Coffee & Conversation: How do you set promises in your writing?


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How do you set promises in your writing?

When you open up a story, you’re grounding your reader.

You’re giving them a character, introduced in a way that promises who this type of character is, and maybe even what sort of arc they are going to undergo through the story. You’re giving a setting, promising that this setting will be indicative of the story as a whole. You’re giving a writing style, promising that this style is going to represent the story in some way.

In many stories, you’re also giving a set of stakes, the tensions or conflicts or problems that need to be solved or else some awful thing might happen, might continue happening or something good might not ever happen.

These moments in the beginning of your story can be called reader promises. You’re promising your reader specific things and if those things aren’t achieved, the reader can be left feeling cheated.

As one example of this cheated feeling, I once read the first couple of pages of a novel in a bookstore. Thought it was super interesting and so bought it and brought it home. It was the first of the four books I’d bought that I began reading, that was how excited I was about it. Chapter one was great. Then chapter two went into a flashback. Okay, I thought, let’s just push through this one flashback and get back to the cool story! Only, chapter three was still flashback. By chapter four, I realized that the entire story was the flashback and the cool introductory chapter was merely a bait for the switch that would be occurring.

Another example is a story Brandon Sanderson talks about. How, in a draft of one of his novels, he sent it to his beta readers, who all came back and said some variation of: “I was waiting for the story to go back to that journey to that island they talked about.” He then realized that he’d set up the wrong promise, because that island was never and would never be a place the characters in his story would be heading. So he had to rewrite the beginning of his story to cull this expectation from readers.

I’m sure you’ve experienced something like this before in your own reading. These moments, when you feel like you didn’t get the story you thought you were getting, are examples of the author dropping the reader promise in some way. (Some times they do it on purpose because the original chapter one is boring, so they craft a more exciting chapter one to entice readers in, despite it being quite clearly a bait and switch.)

When crafting your reader promises, you have to make sure that you’re introducing your character in a way that it’s clear what type of person they are. If you start your story with a non-point-of-view character, be very careful, because your reader is going to presume this character is important. And if that character ends up not being the main character/one of the main characters, then the reader will, again, feel cheated.

One example of this was a trilogy I began reading many years ago where the book opens with a specific character and his wife. For half the book this man gets almost ALL of the point-of-view of the scenes he’s in, which was actually the bulk of the novel. Then his wife dies. Then he dies. And the two side characters, who had barely any scene time before this, suddenly became the leads. Needless to say, I was disappointed and unsatisfied. (This trilogy did not do well, I might add, despite the first trilogy by this author selling very well.)

When crafting a setting promise, writing a science-fiction story that’s going to entirely take place on a space ship, maybe don’t start the story in an enchanted forest <–That’s a metaphor. What I mean is, don’t start your story in a place that completely misrepresents the rest of the story, unless you have an epically good reason for doing so.

Another word of warning about promises: Readers pay a lot of attention to the beginning of your story. A LOT of attention. Even if they aren’t aware that they’re doing it. They are going to pick up on little things from the beginning that they wouldn’t pick up on from random middle pieces of information. So setting things up right to give the correct impressions about what kind of story the reader is going to be getting is important.

The great thing about reader promises though, is that you can always alter your beginnings and your promises as you write your book! You can always change those beginning lines to fit what the story ends up being about if your entire outline is wrecked midway through writing. That’s very useful :)


Canvas Blues – LXXXIV: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

LXXXIV: Yesteryears

The winter after Dylan’s death waxed long and painful, with a guilt by association tainting Brendon’s life at school. Casey got yanked by his mom and put into a different school, using her sister’s address in the neighboring district. Meant he just dealt with whispers rather than kids who’d been close to Dylan, their anger a flowing river through the halls.

That Dylan Westerman Memorial 5k Walk/Run was only in the eaves that season. A murmur, an idea that hadn’t solidified. The first one was the following autumn of Brendon’s senior year, the event taking place through Castlebrock, a part of the 5k winding down the roads Casey would have taken to escape from the Westerman’s garage, though no one ever pointed that out.

At least not out loud.

That winter though, while the murmurs abounded and copulated and grew in exponential size, Aunt Laurel introduced a new beau to the family. Her new man was a lean fellow by the name of Dmitri—Dmitri Smith. A man with class and glasses who could not draw to save his life, but enjoyed every sport unto man, differently than Casey’s father for Dmitri played them all rather than merely watching.

There was an attempt late spring and early summer to teach Brendon all the magical ways of the ball—the soccer ball, the basketball, the football, even the foosball got its time in the sun. Brendon proved to be a miserable student and Dmitri an even more miserable teacher, yet Brendon left those afternoons with his belly full of Aunt Laurel’s honeyed tea and rosemary cookies and his heart beating out a rhythm of contentment.

He knew, as any teen did, that his mother and Aunt Laurel had been in cahoots, that they had guided those afternoons as a way to steer Brendon’s mind away from Casey and Dylan and death and guilt. He didn’t mind though, because in some weird way, the distraction Dmitri gave worked.

It meant that Brendon’s drawings slowly eased away from Casey and Mustangs and crooked limbs and gaping maws of garages where a grim reaper stood staring at Brendon in a confusing, accusatory way.


Next Chapter Coming October 20th

Coffee & Conversation: How to keep your characters from being interchangeable? (2/2)


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How to keep your characters from feeling interchangeable? (2/2)

Last week I talked about making sure each character from a specific book feels unique. Today I’m going to talk about the second way characters can feel interchangeable.

That is, from book to book each point of view character reads just like the last point of view character. This is an issue that will lead to burn-out from your readers, because well, if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all! That’s…not a response you want your readers to have. You want them to feel like your stories are all experiences, each one wonderful, but so very different.

There’s a few ways to help make sure you don’t fall into the trap of the same-old, same-old point of view character just with serial numbers filed off and a new name and face slapped on.


In my previous post, I mostly talked about character, but this time around, I’m talking voice. When writing from a perspective, you’re writing with a specific voice in mind. That voice will dictate EVERYTHING in a story.

Description: What does this point of view character notice? What would they take time to examine? What makes them perk up? What makes them passionate? What could they study for hours?

A good example you can check out is Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table. In this novel, Poirot interviews four different characters, all of whom describe the exact same room where a murder took place. Each of those four characters gives a vastly different description based on their personalities. Reading those differences and how it affects the story is a great example for understanding how to focus a particular character’s voice when crafting the description of a setting. (Please note: I’m more talking about points of view that are character-driven in some way, since in objective view would preclude a description via a person’s view.)

Inner Dialogue/Musing: What does this character care about? What are they constantly thinking about? What is important to them? What sneaks in when it shouldn’t? What isn’t there that another character would have noticed? Continue reading

Canvas Blues – LXXXIII: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

LXXXIII: Present

“It wasn’t Casey’s Mustang. The cops found no evidence of blood or…anything. No evidence of it being cleaned. They went through both Casey’s mom’s house and dad’s and they were thorough. He’d been poor enough…”

Orion and Brendon lay against the bed, Brendon staring straight up at the ceiling and its dusty fan, Orion twisted onto his side, hand propping up his head. All attentive, likely stripping Brendon’s expressions into finely-tuned blocks of information to file away.

Brendon took another long breath before continuing. “He’d been poor enough that he didn’t have resources others did. Didn’t have the ability to hide what he’d done. But without any evidence of the crime, the case only had circumstantial evidence with Casey’s word against Dylan’s death.”

“And what was Casey’s word?”

“That a completely different car came driving up and crushed Dylan.”

“What kind of car?”

“That’s the thing.” Brendon turned his head toward Orion. “He claimed, at least to the police, that he didn’t know.”

“But you said Casey loved cars. Knew them.”

“Exactly,” whispered Brendon.

Orion dragged his gaze all over Brendon’s face, like he was searching for something more. Then he twisted and lay flat on the bed, the two of them staring up at the blank ceiling like answers might pop free from the white paint.

“You think it was the Le Mans,” stated Orion. Continue reading

Coffee & Conversation: How to keep your characters from being interchangeable? (1/2)


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How to keep your characters from feeling interchangeable? (1/2)

I’ve talked a little bit about how to expand your writing on a sentence level by expanding your vocabulary, etc. But now, I want to discuss characters and how to practice making them unique rather than interchangeable.

There are two ways of looking at this. First, all the characters in a particular story read and feel the same and it’s difficult to tell them apart, and second, all the characters across the author’s many stories feel the same, particularly their point-of-view characters.

This second one is interesting in the romance industry because it often means that a character who was once a side character in someone else’s story becomes the lead character in their own, only, they end up feeling like a completely different person because they read like the previous main character instead of who they’d been in that previous story. (As an example, because this reads a little confusing: Paul’s story is great. Paul is friends with side character, Lyle. Lyle is beloved by fans. Author writes book about Lyle next. Only Lyle suddenly acts like Paul rather than the Lyle everyone loved.)

So I’m going to address ways in which to help out with both these situations in two different posts since they are actually different things entirely.

First, how to keep characters in the same book from all reading the same.

1) Give each character a unique physical/visible trait.

This has to do with imagery. You want a different image in each reader’s mind when you bring up a specific character in your story. A lot of people need something physical to latch on to, something that helps paint a picture in their imagination. So giving each person a particular physical trait can make all the difference.

When I say unique, I mean unique. If all the characters have brown hair, then brown hair isn’t unique. If all the characters have scars across their faces, then the scars aren’t unique. You see this often in stories where you’ll have the blond-haired one, the brown-haired one and the red-haired one as a set of three. That’s one way to do it… Continue reading

Canvas Blues – LXXXII: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

LXXXII: Yesteryears

The cause of Dylan’s death was not revealed to Brendon; he was not kin nor friend, merely a witness who hadn’t witnessed anything. But he knew Dylan had been crushed. Slammed against the wall of the garage, shaking the foundations, the car then thrown in reverse to rev away with murder in its fender.

In the aftermath, Casey was a pariah in Castlebrock, blamed by proximity before due process took hold. Brendon’s parents forbid him from calling, at least until the situation resolved itself into some semblance of responsibility, citing many things as reason, some of them frail—such as “you need to focus on something positive”—some of them steeped in reality—such as “he’s a white boy; you’re not.”

That blue Mustang was confiscated as evidence based on Robbie and Brendon’s testimonies. Then was released from custody two months later. With no arrest.

Brendon overheard his parents talking one night, the rumor mill up and working overtime through the town.

“So they’re hunting for a different car? The one that hurt that boy?”

“Seems they can’t figure out what exactly happened.”

“But they know he was crushed.”

“Cross his torso, I’ve heard.”

Silence. Mom turning the water on to scrub out her teacup. The light chime of it hitting the counter as she set it down. Continue reading

Coffee & Conversation: The best ways to expand your vocabulary?


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What are the best ways to expand your vocabulary?

As a writer, you never want to remain stagnant because then your phrases and plots and characters will all begin to blend together. Now some of this is unavoidable because you’re you and all your writing is coming from you and you will never not be you, but there are ways of working to teach yourself new things so that your stories don’t begin to blend together in reader minds.

One way is to expand your vocabulary that you might have new sentences, new metaphors, new ways of saying the same old things.

1) Read. A lot.

This one’s the most obvious and the most valuable. The more you read, the more words become familiar. Different authors have different vocabularies. Different genres use different base words. Because you’re given the word within context, you’re also usually able to guess its meaning to some degree, and the more you see that same word in different contexts, the more refined its meaning will become in your own mind.

By continuously reading, especially when you’re stretching yourself beyond your normal books or authors, you can cement more words that become a part of your normal vocabulary.

Though this one is the number one best way to expand your vocabulary, it’s also the one that is the least targeted. You’ll slowly morph over time, but perhaps not as quickly as you’d like.

2) Subscribe to a word-a-day.

If you’re just interested in introducing yourself to new words in general, this can be a good way to go about it. Especially if you subscribe to one that also lists the etymology behind the word, as story tends to help you remember things better. This way, you’ll begin to pick up new words, especially if you consciously attempt to use them in your stories. Continue reading

Canvas Blues – LXXXI: Yesteryears


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

LXXXI: Yesteryears

Fire hung in the air. The rubbery kind that tasted of oil and street-races and midnight hours.

Yet it was midday. The sun poured in brightly, flashing against the Mercedes and BMW in the garage. A smoke lingered in the air, just grey enough to be visible.

Brendon caught a flash of blue as the Mustang turned the corner down the street, taking Casey far, far away.

Robbie shouted. And shouted. But from a distance. From a distance that crawled further and further away. Into a dreamland. Into a state Brendon wasn’t sure existed, yet there he was, dwelling in it.

Crumbled against the wall, below where the bikes still hung, lay Dylan. A mass of maroon and limpness. A mess of limbs and brokenness. A lump of death, but Brendon didn’t know in that awful moment.

All he knew was Robbie shouting. All he knew was Casey running. All he knew was the phone in the Westerman’s house was black and cordless and its buttons slipped under his fingers as he pressed them and stuttered into the void so that help might come and fix a horrible mistake…that didn’t look much like a mistake.


Next Chapter Coming September 29th

Coffee & Conversation: Your favorite place to dream?


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Your favorite place to dream?

Sometimes it’s difficult to get the words out when faced with a computer screen, no matter how many words have been put there before. Sometimes there’s a need to dream up the scene or to brainstorm it out before the actual words show themselves. For that, we all have different methods.

For me, there are a few ways that are more relaxed, allowing my mind to wander and sink into play mode, and a few ways that are more stringent, forcing my mind to come up with alternatives. I think the best methods are some combination of the two, preferably on a continuous basis.

For more relaxed methods, it’s important to let my mind free and to do that, it requires a lack of interruption. I know. Sometimes getting to a place of no interruption can be difficult, if not impossible. The best places I’ve found that tend to work is on long walks by myself or in the shower. These tend to be times when I don’t have anyone with me or anyone talking to me. These are also times when I’m far less likely to have my phone on me, giving me an easy distraction.

Other methods that sometimes work are during exercising, preferably monotonous times of exercise, and any job that takes your hands, but not your mind, like folding laundry or doing dishes or when you’re laying in bed about to fall asleep (all those awesome ideas that come right before you’re about to forget them all!)

If you have a way of relaxing like this each day, it can be really helpful in untangling plot holes or coming up with solutions to character arcs or twists.

Sometimes though, we don’t have enough relaxing time (unfortunately). Which means that we have to go brunt force. In order to do this, I generally do one of two things. Continue reading

Canvas Blues – LXXX: Present


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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

LXXX: Present

Orion broke the kiss first, but kept himself close, their lips still touching, Brendon’s heart battering against his chest and his mind a wash of color that refused to take on shapes that would make sense of this moment. He resisted the moan that wanted to escape his throat. Resisted the urge to grab Orion and drag him backward on the bed. Resisted even the urge to shove his tongue back into Orion’s mouth.

Because Casey stared down at them knowingly, watching their clothing get tight.

“I’m sitting here, in your bedroom,” said Orion. “Which means you know, you believe, that this painting of this old car did something to someone you cared about.”

Brendon twisted his neck slightly, just enough he could see the wall out of the corner of his eye where Casey’s shining smile grew ever more glorious. Youth and freedom and hope. That was why he’d hidden the painting in the back of the closet, behind a dozen others. Youth and freedom and hope, all things that had felt so possible then. Impossible now.

Guilt seized him.

“You want to tell me about it. About the pain,” said Orion.

“Is this why you kissed me?” asked Brendon dryly as he set his glass down on the carpet at his feet. “Seducing the man you think powerful enough to kill through his paintings so I shed some secret?”

“I’m seducing a man I find handsome.” Orion’s hand slid up further till the crotch in Brendon’s jeans forced a stop. But there he curled his fingers so they pressed against the underside of Brendon’s balls, thumb landing casually against the base of Brendon’s cock. “Could tell you how incredibly attractive you are, especially when you get that look in your eye, the one that says you’re not quite seeing what I’m seeing. There’s a part of me that wonders… Wonders just how powerful you truly are.” Orion murmured those final words directly into Brendon’s ear, then dragged teeth against his lobe, a tongue along his neck, while his fingers massaged a gentle rhythm against his jeans. “I am sorry about your friend though.”

“My friend…” whispered Brendon. Continue reading