Monday, September 16, 2019

Back to the Basics

Years ago, as a newbie writer, I thought a story had to fall like fairy dust from the sky to the page or else I was a failure as a writer. If it wasn't coming to me like magic, I was obviously a talentless hack. But then, as I rubbed elbows with fellow writers and read helpful tips from famous writers, it finally occurred to me- writing isn't simply talent. It's also hard work paired with education.

I have been the slush pile reader for several writing competitions this year and I couldn't help but think as I read the entries that there was a lot of talent in all these stories, but sometimes, something was missing. They were good, but not yet good enough. I will admit, as a writer, I cringed when that thought went through my head. I mean, I have personally heard that more times than I can count and I surely don't want to be turning into one of those people who tell writers this is good, but not good enough.

So, how does a writer go from good to good enough? Personally, I'm still studying and learning, but in analyzing the ones that didn't emerge from my slush pile, I can say it was mostly for a lack of the basics. There might have been a great voice, but the plot was weak. Great characters, but no conflict.

That's when I decided for this week’s IWSG post, I would recap what I think are the most important elements a story- for other readers and for my own better WIPs too.

The Basics:

1.       Conflict. Conflict raises the stakes. Without any trials for characters to face, there would be no character growth or plot arc (beginning, middle, end). But conflict doesn’t have to be Rambo-esque. Person vs. person can simply be the interpersonal frustrations of two characters (most every romance ever).  A character can also have conflict with nature (To Build a Fire), fate (Harry Potter), self (Fight Club), society (The Hand Maid’s Tale), technology (Blade Runner), or even the supernatural (It).

2.       Theme. Our high school English teachers weren’t wrong—a story needs to have a point. Be it a moral lesson or a comment on relationships or society, there needs to be a reason for someone to take the time to read the story.

3.       Characters. Duh, right? How is there a story without characters? Since that’s a given, let’s go a bit deeper. Flesh out those characters. Who are they? What’s their back story, even the tidbits you’ll never share. What are their hobbies, pet peeves, favorite color? Make them real. Add some flaws. Then make them grow (AKA character arcs). If they’re staying static, either you have a flat character who isn’t meant to inspire, or you need to dig deeper.

4.       Setting. It’s more than just the time and place. Used wisely, it sets the tone and adds dimension to the story. In my Coulter Men series, the first book is about an independent single mom who lives on an island; book two, the hero is an isolated, barren-souled man living in Montana; book three the heroine is hiding her identity and living a lie in the heart of Washington, DC.

5.       Point of View. Who is telling the story? Probably the person the writer wants the reader to most identify with. I will often shift POV from the guy to the gal to get a he said/she said sort of banter going. In order to maintain some mystery, it’s often better to hold the POV cards a bit tighter. If the reader knows every thought of every character, it could be like setting unwrapped presents under the Christmas tree. What’s the fun in that?

Those are a quick rundown of my favorite. What elements of a story do you think are the most important?

Picture credit:
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Don't forget to join in the IWSG Book Club discussion on Goodreads.

Our August/September book is Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice by Betsy Lerner.
Discussion Fun Day will be September 25, 2019.
Until then, enjoy this freebie created by one of our book club moderators, Juneta Key: Story Study Checklist (Click on the link to open and then save the PDF to your computer.)

Want to try your hand at flash fiction? Enter the WEP challenge!

Check out the WEP Challenge Here

                          Don't forget! The Twitter Pitch is coming. Polish up those manuscripts. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

How to Self-Publish and Market a Book: KEYWORDS

Hank Quense on Keywords

Keywords are frequently referred to as tags.You may not be aware of this, but search engines don’t care about your book title.  It’s true if you enter your book title or your name into a search engine, the results will include your book and your name. 

Readers will often search for a book using the name of a best-selling author but readers can’t enter the title or the name of a new self-published author since she and her book have achieved little recognition so far. 

Another way readers will search for a book is by using a short descriptive phrase such as ‘fantasy quest’ or ‘regency romance’.  These are known as keywords and this is the situation where you want your book to appear in the search results.  To accomplish this, it is vital that you develop a set of keywords that will ensure your book title will show up in the reader’s search results.

The keywords you want to use are ones that readers in your genre will use when browsing for a book.  These keywords are not necessarily what your book is about: they are the terms a reader will type into a search engine.  

Let’s say your book is a fantasy novel filled with elves and dwarfs.  You may think ‘dwarfs’ and ‘elves’ would be great keywords.  They are not.  A reader looking for a fantasy novel won’t use them.  Instead, he will search for terms like ‘fantasy adventure’ or ‘fantasy quest.’  Consequently, it is important for your marketing efforts that you develop a relevant set of keywords. 

Google has a free keyword planner you can use to help generate your keywords.  You can access it using this link:

Another free keyword tool can be found here:

Here is a trick you can use on Amazon.  In the search box, start to type a keyword.  Amazon will auto-complete and show you its most popular keywords.  As an example, type fantasy into the box.  By the time you finish typing ‘fantasy’ you’ll see some keywords that may be relevant.  

Keep typing and add the word ’adventure’.  Now you’ll see better keyword suggestions.  You’ll have to develop your keywords before you upload your book to a packager.  If you have a publisher, they will develop the keywords for you.

Your keywords can also be used with blog posts about your book.  On your blog post, there is space to enter all the keywords you developed.  This will assist search engines in finding your blog post.  

To repeat: keywords are important.  Spend time to develop the correct set.

Once you get a set of keywords, you can use them in a variety of ways.  Besides the packagers and blog posts, you can embed them into your book blurb and your short and long synopsis.  Search engines love this usage. 

As an example, here is the blurb for my new novel The King Who Disappeared before I generated the keywords:  ‘A long time ago, Bohan was a king.  But that was before the sleep spell.  Now that he’s awake again, it’s time for revenge.’

The keywords I used are: fantasy adventure, fantasy quest, fantasy humor, fantasy comedy.

Using these keywords, I modified the book blurb to: ‘A long time ago, at the beginning of this fantasy adventure, Bohan was a king.  But that was before the sleep spell.  Now that he’s awake again, it’s time for a quest to get revenge. Fantasy humor doesn’t get better than this.’

~ ~ ~
This article was taken from my new book, How to Self-Publish and Market a Book
Hank Quense writes humorous and satiric sci-fi and fantasy stories. He also writes and lectures about fiction writing and self-publishing. He has published 19 books and 50 short stories along with dozens of articles. He often lectures on fiction writing and publishing and has a series of guides covering the basics on each subject.  He and his wife Pat usually vacation in another galaxy or parallel universe. They also time travel occasionally when Hank is searching for new story ideas.
How to Self-Publish and Market a Book will be available on September 15, 2019, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashword, Kobo (H
ank’s website: ( Hank's Facebook fiction page:

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

#IWSG The Insecure Writer's Support Group Post Day - Location, Location, Location!

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments.

The awesome co-hosts for the September 4 posting of the IWSG are Gwen Gardner, Doreen McGettigan, Tyrean Martinson, Chemist Ken, and Cathrina Constantine!

Location! Location! Location! We all know that this is a real estate mantra. When it comes to property, location is everything.

So what's this got to do with writing?

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

September question: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why? 
Would it be some faraway, exotic location?

Or maybe a location that would be the actual story setting?

Or is your sweet spot the local coffee shop, where you spend many hours bringing your story to life? 

  Some Unusual Writing Places of Famous Authors

Gertrude Stein avoided tiresome shopping expeditions by dropping off her partner and then parking up her Model T Ford to write.
Nottingham born
D.H. Lawrence loved writing al fresco, leaning on pine trees in New Mexico and great firs in Germany’s Black Forest. “The trees are like living company,” said Lawrence.
Maya Angelou
wrote in hotel rooms, requesting that everything be removed from the walls, in order to avoid distractions. She brought note pads, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a Bible in order to write, plus sherry and cigarettes for a little ‘down time’.
Agatha Christie constructed her plots in a large Victorian bath tub.
Some interesting and quirky writing spots!

Today is the closing date of the Annual IWSG Anthology Contest. You still have a few hours to submit your story!
Genre is middle grade historical – adventure/ fantasy and the theme is voyagers.

The IWSG needs co-hosts for October through to January 8. If you're interested then leave a comment or send an email.
If you haven't co-hosted yet, give it a go. It's a great networking opportunity.

The IWSG Twitter Pitch is coming up soon.   Polish those pitches and have them ready to go. You just never know who may be watching.

There are
loads of exciting activities happening at the IWSG Goodreads Book Club
Discussion Questions, Discussion Day Poll,
Quizzes, Giveaways, Freebies

So what is your ideal location to sit and write your next story?
Have you submitted to the annual anthology contest?
Are you interested in co-hosting for the monthly blog hop?
Getting ready to polish your Twitter pitch?
Do any of the IWSG Goodreads Book Club activities catch your attention?
Happy IWSG Day!