Marcy Kennedy

Four Crippling Misconceptions About Deep POV

DeepPointOfView 1By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Myths and misunderstandings abound no matter what skill we’re trying to learn. An important part of learning is sorting out the misinformation surrounding a topic. So today I want to talk about what deep point of view isn’t.

Misconception #1 – You need to write in first person to write deep POV.

Deep POV isn’t about pronouns. We can write deep POV from a third-person point of view. And we haven’t necessarily created a more intimate story by writing in first person rather than third person. First-person point of view can feel cold and distant too.

Misconception #2 – You create deep POV by spending a lot of time on internal dialogue.

This is possibly one of the most dangerous misconceptions about writing in deep POV because it can lead us to include too much internal dialogue (character thoughts) within our stories. Books written in deep POV usually will include more internal dialogue than a book written in a more distant POV, but that internal dialogue still needs to be seamlessly woven in with action, description, and dialogue. We shouldn’t allow our stories to stall out by dropping in giant chunks of internal dialogue.

This isn’t the only issue with this misconception, though. Deep POV is about more than simply internal dialogue. It’s also about internal, visceral reactions to what our viewpoint character experiences. It’s about creating a feeling of immediacy, as if we’re watching the story play out in front of us as it happens (regardless of the tense used). It’s about allowing the viewpoint character’s judgments and opinions and biases to color everything on the page.

Misconception #3 – Deep POV requires us to put our internal dialogue in italics.

Point of view can be a confusing topic for writers because of how closely it ties to showing vs. telling and internal dialogue. Whether or not to italicize internal dialogue is a question of formatting and not one of whether you’re writing in a deep or shallow point of view.

The guidelines for italicizing our internal dialogue are outside the scope of this book, but generally speaking, we’ll have less italicized internal dialogue in a book written in deep POV than we will in a book written in a shallower POV.

This is because we only italicize internal dialogue when it’s what’s called direct internal dialogue. Direct internal dialogue is written in first-person present tense regardless of the tense and person of the rest of the story. Because it’s italicized, it draws attention to itself.

In deep POV, we’re so close inside the character that the character’s thoughts tend to flow and interweave with the rest of the writing and are best written in the same person and tense as the story itself. To explain this another way, the less the internal dialogue draws attention to itself, the more immersed the reader feels in the character. The less attention the internal dialogue draws to itself, the closer the reader feels.

Misconception #4 – Deep POV means we have to show everything that happens.

One argument I’ve heard against deep POV is that it will make your story too long and feel too slow because you need to show everything that happens and you can’t summarize.

Let me give you an example. You might write something like this…

They gathered up their belongings.

Or something like…

They ran two red lights on the drive to Brenda’s house.

According to this misconception of deep POV, you wouldn’t be able to write either of those sentences in a deep POV book. You’d need to show them collecting every single item or you’d have to show the entire drive.

Deep POV doesn’t mean you show everything that happens in a stream of consciousness-style narrative. Deep POV is an overarching technique we can use in our writing, but we can still pull back and use moments of narrative summary to skim unimportant information when necessary. We can also cut any internal dialogue that would bore the reader. Deep POV is a tool, not a straightjacket.

Deep Point of View: A Busy Writer’s Guide is now available!

Do you want readers to be so caught up in your book that they forget they’re reading?

Then you need deep POV.

Deep POV takes the reader and places them inside of our characters—hearing their thoughts, feeling their emotions, and living the story through them. Compared to other writing styles, it builds a stronger emotional connection between the reader and our characters, creates the feeling of a faster pace, and helps avoid point-of-view errors and telling rather than showing.

In Deep Point of View, you’ll learn specific, practical things you can do immediately to take your fiction to the next level.

Each book in the Busy Writer’s Guide series is intended to give you enough theory so that you can understand why things work and why they don’t, but also enough examples to see how that theory looks in practice. In addition, they provide tips and exercises to help you take it to the pages of your own story, with an editor’s-eye view. Most importantly, they cut the fluff so that you have more time to write and to live your life.

Grab a copy from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, or Smashwords.

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Using a Montage to Handle Time in Fiction

Image Credit: Zoli Plosz/freeimages.com

Image Credit: Zoli Plosz/freeimages.com

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to my mini-series on handling time in our fiction. Today I want to talk about what I call the montage.

If you watch movies, you’ve likely seen a montage. It’s a quick collection of images used to compress time or information. In other words, it’s a pacing tool.

And a montage can help us handle the passage of time in our fiction. What I mean by that will make more sense when I show you how they’re used, so let’s dive in.

Montages for Compression of Time

As an editor, I often have a discussion with writers over “empty” scenes—scenes without enough happening in them to justify their existence or where the character’s goal isn’t exciting in and of itself. They make the story feel slow, but the writer will argue that the scenes are important because they need to show time passing. What they often need instead of all those extraneous scenes is a time-compression montage.

In movies, time compression montages are used when it’s important to know that something is happening—for example, a character is learning a new skill—but it’s not important enough or interesting enough to spend a long time showing it happening.

In other words, the fact that this time passed or that this skill was gained is more important than the details of what happened during that passed time or skill acquisition.

I’ll give you a quick example of how a time-compression montage might look on the page.

Let’s say we have a woman in the 1800s awaiting a letter from her husband, who has gone ahead of her across the continent to set up a home for them and was supposed to send for her once he arrived.

Each day I walked to the post office to check our box. Each day the clerk came back empty-handed. At first it was, “Is there something special coming, dear?” and then “Are you sure he has the right address?” and finally “Letters get lost all the time. I wouldn’t worry.” By the time winter set in, she didn’t say anything at all. When I asked if I had any mail, she simply shook her head. She wouldn’t look me in the eyes.

In the movie Notting Hill, when Hugh Grant’s character is walking through the market and the seasons change around him, that’s a time-compression montage. A Knight’s Tale (starring Heath Ledger) used multiple montages in this way. The novel version of Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding uses at least one montage. If you watch for them from now on, you’ll see how frequently time-compression montages show up in fiction, on both screen and page, across all genres.

Montages for Backstory

I could write a whole series about backstory (and I might eventually). The biggest danger of backstory is that we insert it in such a way that it stops the present-day action dead. (A close second is adding unnecessary backstory, even in small bites.)

I could name on one hand the number of times I’ve come across a flashback (a piece of backstory turned into its own scene) that was essential enough to justify its existence and worked well. Very rarely is a scene-length flashback the best way to handle backstory. That’s not to say that the backstory itself isn’t essential—sometimes it can be—but we need to handle it properly.

There are many ways to do that. One particularly effective method for emotionally charged bits of backstory is to use a backstory montage.

The best way I can explain how this works is to point you to the movie K-Pax. Near the end, the psychiatrist, Mark Powell, has gone back to the home of Robert Porter, the man he believes is Prot (a patient who claims he’s an alien). As the sheriff tells the story of the rape and murder of Porter’s wife and daughter by an ex-con, we see these flashes of images of what happened.

We can use the same method in our stories when we want to share backstory or have our character relive a particularly traumatic event in the past, but we also want to keep the present day story moving.

Share a present day event, then a flash of images or sounds or smells. A present day event, and then a flash of the memories it triggers. It works like a chain of links as the character struggles to face the past without losing touch on what’s happening in the present. The montage flashes should work in sequential order to tell their own mini-story alternating with the present-day story of the character.

Montages for Altered States of Mind

Sometimes we run into a spot where our character is very sick, drugged, having a mental break, or is in an otherwise altered state of mind. For example, when Katniss has been stung by the tracker jackets in The Hunger Games and she’s hallucinating, stumbling through the forest.

These are moments when we need to cover what could be a large area of time in a fast, interesting way. We also need to be able to do it in an authentic way that feels like we’re still inside the viewpoint character.

Let me show you how this might look.

Angie struggled to stay awake—some part of her brain screamed at her that she should after a head injury—but her whole body felt strange. Achy and heavy and hot. Black dots swam in her vision and the world was upside down. No, the world was right side up. The car was upside down. Windshield smashed and glass all over the floor-ceiling.

Her eyes slid shut. Flew open.

Sirens. Red and blue and white flashes of light. A voice saying “on three.”

Daggers of pain plunged into her whole body and blackness swallowed her again.

White walls in a moving room. Someone taking her pulse. An IV line dangling from her arm.

Beeping machines. A mask over her face. The stench of skunk.

She fought her way back to consciousness. The room smelled of antiseptic and sweat, and she brushed her fingers over a thin, rough blanket. This wasn’t her house and it wasn’t her bed. The crash. Someone had t-boned her on the way home from work, right? She couldn’t quite pull all the pieces from her memory, but how else would she have gotten here.

The curtain around her bed pulled back, and a woman in smiley face scrubs leaned over her. “Nice to see you awake again. On a scale of 1-10, how would you say the pain is today?”

Angie has been drifting in and out of awareness for nearly a week by the time she finally comes fully awake.

While we have the option of skipping over times like this, a montage can show the passage of time in a natural and interesting way.

Have you ever tried to write a montage? Or would you like to share an example of a montage from a book or movie that you felt worked particularly well?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Managing the Passage of Time in Fiction

Image Credit: Toni Mihailov/www.freeimages.com

Image Credit: Toni Mihailov/www.freeimages.com

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We’re almost constantly aware of the passage of time in our daily lives. We check our watches, set alarms, mark important dates on our calendars. We live by the change in daylight and the change in seasons.

The passage of time will be equally important to our characters…and to our readers. Readers can find it confusing or disconnecting if they don’t know when something is taking place or how long a time has passed.

Part of what makes our story feel real to them is the natural passage of time.

Unfortunately, how to deal with the passage of time is something that’s not as commonly taught. That means many of us don’t know how to deal with it correctly (or at all).

Lines like “the next morning” or “a week later” can feel clunky. As readers, we know they’re inserted by the author. They break the fictional dream because they feel like they’re coming from an outside source.

Or often we’ll write an entire story without a hint of when it’s taking place. Winter or summer? The 1950s or the 1990s?

So how can we deal with the passage of time more naturally—in a way that feels like we’re still living it with our characters?

Today I’m going to start a short series on dealing with time in our fiction. This week I’m going to look at ways we can establish the “time” of our story using subtle cues.

When our book opens, when we start a new chapter or scene, or whenever there’s a major change, we need to establish the time.

Establishing a Specific Time

You can establish a specific time internally or externally.

Establishing a specific time externally is usually done in thrillers where there’s a clock ticking down to a tragic event and every minute counts. The author opens each scene/chapter with the date and time.

E.g. 8:00 pm, Friday

Kassandra Lamb did this in her thriller Fatal Forty-Eight. We find out early in the story how long the serial killer keeps his victims alive, and seeing that clock counting down at the start of every new segment really added to the tension.

Externally establishing time doesn’t work for most stories, though, so if we need to establish a specific time, we have to do it internally, through the characters.

Have your viewpoint character look at a clock or their watch. This is the simplest method. To make this believable, give them a reason for doing so. Maybe they know they’re running late. Maybe they have a deadline to hit. Maybe they have an important meeting.  

Use dialogue. We have to be careful that we don’t fall into As-You-Know-Bob dialogue with this technique. As-You-Know-Bob dialogue is where a character says something they wouldn’t normally say. It’s dialogue that’s for the reader’s benefit rather than dialogue that’s from one character to another. Like with looking at a clock, make sure your speaking character has a strong and natural reason for mentioning the time. Would you include the time if you spoke this dialogue?

Establishing a General Time

Often we don’t need an exact minute or hour. Often all we need is an approximate time to show the days moving forward.

Use the sun or moon’s position. This is the simplest way to keep time moving forward. If in the previous scene our character was in a dark alley, looking for a place to hide from her stalker, and we open this scene with the sun making the broken glass seem almost pretty with the way it glitters, we’ll know time has passed. It was night. Now it’s morning.

Reference a commonly known time of day. As long as your story is set on Earth, you can also establish a general time using an event like breakfast or lunch (or happy hour or siesta). If the diner on the corner is filling up with lunch customers, giving your character a chance to vanish into the crowd, that sets the time and keeps the story moving forward.

Compare this day to the previous day. In the opening to this post, I mentioned that saying something like “the next morning” can feel awkward and intrusive. There are more natural ways we can handle this. A good one is to show what’s changed between this day and the previous one.

Yesterday’s sunshine had vanished and rain splattered her face, promising she wouldn’t be able to sleep out in the open again tonight. It was find shelter or perish.

We know it’s the next day, but it feels more natural because it feels like the character is thinking about the difference. It gives them a reason to note the change in days.

The important thing to remember with these cues is that they still need to fit naturally within the story. We shouldn’t stop the story in its tracks just to describe the time.

Establishing a Season of the Year or an Era in History

These time cues are the easiest to establish but nonetheless important.

Seasons all have built in cues for us to use. Christmas carols on the radio mean it’s before Christmas. Dead trees by the curb on garbage day means it’s after Christmas. The leaves change in fall. Stores bursting with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates mean Valentine’s Day is coming. We don’t have to hit the reader over the head to convey the season. A passing mention of seasonal items can subtly do the job for us.

Technology and clothing can help identify the era in history. If our character isn’t talking on a cell phone, we know the story isn’t set in modern day. A woman who struggles to breathe because she had her corset laced too tight or a man who is arrested for buying illegal booze gives the reader a general idea of the era. It usually won’t pin down a year (unless you include a radio broadcast about the death of President Kennedy for example), but it will help establish the right era for the setting.

Do you struggle with including enough time cues in your writing? Would you like to share another natural way to include a mention of the time?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Unbelievable Real Life: Underwater Art Museum

Image Credit: Alex Furr/www.freeimages.com

Image Credit: Alex Furr/www.freeimages.com

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’ve been to museums across the world, from Australia, to Europe, to Canada and the United States. I’ve never been to a museum under water. Until I saw this video, I didn’t even know something like this existed.

When I watched this video, full of fantastic images of how submerged sculptures are changed as the ocean reclaimed them, a few thoughts crossed my mind. I’ll let you watch first before I share my reactions.

My first thought was “how does someone come up with an idea like this?” It seems like a melding of creativity and a desire to change the world. Part of deCaires mission is to bring attention to the danger our oceans are in. Art is for entertainment, but art can also send a message. I believe it can change hearts and minds in a way that non-fiction never can. That’s a part of why I write fiction.

My second thought, I’ll admit, was much less deep. The sculptures were both beautiful and grotesque. I started to wonder what it would have been like if we’d found these sculptures, not knowing who put them there or why. What would we have concluded about the culture and people behind them? What would we decide about how they’d come to be there?

Perhaps there’s a story idea in there somewhere 🙂

What did you think when you watched this video?

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Will Humanity One Day Live on Mars?

Image Attribution: By NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image Attribution: By NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The next milestone in space exploration seems to be putting people on Mars.

NASA has mentioned plans to place human beings on Mars sometime in the 2030s. Non-profits like the Netherlands-based Mars One Project and private businesses like Elon Musk’s SpaceX intend to do it sooner than that.

While there are many scientific reasons for wanting to explore Mars, the reason for Mars exploration that earns the most press seems to be colonization. Many people see Mars as a backup planet to our own.

I’m a science fiction and fantasy girl. In theory, I love the idea of venturing out into the universe.

But I also have some questions about the feasibility and practicality of something like colonizing Mars.

Our planet is more hospitable than Mars, and yet look at the large portions of it that aren’t lived in because they’re not friendly to human life. Our vast stretches of desert. Mountain peaks. The depths of the ocean. Antarctica.

In an interview with The Telegraph, award-winning science writer Stephen Petranek responded to similar objections with this: “I suspect Antarctica’s a pretty good analogy of how we can build habitats in a hostile environment. The food’s pretty good, there’s a lot of entertainment, people have a lot of camaraderie. There are now several year-long stations at the South Pole. The French have one and they have fabulous food.”

While that sounds fantastic, I do think he’s overlooked a few key points.

No one lives permanently in Antarctica. The stations are there year-round; the people cycle in and out. There is no indigenous population.

It doesn’t have an infrastructure. While the science stations there do have hydroponics bays to grow some fruits and vegetables, most of the food still needs to be shipped in frozen, including all meat products. Clothing, medical supplies, and all the other non-edible necessities of life are brought in. They’re not produced there.

To put it another way, life in Antarctica is possible because it takes place on a planet that already provides for people’s needs. Life there isn’t sustainable in and of itself, cut off from the outside world.

It’s also on a planet with oxygen. In a region with plenty of available water (albeit frozen water). And where temperatures are concerned, Antarctica is actually a little bit warmer.

I’m by no means an expert on space travel. I’m not a scientist. I’m not an astronomer. I’m not a biologist. And I’m not saying it will never happen. Technology has changed so much in the past 150 years that only a fool would say that technology won’t continue to advance further in the next 150.

But I wonder. I wonder if we’re searching for answers off-planet when maybe we should be searching for more ways to save this one. Because the more we look at the universe, the clearer it becomes how unique and special Earth really is.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Will future generations colonize Mars? Would the time and resources being spent on reaching Mars be better spent on finding solutions here on Earth?

(I welcome disagreement and discussion on this blog as long as it is polite and well-reasoned. Open discussions help us all grow. Name calling and assertions without logical arguments to back them up serve no one. If you want to engage in those, you’ll need to find another place to do it 🙂 )

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Selecting POV Characters and 7 Tips to Make the Most of Working with a Cover Designer

Last month, I talked about how to find the right cover designer for our project. Unfortunately, once we’ve selected our cover designer, it doesn’t mean everything will move forward smoothly or well, even if our cover designer is both talented and professional.

Why? Well, a business relationship is still a relationship. That means a large part of the success of the relationship depends on communication. We need to clearly communicate our needs and desires to our cover designer.

So this month I’m sharing my top seven tips for making the most of working with a cover designer.

I hope you’ll join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for my 7 Tips to Make the Most of Working with a Cover Designer.

If you’re not in need of a cover designer at present, I also had another post up this week at Writer’s Helping Writers about how to decide how many point-of-view characters our book needs.

And remember, if you have a question you’d like me to answer or a specific topic you want me to cover, contact me. I’m keeping a file on questions to answer here on the blog in the coming year.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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How to Hunt Down Sneaky Point-of-View Errors

Sneaky POV ErrorsBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

One of my favorite writing craft topics is point of view because, when we master point of view, it solves so many other writing problems. Properly executing point of view immediately strengthens our writing, makes it more immersive, and gives lightbulb moments for many other writing elements. (If you want to know about other benefits of a consistent point of view, you might want to take a look at my post on 7 Reasons Understanding Point of View Is Essential to Writing Great Fiction.)   

So I was very excited when Jami Gold asked if I’d write a post for her about clues for catching out-of-POV phrases. These POV errors happen any time we’re in a limited point of view—where we’re supposed to stay inside one viewpoint character at a time—and we write something that our viewpoint character couldn’t know, wouldn’t have experienced, or wouldn’t be thinking about. Out-of-POV phrases are sneaky POV errors. They’re less obvious than something like head-hopping, but they’re more damaging to our writing.

Please join me over at Jami Gold’s blog where I’m giving practical tips for hunting down and eliminating sneaky out-of-POV phrases.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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Image Credit: Gregory Hoyl Jr./freeimages.com

How to Find and Select a Cover Designer

FreeImages.com/Bill Davenport

FreeImages.com/Bill Davenport

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Making sure my books had covers that would attract readers rather than turn them away has been one of the scariest parts of independent publishing for me. Readers do judge books by their covers. An ugly or unprofessional cover can make a reader pass on our book regardless of how great our content is.

Most of us are writers, not artists or graphic designers. We can’t design our own covers. (Or, at least, most of us shouldn’t.)So how do we find a cover designer who can create the perfect cover for our books—one that’s visually appealing and also accurately represents the content inside?

Well, that’s the topic of my most recent guest post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. I hope you’ll join me for How to Find and Select a Cover Designer.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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The Inevitable Truth of Life–Things Go Wrong

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

How do you face the difficult times in life?

Over the weekend, my husband and I went to see The Martian, and this is the question I walked away with.

In The Martian, Mark Watney is part of the team of astronauts who went on a Mars mission. Due to a storm, they had to leave the surface of Mars before their allotted time was over. During preparation for lift off, Watney was injured and lost in the storm. The team thought he was dead and had to launch without him–leaving him stranded on Mars, a planet where nothing grows, with no breathable atmosphere, and extreme weather conditions.

I don’t want to spoil too many of the story details for you, but Watney doggedly manages to survive on Mars until he’s able to be rescued, years later.

Once back on earth, Watney becomes an instructor, teaching astronaut candidates. In his first class, he tells them the one inevitable truth of space travel.

At some point, everything will go wrong.

That’s not an if. It’s a when. And when everything goes wrong, there’s really only one thing you can do if you want to survive.

You have to focus on one problem at a time.

The movie was talking about space and what you face there, but it’s also the one inevitable truth about life.

At some point in your life, everything will go wrong. Horribly, heart-breakingly, hope-crushingly wrong.

And there’s only one thing you can do if you want to survive. You focus on one problem at a time.

The big picture—that’s going to be more than we can handle when life blows up in our face. Because if we look at the big picture, it’ll seem impossible to overcome. We’ll feel too weak, too unprepared, too alone. Too everything.

But one problem at a time…well, we can find the strength for that one small thing. Just that thing. Only that thing.

And then the next one.

And the next one.

And one day, we’ll look up, and we’ll have made it out the other side. We’ll have survived.

And if we’re really brave, one day we’ll do what Mark Watney did. We’ll take what we’ve learned and use it to help teach others how to survive. Because at some point in their lives, everything will go wrong.

And what will matter most if they want to survive is knowing how to face it without giving up.

Have you faced a time in your life when everything seemed to go wrong? What helped you through?

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March to a Bestseller 3 – Great Writing Resources

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

March to a Bestseller III

I’m honored to once again be participating in the semi-annual March to a Bestseller event run by Bryan Cohen. I love this event because it brings writers a bunch of high-quality books about writing and publishing for an affordable price (99 cents each).

And to make it even better, on the day of the sale, the authors involved staff the Facebook group for giveaways and Q&As. If you have a writing-related question, this is the place to bring it. I’ll be manning the “table” from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm Eastern.

Here are the books involved this time!

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iBooks. (You also might want to check out Grammar for Fiction Writers or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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