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Writing Questions Answered—Launch Week Festivities*

March 16, 2016 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified March 16, 2016


The Magic of Fiction



Do you have questions about the fiction elements, about grammar or punctuation? About writing in general or writing a novel in particular? Join us Wednesday, March 16, 2016, from 4-5:30 p.m. EDT and again from 9-10:30 p.m. EDT for real-time question and answer sessions.

I don’t know if we’ll be able to address every question—I may point you to information around the Internet, here at the blog, or to other sources to save time—but we’ll get together and see how many issues we can tackle.

Depending on the number of questions and answers—yes, you are welcome to answer questions that are raised—I may begin a second article at 9 p.m. or we may simply continue with this one.

The article will be open for questions and comments beginning at 3:45 p.m. to get some of the questions going by 4. See you then.


Join us all week—March 13 through March 17—for excerpts and other Launch Week festivities to celebrate the release of The Magic of Fiction, now available.

* Comments in this article are eligible for the Prize Pack Giveaway. The single prize winner will be chosen randomly from comments made on eligible Launch Week articles. (#9)



Tags:     Posted in: Launch Week, Writing Tips

26 Responses to “Writing Questions Answered—Launch Week Festivities*”

  1. You can begin posting questions. If you’ve got the answer for someone, feel free to chime in.

    I’ll see you at 4.

  2. Is there a standard way to format spacing between scenes. For instance—a break in time or place can be designated by a space or a fleuron. Is there a distinction—or rule of thumb—that applies?

    • For a manuscript, use a number sign #. In a published book, the publisher will determine the graphic for scene breaks. If you’re your own publisher, you get to decide what to use between scenes.

      Traditionally, for print books, we’ve used the line space when the break occurs midpage and some kind of graphic when the break is at the bottom or top of a page—without the visual of the white space between lines of text, readers might miss the scene break without another visual cue.

      A graphic of some kind would be helpful for e-books no matter where the scene break falls on a page since there really aren’t page breaks—readers need the visual.

      Keep in mind that you can also choose to not indent the first paragraph after a scene break—that’s an additional clue for readers that they’re in a new scene. It’s probably not enough by itself, but it’s a helpful visual.

      • Thanks….and one more that may be impossible to answer! How does an author know when a book is every really finished???? I can pick up any of several manuscripts and continue to tinker with them ad infinitum.

        • Martha, it’s true—we could tinker forever. But you’ve got to stop sometime. This is straight out of The Magic of Fiction

          ~ If you’ve been through a handful of drafts, addressed story issues and the mechanics, you’re probably getting close.
          ~ If beta readers can’t find anything negative and have no questions and say they whipped through the story, unable to put it down, you’re probably close.
          ~ If you’re deep into another project and nothing from this one is tugging at you, demanding a hundredth look, you’re probably extremely close.
          ~ If you’ve been through multiple drafts and beta readers can’t find problems with the story and you’re deep into another manuscript and you can step away for a couple of weeks and then come back to the story without finding issues that need to be addressed, you’re probably ready to publish. I can’t say you won’t want to make minor changes, but if you’re not completely ready, you’re likely close enough to publishing that you can smell the scent of the newly printed book.

      • Annika says:

        I like to use a bullet • or infinity symbol ∞ as a scene breaker when I’m writing (currently). Whatever symbol is easy to access on the keyboard.
        (I’m using a Mac.) Alternatively, it could be a combination of symbols, like

        ~~#~~ or ***8***

        It’s just a matter of being consistent.

  3. Janet Kerr says:

    Hello Beth,
    When do you suggest to start editing? In the first draft or wait until the second draft?
    Thank you,

    • Janet, you can always make changes of any kind when you see them, but I suggest waiting to edit until you’ve got a couple of drafts behind you.

      Some writers do edit as they write, but writers shouldn’t feel the need to do that. Creating the text takes a freedom and a need to try anything that’s often contrary to editing. Not always contrary, of course. But writing and editing are separate activities and if you can keep them separate until the bulk of the story is written, you might be less frustrated.

      If, however, you must edit early in the process, go ahead and do it. Ultimately you want to use the methods that are most effective for you.

      • Annika says:

        I tend to be editing earlier chapters as I am writing new ones. Every now and again I have to go back to check on something that has implications in a later chapter (or vice versa) and find that I need to tweak it here and there. I still expect to have to go through the entire work once (…if?) I’m finished. So I agree it’s a matter of choosing what works for you.

  4. I’ll be back at 9 pm EDT tonight for the second session. So bring your questions then.

  5. If you’re here with questions, ask away.

  6. Janet Kerr says:

    Hi Beth
    The part I find challenging is plotting even though I know about story structure. Do you have any suggestions so that the plot is not episodic?
    Thanks so much,

    • Great question, Janet.

      One key is to make sure you have multiple threads and links from scene to scene. So not only do events lead from one scene to the next, but little tidbits of commonalities or other connections need to lace through your stories.

      Say that you use a revelation about a character’s past to set up an event in chapter 5. If you take something else out of that revelation—maybe something that seems offhand when the revelation is addressed in chapter 5—and you put it to use in chapter 11 and then put something else that you mentioned in that revelation to use in chapter 22, you’re linking more than just events—you’re connecting the story through other kinds of ties, ties that underlie events and action.

      You can also use events to lead to multiple responses. So say that you have an event that one character responds to in chapter 10. That event, the stimulus, might lead to several related responses, as in a chain. But you could also have a second character respond and use that response to start a second chain. You wouldn’t have to include responses of both characters in every chapter, but the different chains of responses—even though they lead in different directions—are ultimately linked through the event that set them off. And thus multiple events of a story are linked.

      Another way to link parts of a story is to revisit events or dialogue. So rather than characters dealing with an issue only once, bring it up again at a different time and with other characters. Extend the problem to multiple characters and make it affect them and their responses to other issues.

      A classic example of this is the use of anger. Two people fight and they deal with the problem, but if it’s not really resolved, they take that anger with them and when they’re talking with someone else, the anger is rekindled. Readers will know where the anger came from, but the character getting dumped on might have no idea what brought on the anger. And thus events are linked throughout a story.

      Definitely a great question, but I’ll stop here. (You’ve given me an idea for an article.)

      Think about linking threads, about linking anything, from one end of the story to the other. Link colors and emotions and objects. Link dialogue. Link characters and events, and not only major events.

      • Annika says:

        Oh, Beth, this is so useful. Thanks for this. You’ve articulated something that I realise is happening in my ongoing ‘writing project’, though sometimes I find it difficult to keep track of all the threads that should connect in some manner. Do you ever use mindmapping or something like that to keep track of your plot and or story-threads? I have yet to fully embrace the tool, but have found it useful in keeping track of my character profiles.

        • Annika, I’ve never used any “formal” tool for keeping track of links and threads, but I make a whole lot of notes.

          • Phil Huston says:

            I’m not promoting anything here, but if you use something like Scrivener you can track them with keywords and notecards. If you use any commercial or Open Source program you can always use a simple spreadsheet with key words. Incidents down the side and characters across the top or whatever works for you. Or plain old notes. But I lose those. I had a teacher once who used graph paper but that was back in the stoneages.

  7. Janet Kerr says:

    Beth, you have given me some great information here. I am excited about your article. I will watch for it.
    Thanks again,

  8. I am out for the night. Thanks, guys.

  9. Kat says:

    These are some fantastic questions. Will these posts stay available to read after launch week ends, Beth? Across the board there is some really important information and discussions that will be good to refer back to (and send clients and other writers to).
    I hope so!