Category Archives: Writing

Weekend Writing Warriors: Snippet #76

Weekend Writing Warriors: Snippet #76

Every Sunday, the Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday participants share 8-10-sentence snippets from their works-in-progress on their blogs for others to read and comment on. Join the fun! Click on the links to see the full lists.

Today I’m sharing the opening of the Middle Grades novel I outlined at the writers’ retreat I went on the other weekend. Titled Amanda in Chief, it’s about a girl starting the year at her sixth school in six years. Her strategy for making friends will be running for class president.

As the story opens, Amanda Fanta’s older brother, Jake, drives her to Anderson Elementary, where she will spend sixth grade. Amanda says:

“I don’t know how you can be so happy. It’s your senior year, and you’re starting over again.” wewriwa2

Jake glanced over from the driver’s seat. “Actually, I’m looking forward to it. It’s kind of fun. Nobody knows you, so you can be whoever you want to be. You can put on a new persona. Who do you want to be this year?”

“Someone popular. It sucks to be invisible and have no friends.”

I know it’s short (10-sentence limit), but what do you think of this snippet? Any suggestions on how I can make it better? Please comment below.

In the Meme Time: Next Victim

In the Meme Time: Next Victim



Writing Books on my Kindle

Writing Books on my Kindle

I’ve written about the writing books on my bookshelves here and here. But I also have a collection of writing books on my Kindle. I’ve reviewed several of these on ARHtistic License; click the highlighted titles to read.

  1. The Audacity to be a Writer: 50 Inspiring Articles on Writing that Could Change Your Life compiled by Bryan Hutchinson.
  2. Crank it outCrank It Out! The Surefire Way to Become a Super-Productive Writer by C.S. Lakin.
  3. Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland. I haven’t read this yet, but I love this author’s work.
  4. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. This is one of the best resources a fiction writer can have. It lists the physical manifestations of various emotions which you can use to make your readers viscerally experience what’s going on inside your character. (If you want, you can try out the abbreviated version, Emotional Amplifiers, for free.)
  5. Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus when You’re Drowning in your Daily Life by Jessica Abel. I’m reading this now, and it’s excellent, but you really have to do the steps. This is the manual for professional cartoonist and graphic novelist Abel’s Creative Focus Workshop. Not strictly a writing book, it’s useful for all kinds of creative endeavors.
  6. How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good by Bryan Cohen. I haven’t read this yet.
  7. Inspired Writer: How to Create Magic with Your Words by Bryan Hutchinson. I haven’t read this yet.
  8. Jumpstart Your Creativity: 10 Jolts to Get Creative and Stay Creative by Shawn Doyle and Steven Rowell.Outlining
  9. Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book by K.M. Weiland. I’d recommend getting this in hard copy.
  10. Productivity for Creative People: How to get Creative Work Done in an “Always On” World by Mark McGuiness. I haven’t read this yet.
  11. Publishing Poetry & Prose in Literary Journals by Writer’s Relief, Inc. I haven’t read this yet, but I find lots of good information on their website.
  12. Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pansters, and Everyone in Between Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pansters, and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell. I have to read this—I’ve heard such good things about it.
  13. Writing in Obedience: A Primer for Christian Fiction Writers by Terry Burns and Linda W. Yezak. I think I read this and was underwhelmed. It might be a good place for a beginning Christian writer to start.
  14. Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels by Rayne Hall. I haven’t read this yet.writing the heart
  15. Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel by C.S. Lakin. One of the best books I’ve ever read on the art of the novel, which I will probably reread every year.
  16. You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins. A nice little motivational book when you need a kick to get going.
  17. The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor by Gail McMeekin.
  18. The 15-Minute Writer: How to Write Your Book in Only 15 Minutes a Day by Jennifer Blanchard.
  19. 5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out by K.M. Weiland. I can’t remember if I’ve read this yet. Weiland often gives it away free.

Of all the above books that I’ve already read, my two favorites are #4 and #15.

Did you find this article helpful? Please hit the Like button. Have you read any of these? Or do you have a writing book to recommend? Write your comment below.

Monday Morning Wisdom #123

Monday Morning Wisdom #123

Practice any art, however well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to find out what’s inside you. ~Kurt VonnegutMMW

Weekend Writing Warriors: Snippet #75

Weekend Writing Warriors: Snippet #75

Every Sunday, the Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday participants share 8-10-sentence snippets from their works-in-progress on their blogs for others to read and comment on. Join the fun! Click on the links to see the full lists.

Lottie Loses the Lottery (picture book): Lottie has the worst luck. She didn’t win the lottery–but her next-door neighbor, Eva, did. How can Lottie shed her funky mood and be genuinely happy for Eva?


Lottie just found out that Eva gave her friend Greta a new sewing machine, and she’s even more jealous than before. (Please excuse the run-on sentence. I’ve “creatively” edited so that I can squeeze as much content as possible into the 10-sentence limit.)

Lottie went to the bathroom and glanced at the mirror. A bitter face scowled back at her.

“What are you looking at?” Lottie asked her reflection.

“An ungrateful friend,” said the face in the mirror.

“What do I have to be grateful for? I lost the lottery,” said Lottie.

“So did a lot of people. But Eva won, and you didn’t congratulate her; she invited you to her party, and you didn’t go; she gave you an expensive present, and you didn’t even thank her for it.”

“She’s a bazillionaire–she can afford it.”

“And you can afford to be happy for her,” said the sulky reflection.

Let’s just say Lottie’s on the verge of a breakthrough that will help her get over her funk and congratulate Eva on her win.

This is the last snippet from Lottie Loses the Lottery. Next time I’ll share from the story I started on my recent writer’s retreat.

I know it’s short, but what do you think of this snippet? Any suggestions on how I can make it better? Please comment below.

Deadly Description


I have a dear friend who begs me to describe my characters when I introduce them, so she can accurately visualize them while she reads.

However, when I read, I picture the heroine as me at that age—that’s how closely I identify with characters. And if the author describes her as tall and blond, it throws me off, until my subconscious figures out how to continue picturing a protagonist who looks just like me.


Pamela Hodges says on The Write Practice that “You do not need to tell your reader everything about your characters. Create a bond with your reader by leaving room for their imagination in your story.”

Among readers and writers there is much controversy about how much description is necessary to visualize a character or a setting. Too much description, and the piece gets boring. Too little description, and readers can’t enter the scene. It all boils down to balance.

K.M. Weiland, on Helping Writers Become Authors, says:

Authors must find the perfect balance of telling readers just enough for the story to make sense and come to life, without sharing so much that readers are crowded right out of the story. Our goal as storytellers should be to create a partnership between our own imaginations and that of our readers’. If we’re describing every little detail—both pertinent and not—what we’re creating instead is an on-the-nose narrative that has literally been described to death.

This is not to say that description has limited value in fiction. Laura Drake, in an article on Writers in the Storm, says, “Descriptions nowadays have to do double, and sometimes, triple duty. Because through it, you can show: worldbuilding, tone, foreshadowing, and most important, emotion.”

How much description is enough? Include only enough details to make the picture come alive for the reader. Employ more than one sense, but you probably don’t need all five. Word your description in such a way that it sets mood as well as establishing the visual. Stephen King says, “Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience.”

Need an example of too much description? Old literature is full of it. Here’s an excerpt of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray:

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

169 words describing Lord Wotton’s surroundings and what he thought about it. What do we lose if we cut it down to:

From where Lord Henry Wotton lay smoking, through the window he caught the gleam of the honey-coloured laburnum blossoms, whose branches could hardly hold their flaming beauty. The shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long curtains, producing the momentary effect of swift motion, like a Japanese-style painting. The sullen murmur of the bees buzzing through the unmown grass, circling with monotonous insistence, made the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the sustained bass note of a distant organ.

84 words. Does it convey the same image without totally decimating Wilde’s voice? His version sent me running to the dictionary. Here are my reasons for my revisions:

  • 351px-Laburnum_anagyroides_flowering

    Laburnum. Photo by Andrew Dunn.

    To the right is a picture of laburnum. I shortened the description, but left in the essence of it.

  • Tussore is coarse silk from the larvae of the tussore moth and related species. So, it’s redundant, and can be eliminated.
  • Is the description of the faces of painters in Tokyo necessary to the story? I’m guessing no.
  • Woodbine is a climbing plant, like a vine. I don’t understand how it could have dusty horns. Would mentioning it distract the reader? Why risk it?
  • Bourdon is a low-pitched stop in an organ, like a 16’ stopped diapason. Do you really care? I’m a music major and I don’t.

Do you agree that where description is concerned, a few well-chosen words are all that’s needed? Or do you believe description is where the author shows his skill in painting a detailed image, using all the vocabulary at his command? Share your position in the comments below.




In the Meme Time: Polite?

In the Meme Time: Polite?


Off the Beaten Track

Off the Beaten Track

Today’s post is doing triple duty. On Sunday I mentioned I was at a writers’ retreat, and I’d love to share my experience. Also, I took a lot of pictures while I was there, knowing I could use them for two of my favorite photography challenges.

This was my second year participating in the Arizona Dreamweavers retreat. (I wrote an article about last year’s retreat.) We stayed at the same location, the Breath of Life retreat house up in the mountains of Pine, AZ.

2017-09-30 09.45.41

The grounds have lots of little places to sit and relax, or meditate, or pray (click on the small images to enlarge):

Arrivals started at 3:00 pm, with bunk selection, followed by a craft and optional henna tattoo. Then dinner (the meals were spectacular! I had the shrimp), and a brief introduction meeting, including a 35-word pitch for a current or finished manuscript. The rest of the evening was free so that we could do what we came to do–for most of us, that meant undisturbed writing. Besides a good-sized meeting room, the retreat house has lots of nooks and crannies to write in.


That’s me in the center in the blue jacket.

The rest of the weekend was loosely structured around meals, with a few optional sessions to gather and talk or do stuff with the other writers. While writing Saturday morning, I felt restless, so I went for a walk with my camera and took photos for my two challenges. First, for the A Photo a Week Challenge, in response to the prompt Off the Beaten Track:

There was a walk scheduled for 3:00 that afternoon, and I had been looking forward to it, but my little photography walk convinced me to skip it. One, the roads were very steep. And two, I had to step carefully, because I’d injured my foot last Tuesday folk dancing. I’d have slowed everyone down.

These are my offerings for Tuesdays of Texture:

Another option for the 3:00 break was an idea session about queries, synopses, and any other writing-related topic of interest. I skipped it, because I was struggling with the project I was working on, and I wanted to push through. After dinner (I had the salmon), I participated in the Master Mind session on Building a Brand, then I wrote until 10:00, when I finished the outline of a middle-grade novel idea I’d journaled about in 2005. I was dead tired because I’d written until 11:30 the night before, and then not slept due to being in unfamiliar surroundings. I’m happy to say I slept much better the second night, despite the trumpeting of the local elk.

I got up at 5:00 the next morning, took a shower because nobody else was up, and drank five cups of coffee while checking in on my favorite blogs. (Candy, the owner of the retreat house had already prepared pump-thermoses of six different kinds of coffee!) Then breakfast was served (did I mention that the meals were fabulous?):


Blueberry French toast, with Canadian bacon and boiled egg.

After breakfast we wrote until lunch. I ate way too much lunch. And there was so much dessert left over from the other two days (this decadent thing made out of ice cream sandwiches and pudding; two different kinds of apple pie; muffins; and cake) that I was compelled to choke down a slice of pumpkin spice cheesecake.

After lunch the group convened for debriefing. My take-aways from the group discussions were:

  • An email newsletter is your #1 marketing tool.
  • An author website is more important for a writer than a blog. Hmmm. I have to think about that.
  • Scholastic and other publishers recognize the need for high-interest, low-reading-level books for Middle Grades and Young Adults, due to the large number of English Language Learners in our schools.

I went to the retreat with the intention of spending as much writing as possible. All I had was a title and some 12-year-old notes–and Scrivener, which I am just learning to use. I managed to create a full outline, 23 scene index cards, and the first 221 words of the manuscript. It was hard going, and at one point I thought I was going to have to abandon the project, but I kept working, and the ideas came. Remember: don’t give up.

I also renewed some friendships from last year, and made some new friends, too.

2017 Arizona Dreamweavers

How about you–are you able to get off the beaten track periodically and just work on something you love, whether it’s writing or quilting or scrapbooking or art? Please share your experience below in the comments.

Monday Morning Wisdom #122

Monday Morning Wisdom #122

MMWFound on Twitter:sking-quote


First Page Blog Hop

First Page Blog Hop

This month-long blog hop is meant to answer one simple question for each participant. After reading your first 1,000 words, would a person continue reading it?

If you are so inclined, you can comment about why you would or wouldn’t continue reading–in fact, that would be wonderful.

Here are the first 997 words of my work-in-progress, The Unicornologist.7. The Unicorn in Captivity

After her father dropped her off at school on the morning of the day that would change her life forever, Hillary scanned the students assembled next to the charter bus. Her eyes zeroed in on her best friend’s newly shorn blond hair.

“Allie, your hair looks so cute. You look just like a model.”

“Just like Twiggy, to be precise.” Allie struck a pose as if on a photo shoot, showing off her apple green A-line dress with a white stripe down the front, and white go-go boots. Then she gave her friend the once over, nodding her approval of Hillary’s new floral print dress, but frowning at her sneakers. “What the heck, Hill? Keds?”

“Hey, we’re going to be doing a lot of walking at the museum—”

Allie shook her head. “It’s just like you to wear sensible shoes on a field trip. We’re going to New York City, for goodness’ sake. You could’ve upped your style for one day.”

“I think Hillary looks great,” interrupted Robin, the new boy in their class.

Hillary shot Robin a smile and then looked down, her cheeks glowing like a neon sign. She knew Allie had a crush on Robin, and out of loyalty, she tried to remain in her pretty friend’s shadow.

“And what about me?” asked Allie, batting her eyelashes.

“Spectacular, as always,” said Robin.

Their western civilizations teacher, Mr. Petersen, strode up to the door of the bus with his clipboard and began to explain the procedure for getting on board.

“He’s going alphabetically,” Allie whispered to her friends. “Since Fletcher comes before Graziano and Noone, I’ll save seats for you guys.”

By the time Hillary climbed into the bus, Robin had already taken the seat next to Allie. Hillary had to sit across the aisle from her. Just as well, thought Hillary. I’ll be able to read my book.

The bus driver turned on the radio. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me… Teenage voices joined in.

“I love that song,” Allie said to Robin.

Hillary pulled her copy of The Outsiders out of her fringed suede shoulder bag and immersed herself in Ponyboy’s world.


Much later, Hillary sensed the bus climbing up an incline. Curious, she looked up from her book. The tree-lined road seemed rural, yet she knew their destination lay near the northern tip of Manhattan, in Fort Tryon Park.

Winding ever upward, the bus rounded the final curve and pulled into a parking lot. Hillary caught her breath at her first glimpse of The Cloisters, its stone and block walls and tower rising above terraced gardens like a fairy tale castle.

“Where the heck are we?” Allie asked from across the aisle.

“I’d say medieval Europe,” Hillary replied.

The bus’s doors screeched open and Allie squeezed her way down the aisle.

“Allie, wait up,” called Robin. Hillary chuckled and shook her head. Allie loves to be first.

Once outside, Hillary savored the sweet, moist air on her skin, the first freshness she’d felt in nearly two hours. The drive from New Jersey had been a cacophony of teenage voices and snatches of rock and roll from transistor radios. Now the voices were muffled, their sound absorbed by the trees, an insignificant harmony to the symphony of birdsong. The towering trees screened the museum and blocked out the city. Except for the distant purr of New York City traffic, the students could almost be lost in virgin forest. Indeed, except for the cars and busses parked in the asphalt lot, it could be a time long past.

Worksheet and pen clutched in her hand, Hillary straggled after her classmates as they entered The Cloisters. “A treasure,” Mr. Petersen proclaimed. “You couldn’t build something like this today. It would be outrageously expensive, and this level of craftsmanship is rare anymore.”

Hillary read the introduction on her purple-printed worksheet:

The Cloisters is a collection of rooms and gardens that suggest, rather than duplicate, actual European medieval structures. The building was assembled from twelfth through fifteenth century architectural elements collected by American sculptor George Gray Barnard before 1914, when he lived in France. In western European monasteries the most important buildings were grouped around a central cloister, an open courtyard with a covered and arcaded passageway along the sides. . .*

Hillary traveled from room to room, taking her time along the route mapped out on her worksheet. Each was more beautiful than the last, with wonderful surprises to discover: paintings, carvings, stained glass windows, enclosed gardens with fountains. She wished she could have devoted the entire day just to studying the columns, each topped with its uniquely carved capital. She answered the questions on her sheet as completely as she could, sketching what she saw so she wouldn’t forget.

Apparently, her classmates didn’t find this assignment nearly as compelling as she did. Even artistic Allie had already wandered on after making fun of headless statues and frayed wall hangings.

Alone in the Hall of the Nine Heroes, Hillary glimpsed a flash of color through a doorway. She stepped closer, and spotted a tapestry of a unicorn goring a dog with its horn. Wanting to examine it, she entered the room filled with tapestries of unicorn scenes. She turned slowly in a circle, perusing the four walls. The tapestries apparently told a story, and she struggled to make sense of it.

Unicorn 1

1. The Start of the Hunt

In the first tapestry, a group of men assembled, carrying spears and restraining dogs on leashes. They appeared to be a hunting party.

The second tapestry showed a stream flowing from a fountain. Wild animals waited to drink from it. A unicorn lowered its horn into the water. Why? The hunters approached. One pointed at the unicorn. Another blew his horn.

In the next tapestry, the unicorn attempted to leap out of the spring, hunters waiting on the shore with their spears drawn.

Next, the unicorn managed to get on land. Yapping dogs surrounded it.

Sorry to end so abruptly.

*The description of The Cloisters from Hillary’s worksheet is from A Walk through the Cloisters by Bonnie Young, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978, 1988.

So, what do you think? Would you read further? Why or why not? Please comment below. And if you liked it, please click the Like button. Thanks!