A Writer’s Day


Despite many lofty promises, my writing day rarely is super-efficient.  I always manage to write my 15-20 pages, but the journey is never as smooth as I hoped.

6:00 a.m.                Rise/Coffee/Let the dogs out

6:30  a.m.               Head to the gym, shower

8:00 a.m.                Read email.  Check daily horoscope, weekly horoscope and reread monthly horoscope to see if any of it has come true.   Make sure my miniature dachshund is in her chair by the fireplace (so she doesn’t whine).   Feed the cat for the third time (she’s 15 and forgets she’s just eaten).   Read more email.  Quick check of Facebook.  Let my dog Buddy outside.  And then let him back inside.  Read a little research.

9:30 a.m.              Write 3 pages

10:15 a.m.            Repeat 8 a.m. schedule

11:15 a.m.            Write four more pages.

12 noon                Eat Lunch

1:00 p.m.             Feed the cat again and give Bella and Buddy chew sticks so I can make the final push to finish the afternoon pages.  Bella gets the big chew stick and Buddy gets two small ones (he hides the first in the backyard and then finally settles to eat the second)

1:00 p.m.           Start a spaghetti sauce for dinner (or put a chicken into the oven to roast)

1:30 p.m.        Burst of energy to finish the last thirteen pages.  (My children are in college but I still can’t help but forget the elementary school bus arrives at 2:35 and I feel a need to be finished by then)

4:00 p.m.        Finish up.  Walk the dogs.

After dinner is research time.  This is when I read the pile of nonfiction books by my desk.


Adding Suspense to Your Novel


You ever wondered how mystery/suspense/thriller writers create suspense in a novel?  It doesn’t happen by accident.  In fact, there are some tried and true techniques that you can use to punch up the suspense in your story.

Set the Stakes.  I almost always open with a prologue that not only introduces a likable character but also a dangerous killer.  Almost on page one I show the reader the killer’s capacity for violence, so that the reader knows the detective is up against a threatening foe.  Even if you opt not to write a prologue show the reader quickly what’s at stake.

In THE SEVENTH VICTIM the heroine narrowly escapes death in the prologue.

Setting.  I always consider the book’s setting a character.  I think about not only the novel’s location but also the time of year and the weather conditions.  What if your detective is working a crime scene in the middle of the hottest summer on record and thunderclouds loom?  What if the scene is set during a frigid cold snap in an accessible area on the banks of a wind-swept river?  Take time to craft your setting and you’ll not only put pressure on the characters but also kick up the novel’s suspense.

I’M WATCHING YOU is set in July. It’s 105 degrees and a thunderstorm threatens. In DEAD RINGER the cold was the enemy.

Pacing.   How fast or slow you move the story controls the suspense.  I like to begin my novels about 30 seconds before trouble begins.  I don’t spend a lot of time initially on back-story or the events leading up to the book’s opening.  I might take a moment to offer a glimpse into the character’s normal world but very quickly trouble arrives.  There are times when you can slow the pace.  In romantic suspense, I often use the less frenetic times to develop the romance.   This also gives your reader a chance to breathe—a little.   But as the book progress, especially the last 20{2bc7e4e23428b05b0f692f1ddf5d723165e7c1faee94cc402238e96593bfbeaa}, the pace again picks up.

I rewrote the opening of DYING SCREAM nine times. Initially I started with too much back-story that had to be cut. In the end, the story starts less than a minute before the first threat appears.

False Clues.  In real life, the police shift through genuine and false clues so I force my fictional detective to do the same.  Not only do the detectives (and the reader) have lots of forensics to process, but they also might have many characters to interview.  Nothing like a misleading bit of evidence or a character that lies to keep everyone guessing and the suspense high.  Don’t forget to put in the real clues.  Your reader needs to be able to go back and flip through the pages and find what they missed.

I dropped more than a few false clues in SENSELESS. All lead to a big reveal on the last pages of the book.

Mini-Mysteries.  Not all the story questions have to be big to keep the reader turning the page.  Who’s on the other side of the door?  What’s inside the box?  What happened to the woman living at the end of the road thirty years ago?  These might be small questions that can’t sustain a story but they are still interesting enough to keep the reader reading.  Make sure you answer all those questions because you’ll frustrate your reader if you don’t.

Character Flaw.  Find out what your character is most afraid of and then use it against them.  If your hero is afraid of heights, send him up a tall rickety ladder to retrieve a clue.  If she’s afraid of snakes, put her in room full of snakes.  If the hero or heroine is on edge, the suspense will be higher.  Remember a character flaw is a belief or fear that is holding back your character.

From the very beginning of BEFORE SHE DIES I hint that my heroine has a big secret. I was careful not to reveal it to the very end.

Ticking Clock.  All my chapters are date-stamped because I want the reader to know that from the first page we are on the clock to catch a killer.  I also keep the time frame of the book short.  My books rarely span more than a couple of weeks because again, I want to maintain pressure on the detectives and the reader flipping through the pages to the end of the book.

Writing One Draft At A Time

Thought I’d share my process of writing.  I made a quick video and posted it.  I’ve also written out the steps I outlined in the video.  (In the video, I managed to reference two draft 3s but I mean drafts 3 and 4.)


Writing or editing a novel can be overwhelming. However, breaking down the process into steps or drafts not only cuts down on stress, but also produces a better product.

The First Draft/The Sloppy Copy:  Armed with a synopsis, set a daily page goal and start writing.  At this stage, no editing allowed.  If a scene comes to you out of order, write it.  The First Draft is all about getting the story down.

The Second Draft/A Sound Structure:  Start smoothing the story’s structure.  Make sure the scenes flow and are in order.  Don’t bother with real word crafting at this stage.  Start a running list of characters, time stamp each scene and record number of pages per chapter.

Third Draft/Fine-Tuning:  Focus not only what is said, but also how it is said.   Identify and clearly define story themes and character motivations.   Does each scene and chapter end with a page-turner? 

Fourth Draft/Polishing:  Really perfect sentences.  Weed out weak words, eliminate passive voice, use literary devices, and search for clichés.  See back for detailed tips.

Fifth Draft/THE BIG READ:  Print the book out, put it in a binder and read it.  You’ll be amazed what you notice on the printed page versus the computer scene.

Sixth Draft/Proof Read: Read the book out loud, have your computer read the book back to you, or reprint the book and give it to another reader.

 Perfecting Your Sentences Checklist

 1.  Weed out weak words such as:


















‘ly’ words

2.  Rework passive verbs such as:








To Be

3.  Dust off those literary devices and see if add a few alliterations or simile

4.  Search for clichés

5.  Make sure not only the first word of a sentence is strong but also the last word.

Chatting with Chesapeake Romance Writers

I was down in Chesapeake, Virginia this past Saturday speaking to the Chesapeake Romance Writers about Dialogue.  Had a great time and really enjoyed the group.   Thought I’d share a few tips from my talk.

Know Your Character. Character is the center of all my stories and everything, including dialogue, grows from it.   Does your character have a southern accent?  Does he speak with stutter?  Are his sentences short and clipped or long and meandering?  The answer lies in character.

SAID is not a four-letter word. Many new writers try to avoid said when in fact it is a very effective word.  Not only does it tag or denote which character is speaking but it is nearly invisible to the reader.

Avoid the Data download.   Dialogue can be a great way to reveal back-story but the trick is not to load the reader up with a lot of information all at once.

Don’t Think So Much. Often new writers spend a lot of time with a character’s internal dialogue.  Though it can be effective times, it can also slow down pacing.  If your scene feels slow, have your characters speak their minds and see what happens.

Read Aloud.  Not sure if your dialogue is working, then read it aloud.  I have my computer read back all my books to me.  It’s amazing what looks good on a page falls flat when heard out loud.

P.O.V. Switch.  Scene feeling flat?  Change the P.O.V.  You’ll be amazed how it changes not only the dialogue but the whole mood of the scene.  Who’s P.O.V. should you choose?  I always choose the character with the most at stake.

Silence is Golden.  Sometimes it’s better not to say too much.  Let white space or a character’s silence do the talking.

A few of the attendees at Chesapeake Romance Writers September 2010 meeting.

Collage It!

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?  It’s a question every writer has heard.  And the honest answer is that I’m not so sure.  But I can tell you that the plotting process begins in my subconscious long before I sit down at the computer.  Inevitably, I’m flipping through a magazine, glancing at the ads and articles and before I know it there are images from the magazine that just connect to characters buried in my imagination.  I can’t tell you why an image fits a character only that it does.  Over the years I’ve learned to trust the muse, rip out the pictures, paste them on a board and keep all the pictures close to my desk.

Little did I know that many writers do this.  Called collaging it is an effective way to begin building story characters. I spoke to my writer/artist friend Elizabeth Holcombe who has taught seminars on collaging for writers. What does Elizabeth advise?

1.  Tear out magazine images without thinking too much. Just tear out things that appeal to you. Go quickly. Sort through them later.

2.  Lay out your images, overlapping them, cutting them, tearing them for rough edges, and look to see common ground in them. Do they relate to one another in some way?

3.  Paste or tape images onto poster board, loosely putting them in groups (hero, heroine, setting, emotions–yes, some images may just evoke emotions). If you’ve done this without laboring over the process, freeing your mind, you will be happily surprised at what comes from your creative visual chaos.

Elizabeth has created some great works of collage art.  I can’t claim the same.  But I’ve come to love collaging and now can’t pick up a magazine without looking for characters.  So if you’re stuck, looking for inspiration, or just want to have fun, grab a stack of magazines and start ripping.

Want more info on collaging? Visit Elizabeth Holcombe’s blog at http://elizabethholcombe.typepad.com/elizabeth_holcombe_whimsi/2007/03/altered_book_ar.html.


This is the collage board for I’M WATCHING YOU, DEAD RINGER, and Christmas Past in the SILVER BELLS anthology.

This is the collage board for I’M WATCHING YOU, DEAD RINGER, and "Christmas Past" in the SILVER BELLS anthology.