Monday, March 26, 2012


I was going to do a post about openings, and the current trend to start with dialog or action before the reader is rooted in the world or has a reason to care about the characters. But, one of my fellow writers at Musa suggested a really good post on openings by Dario Ciriello at: .

His point, that opening with action means engaging the reader, is well taken. Not every novel needs to start with something blowing up. Your "hook" is the question that keeps your reader looking for that next line. "Hooks" can be soft and subtle. Heck, the best ones usually are.

Make sure your reader is asking the right questions, ones that bring her deeper into the story, when she reads your opening. Trust that if there's a compelling question and good writing, the reader will keep going to find the answer.

A point worth mentioning, but that Dario didn't address, is don't use a gimmick. I once read a novel where the main character spends the page thinking about a cock in fairly elaborate detail. Problem? The novel wasn't a romance or erotic. The cock in question was the rooster she was trying to catch and kill for dinner. Can I tell you anything else about that book? No. Why? Because I threw it across the room and yelled at it for about 10 minutes. False hooks annoy me. I think they annoy most readers.

Pose a question to your reader in the opening and deliver an answer in the story. If you do that, your reader will be hooked.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Musa Publishing: Author Interview with Nancy DiMauro

I'm blogging at Musa Publishing today. Please come check it out.

Musa Publishing: Author Interview with Nancy DiMauro: Tell us about yourself… I’m a mommy, writer, lawyer who lives on a farm with too many animals (according to my husband). Eleve...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Six Questions For . . .: Six Questions for Pat Dey, Slushreader, Flash Fict...

Flash Fiction Online publishes stories from 500-1,000 words containing "strong, interesting characters, plots, and (to some extent, at least) settings." Check out Pat Dey's interview on how the process works at: Six Questions For . . .: Six Questions for Pat Dey, Slushreader, Flash Fict...:

Monday, March 19, 2012

We've Come A Long Way, Baby.

I was looking through my basement bookcase for a research book I knew was there. I didn't find it, but I did find Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills ("WIGSSIP"), which book was one of my husband's college textbooks (although he denies it).
Mr. Hills was the fiction editor at Esquire for many years and wrote The Memoirs of a Fussy Man. Mr. Hills died in 2008 at the age of 82. The original copyright for WIGSSIP is 1977, and the revised edition I have was copyrighted in 1987. Amazon reports a 2000 revision as well.
Mr. Hill didn't write short stories, but he edited them for Esquire for 20 years before WIGSSIP was first published. A lot of what he says in it still holds true. But what I found particularly interesting was his take on genre fiction or "slick fiction." He spends almost 4 pages comparing "slick fiction" with "quality fiction."
In comparing the two forms, Mr. Hill states:
"Slick fiction or "magazine" or "formula" fiction was always distinguished from "quality" fiction or "serious" fiction - that is, literary fiction. The distinction to be made between them is that slick fiction - whether of the "romance" sort or of the "hard-boiled" sort - always partakes of the daydream, while quality fiction - as Jung said of Art - always partakes of the night dream. "
Mr. Rust points to the rise of television as the fall of genre fiction since they both serve as "entertainment." He states that "slick fiction is now not much written, at least in short story form," and applauds its downfall. While that statement may have been true in the late 1970s or even late 1980s, it's not true today.
Duotrope lists over 4,100 publishers in its searchable database. For those who haven't searched it Duotrope allows a writer to search the market for publishers who handle the same type of stories. You search by first entering a "genre". "Literary" isn't a genre. Instead it's "style" or sub-classification. When I search "general" genre and "literary" style, I get approximately 1,300 hits - approximately 1/3 of the possible publishers. Why?
Genre fiction accounts for the majority of the market. When I see I a story labeled "literary" come over the transom at Flash Fiction, I groan a little. Literary, these days, is often synonymous with purple prose and overwrought stories. Good literary works are becoming harder to find. Romance, the genre most maligned by Mr. Hill, seems to be the leader in sales.
What's this all mean?
As a genre writer, I have to admit I cheer a little that genre fiction has such a strangle hold on the market. It could be that Mr. Hill was right and television has fundamentally altered the American perception of "good" writing. It might be that he was wrong too. Whether the story is "literary", "genre" or "slick", most readers report they read for entertainment.
Writing has changed since the rise of Amazon. Well, not so much the writing, but our ability to market our work. Genre labeling doesn't consign you to fame or obscurity. I can tag my work with as many genres as apply, and more readers than every can find it. Genre stories, not literary ones, are the norm.
There's no doubt, writers and readers have come a long way, and that evolution isn't likely to stop any time soon.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Work in Progress Update

I just finished the first draft of my latest short story, A God's Quest, in which Apollo tries to break Daphne's curse and restore her to her proper form. It's the third act of my short story collection, Apollo Rising. The newest short story needs a week or so to "cool" before I start the editing process.

In the meantime, I'm back to work on my urban fantasy novel, The Nocebo Effect. The novel features Vonna, one of the characters from Paths Less Traveled, my upcoming short story collection.

Paths Less Traveled will be published by Musa Publishing on May 11, 2012. I'm anxiously awaiting the comments on the collection from my editor. I'm sure I'll be blogging on the editing and publishing process, including the blurb and excerpt, as we get closer to the release date.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Advice from Mignon Fogarty | Writing advice from leading authors | Gotham Writers' Workshop

Sometimes it's the negative advice that motivates us to succeed. Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl is a wonderful person in addition to being a great source of useful grammar tips. She shares her story at: Advice from Mignon Fogarty Writing advice from leading authors Gotham Writers' Workshop.

For me it was an English teacher in high school. We had a "local color" writing assignment. When she passed out the graded scenes, she raved about one. Then she couldn't remember who wrote it. She asked for the writer to hold up her hand. When I held up my hand, she said, "You didn't write that," or words to that effect. She turned me off creative writing for about 20 years as a result. Now, she's going to get a mention in the upcoming book - Paths Less Traveled with a reference "Yes, I did write it."

Ok, so Mignon is a better person than I am. I can live with that.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Hollywood Formula for Flash Fiction

I have a confession to make. I'm not a natural short story writer. I have to fight to keep myself from haring off after one plot thread or another. Writing short fiction is hard. So, I look for anything that helps me confine a story into the appropriate length and still have it be a story. One of the reasons we reject a submission at Flash Fiction Online is that it's only a scene not a story.

So, how do you fit all the necessary story elements into 1000 words?

Writing Excuses did a podcast on the "Hollywood Formula" in Season 6. Lou Anders visited the pod cast and talked about how his mentor, Dan Decker, divided any story into its three parts (beginning, middle, end). I recommend you check out the entire Writing Excuses podcast at

The short version of the Hollywood Formula: a story generally has three main characters and three parts. The three characters are the Protagonist, the Antagonist, and Dynamic or Relationship character. In a non-modified formula the first act takes about 1/4 of your word count, second 1/2 and the third has the final 1/4. In a Flash Fiction story that means roughly 250 words for the beginning, 500 for the middle and 250 for the ending.

Certain story benchmarks happen in each act. In the first act, you introduce the three main character and what they want. About a tenth of the way into the first act (or at about 25 -30 words), the protagonist makes the fateful decision. I think of this as the red light moment. If the protagonist says no, the story's over. Do not go past "go", do not collect $200. In Flash, you probably have until about 100 words for the protagonist to make that choice. BUT the protagonist must make a choice.

In the middle, the protagonist needs to be asking and answering questions. This section starts about 1/2 way through the first act (or 120-130 words) and ends about 1/2 way through the second act (word 500). Once the protagonist knows what the questions are, he needs to start answering them. Right about word 650 or so the protagonist hits his "low point" - the place in the story where things are at their worst and he's as far from his goal as he could be. Act II closes around word 750.

From the "low point" to the end is the final battle. In this act, the protagonist must defeat his antagonist, obtain his goal, and reconcile with the relationship character. The closer these events happen to each other, the more emotional impact your story will have.

But wait, you say, my short story only has two characters, does that mean I need to add someone else?

No. The three act pattern should get modified based on your story. Some stories are all about the final battle. Some are all about asking and answering questions. But, a story needs to include all these elements. Stories that fall flat are missing part of the formula. If you can't find these elements, you might have a scene, not a story. Now you know why short stories, and flash fiction in particular, are so hard to write. But you can do it. I know you can.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing When The World Conspires Against You - Inching Toward Success

I'd wanted to do a post on Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E quotient and finish the last installment of a short story series (Apollo Rising) this week. But, alas, things didn't work out. The M.I.C.E post has been delayed, and I'm still about 3,000 words from the story's end. Why? I needed to invest a few hours in both activities, and between child transportation issues, an increase in activity in the day job, and electrical outages at the house, my writing time trickled away.
As part of The Fictorians, I state weekly goals, and my fellow writers hold me accountable for them. My goals use to be fairly lofty - you know 1,000 words or 2 hours of writing a night, submit three stories for publication. Well, I wasn't making those goals. Every night after the kids went to bed, I fought with myself. I knew I needed to put my butt in the seat (B.I.S.) and write. After all, if I didn't write, how was I going to finish my works in progress, much less get them published?
I needed to take a realistic look at my goals, time, and productivity and figure out how to fix the disconnect. The Get-It-Done Guy did a great podcast on avoiding procrastination. He recommends breaking large, daunting tasks down into 15 minute intervals of work a day, and if you miss a day, let it go. A few months ago, one of my fellow Fictorians took a similar approach to writing. Her writing goal was 250 words, about a page a day (1,750 words a week). I adopted this goal about two months ago. Two hundred and fifty words takes me about 15 minutes to write when the story and I aren't fighting.
Adopting this approach surprised me. I became more productive. Even dead exhausted, I could work on those 250 words. After all, it wouldn't take much time. What I found out was even when I struggled to get the first 100 done, the words came easier by the 200th. Most nights I average 750 words. I'll miss a few nights a week, but I'm still writing close to 3,000 words a week. I didn't dread writing or feel like I'd let myself down on those nights when I just couldn't write.
While 250 words a day doesn't sound like a lot, it's over 90,000 words, or roughly one novel, a year. Not shabby results for 15 minutes a day.
If you can't commit the time you want to writing, dedicate what you can. There's nothing wrong with inching toward success.