Saturday, May 30, 2015

Novelists: Creating Tension Wherever We Go

Next month, June, is "conflict month" at Writers on the Storm, but around my house, every month is conflict month. With three teenagers, a hard-working husband, a creative (a.k.a. crazy) wife, an eager dog, and a cat that disdains us all, can you imagine why? Yes, I have a lot of experience with conflicts of every sort. The big conflicts make our lives interesting—though I do prefer when they stay in my stories, thank you very much.

But today, I don’t want to talk about the big stuff. This conflict is so much smaller, I’m going to assign it a different name entirely: tension.

Tension: inner unrest, striving, or imbalance :  a feeling of psychological stress often manifested by increased muscular tonus and by other physiological indicators of emotion.*
“Increased muscular tonus.” Ever felt like clenching? Yeah, that’s tension.

Yes, the words conflict and tension can be used interchangeably, but I’m differentiating between them, because you can’t have major conflicts on every page. Imagine having a character barge into every scene demanding to know who stole his phone charger. It would get (Though if you wrote a teenager into your story, you could make it work.) So maybe you don’t want conflict on every page, but you do want tension on every page.

Donald Maass calls it micro-tension, and he says in Fire in Fiction, “Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds.” (By the way, if you haven’t read Fire in Fiction and Maass’s other craft books, get started immediately.)

We’re not talking about those big story questions—will Rafe finally tell Aubrey he loves her? We’re talking about the little things. Imagine your last Thanksgiving dinner. I hope you didn’t have any outright conflicts at the table, but often, there can be tension. There was for poor, fictional Aubrey.

Aunt Mabel leveled a look at her. “No date...again, dear?”
Aubrey forced a smile and thought about the fight she’d had with Rafe the night before. If only she’d kept her stupid mouth shut. “Not this year.”
“What about that hottie, Rafe?” Aubrey’s little sister said. “He seemed totally into you.”
Her father reached for the mashed potatoes. “Rafe? What kind of name is that?” He heaped another helping on his plate. “Sounds like a pirate.”
Aubrey’s brother settled his gaze on her. “You’re not stupid enough to get wrapped up with a guy like Rafe, right, sis?” 

They’re not fighting, but Aubrey’s definitely feeling increased muscular tonus. And if the author’s done her job, the reader is, too, wondering how Aubrey’s going to get the guy and still keep her family happy.

That’s tension, and as I just showed—I hope—it’s not that hard to slip into dialog. I’m sure you do it all the time in your books. Be careful, though. Dialog doesn’t automatically add tension. Whenever you have two people on the same side with the same goals, you’re missing an opportunity for tension. Look for those happy people/happy land, let’s sip coffee and eat cookies kind of scenes and find ways to add some tension.

But how do you add tension to description? There are a number of ways. One is to use your character’s fears and emotions in that moment as a filter. It’s a windy, autumn day, and your character has just learned she has a rare and often fatal disease. Let’s not have the leaves dancing in the autumn breeze. Rather, let’s see them hanging onto the branches, clinging to life while the already fallen crunch beneath her feet, releasing the scent of decay and death as she plods her way toward the hospital.

What about action scenes? They’re tense enough all by themselves, right? Not necessarily. Ever notice how nearly every cop show on TV has at least one chase scene. The cop/detective/federal agent stops at least 25 feet from the bad guy and yells, “Stop, police,” and invariably the perp makes a run for it. This is a great time to refill your iced tea, because there’s no tension. Let’s face it: everybody knows they’re going to catch him. Check your action scenes and make sure they’re dripping with tension.

And then there’s exposition, those paragraphs with your character just...thinking. Unless you’re intentional about adding tension here, your readers’ eyes will glaze over. One way to add tension is to fill your character’s head with conflicting thoughts. She loves him. She hates him. She can’t live without him. She’s going to leave him. Only try to make it a bit more subtle than that. And if you’re rehashing what just happened in a previous scene...don’t. Not unless you’re adding something new—and critical—that the reader doesn’t already know.

Make it your goal to have tension on every single page of your manuscript. That’s what keeps the reader up at night, turning those pages.

If you’d like to learn more about tension, ACFW is offering an online course in July on this subject—taught by yours truly. I’d love to see you there.

Your turn: What’s your favorite technique for adding tension to your novel?

* from Merriam-Webster Unabridged,

About the Author:

Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, is available now. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website,

Finding Amanda links:

My website:
Robin’s Red Pen:
Amazon:  Finding Amanda

Finding Amanda Back Cover Copy

Chef and popular blogger Amanda Johnson hopes publishing her memoir will provide healing and justice. Her estranged husband, contractor and veteran soldier Mark Johnson, tries to talk her out of it, fearing the psychiatrist who seduced her when she was a teen might return to silence her.

But Amanda doesn’t need advice, certainly not from her judgmental soon-to-be ex-husband. Her overconfidence makes her vulnerable when she travels out of town and runs into the abuser from her past. A kind stranger comes to her rescue and offers her protection.

Now Mark must safeguard his wife both from the fiend who threatens her life and from the stranger who threatens their marriage.


Don't forget our "Write-Out" Day! We're having a field trip to the National Museum of Funeral History, 415 Barren Springs Dr., Houston. We'll meet at 10:00 and have lunch together at Rudy's after the tour. Entry fee is $10.00--unless we can swing 25 attendees, then we can qualify for the group rate of $8.00. Bring pen and paper. You never know what'll inspire you!

Also, the Storming the Storm short story contest officially opens June 1st. Get your stories polished. This year's theme is "Dance." Information here: 

Next meeting is June 20th, when Janice Thompson teaches us about C.O.N.F.L.I.C.T. Writers in the Houston area are welcome guests!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015 Storming the Short Story Contest

Announcing the 2015 Storming the Short Story Contest


Writers on the Storm (ACFW – The Woodlands) 
Houston Christian Authors (ACFW – Houston)

in partnership with Chalfont House Publishing’s fiction imprint HopeSprings Books


The Short Story contest is open to all authors, published or unpublished, 18 years of age or older.

Entries and Fee: 
An original 4,000-6,000 word short story. Entries must not have been previously published in any form.

Entry fee $25.00 via PayPal (button on right side panel).

Entry fees are non-refundable. Entry fees are used by the local ACFW Chapters to finance the contest, as well as fundraising for local chapter events.


Theme: Dancing

Your short story can be about anything as long as it fits into the one of the genres listed below, contains the theme mentioned above, and has a clear faith element (Christian). The theme should be obvious to the reader. For instance, if the theme was “Storms” there would need to be a storm in your story somewhere. Metaphorical storms would not count.

Categories and definitions:
  • Contemporary
    • Stories set in year 1960 or after that do not fit in one of the other categories
  • Historical
    • Any story with a setting prior to 1960
  • Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
    • Contemporary 
    • Romantic suspense would fit here
  • Romance
    • Contemporary
  • Speculative
    • Any type of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or combination.
    • If it’s weird, it goes here.
  • Young Adult/Middle-Grade
    • contemporary, Earth-based, regular fiction
    • Protagonists younger than 20 years
The Contest Committee reserves the right to combine categories if a minimum of 5 entries are not received.

This is a Christian fiction contest. No objectionable content allowed. 

Category Coordinators will determine whether the entries meet the required theme, content, and formatting requirements. Entries that do not meet the requirements will not pass to judging.

First Round judging: Panelists will score entries based on 5 categories. Scoring results will be returned to the contestant as feedback. Panelists can only vote in categories they have not entered as a contestant.

Final Round judging: HopeSprings Books will select stories for publication from the highest rated entries and will award at least a first prize in categories with 5 or more entries.

Winning entries will be edited with the cooperation of the author prior to publication. Winners retain copyright to their work, but the publication contract will be a 7-year license of the paperback, ebook, and audiobook rights. 

Proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be donated directly to the ACFW Scholarship Fund, but authors can receive a report each quarter upon request.

 Proceeds donated to the ACFW Scholarship Fund

June 1st - Contest is open for entries.
June 30th - Submissions closed (Midnight Central Time).
August 1st - Scoring begins.
August 15th - Scoring ends.
August 31st - Winners announced.

Formatting Requirements:
  1. Name should not appear anywhere on the entry
  2. Bible verses must be referenced in a footnote or endnote
  3. Manuscript pages must be in standard format:
    • Double spaced
    • 1-inch margins
    • Size 12 Times New Roman or Courier font (Including the header)
    • Unjustified and aligned left text with no extra space between paragraphs
    • Begin one third the distance from the top margin 
    • Scene breaks should be indicated with a single (#) or triple pound sign (###) as their own line with a single blank line above and below
    • Header should contain the category and title aligned left and the page number aligned right. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fun and Great Info Mark May 9th Meeting!

Super turn-out for our May 9th meeting, especially considering that it was Mother's Day weekend!

Janice Thompson presided over the meeting--which meant we had cookies after lunch. Those of you who couldn't make it missed out. She also hosted a give-away, 2015 calendars and her 3-Minute Devotions for Families.

Kathrese McKee masterfully held our attention with her speech, "Preparing for Disaster, Saving Your Manuscript from Oblivion," and fielded questions from those of us who are technophobes.

Kathrese knows her stuff, and given her background in All Things Computer, she should. She made us think about what we'd lose if something happened to our computers and we hadn't taken proper protective measures. Then she told us just what those measures should be.

If you missed it, she has generously provided the link to her notes, so you can read the outline to the entire speech "here."

My favorite Kathrese quote had nothing to do with computers: "We are never done learning English." How true is that?!


Congrats to our WOTS members!

Selah Award Finalists: Donn Taylor, for Lightning on a Quiet Nightand former member, Mary Hamilton, for Speak No Evil

Genesis Semi-finalists: Stacey Zink

Golden Quill (Desert Rose RWA) Finalist: Carla Rossi

Coming Thursday, June 4

Don't forget our "Write-Out" Day! We're having a field trip to the National Museum of Funeral History, 415 Barren Springs Dr., Houston. We'll meet at 10:00 and have lunch together after the tour. Entry fee is $10.00--unless we can swing 25 attendees, then we can qualify for the group rate of $8.00. Bring pen and paper. You never know what'll inspire you!

2015 Short Story Contest

You can learn more about it "here." Contest is open for entries on June 1! Also, don't forget about last year's anthology, featuring many stellar authors including Annette O'Hare, Carla Hoch, Linda Kozar, and Crystal Barnes.

Meeting on June 20th

Regular time and place. Don't miss it!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Michelle Griep: Deep POV Primer

Here’s the thing about writing: it’s subjective. Over time, trends change. What was considered good writing thirty years ago is no longer in vogue today.

Example? Point of view (POV) is defined as the perspective from which your story is written. It used to be that omniscient POV was the bomb diggity. The author god looked down upon his mighty story world and described his character’s thoughts from afar. He’d even mix it up a bit, telling you what Suzie thought, then what Bobby thought, and even what Great Aunt Mildred thought about Suzie and Bobby. This is known as head hopping. Try that today and you’ll get whapped upside the head with a big rejection stick.

So then the trend was third-person subjective. Don’t let the multi-syllabic words throw you. All it means is that you show your story through the eyes of one character at a time. This gives insight into what that character thinks or feels while only having superficial knowledge of other characters.

Third person-subjective is still in use, but now all the really cool kids are taking that a step further and writing in deep POV. In essence, this takes the readers into the heart of a character, allowing the story to be fully seen and felt through that character’s experiences, thoughts and feelings.

Nice idea, but how exactly does one pull it off? Never fear! Have I got a handy dandy list for you.

5 Tips To Write in Deep POV

1. Ditch the tags.

He said, she thought, wondered, knew, saw, yada-yada. These are all tags, and for the most part, you don’t need them. This is not a hard and fast rule, however, especially if you’ve got a dialogue with several characters going on all at once. Then you just might need to keep the “said.” But better you show the actual thought instead of writing it out in detail.

Regular POV example:

He heard a car alarm blaring outside. He wondered why the idiot car owner didn’t shut it off.
Deep POV example:

A car alarm blared outside. Seriously? What kind of idiot annoyed the world with their stupid car alarm?

2. Ditch the emotion naming too.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to connect on a gut level with your reader, but you don’t need to bludgeon them with blatant emotional telling. Make the reader feel the emotions along with the character.

Regular POV example:

She heard footsteps close behind, ramping up her terror.

Deep POV example:

Footsteps pounded. Close. Too close. Susan’s heart skipped a beat. 

3. Stay True to Character.

Use words that the character would use, and remember the opposite is true as well. Don’t use words your character wouldn’t. Stay true. Take into consideration the era, feel, and genre of your story. Here’s a historical fiction example . . .

Regular POV example:

Louisa felt terrible after telling Winston her opinion. She wondered what he would think.

Deep POV example:

La! Such a dire muddle she’d made of things. Louisa stared at the floor, better that than sink beneath Winston’s scowl.

4. Formatting.

Italics used to be used to distinguish thoughts. You don’t need to do this in deep POV. There’s no confusing the reader since you’re only writing a scene from one character’s vantage point anyway.

Regular POV example:

Alice lifted the loaded gun, until the barrel rested flat against her forehead. Surely Alice has more brains than that, he thought, or maybe she didn’t?

Deep POV example:

Alice lifted the loaded gun, until the barrel rested flat against her forehead. What was wrong with the woman? Clearly if a bullet flew, there weren’t any brains in there to begin with.

5. Weave in internal monologue with action.

Sometimes writing can read like a grocery list. She did that. He did this. Then we all went home. Boring! Add in depth of emotion, sprinkled throughout the action.

POV example:

She sprinted down the alley, listening hard to hear if she was being followed. Chancing a glance over her shoulder, she stumbled but kept going. When the alley opened into a street, she finally slowed down. No one had followed her.

Deep POV example:
She sprinted down the alley. Oh, God. What a horrible place to die. Chancing a glance over her shoulder, she stumbled. Sweet mercy! Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Pumping her legs, she picked up her pace. No. She’d have none of death. Not here. Not now. When the alley opened into a street, she finally slowed down. Alone, but not defeated. Victory never tasted so sweet.

There you have it. The easiest way to remember how to write in deep POV is simply to imagine your scenes through the eyes and body of your character. Don’t just write him. Be him. Give some of these tips a whirl in your current WIP and pretty soon you’ll automatically be writing in deep POV.

But don’t get too used to it. You never know what new writerly trend will be coming down the pike next.

About the Author . . .

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She seeks to glorify God in all that she writes—except for that graffiti phase she went through as a teenager.

She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where she teaches history and writing classes for a local high school co-op. An Anglophile at heart, she runs away to England every chance she gets, under the guise of research. Really, though, she’s eating excessive amounts of scones.

Follow her adventures at her blog WRITER OFF THE LEASH or visit, and don’t forget the usual haunts of PinterestFacebook or Twitter.

About the Book: Writer Off the Leash . . .

Are you a writer at heart? How can you tell? And if you are, how do you go about composing and selling the next Great American Novel?

WRITER OFF THE LEASH answers these questions and more--all in an easy to understand, tongue-in-cheek style. This is more than a how-to book. It's a kick in the pants for anyone who wants to write but is stymied by fear, doubt, or simply doesn't know how to take their writing to the next level. Award-winning author MICHELLE GRIEP blows the lid off stodgy old-school rulebooks and makes it clear that writing can--and should--be fun.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

May 9th Meeting Features Kathrese McKee!

The entire title of Kathrese's speech is: Preparing for Disaster: Saving Your Manuscript from Oblivion (Disaster Prevention and Recovery). It's a mouthful, but it grabs your attention, doesn't it?

Award-winning author, Kathrese McKee writes epic adventures for young adults and anyone else who enjoys pirates and princesses combined with life's difficult questions.  She is committed to exciting stories, appropriate content, and quality craftsmanship.

Once upon a time,  Kathrese worked as a systems engineer for EDS and various oil and gas companies. After that, she taught Reading and ESL at the middle school level. These days, she edits fiction, home schools her children, and turns a blind eye to the feral dust bunnies lurking beneath her desk.

Kathrese is a member of the Houston Writers Guild and Treasurer for Writers on the Storm, a chapter of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) meeting in The Woodlands, Texas. She is also a Contributing Member and website administrator for The Christian PEN.

Her newest release, Mardan's Mark is the first book in the Mardan's Mark series.

It is the winner of the 2014 Novel Rocket Launch Pad Contest, MG/YA Category, and a finalist in the 2014 Phoenix Rattler writing contest, Christian Writers of the West (CWOW) - Arizona's ACFW affiliate.

The sequel, Mardan's Anointed, is in process along with a related novella.

So, y'all come join us May 9th for lunch, fellowship, and a lesson on avoiding disaster!