Tag Archives: writing craft


Gem State Writers began on April 1, 2011. Since then, we have posted 572 blogs. Along the way, our members have been published, been successful in writing contests, and developed their craft.

As with much in life, things change.

As we devote more of our time to writing, the group has decided it’s time to retire Gem State Writers. We all want to making writing the best books we can a priority in our lives. We leave knowing GSW has helped us grow and learn about this time-honored profession. And we’ll miss all of you.

Our members share their thoughts below.

Stephanie Berget: When I was asked to be a contributor to Gem State Writers, I was so excited that this group of talented women considered me good enough to write alongside of them. I was also terribly nervous. I’d never blogged before, had really never written with any kind of deadline, and that scared the crap out of me.
Throughout the last year and a half or so, blogging at Gem State Writers has expanded my knowledge of writing craft, taught me to have the post ready whether I feel like it or not, and how to research topics. I’m thankful for that, but I’m more thankful to have had a great group of writers to learn from. I’m going to miss each and every one of you.

Peggy Staggs: In the short time the group was together, I learned a lot about my fellow bloggers. I’ve enjoyed everyone’s perspectives and techniques. Even when I sometimes struggled for ideas, I still looked forward to stretching my mental muscles. The good news is I have a ton (or at least a few pounds) of blog under my belt. The bad news is I will miss you all.

Janis McCurry: When Gem State Writers began I asked myself what interested me about writing. Language was the answer. I loved researching for the language blogs I wrote. The evolving of the language and the continual change intrigues me. I loved having deadlines to “keep me honest.” I loved getting to know my co-GSW-ers and learned something from every blog. Reader comments were delightful and insightful (how’s that for rhyming?). It was a great 2 ½ years and I don’t regret a minute. Thanks to all of you, both bloggers and readers.

Judy Keim: Blogs are considered a waste of time by a lot of people. In my opinion, some are; some are not.

If one is committed to write blogs to the detriment of writing stories, then it is a waste of time. If one thinks writing blogs is a sure way to get the attention of an editor or an agent, it is a waste of time. If one thinks you can sell a large number of books by blogging on a regular basis, it is, in my opinion, another waste of time. (There are other ways of promoting your work.)

On the other hand, if you are writing or participating in a blog to learn about others (both in your group and those who respond) it can be worthwhile. If you’re blogging as a means of sharing industry information or skills, it also can be valuable.

What I’ve learned by blogging with the Gem State Writers is that we have a group of talented, interesting, knowledgeable people whom I’ve gotten to know a little bit better. That’s been time well spent!

Mary Vine: I’ve enjoyed being a part of Gem State Writers, a shared effort to get our blogs out to the world. I will miss Neysa writing how important it is to go to conferences; I will miss Janis giving us a look at language and sharing about her travels; I really appreciate Peggy’s piece on The Bad Guy Tree for mystery writers; I enjoyed reading about Corina’s life near McCall; Lynn helped me understand trying to write with a tiring, busy schedule; I’ve gotten to know Judith through her move and writing journey; I’ve learned more about the rodeo from Stephanie; Through Jennifer I am reminded what it was like trying to write with children in my home; Meredith gave me a glimpse of living in a faraway place where one can meet up with a wild animal or nearly get snowed in; I’ve already missed MK and her individual pursuit of writing. Yes, every time someone has moved on to other writing pursuits, I regretted seeing them leave. Finally, cheers for Marsha who has stayed with us to the end, to inspire us in our writing, and to share her own journey.

Lynn Mapp: At the inception of Gem State Writers, we blogged every two weeks. I didn’t think I had that many blogs in me. What I learned during my time with the “Gems” is I actually had the ability to write two articles a month. It doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but it was for me.

I also had the opportunity to be with a group of women committed to writing and sharing their journey with other people on the same path.

Someone told me that my blogs tended to be of the “you can do it” nature. I am a cheerleader, a supporter, a believer. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.

Neysa Jensen: I’ve enjoyed blogging about writing, specifically children’s writing. It helps me put things in perspective when I try to explain it to someone else. Anyone who would like to be with and learn from fellow writers is welcome to join our SCBWI events. You can find out more on

Corina Mallory: Thank you to everyone on this blog for letting me join your ranks. It’s been a real pleasure to read your work and get to know you better through your comments. I’ve learned a lot, not just about my fellow writers, but about myself. You’ve made me think about why I write the way I do, why I love some things and others leave me cold. You’ve helped me become a better writer. I’ll miss coming here and seeing your bright happy faces in your avatar photos and hearing what’s going on in your lives and what topics you’re finding interesting. But the internet is forever, right? We’ll always have pixels.


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Writing Everyday

I was flipping through the June 2013 edition of Woman’s Day magazine the other day and saw a short article called, Team Support by Debbie Dehler. She says, “You don’t go from couch potato to completing a race in a day. It’s regularly setting small, realistic goals that gets you to the finish line.” Sure this is all about diet and exercise, but it also applies to other goals as well. In my case, writing goals.

This month I participated in NEW/100. As far as I know, NEW/100 started in a writing group I belong to. NEW means No Excuses Writing, and the 100 stands for at least 100 new words per day. At the end of the day (or when you can) the word count is posted on the loop with NEW/100 in the subject line so that those who aren’t interested can delete the email if they choose.

Yes, in NEW/100, others are expecting us to get our word count in, which gives us the motivation to get those 100 words done and posted. Being accountable to another has helped me start or continue my writing project and for me it’s starting small and continuing until I reach my goal. For me 100 words a day is doable. 100 words is better than writing nothing at all and the words add up. This month I totaled 7,045 new words.

I know that there are additional online supports out there as well. I’ve seen 100 words in 100 days and you can only miss one day. I’ve seen 200 and 500 words sites as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 1k words a day competition.
One of these challenges just may work for you. Slow and steady wins the race.


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Torturing Your Characters

Through my years of writing, I’ve read that it is important for my characters to suffer in some way so that they can grow and become what they need to be in their minds and hearts. I typically do not like to torture my characters too much. I’m as soft in my writing as I am in real life.

Along my journey, I came up with a heroine that was put into an American classroom as a child and spoke nothing but Russian. Moving at a young age had a big impact on how she grew up and moved into the American culture, forgetting her Russian past, despite her parent’s disappointment. To prove her merit, she had to face danger and keep it to herself.

My first sell had a hero with panic attacks, due to an attempt on his life. My second sell had a hero, a rancher that struggled with the wolf entering the county and eating livestock. My third sale had a hero that came back from being a surgeon in the Civil War, recovering and searching for purpose in life.

I had a heroine that lost her family and suffered over selling the family’s vacation home, the emotions on her sleeve affected every move she made. I had a heroine that placed herself in danger in the 1860s because she naively thought she could survive in a man’s world.

But how much is too much? How much can a reader take without being lifted from the page and out of the story? I was told by an editor not to put my heroine on an anti-anxiety pill, even for a short time. Then I had a villain who was mentally ill. He was a bad guy, which seems to be more acceptable, I guess.

I began writing a story about a heroine that had a father with multiple sclerosis and a brother with low functioning autism. Hey, between my family and my job, I know these topics well, but I didn’t enjoy writing about it. Even though it’s said to write what you know, some things can be too close to home.

Lately I’ve been thinking about “torturing” my characters, because I started thinking of an acquaintance I met when I was in college who suffers with bulimia. I thought maybe a supporting character could have bulimia, but when I researched the subject, it was like opening a Pandora’s Box.  For that matter multiple sclerosis can be the same way. Yet, I know there is at least one heroine in a romance novel who has suffered with breast cancer, but I heard it was hard getting the book out there in the first place.

Okay, your turn. How much is too much?


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I received a book for Christmas called “The Truth about Style” by Stacy London. I watch What Not to Wear (she is one of the style consultants) and thought it would be a fun pictorial on style. I didn’t expect the “aha” moment it gave me.

In this article, Stacy recounts visiting some friends’ house and remarking on how well their children behaved. The parents’ simple philosophy enables the young ones to first accept what life has given you and then work out how you move on. In the case of the book, the moral was accept the body you have today, not in a week, not when you’ve lost 10 pounds, and then make it look the best it can in the proper clothing. I encourage you to click on the link and read the short article because Stacy has a more eloquent tagline (three paragraphs down) that I didn’t want to poach, even though I gave her credit. Stacy believes it is even a good life philosophy.

Applied to writing, if you know you have problems writing a synopsis, accept it (without saying I’ll never get it right), and then start changing that reality if you aren’t satisfied. Take a class, practice, practice, practice. Don’t ignore it, fix it. If you don’t accept it as the first step, how will you improve your writing?

I recognize that I need to strengthen my setting descriptions, whether it is outside or inside. If I attend writing classes of any kind, I look for presentations in that category.

What are some of the components of writing you find yourself working on to improve? No fair saying EVERYTHING!


Posted by on January 10, 2013 in inspiration, writing, writing craft


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Guest Kelly Jones

kelly-resized“Shoot from the rooftop,” my husband says, pointing to the Grand Hotel Praha, “and you can drop the Senator beneath the clock tower with a single shot.”

We’re in Prague and the square is bustling with noisy tourists, crammed beneath the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, jostling for the best spots, waiting for the show to begin.  We blend in, completely unnoticed.  We could be plotting a real murder.

I raise my iPad, click on video, and do a 360 to get in the entire square.  A mime dressed all in white (hmmm . . . sometimes ideas just pop into the scene!), waves into the camera.  I’m aware now that people are watching, but I doubt they suspect I’m gathering information for a book.

Often I’m asked, “When you’re writing a novel, at what point do you visit the site?”  I’ve learned that it is best, at least for me, to wait until I’ve got a good first draft.  I’m not an outliner, so it’s important to be aware of the exact places I want to visit before setting out to explore.  I often discover aspects of a scene that are not at all what I’d imagined.  The Grand Hotel Praha, for instance, is not as grand as I’d expected.  I had the killer taking a shot from an upper floor but, as it turns out, the hotel is a mere three stories.  Even with the information available to writers online (including a web cam on the hotel’s website), I’d pictured it differently.

We visit a church on Karmelitska where the world-famous Infant of Prague resides.  I’m a little nervous when I realize we are sitting in full view of what may or may not be a surveillance camera as we whisper back and forth, attempting to determine if  climbing over the communion rail for a better view will, as the sign warns, really set off an alarm.

We spend the next several days roaming, crossing back and forth over the vendor-lined Charles Bridge, photographing the spires and towers of Prague, visiting the Letna Park, where a pivotal scene in my “work in progress” takes place.  We peer into shop windows and photograph myriad marionettes.  One or two of these will appear in the story, though I hadn’t realized there might be so many choices—witches, clowns, skeletons, mermaids, devils, angels, Charley Chaplin, Don Giovanni.

Another question I’m sometimes asked:  “If you are writing about real places and historical events, how obligated do you feel to stick to the facts and when do you fictionalize?”

I always attempt to get it right.  I stick with the facts, but use my novelist’s creative license with the unknowns.  When I wrote about the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries in Paris for my first novel, THE SEVENTH UNICORN, I was delighted to discover the designer of the tapestries remains unnamed.  When I wrote about Renaissance art in Florence for THE LOST MADONNA, I didn’t invent artists, but I did invent a painting lost in a flood.  Hanna, my fictitious character in THE WOMAN WHO HEARD COLOR, becomes involved in authentic historical events in pre-World War II Munich and Berlin.

Good fiction, I believe, will convince the reader it’s real. Authentic setting, even if the author invents it, is essential to a successful novel.  I enjoy writing stories set in real places and feel fortunate to be able to visit these cities.  I’d love to take you along on a journey to Prague.

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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Guest Blog, research, writers, writing craft



A Curse and a Blessing

I’ve been on a mini-vacation of sorts. Not a traditional vacation, mind you. You see, my computer kept working slower and slower until I had no choice but to take it to a repair shop. Now, the last time I had a computer in for fixing, I felt like I’d dropped off my child for two days. What would I do without my computer? What would I do during my down time now?  It’s amazing to me. How did I become so dependent on something I didn’t even grow up with?

Before taking my computer in, I’d been revising a manuscript and was at a good place to stop. I saved everything important and was ready to wait for the repair to take place. While I waited, I used my husband’s laptop to check my email and my blog site. On my Kindle Fire, I was able to check Facebook. So, I was hardly destitute.

By this time in my life, I’ve learned that there is always a silver lining in the difficult things that come my way. The silver lining came in realizing something important about myself. When I wasn’t at work, I was thinking about writing, or not writing, or figuring out when I could write. I looked at the calendar and wondered how much time an event would take and when I’d have enough time to start writing again.

With my newfound freedom, I went shopping with my sister. This was the first time in a while that I felt like I was free to enjoy myself because I couldn’t go home and write. There’s a freedom in this, you know.

This past year, I’d not read as many books as in years past. I used some spare time to read a few of my author friends’ books.

Sure, I feel a freedom of sorts after each manuscript is finished. I probably take a good month off from writing at that time. But it’s different, it’s not because I can’t write it’s because I’m at a place of transition.

My husband asked me how I felt now that my computer was fixed and back home. I believe he thought I would be relieved and as happy as I was the last time my computer had a tune up. But, I didn’t know how to answer him. I stammered, and couldn’t quite find the words to match my feeling. Of course it was good to have my computer back because I need it, and it’s in good shape now.

A writer is not like the person who comes home from work and forgets his job for the evening or the weekend. A writer is thinking about what lays ahead in the story, or the next one he will start. We have no freedom to do things with our time, without sacrificing the story we want to write. It is a balancing act to be sure, one most of us are not very good at. It’s a curse and a blessing. The blessing is that when we do write, we are at our happiest.


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Nonverbal Communication and Writing

Some of the information in this blog comes from Body Language 101 by David Lambert and The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I recommend these books and they can come straight to your e-book reader at a reasonable price.

Body language/Nonverbal communication is the means by which humans convey information through conscious or unconscious gestures, bodily movements or facial expressions.

I didn’t know much about nonverbal communication until I studied it in college and the reason it became important to me is because I work with students on the autism spectrum. We become adept at reading others without a word being said, yet it can be hard for a person on the spectrum to understand nonverbal communication. This is important as communication is 7% verbal and 65 to 93% nonverbal. Researchers claim that the body’s unspoken signals carry five times more weight than the spoken word… even when we try not to show our feelings. The nonverbal message is more accurate and is usually believed over the verbal message, but the nonverbal expression and the verbal message must be considered together.

Research has identified 9 smiles. There are at least six facial expressions found throughout the world, which suggests they are inborn rather than learned. Happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger and disgust.

Nonverbal communication can be broken down into three elements: physical signals (body language and actions), internal sensations (visceral reactions) and mental responses (thoughts).

There are subconscious ways that humans show nonverbal communication. It is the mental activity not directly perceived by the consciousness, from which memories, feelings, or thoughts can influence behavior without realization of it (from Encarta Dictionary).

Nonverbal writing is hard to master and some writers shy away from it choosing to rely more on dialogue and thoughts.

All successful novels have one thing in common: emotion. Without emotion, a character’s personal journey is pointless. Stakes cease to exist. Readers want an emotional experience. Emotions fuel our communication.

 A high school senior brought me the first chapter of her manuscript. It read like a synopsis with lots of telling. Who didn’t do this in their early years of writing? But, readers don’t want to be told how a character feels; they want to experience the emotion for themselves. We need to make sure our characters express their emotions.

Ninety-nine times out of one-hundred you need to show not tell. It adds extra words to the manuscript, too. And of course, nonverbal emotion can’t be told. It has to be shown. Telling puts distance between the character and the reader. They need to feel the emotion. That is by showing the physical and internal response. Emotion is strongest when both verbal and nonverbal communication are used in tandem.

Coming up with something new is hard. A grin for happiness or knocking knees for fear, but they lack depth because they don’t allow for a range of emotions. A single tear says sad, but how sad is she? Will she be crying five minutes from now? Your reader needs to know how upset she really is.

When writing a certain emotion, think about your body and what happens to it when you’re feeling that way. There are plenty of internal and external changes that, when referenced, will show the reader what your character is feeling.

Watch people at the mall or characters in movies. The face is the easiest to notice but the rest of the body is just as telling. How about changes in the voice, speech, or overall bearing and posture?


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