Tips for Protagonists and Antagonists in Your Novel

Saturday, August 08, 2020
If you're a novelist for any age audience, your books will most likely have certain types of characters in them--whether you write YA paranormal romance, middle-grade historical fiction or psychological thrillers. Read about these two common character types below while you think about your work in progress. 

Protagonist: Every story will have one. The protagonist is the main person in your story. He or she (or they) is faced with a conflict that must be solved by the end of the novel (or you have some unsatisfied readers!). The protagonist may not always be 100% likable or completely honest and trustworthy (e.g., an anti-hero); but readers should feel empathy for the protagonist and be able to identify with him or her in some way. 

Tips for Building Your Protagonist:
  • Watch out for stereotypes—it is okay for a protagonist to be smart or not, funny, popular, likable, friendly, pretty—as long as it fits your story. 
  • Give your character a flaw or two, but watch out what you give them. Messy is good, a hoarder—depends on the genre. 
  • Your main character has to have a goal and be someone that your reader can get behind.
  • Your protagonist needs an internal struggle (stage fright, cheating tendencies, low self-esteem, OCD) and an external struggle (fighting a bully, breaking up with someone, destroying an evil spirit, getting the lead in the play).
  • Your protagonist has an overall goal for the book. Ask yourself: What does your character want or hope to achieve? If he or she could achieve anything with no obstacles, what would it be? EXAMPLE: Harry Potter wants to pass his first year of wizarding school & play Quidditch, winning the cup for Gryffindor. 
Of course, we love the protagonists. These are the characters we pretend to be. But then there are those characters we love to hate...

Antagonist: This is the character(s) (or situation) that opposes the protagonist. So basically, the antagonist represents or creates an obstacle, problem, or issue that the protagonist must overcome. The antagonist is NOT always human. Sometimes, it's nature. Sometimes, it's ourselves (addiction, for example). But for the purposes of this post, we are focusing on the human or paranormal bad guy.

Tips for Building Your Antagonist:
  •  Remember, your antagonist’s main reason to be in your novel is to provide an obstacle for your protagonist. EXAMPLE: Dorothy (our protagonist) in The Wizard of Oz wants to get home (goal). The Wicked Witch wants her shoes (the way Dorothy gets home). She provides an obstacle, plus a lot of drama! 
  •  Your antagonist should not be evil for no reason OR should have a redeeming quality. EXAMPLE: Voldemort rewards loyalty, and he is a smart, talented wizard who uses his intelligence for evil. But he had a very bad childhood. (Side note: Watch out for the “ABUSED” reason, as it is a common one, for why someone is evil.)
  • Give your antagonist a back story, so you can understand this person, even if all the background doesn't make it in the novel. 
  • Get to know your antagonist. What is your antagonist’s internal and external struggle? What is your antagonist's goal? Make a special note of any likable traits and his/her weakness (greed, self-love, power-hungry, etc) or anything special that happened in his/her past to make this person the “bad guy.”
It's important to really think about how your antagonist and protagonist work together to tell your story. A good "match" will make a very powerful novel or series. And who knows? Maybe your pair will go down in history with the best of them... Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Katniss and President Snow, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West, and insert your characters here.

Margo L. Dill teaches novel writing for WOW! Women On Writing. Sign up for her monthly class at the link above; or if you write for young adults and middle grade readers, consider taking her novel class to write for that age group, which starts in September. Find out more details here. 
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How Magazines are Pivoting During a Pandemic

In mid-March, as we were all discovering just how widespread COVID-19 was, I was in the midst of producing two different lifestyle magazines. One was a startup I’ve talked about before on The Muffin.  

As an editor, I don’t think I had realized just how heavily we relied on local events and movers and shakers in the community until all of our content prospects started to fizzle. How do you produce a “Wine and Dine” section when bars and restaurants are only offering take-out, if they’re open at all? How do you cover a nonprofit benefit when it has to be rescheduled? How do you put together a calendar of events when nothing is happening?


For the May issue of one of the magazines, CURRENTS, we did a community-focused issue where the publisher wanted to produce at cost and run ads for the small businesses that support us for free. It seemed like a great idea at the time, except I had no budget to hire any writers. I found myself researching and writing stories of how the community was pulling together and shifting their business models to stay afloat, all while relying on whatever photos I could take myself or that were provided. It was hard, but I kept telling myself that at least I still had a job.


For the next issue, we tried to do a theme that we could still sell around, which was “Classic Cars.” Again, we had to get creative with the stories, and the dining section still looked a little different, but we were still maintaining a presence in the community. 


For July, we created our annual pet issue, which was a great way to get our minds off the shelter-at-home orders. Who doesn’t love cute photos of animals? It also provided more sales leverage because people were still taking their pets to veterinarians and dog boutiques and grooming services.


August is normally our back-to-school issue. Again, that looked a lot different because most of our public schools in the area (North Carolina) are not returning to school in person full-time just yet. Instead, I planned content around what schools were doing, ran a profile of a local tutoring service, a nearby “glamping” resort where people could get away, a teacher who authored a children’s picture book and a nonprofit that provides laptops to families who can’t afford to pay full price for them.


As I write this, I’m editing articles for our September issue, which is focused on the arts. The arts in our area have suffered. I’m interviewing the local organizations on how they’ve had to cancel their programming, offer virtual performances and gathering what types of art work have been created by local artists and artisans.


Again, I still feel fortunate to have a job. Both magazines are still being produced and I only had one month where I couldn’t pay writers for one magazine and had to fly virtually solo. Writers have been grateful for the work, and I feel like we’ve all become stronger and more creative individuals during this crazy time.


How have you had to pivot your career or writing during the pandemic? Have you been inspired to write about the process?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.

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Friday Speak Out!: Not a Nice Little Hobby

Friday, August 07, 2020
by Jeaninne Escallier Kato

I recently sent my memoir manuscript, “B.J.’s Promise,” to a childhood friend. After weeks of waiting for her critique, she called me to say, “I could actually see and feel your relationship with B.J., the dog I remember changing your life. Your writing is such a nice little hobby.” I was so taken aback by her response, nice little hobby, I had no response. This is from a woman who bought my children’s book, Manuel’s Murals, for her grandchildren, who cheered for me when I won a flash fiction contest, and who has followed my writing path with other publications since we were young adults.

Other friends suggested she was jealous of my talent, or didn’t want to give it the credit it’s due for whatever reasons; but for me, it was symbolic of a bigger picture. This particular friend didn’t mean any harm, she probably didn’t even realize the impact of her words. Not being a writer herself, how could she know what words mean to me? Which brings me to the existential question of why I write, why any of us write. I have thought long and hard about this; I feel deeply compelled to share my thoughts here in this newsletter with other writers.

I know why the word ‘hobby’ stung so deeply. My writing is an extension of who I am, it is an account of my existence on this planet. I don’t consider the people and experiences of my life as hobbies, as if they are ancillary to the meaning of my life or a way to pass the time in between what matters. My writing is a way to encapsulate all the experiences, in one form or another, with the people, pets, places I have loved, known and encountered because that is everything to me. It is my way to rejoice every aspect my life, for good or bad.

Dancers dance, painters paint, actors act. They do it because it is what they were born to do. They do it because parts of them would die if they didn’t. Isn’t that why we write? Our stories may not be exactly as we have lived them, but when we create new stories, we are exercising the needs and drives of every electrical current in our brains. We are honoring how we are wired. We are honoring who we are.

My writing isn’t just for me. I write to inspire, to educate, to support, to soothe, and yes, to even challenge my reader. Any movie that has ever impacted my life came from a writer. Any book that affected me as a child sparked the course of my life. My best works have been written to enlighten the reader to new cultures, hopefully, to minimize prejudice and racial divide in these divisive times.

Having said all that, I need to give myself permission to say, “No, writing isn’t a fun little hobby; it is what I was born to do.” Don’t you agree?

* * * 
Jeaninne Escallier Kato is a retired educator who finds her writing muse in the Mexican culture. She is the author of the noted children's book, Manuel's Murals Jeaninne is a WOW flash fiction 2017 winner for her story, "A Desert Rose." She is published in two Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, has stories in several online literary magazines, and her essay, "Swimming Lessons" is featured in the coffee table anthology, Gifts From Our Grandmothers. Jeaninne is in the process of publishing her memoir, B.J.'s Promise.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Take the Opportunity to Use Video to Promote Your Work

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Last week, I read a Publisher's Weekly article about the poem “And the People Stayed Home” by Kitty O’Meara. O’Meara wrote about how staying home because of COVID is an opportunity to slow the world down. When a friend asked to post it on Facebook, the poem went viral. This November, it will come out as a picture book from Tra Publishing. 

It isn't surprising that this article has me thinking about opportunities. The article is about a picture book that focuses on opportunities. The same article talks about a writer who took the opportunity to share a poem and then recognized a new opportunity for it to become a picture book. 

With this in mind, I read a blog post about book trailers and immediately started thinking about the variety of videos I could make. 

For The Assassination of John F. Kennedy and The Murders of Tupac and Biggie, I could focus on the crimes themselves with a true crime-style story. Or I could discuss live television and how various television stations, including Channel 11 Lubbock where my father worked, covered the assassination. 

I could interview my son about the geology class he took as a preschooler. They got to make fossil casts, hunt for fossils, and clean fossils before taking several home. That’s how we came to have a cluster of fossilized mollusks the size of a dinner plate. That would be a great introduction for The Evolution of Reptiles and The Evolution of Mammals

If not that, I could record an evolutionary trivia challenge. Which animal is most closely related to the hippo? A whale, a rhino or a manatee? 

Instead of focusing on my books for my first video, I decided to create a trailer for one of my WOW classes. I teach both "Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults" and "Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults." I decided to start with the writing class. What do you include for a class trailer? I started with the title of the class, who should take the class, why they should take it, what they will study, and a bit about me. 

I did this on Adobe Spark. There were many things to love about this program. Not only was it free but it was fairly intuitive. You can also use it to make slide shows, Instagram stories, web pages, and a variety of graphics. So far my experience is limited to videos. 

The worst part was the microphone feature. You have to hold down the microphone graphic button. Easy peasy? Not when you are using a touch pad. Tap. Tap. TAP. “I know how to hold down a bleeping button. Of course it recorded that.” Next time I will make sure I have a mouse handy. 

I’m not going to claim perfection but I think this turned out pretty well for a first effort. 

How could you use a video to promote yourself and your work? Try to think outside the box. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020). 
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A Letter To Myself As A Younger Writer

Wednesday, August 05, 2020
Dear Younger Writer,

When you decided you wanted to become a writer at the tender age of seven, you being a little black girl growing up in a low income housing development where dreams often got deferred, overheard the whispered voices of a few saying, "That girl dreamin' dreams that don't have a chance in coming true." 

Although you were shy, although people often told you to speak up, speak louder, or to stop staring at your shoes when they were speaking with you, there was something that reared up inside of you because of their doubt, what I now know to be, your unrelenting conviction, this audacity to believe in your dream of being a writer no matter what. 

You dipped yourself in this self assurance as if it was delicious rich dark chocolate every morning. At nightfall, after your writing was done and you tucked your notebook full of stories under your pillow or hid your loose pile of typed pages in your dresser drawer in the bedroom you shared with your sister, you closed your eyes, contented. 

You, younger writer, knew even at that young age that the sound of a pen gliding across a blank page or the pecking of your fingers on the keys of a typewriter or keyboard would be cathartic and I would find that out one day too. It is why you wrote for hours on end on the weekend when school was out or summer break. You only came up for air when you needed sustenance. You carried your notebooks around like they were an appendage of your body. 

You, younger writer, showed me the importance of seeking solitude, how to grow quiet to gather my thoughts and stow myself away from distractions in order to write. Although our mother was concerned about you choosing to write instead of going outside to socialize with your friends, she in time understood you. She realized she was not an accessory to you becoming an introvert, instead she was allowing you to be the creative being you were in the space you were most secure and at ease in. 

Fast forward to your teenage years...teenage rebellion took a hiatus because you were too preoccupied with telling stories. Your voice grew in boldness and you had to have your say about everything from pop culture, boys, friendships, fashion, and what was wrong in the world.  

When you became a young adult, you were ready for others to read your words, your voice more sharpened but still in pursuit of its own pulse. You started testing the waters and sending work out to magazines. You got rejection after rejection but you never gave up. Your perseverance paid off. You became a published writer. You celebrated, that and every publication afterwards no matter how small or far between. You taught me to do the same through all the seasons of my life.  

Thank-you younger writer for helping me remember that other people's opinions are just that, their opinions, and they should never derail your dreams.Thank you for reminding me about the younger self I once was so many years ago, who wrote not because she wanted to be successful, which of course is what most writers hope for, but wrote because she was passionate about her craft and that passion reverberated in every part of her being. 

                                                                                                    Signed and sealed with love,

What would you say in a letter to the younger writer you once were? 
Jeanine DeHoney's writing has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and blogs. Her stories are always "full" of the voices of the women who loved and nurtured her.

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Be Your Own Cheerleader

Monday, August 03, 2020

It's pretty common to hear a writer say that they are their own worst critic. I can completely understand that sentiment. It's hard to write, read, and critique our own writing without developing a level of judgment and cynicism of our own work. Especially when we don't think we're at our best.

Lately, I have been particularly stressed and it's made me put writing to the side a little bit. As I look at my submission spreadsheet, I realized that I rarely submitted my work this summer. Not to mention, it's gotten to be a habit to delete emails notifying of me of the latest competitions I can enter. 

But after a very difficult week last week, I coached myself into reading some of those emails rather than deleting them. I even found a few contests to enter, despite a gnawing feeling that my work wasn't ready yet. 

In times like these, I think we all need to be our own cheerleaders. We need to coach ourselves forward and nudge ourselves to keep trying. Avoid looking at your writing too harshly. Now more than ever, I think kindness, grace, and care needs to be taken with others as well as within ourselves. 

Today, I encourage you to be your own cheerleader. Try your best. Try to write a little bit today. Encourage yourself to submit something that's been collecting digital dust for weeks. Best of all, try to encourage a fellow writer. I think as we encourage each other, we tend to take that encouragement seriously within our own hearts. 

If you are in the revising process, try not to read your work with a harsh, critical eye. Instead, see your writing as a piece of pottery you are still trying to form into a vase. If you get rejected, instead of thinking your writing wasn't good enough, consider that maybe it wasn't a good fit for them instead. 

Now that we have jumped the hurdle of the mid-year mark, I think most - if not all - of us are shocked this year has gone the way it did. So, let's cheer each other on and keep going, one step at a time.

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. In the midst of writing short stories, she's also working on her unemployment blog, Say hi to her on Twitter @BeingTheWriter.
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There Will Be Blood

Sunday, August 02, 2020
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a writer named Sioux. She spent hundreds of hours carefully crafting a story… the lyrical lines… the sensory images. Sioux was in love with her picture book manuscript, all 2,782 words of it--

Screee! What? Your picture book is almost 3,000 words long? That’s sooo long, the kid will go to sleep in the middle of it, and when the story is finished being read aloud, the kid will have graduated from high school. Good grief! That is much too lengthy for a picture book.

image by Pixabay

The above fairy tale is totally true. I’ve had a picture book manuscript gathering dust for at least 15 years. I was in love with it. There’s a long, not-happily-ever-after story about it involving a small publisher who is now on the “writer beware” list. Suffice it to say: I was elated, I was then crestfallen, so I put aside the project for what I thought was forever.

Fast-forward to July of 2020. I got a nudge from Margo Dill. “You’ve purchased a picture book editorial package a while ago. Remember? I’m booked through the end of this month, but would you be interested in sending me a manuscript at the beginning of August?”

Me: Sure. I have a picture book that’s 2,700 words long. (I shaved off the other 82 words… kind of like how I ignore the weight on my driver’s license, that’s about 20 years old and a ton too little.)

Margo: Usually picture books are 1,000 words or less. (Translation: That is going to be a hot mess for me to critique. I’ll have to go in with a flame-thrower and set the thing ablaze if there’s any hope of getting rid of that many words.)

I felt Margo’s shudder even through her email. I smelled the sweat circles start to form in her armpits. So I reexamined my story… and I started cutting.

Here’s how I pared it down from 2,700+ to 1,009 (and I’m not quite finished):

1. Using contractions in some spots. “I would” became “I’d” when it fit with the tone and the rhythm of the piece. Of course, this is the opposite of what I’ve done during some NaNoWriMos. There was one November where I didn’t use a single contraction because when a writer is working on amassing 50,000 words, every single word counts.“I will” is two words. “I’ll” is only one.

2. Condensing time. My story takes place over 9 months. In the earlier draft, I impressed myself over how I included sensory details about each season. I patted myself on the back each time I read it--with each seasonal scene, I had created a rich world for my main character. Unfortunately, when major cutting and slashing has to be done, time has to be shrunk. Spring and summer were now covered in the same paragraph. Fall segued into winter in a sentence or two, instead of a couple of paragraphs on each one. After all, there isn’t much difference between spring and summer, and snow is the big difference between fall and winter. Condense and combine!

3. Show not tell. Forget the gorgeously-written descriptions. Show through a few, tightly-written phrases. After all, the illustrations (hopefully) will fill in some of the story details.

In short, drastically cutting a piece involves blood. You have to go in ruthlessly, with a sword machete, and do major slashing. Does my story still have moving moments... or is it now a disjointed mess? Did I do a passable job of keeping the storyline intact?

And most importantly--will Margo be able to come in on a white horse and save my manuscript?

(Like with all fairy tales, to find out how it ends, you'll have to wait until we get to the last page of the story... so this story will be continued later. If you'd like to read about some more suggestions on how to slice and slash your work, check out this article.)

Sioux is hoping there will be a happily-ever-after with her picture book manuscript. (Her middle grade novel? That's a longer tale, frought with more obstacles.) If you'd like to read more of Sioux's stuff, check out her blog.
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Start Where You Are

Saturday, August 01, 2020
How many times have you thought to yourself, "I should have started writing about this when it started; why didn't I?"

Maybe it's just me - but I haven't been as diligent with my writing as I should be. I haven't been as diligent about anything as I should be. I'm a hot mess of missed articles, a messy desk, and a scattered brain. This global pandemic has me treading water on what feels like a sinking ship and it's not even a nice old fashioned type Titanic ship with fancy glasses - it's more like Gilligan's Island and I just want someone to rescue us and here I am wearing red high heels on the beach. As a side note to my side note, here's what not to say when someone uses the sinking ship analogy: "everyone is in the same boat". My husband mentioned that the other day and I reminded him if we are ALL in the same boat, there won't be enough life jackets so I was in NO way comforted by his well meaning sentiment. 

See? Like I go...


Let's get back on track.

This pandemic began back in March here in Wisconsin. I've jotted down a few journal entries here and there, made a few blog posts, posted a couple pictures and notes on my social media, and I keep thinking I should be writing a detailed account of our experience. It would be therapeutic to me and priceless to my children and future generations someday.



I don't remember all the details from the beginning. I can't start in the middle.

Or can I?

The truth is, I can start right where I am. Mark Twain said:

"The Secret to Getting Ahead is Getting Started."

It's not often a book starts with birth and ends with death. Does any story ever really start from the beginning? Is birth the beginning or is conception? Chicken? Egg? Truth is, it doesn't matter.

I could easily summarize the first few months and move forward with my writing. I wouldn't even need to write or journal every day, a simple photograph here or there will help tie the story together or help with a future memory. I could use my introduction as a way to pull things together "from the beginning". Even if I get distracted, something is better than nothing. Mari McCarthy of Create Write Now  talks about journaling for your health and well-being and right now, more than ever, there are many of us feeling very unusual (to say the least). Even if you have not been diligent with your writing or journaling, start right where you are and use your time and talents to help you feel more in control during these uncertain times.

Setting small attainable goals has always been very helpful for me - my goal is starting today (August 1st) I am going to spend time with my journal. I'm starting right where I am and I am going to keep track of life and my thoughts for the month of August. Once we get to the end of August I can reassess that goal and either adjust it or make a new one, but I'm starting.

How about you?

Have you been writing? Why or why not?
What is your long term goal with your writing or journaling?
Has writing/journaling been therapeutic?

We definitely want to hear from you, so leave a comment and share your thoughts and ideas with our readers and writers!



and now...a little more about me...

Shown from left to right:
Delphine riding Honey
Mr. Otto holding Eudora
Crystal riding Marv.
Thank you Forward Farm, LLC 
Crystal is the office manager, council secretary, financial secretary, and musician at her church, birth
mother, Auntie, babywearing mama, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their five youngest children, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, horses Darlin' and Joker, pony Miss Maggie May, and over 250 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal milking cows, riding horses, and the occasional unicorn (not at the same time), taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books here, and at her own blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade and she has never (not once) been accused of being normal!
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Friday Speak Out!: My Sh*tty First, Second, Gulp, Fifteenth Drafts or What I Learned from Years in Writing Groups

Friday, July 31, 2020
by Libby Ware

Ann Lamott, in her writing guide, Bird by Bird, advises writers to move forward without editing until reaching the end of a “shitty first draft.” I’ve tried this approach and I’ve also written a chapter, taken it to my writer’s group, revised it, and then moved on to the next chapter. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. But whichever method is used, a warning is due.

I started my first novel in the mid-nineties. It arose out of a short story with a minor character demanding that his story be told. My story about Lum, a white intersex Appalachian woman had a character, Smiley, who was a Black peddler in the same community. So I took off with his story, initially calling it a novella. I noticed that writers often mislabel novels as novellas until they realize that there’s more story than they thought. I started a workshop run by a writer who is an excellent editor. We could turn in pages every week, and then we’d have a chance to read to the group every three to four weeks. My optimal plan was to give her pages one week, get back her comments the next week, and then revise based on her input. Then take it to the class and revise with their suggestions. That plan went along well until I got to the end. Then I started all over again. And then I workshopped the whole thing over again. And I joined another more casual writers group, so I was getting even more feedback. Other writers were also bringing their work back for their third or more read through.

I met an agent at the Atlanta Writers Conference who, after reading the whole novel, advised me that there was not enough connecting Lum and Smiley. She suggested either adding more association between them, or separating the novel into two. Lum’s story is about a spinster not having her own residence, but moving from one relative’s house to another as they need her for child care, housework, hog killing, etc. I decided Lum deserved her own story and I pulled her chapters out, only to find that I didn’t have enough for a full novel. I added new material; and, instead of taking new chapters back again and again, they got one pass only with the teacher and were seen once by the class and the other group.

I think workshop leaders do their writers a disservice by encouraging or just not discouraging three or more readings of the same material. Over-revising can take the freshness and energy out of a piece. Also, a lot of time can be spent revising chapters that may not end up in the finished book. And for every time it’s brought back, someone will find something that needs to be changed.

Libby Ware is the author of the award-winning novel LUM and co-author with Charlene Ball, under the pen name of Lily Charles, of Murder at the Estate Sale, to be published August 15, 2020.

* * *
photo by Amy Gibbons
photo by Amy Gibbons 
Libby Ware is a member of Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and president of Georgia Antiquarian Booksellers Association. She is a fellow of The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. Her debut novel, LUM, won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Honor Book in Literature, a gold medal by the Independent Publishers Association, and was a finalist for Lambda Literary’s Debut Novel Award. With Charlene Ball, she writes the Molly and Emma Booksellers Series under the pen name Lily Charles. Their first title in the series, MURDER AT THE ESTATE SALE, is due out from Black Opal Books in August 2020. Find them at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Why Should I Enter That Contest? This Post May Just Convince You!

Thursday, July 30, 2020
Why should I enter that contest? You’ve probably thought this while reading a contest announcement (maybe even WOW!'s Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest with a deadline of 7/31!) and thinking about the entry fee. Maybe you’ve been eyeing a contest for your novel or for a format or genre you don't usually write to try something new and get some feedback. Whatever your reason for entering a contest, they can build your confidence, improve your craft, and give you publishing credits all in one!

As you know, writing is hard work. It’s easy to become discouraged with each rejection letter. Contests can help ease the pain. One exists for almost any genre, at any ability level. Many come with publication and prize money. When more prizes are offered in any given contest (honorable mentions/runner-ups), more writers receive acknowledgement for their hard work. A winner’s certificate, framed and hanging above your desk, can help remove the sting from an editor who rejects you. Success in a contest can keep you going when publications are lacking.

Not only can contests boost your confidence, but also they can expand the genres you write and improve your skills. Contests are a great place to try that personal essay about your mission trip or a poem about your beachfront home. They give you a reason to type the words in your mind and a deadline to follow. With the deadline looming closer, excuses for not writing—Facebook, watching TV, doing chores —may disappear with a goal to work towards and an ending in sight.

Work on your craft while creating the entry. Try first person if your novel is written in third. Contest pieces are generally shorter and a place to experiment with dialogue or sentence structure. Try a flash fiction competition. (WOW! has one here!) Flash fiction challenges you to write an entire story with a small amount of words. These stories can help you cut out unnecessary adjectives and adverbs that bog down your manuscript.

Remember the slush pile you fear and dread? When you enter a contest, there isn’t a slush pile. Your entry will be read and considered seriously. It doesn’t matter if you have an agent or if you’ve only published stories for your family. Everyone has an equal shot at having her voice heard in a contest.

The greatest benefit to contests is they may provide you with credits to put in a cover letter or in the bio of your indie published book. If you entered chapter one of your novel in a yearly competition, and it won first place, tell the editor in your cover letter or your newsletter followers in your latest edition. This win means three things: you can complete a manuscript, you care enough to polish it and send it off, and someone, besides your mother or significant other, thinks your writing is good!

Just a few tips before you go contest crazy. Read the guidelines carefully. Many judges narrow their entries before even reading because one rule, such as a misplaced heading, wasn’t followed. Watch out for contest fees that are high, but the prizes are low. Finally, make sure if the prize is publication, you want your work to appear in this media. When you enter, you are usually agreeing to have it published.

The other day, I received an email from one of my WOW! novel writing students, and she asked me if I knew of any writers who were having trouble focusing during the pandemic. Her particular query was riddled with anxiety because she said she seemed to have more trouble now (five months into it) than at the beginning. I wrote back immediately and told her, "You are not alone!" So while writing this piece for today, I kept thinking: if you're having trouble writing--you can't bring yourself to work on your memoir or your novel is dysopian and real life is too similar--see if you can find a contest for a short piece and work on only that for a while. As I've been saying since March, you have to give yourself grace during this time because you've literally never faced life during a pandemic before. Maybe this is the time to try your hand at writing a flash fiction piece and entering it in a contest. Then you can go back to your novel.

The next time you are thinking, Why should I enter that contest? Remember, winning may be the encouragement you’ve been looking for or the break you’ve been waiting on.

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach and instructor (and managing editor) for WOW! Women On Writing. Check out her classes on the classroom page. The next one starts on August 7. She is also a judge for WOW!'s contests. Find out about her own writing here
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Writing Tips, Compliments of the Kitchen Painting Project

Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Like many of the Pandemic Population, I’ve been working on a home project. Namely, painting. And the other day, whilst I stood there, paintbrush in hand, fumes swirling about my head, I still somehow managed a couple of brilliant thoughts about writing. So before the fumes overtake me, here’s a few writing tips, compliments of the Kitchen Painting Project:

#1: Music Can Make All the Difference

I don’t know about you but I am not one to bounce out of bed, shouting, “Wheee! I get to paint all the trim today!” No, friends, painting all the trim is an onerous task. Painting all the trim calls for a little mood music to make it all bearable.

Fortunately, I have four or five CDs of ol’ Dean Martin and before long, despite my aching arms and knees, I’m singing and smiling; I’m in a fine mood, mostly because I have lots of great memories of Dean. Suddenly, I’m not a woman of a certain age with paint splatters in her hair, I’m a kid again, staying up way past bedtime to watch Johnny Carson and Dean. That’s the power of music!

And how can you harness that power in your writing? If you’re writing your memoir, listen to the music of your life. You’ll be amazed at the memories that will come flooding back to you. Or if you’re writing an historical piece, listen to the music of the time period to get a feel for the culture. Maybe you’re writing a mystery or thriller; there is nothing like Tubular Bells to set the mood. The point is, music might just make an ordinary story sing so why not give it a try?

#2: Respect the Process

Painting is a tedious process, isn’t it? One has to do all the prep work before even starting the job. And then there’s the painting itself, which includes who-knows-how-many-coats of paint (and waiting in between for paint to dry). Finally, there’s the point where one thinks one is finally done but puts on one’s glasses and sees flaws.

Well, it’s just like writing, isn’t it? Granted, a pantser might skip the prep part of the writing process but once through the first draft, it’s time for rewrite after rewrite after rewrite (and waiting a bit between revisions). And finally, there’s the point where the writer sends out the finished product for feedback and beta readers or critique partners take a close look. Flaws must be addressed.

Painting or writing, there’s a process. And respecting the process pays off in the end product.

#3: But Forget Perfection

Just when I think I am done with all the trim, I find another spot that needs a touch up. Or a pinprick hole that needs filling in or a streak of stained wood peeking through—UGH! But you know what? There is always going to be something that needs a bit of paint. And I will never move on to the next Pandemic Project if I don’t learn to live with imperfection.

Writing is the same way. At some point, one must quit fiddling with the work and start the next task. The next task may be submitting; it may be querying; it might be starting a whole new writing project. But for every writer (and painter) the time comes to call it done and move on.

And maybe celebrate with a little Dean Martin and a drink.

(So what home project have you been working on for the last couple months? And what writing tip can you share from it?)

~ Cathy C. Hall (who may have spent more time watching Dean Martin videos than writing this blog post. But you have to respect the process, y'all. )
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Interview with Teri Liptak: Winter 2020 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Teri’s Bio:

Teri Liptak lives in Texas with her supportive husband, Eric, two opinionated cats, and one loud-mouthed dachshund. Her son, Logan, and daughter-in-law, Kasey, also live in Texas and keep her inspired. After experiencing “empty nest syndrome” and more free time than she was used to, Teri began exploring writing and art. She enjoys writing women’s literary fiction and poetry. Currently, she’s working on a novel-length story. You can follow her at Twitter: @ teriliptak

If you haven't done so already, check out Teri's award-winning story "Under the Stars" and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Winter 2020 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story?

Teri: What excited me most about writing "Under the Stars" was that it started out as a character sketch exercise to flesh out one of the characters in my novel better. Once I started learning more about Helena and put her in a situation to see what would happen, she just came to life on the page. I think this will become part of my writing process in the future – write a flash fiction story for each major character.

WOW: I like that idea! A flash piece about each character would give you more intimate knowledge of them because, whether you complete the flash piece or not, you would have spent a lot of time learning about the characters. What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece?

Teri: Writing this piece taught me how to create relatable characters and move them through scenes without extraneous description and details. Flash fiction is an excellent teacher for beginners like me.

WOW: Excellent! I’m happy to know the experience was a positive and meaningful one for you. Are you willing to tell us more about your novel-in-progress?

Teri: Here's a little blurb for the novel I'm working on: After the sudden death of her only child in a tragic accident, Nettie Lambert’s strength will be tested in every way, as a wife and an artist. In her effort to cope with her grief and guilt, she soon becomes obsessed with the mysterious, well-written journals she finds hidden away in the lining of a decades old trunk bought from an antique store. Will meeting the owner of the journals whose beautiful words fortified her through her despair help Nettie move forward beyond heartbreak, or will it cost her everything?

WOW: What an intriguing premise! Now I’m curious to know more about those journals. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Teri: I'm actually going back and forth between two books right now. I'm reading Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody to help me with the first draft of my novel. I highly recommend this one for writers who prefer to outline their books before drafting. It is so full of great information. I'm also re-reading The Journals of Sylvia Plath for the third or fourth time. To have access to her thoughts, so raw and honest, fascinates me as an aspiring writer. She shares her doubts about her writing and the fear of rejections, which gives me strength to put my stuff out into the world. It took her ten years to get her first poem published in The New Yorker. That surprised me.

WOW: It is somehow a relief to know that even the most successful writers have had doubts and fears about their craft. If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why?

Teri: A piece of writing advice I would give to my younger self would be, don't fear rejection. It is merely a part of the process. It is inevitable, and it doesn't mean you are wasting your time. Every rejection brings you closer to a "yes."

WOW: Lovely advice. Anything else you’d like to add?

Teri: I have a new found respect for flash fiction. It is definitely a challenge to craft a meaningful, interesting story in 750 words or less. I enjoyed the experience very much.

WOW: Thank you for sharing your story and for your other thoughtful responses! Congratulations again, and happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen with the purpose giving them a forum to discuss their own athletic careers, bodies, and lives in their own words. For more on the power of storytelling, join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
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What's Your Angle?

Monday, July 27, 2020

This past week, as I worked on the script for a podcast episode, I had a terrible case of Imposter Syndrome. While researching the story idea, I found out other true crime podcasts had covered the same topic. One used the same book I was reading as the basis for her episode. Even though I was already several pages into the script, I seriously considered giving up.

Then I started thinking about all the investigative crime shows I watch on television, like “48 Hours” and “Dateline NBC,” and all the different spinoffs of Investigation Discovery shows. There are some stories that get told over and over on these types of shows, but it doesn’t keep me from watching them if I recognize the case.

The trick, I told myself, is finding your own angle. After all, as a magazine editor, the angle is what I advise writers to find when working on their assignments. Is someone writing an article about a new bakery in town? What’s the angle? Oh, the owner is a trained pastry chef specializing in French treats who has baked for three different United States presidents? (True story, by the way). There’s the angle.

When I was working on a podcast script about a disappearance in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, I watched an episode of the Investigation Discovery Show “Hometown Homicide” while I was working on my script. I recognized the show uses a formula—they delve into three different “theories” and sometimes insert fictionalized or composite characters into the mix. When I scheduled the interview with one of the authors of a book about the mystery, she and I discussed her being interviewed for that TV show. She had no idea they were going to change the names of real people on the island and disagreed with the way the show was edited. I made sure to provide a variety of questions for my own interviews so I could make sure this retelling of the story was different from other shows I’d seen about it, while still staying true to the facts.

So once I talked myself out of how much I sucked as a podcaster this week, I thought about my angle. The podcast episode explores a man named Larry Gene Bell, who was executed for kidnapping and murdering two young girls in South Carolina in the mid-1980s. There have been a lot of podcasts and TV shows (and even a made for TV movie) about his crimes. What I wanted to explore was three women who went missing from my town in the 1970s and 1980s when Bell actually lived here. He was never conclusively linked to the women’s disappearances but there have been journalists and law enforcement that have speculated. I started off the episode by talking about the three women and then segueing into Bell’s crimes. I hope the point of difference made for an intriguing episode for listeners.

If you ever find yourself stuck with any type of non-fiction writing (articles, personal essays, blog posts) stop for a minute and brainstorm what you want your angle to be. Once you narrow that down, I guarantee you’ll have an easier time getting the words out and down on paper.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at
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3 Ways You Can Set Yourself Up to Write

Sunday, July 26, 2020
Write every day. That’s the advice that we are so often given but how do you squeeze writing in around your day-to-day activities? It doesn’t matter if you are dealing with children who are distance learning, working remotely yourself, or just dealing with day to day household tasks, it can be way too easy to put your writing off. You finally get a moment to write and . . .

Nothing. The words simply refuse to flow. Here are three things that you can do to help the words flow when you have time to write.

Have a Ritual. Setting up a writing ritual may sound strange but I’m here to tell you that it works. When I am doing a hard copy edit. I’m usually working on a deadline which means that I need to get it done now. What is my ritual? In the dining room, an area where I don't normally work, I set out my print manuscript, a pencil, a fresh cup of coffee, and a specific candle. Even on days my mind is scattered, when I smell that candle, I sit down and get to work. 

Have a Plan. Know what you are going to work on. Don’t wait for the Muse to come along and drop something in your lap. Instead, develop a plan. For some people, this plan can be really general. “Today, I am going to draft a picture book about bees.” For other people, it has to be a bit more specific. Not only do you need a project, you also need an outline.  Don't worry if what you need differs from project to project. For fiction picture books, I just need to know what manuscript I’m working on. For nonfiction picture books, I need an outline.

Stop in the Middle. Throughout July, I’ve been working on the same project, a cozy mystery tentatively titled Send in the Sopranos. I have written on this project each of the last 21 days. I’ve learned if I stop at the end of the scene it is hard for me to get started the next day.  I find myself waffling over where this new scene takes place and which characters are in.  If I stop in the middle of a scene? Then I can read the last few sentences and mentally drop back into the scene.  Soon the words are flowing.  Yes, some days this flow is a trickle but even that is something. 

Even if you can’t write every single day, these three techniques will help the words flow when you sit down to write. Yes, even the ritual, and I have a licorice-scented candle to prove it.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  August 3, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins August 3, 2020). 
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