Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Are You Lost?

by Katie Hines
Are you lost? Do you know where your work-in-progress is heading, what the end point is? If you don't have a good idea of where you want your story to end, how can you tell if you're headed in the right direction? It is conceivable that you could write oh, 40 or 50 pages, then have to scrap it because you have no further vision for your story.

Now, I know there are writers that are out there that sit down and write, and the story unfolds easily. My writing is not that way. I knew, vaguely, where I wanted my WIP to go, and had an even more vague end in sight. But how to get there from the beginning?

Help was on the way.

Yesterday, my husband and I sat down and talked about the story. We tossed out ideas, possible plot points, a more focused ending. I came away from our brainstorming session revitalized, and knowing more about my story and my characters. What a relief, because, I tell you, I was stuck. This brainstorming means I have to go back and change a few plot points that I've already written.

I know that some people say to brazen your way through your story, and make changes later. That doesn't work for me. This is the reason: if my plot points changes the direction of my story, and plot points pop up, then I need to make the changes in the middle for my story to head in the right direction. Think of your story as the vanishing point. In geometry (I know, you thought you'd never use it, didn't you?), if you have two points that begin at the same point, then take the first a line straight out from there, with a slight angle, then add the second point, but veer off a miniscule amount from the other line. When you follow the lines out, even though they are close at the beginning, the further out you get, the more those lines deviate.

This works the same way as your story. If you don't get the first plot points right, then your story is going to veer off, down the road, in a direction you don't want it to go. Thus, I change those first plot points to keep my story on track.

So, check yourself. Are you lost, or do your plot points take you down a road in a direction that will ultimately be far from your end goal? Don't be lost! Make those changes today.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tapping into Emotion - by Stephanie Burkhart

Happy Holidays from the Burkharts

First, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season! December has just flown by. I'm pooped. Thankfully, the only thing I have left to do now is bake cookies for Santa with my boys.

My boys are a hoot. Joe is 6, Andrew is 10, and they're my best resources when it comes to observing emotion, especially in kids. It's said that watching people is one of the best ways to understand human emotion. When writing for children, the best way to understand their emotions is to not only watch them, but interact with them.

Kids are so open and honest. I teach the 3's at my Sunday preschool and it's very rewarding. I've learned through my writing to keep the following in mind: physical signals, mental responses, and internal sensations.

Andrew is easy. When he's happy, he smiles like a Cheshire cat. When he's excited, he waves his hands. When he's disappointed or frustrated, he pouts and scowls. All these physical signals are what we writers can use to convey emotion and connect with readers.

Joe has sensory processing issues. When he's excited he talks a mile a minute and hand flaps. When he's frustrated, he wails and cries big and loud. All his physical signals are "amped up" compared to Andrew's.

It's easy to observe physical signals – a smile, a laugh, a tear, but as a writer, only you can add the depth required to a character to make them come alive.

Last week we had a Christmas party for the preschool children. Each got one cookie and a cup of milk. All the kids smiled. Who doesn't love a cookie? Cookies taste sweet and sweet makes children smile. (I suppose if it was salty we'd get a frown.)

See how internal sensation, mental responses and physical signals play into emotion? Put them all together and you'll round out your characterization.

Question: Do you "people" watch? Do you take notes? How has people watching helped you a writer?
Joe reading one of his favorite books, Spider in Our Mailbox 

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD. She loves burning bayberry candles for Christmas. She puts a star on the tree and bakes cookies for Santa with her boys. Her 4RV books include: The Giving Meadow and First Flag of New Hampshire.

Reference for this blog: The Emotion Thesaurus, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, ISBN: 978-147-5004953, 2012

Find me on the web at:



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Amazon Book Review Is a Wonderful Gift for Writers

"An Amazon Book Review Is a Wonderful Gift for Writers" by Joan Y. Edwards

This is December - a month noted for giving and receiving.  What are gifts that writers like?
 Pile of gorgeous gifts

10 Gifts Writers Can Give Themselves
  1. Confidence
  2. Faith and belief that their stories will be self-published or published by traditional publishers
  3. Investment of  time, talent, and/or money to educate, write, critique, and revise
  4. Materials to write: pencil/pen and paper, computer and backup protection, writing software
  5. Life Experiences to notice emotional impact in themselves and and others
  6. Read best-selling books in their genre(s)
  7. Study books and/or expert blog posts on the craft of writing; take workshops online or in person
  8. Study the pitches of best-selling books and movies
  9. Study possible markets
  10. Submit work often (Pubsub)
7 Gifts Writers Like to Give and Receive
  1. Encouragement
  2. Support
  3. Education
  4. Critique
  5. Hope
  6. Publication
  7. Book Review on Amazon
I read that an author needs 25 book reviews on Amazon to influence buyers.
Doing a book review for a writer is an awesome gift.  Receiving a book review is even more reason to celebrate. If you let an author know you're willing to do a book review, many times he'll send you a paperback or digital copy.

What is your favorite gift as a writer?

Celebrate you today.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Writing, Accounting, and Synergy

Writing, Accounting, and Synergy

By Karen Cioffi

In accounting – if you (the accountant or bookkeeper) are off even one penny, you have to search and work until that penny is found – all the income, expenses, assets, liabilities of a business must all sync at the end of every month, quarter, and year. Your balance sheet, which reflects every penny in and out, must be perfect. All this, along with reconciling the monthly bank statements.

The various data from different departments, such as research and development, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll, must all be included.

Writing, in some aspects is similar to accounting; each element of a story - theme, setting, plot, conflict, characters - must all work together to create an error free balance sheet at the end. In other words, they must meld together to create a coherent, engaging, and interesting article or book. The end piece must have proper grammar, and the correct formatting. And, if something is amiss, the author needs to find the troublesome spot/s and correct it.

In both arenas, details are important, as is balance.

Suppose in accounting your accounts payable far exceeded your accounts receivable, or your liabilities far exceeded your assets. This would make for a dire situation, and one that would need correction.

Well, in writing, suppose you have wonderful characters, but they have no where to go; your story lacks an engaging plot and conflict. Or, maybe you have a great storyline, but your characters are flat, they have no dimension; these situations are also cause for alarm and need to be addressed.

In writing, it’s the combination of all the elements of writing that moves a story forward and creates a page-turning adventure. You may have a character driven story, or a plot driven story, but in both, you need all elements of the story to weave together, to create synergy.

Synergy is a great word. It means the combination, joined forces, or combined effects of individual elements which will create an end result that is greater than the sum of their individual effects or capabilities.

I actually like Wikipedia’s definition: “Synergy, in general, may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently.”

This is what the elements of writing, joined together in just the right way, produces. Theme, setting, plot, conflict, and characters combine forces to go beyond their individual capabilities. The writing synergy process creates an end result that is not attainable by any of the elements independently.

Boost your writing and marketing efforts with Karen Cioffi and The Writing World newsletter. Get weekly tips and guidance, plus updates on free webinars, and TWO ebooks! Join today at 

To check out Karen’s blog, go to


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gifting a Writer

 By Suzanne Cordatos

Like an unfriendly ghost, a past embarrassing moment drifts to the present with the power to make us cringe years later. Afraid you've stumbled on a lost Halloween blog post? No, worse, a 1970’s Secret Santa Gift Exchange. It haunted me the other day like the Ghost of Christmas Past. The scene? Giggling Girl Scouts. Holiday packages filled with pink lip gloss and Love’s Baby Soft drug store perfume. Candy wrapped in crinkly cellophane dotted with Rudolphs and red noses. I couldn't wait to open my box.

Like Scrooge, I had to learn the hard way about gifting. My lesson? The beauty of the polite cover-up. I felt eyes, a Girl Scout friend, watching me open the box. Inside? A pen. A lovely pen, probably, but it wasn't pink or sparkly, and at ten who notices quality? What on earth had I done to earn the most boring gift in the room? Then I heard the friend mumble, “You said you want to be a writer.”

She was right, I did. I hide my Scrooge face better these days, but I still don't want a pen under the tree!

SO . . . What gifts might warm the heart of a writer in your life?

* Books. Obviously! 4RV books! Link right here!  
 Goofy writer gifts abound on internet shopping sites, like legal-pad designed napkins for when hunger—and the next great bestseller idea—strike at the same time. 
      * Keep inspired with a desk knickknack that represents the main character in a work in progress, or frame a motivating quotation from a favorite writer.

The best gift?  Time… to listen, to work, to brainstorm.

* Offer to read a manuscript and give an honest critique.
            * Create homemade coupons, each good for an hour of uninterrupted time to write or listen or read.
            *  Invite the writer to a coffee shop for an expenses-paid session to chat up their latest work.

Santa’s hint . . . Print the list. Let it mysteriously land on the family computer keyboard, or maybe accidentally-on-purpose stuffed in the cookie jar.

Have a wonderful holiday! And share—if you dare, what shadow haunts from your Christmas past? (Careful, story ideas lie buried there!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Another honor for a 4RV book - Carla's Cloud Catastrophe

       Children's Literary Classics announced that Carla's Cloud Catastrophe, written by Beth Bence Reinke and illustrated by Ginger Nielson, has been selected to receive the Children's Literary Classics Seal of Approval. The CLC Seal of Approval is reserved for those books which uphold the rigorous criteria set forth by the Children's Literary Classics review committee.

     Carla's Cloud Catastrophe is a fresh and imaginative book about a day in the life of a young girl when all the clouds fall from the sky. All sorts of unexpected things happen when large billowy clouds are found in the most unlikely places, causing quite a catastrophe. When the town-folks try to find a solution for cleaning up the cloud mess, Carla comes up with a plan that saves the day.

     Children will love the illustrations which help this story come to life as young Carla puts her mind to helping resolve a mess which threatens to keep her from making it to her own birthday party.

     This honor is one of several awarded 4RV Publishing books this year. Congratulations, Beth and Ginger.

4RV Bookstore  
4RV Website  


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Author beware: 'Custom Cover Design' does not mean 'Original Cover Art'.

by Aidana WillowRaven

So, you've decided you want an unique book cover for your book. You don't want it to look like every other book on the shelf or web browser.

You hop on Twitter or Facebook and put some feelers out, searching for a cover artist or designer. You get dozens and dozens of responses, from both amateurs and professionals. How do you know you are going to get what you want and that it's unique?

 First you must learn a few key terms.

1- cover designer

A designer is typically trained in typesetting and photo-manipulation. Rarely are they traditional artists. Technically, it is an accepted concept that once an image is altered it is a new work, and by law, that is true. All it takes are three distinct changes to make it a new work. If you are looking for something more original than manipulated parts of stock photos that could potentially be used on another book cover, be sure to tell the cover designer you are not interested in using stock imagery. A cover designer may or may not be trained for what you are looking for.

2- cover artist

In years past, publishers hired a cover artist to do the visual art work and a cover designer to do the typesetting and layout. In today's tough job market, more and more designers are doing both the cover art (again, most likely photo-manipulation) and the design under one job. On that same note, more and more illustrators or cover artists are tackling the job of design as well. It is prudent to verify, before trusting your book to anyone, that the people putting your book together are trained and skilled to do what needs done to give you a quality cover. After all, your cover is the first impression.

3- custom vs original

Many designers and websites that boast cheap 'custom' cover designs or art can really be misleading. Again, let's look at the laws regarding art. By law, if an image, including a design, is altered in three ways, it is a new work. If an artists manipulates just two images by combining a figure from one and changing the color of something from another, then all you have to do is add text, then by law that is a custom cover. If that is acceptable to you, by all means save money and use a cover like this. However, some authors want a more detailed, more story-relevant cover, that does not include mixing existing stock imagery. If you are in that group, be sure to hire someone who insures the art is original, not simply custom. You'll pay a lot more, but like the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

If anybody has questions as to what is considered original vs custom, or the difference between cover design & cover art, please leave comment or contact me at my signature links.

Art Director & VP of Operations

Viji Chary interviewed in media

posted by Vivian Zabel 

     Porcupine's Seeds by Viji K Chary has received one honor, Mom's Choice Award, and is entered for others. The story is entertaining and educational at the same time. Bridget McKenna did a delightful job of illustrating the story.

     Now, Viji has been interviewed and her story printed in her local paper. The clipping doesn't show the paper name, but the website is given.

       Congratulations, Viji. We are proud of you.

Remember, Porcupine's Seeds can be found through any brick 'n mortar store, any online bookstore, and 4RV Bookstore.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Promotion - Life on Hold

posted by Vivian Zabel 

          The following review will be found in the November 2012 issue of The Midwest Book Review's online book review magazine "Reviewer's Book Watch." Life on Hold is written by Beverly Stowe McClure, which is entered for several book awards.

          The review, written by Katherine Boyer, will be archived on the Midwest Book Review website for the next five years.


          Beverly Stowe McClure writes excellent stories for the youth of today. She has done it again with Life on Hold. He comprehension of a teenager's feelings, as they mature and become more aware of life around them, is very astute and empathetic.

           Myra Gibson has to put her life on hold when she happens to come across a very disturbing piece of paper while cleaning out the family guesthouse. It is such a shock to her that she cannot even think about it, much less ask her parents about it.  As an introverted teen, she has no one she can confide in.

          "On June eleventh, ten days after my sixteenth birthday life as I knew it came to an end."

          The startling discover will change Myra's life, both with her family and friends. She has to work it out by herself at first, but eventually starts to open up with her mother, then her father. Later she brings her friends into her secret and finds that she has a lot of support from all sides. Teens will love following Myra and hter friends and family to the conclusion of her dilemma.

          Beverly Stowe McClure lives in Texas with her husband, Jack. She is the moter to three sons, grandmother to four granddaughters and two gransons, and great grandmother to one great-grandson. Her official bio says she married very young.


Find Life on Hold through most book 'n mortar stores, online book stores, and at the 4RV Bookstore.



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Future of Books

Is a PDF a book?

One definition of a book is Physical objects consisting of a number of pages bound together.

Another definition of a book is A written work or composition that has been published (printed on pages bound together)

Although there are almost as many E-Book readers as there are formats available for reading E-Books, can you call them books by the definitions above?

When reading for review, I prefer PDF format only because of simplicity, and I can delete it after I finish the review. I don’t call it a book; it is just a written story by some author.

There are many companies where authors can publish their book, even the venerable Simon & Schuster created Archway Self Publishing, where anyone can write and publish.

Companies like Lulu, Xlibris, Book Locker, Outskirts Press, Create Space, and many more will publish manuscripts; an author can pay to have a manuscript printed into book format, either hardbound or paperback creating a publishing house.

Is this to be the future of books?

As an avid reader for over six decades, the future of books and the written word are something special in my thoughts, I wrote a blog post titled The Demise of the written word. In that post I mention the use of software, I see in commercials extolling the virtue of diction software to write. Is this manuscript creation of the future, this type of manuscript will likely end up requiring more editors and proofreaders, because no software is 100 percent effective and correct.

Publishing houses no longer have editors and proofreaders for every manuscript and proof copy of the books they print. Although, publishing houses are adding to the burden authors face in today’s publishing environment, which begs the question, Are books better or worse than years past?

I leave it up to you to answer.

Robert Medak
Freelance Writer, Blogger, Editor, Proofreader
Published Author, Reviewer, Marketer

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Creating and Beefing Up the Conflict

Creating and Beefing Up the Conflict

By Karen Cioffi

Your story has a great beginning—a great hook that will capture the reader instantly. You have an interesting, funny, or mischievous protagonist who will keep the reader engaged. But will it be enough to keep the reader turning the pages to end? Is there something missing?

Children’s stories aren’t what they use to be. Granted many stories of years ago did have conflict, they would not cut it in today’s children’s market.

In today’s children’s writing world, writing must be tight and focused. And, you need conflict. The conflict is like a detour or obstacle in the road from point A to point B. The protagonist must figure out a way over, around, or under it.


Tommy wants more than anything to play baseball, but he’s not very good. The other boys never willingly choose him for their team. How will Tommy overcome this problem?

What if Tommy gets the best bat and glove on the market—will this make him a better ball player?

Kristen’s friends all have new bikes, but she has her older sister’s hand-me-down. Kristen needs to figure out a way to get a new bike.

What if Kristen finally gets a new bike and leaves it unattended at the park. It gets stolen. She’s afraid to tell her parents, so keeps this little bit of information to herself. But, how long can she keep this up.

What if Billy has a run in with the school bully and ever since he’s harassed everyday. How can Billy get out of this mess?

So, the way to create and build conflict is to use “how” and “what if” to generate conflict and get your story off the ground and flying.

In the article “What to Aim For When Writing,” Margot Finke advises, “A slow build up of tension gives good pace. Dropping hints and clues builds tension, which in turn moves your story along. Short, punchy sentences give better pace than longwinded lines.”

For chapter books, middle grade, and young adult, Finke advises to keep the reader engaged by ending each paragraph with a kind of cliff-hanger. This doesn’t mean you need a life and death scenario, just something that entices the reader to move onto the next chapter to find out what happens. In addition, to increase your story’s pace in certain sections, use shorter chapters. Chapters with 5-7 pages creates the sense of a quicker pace.

To keep up with writing and marketing information, along with Free webinars - signup for The Writing World ( newsletter - click on the link or go to Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing ( - opt-in is on the right top sidebar).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Copyrighting Your Work by Stephanie Burkhart

The Pros, The Cons, The Ugly

What is a copyright? In a nutshell, it's where you register your written work with the Library of Congress (Washington DC). You can also register any film, vocal work, and music with them.

Many authors ask "Do I have to register a copyright?" "Aren't I protected without having to register?"

Technically, you have the copyright as soon as you write down the word. It's your intellectual property. You can still publish a short story, novella, and novel without having to register a copyright.

So what's the benefit of registering a copyright?

It's absolute proof you own the copyright in a court of law. And that's the best protection you could have.

Just recently I heard about the following scenario: An author used the KDP Select Program on Amazon to promote their book. A pirate site came along, pirated the work and attempted to pass it off as their own. They approached Amazon and asked them to take down the work. Amazon contacted the original author and told them they had to prove they had the true copyright. What's an author to do? If you can prove you have registered your copyright, you've just foiled the pirates and kept your work in good standing.

The Pros:

By registering your written work with the Library of Congress you have absolute legal proof of the copyright that will hold up in a court of law.

The Cons:
It's time consuming, costs money, and is a pain the butt. Why put up the hassle?

Let me stress: it is up to you as the author to decide if you want to register your copyright with the Library of Congress. Do your homework. You know your own situation. Remember your work is copyrighted the minute you put it on paper. You're just registering it – offering legal proof to others that the work is yours.

Recently, I decided to register some work with the Library of Congress. There are 3 options:

1. Paper
2. CO form
3. Electronically

Being kind of Internet savvy, I decided to register electronically. The benefits? It costs only $35.00, easily paid with a credit card, and it will take 3 months to receive a paper copy of proof in the mail. I went for it. Guess what? The electronic filing system is picky. It's best supported by using Internet Explorer. I have Safari. One day it worked, the other, it didn't. If you're a Safari user, be aware it's not the most compatible system and it might work one day and not the next.

You have to register for an account which is free. There are 3 steps: the form, the payment, and then uploading your work.

Take your time filling out the form. Don't rush. If its your first time, give yourself about 20 minutes. Once you're done, then you're directed to pay. This part is easy and goes quickly. You should be redirected back to the copyright area where you are prompted to upload a copy of your work. If you have a "doc" or a "pdf" it's an easy upload. If you only have a print copy of your work, then they give you the option to mail it in. Once they receive the print copy, they move forward with processing the paperwork you submitted online.

The Ugly

Using the CO form is similar. You fill out the form on your computer (downloaded from the copyright site), sign it, send it off with your payment of $50.00 and copies of your work to the Library of Congress. Turn around time is 6 months.

The TX form is nasty. Download it from the website, fill it out, enclose hardcopies of your work (1 if unpublished, 2 if published) and $65.00. Turn around time is 10 months.

See the benefits of filing electronically? I received my paper copy proofs in 3 months time. It was really easy.

Does anyone want to share their copyright experiences? Pros? Cons? Ugly? Why do you do it? Or why not? I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, & feedback.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher with LAPD. Her books with 4RV Publishing include The Giving Meadow and First Flag of New Hampshire. She's married and lives in Castaic, California.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Birthday 4RV Publishing

          Five years ago this month, we filed the papers to become 4RV Publishing LLC. During these five years, we have released over 100 books, have had seventy-five authors under contract. Illustrators came and went, and we had excellent ones. Thankfully, some of the best have stayed with us.

        According to what I read and what has been told to me and to others, we have a good reputation for publishing great books, quality books. Our authors and illustrators have been praised by many outside the company. Our editors have helped our books improve from the first manuscripts submitted to ready-to-print. We have an expert heading our art department, and a top of the line head of the editorial department.

         Some of our books have won awards: Confessions of a Former Rock Queen by Kirk Bjornsgaard took the Oklahoma Book Award in Fiction; Trockle by Holly Jahangiri took first in the Heartland Children's Book Award; Midnight Hours by Vivian Zabel placed first in the Heartland Fiction category, and her Prairie Dog Cowboy took first in the Young Adult category; Porcupine's Seeds by Viji Chary received the Mom's Choice Award; My Cat by Tony LoPresti received Certificate of Excellence in the category of Books for Children from CWA; Time Pullers by Horton Deakins was a finalist in the Science Fiction category in US Best Books; Walking Through Walls by Karen Cioffi was named a silver medal winner by Children's Literary Classics. I may have missed some of our awards, and if I have, I hope someone reminds me.

          4RV has done well for the first five years of its existence, thanks to a talented and hard-working staff, good writers and illustrators, and the readers who spread the word. 

4RV Publishing 
4RV Book Store  


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dynamic Dialogue - Bring Conversation and Life to Your Writing

by Holly Jahangiri  

The Gift of Gab
      Dialogue is an important tool that every writer should strive to master. Good dialogue does the following:

  • It yanks the reader into the story, rather than keeping him at arm's length, as a casual observer.
  • It gives valuable insight into each character - his socioeconomic and educational background, his mannerisms, his thought processes, his reactions to others, his attitude.
  • It provides clues about the time period and setting.
  • It helps keep you from getting bogged down in lengthy narration, provided you don't let your speaker get bogged down in lengthy narration.
     Good dialogue is dialogue that is essential to the story or to the readers' understanding of the character. It always serves a purpose - either it moves the story forward towards its conclusion, or it illustrates an important facet of the speaker's character. Good dialogue is not idle chit-chat.

Writing Believable Dialogue
      Believable or natural dialogue is not the same as "real speech." Listen to a group of people talking in a restaurant (yes, of course - eavesdrop!). Record them, or attempt to faithfully jot down what's said. Real, everyday speech is not very interesting to the casual observer, for the most part. It won't be interesting to your readers, either. How many real conversations have you heard that are devoid of annoying little lack-of-forethought time fillers, like "well," "you know," "uh," "um," "like," and so on? A well-placed "uh" or "um" can render dialogue more believable, but use them very sparingly to avoid turning your dialogue into a sleep aid.

      Good dialogue should sound natural. One of the best ways to gauge this is to read it aloud, or ask a friend to read it aloud to you. Subvocalize, if you're very shy. If your tripping over the words, or getting your tongue wrapped around your eyeteeth and can't see what you're saying, then it's not natural.

      Try to make dialogue match character. Consider the character's socioeconomic status and background. A guttersnipe speaks differently than a college professor. Consider "My Fair Lady." It would be easy to distinguish Henry Higgins from Eliza Doolittle, even if the same person read their lines. As Eliza learns, she is more careful and precise in her speech, even, than Higgins - because she is conscious of and cares about the perceptions of others. To her, it is not a game. He can afford to be casual in his speech, even though it is not truly in his nature to be; she cannot.

      Use dropped terminal consonants (doin', goin', seein', wanna, gimme, etc.), contractions (don't, wouldn't, didn't, etc.), profanity and slang if the character would naturally use them. Pretend your mother and your Fifth Grade English teacher will never read your work. You can't be a real writer and live in fear that someone will be shocked to learn that you know "those words." Consider using profanity when it's out of character to give dialogue "shock value." For example, if the preacher's wife runs across a dead body in her geranium bed, she's not likely to say, "Oh, dear, it's a corpse." She might actually scream and yell a bad word. It'll get the reader's attention if you suddenly have a well-established character act out of character. That said, remember that profanity is the last resort of little minds, and use it sparingly - for deliberate effect.

      Show - don't tell! Make sure your characters understand this rule. Using dialogue to relate past events may tempt you to tell the story in between quotation marks. Don't let one character simply narrate the whole story. Dialogue should give us insight into each character's unique traits - it's your opportunity, regardless of the point of view from which you've chosen to write, to give the reader a glimpse of the character's thoughts and emotions. Use dialogue to show how characters respond to situations and react to one another.

A Few Quick Tips

  • Consider the character's socioeconomic and educational background.
  • Give the character a distinctive "pet phrase" or set of commonly-used expressions (e.g., "Valley Girl" speech). Be careful not to exaggerate speech mannerisms to the point of annoying the reader; a little seasoning in the pot works better than dumping in a whole jar of spice.
  • Show, don't tell! Avoid academic or wordy statements, unless they reflect a character trait.
  • Use contractions, dropped letters (goin', doin', etc.) slang, profanity, accents, etc. with deliberate intent.
  • Recognize when characters are likely to relate past events in present tense.


  • Unnecessary repetition of a phrase or idea.
  • Small talk that doesn't illustrate character OR move the story forward.
  • Having one character address another by name (they know to whom they are talking; it should be clear enough to your reader in context and by other means)
  • Wordy, academic, stiff, stilted phrases rolling off your characters' tongues, unless it's a character trait.

Notes on Formatting Dialogue

  • Dialogue starts and ends with quotation marks: " and "
  • If one speaker's lines extend beyond one paragraph, each paragraph of dialogue opens with opening quotation marks ("); the last paragraph ends with closing quotation marks (").
  • Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks: "And so," explained Liz, "that's why I killed him."
  • When one speaker is quoting another, the quotation is enclosed in single quotation marks: ' and ' For example: "I told him Liz said 'Eat more oatmeal.'"

Challenge Yourself!
      Try writing a story using nothing but dialogue between two or more characters. Don't include any dialogue tags ("he said," "she cried," etc.). See if you can convey all the elements of a good story, including distinct and interesting characters, through dialogue alone.

For more of Holly's writing, be sure to visit her blog, "It's All a Matter of Perspective" at Holly Jahangiri is a professional writer who claims, tongue-in-cheek, to channel the spirits of Edgar Allan Poe, Erma Bombeck, and O. Henry. Her books are available through 4RV Publishing  and

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Blog's Worst Enemy

Yep, that says it in a nutshell. You see, yesterday I accidentally submitted to Blogger that my blog was spam. What I thought I was doing was listing my blog as one that was receiving spam. Oy!

I was then frantic to undo what I had done. But, apparently I'm okay, because my blog is still here, and I am able to post. Of course, then I wonder--has it just not come through yet?--or perhaps it went through but because there were no more reports, my blog is fine.

Wow, what a way to sabotage myself. But, we do that with our writing, too. We think we're being clever, but in actuality we are shooting ourselves in the foot. You know, that extra bit of description that leaves your reader's yawning, too much dialog (yes, that can happen) that leaves your reader wondering what is in the head of your protagonist, and so forth.

When I was in Chautauqua a few summers ago, my mentor wanted me to write a bit more on my story, starting it at a different page/time. So, I did. Then I reread what I had written, and decided I needed to add a couple of things. I should have left it with my original instincts. Everything I had added, he pointed out and said it didn't ring true, or didn't need to be there.

That wasn't the only time that sort of thing happened. When submitting my most recent writings to my critique group, the sections that I read and said to myself, "Oh, that it is a little off, but oh, well, it won't matter"--those are the areas that others pointed out to me that did, after all, need work. If I'd listened to myself and those "writerly" instincts if you will, I would have already straightened those sections out.

So I'm learning to trust my instincts, and not be my own worst enemy. What about you?

Katie Hines is the author of "Guardian," a middle grade urban fantasy, published by 4RV Publishing, LLC.