Monday, May 27, 2024

Opening Sentences and Paragraphs

We all know that strong opening lines which hook the reader, and make him want to read more, are crucial to your novel.

 New writers spend lots of time trying to create the perfect first line, one that is dramatic and meaningful. A weak opening line may just be the reason a potential fan (or agent) passes your story by. You have to nail that first sentence/paragraph!

 Look at it in this way. When you are contemplating a new book, it's like the first introduction to a stranger.

There is the initial meet and greet: a handshake, what's your name, where do you live, what do you do for a living...

At this stage, you form an impression of the person. You may/may not warm to him.  

If you really "click" with this individual, then the small talk may extend to a lengthy conversation.

 So how does your novel fare, in the "first meeting" department?

Consider your opening sentence. Is it equivalent to a "limp handshake" or a "firm-grip-that-grabs-attention"?

Does it have the impact of a gunshot? So that when the "smoke clears", the reader will still be engrossed in the story, with the shot reverberating in his ears? Or is it the pop of a tiny firecracker?

Is it in the category of "small talk" or "captivating conversation"?

Some writers feel that good lines matter, irrespective of where they occur in your story. As long as you have them. 

If the opening is unforgettable, then good and well. After all, it's not the end of the world if the opening doesn't shine. Do you agree?

Look at your favorite stories. Do they all begin with memorable lines? Probably not.

 What are your thoughts on opening lines/paragraphs?

Want to share your favorite opening line with us?

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Long Haul

What I’ve Learned in a Career that Isn’t Over Yet

A publishing friend of mine who is much smarter than I about such things once said to me, “The only true marker of success in this business is longevity.”

After 17 years and 27 books, I suppose by that metric I would have no choice but to consider myself a success. It’s funny, though — it doesn’t feel like success.

This could lead us down a deep, dark rabbit hole of what is success and what does success feel like, but instead I think I want to talk about the other side of the equation: Longevity.

I don’t know many authors who only want to publish a single book. Most people who write want to do so professionally, extensively, reliably, constantly. And, yes, remuneratively. Because it’s the money from each book that makes publishing the next one possible.

If, like me, you want to be in this for the long haul, here’s what I have to say…

Of primary importance is this: You will never know what direction your career will move in. The book of your heart — your absolute magnum opus — may tank. And the book you dashed off in a month to meet a contractual obligation may take off and change your life. You don’t know. It’s impossible to know. So…

Capitalize on your successes

My career has had ups and downs, most of them utterly beyond my control, but certainly the biggest mistake I made was following up my I Hunt Killers series with two science fiction novels. It wasn’t a completely stupid move on my part. Publishing is a slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow business and when I started working on the first of the sci-fi novels, I had no way of knowing that the Killers trilogy would be the biggest hit of my career. I Hunt Killers was my ninth novel, after all. I didn’t take into account that, with that series, I had accumulated a whole new audience, an audience that really liked the story’s darkness and real-world grittiness.

So when I followed up that trilogy with a book set hundreds of years in the future and then another book set in an alternative universe, well… That big serial killer-loving audience didn’t follow along. And who could blame them? They wanted a Big Mac and I was serving up tacos.

Again, the timing of the publishing industry made this a tough spot to get out of, but I probably could have and should have handled it differently than I did. I was (too) confident that my audience would follow me wherever I went. My big flub? It’s right there in the previous sentence: my audience. You don’t own your audience. At best, you have a long-term rental. Don’t take a readership for granted.

Roll with the punches

Towards the end of 2019, my wife and I published our first collaboration (if you don’t count our kids): The Hive. It was well-received, with People calling it one of the best books of the Fall. On the back of that book and my successful Flash series, I was invited to a boatload of conferences, conventions, and other such visits. It was definitely shaping up to be a career-changing year of travel.

Well, you know what happened, right? All of that amazing travel went into the toilet when 2020 rolled around and COVID sent the world off the rails. All of the grand plans I had disappeared like faces behind surgical masks.

You might think that lockdown would be a good time to get a lot of writing done. And at first I though it might be, but soon it became necessary for me to take a hiatus to deal with some protracted family issues. When I returned to the keyboard a year later, the entire landscape of publishing and pretty much the world had changed. Sure, I wrote. But I was also trying to figure out where I fit in and what it made sense to craft for this new world.

I cast my net wide: I worked on a variety of projects that were all radically different from each other, trying to figure out my new niche.

But I did something else, too: I had some fun! Look, if the pandemic taught us all anything at all (and these days, that seems debatable…), it’s that life can knock you off the curb with a transit bus at any moment. So why not have a little fun?

I resuscitated my moribund email newsletter, retooling it into less of a sales vehicle and more of a community platform. Every month now, I send off into the ether a melange of comic book goofiness, serial killer facts, deleted scenes from my books, and links to stuff I find cool and fun. It’s not about selling books — it’s about offering readers a nice little supplement to the books. It’s about giving something back to the people who’ve made my career possible.

I also launched, believe it or not, a merch store! I’ve always liked noodling around with design, so I sat down and had fun producing a collection of t-shirts, notebooks, stickers, and the like for readers of my books.

Are the newsletter and the store going to change my life or my career? Probably not! But I enjoy them and they keep me from getting bored with myself or — worse — taking myself too seriously.

Know what you can control

The answer to that is, sadly, not much.

You can’t control the sales of your book. You can’t control the marketing. You can’t control the social networks we all rely on now to spread the word — the algorithm can change in a heartbeat, a viral meme can steamroll your hard work, a buy-out can destroy your networking opportunities. You can’t control the overworked editors and assistants who tell themselves they’ll look at your book tomorrow…every day.

Fretting about the things you can’t control (or, worse, trying to control them anyway) will drive you stark raving mad.

But you can control the work. You can write the book. And then the next one. And the next one. Even if they’re not selling, you can keep writing them.

It’s the only thing you control, really. But you do control it.

Control the work. Cleave unto the work. The work will save you. When the rejections come, when the sales aren’t there, the work will save you. Because every book you write is a new opportunity. Every book you write is a new world to be born.

I have published 27 novels. And then life knocked me back and I had to take some time away. But I truly believe that my best work is ahead of me. As long as I choose to produce it. Someone can only choose to publish my work if I write it in the first place.

“The only true marker of success in this business is longevity.”

So, as we asked at the beginning: What is success? What does success feel like?

I think my friend was probably right. Because I’ll give you my answers, after all those books, all the ups and downs, all the joys and pains: Success is still standing. Success feels like fingers on the keys, like still being alive.

Connect with Barry Lyga on his website.

Barry Lyga is the author of the New York Times-bestselling I Hunt Killers, as well as 26 other novels that weren’t on the New York Times bestseller list, but were still really, really good. Visit him at Sign up for his newsletter at Check out his merch at

Monday, May 13, 2024



Homophones are a fascinating aspect of language, where words sound identical or nearly identical when spoken but possess different meanings and often spellings. These linguistic twins can sometimes lead to confusion, especially in writing, as their identical pronunciation can cause writers to mistakenly interchange them. One classic example is "there," "their," and "they're," which all sound the same but have distinct grammatical roles. "There" indicates a place, "their" denotes possession, and "they're" is a contraction for "they are."

Another set of homophones that frequently confound writers is "to," "too," and "two." While all pronounced the same, they serve different purposes in sentences. "To" is a preposition indicating direction or intention, "too" means also or excessively, and "two" represents the number 2. Confusion between these homophones can alter the intended meaning of a sentence drastically. Careful attention to context and usage is necessary to ensure clarity in communication.     

Homophones are not only prevalent in English but in many languages worldwide. These linguistic quirks add richness and complexity to communication, challenging speakers and writers to be precise in their expression.  While they may pose occasional challenges, homophones also provide opportunities for wordplay, puns, and creative expression. Understanding and mastering homophones contribute to linguistic competence and proficiency in any language, allowing for clearer and more effective communication.

The homophones that often snag me when I'm writing is "loan," "lone" and "gate," "gait." What about you?  What homophones causes you to stumble?




Monday, May 6, 2024

How to Draw Readers in Through a Character’s Inner Struggle by Angela Ackerman


Readers have short attention spans, so the goal is to draw them into a story quickly. We can hook their curiosity through the protagonist’s actions and emotions in the moment, and use the setting, events, and POV observations to awaken the reader’s need-to-know response. These are good strategies to get us going, but to create real investment, we need to move readers beyond curiosity. To generate true connection and empathy, we should show the protagonist’s inner struggles, especially those moments that touch the deepest parts of their selves and reveal who they are by how they resolve personal turmoil.

Moment of struggle where a character’s beliefs and values conflict or contradict are especially important to show. Consider these:

·                  Leo discovers a secret about a family member that is both shocking and harmful. Should he go to the police, or stay silent? (Family loyalty vs. justice)

·                  At her university graduation, Darma is at a crossroads. Her parents expect her come work in the family business, but she knows that won’t make her happy. Should she do what is expected of her, or chart her own course? (Duty vs. freedom and self-fulfillment)

·                  Jim’s old friend Steve is in town, and two days into the visit, he asks for a favor: to lie for him. Steve’s worried about his crazy-jealous wife discovering he had coffee with an old high school flame the day before. If she finds out Steve wasn’t with Jim all day as he told her, she’ll send her mob-connected brothers after him. This situation seems fishy and Jim is an honest person by nature, but Steve’s invoking the bro code. (Friendship vs. honesty)

In each case, the character’s beliefs and core values are clashing, and it’s causing them internal tension. There’s a term for psychological discomfort caused by these contradicting thoughts, perceptions, values, or beliefs: cognitive dissonance.

Inner conflict, and the dissonance at the root of it is compelling to readers because these things are true-to-life. Readers know what it’s like to wrestle with difficult situations and the pain of not knowing what to do.

In these moments, a character experiences negative emotions, possibly guilt, worry, confusion, defeat, shame, and the like, and may question their own value and strength. If their emotional discomfort is strong enough, they may try to run from their problems and difficult decisions rather than deal with them. Readers understand this too. Avoidance is a pretty common coping strategy when a person feels overwhelmed or unequipped to handle the challenge before them.

Can you see how reminding readers of their own personal experiences makes them feel connected and involved? By seeing a character go through something they know themselves, they come to care about the character and what happens next.


Tip: Don’t Leave Inner Conflict Unresolved


Characters running from their problems might be true-to-life, but if we don’t reverse that the pace will stall, and we’ll lose our grip on the reader’s interest. An emotion amplifier can help us get things back on track.

Emotion amplifiers are an added condition or situational burden that a character must cope with on top of everything else. They’re a challenge, conflict, and emotional destabilizer rolled into one, capable of causing physical, cognitive, and psychological discomfort. Like adding weight to an already overloaded cart, the strain can become too much, and the character breaks like a cart’s wheel.

Pressure, pain, exhaustion, scrutiny, danger—these and other amplifiers have the power to intensify a character’s emotional state, making them reactive. If they lose control of their emotions they might lash out, act with poor judgement, and make a mistake. Not only does generate conflict, but it also resonates with readers who have also lost control and then had to clean up the fallout.

Reminding readers of the real world is always a good strategy for engagement, but anything that touches their emotions will be especially powerful. If you’d like to learn more, check out The Emotion Amplifier Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Stress and Volatility. To see a full list of amplifiers you might like to use in your story, go here.



Angela Ackerman
is a story coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, and its many sequels. To date, this series has sold over a million copies.

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers®, as well as One Stop for Writers®, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day and Writing Distractions

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The co-hosts for the May 1 posting of the IWSG are Victoria Marie Lees, Kim Lajevardi, Nancy Gideon, and Cathrina Constantine!

May 1 question - How do you deal with distractions when you are writing? Do they derail you?

Distractions can be anything.

Your children
Your pets
The phone
Social media

Some distractions need your attention.

Some are self-inflicted.

Some you just need to ignore.

Take time to prioritize your day. Make a list the night before of what you need to accomplish and note what’s the most important. Focus on what matters most first. Then when distractions happen, you’ll have most of the key items done and not be completely derailed.

How do you deal with distractions? How do they derail you and how can you stop that from happening?