How to Structure your Story: an "8 Point Story Arc" writing exercise...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Recently a writer friend lent me a worn copy of Writing a Novel (and getting it published) by Nigel Watts. The book is practically falling apart, but for good reason: Watts takes you through every stage of the craft of writing and guides you along the path to writing your novel.  Seriously, everything you need to know about writing a novel is in this book.

I particularly found the “Eight-Point Story Arc” guideline quite useful, so I thought I'd do a writing exercise based on Nigel Watts' 8-point story arc list.

Print this out and exercise your writing muscles!

How to Structure your Story: 
An "8 Point Story Arc" writing exercise...

1. Stasis

This is an “every day life” starting point, the perfect place to introduce your scene, character, time, place... Stage it.

2. Trigger

Then, all of a sudden, something happens to your character that is totally beyond their control.

3. The quest

Your character now has to set off on a "quest" to (fix/find/figure out) _______.

4. Surprise

Multiple things take place along this quest that create the middle of your story. These can be unexpected yet plausible obstacles, complications, pleasant events, conflict, etc... that happen to/by your character.

5. Critical choice

Your character is now faced with a critical decision. The result of this decision will reveal just who your character(s) really is(are). NOTE: this choice needs to be something your characters chose to do, not something that just happens to them. THINK: growth from the trigger/quest/mess.

6. Climax

The ultimate point of the story arc. Although the story isn't over yet, here we feel resolution. We feel the quest is complete and the mess from the trigger has been handled. 

7. Reversal

This is where you show that your character has really, truly changed due to all the above. Show your character's life playing out in an inevitable and probable way.

8. Resolution

A final return to a stasis. Of course a NEW stasis due to all the above. This is where you and your readers feel new story could sprout from as your character (and maybe even the setting) has totally changed to something new. Everything is back to normal, albeit a new normal. It's another "every day life" starting point.

I hope you find this story arc guideline just as useful as I have. Even if you've finished your manuscript, go back in and plot out your story. Does it follow and flow? Maybe this will help you solidify and fix something that's been nagging you, something that was just not quite working...yet.

Go for it. And let me know how your writing is coming along.


2 Writing Contests to Enter Soon... Hurry! :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hey, y'all :)

I was just browsing around the internet, looking for something to do, when I came upon two writing contests that end/open soon. So naturally I wanted to share the info/links with you, my fellow writers ;)

If you have a completed manuscript in hand, check these out and give them a try!

~ Lia

Rising Star Contest

Opens May 1st -

This is a brand new writers association just for women's fiction. And they have a contest that opens in May!

"This contest is designed exclusively for the unpublished women’s fiction writer. It offers the chance for priceless feedback from three published authors, plus the opportunity to break out of the slush pile and land on the desk of five final round judges, all acquiring agents of women’s fiction."

Review Board Entry

Closes April 11th -

This contest, from the looks of it, is a chance to get into their submission service that helps with query letters, writing your synopsis and everything that goes into getting your work in front of literary agents.

Writer’s Relief is seeking submissions of poetry, short prose, and books for our Full Service. Please select your genre below to submit your strongest work for consideration.

Author Ellis Shuman on what a typewriter Bar Mitzvah gift and devoted creative time can do for your writing...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hello again, writers!

Today we have with us debut suspense novelist Ellis Shuman, author of Valley of Thracians, a face paced mystery about a missing Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria.

Ellis is currently working hard at work editing his next book, also a suspense novel, so I'm very glad he took the time out of his busy writing schedule to come meet with us today.

Please help me give a warm welcome Ellis Shuman, today at the BB Writers Retreat!

Lia Mack: Ellis, please start us off by telling a little about yourself:

Ellis Shuman: I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and moved to Israel as a teenager with my family. After finishing high school in Jerusalem, I served for three years in the Israeli army. Along with my wife, I was a founding member of a kibbutz in Israel's southern desert. My years on kibbutz, working in agriculture and milking cows, served as background for my short story collection, The Virtual Kibbutz.
My wife and I now live in a community in the hills west of Jerusalem. For many years I worked in the hotel industry and my last position in this field was Food and Beverage Comptroller at the Jerusalem Hilton, back in the years when there was a Hilton hotel in Jerusalem. I have worked for the past decade in the online gaming industry, and a few years ago, my position was relocated on a two-year assignment to Sofia, Bulgaria. That experience served as background for my suspense novel set in Bulgaria, Valley of Thracians.

Lia Mack: Ultimate question...Why do you write?

Ellis Shuman: I grew up with an ever-present urge to tell a story. I inherited my writing abilities from my father, who was a journalist. During my summer vacations as a child, I wrote, edited, and marketed a neighborhood newspaper and went door to door selling copies of the page that told everyone what their neighbors were doing that summer. I have wanted to write a novel all my life, and have many unfinished manuscripts probably gathering dust in some archived online digital folder. Even though I work full time, writing is my hobby. I enjoy writing fiction, but also nonfiction, including book reviews, travel reports, and other stories that I have a need to tell.

Lia Mack: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like?

Ellis Shuman: I began writing stories as a boy and was extremely grateful to receive a typewriter as a present for my Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. That typewriter would serve me for many, many years, and in fact, I wrote a manuscript for my first, and eventually unpublished, novel on that machine. I think I still have it in the attic for sentimental reasons. I remember deliberating whether to buy an electric typewriter when they first came out, but in the end elected to go with my first computer. A word processing program was like heaven for me. No more retyping entire pages or whiting out mistakes with Tipp-Ex. I had advanced into the modern age of writing. Even so, when I began writing the stories that became The Virtual Kibbutz, I wrote out some of them by hand in a café because I didn't own a laptop at the time. When I came home in the evenings I would then type up my stories into the computer, giving me a chance to review that morning's creativity. Now I type up everything on a laptop, barely ever visiting the desktop computer we have in our home.

Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book?

Ellis Shuman: After living for two years in Bulgaria, I wanted to be able to share that experience through my writing. I enjoy reading suspense novels, so I made the decision to write a suspense novel set in Bulgaria. As far as I can see, there are not too many novels, of any genre, available in English that tell about life in Bulgaria. Along with the element of suspense, I became determined to include a sense of Bulgaria in the book. Many readers have stated that Valley of Thracians is part mystery, part travelogue. That's because I write about Bulgaria's history, culture, food, tourist sites, and most importantly, about Bulgaria's people. Readers will be enthralled not only by a fast-paced suspense story, but also by an introduction to a country about which they previously knew very little.

Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?

Ellis Shuman: While living in Bulgaria, my wife and I traveled extensively around the country. I guess everything we were doing for two years was research for my novel. I didn't take notes along the way, but I revisited many of the museums, villages, cities, and themes of Bulgarian history in a virtual manner after my return to Israel. Thinking back, there are some places in Bulgaria I would have loved to revisit while I was writing the book because research on the ground is always more effective.

Lia Mack: What are you working on now?

Ellis Shuman: I wrote one collection of short stories about Israel, and one suspense novel set in Bulgaria. These are the two countries that I think about the most, so I set for myself a challenge - to write a novel that will highlight both Israel and Bulgaria. Living in Bulgaria I felt very comfortable identifying myself as an Israeli, and discovered there is a lot of respect in Bulgaria for Israel and for Israeli leaders. There is also quite a bit of cooperation between the two countries, and this gave me an idea for what I could feature in my next novel.

Lia Mack: What does your typical writing day look like?

Ellis Shuman: I am always writing, but at my day job my writing is devoted solely to marketing copy. I commute to the office, a drive that leaves me quite tired, and uncreative, at home in the evening hours. In order to gain time for my creative writing, I decided to leave home one hour earlier in the morning. Before I sit down at my office desk, I sit down for a nice cup of coffee in a café not far away. I take out my laptop and manage to get a lot onto paper, or rather into the computer, despite the noise and racket of the cappuccino machine and the customers at the other tables.

Lia Mack: Can you share a photo of what your writing space looks like?

Ellis Shuman: Here is my very unseemly table in the café, off to the side and near the electricity socket that powers up my laptop. I am one of the first people to buy coffee in the mornings, so I have my choice of tables. I don't need anything else around to stimulate me because my mind is working at high speed as I type.

Lia Mack: What are your thoughts on authors needing to build a platform?

Ellis Shuman: It doesn't matter if a writer is traditionally published or self-published, because in both cases, most, if not all, of the marketing falls upon the author. I think it is essential for an author to establish him/herself on a social platform, but one shouldn't go overboard doing it. I maintain a very active blog, where I write about Israel, Bulgaria, book reviews, travel, and about the writing process. The readership of my blog grew immensely when I became active on Twitter, where I associate with other published and aspiring writers. Someone said that an author has to spend 90% of his or her time marketing. Building a platform is crucial to this endeavor.

Lia Mack: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?

Ellis Shuman: I would tell myself "Keep on writing, you'll eventually find your voice." Writing is an art that takes practice to perfect. I don't say that I am the accomplished author that I want to be at this stage of my life, but I keep on practicing, knowing that one day I will get there. Each article I write is better than the one before, and each book I write will be better than the one previously published. I look forward to what I will achieve in my new book, and I anxiously await the day that I will be able to share it with my readers.

Lia Mack: Thank you so much for being our guest author today at the BB Writers Retreat. Where can BB readers go online to find you and your work?

Ellis Shuman: I blog once or twice a week at Ellis Shuman Writes.

Readers can find my books at Amazon:

The Virtual Kibbutz

Valley of Thracians

And finally, readers are invited to follow me on Twitter: @ellisshuman


Best of the Web for Writers...Week in Review Take 1

Friday, March 14, 2014

It's Friday! :):):):):)

And what a week it was. Anyone else feeling the effects of March coming in "like a lion?" It was sunny and 70 one day, freaking windy as hell and 30 the next. Someone's siding is still in my front yard and try as I may, I can't tell which house it came down from.

So, if anyone is missing beige siding, please come get it... lol...

But I digress. This week was a great blog post week for writers as usual, with tons of craft info and tips and hints popping up along the way.

My first fav blog post of the week for writers was from Ellen Brock's editorial blog: "Top Ten Reasons Why Your Novel is Getting Rejected". If you're wondering why your novel keeps getting rejected, hop on over to Ellen's post and see if your novel fits into any of these top 10 reasons why. And, if you're lucky to not see yourself in these top 10 reasons yet are still getting rejected, Ellen offers mentoring services to help polish and shine your query+synopsis+first chapter combo.

I really loved Advice to a Young Writer. In a sweet (yes, I said sweet) yet motivational letter to an aspiring young writer, Jack Forde tells it like it is. "This letter, and everything else I’ve shared like it, is my way of saying that the easiest way is to end the search for shortcuts… and start walking the path that was always right in front of you."

Best Tweet of the week for writers was from ...One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged.” ~Lucille Ball. , just keep writing!"

Best pic to share with your writer buddies comes from INKYGIRL.COM, aka Debbie Ridpath Ohi. And you know you've done it before...not wanted to kill your darlings... ;) You know what I do? I keep all my darlings in a file folder named "darlings"...and I kill them. I'm sure I'll never use them nor read them again...BUT... it's nice to know they are somewhere safe because, well, you never know...

 Best advice of the week come from Jodi Picoult.

And last but not least, my own two cents: Just write.

Simple as that.

Until next week, just keep writing!


Interview with Chris Hill, Author of Song of the Sea God... "You should never trust a writer who doesn’t read!"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hey there, y'all!

With us today at the BB Writer's Retreat we have Chris Hill, author of Song of the Sea God (Skylight Press).

Lia Mack: Chris, please start us off by telling a little about yourself.

Chris Hill: I live in Gloucestershire in the UK but I grew up on a small island called Walney, off the coast of Cumbria and this became the setting for Song of the Sea God. I’m married with two sons and I spent a lot of years as a journalist working on newspapers in the UK - I started as a reporter and finished as an editor. Now I work in PR for a children’s charity called WellChild who provide nurses for sick children so they can be cared for in the family home rather than hospital.

I’ve always written fiction, I started with short stories and improved over time, winning a few awards including a big one in the UK called the Bridport Prize. Later I progressed to writing novels and Song of the Sea God is my first to find a publisher - Skylight Press, who brought it out late last year.  

Lia Mack: Ultimate question...Why do you write?

Chris Hill: I don’t honestly know why! I started very young and I think it grew out of the fact that I have always loved reading fiction. I loved it so much that I wanted to write some, it seemed like magic to me, this conjuring of stories out of the ether. The passion to do it is what keeps you going and you get better over time, it’s the 10,000 hour rule - put in enough practice and eventually you get good.

Lia Mack: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like? How did you come to be a writer as your career?

Chris Hill: I’ve done it for as long as I remember - since junior school. I started writing scraps in old school note books and gradually developed over time until I was writing proper stories. Some of these won competitions which was obviously encouraging. Later I started writing novels, three so far.

Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book?

Chris Hill: Song of the Sea God is novel about a man who comes to a small island and tries to persuade the people there that he is a god. It’s a book about religion and what it means to people which is of course a pretty serious subject - and the story is quite dark and alarming in some ways, but there is plenty of humour in there too. I’ve been delighted by the way the book has been received so far and it has had lots of positive and thoughtful reviews from people on Amazon and Goodreads.

I wrote the book because I think there’s a general interest in the idea of faith and spiritual fulfilment at the moment. At the same time belief in god and formal religion has receded to the extent that it’s nowhere near as common as it used to be. I think people have been left with a spiritual hole in their lives - a god-shaped hole, I suppose that’s what the book is about!

Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?

Chris Hill: There were quite a few. It involved a good deal of research for one thing. I had to learn about all kinds of ancient religions and beliefs and the ritual which went with them. But I also needed to research psychological magicians’ tricks such as cold reading, and I needed to know more about how cults worked and the dynamics of the relationship between a leader and his followers.

Then there was the business of creating a believable world even though some of the things which happen within it border on the fantastic. I wanted to create a world with one foot in reality and one outside of it.

One of the most important things in any book is getting the voice right I believe - the sound of the book, it affects everything, so that is always a challenge. I wanted the writing in the book to really zing off the page - make people laugh, make people think.

Lia Mack: What are you working on now?

Chris Hill: I have another book ready to go - a much lighter, funnier novel, almost a rom-com, about a young man’s inept attempts to find a girlfriend and I’m looking for a publisher for that. I am also working on a short story collection which I’m hoping my current publisher might take a look at. I started out thinking I had that already written because of all the stories I have written over the years. But once you start gathering stories together and looking at them in a group you begin to think - I would be better if I added more of this, or took out that one? and so I am writing new work for that collection now.

Lia Mack: What does your typical writing day look like?

Chris Hill: I work at my day job and then write round the day - in the evenings, at weekends. I find that a perfectly acceptable way to write and I think if I did have the chance to do it full time I would just spend five hours looking out of the window and making pots of coffee and just one or two doing actual work. How hard I work depends on where I am in the process. At the start of writing something there is a lot of head scratching and scribbling in note books on the bus. But towards the business end there is a lot of sitting at the computer tap tapping away for many hours. I am a massive believer in rewriting - that’s when you make it good, so I also spend a lot of time scribbling on my manuscripts so you can barely see the type for corrections.

Lia Mack: Do you read while you write? What are you reading now?

Chris Hill: I do read a lot all the time - I think you should never trust a writer who doesn’t read! Sometimes however, when I’m in the midst of writing a novel I go off reading fiction and switch to non-fiction books, history, popular science, biography, philosophy - all kinds of stuff. It sometimes helps not to read fiction when you are writing as you can cloud your style with what you are reading. Most of the time I’m reading a novel though - at the moment it is a monster - Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, all 1,200 pages of it. I’m about a third of a way through so far and I’m finding it wonderful in parts.

Lia Mack: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?

Chris Hill: I think I would encourage myself to get serious sooner, but I would also say take heart - it will be a long road but keep on keeping on and you will get published in the end!

Lia Mack: Thank you so much for being my guest today. Where can you be found online?
Chris Hill, Author of
Song of the Sea Gods
Chris Hill: If people want to read Song of the Sea God, it can be ordered at all bookshops - plus found at many places online including Barnes and Noble, Waterstones and of course it’s available on Amazon and you can read the first few pages to get a feel for it.

I have a blog here which I update every week:

I spend a lot more time than I should on twitter @ChilledCH

And I’m on Facebook here:!/chris.hill.3726

Thanks for having me as a guest at your writers retreat Lia, it’s been a pleasure.

Welcome :)

Writers and all, welcome to the BB Writers Retreat, a quaint respite on the web for all things on the craft of writing...

I'm your host, Lia Mack, fellow aspiring author and starving artist. In addition to guest author interviews and the occasional book review, I blog about writing and all the joys aches and pains that go with. And food. I love good food.

Hope you enjoy my many tangented thoughts ;)

Contact me anytime.

Love BB Readers!

Yup. So keep at it.

Yup. So keep at it.



In Remembrance 12.14.12

20 Little Luminaries
a poem in remembrance of Sandy Hook 12.14.12

BB Recipe Card :)

BB Recipe Card :)
Designed just for the BB B&B! by

I'm a love junkie ;)

Speech! Speech!

Speech! Speech!
Someone gave me this yeeeears ago. It's cute, so I'll keep it ;)