Nancy's Books

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Idea to Finished Manuscript, Part IV

Outline. Are you a panster (writing a story by the seat of your pants) or a plotter (outliner)? Do you outline the story from beginning to end? I’m a plotter because it helps me think the story through before I begin writing and saves me a ton of time in revision. I figure out the plot and the setbacks and other twists and turns before hit the keyboard. Other writers plan as they go. Both ways work. Try each to see which is a better fit for you.

Add dialog to make the characters come alive. Dialog should sound real, not be real. When people talk, our words usually flow freely out of our mouths but the conversation can be boring reading. We often add uh and um and get sidetracked in our thoughts. Dialog should stay focused and either promote the plot or help develop the character.   

Play with your idea and have fun with it. The first draft is supposed to be terrible so don’t be alarmed when you read your story and say Yuck! Garbage material. All writing has preliminary stages in which you discard some ideas and keep others. Create different plots to discover what works and what doesn’t. Give your ideas time to incubate and grow. If you’re not having fun with the story, the reader probably won’t either.  

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Send us your stories about what it means to be an American, whether you’re talking about apple pie and baseball, country music and our national anthem, barbecues, national holidays, our military heroes, first responders, American ingenuity, buying “made in America”, our huge and varied country, our diversity and our tolerance, our energy and spirit, and all the other things that make us proud Americans. Deadline November 30, 2015. Limit 1,200 words. Pays $200 and ten copies.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Idea to Finished Manuscript, Part III

Try these ideas to develop your story.

Remember moments from your childhood. Fiction writing often draws from real life and what is more real that memories of your youth? Mine these memories for stories and scenes to use in fiction writing. What made you scared, happy, angry, sad, joyful, laugh, jump up and down? Memories are wonderful triggers that inspire a story; however here’s a word of caution—don’t allow memories to tell the entire story. Use them as a starting point then allow the characters to tell their own special tale. Let your imagination take the story in a new direction. Adhering too closely to the actual details limits the scope and potential of a manuscript. Think about the universal appeal of a book. The story should resonate with a large segment of the audience.

Emotions: The character’s feelings make the protagonist seem real to the audience. In fact, the most powerful way to connect a character with readers is through strong emotions. The interaction becomes meaningful when a character displays a vulnerable side and transforms to become stronger by the end of the story. As in life, people often are in control of their emotions when the sailing is smooth, but when life gets rocky and rough, we see the real person emerge through their emotions and actions. Allow the character to travel a rough, rocky road to fully develop. 

Get back to the basics. A story consists of two elements: character and conflict. The character needs to aim for a goal or experience a problem and must reach the goal or solve the problem on his/her own merit. Ask these questions. Who is the character? What does the character want? What is standing in the way of the character getting what she/he wants? When you answer these questions, you have a story idea. Other elements, such as setting, can be added later.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Dramatics is an educational theatre magazine published since 1929 by the International Thespian Society, and its parent organization, the Educational Theatre Association. Dramatics is published nine times a year, September through May, in both print and online digital replica versions. It has a circulation of about 45,000. Approximately 80 percent of its readers are high school theatre students; about 10 percent are high school theatre teachers. Other subscribers include libraries, college theatre students and teachers, and others interested in educational theatre.  The primary editorial objectives of the magazine are: to provide serious, committed young theatre students and their teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to make better theatre; to be a resource that will help high school juniors and seniors make an informed decision about whether to pursue a career in theatre, and about how to do so; and to prepare high school students to be knowledgeable, appreciative audience members for the rest of their lives.  Submission guidelines at

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Idea to Finished Manuscript, Part II

Try these ideas for turning an idea into a story:

Audience. The adage Know your audience is true in any genre of literature. Is this story a  read-aloud for a three-year-old or is it geared for a six-year-old beginning reader? When we meet someone on the street and talk face-to-face, we adjust our speech and language to suit the audience. As writers, we have to recognize and understand the reading and interest level of our readers before we begin writing. A read-aloud story may have more complicated words and sentence structure than a beginning reader for an older child.
What if. What if it rained marshmallows. What if everyone grew horns. Probe your character and plot with the What if question to develop your story idea. When your story comes to a screeching halt and you don’t know where to go with the plot ask what if. You may be surprised at the turn your story takes and the new ideas you will explore.

Perspective/Point of view. These are not the same. Perspective refers to the strategy a writer uses to tell the story. Is it first person (I) , second (you), or third (he/she)? Keep the same perspective throughout in books for younger children. 

Point of view refers to who is telling the story? Is the big dog, the friendly dog, or the neighbor’s cat? Try different characters to determine which could tell the story in the most compelling way. The single-character perspective is the most common viewpoint used in children’s literature. If you change the viewpoint, do it with a new chapter to enhance understanding for the reader. 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Young Rider. Short stories (approximately 800-1,000 words) for about $150. They have to be “realistic” stories and not too sugary sweet. We only use 4 to 5 of these a year. We get a great deal of “children overcoming the odds to win things or struggling to buy or get a horse of their own” so we don’t encourage these types of stories. We would prefer funny stories, with a bit of conflict, which will appeal to the 13-year-old age group. They should be written in the third person, and about kids. The story should have a definite plot, some sort of conflict (humorous, serious or not-so-serious) and a resolution. No “childhood memories” please.
Submission guidelines at

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Idea to Finished Manuscript, Part 1

Ideas are a dime a dozen (or even cheaper), so what do you do with a story idea? When an idea pops into my head, crawls, or leaps there, it may be in the form of a phrase, an interesting character, or maybe a situation. I tend to let the idea linger. Some loiter so long, the story practically develops in this stage as it forms a mental movie. As days turn into weeks, the story evolves and grows. Characters become clearer and names attach. Has this happened to you?

Of course, there are other techniques to develop story ideas. While I tend to let stories percolate until the characters are strong enough to come to life on paper, sometimes I take an idea and immediately construct a character and plot. Different methods work for different writers at different times.

As you mull the idea, bend it, twist it to see what could happen. Make it different in some respect from any book you’ve read.  Begin by giving your character an overpowering urge to do something, something the character needs to accomplish. This driving urge is the power behind your character that will propel the story forward.

Next week, I’ll post techniques for turning an idea into a finished manuscript.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Advocate is interested in feature stories, ‘think’ pieces, humor, profiles, original recipes, puzzles, short stories, poetry, cartoons, line drawings, wood-cut prints, lithograph prints, metal-plate engraving prints, and photos.

Poetry may be sent individually or in batches and may be of any length.
Prose pieces should not exceed 1500 words.
Submission guidelines at