Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Does It Take to Keep Readers Reading?

            Have you ever wondered what it takes to tell a great story? What draws people in? Today I have Liesel Hill, author of Persistence of Vision, Book 1 of Interchron, who will tell you all about how to create conflict in your story to keep your readers reading. 

Great Conflicts

The key to a great story (okay, maybe one of several keys) is great conflict. Have you ever read a story, and you really liked the setting or one of the characters, so you really wanted to like the story, but you just couldn’t make yourself care? This can happen for any numbers of reasons, but more often than not, the absence of compelling conflict is what turns people off to the story. As a reader, it’s frustrating. As a writer, it’s oh-so-avoidable!

I’m often told that my subject matter is very interesting. That’s the non-writer’s way of saying that my conflicts are engrossing. As a writer of dystopian, I have to create conflicts within conflicts. My dystopian world has to be one big conflict, my characters have to be facing conflicts, and it helps if they’re a little conflicted within themselves. So, what makes a good conflict? What is it that makes you devour a story verses devouring dinner instead of reading?

I got to thinking about this and came up with a few keys to keeping your reader engrossed. As you read, apply these points to your favorite stories. They may help you discover the formula for why those stories are your favorites!

1)      You have to hook them. Make them care to begin with. I said that conflict is one of many keys that make a story work. Another is characters. In my experience, your conflict could be relatively boring, but if you make your readers care about your characters, and your characters care about the conflict, then the reader will care about the conflict too. So, make your characters likable, human, relatable. Give them at least one quality that makes the reader root for them. If you can do that, then your reader will keep reading past the first few chapters.

2)      Make your conflict something your characters are passionate about. Make sure there’s something very threatening to the MC about the conflict. I recently (tried) to read a novel and stopped about a third of the way through. The writing was actually quite good and the characters were okay, but there almost no conflict in the story. At first the MC was kidnapped, which was good, but then she was suddenly jumping through all these fantastical worlds, and I just couldn’t make myself care. I realized that I had absolutely no idea why she was doing what she was doing. Make it so that if your characters don’t act, something terrible will happen to them or someone they care about. If Frodo didn’t run from the black riders, they would have killed him. If Katniss hadn’t volunteered for the Hunger Games, her little sister probably would have been killed. If your character is passionate to the point of hyperventilation about the conflict (or perhaps putting a stop to it) then your readers will feel the same way. Trust me.

3)      Raise the stakes. No matter how dire things are at the beginning of the story, they must get worse as the story progresses. In a way, you really have to stress your reader out. They must fear for the characters and what will happen to them should they fail. Things can get worse, plans can fall through, a mentor/friend can die, a worse bad guy can show up. These things will cause your characters (and therefore your readers) stress, which means they will keep turning pages because they so desperately need the release of relief when things are finally better. (Why do you think people scream and throw books at walls when a volume of a series ends on a cliffhanger?)

4)      Shock your reader. That’s right! Shock them. How?

a.      A twist in the plot. Now be careful with this one. You must make sure the twist is both worth it (twisty enough) and also realistic enough to be believable (not too twisty). There are some twists that are done WAY too often. Since The Sixth Sense came out ten years ago, everyone and their dog has ended the story with the-character-is-actually-dead scenario. I also think the-character-is-actually-crazy thing is done too often. The best way to orchestrate a twist is by putting in tiny, subtle details early on. They must be small enough that the reader won’t pick up on them, but potent enough that when you reveal the twist, they’ll remember the details and have a light bulb moment.

b.     Shock your character. I went to a writer’s workshop about a year ago where the speaker (don’t remember her name, which is terrible!) said that you must always know what the worst thing you could do to your characters is. You don’t always have to do it, but you have to know what it is. Doing the worst thing to them definitely heightens the conflict, though. J.K. Rowling was masterful at this in Harry Potter. Books 3-7 pretty much all ended this way. What was the worst thing that could have happened to Harry at the end of book 3? Losing Serious after finally finding him. Book 4? Facing Voldemort unprepared. Book 5? Death of a loved one. Book 6? Death of another loved one. Rowling figured out what would be the worst thing for Harry and did it to him…right before the end of the book. Woman’s a master, if you hadn’t already figured that out.

c.       A betrayal—this one is good, but also sometimes hard to pull off and *warning* your readers may hate you for it. If you take a character that’s awesome and lovable and relatable, and then have him/her betray your MC, that will shock your audience. Some of them will hate you for it, but it definitely ups the conflict.

d.      Death of a character. This only works as a shocker/conflict enhancer if the audience loves the character. Side or stock characters don’t count. By far the best author I’ve seen at this is George R.R. Martin. He always said he wanted to write a book that people were afraid to keep reading. Well, he’s done it. He’s been known to let you love a character for two or three volumes (some of them over a thousand pages, people!) and then kill the character off. Was I sad? Yes. Did I chuck the book across the room and swear? Uh, pleading the fifth. Did it make me a die-hard fan of the series? Absolutely! Just saying.

These are some awesome ways to up the ante in your stories and make sure your reader cares about your characters and their conflicts. Take a moment to examine your favorite stories. If you can find where the author escalated the conflict and made you care just so darn much, you may have discovered the formula for just why those stories are your favorites. Happy stressing everyone! 

In a world where collective hives are enslaving the population and individuals have been hunted to the verge of extinction, Maggie Harper, and independent 21st Century woman, must find the strength to preserve the freedom of the future, but without the aid of her memories.

After experiencing a traumatic time loss, Maggie is plagued by a barrage of images she can't explain. When she's attacked by a creep with a spider's web tattoo, she is saved by Marcus, a man she's never met, but somehow remembers. He tells her that both he and her creepy attacker are from a future in which individuals are being murdered by collectives, and Marcus is part of the rebellion. The collectives have acquired time travel and they plan to enslave the human race throughout all of history. The flashes Maggie has been seeing are echoes of lost memories, and the information buried deep within them is instrumental in defeating the collective hives.

In order to preserve the individuality of mankind, Maggie must try to re-discover stolen memories, re-kindle friendships she has no recollection of, and wade through her feelings for the mysterious Marcus, all while dodging the tattooed assassins the collectives keep sending her way.

If Maggie can't fill the holes in her memory and find the answers to stop the collectives, the world both in her time and in all ages past and future will be doomed to enslavement in the grey, mediocre collectives. As the danger swirls around her and the collectives close in, Maggie realizes she must make a choice: stand out or fade away...

Here are some of the places you can find Liesel:
Goodreads Author Page:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Enter Here Those Who Wish To Be Scared

Scary, witty, funny, chilling, Pitch Green, the first instalment in the Dimensions in Death series by the Brothers Washburn, will keep you on the edge of your seats. Before I introduce you to Berk and Andy, here is a hint of what their book is about.

            Trona is a small, smoggy, mostly insignificant town in Colorado. Besides
a booming chemical plant, the only thing that characterizes this dismal
town is dirt, sagebrush, and an enormous abandoned mansion.
The mansion is, admittedly, the only notable addition to Trona, but
it’s something everyone tries to avoid due to its creepy facade.
Everyone except for Camm Smith, who is obsessed with the need to get
Seven years earlier, as Camm herded a pack of little trick-or-treaters
past the mansion, her young neighbor, Hugh, disappeared,
becoming just one of many children who have vanished from Trona over
the years without a trace. Now a senior in high school, Camm is still
haunted by the old tragedy and is sure the answer to the mysterious
disappearances lies hidden somewhere in the decaying mansion.
Joining forces with her best friend, Cal, who also happens to be Hugh’s
older brother, Camm naively begins a perilous search for the truth.
As things spiral quickly out of control, and others die, Camm and
Cal discover it will take all their combined ingenuity to stay alive. An
unseen creature, lurking deep within the bowels of the mansion, seems
to have supernatural powers and is now hunting them. Making matters
worse, they become entangled with hostile federal agents, who care
only about keeping old secrets permanently hidden. Left with only their
wit and seemingly ineffective firearms, they know they are running out of
time. Unless they can make sense out of the few pieces of the puzzle
they manage to unearth, the monster will certainly destroy them, and
like so many others before them, they will be gone without a trace.

(1)  Welcome Berk and Andy. What is it like working together? Who gets to decide what stays or what goes? In other words, which one of you is the Head Honcho?

B&A: We each have a different Head Honcho—the woman that each is married to. The Brothers Washburn is a non-competitive arrangement, and if a tie-breaking vote is needed, our wives are always happy to straighten us out (and have been very active in the business). As two of nine brothers, we have always respected each other’s talents and abilities, and now as adults, we find that it is great working together. When there are multiple ways to handle a given issue, we can find at least one way that will work for us both. We decide together what stays and what goes, and it is not unusual for us to come up with a joint solution that is better than was either of our separate solutions. We both have experience and expertise in different areas that gives us a wider range of wisdom that we can share in the writing process. Because of our sincere mutual respect, we have been able to put our egos aside, (which says a lot for two old attorneys) and come to mutual agreements as to the final versions of our books.

(2) You are able to put aside your egos? Now that is very impressive. And your wives decide the tiebreak? Even more impressive. You both look like such nice, kind-hearted brothers. Where did the idea for such a scary story as Pitch Green come from?

B&A: We hope we are nice, although there may be people with differing opinions. We always liked scary stories; reading them, watching them on TV, and especially telling them. As youth, we read many kinds of mystery and horror, including several different volumes of books published by Alfred Hitchcock, with titles like "Stories My Mother Never Told Me". We love those kind of scary stories, and in fact, our mother did tell some of the best scary stories. Pitch Green comes from a favorite "campfire" story that has been in our family for years and years. It was one of our favorites, and we think it has provided an excellent framework for a YA mystery, horror series.

(3)  I’ve read your book and agree completely. Tell me, what was it like growing up in the Mojave Desert, which is the backdrop for Pitch Green and for the whole Dimensions in Death series?

B&A: We thought we were growing up in the perfect place to grow up with unlimited access to motorcycles, dune buggies, rifles and pistols. We loved it. As kids, we couldn't understand how anyone would want to grow up anywhere else. We loved the freedom that living in the deep desert allows, including the opportunities for unrestricted exploring and roaming. It wasn't until we returned as adults that it occurred to us that the place where we had grown up was quite remote, isolated, desolate and foreboding--the perfect place for this kind of story.

(4) Is there anything in particular from your childhood that inspired the concept for your book?

B&A: Telling scary stories was a much-loved family pastime. As mentioned above, the outline and basis of the book comes from a late-night story we told during our childhood. We told it on scout outings, on school and family trips and on other special occasions to classmates, family, friends and girlfriends. It was always a big hit, and proved to have the makings of a whole book in it.

(5)  I would love to ask the scary Guardian of the Mansion a question. Here it is: If it could have one wish, what would it be?

B&A: We think it wants to be in total control of its life; to be free to come and go from earth at will; to seek prey under cover of every moonless night; and it really wants to kill and eat the main character, our heroine, Camm, whom it hates with every fiber of its rotting green being.

(6)  What is your book rated, especially in terms of the ‘scaring’ factor?

B&A: There is no sex; little, and only minor, profanity; and there is no gratuitous blood and gore. We rely on suspense to scare more than anything. Having said that, it is a book that could keep a child up at night. We would call it PG-13.

(7) What do you do for fun, when you aren’t thinking up story ideas?

B&A: The ‘funnest’ thing we do right now is write, but we also enjoy books and movies.
Andy likes to go to Mexico, buy lots and lots of huge fireworks and set them off there (in Mexico). He also likes to go out in the deep desert and make big bonfires. And, he likes camping and hiking.
Berk likes fast cars, dune buggies and magnum rifles and pistols.

(8) Is there anything else you would like to tell your readers?

B&A: We think the next book will be even scarier.

BERK AND ANDY WASHBURN, aka “The Brothers Washburn,” are
both lawyers by profession, writers at heart. They grew up together
roaming the wastelands of the Mojave Desert, where most of the series
is set. Both brothers returned from lengthy and successful careers in the
wastelands of the law to write YA horror stories based on the
wastelands of their youth. They currently live north of Denver, Colorado.

Here is how to connect with the Brothers Washburn:

Twitter: @BrosWashburn

Pitch Green was released on March 16th and is available where all books are sold.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Social Networking and Writing: Is There a Perfect Balance?

When I signed with my publisher, Jolly Fish Press (JFP), they made one requirement of me (okay, more than one but this caused the most internal upheaval). What they said was, and I paraphrase: “Ann Marie, you need to do social networking. That’s a must.”  Now this was asked of me, the woman who for years had been avoiding blogging and interacting on FB. Twitter was for the birds, literally.

The first few months were the hardest. The hours I spent deliberating over what to say and how to say it. The hours I spent obsessing over what people might be thinking of what I said and how I said it. The hours I spent NOT WRITING!!!!!  Social Networking had taken over my brain with an abandon I had never considered. That was all I could think about. For months I couldn’t come up with a single new story idea. I could barely even work on my works in progress (WIP’s).

Luckily, over time, and I have to admit, loads of encouragement not only from JFP but from my fellow JFP authors, I was able to ‘calm down’ (my daughter’s words) and put things in perspective. I am happy to say that I have found my muse again. I am writing.

The temptation is always there though to get lost in FB (which I have come to love and through which I have met, and am still meeting, some truly awesome people, some of whom are old friends). Blogging has become somewhat easier, and tweeting isn’t all that bad either. My priority, though, is to create stories people will enjoy. So what I do now is set aside a certain amount of hours per week to interact on the various social media (without going crazy) and devote the bulk of my time to family, writing, friends, life...

I haven’t as yet found a perfect balance. That, in itself, is a work in progress. Is it even possible?

Here is what some other writers have to say about this topic.   

Amie Borst's first children's middle grade novel, 'Cinderskella', Book 1 of the 'Scarily Ever Laughter' series, will be released by Jolly Fish Press on October 26, 2013. Check her out on her website or on Facebook 

I wish I had the perfect formula, something simple and basic: 1+1=2.  Unfortunately I haven't figured out this perfect formula.  Yet.  I also haven't found the magic one, though I'm betting magic is easier found than perfection!  For now, I still spend way too much time on social networks and not enough time writing.  But when I do find a day that somehow seems to have just the right amount of balance, it usually entails up to an hour of social networking on my three favorite sites (twitter, facebook and pinterest) in the morning, followed by household duties (unfortunately my fairy godmother hasn't made an appearance yet) and a few hours of writing in the afternoon.  I close out the day with about another hour of social networking after my kids are in bed.  It's not perfect and I know there are ways to be more efficient, but for now it's the closest thing I've found to balance.

F.J.R. Titchenell's debut novel,’ Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of)’, will be available summer of 2014. In the meantime, you can follow her blog, Confessions of the One and Only F.J.R. Titchenell (That I Know of), find anthologies featuring her short stories under the "books" tab, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

In the admittedly short time I’ve spent as a blogger, on top of being a fiction writer, these are the most vital things I’ve learned: You have to set a schedule. One to two blog posts and one chapter a week works for me. I try to have the posts planned at least a month in advance and written about a week in advance so I have a grace period if I start to slip. Let ideas do double duty. If I have a blog post to announce through Facebook and Twitter on a given day, I’ll usually save up any quick, random Facebook-appropriate musings for the next day. It saves me from too many “I had toast for breakfast” filler posts. Don’t turn down help. Welcome guests and collaborative projects (Like this one!). You’ll be doing other bloggers a favor, and you’ll get more material and traffic for a smaller time investment. Finally, write what you love. The same rule that applies to fiction applies to blogging. The more passion you have, the quicker and easier the writing process will be, and the more fun the result will be to read. Not everything you post has to be Aristotle. Write about what inspires you to do your “real” writing.

 Janet Kay Jensen is the author of ‘The Book Lover’s Cookbook’ and ‘Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys’. Her next book, ‘Gabriel’s Daughters’ will be released on September 21, 2013. You can reach her through her website or on Facebook.

Here are my goals:

1) Learn to use Hoot Suite to my advantage for
a. posting at optimum times
b. filtering so I follow only the posts that interest me

2) Blogs: Follow only a few of the best blogs re writing and publishing.
a. Write provocative posts that produce more reader responses
b. Take opportunities to guest post
c. Understand how to maximize a blog tour

3) Pinterest: Optimize my presence as an author (I have boards for my books and JFP)

4) Remember to link, link, link with all of the above

5) When I’m writing:
a. Set aside specific blocks of writing time when I pretend the internet isn’t available.
        b. Take my phone off the hook. We have an answering machine. It  

Sarah Kriger writes middle grade and young adult books as well as plays. Her new play ‘Bitch of the Baskervilles’ will be performed in Toronto this May. As details become available, they will be posted on You can also find out more about Sarah here.

For me, managing the balance between social networking and writing is a matter of time. I love to blog, because sometimes, I like to analyse the problems I'm having with my creative projects or share my thoughts about writing. Other times, I just want to develop a funny idea I had or rant about a TV show plot that bothered me, and it's nice to have somewhere I can do that, too. And a lot of the time, I blog about things that I need to get out in print, written down, so I can free my mental energy for other work. But I need to be careful not to let those jokes and rants and essays take over my schedule. So, I budget myself 15 minutes per weekday to blog or Tweet. That's usually enough to write and revise a weekly blog entry and have some time leftover to start next week's.  

Dan Levinson’s first novel, 'Psionic Earth', will be released in Spring 2014. Dan can be found on Facebook and Twitter. His blog will be up and running soon.

For me, the most important way of finding balance has been first to find a concrete writing process. My teacher Jake Krueger once advised me to set a goal for what I thought I could accomplish on a daily basis, and then cut that goal in half. It's all about tackling it in manageable pieces. And once you've figured out how to do that, the rest of day magically opens up. When you already know the when, and how, and how much of writing, you can plan for anything else you need to accomplish. A great deal of time can be spent worrying about when you're going to have a chance to write, so if you can remove that concern from the equation, it becomes easier to allocate time toward marketing and self-promotion.

Erika Mailman is the author of two historical novels, The Witch’s Trinity (Random House 2007) and Woman of Ill Fame (Heyday Books 2007). She teaches writing through and can be reached at

Writers have a hard time finding balance between writing and social networking. It can be easy to be distracted from your writing, so my tactic is to write first, then take care of the easier work of networking.  Commenting on others' blogs on a daily basis can be time-consuming: be mentally prepared to join the community of writers and make sure to keep your own blog updated at least twice a week, the recommended minimum to build and maintain readership. Of course this is easier said than done, and I need to more fervently practice what I preach!

Elsie Park, author of medieval fiction, Shadows of Valor - release date 27 July, 2013 through Jolly Fish Press. You can learn more about Elsie via her website, twitter or on Facebook.

Individual authors must decide what they are able to do on any given day depending on their unique circumstances. A good balance for one author may not be right for another. Some authors write first and then network afterward. Other authors network first, sometimes spending hours a day on it, and still have a fresh mind for creative writing. And still others (including myself) have to juggle a myriad of things other than writing and networking. These include children, chores, spouses, jobs, emergencies, and whatever else life sees fit to hand out. I wish I could say I was an authority on this subject. I still struggle to find the perfect balance between family, writing and networking, but I can tell you that first and foremost my children and husband come first. In the early morning, however, when one child is at school and the others are still asleep, I take advantage of that time. First I exercise for an hour, and then I set a time limit of 1-2 hours for networking, getting it done first thing. The rest of the day I dedicate to my manuscript (broken up as needed by family needs, chores and errands). For now, this seems to work for me. 

Jennifer Wardell’s first novel, "Fairy Godmothers, Inc." will hit the shelves April 27. Check out her blog for more information.

I have a lot more fun writing than I do on social media – the
characters’ days are a lot more interesting than mine tend to be. In a
perfect world, I’d make them responsible for writing all my Facebook
and Twitter posts. If nothing else, it would make up for some of the
time I lose by constantly arguing with them.

Well, there you have it. Eight authors and their take on the balance involved in social networking and writing. Any additional advice or suggestions are welcome as we are always willing and ready to learn.