Tag Archives: writing advice

Melody first, my dear

Melody first, my dear, or so they say when you compose lyrics/music. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s been my pattern to spend a day giving structure to a new chapter by writing the dialog out first, let it sit over night, and then turn it into text the next day. It’s a technique I’ve been using for years, and where there used to be a fairly reliable 1:2 ratio of dialog to text, page wise, it’s slowly evolved to more of a 2:3 ratio now.

I’ve noticed my chapters are getting longer, too, but that might be an artifact of having an increasing number of people interacting at one time, stretching myself. I like brevity, but sometimes, there’s a need for everyone to be there. The chapter I’m in now has Rachel, Trent, Quen, Llaze, Bis, and Jenks. Oh, and Buddy, the dog. Remember Buddy? Trent took him in after all. So it’s a full chapter, and they all need to be see/heard at least once a page or you forget about them. Writing dialog first lets me spin through the proposed chapter a couple of times in a short span to make sure I have everyone interacting, or at least, being seen doing their own thing. I shudder at trying to put all the fun stuff, like Llaze using his mouth to catch the Cheerios Jenks is throwing, in at text stage, but in dialog? It’s easier. Low stress.

Today I’m doing text, having spent the first few hours of my day shifting things around after a good think about it last night. For me, it’s a lot easier to change a chapter in this state then after I’ve put in all the physical movement. Not nearly the number of slips where a character is sitting down twice before standing up or needing six hands to hold everything.

I’ve also found that this technique of dialog first, text second has gotten me through more than a few instances of what could have developed into writer’s block. There’s a lot less performance stress if all you task yourself with when you sit down is dialog, and once that is solid, the rest sort of fills in on its own.

So if you’re stuck, give it a try!

Dialog first, my dear.


Filed under Drama Box


Monday, Monday, Monday . . . I’ve got homework pulling me away from THE TURN today, not hard, but tedious, and I know I’m going to get stuck and start reading instead of evaluating as I go over THE OPERATOR, (Peri Reed’s second volume) for pithy tidbits that can be used for promotion.

THE TURN (full-length novel prequel of the Hollows series out 2017) has been occupying my time for a few months now, but, as is not unusual, I have to set it aside to work on something already in the queue so as not to slow publcation down on THE OPERATOR.

Switching world to world isn’t hard for me, but it does tend to be a little depressing having to pull yourself from something you’re excited about right now to go back and look at work you’re not quite ready to face again. What I mean, is I’m full-throddle into THE TURN. I’m happy with it, like where it’s going, and it’s full of promise. All I remember from THE OPERATOR is the stuff that I didn’t do in the first draft that must be fitted in now, or the mistakes I have to fix, moments that I have to flesh out: the feeling of unfinished scaffold and clunky structure.

However . . . today, as I open up the prologue and start in with the intent to fast-read through the entire manuscript, looking for poignant passages that hold the heart of the story, I got lost. In five lousy pages, I got lost. Those first five pages are basically an info dump with five to six important plot and character “must haves,” to intelligently tell the real story along with the early foreshadowing of where the story is going to end up. But the touch was so light, I hardly noticed them, and I’m the one that put them there. I guess what I’m getting at is that I didn’t leave THE OPERATOR in as bad a shape as I thought, and that is a real relief, seeing as it’s going to be on my desk for the next six weeks, bare minimum. I love the raw, in your face exuberance of the Hollows, but Peri’s war with herself still holds my heart hostage.

Today is going to be stressful. I really like what I do, and skimming is hard for me.

And because I have to have a picture, here’s my Lady Slipper Orchid. I’ve had this plant for two moves, and though this isn’t the first time I’ve had it rebloom, this is the first time it has had four flowers in one cycle. I think it might have a fifth flower in there yet, too.


P.S. I should have the cover for the Hollows/Peri mash up novella “Waylaid” (retitled “Leylined” in the UK) for you on Thursday. I’ve seen it, and holy cow, it took my breath away. Check your newsletter. We’ve got a couple of cover releases yet this month.


Filed under Drama Box

Day five

It’s day five in plotting, which is sort of misleading, as plotting a new book starts months before I actually print out my header onto blank pages and pick up that pencil. But it is the fifth day in my office focusing on it. I’m always surprised at how every book comes out the same, but they never progress in the same manner. Index cards are relatively new to me. I’ve used them on perhaps only five books, but I’ve found that multiple POVs require them, and I’m becoming fond of them now.

Pencil and paper though . . . they have been with me forever, along with the pattern of  two or three increasingly complex synopsis starting from three sentences, to about three pages. And then come the chapter outlines, a page apece. That’s what I’ll take with me to the computer. That’s what the mess is there on my desk as I take the bones of the cards and translate them into a fleshy, squishy, malleable outlines that still look like something.


Yesterday I hit a snag, and so reached for the cards to supplement my synopsis, creating and spreading that neat little pile of binder-clipped index cards you can see there across my sofa, laying them out into individual character paths before I scooped them up, one by one, in order of happening. I’m three quarters of the way through them now, and my desk is messy but my path is clear.  I figure I can push through the rest today, and let it sit next week while I brush through the Peri/Morgan mash up novelette before I turn it in.

My lady slipper orchid is on its second flower, but you can see a third, and perhaps fourth or even fifth hinting at coming out. I had no idea they were multiple bloomers in one season. Huh. I think I’ve had this plant for nearly a decade with hardly a flower, and look at it go now.

SecondBloomAmazing what can happen when you give a little water and sun.



Filed under Drama Box

Sixty short minutes, and it will be over

I’ve watched a lot of authors around the panel tables over the years, and it never fails to set me back when I see one or more chortling over the prospect of throwing more trouble and woe against their characters–as if they enjoy it. A part of me agrees as watching your characters rise over the situation and emerge triumphant, or at least alive and kicking, is uplifting. But for the most part, these are the hardest pages for me to write. I procrastinate, I check my FB feed, I make a pot of tea, sharpen my pencils which I’m not even using at the moment. Anything. It’s a recognizable pattern.

SixtyToday, as I finish up the first rough draft of the Drafter teaser (hopefully to be released next month) I ache for my character, knowing what’s going to happen, that I’m the one that is putting it out there–something bad that rocks him to his foundation, that will color him for years, bring him pain, this wonderful man that I gave so many gifts to. And I’m going to have to deal with it for at least three more years.

Chortling with glee? No, I don’t think so.

Sixty minutes, I tell myself. It will take one hour to write, one hour to bring his world to an ugly place. Will he rise up? Of course he will. Will he find a new core? It wouldn’t be much of a story if it didn’t. But it still hurts. And it will, for three years because of sixty short minutes.


Filed under Drama Box

coffee shop rule

My editor reminded me this week about the coffee shop rule. You can have a conversation in a coffee shop, but only one per book unless it’s a reoccurring, fully realized setting that is so developed it’s almost a character in itself. Yep, I got lazy.

So-o-o-o-o I took my licks with the wet noodle and then spent the night mulling where I might shift the scene to. I even made the mistake of asking my loved ones for their advice–which is a bad idea because they all think their first idea is the best and stop looking after they come up with it. Even worse, they feel hurt when you shoot it down for a reason that makes no sense to them even when you explain why a museum or bowling alley or bookshop won’t work. (sorry, guys)

Mulling in the back of the mind isn’t always a fast prospect, but I’ve gotten better at it, and dude, there’s nothing like the feeling of sitting at your desk at 7:30 am, gritting your teeth in the knowledge that a big chunk of the fun stuff you’ve spent the last month adding is a lot of tell, not show (because of page constraints) and the almost magical realization that maybe you can bring one of those tells into the show with the right new chapter setting, and THEN realizing there’s the potential here to use that show to flesh out the relationship between the two characters in exactly the right way–one scene shift solving an issue of show don’t tell, character development, world building, and yes, not breaking the one-coffee shop rule and making my editor and me happy.

Yeah, that thing.




Filed under Drama Box

Same time tomorrow

I had a really difficult time this morning finding my groove. It was all I could do to not give in to other things pulling at me. But I opened up my work file instead with the sentiment that I could at least put out a chapter of dialog, no matter how lame. And after five minutes of pain, the idea I wanted to share showed itself.

The point being, if I hadn’t sat down and opened it up, the idea wouldn’t have evolved and tomorrow I would have been at the same point I was this morning.

Moral of the story? Just put down one page of work when you’re stuck. Then walk away if you have to, but don’t walk away until you put down one page. One page for your mind to mull over, one page to have something to spur more thoughts. Or nothing changes.


Filed under Drama Box

Music. Go Figure

IMG_2580I went to sleep last night mentally whistling something I heard while working. I woke up with it still there, and when it was on the radio again this morning before the sun came up, I hit the “heart” button on my SiriusXM to save it. I save stuff maybe once a week, which isn’t much considering I have the thing on every hour I’m in my office.  I even went and looked up the lyrics, sort of a 50/50 proposition in itself because most of the stuff on Chill is new or ah, not popular/marketable. The lyrics I found are a mess so I’m going to do a deeper search today.

But the point I’m not so successfully making here is that I’m connecting to music again.

I used to connect music a lot, but it tapered off right about book seven or eight in the Hollows. It worried me until I started working on Peri and again the music began connecting–and I figured out another one of my creative quirks.

When I’m busy learning about a character or world, when I’m in the gritty trenches of creating something from nothing and making the rules that I’ll work in for the next five years or so, I’m constantly searching for connections between everything on the page–the front, the back, the middle. The characters, their world, our world. Issues to text, plot to issues. The mental gymnastics spill over, not so much in the day-to-day stuff, but it will fasten upon music, ever present, ever changing–and a connection is made to a beat, a lyric, a feel or sound. It’s only when I feel I have the world down and the characters are so real that I can write them in my sleep that the music connection seems to die. Don’t get me wrong. I still listen and enjoy, but they don’t connect. And I missed it.

When I found one that connected to Peri, it was a great relief.

Here are the two latest:

La Roux/Skream In For The Kill

DJ Assad/Greg Parys We Are One

But the best for Peri so far has got to be Banks Before I Ever Met You


Filed under Drama Box