The NovelNook Flash Fiction Writing Contest Second Place Winner IS…

Running a Flash Fiction Writing Contest is a lot of FUN!

Addicted to FUN?

Photograph by Anne Petersen

I learned something from this contest experience that I think may be of value to many of you authors. All of our entries were fun to read. A number of them were ruled out because of MAJOR editing mistakes.

A punctuation oops can cost you an opportunity.

A punctuation oops can cost you an opportunity.

Grammar and punctuation, I can’t stress it enough.

When all the entries were in, each judge read all of them, and then we set them aside for a week. Then, we reread all of them again. It was amazing how much our perspective changed as a result of a second read.

There were six submissions that really stood out. We set them aside again for another week. On our third read, (and vote), our winner, Susan Pawlicki, was the clear victor for first place. But, second place had become a real battle royal.

At this point, we were able to narrow it down to two stories. We put them aside again and did another read and vote several days later. What really differentiated our second place winner was how the two authors handled the theme. In light of that, I’ve decided to give an honorable mention to an author who was so close that the voting tally was almost imperceptible. I’ll name that author at the end of this blog post.

Authors, this is what I want you to hear.

When you submit a story and receive a rejection letter, don’t take it to hard. You may have been so very close. It may have been the smallest element in your story that kept it from being accepted. It may have been personal prejudice on the part of the person reading it.

I’m willing to bet that in many cases a story, or book, is given a cursory read.. If your story doesn’t resonate with that decision-maker immediately, you may be rejected. It may have nothing to do with your book. It might be something that happened to the decision-maker that day.

Does this make your story bad? No. In fact, if that same person were to reread your story on a different day, they may have a completely different perspective on it. (We did.)

However, I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH how much GOOD EDITING will affect the outcome of your submissions. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY enjoys reading a poorly edited book. I hope you will take that one statement and…

MAKE It YOUR MANTRA!

I’m proud to announce

that our second place winner is…

Sue Butler with her story, “The Unexpected“.

Sue wove an intricate plot into a flash fiction piece that we really liked. We felt that her interpretation of the theme was strong. We also liked her character development.

“The Unexpected”

by Sue Butler

Our Employee of the Year is John Mulcaster.’ The words rang out like a hammer hitting a gong. I stood up and stumbled towards the podium; I had never won an award l before and had no inkling that this one was to be mine. Nervously, I accepted the shield and envelope from the Chief Executive; the former had my name and the year engraved on it, below Sheila Thomson in 2012. I would have to give it back at the end of the year, but the envelope contained vouchers for a large department store, and they were mine to keep. I returned to my seat amid the applause, nodding to the people who smiled and patted my arm  in congratulation, a big grin on my face.

I decided to celebrate in the Rose and Crown on the way home: it was only a small detour. I was still grinning when I rang my wife, Julia, and left a message on her voicemail, telling her what had happened, and that I wouldn’t be too late. She was probably shopping for the guests we were expecting later, some long lost relatives of her’s that I’d never met. I sat at the bar, and during my second drink, fell into conversation with a bloke who came in shortly after me. He seemed a nice enough bloke, a family man if I recall correctly, a wife who worked at the hospital – not as a nurse though, something in administration, and two daughters who were playing up, pubescent, like. Anyway, he drinks up and says he’s got to run because the missus is going to be a bit late shift, and he has to get the girls ready to go out. As he rushes off his wallet falls to the ground a few feet away from me. There was no one else about, there hardly ever was on a Monday afternoon, not even the staff. I glanced around anyway, just in case, like.
I had to pick it up, didn’t I? I couldn’t leave it there for any old geezer to have. And yes, I know I should’ve handed it in, but I thought if his details were in it, maybe, I could give it to him in person like. As if……
Close examination of the wallet, courtesy of a quiet bench in UpTown Park, reveals two store cards, one debit card and three credit cards. Pure stupidity; why carry so many? You only need one debit, one credit, and maybe the store cards, if you are intending to go shopping. Aside from the money, the collection of cards also includes an expired gym membership card, and a driving licence proclaiming the owner to be Geoffrey Smythe of 22 Battenburg Lane, Deltham. The rest of the wallet contains £170 in notes, which I pocket. I hold the wallet, toss it in the air gently, and then catch it. Battenburg Lane is about twenty minutes away if you walk a bit sharpish. I could get there, post it through the letterbox and be away before I am seen. That way old Geoff gets his cards back – he probably hasn’t had time to realise the wallet’s gone, so he won’t have cancelled them, and I get the cash; my reward for finding the wallet, you see, and old Geoff, he can afford it, I could tell by looking at him.
There was a lot of flashing lights at the Battenburg crossroads, both police and ambulances.  A tearful woman was saying, ‘He was looking for his wallet.’
I can’t see the face underneath the blanket, but I know it is Geoff. I want to vomit; I feel as if I’ve pushed him under the lorry myself. As I approach, his wife turns her tear stained face towards me and spots the wallet . She snatches it from me and screams at it and shouts at his corpse for being so stupid. She’s lost it completely, and the paramedics take her away in the ambulance.
I have to make a statement, and the police thank me for my honesty in attempting to return the lost wallet. That’s a joke, my honesty. My phone rings; the screen shows, Julia, and although I do not want to, I answer it. Her voice sounds like a stranger. She tells me, in-between sobs, that she is on her way to the hospital to see her half-sister-in-law. He half-brother, Geoff, has been killed in a road accident. My brain numbs, and although I know what she is saying, I hear nothing. I feel bad, dirty and traitorous, and the £170 is burning a hole in my pocket. I finger the notes guiltily and hear my wife’s parting words,
‘And the bloke must’ve nicked the cash, I hope he rots in hell.’
I arrange to meet her later, end the call, and hurry to the rubbish bin outside the Asian supermarket. The entrance is clear. I carefully lifted out some rubbish from the bin and shoved the cash inside, intending to cover it again. Delayed shock made me throw up over the money, and I stuffed the emptied out rubbish back to cover it. My eyes were watering and blindly I stumbled to the corner of my road. Nausea overcame me and I sat down, breathing slowly.
I hear Julia’s voice calling, ‘John?  What’s up? What’s the matter?’
I looked up to see her concerned face looking at me from a black cab window. I am about to speak when the woman sitting opposite her shrieks, ’That’s him, that’s the bloke who had Geoff’s wallet!’
I gazed helplessly at them, not able to utter a word, and watched as the taxi drove off. I am sweating now, and still feel sick, but cannot find my handkerchief. I checked in my pockets again, but can only find a small certificate proclaiming me Employee of the Year.
My shame knows no boundaries as I wiped my face with it and began to cry.
The End

Now that the contest is over, and the winners have been announced, I would like to give an honorable mention to, Kate Baggott, for her story, “Salvation“. Kate’s story was in the thick of the voting right to the bitter end. We liked her story a lot. However, in the end, we felt that her story didn’t represent the theme as clearly as our winners. Good luck with placing your story elsewhere, Kate.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Hopscotch”, by Julio Cortazar.

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

 

Flash Fiction Writing Contest has Closed

Our Flash Fiction Writing Contest

has Closed… Now The Fun Begins.

Flash Fiction Writing Contest

Photograph by, thecrazyfilmgirl.

I want to thank everyone who entered. I know that you took specific time out of your life to write your stories: due to the specific theme in the guidelines.

I’ve had a chance to glance through the entries, and it looks like we’ll have a tough decision ahead of us.

The judging process will begin with each story being read by myself, and two other readers. We will score each story with a rating of 1 – 10.

Then the top 3 stories will be further analyzed by all three of us and rated a second time.

Flash Fiction Writing contest

Photograph by Christine Grabig.

The top two stories will then receive a review by me, and I will make the decision as to the First Place Winner.

Good Luck!

Watch for the publication of the winner on
August 19, 2013
and the runner-up on
August 26, 2013.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Hopscotch”, by Julio Cortazar.

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

Mastering The Written Word

I want to Master the Written Word!

mastering the written word

Illustration by A. Skripin

Do you?

The idea of mastering the written word takes a lot of time and effort. My belief is that anyone – you, me, the guy down the street, that has an aspiration to be a great writer – must study the written word of others who have blazed a path before us.

I’m sure each  of us has our own plan of attack on achieving a level of success with our writing.

This has been my plan.

  1. I took online courses to make sure that I knew, understood, and implemented, the basic building blocks of good writing: punctuation, grammar, plot, dialog, etc.
  2. I began to volunteer (and become active) in various writing capacities around the internet. I wanted to learn from my peers. This effort resulted in landing me a position at Every Day Fiction as a slush reader. My experience there has been immeasurable in helping me grow as writer. I have learned from the mistakes and triumphs of other writers. Plus, I get to see first hand how real editors react to a story. I get to hear their ‘real’ thoughts; the thoughts that never make it into most rejection letters.
  3. I enter every contest that doesn’t try to take advantage of me as an aspiring writer. What does this mean? I don’t expect to pay an exorbitant entry fee. I don’t expect to give up my rights to my work. I don’t expect to have to keep my work in limbo for any longer than four months. Read the fine print on contests. The biggest career advancement (that I have achieved) through a contest entry was this – I placed 4th in a short story competition with Boroughs Publishing Group. As a result, they published my entry in E-book format. But that wasn’t the big deal as far as I was concerned. I got to work with a top-notch editor at Boroughs, for free. I learned the EXTREME value of a good editor to the final product (even a short story).
  4. I study the work of authors that I admire. And when I say study their work, I don’t mean that I just read their stories. I mean that I analyze their stories line by line. I look at every word. I try to figure out why their sentences, paragraphs, and ultimately their story move me so much. I’m especially attracted to writers from Latin America. They visualize the world and transfer it to the written word so eloquently. I don’t want to write just like them. But I want to incorporate their style into my writing. This is my goal.

Julio Cortazar

mastering the written word

Photograph by Modern Review.

Julio Cortazar is one of my favorite Latin American writers. If you haven’t read any of his works, I highly suggest that you read it, and study it.

To tantalize you a bit – I’m including one of his short stories, here today, in this blog.

The Continuity of the Parks

By Julio Cortazar

He had started reading the novel a few days before.  Urgent business made him abandon it for a time; but he returned to its pages while on his way back to the farmland estate.  He gradually let himself become interested in the plot, in the characters.  That evening, after writing a letter to his representative and discussing a matter of sharecropping, he took up the book again in the tranquility of his study which gazed out upon the park of oak trees.  As he lounged in his favorite chair with his back to the door that would have bothered him with the irritating potential for intrusions, he let his left hand stroke the green velvet once then again, and he began to read the final chapters.

His memory retained with no effort the names and appearances of the main characters, and so the novelist illusion came upon him almost immediately.  He took an almost perverse pleasure in letting himself tear through line after line of what surrounded him.  All at once he felt his head relaxing comfortably in the velvet of the old recliner, cigarettes persisting within reach of his hands, and, beyond the large windows, the evening air dancing below the oaks.  Word for word, absorbed by the heroes’ sordid dilemma, he cast himself adrift towards the images which concerted and acquired color and movement, evidence of the last meeting in the mountain cabin.  First the woman came in, mistrustful.  Then her lover arrived, his face hurt from the whiplash of a branch.  Admirably she clotted the blood with her kisses, but her caresses were rejected: he had not come to repeat the rituals of a secret passion protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths.  The dagger grew warm against his chest, and below beat cowering liberty.  A breathy dialog ran through the pages like a stream of serpents, which felt as if it had always been so.  Even as these caresses swirled around the lover’s body as if trying to hold him and dissuade him, they drew at the same time the abominable shape of another body which had to be destroyed.  Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, mishaps, possible mistakes.  From this hour forth, each moment would have its use, minutely detailed.  The merciless re−inspection was hardly interrupted for a hand to caress a cheek.  It began to get dark.

No longer looking, bound rigidly to the task which was awaiting them, they separated at the door of the cabin.  She had to follow the trail that led north.  From the opposite trail, he turned for a moment to watch her run with her hair flowing loosely.  He then ran in turn, taking shelter beneath the trees and hedges until, in the mallow mist of twilight, he was able to make out the avenue that led to the house.  The dogs were not supposed to bark; and they didn’t.  The majordomo (master of the house) would not be in at this hour; and he wasn’t.  He climbed the three stairs of the porch and went in.  In the blood swishing between his ears rang the words of the woman: first a blue room, then a gallery, then a carpeted staircase.  Upstairs, two doors.  No one would be in the first room, no one in the second.  The door of the living room, and then the dagger in his hand, the light of those large windows, the old recliner with green velvet seat, the head of a man reading a novel.

The End

What did you think of this story?

I love the way the words flow, the unusual use of description, and the hidden plot.

I would love to hear your thoughts! I would also love to hear what steps you’re taking to advance your writing career.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

NovelNook Writing Contest – Sponsored by Bellakentuky

Ramblings and a Writing Contest

“When life gets busy, sometimes you just got to strip down to your tighty-whiteys and jump into the pond!” – Kent‘s Grandma

Life has been busy for me over the last few weeks. The result of that is this post – I’m titling…

Bellakentuky’s First Ever

Super Fabulicious Flash Fiction Writing Contest

But don’t let the ridiculous title fool you!

There is some really good food for thought in this article!

I hope it will inspire you!

Today’s post is going to be an exorcism (of sorts) from me, and a writing challenge for you!

Ramblings and Challenges

Photograph by Diana Robinson

In the past week, I had two, very distinct, and quite different, memorable moments occur in my daily life. One of them was a triumph and the other an utter defeat.

The Triumph

I have worked as a photographer for the same company for over ten years; first as the general manager at two of their locations and then later as a freelance photographer. The job has always entailed (among numerous other things) sales. When I was a younger man, I would have bet money that I would never be good at sales. But history has proven me wrong. As it turns out, I’m pretty darn good at sales. What we sell are family photographs (sometimes just their children) – portraits done on the beach here at Hilton Head Island. While this product definitely has intrinsic value, you would think that there would be a cap as to how much someone might spend on this particular product.

Bellakentuky

Photograph by Kent DuFault

Last week, I had the biggest sale of my career. It was the second largest sale in the company’s history. I’m not going to tell you how much it was, but I will tell you that it was in the five figures category. This client, and the ensuing sale came out of nowhere: they made their appointment late, had no lead time to prepare, and they almost made a decision to cancel.

But they bought, and they bought a lot. I kept waiting for the deal to fall apart, for them to change their mind, or for the credit card to be declined. These are all things that have happened to me in the past. But nothing happened. They made their decisions, their credit card went through, and when they left our office…

I was shaking, and I felt victorious!
Ramblings and Challenges

Photograph by Laura Gilmore

The Defeat

My defeat came the very same day. About six weeks ago, my wife and I adopted a puppy. She’s a cute little thing: part Chihuahua and part Boston Terrier. She’s smart. We worked with her constantly on the housebreaking, and she really seemed to be getting it. We slowly allowed her more and more leeway around the house.

Then we discovered it. She had been going in the house all along, but hiding it. What made this particularly defeating was the fact that I knew, that she knew, it was wrong. She was hiding it. Hiding it in part of the house that we rarely visit. It hurt me deep down because I’d had so much confidence in her.

Bellakentuky

The puppy is in jail. Photograph by Lisa Brandt Heckman.

Well, it’s back to square one with her.

She’s now once again confined to her pen where if she chooses to be sneaky, she has to live with it.

The Challenge

I challenge you to write a flash fiction story that incorporates the two above elements: a victory at work and a defeat at home.

These are the rules

  1. It must be 1000 words or less.
  2. It must incorporate a victory at work, and a defeat at home, into the plot.
  3. It must be edited to the best of your ability.
  4. It must be submitted by Midnight, July 15th, 2013.
  5. You must submit it to, kentdufault@yahoo.com.
  6. You must submit it in the body of the email – not an attachment.
  7. You must accept the results of the contest without complaining.

These are the prizes

  1. The winning author will receive a free cover from my graphic designer wife for the writing project of their choice.
  2. The winning story will also be published on the  NovelNook.com blog on August 19, 2013.
  3. The winning story will receive a critique and an explanation as to why I chose it as the winner when it is published on the blog.
  4. The winning author will receive an Amazon Gift Card valued at $20.00 USD (for USA Amazon only)
The Fine Print
  • The cover must be redeemed by December 31, 2013.
  • This is for an electronic Ebook cover only.
  • The book cover will be produced to the cover standards as dictated by Amazon.
  • The prize includes design and illustration. If photography is requested, you will be responsible for purchasing the usage rights.
  • You will get three consultations with the graphic designer via email: An initial interview to convey your ideas, an initial proof round, a second proof round. After that, she delivers, and you take what you get.
  • All rights to your entries remain with you!! We’re asking for nothing but a good (well edited) story and first publication rights for the blog.

Second Place! Will be published on the NovelNook.com blog on August 26, 2013 and will receive a critique by me.

Here is a sample cover that my wife produced for me. I will be publishing this book on Amazon in the near future.

Bellakentuky

Book cover by Clarisa Ponce deLeon

I look forward to reading your stories!

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

The Wacky World of Literary Devices!

You Have Now Entered the Wacky World of Literary Devices.

For the grand prize you have 60 seconds to answer the following…

(Disclaimer – This is just a joke folks)

What is Hyperbole and name one famous story that makes use of it?

Tick Tock Tick Tock Tick Tock Tick Tock…

You learn forward, grab the microphone, your eyes stare unflinchingly into the crowd as you say –

Hyperbole is the use of over-exaggeration for creating emphasis, or humor, but it is not intended to be taken literally. One example of this story telling technique would be, The Tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

the wacky world of literary devices

Photograph by The Arches

Yeah! Excellent Answer!

This idea of looking into literary devices came to me the other day when a companion asked me how to spell allegory. I spelled it out for her flawlessly. But the next question was the one I was dreading…

“What does allegory mean?”

Ummm… ummm…

I didn’t know what it meant.

She giggled at me. “And you’re a writer?”

the wacky world of literary devices

Graphic courtesy of myteachingspirit.blogspot.com

Well that was enough to make me go look it up. But, I would have done that anyway, because I am an extremely inquisitive person, and I love to learn. So, for those of you that don’t know what the literary device, allegory, means –

Here you go!

An allegory is a symbolism device where the meaning of a greater, often abstract, concept is conveyed with the aid of a more corporeal object or idea being used as an example. One famous example of allegory is the book, The Lord of the Flies. This story features a group of schoolboys stuck on an island, and the novel had allegorical representations of rational mind, democracy, order, civility, and many other such abstract terms.

the wacky world of Literary devices

Cover photograph by lordalford.com

I’ll be the first to admit it to anybody. I didn’t go to college for writing. I was born into a working class family. I’ve learned what I’ve managed to learn in life through dedication and hard work.

Many of the literary devices were familiar to me by word, but I didn’t really understand what they meant until I dove into this investigation. I was amazed at how many literary devices exist. There are dozens of them! Just reading through the list and their descriptions got my creative juices flowing.

I want to share some examples

along with their definitions

And some literary works that made use of them

Bildungsroman – This is a very popular form of storytelling whereby the author bases the plot on the overall growth of the central character throughout the timeline of the story. As the story progresses, the subject undergoes noticeable mental, physical, social, emotional, moral, and often spiritual advancement. A very famous example of this literary device is, Gone With The Wind, which was published by Margaret Mitchell in 1936.

the wacky world of literary devices

Photograph by stuffforcrafts.com

Litotes – It is an understated expression where the idea to be expressed is quite significant. Litotes, are defined as ‘an ironical understatement where the affirmative is expressed by the negation of the opposite’. To put it simply, in litotes, instead of saying that something is attractive, you say that it is not unattractive. Litotes are often used to mimic speech, since we lazy humans tend to drop words to make things quicker. Here are some examples:

  • The food is not bad.
  • She is not as young as she was.
  • He is not unlike his dad
Father & Son

He is not unlike his dad. Photograph by Tony Alter

Hubris – Hubris is another way of saying overly arrogant. You can tell the difference between hubris and regular arrogance by the suggestion that the character has seemed to allow reality slip away from them. Hubris is the buildup of arrogance and pride and is generally followed by a catastrophic fall at the end of the story. An excellent example of Hubris is the story, Arabian Nights.

Caesura – involves creating a fracture within a sentence where the two separate parts are distinguishable from one another yet intrinsically linked to one another. The purpose of using a caesura is to create a dramatic pause, which has a strong impact. Finding out about this device means a lot to me personally, because I use this a lot. Here is an example of Caesura; “Ludwig – How your music makes me soar!”

the wacky world of literary devices

Photograph courtesy of parentpreviews.com

Polysyndeton – is a sentence construction in which multiple conjunctions are used in very close succession to infuse a sense of exaggeration. In other words, you use a lot of ‘ands’ to emphasize a point by stretching the sentence out. Here is a great example from Ian Fleming‘s novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:

‘Most motor-cars are conglomerations of steel and wire and rubber and plastic, and electricity and oil and petrol and water, and the toffee papers you pushed down the crack in the back seat last Sunday.’

I’ve had a lot of fun studying up on literary devices

And I bet you would too!

Here’s a challenge for you. I’m going to list some literary devices that I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the term. Could you define that term? Could you point to an example that uses the device? Do you use it in your own writing? Might you consider doing that now, after reading this article?

Here you go-

  1. Allusion
  2. Antithesis
  3. Cacophony
  4. Deus ex Machina
  5. oxymoron
  6. simile
  7. syntax
  8. verisimilitude
  9. juxtaposition
  10. epithet

There will be a test on Tuesday.

(Just kidding!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion. I would also like to encourage you to comment. Tell me if there is any subject matter that you would like me to weigh in on. (what literary device was that?) Keep writing friends!

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

Analyzing Videos – An Amazing Way To Improve Your Writing

Improve Your Writing

By Analyzing existing success stories!

an·a·lyze
/ˈanlˌīz/

Verb

  1. Examine methodically and in detail the constitution or structure of (something, esp. information), typically for purposes of explanation…
  2. Discover or reveal (something) through such examination.
Synonyms: analyse – decompose – construe – dissect – anatomize

There are many tricks, and techniques, that writers use to improve their craft. Today, I would like to talk about one that perhaps you hadn’t thought of – YouTube.

YouTube is one of the world’s most comprehensive websites, for entertainment, ideas, and in this example, an education. You can use their video uploads to find book trailers, book reviews, book readings, movies, movie trailers, movie reviews, comedy sketches, television shows, scenes from television or movies, music videos, poetry readings, etc.

Do you see a common theme here?

They all involve writing!

This is how I like to use YouTube. I research successful examples of writing and analyze them. This is easy to do because you can filter your search results by rating, views, genre, title, industry, and keywords. When you find a video whose ratings, and views, are high, you can bet the farm that there are nuggets of golden information for you to mine from that writing.

Let’s give it a try!

I searched: television, situation comedy, less than 4 minutes run-time. The list came up, and I zoomed through it until I found something that looked interesting.

Here is what I chose –

This particular television show is one of the most successful situation comedies on TV today. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “I could just watch the television show. Why do I need YouTube?” And you’re right, if you’re interested in writing comedy, you should watch the entire television show series. These writers are doing everything right – much can be learned about writing comedy by studying their methods.

The reason I’m advocating the use of YouTube is because it covers many genres and styles of writing. Plus, it saves time. Let’s say you set aside twenty minutes a week to do your YouTube research, in that short period, you could locate videos, watch them, and make notes on writing techniques, and you’d still have time for lunch before you get back to that work in progress! If you find a video that is particularly interesting, you can bookmark it,: and then you return to it over and over. You can also stop the action as you make your notes, or, replay it instantly.

Let’s breakdown this scene

And see what we can learn from it.

(I’m going to illustrate by using notations from my research)
  1. Opening scene – life as usual. Three very different women sit in a car talking. One is mousey. One is bold. One is eccentric. (varying personalities) They have skipped out of work to go to Disneyland.
  2. Comedy elements – The absurd situation of adult women skipping work to go to Disneyland for a princess make-over. The eccentric woman’s over-the-top efforts to escape from work. The bold woman’s lack of concern over deserting her job. Conflict – they argue over who gets to be Cinderella. Funny – the mousey woman turns belligerent over her desire to be Cinderella. Funny – mousey woman pulls a ‘junior high trick’ by threatening to pull her car (toy) from the plan.
  3. Descriptive elements – Eccentric woman – Big Mouth, overtly expressive – happy, facial tics that look like the cat that ate the mouse, slumped shoulders, leaning forward in excitement. Bold woman – Set jaw, distant eyes, lips closed, sarcastic expressions, back straight, little head movement. Mousey woman – Eyes set, business-like expression, some smiles (as a character she fits between the other two – creating a well-rounded character group), at the end of the scene the mousey woman snaps and turns mean (again well-rounded characterization, nobody is all nice or all bad).
  4. Dialog highlights -“Throwing up like a fire hose .” – Excellent metaphor / strong visual impression. “And now I’m going to Disneyland!” – Excellent comedic play off an old phrase that many people would recognize. “I work at The CheeseCake Factory. I said, Bye.” – Funny because of its lack of caring. (Give your characters things they care about and things they don’t care about.) “You’re kidding right? We’re not going to just get drunk and go on rides.” Funny because it creates a mild conflict between the characters expectations of the day. (Give your characters different expectations about the same situation.) “We can’t all be Cinderella.” An unexpected twist – all the characters instantly come to the realization that they want the same thing – conflict. “Well it’s simple. This was my idea. I’m driving. I’m Cinderella. You bitches got a problem with that, we can stop the car right now.” Character change – The mousey woman goes completely out of her normal element in making this statement. (Comedy comes from unexpected change.) Make your characters do something unexpected.
Scene Two – Disneyland
  1. The women are now at Disneyland.
  2. Comedy elements – The women are now dressed as Disney characters, colorful flowing dresses, unusual hair, overt make-up. (Remember to include visual descriptions that will allow your reader to see your characters.) A woman pushing a stroller passes. (Funny because it highlights the absurdity of their situation. Disneyland is geared toward families, not adult women wearing fantasy costumes.  (Think of small clues to add to your story, that are outside the main story-line, yet support your idea.)
  3. Descriptive elements – The eccentric woman and the mousey woman are having fun. The bold woman sits off to the side,by herself, eating popcorn. – conflict (This is a good use of subtle conflict simply by their placement within the scene.)
  4. Dialog Highlights – “I’m Doctor Fowler, and I’m a neuroscientist.” (The professional title does not fit the situation. It creates comedy.) “From an early age, we girls are taught to care about the way we look, rather than, the power of our minds.” (What makes this funny, and quite powerful, is her actions do not match her words.) “Unless you want to be Cinderella.” (This is great because it returns to an earlier funny moment. It supports it and builds on it. Don’t let your characters experience an important situation in a story and then never bring it back up. That would make it unrealistic and lessen the importance of the original event.)
Scene Three – The Aftermath
  1. Overview – Scene three completes a story arc. The comedy comes from the disparate reactions of the men.
  2. Comedy elements – Each husband / boyfriend of the three women returns home from work to find their significant other dressed as a Disney character. (The comedy is derived from their reactions.)
  3. Descriptive elements – When the mousey woman tells her husband that there is a surprise waiting for him. He reacts by hoping that she is dressed as Cinderella. This is a twist and a reveal. We now know that this is a fantasy of their’s, and the mousey woman had an (ulterior motive) the entire time. (Give your characters hidden motives for their actions – reveal those motives late in the story.) As the husband crosses the room to her – this is a superb example of body motion as a comedic element. He galloped across the room, his belly undulating like jello. The Bold woman’s scene creates comedy from her boyfriend’s unexpected response. The mousy woman’s situation creates comedy by her boyfriend’s lack of response. It’s three disparate views, of the same set-up that bring laughs.
  4. Dialog – “Please be Cinderella. Please be Cinderella.” (Unexpected reaction. Desperation.) “What are you doing?” (Unexpected reaction. Exasperation.) “I heard you the first time.” (Expected reaction. Lack of empathy)

Here is what we learned from a simple breakdown of this YouTube video!

  • Even a scene, or a situation, should have a complete story arc.
  • Comedy is derived by unexpected situations or expectations.
  • Each character should have a distinct set of personality traits, but these traits can, and should morph with an unusual situation.
  • Give your characters distinct physical attributes, and they don’t always need to be pretty or handsome.
  • Create metaphors that are extremely visual but fit the scene.
  • Give your characters things that they care about and things that they don’t care about.
  • If there are multiple characters in a scene give them different expectations over the same set of circumstances.
  • Include elements (such as the family passing by in Disneyland) outside the main scene to add realism.
  • Let your characters act differently than what their dialog indicates.
  • Use character placement within a scene to create tension.
  • Don’t let an important event happen in your story and then let it disappear. Return to it later.
  • Have different characters react differently to the same set of circumstances

Not a bad education for twenty minutes of effort!

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

The ‘Value Added Marketing’ of the First Line in your Book

Value Added Marketing

as explained by Shrek

Video courtesy of ryanmorrison31

Marketing Has Layers

Value added marketing

Photography by Joe Gatineau

Marketing is the message that brings buyers to your story.

Imagine marketing as an onion.

Now place yourself in a book store.

You’re walking along the aisle and a cover catches your eye. It looks interesting.

You pick it up. (Layer one, of the marketing onion, has just been peeled away.)

You hold the book in your hand, and then you flip it over to the description on the back. The description tickles your imagination. (Layer two, of the marketing onion, has been peeled away.) You flip the book back to the cover. Your hand opens the book, and your eyes gaze down at the first line of Chapter-One. (You are now staring at the third layer of the marketing onion.)

What is value added marketing?

Value Added Marketing: Creation of a competitive advantage by bundling, combining, or packaging features and benefits that result in greater customer acceptance. (Courtesy of businessdictionary.com)

How does the first line of my book become value added marketing?

Let me tell you a little story

Many years ago, I was visiting a friend. As we chatted, I perused their bookcase. My eyes settled on the spine of an innocuously colored book. It was the typography, title, and author’s name that caught my attention.

I pulled the book from the shelf and looked at the cover. This author is a particular favorite of mine. In fact, I would go so far as to say that two of their books (in that time) were some of my all-time favorite reads. But, I’ve also read some real clunkers by this same author. I stared at the cover; I was intrigued, but not sold.

I flipped the book and read the description on that back. Oh crap, I thought. It was the first book in a long series. If I commit, I’ll be reading this ‘ongoing’ story for months.

At this point, layer one of the marketing onion had succeeded, but barely. However, it did its job because I picked up the book. That’s what cover design is all about. Layer two, the book description, was less successful. It almost cost the author a reader. It was really the author’s reputation that pushed me to move forward to layer three.

This is a really important point. Imagine this scene in your mind; I was within seconds of sliding that book back into it’s slot on the shelf. If I had, there’s a good chance it may never have resurfaced in my life. But, I didn’t. I flipped it open to page one and read the first line. It read –

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

Value added marketing

Photo courtesy of theaudiobookbay.com

By Stephen King

Here is where the concept of value added marketing comes to play.

Mr. King’s first line of, The Gunslinger, induced me to action. The cover got me to pick up the book, the description almost cost him the sale, it was the first line of the story that sold the book. I bought that book within days of reading it at my friend’s house. Then, because The Gunslinger is book one of a seven book series, (and it is superbly written), I went out and bought books two, three, and four about a month later. Finally, about five months later, I bought books five, six, and seven.

Think about this – That first line of, The Gunslinger, was the motivation behind a seven book sale. It had residual value and that’s value added marketing! 

Don’t we wish we could all do that.

I’ve thought about that line many times over the years. What makes it so powerful, so intriguing? The prose is quite simple. I think there are three components that are key to its success –

Antagonist, Protagonist, Conflict

It reveals all three of these elements in a twelve word sentence.
There’s no blood, no violence, no complicated structure

It introduces the Man in Black (mysterious), the Gunslinger (strong mental image), and conflict (the word fled). Stephen King could not have chosen a better word than fled. Even just speaking the word conjures up a feeling that something is about to happen!

There are all kinds of famous first lines and lists of them are plentiful in every corner of the internet. Stephen King’s line from, The Gunslinger, is almost always on the list. It’s that powerful. It sells books. It sells a series of books. For me, it is the epitome of the perfect first line. It has value added marketing!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but every story I write gets considerable processing time for that first line. I want that value added marketing in my books. I want a potential reader to get hooked from my first words and find themselves compelled to buy more of my books because they remember that line.

I’ll share this first line from one of my stories. It’s an unpublished short story titled, You Don’t Shoot No Owls.

Claire Brown, was fourteen years old the first time her daddy stuck a gun in her hand and told her to go shoot something.

value added marketing

Illustration by Clarisa Ponce de Leon

This is my favorite first line (of my creation) to date.

I’m striving for that powerful simplicity that Stephen King captured in The Gunslinger. I know I haven’t hit it yet. But, I keep trying and that’s what’s important.

One other interesting note about, The Dark Tower Series, if I had picked up any of the other volumes that day, their first lines would not have had the same effect.

A fantastic first line is not easy.

Back to value added marketing

I hope that today’s blog will inspire you to consider how important each component of your book is:

  1. Writing an interesting story
  2. Giving that story a powerful first line
  3. Writing a synopsis, tagline, and book description with the same dedication that you wrote the story.
  4. Edit every aspect of your writing, thoroughly
  5. Design your cover carefully

Each of these components bring value added marketing to your efforts. As human beings each of us is unique. We all see things differently. You never know which element, or combination of elements, will click with a book buyer.

And finally, maybe one of your first lines will bring you a dedicated reader. One that will follow your efforts for years to come, just as Stephen King did to me.

I’d love to read some of your favorite “first lines” in our comments section.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.