Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo's Done...Now What?

By Debbie Maxwell Allen

November 30th. The last day of NaNoWriMo. You may have a complete book in your hands, or a good start on one.

What do you do next?

Do you send it off to an agent or editor and sit back to wait for a contract? Do you start the sequel? Or set up a fan page on Facebook?

Typing "the end" is really just the beginning. When I began writing several years ago, I mistakenly thought that finishing my novel gave me the right to look for an agent immediately. These days, agents want to see work that is polished, not a first draft. And seasoned writers will tell you that the real writing happens in revision. It's when words are finally out of your head and on the page that you can actually do something with them.

Photo Courtesy of stock.xchng
There are many things you can do once you finish your novel, but I've boiled them down to three essentials.

Rest. Set your manuscript aside for a month before you begin. You need a little distance from it. Start brainstorming a new novel, or take the time to flesh out some of the short story ideas that may have popped into your head during NaNoWriMo.

Revise. Now it’s time to open that file. Writing teacher and author James Scott Bell suggests printing a manuscript out and reading it like you would someone else's book. It's surprising how much I miss when I edit on the computer. Keep a pad of sticky notes handy to mark passages that need work. For more tips on revisions, check this NaNoWriMo page.

Books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Manuscript Makeover, and Revision and Self-Editing can help you know what to look for in your manuscript. Once you've combed your manuscript several times, and have improved it to the best of your ability, it's time for the next step.

Other Eyes. This is where you step out (perhaps with fear and trembling) and let other people read your novel. Family and friends do not count. It's important to get honest feedback from people who already know how to write. Your friends will only be impressed that you actually wrote a novel, and most will think it's great, no matter how many problems there are with your plot.

No, what you need are people who are strangers. People who will share the truth about what works and what needs changing. People who aren't worried about hurting their relationship with you. You'll win in two ways: your manuscript will become stronger, and you'll develop the thick skin you need for the road ahead. If you're looking for a critique group, Pikes Peak Writers has some excellent ones to choose from.

Where are you at with your novel? Resting, revising, or revealing?

About the Author:  Debbie Maxwell Allen writes young adult historical fantasy in the Rocky Mountains. She blogs about free resources for writers at

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sweet Success! Karen Lin

Today only, our own Karen Albright Lin will have a piece of horror flash fiction entitled "More, More, More!" featured on Nth Degree, the Fiction and Fandom 'Zine.  (

Please be aware that her piece is adult in nature.

Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Critique Group Bloodshed

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

January, 2006, thats the first time I submitted my fiction to a critique group.  My very first session, I got lambasted and it took me literally two months to recover.  I was a sensitive child.  Too sensitive.  Part of being a writer is thickening the callous on your soul.

Here we are, nearly seven years later, and I took my brand new first chapter to my brand new critique group and wham, I got hit with bricks, bats, and bombshells.  At least that’s what it felt like.  I left distraught.  Had I learned anything in seven years?  Did my debut novel not teach me anything?  Would I ever improve?

I spent the night shaking my fist at heaven when I wasn’t wringing my hands in the basement.

I think the number one problem with being a human being is our faulty memories.  At least my memory is faulty.  I had forgotten that 10% of the critique is listening to comments at the critique session.  90% of the work is done by myself, with what I call the committee.

The committee is my innate genius (um, Im using that word liberally) that knows when a critique is right on and when I can skip it.  Even in my critique group of extremely successful writers, every comment is not gold.  Some are brass.  Some are porcelain.  And some are what goes into the porcelain.

Now, after my first chapter shellacking, it didnt take me two months to recover.  The very next day, after a hard night of fist-shaking and nightmares about red pens, I took the comments from my critique group, sat down, and got to work.

On the pages, no one had written, “Aaron, you suck!”  See, my memory was bad.  I could have sworn the night before, someone had said those very words.  But they didn’t.  It was a normal critique.  Some good.  Some bad.  Most just normal stuff.  My emotional reaction was completely unwarranted.  Yes, my first chapter had serious problems, but problems can be fixed.  Always.  With an open mind and a few drops of innate genius.

And do you know what the final solution was to my poor opening?  I went back to my original first chapter, the one that I wrote but thought was too literary.  Since my current work in progress is epic, I opened with a call to the muse, disguised as the Virgin Mary.  Hail Mary, full of luck, give me a chapter that doesn’t suck.
My friend Mario just says thank you during critique.  We love his stuff.  Thank you.  We hate his stuff.  Thank you.  Just thank you.  And that’s the best thing to say because I won’t know what’s true or what’s false until I get with the committee.  Then I’ll know. 
Like most of writing, 90% of the work is done by myself.  The other 10%?  Well, I just have to remember to say thank you.  And then not take myself or my emotions so seriously.
The committee, in the end, will be the final word.

About the Writer:  YA Paranormal author Aaron Michael Ritchey has penned a dozen manuscripts in his 20 years as a writer.  When he isn’t slapping around his muse, Aaron cycles to look fabulous, works in medical technologies, and keeps his family in silks and furs.  His first novel, The Never Prayer, hit the streets on March 29, 2012.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pictures Could be Worth a Thousand Fines

By Stacy S. Jensen

Do you use photos on your blog? Yes.

Do you know what happened to Author Roni Loren? If the answer is no, take time to read her post from July: Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued for Using Pics on Your Blog — My Story

Think I’m trying to scare you? Yes, I am.

Loren, a romance writer, shares an expensive lesson about how her random use of photos resulted in a photographer asking her to remove his picture and demand compensation for its use.

This doesn’t mean you have to pay for photos. It means you should have permission to use a photo. Just because a photo pops up after a Google search, doesn’t mean it's free. There are plenty of low-cost or free ways for writers to use photos on his or her blog.

The work around to the “can I use this photo on my blog question:”
  • ·    Take your own photos with a camera phone or a real camera.
  • ·    Create graphics using iPad or Android apps.
  • ·    Ask a friend going on vacation to take pictures and give you permission to publish them on your blog.
  • ·    Visit free or low fee sites for stock images. Writer August McLaughlin shared a list of sites to search for photos in her post Blog Images Made Easy: Tips From a Non-Graphic Artist 
  • ·    Use word clouds to create a graphic.

I’ve seen some bloggers use a specific style of photo with blog posts like pictures of children, flowers or dogs, instead of finding a photo to convey a specific blog post message. Others sort through stock photo resources for the “just right” photo to go with a blog post. Be sure to read the fine print for agencies on how you can use and alter the photo for your publication.

Flower drawn in the Art Rage app for the iPad. Special tools needed — the app, a finger, an iPad and iPhoto to crop the image.

I’m somewhere in the middle in my blog photo search.  My first choice is to use my own photos. Then, there’s no question about who owns them.

I’m too disorganized to use stock photo sites most days, due to the time involved to search for photos or my inability to remember passwords for multiple sites.

During the A-to-Z Challenge in April, I found myself desperate for a picture of an elevator. I didn’t like the options a stock agency had, so I asked my brother-in-law in another state to snap a picture for me at his office. He did. In less than an hour, a photo arrived in my inbox and was ready for a blog post.

When my sister traveled overseas, I asked her to take random photos to use on my blog. When I use her pictures, I give her credit.

Credit doesn’t make it okay to use a photo. You need permission to use a photo or DO NOT use it.

I enjoy how photos enhance blog posts and add to the message a blogger is sharing. Of course, I’d rather see a blank spot than read that my favorite blogger was sued for using a photo without permission.

Where do you get photos for your blog posts?

About the Author: Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and revises a memoir manuscript. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and toddler.
Blog: Twitter: @StacySJensen

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sweet Success! C.L. Roth

C.L. Roth's (a.k.a. Carol Englehaupt's) middle-grade fantasy novel, Cosmic Shift (ISBN: 978-0-9846619-0-9, softcover and paperback, 248 pages), will be released by C.L. Roth Publishing on November 22, 2012. The book will be available through Kindle, Nook, and Amazon CreateSpace. The author's website is at

Bo Tanner and Mark Cooper anticipate a summer of fun when a strange rip in the sky spews dimensional renegades, pursuing Hunters, and a strange being known as Cosmos into Earth's atmosphere setting off a chain reaction that will change the world.

C. L. Roth is an artist, caregiver, and author. She's spent twenty-five years learning her crafts. She spent a year writing articles for her local newspaper, a job that taught her to write tight and meet her deadlines. She is a full-time caregiver for her son. Joshua was born with cerebral palsy, but much to C. L.'s surprise indicated a love of art and has become a very talented watercolor and acrylic artist. C. L. manages Our Home Studio, which showcases her son's artwork as well as rare pieces of her own work.

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pick a Flavor: Three Ways to Plot Your Novel

By Debbie Maxwell Allen 

Just as each of us lean toward a particular flavor of ice cream (or none at all), so it is with plotting our novels. You may just write freely, with no forethought, or develop pages of outlines. Today, we'll look at three ways to plot a novel. You just might hit on the perfect method.

Index Cards. The old standby is still going strong. This is probably the most popular method of plotting. Whether you use colored cards or plain white, they can be shifted around and added to until the plot is just right. I researched a few writers who do a great job of explaining how they plot with index cards.

Author and teacher Holly Lisle takes you step-by-step through Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure. With her system, you don't even have to have an idea of what's going to happen in your story. Also from Holly Lisle: a Plot Mini-Course sent to you via email.

Author Marilyn Byerly uses index cards and a more character-driven approach to come up with a great plot. Once you know your characters well, inventing conflict for them is easy. Check out Using Index Cards to Plot a Novel.

Writer Phoebe A. Durand posts on A Guide to Creating Changeable Novel Outlines. If you have small children who like to shuffle your cards, or worry the wind will scatter them, don't worry. You can use the virtual index cards in the free trial of Scrivener, a great writing program. 

Sticky Notes. These little squares have a lot going for them. They're bright and colorful, and they won't get mixed up if a draft blows through. Here are a few ways to make use of them.

Author Sara Cypher uses sticky notes to plan around a plot arc and a theme at the same time. Her method is very visual, and I plan to try her How to Plot a Novel soon.

Farrah Rochon, with Novel Spaces, starts with making notes on "what has to happen" and "possible scenes". She then makes a poster with a story arc and uses different colors to keep track of characters. Check out the photos in How I Plot a Novel. 

And Holly Bodger has an ingenious method for keeping track of your main plot and your subplots, so you won't leave any loose threads in Creating a Plot Graph for Your Novel

Virtual Plotting. Besides the virtual index cards in the Scrivener Software, there are several programs that allow writers to visually map all their ideas for plot and character right on the computer. This is perfect for writers without a lot of space to spread out, or who want to carry their ideas along with them.

Author Simon Haynes uses FreeMind software (a free download) to plan his novels. Using screenshots, he takes you through the steps he uses to plot his novel.

John Barnett also uses FreeMind software, and has created a YouTube video to take writers step-by-step through his plotting method. 

Or, you can try outlining like author Janet Evanovich, who describes her method as "the easy way".

If you need a few more tips, especially for NaNoWriMo, check out Jennifer Blanchard's Tools to Help You Plot Your NaNoWriMo Novel. Great info.

You might also be interested in free resources from the Plot Whisperer, a free course in 20 Master Plots, or free plot tools from Save the Cat. And a popular method for NaNoWriMo's is Rubik's Cube Plotting in 9 Easy Steps.

So how do you plot your novel? Let us know in the comments.

Debbie Maxwell Allen writes young adult historical fantasy in the Rocky Mountains. She blogs about free resources for writers at

Monday, November 19, 2012

Three Steps to Building a Minor Character

By DeAnna Knippling

Let's say you're writing a book.  Hard to imagine, especially during National Novel Writing Month, but bear with me here.

You have a minor character--a witness in a courtroom.  How do you write your description?

If you're running on autopilot, you write something like this:  "He was tall--about 5' 11"--with blond hair and blue eyes, looking relatively fit."  Which sounds like a police report.  Or a checklist: gender, height, hair/eye color (i.e., race), weight.

This gets boring after a while, both as a writer and as a reader, because every single minor character becomes a checklist.  Male/female, tall/short, dark/light coloring, heavy/average/skinny.  What else is there to say?  Lots of things.

But what?  And how can you do it without building an entire, time-consuming character dossier?  Or without sounding repetitive?

I have three steps for you:

1.      Decide what the constraints are of your story.  Is it a serious mystery or a black comedy?  Is the story about family, love, adventure, what?
2.      Pick three unique traits for your minor character that don't go outside the constraints of your story. (This means only one character can be "tall," too.)
3.      Hint at each of the traits three times.

The first step should be pretty obvious: you might not want to build a class-clown, sassy old deaf lady witness in the middle of a serious courtroom drama; you might run your story off the rails. 

However, there's a neat implication to this first step.  If you know the themes of your story, like "Sometimes you have to take justice into your own hands," you can build a witness who emphasizes your theme, just by the way you describe them.  I'll get to that later.

The second step is more complex.  At its easiest, you can just pick any three things that fit within the context of your story.  The things can be physical traits, habits, philosophies, interests--anything.  Your witness could be a) from Texas, b) a lover of classical music, and c) dry-skinned, all of which would fit within the context of a serious courtroom drama.  A caution--you can pick physical traits, but you want to stay away from physical clues (like wearing a ten-gallon hat or a Texas drawl) at this phase.  You want something easy to figure out from obvious clues; you don't want the clues themselves yet.

The third step is the fun part.  As you write, include clues for each of the three traits, three times, in three different ways.  For our witness, you could say that he has a ten-gallon hat that he carries with him, a Texas drawl, and a certain graciousness toward the ladies (including the judge).  And he hums to himself, smiles at a lawyer's bad pun about Bach, and is nodding in time to someone else's tapped foot.  And he scratches his arm, has a tube of flowery-smelling lotion in his pocket, and chews on the peeling skin of his lips, almost as though he were nervous. 

What you don't want to do, by the way, is list all three clues pointing toward the same trait together.  You want to mix them up: Gerald Kinnerly swore himself in with a proud, drawling 'Amen' on the Bible, then climbed up to the witness's stand and chewed on his lips while the defense lawyer flipped through some papers.  After a while, [the main character] realized he was humming to himself.  For a moment she couldn't place it--but then it came to her.  Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

You can do one or two clues at a time, too.  You just have to use each trait three times.

Why three things?  Why three times?

It comes down to the human brain:  one, we tend to get confused if there are too many moving parts, and two, we tend to create patterns (even if none exist).

Why three things?  If a minor character has three different traits, there are seven ways to combine them (for our purposes, the order doesn't matter): one trait at a time (A, B, C), two traits at a time (AB, BC, AC), and all three of them together (ABC).  With two traits, there are three ways to combine them, and with one, only one way.  With four traits, there are fifteen ways to combine them.  And five traits, thirty-one ways to combine them. 

We don't want complexity in a minor character--we want interesting.  Three traits, with seven ways to combine them is interesting, because we can remember, on average, about seven things in our short-term memories: thus, phone numbers are seven digits long, aside from the area code.  Two things is too easy; four things, too complex.  Three is just right.

"Three things" is a handy rule of thumb for describing anything, actually: stick with three things at any given time...unless you want to hide a clue.  Then go for five or more things, and put the clue somewhere in the middle.  Most readers will remember the first two things and the last one or two things.  Want an example?  Read a description of a murder scene in a mystery.  There will be more than three things described; somewhere in the middle of the description will be the important clue.  Especially watch for lists of things all in the same paragraph or sentence:  She had one of those Jaime Lee Curtis bodies, with long, brass nails, and bronzed lips that drifted, ever so slightly, to the left when she talked, with a tiny Victorian hat pinned to her head, a leather bodice, and boots that were tipped with steel at the toe and at the very ends of the three-inch heels.

Catch the murder weapon?  Probably not, until I pointed out there was one.

Why three times? The first number that we tend to see patterns three.  Like Ian Fleming said, "Once is an accident.  Twice is coincidence.  Three times is enemy action."  When something happens once in our lives--like getting hit by lightning--we call it a miracle, a tragedy, or just something completely random.  When it happens twice, we're on the fence; it might have been coincidence...we tend to group that kind of thing as "luck." 

But when it happens three times, we see a pattern, and we start coming up with explanations for it.  If your buddy gets hit by lightning three times, well.  They must have an overcharged human electrical system or something.  It doesn't really matter if the explanation is true or not--once we "see" a pattern, we invent a reason for it.  Scientists have to fight against jumping to conclusions from apparent patterns; we, as writers, might as well use that tendency to our advantage.

Why not more than three times?  You can, but with caution.  Once we see a pattern, if the pattern keeps repeating, we either get annoyed at it, mock it, or tune it out.  Let's say we know someone who gets struck by lightning every six weeks, like clockwork.  We stop thinking of it as interesting, instead seeing it as something that we can take for granted.  And if the reader can take a single word in your book for granted--why write it?  The reader is paying you to be interesting!  And how often is this minor character going to show up, anyway?  Is it really a minor character?

Now...there are reasons to break a rule of three for a character.  Once you have a reader's expectations set with a pattern (three things), then you can mess with the pattern.  Want to hide a murderer, but not so deep that a reader will never figure it out?  Set up a pattern of three traits/three times, just like you would any other minor character, and then have them do one thing that clearly violates the pattern you've set up. 

The subtlety of subtext.

Among writers, subtext is generally used as "the real subject of a conversation."  For example, your characters are ostensibly arguing about whether to plant tomatoes or potatoes next spring, but they're really arguing about whether to stay married.  However, that's a limited view of subtext.  For writers, subtext is any underlying theme, used in any part of writing. 

For our purposes, if you know your theme (some writers would rather have it emerge organically; if so, you can use the same technique while editing to make sure you didn't go off-theme while you're editing), you can build it into the three traits for minor characters.

Let's say your theme is "The justice system is broken."  Three traits we could pick for our witness could be a) is rich, b) hates the defendant, and c) feels bulletproof because of her Mafioso brother-in-law. 

When you build subtext into your minor characters using character traits, you can be really obvious or really subtle--whatever fits your style.  Just remember that overusing subtext can make your story feel like a rant, for better or worse.  For a more toned-down character, you might want a) is rich, b) has bad memories of going through the justice system as a teen, and c) is somewhat rude to everyone, as a defensive mechanism.

In the end...

Minor characters are a minor tool, and you don't want to spend all day drafting out the backstories of every hairdresser, dog-walker, and butler in your story.

You first want to make sure your minor characters don't derail the story.  Second, you want to make sure they're interesting.  Third, you want to repeat the themes of your story, as appropriate. 

So grab three character traits that won't derail your story, that might even reflect your theme, and run with them: but don't run too far, or you'll end up with a minor character that spins off into another book.

Wait a minute...

About the Writer: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at SmashwordsB&NAmazon, and OmniLit.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Rocking the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference

By MB Partlow

Who is going to rock it, April 19-21, 2013?

Everyone who attends.

Our keynotes? Oh, yeah. We've got Libba Bray, Barry Eisler, David Liss and Amber Benson. Rock stars in their fields, one and all.

Editors? Only the best, from the likes of Del Ray, Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, Sourcebooks and Bell Bridge Books. These are the people who know the industry inside and out.

What about agents? We've got half a dozen coming. You know what they want? They want pitches! When do they want them? At our Conference!

This year's theme is Writing From the Ashes: Never Lose Sight of Your Dreams. Everybody hits a bump in the road. Or two. Or twelve. Every. Body. Some bumps are the size of pebbles, and some look more like a mountain range, but we all hit them. We want our conference to inspire you to pick yourself up after one of these bumps and keep on writing.

You can pitch your completed manuscript to an agent or editor at no additional cost! This is one-on-one face time, and we fill the slots on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that the earlier you register, the better your chance of getting one of the agents or editors you want.

You can participate in one of our Read and Critique sessions. Unfamiliar with R&C? No problem. With R&C Author, you get a small setting, where you read your first page to a published author. With R&C X, you read your first page to an agent or editor. In R&C 123, our designated reader will read your first page to a panel consisting of one agent, one editor and one published author. Every single one is an opportunity for immediate feedback.

Back by popular demand is Thursday Add-on Programming. The topics this year cover writing personal nonfiction, writing historical fiction, pitching, the query letter lab, publicity and more. You'll get two 3-hour workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, plus a box lunch. That is a bargain!

Have I mentioned that registration is now officially open?  It is!  For all the juicy details, updates and a link to the registration page, please visit

And don't forget to stay tuned to this space. We'll have a Conference Countdown every third Friday of the month, plus in-depth interviews with as many of the faculty as we can fit in!

Make plans now to join us for the 2013 PPW Conference. We'll have something for writers at every stage of their career, and you get to spend an entire weekend rubbing elbows with the best kind of people we know--other writers.

(And could someone please loan me an exclamation point or two? I've used up at least three months' allotment here.)

MB Partlow
2013 PPWC Programming Director

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Question Is...

By Mandy Houk

As a creative writing teacher and frequent conference and workshop attendee, I’ve seen my share of character interviews. You know the ones I’m talking about:

“What is your favorite tv show?”
“Are you an only child?”
“What was your most embarrassing moment?”
“Do you floss?”

I don’t mean to be flippant--I actually enjoy character interviews. I use them with my classes, and I use them with my own characters. I don’t necessarily answer each and every question, but I do use the questions that I find helpful and intriguing.

Sometimes the questions trigger ideas for new plot points, or even new characters that lead to huge complications (aka: story). “Recall your scariest childhood memory” resulted in the creation of a horrible playground bully that impacted the lives of not just my main character, but two other major characters, as well. (Side note: in my scary childhood memory, kumquats played a major role. Since it’s difficult to sell kumquats as frightening, in my story they morphed into rocks and unripe pine cones. Behold the power of fiction.)

Sometimes the answers to character interview questions are just fun. They allow me to see my character a little more clearly, even if the details don’t make it into the manuscript. “What’s your biggest pet peeve?” or “Are you ticklish?”

There’s something about knowing the useless details about a character that makes them feel more like a real, tangible individual, at least in my mind. How many useless details do you know about your best friend? Your spouse? Your mom? Details foster familiarity, and familiarity is never a bad thing to foster between an author and a character.

When I’m aiming to get to the heart of things, though, I have two go-to questions, each with natural follow-ups. These questions allow me to see to the core of my characters, and to determine exactly what type of torture to put them through so that their natures are revealed, or their hearts are changed.

1. What is your greatest fear?
            a. What, if anything, would cause you to willingly face that fear?
            b. If there’s no answer to “a”, why not?

2. What is your deepest desire?
            a. Is there anyone/anything for whom/which you’d sacrifice that desire?
            b. If there’s no answer to “a”, why not?

My protagonist’s answers to these questions changed everything for him and for my book. Normally, he’s rock-steady, which makes him infinitely lovable, just not exactly scintillating. But these questions revealed his triggers (hint: he didn’t need to answer ‘b’ on either one), which helped me identify exactly what had to happen in my book to force him to do something bold, something dangerous.

In a completely different way, my antagonist pretty much laughed at both of the ‘a’ questions. And his answers to ‘b’ helped me define exactly how he would react to all the actions of my protagonist and other characters.

In short, I went from a story concept with characters that I felt I knew, and knew I loved, to an actual story, with conflict and tension and believable (I hope) resolution. Not bad for a couple of questions, right?

Try these questions out for yourself and see what happens. And, as with any interview questions, tweak them to your liking.

About the Writer:  Mandy Brown Houk is a freelance writer and editor, and she teaches at a small private high school in Old Colorado City. She's written for several magazines and anthologies, and has completed two novels--only one of which is worthy of the light of day. Mandy's work is represented by Sally LaVenture at Warner Literary Group. Her web site is

Monday, November 12, 2012

Story Tips #2 - Three Act Structure

By Jax Hunter

Welcome to the second installment of Story Tips From the Big Screen.  This monthly column (to be posted the second Monday of each month) explores screen writing techniques that will help fiction writers tell a better story. 

***   ***   ***   ***

Did I wear you all out last month?  I hope not.  This month, I promise to be a bit more reasonable. 

Screenwriters learn early on that most screenplays are based on three act structure, a paradigm that goes back to Aristotle’s Poetics, written in 350 B.C.

The simplest restatement of three act structure is: Beginning, Middle and End.

There’s a saying found in many screenwriting sources that is variously credited to many different people.  “In Act I, you get your hero up a tree.  In Act II, you throw rocks at him.  In Act III, you get him out of the tree.”  We’ll look in greater detail at these three steps.  The rule of thumb in screenwriting, though, is that Act I is 25% of your play, Act II is 50%, and Act III is 25%.

Up a Tree:  
Act I gets your reader involved with your story, with your characters.  You use this section to introduce your characters, the setting, the goal and the obstacle.  Halfway through Act I, your protagonist will face or take on a problem.  Act I ends with the first plot point.

Plot points are defined by Syd Field (Screenwriting Workbook) as “an incident, episode, or event that ‘hooks’ into the action and spins it around into another direction.  It can be anything: a shot, a speech, a scene, a sequence, an action, anything that moves the story forward.”  It’s the first plot twist, the first real complication.   In the movie Braveheart, it’s the moment that Murron, our hero’s wife, is murdered.  Now the obstacle/problem becomes personal -  it is invested with real emotion.

Throw Rocks:
Act II heightens the emotional commitment to the story, both for the characters and for the reader.  In Act II,  you complicate everything.  This section has a pattern of rising action, each complication getting more threatening to the protagonist.  Along the way, our hero has more and more to lose.

Act II ends with the hero apparently defeated.  This is the black moment.  All is lost.

C’mon down, hero: 
In Act III we start from the darkest point - where all is lost and the hero makes a last ditch effort to get to his goal.  This is the final push to the climax.  The showdown.  Finally, the resolution brings a satisfactory end to the reader, even if it doesn’t bring the same to our hero.  In romances, the hero and heroine end up together.  In mystery and suspense, the good guy figures out who the bad guy is and, ultimately, defeats him.

Stuart Voytilla, in his book Myth and the Movies (closely related to Vogler’s Writer’s Journey) suggests that Acts I and III occur in the hero’s Ordinary World while Act II takes place in the Special World.
Dramatica Software’s manual describes the acts as journeys.  Act I takes the hero from the starting point, City A, to City B; Act II from City B to City C; Act III from City C to the destination, City D.

These are the basics of three act structure.  If I’m aiming toward a 300 page book, then I know that the first 75 pages will be Act I, pages 76 - 225 for Act II, and another 75 for the crisis and resolution.  Once I have these structural definitions, it’s easier to see how many scenes I’ll need along the way. 

Of course, this is just a model.  It’s a tool to use, not a recipe that you have to follow exactly.  I’ll leave you with one more restatement from Syd Field.  He speaks of the three acts as: Setup, Confrontation and Resolution.

Next month we’ll look at the two minute movie.  Until then, BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.)

Cheers, Jax   (

(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2004.)

About the Author: Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quote of the Week

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. -Norbet Platt

Friday, November 9, 2012

November News, Events & Links

Dear Readers,

We will have a new monthly feature, here at Writing From the Peak, where we share local events, PPW news, and helpful links that we have run across.  Our goal is to be a helpful resource to writers, and to continue supporting the writing community.

These links may include publications taking submissions, contests accepting entries, or enriching information.

After this month, this feature will run the first Friday of the month, so expect the next one on Friday, December 7.


Registration for the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference will open on Thursday, November 15.  Check back for more information on who will be speaking, and a link to the conference site.

Workshop proposals for the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference are still being accepted through December 1, 2012.  To submit a proposal, go to, click on the "PPWC" tab at the top of the page, then click on "Submit Proposal" to the right of that page.

The Pikes Peak Write Brain, always a free event, will occur Tuesday, November 20, from 6:30 to 8:30 P.M., at our wonderful new location, Penrose Library, Carnegie Reading Room, 20 North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80903.  There's plenty of parking, and it's free after 6 P.M.  The theme of the Write Brain is Fire it Up! A Writer's Guide to Firefighting, presented by our very own Robin Widmar.  For more information, please see the bottom of this post.

PPW Night at Poor Richard's, which will be Monday, November 26, from 6:30 to 8:30 P.M., in the bookstore.  Come enjoy wine, chocolate and coffee, and chat about writing.  Open to topics of discussion and questions.

There will be no Critique Night this month, but be sure to put it on your calendar for Wednesday, December 19.

We are hosting NaNoWriMo events this month.  Please refer to this post for dates, times and location.


Lighthouse Writers has several workshops in November, as well as The Writer's Studio with Junot Diaz.  Most of the Diaz events are sold out, but you can still attend the benefit dinner on Saturday, November 10 at 7:00 PM.

The Monument branch of the Pikes Peak Library District is hosting author Kevin J. Anderson this Sunday, November 11, from 2 to 4.  He'll be talking about growing up in a small town and wanting to be a writer, and his journey to becoming one of the most popular authors in the field today.  Copies of his novels will be available for purchase and signing.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will be featuring our very own columnist, Aaron Michael Ritchey, in The Dance of the Divine: Where Story Arc and Character Arc Meet, Saturday, November 17, 1-3 P.M., at the Arvada Public Library.  He's a fantastic speaker, entertaining and informative.  You won't want to miss this!   This is a free event.

The November event for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America has already passed, but they will be holding their Lumber Baron Inn Holiday Dinner Theater Event December 13.

Please note: Inclusion of links in this post does not equal sponsorship by Pikes Peak Writers or a relationship between the two entities.  Please always be sure to pursue due diligence before submitting anything to a publication or contest.

The Pedestal Magazine is open for submissions of poetry through December 13.  This is a paying market.

White Cat Publications is accepting submissions on their three magazines (soon to be four).  This link will take you to a main guidelines page, where you can peruse each of the magazines.

Vine Leaves Literary Journal is currently taking submissions for their January issue.  Paying market.  Deadline:  November 30.  They accept prose, novel excerpts, poetry, artwork and photography, and reviews.

Static Movement, an e-zine, is accepting prose and poetry in the genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror.  Non-paying market.

Eye Trauma Press is looking for submissions of Horror short stories for their Sanitarium Magazine.  Non-paying at this time, but you get a free copy, and they hope to pay in the future.

Stymie Magazine is taking submissions of sports-themed pieces.  They are looking for unique variations on the theme.  Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photographs and creative non-fiction.  

Potomac Review is currently in their open submission window for poetry, prose, art and photographs.  Window closes May 1.

PANK Magazine is open for submissions through November 30.  Poetry, prose, book reviews and blog posts.

eSteampunk is taking submissions of short stories, poetry, articles, serials, book reviews, interviews, and artwork.

The Pikes Peak Branch of the National League of American Pen Women has announced their theme for the 2013 Flash Fiction Contest.  $10 entry, cash prizes.  Theme: Hidden Amongst These Worlds.

Bookus Publishing has two contests running: A Very Short Fiction Contest, closing on November 10, and the Water Danger Humour Novella Competition, closing November 30.

Monkey Puzzle Press is holding their Fourth Annual Flash Fiction Contest.  $10 entry, cash prize.  Deadline: November 15.


"Fire It Up! A Writer's Guide to Firefighting"

November Write Brain
When: Tuesday, November 20, 6:30-8:30 P.M.
Where: Penrose Library, Carnegie Reading Room, 20 North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80903
There's plenty of parking, and it's free after 6 P.M.

Always free!

When it comes to firefighting in fiction, where is the line between entertainment and reality? What do writers get right – and wrong – in scenes involving fire and firefighters? Find out in the November Write Brain session “Fire It Up! A Writer's Guide to Firefighting.”

Using examples pulled from fiction, TV, and movies, retired firefighter Robin Widmar will discuss what firefighting is really like. Writers will discover the most common firefighting inaccuracies in fiction – and how not to make those kinds of mistakes! They will also learn why fire behaves differently in Hollywood productions than in real life, what all that equipment is used for, and what life is like in the station and on the fireground.

Robin Widmar is a retired Colorado Springs firefighter who now works in emergency management. She holds an AAS in Fire Science Technology and covers the Falcon Fire Protection District for The New Falcon Herald. Her current writing projects include a writer’s reference guide to firefighting, and a contemporary fantasy involving dragons.

You can visit Robin at her blog, The World Needs a Proofreader.

Any questions on these events or links?  If you belong to an organization that is taking submissions, hosting a writing contest or presenting a workshop or other enrichment for writers, locally, please email the editor at editor [at] pikespeakwriters [dot] com.

About the Writer:  Shannon Lawrence is a mom of two, a freelance writer and aspiring novelist.  She lives in Colorado Springs and is inspired by the beauty of Pikes Peak and the Rockies.  After years of letting her writing fall by the wayside, she has recently thrown herself back into it.  Her main focus is fantasy and horror and she has just finished a Young Adult Fantasy novel.  She has a flash fiction piece featured in the anthology Sunday Snaps: The Stories, due out in late November 2012.  She has also discovered a love of photography and enjoys photographing the breathtaking Colorado scenery and wildlife, as well as her children.  She blogs about reading, writing and photography at

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Novels with a Beat

By Deb McLeod

Our October Writer’s Book Club featured Rebecca Green Gasper who introduced us to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheets for screenwriting. We analyzed The Hunger Games and used the 15-point story arc to better see the shape of the story.

I’ve used the three-act structure as well as the journey as a plotting tool with my clients. But this was the first time I’d seen this 15-point story arc. The Hunger Games fit the beat sheet perfectly. We could easily identify the beats of the story and they conformed to the story arc in the Beat Sheet.

The theme was stated early in the novel. The main character, Katniss, stays within the rules. She is not a rebel. She’s hungry and people rely on her. She does what she has to do to survive. By the end of the book Katniss has become the face of the rebellion against a way of life that she can’t live under any longer. It’s a complete reversal. Her character follows the Beat Sheet arc.

After the book club I put my novel to the test. I downloaded a copy of the Beat Sheet and started filling it out. I had run into a wall of sorts just at the end of Act 2 and had been immersed in working my way out for about two weeks. When my energy for the work begins to wane that’s a signal to me that I took a wrong turn somewhere earlier in the plot. This was the perfect time for me to try the tool out.

My book is complicated. It’s the first of an eight-book thriller series. There are paranormal elements to it. There’s a love story and a conspiracy. There are plenty of characters, and there’s a B, C and a D story braided between the highs and lows of the A story.

Plotting has been a challenge.

First, I tried to slap the whole plot onto the Beat Sheet, but then I realized that I needed to pull apart the storylines and subplots and do a Beat Sheet for each one. Magical brilliance!!!

I started with the love story; the easiest to pull out and look at. The Beat Sheet fit all the way down to my stalling point. I had veered off the path right around the end of Act 2; I had forgotten my character’s theme.
At twenty-four, Macy Delacort has won at the game of life. She has everything a girl could want, but, in order to get it, she gave up an important part of her essence. Through the story she will begin to see exactly what her choices have cost her. By the end of the book she will learn to be true to herself and find her true love.

As I was writing scenes and moving in and out of all the other subplots, I forgot Macy’s theme and what her place was in the story. But now I had a plan. She’d been sidetracked from her mission. The challenge had faded and there was nothing to help her change by the end of the book.

Now I can see what I need to do. I still have scenes to think up and in plotting the other subplots as well as the main story, I might be able to find which scenes will give Macy an opportunity to lose everything but to get herself by the end of the story.

I have been so taken with this method that I hosted a Beat Party for some people who are about to do NaNoWriMo. We’d all like to have our road maps in place before we start so I met with a few people to teach them the Beat Sheet. We have plans to get together two or three more times and help each other beat out our plots before NaNo starts.

I never used to be a plotter. But I am now. It’s a wonderful feeling to know where you’re going and still leave room for surprises. I found the Beat Sheet to be a perfect tool for my book and just what I needed. Try it out. See if it works for you too. 

About the Writer:  Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach, co-founder and executive director of The Writing School. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.