Naming Your Characters

Monday, February 28, 2011

When I was on bed rest with my second child a well-meaning friend bought my husband and me a baby book. 20,000 baby names if I remember correctly. Blessed with a captive audience my husband would read names to me ever night and endlessly discuss them. We went through the entire book without finding a name the both of us could agree on.

Choosing a name is just as tough for your fictional family. Maybe more so because fictional characters can’t demand to be called by a nickname when they realize just how horrendous the name you’ve picked out is. So here are a few of my husband’s baby name rules, adapted for the world of fiction.

  1. The first and last name should sound good together. According to many baby name books long first names should have short last names and vice versa.
  2. Don’t give them a name kids can make fun of in the playground. Of course in the world of fiction this works both ways. If your character is a nerdy, got picked on in the playground kind of person they need a nerdy name. Close your eyes and say the possible name. Does the person that pops into your head look anything like your character?
  3. Being symbolic. Names have meaning. Are you picking a name because it means warrior or strength or has some other symbolism that plays into your book? Just ensure that you like the name even without the symbolism since chances are that most of your readers will never pick up on that hidden meaning.
  4. Don’t be too cute. There seems to be a trend toward characters with first and last names beginning with the same letter. How many people in real life do you know with matching names?
  5. While we’re on matching names…many fictional families have siblings with matching names, either the first letter matches or they rhyme. This may work in the real world but in the world of fiction it only causes confusion when readers are getting to know your characters. Give your characters different names to help readers distinguish them from each other.
  6. Friend’s names. Be wary about naming a character after a friend or, heaven help us, their child. You will never convince them that the character is NOT them and if your character does anything unfortunate(murder someone or even just sass back to their mother)you will never hear the end of it.
  7. Say the name out loud. Does it roll of your tongue? Hopefully you’ll someday be doing a reading in a bookstore and you’ll have to say this name out loud. Can you wrap your mouth around it? And while we’re at it, is this a name that is difficult to say or spell? Will you spend the rest of your writing career correcting people when they say it wrong or seeing it misspelled in book reviews?

Good luck with your naming and by the way, we eventually named our second child after the girl who sat in front of me in Chemistry in high school. I thought her name was pretty. Yes, we did stretch rule #6 but, since I haven’t seen that girl in over two decades, I don’t think there’ll be a problem.

Can you remember the best or worst character names you’ve ever read?

Jodi M. Webb finds some of her favorite character names in the phone book. When she isn't reading the phone book or organizing WOW Blog Tours, you can find her blogging at Words by Webb. Stop by, she's giving away novels in March!

Read More »

Add Some 'SPARK' in Your Writing

Sunday, February 27, 2011
By Jill Earl

Ever heard of SPARK? Founded by freelance writer and editor Amy Souza, it’s an opportunity for artists, writers, and musicians to use each other’s work to create new work of their own in a collaborative project.

The rules are simple. For each round, participants are paired with someone from a different art form, then the partners trade their work. Participants have 10 days to create a new work using their partner’s piece for inspiration.

Why would a writer be interested in something like this? Well, besides networking with other creatives, you might be able to take a work-in-progress in a new direction or be inspired to try a new genre or art form.

SPARK Rounds take place four times during the year, February, May, August, and October. For more details and to see the results of this month's round, SPARK 11, click here. You’ll also be able to see works from previous SPARK rounds and sign up for the next round.

Give it a try and ‘spark’ up your writing!

Image: "Some holiday fireworks on the night sky" by Algol
Read More »

Keeping Secrets or Not

Saturday, February 26, 2011

This week my study focus is on ultimate stakes. Here's a clip from Donald Maas' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook exploring the ultimate stakes. 

The first draft of my latest novel Mirror, Mirror—Who's the Next to Die is completed and has been for some time, so I've started the hard work of the second draft. I want to make my main character as three-dimensional as possible so I'm asking questions—why does she get up in the morning. Why does she do the things she does?  What motivates her? I thought I knew, but as I started asking questions (interviewing her), I found out I didn't. I want to find the perfect combination for her. Enough conflict in her life to make her interesting and enough strength in her life to make me want to be like her.

Another book I've been delving into is Conflict, Action and Suspense by William Noble and on page 98, he talks about Terrible Secrets.  Do you have a terrible secret? Most of us do. Mr. Noble asks how many of us would be comfortable telling about our secrets. If you would not be, then it's a terrible secret or one worth writing about.  I'm not telling mine, but I'm trying to come up with a terrible secret for my character, Jill McKeel, to live with. I haven't figured it out yet.

Does anyone remember the show I've Got a Secret? I found it interesting to follow the clues in order to guess the secret. I believe the same concept is why many readers keep turning the page. They want to put the clues together to reveal the secret.

How well do you know what motivates your character? How well do you know what motivates you? Have you ever thought about it? I'm thinking about it right now. What motivates me? 

Does your writing reveal secrets? Even, many recipes are of greater interest because they have a secret ingredient. It's time for a confession (true or not). Share your thoughts about secrets that motivate.

A couple of other Muffin Blogs that speaks of characters are:
Elizabeth King Humphrey's "Introducing Your Characters"
Another of Mine (Cher'ley Grogg) "Making Your Characters a Character"

Books photo Cher'ley Grogg
Read More »

Friday Speak Out!: Potty Tales: How Toilet Training Made Me a Writer Again, Guest Post by Julie Duffy

Friday, February 25, 2011
Potty Tales: How Toilet Training Made Me a Writer Again

by Julie Duffy

“I dun wanna!!”

A moment before, I had been hunkered down on the hardwood floor, gazing at him adoringly as the afternoon sunlight sparked the reds and golds in my beautiful son’s impossibly long eyelashes.

Now I was trying to keep the words “half Nelson” from flitting through my mind as I, um, encouraged him to stay on the potty.

I couldn’t give up. Not again. But I knew this little boy was far more persistent than I. We had tried watching TV while we waited. We had read all the books and sung all the songs.

In desperation I began to vamp, “Once upon a time, there was a little boy named...”

He stopped struggling and looked around for the book. When I announced that the boy in the story had the same name as he did, well, you should have seen those eyes widen--they half-filled his baby face.

He sat perfectly still. He relaxed.

I fought down a decade-long case of writer’s block and took one step into the story.

The Birth And Death of a Writer

I was like most of you: a writer from my earliest age. I scribbled before I could write. While other nine-year olds were struggling to put together six sentences I was gleefully writing six-page epics, stopping only because the teacher snatched the notebook away and sent me home. I wrote for fun. I had a poem published in an anthology at 10, and at 12 I would tell anyone who asked that I was going to be A Writer.

And then it all went wrong.

At secondary school I suffered the double-whammy of Discovering Boys and being forced into inept analyses of great works of English literature. And it only got worse at university. Studying the great works of great writers in the hallowed halls of an ancient university it became crystal clear: I could never be a writer. I was tongue-tied, insignificant and deeply unworthy.

Desperation: The Mother of Accomplishment

But now? In my desperation to entertain the boy, I had created a fan.

Now I was staring at an upturned face, rapt, uncritical, waiting to be carried away on the next wave of the adventure. Now, if the pace was lagging, if the story was boring, if the words were too complicated, my audience threatened to get up and walk away (and create a ‘cleaning opportunity’ I could live without).

Now, if my story was good, he stayed on the potty. I was motivated, he was enthralled.

And I realized that I could tell stories. I told them at potty-time, at bed-time, to divert tantrums, on walks and in the car. They didn’t have to be ground-breaking or literary or trendy. They had to capture the imagination of one person. And, I reasoned, if I could hold the attention of this small, squirmy boy, then I must be one helluva writer.

And with that, I began to write again.

* * *
Julie Duffy is the host of and the Story A Day May Extreme Writing challenge ( She is also the author of several workbooks that help writers on their creative journey.


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!

Read More »

Do I Need A Photo Release For That?

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Ahh… the perplexing rules of picture permission. Every freelance writer should have at least a basic understanding of photography permission forms and when to use them. When pictures are included with prose the burden of rights and permissions falls to the writer/photographer, not the editor.

As with any written law, the guidelines can seem both vague and complex. Two things to remember:

  1. Law definitions can be much broader than your own understanding of them.
  2. Cover your you-know-what.
It is my intent to offer you enough information to assist you in the most common circumstances. If you plan on taking writer/photographer assignments on a regular basis I encourage you to do a little more research; that’s my disclaimer—I’m not an attorney and am not attempting to offer legal advice. :)

Pictures of People:

If the people are not identifiable—not the focal point of the picture—and the picture is to be used for editorial/informational purposes you do not need a permission release.


  1. The people are posing or otherwise made the focal point of the picture.
  2. The picture will be used for advertising purposes (brochures, etc…)
  3. There are children in the photograph.
  4. There is someone in “trade dress” such as a circus performer.
  5. The person is a celebrity. We won’t get into that but the rules are different for them.

A note about children:

Anyone under 18 years of age must have a permission form signed by at least one parent or guardian.Schools and other organized groups generally have standard forms. Read these carefully, they may cover the organization but not necessarily the photographer.

Pictures of Property:

You may take pictures of houses, buildings, cars, etc… while standing on public property. However, be sure that the owner of the property can not be identified by the picture. Again, if the shot is for editorial purposes you should be fine. If it is for promotional purposes, get a property permission form signed.


  • If the icon on the vehicle is visible you may have copyright issues with the manufacturer.
  • Trademarks on buildings are copyrighted and the buildings themselves may belong to another company or individual.
What do I do with the signed permission forms?

Keep them—forever. It is a good idea to make notes on the back of the form that will remind you as to which form goes to which picture. When you get back to your office print a copy of the picture on plain paper and attach it to the permission form.

Where do I find permission forms?

Photo release forms are available online at:

Free Legal Documents


The American Society of Media Photographers

and other similar sites.

By Robyn Chausse
Read More »

Audience, Audience, Who Is My Audience?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Lately, I've had a lot of time to ponder the importance of an author's audience. In bed with a vicious bug, I had a lot of time to read a variety of books, magazines, and short stories. In between my reading marathons and my naps, my son started reading more advanced chapter books to me. That same week, I turned in a manuscript and was approached to edit a couple of manuscripts.
Without meaning to, I started comparing the unpublished works (including my own) to the published works.
Audience became very clear to me in these instances:
• With my son's chapter books, they make it easy--big numbers or letters adorn the outside so that even he knows if a book might be too difficult for him to read. The authors have a specific target audience when they are writing.
• The manuscript I worked on was a middle-grade work of non-fiction. As I wrote, I tried to keep in mind that age group, but, in all honesty, I may have over-shot my audience. In some ways, I was also writing to try to impress new-to-me editors and I might have lost some focus on my true audience.
• In the adult books area, one author did not seem to have an idea who the book's audience was. The subject matter weaved around: sometimes it delivered to one audience, then, I turned the page for the narrative to dart over here, then trying to please this audience over here.
• One author clearly had herself for the audience. Not really confident that anyone really wanted to hear what she had to say, she floated around throughout the manuscript. She wrote things that, she admitted, she wasn't sure she wanted anyone else to read. Except that now she has decided to work for publication for those outside her family circle.

As storytellers, aren't we seeking an audience to listen to the tale we tell? Don't we ultimately want someone to hear what we have to say? To have someone engage with what we are putting forth? We know our audience exists, right?
Much of my writing has a pre-defined audience with whom I am trying to communicate and engage. Instead of trying to figure out the next best seller (Think a vampire romance trying to cater to the Harry Potter crowd with a little of Hello Kitty thrown into the mix), perhaps I should take more time to discover my audience. Who wants to read what I have to write?
As writers, ultimately, when we sit down to write, who are we serving? Ourselves or our readers?

Elizabeth King Humphrey, a writer/editor/coach, lives in North Carolina.
Read More »

Letters from Home by Kristina McMorris, Blog Tour & Book Giveaway!

Monday, February 21, 2011
We're thrilled to introduce Kristina McMorris, an amazing author and new friend. Inspired by the true story of her own grandparents' courtship during World War II, Kristina captures the heartache and sacrifice of love and war in Letters from Home, an award-winning debut novel that is timeless, tender and unforgettably moving. It's the must-read novel of the season!

Kristina has such a fantastic video for her book that we wanted to share this with you first so you can get to know her a little better. [If you're reading this via Feedburner e-mail and can't see the video below please visit or click on blog title link.]

Book Giveaway Contest: If you'd like to win a copy of Letters from Home, please leave a comment at the end of this post to be entered in random drawing. The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, February 24th at 11:59 PM, PST. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post the following day, Friday February 25th. Good luck!

----- More about the book:

In the midst of World War II, a Midwestern infantryman falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he's been writing to is not the one replying...

Chicago, 1944. Liz Stephens has little interest in attending a USO club dance with her friends Betty and Julia. She doesn't need a flirtation with a lonely serviceman when she's set to marry her childhood sweetheart. Yet something happens the moment Liz glimpses Morgan McClain. They share only a brief conversation--cut short by the soldier's evident interest in Betty--but Liz can't forget him. Thus, when Betty asks her to ghostwrite a letter to Morgan, stationed overseas, Liz reluctantly agrees.

Thousands of miles away, Morgan struggles to adjust to the brutality of war. His letters from "Betty" are a comfort, their soul-baring correspondence a revelation to them both. While Liz is torn by her feelings for a man who doesn't know her true identity, Betty and Julia each become immersed in their own romantic entanglements. And as the war draws to a close, all three will face heart-wrenching choices, painful losses, and the bittersweet joy of new beginnings.

Beautifully rendered and deeply touching, Letters from Home is a story of hope and connection, of sacrifices made in love and war--and the chance encounters that change us forever.

Letters from Home is scheduled for release in trade paperback from Kensington Books (2-22-11; U.S.) and Avon/HarperCollins (5-5-11; U.K.). Various book club rights have been sold to Reader's Digest and Doubleday, and the film rights are represented by the prestigious Creative Artists Agency of Los Angeles.

It's available for purchase at Amazon, B&N, IndieBound, Books-a-Million, and at bookstores nationwide. A portion of the proceeds will benefit United Through Reading®, a nonprofit organization that video records deployed U.S. military personnel reading bedtime stories for their children.

Click here to read the first chapter of Letters from Home.

----- About the author:

Kristina McMorris lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. She has garnered more than twenty national literary awards since writing her first novel, Letters from Home. A graduate of Pepperdine University, she spent twelve years hosting weekly television shows, including an Emmy® Award-winning television show at age nine, and most recently served as the six-year host of the WB's weekly program Weddings Portland Style. Adding to her diverse résumé, McMorris is a professional emcee, literary workshop presenter, and former owner of a wedding/event planning business. Her previous writing background includes being a contributing writer for Portland Bride & Groom magazine and ten years of directing public relations for an international conglomerate. She has been named one of Portland's "Forty Under Forty" by The Business Journal. She is currently working on her next novel.

Find out more about Kristina by visiting her website:

----- Interview by Robyn Chausse

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Kristina! Letters from Home follows the experiences of several characters from July of 1944 through October of 1945, during WWII. Those are a lot of timelines to juggle--the historical timeline of the war and the individual timelines of the characters--how did you keep it all straight?

Kristina: All I have to say is, thank goodness for multi-colored Post-its! Since I was alternating four points of view while interweaving several storylines, all set in very different geographical locations, I used not only posterboard covered sticky notes but also a timeline sheet and chapter breakdown summary to help me remain consistent. And I definitely referred to all three on a regular basis.

WOW: What made you decide to cover the time from July through October?

Kristina: I knew I wanted the story to conclude soon after the war ended, and due to the deceptive nature of the letter exchanges between two of the characters, I didn't feel comfortable allowing the correspondence to span much longer than a year. The reason I chose to start the story on July 4th, quite honestly, was because I loved the visual idea of fireworks exploding over the city. Only after I completed the book did common sense set in regarding the lack of gunpowder due to the war effort. I therefore had to adjust the opening paragraph, and instead had my female character reflect on the absence of such vibrant displays, along with happier times.

WOW: Very clever! So tell us about your research process with Letters from Home. Did you have a plan or get lost in a sea of reference material?

Kristina: I often tell people that I wouldn't advise first-time novelists to tackle a book set during World War II. Aside from the potential criticism you face, given the sheer number of WWII enthusiasts out there, the time period requires an incredible amount of research to bring authenticity to the story. Keeping my timeline to a window of roughly a year certainly helped focus my efforts. But that didn't stop me from obsessively researching until the wee hours of the morning everything from the origin of fountain pens to Christmas tree lights (which is fascinating, by the way). Fortunately, I discovered that most inventions I wanted to reference were patented in the 1930s. It's a wonderful thing when history conveniently fits with a writer's vision!

WOW: The story went through several "reads" before the contract was offered. What were the concerns?

Kristina: I believe the primary concern was the story's World War II backdrop. At the time, popular women's fiction novels set during this era were fairly uncommon. Over the two years since, of course, there have been several such novels that have enjoyed widespread readership, The Postmistress and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (say that one ten times fast!) to name a few. The fact that both of these examples also revolve around a premise of letter exchanges gives me even more hope that my own novel will find a welcoming audience.

WOW: How many rewrites did you go through and in what ways is the final story different from the original?

Kristina: How many rewrites? Oh, goodness, how high can you count?! I can't say I've ever kept track, but I do fondly refer to this book as my first and twelfth novel. The Cyrano de Bergerac-twist of the story has remained consistent since the very first draft. Aside from a good amount of trimming and improved writing in general (at least I hope so!), the most significant change has been increased complexity through higher stakes, additional conflict, and multiple storylines. When I first wrote the book, it was basically a sweet tale spotlighting a single war-torn couple. But as my craft developed so did the secondary characters, until it became clear that this was really a novel about the journeys of three close yet diverse girlfriends, whose lives change drastically as a result of the war. Apparently all three women had something to say; it just took me a while to listen. ;)

WOW: Your writing has been mainly in the non-fiction arena with Letters from Home being your first work of fiction. In fact, I read that at the time you began writing this novel you did not even read much fiction! In what ways were you surprised with the process of writing and publishing a novel?

Kristina: I hate to admit it, but yes, it's true; at the time, I hardly read any books, let alone fiction. As a movie buff, I actually saw my story play out as a film in my head, and decided (who knows why I thought I could?) to write it as a book. After all, how hard could getting published be? Uh, yeah. I received my answer in a stream of form rejections from just about every major literary agent in town. Yet at that point, it was too late to turn back; I'd already written an entire manuscript. So instead of giving up, I became more determined than ever to reach my goal of publication, and to do that meant learning, listening, networking, and doing lots of rewrites.

The greatest surprise, of course, was just how challenging the business can be for all authors, no matter how green or seasoned. When I began, I knew nothing of the process--from acquisition meetings to copy editing to an author's role in marketing. My non-author friends are always shocked when I explain the true basis of the New York Times bestsellers list, or how book covers are stripped for store refunds. No doubt, with how rapidly the industry seems to be changing, I'll continue to have much to learn as time goes on.

WOW: Thank you for sharing your journey. We are in a tough business, for sure. What else are you working on? I read that you were working on some children's books and another novel--do tell!

Kristina: Given that my kids are young and still huge fans of picture books, I decided to try my hand at writing one myself during a small gap between publishing deadlines. I've since put it on the back burner, as my second novel took priority, and really, that's where my passion lies. I'm happy to share that I just turned in my second novel to my editor a few weeks ago, and I can't tell you how proud I am of this next book.

BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES is about a Caucasian violinist who secretly elopes with her Japanese-American boyfriend--against families' wishes and societal molds--the night before Pearl Harbor is bombed.

Once again, there are interwoven storylines, alternating points of view, and a whole lot of conflict! I'm very eager to share this one with the readers, as it features some shocking aspects of history that most people have never heard about, as well as heroes that are too often passed over. Also, being half Japanese, I was able to infuse a unique perspective of living between worlds.

WOW: Ooh, I can hardly wait! Kristina, what words of inspiration or advice would you like to share with your readers and fellow writers?

Kristina: Don't give up. Believe in your voice, hold onto it, and learn how to improve the rest. When someone offers a literary critique, whether solicited or not, listen with open ears. Consider the suggestions. Then, like a cafeteria line, pick and choose what works for you.

----- Blog Tour Dates:

Join Kristina on her tour!
Check out these dates and mark your calendar! You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar HERE.

February 22, Tuesday: Have fun learning about cooking amid rationing during WWII from Kristina McMorris. Also, enter to win a copy of her debut novel, Letters from Home.

February 23, Wednesday: Connect to your family's past with the help of Kristina McMorris, who was inspired to write a novel by the romance of her own family history. You can also enter to win a copy of her novel!

February 24, Thursday: Don't miss Dana's audio interview with debut novelist Kristina McMorris. She'll also be giving away a copy of Letters from Home.

February 25, Friday: Today Kristina tells us about the bliss of literary ignorance...if writers knew about the journey to publication they might never write that first word! Happily, Kristina traveled that bumpy road and is giving away a copy of her debut novel Letters from Home.

February 28, Monday: Kristina will be posting about the challenges of writing historical fiction. She's also giving away a copy of Letters from Home and hopes no one finds any glaring historical inaccuracies!

March 1, Tuesday: Kristina tells readers about the long and bumpy road to publication. She's also giving away a copy of her book!

March 2, Wednesday: Ever wonder about the person behind the book? Kathy uncovers the woman behind the novel Letters from Home. We learn Kristina McMorris's favorite candy, superhero, song, guilty pleasure...and a few things about her writing life! Share something about your life for a chance to win Kristina's novel.

March 3, Thursday: Valentine's Day may be over but it's never too late to pen a great love letter. Get some tips on letter writing from novelist Kristina McMorris and a chance to win her debut novel Letters from Home.

March 4, Friday: Don't miss the opportunity to learn where novel ideas come from in an interview with Kristina McMorris. You can also enter to win her novel!

March 7, Monday: Kristina tells us how to laugh if our books are labeled a "tough sell" and plan to succeed anyway. She's also giving away a copy of her book!

March 8, Tuesday: Moms? Daughters? Come by to learn why Letters from Home is a great book for moms and daughters to share during an interview with author Kristina McMorris. You can also win a copy to share with your daughter!

March 9, Wednesday: The publishing industry is full of ominous proclamations such as "Your book will be a tough sell." Kristina tells us what a "tough sell" is and gives readers the opportunity to win her WWII era novel!

March 10, Thursday: Stop by to learn what novelist Kristina McMorris has to say about the challenges of writing historical fiction when the "history" is recent enough that folks are alive to say, "Hey, you got it wrong!" She'll also be giving away an e-book of her debut novel Letters from Home.

March 11, Friday: Stop by for a review of Letters from Home and a fun 5Ws interview with author Kristina McMorris.

March 14, Monday: To paraphrase Bette Davis, "Fasten your seat belts, publication is going to be a bumpy ride." Debut author Kristina McMorris tells us how she survived it and is giving away a copy of her debut novel.

March 15, Tuesday: Crazy for Books reviews Kristina McMorris's debut novel Letters from Home today. You can also win a copy. Do you feel lucky?

March 16, Wednesday: Mass Blogging Event: Everyone's Talking About...Surprises!
Celebrate the grand finale of Kristina McMorris's WOW! Blog Tour with a mass blogging event called "Everyone's Talking About...Surprises." Stop by The Muffin for Kristina's surprise and a list of all her blogging buddies today. Visit her blogging buddies to enter to win a copy of Letters from Home. There's also a Surprise Grand Prize for those who buy her book today. [If you have a blog and would like to join in on the fun, please e-mail Jodi:]

Book Giveaway Contest: Remember, if you'd like to win a copy of Letters from Home, please leave a comment below, or ask Kristina a question, to be entered in random drawing (via The giveaway contest closes this Thursday, February 24th at 11:59 PM, PST. We will announce the winner in the comments section of this post the following day, Friday February 25th. Good luck!
Read More »

Keeping Dialogue REAL

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Whoa, that convo would never take place!

Ever read a novel and have that thought come to mind while perusing the dialogue? That situation happened to me this week. Twice, in fact. One incident involved a YA novel. As an educator, I hear enough teen talk to know what's real and what's phony as a $3 bill. The other time I was critiquing a short story. Everything flowed in the piece, except the dialogue. Nothing like stealing that "feel good" feeling from a great piece of literature. (Insert frown here.)

Writers need to keep dialogue real; otherwise, readers will tune out. What are the best ways to pump up the reality volume of what your characters are saying? These tips will help you fine tune your characters' messages:
  • Listen and Learn Unless you isolate yourself from the outside world, conversations that you can learn from take place all the time. Call if eavesdropping, but if you just sit and listen to people talk, you'll learn to pick up speech patterns, key words, phrasing, and rhythm - all which will help you write a realistic scene. For example, I attended a comedy show last night and paid attention to the comedian riff with an audience member. The comedian used timing to his advantage, creating this natural conversation with the guy in the front row. As the dialogue continued, even the audience member seemed to pick up on the established rhythm the comedian employed. It was a perfect example of listening and learning how individuals talk and respond to each other. One of the best methods for improving dialogue technique may require popcorn. Watch a movie and discover how each character treats the dialogue. It's more than words. Dialogue also means you're creating a mood, setting up a reaction, and propelling a character into new situations.

  • Precision Trumps Surplus Once you've mastered listening, put your skills to the test. Dialogue shouldn't provide full disclosure. Instead, writers need to discern which information should be offered through dialogue. Info overload makes dialogue sound stilted. What's the best advice? Precision. Precision. Precision. A character's dialogue should make a point. Otherwise, it sounds fake.

  • The Rule of Three Repetition can be a writer's best tool to drive home a point. When writing stand up comedy, you give two examples and then bam! hit the audience with a twist the third time. It's the same "rule of three" idea with fiction. Writers employ a key word or phrase three times in a row to emphasize a point. Moderation is the key with the rule of three. Too much of a good thing makes dialogue sound phony.

  • Speak Up Once you've completed a scene, read it aloud. Do the words match the intended tone and message? Or does the conversation sound bogus? Sometimes I'll record a scene as a .wav or MP3 file, play it back, and hear where changes are needed. If you're part of a critique group, read snippets of dialogue to group members and use their input to decide whether or not the words flow or if the conversation needs to be rewritten.

Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock summed up realistic dialogue when he said, "Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms."

Strong, realistic dialogue adds a powerful element to a story. It's a sound clip, a byte of everyday life inserted into a new situation. Make your sound clip worth listening to.

by LuAnn Schindler. A freelance journalist, more of LuAnn's writing can be found at her website.

Graphic design by LuAnn Schindler

Read More »

Saving Libraries: A Writer's Perspective

Saturday, February 19, 2011
by Jill Earl

The Bookseller, a site covering every aspect of the publishing industry in the U.K., reported earlier this week that a pair of government officials received a letter that called for the ceasing of library closures in the country after a series of read-ins. Besides signatures from organizations, high-profile authors including Terry Jones and Kate Mosse signed off on the letter. Alan Gibbons of Campaign for the Book wrote in regards to the protesters, “They have put out a positive message: our libraries, our communities, our right to have a say over their future."

The article brought back memories of a situation regarding the library in the neighborhood I lived in during my early teens. It was small but it was there I did homework when I wanted a change of scenery and where I spent Saturdays searching for the latest YA novel, or geology guide. l ignored rumors of its closing until a flyer posted on the entrance door confirmed it. Upset, I wrote to city officials, had my mother take me to community meetings, and wrote to the local paper. In this case, the closing was due to a lack of interest and the general outcry was far less vocal than it should’ve been and wasn’t enough. About a year later, the library shut its doors.

In recalling this incident, the message put out by the community at the time wasn’t positive. An opportunity existed for residents to have a say over their future and those of their children, yet many opted not to. That made me sad. Having moved from the community decades ago, I have no idea whether a new library ever returned there. I know that if a situation arose regarding the library in my present neighborhood, and with the county dealing with budget cuts, it very well could, I’d once again fight for a wonderful community resource. As a writer, I’m on board when it comes to encouraging a love of reading, which led me to writing in the first place.

The rest of the Bookseller article can be found here. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I sure hope closures on both sides of the ocean cease.

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Read More »

Friday Speak Out!: Living the Dream, Guest Post by Patricia Caviglia

Friday, February 18, 2011
Living the Dream

by Patricia Caviglia

I am a writer. I did not always know it or accept it. As an only and lonely young child, I told myself many stories. I created them, wrote them in my mind, and edited them. They provided hours of entertainment. I discovered an appreciation for reading around age thirteen: I read my first novel, a romance story. I can’t remember how many pages it was, but I remember thinking it was a monster of a book. I never thought I would get through it. In fact, the only reason I borrowed it from the library was to read the juicy scenes. I was curious! I became curious about the story too. That is when my love of reading and writing began.

I devoured novels and was inspired to write everything from scripts to poetry. In a Chemistry class, I even wrote an ode to the atom. Reading and writing are what I did. By the time I entered university, I made sure that I could write the best papers possible. After all, writing was my talent. I would honor it. Enough professors expressed how much they enjoyed reading my well written essays that I know I received higher marks than I deserved on some papers.

Why then did I not pursue writing as a career until my thirties? Few people ever suggested it. The most important person was my mother. She believed I should do something important and highly remunerated. Creativity and art were not considered options. Eventually, I stopped being creative on paper and reverted to being creative in my head. It is in my nature to write. I cannot stop the flow of characters and stories. I have tried.

Before I became a mother, so many parents told me that children would change my life. They always made it sound negative like a burden. Perhaps they did not mean it that way or perhaps I misunderstood them. However, I found that my daughter’s birth gave me focus. In a way, I became more selfish. I stopped stifling myself and unleashed a novella upon the world. Between the Tweeting, the Facebook sharing, the blogging, and the story writing, I am writing more than I ever have before. I never seem to stop. Some days, it feels like there aren’t enough letters in the alphabet for all these words that keep spewing out of me. Some days, I write so much I do not want to talk. Other times, I should write about one thing (like right now, I should be working on a short story contest entry), but I find myself wanting to work on something entirely different (this blog post).

What is amazing is that I am living a dream I never allowed myself to believe could be a reality until I became a mother. As a mother, I am my daughter’s primary example of what a woman should be – courageous enough to believe in herself and pursue her dreams.

* * *
Patricia Caviglia is a mom, a writer and a full-time railroader. Her first published work, a young adult novella, is entitled Masks.



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!

Read More »

An Interview with Donna McDine: Children's Author and Freelance Writer

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Award-winning children’s author Donna McDine published her first book The Golden Pathway, August 2010 with Guardian Angel Publishing and has two more books under contract with said publisher for The Hockey Agony and Powder Monkey. She writes, moms, and is the publicist intern for The National Writing for Children Center and Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club, and the editor-in-chief for Guardian Angel Kids e-zine from her home in the historical hamlet, Tappan, NY. McDine is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and Musing Our Children.

WOW: Donna, welcome to the Muffin! We're thrilled you've decided to share your experience on freelance writing. So, let's start at the beginning. How should a writer prepare herself to enter the freelance marketplace?

Donna: Before someone jumps into a freelance writing career, keep your day job. The comfort of a steady paycheck will lessen the stress until you build up your publishing credits and clientele. It is imperative to study the market or genre you are interested in writing for by visiting various websites, blogs, and discussion boards to educate yourself on each unique opportunity. Since I write for the children, I offer the following suggestions to get you started:

WOW: Thanks for the specific examples! We know that a writer's bio and resume are an important asset to a publication, but what if she doesn't have any published clips yet? What should she do to build her platform?

Donna: Building one’s platform is not as difficult as it sounds. Start out by writing book reviews and post them on your blog, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Conduct interviews of authors, publishers, editors, agents, and illustrators and post these too on your blog. I highly recommend Christina Katz’s book, Get Known Before the Book Deal published by Writer’s Digest Books.

WOW: So, as we learn from example, what was the very first freelance publication you were accepted to? And what did your query letter entail?

Donna: Stories for Children Magazine was my very first acceptance for my non-fiction article, “What’s Not a Fish, But is Called a Fish?” Even though my submission was via e-mail, I made sure to keep it professional and to submit it according to their submission guidelines.

WOW: That's so true! And I love that title. In your opinion, when you write query letters, what do you find is the key ingredient that entices an editor?

Donna: A key component I always make sure to include is my research of their back issues, themes (if a themed magazine), and submission guidelines. To show you have done your homework is important to the publisher or editor and that you are not submitting on a whim.

WOW: Do you have a query letter you could post here for us to learn from and see a good example?

Donna: The below query letter met with such success with Boys’ Quest that it was published as a sample in 2009 Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers.

Dear Editor XX:

Don’t think you can enjoy your favorite past time of fishing in the dead winter? Well think again. Unbelievably, fishing on a frozen lake is possible and fish can be plentiful. Not only is it exciting to learn a new way to fish, you will also enjoy the great outdoors in a very different way.

For many years my father took me on ice fishing trips. I always found it amazing that you could drill holes in the ice and catch live fish out of the frozen lake.

Enclosed for your consideration is a 500-word article on ice fishing, entitled, “Fishing Through A Frozen Lake.” The article includes information on safety tips, equipment required, clothing, and tips for ice fishing. As per your writer’s guidelines, I have included two black and white photos, which I have the .jpeg files for if you are interested. Also included is a bibliography for your review.

I am a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and a member of the SCBWI. My writing has been published in Stories for Children Magazine, A Long Story Short, Kid Magazine Writers, and The National Writing for Children Center.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response and an SASE is enclosed for your reply.


Donna M. McDine

Enclosure: ms, bibliography, B&W photos & SASE

WOW: Thanks for sharing! You are the National Writing for Children Center publicist intern. What is the NWCC and what are your duties?

Donna: The National Writing for Children Center is a showcase for children’s book authors and illustrators.

Each month, the NWFCC showcases up to 12 authors and/or illustrators to let children, parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and others interested in the world of children’s literature know about these artists’ wonderful new children’s books.

Authors and illustrators who are interested in being showcased here should visit the Showcase Application page for a complete list of all the promotional activities included in the monthly showcase.

As for my responsibilities, I manage and implement the social networking efforts through Facebook, Twitter, JacketFlap and blogging for promotional announcements for authors and illustrators in the children’s publishing industry. I also create and post media releases announcing NWFCC events.

WOW: You are one busy lady! You are also the editor-in-chief at Guardian Angel Kids e-zine. Who is this magazine’s target audience? Where can writers find submission guidelines?

Donna: A children's e-zine that expands the Guardian Angel Publishing (book publisher) mission and is designed for healthy and safe entertainment for children.

Audience: 2-12 years; Parents, Teachers, Librarians

Frequency: Monthly

Submission Guidelines:

WOW: Thanks for sharing the link! Besides the two jobs mentioned above, you also have your own media release service, Dynamic Media Release Services. What type of work does your service do?

Donna: Since I’m a children’s author myself and know the time constraints in creating marketing materials while working on a writing project, I offer a media release writing and posting service to authors and illustrators who need assistance in getting the word out on their newest book.

Details of my service can be found at:

WOW: Great idea! Your first children’s book was published in August. Tell us about your book and where we can get a copy.

Donna: The Golden Pathway is a historical fiction children’s storybook based on the Underground Railroad.

Be transported through time to the Underground Railroad, where high-pitched screams echo each night. David’s cruel Pa always chooses the same victim. Despite the circumstances during slavery, David uncovers the courage to defy his Pa.

Raised in a hostile environment where abuse occurs daily, David attempts to break the mold and befriends the slave, Jenkins, owned by his Pa. Fighting against extraordinary times and beliefs, David attempts to lead Jenkins to freedom with no regard for his own safety and possible consequences dealt out by his Pa.

Ordering information:
Guardian Angel Publishing:

For author signed copies visit:

WOW: I love historical fiction!!!! In recent years, big print magazines have moved to online publishing only. What do you think about this move? And, in your opinion, how does this affect the freelance marketplace?

Donna: With the ever changing technology, our young muses are much more computer savvy than previous generations. They have never experienced a time without being wired in. We must keep up with the times and provide a safe and enjoyable location where individuals can visit and learn--whether it is with an enticing story or article and interactive games. As for our environment, moving online is a step in the right direction to conserve our natural resources; but on the flip side, we are using more energy through our computers, so concerted efforts towards the environment need to be made every day.

The Internet opens up a wealth of opportunities for freelance writers because the e-zine may not even exist in print because of the cost factors. Mark Haverstock’s article “The Year in Magazines, Slow Recovery Fuels Cautious Optimism and Change,” in the Writer’s Guide to 2011 published by the Writer’s Institute Publications is a terrific article worth reading.

WOW: You bring up some great points. It is a complex issue! Do you have any motivational/inspirational tips you can share with our freelancers?

Donna: Focus on three major goals for the year. Under the expert guidance of Suzanne Lieurance of the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club, we were encouraged to complete the January 2011 assignment, which entailed exploring our three major goals for 2011 and what we would do to achieve said goals, and then break down each of the three major goals onto calendar pages for the first quarter of 2011. By doing so, it forced me to take my ever growing to-do list (I know you have the same long list that just keeps getting longer and longer and more and more daunting) and break it down to manageable tasks instead of feeling like I had to tackle each and every task every day (Hey, pick yourself up off the floor…I can hear you laughing…one can dream, can’t they?). This has provided me with more focus and direction as to where I want to go in 2011, and I’m sticking to it like glue.

WOW: That sounds awesome! I know Suzanne, too, and she has wonderful ideas! Do you have a mentor? And, what does being a mentor mean to you?

Donna: I have to say that Suzanne Lieurance of the National Writing for Children Center and Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club is my mentor. Even before I came on board as the publicist intern in August 2010, I’ve been a member of the CWCC since 2008. The guidance, monthly assignments, and teleclasses have been instrumental in my writing career and continue so.

A mentor to me is someone who has successfully navigated the career path you’ve chosen to take, and she is willing to take you under her wing and share what has and hasn’t worked for her. Remember too, everyone’s career is different and does not have to match your mentor. Make your own path and soar.

WOW: As freelancers, we know it's all about promotion. So, feel free to tout your flair! What are you up to?

Donna: Promotion takes effort every week. Even if you do just one task per week to promote yourself and your book, it’s a step in the right direction. I have also found promoting others is a key component, so you don’t get stuck in “it’s all about me” mentality. That’s a dangerous pitfall.

I feature authors and illustrators on my blog through interviews and book reviews, and I also feature them in my bi-monthly newsletter, Write What Inspires You! (Come along for fascinating and intriguing interviews from writers, illustrators, and editors of the children’s publishing industry. It is imperative for your writing career to grow on a daily basis by learning from others in the field. Donna McDine’s monthly FREE newsletter, Write What Inspires You!, will certainly help you do so. Additional features include a "Proclaim Your Successes" column, submission based "Reflections" or "Dreams" column, book reviews, and supporter ads. With each issue, you will walk away with new inspiration for your writing career. Go ahead, opt-in today at

For those of you interested in being interviewed for my blog and/or newsletter, please feel free to contact me at donna (at) I’d be happy to hear from you.

WOW:The newsletter sounds great, and what a generous offer. I'm sure some readers will be contacting you! Any closing words of wisdom for our readers?

Donna: Don’t give up. You have a unique voice; don’t emulate someone else’s writing style. Be true to yourself, and success will come.

WOW: Thank you, Donna, for taking time out to chat! We appreciate the wisdom you've imparted with us today. I'm sure our readers will want to check out all you have in store!

If you'd like to know more about Donna McDine, please visit:

And continue to "Think Green!"
interview by Margo L. Dill

Read More »

Choosing A Digital Camera: The De-baffling Basics

Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Laptop, printer, notebook, pens …camera. Yes, the camera is now officially a required part of the freelance writer’s toolkit. Using a digital the camera is easy, but purchasing one can be an intimidating experience. Here are some basic terms and tips you need to know when choosing that first camera.

Megapixel or MP

Pixels are tiny dots that make up a digital image; one million pixels equal one megapixel. The more pixels used for the image the sharper it is and the more flexibility you have for cropping, enlarging, etc… For most of us anything around 4.0 to 6.0 is fine. This range allows for good prints up to 8x10 and the ability to do a bit of cropping and enlarging without getting too grainy. This is not the only factor determining the picture quality however.


This is the level of compression applied to the image. Most cameras will have an adjustment setting for the resolution of Good, Better or Best. Choosing a lower resolution will allow you to store more pictures on your memory card but those pictures will be a lower quality.


There are two types of zoom, optical and digital. What you are looking for is optical zoom which is the focal length of the lens. Digital zoom merely crops the image as you would with your photo editing software resulting in lost pixels and a lower quality image. Be careful here, many times the manufacturer will list a combined zoom instead of breaking it down to optical and digital.

Image Sensor

To make this easy let’s just say this is the size of your canvas or negative. It is a holding area for the information needed to create the image. The larger the sensor the larger each pixel area is, therefore, a 4.0 MP camera with a large sensor will probably take sharper pictures than a 6.0 MP with a tiny sensor.


This number indicates the level of sensitivity of the image sensor to record light and action. Most point and shoot cameras automatically adjust the ISO; the basic rule is that higher settings are used to capture low light or fast action but often result in more noise or grainy texture in the darker area of the photo.

Image Stabilization

Some cameras offer compensation for shake, that annoying blur that happens when you don’t hold your camera completely still. If you desire this feature look for optical or mechanical stabilization. Digital stabilization simply increases the ISO and shutter speed and will often reduces definition.

Remember to check for how your pictures will download; by USB connection is generally easier. Make sure the camera has a good quality glass lens. Purchase a memory card, tripod and case and you’re ready for any assignment!

By Robyn Chausse
Read More »

Love Thy Writing

Monday, February 14, 2011
On this Valentine's Day, while you are giving and receiving cards and candy signifying your love for others, take some time to show your writing some love. Tell the critical voice that sometimes holds sway in your mind, that you and your writing are worth it. Here are a few of the ways to show you love your writing:

1. Celebrate your writing and creativity. Pull out your writing--even the old projects--and celebrate your accomplishments. You're here, right? That's enough reason to enjoy you and your writing.
2. Take some time to read through your work and find something that you like and that is working, instead of what we normally do by finding something that needs to be changed or isn't working.
3. Give your writing some free time. Pick up a book or a magazine and step away from your writing project for a day or two. Even our nearest and dearest friends need some time alone.
4. Wrap your arms around your writing and give it a big hug (alternatively, buy your writing some lovely chocolates). Take time to be proud of your writing and what it stands for.
5. When you run across something that you want to work on, make note of it, but continue to bring positive feelings to your projects.

Everyone and everything needs a day to feel special. Can today be that day for your writing? What might you do to enjoy your writing? Try it and let's see.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, N.C.
Read More »

Making Your Characters a Character

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Monk is one of my all time favorite characters. Two more characters that rank high on my list are Columbo and Matlock. They have character—big, big character. Brilliance disguised by bungling ineptness. I enjoyed Columbo and Matlock, but poor Monk had the most to overcome. I held my breath for him, I cried for him, I cheered for him.

To develop characters similar to these three start with a visual clue. They possess something that makes them vulnerable or inept when first met. Monk can't shake hands and shows his fears; Columbo has an unkempt look and appears clueless; and Matlock has a loud, southern drawl and a back-woodsy personality. The villains easily underestimate them.

This trio has a common trait; an inner intuition and a way of putting facts together to support their suspicions. As writers, it's our responsibility to portray a uniqueness about our characters. Find a trait that will enhance your character, yet distinguish them from other protagonists.

Developing a character is not easy to do. Learn your character inside out. Learn her fears. Learn her loves. What makes him tick and what ticks him off. What was their third grade teacher's name and how did they feel about her? Most of all the characters have to become Characters and in order to do that, their personalities have to be established.

Their personalities need to be likable if they are the hero and unlikable or flawed if they are the bad guy.

I found this website, the Enneagram Institute; it has some basic information on personality types. Here's an Enneagram chart revealing the 9 basic personalities.

From the chart, these one-word descriptors can be expanded into four-word sets of traits. Keep in mind that these are merely highlights and do not represent the full spectrum of each type.
  • Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.
  • Type Two is demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing, and possessive.
  • Type Three is adaptive, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.
  • Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.
  • Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.
  • Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.
  • Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, distractible, and scattered.
  • Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.
  • Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, agreeable, and complacent.

Tip: A great resource to help you keep track of all your character traits is this Character Trait Chart and Personality Components on WOW!

Monk photo
Columbo series?view=0

Read More »
Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top