Aug 212014

By Ardath Mayhar, reprinted from Writing Through a Stone Wall: Hard-Won Wisdom from Thirty Years as a Professional.

In its simplest definition, a plot is the shape taken by your story. It is the sequence of events that presents your characters, reveals their backgrounds, shows their problems, and leads the reader through all the complexities of the story to the solution of those problems.

It can be attacked chronologically, which is the simplest and best plan for a beginner. It can also come in non-sequential segments, welded together over the length of the tale to make a coherent whole, through the skillful use of such devices as the flashback.

If you are a real storyteller, you will usually find that your stories work themselves out in intricate detail, either beforehand as an outline or as you write. So don’t worry too much about plots … a good one is instantly recognizable.

If something that seemed promising turns out to be a dud, don’t sweat it. We all waste some effort, but all that effort amounts to practice that helps us to deal more effectively with our next project.

A plot can be built, just like a child’s house of blocks. You introduce your main character, find his immediate interest/problem/difficulty. In a short story there may be only one, but in a novel you will need several. You may even need several minor characters, each with a problem that affects, in some way, the overall story.

Once you understand the situation with which your protagonist must deal, then you can work out, step by step, exactly the way in which he will tackle it, the obstacles that will get in his way, the other people who interfere, and the final and climactic situation in which he either conquers or accepts his own circumstances.

There is a rather mechanical way in which to add suspense and conflict. Give that character a break and make it seem that he has surmounted his problems … and then pull the rug out from under him. Create a wavelike undulation between triumph and near-tragedy (modulated to suit the sort of tale you are telling).

The sequence of events can develop your character’s strengths and his intelligence. It can try his emotional stability. And the protagonist and his solution can arrive together at the end of the tale.

This is useful for a beginner, but do not feel that you have to stick with this format. Some of the best stories spin themselves out in your mind, forming their own shapes and rhythms.

There are incredible numbers of kinds of stories and as many ways in which they can be told. As Kipling said,

There are nine and sixty ways
of constructing tribal lays,
and every single one of them is right!

Remember that you are the only person who can write your story, and once you develop your ability to professional standards nobody can tell you that this is the wrong way to do it. Make the plot work for you, and make it fit your characters.

The newspaper every morning and the news every night can be full of plot ideas. Nobody need ever go without the raw material for a story, if they keep their eyes and ears open.

On the other hand, a theme is something frequently overlooked by the novice writer. It is integral to a mature work of fiction (or, indeed, nonfiction), as you can prove for yourself by reading some of the themeless works now sprouting on the newsstands.

Most themes can be stated in cliches. Cliches become such because they are so true and so succinct, and the underlying premise that forms the thread upon which your story is strung must partake of some bit of human truth.

Do you recall Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? It has several themes, one of which is “It is never too late to change.” Another is “Money alone cannot make you happy.”

Most stories and almost all books have more than one theme, if you look closely enough. In your own work, you may be able to look back, as you near the end of your labors, and see several interrelated themes wound through your story.

It is a strange thing that seldom if ever do you think out your theme at the beginning of your writing process. It develops, along with the plot and the characters, as you work.

Yet, if you are deeply involved in the story you are telling, and the lives of the people about whom you are writing, you will find that a theme twines itself into it, without your having to think about it consciously.

A story that is all theme would be very dull work. But a story without any at all is taffy candy for the mind.

Keep a watchful eye on your work and analyze it when you are done. Make sure you dig deeply into your subject, so as to tap the thematic stream that runs beneath all good stories. Make your plot complex enough to be interesting, yet not so complex as to become soap opera.

Flashback, mentioned earlier, is a most useful device in creating a nonsequential plot. It is, however, often done very badly, at too great length, or at a point at which it interrupts the flow of the story. A long flashback at the very beginning of a tale, for instance, can make the reader forget just what was happening to the protagonist at the spot at which he went into this revery.

The past must become the protagonist’s temporary present, in order for a flashback to work well. For instance:

Jonathan looked both ways, hesitated, and then set his right foot into the street. He had never quite recovered from that terrible day…

The truck swerved into the wrong lane, heading directly for him, as he tried to spring back to the safety of the curb. Tires squealed on wet pavement, and as he squirmed desperately backward, something immensely heavy and painful crossed over his foot and ankle. The blackness that rolled over him came as a welcome relief…

Jonathan looked down at the warped and twisted leg. He couldn’t go on reliving that instant of his life forever, he knew. With a sigh, he stepped awkwardly into the crosswalk and limped to the other curb.

This is flashback. Brief ones are best, usually, but there are whole stories that are actually very long flashbacks.

Some highly effective work has been written using a sort of mosaic of plot elements, demanding mental alertness on the part of the reader. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 is a good example of this technique.

This, however, is not something that you learn to do. It must come as an inevitable way in which to approach the story you have to tell.

Any or all of these techniques can work for you. Just have the nerve to play with them, practice with them, and make them a part of your repertoire.


Ardath Mayhar (1930-2012) died on February 1. Mayhar began writing science fiction in 1979, although she had been publishing poetry since 1949. During the course of her career, she published more than sixty novels in various genres, often using pseudonyms, including John Killdeer and Frank Cannon (for Westerns).

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she and her husband, Joe Mayhar, owned The View From Orbit Bookstore in Nacogdoches, Texas; she sold the store after his death. Her novels, many of which mixed science fictional and fantasy elements, included the four-volume Tales of the Triple Moons series, the Kyrannon Shar-Nuhn series, and Battletech: The Sword and the Dagger. Her 1982 novel Golden Dream was based on H. Beam Piper’s “Fuzzy” series. In 2010 she published Slaughterhouse World.

Perhaps even more important than her own poetry and fiction, Mayhar served as a mentor to numerous other science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors. She provided editorial advice, taught workshops, and often worked as a book doctor. She was a fixture at Texas science fiction conventions for more than 30 years, although a decline in health limited her attendance in the last years of her life. A poem published in the anthology Masques earned her the Balrog Award in 1985. In 2008, she was named the SFWA Author Emeritus during the Nebula Award Weekend in Austin, Texas. —SFWA, February 13, 2012

In addition to her contributions to the field of science fiction and fantasy, Mayhar is the author of over sixty books and has won or been nominated for over two dozen awards including Margaret Haley Carpenter Prize, the Omar Award, the Mark Twain Award, the Spur award, and the William Allen White Award, for her historical novels, character studies and poetry. —WriteSex Ed.


Apr 172014

By Marissa St. James

We have a bad habit of writing the way we speak—and most of the time our spoken grammar is incorrect. Do we want to write the same way? Not if we can help it. Writing the way you speak can make your text look foolish and clunky, and can turn readers off to your book before they’ve made their way through Chapter One. To avoid this fate, pay particular attention to the following mistakes:


One of the most common errors I find is the use of ‘and then.’ When you think about it, those two little words are a contradiction in terms.

Can you pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time?
Here, two actions are done (or attempted) simultaneously.

John yanked open the door, then ran through the corridor.
Here, however, sequence is important. There is no way John can run through the corridor while yanking open the door. He’d either go through the door, like a ghost, or knock himself out. ‘Then’ is used to show two actions performed in sequence.


This is another one of those terms that can appear to be contradicting.

John wanted all of the employees’ names added to the list.
All means every name. When sticking ‘of’ in there, you not only hint at only a portion (which contradicts ‘all’) you also create a useless prepositional phrase.

John wanted all the employees’ names added to the list.
This sentence may sound like it’s missing a word, but it’s actually the correct one.

By making it a habit to correct our everyday speech, we set a pattern to write proper grammar. Writing proper sentences will become automatic. We won’t have to stop and think about what’s right and acceptable, or what an editor will do to our work. Believe me, it’s no fun having a manuscript returned for fixing, and finding it heavily decorated with editor’s marks and comments.


There are a few words we tend to overuse, or misuse. The word ‘that’ is one I would personally love to remove from the dictionary —permanently—or at the very least outlaw. I admit, there are times where it should be legitimately used, but other times…

He called the newspaper knowing that he would have to leave his name.
‘That’ is unnecessary in the sentence.

He called the newspaper knowing he would have to leave his name.

If you use the word often, try reading the sentence without it. Most of the time you’ll find it can be deleted.

‘As’ is another word which belongs in this category. For a two-letter word, it runs neck and neck with ‘that’ as being the most abused.

Harry set the table as Sally finished mashing the potatoes, then put them in a bowl.
This can be changed a couple ways:

Harry set the table while Sally finished mashing the potatoes.


Harry set the table. Sally finished mashing the potatoes, then put them in a bowl.

If you use ‘as’ too often to connect separate actions in your sentences, consider breaking up those sentences into smaller ones.


These three words are conjunctions and were never meant to be used to start sentences. They connect parts of sentences, show additions, exceptions. The only time they’re used to start a sentence is when you want to emphasize a point. More often than not, a short sentence will do the trick.

Make copies of the report for the board meeting. Then you can take your break.

Take your break after you make the copies of the report for the board meeting.

Mary heard noises downstairs and picked up the phone to call for help. But it was too late. Someone cut the phone line.

Mary heard noises downstairs and picked up the phone to call for help. It was too late. Someone cut the phone line.
In this second example, you not only eliminate unnecessary conjunctives, but you build a little tension with the shorter sentences.


‘Just,’ ‘only,’ ‘simply,’ ‘barely,’ ‘very,’ are some of the words that can be done without. I know, many folks say, “If the words are in the dictionary, then I should be able to use them.” There’s also an expression that says, “Less is more.” By keeping your sentence structure straightforward, you don’t need a lot of words to get your point across. Weasels are sneaky little critters, little thieves; weasel words steal the gist of your thoughts.

You want your writing to be strong, make an impression. These words, used at the wrong time and in the wrong place, will make you appear noncommittal (and sometimes even whiny) as a writer.

He simply refused to obey orders.

Mary just wanted to be left alone.

If John had only known about the interview…

In each case the sentence loses something. If you think about it, weasel words make each sentence sound more like gossip than a statement of fact.

Fact: He refused to obey orders.

Decisive: Mary wanted to be left alone.

Choices: If John had known about the interview…

Like any other rule, this one also has its exceptions. The smart use for weasel words is when you want to build some tension into the scene. The trick is to know when to use it. Here’s an example.

John had a death grip on the shrub growing out of the cliffside. One foot slipped and he tried desperately to gain a toehold once again. If only he could get a grasp on the cliff edge and pull himself up. He tipped his head a little to see how far he was from the top. Dirt rattled down and struck his face, forcing him to look away. It was now or never. Very carefully he reached up, stretching as much as he dared, without jeopardizing his position. His hands slid lightly upward over the dirt, loosening more of it, until he’d reached his limit. His fingertips just barely touched the top of the cliff, but left him nothing to grab onto. So close, and yet so far. He might as well be back at the bottom of the cliff. John screamed out his frustration.

While you can get a sense of just how tenuous his predicament is, the word ‘just’ shows how close he is to saving himself, yet not being able to. ‘If only’ shows him to believe the situation is nearly impossible.

This is the kind of situation where you want to build the tension and keep your reader following every word. These words bring your characters and readers so close to a solution, but maintain a sufficient distance to keep the story going. Use them sparingly, and see how much your writing can be improved.


From Marissa St. James’ Doing it Write: Putting the Final Polish on Your Manuscript, Copyright © 2006 PageTurner Editions, available at for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook and iTunes for Mac-based devices. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Guest columnist Marissa St James writes sweet romance. Her books include Lady in Black and Other Tales of Paranormal Romance, The Legend and the Laird, Liberty’s Belle, and many others. Find them all and keep up with Marissa’s writings and doings at and


Mar 282014

By Ardath Mayhar, reprinted from Writing Through a Stone Wall: Hard-Won Wisdom from Thirty Years as a Professional.

There are a number of elements that can make your life as a writer much easier, if you know about them from the beginning instead of having to stumble into them by accident as you stagger through the creative maze. I will list here some of the things I have learned by hard experience:

1. Read widely, not only in the field in which you are interested, but also in many different areas, from children’s books to classics, from science fiction to mysteries. I also suggest strongly that any writer read psychology, anthropology, archeology, and ancient history, getting some idea of the multitudes of ways in which our kind has lived, what cultures have existed, and how our minds work. A deep understanding of humankind and why we are who we are will give every character you ever write about much more reality than you would believe possible.

2. Don’t pay too much attention to books and courses that teach you how to write (including this one). They can be helpful, useful, and they can save you a lot of bumbling around in the dark, but every writer has his own best way in which to approach his craft. Don’t let anyone tell you, “This MUST be done in this manner,” or “Nobody works that way!” Believe me, there isn’t a way in which somebody doesn’t work successfully.

3. Study the English language. This is your bag of tools, your element, and an understanding of its grammatical construction is a powerful ally. But in addition, savor the words you have at your command. As you read work you admire, study the ways in which the author uses words to express his meaning in a unique manner. Read poetry to learn how to add rhythm and depth to your writing by the uses of unusual nouns and verbs. Think in unusual terms. And if it lies within your capacities at all, learn to spell!

4. Don’t misunderstand the old adage “Write what you know.” This doesn’t really mean “never write about anything you haven’t experienced or observed.” That would mean that nobody would ever write creatively at all, simply reporting what came within his/her purview. No, this means that if you write about an alien world, SEE that world inside your mind. Visualize the things that you write about, learn to know all about the places and people with whom you tenant your tales.

If you do write about the sorts of things you see from your kitchen window, do it in unusual terms, with original insights. You can make poetic or philosophical conclusions arise from the most mundane situations, if you understand how to look at them with the creative eye.

5. Learn the techniques of writing and then follow your instincts. Rules are made to be broken – but know the rule and break it intentionally, not accidentally. If you use a technique that defies the canon, and it means arguments with editors and copyeditors, even if it means loss of a sale, if it works for you and you know it will work for readers, stick to your guns. It is the writing that is your reward. For money, you should have become a plumber.

6. Don’t rewrite just to be rewriting, because you have read that writers MUST. A good rule of thumb is to do one draught as well as you possibly can, and then go back for a second that is BETTER. Any third and fourth and fifth draught writing labels you either sloppy or afraid to finish and measure your work against the market.

Use your critical judgment, after the work has had a few weeks to cool off. Or get a knowledgeable acquaintance to read it for flow and coherence. It is possible to omit something really vital, simply because you know it so well that you think you have it down … and you don’t. People who work for thirty years polishing a novel have other jobs that support their dependents.

7. Do your best to keep in touch with other writers, if only online or by mail. This is a lonely field, and even the most devoted and understanding spouse doesn’t really understand how you feel when something you know is good gets rejected by all the suitable markets in existence. Another writer, with whom you can share triumph and frustration, can keep you writing.

8. Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Remember that it is this specific piece of writing, not you as a human being, that is being rejected. And don’t rewrite every time your brainchild comes home from the wars. If two or three editors mention the same apparent flaw, it’s time to look at that element of the story/article/book and reassess its clarity. If you begin to see loose spots and ragged edges after a time, that, not earlier, is the time to begin a rewrite.

Principally, selling is a matter of sending the same piece out and out and out until it sells. When you have used up all the good markets, put the work in a file cabinet for a couple of years and then start the process all over again. Editors change with remarkable regularity, and you can hit an entirely new batch after a reasonable lapse of time. Upon resubmitting, however, it is a good idea to change the title, for companies sometimes keep logs of manuscripts coming and going.

9. Don’t be sidetracked by literary fads. The sort of writing that lasts is that which finds a response in people who are neither academics, nor writers, nor critics. Writing is for people, not for those who practice artistic one-upmanship or academic obscurantism.

Any mode undecipherable to anyone except a professor of creative writing or another avant-garde writer is going to die soon and completely. Modern fads do not last.

10. WRITE! After work. While the washer runs, during fire drills, while driving or sitting in the dentist’s office or the bathroom. Write in your mind if you don’t have a pencil and paper.

Make notes of every person you find interesting, every place you live or visit, all the odd facts you come across. Retain flavors and scents and the feel of specific places. Everything you have ever known is going to come in handy to you as a writer, so write! And write! And write!

Too few professions have any inherent joy, nowadays. Ours is one that includes skill and love and reality and imagination. We have something inside us that we must put onto paper, in order to communicate it to our fellow human beings. We live with the demanding and frustrating elements of the business, simply because we love what we do.


Ardath Mayhar (1930-2012) died on February 1. Mayhar began writing science fiction in 1979, although she had been publishing poetry since 1949. During the course of her career, she published more than sixty novels in various genres, often using pseudonyms, including John Killdeer and Frank Cannon (for Westerns).

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she and her husband, Joe Mayhar, owned The View From Orbit Bookstore in Nacogdoches, Texas; she sold the store after his death. Her novels, many of which mixed science fictional and fantasy elements, included the four-volume Tales of the Triple Moons series, the Kyrannon Shar-Nuhn series, and Battletech: The Sword and the Dagger. Her 1982 novel Golden Dream was based on H. Beam Piper’s “Fuzzy” series. In 2010 she published Slaughterhouse World.

Perhaps even more important than her own poetry and fiction, Mayhar served as a mentor to numerous other science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors. She provided editorial advice, taught workshops, and often worked as a book doctor. She was a fixture at Texas science fiction conventions for more than 30 years, although a decline in health limited her attendance in the last years of her life. A poem published in the anthology Masques earned her the Balrog Award in 1985. In 2008, she was named the SFWA Author Emeritus during the Nebula Award Weekend in Austin, Texas. —SFWA, February 13, 2012

In addition to her contributions to the field of science fiction and fantasy, Mayhar is the author of over sixty books and has won or been nominated for over two dozen awards including Margaret Haley Carpenter Prize, the Omar Award, the Mark Twain Award, the Spur award, and the William Allen White Award, for her historical novels, character studies and poetry. —WriteSex Ed.



Feb 202014

By Guest Blogger Sabrina Luna


I began writing professionally in 2006 and I’d like to share with you six lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1) Remember to tell your story. So another author is writing a similar story? It won’t be like yours. Only you can tell your story, so keep on writing.

2) Don’t compare your writing speed with another writer. It doesn’t matter how fast you type, only what you have written and how far you’ve progressed your story toward its completion.

3) Don’t take a reader’s book review too seriously. Most of the time, it’s just one subjective opinion of your story, nothing more. At the same time, their review might shed light on something about your writing (or your audience) that you hadn’t noticed: do you get a little too repetitive with certain words? Do some of your characters need some development? Are you marketing light, romantic BDSM to an audience that expects the heavier kind, leaving them disappointed (or vice versa)? Sometimes even an antagonistic review can contain a nugget of useful feedback once you rephrase parts of it to yourself and ignore its venting or snarky tone. This may help you grow as a writer. Take note and learn from the experience, if so, but do not mistake one reader’s voice for generalized popular opinion.

4) When searching for the right publisher, do your research and look for a company that does business in a professional manner. Remember, doing your research on a publisher may save you from headaches and problems in the long run.

5) There’s a fine line between promoting your books and overpromoting to the point of turning off potential readers by trying too hard to sell your book. Then again, if you’re underpromoting, your book may wind up getting lost in the flood of stories being published these days. Experiment, find the right balance, and discover what works best for you.

6) Treat others in your field—fellow authors, publishers, cover artists, agents, etc.—with respect and professionalism. And, hopefully, others will treat you similarly. Even when they don’t, however, if you can retain your professionalism it will be clear to many of your other, more respectful colleagues that you can be relied upon to act like a grownup when push comes to shove.

I sincerely hope these lessons I’ve learned will help you along your way…


Good luck and happy writing!


Sabrina Luna is an author of paranormal & erotic romances and, recently, became an indie ebook author, too. She enjoys haunting bookstores and coffee shops, listening to classic rock, and attending movies and munchies with her fellow geek-peeps.

Jan 032014

By Marissa St. James


If you’ve chosen writing as a possible career, be prepared to be constantly challenged. Some challenges will be frustrating, and try your patience, but if this is what you really want to do, then the majority of the challenges you’ll face can only help you improve your craft. There’s a great deal to be learned about this medium of communication; in fact, you should never stop learning. The best thing you can do is read as much as you can. Mysteries, romance, science fiction…the genre doesn’t really matter. The goal is to read for pleasure—and while you’re at it, you’ll be learning a great deal about writing. You’d be surprised by the things you can pick up when you least expect to.

It’s also a good idea to invest in books on writing. Most books deal with the elements of building a story: character profiles, dialogue, point of view, setting, plotting, etc. Fewer of them address the technical side of writing—grammar, spelling, and punctuation—besides the usual reminders to check for typos. I do touch briefly on a couple of elements many writers have a hard time with in my book, Doing it Write: Putting the Final Polish on Your Manuscript.

This column deals with these technical aspects of writing. While it’s meant to be a guide for a final polishing, it can also be used to avoid mistakes while you’re writing—you don’t have to wait until your story is finished. My philosophy as an editor has always been to help a writer make their work the best it can be. I’ll be the first to admit I can be a very picky editor, but in the long run it’s paid off for others. I hope this information will help you as well.


Every story is made up of sentences, each one leading into the next. Sentences convey thoughts, and to be understood, every thought should be well constructed. Sentences convey action, emotion, detail and direct/indirect thought. They can be narrative or dialogue. We can express ourselves through our characters, breathing life into them.

Sometimes we’re in a hurry to write down our thoughts before they vanish into oblivion. This is when we forget about structure—and that’s okay, because once you lose that great sentence in your head, it’s gone forever. Your first draft is meant to get down all your ideas in some sort of logical order. The second draft is for making improvements, corrections and additions. A final draft is for polishing and refining. We’re going to deal with the second and final drafts, assuming your work will be done in three versions.

If you make a habit of writing proper grammar to start, it’ll cut down on the time you need to find and correct errors and typos. Such a habit is hard to establish since we tend to write the way we speak—but once enforced, you’ll find writing comes much easier to you.

One word of caution here… When you go over your manuscript, be careful not to over-edit. Too many writers end up editing their work to death. The final product may end up nothing like what you originally started out with.

To begin with basics, sentences usually come in three forms: simple, compound and complex.


SIMPLE: contains a subject, verb and predicate.

John stared at his wife.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Short sentences are best used to emphasize a point.

John stared malevolently at his wife. Mary ran.

Out of context, we don’t know what’s going on or how scared Mary is, but we don’t need a lot of words to explain her fear. The previous sentence says it all.

Keep the very short sentences to a minimum. Too many will make your work sound like choppy grade-school reading, and it eventually becomes annoying. You don’t want your book to become some reader’s ‘wall banger.’ Your best bet is to vary the length throughout your work.


COMPOUND: has more than one subject and predicate.

On the other hand, try not to make your sentences too long. Overly long sentences tend to contain too much detail, and by the time the reader gets to the end of it, they’re probably staring at the sentence and thinking, “Huh?” They’ve undoubtedly missed the point you were trying to make.

John flipped through the colorful pages in the magazine, then he tossed it on the table with the others.

There are two complete sentences in the above example. It can be broken up and a little more detail added, or left as is. If you’re going to leave it as is, then you’ll want to omit the pronoun ‘he’ since it isn’t necessary, except to add to the word count. (That’s another topic to tackle with a subsequent post.)

John flipped through the colorful pages in the magazine. He tossed it on the table with the others when none of the articles caught his interest.

Now we have a pretty good idea that John is bored. If you have a long descriptive sentence, try breaking it up into two or three smaller sentences. The description will be more palatable, and the reader will get more out of it.

The worst descriptions I’ve seen written are when a character steps into a room. The writer often thinks they have to describe every stick of furniture, every color, every texture. If the room is important to the story, then a complete description may be necessary for the reader to get a feel for it. The description can also be broken up to fit the scenes as needed. Here’s an example of too much detail in long sentences:

John stepped into the small office. The thick dark brown rug was a color match to the wall paneling which covered all the walls from floor to ceiling. The old oak desk was huge and took up the space in front of one of the walls. Behind it, was a comfortable looking high-backed leather chair that sat close to the desk in front of the hidden window. Covering the single window, dark velvet curtains seemed out of place. The only light came from a small lamp sitting on a cabinet in the corner of the room.

Here’s one way it could be handled to make it more interesting.

John entered the small office. The color of the thick rug seemed to creep up the walls to the ceiling. He felt as if he’d stepped into a box. It was hard to tell where the rug ended and the paneling began. The huge oak desk looked old, compared to the new leather chair behind it. John moved closer to the desk and looked up at the window. He resisted the urge to tear down the dark velvet curtains and let in some light. A small lamp gave off a soft glow in one corner, but cast more shadows than it lit the room. A feeling of claustrophobia overcame him. He stepped back, ready to bolt, but froze when he sensed the presence behind him.

The character’s reaction to the furnishings, and the room itself, add more interest to the scene. Sentence length and type is varied.

Another point you want to minimize is the use of prepositional phrases. ‘In the house,’ ‘out the door,’ ‘after the fact,’ ‘beyond the horizon,’ When too many are written within one sentence, it can set up a sing-song pattern that quickly becomes annoying. There are better ways to express what’s going on than in a series of prepositional phrases.

All the paths in the garden were lined with colorful flowers.

The garden paths were lined with colorful flowers.

Both sentences say the same thing, but the second one is more concise and far less annoying.


COMPLEX: uses clauses to add detail. The biggest mistake writers make, beginners in particular, is starting almost every sentence with a clause.

Dismayed by Mary’s frequent absences, John began making phone calls to locate her. Playing innocent, Mary’s best friend pretended not to know where Mary was. Taking matters into his own hands, John decided to hire a private detective.

The flow of the scene is quickly broken up by too often using clauses to start off sentences.

John was fed up with Mary’s frequent absences, and began making calls to locate her. When he called her best friend, the woman answered his questions without telling him anything. John slammed down the phone in a fury. There was only one way left to handle the situation—he had to hire a private detective.

Once in a great while, it is necessary to start a sentence with a clause to keep the flow going. When you get the hang of using clauses properly, you’ll develop a sense of their place within a story.

I should make mention here about sentence fragments. Like short sentences, they should be used very sparingly. A fragment is missing the verb, and is more like a long clause with no life of its own and a purely contextual purpose.

These three types of sentences are the basis of all writing, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, office reports, or even letters. Learning these differences is half the battle.

This deal was worth a great sum of money to John’s company. He had ten minutes to get to his client’s office. When he finally arrived, the secretary glanced up at him. Too late.


From Marissa St. James’ Doing it Write: Putting the Final Polish on Your Manuscript, Copyright © 2006 PageTurner Editions, available at for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook and iTunes for Mac-based devices. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Guest columnist Marissa St James writes sweet romance. Her books include Lady in Black and Other Tales of Paranormal Romance, The Legend and the Laird, Liberty’s Belle, and many others. Find them all and keep up with Marissa’s writings and doings at and



Sep 242013

By Valerie Tibbs, Tibbs Design

When I get a request for a cover, I always go through and see what the author wants.  Sometimes the requests are just ridiculous, like “I need a zombie carrying a sword and going on a killing rampage”.  Uh… Sure.  About that…

So after I explain to the author the limitations of stock photos, they finally have a better understanding.  Sometimes however, I run into an author who’s adamant about a particular thing, and I can’t deliver.  I have to refer them to an illustrator or they’ll have to muddle through on their own.  It happens.

I had to realize I couldn’t make everyone happy every time.

But here’s part of my process that I wanted to show you.  I got a request for a hot guy (a Selkie to be exact, which I had to look up since I didn’t know what that was), coming out of the Northern Atlantic ocean at night.

Well, I thought to myself, that should be easy.  So here was my first draft:


I showed this to a friend, and she went, “I don’t like the girl’s butt in my face.”  Eh.  Good point.  Not quite what the author wanted, either.

So here’s the next one that I showed her:


Oh, he’s sexy.  But, um… he’s coming out of the ocean.  Shouldn’t he be wet?

Uh… oops!

So here’s the next version:


Nice, huh?

Well, I forgot one thing.  It’s supposed to be the North Atlantic, not the Caribbean!  Wrong color water. Dang it.

Because we didn’t like the guy in the previous one we picked him instead:


Here’s the next revision:


Better, yes?

But, Valerie, it’s supposed to be night time!

Dang it…  One more revision:


By George, I think she’s got it. YAY me! :)

And here is the final, with full resolution images and a tweak on the author name:


And that is just a fraction of what goes on with creating a cover…  This is my process.  Every artist has their own way of doing things.  But I love it!  :)



Valerie Tibbs is a graphic designer with over 20 years of experience, including hundreds of book covers and dozens of websites. Find her at, and Twitter: @valerietibbs


Jul 262012

Recently, I’ve become really irritated over the disrespect some people show others on social media. For the sake of this post, let’s agree that social media is any tool on the Internet one can use to get and share information. As an author, and one who is a self-proclaimed expert idiot, I need my connections and groups on social media to learn. From my current headache of learning about owning/riding/caring for a horse, to what a poly-amorous relationship is really about, these groups save me tons of time. Can I go to the virtual library and rummage around to learn what experts have to say on human sexuality and current trends? Sure. But will I get as vibrant an answer as what I can get in one of my private conversations on Facebook or FetLife? No. Can I ask a book a stupid question and get an honest answer? No. But somebody is going to describe exactly what that blue wand feels like when it’s pressed against certain sensitive body parts.

So what’s my beef? There are plenty of people who are posers. They pretend they’re interested in the subject matter or social positioning of a private or secret group to get invited. Then they spend time trolling for dates, play partners, or ways to make trouble for the group members. Besides being totally inappropriate, it destroys trust and ruins a safe place for other members to share intimate information about themselves and their lives.

You’ve probably seen this note a thousand times on Facebook: If you don’t like what you see on my wall, please just leave.

Now, why people can’t actually do that is the million-dollar question. Usually authors don’t keep their purpose a secret. We are out here blasting away about our titles, characters, covers, and buy links. Our playful attitudes attract friends and fans. That is my goal. But the social media rules are not in favor of us. Another author gets pissy about your sales and decides to randomly report you to Facebook and your privileges get suspended temporarily or permanently. There’s no recourse but to wait it out or find another door in. A person joins a private group and goes along until they see a photo and commentary that they don’t like – and presses report. A bunch of readers decides to target an author for some other random reason and you get to spend the next few days or weeks wondering if that teeny-tiny hole you’ve punched into the publishing universe is going to shut because of this gang mentality. The owner of the private group is booted off Facebook by a group member. You pick up a stalker in a private group. The stalker calls your house. Um yeah. Explain that one to your spouse.

For me, studying pictures of naked people and watching porn is not usually for my personal pleasure. Last time I checked, I was a straight, white, married woman. So, what’s play like with a Domme? How does a butt plug feel to a man? What does that taste like? What’s the procedure here? It’s called a what? These things have I DON’T KNOW plastered all over them. I use these groups, as do so many of my friends, not to get my visual jollies, but to learn. I might study a photo to observe a skin texture, a tattoo, a body shape, color, or skin tone, or to get new ideas about what other men and women sound and look like in intimate settings.

I’ve admired the tenacity of some of my author friends. They keep finding ways to get into the game, time and again. But it’s time consuming and it’s frustrating. Research to provide those nuances and flavors that bring your story to life isn’t an easy task. Those of us on the hunt for information are usually forthcoming. Read any of my profiles and it’s clear who I am, what I’m about, and what I want.

So, I’m asking for some respect-for myself and for my colleagues. Please stop reporting us and bothering us with your drama. We’re not here as a dating service or to turn you on. We’re here to work and have a little fun along the way. And if you can’t respect that, then please leave us alone. Stop exposing us to your nastiness and go away. What’s considered private should remain private.

Margie Church writes erotic romance novels with a strong suspense element, in keeping with her moniker: Romance with SASS (Suspense Angst Seductive Sizzle). She has a degree in writing and editing and has been a professional writer, editor, and journalist for over 25 years. If you enjoy books you can’t put down, read one of hers.

Margie lives in Minnesota, is married, and has two children. Some of her passions are music, flower gardening, biking, walking on moonlit nights, nature, and making people laugh. She also writes children’s books under the pen name, Margaret Rose.


Keep up with Margie:

Margie’s website: Romance with SASS

Margie’s blog:



Margie’s Amazon Author page:

Dec 032010

Do you write erotic romance? Have you ever wondered when you’re working on your book what it is that reviewers are looking for? Even if you don’t think so much about that until it comes time to send your book in to reviewers, I’ll bet you think about it then.

The truth is that for the most part reviewers are looking for the same sorts of things that readers are. When a group of reviewers was interviewed regarding this topic, these where the things were the things they said they were looking for to give a good rating and review.
• A solid plot. Erotic romances that are just one sex scene after the other without any real plot are in reviewer’s eyes no better than porn.
• An emotional connection between the lovers. While it does not have to deep and abiding forever love, reviewers are looking for that emotional connection. If it’s not there, then the book may receive a lower rating.
• Stories that build the anticipation. Reviewers aren’t necessarily looking for the book to open with a sex scene as you might think. Instead, they are looking for that build-up to the sex scene(s), that anticipation of what is to come shown by the words and the physical expressions of affection such as kisses and touches. This is not to say that there aren’t good erotic romances that start out with a sex scene, but without the other elements mentioned in combination with at least a few paragraphs or pages of build-up to that scene, as a writer you are skirting the fine line between erotic romance and porn.
• Another thing that came up in the interviews was that m/m erotic romances seem to be the best at conveying the emotional connection between lovers. That being said, as a writer, even if you don’t write or enjoy m/m romance, it behooves you to check some of these out and employ the same techniques with your own stories. Reviewers want to see more well-written m/m erotic romance, and more erotic romances where there is the same type of dynamic between lovers as exists in many m/m erotic romances.

There were also a few things that reviewers really, really didn’t want to see when it comes to erotic romance, according to the interviews.
• Sex for the sake of sex. When an erotic romance writer writes in sex scenes just for the sake of having them rather than using them to help move the storyline along, then this can be a real turn-off for reviewers.
• Extreme BDSM practices such as knife play, people being kept like animals in cages, and BDSM situations where it is obvious abuse is happening and or the BDSM is not consensual. This is not to say that reviewers don’t know the difference between safe, sane and consensual practices such as wax play, bondage, voyeurism, or even leading someone around on a leash for example, and the more extreme practices as mentioned above, because many do. However, according to the interviews, reviewers have read books where these extreme practices that were more about adding a shock value than furthering the storyline, were added, and they didn’t like them. The scenes were often poorly written and showed that the writer did not understand the heart of BDSM, and that the writer did not really do any serious research. These types of scenes tend to lead to lower ratings on reviews and are a turn-off to many reviewers.
• Stories where a character who is obviously a main player is treated as if they are an afterthought or don’t matter. This was mentioned a couple of different times during the interview process. One example given was a f/f erotic romance where one of the lovers had no name in the story. To the reviewer it was as if the writer were saying that this character didn’t matter. Another example given was a story where there were two male lovers and one female.

The author made it clear that the men were “in love” but while they both had sex with the woman, she was treated by the men as if she didn’t really matter. It made the reader wonder why the woman was even in the story if she could not be added in as one who was loved or at the very least cared for.

So, now you know what reviewers are looking for when they read and review erotic romances, as well as, what they w ould like to see more of in the future. Reviewers are an excellent barometer for what readers are going to like as well. So, if reviewers like your books, then chances are, the readers will as well!

Thanks to the Coffee Crew at Coffee Time Romance & More for answering the endless survey questions!
Special thanks to author, Regina Paul, for taking our information, making sense out of it, and for creating this wonderfully cohesive article.

Jul 012010

By Joey W. Hill

When Sascha asked if I’d do a blog on genre blending, it gave me a grin. Ten years ago, the term was “cross-genre”, and it was a publishing dead zone. I didn’t know that then. Everything I’ve written pretty much falls in the category of “genre blending”, since erotic romance began initially as a meeting of erotica with romance, and then took on additional components from there – contemporary, paranormal, historical, etc. However, a decade ago, when I was starting my writing career, I didn’t consciously say: “Hey, I’m going to blend genres in my writing, because I deeply crave rejection from mainstream publishing.” (lol)

I started with one thing – a desire to write the story that was in my head. I wrote the story my muse wanted me to tell. Starting out as a writer is a lot like getting married when you’re young – you have optimism and you’re not entirely set in your ways. You’re not looking at the mortgage – you’re focused on your dreams. I loved romance, but I wanted much stronger sex in it. So the result was an erotic romance with light bondage, set in a mall over the course of one day (Make Her Dreams Come True). I had no idea I’d blended genres until I took it out into the world to be slapped around relentlessly by cross-genre rejection (good thing I had a masochistic streak).

Fortunately, at that time a whole collective-unconscious craft thing was happening, where a lot of aspiring authors had the bug to write cross-genre work. The universe aligned us with the burgeoning field of e-publishing, which was keenly interested in this overlooked niche and reader demand. Now, ten years down the road, blended genre stories and e-publishing are both notable parts of the book world. In fact, much of that cross-genre work has become genres in their own right: paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic romance, etc. So now here’s this blog, discussing how best to blend eroticism with your romance genre—whether paranormal, contemporary or otherwise—as a positive, marketable thing. There goes that grin again…

So here we go. I tend to get wordy and ramble when I think about craft process, but I’ve managed to keep it under 2500 words, a miracle for me (grin). You’re welcome to ask questions about anything I missed, however, or give a different viewpoint in the comments – the wonderful thing about this business is there are a million ways to do it well, many of them yet to be discovered. This is just my approach.

Integration of erotica with romance – erotic romance

Any story, cross-genre or otherwise, has to pull us into it, make us feel that this could happen to us, answering some yearning in our hearts for that ultimate connection. That’s one of the big reasons people read love stories, and just because they want a sexual kick from them, doesn’t mean that can be overlooked. For so many years, all women were given was “erotica”, much of it dark, depressing, adulterous or flat out disturbing. Bringing together erotica with romance means that all the elements of a great romance have to be represented – great character development, pacing, intriguing setting, full sensory involvement, etc.

Make it character-driven – I write character-driven stories, which I think is very critical for an erotic romance of any type. No matter whether it’s contemporary, vampires, mermaids, historical, etc. the erotic love story between the main characters—how it starts, grows, matures, stumbles, etc—is my central story.

Plot cannot exist without the erotic and vice-versa – Making it character-driven does not mean everything else is window dressing. This is VERY important. Let me give you a concrete example of when that no-no happens. I’m sure we’ve all read an erotic romance with one of these two scenarios:

1. Every scene with the main characters is absorbing, hot, emotional…and each time the scene changes to the “plot”, it’s like someone slammed that door, and you actively think, “Oh crap, how long do I have to put up with this boring part before I get back to them again?”

2. The plot is worthy of a suspense master, but then someone flips a switch and suddenly you’re on the set of a bad porn movie. The main characters come to a screeching halt and say, “Hey, it’s three and a half pages into Chapter Three. We’re supposed to fuck like rabbits now. Let’s get that out of the way and then we’ll get back to the real story.”

Yep, excuse my language, but it’s that blatant. In both examples, the story is not well blended. You’re baking a cake without stirring all the ingredients together into a smooth, tasty batter that tempts you to eat it all even before you stick it in the oven. It looks like a gooey autopsy. It’s extremely clear which part of the story interested the author the least. That’s my own personal sanity check when I’m writing. I love the erotic romance/deep character-driven scenes, so if I find myself getting bored or rushing plot points, I know I’m not integrating enough of that into whatever portion of the story I’m writing. The erotic romance must be integrated with the rest of the story line so that one doesn’t really exist without the other.

Plot provides ample opportunity for sexual interaction AND emotional growth in the relationship.
You’re not blending the erotica with the romance if you’re overlooking that. How often do you read the book where the heroine ends up in a sex club, goes through a lot of physical gymnastics with the hero that yes, help her deal with her sexual inhibitions, but other than that there’s really no emotional growth? Still, somehow they end up in a happily-ever-after with the 2.5 kids, golden retriever, picket fence house and a love that never ends? Many of our romance readers are women who’ve experienced committed relationships, and all of us know that they need more than sex to end up as happily-ever-after. As Sascha said so well in his June 24 blog on creating plot: “in erotica, sex is the plot…in erotic romance, sex forwards the plot.” Erotic romance uses erotic interaction to further the relationship.

Integration of erotic romance with other genres
Not because I have this huge desire to pimp my own work, but I can more comfortably dissect it without offending anyone, so let me use some of my storylines as examples of integration of plot/relationship with eroticism in various genres. It will also confirm if I’m qualified to be writing this blog (laughter):

Contemporary erotic romance – For a lot of erotic romance writers, starting in the arena of contemporary is probably your easiest blend, because you can use a BDSM club setting, or the set up of a heroine’s cherished fantasy on the Internet, etc. It gets you comfortable before you move onto trickier blends. Hence, my original Nature of Desire series has a lot of heroes/heroines already Dominant or submissive-oriented, and start inside BDSM clubs. However, it doesn’t have to be clichéd. My muse gave me twists that intrigued me – an alpha cop who is a sexual submissive, or two Doms who fall for each other, etc. Now, if you’ve got it set inside a BDSM club, or are doing the heroine’s cherished fantasy thing, you still mostly have your feet in the erotica room. If you want to blend it, take it into the field of contemporary romance, you’re going to have to get it out of the club or the fantasy and test the relationship (sexually and emotionally) in the real world. That increases the emotional component and even better, brings your characters into your readers’ contemporary world, so they can empathize with the characters.

Paranormal erotic romance – My Vampire Queen series was motivated by my interest in the vampire-servant relationship. To my way of thinking, it practically begged to be explored as a hardcore Dominant/submissive sexual relationship. In my series, vampires form their closest relationships with their servants, even as they consider them their property to use sexually and are expected to share them with other vampires as part of political maneuverings in the vampire world. So there are the emotional, sexual and paranormal conflicts, all rolled into one.

My Daughters of Arianne series was billed as a sensual, borderline erotic paranormal romance series. In the first book, Mermaid’s Kiss, Jonah, a powerful angel, is severely wounded but is hiding not only from his enemies, the Dark Ones, but also his own kind. To heal, he therefore can’t use a magic that would attract a lot of notice. So, with the help of the mermaid who rescues him, he uses earth-based sex magic (which he calls Joining Magic), that must be applied at regular intervals during the healing process. It draws the two of them together intimately, makes more sense in the storyline, and is tied up in the magical plot line as they journey to heal his heart as well as his body.

That all sounds good, and though I loved this book, I was never entirely comfortable with the initial introduction of this erotic element. It felt somewhat contrived, not as well-integrated, enough that I had the irascible seawitch Mina make a joke about it to my heroine: “He had to use Joining Magic. It was the only thing that would work,” she mimicked. “Oh, that’s rich. If I had an anemone for every time I’d heard that one…”

In the subsequent books of the series, I wasn’t so uptight about it and didn’t try so hard. As such, the eroticism evolved in the paranormal setting far more naturally, to my way of thinking. In Witch’s Beauty, to balance the light and dark inside of her, the seawitch Mina discovers a mix of pain and pleasure eases that struggle. The angel David can help her out with that, because the angels of the Dark Legion are pretty virile and often use sex to ground themselves after battle.

Contemporary/paranormal/erotic romance – In If Wishes Were Horses, my hero runs an erotic paraphernalia shop, teaches Tantric classes, and is a Wiccan priest who regularly uses the Sacred Rite (sex magic) to channel the Great Lord. He is therefore uniquely set up to initiate our heroine, the new town sheriff, into an exploration of her own sensuality as they try to get to the bottom of a killing. However, that killing also has a magical/sexual component that further adds to the erotic quotient of the story.

That’s more than enough examples to give you the gist, but I wanted to show you a variety of possibilities.

Pacing - Final note for your blending is to watch your pacing. It’s like inching a tight lid off a box, where you have to take it up a little at a time on each side, until it all comes off at the same time. As a concluding example – in my book, Beloved Vampire – the hero is a vampire who’s grieved for 300 years. He rescues a sick human woman from a tomb by making her his full servant. He already has the sexual dominance, and she’s a natural submissive, so there’s going to be that issue gnawing at them, but she’s been tortured for five years by another vampire, and he’s spent 300 years mourning the Bedouin girl he handfasted. So the trust/relaxing of shields is going to happen proportionately at the same rate as the sexual interaction increases, and the vampire plot thickens, etc.

So recap of the mechanics – keep the character/relationship central to the story, make sure the plot and the erotic romance can’t exist without each other, test the relationship in real world settings (even if it’s a paranormal world), and watch your pacing for the emotional growth/development of your characters as you integrate erotica, romance and other genre elements.

Most importantly however—and this goes back to the original point—If you want to write a blended genre story, make sure your muse has given you one. It can’t be forced – it’s not like a game of chance where you draw two slips of paper out of a hat. “Today, I’ll write an…erotic romance, that’s also a….western! I’ll mash those two things together and see what happens.” The integration has to start in your head and heart—in your creative muse—first.

May 202010

Although my partner in crime Ralph and I kiss each other’s asses during our conversations or when we actually see one another in person once a year or so, it is only to entertain ourselves an the others around us. In fact for many years I argued with Ralph over certain items when it came to online marketing and adult writing. As we have mentioned a few times, Ralph and I are actually about 15 years in age difference so there are some “new media” items which my partner will never listen to me about, and that’s ok. We agree to disagree and still manage to be honest with each other.

In the past two months I have been receiving phone calls and emails from adult websites who have gotten burned by other adult seo companies. Now I don’t know if the inquiries we are receiving for adult seo are because the adult businesses do not understand the time it takes to organically rank for their keywords and had higher and quicker expectations OR if the adult seo provider wasn’t straight up honest with the adult business.

I am finding that many in the adult industry do not want to give away their secrets. I just laugh! Why? Because all the self-proclaimed “secrets” are all over the Web! Yes, you have to find them and do research and/or be involved in Organic SEO for many years BUT if you REALLY want to DIY Adult SEO, there are a few ways to go about it. You can either find an SEO who will consult and teach you how to go about your adult seo campaign or start connecting to seo’s and read their forum and blog postings. Even attending local SEO meet-ups you can learn more about how to begin to organically rank your Website.

Honesty: Is there honesty in Adult SEO?

I know there is competition, LOTS of competition. The adult market is flooded with websites and trying to get a new website ranked can take time for your top targeted keywords. If you are told differently, then you need to rethink the honesty of the person you are speaking to. It is known that Adult SEO takes time hence why there are not many companies who will touch Adult SEO.

The expectations of the adult business owner also needs to be in check or reality. There are many sites which have been focusing on their organic ranking from the beginning of their site launch so just think about that competition. Ralph and I have been lucky to rank our own sites fairly quickly but that is also because we set up our sites. When working with a client, many times it could take days if not weeks for their tech department to switch and change items we ask for so that our “magic wand” actually works!

Til next time…

Thank you,
Lisa Weinberger, MAT
PearlyWrites, LLC