For Readers & Writers

from Susan Dennard

January 22, 2016

What's in this heart-to-heart?


Recent Goings On:

Thank you, Misfits & Daydreamers (Part II)

It would seem that the story I told in my last newsletter was not yet finished.

It would, actually, seem that I must now adjust my own words.

What words, you ask? Why the ones you all kept tossing back at me last week:
...while I don't expect [Truthwitch] to be a bestseller -- goodness, I'm still a mid-list author at the end of the day -- the success of Truthwitch has already exceeded my wildest hopes.

Seriously, the number of times you all screen-capped or quoted that line was both humbling and hilarious and wonderful.

But I stand by what I said. Everything about Truthwitch has exceeded my wildest dreams. I really, truly never thought it would hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Not because I didn't believe in the book but because SO many factors (beyond strong sales) go into that famed List.

And, I mean, of course I'd hoped for that amazing title one day -- all authors do. It's a game-changer! And you only have to hit the NYT Bestseller List ONCE to where that fancy title for life!

But honestly, for all that I might've hoped to hit one day, my chances at this point in time seemed so slim. (Like, I seriously cannot emphasize to you all how poorly my first series fared!) Not to mention, I was truly, truly content with my already exceeded expectations -- how could I dare ask for more?'s weird. Don't take this the wrong way, but ever since I got the news last week, I've been wrestling with this uncomfortable guilt. This sense that there are so many other authors out there who likely deserve the title "New York Times Bestseller" far more than I do -- they probably work harder, they're probably nicer/more generous people (and I bet they're better looking too).

I swear I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Honestly. Even more humbling than the knowledge that Truthwitch had hit the List was the AMAZING REACTION that came from you all. That online response was, in many ways, far more exciting and overwhelming and heart-wrenching than the actual hitting-of-the-list.

I could not (and still cannot) believe how many of you expressed happiness and triumph and joy -- as if this victory were yours as much as mine.

And I suppose it is. Because like I said in the last newsletter, I wouldn't be here if not for you. Truthwitch wouldn't be here if not for you.

So thank you. For everything.

Live update: as I am writing this newsletter, I just found out I hit the List for a second week. I literally cannot feel my fingers, and my heart is pounding so hard that I'm afraid I might have to go to the hospital. For some reason, this week feels more real than last.

I think I might puke.

Holy crap, I love you guys.

For the Mislanders:

Epic giveaway winner + Self-defense, Truthwitch Style

Quickly, while I have you here: author Elise Kova and I will be doing a live Youtube chat tomorrow night at midnight! Join us!

Oh, and I believe a winner for the epic giveaway as due! So with wasting any time, let's get on with announcing one!
Lori Tincher!
Thank you to EVERYONE who entered! And stay tuned for more giveaways in the future.

Now, as promised, check out this video I did for Uppercase Box (an amazing book subscription service! Sign up here!) with some basic, easy self-defense moves.

For the Daydreamers:

#FBF 1—Magical Cookies

Because I'm traveling so much over the next few months, I thought I'd toss in a few #FlashbackFriday posts -- i.e. share some older, popular posts that NEW readers might not have seen before.

This week, I'm sharing one of my most-read posts called "Coaxing out the Magical Cookies" (from October, 2013). It's actually Part 4 in a 5-part series about planning your novel (read part 1 here).

Note: I have updated it slightly, so even if you've read it in the past, it might be worth checking it out again. 😁

Today’s post on “coaxing out the magical cookies” might be more aptly titled “What to do when you get stuck drafting.”

That said, finding magical cookies isn't a surefire way to get the words flowing -- it's just one way I've found that works (check out other approaches here). Perhaps more importantly, coaxing out magical cookies is a GREAT way to maintain passion for a project (or rediscover passion for a project you're sick of).

So what are “magical cookies” and why do we want to coax them out? Magical cookies are those scenes or snippets or relationships or feelings that make you want to write a story. They are often the juicy little ideas that inspired you to write THIS story at THIS moment. Now, I will repeat this because it bears repeating a bajillion times…because it’s seriously that important.

Every scene in your story must be a magical cookie scene.

If you don’t have any interest in writing a scene, then that scene DOES NOT NEED TO BE WRITTEN. Toss the idea out the window and go back to the drawing board.

But SOOZ, that’s easier said than done!! If I toss out the idea, I have no way of getting my characters from Point A to Point B.

Ah, but you do, my dear friends. You do, and I will show you how to coax out hidden magical cookies in your story.

→ QUICK! Write down why want to write THIS STORY -- the spark that set your brain and heart on fire. And here, I’ll do this exercise right alongside you for a WIP of mine called The Executioners Three.

  • What made me want to write this story:
    • I love the romance. It has so much chemistry, and I can feel it.
    • I love teen sleuths a là Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars.
    • I love the fall! The winds, the leaves, the cooling temperatures!

Now I’m going to get more specific…

→ QUICK! Write down the scenes that go along with your inspiration. No scene ideas? What about all those fleeting images or little clips of story that you can’t wait to write? For example…

  • I imagine:
    • almost kisses between my leads
    • confusion over why best friends are suddenly attracted to each other
    • creepy scenes where the readers knows more than the heroine (like that the murderer is near)
    • fall scenes in colorful forests or on leaf-strewn roads
    • more almost kisses!

Those scene snippets are my magical cookie scenes. I don’t want to forget the almost-kisses or the creepy murder scenes when I draft because they are what I’m most looking forward to writing.

Before we move on, I’ll give you a second, more complex example for those of you with bigger plots/characters/worlds.

  • What made me want to write Truthwitch:
    • Epic friendship FTW
    • I love the possible romances!
    • Ships and pirates = always awesome
    • I love the badassery and fight scenes
    • Magic!
    • Monsters!
    • I really love the possible romances
  • I imagine:
    • witty banter between my heroines
    • epic fight scenes with magic and monsters
    • sexy pirates on sexy ships in turquoise waters
    • scary bad guys
    • angry tension between characters
    • slow-burning romance and "almost" moments
    • coming to terms with magic
    • going into battle
    • MORE epic fights

(For those of you that have read the book, you can tell me if I succeeded in sticking to my cookies!) 

Now, all of the magical cookies that you've listed are going to become very important because they are how you’ll know what to write next.


Section 1: For Plotters

If you are a “plotter,” read on. If not, skim ahead.

If you are an outliner, then you might have no trouble knowing what to write next because it’s on your outline. Or maybe the next scene is one you just know has to happen to keep the plot moving (remember getting from Point A to Point B above?).

But here’s the test to give yourself each time you face the next scene:

  1. Do you want to write this scene? Like, is there a burning need inside your gut to pour it out?
    • Yes? GREAT. Write the freaking scene now.
    • No? Go to question 2…
  2. Are you just being lazy and/or letting fear keep you from sitting at the keyboard?
    • Yes? GREAT. Then just sit down and write.
    • Not sure? Then try sitting at a computer. If the words flow, then you were just being lazy/scared. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone.
    • No? You’ve tried to write and nothing wants to come? It all feels like drivel? Then you have a problem.

If you got to the end of that quiz and the answer was, “Then you have a problem,” have no fear! I’m going to help you with that problem. And it all boils down to the Magical Cookies.

First though, LET GO OF YOUR OUTLINE. Step away from it (and everything else you’d planned, from character to setting) and grab your list of magical cookies.

Now move to section 2.

Section 2: For Pantsers
(or people who “have a problem” in section 1)

Either you have reached a point in your high-energy pantsing where you don’t know what comes next or you’ve reached a point in your outline where what you’ve planned feels wrong.

So get your list of magical cookies. I want you to stare hard at that list and I want you to THINK. If you’re like me, you’ll grab a pen and start mind-mapping in your notebook (or in Scapple, which is my latest obsession).

Here is an example: I was trying to figure out what should come next in Truthwitch. I had planned on having a ball scene, but I had ZERO DESIRE TO WRITE IT. None, none, none…

So I turned up my  music -- the music that first sparked this entire story -- and I asked myself, What would make me want to write the next scene? This is what I actually wrote:

Coaxing out a cookie

And that was it. Seriously. That was all it took and suddenly the scene’s screenplay exploded out of me.

Scene screenplay

Those are the bones of the scene, and when I sat at my computer, the words flew. All because I had found my magical cookie: the sexual tension.

(Again, for those of you who have now read Truthwitch, you can tell me if the magical cookies succeeded!)

Of course, it’s not always so easy as that dance scene. The ideas don’t always come so quickly or so vividly. And those times are when I’ll have to look at pictures, listen to music REALLY LOUDLY, or browse through Wikipedia links until something clicks.

But I never abandon my list of magical cookies. Because more often than not, the answer will be on that list–and then a Pinterest image will help expand the answer into a full scene. Or an epic playlist will help bring a magical cookie idea to vivid life.

And of course, when that spark finally ignites into a full scene idea, you can bet I have a notebook or computer handy so I can scribble down the ideas and scene-screenplay as quickly as possible.

Now, I want to return to my earlier made-up complaint from you: But SOOZ, if I toss out the idea, I have no way of getting my characters from Point A to Point B!

And here’s what I say: Sometimes -- or most of the time, in my case -- the reader does NOT need to see how a character got from Point A to Point B. If Point B is a magical cookie but the stuff needed to get a character there is not magical or cookie-shaped, then DON’T WRITE THAT IN-BETWEEN STUFF. Write a quick transition and then drop us right into the Point B magical cookie scene.

Only give us the magical cookies. Always. If you don’t love writing the scene, you can bet the reader won’t love reading it.

If you still absolutely have to have the in-between stuff, then turn that in-between stuff into a magical cookie. Find something that gives it heart and makes you want to write it. Maybe it’s just a matter of inserting the love interest into the scene (as it was in my instance with Truthwitch) or maybe it’s something a bit more complicated. But if you think about it long enough and hard enough–and you don’t forget the parts of the story that excite you–you’ll find the answer. We all do. Eventually, at least.

I hope this helps with your writing -- especially if you're stuck. And if not, then be sure to check out my other posts about "unsticking your words" over here. 😁
Upcoming Events:


Barnes & Noble
with Victoria Scwab, Cherie Priest, Wesley Chu, John Scalzi, & more!
Livonia, MI
January 22 @ 7PM

Legendary ConFusion
Novi, MI
January 22-24
See full schedule here

And of course, check out the #TruthRider tour dates here!

Link Roundup:

As always, here are some links to wrap up your Friday!

photo by Emily Rae Photography

Copyright © 2015
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St., Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer, a fangirl, an animal-lover, and a (now gluten-free) cookie-eater.