Friday, July 22, 2016

Does Your Writing Have Rhythm?

If you think in the economy of words, you'd probably use as few as possible, right? But how often do we actually think about how short we should write instead of how many words we need to make a novel?

Less is more

One hour was simply not enough to soak up all that Brandilyn Collins had to teach in this too-short class I sat through at ACFW national conference several years ago. I could easily sit through an entire early bird on what she had to tell. 

Words fascinate me. More than just stringing them together to tell a story, but words that evoke emotions. Develop a setting. Show the reader what is happening upon the screen we call a page. 

And I use too many of them. 
Click on the photo to see the changes Brandilyn made to a certain section of my manuscript.

One hour was enough to show me that so much more can be said in a stronger way if we use less words and more powerful words.

The key to this is the power behind the words. For example, take the before and after of these sentences I rewrote after Brandilyn's class:


A warm hand cupped Ellie’s elbow and guided her back to the spot where the brown-tinged grass caved under the press of her black shoes.


A warm hand cupped Ellie’s elbow, guiding her back to where the brown-tinged grass caved under her black shoes. 

How about another one? One that is a little more dramatic in the changes.

She wanted to stop them. Grab their perfect black scarves, coats, gloves. Make them realize this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to be able to learn how to be a good wife instead of a good widow. She would have planned better, tried harder had she known…

Ellie wanted to stop them. Grab their perfect scarves and coats. Make them see this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to have the chance to learn how to be a good wife. Not a widow. 

Do you see that not only did I use less words, but I also used more powerful words? The second one packed more of a punch right? And because I actually used less words your brain didn't have to dig through all the extraneous stuff just to find the meaning to the sentence and the paragraph.

Sentence length also dramatically affects the rhythm and communicates without words to the reader their emotions. If your sentences are filled with descriptions and are long languid run-on sentences, and your scene is a fight, what emotion are you going to evoke in your reader? Not fear. In fact (and this happens to me too often), I'll be reading (or rather skimming) something and realize two paragraphs in that this was a fight/kidnapping/disagreement/argument and I had NO idea because the descriptions, word choice and sentence length did not cue me into the fact that there was something happening!

Word selection in and of itself is not enough. Once I started thinking about the length of my physical sentences, the sound of my writing started to change. You want the overall flow to match the mood of the scene, so keep this in the forefront of your mind as you are editing and changing. So often I didn't so much rewrite what I had written, but cut the extra words that were only drowning the important pieces of information. Once I started looking at my story in this way, I found plenty of places to cut the extra verbiage! 

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in colorful Colorado where she gets to live her dream stalking--er--visiting with her favorite CO authors. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Birth of a Dream

I stopped by a garage sale in my neighborhood a while back.

In the driveway was a box of a few books. As I was looking through them, the lady managing the sale told me, "There are a bunch of other books over here too if you're interested."

I walked over, and yeah, I barely could control my grin.


I bought 15 books from that garage sale at .25 cents each. Most all in like-new condition. (most of these weren't ones I would have purchased new anyway, but for a quarter I'd give them a try, so no writer's guilt...)

The writer I am had to ask who the reader of the house was. Come to find out, it was an elderly woman who was "downsizing" and moving into an apartment/assisted living.

Instantly my mind went to my own grandma. Memories of going to her house and searching her bookshelf flooded my heart. My grandma's bookshelf held my first taste of Christian Fiction, Janette Oke, Lori Wick, and Grace Livingston Hill, to be exact.

A few years ago, my grandparents moved into a nursing home/assisted living facility, and my mother salvaged a few of the books for me from the similar garage sale.  There are no words to tell you how special those books are to me. They are how I fell in love with books, they are what birthed the dream of being a writer someday.

Sometimes, in all the craziness of everything, I like to pick one of them up, snuggle up with a blanket, and read one of those "old" books of grandma's. They make me smile, they made me remember, and they make me appreciate the journey.

Because this writing life IS a journey, a crazy, fun, scary, wild, sweet, wonderful journey.

It also makes me appreciate anew the simple act and pleasure of reading a book.

Those "non"-bookies don't always understand this emotional connection we have to a book. It doesn't really make a lot of sense. But it's special. I can't aptly put it into words (oddly enough!) but it just plain is!

Discussion: What was your first "memorable" book you read? Who inspired YOUR writing journey at it's infant stage?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How to Intrigue, Compel, Inspire, & Embolden Reader AND Writer...I Love This Story!

The photo above stirs an interesting topic.

Deep down, the reader is not the only one who needs to be intrigued, compelled, inspired, and emboldened on a character's journey.

A great writer can not only craft words to help the reader desire to take this journey, but also help himself to reveal this character's journey then next and the next.

Unless the writer is totally, completely, 100% captured by the story--ready to grab a tissue and bawl, laugh out loud, scream at the jerk, require medical treatment because the pain felt by the character seems so real--the reader won't be. And the reader wants to!

I sat down at my computer three days ago and opened a completed manuscript. The first layers of dust had accumulated, which made it ripe for a new reading.

The story is in the hands of an editor, but I--I thought about the MC, and although I knew her story, I just wanted to read it again. 

Not for editing.

But just because the characters and their journey gave me pleasure. 

I wondered if I would feel the same after I brushed away the dust. Would I still, dare I say, love this story after giving my heart to a new WIP?

I opened the document and began to read aloud to myself. Hmmm. Yes, I thought, the beginning is good.

The writer in me popped out, tweaking a word or two as I laughed at the jokes and became anxious with MC. Her journey was so very difficult. A paragraph didn't feel exactly right so I rewrote it. Yes, I thought. This is what would have happened. This is more what MC thought and said.

I pictured the scenes and lamented with MC during the harsh and difficult times. The sting of  MC's pain pricked me. Her disappointments saddened me. And because the reading out loud sucked me into the setting, I wondered again, would she survive? 

The cohesiveness of the story meshed together like a finely woven tapestry. If any story ever had a chance to impact readers as it did MC, this was the one.

I found myself unwilling to tear my eyes away from the page. Could the laundry wait five more minutes? MC is hurting. I need to walk with her. I didn't even dare to refill my coffee cup.

MC's story, yes, this very journey had become one she could share with others who have had similar experiences. And now, since she has survived to the last page of the book, she can comfort readers with a sincere empathy.

I love this story.

It is more than ink on a page. More than writing rules obeyed. More than writing mechanics. 

This is MC's story. A story to be shared. A story to be reread and loved. A story to be experienced by not only readers, but also me--the writer.

And so I challenge you--

Open up a completed manuscript. The work can be published or not. It can be your first completed work or last. 

Close your eyes. Think of your stories. Which is the first to bring a smile to your face, (of course all your stories are pleasing, but we are picking one. Only one. ONLY ONE).

What is the title of the story?

Who is MC?

Now, grab these important items:
1. Your favorite beverage
2. Your favorite memory object in your home, can be a pet, knickknack, stuffed animal, photo, etc.
3. Put on comfy clothes
4. Sit in a comfy chair
5. Choose background music that matches the setting or plot of your book...cannot be one with words.
6. You favorite snack: chocolate?
7. Turn off FB, email, any other distractors.
8. Try to be by yourself
9. Tissues

The goal: in less than one week, read MC's story out loud to yourself, this is important because it will keep you from scan reading. Include animations.

Slip into the story. Wholly. Feel MC's emotions. Go to MC's home. Eat with MC. Feel warm, cold, wet from rain, filled with the scents of the meadow, forrest, or ocean in MC's setting. 

So in love with this story.

It's swirling in your mind.

How did it happen? This beautiful story?

Don't you feel like writing another one? Has a new story idea popped in your head? Are you excited to write more words for your WIP today? Good. Go. Do it.


Please write the name of your chosen story for this challenge and MC's name in the comment section. 

Then--when you finish reading your story, come back and tell us how it intrigued,compelled, inspired, and emboldened you, the writer to create another story for readers.

I will start. The story is called: Mist. MC's name is: Liz. My heart is still beating wildly from reading the conclusion. 

Your's will, too when you finish yours.

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

Help others--tweet or FB share this post


Rock climbing, white-water rafting, zip lining, and hiking top Mary's list of great ways to enjoy a day. Such adventures can be found in her stories as well.

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and tell Bible event stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.

Visit Mary at her websiteblog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

All subscribers to Mary's newsletter will receive her new short story an intriguing suspense/mystery. Come, read a good story. To get your free gift, sign up for the newsletter at Mary's website or:  Join the adventure!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How to Promote Your Work Without Being Pushy

Hi, friends! Laurie here. With conference season upon us, it's time to start thinking about pitching, so I thought this older post would be rather appropriate right now! <3

For many, the primary goal at a writer's conference is to get their work in front of agents and editors. There are usually first-come-first-serve appointment slots available, and there are also more organic opportunities to meet these professionals, as well. Ashley wrote a fantastic post about pitching, and I wanted to expand on that fine line between promoting yourself and being pushy.

Let me put it out there that I know all of our Alley readers are decent human beings with the best intentions. But sometimes nervousness and introvert overcompensation can cloud our judgment, and my hope is that we can find a healthy balance between the natural tendency to undersell ourselves and giving our work the visibility it deserves.

Allow me to demonstrate (pretty please).

At my first conference, before any of us were agented, some friends of mine and I approached an agent to thank him after a really informative panel. None of us even had the intention of pitching to him at that conference, but he ended up talking with us for at least thirty minutes at the bottom of an escalator about several different things, including what we write. It was such an excellent conversation!

And then this woman we didn't know approached, eyes zoned in on the agent, hovering uncomfortably close to us for a few minutes until he finally--reluctantly--made eye contact and she felt it okay to interrupt. This is not the way to get someone's attention. In fact, this is pretty much a surefire way to get an agent to tell you to email an assistant at best and flat-out reject you on the spot at worst.

In my experience at conferences, working commission retail, pitching authors to media outlets, and even what I learned mattress shopping tonight, there are better ways to promote your work than being pushy. Because I want you to be bold and own your talent without banishing yourself to no-man's land.

1) Form some kind of relationship before you begin to sell. Whether you get seated next to an agent at a conference meal or you're meeting the professional for the first time at your 15-minute appointment slot, briefly talk about something else to break the ice. A favorite book they edited, a client they represent, something he or she said in a class or panel. Anything to ease into the conversation and calm your nerves. Don't wax poetic and waste half of your allotted time, but don't immediately launch into your pitch without silently establishing that you respect this person as a human being and not just a means to accomplish your goals. Rule of thumb: remember to consider it a conversation.

2) If you have to be negative about something else to sell yourself, you're doing it wrong. Remember that authors, agents, and editors are often friends with each other even if they've never worked together. It's a very small world in publishing, so make sure your focus is on the positive aspects of your work and what you have to offer them. Make sure you're not stepping on someone else's face to get a leg up. Or else you're no better than the political candidates spamming your mailbox with hate mail every election season.

3) Use discernment. Pay close attention to nonverbal cues, tone of voice, posture. I'd venture to say that generally you shouldn't pitch to someone unless it's invited. Though chance pitches are successful occasionally -- my critique partner got a full manuscript request from her agent at the hotel bar -- it's best not to catch a professional off guard, engrossed in something else, or when he/she is clearly clocked out for the day.

4) Remember that your pitch sets the tone of what kind of person you'll be to work with. You can show them you're serious about publication and confident in your work without being arrogant. Take advantage of this opportunity to highlight the key, sellable aspects of your book with boldness. And make sure to keep it real. Agents and editors have heard about many life-changing, ground-breaking, sure-to-be bestsellers, so that aspect alone will not sell your book :)

A gracious, confident conversation will, on the other hand, give you the best chance for success!

Have you had successes or failures pitching to an agent or editor at a writing conference? Will this be your first time? Let us know in the comments!


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business called 1624 Communications

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a two-time Genesis Award winner, and the runner-up in the 2015 Lone Star Contest's Inspirational category. 
Her debut contemporary romance novel will release in 2017 from Harlequin Heartwarming.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, July 18, 2016

AlleyCat Chat: Let's Hear From YOU!

The Writer’s Alley popped into cyberspace over five years ago and one of our main purposes has been to encourage new (and even experienced) authors along the writing journey. Our tagline truly speaks our heart here at The Alley: Where Friends and Stories Meet. We LOVE talking about stories and making new friends.

We also love to HEAR from our readers.

As the Alleycats plan for a new year, we want to hear from you. Please share a few things for us by answering these questions.

1.       What are some of the posts/information you’ve appreciated most from The Writer’s Alley?


What topics have we shared that you’d like to see covered in more detail?

3.       What topics have we not discussed that you’d like to read about?

4.       If you have a few top posts from TWA, would you share them in the comments below?

5.       Of the following topics, which two do you prefer in our blog posts:
a.       Marketing strategies
b.      Devotionals
c.       Personal writing stories
d.      Character development/writing posts
e.      Story creation/crafting posts
f.        Interviews/Guest posts
g.       Character interviews
h.      Publishing techniques/information (e-books vs print, different houses)
i.         Conference-ready posts (pitching, one-sheets, blurbs, etc)
j.        Other (please specify in the comments)

We blog for YOU so we want to hear from YOU!! As we move ahead to make TWA a helpful, encouraging, and functional site, the best way to make plans is to get the audience involved in the process. How can TWA serve you better?

And be on the watch from some exciting news in the upcoming weeks about changes happening here at The Alley!

Where Friends and Stories Meet.

Friday, July 15, 2016

So, How'd You Two Meet?

In any love story, great and even those not so great, the romance is set in motion by an inciting incident.

       Boy meets girl

We all have those stories. Whether it is something dramatic like "I started falling down the stairs, and he caught me. And never let go." Said in the right tone that one might induce some nausea.

Maybe your story was something simpler like "We met at work when he spilled burning hot coffee on my silk blouse. I thought he was a total idiot. But well, I fell in love with the big lug anyway." :)

In storyworld this is what we refer to as a "meet-cute."

And because we dream in a world of fiction, we get to create these moments and sprinkle them with some magic.

So, lets talk about how to make a "meet-cute" extraordinary!

-Write outside the box

Ever feeling like the story you are reading was cookie cut from dozens of others? I don't know about you but the idea of shocking the reader is often my goal when I am piecing a story together. No matter what genre you prefer, whether it be romance, historical, speculative or suspense, the last thing you want to be is predictable. 

Why would anyone want to read my story if they know not only how it ends, but how the characters get there? Boring.

We don't want to recycle ideas. We want to present something fresh, something unexpected. So when you are thinking about your character's first meeting on the page, make of list of all the "meet-cute's" you can remember. As our brains are often at capacity, this should not be an exhaustive list. This can be your point of reference. See what's been done, and do something different. Spice things up.

-Sparks or friction? Or both!

Ooo, this is the fun stuff! When those characters meet on the page there should be a different dynamic between the two than say, the heroine and her teenage brother, or the hero and the Barista at the coffee shop. (And let me just say that when your characters meet on paper they might already be otherwise acquainted, but the same principles apply.)

Whether you start things off with a spark... 

As in—Holy cow, her skin was about to melt off because he was seriously THAT hot. She could do nothing but gape at him, nearly incinerated into a brainless, wordless ditz with one smoldering glance.


With some friction. 

But then he opened his mouth, and it didn't matter one bit that he was tall, dark, and devastating when he said, "Listen up, Blondie. I don't care who sent you, you're interfering with my crime scene. If you don't remove yourself from the premises in five seconds, I'll charge you with obstruction of justice and haul you off to jail."

(Sorry, that was seat-of-my-pants so it might not make a whole lotta sense)

May I just point out that both spark and friction produce what? ... Heat.

It's all about the chemistry here. It doesn't have to be love at first sight. They might hate each other. But there is a very fine line between love and hate. Those who get under our skin the most are often the ones that wiggle their way into our hearts.

Crank up the tension here. Start off with a bang. Rile their emotions.

A sure-fire way to create a memorable "meet-cute."

-Establish some mystery

Intrigue will hook your reader fast and pull them along for the ride. Plan how you want to stir the pot here. Do you drop subtle hints at backstory through their thoughts or their actions? Use body language to expose their greatest fear, or their greatest dream? Splice in some double entendre into their dialogue that peaks the reader's interest but also the interacting character's.

And in doing this, go back to those first two points. Go for the unexpected. Make them aware of or agitated by each other. Ignite the spark and the conflict and draw the reader in from the get-go. You sure don't want them closing your book before it gets good. So start it strong.

Most importantly…
-Wet the reader’s appetite for more!

Get them curious about these characters. How the next interaction might play out. Keep them guessing. Make them crave the next time they are thrown together on the page. You can do it! Get creative!

Your turn: What is your favorite “meet-cute” you've written? Do you have a favorite from a book or movie? Or, what is your very own, real life “meet-cute” with your sweetheart? 

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little mischief makers and would challenge anyone to a cutest family contest. Represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Preparing the Perfect Pitch

Today's post was first written four years ago when I was just a newbie to the industry! But I think the thoughts still ring true, and since the ACFW conference is just around the corner, I hope they encourage you! Be blessed today! -- Ashley

Be honest. In the middle of the night, during conference season, you've had nightmares of Chip MacGregor telling you he thinks your concept is totally dull and an impossible sell. Nooooo....

Face-to-face rejection. It's every writer's worst nightmare.

I vividly remember my first pitch. It was the 2010 ACFW conference, and I had an appointment with Ami McConnell. Yes, I've always had lofty aspirations. My appointment was the first one after lunch, and I made a point to leave lunch early to join the line of other panic-striken writers. Suddenly the ability to even remember your name had become an asset. "What do you write?" One of us would ask each other. "Who are you pitching to?" The answers were different, but the look in the eyes was (and is) always the same. I like to describe it as that feeling you got waiting outside the principal's office. Even if you knew you had done nothing wrong, he would find something. The assumption was, these people are waiting for us to fail.

That's problem #1.

Editors and agents do not want to see you mentally and socially flailing. Well, at least most of them don't. Just kidding! Remember that these people are in the book business. And the book business doesn't work too well without authors. There's no reason to be afraid. You're looking to enter into a partnership. That's all there is to it. I know it feels like they have your every dream in the palm of their hands, but really, those are in God's. And He has a much better idea who your book will best fit with anyway.

With that in mind, I've created three lists of three things that should help you get your pitch prepared for conference season. I hope you find them helpful!

3 Things to Do Before You Leave Home:

  • Research. Nothing is more embarrassing than pitching your YA manuscript to a publishing house that is currently only buying Amish historicals. And believe me, editors don't like this. If you were them, would you? Do research on your target editors and agents before you leave so that your pitch comes across as intentional. Even just browsing through a publishing house's website and reading a couple of their books can go a long way.
  • Practice in front of a mirror. Yes, I know this makes you feel silly. You will feel even more ridiculous if the first time you pitch is in front of your dream editor.
  • Reread your book. If the appointment goes well, an editor or agent is likely to ask you more about the story, but there's no way to really predict what they will ask. In order to keep your answers as natural and eloquent-sounding as possible, before you leave, take note of your major plot points. If someone were to ask you about the major conflicts in the novel, the dark moment, or the character arc, would you be able to answer? What if they asked you what you ultimately hope readers will get out of your book? Why you are a good fit for their publishing house? If you are prepared, your answers to these questions can make you seem golden. 
3 Things to Do During Your Appointment:
  • Be professional. Oh my goodness, I am always amazed by how many people ignore this one. You should treat your appointments as if they are a job interview, because--let's face it, they are. That means even if the appointment does not go as you'd hoped, you still have an opportunity to leave a good impression. Next year's conference might seem like a long time away now, but next year, you'll wish you hadn't burned a bridge.
  • Take a deep breath and introduce yourself. Jumping into your pitch and rattling it off like a 10th grade oral book report project is not a good strategy. You want your appointment to be a conversation, a chance to get to know an editor or agent. Slow down, introduce yourself and maybe even tell them what you write or offer a one sheet before you jump into your longer pitch. Otherwise it's too much for them to process.
  • Take cues from the editor or agent with whom you are speaking. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and politely tried to end it with nonverbal cues, only to have that person continue talking about themselves with no end in sight? Don't be that person in your appointments. Give the editor or agent a chance to think and ask you questions. Remember that your book idea is new to them. They need at least a few seconds to process it.
3 Things Your Pitch Should Include:
  • Goals/forward motion. This can be anything from a new job to a heroic quest to save a princess, but it should be clear what your main character is working toward.
  • Conflict. Conflict is usually the most interesting part of the story, so this is your chance to really "pack a punch" so to speak, with your pitch. Be sure you are very clear what your character has working against her, and don't shy away from using external conflict. "She feels hesitant about dating him," is not a strong enough conflict to sustain a book-long project. "He put a restraining order against her because he thinks she's stalking his children" is a different story. Got your attention, didn't it? (Side note: if any of you have written stalker romances, my apologies.)
  • A compelling hook, using your writing voice. You need a wham! moment to stand out amongst the hundreds of other pitches these people have to hear throughout the day. Sometimes using a question works well. Other times it's just in the phrasing. I would recommend having someone you trust, like your critique partner, work with you on this. Ideally, you want your wham! moment to correspond with your biggest source of conflict. And even beyond that, be sure it reflects your voice. This is the first chance you get to showcase your writing voice, so make it memorable.
You also want to remember to keep these short. It's a good idea to develop both a short pitch and a longer pitch. And when I say "short pitch," I mean short. We're talking, 7 words, ideally. Your longer pitch should be around 3 or 4 sentences. The short pitch should be just long enough to really catch their attention, and then the longer pitch develops the main conflict a bit more. But even the long pitch should not tell your whole story.

What you want to happen in an ideal situation is for your short pitch to lead to your long pitch, which then leads to a one sheet or even a proposal request, and then to your book.

A note on pitching etiquette: Sometimes it can be hard to determine when it is and is not socially acceptable to pitch. Generally, most people tend toward one side or the other. If you're an introvert, you might have to get a little out of your comfort zone. If you are an extravert, you may need to tone it down a little. Remember that editors and agents are human, which means they all have different preferences and moods. If someone is on their cell phone engrossed in what looks like a very serious conversation, or an agent is having a one-on-one with one of their authors, please do not interrupt them. It's considered rude and will really work against you in the end.

That said, on the other hand, agents and editors know you have come to the conference to pitch to them, and some will deliberately hang out in public areas so they can get to know potential authors and clients. In some cases, it can bode well if you recognize your dream editor or agent because it shows you have done your research. You've paid a lot of money and put a lot of effort to come to this conference, so if a good opportunity presents itself and seems like it may even be a God-thing (i.e. you end up on the elevator at the same time), it may be best to seize the chance while you have it.

Here's a normal way to have that conversation: "Hi, I'm Delilah Dopplerfritz. Aren't you _______?" "Yes, I am. Are you enjoying the conference?" "Yes. I'm glad to run into you because I was hoping to have a chance to pitch to you this weekend. Do you have a minute to hear about my book, or are you in a hurry?" "Sure, tell me about it. But make it quick." (Insert pitch.)

It's always a good idea to ask if they have time to hear your pitch if you're not in a formal setting like an appointment or their appointed lunch table. And if they say they don't have time, don't be offended. It's not you. They are busy people!

Above all else, be yourself. You are selling yourself as an author just as much as you are selling your book. Remember that, and it will be easier. 

Your turn! Do you have any pitching advice or funny stories to share? Do you have a pitch you would like input on? Feel free to share it and get the group's feedback!


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.