Saturday, July 30, 2011


The rule of three for characters: each plotline should have three central characters.  This allows for six relationships to be developed, plenty for a novel. Picture a triangle.
The rule of three for plot development: Things usually happen in threes in a story.  The first time something happens in a plot, it's an incident.  The second time it happens it becomes a pattern.  By the third time, the main character must recognize the pattern, learn from it, and do something to change it or risk being TSTL.
Other threes: Three items in a list is usually more than enough. Three descriptive words, if carefully chosen, are plenty: A long (1) black (2) silk (3) skirt swirled about her legs. With adjectives, less is more. It’s easy to overdo: The short polka-dotted pink silk skirt swirled above her knees. If you must use that many descriptive words, at least break the long string: The polka-dotted skirt made him blink; pink, short, and silky, it swirled above her knees. Try to find other ways to show something and avoid using a string of adjectives. If you want the reader to remember a detail, try using contrast. The muscular strength of her hairy legs offset the flirty pink of her skirt.

Any good lines to share? Any notable exceptions?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Swallowing the Criticism of Your Baby.

 Today my friend Maryn Sinclair, author of two exciting erotic romance novels, is my guest. Her books are Sexual Persuasion and a new one, The Escort.

The Escort
Someone criticized your book? The nerve of them. It’s like an acquaintance looking down into the carriage at your cooing infant and making a face. Doesn’t she know your baby is the most beautiful creature ever created? It’s no different with your book. Reviewers who aren’t writers don’t realize how much sweat and love and anxiety go into writing a book. Just finishing it is a major accomplishment. You love your characters. Live with them for months on end. Go to sleep thinking about how they’re going to handle the problems you’ve spent the same number of months creating. And someone finds them uninteresting? Annoying even? And they found the sex trite. (I write erotic romance, don’t forget. Sex is a MAJOR part of the book. I have to admit, though, compared to what’s out there, I write more vanilla than kinky sex.) Still, trite? One sex scene is harder to write than the rest of the book. Multiply that by seven or eight. Groan.
You want to vent—to tell them, hey, you don’t know what you’re talking about. But you can’t. We all remember that unfortunate gal who argued with the reviewer who gave her a tepid review. She was the laughing stock of the Internet for days as the back and forth got out of hand. I wonder if the poor thing still thinks that the people who jumped all over her were wrong, or did she learn a valuable lesson?
Not everyone will like what you write. Some will even tell you they couldn’t get past page thirty.
Sexual Persuasion
It’s a given. Suck it up. Yeah, it hurts. But the most important thing to learn from a not-so-great review is that they are as important as the good reviews. Remember the contests you entered? Which critique did you get the most out of? Go on. Admit it. The one that gave you the lowest score. Sure, some of the things the critiquer said were off the mark. She saw the situation differently or in some cases she was plain wrong. But tucked in that ugliness were some things that made you go, Hmm, she has a point. You learn little from praise other than a massage to your ego. The reader saw your brilliance. You two are on the same page. Sure, it’s nice. Better than nice. But how much did you learn? How much of what she said will you apply to your work in progress that will improve it? Not much, I betcha.
In the wake of criticism, the inability to find a publisher, or the failure to reach one’s own high expectations, many writers have taken drastic measures. They are sad footnotes to a difficult career choice. Writers, more than anything else they do, must learn to roll with the punches. Rejection and criticism are part of the game.
Writing is exhilarating, depressing, frustrating, awe-inspiring, ego-shattering, mentally draining, but it can be ultimately rewarding. Just like life.
 Maryn is giving away one of her e-books to two commenters. Winners will be announced on Friday. You can read the first chapter of each at her website:  Please remember that these are erotic romances. There’s graphic language and, you know, erotic stuff.
Thanks, Ellis, for having me back and giving me the opportunity to say a few words.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Similes like . . .

She danced like . . .
Similes can add richness to a story, but they should fit the context and be parallel in thought to the word or phrase they’re being compared to. And of course, they should be used in moderation. Anything, no matter how good, can be overdone.
American Heritage Dictionary: A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as, as in “How like the winter hath my absence been” (Shakespeare) Plain English: a direct comparison, introduced by like or as, of two things which in their general nature are different from each other.
Everyone makes mistakes. Here’s a line from a much-published author: His seductive tone drew her like gulls to fish bait.  Like gulls to fish bait, aside from being a strange metaphor for a seductive tone, is not parallel to the original idea; the simile is passive and the main phrase is active. It’s awkwardly written and hard to understand.  It should have been like fish bait drew gulls or like fish bait lured gulls—something parallel in construction. Better yet, something more pleasant.

Evening came like . . .

She curled her body into the chair like a kitten [curls itself] in a sunny corner. It’s not usually necessary to repeat the verb, but try it both ways and see which sounds better and gives the better picture. He cut through the water like a dolphin. Or a different image: He cut through the water like a shark. Does that suggest a different mood to you?
Here are some from recent reads.
. . . pink windbreaker flapping behind her like the wake of an ocean liner. Choke, Kaye George

She shrugged off her doubts like a shawl she n o longer needed. The Drinking Game, Chris Redding

Dog Howling by GarcĂ­a (Zaqarbal)

Her verbs and nouns fought like cats and dogs. Dear Killer, Linda Lovely
Do you have any good—or bad—examples? Want to add your own simile? Or finish one of these?
Evening came like . . .
The dog howled like . . .
She danced like . . .

Monday, July 18, 2011

Best Bookstore Cat Ever!

How do you feel about bookstore (or any store) animals? Personally, I love them and go out of my way to a shop that has a companion. Today's blog, by Lelia Taylor, is about Hamilton.
Creatures ’n Crooks Bookshoppe was a genre bookstore, focusing on mystery, science fiction, fantasy and horror for all ages. We had a terrific time---not everybody gets to say they love to go to work every day---but, finally, the wretched economy and the unceasing competition from Amazon forced us to close the shop.
We had so many wonderful customers and, nearly two years later, I still hear from some. They always say how sorry they were when we closed and they have one most important question: How is Hamilton?
Hamilton, best bookstore cat ever! We adopted Hammie from the SPCA two weeks before the store opened. He was about three years old and had had his front claws removed, a good thing for a cat who would be around a lot of people, including kids, but the most appealing thing was his extrovert personality. We didn’t know it at the time but a Maine Coon is just about the friendliest cat there is and he proved it for the next 9+ years.
Hamilton would greet everybody who came into the store and follow them around, “supervising” their book choices. If a customer settled in one of our comfy chairs with a cup of tea or coffee, Hamilton joined her. Kids didn’t bother him much, no matter how much they shrieked and chased him and not once did we ever see him lash out; once he’d had enough, he would just go to one of his secret hiding places, so secret that there were times we couldn’t find him unless we rattled the treat bag.
Ham lived up to his name---no cat ever loved the camera more than he did. Several times, we had film crews in for commercials or for short features and Hamilton would always be front and center, even climbing ladders and bookshelves to be sure the cameramen didn’t miss him. He was a gorgeous kitty and seemed to know that the camera loved him. He would also pose for snapshots, especially when authors were visiting because, after all, no signing would be complete without Hammie on the table in the midst of books and cookies. He would even grudgingly allow us to put a Halloween costume on him just long enough to take a few pictures.
Then there were the dogs. Most cats like the dogs they live with but are very leery of strangers. Not Hamilton. Nothing made the big guy happier than to have a dog come by (we were in a dog-walking area) and he had his routine with a new visitor---follow him around to make sure he knew how to behave, do a lot of reciprocal sniffing and, if necessary, swat the dog’s nose with his clawless paws to make a point. They always got it and then the two would be BFFs.
Hammie lives with family friends now but I suspect he misses all his old friends and customers. We’ll be telling Hamilton stories for years to come.

Once upon a time, a mother and daughter went out to dinner for the mother's birthday. Over the course of this dinner, the subject of, "If you could own any business in the world, what would you choose?" came up. Without hesitation, a bookstore was the answer from both mother and daughter, and a momentous decision to follow that dream was made. Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe was born in Richmond, VA.
Years later, the bookstore is closed and Lelia Taylor spends most of her time reading books, reviewing books and talking about books, along with lots of guest bloggers, on Buried Under Books. You can find it at .

Friday, July 15, 2011

An Apostrophe Does not a Plural Make

Plurals are formed by adding s or es to the root word. That’s it. Nothing else. This is a simple rule but apparently it’s a difficult one for some people to learn. When I see an apostrophe s instead of plural in a book, I think it’s a typo, but when I see several, I figure the author or editor doesn’t know how to form a plural. When I see misused apostrophes, I usually see many other grammatical errors too, which confirms my impression.
Here are a few examples:
One dog is a dog. Three dogs are dogs.
A single person named Jones is Jones. Two or more people named Jones are Joneses.
One potato, two potatoes 
Photostock image
One tomato, four tomatoes

Photo by Taoty

The Mertz family moved into the neighborhood. There are four Mertzes in the family and one mother-in-law, Mrs. Sartoris. The other Sartorises live in Timbuktu.
Wrong: The Jennings’ live across the street. The cricket’s are loud tonight.

Shall I go on to possessive, the way to show ownership? Might as well. This is where the apostrophe comes in. To show possession for a singular noun, add ’s.
The dog’s bone is buried there. Four dogs bones are buried in the garden.
The horse’s hooves kicked up dust in the ring.
The Mertzes house is at the end of the street. That’s Mary Mertz’s bicycle in the front yard.
This is true in most cases, but there are a few exceptions. The Chicago Manual of Style, which I use, says the possessive of singular nouns is shown by the addition of ’s except in a few cases, such as species and series, in which it’s generally better to use of as in Darwin’s The Origin of Species or of the as in the last game of the World Series.                                                                       
Right: Ms. Sprouse’s office
BK Photo
Wrong (or possibly AP style): Ms. Sprouse’ office
Someone may chime in with the AP Style (journalistic) on possessives. I think (but I’m not certain) it recommends adding only the apostrophe for the possessive of a noun ending in s. That style evolved in the interest of saving space in narrow newspaper columns.
That’s my rant for today. Does poor grammar turn you off? What makes you roll your eyes?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Moon and Murder

Buy Link

Camille Minichino, today's guest, has quite a varied background--physics professor, dollhouse builder, and mystery writer. It all adds up to fascinating stories.
The moon? Did Ellis Vidler, my gracious hostess on my blog tour, include the moon as a potential topic?
I've been following this blog for a while and I've found so many writers far more qualified than I am to give thoughts on language, literature, and the craft of writing.
But from what I've noticed, no one has waxed (or waned) on the moon recently.
That's my forte. Well, physics, which certainly includes the moon.
I've never been able to understand why physics gets such bad press, as being difficult or boring.
Consider this story fed to us by physics: we're standing on a squashed, wobbling sphere that's spinning at about 1000 miles/hour, while at the same time orbiting around a fiery ball that's about 13 million degrees at its core.
Whew. I'm dizzy. And hot. Anything but bored. What a story.
You can see how doing physics is a lot like writing a mystery.
The scientist or sleuth looks around, finds clues, and discovers patterns. She then constructs a theory: based on the observed behavior, how did the universe get to this state? Or, how did this murder come to be?
Both physics and mystery writing are creative attempts to construct a model of observed, measured reality. Both endeavors challenge us to come up with a good story.
For fun, ask yourself which statements below are from physics and which from fiction.
1. The moon orbits the earth at about 2200 miles/hour.
2. The universe is made up of tiny, invisible strings, vibrating in many dimensions.
3. A particle called the tachyon can travel back in time.
All are from contemporary physics, of course.
And all are parts of great stories.
My latest protagonist, Professor Sophie Knowles, teaches mathematics  (more great stories) at a small New England college. It's no surprise that she's able to use her logic and puzzle-solving abilities to help the local police.

Camille Minichino is the author of three mystery series, beginning with The Periodic Table Mysteries. "The Hydrogen Murder" will be re-issued as an e-book in summer, 2011. Her akas are Margaret Grace (The Miniature Mysteries) and Ada Madison (The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries). The first chapter of 'The Square Root of Murder," debuting July 5, 2011 is on her website:
You can find The Square Root of Murder and Camille's other books at bookstores and online. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sentence Fragments—Tricky Little Devils

In formal writing those unfinished bits that lack a subject and often a verb are studiously avoided. But they have a real place in fiction and informal writing. There sentence fragments can be used to great effect or they can bomb, jarring the reader right out of the story. How to use them is hard to explain, at least for me. My ear tells me when they fit, but I still can’t always say why.
Michal Marcol /
I see them in stories and wonder. Here’s an example, changed only slightly from the original to disguise it; it’s something I read in a book by a reputable publisher. 
Mortimer slammed the door and vanished from her life.
Stunned. Why would he do that?
Stunned? Who’s stunned? What’s the feeling related to? It hangs out there like a stray dog at a picnic. It’s jarring, and it draws your attention. Fragments are usually parts of sentence, but the rest of the sentence is understood. They’re most often used in dialogue because that’s the way we talk. Even then, the fragment is clearly related to a subject.  
“Hey, Joe, are you going to the game?”
“Naw, too late.”
Too late refers to the game. The subject, which is understood, is It or The game. The verb is is. There’s still room for doubt, but the rest of the exchange should make it clear.
Fragments should fit in comfortably, using the same verb tense and subject as the preceding sentence. When they do, the reader supplies the missing words without thinking about it.
Here’s an example from my friend Maryn Sinclair:
They stepped into a marble-floored elevator, paneled with some kind of exotic wood. Laura surreptitiously brushed her fingers across the richly glossed grain. Some people in the world find this kind of elegance commonplace. An everyday occurrence. Not her.
An everyday occurrence follows the same thought as the preceding sentence. The subject and verb are understood [to some people, elegance is] an everyday occurrence. Not her is the second fragment. It continues the same line of thought. She doesn’t find this elegance commonplace. When the fragments are used properly, it’s smooth and clear and the reader unconsciously supplies the missing words.
Maryn could have written all the words and not used the fragments at all.
Laura surreptitiously brushed her fingers across the richly glossed grain. Some people in the world find this kind of elegance commonplace. [They found it] an everyday occurrence. [But Laura didn’t find elegance commonplace,] not her.
Then it becomes cumbersome and overdone and the flow is lost. So when you look back at what you’re reading or writing, consider how it could be said. Would it be helped by leaving a few words to the reader’s imagination? Or are fragments there and misused? Do they fit with the flow of the idea?
How do you feel about them? Love them? Hate them? Do you know how to use them?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Romantic Suspense, Anyone?

Today my guest is romantic suspense author Chris Redding with an excerpt from her book The Drinking Game. Try it--you'll like it!

My son is an aspiring filmmaker. We often talk about directors and actors. We see movies together. It’s a love we share. It’s nice that at 16 he will still share this with me.

He gave me the inspiration for this blog post. If one of my books was made into a movie, who would act in it and who would direct?

Christopher Nolan is my son’s favorite director. I’ve watched Inception and Prestige with my son and loved them. So I guess he’s my favorite director also. His movies all have multiple layers which I enjoy. My brain just works that way.

I decided to pick The Drinking Game. It’s out on Kindle and print on Amazon right now. Go buy it. I’ll wait.


Got it. Good. You’ll find it is a thriller with many layers to it. Like I said, it’s how my brain works.

So if The Drinking Game was made into a movie, I would have Christopher Nolan direct it. Hands down. I think he could do justice to it. He might even make it better than the book which I think very few movies are.

For my hero, Sean Gaudette, Christian Bale would be my first choice. Having seen him in a few movies, I find him extremely talented. I think he could capture the darkness of Sean.

For my heroine, well, this was a tougher choice. Jennifer O’Grady is a redhead and there are fewer of those. She’s prissy and statuesque. Nicole Kidman would be too mature. Amy Adams isn’t tall, but she probably could play the part successfully.

All set. Now I just have to wait for Hollywood to come calling.

Sean wrenched the wheel of his police-issue sedan and had to slam on the breaks when the car in front of him stopped short. “Wouldn’t want to ram that Porsche.” His insurance rates would double.
The car moved and Sean followed it up another floor. It pulled into the spot reserved for the Prosecutor’s Office. Stunned, he stared at the taillights from a moment.
“What the—”
He jammed the stick into “park” and flew out of the car. A redhead with legs up to her neck disembarked, and when she saw him, her hand went to her purse. Planting a hand on his hip, he made sure she could see his gun under his arm. “That’s reserved parking.”
Closing the door, she turned to face him fully, obviously not impressed by his sidearm. “I know. I have business with that office.” Her gaze never wavered and he wondered briefly if she was a cop. Her flat shoes that only a nun would wear, combined with the crisp peach suit, didn’t convince him. Probably a shrink.
“You still can’t park there.”
She made an obvious look past him and pointed. “There’s a spot opening up behind you.”
A car started and he looked where she indicated. Sure enough, someone was pulling out. Maybe on a normal day, he’d let it pass. Unfortunately for the redhead that he’d consider taking to bed, this was not a normal day. He’d found his partner dead last night. Only caffeine kept him upright at the moment.
To top it off, his boss didn’t want him on a crime scene he should work, because he was the best.
His gaze swung back to her. She locked her car and dropped her keys into a black leather briefcase. “Problem solved,” she said and flashed him a practiced smile.
“No, it’s not.” She had torqued him now.
The smile fell off of her face and she visibly stiffened.
“You still parked where you shouldn’t have,” Sean said and took a step toward her. His height of just over six feet usually intimidated people. Standing only inches shorter then he was, she remained nonplussed.
But he wasn’t ready to let it go. “What do you want at the Prosecutor’s Office?”
Her lips formed a straight line before she said, “That’s none of your business.”
Sean hitched up his pants, then wondered why men thought that macho. Instead he fixed his gaze even more securely on her dazzling green eyes. He bet she charmed her way out of lots of speeding tickets with those eyes. She didn’t blink. She didn’t even try to flirt with him, as if she knew she was in the right. Arrogant bitch.
“If you’re done with your macho posturing, I have someone to see.”
Shoulders squared, she brushed past him to the elevator. He stared at her back in disbelief. Had she just dismissed him?
Screeching into the parking place, Sean locked the car and hurried to catch up with her. He stepped onto the elevator with her.
Her gaze took him in, but she showed no reaction. He probably was a sight with hollow eyes and a caffeine buzz going. He straightened his tie.
“Since you obviously work for the Prosecutor, maybe you could help me.”
“Help?” He leaned belligerently against the wall. This chick has balls. “Why should I help you?”
“The words ‘To serve and protect’ come to mind.”
He whistled. “Next you’re going to give me the speech about how you pay my salary.”
Author Chris Redding
She brushed a hair out of her face with one creamy white hand. “Hardly, since I don’t live here. I don’t pay taxes here, therefore not your salary.” She waved a hand. “Never mind. I’ll find him on my own,” she said and turned to the front of the elevator.
There’s that dismissal again, as if people followed her orders without question.
A long, thin nose complemented her profile. Reddish blond hair seemed to go in all directions out of her hair band. She stood with her pink lips pressed together, maybe afraid of what words would escape from them.
“Who?” Sean asked, his curiosity getting the best of him. What business could a looker like this have at his office? And could he get her phone number? Might be an interesting challenge to see this woman lose it while underneath him. A delicious chill went through him.
Not his usual type, mind you. This lady was a tall glass of water. Sean preferred shots, easily consumed and just as easily forgotten. He’d be too curious as to what she looked like the next morning to slink out in the middle of the night.
Her head turned back to him. “Who?”
“Who are you looking for?”
She looked him up and down as if deciding if he really wanted to help. Taking a piece of paper that had been folded in exact fourths out of her pocket, she opened it and scanned the words. “His name is Detective Sean Gaudette.”
He stared at her as the doors opened onto the ground floor of the parking deck. She put a long-fingered hand out to keep the door open. “Do you know him?”
He brushed past her then turned to look at her. “Lady, you’re looking at him.”


Chris Redding lives in New Jersey with her husband, two sons, one dog and three rabbits. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in Journalism. When she isn’t writing, she works part time for her local hospital.

Chris's next book, A View to a Kilt, is due in September from Echelon Press.
Chris Redding on the web:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Creating a Story from Pictures

This is a little exercise to jump-start your creative juices. When you need a fresh idea, try gathering a series of pictures. Look at real estate ads, websites, or movie scenes and choose a house. Or it could be a desert or a forest--anyplace that appeals to you.

Hollywood-creative commons and Charleston

Now choose a few compatible-seeming characters with similar dress and looks. I like the expressions on these faces. They make the ideas flow.

Shelley and Jack

Move the characters into the house.

Sit down at the dinner table with your residents. What do you see happening? Maybe simple bickering, but nothing too exciting.

So stir it up. Find a character who appears to be totally out of place with the first group, someone who'll jerk them out of complacency. (Just to avoid so many awkward pronouns, I’ll give the person an androgynous name: Terry.)

Image: photostock /
 Move Terry into the house and have Terry join the group at the table. What happens? Why is Terry there? What could bring such a person into this house?  What sort of conflict arises from Terry’s presence? You should have the beginning of a story.

I’ve used pictures that suit me, but you could adapt this exercise to any kind of story that appeals to you. It could be a battle zone with weary soldiers, and something completely out of place appears (depending on the type of story, there should be some logical explanation though) to totally change the direction of the story. The same kind of thing could apply to a story in progress that’s sagging—throw in something unexpected and see what happens. How do the characters react? How does it affect the storyline? There are so many possibilities, and for me, pictures help trigger my imagination.

How do you do it? Would this sort of exercise work for you?