Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ideas for writing blurbs

By: Stephanie Burkhart 

We've done it – we've written a great novel. It's going through edits with a publisher and then we get the email that makes us bite our nails to little bits:

Can you write a back cover blurb no more than 150 words and a 25 word short blurb?

Blurb writing is not easy. You've got a novel/novella/short story that you've got to sum up in a couple of paragraphs and you've got to make it sound jazzy so it will entice a reader to buy and read.

I try the following: I introduce the hero/heroine (main characters), state what the challenge is and what's at stake. My goal is to write paragraphs. It seems like a lot, but it all comes down to verb choice for me. After I write an initial rough draft blurb, I circle my verbs and strive to find stronger ones. "Went" and "was" are two that I try to replace. If I have an adverb, I try to eliminate it. Then I examine my adjectives and look for punchier ones – tormented, hunted, captivated, destroyed, ruined, enthralled, enchanted are all stronger words that come to mind.

When writing a short 25 word blurb, I try to state who my heroine (or hero) is and the challenge they face.

I'd love to hear your tips and what works for you.

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 dispatcher for LAPD. Married with two boys, she lives in California. In her spare time, she's a soccer mom, dance mom, cub & boy scout mom, and a writer. Her story, "Made in America," won 8th place in Mainstream Fiction in the 82nd Annual Writer's Digest Contest this year.  You can find my story on my website under "short stories" at:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Inner Editor

Lately a lot of my writing time has been at night, a time, I discovered, that is not when I'm at my writing best. I'm tired, and my inner editor prods me to the point where I am paralyzed and make little progress.

 In the morning, on the other hand, the reverse is true. My muse is at her best, and IE is thankfully quiet.

So I'm setting my alarm 45 minutes earlier so I can have time to write in the morning.

What tricks to you use to overcome yours? Share please.

Critical Thinking

Don't worry your meanderings
are unworthy of notice,
should simply be forgotten,
have been said before,
are trite,
and, most of all,
can never be altered
once written.

Stomp on the Momser
telling you to put down your pen,
your pencil,
your keyboard,
and let yourself go,
take pen to page
and scribble down whatever,
no editing allowed.

write at random,
list current favorite words,
least liked movie titles,
your best friend,
the plot of last night's television show,
your dream of trying on
someone else's shoes,

You can go back
to pick the ones you like,
cross out the duds,
add brilliant notions,
and substitute
for the weak words.
But you can't edit
what you don't write.
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You Are Unique - Here Is a Writing Exercise to Prove It

Picture of man and girl with words You are unique
You Are Unique Image
Copyright © 2013 Joan Y. Edwards

"You Are Unique - Here Is a Writing Exercise to Prove It" by Joan Y. Edwards

You Are Unique. Your experiences make you different from others. You have different likes and dislikes.
If you have a snack bag filled with multi-colored M&Ms, each of you might choose the same color to eat, once or twice, but probably not with the entire snack bag of candy. If you made a design with the M&Ms before you ate them, your designs would be different. Why? You have different likes and dislikes. (Personal aside: You can personalize M&Ms for special occasions:

Below are 15 words to use in this writing exercise. Even though each of you uses the same 15 words, the stories you write will be different. Your life experiences and interests decide what you write. Start a new story, add to an old story, or write freely as it comes to you, but try to use all 15 words in your passage.
Although the words are the same, the passages may differ in the following:
  • Genre
  • Characters
  • Dialogue
  • Conflicts
  • Senses
  • Emotion
  • Time
  • Place
  • Weather
There are verbs, nouns, and adjectives. I used to help me choose these words.

Find exercises to stimulate your brain and put life into your writing in a book called, Writing Open the Mind by Andy Couturier: Using random words stirs up wondrous experiences and helps you create passages filled with life.

This is a great exercise for writing groups that meet either online or in person. We did this exercise in our Savvy Wordsmiths Writing Group meeting in Fort Mill, SC. No one used the same characters or situations. If you and another person have the same idea for a book, it will not turn out the same. Why? It will be different because each person is different. Enjoy being you. You are unique and a blessing to our world. Write and enjoy it.

Try this exercise. Ask a friend to try it, too. Compare your stories. I’ll bet they will be unique.
Directions for this writing exercise:
  1. Get out a sheet of paper (or open a new file on your computer)
  2. Print out this blog post.
  3. Take one minute to read, study, and think about the 15 words.
  4. Set the timer for 15 minutes.
  5. Write for 15 minutes making an effort to use all 15 words in your passage.
  6. Read your passage aloud at the end of your 15 minutes.
Enjoy yourself. You are a Master Writer. You have a gift. Go for it.
15 Words for This Writing Exercise
  1. spirited
  2. evaluate
  3. post office
  4. indulge
  5. newscaster
  6. muscle
  7. barrel
  8. incredulous
  9. slippery
  10. advertise
  11. annex
  12. sapling
  13. unveil
  14. tongue
  15. photograph
Now compare what you wrote with the passage I wrote at our writing group in the comments area. Please do the exercise before you read my comment passage.

If you're willing to share your passage, copy and paste it into the comment area. It will be fun to read the variety of passages.

If you want to do this type of exercise again, you can choose 15 words at random from newspapers, magazines, wordsearch puzzles, or crossword puzzles, or your favorite books. Enjoy being you.

Happy Writing!
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Writing with Clarity

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines clarity as lucidity, clearness of thought.

Writing with clarity can be a difficult aspect of writing. There isn’t a GPS for clarity. And, no matter how clear you think you are conveying a particular sentence, paragraph, or theme, the reader may not be able to see what you intend - you’ve missed the clarity mark.

How does this happen?

Missing the clarity mark may happen even if you have clearness of thought; if that clearness of thought or intent doesn’t translate onto paper, you’ve missed the mark.

As the author, you know what you’re thinking, what motives are involved, what you assume the reader should be seeing, or understanding—this knowledge may cloud your perception of what is actually being conveyed. This clarity cloud can at times create a gap between what you think you’re saying and what you actually say. This happens because as the author, you’re too close to your own writing.

Think of a color. Now, think of a very specific hue or shade within that color. Now, try to write what you see or explain it.

This is what can happen with your story. You can see what’s unfolding clear as day, the scene, the characters, and the intent. But, your vision may not translate with clarity onto paper. You may think it has, but that doesn’t mean it actually has.

An example of this is a children’s picture book I reviewed. The content and illustrations were well done, but there was one problem. The story ultimately was about the main character having to go through a metamorphosis in order to be accepted by others. This is what a reader, a child, might take away from the story. While the story had a number of good points, this one flaw was problematic. The authors knew what they intended, but that intent didn’t show through. And, because they were so sure of their intent, they couldn’t see that the take away value of the story could be anything but what they intended.

Fortunately, there is help in this area: a critique group. Every writer who is writing a manuscript should belong to a critique group. Having three, six, or ten other writers, who write in the same genre will help you find many of the pitfalls in your story. They are the unknowing audience. They have no perceived conception of your story, so they will be able to see where it goes astray and where it lacks clarity.

Boost your writing and marketing efforts with Karen Cioffi and The Writing World. Get weekly tips and guidance, plus updates on free webinars. Join today and get “How to Create an Optimized Website – 3 Essential Author Website Elements and 9 Must-Have Pages:”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Got Characters?

By Suzanne Cordatos

Need someone new to fill out your cast of characters?

Attend your Summer Reunion!

If you are a writer holding an invitation to a reunion this summer, what are you waiting for? RSVP YES!
Not only will you reconnect with old friends or family, but your attendance will be rewarded with a surprising roster of characters to add to your writing power!

Not everyone enjoys a reunion, especially if the initial experience was one that took several years to forget let alone spend money for hotel and gas in order to remember. High school reunions usually elicit a "meh" from me, but this summer an invitation came to a reunion I couldn't refuse: a once-in-a-lifetime 30 year reunion of a camp staff I had worked with as a teenager. I had spent a few nearly idyllic summers on a lake in western NY working as a cabin counselor and waterfront/boating staffer at the most wonderful camp in the world. I had to go.

The promise of being 17 Again (i.e. sans the spouse and kids for an entire weekend) was enticing…It's the title of a fun Zac Efron movie and exactly the way I felt driving from Connecticut across New York state.

"You look exactly the same!" "Really? So do you!"

Teenage years are spent running along the brink of life, deciding the biggies: what to do with our lives, where to attend college, what values to stand for and who to love. Exciting summers filled with goofy, spontaneous fun and deep conversations. Endless days of lakeside fun and evening songs around the bonfire. It was a personal thrill to see beloved faces and hear voices that remained familiar after three decades of silence. 

The writer in me found a gold mine. 
"Gotta be some golden characters in them thar hills!"

Changes are not so obvious in people you see daily or even yearly. A reunion provides an opportunity to compare how people were “back then” with a snapshot of the “now.” 

Those yearbooks proclaiming some faces as “most likely to” probably actually really didn’t; in my reunion’s example, the “class clown” turned out to be one of the most successful as marketing director of a company that is a household name around the globe.With a collision of “what was” and “what is” in front of your eyes, your writer’s mind will easily be energized, like a magician conjuring many “in between” stories.

Try it for yourself! Have you met new characters this summer?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Stories Require a Plot

Vivian Zabel

   A story, whether a short story or a novel, requires a plot. A story without a plot is like bread without yeast -- flat and rather tasteless.

   Without a plot, we actually do not have a story but have a narrative, a scene, or a descriptive essay. 

    A plot is the causal sequence of events, the why for things that happen (that are shown as they happen). The plot of a story contains exposition, the information needed to understand story; complication, a catalyst that begins major conflict, a plot requires a conflict; climax, the turning point in the story, where the complication is resolved or solvency has been attempted; and a resolution, the events that bring the story to a close. By the way, do not write "The End" at the close of a story. If well written, readers knows the story closes.

    Therefore, how do we develop a good plot, adding leavening for a light tasty loaf/story? Stories int he past involved long paragraphs with detailed expository, telling readers what happened, detailed details that didn't add to the story. Today's readers don't accept major telling writing because it is boring. Today's readers want action and showing. Activity advances and enhances the plot, is required for a plot. The use of active voice and action verbs allows the characters to "show" the story. That does not mean stories must be written in first person, although doing so is acceptable, but does mean we write from the character's perspective. Plot requires conflict, complication, comprehension, coherence, climax, and conclusion

    Plot means a story is not flat, but that it moves and flows. Plot requires character movement and dialogue advance the story without boring the reader. A plot begins with a hook (activity which catches the readers attention) and continues with activity that shows the story and keeps the readers attention.

   The result is a tasty loaf of a story.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Writing for Children: Which Comes First, Characters or Story?

A number of articles about writing for children, and other genres suggest knowing your characters inside and out before beginning the story. In fact, information suggests that the author build the story around the characters once they are fully developed. While this is good advice, and many experienced authors recommend this technique, there are some authors who occasionally watch their characters unveil themselves right before their eyes.

This is such an interesting method of writing. Your character introduces himself and gradually reveals bits and pieces and blossoms as the story moves along. Sometimes a story doesn’t begin with this intent, it just happens. This is known as the seat-of-your-pants method of writing.

You do need to be careful with this method though, you may lose track of all the bits and pieces that make up the character. So, a good way to keep track of those quirky telltale marks, expressions, behavior patterns, and physical features is to note them on a separate page or character card as they become unveiled. You wouldn’t want your character to have brown eyes in one chapter and blue eyes in another - unless of course, it’s a science fiction or paranormal and part of the storyline.

So, is there a right or wrong answer to the question of which comes first, characters or story? That depends on the writer.

While it may be important to know your characters, and even have a family and background established for them, even if every bit and piece of that information is not used in the story, you can also become acquainted as you go along. As your story develops you may find out if the character is fearful in certain situations, or if he is heroic. Sometimes it’s impossible to know this about a person, let alone a character, until circumstances create the possibility of the question; in other words until the situation arises.

It is one’s environment and circumstances that help develop his or her characteristics, fears, hopes, and so on. The same holds true for your character.

Using an example: How would a child who never saw a mouse before react to one? There’s no way to answer that question until it happens. Even the setting itself would lend to the possible various reactions of the child. If the mouse was in a field and the child wasn’t too close, you’d get one reaction. If the mouse was in the child’s closet, and the child stuck his hand in the closet to get his sneakers and touched the mouse, there’d be quite a different reaction.

So if you’re so inclined, having the story help develop the character can be a useful tool. But, again, be sure to keep track of all the new features your character unveils along the way.

 Boost your writing and marketing efforts with Karen Cioffi and The Writing World. Get weekly tips and guidance, plus updates on free webinars. Join today and get “How to Create an Optimized Website – 3 Essential Author Website Elements and 9 Must-Have Pages:” 

Friday, August 2, 2013


     Critique partners or groups can be a writer's valuable asset, but what happens when your time is short or you lose your partner? Laying aside your story in progress for a period of time gives you a new perspective and a fresh approach.

          How long is a period of time?

          That depends on time available..

               Optimal would be months or at least weeks. Put aside the story and 1) Write several articles, short stories, or blog posts  2) Plot out a new manuscript 3) Rewrite another  rough draft 4) Brainstorm new ideas for stories 5) Write a brand new rough draft 6) Do final edits on a story for deadline

               If you don’t have weeks or months, aim for days. 1) Attend a conference or workshop 2) Take a vacation 3) Write one or two short pieces 4) Do a major housecleaning or closet redo 5) Take a temporary job or  get involved in a volunteer opportunity.

               What if a deadline is looming and you have mere hours? 1) Take a walk outdoors 2) Go for a couple hours of shopping and try on clothes 3)Watch a movie 4) Meet a friend for lunch or a coke 5) Have a heart to heart talk with a loved one.

Do you get the idea? Take a break from that story. Move your thinking away from it. Allow a short period of time when your mind dwells on something besides that story.

Now, you’re ready to go back over it for a critique.

Use the same techniques that you use to critique someone else’s work. Here’s a possible ten things to remember.

  1.  Don’t dwell on the negative. Point out what you like about the writing or story and bask in the warm glow of confidence.
     2. Does the first sentence or two make you want to read more?  Does the beginning set the tone of
         the book and keep that tone until the end?

  1. Does the ending satisfy you and tie up all loose ends?

  1. Do you lose interest about chapter 4-7, or does your interest continue to peak? Check for plot points and the black moment. Could you eliminate or add characters? Does it flow? Is the pace appropriate for each scene?

  1. Check for passive words. Do you have lots of action verbs? Can you turn sentences around to make them active? Circle the words was, were, have, had, to be, being. Is there some of them you can eliminate?

Examples: Before: Lacey’s body was tense.

                  After:   Tension gripped Lacey’s body.

                 Before: Shelley’s head was hot from the sun beaming on it.

                  After:    Sunbeams heated Shelley’s head.

Look through your manuscript for such examples you might improve.


  1. Is there a portion of your story that you summarized which should be a real-time scene? What about the reverse? Is there a real-time scene that you might summarize to avoid lagging interest? Is there any scene that doesn’t further the story or the characterization. If so, eliminate it.

  1. Do a find for words that you use too often and get rid of them? I seem to love just so often have to delete it. What about at least, more often, really, a lot?” What about a really good word that adds to your story like captivate? Use only once, or it ceases to carry power

Examples: Before: She just loved the mall.

                  After:   She loved the mall. – This means the same without the extra word,.
       You might use the extra word as part of your characterization, however.

         Adverbs, got to love them, or hate them, but most experts say delete them.

Examples: Before: I’m very excited to be here.

                              After:     I’m excited to be here.

              Leave off the adverb and it means the same thing.

              Maybe, it would be better to turn it around and make it active.

                                  Excitement doubled me over with stomach butterflies.


  1. Is every portion of dialogue needed? Does it further the story? Does it tell about the character? Does each character's dialogue sound different? Does body language replace words? 

Examples:   “Hey, Lace, stop it. You’re a gorgeous woman.”

                     “Ditto, Boss."

                     “I’m old, overweight, and overwhelmed. That’s what I am and that's what I'll stay because I'm weak-willed and a pushover..”

        Did I succeed at sounding like three different characters without dialogue tags or beats? That’s our challenge.

.    9.     Check for point of view problems. Look through one person's eyes only. We can know their
            thoughts, what they see, what they smell, but we can't know anyone else's view.
             Check for show, don't tell problems. This gets many of us.
                       I can't just tell you Victoria hates living in the country.
                       I must show chickens pecking her legs, and the sun burning her face. Her thoughts
                              must  reveal the loneliness she feels without a friend..

    10. Did you introduce too many characters in the beginning and confuse the reader? Start with no
           more than three named characters if possible. A good way then to introduce other characters is
           to let us learn about them from the original characters before introducing them.

Read your story out loud and look for anything that makes you stop, pause, or try to understand. Instead, keep the reader plowing through your words not being able to stop even at the chapter breaks.

Use a critique partner if you can. If not, be your own. 

Janet K. Brown lives in Wichita Falls, Texas and loves to write, visit with grandkids, and travel with her husband in their RV.  4RV Publishing released her debut novel, Victoria and the Ghost, an inspirational YA in 2012. The example in number nine above comes from that book. Visit with Janet at her website/blog:
Purchase site for Victoria and the Ghost.