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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays With Story
September 21, 2018

Tuesday evening at B&N

Nine writers circled the chairs on the store’s bargain floor for an evening of ghost stories, lost memories, changing lives, magic, and cauterized wounds. Here is some of what was said in the critiques:

Meg Matenaer (chapter 3, Write in Time) After a lively garbage disposal discussion, the group decided that Marie should drop a thin juice glass into it instead of a thick coffee mug. Jack suggested the line, “The garbage disposal could be reset, but her day could not.” Amber, John, and Jerry noted that the readers know little about the professor. The group was alarmed about John’s (Rueger not Schneller) ear and thought he should be too.

Lisa McDougal (chapters 3-4, The Tebow Family Secret) . . .

Amber Boudreau (chapter 13 rewrite, The Dragoneer) Amber read from Chapter 13 of her novel The Dragoneer which she is deep in the middle of rewriting. John and Jerry enjoyed the piece but had suggestions on switching a few sentences around for clarity and deleting some mundane dialogue.

Mike Austin (short story, “Go Faster”)  I received a lot of really good comments and input for, “Go Faster.” I found that I need to start naming things. John wanted me to name roads and locations, Jerry wanted me to name the beer they’re drinking. There was a brief discussion about fingers tickling, “as light as spider’s feet.” In the end, I was allowed to keep it. Jerry thought I could say “humerus” instead of “arm bone.” Sounds kind of funny to me. Okay, bad pun. I was concerned that the humerus through his chest (Hm. Now I’m starting to like it.) might seem contrived, but was assured that it was not. Thank you, everyone, for the encouraging comments.

Jerry Peterson (short story, part 1 rewrite plus 6 new pages, “Death Rides the Rails”) . . . The scene of Early hunting a rabbit was not serious for Amber Boudreau but a comedy. “Could you add a few more animals?” she asked. John Schneller said a hawk would not attack a man, that another way has to be found to injure Early so the next scene—he cauterizing of his wounds—can be saved.


Who’s up next

October 2

Bob Kralapp (???)

Paul Wagner (???)

Larry Sommers (chapter, untitled novel)

Jack Freiburger (chapter, A Walk on the Water)

Cindi Dyke (???)

John Schneller (chapter, Final Stronghold)

Tracey Gemmell (chapters)


Fifth Tuesday

As, yes, October 30. And we now have a writing challenge. Here’s the prompt: “A howling good time.”

Your story, in no more than 500 words, doesn’t have to be a Halloween story, but it could be. Figure out where you’re going with the prompt and start writing!


Our editor

Tracey Gemmell loves editing our e-newsletter so much that on October 1 she moving back into the chair where she will shepherd the next two issues. Email your good stuff to her.


Why you need an inciting incident

From Randy Ingermanson who bills himself as America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing:


First, let’s define our terms. The inciting incident is some “new thing” in your protagonist’s world. It marks the change that is ultimately going to pull your protagonist into your story. Usually, this is something external to your protagonist, but it’s possible it could be an internal change.
I don’t see a problem with starting the inciting incident in the first two pages of your novel. You can put it pretty much anywhere you want, so long as it’s reasonably early in the story and as long as it works. Some stories start fast out of the gate, and some take longer to get rolling.
I do see a problem with a scene that has no conflict of any kind. Conflict doesn’t get in the way of your reader caring about your protagonist. Conflict is often the reason your reader does care, at least early on. When we see somebody in trouble, we instinctively care about them. We might later stop caring about them if we decide they aren’t worth caring about.
But let’s face it—when somebody’s in trouble, we care. The news concerning twelve young soccer players and their coach in Thailand trapped by rising floodwaters two and a half miles into a cave, made people care. The minute we heard about them, we cared. Because that’s what humans do.
Fiction is about giving your reader a powerful emotional experience whether it is external or internal, conflict is conflict.
Do all scenes require a Goal, Conflict, and Setback? The answer is no. That’s one strategy, and we call that strategy a Proactive Scene. But another strategy is the Reactive Scene, where you have a Reaction, a Dilemma, and a Decision. (For much more on both of those, see my latest book, How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method.)
I strongly recommend that all scenes be either Proactive or Reactive. These are solid design patterns that work well and that your readers are already primed to understand. If you have a scene that’s neither Proactive nor Reactive, you should be able to explain to yourself what makes the scene work—why is it giving your reader a powerful emotional experience? And then you should ask whether you can make the scene better by turning it into either a Proactive or Reactive scene. Because usually, you can.
Let’s circle back to the inciting incident. I don’t sweat the exact location of the inciting incident, as long as it’s in the first several chapters. Remember that the inciting incident is not what makes your reader start caring about your story. The inciting incident usually comes much too late for that. Long before your reader reaches the inciting incident, she should already care about your story.
My thinking is that you want to start pulling your reader into your story with a strong first sentence.


  1. Followed by a strong first paragraph.
  2. Followed by a strong first page.
  3. Followed by a strong first scene.


If you do all that, then it really doesn’t matter when the inciting incident happens, because your reader already committed to the story from the very beginning. The inciting incident just gives your reader words to explain why she’s committed.


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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
September 7, 2018


Our Tuesday evening collect

Ten of your colleagues gathered around the tables – yes, we had tables! – on B&N’s bargain floor Tuesday evening. Here’s some of what was said in the critiques:

Paul Wagner (part 1 rewrite, “Mad Jack”) . . .

John Schneller (chapter 29, Final Stronghold) . . . A great deal of discussion was generated over a dirty rock. While the author limped away from the stoning, he did resolve to make things more clear to the reader instead of explaining himself to the critiquers. Thanks for the input. I think I figured out a way to develop the scene which will make the rock more useful when it shows up again later. The other concerns about the cashbox dynamics also need clarity, but doggone it, the description of the jail cell will  …..o heck, that will probably go also.  Thanks for the comments!  (more…)

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
August 24, 2018

Neither storm nor flood could keep us away

Just washed the roads clean on the west side of Madison for those of us who had to drive them to get to Barnes & Noble, Tuesday evening. Ten writers came in to critique the work of six of our colleagues. Here’s some of what was said:

Lisa McDougal (chapters 2-3, The Tebow Family Secret):  It was suggested that I start Chapter 3 with Ahna’s speech. Tracey suggested removing the word “just” in a sentence to avoid coming off offensive. Jerry suggested not using “childhood friend” to describe Ahna’s childhood friend. Cindi suggested cutting a particular sentence short to make it more effective for a character.

Bob Kralapp (poem, rewrite, “Postcard from London”):

Meg Matenaer (chapters 1-2, Write in Time):

Cindi Dyke (excerpt, The Mansion Secrets): The two main characters were introduced through two brief excerpts, and a portion of Chapter 6 presented. Amber questioned if the story should be coming from Wart instead of Michael since Wart is the more colorful character of the two. Jerry suggested that more diversity in the main characters would increase marketability. There are two other essential characters appearing in the beginning of the book that have not been presented to the group yet: A female classmate and a 40-ish man with savant syndrome. Meg liked the authenticity of the dialogue and actions of Michael and Wart, saying they sounded like her 9 yr old son. All comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thank you! (more…)

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
August 10, 2018

Tuesday eve at ye olde book shoppe

Eight writers came out Tuesday evening to critique the work of six of our colleagues. Here’s some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 4-5a, Surya’s Story): Kashmira submitted more chapters from her MG novel. There were some spelling and word choice concerns that Tracey and Jerry pointed out. Jack wanted some tightening to make sure Surya’s fear and desperation came through. There were discussions about the lemon grass, step-well, python etc. Overall, everyone like the story.

Lisa McDougal (chapter 01, The Tebow Family Secret): Tracey suggested that the intro be told in first person. Bob said that the intro could be told in the 3rd if done more creatively. Jerry questioned if a billionaire would come home and get soda himself. Millie and Tracey gave suggestions on a new name for one of the characters. “Dotty” was the winning name. Larry and Jerry had questions/suggestions about the key code lock for the wine cellar. (more…)

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Tuesdays With Story
Fifth Tuesday stories
July 31, 2018


Writing challenge: Write a fake book blurb, a nice way to roast a fellow writer. Example: blurb Larry Sommers’ latest book, The Sommers’ System for Writing a Bestselling Novel in 30 Days.

200 words max.

Children’s Author Strikes Again

Lisa McDougal

Monsters in my Soup

By Millie Mader

Monkey-Man Publishing, 2013

220 pages

Retail: $8.49

Smell the soup and it’ll make you hungry. Eat the soup and it’ll make you a monster. Monsters in my Soup is a terrifying children tale about the perils of eating soup. This isn’t your grandma’s special chicken noodle soup. Also, this isn’t your grandma. When monsters invade the little town of Safe Haven, Connecticut, posing as grandmothers aiming to enslave children by feeding them their special soup. Can our heroes, Blake, Jake, and Cake, stop them in time before they get so hungry that they eat the soup?

Millie Mader is the author of the children’s books, Creatures in my Teachers and No Razzle in my Dazzle.

—Lisa McDougal, author, It’s a Crime not to Give a Child a Horse (more…)

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
July 20, 2018

In 10 days

It’s Fifth Tuesday!

The Trivedis will host us at their home in Madison, about a five-minute drive from Barnes & Noble Westside.

Yes, it’s a potluck, so bring some great food to share. Vegetarian, please. No meat dishes allowed this time.

And we have a writing challenge: Write a fake book blurb, a nice way to roast a fellow writer. Example: blurb Larry Sommers’ latest book, The Sommers’ System for Writing a Bestselling Novel in 30 Days.

Maximum length: 200 words

Format for your page:
(Title of book)
(Author’s name)
(Publisher and publication date)
(Number of pages)
(Retail price of book)

(Your blurb)
(Your name and at least one writing credit)

When you have your mini-masterpiece finished, email it to Jerry Peterson by Sunday evening, July 29.

Start time for our Fifth Tuesday is our usual 7 p.m. (more…)

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays With Story
June 19, 2018

Nine of us gathered around to read and critique each other’s work.

Millie Mader read from her short story “Stone Cold Stripper.” Millie writes, “I’m going to eliminate the first chapter and the info about the founding of DNA. Will (hopefully) try to ‘tighten’ the whole thing up.”  Amber noted the following: John questioned the characters flying all the way out, getting three statements and leaving. He felt they would have asked more questions. Tracey thought the ordering had improved, but she had a few questions about verb choice. Jerry wondered about the traffic and Tracey suggested changing it to unfamiliar roads. Tracey was also looking for more suspense. Millie questioned how long a short story should be. Jerry suggests 30,000 words max. Tracey would really like to see the explanation of DNA removed. Larry thought the character’s interaction at the crime lab was too similar. (more…)

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