How to Simplify and Focus the Scenes of Your Novel

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by Susan May Warren, @SusanMayWarren

Why can’t readers just be inside my brain? That’s the problem, isn’t it? Trying to help the reader grasp a scene without giving them too little information, or also overwhelming them.

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So often, I have my cast of characters, and I want to throw everybody into the first scene, treating them as old friends (which they are to me), without remembering that my reader hasn’t met them yet. Here’s a scene of my book, Reclaiming Nick. I wanted to portray Nick as the hero he is…but with all the players in the scene, it became clunky, and hard for the reader to follow. Let’s take a look. (My comments are in italics)


When the lanky form of Saul Lovell walked into the Watering Hole Café, dragging with him the remnants of the April chill, Nick Noble knew that his last hope of redemption had died. (SMW: I don’t know why, but I felt that this sentence needed a beat. Also, I wanted to pinpoint what time of year – early April or late April. )

Nick didn’t have time to deal with the arrival of his father’s lawyer. Not with one fist wrapped in the collar of Stinky Jim’s (SMW: Stinky Jim sounds like a caricature, let’s dump that) duster and a forearm pinning his cohort Rusty to the wall.

“We were simply offering to buy her lunch,” Rusty snarled.
“I’m not stupid. I know exactly what you were offering.” Nick motioned for the girl (SMW: because there are so many names, esp. in this first scene, let’s focus on just the main players) to move away from the pair as he upped his pressure against Rusty’s Adam’s apple. “It’s okay, honey. They’re just fresh from riding fence. You go home now and say hi to your folks from me.”

He didn’t comment on her low-cut shirt or the way it seemed to have material missing at the waistline, either. And a run into Miles City (SMW: ditto on all the places referenced in the first chapter. Focus on where they are, and why it is important) for looser fitting pants might be in order. He’d have to swing by the Carlisle place tonight, warn Erma and Bill (SMW: cut out this name, and just put in the place holder – her parents) about their daughter’s recent bent toward trouble.

Only, that wasn’t his job anymore, was it? He had to stop thinking like a cop before it landed him into more hot water.

She glanced at Rusty, as if hurt, then turned on her boot heel and flounced toward the door, followed by her best friend, blonde and dangerous Carla Wainwright. (again, cut out the names to make it smoother)

Nick didn’t like the way Stinky watched them leave. “If I see you within ten feet of them, I’ll run you all the way back to Rapid City.” (SMW: Now I’ve mentioned both Miles City AND Rapid City…and they’re actually in a town called Wellesly! Too confusing)
Stinky shoved him away, and Nick let go, not interested in swallowing one more whiff of day-old whiskey breath.

Now, let’s look at the changes I made to smooth it out:

When the lanky form of Saul Lovell walked into the Watering Hole Café, dragging with him the remnants of the late April chill, Nick Noble knew that his last hope of redemption had died.

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Nick didn’t have time to deal with the arrival of his father’s lawyer. Not with one fist wrapped in the collar of Jim’s duster and a forearm pinning his cohort Rusty to the wall.
“We were simply offering to buy her lunch,” Rusty snarled.

“I’m not stupid. I know exactly what you were offering.” Nick motioned for the girl to move away from the pair as he upped his pressure against Rusty’s Adam’s apple. “It’s okay, honey. They’re just fresh from riding fence. You go home now and say hi to your folks from me.”

He didn’t comment on her low-cut shirt or the way it seemed to have material missing at the waistline, either. And a run into Miles City three hours south for looser fitting pants might be in order. He’d have to swing by her parents’ place after closing tonight to warn them of their daughter’s recent bent toward trouble.

Only, that wasn’t his job anymore, was it? He had to stop thinking like a cop before it landed him into more hot water.

She glanced at Rusty, as if hurt, then turned on her boot heel and flounced toward the door, followed by her blonde best friend.

Nick didn’t like the way Stinky watched them leave. “If I see you within ten feet of them, I’ll run you all the way back to the border.”

Better, huh? Rule of thumb – only name the characters and places essential to the scene, streamlining it so that readers can capture the conflict, and aren’t bogged down on names that they will only forget. (Because the point is for them to remember — the hero!)

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Troubled Waters (Montana Rescue Book #4)

Billionaire Ian Shaw can have everything he wants–except a happy ending. Or at least that’s what it feels like with his fortune recently liquidated, his niece, Esme, still missing, and the woman he loves refusing to speak to him. In fact, he doubts she would date him even if they were stranded on a deserted island.

Despite her love for Ian, Sierra Rose knows he has no room in his life for her as long as the mystery of his missing niece goes unsolved. The only problem is, Sierra has solved it, but a promise to Esme to keep her whereabouts secret has made it impossible to be around Ian.

When the PEAK chopper is damaged and Sierra lacks the funds to repair it, Ian offers a fundraising junket for large donors on his yacht in the Caribbean. But the three-day excursion turns into a nightmare when a rogue wave cripples the yacht and sends the passengers overboard. Shaken up and soaked to the bone, Ian finally has a chance to test his theory when he and Sierra do indeed find themselves washed up on a strange, empty shore.

It will take guts and gumption for the PEAK team to rescue the duo. But it will take a miracle to rescue Ian and Sierra’s relationship.

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill, Summerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-timeChristy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Contact her at: susan@mybooktherapy.com.

Five Things I Relearned to Be A Fiction Writer

by David Rawlings, @DavidJRawlings

When I started writing fiction, I did what everyone does when at the start of a journey.

I looked forward.

With an excited deep breath, I developed my story ideas, built my platform and sought to be inspired by best-selling author blog posts, while dreaming of joining them.

But when I got that one judge’s feedback on my first fiction ACFW competition, I realized I didn’t need to look forward, I needed to look back.

I had been writing professionally for twenty-five years (I’m a freelance journalist and copywriter when I want to get paid for writing) when I felt the nudge to write fiction. I thought it would be an easy transition; an extension of what I was already doing. After all, I’d clocked up thousand-word days for decades.

But while the judge in the Genesis contest loved the story idea and characters, they were politely enquiring as to my grasp of the English language. So why the harsh feedback? With me, writing fiction was a whole different kettle of fish, and that kettle was half-way around the world. That was what the Genesis judge didn’t know – I wasn’t speaking American English because I’m not American.

I’m an Aussie, born in the land of Hugh Jackman and Thor.

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That may not sound like a big deal as our cultures are similar, but my readers spell differently, use grammar differently and have different turns of phrase. While I could write blindfolded, there were ten-year-olds in Boston whose American English was more consistent than mine.

Let me show you what I mean: colour, recognise, finallist. This Australian English spelling has served me well since I was a sports journalist at nineteen, but to my readers’ American eyes they’re mistakes that wouldn’t get me past round one in the Wenatchee School District Spelling Bee.

So I realized I would have to relearn the very skill I’d honed over a career because my new marketplace demanded it. It was like jumping into the driver’s seat after spending years behind the wheel, but needing a driving instructor because now I was driving on the other side of the road.

I needed to do more than just type with an American accent. There were five things I needed to relearn, and I’ve found that other authors have had to relearn them as well.  This might be your experience too.

  1. Unlearning some of what you’ve learned. I once had an English teacher who claimed Shakespeare was the pinnacle of great writing and all fiction should aspire to follow the Bard. That’s just not true. I truly admire Shakespeare’s turns of phrase and mastery of language, but I’m writing contemporary fiction, which requires different structure and different pacing. “Out damn spot!” would only work if my antagonist had a naughty dog and liked cussing.Another teacher taught us to be as descriptive as possible, even if it took pages to paint a picture, and demanded ten variations of the word “said” in every piece. Again, not useful for my genre and I don’t even use those tags anymore. The key to unlearning was a shift in focus towards what my potential readers want and away from some kind of English Literature professor ideal.
  2. Cherrypicking the best knowledge from school. There are some things that haven’t changed from high school English – the basics of grammar, spelling, and style. I scoffed at our journalism professor when he held up a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style back in 1990 and told us we’d need this for the rest of our lives. He was right, only for me, it has taken on greater significance. I need it for a writing career of a different kind, and I’m glad I kept the book. But the biggest lesson was one I learned on day one of my journalism studies: know your audience. That advice is very relevant now. What they think matters and a focus on them is absolutely critical when producing a story that captivates them from the front-of-book dedication to the epilogue.
  3. Unlearning what you’ve picked up along the way. Sometimes you have to unravel the lessons picked up in the workplace. If you’ve written in business, you would have adopted business writing style or had any creativity beaten out of you with the constant “that’s just how we write things here around here!” I’ve had to do this based on my work in the corporate world, where some clients have a style which tempts me to break rules I once held as sacrosanct. Deprogramming takes a while, and means when you get serious about fiction, you need to …
  4. Learn to care again. One of the issues I find with writing today is the sacrifice of quality for speed. I run corporate workshops about writing and run headlong into this belief that good writing is an optional extra; the fact it was written was enough for the box to be ticked. Why it matters has been lost due to the choking grip of time. I found when I changed gear to fiction that I needed to care again about getting it right – that my half-thought-out 11p.m. tweet dropped into the rushing rapids of social media wasn’t good enough.The corners I had cut to keep clients happy needed to be stuck back on. I had to remember my first love for language, and realize that it mattered, even if it did add some time to the process.
  5. Going against the flow. Life wants you to do things faster. Social media demands responses in an instant. I’ve spent a career meeting deadlines that pop up like targets on a shooting range, but I had to rethink my approach to time. My writing requires the exact opposite of a fast-lane mentality. Storylines don’t emerge, they percolate. My characters don’t always leap onto the page, sometimes they distill over two drafts. For my second manuscript, which my agent currently has in front of several publishers, I wrote the opening line last. The hook took that long to come.

The feedback from that judge hurt when I read the scoresheet, but as more water has passed under the bridge and I’ve waded deeper into the waters of fiction writing, I’ve realized just how valuable it has been. It has forced me not to just to rethink but to relearn writing in a way that’s seen my writing develop to a point where it’s on the cusp of fulfilling its potential.

The next year, that same manuscript was a Genesis finalist, and I was on my way. I hope the judge was the same person and noticed the difference.


Based in South Australia, David Rawlings is a sports-mad father-of-three with his own copywriting business who reads everything within an arm’s reach.  He has published in the non-fiction arena and is now focused on writing contemporary Christian stories for those who want to dive deeper into life. His manuscripts have finaled in competitions for ACFW and OCW and he is currently represented by The Steve Laube Agency.

7 Tips for Writing With Young Kids at Home

by Lindsay Harrel, @LindsayHarrel

I have basically wanted to be an author my whole life. There were several years when I thought it would be too hard, that I couldn’t handle the competition, yadayadayada. But finally in 2011, I decided to pursue publication. I had been married for five years, had just finished my master’s degree, and worked full time.

I spent the next three years writing and honing my craft. I attended several My Book Therapy retreats, read countless craft books, and headed off to a number of writing conferences. Because my husband and I both worked, I had a bit of extra money to do all of these things. I saved my vacation time for these events. I was able to devote a decent chunk of time each week to writing.

And then…I had kids.

My first son was born in December 2014, and we added a second in April of this year. I worked part time with my first until he was 10 months old and then decided to become a stay-at-home mom. In addition to being all the things that come with motherhood (doctor, chauffeur, personal chef, etc.), I have to find time to write. Because while being a mom was a dream of mine, being a published author was also a dream.

I remember being pregnant with my first son and worrying that I’d have to give up writing—something I’d just spent three years devoted to learning more about! A friend of mine told me something I will never forget: we find time for the things we are passionate about.

Yes, there are some people who do all they can and hear God telling them to put aside writing for a season while they raise their children. If that is you, that is okay.

But if that is NOT you—and it hasn’t been me—then you must find time to fit writing into a life full of Cheerios, dirty diapers, whining, discipline, and Daniel Tiger. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. Carve out time. If I do not put writing time on my calendar, it will not happen. Period. I have started devoting nap time every day to my writing (and on that note, get your kids all napping or doing quiet time at the same time for at least an hour!). Whenever you write—early morning, evenings, one evening a week at Starbucks—use the time available to you. Make an appointment with your computer and keep it just like you do all the other appointments throughout the week!
  2. Say no to other commitments. We all have limited time. If you’re saying yes to one thing, you’re automatically saying no to another. There are a lot of great things we can say yes to, but not all of them are the best yes (go read Lysa TerKeurst’s The Best Yes for more on this concept!). You might have to skip out on a few play dates or learn to say no to volunteer opportunities you feel pressured to do. Consider how much time you really have and use it wisely.

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  1. Cut out the non-essentials.When I looked at my schedule after having children, I realized I was watching five hours of television a week. That was five hours I could be writing! Also, I realized a long time ago that pursuing a dream like writing meant my house was not going to perfect. It isn’t apig sty, but it will never win an award for cleanest house on the block. And I’m okay with that.
  2. Set weekly goals. It’s really easy for us to say we want to write 2,000 words a day—but what happens when the baby wakes early from a nap or the toddler melts down when he should be playing independently in his room? I like to set weekly goals instead of daily ones because it gives me some flexibility. For example, right now I am drafting my next book and I have set the goal to write five scenes a week. Ideally, I’d like to write one scene a day during the week and have the weekends off (Saturday to clean, Sunday to rest), but I know that I have a little wiggle room if something doesn’t go as planned on one of those weekdays.
  3. Get creative. Thanks to technology, writing doesn’t have to mean sitting down at our computer and plunking away at the keys. I know many authors who use tools like Evernote to dictate their stories. Also, writing with young kids means lots of interruptions, so it might not be feasible for you to write in one- or two-hour chunks of time. Instead, maybe you need to write in fifteen-minute increments. Get creative and you might get more writing done than you think you will!
  4. Fling that guilt far, far away. I know what you’re thinking—I should be doing x, y, and z instead of pursuing this dream of mine. STOP LISTENING TO THAT LIE RIGHT NOW! Personally, I’m a much better mom because I write. I have something that is mine (and God’s) and a place to pour my energies that has nothing to do with keeping someone else alive—and everything to do with keeping my spirit alive. Self-care is important and it is NOT a selfish thing to take time to pursue your dream. When you are refreshed, you have more energy to pour into other people, especially your family.
  5. Keep your priorities straight. That being said, while writing IS important, it is not the MOST important. I find that I’m a much happier mommy when I spend time with God every morning. Not only does that help me have a better attitude during the moments I want to scream, but it provides inspiration for my writing. My family is my next priority. While there are seasons (like when I’m on deadline) when dinner will consist of frozen pizzas and other easy things my husband can cook, it’s not okay for me to totally neglect all of my duties all the time in order to write. There’s a healthy balance and it’s up to you to decide what that looks like for your family.

Don’t let being a parent of young kids stop you from pursuing your dreams. You CAN do this. Write that book one word at a time.


The Heart Between Us

(Releases March 13, 2018) Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide in her small Minnesota hometown and living with her parents, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks.

When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship.

As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most.

Lindsay Harrel is a lifelong book nerd who lives in Arizona with her young family and two golden retrievers in serious need of training. She’s held a variety of writing and editing jobs over the years, and now juggles stay-at-home mommyhood with writing novels. Her debut novel, One More Song to Sing, released in December 2016 and was a finalist in the 2017 ACFW Carol Awards. Her second book, The Heart Between Us, releases from Thomas Nelson in March 2018. When she’s not writing or chasing after her children, Lindsay enjoys making a fool of herself at Zumba, curling up with anything by Jane Austen, and savoring sour candy one piece at a time.  Connect with her at www.LindsayHarrel.com or onFacebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

How to Create 3D Villains

by Morgan L. Busse, @MorganLBusse

As writers, we spend a lot of time with our protagonist. We flesh out every part of his/her life to ensure our main character is fully developed and someone our readers will want to follow for chapters on end.

However, I think sometimes our villain gets the leftovers. He or she (or it) is only there to stop our hero. He sits there, twirling his mustache while monologuing, and coming across as very flat and predictable.

But the villain is important. Without the villain, the hero has no story. There is no obstacle to overcome, no wondering on the part of the reader if the hero will win. And so the villain should receive more development. As someone once said, the villain is the hero of his or her own story. And as the writer, it is your job to discover the heart of your villain and mold him/her into a 3D, believable—might I even add sympathetic—antagonist.

So how do you do that?

Study your villain. What is his story? His history? Her past hurts and pain? What does she believe in so strongly she’s willing to die for it? Interview your antagonist, find out who he/she is under the surface. After all, hardly anyone starts off as pure evil. What happened to your villain to make him/her the person they are today?

Every villain I create has a large picture agenda (the evil plan), and also a personal agenda. To make a 3D villain, you need both. The evil plan is what we expect from the villain (take over the world, destroy the protagonist’s career, the popular but mean high school girl who wants the nice boy). But it is the personal agenda that makes the villain human.

For example: the man who wants to take over the world is doing it so he can create a safer place for his children since he was a victim in his past. We can relate to that, even though the way he is going about it is wrong.

Or the woman who is trying to destroy the protagonist’s career. She was raised by a mother who always pushed her relentlessly, but she never measured up. So now she lives that way, always needs to be at the top of the corporate chain no matter who she hurts because that was modeled for her.

Or the popular mean girl who wants the nice boy your heroine also likes. Secretly, she is attracted to the young man because she never had a guy treat her nice before, and he does, but she is also selfish, so she wants him all to herself. See, both something we can relate to on a personal level, but also see how wrong it is.

For a book example, in my steampunk novel, Tainted, the antagonist is Kat’s father. He is a brilliant scientist who has had little to do with his daughter. He is so focused on his work that he fails to see or care about who he hurts in order to achieve his goals. But what you realize near the end of the novel is the reason he is so driven is because he deeply loved his wife whom he lost at Kat’s birth. He is willing to do anything to bring Helen back, even if it means crossing moral and scientific lines and hurting his own daughter.

Big picture agenda: A drive to break all scientific laws in order to find ultimate power.

Personal agenda: Find a way to bring his wife back.

See how that makes Kat’s father both evil and relatable? You hurt for his loss, but are appalled at his methods.

To create a 3D villain, we must see the antagonist as both evil and relatable. In some ways, the villain shows us what would happen if the hero chooses the wrong path. There your hero would go but for a different choice.

So the next time you’re creating a villain, consider these questions:

  • What is his background? What happened to make him like this today? What his family background? Economic status? Loves? Fears? Hopes? Dreams?
  • What is her big picture agenda (the evil plan)? To cause a war? To win the football game no matter what it costs? To go to homecoming with the nice boy?
  • Now what is his personal agenda? What private part of the villain’s life is driving the large agenda? What is the human aspect of the villain can the reader relate to and sympathize with?

Create a villain that moves your reader just as much as your main character does. If you do this, you will connect your reader on a deeper level to your story.


Tainted (Book 1, The Soul Chronicles)

What Happens When Your Soul Dies?

Kat Bloodmayne is one of the first women chosen to attend the Tower Academy of Sciences. But she carries a secret: she can twist the natural laws of life. She has no idea where this ability came from, only that every time she loses control and unleashes this power, it kills a part of her soul. If she doesn’t find a cure soon, her soul will die and she will become something else entirely.

After a devastating personal loss, Stephen Grey leaves the World City Police Force to become a bounty hunter. He believes in justice and will stop at nothing to ensure criminals are caught and locked up. However, when Kat Bloodmayne shows up in his office seeking his help, his world is turned upside down.

Together they search World City and beyond for a doctor who can cure Kat. But what they discover on the way goes beyond science and into the dark sphere of magic.

Book one of The Soul Chronicles series.

Morgan L. Busse is a writer by day and a mother by night. She is the author of the Follower of the Word series and the award-winning steampunk series, The Soul Chronicles. Her debut novel, Daughter of Light, was a Christy and Carol Award finalist. During her spare time she enjoys playing games, taking long walks, and dreaming about her next novel. Website: www.morganlbusse.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/morganlbusseauthor Twitter: twitter.com/MorganLBusse (@MorganLBusse) Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/morganlbusse Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/5827587.Morgan_L_Busse My books: www.enclavepublishing.com/authors/morgan-busse/