Say It Better

Outtakes 146


Say It Better

By Cait Collins


I love finding snappy phrases. They make the author and the story really stand out. One I read recently got to me. “The memory was frozen in amber.” What a picture. I could imagine the image of the man she loved encased forever in the translucent stone. My niece gave me another wonderful image in describing a teenage facial expression. “Her eyes rolled so far back in her head she could see her brain.” I will find a place in a story for that one.

So many times we fall back on the same old phrases instead of looking for the unique. A writer should go for something different. Instead of referring to a kiss as hotter than a fire cracker on the fourth of July, why not say it was hotter than Mt. Etna in full eruption? Better yet, replace those trite statements with bold action verbs. Strong verbs replace adverbs and adverb phrases. They make the story tighter, crisper.

Just for the fun of it, come up with a list of well used phrases and rewrite them. For example, find another way to say “fit to be tied, at wits end, and chomping at the bit”. Romance writers should come up with new phrases for “melted at his touch, set afire by the smoldering look in his eyes, and drawn like a moth to a flame.”

Stephen King is a master with description. Read his depiction of the cellar in IT. I could smell it, taste it, and feel it. It terrified me to the point I could not enter a basement for months. Good descriptive phrases, strong verbs, and catchy sayings only enhance the story we are telling. It’s worth the extra effort to say it better.

Thumbs Up Huskies!

Thumbs Up Huskies!

By Rory C. Keel

I had a wonderful time speaking to the 3rd and 4th grade classes at the Henry W. Sory Elementary School in Sherman, Texas. The students were fantastic and super polite.

Thanks to all the teachers who have worked so hard to instruct and encourage the students to excel in reading and writing.

A special thanks to Ginger White, the Assistant Principal, for inviting me to come and share some of my writing motivations and the book that inspired me to read. I enjoyed reading my story, The Challenge published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers book and hope someone will be encouraged to be a writer.

I know that the Sory Huskies always do their best!



First Chapters

First Chapters

Natalie Bright


First chapters are important for various reasons, with the main one being you want readers to keep reading. You get one chance to establish a connection through empathy for a character or a curiosity of what happens next. Hopefully you’ll hold the reader through that first chapter and then they can’t help but go on to the next.

For children’s writers, we’re talking a few lines. An elementary school librarian told me that her kids read the first 5 to 6 lines and then say, “I don’t like it.” That’s tough for authors.

NO Second Chances

If you’re new to writing and have chosen a more traditional route to publishing, you want your first chapter submission to electrify that agent or editor. You want them to choose your story over the slush pile of submissions they’ve been reading that week. If you’re a self-published author, you want readers to buy your future books as well. You want satisfied, happy readers because they rarely give you a second chance.

I spend lots of editing time on the first chapter. I read it a gazillion times, and take it to my critique group several times, and then send it out to other friends as well. That first chapter sets the tone and theme for your book. It’s a solemn promise and your guarantee of adventure!

Here’s Your checklist on First Chapters:

1)    Put a lot of thought into that first sentence.

2)    Establish the where and when. Don’t confuse your reader at the very beginning.

3)    First chapters may change once you’ve written THE END. Be prepared to keep rewriting, polishing again, and then some to clarify your theme.

4)    Don’t begin the story too early. Avoid too much background, start with the human voice, and action. RICHARD PECK

5)    Get ‘em by the shirt front and pull that reader into your book. Your job as the writer is to intrigue people. DUSTY RICHARDS


TAGS: first chapters, story craft, writers, children’s writers, first chapter list, editing


Stoking Young Fire



Stoking Young Fire

By Nandy Ekle


So a very young person, around the age of ten or eleven, comes to you and says, I want to write a story. What do I do?” What do you say to child of that age?

Well that age of kid may not be ready to hear about plot or theme or conflict. They may not even be ready to hear about characterization.

I think one of the first things I would say to a third or fourth grader is that the key to learning to write stories is to read stories. Reading published works by successful authors can be more important than reading a textbook about how to write. We subconsciously learn to put stories together, and we learn to describe scenes.

The second thing I would tell this child is that writing stories is most like playing make believe with our friends. Instead of acting out a game of “play like,” we right down the scenarios. And this is the basis of where stories come from.

A third thing I would explain to this child is that writers write. So the best way to learn about writing is to write.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.


Tag word: plot, conflict, make believe.

Pitch Perfect

Outtakes 145


Pitch Perfect

By Cait Collins


I love to write, but I thoroughly dislike writing query letters. While not my favorite activity, I understand the importance of a good pitch letter. Not only does the correspondence present your work to the editor or agent, writing the perfect pitch will help you with the verbal promotion of the work.

A good query letter begins with your ability to state the theme of your work. Every story has a theme. Sometimes it is obvious, but in other instances the writer has to dig to find the point of his story. For example the theme of my story How Do You Like Me Now, is “Revenge may be satisfying, but justice is better.” With that in mind, it’s easy to open the query with a solid hook. Yes, lead the letter with an attention grabber and worry about your biography later.

A pitch letter should be as well thought out and crafted as your novel or story. Do not take shortcuts here. If the query is weak, the agent or editor might assume the work is also poorly constructed. Avoid using clichés. Make sure your verbs are strong, action verbs. This eliminates the need for adverbs. I’ve heard writing instructors preach on adverbs as enemies instead of friends. A good verb can save you precious words when facing a limited word count.

Here are a few other tips that have helped me.

  1. Know your characters and their relationships. Use the understanding to introduce the protagonist and the antagonist in short paragraphs.
  2. Use present tense.
  3. Keep the letter to less than one page. Too much information is not necessarily good. In a verbal pitch, you may have ten seconds to get an agent’s attention. Apply the same standard to the query.
  4. Do your research. You don’t want to be the erotica writer who pitched to an inspirational agent. Be sure you have the editor’s full name and the correct spelling. Be sure he represents your genre. Make sure you follow the agency’s submission guidelines.
  5. Do not include your photograph, your cute kitty’s picture, or submit the letter on bright colored paper. Use only Times New Roman 12pt type. The margins should be one inch all around, on one side, and printed on a good quality, white bond paper.
  6. Your information should be at the end of the pitch. Keep it simple. If you are a first time writer, don’t publicize the fact. Instead, promote your successes. If the novel won an award in a contest, say so. Your self-published first book garnered respectable success. Say so. Just don’t over advertise yourself.
  7. Promote your platform. Agents and Editors need to know if you have a website, are on Facebook or Twitter. While you may have multiple, promotion sources remember you still need time to write. Don’t over burden yourself with social media
  8. Thank the agent or editor for his time. It may take eight to twelve weeks to get a response, so be patient. Bugging the agent for an update every few days may do more harm than good.
  9. Be yourself, but be professional.

Paying attention to details will help ensure your letter will be well received and could get you one step closer to a publication contract. Good luck. I’ll be looking for your name in the stacks.



By Rory C Keel

After looking back at some of my writing, I noticed that my characters were flat, and not because they’re typed words on a screen. No, they  have no depth, no dimension.

As I start the new year of writing, I will create what I will call character interviews. In Gail Carson Levine’s book, WRITING MAGIC, she suggests making a character questionnaire.

Make a list of questions and fill in the answers such as: name or nickname, what type of being (human, alien etc…), age, sex, physical appearance and characteristics, family members and friends, pets, hobbies?

Then ask deeper questions like: What are my character’s talents and abilities? What are their faults, fears and good qualities?

If you have flat characters, try interviewing your character and give them a new dimension!

Rory C. Keel

A Character MUST Die!

A Character MUST Die!

Natalie Bright


My WIP is going great. Writing, writing, writing… until this morning.

Last night, our 13yo told me about the latest video game that he and his friends have mastered. It takes place at world’s end (of course), with a surprisingly complex back story (I’m told most games have them). Groups of people were sheltered in different bunkers and given tests of endurance. Long story short, there’s lots of killing and then the survivors commit suicide. That’s where he lost me. So what’s the point of playing this game?

If you write stories for children as I do, this is the reality of entertainment today. How can my historical western book compete against a video game and hold a young reader’s attention? I asked my 13yo his opinion about a fight scene I’m working on. We talked about body movements, hand placement, and the ability of staying on a horse while my character shoots arrows.

“Who dies?” he asked.

“No one dies,” I said.

“It’s not a good story unless someone dies,” he said.

Is that true? I thought about my favorite stories. Charlotte dies. Old Yeller-gone. Jo’s little sister in LITTLE WOMEN. Basically everyone in Hunger Games except for…well, you know. My son might be right. Except no one dies in my story. I can’t kill any of my characters. I like them all, and basically I need them for books 2 and 3. (Dreaming big for a series.)

“They learn to trust and help each other,” I said. “Bitter enemies become best friends and it’s a happy ending.”

“That’s not good,” he replied.

“I’d read it.” This from our 17yo as he studied the contents of the frig. At least I have one reader.

As I sit here staring at the words on my computer screen, I’m wondering which character must go? What’s wrong with a happy ending? All of my characters want to live and I have no idea why. They’ve completely taken over. It happens sometimes.



The King



The King

By Nandy Ekle


One of the rules of our critique group is if you haven’t written something new to bring for critique, then you should bring something educational. This is a great rule because it works like a deadline to keep the writing going. But in those days when the words just will not come, we can learn something new and helpful.

So, since I have written nothing new in a while, other than the business letters I write for my day job, I decided it was time to do something educational. So I decided to bring a guest to our meeting tonight.

If you remember my blog from last week, I started reading a new book and the first chapter, which is a prologue, completely, totally blew me away. Talk about words that grab you and don’t let go. This book definitely has kept me hypnotized.

So for our meeting this week I decided to take my book and read the prologue out loud, as a learning tool. So that’s exactly what I did. I took Rose Madder by #Stephen King# and read the prologue to my fellow critiquers. And guess what happened. Exactly the same thing that happened to me. They were entranced.

Thank you, Mr. King, for instructing our group tonight.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

In the Dark

Outtakes 144


In the Dark

By Cait Collins

I wake with a start. Something’s off. I can’t put my finger on what’s different. My fingers brush the lamp switch. Light will help. I won’t be so unsettled. But nothing happens. Maybe the bulb is burned out. There are no lights on in the apartment. Even my LED night light is dark. The television is off, but itt was on when I went to bed. This can’t be good.

I stumble to the closet and grab my battery powered lantern. Flipping the switch, I’m surrounded by a white glow. No longer do I stub my toes on furniture or bump into walls. This baby gives off enough light so that I can at least navigate and find my clothes. Maybe I can even match my shoes.

It’s 4:30 AM. Much too early to head for work. So what can I do? I can’t make breakfast or coffee. With no television and insufficient light for reading, I can only sit in the dark and wait. And think. What happened to the electricity? We didn’t have a storm. No sirens break the silence, so an auto accident could not be the culprit. Maybe one of the neighborhood kids threw the main breaker. Or maybe there’s an axe murderer just waiting for me to walk out the door. Then there’s the possibility an alien ship landed in the parking lot and the energy from their space ship knocked out the electricity. Who knows what happened?

Hey, I could write a story about this. The heroine, a police detective, wakes to utter darkness. Harsh breathing disturbs the silence. “Please help me.” And then…?

Why Would Anyone Read My Writing?

Why Would Anyone Read My Writing?

By Rory C. Keel


Why would anyone read my writing? This is a question beginning writers often ask themselves. It’s a normal question to ask. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve asked it of myself.

How do I deal with it? I learned not to make it personal. Many experienced writers ask the same question when they find themselves struggling to put something on the page.

The simple answer is that people want to read your writing because it’s entertaining, interesting, funny or emotional. These are the same reasons people read anything written by any author. The characteristics that make other authors worth reading are the things that will make your writing worth reading.

Don’t take it so personal

Most readers don’t determine what books they read by the personality of the author who wrote it. Many times the attributes of authors aren’t known until they reach some measure of fame. A person reads what they are interested in based on the content and writing, and then the reader may choose to learn about the personal traits of the author he or she likes. This shows that the writing is important.

Improve your writing

If your work isn’t interesting, entertaining, funny or emotional people probably won’t read it. Nothing personal about you as a human being, just improve your writing. To do this study the craft of writing, seek help from a critique group or a writing association.

As your writing improves, so will the number of readers.