Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the category “Guest Posts”

Guest Post by R. J. Larson

Happy Wednesday, readers! ‘Tis the last Wednesday of November and the series of Guest Posts is drawing to an end. As the final guest poster, it is my pleasure to present the author of  The Books of the Infinite, Dawnlight, Seasons of a Woman’s Heart, and more. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a round of applause for R. J. Larson!

Athelas, thank you for inviting me to guest-post on Red Lettering. Fair warning, one day, Athelas, you might open an R. J. Larson book and realize that I’ve named a character after you. Whenever I see your name, I’m convinced that an Athelas protagonist would blend right in with the Infinite series characters!

However, if I allow myself to contemplate a Protagonist Athelas, I’ll stray down a novel-sized bunny trail and this post won’t be finished for six months, so…onward!

Readers and Writers, Athelas asked me to consider writing a post about getting published. A basic how-to-get-started article. Yes, I can do that! The first step, of course, is to write. Finish your manuscript, and then revise, revise, r-e-v-i-s-e. If you can’t afford to pay a professional editor or at least a proof-reader, then you MUST study up on editing basics and do the work yourself. Be sure you’ve studied up on punctuation usage. Even if you intend to publish through CreateSpace or Amazon, you must edit your work and cleanse it of imperfections, or readers will let you and the entire world know that you’ve made mistakes.

Therefore, practice your prose and polish the personalities populating your work. But what then?

I can give you all the standard advice as you prepare to present your work to agents and publishers. Create a presentation package: Prepare a one-page synopsis and then add a few marketing paragraphs comparing your work to similar books already available in the market. Tell your future agent or publisher why your book will stand out. If you have marketing plans, offer them in writing within this presentation package. Add three polished chapters (preferably chapters 1, 2, and 3) and proof read everything repeatedly. Better yet, have someone else proof-read! Once you’ve finished your presentation package, (if you haven’t done so already) make contacts. Go to conferences. Enter contests. Join local writing groups, if you find one that suits your style. Get noticed—in a good way.

Truly standard advice. But let’s talk about the non-standard advice.

As you write, have you evaluated your goals? Your purpose in writing?

Any traditionally published author will tell you what the general public believes: Authors are rich. Once you’re published, you can retire. You will be famous! The world is your oyster!

Reality check.

Most authors have ordinary day jobs, or a VERY supportive family. Even bestselling authors need regular income, which doesn’t happen often if you’re a writer, so other income is essential. Plan for it.

But here’s the secret: Writing’s not about the money.

Never let it be about the money. Let writing be your passion!

Yes, checks in the mail are wonderful, and if you’re successful, writing does help with bills that the day job doesn’t cover. However, writing doesn’t earn my living; it fills my soul.

If writing is your passion, you will write no matter what the future brings.

Wait. Are you wondering about the rewards?

Yes, there are rewards. Through the written word, I pursue my Creator and share my worship of Him with readers. Through Biblically-inspired fantasy adventures, I offer my spiritual witness to others, even as my stories minister and offer entertainment and food for thought.

My rewards are my readers—even the readers I haven’t met—and writing for my readers IS joy.

Blessings, as you pursue and perfect your craft!

R . J. Larson


R. J. Larson is the author of numerous devotionals featured in publications such as The Women’s Devotional Bible, and Seasons of a Woman’s Heart. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband and their two sons, and is suspected of eating chocolate and potato chips at her desk while writing. The Books of the Infinite series marks her debut in the fantasy genre.
R. J. is also known as Kacy Barnett-Gramckow!
Visit Kacy’s site here:
You can connect with R. J. Larson here:

Guest Post by Stephanie Ricker

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I have the pleasure of having as a guest poster the author of A Cinder’s Tale, The Cendrillon Cycle, as well as various pieces of fiction in magazines. Please welcome Stephanie Ricker!


Hello, everyone, and thank you to Athelas for hosting me!

Somewhere in some idyllic land, writers may well exist who are able to craft a flawless first draft, requiring no revisions, editing, or improvements of any kind—but I have yet to meet one. For us mere mortals, our first drafts require seemingly interminable polishing, and we all have blind spots when it comes to the flaws in our manuscripts. (What possessed me to use the word “sheepish” five times in as many pages?  Did I really reuse the same line twice in two different chapters? How did I manage to forget that character was even in the scene?)

As both a writer and an editor, I have the privilege of looking at editing from both sides.

As an editor confronted with a new manuscript, I may be looking for vastly different things, depending on what type of edit I’ve been asked to perform. Some clients are looking for help with large, overarching issues. Their manuscripts are still in rough draft form and have been minimally revised, and the authors are seeking assistance with structure, plot, character, etc. In such cases, I make suggestions like these:

  • Your premise is good, but the plot loses coherency around chapter 5, and by chapter 7, I was completely lost. Here are some ways to clarify the sequence of events for your readers.
  • I loved your heroine, but she acts inconsistently when comparing her behavior in chapter 2 with her behavior in chapter 4. Here are some ways to make sure she retains her unique voice throughout and doesn’t morph unintentionally.

Harping on typos or minor grammatical issues at this stage is unhelpful; the author will likely be doing major revisions and rewriting, so the manuscript is still in flux.

Other manuscripts have solid bones, but need some help fleshing out the details and finding just the right word.  For these clients, I’ll actually reword awkward phrases, insert suggested language, and make comments like these:

  • I had to read this line three times before I understood what you meant. Consider rephrasing to something like this.
  • “Obsequious” doesn’t seem like quite the word you’re looking for in this context. How about “sycophantic” instead?

Manuscripts at this stage are closer to their final form, but typically not close enough to where it would be beneficial to copyedit the material, as rewording is still going on and errors may still creep in after this point.

When an author has rewritten, revised, and polished her manuscript as much as possible, then it’s finally time for a copy edit. This edit catches all of the little stuff: typos, punctuation errors, grammatical errors, etc. Even grammatically perfect authors tend to have the occasional missing word (“I went the store,” etc.) because our brains helpfully fill in missing words for us, particularly when we’re reading our own writing. “Oh,” the brain says, “You obviously meant, ‘I went to the store.’ I’ll just fix that for you while you read so you don’t even notice you left it out.”

Editors are not immune to this fill-in effect either, so typically I read a manuscript three times during copy edit. On the first read, I start at the beginning and read to the end (shocking, I know), catching the worst of the errors. On the second read, I start at the end of the manuscript and work my way to the beginning, reading each sentence carefully before moving to the sentence above it. This helps me catch missing words and other brain fill-ins since I’m less wrapped up in the story. Then, on my third read, I read through from beginning to end again, looking for the last few errors hiding in the manuscript.

So since I can catch the flaws in other people’s manuscripts, does that mean I can catch all of the flaws in my own work? HA! No. The thing about constructive criticism of literature, as with so many things in life, is that it is infinitely easier to see the flaws in someone else than to see them in yourself. I am frequently busted by my editors for the very same mistakes for which I (politely) scold my clients. While being an editor has made me more aware of the shortcomings in my own work, it has certainly not enabled me to be aware of all (or even most) of them.

As a writer, I have several trusted beta readers who kindly read my rough manuscripts and give me useful suggestions on character, plot, and the like. Once I make revisions based on these, I often purchase a professional edit for more detailed suggestions. Typically this edit exposes a LOT of my blind spots.  I do sometimes do my own copyediting, but I’m well aware I’m playing with fire there, as it’s easy to miss my brain’s fill-in spots.

Whether I’m editing my own work or someone else’s work, the goal is the same: to produce a manuscript that is as clear, correct, and consistent as it can possibly be. When writers and editors work together as a team, we create the best possible versions of our story: one that readers will love to read!

DSC_0043bStephanie Ricker is a writer, editor, and tree-climber. She adores the cold and the snow but lives in North Carolina anyway, where she enjoys archery, hiking, and exploring with friends. 

Stephanie’s first novella, A Cinder’s Tale, was published in Five Glass Slippers, an anthology of Cinderella-themed stories. The first volume of The Cendrillon Cycle, a follow-up series of novellas, will release on December 21st. Stephanie’s fiction has also been published in Bull-Spec, a magazine of speculative fiction, and in four consecutive editions of The Lyricist, Campbell University’s annual literary magazine.

Connect with Stephanie here:


Writing That Rough Draft: Guest Post by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I have great pleasure in having, as a guest-poster, the award-winning author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood Series. Everyone, please give a virtual round of applause for Anne Elisabeth Stengl!

way in deep forest

Writing That Rough Draft

By Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Hullo, readers! The lovely Athelas Hale, hostess of this blog, has invited me to write a guest post about rough drafting a manuscript. This is a timely topic for me as I am in the midst of drafting my newest novel in the ongoing Tales of Goldstone Wood series . . . always a character-building experience, let me tell you! So, with this topic very present in my life just now, let me give you a little rundown of what rough-drafting looks like for me.

For starters, I never try to write a book that is not at least partially outlined. My stories tend to be quite long—the shortest around 120,000 words, but most significantly longer. As such, they are also quite complicated, and without an outline I would quickly become lost and/or overwhelmed. So I always make certain I’ve got at least a short summary (2-5 sentences) of what I want to have take place in each chapter, pinpointing specifically those moments that will lead to the next chapter. That way I’ve always got some good forward-moving momentum.

When it comes to actually writing narrative, though, it’s all too easy for me to clam up and not know what to do. Once upon a time, I had thought writing would become easier the more I did it . . . but now that I’m drafting the 8th novel in my series, I know this will never be true. The pressure increases for each book I release—the pressure of readerly expectations, series continuity, and my own self-inflicted pressure of wanting to always write the very best book I have ever written.

If I let myself concentrate on these pressures, I’d never write another word. It would be too intimidating!

Instead, I start my books by pulling out a scrap of notepaper and scribbling down a scene. Usually this is a pretty rough scene, though on occasion it’s been good material and ended up in the final draft. But the point is not to write polished final-draft story; it’s to simply get the story started. Once a beginning is truly begun in longhand, I open up a file and type it out. Now I have the seeds of a manuscript . . .

While drafting this rough draft, I find it extremely important to write the whole thing as quickly as I possibly can. If I slow down and think about it too much, I’ll start crippling myself with doubt and self-critiques. But that’s not what the story needs during the rough-drafting stage. No, no, the story simply needs to be written. Those later drafts are for critiques and edits and polish.

So, following my outline—in which I’ve already worked out the rise and fall of plot leading at last to the climax and resolution—I pound out words as quickly as possible. These days, that means approximately 4,000 words a day. This is an ambitious goal for most writers and not one I recommend to everyone! But for me it works well.

For this particular draft, I have also been setting weekly goals of 20,000 words. Which means if I produce a steady 4,000 words a day, five days a week, I’ll meet my goal. But I include a couple of rules to help me meet this goal. They are:

“Golden Daughter,” the most recent installment in the Tales of Goldstone Wood Series.

1) I have to reach 4,000 words. Even if I don’t want to. And if that means writing some really bad material that I know will never make it into the final book, so be it! Words must be written. They can be altered later, but later is not now.

2) As soon as I meet my 4,000-word quota, I have to stop. Even if the story is going really well and I feel like I’d like to finish the scene! Nope. The goal is met. I must stop and close the file for the rest of the day, and not even look back over what I’ve done.

Both of these rules can be frustrating at times. I have those days when the writing is simply not working, and I hate trying to meet the quota. But as long as I’ve given myself permission to write badly, I can keep going. The important thing is to turn off the inner drive for perfection during this stage.

The second rule can be equally frustrating when I’m on a roll. I can write 5,000 words a day pretty often, and I have written as much as 11,000 words in a single day. So why should I stop at 4,000 if it’s coming along so well?

Well, 4,000 words is a comfortable goal for me. It’s a lot of word count without being extraordinary. Which means I end the day tired but not exhausted . . . which in turn, means I don’t get up the next morning dreading my work. I look forward to it.

This is an important lesson every young writer should learn about rough drafting: Successful drafting requires goal setting. But be certain to set goals that are both reasonable for you to achieve and simultaneously pushing you to produce. For me, that’s 4,000 words a day, five days a week. For you, it might be some other word count or some other number of writing days. I know of one author who writes 10,000 words, two days a week. Yikes! That sounds crazy to me. But it works for her. Another author I know aims for 1,000 words a day, six days a week. Sure, that’s only 6,000 words a week, but in ten weeks she’ll have 60,000 words of manuscript written. Not too bad, honestly!

Once you’ve established a reasonably challenging goal, however, it’s up to you to see that you stick to it through all distractions, both external and internal.

I hope this gives all of you aspiring writers some interesting ideas for how to tackle your rough drafts. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written!



7721_133549311830_623396830_3040333_1407935_n (1)ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.

To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit:

You can connect with Anne Elisabeth Stengl at these sites:

Guest Post by Jaye L. Knight

Good afternoon, readers. Today I have the pleasure of presenting to you a guest post by the author of of Resistance, the Makilien Trilogy, Where Do I Start, and others. Everyone, give a round of virtual applause for Jaye L. Knight!

Inspiration is the key to every story. How often do you just decide to write a story with not a single idea as to what it’s going to be about? Even if you did, your story would likely begin to take shape based on inspiration from some outside source, whether it be books, movies, or a personal experience. Fuel for stories is everywhere. Any little spark of inspiration can lead to the most amazing story ideas, especially when you mix a bunch of a little sparks together.

Because of this, I am always looking at and analyzing things with the mind of a writer—from everyday life to epic action films. You never know when something is going to ignite your imagination and bring a new character or adventure to life. Imagination is everything, but there are times where it can run a little dry, so I try to surround myself with inspiration. My room, for instance, is covered in an assortment of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Sherlock, Pirates of the Caribbean, and other such posters. Why? Well, I love characters. To me, they’re the most important aspect of a story. I like to be surrounded by my favorite fictional characters to remind myself of what makes a great character.

Reading and movies/TV shows are also very important for keeping my imagination overflowing. Absorbing other writers’ techniques or watching an adventure unfold on the screen keeps my mind primed to tell my own stories and opens up a whole slew of new possibilities.

When you begin to see everything in light of a potential story it could contain, sometimes you end up with even more ideas than you know what to do with. I’ll never have time to write all the story ideas that float around in my head. But that doesn’t mean I dismiss them either. I always keep notes on the ideas that come to me. I have a document on my computer of all the bits of inspiration that really stick with me. They’ll never all become their own story, but you never know when you can take elements or characters from different ideas and combine them.

Once some of these ideas take hold and present me with a story that demands to be written, it comes time to develop it. Now, I’m not technically a plotter. I don’t have the patience or desire to write out detailed outlines before I actually begin a story, but I do need to know where the story is going. I have to know where it ends so I know what I’m aiming for. And even though I lean much more heavily toward being a pantser with my writing, I do like to know, at least most of, my major plot points. Then it’s like connecting the dots.

What I like to do when I’m developing a story is have a binder with different sections for planning. For years, this was always in a blue three-ring binder. Now I’ve sort of switched to digital and use OneNote, which I’ve come to love because it’s just like a digital binder. I usually have three main sections for planning—Notes, Scenes, and Information. In my Notes section, I write like I’m writing a journal. This is basically me talking to myself about the story and writing out what I see for it. It’s amazing how this opens up my imagination and helps me figure things out. Whenever something just doesn’t add up or make sense, if I write out my thoughts about it, chances are, a solution will present itself. This is how the whole story really comes together. The more notes I take, the better.

In my Scenes section, I write down any bits of dialog or future scenes I have in mind so I don’t forget them. Never trust yourself to remember something. Write it down, especially if you have a scene very clearly playing out in your head. Then all these scenes are like puzzle pieces that I work in as the story goes along.

In Information I record all the little details I have to make sure are consistent throughout the story. Things like distances, hair colors, eye colors, heights, etc. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to look back through everything you’ve already written to see what color eyes you gave someone. Having all these facts in one place really helps and saves time. And don’t forget a story calendar! This is vitally important (at least for me). I always write down each major scene on a calendar to make sure things happen when they should.

When I have a story I know is my next project, I usually start writing the first draft within a day or two, but the development of it continues right along with writing. I’m constantly taking notes about future scenes or plot points. This approach may not work for everyone, but every writer is different. I work best with the creative freedom of no set outline. Others need the structure and “road map” to get their story where it needs to go. Finding the right approach for you is essential to productivity. No approach is right or wrong. Only find the best for you. After all, it’s your own personal individuality that makes your story unique.

Jaye L. Knight is a 25 year old independent author with a passion for writing Christian fantasy and clean NA fiction. Armed with an active imagination and love for adventure, Jaye weaves stories of truth, faith, and courage with the message that even in the deepest darkness, God’s love shines as a light to offer hope.

Jaye is a homeschool graduate and has been penning stories since the age of eight. She was previously published as Molly Evangeline.

You can find out more about Jaye and her books at these sites: Website | Blog | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter


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