Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Secret is Out! (Plus a Book Recommendation) by MB Partlow

If you happened to miss the September Write Brain, you’re probably wondering what the Super Secret Incentive is for entering the Contest early. And I’m here to tell you. How fortuitous is that?

Let’s see, where to begin.
·      2012 marks the 20th Pikes Peak Writers Conference. (Keep that number, 20, in mind.)
·      Many people use the Conference as the ideal vehicle for pitching their manuscript to an agent or editor.
·      People who don’t interact with agents and editors on a regular basis (and even some who do) have been known to get nervous when it’s time to pitch that piece of their heart and soul known as their manuscript.
Aha! Everyone who enters the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Writing Contest BY Oct. 15, 2011, will be entered in a very special drawing. The 20 lucky winners will each get a 20 minute one-on-one pitch coaching session with one of our experienced pitch coaches at the 2012 20th anniversary Conference.

Isn’t it nice how that all falls together?

But wait! What if you win the pitch coaching session but for some reason can’t attend the Conference? We’ll still do the pitch coaching session via telephone, at a time mutually agreeable to you and your coach.

And what’s this about a book recommendation? At the Write Brain, the subject of Point of View came up. In the course of that discussion, I mentioned the “first person, plural” POV, which is written in the “we” voice.

This is probably the rarest POV, not to mention the hardest to write well. Someone asked for an example. I said, oh, I have the perfect example, a wonderful urban fantasy set in London. I then proceeded to forget the author, the title and even the main character’s name. But I did say I would find the information and make it available. The first book in the series is A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, and it’s the first book in the Matthew Swift series. I don’t want to give away any plot details, because I thought the story was unique and impressive. But I will tell you the author uses both “I” and “we” POV for the same character, and by the end of page three I wasn’t sure where I was going but I knew I wasn’t going to stop until I found out. Since then, I’ve read books two and three in the series with equal enjoyment. If you’re looking for something unique, you might want to give this a try.

     -- MB Partlow, 2012 PPW Fiction Contest Coordinator

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

October Write Brain 10/11/11: Writing the Dreaded Synopsis with Hilari Bell

Writing a synopsis is probably the most hated and feared task a writer tackles, but we all have to do it.  This workshop will detail a synopsis structure that tells you what you must put in, what you’ll have to leave out--and how to create a synopsis that can bring your story to life for the agent or editor who reads it.

Call for volunteers! 

The best way to learn a technique is by using it. I’d like to choose a handful of synopses for the group to rewrite during this workshop.  Would anyone be willing to submit their synopsis for public brainstorming?  It might be a bit unnerving, but on the other hand you might also end up with a synopsis that you don’t have to write yourself! 

Send your volunteer synopses to:

* Depending on how many synopses I get and how long the brainstorming takes, there will probably be synopses we don’t get around to revising -- and if yours is one of them I apologize in advance.  -- Hilari

Hilari Bell has been called the poster child for persistence.  The first novel she sold was the fifth she'd written, and when it sold she was working on novel fourteen. She now has eighteen conventionally published novels with another under contract, and is now branching into e-publishing her backlist novels and her writing tips.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  – Mark Twain

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Write Brain Report: Ratcheting Up the Tension in Your Novel by Robin Widmar

Denise Vega’s Worst Case Scenario: Ratcheting Up the Tension in Your Novel

Tension can be a negative thing – think tension headaches, or tension between co-workers or family members. Tension can also be a good thing. After all, cables under tension support bridges and communications towers. When it comes to writing fiction, tension keeps your reader turning the pages.

Author Denise Vega opened the August Write Brain by giving credit to agent Donald Maas. He’s not her agent, but his books Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction helped her learn how to infuse her fiction scenes with tension.

Denise describes scenes as the building blocks of a story. Each scene is a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and an end. Beginnings and ends can be physical (such as a shift in settings) or emotional (perhaps a moment of emotional or mental recognition by the character).

Before considering tension, though, Denise suggests that you examine your scenes to make sure they’re well structured. Each scene should have a beginning, middle, and end. If you can’t identify these parts, then the scene needs work.

Every scene in your novel should serve a purpose in the overall story. For a scene to remain part of your story, something must happen that causes a change in the character, reveals something about the character, moves the story forward, or furthers the plot. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why is this scene important? Remember, the scene needs to be important to the story, not just important to you.
  • What is the scene’s purpose? Does your character change in any way because of what’s happened? Change doesn’t have to be external and huge. It can be subtle and internal, such as a shift in a character’s perspective. Does the scene move the story forward, or add something to the plot? How do changes affect other characters besides the protagonist?
  • What is this scene about? It’s best to determine this before you start writing a scene, but everyone has a different process for crafting story, so you may discover a scene’s true purpose as you’re writing it.
  • Is the goal at the end of the scene the same as it was in the beginning? Why? What has or has not changed?
Look at the opening and closing of your scene - think of them as “bookends.” Does the opening pull you in? Does the scene’s ending leave you with either a sense of satisfaction or a question about what will happen next? Do the opening and closing connect to each other in some way, making it feel complete?

Once you’ve made sure your scenes are sound, you can start thinking about ramping up the tension through action, dialogue, and description.

  • Action: What will happen to the character? Will he or she succeed in completing something or escaping a situation? Tension can be added by increasing the challenges your protagonist must overcome to succeed.
  • Dialogue/Interaction between characters: You can increase tension by being selective about what your characters say, as well as how they say it. Tension can also be present in what is left unsaid. Show internal dialogue as well as external.
  • Description: You can raise tension through subtle description (a sense of foreboding), or by a crisp account of a physical or emotional conflict between characters. Use pacing and punctuation to increase tension. Put the reader in the character’s shoes.
Some additional tips to increase tension:

  • Combine scenes that have similar levels of tension to create a single, tension-infused scene.
  • Alternate between description, dialogue (external and internal), and action.
  • Use well-placed foreshadowing.
  • Add a “ticking clock” to provide a sense of urgency.
  • End a scene or chapter with something unexpected that forces your character to regroup.
  • Balance high tension scenes with some “down time” to give readers a break.
Denise had us read scenes from three different books and asked us to analyze them for tension. We identified scene elements and discussed how each writer escalated emotions for characters and the reader, demonstrated a sense of urgency, and showed changes that kept the stories moving forward.

Using tension effectively can be a challenge, but the work will pay off when you create a story that readers won’t want to put down.

To learn more about Denise Vega and her books, or to check out more writing tips, go to

About the writer: Robin Widmar works to support a horse habit and writes to follow a dream. When she’s not writing about dragons, demons, or firefighting, she discusses the rampant typographical errors threatening to take over the written world at The World Needs a Proofreader (

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Column: The Game Changes at Every Stage - The Post First-Novel Stage by Linda Rohrbough

As most of you probably know, my recently published novel, The Prophetess One: At Risk is book one of a three book series. Writing a series has its advantages and disadvantages and I’m learning about both. One of the principles I present in my workshops is the game changes at every stage. And I’m experiencing those changes.

Clearly, one of the advantages to having sold the first book in a series is I know the characters in this book now. The Prophetess One was my first novel and saying it was a battle for me to write is an understatement. But I’m one of those writers who is meticulous about details. I struggle and polish and rework until I get what I want. And that takes time.

Writing computer books, I found this to be a real detriment. While some of my best-selling colleagues were writing a computer book in a month, I took a year. Sure, I came out with books I was proud of. And oddly enough, my books beat the odds in terms of market life. (Most computer books have the shelf-life of yogurt. Mine stayed in the market for years - one for almost ten years.) When I got in touch with myself and how I work, I came to the realization that fiction was probably a better use of my time and abilities if I was serious about writing books.

Of course, what I didn’t realize is how difficult fiction is. (Difficult is an understatement.) But for someone like me who likes a challenge, that is an acceptable risk.

I said all that to say that now that I’ve completed and published my first book, I’ve got a leg up on book two. And I need it. Because my friends who write series books say you need to have the next book in the series out quickly, like within a year, or readers forget book one. The faster, the better, they say.

It’s also a relief to have some parameters to work in. But I now have the challenge now of making book two stand alone, yet providing surprises and changes on the part of the characters for readers of book one. And that part has me a little worried. Fortunately, I knew all that going in so I attempted to plan for it.

I took the advice of an agent friend of mine and avoided the temptation to write the second and third books in the series before I’d sold the first one. However, I did plot them, laying the groundwork. I then went on to develop another series, which my fiction agent is currently shopping.

What’s exciting and energizing about finally being published in fiction is, as readers read my first book, and I talk to them about it, the second book started bubbling up inside me like a natural spring. (We used to live in near Keller, Texas which they called Keller Springs because people would just wake up one day and find out a natural fountain had sprung up overnight in their back yard. In my case, water would bubble up under the street in front of my house, which was a constant challenge to the city’s paving department. That’s how it feels with The Prophetess Two: A Son for A Son.)

I find myself living scenes, which is what I understand writers DO in fiction. And that’s part of the reason fiction writing is so draining. I move into those characters, live what they live, see what they see, during the most difficult and challenging times in their lives. And it’s exhausting. But it’s also exciting and consuming.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is I’m the kind of writer who does better if I know there is someone out there who is going to read what I write. It’s hard for me to write “on spec,” hoping at some later point someone might read the thing. Many writers I know are the not like this. They write for themselves so they bring the same energy to the work whether or not they think someone is going to read it.

A long time ago I bought a writing book and the title was something like, “Sell Ninety-Percent of What You Write.” Interested? Well, I can save you a lot of time. Bottom line is you sell ninety percent of what you write by effective pitching, synopsis and proposal writing. So you don’t actually write the work until you know someone is going to at least consider it for publication. And even then, you have a ninety-percent hit rate. You can do this in non-fiction, even if you’re a newbee.

Fiction doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to have a track record. Pre-publication, it’s necessary to write the entire thing on spec and then develop the skill to talk about it in a way that generates interest to get an agent or editor to take a look at it. But now that I have a successful novel out there that’s won a couple of national awards, I’m writing three chapters of the first book in a series, along with a proposal that includes a synopsis of all the books. And my fiction agent shops the proposal. Which is another trick newbees don’t know about how the game works. You have to keep work in the pipeline and that means writing one series while you’re producing proposals for others.

Now that I’m not writing on spec, I find it energizing. Fun. Still a little scary, but less so. Which is what I suspected by watching my New York Times best-selling friends. They seem to be tireless – with almost boundless energy to produce more. And I think that only happens through strong motivation. What stronger motivation is there than having eager readers awaiting the next book? So the game is changing . . .

No pressure, though, right? <grin>

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website:

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I try to leave out the parts that people skip.  – Elmore Leonard

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Column: Screenwriting – What’s Hot and What’s Not by Karen Albright Lin

You’ve written a great script, a killer log line, and a treatment that does justice to your story.  You’ve attended conferences and film festivals.  You’ve packaged the script in plain card stock and two brads.  You’ve gotten feedback from judges in contests and consultants who constantly take the pulse of the industry.  How else can you learn what Hollywood bigshots and indie directors are seeking?

Read the trades, including Variety and Hollywood Reporter, directories like Hollywood Creative Directory, and on-line news mags such as Moviebytes.

Some on-line lead services, such as InkTips, list directors seeking specific types of scripts.  The requirements can be as general as “script for 20-something female lead, any genre.  Two million budget” or as specific as “psychological horror script, no slashers, set in Tokyo with a 30-something male American lead.  Mumblecore (micro budget).”

With InkTips there are two routes to go.  You can pay for the full list of leads ($50 for four months) or take the free service, which lists a few possibilities with access codes and links to send your log line, synopsis, and bio to the director.  My collaborators and I have found response times vary greatly, but there have been several bites, “send the whole script please.”

Hollywood, like the N.Y. publishing world, likes to see more of the successful – same but different.  Familiar says the world is ready for it.  Different means it’s a new take on a tested idea.  Writing to trends is risky.  By the time you complete the script and try to get it out there what’s impressing the box office may be different.  Write the movie you’d like to go see.  Then pitch it.

Make your script sound as hot as you know it is.  Convey your unique premise as HIGH CONCEPT.  Imagine what your audience will see on the movie poster. What is its essence?  The fewer words you can use to convince someone of its mass audience appeal, the higher the concept, the hotter your story.

Consider crossing one film with another.  “Die Hard Meets Forest Gump.”  Give them a quick idea of where you’re going.  Jaws in space – Alien.  Only compare it with movies or books that sold well.  If your hook, main conflict and genre are clear and catchy, your script “has legs.”

Give it an attention-getting title, not The Shark but Jaws.  I’ve always felt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was intriguing but hard to remember.  On the other hand, could there be a better, more appropriate title than Snakes on a Plane?  It’s a high concept pitch, clear genre and conflict all rolled into one short phrase. 

Now you know a few ways of discovering what’s hot and can practice making your high concept script stand out.  Go sell!  And remember:  keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief.  Don’t step on the director.  Avoid dusk and dawn.

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at