New Year, New Goals, New Look?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Welcome to 2015! 

I greeted the new year in with a literal ‘bang’ as we had heating problems in our newly renovated basement and three water pipes froze and burst – so as far as I’m concerned this year can only get better:) 

Here at the TKZ, we are looking forward to a wonderful, productive, challenging year ahead for all our writing. We are also constantly looking forward to ways we can improve our blog to meet our growing readership. There have been many changes in the publishing industry since our blog’s inception in 2008 and we have been thrilled to see our readership continue to climb over the years. 

Given these changes, however, it is important for us to take a moment to reflect on our blog’s mission and the direction TKZ should take in the years ahead. 

So we thought we would take this opportunity to ask you for feedback on our blog’s direction in 2015. We know that to keep current, relevant and useful, we need to continually assess and refine both our mission as well as our content. So we’d love your thoughts and feedback on:

  • Our mission, focus and posts: We’ve noticed a shift in the blog’s direction towards focusing on the craft of writing and the issues facing aspiring as well as professional writers. Typically our blog posts focus on practical advice on writing craft as well as providing personal accounts and experiences that touch upon our writing.  Would you like to see us delve more deeply into other areas or industry trends? Would you like to see more on promotion, marketing, editorial advice or ‘indie’ publishing? 

  • Further blog contributions/guest posts: Since we now have a professional editor (thanks Jodie!) in our midst as well as professional writers spanning many genres, we were thinking about adding other professionals into the mix. Would you be interested in hearing from other perspectives (a literary agent perhaps?) on a more regular basis? Are there any other people you’d like to see providing guest posts? 

  • Other TKZ offerings: It would be great to also receive feedback on the value of critiques and other participation offerings we could potentially provide. Are our first page critiques helpful? Would you like to see more or less of these kind of offerings on our blog?

  • The ‘look and feel’ of the TKZ: We are tossing up alternative templates to give the blog a better ‘look and feel’ and any feedback on this would be greatly appreciated. We are definitely hoping to create a new look and feel for 2015, so keep a look out for the changes ahead!
Thank-you TKZers for all your comments, feedback and support over the last six years. Here’s to many more!

TKZ Resource Library is Growing!

by Jodie Renner

All of you authors, both aspiring and published, who follow this blog tell us all the time what a wealth of writing, publishing, and writing-biz resources are in the blog posts here. I couldn’t agree more, so I thought it would be a good idea to make it easier for TKZers to find posts on topics that interest you.

I’ve been compiling many of these excellent articles by topic, to make them more readily accessible, and here are the categories so far, in a list partway down the sidebar and below. I just added the last one, on self-publishing, a few minutes ago.

Click on the category title to browse the articles on that topic, and feel free to offer suggestions for more topics in the comment boxes below.



Keep on writing!

Socionomics Is Here To Stay

Dinner with girlfriends recently brought up an interesting subject: marketing our books and the Social Media craze. My one friend tapped her fingers as she named the different social media platforms her sixteen year old uses, Twitter, TumblR, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr. She said, “You want your book buzzed about? Give it to my daughter. She’ll have it viral in no time.”
The young ones are the fearless generation with this new technology. They’ve been born into a world with the Internet, where folks my age who just got comfortable emailing, must now warm up to the idea of communicating in 140 characters or less—by telephone!
And to think, fifteen years ago, my second grade son saw a record album turn table in a friend’s house and whispered to me, “Mom, what is that?”
It seems as if every day we open our doors to another new change in world communications. So, I did some research on this exciting buzz about social media. Here’s what I found: Socionomics. This is the new phrase being touted for the Social Media Revolution. I like it. I could go on with facts and figures about how this phenomenon is changing our world (including the political impact it’s having on Egypt these days), but nothing speaks clearer than the video below on what the future holds. The statistics are mind boggling.

Check out the video:

Where shall we go from here?

Oh, the many roads we take to TKZ

The Internet is a mysterious thing. Take blog traffic, for example. TKZ is blessed with many readers who visit these pages regularly. But every week we also have a couple thousand first-time readers, called “unique visitors” by StatCounter. Many of the unique visitors are referred to the blog by links from other blogs and web sites. Others land at TKZ after they do a key word search in Google.

According to StatCounter, one of the most frequent searches that land people at this blog is “Mistakes made in sex.” Hmm. I’m not sure what to make of that. Those searches usually  lead people to Clare’s post,  “Top 5 best sex scenes in literature”. Thanks for the traffic, Clare!

Another popular search at TKZ is “cordite smell.” Those browsers wind up at John’s post, “The smell of cordite in the air.”
Searches for “Examples of creating an atmosphere in a story” often land on my post, “Thriller writing 101: Creating an atmosphere.”

It’s interesting to see how Web browsers arrive at TKZ’s doorstep. We, of course, do our our best to convert all of those casual browsers into regular readers.

What about you? How did you find TKZ? Is this your first visit, or are you a “regular”? Either way, we love you guys! We really, really do!

TKZ Short Story Collection ‘Fresh Kills’ Debuts!

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Well, you’ve seen us discuss the e-book revolution, and now we at The Kill Zone have jumped right on in – producing our own e-book anthology of killer stories. All week we’re going to give you a sneak ‘behind the scenes’ insight into each of our stories – but the best thing you can do (of course!) is buy and download the anthology for yourself. Fresh Kills is available on Kindle at Amazon and in a variety of e-book formats at Smashwords.

The stories in Fresh Kills vary in mood and theme (as you can well imagine!) and I am just as intrigued, as you all are, to read my fellow bloggers‘ contributions. My own short story is entitled ‘The Angel in the Garden’ and it is, believe it or not, the first time I have written a story set in Australia. Here’s a brief description (it’s how I like to imagine the dust jacket would read):
When Constable Duff McManus is called out to investigate a body floating in an ornamental pond, he has to confront both the death of a childhood friend long considered a traitor, as well as his own war time memories. It may be a year since the Great War ended but for many in Australia, there are some wounds that will never heal and some secrets that will never be revealed, not even in death.

I was inspired to write this story after reading Juliet Nicholson’s book The Great Silence over the holidays. She deals with the immediate aftermath of the First World War, focusing specifically on the years 1918-1920, and incorporates first hand accounts from people across the social spectrum. The result is incredibly moving (I went through a whole box of tissues), especially when she deals with the decision to introduce a two minute silence to remember the dead (a hush literally fell across England as the 11th hour struck on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1919) and the return of the unknown soldier, who represented all the husbands, fathers, and sons who never made it home.
I don’t think many Americans realize the deep significance of the First World War for Australia. In many ways it was the event that defined and shaped our national identity and altered the way Australians perceived the British Empire forever. When war was declared in 1914 thousands of Australians rushed to enlist – it was considered every Australian’s duty to defend ‘King and Country’. The horrific debacle at Gallipoli and the slaughter of Australians on the Western Front, however, changed all that. The statistics are staggering: From a population of fewer than five million, almost 417,000 Australian men enlisted, and of those over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. At the end of the war memorials were erected in nearly every town across Australia – you can still see them today – and it is clear from the names of the young men listed that no community or social strata were spared.
In writing ‘The Angel in the Garden’ I wanted to capture a sense of what it must have been like for those soldiers who did return and how they reintegrated (if indeed they ever did) into the shattered remnants of Australian society. In Constable Duff McManus, I hoped to evoke the deep sense of bitterness and anger that permeated post-war Australia. Oh, and I also wanted to kill off someone (always a good idea in a murder mystery!) and I thought who better to target than someone who represented the anti-conscription, trade union movement in Australia. See, even in a short story I cannot help but get caught up in the history books…

I’ve blogged before on the challenges I faced when confronting the medium of the short story and now I face a surprising dilemma – whether to consider writing a longer story about Constable Duff McManus. As a character I find him intriguing. There is no doubt he returned from the war a scarred, wounded man – but what I sensed, from the moment he appeared on the page, was that he had also lost his ‘moral compass’ as a result – and I was fascinated by where that might lead. So now I have a choice to make…do I finally write a novel set in Australia?…

In the meantime, I am content to have a short story out in the e-book world as my fellow bloggers and I dive into the uncharted e-book ocean (hoping to swim of course!). I also can’t wait to read all the stories!

The best (worst) rejection letters

All writers experience rejection. Most published authors get turned down by numerous agents and editors on the road to publication. Learning to deal with “No” is part of the writing process—I’d even say it’s an important part. You have to be able to handle rejection to stick with writing long enough to get anywhere.

But no matter how you rationalize it, being rejected feels like crap. So whenever we get the dreaded “Not for us” email or letter in the mailbox, it can be comforting to recall the rejection-war stories of other writers:

In his book On Writing, Stephen King describes the wad of rejection notes he had stuck on a spike in his bedroom, and the encouragement he felt when he finally got one that said something along the lines of, “Not for us, kid, but try again—you’ve got talent.”

NPR’s Liane Hansen did a story that told the story of how soon-to-be famous writers, including Jack Kerouac and George Orwell, were rejected by the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Possibly the best of the lot was the one that rejected Kerouac’s On the Road, in which an editor reportedly stated, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

My most memorable rejection came from an agent who had requested to read my manuscript on an exclusive basis. (My advice? Never give an agent an exclusive. It’s a better deal for the agent than the writer.) After keeping me in suspense for a long while, she eventually sent me an email along the lines of, “Dear Kathryn: I really wanted to like this story. But I just didn’t like the character; I didn’t like the story; I didn’t like the voice. In fact, I just didn’t like anything at all about it.” Ouch. Fortunately, the next agent who read the manuscript loved the story, agreed to represent me, and quickly got me a series contract.

What about you? What’s been your best/worst rejection letter thus far?

Dialogue Attribution in Prose – An Opinion or Two…

The Kill Zone is pleased to welcome novelist, screenwriter, and playwright Thomas B. Sawyer. Thomas was Head Writer/Show runner of the hit CBS series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. Tom has written 9 network TV pilots (100 episodes), and was Head Writer/Show runner or Story Editor on 15 network TV series. The best-selling thriller, The Sixteenth Man, was his first novel. Both his book, Fiction Writing Demystified, and Storybase are Writer’s Digest Book Club Selections. His latest thriller is No Place to Run. He has taught writing at UCLA and other colleges and universities. He has been nominated for an Edgar and an Emmy.

The fact that I came to narrative fiction in reverse from most writers – in that I began as a screenwriter – afforded me more than a few attitudes. And definitely not least was/is on the topic of dialogue attribution.
In novels and short stories I had long been struck by what I regard as the rampant, mindless use of “he said,” “she said,” “said he” and the like. I know that many highly regarded and/or successful writers and teachers regard such usage as a kind of pinnacle of simplicity. I agree, but not in the affirmative sense of “simple.”

As I began to contemplate my first venture into the form, I began to think about such things more seriously. Why, I wondered, would experienced, quality writers who otherwise (rightly) bust their humps to avoid using clichés, surrender to these without guilt? Or, viewed another way, when does a particular phrase cease being “economical,” and morph into a cliché?
And how many millions of trees, I asked myself, have given their lives for such conceits?
To me, even worse – no, make that dumber – is “she asked.” It’s dumber because, since it so often follows a question mark, the reader knows it’s a question, right? So why repeat it?
And then there are “he blurted,” “she exclaimed,” “he queried,” etc. If you must attribute, rather than committing those atrocities, I guess “he said” begins to look attractive.
Did I have a solution? Yeah. When I set out to write my first novel, THE SIXTEENTH MAN, I set as a goal/challenge for myself – a little secret bar-raising, if you will – that I would never use any of those phrases. Ever. Nor, actually, any direct attribution – and yet maintain clarity for the reader. The result? While hardly revolutionary – I’ve since learned that numerous novelists do it – I’m convinced that it has made my writing better, more readable, and certainly more visual.
Here’s my approach, and the way I teach it.
Work on attribution the way you work on the rest of your writing, with the care you give to your dialogue and your descriptions. Will it make a dramatic difference to your readers? Not likely. Will they even be aware of it? Probably not. Especially on a conscious level. But – will it make a difference to you as a writer? Emphatically, yes. It’ll force you to think. To challenge yourself about stuff from which most narrative writers take the day off. So that all of your writing will become fresher.
And, in the process, I found that it contributed to finding my “voice.”
It also contributed to some criticism from certain literary types who warned me that as a novelist I could not “write for the camera.” I submit that they are mistaken. The reader is the camera. The reader is seeing the pictures. Imagining the scene.
Think about conventional, by-the-numbers dialogue attribution for a moment. “She said,” does almost nothing to help the reader envision the scene. It says nothing about the body-language of the speaker, or her inflection. Where were her hands? Was her head cocked to one side? Did she, during the speech, touch her face, or the person to whom she spoke? For me, settling for “said” implies that the speaker is delivering lines with arms hanging at his/her side. Again, for me as a reader, a brief description of body-language counts for a helluvva lot more than knowing what the person is wearing, or hair-color, or the texture of sofa-upholstery.
Admittedly, noting such detail isn’t always important, but when it helps the reader “see” the action, it seems to follow that it will also help the reader “hear” the words. In my own case, as with most-but-not-all writers, when it’s obviously clear for the reader which character is speaking, I omit attribution. But when the speaker is gesturing to emphasize a point, or is revealing, say, insecurity or anger or even an emotion that contradicts his or her words, that is worth communicating to the reader. Further, when a character’s response to another’s words isn’t spoken, but is rather a gesture, a look, that can be good storytelling.
I think of it as directing my actors – just as in my scriptwriting, describing when necessary those actions that augment their speeches – or – as in non-verbal responses – replace them entirely.

I urge any writer to try it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.

Have you asked your writing a question today?

Every once in a while I read a story where all the requisite elements for success seem to be in place. Such stories typically contain the following elements:

  • A competent hook
  • Serviceable characters
  • A well-executed plot

And yet sometimes as I’m reading along, I find that my interest wanes (and then dies) after just a few pages. So what exactly has gone wrong?

Here’s one answer: After just a few paragraphs, I cease to give a flying squirrel about the hook, the characters, or the plot. Which means that I don’t care about the story. Which means that the Writer in question is dead as a doornail.

In a past blog post that was circulated by Esquire, writer Darin Strauss said that it helps to apply a “So What?” test to each sentence in a story. To apply such a test, according to Strauss, we can measure each of our sentences against the following criteria: Why should I care about this sentence? How does it reveal character? What difference does it make to the plot? To the story?

When I first heard about Strauss’s sentence test (which he attributed to Lee K. Abbott), it was like an epiphany to me, because when we ask every sentence in our novel “So What?” or “Who cares?”, it helps us to avoid the following writing hazards:

  • Boilerplate character description
  • Rote, unnecessary movements by all characters, especially the main character
  • Go-nowhere dialogue
  • Boring scene description

So here’s my question to you: When you’re writing, do you apply such a test to each and every sentence? Do you go back and root out “filler” sentences during rewrite?

And to take on the challenge, if you don’t mind sharing: What’s the last sentence that you wrote today? Is it important to your story? Why will your reader care about that sentence?


Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, and more.

Does your story have a “wobble”?

Sometimes your story may get unbalanced in some areas, like a tire that’s gone out of alignment. Severe story wobble can kill the pacing and reading experience, so it pays to recognize the symptoms, and take remedial action to push your narrative back into shape.

When you’re doing any of the following in your writing, it’s likely that your story is getting off kilter:

  • Over describing the actions of the main character.
  • Over describing background information that you think the main character needs to know.
  • Under describing (or losing track of altogether) the actions of secondary characters in a scene.
  • Using repetitive sentence structure.

It’s easy to fix most cases of story wobble. Here are some remedies:

  • Use only minimal actions to show the actions of the main character.
  • When you have some background information that the main character needs to know, sprinkle it in, or create an SME (Subject Matter Expert) for your story.
  • If it’s been a while since you’ve mentioned a secondary character in a scene, be sure to “establish” the character in the reader’s mind before giving him dialogue or action. Otherwise the reader won’t know who the re-introduced character is.
  • Do search-and-destroy missions on repetitive sentence structure. It’s easy to fall into using the same sentence patterns repeatedly throughout a book, so make sure you change things up in every paragraph. This is also known as varying the sentence rhythm.

What are some of your story wobbles that you have to search for and destroy when you’re rewriting? Has there ever been one that has caused you embarrassment?

Sunday Writing School

We’re having another one of our periodic Sunday Writing Schools today at the Kill Zone (See the link to our inaugural school).

Here’s how it works: We post a couple of writing-oriented questions that we’ve collected over the weeks, and do our best to answer them. Readers can post more questions in the comments. Feel free to chime in with your own opinions, including snarky ripostes to our advice. This is basically intended to be a free-for-all exchange of ideas about writing, not a serious-minded Fount of Wisdom.

We’ll just have some fun.

The first question in the mail bag is from Win Scott:

Q: I know some writing books say not to use prologues, but I need to open my story with an event that precedes the main story. This event is also much more dramatic than my first chapter, and it lays the groundwork for everything that comes next. Can I use a prologue in this case?

A. [From Kathryn]: I’ll admit my bias here–I don’t like prologues. I think they’re old fashioned, and you risk turning off screeners if you use them. Readers don’t care when you start your story, so why not make your Prologue your “Chapter One,” and then turn what was your first chapter into a “forward flash” in time? You can add a date-anchor at the beginning of the chapter to orient the reader in time. I’ve seen many thrillers use this technique, and the effect is much more immediate and dynamic than if you use a prologue.

But that’s just my two cents. I’ll let the other Killers chime in.

Here’s a question from Joy F.

Q. What are some methods of getting over writer’s block?

A. [From Joe] Getting the juices flowing can be tough sometimes. We all experience it. Here are a few tips that might help. Try writing the ending first. Consider changing the gender of your character or the point of view. Tell the story or scene from another character’s POV. Just for grins, switch from third person to first or vice versa.

You don’t have to keep the results of these exercises but they might boost your imagination and get you going again.

(If you would like to ask other questions today, feel free to add them in the Comments. We’ll answer them there.)
Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, James Scott Bell, Alexandra Sokoloff, and more.