Fast Draft Your Manuscript: It’s NaNoWri

Are you all set to Fast Draft? This year will be the sixth year I have participated in National Writing Month. Of the five novels I have completed in one month, I have published four.

Not too bad a record.

Over the years I have learned better ways to outline, explored word trackers, got myself more organized, and most importantly learned how to draft fast.

After teaching a number of workshops and mentoring NaNoWri participants, I have finally gathered all my tips and tricks for writing fast into a book.

Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Get It Done Now, written under my professional name, is being published by Short Fuse Publishing. It is available in Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited and is the first in my new Write for Success writing craft series.

About Fast Draft Your Manuscript


Fast Drafting is a proven set of techniques and strategies that can be applied to any piece of writing from blog post to novel. Tested over the author’s decades-long career as an author and educator, the Fast Drafting Method is easy to learn, customizable for your needs, and designed to get results quickly. Fast Draft Your Manuscript: And Get It Done Now.


About the Write for Success series


Don’t just write…write for success! From award-winning author and educator Joan Bouza Koster comes a revolutionary series of guides showing you the steps that helped her writing not just land an agent and book deal but win praise from readers and literary taste makers. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, romance, thriller, or historical, this series delivers behind-the-scenes tips, inspiration when you need it most, and the flexibility to fit your writing career. Write with confidence and write for success.

Upcoming books in the series

Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine

Power Charge Your Language and Make Your Writing Sing

Research Your Subject and Validate Your Writing


So are you doing NaNo or do you just have a draft to finish? Here are few tips for you from Fast Draft Your Manuscript And Get It Done Now.

Fast Drafting is a time to forget about being perfect. So, type away.

  • Relish being sloppy.
  • Use the first words that pop into your head.
  • Don’t worry about clichés or repeating terms.
  • Forget writing rules or making it sound pretty.
  • If you can’t think of something, or you need a fact to fill in, or you are not sure about what you wrote, use the highlighter tool in your word processor to highlight that area in a color so when you do your first revision you can come back and fix it.



Available from AMAZON


“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” —-Louis L’Amour

Characters as Verbs

~ I ________ you ~

I was very fortunate to have the chance to hear Damon Suede speak at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference last fall. The topic of his talk was character development.

Give Your Character a Verb

One thing that stood out for me was his suggestion that before you decide on hair color or height or even occupation for your main character, you should come up with a transitive verb that represents the internal core of your character. Then you should pick an opposite verb for the antagonist.

Let the Verb dictate the Character’s DetailsUsing a transitive verb like ignite adds pizza to a character

Once we have the identifying verb identified, all of the other features of the character should fall in place. For example, if the verb we choose for our character is IGNITE, then everything about that character will be bright and fiery. A person who ignites might be someone with red hair, sparkling eyes, emanating warmth, sexy hot, and working as a fireman.

With this verb in mind, our word choices and the character’s actions would also reflect this verb. An igniting character might light up a room or send flaming passion through you when they touched you.

Damon even suggested writers could use a different synonym of the character’s main verb as a guiding force for every chapter in our novel.

Wow, this idea really ignited me. So I set out to give it a try.

Identifying Transitive Verbs

Character as Verb Using Actions; The Actors' ThesaurusBut first, I have to admit the grammatical term transitive verb threw me. I mean I knew what it meant – sort of. A transitive verb is any active verb you can use to fill in this sentence and have it sound sensible.

I _____ACTIVE VERB_____ you.

So I ignite you works. I sleep you does not.

Damon suggested we consult a thesaurus to find our character verbs. But for me that involved a lot of “is it transitive or not” questions as well as tedious skimming through pages of non-verbs. So I went hunting for a thesaurus that focused on verbs and hit the jackpot.

Try Actions: The Actors Thesaurus

Actions: The Actors’ Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone & Maggie Llyod-Williams isn’t just a verb thesaurus. It is a thesaurus of transitive verbs, and it has a very specific purpose. It is used by actors to choose how a character will behave when saying each one of his or her lines. This is called Actioning, a technique developed by the Russian actor and director, Constantin Stanislavski.

Usually actioning is done with the whole cast sitting around a table and going line by line through the script. Actors identify a transitive verb for each line as a cue to how they will say it and how they will move. For example, perhaps the line in the play reads: “Would you like to dance?” In concert with the cast, the actor might decide to say this as if “I love you” or “I seduce you” or “I hate you” or “I fear you.” The actor being addressed would then choose a verb representing how they would respond.

Taking it Farther: Using Active Verbs to Spark up Dialogue

Wow. This gave me a brainstorm. Why not do the same thing when writing dialogue? If a character already has a main transitive verb then we can use its synonyms whenever that character speaks. So, if the character is a beguiler (I beguile you) they might amuse, belittle, bewitch, cajole, charm, cheat, coax, court and so on when speaking.

In the WIP I am working on right now, Book 4 Under the Skin in my Skin series, I have chosen I escape you for my heroine and I protect you for my hero. I’ll let you know how it goes.


What do you think of ACTIONING? Willing to give it a try?

Post your thoughts and comments below.

Fifteen Minutes Writing – The Book Factory Method

~ Life in Fifteen Minutes ~

Do you know how much time you spend on daily activities like reading e-mail and perusing Facebook? Do you struggle to reach your daily word count? I know that I do.

A while back, I took a workshop with USA best-selling author Kerri Nelson, which she has recently published in book form: The Book Factory Method: Your Guide to Producing Multiple Novels in One Year.

Fifteen Minutes CountThe Book Factory by Kerri Nelson Reviewed by Zara West

Kerri makes the point that in the scheme of things fifteen minutes is not very much of one’s time. In fifteen minutes, we can accomplish tasks like wash the dishes or fold the laundry. Why not spend fifteen minutes writing too?

In The Book Factory Method, Kerri explains how thinking in fifteen-minute time blocks is a sneaky way to find time to write.

Where are Those Fifteen Minutes Hiding?

Finding fifteen minutes is a lot less daunting than finding an hour or three for writing. Kerri suggests analyzing how you spend every fifteen-minute block of your work day and searching out those spaces where you can sit down to write.

Taking her advice, I kept track of how I spent my time over a three-day period (Here’s a 15 incredible minutes you can use to track your day) and discovered she was right.

Sure, I had all my daily tasks—like cleaning, washing, cooking, going to work, working, and so on. But there were also large blocks of time spent lost on Facebook and answering e-mail, time spent straightening my writing zone and getting ready to write, and time spent on rereading what I had already written—time that could be better spent just plain writing. In fact, I actually found three fifteen-minute blocks that could be better spent writing everyday.

Using Those Fifteen Minutes Effectively

Once you have your slots, Kerri suggests you get a timer. Using a timer and shutting down e-mail and the Internet is essential for this to work.

A note on timers: The timer I like the most is Hourglass. But I have also used my phone timer and an old-fashioned cooking timer just as effectively.

Now you are ready

  • Sit down.
  • Set the timer.
  • Start writing.
  • Do not stop till that timer dings.

Give it a Try

If you fast draft, you can actually produce quite a few words on the page in fifteen minutes, and in Kerri’s case, those dedicated fifteen minutes has produced a passel of published books. Will this work for everyone? I have no idea. But it worked for me.

I quickly found that sitting down and fast drafting (Kerri makes a particular point about applying this method only to new writing, not revision or editing) even for as little as fifteen minutes a day put words on the page for me.  Working with the time limit also trained me to be more focused. Knowing I was being times, I learned to ignore distractions. After all, there are very few things you can’t let slide for a few minutes.

In addition to the fifteen-minute writing method, Kerri provides many hints and helps for becoming more productive. She examines goal setting, motivation, and some writerly tricks for plotting (she’s a pantser), writing pitches and queries, and maintaining one’s physical and mental health as a writer. I strongly recommend The Book Factory Method for anyone who wants to become a more productive writer.


What method do you use to find writing time?

I love hearing from my readers!

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.

 

How I made a Book Trailer for Beneath the Skin

How I Made a Book Trailer for Beneath the Skin!

Book trailers are the hot new thing in book marketing. With my background in making videos, I just had to try my hand at creating one for Beneath the Skin. It was terrific fun!

How I Made the Book Trailer

This is the first time I have used Windows Live Movie Maker. I have only used iMovie before. In general, the process was very much the same, but the choices for transitions and text features were different so I had fun trying out different combinations. But that all came much later.

To begin the process of making the book trailer for Beneath the Skin, I started out by watching hundreds of book trailers on YouTube. All I did was search on the term Book Trailer. That uncovered a wealth of examples.

The first thing I discovered was that there are tons of book trailers being created by students in schools. What a great take on the book report! Here is a great trailer for Roald Dahl’s The Witches made with PhotoStory 3.

The second thing is that the majority of trailers being made are for Young Adult books and are being produced by the major publishing houses who have created “channels” that will appeal to their readers. An example of this is HarperTeen. These often include interviews with the authors.

The third type are book trailers created by the authors themselves. Since I was making my own, I concentrated on the last, particularly those featuring Romantic Suspense novels like my own. I really loved the wonderful trailers done by bestselling author Casi McLean. You can check out her trailers here on her channel.

I wrote down the common features and what I liked and didn’t like about each one. Next I clicked second by second through several and recorded how long each image was on the screen and what was in each image. Based on that I came up with the following list:

Breakdown of a Romantic Suspense Book Trailer

  1. Most of the book trailers I examined were about 1 to 2 minutes long.
  2. Each one started with a title frame that usually included the author’s name, the book title and perhaps a teaser word or phrase.
  3. Most included a mix of action video and stills. Some also had color photos mixed with black & whites.
  4. The text was brief but hit all the major points: The romantic couple. The problem. What was stopping them, and what would happen if they didn’t solve the problem. At the end, there was usually a clip of where to buy the book and maybe the author’s website.
  5. All of them had music that flowed with the pictures.

Tips for Designing a Book Trailer

The following are a general set of directions for designing a book trailer. They do not cover the actual how-to-technology for movie editing software such as Movie Maker or iMovie. You can find numerous how-to videos on YouTube for these. Rather, these are design tips you may find helpful.

  1. Start with the music. Select a piece of music that matches the theme of your book. Because of copyright issues, I searched through free music offerings and was able to find several sites that had free-downloads. Bensound.com is one such source. Purple-Planet.com and Freeplay.com are others.
  2. Get pics and vids. Next collect a group of photos and video clips you think you might use and put them in a folder on your computer. One good source of copyright free pic and vids is Unsplash.com.
  3. Choose your movie editor. Now open your movie editor and upload the visual “clip” you want for your opening. Choose something that immediately sets the mood of your book.
  4. Title it. Insert your intro caption into the visual. Your name or website name plus “presents” and then your title makes it look professional.
  5. Treat it. Select your text treatment (How you want your text to move or change) and your transition treatment (How you want one clip to change to the next). Note: These are called different things in the different programs.
  6. Unify. To create unity use the same transition and text design (font, color, size, & treatment) through out the whole trailer. Keep the colors close in hue and value too, except when you want to shock. For example, a mystery book trailer might be done in all black and white, except for a splash of red at the very end when the “killer” consequence is named.
  7. Use music as your guide. Now here’s the trick to making it all work. Put in the music track. This will help you place and time the remaining pic/vids and captions so they flow with the rise and fall of the music.
  8. Build your show. Now using the movie software put in each pic/vid, the transition (visual effect), and text effect one by one. Note: 3-4 seconds is the longest any image should play. Longer and it gets boring. Shorter 1 and 2 second clips can be used to make things more exciting.
  9.  Check timing. Adjust the timing of each, and put in your ending “Where to Buy” clip. When you upload on to YouTube you will be able to select a URL the viewer can click on right at the end of the video to take them to your buy page.
  10. End softly. Insert a black clip and fade the music out at the end. Voila! You’re done.

Here’s my very first book trailer. I’d love your comments!

Beneath the Skin is different

Now I read a lot of romantic suspense novels. I love them. Why else would I write them? I like the fact that there is mystery and threatening villains along with the love story. I like the complexity of the plot and the challenging of binding the romance so tightly into the suspense plot line that if you took out the romance  or took out the suspense plot the story wouldn’t work.

To do that you need a special type of hero and heroine and a very threatening villain. Most romantic suspenses, therefore, usually have at least one and sometimes both main characters working for the military, especially the SEALs,  or for the police or in some CIA or FBI undercover operation investigating a crime or trying to stop terrorists or other very bad bad people. Blood Code featured the CIA against a crazy Russian premier. Exit Strategy starred an ex-military guy protecting his assigned victim from being assassinated.

Beneath the Skin is different. My heroine is an anthropologist. The hero is a world-renowned artist living the good life. Not military, not undercover, not police. So why don’t they go to the police when Bella Bell is kidnapped? Unfortunately, both have something in their pasts that makes them wary of legal authorities, and by the time, they realize they are in too deep, it’s too late.

The book I am giving away for March is Low Pressure by best selling author Sandra Brown. The hero and heroine in this book are more like mine in Beneath the Skin. In this book, the heroine is a writer and the hero is a pilot. Like Melissa and Ari, they start looking for answers and end up running for their lives.

Sign up for my newsletter to be eligible for the drawing

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Zara West’s Romantic Suspense Book Review

Blood CodeBlood Code by USA Today bestselling author Misty Evans definitely fits the requirements for a romantic suspense. The heroine is a Russian princess who has lived in the United States from childhood. Suffering from a severe blood clotting disorder, she is now a geneticist focused on finding a cure. But when her grandmother is kidnapped by the Russian premier, she will do anything to save her, including seeking help from head of the CIA in Europe who happens to be in Russia on a training mission. Read more…

What Makes a Romantic Suspense Suspenseful?

Lisa Gardner in the “Seven Secrets of Romantic Suspense” lists the following elements that all romantic suspense novels need to be successful:

  1. A tense, dangerous setting
  2. Complex heroes, heroines, and most importantly, villains, who have goals they must accomplish and something personal at stake, often their only chance at love.
  3. Heroes and heroines with a vulnerability or flaw that hinders them from reaching their goal and finding that love.
  4. A situation that forces the characters to change in some major way and opens them to a loving relationship. By the end of the book, the lovers cannot go their separate ways and be complete.
  5. High levels of sexual tension: Love has the power to make people vulnerable and in suspenseful, dangerous situations, vulnerability can only lead to disaster.
  6. Lastly, there must be fear, there must be doubt, but there must also a ray of hope. Because a romantic suspense can only end with a happily-ever after.

Lena Diaz in her book Exit Strategy is a good example of a romantic suspense that does all these things.

Her protagonists are complex. Her heroine, Sabrina Hightower, is feisty and headstrong, determined to prove her grandfather has been kidnapped. The hero, Tall-Dark-and-Deadly Mason Hunt, is a professional assassin with doubts. Has he been killing the wrong people?

They have flaws. Sabrina is afraid to trust and jumps to conclusions. Mason is suffering from PTSD as a result of torture while a captive as a soldier.

A dark setting and a compelling situation: Set in the shadowy woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sabrina must join forces with Mason, even though she doesn’t trust him, and he doesn’t trust her, in order to survive attacks by the men sent to kill them both.

Sexual tension: Thrown into close contact, sexual tension rises, loves blooms. But this only leaves them more vulnerable.

Fear, doubt, and hope: Will they be able to survive the attacks and prove the truth? Only reading the book will reveal the answer.

Lena Diaz is a Golden Heart finalist and has won the National Booksellers Award. Learn more about her at her website http://www.lenadiaz.com/

*EXCLUSIVE GIVEAWAY*

One lucky subscriber to Zara West Suspense’s Newsletter will receive a paperback copy of Lena Diaz’s Exit Strategy. All subscribers’ names will be entered in the Textfixer Random Choice Maker. The winner will be announced on January 31st.

Sign up today to have a chance to win!

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When You Are a New Romantic Suspense Writer

Beneath the Skin is my first romantic suspense. This is a genre that I have always enjoyed reading. A romantic suspense has two interlocking plot lines. There is the love story which wends it way through the novel, pulling the protagonists together and apart until they meet their Happy Ever After or Happy for Now ending.

Then there is the suspense plot which is a combination of thriller and mystery with always murder or the threat of murder hanging over the protagonists or someone they love.

The challenge for the new author of romantic suspense is to twist these two plot lines together so tightly that if one were removed the other would fall flat.  Think of movie Romancing the Stone without the love story, and you get the idea.

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing a number of my favorite contemporary romantic suspense novels and comparing them to my own. I will even be giving copies away to readers who make comments on my posts. Some of the authors I will be reviewing are: Marie Force, Nora Roberts, Laura Kaye, Karen Rose, Lauren Layne and many more. Do you have some favorites?

Please send me your suggestions for romantic suspense authors I should review!