Thursday, October 09, 2008


The Top 2 Secrets for Writing a Book in 30 Days

by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

[Note: National Novel Writing Month is only a few weeks away, and almost 20,000 participants have already signed up. If you're going to take the challenge, here's a great article with two tactics you can use in order to have a successful NaNoWriMo experience. Good luck! --MP]

Is it really feasible to write a book in 30 days? In a word "Yes," but there are some secrets you need to know beforehand to be successful. In my book, Book in a Month: The fool-proof system for writing a book in 30 days (Writers Digest Books, 2008), I discuss all the secrets in detail. Here, I share the top 2 secrets to get you started.

Secret #1: Working "As If"

Working "as if" means that you keep writing, you keep moving forward with your story, and as new ideas or changes come to mind, you jot them down on your notes sheet (in an organized way of course!) and keep writing "as if" you've made those changes already. Because ...
You cannot write and rewrite at the same time if you want to finish a book in 30 days!

Character example
Let us say for some reason you want to change the name of your character from Anne to Barbara and you want her to be a pianist instead of a waitress. Instead of going back and changing every page that contains a reference to Anne or her occupation, you just jot down on the notes sheet:
"Change Anne to Barbara and make sure she's a pianist in all of her scenes, check pages x — xxx."
Then you use the name Barbara from this point forward and write as if she is a pianist.
You can also do this for character background changes. If you would like to change the childhood issues for one character so you can make her "gritty and jaded" when she goes home for Christmas, just jot it down on your note sheet and write her as if she were gritty and jaded from this point on. This type of change may also affect other characters, like her parents, so make sure you make any necessary notes on them as well.

Plot example
You are absorbed in your writing and all of a sudden realize you should have included a fight scene between Chris and Mike two chapters ago. It is the only way this current scene you are writing will make sense. No problem. Jot down on your notes sheet:
"Fight scene between Chris and Mike in chapter x. The outcome is xxxx because xxxxx. The point is xxxxx. See page x."

You can also get out your red pen and write on the page you wish to include this scene:
"Insert fight scene here — see notes sheet."

Subplot/Situation example
You suddenly get an idea for a great subplot. Or, when you have dull moments in the plot because you need to convey information (or you are facing the pains of the second act!), select one of the dramatic situations found in my book Story Structure Architect: A writer's guide to building dramatic situations and compelling characters (Writers Digest Books, 2005) and create a placeholder for it as a subplot to liven things up. Either way, jot it down on your notes sheet so you can add any preliminary pieces needed to set up the subplot in the previous chapters, then go ahead and write it.

Why is this Note Sheet so Valuable?
Now all these changes you came up with while writing are no longer taking up valuable space in your brain and you are free to keep moving forward, free to generate more ideas, free to keep getting those pages done.

Secret # 2: Subplots — Leave 'em?

You may also want to avoid working on the subplots all together. Many writers churn out a quick version of their story with subplots to be added later. It all depends on your writing style and level of mastery. Most of us do better if we can just focus on the main characters and plotline, and race through to the end. There is nothing wrong with that.
As you write, you can type in big letters:
"Subplot — Cari meets with hero about surprise party plans. Alex doesn't know."
And then continue on with the main plot. This way you know where you want the subplots to fit in and how they will progress but you don't waste a lot of time and brainpower working on them just yet. Because...

Subplots are always the first thing to go or change during the rewrite!
Once you get to "The End" you will be able to see:
• Where the story is a little slow
• Where things don't make sense
• What new information needs to be added
• How many characters need to be changed or dropped

Can you see that working too much on subplots can be a waste of time? Even if you keep all the subplots you create during these 30 days they will, nonetheless, change; the main plot will require them to change because it itself will change and grow as you write: new settings, characters, information, transitions, purpose, goals, subtext. The subplots will have to reflect these changes.
I hope you find these secrets helpful. Writing a book in a month is all about getting that first draft down on paper. You cannot expect to churn out something that is all ready to go to print in 30 days, but you will have your book completed, and that is what it is all about.

Copyright 2008 by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. All rights reserved in all media.
Victoria Lynn Schmidt is the author of 45 Master Characters (Writer's Digest, 2007) Book in a Month: The fool-proof system for writing a book in 30 days (Writers Digest Books, 2008) and Story Structure Architect: A writer's guide to building dramatic situations and compelling characters (Writers Digest Books, 2005). Victoria also teachers writers how to hone their craft and become published writers. She can be reached at

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Challenge Yourself With a Short Story Today!

Some writers dream of Oprah announcing their novel as her next book club selection. Others fantasize the day they accept the Pulitzer Prize. Few authors daydream about receiving two contributor copies after having a short story published. Yet, writing short stories can improve your writing skills and increase your marketability.

The following is a section of an article I wrote about short stories that appeared on the Tickled by Thunder website a few years ago. Here are three reasons why writing a short story might help you become a better writer.

Writing short stories gives you a sense of completion. Writers often complain, “It took me years and years to get my novel just right.” Novels are like spaghetti sauce, simmering for days; whereas short stories are like the noodles—boiling and ready in twenty minutes.

One of the benefits of writing a short story is the amount of time it takes to complete. You might sketch out a rough draft after three sessions at your computer. Then you set the story aside for a few days before revising and editing. Next, you present the story to a friend or critique group to get other opinions. You again revise and edit, add those finishing touches, and—Voila! You have a completed story. This process takes weeks instead of years.

Getting anything published is hard work. You must be dedicated to rewriting, rewriting, and more rewriting. You have to research the market, learn proper manuscript format, and write a brilliant cover letter. Getting a short story published is like playing a good game of miniature golf—it’s not as easy as it looks, but with knowledge, skill, and practice, you can do it. Getting a novel published is like playing professional golf —it’s much more difficult and fewer people do it.

Let’s look at Writer A and Writer B. Writer A has never published anything and has worked on his fantasy novel for three years. He is finished and looking for an agent. In his cover letter, he writes an exciting summary and a convincing argument of why his work is different from other fantasies. In his closing paragraph, he has nothing to write for previous publications. The agent is not impressed.

Writer B has also completed her first fantasy novel, which she entered into a contest and won first prize. She has written several short stories and had a few published. In her cover letter, she lists her previous writing successes. Remember an agent or editor needs to make money off your book. If no one has read your work or published it, why should someone take an economic risk on you?

Speaking of money, sometimes you get paid for shorter pieces. A lot of magazines pay in copies, but some do give you a check. And the best news about submitting a short story is you don’t need an agent. Editors deal directly with you.

You can use short stories to strengthen your writing skills. Maybe you need to work on writing realistic dialogue or fitting all five senses into your descriptions. Perhaps you want to use flashbacks but can’t seem to make smooth transitions. Or a friend, who critiqued your opening chapters, said your main character was typical and boring.

Try working out these problems in a short story, focusing on improving those particular weaknesses. For example, if you are having trouble with dialogue tags, write a short story where two characters discuss their daughter’s murder. Practice putting action before or after your dialogue instead of using the word “said.” To solve your typical characters problem, create a new character, listing his unique qualities, and then write a short story about him. See if this method works for you before you change your entire novel.

Write in different points of view or in first person instead of third. If you admire someone’s writing style, you could try a similar story. If you take risks, attempt various styles or voices, and focus on your weaknesses, you will grow as a writer.

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill

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Thursday, January 31, 2008


Interviewing Your Characters

by AnnMarie Kolakowski

When planning a novel, how much planning is appropriate to go into it before you sit down and start spitting out dialogue and narration and description and rough draft? This is a question I’ve been struggling with lately. I once took a creative writing class where the professor absolutely firmly insisted that we not plan at all, that we let it be “organic.” However I’m sure many of you can attest from experience that it’s a lot easier to get where you want to go when you have a road map.

I’ve stumbled upon a couple of good ideas for effective brainstorming that I’m sure aren’t at all new—“there is nothing new under the sun”—but which I hope might help you in negotiating the need to plan and the need to keep your novel a natural, organic growing process.

Earlier this month, I began developing a character for a novel by “interviewing” him daily on paper. I called him Simon. I asked him questions about his life: things like who his favorite comic book hero was as a kid, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. I asked him about his hopes for this story, what truth he wanted to convey with it, and what he thought of some of the other characters in my developing hypothetical cast. Sometimes I couldn’t think of anything “important” to talk about with him, so I just shared whatever was going on with me. The hard day at work I had, the fears that lingered about my ability to write. Sometimes he comforted me, sometimes he laughed at me, but always he pushed me back into the writing seat and challenged me to do proper justice to his story. I became committed to him and to his story, by the simple act of keeping in daily contact with him on paper.

Now, I can’t yet verify all of the benefit of this approach. My focus actually shifted at some point to another character in the story and to his plight, and I think Simon may have to step back into a more minor role so that this character can be more central. But at least Simon is someone I feel like I know, not just a wallflower whose face I have to consult my high school yearbook for! And I’m confident Simon will continue to help me by pushing me to get this story out.

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Friday, July 27, 2007


Friday's Writing Tips

Are you doing some writing over the weekend?

After a long week of working, I always find it helpful to take a quick refresher course to make sure my novel is still on track. I asked Brenda if we could snag some tips off her website, and she graciously said yes. :-)

Hopefully this is the boost you need.



By Brenda Hill


Define Your GENRE

1) What is your story about? Each has its own set of rules: word count, number of pages, etc.

a) children's
b) horror
c) literary
d) mystery
e) romance--single-title; series
----1) historical
----2) futuristic
----3) contemporary
----4) paranormal
f) science fiction
g) suspense
h) teenage
----1) horror
----2) coming of age
i) thriller
----1) high-tech
----2) psychological
j) western
k) women's fiction

I've had questions concerning the difference in mystery and suspense genres.

A true mystery is a whodunit, a fast-paced puzzle of clues a sleuth, professional or amateur, works to solve.

In a suspense, the perpetrator may be known from the beginning. The protagonist's life is usually in danger and we follow along, getting more emotionally involved while he/she tries to stay alive.



2) Who is in your story? What do they want? What is as important to them as that next breath? List ten things for each. Avoid opening confusion with too many characters. Each character, except walk-ons, should have a goal, a strong point, as well as a fatal flaw. What mannerism; way of speaking, is unique to each one?

a) Star of the show - protagonist
b) Villain - antagonist
c) Love interest
d) Mentor: wise old woman, best friend, grandmother, grandfather, etc
e) Bit parts - the walk-on cab driver, waitress



3) What is the point of your story? One sentence: Romeo & Juliet--great love defies death. Stay Off Your Soapbox or you will lose your reader.

Number one rule on Theme, which is also the Number One Rule for everything in your writing:


If you absolutely must lecture on your theory of life, go to your bathroom, stand in front of your mirror and talk to your heart's content. Learn the fine art of subtlety for your novels.



Story strucutre is the stumbling block in most writers' adventure. Basic plot: character A wants something and character B tries to stop him. The story is presented in three parts, each important in laying out your story.

According to Aristotle, there are three sections of a story--the beginning, middle and end, or,

Act 1, Act 2 & Act 3

Each act has a specfic job to perform, and therefore, each act has different requirements. Do you know what they are?

Plotting Stepping Stones not only help you plot, but when they are used correctly, they increase the dramatic action for the reader. After all, a writer's goal is to keep the reader turning pages.

For more information, click on 'plotting help'.



5) Who is telling the story? Reader needs to identify with character.

a) First person narrative: I watched the boat skim the waves…

b) Second, not recommended: You are waiting for your husband/wife/children to come home and you’re checking the windows every three minutes…


----1) Single - one character all through book: He walked to the window, pulled back the drape and stood watching for their Camry to turn into the driveway. It was almost midnight . . .

----2) Multiple - two or more PsOV. Avoid scene HEAD-HOPPING

----3) Omniscient - all knowing, also not recommended as the reader can’t identify with character.



Scene is the building block of your story. Story consists of scene, sequel and narration, repeated over and over until the end. A scene is a single unit of action, taking place in real time. Each scene must have three essential elements.



Sequel is a time to reflect, to let loose the emotions from the devastating scene. Slam the door; go on a crying jag; wail and moan to your best friend. Or retreat behind closed doors, whatever is in the nature of the character you devised. However, a book full of moaning is tedious, so he/she must decide how to proceed. Therefore, SEQUEL, similar to SCENE, has it's own three vital steps in order to move the story forward.



The heart of your story--getting your characters talking. You do not want to sound like an English professor unless your character teaches English. Nor do you want them to be illiterate, unless you're writing another Grapes of Wrath. It all depends on your character and story.

Do not, under any circumstances, use dialogue to 'info dump' back story into dialogue.
Use contractions, the way people speak. Avoid dialect. Use tags and beats.



Style is more than the way you string words together. It's also how you present your story to the reader. Be sure to vary scene/chapter as well as sentence length.

Once you learn pacing, you'll be able to control whether the reader flies through your manuscript, not wanting to put it down, or whether the unfolding is so slow the reader feels close to a coma


She looks into the mirror. What will the other girls wear? She tugs at her skirt, wondering if it is too long.
b) PAST, more popular:
She looked into the mirror. What were the other girls wearing? She tugged at her skirt, wondering if it was too long.



10) Never bore them with lengthily description. Set that scene following the rule of 3.

Avoid confusion with the journalistic five W's--
Who, What, When, Where and How.


SHOW, don't TELL

The most repeated phrase in writing classes and how-to books is, "Show, don't tell." It's one of the most difficult techniques for a writer to master; it's also critical for reader identification. But what does it mean?

When you tell about something or someone, you're stating a fact. But does the reader FEEL anything? Chances are they won't. Therefore, to connect with the reader, you must learn the technique SHOWing in your writing.



Do not have your character emoting all over the page--it will resemble an old-fashioned melodrama. Remember, less is more.

Instead of saying your character feels sad, WRITE IT SO YOUR READER WILL CRY.

How to accomplish that? Craft. Technique, such as the M-R unit.



Suspense is not just for mysteries. Without some kind of suspense to your story, your reader will yawn, think of bedtime or all of the other chores he/she should be doing. The book goes down and your next one will sit on the bookstore shelf. You want your reader to stay up all night turning pages; you don't want to put him/her into a coma.

How to make your material engrossing? Technique, the craft of knowing how to create tension and suspense.



To outline or not to outline. Do you really need it? One writer outlines extensively using index cards and colored markers. Another simply lists chapters and their one-line content. One former instructor writes his story then, during revision, outlines using Stepping Stones. You must find what works for you.

Do you know what Stepping Stones are and when to use them? If not, check my Plotting Help section.



15) Your Jewel is your story condensed into one hundred words or less. It's great for query letters, blurbs. Make sure you hit the Stepping Stones so the agent/editor can see you know classic story structure.



A famous quote says, "Writing is rewriting." How long it takes you to produce a publishable manuscript depends on several factors:

a) correct grammar, punctuation and sentence structure
b) use of all five senses to give the reader the full experience of the fiction world
c) a cool-off period after the first draft
d) and, most important of all, an excellent proofreader. No one can write a mistake-proof manuscript, but a manuscript full of errors is a sure way to get it rejected. If you can't afford a professional, perhaps a retired school teacher would be willing to check your manuscript, or you might think about joining a writers' group. Most participants are willing, even eager to trade manuscripts for critiquing.



Brenda Hill is an Editor, Instructor, and Author. She offers editing and plotting assistance through her website:

WOW! had a chance to interview Brenda for our July Issue's 20 Questions Column. Check out the interview, it's not to miss! Brenda is a really great person and a sweetheart - anyone would be lucky to have her as an editor.

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