Monday’s Manuscript with Barbara M. Britton

Page Turner or Snooze Fest

Do you finish every book you begin? Or do you close a boring book and never reopen it? The opening of a novel can make or break the story. If you’ve heard, “the story gets going on page 30,” then page 30 should have been where the story began.

How do I know first pages are important? Contests ask for the first pages of a story to judge not the middle pages, or the final pages. When I pitched a story to a literary agent (who shall remain nameless), I was shocked that the agent only wanted me to send one page—the first page. One single page? Was the first page really that important. Yes. If a reader or an agent can’t get beyond the first pages of a novel, then the rest of the story won’t be read.

Where does a story start? At the “inciting incident.” I discovered this term in the book “Story” by Robert McKee and it was referenced at a conference by another author. I liked the simplicity. Your story begins when the main character’s life is changed forever, or something happens to the main character that creates the story problem. Your main character can create the problem, too. Who shows up at the door? Who’s on the other end of the phone. What does the main character discover that will set the story in motion? In other words, when does trouble begin? It should happen fast and furious and be filled with enough conflict to carry a novel for several hundred pages. Not a small task.

The author’s taller task is to make the reader like or relate to the main character, so the reader cares about the trouble. Remember the agent who only wanted one page? How do you make your character stand out in a few pages let alone sentences? When I am drafting characters, I think about what makes my character likeable and unique. How will the reader identify with my character? I also make my characters competent. Give your protagonist a skill or ability that sets them apart (Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES with archery). The skill or ability should help them overcome the trouble that is going to create chaos in their lives.

Not every ability is a physical one. Some of my characters overcome trouble with their phenomenal faith, or their intuition. Those are harder to define than being an expert swordsman but work well in Biblical fiction or Fantasy. David’s faith in God made him confront Goliath. His slinging ability helped him down a giant. Israel’s army had many valiant fighters, but it was David’s sincere love of God that made him volunteer to face a nine-foot warrior.

Remember too, interesting details are engaging. The more specific the details, the better the reader knows your character. Glance at magazines and find an image that looks like your character. What styles are they wearing? Jewelry? Shoes? Habits? Creating a character readers want to hang with will keep them engaged in the story. Anyone remember Kojak? What did the detective suck on while solving cases? A lollipop. It’s been a few decades since the show was on TV, but people remember his quirky habit.

If you’re not sure where to begin a story, sit down and start writing. Later on, go back and have critique partners look at your pages. I’m sure you have heard the adage attributed to Nora Roberts, “You can’t fix a blank page.” The more you think about these things, the more ideas will pop into your head (And I don’t mean lollipop).

Happy “inciting incident” writing!

Barb’s Bio:

Barbara M. Britton was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but currently lives in Southeast, Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. She writes Christian Fiction for teens and adults. Barb brings little known Bible stories to light in her Tribes of Israel series. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. She is published by Harbourlight Books an imprint of Pelican Book Group. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate.

You can find out more about Barb and her books on her website, and on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Barb’s books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

Monday’s Manuscript with Pamela S. Thibodeaux

Career Planning for Writers
by Pamela S. Thibodeaux © 2004 (Revised 2017)

Statistics show that those who set goals and write them down are the ones who succeed. Even freelance writers need a career plan. Here are some ideas for short and long-term goals for writers.

Short-term Goals for New or Unpublished Writers

1) Complete manuscripts. Finishing your manuscript would be the most important goal for a new writer.

2) Write to publish. Write at least two or three articles for your writing group’s (or another) newsletter. This gets you name recognition and exposure…two things essential to any writing career.

Take this one step further and get those articles out there on the World Wide Web. There are Ezines, websites and newsletters that pay for reprints of articles. Funds for Writers is a great placed to start, but there are hundreds of options to market your work.

3) Submit and Work Those Rejections! Submit your manuscript—or at least query—two or three editors and/or agents. Books such as Be Your Own Literary Agent by Martin P. Levin and How to be Your Own Literary Agent by Literary Agent, Richard Curtis give you information on how working those rejection letters can benefit you and your career.

Short-term Goals for Published Writers

1) Finish that next project. Every author knows that in order to maintain the coveted title of “published” you must continue to write things that will sell.

2) Focus on Promotion. Spend at least five to 10 hours per week promoting. This goal is as individual as you are but promotion is the key to a successful writing career.

Before setting goals for promotion, every author should also set a budget. Be reasonable and be realistic! Do some research and get the most exposure for your money. For low cost promotional ideas check out places like EbookSoda and The Book Breeze or check out publications like, The Top 100 Websites for Book and Author Promotion. There are also Good Reads and Facebook groups where you can participate in group advertising for free. Also, check with your publisher or fellow authors about co-op ads in publications like RWR or RT.

Remember, Free is always better! List your book at free sites and sign up to receive every newsletter available to you. This provides you with numerous opportunities to promote and write!

3) Speak up. Schedule at least one book signing and/or speaking engagement per month (when possible). These serve two purposes: exposure and sales.

Plan for a Career

If you want to make writing your career, you’ll have to establish longer term goals. Here are two ways you can provide a sure foundation for a writing career.

1) Multiply your efforts. Plan to Write and publish two, three or five books within three to five years. This can be expanded to cover 10 or 20 years. One or two books per year is a very reasonable goal (depending on what you write) especially if you already have a career and a family and are busy promoting yourself and your work.

2) Write full-time. Another goal would be to make enough money from writing to do it full-time. Consider writing and marketing articles, short stories and essays. Check out resources such as Freedom With Writing and Funds For Writers which share lists of paying markets and other ways to increase your writing income.

Live the Dream

Goal setting and career planning are navigational tools for writing success. Is it important to write those goals, check them off, and reevaluate them? Many would answer this question with a resounding yes! Writing is as personal and individual as writers and goals should be tailored as such. Keeping your goals flexible makes them more attainable.

Finally, keep in mind that writing—not goal setting—should be your top priority. If setting goals takes the enjoyment out of your writing, build up to it slowly. But don’t put it off forever. Writing is a business, and every business must establish short- and long-term goals to ensure continued success.

Award-winning author, Pamela S. Thibodeaux is the Co-Founder and a lifetime member of Bayou Writers Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Multi-published in romantic fiction as well as creative non-fiction, her writing has been tagged as, “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™ and reviewed as “steamier and grittier than the typical Christian novel without decreasing the message.”


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Twitter: @psthib


Monday’s Manuscript with Rebecca DeMarino

Ten Books Every Fiction Writer Should Own (If you want to improve your craft)

If you write with the goal of publishing, whether traditional or indie, there are essential books to keep in your toolbox. Keep them on your bookshelf or online, but have them at your fingertips. The list could be endless, but here are ten I keep at the top:

1.     Twenty books in your genre. I know, I know—I said ten books and I’m starting you out with twenty! But truly, in order to write fantastic romance (or historical, or speculative, etc.) you have to read in that genre. And study it while you read it (What makes it good? What makes it not so good?). At least twenty.

2.     A good dictionary. I keep Random House Webster’s within reach and utilize and (because I write historical romance) online. Etymonline is invaluable because I can research the word and find out when it was first in use, what it meant at the time, and how it’s evolved.

3.     The Chicago Manual of Style, University of Chicago Press. It is the style guide for American English, and the gold standard for most publishing in America. A resource every writer should have, it’s also available online. I prefer to be able to thumb through my sixteenth edition.

4.     Roget’s Thesaurus of Words for Writers, Olsen, Bevilacqua, Hayes, and Bly. With over 2,300 words that will help you keep your vocabulary finely tuned and out of the ordinary.

5.     The Flip Dictionary, Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D. For when you know what you want to say but the word just won’t come to you. Picturing a violent disruption, but want to be cleverly specific? Page 660: cataclysm, convulsion, upheaval.

6.     Wording Painting, Rebecca McClanahan. Though I try to keep up with books in my genre, while I’m in the writing phase of a novel, I only read books that pertain to the writing craft, usually in the evening after a long day in the office. This is one of my favorites.

7.     Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott. Every writer should read this, and then just write.

8.     Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss. Because punctuation matters.

9.     Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King. While I try to turn off my editor brain while writing a first draft, I find this book invaluable when I move into revisions.

10.  The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maas. Or anything by Donald Maas. I have, and have read—and refer back to—all of his books on craft! Excellent advice, with practical ways to apply it to your current project.

Two more that I must mention that do not fall into craft per se: How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb, and Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle ~ either will delight and inspire your writing!

Do you have a favorite from my list? What about it do you love? How about a favorite that is not on the list?

Rebecca DeMarino writes inspirational historical romance and is the author of The Southold Chronicles (Revell). The three-book series is set in the 17th century on Long Island and is based on her real-life ninth great-grandparents who came from England on a little ship called The Swallow. Her titles include A Place in His Heart (2014). To Capture Her Heart (2015), and To Follow Her Heart (2016). You can find the e-book edition of A Place in His Heart FREE on Amazon May 2nd through May 9th.


For more information please visit Rebecca at and or tweet her @RebeccaDeMarino.