? I've mentioned, but there is also The Submission Grinder. It's free and has information on over 1,500 markets.

That's it! I've been thinking about doing a series on various markets writers can sell their work to, both fiction and nonfiction, so let me know if you want more posts like this.

Tomorrow I'll post a writing prompt over on my new site, so check that out if you want a writing workout. Otherwise I'll talk to you again on Wednesday. Till then, good writing!

Monday, April 13

Classic Design vs Minimal Design: Part 2 of 2

Classic Design vs Minimal Design: Part 2 of 2

This article continues yesterday’s post on Deborah Chester’s notions of classic design. All quotations, below, are from her article Fighting for Story.

Have A Proper Protagonist

Protagonists should be heroic, strong and admirable. They should be depicted in such a way that readers will like them. Further ...

Make The Protagonist Active

Chester writes that the protagonist should initiate confrontations “in order to accomplish a specific objective.” Further, each confrontation should cause a chain reaction. It should set other events in motion, events that “lead to bigger complications for the protagonist.”

Key point: There is a human being causing these difficulties for the protagonist. A good old-fashioned hand wringing, mustache twirling, villain. (Okay, not so much hand wringing or mustache twirling, but you get the idea.)

Have A Proper Villain

Deborah Chester admonishes us to make our good guys good and our bad guys bloodcurdlingly evil—or at least devious, ruthless and driven. They should be depicted in such a way that readers will not like them. She writes:

“It’s become unfashionable to label fictional characters as the good guy or the bad guy. To consider someone a villain means you must make a judgment. You must gauge this person against your standards, ethics, and principles, and find him or her lacking.”

And, when it’s put like that, I can understand the disinclination to do so. If one measures other people against one’s own code of ethics and then judges them if they don’t measure up ... well, that’s caused quite a lot of nastiness in the world.

In real life folks have a variety of tastes and predilections. In my book, that’s just fine. 

But as DC mentions:

“Fiction is art, and art makes order of reality. The story protagonist must become heroic in order to prevail over an opponent who chooses expediency enough to become a villain.”

I agree. That goes to the heart of the perception of villainy, of evil: choosing what is expedient over what is right. 

In the end I think it depends on the kind of villain you want to create. As Jim Butcher and Donald Maass have said, most antagonists, even villains, see themselves as the good guy. They believe themselves to be the hero of their own story. 

Perhaps perspective is the key. Readers see the story world through the eyes of the viewpoint character. In a single viewpoint novel this is (naturally) going to be the protagonist. As long as the protagonist has reason to view the antagonist as someone who is more concerned with expediency than with what is right, readers are going to see the antagonist as a proper villain.

Linear Plotting And Viewpoints

No flashbacks. Deborah Chester writes:

“Classic design unfolds a story in a logical, cause-and-effect chronology. It begins with the catalytic moment of change in the protagonist’s circumstances that forces him or her to take action. Thereafter, it moves in a linear direction toward the finish where the story’s climax will resolve the protagonist’s problem one way or another.”

When there are no flashbacks the order of events is crystal clear and confusion is minimized.

One viewpoint. Classically designed stories tend to have one viewpoint character rather than several. (For example, all the books in The Dresden Files.) Deborah Chester writes:

“It [webbed plotting] involves several viewpoints, which in turn requires the story to present each viewpoint as directing a subplot. Strict chronology of story events is deemed less important than a character’s feelings or perspective. Although web plotting can generate more depth of characterization, if handled poorly it can result in a split focus in the story and much difficulty in achieving effective story resolution.”

I agree. Which, of course, isn’t to say that multiple viewpoint stories aren’t engaging—just look at the popularity of George R.R. Martin’s books. But, of course, Mr. Martin is a skilled writer. What he has pulled off is epic. I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that a single viewpoint novel is much easier to write. So, all things being equal, if you’re setting out to write your first or second book, go easy on yourself (and your beta readers!) and stick to one viewpoint character.

How To Create A Suspenseful Scene

Deborah Chester mentions two things that help keep a scene on track and suspenseful:

1. Every scene should focus on a clear character goal.

2. Every scene should end in a setback for the central character.

Further ...

Character Creation: Be Bold. Be Vivid. 

Exaggeration is your friend. Each character should have one, or a few, qualities which define them (see: Tags & Traits: Characterization And Building Empathy). Deborah Chester advises us to “Exaggerate that quality. Own it. Flaunt it. Build it bigger.” Make your protagonist—make all your characters—vivid. She writes:

“When I read fiction, I want to follow a viewpoint character through tough problems right into the heart of conflict and see that character meet the challenge or be temporarily flattened by it.”

Mr. Monk wasn’t just quirky, he was downright strange. People are afraid of a lot of things, but he was afraid of pretty much everything. Including milk!

Harry Dresden isn’t just a wizard—which is pretty darn cool as it is—he’s the first and only wizard to announce himself as such and make himself available for hire. 

Scenes: Maximize Conflict

One of the best ways to create suspense is to create conflict. Chester writes:

“Every scene is focused around conflict, which is created by the clash between the protagonist’s goal and the antagonist’s goal.”

Also ...

“[...] scene-based conflict focuses a confrontation between protagonist and antagonist, brings an issue out into the open, pits the two characters against each other, and drives one or the other into victory or defeat.”

Beware Ending A Story On A Cliffhanger

Deborah Chester writes that the danger of ending a story on a cliffhanger “is that readers — and inexperienced writers — lose touch with how stories should be resolved, how [...] readers should be taken through a cathartic experience of anticipation, suspense, emotion, and satisfaction at the story’s conclusion.”

You might be thinking: But that’s not how it is in real life! To that DC says:

“Fiction isn’t supposed to be realistic. It’s art, and art focuses on the message its creator wants to convey. Story is contrived by writers to transport readers to a different place and time, to put them vicariously through tremendous challenges and difficulties, and to let them survive, prevail, and grow as individuals.”

As Stephen King has said, fiction is the truth inside the lie.

That’s it! Next time I’ll continue my series on Dan Harmon’s unique take on story structure. Till then, good reading and writing.