Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Writing by Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble
While searching the web for some writing advice, I found the following post written by award-winning author, Colleen Coble. It's full of great tips and advice to start the new year. She's graciously allowed me to repost it here for you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. ~ Angie

A Book for Beginning Writers
I highly recommend James Scott Bell’s book, Plot and Structure. It’s the best book on writing I’ve ever read and takes it down to a nuts and bolts explanation of how to create a novel from scratch. Check it out at www.jamesscottbell.com

Writing Tips
Write what you read. This is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t begin to tell you how many manuscripts I’ve looked at for aspiring writers who are trying to write something they don’t like to read. It never works! There’s something about reading that helps you learn to write. You subconsciously pick up how to structure scenes and the tension and conflict necessary to write in your favorite genre. What works in suspense doesn’t work in chick lit.

Attend conferences. I think this is vital. You can network with other writers, meet editors to find out what they’re looking for, and learn from the masters of the trade. There are several good ones out there. My personal favorite is the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference every September. And you should consider joining the organization. It’s simply the best place to network and learn about the industry.

Learn POV. Ask yourself who has the most at stake in the scene? Once you figure that out, stay in that POV for the entire scene—no headhopping. I’m sure you’ve seen the rules broken, but the better writers don’t jump from head to head.

Always have a book you’re reading on craft. Some of my favorites are: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne, and Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. Right now I’ve been reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. And of course I already mentioned James Bell!

Learn to say no. It’s easy to feel guilty when you’re asked to interrupt your writing time for worthy reasons, but it’s important to prioritize. The sky won’t fall if you miss your two hours of writing (or whatever schedule you set), but do it too many days, and that novel will never get written. When people find you’re home writing, they often don’t think anything of interrupting and asking you to do something for them. Learn to say you’re working.

When plotting your novel, make sure you start with enough conflict. That’s probably the number one flaw I see in manuscripts. When you first look at your conflict, twist it around and see if you can make it even worse. The very best conflict is when two people want the same thing and only one can have it.

Setting is very important. You want a definite sense of place. That comes with selective details that bring the setting to life. Try to actually visit your setting. I went to Kaua’i to research the Aloha serie, and there were wild chickens running everywhere. I never would have known about that important detail if I hadn’t gone to the island. In the Outer Banks I found out it’s very windy! Small details like that make a difference.

Finish that first book before you start sending it off. It’s easy to keep working on the first three chapters and have them polished. If an editor requests the full manuscript, there’s no time to polish the rest. Better to get it all done then see how you can move chapters around and make it better. You want the editor to see the best you can do.

Find a critique partner. I’m not a big fan of large group critiques, but if you can find two friends or acquaintances who see your vision and can read for you without imposing their own style, then you’re in luck. I’ve had three excellent critique partners who are all published writers: Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter and Diann Hunt. They all see the story in different ways and help me immensely. A good place to find a critique partner is by joining ACFW as I mentioned earlier.

Keep a lighted pen and notebook by the bed for middle of the night inspiration. I’m often struggling with a plot point, and God will drop the answer right into my head while I’m sleeping.

For more writing tips and a list of recommended resources, check out the Extras section on Colleen's website, http://www.http://colleencoble.com/.

What's your favorite writing tip? Favorite writing craft book? Click to tweet it below or leave a comment if you have more great advice for writers.

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About the Author
Best-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana. Visit her website atwww.colleencoble.com.
Butterfly Palace
by Colleen Coble

Butterfly Palace
Elegance and wealth. Privilege and politics. The extravagance of the Butterfly Palace overwhelmed Lily’s senses and nearly smothered her painful memories. She pushed away her misgivings . . . She was perfectly safe in this huge house.Austin, Texas—1904: Abandoned by the love of her life and still mourning the loss of her mother, Lily Donaldson has turned her back on the pain and come to Austin for a fresh start, working for the Marshall family as a kitchen maid in their luxurious mansion, the Butterfly Palace. The tasks before her are legion, and her mistress less than pleasant, but at least Lily’s new life will be, if nothing else, distracting. But one night, while serving at a dinner party, Lily recognizes the man who abandoned her, Andy, her liaison from the livery stable, the blacksmith’s son . . . sitting among the distinguished guests. Though he recognizes her, Andy does not acknowledge her aloud, and Lily is left reeling, flabbergasted, and irate. But before she can get an explanation, the path of the Servant Girl Killer swerves very close to the Butterfly Palace, sowing terror among the maids. Having come to Austin to start anew, Lily suddenly feels trapped in a spider web. How can she know who to trust in a house where lies come dressed in fine suits and deceit in silk gowns the colors of butterfly wings?


  1. Thanks so much for joining us today, Colleen! My favorite has got to be the one about always have a craft book to read. Love JSB's Plot and Structure! Right now I'm reading Brandilyn Collins' Getting Into Character.

  2. I need to find one of those lighted pens. :)

  3. Jim Bell's book is awesome! It's the first book I recommend to people. :)

  4. Sandy,
    Amazon has a bunch of lighted pens listed and even a "night-time notepad" that lights up when you press the pen to it and turns off when the pen is removed. Here's a couple of links (shortened):
    http://amzn.to/1hUzFy1 LED Pen
    http://amzn.to/1kAxi5t Marine Navigation Pen
    http://amzn.to/19sGOmg Dream Essentials Nite Time Notepad and Space Pen(!)

    1. My goodness, how cool is that? I looked up the Space Pen (who wouldn't want a space pen!) and even saw a waterproof notepad for writing in the shower. Now that's the one I need! :)


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