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Revision Notes: Writing Stronger
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1. EBooks for Kids? New Study Says Maybe Not

To study ebook adoption by kids and school libraries, School Library Journal and Follett School Solutions recently released the Sixth Annual Survey of Ebook Usage in the U.S. School (K-12) Libraries (September 2015).

Optimism about ebook adoption in schools has run high for the last few years, but this study provides some interesting news. Depending on where you fall on the issue – pro-eBook or pro-printBook – the details are shifting.

2015 Studies: Do Kids Like eBooks?Reading on eBooks May Hamper Learning. In the past year, several research studies report that reading on ebooks may hamper understanding and/or retention of information, especially putting events into a time order. However, the studies come with a big question mark: “what about ‘ebook’ or mobile-device natives?” Kids growing up today who have known only computers and smart phones may develop differently – the research is still out.

USABILITY PROBLEMS: Too Many Standards, Too Many Passwords. Students and school libraries have too many conflicting choices for reading an ebook. On Kindle alone, there are eight different devices and apps for another 27 devices. If a school library tries to commit to one device, say Kindle or Nook, the rapidly changing landscape means their ebook collection could rapidly become out-dated and unusable. Education distributors work around this by providing browser-based ebook readers (again, they are proprietary) that can be accessed by any device with a browser. Even getting around the problem of devices, students then have to contend with accounts and passwords. Digital security demands that schools maintain strict control of access to the ebooks. In my opinion, this is the biggest factor limiting the wide-spread adoption of ebooks in schools. The answer, of course, is for companies to stop haggling over their proprietary devices and strictly adhere to the international ePub3.0 standards. That’s unlikely.

In the short term, the companies may feel it’s imperative to slug it out over the best platform for delivering and reading ebooks. In the long run, I think they are hurting themselves by alienating students and school staff. If it continues for long, educators may decide it’s not worth it and turn back to only print resources.

eBooks are Available in Schools. Across the US, about 56% of schools report that ebooks are available. But students don’t often choose them (see standards/passwords above for at least a partial explanation). Nonfiction related to school projects edges out fiction titles in popularity. Only 6% of schools report a high interest in ebooks, 37% report moderate interest, and 57% report low or no interest. Availability doesn’t equal use. Kids aren’t feeling the love for ebooks!

Parents Demand Technology. Interestingly, it’s often parents who demand technology in the classroom. Over 20% of schools have a one-to-one device policy, which means that each child has a device for at least part of a day; another 24% plan to add one-to-one soon. But the problems are massive, from funding to implementation (see the standards/passwords above). While this study doesn’t cover parental or students attitudes toward ebooks, the Scholastic 2015 Kids and Parents Reading Report says that 65% of kids say they’ll always want to read print, up from 60% in 2012. Teenagers tend to read more when introduced to ebooks; on it’s top 12 list of things parents can do to encourage more reading, providing more ebooks holds the number 12 position. Read the Scholastic report for more details on the parent’s views on ebook reading.

Are your books available as ebooks? Do you read more print or ebooks? Do your kids/grandkids read more print or ebooks?

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2. Revision Mindsets: Artist, Story or Audience

I talk a lot about revising fiction here and when I visit with people. I teach novel revision, especially in my novel revision retreat. Recently, I’ve been trying to reconcile the different ways talk about revision and understand the differences. It seems to me that there are several distinct differences, each with its own strengths.

Three distinct mindsets about revising. Which one do you use?
Three distinct mindsets about revising. Which one do you use?

Don’t Revise. One school of thought is that the raw energy of a first draft represents your storytelling at its best. For these writers, they will work on learning craft issues, but once a tory is written, they don’t want to revise extensively, or they feel it will kill the energy. Don’t’ mistake this for laziness; they are diligently learning plotting, characterization, and so forth. Rather, like other artists, they believe the raw energy – a sort of primitiveness in visual art might be an analogy – is more important.

Re-envision. This type of revision takes a first draft and re-envisions it drastically to meet a mental model of a perfect story. The ideal story varies from writer to writer and genre to genre. Some will tout the hero’s journey as the perfect story, and scenes must slot into the stages of the journey. Whatever the story model, the goal is to match up the current story with the model. Often, it requires extensive rewriting because the writer’s first draft didn’t follow the model.

While this holds out the promise of a great story, it can also be a trap for the under-confident writer. If an editor has a different mental model of story, it could mean extensive rewrites of a story that under a different editor would be acceptable.

Reader Oriented. For me, the first draft of a story is to find out what story you want to tell. All subsequent drafts have the goal of finding the most dramatic way to tell the story. That means, you’re thinking of the reader. How can you tell a story to impact the reader the way you want? Do you want them to be scared, touched emotionally by tenderness, or so tense that the pages turn themselves? Revision here blends the mental model of a story with the reader’s imagined responses.

Of course, literary theorists can talk about reader-response theory, the narrative arc, and lots of other literary analysis techniques. I’m not saying you need to be proficient in all of those. Rather, I’m asking – what’s the most important consideration for you as you revise?

Your unique vision – you, as a creative artist.
Shaping a story to match your mental model of Story (with a capital S). Story theory.
Reader’s reaction. Audience.

No rights and wrongs. Only a recognition of your goals as a writer.

What’s your mindset as you approach the revision of a story? And does it change from story to story?

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3. Does Your Scene Pivot: Creating Turning Points

I’m revising my WIP novel one scene at a time and finding places where I need to do lots of work. Specifically, I want scenes that pivot.

A scene is self-contained section of the story. Characters come into a scene with a goal and they either reach their goal or not. The scene should have a beginning, middle and end. And, according to THE SCENE BOOK by Sandra Scofield, your scene also needs a pivot point.


Scofield says that characters go into a scene with a goal, with something they are fighting for. But at some point the story twists, deepens, or changes in a fundamental way.

If you don’t have one, the scene is boring. Think about where the scene’s essence lies: the point at which everything changes. There if Before X and After X. X is the focal point. – Sandra Scofield, p. 54, The Scene Book


It’s a hard concept in some ways to talk about, but you know it when you see it. In this short scene from the movie,”Good Will Hunting,” the focal point, pivot point, hot spot, turning point, or apex is when Will steps in to help his friend. This is a great example because it shows the character in action, doing something that matters.

If you can’t see this video, click here.

By contrast, some scenes in my WIP just sit on the page. For example, I have one scene where the main character meets the romantic interest character. There’s a lot of characterization going on; they are at a coffee shop where she’s a barista and he’s ordering a special coffee drink; there’s some humor. But the scene still felt flat. Until I realized that there’s no real pivot point, no fulcrum for the scene. To change it, he asks a simple question, “Who are you?” That launches her into a humorous, but character-revealing pseudo-tirade, which results in him really paying attention to her and finding that he’s VERY attracted. Before the tirade, he’s not interested; after the tirade; he’s hooked.

To revise your scenes, fill in the blanks:

Before _____________(Pivot Point), my character _______________; AFTER _______________(Pivot Point), my character ____________________.

Find a way to pivot somewhere in each scene–and you’ll hook me as a reader!

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4. Go, Indie! Young Writer Go, Indie!

On July 13, 1865, Horace Greeley penned an editorial that is famously quoted: “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

I had the privilege of meeting with a young writer this week who wanted to chat about her future. She’s articulate, smart and engaged. She’s already a member of a fan-fiction forum where she chats with other teens about writing. She’s planning to take the NaNoWriMo challenge and write 50,000 words in November. Even at fourteen, with parental controls carefully in place, she’s linked in and excited about the future of book publishing. Here are some of the things we discussed.

Go Indie, Young Writer, Go Indie, and Grow Up with the Industry.

Write 10,000 hours. If you want to be a writer, you must write.
I asked Young Writer, “How many hours do you need to write to become a great storyteller?”
She said, “My preacher said 10,000 hours to be good at anything.”

Obviously, someone has read Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, where he claims experts need that level of commitment. Whether you believe that number or not, it’s true that writers write. They don’t talk about writing, they don’t study text books about writing, they don’t wish they had written. They write.

Likewise, most writers who are successful are readers. It’s certainly possible to avoid a deep literary background of reading–but I believe it’s much harder. Pour language in to get language out. The wider the variety of reading, the better.
Go Indie Young Writer: Advice to Teenagers Just Starting Their Careers | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
Prepare to be a social media maven. A second skill for writers growing up today is social media. Aspiring young writers should become comfortable on different social media platforms and participate a variety of communities devoted to literature. One thing that definitely means is the young writer needs skills in photo editing. Taking your own photos is even better, but for sure, they should be able to edit photos. For example, Facebook needs horizontal photos, while Instagram prefers square, and Pinterest highlights vertical. Can you take one photo and format it to fit each platform. Even as platforms morph (Instagram now allows horizontal or vertical, while preferring square), the ability to reformat photos will remain a valuable skill. One step farther, video skills will become increasingly important online. These are things that even a fourteen-year old can do, before they are even allowed by cautious parents (Hurrah for cautious parents!) allow social media accounts. For example, Lynda.com offers reasonably priced video tutorials on a wide variety of skills, including photo editing.

Prepare to be a small business person. Already, Young Writer was asking, “Should I go Indie?”
When I said, “Yes,” she was excited. She was already tending to think indie was a strong option for her.

And fourteen years old is the time to think Indie, because it requires an entrepreneurial mindset. Indie authors are small business persons. They need a variety of skills: accounting, marketing, graphic design for book covers and book layout, social promotion and more. This was perhaps the biggest surprise for the Young Writer’s Mom. She had thought only of writing and producing the books, not of marketing them.

Now is the time to think about the classes to take in high school and college that can feed into a successful venture in indie publishing. Learn accounting and financial management. One of the biggest challenges for me has been the financial side of indie publishing; in fact, I’d never even taken a basic accounting class before I started my venture. I suggested that Young Writer invest time in accounting, accounting software, and thinking like a financial planner.

Likewise, books are an exercise in graphic design. Whether you do ebooks or print books, the book cover is a crucial sales tool, and the interior must be laid out in a professional and pleasing way. I’m not saying that Young Writer must do all her own graphic design; rather, she must be comfortable acting as an art director for her books. That means some experience in a graphic design class will help her see possible difficulties and solutions and hopefully, give her an eye for great design. Maybe an arts appreciation class is just as important as the graphics design class.

What should I major in in college? asked Young Writer.

The answer depends on Young Writer’s goals. Indie authors create multiple income streams to survive, especially in the early years. Typically, a writer earns income from book sales, speaking engagements, and teaching. Throw in some extra sales from repackaging the book for different formats: paperback, hardcover, ebooks, audiobooks, online video courses, and so on.

If Young Writer wants to be a creative writing professor at a university level, then an MFA in Creative Writing makes sense. Or even a Ph.D. University programs are generally great at turning out professors, and not necessarily (with exceptions, of course) turning out practicing and successful writers.

However, if Young Writer wants to really go entrepreneurial and try to make a living from her writing, I’d advise a minor in Creative Writing (while working on her 10,000 hours experience), and a degree in something else. Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and other classics, graduated from medical school, although he never practiced as a doctor. The expertise in medicine–and his comfort in dealing with technical issues from chemistry to anatomy–brought something unique to his fiction. He was comfortable discussing the genetics of bringing back extinct species of dinosaurs – and making the science fiction plausible. Likewise, Young Writer might benefit from a degree in history, archeology, sociology, anthropology, medicine and so on.

It depends on Young Writer’s goals, their personality, and their commitment to writing. But now is the time to think about options. And I think the future for smart young writers is in their own hands. Go Indie, young writer, go Indie, and grow up with the industry.

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5. The Heart of Revision: Finding Your Own Answers

I’ve written before about revising based on critiques and editorial letters covering both the emotional upheaval and the how-tos.

You’d think I’d know what I’m doing by now.
But each revision brings challenges. I’ve been struggling through the line edits on my manuscript and I’ve found them to be of three general types:

Clarity. My original wording is unclear. The line edit added clarity. These, I keep or modify even further to make sure I’m clear. Writing is the act of putting something on paper that reproduces a thought EXACTLY in the reader’s mind. That’s makes clarity the first goal of all writing. Otherwise, the communication fails.

Technical issues. This might include subject-verb agreement, verb tense, etc. I’ll almost always do this.

Matters of choice. Some edits however, just seem to be a matter of personal preference. Which way would you say this?

  • It was like a dolphin’s tail.
  • It was akin to a dolphin’s tail.

Both versions are clear; there are no technical issues. On line edits like this, I do what I want. Or more specifically, I look at the surrounding text and ask myself, “Would I write that? Is that my voice?”

I won’t accept any line edits that change my voice or try to force it into other paths. I’m not foolish: I consider the edit because maybe I was lazy when I wrote this paragraph and I wasn’t thinking of the best choices. Often, however, it’s how the editor would have phrased it and it’s not my voice. No go. I won’t change that.

Line edits, then, take time. You must consider each one in turn and decide to keep it, modify it even more, or reject it.

And that’s the problem right now. I’m bogged down in line edits. Talking with a friend, she said it a different way: you need to re-read the editorial letter at different points in the revision.

Editorial letter. Oh, yeah. That. There is a long editorial letter that addresses overall issues of plot, characterization, pacing, and backstory. THAT is what I really wanted to focus on for this revision. Instead, I’m just tediously going through line edits.

Revision is a combination of micro and macro. You must go deep into the words and sentences used to tell the story–the line editing. But at the same time, you must pull back and take a wider view. I’ve been lost in the details for the past week. My plan for this week is to reread the editorial letter and choose a couple major issues to focus my writing efforts.

But even on the major issues raised in an editorial letter, I’m not likely to agree with the editor on everything. One thing a writer brings to a novel is a unique sense of what makes a story. There are no rights and wrongs in this business, only opinions. My sense of Story (with a capital S) is different from the editor’s sense of Story.

Seldom do I do EXACTLY what a revision letter details. Instead, I read the editor’s thoughts with an eye toward understanding the heart of the issues raised. Then, make revisions based on that. It’s the difference between mechanically following a set of directions and understanding why those directions were given. Don’t blindly follow your editor’s advice: Go to the heart of the issues raised and find your own answers.

Do you struggle with going from micro to macro levels of revision?


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6. What Makes a GREAT Bedtime Story?

Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin surprised the book publishing world this summer as his book for children and their parents shot to number one on Amazon. The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is a self-help book that gives parents a script to follow as they try to get a child to go to sleep. Because of its performance on Amazon, Penguin has picked up the book for a reported seven-figure deal.

Of course, I had to read it. Buzz does sell books.

Rabbit (if I can casually call it by the name of the insomniac main character) reminds me of the Academy Awards ceremony. Screenwriters, directors, actors and actresses, cinematographers and the full complement of support staff for a major move were awarded the highest honor that filmmaking can bestow, Academy Awards. And for every movie about a cause—from elderly rights to gay rights and beyond—the person being honored felt compelled to stand up and explain why their cause was so important and timely. . . thereby negating the art for which they’d just been honored.

Why did they not trust their art to plead their cause in deeper and stronger ways than a week diatribe made during a gala ceremony? It baffles me.

In the same way Ehrlin explains why a good bedtime story works. He has built into the script certain keywords – sleep now, yawn, now—which should help put the child in the right frame of mind. Further, he uses some words because they sound calm and slow, thus reinforcing the desired frame of mind. Repetition finds its place as a tool to calm and convince a child to fall asleep.

But why does Ehrlin feel the need to explain it all so blatantly? Perhaps, it’s because parents don’t go behind the scenes for a children’s bedtime story; they don’t understand, and therefore don’t trust, that the writer really knows what s/he is doing when writing this kind of story.

In fall 2016, I’ll join the ranks of authors with a bedtime story, ROWDY: The Pirate Who Could Not Sleep. Let me show you what’s behind the curtain of my writing process.
Write a GREATBedtime Story: 4 Crucial Elements | darcypattison.com

The Sounds of Words

As a young writer, I once heard Newbery medalist Lois Lowry speak about a story that ended in a quiet moment that she hoped would calm a child and help them sleep. She avoided harsh-sounding words and used soft words. That’s right. The way the words sounded was just as important, if not more so, than the meaning of the words.

Poets John Ciardi and Miller Williams said a similar thing in their classic book, How Does a Poem Mean. They emphasize the “connotations speaking to connotations,” an effect they say will create imagery and symbolism. In other words, it matters whether you use the word “fire” or “inferno” because of how it sounds, its connotations and its definitions. Just as important, though, is how it affects the rhythm pattern of your piece of writing. Fire has only one syllable, while Inferno has three syllables; using one over the other affects the rhythm patterns of the writing.

I have a B.A. in Speech Pathology and an M.A. in Audiology; one of the most useful classes from my college years was phonics, or the study of how sounds are made in the human mouth and how to record those sounds with the International Phonetic Alphabet.

For a bedtime story, you want to avoid harsh sounding consonants, what phonetics calls fricatives or affricatives: f, v, th, t, d, sh, zh, ch, j, s and z. Other sounds to avoid are the plosives: b, p, t, d, k, g. You can’t avoid these two major groups of consonants entirely! But you can minimize them, especially when you want the words to be the softest.

Another distinction phonetics makes is among voiced or unvoiced consonants. Put your hand on your throat and say T –T –T ; repeat with D – D – D. Do you feel that your vocal cords vibrate for the D, but not for the T? T is unvoiced; D is voiced. Unvoiced consonants are softer, and more suited to bedtime stories.

The softest sounds are the glides: w, l, r and y. These are the real winners for a calming bedtime story.

For vowels, you should understand that some vowels involve lots of tension in the mouth, while some are created with a relaxed mouth. Say a long A; now say AW. Do you feel the difference in the mouth’s tension?

Ehrlin merely takes a clue from phonetics/linguistics and uses relaxed vowels, along with soft consonants.

Why is a rabbit the right animal for Ehrlin to choose for a bedtime story? Rabbit is a relatively calm word: Glide R; short A is relatively relaxed; B is a plosive, but it’s buried in the word’s middle; UH is a relaxed vowel; T is a plosive but because it’s unvoiced, or your vocal cord doesn’t vibrate for it, it’s relatively calm.

My Fall 2016 bedtime story, ROWDY: THE PIRATE WHO COULD NOT SLEEP, is about Captain Whitney Black McKee. She’s a rowdy pirate captain who fights sea monsters and returns to home port, but finds that she can’t sleep. Her crew goes a’thievin’, in search of a lullaby to help her sleep. In the end, the cabin boy brings back her Pappy who sings her a lullaby.

Here’s that last stanza, which you cannot read it harshly because the words, the phrasing and the story that I wrote demand that you say it softly.

Then Pappy sang of slumber sweet,
while stars leaned low and listened.
And as the soft night gathered round.
The pirates’ eyes all glistened.

Rowdy: The Pirate Who Could Not Sleep | Preview of Fall, 2016 book by Darcy Pattison

GREAT bedtime stories include. . .

  1. Child-in-lap relationship. Mem Fox, the beloved Australian writer, talks about the importance of keeping in mind the child-in-the-lap relationship. She means that when you read a story to a child, you are also developing a relationship with that child. She likes to end stories with something that will make the child turn to the adult and give them a hug or say, “I love you.”

    koalalouHer beloved book, Kaola Lou, has the refrain, “Kaola Lou, I do love you.” And of course, it’s hard to read without also saying to the child in your lap, “I love you.”

  2. Language development. The great bedtime stories take into account the whole child, not just his or her ability to go to sleep quickly. Instead, they develop a child’s language. Because these are books provided at developmentally appropriate times in a child’s life, it’s an opportunity to entice them with language: the sounds of their native language, the vocabulary, the rhythm patterns and so on. Kindergarten teachers spend time teaching nursery rhymes (Jack be nimble; Jack be quick; Jack jump over the candlestick.) because it develops skills in language.
    In a like manner, the classic Goodnight Moon! by Margaret Wise Brown uses rhythm, refrains and much more. Consider the humor of this line: “Goodnight, nobody.” It makes for a story that you don’t mind reading for the 1000th time.

  3. Story. As children develop language, an important skill is the ability to understand stories. This involves sequencing of events (beginning, middle, end), understanding cause-effect relationships, character motivations and much more.

    llamaLlama, Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney has an appropriately simple story. Baby Llama is tucked into bed, but when Mama leaves the room, he calls that he needs a drink of water. The plot complication is just that Mama is delayed in bringing up the water, so Baby Llama panics. When Mama shows up, she reassures him that she is “always near, / even if she’s / not right here.” It’s a gentle, reassuring story. And while it tells the story, it also gives kids experience in understanding Story.

  4. Vocabulary building. Kids love big words—in the right context.
    Jane Yolen’s story, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? provides great fun with the names of various dinosaur species. What kid can resist words such as Allosaurus, Pteradon, Apatosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus Rex? But Yolen also includes words appropriate for the bedtime hour. “Does a dinosaur slam his tail and pout?”
    You can’t read this without screwing up your face in a pout, thus teaching the meaning of a vocabulary word in a natural context.

My own bedtime story is titled ROWDY: The Pirate Who Could Not Sleep (to be released Fall, 2016). Will kids know the meaning of “rowdy”? Doubtful. But within the story’s context, they’ll learn it. Bedtime stories, then, are a comfortable and natural context for teaching new words.

Great children’s book authors create works that don’t need the artificial crutches of bold and italic fonts to tell the adult reader how to present the story. Instead, it’s right there in black and white on the page. It tells a great story that reinforces language and vocabulary development. And when it’s done right, a great bedtime story gives an adult an opportunity to give the kid a hug and a kiss and say, “I love you.”


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7. 3 Tools to Help Part Time Writers Work Smarter, Stay Focused and Track Progress

In a recent survey, 75% of Fiction Notes readers said they write part time.

You’re trying to find time to write.
You’re juggling writing time with family and other commitments.
You’re balancing a job, kids, husband and a passion for writing.

I feel your pain.

While I now work full time, I spent many years as a stay-at-home mom with lots of other commitments. Here are some things I learned.

You need tools to write smarter, to stay focused, and to track progress. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
You need tools to write smarter, to stay focused, and to track progress. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

Adopt the Right Attitude

I work! Over and over, I said this to people, “I work!”
Writing is work. I happen to love it, but unless and until you approach it as a job – even if it’s only a part-time job – you won’t be taken seriously. You need the support of the local in-house Warm Bodies (your family and significant others). They need to know that when you sit down to write, it’s not just a hobby. IT IS WORK!

That level of respect for your writing is necessary. If it isn’t there, sit down and have some frank conversations. Carve out a time to write and stick with it. Search, juggle, balance–do what’s necessary to create a time for your writing.

Pay attention to your creative process. Now, my work time isn’t YOUR time. When and where to you have the most success? Do you need to get up early, stay up late, or take a long lunch? Do you need a private closet, or can you write in a coffee shop? Think back to a time when your output was at its optimum. When and where were you writing? If your output is down, what changed? Can you go back to old habits. In this search for creative output, habits are your friends.

Your job at this point is to figure out how to do your work, your way.
It may indeed be a job to figure this out. It may take you some time to work through different issues:

  • Maybe you need to buy a computer for your writing instead of sharing a family computer.
  • Maybe you need to set the alarm for 4 am and write for two hours before anyone else in the house rises.
  • Maybe you need that frank conversation with your children, your husband, your mother-in-law, or your _______(fill in the blank)

Writing Part Time? 3 tools to help you write smarter, to focus, and to track progress. |  Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

This is your first task: figure out how to do your work, your way.

Use the Right Tools

Next, I’m going to make suggestions for some tools that can help.

Scrivener. First, you need to outline. If you write by-the-seat-of-your-pants, it’ll be harder to make it writing part time. You’ll save time and energy by learning how to outline and how to follow an outline. Your creativity will increase and you’ll be happier with your first drafts – which will save time when you revise.

Scrivener, the software for writers helps part-time writers outline and write smarter. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
This screenshot of Scrivener shows how I use colors to help organize my outline.

Scrivener's cork board view shows an alternate view of your story to help part-time writers work smarter. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
In the corkboard view of Scrivener, index cards show the flow of my story.

To outline, you probably need Scrivener, the software that is created especially for writers. The screenshots above show my work-in-progress. Besides these views, you can also get rid of all the outline stuff and have an empty screen on which to write, only coming back to the outline when needed. Lots of flexibility with this program!

I hesitate to recommend Scrivener because, well, it’s complicated. In the short run, you’re going to spend a couple months writing slower and learning the program. In the long run, though, part-time writers need to write smarter, and that’s what Scrivener facilitates. It’s not that you’ll write better just by using this software or that. But Scrivener encourages and makes it easy to create and use outlines. You need that in order to stay organized and write smarter. Especially as a part-time writer, you need this program.

WRITE SMARTER: Scrivener and Scrivener Resources

Here are some resources for getting started in Scrivener. You’ll need to invest in your writing career and take a tutorial, buy a book or something to get up to speed as quickly as possible in Scrivener.

Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. When you click, at no extra cost to you, I’ll receive a small commission. I appreciate your support.

Buy Scrivener. You definitely want to start with a trial version!

Buy Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X (Education Licence)

During your trial period, you’ll want to TRY the software. Use the interactive tutorial included. Scrivener also maintains an extensive YouTube selection of specific tutorials.

That may be enough for most of you, but around the Scrivener program, there has grown up a cottage industry of folks who provide extensive tutorials. You may want to find one that’s tailored to the type of writing you do. Anything you can do to get up to speed on the program will help down the line.

Scrivener courses. (Not an exhaustive list, but a place to start.)
Because there are so many options, look for reviews and look for features that specifically relate to the genre in which you write.

Scrivener books.

General Books on Organizing Your Novel: Outlining, Thinking it Through, and Smart Revising


I know. As soon as you fire up your computer, you’re tempted: Facebook, email, Twitter, Pinterest, browsing, cruising the internet. . .
No. Stop.
Your writing time MUST be your writing time. Nothing else.
For some people, they find that they need help to turn off the internet.

Freedom. Freedom is one of the many programs that isolates your computer from the internet for a specified time interval. It works for me. If you don’t like this one, or it’s not for your kind of computer, search for something similar. And use it. As with other software, do a trial version before buying.


Finally, you – the wordsmith – need numbers. You need some accountability and numbers give you that. You should be tracking your writing somehow so that over time you can understand your writing self better.

Scrivener tracks words per session. Scrivener easily tracks number of words per writing session. When you set up project tracking, you can set a goal of finishing on a certain date. Scrivener then says, “OK, if you want to finish by XXX date, then you must write ZZZ number of words per day.” It will tell you if you meet that daily goal and show you a progress bar for your project.

Toggl. If however, you want to track time, find a simple app like Toggl that tracks the amount of time you spend on a project; you can also track WHERE you were working. It’s simple and syncs between desktop and mobile. Reports are easy to set up for each project.

Tracking in and of itself will do little to help you. Instead, set up a schedule – weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly – to look over your numbers and evaluate. You may discover that when you write at a coffee shop, you can only concentrate for 15 minutes at a time; however, during that 15 minutes, you produce twice as many words as any other time frame. Whatever you discover, use the info to fine-tune your writing process.

Your Main Job

Remember, your main job is to figure out how to work on your work.
Then, your job is to DO your work.

These three suggested tools are just that, a suggestion. I know that outlining has the potential to increase your efficiency, while creating stronger stories. But if you absolutely hate it – do your work, your way. Don’t just discount this advice out of hand, though. Try it. Give it an honest shot. But if it doesn’t help, it doesn’t.

The same for the other suggestions. I like Freedom and Toggl; but find tools that work for you.
Basically, you need tools that help you write smarter (get more done in a shorter amount of time), help you stay focused (turn off distractions), and help you track your progress in ways that will make a real difference.

Writing part time is hard. But it’s doable. If you set yourself up for success–by using the right tools–you can do this.

Be sure to send me your good news!

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8. Science Fiction and Fantasy Worldbuilding: Timeline Adds Crucial Details

One of the first tasks in revising my current WIP has been to nail down a firm time line for my story. When does all this stuff happen? I had it vaguely placed in the 21st century, but I didn’t want to nail it down specifically.

It’s the EveryMan problem. Some writers try to create an EveryMan, a character who can stand in for everyone and anyone. In doing so, though, they create a generic character who fails to engage the reader and becomes NoMan. To write something universal, you must do something that intuitively feels like a paradox: you must write one specific character. Only by doing this do you have a chance of letting the character live in the reader’s imagination in such a way that the character stands in for EveryMan (or EveryWoman).

I was making the same mistake with the timeline of my sff story. By refusing to set it in a specific time, I was going too generic.

Creating a TimeLine for Your SFF Story

Timelines are crucial for strong fantasy and science fiction. Tips on when and how to create your timeline. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
However, I also see the wisdom of waiting till I finished the first draft to nail down the time line. It will mean, perhaps, that I have more revisions to do; however, I feel that it’s a strength to have this first draft done to see how the timeline extends into so many places.

How Old are Your Characters? One of the first things I’ve done is write out everyone’s birthday. The main villain was born in 1980, and his son–the minor villain–was born in 2013. That means the father was 33 years old when his son was born. It was his first child, so why so old? It make sense within this story because the father is a scientist who buries himself in his work and generally neglects his family. He didn’t marry till after he’d done a post-doc in volcanology, and after his son is born, he travels extensively for his work. This affects the father-son relationship! The timeline forced me to think about these aspects of character.

I also knew that the main character is 14. Okay. How old are his parents? A minimum of 30, but they could be as old as 50 or so. What made sense for their relationship?

World Events. Slotting characters into a personal time line also means they exist in the world at a particular time. If someone was born in 2001, for example, was it before or after the World Trade Center bombing? The world tilted on that day and it’s important to place your character in the context of world events.

But even in a wider context, I needed to place this science fiction story in the context of astronomer’s exploration of the universe. The Kepler Space Observatory was launched in 2009 to search for planets similar enough to Earth that humans could live on them. I had to consider the timeline of their findings, and make sure my characters and the plot were aligned with that.

Imagined Events. Only once these elements were in place did I try to place my imagined story elements. Science fiction is only believable when it fits into the established world. I had to make sure that the events were believable in the context of the real history of our world. That doesn’t mean that I can’t do crazy and wild things–science fiction can and does stretch the imagination. It does mean that the events need to be based on some bits of truth that will lend it credibility.

World building for fantasy or science fiction is crucial. Rules are set up that control the story world, and once set up, the story is stronger if you stick to those rules. The timeline–in this revision of the first draft–was a crucial thing for me to nail down, and it’s adding surprising depth to the story.

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9. In Praise of the Humble Sentence

Voice is the quality of writing that lets a reader see the author behind the work. It’s what makes a piece of writing unique so that you and only you could have written this piece. I don’t look at it as a mystical thing; instead, I look to the tools that writers have to work with: words, sentences, and longer passages. Here are three ways you can use sentences to help you find the best voice for your story.

  • Write ten openings. It’s said that the first word and first sentence of a story setup everything that follows. If THIS is the first sentence, what sentence MUST follow? What does the story and your storytelling voice DEMAND for the second sentence?

    For example, let’s take a couple sentences and see what they demand next.

    It was a dark and stormy night.
    I would expect something about the night, the storm, more on the setting, the character’s reaction to the storm, and so on. That first sentence demands that the second comment on the night or the dark or the storm or the character in the situation. It would be a non-sequitur to follow that sentence with something like this: The bunny hopped through the sunlight.

    The first sentence narrows the possible choices to a dozen or so topics. And the second sentence will narrow the choices even further. By the third, the story is locked in for at least the space of a couple paragraphs; of course, those paragraphs will lock in the next several paragraphs and so on.

    This is why it’s so valuable to write multiple openings to a story. Each opening will set up topics, characters, settings, tone and voice that will send the story in a different direction. That’s what you want at first: options.

  • Learn how to create a stronger voice by paying attention to your sentences. This is powerful stuff! | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

  • Mimic a text. On the other hand, I’ve also found it helpful to choose a text that I like and mimic the sentence pattern.

    Here’s the opening sentence from The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, a story about a girl whose father is working on the atomic bomb during World War II.

    Dewey Kerrigan sits on the concrete front steps of Mrs. Kovack’s house in St. Louis, waiting for her father.

    Sentence Pattern: Proper-Noun verb prepositional-phrase prepositional-phrase prepositional-phrase, participial prepositional-phrase.

    My sentence: Darcy Pattison runs through the historic neighborhood on top of the hill across from Little Rock, hoping for a miracle.

    You’ll find out a lot about your own writing style and your unconscious habits of writing. One friend always writes in complex sentence with lots of phrases and clauses; it’s appropriate for her complex non-fiction styles. But when she’s tried to switch to writing simpler picture books, it doesn’t work.

    Imitating or mimicking another person’s sentence structure is an interesting exercise for learning more about your writing and for exploring different voices.

  • Vary sentence patterns. Here’s an exercise I love. Take one page of your writing. Count the number of words in each sentence and write that number at the end of each sentence. Now, rewrite following this rule: each sentence must be at least plus or minus 4 from the previous sentence.

    For example, if sentence #1 is 10 words, sentence #2 must be 10-4=6 or less OR 10+4=14 or more.
    Let’s say, you went for a longer sentence, so sentence #2 is 16 words long. Sentence #3 must be 16-4=12 or less OR 16+4=20 or more.

    This forces you to vary the sentence lengths: 10, 16, 3, 8, 20, 2.
    Those varying sentence lengths give your writing rhythm and add to the meaning of the words.
    It’s a funny mechanical exercise that yields amazing results in your writing. Once, I tried to figure out why this one small thing should matter so much. I looked at some essays by students in eighth grade. Amazingly, their sentence lengths were uniform, almost all about 12 words long with the shortest about 8 and the longest about 15. Not surprisingly, the voices were bland.

    If you read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, you’ll find some of the most variety in a text that I’ve seen. She writes one word sentence fragments, followed by 30-word sentences. Why is it a great story? Because she’s a great storyteller? Yes. But also because she has command of her words and language, especially the sentence variety.

    As writers, we only have words, sentences and longer passages. Those are our tools. Milk sentences for all they can add to your story’s voice.

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10. The Editorial Dance: Finding the Right Editor

I talked with an editor earlier this week about my new novel, The Blue Marbles, a sff YA and found that editorial input comes in two forms–and these are so important to finding the right editor for your story.

Positioning in the Market Place

2 discussions that help you decide if this is the right editor for your story. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

The first thing we talked about was our visions for the story, to see if we meshed. This is very much a marketing discussion. Where does the story fit into the marketplace? Who would read this book? Is this a middle grade or a YA?

Vastly important, you must know your audience because it determines so much of the next question about the quality of the story. If my story is a YA, it means that I need to follow certain conventions of the genre. The protagonist should be of a certain age; he’s got a certain outlook about dating and girls; he’s reacting to family in certain ways. It brings up questions such as should he be able to drive or not? If the story is middle grade, the tone of the story would be very different. The answers to the questions would be vastly different.

Even saying that it’s a YA, isn’t quite enough. Is it a young-YA or is it closer to the New Adult category? In other words, will the tone of the romance involve just a brief kiss or something much more physical.

What happens when you disagree with the editor’s opinion of where to best sell this story? I’ve seen writers struggle with this because they want to write a YA. They read YAs; they talk YAs; they live YAs. But when they write, what comes out is a middle grade. Sigh. It’s frustrating. What you love isn’t necessarily what you can write. (At least not yet.)

YOU want to push the story to a YA; the editor wants to push it to middle grade BECAUSE she thinks s/he can sell the story there.

In some ways, this is a career question and not just an editing-this-novel question. Where do you have the best chance of creating a career for yourself? HINT: It might be different than what you thought.

Writers are notorious for not SEEING clearly what we write. Sometimes, you have an inkling that, well, this might be middle grade instead of YA. But you don’t WANT it to be MG; you love YA. Sorry.

An editor’s strength is that s/he has a pulse on two things: great story writing and marketing great stories. For an editor, those two things must match up. And you, as the writer, must either trust that editor or find a different one. You must also decide if you want a career based on the editor’s positioning of the book in the marketplace. If it’s positioned as a middle grade, can you–do you want to–follow up with a second middle grade? Because careers are built on building a readership who consistently comes to you for a certain type of story.

When a manuscript sells, your first thought is celebration! Yahoo! Your second thought is, “What next?” To build a readership, what story is the logical follow-up. When someone reads THIS story, which of your possible stories would they naturally pick up next and love just as much or more?

This question of the editorial marketing vision for your story is crucial. You must share your editor’s vision for the story. Otherwise–it may not be the best fit for you, your story, and ultimately, your career.

Tell the Best Story Possible

The second thing a great editor can do it help you create the best story possible, given the shared vision.

For me, the discussion had some themes I’m familiar with:

Setting. While my natural world settings were strong, when the story veered into a school–where the YA would be very apparent–I need more work. Setting is crucial to making sure the reader is grounded in your story.

Raise the stakes. The editor suggested a change that would raise the stakes of my story. The reader should always be invested in finding out what happens next, and if you can put more at risk, the stakes pull them through the story.

Emotional resonance. On a similar note, the emotional story should resonate with the reader and impact them in some way.

Everything we discussed seemed reasonable and necessary because we were heading toward a mutually agreed upon goal. Without the shared vision, the specifics of a revision are agonizing; with a shared vision, revision is like dancing with a friend, where you mirror each other’s moves in perfect harmony.

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11. Don’t Write a Damsel-in-Distress OR a Modern Super-Woman: Be Original

I have a problem in my WIP novel, which is just in the outline stage. There’s a specific illness going around and to SHOW, DON’T TELL that the illness is really bad, an important character must become sick.

But then, I have this sick character, Em. And she’s, well, sick.
She’s become a Damsel-in-Distress, who has no active part in the story. She’s a weak love interest, whose only role is to be sick and provide motivation for the main character.

It’s a good motivator. Jake, my main character, really cares for Em, and he’ll do almost anything to find a cure. From that side of things, it’s working. But Em is still just a sick—and-convenient—character.

I’ve given Em some other character problems. She’s adopted and is looking for information on her birth parents. They’ll come into the story and the intersection of these characters will give Em some rosy cheeks of health. Her subplot will be one of discovering who she really is.

But the excitement doesn’t last long enough for her. She has a crisis in her health, which is necessary to get Jake moving. Again, Em becomes a sick, convenient, unappealing and placid character. How do I provide some sort of action around a sickly character?

There are precedents for sick or sickly characters.

Angelic character and how the illness and/or death affect the main characters. In Little Women, Beth dies from scarlet fever. While her health wastes away, she is active, though, knitting and sewing clothes for neighborhood children. Her death is a major impact on Jo’s life, the main character. By giving her selfless acts to perform, it elevates Beth. She’s angelic in everything, never complaining and dying without a lot of fuss. By elevating Beth’s moral character, we understand why her life was important.

Imaginary life. In Paul Fleischman’s Mind’s Eye, a paralyzed girl leaves the real world behind in an imaginary trip across 1910 Italy. Here, Courtney comes alive in her imagination. She and her nursing home roommate, 88 year old Elva, use a 1910 Baedeker guide to catch trains, to travel and to live. It reminds me of a Star Trek episode about Captain Pike, the original captain of the Enterprise, who is injured and in a wheelchair. There’s a forbidden planet, and we find out that it’s forbidden because the inhabitants live a virtual life. On that planet, however, Pike can live a happy and full virtual life, walking and climbing wherever he wants. Like Courtney, Captain Pike chooses the illusion of life over the reality of his paralysis.

Give the sick character an amazing POV voice. John Green’s character in The Fault in Our Stars is suffering from cancer, and indeed, the whole story is about living with a death sentence in your lungs. The narration is from her POV and it’s a distinctive voice.

Entwine the emotions. In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult poses an interesting dilemma. A younger sister is conceived for the specific purpose of donating an organ to her sickly older sister. The sisters, though, are both active to an extent and the real success here is how the emotional lives are entwined, just as their fates are interwoven.

Writing Sickly Characters

Sick Character? Give them Bigger-than-Life personality. Here's how. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

Here are some take-aways for my own writing.

Sick, but not incoherent. A character can be physically challenged or sick, but there must be lucid moments where the character’s life and personality emerge. Em can be very sick, but the illness must ebb and flow. And develop her personality, hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties, dreams, etc. as possible.

No griping. Okay. Em feels lousy. But no one wants to read about a character who complains her way through the actual horrors of the human form when it’s sick. No explicity descriptions of throwing up, other bodily fluids, etc., at least in MY stories. Instead, the sickly person rises above those things and we see her character, not her illness.

Emotional impact. Sick or not, people are invested deeply in Em’s life. They want to be with her and they care about her thoughts, emotions, reactions, etc. Perhaps, she must be even more entwined than usual in the main character’s life.

Action when possible. When she’s feeling good, I’ll give Em as much action as possible. I’ll look for both major and minor actions. Maybe stealing a cell phone and making a forbidden phone call is enough of a physical challenge, while also moving the plot along in some way. Look for ways to add action, arguments, and conflict. Just because she’s sick, she doesn’t get away with an easy life emotionally. Otherwise, where’s the story? Story requires conflict and even sick people in your story must endure the conflict—or there’s no story.

Rescue. Well, it’s OK. Em might need to be rescued. I know, gender roles these days decree that she not be a Damsel-in-Distress; instead, she must be the conquering princess who fights the dragon herself and saves the poor, incompetent prince. But that’s a modern trope that is just as bad as the damsel-in-distress trope. The challenge will be to create a unique, living character without falling prey to either cliché.

In short, sick or not, Em must be a real character. She’s no damsel-in-distress; neither is she the modern woman who rescues the weak men in her life. Instead, she pursues her goals with the same fervor (and whatever physical strength she can muster) as the main character, Jake. It’s a plan.

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12. Where Am I? Setting the Scene

I’ve been reading lots of manuscripts lately and a common problem keeps arising. As a reader, I keep wondering, “Where am I?”

The plot and characters are often interesting, but I’m lost. I need a map to figure out where I am. In other words, setting is crucial to keeping your readers grounded in your story.


Often, the problem is that I don’t know WHEN the story is taking place. This could be anything from what century to what season of the year. The simple detail of a Christmas tree might be enough to reorient me to the setting. Or I might need details of clothing worn in 1492 to understand the setting. Either way, the relevant details must be woven into the story. However, you can often just add a simple phrase to indicate time: early that morning, an hour later, or meanwhile.
Learn the secret of great descriptions! Hint: There are only 5 things to know. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison


The WHERE question can be much more complicated because it should be woven into the story seamlessly. One writer recently said that she was afraid to bog down her story with lots of description. That fear kept her from adding details that would keep the reader grounded. Novels aren’t screenplays or movie scripts; for those, you expect the production to fill in the blanks. For novels, though, you must play the movie in the reader’s head for them.

Beats in dialogue. This is especially important in dialogue or conversations between characters. Another writer had nice dialogue, but it was all in isolation–talking heads. You must remember that the characters are people who fidget, move around, blunder around or just nod their heads. Of course, sometimes you DO want a section that focuses on words. But even there, the right detail at the right time can emphasize a point, add comic relief, or make the story more believable.

Setting comes alive when you have the right details, usually sensory details. If you were a character in the story, in this particular scene, what would you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste? Description comes down to the careful use of our senses to put the reader into the scene.

Often, I’ll create a sensory details worksheet. Down a side of a page, I’ll write the senses: See, Hear, Smell, Touch, Taste. Then, for each sense, I try to find three details unique to the setting. I’m also trying to do it in language that would be used by the POV character.

Be specific as you do this.
Not: dog
Instead: Pit Bull

Notice that I didn’t say, “Big Dog.” The use of modifiers–adjectives and adverbs–weakens a story. Instead, I search for a more specific word, such as the name of a dog breed. Only after the verb or noun is as specific as possible do I allow myself to add modifiers.

Not: dog
Instead: Pit bull
Even Better: pit bull with a white-tipped tail

Be reasonable. Sometimes, “dog” is enough, depending on the story, where you want the reader to pay attention, and the intended audience. For a toddler’s story, Dog would be reasonable. Mostly, though, writers need to be more specific and avoid those adjectives that work as a crutch, but really add nothing to the description: good, nice, big, small, etc.

A special note on Touch/Feel: Often writers want to translate this into emotions. Instead, I mean this as a physical sensation of touch, usually temperature or texture.

Not: I loved my lunch.
Instead: The chili burned my tongue.

Once I have a list of sensory details, I like to start a scene with a unique detail. I search the imagined setting for something that will make a reader stop and pay attention. Here are some descriptions from the first pages of my Aliens, Inc. Series. The series is for 1st-4th grade readers, and each story begins in art class. Use the links to download sample first chapters to read more.

Balancing Description and Narrative

It’s impossible to tell you how to balance the narrative descriptions, dialogue and action. As an author, you need to learn which area you are strongest in and which is your weakest area. If you consistently get the response from readers, “I’m lost,” then you need to provide more description. Don’t fear the descriptions. They won’t slow down the reader unless you really go overboard. But they can sure LOSE you a reader, if you get them lost. They won’t trust you to tell the story and will stop reading.

In other words, listen to your early readers. If they are confused about what is happening, your descriptions are weak. If they are drowning in detail, the story will feel slow-paced. Work to find the right balance for your story and your readers. Just be sure they never get lost.

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13. Indie Kids Books Listserv

As you know, I’m a hybrid author, with some traditionally published books and some published. I’ve written about the process here on Fiction Notes, and on Jane Friedman’s blog here and here.

Indie publishing, especially of children’s books, is hard. I listen to everything that those who write for adults talk about and try to adjust strategies to the world of children’s literature. And mostly, things don’t translate.

So, I’ve decided to try to bring together those who write for children and are involved with independent publishing or self-publishing.

Indie Kids Books Listserv
The purpose of the group will be to discuss independent or self-publishing as it relates specifically to children’s books: nonfiction or fiction, for readers from birth to 18. We’ll discuss writing, illustrating, publishing and marketing your books. Join the listserv discussion group by sending an email to

The group is just forming–get in on the ground floor!
Pass this along to anyone interested, whether they have books published or are just thinking about it.

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14. Copyediting: Style Manual for Your Story

Here’s a question about punctuation, with an answer about style.

Which of these is correctly punctuated?

I like oranges, apples, and bananas.
I like oranges, apples and bananas.

The answer is it depends on the style manual that you use.

In school, you were probably taught certain rules about punctuation, and your teachers told you that the rules were the “right” way to punctuate. There were no options, no other ways of working.

The reality is that punctuation conventions are just conventions that people agree upon. Two major style guides ar the Associated Press style guide, which is often used by newspapers, and the Chicago Manual of Style, often used by publishers. To make matters more complicated, often a publishing house will follow a “house style,” that is, they will decide that all of their books will follow certain punctuation rules.

In the example above, the AP style would add that last comma, but the Chicago style wouldn’t.

I like oranges, apples, and bananas. (AP Style)
I like oranges, apples and bananas. (Chicago Manual of Style)

When my first book was published by Grennwillow/Harpercollins, of course, it went through extensive editing. I was shocked and embarrassed by the red ink that came back to me on the edited manuscript. In truth, I didn’t do so badly. They were simply applying the house style to my story. Copyeditors use a style manual as they edit.
Copyedit: Correct punctuation depends on the style guide you choose. And you have options. | DarcyPattison.com

Copyedit According to Style

What does this mean for your story? Well, you have options.

First, you could just write the best story you know how, copyedit the best you know how–and then trust your publisher’s copyeditor to finish the process. It works.

Or, you could study one of the style manuals and stick with it strictly. For fiction, the best option is probably the Chicago Manual of Style. Learning a style guide down cold is technical stuff, and takes focus and an eye for detail; but it can be done.

If you’re self-publishing, you can still choose one way or the other; the difference is that you’ll be hiring the copyeditor and will tell them what style to use.

Personally, I’ll admit it: I don’t have an eye for detail necessary to be a good copyeditor. It would be painful for me to strictly follow a style manual. With each story, I learn more and more about things I should or shouldn’t do; however, I’ll never be perfect. Well, no one will be perfect–see this post on continuity goofs and other errors. But a good copyeditor can get your story pretty close to perfect. I let them do what they do best while I do what I do best, which is to tell a story.

Be very sure: that’s not a copout. I’m not ignoring the issue of punctuation. Writers should take it seriously and know the basics and know when and how they can stretch the punctuation. One of my favorite books for learning basic punctuation is The Art of Styling Sentences: 20 Patterns for Success. Grab a friend and learn a new sentence pattern every week for twenty weeks. Practice the pattern that week by using it in emails back and forth, or in postings on FB or your fav social media channel.

I will always value a good copyeditor! If you’re a grammar witch–I love you! (Just don’t email me about any mistakes in this post.)

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15. Is Your Manuscript is Ready to Submit? The Agony of Deciding

A fellow writer recently posed this question to me: Is my mss ready to submit?


The short answer is, you don’t know. You can only send it out and see what response you get. That’s agony. You want to be accepted and published, but no one can guarantee that. The simple fact is that manuscripts that sit on a hard drive somewhere will not sell. Even if I said your book is “perfect,” it may not sell. You must test the market and learn from every submission.

Submission: How do you know if you story is ready go submit. Short answer: you don't.  But here are things to consider. | DarcyPattison.com

Here are things to consider as you decide on submission:

Have you done the best job that you know how to do right now? The best you can do at any give time is the best you can do. Don’t send out your weakest effort. But if you’ve worked hard on the story and it’s the best you know to do, then send it. Hope for a sale, but rejoice if you get any feedback at all. That’s what you want: useful feedback. Sometimes a casual comment will trigger a huge change in a story.

Trust your instincts. Too often writers spend years in revision. One attitude the indie revolution has built is that you should trust your instincts, write fast (because time IS money), and get books out. It’s something that traditionally published writers can learn from. You’re a storyteller: trust your instincts.

Do a couple trial submissions. Nothing says that you must send the story first to a hundred agents or editors. Even agents do trial submissions. They’ll often send to a limited number of editors and see what feedback they get. Granted, they GET feedback and you may not. Based on editorial response, the agent may ask a client to revise, or they may do a wider or a different submission strategy.

Consider individual preferences. In other words, your audience in submitting is an individual editor, one by one. One editor said it’s like this. If he likes pullover sweaters–a personal preference–and you sent him the most luxurious button-up sweater ever made, he still wouldn’t buy it because he only likes pullovers. The key, then, is to find the right agent/editor. The only way to do that is to follow likely candidates on Twitter, FB, etc. and see how the conversations go. Then–heck, just submit! You can always revise and resubmit a year later to the same editor, if needed. Go to conferences and get feedback from critiques there.

In the end, I write for an audience. I want to put my book in the hands of the RIGHT readers, whether that’s a kid from Wisconsin, or an editor or agent in New York City. In the end, at some point, you must submit. Or face the fact that you’ll never be published. It’s a painful truth, a painful process. But it’s part of the game. Submit! Today!

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16. An Incredible Signature: Thanks, Marcia and Sergio!

As writers, we put our books out into the world, and they take on a life of their own, apart from us. But sometimes, we get an echo back about what the book is doing, who is reading it and how they are affected. This week, I had one of those incredible, amazing and powerful moments.

Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma

Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma in English. Named an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book 2015. | DarcyPattison.com Brazilian/Portuguese version of Abayomi. Released in Brazil Summer 2015. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

When I worked on the story of an orphaned puma cub from Brazil, the scientists involved were incredibly generous with their time and information. Dr. Marcia Goncalves Rodrigues and Sergio A.P. Ferreira made this book possible. With the publication of the Brazilian translation, they are able to go into the schools with Project Abayomi and do education of teachers and students. Recently, over 500 teachers listened the story of the plight of pumas and other wildlife in urban areas of Brazil.

That’s exciting news, for sure. To see a book travel to a different country and start to make a difference is amazing.

And then, I received this special version of the Portuguese version of the book. What’s so special about it? Why am I grinning so crazily?

Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, personalized with a signature from the puma himself. | DarcyPattison.com
This book was signed by Abayomi himself. That’s his paw print. Thanks, Marcia and Sergio for allowing me to be part of Abayomi’s story.

Because Abayomi himself signed this book. When the puma was receiving a regular medical checkup, Sergio inked his paw and added his paw print to my book. This is one of those teary moments when you realize that a book isn’t JUST a book. It’s an idea. Pumas face very real dangers from loss of habitat and urban encroachment on their habitat. It’a a small thing to write a book; but a small book can have a huge impact. Thanks, Marcia and Sergio for allowing me the privilege of having a small part in Abayomi’s story. It’s been incredible.

Read More about the Brazilian Corridor Project for Pumas

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17. Author Website: Getting Started

One of the more popular series I’ve written is 30 Days to a Stronger Author Website. It breaks the process of creating an author website and blog into a series of daily tasks. Theory covers the WHY, WHEN, and HOW. Technical aspects are covered in depth. More important, it gives solid reasons for WHAT, or the content of your site. Learn what readers want on each of these pages: Home, About, Books, News, Contact, Privacy. Get ideas on how to write your first 15 blog posts.

But first you need a site.

Start Your Author Website in 15 minutes flat. Here's how | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison

This post will lay out a clear, simple, 15-minute process for starting your website, with lots of visuals. For other details, read the 30 Days to a Stronger Author Website series.

Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you choose to make a purchase. Thank you for your support in this way.

1) Hosting

First, you’ll need to decide where to host your website/blog, or where your computer files will actually live on a server. While some opt for free services, I’ve had a self-hosted WordPress site/blog for over seven years and love the freedom of doing whatever I want on my own site. I don’t have to worry about the terms of service, because I create my own policies.

While there are multiple options for hosting, one of the most popular is Blue Host, which I recommend because of its simplicity and reliability.

Click here to go to BlueHost. This opens a new window so you can go back and forth on the instructions here.
Click the green GET STARTED NOW button.
Your Author Website On BlueHost: Get Started

Next, you’ll need to choose a plan. All of BlueHost’s plans come with one free domain, so there’s not an extra step for registering that–it’s a one-stop service.

Choose Hosting Plan: Author Website

2) Choose a Domain

Authors, you should use your name or pen name for your domain. And get a .com if at all possible. This website is DarcyPattison.com. Sometimes, you may want to create a website for a book, so you can use a book title, if desired. But the gold standard is your name.

If you already have a domain, BlueHost makes it simple to switch over; just use the Transfer Domain box.

Choose a Domain: Author Website

You’re almost there. Fill in the form with contact info. Make sure the email is working because that’s where you’ll receive information about how to login.

Fill in Contact Info: Author Website

3) Hosting Package

You have a choice now of hosting packages. I’m always amazed at the affordability of a self-hosted package.

Choose Hosting Plan: Author Website

I rarely add on any of the extras. Some people like the privacy option, but I’ve never found it necessary.

Of course, it’s time to fill in your billing information. Read the Terms of Service and policies and confirm. Then click NEXT.
Author Website: Fill in Billing Info

You’ll be asked if you want upgrade; I usually skip all these. You can always add things later, if you need something. Instead, skip over to your email and find the welcome email from BlueHost. It’s time to look at your dashboard or the backend of your site. Most hosting companies use a CPanel. You’ll want to read more later on CPanel basics, but for now, we’ll cover how to install your WordPress site.

4) Install WordPress

Go back to BlueHost and Click LOGIN at the top.


Use the info you received in your welcome email to login.
At first the CPanel can look overwhelming (read more on CPanels here), but we just need to install the WordPress that’s listed under Website Builders.
Install WordPress: Author Website

Click on the green START button.
Wordpress Installation Details: Author Website

Click on the website where you want to install the WordPress blog. Usually, you leave the directory blank.

Wordpress Installation Details: Author Website

Your WordPress user information is important. Do NOT use ADMIN. This will be your login information for the site, so create this with care. Click on the Advanced Options and fill in your site information. Don’t worry: you can always change this later. The admin email is also important because this is where you’ll get emails about the site. When you’re sure everything is correct, click Install Now.

Advanced Options for WordPress: Author Websites

You should see a “SUCCESS” status. Wahoo!

5) Log in to Your Author Website!

You should receive an email with login instructions. Basically, you’ll go to www.YourWebsite.com/wp-admin/login (Replace YourWebsite with the name of your site).

Now, the fun really begins. It’s time to create some content and get your site/blog going.

Author Websites: How to Build Your Online Platform

First, you’ll want to customize your WordPress installation, develop the functionality of the site with plugins, and choose a theme that governs how it looks.

No worries! The 30 Days to an Author Website series will walk you through the next few days!

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18. 10% of My Referral Traffic Comes From Pinterest: Expand Your Author Platform

Abayomi Launches in Brazil

Click cover to see the photo gallery.

A complete preview of children's book on Pinterest. | I WANT A DOG by Darcy PattisonNote: On Jane Friedman’s blog, you can read my guest post about a unique Pinterest project. I’ve pinned the entire picture book, I WANT A DOG, to Pinterest as a preview of the book. Read the reasons and how-to’s here.

Social media–what a controversial topic among writers!

You have the social media mavens, who are everywhere on every platform.
And you have those who espouse the WIBBOW test: “Would I be better off writing?”

You’ve decided that you want to raise your social media profile as an author. There are a couple compelling reasons to turn to Pinterest. Yes, Pinterest. I like the way my daughter, Sara, describes the difference in Pinterest and Facebook. She says to look at Facebook to see what she’s DOING; look to Pinterest to see what she’s THINKING about. Other say that Pinterest is aspirational, which means these are things the pinner would like to do. She’d like to decorate her house like this, would like to get this haircut–or would like to read this book.

Only 2 Rules for Authors on Pinterest: Get a business account and fill in every blank. | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
This image was created on Canva for this post.

  • Your audience is there. Known to be an audience of 80% women, Pinterest is a playground for women on a number of topics: Food & Drink, DIY & Crafts, Home Decor, and Holiday & Events. Photos of interest can be repinned thousands of times–which puts the image in front of many viewers. For example, the image for this Fiction Notes post about villains has been repinned over 19,000 times. Check the widget in the sidebar to see other popular posts on Fiction Notes. (And hey, we always love more repins!)
  • You have book covers–which fits the visual medium of Pinterest. Images rule on Pinterest, just like they do for book covers. It’s a natural fit.
  • Pinterest can become one of the best sources of traffic for your website. I recently looked at my website statistics. I’d been beating the Facebook drum, trying to find an audience; instead, Pinterest referrals had quietly racked up 10% of my overall traffic. For some pages, the percentage is much higher, like the villains post mentioned above. That woke me up; if I was just casually playing with Pinterest and could manage 10% referrals, what could happen if I concentrated on the platform?
  • Pins keep on giving: repins give your content new life, over and over and over again. You Pin an image to a board on Pinterest. Then, someone sees the image and re-pins it to one of their boards. From that board, it gets repinned; and the process can continue. Pinterest likes to say that, “Pins are forever.” You may pin something this week that gets ignored; but something might revive it in three months or six months–perhaps an appropriate event or current news event. A pin can take off at any time and go viral.

Getting Started

I’m going to collect below some other posts on the basics of Pinterest. If you know nothing at all, this article explains the way the platform works. Once you understand that, there are two basic rules for authors:

  1. Get a Business Account. As an author building a platform, you need access to the goodies available on a business account. You’ll be able to promote pins, create rich pins and much more. Follow Pinterest’s instructions here.
  2. Fill in Every Blank.
    • YOUR PROFILE. When you set up a social media account, you’ll need to fill in a profile. Please do yourself a favor: fill in every blank possible. The platform didn’t put that data slot there for nothing. They USE the data to help people find you. You want to reach the right audience with the right message, and it’s impossible for the platform to send you those folks if you don’t help them out. They aren’t mind-readers.
    • YOUR IMAGES ON PINTEREST. Likewise, you’ll need to start paying attention to the metadata (data about the data) for your images. When you load an image onto your website, fill in every blank. The Caption is the only thing optional. And make sure the data you use is useful. For photos, there are three blanks: Title, Alt Text, Description.

      IF you have all three filled in, Pinterest will pull in the Alt Text as the description of the image. If there’s no description or alt text, it will use the title of the image as the description.

      When uploading an image, the title defaults to the name of your file. So, if your photo is named 123XX.jpg, then the Title will default to 123XXX. Bad news for you on Pinterest. Every time someone repins your image, the description will read 123XXX.

      Instead, create a description (500 characters or less) and Copy/Paste that into all three fields. I find that’s the easiest, to just repeat the info over an over. If at some point, Pinterest (or another social media platform) decides to use a different field, I’ll have the description in place.

      Finally, you can always manually edit the metadata when you pin/repin. It’s just easier to take care of it upfront.

Comparing the different social media platforms:
Instagram: square images (1:1 ratio), hashtags are the metadata.
YouTube: horizontal images (16:9 ratio). If you’re shooting still images to add to a video slideshow, always shoot horizontal.
Pinterest: vertical images (4:6 ratio), metadata comes from the image’s original upload, or it’s manually edited.

Creating Great Images
This means that you should know where you plan to use images when you create them. My favorite place for editing images for Pinterest is Canva.com. Use their Pinterest template to get the size right; upload your own images or buy one of theirs for only $1; edit as needed. For more, see below.

Links to Tutorials for Pinterest

You’ll find tons of tutorials and classes to help you get up to speed on this platform. Like all social media channels, best practices change often as a platform adds new tools, policies, etc. Be sure to look for recent material.

Which social media platform do you like best? No. Which brings you the most results: the most referral traffic, the most sales, the most followers, etc.?

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19. Checklist for Self-publishing a Children’s Picture Book

The Aliens Inc, Chapter Book Series

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Assumption. I am assuming here that you’ve written a fantastic children’s picture book and the illustrations you’ve done or hired done are amazing. You’ve also assembled an amazing book using InDesign (recommended) or other software. This checklist takes up the process at the point where you have the files ready to upload. The checklist is useful whether you are producing a print book or an ebook, although some items may not apply in one or the other cases.

Double-Check the Book’s Production

Front Cover
Double-check spelling of everything.
Color reproduction of the art.

Back cover
Double-check spelling of everything.
Blurbs, quote or promo copy – do you have all the marketing material on the back cover that is needed? Any recent review quotes to add?

Copyright page
(Assumption: you want to sell this book to school libraries. If you only want to sell it as an ebook, then you only need to check the copyright date, since you probably won’t use an ISBN.)
Copyright date correct?
ISBN correct (if used)?
CIP correct? Are you using Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication data, which helps librarians catalog your book?

Check spelling, grammar and punctuation on every page.
Check position and reproduction of art on every page.
(Why are there 32 pages listed?)

  • p. 1____Text _____Art
  • p. 2-3____Text _____Art
  • p. 4-5____Text _____Art
  • p. 6-7____Text _____Art
  • p. 8-9____Text _____Art
  • p. 10-11____Text _____Art
  • p. 12-13____Text _____Art
  • p. 14-15____Text _____Art
  • p. 16-17____Text _____Art
  • p. 18-19____Text _____Art
  • p. 20-21____Text _____Art
  • p. 22-23____Text _____Art
  • p. 24-25____Text _____Art
  • p. 26-27____Text _____Art
  • p. 28-29____Text _____Art
  • p. 30-31____Text _____Art
  • p. 32____Text _____Art

Marketing and Metadata Materials

Before you upload files, you’ll need your marketing material ready. I usually create a one-page Sell Sheet that includes the following information.

Exact Title:
Series Name and Volume of this book:
ISBN, ASIN, and price for each format:

The description is the time to hook your reader. The first 50 characters should give enough information to interest a reader in your book. Limited html is allowed on many platforms, so I often prepare two versions, one plain text and one marked up for html. For Kindle, you have 4000 characters–which is a lot. Use a word processor that counts the number of characters and use all of this valuable real estate.

Depending on the platform used, you may be asked to provide two or three categories. You can refer to the BISAC categories as a guidelines, but each platform may have its own quirks for this.


To help the book buyer find your book, most platforms allow you to insert from 5-7 keywords. You should have these ready; see Amazon’s advice on keywords.


Age Levels
Often a platform will allow you to specify the age range for the book’s audience. Don’t try to cover every age (ages 1-15). Instead, choose a 3-4 year range. Typical ranges are ages 4-8, ages 5-8, ages 6-8, ages 8-12, ages 9-12, ages 12-15, and so on.

File Size
If you plan to publish the ebook on Kindle, you should know the file size. Full color children’s picture books are often 4-8 MGs of data. Because Kindle charges a delivery fee of $0.15 in the US, you’ll want to know this to decide on pricing.

Price for Different Formats
If you upload to multiple platforms, you’ll likely want to be sure to keep the data the same across them. It helps to write out your prices; be sure to update this data whenever you change it on one platform.

Cover Files
While I’m preparing marketing materials, I also like to create multiple versions of my cover files. I label them with the size and the resolution, so it’s easy to find later. Here are typical sizes I create for a square picture book cover, 8.5″ x 8.5″ It’s simple to create multiple files when the Photoshop program is already open, and saves me time later. Usually, I create jpeg files, but sometimes, I’ll repeat for .png files.

  • Cover-2500×2500-300.jpg (This means the cover is 2500 px by 2500 px at 300 dpi.)
  • Cover-2500×2500-150.jpg (This means the cover is 2500 px by 2500 px at 150 dpi. Some like to also prepare files at 96 dpi or 72 dpi for use on the web.)
  • Cover-1000×1000-300.jpg
  • Cover-1000×1000-150.jpg
  • Cover-500×500-300.jpg
  • Cover-500×500-150.jpg
  • Cover-250×250-300.jpg
  • Cover-250×250-150.jpg

With the Sell Sheet complete, and the books cover and interior files ready to go, it’s time to upload. Good luck with your book!

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20. Hope: Send Me Your Good News

The Aliens Inc, Chapter Book Series

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Writers live by hope.

We hope that the next story will break out.
We hope that the next submission will sell.
We hope that the next revision will be amazing.
We hope that the next royalty check will be double.
We hope readers will love our stories.

Hope. It’s how we live. And I love it when Hope comes to live in tangible ways.

Carla Killough McClafferty, inducted into the Arkansas Writer's Hall of Fame, June, 2015.
Carla Killough McClafferty, inducted into the Arkansas Writer’s Hall of Fame, June, 2015.

I went Friday to an awards banquet to honor my friend, Carla McClafferty. She was inducted into the Arkansas Writer’s Hall of Fame for her work in children’s non-fiction.

That was hope come to life.

Another Arkansas friend, Cara Brookins had this news reported in today’s Publisher’s Weekly:

Brookins’s ‘Rise’ Goes to SMP
In a six-figure North American rights deal, Rose Hilliard at St. Martin’s Press acquired Cara Brookins’s memoir, Rise. The book, which Dystel and Goderich’s Jessica Papin sold at auction, is about Brookins’s experience as a single mother coming out of an abusive relationship, building her own house from the ground up. SMP said the author, a social media marketing expert in Little Rock, Ark., took on the massive DIY project “with only the help of her four children.” Rise is currently set for fall 2016.

That was hope come to life.

Another Arkansas friend, Monica Clark-Robinson recently sold her first picture book. Here’s the listing on her agent’s site:

Children’s: Picture book: Monica Clark-Robinson’s LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, an historical picture book told from a child’s point of view about the Children’s Crusade, a series of civil rights marches that took place in 1963 to protest the Jim Crow Laws, to Christine Krones at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, for publication in Fall 2017.

That was hope come to life.
Each time a friend realizes a small portion of a dream—from the beginning of a career to a career at the top of its game—we need to stop and rejoice with them.

Why? For many reasons—friendship shares good news.
But for today’s purpose, rejoicing over someone’s good news builds my reserve of hope. I know the hope isn’t futile; someone else’s hopes came to fruition and that leaves me with a renewed hope that mine may also.

I often end a speech or a retreat with the words, “Send me your good news.” It’s not hollow words, and it’s not bragging on your part. It’s sharing a joyful event. And really, I’m being selfish: I want my hope recharged.

I often end a speech with: Send me your good news! It builds my reservoir of HOPE! #publishing
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Send me your good news! I want to hear and rejoice with you!
Please add your good news in the comments so we can all rejoice with you.

Writers Life by Hope

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21. Fowler’s Toad: He Chose Our Pond

The Aliens Inc, Chapter Book Series

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One night In May, I noticed a very loud sound from right outside our window. My husband, Dwight, has a fish pond right outside our kitchen door.

The fish pond is used by our outdoor cat for drinking water. Notice the toads in the lower left corner.
The fish pond is used by our outdoor cat for drinking water.

The sound was loud! So, on May 26, I whipped out my iphone and taped the noise.

You’ll hear the noise at 7 seconds into the tape, and 12 seconds, 18 seconds and 23 seconds. The sounds came from a small frog or toad. After comparing my recording to recordings of frogs/toads of Arkansas, I concluded we had a Fowler Toad, which is common in this area.

After reading more, I realized that this toad had chosen our pond as a breeding pond. He chose us! He chose our pond!

As a child, I remember we raised tadpoles once. I was excited about the chance to watch the process again, especially because my grandkids could watch this time.

The toad sang and sang for several nights. All night long, it seemed.

Then, on June 11, I took a morning walk and came back to find two Fowler toads in the pond. The girl showed up!

Fowler Toad with Egg String

Fowler Toads mate in what’s called amplexus, which means the eggs are externally fertilized. The smaller male is usually on the female’s back for the duration.

Another view of the couple.
Another view of the couple.

After the mating, the female is trying to find a way out of the slippery sides of the pond. I had to put a fish net on the edge for her to get out. The male hopped out easily.
After the mating, the female is trying to find a way out of the slippery sides of the pond. I had to put a fish net on the edge for her to get out. The male hopped out easily.

Tadpoles: Day 3

We watched the pond every day and on Day 3, we found tadpoles! Dozens and dozens. Scientists report that the Fowler Toads may lay 5000-25,000 eggs at a time. But the pond had several goldfish and I knew that many of the eggs would be eaten before they could hatch.

Now, there are dozens and dozens of tadpoles.

Dozens of tadpoles hatched. However, they are shy and don't like to be photographed.
Dozens of tadpoles hatched. However, they are shy and don’t like to be photographed.

Close-up of the tadpole.
Close-up of the tadpole.

The Flamingo's eye view of the pond and the toads.
The Flamingo’s eye view of the pond and the toads.

As a person who writes science and nature books for kids, I am always conscious of the possibilities. But this isn’t a book, and may never become one. The story is too common; it’s not ground-breaking science. It’s just fun. And that’s enough.

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22. Find Your Novel Opening: Quickly, Efficiently–and with MORE Creativity

The Aliens Inc, Chapter Book Series

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I’ve been fiddling with the opening of the second book of a trilogy, Blue Planets, for several weeks, trying to plot, trying to think of new and exciting ways to tell the story. I KNOW the story. It’s bringing it down to specifics that’s hard.

Part of my problem is that Book 1 in this trilogy opens with a scene that echoes the movie “Jaws.” That book and movie has a powerful, action packed opening image and scene that sets up the stakes clearly. My Book 1 opening echoes the action, and twists the meaning into a new, surprising direction. I like the opening I create there.

But it also set up a problem: How can I echo the “Jaws” opening for Book 2?
I’ve struggled for a couple weeks with this question and finally found the answer.
Don’t. Find another image that works.

Using a Mentor Text or Story

Find Your Novel's Opening: Quickly, Efficiently and with MORE Creativity

Perhaps, though, the process I used in the opening for Book 1 can be repeated for Book 2. I used “Jaws” as a mentor text, echoing its action and setting the stakes very high. What if I found a different mentor text/movie for the next book?

At Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat site, they’ve done a series of analyses of movie plots that are called Beat Sheets under his system. I decided to go through them and write a short summary of how I could or couldn’t echo the different movies for this opening. I knew that I had to approach it as a writing exercise and just go overboard and let the ideas flow.

In an hour, I wrote the summaries for the following twenty possible opening scenes. After, I went back and wrote a sentence of how the closing scene might echo back to the opening scene. That closing scene ideas — only written after all the opening scene summaries were completed — helped me evaluate how well this opening fit my story. Note also that I drew a blank on about three of the movie openings and couldn’t figure out how it would fit my story.

The Grunt Work: Writing 20 Possible Summaries of Opening Scene

Note: You won’t understand what some of this means, since I’m not explaining all the background, setting, characters, etc. That’s OK. The point is to see how I echoed the mentor text/story in some way. The link for each movie title goes to the Save the Cat plot analysis for that movie, where you can read the opening image synopsis and compare it to mine. You may think some of my opening as strangely at odds with the mentor text. That’s fine. I consider the mentor text/story as merely a starting point and go where the story takes me.

  1. A la Ultron.
    The opening image is of a huge conch shell that is blown and echoes throughout the ocean. Jake is swimming and hears it—has to stop up his ears it’s so loud. But no human hears it—at a weird frequency. It’s an emergency call to the Mer, but Jake doesn’t know that yet. The umjaadi plague is spreading and they still don’t know what it is.
    Final Echo: A hospital ward full of sick patients and the doctor telling someone that unless someone finds a cure, they’ll all die. The Mer will be gone.
  2. A la The Conversation .
    The opening image is Edinburgh, Scotland the castle with a full moon overhead. Home of Harry Potter, the setting is almost mythical. But the reality of walking the seven hills, and climbing up the highest pulls Jake back to Earth (so to speak). From the top, he sees the Frith of Forth and the bridge—with the aquarium under it, where they’ll go tomorrow.
    Final echo: back on the hill, Jake now understands what is beneath the waters he sees.
  3. A la Whiplash.
    Jake is swimming laps in a pool—with no one around—when Cy Blevins walks in. You’re not related to the Commander, you’re the Ambassador’s son—we know all about you. OK. So, what? You can’t live here.
    Jake swims, but wants to jump out and beat up Cy.
    Final echo: No. Doesn’t work.
  4. A la Birdman.
    Jake is swimming and keeps asking himself, “How did we wind up here? Am I Earthling or Risonian?” He turns sharks into tour guides, he is thrilled with electric shock from eels, he talks to octopuses.

Final echo: I am Earthling.

  • A la Tommy Boy.
    Jake is a toddler swimming on Rison and when a camouflaged creature (octopus-like) unfurls, he is startled and starts to cry. Turns to Swann for comfort, but Swann turns him around and says, SEE. Watch. Learn to see.
    Final echo: Swimming and points out a camouflaged creature to Swann.
  • A la Ratatouille.
    B/w documentary about octopuses, compared with what we know today. They were once feared as monsters, but we now know they are very intelligent (playing with toys to get crabs). We see what we expect to see, and that changes slowly. (Or: what’s alien comes from what’s in OUR heads, not what we see in front of us.)
    Final echo: B/W Risonain documentary on first contact Earth—from the Risonian POV. We now know Earthlings are much more complicated and intelligent than we thought at first.
  • A la Babadook.
    Go for a memory and emotion. Jake relives a moment with Em where they kiss—or almost kiss. But then shakes himself. No. She didn’t want to be friends.
    Final echo: A final kiss.
  • A la Star Trek (2009).
    The camera moves along an underwater ship and reveals it to be a U-Boat. Follow with the scene of the DCS dive.
    Final echo: Maybe Mom is sick from something on Earth?
  • A la American Sniper.
    (Scene with dramatic first kill – will he shoot a kid?)
    Scene with dramatic first ______?
    Clearly, this one didn’t work.
  • A a Lego Movie.
    From a boat, Dr. Max Bari lowers a figure on a stretcher into the ocean, then dives in after her—without scuba gear. He tugs the stretcher deeper and deeper until there are lights in the distance. . .
    Final echo: Jake lifts off in a rocket ship and watches Earth get smaller and smaller in the distance, and turns his face toward Rison and hopes. . .
  • A la Big Hero 6.
    Setting: Sanfransokyo
    My Setting: Aberforth Hills
  • Final echo: Earth leaders touring Aberforth Hills

  • A la Liar Liar.
    In a classroom, they are going around telling what their fathers do. A young Jake says his father is a test tube. No, it’s the Leader of our People. No, it’s really a test tube.
    Final echo: Jake with Dad.
  • A la Fury.
    (Ambush of triumphant soldier by vanquished.) No ideas. Didn’t work for me.
  • A la Gone Girl.
    (Sharp contrast of emotions: head on shoulder of husband contrasted with his thoughts of killing her. Result: Worry for her safety)
    Contrasting emotions? Invade Earth and just take it! Take the long, slow route to a long-term healthy relationship.
  • Mom is giving a speech to the world leaders about Rison’s needs. Jake is drawing pictures of skulls and wishing he could blast all of Earth so Risonians could take over. How can they ever live together on the same planet and not kill each other?
    Final echo: Fight that ends in a truce.

  • A la Guardians of the Galaxy.
    Sitting alone, Jake is listening to a cd mix that Em gave him and wishing they hadn’t quarreled. He gets a call from Marisa, who says she wants to meet with him. I hear you’re going to Edinburgh. Mom and Dad aren’t saying much—but I think Em has been kidnapped and they know who did it, but they won’t go after her. I think she’s somewhere near Edinburgh.
    Final echo: Jake gives Em a cd of Risonian operas and says, I’ll be back with the cure.
  • A la How to Train Your Dragon 2.
    Jake is spinning a globe of the world and narrating for his class (OR Swann) back home-videoconference call. He tells of how Earthlings/US once put it’s citizens in jail because they “might” have been traitors. How they questioned the loyalty of citizen merely because of their heritage. How unfair it is and how he’s worried that the Risonians will be even more feared and how suspicion will abound.
    Final echo: Suspicious news reports: There are fears that Jake Quad-di is returning home with intelligence that will allow the Risonians to attack. His mother, Ambassador Dayexi Quad-di assures us that he only returns to bring back a cure for the Phoke. But why would he risk his life for them?
  • A la Twilight Zone.
    The camera pans across oceans, racing across the seas, until it zooms in on a conference room where Mom is talking to world leaders, a clear image of politics/diplomacy.
    Final echo: Not emotional enough to pursue.
  • A la Muppets Most Wanted.
    Start with pan down from The End—the last movie—and sing about how the studio ordered a sequel.
    Final echo: No. Don’t like this metadata stuff.
  • A la Her.
    Jake is writing a letter to the editor, or editorial or something—and we pull back to see that he’s writing it for Mom. He’s her assistant now, and she trusts his knowledge of English and culture. (Not emotional enough. HER is a love story, so the emotions there are about truly falling in love. It’s not going to work in this story.)
  • A la Inside Llewyn Davis.
    The scene opens on a rowdy swimming pool with kids taking bets. Jake lines up with another guy and when the whistle blows, the other boy dives in and races away. When that guy touches the opposite wall, Jake dives in, velcroes his legs and swims. He almost beats the other guy back, but is won out by a touch.
    I win! Says the other swimmer.
    Jake shakes his head. He swam almost twice as fast—and the Earthling says he won? That’s crazy.
    We’re never letting you compete in the Olympics! Says one kid.
  • Final echo: Argument: You think I can do miracles. Sure, I can outswim any human boy, but on Rison, I’m nothing. I’m just a normal kid. How can I find the cure to the umjaadi in time? I can’t. But I have to try.

    Notice that I didn’t hold myself to an impossible standard. If the movie’s opening didn’t spark something almost immediately, I moved on. Further, I didn’t stop at just one try. I persevered, knowing that I needed to fully explore my options.

    Evaluate the Possible Openings

    After writing all of these, I had to evaluate which one fit my story best. First, I went back and added the Final Echo to each, so I’d know if it fit the theme/plot/characters well enough to carry through the whole story. In other words, I double checked my ideas about the story, my intentions.

    Then I asked these questions of each opening:

    • Which sets the tone I want?
    • Which sets the emotional problems?
    • Which sets the themes?
    • Which one sets up the stakes as very high?

    Results of Opening Images Writing Exercise
    I found several good images that took me in new and different directions than I’d previously been trying—and that’s exciting.

    1. Warning conch shell – warning comes true, all Mer sick.
    2. Jake as toddler scared by octopus-like creature un-camouflaging – Watches old Risonian documentary and realizes that Earthlings are complicated.
    3. Dr. Max lowers a patient into the water and goes into a foreign world – Jake lifts off in rocket for a foreign world.
    4. Listens to Em’s cd – gives her a cd when he leaves.
    5. Jake narrates the globe – a news show narrates Jake’s trip to Rison.
    6. Jake outswims Earthlings – but realizes he’s just a normal kid on Rison.

    Which one did I choose? Actually, several. Because I have a main plot and several subplots, I realized that several of these can work in sequence to open the different subplots.

    Sometimes, I approach a story methodically, just doing a writing exercise. This time, I was stuck, and the exercise unstuck me. That was a valuable hour of writing!

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    23. 4 Revision Goals: Conflict, Emotion, Surprise, Enrich

    Abayomi Launches in Brazil

    Click cover to see the photo gallery.

    For the next month, my writing goals for my work-in-progress novel trilogy are clear: conflict, emotion, surprise, enrich.

    The trilogy is tentatively called, The Blue Planets, and is an early-teen or YA science fiction. Book 1, The Blue Marble, has a complete draft; for Books 2 and 3, I have complete outlines. I’m happy with all of it, but I know it needs to go much farther before anyone sees it. For the next month, I’ll work simultaneously on revising Book 1 and the outlines, trying to weave them into a more coherent whole.
    4 Revision Goals: from Darcy Pattison's Fiction Notes blog at darcypattison.com

    4 Revision Goals

    Conflict. The first goal in revising The Blue Planets is to up the conflict.
    No conflict = no story, no readers.
    Small conflict = small readership.
    Big conflict = bigger readership.
    Huge, gut-wrenching, moral-decison-making conflict = huge, engaged readership.

    I’ll be looking at conflict globally and in each scene. Man v. nature is built into the story in powerful ways already. But I need to look at man v. man, both overall and in each scene. How can I put people at odds in more ways and in more interesting ways?

    Emotion. Always my weakest point, I’ll go scene by scene and ask questions:
    What emotional things happened just before this scene? What’s the attitude of each character coming in?
    What is the worst thing–emotionally–that could happen to the main character? That’s what I must confront him with.
    What is the emotional arc of the scene?
    What else can I do to deepen the emotional impact?

    Surprise. Readers read for entertainment. If they can predict exactly what happens in a story, they’re bored. I’ll go through–especially the outlines–and ask, “What does the reader expect here?” I’ll look for ways to twist that expectation to fulfill it, but with a twist.

    Enrich. I’m excited about enriching the stories, because this part gets past the basic plotting and into fun stuff. Where can I add humor? Here are previous posts on 3 humor techniques and then 5 more. I’m hoping for a running gag, at least. I’ll be working to tie the three books together through scene, character, bits of dialogue, running gags, perhaps a bit of clothing, or a mug of triple-shot venti mocha–something. Enrichment might be adding bits of scientific information artfully, without doing an information dump. Making the characters quirkier and more fun to be around. Loosening up on dialogue.

    By the middle to end of July, I expect the BLUES to be in shape to send out. I’m excited.
    What are your goals for summer writing?

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    24. What’s in Your Writer’s Bag of Tricks? Putting the Writing Process in Context

    Abayomi Launches in Brazil

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    I’m in the middle of a big revision of the first book of a sff trilogy and I thought I knew what to do. I’ve written several novels now and when I get to this stage, there’s one big problem. I am sick of reading the thing.

    How many times do you read a novel before you send it out into the world? 5 times? 20 times? 100 times? I don’t know; I just know that it’s a lot of times and it reaches a point where I’m not re-reading what’s in front of me. My mind wanders off to anything and everything else.

    One strategy I’ve used to deal with that is to retype the entire manuscript. Even if it’s 60,000 words, I just dig in and retype. This strategy forces me to see every word anew. It’s a strategy that I know works.

    Except, it didn’t this time. I kept putting off the typing. When it was time to start, I’d find something some marketing to do; or I’d read on my Kindle; or I’d do research for a different project. I forced myself to type out about 25,000/60,000 words, but I was making very few changes. I wasn’t confident that this strategy was working.

    Finally–with the urging of a friend–I stopped the foolishness. I started copying one chapter at a time into the fresh document and working on just that chapter till all issues were resolved.
    Stuck in Revision? Pull out your writer's bag of tricks and try something different.

    Wow! I’ve totally revamped a scene: it was static with no tension and needed lots of work. I found a conflict sitting there amidst the rubble, picked it up and ran with it. I cut a scene totally–worthless dialogue that went nowhere. Another scene got an overhaul for emotional impact.

    In other words, my process is different for this book than for all previous books. Duh. Of course.
    Each book that I write, I find a different way to work.

    What doesn’t change are techniques that I have in my writer’s bag of tricks. I just need to remember that I won’t be using them in the same order for each book. Also, I may not use every technique or tip for every novel. And that there are always shiny new ways of working to explore, and that’s OK. Retyping a manuscript is a great technique that I’ll likely use again, even though it was deadly for this one. Focusing on short chapters this time helped me to see the story in a context that allowed for good decision making. That’s what you want: good decision making in your storytelling.

    Stuck? Rummage around in your writer’s bag of tricks and try something different!

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    25. 8 Most Popular Writing Books with Our Readers

    Abayomi Launches in Brazil

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    From time to time, we recommend writing books, and we find that some are popular with our readers. Following are the most popular how-to-write books purchased by our readers in the last six months on Amazon, the first half of 2015*.
    8 Most Popular WRITING BOOKS with Fiction Notes Readers

    1. Action! Writing Better Action with Cinematic Techniques

      Certainly one of my favorite new writing books is Ian Healy’s excellent book on writing action scenes. Before I read it, my action scenes were awful. Now, my latest novel has effective action scenes sprinkled throughout. Thanks, Ian! Be sure to also download the Action Scene Checklist that I created, with Ian’s permission. This was the most popular book, by far.

    2. Start Your Novel: Six Winning Steps Toward a Compelling Opening Line, Scene and Chapter

      Start Your Novel by Darcy PattisonI was thrilled that my writing book came in second. Thanks, Readers. This helps you take an idea and develop it into a blueprint for a novel. Read more about this book.

    3. 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them

      20 Master Plots This book is a gem. I use it when I start a novel to help me nail down the genre. It also helps me plot because I am reminded of typical scenes in this type of story; I can choose to go against the grain or with the grain in plotting, but it gives me a sort of plumb line.

    4. How to Write a Children’s Picture Book

      how to write a children's picture book by darcy pattisonFor the past two years, I’ve taught a class on writing picture books at the Highlights Foundation for Children, the home of the classic Highlights for Kids magazine. It’s a thrill to see this book on your list of favorites. Read more about this book.

    5. Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd edition.

      Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
      This is a classic and wonderful text that puts storied in the context of Joseph Campbell’s mythic structure. If you write any kind of quest story, fantasy, sff, then you need this. But it also works for romance, contemporary, mysteries–almost any genre.

    6. Writer’s Digest Sourcebook for Building Believable Characters

      Believable Characters
      This classic by Marc McCutcheon still delivers the goods. Need to create a character? You need this book.

    7. Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise

      Novel Metamorphosis: UnCommon Ways to Revise
      When I teach my Novel Revision Class, this is the required workbook.

    8. The Negative Traits Emotional Thesaurus

      Sometimes, it’s hard to be fresh and original and you need a tool to help. The inner character traits (positive or negative) are one of those places that I consult a book like this. It just gives me a reminder of my options; of course, you then have to make the suggestion your own. But options are great. While the Negative Traits was the most popular with our readers, there’s also the Positive Traits and the Emotional Thesaurus from the same author.

    * Note: these lists were compiled from reports supplied to us from Amazon.com where we are affiliates. One of the ways Fiction Notes is able to cover its costs and be a sustainable business is that we earn a small commission when readers make a purchase from Amazon after clicking on our links (including those above). While no personal details are passed on we do get an overall report from Amazon about what was bought and are able to create this list.

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