Saturday, May 28, 2011


…beginning in the right place. Once the writer understands this very basic concept, all of the “rules” begin to make sense.

And, what is the “right place?” To start with, it’s important to have an understanding of what stories are, either in fiction or in memoir. To wit: A contemporary story is about one thing and one thing only—trouble.

If that’s true… and it is… then that’s where the story must begin. With the trouble.

No place else.

What is “trouble” in a literary sense? Trouble is a story problem. While it can have many facets and permutations, it is a single, compelling problem. One that will occupy the protagonist from page one until the last page. It has to be compelling in that the audience will buy it as a problem significant enough that they will invest their time, energy, interest, and sympathy in. While the story problem is a single problem, it has two parts. The first part is what I choose to call the “surface problem.” That is the problem as the protagonist sees it in the beginning. However, the surface problem is only symptomatic of a deeper, more psychological and underlying problem that it reflects, which I’ve given the term “story-worthy problem” to. Perhaps an example is the best way to explain this.

In the movie Thelma & Louise, Thelma’s (the protagonist) surface problem is that she’s in an emotionally-abusive relationship with her husband Darryl and she suddenly realizes it’s gone beyond a bad situation into an intolerable one. Her goal becomes to escape his domination for a weekend vacation with her best friend, Louise. Her surface problem is that she’s forced to exist in a world dominated by Darryl. She doesn’t realize what her deeper problem is until she goes through the struggle to resolve her surface problem. At the end, and as a result of that struggle, she finally comes to the realization that her problem is much bigger than Darryl—it’s that she’s forced to live in a world dominated by men and that’s her story-worthy problem.

The “trouble” story-wise, is when she reaches her tipping point and finds herself at the place where she can no longer ignore or tolerate her situation with Darryl. That’s when the trouble begins, story-wise. Not before, even though she’s been in this situation with him for eight years. The story can only begin when the problem achieves the critical mass that she can no longer rest until she resolves it. Everything before that—the eight years of their relationship—is only backstory and doesn’t belong in the beginning.

Her story begins where it should—and where yours should—when the trouble starts and has reached the place where she can no longer put it on hold another minute.

And this is where your own story should begin. When the trouble begins. Not with backstory, description, unnecessary setup or anything other than when the trouble begins.

Blue skies,

Want more stuff on beginnings? Check out HOOKED!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Hi folks,
Going back to some basics today--often, it helps to be reminded occasionally of things we already know, but have forgotten...

Thirteen Plot Principles
1. Plausible plotting starts with cause and effect. Make sure each step in your plot has a causative event, and one or more effects. Character actions should be caused by motivation, and should have effect on the plot.

2. Your protagonist should save the day (or destroy it). Protagonist is the "first actor,” the character most active in the story. Most importantly, he/she should be the one who resolves the conflict in the climactic scene. No one else should solve the mystery, or discover the secret, or arrive just in time to save the day. The plot should force the protagonist to make choices and take actions, and the course of plot events should change in response to those choices and actions.

3. Give the protagonist a goal, then take it away. The goal-driven protagonist is an active protagonist, but if you just let the protagonist achieve his goal, you'll have a linear or two-dimensional plot.  Have him lose the goal, or sacrifice it, or achieve it and realize he doesn't really want it, and you'll add the complication that makes this a real story.

4. The point of plot is change. The events should cause a change in the protagonist's inner life, to trade her original goal for a more worthy one, to face a personal issue she's ignored before, or to resolve a longstanding internal conflict.

5. Lead readers to the story, but don't drag them. Set up your opening scenes so readers are led to ask story questions like "Who killed the film director?" or "What will happen to John and Sue's  love when Sue learns that John has been lying to her?" The posing of the questions, and the desire to find the answers, keeps readers turning pages. That's called narrative drive. The story question is also an excellent tool to help the writer keep on track.

6. Make the internal come external. Explore your protagonist's internal needs and values, and consider, how will this affect her actions? The external events will cause internal change... and the internal change will cause new external events.

7. Twist a cliché. Do something new with the tried and the true. Use the clichéd plot not as something to reproduce faithfully, but as a classic human drama to explore in a new way.  Show the human depth under the stereotype: the blonde bombshell who walks into the private eye's office is worried because her elderly neighbor won't answer the door.

8. Coincidence kills plausibility. Don't let a one-in-a-million event rescue your protagonist from trouble, or readers will stop believing that this person is truly affecting the course of events.

9. "Exposition is ammunition." Tell the readers what they need to know, but only when they need to know it, and in the most powerful way. Make them beg for it.  An essential question for all plots, but especially mystery/suspense plots, is "What should the readers know, and when should they know it?" Ask that every time you're set to impart some extra information about the characters or events.  Don't tell so much so early that the reader has no reason to keep on reading.

10. Less is more. Don't dilute the power of your story by layering on too many conflicts and motivations, or featuring too many secondary characters and viewpoints. Instead, focus on strengthening what you have.

11. Center each scene. Build it around some irrevocable event that changes the plot, and your pacing problems will vanish; readers won't be able to skip because they'll miss something important.

12. Find the excitement in every scene. Aim for the strongest, most dramatic events that are plausible within the world of your plot and your characters. For example, your protagonist breaking in to an office and reading a file is more dramatic than her just overhearing the same information– but use this only if your protagonist is the sort who would, under these extreme circumstances, break into an office.

13. Always go back to character. The plot should show how these particular people with these particular strengths and values and conflicts react under stress or when pursuing a goal. You'll lose readers as soon as they sense you're forcing your characters to behave in a way that fits the plot instead of their personalities and needs.

Hope this helps remind some of us of basic principles we may have neglected or forgotten!

This has been a busy week! Having just placed three new novels, the hard work is beginning. I've got a tentative release date (in five weeks) for the two novels Stonegate Publishing is publishing--THE PERFECT CRIME and JUST LIKE THAT. Originally, we'd contracted for another novel, THE BITCH, but have replaced it with Stonegate with a road noir novel, JUST LIKE THAT. Portions of this novel have been previously published as short stories, appearing in MURDALAND and FLATMANCROOKED and one was both in HIGH PLAINS LITERARY REVIEW, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize and also included in Houghton-Mifflin's "Best American Mystery Stories, 2001." The other, THE PERFECT CRIME, was originally sold in auction to Random House, and alas, was cut when Bertlesmann purchased RH. Now, it finally gets published! I think readers are going to enjoy both of these, unless they're expecting THE BOBBSEY TWINS--these ain't one of those...

And, I'm deep in edits on the noir novel THE RAPIST, being offered by the new press, BARE KNUCKLES PRESS. I'm  working with the publisher, Cort McMeel and the editor, Eddie Vega, and these guys are fantastic! I've shared early editing notes here from Eddie, and he's a tough one! I'm also getting blurbs for this one already from some real heavyweights. Eddie and Cort and some other folks are also starring up a really exciting magazine, NOIR NATION, and I think I'll have a short story in the first issue. Even if I don't, glom onto a copy, as noir master Paul D. Brazill does have one in it for sure and you don't want to miss anything by this guy!

And, lastly, I've been getting all kinds of emails from those who listened to the radio interview last week with Jennifer Wilkov on her program, Your Book is Your Hook, on WomensRadio. Meeting all kinds of really cool people, mostly writers. Thanks, Jennifer!

Anyway, it's been tres busy! No time for many Jack and waters, alas... In fact, this week we had to forgo our weekly Friday night romantic tryst where I shave my wife Mary's back while we sip Barq's root beer and nibble on Hostess Ho-Hos...

Hope the writers out there who visit here are busy in the same kinds of ways. As that sage philosopher, Red Green, says: "I'm pullin' for ya. We're all in this together. Keep your stick on the ice."

Blue skies,

Monday, May 16, 2011


Hi folks,
Below is the press release sent me for my appearance tomorrow (Tues. May 17) on Jennifer Wilkov's program "Your Book Is Your Hook" program on WomensRadio at  9 am ET. It will air for the first time then and then be available on the site for a week and thereafter in her archives. Jennifer also had me contribute a blog post on writing tips to accompany the program. I'm also sending a chapter from my next writing craft book, A Writer's Workshop at the Bijou to those who email me and instructions on how to do that will be furnished during the broadcast and in the print material which accompanies it.

Hope y'all get a chance to listen! It was a lot of fun to participate.

Just click on this link (it won't have the program on until Tues. at 9 am.)

Press release follows:

Bestseller & Writer’s Coach Les Edgerton on “Your Book Is Your Hook!” Show

Les Edgerton, a writer’s coach, a former university educator of creative writing and a best-selling author, will appear as a guest on the Your Book Is Your Hook! Show on Mr. Edgerton will discuss why he became a writer’s coach, what he tells his students about their likelihood of getting published and how to write across various genres. He’ll also share advice for writers who want to write their first book. Mr. Edgerton will also talk about his recent book, Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go, why he feels fiction writers must master the art of hooking readers right from the start and how to do that, and how he’s using his books as his hook.

Les Edgerton, a writer’s coach, a former university educator of creative writing and a best-selling author, will appear as a guest on the Your Book Is Your Hook! Show Tuesday, May 17thth, 2011 at 9:00am on

NEW YORK, NY (May 17th – May 23rd, 2011): Les Edgerton, a writer’s coach, a former university educator of creative writing and a best-selling author, will talk with radio personality and host Jennifer S. Wilkov about how he became a writer, how he became a writer’s coach and some of the major challenges he sees other writers face..

He’ll also discuss what he tells his students about their likelihood of getting published, how he is able to write books in multiple genres and share advice for those who want to write their first book.

In a second interview immediately following, Les will also talk with radio personality and host Jennifer S. Wilkov about why he wrote his writer’s craft book, Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go, and how he wrote it. He’ll also reveal how he got it published with Writers Digest Books and how he’s using his book as his hook.

Mr. Edgerton will talk about why it’s essential for fiction writers to hook their readers right from the start and share insights into how to do it.

Host Jennifer S. Wilkov will discuss writing in multiple genres and the many authors who have successfully done it during her Education Corner segment during the show.

# # #

The “Your Book Is Your Hook!” Radio Show airs weekly on Tuesdays at 9:00am on the WomensRadio Network at and is syndicated on The “Your Book Is Your Hook!” show was created to provide the opportunity to go behind the books and discover the process from thought to sales of how other authors have succeeded in getting published and how they use their book as their hook with someone who is successful in this field and experiencing the same journey herself.  Listeners also find out about industry professionals and resources to help them as a writer and author with their book projects so they can write, market, publish and make money with their books.

Ms. Wilkov is a best-selling, award-winning author, an award-winning freelance writer, a speaker and trainer, the creator of the trademarked “From Thought to Sales In 90 Days” book process and a book business consultant for other authors and writers. Her experience and knowledge of the book business and the people in it as well as her understanding of the author’s experience from conceiving the idea to getting published are vital parts of the experience of the show.  The show has left guests wanting to come back for more.

Some of Ms. Wilkov’s most prominent guests include Dominique Raccah (Publisher of Sourcebooks & Co-Chair of the Book Industry Study Group), Larry Goldbetter (President of the National Writers Union), Julia Cameron (International Bestselling Author), Debbie Macomber (#1 New York Times & USA TODAY Bestselling Author), Marci Shimoff (#1 USA TODAY, Amazon, Barnes and and Publishers Weekly Bestseller & a NY Times Bestselling Author), Victoria Moran (Oprah-featured Author of ten books including an international bestseller), Suzy Welch (3-time NY Times Bestselling Author & Keynote Speaker at the WBENC 2010 Annual Conference), Brunonia Barry (NY Times Bestselling Multiple Award-Winning Fiction Novelist), Carla Neggers (NY Times Bestselling Romance Suspense Author), Gayle Forman (NY Time Bestselling Author), Phil Sexton (Publisher & Community Leader of Writer’s Digest), Deborah Brody (Executive Editor of Harlequin’s Nonfiction Program), Katharine Sands (Literary Agent with Sarah Jane Freymann Agency & Author), Peter Rubie (CEO & Literary Agent of Fine Print Literary Management & Author), Jennifer DeChiara (Literary Agent & President of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency), Michael Larsen & Elizabeth Pomada (Literary Agents at Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency and hosts of the San Francisco Writers Conference), Sarah Burnes (Literary Agent at The Gernert Company), Mike Sacks (Member of the Vanity Fair Magazine Editorial Team & Author), Joel Comm (4-time NY Times Bestselling Author and new media innovator), Mari Smith (former President of the International Social Media Association, author and dubbed “The Pied Piper of Online Media” by, Ken Corday (Author and Executive Producer of NBC’s Daytime Drama “Days of Our Lives”), Kathy Kinney (Co-Author, Actress well-known as Mimi Bobeck from the “The Drew Carey Show”), Carley Roney (co-founder of The Knot Inc. and the author of 16 books associated with her websites, and, Marianne Schnall (Author & co-founder of Peter Shankman (Author & Founder of Help A Reporter Out), Barbara Henricks (President of Cave Henricks Communications), Jan McInnis (comedienne, author, professional speaker & humor writer who has written for the Tonight Show monologues) and other industry professionals including Hollywood producers, publicists, ghostwriters, social media experts, authors in various genres and many more. Photos and more information

Women’s Online Media and Education Network (W.O.M.E.N.) began with a very large mission: to give women (and other lesser heard voices) the opportunity to have a much larger voice over a great geographic area.  Today, W.O.M.E.N. publishes, a rich streaming content site;, the largest listing of women’s events internationally and nationally; the WR Channel;, and, a sensational tool anyone can use to produce and/or publish streaming audio, video and podcasts anywhere on the web.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Hi folks,

I received a wonderful email yesterday. It was from Jennifer S. Wilkov who hosts the #1-rated show on WomensRadio called “Your Book Is My Hook.” She invited me to be her on-air guest for two interviews, which will air back-to-back. I’m psyched!

Turns out, she read a recent review of my book Hooked that appeared last week in the Seattle PI from a posting on, written by Raquel Byrnes (which you can see here: Raquel, if you’re reading this… THANK YOU!

This is just too cool. Ms. Wilkov’s audience is a loyal following of cross-industry professionals, authors, writers, agents and editors, and her show is #1 on the network. I’m in high cotton! These are my peeps…

Just a few of her past guests have included such well-known writing industry personages as Dominique Raccah (Sourcebooks), Deb Brody (Harlequin), David Hancock (Morgan James Publishing), Larry Goldbetter (President of the National Writer’s Union), Phil Sexton (Publisher & Community Leader at Writer’s Digest), Peter Rubie (Fine Print Literary Management), Katherine Sands (Sarah Jane Freymann Agency), Elizabeth Pomada & Michael Larsen (Larsen Pomada Literary Agents), Jennifer DeChiara (Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency), Elizabeth Fowler (Clear Pictures Entertainment), Mike Sacks (Editorial Staff Member at Vanity Fair and Author) and many others.

Past prominent authors she has interviewed include Julia Cameron (International Bestselling Author), Debbie Macomber (#1 New York Times & USA TODAY Bestselling Author), Jason Pinter (Bestselling Author), Victoria Moran (Oprah-featured Author of ten books including an international bestseller), Suzy Welch (3-time NY Times Bestselling Author & Keynote Speaker at the WBENC 2010 Annual Conference), Brunonia Barry (NY Times Bestselling Multiple Award-Winning Novelist), Carla Neggers (NY Times Bestselling Romance Suspense Author), Carley Roney (co-founder & Editor-in-Chief at The and others.

And now… me…

We’ll be prerecording two interviews of 10-15 minutes each this Monday and it will air on her show during the week of May 16th. The first interview will be as an industry professional, re: the art and craft of writing as a writer’s coach, and in the second interview, about my own experiences as an author with a focus on my book Hooked.

As it turns out, Jennifer and I have something else in common other than being writers.

She did time, too.

In Riker’s Island.

You can read about her amazing journey on her website at:

Inspiring story!

I’ll post how to reach her show and when it comes on. She also has a blog containing the interviews and a blogpost I wrote for her on story beginnings.

And, the main problem was I had to locate a landphone for us to do the interview on… and we don’t have one. All of us at our house only have cell phones. Landphones seem to attract creditors… Finally, I was able to locate one—at my mother-in-law Jane’s house. Turns out it’s nestled between a mound of dinosaur poop and the pterodactyl cage… (Kidding... sort of. I mean, who has a landline any more? Well, Jane, thank God!).

Anyway, I just wanted to share this exciting news with you folks. My son Mike and I were interviewed for two days in a row a few years ago on MSNBC-News over youth baseball and that was cool, but I’m more pumped about this. I’ve got more of a radio face… I think it will air Tuesday, May 17 at 9 am ET.

I’ll post more after our interview about how it went and how many cigarettes I had to smoke to keep my cough down…