Resources to Help You Tap That Emotion

Welcome back to the GWN blog! Today’s post is from C. Hope Clark about one of the most important aspects of writing. Emotion.

Here’s Hope!

Your character is hiding, and the antagonist knows she’s hiding. He’s speaking to her, taunting her, trying to make her commit to revealing where she is. He’s standing here. She’s standing there. Now . . . how do you show the fear without her saying, “I am so afraid!”

Writers fight hard to demonstrate sincere, realistic, credible emotion in their writing. The type of emotion that makes one cry, scream, or cringe at the words on the page is not lightly written. Many writers miss the mark by not rewriting enough times, or miss the opportunity to really milk a scene by hurrying to reach their word count when slowing down, breathing deep and reaching way down inside themselves can make a good moment turn great in a story.

How do master writers master their displays of emotion into stories? Are they that in tune with their feelings? Are they that sensitive? Emotions initially emanate from an author’s heart, but the interpretation of that feeling into the best words isn’t as easy as it looks.  That’s why writers today often fall back onto resource guides for hints on how to write emotion more keenly, precisely, or memorably.

As an author and a freelance writer, I’ve learned to use several emotional guidebooks to generate better beats, thoughts, or behaviors for my characters, stories, and features. Yes, my regular thesaurus could fill the bill, but the following guides make the job a bit easier, especially when you aren’t sure which word to look up.

The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression – by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Written by two authors of mainly the young adult genre, The Emotional Thesaurus jumpstarts your efforts to nail the right emotion. Take the example above. The emotion is Fear. Flip to the page for Fear and you’ll find its definition, physical signals of fear, internal sensations of fear, mental reactions, cues of acute or long-term fear, and cues of suppressed fear. Using examples from The Emotional Thesaurus, under Fear, our protagonist can: have her hands turn clammy, gasp in pain, flinch at a noise, shake, get dizzy or blind rapidly. She senses things moving too quickly to process or has flawed reasoning. She could fight the fear with a smile, overreact with anger or reply in a joking manner. So many options for such an outstanding key moment!

Building Believable Characters – by Marc McCutcheon

Writer’s Digest Books released this guide over a dozen years ago, but it’s still a grand source of character revelation, used by thousands. It leads you how to develop your characters, to include a thorough questionnaire. However, the bulk of the book consists of a Character Thesaurus, with 35 pages assigned to Facial Expressions, Body and Vocal Language. Learn which words and mannerisms best depict a particular emotion. Let’s use Fear again, relating back to the example. Our protagonist can stare saucer-eyed, stare catatonically, turn ashen, twitch facial muscles, or sense a wave welling up from her belly. The wonderful part about this book is that you not only learn emotional triggers, but you also gain tips on describing dress, personality, face and body, dialect, homes and names to best represent your character.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits – by Dr. Linda Edelstein

This guide tends to get into character descriptions, but its format lends itself to emotional study as well. Learn how characters can react and display their emotions when it comes to being criminal, being sexual, being an adult, being a child, facing hard decisions, entering love, reacting to sudden change, using verbal vs. nonverbal communication. See how your character would react to varied situations, or what would drive her to abnormal behavior.

Readers read stories for the emotional tug. The best plot and the most complex characters mean nothing without the reader feeling the words. A thesaurus is a must-have, of course, and serves your purpose most of the time, but the time will come when a synonym won’t do. You want phrasing, visuals, and reactions as well. That’s why you need an emotional reference guide at the ready. And, of course, be willing to mark them up and dog-ear the pages. These are guides that remain on your writing resource shelf for as long as you’re in this business to write a solid tale.


C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series (Lowcountry Bribe, 2012; Tidewater Murder, 2013; Palmetto Poison, 2014), published by Bell Bridge Books. She is also founder of, selected by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 13 years. Her newsletters reach 40,000 readers each week. /


Cindy here again!

Great resources! Thanks so much for being here. Checked out your Twitter bio. My fiancé is a MENSA member too.

Happy writing!



Gordon’s 50-Year-Long Bullfight

Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by the GWN blog. Today Gordon Rothwell talks about the story that was fifty years in the making.

Here’s Gordon!

I have always been a fast writer.  When I was a Creative Director and copywriter for various advertising agencies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley years ago I was asked to come up with ideas fast.  To think on my feet.  And try out ideas from every kind of angle.

I often got my best concepts standing in the shower, with hot water blasting the back of my neck. And I made certain to always keep a pad and pencil handy on a table next to my bed, just  in case I came up with a winning idea my sub-conscious supplied when I was fast asleep.

But some ideas or stories take a long time to develop.

Take that bullfighting tale of mine, for instance.

the seventh bull cover artIt’s called The Seventh Bull, and it was just recently introduced by MuseItUp Publishing in Canada.  That idea took a long, slow time to happen.

I guess it all began back in 1940 when I was a little boy sitting mesmerized in a darkened movie theatre watching Tyrone Power, in a glittering suit of lights, facing down a raging bull with only a small red cape and a sword.  The crowd in the movie shouted:

“Ole΄! Ole΄! Ole΄!”  as Power taunted the beast and spun away like a ballet dancer.

That film was 20th Century Fox’s Blood and Sand.  Watching it really hooked me.  And it led to my becoming a lifelong bullfight aficionado.  Over the ensuing years, I kept developing my interest in bullfighting.  I collected numerous works about it by such writers at Ernest Hemingway and Kenneth Tynan.

I stuffed plenty of cardboard boxes to the brim with magazine tear sheets about bullfighting, photographs, and articles like actual banderillas (those long wooden sticks with colorful paper ribbons and a barbed steel point).

Soon after my marriage in the mid-1950’s I was drafted into the American Army and sent to France. While on leave there my wife and I attended our first live bullfight in Barcelona. It turned out to be far more exciting “live” than the way it was portrayed in any film or a book.  Images and thoughts about bullfighting stirred in my brain then, but nothing actually took solid shape.

It wasn’t until 1960 that something happened that got me to thinking seriously about writing a bullfight story. I was working in Los Angeles at North American Aviation, doing public relations brochures and articles on the Apollo Moon Mission Program.  A fellow writer, who was a big bullfight fan, told me a major event was about to take place to the south in Tijuana.

Antonio Ordoñez, the number one matador in the world at that time, was going to make his first appearance outside of Spain. Ordoñez had been featured in a three-part article in LIFE Magazine written by Ernest Hemingway. The article told about a mano-a-mano duel between Ordoñez and Luis Dominguin, a darling of the press and Ava Gardner’s current beau.

A group of us from the aircraft factory went down to Tijuana.  That experience proved to be surreal.  Especially the partying at the local Sierra Motel.  It offered some  unforgettable sights.  There were beautiful women in skin-tight toreador clothing and flat-brimmed gaucho hats clapping and dancing to flamenco music provided by a small mariachi band.

Laughing and chatting movie stars like Mike Connors of MANNIX on TV, Diane Baker and Cesar Romero sat at tables around a dance floor.  And a smiling Gilbert Roland, with white sleeves rolled up and a leather sheath on one forearm, beguiled a legion of female fans with outrageous bullfight tales.  Much of that dramatic scene made its way into my short story, The Seventh Bull, over fifty years later.

Writing is a funny process.  Here I am, an advertising copywriter who made my career out of fast thinking and snappy headlines for over 20 years in the San Francisco Bay area, taking half a century to produce one exciting bullfight tale.

Go figure.

About The Seventh Bull:

Robert Dunne, a once respected journalist, is now a drunken hanger-on following a famous bullfighter on tour. Paco Garcia’s fans call him “The Matador Who Can’t Be Killed.” Robert hopes to get on the bestseller list with a book that will reveal the mystery of Paco’s ability to avoid “death in the afternoon.  In Tijuana, Paco fires his beautiful agent, Dolores, despite her warnings.  In a dramatic bullfight, Paco cheats death yet again and thrills the crowd.  But at a party after the fight, the matador drunkenly falls off a high diving board and breaks his neck.  Robert suspects foul play by the agent.  When he confronts Dolores, she seduces him with promises of fame—but is he willing to pay the price?

About Gordon: 

man and dog dreamerGordon Rothwell was born in Seattle and got a BA in Journalism from the University of Washington. As an advertising copywriter—one of the original Mad Men— he wrote material for over 100 major firms in California, including PR for the Apollo lunar space program. He received numerous awards including a CLIO (the Oscar of advertising).

He’s also a sportswriter and screenwriter, and many of his screenplays have won and been finalists in the Motion Picture Academy’s Nicholl, Acclaim, Chesterfield, Hollywood Symposium, and FADE IN competitions. He’s published articles and stories in numerous men’s magazines as well as youth-oriented publications like BOY’S LIFE.

He enjoys the fanciful and macabre on screen and in books. Gordon now lives in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, surrounded by a loving family and one sweet pit bull named “Dreamer.”  Mr. Rothwell’s blog address is  And he can be contacted as Gordon_Rothwell on Twitter.

Find his story here: Muse It Up, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble.

Cindy here again!

Interesting story, Gordon. You have me beat with how long it’s taken to write a story. 🙂

Happy writing!



What’s That Word Again?

Welcome to the GWN blog! Thanks for stopping by. We’ve got Michele Drier here today talking about homonyms.

Here’s Michele!

A few years ago, a friend of mine set out to read The Brothers Karamazov, a book she hadn’t touched since college, some thirty years ago. I was impressed—and to tell the truth, a little chagrined—because I’d never wanted to do that.

When I ran into her a couple of weeks later I asked her how the reading was going.

“I gave it up,” she said, “too many words!”

I suspect that people who try to learn English feel the same way—we just plain have too many words!

We’ve come by a lot of it through conquest.  First the Celts were taken over by the Romans.  Then the Romans ceded to the Angles and the Saxons. Then the Normans showed up, bringing an early French with them.

When England was empire-building, the language absorbed words from North American tribes and Hindi and Urdu and Swahili and from other places where the sun never set.  The result was a vibrant, flexible and growing language that adopted words by the bushel basket.

Today, we have more words than any other language on earth.  The Oxford Dictionaries list definitions for some 230,000 words, including derivatives, but in May 2011 the Global Language Monitor estimated that there were 1,010,650 words; the one-millionth being “web 2.0”.

Whether 230,000 words or one million words, it’s clear that we have boatloads of words at our disposal.

So where does that bring us?  Why, to homophones!

Homophones are those words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings, and English is rife with them.

In the last two weeks, I’ve been noting the homophones that crop up newspapers, books, flyers, ads and casual writing such as emails.

I’ve seen:

“high heals”—one assumes that the writer meant tall shoes, not extraordinarily tall doctors;

“She sighted the reference”—I suppose she could have seen it, but I think the writer meant “cited” or it may have been “sited”;

“here, here”—used as an acclamation, the writer probably meant “hear, hear” not a geographic description;

“he peaked into the room”—he became the top? Or did he “peek” by quickly looking?

When I was a newspaper editor, I had one creative, inquisitive, wonderful reporter who was the Queen of the Homophones.  Several times a week (weak), she’d create the most amazing word pictures.  The things holding back the rivers were levys, and the city council leveed a new tax. (I also had a copy editor who thought the past tense of the verb “seek” was “Seeked”, as in the headline she wrote: “Fugitive Seeked by Police”. Not quite a homophone, but a lovely construction, all the same.  Luckily, she never had to write a headline about the Sikh temple.)

I suspect that we have creeping homophones because of the English language According to Bill Gates.  This is a syndrome we all fall into; relying on spell check, grammar check and autocorrect to proofread for us.

But anybody who’s ever looked at the site “Damn You Autocorrect,” should know that the computer uses probability theory, not linguistics or language usage, to complete a word.  And though there may be many useful things that spell and grammar check picks up—beyond its annoying habit of  marking every contraction and any use of the verb “to be”—there is no way it can correct for most homophones. “Take a bow,” meaning to acknowledge praise, is different from “Take a bough” meaning to take a tree branch, but either is a logical English statement.

There is comfort here.  As a writer, I know that, for the nonce at least, I can’t be replaced by a computer.  It’s my eye that will find the correct “write/right”, there/their”, “where/wear” or “here/hear”.

Even reading what I’ve written two or three times doesn’t always catch all the homophones, let along all the types, mispellings or wrong verb tense.  (In the previous sentence, there are two typos not caught and one misspelling that was.)  So read, read, read what you write and know that we, too, have too many words.

Maybe we can go visit the Brothers Karamazov by crossing the Bering Straight (one of my favorite headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle!).

Don’t get piqued when he peeks at you from the peak, just

Write on!


my bio pixMichele Drier was born in Santa Cruz and is a fifth generation Californian. She’s lived and worked all over the state, calling both Southern and Northern California home.  During her career in journalism—as a reporter and editor at daily newspapers—she won awards for producing investigative series.


Her mystery Edited for Death, called “Riveting and much recommended” by the Midwest Book Review is on Amazon and the second book in the Amy Hobbes Newspaper mysteries, Labeled for Death, will be published in June.

SNAP_4_BOX_SETHer paranormal romance series, SNAP: The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles, is available in ebook, paperback and audible at ebook retailers.  All have received “must read” reviews from the Paranormal Romance Guild. SNAP: The World Unfolds, SNAP: New Talent, Plague: A Love Story and Danube: A Tale of Murder are available singly and in a boxed set at Amazon, B&N and Kobo. The fifth book, SNAP: Love for Blood rated 5 stars, is now out. She’s writing SNAP: Happily Ever After? for release in fall 2013 and a seventh book later in 2013.


Visit her website: or facebook page, or her Amazon author page,

Cindy here (hear) again!

Loved this post, Michele. Errors like the ones you mention make cringe when I see them in newspapers and magazines. I shake my head when I see them in corporate emails. 🙂

Happy writing!



How Technical Writing Helped Stephanie Stamm Write Novels

Thanks for visiting the blog. Pull up a chair and settle in for a while. We’ve got Stephanie Stamm with us today talking about technical writing and how it helped her write novels.

Here’s Stephanie!

For over 13 years now, I’ve made a living as a technical writer, writing, editing, and formatting policies, procedures, and training materials and managing document control systems for highly regulated industries (pharmaceutical, medical device, and food packaging manufacturers). I’ve interviewed workers (subject matter experts, we call them) about their work tasks and observed their processes, so I could write instructions and training materials for new employees. I’ve edited and proofread other people’s work. I’ve formatted countless documents, making sure they meet the company’s formatting standards and the requirements for controlled documents regarding ownership, effective dates, revision dates, and a documented history of changes.

The work is, as the job title indicates, very technical, detailed—and, you might think, as far from creative writing as it’s possible to get. That’s certainly how I felt when I first started the job. And it is true that I don’t get to exercise my creative muscles at work. I am not inventing what I write about. I’m writing instructions, and the point is to make those instructions as clear and accurate as possible. Beauty of language, clever turns of phrase, and poetic expression are irrelevant and unwanted.

How, then, could technical writing possibly help me write novels?

First, technical writing, like fiction writing, involves research, curiosity, and questions. I generally start out knowing nothing about a process for which I’m going to write instructions. I have to read manuals, interview subject matter experts, observe processes—and ask questions. Early in my tenure as a technical writer, I learned that I, as a novice, could write much more detailed instructions for a task than a person who had been performing the task for years. Yes, this is in part because I’m a writer and the subject matter expert usually isn’t. But it’s also because the subject matter expert is so familiar with his or her subject that s/he skips over steps and assumes the users of the instructions will know more than they do. As a novice, with no more knowledge of the process than a new trainee, I ask questions about steps the workers perform but don’t describe and about what should be done if something goes wrong during the process. I then include that information in the instructions.

Cover-72-DPIResearch for my novels is a different business. For A Gift of Wings, my research topics included angelology and demonology as well as different makes of motorcycles (so I could choose the appropriate ride for one of my half-angel characters). But the necessity of the research and the curiosity behind it is the same.

This leads me to the second way technical writing has helped me write fiction: it taught me to slow down and capture details. To write accurate instructions, you have to describe, as clearly as possible, how to take a process from start to finish. If you skip key steps—or even seemingly minor ones—your reader (a trainee) can get lost. The same is true for fiction. In creating a story, even a scene, we have to slow down so we can see all the narrative steps and describe enough of them for the reader to follow with ease. I can’t tighten a bolt until I’ve inserted it. Likewise, my character can’t get angry without motivation, and she can’t slam a door if she’s nowhere near one.

This slowing down and taking time to envision a scene or to describe a character’s feelings or reactions is also what enables us to capture those sensory details that bring a scene to life for the reader. How does the character move, react, respond? What sights, sounds, textures, or smells might be important? We have to take the time to inhabit the scenes we create and then to describe those scenes with just the right amount of detail to get the important bits across. While my technical instructions don’t read like novels, nor do my novels read like technical instructions, both have their source in careful observation—whether I’m observing a work process or the imaginary scene unfolding inside my head.

Finally, my time as a technical writer has enabled me to accept suggestions for revision with ease. I don’t hesitate to turn my procedure drafts over to the subject matter expert to review for accuracy and clarity. That’s part of my job. Granted, I don’t feel the same sense of ownership for my technical writing as I do for my creative efforts. Still, I know the importance of that second, third, or fourth pair of eyes. When I’m writing a novel, I’m so inside the story that I can’t see it clearly. I need other people to read my work, tell me if I’ve left out things, skipped over steps. As author, I assume the role of subject matter expert—and, in my initial drafts, I may leave out things that are obvious to me, but not so obvious to a reader. I need a critique partner, beta readers, an editor—someone to help me see the forest created by all the trees I’ve planted.

So, while technical writing may seem—and is—very different from creative writing, the two also have their commonalities. I would never have thought it when I started my technical writing career, but I’ve found it to be an excellent apprenticeship for writing fiction.

028About Stephanie:  Stephanie Stamm grew up in Kentucky and then moved to Chicago, where she lived for 10 years, before settling in Southwest Michigan. She holds an advanced degree in Religion & Literature, and has been a press operator, a teaching assistant, a research assistant, an English and Humanities instructor, a potter, and, for the last several years, a technical writer. An avid reader of fantasy, she finally decided to combine her fascination with angels, ancient religions, and world-building and write the novels she wanted to read. A Gift of Wings, the first volume of the Light-Bringer Series, is her first novel. She is currently working on the sequel, A Gift of Shadows.

Where to find Stephanie:

Cindy here again!

Thanks so much for being here Stephanie. I applied to a technical writing position but though they knew I wrote fiction they didn’t think I would be able to do technical writing because they are so different. Wish I’d had this post then to prove I could do it. 🙂

Happy writing!



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.

Visit Erin’s website:
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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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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!


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