Seeking Inspiration

Writers have active imaginations – fiction writers at any rate. It’s a job hazard. We call it a muse, creative juices, inspiration…

We seem to have been writing a lot of posts about the business of writing, so I thought it might be a good place for a bit of a break. When we go to conferences, we are often asked where we get our ideas.

I can’t speak for Marcy about where she gets her ideas, though I’m sure she’ll jump in. (She probably would have contributed more if I had thought to write this post more than 6 hours ahead of posting it…. yeah – I know. If I had ‘planned’ I wouldn’t be behind. I work better under pressure!) Me, I get my inspiration from a lot of different places.

The thing about inspiration is that it’s a starting place. I think a lot of people get caught up in the beginning idea and never work to develop the idea. My English teacher in high school used to say that every writer had a glass ceiling over their heads. All your initial ideas happen beneath the glass ceiling, but when you work on them, develop them, you can get past the big easy, the over-done, the unoriginal, to where new unique stories happen above the glass ceiling.


I love a good story in almost any form (though radio dramas tend to put me to sleep). I love to watch movies. I’ve had many story ideas come to me by watching movies – a twist on this concept or that, or how it should have ended, etc.


Of course. Enough said? Whether it’s a encyclopedia, a biography, a fiction story – anything can be a jumping off point for a story.

People Watching

I get lots of great story ideas watching people at the park, at the mall, stopped at red lights, waiting in lines. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation, maybe the body language, a gesture or expression. It’s the seed of an idea.


I’m a news junkie. I’m constantly scanning the trending headlines on yahoo or whereever. I have this crazy story inspired by the Robert Picton story that happened out in British Columbia. I should get back to that story… 😛 Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.


When I’m stuck for new ideas, I go for a walk. CJ, my black lab, and I have taken walks at all hours of the day and night because I was stuck on a story. There’s something about the mix of getting active, new scenery, and fresh air that rejuvenates my creativity.

Take a break

Sometimes the best thing I can do is shut down the laptop and go do something else. I will do laundry, wash dishes, make cookies, take a nap (never underestimate the power of a good nap), or play with my kids. When I stop working so hard to find an idea, that’s when something pops into my head I can use.

But don’t stop with the idea…

Then you take that kernel, that seed of an idea, and you play with it. You noodle it for a bit. Maybe you write a few things down. One writer described the process (yes, he’s a planner – I’m surrounded) like working a ball of clay in his hands, shaping the idea, working with new angles and shapes until it begins to take form in his mind.

Where do you get your ideas? What do you do when you’re ‘stuck’ for a new idea?


Reminder: As of the end of this month, Marcy and Lisa won’t be posting full blog articles here at Girls With Pens. Instead we’ll still be writing the posts on writing and social media that you’ve come to expect on our own blogs, and we’ll be creating a monthly Girls With Pens newsletter to bring you amazing interviews with industry professionals.

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Inspirational Fiction Genre

There’s more to writing inspirational fiction than having a minister in your story, or making sure your main character goes to church at Easter and Christmas.

I’m continuing Marcy’s blogging blitz on genres for one more post. Second only to romance in terms of book sales, earning $759million in 2010 according to the RWA, we would be remiss to ignore inspirational fiction in our exploration of genres and sub-genres. It’s said that the Bible has been #1 on the NYT bestseller list for so long they no longer include it (wonder if that’s true).

Just as there are ‘rules’ for writing in any other genre, inspirational has its own staples and inviolable rules. In Canada and the USA, inspirational fiction includes any religious or faith-based writing, however an overwhelming percentage of that category is Christian fiction. Written primarily for a conservative (traditional) Protestant Christian audience, the conventions for this genre are largely determined by the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), and are specific and largely inflexible.

Within inspirational fiction you’ll find most of the general market genres and sub-genres – but there are distinct elements to inspirational fiction. Here are a few:

A Character of Faith

In Christian fiction, the protagonist(s) must either begin the story as a Christian, or be one by the end of the story, and by Christian I mean Bible-believing, regular church-attending, with a personal faith influencing their thoughts, choices and actions. As a general rule, the main character(s) must have a HEA. Redemption, mercy and grace are common themes, and readers like to see the redemption of one of the main characters.

Avoid Excesses

This audience will not tolerate obscene language (slang terms for body parts for instance), cursing, gratuitous violence, sex, smoking, drug use or drunkeness. Some publishers will go so far as to ban dancing, card playing, gambling, games of chance, etc. See Harlequin’s Love Inspired guidelines. Premarital sex is only rarely tolerated, the aforementioned character arc of redemption one of the very few exceptions. Extramarital sex is prohibited for the protagonist, and all sex scenes are very sweet – and I mean ‘he kicked the door closed with his foot’ sweet.

Violence is tolerated to a degree. Many authors have had success writing crime and suspense novels for the inspirational market, and include serial killers, murderers, and the like, but the events are described without gore, viscera or blood baths.


This audience tends to hold rather conservative (traditional) church views on a number of issues such as women holding the office of Pastor or Minister, heaven/hell, divorce, and abortion. There is no paranormal sub-genre in the inspirational market, because this audience won’t read paranormal staples such as ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves, and witches,. Also, elements that go hand in hand with paranormal such as voodoo, spell casting, tarot cards, witchcraft, and palm reading are taboo. Angels are generally relegated to non-fiction, though there have been a couple of notable pioneers such as Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Roger Elwood’s Angelwalk series.

There have been a few authors who have attempted to push the boundaries with paranormal elements such as Ted Dekker’s Immortal Veins and Adam, and Melanie Wells’ When The Day Of Evil Comes. As a general rule, there aren’t many dark stories in inspirational fiction. Horror is another genre hard to find in inspirational fiction, though you’ll find mystery, romance, historical, and to a lesser degree fantasy. Marcher Lord Press’ speculative fiction has been making inroads, but you won’t find their books in a bookstore.

The often-levelled complaint is that inspirational fiction is unrealistic. Inspirational author Deanne Gist has a great post about this.

The main core of this audience is looking for a break from reality where people don’t swear, they don’t drink, they wait until their wedding day to have sex, they struggle to follow the commands in the Bible, and at the end of the day overcome an obstacle or find faith in Christ. Yes, the Christian fiction audience is not looking for a story about, or characters seeking out, a generic ‘god,’ but rather a specific faith in Jesus Christ which permeates the entire story.

For many general market and popular fiction readers, this sugar-coated realm is unbelievable, and is often viewed as a thinly veiled attempt at evangelism. But the steady growth in book sales validates the marketplace for these stories, so much that many Christian publishing houses have been bought out by the large publishing companies.

Read an overview of fiction genres, or expanded posts on romance, science fiction, fantasy, thriller, and mystery genres.

Do you have a question about genres or sub-genres? What’s your favorite genre? Why?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Reactive and Proactive Characters: Buffy vs Bella

Your main protagonist should begin as reactive and eventually progress to proactive. Buffy (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was this bada$$ character who didn’t take junk from anybody including Spike. Everywhere she went, she influenced the action around her. Bella (from Twilight) seems to be in need of rescue all the time.

Buffy the vampire slayerI love movies and television – anything that will bring me into a great entertaining story. I especially LOVE vampire stories – everything from Bram Stoker to Buffy to Twilight to Van Helsing to Daybreakers to Underworld. Bring it on. (Hence today’s title.) I love a strong female character, one who doesn’t take junk from nobody. I have no patience for the Daphne’s of the story world – remember Daphne? The female fashionista from Scooby-Doo who gushed over Fred and was always being kidnapped – ALWAYS. That’s annoying. I mean, even Scooby and Shaggy decide to be monster bait after some Scooby snacks.

At some point in your story, your protagonist needs to go from reacting to situations outside of their control, to taking control and influencing the action – otherwise (as a general rule) your readers will quit the story. Gone are the days of the 50’s pirate romances where the damsel in distress is kidnapped by the pirate and by the end sees all his redeeming qualities beneath that hard damsel-stealing exterior and falls in love with him. Oy. That’s where I quit reading and beat myself with the book as punishment for wasting my time.

Reactive characters

Usually every novel begins with a reactive protagonist. Cue the ‘normal’ scene with Buffy at school or waking up, and then BAM – a vampire appears out of nowhere and knocks her flat. She’s forced to react to a situation outside of her control or influence. Bella is reactive for nearly the entire novel – but more on her later. Most stories begin by putting the protagonist in a situation outside of their control they can’t walk away from, often a life-threatening situation. The kind of novel you’re writing will dictate what kind of situation this is and what the stakes are.

You raise the stakes for your protagonist by continuing to heap problems on them they can’t walk away from. It’s like a cliche country song – first your truck dies, then your dog dies, then your girlfriend leaves you… But reactive characters depend on others for solutions to their problems.

Proactive Characters

Proactive characters are the ones who take action into their own hands. This is when Buffy goes all – ‘that vamp’s so dead,’ and marches out of the library wooden stake in hand. She makes a decision, good or bad, and acts on it – and her action moves the story forward. It wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if Spike had to always kidnap Buffy and Angel rescued her. Yawn. What kind of vampire slayer would that make?

The proactive character doesn’t wait for others to create a solution, he is involved in creating his own solutions. They make decisions about their situation, maybe come to a fork in the road, maybe make a bad decision – but they don’t wait around for others to fix things. These characters are more interesting to read about, and because the reader is along for the decision-making process they’re invested in the character.

The Problem With Bella

Bella in school parking lot

I really enjoyed reading Twilight, it’s light and entertaining. A welcome escape from reality for a bit. However, here’s my biggest beef with Twilight – Bella is reactive. Stuff happens to Bella and she waits for Edward to rescue her throughout almost the entire novel.

She’s almost smushed by a truck in an icy school parking lot – Edward rescues her.

She’s a social outcast who’s never had a boyfriend – Edward, the guy every girl wants, decides to date her.

She’s targeted by vamps who want to eat her – Edward whisks her away to safety.

It’s not until the third-last scene in the book that Bella takes one small proactive step and agrees to escape her protectors to meet the bad guy to save her mom – and then what happens? Edward rescues her. She gets bitten – Edward sucks out the poison. A model for teen girls Bella is not.

If you’re stuck in a vamp-infested cellar in an all-out smackdown – who do you want with you? Bella or Buffy? Point made.

Luke Skywalker vs Anakin Skywalker

My son is a huge Star Wars fan. But here’s my problem with Star Wars – if you watch all 6 movies it becomes clear that the whole series is really about ‘the chosen one’ Anakin Skywalker, not Luke Skywalker as those fans of the first trilogy thought.

Everyone loves Luke. Luke runs back to save his aunt and uncle, he decides to follow Obi-Wan into unknown danger, he trains to be a Jedi with Yoda, he rescues Chewie and Leia and Hans, he faces his fears and not only defeats Darth Vader but redeems him as well. He creates his own solutions.

But Anakin? He’s found. He’s trained. He follows Obi-Wan. He does what he’s told – he complains, he cops an attitude – but he still does what he’s told by everyone: the Emperor, Padme, the Jedi Council… He reacts. He does four proactive things in 6 movies: he kills his mother’s murderers, marries Padme, and he agrees to serve the Emperor and become a Sith – which lands him in yet further reactive situations until he throws the Emperor in a pit. I think that’s a big reason why there are more fans of Luke than Anakin.

But Twilight‘s a NYT Bestseller – and it breaks this rule

I hear what you’re saying – ‘but Bella sold A LOT of books.’ Really? Bella is the point of view character, but which characters are selling that series? I would argue it’s not Bella, who is the one telling the story – you’re never in Edward’s head and only briefly in one book do you get to see inside Jacob’s head. But it’s Edward and Jacob (both proactive characters) who sell the story to fans, not Bella. Are you on Team Bella? Point proven. The secondary protagonists steal the show. I think that story would be a lot more interesting if Bella was a bit more Buffy.

Camy Tang has a really great article on proactive characters if you want to read more on the topic.

What about you? Do you agree that proactive characters are more interesting than reactive characters? Who’s your favorite character – are they reactive or proactive? What about your main protagonist?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Genres and Subgenres Defined

Agents and editors inevitably ask the following 3 questions: Is your book finished? What’s the word count? What genre? The question of genre seems to cause writers perpetual grief. Despite popular opinion that agents are just trying to trip new writers up to laugh at them, this is a perfectly valid question.

What do you mean I have to categorize my work?

bookstoreNow, I know what you’re thinking. If only agents could get past this genre thing you’re sure they’d love your inspirational paranormal Amish romance. Writers like Ted Dekker or George Martin don’t have to abide by silly genre rules. Well… First, these really big name authors have huge followings that to a certain extent buy books based on their brand. And those writers actually do adhere to genre rules.

Janette Oke didn’t create inspirational fiction, Stephen King wasn’t the first to write horror, Nora Roberts wasn’t the first romance novelist. All of these writers took an old idea and put their own twist on it, but there were still genre rules they had to abide by. If you want to see your book on the shelf at the local bookstore or on Amazon, booksellers have to know where to put your book. Here are a few quick definitions of existing fiction genres:


Romance must focus on the romantic relationship and love between two people, and according to the Romance Writers of America must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” Period. Those are deal breakers for romance fans. If you kill your hero, your readers are going to hate you.

Subgenres of romance can be divided by time periods – historical (before WW2), contemporary (after WW2), Regency, etc. Other subgenres are defined by content such as erotica, romantica, and inspirational. Other subgenres are defined by sub-plots such as in romantic suspense, or paranormal which would include time travel, futuristic, urban fantasy (werewolves, vampires), etc.


Inspirational stories are written primarily for the evangelical Christian market, and use explicitly Christian themes and are written in combination with a wide variety of other genres. Generally, inspirational novels do not include gratuitous violence, explicit descriptions of sex, promiscuous sexual behavior, swearing, and inherently include the character’s relationship with God.

Science Fiction

Science fiction deals with content that is more or less possible within the current plausibility of our own natural world, or at least, isn’t supernatural. Science fiction includes future settings, plausible science, futuristic technology, extra-sensory or perception abilities, and space travel–alternate realities using rational explanations. Star Trek is one of the most successful science fiction franchises out there. Star Trek writers included futuristic automatic doors on their space ships back when engineers were just beginning to experiment with the idea – and now we encounter them at every Wal-Mart across North America.


Crime fiction focuses on a crime, and the solving of that crime. The crime plot must be the primary plot. Crime fiction has many subgenres that often blurr the lines between other genres. According to the Crime Writers of Canada, “The field of Crime Writing is a broad category that includes crime, detective, espionage, mystery, suspense, and thriller writing, as well as fictional or factual accounts of criminal doings and crime-themed literary works. Cross-over novels and short stories such as romantic suspense and speculative thrillers are also considered part of the genre.”


With a thriller, the main protagonist must foil the antagonist more than solve a crime. So the hero may be the detective assigned to a serial killer case, but the focus isn’t on the crime committed, but in catching the killer. Often the hero is put in imminent and potentially fatal danger, and the scope of the crime is much larger than with a crime novel. The hero isn’t searching to solve the disappearance of Joe the Mechanic, but the man who’s raped and murdered 13 children and now has targeted the hero’s daughter. Think big – like Jack Ryan big: assassinations, government coos, etc.

Subgenres include psychological thrillers, and suspense thrillers. says, “the suspense thriller has been loosely defined as a story in which the audience is waiting for something significant to happen. The protagonist’s job is to prevent the speeding bus from exploding, or the aliens from eating the crew. The reader experiences a vicarious thrill by identifying with the hero and the danger he faces, becoming a participant in the chase.”


When I think modern horror, I think Freddie Krueger or Scream. But horror has its roots with Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley or Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. According to the Horror Writers Association, “horror can deal with the mundane or the supernatural, with the fantastic or the normal. It doesn’t have to be full of ghosts, ghouls, and things to go bump in the night. Its only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread.”


Fantasy, obviously, deals with some aspect of an alternate reality, an alternate world, and often encompasses myths, folklore and legend. Here is a really great post that outlines the major subgenres of fantasy. The Science Fiction and Fantasy writers association is one of the best writer resources out there, even for those who write outside this genre so be sure to check it out.

What is your favorite genre? What genre are you writing right now?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Internal Dialogue: The voices in your head

Have you ever had a conversation with yourself? Ever had to convince yourself to do something, go somewhere, kiss a boy/girl, walk away from a fight, bite your tongue? We all have. Internal dialogue is those conversations your POV character has with themselves.

girl staring at her reflectionWhy use internal dialogue?

What would a novel be without internal dialogue? This is somewhat lost in movies because it’s hard to show what a character is thinking unless they talk to themselves out loud. This is what’s so exciting about a book. You can jump right inside a character’s head and understand why they hesitate, charge in, or run away. Internal dialogue often answers the Why question – but it also answers the Who. Internal dialogue is a great device for characterization.

Internal dialogue is not narration. Two movies demonstrate this really well. Eat, Pray, Love is narrated with a voice-over. You hear Julia Robert’s thoughts, but she’s speaking to the audience not to herself. “Maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic. It’s just the world that is and the only real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”

The 1995 movie While You Were Sleeping is one of my favorites – I watch it every Christmas. The entire movie is predicated on someone else overhearing a conversation Sandra Bullock has with herself. “I was gonna marry that guy.” She has many neurotic conversations with herself: “Forty-five dollars for a Christmas tree and they don’t deliver? You order $10 worth of chow mein from Mr. Wong’s, they bring it to your door. Ooh, I should have got the blue spruce – they’re lighter.”

See the difference?


There is no trick to punctuating internal dialogue. You don’t need to use single or double quotation marks, or use italics. The transition should be natural. Punctuate internal dialogue as you would any other sentence. If you use quotations to designate internal dialogue, you’re forced to use the he thought/she thought dialogue tag to distinguish been spoken and internal dialogue, and it’s going to become tedious and hard to read.

Use Deep POV

Use deep POV for your internal dialogue to bring readers closer to the action. Put them in the driver’s lap as they experience the story. There seems to be a great debate about whether internal dialogue in deep POV needs to be 1st person present tense, no matter if the rest of the story is written in 3rd person, past tense. I’ve read novels that changed for internal dialogue, and those that haven’t. As long as it was consistent, I didn’t find either jarring as a reader. I think it’s personal choice. Know the rules, then break them – that’s my advice. Know why you’re choosing one over the other.

One word of caution – it’s tempting to use internal dialogue to tell the reader backstory, perfom an info dump – tell the reader everything. All the rules of Show Don’t Tell still apply.

Be Brutally Honest

Have you ever analyzed the conversations you have with yourself? Do you use proper syntax? When I have those private conversations, they are short and to the point and I’m blunt with myself.

Do you call yourself bad names for being clumsy or obtuse? Have you rationalized things you’ve regretted later? Do you run through a mental to-do list? Bolstered your courage? Ever had a conversation with someone who would ask a question, silently answer it and ask another before you have time to respond? You need that kind of authenticity for your internal dialogue.

Internal Conflict

The easiest way to show internal conflict is through internal dialogue. One of the protags in the historical fantasy Marcy and I are writing is a princess. She’s developed this rock-hard exterior persona who’s self-assured, strong, courageous, impermeable to doubt. Early critiques showed us that readers had a hard time relating to this character – they didn’t like her. She had no flaws. We focused on the internal dialogue to show readers that her exterior persona was just that, a facade.  She unceasingly over-achieves to maintain that confident cover, but that’s a flaw that readers can relate to rather than a spoiled rich kid who’s had everything come easy or handed to them.

Marcy is blogging about dialogue, beats and tags next week.

How effective is internal dialogue in your WIP? Do you struggle with writing internal dialogue? 


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Writing Prompt #16 A New Experience

Ever had to explain something to a friend that’s completely foreign to them? My cousin married an Egyptian fellow a number of years ago. The first few times I met him, I was challenged by this puzzled look on his face when I used a word he was unfamiliar with. “What does this mean? I do not know this word.”

storm clouds and lighteningApparently they don’t have thunderstorms in Egypt – or not very often at any rate. Imagine his surprise, joy, fear at his first thunderstorm here in Canada? It was marvelous to witness someone experience such a thing for the first time.

Today’s prompt: Explain or describe something that’s unique to where you live. Is it a plant? A housing style? A cultural term? A way of life? A festival? Each community has nuances and quirks that make it unique. Tell us about it – but do more than that. Let us experience it through you.

Post your paragraph here in the comments, or leave a link to your blog/website/google doc instead. We will read every post.

5 Tips For Writing Deep POV

“What is the key to spellbinding, page-turning writing? Emotional connection between your readers and your characters! Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, learning the secrets of deep POV will make your writing come alive in the hearts of your readers.” Simon Presland

What is deep POV?tandem skydive landing

Deep POV (deep penetration point of view) is intimate or limited third person point of view. This style of writing doesn’t just put the reader in the car with the main character, or even in the passenger seat, but puts them in the character’s lap in the driver’s seat. The reader wants to experience in real time the vibrations in the wheel, the wind in her hair, see what’s in the rearview mirror, and feel the slide of the stick shift into the next gear.

One of the best advantages to learning deep POV is that it almost entirely eliminates telling in your writing. Check out our post on 5 ways to know if you’re showing or telling. Here’s a crash course in deep POV:

Tip #1 – Eliminate Distance and be Immediate

For deep POV, readers want to be in the action as it happens.

Tony watched as a beautiful woman walked across the room. He felt his body react until he saw her greet a tall young executive with a kiss. What he wouldn’t give to switch places with that guy, he thought. Ho Hum

In deep POV: Tony leaned forward, mesmerized by the swish of her short skirt as she strutted across the room. Hands trembling, he swiped at the sweat budding on his forehead. She stopped in front of a seated executive in a power suit and greeted him with a possessive kiss on the lips. Figures. Tony’d give anything to switch places with that guy.

I put you in the action of the scene by removing he watched, he saw, he felt, he thought. I added emotion by showing how he was feeling through a physical reaction. Remove words or phrases that keep readers at a distance such as: watched, felt, knew, saw, appeared, looked, seemed. Every sense, thought, feeling must be immediate and transparent to readers so sparingly use words like as, when, until, etc.

Tip #2 – Emotions

Deep POV is more than just internal dialogue (a character’s thoughts). Deep POV is concerned with emotions primarily, those gut reactions that influence our thoughts and actions – something we all do often without realizing it. Show a character’s emotions through what they see, hear, feel, sense, remember, experience, etc. You need to invoke all the senses and dig deep for a full range of emotion within a character’s personality and motivations to pull this off. Make your readers care about your character, and they’ll keep reading.

Exercise: I picked up this exercise from Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors. Think of a recent event or experience that brought out a strong emotion in you – love, anger, fear, etc. Mentally relive that event and shut out everything else going on around you. To take this further, capture the rhythm of the moment by patting your thigh – the higher the tension or emotion the faster you pat. After a minute, stop. Take stock of how your body has reacted. Are you tense? Achy? Tired? Is your brow furrowed? Is your heart racing? Your body reacts physically without you being consciously aware of it – but this is how you SHOW your readers what’s going on with your character through deep POV instead of telling.

Tip #3 – Characterization

Crafting three dimensional characters is critical, but in deep POV if a character is flat your story falls apart at the seams. Characters must have a measurable goal – desire, be compellingly invested in achieving that goal – motivation, and have a specific plan on how to reach their goal – plot. A great resource for this is Brandilyn Collins’ book Getting Into Character. Marcy wrote a great post on creating 3 dimensional characters. One caution – limit deep POV to 1 or 2 characters – your main protagonists usually. It can become draining and hard to read if all the characters in a story are written in deep POV.

For example: In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter’s goal through the story is to keep his family together. Peter’s invested in this objective because with his father fighting in the war, it falls to him as eldest to protect his family. He would rather die than go back to his mother and report that he’d failed in his duty. His plan? Keep his siblings safe by staying together and out of trouble. Story happens when obstacles to Peter’s objective force him to deviate from his plan – conflict.

Tip #4 – Voice

Deep POV automatically creates voice for your character. Take the rewritten example above for instance – the woman could have skipped, strolled, stumbled across the room. For the POV character he saw her actions as intentional and attention-seeking, she strutted. In his eyes, she knew that men were watching and encouraged it, enjoyed it, sought it – and it made him want her. That’s character insight and gives your character a voice.

Tip #5 – Memorize this: action, decision, thought, emotion

There are exceptions to every rule, but generally this is the predominant sequence of events when writing deep POV. Every scene should have action and reaction. (If a scene has no action or reaction, then seriously consider whether it needs to be there at all.) Deep POV is no different. Let’s walk through this.

(action) Knock, knock. “Landlord, open up!”

(decision) Danny ran for the window, heaved up on the sash, and climbed out on the fire escape. (thought)  I’m dead if he finds out I don’t have rent money again. (emotion) Heart racing,  he took the stairs three at a time down to the street, unable to keep the smile off his face.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It should be action, thought, decision, emotion (the last two could be interchangeable) – and when this action/reaction event happens in our brains that’s how it works. But in fiction, the general rule is action, decision, thought, emotion.

Deep POV is a more advanced concept, check out Marcy’s post on the most common point of view problems if you’re just beginning your writing journey.

Each of these tips could be a blog post on its own. So let me ask you – are you using deep POV? Do you prefer to read stories written in deep POV?

Today starts our second Mary DeMuth giveaway. Here’s what you need to do for a chance to win Watching the Tree Limbs:

(1) In the comments, answer one of the questions above.

(2) Tweet this post (make sure you include @MarcyKennedy somewhere in the tweet so that we see it). If you don’t use Twitter, you can post a link to this post on Facebook instead (and tell us about it on the Girls With Pens Facebook page).


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Fiction Writing: To Plan Or Not To Plan

Writing fiction: is there a right way and a wrong way? Is planning the best way? Or not? I think Robert Frost in his poem The Road Not Taken nails it.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/ And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveler, long I stood/…And both that morning equally lay…

There really isn’t a right way or a wrong way to write fiction. Now I’m not talking the basic nuts and bolts of good writing like characterization, dialogue, conflict, grammar and punctuation, but how the words get from your mind to the computer screen (does anyone still write by hand or <gasp>– on a typewriter?)

There are two main schools on this issue, those who plan and those who don’t.

Are you familiar with Winnie-The-Pooh? I heard Christian comic and pastor Steve Geyer break down personality types by the characters in Winnie-The-Pooh. The images are so good, I’ll share them here – but all credit goes to Steve 🙂

Owl – slow to make a decision, slow to act

Rabbit – quick to make a decision, quick to act

Tigger – more action than thought – all bounce no strategy

Piglet – a people-pleaser — can’t make any decision

You might feel this is over-simplified, but it’s actually quite accurate. Piglets always seem to find Rabbits, and Tiggers are drawn to Owls. Which one are you? You may be a combination. I’m more a Rabbit/Tigger kind of person. Marcy…Owl/Piglet all the way. Here’s how these character traits plays out in how we write.

You may be a planner if sitting down at a blank screen with a flashing cursor makes you cringe. You may be a planner if after getting an idea for a story you create a character chart or timeline. You may be a planner if you need to write an outline before writing anything down. You may be a planner if you can’t start writing until you know how the story ends.

def: Those who write by the seats of their pants.
You may be a pantser if the first thing you do when you get an idea for a story is sit down and start writing, right now. You may be a pantser if you see value in just getting it all out in a vomit draft (what I call a first draft). You may be a pantser if sitting down and forcing yourself to write an outline feels like it takes all the fun out of writing.

The Rabbit/Tigger

I am a happy pantser. When I get a story idea I can’t wait to start writing, forget planning, forget outlining – let me get it all down NOW! If I know how the story or conflict is going to end when I start, then why bother writing. I will write three or four vomit drafts before settling on a tone, voice or character that I really like and begin editing. Not very efficient, but by the end of the process I know my characters inside and out.

The Owl/Piglet

Marcy is an all-out planner. She can’t write without an outline, makes her break out in a cold sweat. In fact, we’re working on a novel together and the subject line in the last email she sent me was: a pre-plan plan. I’m not kidding. She planned to make a plan. Is this you?

Neither method for writing is wrong, and perhaps you’ve found a way to blend the two. When all else fails and I’m totally stuck, I will plot or create character charts – but that’s my limit. And chances are very good that sketch will change, that’s just how I roll. Sometimes when I write I feel like Dug the dog from the movie UP! Squirrel?

Marcy will spend weeks planning and charting and outlining before she ever sits down to write a single word. When she does write though, it’s a more polished piece from the start.

Planning is more efficient, but pantsing is way more fun imho. Neither is right or wrong, but one method will likely come to you easier than the other. Stephen King in his book On Writing is a self-proclaimed pantser. He doesn’t know how a story is going to finish when he begins. He starts with a basic What If premise and just writes. Ted Dekker is a planner. He says he molds and shapes the stories in his head for months before ever sitting down to write anything. Both men are very successful in their own genres and have large followings – it’s just part of who they are.

Are you a planner or a pantser?


Everything Happens for a Reason

How many times has something completely random happened to you? A death for which you can see no purpose? A problem that you couldn’t see a way out of that seemed to solve itself? In real life, things happen for no apparent reason.

In fiction, everything needs to happen for a reason.

I love a page-turner. The more trouble and danger you can put your character into, the happier I am. But only if you can believably get him out of it by the end. When you don’t, readers like me are going to feel cheated and we’re not going to buy your second book. In fact, we might never get a chance to read your first book if the events aren’t plausible. Agents and editors want things to happen for a reason too.

Here are the biggest fiction felonies when it comes to plausibility:

Coincidence and Luck

Your character just happens to stumble upon the evidence that solves the stalled case. Money arrives from out of the blue the day before the bank plans to foreclose on your character’s house. Maybe it does sometimes happen in real life. But fiction isn’t real life, and this is one of the major differences between the two.

Rather than letting a coincidence ruin your book, lay a foundation early on for what’s going to happen. This is one thing I like about soft detective shows like Monk and The Closer. In the space of an hour, the writers for these shows manage to give Adrian and Brenda a plausible means for solving their difficult case, often through something in the secondary plotline that the writers have been developing from the start of the show. No accidents. No coincidences. No dumb luck.

Coincidence is boring. Worse, it doesn’t inspire your readers to deal with the problems in their own lives. Why should they bother if the message you’re sending them is that sheer luck will make it all work out in the end?


I might be treading on dangerous ground here because Christians debate whether or not miracles occur today. Some staunchly maintain that miracles continue to happen, while others argue that miracles stopped when the last apostle died. What I’m about to say has absolutely nothing to do with this debate. I’m not even going to tell you what my position is on the issue.

In your fictional world, regardless of what you believe about the real world, miracles should not take place. A miracle by definition is something for which there is no possible natural explanation. The only way it could have happened is through supernatural intervention. Birth isn’t a miracle. A woman’s body was designed to stretch enough to push a baby-sized object out of it. Money arriving just when you needed it isn’t a miracle (though it can be a coincidence if not handled properly). Someone might have found out about your need. The sun stopping in the sky for hours is a miracle. Can you think of anything in the universe that could cause the earth to stop moving so that the sun stands still while life continues as normal on the surface of the planet? Recently I read a historical novel where the main characters suddenly became invisible as the enemy army charged at them. That’s a miracle. And it annoyed me.

Miracles in fiction are lazy. They also ensure that your credibility with any non-Christian who picks up your novel is shot. Put the same amount of work into getting your character out of a tight spot as you did getting him in.

The Cavalry

Bringing in the cavalry to rescue your character isn’t always a bad thing. Your plot might hinge around Fred staying alive long enough for Arnold to find and rescue him. But that’s a very different story from one where Fred got into trouble and you don’t know how to get him out, so you decide to just have Arnold arrive in the nick of time. If that’s what’s happening in your story, figure out how to use the strengths you gave Fred to solve his own problem.

By now you may have figured out the common pattern: Lay the foundation for your ending in the beginning. Everything happens for a reason.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Anna is a devoted servant who idolizes her master and would do anything for him. You’ve established that as her personality because of some of the unsavory things you need her to do for her master. Unfortunately, for your plot to work, you also need her to willfully kill her master by the end.

If you simply have Anna do what you need her to do, you’re violating her character. You need to build in solid, believable reasons for Anna to do anything that would normally be out of character for her–from something big like killing a loved one, to something small like talking back to a superior when she’s normally polite.

Real people always have reasons (subconscious or conscious ones) for what they do. Your characters need to as well.

Have you come across any of the above fiction felonies in your reading lately? How did you get around a tight spot in your writing without resorting to one of the above? We’d love to hear about it.

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Hook Your Reader With Your First Line

They laid next to each other a thousand miles apart. Every night she went to bed nude, and woke up naked.

Before I buy a book, I read the first line. If you lose me there, I’m moving on. It’s not fair, but it’s the harsh reality. I love that Amazon now posts the first lines for some books. Very cool. I really love the potential opening above – just need a story to go with it. I’ve had these two lines floating around in my head for a couple of months now. Maybe you don’t love it, but I know immediately it’s a woman speaking. I know she’s in a relationship and she’s not happy, but hasn’t left either. There’s a lot of pain in these few short words. These two lines leave me asking questions. Bingo. In my opinion, this one has definite first line potential.

First lines should intrigue the reader to want to know more. I went to my own bookshelf and pulled out a few of my favourite first lines. They’re not all from bestsellers, but they’re all great first lines in my opinion.

“My life is wasted.”
Island Inferno by Chuck Holton

I actually bought this book because I loved the first one in the series. I mean, who doesn’t want to read the sequel to a book that managed to combine in one scene a rocket launcher and a first kiss? I like this first line, though it throws up a big red flag. It leaves me asking lots of questions, but the writer who writes a first line like this had better deliver with something pretty powerful pretty fast. If I find out the speaker is a teenaged drama queen, there had better be a whole lot more to the plot or I’m ditching it before I finish chapter one.

“Holly held the blue cotton sweater to her face and the familiar smell immediately struck her, an overwhelming grief knotting her stomach and pulling at her heart.”
P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

I bought this book because I loved the movie, and everyone knows the book is always better. I love this first line. I remember pulling this book out of the box from amazon and turning to the first page. I read this line and knew I was going to need a blanket, a warm mug in my hands, and a box of tissue close by. Who hasn’t experienced this feeling? Evoking powerful emotions that a large number of people can relate to is a great way to draw a reader in. Just don’t be too obscure or vague. The power here is the specificity in the statement.

“Kate O’Malley had been in the dungeon since dawn.”
The Negotiator by Dee Henderson

How many questions just formed in your head as you read that line? Makes you want to know more, doesn’t it? A real dungeon or a figurative dungeon? Shocking first lines like this promise action and tell the reader up front the protagonist is a strong female character. I’m already curling up on the couch as I keep reading.

“He should never have taken that shortcut.”
Timeline by Michael Crichton

I like this line one: because I’ve actually said this to myself a thousand times. I’m directionally challenged. I immediately empathized with this poor soul. Two: because starting with a reflective statement like this always makes me lean forward and ask, “Why? What happened?” I’m hooked.

“She ran, tree limbs and brambles scratching, grabbing, tripping, and slapping her as if they were bony hands, reaching for her out of the darkness.”
The Oath by Frank Peretti

I love to read books that scare me. What great verbs – scratching, grabbing, tripping, slapping. What I love about this line is the way Peretti uses a description of setting to set tone, pace and hook the reader. That’s a very economical first line, don’t you think. I know that this is a book that will be a little creepy, and I think it’s important to prepare your readers up front. Who wants to pick up a thriller and find a romance? Or vice versa? This line promises action, suspense and maybe even some leave-the-lights-on-while-I-sleep moments. I’m hooked.

“Tattoos for each man she’d killed decorated her left shoulder and upper arm.”
Manuscript yet to be named by Marcy Kennedy and Lisa Wilson

I don’t think Marcy will mind me sharing this. This was the first line for the book Marcy and I are writing together. What do you think? When I pitched the idea for the story to Marcy and gave her a small bit to read, she narrowed in on this line immediately. This line promises action and a proud female protagonist. For me, this line is like rubber-necking. You’re not sure you would actually want to meet this person, but you’re pretty sure she’s got a great story to tell.

Are you brave enough to share some of your own first lines? Send us the first line from your favourite book. Why do you love it?

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.