The Journal, Monday, August 13

Hey Folks,

I wish I’d found me before I started writing novels.

I mean, if I were not me, I wish I’d found me. Something like that.

I did rediscover Dean Wesley Smith after a long absence. And I learned a lot from him, often plucking free gems from his blog posts. But most of the in-depth stuff that I learned from him came at $300 a whack.

Not that I regret any of it. Knowledge is priceless, and paying $300 for a huge shortcut in the learning curve is pretty inexpensive really. You know, depending on what’s important to you.

I still have things to learn, but most of those are things I can learn through my own reading and further practice. (And I love to read and study, and I love to practice, to write, so woohoo!)

But the Electric Basics (my term for the basics that will make your writing electric) remain priceless. And so I wish I’d found me before I wrote my first novel.

Like everyone else on the planet who has both a conscious and subconscious mind, I knew instinctively how to tell stories before I was even aware there was an alphabet or elementary school or teachers. If you have children, or if you were a child yourself, you know what I mean.

But I learned much of what’s necessary to tell a GOOD story, one that the right readers (depending on their personal taste) would have difficulty putting down, only after I’d written my first several novels and a few dozen short stories.

It’s true (as in all arts) that writers improve only with practice. And I’m thankful I’ve been smart enough to spend time in the chair, writing instead of hovering over something I’d already finished. I’m thankful, too, that when I finished a work, I moved on to the next one without delay, or with a relatively short delay.

Even my very first novel is a good story, or so I’ve been told. And I thought so too. But it could have been so much better if only I’d known a few basics going in. You know, those Electric Basics.

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but something as good as the Electric Basics bear repeating. So here they are again:

1. Come up with a GREAT opening sentence or paragraph (the “hook”). What is “great” will depend on the story that follows, of course, but most often these will be short and terse. It isn’t a stretch to say a truly great hook can be used as the basis for several stories. This is what immediately pulls the reader into the story.

2. Ground the reader in the setting. Let the reader see, hear, smell, taste and feel the setting, and always Through The Senses And Opinions Of The POV Character (not the writer). If you force your own description of the setting on the reader, he will sense it and bail out. Because it will be bo-ho-ho-ho-horing. The character, not you, is living the scene.

3. Come up with a great cliffhanger at the end of every major scene. This is easier than it sounds if you’re trusting your subconscious and writing off into the dark. Sometimes you’ll recognize the cliffhanger as you write it, and sometimes you’ll write past it and the scene will whimper away. When that happens, back up a few sentences and you’ll find the cliffhanger.

4. Use paragraphing to establish pacing. There are other tricks too, but paragraphing is way up there. Shorter paragraphs equal faster pacing. Longer paragraphs slows down the pace. (A “longer” paragraph is 5 t0 maybe 10 lines on the page.) And in dialogue, begin a new paragraph each time a different character speaks. For the record, I use this guideline even when writing magic realism, which is widely regarded part of the “literary” genre.

And really, that’s it. I mean, there are a lot more “little” things I could teach you, nuances I’ve taught for the past 30 years. But if you follow the bold-italic 1-4 above, you can write really good genre stories.

I hope this helps.

Oh, and adhere to Heinlein’s Rules. I dare you.

To the Hovel and the novel at 6:30. You know, to practice. (grin)

I stopped after the first two sessions and prepared a sample edit for a prospective copyediting client. Then back to the Hovel. It still isn’t quite noon. (grin)

By the way, a couple days ago I mentioned a few conversion engines on the Writer Resources page over on the big website. If you have Windows on your computer, and if you have the little calculator that comes with it, that also has conversions on it for length, volume, etc. Just click the little menu item in the upper left corner. And prepare to be amazed. I know I was.

Well, a pretty good day today overall.

Of Interest

See Sue Coletta’s “Dear Writer’s Mate …’ at I added this one to my Writer Resources page. Funny, and mostly true.

See “The Rewriting Myth” at A great new take.

See the comments on “Depth Done Right” at

See “Legal Resources for Authors” at

See “Book Covers” at

If you enjoy writing flash fiction (albeit to 250 words), and especially if you enjoy contests or challenges, see Flash Fiction at

See you again soon.

Fiction Words: 4420
Nonfiction Words: 880 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 5300

Writing of Nick Spalding 2 (novel, tentative title)

Day 10… 3477 words. Total words to date…… 30128
Day 11… 1911 words. Total words to date…… 32039
Day 12… 3251 words. Total words to date…… 35290
Day 13… 1327 words. Total words to date…… 36436
Day 14… 4420 words. Total words to date…… 40856

Total fiction words for the month……… 29902
Total fiction words for the year………… 278199
Total nonfiction words for the month… 8950
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 107236
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 385185

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 5
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 31
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 6
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………………… 193