The Journal, Friday, February 16

Hey Folks,

My apology in advance for the long post. I promise, it’s worthwhile.

After I signed off yesterday I listened to a few more videos from the “Writing Thrillers” workshop. Good stuff.

Today I’ll probably finish the workshop, then work on some new book pages for StoneThread Publishing. Eventually, each major book we publish will have its own page.

The pages for the novels and short story collections (or most of them) are finished. I only need to add a few of those and then code a new page for each nonfiction book.

But back to the workshop for a moment.

I already know a lot of what I’m hearing in the Thriller workshop, but reminders are good too. And I knew hardly any of it a year or two ago. Yet I thought my writing was good. More on that in the tied-in topic below.

I finished the workshop around 1 p.m. All I can say is Wow. I didn’t think anything could unseat Dean’s “How to Write Science Fiction” workshop for the sheer number of writing gems and excellent insight and advice.

But this “Writing Thrillers” workshop completely eclipses it. I recommend it highly.

I’ll spend the rest of the day working on the StoneThread Publishing website. I might write a bit tomorrow early. Then it’s a few days off for a camping trip near a thousands-of-years-old pueblocito.

I won’t post while I’m gone, obviously, and I’m not going to worry about pre-posting anything. Just be sure to check the KillZone blog and Dean’s blog, and I’ll see you again on Monday or Tuesday.


All of this workshop stuff reminds me again of the woman who emailed me a year or so ago asking for a critique of her work.

After some back and forth (I generally don’t offer critiques), I read her story. It was only six pages.

I invested some time (free) and offered a constructive critique in the form of a series of short questions in imbedded comments scattered over the first couple of pages of her manuscript.

Topic: Character, Setting, and Grounding the Reader

In the opening of any story (scene, etc.) you must hook the reader and take them to depth. That means within the first 200 – 500 words, the reader should connect with the POV character in some way AND be firmly grounded in the setting. More on that later.

The story I was to critique opened with a husband on an exercise bike in the living room of their home. His wife came in and they started talking. The conversation went on for three pages.

At no time did I learn what the husband or wife looked like or what they were wearing. I have no idea whether they were young or older, trim or heavy, wet or dry.

I didn’t know anything about the setting except that there was an exercise bike of some sort in the living room and the guy was sitting on it as they talked.

I have no idea what other furniture, if any, was in the living room, whether there were any windows or doors or a fireplace, or whether there was anything on the walls.

(No, wait. As the story opened, the wife DID “walk into” the living room and saw her husband on the exercise bike, so there must have been at least one door.)

But I don’t know whether she came in from outside or from the kitchen. If there was a kitchen.

I don’t know whether the floor covering was carpet, hardwood or tinfoil. Or even whether there was a floor. I have no idea whether it was day or night. There were no clues.

I have no idea why the exercise bike was in the living room, though I kind of assumed he was watching TV as he pedaled. But I have no idea whether there was a TV in the room either. Or a potted plant. Or whether he pedaled, for that matter. There was no movement.

I have no idea whether the temperature in the house was warm or cool. I didn’t hear an air conditioner or fan running, or the exercise bike, for that matter.

The only sounds were the disembodied voices of the characters. There was no sense of setting, no sensation of movement, even on the exercise bike. It was talking heads on a white background, minus the actual heads.

So I made a few suggestions, posed as brief questions like “What’s he look like? What’s she wearing? Can you describe the room?” etc. I explained about grounding the reader, and so on.

In her quick reply, the author wrote only, “I’ll take this under advisement.”

Oh. Well, good for you.

She also told me that “usually critiquers make a point of finding something good to say.”

Umm, I’m pretty sure she had me confused with her mother. Liking something unconditionally is Mom’s job. Mine is to write and, to a lesser degree, to attempt to pass along what I know.

Okay, to that end…

Folks, when you open a story, you MUST pull the reader to depth quickly.

Spend 200 to 500 words naming and describing the POV character and allowing that character to provide his/her opinion of the setting.

And remember that opinion MUST be filtered through the POV character’s physical senses. After all, the story comes from the character, not the writer.

As a quick example, say the setting is a formal library in a mansion and the deceased owner had a habit of smoking a pipe filled with black cherry tobacco while he read.

The reader doesn’t care whether you, the writer, think the room stinks or is aromatic. But what the POV character thinks about the room reveals part of who he/she is and enables the reader to connect.

When any given POV character encounters the smell, one might wrinkle her nose and frown or say something snarky. Another might smile slightly and think of her father, who also smoked a pipe.

In that opening 200 to 500 words, invoke all five of the POV character’s physical senses and let him use those to provide his opinion of the setting.

The lighting is dim or bright (happy or glaring, etc.); the wingback chair, which is covered in human skin, is repulsive or interesting or even enticing; the paneled walls evoke a warm, comfortable feeling or are closing in. You get the idea.

This technique, this opening, will both reveal part of the POV character’s character and enable the reader to see, hear, taste, smell and feel the setting. It will pull the reader into the POV character’s head.

And your reader will be firmly hooked. THEN you can allow the plot to advance, get into the action and so on without risking losing the reader’s interest.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

See “Radish Fiction” at There’s a bunch of stuff about Amazon Kindle Worlds first, but you can scroll down to Radish Fiction. It’s worth the short read, and it has nothing to do with radishes. (grin)

See “Hugh Howey: Self-publishing is the future — and great for writers” at

Dean has upped the ante on his new Kickstarter. See “North by Northwest Kickstarter Getting New Rewards” at

Fiction Words: XXXX (novel revision over the past week)
Nonfiction Words: 1180 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1180

Writing of The Age Exchange (novel, working title)

Brought forward…… 6985
Day 1…… 1285 words. Total words to date…… 8270
Day 2…… 1120 words. Total words to date…… 9390
Day 3…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 6300
Total fiction words for the year………… 44456
Total nonfiction words for the month… 5560
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 13580
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 58036

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 1
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 28
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 4
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………………… 182