Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Action, Pacing & Dialog

Hello again, and welcome to segment 5 of the “Ask the Authors” blog series. This Saturday series features introductions to each contributing author and excerpts from the Q & As featured in the newly released Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology.

If you missed any of the earlier segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-Writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session

This week’s segment features an introduction to contributing author Mario Acevedo and a Q & A on action, pacing, and dialog.

Meet Mario Acevedo

Mario Acevedo is a national bestselling author of speculative fiction and has won an International Latino Book Award and a Colorado Book Award. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies to include A Fistful of Dinosaurs, Straight Outta Deadwood, and Blood Business. For 2020, he has short fiction in the forthcoming anthologies, Psi-Wars and It Came From The Multiplex, and a Western novel, Luther, Wyoming. Mario serves on the faculty of the Regis University Mile-High MFA program and Lighthouse Writers Workshops. Mario has also been a presenter and panel member for both the 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference, and the 2021 New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference.

And now, on to the Q & A.

Action, Pacing & Dialog

Do you have any tips for writing action scenes/fight scenes/car chases, where blow by blow descriptions could get tedious?

Mario Acevedo: Summarize. Only share the high points and include internalizations. Also add details that are often overlooked like nausea, panic, pain, exhaustion.

Paul Kane: I grew up watching a lot of action movies and TV shows, the ’70s and ’80s were a golden age for action as far as I’m concerned. So, a lot of that went in without me having to do much. I used to recreate certain action scenes with my toys, or I might race off up the garden with mates to pretend fight. When I wrote the Hooded Man books, I had to have a lot of action in there, so I got very good at not making things boring – there are only so many ways to describe a punch, for example. But the key I found was to visualize the scenes, even play them out – just like I did when I was a kid – so that they become, again, more believable. I was delighted when one of my battle scenes for Broken Arrow was compared favourably to those in The Lord of the Rings movies, especially Helm’s Deep; that’s one of my all-time favourite battles on film, so I did a little happy dance that day. The way to tackle any fight or action scene, whether it’s huge like the ones I’m talking about here, or just one-on-one, is to break it down into its component parts. Ask yourself what you need or want to show. Then do your research, watch a lot of fight sequences, or action scenes, mix and match the moves that are being made. If your character is a master of martial arts, study it. I had a character called Tanek, for example, who was skilled in the Israeli hand-to-hand combat of Krav Maga, so I went out and researched that. Jennifer Garner actually studied that for Alias, so I watched some fight sequences from the show. They used a very particular form of combat for the Batman fight scenes in the Nolan movies called the Keysi Fighting Method, which favours forearms and elbows, so it’s worth trying to find something that’s not been done before perhaps. Or not done very much. Finally, give your fight and action scenes a sense of character, make them like a dance or a ballet. They need to have rhythm, flow, so your reader can easily picture what’s happening. Too much going on at once is a big no-no, because you’ll lose them. Same goes for very dry descriptions of a fight: now this happens, now this, then this… Try and find a way to make your descriptions interesting, maybe comparing them to something, like two animals barging into each other or what have you.

Chris Barili: Know what you’re talking about. It seems obvious, but may writers take it for granted, and end up writing nonsense that loses the reader. For example, I have studied the martial arts most of my life, and I hold a second-degree blackbelt in Karate. Thus, I know that someone trained primarily in Judo or Jiujitsu will be a grappler by preference, while a Karate stylist will be a stand-up striker who looks to avoid going to the ground.

Bobby Nash: It can be difficult to keep fight scenes fresh. I learn the choreography, walk out the fights, play around with different ways to describe the action. How is the character feeling/responding to the action? I wrote a car chase once and showed it from the POV of a passenger in the car instead of the driver. As he’s holding on for his life, we get a sense of the danger that way as opposed to only descriptions of what the car is doing.

Robbie Cheadle: I am writing my second novel involving war which includes fighting scenes. I intersperse the fighting with dialogue, humorous comments, scenes of eating, drinking, and entertainment, and the receipt of letters from family and friends.

You cannot maintain tension at high levels for too long or it becomes monotonous and over-done. In real life, people relieve tension by singing, and making jokes, and talking and I follow this practice in my writing.

Nancy Oswald: Elmore Leonard: “I try to leave out the scenes readers skip.” Ralph Fletcher: “Write small and use slo mo. The more tension you want to create, the more important the details. In general focus on one detail well rather than all the details which can wash out a scene.”

How do you handle scenes where there is a lot going on, like battlefields or fights in busy settings?

Paul Kane: As I say, break it down into smaller chunks. Show the scale of what’s happening by all means, like an establishing shot in a movie, then focus in on certain specific fights and details. These will usually be with your main characters if it’s a big battle – so I would zoom in on a fight Robert, my Robin Hood, might be having with someone. Then cut to maybe Jack, who is my Little John, and see how he’s getting on. You have to give everyone who’s a main character a turn in the sun, plus give the reader memorable moments – like Robert taking down the Apache attack helicopter with a bolas.

Chris Barili: This is a tough one. I have found that choreographing the whole thing on a sketched-out map of the physical surroundings can help, and if that’s not enough, having some friends act out the scene can help you identify errors, misjudgments, and so on.

Bobby Nash: I try to make sure all of the necessary information is relayed. If you have a lot of characters, you have to try and balance who has dialogue or stuff to do so that they don’t disappear from the scene. POV helps here too.

Robbie Cheadle: I keep my sentences fairly short during battle scenes, and I use a lot of dialogue to break up the action.

How do you keep action flowing smoothly within a scene?

Mario Acevedo: Keep the scene and story question in mind so that the action strengthens the plot.

Paul Kane: Just keep it tight, moving from one bit of action to the next. Even in a small fight, if you have a character get punched or kicked, it’s enough to say it just winds them or takes them down – you don’t have to go into lots of detail about how it feels, whether they’re recovering, what’s going through their minds as they’re fighting. Keep it rattling along at a good pace. Sounds stupid, because it’s a fight, but make it punchy.

The use of weaponry is a good way of handing readers little details that help them visualize what’s going on. Everyone knows what a knife or rifle or handgun looks like. Of course, it depends very much on what kind of fiction you’re writing. A lot of my Hooded Man stuff was military based, because of the nature of armies fighting each other, so readers who enjoy that kind of thing like you to include the names of weapons, specifics relating to what they can do. Does a certain gun jam more often than others? Which are best for close combat as opposed to distance? I once wrote a story about an assassin called Mr D, who had to tear through lots of guards to get to his target. That started off with long-range sniper rifles, and ended up with hand-to-hand fighting as he got closer to the building his mark was in.

It’s also fun to write about weaponry that’s totally out of context, for example plates and pans in a kitchen that can be used to fight with. In my novel Lunar, Nick Skinner raids old castles and museums to get swords, shields and axes to fight the monstrous Loons. Similarly, The Storm was set in an old castle so weapons like that were no-brainers, but I do have my main character – who’s there as a workman – fight off a huge crustacean with a mini-digger. It was just what was around and big enough to tackle the oversized beast, but it worked a treat.

Chris Barili: Keep it short. A ten-page car chase will lose a reader like a prologue. 

Bobby Nash: When writing action, I use shorter sentences, short, choppy dialogue, sometimes interrupted dialogue. That reads faster so the reader reads the action scenes faster, highlighting the fast-paced nature of the scene. During an action scene is no time for deep thoughts or anything extraneous. Keep it simple and keep it moving.

Do you consult experts to ensure your action is true to life? How do stories benefit from getting those little details right?

Paul Kane: If you know someone who’s been in the military, or police, or someone who teaches self-defense then definitely use them. Use any friends for anything which requires specialist knowledge. This might be something as everyday as fingerprinting or gathering DNA at a crime scene, say, or if you know a scientist it could be as big as how the universe works. But you don’t necessarily have to go to experts like that these days if you don’t know any, because information is freely available on the net and in books – especially writers’ handbooks. At the same time, talking to experts sometimes throws up interesting scenarios and might take a story in a direction it wouldn’t otherwise have gone.

Bobby Nash: Research can help, sure. Whatever you writer, whether it’s a real-world fight or two super-powered characters battling, you have to write it as though it’s real. If you believe it, the reader will believe it.

Robbie Cheadle: I read a lot of non-fiction to gain knowledge about the subjects of my historical novels. To get a good feel for the era, I read works of fiction set during that time. Fiction reading gives me insight into how people lived, socialized, travelled, and dressed during the period in which my novel is set.

Nancy Oswald: I’m a nut for accurate historical detail, even if it plays a minute part in the story.

Pacing

How can dialog help pace your story?

Mario Acevedo: Dialog is a great way to advance the plot by having the characters reveal crucial information or to help build a character. Dialog is more active and interesting then authorial narration.

Paul Kane: I think that’s where the planning comes into it, once more. If you have a chapter breakdown you can see where the novel needs tightening up. Is there too much exposition in a certain chapter, not enough? Too much action all in one go, or not enough for long periods? Are you hooking your reader at the end of your chapters, making them want to go on and read more in the next chapter? Even if you’re only writing a short story, if you jot down the structure of it in a few sentences you can usually work out where you’re going in terms of pace. Compare whatever you’re doing to other novels or short stories, see how they’re paced. If you want to write, then you have to read as well – like Stephen King says in On Writing. There really is no other way to learn how to do this. Similarly, if you’re scripting TV or film, then go away and watch how they’re paced. Or a comic or audio: read comics, listen to audio dramas and make notes. It really is the only way to learn your craft, whether it be characters, setting/description or pacing.

Robbie Cheadle: Dialogue speeds the pace of a story up, so I use more dialogue for tense, fast paced scenes.

What methods do you employ to control and maintain the pacing in your story?

Mario Acevedo: Know when to show and tell. Show is “reveal,” during which you draw out the narrative in a way that pulls the reader into the story. Tell is “exposition,” which you need to keep the reader oriented in between reveals.

Paul Kane: Try and stick to the plotting and planning you’ve done, even if it’s in broad strokes. That doesn’t mean your story can’t go off on a tangent if something occurs to you, but go back to the outlines that you’ve done at that point and rewrite those, see where the new development might take you. Predict and project, then go back to the writing of the tale. In my opinion that’s really the only way to keep a rein on the thing and make it go where you want it to go.

Robbie Cheadle: I break my story down into manageable pieces for each character. In my current work-in-progress, I am alternating chapters between Jake at the Western Front during WW1, and Kate in Orange, New Jersey.

In slower sections I use longer sentences and more detail and description to slow the pace down.

I also use introspection to develop my characters and control pace.

How do you find the right balance between action and dialog?

Paul Kane: For me personally, that’s something which just comes with practice. The more you write, the better at judging this you’ll be, until you’ll be doing it by instinct almost without thinking. If you drive, remember what it was like when you first started, trying to keep it all in your head? And once you’ve been on the road a while, a lot of that becomes like second nature to you, doesn’t it? Or it should do at any rate. It’s the same thing with writing really, you develop these skills over time – so that you can tell when something needs balancing out with a bit of dialogue, or a bit of action. It’s all just about putting in the work, honing your skills.

Nancy Oswald: Try to do them both at the same time by using appropriate action-filled tags.

Dialog

How do you write dialog that sounds natural and realistic?

Mario Acevedo: Listen to the way people speak, then write a tightened version. People tend to repeat themselves. Catalog unique ways in how people express themselves. Also, keep in mind the character’s agenda when using dialog.

Paul Kane: The trick is to get the balance right between it sounding naturalistic and conveying information. Most dialogue should be moving the story along or serving the story, otherwise what’s it doing in the piece at all? In real life we all have conversations that are just random or serve no purpose, or we get distracted and break off from a conversation to talk about something else. You can’t do that in your fiction, because people will get bored. Or they’ll think you’re not in control of your own writing, which would be true at that point. I get criticized a lot for not finishing sentences in dialogue, but what I’m trying to do is leave readers in a bit of suspense, whilst at the same time making it a bit more realistic. Human beings very often leave sentences unfinished, if they’re interrupted or just shocked. I don’t do it all the time, and like I say some people find it jarring, but it is one way of creating naturalistic dialogue if you have a reason for it. Another way is to just let the dialogue flow, batting it backwards and forwards, but don’t forget to keep reminding the reader who’s speaking with a ‘Mike said’ or whatever, every now and again. Or have a bit of action, like Mike scratching his head or getting up and walking across the room to break things up if you’ve had several lines of dialogue. I always find arguments quite easy to write, because the flow of them comes across as very believable, and you can include lots of relevant information. For me, it’s quite easy to imagine a couple of people having an argument, because it happens a lot in our everyday lives; lots of people have opposing viewpoints, so it’s fun to try and get both sides of that across.

Chris Barili: Listen to people talk and write dialogue that way as much as possible. Do NOT write dialogue in grammatically correct sentences…we don’t speak in MLA format, either.

Bobby Nash: A trick I learned is to read the dialogue out loud. That will tell you if it works or not.

Robbie Cheadle: I read all my stories aloud to myself, and to anyone else who’ll listen. Reading my writing aloud helps me to spot errors and clumsy unnatural dialogue.

Kevin Killiany: I read it aloud. (Yes, I do character voices.)

Do you use dialog tags? Basic or varied?

Mario Acevedo: I vary them and use action tags as often as possible. Remember that in interpersonal communication, half of what we communicate is non-verbal so include those clues: tone, pauses, eye movement, facial expressions, gestures, changes in posture to emphasize what is being said.

Paul Kane: I tend to stick with the basics, unless you’re trying to say something specific. For example, ‘he spat’ shows how shocked or mad that person is by something that’s been said. I tend to steer clear of things like ‘he pontificated’ or anything complicated like that, as it throws you right out of the story. But good old-fashioned ‘he said’ ‘she said’ works just fine. It’s amazing how your eye glosses over this when you read. Try it for yourself, read a page from a book, then go back and re-read it looking for those tags – and I guarantee you won’t have spotted half of them.

Bobby Nash: Yes. I used ‘said’ most of the time, but if I need to add a punch to a line, I may use a different tag.

Robbie Cheadle: When I use dialogue tags, I generally stick to ‘said’. I don’t always use a dialogue tag, sometimes I prefer to use an action by the speaker to indicate who is talking.

Nancy Oswald: Both or not at all. Let the actions act as your dialogue tags.

Kevin Killiany: I stick to basics, with some variations. Many times I leave them out. Example:

                Pilar realized her watch had stopped.

                “Jerry? What time is it?”

                “Four. Uh, four oh eight.”

                “Which?”

                “Four oh eight. Nine, now.”

You know who’s saying what and you get an idea of Jerry’s personality with no tags.

Any pet peeves with dialog?

Mario Acevedo: Info dumps and a character not saying the obvious in response to what’s going on.

Paul Kane: Not really, just if the conversation isn’t going anywhere or serving any kind of purpose. Having two characters discuss what they’ve had for lunch, for example. Unless that lunch caused food poisoning that results in something significant happening in the plot, then what’s the reason for including it? 

Chris Barili: No robot-speak unless the character is actually a robot, and usually not even then.

Bobby Nash: Noting specific. I try not to be cliché.

Kevin Killiany: People speaking grammatically correct written English with every pronoun unnecessarily identified. Normal conversation—even in formal situations—is usually made up of sentence fragments because spoken English assumes all members of the conversation understand what’s being discussed.

Would you share a brief excerpt from one of your best dialog scenes?

I asked this question and got some wonderful responses, but most of them are too lengthy to include here, so I guess if you want to view them, you’ll have to buy the book.

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That wraps up this week’s segment of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. Be sure to drop by next Saturday, when we’ll introduce Nancy Oswald and bring you a Q & A on tone and all that entails.

Ask the Authors 2022

And don’t forget to grab your copy of the Ask the Authors writing reference anthology, at the special 3.99 price for the duration of this blog series, from your favorite book distributor through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Jeff’s God Complex

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Video Games and the Lost Art of Storytelling

by Jeff Bowles

I’m an avid gamer. I’ve played everything from Pac-Man and Halo to Zelda and God of War. As a child, I spent countless hours on the first home console my family ever bought, the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and I’ve owned just about every major gaming platform released since.

I’m also a storyteller, which means I take keen interest in certain gaming industry trends. I’ve heard it suggested video games represent a great opportunity for writers today. Even in an industry dominated by online arena action shooters that feature little plot and the use of impersonal avatars instead of fully developed characters, writers are said to be very much in demand.

Independent job and project posting sites such as Upwork feature by-contract work for games from time to time, and small indy video game developers, which have flourished in recent years, are often much more receptive to unknown or burgeoning writers. If you’ve been stuck hawking short stories and one failed novel after another, it can be a great place to ply your talents.

Landing that kind of gig may be harder than it seems, however. The big developers like Bethesda Softworks, EA, Ubisoft, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo tend to retain and reuse writers, so unless you’re a well-established author looking to diversify, you may be out of luck. It’s kind of a niche profession anyway, writing for video games, especially since more and more developers have eschewed classic storytelling techniques in favor of more style, more flash, and way more explosions.

Should this surprise us? Like Hollywood, the gaming industry seems to have recognized the public’s slackening attention span. Many of the most popular games released in 2016 featured incredibly robust multiplayer and not much else.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1, the top sellers of the year, both have single player campaigns that are more or less afterthoughts. Another top seller, Blizzard Entertainment’s highly popular Overwatch, exists entirely online, so if you’ve got a poor internet connection or you just don’t want to play against other people, the message seems to be man up or look elsewhere. Overwatch, by the way, is a hell of a lot of fun. Too bad I didn’t care about any of its characters or situations.

Not so long ago, all of this would have been unthinkable. Before high speed internet made online gaming feasible for the broader market, game developers rarely ever shipped titles designed just for multiplayer. Home consoles had at most four controller ports back then, which meant you either played a deep, engrossing single-player campaign or you challenged a few of your friends to combat right there on the couch. Gaming was a much more personal, sociable experience then. Lord, how I pine for the good old days of just ten years ago!

As the gaming industry advanced into the current generation of home consoles (the Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, respectively), an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among consumers became evident. Players were demanding new experiences, expanded horizons, creative and interesting mechanics they’d never seen before. The result, I take it, is that the major developers decided en masse the premium they’d placed on storytelling would no longer serve them going forward.

I found some of the biggest games of the last five years nearly unplayable, simply because competition, blood and guts, and fierce rivalries tend to turn me off. Let’s be honest, in the new millennium fewer and fewer people appreciate good stories. The point for most gamers is not the dialogue or plot so much as the bullets and blood.

I think that’s unfortunate. Good developers recognize their medium is unique. The games that work best allow players to inhabit strange worlds and the skins of other people. Long-standing series such as the Deus Ex franchise, for instance, let players explore innumerable options and solutions to any given scenario or character interaction, thereby assuring a unique experience for everyone. As a point of reference, the latest Deus Ex game was a commercial failure, as were other similar titles. A lot of players feel they don’t have time to invest in long, drawn-out narratives anymore. They just want to drop in, shoot their friends a few times, and drop out.

Classic American gaming, by the way, has not gotten any less violent or offensive in light of this new direction. In fact, divorced from good storytelling, many modern games feel like slaughterhouses, inducing the kind of fight-or-flight panic usually reserved for life and death emergencies. Recently, after playing a frenzied bout of For Honor, a game that simulates medieval sword-based combat in full gory detail, I told my wife I didn’t know if I could take it anymore. A round of that game is like squeezing your heart through a meat grinder fifteen minutes at a time. The experience is intense, but is it particularly fun?

Congress of course has railed against the gaming industry for decades. Too violent, too distracting, and far too addictive. I admit it, I’m hooked. I’m a grown man who hasn’t gone a week without video games since I was five years old, and for the amount of money I’ve spent on all those discs, cartridges, and controllers, you’d think they’d chip in for a limited-edition headset for me or something. When it comes to it, I suppose good storytelling never did anything to offset the more depraved aspects of the medium. They did, however, induce in us the feeling we were part of something exciting and creative.

Now every time I pop a new game into my PlayStation, I have to consider the odds of actually enjoying it. Will I spend the whole time hunting other human beings? Will it contain anything resembling a story? Perhaps the indy movement has opened new doors for the creative potential of the industry—doors which may have otherwise remained closed, especially to writers—but the dominant trends today have adhered very closely to a pretty simple principle.

Like all forms of entertainment intended for mass consumption, the real test of a game is in how it makes us feel. A well-told story feels like nothing else on earth. Unfortunately, so does an hour of mayhem, death, and bare-knuckled survival. Hey gaming industry, bring back the good old days! I guess I don’t mind killing my friends needlessly, but do I have to kill my sense of story, too?


Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruceshttps://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F

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Jeff’s God Complex

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Writer’s Block vs. The God Complex

by Jeff Bowles

Traditionally, I’ve never been a fan of taking breaks from my writing. I’ve advocated others not break from theirs either, telling myself and the entire writing world to keep pushing no matter what the circumstances. I’m having to alter that perception somewhat. You see, life can and does get in the way at times, and I don’t think there’s any use denying it. Staying driven and defiant in the face of adversity is all well and good. But what about personal tragedy, financial setbacks, lingering doubts, bouts of depression?

In my life as a writer I’ve received well over 600 rejection slips. Trust me, I’ve counted them recently. That’s never been enough to put the nail in the coffin of my work ethic, but somehow when it comes to my life in disarray, a hard fight is just about the only kind I know. Sometimes existence is smooth and sometimes it’s bumpy, and after all, that which you leave behind is paramount. So working your butt off no matter what, creating stories, filling your hard drive with new material, it’s got to be a saving grace of some sort, hasn’t it?

Only I’m not a machine, and neither are you. If you prick us, do we not bleed? Here on Writing to be Read, we hand out a lot of pro tips and offer words of wisdom for writers just starting out. I’d like to give you your concept of the morning: forgiveness. As in self-forgiveness, the only kind no one ever wants to grant. It’s so very easy to pretend your problems don’t exist. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter, and when life catches up to us, there can be a letdown in creativity.

Writing is a hard business to pursue day in and day out. Rather than being purely creative, it’s startlingly cerebral, which means those lovely brains of ours need to be in tip top shape if we’re going to create brilliant prose (which is always the goal, right?). The mind gets tired sometimes. What’s more, it’s far easier to produce another story when a deadline or paycheck is in play. But how do we put up with the work load when all guarantees of future success are null and void?

The answer is passion, I suppose, and a healthy dose of resolve. Discipline will get you to the finish line with startling regularity, but everyone gets burned-out sometimes, right? I would submit that what most people refer to as burnout is more attributable to depression. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Don’t ignore what your mind and body are screaming at you to acknowledge.

How do we refresh ourselves when we’re not in the mood to write? Creatively speaking—and this is just an example from my own experience—it’s always a good idea to have some kind of hobby or art project on the side. For instance, let’s say that 120,000 novel is really starting to drag you down ‘round about the 90,000 word mark. Why not go outside with a camera and begin a fun photography project? Or maybe pick up some paints and toss them at a canvas? Reading is also good, the kinds of stories you’ve always enjoyed most. Take a breather if you have to, though if I were you I’d narrow your daily word limits rather than abandoning your manuscript completely.

To be perfectly fair, I have never been great at refreshing myself in the middle of a long-haul project. The one thing that usually seems to work is finding escape in my words. Instead of viewing my writing as a crucible, I try to envision it as a form of therapy that allows me to escape my troubles and heal that which is damaged or broken. I don’t think this is easy for everyone to do, because the longer you’re at this thing, and the more life is stressing you out, the harder it is to view your writing in a positive light.

I know there will be plenty of writers out there who do not share my experience. After all, talent and depression don’t always go hand in hand, nor do they need to. But sometimes people go through bad months, bad years, and unless I miss my guess, during those times even the most productive writers find the work difficult. On social media the other day, a fellow author asserted writer’s block is just an excuse. I actually agree with the sentiment, though not by his same reasoning.

You see, calling a slump writer’s block allows us to focus on the results of our output rather than the cause. It’s like 17th century Salem assaulted by tragic events, blaming the whole thing on witchcraft. Writer’s block is a nothing phrase, a catch-all that doesn’t describe anything pertinent. Does it exist? Certainly, but not as an end itself. To me, writer’s block is and always will be a symptom of some form of depressed thinking.

When writers slow down, it’s important to consider life circumstances. Maybe the bills aren’t getting paid. Or perhaps there’s too much to do at the office. We humans are extraordinarily skilled at ignoring our troubles. Remember, everyone has bad days, months, years.  It does no good to pretend we don’t. In fact, it only serves to make our writing woes that much harder to overcome.

Are you a writer who’s having trouble maintaining a steady workflow? Don’t get angry and do not criticize yourself. Call it writer’s block if you have to, but realize there’s a genuine cause that you can in fact address. Do a little soul searching, reacquaint yourself with your situation and get honest about what’s causing you difficulty. You understand best how talented you are. You are irreplaceable as a voice and as an individual, so get introspective and really try to parse out this downturn.

Consider a little self-nurturing. It’s not a sin to pause your work. It’s just not. Besides which, many of us consider writing a calling and a passion, no matter how successful or productive we are. You’ve come this far. If we can purge the negativity and bad emotion, the self-destructive tendencies and malaise, writer’s block is no longer such an issue. I’d rather work in a mind space free from all that crap. Wouldn’t you?

Most of the time writing is a damn thankless job. Let’s all be honest about that. It isolates us even at the best of times, so why’s it so hard to believe we sometimes need a little mental and emotional care? Be kind to yourself and respect your ability to produce. If you’re not feeling this right now, no worries, take a breather and work on yourself a bit. Until next time, everybody!


Interested in my writing? Check out my latest collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces: Short Stories — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F

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Welcome to the Pep Talk

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Every month in this space, author Jeff Bowles offers advice for young and struggling writers. No one ever said becoming a world-famous storyteller is easy. This is the Pep Talk.

First an admission. It’s much easier for me to be upbeat about the writing careers of others than my own. It is a damn hard slog going from obscurity to success story. Most upstarts never make it, and even when they do, they often find it a double-edged sword. This game of ours, this writing thing, it’s full of ups and downs, zigs and zags, bad decisions and tribulations that’d make most normal people run and hide. Except we aren’t normal people, are we? We’re the ones who risk everything and spend long sleepless nights worried about fictional people and places that will never exist. What drives us to do it? What drives you?

Here’s a little bit of math a mentor once imparted to me: a billion people in the world want to become writers. Of that billion, a million make it past their first story and a thousand actually get something published. A hundred in that thousand make a career of it, and only ten become best-sellers. Are these odds in any way accurate? Probably not, but they are illustrative, don’t you think? When it comes down to it, becoming a successful writer is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to outlast the next guy (or gal), work your tail off until your competitors are little black specks in the rear-view. May take ten years, may take you fifty, and hell, you may not make it at all. But you’ve got to have goals, direction, purpose. You must see yourself as that bestseller, because if you can’t travel there in the mind, you’ll never travel there in the body.

Practice makes perfect, but perfection, talent, natural ability, they only account for a fraction of what it takes to get what you really want. Aim high. Start small but think big. Dreams are absolutely free, and the only people who’ll try to take them away from you will be those who doubt your ability. Prove them wrong. Don’t delay. It’s a long road, so you’d better start now. It’s been said by much better writers than I that in effect, one needs two of three of the following to succeed: luck, talent, and hard work. Luck and hard work will get you there, but so too will talent and persistence. Never discount the old Edison standby: one part inspiration to nine parts perspiration. It never fails. Those who start from nothing—and honestly, we all do—but never stop pushing often become the strongest and most adept.

You don’t need an expensive education or writing workshops and seminars to get started, though certainly those things can help. Pick a book, any book. Read it cover to cover and then sit down and write something better. You know you’re capable, and so do I. What the hell have they got that you haven’t? Most common answers? Luck, patience, and/or years of experience. It’s easy to feel jealousy when stacked against the ones who’ve already achieved. Believe me, I know. But you’ve got to hand it to those folks. They went after what they really wanted and fate smiled upon them. No mess, no fuss, they achieved, which is exactly what you want to do.

So here’s the thing. I don’t care who you are or where you come from, if you’re looking for the quick cash-in you WILL be disappointed. Like you, I began writing my own stories with the notion it wouldn’t be long until I was earning enough I could quit my job and in earnest, begin my ascent up the bestsellers’ list. I’ve been doing this for a decade now, and I can honestly say the most frustrating part has been in accepting the world hasn’t been waiting to throw critical and commercial laurels at my feet. I’m just a poor schlub like you. And like you, I’ve got places to go, people to see, but no damn money for a cab or in the very least, a cheap cross-town Uber.

But I don’t quit. I can’t. If I ever did, it’d be the biggest mistake of my life. It’s common knowledge, or maybe it’s some kind of hominid genetic heritage, that the longer we chase after something, the harder it is for us to give it up. When we think about a goal all day long, choose to pursue it, become it, to sometimes ignore all other obligations, we are in fact daring fate to send it our way. Sooner or later, it dawns on us the end goal is not nearly so engrossing as the work required to reach it. In other words, may I humbly suggest it makes no difference whatsoever if you become a millionaire bestseller or not. The reason you’ll keep going is passion, love, desire. Even on the days you hate this gig—especially on the days you hate it. There’s no shame in breaking down sometimes and allowing yourself a bit of remorse. Disappointment and rejection sting 100% of the time. Trust me on this.

Only don’t despair too long. If there is one universal truth to our existence it is this: thoughts become things. Consider yourself a failure with a bit too much intent and deliberation, and you may just find yourself failing every time. But if you can see past the downturns, those times you’d like nothing better than to torch your manuscripts and run screaming back to reality, know this: you cannot chart a path to joy in one hour, one night, or one year. Never underestimate the value of a positive mental attitude. If there’s only a single difference between you and every other upstart, let it be your mindset. In my experience, you’ll burn most of your frustrating years right at the outset. As you struggle to learn your craft, yours will seem like the stupidest, least worthy goal in existence. But it’s not. And as the years go by, you’ll start to realize that desire and predestination look the same in hindsight.

Here’s what I want from you until we hook up for another Pep Talk, reader. I want you to write your butt off and take no prisoners. Yes, it’s a long haul, and yes, it will not come easily. But there’s one truth to all of this most people won’t count on. Happiness today engenders happiness tomorrow. Engage with your writing like it’s an old friend, a family member you’ve not seen in years or a new love you’re eager to spend every waking moment with. The passion comes through, and so does the bright spark of your soul. Don’t give an inch and never look back. You keep focused on the road ahead, and when the time comes to pull over and take a pit stop, open your eyes, view the scenery, and then get back in the car and apply pedal to metal. It isn’t the worst thing in the world. You are a writer. Say it again for me. You ARE a writer. Now get back to work, my friends, and show us all what you’ve got.


Interested in Jeff’s writing? Check out his latest short story collection, Godling and Other Paint Stories: https://www.amazon.com/Godling-Other-Paint-Stories-Bowles-ebook/dp/B01LDUJYHU

Twitter: @JeffBowlesLives

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeffryanbowles

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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/JeffBowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1479453494

YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ


Looking Back Over 2016

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This will be the last reflective post of the year. Next Monday’s post will find us in 2017. For my writing career it has been a slow take off, but I’ve seen progress. In July, I completed my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. With emphasis in both genre fiction and screenwriting, and two completed novels, Delilah and Playground for the Gods Book 1: In the Beginning, two full feature film scripts and one comedy series pilot script in hand, I eagerly jumped right in to get my feet wet in either the publishing and/or screenwriting industry. I began submitting my work to agents, publishers, and competitions like crazy. I received mostly rejections, as expected, and although I still haven’t found a home for either novels or scripts, I did manage to find a home for two poems and two short stories. Not too bad. While the poems, Aspen Tree and Yucca! Yucca! Yucca!, appeared in print, (in Colorado Life (Sept.-Oct. 2016) and Manifest West Anthology #5 – Serenity and Severity, respectively), my short story,  I Had to Do It was published on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and my not so short, short story, Hidden Secrets was published on Across the Margin.

2016 has been a pretty good year for Writing to be Read. The revamping of the blog site was completed in March, I’ve managed post things on a fairly regular basis, we were honored with guest posts by my friend Robin Conley, and my visits and page views have risen, with almost 2000 visitors and over 2,500 page views. Looking at this, makes me feel pretty good about the blog, as a whole. Another good change is the addition of screenwriting content, which I believe has drawn a larger audience by widening the scope of the content.

13595804_10208551605339796_604487774_nThe top post of 2016 was my book review of Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy, which is an excellent tutorial on academic writing, including writing advice that every writing student should know. After that, the reflective post Writing Horror is Scary Business would be second in line. Other popular posts include my four part Making of a Screenplay series,( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), my Tribute to My Son, and What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for Writing to be Read. More recently, my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing gave me the opportunity to interview some awesome names in the publishing industry: self-published authors, Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch; traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw; independently published author Jordan Elizabeth; and children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models; as well as Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press and Curiosity Quills Press – with the final installment summarizing the conclusions made from those interviews. Snoopy Writing

Many of my posts were reflections of my own writing experience. These included: Why Writing is a Labor of LoveFear is a Writer’s Best FriendI’ve Come A Long Way, BabyWriting the Way That Works For YouCreating Story Equals Problem SolvingWhat’s A Nice Girl Like Me Doing Writing in a Genre Like This?; Acceptance or Rejection – Which Do You Prefer?; A Writer’s Life is No Bowel of Cherries; Write What You Know; Discouragement or Motivation?; What Ever Happened to Heather Hummingbird?; How You Can Help Build a Writer’s Platform; and Why Fiction is Better Than Fact.

2013-03-16 Ice Festival 014Sadly, I only attended two events that were reported on, on Writing to be Read in 2016 – the 2016 Ice Festival in Cripple Creek, and the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado. What can I say? I’m a starving writer. This is something I hope to improve on in 2017 by attending more events to report on. One possible addition to the 2017 list that I’m very excited to think about is the Crested Butte Film Festival. The details are not ironed out yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.Fear of Laughter

Screenwriting content included this past year seemed to be popular. In addition to my Making of a Screenplay series and Writing Horror is Scary BusinessWriting to be Read also featured Writing Comedy for Screen is a Risky Proposition, and a book review for Hollywood Game Plan, by  Carole Kirshner, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone desiring to break into the screenwriting trade. Robin’s Weekly Writing Memo also included several writing tips that could be applied equally to literature or screenwriting.

Another project I’m particularly proud of is my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, which I just finished up last week. In this series I  interviewed nine professionals from within the industry to get the low down on the three different publishing models. My interviews included self-published authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch (children’s books) and Mark Shaw (nonfiction), and independently published YA author Jordan Elizabeth. To balance things out a bit, I also interviewed children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published with all three models, Clare Dugmore of Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner and publisher at Conundrum Press.

bottledOne of the great things about doing book reviews is that you get to read a lot of great books, in with the okay and not so great ones. In addition Simplified Writing 101, my five quill reviews in 2016 included Jordan Elizabeth’s Runners & Riders, Mark Shaw’s The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Nancy Oswald’s Trouble Returns, Carol Riggs’ Bottled, Jeff Bowles’ Godling and Other Paint Stories, Janet Garber’s Dream Job, Art Rosch’s Confessions of an Honest Man, and Mark Todd and Kim Todd O’Connell’s Wild West Ghosts. I don’t give out five quills lightly and every one of these books are totally worthwhile reads.

Point Break 1Of course, not all books get a five quill rating. Other books I reviewed that I recommended with three quills or more include three short story anthologies: Chronology, Under a Brass Moon, and Cast No Shadows; two poetry collections: Suicide Hotline Hold Music by Jessy Randall and Walks Along the Ditch by Bill Trembley; Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Treasure Darkly, The Goat Children, and Victorian by Jordan Elizabeth; Dark Places by Linda Ladd; Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson; Wrinkles by Mian Mohsin Zia; Full Circle by Tim Baker; The 5820 Diaries by Chris Tucker; The Road Has Eyes: An RV, a Relationship, and a Wild Ride by Art Rosch; Hollywood Game Plan by Carol Kirschner; Keepers of the Forest by James McNally; 100 Ghost Soup by , and A Shot in the Dark by K.A. Stewart. I also did two movie reviews: Dead Pool and Point Break.

I feel very fortunate to have had Robin Conley join us with her Weekly Writing Memo and her guest movie reviews. The useful writing tips in her Weekly Writing Memos covered a wide range of topics including critiquing, using feedback, ways to increase tension, Relatability or Likeability?, 3 Types of Plot, story research, what to write, making your audience care, world building, handling feedback, writing relationships, establishing tone, editing, word choice, How to Start Writing, endings, queries, Parts of a Scene, making emotional connections, the influence of setting, Building a Story, Inciting Your Story, movement and dialog, Writing Truth, time, Overcoming the Blank Page, Networking, character names, theme, set up, cliches, parentheticals in screenwriting, horror inspiration, and Learning to WriteRobin’s guest post movie reviews included Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Batman vs. Superman, Miss Perigrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, and The Neon Demon13624744_10104024218870042_2001375168_n

I am thankful for Robin’s valuable content and am glad that she will still be contributing Memos on a monthly, rather than a weekly basis. Although I was sad to lose her weekly content, I am happy for her as she moves forward in her own writing career and I wish her well in her writing endeavors. For those of you who looked forward to her weekly posts, you can catch more of her content on her own blog, Author the World.

2016 was a great year for Writing to be Read, even if it was kind of rough for the author behind the blog. You readers helped to make it a good year and I thank you. Now it’s time to look ahead and see what’s in store for 2017 Writing to be Read. I mentioned some of the things I hope to achieve above: more posts pertaining to the screenwriting industry, and coverage of more events throughout the year are two of the goals I have set for my blog. I also plan to add some author, and hopefully, screenwriter profiles into the mix. I had good luck with author profiles during my Examiner days, and I think they will be well received here, as well.

I also hope to bring in some guests posts by various authors or bloggers, or maybe screenwriters, just to give you all a break from listening to me all the time. I believe Robin plans to continue with Monthly Writing Memos, which will be great, too.

I look forward to all the great books that I know are coming my way in 2017, too. The first reviews you have to look forward to are a short memoir, Banker Without Portfolio by Phillip Gbormittah, a YA paranormal romance, Don’t Wake Me Up by M.E.Rhines, a Rock Star romance, Bullet by Jade C. Jamison and a short story, How Smoke Got out of the Chimneys by DeAnna Knippling.

Happy New Year

I hope all of you will join me here in the coming year. Follow me on WordPress, or subscribe to e-mail for notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox. Have a great 2017 and HAPPY WRITING!


“Runners & Riders”: Steampunk at it’s Best

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Brass glass! Jordan Elizabeth has once again created an extremely well crafted steampunk romance in her latest addition to her Treasure Chronicles series. Runners & Riders is filled with mystery and intrigue, as well as plenty of steam powered gadgets and inventions that bogle the mind. Elizabeth captures the Victorian tone in every detail, taking readers of all ages on a steam powered journey that won’t soon be forgotten.

There’s an age old battle going on in New Addison City between Runners and Riders. A bored young Juliet Darcy finds herself smack dab in the middle of it all when she falls in with the notorious Runners, a brutal gang of thugs who take what they want, by force if necessary, terrorizing the city. Jonathan Montgomery is the newest young Rider, sworn to bring the Runners down after they murdered his parents when he was a child. Add an ancient mechanical princess who navigates the tunnels beneath the city with an agenda of her own and you have the makings of a great steampunk adventure.

Princess Arlene enlists the help of Juliet, who after being betrayed by the Runners, teams up with Jonathan to bring them down. But the Runners are ruthless, with little regard for anyone who stands in their way of their goals. Jonathan and Juliet risk it all to destroy the Runners and their merciless leader, but to do so, they must stay one step ahead in this deadly game.

Runners & Riders is well structured and full of surprises at every turn. I give it five quills.

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Kaye gives honest book reviews and she does not charge for them. If you have a book you would like reviewed contact Kaye at kayebooth[at]yahoo[dot]com


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