Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Visually Crafting a Story

By Betty Thomason Owens

For years, I worked as an office manager for an engineering firm. We helped land developers bring their dreams to reality. The first step toward creation involved physically visiting the proposed site where the engineers made notes, took photographs, and drew sketches. They sent a survey crew to the site. A draftsman took their measurements and drew up an exact replica of the site. Plans for the proposed structure were drawn up and set on top of the surveyors’ representation. At this point in a large project, the engineers may create a model of the proposed structure.

What does this have to do with writing?

I don’t usually outline a story before I begin. I may jot down an idea then fill in things as I go. This lack of structure sometimes creates more work in the end, especially if a synopsis is required. But in thinking about my latest work-in-progress (WIP) which required more research, I realized a firm foundation was vital. I layered facts and dates, gleaned from research with storylines from my original idea.

Gradually, because I’m a little slow on the uptake at times, it began to make sense to me. After working so many years in the engineering industry, perhaps this was my best way to “design” a story--not with a traditional outline--but by layering with ideas and pictures until I had created a world of landscape, structures, and characters. Often utilizing Pinterest, I keep a board for my story ideas and fill it with photographs. I spend time looking at these photographs, then go back in and layer my story with details. These include color, texture, architectural features, landscaping, plants, etc.

Get the picture? Exactly. I’ve built a very real world for my characters to live in. And speaking of characters, I’ve found pictures of real people from the era and pinned those to my boards also. I even found the perfect wedding dress for my heroine.

Here’s how it works: I’m a Scrivener user, by the way. From my idea, I rough out a very short summary. I decide on my main characters and set them up in Scrivener, along with my idea for a location/setting (this may change). I create a new board in Pinterest. Then I’m off to the web to look for locations and ideas.

When I have a good foundation, I begin my story, referring back to the pictures whenever necessary to refresh my ideas. Have you guessed yet, that I’m a visual learner? Yes, it all connects back to your early education styles. You can easily adapt this to any style of learning, even add it to your outlines.
This is also an excellent way to push yourself through writer’s block. I’m not usually blocked, I’m just stalled. I need something to refuel my excitement over the project. Pictures can do that.
I hope I’ve sparked some new ideas in your writer’s mind. If you’re struggling with technique, perhaps you need to consider your learning style and adapt it to your writing.
Betty Thomason Owens writes romantic comedy, historical fiction, and fantasy-adventure. She has contributed hundreds of articles and interviews to various blogs around the Internet and is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), where she leads a critique group. She’s also a mentor, assisting other writers. She is a co-founder of a blog dedicated to inspiring writers, and a contributing editor for the soon-to-be launched online magazine, Imaginate. Her 20’s era romance, Amelia's Legacy, Book 1, Legacy Series, released October, 2014 (Write Integrity Press). She also writes contemporary stories as a co-author of A Dozen Apologies and its sequel, The Love Boat Bachelor, released January 26, 2015. She has two fantasy-adventure novels, The Lady of the Haven and A Gathering of Eagles, in a second edition published by Sign of the Whale BooksTM, an imprint of Olivia Kimbrell PressTM. Coming up next, a 1950’s historical novel based on the Book of Ruth, Annabelle’s Ruth, Book 1, Ruth Series (Write Integrity Press). You can connect with Betty on her personal webpage, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and at Writing Prompts & Thoughts & Ideas…Oh My!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mouth to Mouth

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine

Word of mouth is always one of the best ways to gain fans.

Take the word –sell– out of your vocabulary for now, relax.

You’re not going to die tomorrow if you don’t sell a book today.

Focus on building your fan base.

How many times have we heard the phrase know your audience?

If you are like me, I hear it constantly, whether at a conference, in a workshop or in a meeting.
In theory, we all wish everyone was our audience, but in reality, we know that isn’t true. Example…I may like a red blouse and you like the blue blouse.

One of the things I like to do is ask some of my friends if they would read four or five pages of my first chapter. I tell them I would like their opinion on who they think would be interested in reading this type of book. Notice, I did not ask them if they would tell me if they liked it, nor did I ask if they would catch my errors, proof or anything else, I just wanted their opinion.

Why do I want their opinion? Because everyone has an opinion.  And, human nature, in each of us, likes to give our opinions. After they give me their opinion if they haven’t told me, I ask where they think some of these people could be found. Like particular groups on the Internet or organizations. By asking specific questions, my friends can give me valuable information that I can use to get my book in front of the right people. You see, normally, you will get several different answers from you friends…giving you many places to research for your book.

This works very well when you are in the process of writing. However, if you have already written your book and it is published, then print off those four or five pages from your finished manuscript and give to them. Don’t give them a book yet.  If they come back and tell you they loved what you wrote then sign your book, and give them a copy. Now, when you do this, tell them you would be interested, after they read the book, what their thoughts were, what questions they might have pertaining to the characters, settings, scenes, and plot. You want them to bond with you and your book. If they do, they are going to suggest this book to some of their family and friends. Because once they’ve read your book, and talked with you about their questions and you’ve answered them, then you can ask, “Would you send out an email to ten of your friends and tell them about the book, and what you thought about the characters. Would you mention to them some of the things that you feel would peak their interest in the book. Would you recommend it to them?

At this point, a friend is going to do this. They are in your corner.

After they tell ten friends, ask them if they would put a review on Amazon about the book.

If you are going to write another book and this is a series, what a wonderful opportunity to involve your friends.

People like to help other in general, and I friends
will always be willing to help us if they like what you wrote.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How Does One Become a Writer?

By Claire Fullerton

My mother was not a writer, but maybe she should have been. She was one of the most natural born story tellers I’ve ever had chance to come across, and she glowed under a willing audience, well aware when she had one in the palm of her hand. She was a product of what I now call the old south, raised in an era when ladies were cultured and charming.

Her name was Shirley, and never was a woman more appropriately named. To me, the name tinkles like Champagne in cut glass: captivating and celebratory in its effervescence, happened upon only on rare occasions. Never have I seen a woman occupy a chair quite like Shirley, who could be found at the cocktail hour holding court in the card room in the house I grew up in with one feminine leg tucked beneath her and the other dangling freely at her seductive crossed knee. This was how she observed the end of the day, for in her mind, there was much to discuss. She was fascinated in the players who populated her extravagant world and had an uncanny ability to dissect their character down to the last nuance.

I couldn’t say now if she was insightful or just plain observant, whether she was legitimately concerned or liked to gossip, but she had a way of telling a story that could turn a trip to the grocery store into the most enviable journey ever taken. I used to watch my mother—study her with adolescent awe, looking for clues on how to evolve from an inchoate girl into her replica. I could have come out and asked her, but I always knew she wasn’t the type to ever confess. She is nine long years in heaven now, but the reverberating shadow she cast keeps her never far from reach.

I was asked just the other day how I became a writer; whether I studied it in college or took some other road. It’d be so convenient to say I have an accredited piece of paper granting me permission, but the truth is I have much more than that: I grew up under the tutelage of a southern shanachie, who showed me the seemingly ordinary in life is actually extraordinary; it all depends on how the story is told.
Claire Fullerton is the author of A Portal in Time (Vinspire Publishing.)  Her second novel, "Dancing to an Irish Reel" will be published in early 2015. She is a three-time, award winning essayist, a contributor to numerous magazines, and a multiple contributor to the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book series. She had her own weekly column in the ”Malibu Surfside News," and is currently writing a Southern family saga based on her award winning narrative in the San Francisco Writers Conferences' 2013 contest.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Saying No to a Home Office

By Debby Mayne

My husband and I recently moved from Florida to South Carolina, and we downsized in the process. Our children are grown, and my husband officially retired from his position as a financial advisor. As we searched for the perfect "retirement home," my husband kept asking, "Are you sure you don't want an office?"

I've had offices in the past, and they served their purpose when I relied on my old desktop. But for the past four years I've had a laptop that can go anywhere, there was no point in paying more for a house just because it had an office. I thought I'd share my opinion on the advantages and disadvantages of a home office for a novelist or freelance writer.

Here are some advantages of having a home office:
      You can have all of your supplies at your fingertips.
      The familiarity of the same room, same chair, and other things same can be comforting to some people.
      You can announce that when the "office door" is closed, you're at work, and no one is allowed to bother you unless fire, blood or protruding bones are involved.
      The home office is a great tax write-off.

The disadvantages include:
      You're sitting in the same position all the time, looking out the same window, facing the same walls, etc.
      If you become too comfortable in sameness, you can lose your freshness and edge.
      Sitting in the same chair is hard on the back.
      People always know where they can find you.

Things I like about not having an office and being mobile with my laptop:
      When you have back issues or other health problems that are exacerbated by sitting for too long, you can move your laptop around to different chairs, your kitchen counter, the breakfast bar, or even a board balanced on your treadmill. 

      When the urge strikes to visit your grandchildren, it's easy to take the work with you and do it after they go to bed.
         You can check your email and do administrative tasks without isolating yourself from your spouse or family while they watch football games or other sporting events on TV. (Exactly what I'm doing right this minute.)
      Wherever you are becomes your office—from your La-Z-Boy recliner to a choice table at Starbucks.
      When the weather is nice, you can go outdoors and sit at the cute little patio table or kick back in the chaise lounge.
Debby Mayne has published more than 30 books and novellas, 400 print short stories and articles, more than 1,000 web articles, and a bunch of devotions for women. She has been a managing editor of a national health magazine, product information fashion writer for HSN, creative writing instructor for Long Ridge Writers Group, and etiquette expert for Most of her stories feature strong, southern women who overcome all sorts of obstacles. She is currently working on "Belles in the City," a 3-book series of Christian romances with southern heroines who move to New York City. She also writes southern-set, quirky, cozy mysteries under her maiden name Deborah Tisdale. Her social media links are Website: Blog:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Begin Again and Be Selective

Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

You have heard it said, “I’m spread too thin, I’m running on empty, I’m burning my candle at both ends and the harder I work the farther behind I get”. We all have at one time or another come to the realization we are not performing to the best of our abilities. What can you do about this when it happens to you?

I have a friend that is a psychologist and he is always asking “How’s your day going?” If I ever speak negatively of my day he will say, “You know you have the right to start your day over. Begin again.” Since he first spoke those words to me I have indeed started my day, many days, over. It seems to give you a new attitude and greater expectations for the remainder of the day.

The same is true for our lives. I recently had a friend faced with a terminal illness. He was given a short amount of time to live and immediately gave up on life. 3 days later he was on top of the world and optimistic about his future. The change came after he began again. He sought other opinions and made connections with the world’s finest doctors specializing in his disease. The big difference was his priorities had changed. His objectives were narrowed down to what really matters. The 101 things he had been trying to accomplish had fallen away and he now had only a few major objectives in his life.

I am familiar with this scenario. I and another family member experienced near death health issues. We came through not only healthy but focused on our priorities. Many things we were trying to do, people we were trying to please and objectives we were attempting to reach were no longer a priority. They have now been narrowed down to just a few.    

Author Richard Koch said, “Few people take objectives really seriously. They put average effort into too many things, rather than superior thought and effort into a few important things. People who achieve the most are selective as well as determined.”  As Koch stated a multitude of things can demand our best effort but with so many objectives only a few of us can do better than average. If we were to be more selective in our objectives and give them superior thought and effort we would achieve more.

I know we all have that mentality of wanting to do all and be all but we must consider, “Why not be more and do more with a few things?” It can be done as Koch says by being more selective and determined. If you seem frustrated or lacking in your results you may want to begin again and be more selective with your objectives. You have the right to start over and prioritize.  


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Houses and Books

By M. Sakran

That house – it took me eight years to build. I redid the foundation a few times. I went back and forth between having four and five bedrooms. I built the fifth bedroom three times, but tore it down each time. I actually tore the whole house down twice and started over now that I remember. I spent a lot of time thinking. It took me four months to pick the color of grout I wanted in the guest bathroom.  And you don’t even want to know how long I spent deciding if I wanted the house wrap to be blue or green. Sure, it would be covered up by brick later – but I would know it was there. I ended up choosing orange.
Sound a little odd? It does doesn’t it. You would never hear someone talk about building a house like this, especially with a sound of pride. And if you did, you certainly wouldn’t buy the house from them (you might not even go inside it). 
But isn’t it strange – isn’t this exactly how writers sometimes talk about their books? 
They say the book took them eight years to write, that they changed the entire plot a few times, that they spent months deciding a character’s hair color. You hear this often. Writers even talk about it with pride. They love to tell you how they spent four months deciding if a character should be called Angie or Angela.
Why is writing a book different than building a house? If we heard someone talk about a house like this we wouldn’t buy it, but when we talk about our books like this, we expect readers to buy them?  Why, when a house is being built, do we want builders to be decisive, efficient, and do things only once, but when we write books we start over, change things, and spend hours over little points – and think it is good? Why are books different from houses?
Houses and books have more in common than both being made of wood products. Houses are products. Books are products too. They both give something to a consumer. You may say that books are different. Books are creative, books are expressions, details in books matter. But houses are creative, houses are expressions, and details in houses matter. But we don’t build houses like we write books.
Often as writers we feel the need for perfection. We think that if we call the town Ellesfield instead of Elesfield that everything will be wrong. We sometimes labor over connections and symbolism– the shirt in chapter five is light blue, because the woman at the diner in chapter three had a light blue ribbon in her hair, and light blue expresses a sense of calm, and ….
As a writer, ask yourself some honest questions the next time you read a book:
  Could you tell how long each part took to write?
  Could you tell how long the whole book took to write?
  Would you care if you knew?
  Did you notice countless symbolisms and connections?
  Would the book have been ruined if the main character was named Louis instead of Lewis?
  If you learned some small detail in the book was labored over, or a chapter was rewritten eight      times, would you think the book was better?

If you answer no to these questions, you might expect that readers of your books feel the same way.  When someone reads your book they can’t tell how long you took to write it (unless you tell them).  They can’t tell if a really good paragraph took ten minutes or ten hours to write (they probably wouldn’t care, and if they did, they might wonder why it took ten hours). They most likely didn’t notice the light blue shirt in chapter five. And if all the symbolisms, connections and labored points were explained to them – they wouldn’t read the book.  
As writers, we often labor over our books. We feel the need for “just right." We value effort. This has down sides though.
It’s inefficient (think about taking eight years to build a house).
It might not be noticed by readers (no one noticed the character walked twenty-three steps to the front door).
Readers probably don’t care. If anything, they might be more impressed that something took a short amount of time and flowed naturally, than was an arduous trek of expression.
Taking a long time to write a book and laboring over nuances isn’t necessarily bad. If writing a book is about something emotional and about fulfilment then it may make sense. If the idea is to fully express all that is inside you in three hundred pages then it is perfectly fine. You probably should spend a lot of time and focus on small points if the purpose is to have it culminate in something that expresses you. 
However, if the point of writing your book is to write as a writer – someone who writes multiple books, that get published, and sell, then this might not be the way to do it. There is not much purpose in doing things that slow the process, won’t be noticed and don’t add value for readers. 
If you want to write books as a writer, then you have to realize that books are like houses. Both are creative, both are about expression and both have important details – but both need to be made efficiently.
M. Sakran is the author of a collection of poetry entitled First Try and has also written over forty items for magazines and websites. M. Sakran’s poetry related blog can be found at

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

That's Not What I Asked

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

In a conversation with another writer last week, I was reminded of the fine line between necessary details and too much information. We were discussing how often an exchange like this happens:

Person 1: When are you taking your vacation?
Person 2: Well, we were planning on going in May, but our youngest has soccer tryouts and we need to be here for that. Then my nephew and his wife are coming for a visit so we can see the new baby, and...

By the time Person 2 gets around to "What was the question again?", Person 1 is sorry they asked.

Let's not even get into those folks who take the greeting "How are you?" as an invitation to go down the laundry list of ailments and aches they've been having.  Granted, there are times when we genuinely seek a real answer when asking, "How are you?", like when Person 2 is coming out of a coma.

Watching the entertainment awards shows in recent days, one couldn't help but notice the tendency of some winners to give more information than is appropriate.  "And the Oscar goes to..." is not asking the question, "What are your thoughts on the human condition?"

Those on the receiving end of extraneous dissertations are not getting what they asked for.  When something takes a turn out of sync with our expectations, there is disappointment and often resentment.  As consumers, we are especially prone to expect a product to be that product with no undue surprises.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from friends who read a lot is their annoyance with books that go into unneeded backstory or detail about the industry, profession or region where the story takes place.  When it gets to the point where they're skipping pages at a time, they already know they're not going to read that author again.

More than one bestselling author in Southern Writers has told us that although they may do voluminous research, they make it a point not to put it all in their story.  When it's in their head, the essential information will filter onto the page organically, without force feeding it to the reader.

Giving the audience exactly what they're asking for (a well-worded story that doesn't waste their time) will generate the preferred response when you ask, "What did you think of my book?" That's an answer you'll actually want to hear.