Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Writing Strengths and Weaknesses

Last week, my husband and I traveled to the North Georgia Mountains with a group of friends from church. One of our stops was at Mercier Orchards. The orchard and farm covers more than 300 acres and has been owned and operated by the Mercier family since 1943. We ate lunch at their restaurant, shopped in their store and watched truckloads of apples being brought in from the fields, unloaded, sorted, weighed and boxed for delivery.

The relaxing getaway, the picturesque countryside, falling leaves and cool, crisp mountain air as well as the plentiful harvest of apples brought to mind a scripture God placed on my heart soon after I received “The Call.”

“It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit.”

~John 15:36~

Let’s spend today—in this season of Thanksgiving—looking back over the “fruit” we’ve produced during this past year and ponder the steps we’ve taken to improve our writing. Often we talk about success and failure, but today, I’d like to discuss strengths and weaknesses as a way to gauge our progress.  

Those of you just starting out might find it difficult to identify the positive aspects of your writing. If you’ve received an especially brutal critique, you may wonder if anything you write has merit. Of course, it does, but sometimes it’s hard to separate what works from what doesn’t.

So let’s look at a few elements of story structure…

Inciting Incident

Strength: Does your story start with action that grabs the reader and makes her want to keep turning the pages? In the suspense genre, your lead character needs to be in danger. In a romance, the danger deals more with the heart rather than physical well-being. Congrats if your story opens with a bang!

Weakness: If your beginning rambles with no hint of how the story will play out, tighten your prose and add something unexpected, like a surprise twist, to engage the reader and jump start the story.

First Meet

Strength: Good for you if your hero and heroine meet within the first scene or at least by the end of the first chapter.

Weakness: No meeting in the opening chapters? Move the meet to the first few pages to change a weakness into a strength. Tip: The first POV character is usually the protagonist. The first person introduced of the opposite sex is usually the love interest. If that’s not the case, clue in the reader!


Strength:  Your hero and heroine must have specific goals at the onset of the story. Whether shared or individual, each goal needs to be concrete, meaning capable of being perceived by the senses and not abstract or imaginary. A valid identifiable goal could be to save a parcel of land from being turned into a shopping mall or renovating grandma’s home to make it wheelchair accessible so she doesn’t have to move to a nursing home. In a suspense, the goal might be to stop a serial killer from striking again. Kudos if you’ve mentioned your protagonist’s goal in the first scene. Extra kudos if the love interest in the story has a conflicting goal.

Weakness:  No mention of a concrete goal at the onset leaves the reader floundering as to where the story is headed. State the hero and heroine’s goals clearly and then hint at any conflict that could develop so the reader can anticipate the struggle that will ensue. Tip: Falling in love is not a goal.


Strength: High five if you’ve explained why the goal—even if it seems somewhat trivial—is important to the character. If the reader understands what’s at stake, she’ll buy into the story. Landing an interview with the new governor of the state might not be a life and death issue, but if the reporter’s job depends on her bringing in a lead story, the interview becomes significant, especially if the single mom reporter needs the job to pay for her special needs daughter’s private therapy.

Weakness: A lack of motivation means there’s no reason for the hero to face insurmountable odds to achieve his goal. Give him a reason to do the unthinkable or the impossible or the foolish. Tip: The greater the negative consequences if he doesn’t achieve his goal, the more the reader will want him to succeed.

Workers pack apples for shipping at Mercier Orchards.
Could this be the start of a romance? 

Internal conflict

Strength: What’s keeping your characters from living life to the full? Rejection? A broken heart? A life changing disappointment? A disparaging comment overheard and accepted as truth? Good for you if you’ve nailed that inner wound.

Weakness: Unsure of what holds your hero back? If so, dig more deeply into your character’s past. Come up with a specific incident or moment in time that still causes pain. Tip: Hint at that brokenness early on and reveal more details later in the story. 


Strength: Is the pacing of your story in keeping with the genre you’re writing? In this day and age, readers don’t want to linger too long at the beginning or meander too slowly through the middle and they certainly don't want to tip toe toward a less than exciting climax. Congrats if your story moves quickly from start to finish.

Weakness: Extraneous prose can slow your pace. Superfluous scenes and dialogue that goes nowhere can have the same effect. Cut out duplication and pare down introspection to strengthen your pacing. Tip: As tension escalates, such as in a suspense, chapters and scenes often shorten.

Mercier Orchards, Blue Ridge, GA. Such a picturesque setting!


Strength: Give yourself a pat on the back if your characters speak in short bursts of dialogue punctuated with action beats. Give yourself another pat if their banter and body language have a deeper meaning.  

Weakness: Are your characters too chatty? Too friendly? Too easygoing at the onset of the story? Increase the tension to keep the reader on the edge of her seat and get rid of idle chitchat that doesn’t have bearing on the story. Tip: Cut greetings, such as “hello” and “how are you” as well as unnecessary farewells.

Black Moment 

Strength: Take a bow if the reader believes the romance between the hero and heroine is over. You’ve done your job if their differences seem too significant to overcome, and the reader doesn’t see how they’ll ever get together again.

Weakness: Don’t let the split be coincidental or something that could be easily fixed. Rework the black moment until there’s a sense of hopelessness about the relationship. Tip: A well-structured black moment makes the reader fear that a happily ever after isn’t in their future.

Views from my deck. We've been blessed with a beautiful fall in Georgia.


Strength: The hero must battle the antagonist, and the antagonist, or villain, must be a strong and savvy adversary. That fight, whether a physical altercation or a battle of wills, needs to be significant, and the hero and/or heroine must triumph in the end. Good for you if the reader fears for the hero and heroine’s well-being.

Weakness: Weak villains are…well, weak. Beef up the bad guy to make the climactic confrontation memorable. Tip: Even villains have a GMC.

We’ve looked at a few elements common to all fictionalized stories. Now let’s identify the three strongest elements of your writing? Is romantic tension your forte? Do you excel at character development? Can you create intriguing plots? Do your scenes end with a strong hook? Is each scene written in one character’s point of view with no head hopping? Are you a master of snappy dialogue? Riveting suspense? Humor? Sexual tension? Whatever your strengths, pepper in those positives throughout your manuscripts. In other words, take what you do well and add that strong writing into other areas of the story. As an example, if you’ve mastered inciting incidents at the beginning of your manuscript, use that same technique at various turning points or as you gear up for the climax.

Can you identify three areas of weakness? To improve and enhance the areas and aspects of storytelling that fall short, study crafts books. Read other writers and analyze how they handle similar problems. Do a google search for articles that provide strategies for improvement. Recognizing a shortcoming is half the battle. Once you realize what you’re doing wrong, you’re better able to to fix the problem. Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes the smallest change or revision can make a so-so story shine.

Grab a cup of coffee and a muffin or pastry from the breakfast bar, and let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses in our writing. Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for a copy of my latest release, PLAIN TRUTH, a journal, a copy of "The Writer’s Prayer" and – in honor of Seekerville’s 9th Birthday—a $9 gift card from Starbucks!

As always, I’m praying for you and asking that the work of your hands bears good fruit.

Happy Writing! Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

By Debby Giusti

When widowed doctor Ella Jacobsen is attacked and left for dead in her childrens’ clinic, the peace she’s found in Georgia’s Amish country is shattered. Someone is after something in her clinic and wants her out of the way...but what are they looking for? Ella knows only that her life is in the hands of army special agent Zach Swain. Zach can’t resist the vulnerable but headstrong Ella, who stares down danger to care for the people she loves. With one look, the loner soldier goes from investigator to protector. To save Ella, he must uncover the secrets that swirl around the idyllic community. And he needs to do it fast, because Ella is running out of time.

Order HERE!


  1. Hi Debby,

    GREAT meaty post, with EXAMPLES - WOOT!

    And super tips... Yes yes. How to FIX things and ideas that aren't necessarily apparent.

    Just shared with my new friend, Bill, who has a terrific story idea based on his family history. We met at our local writers group a week ago Monday and he's finally starting! Shared your beautiful writers prayer with him too.

    Praying YOUR writing continues to bear fruit. You've blessed many of us so much. :)

  2. Debby, what a great post! If I wasn't so lazy, I could write a best selling book just following your points. Then again, maybe not. I haven't been chosen to write, but I have chosen to read. Or does He choose us for that as well? Loved your trip "report" I'm sure you could find suspense in that work area! Thanks again!

  3. Great post, Debby. My strength is dialogue. My weakness is episodic writing.

    You proved excellent reminders that we can use as a checklist.

    Love the apple orchard. Do you do anything else with your apples? Such as... make apple pumpkin bread? Or apple pumpkin pie?? Or apple pumpkin butter?

  4. I love this post, Debby! Your breakdown of story elements with examples of strengths and weaknesses is really helpful! In some ways I felt very encouraged as I thought through my WIP (and a new idea I'm mulling around in the back of my mind). Especially when I compared it to stories I wrote even just one year ago--it was fun to see how far I've come!

    Buuuut I still have a LOT of room to grow, so these tips were also useful for combing back through my story, filtering through critiques I've received, and reminding me of things I forgot I once read in a writing craft book somewhere... haha.

    I think one of my biggest weaknesses is working the motivation and internal conflict into the actual words I put on the page. Showing the emotions, reaction, dilemmas going on in my POV character's head instead of just knowing them in my own head and forgetting to infuse them into the story as I write it.

    And the pictures of Georgia in the fall have me missing the South (I lived in Alabama through high school) and longing for sweet, crisp apples. Happy Thanksgiving to you!!

  5. hit the nail on the head with this post!! As a reader, obviously, I'd have no idea what makes or breaks a story. But the more posts such as yours I read here on Seekerville, the more every book I've read makes sense. Strengths and weaknesses, kind of like life, make or break your hero/heroine or your story.

    Now with suspense, I do love it when it starts out with a BANG and keeps me on my toes and turning pages faster than a speeding bullet. No bang, well....what's the point? I read Elizabeth Goddards "Targeted for Murder" in ONE sitting because she KNOWS how to write a suspense that keeps me invested & I couldn't for one moment leave the hero/heroine in the middle of danger....I HAD to know how they got out of it safely.

    Contemporary, I love the first meet right away with their goals & motivation stated fairly early. I just got done reading Jill Kemerer "Yuletide Redemption" where she met these goals within the first chapter. I had a clear idea of where the story would go & anticipated how those affected the hero/heroine actions, words and attitudes.

    Black moments, I don't like! You've lead the reader to believe they will fall madly in love and stay together, then WHAM, something happens to tear them apart OR they just can't reconcile their differences. I want to tear my hair out and rail at them (and the author)!! But, being romance, I KNOW the author will give them their HEA...eventually! I do anticipate how it will happen and the author rectifies themselves by giving us a surprise twist :-)

    Like I said, such a wonderful insightful post Debby! As I was reading this, I thought of so many books where each author hit on the examples you've given here. No need to enter me for the giveaway as I've already won your book a while back on here. Blessings!

  6. Hi Debby:

    All your many points reinforce my belief that writing is not one skill that must be master. Rather, writing is over 100 different skills which must be developed and appropriately utilized. POV alone can fill a 300 page text book. Then there's description, setting, hooks, cliffhangers, characters, names, showing, and the list goes on.

    Pray. Be humble. Work hard. And realize that mastering the writing craft is going to take a long time and require lots of practice.

    My weakness is deadly: I hate editing! I'd rather write a whole new book than edit an old one. I see editing as washing the dishes after you've created a fabulous gourmet meal. I know there is the joy of creation in editing but it is nowhere near the fun of creating a whole new story. This is not something I have to learn. This is something I have to force myself to do. I really need to pray about it.


  7. Hello Debby!

    I would LOVE to go to an apple orchard. Makes me hungry.

    I'm not certain about my strengths and weaknesses, but I do think they vary from book to book. Sometimes my characters motivations are very strong, sometimes not so much. If the goal is weak, I struggle with the writing once I get past the opening.
    If I'm really into the characters, the dialogue flows.

    I do try to start w/a bang and have all the elements you mentioned. I hope the more I write, the better I get.

  8. As a reader I just love that first meeting between the hero & heroine. It's so telling. A great post thank you.

  9. Hi Debby! Wow! What a powerful post with lots of meat to chew and ponder. This is definitely one for the "keeper" book. It's like the "Cliff Notes" to a great "How to Write a Great Novel". Thank you for taking the time to share. Be blessed.

    I pray everyone has a wonderful day!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  10. Hi Debby! This is such a great breakdown of story elements...definitely one for the Seekerville notebook. Yes, I'm up to three now and they're all three inch binders.
    As I push through the month of November, some days, like this past Monday night, I feel I have no strengths. Then last night, I was sailing through an emotional plot point. Writing...some days you love it and other days, not so much.
    One thing I have learned from your books is the importance of chapter ending hooks. You are the queen. :)

  11. Debby, I loved the post and the trip to the apple farm! It reminded me of Hush McGillen's family farm in Deb Smith's "Sweet Hush", one of my all time favorite books... and the view from above is spectacular. What a sweet inspiration that is, right there!

    I brought fried apple pies with cider glaze for us to share... Yes, they're fried because no matter how you try to bake these, it isn't the same... and for this one time, let's be decadent!

    Deb, your breakdown of story elements has given me thought for my revisions right now. Thank you!!!

  12. Oh, strengths and weaknesses...

    My strength is character development. My weakness is repetition.

    And even when I focus on doing better, I find myself slipping into that same crater!

    It's a job that doesn't let you up for air or rest on your laurels. And that's good for all of us!

  13. Hi Debby,

    I think we all want to go visit Mercier Orchards now. That place looks amazing, and I love apples.

    Congratulations on your new book! I can't wait to read it.

    From contest feedback, I think dialogue is my strength. This week as I've talked with writer friends, I've discovered I'm not as clear on external conflict as I thought. So, that's what I'm trying to figure out. I'd love to hear any comments on external conflict.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  14. KC, how nice of you to help Bill with his story. Thanks, too, for sharing The Writer's Prayer. I host a small writing class at my church and love seeing the progress the folks are making. One lady has the cover for a travel book she's writing. She plans to make it a series and the first release will focus on New Orleans. I'm so proud of her!!!

    Have a wonderful day. Our leaves are still dazzling and I'm lovin' every glorious minute!

  15. Marianne, give writing a try! You might love it. After reading so many stories, you understand what works and what doesn't. But we love our readers!!! So never stop reading. Your support and encouragement mean so much to us.


    I wonder if folks know how their comments can help to bolster us when we're wondering if we'll ever be able to craft a story again. Writers are such a unique bunch. Every book comes with some type of struggle. Affirmation helps us to keep moving forward. Thanks for all the wonderful help you provide!


  16. Tina, I don't bake...I buy! :) And eat! Your apple suggestions sound yummy. Are you baking today?

  17. Starbucks is great but there's nothing better than apples in the fall.

  18. Debby, I love this post! So much information to help improve our writing. And you've made me want to take a day trip to Mercier Orchard!

    I think my strength is dialogue and unexpected twists, but I struggle with chapter ending hooks (I can usually come up with a few good ones, but I struggle to provide strong hooks for each chapter).

    Please don't enter me in the drawing. Plain Truth is already on my tbr pile, and I plan to read it next week during my time off from work.

  19. Megan, so glad that you've seen progress in your writing!!! Yay! Isn't that exciting!

    Motivation and internal conflict are hard to grasp and even harder to know how to incorporate into the story.

    My suggestion...obvious motivation should be revealed fairly early. Why does the hero need to achieve his goal?

    The internal conflict needs to be revealed slowly. We don't like to share our secrets with others. Plus, he might not even realize that he still struggles with the old wound. The heroine might help him see his past in a new light so eventually he can come to terms with what actually happened or what was said. Often the healing comes in the climax and might then be revealed in the resolution.

  20. Trixi, I love your analysis of suspense and romance stories!!! I'm also chuckling about the black moment and tearing your hair out! :)

    I need to read Elizabeth Goddard's book. Thanks for mentioning a great suspense that kept you turning the pages!

  21. Blogger is not my friend today. Anyone else having problems? I have to verify that I'm not a robot over and over with ten sets of photos...ugh! I may have to use my phone to comment. Bear with me, please!

  22. Vince, you've revealed your conflict!!! LOL!

    Perhaps you write a clean first copy and don't need to revise. Could that be the case? My first draft is terrible so I'm thrilled to be able to improve the story.

  23. Connie, I've found that if I'm struggling with a story early on I need to relook the GMC and internal conflict. Often those elements need to be stronger. Sometimes a slight change can make all the difference.

    When I'm writing, I love to have lots of elements to draw from...the inner conflict, the motivation, perhaps the greatest fear, secrets...all of that provides bits and pieces I can use. The more defined those elements are the easier it is to write the story.

  24. Mary Preston, the first meet and, in fact, the first two chapters are the hardest to write, IMHO. But if the writer nails the important elements at the onset, the reader will usually buy into the story.

  25. Thanks, Cindy W. Praying your day is wonderful too!

  26. Jill, thanks for you comment about my scene endings.

    You're so right about some writing days going smoothly and others being a struggle. I'm on the struggling side with a new story. I've been trying to decide what doesn't work and realized I need to up the conflict between the hero and heroine. Often if I can't get "into" a story, it's because I need to rework that important GMC!!!

  27. Ruthy, I don't think I've ever eaten a fried apple pie! Thanks for sharing!

    Do you have apple trees on your farm? I loved seeing the harvest at Merciers Orchard. It made me think of the bounty of God's love to provide so perfectly for his children. Fruit of the earth and all so yummy!

    You're great with conflict, Ruthy. Love that about your stories.

  28. Yes, to your great character development, Ruthy.

    Repetition is always a challenge. Especially with internal dialogue. The hero/heroine is focused on a certain problem so, of course, she/he will continue to mull it over...and over...and over. I'm laughing and heading back to check my own repetition.


  29. Jackie, yay to having strong dialogue! Often that's hard to learn.

    External conflict is what keeps the hero and heroine apart at the onset. Often if you set up opposing goals you can more easily nail the conflict. Think two dogs and one bone. They're both tackling an issue but from different directions. Or why is she the last woman he would ever fall in love with? The same goes for her. She likes guys, but not the type of guy he is. That dislike at the onset can stem from a past pain. She had a cop dad who was verbally abusive so a cop isn't the type of guy she can trust with her heart.

    If hero and heroine have opposite goals that puts them at odds. If there's friction involving the internal conflict as well, you've got the set up for a great story.

    Does any of that make sense?

  30. DEBBY, this is a real nuts-and-bolts post. It has EVERYTHING.
    My weaknesses include structure. It was a strength of my last crit partner, she has even led workshops on it, so she schooled me quite a bit. I'm so-so on dialogue, I think, it doesn't always sparkle but it doesn't make you cringe. I think my strength is in the writing itself -- word choice, sentence structure etc. I can make a word do handsprings. I'm okay at character development, depending on the character.
    Can somebody pray for me today or tomorrow, I am sending in a proposal that was requested after a contest win.
    I got up early to work on my proposal and one of my WIPs and now feel I can tackle the day. There is nothing like this writing life. Nothing.
    Kathy Bailey
    Going to work, back later

  31. RUTHY, the nutritional value of the apples in the fried pies balances out the negative effects of the frying. At least that's what I tell myself. I can rationalize anything for pastry.

  32. Debby,

    Thanks for helping me with external conflict. That makes sense.

    I'm so sad you've never had a real fried apple pie. Fast food doesn't count, but some of them are okay. Maybe next year at ACFW, we can go on the hunt for fried apple pies.

  33. Debby, I'm far too lazy to become a writer when if have such great go-to authors that write fabulous novels! SEEKERVILLE AUTHORS ROCK!!!

  34. When you talk about weak villains it always reminds me of Superman...Batman...Whoeverman
    I always think if Superman just had REGULAR bad guys to catch he could clean up the whole planet in a few days and we'd all live in peace.
    But ON NO...he's got to have Supervillains.
    Remember this as you write. If your hero is tough then he needs a really TOUGH villain. It needs to be a true battle.
    Or there's no story.

  35. Kaybee I thought the same thing about this nuts and bolts blog. It's just a perfect list to check your work against. Opening action, the attention grabbing first meet. All of it. It's making me think through my current WIP and see where it could be made better.

  36. DEBBY, thank you for the concise, savvy tips on what it takes to be a great storyteller! Even with books on the shelf, I always want to keep learning, to keep growing my craft. I love the reminder from the book of John that God's children were chosen to bear fruit. Writers are blessed to be able to tell stories that bring Him glory.

    The photos are gorgeous and make me want to visit Mercier Orchards.

    Hugs, Janet

  37. Debby, what timing! I was just reviewing my last contest results. I think -- think, since the score sheets vary widely -- that I add to much description. Given that I don't know anything about the judges, other than whether they were published writers, I'll float the entr past my my beta readers and see what they think. They are, after all, my kind of readers :-)

    Thanks for sharing those beautiful pictures. That scenery is so peaceful and inviting.

    Best wishes for Plain Truth!

    Nancy C

  38. Debby,
    Thank you for this article. It is so easy for me to forget the steps I've taken to improve my writing skills this year. I'm glad that you reminded me to think about it.

    I have many weaknesses in my writing. So, that I'm not overwhelmed I am trying to focus my studying at this time on just two of them and they are: Internal Conflict and Deep POV.

    My strength is that I've been blessed with multiple story ideas.

  39. Gracious me, the typos in my comment LOL

    Nancy C

  40. Great post Debby, I love the photos of your area. And don't you love fall? And thanksgiving? You are so right. We have so much to be thankful for.

    Great breakdown of the elements. I'm finishing another wip so will have a good checklist here to go over before sending it out.

    Have a wonderful holiday.

  41. Kaybee,

    Prayers sent up that the Lord will lead you to the perfect words to use in your proposal.

    Congrats on the contest win.

  42. DEBBY, my strength is characterization. I love creating back story. My weakness is plot. Oh, and redundancy.


  43. Hi Debby:

    No, my first drafts are not clean. They have too much dialogue. My greatest joy is creating a novel and seeing it written to 'The End'. At that point the story is born and 'perfect' in my mind.

    I also know it takes a lot longer to edit a novel, that is go thru all the drafts and layering (oh yes, don't forget the layering).

    Also, in the time all that editing takes to be completed, another novel could have been written.

    Of course, I'm still learning and I may windup like many authors with 20 completed manuscripts in my bedroom chest waiting for the day I have the skill level to go back and edit all those books to publishable standards.

    Comparing Apples to Apples:

    I'm very curious. What kind of apples were available at the farm? How many kinds did you try? Which do you think make the best eating apples (not cooking)? I like to try different types of apples but I have never found anything better than a Delicious apple. I actually do eat an apple a day. Sometimes two!

    This makes me realize that I can't seem to think of any romance characters in which I can describe their eating likes and dislikes. Are authors missing eating habits as quirks. (Oy vey! Must remember to include character quirks!) In a way, writing is like a crazy quilt!

    I must say this: if one really, really, tries to write a publishable novel, one develops a very healthy respect for those authors with the fortitude to do it! As far as we know even Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates never wrote even a first draft. (Maybe someday a publisher will ask 'what else have you written'?)


    Do you think you could write a 'Writer's Thanksgiving Prayer', 'Writer's Christmas Prayer', and Writer's Prayer on the Birth a of Child', and a dozen other events? That's a whole prayer book! In a way, the writing and the praying can become one and the same.

  44. Hmm. . I am not a novel writer, but my strength in writing(everyday and classwork). . is remembering details my weakness is that people can lost in my details. :-)

    Loved the pictures. We use to live in Atlanta. Beautiful this time of year.
    Becky B

  45. Debby! Thank you for this post. So informative. I'm printing it out to keep near. Weaknesses: there are many. Repetition, characters saying hello, conflict-of any kind. Backstory dumps. So now to go find all those and fix them!

    I don't know of any strengths in my writing. I enjoy it; but I'd much rather edit words on a page than write words lol. When I get an email from someone asking me to edit, I feel my heart rate speed up. If I could just see my own work with the same clarity. My hero and heroine do meet in the first chapter. Yay! I love when I have a first draft finished. It's like an outline I can then mold.

    I just got feedback from a contest I'd entered and the judge had encouraging things to say. Just what I needed to hear, with tips on how to make it better, examples of what worked in my writing and what didn't. It was very helpful. One thing the judge had pointed out I had already fixed. Nice confirmation!

    Love these Seekerville posts. I learn so much!

  46. Hi Debby:

    About writing clean first drafts: it is said that John Dewey, the philosopher and man my nuns in grade school said destroyed American education, never would edit. He'd write the whole article or chapter over again rather than edit it. He though of the whole work as a gestalt and you couldn't edit part of it anymore than you'd want to repair an engine while it was running.

    As far as I know, he never wrote fiction.


  47. VINCE, I love the editing process. I love it so much that I edit continually. :-( I'm sure you'd be in a fetal position if you were forced to edit as you go.


  48. Debby, your post gave me an immediate idea about how I've started a novella. The opening has been driving me crazy. Thank you for helping me solve what's wrong with it!!

    Now, I'm off to fix it before I forget. LOL

  49. Hi Rhonda,

    I'm so glad you've identified your strengths. Dialogue is huge and so are unexpected twists! Pat yourself on the back!!!

    Ending hooks are easy peasy. Just turn the POV character's euphoria perhaps into a downward spiral as he realizes the next hurdle will be even more difficult than the last. Actually you can pull from the plot or the internal conflict or the fear of commitment or the need to protect himself from being hurt or having a broken heart. Lots to choose from.

    Sometimes if I'm struggling with a hook, I'll look at the lines leading up to the ending of the scene as written. Often I'll find a hook buried there, which means I've overwritten the ending. Cutting some of the "extra" lines leaves me with the perfect ending that keeps the reader turning the page...hopefully! :)

  50. Kathy, I'm praying that your submission will be well received! Kudos to you!!! And hugs!

    Sounds as if you're a wordsmith! Congrats! I think that's a God-given talent.

    My dialogue was so weak until I learned to add the action tags...and shorten my sentences or sentence fragments. I still remember a contest judge, early on, saying she liked my dialogue. I was shocked. But I had worked on that weakness and evidently the work had paid off!

    Story structure. Okay, do you write a synopsis? Difficult as they are, they show me what's lacking in my story at the get go. I can see the holes and the weaknesses.

    Understanding story is so important, but it takes time to see how all the parts need to fit together. Sometimes we have a specific idea about how we WANT the story to develop. When we lay out that outline, we find the flaws and realize we need to make some changes. It's as if the square story won't fit into the round hole. But by looking at the entirety of the story we can fix those issues before they become major problems.

    Keep us posted on your submission!!!

  51. BTW, in my battle with blogger and the endless verification, I'm now publishing each comment without doing a preview. So...expect typos!

  52. Jackie, I'm hanging my head in shame. I'll try to find a fried apple stand the next time I go to a local fair. Or maybe I can find them at our local farmer's market.

    No calories, right?


  53. Marianne, I'm sending a million kisses and hugs your way today!!!

    You're wonderful!!!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  54. Mary C...great tip about Superman. So true about villains. They need to be Super Bad Guys so the hero becomes more heroic!

  55. Hi Janet,

    I love the idea of bearing fruit. It resonates with me. My children are the best fruit I've ever produced...with God's help, of course...and the help of my sweet hubby!

    The idea of bearing fruit helps me remember that everything takes time. Writing a story, learning craft, snagging the interest of an editor or agent. It all takes time and effort and determination.

    I love seeing the wonderful progress of so many of our Villagers! Everyone works so hard. All of you are turning weaknesses into strengths! I'm cheering you on and grateful for the fruit you bear!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  56. Nancy, too much description is easy to fix. Save your original document and work on a second copy. Cut some of your prose and see if you like the revision better than the original. Often it's hard to delete the wonderful lines we've written, but hopefully, by doing so, we can enhance the pacing and keep the story fresh. We don't want to bog down our readers. Less is sometimes more.

    Good luck making the changes!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  57. Love this, Debby--specific areas we can address and solid tips on how to improve! This post would make a super checklist to keep close at hand during edits and revisions!

  58. Argh! I had just finished writing my comment on your blog post, DEBBY, when it disappeared. So I'll express my appreciation for your wisdom once again. Talk about a valuable checklist! In my head, I ran through the first three chapters of my historical novel to make sure I'd covered everything.

    My strength is natural dialogue. My weakness is description. How much is too much? How much is too little? Have I used the five senses? It takes a draft or three to rewrite and edit those portions.

    I have fond memories of an apple farm in Grand Rapids, MI. It sounds a lot like the one you toured. Scruptious apple pie eaten at a table in front of a roaring fire. Heaven!

    RUTHY, I'll take one of your fried apple pies, but you'll probably have to slap my hand when I reach for more. I have absolutely no willpower when sugar and grease hit my tongue.

    Have a great day everyone!

  59. Theresa, good for you! You've identified your strength and are working on two weak areas. Perfect.

    It's exciting to have lots of ideas rolling around in your head. I find that eagerness to write the next story helps to get me through the current WIP. :)

    My advice for internal conflict is to hone that past hurt down to a specific moment. So the character remembers the hateful words spoken by a certain person, or the embarrassment of having let someone down in a specific incident, or the mistaken memory of a past action for which he/she still feels responsible. The more you understand what happened in that moment in time, the better able you'll be to incorporate that into your story, not necessarily revealing every detail, but by providing hints that the reader can pick up on. Internal conflict is not about generalities. It's about something specific.

    Some folks write a scene in first person to nail deep POV. Then they rewrite that same scene in third person. With deep POV, you're totally in that character's mind and body. Cut filtering words, such as feel, heard, wonder, thought to make the action more immediate. Think of a movie camera on the head of your POV character. He can only experience what his POV camera sees.

    Hope that helps.

  60. Thanks, Debby! You've given me a lot to think about to help make my manuscript shine.

  61. Janet, you're never redundant.

    I love your stories. And your characters. And I love your voice. That's something we haven't mentioned today. Voice is something that comes naturally, I believe, with writing. I don't think we learn voice...we just HAVE voice. A topic for another blog perhaps!


  62. Vince, you learn by doing. So you're improving your craft with each story you write. Then you move on to the next one...and learn something new.

    That works! At some point though, you'll have to revise. Perhaps you should set a daily revision quota that has to get done before you allow yourself to work on the "new" book. Because, much as you don't like revising, it is a very important part of the process.

    My least favorite is getting words on the page. That's why I like a fast first draft so I can get something to revise. :) We're all so different, like various varieties of apples.

    I wish I'd written down the names of the apples at the orchard. They had so many from which to choose. And they provided samples. Cameos are good for cooking. A friend on FB mentioned Pink Ladies but they were picked over the day I was there. I came home with 12 lbs. Lots of Red Delicious that are the best I've ever eaten. Rome apples. Galas, which I love. Golden delicious and some other varieties that looked good but I don't know their names. The orchard's website lists 38 varieties.

    Thanks for mentioning the various prayer for writers. I do listen when you speak. :) I did write a prayer for readers. That came from your suggestion so thank you, dear friend. You always inspire me!

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    PS: Hubby and I visited Orange Beach after you and Missy both raved around the area. We enjoyed our stay and credit you both for introducing us to a beautiful beach destination.

  63. Becky, your strength is also your weakness. That's funny! But not a problem. You just need to cut a few of the details.

    My family is originally from Ohio. My dad was military so we lived in many different places but we always went "home" to Ohio.


  64. Sally, your love for editing is a strength!!! Plus, it sounds as if the contest judge revealed other areas where you excel. Sometimes it's hard to see our strengths when we're trying to follow so many writing rules! :)

    Whenever someone else reads your work, ask them to identify what you do well. I always treasured the positive comments from contest judges. Often their encouragement was what I needed to hear at that moment.

    Work on turning one weakness into a strength. Once you succeed, then work on the next area. You don't have to tackle everything at once.

    The fact that you're submitting to contests is another plus! Good for you!

    You mentioned backstory...weave it in gently. No info dumps. Instead drop hints that will encourage the reader to keep reading.


  65. John Dewey needed a computer, Vince! It's probably good that he didn't write fiction! :)

  66. Thanks, Myra. There's so much more that I could add...and I just might do that.

  67. Barbara, blogger is being a very bad boy today. Sorry for your disappearing comment!

    Congrats on nailing dialogue! I do believe that's one of the hardest elements to learn and the most important to make a story memorable! Good for you!

    I love description, especially in historicals. I want the time period to become real. I want to experience the setting, the smells, the tastes, the unique way of life. My hat's off to anyone who writes in that genre. I kill people. That's easy. Historical fiction requires total submersion in the past.

    Kudos! And hugs!

  68. J Baugh.

    Glad to help!

    I enlarged your photo. Are you a drummer? How fun! Tell us more...please!

  69. hi Debby
    this is a WONDERFUL checklist post. I know I will be referring back to it in the future. I think my strength is dialogue, I KNOW my weakness is conflict - namely, not enough or strong enough to carry the story beyond novella length. I think also, maybe a little bit of wishy-washy goals for my characters.

    My favorite apples are Granny Smiths and Galas. I like crispy, tart apples. I think I've had too many chalky Delicious apples in the past, so I avoid those. Would love to have my name in the draw too. I already have your writer's prayer, but I can share another one with my mom. She and her husband are prayer warriors too.


  70. Debby, what a practical post! Your suggestions are spot on. I know one of my weaknesses is dialogue. I'm working to add more emotion and tension to what my characters say. It's harder than I ever realized. :)

    One of my strengths is story world. I love making the setting come alive for readers through use of the five senses, and also peppering in description as the character walks through the scene. So much fun. :)

    It sounds like you and your hubs had a wonderful weekend! Your pictures are beautiful!

  71. DEBBY, that is a good tip on the synopsis. I've been writing mine after the story is done, but will start doing it sooner.

  72. Does anyone love caramel apples as much as I do? Though I'll admit, it's easier to just buy dipping caramel and slice up the apples.


  73. DEBBY, I do tend to be redundant but I'm learning to cut overblown introspection. I need to make sure my characters live in the real world, not in their thoughts. Well, their world may not be real but it sure feels real to me. :-)

    Like you, I think voice comes naturally when we allow it. Perhaps trying to sound writer-ly stifles our voice.


  74. Debby I have trouble with writing stilted dialog on my first draft. I'm working on improving as I revise. I am also working on action beats.

  75. DebH...

    Another strong dialogue writer! Good for you.

    Problems with conflict? Before publication, I worried about adding too much internal conflict. Then I attended a women's retreat at my church. The group continued to meet for eight months following and we shared our life stories over the course of those months. I was amazed at the pain so many of the women carried. Some had healed from those past hurts. Others were in the process of working through their pain. It made me realize that I needed to up the conflict in my fiction. Most of us have hurts from the past, some of us are still broken. Readers want to see fictional characters overcome their pasts and triumph. In my opinion, the deeper the internal pain or conflict, the more I'm cheering on the heroine and the happier I am when she overcomes her problems.

    Something to ponder!

    Also a hero/heroine's goal can be anything along as the writer provides the character's motivation so we know why that goal is so important. :)

    Happy Thanksgiving! Hugs to your mom, hubby and Guppy!

  76. Jeanne, congrats on your writing strengths.

    I'm always working on dialogue. It's like writing itself. There's always something more to learn!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!


  77. KB, let me know if it helps. Yes, writing the synopsis is painful...but it can also be productive.


  78. Janet, my characters think the same things over and over again. :)

    They're always worried about the future and the past and the present! Oh, those silly characters!


    Camel apples. YUM! But so sticky to eat.

  79. Wilani, let the words flow on your first draft. Then go back and rework the story. Are your characters speaking in complete sentences? Most of us speak in sentence fragments. Cutting some of that dialogue into shorter sound bites might help.


  80. Oh, Debby is so right. Sometimes the only way to revise is to promise your wonderful masterpiece that you have saved an original copy. That gives you permission to slice and dice on the second copy. BUT LABEL THEM SO THERE IS NO CONFUSION.

  81. Great tips! Thanks for sharing!!

  82. Debby, On the book I have been entering in contests people are confused because I have the villain first. I was going to relabel the genre to Women's fiction, but I just had a thought perhaps if I write a prologue because she met the hero in college. They were in love but he broke up with her because he didn't want to keep her from going to the mission field. She will end up with the hero towards the end of the book.

    I am thinking that if I write a prologue of their relationship in college enough to hook the reader in and explain some and then for the first chapter start where I do. I don't know I love this story so much but the problem is coming up with the correct genre. I suppose I need to find a critique partner that is willing to read the whole book and then help me come up with the correct genre and where to go with the fixes. Any advice I am open to.

    Even though I know I am not ready to submit a book for publishing I am learning all along and Seekerville has helped so much.

    I will be printing off these tips when I can get back home to my printer.

  83. Excellent tips, Debby! You are so smart and talented - - no wonder your books are awesome. :)
    This is going to the front of my Keeper File as a reminder to make sure my manuscripts meet this criteria.
    Love your lovely Fall photos! So glad you were able to visit Mercier Orchards. I haven't been to the orchard, but have visited Blue Ridge (lots of my ancestors were from that area!). Such beautiful country in that part of our state. :)
    Happy Thanksgiving to you!
    Hugs, Patti Jo

  84. Oh, dear my characters don't meet in the first chapter... except I can't see how to make it that they meet seeing as they are busy doing other things before their explosive meeting in the second chapter. Also the motivations of my hero are unknown, but that's because he's one of those mysterious- do I trust him, do I not?- types.

    I would say that probably my biggest weakness in writing is writing details. I have a bad habit of telling not showing and of not writing at all about the characters' surroundings. To help my books get more detail, I generally dedicate a whole draft to going through my book and adding details.

    Please enter my name in the drawing.

  85. My strengths are probably dialogue and developing the overarching plot of the story (even if the story is eleven books long).

  86. Tina, I hate to throw words I've written away. And I have done revisions on the original copy, deleted that which I THOUGHT I needed to cut, only to realize what was gone needed to return. #pullouthair

    Now I save the original and work on the duplicate until I'm sure of what I want to delete.

  87. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Connie!


  88. Wilani, a prologue works if something happened in the past that was life changing for the lead character. Actually a lot of editors don't like prologues. What happens is that the reader connects with those initial characters. Then in the first chapter they're introduced to new characters...or the initial characters who are now older.

    Think about just alluding to what happened in the heroine's introspection. You don't have to tell the reader everything at the beginning. You want to tease the reader and make her eager to know more about what happened.

    Women's fiction is about the lead female character. It's her story and it should be about her growth or change or coming home, whatever. Yes, a love interest could appear later in the story.

    For a romance, the hero and heroine have to meet in the beginning.

    Does that help or hurt?

    You could always write the prologue and decide if you think it works. Enter a contest and see what the judges say. You can learn a lot from contests.

    Just some ideas.

  89. Patti Jo, the trip was lovely. I took my AlphaSmart and planned to write as we drove there, but I only got a few paragraphs written. I just wanted to focus on the pretty scenery. :)

  90. Nicky,
    If your story is a romance, try to move that first meet up to the first chapter. Start the opening scene in the lead character's POV. Let's say it's the heroine. Show her doing whatever she needs to do...her ordinary world. But then everything changes when she's confronted by the hero. You could have that meeting be the hook at the end of first scene. You could end with something about the guy standing in front of her was the last person she ever wanted to see again. Whatever fits the story. Then you start the second scene in the hero's POV and he's surprised by the heroine as well. So you've captured that explosion, but you have it early in the story. Then, if need be, the characters can get to some of the action you initially had them doing in the first two chapters.

    Just a suggestion. Play around with your beginning. Revisions usually strengthen a story.

  91. My story isn't fundamentally a romance. Yes there is a romance sideline, but while it is important to the story it's not the whole story. There's also the politics of two countries ready to go to war with each other, the story of a girl breaking free of the "prison" in which she has grown up in for the entire of her life that she remembers, and her quest to rediscover her long forgotten past.

    In the first chapter my main character is kind of busy breaking a criminal out of jail and unless she wants to be dragged to jail herself she can't meet the hero who kind of doesn't know that she is up to illicit things. But then again she doesn't know what it is the hero is up to either...

    When they do meet she does recognize him, she just doesn't know who he is seeing as he is someone from her forgotten past...

  92. Thank you so much for this concise reminder of how to make our stories great. You set a great example for all of us. This is definitely one to print out and tack up near the computer.

    I'm glad you had a nice trip. We all need to have a time of refreshment from time to time.

  93. Instead of saving the original, I cut words/paragraphs and put them in a file called Deleted Words in my WIP folder. For paragraph or scenes that I may want later in the story, I put them in file called Words to Use. Weird, I know.

    Do you all clean out your folder once the book is written or turned in? Once I have the final title, I make a new folder and put the final copy of the book in there. I never seem to get around to dumping all those deleted words.


  94. Nicky, sounds like you're writing a main stream. Keep working! Isn't it exciting! We're all proud of you!


  95. Bettie,
    I'm glad you liked the blog post! Yes, the trip to the orchard was delightful...and a nice memory to treasure.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  96. Janet, I cut text and place it in an "Extra" folder. Like you, I never clean out my files after the book is written. I keep everything...which probably slows down my computer! :)

  97. DEBBY, we're savers, that's for sure.

    If anyone hasn't read Debby's Plain Truth, you're missing out. It's so good!!!

  98. Debby, Did you bring apple fritters from Mercier today? Mercier is one of my family's favorite places. We went strawberry picking there this spring and we went there last month for apples, apple pie, & apple fritters. My twins love the tractor in the apple room.

    And a great post. Yes, if I've heard from one judge, I've heard from all that I need to work on conflict, conflict, conflict. Of course, my books go in spurts. One group says I have good dialogue in one, and then with another book, I get comments to work on dialogue. I get great comments about my hero with one book, then the next, not so much.

    Thanks for discussing weaknesses and strengths of the different components. I love your conciseness and insight.

  99. Thank you, Janet! You're so sweet! Hugs!

  100. Jackie, no calories? Then bring on the fried apple pie! :)


  101. Tanya, I didn't have the apple fritters at Merciers. Maybe next time!

    You can't listen to every contest judge, right? But you can pick some of the elements that ring true with you.

    You know how I feel about makes or breaks the story. So beef up your conflict whether the judges are in agreement or not. It won't hurt and it will make your story zing!!!

  102. I'm reading Plain Truth already. It's a wonderful story (perfect for anyone wanting to try Tina's recent dissection lesson).

    However, Debby, you said you were in the north Georgia mountains recently. Hope the smoke wasn't too bad.

    As for what I need to work on, it's writing women better. :-)

  103. Walt, glad you've nailed the female characters!!!

    Yes, the smoke was very bad in Ellijay. Thankfully, it cleared when we got to the apple orchards in Blue Ridge. BTW, smoke was bad in my area a few days ago. How's your air quality?

  104. Debby, I write men fine. I have trouble with the women's POV. :-)

  105. Interesting post, Debby - thank you!! Also loved the beautiful pics, the encouraging words, the angel figurines (do you collect them also) and the bible verse.


  106. Debby,

    Excellent post - most helpful, especially since I'm about to start writing fiction again. So, I don't think I have any strengths at the moment and everything else is a weakness!

  107. Great post. :) That GA town really is gorgeous!

  108. Debby, I love Merciers and the apple fritters. My brother bought a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains and he introduced us to it for breakfast and an hour of shopping. The store is fun and has lots to offers. We only get up there on Memorial Day weekend or Labor Day weekend, but always visit it. I love the depth and insight of your column today. Many good points on conflict along with beautiful pictures. This one is a keeper. Thanks for sharing.

  109. DEB!! My humble apologies for my tardiness, but I had a colonoscopy yesterday, so it slowed me down a bit. ;) Everything checked out fine and I'm breathing a lot easier.

    YOU SAID: "If your beginning rambles with no hint of how the story will play out, tighten your prose and add something unexpected, like a surprise twist, to engage the reader and jump start the story" AND "Good for you if your hero and heroine meet within the first scene or at least by the end of the first chapter. No meeting in the opening chapters? Move the meet to the first few pages to change a weakness into a strength."

    Excellent tip, my friend, and one an author gave me years ago in a professional critique on my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure. I've mentioned this before on this blog, but my original first seven pages were all internal thought with the first action -- a kiss -- happening on page 7. The critiquer told me to get the action up front, so I moved it to about page five, then page three, then finally page one, which hopefully hooks the romance reader right off the bat. Of course back then CBA publishers weren't high on putting a kiss on the first page, but this kiss actually set up the tension between the heroine and her sister, so it was essential to the story. Or at least I thought so ... ;)

    LOVE all the pix today, my friend, and I felt like I was there with you at Mercier Orchards, heightening my sense of fall and the Thxgiving season, so THANK YOU! Now, if I just had a bag of those incredible apples ... ;) Must put on grocery list ...



  110. Bonton, I love angels and have a number of them throughout my house! :)


  111. Yay, Edwina. So glad you're returning to fiction!!! :)

    Abigail, the town was lovely. Unfortunately, fires are burning not far from there. We're praying for the safety of all in the North Georgia Mountains, for the firefights...and for rain!

    Suzanne, how fun that you know Merciers!!! It was my first visit, but it won't be my last!

    Julie, so glad you moved that kiss up! I remember the opening of that story! You had me at the first line!

  112. Excellent post. I really enjoyed reading it. We have a few lovely farmers market very close to us. We live next to Chambersburg, PA and they produce in their apple orchards a bundle of apples that get shipped out to the grocery stores. My favorites are Pink Lady,Gala and Fuji. Such beautiful pictures, wow!

    Deanne Patterson
    Cnnamongirl at aol dot com