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Citing Photos in WordPress from Adobe Spark

Citing Photos in WordPress from Adobe Spark

Citing stock photos is a free way to support photographers. The quickest and easiest way to cite stock photos from Adobe Spark in your Wordpress posts

Monday Writing Roundup-August 13

Monday Writing Roundup-August 13

Monday Writing Roundup. Links to five writing/publishing articles from the previous week that I have found helpful.

Outlawed openings: can they work?-author toolbox

Outlawed openings: can they work?-author toolbox

Dreams, Flashbacks, and waking up

CAn you make an outlawed opening work?

Most writing advice blogs will tell you to never use dreams, flashbacks, or waking up to begin your story. Avoiding these outlawed openings are often the first piece of advice given out at “pages or pass” readings during any writer’s conference. There are posts all over Pinterest warning writers to stay away and with good reason. These types of openings are all too common and they almost always fail.


This week I received an email from a former client asking about opening her book with a “memory.” This is the advice I gave her:

The simple truth is that anything can be made into a compelling opening if done right. (The Hunger Games begins with Katniss waking up.) The difficultly is making these types of openings compelling.

If you believe this memory is the most effective means of introducing your story, then you have your answer. My best advice is to proceed with caution.

Tips for making your outlawed opening compelling:

Make sure you know the function the memory has in the story
The reason most “waking up” story beginnings fail is the lack of a defined purpose. The author choose to begin there because she didn’t know where else to begin. Novels need to start at the beginning of the story; therefore, the memory must have a clearly defined purpose for introducing it. In other words, why does the reader need to know this right now? By choosing to defy the convention of “starting the story with action,” then you need to be able to justify this choice. “Because I wanted it there,” doesn’t cut it.

That reason can’t be a backstory/world-building dump
No one cares about your elaborate world-building on page 1. No one cares about your character’s unrelated childhood tragedy. If you are putting a dream or memory sequence at the beginning of your story just to explain something to the reader, it will fail to engage her.

It must lay the foundation for the rest of the story.
That means that the rest of the book must be framed around /altered by whatever profound thing is revealed in the memory. By choosing to introduce your story with this memory, then it should affect everything that happens. To test this, try taking the memory away, if it changes how the reader will perceive what follows, then you know the information revealed is critical.

The voice in the opening dream/memory must match the rest of the book
The opening is the introduction, the foundation for the entire story. This sets up the expectation that everything after will match. If you break this convention, your will annoy your readers.

It cannot confuse the reader by causing an abrupt change in the narrative
The reader will assume that whatever happens in the opening sequence is the beginning of the real story. If you start with a dream, or a memory, the reader will feel duped and left to wonder if anything she just read is even pertinent to what follows. Readers do not like being tricked. Never begin your story with this intention. It isn’t clever. It’s an invitation to the reader to close** your book.

This memory needs to be the**, opening hook
It must either set up an important question or cause the reader to make an emotional connection with the character. Often these types of openings fail as a hook because they reveal the answer, rather than posing a question. The opening must create more questions than it answers. This leaves the reader wanting more. Trying for the emotional hook usually fails because slapping the reader with a sob story on page one comes across as a cheap ploy. Until the reader is invested in character, she won’t care about her ugly backstory. This is difficult to do in an opening. Readers want to connect with the character’s current situation, then they will want to learn about her backstory.

Final points:

Assuming your opening meets these criteria and you have decided to proceed, make this opening brief so the real story can begin right away.

Genre also makes a difference. You will get more license for philosophical openings in women’s fiction than in urban fantasy, but not always. Voice matters. If the voice is engaging, readers will forgive anything.

Find a book where you thought this technique worked, and study this example. Then, incorporate those same ideas into your opening.

And finally, make sure you get feedback from your beta readers. These openings are discouraged for good reason. Making them work requires advanced writing skills. You may think you have accomplished your goals, but a reader may disagree.

While most writing advice blogs will tell you to avoid these types of openings, nothing about writing is absolute. There will always be people who find a way to break the “rules” and these are the writers people remember.

Do you know a novel where a forbidden opening worked? Let me know in the comments

This article is part of the monthly Author Toolbox Blog hop

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

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Let The Manuscript Shredder help with your next book. Order your copy of Your Novel, This Month today

Your Novel This Month Release Day

Your Novel This Month Release Day

Your Novel, This Month is a beginner’s guide to NaNoWriMo, or writing a novel in a month (any month. It really doesn’t have to happen in November.)

Publishing Pitfalls IWSG

Publishing Pitfalls IWSG

August IWSG Today is a crazy busy day with the release of my book. Yes, it’s today!!!!! Here’s the link Ok, enough of that. The awesome co-hosts for the August 1 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Sandra Hoover,Susan Gourley, and Lee Lowery! August 1 question – What […]

Working with a Cover Designer

Working with a Cover Designer

What it’s really like to work with a Cover Designer

This week I am excited to talk with the author P.J. Friel on her experience working with professional cover artist Damonza for her debut paranormal romance A Twist of Wyrd.

Ms. Friel, who designs covers for other authors, felt qualified to create her own. This is the original cover:

A twist of wyrd
original cover

As you can see, it’s a decent cover. Certainly far above what many would finger as “amateur” work; nevertheless, the author decided it could use some revision.

TMS: So why did you feel the cover was not quite right?

P.J: I basically got cover envy from Tal. lol [The cover for his current novel A Time to Rise  was designed by Damonza] I really wanted a cover designed by Damonza, but the cost was outside my budget.

However, when I looked on his website, I noticed that he offered a cover evaluation service for free. You send him your cover and he looks it over and tells you what is wrong (and right) with it. So, I sent in my cover and he sent me back a pdf outlining his thoughts on my design.

[Here’s a breakdown of what is in the evaluation: Taken from the from P.J.’s evaluation:

This review considers your cover using 5 different components – tone, relevance, attraction, interest and legibility (TRAIL). Each of those sections is scored out of 10, to give your book a final score out of 50.

In each category, she received a detailed description of the ideal cover and where her cover was off the mark. At the end was a summary of suggestions for improvements.]

TMS: Can you tell me a bit about what you thought wasn’t working with the previous version and what suggestions surprised you?

P.J: I knew the text was weak. I was fairly happy with the image itself and he gave me decent marks on that.  Overall, I got a score of 23/50.  I got a 6/10 for tone. Tone is basically genre.

TMS: Ah. We talked about that. Yours was less gritty

P.J: Yes. For Relevance I scored 8/10…the cover matched the content of the book based on the blurb I sent him. (No Egyptian pyramids on my Norse mythology paranormal romance.)

My cover scored 3/10 for attraction. He didn’t feel that it was very eye catching for readers.

TMS: Really? I would disagree. I found it very eye catching

P.J: I did too…until I saw his.

TMS: *laughs

P.J: Interest score was 4/10. Interest is just how visually interesting the cover is. He mentioned her eye being interesting, but that was about it.

Legibility was a huge fail. I got 2/10. That’s my font choices and use of drop shadows and the bokeh behind “wyrd.”  He dinged me hard for all that and I deserved it.

TMS: Text is so hard. I find it’s the “tell” for amateur titles.

P.J: Totally is. And it’s my weak spot. After the scoring, he gave me recommendations on how to fix the cover and showed me several well done covers in my genre.

TMS: Holy crap. He does that for FREE?

P.J: Just the consulting. Not the improvements.

TMS: Right. Still, that’s pretty sweet

P.J: I was going to fix the cover myself, but then I saw where he also offered a service to update a cover instead of designing one from scratch. I asked for a quote and he came back with price I could afford, so I went for it. The difference he made in my cover was impressive. I think he could probably make just about any cover look better.

TMS: Did you have multiple revisions or was it one pass?

P.J: We only did one pass on mine. He sent me a mock up and I asked for one small change. He fixed that and then I was completely satisfied. He sent me an invoice via PayPal. I paid and received my final covers. He also answered my questions about what fonts he used on my title so I could purchase those same fonts to use with any marketing I do.

TMS: Sounds pretty painless

P.J: Completely painless and very quick, too. My experience was 100% positive. I couldn’t be happier.

TMS: Probably makes a difference going with someone with a solid reputation as opposed to hiring some random person off Fiverr

P.J: Absolutely. Damonza is a true professional, offering a valuable and very business savvy service. His free cover consulting led to me ultimately paying for his services and it created a win-win for both of us. If you or your readers are interested, the starting price for his cover improvements service is $95 and prices go up from there.

The link for the cover consulting is:

Cover Consulting

And here’s the link for his cover improvements service:

Cover Improvements

Here’s the final result for PJ’s cover:

A Twist of Wyrd
final cover

TMS: Wow. That’s awesome.

P.J: Thanks! I’m absolutely thrilled with it.

Thanks for sharing you experience, P.J. Best of luck with A Twist of Wyrd.

To celebrate her new cover, the book is being offered for free on Amazon until the July 29. Grab your copy today!

*this article was not sponsored by Damonza, we’re genuine fans.

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Using Enneagrams for Character arcs

Using Enneagrams for Character arcs

Using Enneagrams to map out your character arcs will create realistically flawed characters and make their transformations feel real.

Hire The Manuscript Shredder

Hire The Manuscript Shredder

Get Shredded! The Manuscript Shredder is always looking for new pages to get her claws into.  Opening pages are the gateway to getting an agent’s attention. If these aren’t hitting the mark, your story will never get out of the slush pile. This is where […]

Scene Structure

Scene Structure

This week I was working with a friend who was considering a professional line edit and wanted my opinion if the cost was worth it. Normally, I encourage anyone who wants to hire an editor, but in this case, I said no. The reason: a line edit wouldn’t have fixed the real issue. The problems with the sample scene were structural.

What is a structural problem?

The structure of the scene is the logical progression of meaningful moments that creates an event in a story.  Sounds simple enough, but many writers interpret this to mean “a list of what happened during a specific time in the character’s life.” The problem with this approach is two-fold: first, the moments included in the scene aren’t meaningful, and second, info-dumping on the reader.

Meaningless moments

These include little life moments with no effect on the plot: waking up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc. Writers include these because they happened, but they only pad the story with useless filler. These moments don’t have a defined purpose. Cut these bits without mercy!

Info-dumping scenes

Info-dumping (or the magic fix-it scene) is more difficult to identify and fix. This is one place where “show, don’t tell” gets writers into trouble by creating dead-dull, convoluted scenes.

Types of info-dumping scenes

  1. Character building scene– this is the scene that exists purely to “show” the reader some aspect of the character’s personality. (Your normally bad-ass UF heroine spends five pages playing with her dog so she can be more “likable,” for example?)
  2. World building scene– This is a scene that exists purely to “show” the reader some aspect of the world building. There is no reason for the character to sit at her desk and think through all the reasons her government is corrupt. If it doesn’t cause her to do something, then it’s info-dumping.
  3. Backstory– This is the most difficult for writers to identify and fix. This scene happens at or near the beginning of the story. (Every have a beta tell you your story begins in the wrong place?) In this version, the writer intends to “show” the critical event that started the character’s journey. Normally, this would be the correct choice, but in this scenario the character did not have agency (the ability to effect change in their story). This lack of agency or choice means the event really belongs in the character’s backstory.

Let’s look at a few scenarios: 

A lottery winner becomes disillusioned with her new life 

You may be tempted to show the scene where she sees the numbers flash up on the screen one-by-one and she realizes her life is about to change forever. The problem with this scene is that the character is passive through the entire sequence. She doesn’t have a choice to make, so there’s no tension. Unless there is a reason she might not choose to cash in that ticket, the story actually begins after she’s settled in her new life.

Hiker gets trapped on the mountain

We don’t need a scene showing her packing for the trip, or even her deciding to go. The story begins with her choice to go despite the bad weather report.

Two teens escape from post-apocalyptic work camp

We don’t need to see what led up to their arrest.

In these scenarios, the opening doesn’t effect the outcome. On the surface, that statement seems false, but the distinction is the lack of agency and conflict. In the first two scenarios, there’s no conflict. The character didn’t make a decision, so the entire scene does nothing except relay information to the reader. In the last scenario, the chain of causation is broken by the arrest. The girls want to escape from prison, the reason they got there is irrelevant to the goal. In all three scenarios, the beginning scenes are actually backstory.

How to tell if your scene is necessary

If you are still not sure, Jami Gold’s scene goal worksheet can help you evaluate wether you are heading in the right direction.

In her worksheet, she states that a scene must have one of the following: plot point, character goal, action to advance plot, action to increase the tension/stakes. I’m going to edit this slightly and suggest that every scene must have a character goal, which results in: a plot point, an action to advance plot, or an action to increase the tension/stakes.

Jami lists several secondary goals on her chart such as characterization, world building, etc. These cannot be the primary purpose of your scene. If they are, your scene will not engage the readers. Editors will tell you that these elements should be “sprinkled in” other scenes. These types of scenes do nothing to move the action forward. This is why they are considered info-dumping. Even showing can be info-dumping. Scenes must have story-driven goals.

Structuring a scene

Make sure your scenes have these components: (or download my scene planning worksheet)

  1. Beginning: The POV character needs to have a goal
    • What does your main character want at the beginning of the scene?
    • What will happen if she doesn’t get it? (stakes)
  2. Middle:
    • What does she do to achieve this goal?
    • What stands in her way? Show this conflict
  3. End: Results
    • The character wins, but the solution causes a new problem (advance plot)
    • The character loses and the situation is worse because… (increase stakes)

Let’s look at an example:

Beginning: Dorothy wants to go back to Kansas (goal) Never see her family again (stakes)
Middle: She asks the wizard to help her (action to achieve goal) Wizard is a jerk and doesn’t want to help. (conflict)
End: Wizard agrees to help, (win) but only if Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch (new problem, advances plot)

All three components must occur to create a cohesive narrative that tells the story of an event. The event must change something. Either it changes the character’s goal (advance plot), or it increases the tension (stakes). If your scene does not tell a cohesive narrative, then it likely isn’t working.

The structure of every scene should be designed to tell the story of that scene’s goal. A scene that changes nothing, but only relays information to the reader, is info-dumping. Don’t fall into this trap. Scenes are miniature stories. Make sure you structure yours properly.

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structuring your

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Writing Goals-IWSG

Writing Goals-IWSG

 It’s IWSG time again! This is my monthly post on the blog hop The Insecure Writers Support Group: a blog hop therapy group for writers. (If you’re here for my writing lessons and have no need for this warm-fuzzy-feeling stuff, I’ll see you Friday after […]