Instagram for Dummies

Just a few weeks ago I began my first real foray into the world of Instagram for my art work (BTW I’m @clangleyhawthorneart if anyone’s interested:)) and I feel like I’m definitely in the ‘Instagram for Dummies’ phase! Bizarrely – since I’m only focusing on my art there – I seem to have discovered a whole lot of book and writing related pages so rather than being focused on my own work I’ve been salivating over beautiful photographs of libraries and book covers instead:). As with any new social media experience, I’m still in the throes of wonderment (which won’t last long – no doubt I’ll soon be getting the trolls and the weird follows from fake men!) but also in the thick of trying to work out how the heck to use it. So far I’ve really only managed to upload photos…

I’ve already noticed that some of my favorite authors seem to have a much larger Instagram presence than other social media platforms, which was kind of surprising but also not surprising given the toxicity surrounding much of Twitter and Facebook. Instagram is a very visual platform – which is why I decided to focus on it for my art work rather than my writing – but using it has made me wonder about its value as a potential author social media platform. As with any social media platform, the key is providing consistent content that provides value to your target audience. From what I’ve read, however, Instagram has a higher level of user engagement and also offers potentially much greater visibility compared to other social media networks. Given I’ve only just started using Instagram in a semi-professional capacity, I really don’t have a good sense of whether this is true or whether there really are any benefits to using Instagram compared to other social media platforms… but the potential has me intrigued… It also got me thinking more generally about social media in the post-pandemic era (whenever we actually get there…) and whether authors will find it easier (or harder) to market/gain visibility in the digital arena.

So TKZers, are any of you using Instagram for social media related to your writing? If so, what has your experience been like? If you’re focusing on other social media platforms, have you considered Instagram as an additional resource? And, when thinking more generally about social media in the future, do you think the pandemic has altered your reliance or use of these platforms in your marketing/publicity or writing process?

I certainly don’t have any real sense of how I might use Instagram as an author yet, let alone how it’s going to pan out for my art work – but I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, feel free to check out my art on Instagram and I look forward to getting your feedback on Instagram on the writing/book front!


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?”

True Crime Thursday – Easter Bunny Didn’t Bring THESE Eggs

Photo credit: Pawel Czerwinski – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke



On Palm Sunday 2020, residents of Flagler County in Florida found small plastic eggs in their mailboxes. Had the Easter Bunny arrived early?

Not exactly.

When recipients cracked open the eggs, they found each one contained a sheet of toilet paper, a goldfish cracker, fizzy drink powder, and…a crumpled page of pornography.

Even by 2020 weirdness standards, this incident rated high on the Bizarro-meter.

Sheriff Rick Staley asked the community to check their home surveillance cams and call leads into Crimestoppers to try to determine the identity of the perverse egg dispenser.

The following Thursday, based on a tip, deputies arrested Abril Cestoni, 42, a supermarket employee who reportedly had delivered about 400 plastic eggs to area mailboxes. She had created the pornographic pages using a computer program.

The reason is not exactly clear.

Here’s bodycam video from the arresting officer.

If there was an explanation in the footage, I missed it.

Ms. Cestoni was charged with multiple counts of distributing obscene materials, failure to appear on a traffic summons, and violating the governor’s stay-at-home order.

According to the Inmate Detail form, charges were later dismissed or she was sentenced to time served.

To the relief of Flagler County residents, on Easter Sunday, the legitimate Easter Bunny delivered regular Easter eggs.


TKZers: Have you run across any particularly bizarre and/or inexplicable crimes in the past year or so? Please share in the comments.



$.99 on sale from July 29 through August 1, 2021! Debbie Burke’s thriller Eyes in the Sky is available for Canadian friends on Kobo plus other online stores. 

Please check out the international links here and for Kindle. 

Writing To Be Heard

By John Gilstrap

In the past few years, audiobooks have become the fastest growing segment of the book industry. In 2018, according to this article from GoodEReader, audio book sales in the United States alone topped $1.2 billion, for the first time eclipsing ebook sales, which brought in $983 million during the same period. That trend continues. The demographics are impressive, too, with the majority of audio books sold falling the in the mystery/suspense genres, and 57% of frequent audio book consumers being under 45 years old.

Personally, I don’t bond well with audio books, but I know for a fact that a large chunk of my readers do. I also know that they’re addicted to the characterizations provided by Basil Sands, a frequent contributor to the comments section here on TKZ. Those who listen to the Jonathan Grave books have come to hear the voices assigned by Basil to the actual voices of the characters.

Given the trends and business realities, I have become progressively more conscious of the role of audio in the reach and popularity of what I write. Fact is, some of the tricks we use on the page to tweak suspense and believability can fail completely in the transition to audio.

Nobody sees the paragraphs.

We all know that in dialogue, when a new speaker begins, that character gets a new paragraph. Because of that, we can get away with rapid-fire dialogue on the page with only intermittent use of dialogue tags. In audio, verbal gymnastics are required of the narrator to keep the listener from getting lost in the exchange. Given the growth in the audio market, I use far more dialogue tags than I used to. On the page, I believe they become invisible, and on audio, it keeps the listener on track.

Nobody sees italics.

Prior to the proliferation of audio sales, I would allow italicized passages to do all the lifting to show a character’s thoughts. This is a strictly visual trick that does not work at all on audio. Now, I write thought tags (I presume those are real things). I don’t like the way they junk up the written page, but there you go.

Accents and pronunciation pose a challenge.

Venice Alexander is one of the primary characters in my Jonathan Grave thriller series. In every book, I must explain that she pronounces her name as Ven-EE-chay. Think about the challenge that poses for the audio book narrator. To reveal to the listener the pronunciation of a name they’ve just heard pronounced properly is awkward. (In this case, I’ve started changing the audio script to point out that people who don’t know her assume from the spelling that her name is pronounced the same as the city in Italy.) The same problem exists when revealing a regional accent to readers in a way that won’t sound odd to listeners.

There are kids in the backseat.

I written here before that I’ve excised high-end profanity from my books, and that I’ve never been one to write graphic sex. I did that for reasons driven by reader input that made it clear that they didn’t like those things in thrillers. That’s when they’re reading silently. Imagine the response when the family is taking a cross country drive while listening to American Psycho.

It’s okay to have a chat with your audio book narrator.

Basil and I chat before each of the Grave projects he starts. He asks me is I anticipate any special challenges, and I encourage him to reach out to me if he finds any.

Okay, TKZ family, it’s your turn. Are you a fan of listening to books you “read”? Do you consider the presence of listeners when you write?

On Chandler, Dilettantes, Getting Paid, And The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Writer

“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.” — Raymond Chandler

By PJ Parrish

I am not feeling hollow or empty today, but damn, I do love that Chandler line. More on him in a moment.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this past fortnight, of newspapers, websites, scientific journals. It’s the times, I guess. Forcing me to focus more on the tough realities of life rather than the simple rewards of the creative process. Yet…amidst the gloom and doom, I’ve dug up some ores of joy. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a miscellany of writing wisdom today.

A Case For Being Merely Good

Sunday, Jim Bell wrote about inspiring quotes for writers, words that might help us all be better professionals. Sue followed that with inspiring rituals of great writers. So allow me to now offer something for the dilettantes among us.  This comes from Kurt Vonnegut, no less.

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”
And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

I just love this. Because here are some things I love that I am pretty good at but not great at:  Piano playing, pickleball, cooking, gardening, oil painting, speaking French, juggling. It used to bother me that I did not excel at these things, but Vonnegut was onto something here. Being “good at things” is not the point. Enjoying the ride is.  I’m sure all of you have a similar list to mine. And to all of you still struggling with your first attempts at writing, or are feeling, like Vonnegut, “inundated with the myth of talent,” remember to take joy in the process.

Book Sales Soar

News we can use! From Publishers Weekly: In the first half of 2020, unit sales of print books surprised many in the industry by posting a 2.9% increase over the same period in 2019 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan, overcoming a slump in sales in early spring following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Print sales finished 2020 up 8.2% over 2019, and that strong performance continued into 2021, with units jumping 18.5% in the first six months over the comparable period in 2020. With the exception of the juvenile nonfiction category, all the major publishing categories had double-digit sales increases in the first half of the year. Backlist had the strongest gains, up 21.4%, but frontlist sales were also solid, rising 12.4%.

People are reading! And they are buying old books of published authors. I know this for a fact because I got an Amazon royalty check this week for $45.87 and spent it on diet dog food. Seriously, this is good news. YA fiction showed the biggest jump. Click here for full report.

Never Sell Yourself Short

When I was first starting out in the novel biz decades ago, I would accept any gig that came my way. Luncheon speaker for women’s club? I’m there! Book signing at mall craft fair? Count me in! Set up a card table at a street market even though it meant driving four hours one way? No problem!  Problem is, there was a problem. I thought that I had to accept every event possible to get the word out about my books. The problem was I wasn’t getting paid for my time, or reimbursed for travel or expenses. The problem was, I didn’t sell that many books. The problem was, I was exhausted, cannibalizing myself — my limited energy and TIME — and getting very little in return.

This sad history came back to me this week via a thread on an author-friend’s Facebook page. Louis Baynard asked the hive whether it was worth it to accept most invitations to sign or promote books. Most the published authors said the line they heard most was: “The exposure will be good for you.”  To which I wrote, nuts to that. It was my good friend Elaine Viets who set me straight and said that any organization that wanted to book me as a lunch speaker had to buy X-copies of my book and include it in the price the attendees paid. I took her advice and it worked. And I also learned how to gracefully say no.  Got more writing done and was happier for it. So, those of you just starting out, I advise this: Say yes to libraries because they will shelf your books. Say yes to indie bookstores because they will hand sell you. Say no to everyone who wants to pay you in “exposure.”

Don’t believe me? Well, listen to Harlan Ellison. Warning: The language gets a little…blue.

I Wanted To Be A Literary Novelist But I Realized I Liked Plot. 

Jean Hanff Korelitz was exhausted by wrestling with the second draft of a novel that was refusing to come together. She was nervous about a meeting with her editor, who had already turned the book down once. At the meeting, an idea for a thriller popped into her head and that was the beginning of a new writing life, complete with a blurb from Stephen King.  Not sure how I feel about this one. You tell me!  Click here. 

From Chandler With Love

A couple day ago was the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Raymond Chandler, patron saint of Los Angeles noir and perhaps the most famous crime fiction writer of all time. I came very late in life to Chandler, well after I had begun my own crime fiction journey. Probably just as well that I didn’t read him early on or I would have said, “screw this” and been content to take Vonnegut’s advice and be an unpublished bad poet. But darn, Chandler’s stuff just dances.

Over at Literary Hub, Dan Sheehan went through Chandler’s nine books and pulled out some of his most iconic lines. Just a sampler:

From The Big Sleep:

  • Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.
  • It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.
  • I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.

From Farewell My Lovely:

  • It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.
  • She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.
  • The coffee shop smell was strong enough to build a garage on.

Click here to read more. You won’t regret it. Or, if you’re in the middle of wrestling your WIP to the mat, maybe you will.

And Just So You Won’t Feel Alone…

I leave you with a TikTok tidbit from another Facebook writer friend Jon Merz. Turn on your sound. You’re going to like his take on “What It’s Like Writing A Novel.” Although I do think Hendricks is far superior to Sapphire gin when things are going south.


True story. #booktok #booktoker #authortok #authorsoftiktok #fyp #fypシ #foryourpage #read

♬ original sound – Jon F Merz


I Did It My Way

My sixty-seven-year-old memory is somewhat fuzzy on distant particulars, but I recall sitting beside the open windows in my un-airconditioned freshman high school English class, listening to Miss Linda Adams talk about writing. Had I been sitting on the inside row with the other reluctant students against the wall that first day of class, we would’ve enjoyed the dubious luxury of hot air pushed by a large fan.

Instead, I got to look out the window, at the same time keeping an eye on my fresh-faced, just-out-of-college teacher. Miss Adams was…splendid…in a short skirt, white top, and loose blond hair enhanced with what back then was called a “fall” that came down past her shoulders.

I also recall white go-go boots, but that’s probably from an adolescent dream, long forgotten and dried. Teachers couldn’t dress that way back then, and even the girls in my class couldn’t wear jeans. The school district reluctantly allowed pant suits instead, as long as the top came down below their…um…buttocks.

Anyway, pardon my digression that sets the scene for My Awakening. I fell in love with when she leaned back against her desk and crossed her arms that distant day, finished with outlining what we’d do that semester. “We’re going to have some fun, too. Y’all know the rules of writing, and we’ll practice them in this class.”

Moans filled the room.

Her lips were red, as were her fingernails. I’m afraid my concentration was mostly on her appearance until the sweetest words I ever heard fell from those lips at the same time a bright beam of light illuminated her person, followed by an angelic chorus of beautiful voices.

“But when we get into creative writing, I want you to break all those rules you’ve learned in the past and explore the creative process as much as you can.”

That statement sizzled through my brain, yanking me back from a particularly enthusiastic fantasy and into class.

What’d she say!!!???

Since I’m a Gemini, I answered myself.

She said there were no rules in creative writing.

That means I can do what I want!


She’d freed me! I could break those dusty old shackles of formal writing and be myself.


I rose and did the Happy Dance, a unique blend of gyrations taken from Snoopy, American Bandstand, and Elvis movies.

Not really, but I wanted to.

“Break the rules.” Her statement came to mind years afterward when I finally discovered my writing Voice in 1988 and published an inaugural humor column that was nothing like I’d ever read in a newspaper.

I was successful in getting published that first time because I broke the rules and created something no one else was doing in newspapers. I took a new and different trail again when I embarked on my first novel a dozen years later.

The opening chapter was in first person, from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Top Parker, and I learned pretty quick that writing the entire novel from Top’s POV was limiting, but I needed to see rural 1964 through a kids’ eyes. First person speaks to me, and the words flow with startling ease when I’m in those chapters.

But the next chapter switched to third person, the change was intentional, because I wanted readers to see the story from the boy’s granddad’s more experienced point of view. Both a farmer and the local constable in their rural community of Center Springs, Ned Parker’d already lived a lifetime before the youngster showed up.

The alternating POV worked well in my mind, and it never occurred to me at that time that I was breaking some sort of rule. I was simply describing what I saw as the first two chapters developed, because I think differently than many authors. When writing a novel, I see the story from different lenses, sometimes involving POVs for more than one character

I did the same thing in Burrows (a suspenseful and claustrophobic novel that people either love or hate, with no in between, but the critics loved it, so there) and I was on my way, blissfully ignorant of the fact that many editors, agents, and critically acclaimed and bestselling authors said it was wrong.

That little revelation came along as I was sitting in an audience between two well-known and very successful authors listening to a panel discussion at Bouchercon, the country’s largest conference devoted to mysteries and detective fiction. When it was his time to speak, one of my favorite and influential writers on the stage pulled microphone closer to his lips and stated with absolute authority, “You cannot switch back and forth between points of view. It’s a sin, and if you do it, Jesus won’t love you no more, and you’re going to Hell with your pockets full of dandruff and adverbs.”

He sat back to let that sink in.

Well, he didn’t say it that exact way, but the gist was the same. My friends on either side turned their heads to gauge my reaction, but I had nothing and refused to make eye contact. I was a sinner for sure and no amount of water was ever going to wash me clean.

But I didn’t care and I kept writing the way I wanted, because I had a Voice, and a style (which is dramatically different than these blog posts for some reason), and I wasn’t going to change. With twelve novels in print, one scheduled for release in February, 2022, and two others under contract for the next two years after that, I’ve continued this particular style of storytelling and have no intention of changing.

Because Miss Adams said it was okay.



Don’t Play Coy With Your Readers

Don’t Play Coy With Your Readers
Terry Odell

Don't Play Coy With Readers

Image by Tayeb MEZAHDIA from Pixabay

One of my first writing lessons was Point of View. I learned it was a good idea to stick to one character at a time (and ‘time’ means more than a paragraph or two).

As a reader, I discovered I connected more with characters if I was privy to their thoughts. There are no hard and fast rules about Point of View beyond it’s important that readers can keep track of whose head they’re in.

My preference is to use Deep Point of View, which is sometimes called Close or Intimate, and that’s the focus of today’s post. What you call it isn’t as important as making sure that your readers can’t know anything your POV character doesn’t know. Or see. Or feel. Or smell. Or hear. It’s very close to writing in first person.

POV is a powerful tool, because by controlling the POV character, you control what you reveal to the reader. As I said above, the reader is only privy to what the character knows. On the flip side of that coin, if the POV character sees, smells, feels, or hears something, the reader should, too.

In my current WIP, my female lead knows why she quit her job, and is aware of some less-than-ethical behaviors of her boss. I’m eight chapters in, and she doesn’t want the male lead to know the details yet. But she can feed him bits and pieces as circumstances arise. The way I see it, it’s the author’s responsibility to find legitimate ways to withhold information from readers until it’s time to reveal it.

Which brings me to a couple of recent reads which had my hackles up. Both were written in first person POV. That puts the reader right into that character’s head, the same way Deep POV does.

In one book, the character read a letter; in the second she looked at a photograph. In both instances, the characters had strong emotional reactions to what they’d just seen. These books were both mysteries, and this “secret” information provided important clues.

But—and this is where I would have screamed out loud, had it not been late at night with someone sleeping nearby—both authors opted to hide this information from the reader. They simply avoided the reveal. The characters mulled it over, worried about it, wondered if they should tell another character, weighed the pros and cons. On and on. But never did they mention the name of the person in the photograph or the contents of the letter. The characters knew what they’d seen, so there was no reason the reader shouldn’t other than the author was doing what one of my first critique group leaders called “Playing Coy With the Reader.”

And for me, it’s not fair, not if you’re writing in first person or deep POV. It’s like when a television show character gets a letter, opens it, reads it, and then … cut to commercial without letting the viewer know what it said. If, when the commercial is over, the action picks up where it left off before the break and either shows the letter or the characters talking about it, I’ll accept it as being a way to make sure viewers “stay tuned.”

Now, if the author breaks to a different POV character, I might forgive them if, when we get back to the first character’s POV, we get the reveal. But to put a reader in a character’s head and then yank them out when something important happens is likely to aggravate them rather than heighten the suspense (which is what the author is going for.) To me, it’s a cheat.

In one of the books, the author never put the information out there. In the other, it took a while, but the reveal did come, so I grumbled and gave the author another chance.

And that’s what might happen. Play coy with the reader and you might lose them, not just for this book, but for future books they’ll never read.

In a more distant point of view, where the author is telling the story more than the character, it might not be such an issue, but then—I don’t like distancing points of view. Your mileage may vary.

All right, TKZers. What are your thoughts about authors withholding information a reader should have? Does it add a layer to the read for you, or frustrate you?

(I’m away from cyberspace this morning, but will be back later this afternoon to respond to comments.)

Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellNow available for Preorder. Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.

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.


By Debbie Burke


When we first learned to talk, most likely we never gave a second thought to the order of words. We just mimicked our parents until the sentences that came out of our mouths made sense and were understandable.

If a five-year-old said, I kicked over the fence the ball, most likely Mom, Dad, or a kindergarten teacher would tell the child it sounded better to say: I kicked the ball over the fence.

We instinctively knew how to place the words in the right order, even though we didn’t realize exactly what it was we knew or how we knew it. 

[Side note: English is a particularly difficult language for non-native speakers to learn because it’s full of inconsistencies and contradictory rules. If you didn’t learn English as a first language, please accept my condolences for the misery you’re going through.]


At some point in our language development, we learned that adjectives make sentences more descriptive. For those of us destined to become writers, adjectives became fun new toys.

Consider the three examples below:

The Jack Russell tan frisky terrier chased a mouse.

Hey, wait a sec. That sounds awkward. What’s wrong?

Instead, how about:

The frisky tan Jack Russell terrier chased a mouse.

Sounds natural.

A hot-air red massive balloon floated above farm land.


A massive red hot-air balloon floated above farm land.


A new silver shiny Cadillac was parked in the murky dark shadows of the concrete parking high-rise garage.


A shiny new silver Cadillac was parked in the dark murky shadows of the high-rise concrete parking garage.


In these examples, one flows easily off the tongue while, in the other, words come out in halts and jerks.

What is the difference?

The order of the adjectives.

Huh? Who even thinks about that?

Writers, that’s who.

Turns out there are actual rules about the correct order of adjectives.

Recently I learned that new lesson when TKZ regular Chuck sent me an interesting article that quotes The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth. In his book, Forsyth separates adjectives into eight different types of descriptors and their proper order:

  1. Opinion
  2. Size
  3. Age
  4. Shape
  5. Color
  6. Origin
  7. Material
  8. Purpose

There is even a handy little acronym to remind you of the correct order, using the first letter of each type: OSASCOMP.

Cambridge Dictionary doesn’t want the rules to be that simple so they offer an alternate option that divides adjectives into 10 classifications in slightly different order.

  1. Opinion
  2. Size
  3. Physical quality
  4. Shape
  5. Age
  6. Color
  7. Origin
  8. Material
  9. Type
  10. Purpose

Translated to an acronym: OSPSACOMTP.

Hmm, I think I’ll stick with Forsyth’s version.

In Elements of Eloquence, Forsyth illustrates the correct order with this complicated yet coherent phrase:

A lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife.

Take a moment to experiment. Can you rearrange the adjectives in a different order that makes sense and sounds better?

Me neither.

Of course, no author would dare string that many adjectives together without a stern reprimand from the editor.

Photo credit: Isaak Alexandre Karslain, Unsplash

Let’s have some fun with a quiz. Read the following jumbled descriptions and put them in the correct order. Your choice of either Forsyth’s or Cambridge Dictionary’s rules.

  1. The wicked old shriveled witch cast a permanent vengeful curse on the young innocent maiden.
  2. The black-and-tan huge guard German Shepherd dog growled when the child grabbed her puppy.
  3. The parchment ancient yellowed fragile scroll crumbled when touched.
  4. Margie couldn’t resist buying the silk designer black sexy strapless dress.

Below are my answers. If you disagree, please share in the comment section.

  1. The wicked (opinion) shriveled (physical quality) old (age) witch cast a vengeful (opinion) permanent (type) curse on the innocent (opinion) young (age) maiden.
  2. The huge (size) black-and-tan (color) German Shepherd (origin) guard (purpose) dog growled when the child grabbed her puppy.
  3. The fragile (physical quality) ancient (age) yellowed (color) parchment (material) scroll crumbled when touched.
  4. Margie couldn’t resist buying the sexy (opinion) strapless (shape) black (color) designer (origin) silk (material) dress.

Here’s a shortcut for when you’re writing a sentence with several adjectives but can’t remember the rules:

Read the sentence out loud.

If it sounds awkward, rearrange the order of the adjectives until the sentence flows smoothly and naturally.

If you’re still not sure, read the sentence out loud to someone else. Ask how the adjective order sounds best to their ears.

If you can’t remember the rules or would rather ignore them, here’s the easiest option of all: don’t string more than two adjectives together.

Your editor will appreciate it and so will your readers.


TKZers: Did you know there were rules for the order of adjectives?

As a writer, do you love adjectives? Or would you rather discard them in the same wastebasket with adverbs?


Debbie Burke is an absentminded (opinion) aging (age) blond (color) Montana (origin) thriller (purpose) writer who never uses more than two adjectives in a row. You can verify that if you read Debbie’s six-book series at this link.

To Adverb or Not to Adverb?

I’m in the midst of revisions – which is why today’s blog post is rather short – and (as always) wrestling with some of the the writerly tics that seem to invade every new manuscript. Today I faced the perennially thorny issue of adverb use, particularly when it comes to dialogue tags. I have a wonderful writing group partner who is particularly good at pointing out sloppy adverb use, highlighting all the ‘quietly/desperately/softly/angrily’ kind of dialogue slips that I have a tendency to make. She’s also very good at pointing out all the times I ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ so I’m definitely feeling rather humble at the moment:)

As with any revision process, I make a judgment call on whether to keep the dreaded adverbs and when to curtail the amount of ‘showing’ versus ‘telling’ (sometimes not using an adverb actually makes the prose sound more awkward). My writing partner uses (and highly recommends) a program called ProWriting Aid, which apparently helps highlight problematic and sloppy writing but I am reluctant to go down that path for fear it will wreck my prose (or maybe I’m just afraid of all the writing errors it will illuminate!). Another writing partner ran some of her latest novel through ‘Grammarly’ with nightmarish results…which only confirmed my fears!

So my question to you all, is do you use any of these online writing aids? Have you run your prose through any of these kinds of grammar/writing checks and if so, was it helpful? How do you approach this type of stylistic revision when it comes to fiction  (up till now I’ve tended to prefer to go with my gut…) and finally – to adverb, or not to adverb, that is the question…

PS: Congratulations Jim on completing your draft of the new Mike Romeo thriller! – I’d be interested to hear if you’ve considered adding any of thee online tools to your revision process!

You Finished Your First Draft. Now What?

by James Scott Bell



Sis boom bah!

The first draft of my next Mike Romeo thriller is finished!

Completing a novel is such a great feeling, don’t you agree?

Be ye plotter or pantser, plodder or pounder—whether you write like the Santa Ana winds or like the groundskeeper at the La Brea Tar Pits—typing that last page is always a lovely moment.

How could it not be? You’ve done something only a few people on earth ever do: You’ve transposed a fictive dream in your head to the pages of a completed manuscript so it can be shared with others.

Sure, your novel may be dreck, but by gum it’s your dreck! You labored over it and brought it forth into the world. The good news is dreck can be improved. As Nora Roberts once said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

So the first thing you should do when you finish a draft is this:

Luxuriate in the moment. Enjoy it. You earned it. Take the rest of the day off.

On the other hand, you could be like Anthony Trollope, the legendary quota man. If he wrote “The End” and saw that he needed another five hundred words for his quota, he’d sigh, take out a fresh sheet of paper, and write “Chapter One.”

Me, I like to take a full, one-day break and do something fun. Like drive to the ocean with Mrs. B after picking up a couple of world-famous fish tacos at Spencer Mackenzie’s. We have a favorite spot on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway for you out-of-towners) where we can park and listen to the waves as we munch.

Or pop some champagne at home and watch a classic movie.

Or anything else that springs to mind. The main thing is to do something to celebrate. Writers need rituals, too.

Then it’s time to get back to work, which means two things: revising your draft and working on your next project.

I’ve always counseled getting some distance (4-6 weeks) from a first draft, then sitting down and reading it through in hard copy, taking minimal notes. You’re trying to come at it like a reader, not the author. You want to analyze the big picture: plot, characters, scenes. Are they working? Are there holes that need patching? Are you sufficiently bonded to the characters? Is it page-turning?

I then fix—or strengthen—those elements.

Then I give the manuscript to a trusted editor for the first pass—Mrs. B. She has been the first reader on every one of my manuscripts and always improves them. She’s especially adept at picking up plot inconsistencies or confusions.

And she puts up with me. When she’s reading quietly in her nook I’ll sometimes walk by, casting her a glance, wondering what she thinks.

“Reading!” she’ll say.

“Oh, sorry. I was just on my way to get a glass of water.”

Cindy’s cop voice: “Move along now. Nothing to see.”

After I incorporate her notes and fixes, I submit to my beta readers.

Then final fixes.

Then a polish. I primarily look at dialogue and scene endings. I find that cutting is an almost foolproof technique. Cutting flab words in dialogue gives it extra verisimilitude. Cutting the last line or two of a scene almost instantly creates more forward momentum.

Then I get a proofread.

Then I’m ready to publish.

Launch day for me is more sedate, but still a time to enjoy the moment.

So let me ask you: Do you have a “ritual” for when you’ve typed that last page? Do you celebrate?

Do you have system (a series of steps) that you follow after your first draft?