Thinking is writing

I think it was Michaelbrent Collings who once said that he doesn’t get writers block because so many things count as writing, such as going to see a movie or taking a walk in the park. Anything that “primes the pump”, so to speak, is writing.

I think there’s something to that. Most of the time we writers feel guilty if we’re not writing. But, truth be told, some of my best ideas or breakthroughs come when I’m somewhere else: in the shower, driving to work, walking the dog. Anytime I have time to just think can be productive time if I think about what I’m writing. And sometimes letting my mind wander is even better.

Recently I was thinking about the main characters is my current project, trying to decide the best way for them to meet. My mind began wandering, and suddenly I was envisioning a scene in which one character walks in on another character during a touching and revealing moment. I suddenly had new insight on one of my characters–and it may not even make it into the novel! I still have no idea where that idea came from. It was completely unrelated to any previous thoughts I’ve had about my characters, and yet it felt so right that I knew it was a piece of the puzzle.

It can be a good idea to step away from the keyboard from time to time and just think. Generate new ideas, no matter how crazy. Spend time interacting with the world. Think about how your characters would interact in normal, everyday situations, like ordering at McDonalds or picking up their dry-cleaning. Let your mind wander.

Our brains are marvelous and unpredictable, able to make intuitive and creative leaps beyond anything even the most powerful computers can achieve. It would take WETA’s entire rendering farm days to weeks to fully render the imagery our brains generate just imagining a half-hour dream about going back to high school wearing our pajamas.

If we’re lucky those epiphanies come while we’re at the keyboard. But as often as not the most startling ideas come out of nowhere when our brains are engaged on something entirely unrelated. We need to leave ourselves time to think in order to tap that creative power.

So get out there and put your mental Author’s Think Tank to work!

17 Ideas of How to Promote Your Book—Before and During Launch

Guest Post by Anna del C. Dye.

Anna del C. Dye was born in Valparaiso, Chile, amongst some of the world’s most famous beaches. After meeting Rodney, a native of Idaho, in her hometown, two years later, Anna traveled to Utah on Christmas Eve and married him two weeks later. Their love story, Why Him? was published by Covenant in the book entitled Angels Round About. Anna and Rodney reside in Taylorsville, Utah and are the parents of three princes and a princess. They love to camp, canoe, explore ruins and have sword fights.

Anna del C. Dye is a multi-award winning author. Her short story “Amerine—Fairy Princess” won 2nd place in the Oquirrh Writers contest. The first book in her new YA Romance Series entitled “A Kingdom By The Sea” won 2nd place in The Absolutely Write contest. Book three of “The Silent Warrior Trilogy,” won a bronze seal in the League of Utah Writers. Shahira and the Flying Elfs won Honor in the Oquirrh first chapter contest. Emerine’s Nightmare, a pre-teens short story, won 1st place right before it was released in digital formats for the Kindle and Nook.

  1. Send out free PDFs, or ebooks, to bloggers who have tons of followers. If your book is non-fiction, send out digital copies to influential journalists. Ask the bloggers a review it in their blogs.

(Some bloggers or reviewers need a month to read the book. Always ask way beforehand.

  1. Pull out excerpts of the book to use as articles. Post them on free sites.
  2. Create videos. Keep it short and sweet (under 10 min.)

Talk about you. In another, talk about your book. Then in another, read an excerpt from it. Post them on YouTube.

  1. Create a book trailer. (optional) Find pictures that reflect the content of your book and then use excerpts from the book to tease people to read more. Never tell the ending.
  2. Schedule a launch day and make sure plenty of things are planned that day. Notify your email list, Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari, Twitter, a week before and then the day of. Don’t forget to post the different links to your videos and trailer’s each time.
  3. Offer a digital copy as a prize on other websites and blogs. Offer the blogger or website owners a free paperback book for their help.
  4. Ask other bloggers to do an interview and send them lots of questions with their answers. (You can send the same list to all of them and they will pick how long and what to post from it.)
  5. If you assign these bloggers to do your review on a different day of the week each, this is called a Blog tour. Make sure every day has a blogger assigned to it. You’ll gain maximum exposure for minimum costs.
  6. Offer a chapter as a downloadable PDF. Encourage readers to share it with others. Include a summary of the rest of book to encourage people to buy it. Never tell the ending.
  7. Publish the book’s table of contents on your website. Include a small overview of each chapter. Optimize the page for search engines. (List many good tags.)
  8. Encourage people to write a five-star review of your book on, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads.
  9. Publish reviews and testimonials of the book on your website. Include reviews from and other sites.
  10. Arrange interviews with radio hosts interested in your subject matter. This is a win-win since it provides them with valuable content and you with valuable publicity.
  11. Makes sure you always say thank you to all that help you and join their sites to show that you care for their help.
  12. Make bookmarks or business cards. (Check online for cost-effective sources.)
  13. Always have copies of your book, bookmarks or business card with you or in your car.
  14. Be creative, persistent, grateful for the help of others and you’ll see your book sales go up.

Don’t forget to share your success with others and help them get ahead. Is always sweeter when you get to the top and your friends are cheering you on.

Warning! Danger ahead!

I just finished reading Dan Wells’ new novel, “Extreme Makeover”, which I knew going in was an apocalyptic thriller. But even had I not known, I would have almost immediately. Each chapter heading includes a countdown of how many days to the end of the world, starting at 276 days and working its way downward.

I can think of several reasons for this approach.

First, he may have wanted to make it very clear to anyone who might not have figured it out from the cover (which is pink) that this is apocalyptic fiction. His original title, which was eventually trimmed down, was “Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition”. Certainly that would have made it more clear what type of story this would be, but the chapter headers do that job as well.

Second, it teases the reader. The novel starts with a scientist in a cosmetics company revealing a new skin care product. Not very scary stuff. Some readers may even be turned off. But by introducing that teaser countdown the reader knows this skin care story is about to get serious, so stick around.

Third, the countdown is a common thriller element to build suspense. Ticking time bombs, ultimatums from powerful people, deadlines; all these add suspense when we know that the characters only have a limited time to do whatever it is they need to do. It’s potentially even more suspenseful when the reader knows the countdown is ticking but the characters do not. Hence we can spend most of the novel figuratively tearing our hair out because the characters don’t seem to realize they’re doomed!

Fourth, possibly, is the reader’s desire to call his bluff. Is he really serious? 198 Days to the end of the world? Or will the characters find a way to stop it before it’s too late. I mean, he wouldn’t really give it all away like that, right? I suspect most readers know deep down it’s for real, but there’s a part of them that will wonder if somehow the inevitable can’t be avoided.

True, countdowns are a trope, even a cliché. But they are also very effective and hard not to incorporate in some manner. Whether they are explicit, in the form of an actual time bomb under the table, or implicit, such as surviving until the sun comes up, knowing that there is a time limit that either helps or hurts the characters will ratchet up the tension.

It doesn’t even have to be the main element of the story. In Tom Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears” focuses primarily on main character Jack Ryan and the politics in which he finds himself embroiled, but all throughout the novel we are given glimpses of a terrorist group creating a nuclear bomb to use against the United States. That sub-plot, we know, is literally a ticking time bomb that could become the main plot at any time. It helps add a feeling of impending danger to keep the reader engaged, even when the main plotline may be less suspenseful.

Adding a sense of impending danger is an important element of storytelling. Like any tool, learning to use it well  can yield big pay-offs for the writer and the reader. Used poorly, it can feel every bit like the clichéd trope it is. But when used well, you’ll grab your reader’s attention and hold it until they finally reach the end at 3 am, even though they have to get up for work in just a few hours.

I’m a Writer! But Now What?!?

Guest Post by Bunny Miner.

Bunny Miner is a retired elementary school teacher with several books to her credit. Bunny’s first book, ‘And So It Begins…’ hit Amazon’s top ten its first week out. When she’s not immersed in whatever fantasy world she is currently creating, she enjoys spending tie with her four crazy kids (who supply fodder for her stories), three needy dogs, one totally cute husband and her adorable grandson. You can find Bunny on her website:, Facebook: children’s author Bunny Miner, and Twitter: @bunnyminerauthr.

So you’ve made that leap in your mind that you’re not just a dabbler anymore, you’re a full-fledged writer! Yay! Good for you! Give yourself a big pat on the back. Imagine me giving you a high-five. That really is awesome.

I know it was a huge step for most of you. It’s hard for us creative types to put ourselves out there. Now that you’ve made this leap, you will find if you want to get published there is a seemingly endless list of things to do before you even write your book!

Don’t believe me? Go on the web. Look at all the things you’re told you have to do. Do a blog. Have an email list. Join a critique group. Make a website. Get beta-readers. Find an agent. Get an editor. The list goes on and on.

If you look at the never-ending list, you’ll soon go from the happy new writer to something like this:

You may even feel like you need to breathe into a paper bag because you’re hyperventilating and getting light headed. Go ahead and do that if you need to (breathe into the bag, not hyperventilate!). Once you’re breathing normally again,

Now I need you to take a couple of deep breathes with me. Inhale…1…2. Exhale…1…2. Again. Inhale…1…2. Exhale…1…2. Ok, are we good now?

I’d like to give you your first 5 steps to concentrate on to going from being a writer to a published author without all the stressful stuff to get in the way, give you anxiety and cause you to freeze where you are. Ready?

Step 1: Reward yourself

It’s a rare thing for a writer to just wake up and embrace the idea that they’re a legitimate author-in-training but that is what you are now. Whether you are writing for yourself or writing to get published by one of the Big 5, getting the words in your head down on paper in their best form possible means you’re an author, my friend. So celebrate it! You deserve it!

We all have our favorite treats. Mine is the Chocolate Tuxedo cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory! Yours may be a luxurious bubble bath, some quiet time with your favorite book or just spending some quality time to be with your family. Set aside some time to do that before you jump headlong into this writer thing. I’m going to tell you why in just a second.

Step 2: Set up your writing space

Ok, I trust you did not take a long time with your celebration because now it is time to get to work! This is also why I told you to celebrate now because it’s time to get your family/support team on board and knuckle down and do what you have to do! I know you want to grab your computer or notepad and start writing but first, you need a place to write. Don’t think you’ll just travel around and work from wherever because it won’t happen. Plus, you need a place that shows your subconscious that you mean business. Make it somewhere well lit and as free from distractions as you can get. This should be the same place you write every time you write if can help it. It’s a little like training a new baby to sleep through the night. You wouldn’t put the baby down at different times and in different places every time you wanted him/her to sleep. That just wouldn’t work. So find a place to write and make it your own.

Step 3: Schedule a time to write

If you don’t schedule your writing time, it will disappear without a trace and you’ll be left scratching your head at the end of the day wondering what happened to it. Ideally, it would be a nice block of time at the same time every day. Being a realist, however, I know that nobody lives in a vacuum and there are other things that have to be done in your life. Schedule them too. I’ve written through several different seasons of my life so I’ll offer some suggestions on a few of those seasons that have worked for me.

Newborn season-Just put it on the backburner for a few months! You need to spend time with that little one! Don’t think you’ll miss your chance. People will always read books but a new baby won’t stop changing every day!

Infant/Toddler season-Pick one nap time and make that your writing time. Don’t make phone calls, check social media or clean! This is your scheduled time to write so that’s what you need to do.

School aged kids/empty nester/retired season-You’re going to think that since you’re not chasing after kids anymore, that you’ll have all day to write. More than likely, you probably won’t. You’ll have more ‘free’ hours but again, unless you schedule that writing time, it’ll disappear too. Other obligations will pop up.

There are obviously other seasons of your life that you are either now in or will be in, this was just a few suggestions for people. The main point is, SCHEDULE A TIME TO WRITE!

Step 4: Join a writing group or start your own

This is probably the number one way that my writing has improved. I have been with the same group of talented writers for years and being with them has been a huge blessing in my life in many ways. Not only do people in a writing group share their works with each other to glean suggestions for improvement, they also will become some of your greatest friends and cheerleaders! You can have a writing group that meets in person or you can find one online. One way to find a writing or critique group is to join a professional writing organization. I’m pretty sure there is even an app for finding a group. Or ask your old friend Google!

Step 5: Read books in your genre

I know this one is an easy one. Writers love to read. However, I want you to start reading with a purpose. Pick great authors in your genre. Look at what works in these books. Maybe even pick up a lousy book or two and note what doesn’t work. This is your competition if you want to be published. Now I don’t want you to copy they way they write, you have your own unique voice, use it! What I do want you to do is be a student of the good writers. Notice how they use dialog to move a plot along. Look at how they describe their characters. Just learn and absorb as much as you can.

Hopefully, this little article will help you get started in your new path. Congratulations! If you’d like more writing tips, you can check out my blog at

The Ultimate Visualization: Dream Parties

Guest post by Heather Horrocks.

USA Today bestselling author Heather Horrocks writes flirty romance with a touch of magic (Moonchuckle Bay, Chick Flick Clique, and Christmas Street), death with a laugh (Who-Dun-Him Inn and Bad Mothers Club), and inspirational (Women Who Knew).
You can ask for notification of her next Dream Party (and also see her books, contact her, sign up for her newsletter and a free book) at

During a more leisurely time years ago, my mother used to host Come-as-You-Are parties. In case you’ve never experienced one, these were surprise parties, where the guests didn’t know they were invited until a conspirator showed up at their door at 6:30 in the morning to pick them up exactly as they were. As children, it was fun to be part of an adult party where my mother and her friends had messy hair and shabby bathrobes instead of being perfumed and elegantly dressed and coiffured.

Those parties were fun — but I’ve found a much more powerful version of this party when you reverse it — the guests not only know they’re coming, but they prepare for it so they can come as they “are” — not now, but five years in the future — and prove it, too!

The Come-as-You-Are-In-Five-Years Dream Party is a powerful affirmation of each person’s goals. A visualization that speaks to your innermost self. (I host these parties periodically; if you want to know about my next one, sign up on the Dream Parties page of my website at

Here’s my experience with the concept. My sister September read about it in Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, and we (September, our sister Skye, and I) decided to try it. At first we planned it during dinner on the last evening of our sisters’ weekend, but then decided we’d play “as if” for the entire weekend. It was amazing! By the time we got to that final dinner, we’d convinced our subconscious minds that we’d really achieved these goals — so much so that, when I returned to my real life and sat down at the computer two days later to begin transcribing radiology reports, my soul screamed out in protest: “Nooooo! I don’t have to do this any more! I’m a bestselling author!”

You don’t need an entire weekend, though. As Jack Canfield said, “When you spend an evening living out the lifestyle you want and deserve, you lay down powerful blueprints in your subconscious mind, that will later support you in perceiving opportunities, creating powerful solutions, attracting the right people, and taking the necessary actions to achieve your dreams and goals.”

It works. I challenge you to give it a try.


Do you know what you want? What would you like to be and accomplish in five years? What are your talents? Interests? Passions? Skills? What resonates with you? Make a specific goal and set a date for five years from today.
“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Walt Disney
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” (Unknown)
“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” Harvey MacKay
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth…. not because [those goals] are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” Pres. John F. Kennedy
“I have a dream.”  Martin Luther King Jr. (Aug 28, 1963)


Only invite people who are willing to dream big and who are open to do something this amazing. Not everyone is. If you invite someone who isn’t, party without them. A Dream Party requires dreamers.


Plan on a dinner evening and decide where you want to meet for a couple of hours — in a quiet restaurant that is as nice as you can afford, or at someone’s house where everyone brings pot luck, or have your party catered. Or have an “awards”-type dinner where everyone takes turns standing and talking about what they’ve achieved in the last five years (since today). A restaurant is nice because then no one has to be stressed about cleaning their house or cooking. A home is nice because you can stay for a few hours if everyone is enjoying their success. If you can, have another friend play the part of a reporter, to take pictures and interview the guests on their accomplishments. Create an atmosphere of excitement, of being around all of these successful people.


Dress for the lifestyle you want to achieve.


Whatever you want to be, create something that will prove you have already achieved it. Here are some ideas for possible “proofs.” This is a vital part of the process. You’re not only proving to others at the party — but to yourself — that you’ve already achieved your dream.
Marriage? Go to Wal-Mart and buy a $10 engagement/wedding ring. (It worked for my sister September; within five years, she was married.)
Degree? Create a college graduation certificate from the college of your choice with your name on it and the date of your graduation.
Business? Create a business card with your name as CEO, President, or owner of your company.
Sales? Bring a photo album of you in Hawaii for top sales.
First Book? Make the front and back cover and wrap it around another book.
Dream House? Show us pictures and a floor plan.
Artist? Create a notice of your exhibit at a gallery.
Seminars? Hand out your brochures.
Author? Add your book to the USA Today or New York Times bestseller list.
Physical? Bring your Olympic medal or a photo of you running a marathon.
Ten-Million-Dollar Check? Write yourself one like Jim Carrey did in 1990.


Go to the party and play the biggest game of “as if” ever. You’re not only visualizing you as your future successful self, you’re experiencing it, which makes a huge different. The YOU attending is the future you, who has already achieved your goals and dreams. Bring your proof(s). Speak as though you’ve already achieved your dream—and as if everyone else there has already achieved theirs! Experience the power of already being there.


After your own version of soul-screaming, take whatever classes you need to in order to learn the skills you need to reach your goal. Do it. And be ready to change, to get past your fears and baggage. Ask yourself, “What must I change about myself in order to be willing to receive this by this date?” (Edwene Gaines)
This party will unleash the power of your thoughts and subconscious to move you toward your dreams. I triple dog dare you to do it. Choose a goal, create a proof, come to the party. You will forever be glad you did.

You think too much!

There’s a great quote from Montgomery Scott in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”:

The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.

It’s occurred to me lately that quote describes could explain what’s happened to my writing. Could it be there comes a point where thinking too much about your writing just gets in the way, makes writing harder than it should be, and kills the joy?

I recall hearing a few times about Tiger Woods taking time off from tournaments to “rebuild his swing”. There have been several celebrities who have retired, only to return a few years later. I’ve heard people declare that they intend to keep working at their job until it’s no longer fun.

So how do we strike a balance between enjoying our writing and continuing to improve? I’ve never been one to believe that the mere repetition of a task in itself will help you improve beyond a certain point. At some point we need to incorporate new information, new methods, new ways of thinking if we ‘re going to get any farther. Can we do that without losing the fun?

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, writing has become hard for me lately. While it may not explain all of it, I believe my own drive to improve may explain at least some of it. I think I may have gone too far, to the point that I was afraid to write something down unless I was sure it was better. I told myself I had to write these stories, even though they weren’t fun to write. I’m a professional, after all. I’m disciplined. I can make myself write.

Well, maybe not.

I recently picked up my last “trunk novel” to see if there was something I could do to improve it. As I read I was surprised at just how much I was enjoying it! My last impressions of that manuscript were that the plot was weak and the characters were bland. And that may still be true, but it wasn’t as true as I remembered, if that makes sense. There were differences between characters, and while the plot could perhaps be improved, it wasn’t bad. There’s a lot more to be pleased with, even with its problems, than I thought.

Most of all, I had fun reading it. And I remembered having fun writing it. Something changed between that project and the two other projects I struggled with all last year. I think I overthought the plumbing. Perhaps it’s time to go back and rework my swing.

I’m not saying we should only write when it’s fun, but if we’re not getting at least some satisfaction and enjoyment from what we do…why are we doing it?

Amazing Places and Where to Find Them: Passport Not Required

Guest Post by Lucinda Whitney.

Lucinda Whitney was born and raised in Portugal, where she received a Master’s degree from the University of Minho in Braga, in Portuguese/English teaching. 
She lives in northern Utah with her husband and four children. When she’s not reading and writing, she can be found with a pair of knitting needles, or tending her herb garden.
She’s the author of The Secret Life of Daydreams and One Small Chance. Please visit her website at for more information and news.

Learn how to choose a foreign setting, how to research it, how to deal with language and culture, and how to bring it all together to enrich your story.

We always hear “Write about what you know” and while there are lots of advantages to that, what about all the things you don’t know? Your characters’ lives are not your own and choosing the best setting for their stories makes more sense in the long run.

Obviously, the US is a large country and there are lots of exciting places where to set your novel, but sometimes setting your story abroad will give it another dimension that readers crave.

What are the advantages to choosing a foreign setting?

Foreign settings are less done and more exotic. If you want to surprise readers in the genre you write, set the story in a new location from what’s usually done. Most people can’t afford to travel and reading is an easy way for them to discover other countries and cultures. Also, the unexpected will hook a reader and keep them turning the pages.

For instance, I knew I didn’t want to set my LDS romance stories in Utah because that’s been done a lot. But LDS romance set in Portugal is something new and it gives another perspective by showing how church members there deal with similar struggles.

By placing your characters in new situations and making them more uncomfortable, the conflict in the story goes up.

For instance, challenge your character. If you have a shy girl (let’s call her Mary) who’s never traveled to a foreign country, start the story with her stranded at the airport in Madrid, Spain, during an air crew strike where she doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know anyone there. It’s the worst case scenario for this character and it will certainly shake things up. How will Mary get out of this? How will she react to the country and the natives? What kind of situations will arise from this? Why is being stranded in Spain so much worse than being lost in London?

By making the location part of the plot, you enhance the story with a new set of challenges inherent to the setting.

How do you go about choosing a foreign setting for your story?

The city and country you choose matter to the story and there are some reasons for that: the people and their customs, the culture and the language, the history and geography, the politics, the fauna and flora of the region, and even the weather and seasons can influence a story in different ways. Think of particular details tied to these reasons and make a list in connection to your main character.

For instance, if you choose to write a Regency romance, setting the story in the British Isles or setting it in another part of the world will greatly change the story even though it may be set in the same time period, the early part of the 1800s.

If it’s a contemporary story, how is the place a challenge to the protagonist? Does this setting complicate the life of the POV character? Does it change their fears and goals? Going back to our first example of the shy girl, Mary would probably feel more confident in London where at least they speak English. How is she going to get out of Madrid and why does she dislike being there so much?

If you’re writing an action story, setting it in Hong Kong or the Amazonian jungles of Brazil will change the way your character interacts with their setting and result in very different stories.

Does the setting have a meaning to the POV character? Are there negative or positive connections associated with this setting? Did something happen in this character’s past (backstory) to trigger their negative/positive reaction to it?

How do you research your foreign setting?

There are two ways to research a setting: traveling there in person or doing it from your computer at home.

In person- If you can afford the time and money to travel, think outside of the box when you get there. Venture out on foot to less popular areas (the less touristy places). Go where the natives go to get more local flavor instead of relying on guided tours. Take the city bus, the subway, or the train instead of relying on taxis or tour buses. Don’t just take pictures. Keep a small journal of your impressions using the other senses: the smells and sounds that stand out to you, the tastes and textures that would matter to the POV character (ex:, a lawyer and a farmer would react differently when set in the Scottish Highlands). These details are harder to remember than the visual ones and will have a deeper impact on your descriptions.

The more senses used, the more engaged the reader will be with what your character is going through because the experience will be more dimensional.

If you’re concerned about the language, buy a conversational guide or get a translation app to help with simple questions when you go exploring.

Don’t forget about trying new dishes, especially the ones particular to a certain area. What makes the ingredients and flavors special? How do your characters react to them?

Gather maps, pamphlets and other mementos that can later aid your writing. Will your character take a stroll on the beach at some point? Pick up some shells. Even if you don’t use all the details you experience in each area, they all add up to enrich the story.

If possible, before you travel, connect with someone who lives in that area for a more personalized experience (FB is great for this. Is there a friend who knows someone who lives in the area you’re traveling to?)

Think of theme of your story: is it historical? Take a tour of museums, libraries, and castles. Is it sports related? Go to stadiums and practices. Does it involve food? Take a restaurant tour. Focus your trip in the ways it relates to the plot and characters.

When you can’t travel- Google and Google maps are great, but don’t rely only on these (by the way, street view is better when using Google maps).

Write or email to the Chamber of Commerce of the city you’re researching and ask them to send you materials by mail. You can ask for city maps, transportation maps and schedules, museums and other entertainment, places to eat, where to stay, etc. just like planning a vacation. You can also contact travel agencies for similar materials.

The Library of Congress has a Ask a Librarian service ( The amount of information they turn up is amazing. And don’t forget about Youtube as another great resource.

Join a large writing community on FB and ask is anyone lives it the area you’re researching. This will result in tips and insights from locals. When I was writing my Christmas novella set in Manhattan, I asked on Writer Unboxed if anyone lived close to Central Park so I could ask some questions. Ask around on FB if any of your friends have friends or contacts in that area and then interview them (via private message or email).

To avoid being overwhelmed, focus your research of the place on how it affects your POV character and specialize instead of going wide; start out small and then expand the research as needed.

Another element of research is the local language

Use too much and readers will complain they don’t understand (believe me, I know); use too little and you risk losing the local flavor of the setting.

When thinking of language in relation to your main characters, there are 3 situations to consider:

First, when all the characters (main and secondary) are natives to that place. You’re writing in English but your reader knows the characters are talking/thinking in the native language. You don’t need a lot of words and phrases in the foreign language. Show the nationality in the behavior and mannerisms, in what they eat, where they go, etc.

Second, your POV character is the native to the area. How do they interact with the foreign characters? What in their background offers a challenge or a connection to those interactions?

Third, your POV character is the foreigner in that city. It’s going to be important whether they speak the local language or not. Do they interact with locals, with their countrymen, or with other foreigners?

Which one of these situations is the higher challenge for the POV character and their story? How does this affect the pacing (description and narration)?

Each situation will determine how much language to use; find the balance (“enough to flavor but not to overwhelm”).

When you do use words and phrases, resist the urge to provide a literal translation to every instance. Instead, make the meaning clear through context and secondary dialogue.

Regarding language and spelling: DO YOUR HOMEWORK! I can’t emphasize this enough. Do your research and don’t rely only on Google Translate. Don’t think your readers won’t know any better. WRONG. They do. There’s always a reader who knows the language and it looks bad when it’s translated incorrectly. Occasionally, I come across books set in Portugal written by authors who are not native and I haven’t found one without some kind of mistake, usually something very simple. It looks lazy and sloppy. Whenever possible, check with a native or ask around on FB if anyone knows a friend who can speak the language.

How do you use your research to enrich your story?

Now that you’ve chosen and researched a foreign city, either in person or remotely, you can use this setting as a plot point in your story to further along the action and to increase the conflict.

Another way to look at it is to treat setting as a character, one that needs to be developed just like all the other characters in the story. Setting becomes another character in the way it marks the main character’s interactions to it and those in it.

Show the setting through your POV character only. What does the setting trigger in the character? How do they react to the different places? Does it affect their mood? Which of the five senses is more prevalent when your character interacts with this particular setting?

If you use alternating POVs, the reactions will be different between the character who’s visiting and the character who’s always lived there. They have different emotional connections to that setting and these connections carry different weights in how they see (how you describe) the things around them.

Even though the foreign place you end up choosing for your story is a real place, you still have to put the work into it because you’re worldbuilding it specifically for your story and your characters. The richer the setting, the more involved the reader becomes.


Rewriting: The Phoenix Effect

Guest Post by Frank Morin.

Frank Morin loves good stories in every form.  When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or traveling to research new books.  Frank lives in Oregon with his lovely wife and four kids, who are all brutal critics, but die-hard fans. For updates on his sci-fi time-travel thrillers, his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or other upcoming book releases, check his website:

Rewriting. Some see it as a dirty word.

Often, this is one of those topics whispered about in shadowed conversations late at night when we hope no one will hear. It’s right up there with graciously accepting negative feedback and smiling through those lonely book signings when even the bookstore staff seems to have found something better to do than come over and ask a question.

Of course, we dread rewriting. We just finished that novel, didn’t we? The last thing we want to do is chop it up and rebuild it again.

Then again, rewriting is the one way to save that story and make it shine. The only way for the legendary phoenix to rise in fiery new life is from the ashes of its previous one. Sometimes, a novel needs to die so it can be reborn even better.

The process hurts, but it’s worth it.

I know what I’m talking about. I may be the king of massive rewrites. Like many new writers, I had to throw away my very first opus after years of writing and rewriting. I had to face the hard fact that those early hundreds of thousands of words served best as practice.

Then I had to rewrite about 80% of my first YA fantasy novel, Set in Stone – after completing two solid drafts which I had meticulously planned and outlined. That was over 100,000 words and months of work trashed and rebuilt. Not to be outdone by myself, I also rewrote massive amounts of the next two books in that same series.

Why put myself through such pain?

Because the story is what matters, and sometimes the early drafts, no matter how good, serve as vehicles to discover the true story that needs to be told.

Set in Stone kicked off my YA fantasy series, which has done quite well. But it wasn’t until that painful third draft that I realized that I needed to add the humor and really dive deep into the magic system instead of holding back until book two. Just releasing the earlier draft would have been so much easier.

And that would have killed the story.

With the sequel, I wrote a solid draft, but in reviewing it with my editor, I realized there was so much more I needed to do with the plotline that I had to split the book in half and completely rewrite that part of the series as two separate novels. Huge amounts of extra work, but those books turned out amazing and have set up the rest of the series for awesome success.

So, how do we know when we need a rewrite? We also don’t want to fall into the trap of endlessly rewriting a story in circles and never actually releasing anything.

As writers, we need to leave our pride at the door and honestly view the story by its true strengths and weaknesses. If we’re too close to the story to view it objectively (which is likely) we need to pull in objective experts. Some beta readers can play an important role in offering reader feedback, but the most important player is a professional editor.

Don’t just rely on the word of your inlaws’ cousin who took some English classes in college. Get a good editor, one with real experience doing content and developmental edits, one who can point out those blind spots you didn’t even know you had. Such an editor is worth every penny.

With every revision you consider, ask yourself, “Will this change improve the story and help it reach its full potential?”

If the answer is yes, then do it, regardless of the amount of work it’ll take. You’ve spent so long working on the story already, why would you risk releasing it before it’s ready? What a waste of your time and energy. What a waste of a good story.

The story is what matters. Your story is worth it, so don’t shortchange it.

And here’s hoping in my next novel, I can forego that onerous pleasure and nail the story in the first draft.

If not, I’ll rewrite until I get it right.



Keep swimming

I don’t usually take advice from a fish, but Dory’s “Keep swimming” is easy to remember–and easier to do than much of the advice I hear.

In many ways that has become the mantra of my writing this year. As most of you probably know, I’m not yet a published author–at least not to the level I’d like to be. I have to wonder sometimes why I’m even posting here at the Think Tank, because I can’t speak with the authority of an established writer.

In fact, if 2016 is any indication, I’m not writer. I’m a starter-who-can’t-finish-er. I’ve started two novels this year–twice. None of the four attempts have gone beyond 30,000 words. This year has been a step backward for me. I used to be able to finish a novel a year at the very least. My personal hero, Michael J. Sullivan, has written six novels in the past two and a half years.

But I have to slap myself whenever I compare myself like that. He’s a full-time, professional writer. I am a full-time, professional application developer. I write on my lunch break. He gets more writing time in one day than I do in an entire week.

I have to remind myself that I’ve written five novels, and most of those came hour by hour, plugging away during my lunch break while trying to eat my lunch and fielding questions from co-workers who don’t respect the sanctity of lunch hour. And if the “write a million words” maxim is true, I’m going to have to spend a lot more time cranking out novels during my lunch time before I start to get it right.

So yeah, just keep swimming. There’s no doubt this was a bad year. Did I learn anything from it? Maybe. Did I improve in other ways in spite of my lousy completion-rate? Maybe. Am I going to give up?


I realize that much. I’ve asked myself if I want to quite several times this year. And I can’t. I just don’t know how to. Even when I tell myself I’m not going to write any more for a while I still have story ideas mugging me, trying to get out. I don’t think I know how to not write. Even in the twenty years that followed my official decision I was not going to be a writer I couldn’t not write.

I may never get published, but I will continue to write. And hopefully I will continue to improve. Hopefully I’ll even learn some things along the way that help others in the same boat as myself. Hopefully that’s what I bring to the Think Tank: camaraderie and encouragement for we dogged, determined slaves of the written word. I’m still here. I’m still writing and posting. And how are you doing? How did you do with your writing goals this year?

2017 will be upon us soon. It’s time to turn the page on 2016; for better or for worse, it’s ending. It’s time to move forward. A brand new empty page of possibilities.

Ready? Set? Let’s go!

Vague Vs. Ambiguous: Which are You Writing?

Imagine you sat down and started reading a story that opened like this.

“What are those people doing out here?”
“I don’t know.”
Poppy sighed and ran a hand through her hair. The woman was very old. Her sister took off her scarf and went inside.
“How many days until Wind Set Day?” the prophetess asked.
“Four, maybe five, perhaps,” she said.

How many people are in the story? Two? Four? What’s the setting? Since someone goes inside, we can assume the characters are outside of something, so they are probably outdoors, but we don’t know for sure. And what does the sister go inside of? A house? A store? A box? What kind? What’s “Wind Set Day”?

These are all things we can guess at, but we can’t really get a picture of what is going on. It’s vague. Unfortunately a lot of unpublished stories start this way. Later in this post, I’ll go more into why new writers often make the mistake of starting like this and exactly how it works to create a problem. (And yes, of course, all rules are made to be broken).

Vague writing is like this picture. Its blurry. Unfocused. As a reader, we can’t really tell what is going on.

While “vague” and “ambiguous” are often considered synonyms, in a lot of places in the writing world, they don’t mean the same thing.

“Vague” deals with the story being out of focus and vapory. It’s not quite anything.

“Ambiguity” happens when something in the story could mean multiple things–supported by evidence.
Continue reading Vague Vs. Ambiguous: Which are You Writing?

The Authors' Think Tank Podcast, a show for writers by writers with new episodes every Monday.


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