Toolbox 3: Settings is more than a Stage.



This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


Besides giving us place to act out a scene, a setting can add other elements as well.


Some places have memories. I can’t drive by the local grocery store by my family home without remembering that a hospital once was there. The place I was born. The place I played after it was demolished.

It carries feelings that have never gone away. Your characters can carry attachments too. They go to a park, swimming hole, elementary school, etc. and become overwhelmed or flashback into their past. It’s not a choice.

They remember their first kiss or their one and only marriage proposal. They remember saying goodbye to an old friend and watching them walk away forever. The place their child was born. Or the last time they went skinny dipping.

Mood or Atmosphere:

Mood could be based on the protagonist’s memories or it could be as simple as weather or a social function that sets the mood or atmosphere.

Thunderstorms set a mood: it was a dark and stormy night. And a sunny day at the beach also give us a sense of wholesome fun. Until the water rises and the little kid making the sand castle at the water’s edge can’t be found anywhere.

Family barbecue is one feeling, and a funeral is another. A group gathered around a phone waiting for a call—kidnapper, job offer, or dream date.

Things to consider when planning a scene.


People are not the only antagonists on the page. A disaster could stop them from achieving their goal. To save a life, they need to cross a washed-out bridge, or fix a tire without a tire iron. A blizzard could stop them from chasing after someone—villain or soul mate.

Not only stopping the hero, but also cutting them off from help. There is no rescue or police to investigate. The hero is on their own.

Whatever the circumstance it could increase the stakes.

Concrete Details:

Smells, sights, sounds, tastes, textures, internal feelings, space, time and the unknown should all be considered. Reactions to these specific details can be more powerful than any vivid description of setting, and characters.

End Result:

It’s all about reaction. Is it the history of the place? Is it the mood that always seems to hang over it like a cloud of doom? Or is it a physical problem like a washed out river. Any of these elements could be a contributing factor as a scene plays out?

No matter where you start, consider the setting.

What does your setting do for your story?

Have any techniques that help connect your characters to their setting? Please share. I’d love to read them. 🙂



IWSG 38: Clarity in Writing

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.



Tamara Narayan | Pat Hatt
Patricia Lynne | Juneta Key | Doreen McGettigan|


OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned  since you started writing?

My nightmare could be summed up with these simple words: “I know what you wrote, but what do you mean?”

Clarity seems simple:

But when I was younger, and I heard this phrase, I would become incensed. How could someone—anyone—not understand what I mean? I wrote poetry and to me it was the simplest of art forms. I couldn’t paint, act, play a musical instrument, or sing. But I could put a few words down and the person would feel something.

We’d connect.

So when I wrote longer works, how did I lose my clarity?

Struggling for Eloquence:

I knew what I thought and what I wanted to say, but there were many times when I didn’t use the right word.

Over time and with the help of a few kind and patient soles, I learned how to select the right words. It wasn’t easy, and it took a fair amount of stubbornness on my part.

It turns out I’m a minimalist too:

It goes against my instincts to write so much down. What I’ve learned is first sentence is a topic sentence and there is no harm in expanding a thought with more detail.

Another thing is to let my work rest long enough for the internal movie to disappear. Then when I re-read my work I see the glaring gaps and choppy sections for myself.

I know my flaws and what to look for when doing my read through. My readers get what I mean now. Some think my writing isn’t too bad, but I still ask for help.

Beta Readers:

Sometimes I still don’t see my mistakes and my beta readers are such a blessing. It isn’t their job to guess at what I mean.

What lengths do you go to for clarify your work?

Any shortcuts you’d like to share?


Author Toolbox #2: The Emotional Connection and Subtext

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


I’ve been thinking about how to connect with my readers. Some say you need a hero that the reader admires. I’m not sure that’s the only way to connect. After all, antiheroes are not all that loveable at first.

But we all share the common ground of emotion. It doesn’t matter what the history. We’ve been hurt, angry, happy, lonely, etc. And to me, it’s the link between all of us.

Motivation-Reaction Unit

I don’t know how many of you know about the MRU. There’s a quick explanation below and if you need more, and there’s the internet.

Motivation: something happens to the main character. Reaction: the character —feels, thinks, acts—then speaks (if they do speak). Any of these reactions might be omitted at the discretion of the author.

And the unit is repeated over and over again.

Subtext is expressed in the silent reactions

The silent reactions, the unspoken word, shows the true internal workings of a character. What’s revealed indirectly is subtext. I’m working hard to understand and incorporate subtext into my copy.

An Example:

I remember the first time I got a ticket; I’d run a stop sign with the police officer watching the whole thing. While he wrote out the ticket, I maintained a polite and calm facade, but inside I had a twenty-year-old meltdown.

If I’d been a character, the reader would have seen how hard I tried to laugh off my mistake. All the while frightened by his authority over me. They’d have seen my raw embarrassment after the cop drove away and how I hid this horrible event from everyone in my family. Very ashamed, I didn’t want to admit to them what I had done.

It was just a stop sign, but it didn’t matter. I hated making mistakes back then.

Our Characters

The unspoken word introduces the reader to the unprotected core of your character. It’s private. It makes the character vulnerable. The MC may hide their true feelings from the other characters—maybe, even from themselves—but not the reader. This intimate and trusting moment reveals who they are.

The inner workings and facade they show the surrounding people is revealing as well. Their choice on how to express themselves may be direct, indirect, or a bold face lie. For example, their inner thoughts contradict what they do—hurt expressed as anger.

The character may not work out why they reacted they way they did, but the reader will. They have the information of all the point-of-view characters and know exactly what’s unfolding within the story.

The Reader

Subtext allows the reader in where they can’t go in day-to-day life. It tells them secrets they’ll savor while also enjoying the story. They’ll anticipate what may happen next and be surprised when a twist occurs instead. It allows the story to become their story. Isn’t that what we all want when reading?

I’m doing my best to incorporate more subtext within my work. Do you do this? Do you have any tips for me?

Gleaned from:


This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.



JH Moncrieff | Madeline Mora-Summonte | Jen Chandler | Megan Morgan | Heather Gardner

Monthly Question: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

We all have stories about when we began writing. Some of us started with poems and others wrote short stories in grade school. In that way, we’re all similar. We had a voice, and it needed to be used.

As a teen, my only vent was my writing. I faced death at a young age and it made me more than morbid. I didn’t dress in all black and sleep in a coffin, but I would have given a choice.

I wrote poems about death and the everlasting soul and spent hours over books about the occult and eventually inherited a set of tarot cards from a friend of a friend who saw The Exorcist in the theater. She completely misunderstood what I was doing, but that’s okay I still have the cards.

I believed in non-violence and was repeatedly heat broken by the death of my peers from drinking and driving accidents. My poems seemed to catch what we all felt—shock and profound sadness. And a deep hope that the soul lived on free of suffering.

During this time of trouble, my writing saved my life. It allowed me to blow up without hurting anyone, or question life without having someone else’s solutions pushed upon me. I could ask questions of the universe and work out some answers that made sense—maybe only to me.

While I was doing all this I felt lost, but something outstanding came of it. I found my writing voice

I’ll never quit writing and my breaks are usually short because those feelings still come out of nowhere and when they do I pick up a pen.

Ever use your writing as a form of therapy or simply to vent? I highly recommend it.

Author Toolbox #1: Plotting, Sub-Plotting, and Series Threads

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


Hi I’m new to the toolbox meme, and I wanted to thank Erika. I read one of her posts and before I knew it I was signing up too. I regularly post about my latest discoveries. When I’ve spent hours root them out, I figure the least I can do is share.

You’ll note I’ve included some links to previous posts. Not because I’m all knowing—we all know I’m not. It’s more of a just-in-case-you’re-interested kind of thing. Enjoy.

This month I’ve being reviewing plotting, sub-plotting and how to drag the threads through a series. Here’s what I’ve gleaned so far.


Plotting seems straight forward to most. A person telling a story around the campfire knows the tension is increasing, and the twist is a surprise from the listener’s reaction.

Not so true when the work is happening in front of a computer. There may be no one but the writer tapping away, throwing in one great idea after another, and topping it all off with a twist or two.  Eventually ending it by blowing the reader away.

Well that’s the plan. Okay that’s usually my plan. Turned out if I don’t do a bit more planning I land up with something else.

So now I come up with a core idea (usually a mystery) that I plot along a three-act structure, striving for one thing—increasing tension and at least one surprise. Without feedback, I have to use my instincts; later, when the time is right, I’ll pick on a few beta readers.

How do I know I’m succeeding?

Once I get all my bright ideas and twists down I write an outline. Please don’t judge me. I do this as a substitute for people around my campfire. Without an audience, I have to be quite critical to get it right. The final copy looks very similar to a synopsis and I’ll use it when I’m querying.

Since this rarely lets me reach my word count, I need to find ways to enhance the storyline. Adding some depth to my supporting cast works by giving them plots of their own.


I guess the biggest question is where does all the tension come from? The protagonist needs to get something done and one person is out to stop them.

Not always.

Personally, if the antagonist showed up on page one in my work and the two of them battled it out, the story is over before it started. As I’m sure you know, mysteries tend to hide the villain until the end.

The supporting cast can fill in for the antagonist and get in the way of achieving the goal… But they need reasons to do so.

One word that always pops into my head is mother. I’m a perfect mother and never annoy my twenty-something son. He never feels I’m interfering or meddling in any way.

But don’t ask him about it, he may tell you the truth. hehehe

So my protagonist always has mother issues. Sometimes best-friend issues and boss issues as well. Keep the list growing and the sub-plots will be plentiful. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed that life can get in the way: broken limbs, engine trouble, lenders, borrowers, unexpected ninjas visitors, unemployment, pregnancy, love, hate, and boredom.

Some links:

Series Threads (and the bible):

I write mysteries and very often mysteries lead to a series. With that in mind I try to keep track of people, places and events. The collection of series’ details is called a bible.

Consistency is paramount when writing something over several books. Be kind to yourself and keep track of it all. Unless the mother figure in the book is constantly dying her hair, losing/gaining weight, and shrinking and/or growing. Plan on some kind of reference material.

It can be as simple as bookmarking a special copy of your work to cutting and pasting a special file for each person, place, or event. No one wants to be the person who has to go all their work looking for their mother’s neighbor’s dog’s name because it is suddenly the crux of the next book.

What have I learned?

That only I know the direction my story is going and how exactly I want to get there. Although I seek out feedback, I don’t always take it. I do, however, give each piece of advice serious consideration, knowing the bones of the story really helps me stay on track.

I work hard at being a good storyteller because only a few have been kind enough to read my work. The ones that do deserve my very best effort and I try to put it out there by doing quite a bit of preparation.

What about you? I know you know something I don’t, so share some of your wisdom that gets you through plotting, sub-potting, and series-fact tracking.