Monday, December 23, 2019

Merry Christmas!

During this wonderful holiday season with family and friends, take time to worship the true reason for the season—Jesus Christ. Savior. Messiah. King of kings and Lord of lords. God’s love come to earth.

Alycia and I would like to thank you for your support and encouragement over the past few years. We look forward to serving you in 2020.

With love, appreciation, and blessings, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Alycia and Andrea


Monday, December 16, 2019

When Your Characters Take Over the Story

Congratulations to Diana Derringer and Melissa Henderson, winners of Murder in the Family by Ramona Richards. Ladies, please email your mailing address to andreamerrell7 @ gmail (dot) com.

By Andrea Merrell

As fiction writers, we know our characters well. We’re familiar with their background, their habits (good and bad), their quirks, hang-ups, desires, fears, and passions. We converse with them during the day and dream about them at night. Sometimes they’re more familiar to us than our own friends and relatives.

At times, we have to poke and prod our protagonist to do what we want her to do. We have to pull her out of her comfort zone and point her in the right direction. The same with our antagonist. Maybe he wants to move too soon or be more aggressive than we allow.

Generally, our characters will follow along as our story unfolds. But what happens when the characters have their own little pow-wow and take over the story? You might have a perfectly good plot in mind, but suddenly your protag has another idea. Now she’s pulling you along instead of vice versa. She’s surprising you by doing things that are out of character for her … and you’re loving it.

This is much easier for a panster (seat-of-the-pants writer). We love to jump on the bus and see where the driver takes us. Sometimes we have no destination in mind. We’re excited to enjoy the ride and explore the stops all along the way. Without a GPS to guide us, we’re content, eager to see where we end up.

At this point, I’m sure all you plotters are breaking out in a cold sweat. “What?” you say. “You can’t write like that. Where’s your outline? Don’t you at least have a storyboard? You must know the end before you even begin.”

Then there are the plansters, those who enjoy the best of both worlds. Many writers fall easily into this category.

There are pros and cons to each category, so you have to find what works best for you. But no matter which category fits you best, don’t be afraid to be spontaneous. As your story evolves, so do your characters. Trust them. Trust your instincts. Take the journey with them and see what happens. You just might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

What about you. Have your characters ever hijacked your plot? What did you do when it happened? We would love to hear from you.

(Photo courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Monday, December 9, 2019

Don't Ditch the Comma

By Martin Wiles

As authors and writers, we can’t control what publishers and editors do with commas, but let’s not throw them out completely.

In the publishing industry, as it relates to the comma, the current trend is less is more. As an English teacher, I’m still hanging on to the old-school philosophy of teaching my students to put commas in places from which a publisher or editor might remove them. But as an editor, I must follow the style guides of the place I’m editing for.

Let’s set the standard: commas are important. And at least for two reasons.

First, commas prevent misreading. My all-time favorite is “Let’s eat, Grandma” versus “Let’s eat Grandma.” Without the comma, Grandma—whomever she is—faces a dilemma. With the comma, we know someone is directly speaking to Grandma.

Another example is reflected in the following compound sentence: “I chose the colors red and green, and blue was his first choice.” Without the comma, blue might be associated with red and green—which actually belong to an entirely different sentence—but with the comma, we know blue begins a new sentence.  

One place from which commas are disappearing is following short adverbial and adjectival prepositional phrases when they begin a sentence. Recently, I was reading a book published by a noted publisher when I noticed their comma usage. Two different sentences on the same page had short adverbial prepositional phrases at the beginning of a sentence. On one, the editors chose to insert a comma; on the other, they chose to omit it. I saw no difference in either sentence.

I teach my students to put commas the old-fashioned way. If the editor chooses to remove some, so be it. At least, the acquisition or proof editor will know the writer knows how to use grammar correctly, which in the end will benefit the writer more.

Second, commas—and all forms of punctuation—guide our readers to read our material in a certain way. Normally, a dependent clause or prepositional phrase at the end of a sentence does not require a comma, but a writer, on occasion, might want to insert one for effect.

With a comma, the following sentence takes on new meaning: “I studied for my exam but failed to pass,” or “I studied for my exam, but failed to pass.” Since the sentence is simple, it does not grammatically require a comma, but inserting one gives a totally different effect for the person reading it. With the comma, I can see in my mind the disappointment of the student.

Although comma usage rules are evolving in the world of grammar and writing, let’s keep the comma. Throwing them away—or severely limiting their use—could cause a lot of misunderstanding.

(Photo courtesy of, yodiyim, and everydayplus.)


Martin Wiles is the founder of Love Lines from God ( and serves as Managing Editor for Christian Devotions and as a copy editor for Courier Publishing. He has authored six books and has been published in numerous publications. He is a freelance editor, English teacher, author, and pastor

Monday, December 2, 2019

19 Unique Gifts for Writers and Readers in 2019

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

Most gift lists for writers will have the generic writer T-shirts, jewelry, games, Scrivener, cups, etc. When I decided to curate this list, I wanted to provide truly unique gift offerings for writers. Christmas is quickly catching up to us, so hopefully you can find something original to gift that writer with this year!

19 Unique Gifts for Writers in 2019

1. Gift Cards: 

This one is generic, but a lot of writers I know (including myself) love gift cards. Some of the favorite places are Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, and amazon. What makes this gift unique is that the individual can choose what he or she wants, and you can rest assured they'll be pleased.

2. Laptop Skins: 

I love shopping for unique laptop skins and cases and stickers. With a multitude of artists, they have plenty to choose from. Check out the "I Create Worlds" Laptop Skin here.

3. Bookends: 

Writers read. Why not get some cool bookends for your writer friend? Check out these WRITER bookends by Knob Creek Metal Arts on Etsy.

4.  Writing Gloves:

I'm a huge fan of these fingerless writing gloves. Especially when it turns cold outside. Check out these A Christmas Carol writing gloves by storiarts on Etsy.

5. Christmas Ornaments

Find something unique for the writer's Christmas tree. Check out these ornaments:

There, Their, They're Rustic Ornament by Convertible Girl Shop on Etsy

 Little Author Ornaments on Bas Bleu (featuring Poe, Dickens, Dickinson, & Austen)

Vintage Typewriter Ornament Set by Creationz By Catherine on Etsy

6. A Book Box Subscription

There are box subscriptions for everything these days! Check out some of the boxes for readers:

 Fairyloot (Fantasy YA)

Owl Crate (YA)

Coffee and a Classic (Classic Lit, Classic Children's Lit, Classic Nonfiction)

7. Bookish Candles

What writer doesn't love the scent of antique books? Or maybe you'd like a themed candle based on your favorite tale? Check out these bookish candles:

Antique Books by Werther and Gray on Etsy

Forks, WA by The Cheeky Nose on Etsy

The Shire Sweetgrass by North Ave Candles on Etsy

Christmas at Hogwarts by A Court of Candles

8. Book Sleeves

Men have drink cozies. Writers and readers have book cozies. Protect your latest read (or your e-reader) while you're on the go with these:

The Cozy Life on Etsy

Book Nerd by Lukie Dukie on Etsy

Tea Time by StoryHero on Etsy

Steam Punk Inspired by Baby My Book on Etsy

Signature Library Card by Baby My Book on Etsy

9. Artwork

Have you ever wanted artwork to hang on your office wall for inspiration? Here are some pieces to consider:

@whimsicalillustration is one of my favorite book artists. Check out her print from the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber. She does commission work! This would make a great gift for a writer if you can describe a character or scene from the author's book.

Write Here Write Now Print by typeshyshop on Etsy

William Faulkner Quote Poster by Santander Art on Etsy

10. Handbags

My best friend bought me a purse with a library print on it. You wouldn't believe how many compliments I've received on that bag!

These are on amazon:

Women's Tote Bag

Unisex Messenger Bag

Women's Handbag

11. Music to Write By

Everyone has their favorite music to write by. Some like soundtracks. Others like classical. I, personally, like a variety. It really depends on what I'm writing.

Consider gifting your writer with a year's subscription to Spotify or iTunes or amazon music.

Or, order them the music you know they love.

Some of my favorites are Lindsey Stirling, the Downton Abbey soundtrack, and a variety of music stations on amazon music.

12. A Writing or Blogging Planner

 My Brilliant Writing Planner by Susan May Warren

 The Writer's Planner by Laura Kinker

13. A Weekend Away

Sometimes, authors need a getaway in order to find that extra boost of inspiration they need in order to put those words on the pages. Book a cabin in the mountains or a condo at the beach and let that author in your life get away from the every day for a weekend (or a week!).

14. Coffee Mug

I know coffee mugs can be generic, but what if you could personalize the mug? With a caricature? And the writer's first name? Check out this one by Tooned Up Gifts on Etsy.

15. 100 Essential Novels Scratch-off Chart

This is really cool! It's a poster of 100 classic reads, like To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. They're covered in part by gold foil. As you read the novel, you scratch it off on the poster. What a great way to keep track of your classics reading list! I want one!

16. A Custom Photo Blanket

Some writers like to snuggle into a comfy chair, pull a blanket over their lap, and go to work. Instead of a picture of a person, you could customize their throw blanket with pictures of their book covers. Check out this blanket by Custom Cat Face on Etsy.

17. Tea or Coffee

Again, this could be generic... but!

What if your tea was based on a writer? Check out these literary teas by Rosie Lea Tea UK on Etsy. Your tea could be called Louisa May Alcott or F. Scott Fitzgerald. She has over 48 teas named after literary greats!

Hop on over to amazon to find these Novel Teas by Bag Ladies Teas.

 Know someone who writes suspense or thrillers or crime or war-themed books? Black Rifle Coffee Company has something for them!

18. An Hourglass

 Help your writer stay on task for up to 60 minutes with one of these hourglasses.

Do writing sprints with a pack of 6 hourglasses timed at 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, & 30 minutes.

Romance writer? Here's an hourglass for you!

Here's another great hourglass for the romance writer in your life.

This dragon hourglass is perfect for the fantasy writer!

Does your writer drink tea? This perfect tea timer hourglass set can not only tell you when your tea is steeped well; you can do a writing sprint while it steeps!

19. Computer Accessories

Every writer enjoys little perks. What if that perk was an accessory for their workday?

Check out this steampunk keyboard from Azio on amazon.

Slavatech on amazon has created this nifty steampunk thumb drive.

Like writing on a typewriter? Now you can have a keyboard complete with clacking sounds.

Maybe you're a romance writer or a fan of lipstick colors. Check out this keyboard.

19 Unique Gifts for Writers and Readers in 2019 {Click to Tweet}

What would you add to our list? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Whatever Is Good

Today's guest post is by author and editor Ramona Richards, who is giving away two signed copies of her new book Murder in the Family. Leave a comment below to register for the drawing.

By Ramona Richards

Employ whatever God has entrusted you with, in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree.

This quotation from John Wesley may have been inspired by 1 Peter 4:10, which instructs us in a similar fashion: “And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts” (CEB).

Most of us recognize that our ability to string words together in a skilled way is a gift from God, one that we should use to the best of our ability to honor Him and be a good manager of that gift. But therein lies the rub … that most indeterminate and relative of words: "good."

What does that mean in terms of our writing? What did Peter mean? What did Wesley mean by “doing good,” being a “good manager”? Not in any deep theological sense, but in a practical, everyday, "how to I make the best choices” sense?

Never take your gift for granted.
Writers often hang out with a lot of other writers. Our friends tend to be smart as well, and occasionally we drift into this place where we believe anyone could do what we do with a little training. Especially after so many rejections, we begin to doubt our gift. This is so not the truth. You have a gift unique to you. Only you can nourish it, strengthen it, and tell the stories you are meant to tell.

You do need to nourish your gift.
Strengthen it by writing and learning continually. Your gift came from God with raw potential, like an athlete’s gift for running or throwing a ball. Receiving the gift is just the beginning. Take courses, listen to other authors, read as much as you can in your genre or chosen field. Your gift is like possessing a foreign language: if you don’t use it, it will grow weak and stale.

Make choices that honor the gift Giver.
You may be a whiz at dialogue and human psychology. This doesn’t mean you should write the next Fifty Shades of Gray. And I don’t mean to just avoid pornography—there are many ways to write, and you have claimed the label of Christian. You may be the only reflection of Christ some people will see. Keep that in mind when stringing your words together.

Be flexible and listen to the Lord.
Since He gave you the gift, He has a plan for you and a path for you to walk with it. You may crave writing romance novels, but He may lead you to write suspense or devotionals, which require as much a gift for storytelling as a novel.

In fact, repeat that to yourself: Since He gave you the gift, He has a plan for you to use it. And the best way to know that plan is to listen and to watch for the doors He opens. Don’t ignore them; they’re there for a reason. A “good” reason.

When you keep your writing eyes on HIM, “good” becomes clear.


This blog is an excerpt from Tracked Changes: One Editor’s Advice to Inspirational Fiction Authors by Ramona Richards, coming in 2020.

(Photos courtesy of, solargaria, and photostock.)


Don't forget to leave a comment to be registered for a free, signed copy of Ramona's book.

Ramona Richards is an author and editor and a 30-year veteran of the Christian publishing industry. She is currently the associate publisher of Iron Stream Media, the parent company of New Hope Publishers, Iron Stream Kidz, Iron Stream Books, Iron Herring Books, Ascender Books, and Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Her latest novel is Murder in the Family.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Priming the Writer’s Pump

 By Tim Suddeth

I used to get frustrated when starting my old lawn mower. There was a rubber bulb I had to mash, and mash, and mash. By forcing gas into some thingamajig, it would—eventually—start the mower with a burp and a cloud of smoke.

The engine had to have gas in it before it could run. And getting that gas in is called priming the pump.

That’s a lot like how a writer’s mind works. (Not the burping and cloud of smoke part.) If you want to come up with new ideas and new stories, you need to continually prime the pump. A local college has a program called “Lifetime Learning,” and that’s exactly what is expected from a writer.

Today, we have more ways than ever to learn: podcasts, books, articles, blogs, videos, websites, forums, magazines, newspapers (yes, we still have them.), chat rooms, etc. And new information mediums are coming out all the time.

So, how are you keeping your pump (mind) primed?

My first thought goes to what you are reading. Are you reading the types of books, blogs, or articles you write or want to write? I’m always hearing stories about the shock agents and publishers have when they ask a hopeful writer what they are reading, and they answer they don’t read. Or they don’t read the types of stories they are submitting.

Then how can they know what is good, what has already been done to death, and what their desired reader expects to encounter?

They haven’t primed the pump. Or they primed it with water. In either case, the engine isn’t going to start, and the story won’t meet the expectations of the agent or publisher. Or worse, the reader.

If you’re thinking of writing a book, read other books in your genre. Definitely the works of respected authors but also non-published works. 

If you blog, read other blogs on your subject as well as those on totally different topics. Find what draws you in. 

There are other ways you can prime your writing pump. Listen to music. We all have our favorite types, and that’s fine, but don’t limit yourself to just one. I’m a big fan of Christmas music, new or traditional. Give me “Away in a Manger,” but I also want to hear the latest songs that come out each year. What are they about? How do they look at the same old Christmas story but from a different angle?

Take a nature walk. From a panoramic view of the ocean, the mountains, or the sky to the grains of sand on the beach and a slide under a microscope. Each will leave you grasping for new words to describe the wonder you’ll find.

The seasons remind me how our lives are constantly changing. You can also see this when you watch a river as it flows between its banks. On the other hand, a mountain seems as if it has stood silent, unchanging, since God first called out for it to rise.

God has made our minds to be His marvelous creations that allow us to experience His world. To experience Him. He has filled His world with things and people who give us an endless amount of creative ideas. Explore. Smell the roses … and the bugs. And remember, while you are searching for ideas, the Creator has left His fingerprints all over His creation. He’s just waiting for us to discover them.

To me, wispy, white clouds look as if God took a Bob Ross brush and—swish, swish—hung them high in the blue sky.

What is the most unlikely God fingerprint you’ve ever found?

 (Photos courtesy of, vectorolie, and everydayplus.)


Tim Suddeth is a regular attendee of The Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference and a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He’s currently working on his fifth novel. He has a monthly post on The Write Conversation and is trying to make a dent in his to-read bookcases. You can follow him at on his blog at or on Twitter @TimSuddeth.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Don't Let Rejection Derail You

By Andrea Merrell

Rejection stings. That’s a fact. But the truth is we have a choice when it comes: give up and quit trying or let it motivate us to press on.

Sometimes the rejection is a simple no without explanation. At other times it comes with constructive criticism that can help us improve our project—if we let it. The key is not to personalize the rejection. One writer warns against allowing the opinion of ourselves to be colored by the opinion of those who fail to see our potential.

In the writing world, rejection is inevitable. That’s another fact. But to be successful, we have to maintain a positive attitude and overcome it. Here are a couple of examples from author Bob Gass:

In 1902 an aspiring young writer received a rejection letter from the poetry editor of The Atlantic Monthly. Enclosed with a sheaf of poems the twenty-eight-year-old poet had sent them was this curt note: “Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse.” Yet he became one of the most beloved and popular American poets of all time. Who was he? Robert Frost.

In 1907 the University of Bern turned down a PhD dissertation from a young physics student. Yet that student went on to change the scientific world forever. Who was he? Albert Einstein.

When a sixteen-year-old student got his report card from his rhetoric teacher in school, there was a note attached that read: “A conspicuous lack of success.” But he refused to accept it. Who was he? Winston Churchill.

I’ve heard dozens of stories—from both newbies and seasoned writers—about the piles of rejections they have received. Even Frank Peretti was turned down by fourteen publishers before This Present Darkness was accepted by Crossway Books. Thank goodness he refused to stop trying.

I could add my own stories to the mix, and I’m sure you could as well. But I learned early on that when my manuscript gets that dreaded no, it’s either not ready or it’s not the right time or place. The truth is when we write for the Lord and He gives us words to share with others, He will open the right door at the right time, and the right person will be on the other side of that door. You never know when that will happen. That’s why it’s so important to never give up or lay aside your God-given calling.

Words are powerful. God spoke the world into existence. He tells us that words contain the power of both life and death. Sticks and stones may surely break our bones, but words go deep into our innermost being. They have the power to wound the heart or set the captive free. One single word from God can change the entire course of someone’s life. What if God has entrusted that word to you? There just might be someone out there waiting to hear your story. Read your blog post. Savor your devotion. Learn through your magazine article. Be set free by your testimony. Or be impacted forever by your powerful novel.

Take your rejections and turn them into resources. Remain teachable. Learn from the advice and suggestions of others. Keep writing and never allow rejections to derail you.

Your time will come.

How do you handle rejections? Do you have some advice you would like to share? We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

20 Things to Do On a Writing Retreat

by Alycia W. Morales     @AlyciaMorales

As an introvert and a writer, I find it important to make it a point to get away from life every once in a while and take a writing retreat. A writing retreat can look like many things. A weekend alone in the mountains. A week with writerly friends at the beach. An overnight at a hotel near my home.

Whatever a writer retreat looks like to you, we must recognize the importance of taking time to ourselves and getting away from life so our creativity can flow.

What can a writing retreat do for me?

It's down time to rest. Sometimes a nap is all we need to renew our creativity.

A writing retreat can increase our creativity. Getting away from the daily grind gives our mind space to create new ideas.

If we attend a writing retreat with writing friends, we have a wealth of brainstorming genius at our fingertips.

Are you stuck in a writing slump? On a tight deadline? Maybe you just need a break from life and a desire to spend that break writing.

Here are 20 Things to Do on a Writing Retreat:

1. Take a nap.

2. Brain dump. This is putting all your thoughts on paper so you can sort them out.

3. Brainstorm with friends. This is coming up with options for whatever you need in your novel.

4. Take a walk or a hike.

5. Play a board or card game, like Scrabble or Scattegories or Balderdash or Apples to Apples.

6. Put away your electronics (except your laptop) and turn off your internet for a few hours so all you focus on is writing.

7. Cook a meal or bake a dessert. Then enjoy it. Note the flavors and scents. Use them in your story.

8. Take some photographs.

9. Find a local shop where your character would browse and visit it. Buy a souvenir.

10. Write in 30-minute sprees. Take a 10-minute stretch-and-grab-a-snack break. Write again.

11. Focus on one thing you need to improve in your storyline. Keep at that until you figure it out.

12. Read a book that's been on your TBR list for a while. Read a chapter, write a chapter in your own book. Read another chapter, write another chapter.

13. Have a cup of coffee or tea (or whatever else may help your creativity).

14. Visit a historical site. Look for inspiration for your story.

15. Go out to eat. What would your characters order off the menu if they were dining together?

16. Even if you go with friends, take a day to stay in your bed or out on a porch or somewhere off by yourself to do a writing marathon. No interruptions allowed.

17. Have a friend critique your latest chapter. Take some of their suggestions and tweak a chapter or two. Or your plotline.

18. Have a word count challenge. Who can write the most words in any number of minutes?

19. Take the time to create a playlist for your novel.

20. Watch a show or movie you enjoy and take a scene you can tweak to fit your own novel. Remember, there's nothing new under the sun. You just need to change some things to make it your own.

Click to Tweet: When's the last time you took a writing retreat? Here are 20 Things to Do on your next one!

Which one of these things would you enjoy doing on your writing retreat? Do you have any more ideas to add to the list? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Monday, October 14, 2019

What is the Definition of a Professional Writer?

By DiAnn Mills

Do we have a clear idea of what it means to be a professional writer? Is it defined by the number of publications? Is the term equated with a particular genre or how long a writer has labored at the craft? The amount of the advance? Is the definition subjective and of little value? Perhaps the easiest way to describe a professional writer is to show what that looks like in the publishing world.

An accomplished writer is one who has spent hours perfecting the craft and gained recognition through publication. The work is hard and usually a solitary process. The writing life involves developing a tough skin to accept constructive criticism, rejections, edits, rewrites, and submit again.

The professional writer strives to create quality manuscripts by being aware of what’s happening in the world. The writer is concerned and creates posts to address heartfelt needs of readers.

Professionals face the challenges of their calling by establishing and achieving goals. The writer weighs the writing project, style, voice, networking, and social media content with their brand to determine if the manuscript is a good fit.

A professional writer is an authority about one or more topics related to the craft. An expert is capable of providing knowledge to others by offering explanations and instruction that are valued. The publishing industry respects a self-confident and reliable writer.

A writer enriches a reader’s life by using words as building blocks for effective communication. It’s an art accomplished by knowing how to place words in easy to understand language. The process also includes using correct grammar, punctuation, and mastering techniques to create an unforgettable experience. We enhance our skills through life experience and training.

A student is one who takes an interest in a subject and strives to learn more about it. The professional writer who embraces student status chooses the road of seeking more knowledge about the publishing world. This focus includes enhancing our skills in the craft, marketing, promotion, and constant changes in the writing industry. A student practices the art of continuous education.

The best teachers of writing are those who are accomplished, aware, career-minded, an expert, skilled, and embraces the role of a student. These people are role models. They offer advice and sometimes mentor those who are serious about their calling.

Are you on a path to professionalism?

(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)


Monday, October 7, 2019

Shoot the Weasel Words

By Andrea Merrell

Pet words and phrases, more commonly known as weasel words, are a major problem. All writers have them, even those of us whose job it is to edit them out of other writers’ manuscripts. 

If you’ve been writing for a while, you're most likely familiar with your own weasel words. If not, here are a few of the most common: that, just, really, surely, however, therefore, suddenly, quickly, quietly, softly, certainly, began to … 

The list goes on and on … and on.

Recently, I discovered a few of my own hiding in my current WIP. Let me share them with you: in fact, after all, tried to, cringed, possibly, probably, and struggled. You might be asking yourself what’s wrong with these words? Absolutely nothing—unless you do a word search and find them used forty times or more. Talk about a reality check. Ouch!

Few things are more annoying to readers than redundancies, especially seeing the same words and phrases over and over. I’ve read a few books over the years that I wanted to throw across the room because of too much repetition.

So, what’s a writer to do? We have to be aware of our pet weasels, be willing to part with them, find them, then shoot them. Bang! As they say, don’t marry your words.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, and you decide if the italicized words are necessary in the sentence.

  • Suddenly, Rae struggled desperately to keep her footing as she tried to survey the damage. Instead: Rae struggled to keep her footing as she surveyed the damage.

  • After all, may I at least reimburse you for the flowers? Better: May I reimburse you for the flowers?

Here’s another one for you to untangle:

  • Scott certainly thought that Karen was really just up to no good, so he suddenly moved quickly and quietly to the window just so that he could begin to see what she was doing.

Pretty bad, right? How about this? 

  • Scott thought Karen was up to no good, so he moved to the window to see what she was doing.

Do you see how eliminating those pesky weasel words tightens your writing? Be sure to do a word search and get rid of those little varmints. Your readers will be glad you did.

What about you? Do you have your own set of weasel words? We would love for you to share them with us.

(Photos courtesy of and


Monday, September 23, 2019

Three Critical Storytelling Elements

By Andrea Merrell

We’ve heard it before … story trumps plot. True or false? Arguments prevail on both sides of the issue.

There are many formulaic elements of fiction: plot, conflict, character development, POV, dialogue … the list goes on. But what about the storytelling itself. Where does it factor in?
The truth is if the storytelling is poor, the manuscript will ultimately wind up in the editorial graveyard.

According to Phillip Martin, “It might be best to say that  story is essential and elemental, while plot is constructed and can be somewhat artificial. Both are good and enjoyable when done well. But story is closer to the heart—closer to why we value stories and storytellers.”

In a recent blog post, Martin gives us three key elements for a good story:

1.  Something curiously odd at the start.
2.  Selective and delightful details to draw out the tale through the middle.
3.  An ending that makes it clear why this story was worth  telling.

Here are Martin’s brief descriptions of each element taken from that blog post: (See details below for more information.)** 

Intriguing Eccentricity
Odd or quirky, it turns out, is naturally interesting. We are intrigued by something peculiar. We want to know more about it.
A story is by definition eccentric; it is about something different from the norm. If you want to get published, something odd should appear in the first pages of a manuscript to catch the attention of an agent or editor. It could be an odd image, a peculiar voice, a curious incident. Unless your story offers a quirky hook, it will quickly be tossed aside.
If you are going to be eccentric, why wait to reveal it? A fisherman doesn’t save his bait ‘til he sees a fish. He baits the hook before he drops a line in the water. 
Delightful Details
Why do people read fiction? In many ways, readers want to experience in a story what they experience in eating delicious food. Joy in eating comes from a craving not for nutrition but for delightful tastes. Eating is not about the outline of a recipe; it’s about the pleasure of tasting what appears on the plate.
The same is true of literary creativity. The details you put on each page of your manuscript are the spices that make the words tingle on the tongue of the mind. The good story is full of distinctive, flavorful details. The problem is that beginning authors often overlook the need to create delightfully rich, savory details in favor of addressing the needs of the plot. In other words, they organize the menu and serve the food but forget to spice it properly. 

One good way to develop details is to use more senses.  Another way to develop rich details is to build a strong sense of place. Too many beginning writers set their story in a place that can only be called generic, with few concrete details, and those provided tend to be stereotypical. Writing rich in specificity is a major element that literary agents or acquisitions editors look for.
The satisfying surprise at the end
Does your ending satisfy the reader with surprises? As writer Carol Bly noted: “An essential difference between experienced and beginning writers is the amount of surprise they give us.”
If you want to achieve both satisfaction and surprise at the end, a good place to start is to identify the main characters’ desires. A good story will reveal something about important human needs: love, understanding, friendship, following a path of rightness in the world.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “[Stories are a] series of events: but it must be understood that this series – the plot, as we call it – is only really a net whereby to catch something else.” That “something else,” said Lewis, is the “real theme.” Plot’s purpose, he suggested, is to catch the theme, like a bird in the net, if only for a few moments in the story. “The bird has escaped us. But at least it was entangled in the net. We saw it close and enjoyed the plumage.”
The Heart of the Story
The three aspects of story I’ve discussed here are not the only ones needed for good fiction. A story needs other things too, including a functional plot. But in my experience, a story will sink or swim based on the appeal of these three elements: intriguing eccentricity to draw us in, delightful details to make us enjoy the middle course of the story, and a satisfying conclusion to wrap it up well.
Consider Shakespeare’s plays. It’s not the plot, it’s his storytelling skill that has made these works so beloved over the ages. He is master of the play of words, the frolic of fancy, the comic interludes, and many other techniques that beguile the heavy gait of plot. As poet Howard Nemerov noted, the clever bard “tells the same stories over and over in so many guises that it takes a long time before you notice.” 

If you do it correctly, you will attract, delight, and amaze your readers. A good story will shed new light on the human condition. So, I recommend that you focus your novel-writing process on story, not on plot. If you do it well, story will be always at the core of your strongest writing. 
Or, as I’ve said elsewhere: story rules, plot drools. 
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(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)