Tag Archives: learning to write

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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When Your Character is a Liar


Writing Backstory:  When Your Character is a Liar

Just this morning I discovered I have to revisit the drawing board for one of my characters. The antagonist in my novel has a colorful enough “real” history already in my planning– but she’s a pathological liar.

What I had overlooked, until reviewing my newly installed Timeline, was the need to build her “fictitious” liar’s backstory. Her life’s story was tough — abuse, drugs, gangs, prison– but the lie, the story she tells others to blend in, is another matter. And because SHE believes it to be real, it has to be crafted as though it was. A bunch of random lies told here and there to throw people off won’t work.

I have a new found appreciation of what causes writers to  often appear distracted. My first novel’s draft taught me how difficult building a whole world can be. But  I’m now being blown away at the level of discipline –and close brushes  with insanity – that’s required of anyone attempting to craft a mystery/suspense thriller.  WOW!  Here’s hoping it’s just temporary…

As I go about my job, paying bills, cooking dinner, driving and so on, I’m playing over the stories of my characters in my head. Trying to make sure they are believable and interesting. Now I have to work with my antagonist, the pathological liar, and she is extremely bright and well organized – so I guess I’ll have to just pretend to be that too, as I muddle through today!



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Posted by on January 22, 2016 in Writing the Book


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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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Show Don’t Tell – real world lesson

Show Don’t Tell – real world lesson

One of the most frequently given reminders to the new-to-the-craft of fiction is “Show Don’t Tell.”

After hearing that over and over, and often without any substantial guidance on how to improve, the fledgling writer can glaze over hearing that phrase. I did for quite awhile, anyway.

It was surprising and refreshing to see the following in the “signature” yesterday in an email from one of our real-life customers, a Safety Engineer:

Tell them-They will forget

Show them-They will remember

Involve them-They will be committed

I was intrigued, and of course, googled it. References from Chinese Proverbs, to Maya Angelou, and MHSA (Mine Health and Safety Act) led the results.

I gained an added level of appreciation for the “Show don’t tell” rule. I hadn’t “connected the dots.”

From my own experience in training employees in computer programs, it dawned on me: writing rules come from practical, commonsense, “universal truths” we already know. Another mandate for writing well – to “Tell the truth” in your writing, just became a little more digestible as well. Art mimics nature. What we write, even though it’s a made up story, should resonate with the real world, stay true to human nature, and be something that our reader can become a part of, because it is believable.

Imagine that!


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

15.  Show don’t Tell and other writing rules come from the “real world.” Realistic, relatable fiction writers know that. These “rules”  help to build a more human world for the reader. Instead of fighting them or feeling being bound by them, respect and understand them. They are there for a reason.

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

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Posted by on January 15, 2016 in Writing the Book


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Setting vs World Building

world building

In my study of developing characters in fiction, I have come across many wonderful worksheets and tips on getting to know my characters.  Today I  read an article on Novel Rocket  by guest blogger Cindy Woodsmall , dated 8/12/2009,.  She introduces the concept of the “4-B’s of Character Development–  Before, Behind, Between, Begin.”

It got me thinking and looking deeper into the subject of knowing your characters. What she was describing sounded like world building, not just scene and setting development.

Building a scene or setting is necessary to story writing, but taking the time to build an understanding of the world they live in seems overwhelming. It makes sense to do so, however. If you know what molded your character, their history, unique genetics, family and cultural background, they become more alive and complete. Characters can gain richness and authenticity. Plus, consistency in speech and action as well as dialog should flow more naturally.

SciFi and fantasy writers aren’t the only ones to benefit from world building. I believe what Ms Woodsmall is advocating is similar.

To become an author is relatively easy if you keep at writing. But to develop into a “good” author requires learning the craft and how to make the “magic” happen. That requires perseverance and dedication.


Here’s the summary of this lesson learned, and I am adding it to my page: Lessons I’m Learning… on my journey to becoming an author.


#8   World Building isn’t just a SciFi writers thing.  In order to have depth, and have your characters truly speak for themselves — you must know what makes up their world. Scenes and settings should be a reflection of their world. Where did they come from culturally? What were their parental and familial influences? Genetic hereditary? Geographical, spiritual, historical, political  influences? How did their specific background mold them into the unique individual they have become? Add to this their present situation and circumstances, what they look like– their habits, pursuits and activities, likes and dislikes,–and you will know them deeply. Once you have built “their world,” they can spring to life and speak for themselves.

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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Writing the Book


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Is it a good idea to put aside my main work, while learning new lessons?


I’ve heard — and read — that the only way to learn to write a novel, is to write a novel. Appears this, my first attempt at writing a novel, is going to arrive in a series of fits and starts. I’m fine with that.

While studying newly learned concepts, and to help me resist the temptation of reworking the beginning chapters of my first draft to apply new lessons, I’ve resurrected a flash fiction piece I wrote last year.

Flash fiction uses all elements of fiction, but in a very brief form, and I’m finding it to be a valuable writing tool.  Working within the well defined word limits of this genre forces me to be economical in word usage and to examine each scene to bring out its strengths. I find it is intensive training!

I’ve been writing fiction now for less than a year, but when I put this particular piece aside a few months back, I thought it was pretty darn good.  I had put it through the critique process twice, and got a lot of valuable suggestions that I gave my best to incorporate. But… it is still rough and has the obvious marks of novice writer all through it. Even I can see that.

I’m now in my fourth revision of it, in as many days. I have restructured, cut words, worked with my characters on developing their own voice, incorporated physical senses into scenes, and still have a long way to go. I’m finding the real treasure of applying lessons I’ve learned since putting this piece aside, is discovering some of my most recent epiphanies are only half baked. Putting words on paper (or on screen) helps me understand the theories better, and I keep playing with them as I apply specific lessons. Working with this piece is like kneading bread dough or beating cake batter. That’s where the magic happens.

When I get to the point I think it’s pretty good (hahaha), I’ll put it through critique again. I know the value of having other people read my story —  and not close family and friends who think my writing is really, really, really great.  That’s when I will know if it works, and how well I’ve done —  this time.  I just might make this a frequent practice to resurrect early work!

I am itching to get back to my novel, but I know I have profited greatly by putting it aside. I’ve written a lot of notes on characters, scenes, and redesigned the plot outline for it during this past week. Taking a break re-energized me and helped me sharpen tools.

All of my learning has been “independent study,” and I’ve no idea if my approach is typical or common. But as with most things in life, undoubtedly I’ll be sensitized to seeing approaches others use from now on, and see more clearly what I had previously not understood or only glossed over. There are so many wonderful layers to this process, it is work but also a joy learning to write.


Here’s the summary of this lesson learned, and I am adding it to my page: Lessons I’m Learning… on my journey to becoming an author.


#7  It’s not only okay, it’s a good idea to put aside my novel while I’m learning a new concept. But only if I keep writing during that time. Lessons must be applied as I learn about them. Writing flash fiction, short stories, or just writing ideas and notes for my main project, not only helps me absorb and better understand ideas I am learning, but also builds excitement for getting back to my novel.

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Posted by on January 14, 2015 in Writing the Book


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Learning to let my characters talk




In my journey to becoming an author, I’ve struggled with dialog that is typically cold and flat. The character’s words may be nice, polite, or sometimes downright rude, but personality doesn’t come through on the page. There is nothing likable or detestable about them, no way for the reader to love or hate them.

This past year, I’ve read and analyzed other people’s successful work, listened intently to dialog in movies and in real life. I’ve tried using character development charts for plotting out unique personalities, made long lists of likes, dislikes, and challenges each faces so I can get to know who they are. Yet I have not been able to apply these lessons to my character’s dialog.

Bottom line, I still suck at writing dialog. What am I not getting?

Nothing clicked for me until I got a suggestion last week – over at Critique Circle – on a piece I submitted for review. The “critter” used a military commander I had written for my story as an example. He pointed out this man is used to being in charge and in control, and therefore needs to speak directly, decisively, and to the point. The way I wrote his dialog, he sounded just like all my other characters.

Yikes. Someone reads my story and sees my characters better than I do. Humbling.  All the reading, studying and writing I’ve done over the past year didn’t expose what that one comment did.

Now I get it.



*Slaps self on forehead*  

I have been doing the talking FOR my characters. I move them around like a child playing with paper dolls. Sure, I build a story for them, give them a history and fairly well define personalities, but I never let them spring to life. I fail to let them speak for themselves, as themselves. Basically, that boils down to: I have been using dialog to TELL rather than SHOW.

*Shakes head at the now-oh-so-obvious revelation

Why didn’t I see that myself? Most likely because I haven’t been looking in earnest, just waiting for an answer to magically work itself out. And we all know the chances of that happening!

I bring a lifelong (and it’s a pretty long lifetime) habit of expository writing to the table. Using those skills in narrative fiction yields flat, cardboard, unanimated characters. Yup. There is an upside – I am learning this before I put anything out for publication.

Expository writing taught me to state facts, give supporting evidence, cite sources, and then wrap up with repetition of the pertinent, now supported facts.  It also taught me not to editorialize, and never put myself – and certainly not my opinions – into what I’ve written.  I have been utilizing that same formula in my new venture into fiction. Even though these are my stories, I have edited and reduced them to “just the facts” as my default.

I am amazed and confounded when the solution to a problem, as most often is the case, turns out to be simple and obvious. My tendency in personal matters is to dodge around the simple and obvious, preferring to search for a myriad of odd and sundry conundrums instead. I have come to understand that behavior allows me not to change, lets me remain in my safe habits. I am more of a hobbit than a warrior.  My experience in business let me put on my “suit” of armor, replete with expository writing skills, and I became capable of fearlessness, able to re-orient to new situations and marshal others to follow my lead. Course my personal stakes were not life and death, and if I made an error – I would regroup and attack it again.  Writing fiction, on the other hand, has great stakes.  Strike out or make grievous errors, and memory is long and tied directly to my name. Yikes!

When I retired a few months ago and hung up the power suit, that didn’t mean I hung up old habits, especially those dealing with writing. Well, I am bringing out the mothballs and intend to wrap the ones that don’t serve me well up now and store them away! And I’m excited and more than ready to see what I, and my characters, come up with from now on! ~~ Or ~~  alternately, I’m ready to find out what my stumbling block may be and get to work on that!


Summary being added to my page: LESSONS I’m learning on my Journey to becoming an author 

#6.  Let my characters speak. I have learned that narrative fiction uses a different-skill set than expository writing. Everything I write comes from my thoughts, feelings, beliefs and I need to develop my voice. But the characters in my story must have their own voices, and it needs to match their personality, situation, and lifestyle. I have to know them in depth, and make sure they come alive with conflict and have a stake – something to win or lose. If my story’s dialog is dry and lifeless, there’s a good chance I am putting words in their mouths, and not letting my characters speak.


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Posted by on January 10, 2015 in Writing the Book


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