Posted in Thoughts, writing inspiration, Writing tips

Starting in Medias Res

When you start a book do you want it to begin in the middle of the action or do you prefer a slow build up? Brandon McNulty did a YouTube video that made me think, what is the best way to open a story.

As a reader I like both depending on the story. If I start reading and a character is being shot at or chased, I’m interested to see what happens next. BUT…I also enjoy getting to know a character a bit before they’re thrown into the pot of boiling water. The rom coms where we see a little bit of normal life before everything goes haywire, or the cozy mystery that starts with what appears to be just an average day in the life of the sleuth or the accused.

Which version has more power to attract the reader?


  1. Her arms and legs trembled with fatigue. The dizziness and nausea still lingered but self-preservation pushed those discomforts to the back of her mind. From the shore she could see the yacht burning. She flinched as a second charge exploded, demolishing what was left of the life she’d begun to build. Shivering in her wet clothes, she knew she couldn’t wait around until her strength returned. An ex-con couldn’t be found this close to a crime scene. Stumbling barefoot over the rocks, shells and detritus that littered the shoreline, she hoped she wasn’t leaving bloody footprints behind. Slowly, she made her way home by the backroads praying no one would see her and note her appearance. It wouldn’t pay for anyone to connect her to the murders.
  2. She turned off the vacuum cleaner, her head still bobbing to the music coming out of her headphones. The boat swayed. Were they being boarded? No one was due to arrive until later tonight. Quickly, she shut off her phone and pulled her headphones out. Angry shouts from the upper deck caused her heart to pound. She needed to hide. Hurriedly, she stowed her cleaning stuff it the tiny closet, and herself in the shower. She wasn’t supposed to be here. If her parole appointment hadn’t run so late…the boat started moving. Oh shit, oh shit, please don’t head out to the ocean. What do I do? The boat stopped. Breathing a sigh of relief, they weren’t far from shore. Her relief was short lived at the pop of silenced gun shots. Balling into the fetal position at the bottom of the shower, she blinked back tears and nausea. Another boat came along side, scraping the hull. Thank God, they’re leaving. The odor of gasoline warned her things were about to get worse. Creeping from her hiding place, she tried not to look at the dead bodies. She leaped into the water as the smaller boat drove away from the yacht. She felt the percussion and for a moment feared she’d drown from the nausea and dizziness of the impact. She floated on her back until she could get her bearings then swam to shore. She stared back at the burning yacht as another explosion rattled the night. Not waiting for the trembling in her legs to ease, she made her way home along the backroads hoping no one noticed her leaving the scene of the crime.

As you can see, number 2 has more details, but does it give you more or less? Number 2 gives more background information, orients the reader a little more but it takes away some of the punch the first has. If you started reading a book that opened with either of these, which would be more interesting? Would it really matter to you? I believe there are many different types of readers as there are many different types of writers. There is no one-way is the right way. It’s a matter of what fits the story, the genre, and the individual taste. While I like both, I would tend to go with the first to create that intense reaction and then build the character more in the next scene especially if I’m writing a fast-paced suspense. If it’s more of a psychological thriller, the slower pace might be best.

I’d love to hear your opinion. As a reader or as a writer, what do you think is best?

Posted in inspiration, my books, writing inspiration, Writing tips

Tips and Hacks for Writing a Fight or Action Scene

Writing a Fight or Action Scene

Some of these ideas can be used to write other scenes, especially romantic action scenes but without the fighting unless you are into that, no judgement here. Like sex scenes, fight scenes are often added to a story to make it more interesting but if you do not engage the reader prior to the scene or make the scene a pivotal plot point either as an emotional arc or an informational plot device, you will leave the reader uninterested and too often they will skip over your finely crafted scene because it doesn’t do anything. The best scenes do both, advance the emotional arc of the story and divulge information, possibly backstory that explains current problems or obstacles. Don’t forget pacing.

For this class, I want to focus on fight scenes. Now I’m not a fighter, unless you count arguing with teenagers or trying to get a toddler to go to bed, and if you don’t think those are epic battles then you have never tried it. When most people think of fight scenes, they usually think of a major military battle or at the very least a bar fight, but truthfully, a fight scene can be anything in which you have two opposing forces. Man battling to survive a hurricane. Mother arguing with a teenager about smoking. Young parent trying to coax a toddler to bed. Two rival schools preparing for the big match (choose your sport). Armies facing each other across a battlefield. A pair of gun fighters face to face on a dusty street. No matter your venue, somethings remain the same. Emotions, stakes, the heat of battle and the aftermath.

Before you start your scene, there are some things you might want to research. Are you a soldier? If not, weapons and special tactics are things you may want to look up and study prior to your battle. Is it not that kind of fight? Okay, what kind of fight are we having? A barroom brawl will differ greatly from a regimented military action, at least at first. So, these are the questions you should ask before you write your scene.

  1. Who is fighting whom?
  2. Why are they fighting?
  3. Who has the most to lose?
  4. What is at stake?
  5. Who is your main fighter/POV character?
  6. What are they feeling?
  7. Is this their first fight or are they a seasoned warrior?
  8. Weapon of choice?
  9. Moves, choreography of the battle.
  10. Win or lose how does this affect your character?

As a panster I didn’t write all of these down, but I did my research as I was writing. In Titanium Blue I had to learn about IEDs (improvised explosive device or homemade bombs). In Red Steel I learned about drones and firefighting and blowing all kinds of stuff up, that was fun. It’s great having sons who can help with these things. The more involved I get in my series, I’ve realized the importance of making plans ahead of time.

Another thing to think about is what is happening just prior to the fight. Even if you don’t write that scene, you as the author should know what the characters are doing just before going into battle. Writing that scene might be what makes the reader care about the characters before the big battle.

In the case of the young parent maybe it’s the father taking care of his son while his wife gets ready for date night. By the time he gets the child down to nap, he’ll be too tired to go out. That might start another fight.

Maybe a couple are out to dinner and are mugged on their way home. The woman has been taking self-defense classes. Maybe you mention the classes at dinner. “Wow, those exercise classes are really paying off, you look great,” he smiles at her over his wine glass. “They’re self-defense classes, and I feel great.” She grins at the spark that lights his eyes at her admission. “I bet you have some scary moves.” She winked and sipped her wine.

By setting things up ahead of time you allow the reader to believe the girl can whip two big guys and make it home safely. Think about your favorite books, movies or television shows, what happens before everything goes sideways?


  1. What kind of fight/battle?

A barroom brawl, a military battle, a gunfight at the OK Corral. All of these will be different. What about the ancient Greeks versus Star Wars? What is different? What is the same? Whether you are using light sabers or clubs, a battle will be loud, dirty, intense and emotional.

  • What kind of weapons?

Are you riding into battle on a Sherman tank or are you a dragon-shifter and you are the weapon? Are you shooting a Colt single action or a Barretta 9 mm. Knowing your weapons doesn’t mean you have to describe everything it can do. Don’t let your research show, read this article by Ava Cuvay “Ack! Tuck In My Research!”

  • Who is fighting?

Not just is this the Greeks against the Turks or the Jedi Rebellion against the Empire, or some random mom at the food court struggling with her two-year old, but is this the hero/heroine fighting for their lives or for those they care about versus an abstract battle from history or the future? What is at stake? Why does this fight matter, not to the world but to the characters in your story? The Civil War told in history books has little meaning until you put a face to it. When you see a young slave woman, spying, risking her life for her freedom or brothers fighting against each other on opposite sides of the battlefield. Make us, your readers, care. Let us have skin in this game, even if it is just sympathy for the hero/heroine.

Use what is familiar to all to convey what might be unfamiliar.

  • Where? What is the weather, the terrain or setting like?

Everything has an affect on what the POV character can see and know. If he is miles from the battle and he is rushing to the frontline because his lover is fighting each mile will seem like hundreds. Time will slow down. He will be anxious. If he is on horseback versus being in a starship, what he sees and hears as he nears the battle will be different.

If he is driving over mountains or across the dessert, steam-powering across the ocean or soaring across galaxies, each terrain will offer their own obstacles or advantages. Plot your scene as if it were a movie happening in your head.

If you are building your world from scratch, design a map. If it’s a real place use Google maps, even if you’ve been there, just to keep it accurate.

  • From whose point of view do we see the battle?

If you are the hero rushing to the rescue your view of the battle will be different than the lover who is in the midst of the fray. Think realistically of your POV character’s limitations. You may want to give more than one view of the battle.

Perhaps you are neither character but an observer or maybe you are the antagonist. We often think of the antagonist as the villain in the story, but most villains see themselves as the hero, unless they are just bad for the sake of being bad. (But even cartoon characters have a backstory.)

In the battle of the OK Corral, The Earps versus the Cowboys. History has made the Earps the heroes in the story, but the truth is a little more complicated. The Earps were probably just as bad as the Cowboys, but they had badges. Many have described them as bullies. Some of the Clanton and McLaury ancestors (the Cowboys) claim they weren’t outlaws like history portrays them, just poor cowboys who got on the bad side of a group of bullies with connections.

So, depending on who is telling the story, from where, and what they have at stake, these can intensify your scene and make the reader feel what your character is feeling. You might try writing the scene from different POVs to see which one you like best. Even in the young parent with the toddler, who has the most at stake? The exhausted parent who wants a break or the kid who doesn’t want to miss anything, maybe is afraid of the dark?


Write a battle scene from a character’s POV who is far from the action.

Write the same scene from the middle of the action.

Try writing a variety of ideas: a sporting competition, an epic battle or a two-person fight. Feel what is the same and what’s different about each type of fight.

Remember you are limited by what your character can experience from where they are. The farther away from the action, the time seems longer but more intense (maybe, depending on your emotion). They could be viewing the action from a monitor. What are they feeling? How are they reacting? Are they a new recruit excited to go to battle, too green to realize they should be afraid? Are they a commander strategizing up to the last moment of arrival?

What is the difference when they are in the middle of the action? Does the green recruit cut and run? Does the commander go in guns blazing? Use your senses, set the scene. Let us smell the gunpowder, hear the roar of the lions, feel the slice of the saber. Okay, maybe not quiet that much but you get the idea. Make me care.

Note1: Know your terrain whether you are in a fancy ballroom or on a battlefield, know the location of your main characters, chart their movements. Know what is where. If there is a window or door, a tank, a fire breathing dragon, where is it. Even if you do not describe it in the story, it may be relevant to how the person is able to see in the dark (because the streetlight shines through the window) or he has to go around a building which offers shelter but also obscures his view of his partner. You get the idea?

Note2: If I have a difficult scene whether it’s a fight scene or not, I’ll sketch out a rough picture of the setting and move my characters like pieces on a board game. Remember you don’t have to give us a play by play, but we need to get a feel of movement.

Posted in event, inspiration, Thoughts, writing inspiration, Writing tips

Combating Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block

I hosted a Writer’s Block Meet Up on RWA’s virtual conference. It was a great, small meet up group that allowed us to discuss different subjects. Although the main focus was writer’s block, the discussion made me realize that there are a lot of things that can cause writer’s block.

How has Covid effected your writing? Are you in quarantine writing more or are you like me, working and feeling exhausted? My writing has suffered during the virus. I’m considered an essential worker. I manage a liquor store. People are working from home or are staying at home. But it wasn’t just the increase in sales but the worry and concern over what this virus could do to me or to my family. Working with the public, having extra responsibilities to keep us safe, fear of bringing it home, all of this made it difficult for me to write. I finished Janie’s Secrets during Covid, it was nearly a month later than I’d planned but I did finish it. Unfortunately, that put me behind on other things I wanted to write like the novella for the Heart of Carolina and The New Romance Café. Covid has just zapped me.   

What do you think is the biggest cause of writer’s block? I rarely have trouble thinking of things to write. I have trouble finding time to write. This year has been difficult with the extra stress, work and grief. I have a large family, a home, a mother who depends on me, a husband who’d like a little attention occasionally, and then there is the marketing and promoting that also takes time.

The worst time I had with writer’s block was after we lost our home to fire followed by losing my dad the next year, then Hurricane Irene destroying my mother’s home, and she falling and breaking her hip. I had a difficult time getting back into the swing of writing. Chrome Pink took several years to get written, but writing it was what helped me out of my writer’s block. One of the first things I did to help with my own writer’s block was take online classes. I also attended a local writer’s conference. I began my own writer’s group. I pushed through the block and just started writing. I wrote less than 500 words a day at that time and not every day then. Making it a habit, as often as I can a daily habit, pushing myself to write more, competing in Book in a Week and NaNoWriMo has also helped fight through the writer’s block.

Do you have any hacks to help you combat writer’s block? Normal writer’s block, i.e. fatigue, stress, lack of time, I fight in a variety of ways.


I love to dance. Sometimes a little music and movement can shake something loose in the muse.

A walk. My town is the inspiration for my series, a walk around town puts me in touch with my muse. I often take photos which I use on social media, so my walk is a two-for, or three-for as it’s also good for me.

Playing with my grandchildren, two of my grands live next door and whenever they call for grandma, I can’t say no. I mean, who could say no to two adorable little boys?


Write something different.

Try poetry. Write a poem or song, try writing it from your character’s POV.

Write an interview with your characters. Ask them the hard questions.

Write an article, blog post, advertisement, or synopsis.

Write until you have a breakthrough.


Maybe you need to read over what you’ve written and see where you’ve gone off the rails.

Rethink, replot, or rewrite until you see your way out of your schlump.

Read a craft book to help you write better.

Read and relax.

Listen: this was suggested in our discussion this morning and I cannot believe I didn’t think of it because I do this.

Audio-dramas or books: listen to your favorite performances or authors and pay attention to how they write or put words together; or listening to craft books on writing.

YouTube videos or podcasts: there are several tutorials on the craft and business of writing. They can inspire you to write better or give you new ideas.

I’d love to hear how you combat writer’s block. Share your tricks and hacks.

Posted in Thoughts, Writing tips

What Happens When a Pantser Plots?

Calendar in my NaNo Book

For years I have suffered a debilitating disease of UNABLE to Plot. I’ve taken classes and courses, bought books and listened to other authors, but when it comes down to plotting and outlining, I freeze up. This year for NaNoWriMo, after listening to several YouTube videos and webinars, I decided to give it another try.

In the past when I thought of outlining my story I’d break out in hives. I might get as far a A.2.b.3. before completely freaking out because nothing was adding up or equaling out. It was inevitable. I couldn’t stand that it wasn’t the way I’d always been taught it had to be. English teachers y’all have destroyed my mojo. It is impossible to get the exact same number of bullet points per letter for each topic, plot point, story beat. I CAN’T do it! It makes me nuts. I know, some of you know I’m already nuts but this just adds to it.

I’d start to feel like I didn’t know what to do and wanted to scream!

I did it! I outlined my story for NaNoWriMo!

Oh-my-gosh, really? But I’m a pantser.

What am I doing plotting? Why am I even trying? What is this madness? It’s called NaNoWriMo, shhh.

Because I’m doing NaNo (National Novel Writing Month Challenge) and I know in order to write faster, fifty thousand words in one month, am I crazy, yes, I need to pull out all the tricks. I’ve worked on character sheets, sticky note ideas and reminders, and I just finished outlining my story.

Am I really outlining and planning my story? Huh, that’s not how I write, is it?

Well, in truth, as a pantser, I usually just sit down at the computer and write. The ideas just come to me as I’m writing, well sometimes, and other times, I have to put in a place holder like “Something needs to happen here,” or “make the character do X or Y.”

I’ve wrote scenes with complete details and felt I had them just right and then the next scene might be “why would he do this?” While outlining my story I’ve used a few of my “placeholder” tricks. It’s not a real outline. It’s a barebones rough draft with a list of a few things I want included in the story. I also have a few questions and challenges. My outline looks nothing like what my English teacher told me an outline should be, but I think it gives me an idea of where I want to go in the story without fencing me in.

One of the biggest differences between pansters and plotters is y’all know where you want to go with the story and all the steps for how to get there. Pantsers might know where we’re hoping to end up, but we have no idea how we’re going to get there, and we may change our minds halfway through the story. For us, writing the story is the journey, if we know too much it ruins the fun.

With writing a series I’ve come to know my characters, the storyline and how I want the overall series to end but I still come up with new characters and new ideas that I want to incorporate into it. Some of the ideas make it into the story, or I save for future books, others get edited out or don’t even get written. I think of writing like a puzzle, I know one of my main characters really well but one of them is still a mystery. I have a few facts but I’m still getting to know him or her. I know my antagonists and my antihero but am I going to allow him a point of view? While some of you may know your character’s birth sign, color of underwear and if they like jazz, rock or country. I’m lucky to remember their hair and eye color and if they have any physical tells.

NaNo is about writing a rough draft and writing it quickly. While I’ll write my outline and try to follow it as closely as I can, I also know that as a panster I have to allow myself the freedom to spread my wings and fly. Just as long as I fly in the right direction, it’s all good.  

So those of you who are pantsers and want to try writing an outline, why not just write what you want to happen in each chapter. A one- or two-line synopsis of what happens or a question you need to answer. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Use what works for you. Good luck and I’ll see you later.

If you’re NaNoing, I’m Pamlico Writer, I could use a buddy to help me through and I’d be happy to do the same for you.

My working cover