Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Your Writing Coach is Offering Coaching Services

Hi Everyone. I'm tooting my own horn today. Tum-ta-da-da!

I'm stretching Your Writing Coach's wings and we are now offering coaching services for writers. 

You can read all about me, the services we are going to offer and more by clicking on the links above, near the title of the blog.

I'll still be posting writing tips and writing exercises to this blog. No worries there.

As your Writing Coach, I will provide you with detailed and honest critiques, references to magazine articles and books specific to your individual needs, and written evaluation of your skills. I'll guide you to achievable goal setting with assistance to complete your writing project. 

Together, we'll overcome challenges that interfere with your writing process.

Can you answer the following questions?

Are you having trouble meeting your fiction writing goals?

Do you start a writing project but not finish it?

Do you need to work on the mechanics of your writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation)?

Are you looking to develop more realistic characters, stronger conflict and plot, and correct point of view?

Could you benefit from a writing coach who will provide honest and insightful feedback?

If you answered "YES", then I am the Writing Coach you're looking for.

If you'd like, I can offer you a FREE 20 minute session to see if we can work together. Contact me and we'll go from there. I look forward to chatting with you and about your writing.

If you are serious about your writing career and want to succeed, let me help you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Writing Tips - Quest for the Quintessential Query Letter

The Query Letter -- the elusive quarry. We know near perfect ones exist. Editors expound those that come across their desk. Writers rave about their flawless recipe of words that caught an editor’s interest. 

Everywhere you go in the writing world, someone offers you tips or advice to create a query letter. Ever since I realized I could sell my writing, I’ve been on a quest, searching for the perfect formula to create the quintessential query letter.

What I’ve discovered is that if you go to any resource website or read any writing resource book, you’re guaranteed to find at least one, probably more, articles about query letters. It’s overwhelming to say the least.

Did you ever wonder why there are so many articles? Because there isn’t just one perfect format. Nope. You can stop searching for the magic formula. It doesn’t exist.

However, even though I’ve discovered that there is no ONE perfect query letter, there are specific qualities of the query letter that can come close to perfection. We all know that for as many editors there are in the publishing world, you’ll find that many types of query letters. Each one was created to catch an editor’s eye. What did it?

What I’ve found in common with every article written about query letters is the basic structure. It doesn’t matter whether you are pitching an idea for an article, short story, novel, or non-fiction book, the structure of the query letter is still the same.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll break down the query letter into its essential parts. Some of them may look as if they are over simplified and obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often they are forgotten in the rush and excitement of production.

Overall Look

Start with a professional look to your letter. Use stationery imprinted with your name and address. Now, this doesn’t mean spending a load of money for printed stationery. Just make sure your letterhead format is professional.

Make use of your word processing software to give your letter a little touch of class. You’d be amazed at what a header and footer line can do.

IMPORTANT: Study the publisher’s guidelines. Follow them to the letter. No exceptions! Don’t waste the editor’s time if your book, article, or short story doesn’t meet the publisher’s needs.

TIP: Use the publisher’s guidelines to adjust any nuances in your query letter. Don’t get stuck in a generic format that can’t be adjusted for each editor. They can pick out a standard format at twenty paces. Make that editor feel as if you’re writing this letter just for them.

Address and Salutations

Always address your letter to a real person rather than a generic department title. Reading “Dear Acquisitions Editor” is akin to reading “Dear Occupant.” Don’t do it. Use the correct address and don’t forget suite numbers.

TIP: Make sure you have the correct spelling and gender titles.

What’s the best source for getting the correct name and spelling? The publishing company or magazine you want to send your query letter. Call and ask the person who answers the phone. It’s that simple. Use the Writer’s Market to get addresses and telephone numbers. Look in the magazine for the credits section. You’ll find names and numbers there.

IMPORTANT: Now is not the time to be shy.

Don’t make the mistake of addressing your letter to an editor who no longer works at the company or use the wrong title. No one likes to be addressed as a Mister if she is a Miss or vice versa.

First Paragraph

Make sure you know where your book, article, or short story fits in the publishing world. This means you must know the tone, length, story line, and market. If you are expecting the editor to figure this information out for you, don’t hold your breath. That’s your job.

Your first paragraph should describe your book, article, or short story, the tone, word length, and where it fits in the market. Make sure you use a title when describing your work, even if it isn’t the exact title you want. Preface the title with the word “working.”

TIP: If someone has referred you to the publisher, don’t forget to mention that important fact in your opening sentence. If you met the editor at a conference and he/she asked you to submit, mention that also.

Second Paragraph

Use the second paragraph of your query letter to hook the editor. This is where you tell the editor about your book, article, or short story.

Be sensitive to the editor’s needs and time. Now is not the time to spend pages explaining your idea in excruciating detail. Be succinct and brief.

IMPORTANT: Practice putting the basic premise of your book, article, or story into twenty-five words or less.

If you can’t explain the gist of your book, article, or short story in twenty-five words or less, you may not have a good grasp of what you want to write about. If you can’t explain it, how can you expect an editor to understand it?

Third Paragraph

The third paragraph should describe you, your writing experience, and any publishing history.

TIP: Don’t forget to mention any relevant information such as memberships, career, or other expertise you have to help you write your article, book, or short story.

Final Paragraph and Signature

Always end your letter by asking the editor if you can send him/her your entire article, manuscript, or outline in the case of a non-fiction book.

Don’t forget to thank the editor for taking the time to read your query and let the editor know that you look forward to hearing from him/her at their earliest convenience.


Don’t ever, ever forget to include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Use a postage stamp rather than a metered stamp. The editor many not get to your query for up to a month or more. The metered stamp may have expired by then.

IMPORTANT: Make it easy and convenient for the editor to respond to you!


Some editors ask to see “proof” of previous publishing experience. Others don’t. Read the guidelines carefully so that you know if you should include them or not.

TIP: Make sure they are clean copies (either a tear sheet from the magazine or printed from the internet.) Don’t ever include them in the body of your query letter.

Secret Ingredient

So, what makes the query letter perfect to an editor? You. Only you can add that one special ingredient that will make or break your query letter. Your unique voice. That’s what the editors are looking for.

Of course, good grammar and spelling help too! But, most of all, you must leap from the page or screen and grab the editor’s attention. It’s your first chance to make the editor notice you. You know the old saying, “First impressions count.” Make this one count the most!. Don’t blow it.

IMPORTANT: However, don’t get so caught up in the structure that your personal writing voice doesn’t shine through your query letter. Be unique.

Be yourself and let your writing speak to the editor. That’s what counts.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Priorities

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about Priorities. How will you determine what will be a priority today? Write about priorities and how they relate to you as an effective and productive writer. Does the ability to set priorities have anything to do with your level of creativity?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to determine what is a priority today? Did you figure out how priorities relate to you as a writer? Were you able to determine if the ability to set priorities had anything to do with your level of creativity?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing Tips - Overcoming the Fear of Writing a Synopsis

If you noticed, I didn’t title this article “Overcoming YOUR Fear of Writing a Synopsis.” I don’t think you own the fear anymore than I do or any other writer. We all share a common emotion, one that can be summed up in one word: Formidable.

What is it about this particular piece of writing that brings out more moans and groans from writers than a roomful of sixth graders getting a surprise math test?

What is a Synopsis?

Look at the word. Synopsis. Say it with me. “Sin-op-sissss.” Even the sound of the word emanates dread.

What is a synopsis? Webster’s defines it as “a shortened statement or outline, as of a narrative. Abstract.”

Nothing sounds particularly evil in that definition. Let’s look at it a little closer – “shortened statement or outline.” Hey, look at that. “outline.” Now there is a little word we’re all familiar with. Does “outline” make you cringe as much as “synopsis?” What about “shortened statement?” Not me. Probably not you, either.

Start with a Simple Sentence

Let’s start with the shortened statement. I’ll use the popular children’s story, Lady and the Tramp to help demonstrate my points.

What is our story about?

“Lady and the Tramp is a story about dogs.”

True, but the portrayal is dry and uninteresting. Would you want to just read a story about dogs? What makes this dog story different? Let’s see if we can add some more information to better describe the story.

Lady and the Tramp is about two dogs from different sides of the track.”
Good. Now we know that there are two main characters. And, we know that these two characters are different in some way. Let’s see if we can do a little bit better.

Lady and the Tramp tells the adventures of an upper-class, well bred cocker spaniel and a roguish mutt from the wrong side of the tracks.”

Okay. Now we have some description and a hint at a story. We know that these two distinctly different characters are going to have at least one adventure.

Describe Your Story in 25 Words or Less

So, now we need to think about our audience. The synopsis generally goes to an editor, agent, or publisher. So, we must capture their attention. Give them something to grab onto and not let go. This is where you can really get creative and meet the “describe your story in 25 words or less” challenge.

Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks.”

Whew! There it is – 25 words – exactly. We’ve just written a strong hook for the opening of our synopsis.

Every synopsis should start out with a statement that describes your story in approximately 25 words. However, don’t be a stickler about trying to hit the “magic” number. There isn’t really a magic number. But, keeping your description to approximately 25 words helps to focus your writing on the key elements of your story.

Key Elements – Not That Difficult to Identify

Speaking of key elements, those are what we now need to identify so that we can create our synopsis.

Wait, wait. Stop groaning. I promise we’ll go slowly. Okay?

I think I’ve read every article and book written on creating a synopsis and even though every writer has their own formula for creating the “perfect synopsis,” I admit that authors agree on one thing – You need to practice. So, my suggestion is that you do what I’ve done here. You find some simple stories and practice creating the synopsis for them. Once you’re able to pick out the key elements easily, you’re ready to create a synopsis for your own story.

So, back to our story, Lady and the Tramp.

First Element - Structure

The basic structure of the synopsis should be a complete summary of your story from beginning to end, written in present tense. Simple, right? So far. Let’s see how that helps us with our story.

Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks.

Lady’s owners love her but ignore her when their baby arrives. The owners leave her with a cat-loving aunt who locks Lady out of the house.

Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners.

Lady is caught by the dog catcher and spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets. Hurt and jealous, Lady is returned home and exiled to the doghouse once again.

Lady discovers a rat making its way into the house and is helpless to defend her home. Tramp helps her by getting into the house and killing the rat. However, he’s accused of attacking the baby and is placed in the dog catcher’s wagon to be taken to the pound.

Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat.”

More Key Elements – Setting, Main Characters, Conflict

Not bad for a first draft. We’re missing a few items that would make the story more dramatic and compelling for the editor, but those can be added easily. First, we should make sure that we’ve established the setting for the story and identified our main characters.

We’ll have to identify real conflict between these characters and their motivations. Then, we’ll have to show the resolution of the conflict. It isn’t as important to name every character in the synopsis, but you must name your main characters.

Final Key Elements – Tell Your Ending

Finally, we must make sure that we’ve wrapped up our story and told our ending. Yes, that’s what I said, we tell our ending in the synopsis. You must never, ever tease editors and leave them guessing about the ending of story.

As a side note for romance writers: If your story is a romance, make sure you always establish the love relationship between the two main characters by showing how they met and why they’re fighting against their attraction.

 With that advice, let’s see how our synopsis shapes up after adding these key elements.

Lady and the Tramp is an early twentieth century story filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the tracks in New England.

Lady’s owners lavish attention on her until a new baby arrives that takes all their attention. Ignoring Lady’s needs, they go away on a trip leaving her and the baby with a callous aunt and her two Siamese cats that wreak havoc. Lady, wrongly accused of the mischievous cats’ pranks, ends up in the backyard doghouse and eventually fitted for a muzzle.

Fearful, Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how good he has it being free from owners. He treats her to a night on the town, complete with a romantic Italian dinner from his favorite restaurant.

Unfortunately, even though he protects Lady from a vicious dog attack, Tramp can’t protect her from the dog catcher. Lady spends time in the pound learning some of Tramp’s secrets from his other wayward, albeit, intimate acquaintances. Hurt and jealous, Lady returns home and is once again exiled to the doghouse.

Lady’s other neighborhood dog-friends advice her to forget this scoundrel and chivalrously offer to take care of her.

Tramp returns, hoping to change Lady’s mind about him. She rejects his advances and sends him on his way.

Moments later she’s alarmed that an ugly rat enters the house, but can’t do anything about it because she’s chained. Tramp comes to the rescue by finding a way into the house and killing the rat before it can harm the baby.

However, the heartless aunt accuses Tramp of attacking the baby and calls the dog catcher who places him in the wagon to be taken to the pound.

Lady’s owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and have Lady show them the dead rat. Lady’s friends run to stop the dog catcher’s wagon and everyone is reunited after a thrilling chase scene.

When the commotion settles, Tramp chooses the family life and abandons his drifting ways to stay with Lady and her owners.”

And, there you have it. Your synopsis. Was that so painful?

This synopsis is rather short when compared to the longer books you desire to write. Don’t let that intimidate you. The concept is still the same.

Final Advice

Editors have specific requirements when it comes to the length of your synopsis. Unfortunately, just like snowflakes, no two editors are the same. One editor requires a ten-page synopsis while another may only want two pages.

My advice to you is that you follow the requirements of the editor and make sure you include enough information in your synopsis to tell your story but not so much to slow it down. Focus on the story’s development from beginning to end and make sure you emphasize the resolution of the conflict and/or romance.

If you’re having trouble writing your synopsis, don’t beat yourself up about it. Go back to your story. Have you developed the plot completely? Do you understand your characters and their motivation? Is your conflict believable and resolvable? If you can’t answer those questions, the problem isn’t with your synopsis. If you don’t understand your story how do you expect an editor to?

Good luck and remember to practice, practice, practice.

Lady and the Tramp is owned by © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Image credit: studiom1 / 123RF Stock Photo

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Energy of Music

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about the Energy of Music. Describe the beat and tone of your favorite song. Use details that convey the mood of the song. Using words, try to recreate the same energy that the sounds of the song produce.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to set a specific mood based on your favorite song? Did you recreate the same energy that the song produced?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Writing Tips - Asking Why

The one question you can't ask enough while you are writing is "Why?"

Check with any child under the age of five and you'll see that their favorite word is "Why?"



A thirst for knowledge.

As a writer, you are going to use this question as a tool to help you create your characters and structure your plot.

So, let's start with the first use of "Why?"

Why do you want to write this story?

  • What is it about this particular story that encourages you to write it? 
  • Why do you think other people will want to read it?
  • What is it about the characters that motivates you to tell their story?

Why do you want to write about character X?

  • What makes your character fascinating?
  • What does your character have to gain? 
  • What does your character have to lose?
  • Why does the character act the way they do?

With each answer, ask another question to further define your character. Go deep. Dig down until you know your character intimately.

Let's move on to the plot of the story.

Why did you structure your plot with this kind of beginning and end?

When you identify key plot developments, work backward using "Why?" to generate more action to drive the story.

There is no "right" answer to each "Why?" question, but if you keep drilling deeper, you'll be able to explore several possible lines of questions and answers. What you're looking for is an answer that suits the tone of your story and if possible, surprises your readers and still remains plausible.

Working forward in your story, ask "What could happen next?"

You'll come up with a number of answers. Jot them all down. Don't just work with the first answer. Figure out how each would fit in the story line, whether or not the plot point works, and if it can be strong enough to last.

Asking these questions gives you a good start to coming up with vivid, interesting characters and intriguing and logical plots.

So, let's go ask some questions and write an exciting story!

Image credit: 3dagentur / 123RF Stock Photo

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Weather

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about the Weather. Describe the weather for a specific scene in a short story, book, or play. Use details about the weather to set the mood of your scene. Can nature affect the framework of your life?

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to set a specific mood based on your description of the weather? Can nature affect the framework of your life?

Why or Why Not?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Writing Tips - Conflict Makes Your Story

Which would you rather read: a novel with a story about a man and woman who meet, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after or a story about a man who meets a woman, falls in love, only to lose her to a gang of terrorists demanding a large ransom or they will kill her?

A good story needs conflict. A conflict is the characters struggling to overcome a problem. There is two kinds of conflict: internal and external. External conflict can be a struggle of character against character, or a character against circumstances or events. Internal conflict can be a character's struggle with himself in some way. Just remember, a story without any struggle is no story at all. 

Conflict creates an immediacy or urgency in your story. Action pulls readers into your story. 

What do you need to do to create conflict?

Straightforward Narrative
This creates a visual image of the character in the reader's imagination. When you put your character to the test, forcing him to make a decision and act, only then does this breathe life into your character. 

James Frey writes, "A character's response to obstacles, barriers, and conflict individualize him, proves his characterization, and makes him real and distinct in the reader's mind."

With no conflict, your characters become flat, dull, and lifeless. Two characters just talking to each other is not dialogue. It doesn't show a conflict or struggle between the characters. 

It's important to keep the reader interested. A story must involve struggle. How a character reacts to struggle shows the reader who the character is. Readers identify with the character. So, it's character which keeps the reader interested. 

Insistence vs. Resistance
Conflict between characters always takes the form of insistence versus resistance. Conflict occurs when characters have different goals and insist on reaching them. 

Equal Sides of Conflict
In order to have good, believable conflict, the sides must be evenly matched. No one wants to see Batman beat up on a helpless homeless person. And, would the Hulk look even more menacing if he punched a Prius rather than a huge semi truck? No, and that's why you should make sure that your heroes in your story have equally matched competition to keep them on their toes.

In How to Write a Play (1983), Raymond Hull explains opposition in terms of a formula:

"M + G + O = C. Main Character + His Goal + Opposition = Conflict"
According to James Frey, "Good opposition requires that the antagonist counter each of the protagonist's attempts to solve his problems with as much force and cunning as the protagonist exhibits."

When creating conflict in your story, your opposition doesn't necessarily have to be a villain. The antagonist can be a hero as well. In order to have good opposition, you must make sure your characters are well-motivated, rounded, non-stereotyped characters.

In creating your opposition, ensure they have points of view that are logical and reasonable. The reader can understand and even sympathize with these characters. As Raymond Hull put it, "The strength of the conflict is not just a product of the protagonist's strength" but is a product of the "strength of the opposition."

Keeping Your Characters in the Furnace
Think of it this way: the furnace holds the characters together as things heat up. It's a bond that keeps them in conflict with one another.

The conflict must be strong enough to motivate the character to continue rather than run away. When you create your characters, think of them as bonded together. Strong enough to continue their fight to resolve their problems to the final resolution.

Without the furnace to contain your characters, there can be no conflict. Without conflict, there is no drama. In short, there is no story.

Necessary Inner Conflict
Your character needs to suffer inner conflict like those of real people. Guilt, fears, misgivings, doubts, second thoughts, and such are all examples of inner conflict. Using inner conflicts makes your character more interesting and memorable to the reader. The reader can empathize with your character; creating a connection with your character.

As James Frey puts it, "Inner conflict confirms that the characters are involved, that something is at risk for them."

In order to have inner conflict, the opposing forces don't need to be great or out of this world. They only need to be great in your character's mind.

Impaling Your Character on the Horns of a Dilemma
When you do this, you've put your character in a position where they must have or must do something - for a very powerful reason - yet they can't have or can't do something for equally powerful reasons. These powerful forces pull your character into two different directions.

Dramatic Patterns of Conflict
Struggle in a conflict is action. Action has various dramatic patterns within the story. For instance, conflict which fails to rise is called "static" while conflict that rises too quickly is called "jumping." Another term is "slowly rising conflict" which is what you, the storyteller wants.

So, how do you figure out if your conflict is one other other?

Static Conflict
Any kind of dramatic conflict that is unchanging. With static conflict, your characters stop developing.

Jumping Conflict
Conflict leaps from one level of intensity to another without adequate motivation or transitional stages. Characters are tender one moment and raging with anger the next.

Slowly Rising Conflict
Conflicts rise slowly. Conflict proves character. Using this method, you show more character's development by how they react to different stages of conflict. You can put your character through various emotional stages.

I've given you a lot of information about creating conflict and what it means in your story. Writing a great story requires you, the writer, to keep the reader reading. To do so, that means using slowly rising conflict.

How do you do this?

Plan your novel with slowly rising conflict in the forefront of your mind. Your characters must meet ever increasing obstacles; their problems multiplying; pressures growing.

Remember, when your conflict rises, your character shows development. The character changes.

The best way to make sure you have rising conflict is to look at your character's emotional level. Look at the beginning of the scene and the end of the scene. Your character's development should be visible. A change should occur in their emotional level from hateful to loving, or spiteful to compassionate. However, make sure this change is done a little at a time. This ensure the conflict is rising slowly.

You can take what you've learned here and apply it to your writing.

Happy Writing!

Image credit: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Resources: Wring to Sell by Scott Meredith, The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing, How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Five Minute Exercise - Seduction of Writing

1. Set your clocks/timers for Five (5) Minutes.

2. Write about the Seduction of Writing. Do you feel yourself being drawn into the characters that your soul produces? Do you feel a connection with the world when you write that is often not felt in even your closest relationships? The writer is seduced by the act of writing. We are lured from the outside world into a world of creativity and growth.

Get into as much detail as you can for the next five minutes.

3. Ready?

4. Go.

5. Finished? Review and be amazed.

I hope you had fun. Come back next Friday for a new writing prompt.

Was this exercise helpful?

Did you succeed with this writing exercise? Was it helpful? Were you able to see how you, as a writer, are drawn into the world you create? Do you experience a connection when you write that you don't even feel with your closest relationships? Do you get seduced by your writing?

Why or Why Not?