Category Archives: Write It forward

The Story Grid: A Writer’s Tool

Every book is an adventure in writing, but there is one tool I have consistently used from my very first book and with every single one of the next 60 some odd that followed: The Story Grid.

After a couple of decades together, my wife has learned my few and far between foibles. One of them is a lack of attention to detail. I’m a big picture guy. If my wife wants to hide something from me in the fridge all she has to do is put it behind something. If she needs me to get something for her, she knows to give me very detailed instructions down to exactly what drawer, where in the drawer it is, and exactly what it is. Or I’m like Cool Gus: I’ll come back with the first ball I find.

I have the same problem writing. I can “see” the big picture of the book in my brain. But once I start writing, I tend to forget what I’ve written. So I use a physical, external device, to help me: the Story Grid.

It goes to the left of my keyboard (I’m left-handed) for every book as I’m writing. I fill it in as I’m writing. I use a red ink pen. Then I update the Excel sheet and print it out every day.

Every row is a scene in the book.

The columns depend on the type of story (do I need a countdown? Greenwich Mean Time?) but generally go thusly:

Chapter #; start page; end page; time/date; location; a brief summary of the action.

Here is an example from a work in progress, Nightstalkers: The Time Patrol which will be published on 25 Nov this year. In this case, instead of time/date, I use a 48 hour countdown because a clock is started leading to the end of the world as we know it in 48 hours.  Most of it makes no sense to you, but since I’ve written the scenes, it reminds me immediately of what’s been done.  It’s also a good way to see the flow of the book.

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Note that what has been written ends at the beginning of Chapter 8. Everything below that is notes and future scenes that I put there as they occur to me. At the bottom are some notes from previous books in the series with terms I need, but can’t remember. Some of the terms near the bottom in bold are story loops I need to close out for various characters.  I also can add in a word count each day, to keep me on task.

Being able to put everything on one page makes it much easier for me to keep track. So if you’re not a good detail person, consider something like this. If you are a good detail person, but not a good big picture person, consider something like Jennifer Crusie’s collages, where she puts together a diorama that physically represents the entire story and can have it in her office where she can see it all the time.

On entirely different matter, we’d like feedback on these covers. We’re putting together a library sampler of all my books, consisting of one downloadable book that has every cover, author note on every book, brief description and opening chapter. We think this is a way readers can ‘browse’ my books for free. We’ll announce the launch of the sampler with links for download in a week or so here at Write It Forward. If you sign up for my newsletter (only sent out a couple times a year) you’ll have access to exclusive content from works in project I’ll be posting on-line soon, looking for reader feedback. Parts of the book from the story grid above will be the first to be posted. Sign up is to the left.

Just number them 1 thru 5, left to write, for your comments.

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Survival Friday: The Keys for Organizing Your Survival Team

Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

Organizing Your Neighborhood/Work Place

This is particularly key in moderate emergencies.  During natural disasters such as hurricane, flood, extreme weather, wild fire, etc. an organized neighborhood can be essential to survival.  When I say neighborhood, I also mean your work place. During 9-11, offices that were well organized and had emergency evacuation plans with designated personnel acting in key positions had much higher survival rates.  Does your place of business have an emergency plan?  Is it practiced?  Remember in school when you had fire drills?  Does your place of business have the same?

One thing to ask yourself is what are the boundaries of a neighborhood?  Realistically, you’re looking at around fifteen to twenty households.  Larger than that and it can become unwieldy.

Your neighborhood might already have such a team.  If so, join it and find out how well organized and prepared they are.  If not, then take it on yourself to start one.  Usually your larger community will have resources to help you do this.  Check emergency services and the Red Cross.

Check out the resources in your neighborhood.  Do you know who your neighbors are and what they do for a living?  What special skills they have?  That person you think is a nurse going off to work in her scrubs might actually be someone who works at a kennel washing dogs. Don’t make assumptions.

You need to identify people who have the following skills and experience:

  • medical
  • law enforcement and military
  • electrical
  • leadership
  • survival
  • child care
  • communications
  • engineering
  • weapons

Inventory equipment in the neighborhood:

  • chain saws
  • winches
  • four wheel drive vehicles
  • CB and other radios
  • water purifying systems

Inventory the neighborhood:

  • where are all the natural gas meters and propane tanks?
  • who needs special help?  Focus on the handicapped, the elderly, and children who might be home alone at periods of the day.
  • each household should have large placards made up with OKAY on one side and HELP on the other.  Use fluorescent colored poster board available at your local supermarket.  Have this stored near a front window under a rug.  Display as needed.
  • determine where the neighborhood gathering site will be.  People should go here before trying to run around and rescue others.  Organization saves time and lives.
  • have a contact list tree.  In the military we always had alert systems.  This is a way of communicating so each person knows who they are responsible for contacting.

 

The relevance of customer reviews and discoverability

By Jen Talty

ebook_in_ipadThe way in which we buy books is changing. We have fewer bookstores and the major retailers are cutting back on their space of books and racking only the top names. I was at an airport recently where the only books I saw were Divergent and a bunch of books by Tom Clancy. At another airport, just the top 20 from the NY Times and a display case of Tom Clancy books. The sad part for me was that I because of this I got no new ideas for new authors or new books to load onto my Kindle. The last recommendation I got for a book (that wasn’t from Bob or his wife) came from a stranger on an airplane who was reading on his Kindle and asked me what I was reading on mine and proceeded to talk books for about an hour.

Back in the day, before the internet, when we actually had to leave our house to shop for things, books were found in end caps, coop space, recommendations by our local bookstore and perhaps some paid advertising. Browsing was done by walking through the shelves and feeling and touching. Now we browse the digital shelves and it is harder and harder to find books. Actually, that’s not true. It’s easy to find books, but are we finding the books we want? Right now, at a conference is going on across the pond Jon Fine of Amazon was quoted as saying, “ We’ve created this tsunami of content. It’s a high class problem to have too many stories. We, as tech companies, publishers, authors, service providers, have to find ways to help stories find the right audience. This discoverability problem is the next big challenge.” We always love listening to Jon Fine. Smart man and very pragmatic.

One book recommendation I will make to anyone who does business with Amazon or is in internet marketing, internet sales, or the book business is to read The Everything Store. It’s fascinating and really gives the reader a good look into the world of Amazon. One thing the book does talk about is customers and their role. Amazon is very customer-centric.

For authors, our customers are our readers. Readers play a very important role in authors’ lives; besides paying the bills, they have the power to spread the word. They do that in a variety of ways. Telling a stranger on an airplane, gifting or lending a book (ebook or physical book), discussing it in a book club, talking about it on-line at places like Goodreads and of course, writing reviews.

The idea Jon touches on, this discoverability challenge, is one both the author and the reader face. The author needs to be able to get their books in the right “algorithm” so to speak, and the customer needs to know how to search for exactly what they are looking for (especially when they are looking for something new, not necessarily the named author). Sometimes I think I’m the only one who notices small tweaks on the Amazon site or on my Kindle, that are helping me find books I didn’t know exist based on my own unique shopping history on the site (which probably makes those algorithms go, ‘her again? Please not here, she’s not normal’).” Actually, I’ve seen how this works in a tighter, smaller environment with my new Amazon Fire TV. I’m already getting very unique suggestions just based on what I’ve been watching on Prime and frankly, they are right on. I just watched a show this weekend called Orphan Black that I had never heard of and probably wouldn’t have found if Amazon hadn’t given me that recommendation. But, that has nothing to do with Reviews. Back to Reviews.

The first thing to note about reviews is you can’t look at reviews, or anything as author, based on what YOU do. You are not the normal average customer. You are skewed because you have inside information about the business. What is important is that there are different types of customers who look at various things differently, so the moment you think or say, ‘but this is how I find things, or I do things’, let it go. Doesn’t count. There are people who will buy anything that is free or under a dollar or on sale. There are people who will only pay full price. There are people that only buy from the top 10 on any given list. There are a wide variety of customers who make their decision based on something we might have not even thought about.

Reviews are important because they now represent a recommendation during the browsing process, especially when a potential customer stumbles onto your book page while looking for a certain topic. Not necessarily each review is a recommendation, but the overall average star rating along with how many reviews and whether or not you have both good and bad reviews. Yes, they both count in both positive and negative ways. I’m not going to get into the Amazon Algorithms and how reviews may or may not affect them. There are so many things that go into the Algorithms, and yes, reviews are one of them, but only one of many considerations.

Another thing to consider is that not every reader is going to leave a review. Some only do so if they hate it. Or if they love it. And some leave them for everything they buy. Here is something to consider. You don’t exist unless you have pagans (haters). This comes from the book Primal Branding, which I also recommend authors read since “branding” is such a buzz word, but it will help you build your author identity, which essentially is your brand.

The more we shop on-line, the more important reviews become. So how do we get them? That’s an excellent question. Discoverability is the key. Finding the right audience. Bob said something to me early on in our partnership and that was as we go broader on the internet, we need to narrow it down to niche.

From Bob: Sometimes I feel like kryptonite. While we have almost 100,000 subscribers to this blog, we get very few comments. And while I’ve had #1 bestsellers in various categories (science fiction, men’s adventure, thriller) on Kindle, considering the volume of books I sell, I get relatively few reviews. I’m not sure why that is. But I have definitely picked up from my contacts at 47North and Amazon that reviews are very, very important. In fact, the reality is that some decision making on marketing has been taken out of human hands and relies solely on algorithms, which rely heavily on both number and quality of reviews. And I do read them in order to get feedback from my readers. So I invite you—if you’ve read some of my books, stop by on Amazon and leave a few sentences or more. In a very important way, readers are shaping the future of publishing and authors’ careers more than ever before. I think that’s a good thing. We’ve removed a lot of the gatekeepers in between, and it’s ultimately the author-reader relationship that rules!

Nothing but good times ahead.

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Survival Friday: Open Wounds First Aid

Survival Friday: excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide SurvivalFinal

Open wounds are serious in a survival situation, not only because of tissue damage and blood loss, but also because they may become infected. Bacteria on the object that made the wound, on the individual’s skin and clothing, or on other foreign material or dirt that touches the wound may cause infection.

By taking proper care of the wound you can reduce further contamination and promote healing.

Clean the wound as soon as possible after it occurs by:

  • Removing or cutting clothing away from the wound.
  • Always looking for an exit wound if a sharp object, gun shot, or projectile caused a wound.
  • Thoroughly cleaning the skin around the wound.
  • Rinsing (not scrubbing) the wound with large amounts of water under pressure. You can use fresh urine if water is not available.
  • The “open treatment” method is the safest way to manage wounds in survival situations. Do not try to close any wound by suturing or similar procedures. Leave the wound open to allow the drainage of any pus resulting from infection. As long as the wound can drain, it generally will not become life-threatening, regardless of how unpleasant it looks or smells.
  • Cover the wound with a clean dressing. Place a bandage on the dressing to hold it in place. Change the dressing daily to check for infection.
  • If a wound is gaping, you can bring the edges together with adhesive tape cut in the form of a “butterfly” or “dumbbell” bandage.

In a survival situation, some degree of wound infection is almost inevitable. Pain, swelling, and redness around the wound, increased temperature, and pus in the wound or on the dressing indicate infection is present.

To treat an infected wound:

  • Place a warm, moist compress directly on the infected wound. Change the compress when it cools, keeping a warm compress on the wound for a total of 30 minutes. Apply the compresses three or four times daily.
  • Drain the wound. Open and gently probe the infected wound with a sterile instrument.
  • Dress and bandage the wound. Drink a lot of water.
  • Continue this treatment daily until all signs of infection have disappeared.
  • If you do not have antibiotics and the wound has become severely in- fected, does not heal, and ordinary debridement is impossible, consider maggot therapy, despite its hazards:
  • Expose the wound to flies for one day and then cover it.
  • Check daily for maggots.  Maggots are not necessarily bad.
  • Once maggots develop, keep wound covered but check daily. Remove all maggots when they have cleaned out all dead tissue and before they start on healthy tissue. Increased pain and bright red blood in the wound indicate that the maggots have reached healthy tissue.
  • Flush the wound repeatedly with sterile water or fresh urine to remove the maggots.
  • Check the wound every four hours for several days to ensure all maggots have been removed.
  • Bandage the wound and treat it as any other wound. It should heal normally.

 

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