Writer’s Block

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and given the number of people participating, and the number of complaints about low word counts or zero word counts, I thought we should chat about writer’s block.

What is writer’s block?

If you look on Wikipedia, writer’s block is a “condition.”

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer’s block has been a documented problem.

Some people believe it’s an actual thing that happens to people.

For the sake of transparency, I’m in the camp that believes writer’s block is not an actual thing. It’s an excuse.

Let’s look at some of the problems and solutions for having writer’s block.

The Problem: I have been working diligently on my story for a month, and now, suddenly, nothing comes. I just stare at my computer screen.

The Real Problem: This writer doesn’t know where their story is going. They didn’t plan or outline their plot, and so doesn’t know what comes next or how to solve the problem they have written themselves into.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and take an hour, or two, or day, or two, and outline your story so you know what has happened with your plot, where you are currently in your story, and figure out where you need to go to get to the end. Hint: Having an outline, no matter how brief, will help you stay on track. Then write it.

The Problem: I just don’t have any ideas of what to write about.

The Real Problem: This writer wants some kind of magical experience. They are waiting for the muse, and because the muse is on vacation, they don’t know what to write about.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and just write about something. Practice writing. Write about your breakfast. Hint: Writing is five percent inspiration and ninety-five percent doing the consistent work of writing.

The Problem: Pick any excuse for not writing.

The Solution: Sit your butt in your chair and write. Hint: Remember Newton’s Law: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. In other words, it is easier to write consistently if you are dedicated to writing consistently.

Next time: TBD

Anatomy of a Scene

The Final Scene

We’ve been writing off and on (mostly on) about using scenes to write novels, and the kinds of scenes to think about, since (I had to look it up) July of 2016. It feels like we’ve been focused specifically on scenes for a long, long time. But this is it. This is the last installment. This is the Final Scene.

Your book is done, finished, -30-.

What is the final scene? It’s the end for your protagonist. Your character is probably not dead and doesn’t die in this scene, but this scene is the conclusion of every earlier scene in your book. It should be satisfying for your reader to get to this scene, read it, and close the book. But your ending should be memorable so your character can live on in your reader’s mind.

The final scene can also be a sort of rebirth for your character. But it should:

  • Show your reader where your character is after the climax
  • Allow your character to reflect on the plot
  • Bring your reader full-circle back to where your story started.

In this final scene, you will need to show your character as transformed. They should be a different person from who they were in your opening scene. Showing this transformation will help your reader to feel that the story was fulfilling. Note that there are occasions where the character doesn’t transform, but this transformation will apply to most protagonists.

The final scene should show the consequences of the main actions and decisions of your character. Let your character reflect on what they have learned, and how the world has changed. If your story was a mystery, the mystery has been solved. If your story was a thriller, the bad guy has been thwarted and the world saved. If your story was a romance, then you heroine will live happily ever after with the partner of her choice.

Make the final sentences in your final scene evoke the scent that wafted through your story. Leave your reader with a visual image of the book’s premise. If you book is a sequel, the final sentence could hint at the next adventure, but if it does that be careful that it isn’t a cliffhanger. The final scene is not about cliffhangers. It’s about resolution.

After you work on the perfect final scene, with a satisfying ending and visual image that’s it. You’re done. Write The End and put the book away in a file. In three months pull it out and read it. No edits. No tweaks. Just read it. Out loud. And be proud of yourself.

Next time: I don’t know yet. Shoot me a message at oosuzieq AT Gmail DOT com if there is a particular topic or series that you’d like me to write about.


It’s Time for the Climax

The climax scene, that is. We’ve been thinking about scenes, and writing our novels in scenes, for some time as a way to improve all aspects of our books, and this week we will focus on the highest point of action and drama.

First off, the climactic scene is the final turning point of action in your novel. Everything, every action, every bit of subterfuge, every red herring, every twist, and turn, leads to the climax scene. And once the climax is over, it’s your job as the author to tie up all the loose ends quickly after the climax and leave the reader satisfied. The climax is the grand finale.

So what happens in the climactic scene?

  • It’s the main battle scene
  • Dichotomous forces collide
  • Your protagonist and antagonist encounter each other
  • The climactic action relates to the most important plot line
  • This is where your protagonist is changed through conflict (internal and/or external)
  • These are the highest stakes in the story. It’s life and death. Your main character must win or die
  • The pacing is fast
  • The emotions are high

Open the scene with impending action. The easiest way to do this is to leave your prior scene in suspense. The reader may not know exactly what will happen in the climax, but there are absolutely clear that it is upon them. Things are coming to a head.

In your climactic scene, get to the action quickly. Build the action steadily with the goal of bringing all the conflict to a logical highpoint. Test your characters. Push them. Remember it is the all or nothing, live or die moment. Because of this moment, your character will be forever changed. The climax should be life altering.

And then your character is through to the other side. They won.

Now wrap up all of your loose ends and get out of there with your final scene which we will discuss next time.

The Epiphany Scene

Epiphany scenes are one of my favorites. I love learning new and transformative information as a reader.

What is an epiphany?

An epiphany is a sudden, intuitive perception of insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple common place occurrence or experience.

Sounds simple?

Think of it this way. Your character is running on their quest to solve the story problem when suddenly, the proverbial light bulb turns on. Your character realizes something important, that changes your character in some way. This sudden realization, sometimes, is at odds with your character’s beliefs and perceptions about what things in the story world, and because of the epiphany, your character may realize they were wrong. Ouch!

Sometimes, the loss of the character’s viewpoint allows them to struggle to regain or renew hope in their beliefs or mission. The epiphany provides your character with a way to grow, or transform, and can be essential for your character arc.

The epiphany scene:

  • Comes at a cost to your character or it renews hope or faith
  • Never comes out of the blue
  • Always comes about based on earlier plot events and information
  • Surprises your character (and hopefully your reader)
  • Sometimes allows your character to break through denial
  • Forces your character to make a choice or a change
  • Most likely follow dramatic scenes or suspenseful scenes

Make sure the information that triggers your character’s epiphany has been earned by your character through their experiences within the plot.

Kinds of epiphanies:

  • Your character was in denial but wants to know the truth
  • Your character learns what they were meant to become or do
  • Your character must accept that something bad will not change
  • Your character realizes something about themselves which they suppressed
  • Your character is forced to change by circumstance

To write an epiphany scene, start with your character in conflict, then drive them to that aha! moment which will allow your character to change because now they know the truth, or they know who they really are.

Next time: More on writing in scenes

Flashback Scenes

Admittedly, I am not a fan of the flashback scene, generally, because these tend to be written poorly and (mostly because I am in a snarky mood), end up being a huge information dump of weighed down cumbersome luggage. They wallow in or lean toward boring, and usually, the information contained in a flashback scene can be spooned into the prose where necessary.

Sometimes flashbacks are done well. And since we are talking about writing in scenes, and I want you to write your flashback scene well, in spite of my snarky temperament, it’s time to highlight the flashback.

What is a flashback scene?

A flashback scene is a scene that shows your character’s backstory to the reader. Backstory is your character’s history prior to the beginning of your novel and it is backstory that runs the risk of sucking your reader out of the present moment in your book.

A flashback scene should still contain all of the necessary elements of a good scene: setting, characters, movement, conflict, and tension etc.

A good flashback scene should be used infrequently, should be short, and be as quickly paced as possible. Most importantly, the flashback scene needs to be there for a reason. If it is just there to tell your reader about your character’s past, think about other ways to portray this information to your reader.

Flashback requirements:

  • Create a clear transition so your reader knows that they are reading a flashback.
  • Use past tense
  • Show a specific incident or use memories of specific incidents.
  • Make sure the flashback scene is tied to the current plot point.

At the end of your flashback, provide your reader with a clear transition back to the present plot. If you don’t provide a clear transition, you risk confusing your reader.

Next time: less snark. More scene writing.

Scene Writing

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Scene Writing

It’s been a while. We last discussed writing in scenes in April, which seems a very long time ago. So let’s refresh.

Writing in scenes is the idea that if you plot out your novel in scenes, and you focus on writing the best possible scene, one scene at a time, including all the necessary elements to ensure that your reader is grounded in your story world, learns something about your character(s), discovers something about your plot, and ends the scene still wanting to read your novel you will end up with a successful, well-written book.

And it will take you a lot less time than just writing by the seat of your pants without any kind of outline.

I have harped (It’s true. I do occasionally harp) that there should be some kind of conflict on every or nearly every page. Conflict and movement are what move your story forward. So today, let’s jump back into it with…

Action Scenes

What is an action scene?

An action scene is a scene that depends on some form of movement, physical movement, through the setting of that particular scene. The movement can be large or small, but there must be movement.

How do you make movement happen?

Tell the events that happen in your scene in real time, which will allow the reader to feel that they are participating in the events. Think of your favorite action movie. Think of the car chase. Things move. Things happen. And the viewer discovers all the action at the same time as the character.

Action scenes move with some intensity. The pace of the story is much faster than other parts of the book. Your character doesn’t have time to ruminate on the events as they occur. They just occur. If your character needs time to reflect, let this happen later when things have slowed down.

Your characters must be fast on the draw during action scenes. They act first. They think later. Decisions are fast. Reactions are faster. It’s about intuition and instinct.

You can open your action scene in the middle of the action, or in medias res, where events and movement are already in motion.

If the action will begin later in the scene, be sure to set up the action for your reader. Use foreshadowing by the spoon full to indicate the coming action. In other words, give your reader hints. The hints will entice further reading.

One thing to keep in mind in the action scene is that the action and movement of your character, while they are in the midst of intense action, will reveal their true nature. Is your character a coward? They will freeze when they shouldn’t. Are they a hero? They might put themselves in danger to save someone else. See what I mean? And all of their behavior will be action without words or thoughts on your character’s part.

At the end of your action scene, your character should be changed in some way. It could be a small change or a significant one. Your character will also have to deal with all the ramifications of the things that happened in the action scene. Think karma. The decisions your character made will come back later.

Cliffhangers are great at the end of action scenes since they keep your reader guessing. Keep your reading hanging so they have to turn the page.

You can also end the action scene with some form of discovery. Your character can learn some important information that changes something for the character, or the character’s motivation. Or they learn something about their rival, or enemy, or lover, or what have you.

Just remember that the purpose of the scene is to move the story forward, so the action scene should be there for a purpose. If it’s just action, but it doesn’t reveal anything about your character or they don’t learn anything, then it could end up being a gratuitous scene with no purpose.

Next time: More scene writing

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 9

We’ve been talking about the various paths to publishing over the last several weeks. I hope that you have found this information helpful. Here are some final thoughts:

There are generally three ways to get your book published. You can publish your book yourself (self-publish), you can contract with an independent publisher (not affiliated with the Big 5), or you can contract with one of the Big 5 publishers (and you will need to get an agent first). Your choice of which path should be based on a business decision of how you want your business to run.

Do your due diligence and decide which publishing path is the best for you and then take the necessary steps to follow that path. Include Plan B, Plan C, Plan Z to get there. There will be time and work involved in each path. Accept it.

Regardless of the path you choose, there are some things that you should remember:

You are the brand. Your books are the product. This means that you should be professional at all times. You should present your products to your readers as best you can. Think in terms of longevity. This is not a fly-by-night gig. This is your legacy.

Never ever act like a diva. Seriously. Publishing is a small world and word gets around. I have met and worked with some fabulously famous authors who were amazingly kind and generous with their time. I recommend them to conferences and readers alike.

I will only interact with a diva author once.

Do your research and make a realistic marketing plan. Include things that will work for your personality and temperament and follow that plan on a regular basis. Consistency is important.

Make a realistic budget for your marketing plan. Yes, some marketing tasks are free but some marketing tasks are free for a reason (Read that last sentence again). Will you need to purchase author copies to give away? How many review copies will you send out? What about the cost of postage? What about bookmarks or postcards? None of these things are free. Research the cost of goods and services that you want or dream about doing, and include those in your marketing plan. Remember that EVERYBODY MARKETS. If you don’t want to market, then hire someone to market for you, but put that in your budget.

While you pursue publication:

  • Keep learning writing craft. You can always be better.
  • Read everything. And then read everything else.
  • Keep writing. Every day. Write to practice writing.
  • You have to write a lot to get good.

Next time: Back to writing your novel in scenes.

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 8

Continuing on with our discussion of the paths to publishing your novel, this week we are going to look at self-publishing, sometimes called independent publishing (but not to be confused with an independent publisher which is a small press). People use different terms and so it can be confusing. There are some who look down upon self-published authors as if self-published authors are not good enough to go the traditional route, but self-publishing can be the best decision for some authors. Self-publishing is a valid publishing path. Don’t let anyone tell you something different.

What you MUST know about self-publishing if you are considering taking this path:

Self-publishing is a lot of work. You, the author, are responsible for every aspect of your project. You will wear many hats:

  • Writer
  • Production Manager / Project Manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Budget Manager / Accountant
  • Developmental Editor
  • Line Editor ***
  • Proofer
  • Cover Designer ***
  • Interior Layout Designer for print
  • Digital Layout Designer – knowledge of HTML and CSS
  • Public Relations Manager (crisis management, social media management, publicity management, event management)
  • Distribution Manager – where is your book available for sale?
  • Personnel Manager (manage outsourced talent?)
  • Public Speaker (book signings, appearances)
  • Quality Control Manager

***Note that each of these tasks requires specialized skills and no matter how amazing and fabulous you are, it’s probable that you are not a master of all of them and you will have to hire some of these tasks out. At a minimum, I recommend that you budget for, and hire an editor and a cover designer. Minimum, mind you. Minimum. You may need to hire out more than these positions.

There are many reasons to self-publish your book:

  • You want a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your sales
  • You want to explore pricing models, new vendors and book marketing opportunities
  • You have a time-sensitive book and want to publish it fast (traditional publishing can take up to two years)
  • You want full control of your book inside and out, from your hands to your readers
  • You’ve written a book that falls outside the bounds of typical publishing—either because of its niche audience, it is specific to a particular region, you are using an experimentation of language, category, theme, etc.
  • You are a go-to person with a lot of time to do all the tasks

There are also reasons not to Self-Publish

  • It’s not as easy to be as successful as the few successful self-publishers make it seem
  • You will have much less time to write since you are doing all the work (or following up with others you’ve hired)
  • All of the promo/marketing efforts are solely yours
  • You have full creative control which means you, you alone, are responsible for bad decisions

Remember that publishing is a business and each and every decision you make will affect your writing career for good or bad. Make sure you are well-versed in the paths to publishing and then make a business decision on which is the best path for you. Remember that your path is your path, not your writer friend’s path. Choose wisely based upon a realistic inventory of what you can and can’t do, and what you will or won’t do.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 9

Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 7

We continue on with our discussion of the three paths to publishing your novel. This week we will examine Independent Presses.

The first thing you should note when considering indie presses is that each and every one of them is different, operates differently, has a different contract, produces products of differing quality, and has different ethics. Indie presses are called small presses but they can be tiny one-person operations or huge organizations. What makes a publisher a small press/indie press is that they are not affiliated with the Big 5 Publishers, and they generate revenue of less than $50 million dollars a year.

Is any of this important to you?

It should be.

Are there bad indie presses you should be wary of?


There are indie presses who will contract your book without reading it, do not edit or proof it, throw on a shitty cover, only do ebook, and call it published. This is not good for you, the author. If readers buy your book and put it down because it hasn’t been edited or proofed, and write bad reviews on Amazon or Goodreads this is bad for your writing career.

Don’t get me wrong. There are indie presses that ONLY do ebook and do a great job of it. But make sure this is what you want.

The point is you have to do your research. All indie presses are different. Each has their own process, and you need to know what those are.

Independent Press Information

  • The publisher contracts with you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time. There should be an end date on your contract. Make sure there is.
  • The publisher assumes all costs of production of the book. You should not be charged for production, or marketing or anything else except author copies if you want additional copies of the book to give away or sell. If they want you to pay for your cover or production costs, they are a vanity press, not an indie press. Don’t do vanity press, unless you have a specific business reason for doing so.
  • There may or may not be an advance.
  • They may or may not accept unsolicited manuscripts, or they may only accept unsolicited manuscripts. You will need to research what the particular press’ policy is.

Not all Indie Presses are the same. Questions you need to ask:

  • Do they publish in print and digital? Digital only?
  • Where do they distribute? Amazon only? Ingram? Baker Taylor?
  • Do they do print runs or only Print on Demand (POD)?
  • What is their submission process? Each house will have a unique process and you will need to submit according to their rules. Some will want ten pages of your manuscript. Some will want three chapters and a synopsis. Give them what they require.
  • Contracts will be different at each house. If you are offered a contract, I highly recommend that you use a literary attorney to review your contract. There are contracts out there that are bad for authors. Really.
  • What are their royalty rates? They (probably) offer higher royalty rates and more flexible contract terms than the Big Five. But this is not always so. Do your homework.

What are the benefits of publishing with an indie press?

  • Small presses can kickstart your marketing efforts and aren’t afraid to think outside the box. The profit margins for indie presses are small in general, so they do tend to find ways to market on the cheap. But, there are indie presses who do no marketing at all. Ask.
  • Small presses may give you more editorial control. They may allow you to discuss requested edits to your manuscript. But they may not. This will be outlined in your contract, which you should read in detail.
  • You may have more accessible interactions with your editor. These interactions can translate into a more rewarding writer-editor relationship. You also may have the option of changing editors if you are unhappy with the editor you have. But, some presses only have one editor, so you should do your homework before you sign a contract with them.
  • Small presses offer unknown and emerging authors a place to get a foothold in their pursuit of success by publishing those early works upon which a career is built. You may never get a Big 5 contract, or you may get one later in your career. Either way, you will have time to grow your readership over time, and that is good for everyone.
  • Most indie presses have limited resources, so don’t expect the diva treatment. By the way, if you do the diva routine, you also could get your contract canceled for being a pain in the ass. Yes, this is possible. Remember that publishing is a business and you should be as professional as possible at all times.
  • The packaging of your book may not look as professional as a Big 5 package, but it might. Take a look at their website, ask to see a media kit. Do their covers look good? Do they even create media kits?
  • Ask if they have a marketing plan for their authors. Do they assist authors by sending out review copies? Do they advertise? Do they offer suggestions to their authors on what marketing they should be doing? Remember that every author markets regardless of the publishing path, but it’s always good to get help if it is available.

Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 8


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