How Poetry Adds to Fiction Writing

Chillihead – Flickr Creative Commons

Happy April – Happy National Poetry month! I love poetry, and read it off and on. I also love discovering new poets. The poetry I enjoy tends to be reflective, not love poems but about life and nature and the nature of life. I want poetry to (a) heighten my emotions, and (b) make me think. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

Two simple ways poetry can help your fiction writing: (1) Use of poems or lines from poems in the introduction or chapter headings of your novels, and (2) Use of poems to find a title for your novels. Shakespeare’s poems – and plays are especially good for this, as is the Bible.

But the best way poetry helps fiction writers is in improving writing.

Even the simplest poems, like this one, can bring strong images to writing:

 In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

What a beautiful, haunting image this is.

I began looking at poetry as a way to write better when I realized I was writing fiction like non-fiction. For over 30 years, I’ve been writing manuals and how-to books to help people start and run small businesses.For example, from my current work-in-progress, The Thriving Writer:
Brand recognition is important and writers need that recognition as much as companies selling commercial products or services. James Patterson might be able to get away with not having a recognizable logo, but many writers have “branded” themselves in some way.As difficult as it is to come up with the perfect name, it’s even more difficult for many people to choose a logo that perfectly exemplifies their business.  I’ve seen business people muddle over pages of logos with subtle differences, attempting to find THE ONE.  Of course, like the name, the choice of a logo is one that stays with you for a very long time.  Many of the same considerations apply to logos as to business names.
Pretty dry stuff. So I started gathering up poetry books, discovering new poets, and learning how to write with more imagery and subtlety of language, to make my novels less like how-to manuals and more poetic.
Jolene Paternoster says, “Fiction writers can look to poetry for original and beautiful descriptions of everyday happenings and objects.” That’s true. That’s what I’m trying to do.
And Bob Stallworthy says, “Good fiction, just like good poetry, has a lot to do with using precisely the right word in the right place in the line. And, …when we get this right we get the image we want that makes the reader say, “Wow! I never thought of it like that before.” Isn’t that what we, as writers, want?
While I agree with Bob, I think what we fiction writers want is for the language to be unnoticed but effective, so it doesn’t overpower the story. Like a little hot sauce – but not too much – in a fantastic Ultimate Grilled Cheese sandwich.
An example of beautiful poetic fiction writing, in one of my all-time favorite books: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski. The author started out in computer science (talk about dry!) and got an MFA and went on to write this extraordinary novel. (I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, something I never do.)

Here’s a sample:
This will be his earliest memory.
Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until its cheeks pull back and a row of dainty front teeth bare themselves in a ridiculous grin.
The nose quivers. The velvet snout dimples.
All the house is quiet. Be still. Stay still.
A perfect example of “show, don’t tell” in lovely language.
So, I’m reading Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Stanley Kunitz, Yeats, (notice the Irish poets, please), Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and more, as I get the chance. Onward and upward.

In a Station of the Metro

by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

- See more at:

Two Ways to Jump-Start Your Novel – Or Procrastinate Creatively

It depends on how you look at it. I’ve found two ways to get started writing again on my novel. Unfortunately, neither actually involves writing the novel. They both involve getting deeper into the novel and working out structure. Both have helped me work out issues and settle questions I had in my mind, and both have given me a mental boost to start writing again.

I finished my first – really awful – draft, went to a writer’s workshop, read some books on writing, and I’m now taking a course on storytelling. In the process, I have re-started my novel, working on a second draft. But some suggestions in the writing course and the workshop got me working on my novel again. Although they took some time – several days on each – I have been able to use them to begin working more confidently on my novel, knowing where the story is going and where it will end up.

I made up both of these, but they might be out there somewhere, in a similar form and I know other people have different ways of doing this (note cards, posters, etc.). There’s nothing new under the sun, after all.

1. The Story table. I created a simple table in Word. My purpose was to see things in parallel – the outer journey (plot) of the book and the inner journey of the main character. After I started, I added the inner journey of what was going on with the antagonist and the descriptions and events for the other main characters, including character arcs for some of them. Then I added sub-plots, and “breadcrumbs” (those hints that will be needed at the end).

The headings for the columns in the table are:

Structure: The basic story diagram (from The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages) of rising action, plot points, to climax and falling action.

* Storyline: Next to the structure, what’s happening when, by days and times. The plot points on the first column are next to the events at those points.

* Timeline/history. What’s happening in the outside world each day of the story. The timeline/history has been created (see below).

* Protagonist - internal – character arc. What’s happening with the protagonist; what she is feeling, thinking, how her character is developing.

* Sub-plots. What’s going on with other characters who are important to the story.

* Antagonist. What’s going on at each point with the antagonist, relative to each point in the story.

* Breadcrumbs. Points at which I need to insert specific facts which will be needed later.

2. History/timeline. This document was developed from a suggestion at the writing workshop that I needed to set up the “rules” for the world I was creating. I want to write historical fiction, so it made sense to do this. It would work well for all types of fiction, though, as the author is creating a world that may differ in small or large dimensions from the world we actually live in. To think of it another way, the world appears differently to each of us, so the author can create the world in his or her own image.

This document is a detailed description of the world of the story, before the story starts and during the timeline of the story. No individuals are mentioned, but events are described in detail, along with situations and facts about the various areas of the city. For each day, the weather and other natural phenomena (eclipses, for example) are described.

For example,


 Falls River, Iowa ,is a small city of about 100,000 people, with a county of about 150,000 people. People outside of the town, in the county, live in various small communities. The smaller communities are largely farming – corn and soybeans and some cattle and pigs. The city is on the Dover River.

 Day 1: September 19, 2018.
     The day was clear and sunny, an early fall day. The temperature was about 64 at 10 a.m. The high for the day was 71, falling to 55 at 10 p.m.

The electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) was detonated at 10,000 feet in the atmosphere at 10:20 a.m. on Wednesday, September 19, 2018, over Kansas. The blast immediately wiped out all electronic devices and the electrical grid of most of the U.S. (except California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii, and the western parts of Nevada.)  

No cars made after the 1970s were able to run because of their computer circuitry. Older cars would run, but it would be difficult to find gas for them because gas station pumps were not working and no gasoline trucks could deliver more gas.

Phones and cell phones, portable devices, tablets, and computers would not operate once they ran out of batteries. No satellite service was available and no Wi-Fi networks would work because routers running on electricity were inoperable…..

How my “writing tools” have helped me with my draft:

1. The story table helped me figure out where the plot points should occur, the character arcs of the protagonist and other major characters, how tension needs to build through the novel, how the sub-plots fit in, and how/when breadcrumbs might fit in. It sounds like a lot of work – and it was – but I’m moving ahead more confidently now, and having the outline in my head and on paper is immensely helpful in letting me be free to write instead of worrying about where I’m going.

2. The history/timeline made me spot inconsistencies in what was going on in the story and in the greater world. It also gave me some ways to bring in information to my characters, who were shut off from the world. It was fun to write the history, and I was finding some creative ways to add to the story. I might not use much of this, but it is important to know more than you put into a story.

With all this work, it’s taken me about a week, but I think it’s been helpful. Or have I just been procrastinating? What do you think?

5 Things ‘House of Cards’ Taught Me About Novel Writing

House of Cards Opening Sequence (LINK)

Image via Manybits – Flickr Creative Commons

I just finished watching all 13 episodes of House of Cards, the second season. Wow! I reserve my superlatives for only the best, and this is it.  I give it 10 stars! But as I was caught up in the drama, I reflected on what the writers were doing and I could see lots of value for my own novel writing efforts.

Netflix just released the entire 13 episodes of the second season of House of Cards. The story focuses on Congressman Frank Underwood and his wife Claire. At the beginning of the first season Frank was denied the Secretary of State post he wanted in the new administration, and he sets out to get revenge on the president he worked to elect. Claire helps him and they have trusted allies and enemies. While I don’t want to give away all the plot twists, I can give you some general idea of some of the learning moments I experienced.

What I learned from watching House of Cards:

1. Less is More. Subtle and understated is better. A few words go a long way. In one scene, a man is about to do something and he looks at his fiance and asks, “You think I’m weak, don’t you?” She says nothing. Very understated, but you get the message. It’s left to the viewer to decide. A few lines of dialogue with interruptions are enough to show us the tension between two of Frank’s staffers. We don’t need to be hit over the head with the message.

2. Breadcrumbs are teasers. Speaking of little hints, I love the breadcrumbs, little bits of scenes that give the reader an idea of something to come. Showing someone with a gun sets up tension in the reader’s mind. The reader wants to know, expects to know what is going to happen. House of Cards does this brilliantly.

Characters get texts or phone calls and you’re not sure what they were about, but they are explained later. Or someone is in a scene and someone else is watching them but we don’t know who or why.

These breadcrumbs keep us interested, as do asides in a novel or information we don’t know that we need. Just make sure the breadcrumbs amount to something later. This is the concept that, if you show a gun in the first scene, it must be used before the end of the book. Don’t tease readers without following through.

3. Characters are multifaceted. Frank and Claire Underwood are pretty bad people – or are they? We see them doing some bad things, but we also see them in some tender scenes together and we see them thinking about and doing some pretty touching things. That makes them human, and believable. Frank develops a new hobby based on his interest in the Civil War and his family’s history, and some of the pain in Claire’s past is revealed. This pain also shows us more about the relationship between Claire and Frank, which is complex and therefore interesting.

Ruth Rendell, mystery and psychological thriller author, says, “I try, and I think I succeed, in making my readers feel sorry for my psychopaths, because I do.” The House of Cards writers have this figured out too.

4. Symbolism shows. Instead of telling us how Frank feels about his Southern roots, we see a symbolic gesture in what he does with a ring. A pair of cufflinks provides a moment of humor, but also a way to understand the relationship between Frank and another character. A birthday cake and how both Frank and Claire react to it shows more about their relationship.

5. Leave ‘em guessing. Every scene, every chapter, in House of Cards has some tension at the end, something shocking, something unanswered, or some thought that leaves the reader on the edge of her seat. In a novel, even works that are not mystery or suspense, you can end scenes and especially chapters with danglers.

The end of the season included a major plot resolution, but left lots of hanging questions that will – I hope – be resolved next season. I don’t like major cliffhangers at the end of a season or a novel because I think that’s unfair to readers, but a little mystery at the end of a novel is okay – it makes readers want to read the next one but doesn’t torture them for a year or more.


Attending a Writer’s Workshop – What It’s All About

Once we reach a certain age and have been working in some type of responsible position for a few years, we have been to a boatload of workshops, conferences, and seminars. A writer’s workshop is a little different, but not much.

At this point in my fiction writing career, I’ve attended a writer’s conference, Midwest Writer’s Workshop (MWW) last July in Muncie, Indiana, and a workshop, Writer’s in Paradise (WIP) at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

What you will probably experience:

  • A famous or semi-famous or not-so-famous-but-available-and-cheap author talking about how he or she did it and you can too, or about writing in general.
  • Some discussion of craft, either general or specific to genre: good beginnings, how to write a mystery, plotting secrets, etc. The value of the session depends on the value of the presenter.
  • Opportunities to interact with other writers-to-be, of all ages and sizes. Many want to write the next Twilight or 50 Shades. A select few might be good possibilities for an online writer’s group.
  • Sessions on technical stuff like how to get a blog. The two big topics will be “self-publishing – is it evil?” and “writer platform and why the mainstream publishers will make you have one.” In case you missed out on those two topics.
  • Possibly some type of critique of your work, either in a small group discussion setting or one-on-one.
  • Networking and connection to editors or agents. MWW included a pitch session with an agent; WIP had no explicit time to connect with a specific agent, but lots of opportunity to network.

Writer’s Workshop vs. Writer’s Conference
In my opinion, at a writer’s conference people go to presentations, whereas a workshop is a place where you can get a more intensive discussion of your work. But don’t go by titles. The MWW is mostly a conference. There is a keynote speaker (usually a semi-famous author), craft sessions, and technical sessions. WIP focuses more on small group discussions of manuscripts (25 pages) and you must apply to be considered (I’m not sure how many are turned down).

Exclusive or not?

Some conferences or workshops are very exclusive, with a vetting process that includes a submission of work. WIP required a manuscript submission (25 pages) to be accepted. Others, like MWW, are pretty much for everyone, up to a point of turning away people if they reach a maximum capacity.

Where you go and what you do depends on what you want and where you are in your writing career. You may also want a residency or retreat (you hibernate and write) or a festival (like a book festival).

Here are some places to get more information about writer’s workshops and conferences in 2014. I looked in all three, because some might not be listed in all places: Writing Conferences and Festivals

Association of Writers and Publishers – Directory of Conferences and Seminars

Poets and Writers Conferences and Residencies Database


Writing and Researching, or Research as Procrastination

I have a confession to make – I would rather do research than write. I love doing research, have always loved it. But I HATE writing. Well, to be specific, I hate starting to write. Once I get going, I’m fine and some days I write all day. But I find a million ways to procrastinate and researching is one of my favorites.

Research also includes net surfing. We all do it – we go off on research trails to find answers and we discover many more topics of interest that we need to follow. Sometimes this is great and it can result in some wonderful discoveries. But when it eats into writing time, it’s not.

My second confession: I would rather write non-fiction than fiction. I’ve been writing non-fiction (how-to books for people starting businesses) for almost 30 years, so it comes easily to me. I’m new at fiction, so it doesn’t. It’s painful.

Michael Connelly says, “I’m always writing one project while I’m researching the next one.” That’s what I do, but I find it difficult to stop researching and start writing. (Read more about how Michael Connelly – bestselling author of the Harry Bosch/Mickey Haller novels – writes, in this article in The Daily Beast.)

Back in the late 1990s, when I was working on my PhD, I had to do a series of papers (about 100-150 pages each), with lots of research. I developed a good working process: I would do research, search for books, write notes for a while on the subject-at-hand, then I would sit down over my breaks (I was teaching at a college that had semester breaks) and write like crazy for days/weeks until the paper was done. I usually had the research for at least one, maybe two, future papers in progress, so I could get going on the next one right away.

I prefer to write in concentrated chunks of time, rather than a little every day, for my novels.But I still need to develop the habit of writing something fiction every day, even if it’s just junk.

What I have discovered is that the act of writing increases creativity. The “just do it” philosophy is true, because “doing it” makes your brain work better and you find yourself being creative. Write-to-Done says any kind of writing, including journaling or “data dump” kinds of writing can boost creativity.

If you want help with your addiction to research or your procrastination habit, check out the Procrastiwriter, Shanan writes “Motivation Monday” articles, like this one: “Stop Explaining Everything.” Nicely said.

Sure, research can give you ideas, but only writing takes those ideas and makes them concrete – and sellable.


New Ways Authors Will Publish in 2014 – and Beyond

A recent article in FastCompany discusses a new model for buying books and offers some comments on the way we read books and how writers may present their material differently in the future.

The new buying model: The FastCompany article describes the genesis of this new model:

Smashwords, the largest distributor of self-published e-books, announced a new deal with Scribd, the document-sharing platform that has reinvented itself as an e-reading service, including an $8.99 all-you-can-read plan

Readers will be able to choose from over 200,000 titles*. The publishers get paid  based on how much of the book is actually read. The first 10% of the book is available as a free sample; if 30% is read, the publisher gets credit as if the entire book has been read. If the reader reads less than 30% of the book, the publisher gets a “browse” credit (somewhat less than full credit). The typical credit, by the way, is 60% of sales price.

*I have reviewed the titles available, both on Smashwords and Scribd, and been disappointed. The kinds of books I’m looking for – history, biography, science – are just not available through these services. Nor are most of the bestsellers I would like to read. But as this concept grows, there may be more.

The comment was made that authors might be tempted to write shorter works or break up their novels into “collections,” to get more credit. Interesting comment.

I do think fiction books are getting shorter. People have less tolerance for longer, more difficult-to-read novels. Case in point: The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates. I reviewed this book in 2013 and thought it was brilliant. I was surprised at the many negative comments about the length (688 pages) and the style (old-fashioned).

Would I cut a book into sections to get more money? No, but I might consider serializing. Serializing was a common practice for many years. Dickens did it, and many TV shows (Downton Abbey) do it. And blogs are, in some cases, serializations. (Case in point: ReadyNutrition’s 50 Weeks to Preparedness)

How about subscriptions? Scribd is a subscription service; you pay a monthly fee and receive as many books as you want; it’s similar to the Netflix concept.

The FastCompany article discusses serialization by subscription. Like a health club, readers might be interested in subscribing to a book’s serialization. Entrepreneur says subscriptions are the hot ecommerce trend for 2014, everything from food to Adobe Photoshop (now called Adobe Creative Cloud).

One of the novels I’m working on, Bridget Larkin’s Journey, follows a woman on her adventure on the Oregon Trail.  It would be easy to serialize this book. And my business book The Thriving Writer, will be a subscription service soon.

Do these ideas get you thinking differently?

Help Me Select a Book Cover


Blue stone pile = cover 1 / Orange with stepping stones = cover 2 / blue & orange with light bulb splash = cover 3

I’ve been reading about the importance of having a professionally designed book. Since I am working on both a non-fiction book and a novel, I decided I needed to begin working on covers for both books. I have a designer I’ve worked with in the past, so I asked her to do some possibilities for the non-fiction book. The book, The Thriving Writer -  Business Essentials for Professional Writers. It’s  full of helpful information and tips for professional writers – of non-fiction and fiction.  I wanted to portray success, but not in the traditional terms of $$ and green. Heather (the designer) says orange=success and blue=ease, relaxed approach.

Which cover do you like best? Please comment with the number of the cover you like best – Cover 1, Cover 2, or Cover 3. If you want to tell me why you like one best, that would be helpful.

Why it’s important to have a great cover: You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Whether your book is an e-book or in print (online or in a bookstore), you are competing with thousands of other books. There must be something about your book cover to GRAB readers and make them want to pick up the book (or click on the link) to see what’s inside or to buy it.

A recent New York Times article comments on the “decline” of the book cover with e-books gaining in prominence, but notes, ““It’s a way of drawing people through the visual into reading.”

Colleen Gleason, writing in Jane Friedman’s blog, describes her experience with changing her book cover to interest a different audience – and increase sales.

And I especially enjoyed reading this New Yorker article about “The Decline of the Book Cover,” with its great old Sci-Fi covers (Heinlein, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Phillip K. Dick). The covers make me want to read these books all over again.





Why I Don’t Trust My Kindle – And Why I’m Keeping My Library

I’m always amused to find books about getting away from technology that are available on Kindle. “Disaster survival books on Kindle” sounds like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp. For example, I’m researching information about “preppers” (the new word for survivalists, people who want to prepare for the world coming to an end) for my novel, and I found a cookbook to use in case of a disaster…available on Kindle, of course.

How will the people who buy this book on Kindle use the recipes if there is a disaster?

What’s the first thing that will happen in a disaster? Yep, the Internet and all electricity and Wi-Fi will disappear. You might be able to use your tablet for a little while, until the battery dies, but then what? How will you get these great recipes?

My husband’s nephew and I had a conversation about this over Thanksgiving – how will the disaster come? He thinks it will be a government shutdown, with all the disruptions and many people out of money. I think it will be an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) event, which will destroy “the Grid” (electrical circuits, cell towers, water pumps, cars, everything we depend on in our 21st century environment). The EMP event is a basic premise in my book, and the main character, Audrey Larkin, an “older” woman, must learn how to survive in this post-EMP environment.

In either case, Armageddon won’t be pretty. And it won’t include the ability to find information on a Kindle. Libraries will be shut down – no more card catalogs and no way to access books from online catalogs, and bookstores won’t be able to sell – who wants to buy a book when they are starving?

So…that’s one reason I refuse to get rid of my books. I figure when the disaster hits, whatever it is, and when the power goes out, I will need them. If you want to read about a real disaster,
which only lasted 5 days but was devastating, consider 5 Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. (My Goodreads review). It’s a difficult read, but worth the effort.

I do get rid of novels after reading them (they go to the local library), but I never part with:

  • How-to books, like home medicine, cookbooks, manuals on how to make things. I even have a couple of old Boy Scout field guides. You never know….
  • Classics. They never go out of style and if I want something to read by the light of a candle after the EMP hits, I’d rather read a classic.
  • History and biography. If all the e-books on historical subjects are gone, I want to be able to tell others what happened in the past. I’m particularly fond of American history and the history of World War I. I like the saying “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.”
bookshelves at home

A mess I know, but you get the idea.

The other reason I’m keeping most of my books? I love looking at them on the shelves.

Why I Need to Concentrate on My Novel – the 90/10 Principle

Rachelle Gardner, agent at Books & Such Literary Management in Santa Rosa, California, has hit it on the head: When asked whether an unpublished novelist (like me) needs a platform she said, yes, but…

Don’t spend to much time trying to build platform yet. Get a head start, yes. Do some blogging and social networking for fun and leisure, so that you’ll know how it works. But I recommend a 90/10 ratio. Spend 90% writing, 10% on platform building.bso iStock_000028917904XSmall

Great advice, Rachelle!

Like everyone, I tend to spend my time doing what is easiest, and what I know best how to do. After being a blogger for over 5 years, I know how to blog, and use social media to promote. I have been blogging as an independent contractor for since 2008, and as an independent blogger, with several different blogs, for almost that long.

Now, I’ve been spending my time blogging, starting on this blog and another that is promoting a non-fiction book. It’s fun, it’s easy, and I can use my blogging and Facebook/Twitter time to procrastinate. That’s the problem. I realize I have my priorities switched around.

I’ve finished my first very, very bad  draft of my first novel, and now that I have a better sense of what I need to do to fix it (read my post on how Storyfix helped me), I need to get going on the second draft.

It’s easy to do. Switch priorities, I mean. It’s not just me. Even when we know what we need to focus on, we get distracted. I call them BSO’s: bright shiny objects. Those distractions that are fun and easy and very, very tempting. But to give in to them means to ignore our main purpose.

My favorite quote of all time, ever:

The life that conquers is the life that moves with a steady resolution and persistence toward a predetermined goal. Those who succeed are those who have thoroughly learned the immense importance of planning in life, and the tragic brevity of time.   (W.J. Davison)


I won’t be blogging as much. That’s a promise to myself. Just letting you know. I’ll get back to you in a month or so and let you know how this works out.

Just as a final note: In the time it took me to read Rachelle’s post, write this, find and include an image, I could have written about 500 words of my novel. Sobering thought.

I’m off on my 90% writing adventure!


Plotting My Novel – A Faint Glimmer of Light at the End of the Tunnel

Plotting a novel is, I’m finding, a tremendously difficult task. Having help with this process is essential.Light at the end of Tunnel

I finished the first draft of my novel at the end of August, put it aside for a couple of weeks, then read through it. I knew it wasn’t working; I wasn’t compelled to keep reading, so I knew my readers wouldn’t be.

Then, I found a great resource that has given me a little glimmer of the light at the end of the long dark tunnel of plotting: It’s Storyfix, by Larry Brooks.

I paid $150 and received an outline with questions from Larry about the specific elements of my plot and characters, the protagonist and antagonist, the premise and dramatic concept. I also submitted a step-by-step outline of the book. Larry replied with detailed comments about what was good about the elements of my plot (not much) and what wasn’t going to work. He did this in the context of what would get readers invested in my story and rooting for my hero. I agreed with his analysis; I knew there were major problems with my plot but I couldn’t see them.

Now I’m in the process of working on my second draft, making my book more intense, making my protagonist more heroic, making the reader not want to put the book down. Sure I have a lot more issues to work through, but I can see a glimmer of light at the end of the plot tunnel and I know that there will be more light as I move forward.

You will probably say that I could have received this advice free, from a writing group, but I don’t believe that. First, I am sure that you get what you pay for. Larry is a professional. He does this all the time, and I paid him, so I expect something good. He delivered.

Second, other writers have an agenda, hidden or obvious, and they have personal reactions, not professional ones. They also don’t have the experience with plotting (maybe it’s why they haven’t been published yet!). I would rather pay one professional for advice than get it from a bunch of amateurs who may or may not know what they’re doing. Would you get a bunch of your friends together and ask for their advice on your psychological or medical problems?

If this sounds like a recommendation for Storyfix, it is, but only in part. My larger purpose in writing this is to encourage new fiction writers to get some professional advice, particularly on plotting. If you are serious about getting published, you must get advice in the developmental stage of your book.

This isn’t an editor I’m talking about; an editor looks at your book as it is closer to being completed, to help you tweak it. At this stage, you are so invested in the plot that it will be difficult for you to start from scratch or to take criticism about major plot elements. (I may be misunderstanding the role of an editor; if so, I’m sure I’ll hear from some of them to set me straight.)

At the developmental stage, you could get feedback from a professional writing coach, or a writing class, or paying a professional to give you feedback, as I did. If you want help with plotting, I would suggest getting one-on-one time with a professional, not just a quick read at a conference. Conference reads are good for other things, but they are not in-depth enough to analyze plot.

I also received excellent information on story structure and other elements of the novel from reading Larry’s two books: Story Engineering and Story Physics. If you are the type of writer who needs to work on structure first before you write, you might find these books helpful. (If you are a “seat of the pants” organic writer, you might be frustrated by this type of advice.)

I would be interested to know your thoughts on the subject of professional advice: what helped you, what didn’t? Do you use a writer’s group? If so, how helpful are they?