Nancy's Books

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Compelling Characters

If you are a writer, you want to create a protagonist that is empathetic. Is this a character you would spend a lot of time with? If not, the reader probably won’t either and will stop reading the story long before reaching the end. Does the character defend those who are vulnerable, stand up to a bully or commit to other acts that showcase empathy?

Pile on the problems but give the character enough backbone to confront the obstacles. We are striving to develop compelling characters, not perfect ones, so allow them to have a few frailties and faults, something to hinder the ability to succeed. As the story progresses with the character facing even greater obstacles, s/he grows, adapts, changes and becomes strong enough, clever enough to keep trying. Conflict is a must. If there is no conflict there is no story because conflict leads to growth.

 Make characters relatable, reflecting real life so they seem real. Have them take action and not be passive. Action drives the story and ups the tension. Compelling characters are the basic element to any story. The reader is cheering them on to reach their goal. After all, we write for the reader.

Call for submissions for Young Writers

CALLING for Submissions from Middle Grade and Young Adult writers! The Crawl Space Journal, a small place for big imaginations, is looking for great writing, especially short forms: poems, prose, and flash fiction, within the realms of magical realism, fabulism, and fantasy, for our Spring Issue. We do accept novel excerpts (up to1,500 words) if they stand alone. Our readers are mainly between the ages of 11 and 14.
Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Lilybell welcomes writer submissions. Lilybell has a very specific voice. We recommend reading several issues before submitting work.

Submissions should be sent to Please include your work in the body of the email. No attachments accepted.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Build Reader Interest by Upping the Tension

Readers love to see a character overcome hardships that result in a happy ending. So what are some ways to accomplish that as a writer?

Allow the characters to make poor decisions and suffer the consequences of their actions. After all, the goal is to have the character grow and learn from the mistakes.

Give the characters phobias or habits that can become handicaps in their quest to solve the problem.

Give the characters difficult choices to make. The choices force the character to face transformation and change. Make the stakes high but the consequences even higher so the character is compelled to move forward and transform.

Following high-tension scenes, allow some calm to float such as the character eating a meal or playing with a dog or child.

Use foreshadowing to hint of a potential problem ahead.

Develop a compelling protagonist so the reader will have empathy as s/he mires through the dire straits you have established. The character should not be perfect, rather should reflect humanity, exposing his/her flaws.

Each of these devices should be developed so they seem natural to the character. Throughout, reveal the character’s emotions. The more s/he feels hurt, angry, disappointed, the more the reader is attuned to the problems.

Call for Submissions for Young and Adult Writers:

Skipping Stones: An international publication for readers 8-16 that celebrates ecological and cultural diversity and facilitates a meaningful exchange of ideas and experiences by publishing essays, stories, letters to the editor, riddles and proverbs, etc.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Writing to Snag a Contract

What do editors mean when they say they don’t know what kind of manuscript they want until they see it? I was asked this question earlier this week. I’m no editor but here is what I THINK they mean in regard to middle grade fiction:

Build tension throughout the story. A compelling story must have conflict, but how is that accomplished?

Broadside the character with a problem early in the story, in the first few pages. Treat your character badly. Just say NO to whatever the character wants and needs.

After you treat your character badly, treat him/her worse. Don’t lighten up. Add more problems, both external and internal. New twists, surprises, and problems make life and decision making more difficult for the character.

End the chapters with suspense or some surprising element, a cliffhanger.

Divulge more to the reader than the character. The reader may know that the character shouldn’t open the door, but the character should not. If the reader knows, that just adds to the suspense and tension. Also, allow the character to have a few secrets that s/he reveals throughout the unfolding of the story.

Next week, I’ll discuss more ways to add tension to the story.

Call for submissions for Young Writers

Blue Marble Review is published four times a year and accepts submissions of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and art on a rolling basis. We are looking for new work that hasn’t been published anywhere else either online or in print. We want to be a journal appropriate for younger middle school readers and writers as well as high school students so please keep that in mind when submitting your writing.

Submission guidelines at

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

THE NOTEBOOK  is published biannually by the Grassroots Women Project. We seek work by female or male writers, photographers & digital visual artists with rural or small town roots. We are interested in progressive thinking—past, present or visionary—that explores a spectrum of authentic experiences for women and girls in rural areas and small towns in any of the world’s cultures. Issues of THE NOTEBOOK comprise regular columns and other single-issue features, plus themed sections. We are a peer-review journal; acceptances are selective. We encourage international submissions written in English. We are a print publication.

ThemeFor the  Summer 2016 issue, the theme is Make, Break, Repair, Replace.  All genres of writing or digital imagery will be considered as long as some aspect of the theme is related to the experience of rural or small town women or girls, either directly or indirectly. You may define, interpret or conceptualize any or all parts of the theme  in any way you see fit.

How to submit your work: Submit by email only to
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Writing by Hand

As I mentioned in the last post, the vast majority of my writing is done on a keyboard, not handwritten, but many writers prefer to write the entire manuscript and revisions by hand. They have some compelling reasons to do so. 

The process of writing by hand helps the brain to filter information and stimulates a greater focus. (My brain needs this.) 

The act of writing and shaping works is a workout that activates the part of the brain that involves thought, language, and memory. Our brains are more likely to remember the shapes of symbols, music notes, and foreign language characters if they are drawn rather than pressing a key on a computer. (A good cognitive exercise for this baby boomer.) 

The slowness of writing by hand encourages more in-depth thought into what is written so more ideas are generated. (Food to stimulate my intellect. That's a plus.) 

Computers have endless amounts of information so they can be a distraction. Check the email, tap into a social media site, play a game, check the email… (I don’t need these distractions.) 

Writing drafts by longhand, hummmmmm. Something to think about. 

Call for submissions for Young Writers

Stone Soup is a magazine of writing and art by kids ages 13 and younger. We publish stories, poems, book reviews, and illustrations, all by young writers and artists. Stone Soup welcomes submissions from young people up to and including age 13.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Boys’ Quest. Has themes. A magazine created for boys from 6 to 13, with children 8, 9, and 10 the specific target age. Looking for articles, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that deal with timeless topics such as pets, nature, hobbies, science, games, sports, careers, simple cooking, and anything else likely to interest a 10-year-old boy. Looking for lively writing, most of it from a 10-year-old boy’s point of view, with the boy or boys directly involved in an activity that is both wholesome and unusual. Up to 500 words, simultaneous submissions okay as long as is noted on the manuscript.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The question I’m most often asked at book signings and school visits is how do I write, with pen and paper or computer. The answer is both. If I’m away from my computer, and I think or hear of an idea or phrase, I write on whatever is available. If not, I’ll forget the little gem of a keeper.

When I conducting research, I usually write by hand. For me, it’s more convenient to curl up on a sofa to read and write in a notebook. Sometime I also try out phrases or variations of the narrative as I happen upon some research that tickles my fancy. I usually play around with the structure of the story by longhand, especially when writing nonfiction.
I usually transfer the notes to a computer file. I’m less likely to lose it if it’s stored in cyberspace rather than in my house or car. Whether I write with a computer or on paper is really about convenience more than anything, the practical element. I always keep a notebook handy so if I’m traveling, I can jot down an idea while I’m out and about.
My drafts are done almost entirely on a computer. The beginning of a manuscript undergoes so many starts and insertions, I can keep my train of thought better by using a keyboard where the changes can be made quickly with the delete key or cutting and pasting to rearrange text. I print the drafts and revise on written copy. It’s easier for me to catch mistakes if I’m reading ink as opposed to a computer screen.
The best way to write is to figure out what works for you and follow your own path.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
One Teen Story. A monthly publication from the editors of One Story. This publication features teen writers and is available in print as well as via Kindle and other e-reading devices.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Boy’s Life. A general-interest, four color monthly, circulation 1.3 million for boys 8+ published by the Boy Scouts of America since 1911. Buys first-time rights for original, unpublished material. Fiction runs 1,000 to 1,500 words. Payment is $750+. All stories feature a boy or boys. Uses humor, mystery, science fiction and adventure.
Submission guidelines at


Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Emotional Connection

When I wrote the first draft of my picture book biography, Barreling Over Niagara Falls, an editor said she enjoyed the story and thought the manuscript was marketable, but she had trouble connecting with the desperation of the character, the emotional connection. The editor asked me to address the following:

Why would a woman risk her life by riding a barrel over Niagara Falls?
What was the character feeling?
How did her behavior reflect her feelings?
Back to the drawing board for me. I read and reread every article and book I could find on Annie Edson Taylor to grasp her need for choosing the life of a daredevil when the most dangerous thing she had ever done was cross the street.
As I explored the literature, I found a woman who had been accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle so facing the poorhouse, a facility for the indigent, would be devastating emotionally. I also found a woman who wanted to make a name for herself, to be known far and wide, and to become financially stable, maybe rich, as well as popular. All those emotions were at play and it was my job to unveil them throughout the story.
The emotional element answers the WHY of a character’s actions and makes a more compelling read.
Call for submissions for Young Writers

Sprout. We accept all creative media pertaining to social issues.
  • POETRY: We accept both individual poems and collections. Individual poems will be reviewed as stand-alone pieces whereas a collection (limited at five poems) will be reviewed as a coherent piece.
  • OTHER LITERATURE: No more than 5,000 words. 
  • STATIC VISUAL: 1 to 10 images in a collection.
  • MISCELLANEOUS PIECES: Pieces such as spoken word, music, and cinematic work can be no longer than ten minutes in length.
​We request that you send only one submission per email.

Call for submissions for Adult Writers
Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Blended Families. Are you part of a blended family, enjoying stepchildren, stepsiblings, etc.? Blending two families after a second marriage can be a real joy… and sometimes a challenge too. Tell us about your own blended families. How did you make it work? What advice do you have for other families? We are looking for true stories about all aspects of blending families—stories that will make us laugh and cry, nod our heads in recognition, and give us great advice. Tell us about your kids if you’re a parent, your parents if you’re a kid, your pets, whatever you think would enlighten and entertain someone else in the same situation. The deadline for story and poem submissions is June 30, 2016.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Taking Risks

I’m a rule follower, not a risk-taker. Taking risks slings me way out of my comfort zone, but as a writer, following rules is not always the best route to publication. Editors refer to risk-takers as those who take chances on making a mistake, those who explore unique voices and are not afraid to use them. Not afraid? Hummmmm. When I first began writing children’s books, back in the last century, I tried to emulate a particular type of writing style of an individual author. Imitating another author, called stylized writing, is a good activity to learn how to develop a plot and characters and unfold an ending. After imitating a variety of authors, it was time for me to move on to MY own style that works with MY stories. It was time for me to develop MY own literary voice.

I began to write in a way that was comfortable to me. After writing the piece, I store it away for a while, at least a month, and move on to a new project. Writing new manuscripts is the best way to forget a previous one. Later, when I revisit the stored manuscript, I reread with fresh eyes and ask myself, if my targeted age group would enjoy reading it.
Of course, before the manuscript is stored, it undergoes numerous revisions and after I look at it with fresh eyes, more tweaking is needed. Almost all of my work includes a bit of humor, even serious stories and biographies. That’s just MY style.
Write to engage your audience, but first, write to engage yourself. When you do that, you have developed YOUR own unique style.
Call for submissions for Young Writers
Chicken Soup for the Soul.
College Student Stories
Calling all college students! We are working on a new book to be written entirely by you about your lives in college and outside college, including stories about kindness, respect, compassion, expanding your horizons, and embracing differences.

We are looking for true, non-fiction stories of no more than 1,200 words from current college students up to age 24. You can be enrolled in two-year, four-year, or technical college—any post high school educational institution.

We would like to share with you five free stories specially selected from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles, our previous book for college students, as examples of the kind of stories we publish. Please go to and scroll down. The five stories will be right there for you to look at!

The deadline date for story and poem submissions is July 31, 2016.

Submission guidelines at