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, June 29, 2012

EPIC EBook Awards

It's time for the annual EPIC competition. EPIC's (electronically published industry coalition) eBook Awards™, formerly known as EPPIE, began in 2000 to recognize excellence in ePublished works. The eBook Awards are open to all electronically published works: novels, graphic novels, short stories, non-fiction, and poetry. 

If you've written and published an ebook between June 1 2011 and May 31 2012, you're eligible to enter this year's Competition. You'll need to provide a PDF copy of the book (even if your book is only available in .mobi (Kindle) and/or .ePub (Nook, Sony, other ereaders) formats) and a link from which the book can be bought. A free PDF converter for download is available at primoPDF.

The final date for entry July 15, 2012. Entrance fee is $35 for a nonmember.

Web Address: http://www.epicorg.com/competitions/epics-ebook-awards.html

The book categories are:

Graphic Novels
Short story
Young Adult

Romantic Suspense
Science Fiction

Good luck to all!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Creating Tension

Tension must be in every chapter, every paragraph, and even every sentence. A good definition of tension might be: The uncertainty of at least one issue.

Tension is not generated when the writer describes exciting (or not so exciting) events that the protagonist wrestles through, but in the end these events don’t push the story along. They simply add word count. For example, a POV character will find a chilled bottle of water, unscrew its tight cap, take a few sips of the cold liquid, then screw the lid back on and wipe her hands on her black summer-cloth-weight Capri pants, feeling refreshed now. If the character has arthritis then her method of opening a bottle might give a grace note to her character, but otherwise this is throwaway stuff.

So how might one push a story along? There are many techniques to do this. Perhaps the most reliable device to add tension is to include a ticking clock: a time limit to accomplish a goal.

The core principle is to consistently raise the stakes for the protagonist: put more in jeopardy, make it uncertain that the protagonist can accomplish a goal that is vital to him and for the long-term success for the story. Everything counts, including little actions. Who cares how the character opens a bottle of water? But if the character isn’t sure that she will be able to sneak a sip of water to calm a cough before she has to make an announcement, it might become more interesting.

When you write a sentence, paragraph, scene, or more, ask yourself, “Do these words and events matter to the story?” If not, get rid of them.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Format and List Your EBook on Amazon Kindle and Barnes&Noble Nook


I just checked eBay and google for "buggy whips" and found an assortment of whips I could purchase, ranging from $25 to $500. I could get one today.

I can't help thinking though, even though buggy whips are *readily* available, they're not common. Most people don't have one. Heck, I've never even held a real, live buggy whip, only seen them in pictures. Buggy whips used to be indispensable until the car replaced the horse for transportation. In a similar fashion, I believe we're watching the replacement of print books with ebooks.

Publisher's Weekly recently reported that revenue from ebooks continues to rise, whereas print book revenue is falling. This trend will only continue. Whenever I mention this trend in a presentation, I always receive horrified comments about how the person loves print books and will never use an ereader (Kindle, Nook, or other device). For those of you who worry, don't. Just like buggy whips, print books will always be *readily* available and affordable. At the same time, though, the direction of the tide is relentless and overwhelming. At some point you may want to consider getting an ereader. There's something amazing about carrying your entire library in your purse or briefcase.

For us writers, I remember when I wanted to find someone who would format my book for an ebook. The only estimates I got were usurious, not with the cost for formatting per se, but with the fact that they charged "listing fees" and "royalty fees" forever after. These fees are why I see red whenever I contemplate Publish-on-Demand companies, which I won't rant about now. But really, if you're paying for a service, once you've paid for it and the service is delivered why should you keep having to pay for it? Do other businesses work this way? (No).

I finally knuckled down to learn how to epublish. I've since epublished a number of books for myself and others, all with flawless formatting and appearance (since I'm a perfectionist). I also speak now on how to epublish, and have been approached with requests for a  formatter to produce and list an ebook. Even though I give a (hopefully) clear presentation and pass out a PDF of all my slides to each attendee, I admit that the process of producing an ebook is meticulous and may seem daunting especially for those who don't enjoy playing with computer applications. I have not been aware of any ebook listing service I could recommend, so after pitching in here and there with individual projects, I've finally decided to start offering an ebook listing service MYSELF for those who want an ebook without being ripped off.


I offer a 100% money back guarantee if you're not happy.

I've just set up a website at ebooklistingservices.com The website is still a work in progress, but the information is there. I will even transcribe typed or handwritten notes to epublish the book. If you or someone you know is interested in publishing an ebook, under your own name, without being ripped off, then shoot me a note on the website's contact form.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Motivation Reaction Units (MRUs)

Dwight Swain first described these. MRUs are the smallest units by which a story is told, and when these are consistently used correctly your story will powerfully draw in the reader.

There are two parts of the MRU, the stimulus (cause) and the response (effect), that string together to form a narrative.

The stimulus is external to your character. In other words, it is something occurring in the environment that could be seen, heard and/or touched by any character in that location. It should be significant to your POV character so that he will feel he needs to respond. Some examples of a stimulus might be a dog breaking its leash and viciously growling as it runs toward the POV character, the hard-won note with secret information fluttering from the POV character’s pocket, or the POV character’s love interest whom he thought hated him unexpectedly kissing him.

The POV character is not written as the subject of the stimulus because this distances the reader from your character. In other words, you would say, “The drawer pinched Sharon’s finger,” not “Sharon felt the drawer pinch her finger.”

The response describes your character’s reaction to the stimulus, and must occur after the stimulus. In other words, you wouldn’t say, “Sharon yelped and pulled her hand away after the drawer pinched her finger” because this is out of order. First Sharon feels the pinch, then she reacts. This may sound obvious, but it happens more frequently than you might expect. Although the reader may not identify the reversed order, he will feel as if something is off.

The response has four components that must always be in the correct order. These components are: emotion or sensation, reflex action, rational action, and speech.

Here's an example:

A loud crack ripped through the canyon. (stimulus)

Jack started (emotion/sensation) then looked up in the direction of the sound. (reflex) The careening boulder was almost on him and he grabbed the bush to pull himself out of the way. (rational action)

“Too close,” he said. (speech)

The boulder thumped where he had stood a moment before.(stimulus)

He felt the ground vibrate (emotion/sensation) and shivered. (reflex) He hadn’t escaped yet. (rational action)

“Ryan, we’ve got to get out of here now!”(speech)


Most of the time you will not use all four of these response components. When you use fewer than four, just make sure that the ones you do use are in the correct order.

When do you use all of these reaction components at once? Since these components intensify the reader experience, you use all four when you want to increase tension or else to highlight something important.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Essence of Your Story

A common problem that occurs when writing a book or screenplay is that it loses focus. There are interesting subplots, and interesting side journeys, and after awhile it's hard to know what to pay attention to. Yes, ever since Tolkien published LORD OF THE RINGS I know many writers want to do this sort of complex world-building, but frankly I haven't seen too many of these epics actually being published. Heck, even Peter Jackson found he had to cut A LOT of Tolkien's material in order to get a comprehensible story line -- and his movie masterpiece trilogy is still 9 + hours long.

It's worse if you're not even trying to branch your story out in 32,853,02 directions.

I'd like to propose a few easy questions for you to answer about your story, that should be able to focus you in to get your story started with minimal trauma. If you can answer these questions, you've got the spine of your story. For every event or character that you want to add, simply ask yourself if it's consistent with what you've already laid out here. If it is, go for it. If not, get rid of it. This includes things like subplots: the subplot should either be adding a component that is necessary for the story usually at the finish, or following a mirror character where the character wants the same thing as the protagonist, but answers the question in a different way.

Ready? Here are a few questions to help you get at the essence of your story:

1. Who is your MAIN CHARACTER?

2. What external problem does your main character want to solve in the story? This is his OUTER GOAL. For example, he may want to win the big football game, or make a million dollars, or find a girlfriend.

3. Who or what is the chief OBSTACLE to your protagonist's achieving his outer goal?

4. What horrible things will happen if the protagonist cannot achieve his outer goal? This is the STAKES of your story.

5. What is your main character's HIDDEN NEED? This is a lack within your main character that he must solve before he can be happy. For example, he may need to forgive someone, or he may need to become courageous, or he may need to learn not to be selfish.

5. In one sentence, describe what your story is about.

These questions may be easy, or may take some thought. If you're having trouble, simply list, say, 10 or 20 stupid answers to the question. Then just pick one of these answers and see if you can fit it in; if you can't, choose another. Free-write your ideas so that you can tell a quick outline of your story in a paragraph or so. Figure out the captivating kernel of your story, whether character, plot twist, or something else. I have a small tutorial I wrote ages ago, but writers have told me they still find it helpful to organize their ideas. Or else, check out THE STORY TEMPLATE.

Once you've got the basic direction of your story, you'll find it's much easier to start planning or writing (if you're an SOTPer -- a seat-of-the-pants writer).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Since and Because

A global problem I run across in critiquing is the amorphous sense that the writer is writing to himself and not to me, the reader. The writer often skips information (not explaining a specialized term, personal event, or relationships to people they refer to, for example), or else dumps seemingly unrelated facts together and assumes I'm telepathic enough to just understand what they're trying to demonstrate to me.

This happens in both fiction and nonfiction. I am frustrated when reading this sort of writing, especially because it's difficult to point to exactly what is wrong with it. It's more of an attitude, not an error. It's as if the writer is trying to show me something, but is unable to communicate exactly what it is.

This, I believe, is a developmental stage for writing. In other words, *everyone* is going to go through this unfinished completion stage. And why not? I believe writing is the formal distillation of thought, and we all (or at least I do) usually don't bother to finish every thought. WE understand what we're trying to say, so can use shorthand phrases and don't need to rigorously articulate to ourselves the point we're trying to prove. So when we start writing our thoughts, it's easy to fall into that shorthanding habit.

When I was writing my dissertation, my advisor kindly spent time every day reading what I'd written and making comments. She was frustrated with my prose, and one day said, "I can't stand it! Let me show you." She then rewrote a paragraph.

In this paragraph I'd said something like, "A showed XYZ. In my experiment I only found J% change in this variable. However, B showed QRS."

My advisor wrote, "SINCE A showed XYZ, I expected to see XYZ with my own experiments as well. Unexpectedly I found only J% change in this variable. However, BECAUSE B showed QRS affected XYZ, it could be that QRS was also affecting these results."

Next paragraph: " I wanted to eliminate the possible involvement of QRS, and so controlled my next experiment in these ways..."

Do you see the difference? Instead of just throwing a bunch of information out, I'm *telling a story* in a sense. I'm leading the reader by the hand in a sequential fashion, so that he can understand exactly what's going on: First I learned what to expect from a particular experiment. Then I did it. It didn't work the way I thought it should. However something else could have been affecting my results. I decided to control for this factor.

The magical factor was using relational words: Since. However. Because. In contrast. and on and on and on.

Try sequencing your thoughts, and relating them to the previous thoughts. Don't refer to something unless you've already defined it. And most importantly, before you begin figure out exactly what you want the reader to understand after reading what you've written.