Starting Your Story Too LateI’ve recently been puzzling over a story that seemed to have everything going for it… and it just faltered. I’d written a hundred pages and blah, boring, and the heroine was just bitchy. It wasn’t working. Then I realized I started the story too late. We’ve all heard the warnings about starting a story too soon, but this was different. All the good, clicky stuff happened before the story started. And I just figured, hey, great backstory. Except it should’ve been story.

I kept playing with it in my mind, turning it around, and I would always come back to what if I wrote about the before? And then I decided that’s how you make a story dull, because the story starts when the action starts. Except, obviously, actions happen in a backstory, right? I felt like the serpent eating its tail.

I sort of wondered, is this a common problem? Do other people make this mistake?

If you open the window too early, your readers have to drum their mental fingers waiting for the action to start. Open the window too late, and you’ll find yourself desperately filling in with flashbacks and infodumps.

Trust me--I hate flashbacks almost as much as infodumps. Click To Tweet But dumping is what I did–what I had to do. The story didn’t make sense without that info. I mean, a tried to dole it out slowly and hide it in conversation, but a dump is a dump.

That story has gone from a benched story to a to-be-written one. At least, once I figure out how to change those first 100 pages. Anyone else got battle scars like these? Have you ever started too soon or too late?


More Reading:


The Importance of Pre-Writing

I tried looking at pictures. Incidentally, Apartment Therapy is an awesome site.  So I bought a graph paper pad and I just drew the dance studio/apartment in no time.  I then described the way the rooms looked.  I included whoever’s viewpoint popped into my head, because different people see different things.  This helps me in two ways: 1) I can visualize these important places and the events that took place there easier and 2) I’ve got ready made description when I write scenes in those places.

I was amazed at how much such simple pre-writing work actually ignited my imagination.


I still pre-write like it’s a lifeline to storytelling.  I call that creative time when you’re first planning a story, and the ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls, creative crack. It’s amazing and fun. And so much of writing isn’t all fun–it’s hard, hard work.

Using Pre-Writing as a Tool for WritingIn that post, I talked about planning out spaces to make our fictional places more real. Since then, an incredible tool has taken over the internet. You can look on the right and see it’s become a passion of mine: Pinterest. Obviously, I don’t just use it for writing.

But, with Pinterest, I can see my characters, interiors & exterior places, and even crucial items. And it’s “in the cloud,” accessible to me from any device, anywhere I can use the internet (which, let’s admit, in this age, is everywhere). In the novella I just finished writing, I used Pinterest for character placeholders, info about Vegas in the fifties (the setting), and clothing trends of the time. I deeply needed my research to make that story happen.

I’ve also noticed a trend: other writer’s are using it, too. I went to an online book release party, and all the authors shared their Pinterest story boards. Are readers interested in these? I was. I loved seeing the historical clothing, the shipwrecks, the cool clubs.


Pinterest has become the author's new best friend, letting us pile up valuable research. Click To Tweet

If you’re anything like me and most of the planet, you binge-watched House of Cards on Netflix when they debuted the entire season (like they do) in February.

Confession: I’ve watched Seasons 1 and 2 three times. Once for each new season because this is a show you have to pay attention to. The smallest detail, especially on the part of Frank or his wife, can mean huge repercussions later.

Why are we so obsessed with Francis Underwood and his dirty doings? How is someone so amoral the protagonist of the story? To answer that, we have to talk about anti-heroes.

According to an anti-hero is:

a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.

That’s a place to start, but it doesn’t really explain how so many people can be fascinated by a character that is, essentially, a bad, unredeemed and never-to-be-redeemed person. For something a little closer to our purposes, I’ll add Writers Digest to the mix:

Antiheroes can be obnoxious, pitiful or charming, but they are always failed heroes or deeply flawed. Often riddled with paradoxical traits and qualities, they resemble real people more than any other type of fictional characters do, and they are increasingly popular these days in fiction, film and television.

Now that makes my brain get clicky. Obviously, they’re not heroes, but failed heroes. A failed hero does not arc, but chooses to continue handling whatever life throws at him in the same way, or worse ways. What I find most interesting is the notion that anti-heroes are the most realistic of fictional characters.

I hate to think that’s true. As someone who has worked in mental health for many years, I’ve seen my share of people who get it, where they’re making flawed choices, and completely turn it around. On the other hand, people who make the same mistakes are more common than not.

Does that mean anti-heroes lack self-awareness? Not the best of them. Definitely not Frank Underwood. I think one of the qualities that make him so much fun to watch is the deliberateness of his every move.

I’d love if you’d share your fave anti-heroes. I’m currently reading the House of Cards trilogy and the main character (who is British, not Southern) as well as the story are different enough to be enjoyable unto itself.

Tweet: House of Cards and Anti-heroes. Why are we so obsessed with Francis Underwood and his dirty doings?


writeresI once wrote a post about the Hero’s Journey structure in the movie Clash of the Titans. That post is my second most popular post (by a long shot). Clearly, structure is something we all want to learn about. It’s one of my favorite topics. Structure is the skeleton on which our entire story hangs.

In light of that, I wanted to share the most awesome resource I found. Okay, found is a strong word. Let’s try, ‘I received in a newsletter because K.M. Weiland is an awesome writer folk and I like to know what she’s talking about.’

She created the Story Structure Database. To see an example of this tool at work, check out the structure for Pride and Prejudice. (If you haven’t read it, run to your bookstore now and grab it. Yes, it really is that good.*)

From the site:

Austen begins by masterfully hooking us with her famous opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The subtle irony gives us a sense of conflict from the very first and lets us know that neither the wife in search of the fortune nor the man in search of the wife will find their goals so easily.

Of course, we all know it’s a great first line. But, now we know exactly why. And we can try to accomplish something similar in our own first lines.

This database is full of books and movies, and other people can contribute. I highly recommend using this writer resource if you are having any difficulty with or just want to learn more about story structure.

Tweet: Structure is the skeleton on which our entire story hangs.

*Link: FREE e-book Pride and Prejudice from Amazon.

Note: This was written yesterday. Hope your holiday, if you celebrated one, was fabulous.

I have been with my family for about 45 minutes. I have had wine, Cheetos, and coffee– my basic coping mechanisms. I adore my family. If I didn’t like them, I could avoid this altogether!

It got me thinking, though. Families are complex. I love them and I want to smack myself in the face with the turkey roaster lid. I’m including someecards below to show you how common these feelings can be.

As a writer, these days can be pure gold in research. How does it feel? What do people say to each other instead of, “I don’t care to see any more pics of your dog? or “Mom may have had a little too much pink moscato.” Take note, and include it in your novel’s next family scene.

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wpid-wp-1415857899407.jpegI’ve been writing – not reading much – for the last week, which is both awesome and awful (because I got the new Anne Rice Prince Lestat book AND Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Heroes Are My Weakness). Unfortunately, this means no Dating Advice from Romance Novels.

Instead, I decided to write about writing. When I first started, I asked for writing books as birthday and Christmas gifts and scoured the internet for someone to tell me how to write. I’ve since learned that the process of writing is extremely personal. My way is my way. And there is a very specific way that works for me, but I know it wouldn’t work for everyone.

I also learned that there’s no one place to learn everything needed to be a good writer. However, there are some extremely good sites (a lot of which I’ve noted here) and some great books.


The book I think I learned the most from, that made everything click into place, that made me a better writer, is GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon. I’ve written about it on this site before, so I won’t detail again why it’s integral to writing except to say that you can do almost anything with a character who has legitimate, realistic motivation. Characters have to make sense as people. And people do everything they do for a reason.

The Writer’s Journey

Next, THE book on structure – The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. One only needs to look at nearly any Disney movie ever made or the Star Wars (Original) to see that storytelling is universal. We need to see certain things happen. I’d never say this is a rule book that must be followed. But I do believe it’s essential to understand before drawing your own road map, the plot, to get from beginning to end.

Emotional Thesaurus

I also could not write without the Emotional Thesaurus. The authors of this book began with a site of the same name. When I went back and realized the wonderful material from that site had been added to and then turned into a book, I bought it without a second thought. The organization of the book makes it easy to use. What feeling is your character experiencing? Look it up and see how he or she might show that feeling physically and what might be going through their mind. This makes for a compelling, realistic way to SHOW the experience rather than tell it. It also helps you write a tight story, in which every word does double or triple duty. And that’s essential.

I hope that these books give you some direction and inspiration, as they have for me.

Tweet: “Three books I could never write without.” | Essential Reading for Writers

Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Nh313066.

It’s that time of year again, when all of your writer friends start asking about your daily word count and offering up encouraging motivational quotes. Basically, everyone is writing but you. Well, and me.

If you’re as determined as I am to not write (like that’s a necessary part of being a writer–whatever), here are some ideas to place in your procrastination bank.

4 things to do instead of #NaNo and #writing Click To Tweet

Play a game

I, for example, sometimes play life simulation games. You know, like that Kim Kardashian superstar-for–no-reason-at-all game. I’m the one in the glasses (to show that there’s more to me than my amazing pouty lips and stunning eyes). You’ll notice I’m on the A-list and I’m on level 18. We’re talking serious mindless procrastination potential here.


77.1 million fans, baby. Just like real life. Except not at all.

Hit up the Netflix Queue

You should know I’m a sucker for a good story. And sometimes a good story is the perfect distraction from your good story. You can sit back and think about how you’ll never be able to write dialogue that good or tie up a plotline so neatly. Seriously, undermining yourself can wile away hours of writing time. I personally have completed 3 full seasons of Sons of Anarchy in the last week. Take that, NaNoers.

My bucket list is more or less my netflix queue

Sadly, this is true.

Paint your nails

Or, if no one really cares how your nails look because, what the hell? You’re a writer. You probably haven’t worn clothes that weren’t pajamas for like a week, so just look up pictures of adorable manicures and add them to your pinterest wall. I’m partial to the notebook nails, being a writer and all.

Lined Notebook Nails


Write a blog post

Hey, this is useful, right? Develop your voice. Practice organization. Figure out how to use the quote tag. At least it’s not what everyone else is doing. Wait… yes, it is.

This is how a quote tag looks.

You know what? You should probably just go write something. What was your word count today?



Notice a whole bunch of Benedict Cumberbatch to the right.

Added WIP board from Pinterest. I get inspired every time I see him. So. Much. Yum. Right?

My Pinterest Board for the story set in the 1950s that I don’t even know who would possibly publish such a thing

Since I started writing, I’ve wanted to see my name on a cover.

I wanted the surge of joy, of knowing I made that! I started this blog in 2007, and it’s always been Because, this is me. I have a thing about being real and I don’t want to hide anything about myself. (Yes, I recognize the irony of including my web address name on the image. Wait, is that irony or idiocy?)

In the last few months, though, I’ve started to feel a little discomfort.

Writing is highly personal. I’m not saying I act out the risque scenes in my novels at all, but I do fill every sentence with a bit of my soul. And that, for me, is far more personal. Do I really want to deal with people being able to climb inside my head that way?  Not people, reader people or other writers–they get it. But, say, those I come in contact with at work or who attend church with me.

The argument in favor of #writing anonymously. #pennames Click To Tweet

I just keep bumping into this wall.

Don’t post that, someone who comes into the office might take it the wrong way. Don’t talk about your feelings, you have to look people in the eye. And then, I feel fake. It’s not about being fake, it’s about the freedom to be MORE real because there’s a seperateness. My personal life, my professional life, my writing life, my basketball mom life–all different. My life.

And, in the end, it’s my choice.

So, I’ll give you plenty of warning. If you get here by RSS, email, twitter, or my Facebook page, you won’t have any trouble finding me.


P.S. On the writing side, I’m writing a novella for a submission call. It’s romance set in the 1950s, which I adore. If I don’t get picked up, I may publish it here. Someone’s going to read the damn thing. ;-)

Image was created using images from and Mel’s Brushes.

We are finally at the end of what heroes and heroines do and don’t do for love. Because that title was such a mouthful, I broke it up into 4 segments. Again, I welcome all comments and thoughts below. Without further ado:

Five things your heroine should never do because she’s in love and that makes everything okay (because it, in fact, does not):

1. String two guys along. Not speaking of menage stories here. I’m saying a heroine does not spend the entire story unclear on whether she loves the hero enough to cut loose her backup guy. I don’t like women who do this in real life, I don’t respect them. I will not respect a heroine who pulls this trashy crap.

2. Run away. I know, I know this one happens all the time. I’ve read them. And enjoyed them. But… it’s not entirely satisfying. Yes, he chases her down and she knows he really cares. But… what did she put on the line? She’s gone. It’s all on him to solve the black moment. What’s going to happen the first time they hit the next crisis in their relationship? Because happily ever after doesn’t mean easy ever after. It means this couple has proven they will stick it out and make their relationship work.

I have to clarify, though, that this isn’t the same as the heroine offering him her sacrifice and giving him the choice, then going so that he can make his decision. On the other hand, I’ve also read books where the heroine arced and ran away for no other reason than that it was time for a black moment. If that’s the big crisis they need to solve, there’s no motivation for her to run–it’s not really a crisis. Your story already ended and you forgot to write it that way.

3. Stalk him. Caveat: Stalk him in a way that doesn’t involve an external plot detail. For example, if she’s a detective hired to follow him around, then that’s not stalking. She’s doing her job. If she’s sneaking around to see what he’s up to because she’s a jealous psychobeast or she doesn’t trust him–there’s not a happy ending in their future.

4. Belittle him. Remember, I’m describing actions after the two have come to care for one another, whether they admit it or not. She doesn’t have to realize she likes him yet, she doesn’t have to stop with the witty banter. But she does have to not be cruel, demeaning, or humiliating in the way she speaks to him.

People have arguments, you say. Might these things not slip out? I suppose they might. But she’ll feel bad for it. And when we truly feel remorseful, we make sure not to repeat the mistake. You’re supposed to be writing a character who is growing, who is learning from her mistakes. This is a mistake.

5. Trade sex/her body for anything. I don’t care if it’s the house her grandmother grew up in. I don’t care if it’s the last jelly doughnut. Don’t do it! Don’t send the message that the heroine’s only worth, especially to the love of her life, is her body. It’s demeaning and sad. Do you think it’ll crank up sexual tension? Yeah, someone having sex they don’t want to have because it’s a trade-off for what they need, because that’s the only shred of power they have left, is not at all sexy.

Sure, it happened in Pretty Woman (a romantic comedy). But, the writer made a distinction between the sex she was paid to have and the sex she wanted to have (with the kiss). Not to mention that she spent the entire movie fighting against everyone’s belief that she held no worth because she traded sex for money. And, come on. You know and I know, that was prettied up for a story. Sex workers don’t do that job because it has perks. They do it, often, because life or bad choices have led them to a place of desperation and, more often than not, a man takes away their choice. I could rant all day on this. But, I won’t. Just don’t do it.

But writers break these rules all the time!

That’s because they’re not rules. First of all, I made them up and who am I to give anyone rules? Second, like most of writing’s rules, they can be broken with wonderful results. But you better be good. And I don’t mean talented. You don’t send the fella who is a genius at filleting fish to the hospital to remove a brain tumor. Talent does not equal skill. Skill is acquired through learning and practice. So, you’d better be good skilled.

And you don’t break any rule because it makes the story easier to write or it puts this character where you need them to be. There are only three reasons to break a rule: character, character, character. Yeah, I lied. There’s only one reason. Because your character is well-motivated, fleshed out, and it serves their story. Good writing never serves the writer.

And this concludes my whackadoo ideas series of blog posts on how heroes and heroines should and should not show love. Next week, my fantabulously brilliant daughter will be guest blogging (unless she stands me up) about stories in video games. I’m excited.

“Lady love gone bad in romance | The Black Moment is a Restraining Order P2” ~ Click to Tweet

“Five things your heroine should never do in romance” ~ Click to Tweet

More on this topic:

–Credit for suggestions 1,2, and 3 go to my critique partner, Landra Graf (Twitter, Site). She thinks way faster than I do, apparently. Because, while I was coming up with 4 and 5, she was rattling them off.

Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Przemyslaw ‘env1ro’ Szczepanski.