Becoming a Writer by Mistake, or How I Traded Needlepoint for Writing

Becoming a Writer by Mistake, or How I Traded Needlepoint for Writing.
Terry Odell

**Note: We’re having new windows installed and they’ll be doing my office today, which means moving my desk and disconnecting electronics, and I’m not sure when I’ll have connectivity to respond to comments.

At reader-focused conferences, such as Left Coast Crime, most panelists are asked the question, “How/When did you start writing?” regardless of the panel topic. Readers are interested in learning more about the person behind the book. I listen as everyone else spouts off their histories of wanting to write since before they could talk, or how they wrote their first manuscript in crayon. Then my turn rolls around, and here’s my answer.

I was a card-carrying AARP member before I considered writing anything. How did I get started? The short answer: I ran out of room on my walls for needlepoint and had to find another creative outlet. But the real answer is, “By mistake.”

I never had any dreams of being a writer. Creative writing classes weren’t my forte. I knew all the rules of grammar, got A’s in English, but I was a reader. I devoured books. I read anything, from comic books to cereal boxes. My parents tell everyone that we moved when I was 12 because I finished the library. I made up stories, but they were in my head. I never thought about writing one down. They were usually daydreams, or continuations of books I’d read, or stories about characters on television. The closest I came to writing was two pages of a story I’d had running around in my head—something featuring MacGyver. But the actual typing was a total drag. Punctuation mattered. You had to start sentences with capital letters. There were quotation marks to deal with. All that use of the ‘shift’ key was a total drag.

Years later, my son was visiting. He, as all men are wont to do, was “watching” television by flipping the remote. He stopped on a show. “This one’s cool,” he said. “It’s all about these guys who can’t die unless you cut off their heads.”

My son went back home. Being a good mother, I decided to watch the show so we’d have something “cool” to talk about. I found “Highlander” in the listings, set the recorder, and watched an episode. Okay, I’m not proud. Watching Adrian Paul was no hardship. But the show also raised questions about what these Immortals could and couldn’t do, and I got curious. There were no Yahoo groups then, or even Google (I think, anyway). There were CompuServe forums. I found one about Highlander and discovered the world of fan fiction. It seemed right up my alley. I discovered one author whose voice resonated with me. (Of course, back then I had no clue it was her “voice.”)

We hooked up via email, she connected me with some of her friends, and I did some beta reading for them. Just because I wasn’t a writer didn’t mean I wasn’t a good reader, and I definitely used all my English skills to hone their stories.

Then, one day, hubby was out of town, and I decided to see what would happen if I tried to write a story. The beauty of fan fiction is that your world and your characters are all there. You can work on the skills of the craft in small increments. I cranked out my little story—actually, sweated it out, because it still didn’t come easy, what with getting all those quotation marks in the right place—and bravely sent it to the writer I’d befriended.

I’m sure she got a good laugh, but she came back with advice and comments. What the heck was POV?

I accepted the challenge. After all, I did get all those A’s in English, and surely I could learn how to put a story on paper instead of sucking up what others wrote. She had immeasurable patience, and when I finally had her approval that it was done, she insisted I post it to one of the Highland fan fiction forums. I got positive feedback, and like any good puppy, kept trying to please. (Had I known then how low the bar was for positive feedback, I might not have kept going, but since I didn’t, I did.)

Eventually, I found another writing group at a site called iVillage, and thought I’d try writing some original fiction, just to see if I could. I recall an exercise, where we were supposed to write a “hook” in under 200 words. I sent mine in, and got lots of “Wow, what happens next?” comments. How did I know? So, I kept writing. 143,000 words later, the first draft of Finding Sarah was finished, and I’d hooked up with a local, in person, critique group who drove me to consider the “get it published” side of the writing craft. And one of my Highlander fan fiction short stories eventually provided a starting point for the next book I wrote, What’s in a Name? There’s a lot of Duncan MacLeod in Blake Windsor.

And somewhere along the line, I was talking with my son. I asked him what he thought of the writers killing off Tessa. He said, “What?” I said, “You know. Highlander. Tessa. Duncan’s girlfriend. They killed her character.”

His reply. “Oh, I never actually watched the show. I just thought it was a cool concept.”

And that’s how I became a writer by mistake. I don’t think I’ll go back to needlepoint.

Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

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

Are you Lying or Laying Around

Are you Lying or Laying Around
Terry Odell

lie or layAnalytics from my own website/blog shows that consistently, one of the top three search terms (after my name) ended up on a basic grammar post I did a number of years ago. If that many people were searching, I thought some of our TKZ readers might find it useful. If you’ve already got a handle on the usage, enjoy the picture of the cat.

Years ago, when I was tutoring for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando, one of my students was a native Korean speaker. She’d been in the US for almost two decades, but she needed a lot of help with grammar. I relied on a book my kids had used in elementary school, Scholastic’s A+ Guide to Grammar by Vicki Tyler. I don’t think you can find it anymore, and I’m glad I kept the book. The pages are yellowing, but it’s a great quick reference, explained in easy to understand terms.

One problem my student had, and one that I still see when evaluating manuscripts, is the “Lie vs Lay” usage. So, here’s your grammar tip for today:

LIE (Not the fib-telling usage)
Means to rest or recline, and also to remain or be situated.
NEVER takes a direct object.

Means to put or place something.
Usually takes a direct object that tells what was placed

Confusion arises when you change tenses.

LIE is present tense. Past is LAY

LAY is present tense. Past is LAID.

Here are some examples in a variety of tenses which might clarify things. Or give you something to refer to.


  • If you’re tired, lie down and take a nap
  • I wonder what lies beneath the pile of clothes in my closet.
  • Your sweater is lying on the couch
  • Last summer, we lay by the pool every day after lunch
  • The envelope from my sister lay unopened for a week
  • I have lain in bed all morning


  • Lay the grocery bag on the table
  • I was laying the new hardwood floor in the dining room.
  • I laid the grocery bags on the table before I answered the phone.
  • I have laid my cards on the table.

So, in answer to the question posed in the title of this post — you’re lying around.

I don’t know if this helps. I tend to rely on the “takes an object” rule if I’m not sure. Of course, there’s always the write-around option. Use a different word!

What about you? Any grammar issues you have to stop and think about? Any you’ve noticed while reading?

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Available for Pre-Order
Paperback format available now.

Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

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

Not Even More Rules

Not Even More Rules
Terry Odell

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

If there’s one “rule” of writing, especially in these days of indie publishing, it’s that there are no rules. Want to leave out quotation marks? Go for it. Want to replace them with dashes? Why not? Want to publish without any eyes but your own on the prose? Do your thing.

And, in these days of indie publishing, we can split these ‘rules’ into two basic categories. Rules of writing, which lean toward grammar conventions, and rules of publishing, which relate to what happens once the book is set loose into the world of readers.

Since there was a recent post about Heinlein’s rules, I’m following up with these from Kurt Vonnegut, which, as did Heinlein’s, relate more to the publishing side of things.

8 Rules for Writing

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

— Kurt Vonnegut: Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

My personal thoughts and interpretations:

  1. The last thing I want is to hear someone saying, “well, there are XX hours I’ll never get back” after reading one of my books.
  2. Totally agree. It’s all about the characters for me, and I give readers more than one.
  3. We’ve heard this one a lot, both here at TKZ and at a myriad of other writing sites. Enough said.
  4. Need to remember this one. Wandering down Happy Lane in Happy Town doesn’t do much for book pacing.
  5. Yep, we’ve heard this one a lot, too. My self-measured progress as a writer was how much less I had to cut from the beginnings of my books.
  6. Another familiar one. Put your character up a tree and throw rocks at them. Or shoot at them.
  7. This one sits at the top of my list when I hit the editing phase. Don’t second guess yourself. Some readers will have issues with something in your book, be it a character who reminds them of their ex, or setting, or POV, or tense, or anything else. Let it go. Write your
  8. Not sure how to interpret this one. As writers focused on mysteries and suspense, we want that twist, that surprise.

Seems to me, we each make up our own rules, be it on the production side or the story side. We do what works for us, writing the best story we can by our personal standards.

Any of Vonnegut’s rules resonate with you? In either direction?

**Anyone going to Left Coast Crime in Tucson? Would love to meet!

Available for Pre-Order

Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

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

What Do Ringtones Say About Your Characters?

One of my favorite ways to play with characterization is to assign my main character a ringtone.

In my Mayhem Series, Shawnee Daniels started with “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. Two books later, she switched to ZZ Ward’s “Put the Gun Down.” And now, she has “Ironic” also by Alanis.

Even without any other information, I bet you’ve already formed a visual of who she is, based on her ringtones.

If you guessed snarky and badass, you’re right. 😉

In my Grafton County Series, I used ringtones to show my main character’s emotional wellbeing. Sage Quintano has no designated ringtone for herself, but she constantly changes her Sheriff husband’s ringtone as a form of silent communication. She’s done it so many times, I doubt I could list them all, but let’s go through a few to show what she’s saying to her husband.

  • “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts

Considering this is a psychological thriller series, not romance, Sage used this ringtone to indicate fear.

  • “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” by Michael Bolton

This ringtone showed Sage’s gut-wrenching devastation when their child was abducted.

  • “Just Once” by James Ingram

This ringtone showed Sage’s sadness about a rough patch in their marriage.

  • “Tonight I Wanna Cry” by Keith Urban

This ringtone indicates Sage’s sadness, too.

  • “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw

Though this is an uplifting song, Sage used the ringtone to show a ticking clock on her life.

  • “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry

Sage used this ringtone to show fear.

  • “Let it Hurt” by Rascal Flatts

This one still gets me every time. Sage used this ringtone to show her devastation over an incident involving Ruger, one of her beloved dogs. Don’t worry. He survived. 😉

  • “All of Me” by John Legend

Sage used this ringtone to show her husband she’s feeling frisky.

  • “Only Women Bleed” by Alice Cooper

Sage used this ringtone to show her fear while being stalked by a killer. The killer also sent her this song, so it worked two-fold.

  • “Hurt” by Christina Aguilera

If you know, you know. This song shows soul-crushing sadness, and Sage used it to portray exactly that.

  • “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” by Elton John

Sage used this ringtone to show panic. If her husband didn’t hurry, she may die.

To add validity to this post, I ran a search to see how other writers might use ringtones. Couldn’t find what I was looking for, but Forbes had an interesting article.

Research indicates that people do judge mobile users based on their ringtone. In 2005, U.K.-based carrier Tesco Mobile surveyed 1,000 customers and discovered that 21% of them thought having a standard ringtone was “uncool.” The survey also concluded that people who use their own recorded voice as a ringtone are self-obsessed, and that users who constantly change their rings might be flighty and unreliable.

No rocket science, that. But there’s no doubt that ringtones have become big business because people want to say something personal about themselves. So we wondered, what does your ringtone say about you?

If your phone plays a classic rock tune, you’re showing your age, but you get points for figuring out how to change the ringer, Gramps.

If your phone is still playing “Jingle Bell Rock” in July, you’re not going to impress people with your productivity.

If your ringtone is a current hip-hop or R&B hit, you’re young at heart, but you’re not particularly original. Hip-hop ringtones accounted for more than half of the $300 million U.S. market in 2004.

If your phone plays the sound of an old mechanical phone bell, you’re not as funny as you think you are.

If your phone plays the theme song to a television show, you’re not going to impress anyone with your intellectual acumen. Perhaps a Mozart or Beethoven ringer would do some damage control.

If your phone never leaves vibrate or silent mode, you may be the kind of important person who can’t afford to waste time answering a phone call right now. Or maybe you just think you’re that important. However, you may also be considerate and respectful, the kind of person we’d like sitting behind us in a movie theater.

Unfortunately, we tend to get saddled with seatmates whose phones play the popular “Crazy Frog,” the clucking chicken, or any number of other annoying animal noises. If you’re one of these folks, you may be a sociopath.

Hope this post gives you some fun ideas on ways to use ringtones for your characters!

Have you ever used ringtones in your writing? Please explain how/why.

Do you change your own ringtone? Share the song!

If you had to choose one song to describe you, what would it be?

Automated Editing? Or Not?

Automated Editing? Or Not?”
Terry Odell

In the process of doing the final pass of the manuscript for Deadly Relations before sending it to my editor, I ran checks through several automated programs. I use SmartEdit to check for overused words and phrases, adverbs, etc. I’ve reported about that here at TKZ before. People have talked about using Grammarly (SmartEdit doesn’t check for grammar), so I tested that with a few chapters. (I used the free version. Premium mileage may vary.)

I wasn’t impressed, as almost every suggestion Grammarly made was “wrong” but I had to look at them to decide. Time suck. And, I had to know enough grammar to recognize when the suggestions were valid, optional, or off-the-wall. A while back, John Gilstrap talked about discovering an Editor function in Word, so I gave that one a shot as well. Most of the suggestions the Editor gave me dealt with commas. I agreed with some, disagreed with many—mostly about commas before “but”. Enough so I looked it up, because Mr. Holtby in HS English drilled into us that ‘but’ can connect two independent clauses, but you needed to use a comma. The Google Machine agreed. I don’t know why the Editor didn’t.

Which brings me to the main ‘flaw’ with these automated editing helpers. They’re not set up for fiction, and they can’t read in context.

Example: The jerry can sat in a spreading puddle of liquid. Both Grammarly and Word’s Editor told me that “can sat” is incorrect usage. It didn’t understand that “can” is a noun in that sentence.

And never mind dialogue, which comes from the character and many rules fly out the window because people don’t speak with perfect, rule-abiding grammar. Or jargon. Many of my characters in this book are cops, and they use “cop speak” which doesn’t follow the rules of grammar.

There’s also the case of voice, which is mine, and I’m not changing my style for any automated program.

Then there’s the section called “Inclusiveness.” Mr. Gilstrap opened a big discussion when he talked about what the Editor flagged in that category for him, so I did a deeper dive. Editor flagged several spots where it thought some people might find my word choices offensive. Not offensive in a profanity way, but rather reinforcing biases and stereotypes.

Here are some examples of what I’d written and what (and why) the Editor suggested changes. It also gave suggested words to substitute. Some made sense. Some didn’t.

“Be home soon.” Gordon put his SUV in gear—only a little white lie that he was already on his way—and headed for home.

You might consider using different language to avoid equating “black” with negative or “white” with positive. Although this term doesn’t directly refer to race, these connotations can unintentionally reinforce racial stereotypes and biases.

A high-pitched voice—Frieda’s—called to Moose. The dog, tail wagging, bounded to the front porch. “Who’s there?” Frieda clutched the dog’s collar. Moose, still eyeing Gordon warily, sat by her side. Not that the frail woman could restrain him should the dog bolt.

Some expressions may draw undue attention to age or imply negative attributes due to a person’s age. Consider removing unnecessary, negative, or condescending references to age.

The coating of dust on the three-inch wide rungs was disturbed by what Gordon interpreted as the toe end of boot prints. Man-sized.

Some terms may suggest negative attitudes or stereotypes related to gender roles or a person’s gender identity or expression. Consider avoiding expressions that may imply bias.

Other usages the Editor pointed out:

  • Gordon checks his manpower spreadsheets.
  • He refers to someone manning the front desk.
  • He searches for a character using her maiden name
  • Gordon faces a gunman.

After a little digging, I discovered you can adjust the settings so the Editor checks only for what you want it to. (Note: You should also be sure you’ve selected “Casual” rather than “Formal” or “Professional” before running any checks.) Under “Inclusiveness” I found the following options:

  • Age Bias
  • Cultural Bias
  • Ethnic Slurs
  • Gender Bias
  • Gendered Pronouns
  • Gender Specific Language
  • Racial Bias
  • Sexual Orientation Bias
  • Socioeconomic Bias

Now, I’m of a generation that remembers the addition of “Ms” to the honorific options. I remember what we referred to as “Women’s Lib.” I asked my daughters about some of the usages the Editor flagged, and they agreed with the sentiments behind them, and didn’t think the Editor was out of line. Their social and professional circles differ a great deal from mine. But they also agreed that reading a novel wasn’t the same as face to face talking to other people.

The Big Question is “How does this apply to fiction?” Word doesn’t have a setting for that. And, if you’re writing in Deep POV, everything on the page should come from the character’s voice. Will I consider the words the Editor said were biased? Yes. Will I make all the changes the Editor suggested? No. Because my characters don’t talk that way. At least now. Will they change with the times? Maybe.

**Note. We here at TKZ value our readers’ comments and discussions. Recently, we’ve been having some issues with leaving comments. If this happens to you, we hope you’ll understand. And keep trying. Our web guru is working on the issue.

Coming Soon! Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

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

Writers’ Longitude

“at sea” – an idiom meaning “confused” or “lost”

* * *

I recently read a book entitled Longitude by Dava Sobel. It’s the story of an invention that first made it possible for sailors to pinpoint their location at sea. According to Sobel,

“Lines of latitude and longitude began crisscrossing our worldview in ancient times, at least three centuries before the birth of Christ. By A.D. 150, the cartographer and astronomer Ptolemy had plotted them on the twenty-seven maps of his first world atlas.”

Knowing one’s position on the face of the earth is just a matter of knowing the latitude and longitude. . (You’ll remember latitude are the horizontal lines around the earth, all parallel to the equator. Longitudinal lines (meridians) are lines drawn from the North Pole to the South Pole.)

During the Age of Exploration, roughly from the 15th to the 18th centuries, one of the major seafaring problems was the inability to establish the ship’s position on the high seas. Latitude was fairly simple to determine by the height of the sun as it progressed across the sky or by the position of certain stars, but there’s no similar way to determine longitude. Once a ship sailed out of the sight of land, it had no reference point for which to understand its east/west position.

Since longitude is a measure of time, not distance, an easy way to determine it is to compare the time of day on board ship with the time at the home port from which the ship sailed. This can be accomplished by setting a clock to the home port time before sailing and keeping that clock on the ship. The actual time aboard the ship is determined by the position of the sun and compared to the clock. Each hour of difference corresponds to fifteen degrees of longitude. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, there were no clocks in existence during the early days of the great explorers that would keep accurate time on board a ship. The movement of the ship and the changes in temperature, pressure, and humidity affected the clocks’ mechanisms, and the results were unreliable.

Some of the best minds of that era, including the great Sir Isaac Newton, had tried to find an astronomical solution to the problem, but the quest seemed out of reach. (Pun intended.)

It was such a big problem that in 1714 the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act which offered a lucrative prize for the first person who could deliver a practical means of determining longitude at sea.

Into this environment stepped John Harrison, a carpenter and self-taught clock maker, whose skill and determination were just the attributes needed. Harrison solved problem after problem in his dogged persistence, and finally in 1736, his first clock, unimaginatively named the H-1, sailed aboard the HMS Centurion to Lisbon and returned aboard the HMS Orford. The clock performed admirably, and the Longitude commissioners asked Harrison to continue his work.

Over the course of the next twenty-five years or so, John Harrison created a total of three more clocks. The fourth one (you can guess the name: H-4) was actually a watch, and it was the H-4 that sailed to Jamaica in 1765 and performed within the limits required by the Longitude Board for the prize. John Harrison had solved one of mankind’s thorniest problems, and he likely saved the lives of many sailors in the process.

John Harrison is revered in England for his work. All four of his sea-faring clocks reside in the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. In 1884, the Prime Meridian (longitude 0°) was defined as the longitudinal line that runs through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Hence, our definition of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) from which all other time zones are offset. If you visit the Royal Observatory, you can have your picture taken astride the Prime Meridian, one foot in each hemisphere.

* * *

As I was reading about the longitude problem, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to writing. PJ Parrish quoted Walter Mosley in her Kill Zone Blog post last week:

Writing a novel is like taking a journey by boat. You have to continuously set yourself on course. If you get distracted or allow yourself to drift, you will never make it to the destination.

So how do we as authors keep ourselves on course? It’s easy to feel like you’re “at sea” when you’re in the second act muddle, not sure how to get to your destination, or even exactly where your destination lies. But there are experts who can help us find our writing longitude. I have a stack of craft books I love to refer to. Here are a few:

  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
  • Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Fire Up Your Fiction by Jodie Renner
  • Writing Novels That Sell by Jack M. Bickham
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
  • On Writing by Stephen King

 * * *

So TKZers: What resources do you use to chart your course across the great ocean of writing a novel?


And speaking of time … 

The Watch Mysteries is a box set of three complete novels in which clocks, watches, and time play an important role.




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Story Structure in Humans

As I tell this story, think back over your life. We’ve all gone through hard times, some worse than others. Humor me, and if you’re struggling with story structure, you’ll at least begin to grasp it by the time you’ve read this post. That’s my hope, anyway.

Humans have structure — flesh, organs, tissue, arteries, veins, water, and muscle all have their place. No matter what race, religion, or creed, we are the same. What braces up our bodies is our skeleton — story structure.

We may look different on the outside — some have big noses, full lips, different skin and eye color — but we all started the same way…

As an egg — story idea.

Once fertilized, the egg grew in the womb, but still hadn’t fully formed yet — concept.

We evolved into a living, breathing human and entered the world — character.

We each grew to think and feel differently, have different world views, religions, heart, and soul — theme.

And we lived our lives, our story — premise.

Some people are more giving, outwardly loving. Some are more reserved. But it’s all because of how our parents raised us, or because a tragedy changed us — backstory.

So, we’ve been born and we’re growing up, maturing or have already matured. Whichever applies to that specific time in your life.

We scored a job. Perhaps married and had children. But we retained our inner demons, our flaws — Act I — 1st quartile: Set Up << which begins character arc, introduces characters, sets up FPP, foreshadows future events, etc. 

And then something happened to throw our lives out of balance. This defining moment demanded that we act. We could not hide from it. It forced us to do something — First Plot Point, at 20-25%.

After this crucial moment occurred, an antagonist force entered our lives, or it was there all along and only now revealed itself — 1st Pinch Point, at 3/8th mark or 37.5%.

We reeled, flailed, resisted, and failed — Act II — 2nd quartile: Response 

We either did something to fix the problem, or the problem worsened. All the while we kept thinking things could not get much worse. Or we believed we’d finally solved the problem. But it was a false victory or a false defeat — Midpoint, at 50%.


So, we needed to attack the problem head on, because it’s wasn’t going away — Act III — 3rd quartile: Attack << our true character changes again and we become a warrior.

We stopped our pity party because it wasn’t doing us any good. Besides, we’re stronger now than when we started this quest.

And then, the antagonist force emerged again. Only now, it was more terrifying than ever because it too had upped its game — 2nd Pinch Point, at 5/8th mark or 62.5%. Learn more about Pinch Points.

We realized we hadn’t actually solved the problem. We’d only made it worse. Or the victory was short-lived because we didn’t realize X,Y,Z was around the corner, waiting to explode. Things looked bleak. Could this situation get any worse? — All Is Lost Moment.

But how did we really feel about this? What sort of impact did it have on us? — Dark Night of the Soul.

Then something changed. Or we discovered something new that helped us see a glimmer at the end of a dark road — 2nd Plot Point, at 75%.


In fact, there was a way we could fix our lives — Act IV — 4th quartile: Resolution << this act completes character arc

The only way to defeat the antagonist was to overcome our fears, inner demons, flaws, and meet this force head on. We had to fight this battle (not be a bystander), with everything we’d learned in life thus far, about ourselves and the world around us — Climax.

After which, we lived happily ever after, or as happy as we could be in our new world. We grew as individuals, faced our fears, and had come out stronger for the effort. We’d settled into our new lives — Resolution.

Boom. The end. Obviously, we need a compelling hook first, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Could you think of a time in your life when this applied to you? Hold tight to that memory, and you’ll never forget story structure at its basic level.

“The more Shawnee digs, she ends up with more questions than answers and then add bloody body parts showing up on her doorstep, crows stalking her every move, unreachable friends, a serial killer on her heels, harrowing situations, and she’s just really not sure she’s up to the task at hand. Lines blur with truth and lies, deceptions and facts, and everything about her past will come into question. I loved everything about this book!” — Denise H, book reviewer

On sale for 99c on Amazon

What’s Your Writing Time Like?

What’s Your Writing Time Like?
Terry Odell

Image by 0fjd125gk87 from Pixabay

We’re four days into the new year, and by now, I’m sure everyone’s been inundated with posts about the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2022, and suggestions for a better 2023.

I’ll offer my take on why I don’t make resolutions, and that’s it on the subject of New Years, other than wishing everyone at TKZ a very positive one.

Okay … on with a more writerly offering. Another one of my questions about how people approach their writing.

Note: I’m talking about getting words down, not ideas. To me, that’s a different facet of the process.

I’ve got a writer friend who wants large chunks of time for fear she’ll get “on a roll” and then have to leave for lunch, an appointment, watching the football game, whatever, and lose momentum. She’ll say, “It’s almost lunchtime, so no point in starting now.” There’s nothing wrong with that. She produces and meets her deadlines, but her comment got me thinking about how other writers utilize time.

I’ll go first. Disclaimer: I’m a retired empty-nester with a husband who understands that I spend time at the keyboard. (In fact, I think he’s glad I do.)

My first activities of the day (which starts for me at about 5:30) include checking email, doing the Mini-Cross, playing Tiles, and chatting with one of my critique partners. Breakfast fits in there somewhere, along with crushing a few candies. Getting the “easy stuff” out of the way until I’m coherent. I can barely find the right keys for the crossword, so being productive first thing doesn’t work for me.

My first “writing” thing comes after I’ve finished my playtime. It’s probably around 7:30. I look at the marked up chapter from the previous night’s read. If I didn’t end a scene or chapter and had nothing to print, then I have nothing to tweak, which throws off my morning routine. I’ll reread to see where I left off and try to pick things up from there, but it takes longer to get into the story.

I know I’ll be interrupted for dog walkies around 9:30, but unlike my writer friend, instead of waiting until I get back, I try to move forward. Once I get going, I keep the manuscript open on the PC all day and work on it as time permits (which, as mentioned above, for an introverted, retired empty-nester is significant). If I have appointments, or need to cook dinner, or it’s laundry day, I write until it’s time to deal with them, take care of the chore, and return to the work. Looking at my productivity, I do better in the afternoon, as there seem to be fewer things needing my attention, so I can remain immersed in the story. But a goal of 500 words before lunch and at least 1000 words a day is my norm.

I know some people carry a notepad or recording device and are never not writing. They’ll write a paragraph, or a single sentence, utilizing time in waiting rooms, car pool pickup/dropoff lines, sporting events. If they’re plotters/outliners, they might work on a scene that’s way down the line. That doesn’t work for me. I write at my computer, and figure my word count output is justification enough for leaving the manuscript alone if I’m not around the house.

In a Q&A session with Nora Roberts, she says she works out 90 minutes a day and works in her office 6-8 hours a day. That’s her job, as she puts it, and she takes it seriously (obviously, to look at her output).

So, what kind of writer are you? Bits and pieces? Longer sessions? Dedicated hours for writing when nothing else is allowed to happen? Can you hop around the story as ideas hit, or are you (like me) extremely linear and everything hits the page in the order it happens in the story?

Bargain/BSP Time: The first book in my Mapleton series, Deadly Secrets, is perma-free, and the second book, Deadly Bones, is on sale for 99 cents this week only. My 11th book in this series, Deadly Relations, is about ready to go to my editor. I’m hoping it’ll be ready to go in time for Left Coast Crime in March—and hope to see some TKZers there.

Coming Soon! Deadly Relations.

Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

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

Write What You’re Passionate About

It isn’t easy to expose your heart, but the rewards far outweigh the risks. Let me say up-front, there’s nothing wrong with writing to entertain, to allow readers to escape their lives for a while. That’s not what I’m saying at all.

For me, I wanted more. I write to touch lives. I write to make a difference. The latter of which compelled me to write Unnatural Mayhem, my new psychological thriller. The underlying message—the pulse, if you will—strikes at the core of who I am, what I care about, and who I aim to protect. Writing this story required me to peel back even more layers of my heart and soul. I thought, if that’s what I had to do, then so be it. I set out to write a book that matters, a book that could help protect the voiceless, the most innocent among us.

Here’s a snippet:

Imagine a world without animals? No pattering of paws, no wingbeats, no singing in the treetops, no howls at the moon, no buzzing in flower blossoms, no slithering through garden beds, no sympathetic eyes begging for a treat, no unconditional love or companionship, and the oceans, ponds, and lakes devoid of life. The Natural World as we know it would forever be silenced. For eternity.

That passage still kills me, because I can’t even fathom living in a world without animals. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a world I want any part of. Yet here we are, with numerous species on the brink of extinction.

Writing about subject matters you’re passionate about doesn’t mean slamming your reader over the head with your message. Your passion may influence the story, but we must let readers come to their own conclusions in their own time, even if those conclusions differ from ours. Hence why the story needs a compelling plot, or all the passion and heart you infuse into the story won’t make a dang bit of difference.

In Unnatural Mayhem, I focused on the trophy hunting of crows as a starting point for where I’m taking the series. I don’t need to remind you of my undying love for crows, right? Needless to say, the quest shredded my soul, but it also drove my characters through a complicated maze to stop this senseless killing—by any means necessary—before one black feather hit the earth, my passion and their passion intermingled on such a deep, personal level.

Writing about subjects you’re passionate about is also spiritually fulfilling. When I finished Unnatural Mayhem, a wave of accomplishment washed over me, like I’d written the right story at the right time to effect change, and destiny tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Well done.” Like I was always meant to write this story. Like I was always meant to take my Mayhem Series in this direction. Fate.

Have you ever felt this?

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing about subjects you’re passionate about:

#1: Find a subject you’re passionate about. Construct the plot around it. Create a cast of characters that would be most affected by it. In my case, I already had the perfect characters to tell this story.

#2: For hot button issues, like trophy hunting and poaching, you need to decide what to show the reader and what to leave out. No one likes dead animals in books. Most of all, me! The trick is to find ways to tiptoe around obvious triggers while still remaining true to the story.

#3: Balance and forethought are key. For every emotional, spiritual, or suspenseful scene, I balanced with some of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever written. That balance gives the reader time to breathe and makes the book more enjoyable. ARC readers tell me they experienced all the feels, from heartbreak to joy and every emotion in between.

#4: The ending always matters, but it becomes even more important when writing about subjects you’re passionate about. We can’t leave the reader heartbroken. What fun is that? If we leave them uplifted, they’ll look forward to the next book in the series.

#5: When your emotions are tangled up in your characters, let the words just flow. Don’t worry about editing, word choice, or sentence structure. You’re in the zone, emotions spilling on the pages, fingers trying to keep up with your brain. Write first, edit later.

This is my last post of 2022. From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!


With the fate of the Natural World at stake, can a cat burglar, warrior, and Medicine Man stop trophy hunters before it’s too late?

Explosive news of a crow hunt rings out in the White Mountain Region of New Hampshire, and one hundred crows gather to put an end to it. With so many lives at stake — including Poe’s — Shawnee and Mayhem must work together to stop the trophy hunters before they obliterate the local murder.

Taking on twenty-five experienced hunters armed with shotguns is no small feat. If they fail, Poe may lead his brethren to their death.

No matter what it takes, this group must be stopped. But what if Shawnee and Mayhem aren’t seeing the full picture? What if these men have secrets worth killing over?

Unnatural Mayhem is on preorder for $1.49. Releases tomorrow (Dec. 13, 2022).

Emphasized Words in Fiction

Many new writers struggle with how to emphasize words in fiction. It’s tempting to stick a word in ALL CAPS.

Please resist that urge. Yes, all-caps draws the reader’s attention, but not in a good way. All-caps become annoying after a while.

In fact, a 1955 study found that all-caps slowed reading speed by 9.5% over a five-minute period.

For example:


Notice how all the letters blend together in all-caps? It’s difficult to read. Imagine an entire novel littered with all-caps? In dialogue, it’s even more exhausting and amateurish.

If your character is shouting, use one exclamation point—not three!!!—or show us with a body cue.

“I am not hysterical!”


She slammed her fist on the table. “I am not hysterical!”

The combination of body cue, italicizing not, and the exclamation mark show the reader she is hysterical.

To the best of my recollection, I only used all-caps once in nineteen books. In my latest psychological thriller that releases at the end of this month (Yay!), the MC finds an engraved invitation, and I used italicized all-caps to show the heading across the front. Because all-caps is so offensive and jarring, I took special care to break up the text with an em dash, spacing above and below it, and double-tabbed to set it apart from the narrative. Offensive and jarring was exactly what I was going for, so all-caps worked in this case.

If you can think of another exception, please share in the comments.

What about changing the font to indicate emphasis?

I know it’s easy to change fonts these days, but the end result doesn’t enhance the reading experience. If anything, it pulls the reader out of the story. Please, stop. Let the writing speak for itself. If it can’t, then the problem is the writing, not the font.

What about bold to emphasize a word?

The short answer is no. The reading experience isn’t enhanced by bold, either. Both bold and all-caps look like the author’s screaming for attention.

What are we left with?

Italics. Yes, but don’t overdo it. Italics work best for emphasis when used sparingly. Like all-caps and bold, if used too much the eye passes right over the words we want emphasized.

We do have one other trick.

Em dashes. I love the little suckers. Maybe too much. 😉 At least I’m in good company. Jim professed his love for the em dash on Valentine’s Day last year.

“It is a crisp, efficient dash used to set off a word or clause for emphasis or additional information.”

Couldn’t say it any better. It’s a beloved, versatile punctuation mark.

Hope he doesn’t mind if I steal his example from Romeo’s Hammer:

So what about the lack of clothing? A love scene gone bad? Someone who had been with her while she was drinking—or drugging—herself? Her condition when I found her was such that she had to have come from one of the beach houses. Access to the sand is cut off all along PCH. She didn’t wander down from the street.

See how drugging stands right out? The em dashes draw the eye right to it. They tell us to pay attention. They pique interest. They emphasize.

With italics and em dashes, we have all the tools we need to emphasize words. Now, go forth and finish that novel.

For fun, share a sentence from your WIP, published work, or a book you’re reading that shows how a word–or words–are emphasized. Don’t forget to include the title!