On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Book is a Product

I read comments on Amazon about how Kindle books are too expensive. After all, there's no physical product, just an electronic file that travels through the air to reach the e-reader. As a writer I want to jump in to the conversation. Of COURSE Kindle books aren't free! The writer should receive recompense for his time and creativity. Sadly, this idea doesn't occur to many non-writers.

Resentment for paying for Kindle books reflects the contemporary attitude that information should be free. After all, one can find anything for free on the internet. It's harder to convince someone that he must actually shell out bills for the information contained in your book. This is why, when you finish your book and start attempting to find an agent or sell it yourself, you must keep the focus on the buyer, not yourself, to explain why the buyer will get a bargain by purchasing your product.

Too many times I read newbie query letters to agents in which the writer explains all about the book, but says nothing about how this book might serve to fill a need in the purchaser or what the writer will do to market said book. I always ask some questions to help focus the writer:

What books is your book similar to? And please remember that your book will NEVER be unique -- Similar books exist. Find them.

What makes your book different and better from others in the field?

Who reads these similar books? You need to identify your target audience. Who else might buy a book like yours?

What is your platform? Platform included things like live appearances and lectures, publishing articles with a byline, groups and so forth that you belong to (church, clubs, friends), and of course internet presence: Websites, Blogs, Tweets, Friends, online loops, and so forth. Your platform represents the people whom you might be able to reach to tell about your book.

THESE are the types of things an agent or editor wants to hear about before taking your book on. Give them what they want.

Too often I run into wannabe authors who think that printing the book is the end of the process. This is why they are such an easy target for subsidy printing companies (about which I am extremely negative, but that's another column). The author is tired of always being rejected and figures that he can easily circumvent the process to publish his book. Right? Actually no.

It is a straightforward process to produce a nice looking book, whether you are published traditionally, published by a subsidy company, or do it yourself. It's an almost automatic process to be listed on the online bookstores like Amazon, and even producing a Kindle or Nook version is free and straightforward. (Yet another column). THE HARD PART IS TO MAKE THE SALES!

Marketing. Underline that word with two lines because that is what makes the difference. Your book is a product. Make it as perfect as you can with the writing, and then figure out how you're going to sell it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing Conferences

Writing conferences can be encouraging places to meet other writers as well as editors, producers, and agents. They can be wonderfully renewing experiences for writers of many skill levels, ranging from thinking-about-it to multi-published.
Conferences vary in size and quality, so you’ll want to investigate before putting money down to register. Do you want to focus on a specialty area or something more general? How far away can you travel, and for how long can you stay? Check out who are the speakers and faculty, and make sure there are at least a few you’d like to meet.

Conferences are typically comprised of lectures as well as one or more brief individual appointments with the professionals. Normally for the appointment you’ll pitch your story to the agent or editor, and hope that you might be able to spark some interest. Be prepared: before the conference put together a proposal, a synopsis, and the first few sparkling pages of your manuscript just in case the person asks to see something. You also need to rehearse your logline and elevator speech (thirty second summary) so when the person says, “Tell me about your story,” you’ll be able to coherently answer.

Chances are that you’ll also informally meet agents and editors at meal times and other times throughout the conference. It’s difficult, but remember not to be a pest or to be over-eager to push your work on them. You’ll have a position of power if you can step back and be relaxed about meeting people. Chat and ask how they liked their trip. Find out a little about them instead of talking at them incessantly. It is often a tiring experience for the agent or editor to be on display for the few days of the conference, so be kind.

Don’t forget to bring your business cards to pass out as you meet your fellow writers.

Friday, September 23, 2011



It's important. Check out these headlines. 'Nuff said.


Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

Miners Refuse to Work after Death

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

War Dims Hope for Peace

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Read Out Loud On Your Kindle

Many writers extol the benefits of hearing their words read out loud to detect awkward phrasing or other problems. The theory is that by getting a different perspective, you might be able to get a clearer view of what you actually have, and correct your writing to make it flow better.

In the past writers might have read aloud themselves, although this didn't give a perfect effect since they were also reading as they listened. If the writer was lucky he might have a friend kind enough to read, or even go through the tedious steps of recording their words, then playing them back. Computers now can use an audible program to read aloud, although this ties the writer to one location to listen.

A new way, if you have an Amazon Kindle, is to place your file on the Kindle and then use the text-to-speech feature to read aloud.

Your Kindle has an email address associated with it. (YOURADDRESS @ kindle.com). You can find this address by going to the home page|Menu|Settings|Device Email. Attach the document and send it to this address. If you're cheap like me and don't want to spend even the quarter to receive the article, send it to YOURADDRESS @ free.kindle.com. In about a minute or two amazon returns your converted file.

If you sent it the free way, you need to plug your kindle into your computer and move the file over to the DOCUMENTS folder on the kindle.

Once your ms is on your kindle open it up, push the AA button, and turn on the text-to-speech feature.

Easy peasy. Happy writing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ending the Scene

The basic unit of the story is the scene. The scene is a miniature story in which something happens to push the larger story forward, and its anatomy is fairly simple: the GOAL of the scene (what the main character is trying to accomplish); the CONFLICT (back and forth between movement toward the goal and obstacles); and the DISASTER (end of the scene).

The DISASTER or ending can end in four ways. Let's imagine that the scene goal is that Tom wants to ask his boss for a raise. Here are the four possible outcomes:

Yes: Tom's boss says, sure I'll pay you more money. The "Yes" answer generally stops the story action, and therefore should only be used for a specific, deliberate effect.

Yes But: Tom's boss says, sure I'll pay you more money but you're going to have to work half days on Saturdays. This is a good scene ending because it introduces a further question into the story: How will Tom be able to put in this extra time when he already has something else to do on Saturdays that is essential for him to complete the story goal.

No: Tom's boss says, no you cannot have more money. If you have a "No" scene ending then you can safely delete this scene since it doesn't advance the story -- your character is in the same place after the scene as he was before it started.

No and Furthermore: Tom's boss says, no you can't have a raise, and furthermore you're fired. This is an effective scene ending because it heaps further problems onto our hero's poor shoulders.


When writing it's important to always be moving your story ahead. Your scene ending is the means to accomplish this movement.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writer's Block

As writers we all deal with it. Here are some tips posted by Merlin HERE.



I recently had occasion to do some…errr…research on writer’s block. Yeah, research. That’s what I was doing. Like a scientist.

I found lots of great ideas to get unstuck and wrote the best ones on index cards to create an Oblique Strategies-like deck. Swipe, share, and add you own in comments.

Talk to a monkey - Explain what you’re really trying to say to a stuffed animal or cardboard cutout.

Do something important that’s very easy - Is there a small part of your project you could finish quickly that would move things forward?

Try freewriting - Sit down and write anything for an arbitrary period of time—say, 10 minutes to start. Don’t stop, no matter what. Cover the monitor with a manila folder if you have to. Keep writing, even if you know what you’re typing is gibberish, full of misspellings, and grammatically psychopathic. Get your hand moving and your brain will think it’s writing. Which it is. See?

Take a walk - Get out of your writing brain for 10 minutes. Think about bunnies. Breathe.

Take a shower; change clothes - Give yourself a truly clean start.

Write from a persona - Lend your voice to a writing personality who isn’t you. Doesn’t have to be a pirate or anything—just try seeing your topic from someone else’s perspective, style, and interest.

Get away from the computer; Write someplace new - If you’ve been staring at the screen and nothing is happening, walk away. Shut down the computer. Take one pen and one notebook, and go somewhere new.

Quit beating yourself up - You can’t create when you feel whipped. Stop visualizing catastrophes, and focus on positive outcomes.

Stretch - Maybe try vacuuming your lungs too.

Add one ritual behavior - Get a glass of water exactly every 20 minutes. Do pushups. Eat a Tootsie Roll every paragraph. Add physical structure.

Listen to new music - Try something instrumental and rhythmic that you’ve never heard before. Put it on repeat, then stop fiddling with iTunes until your draft is done.

Write junk - Accept that your first draft will stink, and just go with it. Finish something.

Unplug the router - Metafilter and Boing Boing aren’t helping you right now. Turn off the Interweb and close every application you don’t need. Consider creating a new user account on your computer with none of your familiar apps or configurations.

Write the middle - Stop whining over a perfect lead, and write the next part or the part after that. Write your favorite part. Write the cover letter or email you’ll send when it’s done.

Do one chore - Sweep the floor or take out the recycling. Try something lightly physical to remind you that you know how to do things.

Make a pointless rule - You can’t end sentences with words that begin with a vowel. Or you can’t have more than one word over eight letters in any paragraph. Limits create focus and change your perspective.

Work on the title - Quickly make up five distinctly different titles. Meditate on them. What bugs you about the one you like least?

Write five words - Literally. Put five completley random words on a piece of paper. Write five more words. Try a sentence. Could be about anything. A block ends when you start making words on a page.


On the other hand, remember Laurence Olivier.

One day on the set of Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman showed up looking terrible. Totally exhausted and practically delirious. Asked what the problem was, Hoffman said that at this point in the movie, his character will have been awake for 24 hours, so he wanted to make sure that he had been too. Laurence Olivier shook his head and said, “Oh, Dusty, why don’t you just try acting?”

So, when all else fails, just try writing.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Here’s the short and easy take home message: Don’t fake your facts. Someone, somewhere, is going to find you out. Call universities, museums, science labs, accounting offices, veterinary hospitals, or other places having people who know what you need to know. Be polite and keep calling until you’re connected with one or more experts. Tell the person you are a writer. Most of the time the expert is delighted to talk with you provided the conversation is no more than about ten minutes. Explain what you want to do in your story, then ask the expert if this is a reasonable scenario. Let the expert discuss and suggest things—you stay quiet and take notes.

When you’ve written your section(s) ask the expert if he would read what you wrote to make sure it makes sense. Finally, acknowledge the expert’s help in your published book or manuscript.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Setting Your Goals: An Exercise

I just read an interesting article that said people who write down a goal double or more the chance of accomplishing it. We've all heard to write things down, of course, but maybe it's a chestnut that needs to be revitalized.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke:

How do you eat an elephant?
One piece at a time.

This process works with any large task, from prioritizing goals, to writing a novel or other large piece of work, to anything else you may wish to accomplish in your life. You start with an overview, then keep breaking down the big tasks into smaller and smaller pieces until each task is manageable so that you can make headway.

The first time you do this, it might take you an hour or more to organize your goals to write them down, but it’s time that’s well worth investing. You don’t need to wait until right before New Year’s Eve either – anytime is the right time to focus your life. Also, create a folder on your computer or get a notebook and write on it GOALS in big letters. You’ll want to get into the habit of writing down goals with the date as you think of them, big and small, and you can refer to your notes as you start to take action. Writing down your goals will clarify them in your mind and allow you to take specific, positive actions to accomplish them.

Finding your goals can be a repeated two-step process: first write down all your ideas for something, and then take time to winnow and prioritize. Both processes are essential, and they shouldn’t be done concurrently. This process can get messy after the first stage, but you need enough material to choose the best solutions, not just the quickest ones. If you’re stuck, try free-writing your thoughts (and make sure you WRITE them, not just THINK them). For example, “When I was a kid I wanted to sail around the world, and the idea still appeals to me even though I have many obligations and haven’t sailed in years. Hmm. Do I like the idea more of being on the water, or of visiting exotic places, or of doing something that people are impressed by? I think it’s the idea of being free, and no one being able to catch me. Well, there is the lake nearby and lots of people sail there every weekend; surely I might be able to at least start with this…”

Be open to crazy ideas, then find the realistic kernels hidden within those clouds. Ready?

1. Write down what you want to accomplish in your life. You know the drill: think of what someone might say about you if you died tomorrow or what you’d like them to say differently if you died in seven years, think of what might be on your tombstone, how you might be remembered by important people in your life, and so forth. What sort of legacy do you wish to pass on to the next generation? What are some things you could accomplish that might bring this legacy about? Take time to contemplate your own mortality and what you want to do with your brief time on Earth.

2. Keeping your life goals in mind, what would you like to accomplish in the next five years? Put down anything and everything you can think of, then study this list and choose the most important goals. You may want to divide them into different categories – mind, body, spirit, work, family, personal – then pick the top one or few for each category.

3. For each goal, break it down into two or more steps that need to be taken. Imagine this date next year, and think about the progress that would satisfy you. Be realistic: you’re not going to earn a PhD in a year, but you may investigate schools, take a few prerequisite courses, or sit for the GREs.

4. Break down each year goal into steps. Figure out how much you might realistically do each month on each goal. You may want to concentrate on one for a few months, and then switch, but always have reasonable amounts to do for each month. Choose a concrete endpoint. For example, if you wish to write a novel in a year, your monthly goal might be “produce 20,000 words” rather than “write every day.” The more specific your goal, the easier it will be for you to evaluate whether you have actually fulfilled your goal.

5. For each monthly goal, again break it down into four weeks.

6. If you wish, you can break down your weekly goals into day goals.


Once you have your goal list you have a good sense for where you want to aim your efforts. Now comes reality.

A goal sometimes sounds reasonable on paper, but when you start to implement your plan you find it’s not quite so easy. For example, if you want to write that novel in a year and calculated so many words per month will get you there, you may realize after writing for a few days or weeks that you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re simply producing many pages of garbage (and/or becoming very good at Spider Solitaire). Step back. Should you outline your story before writing it? Should you read some how-to books, or join a critique group? Should you lower your word output from 1000 words a day to 300? YOU ARE NOT FAILING IF YOU HAVE TO MODIFY OR CUT BACK! As long as you’re doing something, and making progress, you are doing more than most people ever do to fulfill their dreams.

Another technique that many people use is a “to do” list for daily tasks. Some find these helpful, but others find them overbearing and guilt-producing. I like to have only one task on my “to do” list, and once I finish that to add another item and start work on that, but since I need to remember tasks to add to my “to do” list I may be engaged in semantics – a sublist from my true “to do” list. Oh well. Other people swear by using palm pilots, or having computer alarms, or whatever. Play with different organizing tools and tricks, and see if any of these helps you to become more productive. The most critical and basic one, I believe, is simply to write things down no matter which formats you use.

Good luck pursuing your dreams.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Put Your Best Writing Up Front

Always put your best writing up front. Don't hold anything in reserve.

The writer often feels (even if not articulated) that he or she isn't capable of writing at this high level of quality throughout the whole manuscript. And in a sense this may be true, but there is a wonderful technique called cutting and pasting that's so easy. Simply go through your manuscript and cut the bad stuff, put all the good stuff end to end, then fill in the holes.

The bigger hurdle for the writer often is the sense of inadequacy: you may feel you were lucky with this one scene, but couldn’t do it again.

Yes you can. Have faith in yourself. If you use up all of your good stuff, you're going to have to come up with more that is just as good. And you will. Many studies have shown that the best way to become skilled in an area is, surprise, doing it. So keep writing, even if it stinks, and when something's good copy and paste it in your end-to-end file. You'll be amazed at how this file begins to grow into a gripping story.