Novel Rocket

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I Wrote Like Snoopy

I cut my authorial teeth on dialogue as a playwright. I was the creative arts director for 11 years at my church. We did everything from the 30-second sermon starter to full-length musicals. When I first wrote my first few scripts, my actors often used different words that I'd written, or they changed the sentences around, and even...gasp...dropped words.

But I liked what I heard, so I dissected the changes and found the common ground. I wrote like Snoopy, trying to be literary. Gag. The lines were too perfect and not realistic.

Have you read a book where the dialogue actually pulls you out of the story because it's so stiff and unbelievable? Or worse, it sounds like an info dump, as if the writer's saying, "You won't understand this unless I explain it to you."

Well, thank you Billy Sunday. That'll make me throw a book across the room faster than a politician can empty your wallet. Unless it’s on my e-reader; then I’d delete it before it contaminated the other e-books.

So what does make good dialogue in a book?

It has to be realistic for starters. And it has to be organic to your character. If you're an Oregonian and writing about a Southern Belle, you'd better have a Cousin Sue Ellen read your manuscript, or it may well be stereotyped. The same goes for Sue Ellen writing about a Yankee.

What if you’re writing a young adult book and don’t have any teens or twenty-somethings living at home, and you aren't sure how the characters would really talk? Go to a local mall and hang out in the food court and eavesdrop. Listen to the half sentences, colloquialisms, and especially to the way people answer questions.

One mistake new writers often make is found in the way characters answer questions.

"Good morning, Bob. Where are you headed this fine morning?"
"Good morning, John. I'm going to the hardware store to get a new float for the toilet."

First of all, we don't really care about Bob's toilet, unless his four-year-old flushed the latest Wiki-leaks state secrets. A bit more realistic might sound like this:

"Morning, Bob. Where you off to?"
"Hardware store."
"Anything I can help with?"
"I got it."
"Okay, holler if you need me."

That's how two neighboring men would have this conversation. If it were women, it still wouldn't be complete sentences, but it might go something like this:

"Morning, Sally. Going shopping?"
"Macy's is having a huge sale, and you know those new slip covers I got for the den sofa? John ruined it with cranberry juice."
"I hear you. Bob got mustard on my bedspread. Why can't they be more careful?"
"I think it's in their genes."
"Yeah, he got mustard on those, too."

Anyway, you can see how their conversation veered off the main track. We women do that. Men, not so much.

In romance, Jenny B, Jones is a master at building conflict into dialogue. A few lines from Save the Date illustrate this point well:

"Do you know anything about football?"
"You toss around a ball and throw people to the ground. What else is there to know?"
"Okay then, what's a birdcage?"
"The name of the bar where you met your last girlfriend?"
"A cut?"
"A fantasy I have involving your throat."

She never answered his questions seriously and he kept asking instead of commenting on what she said. It was brilliant dialogue for building character and a great example of verbal ping-pong.

For realistic dialogue, remember to:
Study they way dialogue is written in books you love
Listen to people engage in conversation and study their responses

Do you have any great examples of dialogue to share with us?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Tail, er, Tale of the Three-Legged Dog.

by Alton Gansky

Lessons come in the strangest places and at the oddest times. I slipped from the office early to get a haircut and buy one of those gooey-frosty-juice-things with names like Melon Madness that are supposed to be good for me. The haircut went fine with no ears injured and the juice was everything I hoped for. As I drove through the parking lot, my mind on the days work and a straw of tasty juice permanently glued to my lips, I had to slow for a dog trotting over the asphalta dog with three legs.

Now, I’ve seen three-legged dogs before. I even tell a joke about a three-legged pig (I’ll spare you), but the image of the dog stuck with me through the day. First, the dog appeared as happy as any I’ve seen. He didn’t mope across the macadam, he moved with brisk motion as if he were late for an appointment (maybe he was out for a haircut too).

Second, he trotted as if he had all four legs, apparently unperturbed by the missing limb. Whatever cost him his leg hadn’t taken away his doggy-zeal for life.

Last, he used what he had and used it well.

“If only . . .” Have you ever heard the phrase? “If only I had more time. If only I were younger. If only I hadn’t wasted my youth. If only I had chosen a better college (or any college). Many people utter this phrase, allowing it to become their mantra of failure. Budding writers say, “If only I had more time.” Hesitant entrepreneurs mumble, “If only I had started sooner.”

“If only . . . if only . . . if only . . .”

What does the three-legged dog do? He keeps moving forward as if nothing was missing.
That is a wise dog. Such a good boy.

Alton Gansky is an author, podcaster, teacher, and a man willing to learn about life from a three-legged dog.

Monday, June 27, 2016

#Writers Conferences

I love writer's conferences. I'm addicted to them. Where else can I get my annual fix? No where, that's where. Why? Because "normals" don't get us. When you're at a writer's conference and say, "I'm sorry, I didn't get that. I was listening to my character explain why she won't go to Cucamonga." 

Say that around a "normal" and you'll get looks like this and they quickly turn and walk away.

But not other writers. They can sit for hours talking about writing, plotting, how to get emotions just right.

We were out to dinner with friends. One of them mentioned that I was an author, and immediately Hubs leans over and says, "Don't start talking about books."

Normals just don't get it. So I live for the annual ACFW conference and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I'm excited to be teaching a workshop this year. I also got to teach at last year's BRMCWC. I really love to share what I've learned. 

My highlight this year is rooming with my two critique partners, Genghis Griep and Ludwig von Frankenpen. We don't get face time very often since we all live in different states.

So, what's your favorite part about writers' conferences? The learning? The hugs from friends? Late night brainstorming?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Out of Order

by Marcia Lee Laycock
I’m what they call a “seat of the pants” writer. That means I don’t sit down and concoct a lengthy outline and figure out my story from beginning to end. I just dive in and write, figuring it out as I go. I find this style invigorating. I never know what might happen in the next paragraph.

The story usually comes to me in scenes - I’ll be happily spinning my tale when, pop, here comes another scene that might not necessarily be next in the plot. I stop and put these “out of the blue” scenes into a separate file and add them in later. That works. Most of the time. But there is a down side to writing this way. Sometimes things get mixed up. Sometimes things are out of order. And sometimes I end up in an editing nightmare.

Like the other day, when I was working on the second book of my fantasy series and had the nagging feeling that something was out of order. So I painstakingly did a chapter by chapter outline and found a couple of things that had to be moved. A character can’t suddenly be talking to someone she meets two chapters later. The villain can’t put his schemes into action until he’s given the information he needs in order to carry them out. Those kinds of mistakes are a little annoying to our readers! That’s why a structural edit is crucial for writers like me. And that pertains not just to my work, but to my life.

Sometimes our lives can be out of order. We start the day in a rush and forget to even breathe a “good morning, Lord,” before diving into our schedule. We’re half way through the day before we realize something isn’t right. Maybe we’re a bit snappy with colleagues or our family members. Maybe we just feel a little ‘off.’ And then there are those days when things just go all wrong, things happen that don’t make any sense at all and often they are difficult or even painful.

That’s when it’s time to do a structural edit of our lives and put things in the right order; that’s when we need to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And that’s when we can take great comfort in knowing that there is a Sovereign over it all, an Author, who knows the beginning and the end, and every single detail of the plot of our lives. He has made sure that all is in order, even when it seems in chaos.

Hebrews 12:2, says – “I desire to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

That’s the right order – scene number one - focus on Jesus.

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she is a pastor's wife, mother of three adult daughters and care-giver to two golden retreivers. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Her second novel, A Tumbled Stone was recently short listed in the contemporary fiction category of The Word Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print as well as two ebooks. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. 

Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers is available on Amazon.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Writer’s Nemesis - Clichés

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Tweet this: The Writer's Nemesis - Clichés 
Every writer craves accolades from her readers and the industry. She wants exemplary recognition about her plot, voice, genre, setting, dialogue, narrative, and characters. She treasures 5-star reviews and eager readers who can’t wait for her next book.

Unfortunately when a writer dips into tired clichés, credibility lands with a dull thud. The story lacks:

Phrases clothed in character.

A cliché is a writer’s nemesis.
Writers, it’s time to become soldiers. Let’s shine our boots and clean our weapons. We must fight the urge o use familiar wording. Carry the banner of creating something fresh and alive.Are you ready to wield the sword and destroy your nemesis? Here are five ways to ensure you’re the victor.
  1. Conduct a line-by-line edit. If a cliché threatens your position as a bestselling writer, delete it!
  2. Explore the scene in which the cliché appeared. Is it necessary? If so, how might your character form a phrase that accomplishes the same purpose? Every detail of characterization plays into a strategic plan to offer a unique way of saying something.
  3. Design three phrases of your own to replace every cliché.
  4. List your original clichés in a file. These can only be used by your character. Ever. An award-winning writer is proud to eliminate all traces of a previous character in a new book.
  5. Re-read your story again and admire your willingness to fight for your own literary voice.
Writers use words as their defense line, a means of reaching the goal of increased leadership.

Have you spent time creating your character clichés? 

Tweet this: The Writer's Nemesis - Clichés

 DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two 
Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association; International Thriller Writers, and the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter of Romance Writers of America. She is co-director of The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Friday, June 24, 2016

Reduce Blogging Stress with These 12 Tips

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

12 Tips to Reduce Blogging Stress
Blogging is a valuable tool for writers wanting to grow and connect with an audience. It provides us with the opportunity to go deeper than a quick social media post. It also gives our readers a place to hangout with us in cyber-space.

But anyone who has done much blogging knows that it can also be stressful. These are my tips for reducing that stress.

12 Tips to Reduce Blogging Stress
1. Find a place to keep all your blog post ideas. I’ve discovered that ideas appear at the oddest times. I’ve also found that if I want to keep them, I have to catch them and put them away the moment they occur to me.

Work ahead.
2. Work ahead. I try to schedule my posts as far out as possible. For me, that’s a week or two in advance. I also have a file of posts to use in case I need them.

3. Utilize the practice of cluster blogging. I shared an entire post about this concept in Maximize Your Time with Cluster Blogging. But in a nutshell, it’s writing multiple posts on similar topics.

4. Find some blogging buddies. I have an agreement with several bloggers  who have the same focus as me. We agree that if we’re in a spot and need a last-minute post, we can take one from each other’s sites and give credit.

5. Keep a file of images. I keep all my previous blog images—and images I take specifically for my blog—in a file. That way if I need something quick, I don’t have to find something new.

6. Set goals 24 to 48 hours in advance of the real deadlines. The posts on my site go live at 4:00 am every morning. In addition, certain days have specific topics. Today is Social Media Monday. When I set my goal for when to write today’s post, it’s by 10pm Saturday evening. That way, if life happens, I still have time to readjust and not disappoint my readers.

Keep a checklist
7. Keep a checklist. I have a checklist of things to look at before I hit publish. I shared it here on Increase the Reach of Every Blog Post and Continue to Increase the Reach of Every Blog Post.

8. Break up long posts into two parts. When I see a post is running long, I look for ways to break it into two or more posts. That keeps my audience reading because the post length isn’t too long, and it keeps them coming back to read part two.

9. Pay attention to the comments. The comments section of your blog is a gold mine. Pay attention to questions and what’s said to find topics for future posts.

10. Redo and reuse. I hate to think that all the previous posts I’ve written are only read once. I also don’t want to repost the same thing (because of SEO algorithms that penalize this practice). The way to overcome this is to rework your post and then reuse it.

Don't over stress.
11. Don’t over stress. Life happens, sometimes you have to skimp on certain things. Or you might miss a post altogether. Be consistent while you can and don’t sweat the mistakes.

12. Give yourself some grace. It’s impossible to put up perfect posts. All of us find stupid typos and formatting gaffs. Don’t assume mistakes are unforgiveable.

These are the things that have helped me reduce my blogging stress. What would you add to the list? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. I always learn so much from you all!

Edie Melson—author, blogger, speaker—has written numerous books, including While My Soldier Serves, Prayers for Those with Loved Ones in the Military. She’s also the military family blogger at Her popular blog for writers, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month, and she’s the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers ConferenceConnections: Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers is a print expansion of her bestselling ebook on social media. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy, the Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine, and the Senior Editor for Connect on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Writing Westerns

Cooking up an antiquated western is easy!

First, grab a mixing bowl—we call it The West. Throw in a trusty horse and a cowboy with a white ten-gallon hat. Next, add spice—a gorgeous female in distress who wants a cowboy to take her to a ranch where she'll have babies and keep the house clean for him. To add a bitter flavor, pour in a thin-lipped villain in black. Mix well. Dollop scenes in sequential order and bake in the Arizona desert until burnt. Serve with a side of angry Indian, a crusty gold miner looking for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, and beans. 
Used with Permission. Laura Harkins

Gone (we hope) are the days of formula westerns. So why do numbers say westerns are making a comeback? Because new westerns have qualities the enduring American West novels embraced.

High stakes keep readers turning the page. Losing a few head of cattle (the stakes are steaks) won't keep the reader’s interested. If the lives of many are troubled by the fight between the hero and villain, the more interesting. Granted, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry is a cattle drive. But an entire way of life is at stake.

Give the girl a gun, please. Helpless damsels in distress are no longer in fashion, unless it's simply a person rendered defenseless. Historically, women in the west were cast-iron. Charles Portis wrote True Grit’s Mattie Ross as the toughest person in the novel, with more sand than even the meanest marshal she could find. She’s just awesome.

Embrace Ethnicity. Many of the famous western writers loved the Native American’s way of life and portrayed their point of view. Some included the Chinese, African American, Mexican, and countless others. Movies, however, needed faceless villains. The plot lines wreaked havoc on minorities. I’m thinking of the stagecoach chase scenes with feathered and painted Caucasian stuntmen galloping on horseback, only to be slaughtered by bouncing riders with small Winchesters. In today's westerns, everyone’s point of view matters.

No person is perfect. Even heroes and heroines suffer from limitations. Giving them a fault or a medical condition makes them more believable. Jubal, in Louis L’Amour’s Jubal Sackett, seems to suffer from ADHD and possibly a mild hyperkinetic disorder. But yet, he finds a place where he can be himself and discover love.

These tips and more are played out in my western West for the Black Hills!

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.