Tag Archives: diane holmes

5 Sneaky Questions to Tell The Story Behind the Story

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto

The Story Behind The Story

From the reader’s perspective, you’re not writing one story, you’re writing two. The first is the story of what the reader knows based on what you’ve written so far.

Hidden story

But the second is the mysterious world of what the reader hasn’t been told yet.  What she wants to uncover desperately enough to read late into the night. 

This second story is the story behind the story.  The story simmering underneath the prose, lurking in the corner and about to jump forward with sharp teeth.

That’s the story that captures your reader’s attention.

Look at any random page of your novel-in-progress, and then ask these questions.

1) What’s hidden at this very moment that the reader can’t see?

Everything is a Mystery Box to the reader: every character, every situation, every goal, every line of dialogue, and every action.

Or, it should be.  The reader is reading to uncover the story and the characters.  What will they do next?  What will happen?  Why are they doing that?  How will they handle that?  And on and on.

So your story isn’t about you telling the reader every motivation or explaining every situation like an analyst….  It’s about the reader uncovering it (along with the viewpoint character).

And it’s about that act of uncovering having a profound impact.

2)  Is the answer to what’s hidden (out of all the infinite answers) mind-blowing-ly satisfying to the reader?

Don’t aim for ordinary.  Ordinary is already taken.

3)  Is the answer revealed at a time when the reader is still highly interested?  Does the place of revelation create a “wow” or only an “oh, okay”?

Timing is everything. 

Sometimes revealing answers immediately creates great forward momentum.  Sometimes it deflates the interest before it even really got going.

4)  Does the answer impact and change the trajectory of the page, scene, chapter, act, or the whole shebang? Does it raise even more questions?

If it doesn’t, then it’s really just a trick.  “Oh, look, this is interesting… now it’s over.  Move along.”

5) Is the answer revealed in a way that makes the reader care even more about what happens next?
  • Does it generate more mystery about additional Mystery Boxes? 
  • Does it add complexity to what the reader already knows? 
  • Does it add higher stakes? 
  • Can it be used to move the story understanding ahead? 
  • Can it be combined with other knowledge to create a truly staggering understanding?

clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

34 Ways to Tell If Your Writing Goals for 2013 Have a Chance in Hell – Part 2

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto

Failure is an option.

Trust me.

And who knew you could fail in so many spectacular ways?

Well, as your fearless, Freelance-Zone correspondent, I’ve tried them all in an effort to bring this travesty to light.  (Oh, noes, the brightness of “travesty light” is too much!  I must be carried offstage on soft bedding, surrounded by the cliché of cabana boys!  Quick, quick, boys!  Pamper me….)

Take the Failure Quiz:  #19 – #34

Do you answer YES to any of these? If so, your goal may not have a chance in hell.

(Just joining the fun?  #1 – #18 are HERE.)

#19 You think if you get behind today, you can make it up tomorrow.

Goals fail one day at a time. The first day of failure is your only chance to catch the problem and create a solution (which is never the word ‘tomorrow.’)

HINT #1:  The solution is to re-plan, not to work extra hours.  For you to stay on target you’ll already have to work extra hours, because everyone –even you—underestimates the time needed to achieve a goal.

HINT #2: Re-planning involves changing something!  The deliverables, the goal, the date, the people involved, the success criteria, or something else substantial.

And yet, what do people do?  Everyone decides the human resource (you) should just work harder and faster.  If that were a solution, you’d already be doing it and not be behind.

#20 You don’t track meaningful metrics.

Met-what? Units of meaning.  For example,

  • Hours spent writing are only useful and meaningful if you’re paid by the hour.
  • Words or pages per day are only meaningful metrics when combined with project milestones (what needs to be accomplished by the end of those words or pages).
  • Marketing effort and investment only makes sense compared to results (unless your goal was to spend a lot of time and money with no results).

So what does make sense?

  • Progress through a story by Act and Scene/Event.
  • Forward movement through a script based on the steps in the Hero’s Journey.
  • Effectiveness of hours spent writing. (3 hours writing =  completed 1 article, plus Act II, Scene 37)
  • Success of marketing efforts. Called 5 business to partner in January marketing event, got 1 yes. Time: 45 minutes.
#21 You don’t use your metrics as a reality check.

If it consistently takes you about 15 hours to write a scene, you might not like that fact, but it is all yours to own, for better or worse.

Soooooo tempting to want it to take only 2 hours.   Yes, my preciousssss.  Other people… they can do it in 2…..

Stop that.  Magical thinking is not your friend.

#22   Tangents R  Us.  You don’t know your critical path.

You’re focusing on the wrong things.  Doing the wrong things.

(Sometimes it’s even your focus/obsession on the planning down to the tiniest detail, color-coding it, and putting it all in Excel.)

Know your critical path.  Track the critical path.  Everything else is just pretty and shiny.

What is your critical path? It’s the core doing-ness that actually puts you one step closer to your goal, in a real way.

It’s not just a task that is linked to your topic or would be nice to do.

This is the task that if you don’t do it, the next piece of work can’t be done. Making it (ahem) critical.

Want a little test? It’s the work that (a) if you don’t do it today, the project can not move forward tomorrow, and (b) you won’t reach your goal ever.

It’s easy to spend time on tasks that aren’t on the critical path.  Frankly, when something matters less, it’s less stressful and easier to approach.

But it doesn’t really help no matter how you justify it, even if you need it eventually.  Eventually isn’t your critical path.  Eventually is la-la land. Continue reading 34 Ways to Tell If Your Writing Goals for 2013 Have a Chance in Hell – Part 2

34 Ways to Tell If Your Writing Goals for 2013 Have a Chance in Hell

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto

Are Your Goals Doomed to Fail?

As you know, I’m a fan of Big Hairy Audacious Goals.

But big hairy goals don’t mean much without thousands of small wins.

Bob Sutton, Work Matters

Yes, thousands of small wins. And that’s why most New Year’s goals are doomed to fail.  It takes a lot to pull them off.

How many goals (another word for projects) fail? A whopping 78% according to Ian Sample, science correspondent at The Guardian.

But you’re going to succeed, right?

Take the Failure Quiz

Do you answer YES to any of these?  If so, your goal may not have a chance in hell.

#1 Your goal is fuzzy-general and way too rah-rah.

(Unbridled optimism is the language of a thousand small failures.)

#2 This is a goal or project you don’t really want.

(You think you have a good reason for making this your goal. You don’t.  It’s like you brainwashed yourself to not notice this.

Perhaps it’s someone else’s goal or maybe just a would-be-nice goal.  Or you got caught up in the goal-setting moment, but the moment is pretty much over.)

#3 Your goal hinges on something or someone you have no control over.

(Get published by a New York publisher, anyone?  Unless you buy the company, you can’t actually control these folks.  You can control writing a fabulous book, however.)

#4 You’re not using any of your best, most unique skills, attributes, or gifts in this goal.

(There’s no chance for you to bring your A game or outshine your competition, because they are using their uniqueness every day. )

#5 Strategy and logistics are missing.

(What you have is a dream not a goal.  Dreams magically happen in a bubble over your head.  Goals require that stuff called doing, insight, management, and accountability.)

#6 You haven’t gathered all the needed tools (tangible, like a computer, and intangible, like time and focus).

(Again with the magic.) Continue reading 34 Ways to Tell If Your Writing Goals for 2013 Have a Chance in Hell

Christmas Letters for Writers

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

The Pressure’s On

santa judgesIt’s one thing for mere mortals to throw together a family Christmas letter using colorful Santa stationary and a dutiful recounting of the year.

But for writers, our families and friends expect more.

As “jedikaiti”   pointed out in an Etiquette Hell discussion,

“I have a friend who writes WONDERFUL Christmas newsletters. Yes, a newsletter. About one person’s year. About 4 pages, and I looooove getting it every year.

She’s a professional writer, so she does have a distinct advantage there….”

(Even Santa gets all judgy and up in our grill.) 

So here are a few tips to help you win the Pulitzer of Christmas Letters.

Start With A Hook

Hook A: Honesty

It is our pleasure to bring you the 2010 edition of the Brutally Honest Dashwood Family Christmas letter.

As an aside, this letter includes a phrase I’d love to steal:

Margaret is a heaping helping of crazy.

Hook B: It’s a very Redneck Christmas

Jeff Ward has given some thought to Christmas letters he’d like to see.

We did it! We finally got those indoor facilities installed in the doublewide.

Create a Relationship With Your Reader

You can count on Cracked to understand the delicate thread between author and reader, in their inspired Upper Class Christmas letter:

Dear Relations and House Staff,

As I do every year, let me start by saying, "You’re welcome."

Get To the Good Stuff Fast

Brandy understands the brilliance of netting it all out so you can “get that over with.”

  • No I am not married yet.
  • I don’t know why I’m not married yet.
  • No really, there’s nobody who’s interested in me.
  • Yes, really. Nobody.
  • Yup, I’m almost thirty.
  • Yes, that is my biological clock you hear ticking.
  • It does sound like a time bomb, doesn’t it?
  • Yes, I would love a bottle/glass of wine. Thank you.
  • Invite the Reader Into Your World

    Joey, The Childless Mom, allows her readers to see the real-life, blunt version of “The Funniest Christmas Letter I’ll Never Send.”

    In March, Hubby has his MESA surgery and I sent out the infamous, "WE HAVE SPERM" texts to our friends.

    (I bet there’s a hashtag for that.)

    Don’t Be Overly Impressed With Yourself (Humble is the New Black)

    At PensFatales, Laurie Perry shares her Christmas Letter in a way that ensures we’re more impressed with her year than she is.

    “The cats were cute and pooped a lot this year. I wrote a book, it’s OK. It comes out next year and is just a longer version of this letter with more complaining, but there is a great recipe for fried zucchini and some knitting patterns.”

    Or Avoid Reality Altogether, Because Fiction is Oh-So-Much-Better

    Hey, you could be anyone.  Any Situation.  Perhaps a woman receiving a gift from an admirer, as in, “12 Days of Christmas Correspondence.”

    Dearest John:

    I went to the door today and the postman delivered a partridge in a pear tree. What a delightful gift. I couldn’t have been more surprised.

    With dearest love and affection, Agnes

    December 23rd

    You Creep!

    Now there’s ten ladies dancing –

    So, to sum up. 

    People expect a lot out of “real” writers.  Go with your strengths.  Write a Christmas letter that must be shared on blogs everywhere.

    I just may quote you.

    clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

    Today’s Writing Tip: Establishing Authority

    5 Infographics for Writers

    by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

    #1  Put Butt In Chair

    How to Get a Book Published at Writer's Market
    WritersMarket.com shows you How to Get a Book Published

    The writer’s experience. Ah, good times.

    #2  Curvaceous Story Structure

    Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories
    This is your story.  This is your story in conflict.  This is your story over time. Any questions?

    #3  Your Brand Is Your Best Story

    Storytelling is Not Just for Campfires

    Storytelling: what is it and how to do it all in one infographic.  It’s like a college class in 5 minutes.

    #4  Zombie Critique – Time-Line Method

    The Walking Dead episode breakdown infographic

    Also see beautiful Zombie Death and Dispatch infographics and super-awesome Zombie skull-graphic. Want more?  Many more HERE.

    #5  All Roads Lead to You


    Incredible, engaging marketing tool that invites potential readers to learn more about themselves, be true to their personal taste, and agree that, why, yes, your book IS perfect for them.

    (Bonus: Also, check out 4 Best Writer’s Block Infographics)

    Ode to an Infographic

    A well-designed infographic uses images to convey importance size, scope, concepts, relationships, power, trajectory, speed (and even humor) instead of using words.

    While most infographics do use words, the picture element does not just illustrate exactly what the words say.  Instead, the illustration is the main message. 

    With a great infographic, you can gain a complex understanding in an instant. You can stand back, be global at the same time that you also get up-close-and-personal with the details.

    Best yet….

    Readers are engaged and asked to take action (spatially follow along). A well-designed infographic is an interactive stroke of genius.

    Do You Have an Infographic?

    • For your novel?
    • For your business?
    • For your marketing strategy?
    • For your clients?
    • For self-motivation?
    • For further education and understanding?
    • To save your sanity?
    • To sum up the hilarity your average day?
    • To figure out exactly what it is you do or know?
    • To mourn all the things you don’t know?
    • To make better decisions?
    • To show just how you’ll kick ass in 2013?

    You could, you know….

    clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

    10 Unique Christmas Gifts for Writers: Part 2

    by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

    Amaze Your Writer Friends

    Punctuation, Hell, and fake websites were in the list of our first 5 gifts.  The last 5 are filled with sugar plums and the dust of ground-up elves.

    Or maybe something even better.

    (But seriously, who doesn’t savor the nostalgic scent of ground-up elves sprinkled lightly on sugar cookies?  So spicy, so wickedly good.  Like cinnamon, red velvet shoes, and high-pitched laughter in every, single bite. Yummy-yum.)

    Gift #5  This is your life. Do what you love. And do it often.

    From Core 77, I was introduced to the Holstee Manifesto Poster.

    This is Your Life

    It’s like someone figured out how our writer-hearts keep on beating, and wrote it down for the world to see.  Poster, $25.00.

    Who is that someone?

    Mike, Fabian and Dave who have a company together.

    “It wasn’t about shirts and it wasn’t about their old jobs. It was about what they wanted from life and how to create a company that breathes that passion into the world everyday. It was a reminder of what we live for.”

    Gift #4  Your Own Theme Song

    Ever since Ally McBeal I’ve wanted my own theme song.

    Dr. Tracey: You need a theme song
    Ally: I need a what?!
    Dr. Tracey: A theme song. Something that you can play in your head to make you feel better
    Ally: Am I on one of those hidden camera shows?
    Dr. Tracey: Theme songs are vital.

    See?  They’re vital, I’m tellin’ ya!

    And someone agrees with me. Raleigh Coaching offers MUSEic Coaching.

    “Our lives can be thought of as movies with their own unique soundtrack.  YOU PICK THE GOAL | WE PICK THE MUSEic.”

    Tell Santa about this.  He’s all about the jolliness of music.  And he believe in theme songs, too. That’s why there’s so many songs about him at Christmas.

    Gift #3  Rain

    Nothing makes me feel cozier or want to write more than the sound of rain.  You curl up inside, just you and your imagination.  A warm cuppa joe. Comfy socks.  And a writing project all your own.

    It’s like you’re cut off from the world, safe, warm, and full of dreams.

    (Don’t give me that look.  It’s not just me, you know.)

    As the Rainy Mood website says, “Rain makes everything better.”

    And it’s a free website.  Who are these generous rain lovers, anyway?

    Also, there’s an app for IOS and Android (not free but for $4.99 you take the mood of cozy with you).

    Gift #2 GeoPalz

    Kick in the ass, anyone?  No, wait, I mean, get off your ass and walk.  No, wait, it’s just wrong to say ass on a Christmas gift list.

    Yet, that’s how I think about it after I’ve been sitting in a chair writing for 8 or 12 hours a day, months on end.


    Honey, it’s time to do something about your a**, and I’m so psyched about this kid’s pedometer, I can hardly stand it.  (Yes, I said it’s for kids, but we’re going to ignore that and buy it anyway.)

    Okay, get this.

    A) You log onto their website, track your steps, and win prizes.

    B) In the “parent” role, you can buy things to put on your prize list (in addition to what’s there), and then set about winning something you care about.

    C) You can create a family of other writers and cheer each other on.

    D) The pedometer ($25.00 or less) is ten times better than the one I’m wearing right now.

    My pedometer:

    • The buttons are easily mashed so that the steps are zeroed out randomly all day long.
    • The display is too small to see (multiple modes, can’t tell what mode I’m in).
    • The clip will barely fit over the waist of my pants.
    • It can’t be worn anywhere else.
    • It’s an ugly gray.
    • And (sob) no prizes.


    • It does a great job at counting steps.
    • The pedometer has an attached cover (no accidental resets).
    • It comes in many designs to make you feel happy when you look at it.
    • There are prizes and friends for accountability and good cheer.
    • The website is free (and free for those who don’t have Geopalz).
    • The new version 2 (out now) stores 21 days of data, so you don’t have to enter number of steps into the website each day, and it automatically resets at midnight. Plus this new version will track minutes of moderate/heavy activity, can be mounted on your hip or shoe, plus it’s waterproof!


    Gift #1  Creativity Gets In Bed with Organization (ooh la la!)

    Daniel Wessel at Organizing Creativity…. He’s a genius!

    Daniel WHe’s figured out the thing that sinks most writers (and other creative-types): how to organize your creative process (the key to your business) so that it’s even better. And how to actually troubleshoot the Gordian knot that is a finished product.

    Organize Your Creativity PosterResult?  Yes, indeed, a book of epic coolness.  You can get the pdf for free-ish.  Just pay if you find it useful.

    Daniel, dude, even your pricing is creative. (I’ll be applauding with money soon!)

    And the rest of Freelance-Zone readers?  Check out his blog.  It totally rocks.

    I hoped I rocked your world…

    …with these gift ideas. I feel like I’ve seen all the usual gifts for writers and something needed to be done about that.  We needed something unusual.

    May your gift giving be inspired and worthy of ground-up elf.  Happy holidays.

    clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.