Tag Archives: writing tips

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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Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction by Kaplan

Kaplan on RevisionA dear writer friend of mine sent me David Michael Kaplan’s book called Revision; A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction. On page 5, he compares writers to musicians. A cellist or bel canto singer might have talent and craft, but without endless hours of practice. . . he’ll never get to Carnegie Hall.” Writers need to practice, “which is the revision of his story or essay or novel until it is, in Goldilocks’ words, “just right.”

If we writers are “content with the first draft, the world will know it; if content with one better than the first but still not the best it could be, our fellow writers will know it; if content with one almost perfect excerpt for a few little glitches, perhaps, with luck, only we will know it.”

Kaplan reminds us that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace eight times. Raymond Carver had done twenty or thirty drafts of a story and never fewer than ten or twelve.



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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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“Saving Sheena” a Short Story by Jan Davies

Sheena's body builderJan Davies short story called “Saving Sheena” is in the Mainstream Fiction section of Written Across the Genres, my anthology available on Amazon and Kindle and can be ordered at a local bookstore.

Sheena’s grown and married children are worried that she’s lonely living by herself. Here’s is an excerpt:

“All five pairs of eyes focused on the man that had just invaded their space. His limbs seemed to go on forever. Brian surmised he was at least a foot taller than his own 5’7″ stature. Steph thought his shoulders were going to bust out of that black silk tee that clung ever so snug around bulging biceps. Monica couldn’t stop staring at those big eyes that looked like the ocean had just poured itself into them, and Allen couldn’t stop wondering how this young man could know his mother-in-law?”

Check out what happens in this family with the new arrival.

FrontCover of Written Across the GenresHI

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Writing Quote by Brooke Warner

Brooke Warner

I often tell writers I work with, “Your book already knows what it wants to be,” and I believe that our calling to write the book we’re supposed to write is a whisper–something between intuition and following your inner calling. We receive these whispers all the time. Some of us ignore them or are so practiced at tuning them out that we can no longer hear them . . . but that doesn’t mean they’re not there!


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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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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&#8217nationalbook.tumblr.com


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Writing Tips from Authors Cara Black, Laurie King, and Penny Warner

Cara Black and Laurie KingPenny warner with Nancy Drew bookMy previous post told about the three panelists at one of the San Francisco Writers Conference sessions I attended this year.The authors spoke about “Heroes & Villains: Building Compelling Characters for Crime Fiction.” The following are some notes I wrote from what each of them and the moderator, Kate Chynoweth, said.

Penny Warner said she gives the protagonist and antagonist equal weight and shows their strengths and weaknesses. She gives both an obstacle they have to overcome.

Laurie King is not an outliner. She writes a 300 page rough draft to find her way through the story and then revises.

Cara Black uses a particular section in Paris where the murder happens in the beginning, writes why the protagonist, Amy Leduc, would be in that area, and how Amy overcomes the unusual obstacles. Each book takes place in a different  arrondissement (administrative district) in Paris and that setting becomes a character as well as the people. Cara also said that the villain is right in his/her own mind and then he/she has to continue with his belief to cover up what was done. Often the villain is smarter than the protagonist.

Kate Chynoweth pointed out that the villain can’t be completely villainous. Show something good about them or a fear they have. “Even a villain can be afraid of spiders.” For example: Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs liked classical music, particularly Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach.Kate chynoweth

During Q & A, the authors were asked what time frames they have to write their next book. Penny Warner writes one every six months. Cara Black writes one a year. Laurie King says a goal of an average of 3000 words a day could lead to a rough draft of a novel a month. It takes her 3-4 months to write the draft and then 5 months to revise.

I have to admit it has taken me 6 years to revise my fourth novel, Hada’s Fog. It’s still not polished the way I want it to be. Granted, I’ve been working only part time on it, but I had to put Hada aside for a while in order to write something fresh. I’m determined to finish Norman in The Painting in a year. I have these authors for inspiration.

How long has it taken you to write a book?


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