Wednesday, January 28, 2015




It happens to all of us, I'm sure. The point of view character is too flat, too boring, too cardboard. Dead.

Readers love books because of an emotional bond to a character. There have been arguments about what is more important, plot or character, and character wins 99% of the time. What's GONE WITH THE WIND without Scarlett O'Hara? Whether it's Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch or J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, it's the character that drives the story forward with his or her actions and those actions taken are caused by the character's needs and desires. A dead character lies there on the page and no one cares. In other words, she's too boring to drag a reader through 350 pages.

How do we revive a dead character if our first readersyawn, set the draft aside, and say, "too unlikable" or "couldn't relate" or "not very interesting" and we've got to put on the gloves and give that lead a personality transfusion?

I've discovered two ways to resuscitate a character.

1) JOURNAL. You may have tried journaling because there are many benefits. I teach journaling, in fact, and have seen lives transformed. It's a way to heal, make decisions, express gratitude, rant, sort out problems, deal with grief, be thankful, and discover the deeper, creative, inner you.Journaling actually improves physical, emotional, and psychological health.

But have you ever experienced journaling from your character's point of view? Write in third person as your character and watch her blossom. Allow her personality to emerge. Discover her likes and dislikes, her fears and dreams. Let her tell you who she is and how she feels. Ask her what she wants to happen in the story and how she wants to be portrayed.

Journaling as your character enables you to get into her mindset and discover all sorts of new things you didn't know before. You'll be surprised when you start hearing her voice in her head because you'll be the conduit for this personality to come alive.. I think you'll like her better when you know how she treats animals or talks on the phone. This technique will help you during revision. You will improve your character's overall health.

2) ACT. Become your protagonist in an improv scene. Grab a friend and read a page of dialogue together. Sit the way your character would sit, eat as she would eat, and try to get into her frame of mind.

Many authors I know get out of their chairs while writing and act out a scene they are struggling with, trying to get a character's words right and how those words are said spot on.

Have I tried these techniques? You bet.

I did a bit of improv recently while writing a fight scene inCHANGED IN THE NIGHT, my new YA novel. Pretending to be my protagonist, I stood up and took some swings with an imaginary sword. Doing that helped me get the scene written. I got on my hands and knees to shootmarbles as a ten-year-old when I wrote KNUCKLE DOWN. That helped me better understand, not only the game, but my character's state of mind. I journaled as an 8th grader while writing a first kiss scene in WARRIOR'S DAUGHTER. My character willingly expressed in the journal exactly what she thought and how she felt, and why the scene wasn't working. Talk about collaboration! It can be almost magical at times.

If emergency help is required on a dead or dying character, try these life saving and story saving techniques.

Sunday, January 25, 2015



We form critique groups to 1) find other writers, 2) identify weaknesses in our writing, and 3) receive constructive criticism.

Establishing a critique group is easy with these simple guidelines:

1) No one should dominate and take all the time. Pages should be distributed to all present and be limited, single-sided, double -paced, 12-point font. The author or someone else reads the sample aloud while others make notes for comment.

2) Those critiquing point out strengths before tackling weaknesses. Strengths might be strong dialogue, good transitions, an active voice, or a well-defined character.

2) Suggest ways to fix problem areas. Weaknesses might be passive voice, redundancy, author intrusion, point of view shift, poor word choice, meaningless dialogue, inaccurate facts, too much information, and/or grammatical errors.

3) Focus on the writing sample, not on the author. No one should get personal, no one should judge the genre, and no one should take offense. Group members are there to support one another and offer honest critique.

4) Those being critiqued have the final say about their writing. The author resists the urge to over-explain or defend her work. A group critique is a chance to hear how our writing sounds when read aloud. Any comment offered is only reaction and feedback.

5) For a professional critique, seek an outside editor or peer coach. In the network of writers in your area and at the libraries, universities, and community programs, you will be able to get references. Shop around and compare costs.

Don't stay home from a critique group simply because you have nothing to share. I've learned as much from critiquing others as I have from any class or book. Suggestions I often give others have later been applied to my own writing. In critique, we assume an editor's role. This practice makes us more objective when looking at our own writing.

Although writing is a solitary act, we can benefit from brainstorming and discussion. In a writer's critique group, we inevitably form bonds and learn from one another.

Saturday, January 24, 2015




Books I’ve found very helpful
The Art of Character by David Corbett
Writing Between the Lines by Jessica Morrell
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
On Writing bStephen King
Podcasts* I’ve discovered
Inside Creative Writing (very good, but only 15 episodes)
Fiction School (so-so.  A little ‘goofy’ and off topic at times)
Write 2B Read: Self Publishing tips (the host not so good, but she some of her interviews are interesting)
*Podcasts:  It’s a purple app on your phone.  Go to the “search” and type in either the title of the podcast (above) or a general topic “writing”.  Check the reviews—esp how many—and the number of episodes.  Under “details” it will give the title of the podcast topics and the year.  It’s great in the car or when you’re walking.
Personnel Writing Tips
Connect with a writing group!  Keep attending writing classes, seminars, writing projects, writing retreats, Meet-Up Groups, any and every opportunity for ideas.
Delete.  Sometimes the purpose of that portion (the-to-be deleted part) of your book is to take you to the next level.  Even when I know it’s great and I love it, I try to think of it asa planted seed that may need to be ‘weeded’.
Read it out loud. Especially the Dialogue. Or have it read out loud to you.
Let it percolate. When I feel like I’m forcing the story forward and it doesn’t want to go there, I put it aside for at least two weeks and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
Write a character backstory sketch. I just did this for my current project and it’s made a huge and noticeable difference in my story.  
Select your ‘stopping place’. When you can choose a “stopping place” chose a place where you will excited to continue, not always a point where you are ‘stuck.’
Kristin Orloff
American Wings, Iranian Roots (narrative non-fiction of a gold-medal wrestlers who defects from Iran in 1982 and later returns to rescue his sisters)
Harmony (fiction; An OC family endures the 2008 meltdown)
Both works are available in print and as an e-book on Amazon.  
Contact me anytime at or



My Three Must-Read Books:

The Art of Character by David Corbett
Part of my love for this book, is where I purchased it—The Strand Books ‘Paradise’ in Greenwich Village.  It is an enjoyable read with excellent voice and humor.  Every page has a golden ‘take away’ and brilliant contemporary examples.  Above all, I learned to write people, not plot puppets.  

Between the Lines by Jessica Page Morrell
This read is incredibly useful in infusing the subtle elements of fiction from backstory, to pacing, to suspense.  My copy is so highlighted and tagged, that is feels like an old friend.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
A fascinating look at how to write through the lens of our human-nature driven need for story.  Cron breaks down the brain’s desire to know what will happen next and connects to our purpose as authors.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What do three memoir writers, two young-adult science fiction writers, one romance writer, a biographer and writer of fiction, a skilled oral storyteller, and a talented artist have in common?


What do three memoir writers, two young-adult science fiction writers, one romance writer, a biographer and writer of fiction, a skilled oral storyteller, and a talented artist have in common?

These nine women comprise the SMCC, otherwise known as the  Saturday Morning Coffee and Critique. Ranging in age from 80 to 47, they gather every-other-Saturday to discuss the nuts and bolts of writing. Some are native Californians. Others hail from the Midwest, and one was born in Greece. There are teachers in the mix, the musically inclined, one who lived on a sailboat, and the prerequisite dreamers. Underdogs are their heroes; also, vampires, outer space aliens, and real-life mountaineers. They've authored books about difficulties overcome through determination and grit, and chronicled life changing events worth celebrating.

Stumbling upon the SMCC in mid-2010, I was thrilled when they took me into the fold. Being the “new kid on the block,” I tiptoed over their threshold. Since all writing groups are not created equal, I entered with bated breath. As writers we're supposed to be thick-skinned, but having suffered through my share of miserable critiques, my skin couldn't have been any thinner.

At the time, I was in the process of eeking out my first attempt at a novel. The group shared their input, and I listened. I found their feedback to be edifying; their gentle suggestions gave me just enough food for thought without inciting a flare-up of gastritis. I returned to my keyboard with a renewed eye, grateful for their insight and wisdom.

It has been said that writing is a lonely craft; also, that writers should resist the urge to share their work with spouses or significant others. To discover a group whose love of writing parallels my own is a dream come true. “We are all interwoven and create each other's universes.” So says author and teacher Natalie Goldberg in her book, Writing Down the Bones; Freeing the Writer Within. I believe that a writing group should be a positive resource, creating a universe that's conducive to the craft.

I don't think it'd be much of a stretch to declare: the SMCC is all that and more.

Saturday, January 17, 2015




Writing Should Get Personal

Each of us is the hero of our own story.

We each have a hidden need. Maybe it's fear of social situations or loving money more than family, or maybe we're simply broken-hearted and need to get over it.

This hidden need hurts us, and it also hurts people around us.

In order to resolve this hidden need, we must take action.

Action causes conflict, and conflict is what makes story.

There is no life without conflict.

It's the same with story. The hidden need—goal or desire—of the protagonist sets the story in motion. This need is so important that it hurts not only the protagonist but the secondary characters as wellThere is no story without conflict.

It boils down to cause and effect or the domino effect. Need leads to action. Action leads to conflict.

Consider Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is lovesick, in love with love. Spurned by one lovely girl, he catches sight of another, Juliet, and falls head over heels. She's the sun. He must have her; his ardent pleas arouse her interest and soon she must have him as well.

Too bad they're from families who despise each other. Bad news, right? Wrong.

It's good news for plot development. The more conflict the better. Too bad everyone around has to hear about this star-crossed romance. Too bad they also have to suffer andthere's danger, death, hand-wringing, decision making, and tears, lots of tears.

Bad news, right? Wrong.

And in the end they both die.

No worries. It's all so self-sacrificing and romantic and that's all good news for story and a best seller for Shakespeare.

Think about your own personal story and the hidden needs you've experienced. Perhaps some of those desires ruptured your family, created tension, destroyed relationships, caused a financial loss, ended in unbearable grief, bore terrible guilt,d caused isolation, or resulted in estrangement

Face it.

We've all hurt someone and we've all been hurt, and usually it comes from not having enough of something: love, money, status, possessions, friends, popularity, confidence, support, power, and a hundred other things. We don't have it, we want it, and we go out and get it, often hurting someone along the way. Or we don't have it, we want it, and we sit around and mope about it forever, making ourselves—and everyone else—miserable. Consider the ramifications of moving across country to a new state or the result of a divorce that splits family, friends, and kids. Everything we do in life affects those around us. I know. I've hurt people I didn't mean to hurt, and others living their own life stories have hurt me. Hurt is a personal part of life, and hurt deepens the characterizations and plot in a story.

It all begins with that hidden need.

People read books in search of universal truths. They want to know how to live their own lives. They relate most with stories that get personal.

Dig into your own life story to come up with ideas forfictionAsk your protagonist what he or she really wants in life and must have at all costs.

Revelation is what brings characterto life. When we write from a deep point of view, the story takes on a whole new dynamic. Whether it's fiction or memoir, get personal. Yourreaders will be grateful.

-MaryAnn Easley

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don't have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough." -Stephen King


January 2015

I meet with a group of writers that  call ourselves the Saturday Morning Coffee and Critique group (SMCC).    I am constantly awed and inspired by their feedback.  We have gotten to know  each other's characters  and their stories.  I feel lucky to be part of their creative process.   

One  of my inspirations, Ray Bradbury, had his own writing group.  In 1939 Forest J. Ackerman invited 19 year old Ray Bradbury to join  his group of science fiction writers.  They met   at Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles. 

I can just imagine Bradbury, “the kid,”  sitting at  the  cafeteria table with the other writers.  I'm picturing  a long formica table, littered with overflowing ashtrays and all-you-can-drink limade. Bradbury is  engaged in deep conversation with the likes of Emil Petaja, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Bracket, Jack Williamson and Robert A. Heinlein.

 Ray Bradbury sparked my love of science fiction.   My middle grade years were shaped by  Something Wicked This Way ComesThe Martian Chronicles, Ferhenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man.  Bradbury talked informally at Santa Barbara City College in the late seventies.  I remember he was so  authentic and enthusiastic.  He  wanted to pass on his passion for storytelling, like Forest J.Ackerman had passed it on to him in that writing group at Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles.

The right  group is out there if you really want to find one. There are all  kinds of writing groups  all over the place.  Meet-Up  offers  many local writing groups worth checking out.  You can try starting your own Meet-Up group.  Professional organizations  have resources too.  The  Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators refers members to  groups. 

I love that Ray Bradbury inspired  Stephen King.  Ray Bradury must have enjoyed reading King. I am sure the seasoned author that rose from the comradery at Clifton's Cafeteria appreciated King's lines as much as I do.  This is what I think about my writing group: 

"Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don't have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough."   -Stephen King