Remember: The READER Doesn’t Know The Characters Are Okay!

At a few key places in The Water Castle, I really built up the tension – and it works. Nail biter stuff.

The reader is tense, the character is tense…

Hell, I was tense.

(I discovered a little trick, that whatever I wanted the reader to feel, I had to make a character feel. We’re in their heads after all, as readers, so if they are biting their fingernail and creeping slowly holding their breath, we tend to do that, too. I mean, you have to paint it right but that’s a big part of it. That’s also why, if your MC likes/dislikes/trusts/loves/hates another character, your reader will, too – if you allowed the reader to know and like the MC first.)


At a few other places that should have had tension, the story didn’t deliver it.

(Yet; it’s the first draft.)

Stacie’s friend is suddenly hauled away by Spanish soldiers from the 1600’s to the dungeon. Sure, Stacie gets nervous, as does the friend, but neither gets super upset.


Um… what was I thinking?


Two things. One, I know her friend doesn’t get hurt. Because I wrote it. I know she’s okay and not to worry too much.


That wasn’t intentional; I was excited to get on to the next scene – where some big time drama was about to happen. (That’s number two, of the two things.) There’s a big cliffhanger ending to that chapter, too. It totally rocks. Stacie… I don’t know. She was in the way. Stand over there; I’ll get to you, Stace.


That’s because I know nothing bad happens to Stacie or her friend.


I have to remember the reader doesn’t know that, and build it up.


That’s why first drafts are shit. But luckily, we get to make second drafts. In that version, I’ll add the necessary emotion, and then the big drama scene will be even bigger.


What are some of the mistakes you’ve caught between your first and second drafts?


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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

You Want Your Book To Read Like A Serial – Even If It’s Not One

I remember reading A Tale Of Two Cities in school and being partly fascinated with it. I don’t pretend I grasped the complexities of the novel at that age, maybe eighth grade or freshman year in high school, but I remember it read a lot like a soap opera – and our teacher informed us that it had in fact been released as a weekly serial.


Obviously, I didn’t forget that.

I just have that kind of mind

But why did a popular author like Dickens release it as a weekly serial instead of just release it as a regular book?


Well, if you compare it to soap operas or good, dramatic TV shows (say 24, or The Sopranos, but there are plenty of current examples), they solve a problem or two each week and start a new problem, then leave you with a cliffhanger – you have to tune in next week to see if Jack Bauer gets to the ticking time bomb in time!


Soap operas tend to the same thing. The husband comes home early and is about to walk in on the wife and her lover – tune in tomorrow to see what happens!


And, by the way, the chapters in our books are supposed to do that.


This is amazing!

A writers we want to create a scene and write until the scene is done (the problem is solved) so we can stop and let the next day or next set of problems start the next chapter – but the story tends to be much better if we don’t.


For example, in The Water Castle, the Prince has to go meet with a local tribe of hostile Indians who keep attacking his castle. I set up a day long ride and off he goes with his friend.


Where’s the best place to end the chapter?

  • After he gets to the Indian camp and before the big meeting
  • After the big meeting, say they get on their horses and ride away
  • As they are riding into the camp and are met by a bunch of angry Indian scouts pointing spears at them?


Our natural inclination is to write the chapter and complete the scene, so we have them go to the camp, sit down, hold the meeting, and ride off into the sunset.


But… we’re supposed to put our characters up a tree and throw rocks at them!


And… we need some tension to turn a story into a page turner!


So the rocks will be: they are met by spears. Hmm. Maybe the meeting won’t go as planned. And the cliffhanger will be – they are met by spears, END SCENE




I wonder what comes next?

Yeah, you have to start the next chapter to see what happens. Now, maybe the spears come down and the meeting goes as planned. Maybe the prince and his buddy get locked up. (Readers probably won’t think they get killed, but only because they’ve both been pretty integral to the story – but Game Of Thrones regularly killed off main characters). Doesn’t matter. By making the reader turn the page and start the next chapter to find out what happens, the reader is more engrossed in the story and less likely to put the book down. That’s a good thing.


So, you kind of want your book to read like a serial even if it’s not.


Dickens put out A Tale Of Two Cities as a serial to exploit the fact that he was popular, and he created a lot of buzz each week as readers were dying to know what happened next.


Certain current authors have done that with eBooks (Hugh Howie with Beacon 23, for example), and a lot of romance novels are written in serial format. Tons of comic books aka graphic novels are.


I have been toying with the idea of releasing my latest story as a serial because that’s almost how it was written. Putting a chapter a week up on the critique group site, their standard format, tends to cause that.


Dickens put out 45-chapters of ATOTC in 31 weekly instalments to help launch his new literary periodical titled All the Year Round.


Can you imagine Kindle readers having to wait 31 weeks to finish a book?


Could you?


Maybe not.

I think the key to launching a novel as a serial would be to group several chapters and release it over maybe 6 installments (6 weeks). Maybe price each segment at 99 cents and have the composite – the whole book – available for a buck less than the total of the installments, so impatient readers like me could just jump ahead and buy the dang thing and read it. Also, you might make the installments available on KOLL but not the composite book, (so you don’t screw yourself out of your royalties).


Maybe have a preorder link in each prior book so readers could immediately get the next one…


But that’s all business plan stuff.


What’s really in play is whether a modern, lengthy book would be well received as a serial. Some have. (We all now understand the importance of writing a novel readers can’t put down.)


The big guys have marketing arms to help push whatever they want. A serial release might never go anywhere if it wasn’t marketed properly.


I barely know how to market a regular book, I can’t imagine marketing a serial is easier!


What are your thoughts? How many segments is too many for a serial? How long would you spread it out? Have you ever bought one/read one?


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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.



New Author Interview: Jaye Marie, a NaNoWriMo Success Story

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Your humble host.

When I was a brand new writer, I didn’t worry too much about how to write a story or what the process was. I just was relating funny stories about first-time parents with a new baby in the house. A lot of sleep deprived people could relate to that, so it transitioned pretty easily into a collection of funny stories about that could be a book.

When I started to actually write novels or fact-based fiction, that was when I really kicked into a different gear.

And I needed help.

As a new author, I always wanted to know how other authors did things. What was their process, what did their inspiration come from, things like that. I still like to know that stuff. No reason to reinvent the wheel.

So I like to bring as many authors to the table so you can learn how they do things.

Maybe you get a few tips, maybe you give a few tips in the comment section, but ultimately I want this blog to be what I would’ve wanted to read a few years ago when I was starting out. Things that would have helped me when I was new. And in keeping with our NaNoWriMo theme this week, so here is somebody who started at NaNo and went from there. Enjoy my chat with Jaye Marie!


Dan: Thank you very much for braving the waters of The Dan Interview. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Author Jaye Marie
Author Jaye Marie

Jaye: I love books and have read my way through stacks of them, so when my sister Anita needed someone to edit and type up her manuscripts, I was happy to help and discovered my vocation and my love-hate relationship with the world of computers.

I think we all have that so one degree or another. Mine’s mostly hate, and when it gets to my relationship with my phone, it’s all hate. Deep hatred. It’s mutual, though. My phone hates me, too. I assume you got past that, though?

There are still days when I can feel the hate building up, in spite of my legendary patience. I should have been born with a more techno savvy brain, then my life would be measurably better.

As it is, there are just too many annoyingly frustrating pieces of equipment in my life, so when it all gets the better of me, I go for a very long walk!

I learned how to edit and proofread, taking over the job of getting Anita’s books ready for publication.  I had wonderful compliments from one of the best literary agents in London for my editing of Anita’s book, Bad Moon and for the last ten years since my retirement, that is what my life has been like.

Somewhere along the way, I started thinking about a story that had been nibbling away in the corner of my mind for months and before too long, it demanded to be written and I am very pleased with the outcome.

It’s nice to scratch that itch, so to speak, isn’t it! How much structure is in your story before you start writing it?

The itch that you mention certainly picks its moments. In the beginning, I tried to rely on my memory when inspiration stuck, but these days I am never far away from a notebook and pen.

I wrote my first book ‘The Ninth Life’ last year on NaNoWriMo.

Whaaaat? A NaNoWriMo success story???

NaNo 2015Yes, and all I started with was the characters and a rough idea of what I thought would happen. Then my characters took over and practically wrote did the job for me. When I thought about the sequel ‘The Last Life’, everything changed. Continuity was essential, I discovered, so I made a storyboard to keep track of what was evolving.

Awesome. A pantser turned plotter! There’s hope for the world! ARE YOU LISTENING, PANTSERS???

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?

I write best first thing in the morning, something that still surprises me, for I have never been at my best at that time of day. Always considered myself a night owl, but apparently my muse is not!

I am totally the same way. My wife thinks I’m nuts. My kid is starting to think so, too.

How do you develop characters?

I like to identify my characters with real people.

Me, too. Do you tell them? Like, this one is based on you, sis. I don’t usually tell. I don’t need the hate. I get enough from the phone.

jaye marie 4In the sequel to ‘The Ninth Life’ (soon to be published) the detective inspector, David Snow, is a dead ringer for Tom Selleck in his role as Jessie Stone.

So you probably didn’t call Tom and tell him.

No, but this way I know exactly how my character will behave in every circumstance and this imparts more realism. I have heard that some authors have photographs of their role models, but not gone that far yet.


Tell us the expected publish date, and I assume it’s an indie pub?

‘The Last Life’ is due to be released on 6th November.

Yes, I am an indie, and proud of it. Well, you would be too if you had my brain. Sometimes I wish someone else would have it, and let me choose a new one!


Who or what helped you the most getting started?

jaye marie 2When everyone started talking about ‘Indie’ or self-publishing it was as if a light went on in my brain. I knew how hard it was to be published in the traditional way, so I became very excited at the prospect of being able to do it ourselves.

I started our website, and found that I enjoyed talking to people from all over the world and posting our thoughts on line. Then I concentrated on publishing Anita’s books. It wasn’t quite as easy as they made it sound, but with my usual stubbornness I kept at it, learning more and more as I went along.

Stubborn. I know nothing of this condition…

I started thinking about a story that had been nibbling away in the corner of my mind for months and before too long, it demanded to be written and I am very pleased with the outcome.


How did you choose the genre you write in, or did it choose you?

jaye marie 3Before I started to write, I always imagined I would write supernatural scary stories, as this was what I enjoyed reading most. Thanks to Stephen King and James Herbert! But the idea of a woman cheating death so many times took hold and I had to see what would happen. Before I knew what was happening, she had a murderous ex-husband and the bodies began to pile up! I suspect I may change genres as I go along, as my interests are so varied.

So what would be the next genre you’d try?

 The next genre is already emerging, as spooky supernatural themes are jostling for space in my head. This genre is the one I always thought I would write in, so it might be overdue.

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

I have so many hobbies, it might be easier to say what I don’t like doing! From Bonsai and gardening, knitting and crochet, to painting and craftwork. But my one huge obsession is for puzzles. Solitaire, Sudoku, jigsaws and PC games and dozens more. I honestly believe my puzzles keep my brain from fossilising and are solely responsible for my insanity.

I think I read that somewhere. What’s the trick to Sodoku? Looking in the back for the answer? If I ever did one, that’s 100% how I’d do it. But I’m never going to do one. Because math.


What do you do about cover art?

I don’t have much spare money, I’m the original church mouse, so I have tried to make our own.

I did that. The results were very good – to me, and me only. They were terrible to the rest of the world. Absolutely horrible. And I have since been declared Unable To Do Covers. It’s an affliction. I think I  can do it but the fans tell me I can’t. Typically, if I like your cover, it’s a loser, so go the other way.

Apart for the financial situation, creating suitable covers appealed to my creative streak. Learning the best way to do it was the difficult part, as I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to technology.

I discovered you can make quite good covers on microsoft’s Word, but I fell in love with a company called Picmonkey. Every bit as good as Photoshop, but easier to use and most of it is free.

But when some of my fellow bloggers mentioned that Chris Graham from The Story Reading Ape creates reasonable attractive covers, I took a look and now The Last Life has a very professional cover!


How and why did you start your blog?

jaye marie 5The first thing you learn when you decide to write a book is that you must have an interesting and popular website or blog. How hard can it be, I thought. Everyone is doing it, so it must be relatively easy.

And once you know what you’re doing, it is easy – ish.

It’s also incredibly easy to get it wrong, so I spent a lot of time checking out other blogs to see what worked.


Still cannot decide whether I prefer Blogger or WordPress though, so we have both.

Would you take a moment to tell us the pros and cons of each, and how hard is it to have both? Would you recommend it? Because I can copy-paste like a madman.

That won’t be easy as they are so very different. But seeing as how you asked, I will try.

Blogger was the first one I tried, and it was easy-ish to use, at least for me. I learned so much from making stupid mistakes and stubbornly trying to put them right. I feel a certain loyalty to Blogger, although it does have its drawbacks.

Remember, I am not the best one to ask, all I can go by is the progress we have made, comparing one against the other.

With Blogger, if you have a problem, all you have is a help forum consisting of other users, most of whom are struggling just like you. WP on the other hand, are really helpful and usually sort out your problems by the next day. We do seem to have made more connections and links with WP and in less time, so that’s a good point.

Took me nearly a year to master WP, so not sure what this says about them (or me).

Having two sites does make my life more complicated, but hey, if I wanted an uncomplicated life, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of  a PC, now would I?

What is the working title of your next book?

This question is easy to answer, as my next book is the sequel to ‘The Ninth Life’. It has to be called the ‘The Last Life’ for reasons that become clear when you read the book!

Due to be released on 6th November…!


Where did the idea come from for the book?

The original idea came from details of my own life. I have nearly died several times and sometimes I wonder if there might be a reason for this. Maybe I’m an alien or something. One idea led to another and ‘The Ninth Life’ was born. Once I had created the lead character, she seemed to take control and dictated the story to me.


What is the single most important quality in a novel; what must an author do to win you over?

A book must inspire me, especially now that I write, for good writers can do this. Not only in the way I write, but also the way I live my life…

Well, hopefully your enthusiasm has inspired some other newbies out there, and given a few tips to the war torn veterans. Thanks for dropping by!



Amazon Author Page:

Amazon Book Link:





Why YOU Should Join A Critique Group, You Arrogant SOB

img_2351-19I was an arrogant writer when Savvy Stories came out. Still am. You have to have an ego to put out a book and expect strangers to spend money on it – and enjoy it and not return it and not laugh at you and not…

You get the idea.

I laughed when I was first told to try a critique group.

A bunch of scared talentless hacks all sitting on a corner cowering while they endlessly rewrite their pseudo novels and tell each other how awesome they are? No thanks.

But the guy who recommended it to me, a real pompous ass type (or so I thought) said

the people there could help me by letting me help them.

Wait, what? Help me by… Yeah. Okay. That’s right.

(More on critiquing your own work HERE)


See, when you point out mistakes that others are making, it almost forces you to be a tougher judge on yourself. Okay, I was fine with that. I had a few published books at the time and

I thought I knew what I was doing.

And I did.

I’m a pretty good storyteller

with very little training. As in, none, really. Thing is, I could be better. I knew that, but I didn’t know how to get there. But I was certain the a bunch of goofballs in a critique group wouldn’t be the answer.

But I checked it out, since I’d just read that the lady who wrote “50 Shades Of Gray” had used a critique group to help her work the story into a novel, and obviously it did well. Ironic that it’s seen as a pretty poorly written novel, but I didn’t know that then. All I knew was: bestselling author admits a critique group helped her book become successful. I wanted that sort of help. So I was open to the idea when the pompous ass guy suggested it.

I asked him for a recommendation of a group, and he gave me one.

Since it was free, I decided to join and see what would happen.

I put one of my short stories up – one that I knew was good – and sat back and waited.

People liked it. I knew they would.

They said it was funny. It was.

They caught a few typos. Oops. Well, that happens.

Then they mentioned a few things that separate good writing from great writing. Stuff that, while small, makes a difference over the course of a novel.

Um… okay.

Yes, there were sniveling writer wannabes there, and evil troll types, but there were serious writers, too. It was pretty easy to tell which was which.

I submitted more stories, and found myself enjoying the process. The book I was working on went into the group and became a much better story. Who knew? I didn’t see that coming.

One day I started a new book and submitted a chapter to the group. A critique partner I particularly respect and admire, who had one indie book out and another awaiting publication with a traditional publisher, made a comment when she read the first chapter:

Wow, you’ve improved a lot in your writing.

Well… who doesn’t want to hear that? I’d already put out a bestseller, remember.

As people read your submissions, they bring to it their perspective, and by gaining that input from several sources (or a dozen) you open your eyes to what the masses – the book buying public – want. Not just what you want to say, but also how they want to receive it. That’s huge.

A book that you write will appeal to you, but after it goes through a critique group, the story you love will still be 99% your words and your message, but it will have some built in feedback as to what a broader audience than you thinks, and when it comes time to sell that book, it will sell better.

That’s a good reason to do it, right there.

You’ll meet lots of people you won’t respect or who have arbitrary rules, or who can’t string together a compelling story, but you’ll also meet writers you love reading, who are trying like hell to get published, or who are published – and who will help you improve your writing.

And usually, it’s free. How awesome is that?

Oh, and you’ll get to read some cool books before they become cool books, but while they’re still cool books.

And you’ll create a group of writer/author friends. You may help shape a story that becomes a book, and have a lasting personal friendship with its author.

And you’ll help some new, talented people get their book out.

Robert, you sound a little stressed.

Relax. You have talent, and it’s a good short story! It had an interesting twist, and people will love reading it, whether that’s in a blog or as a freebie giveaway to get them over to your novel. I just put out my 14th book a few days ago and I’ve helped others put out theirs. When you’re ready, I’ll help you, too.

Now, about this novel…

Who wouldn’t want that kind of support and encouragement?

First, you should subscribe to my blog, not because it’s awesome but because I often take critiques and redo them there as “lessons,” and there’s one or two about getting your big voluminous tome out of your head and off the notepad and into a computer so it can become the novel it wants to be.

 Read one of them HERE

Then, baby steps. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t worry that you’re “behind schedule,” by using a critique group, because it’ll be a better product when it’s finished, and that’s where a critique group makes the difference: when you write something, and get it finished, you may think it is ready for the world – and maybe it is. But why not let some critique partners have a look and offer their input? Maybe some chapters would be better rearranged. Maybe it just needs some smoothing and some polish. Then, why not send it to a few “beta readers” who can just read it like a regular person would, and can offer their feedback? And what will happen is, that beautiful story will grow from a child into an adult very quickly. From a decent amateur story to something that reads as professional. It will read smoother, better, and more engaging. Little errors that readers would notice – won’t be there, and instead they’ll just enjoy a terrific story.


But ya gotta get it written, and even if it’s written, if you put it into a critique group with typos and punctuation errors, crits will spend all their energy on telling you where you need a comma. Now, if you need that help, then put it up right away. If you can fix that yourself, do it and let the crits focus on the story. But even if you want crits to catch spelling and grammar errors, just say that in the notes, and let them do it, then make the changes and put it up again as version 2.


A year from now, or in six months, or whatever, you’ll have a beautiful book to release out onto the world.


The year is going to pass whether you start or not; wouldn’t you rather have your novel published by then? And if short stories are dying to escape from your pen, let them. There’s room enough in the world for both. Put them on a blog at WordPress (which is free) and the world will have lots of samples of your writing, and you can build a fan base. Then when you novel is ready, take 20 of your best short stories and publish them as a book of short stories. Fans will love to read that while they’re waiting for the next (his working title) book. And you’ll have two published books instead of just one – which is more than most writers ever do.

Get to it!

That’s my advice to you, too. Get to it! A critique group, that is. And to better writing.

What are some of the ways YOU have discovered that help your writing?

If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!

img_2351-19Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious romantic comedy Poggibonsi: An Italian Misadventure.

Check out Poggi HERE and my other works HERE and check back often for interesting stuff.