Category Archives: Writing Tips

The Hero’s Journey For Writers

Remember the Hero’s Journey?  Here is another explanation or reminder in visual form.



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Is The Plot Line The Same As The Story Line?

plot chartWe often use story line and plot line to mean the same. However, the story line involves characters that have a desire, a human need, and we follow them through the plot because we can relate to their feelings in situations.

A plot line is about the characters’ actions that follow the plot arc. The key word is actions.An example of the arc in my story, “Life Support,” is on my Time To Write Now blog. If you want to review it, click here. The events I mentioned are placed on this plot structure. The exposition is what we call the inciting incident. The child has been in the hospital for several weeks in horrific pain and not getting any better.

The rising action is that the morphine no longer works to reduce the pain, nothing works. The teacher is concerned that the needle to give her the morphine hurts her, adding to her misery. The child’s physical condition deteriorates with no hope of getting better.

The climax is the parents’ decision, with the help of their priest, to disconnect the life support. They had been worried that she would gasp for air and be frightened when the machines no longer supported her.

The falling action is the parents and priest are present when the machines are stopped. The child passes quickly without fear.

The resolution is that the child is free of pain and the parents are relieved that their daughter was peaceful at the end.

Those actions are the plot line. The story line is about how the characters feel during the actions, what are they worried about, what are their relationships like?  The devastating decision for the parents to let their child die and the fear that she’d struggle and the emotions leading up to the decision is a story that resonates with the reader. The promise of the human need for survival runs throughout the plot line.

This essay’s characters and plot are true. Memoir follows fiction’s plot structure.




Julaina Kleist-Corwin

Editor of Written Across the Genres

Author of Hada’s Fog


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Website and Blog

under construction

Time to Write Now will be down for a few days while my website master works on my site. I’m not sure when that will happen, but sometime between late next week and August 12th. A new look replaces the row of books and the green background. The blog’s name and link will be the same and all you wonderful followers will continue to receive notices as usual.

I will add a new For Sale page. I’ve researched how to make packets and modules to sell at an inexpensive price. The teacher in me can’t resist an opportunity to offer what I’ve learned in order to help people in different situations. For instance, one packet is my experience as a Special Education teacher and will include stories and resources for parents of severely medically challenged children. Another packet will be information for writers in lesson formats for beginners and experienced. And, I might take Nina Amir’s advice and have another page to blog a book–probably Lilli, my YA novel. 

If anyone wants to make suggestions for other topics that would be helpful, let me know.

Here is the link to Nina Amir’s book:  Blog a book

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Using Fog in Writing

more fog golden-gate-bridge-690264__180I like fog, however, last night as a few hundred people claimed their spot at the Emeryville shoreline park at about 6:00, a thin layer of fog threatened to block the sunset and promised to become thicker.

Our friends from Sacramento who own a boat docked at the Emeryville harbor invited us to join them for the holiday. The four of us arrived in Alameda at 10:30 to watch the seven mile parade, had lunch with friends of our friends on their patio overlooking a lagoon, returned to the harbor, and read for a couple hours on the boat while the strong wind helped to blow the fog inland.

We arrived at the park and positioned our fold-up chairs to see fireworks from several cities across the bay. The spectators continued to be hopeful that the brilliant sparkles would pierce the layers of invisibility for our enjoyment. Determined to overcome the cold, people, including us, were wrapped up in blankets, extra jackets, hoods, and one group set up a tent to protect them from the non-stop wind. By 9:00, the fog was thicker than in the picture above. A few circles of colored lights flashed from the peninsula, but we could see nothing from San Francisco.

We turned our chairs to watch Berkeley’s show and joined the oohs and ahhs, but the fog gobbled up that faint spectacle as well. Half of the audience left by then, but we stuck it out even when the fog completely covered the top of each  blast. I wanted the finale to be next but it took a long time to get there, and only a final spiral reminded us we had come to see fireworks. As we followed the crowd out of the park, one young woman said, “That’s the weirdest fireworks I ever saw.”

As we write our stories, a setting like the one I described could do well for a mystery. People coming to see the holiday event are interesting characters, some could disappear in the crowd and the cold. I remember several visuals of Sherlock Holmes walking in the fog. It creates an effective cloak of invisibility. Although my novel, Hada’s Fog, is not a  mystery, I used fog as a motif because Hada grumbled about it frequently and it repersented her inability to see a situation clearly.

Can you use the 4th of July and/or fog in your story?


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A Little Italian and Greek

Italy n GreeceElaine Schmitz, author of Recipes & Recollections of My Greek-American Family, put greetings in her email to me which I asked what they meant. They are below and might be useful if you want to put in a little Italian or Greek into your story’s dialogue.

In Italian:

Buon giorno is Good morning, Buon pomariggio is Good day. Buona notte is Good night.
In Greek:

kalimera is Good morning and kalispera is Good day,  kalinikhta is good night.


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Secondary Characters Deserve Attention

secondary characters deserve attentionDo you have secondary characters in your novel or story? Have you given them enough attention? Or are you using them as if they were props?

As writers, we spend time in character development for our protagonist and antagonist, and tend to throw in a secondary character for dialogue or for a cause of some kind, etc. Without distinguishing characteristics, these minor beings are flat, boring, and unnoticeable. What can a writer do to enhance a minor figure’s brief appearance? For example a police officer might be in a couple of scenes, but has little importance. Find something distinctive about him. Does he smell like cigarette smoke? Does he pull on his ear frequently? Is his badge on crooked?

What about a delivery boy? In one of  my short stories, he’s there for a minute, but I have him joking with my protagonist about the size of the package being taller than her. She enjoys his humor.

In a different short story of mine that won a second place award in a competition, called “A Cup of Change,” the waiter talks too much about his fiance, yet he’s infatuated with the protagonist who openly flirts with him. He appears twice in the story for brief moments, but he’s memorable. When I wrote that story several years ago, I had learned that secondary characters can reflect the theme or premise or can have a similar goal or problem in a subplot. “A Cup of Change” is about a woman who is having an affair with her friend’s husband and doesn’t realize her friend knows about it. The woman tries to encourage her friend to get a divorce since the married couple are not getting along. Meanwhile the waiter talks on and on about his upcoming wedding. The wife flirts with him and gives him advice on how to treat his bride while the mistress interprets the interaction as a good sign for an impending divorce. The young waiter’s actions show he is excited about his wedding plans, yet nervous around this mature, seductive woman. He’s a minor character but fully developed and he reflects the theme of marriage and betrayal.

Do you have a favorite minor character?


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Link for Story Ideas

story starters spin machineHere is a link for story ideas/Writer Igniter:

Press the big bar that says shuffle and specific words from four columns stop after spinning for a few seconds.

For my first shuffle, I received:  Psychic meets new roommate with a silver quill on the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

My second shuffle: Bronze Olympian must make a hard sacrifice with a secret recipe in Paris.

The setting column has photos. Visuals add to inspiration. If I didn’t have several works in progress now, those two prompts could lead to a couple good stories.

If you aren’t a writer, it’s fun to read the sentences you receive.

Try it and let me know the results of your shuffle.


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Does Your Setting Have an Arc?

Setting componentsWriters know that the main character’s change follows an arc. The plot has an arc of increasing tension toward the climax and then some resolution. How can a setting have an arc?

Setting details are important, not lengthy chunks of detail, but enough interspersed so the reader has an image. The image also is relatable to the reader’s experience of being in a place like that or being reminded of a similar setting from movies or pictures.

Setting becomes a character through the details and the emotions attached to them by the character’s past and present experience with it. As the character changes, show some corresponding differences in the environment. Perhaps there are real physical changes that occur, but it is the character’s new perception of it that is most important.

For example, in Norman in the Painting, Jill’s hometown is a place of security. It’s a small county seat with attorneys and jurors rushing to the restaurants on Main Street during lunch. Tourists peruse the antique stores looking for bargains. The locals know her and the family name. Her parents spent their lives engaged in the town politics. The environment is safe for Jill. The reader sees the stores, court buildings, the alleyway to the parking lot, the cemetery, and Jill’s home as well as the contrast with her sister’s house. She enjoys the dark clouds and winter rain and jumps over puddles by the curbs.

However, as Jill becomes less dependent on that familiarity, she smells the mold in the antique stores, she feels the attorneys’ stress  and hears the jurors’ complaints about missed work. She is annoyed by the overflowing of the creek from the storms’ deluge of water and the sandbags in front of every store on Main Street that she has to dodge.

After thirty-two years in the same place and never traveling, she’s ready for a change. The present setting has become oppressive. It’s a living, aging, grumpy environment needing an uplift. Jill wants to leave.

Creating setting as a character in a story is another way to deepen the reader’s enjoyment of your work.

What does the setting of your story mean to the protagonist in it?


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What Did You Start Writing?

hands on computer keyboardWhen you first started writing, what form did you use–short stories, poetry, memoir, or a novel?

In middle school, I chose short stories and I still like to write them. Next I wrote a few novels, and then poetry. In the afternoon writing class I teach, we are writing a Haiku twice a month based on a photo members take turns bringing to class.

My preferences for short stories and poetry affect my novel writing. The shorter forms make it necessary to be aware of exactly the right words to use and to eliminate too much detail. I’ve discovered that when building character in a novel, choosing the right words is more complicated. One has to think about interspersing physical description, feelings, thoughts, and how to show a deeper, rather than a superficial character.

In my novel, Norman in the Painting, I think I’ve created minor characters that have more personality than the protagonist. I’ve written a post-a-note to remind myself to deepen Jill. She’s the center of the action, readers learn about her values by her dialogue and by the decisions she makes. However I sense she’s hiding something or resisting a close relationship with the reader. I’ll have to figure out why.

What is your favorite form to write?


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The First Page

First page of a book A reader, editor, or agent often gives a first page three or four seconds before closing the book or tossing the submitted page onto the notorious slush pile. What do we have to squeeze into those few seconds?

  • We have to grab the reader’s interest immediately, usually with writing something active not passive.
  • Ground the reader in the setting, i.e. when and where the story is taking place preferably with specific sensory details. Brief and succinct, not too many details regardless how well-written–remember we only have a few seconds and we have to cover more than setting.
  • An interesting character who makes the reader care about him or her is necessary. Show the character’s public and personal persona. Let the reader learn about him/her by the character’s actions, thoughts, or feelings.
  • Show the promise of the story. Is there a puzzle or mystery to solve? Is there a love interest that is blocked? What does the character want? What is preventing him or her from getting it?
  • No backstory on the first page until much later. Donald Maass, in Writing the Breakout Novel, suggests saving a flashback or important snippet of backstory until after page 100.

The first couple pages and the ending will make or break your chances for acceptance by an editor or agent. Feedback from a critique group or fellow writer can clarify what’s working and what isn’t.

The following link has several first lines of published fiction. How many make you want to read the book?

Photo: FIRST PAGE, FIRST LINE of Richard Powers&


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