Don’t miss the chance to get registered for May’s Annual Education Event

Do you have the right stuff in the right place in your book?

Do you know your genre or do you not know your genre?

Those are the questions that will be answered next month at the Annual Education Event. If you haven’t seen the information about it in the newsletter and the e-mails going out, here’s your chance to find out what’s going on.

When:  May 14, 2016, starting at 8:30, ending at 4:00first pages

Where: Table Mountain Inn, 1310 Washington Avenue, Golden, CO  80401

Who:     The a.m. Keynote will be THE RIGHT STUFF: OPENING PAGES THAT LEAD TO YES!

Presented by Kristin Nelson and Angie Hodapp from the Nelson Literary Agency

Genre imageAFTERNOON GENRE-SPECIFIC MASTER CLASSES begin at 1:00, and include:

YA - Aaron Michael Ritchey          Romance - Bernadette Marie

Historical - Linda Collison            Mystery - Rebecca Bates

SciFi/Fantasy/Horror - Nathan Lowell

How Much: $80 for Members, $90 for Non-Members (includes breakfast, lunch and break goodies)

Why       Should you attend?  You won’t get many chances to have a big literary agency read your pages and tell you what changes might make them more likely to catch the right attention. You also don’t often get the opportunity to talk with multi-published authors, in your genre, that are willing to spend hours helping you ensure you’re in the right genre, and discussing how to make you manuscript stand out from the crowd.

If you’re serious about wanting to write the best possible novel, and especially if you want to be published, get registered for this event before it sells out. Not only that, it’s a perfect way to make sure you're all set for Colorado Gold in September – get those pages ready for roundtables and pitches!

For more information on the speakers and their bios, go HERE. To register on-line, go HERE. And to make the most of your writing efforts, BE THERE or be square.

Less Than a Month Until Conference Registration Opens

RMFWConference_Chalkboard_getreadyforregCan you believe it? There’s less than a month before registration opens for the 2016 Colorado Gold Conference.

In this month’s conference post we want to let you know about a few new events along with a reminder about our usual programming. Some events are free and others are paid add-ons with limited space.

Make sure you register early to take full advantage of everything the Colorado Gold Conference has to offer.

New! Blue Pencil Café with Keynote Speaker Robert J. Sawyer
Meet with keynote speaker and best-selling author Robert J. Sawyer for a 15-minute Blue Pencil Cafe. Bring up to four pages from your manuscript for a cold read, if you wish. Or use your one-on-one session with Robert to ask questions and receive advice about your work or publishing in general. Space is limited.

One-on-One Critique with Keynote Speaker Ann Hood
Schedule a critique session with keynote speaker and best-selling author Ann Hood. During your one-on-one session, Ann will provide a personalized critique of your work-in-progress. Space is limited. Submit 10 pages by July 1, 2016.

One-on-One Critique with Freelance Editors
Freelance editors Jessica Morrell and Jeff Seymour are available for a limited number of one-on-one critique sessions. This is a excellent opportunity to find out what it’s like to work with a professional editor. Or, if you’re having issues with your work in progress, they can help you get over the hump. Submit 10 pages by July 1, 2016.

One-on-One Pitch Sessions
Every attendee may register for one free 10-minute pitch appointment with an attending agent or editor. At the time you register, you may choose three acquiring agents/editors. We then do our best to schedule your pitch session with your first choice of agent/editor. You will receive your pitch appointment in your registration materials when you arrive at conference. If you are missing your appointment or unhappy with your assigned agent/editor, see the pitch scheduling volunteers to resolve any conflicts. Additional pitch appointments are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you check in 5 to 10 minutes before your pitch.

One-on-One Pitch Coaching Sessions
Many authors have written great work, but they don’t know how to convey their concepts in a short, intriguing pitch. Or maybe the idea of attending a pitch session scares you to death. If this sounds familiar, add pitch coaching to your registration. Susan Spann and Heather Webb are back by popular demand and are joined this year by Angie Hodapp. Schedule a Friday afternoon session with one of these ladies to practice your pitch. A fifteen-minute session will help tighten and pump up your pitch before your appointment with an agent/editor. These sessions are only $40 and well worth the increased chances you’ll be asked to submit pages.

Agent/Editor Critique Round Tables
These round table critique sessions are monitored by an attending agent or editor. Sessions are offered Friday morning and afternoon, and tables are open to 8 critique participants and 2 auditors. If you register as a critique participant, you will submit the first ten pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page synopsis of your story, to be critiqued by the agent/editor of your choice as well as by the other participants at your table. If you register as an auditor you will only observe; you will neither submit pages nor offer critiques to participants. Participants will receive further instructions once their registration is confirmed. These sessions are a $40 add on. Deadline to register and submit pages is July 15, 2016.

Master Classes
Master classes are back this year and expanded for more offerings. These classes are four hours in length and provide more specialized instruction on writing and the business of being an author. This year’s classes are scheduled for Friday morning and, based on attendee feedback surveys, we're adding a Saturday morning and afternoon class as well. The fee to attend a master class is $60. Space is limited.

NEW! Hook Your Book Sessions
We all spend countless hours perfecting our book summary for the cover copy, online bookstores, and query letter because first impressions count. Without a hook, a reader will pass your book by. That’s why we’ve added a new event to this year’s conference. Hook Your Book is a free thirty-minute opportunity to run your book summary by two experts in your genre. In fact, it’s a little like speed-dating for your book. During conference registration, you’ll request a Hook Your Book session and will be asked for a genre preference. When you check in at conference, your envelope will contain a Hook Your Book appointment. Check with the scheduling volunteers if you have a scheduling conflict and need to reschedule. Additional Hook Your Book appointments may also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you check in 5 to 10 minutes prior to your appointment.

NEW! Mentor Room
This year we've added a room for one-on-one mentor sessions with an industry expert. Book 20 minutes of coaching on things like your cover copy, query letter, a specific scene in your work in progress, publicity, and marketing. The Mentor Room is also open to ask legal questions or make other publishing inquiries. We will have more information about this event in next month’s conference blog post along with a list of scheduled experts. As this is a new program, we're making appointments available for $25 each. Book early, appointments will be limited.

Birds of a Feather Genre Chat
Back by popular demand! Birds of a Feather sessions are an opportunity for authors to gather and discuss trends, challenges, and other opportunities specific to the genre in which they write. This year we have a room devoted to Birds of a Feather sessions all day Saturday and Sunday morning. At the time of this blog, this year’s confirmed Birds of a Feather genre chats include mystery/suspense, romance, western, horror, science fiction/fantasy, young adult, and historical fiction. Sessions are open to all attendees, so get there early to make sure you get a seat to take part in the discussion.

NEW! Post-Panel Book Signing
There will be signing table outside the bookstore this year. Authors who are also presenters will be available to answer questions and sign their books for a short time after the completion of their session. Authors will also be at the table in the morning, during the lunch break, and before evening meals.

Professional Headshots
Schedule a 10-minute photo shoot with photographer Mark Stevens, RMFW volunteer and owner of a Denver-based communications firm. Mark takes thousands of pictures every year for a variety of clients. We are lucky to have him conduct photo shoots for us again this year. Schedule a casual session during the conference or pre-banquet (in your fancy duds). The price for a photo shoot is $40 and includes photo editing and large-size files for all your publicity needs. Expect delivery within two weeks following conference. Appointments will be limited, so sign up early.

Workshops & Panels
As usual, we have an amazing lineup of workshops and panels. Improve your writing skills, learn about publishing options, better your marketing plan, and more. You’re sure to leave this year’s Colorado Gold Conference with a brightened outlook on your career.

Lastly, we want to mention that the Conference Brochure and At-A-Glance will be available soon on the Conference Page. The Conference Page is the hub for all information about pricing, keynote speakers, agents, editors, special guests, and other important information about conference. It is updated regularly.

If you have any questions about conference, email us at

Enough with the resolutions. It’s time for a revolution.

By Terri Benson

Unsinkable-finalI’ve been reading blogs and articles, seeing TV advertisements, and generally being inundated by the need for New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight. Go back to school. Start a new job. Everyone must strive to be better. Because clearly, I’m not as good as I should be, according to “them.”

Well, I’ve had it with “them.” I’m not going to resolve to do anything. What I am going to do, is start my own little revolution.

Instead of doing what others tell me to do, I’m going to fight against the tide. I don’t need a new and better me. I’m OK as I am. I’m happy. I’m healthy. At my age, I’m pretty much done with going to school. I will never be Cindy Crawford no matter how much weight I lose—and my husband loves me anyway. As far as a new job—the one I have will do just fine, unless or until I find one that makes me happier. I don’t need to have a new career.

I don’t need to learn all the new technology; to Tweet, Blog, FaceBook and Pinterest on a daily basis. I don’t have to read every blog, Tweet or post that shows up on my social media. I don’t have to accept every LinkedIn request.

My revolution also encompasses my writing. Because while I’m not going to go back to school, I want to learn to write better. But I don’t need to resolve to do that, because writing is as much a part of me as breathing and I’ll never get enough of reading good words, and working to put good words on paper. I don’t need someone to tell me to write “X” number of words a day. I just need to write when, and what, makes me happy. Writers, like alcoholics trying to quit, can’t be made to write by anyone but ourselves.

So the revolution I propose, and you’re welcome to join me, is a “Let’s just be happy and healthy, and remember that we’re writers because we want to be, not let anyone tell us there’s only one way to do it” revolution.

My banner will be a ripped-off cover of Strunk and White, because rules are made to be broken. And I will decide if and when I’ll submit my work, if I’m ready to market it up one side and down the other, and most of all, I’ll decide if I need to envy great writers or be devastated if I don’t get “the call.” Because being happy is really all that’s important.

Are you with me?


Terri Benson2As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer; she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historic romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story, is available from Amazon.

Short Story Anthologies with Class (for my homework)

By Patricia Stoltey

crossingcolfax150I just finished reading the complete Crossing Colfax anthology from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, then headed off to Goodreads and Amazon to post my comments and rate the book a big beautiful five stars.

Writers who can produce quality stories with unique ideas, imaginative twists, and great characters, and fit all of that into 500 to 10,000 words, deserve our applause. It's hard! The story ideas that appear in Crossing Colfax are very clever. I think I've learned a few things from the fifteen authors whose works are published here. I look forward to many more anthologies from RMFW. To learn more about the individual stories, read Mark Stevens' story-by-story review from January 6th.

Tales of Firelight and Shadow coverReading in the same genre we write is part of our education process. The more we read, the more we learn about what hooks the reader and what fails. We marvel at the creativity of those who find new ways to tell an old story. That works for short story writing as well. I recently had my first traditionally published short story, "Three sisters of Ring Island" (a retold folk tale) accepted and included in Double Dragon's Tales in Firelight and Shadow. The editor of that anthology is Alexis Brooks de Vita.

The taste of publication was sweet. I want more. Reading a variety of anthologies in a variety of genres is how I'm going to study.

Dessert Sleuths Anthology-Cover-HR-200x300As I looked for the best of the best, I discovered a whole big world of writers and publications. For crime lovers, local chapters of Sisters in Crime offer collections like SoWest: Crime Time from SinC Desert Sleuths. RMFW member Shannon Baker is one of the authors you'll find in that group. You'll find many more if you search on "Sisters in Crime" at your favorite online bookseller.

Mystery Writers of America produces quality crime anthologies on a bigger scale. Manhattan Mayhem is coming in 2015. The 2014 publication was called Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War.

There's a group of authors in Minnesota called the Minnesota Crime Wave that published an anthology called Fifteen Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Malice. Colorado Gold favorite William Kent Krueger is one of the crime writers in that collection.

I have a copy of Open Doors: Fractured Fairy Tales on my coffee table as well. Katherine Valdez, a member of my critique group, wrote Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance for this book.

Pooled Ink 2014Winners and finalists for the Northern Colorado Writers fiction and non-fiction contests earn publication in the annual Pooled Ink anthology. The 2014 edition released in November. Reading Pooled Ink should help a writer learn what it takes to final in or win top prize in the NCW contests, so I plan to add the 2014 collection to my stack of homework.

If you have been published in such an anthology in any genre, please leave the anthology name and a buy link below in the comments. I need to round out the genres with a bit of romance, a little sci fi, and some great YA tales.

Sharing What You Know and Making Some Dough

By Katriena Knights

As writers, we often find ourselves focusing on our writing as our sole source of income. While this is understandable, it can also prevent us from seeing other opportunities to add income streams, have some fun, and help other aspiring writers—or even other folks—while we’re at it.

If you’ve been writing long enough to have experienced some success, then you undoubtedly know some things you could pass on to other people who are trying to break into the business or who just want to improve their skills. You probably have other skills, too, that you could share with others. So why not teach a class?

There are many venues where you can teach, whether you want to strut your knowledge in front of a live audience or prefer to hide behind your computer screen. Some are specifically aimed at writers, while others offer classes of all kinds. Some pay after your teaching session, while others allow you to put a class online and earn a cut of the cost each time a student purchases it. Some don’t pay at all, but might serve as a good practice field before you jump into paying venues.

Places you may—or may not—have thought about for presenting classes include:

  • Your local library
  • Your local rec center
  • Chamber of Commerce meetings
  • Local writers’ groups
  • Community colleges
  • Conferences

Some online locations include:

  • Savvy Authors
  • Udemy
  • Our own RMFW
  • Online writers’ groups
  • Online conferences

And one of our RMFW members has even posted a series on how to get a job teaching classes on cruise ships. Of course, nobody is interested in getting a free cruise to the Bahamas or whatever, so your mileage may vary.

Many of these places have websites where you can find a place to apply to teach a class. Some online places, like Udemy, allow you to upload your own classes and determine your own pricing. Most will have to approve your class before it goes live, though.

To propose a class, you’ll usually have to provide a general synopsis, a more detailed outline, a biography, and a list of your credentials, including other classes you’ve taught before. If you’re interested in pursuing this type of work, taking some extra time with your proposals will help give you the best possible chance to have your workshop chosen.

And don’t limit yourself to writing workshops. If you’re looking into your local library, take an inventory of your skills and see what you might be able to contribute. Branch out! Most writers have a wide variety of skills, so don’t forget about them. Our local Chamber of Commerce offers a monthly program discussing business skills like how to make effective presentations—many writers could provide a workshop on writing white pages or ad copy that would probably be well received in this venue. Use your imagination—get out a piece of paper and start brainstorming on what you might be able to offer for an individual venue. And after you’ve given a workshop a few times, you might consider converting your materials into an ebook, thus providing another source of income after you’ve taught people “live.”

Now that I’ve given you some ideas about how to spread your wings into teaching, I’d like to indulge in a moment of Blatant Self-Promotion. I’ll be teaching How to Write Memorable and Meaningful Sex Scenes at Savvy Authors starting tomorrow. They’re still taking registrations, so if you’re interested, drop by

In the immortal words of Bartles & Jaymes (does anybody remember those commercials?) “Thank yew for yer support.”


August RMFW Workshop Announcement: Homicide 101 (For Writers, Not Criminals)

August RMFW Workshop
Homicide 101 (For Writers, Not Criminals)
Saturday, Aug. 23
1 to 3 PM
Sam Gary Branch Library
2961 Roslyn St., Denver (Stapleton neighborhood)

Presented by: Tracy Brisendine

One of the most fascinating and feared crimes is murder—it can completely immobilize a community and tear a family apart. It can also make for some really great writing.

The life and death of your story can depend on the authenticity of your detail, so step beyond the crime scene tape and get it right! Learn basic homicide investigative techniques, motives that induce a person to kill, commonly used cover-up methods, and the importance of physical evidence at a death scene.

Do you know the fundamental characteristics of gunshot wounds, stabbings, and blunt force trauma? What about the tell-tale signs of an asphyxiation death? You will after this class.

So if you plan on offing someone, fictionally of course, don’t miss this free program.

About Tracy:

Tracy Brisendine’s invisible pet dinosaur landed her in the principal's office in second grade, and it was downhill from there. In order to protect her mental health, she allows some of her ideas to bleed out onto the page. When she is not battling demons of deviance, she serves as RMFW's Publicity Chair.

Tracy lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and snaggle-tooth dog named Max. She worked in law enforcement for seven years and has a bachelor's degree in Sociology, with a concentration in Criminal Justice, from Colorado State University. Currently, Tracy works as a locate investigator for the City of Denver, and writes urban fantasy as TJ Valour.

Follow Tracy on Twitter: @WolvesCanEatMe
On Facebook:

Writing for TV – Then and Now … by Trai Cartwright

I love Downton Abbey. I love House of Lies, House of Cards (both UK and USA), Orange is the New Black, Black Orphan, Girls, and I especially love The Walking Dead.

I’m a TV junkie, have seen since I was parked, along with the majority of my Generation X co-horts, in front of a TV rather than sent to after-school programs. My babysitter was Wonder Woman and reruns of One Day at a Time.

To this day, I don’t need bowls of macaroni and cheese or a glass of wine after a hard day – I need a marathon of The X-Files.

When I first moved to Hollywood in the 1990’s, I had a yen for TV writing, but it just felt insurmountable. I’d never even seen a teleplay, much less had any idea of how to write one. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on TV and I had dozens of Buffy episodes dancing in my head. I knew I needed to write TV spec scripts, because that’s how writers got started in TV.

But what exactly was a spec script? How did I write one? And what did I do with it when done?

I got lucky. My temp agency sent me to be the writer’s assistant for a legendary TV writer named Jay Tarses. He wrote for The Bob Newhart Show, and that infamous clown funeral episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? That’s him.

His first and best writing lesson to me was this: “See that bookshelf packed with TV scripts over there? Start reading.”

So I did. I spent the summer transcribing his notes into teleplays (he still wrote longhand, four hours every morning), answering his phone, making him coffee, and eavesdropping on all the meetings for his new show. And I read. And read and read and read.

Then I started writing. I loved it—just loved it. Something about the way Act Breaks formed the structure and how every episode followed a pattern that pleased rather than bored audiences.

I was hooked. I wrote a dozen spec scripts (turns out, this meant I wrote sample episodes for a range of shows on “speculation” – the speculation being that an agent would see talent and send me out to interview for the writer’s staff of a show. Not the show I loved, see, that’s not how it worked—any show that was willing to talk to a baby writer.)

That summer was blissful, and I thought my future was sealed: I’d be Jay’s assistant on the show I was transcribing scripts for, I’d get to learn TV on the set and in the writer’s room, and eventually, I’d get a chance to write an episode for that show, and boom! zang! I’d be a TV writer.

It didn’t work out that way.

The show was a sitcom about a police vice squad, and as it turns out, no one found sexual assault funny. We didn’t even make it past the pilot.

I shook hands with Jay at the end of the summer and he said, “You got talent, kid, keep at it.” I swooned.

I kept at it, but I never could get those writer’s room interviews. I wrote pilots no one would look at without it being packaged with a prominent show runner. Hacking into TV was damn near impossible back then—assisting a show runner like Jay really was my best shot, and I never got another shot like that again.

Meanwhile, the siren’s call of feature length film was louder than ever, and hacking into films was way easier than TV, so I walked away from my dreams of TV.

Still, every now and again, I’d get an idea for a TV pilot and couldn’t help myself—I’d dash it out with a mad gleam in my eye.

Now that I live and teach screenwriting in Colorado, I’ve had an audience-member’s seat for the radical, unprecedented changes in the TV business model over the last few years. TV is no longer a tiny pipeline you could only squeeze into if someone on the other end was yanking you through.

TV has been democratized, and the old rules (and rulers) are dead. Love live TV!

Now anyone can create a series, and there are dozens of “distribution outlets” awaiting—from Netflix to the internet, from cable to, for goodness sake. The pipeline is so vast that there is a desperation for content I haven’t seen since the indie film revolution of the 1990’s.

You don’t need showrunners, you don’t need season bibles, you don’t need an agent making magical phone calls. What you need is an amazing idea for a TV series.

That, and some teleplay writing skills.

So welcome, TV lovers and dreamers, to RMFW’s first ever Writing for TV class in Denver. 8 weeks to pilot. $225 for RMFW members. Begins May 13.

Teleplays have their own formatting and structural secrets, and the range of approaches are numerous. From sitcoms to network procedurals to mythology series to straight up dramas, we’ll discuss the most current techniques in putting your show to paper. This class will help you to identify and develop the storytelling elements at the core of every episode, every series, and every pilot. Don’t have a pilot in mind but want to start building a spec portfolio? No problem—come with an episode of your favorite show in mind.

See ya on the small screen!

Register here.


Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Spicing Up Your Stories

by Katriena Knights

Sex sells. We all know this. Not everybody wants to leap off the edge right into steamy erotica or even romance, and that’s fine—it’s not for everybody. But relationships are an important part of any story, and adding a little spice to those relationships can give you another tool to expand characterization, plot, and other important elements of storytelling.

Work It, Baby…

Like any scene in your story, a sex scene—or love scene, nookie scene, or scene where all the characters are naked anyway so you might as well take advantage of it—has to pull its weight or it doesn’t belong in your final draft. No matter how explicit or non-explicit, that scene has to provide plot impetus and character development. As much as we all might be in favor of it in real life, gratuitous sex has no place in a well-written story. Instead, any intimate encounter between your characters should perform one or more of the major tasks demanded of any scene in a story. It should:

  • Introduce plot points
  • Propel the story forward
  • Contribute to character development

This might seem like a large burden to put on a scene many people would consider extraneous fluff, but it isn’t. Every scene should do at least one of these things, and preferably two or all three. Intimate scenes between characters should show us something about those characters that contributes to their story. The same can be said for a fight scene or a scene where people eat dinner. Every scene in a story has to work for its right to be in that story, so be sure you’re loading those smoochie scenes with details and story elements that keep your plot toodling along and keep your reader reading rather than skipping pages.

No Two Scenes are Alike

There’s a perception, especially among those who don’t care for explicit fiction, that all sex scenes are alike. Some people even skip them, assuming nothing important is going to happen and they can get along to the plot. Your job as a writer is to make sure this isn’t true. Every scene—no matter what happens in that scene—should be unique to the book and the characters you’re working with. No two people are going to say the same things to each other as they tip over the edge from affection to intimacy. No two couples are going to have the exact same experience, the same feelings. If you know your characters well—and you should—you’ll know what about that encounter will touch them most deeply. You’ll know which of their buttons to hit to make the scene ring with emotion rather than dry anatomical details.

Even if your encounter isn’t explicit, it’ll pack a punch if you keep these things in mind. I’ve read well-written, well-integrated scenes that were only a couple of sentences long that were more sensual, erotic, and meaningful than five or six pages of mechanical details that didn’t drag me into the scene or make me care for the characters.

Sure, you can write an entire book without sex scenes. You can also write an entire book without fight scenes or scenes where people eat dinner. This isn’t a judgment call on the types of scenes you choose to put in your story. It’s a reminder that every scene, no matter what the context, should always work its little words off to do its job. And that job is to entice, involve, and hook your reader.

I’ll be teaching an online workshop starting March 3rd that will help you add this kind of punch to any sensual, romantic, or sexually explicit scenes you might want to write. Even if you just want to add a touch of spice to a story rather than diving into the deep end of the explicitness pool, you’ll learn how to ensure those scenes drive the story and are meaningful for the reader. Join me for “Writing Meaningful and Memorable Sex Scenes” and find out ways to enrich your readers’ experience.


Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

Old Writer, New Tricks

By Mary Gillgannon

I’m what I call an intuitive or “into the mist” writer.  I have a general idea of what the story is about, but I don’t really plot. I’m also a linear writer. I start from the beginning and keep going on the rough draft until I reach the end. Between “non-plotting” and writing straight through, I usually end up with a complete mess and then have to go back and rewrite extensively to get a coherent and compelling story. It was pretty typical that for a 120,000 word novel, I’d write about 30,000 extra words. For my 160,000-word historical novel, I probably wrote 300,000!

About five years ago, I decided I wasn’t up to all that floundering and struggle and wasted words. I was going to learn to plot. I attended workshops, read books and talked to other writers about their plotting process. It all sounded good to me… until I sat down and tried to do it. Nothing happened. No story ideas came. My mind went blank and my muse refused to speak to me.

So, I went back to “writing into the mist” and writing linearly. I seemed to be getting better at it with my romances. But when I tried to write a fantasy series, I ended up with a 200,000 word book that needs to be about half that. Not to mention, I can’t market the series yet because I don’t know what happens in the second book, let alone the third and fourth. (I know. George R.R. Martin probably doesn’t really know where his series is going either. But he’s clearly better at this stuff than me.)

The feeling that there has to be a better way keeps gnawing at me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve found it with my latest project. It’s a fantasy romance that I first started years ago. Because I was trying to sell on proposal back then, I actually wrote a very rough synopsis for this book. I started writing based on the synopsis, and after a few chapters, inevitably, the plot began to change. But then I did something different. I didn’t keep writing. I went back and started revising the synopsis to fit the story. As I did that, I realized there were lots of story questions I hadn’t addressed. So I went back and rewrote parts of the first few chapters. In the process, the whole story became clearer to me. For once, I wasn’t writing “into the mist”. I could actually see where I was going.

I’ve decided I would keep up with this new technique with this book. I’m beginning to think that maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t plot, but that I keep writing forward even when I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe if I try to plot as I write the book and fix things as I go along, I won’t end up with such a disaster at the end.

I’ve been writing novels for over twenty years. It would be really exciting if I finally figured out a better way to do it!


Mary GillgannonMary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library, where she she has the enviable task of purchasing adult fiction. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! For more about Mary, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook.

Scriptnotes…Do You Think in Movies?

By Mark Stevens

Do you think in movies?

Can you see your work in progress scene by scene, playing out on the screen?

I do.

I’d be surprised if you don’t.

I’d be surprised if you don’t cast your story. Yes, I happen to think Hilary Swank would make a great Allison Coil. Or Amy Adams.

Go ahead, shoot me for dreaming.

As long as the actress knows her way around a horse, I’d be fine.

I’m interested in story-making, no matter the medium. Novels are my thing. I could never write a play or screenplay. Or epic poem, for that matter.

And this brings me to Scriptnotes, the best podcast you might be missing.


Because John August and Craig Mazin understand what makes a story work. Each week, for free, they talk about specific issues. Sometimes they spend time on mildly interesting inside-Hollywood industry stuff, but the meat of Scriptnotes is the nitty-gritty of screenplay writing itself. I give you the recent extended conversation over “Frozen” (not just another animated feature!) or the brilliant deconstruction (Episode 73) of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But every week has something good.

August and Mazin have serious screenplay credentials. For August, it’s “Go,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Frankenweenie,” to name a few. He also writes musicals and develops apps. He’s a cool geek and tends to take things a bit more seriously than Mazin. But if I’m not mistaken, Scriptnotes was August’s idea and the pairing with Mazin was a great choice.

Mazin—“Identity Thief,” “The Hangover Part II” and many others—brings the attitude, maybe a touch of venom every now and then, and a strong point of view. Dig it. From what I can tell, he takes nothing seriously. He might be the loud one at the dinner party, but you’ll probably die laughing. Okay with me.

Here’s what I like: these two care deeply about what makes stories work and that passion comes through.

My favorite segments involve the “Three Page Challenge.”

Bold podcast listeners and would-be screenwriters submit the first three pages of their screenplay-in-progress and August and Mazin have at it (the three pages are posted online so you can read along, too).

When the pages work (which happens), August and Mazin dole out praise and encouragement and we learn what works—and why. When the pages don’t work (the majority of the time), it’s like attending a forensic exam of a corpse with Temperance Brennan as your guide.

Remember that great workshop (“The Agent Reads the Slush Pile”) at the last Colorado Gold conference where two agents, Kristin Nelson and Sally Harding, dissected the openings of novels in progress? Insightful—and brutal. “The Three Page Challenge” is along those same lines. Character, pacing, action, plot, setting—what is tripping up your story?

I’m always picking up something from August and Mazin. I listen while walking the dog or working out and I can’t begin to tell you how many times an idea has surfaced while listening to them chat about movies and screenplays.

The last 20 episodes are available for free but for a whole whopping $1.99 you can get access to the entire back catalog.

I highly recommend Scriptnotes. A different point of view, perhaps. But it’s all about storytelling and, you know, it’s all good.


Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan. Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014.