The Inner Dialogue: A Method for Figuring Out Your Stories

So if you didn’t hear, a novel I’ve been working on since college is getting published, and I’ve been working with a professional editor to make sure that the story is the best it can be before publication. During the revision process, we agreed that the number of flashbacks in the story were actually getting in the way of the story, so I should nix them. Unfortunately, that meant a third of the book went out the window, and another third that relied on that first third had to go as well.

Yeah, that got me depressed for a little while, and it took a lot for me to climb out of that funk. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m actually here to talk about what happened with my story. Because you see, now that essentially the majority of the novel had been chucked out, I had to figure out where to go with the story. I couldn’t go the original direction of the story, because the flashbacks I’d tossed out were so essential to that direction.

Luckily, I was able to come up with a new direction for the story using a method that I’d never used before, which I call the inner dialogue. I can’t remember where I picked this method up,* but it’s stayed in the back of my mind for years, and I figured this was as good a situation as any to use it.

The inner dialogue is where you simulate a conversation with your inner writer (we all have one) when you’re struggling with what to do with a story. This could be trying to overcome writer’s block, figuring out why what a character is doing in the story feels wrong to you, having to rewrite a majority of the story, or any other issue you may be having during the writing/editing process of a story.

Here’s what you have to do:

Get a notebook and pen, or a typewriter and paper, or open up your preferred writing program on your computer. Imagine that you’re sitting down with your inner writer at a cafe, in your favorite writing spot, in a dark basement underneath a seedy dive bar, wherever you feel most comfortable talking to your inner writer. And have an honest conversation with them, writing down what you say and writing down what your inner writer says back. Think of it like texting, only you’re texting with a part of your mind you use for storytelling.

Bounce ideas off them, talk about the criticisms people have with the story, discuss what about the story is bugging you. Something about this method, writing out the problems and some possible situations to remedy this, allows your mind to open up and see new possibilities and solutions.

It might also make people wonder if you’re channeling spirits and doing automatic writing and/or if you’re having some sort of psychological crisis. But I think that’s a risk worth taking for finding what you need to make a story as good as it possibly can be.

Here’s an example conversation of me and my inner writer (who I’ve found to be very sassy during our conversations) discussing a hypothetical book idea I’ve been working on. My dialogue is written normally, while my inner writer uses bold letters:

So we’re doing this again, are we?

Yes, we are. Alright, let’s talk about my idea for a novel I’ve been working on. It centers on a group of cheerleaders.

I’m sure it does, you naughty dog.

Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, we’ve gone over what would happen to them once they arrive at the main setting of the story. But why does it happen? There’s always a catalyst that sets things up. Even if we don’t see it until the end of the story, there’s always something that starts the horror off.

Not always, baby boy. Remember The Haunting of Hill House? That really didn’t have a–no wait, that’s not right. The catalyst was that they entered the house for the investigation, and one of the subjects is mentally still very much a child, which puts her the most at risk to the house’s charms.

Yeah, catalysts in stories can be debatable or hard to pin down sometimes. But what could be a catalyst for this story. Why does this happen to these characters?

You were playing around with the idea of the setting being an illusion, weren’t you? Something created by the characters and the dark secrets in their minds. Can we do anything with that still? Maybe a variation?

You see where this is going, right? But it is very effective. I got ideas for this hypothetical novel just from doing an inner dialogue here in this blog post. And if doing it as a demonstration in this blog post can give me ideas for a novel, imagine what it can do for your work at home.

With that in mind, I just want to leave you with a couple of tips for doing this. You don’t have to use them, but I find them useful:

  • Be honest and write down everything. It may be a lot of work, but you’ll find it helpful to write down everything in these dialogues. Especially if you want to go back and see what you’ve come up with. Any thought, any idea, could prove useful, so write them down, even if your thoughts are kind of weird (mine certainly are).
  • Give your inner writer a voice. Like in your stories, the inner writer is also a character, even if they only exist inside you. That being said, you’ll want to give them a voice, motivations, everything you’d give a normal character. That way, they can speak to you just like any other character, and make the dialogue that much more effective.
    It also helps to give the inner writer’s dialogue some distinguishing characteristic, so it doesn’t get jumbled up with your own. A different font, italics, as long as it helps you differentiate, it’s all good.
  • Mark the dates and times of the dialogues. Often these dialogues can last a while. Mine lasted two weeks while I was trying to find a new direction. So mark the date and times you had these dialogues in the document you’re using. You’ll find it very helpful for later.

Nobody wants to find out a story is flawed or that they can’t figure out how to fix its problems. But there are a variety of methods to overcome these issues. Perhaps the inner dialogue is a good one for you, and will help you write, edit and publish your best work. You just have to sit down, and commit to talking to yourself for a little while. You never know what you’ll unlock.

*For some reason I think it might have something to do with Stephen King, but I think I’d remember if I came across this method in a King novel. If you have any idea where it came from, let me know in the comments. I’d like to give a proper acknowledgement to whoever or wherever I got the inner dialogue.

Tips For Surviving NaNoWriMo

As we all know, National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, is just around the corner (though considering it’s done all over the world these days, it might need a name change). If you are not familiar with the tradition, it’s basically that every year authors try to write a novel in the course of a single month, usually one that’s around fifty-thousand words, and always in November. Of the authors that choose to participate each year, some do it independently, while others do it through an international organization that can hook them up with other participating writers in their region and even let them know about local events centered on helping authors during the month.

I’m on the fence on whether or not I’ll be participating this year. I’ve three other books at various stages of editing and I have to decide if one of those books needs to be rewritten (if so, then I’m participating because that’s basically starting from scratch). Even so, I thought I’d serve the writing community and do my civic duty by posting some notes on how to survive and get through NaNoWriMo with all your fingers still attached to you and your sanity somewhat intact.

Because let’s face it, writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days? I don’t know about the rest of you, but normally that many words takes me six to eight months. Cramming all that work into a month, we need all the help and advice we can get.

So first off, don’t get stressed about the word count. To get fifty-thousand words written in thirty days, you’d have to write approximately 1,667 words, or about 6.7 pages per day.* I know for a lot of writers it’s difficult to get that much out in a single day. The thing to remember is not to feel upset if you can’t force yourself to get that many words out per day. Remember, all good stories take time, and there’s no prizes for meeting daily quotas (the NaNoWriMo organization hands out badges, but they’re like the ones from Audible, nice to have when you get them but they don’t make much of a difference after you get them) or getting the full fifty-thousand words written out besides bragging rights. Besides, if you have to force yourself to put out words when your heart is not in them or just to meet a quota, your first draft might not turn out so well.

That’s another thing: remember that this is a first draft. And a rushed one, too. So if you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the heck you were thinking, that’s a normal reaction to a first draft. They’re supposed to be full of errors and passages that make no sense to you upon the second read-through. It’s during that second read-through that you touch it up and get it closer to the gem that you know it’s going to be.

Now that we’ve gotten the tips that’ll keep you in a good frame of mind out of the way, let’s cover how we actually survive NaNoWriMo:

Prior to November, research and prepare. We’ve still got twenty-two days till NaNoWriMo kicks off. During that time, it might help for you to get an idea of what you’re working on, where it might be heading, and maybe learn a bit more about the subject matter you’re writing, especially if it’s a topic you don’t know very well (like a murder mystery in Tang China or a coming-of-age story set in an ROTC unit). Now I know a lot of you might like to write by the seat of your pants, but just doing a little bit of prep can be helpful, especially if it means you don’t have to stop midway through writing because you realized you don’t know a thing about car maintenance and you lose four days because you got a car maintenance manual and needed to cram all that info in.

It also helps to prepare so that you can make plans in case you have to stop writing for any reason. Whether you need to attend a wedding midway through the month or you have to put the metaphorical quill down because you have a Poli Sci exam coming up you need to study for, having a contingency plan in case that happens can work wonders.

Speaking of which, while it is important to get out as much writing as possible, make sure not to neglect your life just to write. Many of us have day jobs, school, families, friends, and a variety of other things that require our attention. While it is important to write and maybe give up a few social obligations or fun outings to work, don’t neglect the real world entirely. I find the real world can not only give me great ideas for stories, but also reenergize me so that when I sit down to write, I’m not restless and looking for a distraction or yearning to go out and see the latest horror movie or something.

And while you’re working so hard, remember to take care of your health. In some ways, NaNoWriMo is like the last three weeks of a college semester: you’ve got a ton of work to do, only so much time to do it, and you’re willing to get maybe four hours a night of sleep and eat ramen noodles three times a day if that’s what it takes to get through it on top. I’m advising against that. There are no consequences to not getting out the full fifty-thousand words, so your health shouldn’t be a consequence of trying to. Get plenty of sleep each night, eat healthy meals, and get some exercise too if you can, even if it’s just going for a walk. You’ll find you’ll have more energy for writing if you do, believe me.

It’s also healthy to take an occasional break. We all need time to recharge and let our brains focus. So if you feel approaching burnout or writer’s block, or if you can’t figure out where your story should go next, or if you’re just so tired of writing about a princess trying to cover up her father’s murder so she doesn’t have to marry against her will, then maybe a trip out to the movies or to the bar with your friends or some fun family time or an all-night Mario Kart tournament with your roommates might be what you need. Studies actually show that ideas come more easily to you if you’re distracted, so there’s even more reason to take a break right there.

And if you need a little motivation to keep you going, reward yourself for certain milestones. For every five-thousand words or so you put out, reward yourself with something fun. This could be a favorite dessert, watching Netflix for a little while, whatever you want. Give yourself something extra special when you reach fifty-thousand words and/or finish the book (I suggest some wine, some celebration music, and later a good movie with a friend). You’ll find it much easier to write if you have something to look forward to after all your hard work.

And let’s not forget to build a support network around yourself. The NaNoWriMo organization attempts to do this by putting you in touch with other participants in your area and with community events, but whether or not you decide to participate in these events, you should still have people around you encouraging and cheering you on. Friends, family, lovers, authors you’re friends with online or offline, they should all be there for you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have people cheering me on and willing to read my work every time I publish during the rest of the year. Imagine how motivating it’ll be when you know there’s a group of people standing behind you when you do the writing equivalent of a 5K.

Finally, take a long break when you’re done. Not just from writing so you can get your creative juices to recharge, but also take a break from whatever novel you were working on once you’re done. I always feel that a month or more between drafts allows for writers to come back to their first drafts with fresh eyes so they can see where they made mistakes in the first draft and correct them. If you start editing immediately after finishing the first draft, you can only see it as the baby you just poured so much time and energy into and miss quite a lot. Better to take a break and let it lie until you’re ready to look again.

I’d like to wrap it up here and wish everyone participating next month good luck. Whatever you do to make the month of November one of the most productive and crazy of the year, I hope you found these tips helpful and that you have fun trying to get a full novel out in thirty days.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

What tips do you have for getting through the month and writing as much as you can in so little time?

*That’s if you write like I do, which is Times New Roman, 12 point font, and double spaced on 8.5” x 11” paper. Otherwise it varies.

Author Joleene Naylor’s Writing/Publishing Process

Everyone writes a book differently and each author swears by their own methods.  As far as I see it, the only wrong way is the way that doesn’t work for you. That said, I’m going to share my bizarre way of novel creation.

  1. Rough (bad) draft. Ideally, I like to do this in a month without an outline. I have vague ideas for some plot elements, or even a handful of scenes, but that’s about it. I also don’t research beforehand, but rather as I’m writing because I don’t know what I will need.
  2. I reread and fix anything major I notice. I won’t lie, this is often not a lot.
  3. It’s off the beta reader number one whose job is to find major typos. I have a lot of them because, yes, I’m a bit dyslexic. It means some extra work on the polishing end and that we have to go over it more times than some other authors need to, but it is as it is.
  4. At this stage it used to go to The Mighty Ed (alas I have lost her because of other commitments, though I have a new Ed in training). She would read through and point out scenes that needed cut, scenes that needed expanded, parts that didn’t mesh, places where the characters acted out of character etc. This step is absolutely vital to any book, and I can not reiterate enough the need for an “Ed” who respects you enough to tell you what needs fixed without being mean or lecturing you. It may also be hard to take said advice the first (few) times because essentially they tear your book to shreds and stomp on it – but hopefully in a nice way.
  5. Now comes rework. I  incorporate 99.9% of her suggestions, even if this means massive rewriting, which it has before. I prefer to go over the whole thing two times afterwards to make sure the changes flow.
  6. Beta number one tirelessly pours over it again for typos.
  7. Now it goes to beta number two. He corrects more typos and points out the flaws in my fight scenes and  suggests where I need more gore (or explosions). He’s also what I call an honest beta, in so far as he will flat out say “this sucks”. Again, this is very necessary.
  8. Another round of edits to incorporate his suggestions and probably some rewriting.
  9. Beta number one looks sad, but looks over it again.
  10. Now it goes to beta number three. She’s the romance expert but also makes suggestions on other scenes, catches typos and grammar and points out anything that might be confusing to a reader. This is invaluable.
  11. Another round of edits to incorporate her suggestions.
  12. Beta number one cries, I feel bad, and just send it on the beta number four.
  13. Beta four wades through it, fixes typos and some odd phrases and may or may not point out a handful of scenes that need to be redone.  For example, in book four I ended up doing some large chapter rewrites after he pointed out that  a pivotal scene just wasn’t working (if you’ve read the book, it was the truck stop scene.) He is also not a regular vampire fan, so he points out anything that non-vampire readers might find confusing. This is another super important person.
  14. I rewrite, re-edit, etc based on his suggestions. I also have several long plot arranging conversations with him, so he gets to be the sounding board, as have poor Mighty Ed  and betas one and two throughout the whole of this process.
  15. Then it  is off to beta number five. She is a whiz at catching typos/grammar, plot inconsistencies and things like magically changing hair color or magically clean clothes (these have both happened!)  etc. and, like The Mighty Ed, she understands the universe and the characters. This is something that is very hard to find and so, so important!
  16. Another round of edits and rewrites and then poor beta number one looks it over again. By now beta one and I have it memorized and are both sick of this book.
  17. Mighty Ed gets the final copy, which she double checks for punctuation (my commas are wild). With book four, Mighty Ed was pretty busy, so beta five got the final round. She did a fantastic job, as evidenced by the nice clean copy.
  18. Now I make a bunch of other changes. Beta number one sobs and threatens to beat her head into the keyboard. I moan and complain that this must be the worst book ever written. I would rather stab out my eyes than read it again.
  19. I format it and send it to Create Space. My paperback version arrives and I read it one more time (it reads differently in paperback). Then poor beta one looks at it again as does beta two. We draw circles, squares and chickens on the pages (beta two does the chicken art).
  20. I redo all of the marked things. On the last boo this was just typos and such, but on the others I have randomly added whole new scenes at this juncture.
  21. Ideally I get a second proof and go through it a final time, but not always.
  22. I publish the sucker and vow never to read it again because i would rather be stampeded to death by a herd of water buffalo than ever read another word of it!

As you can see, this process is a bit long. I need to try to streamline this because, as you can guess, it takes months and releasing only one book a year is not doing my career any favors. It’s occurred to me that a lot of time is spent polishing scenes that get deleted or changed after beta reader’s input, so with my current WIP (PATRICK) I am trying a different method. I sent out the initial bad draft (from step 4) and will compile the comments, notes, etc, and the do a BIG rewrite, thereby hopefully meshing steps 4-15 into only a couple of steps. Hopefully this will also save beta one’s sanity and keep me from completely hating the book by the time it’s published. Or maybe not.  Cutting out some of the rewrite steps may result in more typos slipping through, or more little bits that needed added but got missed. I don’t know, but I guess we’ll find out. That’s the beauty of indy publishing, you can try new things, make mistakes, learn from it and try something else if it doesn’t work.

Writing an Original Novel: Ten Tips for Ideas by Michael M. Griffin

One simple idea may make you a success. One simple idea may spawn the next bestseller.

However, for new writers, it’s hard to develop an original trademark. Speaking as an upcoming writer myself, I have gathered a list of ten writing tips over the course of my journey. If you have trouble with developing ideas, please try a few of these surefire pointers to get you started!

Tip 1 – Watch Your Music

Your music is more than simple instruments. Regardless of what you are doing, listen to any song you want. Invent a random scene that you believe accompanies that song.

Imagine your own movie scene/trailer with that song as the soundtrack. In this visual representation of your music, the possibilities are endless; you are limited only by your imagination and your musical library.

Build from that sequence as it becomes clearer. Listen to other songs, create new scenes and string them all together. You may even want to write them down. Maybe you will notice something in your mental movie sequence that will spark an idea, then a character, and perhaps even a plot!

Personally, I favor classical music (soundtrack/neoclassical/trailer). It does not feature any lyrics, which allows your own imagination to dominate your scenes. Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Howard Shore, Epic Score, Two Steps From Hell and Nox Arcana are all great artists to start with!

Tip 2 – Brainstorm!

Write down anything and everything that comes into your head.

Allow multiple trains of thought, without having a care to what you are writing. Keep your thoughts as narrow or as wide as you wish, and interlink different thought-trains to form connections between them.

An idea for a story could possibly manifest from all the thoughts you write down. However, when you feel an idea forming, try to focus on what sparked it.

Tip 3 – The Single Word Technique

Think of a word … a single word, preferably an interesting one. Now write it down and capitalize it. This one word that you imagine is the title of the book.

Based on that one-word-title, imagine something that belongs with that title (i.e. – a character, place, conflict or event). If you can, imagine an entire storyline blossoming from this one word.

Tip 4 – Build on Past Creations

Draw from a storyline you already know – a favorite book or movie. Watch the movie or read the book. If you’re looking for an idea, something small could catch your eye and spark a story of your own.

However, DO NOT plagiarize! Personalize your idea and make it original!

Tip 5 – Create a Character

Imagine a character in your future book. Make a list of his/her characteristics, personality traits, objectives, problems and desires. Describe this character in as much detail as possible, and imagine what kind of adventures he/she would have.

Tip 6 – Travel

A journey could be the perfect remedy for a mental block. Get out of the house and have an adventure. Whether this adventure is to France, the Caribbean, the shore or your local movie theater, visiting new places can rouse ideas and inspire your work.

Tip 7 – Jobs, Hobbies and Interests

Consider one of your jobs or hobbies. Whether you are a lawyer or a guitarist, a mathematician or a painter, a congressman or a mechanical engineer, you have other areas of your life that can benefit your writing. Think about the nature of your job or hobby; what kind of fictional story could be written about it?

What do you find interesting? Cars? Attend a car show. War? Watch a war movie or visit a castle. History? Visit various museums. Science? Read technological magazines or science-fiction novels. Whatever inspires you, make sure you utilize it; think about how it could positively affect your writing.

In addition, read anything and everything that interests you, be it books, newspapers, articles, magazines or blogs. You never know what might come of some light reading.

Tip 8 – Reminisce

Reflect upon your own experiences. Perhaps there is a period in your life that was particularly joyous, grim, heartbreaking, fulfilling or life-altering.

If it isn’t upsetting to you, then weave a fictional tale around this era. People love a passionate story!

Tip 9 – Record Your Dreams

Countless novels, theories and inventions were originally born in dreams.

Keep a dream journal and record every dream you can remember. Document the date of the dream, the dream’s details and the dream’s emotions you experienced. Also note your level of consciousness within the dream (lucidity), as well as the amount of control you had over yourself and the dream’s environment.

You will be surprised with how many ideas you can extract from your dreams.

Tip 10 – Expect the Unexpected

Keep an open mind. Ideas can present themselves anytime, anywhere.

When they hit, always be ready; record them on a notepad app in your phone or iPod. Constantly be on the lookout for new ideas, as they can be quite spontaneous!



Michael M. Griffin is an aspiring writer who is planning to publish Mistress, a science-fiction novel of nanotechnology and religious tyranny, in 2013. It is not yet complete; however, you can support his work and find out more about Mistress by visiting his blog here.

Adding Humor to Your Scenes

Writing is serious business and if you want your work to succeed you must develop good skills. This takes work.

It involves attending writing conferences and workshops as well as critique groups. Hours of pursuit to hone your talents. How do you release these stresses for perfection?

Write humorous scenes. They bring smiles to the lips of your readers, but they also relieve the weary writer.

However, before you can do that you need to make sure the humorous addition is conducive to the scene or the character’s traits. For example, you could not include humor in a life-or-death scene.

You can, though, use it to show readers a character’s wit. I did this in two different ways in my recently-released, inspiring-historical romance, Lockets and Lanterns. One way was through the character’s actions in a flashback scene where Red first met his soon-to-be wife.

“The barn dance flashed before him.

“He knew that bowing before her after their introduction at the dance was a gamble. He smiled, satisfied his movement at least caught her attention. He pulled out a strand of his red hair as a calling card, an impulse of pure genius. He snickered.”

What do we learn from this? That Red is a fun-loving and confident individual portrayed through his pulling out a hair strand as a calling card and his thinking this was an action of “pure genius.”

If the character is jovial, humor also works in dialogue. Another excerpt from Lockets and Lanterns:

“The crisp air drifted in behind him as Red opened the door. He came over to her. His red hair swept down around his brow. He laid the dead animal on the kitchen table. ‘Here’s a goose for you to cook.’

“Edith glared at the furry, long-eared animal. She raised her face to her husband. ‘That’s a rabbit.’ She shook her head at him.

“He wrapped his arm around her waist. His cold lips pressed against hers. He took a step backward and gave a sly grin. ‘No, it’s a goose because his goose is cooked.’”

This dialogue excerpt flowed naturally. It started with the vague description of the word, animal, to the wife looking at the dead rabbit to the ending dialogue of “No, it’s a goose because his goose is cooked.”

How do you achieve this natural style? Watch and listen to those around you. Family gatherings are good avenues. I have one son who knows how to insert some zingers. What about the family recalling your past missteps? My oldest sons remind me of the first time I had a microwave oven and heated up some leftover chicken. It became crispy chicken. Are you laughing?

Modify these incidents and create scenes which fit your characters. Children are good fodder. I remember when my oldest granddaughter was four. It was a clear day until all at once a big wind came. “What a wind?” I told her. She replied, “Well, God can do whatever He wants because He is a big guy.”

Mentally note these events and rework them to place in your manuscript. Have a friend or critique partner read them to make sure they work. Have you ever heard a joke and laughed because it was expected of you but you did not get it? Of course, you have. This is why it is important for others to exam what you write.

Additionally, read the public pulse, emails and Facebook postings, there always are comical comments. Print or jot them down either physically or mentally for later use. No matter what period, except perhaps Regency, you can redo those for the era. People cry, laugh and smile since the beginning of time. But jokes do go out of style so watch that.

Years ago my family visited the Ford Theater where Lincoln was shot. The reason John Wilkes Booth got off the shots without the audience at first knowing was because of the laughter to a line in the play. When tour guides repeated that joke, not one of us laughed. The line no longer worked.

Well, I will go for now. Take care and remember to lighten your load with chuckles and as always God bless.

The 3 Act Plot Structure by Jerry Dunne

The plot isn’t a series of events that move forward in a random way. The events are connected by cause and effect and have a very definite structure to them. The plot for the short story can be structured like a 3 act play and like in a play the acts are divided into scenes. Within each scene the structure is like the play itself with a beginning, middle and end, culminating in a high point.

Let’s take a closer look at this 3 act structure.

Act 1

Start with a set-up or situation. A set-up can be viewed in a very simple way: introduce a protagonist and put him in a problematic situation. Let’s suppose that your short story idea has given rise to two strong opposing characters and you can see the conflict that will nicely rise out of the confrontation between them. But here you must start thinking of the individual situations in which you will pit your protagonist against your antagonist.

What triggers the conflict’s story and kicks the plot into gear is known as the inciting incident. This will be something dramatic and disturbing for the protagonist. It comes as close to the beginning of the story as possible. Once character and setting are introduced, it should happen. The inciting incident signals the end of the first act.

In my story The Hair Snatching Witch the inciting incident comes in the second scene. The first scene sets up character and situation. In this second scene, Gracie Glass is hair snatched by the witch. This horrible incident means that Gracie soon plans to end the witch’s hair-snatching days.

Act 2

This is the main body of the story. I personally believe it is the trickiest part to write because it is where you are placing scenes that develop character, plot and conflict in a smooth and logical manner and the tension must always be rising, even in quiet periods of reflection. It must be clear that the stakes are rising for the protagonist, and that everything is heading toward an inevitable clash with the antagonist.

Many stories have a lively beginning and then a rambling middle. You cannot afford to ramble in a short story at any point. Rambling means the tension is fast draining away, leaving the reader growing bored. Alternatively, the middle part may be short, but empty of conflict. Or it might have lots of conflict but none of it really relevant to the plot. In a six thousand word short, the middle bit may take up four thousand words or even more. Ironically, this short word length might end up seeming like a vast desert in which you are trying to construct a sharp, well-written middle part.

So what can you do to prevent these bad things happening? Well, assuming that your original idea really does have short story potential then you can plan this middle act carefully. Once you have planned it, you can then play with it in your own head for a while. Question yourself over it! Look for weaknesses and if you see any, strengthen them! Remember, throughout the act you must have rising tension.

This is just a rough guide to how I suggest you plan it, though some of it is essential to cause the greatest amount of tension and excitement in the story. (You’ll see why later on).

Have 3 clashes between the protagonist and antagonist.

In the first clash, the hero can be thwarted. Bear in mind this might already have happened in the inciting incident. You may or may not want your hero to receive an even greater drubbing.

The second clash might end in a messy draw or the hero might be done down even more. Or the hero might win and think it is game, set and match. Then the third clash will be quite unexpected.

The third clash will have a high point and the darkest moment. The whole point of this third clash is to ratchet the tension up even higher. Remember that! It will look like our hero has got one over on the opposition, this is the high point, but then, suddenly, the darkest moment arrives, where it looks like all he has tried to achieve is now undone. It looks like he has completely failed in his quest to sort out the problem of the story. This is an essential moment because it makes the tension rise even higher. It is the moment in the horror story when it looks like the monster is dead but then rises up sneakily behind our hero. It is the most nail-biting moment of the film where it looks like our unsuspecting hero is about to be devoured.

In The Hair-Snatching Witch, the first meeting (inciting incident) with the witch is where she mugs Gracie for her hair. On Eagle point, Gracie has come with the hopes of catching her. This is the first clash in the middle section of the story. The witch gets the better of her here and Gracie is left humiliated. Soon Gracie finds out that witches are very vain. With this piece of information she arranges a hair beauty contest with the intention of trapping the witch. At the hair beauty contest, the second clash between them, Gracie finds success and catches the witch. The third clash takes part in the cells of the police station. Gracie is compelled to visit her there. The witch lures here over to the cage promising her the secret of hair restoration. But it’s a trap. The witch grabs hold of Gracie and with her powerful hands begins to strangle the girl. Here is the darkest moment.

Let’s see if we can simplify Act 2.

3 clashes between protagonist/s and antagonist/s, each scene helping to raise the tension and on the high point of the third clash the protagonist/s suddenly has her darkest moment where it looks like she will lose everything she hoped to gain.

And that is the end of act 2.

Act 3

We have the highest climatic point in this scene where everything that our hero is fighting for might still be lost. This is where he turns and faces the monster that had not died and has the last set-to with him. In your story it might be something completely different. It might even be an argument done with dialogue only. This is an all or nothing moment where everything the hero has striven for will turn to dust if he loses at this point. In The Hair-Snatching Witch it is where Gracie must fight off the witch or be strangled to death.

I personally think this is the easiest part of the story if Act 1 and 2 are done properly.

After this, in a short story, the tale might end on a satisfying twist. In a novel all the loose ends are tied up concerning the plot strands and characters involved in those strands.

A story can be structured like a three act play.

3 Act Play

This covers the set-up to the final outcome and the overall objective/problem to be tackled.

Act 1


inciting event

Act 2.

Conflict (must have cause and effect and rising tension)

High point

Darkest moment

Act 3

Highest climactic point

Final outcome

As I said, the above is just a rough guide. You can play around with this formula for structure in different ways. This formula works for film and novel really well, so for your short story you may well need to play around with it. The point is that you must know what you are doing; you must understand the underpinning psychology of why this formula creates rising tension and holds us spellbound to a high degree and leaves us feeling emotionally spent but without over-milking our emotion and attention.  Once you understand this, then whatever you do with the formula you are at least not working blind.

To understand this underpinning psychology let’s use a sporting analogy for reference. We can use the tug of war one to fully explain why the 3 Act structure works so well.

Act 1 is the set-up and the challenge. One team might scream out a challenge to the other (antagonist does the challenging). The contest begins. The team making the challenge looks tough and formidable and pulls the other team (protagonist) quickly forward toward the line. That is the end of act 1. It is aggressive and confrontational but exciting for the spectators (reader, in your case).

In Act 2 you have the teams pulling back and forward. The challenged team (protagonist) might manage somehow to pull the other side a few feet back, but then the challengers (antagonist) digs deep and pulls the challenged team forward again. This exciting to-ing and fro-ing is constantly forcing up the tension. This might happen three times in all, so it’s like three little matches within the overall match.

The challenged team might be looking very tired by the end of the act. You can see it in their gritted teeth and their trembling muscles. The challengers look tired but not nearly as tired. After an exciting Act 2, it really looks like the challenged (protagonist) are going to lose it. They are dragged right to the line and the other side are sucking in their breaths and digging in their heels, ready to make that one last effort to drag the opposition forward over the line and seal the deal (here is the darkest moment for the protagonist).

In Act 3 things don’t quite turn out as you might think. The losing team (protagonist) suddenly finds its second strength. It pulls back hard and regains a step. Then the other side pulls back hard. Another fierce struggle ensues, but this time the team that looked like it was going to lose, now pulls its opponents over the line in a nail-biting finish.

This is a simple sporting analogy. You can make more complicated sporting analogies using soccer, rugby, wrestling, boxing or whatever, as examples. I use the tug-of-war analogy because everyone can grasp what I am saying: you don’t have to be a tug of war fan to see it. It is a simple and expressive example and gets the basic points across clearly. If you were just to have a match, where within the opening seconds one team pulled the other over the line, or a match that lasted minutes but one team looked like it would win right from the start with no real balance between the contestants, it would not be anywhere near as exciting. Of course, you can’t plan the most exciting outcome for a sport, but you can for a story.

See how the psychology behind the 3 act structure works!


Jerry Dunne is a self-published children’s novelist whose work is found on Amazon and Smashwords. This post is an edited extract from his book How To Write Children’s Short Stores (for the middle reader). His blog is

Revising or redoing–taking old stories and making them new by Alix Storm

I know that most of you aren’t erotica or romance writers, and while this article was posted at a blog for erotica writers, the content of Alix Storm’s article can be applied to every genre.


I recently had a chance to discuss revising old stories with an author friend of mine. She was at a crossroads, trying to decide if it was worthwhile to take one of her old works and structure it for the erotica market. She’d assumed, as had I once upon a time, that it would be a process of tweaking the material and much less creative than starting anew.

For me, that wasn’t the case at all.

A couple of months ago, I discovered a cache of old stories—some good, some perfectly awful. I sent a few off to my editor to have her look at them and decide if she thought they had any merit. We both loved one particular story and thought it would be a great candidate for tweaking, editing, and releasing. The story was almost five-thousand words, the characters were interesting, why not?

Finish reading the rest of the article at One-Handed Writers 

Ideas: Where do you keep yours?

I’m an organized writer that lives in an organized mess. Everything has a place, though I’m sure that anyone looking at my desk would disagree with me on that. My wonderful hubby is just such a person. 😀

He also doesn’t understand my propensity to collect story ideas. Every time I turn around I’m coming up with new ones. They pop up when I watch TV, movies, listen to music, read books, write books, when I dream, when I watch my kids play, and from life itself.

There is no storage of ideas, and I’m sure there are many who would agree with me. Ideas are not the problems. Storing them might be the problem for some of you. I know that my mother was forever washing my story idea books and the random scraps of paper in my pockets.

At one point I started an Idea Box. Everyday, every scrap of paper I wrote a story idea on ended up in that box. Every so often I went through that box and threw away papers that didn’t make sense or grouped together papers that seemed related. The Ideas soon outgrew their Box.

I tried keeping them in a computer, file that I brilliantly named my Idea Bank (LOL Okay, so it’s not so brilliant but give me a break I was 16-years-old and thought it was cool),  but I want easy access to them and didn’t want to turn on the computer every time I wanted to look through my PC folder of ideas. The Box and Computer storage Quickly morphed into an overflowing 3-inch 3 ring binder with pocketed series dividers. Do they make folders bigger than 3-inches? Maybe I’ll have to move it to a file box next, or just trim it down to fit in the 3-inch 3 ring binder.

Either way, I’d like to open the comments up to you guys. Where do you keep your ideas? Do you have an idea notebook, box, or computer file? Do you write them in a journal? How many of you keep it in your head and play it by ear when it comes time to write your next novel? Or what do you do to come up with new ideas?

Tips to Writing a Rough Draft in 30 Days

Writing a novel is an enormous undertaking on its own, but to do so in 30 days is even more so. It may seem to be an impossible task, but it doesn’t have to be. All it takes is a little planning on your part and depending on if you are a plotter (organize everything in advance; have the story plotted out from start to finish), a panster (writing by the seat of their pants; not planning your writing), or an in-betweener (this is the place between advance planning and writing without a plan), just how much planning that involves.

A few years back I bought two books on how to write a rough draft in 30 days, the first book I hated, the second one I loved and still use. Much of it has to do with my writing style and not the authors writing style or methods. So I thought I’d share a few tips with all of you that I’ve picked up over the years.

Tip #1: Settle On a Word Count

This isn’t a set in stone word count, this is a goal to work towards. When I wrote My Lord Hades, the word count was set at 50,000 words. Setting a word count helped me stay on track and calculate where I needed to be each day or when to step up the paceif I was to meet my deadline at the end of 30 days. It also let me know how many words I needed to write the next day if I skipped a day.

Tip #2: Don’t Stop Writing

Churning out a novel in one month doesn’t figure in time for revision and editing, that is to be done after the first draft is complete. Often writers who complete a novel in one month, let the novel sit for a few weeks before diving back in to revise. Writers will, of course, experience rough patches and road blocks which is understandable.

One important thing to remember is to just write. Don’t go back and re-read or edit your manuscript during the process, it will interrupt the flow of ideas and slow you down.If you are able to stay on track there is no reason to not finish the novel in 30 days. The goal is to get the ideas on paper. Revision can and will come afterwards.

Tip #3: Use a Story Tracker

The Story Tracker was an idea I liked from Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. I have adopted this simple idea to my own use, modifying it as I like. You are free to do the same or use as is.

The main idea behind the Story Tracker is to keep writing without stopping to rewrite a plot, character, setting, subplot, or revise and edit. What you do is keep notes of changes you want to make to the story, so that you can remember what you need to do later when you revise the finished manuscript. This is where you jot down new ideas and new directions as they come to mind and then keep writing as if you made those changes already.

I tried creating a worksheet in my word processor that consisted of a table with the headings: Page #, What to Fix, and Additional Comments—these can be: why you need the change, what the impact of this change will be on other characters,. This didn’t work for me—needed more room or less than I gave myself in a table—so I made it into columns. However, now I just use a notebook to jot down my notes.

My examples:

Loving the Goddess of Love (Title of work at the top of the page)

-page 1-3, change POV character in Prologue to Aphrodite

-page 6-8, change character talking to Zeus from Hera to Rhea, more impact on Zeus’ decision if it’s his mom rather than his soon-to-be-wife