All posts by swanstuff

Writer, small business wannabe, pundit, philosopher, often hopelessly confused, and blessed by a gracious God beyond all imagining (the views expressed by this blogger do not necessarily reflect the Supreme Being, but this blogger hopes he doesn't embarrass the Big Guy too much).

Passion Ignites!

I love books. I love writing books. I love reading books. Where did all that passion come from? I’m happy to tell you. 🙂

Fifty years ago, when I was five years old, I began dislocating my right hip. Not on purpose, mind you, just by walking, or turning, or playing soccer (which is why I hate soccer). Fortunately, I learned to read when I was 4. This becomes relevant later.

After a year of doctors, I got a diagnosis. And crutches. And a “he’ll never walk again” admonition. This did nothing for my social life. Six-year-old kids were about playing. I couldn’t, so my friendships went on hold.

Fifty years ago, there was no Internet, no video games, four TV channels, no VCR or DVDs. The only thing to do was read and read I did. I read the grade school library that first year. The second year, I worked on the Jr. High library, and the 3rd year the public library. Books were my only friends and I was never lonely. That and inexperienced doctors who didn’t know much about my bone disease. The first doctor was wrong. My right leg healed in 14 months. Then my left leg got it but after 3 years I could walk again!

Spider-Man leaning on concrete brick while reading book
I love comic books, too!  (Thank you, Raj Eiamworakul from UpSplash!)

Funny thing, though. After three years of reading way above grade, playing was dull. So was school. Books never got dull.

That’s why I love books.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about my writing journeys, and eventually how Prevail Press, a home for today’s writers, came about. Stay tuned, er… place a bookmark! Yeah, that fits the metaphor better…

The Invisible Character

Every story has it. Fiction and non-fiction, blogs, even your journal has the Invisible Character. Who is this hard to see person?

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The Where’s Waldo Character

Your narrator.

Who’s telling the story? The answer to this question can radically impact your manuscript.

Let’s first look at the “levels.”


  • First Person, meaning one of the characters is telling the story—“I watched Hortense move like a snake.”
  • Second Person is rare and reserved for short fiction—“You walk into the room. You see her…”.
  • Third Person means someone outside the characters is telling the story—“He watched Hortense walk into the room…” This may eventually be revealed to be first person, if the narrator appears later in the story as a character.

There is also:

  • Past tense: The narrator tells a story that has already happened.
  • Present tense: The reader discovers things as the narrator and characters to do (not a fan of present tense, but it has its place).

We haven’t spoken to the power of narration yet. The question is: Who is your narrator? When is your narrator?

Imagine how different a story would be if told by someone else? To Kill a Mockingbird would be very different if Atticus was the narrator rather than Scout. Scout is effective because she is a very limited omniscient character. She’s young, naïve, and learning as we do. What a different book it could be if the Scout telling the story was an old lady, interjecting her wisdom in the place of young Scout’s innocence.

An educated narrator uses different words than an unlettered storyteller.

Ask yourself, if using past tense, how far removed is the narrator? Is she five seconds away from the action or five decades? Does the narrator offer her view and opinions of events, even subtly, in the way the story is told?

How reliable is the narrator? Is he telling the truth only to surprise you later with broken trust? Is the narrator making personal discoveries in the retelling of the story?

Who you choose as narrator can broaden or limit the story scope. Characters are limited to what they know, unless they are far removed in time. Detached narrators simply tell the story, no frills, but word choice still enters in.

In non-fiction, YOU are the narrator, but you are a multitude of worlds, which do you narrate from? Are you informal? Humorous? Clinical? Just how much of “you” do you put into your manuscript?

Pro Top: If you get stalled in the first couple chapters of your book, or if readers say your voice is uneven, you have narrator problems.


Few things in writing are definitive, and neither is this, but I do believe it’s true:

Your first book should be intensely personal.

My first novel was supposed to be a Dime-Store Novel, an imprint that published short stories as tiny novellas, somewhere around 6,000 words. It ended up being 150,000 words. It took three years, and while the concept was good, the novel wasn’t. It had powerful moments and is worth cleaning up someday, but it wasn’t a personal story. Sure, it was set partially in my old university, but that was about it.

My second novel, the published one, Do Angels Still Fall, I now consider my first novel. It was intensely personal because I wrote for my kids and what I want them to know about their creator.

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If that’s true for you, you have a story; if that’s not true for you, you have a stronger story.

Bonnie Manning Anderson’s book, Always Look for the Magic, was intensely personal–it tells the story of her dad, uncle, and mother. It was fiction, but it was based on her extended life story.

Debi Gray Walter’s first novel, Through the Eyes of Grace, was about her grandmother, also fictionalized, but the rugged story of her grandmother’s life is personal to her and her entire family.

Does a story have to be about your family? No, of course not, but what rich soil there is in your own history.  My second novel, Me and the Maniac in Outer Space, ended up being more personal than I was aware–the main characters were based on my own odd BFF in school (I didn’t even know it until I was finished with the book).

That first novel is the hardest to get through; it helps to have a personal connection. I think all your stories should be personal, of course, but that first one needs the muscle a deep personal connection provides. Maybe it’s a family story, maybe it’s a hometown story, or maybe it’s something else that is unique to you.

Where do you find your inspiration?


Happy Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day: You either love it or hate it.

Set aside the impact on single people for a moment, and let’s look at the couples. The romantic, energetic, and creative individuals love Valentine’s Day. It’s their moment to shine and have a great time. They plan ahead, set reservations, buy (or make) gifts in advance… if they had tails they’d be wagging.

The haters, though, have their metaphorical tails tucked between their legs, and that can be revealing. There are a few reasons to hate Valentine’s Day.

  • You’re single (but we’re ignoring that one for now).
  • You’re annoyed you’re being forced to be romantic.
  • You have no idea how to be romantic.
  • You, as a male, are expected to be the romantic one. Who made that rule?
  • You don’t want to be romantic. You don’t have the energy, drive or truthfully the love you had for your spouse. The spark is gone. You’ve lost your way.

I have a couple of resources for you to help turn all of that around.

Not naturally romantic? Want that spark back?  Cherishing Us by Tom and Debi Walter gives you 365 ways to energize your marriage. And what a great gift for Valentine’s Day!

But the other issues – your marriage isn’t what it’s supposed to be or could be, you don’t want to romance your spouse – or your marriage is in trouble, or just struggling, then we have another book for you. Imagine a small investment of $9.97 to put your marriage on a firm foundation.

Steve and Cindy Wright’s 7 Essentials to Grow Your Marriage is a book that helps you focus on what really matters.

I urge you to use your reaction to Valentine’s Day to diagnose your marriage. Just need a nudge and some great ideas (that can revitalize your marriage)?  Cherishing Us is your book.

Have bigger issues and need a new way to look at your marriage? 7 Essentials to Grow Your Marriage will make a HUGE difference.

Or double up and get both! You won’t regret it.

Single? We have other books that are great for curling up in front of your fireplace. Check them out on

Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day!




The Importance of Editing

Listening to several millionaire novelists on, each talk about shipping their manuscript off to the publisher-assigned editor. Each values their editor. These are the most successful writers in the world. And they need editors.

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That pencil should be RED!

So do you. And I REALLY need them…

There are three levels of editing.

  1. Story structure – Does your story work? Is it structured effectively? Does it fit the genre? Are the stakes high enough? Is it believable?

To facilitate this edit, create an outline of your story. This is the after-it’s-written outline, not the dreaded before-you-write outline. Bullet points only, not description. This can help you find holes, determine where your reversals and story beats are. I use Outline 4D by the Writer Brothers, which is a combination outline/timeline program. It can also be done on paper, especially if your story is linear.

  1. Story edit – This is different than the structure edit in that it examines the writing within the structure. Are all questions raised and answered? Do they happen in the right order? Is there fluff unnecessary or burdensome to the story? Is the writing solid? This edit will often uncover a writer’s story weaknesses. Typically, the Structure and Story edit can be done by one editor.
  2. Copyedit – This is the monster of all edits (OK, that’s my opinion; I’m good at the first two, poor at the third).

I’ve met a few people who can edit their own work. Most struggle with it. We tend to see what’s supposed to be there, rather than what IS there.

Professional Editors aren’t cheap. It takes a long time to read and re-read, make notes, and do a good job. But there are some less expensive ways.

If you are involved in a decent-sized community, such as a church or civic group, chances are you have friends who are good at editing. The problem is, you have to determine which edit they’re good at. I have a lot of friends who love to copyedit. Their red pen is their favorite possession. I’ve only got a few who are good at the first and second level edits.

You can get around that with fierce beta-readers. Fierce because they must tell you the truth. You will have to interview them and ask questions.

  • Who did you like and who didn’t you like? Why?
  • What motivated this character? Why did he/she feel the way the felt, react the way the did?
  • What didn’t make sense? What wasn’t believable?
  • If 1/3 had to be cut, what would they cut?
  • More specific questions about your plot and character development.
  • What did you think about the ending?
  • What parts were dull or dragged?
  • What felt too fast? Too slow?

Provide the beta-reader with the questions before they read but ask them to read as they would any book. You’ll want at least six beta-readers.

Make your revisions and hand it off to ONE copyeditor. Then make those revisions, and hand it off to another. Repeat several times.

Typos are like cockroaches. You’ll never get rid of all of them. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.

Grammarly is a decent machine editor. The free version may hang up on an entire document, so break it into chapters. While I haven’t invested in the paid premium edition, I’ve heard good things.

Parting thought: You are not a bad writer for needing an editor. We get deep into our story and need fresh eyes. Don’t be embarrassed when an editor catches something. You’ve written a BOOK! That’s accomplishment enough. Editors help you make it better.