Where Do Authors Get Their Ideas?

Herbert the Ghost by illustrator Tiffany Tutti
Secret in the Stars,
Book 1
 Abi Wunder Mystery series

By Linda Wilson @LinWilsonauthor  

Authors’ ideas for their stories come in many sizes and shapes. One might begin with an event that the author has witnessed or heard about. In the author’s trusty notebook, always with her, she jots down people, events, feelings, really anything that she observes. Later, one of these observations might fascinate her enough to develop into a story. Another author might read lots of stories in the chosen genre—such as mystery or adventure—and a story idea begins to form. And yet another might begin with a character, or even a title. James Howe thought of his character Bunnicula long before he wrote the book. R.L. Stine wrote the books in his Goosebumps series only after thinking up the titles. Many story ideas result from research into a similar or entirely different topic than your blossoming story idea. Jotting down your thoughts and ideas is a good practice. Many an author has learned that they think they’re going to remember an idea then find later that it is lost to them simply because they didn’t write it down. 

Secret in the Stars, Book 1 of the Abi Wunder Mystery series, began with an event: a visit to a Bed & Breakfast where I used to live in Purcellville, Virginia. One special occasion we had so many guests, some needed to stay at a B & B a mile down the road from our house. Before our guests arrived, I paid the B & B a visit. The 17th century white-washed stone building loomed high on a hill, down a long, winding dirt road. Along the way, cows grazed on lush green grass and flowers bloomed in gardens, completing the Virginia country charm. The proprietress sat me down in the old-fashioned parlor and regaled me with tales of the many renovations her husband had recently completed. The kitchen, modern, yet decorated with antique earthenware jars, pitchers, teapots and tin boxes, had been his latest project, she crowed. On our way upstairs to see the bedrooms, I thought she said, “Oh, here’s my husband now.” I turned, expecting to see her husband climbing up the stairs behind us. But I saw no one. Her eyes fell on a silhouette stenciled on the wall. I followed her gaze, of a man in overalls and straw hat, lantern in hand, appearing to hurry up the stairs. Without another word, she continued up to the second-floor landing.

I followed, perplexed. Where was her husband, I wondered? I asked her, still expecting to see him. She looked surprised and said, “Oh, he died a year ago.” Died? But he’s here. I can feel his presence. He hadn’t yet left her side. I knew that, though how I’ll never know. But I felt the truth of his presence in my bones. She tilted her head in the oddest way and further explained, “Why, I lost my Herbert a year ago, to the day!” I still get goose bumps every time I think of this eerie coincidence. She added, “I painted Herbert’s silhouette on the wall, as he so often looked on his way to bed.” Color rose to her cheeks, “I suppose it’s silly, but it’s my way of keeping his memory alive.”

And that’s how the Hilltop ghost story came to be. Of course, Herbert and the Hilltop Inn are entirely fiction. But perhaps you can see why I’ve never been able to forget the experience. One eerie incident and the Abi Wunder series was born. 

My idea for Book 2 in the Abi Wunder Mystery series, Secret in the Mist, formed while doing research for Book 1. I learned that the town of Purcellville had once attracted a Quaker population who had moved to the area from Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. In 2005 when we moved in, from my bedroom window I enjoyed a pastoral view of the gentle slope of a grassy hill that bordered West Virginia, a marsh that attracted red-wing blackbirds, bullfrogs, and tall grasses and cattails; and an old abandoned farmhouse and barn, across the road from our house. After studying photos of people who lived in the Purcellville area in the 1700s and 1800s, it wasn’t a far stretch to envision a young girl who might have lost her life in a riding accident, and had returned to locate her long-lost horse. The Misty Maiden, as the ghost came to be called, rises out of the marsh and tantalizes Abi and Jess with several appearances. Abi realizes the ghost wouldn’t have come back if she didn't need help; and the two friends embark on their next adventure.

Tall Boots, a picture book that I have submitted for possible publication with a traditional publisher, is about a young girl who is in a beginning 4-H horseback riding class. As a beginner, she wears red rubber boots that were really her galoshes, and dreams of becoming a skilled rider who one day would wear bonified tall, black leather riding boots. In the story, she finds herself in the ring with the advanced class at a 4-H show. Her horse jumps the hurdle, a skill she hadn’t yet learned. She is rewarded with a 4-H medallion that qualifies her to join the advanced class. This is a fictionalized version of a true story, an experience one of our neighbors had had, which at the time, I recognized as a potential story. 

A Packrat Holiday: Thistletoe’s Gift, a picture book available soon, illustrated by Nancy Batra, came about from a white-water rafting trip I took with my family down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. At night, we slept under the stars and rarely needed a blanket. The climate is so dry there are virtually no mosquitoes or insects, which in itself was a freedom seldom enjoyed on camping trips. In the morning, we’d find tiny footprints all over our campsite—packrats—searching for little treasures, whatever they could find. After our trip, I researched packrats and loved the little creatures so much that I envisioned a home life for them in their underground den made of twigs and cactus bits under a rocky crevice.

Once I latch onto an idea, I like to plan out my story. I’ve created a Snapshot of the process I went through while developing Secret in the Stars. 

Snapshot of Secret in the Stars

Event that sparked the idea: My eerie encounter with a “ghost” at a B & B

Protagonist: Abi

Sidekick: Jess

Ghost: Herbert

Antagonist: Norman & Angel

Blame Herbert’s wife, Dee, for his death and want to tear down the inn

Main Characters: Pop, Abi’s grandfather, Dee, Herbert’s dog Star, Jess

Setting: The Hilltop Inn, lake & woods

Plot: Abi must save the inn and prove Dee’s innocence

Conflict: Abi vs Norman & Angel

Resolution: Abi finds a way to reach her goal

How characters are affected: Each character learns something

What Abi learns: Abi realizes that she possesses a natural ability to know unexplained phenomenon. She doesn’t learn where this ability comes from until Book 2, Secret in the Mist.

How Abi has grown: The story started with Abi as a little girl, unhappy that she’s missing Art Camp, and not paying attention to her appearance. She grows into helping others and herself.

   The Abi Wunder Mystery series is a trilogy. The end of Book 1, Secret in the Stars, hints at what’s to come in Book 2, Secret in the Mist, and Book 3, Secrets of the Heart, completes Abi’s journey into herspecial ability to see into the unknown, with an insight into what she can do with it in her future.

When I first started Secret in the Stars, I couldn’t have filled out the entire plan. If this process works for you, fill out only the parts that you know, then spend time thinking about how you want to form your story, jot down notes, until you have enough to begin writing. Remember this rule of thumb: give yourself time to develop your story. If you lay the groundwork first, such as by creating a diagram or snapshot of the story parts, then you have most of the work done before you even begin to write. Once I developed this process, it saved me a lot of time. And it has helped me enjoy writing stories much more than when I used to wing it. 

Linda Wilson, is a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate. She has published over 150 articles for children and adults, and several short stories for children. Visit Linda at https://www.lindawilsonauthor.com and on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/author/lindawilsonchildrensauthor.

Some Good News for Writers

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
If you read the news or watch the news (as I continue to do), it is easy to get discouraged and completely stalled in your writing and publishing efforts. I've read where a number of writers are stuck, not writing anything and not moving forward. In some ways, I understand and it makes sense to be stalled. It has been a strange and different year with a worldwide pandemic. Yet you do not have to be stuck and stalled. In this article I want to give you some good news and ideas to move out of stall and into action.
1. People are reading more than recent years. Just check out this article from PR Expert Sandra Beckwith.

2. Books are selling. People are buying books from authors, online bookstores and brick and mortar bookstores. Books are getting translated into different languages and libraries continue to purchase books. As an writer, celebrate each of these opportunities and be knocking on new doors.

3. Publishers are still making new books. As an acquisitions editor, I am continuing to send process submissions, sign new authors and we are releasing new books. Yes some details have changed in this process but it is still happening.

4. Writers have opportunity to tell others about your book. Radio programs are still booking and looking for guests. Podcasts are still looking and booking guests. If you aren't getting on these programs then you need to take steps to learn how to pitch and get booked. There are online programs to teach you these skills.

5. Print magazines are still looking for quality writers to fill their pages. It's a simple fact, every magazine editor begins their next issue with blank pages which need to be filled with the right stories from writers (many of them freelance writers). You can be that writer—but only if you learn how to write a query letter, study their magazine guidelines (where the editor tells you what they need), then give the editor what they need. Yes it is that simple but it takes your effort and work to find the right fit.
Shake off rejection or any bad news and move forward. Seize these opportunities. Learn how to write a query and book proposal. Be pitching editors and literary agents. Don't get discouraged. Sit at your keyboard and write your story. If I can help you in this process, don't hesitate to reach out to me. It's one of the reasons I have my personal email address in my Twitter profile.
As we move into the holiday season with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, I encourage you to focus on the positive things in your world, life and family. We have good news as writers and let's celebrate it.
What is your good news as a writer? In the comments, let me know what you are celebrating.  I look forward to cheering you onward.

There is good news for writers. Get the details here from this prolific editor and author. (ClickToTweet)

W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  He has written for over 50 magazines and more than 60 books with traditional publishers. His latest book for writers is 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed. Get this book for only $10 + free shipping and over $200 in bonuses. One of Terry's most popular free ebooks is Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. He lives in Colorado and has  190,000 twitter followers



Tips for Balancing Action & Exposition



 Tips for Balancing Action & Exposition || Descriptive Writing
by Deborah Lyn Stanley

Readers are looking for powerful stories and narratives; descriptive details make them successful.

Our narratives and stories are the creation of scenes, exposition, and the telling that shapes the narrative. It’s up to us to shape events with details that describe the action, the characters, and the scene’s why. Scene is the action; exposition is behind the scene. Scenes bring the reader a firsthand view of the action. Exposition describes the what and the why—a summary.

Stories constructed mostly of scenes can wear out the reader with action and dialogue. Writing made up of mostly summary description needs to contain enough tangible detail to bring the reader into the vision you are presenting but not be boring. The strength of our writing is in the balance.

I recently read two novels that were action packed and fun, good guy—bad guy stories. Both were exhausting! I had to just stop, and let the book rest before I continued. They were fantastic diversions but…

So, consider a balance between action and explanation, background and front lines as you build your piece.

How’s your word basket growing? Is it filling with scraps of paper—one word per scrap? The basket could become your go-to place for inspiring creative descriptions in a story or metaphor: paradox or poem. What words catch your attention? Grab it and add it to your basket. Consider sensory adjectives, strong verbs, and nouns.

It’s best to avoid:
•    Description dumps.
•    Tangents—Stay on point.
•    Slowing down your story or narrative—Rather, pace it and keep the piece moving.

An excellent book for descriptive writing growth:
•    Word Painting, by Rebecca McClanahan

Earlier Post links in this series—Descriptive Writing for Fiction and Non-Fiction:
Tips for Figurative Speech: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2020/08/tips-for-figurative-speech.html
Write Strong:   http://www.writersonthemove.com/2020/10/tips-to-make-characters-real-write.html

Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her writer’s website at: https://deborahlynwriter.com/   
Visit her caregiver’s website: https://deborahlyncaregiver.com/
Available on Amazon --- Mom & Me: A Story of Dementia and the Power of God’s Love  https://www.amazon.com/author/deborahlynstanley

Facebook: Deborah Lyn Stanley, Writer    https://www.facebook.com/deborahlynwriter/?modal=admin_todo_tour



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Goodreads Participation Helps Amazon Best-Selling Authors

Contributed by Carolyn Wilhelm

 Dublin author Clare O'Beara writes award-winning mysteries, quarantine lit, science-fiction, multicultural children's novels, as well as horse books. O'Beara likes to share a slice of her life and inspirations with other writers. As a past show-jumping champion in Ireland, tree surgeon, member of MENSA, World-Con volunteer, and journalism student, she comes by her knowledge with a depth of experience. She is an example of leveraging Goodreads to a writer's advantage. She credits the platform with some of her book success. 

O'Beara suggests getting involved in Goodreads Groups, which should reflect an author's genuine interests, like horses in her case or green (environmental) matters. If an author joins Groups, which are about promoting books, he or she will come across as 'all about me.'

O'Beara also writes a monthly column on Goodreads, such as her post about Ireland's Octocon. First, an author page on Goodreads is required, which has to be completed by the author. So many authors have not completed their free Goodreads author pages. Writers must then select to enter their blog feeds or could write posts on the site. While the post text area is tiny, pulling the corner out will provide a larger space to allow a lengthy article.

Of course, blog posts alone are not enough; O'Beara advises authors to read books, rate, and review them on the site. Reviewing helps other authors as well as potential readers of those books, so the author comes across as the keen book lover they are, and not just about him or herself.

Goodreads offers book lists, as well. Lists may be reviewed by authors who might include one or more of their books. Goodreads won't let you add your own books to any lists, but it's always nice to find someone else has added them. For instance, YA New Releases for October 2020 might grab your attention. Goodreads offers some tips at the top of lists, such as to double-check the book's release dates make sure that they are classified as correctly. If you see a book that doesn't fit that description, you may comment. The Goodreads librarians will check comments from time to time. 

Be sure to check favorite genres from the pop-up menu under your photo to select which to follow. Goodreads will choose for a writer, otherwise, and it might not be correct. If a person has been on Goodreads for a while and not checked on genres, it is a good idea to edit those choices, perhaps. Shelving read books can be individualized by naming shelves according to what an author wants.

Authors without Goodreads author pages are advised to set one up. If you are wondering how here is the information. (https://help.goodreads.com/s/article/How-do-I-start-a-blog-on-my-author-profile-1553870941102) Authors who already have such pages are advised to make use of the opportunity.

Carolyn Wilhelm
is the curriculum writer and sole owner of The Wise Owl Factory site and blog. She has an MS in Gifted Education and an MA in Curriculum and Instruction K-12. As a retired teacher of 28 years, she now makes mostly free educational resources for teachers and parents. Her course about Self-Publishing from the Very, Very Beginning is available on UDEMY.



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Navigating Twitter: 10 Tips

Navigating Twitter: 10 Tips

Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Instagram. Pinterest. YouTube. 

There is an abundance of social media platforms. And, while, being on all of them isn't really feasible - writers tend to do a lot of their promo themselves - it's fun to introduce a new platform into the mix every so often. You may find new followers, discover that a certain type of content suits you, and form collaborations you would not have encountered otherwise.

If one of your goals this year is to explore a new social media platform, there's still time. Trying to figure out where to go next? I recommendTwitter.  Twitter has different functionality than some of the other socials. Learning to drill your thoughts down to that 280-character limit is like taking a master class in short, to-the-point content. 

Plus, people are super-accessible on Twitter. If you want to write for a specific magazine... or have your book reviewed by a journalist ... or interview someone in the filed of your niche, you can likely connect with them through a tweet. They won't always reply, but engaging in social is one way to get on their radar.

To make the most out of your time on Twitter, it's essential to get the lay of the land. Here are ...

10 Twitter Tips

1. Get an account. Your username, which can be your actual name, should reflect your personal brand or your business. 

2. Fill out your profile. You have 160 characters to share who you are. You can also update your name to add a title and emojis.

3. Upload your headshot. It should actually look like you.  (400 x 400 pixels)

4. Upload your background image. Use Canva or another graphics program to find or create a banner image (1500 x 500 pixels) that, again, represents who you are, what you write, etc..

5. Follow accounts. Find people and businesses within your area or niche to follow. At a loss on how to get started? See who your friends and peers follow, and go from there. You can also create Twitter lists of groups of people, so you can categorize the people you follow. This will make it easier to find content to retweet and people with whom you want to engage.

6. Research. Make a list of 5 to 10 complimentary or competitor accounts. These are people in a similar genre or niche. Then look at what they tweet to see what gets good engagement and what falls flat. Use these as inspiration for your own content.

7. Tweet. Share your blog content, create graphics images, interact with friends and target accounts. And use relevant hashtags. Also, remember the 80-20 rule: 80% of what you share should be value, and 20% is promotion. 

8. Engage. Start conversations. Reply to questions. Make new friends. And see which ones turn into fans and engaged followers.

9. Join Twitter chats. First do a Twitter chat search, find some chats that interest you, and put them into your calendar, so you remember to check them out. Go to a few, until you find the ones that you want to attend on a regular basis.

10. Continue conversations. When you do enough consistent tweeting - and take part in regular Twitter chats - you will meet peers and make friends. Connect on other platforms, such as LinkedIn, and develop a relationship. You never know where a new connection may lead.

Social media is an essential part of the writer-life. Although platforms differ - and since these are just the basics - you can use these tips as a guideline for all your new social media platform goals.

* * *

On November 18, I will be speaking at the Agorapulse #SocialPulseSummit: Twitter edition. Topic is Twitter chat goals. Learn more and get your free ticket.

* * *

So, what do you think? How are you enjoying your Twitter time? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments.

Debra Eckerling is the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals. A writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of the D*E*B METHOD and Write On Online, Deb works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage their projects through one-on-one coaching, workshops, and online support. She is also the author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat and #GoalChatLive on Facebook, and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Making Your Book Into a Classic

 A Memoir—and Marketing Technique--to Be Pondered
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, multi award-winning author of fiction,
poetry, and the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers
Here is a book that neatly combines my love of memoir and marketing. The dust jacket of this beautifully designed book explains: When God Says No by Judith Briles was first published in 1990, republished in 1994 and again in 1997.  But wait! Here it is again published in 2019 when it “took on a life of its own.” As I read, it became clear that in spite of its many touching memoir moments, it was the journey this book took along with that of the author that caught my attention—something that would illustrate to my readers that a book needn’t die. It can grow. It can become a classic. And that reviews are one of the marketing tools that can best make that happen!
The thing is, it can only happen if the author (or publisher!) knows or has a sense that it can and also knows how to make something so miraculous transpire. In fact, it is the best example I have run across for the authors I have tried to convince about the value of reviews. It illustrates these steps:
1.    Know that these days books needn’t die as they once did when they were given ninety days before bookstores sent them back to publishers to be re-marketed on discount sale tables or shredded!
2.    The author and/or publisher must realize a potential for a new edition or the magic never happens.
3.    Such a realization is more likely to work well if the author has been keeping notes about new events, information, or ideas that affect the content—anything really, from a memoir to a how-to book.
4.    That authors and publishers who keep honing their marketing skills are most like to make this book successful—from the first edition to, well, whatever number the last might be.
Note: The author of this memoir has been sending me copies of her new books for several years, usually with a handwritten note—both a gesture of gratitude and a request for a review or blurb tucked inside the front cover. It’s part of her process and certainly one that should be added to the marketing repertoire of anyone who wants to make a career of writing books!
Those who know my HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers may have guessed that making a book into a classic by using repeated editions and putting reviews at the forefront of their marketing expertise is the reason I wrote How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career. One of my favorite sayings is MSNBC’s “The more you know…”  The future of one of your books may depend on just such a notion!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s first novel was set in Utah. This is the Place, has won eight awards and, though out of print, the paperback is still available in Amazon’s new and used feature—usually for less than a dollar. That’s another little tips for making a book into a classic. Letting Amazon keep it alive with their New and Used Book feature.  Her book of creative nonfiction Harkening, is a collection of stories most of them set in Utah. Also, out of print, it is also still “alive” and has won three . Her practical and detailed how-to book on promotion, The Frugal Book Promoter is an example of using editions for the same purpose. Published by Modern History Press in its third edition, it was once dubbed a “classic” by Bookbaby.com. The flagship book in the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers, it is available at http://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromoIII.


       More About When God Says No:

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Children's Writing Pitfalls - Words

I wrote a fantasy story originally geared toward middle grade. Realizing the word count wasn’t enough for a middle grade story, I changed it to a chapter book.

Good idea, right?

Yes, it was.

But if you do something like this, you need to remember to check the age appropriateness of the words you originally used.

You might ask why this necessary…well, it’s the difference between an editor giving your story a second glance, or not.

It’s so important that publishers will ask what grade level your book is geared toward. You had better make sure the vocabulary of your story and the intended audience are a match.

What exactly do I mean? Let’s use an example:

The boy performed an amazing illusion. Was it an illusion or real magic?

If you were writing this for a 6th grader, the word illusion would be fine, but say you are writing for a 2nd or 3rd…then you’ll need to change that word.

According to “Children’s Writer’s Word Book,” ‘illusion’ is in the 6th grader’s vocabulary. You would need to change it to a word such as trick or fake to make it age appropriate for a 3rd grader.

The use of words goes far beyond that of choosing age appropriate words, they can be revised to say the same thing in a different way.
Words are so amazing – just make sure yours are just right for the age group you’re writing for.

Taking this a little further, even if you're writing a young adult novel, choose words carefully.

I'm working with a client who has words in his draft that not most teens, and even many adult readers won't understand. You don't want a reader to have to stop and look up a word while reading. This is never a good thing.

When writing for children, teens, and young adults, don't use high-end words. Use words that everyone will be able to quickly recognize and understand.

To emphasis this, here are some quotes on the topic by famous authors:

"Use familiar words—words that your readers will understand, and not words they will have to look up. No advice is more elementary, and no advice is more difficult to accept. When we feel an impulse to use a marvelously exotic word, let us lie down until the impulse goes away."
~James J. Kilpatrick

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."
~Thomas Jefferson

"A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."
~William Strunk and E.B. White

"Use the smallest word that does the job."
~E.B. White

"Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people." ~William Butler Yeats

"The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you can’t understand them. ~Anatole France

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
~Mark Twain

The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words." ~George Eliot

"Whenever we can make 25 words do the work of 50, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganisation can flourish."
~Wilson Follett

"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."
~C. S. Lewis

This article was originally published at: http://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/2015/08/31/words-and-childrens-writing-pitfalls-to-look-out-for/

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children's author and a working children's ghostwriter. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move as well as an online author platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

Check out Karen's latest children's fantasy picture book that helps enlighten children to the environment around them: The Case of the Plastic Rings - The Adventures of Planetman.


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Active vs. Passive Writing: Energize Your Prose!

 by Suzanne Lieurance Ever feel like your stories and articles are a bit slow-paced and wordy?   If so, that’s probably because you’re using...