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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.

Exercise Wednesday: Tired

April 9, 2014

So this week has been kind of a bear. Work has bubbled over to make a mess all over the virtual stove top of life. It’s been kind of a grind, but there’s been plenty of it. And then there’s the hours outside of work. It’s been the kind of stretch where bed time comes and you haven’t had any fun at all, and you really wish you could fit in a little down time.

Then morning comes and your first words imply that someone’s mom wasn’t a very nice person.

It’s been the kind of stretch where your body may get rest, but your soul feels like it’s in a continual boxing match with a muscular octopus.

Well, guess what? If you feel it when things get tough, there’s a good chance your character feels it, too. So today’s exercise invites you to take advantage of your exhaustion.

What’s that, you say? Life isn’t that hard right now.

Well thanks for sharing that. And bookmark this page and come back when you aren’t so lucky.

For the rest of us, the answer is simple. Your protagonist wakes up and realizes that the same crap will happen today as happened yesterday and will happen tomorrow. And then gets out of bed anyway.

Time limit: 30 minutes. Unless you’re really tired.

How to Manage Criticism

April 7, 2014

“It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” –Virginia Woolf

To grow as writers, we invite responses to our work. We share our writing with other writers and seek their advice; we take classes and are subject to teachers’ critiques; and we send our precious creations out into the world hoping they’ll be accepted for publication and risking the most potent form of criticism of all—rejection.

Since avoiding criticism is not an option, let’s learn how to deal with it. Don’t allow criticism to harm you, your writing, or your writing goals.

What writer hasn’t been the victim of a stinging critique?

Sure it hurts, but criticism’s power to poison isn’t a given. The poison isn’t inherent in what is said, who delivers it, where or when it happens, or how nasty it is. The power of criticism (and rejection) to damage us lies in how we take it in, what we allow it to mean to us, and the way we allow it to affect our work or eat away at our insides.

When we remain deaf and blind to criticism, we lose out on receiving important information to help us grow as writers. Responding to criticism with anger strains relationships with loved ones, fellow writers, and publishing professionals. Allowing criticism to simmer inside, tormenting ourselves by replaying hurtful words in our minds, imagining responses, or fantasizing about revenge sure doesn’t help either.

Worst of all is when we allow ourselves to feel diminished or broken by criticism. Someone criticizes our writing, and we stop writing. Or we lower our sights, and stop working on the novel, deny how important our creative work is to our well being, and chalk it off as some little hobby we have that isn’t all that important. We let someone else’s criticism dictate how we’ll live our lives and dream our dreams. How sad.

Criticism can’t hurt you if you truly embrace the notion that the power of criticism to be constructive, destructive, or neutral resides solely inside of you.


Decide Your Writing Matters. Your deep conviction that your writing matters—really, really matters—will be your suit of armor and  protect you from all obstacles, including the sting of criticism. The famous and successful are not immune to criticism and performance anxiety. They just press forward in spite of it.

Be Ready & Willing. A work in early draft may be too frail and tender for criticism (and so may you). When your work is first forming it is all too easy to get discouraged by other people’s comments. Sometimes writers show their work early because they’re craving encouragement and praise. Be honest with yourself and others about what you’re looking for when you ask people to respond to your work. Don’t offer up your work for evaluation unless you’re ready to hear criticism.

Be Calm, Cool & Collected. For most of us, receiving criticism stirs up strong emotions. Unchecked, your emotions may rise to anger or defensiveness that will negatively affect your ability to receive and process information. Become aware of the physical signs that indicate you’re becoming anxious, and practice relaxation responses such as deep breathing to stay in control in the face of criticism.

Manage Your Self-Talk. Disappointed by criticism, your inner critic may stop you in your tracks because what you’re producing doesn’t match your ideal. This kind of anxiety can be helpful, because it encourages you to recognize work beneath your standard and revise it. In fact, being able to rigorously critique your own work is an essential part of the writing process. The inner critic is only dysfunctional when it can’t make the shift from fault-finding or it makes you feel too bad to continue working. Make it your practice to dispute self-sabotaging thoughts by substituting new, useful thoughts.

Evaluate, Don’t React. Separate the criticism from the person who delivered it, from their tone of voice, and every other emotional context or perception. Start with the assumption there is a nugget of truth in every criticism. Look for that nugget and discard the rest. Often, our beta readers will be right about where the problems in our work lie, but wrong about how to solve them. Listen, but make your own decisions. The pen remains in your hand. And yes, sometimes criticisms are just plain unfair, but probably not as often as we’d like to think. Look for the nugget.

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 and advises on e-marketing. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.


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