Tag Archives: The Final Twist

Fun with Editing by Laura Elvebak

You finished the first draft of your manuscript. Yay! Time to celebrate. Take a few days. Better yet, take a couple of weeks, or months. You need distance. You’ve been too close to your work. For months, years, forever it seems, you’ve lived with these characters, pushed them through twists and turns, cried with them as you’ve led them through agony, heartbreak, and despair on the road to the finish, where the bad guy finally gets what he deserves and your protagonist wins the war or the love of his life. Or not.

Along the way, if you’re like me, you’ve put your work before a critique group, or several critique groups. You’ve revised according to their suggestions after each reading. By the time you have finished writing “The End” you hope all the changes have been made. After all, you’ve been editing all along.

Your allotted time is over and you pick up that jewel of a manuscript thinking, “I’ll read it through one day, fix any mistakes I missed, and send it off.”

Think again. You start reading. Then you smack your forehead. “Is this the book I thought was so great? What happened?”

What happened was the POV character you had in the beginning is no longer a main character. You changed that somewhere toward the middle of the book. That’s a major change. That takes a major rewrite. The new POV character now appears in the beginning, not the middle. Not only do the characters interact differently with the change, but the scene and sequel may have a totally different tone.

Are your characters’ motivations making sense? A motivation you thought you fixed in the first draft doesn’t work now. A revision may affect the ending.

These are major changes that take longer to revise and rewrite. Along the way, you will find problems with sentence structure and word choices. Passive words like was, had, is, could, would, might, that, can be changed to active voice. Look for adverbs and substitute them for stronger verbs. Take out tags that could be substituted with body language.

What about your timeline? Have you got the days mixed up? The time of day? What is the weather like? What season is it? Is he wearing a coat in Houston during August? Add the five senses to bring your scene to life. What does the room smell like? How does that sliver of wood feel like against his finger? You want your reader as involved in the scene as your characters are. If these senses are not in your first draft, now is the time to insert them.

Revising is as important as creating that first draft. You have to have the basic meat to add the flavor and side dishes to the plate.

So, now you have made all the changes and revisions. Is it ready to send out for publication? No. You need at least one more run through. I suggest you read it in a different format. I like to print it all out.

Some writers also read it out loud. Another way is to change the font. The purpose is to be able to see the manuscript in a different way. That’s when you catch all the little errors you missed before.

Happy writing,

Laura Elvebak




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Promoting Victims Awareness in Writing by Debra Black

Today (April 10, 2016) starts National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Some of our regular readers might be aware that The Final Twist Writers Society tends toward mystery based fiction. This genre is a fertile ground for crime-based drama and suspense. It can be a real treat to follow a good mystery through to the end and see the victims of the crime given a concrete answer to the who or how.

Not everyone, however, considers the ramifications of the mental and social impacts that the victims of a crime can suffer after the crime has been solved. Has the sentence or resolution been satisfactory enough to count as “Justice”? Will the perpetrator be free in the future to commit another crime if they do not reform? How many of those close to the victim are supportive and sympathetic throughout the healing process? How many blame the victim and seek to free the perpetrator?

All of these questions and so many more can be explored with writing. For those who are thinking of a person in your life that may have suffered victimization, perhaps you realized the lack of material that is available to assist in dealing with the financial, physical, and psychological impacts.

Writing mystery fiction that educates readers on victims’ rights can contribute to allowing someone to come to a sense of peace or reduce the burden of guilt and social stigma associated with being involved in a crime. It is not just those who are victims that can benefit. Individuals that were never involved can sometimes make it seem as if they are justified in blaming the victim for actions or even just thoughts that precipitated the crime. This is an absurd and damaging attitude. Victimizing another human being is senseless. It can happen without reason, provocation, or warning and regardless of preventative measures.

Use the mystery you create to not only raise someone’s pulse with that last-second deduction, but to also highlight how much understanding and sympathy can alleviate the burden that victims can be forced to undertake if their lives are turned upside down by crime. How your characters react to a resolved crime situation can go a long way toward paving the path for those who are reading the story to behave. Not only that, but how you address some of the possibilities for victims’ rights education can lead to a mind bending sequel!

Some educational resources:

Crime Victim’s Rights in America, A Historical View

The National Center for Victims of Crime

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Supernatural Consumption: and Chocolate Covered Nuts (Leif Behmer)

I used to be very picky when I was a child. I mean, who orders a cheese burger without any cheese? Macaroni and cheese was fine, pizza was fine, but burgers with cheese? No, I don’t trust it. I had to warm up to quite a lot of foods most people take to very easily, like tuna, tomatoes, mushrooms, green beans, onions, a Caesar salad, corn flakes, asparagus, and more recently, guacamole. I was so stubborn I would not try anything that hadn’t been deep fried or covered in sugar. I was the kid who added sugar to his Frosted Flakes… (Still paying for it during my afternoon jogs)

Consumption is a very common motif in fantastic literature. Sometimes it represents a moral decision, such as the story of Adam and Eve, or perhaps personal growth. I need only mention the phrase “Eat me, drink me” and you know where I’m coming from. A character like Alice finds a mysterious source of nourishment, sometimes a spring or a lake, and has to make the tough choice of deciding whether or not to consume the foreign agent. It is usually out of desperation, with the feeling that if the character chooses not to consume, he or she will quite possibly perish. In Alice’s case, she has no choice but to try following the instructions, since she cannot go back the way she came and the way ahead appears blocked. Though the effects of the food and drink cause Alice much distress initially, she quickly learns to use them to her advantage to help her gain the ability to advance in her journey.

Of course one of the clear messages children can learn in this scene is moderation; i.e., do not let consumption overtake your need or you drown yourself in your own tears, a wonderful piece of imagery that lead to the well-known saying, “Cry me a river.”

The bigger point I’d like to make, however, is that consumption is deeply personal, perhaps the most direct form of acceptance we can express, often showing trust and appreciation towards your provider/host. We see this in Snow White as she innocently ingests the poison apple from the evil queen. We are taught to be warry of strangers who might be trying to harm us and our way of life. It reminds me of the 2000 film Chocolat, which stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, and Johnny Depp. Though not strictly a fantasy, Chocolat borrows this trope to feature its romance elements as the main character Vianne Rocher, played by Binoche, gradually charms the townsfolk of a small post-WWII French town with her Chocoaterie, just as the people begin observing their forty-day period of lent. Here, as more people begin consuming Rocher’s chocolate products, the more accepting they become of her as an outsider with a lifestyle that is at first seen at odds with the conservative values of the Comte Reynaud, played by Alfred Molina. For as much resistance as Reynaud offers to drive Rocher out of town, by the end, he breaks his vows, by literally breaking into the Chocoaterie and consuming the entire display before waking up in the morning covered in chocolate.

In Chocolat, food is used to repair fractured relationships, spice up people’s sex lives, and bring people together across cultural boundaries. How does Rocher’s chocolate possess this power? It’s the same answer for Love Potion # 9, The Nutty Professor, and that Sarah Michelle Geller film Simply Irresistible. The food presents the character’s core virtue, or vice in the case of the evil queen. We also see this trope in The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as Dr. Jekyll’s repressed anger towards 19th century norms of propriety become realized in his laboratory.

To be sure, it would be unfair to judge a person’s character by the quality of his/her cooking or how well you did in potion making class. The trope, however, is especially useful for elegantly developing the personality traits of characters that are particularly introverted. What is this person feeding me? Is it the poisoned apple or ambrosia? Is it a Caesar salad or Frosted Flakes–did I get that order right 😉

Feel free to try a taste of French sweetness below!

Recipe for Chocolate Mendiants



Leif Carl Behmer received his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Texas–Pan American and his Bachelors in English at the University of Houston–Downtown. His passion for fantasy fiction stems from his exposure to fantasy in both classic fairytale literature and the fantasy role-playing genre of the video gaming industry. His pursuit of the discipline of writing led him to take courses in technical writing and dramatic writing, as well as studying tutor theory. Leif writes dramatic scripts for pop-culture conventions. He is currently a composition and literature instructor at Houston Community College and Lone Star Community College in Houston, Texas.

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Fun with Haiku – Day 3

Welcome back! (If this is your first trip The Final Twist Blog, you may want to scroll down to the earlier post on haiku. Then again, you may want to just jump right on it.)

Now that we have the hang of the three line,  5-7-5 syllable form, let’s see if we can’t get closer to Haiku by using imagery of nature and seasons to evoke emotion. For today’s topic, you have a choice:

  • Romance
  • Beauty

If you don’t already have the perfect setting for your poem, try these (selected in honor of Black History Month) African landscapes , or these pics of the second largest continent, or, for  fans for The Number One Ladies Detective Agency.

Remember our examples from yesterday:

In the garden pool,

   dark and still, a stepping-stone

      releases the moon

     By O. Mabson Southard


Across the still lake,

   through upcurls of morning mist –

      the cry of a loon

By O. Mabson Southard


Heaps of black cherries,

   Glittering with drops of rain

      In the evening sun

By Richard Wright


Please leave your haiku or senryu in the comments. Have fun!


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February Fun – Haiku!

Our January experiment with short fiction was so popular that we decided to do something similar in February.

Before I get into the details for February, though, I must explain why we haven’t yet posted the best contributions from January. The reason is simple. There were so many excellent entries we can’t seem to agree on the best. So, we decided on another first here at The Final Twist – we’re going to figure out how to set up a poll and let you, our readers, decide. Stay tuned!

On to February. The shortest month of the year is the month we celebrate love. We have selected poetry for our February contest. Don’t stop reading! Most of us are prose writers, so we are not expecting Poet Laureate level entries. (If any Poet Laureates want to participate, please do. All are welcome.) The intent is to have some fun. Think karaoke in written form. Specifically, haiku.

Haiku has a rich 700+ year history and its own superstars. Those who are interested should check out:

  • An Introduction to Haiku by Harold G. Henderson
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but Matsuo Basho (that last “o” needs a bar above it)
  • The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel
  • Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright
  • Wikipedia

According to Harold G. Henderson, most Haiku are composed, “…for the pleasure of the author and his friends….”  It’s also very short, and should evoke emotion in the reader by painting a picture, which makes it perfect for our purposes.

We’ll use the most commonly known form – 3 lines with specific syllable counts of 5-7-5. Here are some examples:

Capturing a thief,

   I was surprised to find him

      None but my own son

By Basho


In the garden pool,

   dark and still, a stepping-stone

 releases the moon

By O. Mabson Southard


Across the still lake,

   through upcurls of morning mist –

  the cry of a loon

By O. Mabson Southard


Heaps of black cherries,

   Glittering with drops of rain

In the evening sun

By Richard Wright


The examples above demonstrate two different types of haiku-like poetry.  The first example, by the Japanese master Basho, is an example of  senryu, a style of haiku that usually involves dark humor or human learning experiences.

Haiku, in its purer form, more often focuses on the natural world and seasons as in the other three examples.

Now it’s your turn. We’ll have a different topic each day for five days. We’ll begin with

  • Romantic Love (day 1)
  • Platonic or Parental Love (day 2)

Please post your romantic haiku in the comments. We’ll have a different topic Monday, so be sure to check back.


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Flash Fiction Fun (Charlotte Phillips)

Happy New Year!

Just as most of us look forward with anticipation to the annual holiday fest, many find the activity that gets bumped in order to make time for all those parties, family gatherings, and school plays is our writing. So this week is dedicated to blowing off the cobwebs, getting the wool out, girding our loins, sharpening our pencils…and reviving a few brain cells. (Feel free to add your own cliches in the comments.)

At the last 2015 Final Twist meeting, we learned about Flash Fiction – what is it, why is it gaining in popularity, what makes it so powerful?  We used two sources of information: Flash Fiction: What’s It All About? and FLASH FICTION; NARRATIVE STRUCTURE; HEMINGWAY; SHORT STORIES; HARD. If you’re interested in Flash Fiction, these are two good places to begin.

How are these two paragraphs related? We’re dedicating this week to using Flash Fiction Prompts to help us get back to writing mode. Flash Fiction refers to stories under 2000 words, but for our purposes, we are putting the limit at 200 words – and five sentences.

Playing along is easy. Each day, we’ll post a different prompt. You have until midnight to post your flash fiction in the comments. Next week, we’ll create a post that highlights the best post from each day.

Note: By posting a story in the comments, you are granting permission for a one-time re-post of your entry in the body of an article on this site. IF you want to play along and don’t want your work replicated, please say so in your entry.

Are you ready?

Monday prompt: Full Moon

Tuesday prompt: The Gift

Wednesday: Bad Resolution

Thursday: Closure

Friday: Idea


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Where the Action is (Cash Anthony)

Writing the dialogue for a screenplay, my favorite medium, has much in common with writing passages of dialogue in popular mainstream fiction. It’s sparser, and the layout is different, but the basic characteristics are the same — except in one important regard.

In both cases, the writer’s aim in dialogue is to illustrate character traits, or to trigger emotional responses, or to entertain, usually all three.

Note: it isn’t to convey information about a character’s backstory and relationships or to lecture the audience/reader with exposition that ought to come in gradually, elsewhere. Dialogue that departs from the present moment in the characters’ lives — where it steps outside that moment to tell the story, as if the speakers are aware of those looking in through the “fourth wall”, and they need to explain it all to them — that can be an real irritation. It amounts to talking to down to the audience/reader; and it bespeaks a writer who hasn’t taken the time find a subtle and imaginative way to get the same information across, if it’s even necessary to know it.

In today’s popular fiction, as in today’s screenplays, the idea is to show in the actions and reactions of the characters what they want, what they value, where the story is going and what the dialogue means.

In order to keep the tension going, the opposite approach is also useful: not to show or say what would be expected, as when a character fails to react. A trope of the horror genre is to give the audience information about the monster that makes it far more dangerous than previously known, information unknown to the hero or heroine–then to send the sympathetic characters on a maneuver certain to engage the monster at its worst. Patrons in movie theaters often shout a warning to them, so engaged are they in already knowing what could happen and hoping it won’t. When the audience knows, or wants to know, more about a character or situation than the world of the story reveals, this multi-layered subtext enhances the experience of the audience/reader as long as they can discover it for themselves. For the writer, it raises the quality of the work, holds attention, and keeps curiosity high about the next page.

Subtext permeates material written for a camera’s perspective, and it also colors popular fiction. Especially in comedy, it’s part of the game, part of the fun, to suss out clues to the hidden meanings and subtle dynamics of interchanges between characters. These clues often come in the form of body language, voice volume, personal “codes”, unconscious gestures, spatial positioning, and facial expressions.  And the nonverbal signals can work together, combining to repeat and emphasize or to shade and modify what is meant; or they can totally contradict the verbal message being sent.

Because the camera focuses so much on an actor’s face these days, writers who frequently watch contemporary movies have the benefit of seeing many different faces in extreme close-up. One can look back at the last fifty years of films and see that the camera has gotten ever closer to its subject, where a twitch of an eyebrow or the wink of an eye conveys something beneath the surface.  The best actors are masters of this, filling every moment they’re on screen with fascinating nuanced expressions. If these signals are supposed to be part of the “message” of a scene, the unspoken dialogue, one would think that a script would tell the director and actor to be sure it’s performed and captured correctly, yes?  Not so.

The important difference between popular prose fiction and screenplays is this: describing telltale nonverbal expressions and gestures belongs in the work of the fiction writer. But it must be eliminated from the work of the screenwriter!

“Don’t direct!” is a rule cited frequently to screenwriters. “Directing” here means stating exactly how a segment of dialogue is to be spoken, what the actor’s expression and gestures should be, and how the hearer is supposed to react. It can also mean saying where the camera is supposed to be and how the actors move.

In a screenplay where an actor, a studio gatekeeper or other in-house reader is expected to read and rate it, the writer can suggest attitudes and emotions in movements meant to show subtext underlying the characters’ behavior and expressions, but it must be done with an extremely light touch. Too much, and it steps on the toes of the director and the actors. They are all professionals, they have imagination and insights, and they will collaborate about how to play a scene, about what the writer’s words mean. They may even find a meaning the writer didn’t realize was there in the words on the page. Script readers are very sensitive to this.

Fiction writers get to ignore that rule. For them, the question becomes how to enrich and deepen passages of important dialogue by doing just that: directing the reader’s attention to the unspoken communication that helps them see and understand the scene.

Inserting a description of a character’s facial expressions is one way to suggest emotions and reactions, as well as to enhance the pacing of “talky” scenes. To break away from the face to a character’s movements or body language can detract from the intensity of some conversations; it can also read as “stagey” and artificial in the middle of an argument. How many times have we read scenes where conflict comes to the surface and one character “slams his hand down” on something, or “storms out of a room” or “slams a door”? But putting in a brief reference to a character’s facial movements keeps the intensity up.

Another reason to include facial expressions in passages of fictitious dialogue is that they can cure a problematic scene, if nothing else works, and even improve it. When a string of dialogue sans attribution threatens to get the reader confused, that confusion could be cleared up with “He said” and “She said.”  But it can also be erased by describing something about the face of the character who is speaking that is completely different from others in that scene.

In addition to the expressions that pass across a character’s face, writers can use the observation that people touch their faces unconsciously all the time. How and how often varies according to culture and age, providing the opportunity for comedy again. These movements can also hint that something lies below the surface, beneath the apparent dynamics of a situation that is not what it seems.

Scientists working with facial recognition software, law enforcement agencies like the FBI, and artists like painters or sculptors all see a face in its parts as well as in its totality. The eyebrows can distort a face into a scowl, or they can lift with delight. The nose can wrinkle with distaste or disgust (two different emotions) as well as moving to lift one nostril only, as part of a sneer. Without changing anything else on a “neutral” facial palette, one zone of expression can express a wide range of meanings via subtle changes in muscle tension and shape.

This gives a fiction writer a huge number of options. Descriptions of characters need not be dumped into an introductory paragraph, all at once, but can be teased out via all the nonverbal communication that ensues naturally in a scene, including facial expressions.

For the screenwriter, the script has to be so good that the reader’s emotional responses can be predicted, so good that the pleasure of reading this particular script begins at once and doesn’t stop until “Fade Out”, with the reader happily imagining how the lines will sound and perhaps even imagining how specific actors will play the best roles.

Screenwriters and writers of popular fiction would both do well to remember how, with a camera so close to the actor’s face, it becomes a tapestry of movement. It’s really where the action is now.

Cash Anthony is an award-winning Houston screenwriter, author, editor, and director for stage and film. Her short stories have appeared in A Death in Texas, Dead and Breakfast, A Box of Texas Chocolates, Twisted Tales of Texas Landmarks,Underground Texas, and Deadly Diversions. She holds a B.A. in Plan II and a J.D. from The University of Texas at Austin.

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