Writers, Are You Using Hashtags? Here’s Why You Should…

If you’re anything like me I was utterly baffled using hashtags. Sure, I’d seen them around. You’d have to be blind not to see them everywhere. I’d even used them a time or two when I was searching for a pitch party. But I had no idea how much they could impact my online presence.

First let’s start with why you should use them.

Hashtags are crucial for writers who…

  • are building, or continuing to build, an online presence
  • want to sell their books without spamming people
  • want to reach their readers and piqué new readers’ interest
  • want to connect with other writers


Still not convinced? Check out what I learned through my research.

  • By using one or two hashtags in your tweet you receive two times more engagement than without them.
  • Tweets with one or two hashtags have a 21% higher engagement than those with three hashtags.
  • When you use three or more hashtags your engagement level actually drops by 17%.
  • Individuals who use hashtags can see a 100% increase in engagement.
  • Brands– authors– can see a 50% increase.
  • Tweets with one or more hashtags are 55% more apt to be read.

And all because of a little #. I didn’t make this stuff up. It’s from Twitter’s own research.

The type of engagement I’m talking about is retweets, clicks to your post, favorites and replies. Hashtags are crucial in today’s social media world!

Many of you follow me on Twitter (I follow back) and I’ve noticed that several of you don’t use hashtags. So, I’m thinking you either don’t understand how to use them, or you’re wondering how a little # symbol could benefit you. Both of which applied to me until recently.

There are rules you should follow when using hashtags.

Please don’t go hashtag crazy or you’ll lose your advantage. One or two hashtags that relate to your content max. It’s best to use hashtags on Googe+, Twitter and Instagram. On Facebook there’s no correlating data that says a hashtag does any good. Actually, experts say that posts without them fare better. Since hashtags have only been around on FB since 2013, and three months later they ran their research. Should you abandon them entirely on Facebook? It’s best to test it yourself and see how they do.

Today let’s concentrate our efforts on where there’s a proven track record that they work. On Twitter, Google+, and Instagram you get the most bang for your buck. On Google+, your posts are given hashtags automatically based on the content, but you can also edit them or add your own. Also unique about Google+, you can add hashtags in your comments as well as your post – double the opportunities to be found.

And since Google+ is Google’s social network, hashtags are now built right into Google searches. If you type in a hashtag search, you’ll get the normal search results plus a sidebar of relevant Google+ posts.

You might be tempted to use a hashtag or two in your post title. Please don’t do this. It will only clog up the stream. The best way to use them is when you tweet your post, then add a hashtag or two that relates to your topic. Or, when you tweet someone else’s post. Do them a favor and add a hashtag. It only takes a second to do, and they’ll really appreciate the extra effort you put in.

Don’t worry if you forget, though. I’m guilty of this, too. However, once you remember shoot another tweet out there, one with the hashtag. If you don’t remember until later then just do it the next time you visit that site. No big deal. Certainly no one will complain if you forget a hashtag. If you remember, though, people will appreciate the effort. And why not help our fellow writers out by extending their reach.

You see, when you add a hashtag your tweet goes beyond your followers to a designated spot– for instance #amwriting– and then everyone who reads that hashtag will see your post.


How will I know what hashtags to use? 

I found this chart on http://www.aerogrammestudio.com, entitled “100 Twitter Hashtags for Writers”. You can view the original by clicking the link above. But here it is in its entirety.

100 Twitter Hashtags for Writers

To connect with other writers use:

##1K1H (write one thousand words in one hour)
#MyWANA (writer’s community created by Kirsten Lamb)
#NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month is held every November)

For genre specific:

#MGLit (middle grades literature)
#PoetryMonth (Each April in the USA)

Promotion, Networking and Marketing:
#99c (to offer or pick up an eBook bargain)
#Novelines (to quote your own work)

Books and Reading:

Book Industry News and Publishing Tips:
#IAN1 (Independent Author Network)

And that doesn’t include the list of pitch party hashtags that are out there. Some of which you can find here in an earlier post.

On Literary Agent Carly Watters’ blog today she mentioned using a hashtag for your upcoming release, to start promoting your book before it hits the shelf. Example: #MARRED

Here’s what she had to say:

When you talk about your book–leading up to publication–you must use a hashtag that captures the title. There are no excuses on this one. If you want to connect your readers to you and each other, you must be providing a link of communication. A hashtag of your title is that link. Readers want to socially engage with each other. They want to share quotes, reviews, and more. Give them that opportunity by leading with example. It’s not cocky to give your book a hashtag, it’s a reality of social media.

Did I forget to mention any hashtags you use often? Help us out and leave it in the comment section.

How have you found hashtags to be helpful?

Next up on the blog, Q & A with Mr. Big!

Dialogue Attributions by James Scott Bell

This is one of my favorite posts on dialogue attributions, originally posted on The Kill Zone. It’s so effective because it’s written as a story, one you’ll always remember. Because I wanted to share this with you I wrote to James Scott Bell and asked if I could republish. And he said yes!

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, James Scott Bell is the #1 bestselling author of Plot & Structure, and thrillers like Don’t Leave Me, Blind JusticeDeceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie.

plot and structure

Click cover to buy this book


A Short Course on Dialogue Attributions

“So what’s the deal on dialogue attributions?” the young writer asked.

“I’ll tell you,” said the wise old writer. “It’s not complicated, but it’s important.”

“I’m ready to listen!” the young writer asseverated.

The wise old writer slapped him. “Don’t ever asseverate anything again. Just listen.”

Make Said Your Default

An attribution is there to let the reader know who is speaking. The simple said does that and then politely leaves. Some writers, under the erroneous impression that saidis not creative enough, will strain to find ways not to use it.

This is almost always a mistake.

Readers don’t really notice said, even as it serves its purpose. Any substitute word causes the readers to do a little more work. (More on that below.)

On the flip side, it’s possible to usesaid in an abusive fashion. This is done sometimes in hard-boiled fiction, like this:

“Open the door,” Jake said.

“It’s open,” Sam said.

“You don’t lock your door?” Jake said.

“Not on Tuesdays,” Sam said.

“That’s weird,” Jake said.

“Weird is in this year,” Sam said.

In this case, said is forced on the readers for no reason. It feels like you’re getting tapped on the head with a rubber hammer with every line of dialogue. So leave out the attribution altogether when it’s obvious who is speaking.

“Open the door,” Jake said.

“It’s open,” Sam said.

“You don’t lock your door?”

“Not on Tuesdays.”

“That’s weird.”

“Weird is in this year.”

Should You Use Asked? He Asked

There are some teachers who say you should never use asked after a question mark. It’s redundant, they say.

I find that a bit too picky. I use saidafter a question mark, but alsoasked sometimes, for variety. I have no rule about it. I use what sounds right at the time.

No one has complained yet.

Use Alternatives Only If Absolutely Necessary

On occasion, you may need to find a substitute word. Whispered, for example.

What about growled? Barked? Spat? Expostulated?

Be careful. Almost always, the tone of the scene and the words of the character should tell the reader how the words are being spoken. Instead of using a thesaurus, work harder at making the words and the action more vivid. Let’s not see this:

“Put that down!” Charles shouted with emphasis.

“But it belongs to me!” Sylvia declared.

“Put that down,” Charles repeated, a bit more sedately but still with insistence.

“You are such an insistent type,” said Sylvia bitterly.

Ouch. And sedately? Bitterly? That brings us to:

Kill Most Adverbs, But Have Mercy On Some

I’m not the Terminator on this one. I don’t go out on a mission to kill all adverbs and never stop until every one is dead. I do think it’s best to let the dialogue itself, and surrounding action, make clear how something is said.

But on occasion, if it’s the most economical way to indicate something, I may use an adverb. Even though writing sticklers may feel their knickers getting in a twist over adverbs, I write for readers. Most readers don’t care about the occasional adverb. Nor do they wear knickers.

Occasionally Put Said in the Middle 

Every now and then, just to mix things up, put said in the middle of the dialogue. Put it in the first natural spot.

“I think I’d better leave,” Millicent said, “before I lose my temper.” 

If one character uses the name of the other character, for emphasis, you can break up the dialogue this way:

“Rocky,” Mickey said, “this is the biggest fight of your life, especially considering you’re now seventy years old.”

Use Action Beats For Variety, But Not Exclusively

Because dialogue is a form of action, we can utilize the physical to assist the verbal. This is called the action tag.

The action tag offers a character’s physical movements instead of said, such as in Lisa Samson’s Women’s Intuition:

Marsha shoved her music into a satchel. “She’s on a no-sugar kick now anyway, Father.”

He turned to me with surprise. “You don’t say? How come?”

The action tag can follow the line as well:

“Come along, dear.” Harriet spun toward the door.

Warning: this is not to be done every time in place of said. Some writers have attempted to write entire novels without once giving an attribution. But the problem is this: every time there’s an action, even an innocuous one, the reader forms a picture. Too much of this becomes labor, because the reader’s mind is asking for the significance of the picture. The reading experience begins to feel like a series of speed bumps on a road.

John crossed his legs. “So what are you going to do about it?”

Mary tapped her finger on the table. “I haven’t decided.”

John sighed. “Think about it.”

Mary reached for her drink. “I can’t think.”

John scratched his nose.

“This place is creepy.” Mary looked around the restaurant.

John cleared his throat. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have come here.”

See what I mean? Use an action tag only for variety, never exclusively.

The young writer looked at the wise old writer and said, “Is that it?”

“That’s it. Easy, huh?”

“Easier than I thought,” articulated the young writer, smiling wryly, tapping his finger on the table.

The old writer slapped him again. “Just for that, you pick up the check.”



Click cover to purchase this book

James Scott Bell is the author of How To Write Dazzling Dialogue. You can learn more about him and his books at: www.JamesScottBell.com

On Twitter @jamesscottbell

‘Mister Big’ – A Unique, International Undercover Technique in Homicide Investigations

Before I hand you over to our very special guest, Garry Rodgers, let me tell you a little about his background. Garry Rodgers spent 20 years as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective, followed by a second career as a forensic coroner. He also served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response Teams and is a recognized expert in firearms.

I’m not going to hold you in suspense any longer. Garry, take it away!

Mister Big – A Unique, International Undercover Technique in Homicide Investigations

Once upon a time, way up in Canada, a killer hoaxed his estranged girlfriend to a house where he beat her unconscious, strangled her dead, and wrapped her in a blanket. Then, in the dead of night, he dragged her body to a nearby cemetery where he exhumed a recently dug grave and buried it on top of the existing casket.

“I planned the perfect murder,” he bragged to Mister Big, when his gang friends finally allowed the killer to meet their crime boss. “I’m the cop’s prime suspect in her disappearance, but without her body, they’ve got nothing. Never will.”

Mister Big called bullshit. He said he wouldn’t trust this guy in his organization unless there was proof about him being a bad-ass. The killer, now comfortable after spending months in the organization trying to prove himself, re-enacted the murder and led Mister Big to the grave where they dug up the body. Michael Bridges, the conned-over killer, is now doing life because ‘Mister Big’ and the ‘gangsters’ in his organization were cops.

This is a true story – one of many true stories where police weave elaborate webs to catch murderers when conventional investigational techniques come to a dead end.

Click the cover to buy Garry’s book. You won’t be disappointed!


Undercover work used to be the domain of intelligence gathering and drug interdiction, but today, these clandestine techniques have become so sophisticated that teams of specialized police officers, trained in skills from psychology to acting, spend months and massive sums targeting murders and tricking them to confess and divulge incriminating evidence.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or Mounties) were the pioneers of the ‘Mister Big’ sting and it’s widely used by Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand law-enforcement agencies within tightly controlled, legal parameters. So far, British courts have ruled against the technique and American courts are reluctant, although they have allowed evidence gained by a Canadian ‘Mister Big’ sting to convict two Seattle killers.

The main concern is that a suspect might be deceived into making a false confession or be coerced into committing an illegal act that he wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s termed entrapment which is an entirely different matter.

I was an RCMP homicide detective when the ‘Mister Big’ technique was being developed. It was controversial at the time, and still is today, despite incredible success at putting killers away and giving closure to cases and families.

The premise is that the murder case has run cold and there are no conventional avenues of investigation left to pursue. Typically there’s no physical evidence to connect the suspect to the murder, there’s no witnesses, there’s no confession – but – there’s lots of reason to identify a prime suspect who, naturally, won’t cooperate. So the ruse begins.


Subscribe to Garry’s email list and get this .pdf free! Click the cover.


It’s held that most people will eventually confess to a crime, no matter how hideous, if they perceive it to be in their interest. The trick is to make them believe it’s in their interest while keeping within the rules of evidence which place strict guidelines to the game.

All courts have long held that ‘persons in authority’ can’t threaten or promise something to cause a person to incriminate themselves, but that only applies if the suspect believes that the person they’re dealing with is a cop.

However, statements made to people who the killer feels are not in authority, such as other crooks, are fair game and perfectly admissible as long as it’s shown that the statements are truthful. This is where corroboration of the statement is so vital. Therefore, the technique ensures that something of physical evidentiary value is gained such as when Michael Bridges handed over his girlfriend’s body to ‘Mister Big’.

So, what goes down in these homicide undercover operations is that the suspect is thoroughly profiled, a weak point is identified, and a plan is developed to exploit it. This can take months of planning, dozens of people, and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It might start with duping peripheral people around the suspect to get a trustworthy introduction and then a progressive manipulation of the suspect’s wants, needs, and ego unfolds. It evolves with the suspect being gradually introduced to a group that the suspect longs to join and wants to earn his way inside by proving his value and trustworthiness.

No murderer targeted at this level will confess out of remorse, so a mindset of betterment is implanted in the suspect. It makes him think that if they can meet ‘Mister Big’, the crime boss, they’ll impress him or maybe ‘Mister Big’ can help him with the problem of being a suspect.

As the sting progresses, the suspect is invited to participate in a series of escalating criminal activities (all of which are faked by the police), including robberies, control of prostitution, and standing guard during gang’s activities. In addition, the ‘gang members’ build a personal relationship with the suspect, through drinking together and other social activities. The goal is to win the confidence of the suspect.

Eventually, the suspect is told that the ‘gang’ has learned that the police have a renewed interest in the original crime and suggest that the suspect needs the protection of the ‘gang’ which can only happen if he gives the ‘gang’ further details. The suspect is told that, if all knowledge of the crime is revealed to the crime boss, ‘Mister Big’, he may have the ability to influence the police investigation. The suspect is warned, however, if he’s not totally truthful with the ‘gang’ about the original crime, the ‘gang’ will kick him out as a liability.

Once in a controlled environment, a safe-house which is video and audio recorded, the suspect is put in a situation which triggers a confession. The suspect is then taken on an evidence collecting ride and arrested.

You might wonder how a crook can get so sucked in and it sounds like something right out of a crime novel. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s worked many times and – as you read this – some killer is about to be stung by ‘Mister Big’.

Headshot Image

Handsome devil. Isn’t he?


Garry is the Top 10 Best Selling author of a paranormal crime-thriller based on a true story, No Witnesses To Nothing, and hosts the blogsite www.DyingWords.net, which provokes thoughts on life, death and writing. Besides writing countless legal and forensic pieces, he is considered one of the most knowledgeable scholars on the US President John F Kennedy homicide and is currently working with Wiley Publishing to produce ‘The JFK Assassination For Dummies’.

Garry Rodgers welcomes your questions on death investigations, forensics, and ballistics. Feel free to contact him at [email protected]

Garry will happily answer any questions you may have involving this technique. Just leave it the comment section below. And if you’re looking for a great read, click the cover of No Witness To Nothing, or you can go here.

How To Get Away With Murder– You Don’t Want To Miss This!

In my last post of the year I told you big changes would be happening on Murder Blog and I’ve already begun the process. The last few days I’ve been hard at work redesigning my website/blog. When I started my main goal was to get rid of the black background because I’d read many times that white on black hurts people’s eyes– something I never intended or wanted.

Mind you, I knew nothing about CSS programming but was smart enough to know it was the only way to get the look I wanted. So I banged my head against the wall, pulled my hair out, swore like a long haul trucker cracked the books and studied all I could. Little by little it started to come together. And voilà!

Keeping with this theme I had intended to write a post about branding, but honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it. Instead, I’d like to repost something from Garry Rodgers’ site, DyingWords.net. He’s the special guest who’s coming Friday. And this is one of my favorite posts.


Are you planning on murdering someone, but your only stop is the fear of getting caught?

MurderOr are you plotting a thriller where your serial-slayer stays steps ahead of that dogged detective who’s also top-tier in her trade?

Maybe both? Well, I’ll give you a cake and let you eat it, too… if you’ll follow me on how homicide cops investigate murders.

Think about it. There are only four ways you can get caught. Or get away with it. All seasoned sleuths intrinsically know this, and they build their case on these four simple pillars. Let’s take a look at them.

What not to do

Fingerprint# 1  Don’t leave evidence behind that can identify you to the scene.  Such as fingerprints, footwear or tire impressions, DNA profiles, ballistic imprints, gunshot residue, toolmarks, bitemarks, handwritten or printed documents, hair, fiber, chemical signatures, organic compounds, cigarette butts, spit chewing gum, toothpicks, a bloody glove that doesn’t fit, or your wallet with ID (seriously, that’s happened).

Smoking Gun# 2  Don’t take anything with you that can be linked.  Including all of the above, as well as the victim’s DNA, her car, jewelry, money, bank cards, any cell phone and computer records, that repeated modus operandi of your serial kills, no cut-hair trophies, no underwear souvenirs, and especially don’t keep that dripping blade, the coiled rope, or some smoking gun.

Video Cameras


# 3  Don’t let anyone see you.  No accomplices, no witnesses, and no video surveillance. Camera-catching is a huge police tool these days. Your face is captured many times daily – on the street, at service stations, banks, government buildings, private driveways, and the liquor store.

Confession# 4  Never confess.  Never, ever, tell anyone. That includes your best drinking buddy, your future ex-lover, the police interrogator, or the undercover agent.


So, if you don’t do any of these four things, you can’t possibly get caught.

Now… What To Do

Humans are generally messy and hard creatures to kill – even harder to get rid of – so murder victims tend to leave a pool of evidence. Therefore it’s best not to let it look like a murder.

Writers have come up with some fascinating and creative ways to hide the cause of death. Problem is – most don’t work. Here’s two sure-fire ways to do the deed and leave little left.

A.G.E.# 1 Cause an Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE)  This one’s pretty easy, terribly deadly, and really difficult to call foul. An AGE is a bubble in the blood stream, much like a vapor lock in an engine’s fuel system. People die when their central nervous system gets unplugged, and a quick, hard lapse in the carotid artery on the right side of the neck can send an AGE into their cerebral circulation. The brain stops, the heart quits, and they drop dead.

Strangulation is an inefficient way to create an AGE and it leaves huge tell-tale marks. You’re far better off giving a fast blast of compressed air to the carotid… maybe from something like that thing you clean your keyboard with… just sayin’.

Poison# 2 Good Ol’ Poison  Ah, the weapon of women. Man, have there been a lot of poisonings over the centuries and there’s been some pretty, bloody, diabolical stories on how they’re done. Problem again. Today there’s all that cool science. The usual suspects of potassium cyanide, arsenic, strychnine, and atropine still work well, but they’ll jump out like a snake-in-the-box during a routine tox screen.

You need something that’s lethal, yet a witch to detect. I know of two brews – one is a neurotoxin made from fermented plant alkaloid, and the other is a simple mix of fungi & citrus. This stuff will kill you dead and leave no trace, but I think it’s quite irresponsible to post these formulas on the net.

So there, I’ll leave it with you to get away with murder. But if you have some crafty novel plot that needs help, I’m dying to hear your words.

Oh, and watch out for what’s in that cake that you’re eating.

Now, that’s just a taste of what he has in store for us on Friday. I’d so love to tell you more but… As all good fiction writers know, the best way to keep your readers coming back for more is with to withhold information, suspend the tension, and then show the conflict unfolding later in the book. This way gives the biggest impact and readers will love you for it.

So let me ask you, are you getting exciting for Friday? Do you have a question about this post? I’m sure Garry would be happy to stop by and answer them for you.

If you enjoyed this post why not share it on your favorite social site. It’s only a click or two. To show my appreciation leave me a link below and I’ll gladly return the favor, if I haven’t already.


Fiction Writing: Elements of An Irresistible Opening– Test Yours!

I’ve had a couple of great days. Yesterday I located a buried body, excavated the grave site, collected evidence, studied the victim’s bones in the lab and was able to ID the victim from missing persons records. And all without leaving my living room.

How? I’ll tell you that later in the post.


In the meantime I want to talk about “the hook”. We all know what it is, but do we really know the best place to start our novels? You’ve heard the advice a million times: Start in the middle of the action. But does that mean in the middle of a gunfight, a bar brawl, a domestic squabble? Or is it better to start your novel right before the action explodes, when two men are sneering at each other from across the room, eyes crimped, arms curled, muscles flexing against stretched-thin tank tops?

I say it’s the latter. And here’s why. A great mentor/author once told me that you need to accomplish several things in that all-important opening paragraph.

1. You need to introduce your character and give the reader a reason to care about them IN THE OPENING LINE. Sympathy is the quickest way.

2. You need to raise ANY story question IN THE OPENING LINE.

3. You need to raise your Central Dramatic Story Question– CDSQ– IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH.

4.  You need to create conflict in the opening paragraph.

5.  You need to give the reader a reason a keep reading.


Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. This is why so many openings fail. This is why it takes me several rewrites to find the perfect opening for a new book. It is in no way easy. But it is necessary.

Now, you could say, “Hey, Sue, rules were made to be broken.”

You could say that. And that’s certainly you’re right as a writer. Please know I write these types of posts to help not to hinder. My only motivation is to save you days/weeks/months/even years of struggling that I’ve already endured so you won’t have to. These tips come from the heart, truly.

You need to introduce your character and get sympathy for them in the opening line.

The introduction is fairly easy. You’d simply say, “Sage Quintano (my character from MARRED) did such and such.” If you write in the first person I’ll give you a little extra time to get his/her name in there, but not much. Shoot for two paragraphs. You ought to be able to think of creative way to sneak your character’s name in by then. The easiest way is dialogue, having another character call them by name. Boom. Done.

But now you need to gain sympathy for that character, give the reader a reason to care if she gets killed/maimed/marred. Here’s where it becomes a little trickier, especially when dealing with characters on the wrong side of the law.

So how do we do this? We give them a trait that others can relate to. A flaw. A situation that tugs at the reader’s heart-strings. We’ve talked about flaws before. For anyone struggling with this I’d recommend the Negative Trait Thesaurus, which you can find here.

We all have flaws, some more than others, so it’s important that your character does too.

You need to raise a story question in the opening line.

For example in MARRED I showed Sage rubbing her belly, her heart aching over the life she lost. How did she lose it? When did it happen? That’s two questions AND I’ve gotten sympathy for her right away.

Raise a story question– any story question– in the opening line and it will keep your reader flipping pages to find the answer.

In the opening paragraph you need conflict.

Conflict drives your story. If your story was an automobile than conflict would be the gas. Your car will not go anywhere without gas and neither will your story without conflict. Get your character in conflict with another character or with themselves– inner conflict– right away.

Give your reader a reason to keep reading.

How do we do that? By giving our character a goal and by showing WHY it’s important that they meet that goal. This will not only humanize them, but it will give your reader a reason to root for them when they’re in terrible trouble. It will also foreshadow what’s to come.

I saw a great chart recently on DyingWords.net– my go-to site for forensics and other crime related data. I’m mentioning this site for a reason, but that too you will have to wait for. In a guest post by K.M. Weiland she said, “In order for your story to resonate deeply with your very human audience, your character’s goal needs to be one of five specific things.”

Below is the motivation triangle in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, showing the five categories.


For a more in-depth look at each of these categories you can find the post here. It’s excellent. If you’re not familiar with K.M. Weiland or her blog, look her up. She’s amazing. And you can find her site here.

So now you’ve introduced your character, raised a story question, given your reader a reason to care, created conflict, and showed them the goal and why it’s important– all in the opening paragraph.

So we’re done, right? Wrong. One more thing.

Your central dramatic story question.

What is it and why is it important? The CDSQ defines your story. It IS your story. The moment it is asked– your story begins. The moment it is answered– your story ends. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. Figure out what your CDSQ is and build your story around it. It’s also a great way to stay on track and give your story structure.

For example, this is my CDSQ for MARRED: Will Sage find her way back to her husband, heal herself of a vicious rape and find her kidnapped twin in time to save her life?

Little tip for those going traditional: When you’re asked for a logline start with your CDSQ only reword to form a sentence instead of a question.


As a gift I’ll let you in on a fun but difficult exercise– that I got from Dyingwords.net– where YOU can play cop/coroner for an afternoon. It’s a virtual crime scene created by the pros. And the link is here. Enjoy!

Before I let you go let me tell you why I divulged my go-to site for forensics and other crime related matters. It’s because Garry Rodgers from DyingWords– retired mounted police officer/retired coroner/firearms expert– will be guest posting right here on the blog. If you write crime fiction or any story with a crime in it you won’t want to miss this one!

Now it’s your turn to test your opening!

You’ve got all the elements of a perfect opening– the hook– so why not test it with the rest of us? Leave me your first paragraph in the comment section and I’ll tell you how you did.

3 Tips To Strengthen Your Fictional Story

In a recent post, 3 Tips To Amp Up Your Writing, I spoke about narrative voice and how to use it. Today I have 3 more tips to strengthen your stories.

Tip #1:  Grounding your reader when switching POV

When you alternate POVs you need to ground your reader in the first sentence so there is no question who’s narrating. Keep in mind, you should limit your POV characters to three so you don’t confuse your readers.

How do we ground our readers? By making sure our first sentence uses the POV character’s name or “I” (for first person) to show who’s narrating. You can show what your character is looking at or what he/she is thinking/feeling as long as you show whose view it is.

Here are two examples below. The first is straight forward, the second a little trickier, but in both there is no question whose scene it is.

On his way to another crime scene Sheriff Niko Quintano listened to the radio as he drove down Bailey Road in Alexandria. 

Five months after the discovery of Ms. Lambert’s body Detective Manson retired, which made Niko question how hard he had worked the homicide, if he was just biding time or if this case was the reason he’d left the job.

If you want to set the scene by showing the milieu then you need to relate it to the POV character. Example…

A light shot out from a basement window, screamed across the hauntingly quiet forest floor, and Sage’s pulse quickened from the thought of who or what was in that basement.


Tip #2:  Grounding your reader in a flashback

Many new writers think by just saying, “She thought back to a time when…” that is enough to show the reader they are in a flashback. It isn’t. Which is why some readers hate flashbacks. By using this trick you will ensure your reader is never confused by what is a flashback and what is present time.

This little trick is so simple some of you will kick yourself for not knowing this.

When your POV character flashes back to an event add “had” to the first and last sentence of the flashback. That’s it. Just a tiny three-letter word makes your flashback perfectly clear.

Here’s an example so you can see what I mean:

Her mind spiraled back in time, to when she was seventeen years old and her mother had just told her her father was dead. Nikki felt her chest tighten, her mind buzzing with images of what could have transpired in the short few hours since he left the house. She sobbed, keening over her loss. A second later she quieted, noticing the look on her mother’s face. It wasn’t sadness she saw, or grief, Mom had a gleam in her eye as though she was happy about the news. Nikki stepped back, away from her mother, not recognizing the woman in front of her.

Her brother Todd burst through the door, his excitement palpable– and she wondered if she was living with a bunch of psychopaths. Nikki gave her mother a spiteful glare and then stomped up the stairs, slammed the door to her room and slid a wooden chair under the knob. Her legs went weak, backing away with short, jerky steps. Later that night, her head propped up on pillows, she had gazed out the window at the night sky and prayed she’d find a way to escape.

As you can see HAD is in my first and last sentence, showing when the reader enters the flashback and when they exit. This technique becomes even more crucial when your flashback continues for several paragraphs. But regardless of length if you use this trick your reader will never be confused.


Tip #3:  Remember that your characters do not live in a bubble.

Life happens around us. Thus, the same applies for our fictional characters. Whether they are in places such as restaurants, cafes or busy shopping malls, or at home or alone in the car by utilizing outside stimuli you’re adding depth to your scene, thereby further drawing your reader into your story.

Let me show you what I mean. This excerpt is from MARRED, where Sage is alone in her SUV.

The sun drained from the afternoon sky and the area around me darkened. The slivered moon rose and offered a feeble attempt at brightening the area. Trees soughed on the hauntingly quiet back road and pebbles crunched under my tires’ thick treads. A low rumble sounded in the distance and became louder as it approached. A man on a Harley sped toward me, his long mustache flattened across his cheeks. When he sailed by my window he gave me a nod and revved his engine, his loud pipes saying hello. The twin engines roared as he gunned it up the dirt road. A puff of smoky gravel trailed behind him, and the ends of his bandana skullcap and gray ponytail flapped in the wake of his escape.

And then I was alone again.


As you can see if I had only mentioned her thoughts the scene would become static. Just because your character is alone in her/his vehicle does not mean the world around her/him disappears. Let your words do the work for you. By showing only one motorcycle speed by I’ve also showed the reader that the back road is deserted. Thus, creating an image in the reader’s mind and subtly foreshadowing that something creepy is about to happen.

In another example let’s say your character is unloading a dishwasher when her husband enters the kitchen. Break up your dialogue by showing her taking a glass from the top shelf of the dishwasher and setting in the cabinet, or wiping a soap spot off a wineglass, or uttering a complaint that one of the forks still has crusty food on it.

Remember: Just because someone else enters the room does not mean the action stops for your character. Take the dishwasher example. When a wife is unloading dishes she doesn’t stop to chat with her husband, she chats while she continues to unload the dishes. By showing the continuing action you make your scene more realistic.

If you’ve been following me for a while you know I am a huge fan of Karin Slaughter. She is a master at this technique. Her scenes are so rich with tiny details that you can’t help but be glued to the pages. She had me on the first book and I keep coming back for more. Why? Because I am living these books right along with her characters. I’m in the scenes. Her characters are as real to me as you are. That is great storytelling.

Before I let you go my family and I would like to wish you a happy holiday season… Enjoy!

dashing through the snow

If you have anything to add to one of these tips please do so in the comment section below.

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A Special Guest Who Interviewed James Patterson, Author Caleb Pirtle III

I have a special treat for you today. I’ve invited an incredible writer who has authored more than 55 books. Last count I believe the number was closer to 59! Caleb Pirtle III has an amazing career that’s spanned decades. Two years ago, as digital publishing was surging to the forefront, he and his wife, Linda, joined with attorney and author Stephen Woodfin to found and build Venture Galleries, working with authors across the country and helping them publish, promote, market, and sell their books. He even interviewed James Patterson, and today will share what he learned.

Let’s take a breath here a minute and just think about what it means to have authored 59 novels. Can you imagine the creativity and skill that takes? I am so honored to have him visit my little murder blog, and to call him a friend. Caleb is a kind, generous person and a fantastic storyteller. We can all learn from a hybrid author like Caleb. So grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Take it away Caleb…


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