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WRITING: Make a Plan

One of the things I do with new clients and/or authors is have them take me through their process. Some authors are “Pantsers” and others are “Planners”. Regardless of what your process is, you need to have a plan for when the story gets long enough. Keeping everything in order is a huge task. There are several ways I teach the process because everyone is different. Some are OK with hearing the explanation, others need to see it.

Stick with me a few min’s here while I go through a couple of steps. If any of them help you, please comment and let me know! I always like to hear feedback so I can continue to get better and help more authors!

Map One

The picture above is what I call “sorting it out”. Notice they are all chaotic and out of sorts? That’s OK. It’ll make sense to you once we go further. For those of you who say this is a lot of work? Trust me. For authors/writers whose thought process is all over the place, this is a good tool to use to learn how to sort through the whirlwind of ???’s they have bouncing around an overactive mind.

So, you have this amazing idea, right? Great!

Now, what you want do is throw the thoughts out like darts. Get them all out! You can use different color pens, different symbols, etc., to keep things in order and to differentiate. Stars can be characters or minor details, the pink circles can be larger ideas you want to connect (the lines) so you know how to put it all together when you begin to write.

Once you’ve done the sorting (think laundry!) you can move onto one/more of the next process:

This map is where we begin to streamline and make sense of the chaos. Remember! More experienced writers may not need to sort the dirty laundry. It’s fine to start where you feel comfortable and what your skill level allows. A lot of my clientele say, “I have this concept but I have no idea where to go with it!” In those cases, we need to analyze how much of the story we really have to work with before we start throwing words down.

As much as it’s important to “just write” it’s also important to have a direction. Many new writers can get hung up on details, or not having an end in sight. It’s similar to being tossed in a city you’re unfamiliar with then left to find your way home. It can be daunting and discouraging. Taking an author by the hand and helping them to sort through the storm while encouraging them to listen to their own inner voice is the best assistance you can give them.

Now, on to the next step:

Map Two

Take all the “darts” and start arranging them by importance to your story. Answer the “W” questions, figure out the “How” and develop your “Resolution”. Once you’ve completed a portion of these things, you should-in theory-have a great foundation for your piece. If you want to stop and jot some words down, this is the best time to do it. It’s fresh in your mind, the creative juices are going, and you’re developing ideas you may want (or have forgotten) to integrate.

SUGGESTION: Fill in the blanks with pencil so you can erase/change/alter.

Do you have a story you’re stuck on? If so, do any of these maps help you? If you use the techniques, I would love to know if they helped/hindered you! Comment below and let’s write!

Stay tuned for the next tutorial and more “maps” for getting the story out. If you like what I have to say, you can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook.

The De Sols: Backstory

I started writing about the De Sol family on, or around, the year 1996. It started with AOL RP rooms, and I brought out a table top character I put together once: Gabrielle De Sol. Originally, she started out as my dominatrix vampire. (Hey, I said it was for fun!) She evolved … I evolved … and the story of the De Sols came to fruition. A huge family tree blossomed, I recruited more people to play characters, and eventually … the “saga” was born.

The De Sols are a noble family. Mother De Sol was the goddess of the sun, and Father De Sol was Lord of Dragons and God of the moon. A star-crossed love brought them children, happiness, death, and destruction.

Before UNDERWORLD. Before GAME OF THRONES (TV). My love for dark fantasy took root in this simple concept: A family who was hunted by those who didn’t understand the love of two souls who were never meant to come together. It is a dark story, it is a story of Shakespearean tragedy. But overall? It’s the heart of who I am, and who I became, as a writer.

Some of the influences for Gabrielle were characters like “Razor” (comic book), and of course, there would be no roleplay without my love of D&D. Dragons, Drow, Trolls, Goblins … I love them all. Creatures with an epic story to pull you in, to lose yourself for a little while, and characters who become a part of you forever-those are the stories I love.

I write horror but I always mix an element of fantasy or science fiction to it. I feel it adds color and depth to the formula. With that in mind, I’ve decided to give you the De Sol Storyline, here. In the coming weeks, you’ll see it evolve, you’ll see the changes in real time. Hopefully, you feel a part of its process and growth. Feel free to comment and offer suggestions. Even if I don’t take the suggestions, it helps more than you know.

Until then … May the light fill the darkness and show you the way.

Artwork by Dorian Cleavenger

Something New

I’m going to try something new. Because my time is so limited, there are times I only get a few words in at a time. So, once a week I’ll be adding a piece of a story here. You can follow, or you can binge when it’s done … or don’t read it! (I hope you will, and comment with feedback 🙂 )

What do you think?

If I’m brave, I’ll try designated days. No Patreon, just free reading.

#Mentoring #WritingTips – Make Every Word Count

Today I want to address words and how to make them count. I know I’ll get some pushback on this from the masses but remember: these are only my opinions. Use what works for you.

When I start mentoring someone new, I ask them to go through their story and remove a certain word first thing. The word, “that”. This word is what I call an empty calorie (junk food) among the serving of healthy words. It’s become overused these days because it’s common speak (street talk, as I call it).

Try it. Go through one paragraph and remove the word that if it doesn’t change the sentence. Now read it again. Does it sound more concise? Do you miss the word if it’s gone? Does it give your sentence a “gut punch” effect? Finally, does it make your words and their delivery sound more confident?

Trust me, I still have to go through and remove them from my own writing. What I’ve noticed, however, is it’s such an overused and unnecessary word, it drenches the pages. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled 6 books off the shelf to peruse the first page, how many jumped off the page at me. I couldn’t continue reading because the sheer number of “that’s” took me out of the story before it ever began.

Go through your own story in Word. Do a word search for “that” and see how many times you’ve used it. Is it 20 times? 50? More?

The next step after removing unnecessary “that’s” is to search for any word ending in -ly.

Here’s where I get challenged most often: using an -ly adverb is lazy. I know. Hearing it stings. That’s what mentoring is, though. Correcting bad habits and creating good ones.

Ok, why do we remove them?

Reason number 1: Most -ly adverbs (quickly, slowly, quietly) can be considered perspective.

Example: He backed up slowly.

How slow? If someone is backing up, are they surprised? Afraid? Dizzy?

Try using your words and make them count.

He took a few steps back. Each step was tentative, seeking the ground beneath him to keep from tripping.

Or

I raised my hand in slow motion, the room spinning around me.

Or

Unsure of where the chair was, I took one slow step back before the other followed.

See how it gives the sentences a better visual? Instead of using “slowly” I gave a better idea of what slowly looked like.

Most times, you can change the position of a few words to eliminate the -ly word and it will make the sentence sound more confident, leaving the reader with a solid description of what’s happening. Adding -ly gives a meek sound to your words and gives the impression of a week vocabulary.

Are you up for the challenge? Give this a try and let me know if it worked for you. Do you feel it made your story more confident sounding? I’d love to hear from you!


If you love these tips and want more, please comment and share!

Step 1: Begin

One of the hardest things to remember in any part of your life is to stop and return to the beginning. Think about it for a moment: You’re deep within a plot of a story you began with so much excitement. You’re staring at the words but you get frustrated because something isn’t right. Maybe the characters are flat, your protagonist isn’t doing what (s)he’s supposed to, or perhaps you can’t figure out where to go next.

Any of this sound familiar?

When I mentor, one of the things I try to convey is how to keep connecting things. Connections are a constant reminder to your reader. It says, “Hey, pay attention”, and it gives tiny fireworks of moments to the readers mind.

They don’t have to be big things. It may be a secret thought, something subtle and delicate, connecting your character and the reader. But it makes the connection personal and intimate, and in turn, unforgettable.

It can also create a three dimensional version of your character, allowing the suspension of believability to become stronger.

Example: Your character seems to know a lot for their age.

Go back to step one. The character knows a lot because…?

  1. Maybe they were a gifted student
  2. One of their parents taught them things at an advanced level due to their own level of expertise
  3. They were part of an experiment which enhanced their learning capabilities
  4. They are supernatural (vampire, werewolf, etc)

Do you see how it gives opportunity for storytelling? You know these things about your character. Now you have to create this for the reader without a boring info dump.

Which is more engaging?

Marie was smarter than most girls at her school. She was always getting A’s without ever studying.

Or

Marie glanced at the page. Her father taught her to speed read as a child, allowing her to take in more information at a rapid rate. She smiled when she overheard her classmates making up wild stories of how she never studied.

In the second example we are in on the secret. We know Marie’s dad taught her to speed read, she enjoyed the speculation from her classmates, and it increases our perception of who Marie really is.

When I write, I like to create time lines. When your eye has a guide, it stays focused. I know where my story starts and where it ends. Everything between must connect the two points. If I get stuck, I slide back to step one.

Who is my main character?

What is the connection between the main character and the story?

What is the conflict?

What is the resolution?

Asking these questions will always circle you back to the beginning. Knowing your roots is only the first part. Letting them expand and settle into the earth is a skill we can all learn.


If this article has helped, please pass it on and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Conversations with Mentors: Daniel Chernault

I’ve interviewed several of the mentors who brought me to where I am today. In the upcoming weeks, you’ll see them posted here. Though none of them are in the publishing industry, the things I learned from their expertise still apply. I hope through this series, many of you will find something to take away from it, be inspired, and share so others can learn, too.

I met Dan when I was working for a car dealership a few years ago. I walked in with no prior experience in accounting and sat down with him and his assistant CFO for an interview. I was immediately drawn to Dan’s candor and sense of humor. There aren’t many people who can mix the two without one of two things happening.

A: No one takes you seriously because you’re trying to be a “comedian” or
B: No one likes you because you’re too honest and get labeled an “asshole”

The honesty was a breath of fresh air. In the course of two years, I grew to respect Dan more and more. One of the most intelligent people I had ever met, he was open to sharing his knowledge if “you weren’t an idiot”. (I may, or may not be quoting him. I plead the fifth.)

If you could handle the task, Dan gave it to you. And in the short time I worked for him, I learned an incredible amount of things. It showed me what my own potential was, it allowed me to never settle (once I learned one thing, he tossed me another), and it taught me to trust my gut. Even if I was wrong. And yes, I was wrong a lot. He never made me feel stupid when I was, but rather used it as a learning experience. See, it’s ok to be wrong if you are genuinely willing and capable of learning. Being open, and being vulnerable to being wrong is how you grow. In fact, it made me more confident. It taught me to ask questions, think critically, and never settle.

One of the things I learned from Dan which I apply to running Stitched Smile Publications is to ask: “Is this the best you can do?” If it isn’t the best work you can turn in, then don’t settle for “good enough”. (I really hate that term!)

If it’s your best, it’s your best. Own it. Learn from it. Get better.

Experiences make us who we are and if we constantly shy away from being uncomfortable or being vulnerable, if we never take a risk in life, we’re condemned to being a box of crayons: Individual colors neatly packed in cardboard. Same colors, same label, no matter how bright the outside is.


LV: Tell us a little about yourself. What your line of work is and area(s) of expertise

I’ve been in the automobile business forever.  43 years or so.  I worked as a Zone Manager for the Ford Motor Company, as a controller is some small dealerships after I left Ford, and as General Manager of a Chevy dealership.  I spent four years with the National Automobile Dealers Association as a consultant and financial management instructor.  I spent the last 24 years as Chief Financial Officer of the Russell & Smith Auto Group in Houston.  Much of what I’ve done has been accounting-related, with the rest being sales.  I’m currently Vice President of Sales for ProBilling and Funding, a company which offers receivables management products.

LV: What things motivated your “younger” self to succeed?

Probably the two summers I spent working as a construction laborer, or maybe it was my high school job at McDonalds…..  Seriously, I just never thought there was anything I couldn’t do.  I think that was our attitude when I was in college (late 60’s).  We just knew we would be successful.  It helped that big corporations were actively recruiting us, and it was not unusual for one of us to receive a number of employment offers prior to graduation.

LV: A lot of people struggle with feelings of failure. When we look at our mentors and leaders, we sometimes forget they are human and have gone through similar experiences. Can you recall a time when you felt your lowest? Tell us about it and how you got through.

Probably getting fired from what I thought was going to be my dream job in Atlanta.  I left that thinking, “I’m tired of the car business.  Maybe it’s time to find another line of work”.  I spent about a month doing nothing constructive, almost trying to avoid looking for another job.  I finally got off my ***, put my resume together, and, within a couple of months, had five job offers in hand.  It never really occurred to me, once I finally started looking,  that I might not find the type of job I was seeking, only that it might take some time.  The average time between jobs for my type of job was around four months, I think I solved it in three.  You just have to be like the “little engine that could”.

LV: You served in the military for many years and rose through the ranks through hard work. Did the military teach you that, or do you feel like people are born with a natural desire to be a leader?

 Hmmmmm…..    The military, or at least the Army, turns ordinary people into remarkable leaders, whether they want to or not.  I don’t believe you are born with the desire to be a leader, I think you become a leader when you need to be one, or when you are needed to be one.

LV: What are your biggest strengths, and weakness?

Biggest Strength:  I never give up or give in.

Biggest Weakness:  I never give up or give in.

LV: What do you do to keep yourself centered with everything you have going on in your life?

I asked my father a similar question; my step mother had a number of health issues, life wasn’t going well, and it had to be tough.  I asked him how managed everything, and he basically said “Put one foot in front of the other.  Repeat”.  The best way to remain centered is to keep doing what needs to be done.  The rest of it will take care of itself.

LV: What traits do you look for in a person prior to making the decision to invest time into teaching them? And once you’ve begun to mentor them, what are your expectations?

Not to disparage testing……but I think you just know who that person is. It’s not about education, or age, or anything actually measurable.   It doesn’t take long to figure out if a person wants to learn.  The results come fairly quickly.  My expectations are simple:  they learn what I’m teaching, show me that they’ve learned it, and then show that they’re able to go to the next learning level without being told what it is.  I value creativity, and the ability to think.

I’m often guilty of giving somewhat vague guidance.  That’s on purpose; let’s see what the person you’re mentoring can do with this.  That’s designed to drive the unwary completely crazy.    I had a Drill Sergeant in Basic Training who kept saying, “Got no time for slow learners”.  He was right, at least for what we’re discussing.

LV: I know you read a lot. What are some of your most recommended books?

This is the answer which gets rotten fruit thrown at me, but my favorite book is Atlas Shrugged.  I first read it when I was about 15, and I’ve worn out several copies.  If you have a few hours I’ll be glad to explain what it’s really about.

After that?  Anything by John LeCarre.  Anything by Charles Dickens.  The entire Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter.  I’m kind of a nut for British murder mysteries, so you can toss in Agatha Christie, and P.D. James.

I like to read books about business.  Not business books.  One of my all-time favorite books about business was called, “From Those Wonderful People Who Gave You Pearl Harbor”.  It was written by a New York advertising executive, and chronicled his life in the ad business.  Really interesting insights, along with being absolutely hilarious.  I’m sure it’s long out of print.

For business books I highly recommend Peter Drucker’s “Management”.   Some things just don’t go out of style.  Actually, any of Drucker’s books are good.

LV: One of the things I admire about you is how you can take an idea and run with it using what you’ve learned from past experiences and then adding your own touch. What is your method for deciding if something is a worth pursuing, or if you should discard it?

First, did I even understand the idea?  The best ideas are the simple ones, and the ones that take too much explanation probably aren’t the right fit.  Warren Buffet said, “I don’t invest in things I don’t understand”.  I’m with him.

Second, does it sound like us?  Any idea, whether it comes from inside or outside, has to be something that fits with our culture.  If it doesn’t, it won’t work.

Third, is it actually legal? There are some great ideas which may be legal in one state, but not another.  One of my students at NADA heard about an idea to place used vehicle for sale ads in the newspaper without identifying the dealership, only putting the phone number in the ad.  Turns out that the person who had given him the idea was from state where that type of ad was legal but, unfortunately for my student, it wasn’t legal in his state.  The state DMV suspended the dealership sales license for two weeks.

Fourth, is it going to make our lives better?  The best idea I ever heard came from a meeting that Ford put on, and made us think about what was going on in the dealership.  One of the focus items was employee morale.  What came out of that meeting was that we were going to build a lunchroom in one of the buildings which had some unused space.  We built the room, put in vending machines, microwaves, tables and chairs, and the employees absolutely loved it.

Fifth, and the really important one, is whether we can actually implement the idea and keep it implemented.  I’ve seen a lot of great ideas and programs for which the dealerships have paid lots of money die within a few months of launch.  There are always excuses and reasons why the program failed, but the biggest one is that there was no buy-in and no plan to solve that.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “yeah, we used to do that, but I guess we stopped”.  And nobody noticed or cared.  On to the next magic solution.

LV: Sales is a hard business. Whenever you begin a business, sales and marketing are its bread and butter. Without it, your business starves. Are there certain tactics that work across the board, regardless of what kind of business it is? What are they, in your opinion?

You have to show that you are different and be able to rise above the clutter of other businesses in the same line of work. I was reading today about a number of companies which have tried to become the next Facebook.  I had never heard of any of them.  I wonder why they failed to gain any large number of users?  Apparently, even Google had one, with about 500,000 supposed subscribers.  They announced this week that they were ending the service….and nobody actually noticed.  It’s one thing to start a business.  It’s quite another to prove to your public that you have a product to which they need to give the time of day.  If your business plan is to just be like the other guys, you’ll fail.

Google gained prominence by simply being better than everybody else.  They’ve become so good they’re now a verb.  We don’t search the web; we Google it.

Gallery Furniture is a furniture store in Houston.  A furniture store in a world of furniture stores.  It is owned by a gentleman called “Mattress Mack”.  He does is own television commercials.  HORRIBLE commercials.  Stuff that no self-respecting ad agency would create.  And yet……he has a huge operation, everybody knows who he is and he probably makes a ton of money doing it.  He managed to rise above the clutter.  He also promises same day delivery.  “Gallery Furniture Delivers Today”.  He’s hit that line really hard, and has billboards all over Houston which simply have the word “TODAY” on them.  Powerful stuff.  He blows the rest of the competition away.

The internet has made the process much more difficult.  I just Googled “car dealer”.  It said there were 539,000,000 results.  Tough to get noticed in all of that clutter.

LV: You retired from the military, and not too long ago you retired from another longtime career only to begin a new journey. First of all, congratulations on both achievements-but I do question your definition of “retirement”! Secondly, do you find it to be a trait in successful people to never stop working? Or do you feel it is your Achilles heel?

I think successful people never stop working, or at least never stop thinking.  It may be everybody’s dream to spend their “golden” years sitting on the beach sipping a beer….but what do you do the second week?  If you can move from a sixty hour a week job to a twenty hour a week job which still gives you the opportunity to use your talents, why not?  I retired, in large part, because I was just tired of doing the same thing every day.  It didn’t mean I wanted to quit working – it meant that I wanted to quit that job.  I now have much better control of how I spend my time, which is currently half in Houston and half in Play del Carmen, Mexico.  Much better than having to be at my desk everyday…..

LV: What words of advice would you give to someone who has a dream of success but has no point of reference of where to begin?

Take risks.  Take the job nobody else wants – it might be the perfect place for you to learn.  Don’t be afraid to move on to the next job – and make sure it’s a better one than the one you’re leaving.

LV: And finally, who are the mentors and people you admire, and why?

Mentors, not so many.  At the time I started working, the idea of mentoring hadn’t made it into the business world.

People I admire?  The ones who stood up for what was right, no matter what the cost.  The ones who told the truth, however inconvenient.  We seem to have a shortage of them lately.

For Fun:

  • What’s your favorite quote?

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking about real money”.  Everett Dirksen.  It’s believed that Dirksen didn’t actually say that, but he said it sounded so good that he never denied saying it.

  • Tell me about the closest person in your life who you’re comfortable talking about. What would they say if I asked them, ‘What is the one characteristic they totally dig about you?’

No comment.

  • Name a song/artist we can listen to, to get a good feel for who you are.

“Girl from Ipanema”.  Stan Getz/Astrid Gilberto/Joao Gilberto.  Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim.  Set me on the path to love jazz and Brazilian music.