Tag Archives: First Draft

Update on The Whitehaired Shooter…


The White haired Shooter

Been working steadily on the first revision of The Whitehaired Shooter.  The first draft was all narrative and bits of dialogue. Pretty much pure “telling.”  I just got the story out, and like it. I think it’s pretty solid. But it really stinks as a piece of fiction.

Early on in my studies of fiction writing, I remember laughing at a writing tip. Basically it said just get your story out for your first draft. Then read through it. Then start at the beginning and write it from scratch.  Sounded bogus to me.

I find that’s exactly the process The Whitehaired Shooter is undergoing.  And it’s awesome.  Instead of trying to edit and “fix” the story I pounded out, I’m rewriting from page one. And this time around, I know what I want to say.

I believe it’s coming out as something that — well — like something I’d like to read. Imagine that! And this method was not the waste of time I thought it would have been.

It’s been more like this first draft was a first rehearsal- reading from the script and getting to know the parts.  The first revision is paying attention to the props, use of the stage, checking lighting and sound, and getting ready for a dress rehearsal.

It’s real work, but I’m having a ball. I can’t wait for “Opening Night.”




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Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Writing the Book


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No Shots Fired…


No Shots Fired…   Final conflict scene of the WhiteHaired Shooter is set.

The first draft of the book, still filled with plot holes and partial scenes, is almost complete. I played around with possible alternate endings, and decided the final conflict scene that worked best for this novel — has no shots fired.

That might sound counter intuitive, as the book, in large part, revolves around an older woman making the decision to own and learn how to shoot a gun for self protection. And while I’m working to ramp up  conflict in every scene, I’m also committed to showcase what it takes for responsible gun ownership and handling.

Question:  Can the truth — that the best to be hoped for outcome of a real life self defense situation is use of minimal force and hopefully result in no lethal action taken — be interesting?

In the vast majority of the fictional world, lead seems to fly at any provocation. Blood and gore is the accepted highest form of conflict in most action scenes. And I’m going to end my book without a shot being fired during the “fight scene.”  It’ll be an interesting ride, and feels a little risky. Time will tell if this novel I’m penning is accepted as entertaining and thrilling anyway!

This book is not meant to glamorize firearms, or show how a gun bestows next-to-superpowers on the gun owner.  Hopefully it shows the responsibility each of us has to protect ourselves and our loved ones. And in this case, a firearm will be part of that choice.

Now, to tie up a few loose ends and start in on the hardest and most important part of writing – revision.





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Developing a Timeline


Developing a Timeline.

Today I’m going to share a powerful — yet simple– tool that has improved the “big picture” of my story.

My timeline is a simple spreadsheet – Dates form the column headers, and the rows are free form, used for tracking developing threads and storylines.


Since I’m already well into my first draft, I have dropped scenes/actions from my growing story into it. It’s already helped me track the complex and various themes/undercurrents at work. I’ve found some gaps to fill in, and believe I could have overlooked them by just reading back through what I’ve written. The timeline should result in a stronger, better story by helping me hit all my marks, and keep me from wandering too far off the story in dialog and scenes.

The spreadsheet helps visualize the components and characters of the story, and has helped me to see how they can weave together better. For example, I’ve already seen where earlier insertion of a character into the story eliminated the need for backstory later, and found opportunities for dropping bread crumbs and background hints that will tie together later on.

Early in the outlining process for this novel, I developed a timeline for my character back stories, and it was extremely helpful. I thought through what drives my players. But using a timeline for the main story just seemed too complex.  Building it now , I can now see how it’s a great tool to use while writing, and imagine revising will benefit as well.

Many writers prefer using sticky notes– or 3×5 cards– pinned/taped to a board or wall that serves the same function as a spreadsheet.  Personally, I’m not disciplined enough for that, and find a spreadsheet is much more forgiving.  I love the flexibility a spreadsheet offers.  For instance, I’ve just decided it would be helpful to color code Point of View into the timeline. I  believe it will help me examine which character has the best POV for the action/scene unfolding.

Do you have tools, tips, tricks or suggestions that help you develop your story?I’d love to hear from you.


I’m adding this to my “Lessons learned” list!

16.  Develop a Timeline for your Story. A spreadsheet, or sticky notes/3×5 cards can be used to see the character interactions, story development, plot line and twists, and help you see the “bigger picture” of the story you are writing as it will unfold for the reader. Simple and powerful tool to keep your writing on track and coherent!


To see all the lessons to date, click here:   Go to Lessons I’m Learning….




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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Writing the Book


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Storytelling Basics

It’s been a long time since I’ve made a blog entry. It’s not because I’ve lost interest or just got lazy, it’s because I’ve been involved in an intensive learning and writing cycle. I couldn’t fit one more thing in. Until now.

Three months ago,  I had written twenty thousand-plus words, and found myself straying mostly into dead end chapters.  This happened even though I knew what I wanted to accomplish and thought I had built a pretty thorough outline. I even had three distinct “acts,” and had worked diligently to develop believable, likable – even lovable – characters.  And yet I floundered.

My precious book had become “confusing, ambling, and not at all compelling.” It was flat and non- engaging. Even knowing that first drafts suck didn’t help. I had fallen down the rabbit hole.

Determined to get to the bottom of my writing problems, I used problem solving skills honed over many years. Applying critical thinking basics, I searched for what I was missing.  With that I realized how poor my storytelling skills are. I tend to ramble and digress, and even telling jokes, never get the punch lines right.

So began my quest for basic material on storytelling. I didn’t find much in the fiction writing category, so I cast my net further out. When I saw this one, I was  hooked.


I love this book! I’d recommend it if anyone needs help with basic storytelling skills.

The authors have compiled material they use in workshops given mostly to scientists, bureaucrats and business people. It is a basic, practical guide for communicating ideas through story. The three person team consists of scientist-turned screen writer Randy Olson, actress-screen writer Dorie Barton, and improv comedian Brian Palermo.

It focuses on the elements and structure of story, how to connect and make your audience care about and become engaged in your story. And it is fascinating reading. The information and tools are practical and instantly usable. This was my Rosetta stone, the missing link in my understanding of fiction writing .

I scrapped my first effort, all nine chapters.  And it hurt less than I thought it would.

Armed with an understanding of what makes a story, I put more work into building the main ideas I wanted to get across in each chapter, before I started any writing. I used the same basic ideas, but reorganized them into a story. The first draft is now approaching thirty-five thousand words, and my writing is now more specific.

It’s still a suck-y first draft, but I am confident I can polish it into something worthwhile, and I am no longer lost. My story is unfolding, and daily writing has become a joy instead of a scary burden.

During my blog absence, I have read another half dozen writing books, and three novels. With a basic plan and structure, I’m able to jump back into any part of my story and make adjustments as I continue learning about story structure, character development, dialogue, pinch points, and more — all without having everything come crumbling down. That shows me the foundational work I did was worth the effort and time invested.

I’ll be sharing some lessons I’ve learned from my recent studies, and here is the first post-break lesson learned:

10. Make sure you’re telling a story, not just knitting words and scenes together.  Storytelling is what makes a connection with your readers. Imagination, a clever turn of phrase and thought provoking ideas can make for interesting prose, but don’t skip over checking to see if you have actually told a story. Doing this will help, particularly if critiques have mentioned (in similar remarks) your work is “confusing, ambling, and not at all compelling.”

To see all the lessons to date, click here:   Go to Lessons I’m Learning….


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Just where should I begin… ?


Around Chapter 6 of my-adventure-in-writing-my-first-novel, it became clear I had not started my story in the right place and time.  My MC  (main character) has developed quite a bit, thanks to lessons I have learned along the way, and I can see I have made a miss-step or two…or three… okay, way north of a dozen… in introducing the reader to my little world. While I have resisted rewriting the first chapters in favor of plugging away at the first draft, I could add at least three chapters to the beginning that would make the book flow much better.

When I first started on this journey, my process began with an outline. I thought the plot and character arc(s) and theme were pretty well established, and I was ready to flesh it out with a first draft. But I had not thought my story all the way through.  I discovered this during a conversation with my hubby ~~ by the way, he is far from a gentle critic, which makes for lively interchanges!  I was telling him about a plot problem, and he asked some basic questions I hadn’t even considered.  Along with a not unfamiliar nod to my hubby’s intellect and my own lack of discernment, the discussion helped me take a step back from the story and begin to think more as a reader would. Help them to attach to the story and characters right in the first chapter. When I make some progress on that, it’ll be another lesson to share.


Meanwhile, back to the books to see what an expert says about fixing the problem at hand. Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat,” Chapter 7, presents basic problems with a script (book) and how to work through them.  My particular issue is shared on page 155, in what Snyder calls “Take a Step Back.”

To paraphrase and summarize, when your writing just isn’t coming alive, seems flat or plain isn’t working, sometimes you’ve got to take a step or so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth, or change that will make your story “pop.”  Make that the beginning point. Some indictors you may have to move your beginning point back: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little or no change in your MC (main character) or other characters — lack of conflict or growth; and by the end of the book you still haven’t told the whole (or real) story.

Better to attend to this problem now, methinks, rather than waiting until the end of the first draft.  By going back in now I have a better grasp on the characters that pepper the text, and the beginning chapter needs to introduce not only the main character(s) but the problems that will unfold throughout the book.

No more having to be creative in disguising the “backstory” so it slips in without boring the reader.  Hmm.  That last sentence indicates I am still such a baby in writing fiction!  On the other hand, now that I see how I was missing the point (again!) on some of the lessons I’ve been studying, I am so glad I am writing a “real book” to learn how to write! The adage “Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” is so true.

Writing is something I HAVE to do, like eating and sleeping and breathing.  There are days I think this little book is only than exercise for learning how to write;  and then there are days when it excites me because there is a story unfolding. The longer I work on it, poke and prod and carve and pinch it like a lump of clay, the more it begins to be interesting.  And on a really good day, I start to imagine sequels, and prequels needing to be written after I get this one done. I am really falling in love with the characters and the world!

Yes, I have likely gone around the bend, fallen off the truck, got a screw loose.  So what else is new?  Doesn’t someone have to be a bit crazy to want to live a life making up stories!


Today’s SUMMARY: being added to my blog page:   “Lessons I am learning… on my way to becoming an author.”

#9   Finding the point where your book should begin– doesn’t always happen upfront when you write the outline or the first draft.  Sometimes you’ve got to take a step or so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth, or change that will make your story “pop.”  Some indictors you may have to move the beginning point back: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little or no change in your MC (main character) — lack of conflict or growth; by the end of the book you still haven’t told the whole story. This is the exact opposite of needing to cut the first two or three chapters that don’t move your story forward!








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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in Writing the Book


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When should you write your “elevator pitch?”


Developing an “elevator pitch”  for your novel  makes a lot of sense. The “elevator pitch,” also called a one-line or log line, is a one to two sentence statement that describes EXACTLY what your book is about. It got its name from the scenario: you have just entered an elevator along with an agent/publisher, and you only have a few seconds to pitch your book.

I know I would not be prepared for that opportunity. When should you start writing your elevator pitch?

When I started each of my not-finished-books, I had a great story line and a generalized idea of how to structure my book. I’ve already told you how those languish in my I-want-to-be-a-book storeroom. So this time around, I figured creating a detailed outline and using a story board was the next big step in my growth toward successful fiction writing. And it has helped.

But finding the premise – the pitch – and establishing the genre, I figured, came much later. There was plenty of time for that as the story wrapped up.

My first draft is clicking along, but I already know it’s a flat read. There is some nice writing, but as pointed out when I posted the first chapter for review this week over at Critique Circle, my beginning has no “stakes” for the protagonist. There is nothing to lose, nothing to gain. I have missed the boat on making my characters appealing, and don’t present conflict until far into the story. And they are right on. Pinpointed my main weakness in writing.

I anticipated major rewrites when I went into this,  but I have learned there is a method that can bring more clarity and better writing.  It won’t produce a polished piece right off the bat, but if I heed the advice in, “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (recommended by a blog post on Critique Circle), I can save myself a lot of time and produce better and more solid work in that first draft. While Snyder teaches about writing screenplays, the theory he presents also applies to novel writing.

His requirement is to work on your “log line” or “elevator pitch” BEFORE you begin to write your first scene (or chapter). That took me by surprise.

His first major lesson, and this is my paraphrasing from my own experience: writing without knowing your story’s premise, and being able to sum it up in a one or two sentence statement is like going on a vacation without having a destination in mind. I actually did that ONCE, and it didn’t turn out well. Just sort of rambled around and I never “arrived” anywhere until I got back home. I did get a few nice pictures, and learned to decide where I wanted to go the next time.

Snyder also says a log line can’t be written until you have thought your story all the way through. By starting with a pitch line BEFORE I begin writing, I begin to see what I am aiming for, and it serves as a guide for keeping my story on course. Instead of just going for it and “hoping the spaghetti sticks on the wall,” it should help me see if a scene or portrayal of a character fits, and is good for the story.

He gives a lot of specific advice on developing your log line, and great tips on what works when you go to present it to a producer/publisher. This is a great book, and lessons stated in a straightforward, conversational read.

This approach may not work for everyone, but I am choosing to take Snyder’s advice to heart. I’m working on my story’s log line now, even though I’ve banged out five chapters. While the pitch isn’t perfected, I am gaining more clarity on the story’s purpose, and can already see a better layout and places where I need to work on my character conflict and development. What I won’t be doing is rewriting those first five chapters. They are just going to sit there as is, for now. I’ll work on them after the first draft is completed.

Here is my understanding of the four components, paraphrasing the major components Snyder says must be included in a successful  log line (elevator pitch):

  1. Must show the main conflict and be emotionally involving.
  2. Must give a picture of what the story is about, and be easily visualized
  3. Must target a specific, defined audience (genre).
  4. Must be accompanied by a “killer title.” (hopefully, more on that at a later date, as I still have no clue!)


SUMMARY: being added to “Lessons I am learning… on my way to becoming an author.”


  1. The time to develop a log line (elevator pitch, one-line)  is BEFORE you begin writing your story. It can assist in building your outline, and developing your characters and ideas.  A log line can’t be successfully written until you have thought your story all the way through. Only then begin writing your story.









Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Writing the Book


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LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author.

In today’s world, anyone can be published, whether their work is good, not so good, or just plain bad. If I can’t convince an agent or publisher my writing is fantastic and saleable, I can always and easily publish independently.

I’ve got books inside me, just waiting to be written. But I like to do things well, and I want to succeed.  I’ve got a long history of starting books that stall out after a few chapters. They still call out to me to be finished, but I have not known how to translate my thoughts and ideas into a finished project that, with just a bit of tweaking, will become that perfect novel or story. Each story attempted began to wander and finally peter out at some point.  And I found convenient excuses for letting them languish, the most common being:

I don’t have time, because I have responsibilities… there’s the kids, … the job, … the {insert here whatever else is a regular part of living}.

There’s something alive inside me that tells me I have to write. I have always seen stories around me, just begging to be written. When I was much younger, I spent a few years writing weekend features for a small newspaper. Those were easy. Always a well defined amount of space to fill,  a few pictures to snap for illustration, and guaranteed publication. So it’s not surprising, with my background, that the first serious book attempt – with no excuses – would be a “how to” book. This blog was born as a place to collect my thoughts. The process was clear to me:

I know I can write non-fiction.  I have a grasp of language, and this is a subject I am passionate about.

But as anyone who has followed my journey has seen, there was that STORY waiting to be told —  and it demanded my attention and let me know it needed to be written. I am still writing a much shorter “how-to” non fiction book to accompany my novel that  “shows and not tells” the experiences of mature women including choosing, and learning to shoot a firearm safely.


Courtesy of



While it’s easy to be witty, easy to amuse and even amaze your friends and family with short spurts of original writing, a novel is a horse of a different color, and it doesn’t take long to realize  you’re “not in Kansas any more.” No yellow brick road or wonderful wizard behind a curtain is going to provide you with the heart, the mind and the courage this process is going to take.  It’s work. Amazingly difficult at times, but filled with joyful growth if you persevere. It will require adjustment of your self image and development of a “thick skin.”

I’ve shared the first lessons of my journey in the “Writing the Book” category of this blog, and may include a few of them here. My intent with this page is to summarize and share the resources and lessons I am learning along my way as they happen, rather than trying to categorize them.  My plan is to add to this with the newest discovery, lesson or resource entered at the top of the list.

If you have discovered things and resources on your own journey, I would love to hear about them. Sharing what we learn is important!



Here are the first lessons I’ve learned from the new page on this BLOG, just launched: LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author.  

4.  Find a group of other writers to discuss, review and critique your work. If you have a writer’s group close to where you live (I don’t) – go meet with them regularly.  If you don’t, online help is available.  I discovered the  “Critique Circle” through a comment here on WordPress.  Good, solid, constructive critiques and sharing of technique happens in this environment. The “cost” of these groups is typically giving critiques to other writers.  It’s writers helping writers and sharing what they have learned. I was very surprised that reviewing and giving help to others is one of the best ways to grow in your own writing and self editing!

3.  First drafts are meant to suck.  Go ahead and finish them, even if your chapter/writing is flat or just plain bad. This is you getting your story out, you’ll work with later to polish it and make it shine. Nothing springs forth fully edited and complete. That’s what revisions and drafts #2 – #9999 are for.

2. Study fiction writing from successful authors. I have found these resources here on WordPress and other Blogs, browsing through, Goodreads. Start following and forming a community- of other authors on Twitter.  Look at the “creds” of those supplying lessons.  I am wary of those wanting to “sell” me lessons, many of the truly great authors have written books generously sharing the craft, and many blog freely.

1. Read a lot and constantly.  You’ve got to have a rich background and love of reading: the classics, and particularly in the genre you want to write.





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Posted by on January 4, 2015 in Writing the Book


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