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Exercise Wednesday: Impending doom

April 23, 2014

Not too long ago, I had to do something at work that I didn’t want to do. Something I found distasteful and uncomfortable and, I’ll admit it, scary. I had time planned out for it in the afternoon, which made it even worse. It hung out there all day long, a distraction through all the other meetings and activities.

It gave me time to be scared and to consider all the ways I might chicken out in ways that would still let me save face.

I even turned to a co-worker and said, “I don’t want to do this. But I have to do this. If I don’t do this, please just totally kick my butt.” Except I didn’t say butt. Basically, I was saying that if I didn’t jump, I needed to be pushed.

So the time came and time slowed to a glacier-like crawl. Not even that, really. My event was toward the end of a hallway which suddenly became very long. And standing at the end of the hall was man with a blindfold and a cigarette. Months later, I remember the approach to the event more than the event itself.

How did the event turn out? That’s not the point. The point is the tension leading up to the event.

Today’s exercise is to write that sequence for your character, the moments leading up to a Big Scary Event™. How does he or she feel? How do those feeling leak through in gestures or facial expressions? What happens in the moments leading up to the event? What does he or she notice as the event approaches? Is your character looking for an exit, resigned to experience the event, or does your character realize that this event must occur for them to grow somehow?

Do not include the event itself.

Time limit: Although this is a tricky one, you might do better by winging it–just writing and not thinking. 20 minutes.

You can change a scene without overhauling it

April 21, 2014

Back in the 80s, when I was still in diapers (ha!), the people who ran Magnum, PI had a problem. They were expecting the show’s seventh season to be its last. And so, in the last episode of the year, Magnum got shot and was last seen wandering off to heaven.

And then the show got renewed for an eighth season. That’s a problem when the star and lead character seemingly died. At the time, Dallas was still infamous for the season where Bobby Ewing had died, only to have him wind up in the shower because the entire season was a dream.

Surprise! You just wasted a year of TV watching.

So the mantra in dealing with Magnum’s required resurrection was No showers.

How would you deal with this issue, knowing that the episode had been shot and the die had been cast?

The show runners added one scene to the season finale–of a silhouetted man in a doorway.


The way the story went, the man in the doorway was a threat to Magnum’s wife Michelle–a big enough threat that he came back from the dead to take care of him. Sure, it sounds hokey, but it was better than a shower scene and it got us all 12 more episodes.

The point is, the writers had to deal with a major shift and do it in a way that didn’t disrupt everything.

Flash forward to your work–to that one piece you had nailed down. Until, of course, that one piece of criticism that turns your whole piece on its head.

You can’t fix it without making major changes.

Or can you?

As much as I liked Magnum, PI, it’s not high art. There are way fewer moving pieces there than in a novel or even a complex short story. And it’s possible that you have to do major renovations to get your work up to code. But it’s also possible that you can add some shadowing here and there that will result in the changes you need.

Case in point–there were some problems with my entry to the FWA Collection that my writing partner found. Overall, the piece was good, but the changes were significant. Maybe you just can’t do everything I wanted in 1200 words. So I did the following things:

  1. Nothing. I read over my story and thought about her comments. And didn’t do a thing for a week or so. I let the idea simmer.
  2. Read it over again. It turned out, she was right and I needed to make the changes. But I also had some ideas in mind.  So I tweaked this and that and found I needed to cut about 200 words, which I did. (It turns out my story wasn’t quite as tight as I thought.)
  3. Nothing. I let it sit for a while.
  4. Read it over again. It turned out, I didn’t get everything the first time around, so I made some more changes.
  5. Sent it back. This time, it worked.

The point is, you can shade a character a little differently and make it carry a lot of weight. In my current work in progress, my second protagonist is a woman in media. She’s not young, but she’s still hot–mostly because she works her ass of at it. And she carries that burden with increasing disdain as she ages.

What hadn’t fully occurred to me was the type of vile hate mail an attractive woman in a public position would get if she said something controversial. So I made a few changes–not structural, but hopefully they pack the emotional bite I want–and I hope they did the trick.

You might have to tear down and start over. But you might not.

Save the Date: #FWA2014

April 20, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About the Annual Florida Writers Conference—
On the Website Now!

–by Shannon Bell

The Annual Florida Writers Conference in October is FWA’s biggest and best event of the year. Three fun-packed days will allow you to hobnob at genre breakfasts, attend informative workshops, rub elbows with other writers, and maybe even win some incredible door prizes. The event has a little of everything, and your conference price includes the workshops and the food, so all you have to do is bring yourself!

If you’ve been to the conference before, you’re used to all of the action on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. For the first time ever, workshops will be offered on Thursday evening simply because we can’t squeeze them all in during three days. The Thursday workshops will be included in the conference fee for Early Birds, so be sure to register by July 31.

Our faculty will include four New York Times bestselling authors, agents, publishers, producers, and industry professionals in many areas. You will find workshops about writing techniques, editing, marketing, and everything in between. Whether you need help with inspiration, manuscript format, finding your voice, or figuring out what to do with the words once they’re on the page, our incredible faculty will help you find what you need to know.


Stars of Florida Writers:

Discover the Limelight at the Florida Writers Annual Conference

October 23-26, 2014

Orlando Marriott Lake Mary

If you haven’t been in a while, this is the year to go!

Everything you need to know is posted on, and the shopping cart is ready for your conference registration and requests for interviews and critiques. Can’t wait to see you there.


Bell, Shannon


Shannon Bell is a fulltime writer based in Tampa, Florida, with clients from around the world. She has a passion for vampires and has just released her first paranormal romance. She’s married and has a girly girl who wants to be a writer just like mommy.


April 18, 2014

By Bobbie Christmas

I hate to discuss grammar, but an understanding of grammar can turn weak writers into strong ones, so bear with me while I dip briefly into grammar. I promise I’ll quickly get back to careful, clear, creative writing, rather than grammar.

Since high school, we heard we should avoid dangling participles, dangling modifiers, and missing modifiers. As creative writers, we’re warned not to overuse gerunds and never to use them incorrectly. What are all those things, though, and why should we avoid them?

Here’s the good news: You don’t need to know a participle from a gerund. You merely need to use caution with words that end in –ing, for three reasons. First, words that end with -ing often lead to unclear or incorrect sentences. Next, -ing words often get overused and create repetition, and creative writers avoid unintentional repetition. The last reason to avoid –ing words is that active verb forms result in stronger writing. Can you avoid every –ing word? Of course not, but when an active verb can replace an –ing word, it is time to choose the active verb form instead, or at the very least, make sure the –ing word does not lead to confusion or repetition.

This week I edited a book by an obviously well educated person who knew how to set a scene, evoke emotions in the readers, describe feelings, and draw readers into the picture. Where the writer failed though, was in understanding how sentence structure can entirely change the meaning of a sentence. As a result, I was inspired to write about gerunds, participles, and missing modifiers today.

What on earth is a participle, anyway?

If you hate grammar as much as I do, you can zone out for a moment, while I speak of grammar. Watch out, though, because I will soon get back to the subject of creative writing.

Participles are words that have the characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. Merriam-Webster uses as an example the following: In the phrases “the finishing touches” and “the finished product,” “finishing” and “finished” are participles formed from the verb “finish.”

Here’s a participle at the opening of a sentence: “Sitting near the fire, Lisa felt her temperature rise.” That sentence is fine, and here’s why: Every sentence must have a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). The subject (the thing that did the action) is “Lisa.” The predicate (verb) is “felt.” Here’s a participle that dangles: “Sitting by the fire, Lisa’s temperature rose.” Because of the sentence structure, “temperature” becomes the subject of the sentence and “rose” becomes the verb, but the participle, “sitting” now refers to Lisa’s temperature. The sentence therefore says that Lisa’s temperature was sitting by the fire. What? The author meant to say that Lisa was the one sitting by the fire, but because a possessive (Lisa’s) is an adjective, not a noun, it cannot be the subject of a sentence.

I’ll give more examples as I go along, many of which have been lifted out of manuscripts I’ve edited, manuscripts written by educated people, but people who did not recognize when their participles dangled.

A gerund? What’s that?

A gerund is a noun formed from a verb by the addition of -ing. An example of a gerund in use is as follows: “Painting relaxes me.” In the case of that sentence, “painting” is the subject of the sentence and is a verbal form used as a noun. Gerunds appear everywhere; there’s nothing wrong with them, except that too many –ing words can lead to repetition.

Dangling and missing modifiers? Huh?

A dangling modifiers an ambiguous sentence in which a modifying word could be misinterpreted as being associated with a word other than the one intended, or the intended modifier might be nonexistent. Ambiguity can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, and it sometimes leads to unintentional humor. We certainly don’t want our readers to laugh at our writing, do we?

Here’s a sentence with a missing modifier, and I lifted it from an obituary I recently read. “As a child in grammar school, his baby picture was voted Most Beautiful Baby.” What’s missing? The subject of the sentence, as it is written, is “picture,” so it appears that his picture won a prize for being a baby, but his picture was a photograph, not a baby. The writer meant to say something like this: “When Sam was a child in grammar school, his baby picture was voted Most Beautiful Baby.” With the revised, clear sentence, we know that Sam (the subject) was in school when his baby picture won an award.

How can missing or dangling modifiers make a reader chuckle? Here’s an example: “Standing barefoot on the cold, wet sand, my eyes follow the narrow channel out into the lake.” As written, the writer’s eyes stood barefoot on the sand and then followed a channel into a lake. Those eyes were very busy indeed! To correct the sentence, I would change it to one of the following: “Standing barefoot on the cold, wet sand, I let my gaze follow the narrow channel out into the lake” or “While I stand barefoot on the cold, wet sand, my gaze follows the narrow channel out into the lake.” The second revision is best, because it employs strong verbs (stand, follow), rather than the weak one (let) in the first revision. Hmm. I sneaked in a lesson about strong verbs, didn’t I?

Here’s a sentence for you to revise: “Slumping like a rag doll behind the wheel, her tears skidded down her cheeks unchecked.” Stop and think about it, revise and correct it mentally, and then read on.

Okay, you know her tears were not slumped like a rag doll, so how did you recast the sentence to fill in the missing modifier? You might have revised it this way: “She slumped like a rag doll behind the wheel, and her tears skidded down her cheeks unchecked.”

How would you fix the following sentences?

1. Looking up, the room had grown dark.

2. While carrying me around the room in front of other guests, her laughter covered my embarrassment.

3. Growing up, my father used to read to me.

You are now aware of the issue of dangling modifiers, so let me give you some instances of errors that made me chuckle, although the writers did not mean to make me laugh:

1. While traveling, my house was without power for two days. (I wonder where the house went when it was traveling.)

2. Rising back to a sitting position, her sodden hair began to drip. (I’m envious. My hair lies flat; it never sits.)

3. Drawing in a strangled gasp of air, his eyes suddenly opened. (I hope his eyes didn’t hyperventilate.)

4. After a few moments of continued walking, the wall of trees abruptly disappeared. (Those trees must have been tired from all that continued walking.)

What did you see that many of these erroneous sentences have in common? Did you spot it? Many begin with introductory phrases. How can you be sure your sentences are correct? Examine every introductory phrase in your writing and be sure that it does not displace the intended subject of the sentence. Easiest of all, watch every word that ends in –ing and be sure that those words are not overused and that they do not modify the wrong word or a missing word.

Best of all, find those –ing words and revise the sentence in a way that uses active verb forms, and your repetition will reduce while your sentences grow stronger.

Yours in writing,

Bobbie Christmas

b. christmas

About the Author: Bobbie Christmas, professional editor and award-winning writer, founded Zebra Communications in 1992 to help writers prepare books for publication. A lifetime member of FWA, she oversees the Editors Helping Writers service. Because she cures ailing manuscripts, people refer to her as a book doctor. Her website is, and her e-mail address is

Exercise Wednesday: Not a love name

April 16, 2014

A Facebook acquaintance (not really a friend, because I’ve never met her), said that she bent down to tie his cleats. On rising, she was ready to hug him. He leaned in close and, in what she thought would be a special moment, whispered, “Please don’t call me any love names. It’s embarrassing.”

My son is considerably older than that. He can tie his own cleats and drive himself to games. As a doting parent and sometimes coach, I’ve seen plenty of games and plenty of parents. And at some point, for some of them, “Come on honey,” turns into, “What are you swinging at?” or “Hit the cut off man! Come on!”

Not like this

There’s a kind of love between a parent and a child that allows that parent to get on the child’s back when the child has been repeatedly drilled on hitting the cut off–that is a second baseman or shortstop in the shallow outfield who can throw home or redirect the throw to get an out elsewhere. Especially when that child was yelling the same thing at the television when a big leaguer didn’t hit the cut off.

It’s not abusive. It’s not screaming at the kid when a pitcher snaps off a curve ball that bends the umpire’s knees. It’s not screaming at him for diving for a hard line drive and having the ball roll off the tip of his glove. It’s a tiny bit of almost tough love because you want him to do his best.

Today’s exercise is directed specifically at characters who are parents. Not just parents, but parents of kids who aren’t toddlers any more, and who have abilities and have mastered some things. Kids whose minds are everyplace except where they need to be at a specific moment.

If you’re a parent, you know what I mean (or you will). If you’re not, this is a good way to expand your imagination.

Write a scene that would have once used love names, but doesn’t any more. How does the parent react? How does the child react? How do other people around react?

Time limit: 30 minutes

You Call This a Mini-Conference?

April 14, 2014

By Shannon Bell

Are you looking to get your feet wet with a mini-conference before you commit to the annual conference in October? On April 26, the Writer’s Nest Mini Conference will be held at the Hilton Orlando in Altamonte Springs, featuring plenty of faculty members presenting on a variety of topics, agents waiting to hear your pitch, and publishers you can talk to.

We are fortunate to have Davis Bunn as our keynote speaker. He has sold over 7 million books in 16 languages and has topped countless bestseller lists. He teaches at Oxford for half the year and spends the other half in Florida. His novel, Rare Earth, just won him his fourth Christy Award for Excellence in Fiction for 2013.

We also have agents from prestigious literary agencies from around the country, including New York, Boston, and Seattle. These include Les Stobbe, arguably the most powerful agent in the inspirational fictional field. You will have the opportunity to hobnob with these agents and pitch your story to them!


  • Outlining: How to Transform this from a burden Into an Explosive Boost for Your Writing
  • A Baker’s Dozen Rules for YA Writers
  • 10 Hot Legal Tips for Writers
  • Shameless Self-Promotion
  • How an Agent Evaluates Query Letters: An Insider’s View
  • How to Enter FWA’s Collection Contest
  • Never Lose Your Work Again
  • How to Develop Well-Rounded Characters
  • Using Film Writing Techniques to Strengthen Your Novel Writing
  • Fact vs. Fiction: The Business of Publishing
  • Writing for the Inspirational Market
  • Hook ’em, Writer
  • How to Develop Well-Rounded Characters
  • Using Romance to Increase Sales
  • Screenplays 101: The Basics of Script Writing
  • Negotiating a Book Contract
  • Expanding Your Role as Writer
  • The Essentials Required for Publishing a Book, Part 1: Editing & Book Design
  • The Essentials Required for Publishing a Book, Part 2: eBook Formatting, Distribution, & Marketing


Regardless of where you are in your writing, you can benefit from what the workshops have to offer. Our faculty includes some of the best in the business, including Erica Ridley, a bestselling romance writer. Whether you need the push to get started, you’re looking for that “hook,” or you are ready to start marketing, you will find valuable information that will launch you in the right direction.

There’s a lot going on at the mini conference – and that’s why it’s so hard to believe it’s a “mini.” If this has so much packed into one day, just think what the annual conference in October will hold! You don’t want to miss out on either one!


3rd Annual Writer’s Nest Mini-Conference

April 26, 2014

Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs

350 S Northlake Boulevard

Altamonte Springs, FL 32701 (just off I-4 at RT 436)


This is one of seven mini-conferences that FWA is hosting in 2014. Mini-conferences are an economical way to grow your knowledge and network. Only $69 for FWA members, $89 for nonmembers. Continental breakfast, snacks, and lunch are included. Oh, and by the way, if you decide to spend Friday night at the hotel, we’ve secured rooms for $99 if you mention you’re with FWA.

For more information and to make your conference reservation, please visit You can also email to ask any questions.

Bell, Shannon


Shannon Bell is a fulltime writer based in Tampa, Florida, with clients from around the world. She has a passion for vampires and has just released her first paranormal romance. She’s married and has a girly girl who wants to be a writer just like mommy.


The How I Met Your Mother finale and how hard our craft is

April 11, 2014

Over the long course of this blog, I’ve used television shows to illustrate concepts in our craft. TV is often a medium that’s more shared than books. I could reference what Robert B. Parker did in Spenser but you probably haven’t read that. Or I could talk about what Mr. Grey did to Anastasia in 50 Shades of Grey, but I haven’t read that. And I can’t use YouTube clips of a book as a quick illustration.

Last month the long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother ended after nine years. My son–a faithful watcher–hated the finale, with reason.

The series was supposed to be about how the main character–Ted Moseby–met his kids’ mom (duh). It starts with Ted being introduced to Robin–Aunt Robin. Ted falls in love with and dates Robin twice during the series. But Robin also dates Barney Stinson, a womanizing cad, twice in the series. And the last two seasons concentrate almost completely on how Barney casts aside his old ways and falls completely and truly for Robin. The last season is entirely based around Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend.

In addition, it took eight season to meet the mom. Her name winds up being Tracy, and she impacts everyone’s lives. It’s her who tells Barney to stop screwing around and be with the one he loves–which causes him to propose to Robin. She’s the one who Robin runs into–literally–when she has a last-minute set of jitters. She talks Robin down and the wedding happens.

After nine years of waiting, in the finale, Ted finally, finally meets the mother. And it was beautiful.

It was the perfect ending.

But it wasn’t the ending. The ending went beyond that. Robin and Barney got divorced. Barney went back to womanizing and wound up getting a woman (known only as #31) pregnant. Robin becomes terribly unhappy after the divorce and decides not to hang with her friends any more.

And worst of all, the mom gets sick and dies, leaving Ted alone.

And the ending winds up being Ted–with the blessing of his children–asking out Robin again.

When LOST ended, fans criticized the writers for not having a plan to end the show. This show’s runners had a plan. It was so well developed that they filmed the scene where the kids give Ted permission to date Robin in the show’s second year.

At the time, it was the right ending, but then a few things happened.

  • The characters of Barney and Robin (and the actors Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders) had chemistry that matched Ted and Robin’s. The writers capitalized on this and the on the rich characters they’d built to sell the new relationship, and they made us believe in that relationship.
  • They also built a rich character in the mom, Tracy McConnell (played by Cristin Milioti), that fans grew to very quickly like as a character, and like with Ted. And because the story was one of Ted’s long, faithful wait for the one, the fans were thrilled when they finally met. When the rumors and foreshadowing of her death started, fans were frustrated and annoyed.
  •  The show was good enough and popular enough that it ran far longer than the expected four or five seasons. After the fourth or fifth season, the story of Ted winding up with Robin would have worked. In the intervening seasons, the characters’ growth made that ending impossible. (Or as Barney might say possimbible.)

Even still, the ending was still just a few scenes from perfect. The first half of the finale dealt with the immediate aftermath of the wedding and drew us to the point where Ted and Tracy met in the rain at the train station. The second half dealt mostly with the future in which all the bad things happened. Within minutes, the payoffs of the last nine years–the happiness found by four of the six characters–was shattered. And the perfect ending was replaced with Ted repeating a scene from the series pilot when he tries to win Robin with  blue French horn.

Technically the ending was well-crafted. It tied the show in a knot and there were reasons for everything that happened. Except it didn’t work. It was 30 minutes too much. Over the space of more then 100 hours of content, this show was just half an hour off.

That’s still impressive, and it’s a testament to how hard our craft is.


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