Let Down

Outtakes 377

Let Down

By Cait Collins

Have you ever started reading a story and when you reached the end, it was a real let down?  Good plots lead to a satisfying ending.  No one wants to read a romance only to find the hero and heroine separate at the end. Rule number one of a romance is to have a happy ending. But when Prince Charming leaves Cinderella with a peck on the cheek and a “see you later”, we’re not satisfied.  And chances are we will not purchase another book by that author.

A good story catches the reader within the first few pages. It maintains a rhythm that builds to a climax and then begs for a resolution. It’s spiced with twists and turns that challenge the characters. The obstacles force the hero to grow and become stronger. And in the end the questions are answered and the hero is able to build a life beyond the troubles and trials of his past.

Sometimes the writer’s journey is really difficult. A promising story falls apart. I write my characters into corners and can’t find a way to get them out without the story seeming contrived. Good writing requires patience and an open mind. It doesn’t happen overnight. I am currently reading an early Nora Roberts release. It’s fun and I am enjoying it.  But the real thrill is seeing how she has continued to hone her talent and find new stories to tempt the reader.


Plan Ahead

Outtakes 376

Plan Ahead

By Cait Collins

While I admit to not being an in depth plotter, I do admire those who do spend time plotting out their story.  I’ve known writers who know to the minute when the hero will propose to the heroine.  They have detailed character sketches; know whether the hero will bring roses or gardenias. Will they vacation at the beach or in the mountains? Will the heroine wear Michael Kors or Levi’s?

Timelines stretch across one wall of the office. Sticky notes are moved from one point to the next.  Every move, every word, every decision is meticulously planned. There is no deviation from the first word to “the end”. The story or novel is almost perfect from beginning to end. I do envy those writers.  They know where they are going. They make it work.

On the other hand, I enjoy the times my characters throw a monkey wrench into the plan. So he doesn’t fall madly in love with the heroine.  What’s wrong with them being best friends? That’s a rewrite. But it works for me.

The amount of research and planning that goes into writing a short story may change the amount of time and detail that goes into the preparation. Genre may also change the game plan. The point is each one of us must embrace the method that propels us forward in our writing adventures. It may mean we experiment from time to time. Or try to fly in a different direction to get the job done. The method is not as important as completing the work and being happy with the result.



Thoughts on Plotting

Outtakes 375

Thoughts on Plotting

By Cait Collins


Every writer has to experiment with ways to plot his stories.  There is no one right way to craft a story. Personally, I prefer to sketch my characters.  I write just enough so that I know the basics.  Once that’s done, it’s up to the character to tell me who he is.  Same with the actual story development.  I have a few plot ideas but they can work on their own, or they can intermingle.  I decide where the story takes place.  And then I free-write.

I will admit that the free association has led me down some strange paths, But in unraveling the twisted paths, I often find a lead that creates new possibilities.  I guess you could call me a “pantser”.  I write by the seat of my pats.  It may not be the most practical method of storytelling, but it works for me.

Keep It Real

Outtake 374

Keep It Real

By Cait Collins


When we are talking to one another, do we speak the King’s English?  “Of course, we don’t. We tend to do just the opposite.  We speak with crazy idioms, slang, and sentence fragments.  Many younger people have more limited vocabularies because their main communication method is via Facebook or texting.  Therefore, as writers we make conversations more real by employing the changes in style.  I’m not suggesting we write like we text.  “R u riding with me,” may be more convenient, but it’s not the way we write dialogue and it’s definitely not acceptable in a memorandum or a report.

Imagine saying, this.  “I sauntered to the convenience store this morning to purchase a quart of Borden’s eggnog and a pound of unshelled peanuts. I strolled along the parkway to my home, tossing peanuts to the squirrels’.  They are so delightful to watch scurrying around gathering their nuts and seeds before scampering up the tree to deposit their goodies in their holes.

Seriously, this is not the way we talk.  We don’t use fancy words.  We walk to the store.  The squirrels make us smile.  When the dialogue is too out there, it stalls the story’s progression and it can interrupt the story flow.

If your characters live in the Deep South use the moonlight and magnolias, but use it sparingly. Don’t allow the idioms and local vocabulary to take over the dialogue.  In the Northeast, alobstais colorful, and a stahis cute.  But do you want to see that on every page?  The local terms are spice only.

While profanity has a place, too much can be a turn off for the reader.  I don’t like it in the movies or on TV. The same goes in our dialogue.  A “hell” or “damn” carries more of a punch if it comes out of the blue.  Remember Rhett Butler’s parting comment to Scarlet?  “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” sent the critics into orbit, but it was such an appropriate response to the self-centered Scarlett.

Dialogue is action and well written dialogue moves the story and elicits a response from the reader. Keep it real.  Use local slang and pronunciation to add spice to the conversation.  If you use profanity, don’t over-do it.  Make the words appropriate for the character so that they add a punch to the verbal exchange.



Silence is Golden

Outtakes 373

Silence is Golden

By Cait Collins


I do love dialogue, but sometimes silence is best.

Two guys loved the same girl.  They were the three Musketeers, always together, always laughing.  She sits alone on a marble bench looking at their pictures.  She traces the features, and pauses as if a memory stirs.  Her head falls back; she closes her eyes and allows the sun to warm her face.

Her thoughts go back to the last time she saw them. They were leaving for boot camp.  Their goofy grins faded when they boarded the bus.

A loon’s mournful song echoes in the coming darkness.  She shivers…

A tear slips down her cheek as she stares at the marble grave stones,

“I miss you both,” she whispers. “I love both of you.”



Let Your Words Speak

Outtakes 371

Let Your Words Speak

By Cait Collins


Imagine a novel or short story that has no dialogue.  No verbal interaction between the characters to move the action. Dialogue is action.  It provides emotion and insight into the needs and desires of the players.  Writing dialogue can be the hardest writing, but it can be the most rewarding.  Choose your words carefully.  Avoid trite phrases.  Write in an active voice and eliminate as many helping verbs as possible. Allow your words to direct the emotion so that exclamation marks are not necessary.

Dialogue tags are needed to avoid confusion as to who is speaking, but write so that the reader doesn’t need stage directions such as shouted, banged, slapped, slammed, cried, and so forth.  Allow the dialogue to set the scene and create the mood.  For example:

“You chose to end our marriage.  “I accept your decision, but I’ll always wonder if we could have salvaged the relationship.”

“Are you trying to make me feel guilty, Mark?”

“No. That would be impossible.  A person with no soul feels no guilt or remorse.” Mark put on his glasses and began reading the newspaper.  “Have a nice life, Beth. I just hope the next sap you target gets a better deal. “Goodbye and don’t forget to leave your keys.”

The door bell chimed.  Mark looked toward the glass door.

“On second thought, forget the keys.  The locksmith’s here.”


Outtakes 370


By Cait Collins


Things happen.  Sometimes they are good and sometimes they’re hell.  We can write great scenes, but if the characters do not react in keeping with their personalities, the story loses its integrity.  Let’s try this.  Your story has three female characters.  Missy is in her early twenties.  She is shy, withdraw, and nervous.  Prissy is about 25.  She’s been on her own since her late teens.  She’s outgoing, friendly and independent.  At 32, Krissy is strong, confident, and a take-no prisoners woman.

There have been a number of break-ins in town recently.  The authorities are looking for suspects, but no one has witnessed the robberies.  People are adding more security to their homes, but not everyone can afford the extras.

One weekend, Missy goes to visit her friend in Oklahoma.  Prissy is attending a wedding in San Antonio.  Krissy attends a conference in Denver.  When they return home, they find they are victims of the bugler.  Two of them have lost jewelry, TV sets, and computers. The police were able to contact the two women to warn them of the break-ins, but Krissy is not answering her cell phone and no one seems to know where she went.  She has no warning.

Based on the information provided, pick one of the women and write a scene about her arrival home and facing the disaster.  Here is my take on Krissy’s response.

Krissy dropped the phone into the cradle.  Her cell phone bit the dust when she was pushed into a fountain by a group of rowdy teenagers.  At least she could phone the police, her boss, and her brother.  Thank goodness nothing appeared to have been taken.  The only evidence of the entry was the banged up door facings and leaves that had blown in through the open doorway.

“It could have been worse, Kris,” her brother stated.  “You could have been here when he came through the door.  You could have been hurt bad.”

“The jerk could have been killed.  I don’t miss.”

“Can I get you something?  I mean, have you eaten anything?”

“There’s a bottle of Merlot in the wine fridge.  Pour me a large glass.” Please,” she added.

The doorbell chimed.  Krissy stormed to the front hall.  Peeking around the curtain, she muttered a curse.  The bell chimed again. She yanked open the door.  A sheriff’s deputy grabbed her into a fierce hug.

“Don’t you ever do that to me again, Kris.  I thought you were kidnapped or worse.  I had to report you as a missing person.   He released her.

“That should have thrilled you.  I’ve been invisible for years.  You haven’t seen me since I chose to take the job with Senator Sellers.  I’ve been nothing but an irritation since you decided there was no relationship.  Not even a friendship.  Go back to your office, report me found, and forget I exist.  I never want to see you again.”

Physical Characteristics

Outtake 369


Physical Characteristics

By Cait Collins



A few years ago, I had the honor of meeting Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Michael Cunningham.  He was a speaker at my first writers’ conference. I was enrolled in his advanced novel writing class and looked forward to hearing his lectures. He was not the standard speaker extolling his accomplishments. Instead, Michael gave us an assignment. We had fifteen minutes to list twenty physical characteristics of your protagonist.  The list could include physical attributes as well as manner of dress, and smells. And when we had the list completed, we were to write the opening paragraph of the novel and incorporate at least six of the characteristics in that paragraph.

Here goes:

Ageless            long, white blonde hair        tall       slender                        piercing blue eyes

Gold wire-rimmed metal glasses        long, slender fingers   musician’s hands        a pipe stem peeping from the jacket pocket     a brown tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbow

Smelled of apple wood pipe tobacco   pressed dark blue denim jeans          large, blood red ruby ring on the ring finger of his right hand       black leather belt      patrician nosehigh cheek bones         English oak walking stick with a wide gold band at the bottom and a dragon-head handle 

Dark wool muffler      slight limp      high cheek bones         linen handkerchief in left breast pocket           voice of authority

He stood in the doorway. Piercing blue eyes searched the room lingering on the faces of the women in the crowded lecture hall. He appeared ageless. Was he forty or four hundred? White blonde hair fell below his shoulders. He limped toward the lectern at the front of the room.  Facing the audience, he spoke. The voices of the ages filled the room as he told stories of Glastonbury, Tintagel, and the days of Camelot. The authority in his words called to some and ignored others. The sparkle of the blood red ruby on the ring finger of his right hand hypnotized the woman sitting in the last seat on the third row.

“Daughter of King Arthur, it is time.”

Copper tresses gleamed and emerald eyes stared into the beloved face. “Merlin,” she whispered.

I loved every minute of Michael Cunningham’s lectures.


Outtakes 368


By Cait Collins


When setting the location for your story, what do you look for?  Do you choose an actual place or is it from your imagination?  What draws you to the city or town?  Where is it located?  If the location is in the United States, which state are you considering?  Are you familiar with the city or town and the state? What’s the population?  Who are the biggest employers?  Is there a college or university in the area?  Is there a historic district?  Did any major, historic event occur in the area?  Describe Main Street.  Where are the popular hang outs:  a bar, a diner, the library?  Is there a well-known landmark?  What is the major building material:  wood, brick, native stone?

Are the locals affluent, middle class, under privileged, or a mixture of all classes? What are the major ethnic backgrounds?  Describe your antagonist, protagonist, and major supporting character’s homes.  Where’s the best place to buy an ice cream sundae?

Does it matter if your setting is real or from your imagination?  Not really because all of this information, and more, is necessary to build the setting for the story.  While the location is essential to the work, it should not take over the tale.

Under the Bed

Outtakes 367

Under the Bed

By Cait Collins

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to clean the junk out of my house.  I’ve made a start by cleaning out the closet in the master bedroom.  Then I started to focus on the closet in my study.  About a third of the upper shelf is loaded with boxes containing my “under the bed shopped but unpublished works.”  I’ve started pulling down boxes and found some promising pieces as well as some real duds.  The duds are in the trash, but the promising works I’ve decided to hang on to for a while.

If I have multiple copies of a manuscript I’ll trash the extras and keep just one copy.  That way I can reduce the number of file boxes on the shelf.  Once the clean out is complete, I’ll take a good look at the remaining pages and decide if the work is salvageable.  If I determine the work to be worth saving, I will type it into a new Word document make making updates and changes as I go.  Then I will destroy the paper copies.

Should I decide the story is no longer interesting to me, I will shred it, and then I will pack the empty file box into a larger box to take to Goodwill. Hopefully I will have an empty section of shelves when I’m through.

I don’t know about other writers, but cleaning out the mess and organizing the storage spaces helps me focus.  My desk and work area at the office are relatively cleaned off.  I don’t keep many photos and nick-nacks on my work station. I really do work best that way.  If I trash the junk,  I think more clearly.  I can work smarter and better.  I make fewer mistakes when I my work area is neat.  However, the same does not hold for desk drawers.  What I can’t see doesn’t bother me.