Description Writing Challenge

bloom blooming blossom blur

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Before we could talk too much about description and imagery, we had to have descriptions to pull from. Writing Excuses’ Mary Robinette Kowal had a great prompt, that, while sometimes infuriating, is an absolute must for any writer to try.

The campers were taken to a garden on campus, and had to write a description of our setting for thirty minutes non-stop. Pens moving across the page the entire time. The first five to ten minutes are pretty easy, but after that, you need to dig deep, expand your senses, and really get creative.

It’s a fantastic exercise that feels a little like running. It’s not so bad when you start, then halfway through you hit this moment of “I’ve got nothing left,” but when you push through it, you hit your stride and discover an entirely new layer to describing things.

I would recommend any writers take the time to do this for each setting their manuscript or short features, because it will give you vibrant, less obvious descriptions to pull from throughout your story.

In all seriousness, give it a try.

Murder Mysteries

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to edit

According to Sean Coyne in The Story Grid, the core value in a story set within a crime genre is justice vs. injustice with the core event being the exposure of a criminal. The inciting incident is generally some unjust occurrence that throws the protagonist out of his or her comfort zone and on a path to restore justice. There are several different categories within the crime genre.

The most famous is the murder mystery. It is in fact so predominant that it gets subgenres of its very own.The inciting incident is nearly always a dead body and the story often concludes with the reveal of the murderer. (If the murderer is known to the audience it moves more into thriller category than mystery). Conventions of the genre include red herrings, interviews with characters who have their own secrets and agendas, a slow reveal of clues, and a demonstration at the end of how the clues fit together. Within the murder mystery are even more sub genres.

The Master Detective- Think Sherlock Holmes. It’s pretty much the trope setter. Well… it might as well be.

Cozy Mystery- A non-detective with skills in seemingly unrelated areas (like writing novels, for instance) finds their skills and experiences make them surprisingly and uniquely qualified to solve the case. A good example of this is Aphrodite where I more than dabbled with the cozy mystery sub genre within my paranormal romance.

The Cat Mystery- Cats solve crimes. Enough said. Diane Duane has a great series set in the same universe as the Young Wizards Series that pulls in this sub genre perfectly in The Book of Night with Moon and To Visit the Queen.

Historical Murder Mystery- A mystery set in a historical time period or featuring a historical figure. But Kaitlin, you might be saying, wouldn’t it have to be set in a historical period if it featured a historical figure? To which I say Sleepy Hollow.

Noir– Noir is as much a style as it is a genre. It features hardboiled detectives and/or lawyers and/or vigilantes, lots of dark backgrounds (though the reverse has been done successfully), femme fatales. It’s often told in flashback “(There I was, sitting in my office, when a dame walked in. She was trouble.”

I actually took a class on Noir Fiction in College for my Topics in American Literature elective, it was fun. My favorite was the one about a guy who goes to a police station to report a murder. Who’s the victim, they asked. “Me,” he replied. He’d been poisoned and the rest of the movie was him telling them who-done-it. Batman is stylized after Noir mysteries, and a lot of popular TV shows have done at least an episode in the Noir style.

 Paranormal- This is really more a cross-genre between paranormal (often romance)  fiction and crime fiction. It can crossover with any of the above categories and magic users of some kind. The Hollows Series by Kim Harrison is one example of just straight paranormal romance mixed with crime fiction. There’s also a lot of historical fantasy crime fiction that sets magical people back in time solving mysteries (to some degree, the His Infernal Devices fits into this). Paranormal pairs well with everything.

Police Procedural- This is your Law and Order/CSI/Dexter type stuff. This one also pairs well with paranormal.

Writing Excuses Master Class


Season ten of Writing Excuses introduces an entirely new format. Instead of doing 15 minute episodes, each focusing on a different topic, they decided to string the topics together. So while still fifteen minutes long, they took listeners through the entire process of creating a story start to finish. My favorite part about this change was that the writing prompts began to build on each other, which made them way more useful.

There were still wild card episodes with special guests that were one-off topics. I’m glad, because while I’m never going to not take advantage of the opportunity to get amazing advice from writers like Brandon Sanderson, I’m not new at crafting stories. Brainstorming techniques are fantastic, but I’m under deadlines for books I’ve already brainstormed, plotted, and started. To me the very best bits of writing excuses are the things that I can use to build on to my existing story in a revision pass.

But the podcast wasn’t created just for me. As the season progressed into character development and world building. I really liked their podcast on the magical 1% (chosen ones in an otherwise less magical society).

This is probably the best season to start with for new writers. If you listen on your computer, the liner notes have links to any of the podcasts they’ve covered in a similar vein, so you can catch up on the last nine seasons with a focused direction.

Here’s the link to season ten, I hope you enjoy it!

Pitching in Brief


My favorite episode in season seven of writing excuses was an episode on YA Contemporary Fiction. The information on YA was nice,but what I really got out of that episode was the way she pitches. It’s awesome. I’d describe it, but it’s better just to listen.

Another cool thing that I was exposed to this season were The Pixar Rules of Storytelling. Check them out. There was also a fantastic episode on figuring out what comes next in the story. The best thing I got out of it was to ask does what your character need to happen next to accomplish their goal happen, and then put it in this format.

Yes, but….

No, and…

I was trying to come up with examples for this, but I found a better one on this post.

Inigo Montoya wants to kill the six-fingered man.

Through many trials, he enters the castle.

Does he find the six-fingered man?

Yes, but four guards get in the way.

Does he defeat the guards?

Yes, but the six-fingered man runs away.

Inigo gives chase! Does he catch up?

No, and the six-fingered man has barred the door.

Fezzik busts the door and Inigio runs through. Does he catch up?

Yes, but he gets a throwing knife in the gut.

Can he regain his feet and continue?

Yes, but the six-fingered man has a sword at the ready.

Can Inigo defend himself?

Yes, but he gets stabbed in each shoulder.

The six-fingered man bargains for his life. Does Inigo overcome the temptation?

Yes, and he achieves his goal.

What ever the goal is, “yes, but / no, and” is a reminder to you to not allow it to be easy. Make things worse, and the journey will be more exciting, and the payoff sweeter in the end.

Writing on Vacation


November is the worst possible month for Nanowrimo. Sorry, it’s the truth. Thanksgiving chaos, vacations, kids out of school. Plus for kids in school the semester is wrapping up so there’s that to deal with.

But as a professional writer, every month is Nanowrimo, so I had to learn to write on vacation without actually missing out on the vacation or my family.

For me that means squeezing writing in during down time. Between all the hustle and bustle and busy places. Morning is great too. People are tired, shuffling around, drinking coffee. It’s a socially acceptable time to be anti-social. I can squeeze at least an hour in. Which isn’t much in terms of writing time, but that’s the other thing about vacations. Daily expectations must shift to something realistic. If I get anything done, that’s a win. I’ve found I actually get more done when I take the laid back approach of not caring about word count goals during vacation than if I plug away until I reach a certain number. During the rest of the year, it’s the opposite, but if I do that on vacation, then it’s almost a guarantee that I won’t be able to use a word of what I wrote past what should have been my stopping point.

When do you get your writing in during vacation?

The M.I.C.E Quotient


My second favorite episode of Writing Excuses for all time was season six, episode ten, when they talked about the M.I.C.E Quotient.

The M.I.C.E Quotient was created by Orson Scott Card. M.I.C.E stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Millieu is setting, so basically if your story revolves around a fantastic, neat, or meaningful setting, it may be a Millieu story. Stories like The Hobbit, or Chronicles of Narnia fit into that category. An Idea story revolves around a unique idea, something like Animal Farm or Brave New World would be an idea story in my opinion. The unique *thing* happening in the book outweighs everything else. Character is obvious. Event stories are stories where the thing that’s happening outweighs all. Like a volcano erupting.

While all stories have setting, character, ideas, and events, there’s a difference between having those elements and those elements being the defining trait of the story. A short story may focus on just one of the aspects, possibly two. A novel will have three or four, but in determining the focus, Mary suggested looking at it like nesting code or an equation. If your setting is ( the equation needs to end with ) and everything else needs to nest and resolve in-between. So if your story begins with your character stepping through  magical portal to a new world, it needs to end with them stepping back into the ordinary world. Everything else needs to be introduced and resolved inside those brackets in the order they were introduced.

It’s a really interesting way of looking at story building! Have a listen here or read the transcript here.


Story Bibles


In season five of Writing Excuses, my favorite episode focused on Story Bibles (though they had a lot of great episodes on POV as well).

Story Bibles are a document, a wiki, or some other webpage or something you have that help you keep up with your universe. I use scrivener to some degree for this, but I’m toying with the idea of creating a wiki for the Persephone Universe where I go through the real life connections of the myth, the powers and how they work in my universe, the characters, and the rules. In fact, right now I’m writing a blog post that will link to all the existing content I have on all of that in my blog.

That’ll be the public equivalent of my story bible. Eventually, I may post the private one. The scrivener character profiles that go into all the development of each character in each story. The plot summary for that story. The layout of different places in that story, and the rules of the universe in that story.

The biggest reason I haven’t made the jump and created an actual wiki for the Persephone universe is because right now, I have everything I need in scrivener, so anything I do in wiki will just basically be me procrastinating on writing the next book. I don’t want to get world-builders disease (where you use world building to procrastinate actual writing). But I also don’t need to do that much because Persephone is basically set in our world. It’s an alternate reality of our world, but it’s not very far alternate. If I need to remember something about the setting, I can visit it. If I need to know how long it takes to get port to port in Aphrodite’s cruise ship, I can google it. I know my rules well enough to avoid getting tangled in them (gods can’t lie, charm isn’t forever, glamours work like x). But my magic system is fairly simplistic because my characters are actual gods. I don’t have to worry much about god complexes, because if any creature deserved to have one, it would be the ones who created the world.

But if I were to write a new story, set somewhere else with different rules, a story bible would be a must. So this podcast gave me a lot of great tips on creating one.

You can listen to it here or read the transcript here.

Writing on Wednesday: Author Appearances

This summer, I finally dipped my toe into the wonderful world of author appearances. I spoke on a panel at Jordan Con, went to a local author event at my local library, and participated in B-Fest at Barnes and Noble. I’ve got to say, it’s kind of addictive. I’ve been on the lookout for author events ever since. Here’s a brief summary of each one.


I didn’t plan for this to be an author appearance. I went for Brandon Sanderson and a pitch panel. But while I was there I noticed a local author panel on the agenda, and asked the coordinator how I might get involved in the future. To my surprise, she invited me to participate that day. Fortunately, I had my books on hand (I’ve learned to always keep a box in my trunk, you’d really be surprised how often it’s come in handy).

It was a small gathering of people, but they had great questions (mostly about the publishing process), and I met a fantastic author named Michael J Allen (check out his books here) and a few other people from my hometown, Columbus Georgia, which was a nice surprise (Jordan Con was in Atlanta).

All in all, this was the perfect panel to break the ice with this whole in person thing. I didn’t have time to get nervous, there weren’t a lot of people so it was really more conversational than speechish, and I met some great people. I’ve already talked to them about going back next year.


My library held an ice cream social meet and greet for people to meet local authors. This was a bit more crowded. There were four authors, counting myself, so people would go table to table, eating ice cream and talking. Again, most of the questions were on writing in general, but that’s fine. I can talk about writing all day. Plus I sold a few books, met some great local authors (Grady Thrasher, an amazing children’s writer who really hit it off with my daughter, Erica Jantzen, a super friendly writer of women’s fiction, and the amazing Phyl Campbell, an incredibly prolific writer who I convinced to join my writers’ group.) I sold a few books and got my books into more library branches here, made some author friends, and met some teenaged writers who are seriously going places.


I’m glad I had some events under my belt before I went to this, because I had a better idea of what to expect. This was my first official signing, but mostly it was an author talk. I didn’t have the safety net of other authors this time, it was just me, the amazing staff at Barnes and Noble, and ten teenage girls all dressed up for the Selection Prom (the event prior to mine). I’d met one of the girls before. She was a fan who’d reached out to me via my daughter’s gymnastics coach, so we’d grabbed coffee and I signed her books. I was so glad she was there because she always has great questions and great book recommendations. But I shouldn’t have been nervous, because the other girls were all just as excited about reading. This time instead of talking about the publishing and writing process, we just talked about books. My books, other books on Greek mythology, and then YA books and trends in general. I can talk about books all day.

I sold and signed a ton of books, and I got my books on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, so that was pretty awesome.

Biggest Takeaways

In person events are great. I really enjoyed meeting readers and writers, no matter what side of the table they were on. The biggest benefit I got out of these events was having done the events, if that makes sense. Author signings and appearances were this kind of nebulous thing always floating around inside my head. I worried about what would happen if no one came, if I didn’t have anything to talk about, or just being in front of a crowd in general. But those concerns were ill-founded. My audience is young adults. I’ve taught in a classroom full of teenagers held against their will until the bell rang. In comparison, chatting with teens who are willingly hanging out because they’re excited about reading is a cake walk (not to mention a thousand times more fun). I learned that a small turn out isn’t a bad thing, it gives you the opportunity to really get to know the people who did come. As for being nervous about running out of stuff to talk about, my books, books in general, and writing are endless sources of conversation for me, so that was a silly concern.

I can’t wait to find more events.


Writing on Wednesday: The Snowflake Step 7


Step seven of the snowflake method cycles back to characters and create full fledged character charts for each character. I actually flip-flopped this step and step five when I snowflake. I did the charts first, then did the one-page synopsis of their version of events. But that’s just me.

There are a ton of character charts you can download to give templates. The important things to remember to include history, motivation,  goal, and how the character will change by the end of the novel. Some of those you should have from step three, but this is your chance to expand. All the appearance stuff is going to vary based on the author. You can get as in depth or shallow as you like. I tend to hit hair, eye, and skin color, build, and distinguishing features. I also do habits, mannerism, and personality. These descriptors help me to say consistent and help me see the character.

Here’s an example of a character chart from the third book in the Aphrodite trilogy. I’m leaving off the history, motivation, ect to avoid spoilers. Those would be in paragraph form.


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Rocking on her feet, pushing her hair behind her ears, biting her lip, twirling
Hades, her friends, doctor who, anime, plant life. She doesn’t like horror movies,
getting sweaty, getting talked down to, or being in the dark.

The main template comes from Belinda Crawford here:

I made some adjustments to the character sheet, which you can check out here. Character Sketch




The Belly of the Whale

This is without a doubt the most powerful moment in the hero cycle. Also called the dark night of the soul or “the sad part,” this is where the hero, previous victorious over the trials and at a peak in confidence gets slammed down into reality, most often by a combination of a show of strength from the big bad and a crippling character flaw that can no longer be ignored. They sink into the darkness, confront it, and emerge stronger. It is the moment a hero becomes a hero. See, the bad guys go through a hero cycle to, somewhere in their backstory. And their belly of the whale moment is one they never overcame. They sank and kept on sinking. Example: The ending of Episode 3 of Star Wars was Anakin’s belly of the whale. Had he confronted his flaws, embraced them as strengths, and emerged, humble, but stronger, it would have been an entirely different universe.

The most powerful example of this for heroes I’ve seen in a long time is in Inside Out when Joy ends up in the memory dump.

I’ve already talked about how amazing this scene was at length, so I’ll shut up about it now. But there are a lot of other great examples. In Lilo and Stitch it’s the “I’m Lost” moment, in The Croods it’s the Cave Scene, In Finding Nemo, the Belly of the Whale moment happens in a whale.

Actually, let’s talk about Pixar in general. Remember how I said the villain is a would be hero who failed their darkest night of the soul? Pixar often plays with this idea by making, not deeply empathetic villains, but delayed heroes. Marlin goes through a belly of the whale moment when he loses his wife and all the other eggs. Arguably the entire movie from the end of the opening montage on is him crawling out of the abyss and becoming stronger for it. Ditto for Carl in Up. They still get a full hero’s journey once they receive their second call to adventure, but what we witness in the first few minutes of those movies is where their first journey ended abruptly in a pit of despair, leaving them unfinished as characters. It’s a brilliant writing trick that Pixar executed flawlessly.