Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jot in its verb form means “to write something quickly.” In its noun form, it means “a very small amount.” Put them together and you have a brainstorming method that’s all about brevity and speed. You simply come up with as many ideas as you can quickly and record them.

Where you’re working may dictate how you choose to record your jots. You can keep similarly themed jots on a journal page, store them in a memo program on your phone, or put jots on individual notecards.

Jots can be a wonderful precursor to any other brainstorming technique. Jotting is especially helpful for preparing to diagram (aka mind-map), a way of visually organizing ideas.

Jotting can be approached through a macro or micro approach, depending where you are in the process of writing. Generally, early in the process, you’ll need to jot broad ideas, and later, details.

Macro-level jotting exercises

Write as many possible answers to the following questions as fast as you can

  • Who is my main character, inside and out?
  • What is this story actually about? What's the themeatic thrust? (e.g. love, risk, healing, community, maturation, etc.) 
  • What is the nature of my hero’s journey? Away from what and toward what?
  • What other kinds of characters does this story need?
  • What events might happen in this story?
  • What elements does my setting need?
  • What possible outcomes or resolutions would fit this story?
  • How can I make this story unique?
  • What might this story be about thematically?
  • What do I need to research to make this story believable?

Micro-level jotting exercises

Tackle any of the questions below, focusing on unwritten parts of the story, places where you’re stuck, or revision problems. Generate as many possible ideas as you can quickly.

Characterization

  • What are my characters' their deepest wounds, beliefs, needs and fears?
  • What are their weaknesses, vices, pet peeves, and dislikes? 
  • What are their passions, dreams, core competencies, and interests?
  • What important past experiences have shaped them?
  • What key relationships have helped and/or harmed them?
  • How do secondary characters relate to primary ones?

Dialogue

  • How does my character sound? Formal or informal? Intellectual, moderately educated, street-smart, down-home, innocent/naive, or mentally challenged?
  • What key phrases does s/he use often? What colorful slang, expletives, or axioms does s/he use?
  • What words would s/he never use? 
  • What is the rhythm of his/her speech? Is it forceful, terse, rambling, melodic, hesitant, stuttering?
  • How dominant or passive is s/he in conversation?
  • How direct or indirect is s/he in expressing appreciation, affection, needs, wants, dissatisfaction or anger?
  • What methods does s/he use to persuade others? 

Plot

  • What is my protagonist’s ultimate goal? How might it change in the course of the story?
  • What natural obstacles might block my protagonist? 
  • What are unusual obstacles that might fit my story world?
  • What are obvious ways to overcome the obstacles? What are unusual or unexpected ways to overcome the obstacles?
  • How can I best harness relationships to drive the story actions?
  • What are the absolute worst things that could happen to this particular protagonist?
  • What solutions would create the most inner conflict for my protagonist?

Setting

  • What place would provide the most useful backdrop to my characters and plot?
  • What unique features of the setting shape my characters?
  • What unique features of my setting could provide catalysts for my plot?
  • What home environment would my character set up for him/herself?

Theme

  • What virtues will I advocate and reward? 
  • What vices will I criticize and punish? 
  • What symbols best illustrate my theme?
  • What other literature or films can I allude to that have elements that could support my theme?

Revisions

  • Where are my characters behaving in ways that seem to not fit the situation: overreacting, underreacting, or otherwise veering from a truly natural reaction?
  • Where do my characters seem boring? What aspects of their inner worlds and relationships could I play up in those scenes? 
  • What characters aren’t pulling their weight? How could I eliminate them or combine them with an existing character?
  • What plot elements feel out of the blue? How could I better prepare for them?
  • Where does the story feel rushed? Where could I add breathing room? Which relationship or plot point could be built in a quiet scene?
  • Where is the story dragging? What extraneous material could be cut to speed up the pacing? Where could a complication or crisis be added?
  • Where is the tension falling flat? What are some ways I can raise questions, raise stakes or raise conflict?

Post-jot processing

Sort your jots by topic, gathering related material. If you worked with notecards, simply separate jots into distinct piles. If you jotted on larger paper on into a device, you may wish to transfer the information as you sort it.  First identify the ideas that excite you most. Next determine which ideas might have potential. Finally, identify the clunkers.

Once you’ve pared down to the best ideas, continue developing them using one of the following brainstorming techniques. As needed, go back to the “has potential” pile.

How might you make use of jot brainstorming? What part of the story planning process is most challenging for you?

Thursday, March 23, 2017 Laurel Garver
Jot in its verb form means “to write something quickly.” In its noun form, it means “a very small amount.” Put them together and you have a brainstorming method that’s all about brevity and speed. You simply come up with as many ideas as you can quickly and record them.

Where you’re working may dictate how you choose to record your jots. You can keep similarly themed jots on a journal page, store them in a memo program on your phone, or put jots on individual notecards.

Jots can be a wonderful precursor to any other brainstorming technique. Jotting is especially helpful for preparing to diagram (aka mind-map), a way of visually organizing ideas.

Jotting can be approached through a macro or micro approach, depending where you are in the process of writing. Generally, early in the process, you’ll need to jot broad ideas, and later, details.

Macro-level jotting exercises

Write as many possible answers to the following questions as fast as you can

  • Who is my main character, inside and out?
  • What is this story actually about? What's the themeatic thrust? (e.g. love, risk, healing, community, maturation, etc.) 
  • What is the nature of my hero’s journey? Away from what and toward what?
  • What other kinds of characters does this story need?
  • What events might happen in this story?
  • What elements does my setting need?
  • What possible outcomes or resolutions would fit this story?
  • How can I make this story unique?
  • What might this story be about thematically?
  • What do I need to research to make this story believable?

Micro-level jotting exercises

Tackle any of the questions below, focusing on unwritten parts of the story, places where you’re stuck, or revision problems. Generate as many possible ideas as you can quickly.

Characterization

  • What are my characters' their deepest wounds, beliefs, needs and fears?
  • What are their weaknesses, vices, pet peeves, and dislikes? 
  • What are their passions, dreams, core competencies, and interests?
  • What important past experiences have shaped them?
  • What key relationships have helped and/or harmed them?
  • How do secondary characters relate to primary ones?

Dialogue

  • How does my character sound? Formal or informal? Intellectual, moderately educated, street-smart, down-home, innocent/naive, or mentally challenged?
  • What key phrases does s/he use often? What colorful slang, expletives, or axioms does s/he use?
  • What words would s/he never use? 
  • What is the rhythm of his/her speech? Is it forceful, terse, rambling, melodic, hesitant, stuttering?
  • How dominant or passive is s/he in conversation?
  • How direct or indirect is s/he in expressing appreciation, affection, needs, wants, dissatisfaction or anger?
  • What methods does s/he use to persuade others? 

Plot

  • What is my protagonist’s ultimate goal? How might it change in the course of the story?
  • What natural obstacles might block my protagonist? 
  • What are unusual obstacles that might fit my story world?
  • What are obvious ways to overcome the obstacles? What are unusual or unexpected ways to overcome the obstacles?
  • How can I best harness relationships to drive the story actions?
  • What are the absolute worst things that could happen to this particular protagonist?
  • What solutions would create the most inner conflict for my protagonist?

Setting

  • What place would provide the most useful backdrop to my characters and plot?
  • What unique features of the setting shape my characters?
  • What unique features of my setting could provide catalysts for my plot?
  • What home environment would my character set up for him/herself?

Theme

  • What virtues will I advocate and reward? 
  • What vices will I criticize and punish? 
  • What symbols best illustrate my theme?
  • What other literature or films can I allude to that have elements that could support my theme?

Revisions

  • Where are my characters behaving in ways that seem to not fit the situation: overreacting, underreacting, or otherwise veering from a truly natural reaction?
  • Where do my characters seem boring? What aspects of their inner worlds and relationships could I play up in those scenes? 
  • What characters aren’t pulling their weight? How could I eliminate them or combine them with an existing character?
  • What plot elements feel out of the blue? How could I better prepare for them?
  • Where does the story feel rushed? Where could I add breathing room? Which relationship or plot point could be built in a quiet scene?
  • Where is the story dragging? What extraneous material could be cut to speed up the pacing? Where could a complication or crisis be added?
  • Where is the tension falling flat? What are some ways I can raise questions, raise stakes or raise conflict?

Post-jot processing

Sort your jots by topic, gathering related material. If you worked with notecards, simply separate jots into distinct piles. If you jotted on larger paper on into a device, you may wish to transfer the information as you sort it.  First identify the ideas that excite you most. Next determine which ideas might have potential. Finally, identify the clunkers.

Once you’ve pared down to the best ideas, continue developing them using one of the following brainstorming techniques. As needed, go back to the “has potential” pile.

How might you make use of jot brainstorming? What part of the story planning process is most challenging for you?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Today's guest, Dusty Crabtree, shared with us last summer her experience of going indie after her small press publisher folded  (see that post HERE). Today she's here to talk about the long-awaited sequel the releases this month. Take it away, Dusty...

Angels and demons in Dusty's Shadow Eyes series 
I am super excited to finally release the next installment in the Shadow Eyes Series, Luminous Spirits! I apologize to anyone who read the first version of Shadow Eyes five years ago and who had to wait that long for the sequel. This book is dedicated to you. 

Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created. 
Well, essentially, it’s a world where angels and demons exist around us in the form of light figures and dark shadows that vary in shape, size, texture, etc. Some of the shadows are just foggy masses, while others are dark silhouettes with human-like features. Check out the synopsis to Shadow Eyes for more details about the story.

What are some comparison titles of books or movies (or mashups of the two) similar to this novel? 
The Mortal Instruments series, The Evermore series, The Hush Hush series

Many authors find it was harder to write their second book than their first. Was that the case for you? Why or why not? 
Yes and no. Yes, because it was a challenge to make sure it was as intriguing and mysterious as the first one. From what I’ve heard so far, luckily, I think I’ve succeeded! But the plot details were difficult to get where I wanted them to be. The plot of the first book just fell together! However, writing the sequel was somewhat easier because as Shadow Eyes was my first novel, I was still basically learning how to write. The more you learn how to do something, the easier it is, right? So, the flow of writing was definitely easier for Luminous Spirits.

What is your favorite part of your artistic process? What is most difficult?
I love getting into the flow of writing. You know, where you sit for hours on end, so engrossed in the story that’s seamlessly unfolding from your mind that you get to the point where you’ve run out of water long ago, your throat is parched, and you really, really have to pee, but you don’t get up because you’re in the zone!

On the flipside, I don’t know if this would be considered part of the “artistic process,” but I’m not a fan promoting. It’s just so darn time-consuming! Also, with the increase of technology, with new social media sites going up every day, and with the market evolving, authors have to research and keep up with the different, successful methods people are using to promote. Marketing and promoting is a crazy world for an author!

How did you land on YA paranormal as your genre? 
I’ve always been a fan, even as a young child, of the magical and fantastic. But I wasn’t really into the types of fantasy stories that took place in other worlds. I loved to read and watch stories that took place in our world so that I could imagine it happening to me. I remember, after watching The Phantom Toll Booth as an 8-year-old, riding around my neighborhood and then coming back to my house, hoping there’d be a magic tollbooth in my living room. More recently when I really got back into reading for fun, the paranormal and urban fantasy reeled me in for the same reason. It’s fantastic and interesting but set in a real world so that you can easily imagine yourself in the story.

Who are your favorite authors and why? 
Top 3: 3) Becca Fitzpatrick (Hush Hush series) – I fell in love with her writing style and the way she weaves her stories so seamlessly.

2) Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games series) – I absolutely loved Hunger Games! I loved the crazy yet realistic and poignant world she created, as well as one of the best female protagonists ever.

1) Neil Shusterman (Unwind series) – I mean, seriously…can this guy be any more amazing? The way he is able to write so many different characters and give each one, even minor ones, a unique voice just blows me away! Add to that the amazingly sick and twisted yet intriguing world he created with the Unwind series and he has become my favorite author. I even use a lot of excerpts from his books as examples in my creative writing class.

What special challenges did you face making your story stand out from others in the genre? 
Honestly, I think my challenges are because of my story and its unique genre. The YA urban fantasy/paranormal genre is a pretty big one that has a very diverse audience. My series is unique, however, in that it has a spiritual twist or undertone if you will. It’s not an overtly Christian series – it’s a little too racy for that and never actually refers to anything religious (other than demons and angels, of course). But I do try to approach Iris’s world and how she copes with life with a Christian worldview in mind, or even just a moral mindset. My stories ride the line between spiritual/moral and edgy/gritty. I love this and really feel there is a need and desire for this middle-ground, but it also creates some challenges when trying to promote and get reviewers since it’s such a unique sub-genre.

What was the best investment you ever made in your writing? 
Money-wise? Not sure yet. Time-wise…going back and entirely revising Shadow Eyes before republishing it after Musa Publishing went under. Being my first book, it had some flaws. After having worked on the sequel with an awesome editor, I learned so much that I wanted to apply to my first book. Once I had the chance to make those changes instead of just automatically republishing, I went for it! And I’m so glad I did!

image credit: melcandea for Morguefile

About the Author


Dusty Crabtree loves a good story, but she also loves young people. These two loves are evident in all parts of her life. She has been a high school English teacher since 2006 and a creative writing teacher since 2014. She's also been a youth sponsor at her local church for as long as she’s been teaching. She feels very blessed with the amazing opportunities she has to develop meaningful relationships with teens on a daily basis. With her love of reading in the mix, becoming an author of young adult books was just a natural development of those two passions in her life. She lives with her husband, Clayton, in Yukon, Oklahoma, where they often serve their community as foster parents.

Connect with Dusty: blog / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

About the Book


Luminous Spirits
genre: YA urban fantasy

Old habits die hard. Old enemies, even harder.

Iris must now perfect her newfound abilities in order to help her shadow-oppressed family and friends, but more importantly, she must prepare for an impending fight with her most hated adversary. After the arrival of a new mean girl who seems to have history with Iris’s boyfriend, Iris quickly figures out that she is anything but the typical mean girl. She not only creates havoc and conflict among Iris and her friends, but her presence also means that Iris’s inevitable confrontation with her enemy may, in fact, be closer than she thought.

If Iris can figure out why the new girl is there and what her enemy is planning, she’ll at least be one step ahead of their game. But will she be ready when the time comes to face her biggest challenge yet? Or will they succeed in tearing Iris apart before she even has the chance?

Amazon (ebook or print)



Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway



What challenges have you had with series, sequels, or new projects?
Thursday, March 16, 2017 Laurel Garver
Today's guest, Dusty Crabtree, shared with us last summer her experience of going indie after her small press publisher folded  (see that post HERE). Today she's here to talk about the long-awaited sequel the releases this month. Take it away, Dusty...

Angels and demons in Dusty's Shadow Eyes series 
I am super excited to finally release the next installment in the Shadow Eyes Series, Luminous Spirits! I apologize to anyone who read the first version of Shadow Eyes five years ago and who had to wait that long for the sequel. This book is dedicated to you. 

Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created. 
Well, essentially, it’s a world where angels and demons exist around us in the form of light figures and dark shadows that vary in shape, size, texture, etc. Some of the shadows are just foggy masses, while others are dark silhouettes with human-like features. Check out the synopsis to Shadow Eyes for more details about the story.

What are some comparison titles of books or movies (or mashups of the two) similar to this novel? 
The Mortal Instruments series, The Evermore series, The Hush Hush series

Many authors find it was harder to write their second book than their first. Was that the case for you? Why or why not? 
Yes and no. Yes, because it was a challenge to make sure it was as intriguing and mysterious as the first one. From what I’ve heard so far, luckily, I think I’ve succeeded! But the plot details were difficult to get where I wanted them to be. The plot of the first book just fell together! However, writing the sequel was somewhat easier because as Shadow Eyes was my first novel, I was still basically learning how to write. The more you learn how to do something, the easier it is, right? So, the flow of writing was definitely easier for Luminous Spirits.

What is your favorite part of your artistic process? What is most difficult?
I love getting into the flow of writing. You know, where you sit for hours on end, so engrossed in the story that’s seamlessly unfolding from your mind that you get to the point where you’ve run out of water long ago, your throat is parched, and you really, really have to pee, but you don’t get up because you’re in the zone!

On the flipside, I don’t know if this would be considered part of the “artistic process,” but I’m not a fan promoting. It’s just so darn time-consuming! Also, with the increase of technology, with new social media sites going up every day, and with the market evolving, authors have to research and keep up with the different, successful methods people are using to promote. Marketing and promoting is a crazy world for an author!

How did you land on YA paranormal as your genre? 
I’ve always been a fan, even as a young child, of the magical and fantastic. But I wasn’t really into the types of fantasy stories that took place in other worlds. I loved to read and watch stories that took place in our world so that I could imagine it happening to me. I remember, after watching The Phantom Toll Booth as an 8-year-old, riding around my neighborhood and then coming back to my house, hoping there’d be a magic tollbooth in my living room. More recently when I really got back into reading for fun, the paranormal and urban fantasy reeled me in for the same reason. It’s fantastic and interesting but set in a real world so that you can easily imagine yourself in the story.

Who are your favorite authors and why? 
Top 3: 3) Becca Fitzpatrick (Hush Hush series) – I fell in love with her writing style and the way she weaves her stories so seamlessly.

2) Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games series) – I absolutely loved Hunger Games! I loved the crazy yet realistic and poignant world she created, as well as one of the best female protagonists ever.

1) Neil Shusterman (Unwind series) – I mean, seriously…can this guy be any more amazing? The way he is able to write so many different characters and give each one, even minor ones, a unique voice just blows me away! Add to that the amazingly sick and twisted yet intriguing world he created with the Unwind series and he has become my favorite author. I even use a lot of excerpts from his books as examples in my creative writing class.

What special challenges did you face making your story stand out from others in the genre? 
Honestly, I think my challenges are because of my story and its unique genre. The YA urban fantasy/paranormal genre is a pretty big one that has a very diverse audience. My series is unique, however, in that it has a spiritual twist or undertone if you will. It’s not an overtly Christian series – it’s a little too racy for that and never actually refers to anything religious (other than demons and angels, of course). But I do try to approach Iris’s world and how she copes with life with a Christian worldview in mind, or even just a moral mindset. My stories ride the line between spiritual/moral and edgy/gritty. I love this and really feel there is a need and desire for this middle-ground, but it also creates some challenges when trying to promote and get reviewers since it’s such a unique sub-genre.

What was the best investment you ever made in your writing? 
Money-wise? Not sure yet. Time-wise…going back and entirely revising Shadow Eyes before republishing it after Musa Publishing went under. Being my first book, it had some flaws. After having worked on the sequel with an awesome editor, I learned so much that I wanted to apply to my first book. Once I had the chance to make those changes instead of just automatically republishing, I went for it! And I’m so glad I did!

image credit: melcandea for Morguefile

About the Author


Dusty Crabtree loves a good story, but she also loves young people. These two loves are evident in all parts of her life. She has been a high school English teacher since 2006 and a creative writing teacher since 2014. She's also been a youth sponsor at her local church for as long as she’s been teaching. She feels very blessed with the amazing opportunities she has to develop meaningful relationships with teens on a daily basis. With her love of reading in the mix, becoming an author of young adult books was just a natural development of those two passions in her life. She lives with her husband, Clayton, in Yukon, Oklahoma, where they often serve their community as foster parents.

Connect with Dusty: blog / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

About the Book


Luminous Spirits
genre: YA urban fantasy

Old habits die hard. Old enemies, even harder.

Iris must now perfect her newfound abilities in order to help her shadow-oppressed family and friends, but more importantly, she must prepare for an impending fight with her most hated adversary. After the arrival of a new mean girl who seems to have history with Iris’s boyfriend, Iris quickly figures out that she is anything but the typical mean girl. She not only creates havoc and conflict among Iris and her friends, but her presence also means that Iris’s inevitable confrontation with her enemy may, in fact, be closer than she thought.

If Iris can figure out why the new girl is there and what her enemy is planning, she’ll at least be one step ahead of their game. But will she be ready when the time comes to face her biggest challenge yet? Or will they succeed in tearing Iris apart before she even has the chance?

Amazon (ebook or print)



Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway



What challenges have you had with series, sequels, or new projects?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Image by Charmaine Swart for morguefile
One of the most helpful things in researching Never Gone was attending a seminar on grief. The keynote speaker, Dr. Diane Langberg, discussed how grieving isn’t a linear process and it’s highly individual. The famous Kubler-Ross “phases of grief,” are often misinterpreted as a road map. Dr. Langberg said it’s helpful to re-label those “phases” as “faces.”

 Any bereaved person, whether terminally ill (the focus of Kubler-Ross’s work) or facing a job loss, divorce or death of a loved one, will cycle through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance at various times. Some steps may be skipped, some lingered over for extended periods. When grieving a death, the nature of that death will color the grief process. For example, in the case of a prolonged illness, some grieving happens prior to the death.

 I was particularly interested in exploring the immediate grief experience — those turbulent first weeks immediately after a death. Most grief fiction tends to enter the experience later and cover a longer time period than I do in Never Gone. My novel begins a few days after the protagonist loses her dad and the story covers approximately three weeks’ time. Danielle spends much of the story cycling through denial, anger, and bargaining. There are moments of depression and glimpses of what acceptance will look like when it fully flowers. Most of the deepest grief work is still to come for Dani, but the events of the novel prepare her to begin to earnestly do that work, rather than deny or flee from it.

Dani especially struggles with feelings of anger, in part because of her family history and culture, in part because she mistakenly believes that anger has no place in a life of faith. I hope this story will encourage kids growing up in a faith tradition that it’s okay to really wrestle with God in places of deep pain. One of Dani’s friends tells her, “I think God can handle it when we’re mad.” He goes on to point out that large chunks of scripture are at root complaints to God. The Psalmist and other saints of old give us models for talking (and hollering and crying) to our Creator honestly about our pain, which at root is an expression of faith that He hears, cares, comforts and makes things new.

(This post was originally written for the Rabble Writers blog, which has been suspended.)

Have your own experiences of grief borne out the idea that healing is not a linear process? What are the best stories you've read that involve a grieving character?
Thursday, March 09, 2017 Laurel Garver
Image by Charmaine Swart for morguefile
One of the most helpful things in researching Never Gone was attending a seminar on grief. The keynote speaker, Dr. Diane Langberg, discussed how grieving isn’t a linear process and it’s highly individual. The famous Kubler-Ross “phases of grief,” are often misinterpreted as a road map. Dr. Langberg said it’s helpful to re-label those “phases” as “faces.”

 Any bereaved person, whether terminally ill (the focus of Kubler-Ross’s work) or facing a job loss, divorce or death of a loved one, will cycle through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance at various times. Some steps may be skipped, some lingered over for extended periods. When grieving a death, the nature of that death will color the grief process. For example, in the case of a prolonged illness, some grieving happens prior to the death.

 I was particularly interested in exploring the immediate grief experience — those turbulent first weeks immediately after a death. Most grief fiction tends to enter the experience later and cover a longer time period than I do in Never Gone. My novel begins a few days after the protagonist loses her dad and the story covers approximately three weeks’ time. Danielle spends much of the story cycling through denial, anger, and bargaining. There are moments of depression and glimpses of what acceptance will look like when it fully flowers. Most of the deepest grief work is still to come for Dani, but the events of the novel prepare her to begin to earnestly do that work, rather than deny or flee from it.

Dani especially struggles with feelings of anger, in part because of her family history and culture, in part because she mistakenly believes that anger has no place in a life of faith. I hope this story will encourage kids growing up in a faith tradition that it’s okay to really wrestle with God in places of deep pain. One of Dani’s friends tells her, “I think God can handle it when we’re mad.” He goes on to point out that large chunks of scripture are at root complaints to God. The Psalmist and other saints of old give us models for talking (and hollering and crying) to our Creator honestly about our pain, which at root is an expression of faith that He hears, cares, comforts and makes things new.

(This post was originally written for the Rabble Writers blog, which has been suspended.)

Have your own experiences of grief borne out the idea that healing is not a linear process? What are the best stories you've read that involve a grieving character?

Thursday, March 02, 2017

A few summers ago, my hubby got into a low-speed collision that sent our car to the body shop. We are a one-car family, so this altered our routine significantly the few days we waited for rental car coverage to be approved. Even though we live a half mile from a transportation hub served by a dozen bus lines, we felt like our wings were clipped. Our usual five-minute drive to the pool suddenly turned into a 40-minute, two-bus trip, with a mile of walking thrown in. A quick cool-off became a major journey.

This got me thinking about plot complications. Some of my favorite books have gripping plots that start with a small inconvenience or missed connection.

That one small change ripples out.

It might delay or halt movement. It might place the characters at an out-of-routine place at an out-of-routine time. It might weaken them. Place them in greater danger. Test their mettle or their relationships.

Think about your daily routine, and what it might mean to change one thing. A middle-of-the-night, two-minute power outage might make your alarm clock reset itself. When morning comes and you oversleep, suddenly your very livelihood is at stake.

Here are some other contemporary setting ideas:
~No running water because of a system shut-down
~Street is blocked by fallen trees
~Car won't start
~Cell phone battery won't recharge anymore
~Transit union strike
~Computer virus
~Kid forgets his lunch or gym clothes

For you historic fic and fantasy writers:
~Horse is lamed or has colic
~Can't find dry firewood
~Canteen leaks
~Guard dog ate half the rations
~Tiny battle wound gets infected
~Fleas or bedbugs infest your clothes
~Servant has the flu

The possibilities are endless to jack up the tension in your story, starting from the very smallest inconvenience.

Have you ever tried the "change one thing" approach? What worked? What didn't?
Thursday, March 02, 2017 Laurel Garver
A few summers ago, my hubby got into a low-speed collision that sent our car to the body shop. We are a one-car family, so this altered our routine significantly the few days we waited for rental car coverage to be approved. Even though we live a half mile from a transportation hub served by a dozen bus lines, we felt like our wings were clipped. Our usual five-minute drive to the pool suddenly turned into a 40-minute, two-bus trip, with a mile of walking thrown in. A quick cool-off became a major journey.

This got me thinking about plot complications. Some of my favorite books have gripping plots that start with a small inconvenience or missed connection.

That one small change ripples out.

It might delay or halt movement. It might place the characters at an out-of-routine place at an out-of-routine time. It might weaken them. Place them in greater danger. Test their mettle or their relationships.

Think about your daily routine, and what it might mean to change one thing. A middle-of-the-night, two-minute power outage might make your alarm clock reset itself. When morning comes and you oversleep, suddenly your very livelihood is at stake.

Here are some other contemporary setting ideas:
~No running water because of a system shut-down
~Street is blocked by fallen trees
~Car won't start
~Cell phone battery won't recharge anymore
~Transit union strike
~Computer virus
~Kid forgets his lunch or gym clothes

For you historic fic and fantasy writers:
~Horse is lamed or has colic
~Can't find dry firewood
~Canteen leaks
~Guard dog ate half the rations
~Tiny battle wound gets infected
~Fleas or bedbugs infest your clothes
~Servant has the flu

The possibilities are endless to jack up the tension in your story, starting from the very smallest inconvenience.

Have you ever tried the "change one thing" approach? What worked? What didn't?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Author interviews are a consistent staple of book blogging and writer blogs. But sometimes the questions posed are a little generic, not inviting deeper engagement, or not showcasing well what is most interesting about this author or the book s/he is trying to promote.

With that in mind, I've put together a list of some great interview questions I've been asked by book bloggers or created for guests here--with a bunch of additional new questions sure to get thoughtful and thought-provoking responses.


  1. Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created.
  2. What are some comparison titles of books or movies similar to this book?
  3. What books, films, and TV shows most inform the aesthetic of this book?
  4. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
  5. What special knowledge or research was required to write this book?
  6. What research methods have been most fruitful for you?
  7. How did you go about developing the setting(s) for this story?
  8. What's the strangest thing you had to do to create this story?
  9. Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them tick.
  10. If a film were made of your book, who would you cast in the leading roles?
  11. What is something about your hero/ine that only you know?
  12. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
  13. Are any of your characters based on real people you know? 
  14. Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
  15. Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?
  16. Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?
  17. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
  18. Are there particular themes or motifs wrestle with or address in your story(ies)?
  19. How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
  20. Were there scenes you ended up cutting you wish you could've kept? Describe them and the decision-making process.
  21. Who are your favorite authors and why?
  22. What book from your childhood has shaped you most as a writer?
  23. If you could choose a book character to be for a day, who would it be and why?
  24. What led you to start writing? 
  25. What life experiences have shaped your writing most?
  26. Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between? What advice would you give to others who took up writing at a similar life phase?
  27. What aspect of writing have you most improved in over time? What resources helped you most in this area?
  28. What is your writing process like? 
  29. What other projects are in the works?
  30. Have you ever rescuitated a project you'd shelved? What helped it work better the second time around?
  31. What special support people (critiqe partners, writing group, beta readers, editor, agent, author's assistant) do you rely on? How do they help you?
  32. How do you balance the demands of writing with other responsibilities? 
  33. What attracted you to the genre(s) you write in? 
  34. What are some must-read titles in your genre?
  35. What are some trends in your genre that excite you?
  36. What are some elements that are becoming cliche in your genre?
  37. What special challenges did you face making your story stand out from others in the genre?
  38. If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing?
  39. What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?
  40. Do you prefer writing in silence or to music?
  41. Does this story have a soundtrack? A playlist that inspired you while writing it?
  42. What technologies do you rely on most when writing?
  43. What writing resources have been most helpful to you?
  44. What warm ups do you use to get your writing flowing?
  45. Do you believe in the concept of a muse? What is yours like?
  46. What is the best investment you ever made in your writing?
  47. What's the worst writing/publishing advice anyone ever gave you?
  48. What do you know now that you wish you'd known at the beginning of your writing/publishing journey?
  49. What would you advise young writers trying to build a publishing history or an author platform?
  50. What marketing strategies have borne the most fruit for you? 

Any other questions to add?
Thursday, February 16, 2017 Laurel Garver
Author interviews are a consistent staple of book blogging and writer blogs. But sometimes the questions posed are a little generic, not inviting deeper engagement, or not showcasing well what is most interesting about this author or the book s/he is trying to promote.

With that in mind, I've put together a list of some great interview questions I've been asked by book bloggers or created for guests here--with a bunch of additional new questions sure to get thoughtful and thought-provoking responses.


  1. Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created.
  2. What are some comparison titles of books or movies similar to this book?
  3. What books, films, and TV shows most inform the aesthetic of this book?
  4. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
  5. What special knowledge or research was required to write this book?
  6. What research methods have been most fruitful for you?
  7. How did you go about developing the setting(s) for this story?
  8. What's the strangest thing you had to do to create this story?
  9. Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them tick.
  10. If a film were made of your book, who would you cast in the leading roles?
  11. What is something about your hero/ine that only you know?
  12. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
  13. Are any of your characters based on real people you know? 
  14. Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
  15. Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?
  16. Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?
  17. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
  18. Are there particular themes or motifs wrestle with or address in your story(ies)?
  19. How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
  20. Were there scenes you ended up cutting you wish you could've kept? Describe them and the decision-making process.
  21. Who are your favorite authors and why?
  22. What book from your childhood has shaped you most as a writer?
  23. If you could choose a book character to be for a day, who would it be and why?
  24. What led you to start writing? 
  25. What life experiences have shaped your writing most?
  26. Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between? What advice would you give to others who took up writing at a similar life phase?
  27. What aspect of writing have you most improved in over time? What resources helped you most in this area?
  28. What is your writing process like? 
  29. What other projects are in the works?
  30. Have you ever rescuitated a project you'd shelved? What helped it work better the second time around?
  31. What special support people (critiqe partners, writing group, beta readers, editor, agent, author's assistant) do you rely on? How do they help you?
  32. How do you balance the demands of writing with other responsibilities? 
  33. What attracted you to the genre(s) you write in? 
  34. What are some must-read titles in your genre?
  35. What are some trends in your genre that excite you?
  36. What are some elements that are becoming cliche in your genre?
  37. What special challenges did you face making your story stand out from others in the genre?
  38. If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing?
  39. What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?
  40. Do you prefer writing in silence or to music?
  41. Does this story have a soundtrack? A playlist that inspired you while writing it?
  42. What technologies do you rely on most when writing?
  43. What writing resources have been most helpful to you?
  44. What warm ups do you use to get your writing flowing?
  45. Do you believe in the concept of a muse? What is yours like?
  46. What is the best investment you ever made in your writing?
  47. What's the worst writing/publishing advice anyone ever gave you?
  48. What do you know now that you wish you'd known at the beginning of your writing/publishing journey?
  49. What would you advise young writers trying to build a publishing history or an author platform?
  50. What marketing strategies have borne the most fruit for you? 

Any other questions to add?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

by guest author Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

image by Earl35 for morguefile
Let’s face it, one of the best things about reading fantasy fiction is the big, epic battle sequences we get to participate in from the safety of our own homes and imaginations. Unfortunately, these can often also be one of the most difficult aspects of the story to write.

The first time I set out to write a fantasy novel, I was 19 years old. I sailed through the story and came at long last to the final, climactic battle, the crux of the plot I had been building to for over 300 pages. The stage was set, the stakes were high, and ... I had no idea how to go about actually putting this enormous and important ending into the story. It wasn’t something I had covered in any creative writing class I’d ever taken, nor would it ever be included in the curriculum of any writing class I participated in. A friend of mine told me, “Go re-read the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers! Tolkien does a fantastic job with this.” So I did. It seemed like helpful advice at the time. And it was a good starting point... unfortunately, the chapter Helm’s Deep is fairly short, and the descriptions of the battle only encompass a handful of paragraphs, interspersed with information on what Aragorn is doing or dialogue between various characters. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for with regards to a formula for writing a compelling and epic battle sequence.

I read battle scenes in other fantasy novels and sort of fumbled my way along. I would later do a lot of editing and rewriting on that particular portion of the book. Several novels later, I was still wrestling with this question: just how does one go about writing a compelling fight scene?

One day, many years later, I was writing a new story with a scene that involved a sword-battle on a ship. My first inclination was to go through it step-by-step. My main character slashed, took a few steps, parried a blow, ducked under his opponent’s swinging sword, which connected with the main mast and got stuck, giving my MC a chance to whirl out of the way and thrust his own sword at his opponent... I stopped. There was plenty of action, but I was bored writing it, how could I expect a reader to enjoy the experience?

I tried acting it out. My husband helped me with the sequence of events. I talked to friends who had taken fencing classes and were in martial arts. I did research. My grasp of the movements was sound, but translating it onto paper turned it into a choppy mess. It sounded like I was writing choreography for a play, not an intense or exciting battle scene. My husband then suggested a different course. Instead of writing a series of movements and recording all the ducks and blows and parries that an actor has to think through when making a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, I should try to think through what the battle actually looks like to someone in the midst of it. It is chaos. It is loud. Any participant is rarely going to get the luxury of dueling a single opponent at a time. I scrapped the scene and re-wrote it, this time focusing on the feel of the battle, rather than the actual steps. I detailed the overwhelming clash of sounds and colors, the swirling confusion of trying to determine friend versus foe as the MC made his way through the fray while struggling to survive.

And this time, it worked. For me, the answer came not from telling my readers every step of the choreography, but rather from giving them a sense of what it was like to be there next to the character. In other words, writing a compelling fight sequence meant not writing much about the fighting itself! This might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it goes back to the age-old “show, don’t tell!” rule. Though sometimes overused, because narrative is still an important aspect of most stories, this is one of those times where it is a good rule. This is one of those wondrous places where the reader’s vast imagination is the author’s best friend. A few tantalizing glimpses and a fantastic use of descriptive adjectives in which to immerse the reader’s senses will go a lot further in developing a gloriously epic battle scene in your reader’s mind than ten pages of “character A swung his sword, while character B raised up his dagger, catching the blade just before it passed through his defenses, then character A spun 360 degrees and....” wouldn’t you agree? I guess Tolkien had it right all along.

About the Author


Jenelle Leanne Schmidt grew up the oldest of four children. Every night before bedtime her father read to her and her siblings, and it was during these times that her love for adventure and fantasy were forged. While she adored the stories of the Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Prydain, the Wheel of Time, and the Chronicles of Narnia; it wasn't long before her imagination led her to the creation of a world and story all her own.

Connect with Jenelle: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

About the book


King’s Warrior
Book 1 of The Minstrel's Song

When Dark Warriors invade her country, it is up to Princess Kamarie to seek out the legendary king’s warrior and request his aid. The feisty princess has spent her life dreaming of adventure and is thrilled to be tasked with such a quest. There’s only one thing that can dampen the princess’s excitement: Oraeyn. The squire views his task of protecting the princess on her journey as an inglorious assignment and makes no attempt to hide his disappointment.

Despite a rocky start to their journey – in which Oraeyn throws the obnoxious princess in a river just to get her to call him by name – the travelers soon learn that they must depend upon one another if they are to locate the man they have been sent to find.

The adventure merely begins when they meet Brant: a warrior with a mysterious past. He joins their cause readily, his heart smoldering with a vendetta Kamarie cannot completely understand. But whether she trusts him or not, the hope of their world rests on the steel he wears at his side….

Available at Amazon

Which authors do you emulate when writing battles? How might Jenelle's impressionist technique improve your fight scenes? 
Thursday, February 09, 2017 Laurel Garver
by guest author Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

image by Earl35 for morguefile
Let’s face it, one of the best things about reading fantasy fiction is the big, epic battle sequences we get to participate in from the safety of our own homes and imaginations. Unfortunately, these can often also be one of the most difficult aspects of the story to write.

The first time I set out to write a fantasy novel, I was 19 years old. I sailed through the story and came at long last to the final, climactic battle, the crux of the plot I had been building to for over 300 pages. The stage was set, the stakes were high, and ... I had no idea how to go about actually putting this enormous and important ending into the story. It wasn’t something I had covered in any creative writing class I’d ever taken, nor would it ever be included in the curriculum of any writing class I participated in. A friend of mine told me, “Go re-read the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers! Tolkien does a fantastic job with this.” So I did. It seemed like helpful advice at the time. And it was a good starting point... unfortunately, the chapter Helm’s Deep is fairly short, and the descriptions of the battle only encompass a handful of paragraphs, interspersed with information on what Aragorn is doing or dialogue between various characters. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for with regards to a formula for writing a compelling and epic battle sequence.

I read battle scenes in other fantasy novels and sort of fumbled my way along. I would later do a lot of editing and rewriting on that particular portion of the book. Several novels later, I was still wrestling with this question: just how does one go about writing a compelling fight scene?

One day, many years later, I was writing a new story with a scene that involved a sword-battle on a ship. My first inclination was to go through it step-by-step. My main character slashed, took a few steps, parried a blow, ducked under his opponent’s swinging sword, which connected with the main mast and got stuck, giving my MC a chance to whirl out of the way and thrust his own sword at his opponent... I stopped. There was plenty of action, but I was bored writing it, how could I expect a reader to enjoy the experience?

I tried acting it out. My husband helped me with the sequence of events. I talked to friends who had taken fencing classes and were in martial arts. I did research. My grasp of the movements was sound, but translating it onto paper turned it into a choppy mess. It sounded like I was writing choreography for a play, not an intense or exciting battle scene. My husband then suggested a different course. Instead of writing a series of movements and recording all the ducks and blows and parries that an actor has to think through when making a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, I should try to think through what the battle actually looks like to someone in the midst of it. It is chaos. It is loud. Any participant is rarely going to get the luxury of dueling a single opponent at a time. I scrapped the scene and re-wrote it, this time focusing on the feel of the battle, rather than the actual steps. I detailed the overwhelming clash of sounds and colors, the swirling confusion of trying to determine friend versus foe as the MC made his way through the fray while struggling to survive.

And this time, it worked. For me, the answer came not from telling my readers every step of the choreography, but rather from giving them a sense of what it was like to be there next to the character. In other words, writing a compelling fight sequence meant not writing much about the fighting itself! This might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it goes back to the age-old “show, don’t tell!” rule. Though sometimes overused, because narrative is still an important aspect of most stories, this is one of those times where it is a good rule. This is one of those wondrous places where the reader’s vast imagination is the author’s best friend. A few tantalizing glimpses and a fantastic use of descriptive adjectives in which to immerse the reader’s senses will go a lot further in developing a gloriously epic battle scene in your reader’s mind than ten pages of “character A swung his sword, while character B raised up his dagger, catching the blade just before it passed through his defenses, then character A spun 360 degrees and....” wouldn’t you agree? I guess Tolkien had it right all along.

About the Author


Jenelle Leanne Schmidt grew up the oldest of four children. Every night before bedtime her father read to her and her siblings, and it was during these times that her love for adventure and fantasy were forged. While she adored the stories of the Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Prydain, the Wheel of Time, and the Chronicles of Narnia; it wasn't long before her imagination led her to the creation of a world and story all her own.

Connect with Jenelle: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

About the book


King’s Warrior
Book 1 of The Minstrel's Song

When Dark Warriors invade her country, it is up to Princess Kamarie to seek out the legendary king’s warrior and request his aid. The feisty princess has spent her life dreaming of adventure and is thrilled to be tasked with such a quest. There’s only one thing that can dampen the princess’s excitement: Oraeyn. The squire views his task of protecting the princess on her journey as an inglorious assignment and makes no attempt to hide his disappointment.

Despite a rocky start to their journey – in which Oraeyn throws the obnoxious princess in a river just to get her to call him by name – the travelers soon learn that they must depend upon one another if they are to locate the man they have been sent to find.

The adventure merely begins when they meet Brant: a warrior with a mysterious past. He joins their cause readily, his heart smoldering with a vendetta Kamarie cannot completely understand. But whether she trusts him or not, the hope of their world rests on the steel he wears at his side….

Available at Amazon

Which authors do you emulate when writing battles? How might Jenelle's impressionist technique improve your fight scenes? 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

End scenes with uncertainty more often than resolution
You've heard it over and over--readers, agents and editors love "page turners." So you work hard creating characters that readers will invest in and worry about, engage them in inner and outer conflicts, and lead them through obstacles and opposition. You have the groundwork laid. Now what?

Look at how you exit scenes and chapters. If your scene and chapter endings consistently come to a resolution, you aren't getting the maximum tension potential. First look for ways to introduce the unexpected (setbacks, positive or negative reversals), anticipation (goals, foreshadowing) or uncertainty at scene endings.

Then, consider using the film maker's friend, the jump cut. Interrupt the tense moment. Cut the scene in the middle, at a point where the outcome is unclear. In the next scene, come back post interruption, pick up again later in the time line, or summarize what happened. With chapter breaks, you simply begin the next chapter where you left off.

Splitting scenes over chapter breaks is by far the easiest technique. You'll need to add some scene grounding in the new chapter, but otherwise you likely won't need to do much more to build in suspense.

Keep in mind that any technique, if overdone, will feel gimmicky to the reader. Be sure that you don't split scenes at the end of every single chapter. For variety, use the suspenseful scene-end technique instead, for, say, at least 1/4 of your chapters.

How might better exits from scenes and chapters improve the page-turning tension in your work? What favorite books or authors demonstrate the technique best for you?

image credit: alexfrance for morguefile.com
Thursday, February 02, 2017 Laurel Garver
End scenes with uncertainty more often than resolution
You've heard it over and over--readers, agents and editors love "page turners." So you work hard creating characters that readers will invest in and worry about, engage them in inner and outer conflicts, and lead them through obstacles and opposition. You have the groundwork laid. Now what?

Look at how you exit scenes and chapters. If your scene and chapter endings consistently come to a resolution, you aren't getting the maximum tension potential. First look for ways to introduce the unexpected (setbacks, positive or negative reversals), anticipation (goals, foreshadowing) or uncertainty at scene endings.

Then, consider using the film maker's friend, the jump cut. Interrupt the tense moment. Cut the scene in the middle, at a point where the outcome is unclear. In the next scene, come back post interruption, pick up again later in the time line, or summarize what happened. With chapter breaks, you simply begin the next chapter where you left off.

Splitting scenes over chapter breaks is by far the easiest technique. You'll need to add some scene grounding in the new chapter, but otherwise you likely won't need to do much more to build in suspense.

Keep in mind that any technique, if overdone, will feel gimmicky to the reader. Be sure that you don't split scenes at the end of every single chapter. For variety, use the suspenseful scene-end technique instead, for, say, at least 1/4 of your chapters.

How might better exits from scenes and chapters improve the page-turning tension in your work? What favorite books or authors demonstrate the technique best for you?

image credit: alexfrance for morguefile.com