Saturday, February 28, 2015

Unravel the Mystery of Suspense, Part 1

"We all enjoy, shall we say, putting our toe in cold water." Alfred Hitchcock
The genre, Suspense, as popular as it is and most likely always will be, is at least as large as the topic, Water, which I so winsomely thought up when asked what I was going to write about by one of my first writing instructors. Blank page begged the question: Where to start? No clue; thankfully, resolved in time with a sheer outpouring of effort and will, called, Focus.

Suspense is like that. Your character has a lot going on in her head. And a lot going on in her situation. How, then, do you narrow down your genre?

Start with the Masters
What better way to begin then to go to the top. Alfred Hitchcock earned the title, "Master of Suspense," said Marc Eliot, Film Historian, on, after his film Psycho hit the big screen. Born in London, England, on August 13, 1899, Hitchcock's penchant for suspense emerged in the first stories he wrote and published for the in-house publication at a job he took out of college. "From [Hitchcock's] very first piece, he employed themes of false accusations, conflicted emotions and twist endings with impressive skill."

During the 1930's, Hitchcock's early films, including an "exciting treatment" of the Jack the Ripper story, were "responsible for the revival in British movie making." ( In 1939, Hitchcock left England and settled in Hollywood, California, with his wife and daughter. His first American feature film, Rebecca, starring Laurence Olivia and Joan Fontaine, is "considered a great movie," said Jan-Christopher Horak, Director, UCLA, Film and Television Archive, on, "because it's a psychological melodrama about the torture that goes on sometimes within families. Hitchcock explores that with a depth that he had not shown before in his films."

The MacGuffin
The MacGuffin is defined as a plot device that motivates the characters, advances the story and increases suspense. Alfred Hitchcock popularized the concept that is said to have originated in 20th century filmmaking. "The . . . MacGuffin can be boiled down to one thing--nothing. Hitchcock . . . described the MacGuffin as a plot device, or gimmick, on which to hang the tension in a film, 'the key element of any suspense story' (Gottlieb). Because Hitchcock lured the audience to such a high degree of sympathy for the characters through cinematic means, the reason behind their plight became irrelevant . . . Something bad is happening to them and it doesn't matter what. The only reason for the MacGuffin is to serve as a pivotal reason for the suspense to occur."
n can be boiled down to one thing -- nothing. Hitchcock over the
Examples of MacGuffins in other films include, Star Wars' R2D2, described by writer and director George Lucas as "the main driving force of the movie . . . the object of everybody's search"; the meaning of rosebud in Citizen Kane (1941) and the mineral unobtainium in Avatar (2009). (Wikipedia)

John Levesque of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called Stephen King a "master of the psychological thriller." The Shining has been ranked as one of the best psychological thrillers of all time. When asked at a Highlights Foundation workshop in October, 2012, what author will be remembered for all time, the presenters and participants alike agreed, Stephen King. Born in Portland, Maine, on September 21, 1947, King published his first novel, Carrie, in 1973, after his wife found it in the trash and encouraged him to continue. Indeed, King is "recognized as one of the most famous and successful horror writers of all time. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide and have been adapted into numerous successful films." (

What's the Diff?
  • Suspense: You're sitting on the edge of your seat. You're holding your breath. You can't put the book down. You're asking, "What's going to happen next?" In writing, there has to be a series of events that leads to a climax that captivates the audience and makes them tense and anxious to know what is going to happen. Suspense is a powerful literary tool because, if done correctly, you know your audience will be back for more and more. (
  • Mystery: You've been presented with a puzzle. Often a crime has been committed and you must find out "who dunnit." There are many tantalizing clues to solve it, but you are perplexed. You want to figure it out. You are challenged. You want to be fooled, the more the better. Who do you suspect and why? You even enjoy following red herrings, those pesky little clues that turn out to be innocent. The game is up at the end; when you find out who did it and why.
  • Thriller: The clock is ticking. There is an immenent danger explained in the beginning that must be dealt with by the protagonist. Generally, the antagonist and the threat are known. Suspense occurs not in who did it, but in how can it be stopped?
  • Mystery Thriller: You want to know who is committing these acts, why is he doing them; and what is the threat to the protagonist and those close to him/her.
  • Psychological Thriller: You're in the protagonist's head. As in the television show, Dexter, a more likely antihero than protagonist, you know what thrilling or frightening acts Dexter has committed. What you want to find out is WHY, and whether more frightening acts will follow.  There can be events that drive the protagonist to question everything about his/her ability to succeed. It could involve questioning his/her sanity or moral compass; questioning what is real or not about the situation; are the supposed 'good guys' friends or foes? The writer's goal is to raise the tension and suspense to a level where the reader feels the inner pain of the protagonist more than the external pain of bombs, bullets, etc. (Mystery-Psychological Thriller definitions from the Psychological Thrillers discussion on goodreads with Charles A. Cornell, author of Tiger Paw)
  • Additional examples of psychological thriller television shows and films: Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland in 24; The Game, with Michael Douglas; Black Swan, with Natalie Portman and Gone Girl, book, by Gillian Flynn, and film. Books include, Before I go to Sleep, S.J. Watson, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith. (
Much as I needed to decide what aspect of Water to write about, I needed to narrow down the genre of my two current WIP's. In addition to being family stories with lots of humor, I needed to explore what elements of Suspense each of them contain. My conclusions are tackled in next month's post.
Next month: Part 2, Tips on Writing Suspense Stories for Children

Sources: Hitchcock, courtesy of the Library of Congress,;;;;;


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for adults and children and six short stories for children. Recently she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Why a Writing Schedule is Important - Help for New Writers

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.  
Chinese Proverb 

One of the first hurdles for new writers who want to begin a writing career is creating a schedule. It can be daunting to figure out how you can find the time if you are in the midst of raising a family or working full time. Even if you are retired, life can still be busy. Some of my retired friends say they're busier!

Writing is creative and I write when I'm inspired. When an idea hits, I love to let the words flow. It's incredibly fulfilling. 

But if I wanted to be serious about my writing career, I had to tap into the logical function of my brain and make a schedule. Otherwise, I would have many unfinished projects laying around.

You may have a book burning inside of you. Keep that long term goal but consider one or two short term goals to gain practice, improve your skills, and make money. Magazine fillers, articles, and resumes are some ideas.

Once your writing goals are in place for the year, create a plan to meet those goals. Your writing schedule will make those objectives happen.
  • Are you a night owl? Morning person? Once you've figured out the best time to write, make the time. An hour every morning? Two hours each night? If you cannot write every day, choose specific days of the week and stick to it. 
       There will be times you don't feel like writing. This is normal.  But 
       keep in mind this great tip: never miss twice. If you skip your scheduled
       time of writing, don't skip the next one.

       Don't be afraid to adjust your schedule if it isn't working. Better to start            small and gradually build than to over extend yourself and give up.
  • Your writing time should have no interruptions. Turn off your phone, log out of your email, and write. Treat it as business because that's exactly what it is.
       When you begin producing, you will feel good about yourself and keep
  • Build an online presence. What are your interests? Write about it in a blog. Network with others in your niche. Visit blogs and leave thoughtful comments. Soon you will build your own audience.
  • Check online job boards for freelance work. Make it a point to schedule this time in so you will always have a project you are working on.
  • Don't forget to schedule time to learn new skills. There are writers' groups and many free and affordable courses available available online. 
Photo credit: drubuntu / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Try it and this time next year you will be encouraged with your success!


   After raising and homeschooling her 8 children and teaching art classes for 10 years, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. She enjoys writing magazine articles and more recently had her story, "One of a Kind", published in The Kids' ArkYou can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts

Friday, February 20, 2015

Five Ways to Unlock those Creativity Muscles

"Why is the moon in the sky?" "Why don't the stars crash into each other?" "Why did God make me your first child?" (You've wondered that too, right?) "Why do I have to bath every day? The dog doesn't."


Why does he keep asking questions? Because he's born to be creative. And what do we do as adults? Stifle his creativity! "Just because!"

To be honest, often it's because we don't know the answers. And why don't we? Because someone stopped us from finding the answers in the first place.

A good comedian trains his mind to look for the "different angle" on everyday things. In the same way, as writers, we can train our minds to look for different angles to everyday situations. Truly creative minds not only come up with the answers. They also come up with the questions.

This is why a young child can drive an adult crazy.

So how can we, as writers, re-kindle our creativity? Here are five suggestions:

1. Change your perspective. Look at your life from a child's point of view. Or through your dog's eyes. You may gain ideas on a new way to tackle a problem. Look at your writing from your reader's point of view. Are you satisfying his or her needs? Does this meet the requirements of the publication?
  • Don't stop at one idea. Look at your way of life from many different perspectives. I once listened to an LP record (which gives away my age) in which an intelligent man is trying to explain a game of golf to a totally uneducated bushman from Central Africa. Hilarious! But also thought-provoking.
2. Challenge your assumptions. You go out to dinner in a posh restaurant. You just assume they will have staff to wait on you. But what if they don't? How would that work? Imagine the scenario. Play it over in your mind. 
  • I once read a signboard sticking out of the lawn of a bowling green. "Keep off the grass," it instructed. Is that possible? Could you play bowls without stepping on the grass? How would you get the bowling balls to run on the grass if you kept on the path? Think it through.
3. Let your ideas run wild. One of my favourite story series as a little girl was Enid Blyton's Wishing Chair. For those deprived readers who have never read these stories, two children, Peter and Mollie, find an armchair that grows wings when they rub the legs. Together with their pixie friend, Chinky, they take off on many wonderful adventures. Be honest. How would you react if you were polishing a chair one day and it grew wings? Would you sit on it and wish yourself to an exotic destination? Or would you run out the room and scream for someone to come and help, because "chairs don't fly"? 
  • Look at your favourite armchair and visualise yourself sitting on it as you soar out of the window and across the fields. Imagine the expression on your neighbours' faces as you wave to them. Think of all the advantages. No parking problems. No emission of toxic fumes. Don't stifle your creativity. Relax, and let ideas come. You may never use them in your writing (although who knows? Enid Blyton did!) But you'll have fun.And you'll be building those creativity muscles.
4. Rethink your needs: For example, instead of thinking, "How can I attract more people to my blog, ask yourself, "Do I really need more readers on my blog?" The question suggests other creative solutions, like finding ways to make your blog more interesting to your present visitors. This may in turn help you come up with more profitable ideas.
  • Instead of, "What should my character do to solve this problem?" try "Do I really need this character?" Instead of, "How can I think of six suggestions on how to strengthen my creativity muscles?" ask, "Do I really need to have six?"
5. Connect the dots: Look around and choose objects near you, then ask how they may be connected. Connect the sight of a police car speeding down the road with the spate of robberies you read of in the newspaper. Will the criminals get caught? Possibly not. So does crime pay? Maybe it doesfor the guy who gets away. Notice an elderly lady crossing the road, her purse hanging over her arm. Connect the dots. Could a criminal snatch that bag and get away with it? What chance would the old lady have of stopping him? 
  • Can you write an article for a senior's magazine on security measures? How about "Safe ways to go shopping"?
If you train your brain to habitually use these and other training ideas, you really can strengthen those creativity muscles. It won't happen in one day, and you won't get a best-seller idea the first exercise you try. Remember that it takes time to develop new muscles, and that includes creative muscles. However, if you follow these exercises regularly, you will become more creative. 

OVER TO YOU: When you hit a blank screen, what do you do to spark those creativity muscles back to life? Please leave a comment below.

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer has created a multitude of friends and contacts across the world.

Please visit Shirley through where she encourages writers, or at where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Sign up to receive a short devotional message from Shirley in your inbox once a week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What to Do When Life Gets in the Way of Writing....


What can you do when life gets in the way of your writing? Let's face it, life happens. Things you cannot even imagine can and will happen. In a split second the plans you had for the day, the week, or the month will be altered.  Your writing may be the first thing that gets ignored unless you have a plan. I know first hand, it happened to me. Soon after Christmas I had a fall and broke three ribs and injured my leg. Guess what I forgot to get done? Yep, the post to this blog.

So what could I have done to prevent missing my deadline? Here are some tips I have put into place so I won't miss another post or any other important writing deadline.

  • Keep a calendar at all times. It doesn't work well for me to have things on my phone but I now have a smaller paper datebook in my purse and a larger one on my desk to keep dates organized. for others the phone thing might be all that is needed to keep organized. Whatever you do planning your writing week well ahead can keep you from missing an important due date.
  • Blog posts and sometimes other writing can be pre-scheduled. Writing posts when time permits helps to keep ahead of the game, something I should have done rather than procrastinating. Writing several blog posts and pre-scheduling is a great tool to help you work ahead. . 
  • Try not to over schedule yourself or take on more assignments than you can do in a healthy perfect state of mind and body. Allow some wiggle room for writing assignments so when that unexpected "life happens" comes along,  you can still keep your writing commitments.
  • Many writers have portable notepads and other electronics that allow writing wherever you are, but a good old notepad and pencil are always a good thing to keep handy for jotting down things when you can't be in your writing space.
Finally, the most important thing I learned about what you can do when life happens is to forgive yourself. Illness and injury, family emergencies, and even your "day job" obligations can all take time away from writing and writing commitments. Apologize to those who need it and move on. Life happens but it doesn't have to be the end to your writing dream.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

6 Tips for Creating Healthy Writing Habits

Getting on track with your writing can be a daunting task, creating healthy habits can make this a bit easier.

1.  Anything that we do for 21 days becomes a habit, so step number one is to make a commitment to yourself and your writing -  give yourself this amount of time to develop your habit without feeling bad if you find you skip a day or forget, just get back on track and keep going as soon as you remember.

2. Schedule writing time. Yep, put it on your calendar and honor it like you would any other important appointment. Choosing the same time each day may make this easier for you - get up earlier in the morning, commit to working each evening, or during the kids' nap time.

3. Write no matter what. Sometimes all of us arrive at our desk without something to write - otherwise known as writer's block - pushing through this stagnation is the only way out. That means write something about anything. If you are unable to write the article, the chapter, or the poem - write in your journal about your inability to write and soon you may find the words flowing.

4. Remember to stay fed and hydrated. Water is your body's friend. So is food. Make sure to have some easy and healthy snacks handy and water beside you so that you can take a break and then quickly get back to your work.

5. Exercise. For some, sitting at the computer all day is normal. To keep from getting stiff, take periodic breaks to stand, stretch and walk.

6. Be distraction free. Make sure that you are clear about when and how long you will spend on the internet doing things unrelated to your writing - social networking, answering e-mails, etc. You may find it easier to keep your focus if you put in your time writing first and then get on-line. Also, writing time is not to be used to catch up on telephone calls.

Establish healthy writing habits and see you work propelled to the next level.


D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, House of Glass, Book 2 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole, and Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at

You can also follower her at or on Facebook.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Stop Congress from Interfering with the Internet

On Feb 26 the FCC will vote to save net neutrality or let Comcast and other ISPs create Internet slow lanes. Some members of Congress, on behalf of their Cable donors, are trying to stop the FCC from protecting the Internet we love. There isn't much time to stop them, contact them now.

This is every internet user’s problem and fight.

Go here to be heard:

According to Battle for the Net:

Last year, more than 40,000 websites participated in the Internet Slowdown to demand real net neutrality. It worked! But monopolistic Cable companies are pouring millions into a last ditch effort to derail the FCC's historic vote. Help us flood Washington, DC with calls and emails to show lawmakers that the whole Internet is watching, and we're literally counting down the seconds until we get real net neutrality.

Telling everyone about the vote is a key part of winning real net neutrality. Your help is needed.

There’s a bunch of different ways for sites to participate. The best way is to blog about it and share it with your social networks. Place the TIMER widget on your site by using just one line of code. Then, link to to drive emails and calls for net neutrality. NOTE: none of the tools will slow down your site; they just show a symbolic loading symbol.

Be heard, sign up now: 

And, please be sure to share this post!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine’s Day - 14 Ways to Love Writing and the Writer’s Life

by Suzanne Lieurance, the Working Writer's Coach

This is the day we celebrate romantic love. But you know what they say – ”Before you can love someone else you must love yourself.”

With that in mind, instead of constantly beating yourself up because you aren’t yet a best-selling author or a 6-figure freelance writer, love writing and the writer’s life right now. Here are 14 ways to do that:

1. Write what you love.

If you earn a living as a freelance writer, you may get assignments for all sorts of writing projects. Many of these projects might not be that exciting for you. That’s okay. Just be sure you make time to also write about things you love.

2. Make writing a priority.

Most writers, particularly those who don’t write fulltime for a living, find it difficult to write on a regular basis. That’s because writing is the last thing on their to-do list, so it often gets overlooked. But if you make writing a priority, you won't constantly feel guilty because your writing always seems to get pushed to the sidelines.

3. Set obtainable goals for yourself.

If you don’t write regularly now, don’t suddenly set a goal to write for 1 hour 7 days a week for the next year. This is an impossible goal for most anyone. You won’t be able to reach this goal, and the first time you miss a writing session you’ll feel like a failure.

4. Hang out with other writers.

Join or start a local writer's group on or simply join online groups for writers. Other writers know what you're going through. They'll be able to offer you advice and support that other people can't.

5. Spend time reading the type of work you wish to write.

Make regular reading time part of your writing schedule. Consider it part of your training. You’ll learn a lot from reading the work of other writers. Plus, you’ll enjoy it!

6. Learn your craft.

Do all you can to learn more about the type of writing you wish to do. Attend workshops. Take writing courses. Go to a writer’s conference at least once a year.

7. Set up a designated writing space.

Having your own “office” for writing automatically helps you and your family take your work more seriously. Plus, when you sit down at your desk, it signals your brain that it's time to get to work.

8. Set no more than 3 major writing/career goals at a time.

Writers tend to have dozens of ideas and projects they wish to complete. But it’s too hard to focus on this many projects at once. Set 3 or fewer goals at a time. Once you reach one goal, add another to your list.

9. Keep track of your writing and publication efforts. Get a spiral notebook and write down what you do each week to move your writing and your writing career forward. This will help you stay focused. Plus, once you see – on paper – the actions you've been taking consistently, you'll be motivated to continue taking action to reach your writing goals.

10. Stop comparing yourself to other writers. Every writer is unique, and while some writers experience immediate success, most writers slowly reach their goals. It might take you longer to reach your goals than it does some other writers, but so what?

11. Make sure your goals are things you have some control over. If you set goals like, "Get an article published in Smithsonian Magazine this year", you may be disappointed because you really have no control over something like that. It's better to set a goal like, "Get 3 query ideas ready to submit to Smithsonian Magazine this year" because you do have some control over that.

12. Learn to love the writing process. Many people who think they want to become writers don't really love to write. They just want to be published. Publication is great. But learn to enjoy the writing process itself, even if it can be agonizing at times. If you stick with it, your writing will get better and better. As it does, your confidence and self-esteem will grow, too.

13. Be Brave.

If you learn to love the writing process, publication will naturally follow. But you have to be brave enough to submit your work to publishers and editors. Don't wait to do this. Start with small local and regional publications. Enter contests that include publication as part of the prizes for winning entries. If you're serious about writing, it shouldn't take you long to get something published somewhere.

14. Celebrate both your small and large successes.

If you track your progress each week, celebrate both the small and large successes you'll experience. Simply sticking to your writing schedule for the week is something to celebrate. Getting an acceptance letter from a publisher is, of course, reason to celebrate, too.

These are just a few ways to start loving yourself as a writer and the writer's life right now.

Do you have other suggestions? Please share them with us as a comment.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Suzanne Lieurance is an author, freelance writer, certified professional life coach and writing coach, speaker and workshop presenter. She has written over two dozen published books and hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines, and other publications. She offers The Morning Nudge, for writers every weekday morning. Get your free subscription at