What’s Your Theme for 2018?

Cole Smith







by Cole Smith


Do you have a yearly theme? 2017 was a fantastic yet terrifying year for me. Learning to drive stick-shift, finishing a novel and sending it to beta readers, starting a blog – there were a lot of overwhelming days when the couch and a book looked pretty darn appealing. To keep from succumbing to the siren song of quitting, I’d mutter my slogan for the year: “Do it scared!”

Notice, that slogan is neither original nor specific. But it was exactly what I needed to shift (sometimes literally from stalling at a traffic light) back to where I needed to be. Pick a personal motto for 2018 to set your intention for the year.


Do You Have a Yearly Theme?


It will start your year off on a positive note.

January is unspoiled and full of potential. Late December, on the other hand, often holds more stale failed resolutions than leftover fruitcake. Capture January’s energy and positivity by setting the mood for the months to come, and sticking with it.


It will keep you accountable.

One reason resolutions sputter and die by March is the lack of accountability. How do you check in with yourself? No one will know if you hit the snooze button instead of the gym. But you’ll have to face that slogan. You can crank up the pressure by giving a friend permission to say the magic words if you start slipping.


It will keep you going when you want to quit.

Feelings lie. It feels right to watch tv instead of knocking out 300 more words on your work-in-progress. It feels good to sleep in. And, at least in the short-term, eating that massive bowl of ice cream feels like heaven’s blessing.

Get a stack of sticky notes and wallpaper the house with your motto. Stick a reminder on the remote control, the freezer door, the alarm clock. Our feelings have a really short attention span. So remind them who’s boss by whispering your affirming slogan (or shouting it from your back porch). All that reinforcement will reprogram your brain and alter your habits.

Choose a Theme for Your Year


My focus for this year is to build on the momentum of 2017 (or, in the case of driving manual transmission, at least to coast on my momentum as long as possible… Please change, traffic light, hurry!). I’m still narrowing down themes for a motto that resonates with my goals, one that sings when I say it. I’ll know it when I find it.

May 2018 be a year that pushes you, but kindly. And, if you need to, you can whisper, “Do it scared!”




Cole Smith is a writer, teacher, and mountain biker in West Virginia. She enjoys good coffee and great stories. She shares inspiration, encouragement, and tips for creative overwhelm at www.colesmithwrites.com.


Let’s get social! Find me on Facebook or Pinterest.





Layering, not just for haircuts and cakes…

Head Shot

This post by Craig Snider

One of the inevitable responses to a great book, movie, or show, is “how did they come up with such a complex story?” Or, maybe there is a twist ending, or something completely unexpected that throws the audience for a loop. Now, I’m not talking about a story where the entire point is the twist ending (I’m lookin’ right at you M. Night Shamamamlamalan). Stories with varied and complex story lines keep your reader intrigued, improves pacing, and leaves the reader filling fulfilled when they’ve reached the end. So, how do you do it?

The answer, though simple, is somewhat difficult in application. Just one word: layering. What does that mean, exactly? Layering is the process of building up your story, both on an intellectual level and on a structural level.

So, you have your premise. This is typically a “what if,” or similar method of devising a basic plot. If you started with just a character, you’ll need to develop your premise before you can start the process of layering. Your premise will cover the main through line of your story, the essential plot. For example, let’s say your premise is, “What if a cowboy has to fight of a horde of zombies?” That is a pretty straightforward premise. But, by itself, it is bland and two-dimensional. We need to “bulk” it up a bit.

One way we can do this is to add sub-plots. This will require a good deal of planning on your part. Secondary characters,

Hmmm… Now which way?

antagonists, or even flashbacks can make good subplots. Just be sure you understand how to handle subplots and their structural necessities before you attempt to use them. Done improperly and you will ruin the story’s pace and impact. Nothing is more frustrating to your reader than boring them with a dull subplot just when the main story is getting into gear. The most important part to remember about your subplot is that it must weave in to the main storyline, whether in terms of plot or theme. So, in the case of our zombie killing cow poke, we can add some backstory to build up the character and add some relief to the main plot. Secondly, you can create a subplot for the antagonist. This not only serves to make your antagonist into a “round” character, but also gives the reader some relief from the action.

That brings us to the second way to layer your story. Theme and symbolism are a great way to give your story resonance and poignancy. But, don’t overdo it. Heavy-handed or overly obvious symbols are yet another way to anger your audience. You have to be subtle. This requires both practice and intuition. This comes from much writing and reading. There is no substitute. And, be careful with these two tools. Choosing themes or symbols that are not congruent with your story’s intent will confuse the reader. Zombies themselves are a great symbol, and can be used accordingly, but adding additional symbols or themes will add depth and complexity. Use caution! Overt symbolism and themes can sometimes devolve into melodramatic plot devices.

This does not mean, however, that you forgo the importance of story in favor of a neat symbolic message. Remember, story is paramount, and must come before all else or you’ll lose your reader once again.

As for twist endings, here is a little trick that can help you come up with an ending that will have the readers going back to the beginning to find the clues and foreshadowing that lead up to your climactic surprise: start from the end and work your way backwards. Trying to come up with a good twist at the end can be frustrating, and often it will fall flat (I’m lookin’ at you Lost). So, if you come up with the ending first, you can then go backwards and find your main through line, then build up the story by layering in the rest, it will seem as if you are a plot-twisting mastermind. Again, this requires a bit of practice, and should never been the entire point of your story. If so, you’ll only be able to pull it off once, perhaps twice, if you’re lucky.

So, if you have a story that you just can’t seem to get right, take a look and see if you have enough layers to make the story resonate. If not, get your trusty literary trowel, and put on brick after symbolic brick until you have a wall of story that is daunting in its complexity!

Until next time, write on.

I love A-Zs – Don’t you?

For CCThis post is by Nancy Jardine

An author friend of mine at Crooked Cat Publishing commented that he was having a ‘go’ again at the world wide April A-Z Challenge Blog Hop. He’d done it last year for the first time and recommended it. A number of ‘we’ fellow ‘Cats’ signed up.

image from www.123rf.com
image from http://www.123rf.com

Rules are simple. Blog for 26 days of the alphabet on anything of your choice so long as your post is centred around the letter of the day (Sundays off for good behaviour) Try to visit at least 5 other blogs each day – lots more if you can is very welcome.

Main idea – ENJOY reading/viewing everyone else’s posts.

Why did I decide to fit this into my already busy life? Good question and my answer is for lots of different reasons. There are 1942 people signed up on the linky list. I’m sure I will meet some new people during the hop who will hopefully remain cyber friends. I’m also learning something new every single day when I visit other blogs, and most of that has little to do with writing.

This year they’ve put up a category listing, so if you choose to you can sign up for one of these and post about that subject eg. LI posts are about Lifestyle. There are classifications for photographers, artists, gardeners, politics minded people – lots to choose from if your posts are themed.   If you don’t want to enter a theme category you can post anything so long as your daily post is centred around the letter for that day.

I’ve chosen to do all my posts about Celtic/Roman Britain AD71-84. What? Loads of you might say – that’s nuts! Why have I restricted myself to historical posts like that for 26 days?

Food fresco from Pompei - Wikimedia Commons
Food fresco from Pompei – Wikimedia Commons

During the last 6 months, when not doing my full time babysitting of said cherub who is my granddaughter, I’ve been writing the sequel to my historical novel, THE BELTANE CHOICE, which is set in Celtic/Roman Britain AD 71-84. Surprise, surprise! I’ve amassed a huge amount of historical data that will never sneak into my novel- though I do that whenever I can!

The A-Z Challenge is a superb way of ‘airing’ that knowledge and finding a practical use for my time researching. Since I love history and am obviously steeped in Celtic/Roman Britain I’m loving the CHALLENGE already.

What I’m sure would be far too difficult would be ‘winging it’. I’m more inclined to be a ‘pantser’ in my writing but I’m sure I’d be spending all day long chopping and changing my mind if I had no theme to work to. So, does that make me more of a ‘plotter’. Oops- I guess I’m that too!

Whatever…  the challenge of posting an A-Z entry forces some discipline on me. I intend to complete the challenge… and get my sequel completed this month.

Apples, pear, plum, cherry!-image acquired from www.123rf.com
Apples, pear, plum, cherry!
-image acquired from http://www.123rf.com

Oh… did I forget to say I got 5 fruit trees as a birthday gift a few weeks ago from my daughter. (mother of grandchild) They arrived a couple of days ago and since the snow outside has now melted, and we’ve had a couple of nights almost frost free, I guess I’m spending my day planting my trees in patio containers.

 Roll out that compost!

I’m delighted to do that since, around AD 84, there were possibly as many as 10,000 Roman soldiers encamped about 400 yards away from my garden. (Yes I really do mean that number as recent evidence has proved the camp to have been very large) My fruit tree garden compost was possibly trampled down by them. (Spurious- I know but the thought makes me smile a lot!)

Any guesses why I love my Celtic/ Roman history posts?

If you’re interested my post today is all about the Roman food my Roman character might be eating in Northern Britannia.

Roman food

(NB. When I added my HI for ‘history’ as my A-Z Challenge theme it has been posted as AC for ‘Adult Content’. This is because my blog is set to that in case I’m posting a risqué romance cover when a guest blogger comes to visit… or as in today’s case a risque historical image from Pompei! My blog is, otherwise, a safe one.)

BeltaneB 500

The Beltane Choice is available from:


Amazon UK

Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/221383

View my Youtube trailer http://youtu.be/igJmfBoXRhQ

Nancy can be found at:

Amazon UK author page for all novels  http://amzn.to/N6ye0z  
Amazon.com author page for all novels http://amzn.to/RJZzZz  http://nancyjardine.blogspot.com  http://nancyjardineauthor.weebly.com   http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG   Twitter @nansjar  http://about.me/nancyjardine http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/nancy-jardine/3a/9b0/a91/   Google+

Enjoy your day! I’m sure I’m going to enjoy mine.





Where Does a Story Start?

Aletheaby Alethea Williams

Most of us who write have had the experience of someone wanting to tell us their story so that we can write it down and make lots of money.  The two things I have trouble conveying to people who don’t write are:

1) I have enough story ideas of my own.
2) If they dream the story from beginning, to middle, to end, with a little discipline they can write their own story.

So where does your story start?

Characters: Do you see your characters first? What do they look like? What are they doing? Are they talking to you? (If you’re hearing an imaginary conversation between characters you know you made up, you’re not losing your mind. You’re a writer.)

Loving Handsome Couple Relaxing by photostock at freedigitalphotos.net
Loving Handsome Couple Relaxing by photostock at freedigitalphotos.net
Stylish Lady Standing With Trunk by sattva at freedigitalphotos.net
Stylish Lady Standing With Trunk by sattva at freedigitalphotos.net

Setting: Do you visualize a situation first? What’s happening? Where is this action taking place? Is it day or night? What’s the weather like?  Can you smell anything?

Sunrise by dan at freedigitalphotos.net

Sunrise by dan at freedigitalphotos.net

Plot: Does the story occur to you beginning to end? Or does the middle slump so you have to scramble to come up with what comes next? Do you outline? If so, do you stick to your outline or does the story insist on taking off in its own direction? (When the muse is visiting, I find the plot unrolling like a movie in my head and myself typing as fast as I can to keep up.)

My Spring Garden Notes by Simon Howden at freedigitalphotos.net
My Spring Garden Notes by Simon Howden at freedigitalphotos.net

Theme: Perhaps you have a message you want to convey through your story and build the entire story around your theme. Is there a lesson in what you have written? Do you mean for readers to take a moral to heart from your writing? (Readers have said that they were hesitant to start reading Willow Vale because it seems like a sad book. It’s actually a very hopeful book, so I am grateful so many have stuck with it and finished Francesca’s story!)

Writing is half hard work – the willingness to sit butt in chair and persist until it’s done. The other half is magic – watching the story unfold as our characters and start talking, with us writing as fast as we can to keep up!

The author of historical novel Willow Vale, available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Jargon Media, Alethea Williams blogs on Actually Alethea about writing, writers, and Wyoming history.  Follow on Twitter @actuallyalethea, or visit Alethea Williams: author on Facebook.  Comments and honest feedback always welcome!