Category Archives: Fiction Writing

Super Quick Grammar: Affect vs. Effect

affect effectI’ve seen it three or four times in the last week – mix-ups of “affect” and “effect.” So, since little things like that drive the editor in me crazy, here’s a quick grammar lesson on what the words mean and how to correctly use them.

The basics: In everyday language, “affect” is a verb that most commonly means to influence something. For example, “The storms will affect whether the tennis team plays its match.” “Effect,” on the other hand, is normally used as a noun that shows an outcome – the result of something happening. “She began to feel better when the medicine took effect.”

Of course, like many words in the English language, both affect and effect can have other meanings and be used as other parts of speech. “Affect” can be used as a noun to describe facial expression. (“She affected a blank expression.”) “Effect” might sometimes take on verb form. (“The new principal effected some positive changes in the school.”)

I won’t drag on about other nuances and possible uses. If you’d like to read more, check out this info from, Grammar Girl, or

A trick: And, as suggests, one way to keep “affect” and “effect” straight is to remember that “affect” comes first alphabetically, and an action (to affect) has to occur before you can have a result (an effect).

Your turn: What words do you often see getting mixed up (either by you or by other people)? Let’s straighten them out!

Look for These New Books!

Bash and Running Lean 2

Bash & the Pirate Pig by Burton W. Cole and Running Lean by Diana L. Sharples

I had a few minutes to stop by the closest Lifeway store and was thrilled to find two special books on the shelf — Bash and the Pirate Pig by Burton Cole and Running Lean by Diana Sharples.

Let me tell you a bit about them and why I was so tickled.

Diana and I have seen each other’s names through online writing groups and classes for quite a while and have met and had the chance to talk at a couple of writing conferences. She’s a gifted writer and artist with a heart for teens and has worked hard at this publication game. Running Lean is her debut YA novel about Calvin and Stacey, a high school couple who balance each other out while they each battle private demons. Calvin still grieves for his brother’s death in Afghanistan and Stacey is succumbing to anorexia. Tough topics, but very real life for teens today. I’m only a few chapters into the book, but am enjoying it very much.

Burt is the fearless leader of an online writing critique group that started a couple of years ago for a few of us who were writing middle grade fiction. We read and critiqued Bash and the Pirate Pig from page one, celebrated with Burt when he signed with a literary agent, and threw another online party when he signed a publishing contract. Bash is the story of Raymond, a somewhat dull city kid who gets packed off to spend the summer on the farm with his cousin Bash (Sebastian). Nothing is dull after that! Burt uses lots of stories from his own childhood as the basis for escapades Bash and Raymond (aka Beamer) get pulled into. Cow tipping, cow riding, skunk tracking, hayloft flying, and more had me laughing every time Burt sent a chapter for us to read. It’s a book middle school kids (especially boys!) will love — and the best news is, another story about Bash and Beamer is also under contract.

I’ll post more official reviews later, but for now just know that these are two great books you don’t want to miss. If you see either of them in the store or decide to pick up a copy, come back and let me know what you thought!


Dystopian Meets Greek Gods

If school hasn’t started back for you yet, it probably will very soon. Which means you’ll have loads of reading and work to do for teachers, but we still need to squeeze in some books for fun, right?

House of HadesI’m here to tell you that there are two releases coming in October that I can hardly wait to dig into: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan and Allegiant by Veronica Roth. Two very different books that will take me to completely different worlds — Greek and Roman gods and demigods versus teens and 20-somethings in a dystopian version of Chicago. Add those to my to-be-read pile including a goofy MG pirate tale, several Christian historical romances, and the latest David Baldacci (passed along by my dad), and you’ll see that I read a lot of different stuff.

Here are two reasons why I’m really looking forward to The House of Hades and Allegiant:

The series. I love a good series! If an author hooks me on characters and a storyline in his or her first book, then I want more. I’ve followed Percy Jackson and his buddies on every adventure since The Lightning Thief and haven’t tired of them yet because new twists and challenges keep popping up. New characters too, which keeps it interesting. The story of Tris sucked me in from page one of Divergent, with its fine line between the world we know today and how it could conceivably be if certain things happened. She’s a girl I can relate to and love to cheer for.

AllegiantThe writing. In case you didn’t know, writers read differently from regular readers. Once you start learning how to write fiction, reading is never the same. We pick up on show vs. tell, watch for foreshadowing, notice how the author brings things alive with descriptions or dialogue. Sometimes that drives me crazy because I just want to enjoy the book! But most of the time it gives me a chance to learn as I read. It’s been interesting (to me) to see how Riordan’s writing has changed and grown as the Percy series has expanded. It has more depth, more layers between characters, more complex sentences. And Roth? Wow, I can learn a lot from her. I think her writing is top-notch on all levels. Plus, the last book in each series had a tremendous hook that I’m eager to see play out.

This would also probably be a good place to admit that I only started reading both series after my son did. I kept buying the Percy Jackson books for him and the first series was almost complete before I finally picked up The Lightning Thief for myself. He picked up a buddy’s copy of Divergent when they went camping last summer and came home wanting a copy. He gave it such high marks that I might’ve started reading that one before he finished it. 🙂

So what about you? Are you counting down to the release date for these or some other books? If so, which one and why?

P.S. — Just FYI, The House of Hades releases on October 8, and Allegiant releases on October 22. For more info, visit the blogs for Rick Riordan and Veronica Roth (and, no, I don’t get anything for recommending these books or their authors — just sharing a little book love).


5 Things to Remember During an Interview

question markIt’s OK to be a little nervous before interviewing someone, but don’t let it worry you too much. If you’ve followed the steps from last week about preparing for a great interview, you’re already moving in the right direction. Now that it’s time to talk with the person, follow these five things to make your interview a success.

1. Be the reminder. Just like you can’t remember every possible question without writing them down, the person you talk with might not remember why you’re interviewing him or her. Take a minute to remind him or her that this is for the school newspaper or a history class assignment or whatever. If you have certain things you’re supposed to include in the interview, mention that, too. It will help your interviewee to know the kinds of questions you’ll be asking.

2. Double check everything. Once you’re ready to begin the interview, take one very important step before asking the first question on your list. Ask the person how to spell his or her name, and verify other details you’ll be including in your article. For example, if you’re interviewing an author about her new book, you’ll want to get the title right. If the new coach says he went to college at USC, ask whether he means the University of South Carolina or the University of Southern California. Every detail matters.

3. Let them talk. You don’t want the coach to talk about his vegetable garden when you’re trying to learn his plans for basketball season. But you also don’t want to be so focused on your list of questions that you don’t give him the chance to talk about some things he enjoys. You might learn some great stuff once he starts talking about something a bit different, but don’t let him hijack your whole plan.

4. Ask the best question. Even after many years of writing, I’ve learned that no matter how well I prepare, I’ll still probably leave a question off my list. That’s where my “one best question” comes into play. When we’re nearing the end of the interview, I ask, “What would be the one thing you’d want people to know about _________?” I fill in the blank or maybe change the question a little, depending on the situation. For an author, I might ask, “What’s the one thing you hope people will learn by reading your book?” For the grandfather who flew in World War II, I might ask, “What was the one thing that surprised you most about flying during a combat mission?” The “one thing” question has given me some of the best answers during interviews with all sorts of people. It can work for you, too, no matter who you interview.

Large wooden doors5. Leave the door open. Just because your time runs out doesn’t mean the interview ends. Once you sit down to write, you might think of other questions or you might need help remembering something. That’s OK – professionals can find themselves in the same situation. As you end the interview, thank the person for his or her time, and ask if you can call or email if you have questions once you start writing the article. I can virtually guarantee they’ll say “yes.”

Your turn: If you could ask one person one question, who would it be and what would you ask?


5 Steps to Prepare for a Great Interview

Interviews aren’t just for people on the news. You need to interview people sometimes, too, even if you don’t think of it that way. Maybe your teacher wants you to talk to your grandparents about something for history class. Or maybe you’re supposed to write an article for the school newspaper about the new basketball coach.

QAHowever you look at it, you have questions and that other person has the answers.

Find the answers for yourself – and make sure it’s a success – by following these 5 steps to prepare for interviewing the person.

1. Research things ahead of time. Learn about the person you’ll be interviewing and some basic things about the subject you’ll be discussing. You don’t have to know everything (that’s what the person you’re interviewing is for), but you need to know enough to feel comfortable asking questions.

2. Remember the point. Know why you want to talk to this person – what you want to learn – and keep the interview focused on that. Be sure the person you’ll interview also knows the purpose so they won’t talk about everything else. The other stories might be interesting, but if they don’t relate to your assignment, they won’t do you any good. If you’re supposed to write about your grandfather’s experience as a pilot during World War II, talk about that. Save the recap of last week’s fishing trip for another time.

3. Create your list. As you decide on the questions to ask, write them down – preferably all in the same place, so you can keep track of everything. The list will grow and change as you prepare, and that’s OK. Try to write questions that can’t just be answered with “yes” or “no,” because that will give you much better information to work from when it’s time to write.

4. Prioritize. Once you have all your questions written, prioritize them so you’ll always be able to cover the most important points. Years ago, I scheduled an interview with a retired professional athlete for an article promoting things for a local hospital. We scheduled a 30-minute time slot and I researched and organized things again and again to prepare. When I called for the interview, I learned that my time had been cut from 30 minutes to 10 minutes because some other commitments had filled the athlete’s calendar. Oh no! I didn’t even have enough time to panic. But I had prioritized my list, so I was able to get answers to my top three questions before our time ran out. If I hadn’t rewritten my questions in order, I would have wasted precious minutes trying to figure out a game plan.

checklist5. Confirm details. When you schedule the interview, confirm all the details before ending the conversation. Verify the time and date you’ll be talking and whether you’ll talk over the phone or face-to-face. If you’ll be calling, get the best phone number to use. If you’ll be interviewing in person, get directions to the place you’ll meet (unless you’re absolutely sure). Also write down the person’s email if possible, so you have a back-up way to contact him or her if needed.

Your turn: Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever interviewed? Or, who would be the one person you’d love to interview more than anyone else?

Next time: Now that you’ve done the prep work, make sure the actual interview goes smoothly. I’ll share 5 ways to make that happen – including my best interview question, no matter who the person is or what we’re talking about.

Antagonist or Protagonist?

When you start learning more about fiction writing at school, or when you have to do book reports or projects, you’ll hear about the antagonist and protagonist. A lot of people think of the protagonist as the good guy/hero and the antagonist as the bad guy/villain. That’s true in a lot of ways, but those aren’t the only definitions. The idea of protagonist or antagonist goes deeper.

If you look up the definition in Webster’s, protagonist means “the main character in a drama, novel, or story, around whom the action centers.” Does it say the protagonist is “the good guy everyone roots for”? Nope. Of course, he can be, but the true definition is that the protagonist is the main character of the story. Usually, that main character is a good person we want to win in the end. But sometimes the protagonist might not be so good or might not act like a hero, especially in the beginning. Hopefully, that character will learn and change and be better (or nicer) by the end of the book. (That process of growing and changing is called the “hero’s journey,” which I’ll cover in another post.)

Now let’s take a quick look at the antagonist. Going back to Webster’s, you’ll find “the person who opposes or competes with another; adversary; opponent.” The antagonist is the bad guy who makes the protagonist’s life hard and who keeps the protagonist from reaching his or her goals. There are all sorts of reasons why an antagonist does that. Maybe he wants the same thing as the protagonist, but only one can have it. Maybe there’s some type of “history” between the two characters and the antagonist is trying to get revenge for something that happened long ago. Maybe the antagonist doesn’t have a direct connection with the protagonist, but is just wacko and the protagonist becomes the focus of the craziness. And the list could go on …

Does the antagonist always have to be a person? You usually see it that way, but it doesn’t always have to be like that. Sometimes you’ll read stories where a terrible event (like the Black Plague) or nature (think, tsunami) or other non-human things might be an antagonist. If it’s something big and important to the story and can cause lots of problems for the protagonist, it just might be an antagonist.

Here’s the last thing to keep in mind when you’re writing: A good story will have a protagonist and at least one antagonist. Why? Because they balance each other out. It’s boring to read about a character who gets everything he wants the first time around, without any twists or challenges along the way. By the same token, it’s also not fun to read about an antagonist creating problems, problems, problems — without ever getting a break from the bad stuff. One needs the other before you have a truly balanced story that readers will keep enjoying.

If you have a favorite protagonist or antagonist from something you’ve read lately, share about it in the comments. Be sure to let us know why they’re your favorites,too.

Happy writing!

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