Balancing facts and story in historical fiction

Hi everyone. Welcome to GWN’s blog. Relax, get a cup of whatever you have in the morning to wake you up and get ready for some tips on historical accuracy in historical fiction from Erin Farwell.

Here’s Erin!

IMG_1300_ppAn author’s job is to tell a story and to tell it well. Like a juggler with several balls in the air, a writer must keep their story balanced with regard to plot, characters, setting, and pacing. Regardless of the genre, the story must be grounded in a specific time and place. This is especially true for historical fiction, where one false move can wrench a reader from the world you’ve created. Keeping a reader engaged is both the goal and the challenge.


With historical fiction it is easy to make a misstep, creating a rift between reader and the story. Here are some of the common errors historical fiction writers make and how to avoid them:


  • Sharing your research and forgetting to tell a story. Most writers have more facts and details at their disposal than they will ever use in a book. I find this helpful when I write because I am able to understand the life of my characters even if I don’t include everything in the story. The problem occurs when a writer comes across a detail or series of facts that he or she finds fascinating and wants to share with the world. The moment your research takes precedence over plot or character development, you risk alienating the reader. If you rearrange a scene or create a convoluted set of circumstance just to share a fact that you find interesting, stop. If the detail doesn’t naturally fit in the story, it doesn’t belong there. You might use it in another project but don’t force it into this one. Keep the story your priority.


  • Highlighting a process that was different at the time the story is set than it would be today. Writing about the small details of your world will ground the story for readers and help them empathize with the characters. However sharing details is not the same as sharing processes. Unless the information is necessary to the plot, a reader doesn’t need to know the specifics of how to start a wood burning stove, milk a cow, forge a horseshoe, cook over an open fire, or weave cloth. You need to trust that your readers to have their own knowledge that they bring to the story. As a general rule of thumb, if someone living in the time the story is set would find a process unworthy of comment, so should your characters unless it is critical to your plot or character development.


  • Using modern concepts or verbiage in your story. In my novel I have a scene in which a young boy leads an adult to a house. The boy runs ahead, then back to the adult, then ahead again. As I wrote the scene I wanted to describe the boy’s behavior as being like a yoyo. A quick internet search informed me that while yoyos did exist in 1927, they had just come on the market and were only sold California. The phrase I wanted to use was not a part of society’s lexicon in 1927 so I had to find a different description. The same was true when I said someone was going to babysit a child. In 1927 you minded a child, not babysat. These may seem like small issues, unworthy of notice, but many readers will catch them and it will draw them out of the story.


  • Acknowledging a future event. Another name for this problem is author intrusion. There are times when an author might be tempted to write something like: “Little did Jeb know that the swamp he hunted in would one day be transformed into the city of Miami.” This type of phrase yanks a reader out of the world you’ve created and they may not wish to come back. The characters can only know what the typical person would know at the time the story is set and to include anything else is a disservice both to the reader and to your work.  Sometimes this situation can occur more subtly then you might be aware. One of my personal pet peeves is when a book set in the 1920s or 1930s has the phrase “World War I” rather than “the Great War.” The Great War didn’t become WWI until the Second World War started. The nuances are small but significant.


  • Placing accuracy over story. While accuracy is of great importance in historical fiction, you don’t need to be fanatical when certain issues arise. For example, if a shift in the location of a building, especially one that is not generally known to the typical reader, is a better fit for your story, do it. Just don’t put the Parthenon in France. In my novel a hotel that I use as a landmark was closed for renovations in 1927. I am probably one of five people who know this and no one else is likely to care. Originally I had written the situation accurately but later realized I had spent too much time on what was to have been a passing comment. I decided to trade pacing over fact, which was the right choice for the story.


Farwell-Shadowlands-Final Cover.inddAs writers of historical fiction we face a heavy burden. Readers expect to be taken into the past with an entertaining plot, interesting characters and historical accuracy. We are truly jugglers, balancing these expectations within the construct of our plot, pacing, characters and the story as a whole, but that is the key. As long as your research supports the story rather than becomes the story, you will avoid one of the biggest mistakes made by emerging historical novelists.

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Cindy here again!

Some great points here, Erin! When I’m going back to revise my historicals I will keep these tips in mind.

Happy Writing!


Writing That Look of Love

Welcome to the blog today! We’ve got Laura Haley-McNeil talking to us about facial expressions and posture that reveal emotion in our writing.  She’s doing a draw for a lucky random commenter for a $10 egift card.

Here’s Laura!

As writers, we all know how important it is to capture the emotions of our characters. The question I always ask myself is: How does my character feel?

Writing on the computer is miraculous because when I have a question, I can easily look up the answer on the internet. So how did I find the answer to how my character(s) feel? YouTube.

There are a couple of television shows I like to watch. One is The Good Wife. Two characters from the show intrigue me: Cary and Kalinda. (Never mind that Kalinda is bi.)

I was searching YouTube for facial expressions and typed in Cary’s name. Bumcrackmosh182 and others have compiled excerpts of the scenes with Cary and Kalinda together with background music. Kalinda is cool toward Cary, but Cary is so over the top in love with her it drives me crazy.

Two other characters I like to view on YouTube are Mary and Matthew from Downton Abbey. Lolilie has compiled excerpts of their scenes.

When I look at these videos, I’m analyzing everything I see: the eyes, the mouth, the tilt of the character’s chin, their posture. Are the characters standing close together? Is there distance emotionally and physically? Is there longing? Have the characters given up? Will they walk away from each other? Have they realized this love was never meant to be but they can still love from afar? As you can see, my questions never stop.

As viewers, we can interpret anything we want in what we view. As actors, it’s important to them that they portray the correct emotion and so they work hard to make sure that we the viewer feel what they project. As writers, we struggle with the precise word that will convey what we want the reader to feel.

If you’re looking for emotions besides love, YouTube has thousands of videos depicting a broad range of emotion from fear to hate to joy to depression.

Have you found others? I’d love to hear about them. I’ll have a drawing and send a $10 ebook gift card to one lucky commenter.

Excerpt from Prelude and Fugue

Prelude and Fugue cover          “Liam Wallace?” Panic burst through me as I forced confidence into my voice, lifted my chin, and looked at the towering figure filling the doorway. My clammy hands gripped a briefcase weighted with ancient piano books. It knocked against my knees as I stood on his terraced front porch in the fading sunlight of a cool, Denver afternoon.

Though his eyes never left mine, I knew he was making the observations everyone makes about me: small, timid, weak.

“Yes.” His lean physique bore an oxford shirt and soft wool trousers, but my gaze was immediately drawn to the mass of salt and pepper curls.

“I’m Olivia St. Claire. I had called about the piano lessons.”

“Of course.” He opened the door.

I stepped into the tiled foyer paneled in dark wood. Through the arched doorway, I caught a glimpse of cathedral windows overlooking a pristine lawn. Light drifting through leaded glass splashed across a Persian carpet.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His voice carried a sense of authority, yet was gentle. He extended his hand and I started when his cuff lifted to reveal a thin scar that crossed his palm.

Cool strength closed around my fingers and unintelligible words tumbled from my mouth that would have said I was glad to meet him.

“You brought your music, I see.” His hand released mine, which reluctantly floated to the briefcase.

Unwanted sensations rushed through me, but I reminded myself a male piano teacher would have little interest in women.


Laura Haley McNeilAbout Laura:  Laura Haley-McNeil has studied piano, violin, organ and ballet. She has served on the boards of two community orchestras. She currently lives in Colorado with her husband.




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Cindy here again!

I love this, Laura! It seems so simple but I never thought of doing that to see what emotions looked like so I can write them. I’ll be spending some time on YouTube this weekend because I suck at writing emotion. This should help.

Don’t forget to comment answering Laura’s question to be entered in the draw for a chance to win a $10 egift card.

Happy writing!


Tight Writing

Please welcome Jim Jackson to the blog today. He’s talking about tight writing for which I am grateful because my rough drafts are far from tight.

Here’s Jim!


He hesitated a moment before shrugging his shoulders, finally nodding his head and, in quite an inelegant gesture, he suddenly threw up all over the shoes that she wore that day, almost entirely covering them with the contents of his poor stomach.

If I were to read such a sentence—and it was not intended to be an illustration of inelegant writing—it would be the last sentence I read of that author’s. I don’t expect to find so many egregious errors in one sentence in anything I choose to read. A gradual accumulation of such errors scattered throughout a book has the same ultimate effect on my reading pleasure: it convinces me that the author is not a fine writer. At some point, unless the story was really good, I’d give up and choose something else. Even if I struggled through that book, I’d never read another from that author.

As the title of this piece suggests, my prejudice is for tight writing over loose, sloppy stuff. I fill my first drafts with the type of errors I’ve illustrated. (Not all in one sentence, mind you.) I catch them as I self-edit, but in rewriting I invariably introduce a new problem or two. My penultimate step before sending a manuscript to readers (or to agents and publishers) is to eliminate my excesses. My last step is a final proofread.

I maintain a list of individual words I overuse, redundant or inactive phrases I unthinkingly write and other faux pas I regularly commit. I use Microsoft Word’s search function to find and then correct these potential saboteurs.

He hesitated a momentbefore shrugging his shouldersshrugged finally nodding his head and, in quite an inelegant gesturehe suddenly threw up all over the shoes that she wore that day, almost entirely covering them with the contents of his poor stomach spewed vomit on her feet.

This edited version is tight. It might even be too tight and need fleshing out with powerful action or description. For example, in reviewing the edit, I might include a description of the “inelegant gesture” to show what it was, rather than telling of its existence. However, with the initial edit I eliminated many of my pet peeves.

All hesitations are for a moment. It is impossible to shrug anything other than one’s shoulders (although one can shrug into clothes). Two delaying tactics may be one too many, but a third is tiresome (and one can only nod a head). ‘Finally’ occurs in the middle of the sentence. It is not his final act; puking his guts out is.

‘Quite’ is superfluous, and if you require the emphasis, use a more descriptive modifier. ‘Suddenly,’ rarely is. ‘Threw up’ is ugly, but not very active; ‘spew’ paints a more vivid picture. The ’all over’ doesn’t add anything (we didn’t think he vomited a single dainty drop on one toe, did we?) particularly when we are told the vomit didn’t completely cover her shoes.

Replace weak modifiers such as ‘almost’ and ‘entirely’ with specificity. The phrase ‘that she wore that day’ has too many ‘that ‘modifiers. We can assume she wore the shoes and the action did not occur over a multi-day period. Eliminate contradictions and irrelevancies. We want to know why he vomited and what her reaction was. Stomachs are not wealthy or impoverished; save ‘poor’ to describe those without money.

I commit other atrocities in early drafts, but I’ll save you and not describe all my crap writing (n.b. not all OF my crap writing). After I beat my blunders into submission, my final step is to reread the manuscript and discover errors I introduced in fixing the last batch of problems.

Bad-Policy-CoverKeeping a list of my ineffective writing habits jump-started my ability to spot and correct those errors. Many issues on my initial list rarely crop up in current writing—that self-editing occurs before I type the word or phrase. As with my speaking, I occasionally develop a new habit, which once discovered, I add to my hit list.

If you would like to learn more about self-editing I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.





About Jim: JAMES M JACKSON is the author of BAD POLICY a mystery for Barking Rain Press released March 2013, which won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s low country. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME:  How to start winning at bridge, as well as numerous short stories and essays.

Visit Jim’s website:
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Find him at Writers Who Kill:

Cindy here again!

Great post, Jim. I definitely need to keep tight writing in mind when I tackle revisions.

What about you? Do you have any favourite words you must slash during revision? Are your first drafts loose?

Happy writing!


Using Lists in Writing a Novel

Hi everyone! We’ve got Linda Rodriguez on the blog today talking about using lists in writing your novel. I love this idea and will have to start using it to ask myself questions about the book.

Here’s Linda!

hiresLindaCrop David JoelI’m a big believer in using all the help technology and professional writing books and programs can give me in writing. I’ve tried using all kinds of workbooks, charts, and forms in working on a novel. I’m even exploring Scrivener-type software programs for use in writing my next book. I’m hardly on the cutting edge, but I’m also not one of the “if it was good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me” types. Still, sometimes we look around and find simple everyday solutions to our problems, and it would be silly not to take advantage of them.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found in writing a novel is the simple, old-fashioned list. If you’re like me, you use lists to remind you what you need to do during the day, what you need to pack for a trip, what you need to buy at the grocery store, and dozens of other mundane projects, large and small. It’s easy to assume we need something more sophisticated for this complex novel (for novels are all more or less complex) that we’re trying to hold in our heads and build on paper. However, I’ve discovered that simple lists can help in several ways with making that story in our head a reality in print.

First of all, I keep running character and place lists. I write a mystery series. When I wrote the first book in my Skeet Bannion mystery series Every Last Secret, I was creating all the characters from scratch, as well as all the places in my fictional town. I wrote personality and appearance sketches for each character, but in addition, I made a list of each character as s/he appeared with a few words to note key characteristics. I did the same for places in my made-up town. This meant I could look up the full name of walk-on characters easily when I needed to much later in the book. It meant that I could easily look up the important details of the buildings on the campus and the shops on the town square as my protagonist, Skeet Bannion, walked past them or into them.

These lists tripled in value when I started the second book in the series and now the third. No one will have brown eyes in the first novel and baby-blues in one of the later books. Old Central, the 19th century castle-like mansion on the Chouteau University campus, will not morph into a 1960s Bauhaus box of a building.

Next, when I’m plotting ahead, simple lists come to my aid again. I’m a combination of outliner and follow-the-writing plotter. I like to know where the next 25-50 pages are going, plotwise—or to think I do, at least. I do this by making a list of questions that I need to answer about the book. In the beginning, I have lots of questions. The answer to only one or two may give me enough to start the next several days’ writing. I stole the idea of asking myself questions and answering them in writing from Sue Grafton. She posts to her website journals that she keeps while writing each novel, and in these, she often asks and answers these types of questions. I took it a bit further by trying to make long lists of questions that needed to be answered, which often, in turn, add more questions to the list when they are answered.

Answering the questions tells me where the story wants to go, but these lists also help me keep the subplots straight and make sure they tie in directly to the main plot, and they keep me from overlooking some detail or element that will create a plot hole or other disruption for the reader. These questions can vary from broad ones, such as “What is the book’s theme?” and “How can I ratchet up the excitement and stakes in Act II?” to more detailed, such as “What clue does Skeet get from this interview?” and “What’s on Andrew’s desk?” Such question lists come in handy during revision, as well.

During revision, I make yet another kind of simple list. As I’m reading the manuscript straight through in hard copy, I write down a list of questions as I go. I notice a weak spot and ask myself, “How can I let the reader know how much Jake meant to Skeet, as well as Karen?,” “Should I have Skeet attend Tina’s autopsy?,” and all too often, “Reads competent enough, but where’s the magic?”

After going through my lists of hundreds of big to tiny fixes and changes to make, and either making them (most) or listing by scene where in the book to make the fix (for major issues), I sit down to wrestle with 5-15 major problems from almost but not quite minor to huge and complex. This final list is my guideline through the swamps of revision. The issues on this list require changes that thread throughout part, or all, of the book. Trying to do them all at once or even to keep them in my mind all at the same time would bog me down—perhaps forever. Listing them and working my way one item at a time through that list helps me to keep my focus even while dealing with very complex situations that must be woven in and out through the length of the novel.

In short, simple lists make the complex task of writing a novel doable for me. What about you? Do you use lists in your writing? Are there other tools you use for keeping track and keeping focused as you plot, write, and revise?

every broken trustAbout Linda: Linda Rodriguez’s second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books), was selected by Las Comadres National Latino Book Club. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick, and is a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. For her books of poetry, Skin Hunger (Scapegoat Press) and Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press), Rodriguez has received many awards and fellowships. She is the president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, a founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of the Macondo Writers Community, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, and International Thriller Writers. She spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda and on Facebook at She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at

Cindy here again!

I don’t know about you but I will be using lists to help me write my next novel.

Happy writing.


Five Ws and an H

Hi everyone! Today I have Jane Toombs on the blog talking about the five Ws of writing and an H.

Here’s Jane!

wordsperfectJanet and I write so differently it’s a wonder we were able to co-author Becoming Your Own Critique Partner. But then, that was non-fiction.
So maybe I should say we write fiction very differently. Janet writes multiple drafts of her stories, whereas I do an overall synopsis for the entire book or series. I may deviate from this synopsis as I go along, but not radically.

However, we both use the who, what. when, why, where and how method of creating.

Who, of course are the two main characters. Three if there’s a villain.

What do each of them want and how that will impact the other?

When is, of course, the time period of the story.

Why is the reason for the wanting.

Where is the physical location of what’s happening.

How is the resulting story.

1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?

I actually don’t know. All I can say is that they’re characters I feel will work with the plot.

2. Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?

Plot and characters come together. As I write my synopsis, I somehow know what kind of characters will work well with this particular plot. However as I actually write the story the characters take on life and voice, so I do deviate a bit from the synopsis, which can be as fluid as it needs to be.

3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?

Pretty much–in a general way. The ending always depends on how much I deviate from the synopsis when writing the story.

4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?

If I need to do research, once I settle on the setting , I do it before I start to write, because the research often leads to a change in the synopsis. Lately, though, I tend to use settings I’m familiar with or at least have visited.

5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?

Both. If I can’t find what I need online, I know my library will have just the right book I need. Besides, I’ve been writing for so many years now that I have books about almost everything.

6. Give a short excerpt from the book you want to promote – 400 to 500 words.

I’ve just taken apart a very long historical California saga and converted it into a series of seven novellas that I had to title. As I was writing this blog, I just realized I used the five W’s and the H to come up with those titles.

Book 1 : The Bastard. And yes, he is, both literally and otherwise. But it’s because he’s illegitimate that he has created goals he needs to fulfill, which is why he does what he does. He founds a dynasty–but at what expense to both himself and others?

Book 2: The Interloper. A woman who enters the family as a companion for a daughter creates consequences that influence the following book due to what she wants as it impacts the others’ goals.

Book 3. The Dancer. This woman believes she’s reached her goal in life–but has she?

Book 4. The Rebel. A teenage daughter rebels with consequences she can’t foresee, causing others’ goals to shift and change.

Book 5. The Fixer. A problem solver for others, until he confronts his own.

Book 6. The Deceiver. The child of The Rebel, now grown. She has no real goals until life smacks her down and she learns what she needs.

Book 7. The Wild Card. A man created by past consequences from the first book forces the entire family to face the past.

Visit Jane’s website to find out more about her books:

Thanks for being here, Jane!

Happy writing!


A is for Adaptation

Once again I am trying to get through the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Last year, trying with three different blogs, I made it to H.  I’m hoping this year I’ll get farther.

Today I’m talking about adaptations. More specifically, I’m talking about adapting one of my novels into a TV pilot for a series. The challenges are many, books and scripts are very different animals, but it is proving interesting. I’ve already made changes to the main character’s last name. I really liked her last name in the book but my fiancé had come up with the perfect series title for the books two years ago but it required the heroine’s last name to be different than the one I’d picked. Stubbornly, I held onto the name I wanted until this TVWriterChat Pilot Program came along.

What is this pilot program, you ask? It’s a program where the participants write a TV pilot. We participate in Twitter chats along the way (some mandatory to stay in the program, some not) and at the end of the program we should have a pilot script done. And there are prizes.

So, being stuck on what to write because I had a few original ideas for TV shows and I had books I wanted to turn into TV shows I had to figure out what to work on. Adapting a novel would be the easiest I thought. After all, the story is already there. I already know what happens, how it ends, what the secrets are. Yeah, it’s not so easy. I should have realized that because for NaNoWriMo I tried to turn a script into a novel. That didn’t go very well and I’m still only 14,000 words into that.

The prizes for the pilot program will keep me going this time though. And the chats have been great motivation. By June, a month before the intended release of the first book in the series, I should have the pilot done. Should. Will I accomplish my task? Only time will tell.

Don’t forget to click the A to Z button on the side to see the list of all participants.

Happy writing!


Selling your series

Today I’ve got Joyce Lavene on the blog talking about selling a series.

Here’s Joyce!

You’ve come up with a great idea. You’ve got some unique characters. You think it might be possible that you’ve thought of a series. How do you convince a publisher?


The publishing industry is driven by money, just like any other. Publishers and writers both want to make a living. One time-honored way to please both readers and editors is the series.


By definition, a series is a group of books that maintains a place or characters, sometimes both. Readers begin to identify with returning characters or setting. If your series captures their interest, they’ll want to read the backlist and wait eagerly for new books.


Publishers know this too. Many editors are looking for the next J.K. Rowling or Jan Karon. Series books have a long shelf life, an active backlist, and guaranteed future sales. Your job as a writer is to convince an editor that:


  • You’re capable of writing several books.
  • You have an interesting plot that can carry more than one book.
  • You have fascinating characters that can continue to be fascinating.
  • You have a wonderful setting: town, world, etc.


If you’ve had several books published, it shouldn’t be too hard to prove to an editor that you’re capable of getting the job done. If you’ve never published a book, you’re going to have to provide thorough documentation to show that you’ve thought the project through.


How do show that a plot is strong enough to maintain a series? Not all ideas are big enough to write more than one book. Of those that are, another group of ideas would drop off after two or three books. Your plot has to be expandable. It has to show growth potential. Don’t be afraid to let the editor know where you’re going.


You love your characters. How do you show an editor that they’re up to the task of carrying more than one book? Character breakdown is a major series problem. If your series has replaceable characters, you don’t have to worry about it. Most series are dependent on their characters: Miss Marple, Harry Potter, Jack Ryan.  If you’re starting now, re-design your characters to give them endurance.


You’ve created the ultimate universe that can continue through several books, regardless of character changes. Be sure you express that when you contact an editor. What makes your universe so special? What makes it strong enough that people can come and go without taking away from it?


A final word about the practical aspects of selling a series: Be sure the publisher knows you’re selling the books as a series. Your contract should reflect that. It should stipulate how many books are going to come out each year and when they’re going to come out. Each publisher is different. Each contract is different. It’s good for both of you to know what you’re doing from the beginning so there aren’t any surprises.


If you’re planning to publish your own series, these tips still make sense. You might not have to sell your idea to an editor, but you’ll want to sell your writing, and continue selling it, to your readers.


A series can be a delight to write. If you love your characters and your setting, you can go back over and over to visit them. They become like members of your family!


My new book is A Haunting Dream, book four in the Missing Pieces Mysteries, set in Duck, North Carolina (a real place!)



The mayor of Duck, North Carolina, Dae O’Donnell, is a woman with a gift for finding lost things. When her boyfriend Kevin’s ex-fiancée Ann arrives in Duck looking for a second chance, Dae suddenly finds herself facing certain heartache. And while her romantic life is in shambles, she’s even more concerned by the sudden change in her gift. After touching a medallion owned by a local named Chuck Sparks, Dae is shocked when her vision reveals his murder—and a cry for help. Dae doesn’t know what to make of the dead man’s plea to “Help her,” until she has another vision about a kidnapped girl—Chuck’s daughter, Betsy. With a child missing, the FBI steps in to take over the case. But Dae can’t ignore her visions of Betsy, or the fact that Kevin’s psychic ex-fiancé might be the only person who can help find her.


About Joyce:

Joyce Lavene writes bestselling mystery with her husband/partner Jim. They have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley and Charter Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. She lives in rural North Carolina with her family, her cat, Quincy, and her rescue dog, Rudi. Visit her at, www.Facebook/JoyceandJimLavene  Twitter: @authorjlavene



Purchase: A Haunting Dream at:


Win a copy of A Haunting Dream, the fourth book in the Missing Pieces Mysteries, by leaving your name at my blog: 


It’s Cindy again!  Thanks for being here, Joyce. Lots of great information about series! Hurry over to Joyce’s blog and comment!

Happy writing!





Yves Fey’s Own Private NaNoWriMo

Today I’ve got Yves Fey on the blog talking about her own version of NaNoWriMo.

Here’s Yves!

Sporadically, but for several years, I’ve been attempting NaNoWriMo, with varying degrees of failure. It is 180 degrees from my writing style and I feel intimidated, not freed, by its format.  Usually I plunge in valiantly, land with a resounding belly flop, then slink off and resume my usual plodding pace.  Nonetheless, this year I’ve decided to use NaNoWriMo as a goad.

My goal is simple, but significant—to further the second mystery in my series, which has been languishing for months.  I have a precious few chapters and scenes that I wrote about this time last year, before I entered the months long final edits and market phases for the release of the first book, Floats the Dark Shadow. The method for my own private NaNoWriMo is to write 1,000 words a day developing my synopsis bits into actual scenes or possibly even chapters.

I’m a plotter, not a pantser.  Tackling a novel is far too scary to me to attempt without the framework of an outline.  I spend about a month or two brooding over what I want to happen, the order of events, the conflicts.  This is combined with research, hunting for some intriguing historic bits to anchor the book in its era.  In the case of my sequel, I knew that the Dreyfus Case would be the backdrop long before I knew what story would play against it.  I have had my basic outline for some time, though I did a revision knowing November was fast approaching.  Although I think of my books as character driven, my struggles with synopses focuses on getting the events into a timeline, blocking out the emotional high points occur, and trying to spot the problems that will trip me up.  If I’m lucky, I will be granted bits of dialogue, the idea for an interesting twist, even a scene here and there.  Once I have the vision for the book laid out, my brain shuts down on adding details.  These outlines are fairly basic, and in the past I’ve tried to force development, only to find myself staring at a blank page for days or weeks.  I’ve learned that I really have to start writing before the rest will come.

I begin to write, and proceed, for the most part, chapter by chapter.  But I really can’t abide rough draft.  I’m appalled by the flatness of the prose, the clichés, and the characters chewing uncomfortably on the words shoved into their mouths.  Other plotters and pantsers forge ahead.  I begin to develop.  I work and rework until the story begins to come to life and the writing with it – a chicken or the egg sort of process whereby a good line of dialogue that I dream up suddenly fits the mouth it’s designed for.  Or the characters wake up and tell me what to write (please).  Again, others would forge on at this point.  But once the chapter is actually half decent, it’s fun.  I love revising!  I get new ideas, I quest for stronger verbs, subtleties of motivation emerge, descriptions blossom.  So, I enjoy myself until I have a finished chapter that I actually like well enough to move on.  This is a slow way to go about it, but it grounds me for the leap into the uncharted world on the next chapter, with no more than my synopsis snippet to guide me.   But despite doing a lot of preparation, as a writer I’m terribly dependent on inspiration, and often go through long dry periods of waiting for the muse to whisper.

So NaNoWriMo has always intrigued me because it does address one of my biggest problems—procrastination.  And once again I’m undertaking it, but on my own terms.  My primary goal is the 1,000 words a day.  I’ve also let myself do some building on the chapters I have, but only if I don’t linger if stuck.  I have succeeded more often than not, and I am also not berating myself if I don’t succeed, provided I do something.  I am not allowing myself to burrow in.  While I’m not going to attempt to write without editing, which I’ve learned is essentially impossible for me, neither am I allowing myself to sit staring at the page endlessly until the right word materializes.  I don’t flee the room if it doesn’t (except for more coffee).  If a few minutes of fiddling, sighing, and growling has produced nothing to further the chapter, I move on to another piece of the synopsis and see what can be brought to life from that segment of the novel.  I have not been all that happy with the writing so far, but I am happy that I’m undertaking the challenge.  I am going to do this for the month of November.  I didn’t sign up on the NaNoWriMo site.  This is my quiet sideline to the valiant frenzy I know is happening with the official participants.   It’s a more modest challenge, but a big one for me.

Wish me luck.

About Yves: Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA.  She has read, written, and created art from childhood.  Floats the Dark Shadow is her debut mystery, set in Belle Époque Paris.  Writing as Gayle Feyrer and Taylor Chase, she previously wrote four dark and mysterious historical romances.  A chocolate connoisseur, she’s won prizes for her desserts.  Her current fascination is creating perfumes.  She’s traveled to many countries in Europe and lived for two years in Indonesia.  She currently lives in the San Francisco area with her husband and three cats, Marlowe the Investigator and the Flying Bronte Sisters.


Cindy here!

Thanks for being here Yves. Loved learning how you’re approaching NaNoWriMo. Good luck!

Happy writing!



Me, myself and I?

Please welcome Kristyn M. Phipps to the blog. She’s talking about the three people inside every writer.

Here’s Kristyn!

Every writer has three people occupying his/her mind: the Researcher, the Writer, and the Inner-Editor (me, myself and I). These three people have specific roles to play in your writing, but they will not always get along well. My people have names and very different personalities. Have you ever run into writer’s block or a conflict with your writing? It is probably due to two or more of these roles being active at once. Let me introduce you to my girls, and maybe this will help you out:

(1) The Researcher – Jennifer and I first met in my Freshman history class. She’s got a thirst for knowledge like no one I have met. She enjoys countless hours in the library reading encyclopedias, memoirs, and other writings that have something to do with the topic at hand. Jennifer is focused, single-minded, and project-oriented. She is slow to move from one research topic to another. If I’m not careful, she will eat up all of my time. (And trust me, my social life suffers when she’s in control!)

(2) The Writer – Emma introduced herself in my Sophomore English class, the year I had to write a 1,000 word essay on The Scarlet Letter. This is my favorite person to work with, because she’s completely creative. She has the ability to look at Jennifer’s notes and go with it. She creates places, plots and people I had never given a moment’s thought to. Emma has ambitions and continuously tries to multi-task too many projects, so I have to keep her at bay or she’d never finish a project.

(3) The Inner-Editor – Doris is a meticulous, deadline-driven perfectionist. She’s the drill sergeant that stands over my shoulder as I let Emma do her thing. Doris is present during the entire research, writing and revising stages. She doesn’t usually allow others to learn from their own mistakes; she accepts nothing but the best, and pushes everyone else to their mental limit.


I know you are probably thinking I’m crazy for giving these functions names. Each one has a function – a purpose – in writing. By naming them, it helps me to identify my issues in writing, and put them in order. It has taken me a while to tame these characters and keep them in balance. Here are three easy things you can do to help tame the me, myself and I in your writing:

(1) Research just enough to know what you are writing about. Get comfortable in your genre, with your writing idea. Let your researcher read other novels, dig for information on the internet or library for information your writer will need. Don’t spend so much time researching that you have too much material to work with. And don’t

(2) Write what you need to – outline, synopsis, plot, etc. Then work from that. Don’t stop in the middle and let your editor interrupt your creative train of thought. Rather, take notes in a separate document or in a notebook.

(3) Only after you are done writing, let your inner-editor go back and fix the notes made by the writer. This will prevent your inner-editor from stifling your creativity when writing.


One last hint – believe in your topic, your genre, your subject. Everyone has a story to tell, and it can only be told from your point of view by you. Have fun and challenge yourself!

Me again!

Love this take on the three personalities of a writer.  I need more of 1 and 3. My Emma loves multi-tasking too.

How about you? Are your writing personalities similar to Kristyn’s or completely different?


Happy writing!



Behind the mask – with Cyndi Faria

Today I have Cyndi Faria on the blog talking about the relationship between characterization and theme. And wow, what a post. You’ll learn a lot so make sure you read it thoroughly!

Here’s Cyndi!

I’d like to thank Cindy Carroll for having me guest post today on the relationship between characterization and theme. Starting with characters, do you base them off someone you know well? A grumpy yet sensitive, grandfather? An overbearing yet teary mother? A supportive yet critical girlfriend? A heroic yet possessive fireman?

Characters that feel real are complex, often embodying both good and bad traits. The question is, what is a person’s true and dominant personality? Sometimes it’s difficult to know at first, but this is what makes getting to know a character in a story so much fun.

What I’ve discovered, and I’m sure you will agree, is that people hide their fears and desires behind a mask. This mask is generally a defense mechanism born out of fear. It is what a character presents to the word because he is protecting himself from pain. At the beginning of a story, we are often not seeing the person on the inside that is hurting and starving for love and release, but a shield.

How to break through?

As a romance writer and blogger on the craft of writing (, I love writing tips and helpful cheat sheets. So when I discovered the Enneagram’s Nine Personality Types, I stumbled on a method for creating three dimensional characters the easy way. I no longer had to pretend to understand how a person would feel on the inside. The Enneagram details the truth behind the mask and suggests a central theme that will tear away this mask. A person’s personality is constant once established. However, it can swing between unhealthy (flaws) and healthy (strengths).


For example, a Personality Type Three is called an Achiever:

  • Backstory: Character’s emotions discredited as obstacles leading to success.
  • Fear: Of being worthless
  • Desire: To feel valuable, self-worth
  • Strengths: Optimistic, competent, empowering, energetic, benevolent
  • Flaws: Self-centered, vain, vindictive, defensive, opportunistic
  • Lie: Relationships get in the way of self-worth
  • Theme (what we as writers must prove true to the character and, thereby, the reader): Self-worth is measured in loving relationships and not by monetary possessions and status. A worthy legacy is earned through self-acceptance and benevolence.
  • Therefore, the Black Moment Realization: Redemption is found in benevolence and knowing they have the power to change the future, regardless of the past. Self-worth is measured in relationships, not monetary possessions and status.
  • Occupations (think “Me” positions): CEO, Speaker, Performer, Athlete, President

By rephrasing the backstory and desire, the writer can create a central theme that drives each scene: Success is measured by self-acceptance and benevolence.

Below, I’ve deconstructed A Christmas Carol for further study.

Truly, the Enneagram can benefit writers by spelling out personality attributes and themes, thereby removing the mystery of character development. To learn more about the other eight personality types, visit


Happy Writing,


Cyndi Faria


Read on for a storybook example of an Achiever:


A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Backstory: Ebenezer Scrooge grew up at a boarding school believing his cruel father didn’t want him. At school he had friends who loved him and he was tender and innocent. However, during Christmas, when the other children left for break, he remained at school. Year after year, loneliness and rejection broke his heart. As a young man, he fell in love, but soon greed of status stole his passion for love. His fiancé broke off their engagement. After, he rejected anyone who attempted to have more than a business relationship with him. He told himself relationships were risky, painful, and cost too much. Because of his backstory, he based his self-worth on achievements. He became obsessive and attempted to ruin other’s happiness. Christmas became Bah Humbug and a wasted day’s pay.

Fear: To be worthless, forgotten, especially at Christmas

Desire: To have value.

Lie he’s told himself: Emotions are obstacles that lead to success.

Theme: Redemption is found in benevolence and we have the power to change the future, regardless of the past. Self-worth is measured by loving relationships and not possessions and status. A worthy legacy is earned through self-acceptance and benevolence.

Dickens attempts to prove the theme true. In each stanza below, he shows Scrooge how his lie has deformed his strength of benevolence into greed and selfishness. Scrooge is shown how a monetary legacy (Marley’s Legacy) is soon forgotten, but one of charity (Tiny Tim’s Legacy) lives on.

Tipping Point: Marley gives Scrooge a glimmer of his eternal future, strapped to chains and ledgers and deeds: a destroyed man who can’t see past his addiction, money. Scrooge is shocked, horrified, but falls asleep.

Christmas Past Ghost 1: Scrooge’s first ghost shows Scrooge in happier times, when he was a boy, tender and innocent. However, quickly these joyous feelings recede when feelings of abandonment and loneliness overwhelm him. This is especially true regarding his feelings of rejection from his father. But just as his father cast him out, he too casts away others. He recognizes the similarities between himself and a man he hated. Lastly, he’s shown what his future with his ex fiancé, now remarried, might have been if greed hadn’t corrupted his loving heart. Scrooge actually sobs as his emotions leak through. But reestablishing the walls around his heart, his defense mechanism, he rejects the first ghost’s message.

Christmas Present Ghost 2: Scrooge’s second ghost shows him how his greed and lack of benevolence affects others in the here and now. His clerk’s son, Tiny Tim, is very ill because of the meager wage Scrooge pays Bob Chratchit. However, there is tremendous love and support within the impoverished family, something Scrooge longs for desperately. When visiting his nephew, Scrooge hears talks that he is a lonely miser, but his nephew professes his love for his uncle regardless. This softens Scrooges heart. His walls begin to break. He ponders the suggestion of free will and his choice to love again. But these emotions scare him. Detachment and machinations are painless. Emotions vulnerable.

Christmas Future Ghost 3: Scrooge is guided by the ghost to the future. He sees the empty seat in Bob Chratchit’s home as Tim has died. However, the memory of Tim is alive. He’s not forgotten, but remembered every day because of his charitable ways. Scrooge is then taken to his funeral lunch, where businessmen contemplate attending if lunch is served. Back at his home, his charwoman steals his belongings. Finally, when Scrooge is appalled and ashamed of his greed, when he realizes nobody cares about him, the ghost brings Scrooge to Scrooge’s neglected gravesite. There, at his most vulnerable condition, beat down, the walls of his heart shattered, he realizes greed has made him calloused and ugly and unlovable. Greed has robbed his heart of compassion. And if he doesn’t change his ways to be more “Tim-Like,” he’ll become a man chained to eternal doom, like his coworker Marley.

Waking on Christmas morning to love and joy in his heart, he realizes he doesn’t need things to make him happy. He needs people. He chooses to let his benevolence shine and earns the reputation of a man who embodies Christmas.

Therefore the theme detailed above—Redemption is found in benevolence and we have the power to change the future, regardless of the past—is proven true.


“A CHRISTMAS CAROL.” A CHRISTMAS CAROL. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2012. <>.

“Enneagram Research, Development & Applications.” Enneagram Institute: Enneagram Testing & Training. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2012. <>.


Cindy here again!

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Cyndi. Cyndi is pre published and actively blogs on the craft of writing. She has served as an RWA chapter president in both 2011 and 2012. Folks, don’t forget to visit Cyndi at her website: and follow her on Twitter:


Happy writing!



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