Writing a novel recap

Blame it on summer…I am falling back on an old favorite that I pull out when I am temporarily at a loss about what to write about or when I simply don’t have the time to pen something new. So today I am doing a recap of some of my posts about writing a novel.

Starting a novel…

So you have decided to write a novel. Before you sits a blank screen. For some that brings excitement at the unlimited possibilities but for others it can be intimidating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand. (read more)

story ideas9 ways to brainstorm story ideas  

Many authors are teeming with story ideas, so they just need to pluck one and develop it into a novel. But newbies and even a few veteran authors sometimes falter when finding a story to write.

Here are nine ways to help you think of an idea for your next story. (read more)

Can your story idea be original? 

There are so many plots that have already been done that it sometimes is hard to come up with something new and unique. While yes, your story may be original with its characters, but many times the story itself has been told before. (read more)

Making sure your story idea is sound

You have a brilliant idea for a story. You can imagine the main character and even the opening scene…but when you sit down to write, you realize that is all you have. You don’t have a complete story with a structured plot and a satisfying ending. All you have is this great story idea. (read more)

Choosing the setting for your novel

irish wolfhound grey dayWhen many new authors begin writing, they focus on plot and character. While these are important, it is vital to consider the setting of your novel.

The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be in a room, a park, a car, a pool hall, the White House, in space, on another world or any of a thousand different places. (read more)

Deciding how to begin a scene in your novel 

The goal of the beginning of a scene is to draw the reader in. It must make the reader want to read more. A few months ago, I wrote about writing the opening scene of your novel. That crucial scene is often where readers decide if they like your book or not. (read more)

Finding the perfect ending to your scene 

Last week, I discussed ways in which to begin a scene in your novel. Alas, every scene also must end, and that is what we are going to focus on today.

Every scene has a beginning, middle and end. The ending moments complete the scene and should leave the reader wanting more. It should make them eager to begin the next scene. (read more)

Tips for writing a prologue (if you even need one) 

Where to begin your novel is always a daunting decision. You want to begin with an interesting scene to draw in your reader and set the stage for your story. But sometimes your reader might benefit from more information before they are introduced into the world you have created or so that they may understand the importance of what is happening. This is where a prologue can come into play. (read more)

Do you need an epilogue?

An epilogue is a section at the end of the book that wraps up the story. This is not to say you can’t just end your book with the final chapter.

However, sometimes, and I often see this in romance novels, the epilogue shows a snippet of what happened to the characters at a later point in their lives, whether it is several months, a year or perhaps even a number of years later. (read more)

Beginnings of a novel: Establishing Routine and the Inciting Incident

A good way to start your novel is to begin with a gripping scene that grabs the readers’ attention. But most of the time this gripping scene is probably not what is drawing your character to leave their “normal” life to partake in the adventure of your story. (read more)

Following a Story Arc

arcWhen you write a novel or even a short story, your storyline will follow an arc. Knowing and understating the nature of this arc can help you ensure that your story stays on course or let you know if the story is getting away from you. (read more)

Writing a Trilogy – Dos and Don’ts

I recently read a book that was supposed to be the first book in a trilogy. But I don’t think the author knows what a trilogy should be. It turned out to be more of a short story that suddenly stopped. To find out what happened, you needed to buy the next book. No thanks.

A trilogy is a series of three movies or books that are closely related and involve the same characters or themes. (read more)

Short Story, Novella, Novel – what’s the difference?

Many new authors ask, “How long should my story be?” The simple answer is as long as it takes to tell the story. (read more)

Wanted: Authors for Friday Featured #Author spot

wantedAre you an author looking for some additional publicity for your latest book?

I host guest authors every Friday – any genre, both traditionally and self-published.

The post can take one of three formats: author interview, book excerpt or a guest post on any aspect of writing, publishing, or book marketing.

Sign up is on a first-come-first-served basis, though I do have a few Tuesday openings to accommodate special requests for dates related book tours, book releases or cover reveals. (Click the Featured Authors link to check out past authors.)

I have a few Fridays in July as well as August, September and beyond open.

If you are interested, send me a message along with any date requests, and we’ll take it from there.

Discussing tanning and body image with my 8-year-old

IMG_1907Several times in the past month, Lexie has commented on being thin. She is thin – not bean-pole thin like her cousin but by no means is she fat or even slightly hefty. But sometime she mentions worrying about becoming fat. This is from the same girl who usually shows no concern about her appearance (we have to argue to get her to even comb her hair, which typically looks uncombed just five minutes after she brushes it.)

We know we need to address the issue of body image but have some concerns on how best to do that. I don’t want to focus on her weight as it is so easy for kids to latch onto some comment and blow it out of proportion in their own mind.

So I did what I always do when faced with a topic I need more information about – I began researching online how to handle this conversation with her.

Experts suggest staying positive and focusing on health, not weight. It was comforting to read that at this age (8) there is a good chance she will outgrow her concern. She is most likely reacting to peer pressure and self-consciousness rather than developing any type of disorder. While she may be picking up concerns from peers or the media, she is not likely to fully internalize these harmful messages as adolescent might do.

So how do I address this issue without intensifying or morphing it into an eating disorder? Here are a few tips…

  • Speak your message calmly and consistently (even if she disagrees with you)
  • Talk about different body types and that people come in all shapes and sizes. Some heavy people may be more fit just as someone who is thin may not be healthy.
  • Concentrate on being healthy through proper nutrition and exercising, rather than focusing on numbers or appearance

But it is more than just worrying about Lexie’s self-image. I don’t want her to be making comments to those who are not as fit as she is. A few years ago, it was not uncommon for her to point out to me people who were old, bald or fat. I don’t know that she thought of them as “bad” necessarily but did notice the difference in people. While we have always discouraged her from pointing out these physical differences, I don’t want her to shun people because they look different whether it be extra weight, that they wear glasses or have some sort of deformity. Sometimes these things are not choices the person can make.

I don’t want her to focus so much on appearance but to be able to see the person beyond. The chubby girl in her class can be creative, funny, serious, scared or a number of things. Most importantly, she can be a good friend. She needs to understand that no matter your weight, you are a valuable person.

And studies have shown that by fifth or sixth grade, the stigma that fat people are bad or inferior is often already ingrained in kids’ minds. Suggestions that I read said to ask questions such as

  • Does body weight have anything to do with whether a person is kind or mean?
  • Can you tell what a person is like just by his or her body size?
  • (when reading) How do you think the character felt when she was teased about her weight? If you saw someone being teased like this character was, how could you help him?

The hard thing is that people often do tease one another about their looks or behavior. And while someone may think it is just playfulness it can truly hurt and it can affect a child’s self-image.

Almost everything I read emphasized that our own attitudes about food and body shape impact our kids’ relationship with weight. So while I have been trying to lose some weight over the past few months, I need to be careful how Lexie perceives this. (And the bad thing is I have been focusing on the scale and how much I weigh more than I should.)


Lexie has all of sudden shown an interest in tanning. Not using a tanning bed, but she has mentioned laying out to get a tan while we are at the pool. Now I remember doing this too as a teenager. But of course I didn’t realize any of the dangers of tanning. While I think there is nothing wrong with a tan (you will get one just by being active outside), I am not too keen on my 8-year-old focusing on it or laying out to get one.

Whenever we head to the theme park, water park or the pool, we slather on sunscreen (usually SPF 50) and reapply it every 90 minutes to 2 hours. But if it is a short jaunt outside – a quick walk to the park or a brief stop at the playground (which is mostly in the shade) – we don’t apply sunscreen. And she understands that we do use the sunscreen so we don’t get a sunburn. But she doesn’t know anything about excessive sun exposure and repeated sunburns leading to premature aging and of course skin cancer.

So while I would love for Lexie to build her tan while being active outside, I would rather her not purposely lie out to get one especially at such a young age. The issue here is to give her enough information about the dangers without making her overly fearful of any sun exposure. I guess it is the same balancing act that I must follow when discussing her body image and both certainly will be topics we discuss often in the upcoming years.

Today’s Featured Author – Sarah K. Stephens

Please welcome author Sarah K. Stephens. Her first novel, A Flash of Red, will be released this winter. Be sure to check out the excerpt after the author interview.


Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Northeastern Ohio, in the heart of the Rust Belt. My family lived out in the country, though, and so much of my childhood was filled with woods and creeks and lots of fresh air. My family and I currently live in Central Pennsylvania in a lovely little town, but I still miss having the woods behind my house, just waiting to be explored.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

Beginning in elementary school, I was invited to participate in an advanced English track which lasted from early elementary school all the way through 8th grade. My English teacher for all of those years, Mrs. Lippiatt, inspired me to challenge myself as a student and as a communicator. It was in her class that I read Shakespeare for the first time, discovered poetry, and learned to channel my creativity when faced with a cold prompt. She taught me the power of words.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

The best: Having a professional excuse to lead an examined life. I don’t feel guilty taking time to quietly handle my thoughts and experiences—it’s this time alone that allows me to cultivate the ideas for my novels and short stories.

The worst: The physical stillness that is required to write my ideas out.  I would prefer to be constantly in motion, moving through the world.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

As a university lecturer and a developmental psychologist, I have the opportunity to meet extraordinary people in my classroom each semester.  It’s also a professional necessity to keep informed of my field’s innovations in understanding the human condition.  Both of these intertwine in my mind, pushing my brain to seek out what it means to engage our hearts and minds in this world. The majority of my ideas stem from the constant pulse beating around all of us—Who are we? What will we become?

 What inspired you to write this book?

The concept for A Flash of Red originated from recent research on the effects of pornography exposure on children and adolescents.  As I was preparing material for a course examining the influence of the new Internet Age on children’s development, I encountered a wealth of empirical data confirming that children are encountering pornography and that this exposure is not benign.  Viewing sexually explicit images affects young men and women’s expectations and preferences in both their romantic and sexual lives, often reflecting the norms set in pornographic contexts, which I think anyone can agree is not an adequate or complete model of sexual intimacy.  A Flash of Red arose when I started asking myself, What would happen if pornography became a third party in a marriage?

How did you come up with the title?

I often begin writing with a title already in mind—it seems to stem from some organic place when I initiate the writing process.  A Flash of Red is a symbolic reference to the plot of the novel—one I knew would be a part of Anna and Sean’s story from the start.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

For A Flash of Red, I reviewed literature related to the symptomatology, prognosis, and treatment of schizophrenia.  It’s a complex and multifaceted disorder, with a great deal of variety in its expression from one individual to another, and I wanted to make sure my representation in the novel was as accurate as possible. Reading Elyn Saks’s memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, provided a window into the personal experience of schizophrenia and the system of treatment many patients encounter.

Understanding the influence of pornography on relational and sexual development is also a large portion of this book, and I examined scientific publications to acquaint myself with this phenomenon as fully as possible. For readers particularly interested in this topic, Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls and Sex, provides an excellent account of how porn is shaping the next generation’s views of intimacy. She also wrote an excellent op-ed piece for the NY Times on this very topic.

My interest in de Clerambault’s syndrome began, not from my training, but upon reading Ian McEwan’s novel, Enduring Love. From there, I read the scientific literature that is available on this somewhat obscure disorder in order to incorporate facets of it into my own writing. It’s a great fit, given my interests–the syndrome is truly an archetype for love gone terribly wrong.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

My favorite character to write was Bard—I love how he examines the world from a distance, even as he tries to open his heart to a select few. I don’t dislike any of my characters, but I found Sean was the hardest to write. He’s struggling so deeply in knowing who he is, and it was painful for me sometimes to convey the authenticity of his sadness.

If you could jump in to any book, and live in that world, which would it be?

I would love to be friends with Elizabeth Bennet, and visit her at Pemberley.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

This is a dangerous road to travel down—one where I can easily get lost.  If I had to choose a favorite, it would be The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

What book are you reading right now?

I’m attending the Skidmore Summer Writers Institute in July, where I will have a chance to work with Amy Hempel and Paul Harding. Currently, I’m poring through Hempel’s short story collection.

Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.

I make homemade pizza for my family almost every week—the more cheese, the better.

A Flash of Red Mock-UpExcerpt – A Flash of Red

Anna’s heart skipped a beat in a wave of involuntary fear. There were only two eggs in the refrigerator.

Five minutes before, Anna came down the stairs, perfumed and fully dressed, ready to begin her day. She would make pancakes for her husband, who was still asleep in their bedroom. She would wash fresh raspberries to put on top. She would lay the table with care. All of this to set a pattern of comfortable predictability for Anna, ensuring the day would unfold in a way she could control. But now, everything was skewed by yet another ordinary situation somehow turned inexplicable in Anna’s life. Or at least she preferred to see these blips in her daily horizon as having no reasonable explanation, because the most reasonable explanation of all was unacceptable.

She’d checked last night before going to bed–everything she needed was there. A full carton of eggs, their twelve white orbs nestled neatly in the divots on the side of the refrigerator door. Anna always took them out of their cardboard container after returning from the grocery store and moved them lovingly to their designated place. So where had they gone?

And that’s when it rushed over her. Standing in front of the pristine refrigerator, its clean angles and cool air pouring over her chest and thighs through the thin satin and crepe of her dress, Anna thought again about the dark spot inside her head. The one we all share. The one where our brain oversteps the rules of generosity and creates reality for us. She learned this small biological fact with indifference in college. Now, when it shoved its way into her conscious thought, like it had just now, the sheer density of it warped her mind like a black hole, devouring everything around it. How else do our minds betray us? How will mine? Anna knew only part of the answer.

Anna blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear the blurry sights in front of her.  She could fix this. Everything could be put back in order. Ignoring the skittering thoughts inside her head, Anna amended her plans. She had two eggs. She would make them sunny-side up for Sean with two slices of her homemade bread and strawberry jam she canned herself last summer. The fresh raspberries she would put on the side for him in a bowl. She would eat cereal afterwards while Sean did his assigned chores.

Anna took a deep breath. And another one. Then she shut the door to the refrigerator and placed the eggs on the counter by the stove, careful not to crack their fragile shells. Putting her favorite cast iron pan onto heat with a bit of Portuguese olive oil drizzled inside, Anna wrapped her slim fingers around the first egg, feeling the tensile strength of the shell shift slightly under the pressure. In one swift and practiced movement, Anna split the shell against the edge of the skillet and poured the viscous contents out, the yolk centered perfectly within the white that emerged from the sizzling heat. Yes, that was better.

About the Author

sarahSarah K. Stephens earned her Doctorate in Developmental Psychology in 2007 and teaches a variety of courses in human development as a university lecturer at Penn State University. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round. Her short story, Boys, was published in Five on the Fifth’s March 2016 issue and her flash fiction piece, In Concert, was featured by The Voices Project.  Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, will be released in Winter 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing.

You can find out more about Sarah on her blog or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

And be sure to look for A Flash of Red coming out Winter 2016.