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Creating Your Character: Astrological Signs

Sandy Tritt

Sometimes, especially when initially creating a character, it’s difficult to get a good feel for the person this character represents. Sometimes, if you just toss the character into the plot and start writing, the character will begin asserting himself. Other times, not so much. If a character remains flat, it may be time to cheat. One of my favorite ways to add layers of dimension to a character (and to help me understand my character better) is to use a book of the Zodiac that includes both sun and moon signs. I decide which astrological sign best fits my character, then I research that sign to add some dimension.

The sidebar contains the supposed characteristics of people born between certain dates. Notice that only the three or four adjectives that are strongest for the sign are listed. Within a book of the Zodiac, you will find many more characteristics, including a breakdown of how this sign behaves in romance, in the office, and at play.

Using the range of dates listed for the selected sign, I then use a “birthday” book that lists characteristics and traits by birthday, and page through the selected astrological dates until I find the personality that truly fits this character. This often creates an “aha!” moment and is quite fun to do. The birthday books give enough of a character profile that we can feel like we truly know this character. It’s amazing how quickly a flat character can come to life.

Zodiac and birthday characteristic books can often be found in the bargain bin of your favorite book retailer. The “accuracy” of such books is not important—they are simply a tool that can be used to add depth to a character.

Scenes: What They Are and What They Need

Sandy Tritt

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but ever since I started writing, I threw around words like “scene” and “scene break” with the understanding that these terms identified essential elements of story writing. But for years I lacked the fundamental understanding of what a scene actually was. So for everyone out there who was like me, here’s a breakdown of what a scene is and what it needs.

(The following is adapted from the newest IFW tips and techniques workbook, The PLAIN ENGLISH Writer’s Workbook, available soon.)

                                                                                           ~Jessica Nelson

Plot is accomplished through a series of scenes. A scene is the dramatization of one snapshot in time—what happens at one specific place and time. Of course, the action may unwind over a period of several minutes or longer, but once the action is transferred to a different setting or to a different character, that scene ends and another scene begins. However, we do not require a scene break if the viewpoint character himself is moving, say walking down the street from one house to another, or if the omniscient point of view is used.

Every scene in a novel must further the plot or develop a character (preferably both at the same time); otherwise, it’s an extraneous scene and should be cut. Every scene should also have a feeling of completeness about it. This is accomplished by ending the scene with an action, thought, or dialogue by the viewpoint character, hopefully resolving or reviewing whatever “mini-crisis” the scene presented.

(Tip: Make a scene feel complete by ending it with the focus on the viewpoint character.)

When a new scene begins, you, the writer, have a huge new responsibility. Have you ever thought about what happens to an unsuspecting reader when a scene changes? He’s been comfortable, hanging around and experiencing your story, aware of where he is, when he is, and through whose eyes he’s seeing/hearing/feeling things, when all of a sudden one scene ends and another begins. Your poor reader is snatched out of his comfort zone, zoomed through time and space, and is plunged into a new scene. God—er, um, you—only knows where he is now. He may crash into the same physical space he’s just vacated—or he may end up across the globe or even in a new galaxy. Five seconds may have passed—or ten days or a dozen centuries. Even more jolting, he could now be seeing and hearing and smelling through a different character.

It’s an extremely unsettling experience. That is, unless you, the creator of this world the reader is visiting, are experienced enough and thoughtful enough to guide him through the trauma. Oh, my! Did you even know you had this humongous responsibility? Well, you do.

Within the first few sentences of a new scene, your reader needs to know several things, including: 
  • Whose eyes he’s now seeing things through. (If you employ a single viewpoint character throughout the manuscript, this is not necessary.)
  • Which characters are present in the scene.
  • How much time has passed since the last scene ended.
  • Where he is in general—such as the city, state, country. If this general location has not been visited previously, we may need more information, such as if it’s rural, big city, etc. 
  • Location, specific: if inside, where we are, such as in a living room or inside a diner. If outside, if we’re in a vehicle, hiking, etc.
  • Time period: the decade we’re in. (If this does not change throughout the manuscript, you do not need to re-establish this.) 
  • Time of year: spring, summer, fall, winter—or actual month.
  • General time of day: morning, afternoon, evening, night.
  • Weather, if it affects the story in any way (and it usually does).
Additionally, the reader may need to know the date or the day of week, as well as any historically relevant happenings on that day. For example, if this scene occurs on September 11, 2001, and no mention is made of the collapse of the twin towers, your reader is going to question your integrity. We call providing this information grounding your reader, as it allows your reader to simply relax and become a part of the story instead of floating around in space, desperately trying to figure out where and when he is and through whose eyes he’s seeing.
(Tip: Research does more than add authenticity—it often opens the door to subplots and additional scenes.)
If it were not for the First Commandment of Writing—Thou Must Show, Not Tell—we’d just open each scene with a recitation of all the necessary facts. But, instead, we must be artistic about it. We must not just give all the information, but we must sprinkle it around and create amazing prose with conflict and suspense while doing so. The goal is to create a picture the reader can imagine in his mind. He must be able to envision where the action is happening, who is present, and what is going on. This balancing act of feeding information to your reader while maintaining interest is not easy. But it must be done.

Copyright–or Wrong?

Sandy Tritt

A copyright gives a writer “ownership” of a literary work. This means the copyright owner has the right to make copies, sell copies, and distribute copies of the work, as well as the right to license others to do these things. It also gives the copyright owner legal recourse should someone else make copies, sell copies, or distribute copies—in all or in part—of the copyrighted material. Once granted, a copyright protects the work for 50 years after the death of the copyright holder.

Now, for the good news: regardless of whether the work has been registered with the US Copyright Office, the writer of a work automatically owns the copyright. The only exception to this is if the work is completed under “works for hire” provisions, which means someone else commissioned the writer to do the work. An example of this exception would be work created under a ghostwriting contract (unless the contract states otherwise, of course).

However, should your copyright ever come into question, either because an unauthorized person has copied your work or because someone claims to have created the work first, it will be up to you to prove you are the author of this work. There are various ways you can offer this proof, such as by keeping various work-in-process versions of the work, by sending your work to a trusted friend via email, or by mailing a copy of the work to yourself (have the postal clerk hand-stamp the postmark, make sure the date appears clearly, and have the clerk seal the package—and then don’t open the package). Even though you may be able to prove your ownership, you still won’t have the public record of a copyright claim, nor can you file an infringement lawsuit until your work is officially registered. 

So, if you plan to publish your work and offer it publicly, you should register your work with the US Copyright Office.

When should you file for a copyright? You should not file for a copyright until your work is fully complete, edited, proofed, and ready to be published. Second, you should not file for a copyright if you plan to publish traditionally or, in some cases, with a full-service self-publisher. In these cases, your publisher will very likely make changes to your work to follow in-house style guides, and once your work is ready to go to print, your publisher will file your copyright for you. There is no need to copyright your work before it is published—and doing so may create a great deal of added work and expense.

Even if you have not yet filed for your copyright—or, if you have filed and have not yet received confirmation (it takes 8 to 13 months for the US Copyright Office to process your request for copyright), you may still use the copyright symbol and a copyright notice on your work. This notice is not required for your work to be covered by copyright, but including a notice of copyright could be beneficial, since it gives a reminder that your work is under copyright protection, it identifies to whom the copyright belongs to, and it gives the year the work was first published.

The copyright notice should be placed on the back of your title page. (You should not add a watermark to every page screaming “COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL.” This serves only to identify you as an amateur.)  The copyright symbol ( © ) can be created in Microsoft Word by typing a left parenthesis, the letter “C,” and a right parenthesis, with no spaces. MS Word will convert this automatically to the copyright symbol. Alternately, you can spell out the word “copyright.” The copyright symbol or word should be followed by the year the manuscript was first published (or requested to be published) and the owner of the copyright (your name or company). It should also include the statement “All rights reserved.” Here’s an example of how this should look: “© 2002 Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved.”

Other statements may follow the copyright notice. There are several formats that can be used, so you may want to examine the title page of several books and novels to see the type of material that may be included here. Here is a simple example:

                  Copyright © 2016 by Your Name. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

                  This Is My Book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


You may register your copyright either online or by snail mail. The application to register a copyright includes three requirements: completing the application form, paying a filing fee (currently $35), and submitting a non-returnable copy (or two, if you submit by snail mail) of your work. As of this printing, the wait time for an online application is 8 months, and the wait time for a snail-mailed application is 13 months, so it is more expedient to apply online.

To file online, go to the Copyright Office website at Be sure to read the tutorial on how to apply, and be aware that you’ll need to file Form TX. When you apply online, you can upload the final, proofed copy of your manuscript as it will appear when published. Also, be aware that a $35 fee (as of this printing) is required when you submit the request.

If you prefer to register by snail mail, you must first get an application from the Copyright Office website ( or by calling the Forms and Publications Hotline at 202-707-9100 (You will want Form TX). Once you’ve completely filled out the application, you can send it with a $35 filing fee and two copies of your book to:

                Library of Congress
                Copyright Office
                101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
                Washington, D.C. 20559-6000

You will not receive your material back from the Copyright Office.

One final word of warning: there are many scams associated with filing a copyright, so, as in all things, tread carefully. There are many companies who are willing to file your copyright for you—for a small fee. There is no reason to do this, as you will still need to fill out the forms, pay the copyright fee, and submit a copy of your book. It saves you no time and only costs you more money. There are also companies who claim they can “bypass” the wait or have special ways to deal with the bureaucracy. RUN! There is no way to speed up the process. Some scams claim they have an “alternate” copyright that is easier and faster. THERE IS NO SUCH THING. And, finally, some companies will access the Library of Congress listings and send you an email or letter stating that they have seen your work and want to publish your work. This is another scam by so-called “subsidy” publishers to separate you from your money.

So be careful out there. Learn to copyright—not wrong.

5 Reasons to Go to a Writers Conference

Jessica Nelson

I just got back from the three-day West Virginia Writers Conference in Ripley, WV. It’s one of the best gatherings of writers in the tri-state area. For the past five years, I’ve attended the weekend conference. I always have fun, and I always learn more about writing and the importance of fonts from Fontspace. And I always come back inspired to dive back into my various projects. So in honor of conference season, I’m giving you five great reasons to go to a conference.

1. You’ll learn something new. Writers conferences are a great place to learn new tips, techniques, shortcuts, and methods to improve your writing. Most conferences offer a variety of workshops in a variety of genres; you can learn more about your chosen genre, or you can branch out and try something you haven’t written before. If you go to a workshop on a genre you don’t usually write, you can learn something new that will help you with your current projects. A poetry workshop will teach you the importance of the perfect word and how to hear the musicality of your lines. A workshop on fantasy or sci-fi will teach you world-building, while a workshop on thrillers will teach you how to build suspense.

2. You’ll have fun. Writers conferences can be a blast! Workshops are filled with laughter as you learn and share stories. Meals are spent swapping stories with new friends and old. Free time is spent chatting with strangers or browsing books. And at the West Virginia Writers conference, nights are spent either around the bonfire with s’mores or hanging out on the back porch with music and adult beverages. Or, if you’re me, nights are spent in the room with your roommates, alternately kicking butt and getting your butt kicked at cards and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

3. You can build a network. Having a network of authors, agents, editors, and publishers can be super helpful later down the road. And conferences are a great place to build that network! Many writers conferences will bring in a publisher or an agent or some other kind of book-industry representative. Go talk to them. Say hi. Get their business card. Pitch your novel. Make a friend. These are the kinds of people you will want to help you when it’s time for you to get your novel out into the world.

4. You might be able to go for free or at a reduced cost. I’m not sure about all conferences, but West Virginia Writers allows high school and college students to attend the conference for free in exchange for working as interns. Which is fine by this college student, because it means I do everything I normally would anyway, plus I get to help in workshops and get close to the presenters. This year, WV Writers offered conference scholarships in the name of Terry W. McNemar, a former WV Writers president who recently passed away. Do some research on your local conferences. They might offer scholarship or reduced rates. But you’ll never know if you don’t look.

5. You’ll make new friends. One of my favorite parts of conference is seeing the two dozen or so friends that I only get to see once a year. Sure, I keep up with them on social media, but it’s nice to catch up in person. And every year I make new friends. All I have to do is sit down next to someone and ask an opening question: Where are you from? or What do you write? Then I let the conversation flow. It’s great to listen to fellow writers animatedly talk about their current projects or favorite books. Let’s be frank: it’s just awesome to be surrounded by people whose weird matches your weird. Because those people, my friends, become your tribe.

An Interview with Sandi Rog

Sandi Rog

Sandi Rog, one of our beloved editors and the author of Out of the Ashes (a 2016 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award finalist), has announced her imminent retirement from IFW. But she is moving on to bigger and better things–like her own publishing company! We are so proud of Sandi and honored that she agreed to be interviewed about her new company. We wish her the best of luck for the future.
And, without further ado, an interview with the splendid Sandi Rog.
–Jessica Nelson
Q: Congratulations on establishing your new publishing company, TULPEN PUBLISHING!What inspired you/made you decide to start your own publishing company?

A: That’s a great question. As you all know, I’m an author, and after getting several royalty checks over the years, I discovered, I can make more money off the blood, sweat, and tears put into my books if I publish them myself. This is becoming a trend among many writers, even bestselling authors.

 A good contract will pay authors 10 percent off the “retail,” meaning 10 percent off the price of the book. So if the book sold for $14.00, the author would get $1.40 per book. This is considered a fair royalty rate from publisher to author. However, there are publishers out there who only pay 10 percent off the “wholesale” price or “net” worth. That means if the book costs $7.00 to print, the author would only earn 70 cents off each sale of the book. I’ve dealt with publishers who pay both these amounts, and in my opinion (and most agents will agree), the royalty amount of 10 percent off the “wholesale” is unethical and unfair to the author. Not what I’d call “author friendly” at all. Ultimately, this is what motivated me to publish my own book, but I also made my company available to other writers because I know a lot of talented authors out there who can’t get a big house to take their work. It’s my goal for Tulpen Publishing to be another avenue for those authors so they can get their books published.

Q: Will you be publishing e-books, print-bound, or both? 

A: I will be publishing e-books and print books. I will say the e-books are the biggest sellers. I’ve made ten times more on my e-book sales than I have on my print sales. E-books are now the biggest sellers in the market.

Q: Is there a set royalties factor for each title, or will royalties be based on the genre?

A: I’m eager to treat any author who writes for Tulpen Publishing with a fair royalty rate. All authors, of any genre, will receive 10 percent off the retail price of their book.

Q: Do you plan to publish an equal number of male and female authors? (I ask this, because numbers are adversely skewed in favor of men with the majority of US publishers, outside of the romance genre.) New and established authors?

A: I plan to publish books that have a great story and are written well, no matter who the book is written by, whether male or female, or new or established. If you’re a new author and your book hasn’t been edited, please don’t submit it. Don’t waste your time, or mine. I will reject it. I’ve already had to reject several manuscripts for this very reason. This is also why I’ve added Inspiration for Writers (IFW) to my website. For people who need an editor, they can go to someone I trust. It’s important they know I’m not making a profit from any of their edits if I send them to IFW. If you run into a publisher that offers editing services, RUN in the opposite direction. They can’t be trusted, and they may just be out to get your money with the promise of publishing your book if you pay an exorbitant amount of fees. An author should never have to pay to be published (unless they specifically hire a self-publishing company). Tulpen Publishing is a traditional publisher. We don’t charge our authors for anything.

Q: Do you consider a writer’s platform before offering a publication contract?

A: Platform is very important; however, I’ve seen authors without platforms become big sellers because their story is great! But I will look at an author’s platform, and that will have an influence on my decision. For those who don’t know what a “platform” is, read this ARTICLE.

Platform is kind of like managers saying, “We won’t hire you if you don’t have any experience.” Well, how do you get experience if you can’t get a job? Many publishers won’t take on an author if they don’t have a platform. In my experience, a GOOD STORY is what sells and what will then help build your platform, so don’t be discouraged if your platform is a little flimsy. Still, I do hope to see an author online: Facebook, website, blog, etc. We want more than just family and friends to buy the book.

Q: How involved will your company be with promotions? (i.e., book tour, advertising, free review copies, interviews, etc.)

A: Once an author is published with Tulpen, we initially offer 20 free books for promotions, giveaways, copies to keep, etc. The author’s book will be on our website, along with the author’s bio and a brief description of the book. We will also provide more copies (if the author has need) for promotions such as book signings, etc.

 Publishers today, whether big or small, have little to do with marketing. All the marketing belongs to the author, which is why it’s important to have a platform. I do share a Marketing Plan Sheet with my authors, and in fact, HERE’S A LINK to a welcome letter I send to all of Tulpen’s new authors (something few publishers offer).

Q: Will your company’s books be stocked in independent bookstores, major bookstores, department stores?

A: Tulpen Publishing is a POD press, so if a person wishes to purchase an author’s book from, let’s say B&N, the buyer will have to order it, and will likely even be charged shipping (unless they’re a member of B&N; then they won’t have to pay for shipping). As for independent bookstores, if the author knows of one in their hometown, Tulpen can send the bookseller the author’s book(s) to put on their shelves. These small booksellers are usually more open to putting local authors’ books on their shelves, and it’s best for the author to make initial contact while Tulpen does the follow-up.

Tulpen Publishing’s wish is to put God first: to be ethical, honest, furnish reliable edits, and offer an “author-friendly” environment with no upfront costs, industry-competitive compensation at 10 percent off the retail price, world-wide distribution, and numerous tips and help for marketing.

Q: Are you actively seeking submissions? If so, where are your submission guidelines posted?

A: Yes, we are open to submissions. You can read our submission guidelines HERE.

Q: Will you only be publishing Christian books?

A: If a book is clean according to your best judgment and a character experiences moral growth, Tulpen will be willing to take a look. But Tulpen is principally focused on Christian books.

Q: You’re already a multi-published author, so what advice do you have for new writers who want to break into publication?

A: Write a story that you’re passionate about, a story that excites you. If you’re not excited, your readers won’t be either. Finally, learn the craft! The editors here at IFW can teach you a lot. But before hiring an editor, get your hands on the books below. Not only will they make your editor’s job easier, learning on your own first will improve your manuscript so much that you won’t have to hire an editor two or three times to get your book where it needs to be.

“Self-editing for Fiction Writers” by Dave King and Rennie Browne
“The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman
“As the Plot Thickens” by Noah Lukeman

Thank you so much for having me. It was an honor to be interviewed by my favorite editors.


Sandy Tritt

Pacing is a tool writers have to control the speed in which a story reads. Lush, descriptive segments slow the pace, giving readers a breather. Rapid-fire dialogue speeds the pace, leaving the reader breathless. It is up to the writer to decide when the pace needs quickened and when it should be put in slow gear.

Perhaps the easiest way to judge is to ask questions as you read. Do you start drifting? You need action. Is the conversation or action moving too quickly? You need narrative to even out the pacing. Beware, though, not to use repetition to slow your pace. Instead, find new things to say or new things to focus on. For example, during a highly emotional scene that is moving too quickly, allow the character to study a picture on the wall or watch children playing nearby. Or allow him to remember a conversation from the past. Or focus on one of his other senses, such as the smells or sounds in the background. This can add depth and an emotional layer, as well as slowing the pace.

We can also slow the pace of a chapter or even the entire manuscript by adding more description, more exposition (background information) and more internal dialogue (character thoughts).

Let’s look at an example:


Ray walked the mile from the hospital to Bob’s Sunoco. He found Gary in the bay, changing the oil on a pale blue Cadillac. He kicked his brother’s feet until Gary rolled from beneath the car. “We gotta talk.”

            “I get off at three.”


            “What’s up?”

            “Let’s walk.”  

            Gary followed Ray outside and toward town. “What did the doctor say about Mom?”

            “He put her in the hospital.”


            “He got the tests back.”


            “What did the doctor say?” Gary repeated.

            “She’s got cancer.”

            Gary stopped walking. “Cancer?”

             “Something about a mass in her brain.”

             “Does she need surgery? Does she have to take chemo? Or radiation?”

            “He says there ain’t nothing they can do. He says it’s too late.”      
            “Too late? Too late for what?”

            “Dr. Brown says . . .” Ray rubbed his head. “He says it’s too late. He says she ain’t coming home.”

            “What’re we gonna do?” he said.

            “About what?”

            Gary took a new pack of Marlboros from his pocket and tapped it against his palm. “The boys.”

            “I guess we gotta pick them up from school and fix them something to eat.”

            “I don’t mean now,” Gary said, opening the cigarettes. “Until they’re grown. Who’ll take care of them?”

            “Mom will.”

            “You okay?”

            Ray scratched the five-day-old stubble on his chin. “They made a mistake. We just gotta find Dad and get this all straightened out. Dad will know what to do.”

            Gary lit a cigarette and slowly exhaled.


This is an important scene, filled with kinetic emotion. Yet, it passes so quickly we don’t feel the full impact of it. This is where we need to slow the pacing down. To do this, we add two things: internal dialogue and description. In our rewrite, I will put the internal dialogue in red and the added descriptive passages in purple. See how slowing the pace adds power to the words:           

            Ray walked the mile from the hospital to Bob’s Sunoco. He found Gary in the bay, changing the oil on a pale blue Cadillac. He kicked his brother’s feet until Gary rolled from beneath the car. “We gotta talk.”

            “I get off at three.”


            Gary stood and wiped his hands on an oily rag. “What’s up?”

            “Let’s walk.” Ray feared his brain was going to explode. Too much was going on, too many things were changing. He’d read the front page of the newspaper over and over while waiting in the doctor’s office. The Apollo 7 astronauts were heading home after eleven days in space. President Johnson was negotiating for the release of fourteen North Vietnamese POW’s. And Jackie Kennedy, the dead President’s wife, was marrying a Greek billionaire the very next day. He didn’t even know if it was legal for the President’s widow to marry a foreigner.

            Gary followed Ray outside and toward town. “What did the doctor say about Mom?”

            “He put her in the hospital.”

            Colorful leaves swirled around their ankles, the drier ones crunching under their heavy steps. Gary kicked them out of his way. “Why?”

            “He got the tests back.”


            A young mother, her sweater flapping in the wind, pushed a baby carriage over the uneven sidewalk with one hand and pulled a stubborn toddler with the other. Ray stepped into the street to let her pass.

            “What did the doctor say?” Gary repeated.

            “She’s got cancer.”

            Gary stopped walking. “Cancer?”

            Ray slowed down until Gary caught up. “Something about a mass in her brain.”

            Gary was quiet for a long time, then spoke softly. “Does she need surgery? Does she have to take chemo? Or radiation?”

            “He says there ain’t nothing they can do. He says it’s too late.” Ray remembered that part very well. He’d argued with Dr. Brown, insisting there had to be something. She had three young boys who needed her.

            “Too late? Too late for what?”

            “Dr. Brown says . . .” Ray rubbed his head. “He says it’s too late. He says she ain’t coming home.”

            They walked slower, silently, past the library and into the park. Pre-schoolers played on the swings and slide, laughing and shouting.

Gary leaned against an oak tree, his dirty gray jumpsuit blending into the trunk.“What’re we gonna do?” he said.

            “About what?”

            Gary took a new pack of Marlboros from his pocket and tapped it against his palm. “The boys.”

            “I guess we gotta pick them up from school and fix them something to eat.”

            “I don’t mean now,” Gary said, opening the cigarettes. “Until they’re grown. Who’ll take care of them?”

            “Mom will.”

            “You okay?”

            Ray scratched the five-day-old stubble on his chin. “They made a mistake. We just gotta find Dad and get this all straightened out. Dad will know what to do.”

            Gary lit a cigarette and slowly exhaled.

            Ray watched the smoke disappear into the October-blue sky. A foreigner. Two hundred million people in the United States and the President’s widow was going to marry a foreigner. No wonder the world was so damned screwed up.


 Likewise, to speed the pace, omit everything except for the direct action or dialogue. Ignore descriptions, ignore reactions, ignore anything other than the bare necessities. This is necessary when the action is more important than character reflection. Let’s look at the following example, in which Gary and Ray are trying to repair a barn roof destroyed in a storm when the storm comes around again. Gary slips on the wet roof and is now on the steep slope of the roof, his weight partially held by a fragile drainpipe below. Ray is able to extend one hand, which Gary has grabbed onto. David is trying to reposition the ladder so Gary can climb down. Here’s how NOT to do it: 

            “Can you reach the ladder with your foot?” Ray asked. He wondered how long it would be until the drainpipe gave way.

            “If I move it,” Gary said, “I won’t have anything to hold onto.”

             “Just me.” Ray’s arm ached from holding Gary’s weight. He hoped David had seen what was going on and would try to move the ladder. Someone had to do something. Otherwise, Gary would fall.

            “I don’t trust you that much,” Gary said.

            “Looks like you ain’t got much choice.” The rain still fell. Ray looked at the sky. Dark clouds hovered even lower. The rain was there to stay.

            The ladder vibrated again.

            “Shit,” Ray whispered. “I wish they’d stop shaking that thing.” It made him nervous. Surely David knew that shaking the ladder also shook the gutter. And any little movement added pressure to it. It could snap at any time.

            “I wish they’d stack up some hay underneath me.”

            “Hell, as much rain as we’ve got today, you’d just land in the mud. Ain’t gonna get much softer than that.” The mud had to be deep. But still, he knew it was a long fall and Gary would most likely break some bones or worse. He remembered when he’d broken his leg in tenth grade. It was so difficult trying to get around the school on crutches and it seemed that his leg itched all the time. He’d stuck an unbent clothes hanger under the cast to scratch his leg.

            “You trying to tell me to jump?”

            “Nah. You’d probably pull me down with you.” Ray knew Gary wouldn’t really do that. But he also knew Gary was still angry with him for spending the money on the drum set.

            “I’d damn sure try.”

            “Let me have your foot,” David’s voice said.

            “No,” Gary answered.

            The roof shimmered in the rain. If the situation had been different, it would even have been beautiful.

            “I’m right underneath you,” David said. “If you lift your left foot, I’ll put it on the rung.”

            “Shit,” Gary said. “I’m trusting Ray to hold me and you to guide me. I might as well jump.”

            “Or apologize for being such an ass all the time.”

            Ray smiled. David had a point. All the boys had taken Ray’s side of the argument. Except maybe for Joey, who hadn’t said anything. But then, Joey never did talk much.

            “I’ll jump first.”


It’s difficult to be too worried about Gary with all the internal dialogue muddying the situation. Let’s look at how cutting all the internal dialogue and description adds immediacy and excitement to this scene: 

            “Can you reach the ladder with your foot?”

            “If I move it,” Gary said, “I won’t have anything to hold onto.”

             “Just me.” Ray’s arm ached from holding Gary’s weight.

            “I don’t trust you that much,” Gary said.

            “Looks like you ain’t got much choice.”

            The ladder vibrated again.

            “Shit,” Ray whispered. “I wish they’d stop shaking that thing.”

            “I wish they’d stack up some hay underneath me.”

            “Hell, as much rain as we’ve got today, you’d just land in the mud. Ain’t gonna get much softer than that.”

            “You trying to tell me to jump?”

            “Nah. You’d probably pull me down with you.”

            “I’d damn sure try.”

            “Let me have your foot,” David’s voice said.

            “No,” Gary answered.

            “I’m right underneath you,” David said. “If you lift your left foot, I’ll put it on the rung.”

            “Shit,” Gary said. “I’m trusting Ray to hold me and you to guide me. I might as well jump.”

            “Or apologize for being such an ass all the time.”

            “I’ll jump first.”


Reading our prose aloud is perhaps the best way to judge the pace. Listen as you read and consider if the action is happening too fast or not fast enough. And remember, there is never one right answer. The pace of your story is just one more element that contributes to your unique writing style. Experiment, study, write. But in the end, use your own judgment.

Seven Deadly Sins of Writing: #4 Purple Prose

Recently, I beta-read a piece for a friend, and I noticed many of my suggestions involved cutting words or tightening sentences. Since it’s been on my mind, I decided to dig up the following excerpt from our “Seven Deadly Sins of Writing” tip sheet. I hope this as helpful to all of you as it was to me as I assisted my friend with her story. Happy writing!

~Jessica Nelson


By strict definition, “purple prose” refers to writing that is overly descriptive and/or detailed (overwritten), drawing attention to itself. However “purple prose” can also refer to poor writing habits that add nothing but fluff. Here are some things you should avoid:

UNNECESSARY WORDS. This is the easiest place to start looking for fat. Any word that doesn’t add to your story detracts from it. If a sentence reads equally well with or without a word (such as “that”), cut the extra word. Examine your prose for words like these: started to, began to, proceeded to, could, would, there was, there are, there is, there were, seemed to, tried to.

Bad: She began to walk to the store.
Good: She walked to the store.

Bad: It appeared that the suitcase was heavy.
Good: It appeared the suitcase was heavy.
Better: Marcus struggled to lift the suitcase.

Bad: Jackie would run to the bus stop each day.
Good: Jackie ran to the bus stop each day.

Bad: Jarod could hear laughter coming from the basement.
Good: Jarod heard laughter coming from the basement.
Better: Laughter erupted from the basement.

INTENSIFIERS. Very, really, totally, completely, truly and so on. Is completely empty any more empty?

Bad: The room was totally quiet.
Good: The room was quiet.

CLICHÉS. Instead of reusing phrases that you’ve heard before, find fresh ways of saying things. Common clichés, such as “happy as a pig in a poke” are fairly easy to find. However, be aware that emotions, descriptions, characters, etc. can also be cliché. If it’s been said before or used before, it’s cliché.

ADVERBS AND ADJECTIVES. Instead of using an adverb to make a weak verb stronger or an adjective to make a weak noun stronger, omit the adverb or adjective and choose a stronger verb or noun. Also resist the urge to stack adjectives. Select the one (at most two) adjectives that are the most descriptive and omit the rest.

Bad: She quickly and purposefully walked to Blaine and sharply hit his arm.
Good: She strode to Blaine and punched his arm.

Bad: Janet was tired, worn out and exhausted.
Good: Janet was exhausted.
Better: Janet forced her leg to raise, move forward, step back down. Then the other. It felt as though her legs were encased in concrete.

EUPHEMISMS. Instead of using euphemisms (attention: romance and love-scene writers!) for parts of the body, use real words. Too much fluff is just like too much dessert—it leaves us heaving.

Please Write Badly

Charlotte Firbank-King

When we start writing, almost all of us write badly. I have never seen a baby that looks now like it will fifteen or twenty years down the line—some beautiful babies turn into ugly adults and visa-versa. A baby gabbles nonsensically, and toddlers string garbled words together that often don’t make sense, but they’re learning. Regardless at how adept they are at using the language, kids are painfully honest. They express their emotional truth without apology.

More often than not, the first stories we write contains major flaws in the grammar or technique, yet they often have the same strange innocence and honesty expressed by children.

At around thirteen, girls learn how to put on makeup. Later, they may use plastic surgery and dress to hide impurities—and they learn how to deceive and hide personality defects.

Equate this to writing. As we grow, we add even more adjectives and adverbs, and we indulge in “clever” writing to fool the reader. Instead of striving for natural perfection, we embellish.

At adulthood, people who are willing to grow and become real learn how to accept their perceived physical flaws and concentrate instead on becoming better human beings. However, this metamorphosis into honest awareness of self may only happen years later—and sometimes it never happens, and those adults live under the illusion of being good and beautiful.

Writers are the same. Some grow and learn and become better. But others live under the illusion of being good writers despite repeated rejections from publishers and readers.

Hopefully, growth does happen, and that’s when we get real as writers. We strip off the makeup and get down to living—really living/writing. We learn to trust that our inner beauty is what counts—we learn to trust our writing. We also learn that readers aren’t stupid, that they get it without us explaining every last detail and describing every scene as though they lack imagination.

It’s okay to start out ugly. Write from the heart—just write like you used to—write badly. Forget about the silly concept of writer’s block—that’s a cop-out. Just write without embellishments/makeup.

Now, take that horrible writing and edit it, then repeat the process another hundred times or more. The only obligations we have as writers is to be honest with ourselves and grow so that we can entertain readers. This road to honesty and self-awareness is a lonely one and only we can travel it.

Love it or hate it, we know our own face, and we can only work with what we know. So it is with writing—work with what you know. If you know nothing about politics or forensics, then don’t go down that rabbit hole unless you’re prepared to do a mountain of research/plastic surgery—knowing that even with all the research, you still stand the danger of not ringing true, just as a face covered by plastic surgery is not the real you.

So write badly about what you know and be honest. Readers will love you more for being you and entertaining them with what feels real. Don’t get me wrong. Writing is all about smoke and mirrors, but it’s how you do it that counts. Just as charisma and personality can make a person with a plain face shine and force us to see beyond the physical.

Write badly, but then polish it until all we see is the charisma and personality.

The Home Worker’s What-Do-I-Do-with-My-Children Blues: A Mini-Guide

Debora Holmes

Since my twin boys turned a year old, I’ve been a self-employed writer and editor, except when I’m getting a “normal” paycheck for regularly playing the organ at church. And technically, I’m a single parent, albeit one surrounded by a small but supportive community who is there for me in most pinches (and often in the absence of pinches, yay). Of all the holidays, Mother’s Day is perhaps the most meaningful for me. And this, in turn, reminds me of the cards I received from my then-6-year-old twin boys a couple of Mother’s Days ago.

After sneaking around most of that weekend with their school-made cards behind their backs, Mother’s Day arrived, and Tristan and Tennyson presented me with their works of art. So exciting! Turns out, their first-grade teacher’s card-for-Mom template includes a brief section, “Facts about my Mom,” where the kids fill in the blanks something like this:

What color are your mother’s eyes?  

Both of them have written green. Yep! Correct.

What is your mother’s age?

50,writes one. The other says 25. Ha, dudes. I am neither.

What is your mother’s favorite color?

On this one, I get a pink and I get a blue. So cute.

What does your mother like to do most?

And then, my smile wants very much to fade. The answer they have both given? Work.

Oooh, ouch.

So. In the spirit of love, which one may more freely give when one has MORE TIME to give it, I humbly offer my Mother’s Day gift to you, the reader: tips on how to handle this whole work–family balancing thing, especially if you work from home, and just in time for summer vacation.

Most of these constitute practical tips that also strive to address the emotional turmoil you face every day as you balance work and family in a space that encompasses both.

1.      First off, earplugs are essential. Get a pack of at least a dozen (I like the orange memory-foamish ones made by Mack’s, and they’re cheap). Warn your children that you may unintentionally ignore them and not to take it personally. Also be sure to let them know that you can still hear any fights, whines, and thuds.

2.      Actually consider inviting a (well-mannered) child over so the kid(s) can entertain themselves to some degree (and then you can hopefully get the neighbors to take your children in return). To aid in the self-entertainment part, consider becoming a Legos household, but then of course you must buy thicker slippers.

3.      Yes, the television/Netflix can babysit to some degree. Limit their hours as needed, but don’t punish yourself for allowing a TV marathon to unfold here and there. Personally, in those necessary times, I urge/foist PBS upon them early and often. NOTE: We don’t have an iPad or such, but I understand they can come in handy; however, remember those hours also count as “screen time.”

4.      Provide blankets and boxes for forts that may be built in your children’s bedroom(s) or another place that’s reasonably far from your workspace. On a slightly different note, I have one child who likes paint-by-numbers projects, which can keep him occupied for days. If you have one of those kids who is patient with such things, visit your local hobby store (in all your free time) and discover what wonderful new pastime will a) make her happy PLUS b) keep her occupied.

5.      Regarding constantly asking for milk/other drinks: Learn to live with open cups; your refrigerator air is not full of toxins (and if it is, that’s a whole ‘nother issue). Teach your children how to pour their own milk and juice, preferably out of containers a half-gallon size or less (and over a sink). Remember that, as much as you love your kids, you do them no good by being their waitress.

6.      If your deadlines are absolutely killing you, consider setting out food sources in or out of the fridge (bologna, cheese slices, fruit, crackers, bread, peanut butter, jelly). Grazing is actually good for blood sugar, and six small meals a day may be better for many than three large ones [disclaimer: I’m not a physician].

7.      Answer all “I’m bored” statements with “Okay, I’ll find some work for you to do, then.” Child(ren) will run away; problem will be solved.

8.      Set alarms for yourself on your cell phone or portable clock/watch thingy to ensure that you don’t concentrate so much as to forget to pick your children up from school, etc. (Thanks to our illustrious editor Sandy T. for reminding me of this one, after personal experience taught her well.)

9.      Walk your dog (cat?) once every hour or two. This will provide a needed break for you (experts recommend hourly breaks for workers) and you’ll both be happier and feel more connected. BUT… this blog is about your children, isn’t it? … so see #10.

10.  Of course depending on the size and nature of the dog, if you haven’t already trained your children to do so, get the kids to walk—and feed and water—the pup/cat/lizard/etc. I give my children $1.00 per week to do this, and I add a quarter tip if they don’t complain. (Yes, I know I’m cheap. But whatever.)

11.  Sports or music/drama/dance/etc. practices in your schedule? Me, too. I invested in a new, light laptop with a great battery so I can open and shut the thing on the go. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done while waiting for practices to end. If you possess an older laptop, go get yourself a new battery; that $100 you spend will pay itself back within a tiny time period.

12.  Ask for help, and always accept offers for help, from anyone (assuming you trust them). My parents are in their eighties, but they will sometimes spontaneously offer to drive or babysit. I say “yes,” except for the days when I scream “yes.”

13.  Forget about your house looking great (yeah, well, even “good” has been out of the question here for years). They won’t be around forever, and when one day they’re out the door, they’ll likely remember the household as a combination of loving and “relaxed,” and you certainly could do worse.

14.  Because it’s the right thing to do, read to your children at least 20 minutes a day. Of course, when they learn to read on their own, it will benefit you timewise (in spades) … as well as them in a thousand ways.

Always, always remember that the best thing you can offer your children is—LOVE. Most of us work because we have to, and even if we love our work, it’s tough to have to choose between paying the mortgage/rent and snuggling/laughing with the babies. Strive for balance. In the nuttiest of times, simply fling out a silly joke on the way to filling up your coffee cup, or locate them quickly for a big hug on one of your many coffee-driven trips to the bathroom.

Tell them you love them, and blow them kiss after kiss … even if across the room.

Don’t Make Your Editor Cringe

Wilma Acree

Our illustrious leader Sandy Tritt asked me to share thoughts on usages that cause us to cringe. 

Good vs. well Good is used as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun. It may appear before a noun, after a being verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), or after a linking verb such as smell. (Hint: If smell is a linking verb, you can substitute a form of be for it.) 
  • This is a good book.
  • This book is good.
  • This book seemed good at the beginning.
In all of these examples, good is an adjective describing book. Well is usually an adverb but can be used as an adjective in reference to health. Although the issue is still debated, most sources agree that I am well means I am healthy and advise its use in manuscripts and other formal writing.
Between you and I vs. between you and me Between is a preposition and requires an objective pronoun such as me. An easy test: Leave off the first noun or pronoun and the conjunction and. Between I? Definitely wrong.
Less vs. fewer These words are not interchangeable. Use less for uncountable items or values and fewer with numbers or anything that can be counted (fewer dollars, fewer jobs, but less money, less work).
Loose vs. lose Loose is an adjective meaning not tight. Lose is a verb meaning to misplace. I should tighten this loose screw before I lose it.
Awhile vs. a while A while is a noun phrase. Awhile is an adverb modifying a verb. In a prepositional phrase, use a while (for a while, in a while, etc.) The children will play awhile. After a while, I will call them in.
A lot vs. allot A lot is always two words meaning many. Avoid it in formal writing. Allot is a verb meaning to distribute. Alot is not a word. Would you write alittle?
What errors cause you to cringe? Share them and I will be happy to address them.