Do We Have A Deal For You!

November 30, 2012

I'm Published!!! WOOT!

As the end of this year comes sailing towards us,  I’m offering the first 7 Deadly Serious Nano’ers who contact me, wanting to work on their stuff, a Post-NaNoWriMo-Deal.

Five 90 minute coaching sessions at my hourly lesson rate.  That’s like two and a half hours of free coaching work. I work on content edits, story structure and writing craft.

How can you not decide to try this offer?  I’m very serious about coaching novices to become the best writers they can be.  You can check the Bridge to Story site for my coaching style. Read the rest of this entry »


Scenes verses Narrative

November 25, 2012

You’re near the last days of your NaNo experience. And things are going so well you’re glad to give up just about anything to get more writing in. Your list of things to do has been whittled down to:

Write Sleep Eat Write

 And you wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s November and You are a writer!

That High will last a while once the month ends. But then you’ll think about looking things over, and settling in for some editing. It may take a month, or maybe four of them, but you’ll be coming back and re-reading your work, eventually.

Maybe you’ll find things seem a bit off – You may find yourself asking,

“Was this what I had in mind?” Read the rest of this entry »

I know I shouldn’t be telling you this trick about Chapter Breaks yet, but I couldn’t wait.

I’m bad that way.

Before I do though, let’s back up a second and I’ll show you my plan to date. If you remember, I decided this year to take some short stories and deconstruct them, to find my way into my own writings. I blogged about it HERE

I used the whole NaNo pre-work month reading a slew of short stories. Taking each one and deconstructing what was done in them craft-wise. So I came away with a set of notes, about 20 stories were picked over. Read the rest of this entry »

As I’ve said in the Nanowrimo threads, plenty of times in plenty of places, I’m a pantser…not a plotter.

Cat at laptop, writing fiction

Mitten’s 2012 NaNo effort


I’m working without an outline and very little pre-planning.

Essentially, in order to gear up for 2012 Nanowrimo, I just started talking to myself. Well actually, talking to myself and listening.

Basically, it went like this:

“So, what you want to write about?”

Me: “People. I think this should be character driven.”

“Okay. How many people do you want be writing about?”

Me: “Three’s a nice uncomfortable number let’s do 3.”

“3. Good, so um, how many men, how many women?”

Me: “That’s ah, one woman, older, and then, uh, a guy and another woman, yeah.”

“This isn’t, ah, going be like a Lifetime movie triangle thing is?”

Me: “I beg your pardon?”

“Just kidding, ha ha h– oww! You punch hard. So tell me about the lady, older?”

Me: “Let’s make her a writer. Older than the guy… [Spoilers].”

“Okay, I can accept that in a non-Lifetime-movie, elevated kind of way. And the guy? How about him?”

Me:  “He’s some kind of editor, or agent, maybe… [ more Spoilers].”

“And this is nothing like a Lifetime movie?”

Me:  “Oh ye of little faith.”

“Fine. So what’s going on with the young lady?”

Me:  “Ah! Here’s where it gets good, see,…[Even better Spoilers]…

At this point I open up Scrivener, and try to get down a few ideas of how I want all this to look. It’s pretty basic. I don’t actually write plot points– that stuff stays in my head fermenting. It’s the only way to get that yeasty batch of ideas to rise.

I firmly resist putting them down until they just come spilling over the edge of the bowl. Nearly full-formed in the struggle to be noticed.

So, What I get down in Scrivener, are craft elements. Here are a few of my cards so you can see what I’m talking about.

I run a short Q/A card to remind myself quickly about what I eed to keep in mind.

But then I write out a longer version of it too, with examples of what I mean – for the moments I’m too weary to figure out my own shorthand notes:

Scrivener's Corkboard/ index card view As you can see, I also set up the Chapter cards  with the same info–

so each one will help me keep pace on the craft elements the story requires.



I don’t really need precise outlining.

For me, the ideas really will never stop coming. I’m never paranoid that I’ll run out of them. What does worry me from time to time is that I’ll forget that better writing doesn’t come accidentally. That there is a craft behind it. And I keep reminding myself about those craft elements.

The gift of storytelling is there, I was born with that. It’s the skill of writing stories that preoccupies me the most, for many of us this has to be learned.  And I learn and re-learn that each and every time I start up, edit, refine, and send out something.

Let’s hear from you, how are you pantsing it this November?

In celebration of the beginning of NaNoWriMo I’ve copied over, and revised, three NaNo posts of writing advice. I complied these in time for the kick off of this year’s NaNoWriMo. These come from three different Threads, probably in three different Forums, even.

Puppy winking at you, "You're Awesome!"



They may help a few of you. Take what you can use and leave the rest. Advice is never a one-size fits all. I write Literary Fiction, and these posts show that leaning. Nevertheless, trying to write well is trying to write well. Here we go… Read the rest of this entry »

I’m new to Scrivener, and I’m touching (sometimes accidentally) many of the features for the very first time as I gather my plans for the 2012 National Novel Writing Month event this November 1st.

NaNoWriMo is something I’ve done every year, but one, over the past 12 years.

2008 saw the first draft of a How-to-write-fiction book, that was picked up by Inspired Quill Publishing (UK) and we are coming up to the edit stage of that beginning in December. I expect that book, ‘Tell Me [How to Write] A Story’ will be released 2013.

I expect to do my edits in Scrivener. And I’m looking forward to doing so.

Read the rest of this entry »

NaNo '12 ParticipantAs a run up to National Novel Writing Month for 2012,  we’ve been talking to writer, Samuel Snoek-Brown, my guest for the past three weeks. He wrote a short story that really caught me, and we’ve been deconstructing it and discussing it’s structure.

I seriously recommend novice writers try doing this with work they like. It’s a great way to teach yourself about what it is that goes into a story.

So first, take a look at his short story, Lightning My Pilot.

Then, if you haven’t yet, see our talk over the past two weeks:

Writers Discussing Writing – pt I

Writers Discussing Writing – pt II

I really didn’t expect us to have that much to discuss, but you know writers… especially deadly serious ones. Here it is…

Blog three of three

EJR: As we left off last time: talking about short stories and breaking them down to their beginning, middle, and end. And then into their various scenes. So I can identify what’s been going on craft wise­– What’s the beginning, middle, and end here in this piece?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: A beginning, a middle, and an end, right. Well, if I was breaking by scene, here in this story– there happen to be five scenes here, and if we take that down to less scenes? Humm. We might skip any overt exposition and jump right into the rising action, or we might eschew resolution altogether.

EJR:  So skip exposition, and we’d jump in at rising action. And skip the resolution. Two down to three. Cool. I never saw it from that view before. How simple can you get?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: My story feels a lot more traditional, though. However compressed it is, that first section is explicitly expositional: the mother is introducing the subject matter and the main problem of the story: the clouds, and how to explain them to her son, which, of course, is part of a larger question of how to explain the world to her son.

EJR:  Yes, I can see how you went for 5 but I like that you did it in such a short manner. Exposition didn’t seem like exposition. It felt like I was seeing a story, not a writer telling us a story. No wasted energy in this piece.  Short but complicated I might point out.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. because then the second section is all about the “fighting” that clouds do during a storm, and it complicates the story she was telling her son about the clouds. This is also where I introduced the absent soldier father (is he still at war? did he die in the war?), so it’s complicating the story she’s trying to tell her son about the world, too.

EJR: Keep going. I like talking writing and using the better terms for it all.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Well… I’m not so sure that the climax comes in the third section. In a way, I realize, looking at it now, that the third section — which is about the darker implications of the “war” in the sky as well as the real wars in our world — is really a further complication of the story. It’s more rising action.

Even the fourth section, where the mother/son mythology about the clouds slips out into the real world, in the kid’s classroom, isn’t really the climax, although it does re-reference the father and the sacrifices he’s made, the world the kid and his mother are living in.

EJR:  So you set out for a structure then allowed yourself to mix it up as it came to you. Great. Sometimes the structure is only found after the piece is written. Right?

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Right. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint a traditional climax, because there isn’t really any external antagonist or external conflict that will come to a head. The only real conflict is between the mythology this mother is building with her son and the real world that her son has to plug this story into. If there’s an antagonist, it’s the mother, but she’s also the one driving the story, both the one we’re reading and the one she’s telling her son.

EJR:  Good to bring up traditional antagonists. They’re not always so cut and dried in the better-written pieces. That can be all for the good.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: That fourth section, though, is where the story begins to get away from her, where her son begins to take over, and in that way it could serve as a kind of climax that leads to the confrontation with the homeless god-admiral in the end.

But if I had to point to the climax, I’d say it’s that confrontation with the homeless man. It’s that moment where mother and son, side by side, have to find a way to reconcile the story she’s been telling her son with the real world. It’s the moment when the mother comes ->this<- close to having to tell her son the truth. The REAL truth.

EJR:  So let me repeat from your ideas so far: “The falling action that results from that happens extremely fast: it’s the time it takes to walk her son back to their car. It covers one sentence. Maybe two or three, if you include the final question her son asks and the mother’s consideration of a response.”

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  Yes, This is a very shallow triangle, if you look at it graphically. That’s three whole sections — in my Word document, that’s five out of seven pages — devoted to rising action, and then BAM, in the course of a few very short paragraphs, the action falls and the story wraps up.

EJR:  What a ride! Visually I think I can see what you’re getting to. My readers are going to love this.

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The way I see the story, that first scene, in the car where the mother first explains the god-ships, is clearly the setup.

I’ve always preferred to view the beginning/middle/end model as an overlay of the three-act  narrative, so that the beginning of a story is its setup, the middle consists of confrontation, and the end presents a resolution. But of the five scenes in the story, that last one is by far the longest. Each of the first four scenes is roughly a page long, but the last one is three pages all by itself.

EJR:   And anyone can take a story and rip it apart like this to find how it was done. And them doing so can create a frame to practice on. A very low-risk activity for beginners who need those training-wheels.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Wait! There’s more!

EJR:   Laughs. Go for it!

Samuel Snoek-Brown:  The next two scenes are about warfare in the clouds — storms and rain. That’s the first part of the complication, and it’s abrupt and violent. The fourth scene is more extended, dealing in a longer time span, and it’s returning to exposition in a way. But with the illustration of warfare in the boy’s drawings, and the reference to the father’s military photo and insignia on the living room, it’s clearly a part of the middle section. It’s heading toward resolution (the mother is siding with her son against a world that fails to understand or accept their mythology), but it isn’t quite there yet.

The resolution — the mother and son successfully bringing their worldview to an outsider — occurs in that long final scene at the park.

All of this together, rising action, complication, resolution, means that we have a one-page beginning, a three-page middle, and the three-page ending.

EJR:   Brilliant. I can’t thank you enough. This made my day. I hope the readers who are just beginning to be deadly serious about stories are feeling the same. Thank you so much.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Thanks, EJ — I enjoyed our conversation tremendously, and I’m looking forward to sharing your blog with loads of people!  Keep being awesome.

AS I INTRODUCED last week, I read an online story by my guest, Samuel Snoek-Brown recently.  And it touched me so much, I re-blogged it on my site here.

Here’s a link to it: Lightning My Pilot.   I really thought so highly of it that, as a ramp up to National Novel Writing Month,  I’ve invited the author to engage in a three-part talk about the how’s and why’s that went into creating this small gem. Here’s the second blog, the next one will show up in the 28th of October.

Read the rest of this entry »

Work Hard Quote



Spent late last night coming up with a skeleton for my expected 20 chapters for November 2012 NaNoWriMo’s Literary Fiction effort. I’m going for 80K.

So I’m planning on writing up some Scrivener cards like this:

Which level of a five-part structure is this scene, chapter or character at?

  • Inciting incident,
  • rising complication,
  • crisis,
  • climax, or
  • resolution.

This goes for the character’s arc too, not just the story’s arc. So maybe there will be more like three cards here:

  • scene,
  • chapter,
  • character(s).

Subtext info
I figure each chapter will need some sub-textual imperative – a reason why folks are doing what they are doing – but that reason will go unspoken, by narration or in dialogue, Still, it’ll be understood by the reader.
So, I’ll want to know it to write towards it. There’ll be its own card to track that

This current action will lead to…
How does this action at the scene or chapter’s end lead to the next reaction by a character?
I figure each action should have a good strong reaction to keep the plot moving forward. Like knowing how a pool shot will move the ball it hits.
This will be good for motivations and reactions from

  • one character to another,
  • a character to self, or
  • a character to circumstances.

So that’s my plan, not really an outline,
more like a journal of my NaNo journey as I’m writing it.

I think all this will keep the background concerns of writing a good, strongly structured Novel on notes, while I’m busy clicking and clacking on that higher plane of immediate creating.


In this previous blog post, Anna commented to ask about finding that she was writing way too much description, and how she could address that in her first draft.

Audits before Edits

I say leave it in. But plan on editing it later. Plan on running a future audit about why it’s there. Your writer’s instinct told you to get all that extra description down. So plan on working with it once it’s on the page. You can ask all the descriptions some questions in a later edit.

Figure that for every 50,000 words you write there’s a good chance once you audit, ask some questions, reconsider your intentions, then have individual goes of at least 5 rounds of targeted edits, that you may remove a good 18,000 of those words and re-build from there.

Anna said,

How do you know when you’re using too much description? Is it like how you’re supposed to take off an accessory before you head out the door? I’m afraid I’m getting too descriptor-happy and I can’t seem to stop. :-/

Physical motions come easy to novices.  They can see their characters moving around and so they grab that information and put it on the page. But, there are times when describing physical action gets confused with telling the story. What happens is, novices get very involved in describing physical actions, (how the characters are moving) and forget that, all that movement doesn’t always tell a story.

There are certainly times to describe physical actions but there are also times when novices describe way too much. The key is this: are you writing an action scene? Or recoding the movements of a character in this scene?

Character movement is not always story action. Action has  to have an intent in a story.

Mentioning too much of you character’s movements are akin to reader-feeder or story-facts. Without motivation for those movements that will tell a story or advance a plot point, your writing down all those movement descriptions are like a camera following someone with no voice-over, recording what is done, but leaving the audience not knowing why.

What readers want to see on your pages is action, but, we get awfully bored watching each hand, foot, or eye twitch your character makes if it’s just on the page for no good reason.

Look at this line.

Sue tripped on the stairs. Bob glanced over and witnessed how her worn-heeled shoe gripped the cement of the last step; balance lost and found in a quick second.

Your Characters are PuppetsHere, Sue has movement – tripping. And Bob has an action – seeing Sue trip. The narrator’s ‘action’ is the comment on Bob’s action of seeing Sue’s movement.

The question becomes, why does the reader need to know that Sue tripped? That Bob saw her trip? Why does the narrator feel the need to describe this? Because it happened? This is always the least valid reason to use up your words in a paragraph.

Is there any subtext in the narration on what Bob is seeing?

The why

A novice writer doesn’t set out to includes things in their story because they are trivial, but because the writer saw these things in their mind. A novice writer includes things in their story because they feel those things lead to a better story. A more riveting one. The story with depth to it.  I will show you it all. You will see what I see.

The problem is that all that movement for the sake of movement is not something the novice can escape in their first draft. It seems to be a default. We start by explaining what we see in our mind. The work we have to do is to move beyond explaining what we first saw in our mind, and begin to thin that out and replace it with the subtext that brings a common story into the place where it can be an extra ordinary story.

The how

Here are tools to use to run an edit for clarity and flow of narration. These tools help delete that ‘too much writing about what they did with their bodies’ so that there’s more room for the further edit of bringing in intent and story expectations.

Bringing in intent and story expectations is where you stop telling us stuff and start in on storytelling.

Let’s go back to Sue and Bob. They’re finished with their tripping up the stairs and now they’re in a hotel room.

First draft: This is what Sue sees (and what the narrator tells us she sees)

Sue saw Bob bend at the waist ands scrunch down to peek into tiny little half-size fridge. A frown grew on her face, and she narrowed her eyes. And pursed her lips. Amoment passed then Sue sat with one leg over the other watching Bob reach in to withdraw a can of mixer; the only item in the fridge besides olives, and fumbling the pop top on the can open he then searched for a swizzle stick for mixing. Sue just frowned at the emptiness of the tiny little fridge. Pulling out a cigarette from the pack in his pocket, Bob poured them both drinks.

What we are editing for here:

  • too much body language?
  • movements used instead of reactions and emotions?
  • not enough story action, too much body movement?

Ask yourself some questions – why all this description? What’s at stake here? Why does the reader need to know this? How can this be moved from story-fact to subtext? Where can word choice make a difference?

Write out your answers – those are your intentions for the scene and you’ll need to know that stuff to move onto a new draft. It’s okay of the answer is ‘I don’t know’ because that will lead to further questions.

‘Sue saw Bob…’, ‘…then Sue sat…’, and, ‘… Sue just frowned…’  are the bits of  narration that are written ‘out-of scene’. It is the reader being told things.  You can do two things with this type of narration once you move on to a new edit. Leave it in but surround it with storytelling…

Second draft:

From the vantage point of the couch Sue saw Bob bend at the waist to peek into tiny little half-size fridge. Crossed her arms, sitting back, she moved one leg over the, her high heels dangling from the toe of her right foot. He reached in to withdraw a can of mixer; the only item in the fridge besides olives. It took him a second but he fumbled the pop top on the can open, then searched for a swizzle stick for mixing. Sue just frowned at the emptiness of the tiny little fridge. The deep lines cutting across her forehead made Bob turn away. He hated her looking like that. Snaking out a cigarette from the pack in his pocket, with shaky fingers, the blood pounding in his temple, he poured them both drinks. But thought a moment before handing Sue hers.

The questions to ask: What is going on with these two folks? Who is in charge? What is at stake? That’s the auditing mentioned above.

You can next move the paragraph further into scene with a stronger edit that brings in all the unspoken problems of this couple and have their body-language speak to the reader were the characters are keeping silent. That’s the subtext. And it rarely comes in at a first draft.

What readers want from your stories is the reveal. Notice the word reveal here. We are talking about the revelation of who these characters are and what drives them to do what they are about to do. This is not the telling of plot points by explanation.  Readers want to realize what your characters are like. And readers can’t realize something if you are explaining to them.  That is reader-feeder.

Realization has to come from the readers’ own discovery. Again, to realize what is being revealed the reader cannot be told it. Let’s look at Sue and Bob in that hotel room.

Draft three: Where subtext is added and the remaining body language, that isn’t removed, now does double duty in revealing a bit more of who these people are.

From her vantage point on the couch Sue sized Bob up as he bent to peek into the half-size fridge. Sitting back, her high heel swishing from the toe of her right foot, she held off from all she meant to tell him. He reached for the only item in the fridge besides olives. It took him a second but he fumbled the pop top on the can he’d withdrawn, then searched for swizzle stick. Anything to hold off hearing what she might have to say once she pounced. Sue focused on the emptiness of the tiny fridge; deep frown lines cutting a ‘V’ between her brow. With shaky fingers, Bob took a moment snaking out a cigarette, the blood pounding in his temple. He hated her staring like that. He poured them both drinks, but thought a moment before handing Sue hers.

Look at some of the word choices and verbs here that can replace too much body-language and descriptors of movements:  Sue is almost cat-like in the subtext the writer’s added in. the word choices for Bob’s actions, rather than his body-movements are those of Sue’s nervous prey.

SueVantage point, Sized up

Swishing, Held off

Pounced, Focused

Cutting, Staring

Bob  Bent, Peek


Withdrawn, Shaky

Snaked, Pounding

During a later edit these words were selected on purpose.


Sue saw Bob bend at the waist to peek into tiny little half-size fridge. (story-facts)


From her vantage point on the couch Sue sized Bob up as he bent to peek into the half-size fridge. (subtext- the opening salvo that will show us who is in charge here)

Which line tells your reader something about who might have the upper hand?

Of these two characters, whose verbs are weaker, thus showing which person may be weaker?  Did you notice the word weak and upper hand were not used at all here? Hat would be telling, rather than storytelling.

So if you find a lot of describing, leave it in your first draft.  Make note of it with ‘subtext’ if you think it’s a candidate for a revision.  Audit – ask your questions as to the intent for your scene. With those audit questions, look at your work again and revise. Descriptions are not a bad thing; they are the first step toward storytelling.

You need to get them down in order to get on with taking them out.

Draft 1: Write it all.

Audit it.

Drafts 2 and beyond: Edit it. Edit it again. And again. each time for a new editing goal.

This one post is just for cleaning up over-descriptions.

Have a further question? Post a comment. I’d love to hear from you.