The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You

The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You
Terry Odell

scene endingsKeeping readers turning pages is a big thing for authors. Who doesn’t love a message saying “I stayed up all night reading your book”? I’m closing in on ‘the end’ of my first draft of my new book, Cruising Undercover. One of the things I look at on my read through is how I end my scenes. Will a reader be invested enough to turn the page? This is a topic that’s been covered here before, but even though I’m writing novel number thirty-something, it’s a piece of the craft I have to revisit every time. I thought a refresher or reminder might be worthwhile.

I’m a “self taught” author. That’s not to say I never took classes or workshops, but I was a Psychology major/Biology minor in college. I took the requisite English classes—the ones you couldn’t graduate without. I got decent grades, but I learned more about how to string words together in high school than in those few college classes. I never took a “How to Write” class. The writing courses I took were at conferences or online.

Writing began as a whim. Could I do it? When that moved from writing fan fiction to attempting an actual, original novel, I simply sat down and wrote. My first manuscript was my writing class. That manuscript was one long (140K words) puppy. And there were no chapter breaks. That’s not to say I was trying to avoid using chapter breaks. Rather, it was because I didn’t really know where to put them.

Readers look for reasons to put the book down. They have chores, or work. Kids. Schedules. Bedtimes. Chapter breaks are logical stopping points. Long before I started writing, I learned that if I was going to get any sleep, I had to stop reading mid-page.

A former critique partner referred to these endings as landings. Others have called them hooks.

What makes a reader say Okay, I’ll read a little longer?

Cliffhangers are a tried and true way to get readers to keep going. Leave the character with a dilemma. Jump cuts have been discussed here as well. Since most of my books have alternating POV characters, I often leave one character hanging while I shift to the other’s POV. Since these POV shifts mean each scene has to be a mini-chapter, they need their page-turning landings.

They don’t always have to be character in peril cliffhangers.

You can leave readers with a question they want answered. It could be a phone ringing or a knock at the door. (I use these too often in my first drafts and have to go back and mix things up. You don’t want your chapters to be monotonous or predictable.)

Short chapters, or short scenes are another way, which seems to be a current trend. I recall a workshop given by the late Barbara Parker who told of going to the pool in her apartment complex and asking a woman reading there if she liked the book. The answer, after a moment or two of reflecting, was, “Well, the chapters are short.”

**Personal note: I’m not fond of the super-short chapter. To me, it screams gimmick. Not only that, in a print book, it’s an extreme waste of paper. It’s as if the author or publisher is trying to meet a page count quota and all those short chapters make the book seem longer than the story actually is.

Back to my learning the craft of landings. When I went back and added breaks to my endless tome, I discovered that I’d ended every chapter or scene either with someone driving away or going to sleep. They were, to my still learning the craft mind, logical stopping places. But not exactly page-turners.

More often than not, the best exit was behind where I’d put my break. I’d gone too far, feeling the need to wrap things up. Sometimes a sentence or two was all I needed to cut—usually those extras leaned into telling rather than showing. Sometimes several paragraphs. Once I accepted that those words might still be good, they just weren’t good where they were sitting, it was easier to cut them. I hardly ever needed them, but I felt better knowing that hadn’t been destroyed.

An example of a scene ending from a very early version of what ended up becoming Finding Sarah:
Sarah didn’t care; she cried great gulping sobs until exhaustion overcame her and she slept.

A better version of the ‘end with bedtime’ scenario adds a question:
As she drifted off, she heard a man’s voice from the main house. Had Jeffrey come home?

Here are a couple of examples of “non-cliffhanger, non-action-filled” chapter endings:

From Forgotten in Death, by JD Robb:
Kneeling, she pulled off the work gloves, then resealed her hands. And took a closer look at her second and third victims of the morning.

From A Thousand Bones, by P.J. Parrish
He took another drag on his Camel. “Maybe I will have something else for you as well.”
“What?” Joe asked.
He smiled. “A little surprise.”

What about you TKZ peeps? Do you struggle with ending scenes and chapters? Do you tend to overwrite? What tips can you offer for keeping readers turning pages?



Available Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

 

 

 

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Speed Dating and Swag

Speed Dating and Swag
Terry Odell

author swagI’m hardly a marketing guru—it’s the least favorite part of writing for me—but I made some observations at the Left Coast Crime conference and thought I’d share them.

As I mentioned earlier, Left Coast Crime is a reader-focused conference, which means it’s a place where readers come to meet authors, both familiar and new. It’s an ideal opportunity for us lesser-knowns to make connections.

Any writing conference I’ve been to, whether reader or author/craft focused, has a giveaway table where authors leave freebies—swag. With several hundred authors vying for attention, it’s important that these items entice readers (and authors are readers, too) to pick them up. Anything left on the tables after the conference closes will be trashed by the hotel staff, so you might be carting home a lot of what you brought.

The most common items are paper goods. Bookmarks dominate. How effective are they? With so many people using e-readers these days, they don’t serve the same purpose—something that the reader will encounter every time they pick up their book.

author swagI think bookmarks are more effective when handed our personally, like a business card, but even then, they are likely to end up in the hotel room wastebasket. I stopped getting bookmarks made years ago, but I do have business cards with QR codes to my website and Facebook Author Page on the back.

author swagSome bookmarks that did entice people to pick them up were dual-purpose, like these.

author swagA tradition at Left Coast Crime is their Author Speed Dating event. How it works: Tables for ten (There were 40 this year) are set up in a large meeting room. Two seats at each table are reserved for authors. The authors rotate from table to table and each has two minutes to talk/pitch/promote themselves and/or their books. They also bring swag to distribute at each table.

My observations.

The two-minute rule was enforced, which means authors had to be well prepared. Since handing out swag eats up precious seconds, authors were advised to let their partner hand out the swag while they talked. A fair number of them weren’t able to follow this simple direction. Some overran their time, ignoring the bell and finishing their prepared talks, eating up their partner’s time or having to arrive late to the next table.

The presentations varied from rehearsed and memorized speeches to stumbling or rambling attempts to summarize the gist of their stories. The best ones were those who knew their material well enough to make it sound off the cuff. Those attending are going to be listening to eighty two-minute presentations in a room that’s probably not going to have the best acoustics. Being able to be heard was challenge enough for some.

Takeaway: if you’re doing a presentation like this, adhere to the time constraints. Practice your material until it doesn’t sound practiced. If the organizers offer advice, take it.

And now, back to the swag. Handing out swag to a captive audience is better than leaving it on a giant table. But remember the purpose of the swag. To make people want to know more about you and your books.

Here are some swag items handed out at the Speed Dating event that, in my opinion, missed the mark.

author swagFrom left to right. A nice, sturdy magnet. A vial of perfume. A cute magnet. A pin-on button.

Problems with all of them: What are they about? Would you even know they were from an author? Because by the time you get home with them, you’ll have no recollection of who gave them to you. (Note: some swag was handed out in cute little pouches and may have included something about the author, but once you take the items out of the pouch, all connections are lost.) With the perfume, you’re risking the recipient not liking it. With a pin, would readers wear them? Pin them to something else?

Better ideas are things that readers will have a reason to keep and use. Every time they use them, they (one hopes) will remember the author. One author had Hershey’s Miniatures relabeled with his book cover. Great idea—until you eat the candy. Will they save the label? Maybe. I didn’t, but they worked in that I struck up a conversation with that author and did look him up.

author swagI know my lip balm is what people remember about me. Sticky notes, pens, pencils, coasters, magnets that do mention the author, and even a jar opener/gripper thing make for better swag. More expensive, yes. But if you’re spending money, it ought to be working for you.

Your turn. What swag are you likely to pick up? If you hand out swag, what’s been effective?


Available Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy.

Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.


Terry OdellTerry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Reader Conferences – Sliding Back Into the Groove

Reader Conferences – Sliding Back Into the Groove
Terry Odell

Left Coast CrimeI very recently returned from my first in person author/reader get together since the pandemic began: Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque, NM. I refer to this as a way to ease into dealing with being surrounded by people, inundated with information, and having to speak in semi-coherent sentences.

Left Coast Crime is a Reader-based conference. Presentations are panels of authors addressing a topic, not craft workshops. Thus, in a Writer-based conference, a workshop or discussion of setting, for example, would focus on how to deal with setting in your books. What to include, what not to include, examples of vocabulary, why it’s important, etc. In a Reader-based conference, the panelists will be authors selected because their books are set in “interesting” places and they’ll talk about the locales they use.

A Reader-based conference gives you the chance to talk to … readers. If you’re me, it’s likely very few have heard of me (unless they’ve picked up my lip balm—I get lots of “I love your lip balm”; very few “I love your books.”)

If you’re an introvert or just need to get away, for a writer, a Reader-based conference allows more chances to escape to your room or a quiet corner without the guilt of missing Very Important Craft Information.

However, there was the opportunity for learning craft in a pre-conference add-on workshop given by David (Rambo) Morrell, and I attended it. Four hours, even with breaks, is a lot of brain time, but I survived—in part, I think, because he spent quite a bit of time talking to aspiring or new writers, so I could coast in neutral for brief periods of time. Not that his “beginner” advice didn’t contain gems, but they broke through any mental meanderings.

Some of my takeaways from his talk:

He first addressed what it takes to be a serious writer, going into Myers Briggs personality tests. Basically, you have to know how long you can sit at the keyboard in isolation and maintain your focus. If you need to interact with people, this could be your biggest problem. Bottom line: whatever your approach, you have to have a schedule and stick to it. Morrell said Stephen King claims he writes 5 pages every day except Christmas and his birthday, which isn’t true. He writes on those two days as well, but he didn’t think people would believe it.

Next, you need to know why you want to write and what you hope to accomplish. (Hint: a goal of being a best-selling author and making a ton of money isn’t a smart move.) Morrell’s goal was to write something that would influence other people the way Stirling Silliphant, the screenwriter of so many shows Morrell watched as a youth, affected him.

Per Morrell: Being a writer is an insane thing to want to do. Become a hermit to write something other people will find interesting.

Two mantras Morrell gave as advice.

  1. Be a first rate version of yourself and not a 2nd rate version of another author.
  2. Don’t chase the market; you’ll always see its backside.

He mentioned Nicholas Sparks as an exception. He looked for a niche and found there were virtually no other men writing romance, so he exploited it.

Other bits:

  • If you set out to write the book you want, you’ve met your goal when you finish even if it doesn’t sell.
  • If your goal was to write a best-seller you’re imitating and you won’t have anything to show for it.

As a professional, if something interests you, you ask yourself WHY? Look at how it was made rather than plot. He spoke of the importance of awareness and told the story of not being able to come up with the character’s name in First Blood. He was busy working, and didn’t appreciate his wife interrupting to show him the apples she’d bought. He gave her noncommittal responses until she insisted he EAT one of these apples. Reluctantly, he did, and it was exceptional. He asked her what kind of an apple it was, and she said, “It’s a Rambo apple.” Ta Da.

He gave us an exercise to do when starting a project—have a conversation with yourself and write it out. Pages and pages of dialogue, what you want to write about and how you’re going to do it. Eventually, you’ll have enough information to start writing the book. It’s writing on the page. Writing is a perishable skill. If you don’t write something every day, it won’t stay with you. The conversation will help bring you back when you get stuck.

Other questions Morrell threw at us:

What can you do that nobody else can do? What is your dominant emotion? Examples: Anger, lust, envy, fear. Find yours and dig deep into it.

Morrell does his homework, probably more than most of us are willing or able to do. He studied photography, got a pilot’s license, drove race cars to be aware of what his protagonists could do.

Once you know your direction, you’ll find the questions you’ll need to answer. Fill in the blanks, one step after another until you find the story and where it begins. He adamantly cautioned against starting with a flashback. Emphatically. His example: “She woke up with the worst hangover she’d ever had”…and then the story shifts to where and what resulted in that hangover. If it’s important, start there. He related this to a sign Frank Sinatra had on the door to his house: “You’d better have a damn good reason for ringing this bell.” Because it felt right isn’t an acceptable answer.

  • We all find archetypal situations inherently interesting. “A stranger comes to town.”
  • Daydreams are an excellent source of information.
  • To tighten dialogue, take out every other response.

On the use of senses. Morrell suggests taking sight for granted, then including two others, but ‘sneak them in’ so it isn’t obvious. The object is to make the reader feel, not see. Be very light. Don’t tip your hand. Makes a book feel three dimensional.

(I liked this better than the “use all 5 senses in every scene” approach, which to me, often feels forced.)

The writer’s job is to keep the audience paying attention. You have to decide if the window they’re looking through is cleaned by Windex, or if it’s stained glass. Whatever you do, you need to be clear and not require the reader to do extra work.

One thing (probably the only thing) David Morrell and I have in common is part of our writing process. We both believe in printing out the day’s work and looking at it away from the “office.” I do it in bed at night, and he does it as his first step of work the next day. Seeing it “off screen” helps fool the brain into thinking we’re seeing it for the first time.

In his words: Yesterday’s work is terrible the next day. Writing is Fixing. We think, “In my head it was a lot better.” Our task  is to make them the same.

What about you, TKZ peeps? Have you joined the live and in person group yet? Did it take readjusting?


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellAvailable Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy.

Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.

R.U.E. Pitfalls

R.U.E. Pitfalls
Terry Odell

Resist the Urge to ExplainA comment by Garry Rodgers to one of Debbie Burke’s posts a while back made me check the archives. I thought for sure I’d written a TKZ post on the subject of R.U.E., but apparently I hadn’t.

When I starting playing around with writing, I belonged to an in person critique group (The Pregnant Pigs, but that’s irrelevant here) and we normally worked with hard copies of our chapters. I was the novice in the group, and my chapters often came back with RUE sprinkled through the pages.

What did that mean? “Resist the Urge to Explain,” they said. “What was I doing wrong?” I asked. And they proceeded to tell me.

As authors, we want to make sure our reader’s “get it,” so we tend to go overboard with information, explaining far too much.

Here’s a simple example: “Mary laughed so hard, she was afraid she’d pulled a stomach muscle. Susie had just told the funniest joke Mary had ever heard.”  The second sentence isn’t needed; it’s explaining something the reader would be able to figure out in context.

Another pitfall—telling something, then going on to show it. Let’s say you’re beginning to understand the “show don’t tell” advice everyone gives you, and you put the action on the page. For the sake of example, a simplistic passage might be written as follows:

After Bill cancelled their date, claiming his aunt was sick, Mary was depressed. She took one bite of chocolate cake, then pushed the plate away.

The second sentence shows what the first tells. If you find this in your writing, use your delete key on that first sentence. A better approach:

Mary had been looking forward to her date with Bill for weeks, but he’d cancelled, giving some excuse about a sick aunt. She moved the chocolate cake around the plate with her fork, then pushed it away.

The reader gets the information, and can see that Mary’s depressed without having to be told. You can use the same to show other emotions. Maybe Mary was angry, not depressed, after Bill cancelled. Maybe she throws the whole cake against the wall.

What about this?

Mary’s feet felt like lead. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape the man chasing behind her.

Cut the first sentence. You don’t need both. What about:  Mary ran, but her feet refused to move fast enough to escape the man chasing her. Or, Mary’s feet moved as though encased in lead shoes.

Sometimes, we tell the reader too much.

Mary twirled up two strands of spaghetti and waited for the excess sauce to drip onto her plate. Leaning forward, she manipulated the fork into her mouth, then wiped her mouth with her napkin. She was a very careful eater because she hated getting stains on her clothes.

Don’t insult your reader with the last sentence. No need to explain. We can see for ourselves Mary is a meticulous eater.

Another common place writers need to Resist the Urge to Explain is in dialogue. Too often, we tack on tags or beats that tell the reader what the dialogue has already shown. Are you adding adverbs to your dialogue tags?

“I’m sorry,” Tom said apologetically.

Those adverbs are usually signals that you’re telling something the dialogue should be showing. They’re propping up your dialogue, and if it needs propping, it wasn’t strong enough to begin with. All that ‘scaffolding’ merely calls attention to the weak structure beneath.

Will your reader notice these differences? Probably not, but they might not enjoy the read even if they can’t explain why. However, agents and editors are tuned into them, and if you’re submitting, you don’t want to send up any red flags.

Even for experience authors, it’s easy to fall into these traps in early drafts. Some tips:

Check your manuscript for ‘emotion’ words, especially if they’re preceded by “was” or include “felt.” Are you describing your character’s feelings? Don’t tell us how your character feels. Show us.

Check your dialogue tags and beats. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? If so, you don’t need them. If not, your readers will be confused, trying to reconcile dialogue with the action.

Readers are smart. Don’t patronize them by ‘talking down’ to them.

What about you, TKZers? How do you avoid “overselling” in your manuscripts?
Any encounters of RUE from other authors that slog the read?


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellAvailable Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy.

Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Rules? Who Needs Rules?

Rules? Who Needs Rules?
Terry Odell

Rules in WritingAs writers, we don’t read the same way “normal” people do. We have internal editors who insist on reading along with us and shouting their opinions.

  • She’s used that word five times on this page.
  • Look at all the filler words.
  • That sentence would flow better if the clauses were reversed.
  • What a fantastic metaphor. Why don’t you use it in your next book?
  • A narrator would hate that alliteration, but it works for the written word.

And so on, and so on.

I’ve belonged to several book clubs. I find it enlightening to see what resonates with the members, as well as what turns them off. Every once in a while, we even agree. I’m usually the odd woman out, since I don’t read much “literary” fiction. Or, a sub-genre I was unaware of, “book club fiction.”

I recall pointing out that an author was pulling me out of the story because they had more than one character acting in a paragraph, so it was hard to tell who was speaking. The rule I learned was that the speaker owns the paragraph. One of the club members looked at me, eyes widened in surprise.

“I never knew that,” she said. She wasn’t the only one. The knowledge, or more accurately, lack thereof, doesn’t keep them from enjoying the story.

Recently, I downloaded a book. It was a freebie, so I didn’t look at a sample first. The author, for whatever reason, had opted to do away with quotation marks. Instead, dialogue began with a dash and ended with a paragraph return. No beats or tags to accompany the dialogue.

Now, maybe language is changing, and maybe the ‘rules’ we are taught are changing as well, but one “rule” I try to follow is:

Don’t Do Anything To Pull The Reader Out Of The Story.

And for me, seeing dashes, figuring out they represented dialogue, and trying to figure out who was talking yanked me out like the guy with the hook in a melodrama.

Why did the author choose to make their own rules? I don’t know. Liked gimmicks? Wanted to be clever? To rebel against convention?

Or is this a case of Learn the rules, then break them?

Short of finding the author’s contact information and asking, I have no idea.

What are your thoughts, TKZers? Are you a “rules were made to be broken” sort of writer, or do you prefer to stick with convention? Would you have trouble reading a book that threw basics like the rules of punctuating dialogue off the cliff? Have you read anything where a blatant deviation of “normal” pulled you out of the story? Enticed you to read more? Made you consider trying it?

And now, a total digression, but I’m curious.
Wordle? Yes or No?
Reacher on Prime? Yes or No?
Olympics? Yes or No?

On a personal note, I will be heading off on a bucket list trip next week and cyberspace access will be extremely limited in Antarctica. I have guests filling in for my posting days, but if I’m not participating in discussions for several weeks, that’s why.


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellAvailable Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy.

Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

A Book Birthday and Subtitles

A Book Birthday and Subtitles
Terry Odell

In the CrosshairsI hope you’ll indulge a detour for a moment and help me celebrate the my 32nd (give or take) Book Birthday. In the Crosshairs drops today. This book is the fourth in my Triple-D Ranch series. I got my first paperback author copies, and there’s nothing more exciting than holding that baby in your hands. Hands that have been overworked pounding the keyboard. The keyboard’s not too happy, either. More details, including buy links, are here.

To offer a bit of “writerliness” and not turn this post into total BSP, I’ll talk about subtitles. Being discoverable amidst the other million-plus books in the digital e-stores is critical if you want to move away from your tried-and-true readers. If you’re barely (if at all) a midlist author, your circle of auto-buyers is small. Advice is to add a subtitle to the book’s metadata that will show potential readers what’ they’re getting. The thing not to do is turn that subtitle into a tagline. I wish Amazon would simple do away with allowing subtitles like these which I found doing a very basic genre search at Amazon.

A Nail Biting Romantic Suspense Take It Off Standalone Novel
A Sexy, Thrilling Romantic Suspense
An absolutely gripping cozy mystery
A totally gripping and heart-pounding crime thriller
Sci Fi Fantasy and Action Adventure of the Rebel Princess named Lilla

My contrary nature immediately reacts with “Oh yeah? Sez Who?”

What’s the better approach? Show potential readers the genre, or, more importantly, the sub-genre. Odds are they’re already searching by the main genre, such as mystery, romance, science fiction, etc. Show that it’s a cozy mystery, a romantic suspense, a military science fiction.

I went back and added genre-related ones to my books. I didn’t change the cover art, only the metadata where there were fields for subtitles, which saved time and money.

My Triple-D Ranch books are subtitled “A Contemporary Western Romantic Suspense.”
My Mapleton Mystery books now have the added “A Police Procedural Cozy Blend.”
My Blackthornes are tagged “A Covert Ops Romantic Suspense.”
My Pine Hills books are subtitled “A Small Town Police Romantic Suspense”

Does that move help sales? I don’t know? How can anyone know what triggered that “buy now” click? But at least there’s less of a chance of readers returning the book because it wasn’t what they were looking for, or leaving scathing, negative reviews.

Between the  pandemic and being an indie, 95%+ digital author, I’m not holding a physical launch party. Instead, the Hubster and I will get takeout from our favorite sushi restaurant and celebrate at home. Unless it’s snowing, which is the prediction, in which case I’ll be cooking.


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellAvailable Now. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy. Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Nose Knows

The Nose Knows
Terry Odell

Sense of Smell

Image by MarionF from Pixabay

When we learned to write (and it’s an ongoing process, so I shouldn’t be using the past tense), we were told to pay attention to using the senses. Most of us focus on sight and sound, but there’s another sense that can bring additional life to your writing–the sense of smell. Sure, we might mention it if a character walks into a restaurant, or stumbles on a dead body, but otherwise, it’s frequently left out of our writing, or not utilized except in passing. Elaine did an excellent post about this several years ago, with excellent examples, but I thought the subject would be worth another visit.

Why is the sense of smell important? First, it’s another way for readers to connect to our characters. It’s also one of our most powerful senses. A brief detour into basic biology. I’ll spare you a lot of the technical talk, and cut right to the chase. If you’d like to delve deeper into the physiology, I’ll leave links at the end of this post.

The part of our brain that processes olfactory stimuli (smells) is closely connected to both memory and emotional centers. The other senses, like sight and sound, make a stop at the thalamus, which is the main relay station for the brain. From there, they go on to their processing centers. Not so the sense of smell. Scents go straight to the olfactory bulb, the brain’s smell center. This center is directly connected to the amygdala, the center for emotions, and the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory. No, there’s not going to be a test, but this explains why a smell can trigger a detailed memory or a powerful emotion.

Okay, so there’s scientific documentation that smells are linked to memories and emotions. Any writing connections? Marcel Proust explored the phenomenon in Swann’s Way, wherein his character is transported to his childhood after savoring a madeleine cake soaked in tea. These memory/odor connections are referred to as the “Proust Phenomenon”—the ability of odors to cue autobiographical memories.

Many of us could stand to do more with the sense of smell in our writing.

Characters should not only be noticing smells, but they should be reacting to them as well. Detecting an odor could mean danger. Smoke waking them up at night. Food that doesn’t smell ‘right.’ A character’s scent memories can be a way to introduce back story, or move the plot forward.

A reminder, too, that sensory details shouldn’t be used like a laundry list. They need to mean something.

While I don’t pretend to have any remote similarities to Proust, I do try to include the sense of smell in my writing. They’re not deep, or ‘beautiful prose’, but they add to characterization, or move the story along.

Show, don’t tell, so here are a few examples from my own work.

From Finding Sarah, when the inevitable romance plot ‘black moment’ has separated Randy from Sarah. Throughout the book, he’s noticed the scent of her peach shampoo.

Randy spent the next few days wallowing in his own misery. Feeling like a first-class idiot, he’d even gone to Thriftway and bought a quart of Peach Blossom shampoo, only to pour it down the drain after using it once.

From Nowhere to Hide. We get a hint of the kind of taste Graham has from this snip:

Deputy Graham Harrigan sat at his computer in the Sheriff’s Office substation, the normal sounds of office activity fading to white noise as he hunted and pecked his way through the report he needed to file. As he’d told himself countless times, he should take a keyboarding class so he could get through the drudgery faster. The smell of stale, burnt coffee permeated the air, and he wished he’d taken a few minutes to stop at Starbucks.

And, from the same book, a look into Colleen’s past

Colleen jerked awake, drenched in sweat and tangled in the sheets. She sat up and fought the nausea as the memories came back, crystal clear and in freeze frame, like a slide show from hell.

A domestic dispute. By the book, she and Montoya using all the right phrases: “Yes, Mrs. Bradford. You don’t need the knife. Relax, Mr. Bradford. I’ll take the bat. Let’s sit down. Talk to me, Mr. Bradford.” The tension lifting.

Someone on the stairs. “You bastard! You’ll never hurt my mother again.” Kid, late teens at best. Brandishing a gun. Shooting. So much shooting. The noise. The smells. Gunpowder. Blood.

Our brains are wired to recognize unfamiliar smells. They also acclimate to prolonged exposure. My husband never noticed the smells he brought home after performing necropsies on marine mammals. One nick in his glove, and I knew it, but he was oblivious.

Check your current work for scent references. One way is to do a search on words such as odor, aroma, wafted, scent, smell.

Many of our scent memories relate to childhood because that’s when we experience them for the first time.

What scent memories do you have? For me, it’s the smell of birdseed. My great aunt and uncle had an egg ranch (which meant they raised chickens), and when we visited, we’d help feed the chickens. I’m transported back there every time we open a bag of birdseed.

My references for this post beyond my aging memory of physiology classes:

Why do smells trigger memories?

Here’s Why Smells Trigger Such Vivid Memories

Why Smells and Memories Are So Strongly Linked in Our Brains

What about your characters? How have you used the sense of smell to add depth or move the story? Examples welcome.


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellNow available for pre-order. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy. Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.



Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Those Pesky Pronouns

Those Pesky Pronouns
Terry Odell

PronounsHappy New Year everyone! Wishing you all a year that’s better than its recent predecessors.

Given it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been part of the “typical” workforce, a recent email signature had me scratching my head. Under the senders name was the line (he/him/his). I asked my daughter about this, since she’s more tuned into business communication, and she gave me the Mom, what rock did you just climb out from under look.

Now, I’m not totally oblivious to the change in gender pronouns. Anyone who’s had to fill out a form has seen the choices under ‘gender’ multiply. But I’d never seen it in an email signature. The rationale, I’ve been told, is that if everyone does it, those who are uncomfortable about declaring their pronouns will feel less conspicuous when they do. Am I going to add it to my email signature? I’m not sure. Most of my correspondence isn’t of the formal business variety. And, once you become aware of something you start to see it in many other places. (There’s a name for this. Points if you know what it is.) I did notice the host of a recent Zoom meeting included she/her/hers underneath her name. And I’ve since seen it added to Twitter names.

I’ve been dealing with confusing gender since I was in junior high school. My mom had no idea that girls and boys had different spellings for Terry, and I saw no reason to change. First day of seventh grade, I was assigned to a shop class (exclusive to boys back then). My math teacher called out my name and another one—Robin—and asked us to stand. I wondered what trouble I could have gotten into the first ten minutes of class. We stood, identified ourselves, and she smiled and said, “I just wanted to know if you were girls or boys.” Our English teacher used the Mars/Venus symbols in his roll sheet. Summer before my first year of college, I was invited to pledge a fraternity.

What does this mean for our writing? I’m not sure. Old habits die hard. I’d written the following in the current manuscript:

Ranch work came first, Frank reminded himself, and if there’d been an intruder on the ranch, he needed to find him.

My editor came back and asked if “him” should be “them.” I told her I was following the rules of grammar as I learned them. “An intruder” was singular and would take a singular pronoun.

She came back with “Yes. Either “him” or “them” is fine here. I thought maybe “them” would be better since they aren’t sure if it’s a man or woman. Your call.”

For the record, I’ve left it as “him”—for now. The book won’t be released until February 2nd, so I can waffle back and forth a while longer.

Using “them” or “their” as singular has been acceptable for a long time (Shakespeare and Jane Austen, among others, used them), but I’ve always tried to avoid the construction. It simply sounds “off” to me. I would pause at a sentence like, “Terry did well on their exam; they received an A.”

According to Dictionary.com, “their” is defined as:

A form of the possessive case of plural they used as an attributive adjective, before a noun: their home; their rights as citizens; their departure for Rome.

A form of the possessive case of singular they used as an attributive adjective, before a noun:

  1. (used to refer to a generic or unspecified person previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context): Someone left their book on the table. A parent should read to their child.
  2. (used to refer to a specific or known person previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context): I’m glad my teacher last year had high expectations for their students.
  3. (used to refer to a nonbinary or gender-nonconforming person previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context): My cousin Sam is bad at math, but their other grades are good.

A quick trip through the Google Machine revealed even more choices beyond She/Her/Hers, He/Him/His, and They/Them/Theirs. I’d never heard of Xe/Xem/Xyrs, Ze/Hir/Hirs, Ze/Zir/Zirs, or E/Em/Eirs.

What confuses me is why people need all three. If I know someone is a “she” isn’t it automatic that Her and Hers would follow? Or is that to be parallel with the less usual pronouns of Xe, Ze, and E?

But a signature in a business letter isn’t the same as using pronouns in fiction. I had a trans character in Deadly Fun, but nobody realized she wasn’t a woman, so from the point of view of my protagonist, he’d be using she/her/hers when referring to her. The character had left the story by the time Gordon discovered her history, so I never dealt with non-binary pronouns—not that I was aware of them when I wrote that book.

OK, TKZers. Your thoughts? As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve been going through life with blinders on.


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellNow available for pre-order. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy. Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Using Magnets to Attract Readers

Using Magnets to Attract Readers
Terry Odell

Reader MagnetSince everyone’s probably busy with holiday prep (unless you’re like me and your holiday is over), gift giving is or was part of the mix. Today, I’m talking about gifts authors can give to readers. Reader Magnets.

Saturday, Patricia Bradley’s post addressed newsletters. Unlike social media, newsletters lists are one tool we can control. We “own” that content. If a social media platform disappears (anyone remember MySpace?), we’ve lost that audience and have no way to get in touch with our previous followers.

A reader magnet is designed to reward people for signing up for your newsletter. It can be a short story, a full-length novel, a sampler—anything that connects to your genre and would have subscribers wanting more. When someone signs up, they’re given their gift.

How should you deliver these magnets, and what form should they take?
My preference is always to make it as easy as possible on both ends.

First, you need a signup form, preferably a dedicated/landing page on your website. That way, you can link everything to that place.

Next, you want as many paths to your signup process as possible. I start with a simple signup link in my email signature line. I have signup forms on my website as well. And the dreaded popup. Everyone says they hate them, but they work, as I discovered once I got over my personal prejudice and added one.

But what I really came to talk about was the magnet itself. I have one main magnet—two short stories set in my Blackthorne, Inc. universe, featuring the head of the company.

I chose to deliver it in three formats: epub, mobi, and PDF. That way, the end user gets to choose the format, and you’re likely to satisfy more readers. Nobody wants something they can’t read. Although Amazon now wants manuscripts delivered in epub, the mobi format is still out there and (last I heard), lets readers sideload onto Kindle devices.

My least ‘favorite’ format is PDF. It’s a picture. You can’t do anything with it, and reading on a small device like a cellphone is next-to-impossible for me, especially if the offering is more than a few pages. But the takeaway here is you are not necessarily your reader, so I offer it for those who like it.

How do I create these formats? I use Draft2Digital’s free formatting service. They don’t require you put your book for sale, and they do a fine job of converting a Word document into mobi and epub. For PDF, I simply take my Word Doc and do a “Save As … PDF” and it works fine. D2D will convert to PDF as well, but for whatever reason, if you have a color image as your ‘cover’, it comes out in black and white.

BookFunnelNow that I have these three formats, I need a way to deliver them to my subscribers. I use BookFunnel. I’m sure many here are familiar with the platform, but in case anyone isn’t here’s a little about it. You need an account, which is easy to set up. Their basic plan is $20/year, so yes, there’s an initial investment, but I’m a firm believer in Do what you’re good at, do what you love, and hire out the rest. One of the perks is that if you’re using their service, and a reader is having trouble with the download process, BookFunnel will help walk them through the process, so you’re out of that time suck.

Once everything’s ready, here’s my basic workflow:

You use the signup form from my website. You’ll get a confirmation and a link to the BookFunnel page for the magnet. You download the book, and you’re added to my newsletter list.

If you’re not already signed up to receive my newsletter and want to see how it works for me, you can try it for yourself here.

(And, since it’s a new provider for me, if there are glitches, I want to hear about them.)

Another pathway to your magnet is BookSweeps. They offer a lot more, but today is magnet day. Readers can find your magnet (along with thousands of others) and when they decide they want it, they’re taken to the book’s page at BookFunnel (since that’s what I’m using) where they can download it, but they have to agree to be added to your newsletter list in order to get it.

But I digress. My focus was supposed to be the magnets themselves, so that’s it for today’s post. If you have questions, leave them in the comments. Feel free to mention other magnet delivery systems as well.

fudgeYou are now free to resume your holiday activities. And if they include food prep, here’s a recipe for a five-minute fudge you can throw together in no time.

This is my last official post of 2021. See everyone on the flip side, and have a wonderful holiday season!


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellNow available for pre-order. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy. Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

A Very Happy Thanksgiving
Terry Odell

Thanksgiving turkey
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Last year, most of us weren’t ready to get out and mingle, especially if it entailed long-distance travel. That was the case at our house, although it was short-distance travel for most of the immediate family. This year, we’re fortunate and thankful that our Northern Ireland-based daughter is able to be with us, and that we can gather round the table, not the computer screen.

In our household, most of the traditions revolve around the food. One year, over 40 years ago, I came across an interesting recipe for stuffing (now dressing, thanks to health concerns.) The kids loved it and insist that it can NOT be varied. I shared the recipe on my own blog last week. You can find it here.

Here’s a turkey tip from my chef brother that’s served us well for decades. No matter your “recipe” for the bird (unless you deep fry), start the cooking at 450 degrees (or 425 if it’s 16 pounds or more). After 30 minutes, lower the temp to 350 (or 325). Continue to cycle the temp up and down like that every 30 minutes. This moves the juices up and down inside the turkey, and even the leftovers are juicy.

Here’s a little fun.

Another tradition of ours is listening to “Alice’s Restaurant.”

And here’s an interesting article – Arlo Guthrie’s thoughts on the 50 year anniversary tour of Alice’s Restaurant.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions? Any you wish would disappear?

I know I speak for everyone here at TKZ when I say “Happy Thanksgiving.”


In the Crosshairs by Terry OdellNow available for pre-order. In the Crosshairs, Book 4 in my Triple-D Romantic Suspense series.

Changing Your Life Won’t Make Things Easier
There’s more to ranch life than minding cattle. After his stint as an army Ranger, Frank Wembly loves the peaceful life as a cowboy. Financial advisor Kiera O’Leary sets off to pursue her dream of being a photographer until a car-meets-cow incident forces a shift in plans. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery, one with potentially deadly consequences.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.