Organizing Paragraphs in Fiction

Let’s regroup. No, literally. Let’s take our active scene elements, which describe the viewpoint character’s internal and external experiences, and group them another way.

Motivation and Reaction

For newer writers, this is best learned in self-editing. You should ignore it in your first draft and just finish getting ideas down. This technicality will be here waiting, as technicalities do.

The more you work on self-editing this, the easier it gets. With enough practice, you can skip a whole round of drafting because these things start to be what pours from your fingertips. But learning it involves the analysis side of the brain, and switching to analysis cuts off creativity. So it’s better to wait until one day it surprises you by happening without your conscious attention.

“Practice, practice, practice!” Yeah fine whatever okay. Practice it is.

Organizing paragraphs in fiction

This is different than writing a five-paragraph report in school. Way different. For one thing, we don’t even use first, secondly, thirdly, and definitely not in conclusion. We’re constantly told in fiction that we’re not supposed to summarize, after all that grade-school practice summarizing.

And it’s bizarre trying to set out in linear fashion all the things that would actually happen at once. Actions, dialogue, thoughts, observations. The paragraphs of the story may have any or all of these. But how should they flow?

According to a slightly abstract logic. We want to focus in on cause and effect.

There needs to be a give-and-take between the viewpoint character and the surrounding environment, whether that means other characters, or the setting, or some obstacle. With each give, the character is trying to advance another step towards whatever s/he wants in this scene. With each take, the character is dealing with the fact that the world isn’t going to just play along.

Ignore plot talk. Ignore character talk. They don’t separate out in the work. You know this from reading books. When you do this instead, plot and character are organically meshed as they should be.


Let’s call the times the world takes a turn, motivators or motivations, because Dwight Swain said it years ago and it’s since become jargon. The obvious motivators are external observations, dialogues, and events. A set of motivators gets grouped in a paragraph together.

  • Dialogue: what another character says
  • Description: What the viewpoint character sees, hears, smells, etc. Things happening in the environment. What other characters do, objects that move (landslide, giant machine, ocean waves, etc).

Less obviously, the character’s own thoughts could motivate him/her.

  • Interior monologue: The thoughts that occur to change the character’s plans and ideas.


Let’s call the times the character gives back in return, reactions. Makes good sense. A set of reactions gets grouped in a paragraph together.

  • Dialogue: what the viewpoint character says
  • Description: what the viewpoint character chooses to observe as a result of how his/her awareness has just been influenced
  • Action: What the viewpoint character does
  • Interior monologue: What the viewpoint character thinks.

Organization within each paragraph

What order do we actually put them in? Is it random? No, not really. We’re trying to convey realistic human experience, so reactions happen in the order of reflex (action or blurted dialogue), then speech (dialogue), then more extended consideration (internal monologue, description). The same will be true of any non-viewpoint characters, except that we don’t get access to their internal experience.

Grouping paragraphs together to create flow

Something happens. The villain casts a foul taunt at our hero. The rogue wave rises above the struggling ship. Captain Emo lies awake at night under the grip of a haunting thought. Whatever happens, that’s a paragraph.

Next, the viewpoint character should react. Our hero replies with both rapier and wit. The ship’s captain lunges for the radio. Captain Emo realizes his existential gloom is the philosophical harmonization he’s always longed for. And that’s another paragraph.

New paragraph! Another thing happens. It might be in response to however the viewpoint character reacted. The villain responds to our hero’s wit and swordplay with clumsiness and sputtering. Captain Emo’s despair rises again as he realizes that joy in his own gloom is not a harmonization, but a paradox.

Or it could be unrelated to the viewpoint character’s reaction. As the rogue wave begins to tip the ship, a straining cable breaks.

For this reason, Swain discussed paragraphs as pairs that form a unit: Motivation, then viewpoint character’s reaction. In his classic book, Techniques of the Selling Writer [affiliate link], he talks about motivation-reaction units.

To summary or not to summary

Small amounts of narrative summary might act as connective tissue. It can fill in essential fringe details that really don’t need the full depth of active scene elements. But the alternating pattern, filled with active elements, is what drives the scene. In addition to (or in spite of) whatever the viewpoint character wanted when he walked in the door of this scene, it provides insight into how that’s going for him, step by step, and what’s foiling or assisting him at each moment.

There’s also a bigger picture to the scene that helps us figure out whether those pairs of paragraphs are in a good order through the scene overall. We’ll get there next time, Gadget.

For now, hopefully you can see why it’s more important to write many things (build creativity) than to spend too much time revising (shutting down creativity through analysis). Stay creative or die!

What Do You Really Need to Be a Good Writer?

Hello, and please don’t hire me.

You don’t need me nearly as much as you need yourself.

I’ve spent about 15 years observing the absurdity, chaos, and misplaced priorities of online publishing communities. You can find me in a corner, sharing rants with friends who are equally annoyed by the perennial floods of nonsense.

Happily, the likelihood is that you don’t need to hire me.

I can’t tell you how to be a good writer.

Because that’s different for everyone. I just know you don’t need the crazy shit. I’ve been through the crazy shit, because I started out stupid like everyone does. The number one rule I’ve come out of it with is, you can learn business and use that knowledge in publishing, but you can’t learn business by being in publishing.

I’ve seen a crapton of blogs, articles, and e-products — from books to videos to subscriber clubs for “insider advice” — of questionable value for their price.

And the advice. One of the bits of advice is, run a website with free sample information to get people to buy your information product. That’s not bad in itself. But, lo and behold, fifty bazillion websites full of excessively SEO-keyworded, scan-reading-optimized, regurgitated microwave meals in various questionable stages of digestion.

Why is it like this? For the same reason that I once assessed editing to be more sustainable than writing. Go back to 2006, before digital self-publishing tools really evolved, and read Wired editor Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail [affiliate]. Note that subtitle: Why the future of business is selling less of more. 

You, my friends, are the long tail. There is a key idea in Anderson’s writing: “You can’t make money being the long tail, but you can make money off the long tail.” That is why Amazon is rich and authors are poor.* (Here is a less spin-doctored, more human and much better-organized dataset from Jim Hines.)

It’s why editors don’t starve. It’s why there’s a festering cesspool of information products out there asking you to consume them. Selling to the long tail is presuppositional by now.

To get started, you need to turn the tables on that game.

You don’t mostly need information; you mostly need skills.

Information is worth something — if it’s good. Skills are worth more. If they weren’t, I’d edit for free. And books would be free. And so would your next call-out for a plumber.

The minute you separate information from skill, you’re missing most of the picture. The plumber can tell you what caused the problem, but it’s hands-on work, done knowledgeably, that fixes it. That much-less-costly YouTube tutorial didn’t fix it for you either. No matter how much you now regret it, that was your own two hands.

The words in the book don’t come together on their own. And all my best editing assistance won’t help you if you don’t understand what it looks like in action. This is not about my skills. It’s about yours.

This isn’t a “get what you pay for” problem. It’s not because stuff is free. There are lots of good free resources out there.

It’s a problem of priorities. Information sellers want you to buy information. If you listen to them, it sounds like informing yourself is all-important. (And if it says so on the internet, it must be true!)

But there’s that rule of writing: Show, don’t tell. Information is telling about writing. It’s not showing writing.

There’s your first big hint about how this really works.

So. What do you really need to be a good writer?

You need literacy. You need to read fairly widely and interact with ideas and imaginations that aren’t necessarily comfortable. You need to work on understanding them, which is different from accepting them.

You need to take spontaneous photos, paint, knit, play with the dog, or lie there. Do many useless things. Why? You have to stop analyzing in order to switch gears into creative thought.

This video seems to come and go from the internet, but I’ll link it anyway, because it’s one of the best things ever about what it means to be creative: John Cleese on creativity.

And then you need to practice, and practice, and practice.

You may need some technique stuff that’s in a few classic books and workshops, and we’ll distill that down as we go. But mostly you need literacy, taking the writing seriously and yourself not so much, and practice.

There’s a specific time to hire an editor, but it’s specific.

I’ve been queried by a majority of people who don’t understand why they’re querying me.

  • They read online that they should hire an editor.
  • They found my name through a successful client and are hoping I’ll wave a wand that makes them successful too.
  • They haven’t (yet) found beta readers** and lack faith that they’ll be able to attract any.
  • They want to avoid critique groups, for whatever reason — usually because they want it to be about their work, not about theirs and someone else’s.
  • It will make them feel (and, they think, sound) more professional if they can casually say “my editor” in a sentence.
  • They want a fast-track — which an editor can be, just because tailored one-on-one mentoring is hands-on practical work, not generalized abstract theory. But not as a substitute for the work of learning… AKA the work of hands-on practical work.

That’s the part that makes me hate editing. I hate trying to help people who aren’t taking the full time needed to inform themselves. There’s nothing I can do for them. The existential despair is like an ever-spinning, never-ending toilet flush.

Don’t flush your editor down the toilet.

You only learn how to shape words well by shaping a lot of words. Talking about clay doesn’t make a sculpture. Two or three sculptures doesn’t make a sculptor. The information only helps if you’re actually doing the thing. Only if you’re doing it lots, so that when an informational tool comes along, you can see how you might use it.

Stupidity will make you pay in cash, time, tears, anger and burnout. If you don’t find out why to do the things people say you should do, you’re also not going to find out why not to till the hard lessons teach you. Maybe several times over.

Trust me on this. I started out stupid too, like everyone.

So this is a blog about that. Down with the stupidity. Down with the hard lessons, as much as is realistically possible considering the craft we’ve chosen and what that says about us.

Let’s be simple, effective, and tolerate no crazy shit. We’re just gonna write.


*In “these exciting times,” the survey spider captured a skewed dataset that eliminated two-thirds of non-selling books and authors (“captured practically all of the titles selling with any frequency whatsoever, the vast majority of the infrequently selling titles, and many, many [i.e., by their own report, 32%] of the non-selling”). My educated guess is that this eliminated a large swath of self-publishers from considerations.

Of selling authors, only 9,900 authors from the last 100 years (out of approximately 200,000, or 5% of those surveyed) were earning more than $50,000 per year. Elsewhere, this surveyor finds that only 2.8% of visible authors make more than $10,000 per year. A careful read will reveal an excellent example of the long tail concept in action.

**For those who aren’t sure, we’ll talk through jargon terms going forward. Short version: Beta readers are people who will read your pre-published work and give you a reader reaction on it before it’s out there in the world.

Stringing Paragraphs Into Scenes

Once we know how to make things happen in a scene, the next question is, how do I self-edit those things into scenes that flow from one to the next? What makes it feel like something’s happening? Well, just like it works well to think of pairs of paragraphs, it works well to think of pairs of scenes that are essentially bigger units of motivation and reaction.

Pause button. You can write quiet, literary, pastoral, or sweet fiction using this sense of scene arc. The problem is the cheerleader language everyone uses. Make it exciting! Hook the reader! Stay engaging! Blah blah blah!

What does that even mean, dude.

Mood and emotion are interesting to a certain kind of reader, as long as there’s an ultimate, good reason for them. So don’t worry about turning your quiet family drama into a military thriller. The essence of the story’s components is not automatically invalidated by somebody else’s descriptive terms for it. All these structural components of story are like empty boxes, and you can put in whatever you want.

Scene: Goal, Conflict, Disaster

Goal refers to what your viewpoint character wants at this exact moment. What they want in the larger picture may or may not be in view, although immediate goals should be connected around a larger problem.

If our hero is a waitress in a tedious job full of thankless patrons, maybe she just wants to go home, put on her cape, and make a real difference in this town. If our hero is a wealthy businessman in his private jet, maybe he’s pining to emotionally abuse a naive college student. (Sorry, not sorry, Shades.) Either way, you can set that up through the active scene elements of internal monologue, dialogue, action and description.

Thinking about what a character wants on the inside is hard at first. Because our minds are cluttered with surface lies and highly evolved techniques for hiding ourselves. So, be literate. Read the starts of lots of books and mull over when you first feel connected to the character and how you know where they’re headed next. Try not to ruin your love of reading through analysis. Just notice gently and enjoy.

Do you think the opening of a book will generally start with a motivation or a reaction? What do you notice in your reading?

Conflict refers to all the things that interfere with what the viewpoint character is doing in this scene. All you need to know about this is how to arrange your thoughts into motivations and reactions. Motivations require the character to react further in order to proceed. That’s all. The end.

Disaster means “cliffhanger,” which means making the motivation half of a motivation-reaction pair of paragraphs too big (big can mean intense, or action-filled, or complicated, or full of implication) to conquer with one reaction. It’s usually a good idea to also include the character’s immediate reaction, at least the internals, because that promises further steps will be taken. Play with how much to include, and see whether trusted readers say it feels cut off too soon.

Sequel: Reaction, Dilemma, Decision

Reaction: Most of the character’s reaction to the disaster — or rather, what they causally do next as a sensible response — goes at the start of the next scene. If it’s not there, if we switch to a different point in time or a different viewpoint character, that’s when reader interest may fall off. However, those things are totally possible with good segue techniques. My top recommendation for learning that is to binge-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The segues are exaggerated (because it’s campy), snappy, and they drag you along.

Dilemma: This is where some things happen, like conversations or side events, that make the viewpoint character question his/her direction and consider options. It’s where people tend to devolve to a lot of internal monologue as the character argues with him/herself internally. So this is a good space for subplots to affect the main story, and for making sure the active scene elements stay in decent balance so the mind’s eye doesn’t get narrowed right down out of the storyworld.

Decision: This really just means writing a reaction that promises the direction of the next scene. That direction can be the main character’s, or a plot direction with a different minor character (see again Buffy segues). It promises what the goal of the next scene will be.

There’s more, but less, about hooks and cliffhangers

These are the most heinous names for how scenes connect, especially in terms of how scenes end. They force writers away from the beautiful variety in tone and intensity that can occur to bring things forward in a story. Really, what you want to do is just make a promise of what comes next. It could be a quiet promise or a loud one, obvious or implied. All that matters is that you don’t try to hide it from the reader in order to surprise them. This is not the time for that.

There’s lots of advice about how to hook readers: Raise a question. Start the action with a bang. Be interesting! This gimmick, that gimmick. Sheesh, no pressure at all.

Okay, stop stop stop.

Here’s why voice is so important: your voice, when it is true, IS the promise. The look forward could involve something externally mundane, even, but that doesn’t matter. It just matters that you connect emotionally to the person reading.

That’s caught, not taught. You have to get past the lies on the surface of your mind and all the years of hiding your feelings.

“Practice, practice, practice!” Yeah whatever fine okay. OW.

Practicing truth is painful, because we hide ourselves all the time. Those muscles are couch potatoes.

And look! Here’s boot camp. When it felt like I’d started to be honest, turned out I was wrong. I’d only started to stop lying. So just wait! There’s more, you incorrigible liar. And when you find it, you’re going to love it.

Eventually, my voice became my safe place, and I became happiest when using it. Isn’t that kinda revolutionary?


For a deeper look:

Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer
Randy Ingermanson/Peter Economy, Writing Fiction for Dummies

Stringing Scenes Into Story

Story structure is what makes a practiced storyteller stand out from a strong prose artist. This, not prose quality (unless it’s really really bad), is what causes North American audiences to decide whether you’re publishable and readable.

It’s also the thing I have to help people with the most. The most often, and often the biggest mess.

When the familiar commercial structure isn’t apparent to the North American reader, you’ll tend to get feedback that the work is weak or not compelling. That means the feel of it –what to care about next, what to anticipate — is too difficult for the reader to discern. The pattern is also keyed to our expectations of how long to care about or put up with a given phase of the viewpoint character’s existence.

The many ways to learn story structure

If you’re okay with a bit of a road map to reference, some planning and outlining can really speed up the journey. There are even loudmouths who yell about this on the internet and pretty much call you stupid if you don’t. I guess it helps them sell their story structuring products.

Pay no heed to the man behind the curtain. There are many ways to get there.

If you write many things, and then write some more — most likely shorter things than novels — then structure, too, will start to happen for you. That’s how Stephen King became an “intuitive” writer who supposedly wanders off into an ether and finds ideas. By writing many, many things as a teenager, sending them to short story publication editors, and eventually — a long time later — beginning to receive personal rejections that offered advice.

So when he talks about a hidden world of ideas to be discovered in On Writing, he’s talking about the difference between the analytical mind, with its judgments and evaluations, which builds ideas through pre-selection, and the open-ended, suspended disbelief of the creative mind, which stumbles onto them through associative leaps.

He put in the time and built his creative mind. The technicalities of writing became a form of muscle memory. Because he’d always done it this way, he never had to become free to wander off into the ether and just find his ideas. But it takes longer to learn by feel.

Story structure is how the larger journey goes together.

King’s career approach worked well, back in an era when print could build a working career solid enough to lead to novels, and novels had editors who would fix any lack of structural understanding. We had kind of a dead era for short story in between the “death of print” and “rise of indie,” and now that digital publishing has gotten more sophisticated and accessible, more things are being revived and created again. Forms are always in flux when their distribution media are.

The short form is a great way to learn the ebb and flow of a storyline, whether you seek publication or put things up on a site like Wattpad (first, get to know the nature of the audience there if you want fruitful community engagement).

What’s this story structure? There are about eight major moments in the viewpoint character’s journey. Once you know what their names mean, you can try them out as simply as writing a paragraph or two for each.

For short story purposes, here’s what these eight key moments refer to. I’m describing them essentially in terms of the alternating paragraph patterns that cause a scene to move forward.

If you’d like to have these points for reference or scribbling on, here’s a PDF. Right-click and download.

1. Hook

A brief bit of situation-setting. The viewpoint character’s name, circumstances and surroundings.

You have two options: Write it as a reaction to something that just happened before the page began, or write a motivator and then a reaction.

It’s subtly harder to set the scene and explain what the character’s reacting to when you open with a reaction. Trying to set up description efficiently in the midst of internal elements takes a bit of practice, and there’s a temptation to use narrative summary to flashback the motivator that isn’t there.

If you know those problems, though, you can avoid them.

2. Inciting incident

The thing that draws the viewpoint character into an unfolding action. I say “thing” in order to deliberately be as vague as possible. It can be anything you want. Quiet and subtle, big and full of action and villainy.

3. First turn

The point beyond which the viewpoint character can’t back out of the conflict anymore. Screenwriting puts it strictly one-quarter of the way into the story, written forms allow it to flex more.

4. First pinch point

“Pinch point” is terminology that comes out of screenwriting. At 3/8s of the way through a standard Hollywood script, the antagonistic force will assert itself in a way that reveals its true threat to the main character.

For short story purposes, this could be a motivation paragraph that really sparks off the viewpoint character’s reaction.

5. Midpoint revelation

In the middle, key new information is revealed that moves the viewpoint character forward. That could include facing a personal demon.

Okay, that was like reading a newspaper horoscope or a fortune cookie.

A lot of things can happen here. But it is a turning point where the main character faces something triumphs, and moves (knowingly or unknowingly) toward another threat. You get to decide what that means to you.

6. Second pinch point

…Same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse. Mostly the point is that Our Hero’s efforts haven’t really fazed whatever he’s up against so far. It gives the audience the chance to glimpse how the new information of the midpoint and the antagonistic force (man, beast, nature, society or self) are going to interact.

7. Second turn

This is a key moment that moves the story into its final act. Here, the viewpoint character finally strikes a blow. Or the enemy gets fatally distracted so the hero gets a chance to start saving the day. A major disaster makes it seem like all is lost, only to provide the exact means Our Hero needs to begin executing a triumph. The main thing is this:

After this point, it’s all wrap-up. No new information or plot threads are planted. Everything that occurs must have been previously alluded to or set up.

From here, the third act proceeds to conclude the conflict, fulfill any remaining promises made to the reader earlier, and answer any questions raised.

In a short story, that could literally be just three things.

8. Denouement

This is a bit of conclusion to make it feel like an ending. Any final reveal happens here. It can be whatever suits your story. In short story, it’s often a sudden twist of perspective. Sometimes it’s a real mind-blower than makes you rethink everything set up throughout. Larry Niven is a master at this, and well worth reading.

For a deeper look:

Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer
Hague and Vogler, The Hero’s 2 Journeys
K.M. Weiland, Structuring Your Novel (Disclosure: I edited this book, but receive no royalties from its sales.)

How Do I Get Started Writing More Things?

Why do all the elements of fiction writing seem to conflict? How do they work together? To write many smaller things, do we have to choose between them? Try to cram them all in? It’s so much noise.

The answer is simply not to force technicalities upon an emotional experience. Follow the emotion, and the exceptions to the “rules” will be the right ones.

See? Did you really need even this much advice?

Fiction technique comes in layers that harmonize, rather than types of moment that constitute conflicting advice. Ignoring for the moment that this looks suspiciously like something mathematical, and therefore evil, consider this:

How story elements harmonize
How story elements harmonize

Think of the green wave as motivations and reactions. The blue wave is goals, conflicts, resulting problems (disasters), reactions, dilemmas, decisions. The red wave is scenes and sequels. And the navy wave is the major moments of the macro structure.

See how there are repeated points when they come together? Think of those as scene endings, chapter endings, and the conclusion of major sections of plot.

If you just write motivations and reactions, and let their events and feelings and consequences — the content you put in the empty boxes — accumulate some combined force, they’ll create larger moments that force the viewpoint character to change or die (metaphorically, as in an emotional or social extinction event, or literally). The big navy wave is not so much something that needs engineering as it is the pendulum of forced transformation, set in motion by smaller moments.

All you need to seek is the smaller moments.

In short story, these transformations can be reveals: twists that uncover new conflict and growing context until a conclusion is reached. Depending on its length, short story won’t be so much about goal, conflict, disaster, or scene and sequel, as moving through sharp moments of transformation. If it’s a bit longer, those scene tools may come in handy as prompts for what direction the motivations and reactions could take.

But it’s better to leave all that aside.

Don’t tell yourself what you’re going to write.

Think of how mystical Stephen King gets in his strategy to guard the creative mind from analytical intrusion. He talks in On Writing as if there are multiverses and creativity can somehow peer through the cracks and find pre-existent ideas and images. This is a metaphor for denying the analytical side of the mind access to the psychological “room” in which creating happens.

In Writing Alone and With Others, Pat Schneider simply advises not to tell yourself that you’re going to write a novel. Or anything in particular. Just write. If we’re thinking “novel,” we’re thinking about all these technicalities and hemming in the process with (over) analysis. If we’re thinking prose poem, we could miss a larger story.

Those are formats, and format is very much second to content.

Use the tools available as prompts, not rules.

If it’s time to come up with a goal at the start of the scene, that’s a prompt. It’s a leaping-off place from which the mind may wander. It’s not an imperative you have to track and enumerate, unless you want to start there and then write from an outline as a prompt. (An outline is just a series of writing prompts arranged in a widely-recognized pattern of psychological, circumstantial and emotional progression.)

Conflict is a prompt. It’s a word that allows us to be mindful of the broad, very generalized nature of what happens next. Friction might be a better word, because that conflict can be very subtle. We’re interested in conversations where the speakers fray each other, in lines of action where the outcome is in question. The human mind is captivated by the feeling of potential threat and sated by the resolution of that potential.

But if you’re sitting back analyzing these things, you’re probably missing the raw core of pure feeling. Pure hatred, pure shame, pure love, pure joy. Submerging into a moment and capturing an image that makes you feel is the main thing.

To find that moment, you can take Schneider’s advice and just write — as she urges, as fast as you can, without lifting the pencil from the paper (or perhaps fingers from the keyboard). Know the feeling and the image that sparks it all, and lay things down as quickly as possible in order to outrun the intrusion of analysis.

When you do this many times over, you’ll become able to see what the character wants, or whether that’s missing from the picture. You’ll be able to see what the friction (conflict) is — overt or latent. The disastrous consequences that propel things forward will rise out of the mist like pre-existent moments lost in the ether between universes.

What do you feel deep down?

What happens next?

Book Release: The Cat Lady’s Secret, by Linda Yezak

Congratulations to Linda Yezak on the release of The Cat Lady’s Secret from Harbourlight Books.

Emily Taylor loves to help people, loves to ease their burdens and make their dreams come true. But when a conman ruins her reputation, she discovers that helping others is safer and easier from behind the scenes.

When one of Emily’s gifts captures the attention of an avid journalist, her identity as the town’s anonymous benefactor—and her renewed relationship with her high school sweetheart—are threatened.

As her private life begins to unravel, she realizes the one hope for regaining control lies behind prison walls.

The Cat Lady’s Secret is available on Amazon and at other online retailers. Linda can be found online at and on Facebook.

Book Release: Alpha Revelation by P.A. Baines

Congratulations to P.A. Baines on the release of the second novel in his Alpha series. Alpha Revelation is available at all online retailers.


The forefathers built a new home on the Red Planet and named it Utopia but, for Shor, life in the underground Martian colony is anything but utopian. With few friends and no prospects, he has never really fitted in. And he is aware of something approaching. Something evil.

His dream of working in the Space Program is the only thing keeping him sane. When even this is taken from him, he thinks life cannot possibly get any worse.

Then, during a routine fix on a hangar door, he stumbles upon a neglected and forgotten spaceship, and his life is turned upside down.

Could this spaceship hold the key to his past, his future, and the approaching apocalypse?

“The Thief” by Stephanie Landsem – Book Release

Congratulations to Stephanie Landsem on the release of her historical novel, The Thief, from Howard-Simon & Schuster.

A global traveller since her teens, Stephanie loves adventure in far-off places. She brings her rich experience of the world to her storytelling, creating immersive reading experiences. The Thief picks up where her debut novel, The Well, left off, continuing through the events of Jerusalem in Roman times.

Stephanie can be found on Facebook or at her website. Her books are available at all major online retailers.

Book Release: Structuring Your Novel, by KM Weiland

Congratulations to KM Weiland on the release of her writer’s help book Structuring Your Novel. Using familiar story examples, KM explains the journey from opening lines to “The End.”

The process of editing this book generated some interesting discussion between myself and a colleague: Is there such a thing as a novelist who naturally knows how to shape a story from beginning to end, or is it something we all have to learn?

A minority of my clients are natural structuralists. Interestingly, I recall a time when I was, and how I lost it, and when I found it again. I think all writers have a top strength and a top area for growth. Structure can be either one, or somewhere in between.

In my case, I lost the feel for it due to absorbing a variety of conflicting (and sometimes utterly misguided) advice as a very new writer. The first two novels I ever drafted were terribly written but correctly structured.

For this reason, I think it’s tremendously important that writers keep in mind:

  • Internet advice is piecework. It doesn’t give you enough meat to understand it in the greater context of your whole book. For instance, a blog post or forum discussion on characterization may or may not succeed at relating character development to plot, theme and structure.
  • Critique groups can only rise to the level of their most experienced member. This was a difficulty for me too, early on: Being part of an online group that critiqued novels 2,000 words at a time (what structure?) where 95% of the members were extremely new, unpublished novelists.

I can still recall, about a decade ago, a particular critique group submission: a beautifully voiced opening to a police procedural. It used a fantastic control of narrative distance to sweep in on the crime scene. It was like having a movie’s opening pan shot play through your head.

It was stripped down to a page and a half by one critiquer because the narrative passages “failed to include action.” That, my friends, was a horrifying thing to see. That was zero sense of scene structure at work. It was sincere, but not healthy.

So in discussing this with Katie, I began to wonder if this is why we see so few writers who know how to structure. Perhaps the online environment of anyone’s-an-expert and 500-word blog posts that contradict each other from blog to blog are part of the problem. Or maybe it doesn’t come naturally to most people. It’s hard to say.

What I do know is this: Strong structure is one of the top three things missing from novels that take a rejection slip. If you don’t know what it is, grab hold of it. If you do, stand on your knowledge and don’t let the confusing hodgepodge out there interfere.