Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tips to Take Your Dialogue to the Next Level

          By guest blogger Melissa Tagg

If you asked me about my faaaavorite part of writing a book, I’d tell you it’s the part when that first shiny copy arrives on your doorstep and you hold it up in the air like Mufasa displaying Simba at the edge of a cliff in Africa…

Wait, nobody else does that?

But one of my other favorite parts—which doesn’t require a “Circle of Life” singalong—is writing dialogue.

My name is Melissa Tagg. And I. Love. Dialogue.

I've heard awesome author Rachel Hauck give the wise advice to “tell the story between the quotes” many times. It’s such good advice. So much of life happens in spoken words, doesn't it?

And to me, dialogue can make or break a story. Here are a few tips for helping our dialogue sizzle instead of settle:

1. Let characters actually SAY what they’re thinking.

Sometimes when I’m writing that first draft I’ll find myself trapping my character’s best lines in his own head. Someone will say something to him, he’ll give an expected and not all that brilliant response, while thinking something funny or sarcastic or argumentative in his head.

But because he chooses not to actually say it, I rob the moment of some great tension. Here’s an example. In the opening scene of my book From the Start, my heroine—Kate, a romantic movie scriptwriter—is talking to an associate producer who has no idea who she is…and has just called her latest screenplay “sentimental fluff.” This is how things looked in the original version:

The AD poked her with his elbow. “Hey, I don’t think I gave you a chance to introduce yourself. You are…”

“Kate Walker.” The writer of that sentimental fluff.

It’s fine like that. We get to see her annoyance. We get to hear her wry internal voice.

But why trap the tension inside Kate alone?

The AD poked her with his elbow. “Hey, I don’t think I gave you a chance to introduce yourself. You are…”

“Kate Walker.” She pulled her hand from her coat pocket and held it out. “The writer of that sentimental fluff.”

His grip on her palm went lax.

Now we get to see the AD’s discomfort and embarrassment and the awkward laughter of the people around them.  The tension stretches outward.

2. Make use of rhythm.

There is something awesome about dialogue that moves in pulsing beats…that clips along at the perfect pace.

I wish there was a simple three-step plan for developing rhythm in our dialogue. But I think it’s more about feeling than process—feeling when it’s right to speed up and then slow it down, break abruptly or let a stretching pause linger.

What’s helped me is watching movies or TV shows where the dialogue sizzles. Like the 1940 movie His Girl Friday. It stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell and was a total game-changer when it came to dialogue in movies. For the first time, the director let characters talk over and interrupt each other. Grant and Russell’s dialogue is verbal ping-pong—rapid, witty and rhythmic. Like in this scene:

3. Push your character’s words past her comfort level.

We want our characters to sound like real people. But we don’t always want their conversations to sound like real life conversations. Because often in real life, we don’t let ourselves say…

…the vulnerable things.
…the mean things.
…the risky things.
…the uncomfortable things.
…the true things.

We hold back, we don’t go those places. Sometimes with very good reason.

But in a story, it’s so, SO much better when we force our character to go places in her conversations she’d rather not. To say the things we might not be brave enough to say in real life. It can make for some amazing dialogue on the page…and cool stirrings in the reader’s heart.

Those are three bigger-picture, slightly advanced techniques. Want some quick tips?

1.    Watch Gilmore Girls. I’m totally serious. It has some of the smartest and best dialogue out there…and it’s on Netflix, so binge-away!

2.    Read your dialogue out loud. You’ll quickly catch the spots that aren’t working.

3.    Anytime you can replace a dialogue tag with an action beat, don’t even hesitate…just do it.

4.    Embrace sentence fragments to your heart’s content.

I could go on talking dialogue forever but I should probably make myself stop and instead ask, what tips have YOU found for writing great dialogue? Any movies or TV shows that spark your dialogue creativity?

For a chance to win a copy of From the Start, leave a comment!


Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She writes romantic comedy for Bethany House, and is also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Her latest book, From the Start, just released this month. Check out the prequel e-novella Three Little Words free. Melissa blogs regularly at at http://www.melissatagg.com and loves connecting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, April 20, 2015


 Janet here. April is a crazy month for me so I updated my 2009 post on writing emotion. If you’re writing and want inspiration or insight into craft, don’t overlook the wealth of information in the Seekerville archives.

In order to sell or keep selling books, writers must make readers care about their characters and become emotionally invested in their lives. To create tension our characters need strong internal and external goals, strong believable motivations and strong internal, external conflict.  

No matter how well we do all this, our books will disappoint if the story doesn't produce strong emotion in our readers. As Vince said in his Seekerville post "What Mega-Selling Authors Know That You Could Use to Boost Sales"—“Fans read romances to satisfy emotional needs that when neglected become cravings.”

If you don't feel emotion, your readers won't.
To provide the emotional read readers crave, writers need to dig into our psyche and draw upon every scrap of emotion we've experienced in order to step into our characters' shoes. To dig deep and open our hearts on the page carries a cost. The reason writers are physically exhausted after writing emotional scenes.

Thankfully we can use craft tools to help produce emotion in readers and take our novels to the next level—engaging readers, satisfying that craving Vince spoke about, while taking the book to SOLD.

Margie Lawson in her “Empowering Characters’ Emotions” class recommends giving characters strong physical reactions that show how characters feel, instead of using the easy way out and telling readers. To avoid overused or clich├ęd
reactions we don't use the first thing that pops into our minds.

From my debut novel, Courting Miss Adelaide, Love Inspired Historical:

“He tried to lift his foot, to climb the steps leading into the house of worship, but he couldn't move. Sweat beaded his forehead and the lump swelled in his throat until he felt he’d suffocate. He bent over and dragged oxygen into his lungs.

A cloud passed between him and the sun, covering him in shadow. A sudden chill streaked down his spine. He couldn't move. Couldn't pray, couldn't worship. 

Too much stood between him and God.”

In the excerpt above, I used physical reactions to show the character’s struggle with attending church. Hopefully this is an emotional scene for readers who know Charles’s churchgoing father was abusive and his childhood prayers for God’s help seemed to go unanswered, destroying his faith.

Make readers laugh
Note: I also varied sentence structure, repeated words, and put the last sentence by itself for emphasis. Margie Lawson teaches that the words we use and how we put those words on the page helps build emotion.

2. ADD SPECIFIC DETAILS TO BUILD EMOTION IN THE READER: Specific details—descriptions, senses, memories—bring characters alive. Don’t give readers some vague, colorless version of a person. Characters are shaped by their pasts, by their environment, by how they are or were treated. You can build any emotion by using details that reveal how the character sees his world.

From Courting Miss Adelaide:

“She’d been eight, when her mother, sick with influenza, sent Adelaide to stay with Winifred Cook’s family. Disorder reigned in the Cook household, but Winnie’s parents tucked the children into bed with a prayer and a kiss. What a revelation to discover not all children lived in a neat but silent house.

For weeks after returning home, Adelaide’s skin ached to be touched.
She’d tried to keep the warm feeling by stroking her arms and hugging herself, but it hadn't been the same.”

could have had Adelaide just think or say that her mother never touched or rarely talked to her. Instead I used details from her past to let readers see the emotional deprivation of her childhood.

From Courting Miss Adelaide:

“Adelaide stepped inside, but didn't dust the counter, didn't wash the windowpane. Instead, she stood transfixed, watching Charles’s muscles as he pushed that broom like a madman.

A desirable, intelligent man cared enough about her to worry, to take a burden from her shoulders.
Like a husband would.

The thought took her breath away, zinging hope through her, hope for a husband, and hope for children. She shoved it down. She had no claim to Charles, no need of a man. She took care of herself. And if God willed, she could take care of a child, too.
But oh, for a moment, she wanted to believe in the fantasy.”

Make them cry
I list what Adelaide didn't do to show her emotional state. I italicized one thought, the stunning thought, for emphasis. Through her introspection, readers see the core issues for Adelaide. When writers show how the character feels with tight, strong lines, the reader understands and cares.

4. USE ACTIONS TO CONVEY EMOTION THAT TUGS AT READERS: Study movies or people watch to learn what actions convey which emotion. Check out Marilyn Kelly’s book, Eleven Senses, Who Knew? if you need help.

In this passage from Courting Miss Adelaide, Adelaide is talking to frightened seven-year-old Emma at the breakfast table:

““Tell me, honey, why?” Adelaide continued massaging Emma’s back, and waited, every muscle in her body as tense as the small ones under her fingers.

Emma’s mouth tightened. She picked up her spoon and began shoveling the oatmeal into her mouth, avoiding the question.”

I do a little telling here…avoiding the question…to show that Adelaide understands Emma is hiding something, adding to Adelaide’s alarm and motivating her next action in the story.

5. HEIGHTEN EMOTION THROUGH DIALOGUE: Use not only what the character says and how they say it, but also what the character doesn't say. Dialogue furthers the plot and develops characterization, but also is a great tool for an emotional read.

From Courting Miss Adelaide:

““I remember how the hair on my neck would rise, how my gut would knot.” Charles swallowed against the old familiar lump in his throat. “How I wanted to run, but knew running would only make it worse. It was the same for you, wasn’t it?”

Slowly, William nodded.

Charles lifted William’s chin with a palm. “I want you to know something else.”
The boy’s tear-filled eyes, the color of the sea on a cloudy day, met his.
“It wasn’t your doing. None of it was your fault, William. You were never the reason for what was said or done. Never.””

This scene is pivotal for Charles and William’s healing from the childhood abuse they experienced and was emotional to write. If you’re unaffected by your scenes, dig deeper and use dialogue or one of the other tools, or all of them, to stir you and your readers.

6. USE SETTING TO INCREASE EMOTION: Setting can mirror or contrast the character’s mood. Setting can awaken or trigger memories characters doesn't want to face. Setting can build emotion in the reader.

From Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, Love Inspired Historical, May 2009:

“Luke trudged off, striding along the bank, putting distance between him and Mary. A gentle breeze stirred in the scanty collection of leaves still clinging to the trees, fighting their fate. A fate no one could evade.

Along the water’s edge, a fat bullfrog croaked at his approach, then leapt below the surface with a splash, as if unable to abide Luke’s presence. Well, he could hardly abide it either.

Ahead, Doc and the boys gathered their gear. Luke hollered an excuse about getting home, not stopping to look at their catch, all too aware of the crestfallen faces watching him go.

Dusk had fallen, shrouding him in twilight. He walked on, alone, the burden of his mistakes pressing against his lungs until he could barely breathe.”

The way Luke sees his world reveals his sense of failure and self hatred. Decide how your character feels, then use setting, introspection and word choice to up emotion.

7. USE SYMBOLS TO HEIGHTEN EMOTION: Tangibles can stand for abstracts/intangibles like a mood or an idea, and take on special significance. Symbols are probably already in our stories. Emphasize them to add emotional depth.

From Courting the Doctor’s Daughter.

“Turning to go, his gaze swept the enormous breakfront filled with medicine. Something stopped him, made him open the glass door. Finding what he sought, Luke clutched his remedy, then walked to the table, dropped into a chair and set the bottle in front of him. Doc had said the contents of this bottle mattered. Had been part of God’s plan.

Joseph’s suffering had led him to find this medicine, to dedicate his life to healing. God had used this remedy to bring Mary, Doc, and the boys into his life. The liquid caught the light from above, glistened with a shimmer of gold. An unbroken bottle, unblemished, and shining like a new start. Or so he saw it now.”

The remedy/medicine is a symbol I used throughout the book. I used it to create conflict and represent failure early on, but as Luke grows and changes, his remedy stands for hope, a new beginning.


Look for these tools in this excerpt with Charles and Emma, a frightened young orphan, from Courting Miss Adelaide:

“Tears spilled over her pale lower lashes, becoming visible now that they were wet and spiky. If he didn't do something, she’d start bawling. The prospect sent him behind his desk. He jerked open the top drawer and rummaged through it until he found what he sought—a bag of peppermints.
“When I was a youngster,” he began, “on my way home from school, I’d pass Mrs. Wagner’s house. She’d be rocking on her porch, wearing a gray tattered sweater, no matter how hot the day...”

Emma stopped crying, but looked far from cheerful.

“She’d call me up on the porch, ask if I was studying and behaving. Then, she’d reach into the pocket of her sweater and pull out a peppermint.”

Charles took a candy from the bag. Emma’s eyes widened. “She’d say, ‘You’re a smart boy, Charles. Work hard and one day you’ll make something of yourself.’ And, she’d drop the candy into my palm—like this.”

He opened Emma’s small hand and let a peppermint fall into her palm. When the corners of her mouth turned up in a smile, a peculiar feeling shot through him. As it had for him all those years ago, the candy once again worked wonders.

His entire adult life, he’d kept a stash of peppermints around, to remind him of Mrs. Wagner, the one person who had believed in him, who’d given him a desire to improve his lot. The candy still tasted as sweet as her words.”

Charles's dialogue and introspection reveal the significance of peppermints, for him the symbol of hope, and the reminder of the one person who believed in him. The details of this memory and Charles’s compassion for this frightened little girl touched me, the writer, and hopefully touches the reader.

When readers—and editors—are given an emotional read, they can’t toss the book aside. Look for passages in your WIP that reveal how the character feels. If you want to increase the emotion, try using one or all seven of these tools.

I brought apple fritters and fruit to jump start our day. Lunch is a trio of chicken, tuna and ham salad. Perhaps Patti Jo will bring peach pie for dessert.

Share a symbol from a story you’re read or written and what it represented for a chance to win With This Kiss contemporary and historical novella collections.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Weekend Edition

Our library pouch winners are: 

Weekend: DebH
Monday: Jamie Adams
Tuesday: Heidi Robbins
Wednesday: Ms. Zey Zey
Thursday:  Pat Jeanne Davis
Friday: Kav
Saturday: Kelly Bridgewater

We Have Winners

  Giveaway rules can be found here. Please drop us a line to claim your giveaway at seekers@seekerville.net. All prizes not claimed in 8 weeks go back into the prize vault. We wish we could contact all our winners individually, but we'd rather write books! And P.S. - if we forget to send  your prize DO let us know after 8 weeks per our rules. 

Winner of a set of the Historical & Contemporary Collection of With This Kiss is Tracey Hagwood.

Monday Missy Tippens celebrated National Library Week! The theme of the week is  Unlimited possibilities @ your library! Miss shared about Unlimited Possibilities in our writing. Winner of one digital copy of her upcoming Love Inspired book, The Doctor's Second Chance, is Donna. Winner of an Amazon e-book copy of With This Kiss Contemporary Collection is Kav and winner of the With This Kiss Historical Collection is Bettie.

Tuesday Myra Johnson talked about her experiences using library programs for book promotion. She shared some of the things she's learned about working with libraries, including what works and what doesn't. Becky (OhioHomeSchool) is the winner of The Oregon Trail Romance Collection, which includes Myra's novella Settled Hearts.

Wednesday Debby Giusti  discussed Brainstorming--A Great Tool for Writers, with information on both group and solo brainstorming techniques.  Becky Dempsey is the winner of Debby's latest Love Inspired Suspense, Stranded, along with a surprise gift.

Thursday  Victoria Bylin visited to say she wouldn't be an author today without libraries. Hallee Bridgeman and Patti Jo Moore (CatMom) are the winners of Victoria's latest release Together With You.

Friday Seekerville welcomed author Julie Jarnigan! She shared about "The Organized Writer." Rhonda is the winner an e-copy of Brian Tracy's Eat That Frog !  Two winners of With This Kiss, Historical and Contemporary Collections are Beth Writes and Martha Fouts.

Next Week in Seekerville

Monday:Love Inspired Historical author Janet Dean will talk about ways to up the emotion in your stories as she revisits her post “Seven Tools to Add Emotion to your Writing.” Leave a comment for a chance to win With This Kiss historical and contemporary novella collections. That's two winners, one for each collection.

Tuesday: Bethany House author and marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy Melissa Tagg will talk “the talk” with her post “Tips to Take Your Dialogue to the Next Level.“ Stop by for a chance to win Melissa’s latest book, From the Start.

Wednesday: Seekerville is delighted to welcome Heartsong Presents author Karen Fleming back with her post, "Romancing Your Readers Like a Romantic Comedy." And what could be better than a great read (Karen's latest release, Her Hometown Reporter)  and a Starbuck's beverage? Stop by and you could win both!

Thursday: Today we welcome back award winning author Melanie Dickerson, with her post, "Anatomy of an Edit." And one lucky commenter will win her new release from Thomas Nelson, The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest. 

Friday: Author and editor Sandie Bricker is our special guest today. Sandy brings a very special announcement to Seekerville. Of course the prize vault is open!

Seeker Sightings

You've Got Mail! Tina Radcliffe's 12th Sale to Woman's World Magazine is available now!

Award winning author Debby Giusti will be one of sixty authors hosting tables at Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon, on April 25, in Milwaukee, WI. The afternoon will be filled with fun, gift bags full of books and door prizes, plus lots of raffle drawings for author baskets. NYT best seller Tess Gerritsen is the keynote speaker and a mega-signing follows that’s open to the public. Proceeds from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society. Debby will also attend the Friday evening Author Q&A, at 6:30 PM, that's open to the public.

Every weekend for the rest of April, 
we're giving away a set (one  copy of each) of With This Kiss-Historical & Contemporary Collections

 Just say you want  one!

Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.

 Missy Tippens is taking part  in a Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt,  April 16-19! More info at her blog! www.lifewithmissy.blogspot.com

Mary Connealy will be speaking at the Clive, Iowa Library. Clive is a suburb of Des Moines. The library address is 1900 NW 114th St. Clive, Iowa. Phone # 515-453-2221.
She will be speaking at 6:00 pm, Tuesday, April 21st, about what made her start writing to begin with and where she gets her ideas. A bookstore will be there to sell books and Mary will be delighted to sign them.

Random News & Information 

(Contributed by Seekers & Villagers)

Getting Self-Published Books into Public Libraries (PW)

 How Do You Stay Productive Working from Home? (Inkthinker)

Business Musings: The Hard Part (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) 

 A Simple Way to Create Suspense by Lee Child (NYT)

Readers are Smart—Respect What They Bring to Books (The Editor's Blog)

Envisioning a Colorado Haven for Readers, Nestled Amid Mountains of Books (NYT)

The Best & Worst Writing Advice (Writers in the Storm)

How Typing is Destroying Your Memory (The Passive Voice)

Wait, Keep Talking: Author Self-Promo That Actually Works (Whimsydark)

How To Write a Fabulous Proposal by Emily Rodmell (EHarlequin)

 ‘They,’ the Singular Pronoun, Gets Popular (WSJ)

And some Happily Ever After for you here.

That's it. Here's our #NOLimits Quote of the Week:

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Organized Writer

Hello, everyone! Julie Jarnagin here. 

We all have seasons in our lives when we’re B-U-S-Y, and I’m there right now. I have a one-year-old boy and a six-year-old boy, a full-time job in marketing, and book deadlines. On top of that, my husband and I decided to put our house on the market and build a new one. Next on our list of things to do is to get our heads checked out because I think we’ve lost our minds. 

But we’ve all been there--when we feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day.
I’ve always loved learning about time management and productivity (it’s one of my many nerdy quirks), and during this time in my life, I’ve been able to really put the things I’ve learned to the test. 

Here are some of my favorite tips, the ones that have really worked, for getting more done.  

1.    Establish good habits

We don’t realize it, but a lot of what we do each day is determined by our habits. When you woke up this morning, what did you do first? Shower, brush your teeth, put on your shoes? Did you put on the right shoe or left shoe first? We do all these things without even thinking about them. Have you ever taken a wrong turn because you were on auto-pilot and headed down the road to your house or to work by mistake?

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply train ourselves to do the things that are most important to us--be healthier, write that book, get organized. But changing our habits or creating new habits is hard! Just ask anyone who made a New Year’s Resolution this year. 

One of my favorite tools for managing my time is using mini habits. What are mini habits? They’re tiny daily goals that can help us establish positive routines in our lives. Here are a few of my current mini habits. 

*    Make our bed
*    Write ten minutes each day
*    Read one chapter of the Bible
*    Drink a large glass of water first thing in the morning

They sound easy, right? That’s the reason behind them! They’re supposed to be small enough to not be intimidating. I don’t have to get my entire book edited today. I just have to work on it for ten minutes. But do you know what usually happens? Once I get started, I end up spending way more time than ten minutes on it.

And after I made my bed this morning, I figured I might as well pick up the dirty socks too. Do you see how they work? I definitely need to write more than ten minutes per day to meet my June deadline and I always drink more than one glass of water per day, but these mini habits get my day started right. If I have a busy day, I may actually only finish ten minutes, and that’s enough to keep my momentum going for the next day. Does ten minutes sound like a lot to you? Start with only three minutes.

Some other mini habits you could try are:

*    Do 10 push ups (or sit ups or jumping jacks) each day
*    Walk around the block
*    Read a craft book for 10 minutes a day
*    Choose one thing in your home to give away each day
*    Write down the things you eat each day

That last point leads us to #2 on our list.

2. Write it down

I love a good to-do list, or any list for that matter, but this is about more than writing down your grocery list. Only about 3% of adults have clear, written goals. This means 97% of us are walking around with no goals, even though it’s scientifically proven that we would accomplish more if they were written down. There’s just something powerful about putting it on paper.
But it’s not only your goals that you should write down. Track your progress toward those goals on paper. A recent study showed that people who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. Again--there’s power in writing things down. 

If you’re like me and you geek out on this stuff, you may be tempted to make a big fancy spreadsheet with way too many columns. Don’t! Keep it simple. A list of goals taped to your desk and a notebook beside your computer where you track your daily word count or time spent with your rear end in the chair will do the trick. 

3.    Do the hard stuff first

There’s a great book by Brian Tracy titled Eat that Frog. In the book Tracy explains that your "frog" is your biggest, most important task. It’s that thing on your list that you know is a priority in your life but you still seem to procrastinate on it. 

We know we should write that synopsis or finish that proposal the agent requested at conference, but it just seems too big and scary. What if it isn’t good enough? It’s easier to check social media or put in another load of laundry. Resist the temptation to begin with the small things first. When you sit down to write, “eat that frog!”

If you’d like to get more productivity and time management tips sent right to your inbox, sign up for my Girls’ Guide to Getting More Done Newsletter 

So what’s your best tip for getting it all done? And if you had to choose one mini habit to start today, what would it be? 

Julie Jarnagin is a multi-published author of inspirational romance. She grew up in a small Oklahoma town where her family farmed and ranched. These days she lives in a not-so-big city with her amazing husband and two young sons who tolerate all her nerdy quirks. Julie earned a B.A. in Journalism / Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. www.JulieJarnagin.com


 The first book in the Taste of Texas series, The Art of Falling, is available for pre-order on iBooks https://itun.es/us/RP0S5.l and will be released on April 21.
Heather Tornsten needs a man…a celebrity, more specifically, for a fundraising gala for the Dallas art museum, where she works. And what better headliner than bull rider Wyatt Lawrence? Although why people idolize grown men who make their living falling off animals, she’ll never understand.

When his mom was diagnosed with cancer, Wyatt determined to focus on doing what she wants—like visiting some art museum. But when his mom teams up with Heather Tornsten to get him involved in a fundraiser, he knows he’s been set up. The more involved he gets with the pretty events coordinator, the more he realizes falling off a bull is far safer. Because falling for Heather–who has made it clear that she won’t risk her heart on any man who courts danger–might break a whole lot more than his bones.

In addition to our #LibraryMade drawing today, Seekerville is giving away an ecopy of Brian Tracy's Eat That Frog to one commenter. Let us know you want it! Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Tribute to Libraries

Victoria Bylin

By Victoria Bylin

I wouldn’t be an author today without the benefit of public libraries. How many of you feel the same way? I bet a lot of us do. In honor of National Library Week, I thought it would be fun to share some memories and ask a few questions that we can all answer.

1. What was the first book you ever checked out of the library? I was only five when my mom took me to the Granada Hills branch of the Los Angeles Public Library for the first time. I came home with a treasure called Peanuts the Pony. It was square with thick library binding, tattered pages, and pictures of Peanuts with his friends. So cute! The first chapter book I ever checked out was about a pioneer girl named Caroline. That book started my love of westerns.

2. As a child or teenager, did you have a favorite series? What was it? The Black Stallion books by Walter Farley are at the top of my list. I read the first one about twenty times. I also enjoyed the Clara Barton books, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, and . . . if you’re a western reader you know what’s coming . . . The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Granada Hills Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library
3. When you visit the library, which section do you hit first? The new releases are usually in front, so I check those out right away. After that, I head for the fiction section. Sometimes I start with “A” and work my way through the alphabet; other times I’ll pick an aisle and start wandering. I like the nonfiction section too, but I don’t browse it like my husband does.

4. What’s the biggest overdue fine you’ve ever paid? I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve messed up a few times. The worst was in the neighborhood of $30 for multiple books. It was just one of those weeks, and with two kids, we had a lot of books out on multiple library cards.

5. What’s your best library or library-related memory? This happened at my first RWA conference in Denver 2002. I was wearing my RWA badge with my pink “First Sale” ribbon, standing in line with the crowd for the literacy signing. The woman in front of me looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her. We started chatting and it clicked. She worked at my local library back in northern Virginia. Small world!

6. Do you have an all-time favorite library? Tough choice! If I go with the “bigger is better” philosophy, I’d have to pick the Central Library here in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s beautiful with a pendulum, rotunda and ceiling clock. On the other hand, the itty-bitty four-aisle library in Frazier Park, California met my reading needs for eight years. Big or small, I love them all.

Main Library Lexington KY
7. Tell us about a moment of discovery at the library. I’ll never forget the moment I discovered Section 808.11 at the George Mason branch of the Fairfax Co. Public Library in Annandale, Virginia. I was working on my first-ever ms (it later became West of Heaven published by Harlequin Historicals) when I realized I didn’t have a clue how to move past chapter three. The library catalog directed me to the craft book section. Lo and behold! There were dozens of books about writing. The first one I checked out was Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. It changed my life. I devoured everything in that section, but Mr. Bickham’s book was the one that opened my eyes the widest.

8. Did you ever want to be a librarian? Oh, definitely! I can’t think of a more wonderful place to spend the day. A big thank you to librarians everywhere. You have enriched my life more than I can begin to express!

Those are my favorite memories. How about you? When you hear “library,” what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing  for one of two giveaway copies of Victoria's latest release Together With You.
Click to Buy
Sometimes the most unexpected love can be exactly what a heart needs...When a Lost Child warning blares over the mall's PA system, Carly Mason finds the little girl playing with a stuffed rabbit. Something about Penny Tremaine is different. An ex-social worker, Carly recognizes that the child suffers fetal alcohol effects, and a piece of Carly's past suddenly confronts her. Never again will she become personally involved with a client. The risks are far too great. But something about Penny--and Penny's handsome father--tugs at Carly's heart.

Dr. Ryan Tremaine is trying to put his life back together. With his ex-wife remarried and on a trip far away, his two teenage sons and Penny are living under his roof full time. Ryan has put his faith in his Sink-or-Swim list, a plan to reconnect with his children. The first step: recruit Carly Mason to be Penny's nanny.

Ryan never anticipated being so drawn to Carly, an attraction Carly seems to fight as much as he does. Could Carly be the missing piece that helps his family stay afloat, or will their blossoming romance only complicate things further?
Victoria Bylin is a romance writer known for her realistic and relatable characters. Her books have finaled in multiple contests, including the Carol Awards, the RITAs, and RT Magazine's Reviewers Choice Award. A native of California, she and her husband now make their home in Lexington, Kentucky, where their family and their crazy Jack Russell terrier keep them on the go. Learn more at victoriabylin.com.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Brainstorming – A Great Tool for Writers!

By Debby Giusti

Have you looked in your tool box recently? If so, I hope you found a very important tool for writers, namely brainstorming.  

Brainstorming works on the premise that two heads are better than one. Articulating ideas without a censor overrides the negative voices within and allows creativity free rein. It also feeds into the quantity leads to quality theory that I mentioned in my March blog with the ceramics’ class example from Art and Fear (David Bayles and Ted Orland, 1993).

American advertising executive Alex Osborn developed the technique in the 1940s, and since then, brainstorming has been used in business boardrooms, in academia, in the arts and even in the world of romance novels to generate a wide range of new ideas. Known as the Father of Brainstorming, Osborn eventually published his technique in 1953, in a book titled, Applied Imagination, which is still considered a leading work on creativity.

What's in your tool box?

According to Osborn, an important key to success was to “hold back criticism until the creative current has had every chance to flow.” He believed that a greater input of ideas led to a better final solution and encouraged thinking outside the box to free the imagination and open new avenues of thought so innovative solutions could be achieved.

The amazing writers in the class I host in my local community are
hard at work. First they brainstorm a story and then do hands-on
exercises that apply the lessons taught to the storyline they created.
I first learned about brainstorming in a high school leadership group of which I was a member. Our advisor introduced the technique and walked us through a few practice sessions. I quickly saw the benefit of pooling ideas, unleashing creativity in a non-threatening environment and working together to achieve a goal. The process was energizing and often electric as we shouted out our ideas and saw how we could build on previously mentioned suggestions to achieve a creative solution to the problem or question posed. The technique worked, and we used brainstorming to come up with everything from homecoming themes to strategies to enhance student participation in extracurricular activities.

Chocolate always improves creativity!
Fast forward many, many years to when I joined Georgia Romance Writers and came in contact with published authors for the very first time. Until then, I had thought writers worked alone with little or no input from others.  You can imagine my surprise when, after a monthly Georgia Romance Writers’ meeting, I heard published authors mention their quarterly brainstorming retreats. Within that group were such notable writers as Deborah Smith, Sandra Chastain, Nancy Knight, Virginia Ellis, Donna Ball and Deb Dixon of GMC fame.  They talked about building on one another’s ideas to end up with storylines far more satisfying than they could have created on their own.  These were successful women who, at that time, had published more than 200 books with millions of copies in print.

I should add that the six GRW authors mentioned above brainstormed their way into the publishing industry when someone in the group threw out the idea of creating a small press where Southern voices could find a home. The way I heard it, Deb Dixon discussed the feasibility of the project as they drove to the beach for a week long brainstorming retreat. By the end of the week, BelleBooks was born. 

BelleBooks Editor, Deb Smith (L), with Deb Giusti at
the Death by Chocolate Party, RWA 2015.

Seeing the Belles' success, it didn’t take me long to realize I should follow their lead. Soon thereafter, I began to meet with other GRW members to brainstorm stories. At each gathering, creativity was encouraged, and the results were amazing. Whether we were discussing our own books or someone else’s story, we all benefited from the sessions, honed our storytelling craft and became more adept at developing compelling plots and engaging character. 

These days I brainstorm the major storylines for my books with my critique partner, Heartwarming author Anna Adams. Later, I’ll fine-tune specific plot points with my family as we gather around the kitchen table or with my husband when we take our daily walks. 

So how does it work?  Here are some basic guidelines for a multi-person brainstorming session:

1.    Gather a group of folks—three to six people—who are interested in fleshing out story ideas. 
2.    Allot at least thirty minutes to brainstorm a manuscript before moving on to the next one.  Assign a timekeeper so every story gets equal time.
3.    The first writer presents a general overview of how she plans to develop her story and asks for input in certain areas.  For example, if the writer’s having trouble with character development, she might ask for character traits and motivation that would make her heroine react in a specific way.
4.    Criticism or negative comments hinder creativity and should be put on hold.
5.    The group throws out ideas, sometimes in rapid succession.  Often one comment/idea will dovetail with another or will spark a new direction for exploration.
6.    Thinking outside the box should be encouraged. 
7.    If the focus becomes skewed, the writer can redirect the discussion to a path she believes would prove more fruitful, once again, using positive comments rather than anything negative or critical.
8.    At the end of the time period, the writer reviews the suggestions she feels have merit and thanks the group for their help before the next writer takes her turn.

While I find group brainstorming sessions to be highly productive, variations of the technique can also be used for solitary use.

Free Writing

Free writing or stream of conscious comes under the brainstorming header. It’s most productive when we’re writing fast (producing a great quantity of work), not editing (holding back judgements or negative criticism) and allowing our imagination to run free, all of which we did during Speedbo. 

Clustering or Mapping

I use this technique when I need a title for one of my stories. On a large sheet of paper, I jot down a central theme or concept for the story, such as Soldier or Murder. Then I rapidly add words that somehow can be associated with either the story or key word. When I run out of ideas, I circle winning combinations and use lines to connect the various circled words that would work in a title.

Possible Titles: Military Murder, Murder on Amish Road,
Deadly Inheritance, Plain Danger and History of Death.


Listing is another brainstorming tool. Decide on two or three headers that apply to the problem needing a solution. Under each header, jot down words that come to mind, without using a filter. Don’t stop until you have 20 or more words under each header. Now draw lines between words in each column that relate. Can you find an interesting combination that provides a unique answer to the problem at hand?
Listing provided the following title suggestions:
Plain Inheritance, Antebellum Harvest, Community
of Danger, Plain Danger, Lost Treasure,
Old World Danger, Old World Inheritance,
and Lost Inheritance.
Donald Maass in, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, uses a variation of this technique in one of his exercises on story development. He asks those attending his writing workshops to write down a list of story ideas, such as an important turning points in their work in progress. The first ten ideas, or so, will be fairly commonplace, while those at the end of the list tend to be fresh and innovative. Maass suggests that the last few ideas will be unique plot points that are the hallmark of a breakout novel.

Quiet Brainstorming

Folks always like to improve on something good, and there’s lots of talk in industry circles about the downsides of brainstorming, such as participants being inhibited by others or teams moving too far off course during the sessions. To overcome those problems, some companies are inviting their teams to sit quietly with paper and pencil and come up with their own ideas during a certain period of time. The ideas are then passed on to the next person for  additional input. Eventually, the composite ideas are looked at and evaluated for merit. By combining ideas and dovetailing various concepts that overlap, a finished product can be achieved.

Whether brainstorming as a group or by yourself, the technique helps to energize your Muse and enhance your creativity. Need a place to hold your brainstorming session? Consider your local library. Reserve a private room for group sessions or find a comfy chair or nook for your own private creative time.

Leave a comment about how you use brainstorming to be entered in a drawing. I’ll be giving away a copy of my latest Love Inspired Suspense, STRANDED, along with a surprise gift for the winner.

In honor of my eldest daughter’s birthday today, I’m serving an assortment of cakes and ice cream: Red Velvet, Chocolate Inside Out Cake, Devil’s Food, Pound Cake, Rum Cake and Carrot Cake along with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream. The coffee and tea are hot. Enjoy!

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

Leave a prayer request at my blog: http://crossmyheartprayerteam.blogspot.com/


Colleen Brennan has one goal—take down her sister’s killer.  But chasing after evidence leaves her in the path of a tornado and stranded in an Amish community. With the killer nearby, Colleen must depend on the kindness of Special Agent Frank Gallagher. Although the army officer is recuperating from a battlefield injury, he wants to help the beautiful woman he rescued from the tornado’s fury. He can tell she’s hiding something important. But getting her to reveal her secrets may be his most dangerous mission ever.

Order your copy in digital or print format: Amazon.