Plotting a Romance: What Works for Me

~The Path of True Love ~

I truly believe that the best way to learn to be a writer is to be a voracious reader. That said, how-to-writing books definitely have a place in honing one’s skills. I have read many books that I have found helpful. Today I will review one of my favorites and explain how it helped me improve my writing.

Before you can write a romance, you need to plot out your story. When I began writing my first novel, I plotted by the seat of my pants as most beginners do. The feedback I received was that it didn’t fit the romance genre because the love story wasn’t the main focus, and the relationship between the hero and heroine was too antagonistic.

For a while I scratched my head. Then I went back and reread some of my favorite romance writers and tried to figure out what made their book so terrific. This was very time-consuming, and I soon found myself buried in the details (or just enjoying the story all over again) and losing the big picture.

Zara West reviews Romancing the Beat So I was very happy to find this little book. Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. This inexpensive, short book (100 pages) is perfect for the beginning writer or non-romance writer who has a basic understanding of how plot and character work together to build a story, but needs some general direction on crafting a truly awe-inspiring romantic relationship.

Romancing the Beat starts with a discussion of theme and points out that all successful romances share the same overarching theme “love conquers all.” Then she has a delightful way of describing the love arc as going from “hole-hearted to whole-hearted.” Doesn’t that just summarize the whole romance thing in a nutshell?

However, the part I found most useful, and that I will focus on today, is her analysis of the inner journey the lovers must go through to reach their happy ever after

To do this, Gwen Hayes provides a clear, easy-to-understand summary of the required plot elements or what she calls “beats” that show what the lovers need be doing from first kiss to final breakup and where these elements fit on a basic three act plot outline.

She encourages the reader to create their own version and promises that if you outline your story using these beats you will have a coherent love story with some very satisfied lovers (and readers) by the end.

A Perfect Romance Arc

Does it matter when they kiss?

Based on her book, I created my own version of The Beat Sheet and have used it successfully to improve my writing. I find it particularly useful when doing my initial outlining and when revising

If you prefer a pre-made version you can download a printable pdf that can be cut into cards or Scrivener template on her website.

To learn more about the method or about Gwen’s other books visit

How do you plot out your romantic love arcs?

I’d love to hear your methods.

Writing Visionary Goals

~ Why I Start with Visionary Goals ~

In my last post, I talked about how I set up my writing journal. In this post I will explain how I set my visionary goals.

Designing Visionary Goals

When designing goals, there are three things we are advised that make a good goal. The first is it should be specific with a clear definition and a recorded start and end time. Second, the goal should be measurable so you know if you achieved it. Third, the goal needs to be achievable i.e. it is something you have the skills or can get the skills to accomplish. A visionary goal is different. It encompasses something we feel deeply about- something that may not be measurable.

Why Visionary Goals?Tips and tricks for keeping a journal by Zara West

As an educator, I have written and been guided by thousands of measurable goals and objectives. So why do I start off my writing journal with my rather nebulous five-year visionary goals?

I do so because while being practical is a sure way to get work done, they do not inspire. And if there is something a writer needs to have tucked into their psyche, it is inspiration.

So this year, I have set myself the following five-year goals.

  1. Write more books and stories from my heart
  2. Discover readers who love my books
  3. Be happy writing and not feel stressed

As you can see these are definitely not measurable objectives nor well-defined. I don’t specify a set number of books and stories. I don’t name the genre or the topics, and five years is pretty broad range in terms of a time-frame.

These are goals that come from my hopes and dreams. I talk about love, heart, and happiness– very general words that we can all argue about. What does it mean for a reader to love a book? What does happiness feel like to a writer? What is a story from the heart?

Working with Visionary Goals

Despite their nebulousness, these are definitely goals I want to attain. What writer doesn’t want to keep writing more and more wonderful books and stories? What writer doesn’t want their stories read by appreciative readers? Why write at all if it makes you feel stressed and unhappy?

However, just because these are visionary, doesn’t mean that we can’t use them to delineate our writing career path.

Turning Visionary Goals into Measurable Ones

So the next step is to take each visionary goal and place it in this sentence, and voila, you will have a nicely packaged measurable goal to guide you – but one that has heart at its core.

In order to _________________ (visionary goal), I will ______________ (your activity) for ____________ (time-frame).

An example:

In order to write more heartfelt books, I will write at least 2 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now that is definitely something that will keep me on track, but also incorporates my dream of writing more stories from my heart.

I also use my visionary goals to come up with a slogan to hang over my computer. Here is this year’s.

Work hard. Work happy. Work inspired.

From Visionary Goals to Success

Setting goals is key to feeling successful. When you can track your progress, when you can count the number of words or pages written, and the number of stories sent out into the world, you know you have accomplished something. But if that leaves you stressed or you do not love what you have written, then it is all for nothing.

That is why for me starting with visionary goals is more fulfilling and, in the long run, leaves me happier as a writer.

Do you set visionary or practical goals for yourself?

How do you use them?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.


My Writing Journal – Tips and Tricks

~ Start with a Journal ~

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to review what one has accomplished and to look forward to what might be one’s goals for the new year. A journal is a great place to start.

My JournalZara West journal tricks and tips

There are many different ways to do this. Since I am a long time journaler, I like to begin the year by starting a new journal (made of recycled paper, of course) and listing my goals and plans at the front.

Throughout the year, I use the journal to jot notes about my current writing projects and accomplishments, my ad campaigns, and character and plot development for my current writing projects.

Making My Journal Useful

Using a trick I learned from bullet journaling, I number the pages so I can create an index at the back. To create the index, I start on the last page and work backwards. That way I can quickly find the information I need.

journal-indexAnother trick I use is to fold over the upper right-hand corner for each new writing project. I color-code the tab to make it easy to find. I also use sticky notes to mark the place I am at in the journal.

Dating everything and recording everything in time order is also journal-tabimportant. Not only does this show me what progress I am making, but later if I am having trouble finding a data file or remembering when I did something I can check my journal.

I Don’t Care How My Journal Looks

What I don’t do is try to make the journal pretty. Time is limited, and I want to spend as much of it as I can on writing. For me, the important thing is to get the information recorded in whatever way I can.

So while I occasionally mark a page with highlight markers, I do not add drawings or journal-indexfancy colors unless I am sketching something to help me picture something in my writing such as a building, an interior, or a map.

I don’t worry about my handwriting. As long as it is legible, that’s all that matters. I cross out, insert, and don’t worry if I am not writing on the lines. It is my journal, and no one else needs to see it.

Advantages of a Handwritten Journal

Now, you are probably wondering why, with all the digital organizers out there, anyone would resort to handwritten notes? I do so for two reasons:

  1. It is much faster to scribble something down on the pad next to my computer or flip through the pages when I am in middle of writing than it is to open a new document, save it, and then find it again.
  2. At the end of December I can look back and have a cohesive picture of my writing year. I can see my struggles and my successes. From there I can easily transfer any important information or knowledge to my computer files or use it to plan my next year’s writing. To make it easy, I often just take a photograph of an important page or drawing and save that as a jpg file.

Learn more

Find more more about my journaling see: Zara West’s Writing Journal

I also offer Bullet Journal Workshops for Readers and Writers. I do not have one currently scheduled, but if you are interested, contact me and I can set one up. For an individual, the cost is $15 for a two-week totally online workshop. You will learn how to set up and organize your journal and make it uniquely your own.

Do you keep a journal? Is it handwritten or digital?

Do you have any tips for keeping a journal?

I love to hear from my readers and fellow writers.

Writing a Series – 6 Tips for Success

~How to Extend the Story~

When I started writing my first romantic suspense Beneath the Skin, I had no plans to make it into a series. But it didn’t take long for me to start imagining the lives of the secondary characters and wondering if they could win true love too.

So when I pitched the book to Rhonda Penders at Wild Rose Press, I told her it was the first of a series of four books – The Skin Quartet.

Well, on August 18th, book 2 in the series Close to the Skin is scheduled to be released. Now I will find out if I have accomplished what I set out to do.

Writing a successful series is hard

To write a successful series, the author needs to accomplish 6 things.

ONE – Keep the details consistent

This one was a real challenge. No one wants to read a series where characters’ eye color and other characteristics flip around.

Not planning to write a series I hadn’t keep the best ordered notes for Beneath the Skin. I also had used Zara West Suspense Beneath the Skin Writing a series - 6 Tipsa variety of filing methods. I had a looseleaf, a bulletin board, word files, and Pinterest boards

When I hit Book 2 suddenly I needed a unified resource if I wasn’t going to spend forever trying to search out a detail such as a character’s favorite ice cream flavor. I hit upon using One Note (a free program that comes with Microsoft.  Evernote is a similar program, readily available)

But I tried a lot of other methods as well.  The results of what I learned are presented in my online workshop The Story Bible. (Note: I will be offering this workshop for From the Heart Romance Writers in September 2018).

TWO – Stay organized

Another important thing I learned was to keep all my data together. I originally had separate files for each book. This meant I was constantly moving from one to the other. I quickly learned that the best organizational method is to keep all the data for the entire series in one series file.

THREE – Keep track of the passage of time

Having a great Story Bible means that I can quickly locate a name or an age or a location or hair color. But it needs to be supplemented with a calendar. In my case, my series books are consecutive. That means that characters grow older in each book. Not by much -all together the span is about four years. But when one main character is only 14 in the first book, four years will make big difference in his life.

FOUR – Maintain the tone and conflict level.

I wanted to keep the same tone and page-turning level of excitement that reviewers praised after reading Beneath the Skin.

Since each book in the Skin Quartet deals with different characters who relate on different emotional levels., this one was a particular challenge. You want the characters to be unique but linked in some way even though time is passing and the characters are growing, maturing and changing.

In my case, I solved this problem by keeping the villains the same in each book. Because they change much less and are driven to the same end goal – tormenting the hero and heroine,  they provide a unity of motivation and consistency of character.

FIVE – Make the books stand on their own.

Close to the Skin by Zara West Writing a Series - 6 TipsDespite the fact that I was writing a series, I wanted to make sure that every book in the series could be read as a stand-alone. I hate picking up a book and not knowing what the author is referring to. In a recent poll I did on Facebook, every single commenter said they would not like to read book 2 in a series before book 1. However I have seen it done successfully.

But boy is it hard to do well. A series writer has several choices.

  1. You can summarize what has already happened near the start of the story. But that often slows down the reader and can prove annoying.
  2. You can give a few hints of past events and hope the reader will understand enough.
  3. You can tie the past events into the current characters’ lives as motivations or problems.

For Book 2 in The Skin Quartet, I have my main character suffering from post-traumatic stress following the kidnapping she experiences in book 1 Beneath the Skin.

For me, having each book follow the next in time was another great way to ensure the stories stand on their own.

A NetGalley reviewer has written that Close to the Skin works as a stand-alone. I hope other readers agree.

SIX End with a happily ever after.

Having been burned by several books which end in a cliffhanger, I was doubly motivated to make sure every book in my series had a happily ever after.  I decided that the best approach was to write a complete character arc for my romance couple. At the end of the book, their story is done – ending happily ever after.


Since Close to the Skin has not been released yet, I have my fingers crossed that I have succeeded in making both a great Book 2 full of characters my Beneath the Skin readers have come to love plus created a cast of characters who can stand on their own and draw a new reader in.

Note: Book 3 in the series Within the Skin is currently in production at Wild Rose Press.

Read about the whole series here: The Skin Quartet

Buy Links for Beneath the Skin

Amazon  |  B&N  |  iTunes  | KOBO  |  Wild Rose Press

Buy Links for Close to the Skin

Amazon  |  B&N  |  Wild Rose Press

How about you? Have you written a series? What did you struggle with?

Are you a reader of series? What do you like about them? What do you dislike?

Post your comments below.


Don’t Get Sued – How to Get Permission to Quote from Literary Works

~Have You Covered All the Bases?~

Do you know how to legally quote from another writer in your own commercial works? In scholarly works, it is usually acceptable to quote from someone as long as you footnote and include a bibliography. That just doesn’t work in commercial fiction and non-fiction.

When I was writing my first novel, I wanted to include a quote and a few lines from a poem by Giorgios Seferis, a Nobel prize winning Greek poet. I knew that I would need permission to do this.

When I wrote textbooks for a major publisher, I had to search for the referencing information, and then they did the final application and made the payments. But for my romantic suspense my small press publisher tasked me with searching for and obtaining the permissions.

So I set out on a detective hunt…

Finding the Source

To start with, the Seferis quote I wanted to use I found on one of those quote collection websites.

“We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus.” ~Giorgios Seferis

All I had were the words and the author’s name. I assumed at the start that it was a line from Seferis’ poetry.  After extensive Google searches on a variety of words and after a reading of his poetry, I discovered that the quote actually came from his acceptance speech before the Novel Prize Committee.

Getting permission to use the quote was easy. I followed the directions on their website, communicated directly with the Nobel Committee Public Relations Officer, and was granted free use.

The poetry excerpt was a bit more difficult. First, I had to find the original publication in English which turned out to be by Princeton University Press. They sent me to the Copyright Clearance Center. I had to fill out extensive forms and pay a fee. In my case I quoted 4 lines of poetry and was charged $70.

Finding Success 

It took several weeks and a number of e-mails to obtain both permissions. But in the end I was granted my permissions. Both organizations required specific wording.

Here is the final wording that appeared in my novel Beneath the Skin.

The quote from Giorgos Seferis’ speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1963 from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969 Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1963 is reprinted by permission of the Nobel Foundation.
The selection from the poem “Mythistorema” by Giorgios Seferis from the volume George Seferis, Collected Poems by George Seferis, 1995, is reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.

A Flow Chart to Get Permissions

Jane Friedman has published a Basic Guide to Getting Permissions that all authors should keep as a reference.  She also explains why you need to get permissions, gives examples of permission request letters and discusses costs. Check it out! I have reproduced her chart below:

Do I need to request permission for publication

Some Suggestions for Writers

If you are thinking of quoting from another writer, here are some things to plan for based on my experience.

  1. Allow sufficient time to get the permissions – it may take several months.
  2. Quotes taken off the Internet may not be in their original form. You may need to do some creative searching to find the original source.
  3. You will need to have access to the original source material as you will be asked to give page numbers when asking permission.
  4. Be prepared to pay a fee. Note: Poetry is the most expensive to quote.


Note: If you would like to learn more about my novel, Beneath the Skin, visit my author website.


Have you considered quoting from another writer in your own work?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 7 Movement


Remember those two hard-to-spell senses I mentioned back when I started this series? Well, now it is time to talk about them.

The vestibular sense provides feedback on our body’s balance, coordination, and movement in space.

Girl dancing. Editing for sensory language: Using the vestibular and kinesthetic senses in our writing.

The kinesthetic or proprioception sense lets us know how our bones, muscles, and tendons are functioning. Without these two senses, we would be little more than puddles on the floor.

These two senses provide a rich resource for writers – especially those writing in close point-of-view. After all, we don’t want our characters acting like worms. We want them to move through our scenes in natural, but interesting ways. So if you are tired of characters walking, stepping, and turning over and over, think kinesthetic and vestibular.

Describing Kinesthetic and Vestibular Movements

Probably one of the best methods for describing characters’ movements is to take a tip from dramatic performers and use your own vestibular and kinesthetic senses by acting out those movements yourself.

In particular, since our characters rarely walk around naked in a smooth undifferentiated setting (although that sounds like a great start for a sci fi story), examine environmental elements that limit their ability to move freely.

Act It Out

If possible, try to do the movements on a similar surface and wearing similar type clothing as your character. Be conscious of how you find and keep your balance. What does it feel like to climb up stone steps wearing winter snow boots? Or waltz in dew-covered grass wearing sandals? How does your body move differently when the surface underfoot is slippery or uneven or steep?

How does your clothing affect the range of your muscle and tendon motions and the awareness of your body in space. Consider the direction and up and downward motion of your body.

Watch It in Action

If it is not possible to act out the movements, a good substitute is to watch videos of people moving like your characters do. You can find almost any action on YouTube using simple search terms such as “running” or “climbing a ladder”.

Here, for example, is a video found by searching for “climbing a fire escape” (not something I would ever consider doing myself) for my WIP.

In the video, it is easy to see how the climber’s body finds balance by swinging and reminds me as a writer to include swaying and kicking and twisting of the torso and not just a focus on the hands clinging to the rungs. It also demonstrates how the body movement changes as the climber tires.

Adding these elements to the written description, will go along way to deepening the reality and improving the reader’s reading experience.



When to Add Kinesthetic and Vestibular Movements

Keeping characters moving is key to keeping reader interest. Movements can be added to almost every scene and paragraph. But there are some spots where movement is especially important. When editing check these spots and make sure movements are described in terms of balance, flexing of muscles and bones, position in space, surface footing and clothing limitations.

  1. Any time a character goes from one place to another.
  2. When a character is handling or moving an object.
  3. During a fight scene.
  4. During a love scene.
  5. If the environment changes in a way that forces the character to move, such as a sudden rain or a falling tree.
  6. Any time the character changes position – gets up, lies down, etc.

Some Movement Examples

These examples are from my novel Close to the Skin

Shaking off the constant pounding beneath his skull, he arched his back and brought the cuffs down lower. The sides of his hands scraped against the concrete. His own weight drove the metal of the cuffs deeper into his wrists. His arm muscles stretched past bearing. His shoulders cramped.

She seized Hanger’s hand, placed her foot flat against the gate and used her momentum to push herself up and over. Her belly scraped across the metal bars, and her shin smashed hard into the iron rail.

Keeping one foot on the railing, she flailed around until her sole caught the edge of the sash. Heart banging against her ribs, she pushed up, found a toehold on the top of the window frame, then a projecting brick. With a final tug from Hanger, she flopped up and over, the air whooshing out of her as she landed with all the gracelessness of a hooked fish, her face scraping on the rough tar of the roof as she slid to safety.

Movement Resources for Writers

Body Types and Movement

Clinical Terms for Body Movements

Direction Word List

How the Body Moves

Movement in Drama

Physiology of Body Movements

Up and Down Movement Words

Word List of General Movements

How do you go about describing your character’s movements?

Share an example from your WIP below.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 6 Sound

~Do You Hear What I Hear? ~

Crash. Bang. Screech.

Nothing can beat adding sound words into one’s writing. Our sense of hearing develops long before we are born. At 18 weeks, an unborn infant can start to hear sounds. By 25 to 26 weeks, the fetus responds to sounds. By birth, infants can identify their mother’s voice and the music they heard in the womb.

Hearing is also the last sense to go when a person is dying. Hearing difficulties in early childhood can severely affect language and social development. So there is no question that sound plays an important role in human lives. And that tells us it should play an important role in our fiction as well.

Describing Sounds

Sounds can be described in two ways. As a sound word “onomatopoeias” or as a description of a sound.

  • Onomatopoeias are words that sound like the sound: crash, babble, whoosh. These are usually italicized in writing.
  • Sounds can also be described using images and similes. Even then we tend to use words that carry the sound with them: The greased peg slid into the hole. The pig squealed like a banshee.

*Music is a very special form of sound. Often it is enough to mention the title of a well-known song to bring the sound of that music to the reader’s ear. However, care must be taken to add other elements to set the scene as well, in case the reader doesn’t know that song.

When to Add Sounds

A writer’s sound choices can easily change the mood of a scene. Sounds can be pleasant. Sounds can be dissonant. A bird that shrieks is different from a bird that twitters. A voice that murmurs is different from a voice that yells. Every scene should include carefully selected sounds that enhance the emotional effect on the reader. Sound can be added to:

  1. Emphasize an action such as the slamming of a door or the crash of a glass breaking.
  2. Add to setting and character description.
  3. Describe the sound, tone, and pitch of a character’s voice such “a whiskey rough” or a “pitched high enough to hurt the ears.”
  4. Increase the emotional level of dialogue.
  5. Set the mood.
  6. Foreshadow an event.
  7. Add tension or fear to a scary or dark scene.

Some Sound Examples

Here are a few examples from my upcoming novel Close to the Skin releasing August 18th, 2017.

Kaboom. An explosion shook the floor. The monitors in the room flickered and went out. Something fell with a crash in the living room.

The pounding bass of the music thumped in time with her heart.

She’d never be able to sleep with that steady drip, drip, drip drilling into her brain.

Cars whizzed by, horns honked, sirens whined, drivers cursed.

Her voice came from a distance, swallowed up by a jet-engine pitched roar that stung her ears and made the very air vibrate.

Sound Resources for Writers

Animal Sounds

Noise Help

Types of Sounds

Wikipedia Onomatopoeia List

Written Sound

Past Posts on Sensory Language for Writers 

The 7 Senses





Do you use a lot of sounds in your writing? Do you have a favorite sound resource?

I love to hear from you.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 5: Vision

~ Take a Good Look ~

When we read, we create visual images in our heads. We picture the heroine’s dress. We see the house. We visualize the car speeding past. These visual images grow out of our own visual memory of things our eyes have seen.

In describing objects using the visual sense, it is the effect of light that is key. Any description that draws on the qualities of light or lack of it, are visual images. Without light, our visual sense ceases to work and becomes useless.

Writing Visual Images

Much of what we write in fiction relates to the visual sense. However, because writers rely on words rather than actual images, we need to be careful to describe fully. For example: What image do you see when you read this sentence?

“Sarah wore a dress.”

What you see and what I see may be totally different. The word dress instantly limits what we can imagine Sarah is wearing to the kind of dresses we have seen in the past. Based on our experiences and culture, we will conjure up a garment that perhaps has a skirt joined to a top and which covers the torso and some or all of the legs. It may or may not cover the arms. The fabric may be black or white or polka dot. But if we have never seen a dress, we will not be sure exactly what Sarah is wearing.

Adding Visual Description

As a writer, it is therefore important to be sure that our descriptions make sense to our intended readers. One way to do this is to add more visual description words, such as colors and shapes, and light and shadow effects. How does the sentence above change when more visual elements are added?

“Sarah wore a red satin dress.”

 Now we have identified a color and a lighting effect. Colors like red are pure visual elements. Our eye is designed to differentiate between the waves length of light in the visible color spectrum. Satin is both a texture and a visual image. If we have touched satin before, we will imagine the smoothness of the fabric to our touch, but we also see the way the fabric catches and reflects light.

Using Visual Contrasts

However, without relevant experiences, this description is no more meaningful that the simple sentence above. The third thing the writer can do to help the reader is add a comparison or contrast to help the reader visualize the image.

“Sarah wore a dress as red as the setting sun.”

“The fabric of Sarah’s dress was as smooth and shiny as polished silver.”

Girl in Red Dress

Adding The Quality of Light and Shadow

Or another choice is to describe the actual light and shadow or write about the quality of the light and how it affects one’s view.

“The folds in Sarah’s dress created an interplay of light and dark reds as she moved.”

“The red of Sarah’s dress deepened to maroon as she moved into the shadow of the pines.”

“In the fog, Sarah’s dress was a mere smear of red in a sea of gray.”

Describing Shapes and Forms and Motions

Our eyes are also capable of recognizing shapes, seeing three-dimensional forms, and noticing movement. These can also be used to delineate an object or setting.

“Sarah’s square-necked red dress of lightweight satin floated around her legs as she moved.”

When to Add Visual Elements to Our Writing

Color, shape, form, movement, light, and shadow are rich sources of description to draw on in our writing. Add visual elements to –

  1. Describe a setting
  2. Describe a person’s skin, clothes, features
  3. Make an object more important
  4. Describe nature, natural objects, or the weather
  5. Add emotion
  6. Show a significant change in color, shape, or light that relates to mood or action
  7. Heighten romantic scenes.

Visual Resources for Writers

Color name lists–F–M–Z#Colors

Colored Light

Color and Mood

Shape Lists

How do you use visual elements in your writing?

Editing for Sensory Language Part 4 Touch

~ The Way It Feels ~

Close your eyes. Reach out and touch something nearby. Concentrate on how it feels to your fingertips. When we touch something a giant network of nerves are activated sending information to our brains.

If we have touched something similar before, our brain may make a guess as to what it is we are touching. If it something we never felt before, we may pull back in dismay. What we are feeling is the texture of the surface or object. A cat’s fur is soft. A pan on the stove is hot. A sharp needle causes pain.

Touching texture

Touching Texture

Our skin can identify surface quality, temperature, and determines the amount of pain or pleasure the texture we are touching gives. When we touch something, we feel it with the nerve endings in our skin. How we perceive a texture is also related to with what part of the body we use.

We feel with our whole body. Different parts of our bodies are more or less sensitive in different ways. We pet cats with our fingers and palms, not the back of our arm. Research shows we have three different types of nerve sensors. One type relays critical signals like cuts and burns. The second responds to temperature and itches. The third one reacts to slow gentle touches and gives us pleasure. So while our fingers and tongues have the most nerve endings for critical signals, it is our backs that are more sensitive to slow, gentle touches.

When to Add Textures and Touching in Our Writing

Unless our nerve endings have gone numb for some reason (a hard hit or cut off in blood flow can do that), our tactile sense is always on. We feel textures every moment of the day. Therefore, describing a texture is a way to add reality to a scene for the reader. Textures draw the reader deeper into the scene as they experience the texture along with the character. If the character is being touched gently, the reader will feel that same touch in their mind. The description also draws attention to the item being touched – giving it more importance in the scene.

Add a texture when the character:

  1. Touches any object or item in the scene that is of import.
  2. Puts on and takes off clothing, or when the clothing or fabric is annoying or comforting in some way.
  3. Enters a room and touches a surface – like when a table top is sticky with syrup or highly polished.
  4. Is outside and touches something in the environment.
  5. Is eating food – describe how it feels in the mouth, against the teeth, when it is swallowed.
  6. Fights or flees or plays a sport. Describe the texture of the ground under the feet, the feel of the surface of the weapons or equipment.
  7. During romantic scenes.

In describing the texture remember you can focus on the surface quality – is it smooth or rough, the temperature – is it cold or hot, and the sensation – is pleasant of painful.

Some Touchy Examples

Here are some examples of tactile description from my upcoming romantic suspense release Close to the Skin Book 2 in the Skin Quartet.

“Cold radiated through the soles, up her legs, and under her skirt.”

“The sides of his hands scraped against the concrete.”

“The soggy bun stuck to her teeth. The meat had the texture of granulated cardboard.”

Texture Resources for Writers

400 Words to Describe Texture

Clothing Textures

Food Textures


Over 400 Adjectives to Describe Texture

Do you use enough textures in your writing?

Editing for Sensory Language Part 3 Taste

~ The Gustatory Sense: On the Tip of Our Tongue ~

Stick out your tongue and take a taste. Yum!

Our sense of taste is probably our most pleasurable sense. It is also one of the most complex. We have almost 2000 taste sensors on our tongue, but what we actually taste is a combination those sensations with our of smell carried by our cranial nerve and our facial nerve to the gustatory cortex in our brain.

The five different taste receptors on the tongue are the most basic, sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (savory). It is smell that allows us to identify so many different tastes. When our sense of smell is not working well, then we lose much of our nuanced sense of taste as well. Our taste buds can also be affected by the taste of what we ate just previously or by a smell. Toothpaste can dull sweetness. The aroma of ham can make something taste saltier.

licking a lollipop

When to Add Tastes

Taste is one of the most forgotten senses in writing and yet when well-done, can make a scene more pleasant, more disgusting, and either way, more memorable. Taste and smell are linked together so often you will many times find these two described in the same sentence.

Places to insert a description of a taste

  • When eating
  • When getting something in one’s mouth
  • When feeling sick
  • When breathing in fumes, vapors, odors
  • During romantic moments

Some Tasteful Examples

Here are a few descriptions of taste from my upcoming romantic suspense Close to the Skin.

She could taste the sweet floral of the cheap wine. She could taste him.

The weight on her chest lifted, and she sucked in roasted air that tasted of hot metal and burnt wood.

She took a swallow of coffee. The bitter liquid trickled down her throat and pooled in her


Taste Resources for Writers

150 Ways to Describe the Taste of Food to Children and Adults

20 Words to Describe Specific Tastes and Flavours

Quick English: Words to Describe Food

How often do you describe tastes in your writing? 

What smell sources do you recommend?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Editing for Sensory Language Part 2 SMELL

~ The Olfactory Sense: Using Our Nose ~

Smell is one of the most powerful of our senses. Smell forms and solidifies memories and evokes the emotions. A familiar odor can bring back an image or event from the past. Smells influence the choices we make and can change our mood and our behavior.

Real estate agents know to scent houses on the market with baking smells and soft florals. A night club experiment showed that adding a pleasant scent to the air made patrons dance more and say they had a better time than when there were no scents added. Another study showed that people can sense fear in someone’s sweat.

If scents and odors can do this to us, they must certainly do the same things to the characters in our books. Even more importantly, evoking the sense of smell in our reader will make our story more memorable, more emotional, and more realistic.

Smell The Senses


When to Add Smells

Smell is so important that most scenes should mention a smell at least once and is especially powerful in the starting paragraph or as near to it as possible. Here are some other places to insert a olfactory note.

Add in a smell/scent/aroma/reek:

  1. Whenever a character enters a new location, room, building or revisits one – describe the initial smell and then how it changed
  2. When the POV (point of view) character meets a new or important person
  3. When outside in nature or a garden
  4. When sensing danger – the release of adrenaline intensifies one’s sense of smell.
  5. During romantic moments

Smell The scent of hair


Some Smelly Examples

Here are some examples of olfactory description from my upcoming romantic suspense release Close to the Skin Book 2 in the Skin Quartet.

Bella stuck the bag over her mouth and nose and gasped in ham-and-mustard scented air like a drowning victim pulled out of the depths.


The narrow corridor was dank and dark, most of the overhead lights smashed out, the air stinking of decaying garbage and decaying lives.

She pulled the door open, and the sickly sweet odor of something rotten hit her full in the face.

A whiff of stone cold damp and death brushed past her from the shadowed interior.

Smell Resources for Writers


Smells and Emotions 

Smell Lists

The 10 Basic Smells 

A Basic Smell Vocabulary

Lists of Fragrances perfume chemistry perfumes  Essential oils

How often do you use smells in your writing?

What “smell” resources do you use?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Editing for Sensory Language

– Weaving in the Seven Senses –

As you can tell from the title I am still editing. I have gone over my current manuscript for all the big things. Now it is time for me to add those little details that raise ordinary writing to the level that touches the reader emotionally. This is especially important in romance.

EYE The Senses

Identifying the Senses

One way to do this is to make sure that all the senses are included in every scene. So let’s start with listing the senses. I’m sure you all learned the five senses in kindergarten: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing, and Sight. However, there are two other senses.

The Vestibular Sense, located in the inner ear and in sensors Hand The Senseslocated in the soles of our feet, tells us where our body is in space and provides feedback on balance, coordination and movement.

The Kinesthetic Sense or Proprioceptive System provides input on the way our bones, tendons, and muscles are functioning and provides feedback on the functioning of our body in terms of pressure, contraction, stretching, and so on. (Note: They probably don’t teach these last two in kindergarten because they are really hard to spell.)

Using the Senses in Writing Fiction

Incorporating these seven senses in every scene may seem like a challenge. But actually once a writer is aware of the need to do so, it becomes a simple matter of reading through the scene and:


 Circle or underline or highlight every sensory element in the scene. I like to use different color markers for each of the senses if I am working on a printout. If I am working on the computer, I use the highlighter tool.

Search and Insert

If I have already incorporated all the relevant sensory elements, I quickly move on to the next. If I haven’t, I need to find the perfect spot to insert that sensory description. To determine the best location, I have made myself seven index cards on which I have noted  places those senses work best or carry the most weight.

Experience It

When I am writing the sensory description, I try as much as possible to actually experience that sensation. I taste the food item. I search out an aroma. I even balance on one foot or walk on different surfaces. It is actually one of the parts of writing I really enjoy.

In my next series of journal entries, I will explore each of these senses in my own writing and the writing of my favorite authors. 

Smell The Senses

What method do you use to add sensory description to your writing?

Marathon Editing

Editing Tribulations and Tricks

For the last several months, I have been stuck in editing mode. It’s not that I dislike editing. I just like creating new stories better.

Editing becomes a tribulation when all you do is edit from morning to night. That’s what happens when you fast draft three books in a row and then have to ready them for publication all at the same time.

When you spend that much time editing, your eyes begin to go bleary. Then you start to miss errors. Then your mind starts to drift. And then you find yourself reading your e-mail or raiding the fridge. Not good!

Ideally, I would write new stories in the morning and do my editing in the afternoon. But that doesn’t work very well when you have deadlines to meet. So I have come up with some editing tricks that have really helped me work more efficiently and faster when doing Marathon Editing.

Five Editing Tricks

Trick 1

Set a goal for the number of pages you have to have edited by the end of each day. If you are mathematically inclined, this would be the total number of pages divided by the number of days you have to get the editing done.

Trick 2

Set a timer. Edit for twenty minutes and then force yourself to take a break for 5 to 10 minutes. Get up and move. Shake out the kinks. Do a dance, go for a walk, or assume a yoga pose  Make sure to peer off in the distance so your eyes don’t get stuck at computer focus distance. Then edit twenty minutes more and repeat.

Trick 3

Use the text to speech function that comes with your computer or one of the text-to-speech readers such as NaturalReader  to read your writing to you. Having the computer lady or guy read aloud slows down your eye speed and lets you look at each word and sentence more carefully. You instantly know when you’ve missed a period because the voice doesn’t stop when you expect it too. It also helps you checkout comma placement, find misspellings, and discover those pesky missing words.  Despite the annoying voices, hearing them read aloud the dialogue is the best way to see if it reads naturally.

Trick 4

Work backwards. All writers love their own stories. It is easy to get lost in the tale and forget to look for missing words and misspellings and so on. So start at the back and work to the front page by page. If you still get lost in the story. Limit each read aloud to one paragraph.

Trick 5 

Use Autocrit or ProWritingAid to find repeated words, overused words, and clichés.

HINT: All of these trick also work for editing blog posts.

What editing tricks do you use? 

Time Management versus Creativity in Writing

Or Why Hitching Creativity to the Clock is Doomed to Failure

alarm clock Zara West SuspenseYikes! Where did the time go? My last post was when – December? So much for keeping a writing journal.

It was such a good idea – writing down what was going on in my writing. So what happened?  Well, now that I am knee-deep – or is it eyeball deep – in my third novel in the Skin Quartet, I think I have discovered something that will make some writers upset, and others cheer. Time management and creative writing do not fit well together.

Now I have to preface this discussion with the fact that I am excellent at managing time. Ask anyone! At one time I had three jobs, a craft business, two young children and a heck of a lot of sheep. I didn’t sleep much, but I got everything done. I had a planner. I had a calendar. I had a time and place for everything.

The writerly tasks require creativity

So what makes writing different? Well, I have a planner. I have a calendar. I have a timer. And I have a beautiful writing studio. First thing every morning, I sit down and write or edit for the requisite number of words or pages. No problem there. It’s my favorite time of day. No timer is set. Rather my goal is a number of words or a number of pages. The creative ideas pour out of me and onto the page.

Then my schedule lists a number of other writerly tasks to accomplish each day.  These are the things that go along with publishing a book and include such checklist items as posting 8-10 daily quips on social media, taking writing classes (you can always improve!), teaching classes, participating in writing and critique groups, designing newsletters, answering email, and writing blog posts.

A while back, I took a terrific time management course for writers called Book Factory by Kerri Nelson. She suggested dividing up all these writerly tasks into manageable 15 minute blocks of time. This makes sense to me as you can at least see progress. And I have tried to do this ever since and to some extent it does work.

The problem is tasks like social media posts and blogging and newletters so on are all creative writing tasks. Often they take way more than 15 minutes to complete.

After doing creative writing all morning, I have to admit my creative juices are on low flow by the time I open my Facebook page and try to come up with some great new content that people will look at and hopefully share. Then I have to move on to Twitter and class assignments, and so on.

Blog posts, like this one, are the worst, because unlike most social media posts, they can’t be 140 characters long. They have to provide meaningful content. They take me a lot longer than 15 minutes. That’s why they are so rare.

So what’s the solution?

Well, I have noticed that the major writers often mention they have PAs (personal assistants) to do all these other tasks. Others hire promotion companies to help out with some of the items. Both of these sound like a dream to me. With one book published, I’m not yet in that league.

A quick search of my writer friends shows me that the ones who are getting a lot of posts out and somehow keep up with regular blogs often have a strong network of friends and take turns sharing content with each other.

The writers like me who are struggling on our own often sink to re-posting content. It’s not a bad compromise. But not very creative, and it starts to get boring for the reader and -I hate to say it- for me.

So here are some ideas that I am going to try in order to blog about my writing more often.

  1. Set aside one day a week – I’m thinking Monday for my writing blog. (But don’t hold me to that.)
  2. On writing blog day, I will repost and do quickie things on social media like share and retweet.
  3. Create a format for the writing blog posts so I can channel my creativity into what I say instead of how it is organized.
  4. Before writing my blog post, I will walk for 15 minutes to stir up those creative juices.

Do you think this plan will work?

Be looking for my next writing journal post to find out.


Word Trackers. A Good Thing or Not?

50,000 Words and Counting!

I did it! For the third year in a row I managed to get down 50,000 words on my next novel, despite the holidays, a long-awaited visit from my sister who lives in Scotland, a book signing in Long Island, and all the daily things I do – like work.

However, 50,000 words is not a complete novel, at least not for me. My romantic suspenses run about 75,000 to 85,000 words. So that means I have 25,000 to 35, 000 still left to write. But already I am starting to feel less pressure to get those words down.  So what to do?

Word Trackers and Word CountersWord Tracker NaNoWr

One of the things I like about NaNoWri is their great word count tracker. It gives a very visual picture of your progress and also adjust automatically to keep you on track.  Now I know that you can make your own tracker using Excel. Been there. Done that. [Here is a tutorial if you want to try it yourself].

It works, but is it really necessary to create a counter from scratch? With that in mind, I set out to explore what was available on the web. Here’s what I found.

Excel Spreadsheets

If you have a basic understanding of Excel, [like don’t mess with the formulas in the cells] then you will enjoy Svenja Goslen’s beautiful Excel spreadsheets that track daily progress either for a month nanowrimo-word-tracker-spreadsheets or for a year  yearly-word-tracker-spreadsheets/  These are so beautiful – truly works of art – that I didn’t look any further. I have used them for several novels in the past and can vouch that they definitely do work. Do consider making a donation if you do use one of these.

Progress Meters

These are simple bar or line charts [technically picometers] that show your progress toward the number of words you set. Most are in the form of a widget to embed in a blog or website. Some require more customization than others. word-counter

You can check these out here.



Language is a Virus

Critique Circle

ProgPress [exclusively for wordpress]

Word Tracker Apps

What if you want to use your phone or tablet? Well there are several free word trackers to try.

1. Wordly is an App for the iPhone that is both a timer and a word tracker. I don’t have an iPhone so if you do please feel free to comment of how this one fares.

2. Writometer is a highly-rated App for Android that is fairly simple to use. It includes a timer, treats (time on Facebook, a cookie, etc. for completing your daily goal), and a progress meter widget to add to your home screen. You can set an alarm to remind you to record your words each day. It includes a dictionary and a thesaurus.

3. Wrimo lets you keep track of your counts in a more social setting that mimics NaNoWriMo’s public persona. You can compete with a friend or all writers using the App.

Word Tracker Online Tools

nanowri-graph-2016But what if you want something a little more like the NaNoWri graphic page?

1. Write Track is a free online word tracker that lets you pre-plan your daily word count. You have to sign up for this before you actually see the tracker which I did not do. So I will leave that for you to explore and send in feedback.

2. Pacemaker is the tracker I think most resembles the NaNoWri one and the one I am currently using. It gives you the choice of a calendar layout, a bar chart, or a

NOTE: A trick I use to be sure to record my totals is to paste the link to my chart in the header of my WIP. That makes it easy to click at the end of the writing session and quickly record my daily total.

Should I Use A Word Tracker?

One note of caution. Tracking your words is not for everyone. It is particularly useful if you are fast drafting where you need to have a fire lit under you to keep writing and not go back and reread or edit until you reach the end.

But if you work at a more leisurely pace or if having a word deadline hanging over you stifles your thinking or creativity, then consider using a simple timer. After all it is the act of sitting down and putting your fingers on the keyboard that will eventually produce your novel, not how many words a day your produce.

I welcome your comments.

Please feel free to suggest other word trackers I may have missed.


I love to read: Why reading during NaNoWri is a bad Idea

I love to read. In fact, I don’t just love it– I am compelled to read. I read everything. If there is a newspaper in the recycle bin, I read it. If there is a cereal box on the table, I read the label. If there is a book left anywhere, I pick it up and read it. And if it is a book I want to read, I not only read it, I become immersed in it. So immersed, I don’t hear people talking to me. I don’t hear the doorbell. I don’t hear the tea kettle whistling. Yep. I love to read.

Now this can be a good thing or a bad thing. When I was growing up, I was forbidden to read in the house. My mother insisted that when I was reading, I tuned her out completely. (Well, she was right about that, though I am not sure the book was totally to blame. It might just have been normal teenage contrariness.) As a result, I just read more and in more creative ways – under the covers, in my lap at school, while pretending to watch TV, and so on.

In elementary school, I set out to read every book in the library. Since the library was small and poorly stocked, that turned out to be quite possible. It was also a wonderful introduction to the wide range of books out there. I read everything – fiction books about chickens that talked, the children’s classics, and non-fiction books about Indian crafts and to make pompoms. (I still can make those pompoms.)

I love to readWith that success under my belt, when I reached high school and could get to the public library on my own, I gave myself the goal of reading every fiction book in the library. I started at the As and actually got as far as the Hs. Robert Heinlein’s works were where I stopped my relentless pursuit because my best friend introduced me to the new acquisition rack and I had a whole new bunch of books to devour.

Now that I am a professional novelist, I still read. Reading is an essential part of writing. I read everything in my genre that I can. I read everything in genres I plan on writing in someday. And I plain just read everything that whets my interest. I read for enjoyment. I read to learn more about writing. I read to support my favorite authors. If you want to see what I read, check out my Goodreads list and my reviews. I read a new book every other day — usually.

However, not during NaNoWri. For one thing, reading consumes too much time. If I am going to get 1500 to 2000 words a day down, I don’t have time for a leisurely read at breakfast or lunch. But that’s not the main reason. The real problem about reading while fast drafting is that it pulls you out of your own story.

When I am fast drafting I am living my story. I am in the flow. I’m inside my character’s heads. I go to bed dreaming the next scene. I wake up ready to capture it. Reading someone else’s words, no matter how wonderful, no matter how enticing, interferes in the process. So as much as I hate it, I am not reading right now. Well, not much. I still read labels. I still read the newspapers my husband drapes over the armrest of the sofa. I still read e-mails and Facebook posts and even peek inside a few novels.

Because I am not perfect. I love to read…

Are you a compulsive reader too?

I’d love to here how you control your reading. Post your thoughts and comments below.

Fast Drafting My Way to The End or What I Learned from NaNoWri

My first novel, written as a respite from working on my dissertation, took me five years to write. My second novel took seven years to write. My third novel took one month.

What made the difference? Fast drafting.

Fast drafting is the writing process in which you throw out everything you’ve learned about good writing and just write whatever crazy, horrible, wonderful thoughts come spilling out of your head. You don’t stop to do research. You don’t stop to reread. You don’t stop to go back and fix something. You just write. But the question is: How do you know what to write and not end up with a mishmash?

What makes fast drafting work? Good planning at the start and great editing at the end.

Planning for Fast Drafting

I don’t think that I would have been as successful in my first NaNoWri if I hadn’t written the two slow pokes first. I learned a lot about writing between them and all the writing courses I took during those years. For one thing I learned how to plot.

My first two novels are what I would call meandering. Since they were historical fiction, I got buried in the research. I got enamored with writing beautiful settings and long sections of internal thought full of metaphors and literary references.  Many chapters existed only to share some of that incredible information I uncovered or to weave in a particular place or quote.  Originally these novels topped out at 170,000 words or there about.

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage One ACTION

Now I know that the action must come first. Forget setting. Forget angst. I write a bare-bones sloppy synopsis or what I call a fairy tale version of my novel. I imagine I am sitting around a campfire and making up a fairy tale to entertain a group of antsy kids in the format of first this happened and then that happened and then this and that until bang there’s a horrible villain and a catastrophe and oops a terrible choice that leads to a heroic deed and then an ending – a happy one, of course. I write romance.

Why does this work? The structure of fairy tales is believed by many researchers to be hardwired into our psyches. At least in my case, I know this is true as I grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales, especially Grimms. For a more professional take on this: the this and that and thens are called plot points and there are a ton of wonderful websites and books explaining them. Check out Larry Brook’s StoryFix website, for helpful examples of plot points and story structure, or take Carol Hughes workshop Deep Story I offered this coming April.

Using Fairy Tales in Fast Drafting

Illustration by Hope Dunlop from The Little Prince

Next I take that synopsis, paste into my NaNoWri draft document, and put line breaks between the sentences and label them ACTION. Here is an example from my NaNo draft

  • CHAPTER Setting The Siren POV Alba
  • ACTION Hanger is missing. Alba goes to The Siren to get help

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Two GMC

I head each sentence with the word CHAPTER. I identify a possible setting and the POV character. Then the POV character’s goal(s) for that chapter, his or her motivation for achieving that goal, and what’s going to prevent or hinder the character from achieving that goal. Debra Dixon is my resource for this. Here is my GMC from the same chapter:

  • Goal– Find Hanger
  • Motivation – furious/worried/he could be injured or dead
  • Conflict –Alba has gala that night and she must go

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Three Dilemma

I can’t remember what course I took that made me realize how important the dilemma is in plotting. The dilemma is the hard choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter to obtain the goal or at least get closer to it. A dilemma is stated as an either/or choice. It often becomes the hook that leads into the next chapter, especially if the choice is really dangerous or the wrong one. If you have great dilemmas for each chapter, the story will write itself. From the same chapter:

  • D – Go to Gala or go look for Hanger

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Four: Make it Simple

Now here’s the way to put this all together so you can sit down and fast draft. I happen to use Word so I make the CHAPTER ACTION SETTING POV info a Heading 1, and the GMC + D a Heading 2. Now all I have to do is open the FIND Navigation box and there it is – an outline of my novel. This way I can keep the plot right in front of me as I write. I can see where I have been and where I am going.Fast Draft Header System

Have you ever fast drafted?

What are some tricks you use.



NaNoWri starts Tomorrow and I Can’t Wait.

Ready. Set. Go.

Got my plot. Got my characters. Got my GMC outline. Got my alarm set. Everything appears ready for me to dive in and write my first 2000 words (Technically you need to write 1533 a day, but I aim for 2000 words a day – that way I get ahead a bit for the days I can’t write for some reason or other.)

Problem is I also have a dentist appointment, a sister visiting from Scotland, the last broccoli and chard to harvest from the garden, and pizza night with the whole family. Not to mention constant interruptions from children, husband, and telephones. I don’t want to hear one more political robot, please!

See that’s one of the problems with being a writer. You do everything to get into the flow and then BAM something happens to break the flow and if you haven’t reached your word total, you’re cooked. Or at least I am.

Here are somethings I do to get back into the flow.

  1. Do a 1 mile walk, either outside or inside (I use Walk at Home with Leslie Samsome). As I walk I start to think myself back into the story.
  2. I type some gibberish until the flow starts up. It’s a fast draft. Pleanty will be cut before it’s done.
  3. I reread the last paragraph I wrote (no more than that or I get into edit mode)
  4. I reread my outline – especially the dilemma.
  5. I do a journal entry in the POV character’s voice about what they think should happen next.
  6. I give up and promise to write more words the next day by getting up earlier.

Anyone have any other suggestions on how deal with interruptions while fast drafting?

Leave a comment or two!


Why NaNoWri fires me up to write faster

NaNoWri or National Novel Writing Month starts on Tuesday. This will be my third year participating. I don’t know why, but somehow tracking words and trying to attain the 50,000 word challenge in 30 days just gets my blood flowing and the creative juices oozing.  So I am getting set for the race to the finish.

NOTE: If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is here’s a brief overview. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. A small group of friends in California got together and challenged each other to write a book in a month and an idea was born. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel during one of the toughest writing months of the year, November. The thought is–that if you can write a book in November, you can write a book at any time of the year.

Nano is also about a group of people participating in this goal all at the same time! There is so much energy in knowing that people all over the world are typing away, struggling to write their story all at the same time. (Though NaNo has the 50k goal, many people use NaNo as a means to move forward with their writing. Some use it to edit, others use it to write multiple short stories, or finish a story they have been working on.) Check out the website at

So this is how I’m preparing for this year’s challenge.

  1. I took a course in using journaling to develop characters and used my journal entries to dig into the psyches of my main characters. I have many, many pages of notes and a whole lot of tidbits in my head about the strengths and foibles of my people,. And I do mean people. By this piint they are like a real friends and enemies running around in my head.
  2. I wrote a very sloppy synopsis- kind of like telling the story to a friend. This happens and then that happens and so on.
  3. I pasted the synopsis into my NaNo draft and broke the events/actions into pseudo chapters. I can’t seem to get myself to drop the chapter format. But since I alternate POVs in every chapter it does work out okay. And I don’t number them. I make them HEADERS. That way if the find panel is open you can see the chapter and POV and setting right there.
  4. I write the Goal/Motivation/Conflict and the Dilemma for each “chapter” and make those header 2s. Dilemma is really important. That’s the choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter/scene. Like – Will I kiss him or not? Will I hide from the bad guy or attack him? That kind of thing.

And that’s it. On November 1 I will sit down and start hitting the keys as fast as I can. If I go blank or get stuck I stick in 4 XXXXs and move on. Later I can search out those XXXX spots when the thought hits on what to do.

So for now. I am dreaming my story and getting my fingers going by writing this post. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know by posting a comment.

Are you doing NaNoWri?