Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Solving Story Problems Collaboratively

I’m a big advocate for writers’ groups. I figure that drawing on the wisdom of eight brains will certainly get me further than the limited wisdom of my single brain. 

One of the things we like to do in my writers’ group, The Anita Factor, is help each other brainstorm when we have a story problem.

I’d come up with a new concept for a novel. I was pretty jazzed about the idea, but I lacked one thing—a disaster. A major one. One that would level a huge portion of a town and result in the deaths of thousands. As you can tell, I’m all giggles and butterflies over here. I was stumped as to what that disaster should be. This is where novels can become trite, where authors choose something that’s been done hundreds of times. I needed a unique disaster.

I decided to take my problem to my writers’ group. I explained the main character and the premise of the story and, for the next 20 minutes, we brainstormed. I wrote down all of their ideas, no matter how silly, unusable or ridiculous. When we were done, I had 32 disastrous ideas. None of them stood out as, “the one,” but I had pages worth of material to ruminate on.

That night, when I went to my car, still thinking on all those potential disasters, I came up with idea number 33. It was THE idea! While my group may not have come up with it, I needed to go through all of their ideas to stumble upon mine. I also have the assurance of knowing that if these highly creative people didn’t come up with my idea, then there probably are not hundreds of novels out there structured around the same disaster.

Are you a part of a writers’ group? How do you help each other? Do you brainstorm with friends or beta readers when you’re stumped? Leave a comment.

Melinda Friesen writes middle grade, young adult and new adult fiction. Learn more about her and her novel, Enslavement, at

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep: Character Interviews

Hello again, and welcome to the next installment of preparing for NaNoWriMo. November is barely a month away, and I hope your fingers are itching to get typing. By now you've been spending time brainstorming all kinds of ideas for things you want to include in your novel, and naturally that's going to include characters.

One of the things that drives me nuts when I'm writing is when I've forgotten a detail I know I've already written about. I can't handle having it wrong, on the off chance that I forget to go back and fix it later. So I have to stop the flow, go back in my document, and figure out what that minor character's brother's name is, or what year the main character's dog died.

Creating a "character bible," or a set of documents with information about your characters, can save you a lot of reference time. When used with character interviews, it can also deepen your understanding of a character's motivations and help you create conflict in your writing.

The writing program Scrivener has some pre-created character sheets where you can fill in what a character looks like, important dates, etc--but it's easy enough to create your own if you don't use or (gasp!) don't like Scrivener.

Take your main character. Make all the notes you need about things like what color their hair is, or when they graduated from high school. But then go deeper. "Ask" your character about their relationship with their parents. Their siblings. Who was their favorite teacher in school? WHY? How did they choose their career?

Go more specific to your book. If you know that you are going to kill one of the main character's friends, ask about them! Why are they friends? What will it mean to have that friend gone?
Figuring out these feelings helps you develop individual character voices as well as their unique feelings towards important events. Then when you sit down to write these events you have a feeling for how your characters would react, and how that might propel the rest of your plot.

Obviously there is room to be surprised, which is one of the most fun things about writing. It's okay if while writing you have an epiphany that completely changes things. But at least you are thinking about your characters and their feelings instead of writing a machine that just goes through plot.

An example from my very first NaNo project:
My main character was a 20-year-old girl who lived at home, and the main focus of the book was on having her open up to experiences that would allow her to leave home and strike out on her own.
She needed a reason to have stayed at home in the first place, so I killed her mother and made her dad a widower. Now she's sympathetic! She stayed home to be with her dad so he wouldn't be lonely!

And not a single time in the whole book did she have any feelings toward her mother whatsoever.

So when I rewrote the book, I talked to her. I learned that not having a mom made her feel isolated, which informed her choice of friends. She felt great pressure to go to the same university as her parents, because of how her dad felt about meeting her mother there. And on, and on. It made the book and character so much richer.

So before November, take some time to get to know your characters. Check back in two weeks to learn more about the benefits of both outlining AND pantsing.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Writing Series: Major Rewrites guest post by Terra Luft

One of my favorite sayings when the horror of writing the first draft starts to settle in is this:

It’s enough to keep me blazing through until the end, even when my inner fears whisper this is the worst thing ever written in the history of the world. Every writer knows those dark moments, smiling and nodding as they read this, for it is those shared fears during our darkest times which bind us all as comrades and brothers in arms.

The truth is, getting to “The End” is only the first step. It is then that the hardest work – that of revision and editing – begins. What if you realize you’ve taken a wrong turn along the way, despite your best efforts?

This happened to me with both my first and second novel-length projects. I decided to put away the first novel, chalk it up to the one I spent years learning with, and write something else. But once I was done with the second novel, I realized it, too, was lacking something.

I spent a few weeks thinking I wasn’t good enough to be an author. Wrote and published a few short stories instead, trying to forget about the project I’d finished but hadn’t.

Eventually I pulled myself together, reminded myself that I had already written two novels so clearly I am good enough, and decided to fix it. Which meant an entire re-write.

The antagonist had changed halfway through the first draft, leaving the ending mismatched from the beginning – curse those characters who take on a mind of their own. At a minimum, that needed to be fixed. I also decided to add a supernatural element to make the story more compelling. I’d set out to write mainstream fiction believing it would be easier to write (and sell) than paranormal but if you’re a genre writer like me, that isn’t always true.

With the help of my editor and writing group, I spent several months taking stock of what worked and what didn’t and came up with a plan to incorporate a supernatural subplot – the key to most of what was lacking. Along the way, some of the characters morphed, changed their motivations or got cut out completely, and some of the existing plot points had to bend to work with all the new changes. From there, I built a rough outline. One that looked very different than the original one which I’d already written.

I wrote sixty thousand words in that first draft and hoped not everything had to go. However, enough had changed that even the scenes I could still use had a different feel and a different flow in the re-write. I found it nearly impossible to salvage original writing while doing such a major overhaul. Instead of cutting and pasting, I opened the original document so I could reference it and I started from scratch.
© Bethbee | Dreamstime Stock Photos     

Every writer should know, and if you didn’t already let me be the first to break it to you so you’re prepared for it, that the editing process is often not only more difficult than writing the first draft, it is also the largest part of the overall project. Especially when you have an editor. When the editing process begins with a complete re-write, it is even harder.

For the record, I believe everyone should have an editor who can see their work from the viewpoint of the reader and identify things you, as the author, are too close to the work to see. So if you haven’t incorporated critique partners and editors into your revision process, you should reconsider. You may not always like what they have to say, but they are usually right.

Five months of writing later, I’m almost finished. Again.

No one said writing was easy. For those of us in the trenches, at times it can feel overwhelming. Just remember, each time you write a story – regardless of the length – you get better at it. The same is true of revision and editing.

Don’t lose hope. If you find yourself at “The End” and unsatisfied with the product, there are ways to rewrite and salvage it. Figure out the missing elements and have a plan before going in. Above all, never give up. Never stop writing.


Terra Luft is a speculative fiction author and prolific blogger. An overachiever by nature, she tackles every project with coffee and sarcasm, and believes all rules exist to be broken. She works full time by day and writes by night; always searching for that ever-elusive work-life balance people tell her exists. A member of the Horror Writers Association and a founding member of The United Author Association, she lives in Utah with her husband and two daughters, their naughty dog and a cat who stole her heart.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Flash Fiction Contest Updates

Based on feedback, I've made some updates to the flash fiction contest:
  • We now have a hashtag: #OAFlash. Yay! Use it to encourage your friends to join in the fun or to share the awesome winning story.
  • I will use the hashtag on the Mondays before the contest opens to tweet out that week's prompt. You can follow me on Twitter to find out what it is. The contest will still open at 6 a.m. Eastern on Fridays and close at 3 a.m. Eastern on Sundays.
  • The winner's post will always go live at 10 p.m. Eastern on the Sunday when the contest closes.
  • Awesome Operatives may join in the fun from time to time (Kara Reynolds joined last week, for instance), but fear not, they're not eligible to win.
  • I'll modify the first contest prompt with updated rules (unless and until I make a whole new Rules-only post). I'll include a link to it in each contest, so new folks can check it out. I'll mark updates in red bold so as not to make the regulars read the whole thing again.
Any other suggestions or questions? Post 'em here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Editor Interview: Rhonda Parrish

Good morning, everyone! This is Samantha, and I'm so excited that today I get to share my interview with editor and writer extraordinaire Rhonda Parrish:

I first became acquainted with Rhonda's work when I read the anthology Fae, which she edited as the first book in her Magical Menageries series for World Weaver Press. (Just as an aside, "edited" crams tons of blood, sweat, and tears, into a demure, little word. You can read more about what an anthology editor does on her post here.) I loved Fae so much I found myself hugging my phone whilst reading. (I read on the Kindle app, so that makes more sense, right?) Then--THEN--she followed it up with two more awesome anthologies, Corvidae and Scarecrow. And now? NOW! She's accepting submissions for a fourth, Sirens. More details below.

Hi, Rhonda! Thanks for joining us today. You were the editor of Niteblade Magazine for eight years, and you’ve edited six anthologies. Obviously you love short stories! Why is that?

I love stories in any format--poems, short stories, novels, RPGs, video games, movies, television--but one of the best things about short stories is that they are short. That means I can read more of them in the same amount of time it takes me to get through a book.

I totally agree, and for even more reasons why our readers should be writing short fiction, check out Terra Luft's guest post from last week.

You’re currently accepting submissions for the upcoming Sirens anthology (which everybody should write something for, so says Samantha). What else can you say about what you’re looking for that you haven’t already?

Nothing really. I haven’t read a high enough proportion of the submissions I’ve received so far to really see what shape this anthology is taking (and thus what kind of stories I’m seeing too much or too little of). I’m hoping to be able to do an update around the beginning of October though.

We’re about halfway to the deadline of November 15. You’ve said you want an equal balance of sea and sky sirens, so are you getting that? How many submissions have you received so far? Have you started reading? Any tidbits you want to share about the slush?

So far I’ve received about 65 story submissions, and yes, I have begun reading them.

I’m excited. The overall quality of submissions seems to be quite high, which is not always the case right at the beginning where every author with a shelved story they think might possibly, almost, may be a fit for the anthology sends it your way. I’m not seeing that with this anthology, which is pretty exciting. I am seeing about twice as many sea-based sirens as sky-based sirens, but I expected that.

How do you feel about adherence to word count limits? What if I send you a story that’s exactly 7,500 words? What if I send you one that’s 7,549, but I call it 7,500? What if I send you one that’s 20,000 (but every single one is important, I swear)?

I don’t usually read cover letters before I read submissions (because I want the story to speak for itself), and the way most manuscripts are formatted the word count is way up in the right-hand corner, so I’m unlikely to notice the word count before I start reading. If I notice it while I’m reading, it’s because I’ve thought, “This story feels long… how long is it?” which is usually a symptom of a problem with pacing/tension/conflict/something within the story rather than “ZOMG, there are 49 extra words in here! Where’s my big red REJECTION stamp?!”

That being said, if you’re going to send something significantly over my word limit, email me first. I’m not an ogre, I’ll probably agree to take a look at it, but it’s about respect. If I say nothing over 7,500 words and you send me 20,000 words, I’ll be miffed because either a) you didn’t bother to read my guidelines, or b) you read them but decided that obviously they don’t apply to you. [Samantha's note: Why do writers do this? Don't let this be you.] Either one of those things, depending on my mood before I start reading, might have me reaching for my big red stamp…

Do you have any pet peeves about stories or submissions?

As you may have guessed from my answer above, people not following the submission guidelines drives me up the wall.

Niteblade used to have a ‘No Indents’ rule. It began as a practical thing to speed up formatting, but it very quickly became our BrownM&Ms Rule… sort of. In our case it wasn’t about safety, it was about who reads and follows directions because I don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t.

We turned away a lot of great stories because they were indented.

And I really wasn’t an ogre about it. It’s not like I wrote ‘no indents’ in tiny text at the bottom of the guidelines in the same colour as the background so you had to highlight it to see it. Nope. The very top of the page said, ‘NOT indented,’ and then a little further down it said, “When submitting prose, please single space your work, insert a blank line between paragraphs, and do not indent them.” AND there was a .jpgexample of what we meant. And yet…

To be clear, Sirens stories don’t have to be formatted in any special way. My point is just read and follow the guidelines. LOL.

Yep. Do it. It's hard work being a writer. Give yourself as many advantages as possible--and that one is easy.

As writers, we always want to know about the magic an editor brews to pull stories out of the slush. Once submissions close and you’ve made a first pass, about how many stories do you usually have on your shortlist before you start paring down?

I don’t think there is a ‘usual’ number. The shortlist has fewer stories than the total number of submissions and more than the final table of contents. That sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but I’m really not.

Fae had 191 submissions in total; 39 of them made it on the short list and 17 onto the table of contents. I recently edited an anthology using my pen name, and every story on the shortlist made it onto the table of contents. You just never know.

Can you tell us more about the step between shortlisting and deciding on your table of contents? Besides lots of coffee, wine, and/or painkillers, how do you decide what goes in and what goes out?

None of the stories on my shortlist are bad, which makes this stage the most difficult stage in regard to decision-making. It’s easy to pick between a strong story and a less-strong story. It’s a different thing entirely to pick between two strong pieces. Unfortunately I have to.

Once I re-read my shortlist, there are usually a handful of stories that I love so much they are guaranteed a spot. After I’ve established those, it becomes a matter of figuring out what else to keep. What goes with them? How do I get the most diversity, the most variety?

If I have two stories about a polka-dotted panda bear saving the world from evil using the power of dance, I can only keep one. In that case the stories go head-to-head, but usually by this point I’m trying to figure out which stories work best together.

For WWP anthologies once I have my short-short list done, I pass it up to my publisher, Eileen Wiedbrauk. She reads the stories and sends me her notes. They are short things (“It’s good but that ending…” or “I LOVE this one.”) but definitely help me with the final decisions.

Agents and publishers talk about an author’s behavior on social media as a decision-making factor in working with them. Do you consider that for anthologies?

I haven’t yet, though anything is possible.

I mean, I’ve accepted work by people I don’t like or wouldn’t want to hang out with, because the work was good*. BUT it’s different when you’re putting together an anthology because that person is just one of 17 or one of 26 or whatever rather than being THE ONE as in the case of a novel.

And… after giving this question a lot of thought… once you get down to the short-shortlist, if I’m deciding between two stories and the author of one is an ass on social media… well, that might be enough to tip the balance in the other direction.

You just never know, really, so we should all follow Wheaton’s Law. I mean, just in general, not only because you don’t want to alienate editors, agents, or publishers.

*For the next week my inbox is going to be full of “Do you mean me?” emails, so let me just say, if you have my email address the answer is probably no. :-p

Once you’ve decided on your table of contents and the author has been signed onto the project, you send back a list of substantive edits. How much say does the author have in which updates to accept and reject? Have you ever worked on a story where you and the author had to walk away because you couldn’t agree?

Authors always get the final say in which updates to accept and reject. Always. I do ask everyone I work with to look at my suggestions with an open mind, and often there’s a bit of back and forth which goes on between drafts, but it’s not adversarial or dictatorial, it’s a conversation.

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I can only remember two times when the author and I couldn’t find a middle ground. One of those times was because the author really, really didn’t want to change a single word, and the other time was because the author and I had totally different visions for the story. Thankfully in both cases, the break was amicable, and I would happily work with either of those authors again.

You’ve said that you have to pitch each individual idea for Magical Menageries and I wouldn’t want to spoiler any announcements, but I’m terribly curious: Are you able to share any future anthology ideas? Are there any for this series that you pitched and had rejected?

I’ve been very lucky with the Magical Menageries in that so far each idea I’ve pitched has been accepted, but I’ve gathered plenty of rejection letters for other anthologies (with several publishers). It happens.

As for what’s coming next… I have some ideas, but nothing I’m ready to share yet. I will say I’m at the short shortlist stage, but I haven’t pitched anything to follow Sirens yet, and, really, I don’t want to jinx myself. LOL.

That's all right... if a bit mysterious. *eyebrow wiggle* How many more Magical Menageries anthologies will there be? Are you working on anything outside that series right now?

Yes. So many things.

I assume you mean specifically in regard to editing and anthologies? I’m in the midst of line edits on the third of my AlphabetAnthologies (C is for Chimera). I’ve also got a couple collaborative anthology projects looking for a home. I can’t talk about them much just yet, but they are pretty exciting.

I’ve also got an idea for a trilogy of anthologies I’d like to develop and find a home for--and I will, just as soon as I find where I left my time turner. ;)

As for how many more Magical Menageries anthologies there will be… that’s tough to say. I have lots of ideas (as I mentioned), and I enjoy working with World Weaver Press, but right now we don’t have anything planned beyond Sirens.

What are your long-term plans now that Niteblade is closing?

I intend to continue editing anthologies and such, but mostly I’m looking forward to having more time to write. LOL. Isn’t that what we all say?

Yep. "What would you if you had a million dol--" "WRITE." "OK, then..."

That’s all the questions we have for you. Thank you very much for your time!

Thank you very much for inviting me and for this interview. I appreciate it. J

Rhonda Parrish is driven by a desire to do All The Things. She was the publisher and editor-in-chief of Niteblade Magazine for eight years (which is like forever in internet time) and is the editor of several anthologies including, most recently, Scarecrow and B is for Broken.

In addition, Rhonda is a writer whose work has been in publications such as Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast, Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012 & 2015), and Mythic Delirium.

Her website, updated weekly, is at, and you can find her on: 
Check out all the details about submitting to her Sirens anthology here:

That's it! Don't forget next Friday is Operation Awesome's second flash fiction contest. I've been considering the feedback after the last one, and I'll have some details about minor changes in quick post on Sunday. Stay tuned for that!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Link by Summer Wier

It's time for another Wednesday Debut Interview! Today we're talking with Summer Wier, whose YA science fiction novel LINK is now available from Reuts Publishing!

Hi Summer! Thanks for joining us! Your bio says you're an accountant! An author/accountant seems like an unusual pairing; which came first?

Hi! Yes, I do some accounting, but am really more of a jack-of-all-trades. And this is definitely one of those chicken and the egg scenarios. If I look all the way back to high school, I was awful at math and loved reading and writing. Over the years, my work experience took me more in the direction of business management and I never really thought much about pursuing writing seriously. When I finished my MBA, I needed another "project" to fill my spare time and had the thought to write a book. The idea for LINK wasn't a solid one and took a while to really nail down, but once I figured out the "hook" I dove into writing! I still juggle both and probably always will!

Your debut, LINK, sounds like a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of fantasy. How do you describe it to people in one sentence?
You're totally right, and I had a hard time picking one genre to go with as I was querying and pitching because it really does combine the two. There's a great line from the LINK press release that sums it up perfectly: LINK is the perfect blend of science, speculation, and adventure.

Do you have a favorite scene? Can you tell us a bit about it without spoiling too much?
It's hard to choose a favorite scene, especially without giving away any spoilers. I can say that my favorite parts to write were when Kira interacts with her star. I'd close my eyes and drift into those moments, imagining what it would be like if we were connected to those celestial objects and how it would sound and feel to be near them. I hope my readers get carried away in those moments, too!

I'll bet they will! What's the biggest change you made to this story between the first draft and final draft?
WORD COUNT. When I finished my book and started querying, I was a total newbie. LINK clocked in at 47,500 words when I first started sending it out. I quickly learned that it needed more meat. As I added and revised, I never made any major changes to the storyline overall, but the final version is around 67,500 words. I couldn't be happier with it!

LINK is the first in a series; did you know going into it that this would be a trilogy?
Yes. When I started LINK I always planned for it to be a trilogy, although I had absolutely no idea where it was going plot-wise. What I did know was that the first book would be very internal for the MC, solving problems close to home and her heart. As we progress to the second book, she looks beyond herself to help those closest to her, and by book three she has to focus on saving the universe (which maybe be groan-worthy to some, but it is what it is). So with that in mind, the sequel plots slowly unfolded! I'm still not 100% settled on how the third book ends, but it will come with time.

I'm always interested to hear about writers' processes. How long did it take you to draft this novel? And how long was it from that first draft until publication?
Me too! Every journey is unique. Drafting LINK was pretty drawn out. I started writing it right after I finished my MBA and got about 3 chapters in, then went to work full-time. My kids were also toddlers at the time, so it was more of "for fun" at that point. I'd guess that a year passed before I really had that nagging voice that I needed to do more with it, that it was a project I needed to finish. All the while, I'd have ideas popping into my head that I'd jot down for whenever I got around to writing. Anyway, once I decided it was a priority, I finished it in about six months (still working and mothering of course). But that was the glorious 47,500 word version! From that time, I queried and pitched (revising to add to my word count along the way) for 1 1/2 years before I had offers on it! Now it's scheduled to be released at the end of the month, a little over a year after I signed with REUTS Publications. What a ride!

Can you tell us about how you got your book deal with REUTS and what makes them a good fit for your book?
As I mentioned earlier, I started querying agents right out of the gate (with a book that was not ready) because, at the time, that was the only way I thought one could get published (outside of self-publishing which I also considered an option). As I learned more about the publishing industry, I discovered there were still other options like going through editors or directly submitting to presses. During this time, I did a lot of research into all of the options while trying to narrow down what I wanted and what would work for me. Now this may sound unusual, but part of me totally panicked at the thought of handing my baby over to an agent and letting a publisher have their way with it. On the other hand, though I have the background and knowledge needed to self-pub a professional work, I still wanted support as a debut author. I learned about REUTS from a pitch event, and though it was months before I subbed to them, I finally did. And even though they weren't the first to offer on LINK, I knew from the editorial letter and covers (and everything else I'd learned about them) that they were exactly what I wanted in a support team and publication partner.

It sounds like you found a great fit! Tell us about your cover. What do you want it to tell your readers about your book?
I absolutely love how my cover turned out. I had ZERO vision for what I wanted when I began working with REUTS' cover designer, Ashley Ruggirello. As we talked about options, I determined the focus should be on the lake setting (such a key element of the book and my premise) and should also include hints of the world it's linked to. So while it gives a great overall feel for my story, it really makes "sense" after you've read the book.

How are you planning to celebrate your book's release? Do you have any events you'd like readers to know about?
I don't even know what to expect that day, but I'd imagine it will be a social media frenzy! I am hosting an online release party on Facebook (Join here: and will plan an in person event at a later time. Anyone and everyone is welcome!

What are you working on now that the work on LINK is all done?
I'm working like a mad woman to finish the sequel, LOST, which is tentatively scheduled to release Fall of 2016. I'm about halfway through, but summertime and an international move totally knocked me off my writing schedule. Time to get back to it! And for those who are interested, book three, LIGHT, is scheduled to release Fall of 2017.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
1.) Never give up. 2.) Join the Twitter writing community. I learned SO much just from being involved there and it also led me to find my closest writer friends! And like you said, every journey is different. I could come up with lots of things I COULD have done differently, but I learned a lot on my journey, things I might not have had I done it a different way. It may sound corny, but I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.

And, just for fun: what do you think would be the best food to snack on while reading LINK?
Hands down, OREOS. (Which comes as no surprise to those who know me.)

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview!
Thank you so much for having me! I truly appreciate your time!


If you are an author looking forward to your debut sometime between December 2015 and June 2016 and are interested in being part of our Wednesday Debut Interview feature, please contact me at wendynikel at gmail dot com with your book title, category, genre, publisher, and release date.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Museday

Welcome back! Need a writing prompt today?
I find the sense I neglect the most in my writing is smell. I rarely remember to have my characters react to smells, or to set the scene with smell. But how a place, thing, or person smells can be important information! And how characters react to said smells is also important.
So your prompt today is the smell of rotted potatoes that got left in the back of the pantry and have now become goo that you're going to have to clean up because nobody else will touch it. Yes, that is a personal experience. Have fun!

If you are working on a query and you'd like fresh eyes on it, let me know in the comments! I'll pick someone for a query critique.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Major Rewrites: Revising in Layers or Moving Mountains One Stone at a Time, Pt. 2

Welcome to part 2 of Revising in Layers or Moving Mountains One Stone at a Time.

If you have major novel rewrite ahead, the task can seem overwhelming. My goal with these posts is to break the process down in order to make your revisions less daunting.

If you didn't read part 1, you can find it here. Last week I outlined the first four steps:

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Outling the existing manuscript
  3. Thinning
  4. Subplotting
After all your new characters and subplots are outlined as described in step 4, it's time to move on to step 5.

5. Integrating
This is where the layers come in. One subplot or character at a time, I add the subplot outlined items to my manuscript outline. For me, this is just a couple words with an arrow pointing to where I'll insert it. In this step, I can arrange and rearrange the new subplot points until I have them where they make the most sense.

When I'm pleased with my outline, I add the new writing to the manuscript. Depending on how extensive my new subplots and characters are, this can entail anything from a couple sentences to entirely new scenes.

I continue this process until each and every new character and subplot is added to the manuscript. During this process, I don't worry about whether or not it flows. I'm simply add the information I need.

By working in layers, I can concentrate on one subplot or character at a time which allows me to fully enrich each new item and add necessary depth.

6. Comprehensive Editing
I now view the manuscript as a rough draft, so it's time to do a thorough edit with a critical eye. I need to see how it flows, if the new plot points and characters ended up in a logical place, if there are any places I need to insert new information. I need to examine if the new characters are in all the scenes they need to be in, and to look for proper transitions, pace, tone, and appropriate shifts in existing text.

7. Polishing
After making the necessary changes, I always do a second edit to ensure it's ready for an editor's or beta readers' eyes.

8. Happy Dancing
This was a huge undertaking. You overcame the discouragement, dug in and got the job done. Everybody click here to do the dance!

The words, "major rewrite" are the last thing most writers want to hear, but I hope that by having the tools to conquer what can seem like an impossible task, you can approach the process with a can-do attitude. And that's what I'm here to tell you--you CAN do it! So, get offline and start brainstorming!

Melinda Friesen, author of Enslavement, writes novels for teens and people like her who love to read YA. In two weeks, her daughter is getting married, so her writing time is succumbing to wedding planning.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Flash Fiction Contest #1 Winner

Thank you to everyone who participated in our very first flash fiction contest. I was impressed with all four entries. No, really, I mean it, even though everyone always says that kind of thing. To take a random set of words, to create something new out of it, to do that in less than two days, and to do it in less than 500 words--that is impressive. I'm terrible at flash. I have too many words that want to come out of me. So be proud of yourself, along with me, for just this moment in time.

I know, I know! Stop the words, Samantha, and tell us this week's winner!

Flash Fiction Contest #1 Prompt: Learning how to walk

Entry by Laura Rueckert

The twelve-hour operation was over hours ago, but the anesthesia hit Amit harder than me. My first chance at freedom? Spent in bed, like always. It didn't matter that the nerves and ligaments and muscles were all in the right places now or that the nanobot results were stellar. Until Amit opened his perfect eyes, we wouldn't be doing any walking.

A nurse hurried in and checked our file. I bared my teeth at her. She scurried out. Ha.

With our right hand, I poked Amit's cheek. Dead to the world. How could the drugs affect him more than me? My twin and I shared half our organs.

I poked him again, then gave up.

Death by boredom.

TV was stupid. Internet was stupid. Amit had twice as many followers on Twitter. His smile never forced anyone away.

I turned to him. Maybe Amit's popularity would plummet...if they saw him drooling on his pillow.

I held my phone so both our heads were in the picture and smiled. Damn. Even with drool his face was friendlier. I clicked anyway.

Post-op. Waiting for sleepyhead so we can finally learn to walk.

Seconds later, I had twelve faves. I had fans too.

"Hey, Mahesh." Amit's voice sported that edge that said he was seconds from freaking out.

"It's fine," I told him. "They're ready when you are."

He rubbed his eyes with our left hand. "And the nanobots?"

"Doc says they're working as they should. Give 'em a wiggle." I held my breath. That had been the hardest part of watching him sleep: waiting to see theory turn into reality.

Our right toes flexed, then our left. With a grin, Amit lifted each leg in turn, bent each knee. "Have you tried?"

I swallowed. "Doesn't work for me. But that's what the docs said to expect, right?"

He leaned his head against mine. Before he could try to say something to make it better—nothing could make it better—I pressed the call button.

That same nurse skittered into the room. "Yes?"

I kept my face neutral. "We're ready."

"Wonderful. I'll let them know." She smiled at both of us. But longer at Amit. Whatever.

"Can you imagine, Mahesh? We can go anywhere now. We can walk into a restaurant. Stroll through a park. Where to first?"

I closed my eyes. Wide blue water, sparkling under the summer sun. Would it feel different from the hospital pool? "Granny's lake," I said.

Amit beamed while he paddled happily with our feet. "The lake it is!"

We bumped fists, and I cursed myself. Amit didn't deserve an asshat brother. With a shallow breath, I scrolled on my phone. Twitter. Own tweets. Delete.

The team of doctors stormed our room. "Gentlemen, who's ready to learn how to walk?"

Father squeezed into the corner, his camera ready. My cheeks stretched wide, even though I knew what it looked like to outsiders. Amit and I pushed ourselves up from the oversized hospital bed. We were ready.


One more rule: Winners are welcome to enter again (please, come have fun with us!), but I won't choose you again for three months. That means that the next time Laura can win is in the December 4 contest.

In case you're wondering--yes, this prompt was inspired by my daughter. She started taking her first tentative steps about a month and a half ago. Then for a couple weeks, she decided walking is for chumps and crawled everywhere. Then yesterday, magically, she started walking again. Next up: running.

Before you go, I have a few questions for everyone, whether you participated or not. Please let me know, in the comments:

Did I give you enough time to create your entry? I did a smaller window so you didn't have to wait as long to hear the winner. Would you prefer to have the prompt on a Monday and have all week to create something? Or is shorter better?

I posted this when I made a decision, although this is probably earlier than I will usually decide. Would you prefer to have the winner announced at a regular time (say, 10:30 pm, as I said in my original entry) so you don't have to refresh the website all day? Or do you like knowing as soon as I know?

Any other comments, concerns, ideas? General thoughts on creating flash? Was this easy or hard or somewhere in between? Fun or frustrating?

Again, thanks for participating and I hope to see everyone Friday, Oct. 2, for the next contest!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Flash Fiction Contest #1

**Flash Fiction Contest #1 is CLOSED.**
The next contest runs Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 at 6 a.m. ET to Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 at 3 a.m. ET.
Check the #OAFlash hash tag for sneak previews starting the Monday before.

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our first flash fiction contest! I'm so excited that you've stopped by. In just a moment, I'm going to give you a story prompt and you're going to scurry off and create flash that will dazzle me. Before we get started, let's get the rules out of the way.

The Rules
  1. This should be an original work of fiction written by you. Don't plagiarize. Don't violate copyright laws. Don't write fan fiction. Don't write thinly veiled fan fiction. Added 10/2: Copyright law says that song lyrics are off-limits, but song titles generally are not.
  2. You need to use the prompt's idea, but you don't have to use the actual words in your story unless I specify. If I can't figure out how your story relates to the prompt, I'm not going to pick it, even if it's the best thing I've ever read in my life, ever, of all time.
  3. Post your entry in the comments section by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday. Any entry after that date will not be considered. IMPORTANT NOTE: That means posting here (a publicly accessible blog) uses your First Electronic Rights for this piece, even if you're not chosen as the winner. If you're not sure what that means, I suggest googling it because it's an important thing for a writer who is or wants to be published to understand.
  4. This is a PG-13 blog, so please write your entry accordingly. I'll be flexible with most things, but absolutely no gory horror or erotica, graphic depictions of violence or abuse, or racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. Misanthropy is fine, though, since I'm a bit of a misanthropist myself. (Don't tell anyone.)
  5. Stay within the word count. I will use MS Word to check, and if you've gone over--yes, by even one word--I will disqualify you. The point of flash is to cram a good story into a small space, and most flash markets are inflexible on their word counts, so practice, practice, practice.
  6. Anything violating these rules and/or that we deem as contrary to the positive nature of this blog may be deleted without prior warning.
  7. Added 9/20:  Winners are welcome to enter again (please, come have fun with us!), but I won't choose you again for three months.
  8. Added 10/16: Include your name (or at least, what you want your badge to say) and your Twitter handle (if, ya know, you're on Twitter).
If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments.

So now that we have that out of the way, let me get some more housekeeping clear before I give you your prompt.

The Picking of the Winner

I plan to have the winner posted by Sunday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern (because that's my bedtime). Whether I can or not will depend on how many entries we get.

I will be judging the entries based on my own personal preferences. This is for fun and practice, although we may offer prizes in the future if you guys like this event enough. So just to be clear, this week's prizes are 1) bragging rights, 2) a nifty badge that Awesome Operative Toni Kerr created that you can use on your blog or website or paste to your forehead, and 3) to improve your own writing.

I know I said that in my intro post, and some of you might have thought, "Isn't that quaint?" but I really mean it. For a long time, I worked on one novel at a time, linearly, one foot in front of the other. And that's fine--if that's your bag, baby, I'm not criticizing. But when I started working on short stories, my creativity expanded. I was astounded, to be quite honest. The more stories I'm working on at a time, the more ideas I have. The more ideas I have, the more motivated I am to get things written. Now I'm churning out short stories, and I have a big, ol' list of ideas I can pick from whenever I have a spare moment to write something new. Perhaps if you haven't done something like this before, we can help you dip your toe in that water.

All right, so enough about why you should do it. If you're still with me, I'm sure you're convinced. So what's going to strike my fancy? It depends.

Here's some things I like: speculative fiction, surprises, quirky characters, likable villains, short-winded purple prose, moral gray areas, harmless snark, amusing misanthropy, dark and twisty plots, stories with a beginning/middle/end.

Here's some things I don't like: bugs/spiders, poetry, long-winded purple prose, typical hero protagonists, character/setting sketches, stories that end without closure or end on a note that makes me scratch my head.

But--and this is a big but, which I also like, a hee hee hee--don't let that stifle your creativity. Maybe my prompt gives you a great idea, and you're sure I won't like it. Who cares? If that's what's in you to write, write it, post it, get passed over by me, and go on to expand it into a bestselling novel with a six-figure movie deal.

Then again, maybe I'll love it. That's a lesson for the writing world at large, too. In the words of the illustrious CC Finlay, who, by the way, you should be subbing to on a regular basis:

All right, enough babble. Here we go.

Flash Fiction Prompt For Friday, September 18, 2015

Length: 500 words or less
Prompt: Learning how to walk
Deadline: Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time
Number of entries accepted per person: 2

Go forth and write!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Guest Post: Why Every Fiction Writer Should Be Writing Short Fiction, by Terra Luft

This post originally appeared on Terra's website,, on July 12, 2015.

I know you. You’re a novelist, an aspiring writer of the next great novel. Forging ahead through the jungle of self-doubt and rejections. I know, because I am just like you. Only I found a shortcut to success in the most unlikely of places: writing short stories.

Short fiction is an amazing avenue—even for those of us novelists who would never dream of writing short stories. Online magazines beg for content. Open calls for anthology submissions abound, hoping to find the next great thing. Many small presses use quarterly anthologies to find new novelists to sign. Flash fiction sites boast daily publishing for readers who want their fiction in tiny snippets. Land any one of these opportunities and that query for your novel just gained legitimacy—the kind that only comes from publishing credentials.

Opportunities aside, the best reason for aspiring writers and seasoned veterans alike is short stories hone your writing craft. Beginning novelists can take years to complete a first draft, then must repeat the process multiple times to polish their skills enough to land a publisher or sell well in today’s indie market. Why not learn all that on a microcosmic scale instead? Take months, not years, to learn the same lessons.

Can you never get from the dreaded middle to a neatly wrapped up ending? Write a short story. Do you struggle with dialogue? Write a short story using only dialogue. Not sure if you can pull off first-person present tense? Try it out on a short story. Do you avoid the overwhelming, often dreaded, prospect of editing your work? Write a short story, then edit multiple times to perfect it. My first published story went through eleven drafts. Imagine the time that would have taken with a novel! But once you’ve acquired these skills in an accelerated way, you can apply the experience gained to your longer fiction.

Veterans can use short fiction to further refine established skills. My editor’s favorite question is this: Does your writing do more than one thing at a time?
For example: The pendant hung from Susan’s neck where it always did. She loved the intricate scrollwork surrounding the pearl in a starburst pattern. She walked down the street, worrying about the events of the morning. Three sentences, thirty-four words.
Instead of separate sentences describing the pendant and the action, an experienced writer will combine the two: Susan eyed the storm clouds, thumbnail caught in the scrollwork of her mother’s starburst pendant like it always did when she was worried. One sentence, twenty-three words.

In that single sentence, we have tone, setting clues, action, and description. Plus, this shorter version shows us a characteristic when she’s worried, instead of breaking the cardinal rule of telling us she’s worried. Writing succinctly will set you apart in the eyes of readers and acquisition editors alike.

When you can write with an economy of words, stripped of the superfluous, your writing at any length will be more compelling. Use these benefits of short fiction, perfecting your own voice in the process, and your fiction writing overall will be improved.


Terra Luft is a speculative fiction author and prolific blogger. An overachiever by nature, she tackles every project with coffee and sarcasm, and believes all rules exist to be broken. She works full time by day and writes by night; always searching for that ever-elusive work-life balance people tell her exists. A member of the Horror Writers Association and a founding member of The United Author Association, she lives in Utah with her husband and two daughters, their naughty dog and a cat who stole her heart.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NaNoWriMo Prep: Brainstorming

Welcome back to our NaNoWriMo prep course! If you followed along last time, then I hope you found a writing craft book that you enjoyed. If you missed the first post in this series, check it out.

If you've never done NaNo before, mark my words: Writing 1,667 words a day is asking a lot of yourself. You will most likely need at least an hour set aside for the actual writing business. That doesn't include the coming-up-with-ideas part. Starting your brainstorming now will help save you time. What do you think of when you think about this newly blossoming story idea? Are you feeling a certain mood? Got a line of dialogue you just know you're going to use? Maybe you can see where the novel is set? Write these down somewhere! Review them frequently as you gear up to start writing.
With my 2012 project, I took 15 minutes at the end of each writing session to brainstorm what I would write the next day. That was the extent of my preparatory work. That's called pantsing. It works well for a lot of people. Whether you like to pants it or like to plot beforehand, here are some brainstorming tips to help you out:

1) Record your ideas
Whether you keep a notebook with you at all times, or e-mail ideas to yourself on your phone--make sure you are able to record even the tiniest of ideas at any time of day (or night!) What use is all this brainstorming if you can't remember what you come up with?

2) Daydream with a purpose
Everyone has idle brain time during the day. Use it wisely. Sitting in traffic? Think about your book. Wiping a toddler bum? Think about your book. Think about your characters. What would they do in your situation? Rage at the other cars? Hold back vomit? So many possibilities!

3) Set aside brainstorming time
More than just using your everyday idle time, you need to actually set aside time for thinking about your book. This will also get you in the habit of setting aside time for writing your book, which you will need in November.

I would love to see your brainstorming tips in the comments! And come back in two weeks for our next installment: using character interviews.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Major Rewrites: Revising in Layers or Moving Mountains One Stone at a Time, Part 1

In the spring, I had to tackle a major revision of the second book in the One Bright Future series. To give a bit of history, I wrote the series nearly six years ago. I put the first book through countless revisions over those years. However, I did not do the same to subsequent books as I rationalized that spending that time on sequels when I couldn’t find a publisher for the first book was a waste of time.

So, after Enslavement (book one) was published, I knew I had to devote some serious attention to book two. My basic plot worked, but I needed to amp up the action and dystopian elements to match the first book. A new fear seized me—that those who read Enslavement and liked it, would be disappointed by book two. I wanted book two, not just to meet expectations, but to exceed them.

Thinking about the changes I needed to make was overwhelming and intimidating to say the least, but I’d already done this type of revision with the first book. Yes, there was some heart-pounding panic. Yes, part of me wanted to lie down and give up. Yes, I cursed myself for not doing more with the MS previously. But, I pushed this aside. It was time to get to work.

I’ve developed my own system for applying these major changes, which I’ll share with you. After writing this blog post, I realized it was far too long and detailed for a single post, so I’m going to give it to you in two installments. Next, Monday, September 21, I’ll give you the remainder.

I’ve learned that I can accomplish any task, no matter how huge, by breaking it down into smaller tasks. So, let’s get started.

1.       Brainstorming.
In this phase, I ask myself oodles of questions. What else is possible in this setting? What else could be going on with these characters? What is my antagonist’s goal, my protagonists goal? What are all the possible ways they could attempt to forward their agendas? How would all this effect my protagonist? There are no bad answers. I write them down—all of them, even the ridiculous ones, knowing some I’ll use and some I won’t.

2.       Outlining the existing MS.
This is a list of plot points, nothing elaborate. I just need to get a bird’s eye view of what I’ve already done. Because the basic plot was staying the same, I needed to be able to plug the new elements into the old.
3.       Thinning.
After taking some time to mentally explore my brainstormed options, I thin that list by removing items that are inconsistent with my world and characters, items that will take the story in an unacceptable direction, those that will not feed into the greater plot and some that I just don’t like. I'm left with the subplots and character changes that I intend to integrate into the MS.
4.       Subplotting.
I take each of the new subplots/characters and make a brief outline of what each will involve. For example, if I'm adding a new character, I jot down how they will figure into the story—where the character will meet my protagonist, how they will interact and how they will support the greater plot.

Overwhelmed yet? Don't worry. You’ll tackle one element at a time and it will all come together.

So, where do you go from here? Stop by next Monday, and I’ll tell you how I complete this process and shine up that manuscript so it’s publication ready.

Have you had to tackle rewrites and major revision? What’s your response? I’d love to hear from you.

Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for teens. When she's not writing, she's the marketing director at Rebelight Publishing Inc. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada with her husband, four children and five gerbils.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Weaving a Colorful Tapestry of Page-Turning Story

Last week, I was struggling with a first chapter. O first chapters, how I loathe you when you're squishy and in progress, which seems like every revision of every book I've written, while I continue to poke and prod and slash and burn and cry and lament. I could write an entire post about why I dislike first chapters or even an entire post that's a running list of hundreds of links to "How To Write Good First Chapters" articles I've read, but that would end up being fourteen pages long, and no one wants that. However, if you want some solid advice about how and why you need a good beginning, I recommend Ann Remini's series.

While struggling with this particular first chapter, I recalled a writing technique I decided to apply. I tweeted about it and was surprised by the interest it generated, so I figured I'd expand.

I did not create this. I read an article describing this far enough back that it's lost in the annals of history. It's also unlikely that whomever wrote that article invented it. It probably goes back to pre-highlighter days, when people would have had to, I don't know, tint animal blood and rub it across cave drawings. But it's a snazzy little method that takes a lot of work but is extra-informative and can be applied to any section where you're struggling with pacing or back story--or even the whole book.

Here it is, in tweet form:

Here's a look at my (old) first three pages:

BAD BAD First Three Pages

My CP had noted I'd included too much back story. "But," I groused, "the reader needs to know this!" No, she doesn't, and I very well knew that, which is why I decided to visually see what she was telling me. There it was, all blue and chunky across my pages.

In my next step, I noted whose back story it was. I was surprised to find--as my CP had commented--I'd repeated information both within the same blue section and later on. I didn't feel I was doing that, but when I isolated it and stared at each "Ebena back story" or "Kwasi back story" section, I discovered she was (of course) right. This was a secondary effect I didn't realize would happen, and one that helped me tighten things up even more.

Here's a look at my Chapter 2, which is, in my humble opinion, a good mixture of action, setting, exposition, dialogue, and back story. (This book is the second in a series, so I didn't have a lot of world-building that I needed to tell the reader yet because it's been established in the first novel. But even if it hasn't, you want to use world-building sparingly by showing it at work, especially in earlier chapters.)

The purpose of this exercise is to see if you've got big sections of page with only one color. Are fifteen paragraphs solid pink? In today's market, in most genres, no one wants to read your scene-setting for that long. Is 75% of your book orange? You have a problem with filtering your action through talking heads.

Yellow action is the most important--move the story forward--but don't forget the other colors, too. You don't serve a slab of beef for three meals in a row; you add spices and complement it with baked potato and steamed vegetables.

Here's the thing: you can categorize and highlight however you want. I'm all about teaching a man to fish and giving you tools for your writer toolbox and all that. I'm not about dictating how you should be writing. Make it work for you.

"Exposition," to me, is the here-and-now explanation about how the character feels about something or someone, whereas "back story" is something that happened in the past. "Setting," I discovered, became both the world and character descriptions. You can play around with these and sub-categorize them if you like, but I didn't want to get too granular for this exercise.

When it came to dialogue tags, "he said" usually revealed a juicy tidbit of plot, so I highlighted it yellow for action. If you find your dialogue isn't moving the plot forward, you might want to assign a different color for those spots you know you have trouble.

If you're not sure how to fix your work, get a second copy of your favorite book and mark it all up with highlighter using this method. Watch how Super Awesome Bestselling Author weaves the gorgeous colors together to create a tapestry of page-turning story. You'll find, as you get deeper into the book, he gets away with big chunks of back story or dialogue--but he varies it. Rarely does he insert fourteen chapters of back story (and I can think of a book by a best-selling author I one-starred when she did this because come on with the plot already).

So, my dear readers, what do you think? Can you think of a sticky piece of writing you're struggling with that you can apply this to? I'd love to hear follow-up stories of what you discovered after you did this.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Meet Jack Sprat! Issue #1

Attention Comic-Con Fans! 
(and authors!) 
Meet Jack, Issue #1 from Jack Sprat Magazine 

(FREE download until September 15th)

If you're a reader looking for something fun and unusual, check it out! It's free until September 15th! Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway (below) for a One Year Subscription to Jack Sprat Magazine.

If you're an author looking for something outside the normal realm of publishing, hop on over to the submission guidelines and THEME for Issue #2. (submissions are officially open September 15th.)  And do enter the Rafflecopter giveaway (below) for a One Year Subscription to Jack Sprat Magazine.

From the Jack Sprat Press website: 

What we’re looking for:

Genre mash-up, inspired by a classic crayola crayon color, no more than 1000 words. It must be a complete, stand-alone story with a unique twist. Make us go, “hmmm…”

Complete 4-page comics, art included, also inspired by a classic crayola crayon color. We like dark stories with a whimsical twist (e.g. Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman). Any style is accepted. We’re fans of manga, superhero, even stick figures. Wow us with your originality.

The genres we’re interested in:
Science Fiction
Magical Realism

Good luck!! :-) 

Enter for a chance to win a ONE YEAR SUBSCRIPTION:

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday Museday

Do you use the term "ear worm" to describe a song that just gets into your head and won't leave?
My husband plays this game with me: He'll hum a song and time how long it takes for me to start humming it after he's stopped. I get ear wormed fairly easily.
My current ear worm is your writing prompt for today. My kids are obsessed with Big Hero 6, and the Fall Out Boy song that plays while the heroes are practicing with their new suits. My three-year-old calls it the "Baymax song" and demands that we listen to it every time we get in the car. It's got some cool lyrics; hopefully some part of this song will inspire your writing. Or the concept of an ear worm will. Whatever it is, if you are feeling stuck today, check out Immortals, by Fall Out Boy by clicking here. You can listen to the song on the band's official Vevo channel, while watching the most boring video imaginable.

If you are working on a query and you'd like fresh eyes on it, let me know in the comments! I'll pick someone for a query critique.