Monthly Archives: May 2013

7 Elements of Telling a Story

In this week’s meeting of the Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe, a member told a quick child’s story aloud. Afterwards she discussed the seven story elements for successful story-telling.

Have you been asked to tell a story to a group? Do you think you may receive such an invitation in the future? If so, note the following elements to make your story-telling better:

1. (This one seems obvious) The story must have identifiable characters.

2. The characters show emotions: fear, indecision, love, joy, whatever. (You, the storyteller, use your voice, expression, body language to convey the emotions.)

3. The main character has a problem to solve.

4.  An antagonist creates trouble.

5. The characters find a solution to the problem.

6. The main character learns something from the situation.

7. The main character changes and grows.

Grammar Lesson in Capitalization

In my novel, there is a mention of the Internet. When editing, I stopped to ask, “Is Internet capitalized?” My memory said yes, but my inner three-year-old asked, “Why?”

Grammar Girl of answered the question simply. Internet is a proper noun:

Most language experts including the Associated Press and the editors of the Chicago Manual of Style and the Yahoo Style Guide, believe the Internet is one big specific network that people visit, so they recommend capitalizing the word “Internet.”

On the other hand, the Web is populated by many different websites, so “website” is not capitalized. It is a generic term that can be used to describe many different locations.

“Internet” is a proper noun because it refers to something specific, whereas “website” is a common noun because it can be used to refer to many different places on the Internet.

Lovely Writing–An Example

The lovely writing I am talking about has nothing to do with grammatical rules. Rather, lovely writing is something that takes your breath and makes you fold down the corner of the page. Today I found a brief piece of lovely writing penned by Andra Watkins of

Andra’s piece takes that which some find unlikable (characteristics of a strong-willed personality) and makes it loveable. Admirable even. It’s a brief excerpt, pulled out of context. Nevertheless, I hope you see the beauty and power in the simplicity of the words.

My Mamaw died a Fighter, sharp edges and ragged claws intact.

It takes a fighting spirit to stare down Death. To dodge the clutch of bony fingers. The strength of the Fighter is easy to admire.

It’s just as likely that Death eschews the spirit of the Fighter. Overblown personalities. Inflexible points of view. Dogged ideas about the World. Sometimes, I suppose, Death decides it’s easier to let Life erode the Fighter’s will.


Madly Editing

To complete a story–a novel–is a milestone. To complete editing and re-writing the novel so that it is editor-ready is monumental. Just ask me.

I thought it was difficult translating an idea in my mind to words on paper for the first rough draft. Turns out, that part feels like child’s play compared to the re-write.

There is a lot of self-doubt, second-guessing and anxiety that goes along with the actual editorial work. The whole time I am working, I am asking myself if the story passes muster. Will there be an audience for the book? Will the persons I wrote for be the actual persons who like and read the novel?

Today I learned that traditional publishers tell authors that a new book has a shelf-life of three months in which the story either makes it or breaks it. After hours and hours of work, three months is it?

At this moment, three words come to mind: just shoot me.


Another Lucrative Niche Market

Earlier this month, I discussed the idea of writing for niche markets. I gave examples of markets that one might not think of if one weren’t told the markets exist. Today, I am sharing news about another niche market that has readers with strong book-buying habits. How about 3.8 books per month on average!

If you are knowledgable in the areas of interest discussed below, you may want to consider publishing for this market.


A recent Barna survey found there are 315,000 Protestant houses of worship in the United States—that’s compared to approximately 13,000 McDonalds and 4,000 Walmarts. Or, to put it another way: more than 300,000 people who purchase, on average, 3.8 books per month. That’s not counting the number of books purchased by people influenced by pastors, such as other ministry staff and congregants, likely driving the total number of books even higher.

According to new research by Barna Group into the buying and reading habits of pastors, younger pastors buy more books per year than do older pastors. This is a strong indication that the market for book-related content will remain strong among the youngest generation of faith leaders.

So what are the books these pastors are buying? Well, for the most part, they’re related to a specific topic a pastor needs to know about or is interested in. When a pastor selects a ministry-related book, the single most important factor is the topic. This was followed by the author and a recommendation from someone. Price, title and convenience were reportedly rare selection criteria.

So what topics are they looking for? When asked to identify the types of books they have read recently, pastors identified spirituality, theology and leadership most frequently. Other popular subjects include prayer, history, cultural trends and church practice. About half of pastors are reading biographies and one-third are consuming business books. Fiction is a slightly less prevalent category among pastors, compared to the general population.

Where They Buy It’s clear pastors are buying books, but where are they purchasing them? After all, usually the “death of books” headline is accompanied by a “death of bookstores” subhead. We saw the rise of Amazon and the death of Borders. Is that the trend among pastors too?

Yes and no. In the Pastors + Books report, pastors reveal that Christian retail and online were the two primary channels through which they acquire books. General retail was a distant third, followed by book distributors. Small slices of pastors purchase direct from the publisher or from their denomination.

Using a Nom de Plume

One of my close male friends reads a new book every couple of days. Sometimes I wonder how he finds enough books to read. The answer to that is another story.

My friend has an admitted bias. He doesn’t like to read books written by women. He says he doesn’t identify with the tone, perspective, or content chosen by women who write.

That point of view is not uncommon. Because that opinion can limit sales, some women choose to write under a male pen name to get broader exposure for their work.

The bias can work both ways. If a man chooses to write in a genre that is dominated by women, then he may want to counter that bias by using a womanly pen name.

I was surprised to learn that Lyman Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and a series of novels based on Oz, chose to write under feminine pen names.

Richard Daybell, who pens the “Tis Pity Hes’ a Writer” blog, writes the following:

Baum’s intention with the Oz books, and other fairy tales, was to tell American tales in much the same manner as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen , modernizing them and removing the excess violence He is often credited with the beginning of the sanitization of children’s stories, although his stories do include eye removals, maimings of all kinds and an occasional decapitation.

Most of the books outside the Oz series were written under pseudonyms. Baum was variously known as Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akers, Suzanne Metcalf, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes Cooke, and Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald.

There is a place for using a pen name. Writing a maritime story under a fictitious name starting with the title “Captain” adds credibility from the moment a potential reader looks at the cover. Perhaps this brief discussion will stimulate you to consider under what circumstances a pseudonym would work for you.

Won’t it be ironic if my male friend discovers that some of  his “male” authors are really women?



Comparison of Print-on-Demand Publishers

Click on the link above to start your self-education about Print-on-Demand publishing. The blog site creator has collected cost, contract, royalty and other information in one handy table.

If you are using a traditional publisher, the information provided may give you some negotiating leverage when you’re preparing to sign your next contract.

Nomophobia–Modern Society’s Greatest Ailment

Friends of mine live on a sailboat full-time and travel the Seven Seas. They have been throughout the Caribbean, all around the coast of South America, to Africa, and are presently moored in Australia, while taking a brief trip home to help aging parents.

The couple is a husband-wife writing duo. The wife also authors a blog called “Just a Little Further” (, sharing the adventures and mis-adventures of life aboard a sailing vessel.

In a recent post, my friend Marcie talks about nomophobia. Here’s an excerpt from her humorous look at what ails modern society:

“Yes, yet something else to worry about: nomophobia. It’s a fear of being without mobile phone contact … NO…MObile..PHOne…phobia. The term was coined in the UK when it was determined by a study that people who lose their phones, run out of battery power or don’t have network coverage, suffer the same anxiety that folks suffer when heading to the dentist’s office or getting married. Yikes!

“More than half the people (in the study anyhow) never ever turn off their mobile phones. Really? More often than not, we forget to turn ours on. I’ve been using my mom’s phone since I got back into the States. When I do remember to charge it and then turn it on, I forget to take it with me when I go out. . .”

I fall into the same category as Marcie; I seldom turn my phone on, or I forget to take it with me. It really bothers the nomophobes in my life. As an author who is soon to be published, I guess I better prepare for the onslaught of literary page editors who will be ringing me up for an interview. I better practice turning the phone on and putting it in my pocket.

Oops. Then I’ll need a publicist to manage all the pocket dialing that is bound to occur. I can see the headlines now.

New Author Arrested for Making Harassing Phone Calls

New Author Caught Dialing and Hanging on the Line Without Saying a Word

New Author’s Pocket Calls Lead to Embarrassing Moments

Come to think of it, I better leave well enough alone. I’ll have to settle for missing a call now and then. I’ll leave the worry about those missed calls to the phone addict on the other end of the line.

Me? I’ll be calling my own cell number with my land line and wandering around the house listening for the ring. That’s if the battery is still charged on my misplaced cell phone.


The Value of a Sidekick

Thank you, Wretched Richard’s Almanac, ( for providing the inspiration for this post.

Authors are loners of sorts. We tend to write books in privacy.

Yet, to improve or validate our work, we need helpful others. The helpful other, like the sidekick in the old-time western film, provides a counter-point to our own perspective about our work. A sidekick will read our story and truthfully dissect it for us to make either the story or the author better.

A valuable sidekick is, above all, a truth-teller. It takes a brave person to tell a creator that his creation is flawed. A sidekick is also a diplomat; The truth-telling, to be effective, must be done tactfully. Finally, the sidekick must be knowledgeable. Effective criticism comes out of taste or expertise garnered through experience. If the sidekick is an avid reader in our genre–and has an artist’s soul of sorts–he discerns when a story works or doesn’t. Because our sidekick is intelligent, he can articulate  the “why” when the manuscript fails.

I feel fortunate to have three sidekicks to give me the necessary kick-in-the-pants I need to improve my work. Sometimes I am obstinate and ignore sage advice. It is to my own detriment when I do.

A valuable sidekick is trying to make my writing better. That, to an author, is a priceless gift.