Posts Tagged author Kristen Lamb

The Truly Dramatic Plot—Shakespeare, Instagram, & Why Macbeth is STILL Awesome

Shakespeare Twitter

I love to think of myself as an author, blogger, warrior princess in my own mind and? TALENT SCOUT! I also love collecting talented people, which recently my attorneys informed me this is technically called “kidnapping” and is a “felony.” Oh well. Anyway, when I ran across Alex, I couldn’t wait to share his talent and voice with you guys. He is smart, funny, brilliant, and, since he is a W.A.N.A. he is also unusually good-looking.

It is a curse we all bear….

*heavy sigh*

So to mix things up a bit, Alex is going to be helping me through the holiday season. This is a guest post by Alex Limberg from ‘Ride the Pen.’ Please welcome him with thunderous applause! His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. And today, he is here to inspire us to look at plot in a new way. Take it away, Alex!

*insert thunderous applause here*


You might think social media is a pretty new thing; and there is no denying it:

Edgar Allen Poe didn’t tweet his anxieties, Jane Austen didn’t present herself seductively on Instagram, and William Shakespeare never even wrote a single Facebook entry!

Or did he?

Let’s put it this way: While social media didn’t exist centuries ago, its underlying psychological principle is as old as mankind. And that principle is: The audience loves drama.

The tickle people nowadays find on Facebook and Pinterest, they could 400 years ago find in Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, in Shakespeare’s times, dock workers were watching his comedies laughing and slapping their thighs.

So what better to study for drama than Facebook and Shakespeare?

And as Kristen’s blog is about creative writing, out of the two we should pick Shakespeare. Let’s take one of the most famous plays ever written and see how a masterful dramatic plot comes about: Let’s take a look at Macbeth!

Plot? What’s Plot?

Macbeth tells the story of a nobleman (Macbeth), who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King of Scotland one day. This might have sparked his appetite for power, for he subsequently murders the king and rules the kingdom with malice. In the end his tyranny becomes so bad an alliance of nobles has to get together to defeat him and behead him at his castle.



Now let’s start out by explaining why an apple is an apple, i.e. answering the question: What is plot?

Plot is the movement of characters over the chess board of the story; it shows us what the figures do and what happens to them.

Good plot is plot that is moving the audience: It makes them feel suspense, laughter, anxiety or whatever else (Side note: If it’s a comedy and they only feel anxiety, you have it the wrong way). Plot is everything that happens, on a broader scale.

Additionally, plot will lead to POSSIBILITIES not acted out, which are very important as well, because they make the audience ask themselves QUESTIONS, e.g. the extraordinarily important question: What will happen next?

What MIGHT happen is often more thrilling than what actually DOES happen– you are aware of this if, for example, you have ever been out doing your thing while wondering whether you turned off the stove before leaving the house.

Excitement comes from what IS and from what COULD BE. What actually is reality, is a little less exciting, because, well, it is already. It’s the unknown that excites us the most, it’s the possibilities: How will your cat and your new pet canary get along? What will Grandmother say when she finds out your new boyfriend works for Burger King? Will drinking horse urine really improve your health?

Questions upon questions.

Once you get the answer, things might become very exciting for a short time, but the joy or desperation will wear off quickly. A question left hovering, however, could tickle you forever…

What REALLY excites your audience is not the answer to the following question, but the question itself: “WHAT THE $&*% IS GONNA HAPPEN NEXT!?“

So how do you make a plot really fascinating for the audience?

You do it by letting them wonder about as many QUESTIONS as possible. You see, this is the trick about creating a thrilling piece of plot: The game is about QUESTIONS! The more QUESTIONS the audience are asking themselves and the more urgently they are asking them, the more they will love your story.

Suspense is created by QUESTIONS the audience directs towards themselves (because, well, there is absolutely nobody better around to direct them at…).

Solving these questions, in turn, leads to new questions, and it is also essential to ask those new questions BEFORE the old ones are resolved! This way you are making sure you have your audience hooked constantly and without any gaps in between, which would mean a lagging plot, or, in the common man’s words, a really boring story.

While the plot constantly develops in a dynamic way, new burning questions will arise.

Your questions should also come up in your story NATURALLY. They should never feel as if they are just there because of the godlike will of the author. If a prisoner suddenly finds a file on the ground, and there is no cake around it, your audience might feel manipulated and won’t buy into the illusion of your story anymore.

You say so far this all sounds very theoretical? Now let’s take a look at how Master Shakespeare did it!

McDonald's Meme

Shakespeare didn’t have to post his dinner on FB– Look how he hooked the reader instead…

First act, first scene: Enter witches. First immediate QUESTIONS: Are those bitches crazy?

Speaking weird sh!% in rhymes, running around under thunder and lightning in wide open space, probably with hunches, crooked fingers and dressed in rags. QUESTION: What the *&%$ is this?

Well, it’s an unusual and very powerful way to start a play: Notice how an original setting immediately raises a LOT of questions, before even a single word is spoken (Who are they? What are they doing out there? What’s gonna happen next?), while also providing visually exciting elements on stage for entertainment-hungry 17th century, Twitter-less eyeballs (storm, lightning, open space, eerie women). Good sh!%!

Cut to second scene. We hear war cries and see a king and a bloody warrior laying out a recap of the battle– it’s all very dynamic, but you don’t see the actual fight. So the play even spares the director the hassle of having to stage the battle, which in turn saves him a couple of stuntmen.

Immediately, questions arise: Who is fighting against whom? Who is winning? What do they want? Who was killed? What happened? What’s the king’s mission?

See how the plot starts to unfold almost unobtrusively, while questions, atmosphere and characters engage the audience’s interest and spark their excitement?

We hear about Macbeth before we even see him for the first time– this is, combined with the play’s title, a very effective way to spike curiosity! Question: Who will he be?

We can’t go through every single scene here, or else you will have to witness me chew and digest my copy of Macbeth out of sheer madness, but you get the picture:

On a micro-level, asking questions works to engage the audience in a single scene, or maybe in an act.

On a macro-level, asking questions works to engage the audience in the whole drama and to overall wow them.

In the third scene of the first act the bitches witches, predict Macbeth will become king. With their prediction perhaps the two most intriguing QUESTIONS of the whole drama come to mind:

  1. Are those crooked women indeed capable of predicting the future (read as: Does fate exist)?
  1. Will Macbeth indeed become king eventually?

Those two questions essentially amount to the same single one. They will be resolved in the beginning of the third act, when we see Macbeth appearing as king for the first time.

Notice how by then, there will have been some urgent NEW QUESTIONS established, to never let the audience off the hook for even one second (Will the nobles ever discover that Macbeth has murdered the king? How will Macbeth cope with his own guilt? Etc…).


Please don’t do it this way…

They say you only really value something once it’s gone. So I want to make you value Shakespeare’s plot by cold-heartedly taking it away from you. This is how Shakespeare should never, ever have done it, no way.

Had he done it like this, they would have booed him off the stage, which would have made him so depressed he would have spent the rest of his lifetime on useless crap like twittering about his digestion all day long (Btw, twittering back then probably worked with REAL birds, as in messenger pigeons).

Macbeth Done All Wrong

1st Act

The king, Duncan, in his castle, doing his thing (Instagram or whatever). We see him interacting with his sons and with nobility. He is friendly with them. No problems given, no questions asked, no solutions needed. He has a nice convo with Macbeth about the weather. He has supper with the nobles. He farts and goes to sleep.

2nd Act

In a short, easy-going monologue, Macbeth tells the audience he has killed the king. He is wearing the crown and is now the new king. Lady Macbeth is happy.

3rd Act

We see Macduff coming towards Macbeth’s castle, some soldiers behind him. Suddenly a soldier appears on stage and announces he has killed Macbeth.



Granted, Shakespeare’s play has much more content, but nevertheless the main point presents itself here in all its glory.

Notice all of the interesting questions missing: Will Macbeth murder the king? Will his guilt kill him? Will the predictions come true? How will Macduff react?

Much of the basic plot still happens: The king is murdered, Macbeth bullies the country, Macbeth gets killed. But there is no alluding to future events, no uncertainty around the acts or characters, no hovering possibility of doom.

No witches. No questions. No fun.

The Good-Bye Part (Summary)

I hope that from now on you will think of great plot in terms of QUESTIONS rather than in terms of events.

Create an outstanding plotline by raising intriguing QUESTIONS. Raise new QUESTIONS before you answer the old ones– this way your audience won’t ever be let off the hook!

With this new way of thinking, your readers will just have to know what happens next. You will get them eagerly turning the pages, completely addicted to your story. And you might, yes you just might…become even more important than Facebook to them.


Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

What are your thoughts? Do you go too easy on your characters thereby tanking your plot? Do you kind of wish they had Instagram back then? How cool would it have been to see an Attila the Hun Selfie? What historical figure would you have loved to follow on social media? Do you find that unanswered questions are actually WAY more interesting? Do you know the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

OCTOBER’S WINNER is M DELLERT Please e-mail your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document. One-inch margins, double-spaced, Times Roman font to kristen@ wana intl dot com and congratulations!

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First World Problems—When Do We Have a Good Reason to Cry?

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We all have those moments when we feel like tapping out, but when should we complain and when are we being self-centered? I would love to say I have all the answers. Just get me talking (or typing) and I sometimes am good enough to fool myself. But I simply do not know.

I struggle with boundaries, with saying I need help or that I am having a rough time. Then what happens is because I didn’t acknowledge the small problems early? They pile up and hit me like an avalanche. *whiiiiinnnne*

Bear with me…

Last week was one of those that seemed to just KEEP COMING. It started out well enough, then sucker-punched me. It took three appointments to get the cat, Odin neutered. I’ve never had a cat I waited so long to neuter, but have learned some valuable lessons.

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Lesson #1 Never name your cat Odin. I think he might just have kept a few ice giants around because every time we had a vet appointment? Texas got smacked with another ice storm.

Lesson #2 Wait to neuter a cat too long and you will never sleep…ever. He will howl all night long bemoaning his lack of opposable thumbs to escape and find a girlfriend. He will wail how he hates you because you keep “forgetting” his Axe body spray.

Lesson #3 Revenge will happen. Expect it.

After ice storm early in the week, I finally got Odin into the vet to be neutered. Get him home and Spawn (my 5-year-old boy-child) and I get a simultaneous stomach flu. I’m so sick I can’t move. Meanwhile, Spawn managed to puke all over every surface of the home. Carpets, furniture and anywhere that was not a bucket, a toilet or TILE.

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By the way, Hubby now knows why you don’t buy red Gatorade for a sick kid.

Granted, Hubby was a ROCKSTAR and took care of both of us and didn’t sleep for days. But today? As I was gazing across the mountains of biohazards that used to be clean blankets, clothes, sheets, towels, pillows…I notice this bad smell that just has been around for days and so I go hunting.


Apparently, as some point during the fugue-like state of having a stomach bug, one of us must have shut the door to the guest room and not realized Odin was…in it.


…with no litter box.


Thus, today I am cleaning. Okay, right now I am screwing off and whining to you guys, but after this I am totally back to cleaning. I am Norwegian. I live in an apron. I’ve also now witnessed what my house looks like after I have been too weak to tidy for a few days and it ain’t pretty. I’m overwhelmed.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

I go to clean the carpet, but the sink is full of dishes we were too sick to wash. So I try to wash the dishes so I can fill the carpet cleaner but then I can’t find garbage bags, because I need to scrape off the leftovers. So I try to get a trash bag, but then the spice rack falls and breaks glass all over the floor. So I try to find the broom to sweep the glass and remember it is likely in the bathroom, where I find more clothes Spawn puked on, so I gather those into a…

*breaks down weeping*

Thus, the whole time I am in this spiral, I keep saying, “It isn’t cancer. It isn’t cancer. Breathe. Others have it far worse and you are so blessed.”

I guess the point of this blog is that I really didn’t want to clean the guest room and would rather hang out with y’all. Wait. Okay, a little too much honesty. No, really. I know I am usually the one offering advice, but today I am tired and my ponytail is crunchy :( .

I know I should focus on the good stuff. I am amazed at single parents. What a tough, tough job. I was so frightened when I was too ill to move. We don’t really have any family nearby and it could have ended really badly had we been alone. I am tremendously grateful I have a husband willing to hold my hair out of my face when I get sick. I am grateful that Spawn is well now and that it wasn’t as bad as Web MD said.

We DO NOT have Dengue Fever.


But aside from all my “gratitude” I am more than a little ticked off that I was stupid enough to want to be a “grownup.” And yes, I do want some cheese with my whine. I am whining so badly today, I want to slap myself. But what is the fine point between whining and complaining or genuinely having a good reason to cry?

I can always think of someone having bigger problems than mine. Hey, be grateful you badly injured your leg in Jiu-Jitsu, some people don’t even have LEGS to INJURE. I can also think of events in my life that makes this seem ludicrous. Well, Kristen, at least your father isn’t DYING.

But when is this “attitude of gratitude” healthy and when is it just more than a little cray-cray? I try to not complain, but then how can other people change or correct what we don’t communicate? How can others offer help if they don’t know we are struggling?

How the hell did Spawn get Pepto all the way up THERE O_o ?

Anyway, when I am feeling myself having a pity party, I watch these to cheer me up and give me perspective.

I really DO want to hear from you because y’all are way smarter than me and I can put off cleaning for “work.” What are your thoughts on complaining versus having a real reason to be down? Do you have to remind yourself to get perspective? Or do you go a little too stoic-smiley and almost end up in Stepfordville?

What are some First World Problems you struggle with? I’d like to hear, before the battery on my Apple goes dead because I misplaced the charger in all the stuff I own…. :P

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am finally back teaching and offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form :D .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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This Month, We Write IN HELL—To NaNo or Not to NaNo

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NaNoWriMo. There are a lot of opinions floating around about NaNo and I can’t tell you guys what to do. Wait, I do that all the time. Hmmm. Okay, I can’t MAKE you try NaNo, but I am the friend who will gently and lovingly shove you off a cliff because it’s good for you.

WHAT!!??? You SAID you wanted to go BASE jumping be a professional author.

In my 20s, I lived life like a Mountain Dew commercial. You name X Dumb Thing? Sign me up! One of my favorite suicidal activities was skydiving. If I was having a really bad time, nothing to perk me up like free falling from 15,000 feet. But I’m a natural idiot adventurer.

My little brother? Was probably the more cautious/sane one, but I could tell from this spark in his eyes that he’d one day like to just go for it and jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

One day, I was headed out to jump and invited my brother. “Hey, you can just watch. Check it out. See if it might be something you’d like to try one day.” He rides out there with me and, to his horror, I’d signed BOTH of us up and paid for his tandem.

He should have known from our history together that Big Sisters are pathological liars. Also, I was the one who convinced him to jump off our roof with an umbrella when he was five, so, in fairness, he should have TOTALLY seen that coming.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time. You’ll just float down.



Little Bro was “fine.” But I didn’t make him do anything I hadn’t already done. Trust me when I say he was a changed person after that experience (and for the better).

Back to NaNo…

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

For those who have not tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), at least consider it. Even if you only partially finish (land on your knees and then get dragged through stickers by your chute that caught a sudden updraft) you are now part of a percentage of very few people who TRIED.

And, unlike skydiving, I’ve yet to encounter any NaNo fatalities.

The trick to NaNo is to appreciate it’s PURPOSE. It’s to propel us out of the comfort zone and show us what we are truly capable of if we put our minds to something and refuse to give up. It’s training for the pace of professional author. Pros have a VERY different operational tempo.

We don’t play to win, we play for keeps.

I’ve finished NaNo quite a few times (and fast-draft everything I write), but every day is NaNo for me. I have a thousand words written before most people wake up. Was it ALWAYS that way? Sure!  :D *thunder rumbles*

OKAY, I totally just lied. I used to be thrilled if I had three sentences by the end of the day. OMG, if I could like, write FIVE HUNDRED words a day, THEN I will be EPIC.

There were a LOT of roadblocks to me being a “real writer,” roadblocks that NaNo can help us face and overcome.

No Such Thing as Schrodinger’s Writer

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Want to be a writer? Write. That simple. Lose the existentialism. People who have time to discuss what makes a “real” writer have too much free time. The rest of us are busy writing. The single greatest thing NaNo makes us do is it propels us to sit our tails down and get to WORK.

Ditch Perfectionism

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Want a surefire way to NEVER finish NaNo, or any book for that matter? Edit Frenzy. NaNo is NOT for the perfect book ready for sale on December 1st. Sure there are some pros out there who can whip out a perfect book in 30 days…I think. I’ve never met one, but like Sasquatch, we like to believe they could exist.

The world does not reward perfection, it rewards finishers.

Learn to SHIP. No unfinished idea ever became a NY Times best-selling book.

Word Count

One of the complaints I hear about NaNo is there is too much focus on word count. Oh-KAY. Get a three-book deal and see how important word count becomes. Word count IS critical, because without words? We don’t have a BOOK.

The Muse

Kill it with FIRE.

Kill it with FIRE.

A lot of new writers wait until inspiration strikes. The rest of us go to work (paraphrased Stephen King). Inspiration is for amateurs and hobbyists. If we look to some of the most successful authors in history, a large percentage shifted over from journalism. Reporters who wish to remain employed can’t wait for the muse to report about the four-alarm fire. Learn from that and SHIP.

NaNo is NOT the Time for REVISION

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NaNo is for getting as many words on the page as possible in 30 days. Revise LATER. It’s NaNoWRIMo, not NaNoWriReviseAngstDrinkMoWineMo.

Humans have two sides to the brain—the creative side and the logical side. The reason NaNo is fabulous is it trains us to remain in the creative hemisphere of the brain. Stay in the fictive dream and play your guts out. Logic brain will have its turn…LATER.

Ignore typos, misspellings, run-on sentences and WRITE.

NaNo Pushes Boundaries

Most of us are capable of a lot more than we believe we are, but we dig the Comfort Zone. It has WiFi and lattes. Excellence is born in a fiery crucible. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

NaNo Strips Excuses

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Life will not change one you are a published or successful author. Today is my Dad’s birthday and the 15th anniversary of his death. Hey, he was Scottish and we are known for efficiency. My SIL went in this morning for serious and painful eye surgery to prevent her from going totally blind. I have Shingles, my house is a WRECK and I have a cat I love who’s teetering on death that I have to syringe feed every other hour. Our family business was half-flattened by squall lines last week and…blech.

But I write. Doesn’t mean I don’t CARE about those other things. But if I were in any other job, I might be able to justify a couple days away, but other than that? I’d have to show UP and do my JOB.

I know Mr. Smith has a tumor I was supposed to remove today, but my cat is sick and I am still tired from Shingles, have storm damage to clear and no clean SOCKS to perform surgery in and….

Uh huh.

Writer UP

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You guys don’t have to do NaNo or like NaNo. It isn’t for everyone, but neither is this profession. I participate in NaNo, support it and recommend it.

Just for the LOVE of all that is chocolate, DO NOT believe you are finished after 50,000 or more words. You WILL need revisions and edits, so hold off on the CreateSpace or the query. You might probably will have a literary train wreck. But you have a FINISHED train wreck. EXPERIENCE will teach you what to do and even what NOT to do.

There are ways to have less of a mess at the end, but we’ll talk about that next time.

NaNo trains speed and discipline. Style comes with preparation, time and practice, not nit-picking.

So *beats shield* come back with your first draft or ON it ;).


Haters: We will darken the skies with our criticism.

Real Writers: Then we will WRITE in the SHADE.

What are your thoughts? Are you afraid of NaNo? Good. Now suck it up. Have you tried before and failed to finish? Why? Have you revisited the “footage” to see what you could change to improve odds of finishing? Do you over-edit? STOP IT. Do you have friends, family or activities that interfere? Hint: They aren’t going away.

Share your successes, monsters, defeats and we will raise our goblets coffee mugs and spears red pens to the Elysian Fields! We will forever be Brothers and Sisters at Arms. Sign up HERE for NaNoWriMo.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Can’t Find Your Butt with Google Maps? A Powerful Tool that Can Help Writers Become Organized

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

If you are anything like me, you VOW EVERY NEW YEAR’S DAY that THIS YEAR you are going to be more organized. Six months later we can’t find the Post-Its and the bag of paper clips have been sucked into the same vortex that eats half the socks. Our treasures purchased at The Container Store on January 2nd are lost (likely still in the BAG) and our cute pocket organizer hasn’t had an entry since January 15th.

*head desk*

*Note to Self: Dust Pocket Organizer*

As writers, we need to research and to be able to keep track of that research. We also have lives. Many have mates, pets and kids who’ve grown accustomed to being fed *rolls eyes*. So needy. We’re juggling so much that we actually hope a fanatical fringe group of Calgon Terrorists really will “take us away.”

When I launched my business WANA International, I was on the hunt for the best teachers for ALL aspects of a writer’s life. Since organization is a big part of what will help us be successful and accomplish more in the finite time we’re given, the choice for the best teacher was crystal clear.

Jenny Hansen writes, blogs, works multiple consulting jobs, teaches, gardens (and then flaunts her KALE on Facebook). She balances so much and is happy, generous and fruitful. She is also one of the few people on the planet who has the talent to teach technology and translate into Writer-ese.

Feel free to set down your paper bags as Jenny takes us on a brief tour of one of the most powerful tools we have for keeping everything organized and accessible in ONE place. I know that I used to use OneNote before I switched to Apple and it was fantastic. I’m thrilled to hear it’s now available for Mac products and will be with you for Jenny’s class because my keys can only end up on the freezer so many times….

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

I’m a software trainer by day so I have several “true loves” in the software realm. But as a writer, my hands down favorite is OneNote, especially after this week’s announcements:

  1. It’s now free across all platforms.
  2. Yep, you heard me…it’s now available for the Mac. (Move over, Evernote!)

To put it simply… I. Heart. OneNote.

And I know what some of you are asking: What is it, and where do you find it?

OneNote is a planner and note taking software. It lets you easily capture text, images, video and audio notes, and keep important information readily available across all devices.

If you’re the organized type, it’s likely that you have a binder with all of the research information and pictures for your book. OneNote allows you to keep this information in the same format electronically so it’s searchable.

You’ll find OneNote in your START menu.

I could do several posts on the topic (and I probably will) but when I stopped to think about what I use the MOST in the program, it was pretty easy to come up with my Top Ten Fave Features.

#10 – ToDo Lists

OneNote allows you to insert handy checklists. You just check off the item when you’re done and you can keep it for posterity or edit the list as you move to a new day.

How To Do a Check List:

Click to type in your OneNote notebooks page (top tabs are sections, right side tabs are pages) and type “Ctrl+1”

  • In the top middle of your Home ribbon in OneNote, there is a “To Do” button
  • Type your ToDo
  • Hit Enter
  • Use the Ctrl+1 shortcut key again to add more checkboxes

Click here for the latest OneNote and Microsoft updates that affect writers.

#9 – Tag and Find Important Items

Why is this exciting? One Note has a series of Tags that you can add to any page that are easy to search by with the “Find Tags” button on the ribbon. I’m copying and pasting a screen shot of the Tags drop down to the right but there are even more than are listed. This feature makes me SQUEE!

#8 – Sync Up OneNote Between Your Phone and Computer

Yes, you heard me! If you have a smart phone, it can synchronize with the OneNote on your computer. Sign me up!!

Note: You need to first set up the app on your smart phone and you must also set up OneDrive (used to be SkyDrive), which is helpful to do anyway. OneDrive is only available with OneNote 2010 and later! It will not work with the older versions.

Tips on setting up your OneDrive in OneNote and getting the iPhone app are here (along with a ton of other amazing OneNote answers).

#7 – Ink to Text (There’s also “Math to Text” now, but hello? We’re writers!)

Ink to Text is a gift for creatives. You could go one further and get a Livescribe pen if you want to be able to upload longhand writing to OneNote first. If you have a tablet with a stylus, you can write right in OneNote, highlight it and choose Ink to Text to convert your scribbles into searchable text.

There are many, many ways to take notes, as you can see from the graphic below:


#6 – Hyperlinks to Anywhere

You can copy or create hyperlinks from any page, anywhere, and put it in your notebook page. I’m thinking of keeping an active writing notebook with tabs for each topic to store the amazing links that I run across in my web surfing. My bookmarks tend to get lost because there’s so many.

#5 – Print to OneNote

When researching, you can send a whole page or part of a page directly to OneNote. Choose File > Print and your page is sent to an unfiled note in OneNote, which can be moved to any section or page.

#4 – Send Whole or Part of Any Page to OneNote With a Shortcut Key

Imagine surfing the web and pulling up a side note by either pressing the Windows logo button + N or clicking the N (OneNote) icon button in the task bar (down by the time) and being able to jot down your notes to keep in your book’s OneNote binder. This shortcut automatically files it in the Unfiled Tab in OneNote, which you can move around.

#3 – Audio and Video Files

OneNote will also add audio or video files to your notebook pages. It can even record the same right into a page! Now that we’re in conference season, I’ve made the goal of adding my meeting and class notes into OneNote, and then recording those extras things that I didn’t get down in my notes.

#2 – You Can Attach Files to Any Page in OneNote

Can you writers say character charts? Photos? I thought of moving this higher on the list, it’s so sublimely amazing.

From your Windows Explorer, click and drag any file onto a OneNote Page. You will get the following dialog box:

You can insert a hyperlink, or choose the second option to have an icon on your page that you double-click on to open the file. But the last choice (to insert the file as a printout)? LOVE IT! I used this with a conference handout to make my notes next to the speakers content. It saved me a ton of time.

And My #1 FAVORITE thing in OneNote is:

OneNote doesn’t have a Save button. OneNote automatically saves your work on an almost constant basis in the background. This means I don’t lose work, even if forget to save.

Helpful Links:

Does OneNote sound like it would be helpful to you? Do you have questions, or shortcuts you’d like to share? We’d love to chat with you in the comments!

Where can you get more of Jenny?

Her blog information is below, but she also teaches online. For all you writers and OneNote/Evernote fans, in fact she is teaching a class for WANA next week!

Next week’s class details:

      • Course title: OneNote: The Simple (Kinda Sexy) Organization Tool
      • Course time: webinar next Monday March 24th at 7 pm EST – it’s available OnDemand afterwards, so don’t worry if you can’t make it.
      • The initial webinar is followed by two weeks of online time where we cover the material and create notebooks. We finish with another quick webinar recap.
      • There are various levels for the class, depending on if you just want the knowledge or if you need active one-on-one help setting up your notebooks. Be sure to click the course title link above to see what’s included for the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels.
      • Use the discount code MORECOWBELL for $10 off!

Lastly, we’re going to have THREE special things for this kickoff class:

      1. A member of the Microsoft OneNote team will audit the class to answer any questions on the technologies and features that are still new.
      2. A drawing will held to give away a subscription of Office 365 to one lucky attendee.
      3. Any interested authors will be entered into a drawing to be a guest author for the Office blog – in return for the description of how OneNote helped you “get it done,” Microsoft will promote the winner’s novel at the bottom of the post.

Really, y’all…how can you beat that? (You can’t! This inaugural class is the only one that will have all this, since it comes so quickly on the heels of Microsoft’s rollout.) Click here to sign up!


Thank you, Jenny! Are you like me and struggle to keep organized? Do you have passwords for your passwords? One giant bag with all the mail so you have at least a good starting place for locating the electric bill? Or do you use OneNote and can attest to its powers? Do you have questions for Jenny? Confessions?

I LOVE hearing from you guys (and comments for guests count DOUBLE)!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA and at Writers In The Storm.

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Handling Criticism

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

I awoke at three this morning with an aching back (thunderstorms), then my mind began wheeling and there was no getting back to sleep. So I figured, what the hell? Get up and chat with y’all. I’d love to say the storm, my aching back or the toddler who gets up at three every morning lately (which is seriously spooky and a tad Paranormal Activity) is the sole cause of my sudden insomnia.

Alas, it isn’t. Why am I awake? The thought of rejection.

I’d love to tell you guys I’ve always been good at handling criticism, but truth is, when I started writing I had the skin of a grape and needed far more outside approval than was probably healthy.

Boldly…Okay Not-So-Boldly-Going…

The first two books are behind me and both did fantastic, but what about this third one? It’s completely different and I take some huge risks. What if people think I was eating lead paint, licking toads and smoking Qualudes while writing?

Wait. Does one smoke Qualudes?

What if everyone HATES it????

And this is probably why I’m up at three in the morning (aside from creepy toddler activity). I’m on the ledge of something entirely new, about to take the plunge. The book is at the formatter. This is the first time publishing on my own. I’m no longer a newbie. It’s a bigger game and I’m super glad I have you guys or I’d be terrified.

Okay more terrified.

Humans Dig Approval

Hey, I’m not immune. We all wan’t approval. We’re human. Yet, the problem is, criticism is part of life. Yesterday, we talked about writing fast, finishing and shipping. The best way to get really good at writing books is….ready for this? Writing books. As in plural. 

One of the main reasons writers work a book to DEATH is they fear criticism. They fear failure and rejection. So they work and rework and rework and never put themselves out there. Been there, done that, myself.

I know fear is a big reason I allowed my proposal to sit with an agent for eighteen months. I wanted the green light, the outside assurance that Rise of the Machines will be the best thing since unicorn stickers.

Putting ourselves out there is frightening. We open ourselves to rejection. Yet, the thing is, as much as it stings, criticism is vital to success.

Image via WANA Commons

Original image via GrandmaLow WANA Commons

Criticism Let’s Us know Where We Can Improve and Grow

We can’t fix what we can’t see. Criticism (when done properly) can take us to a new professional level. One of the reasons I’ve loved working with Piper Bayard is I didn’t have to waste time candy-coating my feedback and serving it on a polished platter so she wouldn’t cry.

I could say, “No, that doesn’t work. Here’s why.” Still can and it saves time for both of us.

And since I didn’t have to waste time adding fluff and glitter to all my critique, she’s now a published author with a critically-acclaimed book, Firelands. It’s AWESOME, btw.

Piper also has a seven-book series ahead. One is already written (and it ROCKS) and the next six are plotted. She’s a faster, better writer because she could take criticism, learn and move forward.

When it comes to my new book, I want to believe every review will be 6 stars out of 5, but I know that isn’t reality. Some people won’t like the book and I’ll learn and do better with the next book and the next.

Storms Make Us Stronger

Somewhere I heard a story about a bio-dome experiment. Scientists wanted to grow all kinds of plants and trees inside the safety of a dome. The trees were perfectly spaced, received just the right amount of water, sun, and nutrition. They were shielded from the outside elements in an ambient bubble of perfect and the scientists fully believed this would yield ideal trees because they were growing in an ideal “world.”

Yet, over time, the scientists noticed the trees never grew past a certain height and their roots were very shallow. Also, to add to the scientist’s surprise, it seemed trees outside the dome, trees faced with drought, competition, and storms fared better and grew bigger.

How could this be?

What they learned is that storms broke branches, yes. But damage forced the trees to get tougher in the broken places. Trees that had to compete for sunlight had to grow taller. Sometimes there was drought, and this forced the trees’ roots to grow deeper making them stronger and more resistant to high winds because they were anchored.

Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons

Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons

We Don’t Grow in Pink Perfect Bubbles

I know there will be criticism. There always is. Yet, thing is? I’ve been in critique groups where everyone just told each other how awesome their writing was, and you know what? No one grew. The writing never improved.

I don’t know about you, but I want each book I write to be better than the last. I can’t do this if I don’t have (sometimes painful) feedback. We need storms *shrugs*

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

We Have to Accept That We Can’t Please Everyone

Part of getting a healthy relationship with criticism is learning to discern what’s constructive versus destructive. Some people are just jerks. Nothing we do will please them, so learn to shrug them off.

Focus on the positive, but at least acknowledge the negative. Maybe the person has a point, but maybe the person is a lunatic. Not all feedback is relevant or even sane. 

Listen to the constructive and ditch the destructive as soon as possible. It’s toxic. If we try to please everyone, we’ll end up pleasing no one. “Books by Committee” suck.

What are your thoughts? Suggestions? Do you fear rejection? Fear failure? Is it keeping you from moving forward? Have you been hurt by criticism only to realize it was the best thing for you?

To make you guys laugh, I’ve included a vlog I did about the first time my fiction was critiqued :D….

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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Les Edgerton & Two Tips to Take Your Dialogue to a WHOLE New Level–Part 3

Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton

Hey, Guys. You wanted to learn how to write AMAZING, PAGE-TURNING DIALOGUE, so I kidnapped  recruited the best. Les Edgerton has been so generous with his time and talent, and we are SUPER grateful. I promise to release Les back into the wild…eventually :D.

Take it away, Les!

Thanks for having me back on, Kristen! There were several things I neglected to talk about on dialogue in the first two posts, so I wanted to include them here. There are many other elements of good dialogue than posted here, but these are kind of important.

Now, here are the couple of things I neglected to cover in the first two posts.

Format with Tags

One is the format of dialogue with tags. I suspect that this one will draw as many responses from folks who don’t buy it as there were who resisted using “said” as dialogue tag verbs. It’s your choice—I’m just relaying the mindset of many editors.

It’s very simple. The accepted format for dialogue tags these days is “He/she/name said.” Almost always. What is considered archaic and musty is this construction: “Said he/she/name.”

About the only folks still using this latter format are some older journalists, some writers from other cultures (Canada comes to mind), brand names, and writers who haven’t kept up with current usages. Which leads me to make a big point—brand names—those authors with significant followings—can make every mistake in the book and get away with it. They’re beyond such limitations, simply because their readerships are such that publishers will accept just about anything they publish.

Stephen King could probably publish his grocery list and it would hit the bestseller lists… Although, King is such a terrific writer, he wouldn’t (and doesn’t) break very many of these rules and conventions. This is just to make you aware that many times brand name authors aren’t always the folks to go to for writing models. Simply because they can get away with things that unknown writers can’t.

The reality is, King can do things we can’t. Same goes for any brand name author. That doesn’t mean their work is valueless for instruction—it has immense value. There’s a reason they’re popular and it’s almost always the writing. But, always look at it with a grain of salt and become thoroughly familiar with the direction fiction is taking because there are popular authors who haven’t kept up and whose books, if modeled for your own efforts, may work against you.

Whenever I have a student point out an example in a published book that goes contrary to the advice I’ve given them, my first question is: “Is this from a brand-name author?” If it is, then I ask them to consider the source. And to gently let them know that while it may not be fair, it’s the reality that we (unknowns) have to be better in many ways that established writers with significant followings don’t have to be.

If anyone’s parents told them the world was fair, they did them a disservice…


The second thing I neglected to touch on is conflict. We all know that there has to be conflict on every single page of a novel for it to work, and this is especially true in dialogue. That’s why Q&A dialogue doesn’t work. There’s virtually no conflict in it.

I advise my novel writing students and clients constantly that the protagonist should never, ever gain anything easily, no matter how seemingly trivial the exchange is.

An example I give often is to tell them that if they have their protagonist stop a bum on the street to ask directions to a bar she’s pretty sure is a block or two away but isn’t sure in what direction, she should have the bum say something to the effect of: “Whadda I look like, Sweetpea? The frickin’ Chamber of Commerce?” And, then, either give up the info grudgingly or walk off and let her find her own way. The point being, never let the protagonist gain things easily. Never.

In dialogue, when the protagonist is trying to gain information, it should be like pulling teeth. Now, that doesn’t mean there should be a war created to gain a simple piece of information. The writer needs to tailor the conflict proportionally to the value of what she’s after.

In the example above, this is plenty. What she’s after is just a simple direction. It doesn’t rise to the level of WWIII. But… there should be at least a bit of conflict and resistance to gain her answer. When the information is valuable, the conflict needs to be ratcheted up in proportion.

This is one of the primary keys to creating tension and tension is the lifeblood of a successful novel. Nothing should be gained easily and the opposition to her gaining it should be proportional to the value it holds. The other primary key to a quality read is to keep posing story questions, one after another after another after another… ad nauseum.

I’ve barely touched on the subject, but hope there’s some food for thought here for most readers.

The main thing is—keep up on what passes for contemporary usages these days and keep those red flags to a minimum. And, remember, no one has ever written a perfect novel. Every single novel ever published has flaws. Perfection is an impossible goal. Can’t be done. Just get it as good as you possibly can and send it out. And begin on a new work and try to make it even “gooder.”

Remember: When you’re green, you’re growing. And, when you’re ripe, you’re rotten. Writing has changed greatly in the past ten-twenty years and it’s going to keep on changing. What I said here—at least some of it—will eventually be outdated. It’s one reason to keep reading voraciously and to keep reading craft books.

Hope this helps!

Blue skies,


Les, THANK YOU SO MUCH. For my readers, Les will be back tomorrow with some final advice about your writing and your careers as authors, so I hope you’ll join us.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Les Edgerton is the author of HOOKEDTHE RAPISTTHE BITCH and others.

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Les Edgerton Shows How to Write Amazing Dialogue–Part 2 AN EXERCISE

Les Edgerton

Les Edgerton

I hope you guys enjoyed Les’s guest post yesterday. Today, Les is offering a bonus…an EXERCISE to help you develop your skills for writing killer dialogue.

Take it away, Les!

Exercise on Subtext

This exercise is primarily for the teacher teaching basic writing principles, although perhaps even more advanced writers may get something out of it. It’s an exercise I use in my “on-ground” classes when I’m teaching at a college.

It represents a very basic example of dialogue that’s not “on-the-nose” or a Q&A exchange, to show students a very easy to understand example of how off-the-nose dialogue works and how subtext informs the dialogue more than the actual dialogue.

I usually have two students come to the front of the room and read the following script. Then, I ask the questions that follow. It’s a simple exercise, but I’m happy to report that most of the students really enjoy coming up with their own exchanges, which is part of the assignment.

If anyone uses this in an actual class, I’d love to hear your feedback. (Also, you may want to write your own example—I admit this isn’t deathless prose, but hey! I wrote it in about five minutes. Gimme a break…)


She: The Bentley’s baby was cute, wasn’t it?

He: I don’t think I saw it. I was in the kitchen with the guys all night.

She: Well, she was a cute little baby.

He: Great. Women think all babies are cute. Ever heard a woman say someone’s kid was ugly? I mean, except for Shrek’s parents’ friends?

She: Brad and Gena seem so happy.

He: They should be. He just got a promotion.

She: Silly! I mean the baby.

He: There goes the promotion. The raise part of it, anyway.

She: I think they’ll manage. Babies are worth a sacrifice or two.

He: If you say so.

She: Look at it practically. Their little girl will probably take care of them in their old age.

He: That’s a great tradeoff. Let’s see… take care of a kid for 22 years—I’m including college—and they stick you in a home for your final three years. Probably use your own money to fund your own old folks’ home. Sounds like a good deal.

She: It’s not like that.

He: Yeah. Whatever.

Silence for a few seconds.

She: Samantha.

He: Huh?

She: Samantha. They named her Samantha. I think that’s cute. I wonder if they’ll call her “Sam.”

He: They ought to call her “Stinky.”

She: What?

He: You heard me. “Stinky.” The kid smells.

She: All kids smell when they make a mess. You smelled. Besides, how would you know if she smelled? You said you stayed in the kitchen.

He: All kids smell.

She: Then you change their diaper.

He: Yeah. There goes the entertainment budget.

She: You mean the beer budget.

He: So?

She: So is if you cut out a few beers, you’d have plenty of diapers… and lose a few pounds…

He: You sayin’ I’m fat?

She: I’m saying diapers don’t cost that much. A six-pack or two.

He: Maybe. But how many six-packs does it cost to send a kid to college?

She (laughing): About what you go through in a week!

He (mutters): Must be a cheap school. All the classes on the Internet? The school’s in the Caribbean?

She: She’ll probably get scholarships anyway.

He: That’s cool. That means she’ll spend all her time partyin’. End up pregnant.

She: She’ll be way too smart for that.

He: Like her mom was?

Who were this man and woman really talking about? What did the woman want? What did the man want? Did either of them come right out and say what they were really talking about?

This is dialogue that isn’t “on the nose.” It’s one way good dialogue is written. What’s important is what isn’t said–the subtext. The subtext is the real message that’s under the surface of the actual dialogue spoken.

This is what I want you to write (in teams). Two people talking about something that is really being expressed in subtext—dialogue that’s not “on the nose.” You can pick any subject you want for them to discuss (within reason!). Whatever they’re really talking about can’t be mentioned. After you deliver your dialogue, the class will attempt to guess what it is you’ve really been talking about.

Time: 2-3 minutes performance time per person. I’d rehearse this so your team falls within the time limit. That’s where I’ll take the most points off, for being short of the minimum.

Notes: You don’t need to memorize the exchange but can read off your script.

Bonus points: Your team can gain bonus points if you use props and/or costumes. (I’ve had some really original costumes and props show up…)

Hope this helps understand better what subtext is and what off-the-nose dialogue is. Write solid subtext dialogue and you’ll draw comparisons to folks like Elmore Leonard!

Bonus tips: Nothing to do with dialogue but just two tips to becoming a better writer.

1. Don’t show a “single tear coursing down the cheek” of a character. It isn’t dramatic; it’s a cliché. It’s a moronic cliché. Plus, it makes the reader wonder if the other tear duct is clogged or if only one tear shows a person with some kind of half-ass control over their emotion where they can control one eye but not both at the same time…

2. Don’t ever write a sentence like: I wonder if he’ll like me, she thought to herself. I mean… who else does a person think to other than themselves? Unless it’s a sci-fi novel and people can think to others…

These two things are my personal bugaboos in writing. I throw up in my mouth whenever I encounter these puppies! Sometimes, I do more than just choke up a bit of bile. At times, I’ve hurled chunks when encountering these in a student’s work… Just sayin’…

Thank you Les for this wonderful exercise. I am trying to twist Les’s arm for a Part Three on Monday, so here’s hoping :D.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Les Edgerton is the author of HOOKEDTHE RAPISTTHE BITCH and others.

Winner for March is Daniel Occento. Please send your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. You can also choose to send a one-page query letter of five-page synopsis (limit 1250 words).

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