My best advice is don’t bother editing until you complete the first draft.
If that’s all anyone learned from the workshop, then follow it and you will thank me. I know writers who have rewritten their first chapter for years and never finished the book. You cannot judge the value of that first chapter until you can look back from the perspective of the last chapter. You might end up throwing away that first chapter!
There, there. This may come as a terrible shock, but you will discard much of that first draft, because the first draft helps you find the story, discover the characters, and shape the action. That first draft is not the final product. Think of it as fertilizer out of which your beautiful story will grow. Nobody picks up a cello for the first time and plays Vivaldi. After you write your first million words, you will learn how to shorten the process of reaching that finished product. Statistically speaking, you will write five novels before you write one worth publishing.
We discussed how the story’s structure is the foundation for the story. Is it sturdy? Is it complete? Does it have the elements of the bestsellers in your genre?
For further reading on structure, become familiar with what the experts of storytelling have to say.
I recommend buying a hard copy of these books because they will become your reference books.
- Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and Hero with a Thousand Faces.
- Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
- Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing
- Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays that Sell (2011 edition)
- James Scott Bell’s Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story and Write Your Novel from the Middle.
Other topics covered in the workshop were:
- choosing a point of view—whose story is it?
- composing scenes by cause and effect
- ordering scenes for maximum impact
- establishing the story question and when to answer it
- using the value of setting
- choosing the types and levels of conflict
- discerning scene from sequel
- timing the use of backstory, flashbacks, and transitions
- developing sensory details and fact-checking
- crafting figures of speech and imagery
- setting the pace
- proofreading and line editing with critique partners and professionals.
Thank you, Space Coast Writer’s Guild, for hosting my workshop. All the best to you!
If your writer’s group seeks workshop presenters on dialogue, editing, or writing for magazines, see my Events page.
Vote on cover art choices for the next book, get discounts on new releases, and much more.
Thank you, Space Coast Writer’s Guild for hosting my workshop “Crafting Memorable Dialogue.” This talented group has about one-third of its members published and the current President is Joanne Fisher.
After the workshop, lively questions and discussion continued. Five writers won a critique of the first 8,000 words of their manuscript. I will apply the workshop techniques to these manuscripts and email them back ASAP.
I look forward to seeing this group again on August 20 for a 2-hour workshop on editing.
West of Famous developed from a desire to create powerful women role models. This is the third book in the Compass Crimes collection. The stories are connected by the ensemble cast of characters whose lives intersect because of crimes. Like the previous two books, this one features a heroine whose life is overturned by a crime, but she does not react as a victim waiting like a fairy tale princess to be rescued.
I was raised on stories like Cinderella, but I wanted my stories to be more like the 1998 movie Ever After. My favorite scene in that updated version of the Cinderella story is when Drew Barrymore, playing Danielle, rescues the prince from a band of gypsies.
In West of Famous, Martina Ramos is mistaken for a celebrity by kidnappers. She does not have the option of waiting to be rescued because only the kidnappers know where she is, and they don’t value her life. Those who value her life don’t know she’s missing.
My desire to create strong women role models comes from a deep-seated sense of rebellion. When I was in grade school oh, so long ago, society expected girls to choose from a short list of roles: teacher, nun, wife, and mother, nurse, secretary, waitress, or stewardesses. But I wanted to write. It was as though all other career options were considered unsuitable for good girls. To say I wanted to write was tantamount to declaring I wanted to be homeless or insane. An outlier. An outcast.
Like Sara Paretsky so brilliantly describes in Writing in the Age of Silence, women have been told by society to be quiet, to keep their opinions to themselves, to be seen and not heard. But Dorothy Parker, Pearl S. Buck, Harriet Tubman, Virginia Woolf, and Harper Lee told entertaining stories that challenged people’s perceptions about the status quo.
My high school guidance counselor tried to dissuade me from going to college even though I was an honors graduate. By then I’d already started earning money as a writer. I told her that if she wasn’t going to help me, she should get out of my way. So off I went to Indiana University to earn a degree in journalism.
I write stories about bold women who fight to overcome whatever life throws at them because we need role models like that.
I have one. While I was in college, my mother was widowed for the second time. So, after raising three children and surviving two toxic marriages, she announced at age 55 she had quit her job as a legal secretary to go to law school. It was as inspiring as it was heartbreaking that she was finally going to do what she wanted to do.
I’d like to be a bold role model for my daughter Jessica, but if she gets any bolder, I’ll have to raise bail. There is quite a strong similarity between her and the heroine of West of Famous, but don’t tell her that.
This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine, Winter 15, 2019 edition.
By the way, In my forties I fulfilled a lifelong dream and earned my pilot’s license. Only 6% of pilots are women, so yeah, this was life-affirming and empowering. I then earned my instrument-rating. My husband also flies, so we have to take turns to prevent a wrestling match into the cockpit. I want to lead by example and encourage other women to be bolder.
As a reader, I love to learn new things when I read fiction. I enjoy experiencing danger vicariously and seeing the world from different perspectives. As an author, I strive to craft that same thrill for my readers. Research is how to nail the details that create that you-are-there insider’s experience.
We’ve all read stories that fail at this. I am an instrument-rated private pilot with a little training in aerobatics. When I encounter blunders in a story about aviation, the magic of being in the story falls apart. I don’t want to be that author who breaks the magic.
Why write what you know when you can write about exciting things you are learning? As a pilot, of course, I’m going to use that knowledge and experience in stories. But I can’t become an expert in everything, so I find experts willing to share their knowledge and experience.
HEROS OF RESEARCH
Authors James A. Michener, Ridley Pearson, David Morrell, and Steve Berry exemplify the serious kind of research that elevates their stories to the bestseller category. Michener’s tome Hawaii presents the geologic formation of the islands to establish the setting for readers. Pearson’s research in his crime stories is revered by detectives for thoroughness. Morrell spent 35 days carrying a 60-lb. backpack through the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming with the National Outdoor Wilderness School to research is book Testament.
Here’s my process.
Where does the story happen? For North of the Killing Hand, I drew on travel experience in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and Columbia for the scenes in the Amazon. The photos taken in these remote places reminded me of the density and types of foliage. Journals reminded me of the smells, sounds, oppressive dampness, and dangers.
Beyond personal experience there comes online research and trips to the library for demographics. How many people live there and who are they? What languages do they speak? How do they travel? How do they communicate? What cultural differences stand out? Crime? Education? How do people make a living in the Amazon? What are their religious and ethical beliefs?
For West of Famous, which debuts February 17, 2019, I spent a week on a trawler because a huge portion of the story takes place on such a boat. All the library research in the world cannot capture the smell of diesel, the constant motion of the boat, the sounds of the engines, or how to find compartments large enough to stuff a body. The boat owners, Paul and Caryn Frink, went above and beyond in helping me.
They took me to the oh-so-remote site in the Everglades where part of the story takes place and dropped anchor. They let me ride in the engine compartment while the boat was underway. I had to test if screaming could be heard over the sound of the engine.
I took copious notes and photographed everything at various times of day and night to nail the details. Online research cannot compare. Paul, retired navy with a strong engineering background, taught me more about boats and boat engines in a week than I learned from months of other research. Hands-on research beats online research any day! Fun, too! The rocking sensation stopped two days after I returned home.
For each character, major and minor, I want to know who they are. What makes them behave the way they do? What does the character fear? What does the character want? For minor characters, the basic information reads like a police profile: height, weight, age, gender, race, education, and basic history. For major characters, deeper analysis works.
In South of Justice, the main character Dr. Terri Pinehurst-Clayton is a veterinarian. What does it take to become a veterinarian? The info uncovered during research appeared in the book, especially the items that grabbed my attention. Did you know it is tougher to enter veterinarian school than medical school? That tidbit of info led me to find out why. The answer found its way into the book because inquiring minds want to know. At one point in the story, Terri bolsters her courage by reminding herself that she graduated at the top of her class because of her intellectual tenacity. She then decides to begin her own investigation into her husband’s past.
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the main characters empowers the author to leverage these traits in the story. I have interviewed experts to gain insight into the how and why of their work.
I suppose such research is similar to method acting. I want to learn so much that I can step inside a character to experience life from a new perspective in a new place under circumstances I pray I never have to experience in real life.
Which authors do you admire for creating stories that make you feel you are there?
This article first appeared on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog October 2, 2017. The president of Americas Great Cruise Loopers Association read my book and loved it. I was invited to their gathering in Norfolk, Virginia to sign books on a boat. I blogged about the Book Signing on a Boat.
We’ve all slogged through novels with boring, predictable, or chit-chat dialogue. In many genres, dialogue makes up half of the novel, so dialogue can make or break your bond with readers. You can learn how to craft purposeful, quotable dialogue, by discovering and applying techniques used by screenwriters and playwrights. The 4-week Crafting Memorable Dialogue Workshop offers ten practical lessons to apply immediately to your work in progress.
The lessons present:
• discovering when and when not to use dialogue
• infusing a scene with the right level of conflict
• employing text and subtext
• creating suspense
• transforming the predictable
• cutting to the chase
• individualizing characters through speech markers
• applying the stimulus/response pattern for clarity
• using three types of tags to show goals, motivations, and conflict
• and formatting and punctuating dialogue properly.
After teaching this popular workshop for ten years, I cut back on how often I offer it because of writing commitments. This will be the only time it’s available this year.
“The lessons were exactly what I needed to know and I can’t wait to go through my WIP (work in progress) and apply my new knowledge.” Debbie Curtis
“My eyes are well and truly opened now. I shall read and reread your notes on dialogue.” Roseanne Smiles
“I love your teaching style and your charts are particularly helpful for quick reference.” Sharon Lightsey
Registration opens on July 22. The workshop is hosted by Romance Writers of America’s Online Chapter. The fee for non-members is a mere $ 15.
Register through this link: August online workshop on Crafting Memorable Dialogue.
In “retirement” he launched his writing career. With 27 books published and more on the way, he writes non-fiction under his real name. His River City series of police procedurals put him on the literary map. River City is a fictional version of Spokane. His pen name for his multiple crime series is Frank Zafiro. He has been featured as the Amazon’s top author of police procedurals.
As if that isn’t enough to fill his time, Frank also produces a podcast series called Wrong Place / Write Crime. Frank’s podcasts feature interviews with authors of crime, thrillers, suspense, and mysteries, and more.
We met at Bouchercon 2018 in St. Petersburg, Florida. My friend Donna Kelly and I were wandering the halls of the Vinoy Renaissance the day before the conference began. As newbies to the conference and the beautiful Vinoy resort, we wanted to get our bearings. Okay, yeah, we were goofing off.
We met Frank. Charming, funny, and just as eager as we were to discover Bouchercon, Frank admitted this was his first Bouchercon. Like kids at a theme park, we ran into each other over the following days to swap stories of meeting our literary heroes and all the free books we’d scored.
“Fill a hotel with few thousand socially-challenged introverts, folks for whom the ‘I’d rather be reading’ T-shirt was created, and force them to spend a long autumn weekend together, and what have you got? Bouchercon—and you’d be a fool to miss it.”~Lawrence Block
At the end of the conference, Frank invited me to schedule an interview for his podcast. We recorded it on February 7th. As a three-book author, I was thrilled to be included on his podcast. He’s interviewed best-selling and award-winning authors such as, Christopher Moore, Joe Clifford, Eric Beetner, Larry Kelter, and Dave Zeltersman. They talk about their experiences in turning a novel into a film, collaborating with other authors, the writing craft, and fearing that their internet searches put them on government watch lists.
Though I won’t be able to attend this year’s Bouchercon in Dallas, I know Frank will. He’s earned another fan by being himself. Frank is a cool guy. Frank is also an amazing author of crime fiction.
To listen to his 10-minute podcast with me, click here: Episode 33.
Thank you, Frank! You are a gentleman and a dangerously fun guy.