Stairs of Bloodred

The stairs might be reminiscent of blood, but this sweet little photo has great potential for stories. Anna Unkovich sent it to me from the vast collection she’s snapped on her many travels. (

Romance comes to my mind when I look at this photograph. I imagine two lovers meeting at the top in the dark of night to plan their elopement. They come from two different classes and have been forbidden to speak to each other. But somehow they have managed to fall in love, and want only to live together in peace. Will this trysting place bcome their stairway to heaven, or will it lead them down into despair?

Or I see an old man leaning on the railing, looking down into the still water below, remembering his life. The revolution, the betrayal, the deaths of his youth. The bittersweet loves of his middle years. The lonely isloation of old age. Where will this staircase lead him?

Who will you place on this staircase? What of this scene will be of significance? The still water? The surrounding trees? The red color of the stairs themselves? Do you—or do your characters—see these steps as leading them up to something (or out of something) or down into something?

Where will these stairs lead your story?

Susan Tuttle

 Comments?  Your ideas from this photo…


Definition: (N. or Adj. Lat. hieraticus, priest, holy) of or relating to priests; of or relating to styles of art that adhere to fixed types or methods; highly restrained and formal.
Synonyms: priestly, sacerdotal
Usage: The hieratic sculptures, though thought-provoking, left the viewers curiously unmoved.

10 Steps to the Top of the e-Book Chain

With the advance of technology, anyone who can put words into a word processing program and upload a file can post a book in electronic form. Witness the thousands of volumes that appear almost daily on Amazon’s Kindle, to say nothing of the other electronic venues.

With all that competition, how do you get your books noticed? There are any number of ways: social media; giveaways; reviews, etc. Those are all great ways get people to sample your first offering. But how do you keep them coming back for more? How do you make sure they will remember your name and keep buying your books? Follow these 10 steps to take your place at the top:

1) Do not to rush to publication. It’s so tempting to skip that last edit, not send the manuscript out for a final professional vetting and just get it out there. But one of the things I’m finding in reading e-Books is that the ease of posting one makes writers over-eager. They put out their books before the work is truly ready.

This is not happening with just the free or 99 cent books. I’m finding it true with well-established authors, too. One might think an e-Book is considered a poor cousin to the print version, an “Uncorrected Advance Proof,” if you will. The final, critical comb-through has not been done, leaving the reader to navigate a minefield of typos, missing punctuation, incorrect formatting and mis-used words. All of which pull them out of the story. Make your manuscript as picture-perfect as it can be by doing the following:

2) Take your manuscript though a good critique group (more than one is even better). Listen carefully to what others say about your story and your writing. Consider the adage: if one person says you’re a horse, they’re crazy. If three people tell you you’re a horse, it’s a conspiracy. If ten people tell you you’re a horse, it’s time to buy a saddle. (Thanks, Anna!) Let go of ypur ego and do what needs to be done to improve the manuscript.

3) Do the necessary revisions. Every story needs rewriting, most more than once. Work to make each draft better than the one before.

4) Have the “finished” manuscript critiqued again. This will address those nit-picky things that keep your story just below excellent. With this critique, you can hone until the story is truly tight and compelling.

5) Put it away (hard as that is) for at least a month. Six months is better. It’s the only way to gain the distance needed to be able to view it objectively to see if it needs further revisions.

6) Go over it one more time. Distance from the manuscript will help you check for inconsistencies, misspellings, shaky grammar, punctuation errors, etc. Correct anything you find and then…

7) Have it proofed by a copy editor and a concept editor. Hire editors as professional as you can afford. (If money is an issue—and when isn’t it?—try trading editing or proofing services with another writer.) I say two editors because not all editors are equally skilled at both kinds of editing. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one who is.

A copy editor (sometimes called a line editor) looks for typos, misspelled words, wonky punctuation and grammar errors. This is almost impossible to do yourself because, as the author, you know what it is supposed to say and your eye will correct it before your brain registers the mistake. (Trust me, I know. I grew up editing educational manuscripts that authors claimed were “perfect,” and found numerous errors every time.) It’s best to find someone who hasn’t yet read the book for copy editing. Concept editors will check for such things as consistency in character descriptions and characterizations, settings and action, errors in logic, missed words, consistency in story arc, subplot relevance, etc. It’s equally important to make sure Joe’s eyes aren’t blue in chapter 2 and green in chapter 10 as it is that everything is spelled correctly.

8) Format your book properly. Missing line breaks, the absence of indents, and paragraphs that don’t start on a new line can make even a well-written book unreadable. Been there, read a bunch of those. There are special formatting rules you need to know to format a book properly for e-format. If you don’t know them, or don’t know how to do them, find someone who does.

9) Hire a Professional Cover Designer. There is a specific format for e-book covers that includes size and placement of graphics and words. Visibility in thumbnail size is critical. Cover designers are not expensive and it’s well worth the $25—$50 to make sure your cover stands out from the rest.

10) Check your e-Book immediately after it’s posted. Don’t assume because you followed steps #1-#9 that your finished product will automatically be perfect. There may still be issues that need addressing, mistakes that weren’t caught. Price it a 99 cents, send it to two or three friends (as well as yourself), then have them check it thoroughly on an e-Book reader. Note any errors, correct them, then take the book down and upload the corrected version. You can adjust the price if needed once you know you’ve done all you could to erase any errors.

This sounds like a lot to have to do before getting your book into virtual print. But consider this: Say there are two books available in the same genre for the same price. Each are equally good stories. But from the previous work of these two authors, you know that Author A’s books often have misspellings, format problems and bad punctuation. Author B’s books are almost always perfect.

Which one would you want to read? Which would you spend your money on? Which one will rise to the top?

If you want to be at the top of the e-Book Chain, always give readers your very best.

Finn McCool On The Dark Side

Blog # 16: Finn McCool

A writer friend, Debra Davis Hinkle, who loves playing with her photo program, sent me this picture of her beloved horse, Finn McCool, who she lost in 2011. You can check her out on her KritiqueKritics Website: . She’s a fabulous writer and not bad with photos, either. She’s given us lots to play with here.

Horse Photo in infrared

Ask yourself: Why are the images limned in neon colors? Is it merely a trick of the light, or has something happened to the sun? Is this a post-apocalyptic world? Is the atmosphere dangerous now? Does everything glow with that unearthly light? Or is there something going on just in this field, in this one isolated spot? What could it be?

Is the horse confined within the field? If you look at the two parts of the fence, it appears as tough Finn had the latch in his mouth and is pushing through a gate. Where is he going? What is enticing him away from the field? Perhaps someone stole him away from his owner, and he is trying to get back. Or perhaps he is now part of this eerie world and has a more sinister errand in mind.

Why are there no stars in the sky? No moon glow? Is this a real scene, or only an illusion? A dreamscape of some kind. And whose illusion might it be—a person’s or the horse’s?

If you look closely at the horse, it appears that his body and mane are covered with a light coating of moss. Perhaps this is merely a statue, sculpted from bronze, slowly greening in a farmer’s field. If so, why would it be there? Who would have put it there? For what purpose? Or is this perhaps a long-lost painting from Vincent VanGogh? Where has it been all these years? Who found it. What is it worth? Will the art world accept it as authentic?

Even images that have been computer-enhanced can tell their own stories, tales very different from those the original photo would inspire. What do you see in this computer-twisted image?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this photo…

On Writing: “A novel is an impression, not an argument.” ~Thomas Hardy

The Cave Path

This photo, from really sparks the imagination. It presents a fabulous setting for an adventure, sci-fi or fantasy story, with a multitude of directions in which to wander.

At first glance, the bright spot appears to the the entrance to the cave, the way out. But what if it isn’t? What if it is the deepest part of the cave? What would cause such brilliance in a lightless environment? What dangers would explorers encounter if they enter that final chamber?

Who built the road on the cave floor? What is it used for? The scale here is difficult to determine, for we have no true frame of reference. The pathway could be merely a narrow ribbon, or a fairly wide roadway. Is it there simply to lure explorers into the depths of the cavern? What was it used for? Is it inanimate, or is it perhaps alive in some way?

The light spot in the dark slash on the left could be a half-hidden face, lurkning in the ebony shadows. Who might it be? Watching for what? For whom?

Now look deeper. Shift persepctive. What if this is the throat or esophagus of a living being and just appears to be a cave? What then awaits in that blaze of light? Is that the stomach, or the throat opening?

Cave photos are rich sources for otherworldly settings, as well as fodder for horror and adventure stories that will make you leave the lights on all night.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story/setting ideas from this photo…

I Recommend:  206 Bones, by Kathy Reichs. Only Kathy Reichs can twist a plot in suchnefarious ways. If you haven’t read any of the Temperance Brennan books, start with #1 (Deja Dead) and take them in order. But leave the lights on at night…

Some Kids Are Worth Keeping

After all this time of my asking for some photos, my son finally told me he has a Flickr account (xresonance is the name he uses). I went and took a look at his photos — what a treat! I had known he was a pretty good photographer (he’s also into cinematography) but I had no idea how good he’d gotten. And when he read my FB post about not using photos without permission, he told me I am free to use any of his I find on either his website ( or his Flickr account for my blog. So stay tuned to see some really fabulous snaps, courtesy of my son. I guess he’s worth keeping, after all…

And if anyone out there would like to send me a picture or two (thank you, Mark Arnold!) just to see what character, setting and/or story ideas they spark in my schitzoid brain, I’d love it. Make sure you give me all the ‘attribution’ information, like your name and web/blog sites, so I can do you justice. Being somewhat ‘lens challenged’ myself, I just love to see what other people can capture on film — digital or otherwise. Isn’t technology great (sometimes)??

Victorian Mourners

I found this photo at and fell in love with the many possibilities it presents for story ideas.


The most obvious is, of course, a funeral during Victorian times.  We can ask who these people are and what connection they had to the deceased. Are they relatives, friends, lovers, neighbors and/or enemies? Who is being buried? How did that person die? Why are there only five mourners at the graveside service?

What if it was a man who died and the women were all his wives? Do they know about each other? Or perhaps one of these people killed the deceased. Or all of them together. What if they are witches and wizards, disguised as normal people, waiting for the service to conclude so they can raise the dead?

Look at the trees in the background. They have a definite Goth feel to them. What if these five in black are cemetery ghosts and no one else can see them? What if one of them is the deceased person, attending in ghost form? In the foreground of the photo we see a mound of dirt on which the figures are standing. Is it just a barren hill they have climbed, or is there another grave behind them waiting to be filled? What does the state of the earth tell you about the season?

The middle woman seems to be holding something. What might it be? What will she do with it? What impact will it have on the service? And the man on the end has his hands clasped behind his back, as though he is bored. Why?

One intriguing photo, many story possibilities.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this photo…

Word of the Week: Elegiac (N or adj. Lat. elegiacus)
Definition: resembling or characteristic of or appropriate to an elegy; expressing sorrow, ofren for something past.
Synomyms: sorrowful, melancholy, mournful, sad
Usage: Her essay read more like an elegiac lament for her lost youthful ideals than an indictment of city government programs.

Fiction Writing is a Jugsaw Puzzle

Writing fiction is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. You fit the outside pieces first, so you have a framework to fill in (your story premise and theme), then you start placing pieces in to build the picture (scenes, characters, events).

The picture emerges slowly, not as a whole, but with intriguing colors here and captivating shapes there (the backstory and the characters’ relationships, actions and emotions). That’s what keeps you wondering what the whole picture will be when it’s finished, keeps you working on choosing the right pieces and finding where they go in the framework.  A little at a time: that’s what creates the tension that keeps readers reading.

Not all at once, but bit by bit, piece by piece, until at last the picture, the story, is complete. Choose just the right details of the backstory that will move the action forward as you develop relationships and emotions and write the action. Then your story will come together like a fascinating jigsaw puzzle that readers won’t be able to put down until they, too, see the full picture.

The New Baby

Here’s a poignant portrait of grandson Augustus Reid Arnold from the camera of  Grandpa (and marvelous sci-fi writer) Mark Arnold. He snapped this masterful portrait of the parents and siblings holding their new addition to the family. (Check out Mark’s great sci-fi novella at:

When we put on our writer’s thinking cap, lots of questions come to mind. Who is this child? Where is he? (Or she, we really can’t tell the baby’s gender from the photograph.) Who is holding him? Is it someone trying to spirit him away? Are those fairy hands touching him, or merely other children? Are they siblings, cousins, children of a commune? Perhaps this child is the fulfillment of a prophecy and enemies are tyring to carry him away. Or the forces of good are trying to keep him safe. Or he is being anointed into a secret society to fulfill an arcane destiny.

Look closely at the background. Is it simply a drape set to make the composition more dramatic? It could be soil, seen in the dark of night. Perhaps hills surround the baby, and these are the hands of creatures from the underworld rising to the surface of the earth or the ocean, come to steal him away. Just how many people are holding/touching him? Are they humans? Alien? Magical? Is the child human, or perhaps a hybrid being?

The possibilities are endless once you really start imagining.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this picture…

On Writing: “I like density, not volume. I like to leave something to the imagination. The reader must fit the pieces together, with the author’s discreet help.”  ~Maureen Howard

Winter World

A simple image this time, one of stark, monochromatic beauty from But oh, what a world of stories, characters and/or settings you can find here.

It’s the otherwoldly starkness of this image that appeals to my imagination. I can see an intrepid group of explorers landing on a strange new world to encounter a monochromatic environment that is hostile to human life. In the sweeping miles of ice and snow they find a lone tree, the only sign that life once flourished there. Suddenly, the air is full of—what? Snow? Frozen hydrogen? Or are those birds of prey or carnivorous insects flocking to intercept the first living beings they have seen in years?

This tree could be thrusting up through the clouds into the frozen vastness of space. Or perhaps it is a root system thrusting down through the crust of the planet.  Or it might not be a tree at all, but a creature from another world. Or an alien ship that roams between galaxies on an unknown mission. What kind of beings would live in such a ship? What might their mission be?

Or perhaps this ghostly tree stands not on the surface, but in an unexplored cave deep beneath our feet near the center of the earth. A center that science has told us is fiery hot, but that this photo tells us is frigid and sterile. Or is it?

What setting do you see in this photo?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story/setting ideas from this photo…

(Hint from Write It Right, Volume 1—Character: It is people’s quirks or weaknesses—their flaws—that make them interesting. Even your superheros should have feet of clay, or the reader will lost interest in them.)

Purple Heels

Writer Anna Unkovich ( sent me this fabulous photo of a pair of purple shoes. Not only is the photo great for inspiring stories, but the shoes are also my favorite color. No way I could fail to include them in this blog!

There are a multitude of story directions here. First, you could write the story of the shoes themselves. Where have they been? When did they get home? Or are they still out, maybe at a lover’s house or in a hotel room?

What kind of adventure have they been on? Why are they discarded haphazardly on the carpet and not put away neatly in the closet? It appears there is a sliding door at the right. Has the shoes’ owner simply kicked them off and gone outside barefoot? Why? With whom? For what purpose? What is outside that door?

Now broaden your thoughts. Who wore these shoes? What kind of person would be attracted to purple shoes that have marbled brown insets and red soles? And ankle straps, to say nothing of the height of the heels. For what purpose did this woman purchase these shoes? With what would she wear them? Is she a business woman who wears conervative suits and lets her shoes hint at her wilder side? Perhaps she’s a fashion model who wears only the height of fashion. Or she could be a grandmother hoping to recapture the glory of her youth with fanciful footwear. Or a teenager looking to appear older than her years. Or a working girl who does business on street corners, or an employee of an escort service.

Oh, the stories these shoes could tell. Why not try your hand at putting one of them down for others to read? What else are you dong this weekend?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

Word of the Week: Lubricious (Adj. Lat. Lubricus, slippery)

Definition: 1) Offensively displaying or intended to arouse sexual desire; 2) smooth and slippery with oil or similar substance

Synonyms: lustful, salacious, prurient; slick, greasy, unctuous

Usage: His lubricious smile made her wish she hadnt agreed to be alone with him.