Saturday, December 1, 2018

December 2018 - Short Story or Vignette (What's the difference and who cares?)

Anthology of Short Stories
Short Story or Vignette?  

Okay, let's start with definitions to make it clear what each is.

A short story is a story with a fully developed theme, a beginning, middle, and ending but which is significantly shorter and less elaborate than a novel. A Short Story has a protagonist facing off with an antagonist (which can be a who or a what and involves a problem with dire consequences). 

Please note that this type of short story is called The Developed Short Story (DSS). If you master the DSS, you can write a novel because the only difference between the short story and novel is length [50,000 words and up] and scope [number of characters who have Point of View (POV) and Viewpoint as well as subplots or underplots].

A vignette, on the other hand, is a brief, evocative description, account, or episode, or even a portrait of someone (think character sketch). Vignettes are "slices of life" which may have a moral or point but which do not have a beginning, middle, and resolution. Often vignettes are literary prose.

Which is harder to sell or market, the Short Story or the Vignette? Answer: It's the Vignette. 

Which is easiest to write? The Vignette

These days the short story is enjoying a comeback thanks to downloadable short stories, short story collections, short story anthologies, and short stories in audio versions. 

*** Call it Karma or whatever, but last year, when I posted the schedule for this year's WCS blog topics, little did I know that come October I would be contacted by Pennwriters and booked to do a workshop on the Developed Short Story.

If you want to write well and tell a marketable short story, give yourself a great Christmas gift — register for the Feb. 1-28 2019  - From Story Spark to Story Done - Let's write a short story.  Details are HERE.

**********JANUARY 2019 TOPIC — SETTING, SETTING, SETTING, Part 1 - A Story's World, an overview

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Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

November 2018 - — The Inciting Incident (where the story really begins)

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

This month's question is— What exactly is "The Inciting Incident?" 

The Inciting Incident is the specific point in the beginning of the story where the protagonist is drawn into solving a problem, dilemma, disaster, trouble, etc. 

For example, in Alice In Wonderland, the spot where Alice sees the White Rabbit is the Inciting Incident. When she saw that rabbit, her curiosity was sparked enough so that she followed the rabbit. 

Now someone might think that Alice falling down the rabbit hole is the Inciting Incident. But it is not. Again, it was her seeing the rabbit and making the decision to go after him that then culminated in her falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. In other words, if she had not seen that rabbit, there would be no story.

Another way to look at the Inciting Incident is to liken it to the domino that falls and which creates a cascade of events that leads to the climax and resolution of the story.

When an idea, premise, what-if, or character, etc. emerges from the imagination, it intrigues a writer. Thus intrigued, the writer writes, penning volumes of words to understand the story world (the setting) and the Protagonist's and Antagonist's personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. 

Please realize that back story, back history, character sketches, scenes to get to know the various character's personalities, figuring out setting details, and other pre-writing will be jumbled into the opening pages of a first draft. 

Only after the draft is completed is it time to look for the tipping point, the Inciting Incident for where the real story begins.

How do you determine where that Inciting Incident really is? 

You ask yourself:

● Where is the point that things truly changed for the Protagonist and which plunged him or her into the new story world of having to deal with some problem, some trouble, some danger, etc. that leads to the climax?


● Where did the Protagonist encounter or confront a White Rabbit, which might be a person, incident, problem, dilemma, danger, etc. — and which is The Trouble that begins that domino effect of events leading to the climax of the story?

Sometimes it's not easy to find the correct Inciting Incident. The hardest time I ever had with finding the Inciting Incident was with my novel Jewels of the Sky. You see, I assumed early on that the death of the Protagonist's (Darq's) grandmother triggered the domino effect.  After a dozen trial-and-error openings that didn't work, I read farther into the story, beyond the pages dealing with the funeral. Then I  realized the real turning point, the real Inciting Incident, was when God picked Darq to test and have her choices determine the fate of her people    a matter of survival or extinction.

I will also confess that most of my story openings are spot on when I draft a work because I'm a Foundation Writer, number three on  the "10 Types of Writers" list. By the way,  if you're curious about what type of writer you tend to be, that list is still available as a free download at

Keep in mind, a writer has only eight seconds to catch a reader's attention with a story's opening. That opening must make the reader curious or intrigued in some way, which captures the reader's attention and compels a reader to read on and turn pages. Make no mistake   The Inciting Incident is the most compelling spot for a story's beginning. Find that spot and then revise for the drama that will hook and pull a reader into your story. 

*****NEXT MONTH'S TOPIC: December 2018 — Short Story or Vignette (what's the difference and who cares)


Feb 1-28, 2019  From Story Spark to Story Done — Let's write a Short story."  This in-depth, hands-on course is hosted by Pennwriters. - Registration details will be forthcoming. 

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Monday, October 1, 2018

October 2018 - How long does it take to become a published author?

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

This month's question is
"Is it a matter of talent vs. craft in becoming a published writer?"

Two things about talent— 1) Talent cannot be taught, and 2) talent will take a writer only so far. 

As to the writing craft? Craft can be taught and the devices and techniques can be learned. But—and you knew there was going to be a but, right?—the kicker is that it takes time to learn craft because craft enhances talent and liberates creativity. 

Oddly enough, there are writers with the highest ability and degree of talent but who don't write. And then there are those writers who strive for years to learn story, to learn writing craft, techniques, and devices who succeed as published authors and storytellers. So, what's the difference in the two groups? It's desire and drive.

Or at least that used to be the norm. Actually, these days anyone who writes anything can self-publish overnight. Craft and good storytelling isn't in such an equation. The proof is in the 4,500 books a day that glut the marketplace.

If you want to write well and tell a story well, sell books that readers will thoroughly enjoy, you'll need to understand how much talent you were endowed with and weigh it against your desire to tell stories vs. the quick, overnight fantasy of becoming "a rich and famous author." 

To enthrall readers and sell books means putting in the writing time and learning how to overcome your talent weaknesses. How much time? Figure a million words and The 10,000 Hour Rule.

What is The 10,000 Hour Rule? Simply stated, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of work—hard work—and diligent practice—in any field to become accomplished. This doesn't make you the best, but it certainly does make you highly skilled and savvy.

It doesn't matter if the field is sports (like swimming, dressage, or soccer) or a particular profession (veterinarian, surgeon, or engineer), it takes time to learn skills. It takes time to practice and experiment with techniques and devices. It even takes time to digest the failures because those provide valuable knowledge and insights.

Because there are 144 aspects to a novel, and no one can learn everything overnight, The 10,000 Hour Rule for a writer translates into roughly five years. However, that only makes a writer "accomplished." To make the expert-author league, triple or quadruple that. Yes, there are those one-in-a-billion people who become overnight successes. If you're one of them, more power to you. The rest of us, well, we take the long and winding road to success.

Here's the thing, writers are basically self-taught. They learn by reading how-to books, attending workshops, taking courses, actively interacting (talking) with successful writers, and getting reliable feedback on their works in progress. And they write and write and write. As Sol Stein said, "A writer is someone who cannot not write."

Unfortunately, because of the ease to vanity publish* with Amazon or Smashwords and others, far too many writers skip the learning aspects of fiction and storytelling. What further complicates things these days is that the burden of quality and comprehension falls squarely on the shoulders of the writer. Just ask readers. And don't forget, readers who sample poor-quality stories don't usually buy another book from that author.

So, I encourage you to take the time necessary to learn and become a terrific storyteller.

* To Vanity Publish means paying a company a fee, or full costs, or giving them a percentage of sales to produce books, videos, music, academic journals, or other works. (In my opinion, has for many first-time writers become their vanity publisher.)

~~~~~~~~~~ November 2018 — The Inciting Incident (where the story really begins)



Sunday, September 2, 2018

September 2018 - How to Start a Blog (why and when)

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is — 
"Should I blog before I finish my first book or after?"

The reality is that you should have begun blogging before you wrote the first draft. Why? Because you need a readership to tap into when you do publish or are published. The experts say that for success, you'll need a following of 1,000 people before you launch a book. That's a truly daunting task if you wait until after the book is out in cyberland.

The most popular blog venues are Blogspot and Wordpress. For the record, I prefer using Blogspot ( ) which, thankfully, ties into my hub website ( I also have a Wordpress blog but I don't like it as well as the Blogspot one. The reason I ended up with a Wordpress blog is that someone had already taken the name Jewels of the Sky ( at Blogger. Which brings me to advising you to google your name and the name for any blog you want to set up so you can find out if it has already been taken.  

When setting up your blog, strive to keep the name for the blog as short as possible. Doing so cuts down on typing the link as well as enabling your followers to find your blog as fast as possible. 

As to frequency of blogging, that's a quandary. Two things to consider are: 

1) how much content can you produce and on what time schedule? What happens when you run out of topics (if writing a daily blog, that's 352 days a year and 352 different topics).

2) who are your readers? Will they love or hate being pestered daily, weekly, etc.? So, when is the best time to engage with your followers or your potential followers?

Choices in frequency of blogging are daily, weekly, bi-weekly, tri-weekly, monthly, quarterly, only on the first (or fifteenth) of a month, only on Tuesday and/or Thursdays, etc. It's up to you, the time you have available, and who your audience will be.

One other aspect about blogging to consider is becoming a Guest Blogger, that is, you become the "guest" and are featured on other people's blogs. That I enjoy doing. [And, yes, if you would like me as a guest at your blog, feel free to contact me.]

The sooner you start blogging, the sooner you work the kinks out of the process and gain loyal followers who'll help sell your book when you do have it published.

Of course, blogging isn't for everyone, but it is a basic necessity for an author. It also counts as "social media," which editors, agents, and publishers consider part of an author's platform.

Blogs and blogging is a broad and controversial topic, so I can't go into great detail with this post, but here is a link to a post that I found very informative and which mirrors my own views on blogging.

****October 2018 — Is it a matter of talent vs. craft in becoming a published writer?
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

August 2018 — Misplaced Modifiers are laughable and the bane of writers

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "Critiquers have nailed my writing for misplaced modifiers. How can I recognize them and stop making this mistake."

Misplaced modifiers are common grammatical errors where a clause, phrase, adverb, or adjective is inappropriately separated from the word it modifies or describes. This type of error often happens during the heat and speed of drafting a story. This post will be about misplace modifiers— not dangling modifiers, which is a subject unto itself. 

Whether a misplaced modifier comes at the beginning of a sentence or later in the sentence, the result is awkward— often illogical,  unintentional, even humorous— imagery when read.  For example: 

Misplaced Modifiers— 

CLAUSES— at the beginning of a sentence (notice this is an introductory clause)— 

After fixing the prairie schooner's wheel, the horses pulled the load down the road. (Can horses fix wagons wheels?)

PHRASES— at the end of a sentence—

Marsha noticed the fence behind the house made of barbed wire. (A house made of barbed wire?) 

Or even, John spotted the airplane using binoculars. (An airplane using binoculars?)

ADVERBS—Misplaced use of adverbs often changes the meaning of a sentence. The most common "Red Flag" adverbs to look for are only, just, nearly, merely, and almost. Examples include— 

Just Marsha was picked as prom queen. 
      Marsha was just picked as prom queen. 

      John only donated ten dollars to the camp fund. 
      Only John donated ten dollars to the camp fund.

ADJECTIVES—Like adverbs, placing an adjective in the wrong position changes the meaning and imagery of a sentence:

Marsha ate two slimy bowls of spaghetti. 
      Marsha ate two bowls of slimy spaghetti.

Catching misplaced modifiers— be they clauses, phrases, adverbs, or adjectives— is best done by slowly reading the manuscript out loud and visualizing the actions, the cause-effect sequences, and being mindful of clarity. 

Since grammar checkers don't usually flag misplaced modifiers, it is helpful to go old-school and diagram the sentence that has been flagged for a misplaced modifier. For example— 

Coated with ketchup and mustard, I enjoyed the

Actually it was the hamburger that was coated in ketchup and mustard. Diagramming the sentence nets— 

Remember, readers are not mind readers, they only have the words on a page to go by. It is in the revision process that you can more clearly look at what you wrote and get the words right.

P.S. Feel free to share one or two of your misplaced modifiers and brighten my day.  

******Next month -  September 2018 — How to Start a Blog (why and when)

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