Friday, November 30, 2012

Using Book Structure to Create Compelling Stories--Guest Post by Terry Ambrose

 by Terry Ambrose, @suspense_writer
Purchase here
The epiphany, the “aha” moment, the smack on the side of the head. No matter what we call it, that moment when the last piece of the puzzle snaps into place is an amazing moment. In this case, that moment had to do with writing a compelling story.

Let’s face it, some writers are just masters at creating a story that readers can’t put down. For me, that’s the ultimate compliment and the holy grail of writing mysteries and suspense. I’ve studied and practiced the craft of writing for many years and became a fan of Jack M. Bickham’s scene and sequel writing theory for some time back. In my opinion, most fiction writers would benefit just by learning Bickham’s theories about how to structure a novel.

Scenes and sequels

When I read Bickham’s “Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure,” I realized that my writing had subconsciously been moving in that direction for years. Bickham’s guidance was what I needed at precisely the right moment. It gave me questions to ask before I started laboring over any new scene. In short, it gave my writing structure.

         Everything that happens in a story is based on a stimulus and for every stimulus, there will be a character response.

         Scenes advance the story through establishing character goals, generating conflict, and taking characters one step forward, two steps back with major and minor disasters.

         Sequels provide the reader an opportunity to get closer to the characters by showing why they took an action and what emotions they felt. The sequel also sets up the next action in the story.

The “next” paragraph, from structure to compelling

My second “aha” moment was pure serendipity. I’d just attended a meeting where bestselling author Kelley Armstrong talked about plotting. She gave a number of tips to help writers move their plots forward more quickly. That, as the saying goes, “primed the pump.” The real smack on the side of the head came when my wife brought home an old Greg Isles book that she came across while working at the Friends of the Library bookstore.

“Black Cross” hooked me with the first sentence. So far, good job Mr. Isles, you made me want to finish the paragraph. At the end of the first paragraph, I had to read the second. Then the third. By the end of the second page, there was no question that this was what a compelling read was all about—the next paragraph. The epiphany—it’s all about playing dirty.

Playing dirty

Whether I’m writing a funny Hawaiian mystery like PHOTO FINISH or a suspense novel like my upcoming release, my goal is to get the reader to the next paragraph. If I write each paragraph with a mini-hook at the end, I’ll have done my part. Perhaps someday I’ll have another moment like “the next paragraph” moment. Will it be days? Months? Years? I have no idea. What I do know is that instead of using a hook at the end of each chapter, as I did before, I’m now taking that concept to the paragraph level and treating each paragraph as though it might be a chance for the reader to put down the book. Sorry, readers, but I’m determined to play dirty and not give you that chance.

About the author

Terry Ambrose started out skip tracing and collecting money from deadbeats and quickly learned that liars come from all walks of life. He never actually stole a car, but sometimes hired big guys with tow trucks and a penchant for working in the dark when “negotiations” failed.

In his debut novel PHOTO FINISH, a former skip tracer meets a beautiful con artist in Honolulu and finds trouble almost too hot to handle. Terry’s next novel, LICENSE TO LIE, will be released in mid December. It’s about a $5 million con gone bad and the harshest lesson of all—never trust a soul…even your own.

Learn more about Terry on his website at or on his Facebook author page at

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Honing and Developing My Personal Writing Style--Guest Post by Kellie Larsen Murphy

by Kellie Larsen Murphy, @aguiltymind

Purchase here
I have always been a writer. In high school, I served as yearbook editor. In college, I sequenced in a series of English classes. Early in my business career, I took creative writing after work. In recent years, I've worked for several magazines as a freelance writer. So, writing a novel should have been easy. Right? Hmmm. Not so much. Actually, writing the novel was not the hard part. Writing a good novel was.

Don't Get Upset. Listen

When I wrote my first manuscript, I was very excited. I sent out query letters. I attended writing conferences. I got some interest. Hooray! But then I came down to earth. How do I know the book wasn't very good? Well, the rejection slips were one way but more importantly, an agent was kind enough to write me a long letter and tell me specifically what was wrong with it. First, she said, the book was too long. In fact, that manuscript was twice the length of what most debut novels should be. Second, she said the story was interesting but the pacing was slow and the action took too long to happen. Finally, the chapters were overly wordy and (surprise!) too long. But, she also said there was potential in my writing. I had just buried it in too many words. Thankfully, I listened.

To learn to use words economically, I entered short story contests and, happily, earned some awards. I truly believe this is a great practice for writers who are developing their writing style. Not only will you challenge yourself, you will get honest feedback from the judges. Choose contests with varying lengths. Can you tell your story in 2500 words? 1500? How about 500? I also took on freelance writing assignments that were often limited to 1000 words. Essays, too. Today, I find word limits easy but only because I listened to constructive criticism from someone who was in a position to give it.

My new novel, A GuiltyMind, is built on short chapters to create suspense. This aspect of my writing style is the direct result of the work I put in on contests and freelance assignments. And how do I know it works? Well, I have been fortunate to speak with several book clubs that have chosen A Guilty Mind and one recurring comment is how they enjoyed the short chapters. As a writer, I love when someone says, "Well, I was super tired but the chapters were short so I thought I'd stay up and read just one more…"

Don't Be Intimidated and Test Your Work

Sometimes, it's easy to be in awe of another writer's ability and lose faith in yourself. I once took a creative writing class where one of the students was so good, such an intuitive writer, that the rest of us hung our heads. Our work probably wasn't all that bad but when she read her stories out loud, she took us all to another place and time. Yet, in spite of her skill, I've never heard of her again and don't know if she is still writing today.

Don't be intimidated by rejections either. Try to learn where you can improve your style. While your friends and family are wonderful, they may not be qualified to tell you where your style needs work. Test your style on your writing group, beta readers, or even your book club if they are willing. My own book club read the first draft of A Guilty Mind and their feedback, questions, and criticism helped shape the final manuscript.

Don't Be Afraid to Start Over

Starting over can be anything from a rewrite to starting an entirely new novel. This is what I did. While I haven't permanently abandoned that first manuscript, a new story was buzzing in my brain and I couldn't wait to write it - especially with all that I had learned. That story, A Guilty Mind, was born. Still, it wasn't a cakewalk. I wrote several drafts. I chopped chapters. I added an entirely new character in one of the later drafts. The point is, don't be wedded to the words. Starting over, whether it's just a paragraph or several chapters allows you to tell the story in the best way possible, always honing and developing your style over time.

Your Style Will be Your Own

While finding the time to work on my next novel is sometimes a challenge, finding my style isn't. Writing this book in a voice that fits the genre and me is easier than ever. All it took was listening, practicing, and not giving up.

Kellie Larsen Murphy is a freelance writer for several regional and southern magazines. An avid reader and book club enthusiast, she'd enjoy meeting you on her blog where she posts about her publishing journey. A Guilty Mind, the first in a series of psychological suspense novels featuring Detective Michael Cancini, was published in September. You can follower her on twitter @aguiltymind.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Developing Conflict and Tension

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
F.C. MalbyOne of the best ways to make sure readers keep turning pages is to include plenty of conflict and tension in our story. 

Today I’m over at F.C. Malby’s blog with some tips for developing conflict and tension in our books.  Hope you’ll pop over. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Writing During the Holidays—Tips

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Christmas tree ornamentI probably should have run this post before Thanksgiving.   But getting ready for Thanksgiving made me busy and I was juggling different activities—and writing.

Which is what reminded me about doing a post on writing during the holidays!

Obviously, visiting with friends and family is the most important part of the holidays.  But writing is also important to most of us.  And we all know how easy it is to fall out of any habit over the holidays—whether it’s healthy eating, exercising, or writing.

Here are my tips for keeping up with your writing habit during the busiest time of year:
  1. Write early or late.  This works well whether you’re at home, hosting, or traveling. 
  2. Don’t try to catch up.  There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like we need to catch up on our word count. But if you have a chance to do a little extra for the next day (in case the following day is busier), then do it.
  3. If there’s a free moment where you’re alone and quiet, pick up your story.
  4. If you’re traveling, keep your story on a USB or save it to a cloud like Google Docs.
  5. Write less each day, but still write daily, or nearly every day, to keep your habit going.
  6. Let everyone in on your goal.  This won’t work well with all families, but if yours is the supportive kind, let them know you’re trying to continue writing over the holidays.
  7. Be forgiving of yourself.  Don’t be too hard on yourself or your draft.
  8. Leave the house to write. Can you go out to grab a coffee and write for fifteen or twenty minutes?
  9. If you just feel completely sapped and unable to be creative, try doing something with your book.  Brainstorm, plan what you might want to write the next day, make random notes on setting, character description, etc.
It’s easy to feel guilty when making time to write during the holidays.  You might feel guilty even if no one is around to see you putting time into your story:  maybe everyone else is waking up and making breakfast and you’re upstairs trying to write a couple of paragraphs.  Or everyone else is still winding down downstairs at night before turning in and you’re finishing a page. 

I don’t think we have anything to feel guilty about as long as we’re fully present with our family and friends when we’re with them.  If we take thirty minutes to be alone to work on something that’s important to us, that’s nothing to feel guilty about.  And I don’t think we have to have an official deadline to justify our daily writing or to place importance in it.

How do you stay on track and maintain a writing habit during holidays or other busy times?

Image: MorgueFile: DTL

Sunday, November 25, 2012


by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Twitterific is a compilation of all the writing links I shared the previous week.

The links are fed into the Writer’sKnowledge Base search engine (developed by writer and software engineer Mike Fleming) which has over 19,000 free articles on writing-related topics.
Sign up for our free newsletter for monthly writing tips and interviews with top contributors to the WKB or like us on Facebook.
Try “My WKB”--a way for you to list and sort articles, view your read articles, and see your search history. Read more about it here: The free My WKB page is here: And check out Hiveword to help you organize your story.
REact and PROact – developing your character: @behlerpublish
Ghostwriting: A Checklist of Questions to Ask Potential Clients: @BrianKlems
Believable Plots: @fictionnotes
Popularity, Visibility & KDP Select: @DavidGaughran
Structure--Genre Matters: @kristenlambtx
A writer's reflections on ghostwriting and ending up with 2 agents and a self-pub book: @Porter_Anderson @ByRozMorris
10 Ways to Grow Your Facebook Following: @smexaminer
How to Become an Agent:
The importance of an ISBN: @Porter_Anderson @ljndawson
Tips for synopsis writing: @LynnetteLabelle
Including pauses in our story: @SouthrnWritrMag
The 8 Best (Actual) Literary Bars: @EddMcCracken
A Self-Publisher's Guide to Kobo: @mollygreene
What's Your Inner Mythology? @EnchantedInkpot
Being unreachable can make you more productive: @lifehacker
How To Download Fan Fiction as eBooks: @mediabistro
Tips for pitching your book: @msheatherwebb

What are men reading? @JustBethanne @Porter_Anderson
10 Twitter Hashtags To Get You Writing (And Keep You Writing): @krissybrady
Is Blogging Important for Novelists Considering Self-Publishing? @jodyhedlund
Use Fear to Develop Character and Conflict:
Beat Procrastination and Distractions By Scheduling Time for Them: @lifehacker
A novel approach to going DRM-free: @jwikert
Caught between too much pointless detail and not enough? Choose your "logic of caring." @juliettewade
How to Mind Map Your Story:
6 Ways Your Protagonist Should Be Like Jack Reacher: @fuelyourwriting
Structure–Getting Primal and Staying Simple: @kristenlambTX
Fill The Shelves – A New Initiative To Help Underfunded School Libraries: @DavidGaughran
Malapropisms: the Pineapple of Linguistic Errors: @salon
Licensing for Authors: @beth_barany
In Praise of the Implausible:
3 Reasons Why SEO Matters: Improve Search Engine Rankings: @robertleebrewer
Writing For Children--Pros and Cons: @BryanThomasS
Publishing Advice: Gauging the Gurus: @Porter_Anderson @MickRooney7777
Is Becoming a Best-Selling Author a Matter of Luck? @goblinwriter
Bypassing theme for objective correlatives: @litreactor
An agent on the need to love a story idea: @literaticat
Where does author end and book begin? @npbooks @coreyredekop
Facebook tips and tricks: @JennyHansenCA
How to get inside the mind of a serial killer: @i09
How to Ease Into a Standing Desk Routine: @lifehacker
Do You Have Writer's Block Or Is It Procrastination?
10 of Literature's Greatest Comeback Books: @flavorpill
Attributes of literary fiction: @EdanL
6 Non-Writing Things That Might Improve Your Writing: @davidbcoe
8 Simple Tips to Better Writing: @writersdigest
The 3 Most Popular Editorial Services and Do You Need Them? @TheLitCoach
Author event dos and don'ts (for readers): @NewDorkReview
The Ultimate Story Checklist: @CockeyedCaravan
Building Your Writer Platform — How Much is Enough? @ChuckSambuchino
Filter To Enhance Story:
How to create your own marketing team: @rachellegardner
5 myths about science fiction writers: @RobertJSawyer
Why Writers Must Beware Quackery: @chuckwendig
Premium Author Program to come to Goodreads:
Is Genre Dying? @MarcyKennedy
The Role of an Acquisitions Editor:
Use digital publishing in tandem with print: @brooke_warner
Verbing the Nouns: @TrueFactBarFact
The Only SEO Your Blog Posts Need: @problogger
Resources for Writing Inspiration--Presentations, Prompts, and Paris:
Shot Putting and the Art of Story Maintenance: @storyfix
Tips for editing: @nickthacker @thecreativepenn
Rights reversion: @kristinerusch
How to Win in Amazon's KDP Select Program: @tweetthebook
Self-Publishing in Audio: @JordanDane
Boost Your Creativity: Ideation Techniques for Writers: @diymfa
Beware The False Compliments That Are Killing Your Writing: @fuelyourwriting
3 things your editor needs to know: @wherewriterswin
The Lure of the Other WIP: @bookemdonna
5 Artistic Renderings of Authors in Their Own Words: @deadwhiteguys
Altering the Quality of Time in Your Novel: @livewritethrive
Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman: Why we're co-writing a serial zombie novel: @guardianbooks
"Amazon Is Playing Indie Authors Like Pawns," says Smashwords founder @MarkCoker:
Authors, Gather Your Tribe on Twitter: @jfbookman
A Day in the Life of a Children's Book Editor:
Don't sabotage your writing career: @jameswatkinscom
When you hit the brick wall while writing your story: @YAOTLBlog
5 Skills Writers Might Not Know They Possess:
Can blogging help you write fiction? @michellerafter
13 Ways to Scare Readers Away from Your Book's Website: @authormedia
Seven Notable Literary Kills: @Kornlock
How To Attribute Artwork Licensed Under The Creative Commons: @woodwardkaren
10 Hidden Gifts of Rejection Letters: @writersdigest
10 Tips for Beginning Writers: @buddhapuss @KMWeiland
10 Indisputable Signs That You're a Writer: @ava_jae
The Greengrocer's Apostrophe, and Why You Shouldn't Buy It: @nickdaws
Ways to start a social media platform: @storyrally
3 indie screenwriting tips:
An agent reports on YA queries she's received lately and what she passed on:
How To Use Craigslist as an Editing Tool: @galleycat
Don't Compare Your Beginning to Someone Else's Middle: @lifehacker
How to be gracious with your book promo: @behlerpublish
More on the Amazon-Waterstones alliance: @Porter_Anderson @philipdsjones
Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors? @janefriedman
A Successful Author Builds a Team: @danblank
When Good Paranormal Fantasy Sex Scenes Go Bad: @paulgoatallen
It's Genre. Not That There's Anything Wrong With It: @pageturner
Ebook format options:
Field report on developments in the ebook revolution: @jamesscottbell
Defining genre: @noveleditor
Tips for chapter breaks: @woodwardkaren
7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter: @lkblackburne
Scan, OCR and Restore BackList Books:
Tips for writing strong female characters: @wordforteens
101 tips for increased creativity: @MichaelMichalko
How Much Should You Plan Before Starting a Novel? @aliventures
Physical Attributes Thesaurus Entry: Legs: @beccapuglisi
Tips for ebook publishing: @aliventures @thecreativepenn
A roundtable of editors discuss formatting manuscripts, the editing process, and more: @RuthHarrisBooks
Overwhlemed? Do the Next Thing.
Real people in books--Alice Liddell: @clothesinbooks
Winning in Amazon's KDP Select Program: @TweetTheBook
Positioning Your Book Even If It's Not Genre Fiction:
Picking up the Pace in a Slow Scene: @janice_hardy
Tips for lengthening a novel: @glencstrathy
17,500 readers with a corrupted ebook file–what 1 writer did wrong: @lmskomal
You Might Have a Bad Prologue If...: @RC_Lewis
12 Steps to a Heart-Wrenching Romance: @jamiemichelebks
World building and titles: @MLChesley
The Screenplay Method of Storytelling: @NAAlleyBlog
An interview with 2 literary agents: @lovethepippins
Thematic Image Systems:
Varieties of the Publishing Experience: @jfbookman
Writers' thoughts on whether an MA is worth it:
Good books are portals wherever we find them:
How a creative mindset busts nighttime monsters: @JeffreyDavis108
Going It Alone: @nlowell
1 writer's advice for new indie authors: @sarahahoyt
Lessons in Indie Publishing--Marketing:
Blogging your book: @ninaamir
If you write what you know, where do you get ideas? @dirtywhitecandy
The Relevance of Zombie Fiction: @booksmugglers
Context is everything:
10 Stories With (Brilliant) Loose Ends: @kmweiland
8 Sure-Fire Ways to Improve Your Book: @RuthHarrisBooks
Contextual missions for your story: @storyfix
Self-Publishing: An Exper­i­ment in ‘Free’: @PubPerspectives @Porter_Anderson
Setting and Characterization: Make Them Believable and Compelling With Specific Visuals :

The Empowered Author: (R)evolution Day:
@BKGKristen @Porter_Anderson

3 Late Bloomers Created Our Favorite Genres: @jenningswire @DebraEve
A novel approach to going DRM-free: @jwikert
10 Ways to Grow Your Facebook Following: @smexaminer
Putting free bonus material in our ebooks: @duolit @NealAbbott
Publishing has never been an agile industry. And book products are not MVPs: @Porter_Anderson @bsandusky
How to Tell if Your Book Is a Success: @KMWeiland
Secondary branding in publishing? @Porter_Anderson @MikeShatzkin
Writing a Romance Novel? Try this Exercise & Develop Your Characters: @writersdigest
Character Motivation:
11 Traits of Highly Successful Writers: @krissybrady
Is There Ever a Time to Give Up On that Book? @AimeeLSalter
The importance of an ISBN: @Porter_Anderson @ljndawson
Pub­lish­ing Advice: Gaug­ing the Gurus: @Porter_Anderson @MickRooney7777
More on the Amazon-Waterstones alliance: @Porter_Anderson @philipdsjones
What's Next in Publishing? A Literary Agent Looks in Her Crystal Ball: @annerallen @agentsavant
Different types of chase scenes in crime fiction: @mkinberg
Planning a trilogy: @PAShortt
A writer's reflections on ghostwriting and ending up with 2 agents and a self-pub book: @Porter_Anderson @ByRozMorris