Taking a Break

This summer, I planned to at least get half of my book with an Oct. 15th deadline written. At least 22,500 words. During the school year, that’s two weeks if I’m really on a roll. But summer is different. My twelve year old is home which means my husband is around more too. They want to go play and I want to go with them. My son and I love whiling away entire days in our above ground pool. But I didn’t want to wait until the middle of August and have an entire book to write by the middle of Oct.

So, I set up a schedule. Write Monday through Friday from 10:00 pm to 2:00 am and sleep until 10:00 am. The first week was VBS and I’m the craft lady. I was too exhausted to stay up late. After VBS, my schedule worked for a few weeks. My son even had three basketball camps scheduled which meant I got to write during the day. But on day three of the second camp, we got a phone call. He’d hurt his arm and the mom who called thought it was broken. We rushed to a town 30 minutes away knowing he was in pain and waiting for us.

Once we got there, we spent another 45 minutes on the road taking him to his doctor where we learned his wrist was indeed broken. In our rural town, the specialists come to town two days a week. We got an appointment the next day and after a sleepless night for all of us, we took him to have it set.

It could have been worse, but the broken bone rattled me. His summer came to screeching halt. He was home more, had friends over less, couldn’t play basketball, and couldn’t even swim in the pool. His bummer summer became our bummer summer. Life became about trying to occupy a twelve year old boy with a broken arm. My night owl schedule wasn’t working because no one went to bed before midnight and my office is in a corner of the living room.

But I kept plugging along anyway. Churning out words. Boring words with boring characters in a boring story. I didn’t like it, didn’t like them, didn’t like anything about it.

The third basketball camp came along and we talked to the coach about our son doing drills and shooting practice. The coach agreed and even recruited an older boy who’d broken his arm earlier in the year to work one on one with our son. A whole week of him getting to go to basketball camp and having fun. A whole week to try to save this book.

And then I got the revisions for my January release from my editor. Guess what I did during basketball camp?

I finished my edits and we went on vacation. Exactly a week after our return, company was scheduled to arrive. So of course, I spent that time furiously cleaning my house. The book was at a stand still. I hated the book and readers would hate it too. I decided not to worry about it. I had 15,000 words at this point. Bad words with boring characters, but still 15,000 words. I made plans to hit it hard once school started and turn this book around.

My unintentional three week break culminated with a nice visit with my cousins. Mid way through their stay, I was putting my makeup on for the day and it hit me. If this character was that character’s sibling–oh my– the complications that would arise. This character that I’ve been doing backflips to explain his presence in town would have a reason to come to town. His sibling connection would cause all kinds of conflict between the hero and heroine. No, my hero and heroine do not learn they are siblings. But characters’ close to them do forcing the hero and heroine to take sides and it swirls into an awesome conflict.

I’ve always plotted at my best during mindless, repetitive tasks. Driving the road I know so well, I could drive it with my eyes closed. Mowing the yard. Going for a walk. Taking a shower. Putting on makeup. When doing something I don’t have to think about, my best ideas come. And at one point, long ago and before I was published, I realized that a break can often get my creativity stirring. But since I’ve had deadlines, I haven’t felt I have time to take a break except between my first draft and editing phase.

My cousins left and our son got his cast off last week. We spent his final week before school started having fun. We swam, he had a friend over, he played basketball, and we did final shopping for school. My break morphed into a full month.

Yesterday, he went back to school. I started my story over, wrote 1700 words, and wove the new sibling connection into what I’d already written. I love this story. I love these characters. And I hope readers do too.

Lesson learned–when you hate the book–try taking a break. Even if you don’t think you have time for one.


Since Rose’s new release, Sweet on the Cowgirl features a hometown business, the inkspers are sharing products and companies close to home.

Once upon a time, back in 1982, Miss Patti Upton mixed up a batch of Arkansas native botanicals such as acorns, pine cones, gumballs and hickory nuts just for fun. She added fragrance with spices and oils and called her creation The Smell of Christmas. Miss Patti placed her creation in a friend’s gift shop and decorative room fragrance quickly turned into an overnight success. The Smell of Christmas remains the company’s flagship fragrance.

Many people confuse Miss Patti’s creation with potpourri. But potpourri is mostly dried flowers and wood chips. Decorative room fragrance has large botanicals, so it’s pleasing to the eye and the nose. Numerous scents, candles, and bath and body products have been added to Aromatique’s line of products.

Aromatique SeashellsHow do I know so much about it? I live ten miles from Aromatique and I worked in the corporate offices for seven years until my son was born. The Smell of Christmas is my favorite scent. But  Sea Shells is my favorite display. I mean sea shells, which I love, that smell good. I’m all over that.

During my years at the company, I got to shop at the company store, where the products slightly damaged in shipping and returned from stores landed. My entire house was decorated with containers, candles, and decorative fragrance. I miss that and since my son has allergies, I’m no longer able to have Aromatique products in my house. Not even Sea Shells.

But my characters have enjoyed it. When I was writing my Arkansas series books, I used an Arkansas product in each story. A Walk in the Woods was given as a gift to my heroine in White Doves. That fragrance has been retired since, but scents are often revamped, renamed, and returned to the line later. Aromatique is still going strong with a full line of scents to tease the eye and can be ordered online. Google it and just look at all the goodies.

Don’t forget to enter the drawing for Rose’s book!sweet on the cowgirl2

Laura Barnes Wants to Be a Cowgirl

Laura has always dreamed of being a trick rider in her family’s Wild West show. But her father will only allow her to perform if she disguises herself as Mr. Buckskin Jones. When soda-pop king Guy Roberts shows up to do business with her family, Laura is torn between keeping her identity under wraps and revealing her growing feelings for Guy. 

Guy is drawn to Laura’s poise and beauty, but he, too, guards a secret. As their affection for each other grows, Guy begins to think about a future that includes Laura. When both their secrets suddenly come to light, their romance will face the ultimate showdown.

Every time you leave a comment between Mon., Aug. 4 and Fri., Aug. 15  at midnight, central time, you are entered to win a copy of Sweet on the Cowgirl. 

Order your copy of Sweet on the Cowgirl today!



Give Me Michael

I’ve always loved gravely voices. Joe Cocker, Kim Karnes, Bonnie Tyler, Michael Bolton. My favorite Bolton songs, How Am I Supposed to Live Without You, I Found Someone, and Steel Bars. I also loved his classic rock album with his cover of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away and the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody.

Many moons ago, I went to a Michael Bolton concert. No, he doesn’t have dark hair or green eyes, but he has pretty blue eyes, great bone structure, and that voice. So my friend and I were sitting in the nose bleed seats when we noticed lots of commotion in the lobby. The lobby was above the oblong arena with a door and stairs down into the stadium every 100 feet or so. We could see people running around the lobby and finally realized that Michael Bolton was running through the lobby with a herd of women chasing him.

He came into the arena and ran to the opposite end from the stage and sang Georgia on My Mind to the people in the North Forty. I teased my friend that he sang it for me since I spent most of my growing up years in Georgia.

That night, I dreamed I was in the lobby when Michael ran through. In the dream, he grabbed my hand, took me onstage with him, sang Georgia on My Mind to me, and asked me to have dinner with him after the concert.

My response, “I’m married.” Then I woke up.

I thought it was the funniest dream I’d ever had. I told my husband, family, and friends about it and got lots of laughs. Years later after I started writing I thought, hey there’s a book in that Michael Bolton dream.

I wrote the book in 2001 and I think it was my 8th manuscript. I changed it up a bit. In the original draft, the hero was a wild rocker with lots of booze and women surrounding him. The heroine only went to his concert as a favor to a friend and wasn’t impressed when he pulled her onstage, but he was taken with her. I named the hero Garrett Steele as a nod to Michael’s Steel Bars. The book got lots of rejections since I hadn’t fully learned the craft of writing back then.

When Harlequin bought the Heartsong Presents line and I got the opportunity to continue my rodeo series, I dug up that old concept. I changed the hero to a country singer to fit the rodeo theme, reformed him a bit, and made the heroine his high-school sweetheart. I rewrote the book from beginning to end using all the writing techniques I’d learned since then. Rodeo Song released in April.

These days I listen mainly to Christian music and my new favorite gravel voiced guy is Todd Agnew. I can’t really say I’d want Todd to serenade me about Jesus. So my dream serenade remains Michael Bolton.

I’m giving away a copy of Rodeo Song.

Rodeo Song


But when silken-voiced Garrett Steele set out for stardom, he left Jenna—and his cowboy past—far behind. A chance encounter at one of his concerts propels him back into Jenna’s life. But, once burned by love, Jenna must guard her heart against the captivating singer.
Once upon a time, Garrett vowed he’d be a success, no matter what. But that path shattered his soul. His reunion with Jenna makes him long for things he once took for granted. Now he must show her that he’s found what he was looking for all along…right here in his hometown.

To enter the drawing, tell us who your dream serenade is.

What I’ve Been Doing? You Really Want to Know?

Hey everybody, I’m so glad we’re back. And the new blog looks awesome. What would we do without Linda? Just so all our readers know, even when Linda took her break from blogging, she was still taking care of our techie problems with the blog. She’s a keeper.

Okay, so I’ve been running in circles as usual. In January, I signed a six book contract with Harlequin. Three of the books will be rodeo, the other three I’m not sure yet, but I’m leaning toward another Arkansas series. It’s kind of nerve-wracking for me not to know what three of the books will be about. I used to complain when publishers wanted the synopsis/summary before I wrote the book because half the time I didn’t know what the book would be about. But now, I’m used to knowing what each book will be before I sign the contract. So not knowing kind of throws me.

Most of my circles have been in my office pictured above. Since January, I wrote the first draft of book 7 in my Texas Rodeo series. It’s not due until May 15th, so I took a break – it was supposed to be two weeks before I start editing. But spring break was the second week and I didn’t get everything done that I planned to do, so I ended up taking a three week break.

During my break, I visited with friends (Hey Linda), read books for pure pleasure, watched Hallmark movies I’d recorded, met my husband for lunch, and went on hospital visits with him. I pretty much do the hospital visits every other week or so anyway, but I went more often during my break. I needed to clean my house. But as usual, I found other things I’d rather do. And I never did get the bathroom painted. I looked at it a few times, but that’s as far as I got.

Even when I take a break, I still write part of the time. Since Rodeo Song released April 1st, I wrote half a dozen posts and answered several blog interviews to promote it. I also started the first three chapters of book 8 that I have to turn in by June 15th.

As I write this post, my blog tour for Rodeo Song has begun, so I’m checking for comments and talking with readers. And since I have several guest blogs throughout this month, I’ll be doing that on a weekly basis. Other than writing, doing guest blogs and connecting with readers is my favorite part of this whole process.

I said I wouldn’t join not one more social network because I don’t have time. I know that’s a double negative – but I thought it might deter me further that way. It didn’t. I joined Goodreads, so I’ve been chatting with readers over there. I. Love. Goodreads. How awesome is it to get to chat with readers about books? And not just my books – but books I’ve read and enjoyed. It’s my favorite social network. Even better than Pinterest – the last social network I refused to join.

Anyway, this past  Monday marked my get back to the editing phase day. So now I’m editing one book, promoting another, and thinking about the third. Plus those three unknowns dangling out there. This is pretty much my normal routine and my husband wonders why I can’t remember anything.

But I don’t have any more books releasing until January 2015. That means I can focus on writing and editing and speaking – since I have some speaking engagements scheduled. Once I turn in book 7 and finish the opening chapters of book 8 and turn those in, I think I’ll write a short synopsis for the three unknown books and just ask my editor if what I’m thinking will work – so they’ll stop bothering me.

All of this stops around 2:30 each day when I go get my son from school. The rest of the day, I focus on my family and church. In the summer, I write at night when everyone else goes to bed.

In the past, I’ve had four months between book deadlines. I write fast and my books are 50,000 words at the most, so it’s doable for me. But after I finished the last three books, I was so tired. This time, I asked for 5 months between deadlines. I feel better already – like I have time to live a little. And with the longer deadlines, I won’t have to do a lot of writing in the summer.

This all seems unfocused and rambling, but it’s how I roll. With my head barely above water and flying by the seat of my pants.

Be sure and comment to enter the drawing for 5 inksper books.

We're Back book giveaway

Rodeo Queen Nostalgia

I’m celebrating my new release, Rodeo Queen by giving away two print copies. Answer the question at the end of the post or comment daily for the next twoWriting 1st book 1999 nostalgic weeks to enter the drawing. Deadline: Nov 16, 11:59 pm central time.

No, I was never a rodeo queen. But I’ve been feeling nostalgic about my latest release, Rodeo Queen. Why would my recently  released book make me feel nostalgic? Because it formed in my head as a teenager. It was the story that wouldn’t go away until I finally realized it was a book around 1996. Then it took me three more years to get a hand me down computer and write it.

That’s me in 1999 writing my first ever book about a interior decorator with a stalker and the private detective who protects her. My husband took the picture and it’s my favorite. I was so involved in my story, I didn’t even know he’d taken the picture until we got the film developed. Yep, back then the pictures actually got out of the camera and you didn’t know how they looked until you picked them up from Walmart. I love the picture because it reminds me how supportive he’s been of my writing–from day one. He didn’t complain that I was ignoring or neglecting him, he just took a picture of me doing what I love.

Back to the story, after fifty-two rejection letters on that first book, countless others on six more books–I stopped counting at 200–fourteen years, and seven published books later, that first book I ever wrote releases this month. Rodeo Queen is a reworked version of my first story.

The original version was set in rural Arkansas. Rodeo Queen is the 5th title in my Texas rodeo series and is set in Aubrey, the Fort Worth Stockyards historical district, and Medina, Texas. My heroine morphed into the owner of a blingy western clothing store and a rodeo queen–which lent itself well to the stalker angle. The hero became a Texas Ranger. And in the new version,they were high school sweethearts.

The Medina part was originally in there and it makes me nostalgic too. My hero and herione visit his grandfather’s ranch in Medina twice during the course of the story. The ranch is based on my father-in-law’s ranch in Medina, near San Antonio. My father-in-law passed away, but we still visit his wife–Texas mom–once a year.

I’ve heard countless authors say they have their first awful manuscripts moldering in a drawer, that they’ll never see the light of day, and they shouldn’t. I wasn’t willing to let my story die. I didn’t go back and try to fix that original manuscript with all the knowledge I’ve gained from countless writers’ meetings and conferences, I started from scratch.

Rodeo Queen by Shannon Taylor VannatterAnd I like the new version better. Readers often ask me which of my books is my favorite. I’ve never really been able to answer that question. It’s like picking your favorite child or pet. I love all of my books–otherwise I wouldn’t have written them.

But I think I’ll play favorites now–Rodeo Queen–hands down.


Until she starts receiving threatening letters from a stalker. The good news is, the Texas Ranger assigned to her case is none other than her former sweetheart Mitch Warren—the man who chose his career over love.

Mitch vows to focus on protecting the woman he’s never forgotten. But Caitlyn stirs up memories best left in the past. When Mitch insists on hiding Caitlyn away on his family’s San Antonio ranch, will he keep things professional or seek out a second chance?

Remember to enter the drawing daily with each new post from all the inkspers. And if you can’t wait or don’t win, here are a few purchase links for your convenience 🙂

Christian Book


Barnes and Noble


Question of the day–for readers or writers. Have you ever had a story in your head that wouldn’t go away?

The Guilts

When this topic came up, I wasn’t sure if I could come up with ten guilty pleasures. But the more I thought about it, there’s wayShannon's shoes more than fifteen. I’m doing a countdown to number one to stir things up.

10. A dollop of caramel in my coffee. I’m not even going to list coffee, even though I put three creamers and three sugars and hummingbirds would love my sweet brew. It’s the dollop of caramel syrup that puts my fave beverage over the top.

9. Hallmark movies. They’re so clean and sweet. Why do they make me feel guilty? Because there’s always something else I should be doing other than watch them. But I have gotten book ideas from them. If you take a thread from five different movies and put them together, it’s not plagiarism.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia. I started reading the books back when the first movie came out in 2005. Why? Because I never read them as a kid. I finished the final book just today. Now why do I feel guilty? Because they are children’s books and I really shouldn’t be enjoying them so much. But there’s such an innocence about them, they take me back to a child’s view of the world. I think I’m going to start reading them over again. With writing books and reading inspirational contemporary romances in between, it took me so long to finish, I don’t remember what happened in the first few books.

7. Chocolate covered coffee beans. I consistently pop three at a time at least twice a day. I’ve gotten immune to regular coffee, but the beans rev me up. Plus, there’s chocolate involved.

6. Nabisco Chips Ahoy cookies. Especially dipped in a bowl of milk until they’re so soggy they almost fall apart.

5. Cedar Cove. It’s been a long time since I got hooked on a TV series. But this Hallmark series is based on books by Debbie Macomber. I looked forward to it all summer. Then as the school about to start frenzy got underway and final summer guests visited, I forgot and missed the first episode. But I’ve recorded every episode since. It’s a chick flick, so I have to wait until the roosters are gone to watch. And when the roosters are gone, this hen should be writing.

4. Lunch or dinner with friends. I have one friend I try to eat out with monthly. When we do, we linger for hours just catching up.

3. Reading inspirational contemporary romance. I should be writing it instead. But I’m studying my genre 🙂

2. Ice cream. I don’t know why something so delicious has to be so loaded with fat and calories.

1. Shoes. I try to keep my collection down to 60 or less. I even gave some away to the Rotary Club a few years ago when they were asking for donations for teens who couldn’t afford prom attire. I only have two pair I paid more than $15.00 for. And most of my shoes were less than $10.00. Last weekend, I bought a cream-colored satin pair of heels for $4.00. I couldn’t just leave them there, now could I?

Notice how many items on my top ten list involve food.

My Go To Gal

Agent. A word that once made me shudder for reasons I won’t go into here. For a long time, I went it alone. I signed contracts for six books without an agent. And put off getting one for as long as I could. But after the Heartsong Presents line changed hands and my editor didn’t make the transition, I decided it was time. Kicking and screaming and shuddering, I decided I’d have to start agent shopping. But they still scared me.

At the 2011 ACFW conference, I asked an author I’d met there who her agent was. She promptly took me to meet Karen Solem of Spencerhill Associates. Karen wasn’t scary either as she gave me her business card. When I got home from the conference, I decided to bite the bullet. I picked four agencies, including Karen’s, who’d been around awhile and had good reputations to query.

While I waited on answers, I talked to another very nice agent I’d met at ACFW and talked to her on the phone several times. She didn’t scare me, but her client list was already pretty full. Two other agents were interested, but weren’t in love with the proposal I sent them. I wanted an agent who loved romance like I do.

Then I heard back from Karen. She loved my proposal, loved my writing, but her client list was also full. She asked if she could forward my work to her newest agent, Nalini Akolekar. I said, sure.

The very next day, I received an e-mail from Nalini offering a contract. I shuddered all day, made a list of questions to ask her, and set up a time for her to call me the next day. When she called, her voice was so soothing. The first question I asked her was how to say her name: A cola car. Then she asked me how to say mine: Van Adder.

I learned that though Nalini was new as an agent, she’d been in the industry working in other positions for a number of years. She encouraged me to contact her clients. After we talked, I did and they sang Nalini’s praises. I talked to Nalini two more times and tried to explain why I was so hesitant to sign with her. I ended up spilling my guts about every bad thing that had happened to me during my hard knocks journey to publication. Okay, not everything, I didn’t want her to think I was a whiny bag.

She calmly listened and instead of thinking I was delusional or whiny, she was sympathetic and told me she understood. That I should take my time, but she hoped I’d sign with her. I took my time and prayed about it. A few weeks later, I signed the contract. And I’ve never regretted the decision.

Nalini checks with me regularly to see how my deadlines are coming and if I have any problems. She congratulates me on Facebook when my books release. And when I have difficulties or hair-pulling issues, she does a lot of hand holding on the phone with her soothing voice.

Several months ago, another past hard knock came up while writing one of my contracted books that could have messed up everything. I had to tell Nalini the rest of my story. She didn’t chastise me for not telling her up front, held my hand, and handled the situation smoothly. When it was over, she told me in her soothing voice that I’d seen enough of the ugly side of the industry and she wanted to help turn things around for me

As I near completion of my current contract, she e-mailed me a few months ago and said she wanted to set up a time to call me and talk about my next project. I knew she wouldn’t like what I had to say. I have this French guy who’s been bugging me for years. But his book is a longer length and I only have three chapters written. Since I’ve only had category length books published, the trade length publishers want a completed manuscript.

In the wake of one of the longer length publishers cutting their fiction line, I knew Nalini would want me to stick with shorter books for now. And wait for the industry to get better, then worry about my French guy. But it’s not just the French guy. I’m long-winded which makes it a challenge for me to write short books.

She called and I told her I want to spend Sept. – Dec. finishing my French guy’s story. In her soothing voice, she said, “Okay, just don’t wait too long before getting another proposal out.” Before we ended the call, I heeded her wisdom and decided to put together another proposal for a short book and send it out, then concentrate on my French guy. That way, I don’t fade away while I get this French guy out of my head. And if the industry improves, I’ll have a completed longer book.

And she’s right. Since then, another trade length publisher bit the dust. For now, I need to stick to where my bread is buttered–in the shorter length realm.

Not only does Nalini know the industry, I’ve never failed to feel better after I talk to her.

Music to Soothe the Savage Beast

Just hearing the words “writer’s block” is enough to strike fear into a writer’s heart. It’s a big, ugly, dirty, hairy beast that thrusts itself into our lives and takes up residence in our computer. The brute steals into our mind, numbs our fingers, and fills our heart with dread. We KNOW, at that moment, we’ll never write another decent word in our life.

Cue the music. Any music. Whatever music calms your spirit and speaks to your heart. Then sit back and let it wash over you, soak into you, speak to you.

I’ve been wrestling for months with the beast of writer’s block. You’d think, being unemployed, I’d be writing my brains out. Instead, my brain has turned to mush, my fingers wobble over the keyboard in search of words. The beast has had me by the throat.

So I’ve called out to…Josh Groban. Seriously. One of my stories is about an up-and-coming singer and the now-spotlight-phobic model he falls for. Listening to the powerful music of Josh Groban helps me visualize what life might be like for a struggling performer. It loosens the beast’s grasp on my throat.

In another story, an ex-con builds a ministry for kids on the street. Listening to contemporary Christian music from Sanctus Real, the Robbie Seay Band, and Big Daddy Weave drowns out the beast’s whispers that have kept me paralyzed. It allows me to enter my story world and be the characters.

I love to sing. I’m not good at it. People will move away if I sing too loudly in church (just kidding). But I still love to sing. Sometimes I go far from my computer (where the beast lies in wait) to play worship music and just sing. It reminds me to take the focus off of me and put it where it belongs – on the One who called me to write in the first place.

And when the beast finally slinks away (I know he doesn’t go far, but at least he goes), I play music to thank God for bringing me through.

Do you have any particular music that soothes your beast?

Angry Birds and Writer’s Block

I once thought writer’s block was a myth. Until it held me in it’s cold grip. Desperate, I asked for advice from other writers. And got lots of advice. Eventually, I came up with my own cures.

  • Go for a walk by myself.

Most of the time, I walk with my son or my mom. But walking by myself clears my brain. Alone with my thoughts, the ideas start to flow.

  • Take a shower.

Just me and the warm water and my undistracted brain. Bubble baths are good too, but the shower blots out the noise of my family, the TV, the neighbors.

  • Work on a different book.

This is my surefire cure. As soon as I try to concentrate on another book and other characters, I get all kinds of creativity going for the book that was blocked until I can’t wait to get back to it.

  • Go on a research trip.

I love research trips. There’s nothing like walking in your characters’ shoes. Trips are expensive, but they are tax deductible.

  • Playing Angry Birds.

I saved the best for last. I’ve never been much of a gamer. Electronic games usually frustrate me. But when my son introduced me to Angry Birds, I fell in love. For some reason, knocking all those boxes, piles of snow, glass, and wood piles down–freeing those caged birds, popping those oinking piggies, and knocking those laughing monkeys off their tail ends relieves my stress. And stress can be the biggest block a writer must hurdle.

So my new way of relaxing at the end of the day is Angry Birds. The black bomb birds are my favorite. They cause so much destruction and get all my inner aggression out. My husband and son even got me an Angry Bird necklace for Christmas. I wear it proudly.

Perfecting Your Scenes

Scenes are one of the basic building blocks of a novel. Each scene is a  micro-story with a beginning, middle, and end that has its own goals, story arc, and purpose. It  should advance the story and change the characters, propelling the reader toward the novel’s resolution and conclusion.

One way to clean up your novel is by taking it apart scene by scene. Analyze them by asking yourself the following questions. In the end you should have a deeper, more purposeful scene. Or perhaps you’ll decide it can be deleted–that can be painful, but eliminating unnecessary scenes does create a tighter story.


  • Is this scene necessary for the story? Before you dive into perfecting the scene, perhaps this is the most important question to ask. Does the novel as a whole survive without that scene? If the action doesn’t move the story forward to its resolution, if the reader doesn’t learn something new and pertinent, consider eliminating the scene. I know, ouch. As writers, most of us have written that scene we absolutely love. The narrative flows, the dialogue is witty, and the descriptions draw us right into the setting, but … It’s not necessary. Some of my favorite scenes have ended up in the *deleted* file.
  • Have I grounded the setting? Does the reader know where and when this scene is taking place? The setting needs to be grounded in the first paragraph or your reader will be adrift.
  • Have I made use of SHIFTS, aka the six senses? (yes, six–I talked about them <here>). While it’s not necessary to employ all the senses in every scene, the more you use, the deeper you involve the reader. A good rule of thumb is to appeal to at least three senses per scene. A writer typically uses hearing and seeing; see how many additional sensory images you can add. Often it just takes a single word to deepen the story.
  • Have I stayed in one person’s POV? Sorry, no head-hopping allowed!
  • Is the POV character the one most impacted by the scene? If not, consider changing the POV. Then the reader will intimately feel the tension.
  • Does the POV character  have an established goal? What does your character want to accomplish or prevent happening? Do they have a strategy to achieve that goal? By establishing a specific goal, you’ve created a question in the reader’s mind of “Will So-and-so achieve their goal?” and they’ll keep reading to find the answer.
  • Does this scene have conflict? Is there something standing in the way of your POV character from reaching their scene goal? If not, add a few stumbling blocks.
  • Do my characters experience tension? Is there any inner turmoil going on, pulling your character in two or more directions?
  • Is there a climax? A high point where emotions are escalated?
  • Are my characters changed by what’s occurred in the scene?
  • Does the resolution hook the reader and make them want to turn the page? If you’ve ended with a *happily-ever-after* resolution, it’s easy for the reader to put the book down. Make certain you’ve planted some question in your reader’s mind that will force them to read on.

Admittedly, I’m guilty of not asking all these questions when I edit or critique, but I plan to keep these questions beside the computer from now on.