Posts Tagged ‘Writing fiction’

May 23, 2016


Today’s Writers’ Tip: Writing Fiction Plots Outside the Box


Over the years, I’ve taught different classes and courses on writing at various writers conferences, including the Montrose Christian Writers Conference in Montrose, PA. As of January 2015, I assumed the directorship of the conference, which is a wonderful experience for any writer at any level in his/her career. Every year there are workshops and classes presented by a faculty (this year 17) of many best-selling or award-winning authors, agents, or editors representing various genres and subgenres.

In one of my seminars for beginners, I present anything and everything from query letters and proposals to marketing yourself and your work. I also present a detailed Power Point on the good elements of fiction, including how to write “outside the box.” I thought I’d share a few of those pointers with you in this post.

First, we need to define the term “outside the box.” What in heaven’s name does that mean?

“Write outside the box.”

Well, in plain language, it means to write a plot that doesn’t have a normal humdrum boring story line.

As a short exercise in my presentation, I always cite some average boring story lines and ask my class to change the plot so that it’s outside the box. One example I cite is the following:

“A little girl finds a nest of baby bunnies in her back yard.”

Now, of course, everyone is immediately drawn to the “outside the box” famous children’s story, Alice in Wonderland, where Alice finds a whole new world, not a nest of baby bunnies.

Several years ago, I presented this workshop to a group of writers and asked how to change the story line. One fellow in the back of the room raised his hand and said, “How about if a big rabbit finds a nest of little girls in his back yard?”

I said to him, “Sir, you are DEFINITELY thinking outside the box. Go for it.”

Just for the fun of it, I’m going to list about 10 different story lines. Analyze each one. If you can change the plot to move it outside the box, do so. But some of the story lines are already outside the box and are, in fact, famous stories or books written by best-selling published authors. See if you can identify those that are already great plots.

So, which of these would you like to continue to read?

  1. A little girl saves enough money to buy a horse at auction.
  2. A bitter sea captain of a sailing ship hunts for a white sperm whale to kill him.
  3. A newly married couple tours Paris, France, and enjoys all the sites.
  4. A boy is shipwrecked on an island with only a wild stallion that won’t let him get near him.
  5. A middle-aged woman works at Wal-Mart, saving enough money to take a trip to Hawaii.
  6. A young pioneer woman is left alone on the prairie in her covered wagon when her husband falls from his horse and is killed.
  7. The neighbor’s cat has a litter of six kittens underneath a little boy’s porch.
  8. A collie dog, sold and taken away from the boy he loves, travels a long distance through life-threatening dangers to return to his boy.
  9. A young unmarried girl decides to marry her childhood sweetheart.
  10. An unmarried woman on a plantation in a southern state faces the harsh reality of post Civil War life and the loss of all she held dear.

Well, how did you do? Did you analyze the boring plots and decide what you could do to make them better? (Numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 9)

And did you identify the best-selling books/movies in numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10?






When you analyze what makes these million-dollar story lines what they are, you’ll be on your way to writing, possibly, the next great American novel. And all the while you’re writing, keep on reading. Read tons of books, especially in the subgenre in which you are writing, and learn how the masters did it. Maybe someday, your name will be on a best-seller list with the rest of them!

Happy writing!

P.S. Time to register for the Montrose Christian Writers Conference. You won’t be sorry!

Please check http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx for all the details.





(More shameless promotion)




Dallis Parker copes with bullying at school by dreaming about owning Snow, a wild Mustang, who most folks believe doesn’t even exist. Then she actually touches the horse, and her life is changed forever.


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Character Development



He’s a Nice Man? She’s a Nice Lady? Really?


Anyone who has tried to write fiction for any length of time realizes that character development is quite important to help your story move along and not be “flat.”

A writer who works diligently at his craft will spend much time developing his primary and secondary characters so that they jump out on the page and practically hug the reader, inviting him to join the party!

So, how is a character developed cleverly so that his description, life’s ambitions, demeanor, habits, quirks, and personal appearance are shown not told?

I guess the best way to demonstrate the proper technique is to “show” and not “tell,” so what we’ll do is look at some bad examples and then turn them into good examples.

Before studying the examples, please remember one important rule when working on character development. Listing all of the character’s traits in one paragraph is about the most boring technique a writer could ever use. A writer who develops his characters properly will embed all of the traits into the narration and/or dialogue so that the reader hardly notices what’s been done, yet will enjoy getting to know the characters on a personal level.

Now, let’s look at some bad examples and then compare them with some good examples:

Bad Example Number One: (Description)

“It’s me, Tanya!” She was so nervous, her voice quivered. Tanya was a tall African American teenager who had a nice shape. She wore a ponytail with long ringlets hanging down in front of her ears. Even though it was cold, all she had on were a thin jacket and jeans. She was really cold.

Good Example Number One:

“It’s me, Tanya!” a quivering voice answered. A tall African-American teenager stepped into the doorway, now in full view of the overhead lights. The girl folded her arms in a futile attempt to keep warm, her shapely frame covered with just a thin denim jacket and jeans. Her short ponytail and long strands of ringlets in front of her ears quivered as she tried to keep warm. (From Keystone Stables Book 3: Southern Belle’s Special Gift, p. 11, by Marsha Hubler)

Bad Example Number Two: (Demeanor or Personality)

Skye Nicholson was a thirteen-year-old brat who had been in trouble with the law for years. Now she found herself sitting in a courtroom, which didn’t seem to bother her one bit. She had a terrible temper, which her lawyer tried to control while they sat before the judge for Skye’s hearing. Skye slumped in her seat and yawned. She was really ignorant.

Good Example Number Two:

Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most ordinary thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death as a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no ordinary thirteen-year-old. Her anger matched the judge’s. Only Wilma Jones, her court-appointed lawyer, prevented Skye from exploding. (From Keystone Stables Book 1: A Horse to Love, p.9, by Marsha Hubler)

Bad Example Number Three – (Description of a horse):

The horse was a beauty. He was a reddish-brown color, and he had a stripe down the middle of his face. His ears were real pointy. His mane and tail were silky and his coat was real smooth. He didn’t smell horsey at all. He smelled kind of like fresh-cut hay.

Good Example Number Three – (Description of the same horse):

The horse’s sharp ears pricked forward as if it could read her mind. A white stripe ran down the middle of its face, and its soft mane and tail blew in the breeze like corn silk. Its reddish-brown coat, sleek and smooth, sparkled in the sun. And the smell? Like sweet, fresh-mown hay. (From Keystone Stables Book 1: A Horse to Love, p.26, by Marsha Hubler)

Are you getting the idea? Embed all that information about the character right into the story. Let’s do one more, just for fun:

Bad Example Number Four: (Description and Feelings)

Louellen was totally embarrassed when she fell into her employer’s arms. It wasn’t only because she thought herself clumsy, but she loved this man because he was so handsome with wavy blonde hair and nice brown eyes. He always had wonderful-smelling cologne on too. Louellen was an Amish woman and dressed in Nineteenth Century clothes. She had green eyes and auburn hair with a white kapp on and a navy cape choring dress, which she always wore when she cleaned. When she tripped and fell into the man’s arms, she scared the family dog out of his wits too.

Good Example Number Four:

Louellen gasped for breath as she regained her balance and pulled away from her employer’s arms. His touch, first ever and accompanied by the sweet smell of his expensive Canoe after shave, stirred something deep inside Louellen’s heart that she didn’t expect. For a moment, she focused on his gorgeous wavy, blonde hair and handsome face and then quickly lowered her gaze. Never before had she allowed herself to look into this man’s gentle brown eyes, although she had studied him from a distance. Hands shaking, she adjusted the white mesh kapp covering her auburn hair and ran her hands down the sides of her navy cape choring dress. She shifted her green eyes to the dog sitting nearby with a puzzled look on his face as if to say, “What happened?” (From Love Song for Louellen book manuscript, p.1, by Marsha Hubler)

Well, there you have some character development examples for you to analyze.

What doesn’t work in the bad examples? What does work in the good examples? You decide; then look at some of your own character descriptions and see what you can do to improve them. Get those characters out of that boring descriptive box and turn them loose with their surroundings, some action, and some backdrop. Your editor and your reader will enjoy your writings much more!

Next time, we’ll discuss verbs that can kill your manuscript.

Happy writing!






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Keystone Stables Book 1

Foster kid Skye Nicholson hates everyone and everything until she meets Champ,

a gorgeous show horse.


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Writing an Eye-catching Proposal


The Synopsis and the Autobiography

In my last blog, I started sharing information about writing an eye-catching proposal. If you scroll down to the last blog a week ago, you’ll see the first two parts of a proposal, the Title Page and the Table of Contents. As previously said, publishing companies have different guidelines stating what they’d like to see in a proposal, so if you ever get the letter that requests a proposal, be sure to ask for their guidelines if they haven’t already offered them.

Today we’ll show you the next two components of a proposal that’s sure to “catch the eye” of that editor or agent:

III. The Synopsis of the Manuscript: (Two or three pages long; NO dialogue)


by Marsha Hubler


Twenty-five-year-old Amish Louellen Bidleman Friesen finds herself falling in love with forty-year-old English man Dr. David McAndrew, a widower with two children, for whom she cleans house regularly in Mapletown,SnyderCounty, centralPennsylvania. There’s only one problem. Louellen is already married.

Three years prior and well past the “marrying age,” Louellen Bidleman had wed Amish man Eli Friesen, mostly because of pressure from her family. Eli, also in his mid- twenties and “passed over,” had married Louellen for one main reason, to have sons.

Louellen tries desperately to love Eli, and because of her church vows, sets out to be a proper wife and good mother when God blesses them with little ones. However, after three years, there are no children. Louellen is devastated, and Eli becomes bitter, feeling trapped in a marriage that has produced no offspring, even though he knows that he has the medical problem, not his wife. Although he treats Louellen civil in public, at home he emotionally detaches himself from her and ignores her needs.

Because divorce is forbidden, Louellen tries to be submissive while Eli snubs her, goes about his farm business, and struggles to show her any love at all. Besides keeping her family life “private,” Louellen also hides another secret that would cause her family great shame: she loves music and ever since she heard beautiful piano music played at the McAndrew household, she has had the desire to learn more about the “instrument of evil” and, perhaps, learn to play it herself.

Unknown to either of them, both Louellen and Eli have great doubts about the Amish faith in which they’ve both been reared. Deep in their hearts, they question the legitimacy of a religion that does not afford them an intimate relationship with their God, a relationship they both desperately want and need. Also, while questioning the bishops’ and elders’ control over church members with long lists of restrictions and “forbidden pleasures,” they long to have the assurance that they are destined to heaven when they die, an assurance that is not present in the Amish Ordnung to which they belong.

Louellen’s housekeeping “boss,” 40-year-old David McAndrew, a surgeon, at one time considered himself religious. But when his young wife dies of cancer, leaving him to rear two children on his own, he turns his back on God. His two children, Andrea, now eighteen years old, and Jenna, now sixteen, are not “religious” in any way, but both girls have an interest in spiritual things, a desire they keep hidden from their father because of his bitterness against God. Andrea attends the local community college where she is majoring in music. Jenna attends the local high school as a sophomore and is thrilled about getting her driver’s license.

David finds himself falling in love with Louellen and begs her to leave her husband. He showers her with attention in his home, treats her like royalty, and buys her expensive gifts that she can’t take home with her….

(This synopsis has two more pages that fully explain the plot to the very end.)

Let’s take a look at: About the Author/Speaker: (One page long; note it is in third person)

About the Author/Speaker

Marsha Hubler has had a background conducive to effective writing. She has a master’s degree in education from Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA, and has been an educator for forty years. She has co-founded two private schools,Kreamer Christian Academy, Kreamer, PA, and the Bethesda Prep School, Milton, PA, and had served as teacher/ administrator in each. She presently works with homeschoolers in her home in Middleburg, PA, (50 miles north of Harrisburg in Amish/Mennonite country) where she lives with her husband and two dogs.

Marsha has been a foster parent and has owned horses. She also has numerous opportunities to speak at ladies’ events, schools and kids’ clubs, and at writers’ conferences.

Marsha has always had a deep desire to write, but teaching and caring for foster children and horses had allowed little time to pursue her dream passionately. However, since 1990, she has had some success with published articles, children’s stories, and poems. In 2000, the door opened for her to write books. Three years later she had her first book published, a ladies’ Bible study guide entitled DRAW ME CLOSER, LORD by Regular Baptist Press, Schaumburg, Illinois.

Marsha is most excited about her Keystone Stables Series published by Zonderkidz. The eight girl/horse fiction books for tweens, released since 2004, deal with heavy issues such as juvenile delinquency, death of a close friend, foster care, and special needs children. The books have been well received, the first one in the series considered a best seller. Because of the series’ success, Zonderkidz redesigned the books’ size, cover, and titles, and Marsha wrote 20 extra pages of back matter that are addressed to her fans. Books seven and eight were released in the spring of 2010. The same year, Marsha released two other stand-alone juvenile fiction books, RICKIE RIDES TO THE RESCUE and THE SECRET OF WOLF CANYON.

In 2006 a contract with New Leaf Press from Green Forest, Arkansas, has resulted in a helps book for parents entitled WE’VE DECIDED TO HOMESCHOOL. NOW WHAT? The book was released in September of 2007.

Living in a heavily-populated Amish/Mennonite area of PA and personally knowing folks from these religious persuasions have motivated Marsha to try her hand at contemporary Amish/Mennonite romance for adults. With her familiarity with the Amish/Mennonite lifestyles, Marsha believes she can accurately portray the sects’ beliefs and lifestyles factually in a fiction setting. To this goal, she writes.


Well, there you have the third and fourth components in a good proposal. Work on your synopsis with no dialogue. Write it as if you were writing an article for a newspaper. Use description and narration, and make it short. And for your bio, make that even shorter! What the editor or agent is looking for is how well you can write, and he/she will get a good taste of that when you include your first three chapters.

Next time, we’ll discuss Character Sketches and Backdrop.

Happy writing! Happy proposing! Marsha



(More shameless promotion)




Dallis Parker copes with bullying at school by dreaming about owning Snow, a wild Mustang,

who most folks believe doesn’t even exist.

Then she actually touches the horse, and her life is changed forever.


Read Full Post »

December 14, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 10)

Character Sketches Build Character


Several blogs ago, I discussed creating characters and plots outside the box. In other words, you should create unique characters and plots that are different from the norm; yet, your reader would be able to identify with or feel sympathy toward at least one of the characters and would want to jump right into your book and be a part of the “scenery.”

Today, let’s discuss the importance of keeping good notes such as character sketches. Whether you’re writing juvenile fiction with a handful of characters or you’re tackling adult fiction that might have a dozen or so characters, you need to “know your people.” This is so vitally important if you’re going to write adult fiction with different points of view. (POV) You must know the character like a brother or consider him your best friend so you can get inside his head.

While writing ten tween books and just recently an Amish romance for adults, I found the biggest difference in how I handled writing the manuscripts has been character development. With tween books, character development can be shallow. Basically, all you need are five or six poignant details about the main characters, and you can fill in the blanks as you go. However, with an adult fiction manuscript that could be 50,000 to over 100,000 words long with multiple scenes in each chapter and numerous POVs, I discovered I had to have more detailed descriptions of all the characters, which included not only how they looked (appearance) but also how they felt about certain issues (philosophy or religious beliefs), why they thought or acted certain ways (background), and their circle of influence. (In Amish fiction, each family member is vitally important so I had to almost make a family tree for each main character.)

I’ve heard of authors who write such details about their characters that they give them a birth date, birthplace, and an actual family tree. They list their characters’ likes and dislikes; they name their characters’ best friends and enemies; they list the places the characters have visited, the education they’ve received, and the foods they like and dislike. Yadah, yadah, yadah.

“Whoa!” you might say. “Enough is enough. I’m not going to all that work before I even start.”

Well, those authors who do that are some of the best-selling ones. They know their “Bill” and “Susie” inside and out and no trouble writing what “Bill” would do if he saw a baby sparrow fall out of its nest or what “Susie” would do if her husband came home without the milk she reminded him to pick up at the store.

So how far you want to delve into character development is your choice. I have found that the more prep time I take to get to know Bill or Susie, the less time I waste with hashing out all those details when I get to crossroads that require the characters to act a certain way. In the long run, I think detailed character sketches make a writer a better craftsman all around, no matter how much time it takes.

So, weigh the work involved, and, maybe, just for practice, try writing a detailed character sketch. You might just enjoy yourself and find a brand new best friend!

Next time we’ll discuss the difference between “theme” and “plot.”

Happy writing! Marsha

(Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com


(More Shameless Promotion)




Dallis Parker copes with bullying at school by dreaming about owning Snow, a wild Mustang,

who most folks believe doesn’t even exist.

Then she actually touches the horse, and her life is changed forever.


Read Full Post »

November 30, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 8)

Stiff Unnatural Dialogue or Natural Dialogue?

Whether you’re working on fiction or nonfiction, one of the techniques you need to master is how to write dialogue that flows and sounds “natural.” In other words, do your characters’ words read as if your reader is eavesdropping on a conversation that he’d hear anyplace in his own world or is the dialogue so stilted, it sounds like two robots reading from a high school English text?

It’s very important for a writer to get to know his/her characters for this exact reason. People talk differently!

WOW! What a revelation! If you’re a smart writer, by now, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve (hopefully) studied language patterns and colloquialisms and you’ve analyzed the difference in children’s, teens’, and adults’ speech.

Let’s look at a few samples to show some stiff and and then some natural dialogue. Because I have been published mostly in the juvenile fiction genre, my examples will be from that genre. But the “talking points” are basically the same for all dialogue, whether for kids or for grown-ups.

First, I’ll give you a sample of “stiff” dialogue, followed by that which flows and sounds just like “real” folks speaking. Watch for the Leave it to Beaver Syndrome to rear its ugly head in the first samples, as well:


 Stiff: (Two young boys discussing buying eagle feathers)


  “Titus, you cannot buy an eagle feather,” Tim said.

   “Tim, why can’t I?” asked Titus. “Are they too expensive?”

   “No, Titus,” Tim answered. “Buying an eagle feather is against the law.”

   “Tim, is it because eagles are almost extinct?” Titus asked.

    “Titus, that is correct,” Tim answered. “The only people who can own an eagle feathers are Indians.”

(Brother! What kid says, “That is correct”? And why not use contractions? We use them all the time in our speech. And why the use of so many tags? There are only two characters in the scene. Let’s get rid of some of those ___ said tags.)


        “Sorry, old pal,” said Timothy, patting (Titus) on the shoulder. “There’s no way you can buy an eagle feather.”

        “Why?” asked Titus. “Too expensive?”

        “No. It’s against the law.”

        “What? You mean because eagles are an endangered species?”

        “Bingo,” Timothy replied. “The only people who can own eagle feathers are Indians.”


By Elspeth Campbell Murphy, Bethany House, 1995, pp.16-17)



 Stiff: (Conversation between two teenage junior counselors at a camp)

       “Timothy!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How is the water out there?”

       “It is just so wonderful,” Tim yelled back. “I would like to be swimming today. Who is standing next to you there on shore?”

       “It is a friend of yours and mine,” Skye yelled to Tim. “I will have him wait for you here until you come ashore.”

       “That is fine with me. I will see you in a few minutes,” Tim yelled to Skye as he turned the paddleboat around and headed in another direction.

(Sheesh! They sound like a couple of robots, don’t they?)


     “Hey, Tim!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How’s the water?”

     “Cool! Real cool!” Tim yelled back. “I’d rather be in it than on it! Who’ve ya got there with you?”

    “Your friend and mine! He’ll be waitin’ when you come ashore!”

    “Okay, Skye, see you in a few minutes!” Tim turned the paddleboat in another direction.



By Marsha Hubler, Zonderkidz, 2009, p. 38)


 So, there you have two simple examples of how to write lousy dialogue and how to make it flow naturally. Get rid of some of those tags and use some beats instead. Now, if you’re writing about robots conversing, then the first samples are the way to go. If not, then work on making your dialogue flow, and your reader will love being right in the middle of the exciting action.

* NOTE: If you’re a published author and would like to be featured on my blog, please contact me. I’d love to post your picture, a short bio, and your credentials along with contact information.

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com


(More Shameless Promotion)



Skye and Sooze get ready for the Christmas season

with some neat “horsie” gifts for their foster parents,

but Sooze’s sudden illness changes everything.



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November 23, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 7)

Wow! Beginnings


Last time we discussed the effective use of tags and beats to make your dialogue flow well and your characters come alive in any fiction, or nonfiction, you are writing.

This time we’re going to look at how to “hook” your reader with your openings sentences or paragraphs in your stories, articles, or book manuscripts. First, I’ll give you some Ho-Hum examples of boring beginnings that will either put your reader into a deep sleep or will inspire him to toss your book in the trash. Then I’ll give you some WOW beginnings, a technique which can be used in nonfiction as well as fiction.

What makes a wow beginning compared to flat, uninteresting words that bore your reader to death? Compare the samples of some of my lousiest writing with some of my published works and then you make the call:

  1. Ho-Hum Beginning:

A while ago, I interviewed Clyde Peeling, the owner and curator of Reptiland in Allenwood, PA, on route 15 near Williamsport.

Reptiland is loaded with all kinds of wild animals, including alligators, snakes, and other ugly creatures.

Wow Beginning:

How would you like a frozen mouse for lunch?

If you would, then join dozens of snakes, alligators, and other reptiles at Reptiland, a zoological park at Allenwood in central Pennsylvania.

(From “Lizard Man” – Boys’ Quest; Aug/Sept.02)


  1. Ho-Hum Beginning:

My eight-year-old son had been sick for some time. We finally found out he had cancer and wouldn’t live much longer.

One thing he wanted to do was see snow, but we were having a warm autumn in central PA.

Wow Beginning:

“Dad, I-I want to see the first snow,” he said, forcing the words out with jagged, tired breath. “D-do you think I’ll see it, the way I am and all?”

“Colton, son, you’ll see it. I promise. We’ll see it together,” I assured him.

(From “First Snow” – Inside PA Mag. Dec. 08; fiction contest winner)


  1. Ho-Hum Beginning:

Skye Nicholson found herself in juvenile court for the umpteenth time in her thirteen short years.

She sat in the chair and just stared at the judge. She was as mad as a hornet and in no mood to appease anybody.

Wow Beginning:

“Young lady—and I use that term loosely—I’m tired of your despicable behavior. I’m sending you to the Chesterfield Detention Center!”

Skye Nicholson looked cold as an ice cube as she slumped in the wooden chair and stared back at Judge Mitchell. Most thirteen-year-olds would have been scared to death as a hearing with an angry judge yelling at the top of his lungs. But Skye was no “ordinary” thirteen-year-old.”

(From A HORSE TO LOVE, Best-selling book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series – Zonderkidz; 2009)


So there you have three examples of how to fix your ho-hum beginnings and make them “WOW.”  You’ll hook that reader, who won’t be able to put your piece down. Then he/she will be back for more!

Next time, we’ll go back to dialogue once again, discussing “natural” dialogue compared to “stiff, unnatural,” better known as “stupid” dialogue. :)


Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com


(More Shameless Promotion)




Dallis Parker copes with bullying at school by dreaming about owning Snow, a wild Mustang, who most folks believe doesn’t even exist. In a strange encounter at snow camp with a youth group, Dallis actually touches Snow, and her life is changed.

Read Full Post »

Nov. 2, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 4)

Don’t Preach!

If you’ve gone to your share of writers’ conferences, you’ve heard that little ditty a zillion times. Don’t preach!

Okay, don’t preach. Butwhat does that mean? Don’t preach!

As writers with opinions, and I’ve never met a writer who didn’t have one (or “agendas,”) we all have “messages” we’d like to share with our readers. But how does a skillful writer share his message, his beliefs, his ideals, with the reader without offending him or turning him off on page one? How do you impart your underlying theme in the story without coming right out and saying something like, “God is love”?

Is it wrong to try to win your reader over to your side by sharing your beliefs? Absolutely not. That very goal is the reason most people write. They want to share something they feel is vitally important to the survival of the human race. Wars have been won, and lost, by the printed page.

So how does a writer share his beliefs without preaching? A skillful writer weaves the message into the story so that the characters portray the ideals, or lack of them. The reader, watching the action of the main character, then observes the author’s beliefs in action as the character either exemplifies or struggles with the underlying theme.

Let’s look at some examples of “preaching” versus clever weaving of the message into the context of the story. The first examples of preaching are lousy writing on my part. The second examples are taken from some of my published work:


“Children need to work around the house, not only because their parents need the help, but also because when the children are older, they’ll know how to take care of their own homes,” Bimbo told Heathcliff.

Weaving the Message into the Story:

“Chores, including the house and the barn – washing clothes … mucking stalls are important. But you’re not a lonely island out there by yourself,” Mr. Chambers reminded Skye. “It takes all of us to run this place. It’s just part of maintaining a home. You’ll be glad when you’re older that you learned how to do these things.”

Yeah. I’m the luckiest girl in the world! Skye stewed inside.





“God is love, and He is ready to forgive anyone who will believe in Him, no matter how bad they’ve been,” Bimbo told Heathcliff.

Weaving the Message into the Story:

Skye turned back to the altar, and her eyes focused on the cross, the symbol of God’s love that meant absolutely nothing to her. This God, whom she didn’t even know existed, loved her? As rotten as she was?

She stumbled to the altar and knelt at the cross, sobbing out her pain and despair.



So there you have two simple examples of how to rid your writing style of that pesky preaching.

Take a good look at the book you are reading at the moment and see how the author has handled his theme or underlying message. It might become clearer to you now than ever before.

Remember, weave the message into your story; have your characters experience the thrill, or the pain, of living with your ideals or beliefs. The reader will observe the action and reaction of your characters, and from your book, he just might decide to embrace the ideals you hold so dear.  You don’t need to preach to get your message into your reader’s heart and mind. Just write from your heart in a clever way, and your message will come through loud and clear.

Next time, we’ll discuss writing plots that are “outside the box.”


Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com


(More Shameless Promotion)



Keystone Stables Book 1

 (Book 1 in the Keystone Stables Series)

Nasty foster kid Skye Nicholson meets her match when she goes to live at Keystone Stables. There she meets Mr. and Mrs. Chambers, her new foster parents, and a gorgeous show horse, Champ, all who help Skye face her greatest fears.

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June 8, 2015

How to Turn Off Your Readers

You’re writing that great American novel. You’ve read tons of “how to write” books, studied your high school English books to the last dangling participle, and now you’re ready to start pecking away at the keyboard.

There are a few basic principles of writing good fiction to keep your reader engaged that must be remembered or your book will go flying out your reader’s window. Worse yet, while it’s being reviewed at the publishing company, the editor will send your manuscript back so fast, you’re characters’ heads will be spinning. Your story will never see the light of published day.

So, if you want to turn off your reader, or your editor, here’s what you do:

  1. Start your book by waxing eloquent. Describe beautiful settings, introduce action, and throw in a few pages of dialogue of minor characters. But don’t introduce your main protagonist until page 10.
  2. Write 20 pages of backstory with vivid descriptions and details of your protagonist’s past life. Tell every nitty, gritty little detail about him that doesn’t mean beans to the main story line.
  3. Have your plot direction the mystery of mysteries. “What the heck is going on here?” will run through your reader’s mind every time he turns the page and starts a new chapter.
  4. Develop a main protagonist that is offensive and says really outrageous or stupid things that aren’t justified. For example, women readers are very sensitive to male attitudes toward them. (The author’s attitudes will come shining through in the protagonist’s actions and words.)


  1. Make your main protagonist such a “cutsie” or upstanding citizen that your readers get turned off by his/her perfect life. Let’s face it. No one’s perfect except Jesus. Your hero/heroine has to have some faults, which endears him/her to the reader and cheers him/her on to win at the end of the story. No reader in his right mind would want to embrace a character who is so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.
  2. If you’re writing Christian fiction, preach it, brother! Fill your pages with scripture verses and holier-than-thou principles of goody-two-shoes living. Write a book that reads more like a Bible study than a novel. Yes, you want to embed biblical principles in your writing, but do it subtly through the eyes and heart of your main character, and your readers will get the hint.

So, there you have it. If you’ve decided you don’t want to ever be published, there’s what you do. Master these six steps, and you’ll definitely turn off any reader who’s brave enough to attempt to tackle your “eloquence.”




July 19th-24th




Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors


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June 1, 2015

Five Elements of a Strong YA Book


You’re ready to start pounding the keyboard with a great idea for a novel to catch the attention of tweens or young adult readers. But where do you begin? What makes that story irresistible to the reader? What makes your manuscript a page turner?

Let’s review five elements, each which could take an hour’s seminar to explain in detail, that will help you write a winner. If you incorporate these five elements into your writing, you’ll have a finished product that will catch the eye of an editor and hook your reader until the last page:

  1. Develop memorable characters – Joe Schmo should not be a brown-haired, brown-eyed stereotype with no quirks or anything different about him; rather, he should have strong personality traits, perhaps be very courageous or very cowardice to gain your sympathy; he should, nonetheless, conquer his fears and frustrations and go after what he wants.
  2. Pace your action and intersperse it with periods of quiet. Kids love action, but if every page has Joe Schmo jumping out of a hot air balloon, swimming the English channel, or saving Mary Schmarey from a bomb that’s going off in three seconds, your reader will just get bored or he might need some nerve pills! Conflicting emotions and inward struggles are just as exciting to the reader as a jet plane flying under the San Francisco Bay Bridge!
  3. Develop witty, clever dialogue, but make sure it doesn’t all sound like kids’ talk. Brand your characters with certain styles of dialogue for variety’s sake, and for tween novels especially, “have dialogue on every page,” one of my wise editors once told me.
  4. Have your main character face challenges and problems that are very difficult to overcome. You need antagonistic characters to make life difficult for Joe Schmo, or you need to develop a plot that has Joe running in circles or, sometimes, running away before he gets the wisdom or courage to defeat his foe.
  5. Develop an “instant-recall factor” in your story line. Winning stories always have a plot or parts of a plot that stay with the reader long after he’s put the book down. What favorite books do you remember? What is it about their storyline that is so memorable? Write incidents that excite the reader’s mind or play on his emotions.                                               When I have book signings and my tween fans come to the table, I like to ask them, “Do you like to laugh or cry when you read? I have books in my Keystone Stables Series that will satisfy any emotion, and, hopefully, the characters and storyline will stay with my readers long after they’ve read the last page. To this end, we all should write!




July 19th-24th



Four Major Morning Continuing Classes

40 Afternoon Workshops

Fellowship with Other Authors, Agents, and Editors

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May 16, 2015

On Writing: Christian Horror

Have you noticed there’s a new genre out there for us writers AND readers to try to absorb: Christian horror. If you recall, the popularity of the “darker” genre seemed to start gaining popularity with Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in 1986, and since then has branched out into a few other subgenres.

I’m trying to wrap my heart around the concept of this new genre, but I’m having trouble accepting it. The whole idea of “Christian horror” seems like such an oxymoron, a genre filled with opposites that cannot coexist on the same page. Can two be together unless they agree?

Ever since Harry Potter appeared on the scene, and then Twilight (plus dozens of other similars), these spooky fiction subgenres are running wild in the market at the moment, so everyone with a pen in his hand is jumping on the bandwagon to write a best-seller thriller, Christian or not.

At present I know of at least three different publishing companies (I’m sure there are lots more) that are now releasing Christian horror or paranormal novels. A few years ago, at my request, an editor at one of those companies had sent me a manuscript of the creepy genre to read so I could get a grip on what the Christian market is trying to present to its readers with this seemingly contradictory new type of book.

I’ve been told the main difference with a secular and Christian horror is this: the Christian book exposes the occult, witchcraft, demonic activity, or “whatever wicked this way comes” for what it is: evil. The book then presents the gospel of Jesus Christ with hope for the future to be delivered from such evil.

Anticipating that promised vision of hope in the resolution, I read that manuscript and just recently finished reading another paranormal novel with an open mind to see if I could accept the new genre as part of American literature that is not only a good read, but also presents the truth based on biblical principles and hope beyond the gory grave.

I must admit both reads encroached way too much into my comfort zone so that I put the books down and walked away often. When I reached the last page, I concluded that this new genre is not for me. It certainly won’t be for me to write, and I doubt I’ll ever pick up a horror or paranormal book of any kind again, whether it has the Christian label on it or not.

I’m not condemning this genre and its offshoots. If the books proclaim salvation through Jesus and deliverance from evil of any kind, then more power to them. I’m just saying it’s not for me.

Now a Word about the Montrose Christian Writers Conference

Please join us from July 19th to the 26th and meet one of our faculty members teaching blogging and social media


Don Catlett: media expert and advisor to multiple startups, has spent more than 14 years working at the crossroads of web design, photography, marketing, and social media. Since launching Clearly See Media in 2008, he continues to hone his skills as a digital advertising specialist for companies including Amazon Publishing, Lamplighter Publishing, QVC, The Shopping Channel, The Learning Parent, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Home Educating Family Magazine, Christian Homeschool Magazine, and AHEAD National Conferences. He also provides marketing direction and advice for building a presence with social media.

Please check out the week’s schedule at http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx


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