Category Archives: writing workshop

Make Every Word Count (Short Stories 101)

Our first anthology, Realm of Magic, will be published soon and that means our second anthology (genre romance) isn’t far behind. Submissions close in just a couple of weeks, and I know some of you are sweating over your word count right now, trying to get it down below that 5,000 mark. If you’ve submitted one major story already, you may even be trying to get it down below that 3,000 mark to qualify. It’s not easy to cut things out of your story, and most people don’t want to delete entire scenes that may be crucial to the plot. You may not be able to remove chunks to make it follow our guidelines, but there’s another thing you can try instead.

Make Every Word Count

One thing I’ve noticed through selecting and editing the submissions: some writers manage to jam-pack a whole lot into a small word count, while others spend a lengthy amount of time on only a couple scenes. If those scenes are where your story takes place, so be it. But if you find yourself having to cut your story down to just a couple scenes for it to qualify, you may want to look at removing filler words and condensing sentences before you throw an entire setting away.

Simple is best. You need to make every word count in a short story. If one sentence kind of explains what’s happening but the second sentence clarifies it, delete the first sentence. Edit the second to make sure its meaning is clear and can stand alone. Here’s an example from the novel I’m working on right now (Reigning Fire—The Aldurian Chronicles Book 3). I’m always going through and removing redundant sentences like this:

“Shut up!” I released the leukos I’d been absorbing. It exploded from my core, hitting him in full force.

It’s a fantasy novel, so ignore the weird words.

These two sentences are repetitive. I can merge them together to keep the intended meaning.

“Shut up!” Leukos exploded from my core, hitting him in full force. 

I could rework that to make it even tighter—and I will later—but I wanted to give you a simple example of how to clear out redundant sentences and shorten your word count.

Another way to shorten word count is to cut out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. When you’re setting a scene or describing a character, get to the point and then move on to the action. Less is more. Use one or two informative helper words versus three or four that don’t really offer anything to the story. Don’t neglect description altogether, but make sure you use words to your advantage here. Many times a bigger word can replace a few small words. That saves your word count for harder to describe situations or scenes that are a bit more complex.

I’m not saying grab your thesaurus and replace every small phrase you can find with a word your reader would have to look up to understand, but be mindful as you’re writing to consider concise ways of expressing yourself.

Prepositions also tend to fill the pages in a story. Training yourself to look for and remove the ones that aren’t needed can give you more room to develop your characters or plot down the road.

Always skip the dull parts. A short story should be well-paced. There is little room for messing around, so if you can develop your characters without having to slow the plot, you’re going to have a much more powerful story in the end.

As you’re editing your story and trying to cut down that word count, go into it with the mindset of making every word count and it will be much easier to let go of parts that might offer poetic prose but offer nothing in way of character or plot progression.

However, something more important to keep in mind: clarity trumps brevity. Your sentences need to be clear before they are concise. You can’t cut out vital information for the sake of staying under that word limit. Get creative. Find a way to clarify your story without spending a long time explaining it.

And remember, for the Writers Unite! Anthologies Series, you have a 5,000 word allowance for your first story with no minimum requirement! We have received stories that range from 200-5,000 words so far, with some poems being a bit under that range. We’ve had some great stories come in through the submissions portal, and eagerly await YOUR submission.

But you have to be a Writers Unite! member to contribute.

Join the Facebook group Writers Unite! here to get the details on submitting to our current anthology: Writers Unite! Facebook Group


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strong-willed—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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Guest Blog: Write What You Know — David Reiss

Once upon a time–when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was still in high school–I had a wonderful English teacher who treated his students as peers and insisted that we all call him by his first name; his enthusiasm for literature and drama was outright contagious. He convinced me to read outside my preferred genres, and he pushed me to write, write and write some more. A tremendously harsh critic, he somehow managed to be supportive even while delivering the most ruthless dissections of my prose. I was a bitter and catastrophically depressed teenager who approached each school day with apprehensive dread, but for his classes, I held a genuine anticipation.

Until one lecture when he insisted that creating compelling fiction required that we ‘write what we know,’ and all my enthusiasm burned away into ash.

At the time, I thought that he meant that our prose should be limited to our experiences and our areas of expertise. I couldn’t imagine any subject less interesting or worthy of consideration. How could the experiences of a morose, sheltered and awkward kid be relevant to the life of an inhuman denizen of a fantasy dungeon? I wanted to write about dragons and laser pistols, camaraderie and adventure!

I occasionally wish for a time machine so that I could leap across the years and smack my younger self on the back of the head. Because the truth is every experience is something you can learn from. I may not have ever soared above a battlefield then folded my wings to drop into combat like the gryphon protagonist from one of my short stories…but I knew the feel of wind against my face and could add that sensation to describe my gryphon’s flight. I knew what it looked like when a hawk stooped towards its prey. I knew what anger felt like, and fear, and hope, and sadness.

To ‘write what you know’ doesn’t mean to write about yourself. It means to use your personal experiences to lend the power of authenticity to your prose.

There is a secondary meaning as well, and it is one that I try to take to heart more as an adult author: Research, knowledge and the acquisition of new sensory memories can make your writing more compelling. It’s tempting to feel content that having swung a baseball bat is sufficient experience to write a scene in which an armored knight wields a mace, and it is true that being able to evoke the memory of how your grip strained or how your shoulder shook at the moment of impact is important. But spending time researching how maces were used historically can help create a more powerful scene. Look up how much real maces weighed. Research the kinds of wounds that a mace caused. If you can, make a mace and create new sensory memories by beating up an old tire. Interview experts and NEVER rely on anything you saw in a Hollywood blockbuster movie because Hollywood is a lying liar who lies.

Try new things! Get your hands dirty in the garden, take a lesson in welding, bungee jump, hang-glide. Eat exotic foods and learn to mix cocktails. Live.

So, my advice to an aspiring author is this: Write what you know because you know much more than you think. And never, ever stop learning because who knows what you’re going to want to write about tomorrow?

About the Author:

While growing up, David Reiss was that weird kid with his nose in a book and his head in the clouds. He was the table-top role-playing game geek, the comic-book nerd, the story-teller, and dreamer.
Fortunately, he hasn’t changed much.

David is a software engineer by trade and a long-time sci-fi and fantasy devotee by passion, and he lives in Silicon Valley with his partner of twenty-six years. Until recently, he also shared his life with a disturbingly spoiled cat named Freya.

(Farewell, little huntress. You were loved. You are missed.)

David’s first book, Fid’s Crusade, has just recently been published; this was his first novel-length project, but it certainly won’t be his last—he’s having far too much fun!

Mr. Price’s Dinner Table – Deborah Ratliff

 

Location, location, location.

How many time have you heard that a business’s location is essential to its success? It is. The same is true for the site of your story. Choosing a small town, an urban environment, or an alien world instantly sets the mood, the culture, and the anticipation for your story. Choose wisely, and the location becomes another character in your writing, adding depth and complexity to your plot.

Why we choose a location varies from our own experiences to the genres that we write.  I set my stories in the world that I know best, the Southern United States and often in New Orleans. To explain how I decide, I need to take you on a journey to my childhood.

I am a Southerner and quite proud of my roots. Growing up in South Carolina I was fortunate to have parents who saw no color differences in their fellow man. People from all walks of life and cultures visited our home.

Memories of my childhood remain clear today. The mimosa tree that I played under in our yard. Houses where all doorways, windows, and chimneys were trimmed in blue to ward off evil spirits. The dime bags of boiled peanuts sold on the street. The ‘air-conditioned tree’ at the Herlong Orchard peach stand where the temperature was twenty degrees cooler in the shade and the water stored in a metal canteen was ice cold. While there was a horrible undercurrent of division and anger in this place I love so much, there was also a goodness of soul. Family, friends, food, and good times existed as well.

My father worked at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina where at the time hydrogen bombs were being made. With workers from all over the world employed there, as a child I met a variety of people. One of my father’s best friends was a bear of a man, a Navaho by the name of Jess Brown. His wife Athea, a small, plump woman who might have been a better cook than my grandmothers, was like an aunt to me. I am about one-sixteenth Cherokee and Jess, and Athea gave me a sense of what being Native American meant. Proud, hard-working, gentle people.

Another friend of my parents impacted my life more than I realized. Mr. Price. Honestly, I am not sure what his first name was, my parents never called him anything but Mr. Price. He was older, a slight man, regal in bearing, with snow-white hair and a thick Southern accent that held a lilt of his mother’s heritage. She was a Cajun from southwest Louisiana, and it was his reminisces about his mother’s upbringing that fueled my love of the Cajun culture.

Mr. Price was called a ‘bachelor.’ In the South in those days, an unmarried man of means, a patron of the arts was referred to in that manner. Anyone who has read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt will recognize who Mr. Price was. Polite society did not mention the word homosexual as that wouldn’t be gracious and respectful.

We often had Sunday dinner at Mr. Price’s home, a large two-story house near downtown Aiken. I remember the opulent crimson flocked wallpaper in the parlor, the glittering crystal chandelier in the dining room, and fresh flowers everywhere. While I loved to have dinner in the dining room,  if the weather cooperated, we would often eat on the back terrace surrounded by a formal garden.

Dinner? Not what you might expect for a South Carolina gentleman. While on occasion we might have shrimp and grits or barbecued chicken, we often feasted on shrimp etouffee or jambalaya, dishes Mr. Price’s mother made when he was small. At age ten, I had my first taste of that Cajun chicory coffee at his dinner table.

I was mesmerized as he would tell us of his parent’s home in Lake Charles, and his grandparents’ house in the country nearby. He would spin tales of fun in the bayou, and I was hooked for life. While I loved South Carolina, my heart drifted toward Cajun Louisiana. His memories stirred emotions in me that I have kept to this day.

When I began to write fiction again a few years ago, I knew I would set my stories in the South. While I have never sugar-coated the problems the area has, which are no different from any other part of the United States, there is an ambiance and tone about the South, the southern coast especially, that is alluring. When I began to write it was Louisiana that I set my first novel in, New Orleans specifically.

Having visited New Orleans a few times as an adult, I discovered that my writing muse was a resident of the French Quarter. New Orleans, the bayou, the jazz, the beignets, the sultry weather, all characters in themselves and ones I find creeping into my writing.

On a recent Sunday, I watched one of Anthony Bourdain’s final “Parts Unknown” episodes. We lost a unique individual with Bourdain’s death. A talented essayist on life and culture and how food is intrinsic to our existence, not only for sustenance but for our soula. This show centered on Cajun Mardi Gras as celebrated in Southwest Louisiana.

We know of Mardi Gras as a glitzy party of drunken revelry, resplendent with cheap shiny beads, gaudy costumes, and over the top parades, as well as – well – fun. Bourdain showed us a Mardi Gras few outsiders know,  celebrated away from the French Quarter. Equally as gaudy and drunken but steeped in tradition and meaning.

Despite the commercial decadence of the more popular party in the French Quarter or the more traditional decadence of Cajun Mardi Gras, the spirit of the Cajun people, their passion for life, food, and even voodoo fuel my imagination and my soul.

I realized how ingrained the Cajun world was to my writing when I recently started writing a short story for a romance anthology. I struggled with setting and story until my muse left the jazz bar in the Quarter and reminded me, I was a mystery writer. I knew where I belonged. My story is now a romance between a TV reporter and a detective brought together over a dead body.  The location you ask? The French Quarter.

There is something about the tenor and vibe New Orleans that touches me.  A city steeped in tradition and like Anthony Bourdain, unique.

After writing my first novel, Crescent City Lies, a mystery set in New Orleans, I realize that the Cajun culture remains embedded within me, sparked so many years ago at Mr. Price’s dinner table.

Location, location, location.

(photo from https://www.visitaikensc.com/groups)

Advice for New and Aspiring Authors — Lynn Miclea

I can easily remember what it was like before I published my first book. It was not that long ago, and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t think I was capable of writing or publishing a book. If someone had told me back then that I would have twelve books published by this time, I would have told them they were crazy.

And now, looking back over the past few years, after writing and publishing twelve books, I realize that I have learned quite a lot along the way. Of course, I am still learning, and I hope that I will always learn more and improve. But now feels like the right time to reach out and help other new and aspiring authors.

When we are beginning our journey as writers, we tend to have so many of the same questions, confusion, fears, and doubts. I would like to help make things a little easier and share with you some of what I have learned.

So here are seven of the best ideas I have found to help new and aspiring authors.

  1. Read a lot

Reading is important. Reading helps develop your writing skills as you learn what you like and don’t like about how things are written. Reading helps you learn how to phrase things, present situations, and describe action or settings. It helps you learn how to introduce characters and how to write realistic dialogue. It helps you improve your writing in so many ways – I learn every time I read. The more you read, the better you learn to write.

  1. Write a lot

Write as much as you can. As you write, you improve your skills. Each book, blog, article, or journal entry you write helps and improves your writing. I look back at my earlier writing, and I can see how far I’ve come – my writing is now more clear, concise, and powerful. So keep writing – the more you write, the better you get.

  1. Be you, find your own voice

Don’t compare yourself to others or try to imitate someone else’s style. Find your own voice, your own passion, and your own style. Discover the things you want to write about. Don’t try to be anyone else – it doesn’t work anyway, and it comes across as forced. Be you. There will never be another person just like you, so be proud of who you are and develop your own unique style.

  1. Get rid of self-doubts and self-criticism

Know that everyone has self-doubts and is self-critical. It is human nature. It is especially prevalent in creative types – writers, authors, artists, and musicians. We put our heart and soul into what we do. We feel vulnerable and exposed. We worry about whether or not we’re good enough or if people will like what we do. But those thoughts can undermine you and your creativity. Don’t allow any of that to get in your way or stop you. Write despite your insecurities – if we let insecurities stop us, nothing would ever get written. Write for you, not for anyone else, and trust that you will keep getting better as you go. If you love to write and feel passionate about writing, then do it. Set aside all judgment, worry, and criticism. Write as much as you can – and allow yourself to grow and blossom.

  1. The first draft is always crap

As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Everyone’s first draft is always crap, and that’s okay. Expect it, it’s part of the territory, and don’t worry about it. Write your story down as it is, as though no one will ever see it. Write your heart out, and get it all down on paper. You can always edit it later and improve what you’ve written. So don’t worry about the first draft – it’s simply the first step and puts you on your way to creating an amazing finished manuscript.

  1. Always backup your work

Too many people have learned this the hard way – always back up your work. Use a backup drive, an internet storage site such as drop-box, another file, a second computer, the cloud, etc. It doesn’t matter what you use, just make sure you backup your work somewhere. It is too easy to accidentally delete something, lose a file, have your computer crash, have a file become corrupted, etc. Don’t risk losing what you’ve spent so many hours creating. And don’t wait until it’s too late – be smart and always back up your work.

  1. Get professional editing

After you have finished your manuscript, read it through multiple times to make it as clean and error-free as possible. Then always use the services of a professional editor so that your work will be professional quality and the best it can possibly be. A professional editor helps with more than simply finding typos. They help with grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, word usage, consistency, repetitions, proper and consistent tense, plot development, subplots that don’t belong or that slow down the story, characters, appropriate POV (point of view), tension build-up, anything that doesn’t move the story forward, story structure, plot holes, pacing, plus many other things.

I was a professional proofreader for many years, and I studied editing. When I look over my own work, I carefully and slowly read word-for-word, and I still miss things. It is difficult to catch your own errors, as you tend to skim your own story since you know it so well. Your mind automatically fills in and corrects any errors or missing words. So it really helps to have another pair of eyes on your work. You don’t want to turn off readers with errors throughout your story, or have prospective readers not buy your book because of errors in the sample they see. A professional editor helps your work be the best it can be, and that is important. If you want a well-written, professional story that will have readers wanting to read more of your work, always have your work professionally edited.

Congratulations – I applaud you for being a writer!

Writing is a creative process where our hearts and imagination merge and pour out onto paper, and it is a thrilling and rewarding journey.

It gives me great pleasure to share these seven tips with you, and I hope these help you on your way to becoming an outstanding and successful author.

The path is not always easy, but always do your best, and never stop learning and improving. One day I hope to see your books on the best-seller list.

And no matter how far you go as a writer, enjoy the entire journey and be proud of who you are and what you accomplish.

 

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About The Author

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LYNN MICLEA grew up in New York and moved to California while in her twenties. A certified hypnotherapist and Reiki master practitioner with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she spent many years working in the medical field and in various offices in an administrative capacity.

After retiring, Lynn discovered and developed a passion for writing, and she is now a successful author with many books published and more on the way. Her two memoirs, one of her family’s experience with ALS, and one of her own journey through open-heart surgery have received numerous five-star reviews. 

She also has published ten sweet, exciting, and fun children’s books, which are uplifting, loving, feel-good animal stories, filled with warm humor, and which are about kindness, compassion, helping others, seeing the best in others, and believing in yourself. 

She hopes that through her writing, she can help empower others and add more joy and love to the world. She asks everyone to be kind to each other as we all share this journey through life together.

Lynn currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and two dogs.

Learn more about Lynn at her Amazon author page here.

And please visit her website at www.lynnmiclea.com for more information on her books.
Copyright © 2018 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

 

Guest Blog: Kelli Gavin — I Don’t Mean to Brag

 
 I DON’T MEAN TO BRAG, BUT MY POSTS ARE ENJOYED BY WELL OVER TWENTY PEOPLE WORLDWIDE 

A friend asked me the other day if I minded that my writing posts on social media don’t get very many likes.  I kid you not. Even I didn’t have a response to this question. I sat there dumbfounded. Not sure how to respond. If I should make a joke out of it or respond honestly.

I have been actively writing for less than two years.  Blogging for only 9 months. When I started writing, I discovered the long forgotten joy that writing brought me.  When I was a kid, my dad and I enjoyed writing short stories together. I took my first stab at writing a book when I was in junior high. Made it about 80 handwritten pages in and abandoned the project altogether.  When I was in high school, I discovered my love of poetry and storytelling through short statement sentences.

I had a few great teachers who influenced me and encouraged me to keep writing.  I completed a poetry assignment of 20 poems and handed it in two days after it was assigned. I had two more weeks before it was due, the teacher took it from me and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to spend a little more time on it?”  I told her no, I worked hard and was ready to hand it in. She started to page through the packet and asked, “How did you come up with 20 poems in 2 days?” I told her I had a free period the last two days and wrote them out on the computer in the library.  She stared at me. “You wrote 20 poems in 2 days? You didn’t write any of these poems beforehand?” I confirmed, 20 poems in 2 days. She was silent for such an uncomfortable amount of time, I had to say something. “Great. I will see you Friday in class.”

Poetry flowed out of me. I could hardly contain it.  Even if I wanted to. I wasn’t sleeping well at the time, I was working through a lot of emotions and feelings and all those teenage woes made great food for fodder. I wrote about relationships with my parents, with friends, with boys. I wrote about a relationship that needed to cease.

I was asked by the same teacher to stay after class on Friday. I completely panicked. She must have hated my poetry packet. I was going to fail this class as it was 50% of my grade. I approached her desk as all of my classmates exited the classroom and felt tears poking at the corners of my eyes. “Kelli. Your poetry packet is amazing. You have a clear voice. A distinct way of communicating what you want using a very limited amount of words. I could tell the two required rhyming poems were challenging for you. But I found them whimsical, humorous and delightful.  I doubted your ability to complete this project in such a short amount of time. I should have never doubted you. I am giving you a perfect score. You exceeded my expectations on both content and effort. Well done. I will be using two of your poems in class as encouragement to the other students.”

Encouragement to the other students? Wait. What?  I asked her not to use my name. She said no problem. She wanted to use one of the fun rhyming poems as an example that sometimes the best things come out of not trying too hard. I wasn’t sure if that was actually a compliment or not. But I wasn’t going to ask any further questions.

I quickly exited the classroom and headed to my locker so I could race to my next class.  I smiled the rest of the day.

I was inspired. My teachers’ compliments were all that it took to inspire me. Words of affirmation from an adult other than my parents.  I continued to write poetry for the remaining portion of the two weeks and knew that I was improving each time I hit the save button on the library computer.  When my poems were shared in class the next week, silence followed after the first one. I wrote about that relationship that needed to cease. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but I knew I was fidgeting in my seat and probably was the most unnatural shade of red all down through my neck.  

“Okay.  Was this poem written by a girl? Because that was beautiful.  A boy wouldn’t be able to talk that way about something he wants but knows he shouldn’t have. It makes me want to know what happens next.”  Nodding and agreement. Our teacher proclaimed a mighty, “YES! That is what good poetry should do. It should make you want more. You should be intrigued by the first line and it should make you desire more. It should make you feel something deep inside. It should change you. It should make you think differently.”

Our teachers’ words spurred me on to write even more. All those hours I was awake at night made me burn through notebook after notebook. I wanted people that read my work, to want more. I wanted them to be hooked from the first line. I wanted them to desire more. And I wanted them to think differently and to be changed.

I continued writing and felt so fulfilled. I was proud of myself.  I felt better about who I was and felt that I had a purpose. To write. Even if only for a short time. Writing gave me a purpose.  Life happened and I wasn’t then writing as much. I worked hard the summer before college and then felt utterly consumed by moving away and overwhelmed by college and the workload that was expected. I sat down to write one night at school, and nothing. Nothing. I had nothing to write about. I didn’t feel inspired to write. I felt I should do it because I hadn’t. It felt like a task. It no longer brought me joy. It started to stress me out.

Filled notebooks and blank notebooks sat on my shelf above my desk in my dorm room. And they continued to sit there. By the end of my freshman year, I had completely abandoned my love for writing.

I have filled all of these past 25 years with some pretty amazing things. I got married, worked in a profession I loved and succeeded in. I was blessed by having two children. I started two companies and enjoyed the work. I began to write articles for the local newspaper when artists or writers came to town.  I would write about their life, their career, and my impressions of their speaking engagement. Sometimes, I would have a prearranged interview set up with them and others times would just make a point of asking questions and recording the answers.

I believe myself to be pretty savvy on social media. (That is a lie. I am a stalker at best. I would track those coming to town down on social media and assault them with numerous private messages until they answered me and agreed to an in-person interview or to respond to my questions. My shenanigans worked more often than not. ) Each of my articles was accepted at the paper. I was so excited.  Was I a writer? I sure was. I was writing more, and writing well. I thought I would take another stab at writing.

Once I began, I found that only about a dozen or so poems were ready to be written.  But I sat down and found I had a story to tell about my mom. My mom died about 5 years ago now.  She was so young, only 67. She was a ridiculously quirky woman who never met a person she didn’t love. I wanted to write about her. I wanted to write about my childhood with her as my mom. I wanted to honor her.  I started writing short, one or even two-page stories, every week or so. Then the stories about being a special needs parent came to mind. And about organizing your home and life, which is my line of work. Mostly, I wrote about my daily life. About conversations that I had with my kids and my friends. And sometimes I even wrote about the conversations I had with complete strangers.  

When I wrote a story, it was about something important. A lesson I had learned. Something that brought me joy.  Something that maybe still made me ache today. They were stories about memories I held dear. But when I told my stories, they were stories I thought others would also like to hear.  I felt they were stories that others needed to hear. Subject matters that would touch hearts and maybe even heal them. Stories that others could have written themselves. I wanted other people to know they were not alone.

I began submitting stories to dozens upon dozens of companies that specialized in storytelling.  I was quickly discouraged as I received 29 declines in my first 6 weeks. 29. But then yes. Another yes, we would be happy to publish this piece.  And even, what else can you send us? Editors started emailing me and actually asking for more samples of my work.

Absolutely, it feels great when a contract for printing is received. I have published with 20+ different companies and organizations and continue to submit weekly. 9 months ago when I started blogging, I didn’t just blog about my daily life, I added in all of the poems that I wrote, some of the newspaper articles and the books reviews.  I also started including all of my life stories in my blog.

And to the original question. Does it bother me that so few people like my writing posts on social media? No. The honest answer is no. How many people read my blog on a consistent basis? I don’t know.  But you know what matters to me? The messages that people send me or write on posts. The times when people ask me for help in solving a similar situation. The times when people tell me they are ready to call their mom and ask for forgiveness. But most of all, I enjoy the thank you’s. Thank for being honest. Thank you for writing about something that hurts. Thank you for helping me figure out this whole special needs parenting thing.  Thank you for making me cry, I needed that.

“Kelli,  I don’t know you.  We have never met. But we have friends in common.  I wanted to tell you I found your blog. I can’t stop reading.  Were we twins and separated at birth? You and I are the awkward honest girls. The ones that cry watching the news and retelling stories. Thank you for not making me feel so weird.”  Those are the messages that make me want to write more.

“Oh, sweet Zach. I read your article in the paper.  I had the joy of helping him at school a couple times last year.  I miss him so much. He was always smiling and so funny. I liked reading about your daily lives.  Thank you for the insight into special needs parenting.” Special needs teachers. I want to hug you. Thank you for all that you do for my son every day. Thank you for your patience, your ability to teach and your love for my son.

I have started writing a book. For real this time. A real book.  With chapters and page numbers and everything. This book will be more of the same. More of what makes me laugh. What makes me cry.  More stories I think others will want to hear. Stories others need to hear. No, I won’t ever sell a million copies, and make a bunch of cash.  But I will have told my story, filled my life with even more joy, and connected with people I have never even met. Hopefully inspired someone along the way.  And that sounds like a mighty fine endeavor to me.

“You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.”  — F. Scott Fitzgerald

About the Author

Kelli Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candlelit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).

Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin Blog found at kellijgavin@blogspot.com

 

 

Guest Blog: The 9 Perils of Writerhood – Rosanna Bates

The 9 Perils of Writerhood

By Rosanna Bates

Thinking about taking up writing? As a hobby, or maybe a career? Well, be warned. You are about to pursue a perilous occupation. A vortex of chaos, creativity and solitude that will suck you into its inescapable depths. Writing is not for the faint-hearted.

On your journey you will encounter submission guidelines, internet trolls and *gasp* reading fees. If you are lucky enough to get away from them unscathed, you are still destined to fall victim to the countless dangers of writing. Although for the sake of time-saving let’s say there are nine.

 

The Curse of the Grammar Nazi

With proficiency in the written word comes an impulse to correct people’s grammar and spelling—a practice that is universally frowned upon. In no small part because it’s a little bit condescending even if it does clear up some outrageous uses of the English language.

As the rest of the world demands you keep your mouth shut, you will be forced to stew in your exasperation for eternity. Although, where the internet’s prying eyes cannot see, you will be safe to unleash your new curse. The household shopping lists will be impeccable, one way or another.

 

Demonic Possession

Short of floating out of bed and babbling in tongues, you wouldn’t believe you were being possessed at all. That’s what the Demons want you to think.

We believe the characters we create and grow to love are under our control. But they get under our skin, into our heads, and control our thoughts. Whilst innocently daydreaming some dialogue for your new imaginary friends, their words will come tumbling out of your mouth quite without your permission. At dinner, on the tube, at the library, in the middle of an important interview. At every conceivable inconvenient movement. So don’t be surprised if you come home to an intervention one day with a demonologist and a priest siting in.

 

Imagination Fatigue

The adrenaline rush of an idea grabbing you and running away is like nothing else. Your wedding day or that big promotion all pale in comparison to this thrill. Spending several hours on a whirlwind adventure in your own brain and putting it to paper is an excitement that has lured many a writer into its eternal clutches. However, after any epic high, there is an inevitable crash. When you’re finished with that flash of productivity, your brain will feel like an exploded water balloon. You’ll be lucky if you can think up what to have for dinner.

 

Legal Trouble

Writers research everything. How else are you supposed to craft realistic crime dramas and historical romances? Nobody’s that confident in their estimations of an autopsy to start writing about it without looking it up in a search engine first. Those Google searches are not for the squeamish.

As a result of your curiosity, your internet histories become weird and wonderful collections of web pages you’ve clicked on in the pursuit of piecing your work together realistically. They also become article one in your murder trials if your enemies are vengeful enough.

Whilst at the time your search on the world’s deadliest poisons was perfectly innocent, it may not look that way when there’s a dead body in your living room with all the signs of cyanide poisoning. Moral of the story, don’t be a writer. If you really must be a writer, then be sure to make no enemies who might be motivated enough to frame you for murder. As our next point explains, that may not be a problem anyway.

 

Dying a Social Death

Writing isn’t merely a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It gets into every nook and cranny of your life, including the social sector. Coffees with friends make way for editor’s deadlines. Brainstorming sessions instead of hosting the parents. Losing your mind perfecting a scene instead of sleeping.

Your friends and family begin to question whether you ever existed or if you were just a figment of their imaginations. Until one day you finally show up to a birthday party and dole out a few heart attacks.

 

Keyboard Burn

When inspiration hits, you won’t be able to get the words down fast enough. So beware when speed typing, for your fingertips may burn on the red-hot keys. That best-seller in the making will gather dust at the back of your hard-drive whilst you enjoy the delight that is hospital food.

 

Irritable Scowl Syndrome

Writing takes peace and quiet. But the quietest times are the best until someone bursts into your study exclaiming that they need their dry cleaning done, there are no jam tarts left, or the house is on fire. Sigh.

Be warned, the first interruption will not be the last because when it’s OK to barge in once, it’s always OK. Such is the logic of serial interrupters. You will begin to develop a fearsome scowl upon hearing the words “Just before you sit down…” or “Are you busy?” that will send any enquirers scurrying in the other direction.

As these interruptions happen more and more (and rest assured, they will) this scowl will become your default expression for anything you even remotely disapprove of. Your reputation will be forever tainted and you will be remembered as a terrifying individual. Or perhaps that’s what you were aiming for.

 

Repetitive Name Injury

There’s names you like, and names you don’t. The names you give your characters you often love. That’s why it’s difficult to give these beloved names to only one character. Where does the injury come in? When you’re bashing your head against the wall trying to think of new ones that sound just as good.

 

Addiction

Drugs are bad, kids, and writing is one of the hardest highs out there. It starts out innocent, just a short story or two in the privacy of your home, but it doesn’t take long for this to escalate. You’ll start holing yourself up in your study penning novels and sketching settings. Soon enough, you’ll be writing on the train to work, and in the car waiting for your kids to get out of school. Write long enough and no rehab on Earth can help you return to the way things used to be.

 

 

About the Author

Rosanna Bates was born in Worcester, England at the height of baggy jeans and boy band popularity. Her childhood was spent reading and writing stories she was too embarrassed to show anyone. To date, she has had short stories and flash fiction published by The Fiction Pool, Ariel Chart, Anti-Heroin Chic, the Manawaker Studios podcast and Otter Libris. While she prepares her debut novel for publication, she also manages a book blog The Secret Library and regularly contributes to the online millennial lifestyle magazine, Unwritten.

 

Guest Blog: Dusty Grein – Why A Bad Review Can Be A Blessing

They All Love Me!

When I first published my book, The Sleeping Giant, I anticipated the glowing reviews that I was sure would happen. After all, I loved my story, how could anyone not feel the same?

Ah, the naiveté of the beginning novelist.

The Reality

Let me preface this by saying that in all fairness, my book has been very well received. It has been purchased and/or read by thousands of customers, and most of them have been extremely satisfied with the story, the characters and the style with which I wrote it. After more than forty reviews, it has a solid and respectable 4.4 star average, and over two thirds have been of the five star variety.

Those aren’t the ones I want to talk about here though. I learned far more about myself, and my writing, from the bad reviews, and I’d like to express my gratitude for the negative ones — even the lone 1-star thrashing of my endeavor.

When I got my first 3-star review, I felt like I had actually made it.

I had arrived!

The reviewer said “This is a good read, However the focus of the story, a soon to erupt volcano, ends up with only a few pages at the end. Needs a part 2.” It made me smile – my first critical review was that I needed to write another book!

My next 3-star said simply “needed more character development,” and was countered soon after by a pair of 5-stars that said “It’s interesting, the characters are well created” and “The characters were developed and the plot moved at a rapid pace.”

Different strokes and all that. The truth is you just can’t please everyone, so you have to just grin and shake your head.

Then it happened.

The Bad News

Someone gave me a 1-star BAD review! They not only gave it a single star, but in the review subject line, they said “SAVE YOUR MONEY…PASS ON THIS BOOK!” I was shocked!

I felt like I had been sucker-punched and immediately became defensive. I had to walk away from the computer. It hurt that someone felt compelled to not only attack my little story, but to tell others not to bother reading it! After I calmed down, I sat down and read the review in earnest – and I’m glad I did. Here is what this reviewer wrote:

“Poorly written attempt at a first novel. First couple of chapters are an absolute non-stop info dump, which totally stalls the story. The author hasn’t yet learned how to work this info into the story in a way that it doesn’t bring everything to an absolute standstill. It turned me off as a reader. Author started his novel too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there to hold the reader’s interest when encountering the huge info dump they must stumble through. Author hasn’t yet learned how to eliminate the words “that” and “just” from his writer’s vocabulary, as they should be. A non-educated casual reader might read over the many occurrences of those two empty words—which add nothing to the meaning of the sentences—without noticing them, but they pulled me back to reality every time I encountered them and made the book unreadable for me. My guess is this book has never seen a paid professional edit, as it would have caught all these errors before publication and probably made the story much more readable.”

Wow. The first thing I noticed was that I had obviously made this reader feel something–and feel it strongly enough to write a very lengthy and scathing review. Then I started working on figuring out why it had happened, by removing the opinions and just dealing with the substantive issues. In doing so, I made a few discoveries.

Lessons 

I found that part of this was just about my writing style. The infamous “info-dump” accusation was to be expected. In truth, I had written this book quickly, and I did spend a bit too much time in chapter one, setting the stage for my characters. The fact that the story started “too far before from the beginning of the actual action and takes way too long to get there” was one that I had expected to find from some people. I wrote a story that was mainly about the people, not just about the actions they went through.

I also discovered that I DID have a tendency to overuse the words THAT and JUST. I used this insight to go back into my manuscript, and I did a complete revision, removing over forty instances of these “filler” words. I then released edition 2.0, and in my opinion the story is better for the rewrite.

Finally, I learned a very valuable lesson about the editing process.  See, I am a professional editor, and have edited the works of well over 200 authors, including everything from flash-fiction and poetry to short stories and full novels; in my professional capacity, I have never received a critical evaluation of my editorial talents – but I learned you should NEVER edit your own work, no matter how skilled you may be at polishing the work of others. Being able to edit someone else’s work, is not the same as being able to edit your own.

My book is now at edition 4.0 (this last edition change was made necessary due to a print size change) and thanks in large part to its single one-star review, it is a much finer book than it was when I first released it.

The reviews continue to be good – and bad.

Since that bad review I have received many more four and five star reviews, and a lone two star panning. This bad review stated “virtually the entire work is character development.”

In this case, I gladly accept and endorse the statement. Even in my blurb, I invite folks to accompany my characters during the week leading up to the eruption. Based on the ratio of wonderful reviews to bad ones, this approach is one which thousands of my readers have enjoyed.

Keep This In Mind

In the end, no matter how popular you are with your readers, there will be those who dislike your story, your characters, or the way you write; you can’t let these obstacles stand in your way.

Instead, learn what you can from them, and then move on, and become better at this crazy craft.

My one hope, is that if you have read a book that you enjoyed, be sure to leave a review for the author. If it has issues, you shouldn’t hesitate to let them know it as well — although you don’t have to scream for others not to waste their money, just tell them what you didn’t enjoy. Maybe your opinion will help them become better writers as well.

 

— Dusty Grein

 

About the author:

An author, graphics designer and full-time grandpa, Dusty is originally from Federal Way, Washington. He currently resides in Oregon, where his youngest daughter Jazzmyn Grein (an author in her own right) and a white bulldog-mix named Naked, keep him busy.

His first novel, THE SLEEPING GIANT, hit #1 on the free lists during a recent giveaway promotion. It is a thrilling story of love, fear and survival centered around the impending eruption of Mount Rainier in Washington state.

Dusty is also a publisher with RhetAskew Publishing, a new and fast-growing traditional publishing company with a unique way of looking at publishing.

RhetAskew Publishing: https://rhetoricaskew.wordpress.com/

Dusty Grein’s Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Dusty-Grein/e/B00W36LH6U

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk: Interview with Deborah Ratliff… “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?”

This past week I appeared on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk, Impact Radio USA to discuss the article, “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?

Professionalism is a mindset and the attributes associated with professional careers should be applied to all of our endeavors, personal or professional.

Listen as host Paul Reeves and I discuss how writers should behave when appearing interviewing on radio, television, podcasts, in print, and online.

Click here for the interview

Click here for the article, “We Are Writers. Are We Professional?”

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Listen to Impact Radio USA

Impact Radio USA Blog

 

Go With the Flow. How to Keep Your Reader Interested.

 

My job as an author is to tell the story in the best way possible, to make it flow seamlessly and get the reader to keep turning the page. — Patrick Carman
Let’s face it. We write for many reasons, among them because we want someone to read our words, to listen to our story. The last thing we want is for them to throw the book down after the first chapter and walk away muttering they will never buy that author’s book again.

How do we keep them from being disappointed? We write a story so good that they cannot put the book down. Creating that story is not difficult if you pay attention to story structure components as you write.

When structuring a story, character development is imperative. You must create a main character that the reader identifies with and cheers for as the story unfolds. Reveal their goal early and make it your reader’s goal as well. Building your world, whether it is a planet in a far-off galaxy, a fantasy kingdom, or a small town in the Midwest is also a very important component. You need to provide your reader with an environment that catches their imagination and makes them feel present in your world as they read.

Your story needs to be coherent and plausible regardless of genre. You can be as imaginative as you want, but even in the fantasy and science-fiction genres, your magic and technology must be conceivable.

Grammar and sentence structure should be correct. You can take liberties with dialogue but not with narrative. The narrative should be without grammatical errors which cause the reader to break their immersion in the story.

It is flow, created by how you assemble these skills, which takes your story from ordinary to one your reader cannot put down.

 

Flow

The concept of flow in a novel has an elusive definition. It borders on the adage that you will know it when you ‘read’ it. Flow is a combination of several factors that create a cohesive story. The question is how to achieve flow. There are a few critical things that you should do.

 

The Hook:

You must connect with your reader. If you do not, they will never become engaged in your story. First, your opening sentence/paragraph, known as a hook, should set the mood and grab the reader’s attention. The following paragraphs, few pages, or even the first chapter can set the tone and interest of your novel.

There are a few do’s to creating a hook:

  • Place your character in a unique situation.
  • Create an interesting image, often of the locale your story is set in.
  • Start at a crucial point in your story.
  • Create mystery, allow your reader to wonder the why or where or what of your story.
  • Highlight an unusual character.

 

Do not do these things:

  • Be overly descriptive.
  • Start with useless information.
  • Start with dialogue. No one knows anything about your character yet.
  • Include a lot of characters in your opening.

 

The last “don’t” is quite telling. We discussed earlier that your reader must develop a relationship with your main character. They need to identify, sympathize or empathize, and root for the main character to achieve their goal. The opening of your story is where you create that bond. If you attempt to introduce too many characters too soon, your reader may bond with someone you will not be focusing on. The connection between the main character and the reader must be strong.

 

Make It Clear:

All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences. ~Somerset Maugham

Coherency is required. Well-crafted sentences and paragraphs and carefully chosen words present a clear message and allow comprehension. If your reader does not understand the story, they will not continue to read. Think of it as if you were giving someone directions. You should not say, “Go two miles and turn left,” nor should you describe all the businesses, houses, and landmarks on the way. The former is too little information, the latter too much. Choose the precise words to convey meaning. Extraneous words lead to confusion.

There must also be continuity. If you state your character is a redhead and four chapters later declare her a brunette, your reader will notice, and the flow will be broken. Maintain the information you present about your characters, locale, notable events, and the timeline. They must remain consistent. If they do not, someone who has become engrossed in the story will disconnect at the mistake.

 

Transition:

Sentence to sentence, or chapter to chapter, how you connect your thoughts affects the flow of your story. A transition can be carried out in many ways: a single word, a phrase, or a paragraph, bridging one thought to another, including emotion, time, location, or characters. A ‘cliffhanger’ at the end of a chapter is an excellent transition and follows the intent of the transitional paragraph to propel your reader forward and connect two segments of your story.

Choose your words carefully as you write the transitional sequence. Don’t embellish, but instead, provide concise meaning so that your reader reacts the way you intend.

 

Sentence Structure:

Think of a beautiful piece of music and how it varies in tempo and volume. Slow or soft to create a relaxed or somber mood; fast, building to a crescendo, to denote excitement, action, or power. The structure of a novel mimics the patterns we recognize in music. Notes or words matter and how the reader or listener responds reveals how successful we are in conveying our intended meaning.

How to accomplish flow with sentence structure:

  • Vary sentence type. Mix simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences
  • Be cognizant of word order. Do not start several sentences with the same subject. Mix up nouns, gerunds, prepositions, or clauses. A lack of variety can be both distracting and irritating to the reader.
  • Incorporate sentences of varying lengths. Sentences that are too long will often bore a reader, and a bored reader will quickly lose interest. Sentences that are too short will quicken the pace of the story and leave your reader breathless.

 

 Pacing the Action

 Pacing is not the sort of thing you can plan out beforehand, but you’re always aware of it as you write because you need to make constant decisions. — Jean Hanff Korelitz

 

Without a doubt, following these suggestions will improve the flow. The pacing of your story, how quickly it unfolds, also helps with story structure.

With the skills discussed so far, you can achieve the action needed to move your story along and the quiet times to give your readers a rest from the action. These periods should alternate while propelling your reader to continue reading.

In your first chapter, you have ‘hooked’ your reader with an opening that intrigues them. You should also introduce them to the main characters, as well as the plot and your main character’s goal.

Throughout your story, you will provide plot points to move the action forward. By recognizing how to place your minor and major action, you can maintain a smooth flow. Think of it as waxing and waning as the story builds to the final climax.

When writing a novel-length story, writers, at times, find themselves with issues when writing the middle, referred to as the ‘saggy’ middle. It is easy to lose your way to the ending unless, even if you write with an outline, you have a mid-action sequence in mind to keep the reader involved.

Many writers start a project with the beginning and ending in mind. Add what you want to happen in the middle of that formula. You will find that the story will move forward with ease using the tools suggested and pace the action to keep a smooth flow.

 

Keeping the Flow

Writing, despite misconceptions by some, is not an easy task. To create a story that a reader enjoys from the opening words until the closing sentence requires hard work and concentration. There are no shortcuts. A writer must consider each word as important or not, use correct grammar and structure, and ponder every action and every repose before declaring a story finished.

As stated, flow is an elusive task but one that must be conquered so the reader can simply go with the flow.

by D. A. Ratliff

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Resources:

https://writeitsideways.com/6-ways-to-hook-your-readers-from-the-very-first-line/

https://literarydevices.net/transition/

http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/transitional-words.html

https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/pacing

https://owlcation.com/humanities/Why-do-Writers-Write-Quotes-from-Famous-Writers-on-Writing

WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART FOUR: PLOTTING YOUR STORY

Sing to me, Oh Muse… “

                    — Ode to the Courage of a Child by Nicola Berardi: Father of Alexey

 

The muse.

Greek mythology tells of the Nine Muses, deities that served as the inspiration for writers, artists, and philosophers. The word muse derives from the Greek word “mosis” which means to “desire and wish.” Ancient writers would call on the muses as they began to write and to this day Muses are symbolic of “inspiration and artistic creation.”

Writers often joke about their “muse,” but I suspect each of us secretly likes that soft voice only we can hear urging us to write. In truth, our inspirations are triggered by anything and everything we observe or imagine.

Now, that your muse has spoken. The question is what do you do with the story idea swirling in your head?

In Part Three of our series, we discussed developing your story by beginning to write without a plan or creating your storyline by planning it out or plotting it. Deciding what your story is about is not the same as structuring the novel. In Part Four, we are going to examine how to put the pieces of your story together.

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Story vs. Plot:

First, let’s discuss story vs. plot. For many novice writers, the difference between these two terms is unclear. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines plot as the “the plan or main story (as of a movie or literary work).”  A story is told in a series of scenarios, or events, interacting sequentially.

Director Martin Scorsese offers the following explanation of story vs. plot:

“The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then queen died of grief is a plot.” … Perhaps, in film, a plot could be said to be the sequence of (causally related) events that make up the narrative. The plot…it is what happens. Jul 29, 2014

Stories are about the characters’ conflicts or goals. It is important to introduce the protagonist, or main character to your readers quickly, I suggest the first page, to establish a rapport. If your readers like and identify with your character, they will be interested in reading to the conclusion of your story. We will be discussing character development in the next installment of this series, but clearly, developing plot and character go hand in hand. If you outline first, once you have fleshed out your characters, add their important elements to your plan.  

As a mystery writer, I respect my readers’ need to have a murder victim within the first few pages. I introduce my antagonist within the first chapter, no later than the second chapter, as I establish clues. It is imperative, regardless of genre that you keep the small nuances of your genre in mind. While it is a writer’s desire to be innovative, it is also important to remember why your reader loves the genre you write in. Don’t disappoint them.

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Story Structure:

One of the most touted methods of creating a plot in the writing world is the three-act structure, or the five or seven-act structure.  The problem is stories do not occur in three acts. Three or more acts evolved as far back as the days of Aristotle from natural stopping points within a story to provide intermission for the audience.  While there is a lot of information and instruction on this method of developing a story plot, the truth is stories are not built on any number of acts. They are crafted by identifying the conflict the story is based on, and the action needed to resolve the conflict.

There is some confusion with the three-act method with how the plots within a story unfold. There is a beginning, middle and ending of a story but they flow from each other and are not specific acts.  

The Beginning

The beginning section is traditionally used for exposition, the literary term for providing character information, backstory, any information that is pertinent to the story. (We will discuss how to present this information in a future installment of this series.)  You must establish your story, introduce your characters and reveal conflict that forces your protagonist to act. The catalyst for your story should be revealed in this section, murder, the discovery of a secret, a broken romance, whatever conflict your main character must overcome.

The Middle

The middle of the story is where many novice writers lose focus. Often nicknamed the “saggy middle,” it is the portion of the book where it is imperative to keep the reader engaged. Rising action regarding the story’s conflicts should drive this section of the book. A series of issues, some resolved, some not are presented, and the pace should vary. Give your reader time to catch their breath, a constant roller coaster ride will only serve to tire them.

In this middle section, your goal is to move the story on to its conclusion. Conflict should rise, the characters should be placed in further jeopardy. At least one main action scene along with smaller events should be driving the story, leading your character toward the total disruption of their goals or desires.

The Ending

The ending is where the conflict or goal of the main character is broken and then resolved. Never make it easy for your protagonist to reach their desired outcome. Place them in physical or emotional harm’s way, bringing them to the brink, then redeem them at the conclusion. The last scene of your book should (if you choose) reveal the aftermath of the story as you return them to a normal life.

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While we strive to be original and innovative in our writing, we need to remember that there are reasons we are governed by laws. Rules and regulations keep chaos at bay in the courthouse, Congress, or on the road. Writing rules, while not rigid, keep your novels from becoming chaotic. Following a tried and true structure provides you reader with an expected ‘friend,’ allowing their emotions to rise and fall as your unique storytelling draws them in.

Up next:  Writing Your First Novel  Part Five: Developing Unforgettable Characters

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Resources:

https://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/nine-muses-in-greek-mythology/

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plot

nofilmschool.com/2014/07/martin-scorsese-difference-between-story-plot