50 “How To” Writing Posts on Craft

RamonaGravitarIn May of 2012, I announced a blog project for the coming month: I would post a How To craft post every day for the month, Sundays excepted. My month of blogging resulted in 27 posts about writing log lines, avoiding typo blindness, breaking the that habit, curing overpopulation, introducing characters, writing thematic statements, and so on.

Eventually, I put together all of those posts in a How To collection, which can be found under the FOR WRITERS tab. I continued to write How To posts in a more sporadic fashion, when the need or an idea arose.

Continue reading “50 “How To” Writing Posts on Craft”

How To Tame an Open Mic

What is an Open Mic?

An Open Mic is an invitation to artists to share their work. Open Mics may follow a reading or musical performance, when the floor is opened to the audience.

An Open Mic can be good or it can be cringe-worthy. For a politician or public figure, an open mic can be a “gotcha!” moment when their raw, honest whisperings are inadvertently captured by a live microphone. For a police station dispatcher, “Open mic!” is what patrol officers yell into their own mics when the dispatcher forgets to key off before discussing her love life with whoever is nearby.

For an author, an Open Mic is a chance to share work with a receptive audience. There are different types of Open Mic opportunities: Continue reading “How To Tame an Open Mic”

How To Sprint

What is a writing sprint?

A sprint is a set amount of brief, uninterrupted writing time.

 Fun Facts about Sprints

~ The purpose of a sprint is get words on paper–fast.

~ A sprint is announced via social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

~ Someone will announce a sprint for a certain time, i.e. “Who wants to sprint at 11:00 a.m.?” and invite others to participate.

~ 1 hr/1K is a common sprint, meaning the goal is to write 1,000 words in 1 hour.

~ Ironically, the key to a successful Sprint is turning off or away from social media during the sprint.

~ People who join in the sprint often report in after it’s over and announce their progress.

~  The value of a sprint is two-fold: to get words to paper, and to be inspired by a feeling of community.

~ Ironically, again, the community is usually a virtual (online) one.

~ Think Usain Bolt working on a WIP.  That’s a sprint.

Have you ever sprinted? Is/was it valuable?


How To Cite Writing Credentials (when you have none)

What are writing credentials?

Writing credentials are a paragraph or blurb that accompany a submission and include education, professional memberships, writing community activities, and what you’ve had published.

This is contest season, and grant application season, and it’s always submission season, so what do you do if you get to the “where I’ve been published” part of a query and your answer is zilch?

You be honest–and say nothing.

There is no shame in being unpublished. It means you are a new writer, or new to submitting, or you have not yet matched the right story to the right publication. Yes, it may help move your submission to the top of the heap if you have some impressive credentials, but if you don’t, you don’t, and trying to write around that will not be helpful.

So tell the truth. Say nothing about prior publications. You can, if you need a segue, use a line like, “This is my first submission to Printer’s Ink Quarterly.” If I’m an editor or first reader, this tells me you’ve never submitted to us before, and nothing more.

What not to do? Try to mask or cover the publication hole with a cringe-worthy credential. Such as,

~ My grandson really loved this story. (Is your grandson an editor/agent? If not, who cares if he likes it your story. He’s your grandson; you probably gave him cookies while reading the story, so of course he loved it!)

~ I’ve been writing stories since I was five years old. (Okay. That’s nice. Except this is not the Welcome page of your blog.)

~ This is my first submission ever, and an acceptance from you will set me on the path of a  successful writing career. (Wait a minute. Your career path is based on this one submission that I hold in my hand? So if I reject it and you feel like a failure, it’s my fault?)

~ I have a stack of rejections so I hope this is the one to break my unlucky streak! (Please don’t tell this to anyone. You do not want to be Sad Sack, the Writer.)

A query or application is a business proposition. Consider it like a job application. Do you include on your job application “I’ve never held a job before”? No. You leave that part of it blank. The person reading it will figure it out.

This is what a paragraph with no writing credentials may look like:

~ I became interested in beekeeping while working on a honey farm. This story grew out of those experiences.

~ I am a member of Sisters in Crime and a monthly critique group.

~ This is my first submission to Printer’s Ink Quarterly. I appreciate your consideration.

Some things are simple. If you keep it so, you can’t mess it up.


How to Tell–Flashback or Memory?

What is a flashback?

A flashback is an interruption in a narrative to present a scene that occurred at a previous time.

Flashbacks are used to move back in time and show an event relevant to the current moment in time. The difference between a flashback and a simple memory is, the flashback is presented as action–as a live scene. A memory is a recollection portrayed that way. Continue reading “How to Tell–Flashback or Memory?”

How To Use Transitions to Trim Word Count

RamonaGravitarWhat is a transition?

According to Merriam Webster Online, a transition is “a: passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another : change.”

In fiction writing, transition words connect and carry different parts of the story. Transition words act as bridges between moments and ideas.

This post will focus on time transitions.

Good plotting hinges on an ever-flowing stream of action. The action may be small and quiet, or big and exciting, but as long as the actions are connected, logical, and move forward, the reader can be pulled along. Transitions help that flow by jumping the character from one act to another.

Transitions can be via a single word: later, meanwhile, finally, next, during, afterward, before

Transitions can be in pairs of words: and then, after that, soon after

Transitions can be more specific phrases: an hour later, the next day, on Saturday, a month went by.

Single and short word transitions like those noted above are used in scenes to bridge movements and short passages of time. A specific phrase like “an hour later” takes a bigger hop in time, and perhaps to a new location.

Transitions can also be shown without using words. A new chapter can denote a transition, but what if the writer wants a significant change in the scene without starting a new chapter? This can be accomplished in two ways: using white space or centered marks such as an asterisk (***) or pound sign (###). The white space or marks are visual signals to the reader that there has been a significant change in time or place.

The above is all basic writing info. What does it have to do with trimming word count?

Transitions can replace details that are unnecessary to the story. As I  have quoted (many times) before, “Everybody sleeps, gets dressed, and goes to the bathroom, but that doesn’t mean I want to read about it.”

This applies to characters and getting someone from one place to another, either physically or in time. A manuscript gets bogged down, and the word count shoots up, when a writer records unnecessary movements.

Let me illustrate, using characters from my pretend novel Bad Sale.

Richard, the farmer, has just returned home from town. He walks into his house and tosses his keys on the kitchen table. His wife Jillian is on the phone. She hangs up and announces his friend Simon called, begging for Richard to meet him at a hunting cabin in the woods.

This is a fairly common development in a mystery. A friend in need calls. The protagonist, because he’s a good guy, answers the call. Trouble ensues.

What Richard would do is…

… run his hand through his hair to show irritation, pick up the keys to his truck, walk out to the truck, open the door, get inside, close the door, insert the keys in the ignition, strap on his seat belt…..stop at the light in town, change the radio station, stop at the next light in town, turn on four lane highway, adjust his hair in the rearview mirror, settle back for the long drive, punch the radio button because he hates this song…..turn into a 7-11, cut the engine, pull out the keys, unlatch his seatbelt,  get out of the truck, go inside, pour coffee into a go-cup, go to the counter, ask for cigarettes….turn down the cabin road, avoid the potholes, pull up to the cabin, turn off the engine, unlatch his seatbelt,  check his hair again, pull the keys from ignition, open the door, toss cigarette on the ground, stamp it out, walk to the cabin.

The ellipses indicate spots where I could have shown even more mundane, unimportant actions. What this paragraph says to the reader is one thing:

Richard drove to the cabin.

Unless something in there is important—such as, if Simon was killed at 7:22 and Richard is a suspect, will the store video showing him there at 7:19 be noteworthy? Of course. But if at 7:22 Simon is sitting safely on the cabin porch drinking a beer, we’re back to one thing:

Richard drove to the cabin.

What’s wrong with just writing Richard drove to the cabin? It’s abrupt. It needs a transition.

Here are examples, using transition words, specific phrases, and no words.

Richard walked into the kitchen and tossed his keys on the table. Jillian was on the phone. She looked irritated, or maybe worried. She hung up and said, ”That was Simon. He wants to meet you at the cabin. Now.”

Richard said, “Now? I’m bushed. Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”

“I don’t think so,” Jillian said. “He sounded desperate. I think you should go.”

Richard ran a hand through his hair, and then he picked up his keys from the table.

An hour later, he pulled up to the cabin.


Richard walked into the kitchen and tossed his keys on the table. Jillian was on the phone. She looked irritated, or maybe worried. She hung up and said, ”That was Simon. He wants to meet you at the cabin. Now?”

Richard said, “Now? I’m bushed. Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”

“I don’t think so,” Jillian said. “He sounds desperate. I think you should go.”


Richard pulled up to the cabin. It had been in his family for three generations, and his worry over Simon was forgotten for a moment as Richard walked toward the porch. It drooped on the right side. When had that happened? One of the window shutters sagged off its top hinge. He felt a punch of guilt. This cabin had been his grandfather’s pride and joy, and  now it looked ramshackle. Family treasures should be treated with care and respect.

Simon stepped out onto the porch. Richard stumbled in shock.

The break skips the boring and unimportant drive and puts us at the cabin fast. A single transition or two–and then, an hour later, white space–cut out oodles of extra words.

As a writer, if you need to write how Richard got to the cabin because walking the characters step by step through the action is your process, fine! Use your process. But in the revision phase, go back through the draft and ask if the READER needs to be walked through step by step.

If you are sending your reader on long boring drives with a guy who checks his hair and buys cigarettes for excitement, use a transition to get to the cabin fast. That’s where the real action is, right?


How To Kick the That Habit

What is a That Habit?

The overuse of the word that in a narrative.

Check out any article with a title like “Five and a Half Ways to TightenYour Writing” or “Sixteen Unnecessary Words You’re Sure to Regret” and I’ll lay bets the author will bring up the word that. Why? Because that packs the double whammy of being misused and overused. Continue reading “How To Kick the That Habit”