Friday, February 28, 2014

Countdown to Conference - Taking Advantage

By M.B. Partlow

Take Advantage of Me!

Well, not me, personally. I have teenagers for that, thanks.

The "me" I speak of is the 2014 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. In particular, there are four different opportunities that offer a way to get some professional feedback on your work.

The first three are for those who haven't quite completed that manuscript.

For the absolute lowest stress possible, we offer R&C (Read & Critique) Author. This is a closed session, meaning the only people in the room are: the moderator, the published author giving feedback, and eight lucky attendees. You bring three copies of the first two pages of your manuscript. You may give the title and logline at the beginning. Example: "Bullwinkle Must Die is a noir mystery set in cyberspace. When someone threatens Bullwinkle's life, it's up to Boris and Natasha to save the day and prove their innocence." You read it aloud, seated at the table, and the author gives you immediate feedback and helpful comments. Because this is a smaller, more intimate setting, there's more interaction between you and the author in your session.

Our time-tested favorite is called R&C X. Why X? Why not? In this session, everyone who has signed up in advance will give two copies of their first page to the moderator. When your name is called, you stand up and state your title. It's acceptable to give your genre, perhaps word length, and a brief logline. Example: "Life Among the Frogs" is a 90,000 word romance. When a girl has kissed all the frogs in her hometown, where does she look for love?" Then you read that first page aloud. You may sit or continue to stand (your choice) while the agent or editor faculty member gives you their immediate feedback. This session is open, meaning anyone can attend. It's a great way to suss out an agent or editor you're going to be pitching to, which is why we allow audience members who are not participating in the R&C to attend. The agent or editor may ask you a question or two, but there's not really time for lengthy questions.

The latest and greatest is R&C 123. Similar to the X version, you hand over four copies of your first page to the moderator. It's perfectly acceptable to have the genre and logline at the top. Something like "The Litterbox Conundrum is Science Fiction. When all the cats on Earth reveal their hidden opposable thumbs, who will be left holding the business end of the pooper scooper?" Then our extremely talented designated reader will read the submissions, one by one, to a panel consisting of one agent, one editor and one published author. The panel will give feedback on their first impressions. No questions and no stress for the writer, because nobody knows who it is. You don't have to worry about your knees knocking or your voice cracking.

Two things to bear in mind about R&C  sessions. First, when you hand over your precious manuscript pages, they'd better be in standard manuscript format. You know the drill: 1-inch margins, 12-pt Times New Roman or Courier font, double spaced. The moderator makes sure that everyone involved gets their fair share of time, so you aren't going to slip in single-space 7-point font and get away with it. (Note: on the copy that will be read aloud, feel free to make the font as large as you want.) Second, we aren't able to match you with specific authors, editors and agents. We ask you to specify what genre you're interested in, and we match you up from there.

Wait. I said R&C was open to finished or unfinished manuscripts. What about Pitching?

Pitch is for those with completed manuscripts. You show up at the Pitch sign-in desk 5-10 minutes before your designated pitch time, so you have time for a breath mint and wiping your clammy palms on your jacket. You will be ushered into the pitch room in an orderly manner, where you'll find your designated editor or agent, introduce yourself, and tell them about your book. At the end of your designated time, you will be ushered out in an orderly manner. (We're on a tight schedule, so please don't make us get out the cattle prods to remove you from your seat.)

Before you dismiss the entire concept of traditional publishing and roles of agents and editors, think again. These are industry professionals. These are the people who work every single day with new authors. They know what's out there. They know the marketplace. They know what's been done a million times and, like it or not, they know if your storyline sounds unique and interesting or not. This is a great opportunity to practice speaking in a professional manner about your book. Just because an agent or editor says, "Send me your first 50 pages" doesn't mean you're committing yourself to that agent or that editor. But isn't it nice to have options? And get some skilled, experienced feedback?

There is a beauty to each of these approaches. In R&C Author, you get advice from a fellow author, someone who has been in your shoes and is rooting for you to succeed. In X, there is something terrifying and yet exhilarating about reading your work out loud to others. It gives you an ownership of your words like nothing else can. In 123, you will hear your words through someone else, and there is nothing more eye-opening. You will have an immediate sense of what you did right and what you can improve, because the words aren't filtered through the voice inside your own head. And preparing for Pitch will make sure you understand your work backward and forward.

If you've never tried a Pitch appointment or an R&C session, consider signing up for one (or both) on your registration form. You can find all the details at about format and formalities. You'll have fun, you'll step outside your comfort zone, and you'll come out of it with a better handle on your work. All that, and we don't charge extra for it!

About the Author: MB Partlow, 2013 Programming Director for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, is hard at work getting fantastic speakers and participants for the conference.  You can reach her at or find more information on the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference at

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ability to Write - Nature or Nurture? Part II

By Pete Klismet

In Part I of this article, I explained how important a person’s writing ability is to the eventual solution and prosecution of crimes. Having seen a lack of this over the course of many years, I decided to explore it in a more systematic manner.

Since research on the ability to write would be helpful, I decided to start mine by asking my wife a simple question. “Was your mother a good writer?” My wife and her sister both are excellent writers, more than able to convey their thoughts, whether in an email or some other form of written communication. For the record, my wife’s answer was “Yes.” I thought that was an excellent start to proving my theory that the ability to write is inherited, thus genetic.

Believing this topic deserved more extensive research, I asked myself, “Was my mom a good writer? How about my dad?” And the answer to both questions was an unequivocal “yes” for both, despite the fact that my dad had only an eighth grade education (the required standard for the time he was in school). Then I asked myself, “Are your kids good writers?” Again the answer was yes. So I quickly advanced my theory ahead a few more spaces on the board.

Then I asked myself, “Am I a good writer?” And the answer was “I think so.” I know when I was a police officer in California, some of my reports were deemed to be “legendary.” And I always enjoyed writing them. I enjoyed doing research papers in college and graduate school, seeing these as an opportunity to think outside the box. In the FBI it is said that only about ten percent of all agents can put together a complex investigation, explain it in reports, and then write a wiretap affidavit (which is basically longer than the worst term paper you ever did, and has to be reviewed by tons of lawyers). In twenty years, I wrote about ten of them. So apparently I was capable of writing at a high level while in the FBI. 

But, did being able to write good reports, search warrant and wiretap affidavits predict a good writing career? Those reports are generally narrative, and that type of writing doesn’t necessarily translate directly to an ability to write a novel. I found that out with the first book I wrote, which was deemed “horrible” by a literary agent after she read only part of one chapter. I was floored. Result: Writer’s block for about five years. I was a hopeless case. My self-esteem plummeted. My hopes and dreams of someday becoming a best-selling author were dashed. 

Or so I thought. I was living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at the time, and about twenty miles down the highway was the University of Iowa. Somehow, I found out about their famed Writer’s Workshop, and decided to see if I could attend. No problem. Pay the tuition, attend for two full weeks, and hopefully come out a better writer on the other end. And so I paid and attended. We did a lot of evaluating of each other’s work. When my chapter came up for review, it prompted an extensive lecture by our instructor. And finally the light bulb went on and glared brightly. I remember him saying, “You build a story by using action and dialogue.” You mean narrating won’t work? Nope. But I was really good at writing police reports and stuff like that. Doesn’t matter, that was narrating, and it doesn’t work if you’re trying to advance a story in a novel. Oh, now I understood why I got that scathing rejection – I can write great police reports, but that doesn’t translate to writing a book someone will want to read and which will hold their interest.

It was just the jolt I needed, but then came the problem of adapting my writing style to my newly-learned knowledge. You can’t tell a story with dialogue only, and if you revert to action, you’re back to narrating. This caused a significant paradigm shift for me. I had to see if I had the ability to blend both of these concepts together. And quickly learned it wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. There was going to be some work involved. I had to ask myself if I had the commitment. The only way to find out was to start writing again. But, don’t write fiction. I didn’t need to do that. All of my years in law enforcement, about fifteen by that time, gave me enough experiences to write more than one book. In fact, I now have about eight in my head. It’s a tight fit, in case you were wondering. 

I continued my research on the Internet and found there was no shortage of information about the ability to acquire language as an innate ability. But what most of that referred to was people being more able than others to learn new and different languages. I knew that didn’t apply to me and was not what I was trying to discover. I did, however, find some short articles about the ability to write being an inherited trait. Which I was very excited about, except that the answers were clearly maybe or maybe not. That didn’t advance my theory a whole lot, either.

I found a somewhat compelling blog by someone who calls himself “Rodismay.” The blog had a ton of advertising links, so his goal is apparently to teach people to be better writers and make money in the process. There were a number of comments by various people who said they felt their ability to write was “God-given.” Mr. Rodismay also commented, “When I am in the mood, one word heard or read can be expanded into more than 1000 words.” Hmmm, I thought, that sounds a lot like me (and surely some of you). It’s almost like being an alcoholic, by way of analogy: Once you start, you can’t stop. Maybe that’s not the best analogy. A better one might be getting the so-called “Runner’s High.” I’ve had all of these things happen, so maybe writing is akin to an addiction? And maybe, just maybe, I’m onto something here. Research on addictions shows a high degree of predisposition, such that if one is an alcoholic, someone above you on the food chain, whether mom, dad, grandpa, etc., was or is an alcoholic as well. So maybe this guy Rodismay has me headed in the right direction. And maybe I was starting to think outside the box as I wanted to be.

And I continued my research. I’ll explain that and how I tried to connect the dots in the third part of this article.

About the Author: About thirty years ago, a small cadre of FBI agents were hand-picked by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) to receive training in what was then a highly-controversial and ground breaking concept: Psychological Profiling. Pete Klismet was fortunate enough to have been chosen to become one of the original FBI “profilers.” He received additional training, was temporarily assigned to work with the BSU in Quantico, Virginia, and put that training and experience to work in assisting state, federal and local law enforcement agencies in investigating violent crimes. 

He was named National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in 1999, the same year he retired from the FBI. For the next 13 years he taught in colleges, and is now retired as a professor emeritus. He and his wife Nancy live in Colorado Springs.

Pete’s award-winning book FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil is available at and He plans to release ‘a couple more books’ in 2014.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do without thought of fame. If it comes at all it will come because it is deserved, not because it is sought after." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, born February 27.

Duyckinick, Evert A. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873 from
[Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Aaron Michael Ritchey brings us some rhyming fun in "Dr. Ritchey's New Year You-Can-Do-It"

...Pete Klismet brings us Part II in "Is Writing Ability Innate: Nature or Nurture"

...MB Partlow shares some witty information in this month's "Countdown to Conference"

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sweet Success! M.J. Brett

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

M.J. Brett’s true crime mystery, Truth Lies Six Foot Under (ISBN: 978-0-9748869-8-5, 246 pages, e-book and paperback) was released July 2013 by Blue Harmony Press. The novel is available on as a Kindle edition.

When a struggling student accidentally sees something he wasn't expecting to see, he reports it to the sheriff. From that point on, his life and that of his wife and their four-year-old son are caught up in a whirlwind of danger. Everybody is hiding something. What? and Why? Who blocked investigation? Is there such a thing as suicide by proxy? Who covered up the brutal murders of this young family? Who staged the crime? Who burned the records? What do the banker, the mafia, the university, and the sheriff have to hide? Why does every question lead to threats? At the family's request, an old P.I. and his young protege seek to find answers twenty years later, and they find secrets and lies still seethe out from under, and their investigation becomes more dangerous than they had thought.

Margaret Brettschneider (a.k.a. M.J. Brett) went from soda jerk to ballet dancer to teacher, 21 years of it overseas, to retirement in Colorado Springs. Living on the Cold War Border in Germany brought her in contact with other DoD teachers, and the usual assortment of Aviation, Engineering, Artillery, and Spooks, military men who held back the communist incursions for years. Now, in retirement, she likes to write the true stories from these contacts plus world travel opportunities. She prefers stories she feels need to be written, and this new mystery was a cold case gone horribly wrong that needed to be solved. You can find Margaret at her website,

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes, including story acceptances, winning contests, getting published and book signings. Please email Kathie Scrimgeour at if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Take Time to Read - A Reader University Post

By Stacy S. Jensen

This is the second post in a series of 12 ways to help authors (and your writing) by reading.  

Last time, in the first in the Reader University series, we talked about Try — new authors, new genres, and new formats.
My second way to help authors and your own writing is to READ:
  • a book
  • a novella
  • a short story
Or read an essay or a long magazine or newspaper feature story.
It’s so easy to get trapped in the “I don’t have time whirlwind” of life. Even when we say this, we are still reading.
I DO read a lot each day. I read a few blog posts, a few Internet news stories, and a ton of emails. Throw in some social media and I’ve read a short story or novella in one “session” on the computer. While much of this is entertaining or educational, I still find myself missing a good story by the end of the week.
Between my library card and my Kindle, I have access to a steady stream of books. This week, I’m making time to read another book in my virtual (Kindle) “to be read” stack —Divergent by Veronica Roth.
I read these books last week (mostly due to being sick and stuck on the couch):
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)
As usual, I read through a dozen picture books. I was able to get my hands on Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle (2013). It’s a wordless picture book — sweet and lightly pink. This book does have flaps, so I’m not sure how the Kindle version of this will work.
Have fun reading this week!
Here’s the first post about the Reader University project.

(This post first appeared on Stacy S. Jensen's blog on January 13, 2014)

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.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Steampunk Costuming Tips

Friday night at Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2014 is an optional steampunk dinner, where you're invited to dress up in steampunk regalia. Not sure what that entails? No problem! Aaron Spriggs, expert on all things steampunk, is here to give us some tips.

By Aaron Spriggs

Steampunk: What it would have been like if the future had happened sooner. 
First, let’s start with what “steampunk” is, and where it came from. In the 1980s, cyberpunk speculative fiction was all the rage. Author K. W. Jeter told his publisher his next cyberpunk novel would be set in the Victorian age and that it would be a ‘steam-punk’ story, to paraphrase.
Steampunk has been around for over one-hundred years, but was only then codified. In the most stripped down, bare bones sense, it is the outsider or underdog (punk) fighting the system. The ‘system’ can be just about anything, such as government, big corporations, the church, social norms, etc., and it is set in a time period where steam was the dominant, most advanced technology (the "steam" in steampunk). It was solely science fiction, but the recent trend is to include fantasy/urban fantasy into the mix. For me, I prefer my steampunk straight-up sci fi, but I’ve read some great stuff with fantasy elements included.
See "Woman in Black
Dress" below for attribution
The costuming, or cosplay (costume play): Any historical clothing combination from about the 1790s to the 1910s works great. Mixing and blending from cultures around the world is even better. Throw in some goggles (always be prepared for that open gondola/dirigible/train ride), add a splash or two of sexy, and you’ve got a great steampunk outfit.
Costumes trend towards the upper class styles of clothing, but mechanics, engineers, and adventurers are all very commonly found, as well. Remember, classism was alive and well, and can be played up in costumes.
Femmes: Corsets are common for women. They’re sexy and fun, they flout social dictums being worn on the outside visible to all, and they go with just about everything. Itty-bitty hats pinned on are big (big as in popular, not in size - I just said they’re itty-bitty). Parasols work as props, as portable shade/rain protection and as weapons. Don't forget the ever present goggle.
See "Nyah" below
for attribution
Hommes: Pith helmets, bowlers, and top hats are all very common. Canes (sword canes, even, but check with state and local laws….) are an excellent accessory. Tuxedos and smoking jackets with patterns are good pillars in any man’s wardrobe. If you have the time, grow mutton chops! And have I mentioned goggles?
Colors: Anything goes. There is a prevailing attitude for earth-tones, but the Victorians had the full color spectrum to use, and they did so. Historically, they often had dark cloaks and jackets to deal with industrial soot and the new pollutions, but their clothes (from around the world) have always had colors, so don’t be shy. Patterns (such as paisley) and stripes are very popular with steampunks, too. Ignore the snarky “steampunk is when goths discover brown.” Haters gonna’ hate. Remember punk not caring? There you go.
Accents: Gears, watch parts, springs, and the like. There is some snarky-ness to gluing these items on clothing (such as hats and lapels), but I like them. After all, steampunk has taken on an aspect of cargo-cultishness, and thus ‘worship’ of the industrial elements is only natural - and expressing such worship via adornment is very natural. So I say glue that cog on and be proud!
Squid and octopus is a super-strong theme as well, heralding from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Vern. Again, rings, necklaces, tattoos for the hard core - do it up!
Finally: RAY GUNS!* Among steampunk is the fringe science, pushing the bounds of believability, and ray guns is the vanguard of such tech. Make those ray guns out of anything available: candelabras, tattoo guns, welders, water pistols, nerf guns etc. Do it up. Sneak in a hidden battery and light it up with LEDs, bubbling oil in tubes, vacuum tubes, air cartridges, etc., etc., etc.
Remember, you’re punks. There is no right or wrong. If a hard core fanboy tries to tell you those faery wings ‘aren’t steampunk, turn your punk dial to 11 and give him a quote or two from Blaylock (steampunk author with fantasy elements long before steampunk was defined).
Now get cracking on that anti-kraken semi-aquatic de-hydration auto-illuminating musket, and make sure you have your goggles firmly around your hatband, just in case…
*Note: The Marriott has asked that there be no weaponry, even costume weaponry, brought into the venue.

About the Author: Born before the Lunar Landing in the Land of Enchantment, Aaron has lived in many states of the Union, but has reduced his relocation rate and has lived in Colorado since 1980, all up and down the Front Range and mountains, and currently resides in Denver.

Aaron has published a few short stories and several poems and is sitting on a few novels, like everyone else.

Scientist by day (hazardous waste management in the past, and entomologist/zoologist these days) and poet/musician by night, Aaron has gone on several musical tours around the USA. He plays trumpet poorly and theremin passingly. During the heat of summer, Aaron can be found at Burning Man every year. 

Image Attributions: 

Nyah: By Craig Hatfield (Nyah.  Uploaded by Fæ) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Woman in Black Dress: By 5of7 (Flickr: Steampunk - woman in black dress) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

“The best books come from someplace deep inside.... Become emotionally involved. If you don't care about your characters, your readers won't either.” -Judy Blume, born February 12.

By JudyBlume2009.jpg: Carl Lender[1] of derivative work: Solid State Survivor (JudyBlume2009.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Guest poster Aaron Spriggs gives us tips on "Steampunk Costuming" for the Friday costume dinner at PPWC 2014 (or wherever you may have occasion to participate in steampunk costuming)

...Stacy S. Jensen brings us the second part of her Reader University series, Read

...We share a PPW Sweet Success!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sweet Success! DeAnna Knippling

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

DeAnna Knippling’s horror short story, The Strongest Thing About Me is Hate (4600 words) appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of Black Static, which is available in print in many bookstores or online at all major book retailers.

DeAnna describes this short: High school girl Lisa sees her world go from bleak to black as monsters attack her school bus.

Ms. Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer who grew up in South Dakota. You can find her personal website at, and her publishing website is at

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes, including story acceptances, winning contests, getting published and book signings. Please email Kathie Scrimgeour at if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Scene Writing Series, Part VI - Setting, Part IV - More Detail

By Jax Hunter

Hi Campers,

I think I’ll just write a bit more on significant detail. Have I beaten this horse ‘till it’s dead? I’m not sure that’s possible.

The life of a scene is in the details. The details put you within the character himself as he experiences the scene first-hand. The better and more perfect the details, the better your reader will step into the scene. (I can’t help but think of the Mary Poppins scene when they jump through the sidewalk picture, but I digress.)

We’ve talked a lot about visual details, as film is so primarily visual. We, as fiction writers, have the advantage of being able to use all the senses.

What does the character see, of course. But, also, what does he smell, hear, feel on his skin, taste. You get the picture. When you’re writing a scene here’s what I want you to do: Put your hands out and form the frame. Then look through the frame to see your scene. Listen to your scene. Smell your scene.

Anybody been by the ocean lately? I’m amazed that each time I’ve been there the waves are different, they seem to have a personality. One day it’s bright and sunny and the next it’s dark and stormy. When it’s stormy, the seas get choppy and there are jellyfish pieces strewn everywhere on the beach. If you look off into the distance, you can see the humidity as almost a mist. And then there are the smells, sometimes fish smell, sometimes just sea smell. And the sound of the waves, an underlying roar as you walk along. And what does the water feel like when it hits your feet and calves? Is it warm?  Maybe not the first time, but after that, it is (at least in Florida - the Pacific is cold). 

I know I tend to rush through scenes as I’m writing them. Because I know this, I have to either force myself to go slower, to actively think about the details, or I have to put them in after the fact as I’m editing. 

In his workshop at a previous conference, Jonathan King shared so many great thoughts on adding significant detail. The tape/CD is well worth getting. Here are some of his observations:

“A telling detail that shows the emotion that the character isn’t willing to show otherwise - teeth marks in the glasses .”

“Instead of - it was just after seven - the sun was turning orange and hanging momentarily before plunging behind the mountain.”

“Instead of crime scene tape - yellow, three-inch wide crime scene tape” Or what about the sepia tones on camera - he knew the crime scene tape was yellow, but it just looked grey to him now.

“Details can paint time: A black rotary phone. . .”

King, who for many years was a journalist, talks about a husband who killed his wife then shot himself. He relates that the items in the husband’s pocket included a receipt for ice cream cones that the husband and wife shared mere hours before the incident. Those are the details that make the story come to life. What does your character have in his pockets? In her purse? We must all start paying attention to these little things.

Does your hard-nose PI wear a Mickey Mouse watch? Does your soft female lead have posters of Harleys on her office wall or does she listen to rap music? Is there a Patrick Roy poster on the wall, one edge curling up for lack of interest? These are details that tell more than they’re telling, aren’t they? The things your character notices when he walks into a room tells both what the room looks like and gives your reader insight into your character. 

Your assignment this month is to crank up the detail. Add it all into each scene. You can always trim it later. As you’re watching movies and television, look for what’s going on behind the character - is there snow falling outside the window behind the characters as they talk - look for the props in the rooms. What kind of telephone is she talking on? Remember, even if the script didn’t call for those details, someone chose them and probably had a good reason for each choice. 

Until next month, have a great month and BiC-HoK (Butt in Chair – Hands on Keyboard)

(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2005.)
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.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Real Problem With Mary Sue

By DeAnna Knippling

Mary Sue. She’s a nice girl. She never really does anything wrong. And she’s not really all that special or noteworthy. Just an ordinary girl, you might say.

When she’s a guy she’s Everyman.

From Small Town, USA.

And when things happen to her (or him), they just kind of happen to her. She didn’t do anything to start it, really; it was just bad luck.

She’s a poor, poor character in a world in which terrible things come along and happen to random, perfectly nice people. Not a hero. Just a person. Only it turns out that Miss Mary has amazing personal resources that she never would have suspected.

In the end, things work out for her. She gets the man (woman) of her dreams and has a prosperous life in which she (or he) is well-liked and nobody criticizes her (or him).


Mary Sue (if you don’t know) is the name of a trope in which the author turns themselves into a character in a story, and then doesn’t play fair about it. What I described was just one of the variations. Of course there are variations; as writers, we all have different fantasies about what we’d love to happen in a given situation.

The one similarity between these fantasies is that the writer doesn’t play fair with the character.

The character gets everything they ever dreamed of without consequence--and is generally held as all-around likable, desirable, lovable. And powerful. Any flaws are mentioned only so they can be laughed aside as unimportant. The Mary Sue is the ultimate combination of goodness and power. The Mary Sue can never be fully defeated.


The Mary Sue is a kind of monster, isn’t she?

She’s an evil vampire that comes into the story and hypnotizes the good guy into accepting her as one of the group. A cuckoo, if you know that story--Mary’s a bird that kicks out the character who should have been the main character of the story, replacing them with a big fat egg of her own.

The Mary Sue is that horrible creature of ego that arises when we’re picked on one too many times as a kid, when we feel like the universe is against us, and we feel like we’re justified in doing whatever it takes in order to get revenge.

Mary Sue puts high school bullies on the page and has them killed off by the supposed villain of the piece. Mary Sue does the noble thing to bring the killer to justice, when really she just wants to pat him on the back.

Mary Sue wins the heart of the boy she had a crush on in sixth grade, whether he wants her or not.

Mary Sue saves the universe from a horrible fate. One that, really, Miss Mary arranged to happen in the first place. She’s really the author, after all. She arranges everything.

(Sometimes Mary Sue isn’t just a person, either; sometimes she’s the collective “good guys,” the forces arrayed against “evil,” which is really just everyone that happened to annoy the adolescent psyche of the writer when they were a teenager. I don’t mind a little good vs. evil, but it irks me when “good” is just a face of Mary Sue.)


When we start out writing (and I was no different), we write a lot of Mary Sues.

We put characters on the page who are “definitely not us,” but then we don’t play fair with them. We don’t give them flaws; we certainly don’t make their flaws the reason that problems come crashing down on them. We separate the story into an “us” and a “them,” and we do all kinds of horrible things to the “them” when the interesting thing is to do them to the “us.”

We don’t make our characters active--because victims come across as more innocent, and the last thing we want to do is expose our characters to the kind of criticism that’s so painful in real life.

In real life, our intentions go awry. “Why did you do that?” people ask us, and it hurts. So we arrange it so that the bad guys are the ones who started the fight--the good guys are just the ones who finish it.

It’s a crap way to live, really. Waiting for things to happen to you; finding people to blame when they do.

And it’s a crap way to write stories.

Mary Sue stories are boring. It’s a cliché of writing advice: don’t write Mary Sues.

But the real problem isn’t that Mary Sue stories are boring. It’s that Mary Sue stories cheat readers out of the real gift of stories: taking us outside ourselves.

Stories plant seeds of wisdom and insight into us--even the cheesiest romance does this--they help us deal with pain, they make the world more bearable. Some studies are showing that stories help us practice getting through the worst parts of life; others show stories as the root of empathy.

A Mary Sue cheats that. There is no wisdom in blaming others for our own shortcomings; there is no insight in being universally loved. In fact, a Mary Sue is too easily seen through as a window into despair--that admiration must be forced, love bribed, and victory bought by lies.

She’s a sad, slow death, that Mary Sue. Best to just let her go.

About the Author: 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 at or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"The only stupid thing about words is the spelling of them." -Laura Ingalls Wilder, born February 7.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...DeAnna Knippling discusses "The Real Problem With Mary Sue" and how to avoid the pitfalls

...Jax Hunter brings us the fourth part of her series on Setting

...We share a PPW Sweet Success!

Friday, February 7, 2014

February News & Events

Compiled by Shannon Lawrence

PPW Events

Note: More information can be found on each of the below events on our Events tab, above.

Write Your Heart Out is a free half-day conference preview, tomorrow, Saturday, February 8, 1-5 PM, at the Colorado Springs Marriott. Our speakers are Cindi Madsen, Tom Adair, DeAnna Knippling, Aaron Ritchey, Todd Wallinger, and Becky Clark. RSVP is required (

The February Write Brain will be Sex is Not a Four-Letter Word: Tearing Down the Taboo Walls of Sexuality to Create More Interesting Primary and Secondary Characters in All Genres, presented by NYT and USA Today bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones. Tuesday, February 18, 6:30 to 8:30 PM. It will be held at Penrose Library, but in a different room than usual, the Adult/Children's meeting room. This event is free.

Open Critique is Wednesday, February 19, 6-8:30 PM, at Cottonwood Center for the Arts. Get the first 8 pages of your manuscript critiqued. RSVP required for those wanting a critique. 

Writer's Night is Monday, February 24, 6:30-8:30 PM, at Ivywild. Open forum. Come discuss whatever writerly topics you'd like. Food and drinks available for purchase at the venue. 

Other "Local" Events

Delve Writing is holding an online workshop entitled Say it Like a Pro: How to Talk About Your Book Articulately and Enticingly at PPWC or Anywhere. Chris Mandeville will be teaching this course. Price is $20 if you register before February 8. This is a 2-session camp, to be held Saturday, April 5 and Saturday, April 12, 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM MT. It is online only and live. While this is not a February event, the discounted price ends tomorrow, so we wanted to pass it along to you.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has a lot going on! Their monthly free programming will be Write Your Life as Fiction, presented by Anne Randolph, February 22, 11-1 PM. They are holding an online class via Yahoo Groups entitled Editing & Revision for Fiction Writers, presented by Cindi Myers, February 3 through 23. They are taking submissions for their anthology through March. They are taking conference workshop proposals through March. 

Colorado Springs Fiction Writers has various meetings throughout at the month at different locations. Visitors are welcome. 

The Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America will host Deb Courtney, as she presents Publicity and Promotion. Thursday, February 13. Doors open at 6:30 PM. $25 for non-members, dinner and program included in price.

Pikes Peak Pen Women will host Jane Rigler, who will present Interpresence: The Process of Bringing Art and Writing Together, February 15, 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM, at Blue Sage Cafe. $23 for non-members, lunch and program included in the cost. RSVP required.

Pikes Peak Library District is holding A Novel Evening: TheGreat Gatsby at Briarhurst Manor, Friday, February 28, 6 PM, to benefit the Manitou Library. 3-course dinner, silent auction, dancing, period costumes welcome.

Springs Writers will be presenting The Flip-Side of a Writer, with speaker Susan Mathis, Tuesday, February 18, 6-8 PM, at Woodmen Valley Chapel.

If there is a local writer's group you'd like to see included in this listing, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

About the Author: Shannon Lawrence enjoys writing mainly urban fantasy and horror, examining the darker side of life. Her flash fiction piece, “The Family Ruins,” is included in the anthology Sunday Snaps: The Stories, and Beyond the Binding, an anthology including her piece, "Spes et Libertas," was just released in e-book only. While her main focus is fantasy and horror, she is working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and also enjoys photographing Colorado scenery, wildlife, and her children. She is also the NCE Director for Pikes Peak Writers, and the managing editor of Writing From the Peak. You can find her at and on Twitter as @thewarriormuse.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Storyboard Your Scenes

by Deb McLeod

If you take the time to immerse yourself into a scene before you have to write it, you almost dream it alive. If you imagine the props of the scene and are aware of the emotional change for your character, if you define the sensations that the character will filter in, then that scene will come alive for the reader.

Note: I’ve done enough fiction writing craft research that I’ve absorbed what I learned and made it my own. However, I may have lost original resources or worse yet, attribute writing tips to the wrong person. My profound apologies if I get the attribution wrong.

Somewhere along the way (I think it was Robert J. Ray in “Weekend Novelist”) I picked up the idea of thinking about props during a scene. What are the ‘things’ of the scene that your characters might interact with. Like the props in a stage play, what things populate your scenes?

Imagine the setting where your scene takes place. Let’s say it’s in a fancy restaurant. What are the props you might use? The first things that come to mind are the place settings. But often the first things that come to mind are the easiest. They tend toward cliché or at least are overused. We’ve all read and seen the scene where the character doesn’t know which fork to use, or is overwhelmed by how you get the lobster tail out of the shell with grace and leave the linen spot free. Funny, but overused.

So look around your fictional fancy restaurant for another prop. I personally like a funky bar for burgers and beers over a fancy restaurant with wait staff whose only job is to stand behind the table and pour water when your glass is more than a third empty. So if I were writing a scene at a fancy restaurant that is where I would go to look for props – to the place of my discomfort.

What if my character notices a small smudge on the side of the white-gloved hand of the faceless person that keeps filling up her water glass? Maybe my heroine is uncomfortable. Seeing that spot can do something for her and for the plot. It might make her breathe easier – no one is perfect and she doesn’t have to feel out of place. Or it might make her really uncomfortable. Because of the spot, she knows that the same wait-person is waiting on her. Watching her drink her water. He or she is behind her back and making her really uncomfortable. Is the water person a male or a female? You could write the scene creepy or safe, whatever fits the plot. But if you spend some time with the things of your scenes you can put them to work and make the scene more real.

Emotional change
(The scene as a room idea adapted from Blake Snyder. Emotional change during a scene adapted from Snyder and Robert McKee’s “Story”.) 

Imagine a scene as a room. Your character enters, struggles with another character, but wins and exits out the opposite end of the room. You will have a positive emotional change. If your character is thwarted in their quest to get what they want in the scene room, then you will have a negative (or continuous negative) emotional change.

When characters enter a scene, they come from the scene before. They bring their reactions and feelings from what just happened. You should know when a character enters a scene how he or she is feeling.

Let’s take the fancy restaurant scene. If it’s my heroine, she’s apprehensive. She’s hoping that her hair is holding up in back. She’s conscious of the pinch of her dress under one arm. Her heart is pounding as she’s frantically trying to think of some sort of small talk she can make with this person who has commanded her presence at this dinner. She has no idea why she’s here and would far rather be at home with her cats.

As the dinner progresses, her dinner partner senses her apprehension and swoops in for an attack. Our heroine parries the attack as best she can and almost puts her dining partner in her place. So satisfied with her responses to the nasty woman who has invited her for dinner, she forgets for a moment to be on guard and her wrist hits the delicate wine glass she placed too close to the edge of the table. Like a slow motion scene in a movie, she can play out the next minute before it actually happens. The glass will explode on the hardwood floor and reveal her once and for all  as the fake she is, eating at this fancy restaurant. In the nick of time, the faceless waiter behind her catches the wine glass, not spilling a drop and sets it back on the table. She looks up, meets his eye….

When my character leaves the fancy restaurant scene room, her emotions are in a different place than when she entered. And when she goes into the next scene she will start off happy and then something will happen to change her emotional charge. You can chart your character’s emotional change throughout your plot chain.

Write through the senses

See, feel, hear, touch, smell. These are the five senses writers are referring to when they ask you to write through the senses. If you spend some time in your scene mapping the sensual experience the character has, you’ll make the scene come alive. Writing through the senses is one of the keys to the adage: Show, don’t tell.

William Strunk, Jr., in “The Elements of Style,” writes that “the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite and concrete.” In “Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft” Janet Burroway takes this quote further. She says: “A detail is ‘definite’ and ‘concrete’ when it appeals to the senses.”

When you’re storyboarding your plot into scenes, spend time focused on the five senses. Take our fancy restaurant again and go through the list of senses for what your character might experience in the scene:
  • See – the bouncing glitter of china and crystal  and gold-edged picture frames against a navy blue wall in the dimmed light from the thousand-prism chandelier that hangs from the thirty-foot ceiling.
  • Hear – the sound of stiletto heels across a hardwood floor. Muted conversation from the table next to them. Far enough away so they can’t hear or be overheard.
  • Touch – the feel of the fine linen napkin, the heft of the silver knife, the thin glass between her lips as she drinks her wine.
  • Taste – they’re in a restaurant, so taste can follow the courses. The garlic and butter of the escargot. The tart and sweet of lemon and raspberry on the minuscule plate of greens, etc.
  • Smell – a hint of clean soap when the wait-person leans over her to fill her glass.
When you’re writing the scene you can pepper these (don’t add too many) in order to bring the scene to life for the reader. When the scene is alive, the reader experiences it with the characters and you create that spell that keeps your reader reading.

Whenever I’m having trouble writing a scene I go to the prep and spend some time imagining before I actually write. I jot notes and play with props. I immerse myself in my character’s feelings and senses.

Like most of my writing, a line will come to me. A piece of dialogue or a first line, and then I free-write the scene. Do you have any scene tips or tricks to add to this?

About the Author: Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach and founder of The Writing Ranch. 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.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

February Letter From the Editor

February means we're finally getting comfortable with the new year, maybe even remembering to write the correct year on our checks or other dated items. Hopefully, it also means that everyone has had a month to get into a new routine (if one was needed), and to have a plan for meeting any goals or plans for the upcoming year.

And if the year hasn't started out so great, it means one month down, eleven to go. Even so, this year will surely hold many ups and downs for all of us. Hopefully, it will mean more ups than downs, more positive memories formed than negative. If keeping the positive at the forefront is something you struggle with, you might consider keeping a jar for positive experiences that you can pull out when you're having a rough day. When something good happens, write it on a slip of paper and put it in the jar. This can work many different ways, including keeping a notebook for the same purpose. The hope is that the positive experiences will help to battle the negative, allowing you to move forward with your goals.

To help you with your writing goals for the year, we're offering our Write Your Heart Out event this coming Saturday, February 8. A pre-conference preview, the event is completely free, but requires an RSVP due to limited space. More information can be found at the "Events" tab above. Please note: If you have emailed an RSVP in and have not heard back from someone to confirm receipt, we haven't received it! Please re-send to

If you can't make WYHO, we will still have our regular free monthly programming. For more information on that, check back on Friday when we share Pikes Peak Writers events, as well as upcoming events by other area writing groups.

Before this post comes to a close, I'd like to welcome Kathie Scrimgeour to the team. She has accepted the Sweet Success Columnist position here on Writing From the Peak. If you have good writing-related news you'd like to share with your fellow Pikes Peak Writers members, shoot an email to

Most of all, have a wonderful, productive, and inspired month. Take a moment to play in the snow and to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. February can be a gorgeous, albeit cold, month here in Colorado. And it brings us one step closer to spring.

~Shannon Lawrence
Managing Editor, Writing From the Peak
PPW NCE Director

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose." -Langston Hughes, born February 1.

Langston Hughes, Feb. 29, 1936
Carl Van Vechten (Photographer), Wikimedia Commons

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...The February Letter From the Editor

...Deb McLeod talks about Storyboarding Your Senses

...February News, Events, & Links