Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 1

After my speech at Pubcon17 last weekend on the topic of the paths to publishing, several attendees requested that I blog the information so they could have it available as a reference. Consequently, I am going to detour off our previous topic of scene writing for the next few weeks to accommodate this request. What follows is a reiteration of the bullet points of my speech.

Writing Advice

When I was in the third grade I lived in Los Angeles. And being the bookish sort of child I often went to the public library. On one of those occasions, I met author Ray Bradbury. He didn’t seem to be an overly largish person. He had a lot of hair. And he had these giant glasses with thick lenses that magnified the appearance of his eyes.

Ray Bradbury read to me. As far as I know this was not some scheduled event. It was just some guy reading in the library to whichever children would sit still. I feel that I should recall in great detail his reading of Farenheit 451, but the reality is that I was in the third grade and I was focused on his gigantic eye balls. I do recall the book burning scene from the story though not in great detail.

After Ray Bradbury read to me, I walked up to him and said, “When I grow up I want to read books and write.”

Ray Bradbury gave me some advice, which I do remember:

  • Read everything and then read everything else
  • Write every day.
  • Practice writing just to practice
  • You have to write a lot to get good

There were long stretches of time where I didn’t do a good job of following Ray’s advice. I’ve had life detours, and hiccups, and downward spirals I had to climb up from. But today, I read books and I write.

And so do you.

First off, congratulations! You have written a lot. Maybe you’ve finished your first novel. Maybe your fourth or fifth novel. And now you want to become a published author. Be proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished. There are a bazillion people who have said they want to write a novel, yet they never have.

But you, you have spent time, sometimes years, learning the craft of writing fiction. And your novel has a solid plot build around a fresh or unique premise. You have ensured that your scenes are set and clearly orient your reader in space and time. Your characters are solid and fleshed out with internal and external conflict. You have made sure that you have tension and conflict on nearly every page. Your point of view is consistent. You show more than you tell so your readers can visualize the story playing out in their mind’s eye. And you are comfortable in your preferred genre and your genre’s tropes so that your story will meet your reader’s expectations.

You have also worked with critique groups or critique partners who have helped you to see where your writing weaknesses are, and then you worked to learn more craft to shore up those weaknesses and solve your story shortcomings. Then, after all of that, you proofed your work to the best of your ability and this manuscript is the best possible work that you can create at this point in time.

Now you want to publish your book. Good for you. But which route should you take? Should you self-publish? Should you publish with the big 5? Would an independent press serve you best?

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 2

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene

More on Dialogue

It’s been a few weeks since my last post. It feels like it’s been months. I have finished production on Literary Wanderlust’s upcoming thriller, Mind Virus. I finished a freelance gig, and started a second one. I hosted a four-day writer’s retreat. And I have my keynote speech nearly finished for PubCon17 this weekend.

It’s now time to get back on schedule with the blog posts.

Where were we? Oh, yeah. The Anatomy of a Scene.

To recap, I like the concept and practice of writing your novel in scenes because I find that it leads to better writing. Each scene is set up to orient the reader in space and time. Each scene moves the story forward. Each scene has a beginning, middle, and an ending. Each scene is a “compact” piece of your novel and once you have finished writing that scene, you are ready to move to the next, especially if you plotted. It’s a quick and dirty way to write your drafts.

Last time we touched on writing dialogue in scenes, and I thought it would be good to continue with that same topic.

What are some uses of dialogue?

Dialogue can reveal details about your character in a way prose can’t.

  • You can show how your character acts when under duress. Their speech reveals how they handle stress.
  • Your character’s words can reveal their true nature. Does your character say that he is suave? Do his words reflect that as truth, or do they show he is awkward with the ladies?
  • Your character can also express feelings about the current state of affairs in your novel, which will show her personality.

Dialogue can add tension through verbal tête-à-tête.

  • Your characters can argue and insult each other.
  • Manipulation attempts are a great way to add tension. For example, one character will try to manipulate another with or without the other’s awareness.
  • Your character can attempt to persuade another character not interested in the truth.
  • Your character can defend themselves against false accusations.

Important points of using dialogue in scenes:

  • Never let your characters blather on pointlessly and purposelessly. Pointless blathering is boring.
  • Readers interpret dialogue as action, so use it to pick up the pace in slower scenes.
  • Dialogue can be used to foreshadow future events, thereby creating interest and intrigue for your reader.
  • Use dialogue to reveal your character’s personality, and to reveal their intentions.
  • Use argument and persuasion to increase conflict and reveal character.

Until next time!


Posted in Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene


One of the easiest and most difficult aspects of creating a work of fiction is writing dialogue. Dialogue can be subtle, memorable, dramatic, and forceful, and is one of the most versatile craft elements. But if not done well it can be stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Note that dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. Monologue is a long speech by a single actor (in a play or movie), and internal monologue is the inner voice or thoughts of a character. Most fiction uses dialogue and internal monologue, but not monologue.

You can use dialogue to pick up the pace of a dull scene, or when you want to move toward action. Dialogue is also great for creating conflict because you can pit one character against another. Well-crafted dialogue is a scene stealer.

Bad dialogue is a scene killer.

Don’t use dialogue as space filler. Don’t make your characters speak to take up space because you don’t know what is happening in your scene. If you do this your dialogue will come off as stiff, stilted, and cheesy.

Dialogue in a scene can do a few things:

  • Convey action
  • Reveal character
  • Reveal plot
  • Reveal backstory

You can use dialogue to open a scene, but if you start your scene in the middle of the conversation be sure to write it so that your reader isn’t confused having missed the earlier conversation.

  • Be sure to set your scene so your reader knows what is happening before the conversation starts
  • Be clear on who is speaking to whom so as not to confuse your reader
  • Mix action with dialogue so that you don’t have talking heads
  • Use conflict or opposition in your dialogue so that the conversation is dynamic

When you use dialogue be sure that the conversation happening on the page is important and moves the story forward. Your characters should be speaking for some purpose. Two characters chatting about the weather most likely won’t work for any foreseeable reason, and if you find your characters blathering on about unimportant things that have nothing to do with the story, save them from themselves and delete the conversation. All of it. It’s boring and pointless.

And you know I don’t want your writing to be boring and pointless.

Next time more on dialogue in scenes.

Posted in Misc Topic

Writing Process

My finished novel is with my editor. Yes, I know I’m an editor, but I have this firm belief that you should never edit your own work because you can’t see your own shortcomings. Meanwhile,  it’s time to begin working on the next book in the series. I thought I might blog periodically about my writing process. Hopefully it will be helpful to someone. Hopefully it will be inspiring to someone. Hopefully it won’t all come to shit. If it does come to shit, hopefully it will at least be a glorious pile of shit. Ahh. The glories of risk taking.

I decided to work in Scrivener this time around. I have dabbled in it before for outlining but I decided to try it exclusively for this next book. I like the cork board visual and the ease at which you can edit and move chapters and scenes around. There is a bit of a learning curve to using Scrivener, but there are tons of YouTube videos available. Scrivener is also inexpensive, and allows you a free trial to test it out. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from the Scrivener folks. I just happen to like it.

First things first. I spent some time thinking about my story premise and kicked ideas around with my critique partner. If you don’t have a critique partner or critique group, let me recommend that you find one. Google critique groups in your city and join one. Not only will it help you get into a writing community, but you will learn a great deal about writing craft over time, and you will have a like-minded individual or two to kick ideas around with. Do take some time to find the right group for you. Each group is different and you will need to find a good fit.

My critique partner shot down the ideas I had initially. They were too normal and not particularly dynamic for my story concept. Since my main character is not normal (I am writing urban fantasy at the moment), the premise was too mundane. While driving I settled on “If you follow your passion you will find your purpose,” which I thought worked with where my character left off the end of the last book. While sitting at a stop light I texted my new premise idea and three-sentence outline to my critique partner, which he accepted as a good one.

I opened Scrivener and created a new book file. The first thing I did was write my premise in the notes. Having a premise helps you to focus on what your book is about. As you write pages with your premise in mind, you will end up infusing your pages with meaning, which is good for your readers

Good. 1st step done.

Then I set up an initial ten chapter template (see image) to begin outlining the new story. This ten chapter starting point is stolen from Writer’s Little Helper by Jim Smith, and for me, it’s a great way to begin plotting. I find the guideposts helpful to ensure a cohesive story line. Note that I don’t get any kickbacks from Jim for recommending his book. I just happen to like it.


My next step is to work out the opening scene, then the climax, and then the ending scene. After I get through that, I will add twists and complications and sub plots and such. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Posted in Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene


Writing Pensive Scenes

This week we are continuing our exploration into writing scenes by looking at pensive scenes, or those scenes that explore the thoughts and feelings of our characters. These are not action scenes by any means. In fact pensive scenes slow the pacing of the story significantly, so they are used sparingly. We don’t want our stories to drag.

Pensive scenes allow your reader to see your character’s interior self. There may be thoughts (internal monologue), and moments which allow your character to digest actions, and events, and twists that have changed their course of action earlier in the story.

Pensive scenes also allow your reader to catch their breath after a series of action filled sequences of events. Note that pensive scenes are rarely ever used to open a novel. They also tend to show up later in the plot line.

So what makes a pensive scene?

  • Your character spends more time thinking than acting or speaking
  • Pensive scenes reveal something to the reader about your character’s frame of mind
  • Pensive scenes must have some bearing on the plot. If they don’t, then cut them Each and every scene must move the story forward or it should not be in the book

Be sure to use scene setting to ground your reader in space and time when you are writing a pensive scene. You want your reader to know where our character is as they have this internal time. You can use the setting also as a way to convey the mood and meaning for your character’s thoughts and emotions. You might also start the scene in transition between the heart-pounding action of the earlier scene to help move your reader to a quieter moment of your character’s thoughts. Let your reader gear down rather than making them stop on a dime as it were.

Remember that the purpose of the pensive scene is to give your reader some intimacy with your character as your character experiences their inner thoughts.

  • Give your character realistic responses to earlier events
  • Make sure that your character wrestles with some issue in the previous scene or series of scenes
  • Have your character come up with a plan of action to move them toward their goal
  • Show your character’s internal conflict
  • Include some element of danger for your character to think about
  • Add tension through your character’s surroundings
  • Use mood and ambiance

When writing your pensive scene, it is still important that the story move forward.

  • Can you end this introspective scene with a cliffhanger so that your reader will continue to turn the page?
  • Can your character come to a moment of decision that changes the direction of the plot?
  • Is there some surprise that pops up? Your story still needs twists and turns to interest your reader, even in quiet scenes.

Remember that pensive scenes should be used sparingly in your novel, but they can be a great way to create intimacy between your character and your reader. They slow the pace but if you end with some special twist your reader will be intrigued.

Come see!

I have been invited to speak at PubCon on April 29th in Denver. I’d love to see you there if you can make it.

Black and White Cat
Posted in Fiction Writing

Anatomy of a Scene

Writing Dramatic Scenes

Last time we discussed the elements necessary for writing suspenseful scenes, and why that was important. This week I thought we would focus on a particular type of scene, specifically the dramatic scene.

The dramatic scene allows your characters to deliver a wide array of emotions, and can allow you to use emotions to move your story forward. These emotions include everything to gratitude to tantrums and are written in a way that will emotionally affect the reader.

The dramatic scene can be written around a fight, a betrayal, obsession over an object or another character, or any other concept of high emotion. The goal of the dramatic scene is to move your characters toward change. Your character will be forced to make decisions based on the complications which arise from the emotional content presented in the scene, and this decision will force your character to go a different direction than they previously intended. Note that dramatic scenes tend to show up toward the middle and end of novels rather than in the first act.

Start the scene with a slower pace. Be sure to include all the necessary scene setting your reader will need to ground themselves in space and time. Then use dialogue, action, and high emotional content to speed up the pace of the scene until the climax of the scene. Then allow your character a moment of reflection and decision making, so they can move forward in a different direction.

  • Use the relationships of your characters to bring them closer together or the break them apart
  • Use your character’s actions to support inner conflict
  • Use both hot (passion, rage) and cold (shock, internal grief) emotions to direct the drama and draw the reader in.
  • Use foreboding
  • Use interaction with other characters
  • Use confrontation, threat of death (or harm), or ruined expectations
  • Do NOT use exposition which is boring and NOT dramatic
  • Do not write your scene with hysterics or unrealistic action or you will move into melodrama (not a good thing)

Remember that dramatic scenes should focus on the character’s feelings so they will reach an emotional climax which then forces your character to change, either through epiphany or contemplation.

The added dramatic scene will entice your reader to turn the page and also help your character move forward to the end.

Posted in Fiction Writing, Misc Topic

Anatomy of a Scene

Writing Suspenseful Scenes

As we continue our exploration of using scenes to write our novels, let’s keep in mind that our scenes should be entertaining, dynamic, and purposeful. Your story will benefit from well-written scenes that keep the reader’s interest. Note that not each and every scene should be a suspense scene because the amount of suspense in each genre differs. If you become aware that your story is dragging, think about adding some suspense.

Certain elements will make your scene more suspenseful. The stakes must be high for your character. Increase the risk. Your character must be in trouble or get into trouble and have a hard time getting out. Add some danger. Add emotional intensity to your scene and don’t let up until the end. Your character should be under pressure to change or act by other characters, or by things that occur during the scene.

That said, don’t rush into the suspense. You will need to create a logical series of events which create the suspense. Let your reader see the intensity grow page by page so that the expectation of things to come increases the reader’s anxiety. The key word is anticipation. Let the reader be concerned for your character as you open the scene, and let the uneasy feeling grow as your character moves through the scene.

Think about the possibility of letting our antagonist get the upper hand over your protagonist and let your reader worry over your character. Let your character feel threatened and in danger and show your reader what that looks like, feels like, smells like, tastes like. Those sensory details are important to share with your reader. Make the danger tangible so your reader will have to white-knuckle it. And let your character react to the danger in an unexpected way so that there is even more conflict.

Make things complicated.

When you get to the end of a suspenseful scene, conclude the action and give your character a moment to reflect on what just happened. This will allow your reader to catch their breath before the next suspenseful scene.


Carry the suspense all the way through to the end of the scene and end it on a cliff hanger so that your reader must turn the page.

Mix it up. Worry your reader. Let anticipation rule the day. You will have happy readers. And that is a very good thing.