Short Stories

Outtakes 318

Short Stories

By Cait Collins



I love trying new genres and seeing if I can put a story together. Since I normally write novels, I’m finding short stories to be a bit intimidating. The short story limits my time to develop a character and tell the story. There’s no long way to define the hero or heroine in 30 or 40 pages. My protagonist still talks to me, but she’s a lot faster about telling me what’s going on in her head. I can’t be too subtle in revealing her issues; there’s just not enough word count.

Here’s what I’m learning.

One word can be more important than detailed description. Brilliant sunset says as much as the “bright orange glow of the sun setting in the western sky…” and it saves your word count.

Moria, my heroine, doesn’t have 250 pages to decide whether or not she’s attracted to Aiden. She either is or she’s not.

Aiden has to go a little slower in order to reach Moria, but then again, he can’t be too subtle. He has to make his move without scaring her off.

Forget men, a good dog can be a girls’ best friend.

One other thing I’ve found to be important is getting the details straight. Route 66 is a well known and well traveled road. People will know if your work is not accurate.

While I’m finding the short story a bit daunting, I am enjoying the challenge. Maybe I’ll consider writing a series of short stories and publishing them. And then again, maybe not.


The Human Spirit

Outtakes 316

The Human Spirit

By Cait Collins



I’m continually amazed by the resilience of men and women. Throw the book at them and most will catch the volume. Take a look at what’s been going on in southeast Texas in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. Although forced by rising water to leave their homes, these ordinary men and women are determined to return and rebuild. They are not wailing “Oh woe is me.” No, they are fighting back. Sure there are exceptions. There are the looters, the scam artists, and the quitters. But the fighters outnumber them.

Some people might say the citizens are Texas Tough, but they are just people fighting for their homes and lives. They are the very best of the human spirit. And they are not regulated to Texas. This is the humane endurance we write about. We take our characters from their calm, quiet lives, force them to reach bottom, and then crawl back to happiness or contentment. Without the day-to-day examples of normal individuals, we might have little to write about.

Humans who always appear to be on top of everything, who have no obstacles in their paths, who live well, are boring. Heroes are not born, they are made. And some heroes are ordinary men and women who rise to the occasion and excel. We need heroes, but we also need the average man who lives out his life going to work, caring for his family, and respecting others. The human spirit is the basis of all character growth. Never discount the ordinary man.

No Words

Outtakes 315

No Words

By Cait Collins



Have you ever been in a situation that was so intense and over-powering you couldn’t describe it? I can think of several situations where there were just no words that fit or would bring the event to life.

The John Kennedy assignation comes to mind. I was in junior high (that’s the old fashioned word for Middle School) when I watched President Kennedy exit Air Force One and run up into the crowd. He was young, vibrant, and engaging. A few weeks later he was dead. As a kid, I couldn’t define how I felt. Schools were closed, and we watched everything on TV. But it wasn’t real. Who would kill the President of the United States? Fifty some odd years later I still remember that day, and I still can’t make sense of what I saw or how I felt.

The Panhandle Wildfires. I remember an email from a writer friend trapped in her home. “We are surrounded by fire. Pray for us.” She and her family survived but others did not. I read John Erickson’s blogs and marveled at the courage and fortitude of cowboys. Yet I cannot put their situation and losses into words.

My first Presidential Press Corps was exciting. I enjoyed the rush of being investigated, finger printed, and receiving my first national press badge. I stood at the front of the pack with my recorder and microphone in hand waiting for Air Force One to land. When President Ford stepped to the podium, I had my microphone in his face and hoped he’d call on me. I had my question prepared. “Did you have a deal with President Nixon? Was the President’s resignation pending your promise of a pardon?” I never had a chance to ask my question, but I was a close to the President of the United States as the Secret Service allowed. How did I feel? Important is the only answer I have.

“Just a few flurries folks. Nothing to write home about. By morning we had 40 inches of snow on the ground. Mom and Dad had to dig the car out of a drift. Dad had to wade through chest deep snow drifts to connect the oil hose to the tank. I was afraid he’d die.

National and international disasters like the tsunami in the Far East that killed hundreds, destroyed property and left so many homeless. I saw pictures of people running away from the danger, but I couldn’t put myself in their places.

These events are just a few ideas of remembering incidents that should be fodder for our best stories. But our awe of events that are so important or disturbing causes us to freeze. Could I write news stories about the disaster in the Texas Gulf region? No, but I’m glad there are those who can.

Least Favorite Part

Outtakes 314

Least Favorite Part

By Cait Collins



I love the creative part of writing, but I hate editing. It takes too much time and can create even more issues if one is not careful. I have two memoirs and a novel to edit. I have a new short story to write, and a novel to finish. Please excuse my short and to the point Outtake.

The Dynamic Sentence

Outtakes 313


The Dynamic Sentence

By Cait Collins



A couple of weeks ago I suggested we might diagram sentences. Well, it isn’t as easy on my computer as with a pencil and a piece of paper. Truth is diagramming a sentence isn’t as important as writing the dynamic sentence. We all know the different parts of speech and how to punctuate our work. The trick is combining the parts and making them sing.

One good, strong verb is worth more than a passive verb and a dozen adverbs. For example:

Jordan walked across the room and stared sadly into Merrilyn’s stormy gray eyes.


Jordan stormed across the living room. Yanking Merrilyn from the plush sofa, he lifted her up to meet his cold stare. “We’re through,” he spat. He released her allowing her to fall back on the couch, and then stomped out the door.

Changing the verb from a generic walk to an action verb not only sets a mood, it gives definition to the character. We know Jordan’s angry and believes Merrilyn is at fault. If we want more drama, we can create a series of short sentences to ramp up the tension.

“I don’t know,” Merrilyn stated. “I was never involved in Gray’s activities. And if you think I’m going to stand here and take your bull, think again. You jerk. It’s not about you. It’s about my kids and their safety.”

To slow the action, use longer, more complex sentences. Just remember variety is necessary to keep the reader interested in the work. Page after page of complex sentences soon become numbing and difficult to follow. Similarly, a page of fast action can exhaust the reader. Varying the sentence lengths balances the story and makes for an easier read.

Road Trip

Outtakes 312

Road Trip

By Cait Collins



Sometimes the best research is a road trip. Seeing, holding, smelling, and maybe tasting the past or the present makes the setting real. You see the ghosts, hear their laughter, and shed tears with them. Imagine walking the wards of an Army hospital built in the 1860’s. What was innovative then seems primitive now.

Out on the lawn a baseball game is in progress. The Kids’ team is up at bat against a youth team from a nearby town. The uniforms are heavy cotton and yellowed with age. The gloves look different, but not being a baseball fan, I couldn’t put my finger on what was off.

A trip to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre taught me to view Native Americans differently. I could sympathize with the men and women who had traveled the area for centuries in search of game to feed their families.

My most recent road trip took the Wordsmith Six group to Shamrock, Texas and the U Drop Inn. We roamed the small café, showroom/gift shop, and the walkways surrounding the place. It brought back memories of the small Texas towns where my grandmothers lived. And the environment sparked creative juices. I now have a short story to write.

Day or weekend trips provide endless opportunities to learn and examine the past, present and future. They provide inspiration, and help build friendships. I recommend taking trips with your writer friends. It’s great fun.

What’s the Difference?

Outtakes 310


What’s the Difference?

By Cait Collins



Have you ever started writing a business letter or a short story and then come across one of those pesky words that makes you stop and think. Is it affect or effect? Or maybe it’s two or to. Every student, every writer, every speaker wrestles with these annoying word choices. The following is not an exhaustive list, but it includes some of the most common issues.

Accept – Except: Accept meant to receive or take. Except means to leave out or exclude.

Joe accepted the job offer.

Invite everyone except Mark and Amy.

Affect-Effect: Affect is a verb meaning to influence. Effect as a verb means to bring about. As a noun it means result.

The stock market affects my IRA.

The commissioners’ ruling had an adverse effect on jobs.

He effected a riot on the campus.

Compliment-Complement: Compliment expresses praise. Complement completes something.

The quiet compliment was not heard.

The silver sugar bowl complemented the other serving pieces.

Lay-Lie: Lie means to recline. Lay means to place or put. Lie means to tell a falsehood.

John had a headache so he decided to lie down.

Mary laid the placemats on the table.

Tom lied about having car trouble.

There-They’re-Their: There is a place.     I will wait over there.

Their is a pronoun. The clerk took their picture.

There is a contraction for they are. Do you know if they’re going?



Parts of Speech

Outtakes 309

Parts of Speech

By Cait Collins



Every writer knows books, short stories, tech manuals, screenplays, and so forth, are made from words. Surprisingly, many do not really understand the different parts of speech. It’s a word. I was shocked when I attempted to explain to a young writer why a prepositional phrase needed to be moved. Eyes wide she asked, “What is a preposition?”Ooops. How do you explain a grammar error when the writer doesn’t even know the parts of speech? This is a refresher on basic part of speech used in everyday writing and in professional writing.

A noun is a person, place, thing, idea, or quality. Nouns may be common or proper. Common nouns are not capitalized. Examples are dog, sky, table, a boy. Proper nouns reference specific persons or places such as Robert Frost or Paris, France.

A pronoun replaces a noun.

I spoke to Mary.

Jane met the boys at the ice cream shop and bought them banana splits.

A verb expresses action, being, or a state of being.

Bob planted a garden.                         Love grows.

The teacher is retiring.

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun. It may be a single word, a phrase, or a clause.

The vase is Wedgewood.

The new book by Jodi Lawrence was released today.

The presenter whose topic was law enforcement is an FBI agent.

An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. It may be a single word, a phrase, or a clause.

He wrote well.

The police stormed into the house.

Andrew left before Matt arrived.

A preposition shows the relation between its object and some other word in the sentence.

We walked to the theater.

Tom took possession of his inheritance.

A conjunction connects words or groups of words.

Mom brought hot dogs, buns, mustard, and chili to the cookout.

An interjection expresses strong feelings.

Freak!   Liar!

The interjection has no grammatical relation to the rest of the sentence.

Words and their use within a sentence are the building blocks of novel, presentation, or other writings. Understanding what words to use and their relationship to each other allows a writer to create masterpieces.

Thoughts on Grammar

Outtakes 308

Thoughts on Grammar

By Cait Collins


I remember the good old days when English teachers taught grammar rules and made us diagram sentences. I’m sure grammar rules are still taught in school, but with our reliance on email and texting, we seem to forget how to write properly. The following are examples of statements from actual police reports.

The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run so I ran over him.

I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel.

To avoid hitting the car in front of me I struck the pedestrian.

The other car collided with mine without giving any warning of his intentions.

I was thrown from my care as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.

If you think these statements are amusing you’ll enjoy the following signs posted in the workplace.

On a repair shop door: We fix anything. (Knock hard, the bell doesn’t work.).

On a leaflet: If you can’t read this, it tells how to get lessons.

In a safari park: Elephants Please Stay in your Car.

At a dry cleaner: Anyone leaving their garments here for more than 30 days will be disposed of.

In a church: This is the gate of heaven. Enter ye all by this door. (This door is kept locked so please use side entrance.)

We all make grammar mistakes. We rush to finish a project, forget to proof read, and then we send out the work with misspelled words, typos, misplaced modifiers, and punctuation errors. And then we wonder why no one takes our work seriously. Over the next few weeks we will look at some common grammar errors and how they can be corrected. Be prepared to diagram a few sentences.

Favorite Author

Outtakes 307

Favorite Author

By Cait Collins


Every reader has a list of favorite authors. One of my favorites is Julie Garwood. Years ago I purchased a book entitled RANSOM through a book club offering. I had never read a Julie Garwood novel, but the synopsis caught my attention. Highland clans, English nobility, and a lady in distress sounded like an interesting historical romance. I was not disappointed. In fact, I began looking forward to each new release and even began reading her backlist. Her work has kept me entertained for many years.

Ms. Garwood sets the scene perfectly, but without paragraphs of description. Her characters come alive through action and spot-on dialogue. I know not to start one of her books when I have to be somewhere by a specified time. Once I start reading a Julie Garwood novel, I have trouble putting it down. Her newest release, WIRED, is a page turner. I became so engrossed in the adventures of Allison Trent and Liam Scott. And when you add Allison’s cruel relatives, a bitter FBI agent, and a would-be computer programmer, you have a cast of characters that compel the reader to forget the clock and keep reading.

Whether it’s an historical romance or a contemporary romantic suspense, every release is an adventure. I recommend WIRED and any Julie Garwood novel.