Monday, June 13, 2016

Five Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

By guest blogger and award-winning author Linda Goodnight.


What a treat to be invited back to Seekerville! Thanks to Ruthy for asking me. By the way, I’ve been reading Ruthy’s books while cruising up to lovely Canada, and people, this Yankee girl can write! She knows how to grab you from the first line and compel you to turn those pages.

Which brings me to today’s blog topic. I judge a lot of contests and read numerous new authors’ work for review and endorsement. Many times I see the same mistakes repeated over and over again. Wondering if I was the only one, I did an unscientific survey of veteran authors who also judge manuscripts on a regular basis.

 In their responses, several issues rose to the top of the list. This blog will focus on five mistakes new (and sometimes veteran) writers make and a few tips for avoiding them.

1. Weak opening sentence and/or first paragraph

Research indicates authors have only a few seconds to convince a reader to buy our books. A few measly seconds! That means the first sentence and even the first paragraph have to be extraordinary. In a very short space of time, we must interest the reader, set up the story question, give insight into the point of view character, and indicate the book’s tone and setting, all while thrusting the story ever forward. Whew! That’s a lot to ask from only a few words.

Here are a few ways--though certainly not the only ways-to write that all important opening:

1. Make it short and punchy.
Ex: He wouldn’t do this. Not again.

2. Raise questions in the reader’s mind.

Brody hated Fridays. He knew what would happen if he went home. So he didn’t.
     If I did my job, you’re wondering who Brody is, about what happens on Friday and why he’s anxious about going home. This is from my newest book, The Rain Sparrow, available right now, y’all!

3. Powerful, surprising or shocking. The sharp metallic click meant one thing. Someone had a gun pointed in Colt Stafford’s general direction. (Back in the Saddle by Ruth Logan Herne.) I loved this book!

4. Set the tone or mood.
   Secrets are like boils. They fester and throb, but until the hard core of truth is released, there is no relief.
   Valery Carter lived every day with that festered, throbbing boil. 
                                                             (The Innkeeper’s Sister, coming May, 2017.)

2. Starting the story in the wrong place

Leave out long descriptions, introspection and the tendency to “work the reader into the story” with too much set-up. Find the powerful moment of change in your character’s life that drives your plot, that gets your main character moving toward her destiny. This is your inciting incident, your kickstarter. As painful as it may be, go back and delete any pages before that moment or event. Sometimes this means cutting the entire first chapter. Trust me, I know this from painful experience. I had to do it in my first three books for Harlequin! Start with the problem your character must deal with NOW.

3. Info dump
This happens when the author needs the reader to know something so she dumps the information into a single paragraph. This not only makes your reader’s eyes roll back in her head, it’s passive voice or the dreaded “telling”. Resist this urge. Instead, dribble this information in naturally through action, bits of internalization or even a little natural dialogue. Notice I said, a little dialogue. Resist the urge to tell your reader through soap opera dialogue. “Harriet, you’ve been working for pennies since your father ran away with the bearded lady in the circus and your mother died. She had a heart attack last winter while feeding the pigs, leaving you, at barely eighteen, and your ten year old brother homeless.” Don’t laugh. I’ve really read passages like that.

5. Pacing problems

Pacing is the speed at which your story progresses. Every book should have moments of speedy action followed by slower passages to let the reader ponder and catch her breath. Some genre, like suspense, are by nature faster paced while others move a little slower. However, today’s reader expects a fairly snappy pace, regardless of genre. An author should learn to control the momentum of her book by taking advantage of pacing tricks. Here are a few:

·         For faster pace, use short sentences, short paragraphs, short chapters.

·         Control the movement of time by summarizing transitions and large blocks of time that are not particularly relevant to your action.

·         Rapid fire dialogue with few, if any, tags.

·         Make readers wait. Drop hints that something important is coming but don’t satisfy their curiosity. They’ll turn pages fast to find out the answer.

·         The ticking time bomb is another way of making the story move at a breathless speed. People read faster when they think the dam is about to burst, the bomb about to go off, or when the hero only has a few days to come up with the money before he loses the ranch.

·         Sometimes you need to slow the pace. During periods of introspection, description, or love scenes draw out the moment of time with longer sentences and paragraphs. Provide more sensory detail. Live the scene moment by moment.

5. Backstory, too much too soon.

This was the number one problem mentioned on my handy author survey. Editors and agents mention it most often too.

Backstory is the sum total of everything that’s ever happened to your main characters before the book opens. Backstory, which provides motivation for the character’s actions, is important to your book--but not on the first page. Preferably not in the first chapter or at least, not much. Remember, backstory takes the reader BACKWARDS and slows the pace. Your opening pages should move forward.

Setting up your story with hints of the past is necessary to ground the reader and give the character life and a reason for us to like her, but keep this set-up very brief and try to weave it into the action. A well-placed hint will give clues to the character’s inner wound, her reasons for behaving as she does. A hint will also raise the readers’ curiosity and compel them to turn pages. Reveal only a few crumbs, holding back the secrets as long as possible.

So there you have them, five problems that crop up frequently, along with some tips for making those opening pages sing. Special thanks to these brilliant authors for sharing their thoughts: Lyn Cote, Laura Iding, Deb Kastner, Lynette Eason, Erica Vetsch, Suzanne Dietz, Mindy Obenhaus.

Now, it’s your turn. What problem areas crop up in your own work or when you’re judging contests? And what tips do you have for avoiding those or any of the above problem areas?

Ruthy here!! I love it when Linda visits. If I had a list of people I'd be honored to sit and spend an afternoon just listening to, she'd be right up there on the list! She amazes me, and her body of award-winning work is so well-deserved. (she may have paid me in cookies to say that!!!)

Linda has graciously offered one U.S. commenter a copy of either "The Memory House" or "The Rain Sparrow", her two beautiful single title books! I brought a clean cat dish, and I'll happily tuck your name into it when you leave a comment today.

And Linda... thank you for being here, for being you and for being the kind of example I show to other authors and say... "This... this is what you should strive for."  :)

Author Linda Goodnight has written more than fifty books and has been published all over the world. 

Her books have appeared on the New York Times, USA Today and the Christian Bestsellers lists, and she has won numerous awards for her writing including the prestigious RITA. A former teacher and nurse, she lives in Oklahoma and now spends her day making up stories. Her latest book is titled, The Rain Sparrow, and is available from Amazon and anywhere else books are sold. Connect with Linda on Facebook and her website:


  1. Linda, I'm only popping in briefly to say hi and welcome back! Now I have to dash off and keep getting ready. We have packers coming tomorrow to prepare for our move this week. Lots to do!

    Y'all have a great week! I'll be back online when I can. :)

  2. Linda this is such rock solid advice everyone here needs to save it to a file.
    Excellent post. And good for everyone because we all need reminders!

  3. Welcome back to Seekerville, Linda.

    I can't decide which of your covers I love best.

    How much longer does it actually take to write the longer book? Curiosity speaking here, LOL, says the short story writer. LOL

    Terrific points in this post!!!! Thank you.

  4. Hi Linda. What an excellent post. Thank you for sharing, it's definitely one for the Keeper book. I'll come back later and ingest it a little more fully.

    I would love to win one of Linda's books. The covers are beautiful too!

    May everyone have a blessed week!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  5. Welcome to Seekerville, Linda!
    Thank you for sharing these terrific tips. This post is definitely a keeper.
    I'd love to be entered into the drawing. The cover for The Rain Sparrow is so beautiful!

  6. I love when Linda visits us!!! I brought coffee and doughnuts to celebrate!!!

    And if you haven't gotten The Memory House or The Rain Sparrow yet, well....

    You should.

    That's all I'm sayin'.


  7. hi Linda
    thanks for the list of what to avoid, along with the great examples of the DO. I appreciate this very much. Must go off to work now... no 'Net access there *sigh*. Name in cat dish please, Ruthy. Thanks for bringing Linda to Seekerville again.

  8. Welcome back, LINDA! Great reminders on story starts. This definitely goes in the "keeper" file.

    I know when you write for Love Inspired they like to see that hero and heroine TOGETHER on the first page whenever possible. Do you find that's the same expectation for your single titles or do you have a little more leeway?

  9. LINDA, welcome back to Seekerville. Thanks for your terrific advice! I remember making all of the mistakes you see judging contests. I think all newbies do. There's lots to learn. Posts like yours speed up the journey.

    I love your covers! Do you have any input?


  10. Whew! You all get up early. I don't even have my make up on yet so don't look. Ruthy promised coffee and doughnuts, though, so I'm all good. Hand over one of the chocolate frosted ones, Miss Ruthy.

    So good to be here and I'm looking forward to lots of chatter!

  11. Missy, moving is both pleasure and pain. I hope you're loving on your new place. Thanks for taking time to say hi.

  12. Mary, Cindy, Jill, thank you for the kind words. I still have to remind myself of all this advice once in a while. Well, pretty often, actually. It's easy to get lazy!

  13. Tina, all three of The Honey Ridge novels were dual time line so those take more time than I think a straight "big" book would require. I have two story lines to plot and write plus the effort of melding them together. The first book, The Memory House took six months but the last two went much faster. I just finished number three, The Innkeeper's Sister which I was able to write in about four months. If I wasn't lazy I could probably go faster! My Love Inspireds take about 3 months.

    What about you? How long do you usually take to write an LI? I always wonder if I'm crawling or flying!

  14. Thanks for the helpful post, Linda. Always good to be reminded about how to open a novel. Please put me in for the drawing.

    I am off soon for cataract surgery. Hopefully will be seeing much better then.

  15. Glynna Kaye,

    Writing a single title book is SO different from LI. I had complete freedom to write the way I wanted to. Scary and freeing! The story didn't even have to be a romance and in fact, HQN keeps saying the books are "commercial fiction", whatever that is, and "women's fiction" which doesn't necessarily have a romance. However, I write romance. I love romance. So all three books, to me, are romances with a lot of other stuff going on around them, so I get my characters together in the first chapter.

    Just curious--When you're reading, do you prefer your main characters (H/H) to meet right away? Or does it matter to you?

  16. Janet, hi!!

    Cover input--you know how it is with LI. The covers just appear and we can take them or leave them. BUT with HQN, my contract specifically states that I get "some" input. Confession time here: I did not like the original cover of The Memory House, said so, and they changed it for the mass market edition. You can see the new cover here: What do you think? Improvement or not?

    We are currently discussing concepts for The Innkeeper's Sister and the art department is going a completely different direction with this last book. I've been sending them additional photos, sample covers, etc. and even though they have the final say, they are listening!

  17. Sandy Smith,

    Cataract surgery--I've done that, and it was like a miracle. You probably won't be back at the computer for a few days, but I pray yours goes as well as mine did and you're seeing SO much better soon.

  18. LINDA -- I read a wide variety of fiction and when I'm reading I don't mind at all if the hero/heroine don't meet immediately. I don't even mind when there's some backstory (woven in well, of course) prior to the "meet" so that I can better understand when the two DO meet why there is conflict (or conflict in the making) between them.

    I noticed "The Memory House" is in mass market paperback -- will "The Rain Sparrow" be issued in mass-market as well?

  19. Linda, thank you for this great post. I am in need of this. I had hoped to enter two short stories in a contest this month. But now they are written I have a lot of work to do on them. I moved a month of go, have a physical situation that if the infection is not cleared up by next week I am facing a hospital stay. I am very seriously considering not entering the contest this year to remove some of this stress.

    Even if I don't enter, I am planning to continue fixing it and making it contest worthy. There will be other contests. I did send in the one I finished writing to the critique loop of the ACFW so I at least know where some flaws are and how to fix it.

    I hope everyone will have a great week.

  20. A great post, Linda--thanks so much for being our guest today! These are excellent reminders that every writer should keep in mind.

    Especially chuckled over the "soap opera" dialogue!

    I was also intrigued by your statement that today's readers generally prefer a snappier pace, no matter the genre. Yes, I'd have to agree. With all the other entertainment options available, readers aren't as patient as they used to be.

  21. Glynna, I'm with you. I like a little backstory in the set up so I start bonding to the characters and understand why they are conflicted when they meet. And I don't care when they meet as long as the early pages are interesting.

    I think the whole thing with backstory is the tendency for an author, especially a seat of the pants author (ME!), to start writing to LEARN about the characters and their GMC, so that the first chapter is really for the author, not the reader. If that makes sense. And sometimes there is just way too much. It's such a fine line for an author to know how much is needed. But without some clues to the backstory, the motivations and conflicts, neither the story nor the characters would be very compelling, would they?

    The Rain Sparrow--we're in negotiations about the mass market edition now. It will be coming out again next spring but in exactly what form is still undecided. Thanks for asking!

  22. Wilani Wahl,

    First, a prayer that this infection clears up right away. I'm so sorry.

    As to the contest, you're right. There will be plenty more. If getting ready for one stresses you, don't do it! Just work on it a little at a time, tweaking, fixing, and making it shine. Hang in there. God's got a plan!

    When I first started writing, I entered every contest I could find that had feed back. I learned such invaluable lessons that way.

  23. Myra, I really did read a similar self-published book recently filled with soap opera dialogue. I felt bad for the author who clearly had talent but needed to visit Seekerville and glean from all the great articles you all have on here. Don't worry, I made up that lovely, shiny example in my post. lol

    I'm noticing the same thing about today's reader. I still enjoy reading slower paced books full of rich description and beautiful prose, but most of the microwave generation doesn't have the patience for that.

    What about the rest of you? Do you want a fast moving story? Or can you enjoy immersing yourself in something slower?

  24. Welcome to Seekerville, Linda. As a reader, I can totally relate to your points for a book. I guess I should try that with my reviews.

  25. LINDA!!! Welcome back to Seekerville, girl! I agree with Ruthy -- I love it when someone as experienced and successful as you visits with golden nuggets to share, so THANK YOU!!

    One of my pet peeves in first-line or first-paragraph openings is using that valuable real estate for setting description. For me, setting never has been a hook unless it's critical to the story. Whenever I see a first paragraph devoted to setting or the heroine or heroine doing something normal in that setting -- walking, gazing, etc., I tend to skip over it.

    I couldn't agree more about your point #1, Linda -- make it short and punchy.

    Nothing grabs me faster than a short one or two lines like your excellent example. Ironically for a gal who writes 520-page books, I like things short and sweet in that first line, paragraph, or page, because a true hook doesn't beat you over the head to hook you, it jerks you in to the story before you know it.

    And I gotta say that when I read Ruthy's first few lines of Back in the Saddle, I was in awe because it yanked me in so fast, I didn't know what hit me. I was actually in the middle of another novel when I checked Ruthy's first line out, which is something I always do with books because I'm a hook freak, and it so grabbed me that I just started reading, finally putting the other book aside to finish Ruthy's. EXCELLENT book and my favorite of all of Ruthy's books!!

    Thanks, Linda!


  26. Great post, Linda. And a great reminder to us "experienced" authors, too. :) Especially timely since I'm just getting into a new story! I always learn something from you!

  27. Marianne, I never thought of that either, but it would be good to point out those things in reviews, wouldn't it? Not in mean way, of course, but as a help.

  28. Julie, hi.

    I learn stuff just reading your comments! Totally agree about opening lines needing to be grabby. Normal activities aren't interesting--sad but true--unless they are done with a strong twist. I don't mind a description if it's germane to the story but most readers are like you and don't have the patience for all that.

    And openings like Ruthy's are just exactly right. I aspire to write better first paragraphs with every book.

    Most of my story ideas actually come from a hook line that appears in my head. Then I have to figure out what to do with it!

  29. Hi Janet and Robin, thank you all for stopping in. Good to see you over here. I love Seekerville and their plethora of good information and really nice people!

  30. Linda, *waves* !! Wonderful tips that all writers can learn from. I really like the "short and punchy" opening sentence advice. That first sentence is ohh so important. I have to admit...stories stop me cold when a sentence just seems to run on foreverrrr.

    A side note--good writing is gleaned over time. "Good" transitions to "great" when we begin to see our own mistakes and we realize why something's not working...and then we know how to fix it.

    So blessed by mentors, teachers, and encouragers like you! (And thank you for always being so kind at ACFW. Hope to hug your neck again one day!)

    Many blessings! :)

  31. Hi Cynthia,

    I hope to see you again soon too. You made me feel like a rock star when met before!!

    You are so right about learning more and more over time. We never, ever stop learning. At least, I don't. An author once said to me, "My words are not oxygen. I can live without them", a reminder to always be willing to learn and change.

  32. Ahh, Linda. Such a fan girl moment for me. *blush* :)

  33. LINDA, the mass market cover is lovely and leads to an expectation that the story is a romance. The porch and tea (I'm sure it's sweet. :-) ) gives the flavor of the south and probably fits the title better. Though the original cover with the Spanish moss draped tree elicits a warm feeling from me.


  34. Thank you, JANET DEAN. I was never quite sure about that Spanish moss but I do think the mass market version fits the book better. Yep, sweet tea!

    When I was a kid we never "sweet tea", we just said "tea" because all tea was sweet and iced. Even in cafes, you asked for tea and that's what you got. They didn't ask for clarification. Things are different now, but I remember when I first heard the term and wondered why they needed to say "sweet" when sugar and ice were a given!

  35. Good afternoon, Linda and Ruthy! I love backstory, I'll admit it. I should have been a psychologist because I love discovering what happened to people to make them who they are. Now, I get to put that into stories, but I always need to be careful of the backstory dump. I enjoy reading it, but I know others don't. Thank you for the great tips, and the books look terrific, as always.

  36. Great post Linda. Welcome back to Seekerville. It is always a pleasure to have you visit. Thank you for these informative points to look out for on writing your first page or chapter. Unfortunately, I have made every one of those mistakes in the past. Haha thanks again for joining us and have a fun day.

  37. Linda, I love your books! Always so moving and meaningful. Thanks for being with us in Seekerville!

    Congrats on your success...must get The Rain Sparrow. What an intriguing title!

    Great tips today. All things I need to remember. Thank you!

    Heading to my WIP and checking my opening. I often put in too much info on the first draft as if to tell myself that I know how the story will progress or what has happened previously. Thankfully, later I pull out what's not needed. At least that's what I try to do. :)

  38. Sandy, praying for your successful surgery and rapid recovery!

  39. Thanks for your interesting and informative post, Linda!!

    I have yet to become acquainted with your writing and would love to do so - please enter my name in the drawing for one of your books. Thanks so much!!

  40. I have worked very hard at NOT front-loading my books with a bunch of backstory, but in one case I must have done too good a job, because my editor told me I needed to tell MORE up front instead of leaving the reader wondering. It felt really strange to drop so much of the background in when I'd been holding back on purpose.

  41. Super advice as I revise. Perfect timing. Thank you, Linda!

  42. "Backstory takes the reader BACKWARDS and slows the pace." Brilliant, logical, & so obvious! And honestly I skip a lot of the backstory if it comes too soon. I like the mystery of figuring out what makes the character such a mess! Thank You for the reminder!

    We LOVE your books! And I always wanted to know... Are you were related to the "Goodnight Loving Trail" Goodnights?

  43. Linda as much as I KNOW how this is supposed to be, every time we get one of these lessons about cool opening lines or starting with a BANG I go look at my WIP and as disappointed with myself. This is a refresher and badly needed.
    You said, we can get lazy and that's so so true!

  44. Hi Linda,
    I love your books. Over the past two weeks I've been dismantling a story, doing what you've stated here. Feeling like I might be on the right track this time. Thanks for sharing.

  45. Thank you, Meghan. I love knowing why characters behave the way they do too, so it's a balance not to tell too much at once. Making the reader worry is so much more powerful...I keep telling myself.

  46. SANDRA, I've made all of them too!!

  47. Bonton, Jana, & Lyndee, thank you for the kind words.

    MARY, all your books are wonderful! We're always our biggest critics.

    MYRA, that's pretty funny. I don't think I've ever heard of an editor doing that before. You must have been writing lean and mean!! :-)

  48. Hi Linda - love these suggestions/tips! Of course I always find your advice invaluable.

    Right now I'd like to try writing a longer book and my problem is changing my plot ideas from short to long. Any tips?

    Your new series is AMAZING. The dual timelines are wonderful my talented friend.

  49. Hi Terri,

    I'm so excited to hear you're working on a new, longer book! To me, the key to writing longer is to think bigger, wider, beyond the main plot. I will have more than one thread going alongside the main plot. Say, if it's a romance, add a conflict each character has outside of the romantic--maybe with a family member or on the job or even something from the past. In The Rain Sparrow, those extra plot lines included Hayden's secret past and his issues with Dora. These conflicts added to his struggle over falling for Carrie. I also threw in friendships and Carrie's family, again winding it all back to the romantic conflict.

    Ruthy's Back in the Saddle has several plotlines weaving around the main romance, including rustlers, ranch issues, the heroine's secret that was hidden in plain sight, etc. Lots of extra things going on.

    There are so many great writers on this blog, maybe some of them can give us tips, too. Come on, Julie, Mary, Ruthy, and all your other fab authors.

  50. Dear Linda,
    Either book would be fine with me. I'm looking forward to reading your book.
    Even though I don't have a cat due to allergies, I know someone who would be thrilled to pieces to get the dish.
    Janet E.

  51. Hi Linda:

    How nice to have you back on Seekerville. You were the second romance writer I ever met in person. I think you were on your second book then. My first author was Margaret Daley at a Wal-Mart signing. Since then you've both written dozens of books. I feel privileged.

    Your list of common mistakes writers make is dead on target but do you know what? I think most of the writers making those mistakes know your list! They just think what they wrote passes the list requirements.

    About having a weak opening sentence: I think it is not only opening with a BANG...I prefer an opening that makes me think: "I want to read this author". (Openings like in "Pride and Prejudice" and "A Passion Most Pure"). Make the opening a delicious sample of the author's voice - like a small bite of a spectacular pizza. (You just want more!)

    In addition to your list of writers' mistakes, I'd like to mention three mistakes from the reader's POV.

    1. Having too many characters in the first chapter. I read for enjoyment. If there are too many characters, I just stop reading. The second book in any series is subject to this problem if the author is not careful.

    2. Historical fiction that does not give the date or approximate date. I've read some books that after the first chapter I still could not tell which century the book was in! Please give 'Headstones'. Winter 1888, Las Vegas, New Mexico.

    3. Characters with similar looking or sounding names. I gave up on a book once in which the two main characters were Richard and Robert. This was a 'which one will the heroine choose' theme story. I'm reading a romance now where the two main characters are Aggie and Anna. Their friends call them 'the Two As'. Cute but as far as I'm concerned they are just one person!

    One last thing: What is the deal with HQN? I never understood that line. How do your HQN books differ from your LI?

    Please put me in the drawing for a Kindle book.


  52. Great post! I have stopped reading books for all of those reasons!!

    Thank you,
    Becky Boerner

  53. Wow, Linda, that's a lot of threads to keep up with!!

    I ask for three months for a Love Inspired, but isn't it amazing how fast we can write when we HAVE to?? LOL.

    I have written 25K in two days several times to meet a deadline.

    Fear is a marvelous motivator. LOLOLOL.

  54. My cataract surgery went well. Waiting for the dilation to go down in my eye so I can tell how I am seeing. My doctor did say it would be up to a week for my vision to I am shocked at how bright everything is. I get my other eye done next week. Really looking forward to having it all finished.

  55. Hi VINCE, good to "see" you again!

    I love what you said here: "I prefer an opening that makes me think: "I want to read this author". (Openings like in "Pride and Prejudice" and "A Passion Most Pure"). Make the opening a delicious sample of the author's voice - like a small bite of a spectacular pizza. (You just want more!)" That's brilliant and good writing too!

    Your list of common error is spot on. I have also struggled with reading too many characters too soon. You need a program to keep them straight and it's hard to focus on who the main characters are supposed to be! Too many similar names confuses me too. I just read a book like that and I still don't know who some of the people were. And "headstones" are such a plus in historical fiction. I have to wrestled my editor a little get those in there!

    HQN is a more mainstream, single title line similar to Mira, only with more focus on romance. The books have to be much longer and more complex than LI. Does that clear things up? I know it can be confusing because Harlequin is also sometimes abbreviated Hqn.

  56. TINA! 25K words in 2 days? Girl, you are a machine!

    SANDY, so glad to hear the surgery went well. I remember that amazed feeling about how clear the world suddenly was. Take care and don't try to read too much yet.

  57. LIBRARY LADY AND OHIOHOMESCHOOL, thank you for posting. Good luck for the drawing.

  58. Hey sweet Linda!! I'm later stopping by Seekerville today because I've been out running errands in our Georgia HEAT - - zaps me, LOL. But I've fixed a nice pitcher of sweet iced tea with lemon AND a pitcher of Georgia Peach tea if anyone else needs a cool drink. ;)
    LOVED your post and am putting it in my Keeper File. Of course, I love your books and YOU, too! Thanks so much for being with us today in Seekerville - - you're one of my FAVES (and I mean that!). :)
    By the way....will you be at ACFW in August? If so, please meet me in the Ladies' room by stall 3, LOL. ;) (Couldn't resist since we've joked about the year I met you in the restroom and we had a lovely visit!)
    Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo

    p.s. I loved The Memory House and still plan on purchasing The Rain Sparrow, so no need to put me in the drawing!

  59. PATTI JO, I need a big glass of either one of those teas. It's hot here in Okie ville too, and I'm always in the mood for peach tea.

    I'm still deciding about ACFW but if I go, it's a date. Stall 3 of the ladies room. lol That was fun and memorable. I love those moments.

    Thank you, sweet girl, for the last comment. I hope you enjoy The Rain Sparrow too.

  60. Linda, I think writing the parallel story lines is tough!!!! And you do it seamlessly.

    I love writing stories with a broader scope. I had to get schooled on how to bring it down to category length, to not go off on tangents (Melissa is VERY GOOD at reeling me in, LOL!!!) and to focus on the romance.

    So when I'm doing a bigger book like Refuge or More Than a Promise or Back in the Saddle, etc., I pretend I'm looking at the side angles of a wide-beam light. If the hero and heroine are in the middle, what's going on off to the side?

    Her mother is dying, injured, lost her job, found a job, moving, remarrying, etc....

    His mother is gone.

    So he's never going to understand why her mother's trials are a bother, because he'd give anything to have a mother.

    His sister is pregnant with twins. She leaves them on his doorstep, she gives them up for adoption, she was never really pregnant, she just wanted her old boyfriend to get into big trouble in town....

    She's an only child so crazy sister things are out of her league.

    Her 3 year old son is funny, smart, autistic, speech delayed, missing his daddy, wishing for a pony.

    She's broke and can't give him anything but love.

    A well-to-do hero might try to fix all that with presents, but what the little boy really wants is for his mother not to worry.

    All the things caught between the main event and the shadows are the things that beef up the bigger story,

    I bet if folks walked down their road and pointed at the houses of just the people THEY KNOW, they could list all of those peripherals about neighbor A, B, C, D and E....

    Divorces, kids, re-marriage, church, no church, parents, retirement plans, cars, lack of cars, illness, finances.

    And then if you set the whole kit and caboodle in a TOWN THAT NEEDS SOME KIND OF HELP...

    More conflict.

    A town running out of jobs has fewer taxes, less nicely painted houses, more scruffy building lots, more scruffy, empty shops, etc.

    A well-heeled town might be running into the exact opposite with developers trying to weasel their way in without meeting code, or underpricing valuable property.

    The setting can often cause or support some really interesting drama!!!

  61. Deb H, I have loved Linda's writing for so many years it's ridiculous!! And now I just love her!!! Tossing your name in, sweet thing!

    Sandy, I saw on facebook that the surgery went well!!! I'M SO GLAD YOU DID IT!!!!

    Happy dancing for you!

  62. Julie and Linda, thank you for your kind words! I was so glad they let me have fun with the characters in the Double S series.... Colt's got that funny streak so many mavericks have and Angelina is just cryptic enough that readers LOVE HER!!!!! That makes me so happy!

    And they've had the e-version on sale for a couple of weeks, and I hope folks are love, love, loving Back in the Saddle!

    Julie, I tried to make sure the opening in the second book is along that same vein between Nick and his forever love... Because the last thing that man is thinking about is L-O-V-E when he finds his way into the deep, dark woods to locate Dr. Elsa Andreas, Psychologist and Family Therapist...

    She may or may not throw him out on his butt.

    I'll let you read it and you can see for yourself, LOL!

    You know if I was an 19th century woman, I'd be a suffragist, all the way, so I try to bring some of that fighter into every heroine... even the ones who've slipped into the pits of despair as my friend Anne Shirley loved to say!

    I love writing cowboys!!!

  63. MISS RUTHY, this is brilliant piece of advice and exactly what I was trying to say only much better:

    I pretend I'm looking at the side angles of a wide-beam light. If the hero and heroine are in the middle, what's going on off to the side?

    Peripherals. Good word and exactly right on writing books with wider scope.

  64. Linda: Great post and it hit home. I think my biggest challenge is a combination of he info dump and backstory. One contest I entered said drop the first chapter. Oh my. I thought I had to get all that info into the second one. Thus, I had a combination of the two and it just didn't work. I learned from that adventure. Thanks for the great advise and hints for future reference. Keep doing what your doing, it's working. Happy Writing everyone.

  65. SUZANNE, the wonderful thing about contests is the comments that help you become more objective and grow. I learned so much that way--and I'm still learning. And I had to kill the first chapter so many times until I understood what I was doing wrong.

    One thing I didn't mention about backstory is this. A sneaky writer can make bits of backstory part of the front story. For instance, when meeting the hero, my heroine thinks something along the lines of,

    "Charming. Too handsome for words. Jade knew Sawyer Buchanon's type and was not about to go down that painful road again."

    See how I snuck in that hint about a painful past relationship with a handsome charmer while staying firmly in the moment of the H/H meeting?

  66. Thank you, Linda, for suggestions to fix these writing problems....all areas I struggle to improve. Earlier contest judges' comments pointed out my backstory problem, so I've worked at sprinkling those details throughout the story. Now I'm focusing on starting the story in the right place.....with a powerful opening. Your thoughts will help!

    Congratulations on your newest book, The Rain Sparrow. I love a book that blends something from the past into the current story, with tenderness and hope. Sounds wonderful!

  67. SHERIDA, keep plugging. You'll get it.

    Hope you enjoy The Rain Sparrow! (I can't figure how you did those italics!)

  68. Great info as usual, Linda! Thanks for sharing! And I love the opening lines to Rain Sparrow! : )

  69. Hi ERIN, thanks for stopping by. I hope I said something semi-useful.

  70. I am printing this off and keeping it in my checklist for writing! Thank you!!

  71. SHAREE,

    You are more than welcome. I hope it's useful for you. I think I need to post these reminders myself!

  72. Hi Linda,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us. It makes me want to go back and look at all my beginnings. Thanks again!

  73. Hi Linda:

    Yes, your answer helps on HQN. I always thought HQN was Harlequin's High Quality Novels. They cost more and seemed to have the best cover art. I just assumed they were more literary. While I'm sure I've read over 1000 Harlequin novels, I don't think I've ever read an HQN. I can't think of a better author to start reading a HQN novel than you.

    Hope to 'see' you here again soon.


  74. /waves to Vince/

    Good morning, the day after!
    But no worries, this post is a keeper.

    Appreciate your insight Linda. It's a great review for each and every book...

    Congratulations on your latest and greatest.

    And inquiring minds want to know. IF you had (and I'm not saying you did) paid Ruthy to say those nice things, wonder what kind of cookies they might have been? If you had that is. ;)

    Count me in the cat dish if not too late.

    Write on everyone!

  75. lol.. I have rolled my eyes, to much information. enjoyed your thoughts today..
    toss me in the cat dish please

  76. This lesson sure hit home. I've just come to terms with my story's starting place, but I need to review content for "info dump". I don't want to hear the "beep, beep, beep" of a dump truck backing up to my front door! Blessings to you and thanks for the drawing!

  77. Jackie, thanks for stopping by!

    VINCE, what a nice thing to say about HQN--and funny too--High Quality Novels. I like that!

    KC, I am a cookie monster--love the things and bake WAY too many. IF I had paid Ruthy in cookies--and I'm admitting nothing, nothing, I tell ya. BUT IF I was guilty, I would have sent her some of my Journey chocolate chip cookies packed with pecans I picked myself! (I feel a baking day coming on fast.)

  78. DEANNA, HI. I've done the old eye roll myself a few times--at my own work, too!

    REBECCA, you made me laugh with your beep,beep, beep analogy. Now, every time I read a book that piles up the info, I'll be hearing that sound!

    AND NOW, DEAR LOVELY SEEKERS, it's time for me to hush and let today's guest take over. It's been fun, as always, and I'm blessed to hang out here once in a while with all you great people. Carry on!

  79. This was so good to read!!! I'm definitely going to try applying some of these tips more! I had one question. When you said something about "shorter chapters" being more appealing, what is your definition of shorter chapters? Around 3,000 words? 1,500 words? Thanks!

  80. AMANDA, good question! And like so many things, it all depends on your purpose. Shorter chapters can be very short like the 1500 words you mentioned or even shorter. If you're going for a break neck speed, I've seen effective chapters as short as two pages and a few as short as a couple of paragraphs. Of course, those paragraphs were power-packed with some big, big cliffhanger. I personally think it's very hard to write a complete scene that short, and my editors would ask me to combine it with another chapter or flesh it out. Some "experts" say a scene should be at least four pages--whoever those experts are! lol Shorter, then, means whatever you need it to mean to fit the kind of story you're writing.

    My chapters tend to run 10-15 pages but my books tend to unfold at a more leisurely pace. They are definitely not what I'd call fast paced. This is shorter than they were when I first began writing but that's to fit today's reader.

    Sorry not to have a definitive answer for you. Some of our suspense authors probably have a better answer than mine.

  81. SANDY SMITH--how are the eyes today?

    Does anyone know how she's doing?

  82. Linda, thanks for asking! My eye is doing well. I went to a checkup this morning and she said it looks good. The only thing is I am still nearsighted. She said vision might continue to get a little better, but I might still need some correction. I actually had always anticipated I wouldn't have 20/20 vision when it was done, but people kept telling me I would. So now I'm a little disappointed. But everything is so bright that I am amazed. It is also amazing to be able to see at all out of my eye without any correction considering I have been virtually blind without contacts or glasses. So I am feeling blessed and ready to get the next eye done. Vision is a little weird now with two different eyesights but not so bad.

  83. So glad you are doing okay. My vision never hit 20/20 either but for the first time in my life I don't have to wear glasses. Also, as the eye healed the vision changed a little, so you're sight may not have settled on yet.