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Writing Retreat: Conferences and Other Advice

20 Oct

I’m fortunate enough to be part of a writers group comprised of some wonderful and open women (and a man) who get together a few times a year to share our writing and enjoy some amazing food. Our gracious host is a chef and fills our bellies as well fill pages with our writing. We met this past weekend and though my head was miles from writing, I was able to do a few things I was proud of.

We first talked about writing conferences. One of our members has attended a few and got some good stuff out of her time in them. Others had been to one or two and though they had good things to say about parts of them, other parts didn’t deliver. I have a feeling that the first conference I go to will be awesome no matter what but that I’ll start to feel some have more value than others if I go to several. Some that were mentioned were Algonkian, Romance Writers of America, and two local conferences to Detroit, Midwestern Gothic and the Rochester Writers Conference.

We talked about style as well. One member volunteered that an editor she’d worked with said you should know three things about a book: 1) the character’s journey described in one word 2) the theme and 3) the perspective. The ending should be included in this as well. While perspective seems hard, thinking about the theme of a book is never in my mind when I start out and having to describe the journey’s in one word is tricky. Having these things in mind when talking about the book is very helpful, though. Another nugget she’d gotten from her agent is that when you have two narrators (as I do in one of my novels), the perspective should be split almost 50/50 between the two. I’ll have to take a look at my book because I suspect one character has more ‘face time’ than the other.

I brought this up in the group as we talked through our NaNo plans. My group is amazing in helping me come up with ideas for the book and I’m so excited to get started with editing the book starting November 10th!

We did two prompts as well. The first was a visual prompt where our host grabbed a few things from her kitchen and asked us to find inspiration there. The second one was for each of us to come up with a few ‘What if…’ statements which inspired us to write some short pieces.

It was a great evening. They’re planning to get together for a NaNo party that unfortunately lies before my final exam. I hope to make it but I’m not holding my breath. We’ll see how this whole thing goes.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writing Speed

26 Sep

One of my book club friends sent me this link to a great Infographic about how long it took writers to write certain novels. To say I’m jealous of John Boyne for penning his novel is an understatement. There are some obvious patterns in this graphic where longer novels take loner to write. That seems pretty simple. Though, there are notable exceptions. Fifty Shades of Grey seems long for the time it took to write and Catcher In the Rye a bit short for its 10 years time.

I’m guessing that these numbers show the time needed for a raw first draft, the time it takes to get the story from the writers head to the page. This doesn’t include editing, finding an agent, signing with a publisher, etc. Boyle didn’t sit down to write and end up with a novel 2.5 days later. Likewise, Martin probably took more than 5 years to get the first of his books written and it seems like it will take him longer to finish the series.

Does writing speed matter? I think it’s the book that really matters, so why do we put any importance on speed? We’re after a good story after all. Though, I’m not a series writer. When you’re writing a series and people are waiting for your next installment, if a TV writer is waiting to make an adaptation, does your speed matter then? Most would say yes.

How do you feel about writing speed? I think I write slow, but I do a lot of other things that distract me from writing. Are you a fast writer?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Discussion: Do you change your world to fit fan demands?

22 Sep

My husband sent me this article from Vox. It talks about the homosexual undertones in the newest Harry Potter installment and the subtextual content of the previous seven books. It’s an interesting argument to be sure, but it got me thinking.

Rowling originally wrote the series for young children (I believe I was in 4th grade when I read the first one). Now, some of you might argue with me here, but my experience was that I wasn’t introduced to homosexuality outright until I was in the 7th or 8th grade. This isn’t to say that my experience is normal or that this is right, it’s just my experience. I grew up with no gay relatives or close family friends that necessitated it being explained to me that not every house was like mine, the assumption I believe many of us make growing up. Now, I’m going to extrapolate here that I’m not the only one who grew up this way though obviously, not everyone did. Breaching the topic of homosexuality can be more delicate in some homes than others and, like ‘the talk,’ I think many parents want to talk to their children about these topics before they come up in social situations. The age at which parents do this, I believe, depends on the culture the child is raised in and the social context of that childhood.

Feel free to argue, this is a set of assumptions based on my (American Midwestern) upbringing. It allows me to make this next assumption.

Because homosexuality can be introduced to children at different ages through adolescence depending on upbringing, I don’t believe it’s common in books aimed at middle-grade reading levels. I’ve seen a surge in YA books with homosexual protagonists or main themes, but I haven’t seen many middle-grade books. I think this is for the reasons I outlined above.

Going back to Harry.

If the first book is aimed at a middle-grade audience, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Rowling to have excluded homosexual characters from her book. Sexuality in general was not stressed in the novel. Besides parents, there are no references to romantic relationships among the core group of characters and because we looked through Harry’s eyes, any on the periphery didn’t play a main role. Looking at the first book alone, I don’t think many would argue that Rowling stuck to the expected content of a book aimed at that age group.

But there are seven books, not one. And as the characters grew up, so did the reading level and intended audience. 19 years later, we’re reading a book where the 11-year-old who lived under the stairs is the father of an angry 13-year-old. Harry grew up. Should the world have ‘grown up’ too?

The article criticizes Rowling for writing a highly white heteronormative series. With a few exceptions (Dean, the Patil twins, Cho), this is a fairly accurate assumption. Dumbledore was never explicitly gay in the books and fans only know of this because of interviews Rowling later gave.

Here’s my question: Should Rowling have added more explicit descriptions of some characters homosexuality in later books?

PRO: Her audience matured and would have been able to deal with the changing characters as their own worldview was changing as they aged. By the time Cursed Child came out this year, many of us who remember reading the books as they were released are old enough to have children of our own (though some have turtles and that’s totally fine). A lack of homosexual characters is not reflective of reality and we’re to believe that wizards are born the same way as Muggles and would, therefore, have similar instances of homosexuality in their culture. Rowling’s world is not representative of modern Britain.

CON: Rowling started the book series to appeal to a young audience. Adding explicit references to homosexual characters could deter parents from having children enjoy the series at a young age. After the world was established as heteronormative, adding homosexual references would have been forced and might have led to inconsistencies in Rowling’s characterization of many main characters.

I’m unsure what to think about the instance of Harry Potter. As for myself, it’s making me look at my writing and wonder if I’ve included the diversity fans would expect from my stories in terms of sexual preference. Do I have the diversity of characters in terms of race, educational background, religion, etc. that my story deserves or would be expected to have? Should I look at my characters in terms of what (possible) fans might expect from my world or are they my characters to form as I originally saw them? Has being a white heterosexual Catholic tinged my character selection to a point where it’s arguably skewed? What steps should I/would I be asked to take to correct this? Would I be getting too far away from ‘write what you know?’

I think this topic can be applied to all kinds of diversity in a huge number of books. I’m curious how you all feel about this and I love using Harry as a common launching point for discussion. Please be kind and realize we all come from strongly different backgrounds.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

How Many Beta Readers?

30 Aug

As I mentioned in my post about fantasy, I’m writing a short piece now for a contest. I’ve edited it based on feedback I got on that post (thank you to everyone who helped out!) and when I was happy with it, my husband read it. He had some good feedback about consistency and a change or two to make and I’ve edited again to a point where we’re both happy with it. My question is, where does this process end?

With such a short piece (500 words) I don’t want to edit the piece to death. With a longer work, I’ll ask multiple people to read it and let me know what they think. Different points will strike home with different people so having multiple beta readers is helpful. But with such a short piece, it’s hard to miss any plot element. I’m thinking of asking one more friend to read it before I submit the piece.

Are two beta readers enough for a 500-word story? What about 5,000 words? Or 50,000? Is there a point where you reach critical mass and more eyes don’t help anymore? Please tell me what you think, reader. I’m trying to find my perfect balance.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: Setting

30 Jun

We had an 11th-hour change in who would lead our writer’s group this month and it was decided we would spend the time talking about setting. I thought it was a great discussion and I wanted to share some notes with you.

The setting can encompass a lot of elements of the story. The local and physical setting is only part of it. You also must consider the time of year, time of day, and the time passing during the story. It can set a mood or establish a sociopolitical environment. It can include climate, geography (including man-made geography), historical era, population, and ancestral influences. In thinking of the last book I read, the sub-culture of Italian-American immigrants made a big impact on The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street and the historical events going on during the story had an impact on the characters in a big way.

A writer can use the setting to speak about the story. It can reinforce the mood or the characters. A cluttered office says something about a character. A dimly lit office can set a mood. Using two character’s opinions on a space can say something about their character. While one character might notice the romantic sunset, another might find the lack of lighting frustrating.

Having a vast or narrow setting can shift the focus of the book. For example, in Harry Potter, though we are involved in the Wizarding world, much of the action takes place at Hogwarts so it makes sense for the final battle to take place at Hogwarts rather than Azkaban or again at the Ministry.

To research a time period, our group recommends reading historical journal articles and trade publications from that period. A definite setting has become more important as writing is more widely distributed to different geographical areas and among several different classes who could all be different from the writer. With historical settings, the writer has a bit more freedom because there are fewer people alive to contradict the minute points of the book, but it’s still better safe than sorry.

I know this isn’t much, but it was a good discussion from us. I’ll be presenting on Lit Mag publication and Kristine Kruppa (YA Author) will be talking about finding her publisher.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: Software Overview

24 May

I know my writers’ group has gone over writing software before, but I can’t remember if it made it to the blog yet. Regardless, we went over it again so I’ll write another quick synopsis here. Enjoy!

We focused on three major types of writing software; outlining, basic writing software, and commercial software. For outlining, we took a look at The Guide, an open-source software. Similar packages include Keepnote, Treepad, and Cherry Tree. The software exists with simple parent-child relationships composed of different ‘pages.’ You can reorder them fairly easily and the data saves and backs up with minimal issues. There is no spellcheck and formatting is a bit limited. You can, however, changes icons in the outline to notes things completed, in process, etc.

Plume Creator is an example of a basic novel-writing software package. Another would be Rough Draft. With Plume Creator, another open-sourced software, you have all of the features of The Guide except the icon changes. In addition, you can add notes and synopses. You can compile selected parts of the data and  backup is still very simple. There is a spell-checking option with Plume Creator and it’s undergoing a lot of changes at the moment to make it more like Scrivner (see below). You also have the option to format your writing in a manuscript format when you’re ready for that step.

Scrivener is probably the best-known writing software. It’s only $40 and if you win NaNoWriMo, you can buy it for 50% off. yWriter is a free version of Scrivener though I can’t speak to its features. Scrivener has the same features as Plume Creator with a more extensive export options list and brings back the ability to change icons to mark scenes as you see fit. I know many people who have used this to some success and the major complaint I’ve hears is that if you want to get the .txt file for one scene, it’s hard to find because the scenes names you use do not translate to the base documents. That’s a pretty minor complaint, though!

Personally, I use Word. I find it’s enough for me and I have a better idea of seeing how far into the story each plot point happens by looking at the right-hand scroll bar. It works for me, but some people swear by these other softwares. It’s all personal preference.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: Plotting (Part II)

29 Mar

I posted yesterday about the first half of my writers group meeting from last week where we had a great discussion on the Three Act Structure of a story. Today I’ll continue with that discussion and go over some plotting strategies that different writers use. As I’ve talked about before, there are two extremes when it comes to preparing for a novel; plotting (or outlining) and pantsing (or organic). Organic plotters explore the story with their characters, not thinking ahead of the moment they are writing. They tend to have long first drafts with tangents. Most people lie in the middle of the plotter/pantser spectrum. Here are some other techniques that lie between the two extremes.

  • Headlight method: The writer writes one chapter at a time beginning with an outline of the chapter, and then writing it. They only follow as far as their metaphorical headlights can see.
  • Polisher: Write one chapter, polish it until it’s perfect, then move to the second. This involves little planning ahead of the current chapter. (Honestly, I think this one seems like a waste of time. Does anyone do this? How much editing are you doing?)
  • Outliner: This is the method I use, which involves writing out an outline of the entire plot and writing to it.
  • Start here, finish there: This technique can be used in a few ways. The writer can figure out the beginning and end and fill in the middle with the plot. He or she might know where they want to end to be and fill in to get there.
  • Tent Pole Method: The writer plans out several events or ‘poles’ that the story needs to stand on by writing a summary of the events. He then writes to string these ‘poles’ together.
  • Series of Sequences: In addition to the events, the writer plans out the events leading to each major event. This is a more detailed method than the Tent Pole Method.
  • Mindmapping: This involves a stream of consciousness from a character which gives the writer background notes and helps him figure out how the characters will interact with each other.
  • Dialoguing: The writer has the characters talk to each other to flush out what is going on between them and how they feel about certain things. Most of this writing will not end up in the book.
  • Character Arcs: The writer writes a story about each potential character, talking about how the character would act in the given situation. After writing a few, the author picks which character will be the protagonist of the book.

Another example is one my favorite author, J.K. Rowling used to outline the Harry Potter books. She put time periods or chapters in rows and had columns for the major plots, subplots, and arcs that would happen in the book. Then she filled in each square or left it blank, writing the chapters to include all the plot points needed. Here’s a cool picture of what that looks like from Rowling herself.

J.K. Rowling's out line of 'Order of the Phoenix' via OpenCulture

J.K. Rowling’s outline of ‘Order of the Phoenix’ via OpenCulture

A lot of authors change steps or use a combination of these. A method is only good if it works for the writer.

We spent the majority of the meeting talking about one final method, the Snowflake Method as described by Randy Ingermanson on his website, Advanced Fiction Writing. Ingermanson claims his method can triple the speed of a first draft and improve its quality. Here are his ten steps.

  1. Write a one sentence summary of fifteen words or less of what will happen in the novel. Think of it as a Twitter pitch, use no names, and keep it focused on the big picture.
  2. Turn that sentence into a paragraph where the first sentence is equivalent to Act One, sentences 2-4 are the major plot points, and the fifth sentence is the ending to the book.
  3. For each major character, write a short bio that tells their name, a sentence about their place in the storyline, their motivation, goals, and epiphany moment.
  4. Turn the paragraph into a longer summary where each of the five sentences becomes a paragraph.
  5. Turn the major character bios from Step 3 into a page long talking about what the character is doing in the story. Add 1/2 page summaries for all other important characters.
  6. Expand the synopsis from step 4, which should be about a page, to five pages so each paragraph is expanded to a page.
  7. Do a deep character chart for each character. You can find examples of these online and they tend to be a few pages each of some great details to build each character.
  8. Make a list of all the scenes in the novel. This can be up to 100 scenes and he recommends using Excel to keep them straight and get them in the right order.
  9. Expand the scenes from Step 8 into a narrative description of the novel, writing multiple paragraphs about each and including all details and descriptions as well as key lines of dialogue that come to you. This may end up being longer than the book itself. Ingermanson himself admits that he doesn’t do this anymore but suggests it for people writing with the Snowflake Method for the first time.
  10. Write the darned novel!

I’d be interested in finding out if anyone’s had success with this method. It makes sense to me up until Step 9. I think I would skip that.

We’ll be talking about world building next month so look forward to that one, I am! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers Group: Plotting (Part I)

28 Mar

Our library writers group is having members take turns leading the discussion. I missed last month’s discussion on script writing but was glad to make it this month when my friend Gary talked about plotting. There was a lot to learn so I’ll jump right in.

If you’ve never heard of K.M. Weiland, you should listen up. She’s an author who’s willing to share the secrets of the craft and she’s put a ton of resources on her website, Helping Writers Become Authors. It’s full of great resources that Gary shared with us.

One thing that’s always been hard for me is the difference between a scene and a sequel. A scene is the action and a sequel is the reaction. Each scene in a book is a small chunk of the plot. It has a goal that the character is trying to achieve, conflict that keeps them from achieving the goal, and ends with either disaster of not achieving the goal or resolution of achieving it. It’s followed by a sequel, in which the character has to figure out what to do differently to meet the goal and reevaluate his or her strategy. A sequel has a reaction, a dilemma, and a decision. I’ll have to go back through my novel and be sure I have these  in the right order! No sequels without a scene first and scenes progressing the story along steadily.

We next talked about the classic Three Act Structure. Gary referenced the below image from Weiland’s website. Click the image for a full-sized view.

Three Act

The part below the graphic explains it pretty well but I’ll go through it shortly here. Weiland breaks the structure down with some examples so I’ll use her example of The Lion King to illustrate. Act one is for the author to set up the novel. There’s an inciting event that either begins the story or takes place before the main action of the plot. The Inciting Event leads to the key event which is the beginning of the book’s plot. In The Lion King, Simba’s birth is the Inciting Event because it means Scar is not next in line to the throne. The Key Event is Scar convincing Simba to go to the Elephant Graveyard which might result in his death though Simba survives.

The first plot point ends Act One and happens around 25% into the plotline. Though this might be the same as the key event, it won’t always. In the case of The Lion King, the first plot point is Simba running away after blaming himself for his father’s death. Act Two begins with a strong reaction to the first plot point, in this case, Simba running away from home and changing the course of his life forever.

At about 35-40% of the plotline, the first pinch point shows up where the antagonist shows up. Scar taking over the Pridelands is the major event in The Lion King. About half way through the book, the protagonist reaches the turning point when reacting to what has happened turns to action and the direction of the story changes. Simba starts to act when he returns to the Pridelands to take them back from Scar. Ending the Second Act are a second pinch point where the main villain shows his power such as Scar abusing Simba’s mother in front of him, and a second plot point, the confrontation between good and evil. We see this when Scar tries to kill Simba in a stampede.

The Third Act begins at bout 75% of the book at the second plot point just discussed. From here we get the resolution such as Simba overpowering his uncle and forcing him to confess his crimes to the pride. The climax of the story is the last 10% of it, which ends in a climactic moment such as when Scar dies. The resolution should only be a scene or two of the story and is a reactionary phase of the book where we see Simba take his place as the head of the price.

We went over a lot more but this post is getting long! I’ll save more of it for tomorrow. Check back then for an explanation on a few approaches to plotting and a discussion of them.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers’ Group: Blog Writing

28 Jan

My library’s writers group has taken a change in direction. With our lead librarian finding a full-time job at another library (yay Amy!), we’ve turned to a member-run group. I volunteered to run the first meeting and I felt it was appropriate to talk about something I know well; blogging! Here’s a short summary of what I talked about. This is all personal advice so if you’ve heard something else or disagree, please share your thoughts in the comments for others to explore.

I think it’s important to pick a topic for your blog and stick to it. If your blog is about traveling, you shouldn’t have recipes that you didn’t pick up while traveling or review books that aren’t about traveling. If you’re writing about music, your blog isn’t a good place for a religious discussion. Stick with one post. Those that follow you share the interest your blog covers and they could be dissuaded by your other interests.

Don’t worry too much about your layout unless you’re a pro. On mobile devices and blog rolls, the layout doesn’t matter as much anyway. Most blogs go to a single format. WordPress and (I’m told) Blogger offer templates. These are safe and you can stick with one and not sweat it.

Posting on a regular schedule is a great way to stay consistent. I post Monday through Thursday and I’ve done this for almost a year now. I write my posts over a week ahead of time (except WWW Wednesday) and hold myself accountable to the schedule. It also allows my followers to know when new content will be posted. I try to keep the posts I put up to a few types: book reviews, book club reflections, book/movie reviews, writing group summaries, statuses on my writing journey, WWW Wednesday, and challenge updates. You won’t find too may posts on this site outside of these categories.

Memes, awards, and challenges are a great way to start your blogging platform and to continue growing it. Jumping into an already established meme gives you a way to join an established community and hopefully meet like-minded bloggers who share your passions. Your participation in these will likely change over time as you begin to post more original content and you might find yourself hosting some of these.

when are you reading 2016 finalOriginal images are a great way to brand your blog. Make sure they have no content that someone else could claim such as a picture of a celebrity or a book cover. An original image is completely owned by you, either created or photographed. I’ve put my 2016 When Are You Reading image here as an example.

I believe very strongly in comment management. If you take the time to read my post and write a comment, you deserve a response or acknowledgment of your comment. I try to respond to all comments within twelve hours. If  you don’t care what others have to say about what you post, why do you have a blog? Write in a journal if you don’t want to share it.

There is such as thing as ‘shameful self-promotion.’ Posting your links in unrelated posts is spam, don’t do it! Promote yourself in an organic way. If you wrote a similar post to the one you read, leave a comment and a link. You can leave a comment with no link and it’s likely others will explore your site. Promote yourself by being active in the community and interacting with other bloggers.

Social media can be very powerful. At the end of every post, I give you six ways to contact me: Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Most of these accounts I use personally and for my blog; Facebook is the exception. Know that there will be bloggers who want to follow you in these mediums and decide which ones you’re comfortable sharing and which you want to keep private. Continue interactions on these other platforms when you can. Connect with other bloggers on them. If you don’t want to, leave your email and nothing else. Again, it’s all about connecting.

So there’s my blogging advice. Not a lot of it is about writing, but it will set you up for a good way to start a blog which is all writing. If you disagree with me or have something to add, please leave a comment so others can hear your advice. I’d love to learn even more.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Library Writers’ Group: Research

3 Nov

We had yet another lovely meeting of my local library’s writers group. I do enjoy getting together with this group. Our leader is stepping down because she’s gotten a job at another library recently so the format of this group might change soon but for now, we’re continuing on talk about different aspects of writing at each meeting. This time, we talked about research.

As a historical fiction writer, I tend to think of research as taking on the image of pouring over texts and looking up pictures of vintage clothes, but that’s not always the case. Creative non-fiction and memoir also require research, but a different type. Our moderator directed us to a few resources for this

But, as I’m a fiction writer, I wanted to focus this post more on the research needed to write fiction. But we’re all types so I hope someone can find the above links useful!

As much as we’re told to ‘write what we know,’ we don’t always do it. Not everything I write is set in suburban Detroit and not all of us involves a young married couple. When it comes to setting, there is a lot of research you need to do in order to set a novel in a place you might have never visited (or at lease in a time you’ve never visited). We were given a great article by Tricia Goyer about how to place your story in a setting. You do have to research the place and looking at maps and photos is a great start. I’ve had to do this for both of my full manuscripts and it can sometimes help me add new elements to my plot. It helps to meet and interview people who have lived or visited the place you’re talking about. (This can, granted, be hard for historical settings depending on how far back you’re going.)

This article by Kim van Alkemade gave some great tips about researching for historical fiction. My favorites include ‘Study old pictures’ (I started my 1920s board on Pinterest) and ‘Read old books.’ I hadn’t thought about reading books from the 20s, but it would give me a good idea of voice in that time.

This Writers Digest article talks more about research in general. There is great advice on how to find experts in an area you are trying to research.

Another quote we talked about (from an article I’m unable to locate) talked about the nature of research. When I’ve researched, I’ve found myself digging into historical files and then connected articles and then a book that’s slightly related etc. This is when research can become a dangerous time suck. It’s important to ‘go deep but stay narrow.’ We need to go deep into certain topics that are most applicable to our story, but it’s important to choose carefully the topics that will involve the deep knowledge. Choose them carefully and don’t stray too far away.

I hope this has been helpful for my fellow writers. I thought this was a great topic for our group to do and I hope we can touch on it again in the future with more insight.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!