Where to Begin: A Review of Sharon Mignerey’s Workshop … by Samantha Ross

The story is … off. There is something wrong with it, and you don't know exactly what it is. How do you fix it? Something went wrong somewhere. Not sure where. Or what is wrong. You’re stuck. It’s a huge tangle. How do you even start to fix it?

You start at the beginning.

Oh, wait. You tried that. That is where you’re stuck. The attempts to rewrite it, cut out parts, add parts, none of it worked. You made it leaner. Made it juicier. Tried this, tried that, and so many other things. And then you started to doubt the whole story. The whole thing is just one muddy mess.

Go back to the basics. And go to the beginning. Unmuddy the waters.

Sharon Mignerey reminded us of this at her Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers event “Sucked in from Page One - Beginnings.”

Where does your beginning begin?

You, the author have the story in your head, all jumbled in there, parts of it on paper, parts of it still floating around in the universe waiting for the ink. The backstory is done. We know her goal, motivation, conflicts, the obstacles she has to encounter and overcome, both external and deep within her. We know all these things about our story.

Here we are at Chapter One. We need to set the scene up, show the ordinary world so the reader can see the change. Start with the main character dreaming about apple pie, and the hidden meaning of home and safety? Do we add all the back story of her loving, yet somewhat dysfunctional family? It’s all going to change in a moment. Show her everyday life with all the things she has woken up to on past mornings, or all the things she wished she had woken up to, because what wakes her up today is a huge moment of change. The reader has to be aware of her stressful job, and why it is so stressful that she usually sleeps in on the weekends to recharge. That explains why being awake so early is odd today. And, of course, we want the reader to care about her. Show that she feels guilty about arguing with her best friend, how she is unsure of her relationship with her boyfriend; so when she has to team up with her coworker, it’s ok that the sparks fly.

This is where we start, right?


Jump to the problem with their day - the change. Why start there? Because that is where the trouble starts. It’s the inciting incident. That inciting incident is the moment that her life is different from what it normally is, or different from her expectations. It doesn't start with her dreaming, and then being woken up by a frog. You start with the frog dressed in a cowboy outfit sitting on her pillow aiming his shotgun at her forehead informing her in a slow drawl that she has to get up to save her coworker, George. Because if she doesn’t, George will come back as a werewolf, and eat everyone under the age of four on the next full moon.

That’s great you say, but why does the reader care about this character? Where is her character arc? The reader gets to know this character by how she reacts to the frog. Then the reader keeps caring about her as she changes due to the decisions she makes, the actions she takes, and the external and interior struggles as she strives to reach her story goal.

The beginning needs to get to the point. On the first page you need to let the reader know who is telling the story, where they are, what’s going on, and why it is important. And it should give the reader a hint at the story problem - both the external and the internal, and how that can alter the characters life. Don’t dally around with the past. Get on with it.

Begin with the frog. That is the change. The call to action. The moment the character steps onto the road that changes her life. That change gives her a goal, motivation and conflict. It clarifies your story. For the reader, and for you.

Now you are both sucked in.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

Learn more about Samantha and her writing at her website/blog.

For more information about Sharon Mignerey's workshops, please visit the workshop description page on her website.

Look What’s Coming from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers!

rmfw-logo"Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and educating writers seeking publication in commercial fiction. To that end, the organization strives to:

  • Provide an environment of support and encouragement among members
  • Stimulate interest in and appreciation for the art of writing
  • Act as a dissemination point for information concerning commercial fiction writing
  • Bring together authors, editors, agents, and other related professionals for the mutual benefit of all"

Free programs, a fall conference, and a spring retreat!  Who could ask for anything more?

Western Slope: Montrose Free Program

Great Beginnings presented by Sharon Mignerey

Saturday, August 15, 9:00 AM to Noon
Hampton Inn Montrose
1980 North Townsend
Montrose, CO

Participants at “Great Beginnings” are encouraged to bring the first chapter of a work in progress, as this hands-on class is designed to help writers–new or old hands–sort through conflicting advice about first chapters, and create compelling opening chapters that draw readers into the story.

Writers hear all kinds of conflicting advice such as: you MUST introduce a compelling character in an inciting incident, but someone else says you MUST show that compelling character in his/her ordinary world; the reader MUST care about the character’s previous life but then again, you MUST avoid backstory; world building that anchors characters and reader is vital but, no, you MUST NOT do anything that stops the forward momentum of the story….it’s enough to make a writer’s head explode when all the writer wants to do is tell the story.

This workshop will help writers do that – tell a story – while also identifying the elements needed for their specific story to keep the reader turning the pages. This is a free workshop presented by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Writer of the Year Panel

Tuesday, August 25, 7:00 PM
Tattered Cover Colfax
2526 East Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80206

Western Slope: Grand Junction Free Program

Everything You Need to Know About the Next RMFW Anthology presented by Mario Acevedo

Saturday, September 5, 9:00 AM to 12:30ish (Light breakfast at 9:00 AM.)
Grand Junction Business Incubator Center
2591 Legacy Way
Grand Junction, CO

Mario Acevedo, the new Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer anthology editor will present a talk about the anthology, its history, this year’s theme, and why contributing to the anthology will add to an author’s experience as a writer. Mario will discuss the submission and selection process, and the literary expectations of short fiction versus novel-length fiction.

2015 Colorado Gold Conference

Friday, September 11 - Sunday, September 13
The Westin
Westminster, Colorado

2016 RMFW Writers Retreat

March 10-13, 2016
Franciscan Retreat Center
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Registration Opens October 1, 2015

Join RMFW at the official website "Become a Member" page.

Making the Long and Winding Road to Publication a Little Shorter with RMFW

by Mark Stevens, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President

As she accepted the Writer of the Year plaque at Colorado Gold, Linda Joffe Hull talked about living and writing for a decade in the “purgatory of almost” before finding a publisher for one of her books.

As she will tell you, it was a long and winding road.

But Linda credits a certain organization (its initials are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) for the final break-through. As she talked about the two books she has launched in the last 12 months, she talked about the relationships she developed by taking an active role in the group.

Our group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—for the last few weeks it’s been all Colorado Gold this and Colorado Gold that. (See paragraph #1 above.) It was three days of good times for us fiction nerds.

But RMFW is so much more than Colorado Gold and, I dare say, the tremendous variety of other events on the calendar offer an even better chance to develop relationships and make new friends who might have that one key introduction to an agent, an editor, a publisher. The conference can be, you know, intimidating. Fun, sure, but pressure too.

I’m not saying the conference isn’t cool, but now it’s another 12 months away (Sept. 5—7, 2014).

In the meantime, there are plenty of other chances to dive in and make friends—and develop your network—in a more casual setting. (And, in some cases, free.)

Check it out:

  • Later this month, a free two-hour workshop titled “Diving In: Character and Motivation” by Courtney Koschel. Location: Arvada Public Library, downtown Arvada. Date and time: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 1p.m. Courtney is the senior acquisitions editor for Month9Books. Senior. Acquisitions. Editor. Enough said.
  • Also this month, the experienced Trai Cartwight is offering a dirt-cheap online course called “Building a Better Book” that will help you demystify the process of novel building. It’s all about asking—and answering—key structural questions at the heart of every well-executed novel. Trai has roots in Hollywood, among other places. Get to know Trai and it’s one degree of separation between you and Stephen Spielberg. Or something like that.
  • Next month, there’s a free two-hour workshop titled “World Building: Don’t Let the Dream Collapse.” Location and times are still being finalized, but the program will be given by Colleen Oakes, author of the best-selling Elly in Bloom.
  • Also online soon, Sharon Mignerey (a true RMFW legend—she helped start our group about 30 years ago) is running a dialog workshop called “Let Your Characters Do the Talking.”
  • Also next month, over at our Grand Junction home away from home, best-selling author and RMFW stalwart Jeanne Stein is leading a day-long workshop titled “A Publishing Primer.” The first 20 people who register have the chance to pitch to Angie Hoddapp with Nelson Literary Agency and/or receive a two-page critique and 10-minute meeting with Warren Hammond, author of the KOP science fiction series. (Warren also won the Colorado Book Award this year!)

Cool programs, great opportunities to improve your craft and, maybe give you a chance to get to know other writers, develop connections and work your way out of the “purgatory of almost.”
All the details are available at www.rmfw.org. You probably knew that.


2013conference66Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Colorado Gold Conference Master Class: Scene Craft

The five master classes scheduled for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference are featured on this blog August 7, August 8, August 12, August 20, and August 29.

Scene Craft
Instructor: Sharon Mignerey
Friday, September 20, 8:00-11:50 Big Thompson

Scenes are a basic building block of storytelling, but what makes for effective scenes? Robert McKee, author of Story, says “A scene is a story in miniature.” Writers know scenes propel the plot forward, or reveal character, or create suspense, or preferably all three. Just as one size rarely fits all, a one-scene technique rarely fits all.

Stories are made up of some combination of the opening scene, suspense-building scenes, dramatic scenes, action scenes, dialogue scenes, climactic scenes, epiphany scenes, flashback scenes, and the final-resolution scene. Each of these has a different function in a story. The more a writer understands about scene craft, the more control he or she has over the story

Sharon Mignerey is both traditionally and independently published. She’s a contributor to Many Genres, One Craft, and her articles have been published by The Writer magazine. She received an MFA from Seton Hill University in Writing Popular Fiction. Sharon’s books have won several awards, including The Golden Heart, the National Readers Choice Award, and the CRW Keeper Award. She’s an active member of several groups, including RWA and RMFW.

The registration link for the Colorado Gold Conference scheduled for September 20-22, 2013, is http://www.rmfw.org/conference/. The deadline to register for Master Classes is September 15th. The cost of each workshop is $50 add-on to the regular conference fee. More information on the conference schedule, hotel accommodations, and presenters is available in the brochure at: http://www.rmfw.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2013-Colorado-Gold-Brochure-07.17.13.pdf. If you have additional questions, please contact Susan Brooks, Conference Chair, conference@rmfw.org