When my readers commented about how much they enjoyed my blogs, I decided to combine the best of my nonfiction—including all the posts I wrote about my journey to become a full-time novelist—into a book. I thought my readers would like to know more about me, and authors would find the writing, editing, and promotion advice helpful and inspiring. Read more →
I edit a lot of fiction, and I see a pattern of common problems in manuscripts from novice writers. The most important involve the bond between story and character. If you want an agent or editor to get past the first page, here’s 10 things to keep in mind.
1. Make your main character want something. Read more →
The book Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation has caught my attention. It may have been written as an analysis of marketing techniques that build brands, but as a crime fiction author, I’m taking note. I want my novels to fascinate readers, so I’m keeping this list on hand as I craft my next story. Here are the seven triggers that draw people in:
- Lust: the anticipation of pleasure, which we crave Read more →
My editor is tired of my use of the words moved and stepped, so she sent a list of alternatives and I keep adding to it. I keep this list handy when I’m working on a novel, and my writing tip today is to share this lovely list with you.
strode, walked, lurched, ran, scurried, bustled, rushed, Read more →
Is the focus of the novel revealed early? This question is at the top of contract evaluations I do for a publisher. Most of the time, I check No. Writers often move slowly in the beginning. They set up backstory and craft detailed irrelevant scenes. Two chapters later, I still don’t know what the premise is. The best stories jump right in and reveal what the character wants and/or what the character is up against to get what he wants.
Revealing the focus can be indirect. Read more →
Not sure if you should put quote marks around something? Is it dialogue or a direct quote? If not, forget the quote marks. They are most overused form of punctuation. Quote is short for quotation, so quote marks should be used only to set off a quotation in nonfiction. If you’re writing a novel and using quote marks for anything but dialogue—take them out.
Writers like to use quote marks around words they consider special. Old school editors call them scare quotes, a way of alerting readers Read more →
I’m a free agent again. In other words, I’ve been laid off my part-time newspaper job. The weirdest thing? I received an unemployment debit card from the state last week. I laughed and twittered: “Do they know something I don’t?” I guess they did. The hardest thing? Walking away from a terrific group of people I’ve come to really enjoy and count on for emotional and intellectual interaction. Read more →
I’m fine-tuning the novel I just finished, and these are some of the edits I’m making. They can help you as you write or edit your own novel.
1. Get rid of unnecessary prepositional phrases. When you read back through your manuscript, watch for phrases like on the table, toward the door, near the wall. These phrases bog down your writing and often add little to a description. Readers can make a lot of assumptions. If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one points at the tires, readers Read more →
I’m re-working the outline and first few chapter for my fourth Detective Jackson novel before I send them to an editor. Things were bothering me, so I went back to the basics and decided to share my 8-point checklist.
Plot. Is your plot logical? Do you have important scenes that would make a reader say “No one would ever do that”? Is your plot both linear and complex? Read more →
I’m currently working through the second draft of Secrets to Die For, and I’m continuously reminded of, and grateful for, all the things I do during the first draft that help me create a story without any major glitches: In case it might help you, here’s my process:
1. Once I have a basic story idea, I create an outline. Some people (Stephen King) will tell you not to. (But he’s Stephen King). I fill in as much detail as I can, especially for the first ten chapters and/or plot developments (As info: I use Word, that’s it. No fancy creative writing software.)
2. Next I create a list of POV characters and generate a brief personality sketch and physical description for all. (My rule is never more than 5 or 6 POV characters telling the story, and some of those only have small speaking roles.) Eventually, for POV characters that reoccur in other stories, I add all this information to my long-term character database.
3. Begin writing. I don’t worry about perfect opening lines at this point. It’s important to get the story moving.
4. Fill in the rest of outline as I write first 50 pages or so. Once I’m writing, ideas for the second half keep coming to me, so I add to the outline.
5. Keep an idea journal. As I write, I constantly get ideas (Ryan needs to see Lexa earlier in the story, where?), so I enter them immediately into a Word file. Some of these never get used, but some prove to be crucial.
6. Create a timeline. A lot happens in my stories, which usually take place in about a week or 10 days, and some events happen around the same. I keep the timeline filled in as I write each scene. This way I can always look at my timeline and know exactly when the interrogation took place (Monday, 8 a.m: Jackson interrogates Gorman in the jail). It’s much faster and easier than scrolling through a 350-page word document. And the timeline keeps one POV character from referring to events that haven’t happened yet to another character.
7. Create comprehensive name/detail list. As I write, I keep a list for every named person in the story and include any details they have (physical description, phone number, address, etc.) That way, if I’m trying to remember what I named the morgue assistant, it’s right there in my Word file (morgue assistant: Zeke Plamers).
8. Stop after 50 pages. Then I go back and polish the first chunk of the story in case anyone wants to see the first 50 pages or 3 chapters.
9. Use the highlight feature to tag things I want to come back to, such as a street names for a scene in a particular neighborhood. I don’t let these details interfere with the flow of writing.
10. Keep a list of things to fix. As problems or questions come up (How does Jackson know about Conner’s vehicle?), I enter them into my Fix file, which I keep open at all times when writing. I also glance through it before I begin writing each day.
My first draft is usually lean, mostly dialog and action, but of course it includes some character development and all physical descriptions. In the second draft I fill details for scenery, add some scenes, and slow the story down in places. Never too much description, of course. I’m a big fan of Elmore Leonard, who says he leaves out all the stuff that people skip over and don’t read.
My process is in no way perfect, so feel free to share your writing process tips.