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Exercise Wednesday: Challenge Accepted

November 5, 2014

Last week, our exercise had your character forced into facing his or her greatest fear. This week, we’re in a bit different approach to the same outcome. This time, instead of being forced into facing a fear, they’re challenged into facing it. This isn’t being dumped into a room full of snakes. Rather, it’s being presented with a challenge and either deciding to face it, or to turn away–or something in between.

For me, last year, the challenge was to face the dreaded Electroshock Therapy–the last obstacle in Tough Mudder. The previous year, I had a bad exper…well, you can see for yourself…. (Some of those yellow wires have substantial electric charges in them. That’s why I fell down. Multiple times.)

I’m the guy who got his money’s worth. I wish I hadn’t. Last year, when I ran the same event, I was all but freaking out all the way through. As a result, we linked arms and went through. We got it done, but I’m not sure I would have done it without the team going through.

How does your character accept his or her challenge? Or do they run away?

Time limit: 30 minutes


Using a Style Guide

November 3, 2014

The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16th_editionIf you are serious about your writing and want to produce professional work you, should be familiar with style guides and how they’re used.

A style guide is a reference that sets standards for written documents to maintain consistency in writing and formatting within the document and across documents. Style guides exist for certain fields, publications, and organizations, and can be created for projects.
Most readers of this blog should be familiar with the AP Stylebook (The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law) and the Chicago Manual of Style. You might also want to learn about The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World, because writing for the Internet is different than writing for print.

The AP Stylebook is the standard style guide for journalism and is used by newspapers, broadcasters, magazines and public relations firms. Some publications and organizations have their own style guides.

At over 1,000 pages, the standard guide for the publishing industry is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), now in its 16th edition. I own the book and subscribe to it online. I find the online version easier to search, but I actually like reading sections of the print book for fun. And I am such a word nerd, I am absolutely gleeful when the monthly Q&A is posted online because it’s both educational and entertaining.

Wondering whether “e-book” or “ebook” is correct? What is the proper way to make a word ending in an “s” possessive? CMOS will tell answer this. It also includes scads of book formatting and typographic advice that is invaluable to the do-it-yourself publisher.

There are sections on manuscript preparation and editing, the parts of a book, and rights and permissions as well as grammar, punctuation and usage.

A style guide does not replace a good dictionary and knowledge about the rules of grammar and punctuation. It seeks to pick up where dictionaries rulebooks leave off. Guides exist because style and usage is always changing, and they adapt the “rules” to the current culture and a specific industry in a detailed manner.

When you’re editing your work, you might also create your own style guide as a supplement to the main guide you’re using. You could list all your character and place names, for example, to help you make sure they remain consistent throughout.

You can’t be expected to know every aspect of a 1,000-page style guide. But do learn to use one and understand when to refer to it. And make sure before you hire an editor to ask what she’ll use as a style reference.

Mary Ann de StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

Conference Wrap Up

November 2, 2014

By Shannon Bell

A Hollywood-themed 2014 Florida Writer’s Conference just came to a close where close to 500 people were in attendance throughout the three days. It kicked off with a visit from New York Times bestseller Marie Bostwick and came to a close with Mary Burton showing a clip of Bostwick presenting the theme for next year’s collections…revisions.

The genre breakfasts were a hit as usual, with people sitting down to check out the various genres they can write in. Business cards were passed out and coffee was free poured as people got ready to head into the various workshops.

Attendees could find workshops on just about anything this year, including how to market with social media, how to clean up a manuscript, and even how to write an LGBT character. The workshops started early and continued on through the late afternoon.

Friday’s dinner was well attended and Saturday’s had an even larger turnout as a result of the RPLA awards being presented. Many winners walked away with hardware and many in attendance swore they would be the ones to get it next year.

Sunday was the closing ceremonies, including last minute door prizes. A few mini conferences were given away as prizes and the grand prizes included that of a full 2015 conference and a Hollywood package that included dinner and movie tickets for a year.

All in all, 2014’s conference was a huge success and writers were found helping writers throughout the entire event.

We’re already well in the throes of preparing for 2015: October 14-18, 2015, “Changing Times,” Hilton Orlando Altamonte Springs. Check the website in the coming months for details.

Bell, Shannon

Shannon Bell is a full-time writer based in Tampa, Florida, with clients from around the world. She has a passion for vampires and during the 2014 annual conference publicized her first paranormal romance by donating promotional lanyards to attendees—and didn’t we all love not having to clip our badges to our clothes! Shannon is married and has a girly girl who wants to be a writer just like mommy. She’s also the Marketing Chairperson for 2015.

Twitter Action at the FWA Conference

October 31, 2014

The FWA Conference was full of firsts for people and one thing had everyone buzzing, or should we say, tweeting. Jennie Jarvis, Faculty Chair, opened up a contest that involved conference attendees tweeting throughout the weekend. One lucky winner would be able to win a free mini-conference.Twitter Contest4C

As if tweeting wasn’t enough of a reward in its own, the contest had even more people taking to their Twitter app, snapping photos and squeezing as much as they could into 140 characters.

Some people were even going so far as to peek over the shoulders of others who had their phones out to see what the tweet topic was.

The Twitter Contest winner was Carrie Morgan, who spent the bulk of her conference downtime sending tweets. @C_T_Morgan shared such tweets as “It’s great to be around writers It so is. #MyPeople #FWA2014” and “If problem cld be solved by 1 honest conversation btwn hero & heroine, then it’s not really a prob & the puppeteer’s strings show. #FWA2014”

Carrie’s closing tweet from the conference says it all… “Why did I tweet like a madwoman during #FWA2014? Because it’s fun & because it was another way to meet/connect with FWA’ers & other writers.”

Looks like we have a tradition. Expect another Twitter Contest at next year’s annual conference October 14-18, 2015, at the Hilton Orlando Altamonte Springs. Who knows? We may hold similar contests at the seven (and counting) mini-conferences planned for 2015. Info will be posted to the website in the coming weeks.

Exercise Wednesday: Your worst fear

October 29, 2014

Remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they found the well of the souls and it was full of snakes? If I were Indiana Jones, I would have said, “Their headpeace of the staff of Ra only has markings on one side. They’ll never, ever find it. Throw the sand back in place and we’ll run some tree branches back and forth across and they’ll never know we were here.”

I hate snakes so much that I would risk worldwide Nazi domination to avoid repelling down into a big room full of them.

I have this phobia. I might fear being alone or not knowing the answer, but I would feel the most physical discomfort from being trapped in a room full of snakes. If you were in the doorway, I would run you over and not even think twice about it.

With Halloween upon us, today’s exercise is to place your character face-to-face with his biggest fear, with the thing that makes her blood run cold. Put him in a room with no way out. Force her closer and closer until it’s clear she can’t avoid her destiny.

How does it feel? What is she thinking as she slowly realizes she can’t avoid it? What does he do when he knows there’s no way out? Are the hands wet? Is the mouth dry? Who put them there and why? And can they retain sanity long enough to figure out how to get out?

This isn’t something supernatural. It’s a real fear from real things and it could, at least theoretically, really happen. And that makes it scariest of all.

Time limit: 30 seconds


October 27, 2014

By Alison Nissen


I am often overwhelmed by my own credentials. They aren’t really that impressive, but I fret, nonetheless.

I would review the literary canon at my collegiate library and think: Wow, how am I supposed to read ALL of that? Then I would take, from the shelves, classics. I would hold them, open them, smell them. I would rub their worn leaves between my fingers, caressing the pulpy paper. The musty scent of the stacks would engulf me and I would spend the next hour perusing Hawthorne, Hemmingway, or Homer. I’d review the Forward. I’d test the weight. I’d read the first and last lines. Then, I’d put it back.

I would wander back to my dorm and hunker down for a night with Fanny Flagg or Robert Ludwig to keep me company.

Why? Because I didn’t really want to READ the classics. I just wanted to say that I’ve read them. (Shh, let’s just keep that a secret between you and me.)

That was 30 years ago. Today, once in a blue moon, I’ll open a classic but for the most part, I’m happy to take my own professorial advice: Read, read anything, just don’t stop reading.

So, I read New York Times Best Sellers and novels written by friends and book club recommendations and (especially) things my kids recommend—except World War Z. I don’t do Zombies.

That brings me to what I want to write. When I close my eyes, I envision a somber library with bookshelves filled with classics and me, the embodiment of classic: refined and dignified. Then I open my eyes and look around. I see layers of photographs and half-written essays and the morning’s coffee cup. I see journals of notes and magazines and piles of suspense or chick-lit novels.

Maybe Hemmingway set out to write a classic, but as a friend often reminds me, look how he turned out—a bottle of booze in one hand and a gun in the other.

The question then to ask yourself is, when you close your eyes and envision the novelist’s library, does it match what you really want to read? One thing is clear, mine doesn’t.

Writing the book you want to read, then is simple. Look around your space. Write for the person who sits in your chair. Me, I’m writing for the crazy mess of a mom who is more than happy to read cheap literature. Who are you writing for?

Alison Teichgraeber Nissen

Alison Nissen holds an MA in Literature from Norwich University and taught writing and literature at Houston Community College. She is also the Small Group Leader for FWA’s Lakeland Writers. She lives in Central Florida with her husband and has watched her four children blossom in to energetic adults.

Read Alison’s Tales from the Laundry Room at

The Secret to NaNoWriMo

October 24, 2014

By CP Bialois

CP Author PhotoHello everyone! Hope you’re all doing good today!

I’m sure most of you know what NaNoWriMo is, but for those that have just heard of it, it’s National Novel Writing Month. It’s a wonderful event that happens every year where writers of all skill sets come together to write 50k in 30 days every November. The best thing about NaNo is meeting other authors and hearing their stories, tips, and tricks for “winning” and writing their novel. Just like any walk of life, each person has a plan or routine they follow that works for them.

For some, it’s staying up on caffeine for four days straight and writing all 50k words in the first week, while others like to stick to the daily word count goal. It’s also the time of year you’ll see advice from everyone on how to prepare, execute, and cross the finish line. All of it is great advice, but typical of my way of thinking, I’m delving deeper.

One of the biggest things you’ll hear or discover about NaNoWriMo is it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Like all things, it helps to come into it prepared, but for some it’s more fun to see what shakes loose as we pants our way through it.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a pantser. I don’t get along with outlines at all. Personally, I love them and wished I could use them as they’re fantastic tools, but my characters tend to do the talking so it’s easier for me to shut up and write their adventure. The best I’ve managed to follow an outline so far is I once kept one line or idea from a two page outline. What can I say? I love to do things the hard way.

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonThe thing about NaNoWriMo I learned early on is that you can be as prepared as possible and still stumble. While the “official” goal is to write 50k, the underlying goal is to write as much as you can. It’s about creating and establishing the habit of writing every day, or as much as you can depending on what life throws at you. If you finish your book and it’s not 50k, that’s all right. Work on another project if you like. It happened to me last year (or in one of the Camps, I can’t remember which) and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every book is going to be 50, 60, 95, or 115k. it’s just the way it works sometimes.

Remember what I said about stumbling despite being prepared? Sounds a little on the weird side, right? That’s the thing. You need a certain tenacity and dedication to continue writing throughout the challenge.

Here’s where I get all Yoda-ish. I look at the challenge as a battle of attrition. During NaNo, I’ve found it’s best to write every day even if it’s only a few words whether we feel like it or not. It becomes harder and harder after the first week or two for those not used to it. Throw in the countless issues of the real world like pets, jobs, and family and things can look bleak. That’s when the tenacity comes to play. For all my fellow sports nuts out there, think of it as a gut check. Even if it’s only a sentence or paragraph you write, it’s more than you had before, right? Any progress is good, so try to continue pushing as much as you can.

That brings me to another awesome part of NaNoWriMo: The Write-ins. Whether you’re online or have your fellow NaNos near you to meet up, it’s a great opportunity to discuss any problems you may have with your plot or characters. It’s something we all go through at some point and it’s amazing how someone may have an idea that’s so simple it’s freaking awesome and just like that you’re writing away again. I’ve been blessed to have found some of the greatest people through NaNoWriMo that I can’t imagine what my writing career would be like without them.

In the end, NaNoWriMo is about you getting the most out of the experience you can while accomplishing something you though you may never have done. The best advice I can offer is be tenacious and enjoy the ride. Who knows? You may just surprise yourself.


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