Writing Craft

6 05, 2024

Kill the Darlings – Drama on every page

By |2024-04-30T07:32:04-05:00May 6th, 2024|Writer's Corner, Writing Craft|0 Comments

We all dislike negative, unhappy things happening in our lives.

Who wants to suffer and be unhappy? I sure don’t.

Reality is drama, disaster, and tragedy are what life is all about.

I don’t like drama in my life. I don’t like it when other people suffer and are unhappy. Unfortunately in fiction writing no drama makes for a dull, uninteresting plot.

A story without tension is flat and quickly put aside. That’s not what any author wants to happen to their books.

The BONI Intensive Seminars taught me how important suffering and drama are for fictional characters … if a writer wants to fully engage readers.

Tension on every page” to quote Donald Maass.

“Throw another bear in the canoe,” JoAnn Ross advises.

Drama is an integral part of real life and a critical part of a fictional character’s story. Readers want to become emotionally involved with our characters. Drama builds suspense, anticipation, and uncertainty by creating conflict, and it’s that conflict that keeps readers turning the pages.

When drama and suffering are absent, readers do not connect with our characters and story. They don’t read our books. I’ve had to learn to “kill my darlings”  and it hasn’t been easy.

If you need a nudge to add drama to your writing, let me suggest:

  1. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass
  2. Breakout Novel Intensive Seminar
  3. One Stop for Writers where you’ll find loads of resources for adding conflict.

And keep an eye out for the 2nd edition of The Emotion Amplifier Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Stress and Volatility by Becca Puglisi, releasing on May 13th.

Writers, what suggestions would you add to my list?

4 03, 2024

Hooks and Scrabble

By |2024-03-04T09:11:57-06:00March 4th, 2024|Writer's Life, Writing Craft|0 Comments

Scrabble is popular at our house. The game is all about words. Guess that’s why I love it.

Scrabble players can score fifty points when they have the right tiles, the perfect fit to play on the board and know the RIGHT word. Hubby-dear is our current fifty-point champion.

Scrabble players earn points from the words they create. Writers keep the reader hooked into turning the pages with their words.

A hook is what incites the reader to turn the page and read just one more chapter. Or decide to buy a book. In writing, hooks are words used at the beginning of scenes and chapter breaks. Screenwriters use hooks the same way.

The hook idea came from the 1914 silent movie series titled The Perils of Pauline. Pearl White starred as Pauline, the damsel in distress menaced by assorted villains, pirates, and Native Americans in the serialized movie. In 2008, the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

In each episode the audience is convinced poor, pitiful Pauline’s situation will surely result in her imminent death until at the last minute she is rescued or otherwise escapes the danger. The damsel in distress and cliffhanger endings kept moviegoers returning.

How do successful writers use hooks like the screenwriters did with The Perils of Pauline? The simple answer is strong characters like Pauline and strong chapter breaks.  

K.M. Weiland suggests these other ideas to hook readers.

1. Promise conflict to come.

2. A secret kept.

3. A major decision or vow.

4. An announcement of a shocking event.

5. A moment of high emotion.

6. A reversal or surprise that turns the story upside down.

7. A new idea.

8. An unanswered question.

9. A portentous metaphor.

10. A plot turning point.

Weiland warns: “Not every chapter needs to end with a cliffhanger, but they do need to encompass a question powerful enough to make the reader crazy to know the answer.”

Unlike the silent movie success, the overuse of Pauline-in-peril gimmicks in stories can turn a reader off. Writers use caution.

If you’re a writer, what strategy do you use for hooks? If not sure, check out Mary Buckham’s Writing Active Hooks for great ideas.

As a reader, what hook from Weiland’s list keeps you turning the page?

16 10, 2023

Dictionary Day

By |2023-10-12T08:43:54-05:00October 16th, 2023|Holidays, Writer's Life, Writing Craft|1 Comment

This day honors Noah Webster, the man who fathered the American Dictionary. It’s one of my favorite holidays because I love dictionaries.

As a child, I’d spend hours poring through the pages of my grandmother’s eight-inch-thick Webster’s New International Dictionary (of the English Language). It was a fertile resource for a blossoming logophile or, as I prefer to call myself – a wordsmith.

The ancient leather-bound book with its India-skin paper had leather alphabet tabs cut into the pages. The detailed illustrations and maps are gorgeous. There were diagrams, charts, and thousands of words.

With so many dictionary resources readily available online, it’s easy to believe a hard copy isn’t necessary anymore. I disagree. Every home should have at least one realio-trulio paper dictionary available.

All sorts of wonderful magical stuff can happen when you use a hardcopy dictionary instead of looking up definitions online.

Your finger glides over other words as it scrolls down the printed page. Words that you might never have seen right there at your fingertips. You can see a word’s origin and its root without clicking to a different screen for synonyms and antonyms.

Yes, all that’s included with online dictionaries, but do you scroll down to discover the rest of the entry?

Probably not.

Understanding meaning is important. I learned that from my British antiques business partner. His British accent and my Texas drawl tended to muddle discussions and complicate purchases for the shop when the English and American definitions didn’t match. The King’s English Dictionary he gave me saved us many times over.

Spelling can be a problem no matter what type of dictionary you use. I stump spell checkers 90% of the time. Plus, spell checkers don’t give definitions.

I keep 20,000 WORDS by Louis A. Leslie side-by-side with my dictionary for fast lookup of commonly misspelled words. This little jewel gets me through my writing day.

While you may never love dictionaries as I do, I still recommend you have a hard-copy dictionary handy. You never know what you might learn.

5 06, 2023

What’s a Meet-Cute?

By |2023-06-04T11:26:41-05:00June 5th, 2023|writer, Writer's Corner, Writing Craft|2 Comments

You may recognize the phrase meet cute from reviews for movies, television shows, and books.

Romance readers know it as a major part of the Rom-Com subcategory.

Recently the word was the Merriam-Webster word of the day.

That surprised me. I think of meet-cute as a specific vocabulary term limited to use by romance and scriptwriters or reviewers of those books and films.

Turns out it’s been around since 1952 when the two words, meet and cute, were paired in a The New York Times Book Review to describe the story of a ghost-writer who falls in love with a ghost. Today the linked words are used frequently to reference books, movies, and television.

Officially, the definition is “a cute, charming, or amusing first encounter between romantic partners. A meet-cute can be such an encounter as shown in a movie or television show, or one that happens in real life.”

Meet Cute is a popular fiction writing troupe. FYI: Troupe is another writer’s vocabulary word meaning a plot device for crafting a story. Read more about troupes here.

Romance authors use meet-cutes by creating situations where characters clash in personality, set up an embarrassing situation where two eventual romantic partners meet, or have a misunderstanding between characters that may or may not lead to reconciliation in the end.

Meet cute isn’t often found in everyday usage, but people do share their first meet-cutes in conversation and many married couples return to the location where they first met to take pictures on the anniversary of their first encounter.

If you’re a romance rom-com writer or reader, it’s a vocabulary must. If you’re not, now you know the meaning.

20 03, 2023

Choosing Names

By |2023-03-19T14:05:17-05:00March 20th, 2023|Writing Craft|0 Comments

Coming up with the character names for a new book is like being pregnant in a way. You have all these people to name.

Sometimes that’s easy. Sometimes it’s not. Sorta like childbirth.

Many authors use placeholder letters for names and then fill in later with the names they’ve chosen using search and replace.

I can’t do that. Without specific names, it’s hard for me to visualize the story.

Once I have the characters and setting clearly in my head, I feel like I have bona fide people and places and can unravel the story.

That’s why I choose names before I write a single word and there is a lot to consider besides gender.

  • Is the name easily pronounceable or easily sounded out?
  • Do the first name and surname sound good together?
  • Do the names start with the same letter or sound similar?
  • Are the names appropriate for the story setting, era, and genre?
  • Have I varied syllables and lengths?

Two sites help me come up with options:  naming your child and naming pets. Name generator sites are also helpful too.  Even if you’re not writing a book, name generators can be fun to play with.

I use these two:

Character Name Generator – You fill in several different defining factors and you get options that fit your character.

Name Generator for Fun – This one offers several categories to choose from. If you have a dragon to name, it’s got suggestions.

After weeks of searching for names, I finally settled on Gus, MaryDee, Willa, Claudia, Todd, and Kayley. Now on with the story.

25 10, 2021

I missed Punctuation and Grammar Days

By |2021-10-18T12:36:06-05:00October 25th, 2021|writing, Writing Craft|0 Comments

Neither are official-official holidays so there are no consequences. I’ll do better next year getting my blogs up on the actual dates, but in the meantime, here is my white-rabbit-late blog.

If you’re not familiar with the designation, both days are set aside to celebrate the underappreciated art of using correct grammar.

Jeff Rubin selected Sept. 24 in 2004 to be National Punctuation Day as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipses.”

Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, added March 4 as National Grammar Day to encourages everyone to use grammar correctly in both verbal and written language.

I love the reasoning behind the date. The National Grammar Day website states. “Language is something to be celebrated, and March 4 is the perfect day to do it. It’s not only a date, it’s an imperative: March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!”

These days our communication relies increasingly on our written word skills. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t email or text or post comments on social media. Correct grammar and punctuation are important.

I always need help with grammar and punctuation. If you have as much trouble as I do, here are my recommendations:

For help understanding how each punctuation mark is used, try this fabulous clickable chart here. Once on the page, you click on the punctuation mark and a page with the explanation opens.

Nitty-Gritty Grammar is a humorous guide to correct grammar.

Or for serious writing, try The Elements of Style


For grammar help as I write in Word 365, I use Editor, an editing tool embedded in the word processor.

For Grammar help when composing emails and social media posts, I have installed the Grammarly software program.

You can get the free version or pay for a premium  version at https://www.grammarly.com/

Lastly, just for fun, enjoy this YouTube version of Victor Borge’s Phonetic Punctuation skit. It’s old but still hilarious any day of the year.

14 06, 2021

Moodling, Imagination, and Creative Thinking

By |2021-06-13T13:50:29-05:00June 14th, 2021|Make Me Think Monday, Writing Craft|0 Comments

I recently came across a blog that gave me both a new vocabulary word and a new technique to boost creativity. When I read Musings from a Writer’s Brain–Moodling, I thought the blogger might have made the word up and checked for myself.

Googling the word proved tricky. MOODLE came up, but not moodling. Moodle happens to be an open-source learning management system for distance and online learning. Something that has become a necessary part of our COVID-19 pandemic world.

But that was not what the blogger Joanne Guidoccio was talking about. Her blog referred to the idea of moodling from Brenda Ueland’s book If You Want to Write

Ueland stresses that “the imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

Urban Dictionary defines the word as daydreaming or letting your mind wander and doing nothing.

Interesting that doing nothing and letting your mind wander will improve creative thinking, isn’t it?

But the fact is some well-known names are among those who practiced moodling.

Isaac Newton was moodling under an apple tree in 1666 and an apple fell on his head which in turn led to his theory on gravity.

Albert Einstein spent days and nights in the quiet solitude after the breakup of his marriage. That moodling period led to his general theory of relativity.

Massachusetts of Technology’s The Writing Process includes moodling as a way to generate ideas and recommends a structured technique for writers

CEOBuddy.com suggests trying noodling and moodling if you’re looking for creative ideas to expand your business.

There’s also a YouTube channel that demonstrates how to use doodling to jumpstart creativity.

Moodling, noodling, doodling, idling, dawdling, and puttering to improve my imagination…

with summer here, sounds like a plan to me.

What do you think?

1 03, 2021

Should a Writer Blog?

By |2021-02-05T15:50:42-06:00March 1st, 2021|Writer's Corner, Writing Craft|3 Comments

First, let me say, writing a regular blog isn’t for everyone, whether you’re a career writer or not. It is a lot of work.

I’ve blogged for over nine years. I know firsthand how much.

Here are my takeaways for all the effort.

  • Improved Writing Skills

Writing, in my opinion, can be learned. Same as a knitter learns to knit. Yes, creativity and talent help. But practice makes perfect.

Weekly blogging means practice not only with writing, but also editing, another very important writer skill.

  • Opportunities to experiment

I get to change how I write and what I write. Some of my blog topics are informational, some are personal accounts, some are thought-provoking.

Blogging not only improves my skills. It keeps me learning.

  • Discipline, Motivation & Deadlines

Blogging provides lessons in all three. Readers look for that email in their inbox every week. Not living up to their expectation is super strong motivation.

In turn, motivation provokes discipline. I must get my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keys to meet the deadlines blogs demand, weekly and for the guest blogs I frequently do. That builds discipline.

  • Discoverability

The magic reward for all the effort is discoverability.

While my follower numbers aren’t huge by most scales, when I send a View from the Front Porch post out every Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning at 0600 Central Time precisely, I get 175 faithful readers clicking through.

If I did a book signing or book talk and that many people showed up, I’d be ecstatic. Blogging is my virtual book signing table that is open 24/7/365—internationally.

So, for this writer, the answer to the question is a resounding YES.

Blogging on a regular basis being the key. If you do that, blogging can be a powerful way to network with readers and have new readers find you.

19 10, 2020

Digging Ditches and Writing Novels

By |2020-10-19T08:29:12-05:00October 19th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life, Writing Craft|1 Comment

I’m working away — in fits and starts — on the next novella in my Fitzpatrick Family series. But something’s bothering me about the story. The words aren’t flowing.

I attributed my lack of word flow to pandemic brain fog and put the manuscript aside to watch the drainage ditch being dug in our front yard.

Distraction comes easy when you’re stuck.

The ditch work on the main road in our subdivision had finally been completed. We live on a side street and, after three years, it was our turn.

I stood watching like an awe-struck kindergartner listening to his teacher read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel named Mary Ann. Written by Virginia Burton, it was my son’s favorite story book.

steam shovel, Judythe MorganThe shovel bucket started at the top of our rise then went down the slope adjusting the depth with each shovel load.

One scoop after the other. Not one scoop on our side of the street and another scoop across the street.

But one after the other down our side of the road. dump truck, judythe morganScoop – dump, scoop dump. Inching slowly  down the slope.

Scoop – dump, scoop dump. One after the other.

Kinda like a timeline when plotting a story.

As that thought flowed through my head, I realized what was wrong in my Fitzpatrick Family story. My timeline was out of kilter. I’d gone from one side of the street to the other.

Scenes were happening sequentially, but the reader would quickly figure out the passage of time I’d written didn’t allow enough time for what needed to happen.

Like the steam shovel ditch digging, I had to proceed one shovel width at a time to get a properly sloped ditch.ditch Or, in my case, a story timeline that didn’t confuse the reader.

3 08, 2020

Words and Understanding What’s Meant

By |2020-08-02T16:10:13-05:00August 3rd, 2020|Make Me Think Monday, Writing Craft|0 Comments

judythemorgan.com, judythewriter.com

Alan Greenspan once said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

To me, the quote describes the biggest issue in communication—written or oral.

An obstacle that’s brought home to me every week with my critique partners. The way critique groups work is pages are shared weekly then participants meet – pre-COVID-19 in person, now via video chat – and discuss what was sent.

Greenspan’s quote becomes reality when we discuss what we’ve sent.

Way too often what my critique partners read is not what I wanted to convey. Sometimes it’s the way I wrote something or the words I chose. Other times it’s a total fail because my critique partners didn’t get what I meant.

It’s no mystery why this happens. Each of us brings a distinct perspective to our critiques. We’re all from unique backgrounds and geographic areas and grew up during different time periods (age span of our members is over thirty years).

Misunderstanding what’s on the page can be the kiss of death for a writer because a reader will stop reading. It’s the reason fiction writers spend hours scrambling for the perfect word and rewriting a sentence a gazillion times to capture the perfect nuance.

Reading an incorrect meaning into words–whether written or spoken–happens too often.

Finding, and using, words—spoken or written—that are mutually understood is critical for effective communication, especially in this tense, trying time with COVID-19 hovering, hurricanes lining up, and important elections on the horizon.

So, let’s disprove Mr. Greenspan’s quote and make what we say, or write, match what we mean to eliminate misunderstanding.

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