Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Website 101 (Part 1)

Some writers use only social media to connect with readers, but most social media is a superficial system of communication filled with brief posts or videos. It’s good to be connected with readers via social media, but social media has its limitations. Most importantly, the user forfeits control over their content which can be lost when the company changes policies.

If you’re serious about your writing career, build a website.

Websites are all about content, much of it written. Lucky for us, writers are all about writing. We’re a natural fit with websites. Website design is about putting together the content in a visually pleasing way. If you’re published, you have the written content or descriptions of your stories, so you have text. As for visual content, you have book covers. If you’re unpublished, nothing is stopping you from creating an informative website.

Why does an unpublished author need a website? It’s the best way to ensure you own your domain name. Many website builder companies offer easy to-fill-out templates beginners can use to create visually appealing websites.

Two basic questions need to be answered as you think about your website: what will be its purpose and who will be its audience?


The purpose of your website determines what you’re going to put on it. For published writers, one purpose is to sell their stories, but that doesn’t have to be the site’s only purpose.

For example, I want to promote and sell my books, but I also want to educate writers and entertain readers. For the past 20 years, in each rendition of my website I’ve worked to promote that purpose.

For the unpublished writer, a website offers a place to establish some credentials before publication. (Check out my free PDF “Promotion Before Publication” for ways to get known before publication at A website also offers prospective agents. editors, and readers a taste of your writing skills.

Potential Website Audience

Once you establish the purpose of your website, it’s time to think about your audience or who you hope will visit your website. As a writer with published books, I hope readers who enjoy my books will visit to learn more about me and my stories and buy more of them. Another segment of my audience will be writers because two of my ebooks are writing skills handbooks. Anyone who buys She Sat, He Stood or She Said, He Said will probably visit my website because I put downloadable charts used in the books on my website. I also have various handouts, such as the previously mentioned Promotion Before Publication and Story Steps, an overview of some steps I take when I write a story.

The Readers page is devoted to a behind the scenes look at my writing life as well as my nonwriting life. I also post free short stories or articles that I think might interest readers.

As you can see, it’s a good idea to picture your potential audience because they influence the content you put on your website. Once you can answer those two basic questions–purpose and audience–it’s time to think about how your web site will look.

In the next blog, we’ll look at how to use storyboarding, a basic design technique that works well with building websites.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Finding the Write Fit

You may or may not recognize the actor Burt Reynolds who was a celebrity icon in the 20th century. If Smokey and the Bandit rings any bells, then you probably remember Burt Reynolds.

A former high school and college football player, Burt often did his own stunts while making a movie. During the filming of City Heat, Burt was hit in the jaw with a metal chair while filming a fight scene. The stuntman who played the assailant grabbed the metal chair instead of grabbing the breakaway chair. Burt spent the next two years in agony with constant vertigo and difficulty chewing food. Searching for a diagnosis and cure, he saw forty doctors.

He was diagnosed with temporomandibular disorder (aka TMJ dysfunction) which can cause pain in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement. The problem was figuring out how to fix it.

Not much was known about the issue then, but basically he needed extensive reconstructive jaw surgery. Finding a doctor willing to undertake the surgery wasn’t easy, but he found one and the surgery was a success.

What stuck with me was Burt Reynold’s perseverance in his search for an answer to his problem and a doctor willing to accept the challenge.

Burt was looking for a path to success.

Now you might wonder how this anecdote has anything to do with writing.

It’s probably a stretch, but maybe not.

Burt Reynolds was given all sorts of different advice for the treatment of his problem. Much of that advice didn’t help. But he persevered until he not only found a solution, but also found a doctor willing to try and repair the damage.

Now, think about all the how-to writing paths available to writers. Save the Cat, the Snowflake Method, W Plot Technique, Story Grid, Dramatica, and the list goes on. Then, of course, there are videos, online courses, and blogs filled with writing advice (including this one!).

Image of typewriter keys

I started writing short stories B.T.I. (Before The Internet) and relied primarily on the library, bookstores, a creative writing class, and writing magazines to learn how to write. I seldom lived in large cities, but I eventually discovered writing conferences. I remember going to one way back when. It was an exhilarating experience until I attended a workshop by a published author who read a selection from his latest novel. I’ve never really figured out why reading an excerpt from a novel is a selling point. Probably because I’m not an auditory learner. Read listening is not my strong point. I tend to daydream too easily.

After his reading, this author proceeded to describe his writing process and pretty much told us his way was the only successful route to writing a novel.

His ego astounded me.

Based on all the how-to writing methods, there is obviously more than one way to arrive at a well-written story. It may take you a few tries (hopefully, not forty) to figure out your individual path to writing a story.

Or you could follow Stephen King’s thoughts on how to be a writer:

“You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this (On Writing) or any other book on writing… You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

Whatever path you follow, just be sure to find the write fit for you.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

When a Novel Becomes a Screenplay

How do you tell if your story has too much dialogue?

This question was posed to me by an attendee at one of my Zoom writing presentations. It’s a good question and like a good question it nagged me far longer than the answer I gave that day.

Finding the right balance between narrative and dialogue is a challenge. Too much dialogue and you’re writing a screenplay. Too much narrative and sleep overpowers the reader.

Balancing dialogue with narrative reminds me of advice a commercial printer gave me: white space is good in a newsletter. (I’ve written a lot of newsletters in my day.) He said pages need to be a balancing act between text, images, and white space to keep the reader engaged.

Although I don’t use images in my fiction, I found this concept–balancing dialogue and narrative–works for stories, too.

Caveat: I read and write for entertainment so my opinion is shaded toward commercial (read for pleasure) fiction more than literary (usually designed to make the reader sad. I read the news for that.)

Dialogue versus Interiority

Robert B. Parker, who passed away over 10 years ago, is one of my favorite authors. I enjoyed his early Spenser novels the most. To be honest, I wasn’t as happy with him in the later years of his career. His novels became dialogue heavy, lacking the narrative I had so enjoyed in his earlier books. He had a lot of white space and not much interiority.

Basically, he stopped exploring the inner character’s–thoughts, emotional reactions, and feelings–about a situation. Sure I knew Spenser, Susan, and Hawk really well, but I still want to know how the story affects them.

And while dialogue can achieve wonders in a story, the reader stills needs interior anchors that flesh out the scene and the characters.

When Ace Akins was given the job of writing the Spenser books, I was leery of the end product. Then I read that Mr. Akins was a lifelong fan of the Spenser books. To my delight, his additions to the series brought the original flavor of the Spenser books back to life. His stories had a nice balance of narrative and dialogue.

I think Mr. Parker’s reliance on dialogue in his later novels made me feel cheated. He was no longer writing with all the nuances I enjoyed and expected. He had too much white space.

Which is why I think some novels make better screenplays. A screenplay is supposed to be dialogue heavy.


Novel versus Screenplay

Think about it. A screenplay doesn’t need all the components of a novel. The curtain rises and the setting is clear to the audience. The movie is set in a diner, suburbia, or a football field.

An actor walks on stage and the audience makes immediate deductions: male or female, tall or short, blonde or brunette. The actor starts speaking and the audience thinks, oh, a Russian accent.

You get the idea. The movie setting and actors anchor the audience into the movie world within moments of the opening scene.

The writer doesn’t have this luxury. The opening paragraphs set the scene and introduce the characters. The reader “sees” the story via the writer who uses many elements to bring the story alive for the reader. Dialogue should only be one of the paths a writer follows to bring the story alive.

Back to the question at hand:

How to tell if your story has too much dialogue.

One very visual way to determine if your story has too much dialogue: highlight the dialogue. This can be done using a highlighter pen on printed pages, or the highlight tool on computer documents.

In either method, the goal is to highlight the dialogue. This offers the writer a concrete visual of how much of the story is dialogue and how much is narrative. Large blocks of either dialogue or narrative can be rewritten to ensure there is a nice balance between narrative, dialogue, and white space.


Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Beat Goes On and On and On…Writing Fiction Dialogue

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the word beat has a cornucopia of meanings. For me, the definition of beat offered in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, makes the most sense.

They defined beat as a descriptive sentence or sentences inserted before, after, or during the dialogue section. Keep in mind, it is not a dialogue tag such as “said,” that establishes who is talking. Instead, a beat comes into play after the reader knows who is talking and describes a character’s response or action.

If dialogue is the audio, think of beat as the video.

Renni Browne and Dave King go one step further by saying a beat is the “literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as stage business.”

I love this definition because stage business refers to physical actions made by an actor on stage such as tucking a tendril of hair behind an ear. You see stage business all the time in plays, movies, and television shows. If you have trouble visualizing this concept, just mute the sound on a TV show or movie and watch the actors. They don’t stand around like robots and talk, they do things while they are saying their lines.

Which is exactly what the characters in our stories should be doing.

Beats enable readers to picture the action, they allow you to vary the rhythm of the dialogue, and they help reveal your character’s personalities and emotional reactions. In effect, they remind your readers of who your characters are and what they are doing.

How do you chose what type of “stage business” a character should do while talking? That’s where nonverbal communication or body language comes into play.

In my writing skills ebook, She Sat, He Stood, What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk, nonverbal communication is defined as the gestures and mannerisms by which one person communicates with others. Although different cultures may have different meanings for some gestures, most body language is universal.

Humans actually use body language more than tone of voice or even words to communicate. Writers deal in words so it behooves a writer to figure out how to convey body language and tone to better set each character firmly the reader’s mind. 

Beats can help a writer do this. They also help a writer avoid interior dialogue to track a character’s emotions.

Well-written beats fulfill many roles in a story, but it’s important to strike the right balance between dialogue and beats. Just as too much uninterrupted dialogue can confuse or irritate a reader, too many interruptive beats can be distracting.

The best way to check your dialogue is to read it aloud. Listen to the rhythm of the dialogue to ensure the beats enhance the dialogue exchanges rather than overwhelm them.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Beat Goes On: Writing Fiction Dialogue

When I aspired to become a published writer, I didn’t know the “writing experts” used different definitions of the same words and phrases. Or that their definitions wouldn’t always be listed in a normal dictionary.

Beat is one such word.

If you check a dictionary, you’ll find an extensive list of definitions. Since I took lots of piano lessons as a kid, I tend to think of beat in relation to music. Like in maintaining the correct beat which had been hammered into me by several piano teachers.

Thus, to me beat had to do with the tempo of a piece of music. The rhythm.

During my journey to published novelist, I went down the screenwriting rabbit hole. Imagine my surprise to see the word beat used interchangeably with plot points and turning points. Then I read Robert McKee’s Story and he had yet another definition: “A beat is an exchange of behavior in action/reaction.”

Oddly, I can’t find a dictionary that defines beat in any of those screenwriting terms.

Frankly, none of the screenwriting definitions of beat clicked with me. I think my primary definition of beat kept getting in the way. Not that I worried about it, after all, I wasn’t writing a screenplay.

When I was editing one of my novels years ago, I was introduced to Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. It's a great little book that keeps you on track while editing your way through a final draft.

It also gave me a definition of beat that completely changed how I wrote dialogue. Their definition was easier for me to grasp because it married well with music.

In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, a beat is a descriptive sentence or sentences inserted before, after, or during the dialogue section. It is not a dialogue tag such as “said,” that establishes who is talking, but instead comes into play after the reader knows who is talking and describes a character’s response or action.

If dialogue is the audio, think of beat as the video.

The reader not only “hears” the character, but can also “see” the character. In this context, a beat is a well-timed pause in the dialogue, a succinct but descriptive sentence filled with deeper meaning, that expands the scene.

Revisiting the dictionary, we find a definition of beat: it contains a rhythmical flow or pattern. Using beat in this fashion makes it easy to see how a well-written dialogue beat helps the rhythm of dialogue flow.

To me, beats are key components of writing dialogue. For decades writers used overworked descriptive dialogue tags (loudly, determinedly, sweetly) in order to show characters’ emotions. Beats offer a much better way to do this.

I love using beats for two reasons:

They make descriptive dialogue tags unnecessary. They reduces the number of times I need to use the ubiquitous “said.”

Here’s an example from a scene in my short story “The Courtship of Serena Smith.” The heroine is petting the hero’s dog.

“It’s in her face and coloring,” Serena said sadly. Her fingers slid from Mollie’s head to the distinctive ridge of hair running down her spine. “And the ridge. She looks a lot like my Bandit,” she said in a choked voice. “He was honey color, too. With four white paws and a white tipped tail.”

But I wrote:

 “It’s in her face and coloring.” Her fingers slid from Mollie’s head to the distinctive ridge of hair running down her spine. “And the ridge. She looks a lot like my Bandit.” The woman’s words caught in her throat, coming out a little ragged. “He was honey color, too. With four white paws and a white tipped tail.”

I dropped the descriptive “said” tags in favor of focusing on what Serena is doing and how she sounds as she speaks. My goal is to keep the reader in Serena’s point of view by using descriptive beats that best connect the reader to Serena’s emotional state.

Dialogue can be used in multiple ways to enhance storytelling–everything from advancing the plot to revealing goal, motivation, or conflict. (I actually have over two dozen uses of dialogue in my She Said, He Said: The Power of Dialogue ebook) Dialogue coupled with beats offer a variety of ways to deepen the emotional connection between the characters and the reader. If you’re a novelist whose exposure to beat is trying to fill out a Beat Sheet, keep in mind, beat has more than one meaning.

Once we assign the word “beat” to the job of enhancing dialogue, it a short step into understanding, as Browne and King wrote, that a beat is the “literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as stage business.”

A deeper dive which we’ll take in an upcoming blog.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Gestation of a Novel

I’m frequently asked how long it takes me to write a book and I’m never sure how to answer because I’m not sure what the person is asking. Do they mean the actual physical act of writing? Or do they mean everything involved from conception to finished product? Conception to finished product covers a lot of time because the imagination is triggered in countless ways. 

What kind of things trigger a writer’s imagination? They can include song lyrics, historical events, a sentence in a book or magazine, a casual conversation, a new recipe or even a dream. Once an idea takes hold, I start a file. This is normally a physical file, but I also use computer files. I come up with a working title and when I run across photos, newspaper articles, reference books, possible character names, research about possible jobs for a character or snippets of information about the time period, I put them in the file. 

During this phase, I collect possibilities that may be used to tell that story some day. The truth is, I have more files than I have time to write, but it’s comforting to know there is always another story gestating. 


I like the word gestating because it means the development of something over a period of time and that’s what a book does. It develops over a period of time. Time that cannot be easily calculated because much of it takes place in the imagination where there are no clocks. 

I’ll use Lady Runaway as an example. The book started with a dream scene that lodged itself firmly in my brain. I couldn’t forget it. The scene involved a young woman hiding in a 19th century London alley. She is pulling her hand, sticky with her own blood, away from her chest. 

At the time I dreamed this, I was writing a Victorian era novel, but I’m an avid reader of Regency romances. I love the wit and humor of the short traditional Regency and use these books as a writing reward. I’d read one or two every weekend to give myself a refreshing change from the Victorian time period. 

Once the scene in the London alley got stuck in my brain, I started mentally fleshing out a story line. Trying to figure out why this woman was in the alley, why she had been knifed, and what was going to happen to her next. I had read a lot about 19th century medicine so I knew a Regency doctor would be in this story. Who else could take care of her knife wound? Eventually, I outlined a possible story, but the real impetus for writing Lady Runaway came from the rejection of my Victorian era novel. 

Rejection, Request, Success

An editor who read that submission (which would go on to be my first published historical romance–Stealing Destiny) liked my writing style, but couldn’t use that particular manuscript. She asked me if I had any Regency manuscripts because they were hot and she needed manuscripts. I pitched my idea for the book that would become Lady Runaway. She liked it so I wrote furiously, submitted the manuscript, made the suggested revisions, and resubmitted it, but in the end that version of Lady Runaway was rejected. 

While the basics of the story were there, I don’t think that version had gestated long enough. During the next year, no longer under the pressure of trying to write a book before an editor forgot who I was, I tweaked, poked and prodded Lady Runaway into a better story (and better title). That’s the story that Twilight Times Books published. How long did it take me to write Lady Runaway? I really don’t know. I didn’t mark the calendar the morning I awoke from that dream scene, but it was probably a year or so later when I pitched the idea. Then I had to write it and revise it. 

I also seldom work on one writing project at a time. When I was working on Lady Runaway, I was also writing a humor column for the local newspaper, writing and editing an aviation newsletter, and trying to break into the magazine scene. Trying to cage the creative process with time limits isn’t easy and that’s why I tend to hem and haw when someone asks me “how long” it took me to write a book.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Why I Like Reading Genre Fiction

I recently realized I’m a genre snob. Literary works don’t do much for me. I realized this when I read the reader discussion at the end of a book I had just finished. The author admitted he has no message in that book. No message? No take away? Nothing that makes reading the book worthwhile for the reader?

Actually, this pretty much summed up thoughts I’ve frequently had about literary fiction. Many “literary” books don’t seem to have a worthwhile message, some stories just meander from scene to scene without really going anywhere.

Yet in all my years of study of how to improve my own writing, we are constantly told to have some sort of takeaway for the reader. That most people read a book to help them make sense of the world.

Through the years, I have read countless fiction books written by countless authors. It may be shallow, but I often veer away from literary fiction because I have learned the stories often have an unfulfilling ending. At least to me.

It took me awhile to realize I preferred genre fiction. It hit me over the head after I joined a library book club. The books we read were selected by recommendations from the members. The group would vote on whether or not to read recommended books. Once the members agreed on a book, whoever suggested it became the moderator for the book.

A week before one meeting, the woman who had suggested the upcoming book selection asked me to be the moderator. She had unexpected company coming and was going to have to miss the meeting.

Reluctantly, I agreed.

My reluctance stemmed from the fact I did not care for the book. It was sad and I don’t like to read sad books. In fact, often the books chosen by the members of this book club were either sad or didn’t have satisfying endings. Since I had joined the group to widen my reading habits, I faithfully read the selected books.

Problem is, I’m an avid reader of the news which usually reeks with sadness, especially these days with so much turmoil in the world. The real world sort of turned me off of reading sad fiction for entertainment.

I think that is why I prefer genre fiction. I prefer the villain be caught and pay a price for their wickedness. I prefer the mystery be solved and justice served. I prefer the hero and heroine end up in a successful relationship.

Thus, I read fiction for entertainment. And my fiction preference is usually genre fiction where I know the promise of a good story with a satisfying ending will be met.

Obviously, I’m a genre snob.