Theme: The Glue that Binds Your Story

Secret in the Mist: An Abi Wunder Mystery
will be published sometime this year

By Linda Wilson    @LinWilsonauthor

When my critique group and I were all done discussing Chapters Seven and Eight of my WIP chapter book, Secret in the Mist: An Abi Wunder Mystery, last week, one of our members said she had a last question for me: 

  • Why are Abi (my main character) and Jess (Abi’s sidekick) going ghost hunting in the first place?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Is Abi trying to prove something to her friend, Jess?
  • Is there a competition among friends?

Oh my. How could I miss showing Abi’s motivation right from the start? By the end, how could I show how Abi had grown and what she had learned if I hadn't shown her motivation for hunting the ghost in the beginning? My story needed one of the most important story elements: Theme. Without theme there is the danger of readers getting very little out of reading the book.

What is Theme?

Most storytelling experts agree that theme is one of the seven elements of a story that must exist. Theme is the main point of the story. (“The 7 Main Story Elements and Why They Matter,” by Jerry Jenkins.) Jenkins states:

Before you begin writing, determine why you want to tell this story:

  • What message do you want to convey?
  • What do you want the story to teach the reader about life?

The main theme in Secret in the Mist is Abi's search of "self." She leans on Jess to carry out her search for the ghost for most of the story. She believes she can't accomplish anything without Jess's help.

Common themes include courage, death, and friendship. The theme is never stated. Rather, you tell the story and through your character's quest, the theme is explored throughout the book. The reader will then discover the main point of the story on their own.


After I returned home from my critique meeting, I looked for the best place to slip in a way to answer my critique partner's questions. I needed to find a place in Chapter One to slip in Abi’s reason for wanting to hunt the ghost. In the chapter, Abi and Jess are outside in Jess’s front yard looking across the road at the marsh. In a nutshell, they’re discussing who the ghost is: a young girl who has risen out of the marsh for a century or more. That night, the conditions are just right for the ghost to appear: a full moon and perfect temperature.

 The moment to show Abi's motivation came at the end of Abi and Jess's discussion:

         “How are you so sure she is going to show up tonight?” Abi desperately wanted                      to believe Jess was right, that they were really going to see a ghost tonight. 

Abi figured any ghost that keeps coming back must need help. And tonight if the ghost did appear, Abi had this feeling, a feeling she couldn’t shake, that she could help her. That is, as long as Jess was by her side. She could never do a thing this big by herself.

Now I had a way to show what Abi needed to learn and how she needed to grow. Throughout the story Abi and Jess see the ghost in various settings and together go after a quest to find out who she is—was—and why the ghost has come back. 

At one point, the two go their separate ways. Abi must carry out the search by herself. She discovers that she is successful at it. She realizes that she doesn’t need anyone to help her, she can figure out how to search for the ghost on her own. Armed with this knowledge, by the end she realizes that she has the ability to search on her own, but it's much more fun to be part of a team with her best friend, Jess.

In your own WIP, make sure you cover the vital glue that binds your story together: your main character’s motivation for going on their quest. When you have that, then their growth naturally flows from the intriguing adventure you’ve crafted.


Linda's fourth picture book,
Cradle in the Wild, will
also be published in 2023.
 Linda Wilson writes stories for young children. Visit Linda     at Click the links for free coloring pages and   a puppet show starring Thistletoe Q. Packrat. While you’re there, get   all the latest news by signing up for Linda’s newsletter. 

 Find Linda’s books at  Amazon Author Page.

 Connect with Linda: FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram  


4 Steps for Easy Content Creation

by Suzanne Lieurance

If you’re like most regular bloggers, you’re always looking for blogging tips, so here’s my best productivity tip: 

Follow These 4 Steps for Easy Content Creation:


Step 1: Plan before you take action.

Many people try to do everything in one step – plan, create the content, post it, etc. 

But you’ll be more productive if you break down things into separate steps. 

And the first step is to plan.

Set aside an hour or so on Sunday evening or Monday morning to plan your content for the week (or you can plan your entire month and set up an editorial calendar for your blog). 

Decide what topics you will blog about, for example, and what information needs to be in your newsletter or other emails that you will send to the people on your mailing list. 

Planning ahead like this each week can save time when it comes to creating your content because you won’t have to spend time wondering what to write about or otherwise create as content when you get to Step 3 of this process.

Step 2: Turn your plan into a schedule.

Once you know the content you will need to create for the week (or the month), the next step is to turn your plan into an actual schedule to get the content created. 

For example, if you plan the content for 2 blog posts each week during step 1, the next step is to schedule time to write these 2 posts. 

If you need to send out a newsletter, then schedule time to create the content for it as well.

Step 3: Follow Your Schedule.

Once you’ve planned your content and made a writing schedule for creating that content, the next logical step is to simply follow your schedule and create your content. 

With all the planning out of the way for the week or month, and a specific time scheduled for creating your content, you’ll be able to create that content rather quickly. 

You won’t have to waste precious writing time trying to figure out what to write about. 

You’ll already know because you planned your content (Step 1), earlier in the week. 

You’ll know exactly when to create that content, too, because you have a schedule (Step 2).

Step 4: Maximize your efforts.

You don’t have to create as much content as you might think. 

You just need to use your content in several ways. 

For example, during this step, when you post to your blog, send an email to those on your mailing list with the headline of your post, a short paragraph describing the post, and a link to the post itself (this email is called a blog broadcast and can easily be set up with most autoresponders).

This not only gives you content for your newsletter or other emails, it also helps drive traffic to your blog. 

Follow these 4 steps and you’ll soon find it much easier to create quality content that serves your target market and builds your business.

Try it!

And for more tips to help you become a productive writer and blogger, get your free 4-week trial membership to The Monday Morning Shove, a group coaching program for writers. 

Also, register for my free newsletter, The Morning Nudge.

Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer, writing coach, certified life coach, and the author of over 40 published books.


Should You Write for Magazines or Books?

By Terry Whalin (@terrywhalin

Every writer faces this question: which do I write first—a magazine article or a book?  It’s almost like asking which comes first: the chicken or the egg? As a former magazine editor who has published in more than 50 magazines (gave up counting them a while back), the quick answer is to write both. As writers, our skill is not limited to one type of writing. In the first chapter of Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, I detail the variety of writing possibilities (follow this link to get this chapter free). 

When editors and literary agents search for authors, they read magazines, blogs, books, and any other type of writing. There are many ways for you to make new connections to these gatekeepers and magazine writing can be a key entry point. Whether you write books or magazine articles, each type of writing has a set of challenges. 

The Challenges with Book Writing

Many writers begin with a book and write a manuscript. Often, they will write something tied to their reading habits. If they read nonfiction, then they will write a nonfiction manuscript. If they read novels, then they will write fiction. Somewhere along the process, they will learn editors and literary agents are looking for a book proposal. This mysterious document contains information that will never show in your manuscript, yet these professionals use this document to decide if they will publish your book.

Everyone can learn to write a book proposal or your business plan for your book. I’ve written two proposals which received six-figure advances and teach these details in my Book Proposals That $ell. I originally wrote this book as a frustrated editor looking for better submissions. My book has helped many writers land a literary agent and a book deal. Every type of book needs a proposal or business plan and this process can present a challenge to getting it published.

It may sound simple, but books are long—100,000 words for a novel and at least 50,000 words for a nonfiction book. Crafting these books take a great deal of time and energy. What people outside of publishing don’t understand is most book sales are modest. If your book sells 5,000 copies that can be a success (depending on the publisher). In addition, the competition for limited spots at traditional houses is intense. Publishers and literary agents are looking for authors with “platforms” or connections to readers who buy books. Each of these factors make publishing books a challenge.

Advantages to Magazine Writing

Magazine articles are much shorter (800 to 1500 words depending on the type of writing and publication). As you write for magazines, you will develop some important skills such as the ability to create an interesting title or a moving opening paragraph or how to write to a particular word count and for a particular audience. Print magazines are looking for quality writing and have a high standard of excellence (another skill you develop in the process). You learn to write a query or pitch to the editor, get assignments or submit complete articles on speculation (depends on the publication).

Here’s the real payoff for magazine writing: you can reach more people. It is a huge success if a book sells 5,000 copies and in the magazine world it is fairly easy for your article to appear in a publication with a circulation of over 100,000. 

As a writer, don’t get locked into a particular type of writing—books or magazine or online or whatever. There are a world of possibilities and opportunities if you are open to explore it, then write it and get it into the market.


Should you write books or magazine articles? This prolific writer and editor explains why you should be doing both. Learn the details here. (ClickToTweet)


W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in Colorado. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. Get Terry’s newest book, 10 Publishing Myths for only $10, free shipping and bonuses worth over $200. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Midwest Book Review wrote, If you only have time to read one how to guide to getting published, whether it be traditional publishing or self-publishing, Book Proposals That Sell  is that one DIY instructional book.  Check out his free Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. His website is located at: Connect with Terry on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Creativity Sparks the Writing Practice


Creativity Sparks the Writing Practice by Deborah Lyn Stanley

Brainstorming is a technique for generating ideas and creative solutions. It’s a wonderful way to grab a bundle of topic and story ideas. Several pathways can be used for group or solo gathering.

Creativity of any kind is helpful.
* Do you love art? Check out paintings from the masters online.
* Do you stitch or work with yarn? There’ are lots of videos on YouTube.
* Do you paint or draw? A walk-in nature is sure to inspire!
* Ever wished to paint? Check out Facebook groups or Pinterest.

My first experience of brainstorming happened during a company training session. A problem was presented and discussion began, guided by a facilitator.  Throughout the discussion, ideas written on small pages lined the walls. Each participant was encouraged to contribute, no idea is too quirky to build upon. When each member is involved in developing solutions, it’s more likely to find a solution.

Four Techniques have been used for Effective Brainstorming:
1.    Starbursting focuses on forming questions instead of answers, beginning with who, what, where, when, and why.
2.    Mind Mapping may be the most classical approach and the one seen most often. The written goal is noted in a center circle, with lines branching out to subtopics, and again for subcategories. Circled notes continue as ideas continue to form.
3.    Blind Writing is free-form writing, forcing you to put pen to paper for a minimum of 10 minutes to open up fresh ideas. The one rule is that you must keep writing for those 10 minutes.
4.    Reverse Storming is idea generation in the opposite, gathering ideas of how I can stop a goal from succeeding. It helps to uncover fresh approaches.

For additional information see:

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 My Writer’s Life website at:   
Visit her caregiver’s website:

Mom & Me: A Story of Dementia and the Power of God’s Love is available:



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Now"s the Time to Get Started on Your Christmas Book for 2023


On Christmas Songs, Books, and Marketing

Riddle: So Why Is Taylor Swift a Terrific Marketer? 


By Carolyn  Howard-Johnson


It’s holiday time. Even if we don’t think much about Taylor Swift the rest of the year, between now and January 1st you’re likely to hear her singing “Last year I gave you my heart,” in my opinion one of the most unlikely Christmas songs of all time. It’s a good lesson in love, but also a reminder of the example she has set for creative types since she started flaunting her knack for marketing.


QUESTION: So what makes Taylor Swift a terrific marketer?

ANSWER: Because she knows that this one song reaches across generations as well as the months and years to include all she does, including “showing” us the the real meaning of the word “assertive.”


I fear the word “assertive” has gotten a bad rap in the last couple decades.

People often associate it with being brash or downright overbearing, but it’s a skill we all need in business (in our case the world of publishing) when we must negotiate a contact or make ourselves heard in the din of a hundreds of thousands of books being published each year. 


But Taylor got that right, too. She thinks creative people should get paid for their work. She stood up for that idea. She wasn’t afraid to use her financial clout to do it. And—here’s the biggie. She doesn’t hesitate to use her skill against the big guys.


A few years ago, Taylor pitted her case against Apple—financially the world’s most influential company—who planned to launch a free promotion for their new music streaming business, Apple Music. She did it with an open letter on her blog (ahh, the power of the written word and the power of blogging!) and a tweet or two. And she did it without mussing her hair or raising her voice or resorting to a lewd gesture. She assured Apple that she loved them, threw in a few more compliments like “I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple does.” It was polite, but she still socked it to them. In something like sixteen hours they were smart enough to buckle. Swift and all the other musicians feature on Apple's rollout got paid.


And now we can all add the word “assertive” to the lexicon of skills we need to survive, to influence. She used a gentle voice that convinced others that her protest was not about making more money for herself but a matter of principle and passion. Now the rest of us can be assertive and know that can mean engaging and focused as well as strident.


And while we’re at it, let’s think about what we creatives can learn from that Christmas song. We creatives have a little time to think about the holidays both creatively and in ways that help whoever out there likes what we do. For writers, I’m thinking “last minute” gifts by touting e-book gifts that are inexpensive and arrive very nearly instantly. For readers I’m thinking books that are classics from books of poetry to Dickens.


I’m thinking donations to your local library and a special thank you to whoever tosses the daily news onto your front porch. The list can get really long.


But mostly I want to remind you to start thinking about a writing a book with a Christmas theme—maybe an anthology. Think of this as a writers’ prompt to try a genre you never tried before. But mostly think about it as a career builder. Don’t wait until it is too late once again. Now is the time to do your NaNo thing in January. But give it a Christmas theme then make it your Christmas classic. It will be the thing that makes your audience think about your other books when ’23, ’24, and 3035 roll around. The basics will just wait patiently for you to practice your marketing skills starting every year sometime around Thanksgiving forever after.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. All her books for writers are multi award winners including the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter published in 2003. Her The Frugal Editorsoon to be released in its 3rdedition, won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. And, yes. How about a last-minute book of Christmas poetry from Carolyn and Magdalena Ball’s holiday entry in their Celebration Series of chapbooks, paper or e-book. Find it at

Featured Productivity Tool: Self Care

You probably don't consider self-care as a productivity tool, but think about it. You are way more productive when you are rested, refreshed, and living in balance.

Last month, health and wellness coach Angela Miller Barton, spiritual intuitive life and business coach Erin MacCoy, and mindset answer man Cliff Ravenscraft joined my #GoalChatLive conversation on the topic. Angela talked about how many people consider self-care as being selfish. In actuality, a lot of people confuse self-care with after-care. When you are so depleted, you have no choice but to recover. 

According to my guests, self-care is "genuinely putting yourself first," says Cliff. Erin adds it's, "The cornerstone for success." "It's setting the guard rails on ourselves," says Angela.
Angela, Erin, and Cliff shared their own self-care journeys, as well as their thoughts on the value of self-care, how to get better at it, self-care during the holidays, and more.

Watch our conversation: 

Goals for Self Care

  • Cliff: Meditate … in whatever form that makes sense for you. Start by meditating for one minute a day 
  • Erin: Change your energy by changing your perspective. Go outside and take a deep breath 
  • Angela: Become friends with yourself 
  • Deb: Keep a win list

Final Thoughts 

When you take care of yourself - during the holidays, but really any time of year - you are in a better position to do all that you want and need to do. 

* * * 

For more inspiration and motivation, follow @TheDEBMethod on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin! 

* * *

What's your best tip for self care? Please share in the comments. 

* * *
Debra Eckerling is the award-winning author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals and founder of the D*E*B METHOD, which is her system for goal-setting simplified. A goal-strategist, corporate consultant, and project catalyst, Debra offers personal and professional planning, event strategy, and team building for individuals, businesses, and teams. She is also the author of Write On Blogging and Purple Pencil Adventures; founder of Write On Online; host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat, #GoalChatLive on Facebook and LinkedIn, and The DEB Show podcast. She speaks on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Celebrating the Coming Release of "The Frugal Editor" with an Essay on the Conceited Pronoun "I"

A Little Essay on the Pronoun “I”
Using "I" As a Conceit

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of fiction,
poetry, and how-too books for writers.

I don't know when I learned the word "conceited." I was raised in Utah (yes, that’s part of the United States of America!) where most of us didn't use "conceit" in the sense of an elaborate or strained metaphor but rather to mean that someone thought they were extra-super special. The little girl across the street who snubbed me because I didn't wear long stockings with garters (which was an immediate tipoff that I was not her kind) was "conceited" rather than prejudiced. The kid who was quick to make a point of how bright he was when I made a mistake was "conceited" rather than arrogant (or insecure). Gawd! I loved the word "conceited." I could apply it to so many situations and avoid learning new vocabulary words.

Of course, in a culture where being extra-super humble was valued, I soon noticed that our English language is, indeed, "conceited."

I'm speaking of the way we capitalize the pronoun "I." None of the other pronouns are capped. So what about this "I," standing tall no matter where you find it alone in a sentence?

Recently as I tutored students in accent reduction and American culture, I noticed that some languages (like Japanese) seem to do quite well without pronouns of any sort. I remembered back (a long way back!) to a linguistics class in college and did a little extra research.  Some languages like Hebrew and Arabic, don't capitalize any of their letters and some, like German, capitalize every darn noun. So, English—a Germanic language at its roots—just carried on the German proclivity for caps.

But the question remained. Why only the "I?" Why not "them" and "you" and all the others. Caroline Winter, a 2008 Fulbright scholar, says "England was where the capital "I" first reared its dotless head… .Apparently someone back then decided that after it had been diminished from the original Gemanic ich,  the little lowercase
“i" was not substantial enough to stand alone." Some say it had to do with an artistic approach to fonts. The story goes that long ago in the days of handset type or even teletype machines little sticks and dots standing all alone looked like broken bits of lead or scrappy orphan letters.

Then there is the idea that religion played a part in capitalizing the "I." Rastafarians (and some others, too) think in terms of humankind as being one with God and therefore—one has to presume—it would be rather blasphemous not to capitalize "I" just as one does "God." Capitals, after all, are a way to honor a word or concept.

Which, of course, brings us back to the idea that we speakers of English are just plain "conceited."

More About the Guest Blogger

Carolyn Howard-Johnson was an instructor for UCLA Extension's world-renown Writers' Program for nearly a decade and is author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including The Frugal Editor, soon to be released by Modern History Press in its third edition, updated to accommodate new editing expectations around gender and lots more. Modern History Press President, Victor Vollkman, says it has more than 50% new material as evidenced by the Index he just finished installing.  Carolyn is the recipient of the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and was honored by Pasadena Weekly for her literary activism. She also is a popular speaker and commericial actor with the likes of Blue Shield, Disney (Japan) Cruiselines, and Apple Computer to her credit. Her website is
Book Cover for New 3rd Edition by Doug West

Character Sheets - Building a Character

 Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Ghostwriter

Connecting with a reader entails a couple of things, one of which is to have a fully developed protagonist.

A crucial aspect of creating a real character is his interactions with the other characters in the story, and his reactions to external influences.

These reactions to external surroundings or occurrences add layers to your protagonist.

To be able to write with this type of clarity and dimension for your protagonist, you need to know every detail of your protagonist's character.

Even if you learn tidbits here and there as the story progresses, those new bits and pieces of the characters traits will need to be remembered and possibly used again. An excellent way to keep track of your protagonist’s characteristics is to create a character sheet.

Using Character Sheets

In addition to the basic information, like physical characteristics, abilities, faults, family, and likes and dislikes, you need actions and reactions.

Make note on your character sheet of every reaction and interaction your character has with another character. As with actual life, we interact differently with different people in our lives.

A boy will not react to a friend the same way he does a brother. He will not react the same to a sister as he does a brother. The same holds true for all other relationships. All these different interactions help create a fully dimensional protagonist.

As you're creating your story's characters' dynamics, keep in mind that all characters play a part in creating a realistic story, even in fantasy and sci-fi.

This means that your protagonist needs a responsive partner or team member (character) when interacting, otherwise the interaction will feel one-sided and flat.

Create Character Continuity

In order to create a continuity of character traits for all characters, each character needs a character sheet.

While for some this may seem tedious, it is well worth the effort. You may be three quarters through the book and can't remember how character A interacted with character D.

You won't want to have to search through the story to find this little tidbit of information.

Also, keep in mind that each character will have his/her own motivation for actions and reactions. This is part of their character traits and should be listed on their character sheet.

Remember, every action, reaction and interaction created in your story will not only develop the protagonist, but also the other characters in the story.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach with clients worldwide. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

Karen’s children’s books include “Walking Through Walls” and “The Case of the Stranded Bear.” She also has a DIY book, “How to Write Children’s Fiction Books.” You can check them out at: If you need help with your children’s story, visit:


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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...