Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Here is another piece by member Jeff Turner.  It is for the pet lovers in the group.  This is from his upcoming book "Notes To Stephanie:Days Remembered" which is a sequel to his "Notes To Stephanie: Middle Aged Love Letters And Life Stories".  This note tells the story of a beloved pet cat and how it touched his heart.  And yes that is a picture of Toby the cat below.....

When we were kids did you watch Felix the Cat? Do you remember the lyrics to his carton theme?

“Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat

Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks

You’ll laugh so much your sides will ache

Your heart will go pitter pat

Watching Felix, the wonderful cat”.

In our case the name of the wonderful, wonderful cat was not named Felix but was Toby “Tobias” Turner. Yes Toby it was. In your efforts to fight the emotions of your empty nest syndrome you finally convinced me to get a pet, a cat, specifically, since I did not want a dog in the house and don’t really like most dogs. Thus, finding a kitten was an answer to your needs. And it was also a good compromise between us since I never had a pet when I was single.

So one Saturday you went down the street to the nearby animal shelter. You brought home a beautiful little grey striped boy kitten. His stripes were unusual and very striking: he would grow up later into a very nice looking grown up tom cat. You named him Toby at the shelter even as other people were also thinking about getting him. You said, however, that you had never had tom cats before, only mama cats, and while you thought he was lovely you were concerned about some of his future adult habits like marking his territory. You were certainly wrong on that fear as we all saw him grow up into a very good adult tom cat.

When you got home with him he was of course hesitant about his new, unknown place of residence. But he warmed up to us pretty fast. I remember the first night he was there and we put him in the bed with us on a towel between us in case he had an accident and to keep him warm. In the morning he was still there where we put him, seemingly comfortable and at ease. That pattern continued as he never strayed far from us even when he was grown. While not a lap cat he was loving and affectionate all the same. While sometimes aloof like many cats, he always liked being part of what we were doing.

He loved us both but over time I seemed to become his favorite. When I was in my recliner at night he would jump on top of the chair and just sit there behind my head content as I rocked watching TV with you. In the morning when I got up he would follow me into the kitchen and jump up on the counter to watch what I was doing. And best of all you always said he would go to the front door and meow and whine when I left before you. He did love you too, but I was perhaps his parent. At least that is what you thought he was doing. Maybe so, but that is how he behaved. I liked him too you know. I must confess as someone who had never really cared for pets I did love him and missed him when you left.

While he loved us both he also did not know what it was like to be a cat. That is until your son moved in with us and brought his cat Slinkster with him. Those two cats fought some but in the end learned to peacefully co-exist with one another. A feline détente if you will. One thing I saw in Toby was that after The Slink was around he was a bit more aloof and independent than he used to be which is the way most cats are. But that was OK since his other good habits remained like his affectionate nature and his desire to be around us. He always was that way with all of us including the kids.

In retrospect he was the best cat I had ever had in so many ways. I trust to this day he acts the same way and is a fat, happy, and content tom cat. That is how it should be for a wonderful, wonderful cat named Toby who was loved by all and also loved his family. I will never forget him and how happy he made me feel.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


It' s my privilege to welcome Karin Harlow to our blog. I read about her on another blog and immediately fired off an email inviting her to visit with us. She graciously agreed. Welcome Karin!

Digging Deep and Writing Backstory, While Keeping Up the Pace
by Karin Harlow

First, I want to say, thank you, Ruby for the invitation to guest blog today! You asked me to write about deep POV and writing back story without info dumping.

I’m going to borrow a bit from a Magical Musings blog I did last month on character because one: it was one of my finer moments (and trust me, when it comes to craft, I am so not good at How Tos, but when it comes to characters, which is one of my strengths, and I’m all about playing got my strengths, I do really well conveying How To.) and two POV is character, so to understand POV, you must understand the character whose POV you are writing..

I’d like to say also, that for me personally, as a reader and a writer, story =character. Yes, there has to be a plot, but to me, a romance writer, character is what drives everything. Characters are emotional beings who make us care. Not because of a clever plot or an amazing setting. Give me characters I care about and you have me. Give me characters that are flat, boring or unoriginal, the book is hitting the wall.

I work very hard on developing passionate characters that I care about, here’s why:
Edie Ramer over at Magical Musings wrote about the heroine, Jax Cassidy, in my paranormal debut, ENEMY LOVER: Harlow’s character is really messed up…Harlow’s heroine isn’t just damaged, she’s been ripped apart and put back together with a few of the pieces misplaced. She’s a strong woman who’s been horribly wronged. We can see that in her thoughts. Though she’s not a traditional heroine, I’m rooting for her from the first page. Harlow writes in third person, very deep POV. So deep she’s hitting the ocean floor…Harlow is raw!

From The Romance Dish: It has been a long time since I have read a novel that includes the total realm of emotions. This book has it all – desperation, passion, humor, fear, anger, despair, love, lust, sadness, euphoria and oh so many more. I was pushed almost to the point of emotional overload, but in such a good way.

For characters to be viable and layered, the writer must pull at our emotions, as they are pulling at the character’s emotions.

When you begin your story, I think it’s very important to give a quick snapshot of who, what, where, and how. I’m a big less is more kind of girl; so long as the words are strong, and paint a clear picture. And the good news is, it’s easier to write than it seems.

Here’s the first paragraph in ENEMY LOVER, Angela (soon to be Jax Cassidy) Giacomelli’s POV:
Irony was one fickle, messed up bitch, Angela thought. A year and a half ago she was the fair-haired darling of Charm City. Baltimore’s hottest get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-I’m-going-to-the-top cop. Today, in the icy rain that bit at her skin like shotgun spray, two female deputies escorted her, hobbled and cuffed, clad in prison orange, from her courthouse holding cell into the sally port.
Iwas one fickle, messed up bitch, Angela thought. A year and a half ago she was What does this say about Angela? Who is she? What has happened to her? In those four opening sentences, we meet Angela and know that she was a cop, very recently on the top of her game, and that she took a great fall. We know she’s pissed off about it, and because she was a cop, we know she is no shrinking violet. In her POV about irony being a fickle messed up bitch, we know that Angela, despite the traumatic events that brought her to where she is at that moment, has a sense of humor, caustic as it is.. Emotionally we feel drawn to her. This intrigues us. We want to know what happened and why. It takes us to the next paragraph. This is an excellent way to weave in back story, during action while not slowing down the pace or info dumping.

How do you weave in back story without stopping the action?

I like to show, not tell, so here is a generic example of simple POV:

The rain had stopped. I hate the rain.

What do we know about the character? She hates the rain.
 What else do we know? Nothing.

Deeper POV with back story:

I stepped outside and turned my face up to the stubborn sun. It had been weeks since it shone. I was glad for it. The rain reminded me of Devon. He loved the rain, so did I. Once. Now. I hate it.

Now, we not only have action and back story but we have that all important element: Emotion. We are pulled in by this character’s loss. We know that someone named Devon who once meant a lot to her is gone. Either physically or emotionally or both. We have a peek into her heart. We know she has emotions. We feel empathy, because on one level or another we have all lost something or someone we loved.

So, how deep do you have to go to create characters we care about? Pretty damn deep. Think of it this way: What has it taken for you to become who you are? What has it taken to instill deep-rooted fears, phobias and angst? What in your past can lead to an instant meltdown or conversely, what makes you stand and fight? What profound events or persons in your past have shaped who you are today?

Here’s one single paragraph in the first scene where we meet ENEMY LOVER hero and uber badass, Marcus Cross. He’s waiting for his mark to arrive so that he can eliminate him.

Marcus curbed a sneer. Since his change seven years ago as he lay dying in the hills of Afghanistan, his natural predatory senses had become so acute, so fine tuned, so accurate, his vision rivaled that of a hawk, his sense of smell was as keen as a wolf’s, and his reflexes and strength were that of a cobra. No living thing could stop him. He was a vampire of the highest order.

This one single paragraph is a loaded one-two punch. We know that before Marcus was changed, he was a badass. We know where he was changed and what he was changed into. We know he likes it, in that he revels in his power and sneers at mere mortals. He is arrogant in his knowledge that there is nothing that can bring him down. He is scary, and sexy. We also know after having met Jax (aka Angela) earlier in the story, that when these two collide, it’s going to be an epic event.

POV is character. Think of it this way: when it comes to delving deep into a character’s POV we have to remember that it’s their past that creates their present. As with us, it’s our past that gives us depth and dimension. If you begin a story with no past, you create a one-dimensional present, which is boring. POV is how your character views the events and emotions in his or her life at that moment. Their past defines that POV.

Take a minute to think about which characters you’ve read are the ones who stand out? Why? Is it the hero who comes home to find his fiancĂ© in bed with his best friend and who now because of that one incident distrusts all women? Or is it the hero whose distrust of women began earlier. Abandonment by his mother as a young child, abandonment by his own people because he wasn’t completely like them. Abandonment by a drunken father who drops dead in front of him when he’s only five. All of these issues reinforced as a teenager then again as a young man, so that when it comes to commitment of any kind he walks away. Why should he trust anyone when everyone in his life has abandoned him on one level or another?

Here’s where Marcus is mentally after he meets Jax for the first time while he’s conferring with his maker, Joseph Lazarus, who wants Marcus to eliminate a non enemy of the state to make a point. When we first meet Marcus, he’s arrogantly content to be what he is. Now in his deep POV, he begins to question the feelings he has pushed down since his human life and now into his immortal life. He also gives us still a little more of his back story without clogging up the pace. And despite what he is, an assassin, we empathize with him. A peek into Marcus’s soul:

Everything had become easier for him these last seven years. He was stronger and faster. He could see into the night, smell scents from long distances and even take the form of the victims he drained dry. He was the six-million-dollar man except he had no soul. He was the perfect killing machine. Isolated from humanity even while being in the thick of it.

So why did it bother him? Why now, when his human life had been unmarked by relationships?

Was it because he at least had hope then? The possibility, whereas now there was none? Not even when he found a woman who could affect him the way the one last night had?

Maybe he should stay where he stood and await the sun, then perhaps his soul would be at peace. As it was, it clamored for something he knew he could not find in his current life. What it was he didn’t know

When writing in your character’s deep POV, you have to dig into their past. To the events that shaped them, the things that angered them, made them love, made them hate and made them smile. As their storyteller, you have to be them, and convey their thoughts, actions and most importantly, their emotions to the page.

If as a child you almost drown, your reaction to water may be immediate. Recoiling in fear. A natural reaction to the fear of drowning. What event instilled this fear?

Same thing applies with deep character POV. Put your character in a scene where she has to jump into the deep end of a murky pool to save a kitten. You show her balking. You feed us her fear and you take us back to what initiated the fear. That’s digging into deep POV. And it’s giving us back story that doesn’t slow down the pace. If she dives into the water, despite her fear, to save the kitten, the scene shows character building. Conversely, if she chooses to walk away, we now have, hopefully, her guilt over allowing the kitten to drown because she was too weak to overcome her fear to deal with it.

And remember two people can experience the same exact trauma and act one of three different ways. One can curl up in a ball and wish the world away. One can come out fighting, and yet another, as many men do, simply walk away and drift as a lost soul until someone or something ignites the fire inside to fight.

POV is the author’s tool to telling a character’s story. And in POV, the author reveals back story. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks, but I am a fan of dialogue as a tool to give back story. Whether it’s the character whom the back story belongs or other characters in the story talking about another character’s back story. Just remember when you use dialogue in this way, it must be relevant, and move the story forward. If it’s idle conversation, you need to find another way, the best way IMO, is through the character who experienced it.

Always remember that a story is a narrative of a characters’ journey. What is story without character? Boring. What is story with characters we don’t care about? Irritating. But what are stories that pull you so deep into the character’s life, thoughts and emotions that you are there with them and you care? Wonderfully fulfilling!

I have a signed copy of ENEMY LOVER up for grabs for a lucky commenter: All you have to do is ask me an industry related question to get your name in the drawing!


Friday, June 25, 2010


 A full- time writer, Karin spins dark tales of suspense. Drawing from her life as a cop’s wife, her stories resonate with authority and reality. When Karin isn't writing, she travels and takes care of four children.

Her debut novel , Enemy Lover, is the first of a series of novels about the L.O.S.T. (Last Option Special Team).

A group of rogue cops, their lives destroyed, rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix.

Caught acting outside the law, they are given a choice by the enigmatic Mr. Black: Spend their lives in prison. Or break all ties with their past, assume a new identity, and become part of an elite crime fighting team unofficially sanctioned by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.

Their sole purpose is to close the cases that normal law enforcement channels cannot touch. What they discover is there are no rules--not for them and not for the Others.

Look forward to her blog on digging deep for more emotion in your characters.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than six hundred shorter pieces. It is our pleasure to welcome him to our blog.

Three Times Three is Nine

by Stephen D. Rogers   

The other day, I read a story written by my nine-year-old daughter. The character in the story, searching for her hamster, looked under the couch, behind the bookcase, and in the closet.

"The rule of three."


I sometimes think that "what?" is my daughter's default setting. "You had the character search three places for her missing hamster. Three is a magic number. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They consist of dialogue, action, and description."

"Characters lie, tell the truth, and leave something out."

She shrugged. Which is mime for "what?"

"You might not even have understood what you were doing. That's because you've learned the Rule of Three even though you've never been taught it. And that's because examples of the magical three are everywhere. Every joke you tell. Every story you read. Every show you watch."

"Can I watch TV?"

"No." The Rule of No is also very important. "Because we've soaked up hundreds if not millions of these tripod structures, we expect them. If your character had only looked in two places, readers might have thought she didn't try hard enough to find her hamster."

"What if she found the hamster in the second place she looked?"

"Then you'd add a new second place and make where she found her hamster the third. If at first you don't succeed (one), try (two), try again (three). Look at Nancy Drew. There are three people in her house: Nancy, Dad, and Hannah Gruen. They are three friends: Nancy, Bess, and George."

"Don't forget Ned."

"Ned has three letters."


"Dad has three letters."


"Sorry, but that has four. So let's say Nancy has a mystery to solve. What are some of the things she's going to do?"

"Look for clues."

"That's one."

"Talk to people."

"That's two."

"I don't know."

"How about seek help from others? Maybe Nancy will discuss the case with her father or the police or someone who's an expert in a subject related to the investigation. Or maybe not. But whatever you decide the third thing is going to be, you'll make your story stronger. A tricycle is more stable than a bicycle. In your room, you have a three-legged stool. You don't have a two-legged stool."

"I know someone who can balance on one stilt."

"I can't even balance on two. But I could on three. Probably."

"You'd probably fall."

"But I'd climb back up. Fall again. And then climb back up and stay. That's a story. If I succeeded the first time, the challenge was too easy. If I succeeded the second time, it could have been luck. But if I don't succeed until the third time, I've earned that prize. I've overcome the urge to quit and I've conquered those stilts. Now, standing astride them, I march through the lava pit of death."

"But what if you try three million, seven hundred and forty-nine thousand times, and you still can't stand on the stilts?"

"Then I'd go back to writing. After all, what editor is going to pay me to walk on stilts?"

Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH  and my be reached at his website, http://www.stephendrogers.com/    which includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information. He is teaching a class called Knock'en Dead:Writing Mystery and Suspense at the Writers U July 5-30th.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Interior Decorators have a rule—more than one half but less than two thirds. What that means is, uneven numbers or proportions are more interesting than even.  Applied to writing, three characters will work better in a scene than four or six. Stephen D. Rogers will talk about the rule of three in writing on Wednesday.
He is a multi-published writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Over six hundred of his stories and poems have been selected to appear in more than two hundred publications, earning among other honors two "Best of Soft SF" winners, a Derringer (and six additional nominations), two "Notable Online Stories" from storySouth's Million Writers Award, honorable mention in "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror," mention in "The Best American Mystery Stories," and numerous Readers' Choice awards. His book SHOT TO DEATH has just been published. Look for an exciting post from him.


Posted by Ruby Johnson.
CJ Lyons is our guest today. She is a NYT best-selling novelist, an MD,  a
nationally known speaker and presenter of workshops on writing. CJ welcome!

By : CJ Lyons

A brand is a subliminal promise to your readers—that any book written under this author's name will promise this type of emotional experience.

The first step to finding your brand is to examine what you've already written. Ask yourself why these stories grabbed you? Why you wanted to write them in the first place, what you were trying to say with them.

For example, even though I love to cross genres from women's fiction to suspense to thrillers to romance, every book I write has a theme central to my life: they're all about making a difference, trying to change the world.

For me, once I realized this fact, the tagline came easily: No One is Immune to Danger.

Also, be sure to talk to your editor and agent or your critique partners. Who do they see as your target audience? What label will be on your books? Where will they be shelved in the bookstores? What do they see you writing and selling successfully in the future?

All these questions will tell you how people who know your work see your brand (even if they don't use those words—but they might, just ask them!)

A brand is more than a central theme, more than a tag line, it also includes visual images that evoke the same emotion.

When you design your site/blog use the images and colors and words that apply to your brand. For instance, part of my brand image is that I'm a doctor, so I used medical imagery for my initial website. I also used the color red a lot—again, creating an emotional response.

One thing that I wanted on my site was to evoke a response that it was fresh, dynamic, and different than other suspense writers' sites. Subconsciously this tells a casual viewer that here is a writer who's different than others, willing to take chances, and whose books are also fresh and different.

 I checked out as many websites as I could.
 Many I fell in love with—but they didn't fit my brand and the emotional response I was aiming for.

So instead of a dark background (which 99.9% of mystery, thriller, and suspense writers have) I went with a light background. Instead of the boxes that many webdesigners use for images, I tried to make the images feel more fluid and expansive rather than boxed-in. There's no way to totally get rid of the "boxes" without sacrificing clarity, but we got rid of as much as possible.

Now that I'm writing mainstream suspense with Erin Brockovich in addition to my Berkley medical suspense series, I am revamping my website to reflect this new direction in my writing. I de-emphasized the physician/medical imagery (although I didn't totally delete it, after all, I am still a doctor) and am adding more nature oriented images since the Erin Brockovich books will all center around environmental issues.

My website, just like my writing career, is a work in progress.

Other things to decide as you build your brand:

--to blog or not?




Base your decisions on your brand. As a doctor, teaching is a natural part of my life, and teachers are noted for making a difference, so volunteering to teach workshops, give keynotes, etc, was an easy fit for my brand.

If this didn't come naturally to me and fit my brand, I might have passed on some of these opportunities and spent my time and energy doing something else—like maybe blogging (which doesn't come easy to me so I use my blog as a news update and focus on guest blogging which is more like teaching).

Also, when choosing promotional items, make sure they fit your brand or reflect it by creating a similar emotional response.

Even your cover art should reflect your brand. Although this can be difficult since most authors don't have a lot of input into their cover.

I was lucky—the covers Berkley has produced for my Angels of Mercy medical suspense series reflect my brand perfectly. They use a real-life photos with real models--not stock art. Perfect for my marketing platform of "real-life doctor writes stories as real as it gets".

I decided that any marketing I did would use these fantastic covers as much as possible.

So my business cards—had my cover art. My bookmarks (I like them to sign if someone doesn't want to buy a book and to give out at conferences) had the cover art and review quotes. The covers are on every page of the website.

For my debut novel, the one promo item I paid for, to use for contests, charity auctions, and other give-aways, was a t-shirt featuring the cover art.

I did not buy: pens, bath salts, magnets, stress balls, etc, etc, etc. Why? Other than pens they don't reflect the brand (well, maybe the stress balls could ) and for about the same price I could get the t-shirts. Again, you need to decide what fits your brand, not just buy something because it's cute, cheap or some other author has one….

Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, keep your own brand—that subliminal, emotional statement that you want to make through your writing—firmly in mind.

Once you find your brand and start to use it, it's amazing what will fall into place!

Thanks for reading!


About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available in stores now with the fourth, CRITICAL CONDITION, due out December, 2010. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Michael Hyatt is Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest christian publishing company in the world. His vast knowlege of the publishing industry is renown.


So as an author, what do you do? Here’s what I recommend:

1.Educate yourself. If you want to publish with a general market publisher, read 2010 Writer’s Market by Robert Brewer. If you want to write for the Christian Market, read Christian Writers’ Market Guide 2010 by Sally Stuart. Both books include writer’s guidelines and submission procedures for publishing houses. These books will give you a good overview of the literary marketplace.

2.Read blogs written by agents. You can get some incredibly helpful advice and straight-talk from people who pitch proposals for a living. I recommend three: Terry Whalin, Chip MacGregor, and Rachelle Gardner. There are other blogs, but I have found these to be the most useful.

3. Write a killer book proposal.  If you want to write (or have written) a non-fiction book, I recommend my article, Writing a winning Book Proposal (this is a PDF file). It will tell you exactly what publishers want in a proposal.You can modify my format or search for another. (Just Google “fiction book proposal” and you will come up with several great resources.)

4.Have someone review your proposal. If you have a friend who teaches English or is a professional editor, ask them to review your proposal. You might even barter something with them. In addition, the Editorial Services section of Literary Market Place, 2010, lists over 500 entries, many of which provide some kind of critique service. (This is a very expensive book, so you may want to try and find it in your local library.)

5.Find a literary agent to represent you. This is usually the only way to get in the door with a publishing company. Most publishers do not accept unsolicited proposals or manuscripts. Instead, publishers let the literary agents do the filtering. If you want a list of general market agents, you can buy 2010 Guide to Literary Agents or get it from your  local library. I have also compiled a list of agents who represent Christian authors. This is the only list of Christian agents I have been able to find.

6.Consider submitting your proposal to Christian Manuscript Submissions. This is a site sponsored by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), an industry trade organization. It provides an opportunity to get your work in front of Christian publishers who use the site to discover new authors. I don’t know of a similar service for the general market.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


posted by Ruby Johnson

What is the page 69 and page 99 test?

Dust jackets, blurbs, shout lines, critics' and authors’ commendations ("quote whores", as they are called in the video/DVD business) all compete for the attention of the browsing reader. Marshall Zeringue recommends ignoring the hucksters' shouts and,instead, applying  the McLuhan test.

Marshall McLuhan, the guru of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), recommended that the browser open the book to page 69 of any book and read it. If they like that page, then they should buy the book.

Ford Madox Ford says to “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

Marshall Zeringue has two blogs- one at page69test.blogspot.com and another at page99test.blogspot.com where numerous books are tested with excerpts from page 69 or 99.

Good book or bad book? Take the test and you decide.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


C.J. Lyons will be our guest on Monday discussing Getting Your Brand in Place Before You Publish.
A best selling and  award winning novelist,  who also happens to be a Pediatric Emergency Medicine physician, she has assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape, homicide and Munchausen by Proxy. Her medical career has taken her to numerous trauma centers,as well as a Navajo reservation. And if that weren't enough, she was  a crisis counselor, victim advocate,and a flight physician for Life Flight and Stat Medevac. Her debut novel Lifelines became a best-seller.
Come join us.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


posted by Ruby Johnson

I’ve taken a few writing classes that included dialogue and what I’ve discovered is there is a difference between real people talking and writing dialogue. The dialogue has to be better.

Have you ever read a book where the characters all sounded the same, the protagonists never changed despite the circumstances or, maybe, exposition was included in the dialogue? Did you want to finish the book? These are all mistakes authors make in dialogue.
Jim Trent says (How to Write a Novel) there are six purposes for dialogue in a novel:

• reveal character,

• show emotion,

• move the story forward,

• provide information,

• establish setting,

• breakup long passages of narrative.

An example of this is shown in one sentence. It reveals character, shows emotion, and moves the story forward. John pounded his fist on the table, “Damn it, Jason!”  The reader wants to know what Jason has done to cause John to pound his fist on the table.

Do Not Try To Find Other Words For “Said.”
Said is a standard in writing. Readers are so used to seeing this word, they rarely notice it. Avoid the use of adverbs as dialogue tags such as he added slyly, she remarked gently or she shrieked loudly. Their use means the author is trying to tell an emotion that the character does not show and can be very disruptive to a reader, distracting from the dialogue.The writer’s goal should be to make himself invisible. When characters shriek, express disagreement or do dissertations, the reader cannot help but notice. He is made aware that this is not an experience he is living through the author’s words but one being narrated to him. The reader is taken out of the story and the illusion is lost.

Break Up Dialogue With Action.

Crawford Killian said this in his Online Writing Course “Action as well as speech is a part of dialogue. We expect to know when the speakers pause, where they’re looking, what they’re doing with their hands, how they respond to one another. The characters speech becomes just one aspect of their interactions; sometimes their words are all we need, but sometimes definitely more. This is especially true when you’re trying to convey a conflict between what your characters say and what they feel: their nonverbal messages are going to be far more reliable than their spoken words.”

Break Up Dialogue With Setting.

Long pieces of dialogue, broken up with description are easier for a reader’s eye and can convey more information about the character through the setting. A character working in the hot sun with sweat rolling down his face, will have a different conversation from one who is fighting his way through a snow storm.

Make The Content Of The Conversation Count.

Sometimes an author wants to get information to the reader. But if the main goal of the dialogue is to convey information to the reader and not the other character, then the scene will fall flat. One character should not tell another character information he already knows, like how they met or their own name.. But if information exchanged in a story matters to someone – if something is explained and someone is changed, the scene will move forward. If a character is told ‘your husband has just been killed in a car accident’, she reacts. If friends hear it, they react – although maybe less intensely.

Don’t Use Conversation To Fill Up Space.

Any worthy conversational disclosure will disillusion, applaud, explain irrational behavior or solve a mystery. And the reaction will be complicated by the history between the speakers. The character may receive the news about her husband’s death from a cop or his mistress. Or it might be from her son. All would be written with a different emotional intensity. Dialogue is brought to life by underlying emotions and conflicts with the characters and their situations.  However it is important not to use dialogue to tell the story by throwing in backstory dump i.e. “As you know, I met her ten years ago..”

Test Your Dialogue.

• Tape and transcribe two minutes of an actual conversation.

• Tape or write two minutes of a conversation from a TV show.

• Compare the differences between the above two and your own writing.

• Read your own dialogue aloud. If it sounds stilted, it will be picked up by reading it in this manner.

Then read, read, read other authors and how they handle dialogue.  Did they make the characters really hop off the page?

Writing effective dialogue isn't some mysterious quality of a chosen few. It is working out what the author wants a reader to get and understand from the scenes in his book and then writing it so that they do.

 What’s your favorite tip for writing dialogue?

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Posted by Ruby Johnson
John, it's my pleasure to welcome you to our blog. As an author of eight books on poker, two books on writing, two novels and three novellas, you are one busy man. Can you tell us a little about your newest novel The California Roll?

JV: Thank you and Hi there everyone!
 The California Roll, a “sunshine noir” comic mystery, is the story of a world-class California con artist who meets his match – natch – in the form of a beautiful woman.

There’s so much I could tell you about this book… how I became fascinated with con artists… how the project morphed out of my work in poker non-fiction… how the tome has already sold literally tens of copies to date… But I want to focus on character development, because I know from my own experience that if you’ve got interesting characters – fun, compelling people with whom your reader can emotionally engage – that will cover a multitude of sins should the plot become knotty downstream. In other words, if your characters rock, your readers will throw you a bone when you need it.

RJ:Could you tell us how you develop your characters?

JV: Okay, so, character. What makes a great one? Myself, I’m a huge believer in the character key, which is a way of immediately revealing the character to the audience in a brief, strong, clear fashion. A good character key telegraphs the whole character to the reader in an instant. In literary terms, this is called “synecdoche,” the part standing in for the whole.

So here’s the first line of The California Roll, wherein our hero says, “The first person I ever scammed was my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, and could never remember from one minute to the next whether she’d just given me ice cream or not.” If readers find such charming, innocent amorality attractive, they’ll probably give my protagonist their attention, or at least the benefit of the doubt. Thanks to the character key, they can make an informed decision based on available information. So don’t be coy with characters: Tell your readers who they are!

RJ: Does a character's name play a big part in your character's makeup?

JV:  I’m a big one for names, and I’m always on the lookout for ones which suggest interesting characters. The protagonist of The California Roll is called “Radar Hoverlander,” and he insists that’s his real name, though you can’t necessarily trust him, since he’s a self-admitted “notorious lying liar.” But what I like about the name (apart from its real roots in Jet Propulsion Laboratory nomenclature) is that it’s the sort of name a character has to earn. Colorful names demand colorful actions.

RJ: What about secondary characters? What part do they play in your stories?

JV: I’m a huge fan of sidekicks, and endowed Radar with one of the best (which is to say worst) in the form of a low-rent and dim-bulb scam artist named Vic Mirplo, so totally a loser that he’s “unlikely to get laid in any circumstance short of lying on his back with his pants down when a nymphomaniac alien drops out of the sky, legs spread.”

RJ: How do you see the role of a protagonist?

Worthy characters, we know, require worthy adversaries. To put it in black and white terms, your good guy will never be sufficiently good unless he has ample opportunity to challenge himself against a sufficiently strong foe. But this whole business of “good guy versus bad guy” is a little misleading. Mine is not a world of moral clarity (no con world is), so it’s less a case of pitting Radar’s goodness against his enemy’s badness than it is of serving up the challenge of a strong antagonist. In Radar’s case, he must first unravel, then battle, then co-opt, and ultimately ally with, the single most talented female scammer he’s ever met, the estimable and “dead-bang cute” Allie Quinn. Is she the queen of all con artists or the last true innocent? Radar isn’t sure, and he spends about, oh, all but the last two pages trying to figure that out. So that’s what we call a worthy adversary. She’s not evil. She just has her own agenda, and part of pursuing that agenda involves keeping poor Radar in the dark, and working him as hard as she can.

“Poor Radar.” You know, whenever I hear myself say of my characters, “Poor X” or “Poor Y,” I know I’m really onto something. By those words I signify, to myself at least, that I have both sympathy and empathy for the characters. Sympathy: I like that guy. Empathy: I am like that guy. I could prattle on at some length about how to build sympathy and empathy into characters, but you know what? I don’t have to! I’ve already done it, in another book I wrote, called The Comic Toolbox: How To Be Funny Even if You’re Not. In that book, should you peruse it, you’ll find ample information on creating comic (and non-comic) characters, as well as some fundamental rules of comedy that also turn out to be fundamental rules of drama, such as this: “The truth is revealed under pressure.” Only by putting your character under pressure can you hope to move him to a new understanding of himself, and in comedy or drama, novels or screenplays, getting that new understanding is the whole, entire name of the game.

I will leave you now with the single most powerful piece of writing wisdom I’ve ever received, handed to me, free of charge, back in my early days as an earnest sitcom toiler. I’d been trying to write “for the market,” and found that a bleak and frustrating experience. 

A wise writer took me aside and rocked my world with ten simple words:

"Keep giving them you until you is what they want.""
is what they want.”
 It’s made all the difference for me. It will make all the difference for you.

RJ: John, thank you so much for your wonderful tips. Could you give us some information on how to contact you and learn more about your books?

Okay, here comes the pimping part. I invite you to visit my website, http://www.johnvorhaus.com/, where you can establish a dialogue with me, read my blog, investigate my sordid poker career, and learn about the 20 years I’ve spent traveling and teaching writers in 24 countries on four continents at last count. (Fort Worth next? Who knows?) You can read excerpts of all my books, including The California Roll and The Comic Toolbox, and order any of them, signed, and with only slightly inflated shipping costs.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Start Where the Trouble Starts-Up Close and Personal with Characters' Names

Posted by Ruby Johnson

"Start where the trouble starts" usually refers to the inciting incident of the story. But for me the trouble started with my characters' names. Sometimes, when you think your characters have what you consider the perfect names, they aren’t. I learned that at a meeting with my critique partners. My characters once were named Dorcas MacKenzie and Cagel Bradshaw.

One partner said my female character sounded like what kids in grammar and high school called dorks-Dorcas, Dork for short. Since Dorcas was going to solve a mystery, I worried she wouldn’t be respected if  that was the general consensus of opinion. Recently, I watched “Intervention” and the woman on the program (a shopaholic) called it “dermabrasion of the soul.” That’s sort of what it felt like when I retired Dorcas and Cagel’s names.

Before I changed their names, I decided to do some research and get some input from other writers.Here are their tips:

The name needs to reflect the character. You can’t have a woman, with the name Bambi, in a profession requiring brains. An alpha male is more likely to be named Jake versus Kevin.

Don’t choose the name of a famous person. Miley Cyrus, Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Britney Spears are all fine names, but not for characters because their names cause a reader to think of the celebrity. Enter the name in a web search to make sure it doesn’t belong to a famous person.

Don’t end the name with an “s” or an apostrophe. You will get sick of stopping every time you write the possessive form of the name. Readers get annoyed if you overuse names with apostrophes.

Don’t use names that sound the same or have the same first letter. Do not use the same letter for heroine’s first name as the villain’s name. It confuses readers when they have to look backward in the book to find a character’s name. This advice was from a judge and acquiring editor.

Avoid androgynous names. Lots of authors use pen names that are androgynous and that’s okay, but when a reader has to try to figure out the sex of the character, that is just way too distracting. If your hero is name Laurie and your heroine is named Hank,that is bound to be confusing for the reader.

How to combine surnames. While working on Obstetrics, I must say I saw name combinations that were really odd, i.e. babies named for the place they were conceived like Frisco Bay, Little Rock, for the seasons, days, or long and unpronounceable. One father named his daughter’s baby a name with all consonants. It’s recommended to combine unusual first names with common last names or common first names with unusual last names.

Be aware of cultural and regional differences. For instance, in the hill county of Texas, there are large segments of the population with German, British and Vietnamese names. That might not be true in east Texas. In North Carolina, there are large segments of the population with English and Scottish last names. In Miami, you’re more likely to see Spanish names.

Sometimes, arriving at the perfect name takes time and work. It is the process of gathering and then eliminating. Finally, it can really payoff when the name is exactly right. One suggestion was to be careful of how much you let your critique group influence details like character names.

The heroine of my current WIP is of Scots descent. I wanted to keep the last name I had given her, although I'd previously considered Duncan as an alternative surname. I wasn’t attached to the hero’s name so I looked for an English name.

Choosing a last name for the hero which would not clash with the heroine’s was important. For instance, if her name was Royce, I wouldn’t want the hero’s first name to be Roy or his last name to be Boyce or Hagerman. Two are very similar in sound and the other too dissimilar. However, if his last name was Steele, then Royce Steele has a nice ring if the story is romance and marriage is in the future.
Then I took the long list and narrowed it down to the names I thought looked and sounded the best. Obviously, it’s a matter of opinion and others may not like or do it this way.
Next, I narrowed the list down until, at last, I arrived at a name that I felt looked and sounded right.
Then I did the same thing for last names until I, again, had a short list.  I went through the same process for the hero’s name. At last I had names that felt right.

Their new names, though their identities haven’t changed, are Rae MacKenzie and David Hunter and their names are in protective custody!

Sources for further study are:



Character Naming Sourcebook, Writers Digest Books.

The Guinness Book of Names, Leslie Dunkling.

The Baby Name Book

Movies: Look at the credits for names

Link Within

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...