The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 38: Discussing “Mastering Plot Twists” by Jane K. Cleland)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 38

Once upon a time, a plot twist involved writing a scene that surprised the audience. Maybe the twist made sense. Maybe it came out of left field. But either way, it was unexpected, and the audience cheered. Unless the plot twist sucked. Then they booed.

Nowadays, audiences are more discerning in how they appreciate a plot twist. The fact that a plot twist can suck means that not all plot twists work. If they don’t align with the established rules of the story, they’ll suck. If they shock for shock’s sake, they’ll suck. If being told the story has a twist means the audience can now figure out the ending, it’ll suck.

You don’t want your story to suck.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week we focus on Mastering Plot Twists by Jane K. Cleland. This short but dense book will show you how to craft plot twists that are both natural to the story and surprising yet inevitable, just as a plot twist should be. Find out more in this week’s video.

Mastering Plot Twists: How to Use Suspense, Targeted Storytelling Strategies, and Structure to Captivate Your Readers

by Jane K. Cleland


Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback : 240 pages

·  ISBN-10 : 144035233X

·  ISBN-13 : 978-1440352331

·  Publisher : Writer’s Digest Books (June 26, 2018)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

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Introducing Frost Writer 4.0

Remember that one time you sat down at your writing desk, loaded up your writing app of choice, then scratched your head because you didn’t know what to type? Yeah, I know. Yesterday. What about the time before that? Yep, two days ago. Been there. How did you handle it? Went on social media? I get it. Walked the dog? Someone has to. Did your taxes (in August)? Okay, I think we have a problem here.

I don’t think the problem is writer’s block. I think the problem is with resistance. Writing is hard. It requires you to both imagine and think. That’s almost as bad as walking and chewing gum at the same time. No one’s that coordinated.

But what if you had the ability to write your story in an app that could minimize the need for imagination and thought by putting you in the zone? And by “zone,” I mean “mood.” What if you could trim out your distractions, put on mood-setting music that’s appropriate for your style, genre, or scene, and even set a writing canvas that resembles in some loose way the scene you want to paint?

The good news is that such an app exists. The better news is that I’ve already covered it once upon a time. But the best news is that such an app (we’ll call it Frost Writer, because that’s what the developer calls it) is getting an update today. That app, Frost 4.0, has just added new backgrounds, music, and features to make writing that story about dogs and cats living together fun again.

Frost Writer 4.0 “Baroque” theme, Paris background.

With Frost 4.0, there’s no need to complain about writer’s block. Just sit down, pick your favorite theme (which may include a new Parisian style theme called “Baroque” or a desert adventure theme called “Dunes” to name two of the latest additions), and get writing.

What are the limitations, besides your imagination? Well, it’s still primarily a drafting tool, not an editing or finalization tool. There’s still no special formatting in Frost 4.0. Need to italicize a word? Tough. Do it in post. Maybe you need to spell “café” with that accent? Not in Frost you don’t. Fortunately, when your writing session ends, you can export your text to a text file, then copy it into the formatter of your choice. Prefer Microsoft Word to Scrivener? Okay. Prefer Scrivener to Microsoft Word? Sure. You can export your work to either of them because it’s just a text file. No style. Just words.

Of course, you may be wondering why you should bother using an app that just lets you write unformatted text. Well, the short answer is that the inability to edit as you go means you can just get words written and not look back. But the better answer is that you can write distraction-free while also listening to appropriate music while also looking at appropriate backgrounds.

And now that those backgrounds are also dynamic? I mean, now you’ve got all you need to get that story started.

Note: If you have no idea what I mean by “dynamic backgrounds,” well, in practical terms, it means that the backgrounds “move.” In other words, you don’t have to stare at static images all day. If you want to write your holiday story with an active snowfall in the background, well now you can! With dynamic backgrounds, of course. Frost 4.0 has that feature, too.

Frost Writer 4.0 theme selection.

Overall, I think Frost 4.0 is worth your time. For one, it’s free. But also, it does what it promises. Distraction-free writing that puts you in the mood. What more do you really want in a free web-based writing app? I mean, besides the ability to do everything that the premium apps can do?

According to the developer, the new update will go live on August 26th. I don’t know what time, so you’ll have to keep checking the link until you can get in. But once you’re in, I think you’ll like the newest themes and the new site design. Plus, you’ll get to maneuver through the themes and soundtracks via hotkeys this time. Just hold Alt or Option (depending on whether you’re using Windows or Mac), then press “S” for a new background, “F” for full screen (great for distraction-free writing), “L” for Dark Mode, and left or right arrows for switching music. And if you need to cancel anything (like full screen), just hit ESC. It’s pretty straightforward. Bear in mind that the developer also recommends that you use Chrome or Safari for best results.

And if you’re wondering, the latest themes are:

  • Baroque
  • Lover
  • Dunes
  • Nightfall

So, that’s Frost Writer 4.0 in a nutshell. Have you used it yet? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments below. You can also check out my hands-on preview in the following video.

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The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 37: Discussing “Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict” by Cheryl St.John)

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Imagine walking up to the front door of a two-story house. You’re dressed in your fanciest clothes, holding a corsage in hand, rehearsing the speech you’ve had in your head for weeks. You know tonight’s the night that everything will change. You just need everything to go according to plan. That’s the only thing you need. You take a breath, fold your fingers into your palm, rap your knuckles against the door.

And you wait. And you wait some more.

Time passes. Do you knock again? Or do you keep waiting?

You hear someone yelling from inside the house. Someone else yells back. The words are inaudible. You check your corsage. You rewind the day in your mind. It’s Friday, right? Tonight’s still the night. Right?

Maybe no one heard you. You reach for the doorbell. But even before your finger makes contact, you hear something crash. Maybe a vase. Maybe a plate. Do you press it?

Do you want to know what happens next?

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we cover the most important elements in all of storytelling: emotion, tension, and conflict. Without these ingredients, the story has no soul. Without these ingredients, the story has no readers. Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict by Cheryl St.John is that one essential book that investigates these three elements with care, and it’s one I highly recommend you put on your shelf (and read) as soon as possible

You can check out my video about it while you’re here.

Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict: Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel

by Cheryl St.John


Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1599637588

·  ISBN-13: 978-1599637587

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books; 11/27/13 edition (November 28, 2013)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

P.S. Rather than knock or ring the doorbell, you simply call your date and tell her you’re here. She asks where. You tell her the front porch. She says she doesn’t see you. You realize you went to the wrong house. She lives next door.

Notes: I picked this book for its representation of conflict, but it covers a little of everything, including emotion and tension, as references in the title, as well as characterization, naming characters, pacing, and so on. I want to make sure I mention the fact that this book references other books as a source of education (extending the life of The Writer’s Bookshelf) and presents one of the most useful story and character development sheets I’ve seen in recent times (simple but relevant) at the end of the book. I also want to reiterate that conflict is important, and I’d hoped to spend more time talking about it. Maybe in Season 3.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 36: Discussing “Crafting Dynamic Dialogue” by Writer’s Digest)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 36

Everyone knows that verbal communication is just as important as nonverbal communication when getting a message across. Telling someone to “Stop it!” carries the same emotional weight as shoving them away whenever they stick their finger in your ear. But is that response powerful enough to convince them to stop? Or do we need to escalate the tension with more character-affirming phrasing? “Do that again, and I’ll stick this up your nose!”

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Now that we’ve wrapped our sessions on location, location, location (which included a video on mapmaking software in case you missed my YouTube episode on “Mapmaking for Authors” last week), it’s time to move on to the all-important character and story development tool called dialogue.

This week, we cover another text compilation from the archives of Writer’s Digest Books, in a fun collection of chapters and essays called Crafting Dynamic Dialogue. If you struggle with putting words in your characters’ mouths, then this book will help you grab that clamp and shovel and drive those dialogues right where they belong.

Don’t forget to check out the video.

Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: The Complete Guide to Speaking, Conversing, Arguing, and Thinking in Fiction

From the Editors of Writer’s Digest


Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 304 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1440345546

·  ISBN-13: 978-1440345548

·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books (June 23, 2016)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

Notes: This is the cherry on top for character creation and development. Like Creating Characters, much of the content is curated from other sources, including books and magazine articles by Writer’s Digest.