Archive for March, 2016


March 31, 2016


Wow!  I must have been tired when I wrote that last blog.  Despite running it through spell-checker and proofing it, I just found four mistakes and I wasn’t really looking. Sorry, about that.

We’re going to treat our nonfiction writers well this time and start by talking to them first.  Fiction writers may not take a nap; some of this applies to you, too.

There are many ways to develop your storyline.  Not every technique will work for every writer, so find the one that works for you and stick with it.

Here are a few of the major techniques:

  1. Outlining-This is not the 1,2,3-a,b,c outline of your college term paper. (Imagine how embarrassed I was when my mentor told me to outline my story and I did it term paper style.)  Outlining in this case means writing out-this happened first, then this, then that. This works for some writers.  I find the method boring and can’t use it.
  2. Synopsis-This method includes a few short paragraphs focused on where you are going in the piece. You aim to tell the story as you might tell it to a friend.
  3. In Your Mind-This way works best for me. I know the major points I want to make or in the case of fiction, the steps I want to take to get to the conclusion.

Some writers I know write out the whole story in scenes, each on a 3X5 card, and string them around their writing area.  Others go so far as to write pages reminding themselves of where plot twists go or red herrings should be dropped in.  These techniques don’t work for me, but they just might be the perfect solution for you.

Okay, fiction writers now I’m speaking specifically to you.  Here are a few things to remember about your storyline.

  1. Never use dialogue, narration, or description that isn’t important to the story. Don’t describe the little girl over there playing in the sand, if it isn’t important later.  Just don’t do it.
  2. Never add a scene that’s unnecessary.
  3. Everything in the story should lead to the conclusion.
  4. If isn’t important, leave it out.

Recently I read a novel where the author added several short stories.  Apparently the editor told the author the book was too short, so the author “padded” the book.  They didn’t help the book along.  Frankly I was so angry I almost threw the book across the room and looked up the author’s address on the web so I could tell them how lousy it really was.

Sage advice-Don’t make your reader angry.

Next time we’ll talk about a few more techniques which work well in writing.



March 24, 2016

Now that you have an interesting hook for your work, it is time to talk about where you are going with this piece.  Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction you need to know where you are going.  It’s kind of like any car trip; you’d better know where you are going so you’ll know when you get there.

You need to know the difference between the plot and the storyline.  The plot is like your atlas and the storyline is your GPS.  So we’ll discuss plot first (all you nonfiction writers can take a quick nap.)  There are three; some say four basic plot lines.

  1. Man against man, (a good example is Silence of the Lambs)
  2. Man against nature. (Moby Dick or Old Man and the Sea are good examples)
  3. Man against himself. (Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol for example.)

You must have at least a vague idea of which direction your story’s going before you take off writing. So ask yourself the big question before to start writing.  Then you’ll have a direction for your story.

Storyline is the way you build your work to the ultimate conclusion.  As you layer one scene on another your storyline develops into the writing piece you had growing in your mind.  Much like the GPS telling you which direction to turn until you reach your destination.

Your storyline needs to include the twists, red herrings, and all of the elements that make your work compelling.  If you are writing nonfiction storyline is the key component to your piece.  A well-written article includes your research, interviews, and information in a smooth presentation.  That “storyline” keeps your reader reading and informs the reader of the article’s goal.

Neat time we’ll discuss ways to plot and develop your storyline.


March 17, 2016


Last time we discussed hooks and four-way sentences.   If you are not busy writing away by now, perhaps you are confused.  So I’ll try to make things a bit clearer.

Remember you have 5 seconds to catch an editor’s eye.  That’s your first paragraph if the editor or first reader is a fast reader.  NOT a page. NOT the first chapter.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many writers tell me it gets better on page 50.  No one is going to get to page 50, so you would be smart to cut the first 50 pages and begin your book there.  Fifty pages of description aren’t going to cut it. You’ve lost your reader back on page 2, so don’t bother.

If you are totally befuddled, pick up any recent thriller or mystery for a good hook. Most recent thriller or mystery books have great hooks.  One of the best hooks I’ve read is the beginning of Clive Cussler’s Cyclops (This is an older book). The prologue has a great hook and the end of the prologue has an equally good hook.

If you are confused about four-way sentences, I suggest reading the beginning of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving or the short story “War” by Jack London.  These two pieces both draw the reader in with a four-way sentence.  A Prayer for Owen Meany contains the four-way in a slightly oblique way, but it is still there.

Remember that after writing more of your piece you might want to discard the four-way, but it will get you writing and that’s the important thing.

Hope that clears up your questions.  Why not try writing four or five hook sentences this week.


March 11, 2016

You’ve done all your prep work; you’ve got your ideas, now what?

If you are using that miracle of writing called a computer, you are ready to go.  If you decide later that what you’ve written isn’t really the beginning, you can always go back and write a bunch of stuff before those first words you put on the screen, so relax.

Your piece needs to have a hook.  No matter what you are writing a hook is necessary.  Your reader needs a reason to read what you’ve written. You need to draw them into your piece and keep them reading, thus the hook. I really don’t care whether you are writing a novel or a nonfiction piece, the hook is important.

Questions make excellent hooks.  “Why did Jill kill herself?” That’s a good hook and will keep your reader involved in the story for pages or an entire novel if you want.  “Why do one in four men have an affair?”  (I’m not sure that’s an accurate statistic, but it would keep readers reading if it is.)  The question grabs the reader and keeps them involved in what you are trying to tell your reader. Question hooks can get tiresome after a while but a good question is always guaranteed to entice the audience to read further.

Scary or jarring statements make good hooks also.  “Loren heard the scream from her dorm room.”  “The thud sounded like a body hitting the floor in the apartment above.”  These types of hooks get your reader going, also.  They pull the reader into the action and make them demand answers.  If you can make your reader want more, you’ve succeeded in your job as a writer.

One of the surefire ways to begin writing is with a four-way sentence-main character, where they are, one characteristic, and what they are doing. “Bob’s blue eyes scanned the dance floor.”  It is sometimes difficult to turn a four-way sentence into a good hook, so don’t worry if you can’t.  It is a great way to get your writing started.  Use it so kick-start your writing piece, you can always go back and change it.



March 3, 2016


You should have most of your preparation done now, so it’s time to get busy.  It stumps me that sometimes writers are lost as to what they should write about.  Some of you are sitting in your well-equipped office staring at a blank page.  Maybe, you think, I should write a bestseller.  Romance seems to be a good place to start-they sell well.  However you’ve never read a romance in your life; those sappy dialogue lines and smoking hot sex scenes are disgusting to you.  If you are frustrated with the romance genre for heaven’s sake don’t write one.

It may seem a no-brainer, but the best thing to consider writing is what you read.  If you like science fiction, then write that.  If you enjoy a good mystery, consider penning a mystery, thriller, or suspense book.  Mysteries are tricky since you can’t reveal the bad guy until the end, that’s why I prefer suspense or thrillers.

Writing a novel can take a bit of time. So I’m going to suggest that if you don’t have a day job this is a good time to find one.  Much like living on love, surviving while writing is hugely overrated.  You’ll still have time to write in the evenings or early morning and it is a lot easier to write on a full stomach.

It’s my suspicion that somewhere you have a notebook with ideas which materialized in the middle of the night or came to you during lunch.  Read over these and pick one.  Sit down and see how far this idea will take you.  You might learn that after a couple of pages, you don’t have any more to say about this idea or you might still be at it after ninety pages.

Don’t be intimidated.  I probably won’t be reading your work until much later in the process, so don’t be afraid to write away.  Tell you inner editor to go to sleep and just write.  You can revise later.  Just get the words on the paper.

In the next few weeks, we will cover hooks, dialogue, narrative and building your characters.  Right now, this week, I just want you to write your heart out.  Get those words on paper.