Step-by-Stepping: Cut the Dross from Your Writing

I read my Tosca Lee newsletter for writers this morning, and right there, under the label of #4, was the paragraph I’ve been trying to tell my clients for quite some time:

Cut anything that does not move the story forward.  

What she describes next is what I call step-by-stepping:

The motions of every day life are exactly that: every day. You would not write “I unlocked the front door and closed it behind me, dropped the keys on the counter and turned on the lights,” unless these actions had unusual or special significance—i.e., it’s a very tense night because a killer is on the loose, and is in fact about to jump out from the closet. Instead, you would sum them up with something like: “After I got home…”

While Tosca’s topic was dialogue, this applies to narrative too. And what she says “you would not write” is exactly what I’ve seen in manuscripts I’ve edited. Sometimes it’s every bit as detailed as her example shows, and sometimes it’s just two steps: “he turned and . . . ” or “she reached out and . . .” or “he opened his eyes and saw . . .”—a real doozy if we’re in his POV, because it’s telling. Just show us what he saw.

Allow your reader to assume things. If the character is actually doing what he turned to do, the reader will assume he turned to do it. If the character is touching something she reached out for, the reader will assume she reached out to it.

I know where the inclination to step-by-step comes from. We see in our heads what we want to put on the page. The drama unfolds in our minds, and we want to present every nuance of it to the reader. It’s like trying to write every single movement an actor makes in a scene. Here’s the problem: what takes the actor a couple of seconds to do on the screen makes for boring reading.

So, as Tosca said, unless those actions have “unusual or special significance,” cut them.

The one caveat to this is if you’ve made a big deal about the action ahead of time. For instance, if you’ve made it a point to tell the reader the characters are fifteen feet away from each other, and all of a sudden he’s caressing her cheek, then you have to move him to caressing distance.

But sometimes, step-by-stepping is made necessary because of an unnecessary preamble.

Say you made a big deal about an action ahead of time. Was that action necessary, or dross? If it was an action beat, for example, could the beat be eliminated? Could it be replaced with inner thought? Eliminating the beat may demand that you strengthen the dialogue, which is a bonus. That’s preferred anyway. Using an inner thought could strengthen characterization, which is a bonus—especially if that thought contradicts the dialogue.

Always aim higher, stronger, than everyday actions.

What if we’re moving our characters from one place to another? How important is the ride itself? Is it filled with tense, vital dialogue or just description of the scenery outside the window? Is the vehicle being tailed? Side-swiped? Bumped? Or is it just a nice little drive?

Unless illustrating the ride from point A to point B is vitally important to the plot or characterization, cut it. You can segue your characters to their new location or simply use a scene break and put them there. Describing how they get there is irrelevant.

If you tend to exceed your word count, eliminating the step-by-step dross will help considerably. These few examples don’t begin to cover the kinds of things that can be cut without injury.

However, adding them in to increase your word count will only weaken your manuscript. There are so many other ways. Choose a better one.





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Christian Releases for December 2018!

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Who I Am with You by Robin Lee Hatcher — Jessica was pregnant and facing divorce when her husband and daughter were killed in a car accident. Withdrawing from friends and family, she feels far away from God. Then months later she receives her great-grandfather’s Bible at her grandmother’s funeral. Ridley has suffered his own loss. Bitter over disgrace at his job, an ended career, and subsequent breakup with is girlfriend, he retreats to a vacation property owned by his parents to lick his wounds and hide from the press. Thumbing through the Bible later, Jessica journeys through the aged margin notes, back to faith and wholeness. And the broken roads they have followed bring Jessica and Ridley to each other as well. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)


Three Christmas Novellas by Mary Connealy — Three Christmas Novellas in one volume: Long Horn Christmas, The Sweetest Gift and The Christmas Candle. (Historical, Independently Published)

The Making of Mrs. Hale by Carolyn Miller — Can a runaway marriage ever be redeemed? Julia Hale ran off to be married in Gretna Green, following romance instead of common sense. But her tale isn’t turning into a happily ever after. Her new husband is gone and she doesn’t know where—or if he’s ever coming back. Julia has no option but to head home to the family she betrayed by eloping and to hope they’ll forgive her.Along the way she will learn how relationship with God can bring restoration and hope, and find the answers she needs both for her husband and her future. (Historical, Kregel Publications)

Child of Light by Annette O’Hare — While praying for her own Christmas miracle after five years in a childless marriage, Margaret offers aide to a destitute and expectant young woman during the holidays. She is condemned for her decision to help a woman of ill repute and must face the consequences of doing what is right. Will Margaret’s prayers for a child of her own be answered this Christmas or does God have something else in store? (Historical from Harbourlight Books [Pelican])

The Plum Blooms in Winter by Linda Thompson — Inspired by a Gripping True Story from World War II’s Daring Doolittle Raid–Japan, 1948: A prostitute seeks her revenge; a war hero finds his true mission. (Historical from Mountain Brook Ink)


Historical Romance:

The MissAdventure Brides Collection by Mary Davis, Cynthia Hickey, Kathleen E. Kovach, Debby Lee, Donna Schlachter, Marjorie Vawter, and Kimberley Woodhouse — Seven daring damsels refuse to let the cultural norms of their eras hold them back! Follow along as they trek the wilderness as a fur trapper; teach in the backwoods; campaign for women’s rights; breed llamas; drive cross-country; become a hotel tour guide; and pursue art. Will they meet men who admire their bravery and determination? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Kiss Me Once Again by Gail Kittleson — When Glenora Carson’s first love perishes along with the crew of the U.S.S. Arizona on December 7, 1941, she locks away her heart and her dreams of attending college on scholarship, instead choosing to hold down the home front by helping out the family business – Carson’s Garage. The grease-stained overalls don’t do much to compliment her female figure, but they cover her female heart well enough. That is, until Hank Anderson, a wounded warrior back from battle, walks into the garage and into Glenora’s life. Is an old maid’s future Glenora’s fate, or will Cupid throw a wrench in her plans? (Historical Romance from WordCrafts Press)

Stagecoach to Liberty by Janalyn Voigt — Can a desperate young woman trust the handsome Irish stranger who wants to free her from her captors? (Historical Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)



Amish Romance:

The Amish Sweet Shop by Laura Bradford, Mary Ellis, and Emma Miller — It’s almost Valentine’s Day at Beechy’s Sweets, where the Amish gifts of love and faith are even sweeter than the home-made candy. In The Sweetest Courtship by Emma Miller, bachelor Jacob Beechy is a master candy maker whose mother longs for grandchildren, so she sets out to find him an assistant confectioner during the Valentine’s holiday—and a wife. In The Sweetest Truth by Laura Bradford, Sadie Fischer can’t see beyond her scars from a barn fire, but there’s a young man who sees only sweetness when he looks at her, and he’s sending her Beechy’s chocolate and mysterious gifts leading up to Valentine’s Day. In Nothing Tastes So Sweet by Mary Ellis, Pregnant widow Hannah wants to buy her English employer’s hardware store, but ends up following a clue from Beechy’s to clear a man’s name—and finds a partnership in work, faith, and love. (Amish Romance from Kensington)

Amish Christmas Memories by Vannetta Chapman — When a young Amish woman collapses in the snow shortly before Christmas, Caleb Wittmer rushes to her aid. Only, “Rachel” remembers nothing of who she is. Now his family has taken in the pretty stranger, disrupting Caleb’s ordered world. He’s determined to find out where she belongs…even if Rachel’s departure means saying goodbye to his old-fashioned heart forever. (Amish Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

A Quilt for Jenna (Apple Creek Dreams #1) by Patrick E. Craig — On her way to win a quilting competition—and a ticket out of Amish life, Jerusha finds her God, her missing husband, and a lost little girl in the heart of the Storm of The Century. (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)

The Road Home (Apple Creek Dreams #2) by Patrick E. Craig — Adopted into an Amish family as a child, local historian Jenny Springer is looking for the parents she never knew. When Jenny meets Jonathan Hershberger, a drifter from San Francisco who lands in Apple Creek fleeing a drug deal gone wrong, she is intrigued by this Englischer with an Amish name, and offers to help him discover his Amish roots. While Jonathan discovers his need for home, family, and a relationship with God, Jenny finds more than she hoped for—truth and love and the knowledge that you can go home again. (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)

Jenny’s Choice (Apple Creek Dreams #3) by Patrick E. Craig — When Jenny’s husband disappears in a terrible boating accident, she returns home to Apple Creek, Ohio and her adoptive parents. Working through her grief, she pursues newfound writing dreams and is presented with a possible romance with a handsome young publisher, until the elders of her church confront her consideration of going outside her faith to pursue her dreams. At the same a faint hope that her husband might someday be found alive holds her heart in the past. (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)

Minding the Amish Baby by Carrie Lighte — Amish store clerk Tessa Fisher isn’t ready for marriage or a family—until a baby girl is abandoned on her doorstep. Now Tessa and her gruffly handsome landlord, Turner King, must mind the baby together. And soon Turner and the sweet-cheeked kind are burrowing into Tessa’s heart. But with secrets between them, can the temporary family find a way to stay together forever? (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)

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Especially for Writers: NaNo Edition

For those stressing to make the goal on the last day:

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Cyber-Monday Special!

Skydiving to Love

is on sale for only 99c at all the major outlets!

Find Skydiving to Love at Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Amazon!

Grab it now! This deal won’t last!


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Especially for Authors: NaNo 2018 Edition

Dear NaNo Writers who are sacrificing November to do what you love:

You’re on the homestretch. Hang in there!

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A Day of Thanks

I have a lot to be thankful for, and all my readers are included on the list.

To those who have been with me for years and to those who are new,

Thank You!


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Pre-Black Friday and Beyond!

From today through next Wednesday,

Skydiving to Love

is on sale for only 99c at all the major outlets!

Find Skydiving to Love at Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Amazon!

Great read for the holidays!


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Books, BookBub, and Begging

With Thanksgiving weekend coming up, I have a divided mind. Divided three ways, in fact. Thanksgiving itself, including all the people and things I’m thankful for and all the rigamarole that goes along with planning, cooking, and traveling at this time.

My mind’s also on Black Friday and how I can avoid it while still taking advantage of some of the specials.

Which leads me to the third thing on my mind: Business.

Specifically mine and how I can benefit you–in return for a favor or two. (There. The truth comes out. I’m not above begging . . .)

A Southern Season Soap Giveaway!

Have you been to my website lately? If so, then you’ve seen the giveaway I’m hosting to promote both A Southern Season, a collection that includes my novella Ice Melts in Spring, and a luxurious new specialty soap I’ve found and love. Not to mention my newsletter. I’m always trying to find new subscribers who are interested in hearing about new releases, sales, specials, book reviews, and so on.

For our giveaway, the authors involved in A Southern Season and I all chose a soap from Brea Rose Soap Garden. The one I chose was “Coastal Mist,” pictured at the right, and I bought extra for my own giveaway.

You can find out more about this in the “Extras” tab of my website, but here’s the quick version: if you don’t take my Coffee with Linda newsletter already, sign up for it to be entered into the giveaway. If you do get my newsletter, use the “Contact” page on my website to let me know you want to be entered.

The drawing will be December 17, and winner will receive both the soap and a free copy of A Southern Season! Y’all enter the contest!

Black Friday (and longer) Special!

Here’s a benefit without a “beg” attached: From this Wednesday to next Wednesday, Skydiving to Love will be on sale for only 99c at all the major outlets!

If you haven’t read this romance novella yet, you’re in for a treat. This story is just plain fun.

JoJo Merritt and her friends dared each other to do the biggest thing on their bucket lists. For JoJo, the dare is moot. As a large animal vet, she’s already living her bucket list. But to pacify her friends, she blurts out that she’ll go skydiving.

A curious choice for someone who’s never been in a plane before.

First thing she discovers is that she’s terrified of flying. The second thing is that the guy in the passenger plane next to her is a good-lookin’ hunkuva honey. Add these two together, and you’ve got one fun adventure!

I’ll remind you of this Wednesday morning, but y’all be sure to take advantage of it. Skydiving to Love will be a fun escape after all the craziness of Black Friday and the Thanksgiving holidays.

WANTED: BookBub Buddies!

(My beg without a benefit.)

Are you a member of BookBub? It’s one of the best sites for readers and authors alike. I love it because it lets me know when my favorite authors have new releases and it allows those same authors to make book recommendations to me. Through their newsletter, I get to see other books that might interest me also.

I would love it if you would follow me on BookBub. If you’re an author, I’d be happy to return the favor.

There ya go. Favors asked; begging completed. I’ll try not to do it too often.



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Especially for Writers: NaNo Edition

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Tips for Participating in Novella Collections

The newly published A Southern Season is the third novella collection I’ve participated in, the first that was traditionally published, and I can tell you—I love writing novellas and being in collections.

As I’ve mentioned before, I use these novellas to play in genres I don’t usually get to write in—in other words, I play outside my brand. Is that smart? Well, let’s consider that, among several other things about participating in collections.

The Pros and Cons of Participating in Collections

As with anything else in this business, there are good points and bad…


  • Increased visibility and opportunity to expand your audience:

Most collections have an “anchor” author, a more established writer who is likely to bring in readers. People buy the collection based on that person’s name alone and will often (but not always, sad to say) read and appreciate any new-to-them names in the collection.

  • The opportunity to establish yourself in your genre:

This goes hand in hand with the first point. Those who read and love your story in the collection will look for other things you’ve written. You’ll gain fans—and fans talk. Word-of- mouth is the best advertising there is.

  •  The opportunity to play in another genre (my reason for doing collections):

Long story short of my history as an author is that my first release branded me—not just as a romance writer, but a cowboy romance writer, leaving me genre-locked. Not entirely a bad thing, but I read all genres and would like to play in several of them.

If you’re a fairly new published author with a fear of being genre-locked, collections are the perfect place to get outside your brand and stretch your wings a little. Best result is that you could find a genre you enjoy and understand how to transition from what you currently do to what you want to do or learn how to market yourself in both genres. Or, like me, you can discover another genre that fits well enough with what you write that any kind of major crossover event won’t lose you readers.

  • Source of income:

Okay, not a huge source of income, but still a source of income.

  • Publishing cred:

This can be a big deal if you’re unpublished or not published in fiction or not published in the collection’s genre.


  • The collection will be reviewed and rated as a whole:

The weak link can bring down the entire collection, so unless your novella gets singled out with positive reviews, you’ll suffer the fate assigned to the collection as a whole. Best thing is not to be the weak link yourself.

  • Playing too far outside your brand won’t bring readers to your other novels:

Herein lies the rub for my novella in A Southern Season—it is so different from anything else I’ve ever written that those who love this more serious side of me may not care for my lighter romances. If you’re working on building a readership, try not to stray too far.

  • Source of income is divided:

If it’s indie-pubbed, the royalties are divided among the authors. If you’re with a traditional publisher, a percentage of gross sales goes to the publisher, the editor, the marketing staff, and whoever else was involved in producing the book.

So it’s important to know why you want to be in a collection. If you want to become a rich, overnight sensation, you may want to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for visibility, creds, and just a chance to play, you’re in the right place.

What to Consider When Participating in a Collection

After you’ve decided whether joining a collection is for you, how do you know whether the one you’re asked to join (or starting) is the right one? Here are a few things to consider…

  • Can you write “short”?

Generally, a novella is between 20,000 and 50,000 words, and must contain everything you’d find in a full-length novel. Characterization and setting description matter just as much. So do the plot and character arcs. The end of the story must be fulfilling. If you have trouble paring down your word count, this may not be for you.

  • What are the genre and theme?

At least one of the reviewers judged Ice Melts in Spring, my novella for A Southern Season, as a Romance, which it’s not. In fact, only one of the novellas in the collection can be considered straight romance. A Southern Season is pitched as stories from the American South, which can be anything. Readers looking at the list of authors and assuming the genre could be disappointed.

So if you’re not clear on the genre, or if the collection offers a variety of genres—like Coming Home, a Tiny House Collection—be sure your fellow authors have an idea in mind how to present it. The common thread in the multi-genre Coming Home is the tiny house. The only thing that connects the different stories is roughly four-hundred square feet of “home.”

The benefit of Coming Home was being able to write what we wanted, as long as we included a tiny house, which is a similar benefit to writing for A Southern Season. All we needed to do was have the setting in the South. But how do you pitch a multi-genre book—and to whom? Fortunately there are ways, but it’s best to get an idea of how early in the process.

The collection I’m reading now, The Great Lakes Lighthouse Bridesis strictly defined. The lighthouse is the common thread—and not just any lighthouse. Lighthouses of the Great Lakes region of America. The genre is Romance, but not just any Romance. Historical Romance. Check out the front cover blurb:  “7 Historical Romances Are a Beacon of Hope to Weary Hearts.”

Despite the restrictions on what you write, the benefit of Lighthouse Brides is that it’s easier to market. The audience is defined, so you know who you’re writing to—women who enjoy Historical Romance. The only leeway allowed in this novella collection is the year in which your Historical Romance takes place.

If the genre is defined for you, be sure you can write in it. In a collection, a novice can be seen a mile away because those who most frequently write in that genre will be sitting side by side with someone who doesn’t. Comparison between the experienced and the novice is too easy. Don’t come across as the novice, whether you are or not. Learn the genre’s elements and structure before you start.

  • What is the tone?

In A Southern Season, we have three serious novellas and one that has a lighter tone. So far, in what I’ve read in Lighthouse Brides, all of the novellas have the same fairly serious tone. The now unpublished The Bucket List Dare, for which I wrote Skydiving to Lovewas a blend of tones, as was Coming Home.

This makes me wonder how the reader feels, after enjoying a lighthearted comedy romance, to have to transition to something heart-wrenching.

What tone are you comfortable writing in? If the entire collection is comedy, can you keep up?

  • Who are the authors and how many, and who is the anchor?

You want at least one big-name author to up your visibility. And if the other authors are at least “out there,” you increase your chances of visibility and sales. Marketing is easier too. Each team member has their own followers to pitch to. Keep in mind, though, that the more authors on the byline, the smaller the percentage of royalties divvied out among them.

Additional considerations for indie-collections:

Once the team is assembled, everyone needs to be clear and in agreement about tasks and pre- and post-pub expenses.

You’ll want to discuss–

  • who will edit?
  • who will format?
  • who will design the cover?
  • where will the book be distributed?
  • what is the marketing plan? (and will you be willing to pay as a group for ads and services?)
  • who keeps the bank account?
  • how and when will royalties be disbursed?

Considering how many of these I’ve done—and I’m in a new one that’ll release in August of 2019 called The Cowboys (a Historical Romance collection)—you can tell I’m a fan. But I believe I’ve given you enough to think about while you determine whether writing for a collection is right for you.


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