High concept – not just a marketing gimmick

HToday we’ve got me on the blog! I’m talking about high concept, taken from lesson three of the loglines class I teach.

Ever heard an agent or editor say they want something fresh?  Have you heard them say they want something unique?  How about they want the same but different?  Any of these ringing a bell?  What I think they mean, but aren’t saying, is they want high concept.  A lot of movies have been based on high concept books.  I Am Legend for example.  Great high concept.  Lousy movie.  Jaws.  High concept book, high concept movie.  The Silence of the Lambs.  Jurassic Park.

What is high concept?  Is it just a marketing gimmick?  People tend to think if they can boil their concept down to that twenty-five word logline they have high concept.  That’s not what makes it high concept.  I can do that with a lot of my stories but only a handful are actually high concept.  So then what is it?  And how do you get it if you don’t have it?

I’ve seen “rules” that say there are three components to a high concept.  Others that say there are five. And one even that says there are six.  No matter which one you listen to they have three in common:

The concept must be unique

The concept must appeal to a wide audience

The concept can be told in a single sentence and you see the whole movie (or book).

High concept is not Star Wars meets The African Queen. This is a framing technique mostly used in Hollywood. It should be used sparingly and only if asked. It’s also not the blurb or the synopsis. It’s not big budget, blockbuster movies either. You can have high concept without the big budget.

Star Wars was high concept. Star Wars fits all the criteria for being high concept in spades.  The Blair Witch Project, by no means a big budget film, was high concept. I didn’t care for the movie myself but millions of people did. It had a unique twist. The protagonists were likeable.  The stakes were high enough for them. Even Peggy Sue Got Married was high concept.

Not high concept – Little Miss Sunshine.  She’s All That.  Head Over Heels.  Twilight.  Brokeback Mountain.  American Beauty.

High concept is a powerful tool to have as a writer.  High concept pitches can make it easier to communicate up through the chain of command.  If your idea is too complicated, by the time it reaches the top, it may sound like a totally different idea.  Anyone ever play telephone as a child?  It also forces you to determine what the story is really about.  What the core of the story is.

Now some of you may be thinking, but my story is too complex for this logline business.  Or this high concept business.  But the God Father was high concept.  Boil that complex plot, with complex characters and great subplots and what is the core?

When a powerful gangster is gunned down, his reluctant son must seek revenge and take over the family business.

Everything in the movie relies on that core.

How do you improve a concept to make it higher concept?

First, I suggest you find the essence of the concept or logline.  Figure out what it’s about and then what it’s REALLY about.

Here’s where we have fun.  Take your concept or logline and change it.  Make it better.  How?  Is it unique?  No?  Can you make it more unique?  Change the setting to be unique?  How about the characters?  Change the gender, race, species of your characters.  Change their traits.  Throw some opposites in there.  You’ve all heard the make the heroine an arsonist and the hero a fire fighter suggestion.  Raise the stakes.  Play what if?  Give it a twist.  Have something unique about it.

So go ahead and try it on one of your concepts. But only ones you haven’t done a lot of work on. Authors tend to get married to their ideas and find it hard to make changes to the concept even though a change could make the concept stronger. Feel free to share your loglines if you like.


CindyCarrollECindy is a member of Sisters in Crime and a graduate of Hal Croasmun’s screenwriting ProSeries. Her interviews with writers of CSI and Flashpoint appeared in The Rewrit, the Scriptscene newsletter, the screenwriting Chapter of RWA. She writes screenplays, thrillers, and paranormals, occasionally exploring an erotic twist. A background in banking and IT doesn’t allow much in the way of excitement so she turns to writing stories that are a little dark and usually have a dead body. She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and two cats. When she’s not writing you can usually find her painting landscapes in oil or trying space paintings with spray paint.

Join Cindy’s exclusive club to get new release pricing, the inside scoop, free reads: http://www.cindycarroll.com/blog/newsletter/

To be a reviewer and get books before they’re released in exchange for an honest review on release day sign up here: http://eepurl.com/bfN0bL

Follow her on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/CindyPCarroll

Like her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCindyCarroll

Amazon Page: http://amazon.com/author/cindycarroll

Thanks for stopping by the blog today!

Keep writing.

21 Ways to Embellish Your Scenes

Welcome back to the blog. Our second Monday of the month guest post is late because I was sick last week. By the time I felt well enough to do anything online it made more sense to post it for today. Today we have Cyndi Faria on the blog talking about scenes!

Here’s Cyndi!

As always, I’m excited to guest blog for Guelph Write Now. I’d like to thank Cindy Carroll for having me. Last month, I participated in a writing challenge called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The object of the challenge was to write a 50k novel. With that complete, the month of December is titled National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo), and I’m editing my heart out.

Sometimes, however, I need help making sure my scenes have certain elements. By creating a check list, I can embellish each scene until it sparkles!

Lucky for you, I love to share my writing craft tips. Next time you’re editing, make sure you include in each scene a good sampling of the bullet point items below. Then watch your scene shine!

  1. Touch
  2. Taste
  3. Sight
  4. Smell
  5. Hearing
  6. Temperature
  7. Pain
  8. Balance
  9. Motion
  10. Acceleration
  11. Time
  12. Direction
  13. Breathing
  14. Heart Rate
  15. Vasodilatation (flushing and blushing)
  16. Intestinal Distress
  17. Swallowing
  18. Ethics
  19. Humor (funny or sarcastic)
  20. Style
  21. Mannerisms.

To download a PDF of the Scene Embellishment List (shown below), click here.

Scene Embellishment

Cindy here again!

Great tips, Cyndi. I love that checklist. It’s great to have handy when you’re doing revisions.

Happy writing!


Part 4: Unleashing Your Muse – Free Writing Act III

Happy Thanksgiving! On this holiday Monday we have Cyndi Faria finishing up her series on Unleashing Your Muse.

Here’s Cyndi!

Cindy, thank you for having me guest post on GWN. Today, I’m wrapping up my 4 part series on Unleashing Your Muse by Free-Writing Act I, Act IIA, Act IIB, and Act III. To review the prior blog posts, click on the highlighted Acts.

Act III is my favorite 25% of the novel. It’s where all the action takes place, the plants are revealed, the loose ends are tied up, the villain is defeated, and the H/h prove they’ve changed and attain their happily ever after. Below is the information you’ll want to include in your free write:

Plot and Characterization Combined:

  1. The challenge;
  2. Acceptance of the challenge;
  3. Allies from Act 1 show up and join forces with allies from Act II to help defeat the minor villains;
  4. Minor villains are defeated or killed off or punished;
  5. May, briefly, interact with main villain;
  6. Gifted tools/information for journey;
  7. Lose ends from the plot are resolved;
  8. Romantically, the H/h come together;
  9. Character transformation is shown (Example: change of clothes);
  10. Character transformation is proved by facing greatest fear;
  11. Final battle against the villain;
  12. Hero uses his tool/talent to defeat the villain;
  13. The hero is shown transformed (show new behavior);
  14. H/h is recognized as a true hero;
  15. Hero gets the girl (heroine gets the guy);
  16. H/h  get their HEA/goal; and
  17. Final Image Opposite of Opening Image.


Using the movie The Village by M. Night Shyamalan, I’ve free written the bullet point items into a paragraph format (note: the numbers preceding each sentence correspond to the numbers above):

At the end of Act IIB, the heroine Ivy Walker is devastated when her fiancé Lucius is struck down by the villain (Noah). (1) Unless Lucius receives “medicines” from the far away towns, he’ll die. And, because of the village rules, the only person who is allowed to save Lucius is Ivy. (2) She volunteers to seek “medicines” that will save Lucius’s life, but the towns are only reachable by traveling through the forbidden forest. (3) With the help of her father, she details her intentions to the Elders, (4) who after consideration grant her permission to “preserve innocence of the village inhabitants”. (5) Before she leaves, she faces Noah and slaps him, further angering Noah by rejecting him fully. (6) Her father presents her with the tools (gold watch and medication list) she’ll need to save Lucius. Her father shares an Elder secret: the monsters in the forest are, mostly, “farce” and a ploy to keep the people from leaving the safety of the village. (7) Loose ends are tied up, when it’s discovered Noah has found a hidden monster costume and is the one who’s been terrorizing the village. (8) Romantically, Ivy goes to an unconscious Lucius and promises him she’ll save him. (9) Transformed, she wears a yellow gown. (10) All her life she’s dreamed of becoming one of the boys who prove their courage by turning their back to the forbidden forest. Lucius holds the record. Ivy enters the terrifying forest with two boys that are too scared to venture further. They leave her to face her quest alone. In the forest, she lets go of the belief that her gender and handicap (she’s blind) are what keeps her from facing her fear of being useless. After all, she’s proved braver than the boys. Her love for Lucius keeps her focused. (11) Then Noah, dressed as a monster, attacks Ivy. (12) Because of her blindness, Ivy uses her gift of spatial awareness to relocate a hole she fell into earlier. With her back to Noah—like the boys’ game—she stands in front of the hole. Noah rushes her, but she ducts just in time and Noah falls into the hole. He dies. (13) With renewed determination, she runs to the town. (14) Because of her transformation and compassionate nature, she’s aided by a patrolman who gets her what she needs. She returns to the community as a heroine. (15) The final scene shows Ivy and Lucius holding hands, his steady breath can be heard, and (16) someone says Lucius is going to live because of Ivy. (17) The final image, Ivy is no longer an incapable but has transformed to a knowledgeable Elder.

Now it’s your turn. Practice on movies. It’s fun.

Or unleash your muse and free-write Act III.

This can be a combination of sentences, thoughts, dialogue, or whatever pops into your mind. There are no rules.

I usually write 3-5 pages, single-spaced. Sometimes information that belongs in other acts creeps in. That’s okay—just start a new section titled Other Acts and when finished move the information to where it belongs.

Thank you for joining me and I hope to see you next month!

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Visit Cyndi’s website:   http://www.cyndifaria.com
Visit Cyndi’s Amazon Page: Amazon Author Page

About the Author:

“Cyndi Faria writes with passion and her stories touch the heart.”

—Virna DePaul, Bestselling Author

Author Photo B-WCyndi Faria is an engineer turned romance writer whose craving for structure is satisfied by plotting heart-warming paranormal romance stories about Native American folklore, cursed spirits, lost souls, harbingers, and even a haunted coastal town. If you love a tale with courageous heroes and heroines, where their unconditional love for each other gives them strength to defeat their inner demons, Cyndi Faria invites you to enter the pages of her stories.

On and off her sexy romance pages, this California country girl isn’t afraid to dirty her hands fighting for the underdog and caretaking rescued pets. Find her helping fellow writers and leading readers to happily-ever-after at www.cyndifaria.com

Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Cyndi! Great series of articles and lots to think about!


A Man’s Advice on Giving Birth

Welcome to the GWN blog! Today we have Bill Hopkins talking about creating characters.

Here’s Bill!

Unlike real life, giving birth in fiction to characters can be as hard and complicated or as simple and easy as you make it. Follow along and do as much or little as you want. I’ll give you examples using my amateur sleuth, Judge Rosswell Carew.


  1. Make a biography for your character. We don’t need a multi-volume work. Just choose age, sex, work, height, weight, color of hair, color of eyes, physical characteristics, etc. JRC is medium height, bad eyes, supersensitive hearing and sense of smell, scrawny mustache, and average weight for a guy who’s almost forty.


  1. Next, what does your character want? Make it short, clear, and concise. JRC wants to be a detective because he’s tired of all the repetitious stories he’s hearing on the bench. And his theme in life is that being just is more important than being legal.


  1. What’s the background of your character? I don’t go into JRC’s schooling much because being “in the military” (no branch designated) made a bigger impact on him.


  1. What are your character’s quirks? JRC doesn’t like his sidekick to touch him, he’s touchy about the way people try to give him the nickname of Ross, he’s a perfectionist, and kind of a general PITA.


  1. What would it take to make your character suffer a gut wrenching moment? For JRC, it would be running out of espresso, missing a meal, or watching a friend die. He does, after all, care about people.


  1. How does your character talk? JRC has his own way of saying things, as do all the characters in my books. I try to make the dialog unique. If you heard it aloud, you’d immediately know which of my characters was talking.


  1. What’s your character’s name? Rosswell Carew is a name hard to forget. John Smith is easy to forget. But how about John Wayne Smith? Don’t give your babies dull names. (Frank Jones or Bill Hopkins). Don’t duplicate names (Annie and Annabelle). Don’t use the same letter(s) to start two or more names. (Max, Mike, and Mark shouldn’t exist in the same book).


  1. Have you interviewed your character? I’ve never interviewed JRC in writing, but I love that kind of blog. That sounds like something I need to do next!

Cover Courting MurderCourting Murder: When Judge Rosswell Carew makes the gruesome discovery of two corpses on a riverbank in the Missouri Ozarks, he’s plunged into a storm of deadly secrets that threaten both him and his fiancée, Tina Parkmore. Unsatisfied with the way the authorities are conducting the investigation, Rosswell, who’s always nurtured a secret desire to be a detective, teams up with an ex-con, Ollie Groton, to solve the case before the killer can murder again. Rosswell uncovers a maze of crimes so tangled that he must fight his way to a solution or die trying.




River Mourn front cover


River Mourn: Judge Rosswell Carew travels to Sainte Geneveive, Missouri, searching for Tina Parkmore, his kidnapped fiancée. When he witnesses someone tossed from a riverboat ferry, he’s plunged into a nightmare world he never knew existed. Rosswell is astounded when he discovers what he saw and the fate of Tina are intertwined. Unable to interest the local authorities in the case, Rosswell teams up with his faithful research assistant Ollie Groton to discover the truth. The excitement never lets up until the last page.

Available September 2013 from Deadly Writes Press



About Bill:

Photo of Bill HopkinsBill Hopkins is retired after beginning his legal career in 1971 and serving as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri. His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications. He’s had several short plays produced. A book of collected poetry, Moving Into Forever, is available on Amazon. Bill is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dramatists Guild, Horror Writers Association, Missouri Writers Guild, and Sisters In Crime. Bill is also a photographer who has sold work in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He and his wife, Sharon (a mortgage banker who is also a published writer), live in Marble Hill, Missouri, with their dog and cats. Besides writing, Bill and Sharon are involved in collecting and restoring Camaros. Courting Murder is his first mystery novel.


Courting Murder by Bill Hopkins



A Judge Rosswell Carew Mystery

ISBN 978-0-9830504-38

Southeast Missouri University Press

Publisher’s page: http://www6.semo.edu/universitypress/courting_murder.htm

Author’s website: www.judgebillhopkins.com

Author’s FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/judgehopkins

Author’s Page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Bill-Hopkins/e/B008XM8L7G

Amazon order page: http://www.amazon.com/Courting-Murder-Bill-Hopkins/dp/0983050430

LinkedIn: Bill Hopkins

Twitter: @JudgeHopkins


Cindy here again!

Great advice, Bill! I read a book once that had five characters with names starting with M. So confusing.

Happy writing!



Part 3: Unleashing Your Muse – Free Writing Act II, Part 2

Welcome back to the GWN blog. We have Cyndi Faria back for Part 3 of Unleashing your muse!

Here’s Cyndi!

I’m back today talking about what goes into Act II, Part II. I hope you’ve been following along because after next month’s post, I’m going to offer private feedback to one lucky commenter.

The second half of a novel, beginning with Act II, Part 2, is my favorite section. Often times, I’ll have the fleeting thought that the H/h will never work things out. In this section, I experience frustration and tears right along with the H/h. After all, in a romance, I want to see the couple reunite, defeat the villain, rekindle their love and find their HEA while obtaining their original goals.

But how can this possibly happen when both the H/h are up against so much adversity?

Below is what you’ll want to incorporate into your free-write. This section begins around the 50% mark of you novel (midpoint) and ends around the 75% mark.

For reference, I’m going to use the movie Pretty Woman, staring our hero Richard Gere (Edward), heroine Julia Roberts (Vivian), and villain Jason Alexander (Phillip). Recall the following just prior to the midpoint:

Define Character Trait (Strength-Weakness):

  • Edward is a controlling workaholic. (Fear of being betrayed)
  • Vivian is a free-spirit prostitute. (Fear of being deprived)
  • Without Edward, Phillip is powerless and has an entitlement attitude.

Please note: If you end on a high at the midpoint (like sex), the All is Lost moment must end in the opposite. In our case a low.

Enter Act II, Part 2: Villains Close In (People, Past, Insecurities, etc.)

The Reveal:

  • Hero reveals he hadn’t spoke to his father in 14 years and now he’s dead.
  • Heroine reveals she dropped out of high school and came to Hollywood, but couldn’t find a job and turned to prostitution.

This reveal brings them closer and makes each more vulnerable. They have sex as a couple (false win).

Villain(s) Close In:

  • Edward takes Vivian to a company polo match. Both the company he wants to overtake (teardown) and Edward’s business partner, Phillip, are there. Vivian mingles beautifully and Edward notices, but the owner of the company Edward is trying to buy interacts with her.
  • Phillip doesn’t trust Vivian and makes his distrust of Vivian known to Edward. Edward tells Phillip not to worry, she’s a prostitute.
  • Vivian is hurt that Edward shared her profession with Phillip and that Phillip approached her for sexual services.


Allies Walk Away:

Vivian turns her back on Edward and realizes she no longer wants to be a prostitute or a free-spirit but a lady. Edward has taught her to be more goal-orientated. However, at this point she’s worse off than she started neither a prostitute or a lady. What to do?


  • Angry Phillip propositioned Vivian, Edward cautions Phillip and walks away from his business responsibilities to spend a day away from work to try to patch the damage that’s been done between Edward and Vivian. For once, living a more free-spirit way of life (taking shoes off in the park and flying to New York to see the opera), Edward experiences another side of life besides work and destroying companies, but how does he balance both worlds? What to do?

Heading toward disaster (All is Lost Moment):

With both of their support systems out of the picture (Edward’s partner and Vivian’s prostitute girlfriend), they are worse than when they started. In fact, both are so bad off that all aspects of the H/h’s life are heading toward danger if they don’t change.

At this point, however, change is illusive.

Situation Worsens by Death:

Make the situation even worse. Maybe someone dies, or an ally turns their back or attacks them, or there’s an important project that comes to an end.

H/h push back one last time using their old character traits. But, because of their backstory fears, they fail miserably:

Vivian has fallen in love with Edward, kisses him on the mouth (a forbidden act for a prostitute), and professes her love, thinking he’s sleeping and can’t hear her. (Death of her prostitution lifestyle and free-spirit way of living)

After hearing Vivian profess her love for him, in the morning, Edward offers Vivian an apartment. (Death of Edward’s fear of betrayal and his all-business lifestyle.)

Ending on a Down Note:

Vivian angrily objects Edward’s apartment proposal. That’s not the fairytale she’s looking for and packs up to leave.

Falling back on his businessman ways, however, Edward hands her the money he’s promised for her week of services.

Couple Split:

Both are completely broken and miserable without one another. And there is no going back to the old way of life having tasted the other’s world. New plan, but what?

To summarize, the point of Act II, Part 2 is for the author to prove to the character that their go-to trait isn’t working and never will again. That together they are complete, if only they’d stand up to their fears and enter the new world—Act III.

Next month I’ll wrap up how to free-write Act III.

Until then, when you’ve grasped the above information, it’s time to unleash your muse on Act II, Part 2 and free-write the next quarter of you novel (3-6 pages, single spaced. Remember anything goes). Have fun!

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Visit Cyndi’s Website: http://www.cyndifaria.com

Visit Cyndi on Amazon: Cyndi’s Amazon Author Page

About the Author:
“Cyndi Faria writes with passion and her stories touch the heart.”

—Virna DePaul, Bestselling Author


Author Photo B-W

Cyndi Faria is an engineer turned romance writer whose craving for structure is satisfied by plotting emotional and cozy paranormal romance stories about Native American folklore, cursed spirits, lost souls, harbingers, and even a haunted coastal town. If you love a tale with courageous heroes and heroines, where their unconditional love for each other gives them strength to defeat their inner demons, Cyndi Faria invites you to enter the pages of her stories.







Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Cyndi. Can’t wait for part four!

Take a book from good to sold in 10 steps – with Shirley Jump

It’s finally Friday! Today we have a great post from New York Times Bestselling author Shirley Jump on taking your book from “good” to sold!

Here’s Shirley!

The Sweetheart Bargain coverThank you for having me on the blog! I wrote ten books in 8 years before I finally sold. I had a long, frustrating journey, because it was like I was missing something small—turns out it was a few small things 😉 What takes a book from just “good” to sold? Ah, that’s the magic answer everyone wants! In my opinion, it’s all those things that new writers see as intangible — tight, strong writing, a well-developed plot and strong, living characters. If you’re like me, you saw many of those words in your rejection letters and puzzled over them, trying to figure out exactly how you were supposed to make your writing stronger or how to make those characters come alive.

It can be done. My January 2003 release, THE VIRGIN’S PROPOSAL, was a contest winner and finalist (I won the TARA contest in 2000) but I just couldn’t sell it. I revised it a couple of times, sent it off to Silhouette, and was lucky enough to get a detailed revision letter from Mary Theresa Hussey. She had a lot of issues with the plot and wanted me to dump and rewrite about 2/3s of the book.

I knew this was my golden opportunity; the kind of chance all writers dream of. I had an interested editor, it was up to me to either rise to the challenge or choke at the starting gate. Besides looking at the plot issues, I took a serious look at the book itself, comparing it to the books I admired. On every page, I asked myself “How can I make this better?” And once I improved that page, I’d go back and improve it again. It’s possible to take a book from Good Enough to Win a Contest to Wonderful Enough to Sell – here’s how I did it.

That book sold, went on to win the Booksellers Best contest, and is the first of 50 books for me. My latest, THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN, came out September 3 with Berkley, part of a brand new series that I sold last year by using these same techniques.




By Shirley Jump


What makes a book SOLD instead of simply good enough to win contests? Several factors, I discovered when I took two previous manuscripts that had done well in contests and later revamped them to make them sell. It’s about taking the book one step further and making them not just winning, but salable:


  1. Make sure every Scene has a Goal and a Sequel. Does your main character in each scene have something he/she wants to accomplish during the course of the scene? If you have a scene that just seems to be sitting there, with no real purpose, then nine times out of ten, the lack of a goal is the problem. Each of the scene goals should feed into the main book goal, and should raise the stakes and the tension. The minute you lose your tension, you’re at the end of your book, because the characters have achieved their goals.


  1. Make sure your plot hangs together. This usually requires one read through to look for any potential holes in your plot, any questions left unanswered, etc. Be sure to make notes as you go along, rather than trusting your memory. Often, it’s a dangling plot that keeps a book from being unique enough.


  1. Did you make the most of your voice? Voice is that indefinable thing that really sets you apart from another writer. Structurally, you might have a fabulous book but if you haven’t given it your own unique flavor — the stamp that makes that book YOURS and yours alone — it won’t stand out among the others on the editor’s desk.


  1. Conflict, Conflict, Conflict: Don’t be afraid to throw more and more roadblocks into your characters’ paths. As authors, we’re often too nice to our characters and don’t give them enough hardships. Hardship fosters change which in turn creates character growth. Also, characters who solve their internal and external obstacles too early end the book too soon. Be sure there is some “but” still getting in the character’s way, forcing them to continue on their emotional (and physical, if you have one) journey before you get to the final concluding scene.


  1. Motivation, Motivation, Motivation: Do your characters have reasons for everything they do? And do those motivations come from the character’s character — i.e., what makes him/her uniquely themselves — rather than some contrivance on your part? Character actions should grow out of character experience, self concept and wants or needs.


  1. Look at your balance of narrative and dialogue. Do you have too much of one or the other? Too little in one area? Do you have long passages between spurts of conversation, which make for unnatural pauses? It really helps to read aloud at this point to make sure the dialogue holds together naturally. If necessary, act it out to really see the places where your narrative is too long.


  1. Speaking of dialogue — make sure every bit is necessary. Dialogue is a plot tool. It’s used to further the plot and show character, rather than just sitting there, filling up space.


  1. Check the obvious. Did you look at all the spelling and grammar errors? Fix the dangling participles and split infinitives? Remove all the extra “thats” and “justs”? Take out as much passive writing as possible? Try to show instead of tell?


  1. Tighten. And tighten again. Once you’ve gone through the manuscript for all of the above reasons, go through it again for tightening. Can you use one word instead of five and get the same impact? Can you reword passages with stronger verbs and adjectives, delivering more punch in every sentence?


  1. Can you use more unique phrases to express the same thing? Too often, writers relay on clichés for their descriptions instead of striving for something more unique. This is that indefinable aspect that editors are looking for — a strong book written by an author with his/her own distinctive style. To achieve that, you have to write better than those who have gone before you. Be stronger, be more precise. Try harder. That means coming up with several versions of a turn of phrase or striving to go beyond the stereotype. Don’t settle for what’s easy and predictable. Take it to the next level and you’ll soon be hearing your career go to the next level of…



ShirleyJumpNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump has written more than 50 novels for Berkley, Harlequin, Entangled and Kensington books. She has won numerous awards, including the HOLT Medallion, the Booksellers Best Award and Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence. She’s been nominated multiple times for the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice award, most recently for THE RETURN OF BRODY MCKENNA, the last book in her McKenna Brothers series for Harlequin. The first book in her upcoming series with Berkley, THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN, has received a multitude of pre-publication praise from authors such as Jayne Ann Krentz, who called the book “real romance,” Virginia Kantra, who said, “Shirley Jump packs lots of sweet and plenty of heat in this heartwarming first book of her promising new series,” and Jill Shalvis, who called it “a fun, heartwarming small town romance that you’ll fall in love with.”

Visit her website at www.shirleyjump.com

Cindy here again!

Wow, great information Shirley. Thanks so much for being here! I need to keep this list handy when I do revisions.

Happy writing.




Welcome to the GWN blog! Today I have Jim Cort talking about passive voice.

Here’s Jim.

There’s no question that the prime whipping boy of English grammar is the passive voice.  “Avoid the passive voice,” the writing manual says.  “Never use the passive where you can use the active,” says George Orwell.  Well, what’s the big problem?  What’s so bad about the passive voice, anyhow?

Let’s find out.

First of all, we need to understand how an English sentence is put together.  The normal word order for a sentence in English is: subject, verb, object.  We can put this another way: actor, action, and thing acted upon.  This is known as the active voice.  Here’s an example: I ate the pizza.

A sentence in the passive voice is arranged: object, verb, subject.  Or, again: thing acted upon, action, actor.  Like this: The pizza was eaten by me. So, here’s the first stumbling block: the passive voice takes the normal word order in a sentence and stands it on its head.  It’s cumbersome.

Next, let’s do a simple word count.  The active sentence has four words.  The passive sentence has six words.  So the passive sentence takes more words to say the same thing.  Two extra words may not seem like a lot, but look at as a percentage. The passive sentence is fifty percent longer but conveys the same information.

Now, consider the verbs.  In the passive sentence, the short, strong verb eat has been replaced by its weaker past participle eaten, and hobbled with the auxiliary verb was.  It’s a less forceful, less direct way of speaking.  And remember the paradox of helping verbs: The more you help your verb, the weaker it becomes.

When we graduate to complex sentences and more complicated ideas, we start to see how passive constructions can do some real mischief to the clarity and ease of reading we want:

This handbook should in no manner be construed as a fixed or binding contract between the Company and you, and its provisions can be considered as no more than general summaries of the benefits, work rules, and policies they address. No reliance should be placed on existing policies in making your determination to accept or continue employment with the Company.

This a lot to slog through.  The sentences are so long and so convoluted, that it’s hard to keep things straight in your head as you go along.  Also, it’s a real challenge figuring out who’s doing what.  Things that happen in the passive voice are like acts of God or forces of Nature—they just happen.

So, if the passive voice is so nasty, why do we keep it around?  Why hasn’t it become extinct long ago?  The plain truth is the passive voice does have its uses.  Here are a few instances where you might not want to resist the passive:

1. For variety.  A sentence in the passive every now and then adds variety to your writing.  It breaks up the monotony and keeps up the reader’s interest. Just think of it as a strong spice like cayenne or cumin—a little goes a long way.

2. For emphasis. As we mentioned, the passive voice describes an action as if it were an act of God, or a condition that has existed for all time.  Because of this, the passive is useful for setting policy or laying down the law: Neckties will be worn in this area.  That’s it.  It’s carved in stone.  No room for argument.

3. For evasive action. Since the passive can describe an action without identifying the actor, it’s useful for writing about something you don’t quite fully understand yourself.  (Not that this is a good practice, but we can’t walk the straight and narrow all the time.) It’s also handy for delivering bad news—you can admit that something bad happened without actually confessing to it: Mistakes were made.

Generally speaking, however, you’re better off steering clear of the passive.  Review what you’ve written and look for forms of the word be–is, are, was, were, has been, had been–coupled with a verb form.  This is a warning flag for the passive voice.  Consider if these sentences might read better in the active voice: subject, verb, object.  Most of the time, I think you’ll find they will

Jim Cort has been writing since dirt was invented. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/337106

Cindy here again!

Great information, Jim! Thanks for being here today.

Happy writing!



Getting Dorothy in the house

Welcome to the GWN blog! Today we have Jim Cort talking about getting your characters to do what you want them to do.

Here’s Jim!

How can you get your characters to do what you want them to do? How can we get Dorothy in the farmhouse all alone, ready for the Cyclone Limited to whisk her away to Munchkin land?

This is an important question for any writer of fiction, and not always an easy one to answer. A common problem in novice’s stories is that characters behave in response to the needs of the story, instead of their own needs.  This rings false.  It hurts the story.  The characters seem less three-dimensional, and less deserving of our sympathy.

In the best fiction, motivation arises organically from the desires of the characters and the situations they find themselves in.  Character and plot unite seamlessly, and it never occurs to the reader to question why so-and-so did such-and-such.

How do you achieve this?

One way is to view your plot as a series of problems and solutions that form a chain of events.  Each of the characters has an overriding problem to solve or goal to accomplish, and the working out of these problems forms the structure of the story.  There are certain key scenes or events that figure prominently in this structure.  But there are also countless smaller events that lead up to and away from these key scenes.   As in real life, working out the big problems is a succession of smaller steps: small problems and small solutions.

But here’s the trick: In fiction (and in real life, too) the solutions are not perfect.  Inside each of the solutions lurks another problem that needs solving. Your characters are propelled through the plot by this rhythm of problem/solution/problem/solution. Their actions grow from their responses to the constant stream of problems.  Their motivations spring naturally from these cascading events in the story.

This idea is similar to the concept in law called the chain of causation.  Simply put, it says, “Event C would not have happened if Event B had not happened, and Event B would not have happened unless it was caused by Event A”.  It’s a clever method lawyers have devised to sue people for things they didn’t do. This chaining of cause and effect can provide a sturdy and dynamic framework for your story or novel.

The best way to explore this technique is to apply it to a book you’ve already read or a movie you’ve already seen.  Let’s get back to The Wizard of Oz.  We’ll use the movie instead of the book because it’s more widely known.

Let’s consider the first key event in the story: Dorothy’s house gets picked up by the cyclone with her inside, and dropped in the land of Oz on top of the Witch of the East. But the story doesn’t start there.  We first find out who Dorothy is, and where she lives, and what her situation is at home.  Ultimately, however, we have to get Dorothy in the house by herself so the cyclone can carry her off.  Here are the first few minutes of the movie, laid out in problem/solution format:

Problem:           Toto bites Miss Gulch

Solution:            Miss Gulch takes Toto away

Problem:           Toto escapes from Miss Gulch

Solution:            Dorothy runs away with Toto; meets Professor Marvel

Problem:           Professor Marvel tells Dorothy that Auntie Em is sick

Solution:            Dorothy heads back home

Problem:           There’s a cyclone

Solution:            Dorothy’s family goes in the storm cellar

Problem:           Dorothy arrives home; can’t find her family; can’t get in the storm cellar

Solution:            Dorothy seeks shelter in the house

Problem:           House flies away with Dorothy in it

Solution:            House lands in Oz on the witch


Granted, we can detect the heavy hand of coincidence in that cyclone that pops up just when it’s needed, but coincidence has its place, and a cyclone in Kansas is not all that unheard-of.  With that exception, the problem/solution structure works quite well.  Five links in the chain, and Dorothy is back in the house where we want her. We’re ready to set the stage for her main underlying motivation: her need to get home again. The characters react to the things and events around them, and not to the off-screen commands of some author-puppeteer.

It’s helpful to examine these events backwards, to better see the chain of causation:

7. Dorothy gets herself in a load of trouble by squishing the witch with her house, but she wouldn’t have been in the house when it flew away if she hadn’t sought shelter there.

6. She wouldn’t have gone in the house if she could have gotten into the storm cellar with the rest of her family, but she didn’t get back in time.

5. Dorothy was coming back because Professor Marvel told her Auntie Em was sick.

4. She would never have met Professor Marvel at all if she hadn’t run away.

3. Dorothy ran away to save Toto from Miss Gulch.

2. Toto needed saving because he had escaped from Miss Gulch.

1. Miss Gulch wouldn’t have taken Toto into custody if Toto hadn’t bit her.

And that’s where we came in.

Try this with a book or movie you know.  Try it with a story of your own.  Why does Blanche go back to the apartment, even though she knows Artie might be there? Why does Inspector Wainscoting ignore the obvious clue of the opera glasses in the punchbowl? Why would Marvin leave behind the golf clubs, but not the cribbage board? Let your characters find their own reasons for behaving as they do in what goes on around them.  Place them in a situation that will cause them to do what you want them to do. All it takes is a few problems and solutions.

And maybe a cyclone once in a while.


Jim Cort has been writing since God wore short pants. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/337106

Cindy here again!

Thanks for a great post, Jim. I’m going to try this with my current WIP.

Happy writing.



Unleashing Your Muse (Free-Writing Act II- Part 1)

Welcome back to the GWN blog! We have Cyndi Faria back to talk about free-writing.

Here’s Cyndi!

Today, I’m talking about Unleashing Your Muse; Free-Writing Act II, Part 1. If you missed Unleashing Your Muse; Free-Writing Act I, you can read that Here. Like Act I, Act II, Part 1 makes up approximately 25% of the story. The object of free writing is to tease your muse into infusing each Act of the story with certain elements.

So let’s jump right back in where we left off:


Recall that Act I ended with the main character (MC) making a decision to leave the old world and enter into a new world. For this post, I’m going to use the romantic comedy 50 First Dates as an example. Our MC, Playboy Henry Roth, played by Adam Sandler, meets amnesiac Lucy Whitmore, played by Drew Barrymore. (Additional structure and theme blogs using this movie see www.cyndifaria.com Here and Here.):


From my last post, after reviewing Act I, go back to your free write and make sure to include elements that are character and story specific. As an example, below I’ve used 50 First Dates:


  • Character Arc (Enneagram Here): Shown in Act I: Henry is a playboy/biologist who’s sworn off committed relationships. By the end of Act II Part 1: Henry sees how his flaw is holding him back from obtaining his external goal. Act II, Part 2: Henry must let go of the belief that his value is dependent of the positive regard of others to discover his true identity and his own heart’s desire. Act III: Henry proves change in self during climax and becomes self-accepting, genuine, and benevolent.
  • The Thematic Statement (TS): In Act I and around the 5% mark, the reader must understand the story’s theme. In 50 First Dates, Henry believes: Commitment kills adventure, which kills happiness. Because of the MC’s backstory, the TS is the lie he’s told himself and uses to gauge his actions. It’s up to the author to either prove the TS true or false by the end of Act III. Since this specific story is a romance instead of a tragedy, the TS is proved False.
  • The Story Question (SQ): At the end of Act I, around 25% of the story, readers should be able to understand the story direction in the form of a question. In 50 First Dates—Will a playboy embrace commitment and find adventure and love?


Free-Write: What goes into Act II, Part 1?


(Note: If you can’t wrap your mind around this information now, that’s okay. Just commit the bulleted items to memory and unleash your muse.)


  • Meet New Players, Allies. Some Old Allies Remain: In 50 First Dates, we meet Lucy’s father and brother. Lucy’s father is the voice of reality and Lucy’s backstory narrator, while Lucy’s brother pretends to be what he is not—this is Henry’s mirror image (only a little goofier). Seeing the ridiculousness of pretending what Lucy’s brother is not, Henry slowly lets go of the playboy charade and learns to embrace who he is, what he wants, and his true feelings to get the girl and his external goal by the end of Act III. Henry’s old world friend adds humor and is the voice of truth and theme.
  • Both the hero and heroine share their external goals. Henry wants to study walruses in Alaska (adventure). Lucy wants to teach art.
  • Set up 3 attempts to reach the external goal, but have the MC fail due to their character flaw and sparse villain interaction (Because of Henry’s backstory—getting his heart broken in college—he’s sworn off committed relationships, even committing to repairing his yacht so he can go to Alaska. When he finds himself falling for Lucy—who cannot commit for longer than a single day—he uses his strength/flaw (sense of humor) to keep their relationship light and fun, an adventure, while keeping his distance—still not fully committing. Yet Henry’s humor in Lucy’s complicated world is exactly what she finds attractive and loveable. So she’s falling for him and he’s pushing back while unconsciously falling for her.
  • As we near the midpoint of the story, the villains—Lucy’s amnesia and women tourists—challenge Henry. In order to keep the girl he’s fallen in love with, he forgoes adventure with the other women and considers a life of quasi-happiness with Lucy.
  • Sexual/emotional connection to love interest, but can’t get together because of differences, or if they do get together more problems arise. In 50 First Dates, Henry begins each day by getting Lucy to fall in love with him all over again. At first, this is a fun adventure for Henry and a distraction to the harsh reality of sharing a life with her and her disability. However, he starts to see that, in a way, commitment can be adventurous and even fun. Henry decides that exchanging his carefree-playboy lifestyle for a committed and loving relationship with Lucy is worth giving up his dream of studying walruses in Alaska.
  • Midpoint ends in a Win or a Loss for the MC and is opposite of the all is lost moment near the end of Act II, Part II (Future post September 9, 2013). This is the POINT OF NO RETURN for the MC. Using 50 First Dates and ending in a win, Henry chooses to leave his flaw (fear of commitment) behind, asks Lucy to marry him, and is rewarded with sex.


 I hope you’ll use these bullet point items to unleash your muse on Act II, Part 1. This can be a combination of sentences, thoughts, dialogue, or whatever pops into your mind. There are no rules.


I usually write 3-5 pages, single-spaced. Sometimes information that belongs in Act I or other acts creeps in. That’s okay—just paste the information where it belongs or start a new section titled Other Acts.


Next Unleashing Your Muse post, I’ll list what belongs in Act II, Part 2. See you here September 9, 2013.


Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Visit Cyndi’s Website: http://www.cyndifaria.com

Visit Cyndi on Amazon: Cyndi’s Amazon Author Page

About the Author:

“Cyndi Faria writes with passion and her stories touch the heart.”

—Virna DePaul, Bestselling Author


Author Photo B-W

Cyndi Faria is an engineer turned romance writer whose craving for structure is satisfied by plotting emotional and cozy paranormal romance stories about Native American folklore, cursed spirits, lost souls, harbingers, and even a haunted coastal town. If you love a tale with courageous heroes and heroines, where their unconditional love for each other gives them strength to defeat their inner demons, Cyndi Faria invites you to enter the pages of her stories.






Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Cyndi. Great information as always!

Unleashing Your Muse (Free-Writing Act 1)

Welcome back to the GWN blog! Today we have our monthly columnist Cyndi Faria talking about unleashing your muse. Cyndi will be a regular guest on the blog and will be appearing monthly on the first Monday of the month. We’ve got her twice this month though so don’t forget to come back August 26 when she’ll be posting part two of unleashing your muse.

Here’s Cyndi!

In my opinion, free-writing is the act of unleashing your muse after a short talking to. Sure, you might think, isn’t that plotting? Well, it’s kind of a cross between pantsing (writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants) and plotting.

Today, I want to show you how to successfully use free-writing to craft Act 1 of a romance novel (Act II and III will follow in future posts).

Let’s begin by looking at what goes into Act 1:

Note: If you can’t wrap your mind around this information now, that’s okay. Just commit the bulleted items to memory and unleash your muse.

  • Opening Image: This image will be the opposite of the final image in the story. Example: If in the beginning the hero is a playboy, at the end he’s shown in a committed relationship—maybe proposing or even married.
  • Meet the hero(H)/heroine (h).
    • -> What does your H/h fear, as a result of backstory (show don’t tell)? Think: Indiana Jones and snakes.
    • -> If you are familiar with the Enneagram (if not, visit my website here.), list the H/h’s personality type’s strength and weaknesses, fear and desire, and what they must learn about themselves by the end of Act II in order to defeat the villain (Character Arc).
  • External Goal: What does H/h want in life? Must be able to take a picture of external goal?
  • Internal Goal: What do they really want? Example: To be loved, needed, etc.
  • What is happening to your H/h right before something serious triggers a primal response that entices/forces them to leave their ordinary world? (See my blog post: Tipping Point) (Example: Die Hard—A policeman must save his wife who’s been taken hostage by terrorists.)
  • Cute Meet: How does the H/h meet and what is it about that person or situation that links the H/h together in a permanent-for-now way? (Example: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days—Advertising executives for competing agencies come together on a bet, he to get her to fall in love with him in 10 days and she to lose him in 10 days.)
  • What special skill or tool does the H/h possess? This will be important during the climax of the story when H/h uses his/her special skill to defeat the antagonist. (This Means War: The heroine played by Reese Witherspoon combines her knowledge as a Product Tester with hero Chris Pine’s weaponry skills to defeat the bad guy.)
  • Antagonist: May meet the antagonist and/or his associates at this time.
  • Secondary Characters: Introduce secondary characters that can rally during the climax and help the H/h defeat the antagonist’s associates.
  • Lastly, right before the H/h enters Act II—or accepts the challenge—there will be a debate section where he/she takes pause to consider the ramifications of leaving behind the old world. Firmly, he decides to step into Act II. In Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat, he discusses the debate in depth saying, “…it’s important to remember that the debate section must ask a question of some kind.” In the case of Die Hard: Will the hero save his wife?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you’re ready to unleash your muse and free-write Act 1.

This can be a combination of sentences, thoughts, dialogue, or whatever pops into your mind. There are no rules.

I usually write 3-5 pages, single-spaced. Sometimes information that belongs in other acts creeps in. That’s okay—just start a new section titled Other Acts.

Next Unleashing Your Muse post, I’ll list what belongs in Act II and Act III.

Happy Writing, Cyndi Faria

Visit Cyndi’s Website: www.CyndiFaria.com

Visit Cyndi’s Amazon page: Amazon Author Page

About the Author:
“Cyndi Faria writes with passion and her stories touch the heart.”

—Virna DePaul, Bestselling Author

Author Photo B-WCyndi Faria is an engineer turned romance writer whose craving for structure is satisfied by plotting emotional and cozy paranormal romance stories about Native American folklore, cursed spirits, lost souls, harbingers, and even a haunted coastal town. If you love a tale with courageous heroes and heroines, where their unconditional love for each other gives them strength to defeat their inner demons, Cyndi Faria invites you to enter the pages of her stories.

On and off her sexy romance pages, this California country girl isn’t afraid to dirty her hands fighting for the underdog and caretaking rescued pets. Find her helping fellow writers and leading readers to happily-ever-after at www.cyndifaria.com


Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Cyndi! Great post. I loved This Means War! I knew her work as a product tester would come into play at some point. 🙂


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