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Significant Details

September 14, 2012 3 comments

I started a book once. I’m sure it was a great book. The problem was I couldn’t get past the first few pages. It was the age-old problem. There was too much information. My interest waned as the author described each person, place, and object in minute detail. Maybe it was impatience on my part, but I wanted to get to the meat of the story.

Details are vital to any story. I won’t deny that. What we must do, is learn to discern between significant and insignificant details.

Significant details make a story come to life. … Insignificant details? They bore the reader.

Imagine this scene: A man, gun in hand, is chasing a woman through a garden. Do we really need a description of each tree, flower, and weed in the garden? Do we need a detailed description from head to toe of the woman as she runs? Of the man as he chases her? I think not. They’re not necessarily significant.

Some details are fluff. Some are absolutely necessary. The setting, now that can be vital. Is this scenario unfolding at midnight in an abandoned garden miles from the nearest town? Or is it in the garden of a posh estate where guests are scattering left and right to clear a path for her as she runs from her pursuer? Such details are significant. 

More importantly, we want to know why she’s running. We want to know what she is feeling. We want to know why the man with the gun is chasing her. We want to feel emotionally connected to the characters. We want the plot. These details are significant.

Of course, a different story line introduces a different set of significant details. A young woman meandering through a garden, reminiscing of moments spent there with her beloved fiancé who has gone off to war—now I could see her stopping to admire the flowers. She might nostalgically pick a rose, one like her fiancé had given her in the past. As she brushes it close to her face, its fragrance brings back sweet memories. In this scenario the flowers are significant.

Significant or insignificant? What type of details are we writing into our letters, articles, or novels? Are we taking the time to go back and delete the insignificant? Any thoughts to share? Please feel free to write in the comment box.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three Christian suspense novels: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! If you want to connect with me, join me on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.  Interested in updates by email? CLICK HERE!

Have a question? Email Me!

Categories: Writing Tags: ,

When NOT to Follow the Rules

August 23, 2012 2 comments

Sometimes rules are made to be broken. Even grammar rules.
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I’m a rule-follower by nature—and a compulsive reader on top of that. Combine those two traits and you have someone that knows rules that a good portion of the population don’t know exist and religiously follows them.

Well, maybe not quite that bad. But you get my point. I don’t intentionally break rules. But sometimes we must. We need to know when NOT to follow the rules.

As much as I love grammar, as much as I love studying the structure and intricacies in language,  I know there are times when grammatical rules must be forsaken or I will fail as a writer.

There are times when self-expression trumps the revered style guides.

Rules NOT to Follow: (at least not ALL of the time!)

1.  Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction, such as AND or BUT. 

But what about when you’re trying to make a statement? Right. You get it now. Point taken.
Sometimes it is necessary to begin a sentence with a conjunction to make a point. It adds emphasis.

2.  Never use sentence fragments.

Talk about shoving self-expression into a box and throwing it into a deep pit. A dark pit. A pit filled with grammar rules etched into its walls. A dark pit that insists each sentence fragment be rewritten as a complete sentence.

We must rescue sentence fragments from the pit. Sentence fragments add emphasis and zing. They don’t dwell on what they’re getting at. They just say it. Short and snappy.  Self-expression at its best.

3.  A paragraph must be between three and five sentences long.

We live in a fast-paced society. We scan multiple articles on the worldwide web on a daily basis. We even read posts on our smartphones. We’re in a rush. Has this affected the desired paragraph length?

Maybe, maybe not. Literary style, as with other styles, changes with time.

Whatever the reason, particularly in articles and posts, short paragraphs reign. They pull us along rather than bogging us down. They get to the point.

Longer paragraphs aren’t all bad. In writing fiction, I prefer a blend of shorter and longer paragraphs to keep staleness at bay.

And then there are those one sentence—or one word—paragraphs. A rebellious blend of sentence fragment and too short of paragraph. But they make their point. Wonderfully.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. This is just to get your creative juices flowing, to get your mind considering that literary license may permit you to break the rules. At least some of them.

Our goal is to communicate. If the rules get in the way of communication, put them on the shelf.

Learn the rules. Learn how to use them. And learn when its time for self-expression to trump the rules.

(A Note to the Wise: Remember to keep a balance in all things. Don’t go to the extreme and use literary license as an excuse for poor grammar. Overuse kills the effectiveness!)

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Are you ready to break the rules? Do you have any examples of your own to share? Please do so in the comments section.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three Christian suspense novels: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! If you want to connect with me, join me on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.  Interested in updates by email? CLICK HERE!

Have a question? Email Me!

Putting on Your Oxygen Mask

June 28, 2012 6 comments
English: In-flight safety demonstration on boa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia – Public Domain)

Flight attendants are always stressing the need to put on your oxygen mask before assisting your child.

It’s one of those instructions that you just don’t want to listen to. You want to help you child first. But the reality is, the flight attendant is right.

You’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask first in order to best assist your child.

It’s the same in life. We need to put on our figurative oxygen mask first in order to be best equipped to help others. If we’re neglecting our health through lack of sleep, lack of consistent exercise, a poor diet, and generally not taking the time to de-stress, we’re doing not only a disservice to ourselves, but also to those around us.

I can visualize your heads nodding in agreement. Mine is.

But the question remains: Is your oxygen mask on?

Women in particular tend to look after others at the detriment of their own health. It must be that mothering instinct kicking in. Life can begin to take priority over caring for ourselves.

I know the feeling.
I know the pit holes.
And I know I’ve fallen right into them.

Working full-time, tutoring our twin sons through their senior year of high school, and taking on added responsibilities when my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer meant that life simply took over. 

Looking after self took a backseat to more pressing duties. There seemed no way to put the oxygen mask on first. I was too busy juggling everyone else’s oxygen masks.

At first I didn’t see it. It was just survival. As time went on I saw the detrimental side to the situation—but not the remedy. I knew I needed to make changes for my own health, but the when and how eluded me. I waited for a break in the cycle. I waited for an opportunity for change.

It finally came. As I saw the end in sight with tutoring our twin sons, I began to plan. Finally, the last of the assignments was submitted. We wait for graded papers to be returned. We wait for the long-awaited diplomas. And suddenly I’ve gained an extra few evenings a week. It is a liberating feeling.

It’s time to put on the oxygen mask. It is time to start taking deep breaths.It’s time to fit in looking after myself in order to better help the family—and quickly, before life fills in all the gaps again. A plan has been put in motion.

♦  A healthier diet has been implemented. 

♦  My pathetic twice-a-month (if that!) exercise routine has been replaced by an exercise plan averaging three to five times a week.

♦  With an annual physical several months away, goals have been set to lose weight and improve my overall health before that date.

So there. I’ve said it. I have admitted it. I have verbally committed myself to healthier habits. I have verbally committed to keeping my oxygen mask on.

What about you? Is your oxygen mask on? Are there changes you need to make? Admitting it is usually a pretty good start. Are you ready for a change? Let me know in the comments! Admit it—and in doing so, commit yourself.

If you’re a writer, do I dare challenge you to put your oxygen mask on before you make greater commitments to write? It stands to reason that a healthier you will result in a more effective and creative writer. Take up the challenge today!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three Christian suspense novels: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

It’s Five in the Morning…

June 12, 2012 4 comments
alarm clock, bought from IKEA

(Photo credit: Wikipedia, Public Domain)

So it’s five o’clock in the morning…

…making this nearly six o’clock alarm to the left look very appealing!

The coffee is on. A mug sits steaming beside me, the steam peeking up over the edge of the mug, seeking to confirm that I really am sitting here on the couch at this unprecedented hour. Coffee fed intravenously would probably be more effective at this point.

I reassure the steam from my coffee that it really is me sitting here, but only because I’m in an experiment to see how well creativity flows at such an early hour. I’m a six o’clock and not a minute before girl.

Still, I’m up for a challenge and the challenge has been given. Actually, the challenge was to wake up two hours earlier and write, but waking up at four would leave me in an undesirable state to be around for a good part of the day. Not a good idea.

Compromise was inevitable. I know creativity can flow in the evening, and considered being a non-conformist, staying up later rather than waking up earlier. That’s worked for me in the past. I wrote an entire novel in the late evening when our children were small. Granted, when they were small they went to bed early, my hubby went to bed early, and I had a quiet house all to myself—minus the distractions of the day.

Fast forward many years. My children are no longer small. These young adult men that now tower over me don’t go to bed early. Quiet, distraction-free evenings no longer exist. Going to bed around eleven means I’m the first one to bed.

Mornings may be the answer. Mornings fall into the distraction-free time zone. Yet the question remains: Can I get creativity to flow before six in the morning? 

I’m willing to try. Willing to experiment. My compromise is that I’m waking one hour earlier to see if this is even profitable for me.

I’ve survived several days of the experiment, but survived is the operative word. I figure to prove or disprove it, I should give it a few weeks, so I’ll stick it out for a while longer before giving an opinion. I’ll check in at a later date and let you know if early morning works for me—or if I’ve decided to be a nonconformist and work out a different approach!

How about you? When do you write? And why? What works for you? Let me know in the comment section!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three Christian suspense novels: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

Join the Challenge: 15 Habits of Great Writers

I’ve enjoyed Jeff Goins’ blog for a while now. I love his style. He knows how to write. Then he put out a 15 day challenge to writers called 15 Habits of Great Writers. Today marks day three of the challenge—but it’s never to late to join. Click on the graphic to the left to find out how.

Being very goal oriented, I liked the idea of a challenge. As I signed up, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was to be an easy challenge—or a “straight-up-the-mountain-without-climbing-gear” type of challenge.

DAY ONE was easy.

Great writers declare that they are writers. It’s as simple as that. Having reached the point where I finally admitted I am a writer, I didn’t feel the need to restate it. (You may want to read my post called I Am a Writer.)

DAY TWO sounded easy at the get go.

Believe. Great writers believe they are writers. We need to believe we are writers. Okay, I’ll admit it. I was a bit disillusioned at that point. I had declared that I’m a writer. I believe that I’m a writer. Can we get to the nuts and bolts? Please? (The Canadian politeness in me had to shine through.)

I think Jeff must have heard me, rubbed his hands together, and thought, “She has asked for it!” … Well, not really. He’s nicer than that. But he did move briskly on from our need to “marinate” on the idea of our being writers to this bold statement:

And just so you don’t think this is all esoteric, you’re going to do something radical. You’re going to get up two hours early and write.

Gulp. Not a little sip or swallow, but a humongous gulp.

Two hours early? Are you crazy!

(Right, the Canadian politeness was in short supply in that initial moment.)

I sat back and pondered the idea. I pondered lunacy. And I pondered the fact that I was even pondering on the idea. Did I even dare consider the possibility? Or did I break the mold, be a non-conformist, and give in to my night owl tendencies?

I read through the comments. Someone had to back me up that waking up two hours earlier bordered on lunacy. I kept reading through the comments.

Admittedly, there were a few that expressed that they were night owls, not the early-bird-that-gets-the-worm type—but most were ready to try the morning thing. I must agree that there is the strange draw of community, of knowing other writers are up writing just when you are!

But the real concept? It’s about commitment.

It’s about not just declaring I am a writer, not just believing I am a writer, but consistently writing.

Not tweeting about it. Not reading about it. Not even facebooking about it. But actually writing.

The dilemma arises. To conform or not to conform? To be a part of the community that arises early and writes—or not to be a part of that community?

Being a night owl, I’ve reached a compromise. I’ll continue to get some writing in at night, but I will commit to experiment with how well the brain juices flow at five in the morning.  I may be pleasantly surprised. 

Who wants to join me? Who wants to be a part of this early morning community? I would love to hear your thoughts on when works best for you to write. If you decide to join the 15 day challenge, I would love to hear that too!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three Christian suspense novels: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

Are Writers Actors of the Mind?

May 22, 2012 8 comments

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” ~ Robert Frost

crying emoticone

(Photo credit: Wikipedia – Public Domain)

Robert Frost nailed it in this quote. If you want your reader to be moved by your story, you need to be moved by it. If you want them to cry, write yourself to tears first. If you want fear to immobilize your readers, to cause their breath to come in short gasps, write yourself into that fear.

You cannot write like an android. You must become a part of the story. You must get into the body of your character to make the emotions real.

I see your mouth open to protest: “But I don’t understand the fear I’m trying to write into my character.”

…or the anxiety of waiting all night for a child to return home.

…or the sorrow of losing a loved one.

…or the joy of childbirth.

No sweat. You are a writer. Writers are full of imagination—so imagine! Sit down and imagine the scene before you. Be an actor—an actor of the mind.

Imagine the anxiety as you wait for a child that should have been home hours earlier. Your mind races. Sleep won’t come. You’re trying unsuccessfully to not imagine the worst.

Can you feel the fear that creates a constricting band around your chest, squeezing the air from your lungs, as you see a police cruiser pull up in front of your house? As the officer gets out of the cruiser and walks solemnly to your front door, your heart is pounding so hard it hurts.

Pressure builds in your head as you force your hand to reach for and open the door for the officer. You’re not sure if you’re hearing him right. Is it because you really can’t comprehend—or because you don’t want to?

Maybe you’ve never faced that exact scenario. Thankfully, I haven’t. But we’ve all felt fear. We’ve all felt anxiety.

We know we can’t negate the importance of life’s experiences.

We know that writing from personal experience will always ring true, but we don’t want to have to live through every heart-wrenching experience that our characters face.

So we take what we know, we take what we understand, and we build on it.

For myself, part of the writing process isn’t even done with pen in hand—or laptop. It’s the time spent living the next scene in my mind. It’s feeling the scenario. It’s playing out the characters actions and reactions, their thoughts and actual words.

Not every thought, not every feeling will end up in writing. But they’re still important because they set the scene. They set the feel for the scene.

Could I write all their thoughts and feelings? Sure I could, but it would be overwhelming for the reader. The goal is to give enough to set the stage—and then give the reader credit to fill in the blanks.

Comments anyone? I would love to know how many of you sit and live your next scene before writing it. Or do you just write it as you go? 

Related articles


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

Categories: Writing Tags:

To Outline or Not to Outline

May 15, 2012 11 comments

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. ”
― E.L. Doctorow

Agreed. Writing is writing. Planning, outlining and researching are a means to an end—a means to write.

Famous quotes are always a good jumping board. Let’s begin with one from Shakespeare:

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Let’s make our own quote for writers:

“To outline or not to outline, that is the question.”

It’s a question that can divide writers. It’s a question that brings out extreme opinions. There are two camps—and both can be pretty headstrong in their opinions!

Here are the two extremes:

  • OUTLINES ARE ESSENTIALS: Some would insist that not writing an outline somehow disqualifies one from being a real writer. They would insist that an outline is not just necessary, but essential to a polished plot.
  • OUTLINES KILL CREATIVITY: Others argue that creating an outline stunts their spontaneity, stifling the creative force. They may even go as far as to say that an outline is a mere crutch.

Does one side have to be right—and the other dead wrong?

Not necessarily. … I believe it’s a matter of personal preference. We’re all different. Some of us are compulsive list makers; some approach life with a “winging it” type attitude. Some thrive and produce when surrounded by activity and noise; others need solitude and peace in order to produce. Like I said, we’re all different.

We need to accept our differences and quit trying to pressure other people to squeeze into our personal mold.

If you’re an adamant outliner…

…accept the fact that there are great writers out there that will never be able to formulate a workable outline. It really will kill their creativity—or frustrate them so deeply that they give up on writing. Do you really want to kill their creativity? I doubt that’s the case.

If you’re one of those that look on outlines as a crutch…

…you’ll need to throw away your prejudice and accept that there are some who would be forced to live on continual pause if denied the right to draft an outline before writing their next bestseller. They just can’t write without an outline. For them, it is essential. Do you really want to push their pause button until it’s stuck in place? I doubt it. I think you are much kinder than that!

And then there’s those personalities that straddle the extremes…

…of which I happen to be one. I see the values on both sides. I’ve done one. I’m trying the other. I like both. There are pros and cons to both sides. I’m guessing I’ll flip flop between the extremes depending on my inspiration at the time. Okay, you have my permission to call me weird. It won’t be the first time! But hear me out. Hear the why and how:

  • NO OUTLINE:
    Betrayed, my first novel, began as a thought that got stuck in my mind. It settled in and refused to budge.  It was the idea of a man standing accused of murder, but with no memory of who he was or whether he really were guilty or not. My novel began on what is now chapter six with Jeremi coming to consciousness after a blow to his head. Police are swarming him. He reaches for a gun—but doesn’t have one. He’s shot, arrested, and accused of murdering an FBI agent. But there’s no memory to back it up. Is he guilty or not?

    • PROS: The pure fun of having the story flow onto paper, of having an adventure each day I wrote, waiting to see where the story took me. Pure creativity that is not stifled one bit. That can be a pretty great pro!
    • CONS: After I began writing, I did have to figure out how Jeremi got into this predicament—which brought into existence chapters one through five. And yes, there are the inevitable tweaks to be made to be sure they story line agrees with itself.
  • CHAPTER BY CHAPTER OUTLINE:
    Always one to try something new and suggested—and not afraid to try it big—I’ve mapped out a chapter by chapter outline for a trilogy. I’m not that far into writing it yet—and I’m not dogmatic that I have to stick to the letter of the law with it.

    • PROS: I know where I’m headed. I can read the chapter heading and thoughts and start writing. Many of the kinks are already worked out.
    • CONS: If I take it too seriously, I may become a stickler for the outline, and lose creativity. But fear not, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m only three chapters into book one of the trilogy and one of those chapters didn’t exist on the outline—but morphed into being, seemingly necessary and appropriate! I think I’m actually going to like this outline concept—even if I’ve already written three books without one!

The real question is: What works for YOU? It doesn’t really matter what works for me. It doesn’t matter what works for J.K. Rowling or John Grisham. What matters is what works for YOU. Figure that out and keep writing!

Comments anyone? I would love to know which extreme works for you! Any practical suggestions to share? I’d love those too!

Related articles


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

Categories: Writing Tags:
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