Resonance and The Reader’s Journey

Resonance and The Reader’s Journey

Why Does Good Story Structure Resonate?

by Steve Hooley



We discuss the importance of story structure frequently on this blog site. It is often said that good structure will keep the reader engaged and will allow the story to “resonate” with the reader. But how often do we discuss why the structure resonates? And is there anything to be learned for our writing from the answer to the “why” question?

Recently this question hit me and made me start looking for answers. I was watching the news about the Surfside Condo collapse in Miami-Dade County, specifically the ceremony that took place at the end of the rescue efforts and the beginning of the recovery phase. It struck me, at first, that this was a necessary step to prevent victim’s families from being upset that the rescue efforts were ending. But as I watched, I began to realize that people need ceremony.

  • To memorialize significant events
  • To aid in transitioning to the next stage in life
  • To reflect on the past
  • To plan for the future

Then the idea hit me that this is similar to story structure. Readers need structure, with all the signposts, pillars, and doorways along the way.

  • For the story to resonate
  • For the reader to be captured by the story
  • For the reader to identify with the main character
  • For the story arc to feel right

But that still didn’t answer the question: Why does the story structure resonate?

I began looking for answers in the psychological research literature. There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of routine and structure in making life more meaningful and more productive. We all know that. There are studies that shine light on the techniques (and hormones) that increase tension and empathy. But still, what is the connection between structure and resonance?

Let’s first look at resonance. It is defined as “the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.” And from Physics: “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.” For example, in a stringed instrument, the walls of the instrument pick up the vibration of the string, multiplying and enriching the sound.

Thus, we are looking at a story touching something within the reader that is captured and begins to vibrate along with the story, magnifying and enriching the story. In other words, what is it within the reader that he/she identifies with the structure, that is similar in some way, and reverberates and resonates?

I offer the following theory for discussion. Agree, disagree, or give us your theory:

 Story structure resonates with readers because it causes the reader to subconsciously identify their own life’s milestones, ceremonies, and arc, with the story structure (either as their life has been lived out, or as they wish it had been, or could be in the future). In other words, the reader hangs their life on the story structure (subconsciously), and hopes for a better outcome.

Here are some quotes from Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, about “the Hero’s Journey” (story structure based on patterns of mythology and the work of Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces):

The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler:

Preface, Second Edition:

p. xiii

“I came to believe that the Hero’s Journey is nothing less than a handbook for life, a complete instruction manual in the art of being human.”

p. xiv

“The Hero’s Journey is a pattern that seems to extend in many dimensions, describing more than one reality. It accurately describes, among other things, … the passage of a soul through life.”

“In the description of the Hero’s Journey they might have picked up some insight about their own lives, some useful metaphor or way of looking at things, some language or principle that defines their problem and suggests a way out of it.”

“…the pleasurable shock of recognition as the patterns resonate with what they’ve seen in stories and in their own lives.”

“…shared attitude about myths—that they are not abstract theories or the quaint beliefs of ancient peoples, but practical models for understanding how to live.”

p. xv

“Joseph Campbell’s great accomplishment was to articulate clearly something that had been there all along—the life principles embedded in the structure of stories.”

Introduction, second edition

p. xxvii

“Good stories make you feel you’ve been through a satisfying, complete experience. You’ve cried or laughed or both. You finish the story feeling you’ve learned something about life or about yourself.”

p. xxix

“The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life…”

p. xxxii

“The Hero’s Journey has served storytellers and their listeners since the very first stories were told, and it shows no signs of wearing out. Let’s begin the Writer’s Journey together to explore these ideas. I hope you find them useful as magic keys to the world of story and the labyrinth of life.”

And from Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

Chapter 9, What Can Go Wrong, Must Go Wrong – And Then Some

Cognitive Secret: The brain uses stories to simulate how we might navigate difficult situations in the future.

Story Secret: A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.

p. 167-168

“What is the benefit, survival-wise, that led to the neural rush of enjoyment a good story unleashes, effectively disconnecting us from the otherwise incessant Sturm and Drang of daily life? The answer is clear: it lets us sit back and vicariously experience someone else suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the better to learn how to dodge those darts should they ever be aimed at us.”

And here are some ideas for life events and corresponding structure milestones:

  • Birth                                                                     Opening Disturbance
  • Graduation                                                           Doorway of No Return #1
  • Midlife crisis                                                         The Mirror Moment
  • Retirement                                                           Doorway of No Return #2
  • Recovery from life-threatening illness                  Final Battle
  • Determination to make end-of-life meaningful     Transformation

Please give us other ideas for life events and corresponding milestones. Could these be built into story structure?

 And here are the questions:

  1. Do you agree with the proposed theory?
  2. Or, what theory do you have for structure and resonance?
  3. What life events would you correlate with other milestones?
  4. If this theory is correct, what can we build into our story structure milestones to better grab the reader and make him/her feel the resonance?
  5. Do you have any unique milestones that you build into your stories’ structure to grab the readers and make them feel like they have been through “a satisfying, complete experience?”

What if You Were the Main Character

What if…?

What if you decided you wanted to write a novel that would join the “50 most influential books ever written?” You wanted your book to be studied in literature classes 100 years from now. You had a concept and premise that would address a problem and make this world a better place. And you felt you had it within you to pull off such a feat.

And what if you wanted that novel to address social injustice or something just as controversial. I included the Literature and Society sections from the “50 most” list for examples of such books.


From creating characters and stories that have become foundational elements in cultures around the world to upsetting undesirable standards and inspiring the imagination of many, these works of literature have touched the world in significant ways. These are the most influential books in literature.

  1. The Canterbury Talesby Geoffrey Chaucer.
  2. Divine Comedyby Dante Alighieri.
  3. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
  4. Moby Dickby Herman Melville.
  5. 1984by George Orwell.
  6. Brave New Worldby Aldous Huxley.
  7. The Iliad and The Odysseyby Homer.
  8. Don Quixoteby Miguel de Cervantes.
  9. In Search of Lost Timeby Marcel Proust.
  10. Madame Bovaryby Gustave Flaubert.
  11. Arabian Nightstranslated by Andrew Lang.
  12. One Hundred Years of Solitudeby Gabriel García Márquez.
  13. War and Peaceby Leo Tolstoy.
  14. The Tale of Genjiby Murasaki Shikibu.
  15. Uncle Tom’s Cabinby Harriett Beecher Stowe.
  16. Crime and Punishmentby Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  17. Things Fall Apartby Chinua Achebe.
  18. Faustby Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  19. Belovedby Toni Morrison.
  20. The Lord of the Ringsby J.R.R. Tolkien.


These are the most influential books in terms of impacting society, texts that helped changed people’s views on racism, feminism, consumption, and language.

  1. The Diary of a Young Girlby Anne Frank
  2. The Vindication of the Rights of Womenby Mary Wollstonecraft
  3. The Second Sexby Simone de Beauvoir
  4. A Room of One’s Ownby Virginia Woolf
  5. Waldenby Henry David Thoreau.
  6. A Dictionary of the English Languageby Samuel Johnson
  7. Critique of Pure Reasonby Immanuel Kant.
  8. The Jungleby Upton Sinclair.
  1. What other titles would you add to this list?

And what if there would be consequences for writing such a controversial novel? Stakes (JSB, Plot and Structure): such as harm – physical, professional, psychological – even death. Do you still want to write that book? Have you thought carefully about the possible consequences?

So, what if you decided to protect yourself by inserting a buffer or a decoy – a main character who was on a quest to write such an influential novel, thus adding another layer to the story, and taking some of the heat off yourself?

What if, even though that main character was really you, you knew you must put your MC through the ringer.

  1. How far would you take your MC (you), or how close to physical death would you put yourself? Could you handle torturing and nearly killing yourself?

Commando squads showing up during the night to haul you off, never to be seen again? Or being ruined professionally where you could never find a publisher? Or being driven mad with the whole quest where you would finish the book as a deranged writer?

And, before you write your answer, we are talking “social disasters” outside your own country, not your own country’s political battles. No politics, please!

Okay, so how close to death would you take your MC (yourself)?

  1. Upping the ante

Now, finally, let’s up the ante. Or as Donald Maass says (in his books and classes), pick the worst possible scenario, now make it three times as bad. Let’s take that writer, the MC, you, out of the equation. You no longer have the MC to hide behind. You are writing that great influential, transformational novel yourself, without a decoy or a safety net; you face the stakes of death, in reality, not in the story. Do you still want to write it?

So, now, how badly do you want to write that story? What stakes would you be willing to face? What sacrifices would you be willing to make? Do you have it within you to make the ultimate sacrifice?

  1. Gaming the game

And knowing that some of you are already figuring out a way to publish without pain, what tricks have you devised to deceive? I’ll steal the easy ones: publish posthumously, hide behind a pen name, ghost write for someone else who is willing to take the heat. What others?

  1. Do you still want to be the Main Character?


Explosions in the Sky and at the Table

by Steve Hooley

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Two days ago was Canada Day. You may have a long weekend off. You may be traveling to or hosting a family get together. In short, you may want a short blog today so you can get back to the festivities.

When I thought about a shortened version for today’s blog, I began looking for a topic. And since we always need conflict for our stories, I thought fireworks would be a good metaphor for family conflict on a 4th of July, or a Canada Day, weekend.

I don’t know about your family, but mine traditionally argued at the meal table—big time. My wife, when first exposed to the tradition, thought it was terrible, a real fight. I always thought it was just a lively discussion. As my siblings grew older and we became more stubborn in our opposing political leanings, we had to ban politics from the “discussions.” But we could still find something to “discuss.”

Our family did not consume alcohol at family gatherings, and we did not carry weapons, so there were never any physical altercations, injuries, or deaths. But after every holiday, our blood-thirsty media announces that somewhere in the U.S. some family has suffered a tragedy as a consequence of an argument which has gone explosive.

So, the discussion today:

What family conflict, at a holiday gathering, have you witnessed? Or what such mayhem have you created in your writing? Give us the explosive details.

And, I wish you a safe and happy 4th of July weekend! For those of you who are Canadians, a belated Happy Canada Day!

Sarcasm and the Snark Mark

by Steve Hooley

My wife and I were once members of a small group, the majority of which were from the same family. The “joking” consisted of sarcasm and was often so abrasive that it felt uncomfortable. When new people joined the group, they were subjected to the same abuse, almost like an initiation rite. Eventually my wife and I realized this was not healthy and left the group.

I never thought, at the time, about the possibility of underlying problems, except maybe “clan mentality,” but years later as I’ve explored sarcasm, I’ve been intrigued by some of the possible psychological issues that may exist below the surface.

We all chuckle at the character with the humorous, snarky voice who seems to have found a way to entertain while he pokes fun at someone else. And we use sarcasm in our characters to create a distinct voice, but do we look beneath the surface to find the pathology that might exist or even explain why the character uses the sarcasm?

So, let’s take a look at sarcasm today.

First, what is it?

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

The root, “to bite or strip off flesh,” comes from Latin “sarc” – flesh or muscle – and from Greek “sark” – flesh, piece of meat.

Definition of sarcasm

1a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain

2aa mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

“Sarcasm refers to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, or to show irritation, or just to be funny. For example, saying “they’re really on top of things” to describe a group of people who are very disorganized is using sarcasm. Most often, sarcasm is biting, and intended to cause pain.”

According to Wikipedia, sarcasm was first recorded in English in 1579, in an annotation to The Shepheardes Calender by Edmund Spenser:

And what is some of the psychological pathology that may be hiding in the user of sarcasm?

From an article posted in Psychology Today, 7/28/19, “Sarcasm”

“Sarcasm comes from the Greek sarkasmos, which means “the tearing of flesh.” The intention behind sarcasm may be to be humorous or playful, but there is frequently an element of poorly disguised hostility or judgment. When we grow up in families in which sarcasm is frequently used, there can be an insensitivity to others’ sensitivity to it. It can feel hurtful or hostile to the person on the receiving end of it. It frequently diminishes a feeling of trust and safety, provoking feelings of anxiety or defensiveness due to never knowing when the other shoe is going to drop.

“Sarcasm is a thinly veiled attempt to disguise feelings of angerfear, or hurt. It can be a means of diminishing feelings of vulnerability that may be experienced in the willingness to acknowledge the underlying feelings. When the deliverer of the sarcasm gets angry or defensive at the recipient of it for “taking things too personally” or being “too sensitive,” they are trying to invalidate the other’s feelings and avoid feeling guilty or responsible for causing them pain.”

Here is a link to an article that may go a little deeper into understanding the problems a chronically caustic, sarcastic individual may be hiding:

Behind the Scenes of Sarcasm

Note the key words:

  • pessimistic
  • low self-esteem
  • jealous of others

And the phrases:

  • use of sarcasm to feel superior to others who are “not able to take it”
  • deep emotional turmoil may be the driving force
  • the fragility lurking below (the sarcasm)

And, if you want to have some fun exploring rabbit holes, check out all the punctuation marks that have been proposed for denoting sarcasm in the article on Irony Punctuation on Wikipedia. My favorite is the “snark mark” (.~)

Okay, we’ve now had our sensitivity session for the day. And the next time you’re giving your character a sarcastic voice, you’ll know that a paper tiger may be hiding behind that voice.

Now. It’s time to have some fun.

What is your favorite sarcastic response in film or print? Or, what sarcastic line have you given one of your characters that you are particularly proud of? And/Or, what sarcastic line can you write and display to the world today, here and now? Show us your creative snark.

How to Break into a Library

How to Break into a Library

by Dale Ivan Smith

Today, we are honored to have one of our TKZ community, Dale Ivan Smith, as a guest contributor. Dale has worked as a librarian in Portland, Oregon, for over thirty-two years, so he brings us years of experience and some great advice for authors who want to work with libraries and librarians. Thanks for your post, Dale.

No, I’m not talking about how to break into a public library. Okay, I am, but not in the criminal sense. I’m here to talk about how to get into the library as an author. Not just the physical public library, but the digital one, too. I spent over thirty years working in Oregon’s largest public library system, Multnomah County Library, which, at least prior to the pandemic, was one of the busiest libraries in the United States.

Though I worked in public libraries, including managing the science fiction and fantasy collection at my regional branch, I’ll also share a couple of tips for getting into schools and school libraries as an author. I retired in December 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, in conversations with my former boss and others still working at the library, there’s every reason to expect that libraries will still operate after the pandemic much like they did before, which means they’ll need programming and new books.

The modern public library is a dynamic place—people (“patrons” in library speak) come in order to borrow all sorts of physical media, books, DVDs, CDs, etc.; and to use computers and Wi-Fi; meeting room space for book clubs, neighborhood committees, job seekers, chess clubs, etc. Especially important are programs, ranging from story times for children and families, to puppet shows, art and craft events, local history presentations, computer classes, etc.

Meanwhile, the digital side of the library is open 24/7 via the Internet. eBooks have become very popular with patrons, as have digital audiobooks, which can be downloaded directly to your tablet or smart phone.

During the pandemic, Multnomah County Library has continued to offer story times and other programs via Zoom, including the library sponsored Pageturners Book discussion groups.

What is in it for you, the author?

Libraries have avid readers, and thus are always on the lookout for great reads, and informative non-fiction, so this is a chance to reach another audience, and make some new avid fans. Libraries give you the opportunity to meet readers, too.

Local author love

Libraries love local authors. Lead with that when you introduce yourself. If your book is about a true crime based on a local incident, or a mystery novel set in the area, mention that. It’s an important connection to the community, and libraries really value that connection. However, simply being a local author is important, because you are part of the community the library values, and the librarian will be interested in you as an author because of that local connection.

Incidentally, chances are the first staff member you encounter will not be an official “librarian.” People naturally consider anyone who works at a library a “librarian.” However, in library-land librarians are a professional job class requiring a master’s degree in library sciences. I was a para-librarian, called a library assistant in my system, because I had a degree in history but not an MLS. I could do most of the things a librarian did, except for cataloging books and other materials, and I wasn’t considered the last word in information service (just close to it). The staff who might check out your books are probably library clerks, access service assistants, etc. ASAs and “pages” do much of the shelving, helped by volunteers and other staff, including often para-librarians. So, when you drop by for a visit, that first staff person you encounter will take you to the librarian, unless it’s a really small library, in which case that person very likely is the professional librarian.

Calling to speak to a librarian about your book or a possible speaking opportunity is a better option than “cold emailing” out of the blue. My last boss told me he was regularly barraged by emails from authors from other parts of the country, who composed generic emails which they sent to libraries nationwide. A much better approach is to start with your local library and work outward to other neighboring libraries, and then libraries in nearby cities, and eventually in neighboring states. You establish contacts with librarians and begin to build a track record of presentations and as well as being able to point to other libraries that already have your books in their collections. It also helps emphasize you being a local author.

If you end up having to email, it’s worth taking the time to visit the library’s website and learn more about them. But, in my experience, a visit or a phone call is preferable.

Giving a program at the library

Speaking of speaking opportunities, giving a reading by itself can be a tough sell for librarians. A better approach is to look at leveraging an aspect of your book or writing and offer that topic as a program event to your library. Are you a former homicide detective? Then giving a presentation or program on forensics would appeal to librarians. Write about true crime topics? That would be a draw. Write culinary cozies? A cooking program or culinary presentation might make a great program for the library. If there’s a local history or local culture aspect to your book, that works too. Many readers dream of writing, so a writing program is another angle. Almost any area of knowledge from your books can be turned into a potential program item, running an hour, an hour and a half, or even two hours. That could include a reading from your novel, non-fiction or true crime, perhaps at the end of your presentation.

Another speaking opportunity is to see if your book might fit a book club or discussion group held at your local library branch. Once again, being a local author will increase potential interest. Book discussion groups in my library system typically select the books they are going to read for the coming year in late spring or summer. Check with your local librarians about this, since one of them is probably the library contact for the group and let them know you would d be interested in having your book considered. You could then “guest star” at the book discussion and give a short reading. The same if your library has a kids or teens reading group, and your book fits either of those ages.

The Power of Suggestion

Libraries heavily favor patron requests and recommendations when it comes to purchasing books. They want to build a collection that will be used. They keep abreast of trends, and current reader interests. Incidentally, libraries need their physical books to be checked out. Around half of our books were checked out at any time. There isn’t typically enough shelf-space to hold all the books in a library collection. Which means owning books which will be borrowed, and discarding books that aren’t being used, to make room for other books. The digital library side is a different matter, of course, since physical space isn’t an issue.

Patrons can fill out online “suggestion for purchase” forms, usually by first logging in with their individual library card and tell the library about a book they want the library to add to its collection. Pro tip: put a call out to your newsletter to let your readers know that they can request that their local library purchase your books. This is a great service to your readers, because it gives them the opportunity to read your books for free.


If you are an indie author, making your books available in print via Ingram Spark will make it much easier for the library to add them to their collections. I have had print editions of my novels purchased by libraries via Kindle Direct Publishing’s print on demand option, but librarians are much more comfortable with the options provided by IS, which also lists with Baker and Taylor, one of the bigger book distributors for libraries.

As for eBooks, library systems in many countries use Overdrive as their eBook platform. Bibliotheca and Hoopla are two others. As long as you are not exclusive with Amazon for your eBooks (i.e., they aren’t enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program), you can make them available to public libraries.

Kobo Writing Life, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords all let you put your books in the Overdrive catalog. D2D also lets you list with Hoopla, which is a streaming service for libraries which can include eBooks, as well as Baker and Taylor, and both D2D and Smashwords let you include your books in Bibliotecha.

Another way for your self-published book to get into the library

Another option is to check if your library has a library writers project, a program which lets self-published authors submit one of their books to be considered for the library collection. These writer’s projects are for local authors (there’s that local connection again), but in the case of my library system, “local” is a pretty broad area.

The book trifecta: Content, presentation and format

Not only do librarians want books that readers will enjoy—engrossing thrillers, fun cozy mysteries, gripping true crime stories, for instance—they want books that are edited and proofread, with professional covers, well-written back matter copy, and proper formatting. Formatting matters, both eBook and print. We saw a number of self-published print titles that had small fonts, or odd line-spacing to pad out the book, as well as covers that didn’t effectively convey the genre. Professional-looking presentation and formatting signal that this is a title worth adding to the library’s collection.

Librarians also rely on reviews for making many of their book purchasing decisions. Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and others are important for both making librarians aware of new titles and giving them a sense of quality and who the audience for the book might be. These mainly review trad-published books. However, if your indie-published novel was reviewed on a website or in a publication, by all means mention that in your conversation or email.

Tips for School libraries

Again, start local. Visit your local library and chat with the youth librarian and see if they can refer you to their local school counterpart. You’ll likely have to call or email the school librarian. Personalize your email. Emphasize being a local author, see if they would be interested in an author visit, and mention any program ideas you have, for example, a presentation on medicine aimed at kids.

You can also check the website of your local school district. It will probably list individual schools. Locate an age-appropriate-to-your-books school and look for the school librarian. Some districts have district librarians, so that could be a great person to begin with.

Like public libraries, schools also rely on professional journals and publications, including Hornbook, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. They do the bulk of their purchasing through “book jobbers” that provide cataloging and processing services, and which include reviews in their ordering interfaces.

Another resource

An Author’s Guide to Working with Libraries and Bookstores, by Mark Leslie Lefebvre

An excellent, in depth looking at working with librarians and libraries. A deep dive into the details, including a plan for starting locally and then expanding outward. The author does a terrific job of laying out what libraries and librarians want, as well as discussing pricing strategies, further advice on connecting with librarians, etc.

Q&A with Steve Hooley

Do you think most librarians will prefer physical or zoom meetings as we move into 2021? I think once libraries open up again, librarians would love to have authors drop by to introduce themselves. Programming in building will eventually resume, too, though it’s certainly possibly that programs and book discussion groups may also continue via Zoom.

Is it a good idea to offer a free book? Would a librarian hope for or expect a free book? You can certainly ask if they’d like a copy of your book to look at, but very likely they won’t be able to add the book to their collection, unless they are a small, single building library. My library has acquisitions librarians who order books and multimedia. Distributors would already have done some of the cataloging work and labeling before the book reached the library, which really helped, since my system was processing as many as fifty thousand new items each month.

Would most librarians prefer to hear from writers occasionally, or are they so busy that they would be happy to hear from writers only when they have a new book out? Librarians tend to be pretty busy, so when touching base when you have a new book out would be appreciated.

Is it appropriate to offer librarians the opportunity to sign up for a newsletter? I don’t think it would hurt to mention that you have a newsletter, but unless the librarian is personally interested, they may pass, given how busy they are.

Is there any etiquette for an appropriate gift to a librarian after a speaking engagement arranged by the library? Chocolate is almost always appreciated. But a gift isn’t necessary, after all, if you give a presentation, or program, or guest star at a book discussion group, you have already given the library the gift of your time!

What do librarians want most from writers? To keep in mind that libraries aren’t bookstores, but places where librarians love connecting readers with books they’ll enjoy, as well as community meeting places, where programs offer patrons a variety of interests.


I want to thank Steve for inviting me to guest blog today, and to the entire TKZ community for all the inspiring and informative posts and comments and interactions over many years, it’s truly made a difference for me as a writer and author.


Thanks, Dale, for a wonderful post. I’m certain we’ve all learned some new ideas.  And now, TKZ community, here’s your chance to ask our resident librarian questions about libraries and librarians:

Dale Ivan Smith is a lifelong resident of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. He got into trouble in grade school for sneaking off to the library during math class, so naturally he wound up working as a librarian for Oregon’s largest library system, Multnomah County Library, in Portland, Oregon, where he worked at four different branches. After thirty-two years, he retired in December 2019 to write full time.

Dale’s published novels include the contemporary fantasy series THE EMPOWERED, which begins with EMPOWERED:AGENT, the urban fantasy GREMLIN NIGHT, and the space opera SPICE CRIMES. After wanting to combine his love of mysteries and libraries for years, at long last Dale is now working on a library mystery series. His website is He’s on Twitter as @daleivan.

Who says librarians can’t be pirates?

TKZ Marketing Survey

by Steve Hooley

After a recent post on marketing, by Clare, Marketing in the Time of Covid, (April 12, 2021), Debbie and I were discussing the topic, and decided to survey all the contributors here at TKZ to learn their practices and strategies, and see what differences exist between indie and traditional publishers. In today’s post you’ll see five of the nine responses. On Tuesday, 5/25/21, you’ll see the remaining four responses and Debbie’s analysis, so please return on Tuesday to finish the discussion.

Today, as you read the responses, please be thinking about your overall strategy for marketing and if you plan to change any components.


John Gilstrap’s answers:

Traditional Pub

  1. What is your goal with marketing?
  2. The real answer here will sound flippant, but it’s true: My goal is to make my name and by books more recognizable to the public, and therefore sell more. I haven’t established any hard and fast metrics for this. And without metrics, my “goal” is more accurately classified as a “strategy.”
  3. What marketing do you do or participate in?
  • Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews

o   Speaking gigs as we once knew them are obviously dormant. As soon as more of America is released from house arrest, I hope to get back to more of that. In 2020, I did a number of Zoom meetings, from individual book clubs—which I hope to continue into the future—to speaking at virtual conferences.

  • Blogging – Website

o   TKZ is the only blog on which I regularly participate. I have a website that I keep current with book data, and I’ve populated it with short stories and essays about writing. That said, the website is fairly static. While I provide the content, I do not handle the design or manipulation of the site.

  • Newsletter

o   I have a newsletter list, and in theory, I send out newsletters, but I am not nearly regular enough with them. I send out publication announcements, but my life is too boring to send regular (monthly or quarterly) newsletters. I think I just don’t understand the purpose of newsletters.

  • Social media – Which platforms

o   Ah, social media. What a cesspool that has become. My SM focus has been on Facebook and YouTube. I use my Facebook author page as I think I’m supposed to use my newsletter. I post about the progress of the house we’re building and about selected life events. I also participate pretty actively in a 100K+-member FB group about fiction writing. I leverage many of those posts to point people to my YouTube channel which I call a Writer’s View on Writing and Publishing. The point of my YouTube channel is to get more invitations to speak at conferences and such.

  • Conferences – networking

o   Conferences are the great casualty of the pandemic panic. There’s no way to replace that kind of face-to-face interaction with readers, fans and other authors. That said, I have a standing date with some author buddies for virtual happy hours every Wednesday evening via Zoom. It’s not the same, but it helps.

  • Others

o   Kensington (my publisher) does a lot of work on my behalf with GoodReads, BookBub and the various retailers, but I don’t understand how most of that stuff works.

  1. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?)
  2. I dedicate probably an hour per day to Facebook. My TKZ posts take at least two hours apiece—often more. The videos for my YouTube channel take a few hours apiece, between scripting, shooting and editing. I tend to binge-shoot these in the weeks between books, and as my deadlines approach, I don’t do any social media.
  3. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective?
  4. I have no idea. I don’t even know where to look to find that data.
  5. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above?
  6. My publisher’s publicity apparatus has been very helpful in educating me on what does and does not work in social media. We work together to project the same messages around publication dates. Historically, they’ve also arranged for some speaking gigs on my behalf. As far as YouTube is concerned, the best education sources are on YouTube itself.
  7. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic?
  8. I haven’t changed things so much as I have backed away from them. The best analogy I can think of is this: If I were on a canoe camping trip through the woods and a freak storm turned the normally placid river into a torrent, I wouldn’t attempt to navigate the dangerous waters. Instead, I’d wait for the stormwaters to recede. That’s what I’m doing during the blind panic of the pandemic.
  9. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over?
  10. It’s been my belief from the beginning that there is virtually nothing an author can do to significantly impact sales. I think that book tours are terrible wastes of money and time. Conferences are better, but not by much. The Holy Grail of marketing is to snag the keynote speaker slot, but there are only so many of those to go around. The best way for an author to sell books is to write more books.


Jim Bell’s answers:

Indie Pub

What marketing do you do?
Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews
Blogging – Website
Social media – Which platforms     Twitter, Facebook (limited)
Paid ads – which onesBookBub, BookGorilla
Conferences – networking

3. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you
spend (per week? per month?)

It varies, of course. I try generally to keep things 90/10…90% on my writing because word of mouth (the result of really good book) is by far the best marketing.

4. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment?

In the back of my mind I’m always thinking I have an hourly worth based on my average writing income each month. So I tend to think “I’m losing money by spending too much time here” with regard to social media.

Which one do you think is the most effective?


5. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above?

6. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic?

Obviously, more Zoom. Workshops, mini-conferences.

7. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over?

Nothing really. I’ve kept writing as #1 and that hasn’t changed. I’ve tried paid ads — cost per click — on both BookBub and Amazon, but haven’t cracked the code for fiction. Nonfiction has worked better.

8. Where do you sell your books?



Terry Odell answers:

Indie Pub

I didn’t answer because I don’t have a marketing plan. I’m random and haphazard, and don’t track much.

Best for me, IF you can get one, is a BookBub deal. For Audio, a Chirp deal. I’ve done ads with other newsletters, such as ENT, Bargain/Free Booksy, Fussy Librarian. I’ve done the occasional Amazon ad, but just let them handle it, and I keep my spending very low.

I have a blog, a newsletter that goes out when I have something new, a Facebook Author Page. My blog feeds to my author page, to Amazon, to Goodreads (which I never visit), and I’m not even sure where else it shows up.

The only thing that’s changed during the pandemic is I haven’t gone to any conferences, although I’d cut way back before the pandemic.

Social media is about engaging, not selling, but if it’s lumped into marketing, then I probably spend under an hour/day doing “marketing.” If you remove that from the mix, more like 10-15 minutes, max.

Can you tell I don’t like marketing? I’m not in this gig for the money; I’d go nuts if I wasn’t writing. Seeing sales is good, but I look at bad years as a way to cut back on our taxes.


Elaine Viets’s answers:

Traditional Pub

  1. What is your goal with marketing?
  • To create a loyal group of satisfied readers who will return to buy my mysteries and help sell books by word of mouth.
  1. What marketing do you do or participate in?
  • Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews
  • I give talks via Zoom and I’ve been a podcast guest. Before Covid-19 I went on book tours. Now I participate in Zoom book signings. These are most successful if I team up with one or more writers for the event. My last Zoom book signing was with Charlaine Harris at Murder on the Beach Bookstore in Delray Beach, FL. Murder on the Beach asks participants to buy at least one book.
  • Blogging – Website
    • I’ve cut back on blogging, except for TKZ. I believe blogging’s popularity is waning. TKZ has an established audience, and it’s worth my time.
  • Newsletter
    • I have a database of about 3000 names and send out a newsletter two or three times a year, usually when I have a new book or anthology coming out. I don’t like to bombard my readers with constant newsletters.
  • Social media – Which platforms
    • Social media is a huge time suck. I use Twitter and Facebook.
  • Conferences – networking
    • Thanks to Covid, most of the conferences were cancelled. I really miss them. I’ve been a speaker at several virtual conferences and will be at Mostly Malice, the Malice Domestic conference. As for networking, I belong to MWA and I’m treasurer of the Sisters in Crime Treasure Coast Chapter.
  • Others
    • My agent, Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky, got the rights back for my Dead-End Job mysteries, my Josie Marcus cozy series and the Francesca Vierling series. He commissioned new covers and descriptions. Julie Smith at BooksBNimble does a good job of marketing the books. She places ads and has giveaways.
  1. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?) Blogging takes about two days per month. Social media is about half an hour per day.
  2. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective? Facebook gives me the best results personally, though BooksBNimble does well as an income stream.
  3. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above? I learned about BooksBNimble by networking.
  4. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic? I go to fewer in-person events, and I miss conferences and book signings.
  5. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over? If I were starting over, I would join MWA and Sisters in Crime earlier and go to the conferences as soon as I had a contract, rather than waiting for my book to come out.


Steve Hooley’s Answers:

Indie Pub

  1. What is your goal with marketing? Leave a legacy for my descendants. Sell more books.
  2. What marketing do you do?
  • Speaking – Zoom – Podcasts – Book Tours – interviews Beginning to work on a target audience of schools with visits and zoom.
  • Blogging – Website TKZ only. Website needs updating.
  • Newsletter Once monthly to a sign-up group
  • Social media – Which platforms On Facebook, don’t use it.
  • Paid ads – which ones Want to learn about this.
  • Conferences – networking – In past. Not post-virus.
  • Others
  1. For each specific activity above that you use, how much time do you estimate that you spend (per week? per month?) Speaking – just starting – one hour per month. Blog (TKZ) about 2-3 hr every other week. Newsletter – one hour monthly.
  2. For each activity above that you use, what do you estimate is your return on investment? Which one do you think is the most effective? No return with any, other than speaking to individuals and small groups when I was still in my office. Most effective – speaking.
  3. What resources have been most helpful to you in learning the above? JSB – How to Make a Living as a Writer. Dale Carnegie – The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. Kahle and Workhoven – Naked at the Podium. David Gaughran – books and newsletters.
  4. What changes have you made to your marketing b/c of the pandemic? Beginning to learn Zoom.
  5. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were starting over? Build my website as a website rather than a blog site. Do a better job of updating. Build a bigger newsletter list. Start public speaking sooner. Experiment with paid ads. Begin use of Zoom earlier.
  6. Where do you sell your books? Amazon and local bookstores.



Okay, TKZ family, it’s your turn:

  • What is your overall plan or strategy for marketing?
  • Do you plan to make any changes?


Two final notes: 

  1. Please remember to stop back on Tuesday, 5/25, when the four remaining responses from TKZ contributors will be presented, and  Debbie will analyze the results and wrap things up.
  2. In two weeks (June 5th) Dale Ivan Smith, a former librarian, will present a guest post, titled “How to Break Into a Library.” Please join us, and bring all your library questions.

Serialized Fiction and Vella – What Do You Think?

By Steve Hooley

*Our website is having problems this morning, not allowing comments. Please check back later to see if the problem has been resolved. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for stopping by.

I chose the topic of serialized fiction – a look back and a look forward – for today’s discussion, because Kindle has recently announced that it is entering the market. Vella is the name of Kindle’s new platform for serialized fiction. Let’s look at it, as well as some other sites, and then discuss reasons for considering serialization, and some creative ways to do so.

First of all, what is serialized fiction? The Free Dictionary defines it as “a novel, play, etc, presented in separate installments at regular intervals.” Wikipedia states, “In literature, a serial is a printing format by which a single larger work, often a work of narrative fiction, is published in smaller, sequential installments.”

The history is interesting, with serialization being around for several hundred years, since the development of movable type. Early authors who used it successfully include Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Here is a list of  sites offering writers the opportunity to serialize their fiction:

Vella: Kindle Direct Publishing announced in April the launch of Vella and gave a brief description. Basically, writers (currently available to U.S. writers only) will use Kindle Direct Publishing as they already have, and where they can write or upload their stories to Vella. (See the second article below for many of the details.) It is available to writers now. Readers can access stories in the next couple months.

Readers will access Vella on their phones on the Kindle Vella app for iOS or Android, or on the Kindle Vella website on desktop. Readers can read the first three episodes for free. After that they will buy tokens to unlock additional episodes. Episodes can range from 600 to 5000 words, and the price will vary according to length of the episode.

Writers will receive 50% royalties from the tokens purchased. Some estimates of earnings showed a 3000-word episode (or chapter) would pay about $0.15. Extrapolated, a 30,000-word novella would equal $1.50 – 0.45 (first three episodes free) = $1.05. And a 90,000-word novel would pay $4.50 – 0.45 = $4.05.

Tokens can be purchased in larger quantities, decreasing their price, and decreasing writers’ royalties. And Kindle plans to sell the tokens through other channels, which will take a 30% cut, meaning the writer will earn 15% less

Here are links to articles with more detail:

Potential benefits include higher earnings than with Kindle Unlimited (time will tell), and the possibility of reaching a younger market (teens) who often don’t own a Kindle and read on their phones. Longer works would pay better, because the first three free episodes would be a smaller percentage of the whole. And the cost of cover art could be significantly less, with nothing more than an image required. (No text.)

Caveats from experienced writers include the fact that payment from Kindle has changed in the past, and apparently token prices have already been discounted in certain situations (benefiting Kindle, but decreasing royalties for writers).

Now to other sites. And here’s a link to a more detailed article:

Royal Road: mostly Litrpg and Sci-Fi. No system for monetizing the stories. Stories must be approved to be published.

Pros: Decent interface. Good community.

Cons: No reading app. No monetization option.

Webnovel: Big site. Most popular genres are translations from Chinese romance novels. Writers are contracted to provide a minimum word count per month in order to get paid.

Pros: Good interface. Excellent reading app. Easy system to get featured. Responsive community on Discord. Lots of readers.

Cons: No straightforward monetization option.

Tapas: Good interface. Oriented toward comics. After getting 25 subscribers, writers can ask for donations to unlock the rest of the chapters.

Pros: Excellent interface. Excellent reading app. Straightforward monetization system.

Cons: More for comics. Getting featured is out of writer’s control.

Moonquill: new as of 5/19. Can monetize your work from get go with an ad system.

Pros: Good interface. Monetization system, but it had not been implemented as of 5/19.

Cons: Relatively new. Caters to authors already on Webnovel.

Wattpad: The biggest site. It has launched careers for some writers. Requires constant interaction with readers. Writers are using it to attract readers to their subsequent novels. Difficult to navigate. No monetization.

Pros: Biggest site with largest following.

Cons: Bad interface. No monetization.

Medium: Have to subscribe to read. Have a paid partnership program. Not a lot of serialized fiction.

Pros: Good interface. Easy to publish. Has a monetization option.

Cons: Subscription program for readers. Payment only through Stripe.

Radish: Has had issues with censorship and removal of works. Payment issues. Can’t edit stories once they are published. Mostly romance.

Pros: Pretty interface.

Cons: Problems with transparency, payment, and removal of content.


Cons: Many people have advised against working with them. Require exclusivity. Concerns with payment after initial payment.

Patreon: JSB uses this site successfully for short stories. I asked him what he thought about using it for serialization. Here’s his answer:Patreon isn’t a dedicated platform for short fiction. An author could certainly try to gain patrons for such a thing, as I have. But the lure of a Vella or a Radish is the potential to gain a huge following and, thus, some nice payouts.”

Reasons to consider serialization: Here’s one writer’s list of possible reasons (his opinions):

  1. If you have an experimental idea. For example, this writer was the first to publish a novel on a series of Twitter tweets.
  2. If you have access or can publish your serial on an established literary platform.
  3. You have a good fan base and the marketing know-how to make dollars at self-publishing.
  4. You have the will to transform serial storytelling into success no matter the risk.

But other than that, most articles came down to the conclusion that serialization has more potential for exposure, less potential for making money. And one author added the caveat that it may require a lot of interaction with readers.

The above writer who gave the list of possible reasons for serialization, also listed the following possible sites for serialization:

  1. Social media platforms
  2. Journals and anthologies
  3. Newspapers
  4. Blogs (he listed Medium – see above)
  5. Wattpad – he described as the “grandmother of it all.”
  6. Amazon (and that’s what Vella is)


Now it’s your turn:

  • What serialized fiction sites did I miss?
  • Do you plan to try Vella or one of the other sites?
  • What has been your experience (or that of colleagues) with any of the sites? Pros and cons?
  • What do you think the perfect site for serialized fiction would consist of?
  • Bonus points: What creative alternatives can you think of for serialized fiction? Example: convincing your local library to serialize local writer’s stories on a weekly library blog.

Style – The Spectrum

by Steve Hooley

After reading JSB’s post on 2/21/21, Who is on Your Writing Rushmore? – I have been working on my remedial reading list. If you missed that post, it is worth reviewing for the list of “Greatest of all time” (GOAT) authors, presented in the article and in the comments.

Here is the list of GOAT Authors (compiled from the post and comments) if you want to copy and paste:

  • Dostoevsky
  • Twain
  • Hemingway
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Faulkner
  • McCarthy
  • Agatha Christie
  • Jane Austen
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • George Eliot
  • Tolkien
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Conrad
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Chekhov
  • Dickens
  • C. S. Lewis
  • Steinbeck
  • Ray Bradbury
  • George Orwell
  • Elmore Leonard
  • H. G. Wells
  • Jules Verne
  • O. Henry

The reason for the topic today – “Style, the Spectrum”: I read Raymond Chandler and Hemingway back-to-back. Talk about different styles. Hemingway’s writing has been described as “spare, tight prose.” Chandler’s style is saturated with description. At the beginning of The Big Sleep, every other sentence contains a simile. I exaggerate, but description definitely gets your attention.

So, what is “style” in writing?

According to –

“The style in writing can be defined as the way a writer writes. It is the technique that an individual author uses in his writing. It varies from author to author, and depends upon one’s syntax, word choice, and tone. It can also be described as a “voice” that readers listen to when they read the work of a writer.”

The author of the article lists four “basic” styles: expositive or argumentative, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative. For our discussion today, we are focusing on descriptive and narrative.

Descriptive style: “In descriptive writing style, the author focuses on describing an event, a character or a place in detail. Sometimes, descriptive writing style is poetic in nature, where the author specifies an event, an object, or a thing rather than merely giving information about an event that has happened. Usually, the description incorporates sensory details.

Narrative: “Narrative writing style is a type of writing wherein the writer narrates a story. It includes short stories, novels, novellas, biographies, and poetry.”

I remembered JSB describing John D. MacDonald’s style as having just the right amount of literary poetry (“unobtrusive poetry”) sprinkled in for seasoning, and went back to reread John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-by. I found a style somewhere in the middle, between Chandler’s and Hemingway’s.

In a review of The Kill Zone blog I found tributes to MacDonald by JSB and Kris:

Kris’s comment on MacDonald’s style –

His style “had an ease and breeze as fresh as the ocean winds”

JSB’s comment on MacDonald’s style –

“The first lesson I picked up from a wide reading of MacDonald is what he termed “unobtrusive poetry” in the style. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. You don’t want a style that calls so much attention to itself that’s all the reader is thinking about. On the other hand, it’s not stripped-down minimalism of the Hemingway-Cain school.”

I didn’t see MacDonald’s name on the GOAT list, but I greatly enjoyed his style.

And I realized that I definitely liked his style better than many others, and it would influence which books I wanted to read in the future. I then wondered, does my favorite style for reading affect the style I seek to attain in my writing?

And that is our discussion for today.


Which author’s writing style do you most enjoy reading? Does that affect which books you plan to buy or read? And does that style, influence the voice and style you seek to attain in your own writing?

Recap Chapters – Mission Impossible


Recap sequences (according to Wikipedia) are the “in previous episodes” narrative device used by many television series to bring the viewer up to date with the current events of the story’s plot. It is usually a short 20 – 40 second montage of important scenes.

Recap chapters are a similar device, that could be used in series books, at the beginning, to bring readers up to date. Note: You won’t find this phrase defined in a dictionary or discussed on Wikipedia as we are using it.

I thought of this subject for today’s discussion, because it is something I am considering for book #4 in a series. The book is currently out for beta reading, and I am getting multiple questions from readers who have not read the first three books and are interested in information from earlier books.

Two posts worth reviewing, that are relevant for today’s discussion:

Terry’s recent post on “Reminders or Repetitions” –

And Sue’s post on “Tips to Create a Series Bible” –

Series books need to stand alone, so readers can read them in any order, but we need to provide those readers with the knowledge of what came before so they are not confused. And frankly, readers of previous series books often need some reminders. In general, this can be handled in one of two ways: tell before (a recap chapter) or weave the reminder into the telling of the current story.

As I thought about this dilemma, I wondered what techniques other authors have used. Are there any other choices? So here is the thread of my search to educate myself. First some definitions (based on discussions in Wikipedia):

Foreword – usually written by someone other than the author. Tells readers why they should read the book. Usually signed. 

Preface – usually written by the author, and tells how and why the book came into being

Introduction – a beginning section to a book, article, or essay which states the purpose and goals of the following. More likely used in nonfiction to introduce the reader to the main topics and prepare readers for what they can expect. Used in some classic children’s literature, where it is used as a preface. The only thriller with an introduction I could find on my shelves was Nelson DeMille’s Wild Fire. And there it was used as a preface.

Prologue – the opening to the story, establishes the context and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one

Appendix – in the back matter, used in nonfiction, gives useful additional information, but even without the rest of the book is complete

Blurb – a short description for promotional purposes on the cover or in an advertisement

As I initially thought about these choices for “recapping,” it seemed to me that the preface, the prologue, and the blurb were potential tools. I was curious to see if any authors were doing recap chapters. I googled “in previous episodes” and found “recap sequences.” When I added “books,” I found an interesting discussion – – from 2016, discussing recap chapters at the beginning of  books. The discussion boiled down to a disagreement between those who liked a recap chapter, and those who didn’t.

I would insert here that this discussion was in the context of the fantasy genre, and might change the discussion because of world building, the limits to the magic in a specific series, unusual characters and beings, etc. Thrillers and suspense might generate an entirely different discussion. That’s what we’re doing today.

In any case, in the above blog discussion, the minority wanted their recap “woven into” the story.

The majority preferred a recap chapter at the beginning, leaving the “reminding” out of the way for the present story. I was surprised at the results.

Some interesting comments from the discussion are worth repeating:

“Recaps and summaries are what lazy writers do for lazy readers.”

(Having a recap chapter) “spoils the immersive experience” that should begin at the beginning of the first chapter.

And, beginning to read a recap chapter as the first chapter means the “countdown to terminal boredom has started.”

By the end of the discussion, the host decided in favor of a recap chapter in his WIP. Here are a couple of his comments:

Writing the recap chapter was “really useful to me as the author to reorient myself. By trying to sum up the story thus far it reminded me of what the audience needs to know for the plot to make sense…”

(The recap chapter) “was the best option by far” and he “was surprised that more authors don’t do this. Yet I can’t think of one author who has.”

As I thought over the comments in the discussion, I began looking for ways to keep everyone happy – that is, all readers happy. And I was reminded of the “prison of two ideas,” meaning we always have an infinite number of choices, and we do not have to be locked in to only two choices. So, I came up with some additional options for you to consider for target practice. Shoot them down, or protect them from destruction.

“Series Preface” – The preface is placed in the front matter, before the story begins. Readers can choose to read it or skip it. Placing it in the front matter keeps readers from getting bored if they don’t want to read it, and prevents the stopwatch from beginning on that “countdown to terminal boredom.” In this location, it could be kept brief, with just enough material to bring the reader up to speed for the current book. It could also be used as a blurb to entice the reader to read the earlier books in the series.

“Series Appendix” – The appendix is used in nonfiction to make additional information available to the reader and to refer to other sources. Why not use it for a place the reader can look when they want answers to questions about earlier books in the series? Being in the back matter, it definitely won’t get in the way of the reader anxious to begin the book. Being in the appendix, the author could get as extensive as he/she wishes, allowing for readers with extensive questions to find answers or references. The material could be organized in multiple different ways. And, again, if the material is organized by book (previous series books), this would be a way to make the material both “recap” and blurb.

One could get really creative here with references to a website with “Sue’s Series Bible.” I have read that some of J. K. Rowling’s success was due to an extensive website where she kept readers busy while she was writing the next book.

“The Whole Enchilada” – And, not to be a prisoner of two ideas, an author could use a combination of the “series preface” and the “series appendix.”

And, just think. If this is actually something new (maybe it isn’t), and it catches on with fiction writers, we here are TKZ could say we were part of its creation. At least we could lay claim to the inception of the two terms, “series preface” and “series appendix.”


So, now, dear TKZ family, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to defend the tradition of weaving previous events into the fabric of the current story, champion a new garment to refresh our memory before we admire the current story, or break free from the prison of two ideas and invent something entirely new.

Take aim, and shoot down the ideas, or tell us if you like them. Give us your reasons, pro or con. If you have other ideas, please tell us and give a defense of your idea. Put on your “What if?” hat and let the creative juices flow.

Recap chapters:

  1. Have you used them?
  2. Can you think of a writer who has?
  3. What do you think of a recap chapter as chapter #1?

“Series preface” and ‘series appendix”:

  1. What do you think about a series preface?
  2. What do you think about a series appendix?

What better ideas do you have? Please give a rationale and defend them.


As always, should you or any member of your writing force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions.

Boundaries, Fertile Ground for Conflict

Broken Boundaries

Today we are going to return the favor to the creative nonfiction folks. They have learned that using our techniques for fiction writing makes their stories more interesting. Today we are going to “borrow” from nonfiction to look for ways to make our characters deeper and more interesting to readers. We’ll use the book, Boundaries, written by two psychologists, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Published in 1992, revised in 2017, it has sold over 10 million copies, and has led to additional books, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, Boundaries with Teens, Boundaries for Leaders, and Boundaries in Dating.

The goals of the authors:

  • Help develop healthy relationships
  • Learn when to say yes and how to say no
  • Learn to set limits in life and relationships
  • Understand legitimate boundaries
  • Learn to manage our digital life so it doesn’t control us
  • Learn how to deal with those who are hurt by our boundaries
  • Learn how to deal with someone who wants our time, energy, love, and money
  • Understand why we feel guilty when we consider setting boundaries
  • Know how to answer the idea that boundaries are selfish

Full disclosure: The book is written from a Biblical perspective, but the principles and advice apply to the psychology of all people, regardless of faith, religion, or culture.

So, why are we discussing this topic? Our goal is to reverse engineer the relationship-problem advice (i.e., make trouble), to create conflict, scars, and motivation for the goal/motivation/conflict of our characters.

And, why is conflict so important? Inner conflict is one of the great glues to bond the reader to our characters and keep the reader turning pages. Here are quotes from two top writing coaches and authors:

“Remember, conflict and suspense do not grip a reader unless and until she bonds with a character. Inner conflict is one of the great bonding agents. Explore deeply the inside of your Lead and give us glimpses of the psychological struggle. If you do, we will turn your pages.” p.143, end of chapter 9, “Inner Conflict,” CONFLICT AND SUSPENCE, James Scott Bell

“Inner conflict is an interior war. Like an invasion unfolding live on television, it’s a gripping contest that keeps readers glued. While conflicting feelings are a momentary effect, inner conflict can echo in readers’ minds years after they finish a novel.” p.23, chapter 3, “The Inner Journey,” WRITING 21st CENTURY FICTION, Donald Maass

First, what are boundaries? Boundaries are “invisible property lines” that “define what is me and what is not me…where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.” (p. 31, Boundaries, 1992 ed.)

Next, let’s look at the four basic personality types in terms of relationships, particularly unhealthy relationships:

  • The Compliant – those who can’t set boundaries and can’t say no to others who seek to invade their boundaries, even when they want to say no
  • The Avoidant – those who set boundaries, even against those who would help them or care for them, and even when they need care or love
  • The Controller – those who aggressively or manipulatively violate others’ boundaries for their own benefit, even when they realize what they are doing
  • The Nonresponder – those who set boundaries against their own responsibility to love, even when it is clearly their responsibility

There are others, and combinations, but these are the four basic types. And by now you are seeing how one, or especially two, of these types in a relationship (marital, friendship, business, family, criminal, anything) could lead to some interesting problems. Boundary problems from a character’s early years or their past can leave scars and set up inner conflict. And that is what we are looking for.

Boundaries, by definition, involve relationships. Unhealthy relationships are usually the result of boundary problems and cause conflict, inner and external. The inner conflict causes, at the minimum, personality issues, and at the worst, motivation for external conflict and criminal acts.

Therefore, looking for (or creating) boundary problems between characters or from their past, can be fertile ground for inner conflict (motivation), which results in external plans (goals), that helps establish a character arc. The motivation, goals, and character arc can then guide the creation of an appropriate plot in which to tell our story.

One additional point with boundary problems, the conflict often ramps up when one person decides to change their boundaries. Here’s a personal example:

I grew up as a first-born, and was nurtured to become a Compliant (turn the other cheek; if they take away your shirt, give them your coat as well). I had no idea there were other options. When I finished my education and returned to my home community, my mother continued to exercise her skill at controlling me. She could talk me into doing almost anything she wanted done. Isn’t that what the eldest is supposed to do? I ended up in a service occupation. People quickly learn if you’re a push-over. I was burning out when I discovered Boundaries. It was life-changing. I foolishly took a copy of the book to my mother for her to read. When I returned the following week, she practically threw it at me. “Who ever gave you this trash?!”

So, Dear Writer, it’s time to plow our past to see what scars we can turn up:

  1. What scars do you carry that have resulted from boundary problems in your past?
  2. Or, if that is too personal or painful, what boundary problems have you observed in acquaintances (no names, please) that have left them with scars and relationship problems?
  3. How might those scars and boundary problems provide material for inner conflict with characters in your stories?
  4. Or, describe for us some of the most creative relationship problems you have developed for characters in your books, especially those that led to inner conflict for a character, and applied glue to the readers’ fingers to keep them turning pages.