Twist that Ending and Twist it Again

The Art to Twisting an Ending

by Deborah Owen

We all know a surprise ending when we see one, but how do you write it? Read on to find out.

Wikipedia defines a twisted ending as an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, which may contain a surprising irony, or cause the audience to review the story from a different perspective by revealing new information about the characters or plot.

In other words, a twisted ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. This literary device is also referred to as a surprise ending.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first master of twisted endings in film. In only 30 minutes, he could develop a plot and mislead the viewer. His technique was something akin to the game of “Clue,” allowing the viewers to draw their own faulty conclusions. This type of twisted ending is called a “red herring.”

In the movie Moby Dick, Captain Ahab spends his life searching for the white whale that bit his leg off. The twist comes when Ahab becomes ensnared in ropes attached to the great white and the whale drags him to his drowning death.

Examples: Let’s suppose a man has murdered a woman and her husband is out to catch the killer. Just as hubby catches the murderer, the police arrive and take the man into custody. How can you twist that ending? There are many ways and none are right or wrong. You have literary license to do as you please, but do follow one rule: satisfy your reader. Here are a few ideas:

1. The husband’s vendetta is to see the killer die, but when the murderer goes to trial, he begs for the death penalty. Now the husband wants him to live a miserable life in prison.

2. Suppose the killer became a Christian and begged the husband to forgive him? Think how that would change the parameters of this case.

3. Suppose the murderer was sentenced to life without parole? The husband of the dead woman is delighted with the verdict, but an inmate kills the murderer on the first day in prison. Oops.

4. Or… the killer could escape from the courtroom, dash into the street and be hit by a semi.

5. The judge sentences the man to death. The dead woman’s husband is happy, but his grief drives him to his knees and he becomes a Christian. He changes his mind about wanting the killer to die and instead, leads a campaign for a stay of execution.

The best ending is when you twist the ending, and then twist it again. For example, let’s make this murderer a really evil man. In prison, he killed two people but wasn’t caught in the act. Eventually, he gets paroled and is promptly hit by a car. The reader thinks justice has been served… but the man doesn’t die. He’s paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.

The secret to twisting an ending is finding the point where you can veer off to an alternative resolution. Exactly what you do with it from that point is up to you.

Your turn. Think of a scene and how you can twist the ending and share it with us.

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How to Write Dialogue Tags

Advice for Setting Up Meaningful Story Dialogue

by Deborah Owen

Dialogue tags are the short insertions that identify the speakers in a written conversation. Without them, the reader would be lost.

Dialogue tags are quick signposts that keep the reader on the right path. When you change paths to another speaker, it is not always necessary to place a tag. Sometimes you can use characters’ speech patterns and the natural flow of conversation to identify a change in speakers.

Modern style dictates that all dialogue tags identify the speaker first, and then the action. In other words you should write, “Jason said” rather than “said Jason”. If you are selling your work, little things like this show you are up on the latest writing trends.

Don’t use tags such as, “Jack said mysteriously,” or “Crystal said wryly.” Avoid the use of adverbs that end in –ly. Stick to the same ole, same ole, mundane, “Jack said.” The reader’s subconscious mind will pass over this without realizing they have read it.

Readers expect to see tags. They flow with the story and don’t distract from the action.

When you introduce conversations into your stories, narration and exposition will become dialogue. And with that change will come an exchange of emotion, pace, conflict, and the actions of the characters as they progress through the theme.

Challenge yourself to give life and energy to speech. If you want to know what natural dialogue sounds like, quit talking and listen. Eavesdropping will become your best friend. Eavesdrop everywhere you go. Restaurant talk is fabulous. That is conversation at its best!

Can you hear what your character would say in your mind? If you can’t, you don’t know them well enough. Make a list of 50 things about your character, and you will know him/her inside out. When you can hear them speaking in your mind and can view them as real people, it will be easier to hear their normal conversation.

Always address the following questions:

  • Does the dialogue reflect the speech of real people?
  • Does it bring the reader into the emotion of the scene?
  • Does it flow naturally?

The most common failing of authors is to write meaningless, or too much dialogue. The reader’s mind requires frequent rests to absorb the action and for that reason, you need to break the dialogue into groups and sprinkle short scenes of settings throughout. You can do this with just about anything.

Avoid conversations that are one or two-liners, like this:

“How are you?” Jane asked.

“I’m doing good,” Jack said.

“So, what’s new?”

“Not much.”

This kind of conversation is boring and has no purpose. Dialogue should provide backstory, add to the character, reveal a clue, further the plot, or introduce new material. If your dialogue is there just to make conversation, edit it into something useful.

What is your favorite way to use dialogue? Let us know in the comments below!

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How to Develop a Hook Sentence

The Hows and Wherefores of Hook Sentences
by Deborah Owen

You and your readers are engaged in a game. Your duty is to keep them guessing. Their duty is to outguess you, properly decipher the clues, and predict the ending. Needless to say, you’d better win this contest if you want to keep your readers.

How long do you take to develop a hook sentence? Would you believe – it should take hours, days, or even weeks?

When I first started writing, I never gave the opening line a thought. I just sat down and wrote whatever came to mind. Of course, I didn’t sell anything – and that should have been a clue! So here’s what I learned.

1. It’s futile to worry about the opening line when you first write a story. Save that for later when you edit. For now, scribble something out and come back to it when it’s cold. About 95% of the time, you can ditch the first two or three paragraphs and actually begin on the third or fourth one anyway. Any details that you wanted to keep in those first few paragraphs can be worked in further down.

2. Your opening line should set the tone for the entire story. Is it a romance story? Then you might want to open in the middle of a love scene. (That could be very interesting.) Is it a horror story? You may want to start in the middle of a murder. Is it non-fiction drama? Start in the center of the drama. Whatever your genre, design that first line to fit your story.

3. It has to be snappy. Something that will reach out and grab the reader by the throat. You might want to use heavy alliteration. You might want to scare the daylights out of your reader and send them scampering for covers. You might want to stir their emotions. That first line must grab your readers and pull them in.

This is called “setting the hook.” Sounds like fishing, huh? In a way, it is. You’re fishing for readers and trying to keep them from trading your story for another.

Would you rather read a beginning that says, “Dad had to kill chickens that day so I ran away and cried.” Or “Dad entered the house with bloodshot eyes, carrying a bloody axe. I scrambled for the back door, screaming.”

This is misrepresenting a scene, but it works, and seasoned writers use this method all the time.

Here’s another hook sentence I used recently: “Both shuddered as the madman smashed bottles and cursed downstairs.” Now… who could stop reading before they found out what was going on?

Play on your readers’ curiosity, and use all the excitement you can muster to hold their attention.

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Low Self Esteem Vs. Developing Confidence

Develop Self Esteem to Develop Confidence
By Dr. Helen Tucker, CWI Counselor

Low self-esteem can make new challenges a daunting task, but developing confidence brings a new perspective. Have you ever accepted a new challenge and afterwards wondered if you had the ability to complete it? Such feelings are often due to low self-esteem.

Do you look at the negatives and compare yourself unfavorably with others despite evidence to the contrary?

How can you improve self-esteem and develop confidence?

You are a unique human being. Yes, you have faults but, more importantly, you also have strengths.

1. Tackle life one day at a time.
2. At the end of each day, list everything you accomplished.
3. Praise yourself for every victory.

In due time, you’ll find others reacting more positively toward you. That’s because your self-esteem is improving and you’re developing confidence.

Take this short self-esteem quiz. When someone compliments you on an achievement, do you:

1. Accept the compliment with delight because you feel you deserve it?
2. Think you could have done better and consider all the mistakes you made?
3. Wonder if the compliment was genuine or not?

Don’t doubt others or yourself. Work on developing confidence.

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The Secret of Weaving Themes, Arcs, and Resolutions

Themes, Arcs, and Resolutions
by Deborah Owen, CEO Creative Writing Institute

Creative writing calls for all the talent you can muster. If you wonder what it takes to become a writer, think about whether you can write a decent informal letter. If so, you can learn to write. Writing is a learned skill. We have yet to see a baby born with a pen in its hand.


What is a theme? It is the one thing you want the reader to remember when they have finished reading. The theme is the undercurrent from the beginning to the end, but is never spoken outright. Gone With the Wind is a story of manipulation. Moby Dick centers on revenge. Pinocchio is a story of morals. The Ten Commandments is about choices and judgment. What is your story’s theme?

Every sentence must point to it. If you’re writing imagery or scenery, weave it into the theme. For example, if you’re writing a romance story and your opening scene has snow and Christmas lights, the scene should build to something that connects with romance. You could, for instance, use it to introduce a character or a situation that will tie into the deeper story.

But beware. If the snowfall adds nothing to the atmosphere, delete it. If you have a dog in the story and its purpose is to show a person’s loving kindness, (part of characterization), that’s fine, but if the pooch has no purpose for being there, delete it.

Build your story to a climax and let it unfold in a cataclysm. The dialogue must create the right mood. Some of the dialogue may seemingly relate to something else, but in the scheme of things, it should point to characterization, setting, or plot.

Using the romance theme, let’s suppose you have a scene where two neighbors are gossiping over the back fence. How could the gossiping scene relate to romance?

• It could introduce a new character
• It could build the characterization of an existing personality
• It could shift the scene to a closer part of the theme
• It could show “discovery” (something the reader doesn’t know)
• It could “foreshadow” an event (a precursor to the event)

What is Arcing?

Arcing is the rise and fall of the story. As you weave the theme, natural questions will emerge and you must answer them. Questions are little trails that lead to an unnamed destination. They wind upward, increase the reader’s interest, and elevate emotions to a fever pitch. The climax scene (sometimes called the plot scene) should fall between the half and two-thirds mark. This is the highest pitch of emotions, the turning point where you solve problems and show that good overcomes evil. The first part of a story is “flat.” The middle arcs (elevates to a high point). The conclusion resolves to a flat line again.

What is a Resolution?

Note that the end of the story ties up all the loose ends and stops at a higher plane than where the story began. That’s because the reader becomes one with the characters, and becomes involved in their motivation and desires.

Intertwine one piece of the puzzle with another until all the pieces mesh together to form the whole picture. This is called weaving. A writer is an artist that paints words on paper and waits for someone to open the cover and discover the picture within. As with all paintings, develop each picture methodically and with purpose.

Resolve the story by answering every question you have raised. Tie it up in a neat little bundle and in the end, the reader won’t have questions.

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A Writer’s Cross to Bear

The Easter Story, as it Applies to Writers

We writers can draw comparisons and make applications on almost anything. With some difficulty, we can even compare our talents to the death of Jesus and His resurrection. Showing you how to do this is our unique way of wishing you a Happy Easter.

On March 29, Good Friday will remind us of Christ’s death and fulfilled prophecy. Tried, beaten, and condemned to death for righteousness, Jesus carried His cross and faced the end of human life.

Soldiers pressed his bloody body against the wood, and stretched bruised arms and legs to capacity. Christ’s palms turned out in supplication as they drove huge nails through both hands and feet. They raised the cross toward heaven and dropped it into place with a thud that dislocated His limbs.

By sunset, the Son of God took His last earthly breath, and it was finished. Joseph of Arimathaea begged to remove Christ’s body from the cross, and on Sunday, the Son of God arose while His followers mourned.

We can draw some great applications from that first Easter. For instance, crafting words into articles, stories, and books is a gift, but writing can be a hard cross to bear.

Think of the pressure. What if we fail? What if people laugh at us? What if we can’t meet our own expectations? Where are the right words? How can we nail them together with perfection?

After we finish that phase, we edit, rewrite, and polish which, in essence, equates to life or death for that piece. The last step comes in marketing. Over 50% of the writers who receive one rejection slip never submit again. Rejection can mean the end of a talent that didn’t push through to resurrection.

Paul the Apostle urged Christians to crucify themselves daily. What did he mean by that? Using our gifts is one way to bear our cross. Other ways are perseverance, dedication, and education. All are difficult.

Easter Sunday and its lessons happen more than once a year for us. It happens every time we say, “It is finished.” It happens every time an editor, agent, or publisher accepts our work. New life flows into our veins. We’re uplifted. Accepted. Refreshed. Reassured. It’s so real that you can smell it. Feel it. Inhale it. Bubble with it. Celebrate your resurrection. Now move on to the next challenge.

As the Lent season closes and Easter approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on what we’re doing with our lives. Let’s be thankful for our talent, develop it, and gift it back to God. Let’s make it a priority. Yes, it’s hard, but joy comes in the morning, and when it comes, we know it was worth the agony of last night’s sweat.

Happy Easter! Celebrate in the church of your choice.

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How to Edit – 15 Steps

15 Quick Editing Steps to Rewrite Success

by Deborah Owen

Editing is another name for rewriting, and rewriting can only come once you’ve finished. Once that’s done, each round of editing should accomplish a specific purpose.

Follow these 15 quick editing steps to find out how.

1. Do some warm-up writing for ten minutes before you begin editing. During this time, write about something that makes you mad… perhaps an old flame, something an old boyfriend or girlfriend did, a spanking you unjustly received—anything that will stir your emotions and creativity. When your creative juices are flowing, you can critique you own work better.

2. Keep your eye on the goal. Refer back to the rough outline you used as the basis for your first draft. (What? You didn’t use an outline? No wonder you’re reading this article.) Be sure you’ve included all the initial points you wanted to make.

3. Check for linear flow (order of events). Don’t try flashbacks unless you know what you’re doing.

4. Don’t tell what your character is thinking. SHOW it with action, demonstration, or dialogue. Keep in mind that showing always takes three to five times more words than telling. That’s okay, as long as it’s meaty.

Example of Telling
: I’m so nervous, Jennifer thought as she saw the doctor approach. (Boo… hiss… bad writing)

Showing: Jennifer picked on her thumbnail as the doctor approached with furrowed brow. Noises in the room amplified. Did his strides grow longer? Was everyone looking at her? Tick. Tick. Tick. The clock chimed six and echoed in her head. A tiny drop of blood pushed to the thumb’s surface as she pulled the nail into the quick. The stabbing pain was a welcome diversion.

5. Edit for excessive wordiness, also known as verbiage. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines verbiage as “profusion of words, usually of little or obscure content.” In other words, excess words say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Use only one adjective at a time. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene and leave only the most necessary. When you delete a favorite phrase, copy it and save it in a file for another day.

6. Delete all adverbs ending in -ly, such as sadly, hatefully, etc. The use of adverbs is a sure indicator that you aren’t engaging the technique called Show, Don’t Tell. (See #4)

7. Sentence tags: Don’t use “said she” or “said he.” Turn those words around to read “he said” and “she said.” Delete most tag endings, such as “she said with a snicker.” If you have sufficiently built your characters and the scene, the reader will know the attitudes on display.

8. Check the verbs and replace them with jazzier ones. Examples:

• He choked until he couldn’t breathe – He hawked until he couldn’t breathe.
• The little girl ran down the sidewalk – The little girl skipped down the sidewalk.
• The boy hit the ball out of the park – The boy whanged the ball out of the park.

Jazzing your verbs (choosing more active verbs) will make your work glow!

9. Douse as many forms of the verb “to be” as possible. That includes is, am, are, was, were, be, being and been. These are dead verbs that say nothing. According to Wikipedia, allowed forms are: become, has, have, had (use sparingly), I’ve, you’ve, do, does, doing, did, can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, may, might and must. The fact that they are allowed, however, does not make them desirable. Get rid of as many as possible because they weaken sentence structure. Likewise, using “could” and “would” will drop you into a trap that you’ll find hard to escape.

10. Watch for tense changes. If you begin in past tense, the entire story must be written in past tense, with two exceptions – one of which you should never use.

 The first exception is dialogue, and that’s because people speak in mixed tenses – present, past, and future.

 The second is internal dialogue (thoughts). That throws it into the omniscient voice and editors consider it a lazy writer’s way of telling what they should be showing. Don’t use it.

11. Follow the rules for prepositional phrases – no more than three to a sentence, and avoid using more than two in consecutive order. Prepositions are easy to identify. Some of the most common are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before, but there are hundreds. Find a partial list of them here:

Pick out the ones you use most and avoid them like the plague. Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: “I will meet you IN the afterlife,” or “He told his daughter to go INTO the house.” Consecutive prepositional phrases make weak sentence construction. Note: If you begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase, place a comma at the end of it (just as I did in this sentence.)

12. Punctuation:

 Space ONCE after a period.
 For writing in the USA, most punctuation (except the colon and sometimes the question mark) lies within the quote marks. Check to see that all of your quotes are closed.
 Don’t use a semi-colon unless it is before the words “however” or “therefore,” (in which case, use a comma immediately after those words).
 Don’t use colons except to list things: recipes, items of clothing, kinds of perfume, etc.
 Use commas to separate two clauses into a compound sentence, between city and state, and to offset introductory prepositional phrases.
 Don’t use more than one exclamation mark per every 2,000 words!!!
 Learn to use the ellipsis (three dots) properly. Remember, the ellipsis represents a pause or interruption in the sentence. It’s easy to overuse these little devils. If you find yourself falling into that trap, use a dash instead and insert a space on each side of it.

Rules for using the ellipsis:

a. When used at the beginning of a sentence: “(space)…And that’s all he said.”
b. In the middle of a sentence: “I hated to tell you that…(space) I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
c. At the end of a sentence, use four dots: “I didn’t want to tell you….” (Some people speak partial phrases and don’t intend to complete them. In such cases, use four dots. The fourth dot acts as a period at the end of the sentence… or some the period is the first dot and the ellipsis follows. It makes a nice theological debate.)

13. Use the spellchecker, but don’t totally rely on it. If you use homophones such as “right” when you meant “write,” or “blew” instead of “blue,” it won’t catch the error. To be safe, scan for mistakes after you use the spellchecker.

14. Check your formatting. Most places request a double-spaced body and indented paragraphs. When the dialogue changes from one speaker to the next, start a new paragraph.

15. Lastly, ask a friend to read your article aloud while you note places you want to change. This is the best way to get clear perspective on what you’ve written. If you don’t have someone to read it aloud, YOU read it aloud—but be careful to read exactly what’s written and not what your mind wants to insert. Hint: Stumbling over a sentence usually indicates awkward wording. Rewrite it.

Of course, the main rule is to follow the publisher’s guidelines, but when those are lacking, these 15 steps will produce crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?

Don’t forget to click “like” before you leave! Happy day! Deb

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The Writer’s Bucket List

A Bucket List for Writers
by Deborah Blake, Volunteer Coordinator at Creative Writing Institute

Benjamin Franklin is believed to have said, ‘If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.’

He may not have been talking about a bucket list, but he does seem to be encouraging writers to make the most of life and, in turn, get the most out of their writing.

A bucket list is a list of all the things you’d like to achieve. It may be something that you’ve always wanted to do but perhaps don’t have the confidence. If it’s on your list, you can work toward each goal, instead of saying, ‘Oh, I’d never be able to do that’.

What Should Be on My Bucket List?

• Do something exciting. Knowing you can write about it may give you the push you need. Don’t let apathy rob you of a good story.

• Start a blog to encourage aspiring writers. Share your experiences so that others can learn from them.

• Write something in a genre that’s out of your comfort zone, e.g. poetry, comedy, a song – stretch yourself.

• Write an article that will make a difference to you, an organization, your local community, or the world.

• Enter a writing competition. It’s a brilliant way to stay motivated and focused. There’s nothing like a bit of competitive spirit to get those creative juices flowing.

• Take a writing course. It’s always fun to learn something new and sharpen your writing skills.

• What’s on your bucket list? (Doesn’t have to be related to writing.)

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Writers – Enter Contests! Join the Excitement!

Contest and Writers Go Hand in Hand

OUR ANTHOLOGY CONTEST ENDS 2/28/13 AT MIDNIGHT, EST. HURRY! See details at the bottom.

My first competition was the Writer’s Digest contest. You would think a beginner would know better than to enter a huge contest, but I was naïve. I proved that ignorance can truly be bliss. Truth be known, I wouldn’t have expected to win if there had been only 100 entries. Most writers have these kinds of insecurities, so I’ve concluded that such humility (or some may call it fear) is a self-defense mechanism, a balm for the disappointment of not winning.

Thus, my entry was an act of futility – a dash for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a quest for the Irish shamrock. I entered for the fun of it because I had a very unique story that I told from a very cool angle.

Months later, I received a large manila envelope from Writer’s Digest. Inside was a certificate for Honorable Mention. I stared at it in shock, and then read the accompanying letter that congratulated me for surpassing 16,000 entries. I sat dumbfounded, and stared at the Honor Award with newfound respect.

I learned a lot that day. I learned that it’s worth investing a few bucks to take a chance, and that taking chances can lead to new and exciting adventures. I learned that no matter how the deck is stacked, I still have a chance of winning. I learned that I would have never had that wonderful moment in my life if I hadn’t thrown caution to the wind and invested $15. And I have since learned that investing in myself increases my faith in my own writing abilities.

I also learned that it takes a unique story, told from a unique angle, to win a prize. Entering that one contest gave me the courage to enter others.

As a writer, you will know when you hit upon a unique idea or angle, and when you do, don’t waste it on a magazine submission. Save it for a contest. (As contestants can only enter unpublished material.)

If you have not entered contests, you’re missing a lot of fun. There are multiplied dozens of writer’s groups online, and most if not all of them have writing contests. Or you can search the word “writing contests” and come up with zillions to enter.

Look for these three things:

• Reading fees
• Entry fees
• Deadline

Fees generally total from $20 to $35 (although most of Creative Writing Institute’s contests are free). Contests that award huge prizes will cost more, as the entry fees subsidize the awards.

Don’t be hasty. Choose your contests wisely and enter at least twice a year. Placing in one contest will fire you up for months to come. Dig out the best story you have, render a few edits, and see for yourself what entering contests will do for you.

You’re worth it. Go ahead. Take a chance. Jump into adventure! TWENTY-FOUR HOURS BEFORE OUR ANTHOLOGY CONTEST ENDS on 2/28/13. HURRY! TEN WINNERS. NO FEE. CASH PRIZES. Check it out at And thanks for “liking” us before you leave!

Anthology Contest Closes 2/28/13



Stories must be 1,000 – 1,750 words and may be any genre, but the following sentence must appear in the story: “Tonight we re-write the rules… ”

CASH PRIZES! NO FEES. Three cash winners and seven additional Judge’s Choice stories will receive publication in our first anthology and Ebook, entitled “OVERRULED!”

Accepting submissions until 2/28/13, USA EST.

Learn more at Hurry! There’s still time. See your story in print!

Sponsored by Creative Writing Institute, the only school that gives you a private tutor.

Enter a Writing Contest! Get Brave!

The Pros and Cons of Entering a Writing Contest

by Ariel Pakizer, Volunteer Staff

Should you enter a writing contest? Most writers would like to, but stifle that desire by convincing themselves they aren’t good enough. It’s one thing to analyze your writing and know that you aren’t a Thoreau or Stephen King, but it’s another to think so little of your talent that you won’t enter a contest.

Rejection is a fearsome thing – particularly when you’re not used to it. Writing clubs can help prepare you for contesting. Check out and The former is a larger site and the latter is much smaller. Both are good. Both will give you opportunities to post your work and receive comments. You should reciprocate by doing the same, but now you may be thinking you’re not good enough to enter a contest AND you aren’t good enough to critique someone else’s work.

These are low self-esteem feelings. Recognize them as such, push them out of the way, and get on with life. Like everybody else, you’ll learn as you go.

Writing groups hold various kinds of contests. The prizes are small, but the point is, this is a good place to learn. If you’re ready to venture forth into contesting, GOOD FOR YOU! Search “writing contests” on the net and you’ll find all you want. The trick becomes, how do you sort through them? Which ones should you enter? Use this as a guide:

• Watch out for contest scams. Some places will ask for a $50 entry fee, and virtually all of the entrants will receive a letter telling them they have won. When the “winner” replies, the scammer will want another $20 for a biography, and later on you can pay a little more then win the grand-prize. The “winners” are told their work will appear in an anthology (collection of short stories or poetry), but of course, you have to buy it and do your best to sell them to friends and neighbors. If they sell for .99 cents, no problem, but some anthologies are quite expensive. Use common sense.
• Follow directions to a tee – or be disqualified.
• Enter smaller contests for a better chance at winning. Larger contests, such as Writer’s Digest, may have over 16,000 entries.
• What you should expect to pay: your entry and reading fee should be all you have to pay. These fees are what subsidize the awards, and are therefore necessary. Contest fees range from free to $100 per entry. A lot depends on the value of the prizes
• Winning the lottery is much akin to winning a writing contest. Against all odds, even when you think you don’t deserve to win – you may. Winning a contest is better than selling a story. Don’t cheat yourself out of this great learning experience.

Choose the contest that best suits you and your pocketbook and go for it! Contests usually come out in the spring and fall, so plan to gamble on yourself twice a year, if for nothing more than the fun of it. You’re worth it!

And by the way, Creative Writing Institute is holding its first Anthology Contest. NO FEE. CASH PRIZES! TEN WINNERS! This is one contest you don’t want to miss! Follow guidelines at Hey… don’t forget to click on the title and “like” us before you leave. Thanks!

5 Reasons Why You Should Take a Writing Course

Writing Courses Motivate, Stimulate, and Imitate Life
by Deborah Owen

See Creative Writing Institute for details.

We creative writers are an odd bunch. Sometimes we can write. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we need inspiration. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we really feel like a writer. Other times we feel like we’re playing at writing.

For all you wannabe writers, if you can sit down and write about a picnic, a family function you attend, or a dream you have – you can be a writer! You just have to learn to channel your abilities in the right direction. The writing trade isn’t that hard to learn. No one is born with a pen in their hand. Writing is a learned trade.

• Do you want to be something more than you are? Look inside and what do you see? A new self trying to morph? How would you really like to evolve into that person? There is no better way to do it than through a writing course. As you learn to create characters and look at the world through their eyes, you will drift into a new dimension. Every piece of research, every piece of creativity will broaden your horizons and open your mind to new challenges. Become something you aren’t. Dare to see what you can be.

• Are your writing skills gathering rust? Wouldn’t you like the muse to stir until it compels you to write? Sometimes it takes a writing course to overcome the tediousness of daily life and help set a new routine. Do yourself a favor. March out the rhythm of your life to the beat of a writing course drum.

• Or perhaps you are an advanced writer. Maybe you think you would be bored in a class, and that you might not learn anything new. If that is the case, a wordsmithing course would be perfect for you. Learn to dissect the work of the masters so you can apply their secrets! Or perhaps you should branch out into a new field, if only for the experience of producing new zeal. Stretch yourself. If you have always written romance, change to writing for children, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy – there is so much to learn! The point is, don’t stagnate where you are. Grow by taking a writing course.

• Do you dangle your participles like worms? Do you split infinitives like wood? Do you even know what dangling participles and split infinitives are? Do you need a refresher course in punctuation? We have that, too.

• And there is one more good reason to take a writing course – to prove everyone wrong who doesn’t believe in you. Gain new stability in your life by believing in yourself. Sometimes you have to encourage yourself when no one else will. Take a writing course and put lift in your life.

Any way you look at it, a writing course is a good choice. It will motivate you, stir you, teach you, and expand your horizons. Learn how to create your own world, do it properly, and get paid for it. This is the best time of year to catch great writing course specials. Don’t see a special at Creative Writing Institute? Ask for one! Write to

How to Win a Contest

Inside Contest Tips and Tricks You May Not Know
by Hugh Wilson, Volunteer Staff Writer for Creative Writing Institute

If you want to win a writing contest, the first thing you must do is study the rules, which are called guidelines. Many entries are disqualified because the story has not met every requirement, e.g. if the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, an 1150-word story, however brilliant, will be disqualified.

Assuming you’ve done that bit right, the judges will be looking at four elements:

• Originality
• Creativity
• Style
• Technique

Let’s look at each and see what they mean to us as writers.


Winning stories come from second, third, tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme – “Wedding Day” for instance. What’s the first thought that comes to mind? Forget it. You can bet your last dollar that everyone else will have thought it, too. Angle is what makes a good story. Make your angle different, and the judges will love you.


Don’t “wrack your brains” to get ideas. Relax. Get your conscious, critical mind out of the way, and allow ideas to bubble up. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, where, when, how, and “what if?” Let the trains of thought go where they will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a story that is different. For example: what if the bride’s dog got in the church and jumped all over her as she marched down the aisle? Torn wedding dress. Tears. People scrambling to catch the dog. Mayhem. And what would be the outcome?

Or suppose a shy looking woman entered and sat at the back? At the reception, she avoids conversations, eats and drinks, then leaves.

Back in her lonel one-room apartment, she scans the Forthcoming Marriages column in the local paper, to see where her next free food and wine is coming from.


You won’t go far wrong if you remember three little words: keep it simple.

Don’t try to impress the judges with long, obscure words and “writerly” language. Like any other readers, they want a story that is easy to read.

A short story doesn’t have much room for scenery. Every sentence must move the plotline forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. She wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning, and what happens next.


A story has three distinct parts: beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning introduces the main character and what the story is about. This is the background scene, and yet that first sentence must be a catchy one. That’s your hook.

The middle develops the theme and keeps the reader hooked.

The ending must be believable and leave the reader satisfied. Too many otherwise good contest entries simply stop when they reach the maximum word count, without a good resolution.

And finally…

Always write specifically for that contest. Don’t be tempted to re-cycle an old story in the hope it just might fit the contest’s requirements. It won’t.

Above all, enjoy writing your short story entry, and the chances are the judges will like it.

Creative Writing Institute has a Spring Fling Anthology Contest going right now. It ends Feb. 28, 2013. No fee, cash prizes, and the best ten entries go into the anthology. Learn more at

Recipe for a Story Cake

How to Bake a Story Cake
by CWI Volunteer, Ariel Pakizer

Warning: This is a complicated recipe. It does allow a little room for change, but if you miss a basic ingredient, the results could be disastrous.

3 cups of passion
1 cup perseverance
1 cup discipline
3 cups focus
Preventing air bubbles
2 ½ cups criticism
1 cup knowledge
Emotion to color
Pour gently
Fold in imagination and depth
Let ripen overnight and taste for flavor
Garnish, and enjoy!


Find a quiet place to work. Baking a story cake requires time and concentration.

Locating the first ingredient: shop for the best idea in likely places, such as a beach, or a photo album. Reminisce with old songs. Think about family, friends, or pets. Don’t look for an idea – let the right one come to you.

When you’ve chosen the right idea, stir 20 minutes or until it becomes pliable and tangible. Add at least 3 cups of passion. More, if needed. Too little will make it dry.

Add patience, 1 teaspoon at a time and stir gently. If you rush this process, the story cake might fall. In due time, add 1 cup of perseverance, 1 cup of discipline, and 3 cups of focus, mixing well after each addition.

The best bakers are critical of their own work and willing to listen to suggestions. To keep your storyline from puffing air bubbles, let a friend check it. After consultation, blend in 2 ½ cups of criticism. Add 1 cup knowledge and stir well to form solid characters filled with gusto.

Now that you have the basic story dough, add just enough emotion to color it well. Be careful. Too little can make a dry plotline, and too much will make it frothy.

Blend, set aside, and let ripen three days. No peeking.

Now it’s time to pour your story cake into a mold. Arrange by layers and garnish with imagination and depth.

Let the finished product set one more night. In the morning, unveil your masterpiece! There it is. A story cake to be proud of, well measured, well blended, bursting with plump characters and filled with zest. Maybe you should sell it.

Like this? Then please rate it. Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

Writing Careers

by Deborah Owen, CEO
Creative Writing Institute

Writing careers are more difficult than you may think, and persistence is the key to success. Try these statistics on for size:

Out of 100 people, only 50 will finish their first writing project. Out of those 50, about 25 will quit when they receive their first rejection. Out of the remaining 25, only 12 will submit again. Four of those will not follow the guidelines & submit properly. That leaves approximately 8 out of 100 people who will make it. Why? Writing careers are a direct result of writing courses, matching your work to the right market, following the guidelines, and being persistent. Yes, you can do it, too, but there are a thousand tricks to the trade. Here are a few:

• Choose your market FIRST and then write the story/article to match the market. Line up three markets at a time so that when [not if] you get your rejection slip, you’ll be ready to pop it into the mail to the next market.
• Finish one project before you begin another.
• Edit properly. Read it aloud on the last edit and put in action-packed verbs.
• Read the market’s guidelines and follow them to the letter.
• Call the market and learn the editor’s name. Be sure to get the spelling correct. Editors move around a lot. You may see their name as you research, but that’s old news. Call to be sure the editor is still there… and identify their gender. Kendall Elliott may turn out to be a woman. If your cover letter says, “Dear Mr. Elliott… ” well, I hope you’re fond of the trashcan.
• Submit, submit, submit. Simultaneous submissions are a good way to gain more exposure, but be sure all the chosen editors will accept them. Some don’t. As soon as you drop one submission in the mail, start another project. Your writing career will depend on it.
• Keep your rejection slips. Frame them in gold! It means you went further than 92% of the other writers.
• Grow a hard shell. Take criticism well and learn by it. It will be your best teacher.
• Join a writing forum and rub shoulders with people like yourself, but don’t publish a story/article there and then try to sell it. It will be considered already published.
• Start with ezine markets and work your way up the ladder.
• If your story doesn’t sell after three submissions, something is wrong. Possible problems: (a) you aren’t matching your work to the right market, (b) it isn’t written well, (c) you aren’t using Show, Don’t Tell. Send a 2,000-word story to and ask for a free 20-point evaluation. See our guidelines at

Writing careers aren’t for everyone. They are for those who never quit learning and never quit trying. Hey! Before you leave, make a quick comment and like us! Gee… thanks.


Elements of of Writing
by Pat Decker Nipper, Volunteer Staff

Labor Day is a good day to reinforce your labor of love — that is, your love of writing. Since you’re reading this article, you’re already working in that labor of love, but as you get more experience, you might consider writing to be more love than labor.

METHOD #1: The elements of writing leads to the love of words. The novelist Joseph Conrad was fluent in three languages—his native language, Polish, French (which he spoke without an accent), and English. He wrote in English because he loved the nuances of English words. When you consider the various definitions of a single word, you can understand what he meant.

Take for example the word “joy.” In Roget’s Thesaurus, 19 different words extend the same meaning. In the online version, over 40 synonyms are given. Some of them are: delight, happiness, gladness, exultation…and so forth. The Thesaurus is a valuable tool, but be careful when you use it. Be sure the meaning and interpretation fits your needs.

METHOD #2: Another element of writing is ideas. Everything written comes from one or more ideas. Great fiction revolves around the ideas of possibility. When you get stuck, ask yourself “what if…?” and your mind will plunge into a story.

For example:
* What if General Custer had won the battle at the Little Bighorn?
* What if Custer had become President of the Unite States?
* What if he were the one to assassinate President Lincoln, instead of John Wilkes Booth? How many ways would that change history?

“What if” will give birth to a lot of ideas.

METHOD #3: Clustering is another great element. Start with one word and associate from it. For instance, start with the word water and you might list:

* Boat
* Life preservers
* Paddles
* Canoe
* Accident
* Swimming
* Sharks
* Panic

Clustering is a great way to snare an idea. And yet another method of creation can be triggered by something you’ve read, or experienced.

METHOD #4: Another writing element is to put yourself in someone else’s adventure. For example, if you want to travel in space, imagine yourself as one of the astronauts, or manufacture your own flight to the moon. Colonize the moon. Build a city on Mars. The sky (or space) is literally the limit.

What Lies Ahead?

New poetry courses will debut at Creative Writing Institute this fall. The first will come out within a few weeks and a second one is in the brew, along with two more courses, Advanced Wordsmithing and Journaling.

We’re always open to new ideas. Writing elements are what writers thrive on. What subject would you like to see discussed? Red herrings? Inference? Arcing? Warts? Send your suggestion to

Drop by for a visit. Don’t forget to *like us before you leave! You can post a comment quickly and easily. See you next time!

Enter a Writing Contest! Get Brave!

Writing Contest Tips and Tricks

by Deborah Owen

Creative Writing Institute is about to close its Fourth Annual Beginner’s Short Story Contest. If you enter, you won’t be competing with anyone who has ever sold a short story. This is for beginners only and there are less than 50 entries, so your chances are good, but hurry! It ends August 31, 2012, EST.

* First prize: $100 cash or a tutored writing course valued at $200!
(additional gifts)
* Second prize: $50 cash, plus additional gifts
* Check our site to see all of the prizes.

Is it free? No. It costs about the same as a cup of Starbucks coffee. Free contests have more entries, and thus, more competition. Go ahead. Take a chance. Believe in yourself. It’s good to analyze your writing and know that you aren’t a Thoreau or Stephen King, but it’s something else to think so little of your talent that you don’t think you stand a chance. Isn’t it worth the price of a cup of coffee to find out?

Rejection is a fearful thing, I know, but not believing in yourself is worse. I began contesting several years ago, and the first one I entered was huge. I didn’t know that at the time. I’m glad I was naïve because I took honorable mention over 16,000 other entries in the Writer’s Digest Contest. I almost won… not because my writing was so good, but because my story was unique and it had a good angle.

A huge dose of morphine couldn’t have made me any higher. Here I am years later, and I’m still riding that high wave. It was well worth the money to have that marvelous experience.

Contest Tips and Tricks:

• First and foremost, follow the guidelines! Do exactly what you are told or your entry will be disqualified.
• Enter contests that have small fees, as they have less competition than free contests.
• What you should expect to pay: our contest is only $6, but fees vary. Contests that give cash prizes must charge a modest fee to subsidize the awards. If you’re a beginner, I suggest that you not enter a contest that charges more than $10.
• Winning the lottery is much akin to winning a writing contest. Against all odds, even when you think you don’t have a chance, you might win! Last year’s third place winner was a 15-year old. The point spread from first place to third place was less than three points. Don’t cheat yourself out of this great learning experience.
• Watch out for contest scams. Some places will ask for a high entry fee, and virtually all of the entrants will receive a letter telling them they have won. When the “winner” replies, the scammer will want another $20 for a biography, and later they’ll ask for more money to enter for the grand prize. The so called “winners” are told their work will appear in an anthology (collection of short stories or poetry), but of course, the organization will prod them to sell anthologies to family and friends. A little common sense goes a long way in this kind of thing.
• There are only three kinds of fees that you should consider: (1) Entry fee, (2) reading fee, and (3) critique fee, if you want the judge’s feedback [well worth the money].

Choose the contest that best suits you and go for it! Just search “writing contests” and you’ll find more than you can enter. They usually run in the spring and fall, so get brave. Gamble the price of two sandwiches a year, if only for the sheer fun of it. It’s a great experience.

Check our guidelines and enter before it’s too late. Contest closes August 31, midnight, EST. This is the kind of contest where you really have a chance. Check it out at Don’t forget to click “like” before you go.

How to Develop Style, Mood, Tone, and Unity

Writing Style, Mood, and Tone

by Mr. Lynn Carroll, writing tutor

Writing style is the elusive Holy Grail of the serious writer. Where does one find style? Certainly not on a store shelf or where X marks the spot on a treasure map. It isn’t written in ancient code, so where is it?

You’ll learn good writing stye when you study the masters — and also make it a point to study literature that has been published in the last five years. Can you copy style? Perhaps, to a certain extent. Here’s how: choose two or three paragraphs from an author you like. Read them over a few times and then rewrite them in your own voice. Read everything that author has written and a bit of it will rub off on you. Sorry, but that’s as close as you can get to copying someone else’s style.

Even the great painter, Michelangelo was once an apprentice. He unashamedly imitated the masters for years before he matured to his own style.

Style is something that comes from within. You can influence it, but you can’t change it to a large degree. Relax and be yourself. Since you’re a unique being and there is only one of you, your style will be unique.

Writing Mood and Tone

Mood and tone are part of style, and you can pull these two tools out of your toolbox at will, depending on the audience and needs of the article. Before you begin writing, set the mood and tone. What will it be? Light and breezy? Dark and gloomy? Informal and humorous? Somber and informative?

Whatever your choice, you must maintain the same mood and tone throughout the piece. This is part of what is known as unity. After you’ve made your choice, don’t try to mix somber with humor, or formal with informal.

There is much more to learn on this subject, and Creative Writing Institute will be happy to teach you. You need not wait for a new term to begin because we don’t use terms. Every student receives a private tutor. You can sign up today and start tonight. There’s no better way to learn than with a tutor, and no one will give you more individual attention than CWI. Be sure to enter our SHORT STORY CONTEST for BEGINNERS, now in session. Find information at CASH PRIZES!! Ends August 31, 2012.

How to Format a Short Story

Formatting Tips

by Pat Decker Nipper

Formatting a story is designing how it looks in print. Determine the layout of your manuscript by setting parameters. Look at examples of written material. Are the letters large enough to read comfortably? Are the lines far enough apart? How are the new paragraphs formatted?

Professional formatting will make your work shine. If you follow these standards, your manuscript will be ready to submit, whether in hard copy (paper) or online. Although the following is a commonly accepted standard for formatting, individual publications occasionally vary, so be sure to check before you submit.

The 2010 Writer’s Market has illustrations of formatting and includes good advice. They say to use white 8-1/2 x 11 paper, and “ …no artsy fonts.” They also suggest you use a laser or an ink-jet printer.

Below are the common formatting standards, as developed over years of creating documents.

1. Leave one inch of space on all four margins of the paper—top, bottom, and both sides. 

2. Left justify your pages. That means every line should align on the left. The right margin is not justified, or in other words, it remains “ragged.”

3. Indent five spaces at the beginning of a new paragraph.

4. Choose an easy-to-read font. For PC users, try Times New Roman or Verdana. Macintosh users might like Palatino.

5. Set the font size at 12 point for easy readability.

6. Stay away from italics, except where needed to be grammatically correct.

7. Avoid bold, except in headings and areas where you want to emphasize text.

8. Double-space if you’re printing on paper. Single space if you’re submitting electronically, and in such case, double space between paragraphs.

9. In dialogue, each new speaker starts a new line.

10. Add your personal information in the upper left corner of the page. The title can carry over to the additional pages, along with a page number.

11. Center the title of the story and your name under it on the first page. Some publications want you to start the first page about one-third of the way down. Check their style and follow their example.

12. Avoid hyphenation at the ends of lines. e.c

These are general rules. Needless to say, guidelines always take president. For extra information, check The Chicago Manual of Style. You can even find it online. Another good one is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. There are many more style guides on the Internet.

Pat Decker Nipper is a native Idahoan and former teacher, now living and writing in San Jose, California. She is the author of Love on the Lewis and Clark Trail and a number of short stories and articles. For more information visit

Join the beginner’s short story contest at Contest closes Aug. 31, 2012. Please FOLLOW the guidelines so your entry won’t be disqualified. Don’t forget to click “like” before you leave!


What Judges Look for in a Short Story

Win a Short Story Contest
by Deborah Owen

What do judges look for when they read a short story entry? I helped judge a contest last year and I can tell you.

** The submission must follow ALL of the guidelines!
** A catchy title that lures the reader.
** A snappy first sentence that opens in the middle of an action scene.
** The story must hold interest from beginning to end. No sagging middle.
** Use action verbs.
** Judges love an unpredictable ending that resolves all the loose ends.
** There are no new stories. Only old stories told with new angles. In other words – originality.
** Be creative in the way you phrase your sentences. (By the way, third person, past tense stores are the most popular these days.)
** Avoid verbiage (wordiness), ‘dead words,’ (such as really, just, even, some. most, often, even, more, most – words that are not definitive), too many prepositional phrases per sentence, (no more than three, and no more than two in consecutive order).
** Style – the way in which you express yourself. Call upon every experience you know or have imagined. Call on your knowledge of other people’s experiences, but mix facts with fiction so the real person is unrecognizable.
** Technique – id hoe you structure your story. Does it use flashbacks? Is it fast or slow paced? How does the narration balance with the dialogue? Do the characters feel like real people?
** Does the reader feel satisfied with the ending? If you’re telling a real story, you’ll always have to manufacture a good ending.
** Let’s end where we began – FOLLOW the GUIDELINES.

When you edit, have a writer friend (not a family member) read it. Listen to their suggestions. On your last edit, read the story aloud and replace all verbs with the most action packed verbs you can dream up.

Do all of these things, and I guarantee you a good chance of winning. Good luck! Read about our short story contest for beginners at And hey – don’t forget to click “like” before you leave! Help us spread the word. The contest closes 8/31/12.