Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tangled: The Boxed-In Effect

Earlier this year, our very own Pepper dissected the plot of the movie Tangled. If you missed it, you can rewind here.

I just now got around to watching the movie last weekend. I know, I know, I'm way behind the times. But wow, what a movie! I can see why Pepper was inspired to post about it, because it inspired a post from me too.

As I watched this movie, one particular theme shouted at me from the screen--the concept of being boxed in. This theme came out in three primary ways.

The Initial Condition of Rapunzel

The whole premise of the movie is that Rapunzel is a lost princess who was stolen from the castle as a baby. She's being raised by the woman who stole her and she now lives in a tall tower, which she's ordered to never leave. Her life revolves around being boxed in--both physically and emotionally.

Relationships and the Can't-Trust-Anyone Dilemma

As the plot unfolds, she and handsome thief Flynn Rider join forces. But they face opposition from not only one direction, but ALL directions:

Rapunzel's "mother". Flynn's old cronies whom he cheated and who now have it out for him. The king's men who are chasing Flynn for his thievery. The crazy horse who later becomes an ally.

The viewer has all these opponents scrolling through the back of their minds as they watch. At any given moment, we wonder when one of these adversaries will make things interesting.

Flynn and Rapunzel truly are on their own. No one can be trusted. They're boxed in relationally.

Physical Danger--A Literal Representation of Their Internal Struggle

The boxed-in concept is well established in the viewer's mind. So to hone it even further, the writers of the movie provide physical action that represents the internal struggles of our beloved characters.

Flynn running from a crazed horse and getting stuck in Rapunzel's tower. Rapunzel and Flynn being trapped in a cave as it fills with water. Flynn escaping prison with the king's horses trapping him from both sides. These are just a few of the many examples of being boxed-in physically.

Bravo to the writers of Tangled for creating this boxed-in effect throughout the movie...on all levels. I was swept away in it and when the movie ended, I wondered how it could be done so fast.

So what does this mean for our novels?

The power of theme can't be underestimated. Think about the internal struggle your main characters face. Then build conflict and challenges that grow organically from it. Provide physical representations of the internal struggle, and you'll have a breathtaking combo.

How much does the theme of a book or movie stay with you afterwards? Can you think of other examples that use this type of effect?


Sarah Forgrave is a stay-at-home writer-mom who feels blessed to pursue her calling and passion. She writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market and is a regular contributor to the webzine Ungrind.

To learn more about Sarah, visit her personal blog at:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sshhh!! Research in progress!!

Shhhh!! Pantserly types beware! You never know what type of fun you might your local library.

I know, I know, snicker snicker. I'll admit to being the ultimate nerd. You know the kid who actually enjoyed reading the dictionary, and the cereal box, and anything else that had more than 2 words on it.

But since I've started writing, I've found my obsession serves me well most of the time.

Think of that old college thesis.

Remember narrowing down that 50 plus page research paper to an introductory paragraph with one good thesis sentence? We tend to see the uniqueness of our own topic choices. It is our own book after all.  We need to show how our book captures a new spot in the market. Like with our college thesis, we are finding a fresh angle.

Just like we did with those annoying index cards we need to circle around in larger and larger circles like a helicopter in order to "learn more" about our topic.

Think of your address. Saying you live in the United States only narrows you down to about a quarter billion, but it does give crucial information. Circle in on your state and city with that helicopter. Hone in on your street will limit even more. Finally, the pilot has an aerial view of your house.

Try making a story map with the main topics in your story. Perhaps concentric circles, ever increasing in size. Or if you prefer make a "tree" that branches out. You'll want to spend most of your research time closest to your inner circle, the unique core of your story that only belongs to you. Then move your way outward. For instance, the fact that you live in the United States lumps you with a large pool of others. Yet there may be crucial aspects to your "broader" topic that still need to be researched.

For instance, let's say I want to write a book about a childhood friend of Helen Keller's whom she meets at school. I'm obviously going to want to research the exact time period. What was going on that would have influenced living as a blind person? How about location? How does that affect my character? The more specific you get, the better information you will yield. On the other hand, sometimes when we get too specific we may not find as many results. Using Amazon to look up books with similiar themes is helpful in pinpointing the best words to use in a search engine or when looking through a database.

Make your own index for your book. List out all the places, time period(s), specific locations, real-life people, issues your characters face, etc. Then go to hunting.

Google images is great because you can find photos of an exact location during your time period. If you are visual in particular, this can be a great help. Oftentimes looking at a photograph will give me "new" insights into my character.

View research as getting further acquainted with your characters. Don't forget you are building on not just descriptive details, but you are also increasing your own depth as a writer as you explore the emotional landscape of others during the same time period, in the same location, or most of all, those who have faced similiar emotional issues.

Do you enjoy the research process? Do you have any helpful research tips to share?

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.

Monday, November 28, 2011

First chapter: Chop it or be Chopped!

I am a Food Network junkie. And my favorite show? Chopped. Ooh, I love a good competition and quick results! The competitors get a basket of ingredients and must come up with a meal course in 30 minutes. At the end of each round a competitor gets “chopped” if their dish is the most criticized.

The competitors are usually full-time chefs. They are good enough to cook food to sell in their everyday lives. And they only get minutes to prove their ability to the judges.

While I was reading some great advice from James Scott Bell in The Art of War for Writers, he reminded me that we as writers, are in our own episode of Chopped-- over and over and over again.

The chefs must impress the judges in a limited amount of time, with a limited amount of ingredients. Bell states:
“Wow agents and editors by grabbing them with your opening chapters.” 
Just as the use of ingredients in Chopped sell the dish to the judges, Bell refers to your opening chapters as your “selling documents” to agents and editors. Bell gives some great tips to make those first chapters shine, and I recently found one help in my recent submission to a publisher:

“If your first chapter absolutely precludes the use of dialogue, consider throwing it out and making chapter two your new chapter one.”

At first, I resisted cutting my first chapter...I loved my first chapter! It was the first breath of life into the character in my head. But once I sat down and tried to start from chapter 2 (more action and dialogue), I realized that most of my chapter 1 could be summed up in a few sentences, and shown through out the rest of the first few chapters.

If you watch Chopped, you'll see that the chefs might find their original plan must be changed to keep up with the clock and create a tasty and impressive's tough for them to do since they're racing against the clock, and for us, it's tough to cut those words that flowed from fresh inspiration. But try might find they were the ground work for a winning dish!

Come up with that winning appetizer to intrigue those agents and editors to move on to your main course. Don't get chopped after those first chapters!

What techniques have you used to tighten up your first chapters for submissions to agents or contests?
 Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across cultures. She is an ACFW member and CEO of a family of six.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

It's going to be an interesting week on the Alley...


Photo Credit
Well, because....

We aren't quite sure what we want to do...yet.

Oh don't worry, we'll have something entertaining for you. I've warned each Alley Cat that I might video tape her doing Zumba if they don't come up with really awesome posts, so you're guaranteed a great week of writing tips. ;-)

(I don't think anyone wants to be taped dancing right?? :-))

Have you finished the leftovers yet? Turkey and dressing coming out the ears, just in time to stock the fridge all over again with more holiday treats. Who thought of putting Thanksgiving and Christmas so close together anyway??

*shakes head*

How 'bout I just show and not TELL you what this next week will be? Haha.


Angie is your Alley hostess on Monday and there might be a bit of James Scott Bell thrown in.

Julia stops by the blog on Tuesday with research tips--we all need them!

Sarah will be here on Wednesday to enlighten and teach.

Wendy has survived no electricity, weather disasters and so much more this year...but it's all novel experience. ;-) She'll be with us on Thursday.

Cindy continues to "What's missing in your novel" on Friday with adding strong verbs and nixing repetive words.

We'll see you "write" back here on Monday!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday: Writing Style

I know, you're all out there braving the black Friday maddness... elbowing to get that LCD TV half off, getting mowed down by crowds.

You're probably reading this after you've returned from getting stitches in the E.R. and getting your broken leg set and casted (from being trampled over.)

Glad you had fun!

So now, let's talk a little about budgets. That's why we brave the crowds, right? To make that all-mighty dollar stretch just a wee bit farther.

In writing, I like to budget too. Oh, I don't specifically assign a value, but I keep it in mind as I shop (er, write.)

What kinds of things do I budget?


Exclamation marks! Isn't it fun to use them!?! I love it!!!!!!!!! They give our manuscript pizazz, funk, and energy!!!!!!!!!

Actually, then get quite annoying to a reader. And they are the lazy writer's way of showing excitement or emphasis. Instead, our word choice should be enough to convey that.

That said, sometimes a good ! is just needed. So give yourself a budget. One ! for per scene. Oh, you might have two !'s in one scene and none in another, and that is fine. And if you have !'s left over, then FABULOUS! You frugal writer you!


We all know, you need more than one was per scene, as much as we get hounded about not using them. But the word "was" is around for a reason. It's needed from time to time.

So let's pretend that each was is $10.00 coming out of your advance check when you get published. Go around your manuscript and decide... do I REALLY need this word? Is it worth $20? Can I reword it to make it better?

Budget, my friends, it's all about budgeting!


Us 3rd person POV writers love italics. They let us cheat and tell our character's thoughts in first person. But... that is just it. It's cheating. If you're writing in deep POV, you're already hearing your characters thoughts in 3rd person. Still there are cases when a  little italics are needed. In my Sandwich book, my heroine has these little prayers to God that I italicize. They aren't overbearing, and serve a specific purpose.

But, for most cases, let's say for every italicized word you use, it costs you $100.00 of your advance. NOW is it worth it? Better make that italic something really important!

Oh yeah... did I mention that reading italics too much are not only annoying, but bad on the eyes?


We all really love a good adverb. I whole-heartedly mean, don't you truly think that they greatly add to the spectacular luster of a novel? Not only that, but an adjective simply makes your stupendous prose swimmingly better, correct?

-ly words are another lazy writing habit, one that is a newer rule of thumb.

But, just like the word was, sometimes an -ly word is needed. But overuse can is a sign of a novice writer, so break out the wallet again, my friends.

Instead of, "She walked quickly" you could state, "She ran." Or there are a lot more clever ways, but you get the idea.

Same with an adjective, although adjectives are more needed then an adverb. Instead of "She had brown hair." you can say, "The bruinette..." that's probably a bad example, but you get the idea.

Adjectives are a little cheaper. They are only $.25 each.
Adverbs, on the other hand, will cost you $10 each.

So write wisely!

Discussion: Anyone go black Friday shopping? (or, given some crazy stupid stores opening at insane times... Black THANKSGIVING shopping?) Do you agree with my budget? Any other things you budget when you write? Anyone want to loan me a few was's??? I'll give them back... HA!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Writer's Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

Jesus, I can't spend today with my family and a table overflowing in bounty, without thanking You for the gifts You have given me this day.

I have a healthy family. A family that loves me unconditionally and though they might not understand all my writer quirks, or the need to tap on the computer until o'dark hours, they love me anyway. They give me the gift of a glimpse of Your unconditional love here on earth.

God, never let me forget, in the midst of turkey and pumpkin pie, and the feelings of being satisfied, that though in my writing life, I might be craving something, You know the right time to "feed me". Give me the right amount of nourishment, the perfect amount of sweetness and the right amount salt so I might taste the joy of succeeding, but also learn from the experience of failure.

It's a time for learning, Lord, and thank You for this time You have given me. Remind me, God, when I want to be jealous of another's success, that the time isn't right for me and I still need to learn.

Make me eager to learn and willing to give. Hopeful to understand and anxious to soak in the right criticism.

Give me encouragement for my fellow writers and a warm hug when the right words are not given to me.

Guide my friends, Jesus. Bless them today and tomorrow and into the future. That they will be looking upon You as the source of all their blessings.

Thank You for this day of remembering, of being thankful, of joy and love. And may each reader and writer here today be so blessed. May they see the gift in each moment they are given. No matter their situations.

Thank You for  this day and for being our Heavenly Father.

In Jesus' Name,

Photo Credit

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So Thankful

We Alley Cats have gathered together
To Ask the Lord's Blessings

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side- all glory be Thine
2nd verse We Gather Together a Netherlands Folk Hymn


I am thankful for my husband! He has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone in so many parts of my life ... Which always seems to find me closer to God once I muster up the courage and listen. If it wasn't for my husband, I would never have joined ACFW, and I wouldn't have a clue what this is all about!


When I think “thanksgiving” (and I’m not really talking the holiday right now) several things immediately come to mind.

First is family. I really, honestly, truly could not do what I do without my family.
Second is my writing. I love to write. I feel blessed to be able to create every day. Don’t always LIKE to create everyday, but I wouldn’t live without it.
Third, my friends. Wow, what friends I have been blessed with. I almost cry to think about it.
Fourth (do I really have to number these, I better not), I couldn’t live this life without my Savior. The author of Thanks, the Giver of all of my blessing and the reason I smile everyday.


I am thankful for my family. We had a new addition this year and she's been such a wonderful blessing, rounding out a family I can't say enough wonderful things about. God has been so faithful to us, and been the rock we needed to get through a challenging year.


I'm thankful for God's loving guidance through all circumstances.


I’m thankful for God’s steadfast love and strength regardless of our circumstances. I’m thankful to a family who gave my daughter life in their time of unimaginable sorrow. I’m thankful for a publishing house that took a chance on a fledging author like myself. I’m thankful for a family who loves me despite my narcotic ways and uncountable failings. I’m thankful for Alley Cats who stand by each other during thick and thin, good posts and “holy crap what do I write” posts, even when life gets the best of us. I’m just one blessed, thankful woman, what can I say!


I am thankful for words. God’s Word, my family’s words, my friend’s words, Alley Cat words, words that tell the Gospel, words that entertain, words that make me laugh, and words that encourage. Words that teach, and yeah, I guess words that correct. I’m thankful for words hiding in my heart waiting to be said—or kept secret. I am thankful that: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word is God. Without words…


God always dreams big for His kids - and this year, as in every year, I'm so thankful He calls me His kid. I'm overwhelmed by His great love in giving me my beautiful family and I can't express the joy in His callings on my life. It's been a very tough year because the Thanksgiving table will be missing quite a few in my family this year, but I'm thankful they've just moved up to God's table and are waiting for me to join them :-)

It's remarkable where God's brought this group of dreamers and believers known as the Alley Cats. You guys have been such a beautiful part of my year and I thank God for you all. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


I'm thankful that God always walks one step ahead of us and guides our path--both in writing and in life.


I am thankful for the love of a godly man, a beautiful family who loves to laugh together, and for a new job with more pay and less stress. I am thankful for my friends, both online and offline, who encourage and urge me on in whatever I put my hand to. But I am most thankful for a God who gently leads and loving pushes me to do the hard thing, developing the character I need in order to be useful in His service.


I'm thankful to be raising three remarkably individual girls—thankful for God entrusting me and my husband with them.

 I attached a pic it was our little getaway during the power outage storm (it was my sanity)!

Would you like to join us by sharing your thanksgiving?

Image by:

This blog post by Mary Vee

Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes Christian young adult fiction (pirate tales, missionary and Bible adventure stories).
She thinks of writing as: Stepping into Someone Else's World.
To learn more about Mary, visit her blog

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Bus Route of a Writer

Transportation is a funny thing. Some of us like to drive a car and be in control. Some prefer to fly, reaching their destination at record speed. Some might prefer a train or maybe a bike to get us where we are going. What mode of transportation do you think we writers tend to take on the journey to publication? The bus. For those of you who have never ridden a bus, there is much to be learned in the busing experience.

You must have endurance to ride the Writer's Bus. You see, certain aspects of a bus ride are not pleasant. On a longer journey, a bus will have a toilet, and sometimes that toilet just plain stinks. Sometimes your seat neighbors are noisy, preventing you from sleeping. Sometimes they want to talk to you, keeping you from that book you have been dying to finish. For the writer, you have to endure the hard things on the journey to publication. There's rejection, poor contest results, a harsh critique, and the ever present fear that you aren't good enough. You have to learn to tune out the bad and keep your eyes on the road. The goal is straight ahead.

You must have humility to ride the Writer's Bus. We've all been there. You are riding along and the bus stops, letting people off and picking up others. Your ride seems to be taking forever as you keep stopping, letting off more and more people. On the Writer's Bus, you may have a long journey ahead of you. You will have to learn to have patience and a big dose of humility to watch those on the same journey get off earlier than you. You will be tempted to compare and get depressed that you haven't received "the call" to get off, but you need to know that everyone's journey is different. Some might be going across town, and then some might be crossing state lines, taking alot longer than expected. Keep your chin up. Your stop is coming!

You will experience joy on the Writer's Bus. There is such a variety of people who ride the bus, with a variety of experiences. You will meet people who will become life-long friends. You will meet those who will encourage you, critique you, and motivate you to keep spinning tales, even through the difficult times. This will be one of the greatest blessings on the ride...friendships that will help you along the way.

While there are certain aspects of the Writer's Bus that are difficult, the journey to publication is an exciting one. New people to meet, new stories to write, and new obstacles to overcome. It's a difficult trek, but one that will build character, discipline, and grit. It will be a journey that will bring you closer to the One who called you to board the bus. You will learn without a shadow of a doubt that He is the Bus Driver, opening the door for you to get on and opening the door to let you off at your destination.

Trust the Driver. The length of your journey rests in His hands.

What has been your experience on the Writer's Bus? Can you think of any other way the writing journey is like a bus ride? 

This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is wife to "Pastor John" and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Challenge Yourself- The Journey of an Unofficial Nano-er

Well, it’s unofficial.

My NanoWriMo is anyway.

If you don’t get the weird slang, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. There’s a website and tons of various support groups for it. Even ACFW has a special group set aside to encourage the chaotic masses of frenzied writers.

The typical expectation is 50K words in one month.

And for the everyday, four hours a day (or more) writer, that may seem just peachy.

But fitting it into an already filled day requires creativity and a whole lot of perseverance.

So on November 1 I took the plunge –except I set my wordcount at 40K (pretty sure that I’d never reach it).

Now I can’t afford to hire babysitters each night after work so that I can write. I can’t afford a housekeeper or cook to take care of those needs – so what on earth could I do to add more writing time to my day.

Here are some things I’ve discovered this month that have helped me reach my current 24K wordcount:

1. Turn off the T.V.

I didn’t realize how much time I wasted watching television – and I’m not a big-time T.V. watcher anyway. Just by going into another room after the kids are in bed, I’ve added so many more words to my manuscript. I’ve saved time for three of my favorite shows – but otherwise, I write.

2. Close the office door and bring a lunch

During my lunch break I would leave my office door open, allowing plenty of distractions if I had time to actually take a lunch. So on the days when I can take lunch in my office, I close the door, scarf down my packed lunch, and get to writing. I can have as much as 45 minutes and type between 500 & 1000 words, if I’m on a roll.

3. Get up 30 minutes earlier or stay up 30 minutes later

I still get plenty of sleep (for me), but staying up that extra 30 minutes gives me a little more time. It’s amazing what you can write in 30 minutes. Just the other day I wrote 217 words in a fifteen minute break of time while the potatoes were boiling for dinner. :-)

4. Strategically write in the midst of chaos

While my kids are watching a movie I pull my laptop into the living room with them. My daughters will usually come snuggle up on either side of me, and I’ll write. While they’re enjoying some animated or kid-friendly video (that I’ve seen 100 times), I can get a few more words in. It’s really amazing.

The whole experience has been a good kick in the writer-buns for me. It’s shown me what I can accomplish with the time that I do have.

So- are you a NaNo-er?

What are some of your tips for getting in that extra time?


Pepper Basham is a pastor’s wife, mom of five, and university instructor. She write stories (of various genres) and peppers them with grace and a dash of humor. Her current motto: “Three things are necessary, four are required: God’s grace, a sense of humor, children’s hugs, and good chocolate. Everything else is secondary.”

Photos courtesy of:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

From our family to yours....
We wish you a thanksgiving full of good food...

Family that crowds the table....

A heart of thanks that can not be quenched and the gift of everything you love.

With Thanksgiving this coming Thursday, I didn't have to think very hard what the theme for today would be. ;-)

Share some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories, we would love to share in them with you!

Coming up next week...

Pepper steals your Monday with  Challenge Yourself: The Journey of an Unofficial Na-No.

Take a bus ride with Sherrinda on Tuesday --it will be about writing. She promises. ;-)

Wednesday, Mary gives you a taste of each of what the Alley cats are thankful for.

Thursday, between bites of turkey, stuffing and thankful whispers to our Author, Casey has a writer's prayer.

Amongst Black Friday frenzy shopping, stop by real quick for Krista's word budgeting post-writing with the best words possible.

Sidewalk Talk....

Casey's blog party for her 2nd year of blogging is still partying on! Krista was a guest this last Friday and she still has the grand finale coming on Monday!! Not to be missed! (or at least, I hope you won't ;-)

Are you a Na-Noer? Then join the encouragement and camaraderie on the My Book Therapy forums.

Katie Ganshet launched her website on Wednesday and is launching her COVER on her blog on Monday.

And most of all...have a wonderful Thanksgiving and know we are so thankful for you!

Photo Credit

Friday, November 18, 2011

What is Your Novel Missing? Hooks

For the last few weeks we've been talking about what could be missing from our novels - mostly based on key things I notice lacking from my own work. If you'd like to read the other posts, you can check out Senses or Deep POV.

This week, it's all about drawing readers into the story with every new scene, or keeping them reading at the end of every scene or chapter. We writers like to call these read on prompts and hooks.

They make you want to read on. They make you look at the clock, know it's too late to keep reading, but you have to do it anyway.

Asking a Question

Hooks make you ask a question, or maybe make you wonder what's going to happen next. For example...

It wasn't the worst break-up he'd had, but close.

This hook makes you ask who is this guy? What was the worst break-up he'd had, or why did he just break up with someone? Anything that immediately makes your reader want to read on to answer a question is a hook.

The Right Time During the Action

Dropping readers in the middle of action is a great way to hook readers and make them want to read on.

Cecily's car skidded sideways, her foot pumping uselessly against the break. Ice bloomed out all around her and her hands spasmed against the wheel. She spotted the tree two short breaths before the impact.

Starting a scene in the middle of action is a quick and simple way to snag your reader.


Just as it's a good tactic to start a scene at the best place during the action, it's a great idea to hook at reader at the end of a scene by stopping in the middle of action.

Banging his knuckles on the back door of the restaurant, Mason muttered about his phone, just as irritated with himself for leaving his cell inside as he was with Rebecca for distracting him with all her problems. When no one answered he cupped his hands around his eyes and peered inside the window.

Light refracted off broken glass, a dark liquid spread across the floor inside. His stomach clenched, his feet backing up automatically until they hit a hard surface. Then a hand clamped on his shoulder.

Leave your character wanting to turn the page to see what's going to happen next. Is Mason in danger? Is someone hurt? Make your reader keep reading.

Character Revelations

Reveal something new about a character to either start or end a chapter. It connects the reader to your character and makes your reader want more.

Maggie eased open the front door at the sound of the bell. A bouquet of red roses sat directly in front, baby's breath filling out the rest of the crystal vase. She swallowed hard. A sweet gesture for sure, but the last time she'd gotten such an extravagant display of flowers it had preceded a proposal.

And last time, Maggie swore she'd never get herself in a serious relationship like that again.

Revealing history or information and quirks about your character is a useful way to get readers to want to know more.

Other ways to implement a hook are to use humor, state something that makes the reader think, or use an interesting piece of dialogue.

Invest some extra time in starting or ending chapters in a way that makes the reader want more and you've accomplished a challenging feat, but one that will really help your story.

What are some ways you hook a reader into wanting more?


Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Storming the Brain

In late October, regular commenter here at the Alley, Jeanne T. asked what was my biggest takeaway from Techniques of the Selling Writer. While I’ve read and reread through this book, I’d have to go with what I’m giving you below.

Swain spoils writers with his lightning, surefire method of getting to the heart of what your book is about.

When delving into the sometimes cloudy area of story elements, Swain challenges writers to fill out as many specifics as possible when capturing the following (and then stripping them down to the essentials).


After we flesh out each of the above for our novel, Swain challenges us to combine all five into two sentences. We can use this as a reminder and a structural base as we write.
I even tend to be more of a pantser than a plotter, but I make sure to construct (at the very least) a skeletal version of the above. This is one way for me to test my plot—to see if it will sink or swim as the rains of distraction and lack of focus increase and threaten to flood the work.

Swain also emphasizes the importance of incorporating a “fresh idea or unique twist” in our manuscripts. I cannot echo this enough. To make a novel stand out today, we must be intentional about seeking out and working with all that’s original in our work. We must not settle for clichĂ©. Just like every single one of us possesses unique features, our book must also take on a distinctive, defining form.

Have you ever flubbed when someone has asked you what your story is about? That all too important question can get thrown at us at the most unpredictable times. After you spend time brainstorming the above you’ll no longer have to fish for words.

You’ll answer with confidence because you allowed your brain to be stormed. Maybe you’ll even inspire thunderous applause. ;)

What forms of novel preparation are you familiar with?

Wendy Paine Miller writes women’s fiction, crafting stories with the hope of poking brains and moving thoughts. She graduated with a BA in English from Wittenberg University, where she earned an Honor of Distinction for her accrued knowledge of literature. Wendy feels most alive when she’s speeding in a boat, reading, writing, refurbishing furniture, running, and trusting God. To interact with her, visit

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chocolate, Pretzels, and the Power of Word of Mouth

There's no denying the truth. I love chocolate. In fact, it’s one of the many things that bonds me to my Alley sisters. Now put chocolate over pretzels and I’m gone. As in, gone to heaven and don’t want to return to reality any time soon.

So this is what prompted a very intellectual discussion at a recent haircut of mine. A commercial for pretzel M&Ms came on in the background, and my stylist and I got talking about them.

I said, “Y’know, I really don’t care for pretzel M&Ms.” [Don’t worry, M&M makers, you’ve hooked me with your peanut butter M&Ms] “They just don’t have enough pretzel flavor for me. If I want that combo, I’ll eat chocolate-covered pretzels.”

Her reply: “Have you ever tried Take 5 bars? They’ve got chocolate, pretzels, caramel, peanuts, and peanut butter.”

My jaw promptly dropped to my cape and I said, “Are you kidding me? That sounds amazing. I might just have to get one on my way home.”

And you know what? I did. And it was so good that I scarfed it down in minutes. And I’m secretly plotting how I can get my hands on another one and scarf it down this afternoon.

Now THAT is the power of word of mouth. A casual conversation about our favorite flavor combos, and *bam* I’m a customer for life.

That’s what we want to do with our fiction. We want to develop a brand that combines mouth-watering…er, page-turning…ingredients. And then we want to write another book with those elements and another book.

Because if we make a good enough combo (i.e., develop our craft skillfully), we’ll have people telling their friends about us. “You like a book that challenges your faith and makes you laugh until you snort? You’ve GOTTA check out Jenny Jones’ book Just Between You and Me.” “You want a book full of godly passion? I just read one of Julie Lessman’s books, and now I’m hooked.”

So keep working on your craft, keep pulling out those elements that are unique to you, and some day you’ll have readers passing on a good word. Oh, and feel free to eat a Take 5 bar while you’re at it.

Have you ever tried a new product or a new book based solely on someone's recommendation? Did you remain a fan for life? And since I'm in a chocolate kind of mood, tell me your favorite chocolate candy-bar combo.

*Chocolate bar photo by Graur Codrin /


Sarah Forgrave is a stay-at-home writer-mom who feels blessed to pursue her calling and passion. She writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market and is a regular contributor to the webzine Ungrind.

To learn more about Sarah, visit her personal blog at:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Writing Through...

"When its easy, when it just comes to you, when you feel like you're one heck of a writer, that's when you're probably tired and it's time to call it a day." So says writer Joe Nesbo, in the August 2010 volume of The Writer

What about on those days when it isn't easy? The days where you are slogging through trying to reach your daily count? Those days when you don't particularly feel like a good writer, don't feel inspired or briliant?

Keep going for 20 minutes, then decide. Another piece of writerly advice that seems to fall true. Most often if you continue writing for more than twenty minutes you can get yourself unstuck.

Give yourself permission to be wrong. Go ahead, use that word choice you know is not quite right. Allow yourself to move on. Mark the area that's bothering you and go and deal with it later, when you're in a better frame of mind.

Write backstory. Many times if I am "stumped" I'll allow myself to write backstory. I really enjoy writing "backstory" and even though I don't use it all it always helps me. These are the stories I always have running in the back of my mind for each character and getting it in writing can be a lot of fun.

Change POV for a little while. I recently added a second POV to my novel. It just seemed natural at the time. I had a spell of boredom with my main character. I decided to write from the contagonist's viewpoint for one writing session and I was hooked. Its a lot of fun to journal from another POV even if you don't end up using that. (Pepper recommended writing a journal from the perspective of my villain and I think he's been a richer character ever since I took her advice).

Remember its supposed to be fun. Give yourself permission for it to be fun again, even if just for a day. Today is the day you will enjoy your writing, try something new, stop thinking about deadlines, quit worrying about the market and write what you want to write. Just for you and God.
What about you? What helps you get "unstuck"?

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

It's all about the editing and that red pen.


Unpolished manuscripts don't land you contest finals

Unpolished manuscripts don't land you agents.

And unpolished manuscripts don't land you publishers.

So roll up your sleeves, grab the nearest red pen and let's add a few tips to your rolodex to hone those editing skills!

Coming up this next week...

We don't always get what we want, when we want it. Sometimes we have to wait. And such is what you'll have to do for Angie's post on Monday.

Tuesday, your blog hostess is Julia with her usual dose of inspiration.

Sarah is posting on Wednesday with "Chocolate, Pretzels, and the Power of Word of Mouth"-- and she isn't leaking any more details than that. ;-)

It's round two in Wendy's discussion of Techniques of a Selling Writer on Thursday.

Our fiction needs Hooks and Read-on Prompts! Which is Cindy's goal for her post on Friday.

News Stand:

Casey's second blogiversary starts on Tuesday! With giveaways galore, the party launchs with Erica Vetsch and Ruth Logan Herne. Don't miss a minute of the wild ride of giveaways, trivia and just pure fun!

We'll see you right back here on Monday!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Castle Time: Hooks

I love watching Sherrinda's tweets on Monday night between (central time) 9 and 10.

Even if I'm not able to be watching Castle (perish the thought!) I can always feel the tension from her tweets.

Usually it's something like, "HOLY COW!! _________________ just happened! AHHHH!!!"

And it's usually during a commercial break.

I can just picture spunky Miss Sherrinda. jumping up and down on her couch, yelling at the TV, "HURRY UP, stupid commercial, who needs Covergirl Makeup or insurance or a dumb car at a time like this?"

Because there is something Castle always does an amazing job at.

It HOOKS you.

It makes you hate commercial breaks... And at the end of seasons... when the main character gets shot (seemingly) dead...

That's what we want for our books too.

We want to grab the reader's attention and make them hurry through potty breaks, eat with a book in their hand, and read until their eyes cross at 2 in the morning when they have to be up for work at 5.

When they get to the chapter end, you want to entise them to read "just one more chapter."

But how do we do that?

A few ideas:

Leave the reader on an inhale. I think about this every time I end a chapter. My goal is for the reader to take a sharp inhale of breath when they read the last sentence. Don't explain a thing. You build, build, build through the chapter, then KABLAM something happens and end of chapter.

Leave the reader with emotion. Leave the reader crying, or jumping for joy, or scared. We don't like to have unfulfilled emotions.

Leave the reader with a sense of foreboding. Even a subtle illusion to "something might be coming" is enough to perk the reader's interest enough to turn the page to see what that something might be.

Really, it boils down to one thing:

Leave the reader wanting more.

This applies not only to chapter ending hooks, but to our novel as a whole. Until the end, when we reach our satisfying conclusion, our readers should always be wanting more of our characters, more of the story.

Discussion: What are some methods you use to end your chapters? Some recommend to automatically chop the last paragraph off of your chapter ending... agree or disagree? Any examples of good chapter-ending hooks that you've read lately?

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and a contemporary romance author. She recognizes that life can be frustrating and just plain not fun sometimes, but believes that laughter and smiles can make the not-so-fun a little better! She blogs about the amazing things God has been doing and her journey as a busy momma of 4 and caregiver to a daughter with a rare congenital heart defect at She is also a contributor at She is represented by the fab agent, Rachelle Gardner, and her debut novel, Sandwich, With a Side of Romance, releases in September 2012.