How did it get to be July 18? I swear the Fourth of July hits and summer disappears. I haven’t gotten the writing done that I’d hoped for. And my low sales are keeping my spirits down as far as publishing. I actually decided not to publish this month and probably not next month so that I could work on the stories for the fall. Maybe that will take away the feeling that I’m spinning my wheels.

I’d like to give this blog a lot more attention coming into fall. It’s be nice to do some recipes again and Actual Writing Advice. I’d also like some sort of fiction writing on the site, but I don’t know what. If you have an idea for anything on the blog, please leave it in the comments section.

This week I do plan to get some words down. I got 500 earlier today and plan to do some more now. There’s a really nice rainshower going on, which always inspires my mood. Hopefully I’ll be able to post a steady word count this week. Anyone who is still out there listening and writing, I’d love to have you join me.

Writing Question for the day: What do you think of first person POV? Hard to write in? Easy to write in? Too close to the character? Not distant enough to provide some info?

I’m thinking about trying a story in first person POV which I haven’t done in a long time. For me a big challenge is staying in one characters voice constantly without slipping into a more narrative structure. Any tips and thoughts would be great.

Art Muse


Hello! Saturday, I asked readers to chime in about descriptive passages because I’m in a slump. Thanks Holly and Dave for helping me out! I know more readers will find your advice useful.

Holly Jennings

I usually skip descriptions in the early drafts, unless I have a very vivid image that just needs to be written down. Most of the time, I read through my rough draft and find the areas where the pace in the scene naturally drops, where it’s realistic for a character to look around and notice things. I try to find unique things to describe about the setting so that it really brings the scene to life, adds something to the overall story, and creates a concrete image in the reader’s mind.

For example, anyone can picture a messy apartment. But if I tell you that the messy apartment in my story is mostly filled with boxes of WWII paraphernalia, I’ve just given you a unique visual and told you something about the person that lives there.


I love scenery and room descriptions to a point. Like you say, too much description though clogs up the story. But I will always prefer some form of description over bare white rooms.

I feel a lot of the art in good descriptions comes from fitting them in seamlessly with the scene. I use character beats a lot for this, meaning during the actions and observations a character makes while engaged in dialog or other actions within the scene. Instead of in a flood as a character enters the room or you first glimpse a character and it brings the scene to a halt.

I am working on this very issue while fleshing out my second draft. This is the stage I planned on adding most of my descriptions, but now I am running up on the problem of word count. I want the good descriptions in there but compared to actual story elements some of it feels like padding and in the future when I come through on my final edits they will likely be cut for space. Its a dilemma, but I feel like it is better than a story coming up short and then packing in extra description to meet a minimum word count.


I definitely agree with both Holly and Dave. Like Holly I try to relate descriptions to characters and like Dave I try to find the right beat, but I feel it hasn’t come together recently. A lot of books I read use much more description than I do, and I wonder if my stories look amateurish by comparison. But then I remember Elmore Leonard who used very little description. No one would say he’s amateurish.

A big short coming I have is describing people: brown hair, brown eyes covers a good chunk of the population and is bland. Going into ethnicity makes me uncomfortable, possibly because of how I see it done other places. I was reading a book that described the protagonist’s best friend as a “spicy Latina.” It made me cringe. And in romance, all black women must say “girlfriend” frequently.

I think I’m getting off topic now. Probably what I’m trying to say is some authors use cliches or stereo types as easy ways to put an image in the readers head. I don’t want to be a writer like that. But I’ve been finding myself using my own version of lazy writing because I’m trying to churn out the words so fast.

Maybe I should just slow dow.

Write what you Know

On Friday I posed the question: Write what you know; good or bad advice? I invited Enchanted Spark readers to comment so I could post the replies on Sunday. I got four great answers. I’ll add my thoughts at the bottom. Here they are:


I’m always back and forth on this idea, because I feel it can go both ways.

I prefer saying “write what you love” because when a writer creates something they are passionate about, it tends come through on the page. However, I often hear the advice to “read as much as you can in the particular subgenre you want to write” – implying to write what you know – but I find sometimes this has a negative effect and creates more of a derivative work than an original idea.

Personally, I like taking some from both pots – what I know and what I don’t. Writing what I know gives the project confidence and passion, while including elements that need research tends to brings a sense of “newness” to the idea.


I think write what you know is pretty good advice but I’d fine tune it to write what you like because there is always research. Of course, where sci-fi and fantasy come in, nobody really knows that stuff, it’s whatever you dream up. Sci-fi, though, has to sound feasible.

Dave Barz

I agree with a lot that was just said. I see it as a two pronged form of advice. Write what you know keeps one from sounding like a fool. But it is also a reminder that what is familiar and enjoyed is much easier to get on a page.

But the call to write what you know should never scare anyone away from branching out into any genre that might interest them. The level of research an author is prepared to pour into a project is not a direct correlation to its success. It might only determine where it might get shelved in a bookstore.

Say an author plans to use Mark Twain as a character in a fiction story. An expert on Twain can likely craft a historical fiction full of intricate details of his life. An alternate history or historical fantasy can take a very detailed knowledge of Twain but change some the situations of his biography and free themselves from the finer nuances of his history. But then there are stories that rely more on the character of Twain that he has become in popular culture, and an author with less research can place him in a straight up fantasy. Each story would require the author to “Know” Twain, but the comfort of that knowledge can create very different and still successful books. And in every case the reader would likely be comfortable they are reading about Mark Twain.

We can leave it to the few esoteric scholars to complain that Twain would not address Merlin in such a manner as he does in your story, but then you didn’t write Twain-upon-Avon for them anyway. Write what you know: A good story.


Write what you know” is good advice, but not a rule to follow blindly or exclusively. (An art teacher once taught me to learn the rules and then break them. I think this works here too.)

We’re more likely to put our passion and personalities in something we know. For me, the words flow more easily. The words have more life. And I don’t run as much risk of having written a piece where readers think, “wow, what an idiot, that author knows nothing about xyz.”

When writing fantasy or science fiction, such as a story about dragons, I think the rule can still apply. Writers can (and maybe should) have some idea of what else is out there even if the topic isn’t factual or realistic. One can write what one knows about dragons from other stories but also what one knows in one’s heart.

At a certain point, a writer should bring something new. We don’t want to read the same stories over and over again (at least not too similar anyway). Research brings new topics to life and new life into old topics.


The problem I have with the advice is when it comes to publishing. I feel people say “write what you know” with a certain amount of smugness like that’s the golden key to being published. But what if what you know or love is something a million other writers are sending to editors and agents? What if you’re writing vampire stories at the tale end of the vampire fad because you love vampires and that’s all you want to write? Agents and editors are tired of vampires so your story will most likely be past over.

Or worse, what if what you love is something no one else loves? I think satyrs are pretty interesting mythological characters, and I have a satyr story I can’t sell to save my life. I realize the first few incarnations of the story were terrible, but as I honed it, it became one of those “We like it, but it’s not what we’re publishing now” stories. Satyrs aren’t a thing. But I really love that character I created.

I find myself constantly torn between what I want to write and what I think other people want to read. It’s a very tricky balance.

Free Form Friday!


Dave Barz helped me with this idea, so if it doesn’t work, I’ll blame him 😉

On Fridays, I’m going to post a topic for discussion. Please post in the comments!!! On Sunday, I’ll post the comments in a blog post so the casual reader of Enchanted Spark will see it. I’ll also add my own thoughts on Sunday. Please feel free to respond to each other when you’re commenting like its an on going discussion.

Here’s the first topic:

Write what you know. Good advise? Bad advice? Outdated? What if you’re writing about dragons?


Spark Tally Saturday!

When I get really busy, my mind starts thinking up new stories or adding to old stories. Right now I’m working on two stories at the same time. I thought that would mean my mind would be overloaded with stories, and even though I’m super busy, it wouldn’t start working on new stories. Wrong.

This week I got an idea for a new story and filled out new plot points in two old stories. Not on paper. Just in my head. When I was doing things like going to the bank or Target or Hastings and losing track of money. Don’t become a writer. It’s dangerous for your financial and mental health.

I guess I’m a little late on that advice since we’re all writers here.

The good news is I have work to do when I’m done with my current work load. Which seems like will be never.

I wrote 2500 words this week on one story. The other story I was editing and don’t have a firm word count there. Eighteen chapters changed after Julie put in her comments and edits. Now I know what plot line I can cut out and which one needs trimming. Good news since the book was getting way too long.

How did you guys do this week?

Actual Writing Advice: Online Presence, Twitter

PhotoFlare 008

I have an acronym to sum up my feelings about Twitter: WtH?

I chose to try out Twitter first under my pen name because I had a novel coming out. Maybe I could get some sales from there. The first day I signed up, I got several follows. Really? Were people just chomping at the bit waiting for my pen name that only had a novella out that no one was buying to arrive on Twitter?

No. Continue reading

Actual Writing Advice: Tension

I’ve taken several classes in my writing journey. One of the biggest improvements came when my teacher, Sarah Aronson, suggested that we read The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. He talks about a writer needing to build tension throughout the story to keep a reader reading. Since that class, I’ve been on a quest to make my stories page turners.

Here are a few tips I’ve stolen/expanded on:

Make your characters suffer. I’m constantly asking myself what would be the worst possible event to happen to my character in each chapter. It’s not the same for every protagonist. My new kindergarten teacher isn’t going to care about a chipped nail but my OCD character will. My OCD character will want to run home to repaint her nails, but then she’ll be late to work. The kindergarten teacher probably has three chipped nails but a kid just shoved a rock up his nose while she was reading a book and the principal walked in to do an observation.

Small situations going wrong lead to the BIG problems. One time I was talking to my husband about a fairly big disaster like a plane going down or a ferry capsizing. He made the observation that it’s never one mistake made by a pilot or captain that causes the event; it’s usually a chain of mistakes leading up to that one moment of time that causes the disaster. Use the little problems in your story to build on each other up to the worst thing to happen to your character.

Look at “The Hobbit.” Gandalf visits Bilbo. It’s a little uncomfortable for Bilbo, but he does have Took blood. Oh boy, thirteen freaking dwarves are now in Bilbo’s house. That’s bad. He can’t be a proper host; he doesn’t even want to be a proper host. How did this happen—Bilbo’s out on an adventure outside of his comfortable house. Yikes! Trolls! Trolls are far from Bilbo’s biggest problem, but you get the point. A minor visit from a wizard eventually builds up to a life or death confrontation with trolls.

Use false resolutions. Composers have known the key to keeping listeners listening forever: false resting tones. When your listening to a song, your ear wants to hear the resting chord of the piece, but the composer won’t let you. If you ever study form in music, it’s very similar to the arc of a story, but the conflict is all the dissonance of the notes clashing until you get to the end of the song and everything is harmonious.

Take some time to listen to your favorite songs today with purpose. I bet you’ll find your ear waiting for something you can’t really name until you get to the end. Lady Gaga’s song Poker Face has a great twist on driving dissonance. She actually gives you the resting tone all the time with the ma ma ma maaa. But you don’t know it until you hear it at the end of the song by itself and your ear is finally satisfied that you’ve come to the end.

Use dissonance throughout your chapters, and sometimes at the end of the chapter give your reader a false sense of security, the false resting tone. And then hit them hard with the beginning of the next chapter. Make them keep reading until they come to the end of your story and can at last be satisfied.

How do you guys build in tension? I would love some tips!

Backstory Frustration

One of the reasons I started writing contemporary romance was to get away from backstory and world building. There’s a little bit of world building in every book, but if the story is contemporary, there are many things already understood like fast food, coffee shops, shopping malls, cars, corporate culture etc.. If I write, “Sienna jerked around at the squealing tires and saw a black Corvette turning into the Holiday Cafe parking lot,” I don’t have to explain that a corvette is a car, or what a car is. The reader can infer because the tires are squealing that the driver is going fast. They can also infer the driver has a higher than average salary. If the driver is a man over forty, the reader also might assume he’s having some sort of midlife crisis. There are many things I can leave unsaid that the reader can figure out in a contemporary setting.

But what if I’m writing about a lollenthorp? When do I introduce it? If it’s key to the story, do I allude to it at the beginning and then go into detail when it becomes more important? If it’s just something people use every day in the world but not a key plot point, do I give it one line of description or do I go into lots of detail to really immerse the reader into the world? And what about point of view? If the point of view character is familiar with a lollenthorp, how long would they really pause the narrative to explain it?

Depending on what writing expert you’re reading, they might say, “Don’t put backstory in dialogue.” Another might say, “Don’t leave all backstory to exposition. Sprinkle some in dialogue.” But the main idea that all experts agree on is not to give backstory too much time.


The first chapter of The Hobbit talks a lot about what hobbits are and why we never see them in the modern world. The first chapter of Fablehaven is all about the two sets of grandparents and why the kids have to stay with the ones they’ve hardly ever seen before. The first chapter of Harry Potter is all about why Harry has to live with his aunt and uncle.

So apparently a whole chapter of backstory is not too much? That is counter to my experience. I once had an editor ream me for putting too many paragraphs of backstory in over a few chapters. I guess I was clunky about it, but when the characters were talking about something unknown to the reader, I would pause the action to explain it. I didn’t know what else to do at that point in my writing career. But the editor didn’t want a whole chapter of explanation either. I don’t think she wanted any explanation at all. But she also didn’t want me to use so many unknown terms to the reader at once.

When a world is rich with beings or objects unknown to the reader, what is a writer to do? The one piece of advice I did start to follow from that editor is to start with something the reader is familiar with and then branch out from there. This time around, Gwen is running down the stairs of her house. Everyone knows what stairs are. She has silver magic popping around her because she’s excited. Okay, the reader doesn’t know what silver magic is, but I’m not going to explain it there. Readers do know what magic in general is, so I’m just going to leave it that when Gwen is excited she doesn’t have good control over her magic. I think most people can relate to that in the sense of shaking hands, jittery nerves etc. She heads down the hallway where there are portraits hanging of mundane matriarchs. I’m sure hoping readers can infer that because pictures of matriarchs are on the wall, it’s a female led society, and since they’re mundane that means there are pictures of magical matriarchs possibly somewhere else. When Gwen arrives in the kitchen, she has a fight with her parents and that’s when the reader finds out what her magic does because she loses complete control.

So I’ve started with something familiar and something a little unfamiliar. I’ve done a little bit of world building by trusting the reader to be able to deduce a few things. And then I go into a little bit of explanation after the reader has seen the magic in action. It seems to be working pretty well. For the first time readers like Gwen. They seem to understand the magic. I’ve gotten dinged a little on too much explanation from the mom, but I haven’t decided whether I agree yet or not. At least it’s going better than usual.

Backstory balance is a tricky thing, and one I certainly haven’t mastered. If you have more ideas, please put them in the comment section below.

Guest Post: Peter M. Ball

A couple of weeks ago I did a post about Authors and TIme. Peter M. Ball, an Australian author, was kind enough to post a lengthy response to it. I asked him if he would do a guest blog about expectations authors have and he said yes! Please enjoy.


People make some weird assumptions when it comes to building a writing career. Partially this is because we’re uncomfortable talking about writing as a business, what with our cultural rhetoric treating creativity as a gift that should never be commercialized, and partially this is because the only “successful writers” most beginners hear about are the highly successful outliers like JK Rowling, Stephen King, or EL James.

Writers don’t make the news unless they’re best-sellers, so it’s kinda like trying to figure out how to start a restaurant when the only examples you have to follow are celebrity chefs and thinking well, first step, I need to get my own TV show…

I’ve spent the last four years working fora non-profit writers center in Australia, talking to writers at every level of experience. I get to talk to professional writers – people who make their living at this strange business of producing words – pretty regularly, asking them how they do what they do.

What I’ve learned after four years of conversation is this: most of us, when we’re starting out, think about writing and money the wrong way. Essentially, we want to treat it like a job, with everything a job entails. We want to have a boss – be it a publisher or an agent – and we want to get a regular paycheck immediately.

Basically, we think of “getting published” like we’ve landed a sweet new job, and because we think this way, we make all sorts of mistakes.


When you talk to experienced writers – people who have actually made their living doing this – they’ve got the mindset that what they’ve been doing is building a small business. They’re building something, piece by piece, but they’re in charge of making decisions.

Expecting to have a writing career after your first book or two is rather like kicking off a career as a plumber, say, say, and expecting to break even after the first two jobs. It takes time to build up a client base (or, in a writer’s case, a regular readership), and at the end of the day you end up doing it by word of mouth.

Here’s the good news for writers: you’re going to make a loss some years, particularly early on, but your books and stories will always have the potential to earn you money. I’ve had people ask about reprint rights for stories I wrote five or six years ago, and while it took hours of sweat and effort to earn the cash for that first short story sale, getting the payment for the reprint takes about as much effort as typing “heck yeah” into an email and signing a contract.

It’s hard to wrap your head around it in the early stages of your career, but long-term your back catalogue is the biggest asset you’ve got. Every book you write is an advertisement for the other books you’ve written, and every new fan you make is suddenly looking at your previous work like a kid in a candy store.


And it sure as hell takes more than one or two books. In traditional publishing terms, the number where you’re assumed to have a readership hovers between five and ten books (assuming you write in the same genre and build a following there). In indie publishing terms, the number tends to be a bit higher – I’ve got a friend who just quit his day job to publish who noticed things started picking up when he hit twenty-three books or so (my experience in indie game publishing, way back when, seems to support this).

If you’re jumping around in a lot of different genres, multiply those numbers out.

A few years back, Goodreads did a report on how people found the books they were reading. Their data suggested that we need between six and twelve points of contact with a book before we make the decision to buy it, depending on how trusted the source is. A point of contact could be anything – a review, a friend mentioning they’ve read it, passing someone reading the book on a train, etc.

Obviously, not all points of contact are created equally. Trusted reviewers/book bloggers/friends opinions obviously will hold more sway than seeing your novel title mentioned in a short story bio, just as a recommendation from your best friend with similar reading taste will mean much more than someone mentioning your book in a random tweet.

The upside is that once you’ve got a reader, you’re pretty much golden – the same data suggested that 96% of people find books by following authors they’re already reading, while 79% learn about books from friends offline, and 64% via Goodreads recommendations from friends (naturally, they’re happy to promote that).

All of which is a long way of saying “writing is a long term gig.” The rewards come later – often much later – but they are there.

Peter M. Ball writes SF and Fantasy novellas, runs the Australian Writer’s Marketplace for Queensland Writers Centre, and convenes the bi-yearly GenreCon writing conference in Brisbane, Australia. 


How I Met Your Mother: Writing Lessons in Expectations

If you’re like me and didn’t watch this when it was new, but are now watching How I met Your Mother because it’s free on Amazon Prime, you might want to skip this post. Spoiler Alert: This is all about the ending.

I think HIMYM had many brilliant episodes with top notch writing. Unfortunately, the longer it went, the more they held back character growth—except for Barney. Much like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, he was the most broken but had a slow and steady character growth throughout the show. Which makes his divorce with Robin one of the most disappointing parts. As my son pointed out, we spent a whole season on Barney and Robin’s wedding just to have them get divorced after three years. The wedding was all about people getting back together from Barney’s half-brother returning to his seperated husband after the wedding, to Barney’s Mother getting back together with James’ estranged father, to Lilly and Marshall working through their latest marriage problem and remaining a couple and, of course, Ted finally meeting “the mother” of the show. The audience spends a whole season at one wedding watching Barney and Robin release their pasts and embrace their future together as a couple like all the guests of the wedding. Then the writers fast forward and spend one minute showing Barney and Robin saying, “This isn’t working. Let’s divorce.” Yes, I felt cheated. They appeared to have made no effort whatsoever to remain together after the huge build up all season with the theme that marriage is work.

The next issue is the mother dying. I actually thought they did a good job foreshadowing the death of the mother. The final season as well as a few episodes in prior seasons had melancholy and the implication that all would not ever be quite wonderful for Ted. My problem came when they quashed all the beauty and sadness with the kids being callous. I thought they gave their dad a big “whatever” and then told him just to get over it and get together with Robin. Sure, they’re teenagers, but again, the audience was wrapped up in the moment of her dying when it was interrupted. Also, the show had gone to great lengths to demonstrate why Robin and Ted should not be together. They should’ve embraced the melancholy and let Ted and Robin remain alone, or even let Ted be the only one alone. Ted’s solitude was a major part of the show.


The ultimate problem was naming it “How I met Your Mother” and ending it with Ted together with Robin. They’ should’ve ended it Season 8 when the mother shows up at the train station and left the aftermath of the wedding one big mystery. Or, name it “How I screwed around in my twenties and thirties and ended up with the love of my life.” Doesn’t have the same ring to it.


When you’re writing, think about your title, genre and opening chapter and how these set-up the ending. One of the problems with my novella A Sunset Finish is it got labeled as a romance. I think it’s more of a speculative fiction story with a romance. The man is not a typical alpha male and two characters do not get a happy ending. I might’ve been able to get away with Bruce not being an alpha, but I think having a death at the end of a romance, even if it’s not the main character, is too off audience expectations.


Also, think about character development and what the reader expects out of your character. One of my problems with the Harry Potter series is Rowling’s treatment of the adults. Sirius Black is set up as an awesome character in book 4. In book 5, he’s such an ass, I don’t even care that he dies at the end. What should’ve been a great moment for readers was stolen by Sirius’ degeneration. The same goes for Lupin in the final book. I don’t know if she was trying to soften the blows of their deaths or what, but it didn’t work. When I thought McGonagal had died, I was devastated because she had been a great character throughout the stories. That’s what Sirius and Lupin’s death should’ve felt like. Now I’m questioning whether Lupin dies or not. I think that’s telling because I was so uninvolved with his character by the end that I don’t care. But in book 3 Lupin was my favorite character.


Some surprises are good, and some are not. Be true to expectations so the surprise comes off exactly how you want it.