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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Post-it Notes of a Writer

Sandra Orchard hails from rural Ontario, Canada where inspiration abounds for her novels set in the fictional Niagara towns she creates as their backdrop. Shades of Truth, the second book in her Undercover Cops series with Love Inspired Suspense, hit Harlequin’s suspense bestseller list last month. In addition to writing for LIS, she recently signed a three-book deal for Port Aster Secrets, a mystery/romantic suspense series with Revell Publishing. Sandra is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, and The Word Guild. She invites you to check out her readers’ “extras” and other resources, for both readers and writers, at her website.

Post it notes for Writers

I'm so excited to be a guest at Novel Rocket, and look forward to hearing from all of you. My debut Love Inspired Suspense, Deep Cover, is a finalist in the upcoming Canadian Christian Writing Awards and made the top ten list of Family Fiction Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards, which prompted someone to ask me: What’s the secret to writing an award-winning story?

Well, after much deliberation I think I’ve figured it out. Post-it notes!

That’s right. Post-it notes.

Picture a computer monitor with notes tacked all along it’s base and a book shelf on either side lined with more notes. That’s what my desk looks like. I’m a list writer. I need to see things written down if I’m going to remember to do them. Here’s the most important:

Why? Why? Why?

You need to understand your character’s motivations, not just surface motivations, deep-seated motivations. Keep asking why until you get to the very root of their motivations and then put it on the page.

Characters choices must drive actions.

If an editor or agent tells you that your story is episodic, this is the post-it for you. In each scene, your character needs a goal. Then you throw in a bunch of obstacles to that goal, until finally the goal seems unattainable—at least not without great cost—leaving your character with a dilemma. What do they do now? The decision they come to will drive the action of their next scene…unless they get sideswiped off course by another character’s actions of course.

Slow down. Five Senses.

The five senses are a writer’s best friend. Whether you’re writing a romance scene or a suspense scene, anchoring the scene with specific details will heighten the tension, drawing out the sense of danger or anticipation. For example, in Deep Cover’s opening scene, I could’ve simply said that the construction site was muddy from last night’s storm. Instead, I added more details and chose specific words to convey the hero’s growing uneasiness. “Last night’s rain had turned the Southern Ontario sandy loam into a soupy mess, and the late winter chill layering the air around Miller’s Bay bit through his damp jeans. Bit like the suspicion nipping at his thoughts that…”

Better, don’t you think?

Then there’s my favorite note: What’s the worst thing that can happen right now?

It’s so much fun getting our characters into trouble, especially when escape seems impossible. And that apparent impossibility is what keeps the reader turning pages.

Your turn… What are some notes you write to yourself or keep filed in your mental file to remind you how to make your stories stronger?

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Shades of Truth, Love Inspired Suspense, March 2012

Big city detective Ethan Reed is working deep undercover at a Christian youth detention center. The kind of place he spent some harrowing time in as a kid. Ethan’s mission: ferret out who’s recruiting resident teens for a drug ring. He expects help from the lovely, devoted director of Hope Manor. But Kim Corbett won’t tell Ethan anything— even when she’s threatened and attacked. When Ethan discovers what Kim is protecting, his guarded heart opens just a bit wider. Enough to make this the most dangerous assignment of his career.

Book 2 in series, Undercover Cops: Fighting for justice puts their lives—and hearts—on


  1. That's a clever way to keep all those questions in from of you. :) Colorful, too. I have a glass table for a desk, and I write on the back of the sticky notes and stick then under the glass, so I don't knock them off. Yeah, I'm a klutz.

  2. Great hints for other writers. Thanks for sharing. However, my desk is such a disaster that post-its would simply get lost. That may be why I'm so slow at what I do. Thanks for the prod.

  3. I'm all about the post-it's! Soon as I address one, I rip it in half--visual reminder that I don't need to reread it to know it's been taken care of. Thanks for being with us!

    1. ooh, and so satisfying to rip things. "Ah, you're finished. Take that!" :)

  4. Thanks for being here today, Sandra! While I'm not a post-it note person, I do have a mad love affair with my 5x7 index cards! I couldn't write without them!

    And I'm totally in to asking the question 'why?' When I write, I try to remember how my girls were at two, always asking one thing or another--I believe it's the only way to truly know who are characters are.

    1. Thanks for inviting me to be here, Patty!

  5. Oh, I like the idea of ripping the post-it apart when you are done. I can imagine an empty computer screen when the story is complete. Nice visual.

    As for me, I used to be a post-it note person, but my husband hates them. I mean really hates seeing them everywhere and all over the place. So for the sake of the marriage, I give each character their own notebook now.

    Great advice, Sandra!

    1. Your hubby sounds like a great character for a book. :)

  6. Hi, Sandra:
    I love Post-Its too! I like to have different sizes and different colors. For my last novel the backside of my office doors were covered with neon Post-Its. It was kinda sad to take them down -- but that meant I had finished the book and sent it to my editor!


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