Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Talking Heads In Your Novel Writing

Photo by geralt @ pixabay
In the beginning of my writing journey, I was overcome by an invasion - an invasion of the Talking Heads. I was blindsided by these creatures, because I didn't know any better. These Talking Heads took over my manuscript until I learned how to creatively combat them.

Talking Heads occurs when two characters converse together without any action, description, setting, or mood. It's just two people talking back and forth, confusing the reader as to who is who, and therefore losing the flow of the story.

So how do we get rid of these pesky buggers? 

Action Tags: Break up the dialogue with action from the character. Have a character cook, open the refrigerator, get a drink, pick up toys off the floor, etc. Simple things that a character can do will help identify them and give the reader a sense of placement in the scene.

Descriptive Setting: Add a touch of descriptive setting into an action tag. Have the character pick at the folds of the red checkered tablecloth; or plop into a worn, threadbare recliner; or step over a huge mound of dirty laundry. These give the reader hints into the life of the character and anchors them into the scene.

Inner thoughts: Get into deep POV and express the thoughts of your character. Have your character say one thing, yet think the total opposite. Or let the character think through a problem he/she is arguing about with the other character.

Body Language: This may be one of my favorite things to combat Talking Heads. Using the character's body to give a sense of their feelings helps to identify them in the scene. Have your character roll their eyes, heave a sigh, slam a door, or run their hands through their hair. These convey (show) feelings instead of "telling" them to the reader.

What else can you add to the list of defense against the Talking Heads?

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, January 30, 2012

Handling Changes in the Publishing Industry with Guest Erica Vetsch

Casey here: I fell in love with Erica Vetsch through the pages of her books. Her personality and warmth on Twitter and finally in PERSON at the ACFW conference and was just a *tiny* bit excited to spot her walking across the hotel restuarant. I might have flung myself upon her...but we'll leave that up for you to assume. ;-)

I'm excited to have her guesting today on The Writer's Alley with her usual blend of charm, humor and wisdom. Here is Erica....
If you’ve spent any time at all pursuing publication, you know changes happen. Predicting them is impossible, timing them even more so. I’ve often asked myself ‘How can something that moves as slowly as the publishing industry change as quickly as the publishing industry?’

When you first start out as a writer pursuing publication, the wait just about kills you. Waiting for an agent’s approval, waiting for a publisher’s offer, waiting for your release date. Slow, slow, slow. Nothing ever changes, nothing ever will.

But consider how quickly things can happen in the publishing industry. Amazon began selling books online in 1994, revolutionizing how many people purchased their books. It’s only been five years ssince Amazon introduced the Kindle, completely changing e-readers and e-books. The e-book side of publishing has exploded in ways and directions unforeseen. Publishers, agents, bookstores, and authors are scrambling to establish a ‘new normal.’ Changes are rampant in the publishing industry. Publishing houses close, consolidate, are bought and sold, editors leave, editors come. It’s impossible to keep up.

And industry-wide changes aren’t the only changes an author can expect. In the last six months, I’ve been told the line I was writing for was being closed and my last book wouldn’t be released, then was told the line was in the process of being sold and my last book would be released. I’ve been informed that my agent was moving to a new agency and I needed to decide if I was going with her or if I was staying with my current agency. My publisher let me know one of my books that was scheduled to release in June would now release in December. And these changes that have happened to me recently aren’t as heart-wrenching as those some of my author friends have experienced. They’ve had book contracts cancelled, been dropped by their publisher, had their agents quit altogether.

So how does a writer handle all these changes that seem to come willy-nilly and in bunches? Here are three tips I’ve found helpful:

1.       Take a deep breath. There are always those out there who are sounding the death knell of publishing. In fact, I recently read an article that said ‘publishing is in love with its own demise.’ The end of the publishing world as we know it had been foretold, lamented, and mourned. And yet, here we are, still plugging away. Books are being published, contracts are being issued, readers continue to buy books. Take a deep breath. It will be okay.

Photo credit
2.       Educate yourself. You have nothing to gain by cowering in fear. If you wonder how e-books are affecting the book industry, ask questions of those who know. I had lots of questions this past fall about publishers offering free e-books on Kindle. How was this affecting sales of other books? Was the plethora of free content available keeping folks from buying books? So I asked. I talked with my agent, with my publisher, with industry professionals, and with other authors who had books free on Kindle.  By gathering information and advice from industry professionals who knew what they were talking about, I was able to allay my own fears and get some questions answered.

3.       Expect change and know that not all change is bad. If you dove into writing for publication because it was the most steady and secure employment you could think of…you’re in the wrong business! In this industry, you must expect changes and prepare for them as best as you can. Nothing is certain, and many things are out of your control.  Rather than wallow in fear and uncertainty, prepare yourself to roll with the changes. Keep an open mind about whether a change is good or bad. That isn’t to say some changes might not be painful or that just by expecting change, change will be easy. But my own experience has taught me that by being open to change, being flexible, and not basing my self-worth on being or getting published, I can better handle the inevitable changes that being a writer brings.

How about you? How do you handle changes in the publishing industry? Have you had to adapt and change when things don’t turn out like you plan?

My latest release:

A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas
About the Book: Hoping to leave the shadows of her shady yesteryears behind, Adeline Reid is focusing on her photography career. But when her ex-boyfriend’s compatriot in crime shows up in Dodge City her entire past is threatened by exposure. Can Addie keep her secrets while helping to catch a killer? Deputy Miles Carr’s investigation into a shopkeeper’s murder leads him to Addie’s door. Will his attraction to this female photographer keep him from catching the true culprit? Or will Addie lead him off course in more ways than one?

Author Bio: Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves history and reading, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical fiction set in the American West. Whenever she’s not following flights of fancy in her fictional world, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two terrific teens, wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul-mate, and avid museum patron.

Casey here again. What are your concerns about the changing market? Do you fear trying to sell your book with so many seemingly fickle and rotating demands?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's Up the Street for Next Week?

Photo credit
The pitches are in.

The votes are cast.

The numbers tallied and checked.

And we have a WINNER of the pitch contest. But you didn't think I would tell you right now, did you?

Of course not. ;-) Keep reading...

Coming up...

Erica Vetsch will be our guest here on the Alley on Monday! Talking about the ever-changing swings in the industry.

The lovely Miss Sherrinda is your hostess on Tuesday.

Enter the amazing world of descriptions on Wednesday with Mary.

Nix that passive in your writing with Casey on Thursday.

It's Critique Partners Part II with Krista on Friday. Catch up on Part I here.


We had a tremendous number of pitches to enter the contest for Rachel Hauck to perform My Book Therapy on the first 1,000 words of your story. But it finally came down to this pitch and the judges (who will remain nameless to protect the innocent) chose...

When a confirmed bachelor inherits his sister's four kids, he knows he can't do it all on his own.
But he can't mail order a bride - can he find one on Craigslist?

If this is your pitch, email your first 1,000 words only to the Writer's Alley email: thewritersalleys(@)gmail(.)com. Once it has been critiqued by Rachel it'll be posted HERE on the Alley--a great learning experience for all of us. ;-)

Thanks all and happy weekend!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Top 5 Tips Writers Can Learn From Reality TV

All right, I have to admit it. I love reality TV. I watch The Bachelor, I watch Project Runway (Allstars is awesome by the way! Anyone see Miss Piggy?). I get caught up sometimes. Not with all of them, but I enjoy these shows.

Maybe you're not a television fan, or at least not reality television, and that's just fine. Because you have ME to tell you writers out there just what it is about reality TV that keeps the fans coming back for more. Or even better, what YOU can take away from reality television and use in your own writing.

Relatable (or Unrelatable) Characters

Yeah, so sometimes I can't really relate to someone who is trying to wow Mr. Bachelor with her stellar flirting skills. But what we weekly watchers can relate to is that these women, or men, on these shows are real people. They're vulnerable. Like when they give you the back story on American Idol and you exclaim, "Oh, man, now I really want Monique to win!" And even we we don't exactly like they way certain people play the game or portray themselves on national television, we still have some sort of emotion toward them. They have feelings, they have aspirations and dreams, and we all know what that's like!

Conflict (or Drama!)

Reality TV is full of drama. Sometimes that's precisely why people DON'T like it. But one thing that's for sure, that's what keeps the ratings up. There's always something in every episode. A family emergency, a new character stepping onto the scene, the past rearing its ugly head in someone's life. Or someone simply showing their vulnerability, having a bit of a break down, and changing the course of the show. We want these things for our stories. We want conflict!

The Unknown

This is also what we want for our books! Reality TV has the penchant to catch us off balance, and that's not a bad thing - particularly not for writing books. There are plenty of times you have no idea what's going to happen and that's a characteristic of a good book. We don't want cliche storylines or settings (which is why I'm seriously going to try hard with my new WIP to NOT write even ONE scene in a coffee shop).

The Unexpected

This kind of goes along with the unknown. This is all about characters. On these reality shows, people have bigger than life personalities, they act in ways we don't expect. Yes, we want our readers to relate to our characters, but we also have to give them insistent personalities. Characters that aren't going to just let life happen to them, but are going to make things happen.

Cliffhangers and Hooks

Oh yeah. Leaving us hanging is a reality (or even regular TV) shows greatest tool. They hook us before commercials and hook us at the end of the show. As someone who isn't fabulous with hooks, I could learn a lot here. Ending chapters or scenes at just the right time, with something for the reader to hang onto, will help keep up pacing and give your readers (like reality television watchers) something to tune in for.

So if you're not a fan of The Bachelor, is this making you want to try it? It's okay if it isn't. We're writers, after all, and we're supposed to be focusing on writing, not TV. After this season is over, however, I'll probably get a LOT more writing done.

What about all you writers out there? Have you learned anything about writing from television, and which tip is easiest or hardest for you in your writing?

***photo courtesy of ABC


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, www.cindyrwilson.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome to the Alley Ashley Clark!

When we knew the time had come to make a few changes here on the Writer's Alley and welcome a new author into our ranks, we did so with a great deal of chatting through our email loop.

Oh the emails that flew!

And when Ashley Clark was suggested...it as if gold was struck. Angie's critique partner, Pepper's friend and known by several other Alley Cats, we were delighted when she accepted our invitation.

We think you'll love her as much as we already to. It is with great excitement that we share Ashley's debut post on the Alley and hope you give her a rousing welcome! She's going to be a great addition. :-))

Do you have any non-writing interests? If so, how do you balance them with writing and working?

Let’s see. I love exploring new places, everything from charming Southern towns to Hawaiian islands. I’ve recently taught myself to knit and crochet, which always seems most fun whenever you’re first beginning or ending a project. And I love my puppies. I’m passionate about animal rescue and am always picking up stray dogs and finding them homes. As for balancing my interests with writing and working, that’s one of the things I love best about writing—you can get inspiration in the most unlikely places! I find that if I just sit at home to write, I’m usually less productive than if I get out and find something I feel excited to write about.

When do you write, where do you write, and what writing attire do you write best in? 

I’m in a very fortunate position in my life right now in that I’m a part-time university instructor, so I have a fairly flexible schedule. I usually write in the afternoon because I am not a morning person, although I find my best writing is usually done about an hour or two after I should be asleep. Something about late-night writing, once everything else is quiet and the world is fast asleep, wakes up my imagination. I write in places I can force myself to focus and where I can find a creative environment, so sometimes that’s my sofa, sometimes it’s my office, and other times it’s a coffee shop like Starbucks. And I like to write wearing a cardigan, jeans, and a pair of Snoozies. Snoozies are of uptmost importance. You can find your very own pair here: http://www.yoursnoozies.com/

You get my brainstorming question…. I give you four random items and genre, you come up with a short pitch for a book that includes each of those items. MUHAHA!
Here goes: Genre = Amish Romance
Items: Blu-ray player, Starbucks Cake Pops, Confederate Money, and Furniture polish. GO! :-)

A teenage girl invents a time machine when she hooks her Blu-ray player into her Delorean. And no, she’s not just sniffing furniture polish. But will an Amish boy convince her that true love knows no time barrier as he offers to buy her a ring with his father’s Confederate money, or will Starbucks Cake Pops call her home?

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

Pepper and Ashley at ACFW 2011
Tough question! My very first appointment at a writing conference was with one of my writing heroes, Ami McConnell. I was so nervous, I was lucky I retained the ability to remember my name. I remember her telling me that my writing voice was strong, but that I needed to incorporate more impactful plot elements into my voice to make it effective. I went back to that advice every day in my mind as I composed my most recent novel, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Those thirty seconds changed the course of my writing.

What is the best writing advice you feel you should give at this point of your writing journey?

God is truly faithful to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we can ask or even imagine. Think about that. Do we really believe it? God promises more than you can even imagine to ask him. If God has equipped you to write—whether you are unpublished, unagented, or your sales have hit a slump after fourteen books—you can trust that even if it doesn’t look the way you think it will, God will fulfill your dreams. He is far more faithful than we are.

If you could rewrite any classic novel as a rom com, which would it be? Why?

Oh goodness! What a hard question. How about Lord of the Flies to make it bearable for high school students? Just kidding! I’d have to say I would pick a Jane Austen novel, even though her stories already have a lot of comedic elements, because I think they’d translate well to my interests and writing style. Plus, who doesn’t love Mr. Darcy? 

If you couldn't write for a career and had to pick something else, what would you want to do for the rest of your life? 

Well, I love being a literature instructor, so I’d definitely continue to pursue that. In fact, I knew I wanted to be a teacher before I ever fell in love with fiction writing.  

Then of course, there’s always the option of being a tour guide in Waikiki. Or maybe I could be a hula dancer. Do you have to be Hawaiian to do that? Definitely something to look into.

Since you write romantic comedy, I'm curious...What's the funniest scene you've written in a book that happened to you in real life? 

Oh goodness—I get so much of my material from embarrassing things that actually happen to me, or that happen to people who are mean to me. Just kidding about that last part! Well, mostly. Anyway, if I had to choose, I would have to say when my character Grace passes out in an airport bathroom. You have to understand that Grace, like me, is terrified of germs, so this is pretty much her worst nightmare. Now, I haven’t actually passed out in an airport bathroom, but I do have this terrible tendency to faint after stressful doctor’s visits. Usually it goes something like this: the black spots all begin to converge in my sight right as I’m writing the check to pay. “Are you okay?” The lady at the desk asks. “You look a little pale.” Ripping out the check quicker, I reply, “Oh yeah, I’m good. Thanks.” Then I rush out to the parking lot where I put my head between my legs until my hearing returns to normal. One time my mom even had to buy me a Coke and blast the air conditioner until I felt better—thank goodness she was with me, or I might’ve hit the pavement!

Welcome to the Writer's Alley, Ashley, we are so thrilled to have you join us and share with us what you have learned on this writing journey!

If you would like to know more about Ashley visit the "Shopkeepers" page at the top of the Alley blog page or check out her blog at http://ashleyclarkwrites.blogspot.com. And you might also know Ashley is listed under the link in the sidebar of Alley agents, because...Karen Solem is her agent. Congratulations! :-)

If you watch the short video below, you'll also see Ashley (and our dear Pepper).

It'll be exciting to see what God does in the coming months and years here on the Alley!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to Be a Better Blogger, Part 2

So we've all jumped into the blogging waters and are wondering where to go from here, right?

Two weeks ago, I shared blogging tips that will help us determine the right blog schedule and content. Today I'd like to dive into more nitty-gritty tips. These are things we can incorporate into our posts to draw in even more readers and to make their experience more enjoyable.

Now before I start, I want to clarify that these are not "must-do's". You can pick and choose from these tips based on your personality and blog style and use what fits.

1) Use pictures. Did you notice how we use a lot of pictures on the Alley? Some people may gloss right over them, but for visual people, they can help create a warm and inviting environment. Not to mention they can hone in on the concept you're trying to convey.

2) Use checklists. Case in point in this post. :) Especially for instructional posts, checklists help make the content easier to read and remember.

3) Highlight or bold important sentences or points. Not only does this drive the concept home, but it's also great for readers who are short on time. If they need to skim, they can easily see the key points and respond.

4) Keep your paragraphs short. Blogs read much different than books, so we have to learn to write them differently. Keeping plenty of white space on the screen makes it easier on the eyes. And it also makes it quicker to read.

5) Keep your post short. There may be the occasional long-winded post that makes perfect sense. But in general, blog readers are very busy people. And they're more likely to return to your blog when they know you'll respect their time and get right to the point.

6) Ask questions at the end. Even though not everyone will respond, you may just draw out someone shy by asking their opinion. And that only serves to build the personal connection that is oh-so-important.

7) Give a sneak peek to your next post. If you plan your posts ahead, this can be a great way to whet your readers' appetites. It also shows that you're thinking intentionally about what you post and gives them a roadmap of what to expect.

8) Above all else, be genuine! I mentioned this in my last post, but it's so important I'm mentioning it again. People can sense phonies from a mile away, and they can also sense when you're blogging for your own purposes. Be genuine in your blogging relationships and show others you care. There's no substitute for it!

So let's get the dialogue going, shall we? :) Do you use any of these tricks on your blog? What other blogging tips have been successful for you?

*Social media photo by jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
**Question photo by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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, January 24, 2012

Is Your Voice a Full Symphony...

Or does it blend in with the choir.

Voice can easily take a good book and make it memorable.

Or lack of attention to voice can make a well-plotted novel seem humdrum.

I recently listened to Kaye Dacus' workshop on Voice from ACFW's 2010 conference. Dacus lamented the fact that much of CBA fiction is beginning to sound the same. Sure, we've followed all the rules to a tee. But perhaps the cost has been too high, as in some cases we are losing our voice, our very distinctiveness. It is an excellent CD I can highly recommend.

 (Oh and by the way, if you haven't done so, be sure to read Kaye's Writing Series Index. Its chock-full of great writing advice on nearly every topic imaginable).

I had recently finished a book that had disappointed me. The writer had seemed to follow many of the rules we have learned about through countless writing books. Keep it fast-paced. Avoid passive voice. No adverbs. Show, don't tell.

I talked to my husband and finally found out what was troubling me. There was nothing that made this book unique. This book could have been written by anyone in my mind.

Recently I read another book by an author, Chris Fabry, who I think of as an armchair author for me. After reading several of his books I feel like I'm getting to know his voice as a writer and there's a comfort in that.

Another author I have recently read is Ginger Garrett. Her genre and style of writing are quite different from Chris', but she has a distinctive voice of her own that I love reading. Garrett is a storyteller who serves as a familiar travelogue on journeys through biblical lands, or early American history. She immediately captures my attention.

Another favorite of mine for voice is Laura Frantz. She is one of the rare historical fiction authors who has mastered the voice of the time period she writes in. Her beautiful prose is old-fashioned in a way that uniquely distinguishes her.

A common MFA in Creative Writing exercise I'm told is to imitate your favorite authors' styles. While I have no doubt there is value in this exercise...let's remember we're not called to be the next Willa Cather, L.M. Montgomery, or whoever else it is we admire.

Let's not forget that we can offer what no one else can...our voice.

Who are your favorite authors when it comes to voice? How would you describe their voice? Or how would you describe your own voice?

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, January 23, 2012

Short and Sweet: The One Page Synopsis

So you've got a wip, or a finished novel, and whether it is for a contest or a proposal, you are asked to write a synopsis of your 300 page book, in O-N-E P-A-G-E. Hm. Seriously?

Yes, yes, it sounds like torture, but if you step back and think about it, this is a GREAT exercise. A one page synopsis makes you sit down and hash out your story, understand your character arc, and weed out the unnecessaries. Actually, if you do the synopsis before you have completed your manuscript, you might just tighten your plot and find yourself able to write the rest of the story with clearer vision.

After a couple of years of struggling with these babies, I've had some awesome critiques and advice from fellow writers that I'd like to share.

Tip #1: Only include major plot points that move the main character(s)/plot line forward. Your plot may have some great twists and turns, and the use of secondary characters to move the plot forward, but be sure to only focus on the significant things that get your character from point A to point B.

Here's an example from my own synopsis (keep in mind that Yana and Andres are the main characters):


The chief's second wife, Shina, births a stillborn. Chief Vio shuns her because of this. Shina has a history of lusting after other men, so when Yana discovers Shina and Alvarez in intimate conversation, she tells Andres to warn Alvarez about Shina's shameful desires.



When Yana discovers the commander in a heated embrace with her father's second wife, she warns Andres that the entire crew of Spaniards could be put to death.

NOTE: Think of the synopsis from the perspective of your main character, and what it does to move the plot forward in their perspective.

Tip #2: Cut out unnecessary words as much as possible. Who loves flowery speech?? I do! I do! But one page is the limit:

My example (although, as I write this, I see even more ways I can cut this down!):


When they come to a great river, Andres is anxious to board their crude vessel, but fears the savages they may face on their voyage.

To the point:

When his crew comes to a great river, Andres boards their vessel, fearful of the savages they might find.

Tip #3: Use an active voice. This is something I have struggled with in my writing also...it's so easy to slip into passive voice (the dreaded “tell vs. show”). If you use the active voice, you have a better chance at keeping your word count down also.

My example:


From Andres's heart-filled journal entries, he embellishes on his constant reliance on God's provision in the face of wild creatures, and disease among their crew.


Andres is determined to rely on God's provision in the face of wild creatures and threatening disease.

Tip #4: Let your voice sing! What judge, agent, or editor wants to read a monotone play-by-play? Be sure to weave your voice in the presentation of your synopsis. Say it like you would write it in your book. Maybe even use some lines in your book if you can make them fit with the flow of the synopsis. Make it unique, make it YOURS!

What are your biggest concerns with a one-page synopsis? Do you have any tips you'd like to share?

Cami Tang offers her EXCELLENT professional advice on the one page synopsis! Check it out here.

 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, January 21, 2012

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

I sure hope you caught the contest update this week to have Rachel Hauck give a bit of live therapy on your story section! All it takes is to submit your pitch/log line for your story. You can find all the details here.

Time's almost up, you only have until Tuesday to get your pitches submitted!

It's exciting to also announced our newest Alley Cat this week! Check out the schedule to see who we will be welcoming to the blog. :-)

Coming up next week...

It's the perfect time of year for help with that one page synopsis and Angie has tips on Monday.
Julia is your hostess on Tuesday.
Part 1 of Better Blogger tips is already up. Be sure and read these great tips before Sarah's part 2 on Wednesday.
We welcome our newest Alley Cat, Ashley Clark to the blog on Thursday!

What can you learn from reality TV? Cindy has a list for writers on Friday.

Sidewalk Talk/ Random News Stand

Sarah has the fabulous Dense Hunter on her blog on Monday with her signature hilarious interviews and a great book giveaway!

What's up the new up and coming fiction featured this week? Check out Casey's blog for a new novel to add to your TBR pile.

The Frasier writing contest opens TODAY! Have you planned to enter yet?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Critique Partners: Am I ready?

There comes a point in every writers life where they ask:

Am I ready for a critique partner?

There is no right or wrong answer.

In fact, for some writers, the answer is NO, and they'll never get or need one. They are a pretty secluded group though.

A few questions to ask yourself:

Have I completed a book? Some might disagree, but personally, I don't think you should get a critique partner until after you've at least finished your first draft of your first book.

Have I taken steps to learn the craft of writing? Have you read books on the craft? Gone to writing conferences? Studied other books in your genre? Not only does this help your own work in progress, but it develops skills that will make you valuable to a critique partner.

Is my book the BEST I can get it? Not only do you need to complete your book, but you should edit it as well. It is a waste of a critiquers time if they spend it all correcting things you could have easily fixed yourself.

How thick is my skin? Getting tough feedback from a writing peer is HARD. It can break the strongest person's writing will. So make sure you've worked that skin up and developed some callouses so you can take that feedback and apply it without becoming too emotional or bent out of shape.

Do I have the time? Not only are you devoting time to your own writing, taking on a crit partner also means you'll need to make time to edit THEIR material. It's a two-way street. Count the time costs and engage appropriately !

So... if you've decided that yes, it's time to make the crit partner leap, where do you go from there? Stay tuned for my next post in two weeks titled Critique Partners: How the heck do you find one?

If you've decided that nah, not to that point yet, good for you! Keep working toward that goal! You can do it!

Discussion: Do you have a crit partner/group relationship? Have you had one in the past? Share your experiences! If you haven't... why not?Are you just not ready or having trouble finding one?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Alley First! A Writing Contest with a Pretty Fabulous Prize!

How would you like to have Rachel Hauck, My Book Therapist, multi-published, best-selling author perform therapy on YOUR story?

That's right, you read it correctly.

But of course we have details. You didn't think it was going to be that easy did you? ;-)

Because we are a writing blog, we want to help you take your craft to the next level and we are very excited to have our guest, Rachel, do that, not just for one of you, but for all of us!

Now before Rachel hyperventilates at the nightmare of us all flooding her inbox with our 1,000 word excerpts, let me explain just a bit more.

The winner will send 1,000 words (and no more) of their story (a choice of a work in progress that you have) to Rachel, who will do therapy to the section. Once her magic is complete, Rachel will send it back to me...to then be posted here on the blog for all of us to learn from.

(side note: if you are the winner and don't wish to have your name on the section to be posted live on our blog, then please notify me when I email you the winner's details.)

This option does NOT come around very often. In fact, you really don't see this period, so I suggest you take advantage of this amazing opportunity!

**~The contest details~**

To enter the contest to send 1,000 words of your story to Rachel Hauck, in the comments, submit your LOG LINE or PITCH for your story.

An example of a pitch would be: All Jenna Hutch wants is a chance at normal newlywed bliss. But a haunting past and the secret of an unborn child threaten to unravel the fragile hope she has placed in tomorrow.

This was the pitch/ log line for my first contemporary novel , Releasing Yesterday.

We're looking for 1-2 sentences that sums up your story. Good things to include is: main character, story question and the main conflict

Since Rachel is a fiction author, we are going to default to fiction being the stories to be pitched in this contest.

Your pitch will be judged by the Alley Cats and may the best pitch win. :-)

This contest will be open until NEXT TUESDAY, January 24th with the winner announced in that Saturday's weekend edition, so you do have a *little* bit of time to perfect your pitch and get it submitted.

Woo-hoooo! It's an Alley first and we're super excited to have this opportunity to share it with you!

Inspire greatness and let's make this a slam-dunk success!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I confess, I'm hooked.

I love to write. 

I'm close to keying the words "The End" on the first manuscript that has potential, thanks to great mentors, classes, books, crit partners, writing friends, blogs...**News flash--as of the night before this post hit your computer--I finished!!

The question of the day is, will my beginning hook readers into turning pages?

Actually, depending on a reader's mood, the time of day, current crisis and joys, and a thousand other components like brand of chocolate, hooking a reader into our story can be a complex issue.

But, maybe today, you will gleam a helpful tool to smooth the complex into simple.

Tips to Writing a Good Hook

1. Start your story with the most intriguing situation.

     For example: Say you wanted to write a story about a young woman's struggles.
 The story begins:  A young woman left work and is enroute to a restaurant where she plans to spend the last night with her fiancee before he is deployed. She discovers she is out of gas. She zooms into the gas station to put in a few gallons to hold her over until tomorrow.

Time to play the "what if game"

What if this story started instead with a teaser.  A teen, pulls into the gas station. She hopes there is money left in her account. Jena reaches into the car to get her debit card, and suddenly feels strong labor pains. The baby wasn't due for three more weeks. Her sister and mother would arrive the next day. She had no social supports to call in the area and the only person at the gas station was the attendant who had headphones on. Jena is frightened, has no money, and doesn't know what to do.

In this case, we could start with the teen's plight, just enough to stir the reader's curiosity. Briefly build the scene with Jena's emotional conflict then break away to the woman's point of view. 

   For example: Angie leaves work, is caught in rush hour and notices the gas tank is on empty (she forgot to fill it that morning). Her fiancee received a call for deployment to Afghanistan. Since he would leave late that night he made reservations at the best restaurant for dinner. She stops at a gas station.

Inside the car at the pump in front of her is a female screaming. She goes to car and finds a distraught 19-year old woman. The woman shouts, "My baby is coming! Please help me." The only other person at the station is the gas attendant. I could call an ambulance and still have plenty of time to get to the restaurant. But she remembers the night her baby suddenly came, that horrible night several years ago when she was all alone ....

Now the two are brought together and the story can move forward, building conflict, growing characters, thickening subplots and deepening the overarching plot.

Igniting the perfect hook is like braiding hair or weaving yarn. It takes many pieces woven together to give a strong beginning and hold the story together. The chosen first piece rests on the bottom--not the top, it provides the underlying strength. It cannot stand alone. When the viewer sees the product the chosen first doesn't stand out. However, without the chosen first, there would not have been a hook, or a good product.

Camy Tang once mentored me with these words: "You need to start your story at __________ instead." Wow! Once I followed her instructions, my hook sounded good.

My next post, in two weeks, will continue this topic.

Have you found the perfect place to start your story?


Image by: Freedigitalphotos.net
and Mary Vee

This blog post is 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 http://www.mimaryvee.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Themes and Story Premise in Novel Writing

Last week when I was asked what I was posting about today, I blurted out "themes", because 1) I didn't know what to post about, and 2) I have been thinking about the theme for my new WIP I am getting close to starting and figured I might have something to say about it. But now that I am sitting in front of the computer - the day before the post goes up - I am not really sure what to say about theme. Actually, there is not much to say.

Dictionary.com defines theme as: a unifying or dominant idea.

Every story has a theme or idea that moves the story forward. A good way to flesh out a theme is by the story premise...the "what if" question that drives the plot through to the end. Let's take a look at some examples and see if you can guess the movie.

1) What if a man falls in love with the woman who is carrying his beloved dead wife's heart?
2) What if a woman gets engaged, but must first get her husband, who she hasn't seen in 10 years, to sign divorce papers?
3) What if a child was left at home during Christmas and had to defend the house against burglars?
4) What if the rightful king was imprisoned behind a mask for most of his life?
5) What if a group of maids got together and wrote a book about their experiences - no matter the cost?

Okay, let's see how you did. The answers are:

1) Return to Me - unending love and second chances
2) Sweet Home Alabama - forgiveness and second chances
3) Home Alone - finding meaning in survival and understanding real love in family
4) Behind the Iron Mask - honor and integrity wins over lies and betrayal
5) The Help - the truth shall set you free

I like to think of themes as the underlying message you want to get across in your book. The "what if" question helps to hone the theme into your story's premise. It is the meat on the bone, so to speak. The icing on the cake. The ice cream on the cone. The cream in your coffee....okay, so I digress.

So you see, there is not much to a theme or story premise, but they are an oh-so-important aspect of your writing and your story.

Tell me...what is your story's theme and story premise? If you are not a writer, what is your favorite movie or book's theme and story premise?

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, January 16, 2012

Getting Back in the Groove

I think happens to all of us at some point or other.

We lose our groove.

Writing-wise, I mean. I don’t think I’ve ever found my groove for dancing. I can play a mean conga drum, but dancing? Nah! It’s one of those moments when my children cower in total humiliation – or for the younger ones, abject confusion :-)

The status of my writing groove has been questionable since the end of NaNoWriMo. After devoting every second to writing – and working it around my horribly busy schedule, I was exhausted. The craziness (and wonderful-ness) of Christmas came and went. THEN I started up my new university semester this month. My groove got lost somewhere along the way.

I truly believe that each writer has a typical way to ‘feed’ his/her groove, and many times, if we don’t pay attention to the type of creativity God birthed within us it can squelch our desire.

Some writers are ‘Stay the Course’ writers. They start a novel and methodically make it from beginning to end. Rarely do other story ideas distract them from their course, but if they feed the ‘new’ idea too much, they may lose their focus and drive for their WIP.

Some writers are “Plan first, Write Later”. They collect all of their research, data, character sketches, plotting charts, and scene by scene synopsis until the shape of the story is set, and THEN they write.

Other writers are “Tackle-Plan Writers”. They may be Pantsters who start their story and stop at various points along the way to gather research, reshape the novel, and solidify what they have.

Then there are people like me. I refer to my writing style as the “Doug-Writer”. Ever seen the moving “Up”. The dog on the movie up, named Doug, is constantly distracted by a ‘squirrel’. Well, that’s kind of like me. I am at my writing BEST when I can swing between two (or sometimes three) novels. Here’s why. I can write on one until I hit a wall, then switch and feel those wonderful creative juices flowing…until I hit a wall, then switch back. It REALLY suits my innate writing needs. (This type can also be referred to as Writer-ADHD)

When I’ve tried to be a Stay the Course writer, I lose my creativity and ‘fire’ (as Cathy Marie Hake calls it) after about two months. I really need to go ‘where the fire is’.

Along the way I’ve also discovered some practical ways to get my writing groove back. Here are a few:

1. Pray (duh…I wish I could say I always go to this one first.)

2. Read FABULOUS books from FABULOUS authors like….Julie Lessman, Mary Connealy, Liz Curtis Higgs, Siri Mitchell, Laura Frantz, Denise Hunter, Julie Klassen, Janice Hanna Thompson, or Susan May Warren.

3. Daydream – I have a very vivid imagination. When left to its own devices, it’s one of the things that gets me into trouble with too many stories  But it is always a way to reignite those creative sparks. Daydreaming about my wip can jumpstart my writing.

4. Watch an inspiring movie. I usually like to stick to a movie genre that is somehow related to my wip. Gleaning inspiration from other stories is a MUST for any writer, I believe.

5. Brainstorm with fellow writers. The Alley Cats are wonderful brainstormers, and one conversation with them can sometimes be the encouragement and the jumpstart I need to hop back into one story or other :-)


Do you have some more writing styles to add to the list?

What do you do to get your writing groove back?
Pepper Basham is a pastor’s wife, mom of five, and university instructor. She takes the storytelling elements of her Blue Ridge Mountain heritage and spices a variety of genres with grace and humor. She can be found causing mischief at her group blog The Writers Alley, or at http://www.pepperbasham.wordpress.com/

pictures courtesy of http://www.fanpop.com/spots/penguins-of-madagascar/images/21932618/title/king-julien-screencap

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What's Up The Street For Next Week?

A good book is always necessary.


Of course.

In fact, fiction should be a tax write off, shouldn't it? I mean, we learn from the fiction we read which makes our craft better. So it should be a tool we use in our writing.

I could go with that. ;-)
Throughout today's weekend edition, check out the recommendations from the Alley Cats in the best books they read in 2011.

ALSO be on the lookout for a super contest to hit the blog on Thursday. You aren't going to want to miss this one!

Up the street for next week...

Pepper will give you tips on on getting your writing groove back first thing on Monday (always good after a weekend, right? ;-)

Tuesday, Sherrinda tackles the all-important aspect of "theme" in our books.

Gotta hook? The kind for readers, not the pirate kind. Either way, Mary is impaling the topic on Wednesday.

Thursday holds an Alley First (!!) when we welcome Rachel Hauck, My Book Therapist and best-selling author. Rachel will be giving away a thousand word critique. Don't miss this post. At all!

You're ready for a critique partner. Now how in heck are you going to find one? Krista will be your hostess on Friday.

Alley News:

We will be welcoming our newest team member next week and spend a day letting her introduce herself to you. We think you'll like her. ;-)

Have a question for the Alley Cats? We have fun plans for your questions, so don't be shy! You can email them to: thewritersalleys(@)gmail(.)com
Photo credit

What was the best book you read in 2011?