Friday, May 26, 2017

#FridayReads Story Building Blocks

After several years away from writing anything but blog posts, I am thrilled to announce my fifteen new book babies and the completion of my Story Building Blocks series as envisioned ten years (yes a decade!) ago. Where has the time gone? They are proof that neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor a mortal battle for one's life can keep a determined writer down forever.

In 2007 I wrote Story Building Blocks I: The Four Layers of Conflict, introducing a method I developed for crafting sound story architecture. A revised and updated version is now available in print and e-book. It can take you from story seed to a bare bones draft.

Then I added SBB II: Crafting Believable Conflict which twists, warps, and tortures sixteen character mannequins based on personality types. The SBB Build A Cast Workbook helps you cast your novel with all sixteen characters.

I also wrote SBB III: The Revision Layers to help writers present a revised draft for submission or to help with self-editing for self-publishing.

This year, I finalized my dream with fourteen genre-specific Build A World Workbooks for Comedy, Con Heist & Prison Break, Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Horror, Literary, Mystery, Road Trip, Romance, Science Fiction, Team Victory, Thriller, and the Western in print and e-bok.

And finally the SBB: Build A World Workbook helps you develop a three-dimensional story world whether you choose a point in history, a fantasy kingdom, or a science fiction galaxy.

The books are available in both print and E-book versions through my Amazon page and other online venues.

I hope these tools help in some small way to make your story dreams come true. I learned so much along the way and enjoyed sharing my musings with others.

For more information about the series and for free forms visit my website. 

I would love to hear from you if you found my tips useful. If not, connect with me on social media anyway. I adore cute kittens and am always in need of book recommendations to feed my addiction.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Importance of Mystery in Dialogue

During finals week, I came across the following note on a white board:

The white board was outside of a professor's office. I was intrigued and stopped to reread the note.

Lord knows that as a professor, I have wanted to write these very words on my office door. But I knew I never would, and I was pretty sure this professor was not the writer either.

I tilted my head, side to side, rereading the note.

Why this did short note from a student make me pause?

Because of the mystery hidden within these four words.

Several thoughts ran through my mind.

Perhaps the student was just being overly dramatic. It wouldn't be the first time a student espoused these words during finals.

Perhaps the student knew the professor would know who wrote it and would find humor in it. I have students who purposely revel in student-driven angst for cheap laughs from me.

Perhaps the student was truly feeling low, and these words were an act of reaching out. My office always had tissues, a seat, and me ready to give a hug to those students who had reached points of mass despair.

These four words made me stop and think about the person who wrote them. Who was s/he? Why did s/he write this? What did s/he hope the response would be? What effect did writing this have on the writer?

What does this note have to do with dialogue?

This need of understanding the person behind these words is the exact need I have when reading dialogue in a story.

Image courtesy of digitalart at

As Elspeth Futcher wittily illustrated in her post Monday via the writing sheep, dialogue should not be the place where readers are fed life dialogue, the small chat that goes on before the "meat" of a conversation (or is the WHOLE conversation).

Dialogue, for me, is about revealing character and moving a story along. Sometimes, those revelations come directly from the conversation being had, and sometimes, like in the white board note, the revelations come wrapped in a mystery within the dialogue.

This type of dialogue activates the reader's mind, makes her think about the character and his thoughts and actions, and makes the reader guess what the character might do next in the story. As the reader continues on in the story, her thoughts are confirmed, denied, or assuaged by the character's actions.

What if you read a story in which the character said, "So annoyed. Bye forever"?

As a reader, you might think, Oh no. I hope she doesn't harm herself.

You're invested, and part of your reading experience is about seeing what happens to the character after that mysterious piece of dialogue.

Several pages later, you learn that the character was contemplating self-harm, but a friend reached her in time and thwarted her attempts.

Writers, if you want to keep readers racing to the end of the story, make sure one of the components you develop is your dialogue. Reveal your characters through it. Move your story through it. And provide mystery within it so that your readers can engage themselves into your story.

Writers, how much attention do you give to developing your dialogue?

Readers, what do you love (or hate) about some of the dialogue you read?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, a crafter, an editor, and an educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon at her website, ChickLitGurrl.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dialogue Tips from the Writing Sheep

EXT. A fenced meadow. Three sheep are grazing. More are in deep background. The WRITER approaches. The sheep raise their heads.

SHEEP #1: Stay there.

WRITER: Here? Outside the fence?

SHEEP #3: Yes.


SHEEP #2: Respect our boundaries.


SHEEP #1: We need to talk.

SHEEP #2: To be clear, she means we need to talk to you; not that we need to talk.

SHEEP #3: We can talk anytime we wish.

SHEEP #1: Which we do.

SHEEP #2: Often.

SHEEP #3: Sometimes about you.

SHEEP #1: Concerned?

WRITER: Not particularly. Why do you need to talk to me?

SHEEP #2: Why?

SHEEP #3: Because it’s in our nature, I suppose.

SHEEP #1: We are very helpful.

SHEEP #2: We are, aren’t we?

SHEEP #3: Very.

SHEEP #1: There should be statues of us across the country.

SHEEP #2: The world. 

WRITER: I suppose I meant ‘what’. What do you want to talk to me about?

SHEEP #3: Do we want to talk to her?

SHEEP #1: Not really. It’s more an obligation than a need, if I’m honest. 

SHEEP #2: Which you are.

SHEEP #1: Thank you. I do try.

WRITER: (exasperated) Honestly!

SHEEP #1: Yes. Honestly. Are you doubting my word?

WRITER: It was an expression of exasperation.

SHEEP #2: Oh. That wasn’t clear.

SHEEP #3: Perhaps because of your delivery.

WRITER: My delivery?

SHEEP #3: Of the line.

WRITER: I wasn’t saying a line. I was talking.

SHEEP #2: But that’s what conversation is.

SHEEP #1: Good dialogue is indistinguishable from normal conversation.

SHEEP #2: Except all the boring bits are cut out.

SHEEP #1: Yes. I cut that bit out.

SHEEP #3: Because it was boring?

SHEEP #1: No, because I assumed she knew that. Written dialogue doesn’t need all the bits and pieces life dialogue does.

WRITER: Life dialogue?

SHEEP #1: Yes. For example, when you’re meeting someone you both say hello and inquire after each other’s health. There could be a small chat about the weather - either praising it or complaining about it.

SHEEP #2: In Britain, that dialogue could go on for some time.

WRITER: In Canada, too.

SHEEP #3: Yes. It’s your way.

SHEEP #1: But no reader needs to read all those “Hi”, “Hello”, “It’s been a bit cold lately”. Boring. Get to the meat. In a vegetarian way, of course.

SHEEP #2: Always keep in mind why each character says what they do.

SHEEP #3: And what they’re wanting the other character…

SHEEP #2: Or characters…

SHEEP #3: Yes, of course…to say in return.

SHEEP #1: Remember what’s at stake.

SHEEP #2: Something always has to be at stake.

WRITER: What if there isn’t?

SHEEP #1: Then the dialogue serves no purpose.

WRITER: That’s brutal.

SHEEP #2: And honest.

SHEEP #3: So remember: Stakes, purpose, clarity.

WRITER: Thanks.

SHEEP #1: Now go away so we can talk about you.
Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#Fridayreads: The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies by Connie Spittler

I was not sure what to expect when I opened this book. The title, The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies, was intriguing, and from reading the back and blurbs I knew it contained two of my favorite things: herbs and mystery! Whether or not it would live up to its promise was a big unknown. Thankfully, it did.

One of the things I enjoyed most was Spittler's main characters - the three founding members of The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies. They were vibrant, fresh, and engaging, and I liked seeing how each one's personal story interconnected with the others and how they developed individually as well as as friends.

The mystery surrounding the book was entertaining and well-developed. Spittler's method of bringing in small glimpses of what was going on with other characters at the end of each chapter, and her tying it all in with Chaos Theory was well done and interesting. An additional boon is that I have added some new to me books that were mentioned in this one to my wishlist, and have decided to go back to some old favorites and read them with a new outlook!

I highly recommend you pick up this book and dive in. For added fun, read it at bus stops, coffee shops, and other public places. If nothing else, you will raise a few eyebrows!

About the Author: Connie Spittler is an internationally published, award-winning author. Her books include Cowboys & Wild Wild Things, The Desert Eternal, The Legend of Brook Hollow, Lincoln & the Gettysburg Address, and Powerball 33, and her work has appeared in the collections The Art of Living: A Practical Guide to Being Alive and What Wildness Is This. She is the co-owner of the Spittler Production Company and she wrote and produced the Wise Women Video series, archived in Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, on the history of women in America. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
About the Reviewer: Khadijah Lacina lives on a small homestead in rural Missouri with her children, horses, goats, chickens, cats, dogs, and an elusive bobcat. She is passionate about speaking up and working for change, and is writing a book about the ten years she spent in Yemen. She is a writer, teacher, translator, herbalist, and fiber artist.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Your Mother’s Dreams

Image by Taymaz Valley, via Flickr
When ghostwriting a memoir, I ask my clients a lot of questions. One of my favorite questions is about their mothers. I ask them: Do you know what your mom as a little girl wanted to be when she grew up? Do you know if she achieved her dreams? Mothers are so basic, so necessary to life, that we often take them for granted and see them only in relation to ourselves. But they too have individual lives with their own dreams and aspirations. The replies I get sometimes sadden me, sometimes gladden me. And them.

To get them talking, I share details about my own mother’s aspirations to illustrate. My mom wanted to be a fashion designer. She grew up during the Depression, in a small mountain town, population around 300. All the ladies in town made their own clothes, and those clothes were made for utility and hard wear, not style. Little girls literally wore flour sacks to school, and one of those little girls was my mom. When she got to be a teenager, one of her favorite jaunts was to take the bus to the “big city” and flip through the fashion magazines in a drugstore. Then when she got home, she’d fill page after page with her own designs, trying as best she could to capture the style and glamour of the magazine models.

Mom didn’t get to follow her dream of fashion design. Instead she opted for housewife and motherhood. But let me tell you, she was a magician when it came to making paper dolls for me and my little girlfriends. What fabulous clothes those dolls had! I was famous all over the neighborhood because of my mother. I hope our heartfelt appreciation helped to ease the ache of not becoming a fashion designer. I think it must have, because when I think of her drawing those paper doll clothes, I remember her as always laughing.

Writing about your mother is such a fruitful exercise.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Monday, May 15, 2017

Creating Real Characters through Dialogue, Mannerisms, and Actions

One of the difficulties in writing fiction is how to individualize your characters to make them real. This can be achieved through dialogue or specific character tics or mannerisms. Doing this in a series is more difficult because you have to keep the characters consistent in book after book.

One of my favorite series—and I qualify this because I’m not a big series reader—is Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin series. Joe is a clinical psychologist with Parkinson’s Disease.
Robotham doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the disintegrating effects of the illness on Joe’s body. Instead, throughout the series, the symptoms become more subtly noticeable: a disobedient leg that freezes in mid-gait or a hand tremor, but never does he make the character about the disease or the disease about the character. To coin one of my least favorite phrases, it is what it is. Joe goes about his business solving crimes without ever becoming a victim.

I can think of two series where the characters never change. That’s fine for those readers who aren’t bothered by that, but I am. One is the time period never changes, so neither does the character. The other is the stupidity factor, where the character keeps making the same mistakes over and over. I stopped reading both series when I realized neither character would grow.

I’ve published three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series with another on the way.
Diana has been a famous psychic since she was six years old. She’s now an adult and a psychic performer who’s played Vegas and other venues around the world, so she’s had her share of hecklers and skeptics. She’s also learned how to respond with a quick wit and sharp tongue. I can’t forget that, or I lose my character.

So how do I keep her honest? In Mind Games, book one, she meets Ernie Lucier, the New Orleans police lieutenant who’s one of the skeptics. There’s no surprise that they’ll become a couple, but on one of their first “dates,” he takes her for hot wings, promising they’ll be the hottest wings she’s ever eaten or will eat. He's clearly testing her, and Diana knows it. She bites into the wing, and though it’s fire hot, she picks the bone clean and takes another one while he looks on in disbelief. She doesn’t get through the burning sensation of the second wing, but it’s indicative of her personality to try to beat someone at his own game. In book four, a work in progress, she does it again. Spicy hot cucumber sandwiches that the host prepares and watches as she eats not only one but two. This time, she carries off the deception without choking. Diana is a smart aleck whenever the opportunity arises, but caution―too much of a good thing wears thin and becomes tiresome. Lke Joe O’Loughlin, a little goes a long way.

Diana’s father is good old country boy with the dialect to prove it. He drops the g in ing words and uses double negatives. “I don’t remember nothin’ ’bout no animal.” I have to be consistent, or the dialect doesn’t work, but again, it's important not to overdo the slang.

One author I like a lot writes a series about two partner detectives that alternate books and sometimes share a story. One character is a constant wiseacre. I skip his books because the sass is excessive. The other character is dark and enigmatic. The mystery of him keeps me reading his stories, because I want to know more about him.

In Murder Déjà Vu, my male character, a quiet man who spent fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, rubs the back of his neck when he’s unsure of what to say. He does it enough for the reader to know it’s a tell, much like the tell of a card player, but not so often that it’s annoying. I hope.

When I wrote Threads, I was so fascinated by a secondary character that he became the lead male. Garrett stutters. Badly. Like foreign accents or regional dialect, stuttering in dialogue is risky. When it becomes tedious, the reader will shut the book. The trick is for other characters to mention the stutter interspersed with the character’s dialogue so there’s not stutter overload.

Elmore Leonard, whose books I adore, is a master of dialogue.
I wrote a Blood Red Pencil post in November of 2104, but here are a few of his ten rules of writing.

• Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

• Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
…Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. … I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule, says Leonard, is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, May 12, 2017

#Friday Reads : Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published by Spiegel & Grau
July 14, 2015

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Readers of his work in The Atlantic and elsewhere know Ta-Nehisi Coates for his thoughtful and influential writing on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his teenaged son, his new memoir, Between the World and Me, walks us through the course of his life, from the tough neighborhoods of Baltimore in his youth, to Howard University—which Coates dubs “The Mecca” for its revelatory community of black students and teachers—to the broader Meccas of New York and Paris. Coates describes his observations and the evolution of his thinking on race, from Malcolm X to his conclusion that race itself is a fabrication, elemental to the concept of American (white) exceptionalism. Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and South Carolina are not bumps on the road of progress and harmony, but the results of a systemized, ubiquitous threat to “black bodies” in the form of slavery, police brutality, and mass incarceration. Coates is direct and, as usual, uncommonly insightful and original. There are no wasted words. This is a powerful and exceptional book. -- Jon Foro

I hadn't read too far into the book before I started to see a similarity to James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, in content and in style. Both utilize letters to tell their story and both take a hard look at racism and bigotry. And both are well worth reading, especially now as the United States is seeing more outbreaks of racism and bigotry in action.

On my blog, It's Not All Gravy, I wrote about how Baldwin's books opened my eyes about what it is like to grow up Black in a society controlled by Whites. That was in the early '60s, when the Civil Rights Movement was getting off the ground, and I did my part as best I could.

Ever since then, I have had a deep interest in the issue of racism, which is how it became a theme in the Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. I think understanding is something that comes with learning all we can about people we consider "other," and  Between The World And Me, is a great textbook. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 


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