Much More Than A Writer

Make sure you join Girls With Pens on Facebook where we search out the best writing links from around the web every day so you don’t have to.

Check out Lisa’s post today: Fish Stories and Amazons – that crazy phenomenon and rite of passage for women surrounding the retelling of birth stories.

Check out Marcy’s post today: The Lie of Helen of Troy – Have you bought into the lie that beauty is purely physical and matters more than character, honor, or intelligence?

Gone are the days of writers sitting in their writing cave and never interacting with their readers, or having to promote themselves. Learning a variety of related skills is necessary today to be a successful income-earning writer/author. As a full-time freelance writer, a lot of work I take is writing-related, but not writing-only. But, through these various jobs, I’ve learned a number of valuable pre and post publication skills.

On the heels of my interview with James Scott Bell, I thought it would be beneficial to look at what kinds of skills, programs, etc. are valuable to have or work towards.

Some of the writing-related things I’ve been hired to do (and had to learn on the fly):

Write and submit event press releases for a large non-profit intended to get pre-event coverage in newspapers.

-related skills: researching editors/reporters, coordinating interviews, learning to catch reporters interest to get coverage, timing press releases to get timely coverage, collecting contacts

Value: Submitting press releases is mind-numbing a little boring, but every author needs to be able to get coverage about their book’s release and know how to catch a reader’s eye. Being able to write a compelling and news-worthy press release AND have it picked up by the media is invaluable.

Hired to write web copy.

-related skills:

  • learned to enter content and images to the back end of Joomla, Business Catalyst, and WordPress
  • learned about SEO (search engine optimization), web writing best practices, importance of backlinks, currency of content, cross-promotion across platforms, key word searches, naming photos, etc.
  • continuing to learn how to manipulate an e newsletter in mailchimp, creating lists, creating new templates, etc.
  • learned to focus on audience
  • continue to learn basic html coding
  • administration of social media accounts forces me to stay on top of all changes, keep my ear to the ground of how to best use various platforms, and build an audience

Value: Becoming an intermediate creator of web content gives the necessary skills to successfully keep up a blog/website. Eventually, building up an email list and sending out newsletters may become a valuable marketing tool.

Hired to ghostwrite books, speeches, and do research.

related skills: research and fact verification, adjusting your voice, writing within specific guidelines, interviewing skills, being flexible

Value: Ability to write for different mediums, outcomes, and audiences, adjusting the message accordingly.

Continue To Search For Work

To be a freelancer means that for tax purposes (in Canada at any rate) you have to prove you work for different employers, not just one. Plus, putting all your eggs in one basket (only taking work from one source) is risky because freelancers are easy to hire and easy to let go. Lots of turnover. This means continually searching out work, putting yourself out there, selling yourself. Taking several months off from finding work can leave you in an income lurch for months if you lose a contract for any reason.

Value: Learn your strengths and weaknesses, make insider contacts, gather recommendations, learn rejection isn’t personal – all kinds of great things.

Can you think of any other skills it would be valuable to learn or acquire to help your book’s success?


Subscribe to Marcy’s blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s blog Through the Fire.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or follow her Pin Boards on Pinterest where she’s pinned all kind of photos used as inspiration for our co-written novel.

The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell

Marcy and I had the privilege of meeting James Scott Bell at the Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference in California last year. He gave us a free critique (part of the conference) and helped set us on a new path to publication that landed us in New York at the Writer’s Digest Conference. And who did we find there? James Scott Bell. He was a guest speaker, so we had a chance to reconnect. Much to our great delight he remembered us. He graciously agreed to give this interview on the business of writing.

Thank you so much, Jim! And to our readers, enjoy. 🙂


LHW: You’re a successful author who’s sold a lot of books, but in support of the writing career you speak and teach at conferences, tweet, blog, give interviews <grin>. What myth would you most like to dispel for new writers about the successful writer’s life?

JSB: That it ever gets easier. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. Or should. Your standards go up with each book. You know more, you set the bar higher. And you want it to, if you’re a real writer. I have a number of bestselling author friends, and they all feel this way. It’s nice to have a career doing this, certainly. But it’s work, too. Don’t think it’s ever a fluffy ride on a cloud.

LHW: You’ve stated elsewhere that new writers need to focus on craft first – without a good book the rest doesn’t matter. But, at what point in an author’s early career should they begin thinking about the business behind the writing? How does one plan for that? What are the key items to think through, and consider?

JSB: A writer should think about this being a business from the very start. Know how the business runs, what publishers and agents and readers look for, what sells and does not sell. Learn how to plan at least two years ahead. Set goals for finishing projects and getting them out there. Learn about production–editing, cover design, copywriting and copyrighting. This approach establishes its own momentum. You can be doing things every day toward your goals, and there’s a power in that.

At the same time, never think that business knowledge and marketing can cover a multitude of writing sins. One still has to be able to consistently deliver the goods, and that means learning the craft by writing, revising, studying, getting feedback, and more writing.

LHW: You have a wide range of new ‘products’ being offered through ebooks, traditionally published fiction and non-fiction books (at my count you released 9 books in different formats on Amazon in 2011). You’re speaking and teaching at writers conferences, and Donald Maas just announced that the two of you will be doing a new workshop together in the fall. There’s been a lot of doom and gloom talk about publishing lately. In your opinion, is this a good time to be a new writer/author?

JSB: Never a better time to be an author! Ever. Period. Because of choices. It’s always been hard to get published traditionally. And yes, it’s harder at this moment because of the shakeups in the industry. Not impossible. New authors are getting deals. But we have the independent route now that means there’s a real alternative. There wasn’t before. Yes, you could pay a lot of money to self-publish in print, but 99% of the time you couldn’t sell enough to make any real dough. Not only has indie publishing been a boon for books, but also for short stories and novellas. The latter market was virtually non-existant. Now it’s back, better than ever.

Yes, it’s a great time to be a writer.

LHW: A lot of indie authors are telling new writers they must be prolific and produce new content often, 3-5books a year, to be successful. Not many traditionally published authors can manage that kind of output. Looking ahead, what do you predict will be the key factors for a successful writing career? Being prolific? A wide range of ‘products’? Social media clout?

JSB: I love being prolific, but I don’t think you need to put a number on the speed of production. Consistency is a better word. A writer who wants to succeed at this needs to establish a consistent rate of production (I always use a weekly quota of words), and plan projects out in advance (I have enough for at least five years hence). The “keys” to success are quality and consistency, which is why I advocate a systematic studying of the craft of writing for the rest of your life. Some writers sniff at craft study, but they are fooling themselves and others. Would you want your brain operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t keep up with the medical journals? Make craft study a part of the “quality control” of your business–and all writers are in business for themselves.

Social media certainly has a role to play, but if one gets obsessive about it, the ROE (Return on Energy) just doesn’t add up. Recent studies have shown that books are not sold in great numbers via social media. Create relationships with readers in social media, but always remember the best thing to do is write excellent books and let word of mouth take over. Concentrate your energy there.

LHW: Any advice for emerging authors about the business of writing?

JSB: Learn business principles: goal setting, time management, marketing fundamentals, quality control, pricing, copywriting, sales. You can get good books on all of these and study them when you can. I wrote a book, The Art of War for Writers, which covers a lot of this territory, but you can go deeper into each area.

The most important things a writer can do are, in order of importance:

1. Write

2. Keep improving what you write (study craft, get critiques)

3. Sell what you write (via marketing and business principles)

And try to enjoy the ride. I blogged about a new definition of success for writers, where freedom is the operative word. Freedom and responsibility. It’s exhilarating to hold them in your own hands.

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Deceived, Try Dying, Try Darkness, Try Fear, One More Lie and Watch Your Back. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writers Digest Books, including: Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. Under the pen name K. Bennett he has written the zombie legal thrillers Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously. He lives and writes in L.A. His website is

What do you think? Is this a doom and gloom time for writers, or a world of new opportunities?

Fire At Warp 10 (February 2)

Every Monday we blog about writing, and Thursdays we post a collection of our favorite writing posts from the last week. Have a link to share – leave it in the comments. For great writing linkage every day (stuff we don’t share here), ‘Like’ the GWP Facebook page.

Marcy Kennedy blogs at Life At Warp 10

What Star Trek Race Are You? – Just for fun, a quick personality quiz to find out whether you’d be a Klingon, Vulcan, or one of the other famous races of the Star Trek world.

Lisa Hall-Wilson blogs Through the Fire

The Lady of the Lake is a figure surrounded by much mystery and mystique. Her role in the Arthurian legends varies from one storyteller to another, but I think the Lady of the Lake was an Amazon – at least at heart.

Writing Links

Have you joined Pinterest? Author Tricia Goyer is all over this new and super popular site. Check out how she uses Pinterest to promote her writing. (If you’re not on Pinterest and want an invite, shoot us an email – we’ll set you up.

20 Most Beautiful Bookstores In The World – no drooling please.

Do Blog Tours Sell Books? from Roni Loren.

Writers are artists who deserve to be paid. How to make money giving away FREE! books by Kristen Lamb

20 Common Grammar Mistakes – how do you fare?

Agents Tweets That Made Us Laugh

@literaticat “Just got a client email: “There is some kind of goblin dog, or fox zombie, on our property!” File under: Things an agent can’t help with.”

Fire At Warp 10 (January 19)

Every Monday we blog about writing, and Thursdays we post a collection of our favorite writing posts from the last week. For great writing linkage every day (stuff we don’t share here), ‘Like’ the GWP Facebook page.

Marcy Kennedy blogs at Life At Warp 10

My Life As A Three-Headed Chimera – Sometimes we try so hard to fit in that we forget who we really are.

Lisa Hall-Wilson blogs Through the Fire

A Pitfall of Creativity – I’m not clumsy – I’m just creative. Another humorous post

Everyone could use a sidekick – Who are your favorites?

Writing Links

Eliminating Echoes in Our Writing from Elizabeth S Craig

Author Highlighting Is A Google Must for Blogger by Duct Tape Marketing

Tie-ins, Swag, and Merchandising Ops for the Streetwise Writer on Writer Unboxed

Fire At Warp 10 (January 12)

How many resolutions have you broken already? Shake it off – tomorrow is a new day 🙂

Every Monday we blog about writing, and Thursdays we post a collection of our favorite writing posts from the last week. For great writing linkage every day (stuff we don’t share here), ‘Like’ the GWP Facebook page.

This week, we’d like to feature a group of really fabulous bloggers we met while taking a social media class. A group of about 100 people from across the continent gathered on Twitter to encourage and support one another while we worked on our social media presence and blogging skills. As a result of this class, Marcy and Lisa both launched their own blogs – but here are some of the other blogs launched from that class. Take a look – what are they doing right/wrong, what makes you want to click on their site, what keeps you there – what can you take away and apply to your own blogging? Part of the class was to begin using a logline – a short pithy description of the topics you blog about.

Marcy Kennedy blogs at Life At Warp 10

Star Wars: The Old Republic – I welcome a special guest poster to explain why she thinks this newly released game is perfect for Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike.

My Dark Secret – I have a dark secret, one certain members of my family feel should never be admitted to. It’s just too embarrassing. Too pathetic. Too geeky. It marks me as a social misfit.

Lisa Hall-Wilson blogs Through the Fire (back up and running!)

Living With Regret – Carpe Diem is a dangerous slogan to hand a 17yr old, I have to say. But since I first heard it, I have tried to live so I have no regrets, but some decisions you only come to regret years later.


Diane Capri is Licensed to Thrill

Fabio Bueno blogs Diamonds and Rust

Myndi Shafer – Blogging Barefoot

Rachel Funk Heller…is too smart for her own good

Alicia McKenna Johnson – Arm Chair Adventures

August McLaughlin – Savor the Storm

Debra Kristi – Sparks In The Fire

Samantha Warren – Stealing Starships

Lena Corazon – Flights of Fancy

Jennifer L. Oliver – World Beneath the Evening Star

Kara P. Flathouse – Eskimo Kisses And Air Hugs

Prudence MacLeod – Valkyrie Rising

Julie Hedlund – Write Up My Life

Emma Burcart – Occasional Epiphanies

Tim L. O’Brien – Static In The Airwaves

Janelle Madigan – Tangled Up In Words

Tameri Etheron – A Cup Of Tea and Sorcery

Ginger Calem – I am blogger…hear me tweet

Gene Lempp – Unearthing The Future

Karen McFarland – Expressions Of The Heart

Jessica O’Neal – Sexy Little Nerd

Lynette Burrows – Of Martians and Marshmallows

Shannon Esposito – Mysteries, Magick and Murder

SJ Driscoll – Come Sit By My Fire

Coleen Patrick – Read. Smile. Repeat.

Louise Behiel – Journey of a Thousand Miles

Sheila Seabrook

Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride

Fire At Warp 10 (January 5)

Welcome to 2012!

Every Monday we blog about writing, and Thursdays we post a collection of our favorite writing posts from the last week. Have a link to share – leave it in the comments. For great writing linkage every day (stuff we don’t share here), ‘Like’ the GWP Facebook page.

Marcy Kennedy blogs at Life At Warp 10

The Great Equalizer – When we talk about equalizers, things that cut across all humanity, we usually focus on the big things—death, marriage, birth. But we don’t have any control over those big things. Not really. We do have control over the smaller ones and how often we seek them out.

Lisa Hall-Wilson blogs Through the Fire

The nasty hacker-from-hell-who-probably-eats-his-own-young still has control of Lisa’s site. We’ll let you know as soon as it’s all sorted out. Leave a ((hug)) in the comments – Lisa’s super bummed!

Writing Links

2012 Publishing Predictions – Author Media brings together some of the biggest names and brightest minds in publishing to get their ideas on what this year might bring for writers.

Why We Should All Hug a Self-Publisher and Indie Author – Kristen Lamb points out how self-pubbed and indie writers are the trend setters that forge the path for the rest of us, regardless of whether we choose to go it traditional or on our own.

Pitch Prep: How to Write a Pitch – Jami Gold prepares for the pitch slam at her website next week by giving some practical tips for preparing your pitch (of any length).

The Web was saturated with Resolution and Year Planning posts. Here’s a great post on 2012 Predictions For Freelancers (you know, those people who write so they can eat 🙂

Chuck Wendig posted about 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing. Chuck is crass – you’ve been warned, but he knows his stuff.

Christina Katz (aka @thewritermama – you’re following her on Twitter, right?) posted 10 Wake-Up Calls For Writers. Must read!

Great checklist: 40 questions to test your mss – a writer’s pre-flight checklist

Finally, a great year end review from @thrillerchick

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.

Inspiring Reader Allusions

When the local university sponsored a Writer in Residence for anyone from the community to have a free 15 minute appointment with a published writer – I was all over it. That 15 minute appointment taught me how important allusion is.

Allusion: a passing or casual reference, an incidental mention of something either directly or by implication: an allusion to Shakespeare.

The excerpt I sent in was an experiment. I’d written the kind of urban fantasy I wanted to read, but I hadn’t intended to sell it – so I included a few allusions I normally wouldn’t have. I always thought literary allusions were best reserved for works of literary fiction.

In the excerpt, you meet Mrs. Walters-Scott, a rich, garish woman, looked down on by those with ‘old money.’ The allusion to Sir Walter Scott and the popular opinion of his work by his contemporaries was a private self-indulgence for unused research.

The Writer in Residence caught that allusion, but that tuned her reading to look for more.

I named my main male lead Silas because of the supercilious Sssss sound. In one place, Silas pauses in front of a painting featuring a lantern post. I had only intended an allusion to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and the lantern post where Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus for the first time. The Writer in Residence nodded. “I can see Lewis, but with the name Silas and the signpost, I immediately thought of Silas Marner by George Elliot.”

I hadn’t wanted to include too many allusions to the classic literature I loved reading, sure no one would ‘get it.’

The Writer in Residence gave me this advice: Write for the people like you, who have read those classics and understand the allusions, but never make the allusion a prerequisite for understanding the story.

Allusion is a very common literary device.

Love Story by Taylor Swift

“You were Romeo, I was a Scarlet Letter…” Of course, she’s alluding to Shakespeare and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. In the video below for Love Story, Swift adds (or the director did) further allusion at moment 2:38 in the video when she plucks cherries from a branch. (You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.) And those who didn’t catch the allusions still enjoy a song about love at first sight.

American Pie by Don Maclean

This song, released in the early 1970’s, became a hit mostly because of the allusions to contemporary issues and events.

I can’t remember if I cried When I read about his widowed bride, But something touched me deep inside The day the music died. I was told he was alluding to the death of Elvis Presley, but popular opinion has this referring to Buddy Holly. Both work, I guess – but this is a risk with allusions at times.

And while the king was looking down, The jester stole his thorny crown. And here, the jester is generally agreed to be The Beatles, stealing the music crown from the King – Elvis.

Allusions to contemporary issues can be very powerful, but also a stumbling block to those unfamiliar with the social and political issues of the day.

Easy ‘A’

This movie is witty and clever. First is the very blatant allusion to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Olive pins a red letter A to her bustier and flaunts her new-found though unearned slutty reputation. But the references to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Demi Moore’s version of the movie The Scarlet Letter “Moore takes a lot of bathes”, Mark Twain, and many others are a lot of fun to catch.

At one point her best friend asks her out. She replies: “Brandon, just a couple of hours ago you told me you were kinsey 6 gay.” This is a reference to the Kinsey Report about male sexuality. On the Kinsey Scale, 6 makes one exclusively homosexual.

Really fun to try and pick them all out.

Blast From The Past

A couple expecting their first child during the Cuban missile crisis go underground for 30 years to survive the ‘fallout.’ Their son is appropriately named Adam – that’s an allusion to the Bible – hope you caught that. Of course, who does Adam meet and fall in love with once the 30 years is up? Eve. Tell me you saw that coming…

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The latest version of the Narnia classic has the lion, Aslan quoting Christ when he kills the White Witch: “It is finished.” In fact, the allusions in the book to the Bible are quite numerous.

Readers will always bring their own history and experiences into the book with them, but do you purposely include allusions to other works, events or people? Do you feel that allusions add meaning to the story?


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

Scaring Your Readers

In honor of it being Halloween I thought it appropriate to look at what truly disturbs us – what keeps us up late with ALL the lights on? I love to read intelligent thrillers and horror novels. Give me something truly disturbing and I’m happy. Call me crazy.

man's face - scaredEven if you’re not a fan of horror, building compelling suspense and conflict into your plot is important to modern readers. But what scares you? What gives you the shivers? What elements of fiction make stories so frightening?

Going Goth

I enjoy the classic horror: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Prometheus Unbound (Frankenstein), Dracula, there are so many. Classical gothic writers understood that the people of their time were terrified by the unknown and capitalized on their fear of the unexplained. Instead of using explicit violence, they shrouded their antagonists in mystery–a shadowy figure far off in the distance. They gave their monsters a solid dose of humanity. Study their economical word use, using context and connotation to bring added meaning.

Establish what is normal

How do you know something is off if you don’t know what’s normal? You have to establish what normal is before you can scare your readers. This is a great clip from an old movie adaptation of Frankenstein. Watch how ‘normal’ is established by meeting Maria and her kitty as she says goodbye to her father – then the monster arrives. It’s the kind of scene that you continue to watch, but with one eye open because ‘this can’t end well.’

1931 Frankenstein – The Girl and the Pond

What is truly scary?

Now, I’m not a hack and slash horror fan. Movies where the main plot is about killing large numbers of people with as much blood and gore as possible aren’t my thing. Not that those situations can’t happen – but I don’t walk around everyday wondering if I’ll be a serial killer’s next victim. What gets me are stories that are more plausible and everyday. There’s nothing inherently frightening about an empty school, an abandoned playground, or a tricycle tipped over on the side of the road – but there is something out of place that has me leaning forward. I don’t like this…

Tell The Truth

I recently read an acceptance speech by Stephen King from 2004. In his speech, he talked about how all of fiction is a lie – as writers we’re asking the reader to take that willing suspension of disbelief with us and buy into the world we’ve created however similar or different from our own world it may be. But, you must tell the unvarnished truth within that lie.

“Remember that the truth lends verisimilitude to the lies that surround it…How stringently the writer holds to the truth inside the lie is one of the ways that he can judge how seriously he takes his craft…I’ve tried to prove myself with every book and find the truth inside the lie.” – Stephen King

If you’re facing a knife-wielding attacker how would you react? If someone’s chasing you at night, be honest – are you more likely to run into the forest or a crowded street. When writers force characters to do things that no sane person would do in that situation, it undermines the terror. If you’re piloting a plane that’s about to crash into the ocean, what would your last spoken thought be – a heartfelt plea to your spouse or an expletive?

The Monsters of Today

While an attack of killer tomatoes, a green blob, or a giant ape might be entertaining on some level, they’re not truly frightening. Really, how likely is it to find a killer tomato? But a stranger offering a nine year old a chance to see a new puppy and leading her off the playground – that’s real – that’s straight out of the headlines. A hijacked plane, a man forcing his way into a young woman’s apartment, a gang murder, a skull found in a farmyard – we know these things happen. They’re real. That’s what makes them truly frightening.

“It’s reality’s ‘what is,’ not the imagination’s ‘what if’ that can transform horror premise into horror story. It takes reality, heaps of it, to create and populate a story realm that gives the reader the frights royale.” -Mort Castle

“Horror is not a genre. It is an emotion.” -Douglas Winter

I’ve watched a few hack and slash horror films. Yeah, they’re gory and gruesome and disturbing – but am I truly frightened? No. Because I don’t care about the people who are dying for the most part. Make me care about the character first – get me invested emotionally in the story. That’s how you scare readers to bits. So much of horror is perception and anticipation.

Would Misery have been as disturbing if you didn’t care about Paul Sheldon? Or related to Annie Wilkes – in some small way? That’s what horror does best – helps us see the monsters in ourselves.

There’s A Line…

I have to say that the most disturbing movie I’ve watched recently was The Killer Inside Me starring Jessica Biel and Casey Affleck. It’s a drama, I believe, not even horror – but it garnered a physical reaction in me. After watching him pummel the woman he claimed to love to pulverized bits (modern movie makeup can be frightfully realistic), and him rape a two year old, I honestly thought I was going to be sick – literally, and turned it off.

As a writer, I have to tell the honest and unvarnished truth about my characters within the world I’ve created – but there are places I’m not willing to go – things I won’t write about. If you’re squeamish writing about certain things, don’t start characters down a path you won’t travel with them. Choose a different story, a different character, a different genre.

What story recently kept you up late with all the lights on? Why? Do you have a favorite horror story or thriller?


**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.