March 23, 2015

Science Fiction, Anyone?

These days, fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels are flooding the market, and they’re flying off the book shelves.

Science fiction or fantasy is always a good bet for an experienced writer to try because the versatility of the genre affords the writer the opportunity to create new worlds far beyond our wildest imaginations and go “where man has never gone before.”

But to write good science fiction, a genre which I have not tackled yet except in a few short stories, you need to know five basic rules that will help you create a winner that your readers will love.

Is SF all rockets and ray guns? Far from it. Here are some ideas that you need to incorporate into your manuscript to write a best-selling thriller:

1. Pick contemporary themes and/or take off for the future: readers are always interested in what might happen next year, next decade, next century. Show them what might just happen a hundred years from now, good or bad.
2. Read, read, read: consume all the science fiction you can and learn the lingo. Words like “dilithium crystals” and “flux matrices” will captivate your audience far beyond a vocabulary that uses words like “salt” or “swinging doors,” a vocabulary that comes from the 18th Century.
3. Study the subgenres: there isn’t just one SF genre. You’ll discover that when you go to the library and start your research. You’ll find space travel, genies in magic worlds, time travel, and the like, and ALL of them are interwoven with scientific facts that make the story plausible.
4. Add the “what if” factor to your plot: do you want your readers on the edge of their seat and turning the next page at the end of each chapter? Then use the “what if” factor. What if the sun would stop shining? What if San Francisco would disappear? What if clocks started ticking backwards? It’s your call to develop a wild plot with impossible situations that your characters must face, and they’ll not always be on a spaceship!
5. Study and write scientifically: of course, you don’t need a degree in astronomy, but you should know basic facts about your subject matter. To make your story believable and keep your reader with you, you must have cause-and-effect connections between actions and relationships. Things happen for a reason, even if your new world rotates vertically and snowflakes are blue. You’ve got to have a reason why and be convincing about it.

So, there you have it. Get your wild idea on paper and take off for the other end of the universe!


March 18, 2015

Color Code Editing

When you decide to write anything longer than one sentence, you’ll find that it’s very easy to use the same words again and again. (Like the word “again!”) Or perhaps you’re the kind of writer who just loves to use flowery, complicated, jubilant, explanatory adjectives…like flowery, complicated, jubilant, and explanatory.

This habit not only will make your writing flat and boring, but it will also do nothing to increase your desire to learn new words and use them cleverly and effectively.

There are two nifty ways to track down overused words. One way is to use the FIND tool in your word processing program on your computer, type in a certain word, highlight it for another stunning effect, and study how often you’ve used that word in your manuscript. You’ll be more than surprised at what you find.

Another way to track down those pesky words that keep reappearing and announce to the world that you’re a beginner is to print your manuscript and get a set of colored markers. Why bother to print it out? I’ve found that the pages take on an entirely new “look,” one that for some strange reason reveals a much stronger need for revision. And, if you use the markers to formulate a color code to find certain words, your revision could border on the professional level. Here’s what to do:

Make yourself a color code with the colored markers. Here’s a suggestion how you can color code your manuscript by either circling or highlighting the words in said color:

1. RED – adjectives

2. BLUE – adverbs

3. GREEN – being verbs, such as “am,” “is,” “was,” “were,” etc. (These words are passive voice; pitch them out and use stronger verbs for the active voice)

4. PINK – commas; many commas are unnecessary and/or misplaced

5. ORANGE – fancy vocabulary words; throw the rascals out and use clear, simple words

6. BROWN – metaphors and similes; yes, sometimes they’re cute and clever, but mostly they’re as boring as a sleeping dog and don’t add anything to your writing

7. YELLOW – clichés and trite expressions; these rascals only reveal lazy writing; be creative with your words and phrases, and you’ll soon have a contract for that “next great American novel.”

If you’re brave enough, go ahead and try this exercise, if only for five or six pages. I believe when you’re done, you’ll have a visual picture of your own writing habits that will probably shock you into becoming a better writer and editor. You might want to tackle the entire manuscript. If you take the time to do it, that publishing contract might be right around the corner.

P.S. Make plans to attend the Montrose Christian Writers Conference July 19th to the 24th. Faculty sketches are at the MCWC’s website http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx    The brochure and more details online are forthcoming. We’d love to have you join us!

    March 9, 2015

Tips for the Beginner and the Rest of Us

So, you’ve got your blank screen before you, you’ve got a tremendous idea for the “next great American novel,” you’ve got your dictionary, thesaurus, Elements of Style, and your Chicago Manual of Style ready. You rub your hands together, blow on your fingernails, and say, “Look out, world. Here comes brilliance!”

If you’ve never tried writing anything but eight-line poems or a letter to the newspaper’s editor once in a while, there are a few tips I’d like to share with you to help you not only write well but also get published. You might not be ready for a novel; perhaps, a 1200-word fiction story or article would be the best way to start.

Whether you’re determined to write a novel or start with shorter stuff, the tips I want to share will help. They’ll also be brief and to the point. In other words, I will not expound with long, convoluted sentences, which is one of the tips I have for you.

Tips to Help You Write Well:

1.  Don’t write long, convoluted sentences. Write short, poignant sentences with very few flowery words and long descriptive paragraphs. Today’s readers won’t stand for your showing off for pages of narration that will bore them to death and cause them to set a match to your work.

2.  Avoid the exclamation mark! One per page is often too many! Use clever words to emphasize emotion and action! Stay away from the exclamation mark! Get the point?

3.  Even if you’re writing fiction, be accurate. Do your homework. If you’re describing a fire scene, make sure you visit your local fire company and get all the details of what fire fighting is all about. For WHISPERING HOPE, the seventh volume of my Keystone Stables Series, I did just that. I had a barn fire scene, so I went to a local fireman and interviewed him, asking for all the details I needed to write the scene accurately.

4.  Stay away from fancy words. Go for simple active verbs, not descriptive adverbs and impressive adjectives. Instead of “The thin and tired old woman in her seventies walked limply and lazily” try “The haggard senior citizen hobbled.”

5.  Avoid figures of speech or overused clichés. They often distract your readers from the real core meaning of your sentence or paragraph. It just makes your reader think you were too lazy to put your own words together to write a clever line. So don’t put the cart before the horse or your readers will think your writing stinks like a skunk, and they’ll abandon ship. The only thought they’ll have concerning your story is “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

6.  Try to stay in the background, like, invisible. A skillful writer will “show” not “tell” his story and have his/her readers engrossed in the plot, identifying with the character or theme and will not give the author a second thought. Not until the last page. Then the readers are free to exclaim, “Wow! What a story!” (And with the exclamation marks!)

With these few basic points in mind, go ahead, tiger. Tackle that keyboard and crank out that manuscript. Who knows? You might just be working on a best seller!


March 2, 2015

 The Writers’ 14 Commandments


Every writer should take himself seriously. Well, almost all the time. Once in a while, we have to turn off the computer, kick off our shoes, and have a good hearty laugh, especially if that last page of the manuscript just won’t “jive.”

There’s no better time to revert to a code of ethics (or non-ethics) to “lighten up.” Perhaps my 14 suggestions listed below will help ease the pain of your latest bout of writer’s block. So let’s look at this list and take every one of these important points to heart to make us better writers. (I’m writing this tongue-in-cheek…ly.)

  1. Thou shalt recite 100 times every day, “I am a writer, I am a writer.”
  2. Thou shalt write every day, even if it is only I AM A WRITER 100 times.
  3. Thou shalt not quit thy day job but shalt write by the light of the silvery moon.
  4. If thou quittest thy day job, thou shalt be fully dressed, gargled, OUT OF YOUR PJs, and at thy computer by 11 AM every day.
  5. Thou shalt love thy computer and kiss it good morning every day.
  6. Thou shalt not do other things before writing such as watching thy grass grow or brushing thy dog’s teeth.
  7. Thou shalt query an editor at least once a year.
  8. Thou shalt not smash thy computer after receiving thy first response from an editor.
  9. Thou shalt not take out a full-page ad in the newspaper to announce thy first letter of acceptance.
  10. Thou shalt make many copies of thy first letter of acceptance and frame them to hang in every room of thy dwelling.
  11. Thou shalt join a critique group and attend writers conferences to hold thyself accountable.
  12. Thou shalt not covet other writers’ million dollar advances.
  13. Thou shalt be pleased with thy check of $30.
  14. Thou shalt not quit thy day job but shalt write by the light of the silvery moon.

There you go! With these 14 challenges instilled in your brain, you’re destined to become a best-selling author, so get back to work!


February 23, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

Relationships and Other Odds and Ends


This is the sixth and last post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. In this post, we’ll look at the importance of forming friendships with other conferees, the proper way to respond to editors, and what to do with the tote bag of hand-outs you’ll take home with you.

The Importance of Friendships

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know this “business” can be lonely. While you’re slaving away at your computer, your family and your non-writing “normal” friends, who love you dearly, don’t understand you, wondering why you’re spending all your time writing something that will “probably never be published.” (And even if it is published, it might take years.) Only another writer understands the burning desire deep down in your heart to get that story or poem out before you burst, whether it’s ever published or not.

Thus, it’s important for you as a writer to have those kindred spirits as friends to dump on occasionally, to talk you through writer’s block, to cheer with you when your manuscript is accepted, and to cry with you when you get your umpteenth rejection letter. If you have no critique group in your area that meets regularly, then the next best thing is to form Conferees.on.Porchfriendships at writers conferences and keep in touch with your writer buddies throughout the year.

I have numerous writer friends, who live across the country, but we keep in touch via the marvel of the Internet or by phone. Many of these special friendships were formed over my attending twenty years of conferences, and I thank the Lord for these writers’ encouragement and camaraderie when I’ve needed it the most.

So remember when you attend the conferences, look for opportunities to meet other conferees. Sit at different tables during meals, talk to folks on your breaks, and get names, phone numbers, and email addresses of those you get to know. You’ll be very glad you did.

Responding to Editors

I have one word to say concerning your follow-up after meeting with editors at writers conferences: RESPOND.

If an editor, or agent, reviews your work at a writers conference and asks you to contact him/her in a few weeks after the conference, then do so. A number of editors and agents have told me that only about 25% of the conferees they meet at conferences respond to that request, which is hard to understand. Those who don’t respond might be kissing a contract goodbye. In the two years I’ve been filling the shoes of an acquisitions editor for a small press, I’ve had similar results with some folks I’ve met at conferences. They’ve never contacted me after the conference…ever! It’s a mystery that defies explanation.

Thus, my advice to you if you meet an editor or agent who likes your work and wants you to get back to them a week or so after the conference, then make that a top priority when you get home. It might be a golden opportunity for you to land that contract you’ve been writing for all these years.

What To Do with a Stack of Hand-outs (and Books Purchased)

Most faculty members will have hand-outs for the conferees who attend their workshops. If you go to even a one-day conference, you might sit in on four to six workshops during the day. Going to a multi-day conference will, obviously, fill your tote bag with all kinds of valuable information that can help you master your craft. Then there’s always the book table, which lures you to buy invaluable how-to books and tomes of the best-selling faculty members. But what to do with dozens of papers and a two-foot stack of new books?

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a plan for all these papers and books, they might land in a messy pile in the corner of your computer station, stuffed in a drawer, or left in the tote bag Frank.Stuffed.Duck.in.Lobbyyou’ve carried home. This, in my opinion, is a misappropriation of funds and vital knowledge!

If you’ve possibly paid hundreds of dollars to attend a conference, then strive to get the very best out of it, while you’re there and afterward. Buy a three-ring binder and file your hand-outs in the binder, making sure you’ve labeled all the hand-outs with the faculty member’s name who taught the session. It’s your choice whether to put the papers in alphabetical order or in chronological order. Store all your book purchases in an obvious place and READ THEM! Thus, all that helpful information will be at your fingertips and can only help you to improve your craft.

So, what’s the bottom line concerning attending writers conferences? Go to as many as possible, make new friends, meet with agents and editors, and take detailed notes that will be at your fingertips when you get home. Of such are best-selling authors made.

February 16, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

Different Ways to be Critiqued

This is the fifth post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. This time we’ll look at the different ways you can have your work critiqued at most writers conferences.

“Have my work critiqued?” you might ask. “Why would I want anyone to look at my work? I have a novel all ready to submit to a publishing company, and I’m not about to rewrite it…or any part of it.”

Well, if that’s any writer’s attitude, I have one word to describe that person: foolish.

Types of Critiques: If you have plans to attend a writers conference, then by all means plan to have your work critiqued. Most conferences will offer several venues. A writer may choose to do one or several of them to get an objective opinion concerning the quality of writing and how the work can be made publishing ready:

  • Attend classes where the faculty member asks the conferees to bring samples of their written work to class and you do a “work-in-progress” revision over the course of the conference. With the faculty member’s lectures and suggestions, each conferee in the class works on his/her pages, sometimes in class, sometimes in the evening to bring to class the next day.
  • Attend another “work-in-progress” continuing class. This differs in that your sample pages will be sent to the faculty member ahead of time (with a fee) before the conference starts. He/she then critiques your sample pages, brings them to the conference, and you along with maybe eight or nine others in your class—class size is usually limited— revise during the continuing workshops each day with the faculty member’s mentoring and teaching basics.
  • When you arrive at the conference, sign up to meet with one or several faculty members in freebie private (usually 15-minute) sessions. During these critique periods, you sit down with a faculty member and show him/her on the spot no more than five pages of your written work. The 15 minutes are spent with the faculty member reading the pages then making suggestions. If the faculty member is an editor of a publishing company, he/she might express interest in your work, so much so that he/she could want you to submit your work to the company for consideration. (It really does happen. This is how I got my contracts for the Keystone Stables Series by Zonderkidz, my homeschool helps book by New Leaf Press, and my Loves of Snyder County Series through an agent I met at a conference.)
  • Register ahead of time with a fee to have a sample (usually 10 to 15 pages) critiqued by a particular faculty member whom you’ve chosen. The faculty member critiques the work before the conference then meets with you at the conference for a half hour, reviewing the critiqued work and making suggestions. He/she encourages the writer as well as gives invaluable advice to improve the work.
  • Attend scheduled freebie critique meetings with your peers. Often, conferences will allot some time in the schedule for conferees (and sometimes a faculty member coordinator) to meet and discuss each other’s work. Usually two or three pages at the most are read out loud, and each one in attendance offers his/her opinion and suggestions. As you can see, most writers conferences feel it’s SO important to have conferees’ work critiqued, the directors will provide all kinds of opportunities for conferees to participate. Wise conferees, both newbies and experienced including published authors, will take advantage of any or all of these opportunities to improve their writing skills. A publishing contract might be right around the corner.
  • Next time, we’ll do the sixth and last blog in this series about writers conferences. We’ll discuss relationships, responding to an editor’s request for you to submit to his/her publishing company, and odds and ends.

Happy writing!

February 9, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

But I Already Know All That!


Cec Murphey Teaching a Class

This is the fourth post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. This time we’ll discuss why it’s absolutely necessary for you as a conferee to choose the correct workshops and learn the essentials of becoming a better writer, no matter what genre interests you.

The best conferences will offer a variety of excellent workshops covering numerous topics to whet any writer’s appetite. But which ones should you choose? How do you decide?

Using a past brochure from the Montrose Christian Writers Conference, I’ve listed just a few of the 50+ workshops the conference had offered from Monday morning until late Thursday afternoon:















As you can see, this conference, as most others, offered classes and sessions from fiction to nonfiction to marketing to poetry to social media, and much more. The key to getting the most out of any conference is analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, your knowledge of the writing/publishing world or lack thereof, and the genres of writing you’ve attempted. Then, a wise conferee will plan ahead to attend classes all day long and take notes. Also, most conferences offer CDs of the workshops presented, so any conferee can go home with a wealth of information packed in his/her suitcase.

With 60+ conferences under my belt, the only words of warning I have to offer is mainly to the newbie or the writer who’s not sure he/she really wants to write at all, so here goes.

Chapel.gathering.7.20.14My Advice to Newbies: If you plan to spend hundreds of dollars on conference registrations and room/board or, at least, your valuable time and the expense of traveling to and from a conference, then go with the goal of learning. If you’re just starting, you need to evaluate what workshops will be most valuable to you. I can’t emphasize enough the value of attending any beginners’ workshops offered.

“But I’ve been writing for two years, and I want to know how to write fiction better!” you might say. Or maybe you’d say, “I know all that stuff about margins and fonts and what kind of paper to use for submissions. I want to know how to get my poetry published.”

My best advice to any newbie or anyone who’s not yet decided what to write is to go to the beginners’ class. There, the instructor will share information essential for the conferee to become a better writer, no matter what genre you write. It will involve much more than margins and letter fonts.

I’ve been constantly surprised with submissions I’ve received, some from folks whom I assume have attended writers conferences for years, but their quality of writing has much to be desired. I’ve received some manuscripts that had the wrong size font and the spacing was single spaced. Others had no contact information included at the top of the first page, and the writing was so immature, it couldn’t have passed a high school sophomore’s term paper test. I can only scratch my head and wonder if these folks EVER attended any conferences, and, if they did, if they went to the right classes to help them improve their writing.Marshas.Class.Wk.in.Progress.2013

If you’re just starting to write, please don’t be embarrassed to admit your newbie status, and get to those beginners’ classes to learn the vital facts so important to improve. After you have a few of those classes under your belt, then launch out into specific genre workshops and commit to having your work critiqued by a faculty member.

All these opportunities are there to help you become that best-selling author you dream to be. So, decide to attend writers conferences as often as you can, and when you get there, go to those classes that are designed just for you. You’ll come home with a wealth of new information that you can find no place else. Apply what you’ve learned, and that publishing contract will be right around the corner.


Next time, we’ll look at the different ways you can have your work critiqued at writers conferences.


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