Seven Rules for Powerful Sentences

Lyn Cote~ By Lyn Cote

(First published in "Writer's Forum," a publication for students, faculty, and friends of Writer's Digest School, Fall 1998 as “Dramatic Sentences in Seven Steps.”)

When I completed my first manuscript, I thought a national day of celebration should be proclaimed.  Imagine my chagrin when I discovered contest judges, agents, and editors weren't impressed by my 700 neat pages.  They expected not only that each chapter, page, and paragraph be effective, but they also demanded that exacting standard apply to each sentence and even each word.  Didn't they know that perfectionism of this level put them at risk for early cardiac arrest?

When I had no luck changing their minds, I decided I would have to conform.  Being a seasoned (or shell-shocked) English teacher, I went back to the basics of sentence structure.  There are only four types of sentences in English.  (Yes, that's all we have to work with.)  They are:

Simple: subject + verb

Compound: subject + verb + conjunction + subject + verb.

Complex: subordinate conjunction + subject + verb, (comma) subject + verb.

Compound-complex: a compound and a complex sentence joined by a conjunction.

These are the basic building blocks for every page you will ever write.  So you ask, what's a dramatic about them?  How could the Brontës, and Jane Austin do magic with these building blocks?  Here's how.

Seven Power of Rules

1.  The simpler the better.  The clear, simple sentence packs more power than a long string of clauses.

2.  Keeping #1 in mind, a variety of sentence structures is preferred to repetition of just one.  Even one paragraph of only simple sentences irritates the reader.

3.  In a paragraph of long sentences, a short sentence takes on prominence and vice versa.

red pen and page of text4.  Humans always remember the last word they've read.  Just as we build a plot to a climax, every sentence reaches a climax at its end.  Save the best to be used as a last word.

5.  Subordinate conjunction subordinate or weaken the clause they introduce.  They make the clause dependent on another clause, one which can stand alone.  Example: "when we come home late" cannot stand on its own be and understood.  (Common subordinate conjunctions: if, because, after, before, since, when).

6.  Don't bury your most striking word or idea in the middle.  Example: "Jake will explode when we come home late."  Explode is the most evocative word in the sentence and it lies buried in the middle.  Why not build up to that evocative word? "When we come home late, Jack will explode."

7.  When you break rule #6, everyone notices!  If you put the most important word first (instead of last), you give it special emphasis.  Example: "Explode, that's what Jake will do when we come home late."

These seven rules are the touchstones of powerful sentences.  And, once you can create these, you'll be able to use those sentences to build evocative stories and articles -- and make sales.

USA Today bestselling author, Lyn Cote has written over 45 books. A Romance Writers of America RITA finalist and an American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award winner, Lyn writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and historical novels.

No matter which kind of story, her brand “Strong Women, Brave Stories” comes through. Her most recent achievement is being added to Romance Writers of America’s Honor Roll for bestselling authors.

Lyn's new novella, Loving Winter, is part of the 14-author box set of sweet holiday novellas, Sweet Christmas Kisses 4.

Visit her website/blog at and find her on Facebook, GoodReads and Twitter.

Readers, Writers and Protagonists Setting Healthy Boundaries

Warning: This post makes references to violence and sexual assault. If you'd rather skip this post, we completely understand.  Note: Much of what I share in this post I've learned from taking empowerment self-defense and martial arts classes at an organization called El HaLev. Learn more by reading or watching "Beauty Bites Beast" by Ellen Snortland. Melina Kantor ~ By Melina Kantor It seems to happen more often than not. I'm getting into a book, grateful for some much needed down time, and then. . . The hero shows up unexpectedly and unwanted someplace where the heroine feels safe. Maybe it's her home. Maybe it's her workplace. Maybe it's a coffee shop where she goes to unwind. The heroine asks him to go away. He doesn't leave. And then a few lines later, he's kissing her. Worse, the heroine finds this romantic. And I'm not talking about erotica, romantic suspense, adventurous paranormal romance, science fiction or even dark romance. I'm talking about my favorite genre - contemporary romance. The most recent book I've read with this scenario has a pink cover with cupcakes on it. Nothing bad is supposed to happen in a book with cupcakes on it. Right? In my opinion, which I admit might be unpopular, behavior like this is completely and totally unacceptable and belongs in one of David Schwimmer's videos on sexual harassment, not a romance novel. Am I being over sensitive? It's fine if you think so and I might not convince you otherwise. Just please consider this. As romance writers, our audiences include: Think that last one is the exception and not the rule? I wish it were. Sadly:
That is a huge percentage of our readers, and I believe that it's important to be aware that a woman who has experienced certain types of trauma (or any woman, for that matter) might see certain gestures, like showing up outside a woman's window while she sleeps and blasting a love song, or a sudden, surprise kiss that comes out of absolutely nowhere, as more intrusive than romantic. [caption id="attachment_7904" align="alignright" width="336"]Riley and Ben kiss Ben, who Riley has had a crush on since childhood, kisses her by surprise. Look at her hands. Does she look happy or comfortable? (Photo Credit: Baby Daddy, ABC Family/Free Form)[/caption] The good news is that we, as authors of contemporary romance, have a great opportunity to write protagonists who set healthy boundaries and serve as comforting role models. Even better, we have the honor of providing women with tools they can use to keep themselves emotionally and physically safe. But how do we, and the characters we bring to life, figure out and set healthy boundaries? The answer to that is all about assertiveness. Before we talk about what assertiveness is, let's talk about what it is not

The Passive Protagonist

We all need to be safe before we can thrive.

~ Ellen Snortland

The passive protagonist allows her boundaries to be crossed. Love and War and Snow is possibly my favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls. It's so cozy and delightful. [caption id="attachment_7888" align="alignright" width="234"]Max and Lorelai Photo Credit: IMDB[/caption] Except for the part where Lorelai puts up a boundary, which literally involves her front door, and then proceeds to let Max, a man she hasn't known long, trample all over it, much like the guy in the song, "Baby it's Cold Outside."
LORELAI: See, I have really strict rules about dating. I keep my personal life totally separate from my life with Rory. You know, I never want her to feel unsettled or like her life could just shift at any moment.
That could not be more clear, yet max and starts to push:
MAX: What if I promised you that if you let me in, all I'm expecting is a cup of coffee, that's it. Nothing weird or funny. Unless, of course, you're into weird and funny. . . LORELAI: Max!
And then he pushes even more:
MAX: At some point in your life you're gonna have to decide that some guy is worth opening that front door for. I am just volunteering.
Here's Lorelai's passive response:
[Lorelai opens the front door and starts to walk inside. She turns back to him.] LORELAI: Would you like some coffee? [Max smiles and follows her inside]
The next morning, Rory is not exactly thrilled when she finds Max, her teacher, asleep on her couch. At best, Max's behavior is severe chutzpah. At worst, behavior like Max's could, in some cases, be a precursor to date rape. Either way, in this situation, Lorelai is not safe emotionally or physically. So how could she, or the relationship possibly thrive (even with the help of a thousand yellow daisies - which were a problem in themselves)?

The Aggressive Protagonist

When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.
The aggressive Protagonist crosses other people's boundaries. For example (language alert):
  No doubt Sally had a right to be angry. And she was dealing with Harry, so there was no real threat of physical danger. In real life though, and by extension our books, a slap like that, with swearing to top it off, could escalate the situation and put Sally in danger. (And imagine if Harry had slapped Sally. Not cool.) Here are two more classic scenes that we all love but should not use as examples for our own protagonists:
  Hilarious, right? Not to mention entertaining. The problem? Julia's rant was filled with things Ray Don could argue with or even just comment on, which could make the challenge of staying at the table and pushing Julia's buttons more appealing. The rant creates a game that has the potential to become dangerous. And by being insulting, she's crossing his boundaries when all she needs to do is put up her own.
  Again, classic and fabulous. The problem is that a door slam, like Sally's slap, has the potential to escalate the conflict. A door slam is aggressive and, as you can see, does not prevent Stan from returning. So what should Sally, Julia, and Dorothy have done? To answer that, let's talk about what assertiveness is.

The Assertive Protagonist

"No" is a complete sentence. ~ Anne Lamott
The assertive protagonist does not allow her boundaries to be crossed. I hope it goes without saying, but assertive does NOT mean bitchy. More importantly, leather jackets, combat boots, or even the ability to fight don't necessarily mean much (and can even turn readers off). What matters is that our readers connect and identify with protagonists who set and protect their boundaries, regardless of their personalities or body types. The examples of boundary crossing that we've talked about so far could have been taken care of with two simple words: "Go away!" ("Back off!" and "NO!" work too.) Or by simply just walking away. And when "go away" or the more polite "please leave" don't work, the phrases can be repeated until the boundary crosser gives up. They work because:
  1. There's no way to misunderstand, misinterpret, argue or contradict those statements.
  2. They aren't accusatory.
  3. They are clear.
  4. They don't present a challenge.
  5. They show that the encounter is over, thus ending the power trip and thrill.
Remember that volume is important, but it's possible to be loud and firm without hysteria or yelling. Here's another Gilmore Girls example in which Chris crosses Lorelai's boundaries by forcing his way into Lorelai's childhood home. The problem isn't the argument itself. The problem is that Lorelai engages him by arguing, which is why he doesn't leave. But look at how Emily solves the problem: Here are some more examples of assertiveness for you (notice that there's no need to turn to Wonder Woman or Supergirl, as wonderful as they are, as examples):

Creating an Assertive Protagonist

Your protagonist can be sweet as pie, polite and soft spoken, and extremely kind, yet remain assertive. When we create character profiles, many of us spend time figuring out things like what our protagonist carries around in her purse. But we can also do exercises to help us figure out what gives our protagonist confidence, and what she values about herself. Why not start now? Exercise 1: On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being relaxed and feeling completely safe, 5 being completely freaked out and uncomfortable, how okay is your protagonist with the following scenarios (feel free to leave a comment with additional scenarios):
  • A man she's just met tells her that her smile is sexy.
  • A coworker, either male or female, returns from a trip and greets her with a hug.
  • A guy she's been on three dates with shows up at her house without calling first to drop off an earring that fell off in his car.
  • A guy she's been going out with calls her every night and texts her at least 3 times a day.
There are no right or wrong answers here. Your protagonist gets to decide what's okay, without providing one word of justification or feeling even one ounce of guilt. Exercise 2:
  • Write a scene in which your protagonist sets a boundary.
-- and / or --
  • Write a romantic scene in which your hero respects a boundary set by your heroine.

Consent is Romantic

We don't need surprise unwanted visits, kisses or sexual advances to add romance to our novels. One of the most romantic things a hero can do is be aware of your heroine's boundaries, which can be even more romantic than knowing her favorite type of chocolate or coffee. A true hero understands when a woman needs a night to be home alone, do her laundry and order take out, and that some nights, a woman might want to watch her favorite show with him but not talk and not touch. See? How sweet, not to mention hot, is this?

New comic! SWEET! Tag someone with the sweetest moves!

A post shared by @lunarbaboon on

So. I think the time has come to raise a glass and make a toast. Here's to our safety, the safety of our protagonists, and the safety of our readers. Here's to true, boundary-filled, love! To those things, we can all shout, "YES!"

*What are some of the boundaries you set for your characters (or for yourself)? Please share in the comments!

* If you'd like to continue talking about boundary setting, I strongly encourage you to join the group Women Setting Healthy Boundaries, which is run by one of my fabulous self-defense teachers. You'll love the videos she posts every week, and I promise you'll be inspired. *

Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels.  In July of 2012, she moved from New York to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Her family now includes an incredibly sweet yet troubled rescue puppy. Melina likes the color pink, baking, daffodils, teaching girls to code, running her small business, learning to use power tools, practicing self-defense, Krav Maga and karate, and breaking cinder blocks with her fist. All three of the protagonists in the trilogy she's currently working on study empowerment self-defense. You can visit her at

From Romantic Romance to Ordered Disorder

 ~ Miriam Drori 

Want to know how to approach writing non-fiction when you’re most used to romantic stories? Don’t ask me; I didn’t do it.

You didn’t?


But you’ve published that lovely romance that’s set in a really exotic place called…

Jerusalem. You’re right. My romance, Neither Here Nor There was published in 2014 and my new non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed, is out on August 22.

There you are, then.

woman with flowerThere I’m not. You see, I wrote the first draft of Social Anxiety Revealed back in 2004. I was still working as a technical writer then and was used to organising stuff under headings and sub-headings. I also created lots of different styles for the book to show up the different sorts of writing in it: text, quotes, tables, jokes. I was used to all this from creating technical documents. My publisher has now had the nightmare of converting all that from a Word document to a book.

Wait a minute. You said “jokes” right? You have jokes in a book about social anxiety?

Absolutely. Even people who suffer from social anxiety know how to laugh – although they probably don’t laugh too loudly. And their low self-esteem makes it easy for them (us) to laugh at themselves. Besides, this book isn’t intended solely for people who have social anxiety. It’s just as relevant for anyone who knows someone who might have it. It’s not a self-help book, although it does contain a few tips. It simply explains what social anxiety is – all aspects of it.

Why did you write it?

To raise awareness of social anxiety. That’s my passion. Social anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder there is. It’s the third most common mental health issue. About 12% of people will suffer from it at some time in their lives. And yet most people don’t know what it is.

And what does that have to do with writing romance?

One link is story. Even in non-fiction, you can create a story to illustrate a point. I did this in Social Anxiety Revealed. I made up a fictional character with social anxiety, a guy who lives alone and doesn’t connect with anyone. Then I discussed how his neighbours would regard him.

The ability to create stories has many uses. When I learned (in a Toastmasters club) about giving prepared talks and I had to actually give short talks as practice, my best talk consisted mostly of a story I made up. The talk was more interesting than the others I gave and it was much easier for me to remember a story than a list of points.

Another link is in the contrast. How many romances have you read that include a character with social anxiety? Romance requires two people to approach each other, or at least one to approach the other. And that requires a confidence that social anxiety sufferers usually don’t have. They’re likely to think: she doesn’t like me, or he’ll laugh me off, and so they won’t take the plunge.

The one who is approached also needs confidence to respond positively. If they’re thinking: he only asked me because he has pity on me/has just been stood up/thinks I’m slightly better than having no one to spend the evening with, that positive response is unlikely to materialise.

Is it helpful for a romance writer to publish an unconnected non-fiction work? Does it help with sales of the author’s romances?

Ah, you’ll have to come back to me on that one.

*How has reading / writing non-fiction influenced your writing? 

Miriam Drori has decided she’s in the fifth and best stage of her life, and she’s hoping it’ll last for ever. It’s the one in which she’s happiest and most settled and finally free to do what she wants. 

Miriam lives in a delightful house and garden in Jerusalem with her lovely husband and one of three children. She enjoys frequent trips around the world. She dances, hikes, reads and listens to music. And she’s realised that social anxiety is here to stay, so she might as well make friends with it.

On top of that, she has moved away from computer programming and technical writing (although both of those provided interest in previous stages) and now spends her time editing and writing fiction. NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, a romance with a difference set in Jerusalem, was published in 2014. THE WOMEN FRIENDS, co-written with Emma Rose Millar, is a series of novellas based on the famous painting by Gustav Klimt. Future books will include a sequel to NEITHER HERE NOR THERE.

More information about Social Anxiety Revealed and Miriam Drori’s other books is available on her website/blog as well as her new blog that’s devoted to social anxiety.

#RWA17: Is this ADULTING?

Peggy Jaeger~ By Peggy Jaeger Something new at RWA this year was the adult coloring wall. Yeah…I know. This phase of adults reverting back to their younger years and doing things they did as children was originated as a means of connecting with your inner child to relieve the stress of being a, well, a grown-up. I’ve never felt the urge to color as an adult – even though I dabble in painting – and this seemed a little over the top. But…. it was really cool. The walls were covered with historical book covers from AVON authors and there were buckets – literally! – buckets of magic markers available for everyone to use. I took some pictures of the images on day one and then tried to remember every day to take more to show the progress. So here’s day one, then day 4:                       Now, please remember, these were up on a wall, mural sized. Getting to the top of the picture required a ladder! But someone did, and I think this came out pretty well. It doesn’t look a thing like the actual book cover does, but who cares? The background never got filled in either, probably because a writer didn’t have a few hours to stand there and fill it in!                       This one never got finished.. .I don’t know why not. It’s a great Beverly Jenkins cover! The pictures were about 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide, so there was a lot of wall to color. Since the hero has a naked back, maybe color-ers didn’t want to take the time to fill his skin in.                       I was surprised they didn’t all get finished. I will admit one thing, though, it was a great stress reducer! Every day I stopped by and filled in a few more naked spaces on all of them and I actually went away feeling lighter. That whole adult coloring craze has peaked, I think, by now, but still, this was a cute idea and it was nice to see something new and pop culture-y done with historical romance covers. The RWA conference is usually so jammed full with workshops, networking sessions, publisher spotlights and parties, that you can get a little stressed in deciding what to choose to see and do. I had multiple times were there were 2 or three great workshops delivered at the same time and I hated missing any of them. That was one of the reasons I purchased the session Flash Drive this year – I can listen to everything I missed at my leisure. Plus, the hotel is so large and vast, jaunting from workshop to book signing to spotlight was a little fatiguing. Having this wall to spend a few minutes at was actually beneficial. I let my mind just drift, forgetting about everything, and just colored. The sense of calm and lightness that overcame me was probably the same feeling the “child” me experienced when I did exactly the same thing a millennia ago. Okay, maybe not a millennia ago (I’m not that old!) but you get what I mean. Bravo, AVON, for coming up with this idea and for supplying everything needed. And kudos to RWA for allowing it. It’ll be fun to see what the RWA board comes up with for Denver. Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance writer who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.

Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.

Tying into her love of families, her children’s book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law. Peggy holds a master’s degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer’s Disease during her time running an Alzheimer’s in-patient care unit during the 1990s. In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance. In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader’s Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and is a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title. A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.

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How to Use Your Travels to Make Your Story Sparkle

Rachel Magee~ By Rachel Magee

Vacations. We all love them. Just the sound of the word can bring stress relief. We plan, research, save for and dream about them all year long. And when the time gets near, we go shopping, buy new outfits and struggle to cram them all into our over-stuffed suitcases. No? Just me? Well, moving on, then.

If you’re anything like me, you’re never truly on vacation from writing. I may get away from the norm, but my creative mind is always spinning. Vacations fill me with inspiration for new stories or ideas for my current WIP. More than once, I have come home from a trip with a new story completely plotted from beginning to end, or with a scene written out in beautiful detail that had previously stumped me. One time, I had so many ideas for a new novel I spent the entire three-hour fight home scribbling out plot points and character profiles on a stack of index cards. When we landed, the man next to me commented that he hadn’t seen anyone write that fast or that much in a long time. My cramped hand had to agree.

All those precious vacation moments can affect your writing in two different ways. Itcan affect how you, as the writer, write. Or, you can use those tasty travel tidbits to send your characters on vacay. We’ll explore both ways, but first let’s talk about you, the writer.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your last vacation. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Can you see yourself there, standing in the middle of a scene worthy of being captured on a picture post card, doing what you love, relaxed and invigorated at the same time? Those are the moments, memories and feelings that can fuel your writing. Here are a few ways you can incorporate them in your writing.

  • Seductive Settings. Readers want to be whisked away, and what is a better place to take them than someplace near and dear to your heart? If you don’t want to set your next novel entirely in your last vacation destination, try incorporating elements into whatever setting you do use. A favorite restaurant you tried or a beautiful garden you visited can be great inspirations to add to your settings.
  • Capture the Culture. One thing I love doing on vacation is exploring the culture of the place I’m visiting. I love the little nuances that make every place unique. Recently, I was visiting family in the Florida Keys. I love it down there, everyone is a little more relaxed. They have an unofficial shoes-optional policy. It’s not uncommon to spot locals hanging out in Starbucks or running into the grocery store with bare feet. No one is ever in a hurry, unless the fish are biting. Then they can’t get their boats into the Gulf Stream fast enough. Use these little nuances to create deeper, richer, more interesting characters, or to influence how your characters react in different settings.
  • Making Memories. Did you come home from your last trip with a crazy story? Use it! My books are full of slightly altered versions of crazy things that happened on vacation, and they are usually the scenes that readers say they love the most. Which scenes, you ask? Nope, not telling. But if you think ‘that could not happen,’ there’s a good chance it probably did. Sometimes our best inspiration comes from things that happen in real life.
  • Enriching Experiences.  Experiencing new things expands your world knowledge and broadens your understanding which, in turn, can make you a more interesting writer. Consider every new experience you try to be research for a future novel. Sure, you’re not going to use everything you do in your next manuscript, but add it to your memory bank to use when you need it. Even if all you did on vacation was veg by pool with the intention of keeping your step-count as low as possible, that state of ultimate relaxation can be an experience you might want to pull from someday.

hat and shoes on beachDon’t forget that your characters can benefit from travel, too. Having your characters pack their suitcases, or even their overnight bags, can add an interesting element to your story. Consider how sending your characters on a getaway could affect your story:

  • Taking them out of their norm can changes their mindset, shift the relationship dynamics, or help them see things differently.
  • New experiences can play an important role in your character’s arc. It can be the spark that prompts change.
  • A romantic getaway, or a getaway that turns romantic, can be just what your characters need to jump into that relationship. I mean, we do write romance, after all.

I’m going to leave you with a few helpful tips to harvest the most benefits from your travels.

  • Take pictures. They can help you remember not just the details of the settings, but the feelings that went along with them.
  • Keep a journal to jot down your thoughts. 
  • Enjoy yourself! The more fun you have, the more experience and memories you have to take home.

So, what do you think? Anyone else ready to book their next vacation? It’s all in the name of research, after all. Happy travels!

Rachel wrote her first novel when she was twelve and entered it into a contest for young author/illustrators. Unfortunately, the judges weren’t impressed with her stick figures. So she dropped the dream of becoming a world famous illustrator and stuck to spinning stories. When she’s not busy working on her latest book, she loves to travel with her family and friends. By far, her favorite destination is the beach, which tends to work its way into most of her stories. In fact, her debut novel, Happily Ever Afters, is about strangers who meet and fall in love while on vacation.

Between trips, you can find her at home in The Woodlands, TX with her wonderful husband, their two adventurous kids and a couple of spirited pets, all of whom share Rachel’s love of the ocean. Well, except the cat and dog. They’re both afraid of water. Find out more about what Rachel has been up to at

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Contest Entries, Part 2: Understanding POV

Laura Threntham~ By Laura Trentham 

This is Part 2 of my observations from judging lots of RWA contests for unpublished manuscripts. I really love judging, not only to give back to a process that gave me my start in publishing, but by critiquing someone else’s writing, I discover weakness in my own.

Part 1 focused on the actual beginning of your story and the delicate balance of backstory in the first three chapters. Now, I’m going to discuss a craft item that affects not just your first chapters, but you entire book. Deep POV.

First, let me say, this is a very brief overview of the subject. There are craft books and blogs and courses that delve deep into the subject. (I really enjoyed Margie Lawson’s Empowering Characters’ Emotions.) But, what I learned from judges’ comments on my first contest entries was that I had a BIG POV problem. And, upwards 75% of the contest entries I judge have POV issues, some major, some minor.

POV=Point of View

Deep POV=Immersive storytelling

Generally, an author tells their story from one to three different characters’ POVs. Usually in a romance, it’s the hero, heroine, and/or maybe a villain. (Or H/H or h/h or H/h/H, whatever genre you’re writing. For simplicity, I’m going with H/h.) With Deep POV, your goal is to get the reader into the character’s skin. Your reader should see what the hero sees, feels, touches, hears, smells… You want to break down as many walls between the reader and the character as possible. Writing in Deep POV will help you do this.

Head Hopping

Old school romances were often written with one paragraph detailing the heroine’sinternal thoughts, then the next paragraph would jump into the hero’s head, all in the same conversation—back and forth, back and forth. Think 80’s and 90’s romances by Kathleen Woodiwiss or older Julie Garwood books like The Bride, which I love. That style has gone out of fashion with good reason. Nowadays, an author will spend an entire scene or half a scene in ONE character’s head and then switch.

(As an aside, I wrote THREE books (90k+ words each!) head hopping like a jackrabbit on crack. And, yes, I revised them all after learning about head hopping from a contest judge.)

But staying in a character’s head for a scene is only one aspect of mastering Deep POV. The other aspect is…becoming the character. That’s the only way I know how to put it. You should become your hero, heroine, or villain, and describe everything as it filters through your character’s senses.

Sense Words

You want your reader to feel, hear, see everything as your character does. This means most of the traditional ‘sense’ words—heard, saw, smelled, felt, thought, wondered, realized—are unnecessary.

For example: She heard the bell ring and startled.

Better: The bell rang. She startled.

In the first, you are removing the reader from the immediacy of the moment. In the second, the reader is experiencing the bell ringing right along with the heroine.

Let’s delve into the sense of sight for a moment. Unless you’re writing about a lumberjack, avoid using the word ‘saw’ or any of its derivatives. Assume anything you describe while in your character’s POV are things he/she can see.

For example: He saw the man creep out from behind the bush.

Better: The man crept out from behind the bush.

The reader understands that your POV character can see the man.

Internal sense words like thought, knew, wondered, and realized are often redundant.

For example: He knew he was falling in love.

view finderBetter:  He was falling in love.

For example: She wondered if the man would gather the courage to approach her.

Better: Would the man gather the courage to approach her?

The most frequent transgression I come across is overusing the word ‘felt’ as it pertains to feelings. In my opinion, the word ‘felt’ is often a cop-out.

For example: He felt angry.

Better: His hands curled into fists, and he shuffled into a fighter’s stance.

Instead of stating the feeling, like the first example, push yourself to find a more interesting way to depict the emotion. Using ‘felt’ does work beautifully sometimes, but really examine every single time you choose to use it and determine if you can make a stronger, more revealing sentence.

Authorial Intrusion and POV Slips

Beware authorial intrusion. This is when you describe something your POV can not see.

For example: Every man’s head in the room turned to watch the woman slink around the tables. Every man, but Jack, who stared into the brown dregs of his coffee.

Jack is looking at his coffee, not the approaching woman. This is a no-no, unless you’re going for an omniscient POV, which I’ve never attempted and is difficult to pull off convincingly.

More common than major authorial intrusions are simple POV slips, like the heroine describing something about herself she can’t see/know. An example from one of my WIPs:

Fire burned in her gut. As if nature itself felt her fury, a salty breeze lifted from the sea and plucked her auburn hair like tendrils of flame around her face.

I love that passage, but I knew when I wrote it that it was a POV slip. Do you see that in my heroine’s POV, she can’t describe her hair as ‘tendrils of flame’? Delete, delete, delete…

I read so many descriptions from a POV character about their own eyes. ‘Her eyes flashed with anger.’ Except a character cannot describe her own eyes this way. Better to write a physical reaction to the anger. Ditto with saying something like, Tears welled up in her brown eyes. A character is never going to think about the color of her eyes like this. Don’t use it as a shortcut for physical description.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to writing Deep POV, but hope this post helps some budding writer to avoid the mistakes I made. If this made a lightbulb go off about your own writing, then go forth and learn and practice, practice, practice.

An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.

She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. KISS ME THAT WAY, Cottonbloom Book 1, is a finalist for the Stiletto Contest and for the National Readers Choice Award. THEN HE KISSED ME, Cottonbloom Book 2, was named an Amazon Best Romance of 2016 and is a finalist for the National Excellence for Romance Fiction. TILL I KISSED YOU, Cottonbloom Book 3, is a finalist in the Maggie contest. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she’s shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.

Visit her at or connect on Twitter at @LauraTrentham or on Facebook or Pinterest.

On Writing a Series – When is the End?

Nan Reinhardt~ By Nan Reinhardt

Are you writing or have ever written a series? I just finished Saving Sarah, Book 4 in my Women of Willow Bay series. I’m wondering about how you know it’s time to end a series.

Series are a huge thing in romance right now—publishers are looking for them and indies are cranking them out like crazy—it’s like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys for twenty-first-century romance readers. But I think it’s more than just putting out book after book that revolves around a huge family in the same small town or a big-city hospital full of swoony doctors and hot nurses. The series phenomenon is also about readers falling in love with secondary characters and wanting to hear their stories, too.

For authors, and I speak from experience here, writing a series is both a blessing and a curse. Right off, a series give us a ready-made setting for our stories. Willow Bay was created in Book 1, ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP, so for the next three books, I had a village, quirky citizens, shops, the Daily Grind coffee shop, a lighthouse, and of course, Willow Bay and Lake Michigan all right there for me. In Book 2, SEX AND THE WIDOW MILES, Julie, a secondary character from Book 1 told her story from Chicago, but came back to Willow Bay, and in Book 3, THE SUMMER OF SECOND CHANCES, Sophie and Henry spent an adventurous summer in Willow Bay. In Book 4, which will be released September 26, Sarah, Julie’s friend from Book 2, flees Chicago for Willow Bay to hide from her abusive ex-husband. In each book and any subsequent ones that may come along, the little village is already created and all I have to do is plop my characters down in it and write their stories.

However, that said, each book brings more elements of the village into play—very minor characters show up in every book, and readers begin to feel like they can shoot the breeze with Perry, who owns the Daily Grind, order a triple espresso from Kelly, the barista, talk bait with Noah at Dixon’s Marina, or even pop into Bertie’s yarn shop for a cup of tea and to ohh and ahh over the new angora yarn from New Zealand. A series gives readers a sense of home.

book with heartSometimes a series happens because a secondary character just demands her own story—Julie Miles stayed in my mind after I wrote The End of ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP. Carrie’s best friend just wouldn’t leave me alone. But she was already happily married—the only way she was going to get her own story was for me kill off her husband Charlie. So I did and Julie’s story practically wrote itself. When readers clamored for more Willow Bay stories, Sophie (in Book 3) moved to her summer cottage in Willow Bay to heal after the death of her grandfather and brought mystery and adventure along. And in Book 4, Sarah got her own story, partly because readers kept asking for a new WOWB story, but also because she was an intriguing secondary character in Julie’s book who needed her own story.

But—and I’m finally getting to the real point here—there is a down side to writing a series. Frankly, although I love my stories, I’m a little bored with Willow Bay—I want to go somewhere else. So, is this the end of the Women of Willow Bay? I can probably come up with a couple more stories in the series, but I’m ready to move to something new. That doesn’t mean I’m closing the book entirely on WOWB—but I think it might be time set them on the back burner and listen to the other voices in my head for a while. So I’m wondering if other series authors feel the same way after four stories or six or eight or however many you’ve written in a series. Talk to me—are you a series writer? How many books are enough in one series?

Nan Reinhardt has been a copy editor and proofreader for over twenty-five years, and currently works mainly on fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.

Author Nan writes romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after they turn forty-five! Imagine! She is also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, and a secretary.

She loves her career as a freelance editor, but writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, post-menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.

Visit Nan’s website at, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors; and she is a regular contributor at the Romance University website, where she blogs as Nan Reinhardt, Copy Editor. Her latest novel, Saving Sarah, book 4 in the Women of Willow Bay series September 26, 2017.

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Contest Entries, Part 1

Laura Threntham ~ By Laura Trentham 

I really love judging RWA chapter contests for unpublished writers (both contemporary and historical manuscripts), mainly because I got so much out of the contests when I was pre-published, including my agent! I credit contest feedback for teaching me to write. That sounds hyperbolic, but it really isn’t. My degree is in chemical engineering. I don’t have a home RWA chapter. It was years before I found a critique partner. Besides being an inhaler of all books, I had never attempted to write before I sat down in January of 2012 to start a book. A historical romance actually.

About six months into writing, I discovered RWA existed. I joined and got my first RWR with the list of chapter contests in the back. I entered seven (7!) that fall, sure I was destined to win them all. (Spoiler alert: Didn’t happen!) I made about every newbie mistake possible. But, guess what? I fixed all those mistakes and went on to sign with an agent who was a final judge of one of the contests and sold five books in three months. I want this for you!!

With my background out of the way, I’m going to jump into the mistakes I commonly see when I judge entries, starting at the beginning. Literally, the beginning of you manuscript. That’s the thing about a contest that only looks at the first 20-30 pages of your book. Your beginning must draw the reader in and be memorable.

It’s no surprise the biggest issue with first chapters is managing backstory. Two big problems I see:

  • The “Coming Into Town” beginning. This can be in a car or carriage and usually involves the hero or heroine ruminating on what is bringing them back to their hometown or why they’re moving into a new town. It’s usually a big fat stinky info dump. Doesn’t matter if the heroine is describing the scenery in between introspection about her family drama or getting fired from her job. Unless something active happens, like she gets pulled over by the cops or gets beset by highwaymen or rammed in the bumper by a man who turns out to be a villain/hero, just skip it. It’s often boring for the reader. The other issues with this type of beginning is that it’s very common and doesn’t stand out. Three out of four manuscripts in one contest I judged were “coming into town” beginnings. Look, this is not a hard and fast rule, but really think about why using this type of beginning is critical for your character’s arc and not a convenience.
  • Mirrors: Don’t have your heroine (or hero) stand in front of a mirror and describe herself to herself. At this point in your writing journey, maybe you’re rolling your eyes and saying, of course not. Well, guess what, I DID THIS in the first scene of my first book draft! I didn’t know any better at the time. I needed a contest judge to tell me.
  • The “As You Know” conversation. For a new author (or even experienced one) it can be a deceptive backstory dump. I typically see this conversation taking place between a main and secondary character. For example, maybe it’s the heroine giving the lowdown to her best friend. Except, it’s really a sneaky way of imparting backstory to the reader. If you can add in phrase “As you know” before dialogue, you have a problem.

red pen and paperAs you know “I had to come home because my grandmother is sick.”

“Your brother should be helping,” her best friend said.

As you know “He’s been drinking too much and parties every night.”

If the two characters are close, then it’s a conversation they would have already had. Plus, it’s usually all telling with no showing. Better to start with the brother coming in drunk and the sister confronting him in the wee hours. That packs an emotional punch and builds sympathy with both characters.

A last word on backstory: The best piece of advice I read about backstory came from a Margie Lawson class (I think she got it from someone else, though). Imagine writing all the tidbits of backstory for your characters on a pane of glass. Then, shatter that glass. Pick up only the most important facts. Facts that the reader must know. Sliver them strategically throughout the first third of the book. Discard the rest.

A few other things I want to touch on:

  • Balance. There should be a balance between introspection, action, dialogue, and description from the beginning. I’ve read contest entries whose entire first chapter is all introspection. Don’t do this! Another trick I picked up from Margie Lawson (if you haven’t taken any of her on-line classes, I highly recommend them) is to get four different colored highlighters. Use one to highlight dialogue, one to highlight actions, one to highlight scene/character descriptions, and another to highlight introspection. You want to have a nice mix of all the colors or else your pace and flow suffers.
  • Prologues. I’ll admit, I love the damn things, but the overall consensus is to avoid them. My way around this? CALL THEM CHAPTER 1! My first three Cottonbloom books start with an incident between my hero and heroine that took place many years in the past. That scene was needed to frame their present. But, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t use a prologue as a means to impart backstory. It must reveal something vitally important about your hero or heroine or their relationship with each other (not necessarily romantic.) If you can lose the prologue and still understand the story, then…lose the prologue.
  • The often heard advice: Start your book with action! I would posit that the advice should really be “Start your book with the inciting incident!” The inciting incident is what upsets the balance of your characters’ lives and sets the story in motion. This “incident/action” doesn’t have to be a fight or a car crash, it can be something much more subtle.
  • More well-intentioned advice: your hero and heroine should meet in Chapter 1. I do agree you should get them on the page as soon as possible (don’t wait three chapters!), but sometimes the inciting incident only involves the hero, and it snowballs to include the heroine. I have at least two books where the hero and heroine don’t meet until Chapter 2 or very late in Chapter 1. On the other hand, sometimes the hero meeting the heroine is the inciting incident. This is often the case for a romance. For example, maybe the man who rear ends the heroine on her way back into town is the hero. And a cop! AND her first love! That would be fun, right?

In the next post, I’m going to discuss what was nemesis when I started and something I see a lot in contest entries…Head hopping and Deep POV.

Do you have any advice for beginnings?

An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.

She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. KISS ME THAT WAY, Cottonbloom Book 1, is a finalist for the Stiletto Contest and for the National Readers Choice Award. THEN HE KISSED ME, Cottonbloom Book 2, was named an Amazon Best Romance of 2016 and is a finalist for the National Excellence for Romance Fiction. TILL I KISSED YOU, Cottonbloom Book 3, is a finalist in the Maggie contest. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she's shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.

Visit her at or connect on Twitter at @LauraTrentham or on Facebook or Pinterest.

RWA Responsibilities

Peggy Jaeger~ By Peggy Jaeger

A few weeks ago, I blogged about what to do if you’re attending the Annual RWA conference for the very first time. Being a first-time attendee can be daunting and overwhelming. So many fabulous courses to choose from; the amazing publishing spotlights; the free books, oh Lord, the free books. That moment when you realize your favorite author of all time is in the same elevator as you.

It’s all heady stuff and those of us who are conference veterans know the feeling well. Which is why I want to concentrate on us old timers today and what I think our responsibilities should be when we attend the conference.

My very first RWA was in San Antonio in 2015. First timers are given an actual stick-on to place on their name badges stating they are first timer conference attendees. Like everyone else, I attached my badge banner after registration. I was standing by an escalator nervously trying not to look conspicuous and awkward in my solitariness the next day, when author Shirley Jump approached me and introduced herself. She stated she was an RWA Board Member and asked how I was liking my first conference. She asked what I wrote, was I published, what chapter did I belong to, all questions that engaged me in conversation and put me at ease. She was absolutely charming, lovely, and (if you’ve never seen her) gorgeous. She made me feel so special, I went about the rest of the day feeling less like a fish out of water.

Knowing that she took the time to reach out to me, a total stranger, to welcome me to RWA and to encourage me to take advantage of the parties, courses and workshops, gave me such a feeling of acceptance and belonging.

flower in handThe next year, as a seasoned conference attendee now (LOL) I remembered that encounter and did the same thing Shirley did: I reached out to several people who had first timer banners on their badges. I introduced myself and then engaged them in conversation about their experience the same way Shirley had.

It felt marvelous to reach out that way. I met three women who were much the same age as me, who were at that point in their lives where they wanted to devote themselves to their writing more and were attending the conference to network, see what was happening in the industry, and take advantage of some of the fabulous workshops and courses. They even asked me advice on publishing. Imagine. Me!

Ego-boosting stuff to be sure.

Every year since then I’ve made it my business to connect like that with first timers. And every year I’ve made more writing friends because of it.

Every one of us who write have at one time or another felt that solitary, awkward, what-am-I-doing-here feeling. RWA is a supportive community of writers in all phases of their publishing careers and we should embrace one another on all those levels. A smile and a word of encouragement go a long way when someone is feeling out of place or overwhelmed. So, I’m challenging all of us RWA seasoned members to reach out this year to a first-time conference attendee and welcome them into the community we all love so much. You just may make a novice writer’s day. And conference.

Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance writer who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.

Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.

Tying into her love of families, her children’s book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law. Peggy holds a master’s degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer’s Disease during her time running an Alzheimer’s in-patient care unit during the 1990s. In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance. In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader’s Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and is a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title. A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.

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More Tips for RWA Nationals!

~ By Mary E. Thompson

Mary E. ThompsonRWA17 is coming up fast!

If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to get to Orlando and jump in.

It’s one of my favorite weeks of the summer, but also one of the most stressful.

As an introvert, it’s hard to be surrounded by so many people, but as a writer, I love the feeling of being there.

This is my third National Conference, and I have a few tips to share with you.

Be Comfortable

Everyone says this. In all the recommendations I read, wear comfortable shoes wasboots the common denominator. But I don’t just mean shoes. I mean in general.

Try on all your clothes before you go. Let’s face it, Nationals is a business casual conference. We’re writers. Our everyday wear is yoga pants, a t-shirt, and no bra. Or is that just me? Unfortunately, that won’t fly at Nationals. So try on your clothes. Did you buy new outfits? Wear them. Make sure they’re comfortable to sit in for an hour. Or a full day. Does your skirt ride up? Do your shoes hurt after a few hours? Is your bag too heavy?

Many people say bring a sweater also. You know yourself. Yes, some of the rooms can be chilly. But if you’re never cold in air conditioning, skip the jacket. You definitely won’t need it outside, so save the room in your luggage for free books.

Don’t Overpack

My first year I packed an outfit to wear during the day and a second one to wear at night. Those second outfits never saw the light of day, or night. It didn’t make sense luggage to change before we went to dinner, and even though we didn’t go out, I know I wouldn’t have changed before that either.

If you have something planned, like a trip to one of the Disney Parks, then yeah, pack clothes for that. If you’re sticking to the conference, bring one extra outfit if you’re likely to spill something on yourself (raises hand), and save the room for more books. Yes, you will get that many.

I also always bring snacks. You can pack anything sealed in your carry-on luggage. I bring granola bars, mini bags of pretzels, and single serve bowls of cereal so I don’t have to grab a snack from the hotel, or breakfast since I’m not likely to be up before I absolutely need to be. Water is available in every workshop room so make use of that water bottle you get in the Swag Shoppe and fill it up. In addition, bottled water is included in the cost of your hotel if you’re staying at the Dolphin or Swan if you prefer that. When you’re at workshops, bring your RWA bag from the Swag Shoppe. It’ll make carrying your snacks and water, and all those free books, easier.

Put Yourself Out There

As I said, I’m an introvert. It’s hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Especially because the other people who are sitting alone at a workshop not talking handshaketo anyone are usually introverts also. The conversation starts with what do you write and ends with where are you from.

Think up some interesting questions ahead of time. If your idol sat down next to you, what would you ask? If one of your friends sat down, what would you ask? We’re writers. We’re good with the written word. Write out some questions ahead of time. What do your characters ask to get to know each other? There’s no reason those questions have to stay between the pages of your book.

Find A Friend

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t know anyone who’s going. How are you going to find a friend? We’re all friends! We might not know each other, but at Nationals, Friendsyou’ll find people are very friendly and talkative. Yes, it’s easier to have a plan to meet someone. So make that plan.

Reach out to someone in one of your local or online chapters. Reach out to someone you think you might connect with. Last year, a chapter mate from one of my online chapters posted that she was anxious because she didn’t know anyone. She’d gone to another conference, but commuted because it was close to her house, so she didn’t even have a roommate to hang around. I sent her an email and we met the first night. Then spent the rest of the conference together. We’re still in touch a year later.

Yes, it’s hard to make friends as adults. But we’re all scared to do it. Trade emails with your roommate in advance, and if you want, send me an email! I’ll be there. I’m volunteering at the Stiletto Party on Friday night, so grab your ticket and come cheer on the Stiletto finalists and Contemporary Romance Writers with me. Trust me, you won’t regret reaching out to someone in advance.

Set A Plan

You don’t have to be a plotter to have a plan. Why are you going to the conference? What made you sign up this year? What are you interested in learning? Know ahead of time what your goals are. For me, marketing and networking are my two big goals checklistthis year. I’ve picked workshops that speak to those topics. I’m going to chat up other authors because I’m always looking for new authors to read, but I believe in the power of networking and cross-promotion. Plus, I will never have too many author friends.

The other side of that is I’m also giving myself a break. If there’s a time when the workshops offered don’t match what I’m looking to learn, I can skip them. If I’m worn out, I’ll take a break. My first year, I didn’t give myself any downtime and ended up with an extra trip to the doctor because of it. Last year, I sat out a workshop and ended up meeting a new friend. I got a break for an hour and had a great conversation. It was definitely a win-win.

Going to Nationals, especially your first time, can be overwhelming. There is so much to see and do and learn. It’s a lot, but it’s also a great investment of your time and money, so enjoy it! It’ll be over way too soon!

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She reenergizes every year with a trip to Nationals, and every month at her local chapter meeting. When Mary isn’t writing, she cheers on her daughter at gymnastics and her son at every other sport. Mary is lucky to have her own romance novel worthy husband to tag-team if things get too crazy. Visit her website at to learn more.