Category Archives: Structure

A Lesson from a Major Screw Up…or is it a “General” Screw up???

This week we have been inundated with the story of General David Petraeus and his antics as a man. We have been allowed access to parts of his private life I could have just a soon never have known about. His screw ups, and there are many, have been put on display for everyone to judge, laugh at or commiserate with. I have tried not to read a lot of the stories although I have to admit, the old newspaper reporter in me has been curious from time to time. I did read an article today that gave a basic rundown of what happened in the Petraeus household. (Gotta feel for the guy’s wife) It gave a timeline of what happened and when it happened. I read it and thought, ah ha! There is today’s column….

Throwing out the actual story for a minute I would implore you to actually read this particular article on the whole circus. And here is why…this is an excellent example of how a time line should weigh out in your novels. Seriously, this is a real life blow by blow of a story that is literally telling itself…how easy would it be to write this novel? The reporters involved in putting it together left no stone unturned and provided the reader with a stepping stone walkway to the end of the story so far. If you follow this format when writing a novel you wouldn’t go wrong.

As I read the article all my mind kept doing was filling in the story. A good timeline should provide the writer with just that, an easy to follow map (NOT from Apple) to the story that you can then “flesh out”. Forget the Petraeus story itself, it’s not important (and on most levels it is ridiculous) but look at how the story is holding onto readers worldwide. Part of the reason why is because it is so well laid out.

So take a look at the above article, only read it from the perspective of your current project. How much easier would it be to write the story if you laid out your own timeline and then just filled in the story? This might not work for everybody but it’s worth a try because on the surface…it seems a great solution if you are running into roadblocks on that story that you just must write.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Posted by on November 13, 2022 in Structure, Writing


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Six Steps to the Beginning of Your Story OR How to Get off Your Butt and Begin

Everything has to begin somewhere. This isn’t a new agey truth, but a basic fact…without a beginning…well…there really is nothing. It sounds deep but it really isn’t. What IS deep is when you consider this fact in terms of your writing. You can call yourself a writer, you can buy a laptop, pens, notepads, a Writers Market and a box of Twinkies and feel like a writer but, if you don’t begin somewhere and actually write….you really aren’t a writer but just a guy (or gal) with a lot of cool writing crap.

So where does one begin? Is there some secret handshake that all new writers have to learn before they proceed? No, not really…(although if you have a writer’s group a cool handshake might be kind of fun…) the only thing new writers have to do is begin and as easy as that sounds I do realize that it can be daunting. In fact, shhhh…don’t tell anyone but, it can be kind of daunting for those of us old geezer writers too. In fact, beginning can be tough every single time you begin a new project. There are, however, some basic steps that you can follow that will make that jump off the starting line a little easier. I have developed six steps for myself that I have posted in my office for times when my brain will not connect to my hands which will then not connect to the keyboard. I’m gonna share them with you and hopefully they may help…even if you use them to develop your own six steps.

Step 1: Set the Foundation

Let’s face it; you can’t build just about anything without a foundation. Build a house without one and it will fall, build a Lego castle without one and it will fall, build a sandwich without one and it will be a mess…build your story without one and you will come off to readers like a guy wandering in the desert. You have to lay that foundation whether it is deciding where your story is going to take place, who your story is about or how it may end…if all begins with that first layer.

Step 2: Defining Your Story

Is it a mystery, a thriller, a romance, a multi-genre piece? You have to decide what kind of story you are pursuing. I know, there are writers out there who will say, “I don’t know what kind of story I’m writing until I’m way into it”, B.S., you have to know the basics or you will have no idea what kind of characters you are creating. You have to have a basic idea of the overall concept of your story. (This, of course, goes without saying for non-fiction writers)

Step 3: Creating a Strong Leader

After you’ve set the foundation (you are here) and defined your story (you are scared, lonely, in love…whatever) you must create your leader. There is a reason why in movies we always see the aliens say, “take me to your leader”, because the leader is supposed to be the guy who knows what is what. He/she is the go to person for your story…it is, after all, all about his/her struggles, triumphs and victories. Start every story with a strong lead character whether they are good or evil.

Step 4: Overcoming the Jitters

It is at this point that a lot of writers look at themselves in the bottom of their brandy glass and say…crap, maybe I have no right to do this. Self-doubt almost always sets in somewhere between having the basics done and stepping off that cliff into actual writing time. It’s normal and we all go through it…don’t let anyone tell you different. The difference between being a writer at this point and the guy with the cool writers stuff is whether or not you put down that glass of (choose your poison and insert here) and push forward. It isn’t always easy but it has to be done. Suck it up Buttercup and jump…your characters will catch you.

Step 5: The Mindset of the Writer

Writing is a state of mind as much as it is a thing you do. Sure you have the words and the cool tools but if you aren’t a writer in your own mind it’s time to hang up your socks with the toes in them and go watch “Charmed” reruns. You have to arrive at the desk every day as a writer who knows that he/she is a writer. There is a lot of new agey crap floating around about thoughts and what your own thoughts can do to you or for you…it’s one of the few new agey things that I subscribe to…if you believe you are a writer and actually write, you are, it doesn’t matter who else agrees. You have to bring that self to the table though.

Step 6: Taking Daily Action

Finally, the most important step is the last…taking action every single day. You can say you are a writer but if you don’t actually write it is over before it even begins. You have to begin…and then you have to (History nerd alert – Napoleon reference) march on like a short guy conquering a country; nothing can deter you not even short jokes.

So these are my 6 steps, you can use them or create your own but I firmly believe that if you set the tone by giving yourself a personal path to follow to the keyboard you won’t end up in the kitchen standing in front of the frig scratching your behind looking for that leftover fried chicken from the night before. Foundation – Definition – Creating – Overcoming – Mindset – Action, it’s easy. Now…get to it…..

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Posted by on October 16, 2022 in Structure, Writing, Writing Tools


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CAPITAL LETTERS – Aren’t Just for Yelling While Texting

Writer’s Note: This is Thursday’s piece…this time I get to blame the internet itself and crappy weather.

I have a pet peeve about capital letters. I know, it sounds strange….unless you are in the over 35 crowd…then you understand exactly what I am saying even before I define the problem. Capital letters and the use of them is important, but when the heck did they become the way you yell at someone in a text, an e-mail or Facebook?

Let’s talk about my mom. I love my mom. She is in her 60’s, which no longer sounds that old to me, and she is a technical geek want to be. It was a side of her that none of us kids expected. For some reason though, when she hit 50, my mom went all Star Trekkie, flashy lights, lots of buttons, crazy on us. She ran out and bought an iPhone and a Kindle Fire and now, an iPad…yep my mom went to the dark side of geekdom and now, she explains a lot of crap about gadgets to me…go figure. Keep in mind however that this was the same woman who once uttered the words, “I don’t think my e-mails are getting to you, maybe you are too far away”.  It’s downright scary at times.

There is one thing that my mom had a hard time changing that drove us all nuts…she wouldn’t stop sending us messages in all caps. It was like being a kid again and getting yelled at for not cleaning my room. And I have to say that when I would get one of those messages written in all caps I often felt scolded. Do you know why I felt that way? BECAUSE CAPS AREN’T FOR MESSAGE WRITING! (See what I did there, you heard the yelling huh? It’s so rude….)

Capital letter use follows some very simple rules;

  • The first word of every sentence – Ummm duh…
  • The first-person singular pronoun
  • The first, last, and important words in a title – I know, I know, people screw this up all the time…try being the editor for a newspaper…
  • Proper nouns –Again…duh…..
  • Historical events: World War I, the Renaissance, the Crusades…these are all proper nouns too because they are also historical references to specific events.
  • Races, nationalities, languages: Swedes, Swedish, African American, Jewish, French, Native American- We could have the debate about capitalizing the words “blacks” and “whites” in reference to race here but I don’t wanna….let’s leave it at some writers do and some writers don’t. (I do capitalize these because they do speak to race…but that’s me)
  • Names of religions and religious terms: God, Christ, Allah, Buddha, Christianity, Christians, Judaism, Jews, Islam, Muslims – Now this one is less a “rule” and more a tradition and really depends on the writers upbringing more than anything else. Need proof? If you came from a church going, hell and brimstone, Sunday school attending family, try and write the word “god” and NOT capitalize it….can’t do it can you?

There are more rules but then we are just getting too darn specific…you understand what I mean. If you mean to yell, then by all means caps lock away but if not, pay attention to what you are doing for Pete’s Sake! Capitals follow rules and using them in a regular text or message isn’t one of the rules. (and it’s rude)



© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Posted by on August 17, 2022 in Puncuation, Structure, Writing


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Simple Simon Was an Idiot…Thank God He Wasn’t a Writer

Keep it simple. This is the watch phrase for everything in society that folks do where they want to do as little work as possible. Simple….that word has two meanings…(1) “easy, done with no effort” and (2) “stupid”. Write under the first definition and you’ll end up being defined by the second definition. Nothing worth doing ever comes easy. (or simple)

There are a lot of writers out there who have published a book or two who will tell you that the key to writing a good novel is to “keep it simple”….these people are idiots. (Disclaimer…the word “idiot” is not used in a disrespectful way here but in an effort to be as clear as possible…if you tell people to “keep it simple” you are an “idiot” as in “limited in intellectual development by one’s own choice” i.e. see definition for the word “stupid”) There is no way to “keep it simple” when creating a world where the characters come alive. The only way to keep a story simple is to revisit “Dick and Jane” and who wants to go there…I mean really…. Writers need to set their sights higher than “keeping it simple” because simple writing leads to a simple story and a simple story will bore the crap out of the average reader. (HUGE no-no)

So why would a “seasoned” writer tell you, the budding newbie to “keep it simple”? Because, truth be told, if you keep it simple, it will limit the competition. If those writers who dispense that advice were honest, they would tell you that writing their novel was far from simple. I will often tell new writers to keep it simple when developing characters for the first time, or I will tell them to keep it simple when outlining their story so there is room for the characters to do their thing; there is nothing wrong with making parts of the process as simple as possible BUT…there is nothing over all simple about writing a book.

When you simplify your work, you down play the plotline, you wash out your characters, you downplay your scenes…all of these make for a weak story and no one wants a weak story. So if you have a writer around who is telling you to “keep it simple” tell them to go pound some sand (still not sure exactly what that means but it sounds menacing) and write your story the way you need to always keeping in mind these words;

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” - Theodore Roosevelt



© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Posted by on June 22, 2022 in Structure, Writing


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Practicing in My Shorts….

I am a novelist. I enjoy writing 70,000+ word stories. Maybe I am long winded or maybe I am just a natural born storyteller…whatever it is, I like writing long stories. So where then, do short stories fit into my writing life? I’ll tell you where…right alongside those longer verbal sonatas.

Short stories are a great way to practice the longer ones. I use short stories for a number of things, not the least of which is story building. I can use a short story to develop characters, plot lines and even scenes. The short story helps us writers take a trial run at a piece to see if it works before investing tons of time and typing into a trip into the beyond. The short story has many, many functions.

For me, I also use the short story to make myself pay attention to my writing. Now you might be tilting your head to the side and asking, eh? Let me explain…. A short story is just that, short. What better way to have to pay attention to your writing than by writing a story that truly has to have everything in it; 2000 words or less. The other day I found a contest that made that task even more difficult, a story of only 500 words…what a challenge!

When we are writing a novel it is easy to get carried away and shove in a lot of stuff that we don’t really need. If you make it a habit to write a short story now and again, it will keep it in the forefront of your mind that sometimes the needless stuff needs to be taken out in order for the actual story to be written. Trust me your editor will later thank you for whittling through your novel in the same way you have to your short stories.

So now and again, write a short story…it’s the universes’ way of making us get to the point and in the long run…writing them will help your novels get to the point too.




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Okay, so I stole this from my mom who used to bellow it out whenever one of us kids was making more noise than necessary to get a point across. It works for today’s column too. Let’s take a moment to discuss SEO writing.

Search engine optimization (SEO), in a nutshell, is all about internet traffic. It is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines by placing words that help seekers find your stuff.  In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. Sound complicated? It’s not….at least not for us writers.

A lot of the time folks over think the whole SEO concept when it comes down to something quite simple…using your words. I have a bit of a pet peeve when I see an article written that is “SEO saturated” (just the phrase screams, “you are doing it all wrong”) Those pieces tend to be so repetitive in what the writer is trying to say that it is no longer an article but instead a list of SEO desired words. This is so NOT necessary. Write your article just as you normally would…the search engine will pick it up. Writing a phrase or a word into an article 900 times will not make it more searchable…in fact, today’s search engines are being designed to see overly repetitive articles as spam. All that hard work making your article suck for nothing….

I know, I know…I have heard all those people out there in internet-land touting the importance of using SEO saturation in articles that go on the web…it’s all hooey. It’s just another way for so called “professionals” to get your money for showing you how to do what you already know…write. So when you are creating those blog pieces, or writing for that website…don’t sacrifice quality for SEO sats….repetitive words are going to bring people to your work…good writing will.


© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Posted by on June 12, 2023 in Structure, Writing, Writing Tools


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Book Parenting 101- Give Us a Hug

Writing is a very personal thing. Me? I love my writing. Not in that narcissistic way that Kayne West loves himself, but in a warm fuzzy way…a way that says, I worked hard to create you and now, whenever you need a hug…I’m here.

Our work as writers is akin to a God-like creative process. We are setting the scene, creating the characters and putting them in situations just as I imagine the Almighty must do. (If you believe in that sort of thing of course) We also suffer the disappointments when those little created worlds don’t do well. And when we send them out into the world…well…some of us even cry. (Not me of course, but some writers…wimps)

Taking all of this into consideration I want to propose something that may help your writing…if you love it…it will do well out in the world, just like your kids. When creating a story you must care about it in every way. You have to care about the characters even if you enjoy a love-hate relationship with your villains. You have to want to continue the story. You have to want to see the ending…good or bad. You must feel affection for the hero of your story; if you don’t he/she will give up on you too.  Here’s the thing, you can’t create something that other people love if you don’t love it too. It’s called emotional transference and it will happen to your story. If you hate it, it will fall flat. If you don’t enjoy writing it, you will find all the reasons in the world not to write it at all.

I have had one or two stories that I grew to despise. One of them I even finished…forced of course…and it didn’t do well on the shelves at all. That was my fault…I should have never forced the characters to march on to the end knowing that they were going to be subjected to my own self-hatred for having even taken the journey. I owed them more than that. Here’s the rub…I REALLY liked the characters but now, I can’t truly use them because I shoved them into a sad sack story and shoved them out into the world….and it sucks because I could have used them in a story that actually worked.

Just like being parents requires us to love and nurture our kids, we writers have to do the same with our stories. Those pages need love and care…they need someone who will look out for them and make sure that they are not going to end up in Half Price Books…the foster program for all books that end up unwanted or un-enjoyed. And you know what happens to “fostered” books, don’t you? They end up balancing Aunt Freda’s coffee table…the one that Uncle Joe built with the uneven legs… So if you are working on a novel that is falling flat…stop it…you owe those characters more than a half-assed attempt to breathe life into them. You owe them the whole story and the love that is supposed to come with having written them into existence. Be a good book parent darn it…hug that book and show it some love at the keyboard.



© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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Don’t Mess with Me…I Know Words!

When was the last time you used a new word in your vocabulary? When I was a kid my mom used to make us look up a new word every day and at the end of the day we had to tell her what it meant and use it in a sentence. We always figured that it was some form of torture that all parents enjoy, (like feeding you bologna sandwiches)  but as it turns out, she did us a favor, because now-a-days when I hear someone trying to use words that they don’t understand …well…that’s true torture.

I know some of you have friends like this…they speak in vocabulary speak and use the words all wrong. Or they make up new words and try and convince you that, no, you are the stupid one because you don’t know the word “discombobulation”. (sure I do, it means, “to be without boobs…right?) These people don’t actually have a large vocabulary, they just pretend to. It’s their way of trying to show how smart they are. In the case of the writer, they use the big words in their writing which makes for a real snooze-fest of a book.

I’m not saying never use big words…it’s good to throw one in there now and again just to make your readers think that you really do have that MFA, but most every writer knows the general “big word rule”…write towards an 8th grade level. If you write towards an 8th grade level, your book will appeal to darn near everyone, which is what you want; the more people who can read your book, the better for you in terms of your wallet. (Simple equation…8th grade understanding= more people=more money)

So put that dictionary up and stop looking up words in the Thesaurus (That word always brings to mind dinosaurs for me…it’s a large plant eating animal that has big feet…a thesaurus…) If you use the really big words, you readers will snore and if you don’t use those big words correctly, your readers will call you a fraud. It’s better to stick to the path and use words we all understand. Besides, when I read a book, I don’t want to have to use a dictionary as a concordance. I want to read….don’t make me work.



© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Posted by on May 18, 2023 in Structure, Writing


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Shut up Already

Dialogue. How do you know when you’ve used it too much? The answer, like most answers, can be found in everyday life with a bit of common sense. You know when you talk too much…people get that glazed-over look in their eyes or they start looking around the room for a distraction that will hopefully help keep them awake. If you are a normal person, you stop talking, apologize for boring them and move on…if you aren’t normal, you talk faster, as if doing so will regain your audience’s attention. Sadly writers tend to do the same thing.

Dialogue is necessary. If your characters don’t talk, your story is just a bundle of scenes with a bunch of mimes. But some writers go overboard. They have dialogue on every page, as if doing so earns them points. There are no points for talking your reader to death…just the steady rejection of yet another boring novel that isn’t telling a story at all but ends up a creepy voyeuristic look into another world. Your reader will feel less like they are immersed in a story and more like they are a peeper watching stuff happen with no sound. (in a bad way)

But how much dialogue is too much? Well, remember that friend you have? You know the one; he/she talks so much that you can’t get a thought in let alone an actual sentence. I have a good friend, who is like that; we have been friends since kindergarten, and she talks so much that I even hate to get a text from her because her texts rattle on for days. Our conversations are usually one sided and she rattles on so much that I literally stopped listening to her in 1982. (She, of course, does not realize this at all and just soldiers on) I love my friend but try as I might, I just can’t join her on that runaway conversation train. Your readers won’t enjoy that train ride either.

Dialogue should support the story not the other way around. If the conversation would bore you senseless in real life, it will also bore your readers. Use dialogue the right way and your characters will add to the story instead of taking it over. Write too much dialogue and there is no room for anything else to happen. When you start writing dialogue…step back in the editing process and ask yourself, “am I prattling on?” If you are…shut up…or that snoring you will hear in your dreams will be your readers…sleeping….and not buying your next book.


© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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Posted by on May 16, 2023 in Structure, Writing


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A Sandwich Always Requires a Good Amount of Meat

I love a good sandwich. Give me a good sandwich, a handful of chips and an Izze and life is good. But here’s the thing, screw up that sandwich and I will be one unhappy camper; especially if you skimp on the meat. I like my meat, it’s what gives the sandwich it’s A rating. Skimp on the meat and all you have is two lonely pieces of bread, some mayo and perhaps a depressing little dab of mustard….what you don’t have is a sandwich.

Stories are just like a sandwich. (Bear with me) You have two pieces of bread…the beginning and the ending…., you have mayo…the description and “dressing” of your story and you have that dab of mustard, something for a little spice and/or mystery. Then there is the meat…the thing that makes your story a story. The meat of your story is what makes it’s all worthwhile. It’s why we came…it’s why we ordered the sandwich…we wanted the meat.

I have read a lot of writers over the years that have plenty of mayo and even more mustard than you can shake a stick at but they left out the meat. Their story is intertwined with description so clear that you can see the places they describe in your mind when you close your eyes. But as you read the story you quickly realize that there is no actual substance to the story. It’s all condiments…who wants just the condiments? (Besides my 2 year old grandson who thinks that ranch dressing is a side dish) A story has to have the whole package. It has to be the foot long sub, the Swiss, rye and corned beef, the BLT with extra “B”. Let’s face it, anything less wouldn’t be a sandwich…ummm…I mean story; you get the picture.

So while you are pounding away at the keyboard this week working on that novel that’s gonna make us all rich…don’t forget to beef up your story so that it has substance. Make those main characters strong parts of your story, focus you main storyline so that the reader feels compelled to read on. You don’t want to feed your readers condiments…if you do…they will just find another deli. (Gotta go, I’m hungry now…)


© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Posted by on May 13, 2023 in Plot, Structure, Writing


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