A Blog Challenge – Write the Chapter Titles in Your Autobiography

by Jackie Houchin

On my Personal Blog: “Words and Reviews” I took part in what WordPress called BLOGanuary. It was a gimic at the first of the year to get bloggers to  write every day. They sent questions to answer, and tags so you could connect with the community. It worked I guess. I went from 79 to 91 to 141 followers in one month! (Yeah, I know that’s no big deal, but my blog is less than a year old, and I don’t promote it much.)

Anywho, the question of post #30 was: What would you title the chapters of your autobiography?

At first I thought this challenge was just TOO hard.

I didn’t WANT to write an autobiography or even a memoir.  (Although a friend in THIS writer’s group blog has encouraged us to do just that. “Everyone has a story!” Gayle Bartos-Pool urges. And yes, she wrote her own life’s story, wonderfully illustrated, titled – A SCRAPBOOK LIFE.)

OK, I told myself, I’ll write down just TEN chapter headings and be done.

THIS is what I came up with….

Chapter — Title

  1. A Baby Sister!
  2. Hanging By a Head
  3. The Bobby Pin
  4. The Long Trek
  5. Trailor Park Life
  6.  Daddy’s Demise
  7.  Rude Awakening
  8. An Auto Repair Shop
  9. The Lone Ranger
  10. Joe Boysen
  11. The Gunsmith
  12. Church Camp Decision
  13. Nancy’s House
  14. Locker Combinations
  15. The 3-Mile Walk
  16. Pimples and Fat
  17. Denny Murphy
  18. The Evil Out There
  19. Double Dating
  20. A Twelth-Grade Diamond
  21. Dr Dentist
  22. Hollywood Firsts
  23. No Valentine’s Day
  24. Miramar Reality
  25. Cats and Cooking Disasters
  26. Baby Mine
  27. Hot Rods First
  28. Adoption Debacle
  29. Terror and Escapes
  30. Wrong Way Turns
  31. Dancing With Devils
  32. Comedy and Tragedy
  33. Horsing Around
  34. Deadly Diagnosis
  35. The Southern Retreat
  36. Faith
  37. Africa and Beyond
  38. Letters to Kids
  39. Pandemic Teaching
  40. See, Hear, Speak No Evil
  41. Cruising
  42. Grands and Greats
  43. Facing the Future

Gosh, maybe I SHOULD write my autobiography!

IF YOU WERE ME, with which chapter would YOU begin writing?  From 1 to 43, or here and there?  Tell me your answer in the Comments.

AND… let me challenge you to give this a try too.  Write out at least 10 chapter headings if YOU were to write YOUR autobiography.  Seriously. Try it! It may inspire you!

Can TV Make You a Better Writer?

by Maggie King

As a mystery writer, I enjoy TV shows with strong characters and storylines that show the ups and downs of being human in a less-than-perfect world. They don’t have to be crime shows, but they’re mostly what I watch. Regardless of the genre, the best shows feature conflict as a common denominator. Watching them is a great way for writers to study dialogue and body language.

Ever heard that oft-repeated writing advice to give your main character something to want and make sure she/he has a devil of a time getting it? TV writers are experts at giving their characters motivations and the accompanying challenges.

No doubt about it, TV is a great source of writing advice and inspiration. Consider the following shows:

Breaking Bad
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s … well, bad. Walter White is a mild-mannered, dispirited high school Chemistry teacher. When he’s diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, he knows his meager income won’t secure his family’s financial future after his death. He partners with one of his students in manufacturing and distributing crystal meth.

At some point, Walter White’s cancer goes into remission. It doesn’t take long for him to become a power player in the dangerous criminal underworld. For the first time, he feels alive–his new career as a drug kingpin is much more exciting than teaching adolescents in Albuquerque.

Any writer can find Breaking Bad a model for character development and a riveting, twisty plot. Vince Gilligan, creator of the show, knows how to weave secrets and deception into the story, and Walter White’s double life requires him to constantly deceive those closest to him. His growth, moral decay, and transformation result in tragic consequences for his family and associates. The DEA’s hunt for Walter leads them to a very interesting discovery. A huge cast of supporting characters will also inspire writers.

Warning: Breaking Bad is uber-violent. I usually shy away from its level of violence, but the story and writing are just too good.

Darby and Joan
Now we take a 180-degree turn. Darby and Joan is a lighthearted Australian mystery series, set in the stunning Queensland outback. A retired detective (Darby) teams up with a British nurse (Joan) to solve the mystery of her husband’s recent death. As they travel through Queensland, they encounter, and solve, other mysteries ranging from murder to arson to kidnapping.

Darby and Joan are well-drawn characters in a growing relationship that feels real. The humor is natural and not manufactured. They experience minor, temporary conflicts. At the end of season 1, romance looms for the two. Will they succumb? I’m eagerly awaiting season 2.

I try to emulate Darby and Joan’s tone and interaction for my characters. Most stories have a romantic component and my Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries are no exception.

Death in Paradise
This cozy-ish police procedural is set on the fictional island of Saint Marie (actually Guadeloupe). The Caribbean scenery is breathtaking, certainly a character in the series.

Death in Paradise is known to be formulaic. Once the lead detective comes up with the killer (one of those lightbulb moments), he assembles the suspects and, a la Agatha Christie, goes through the events and finally names the killer.

But being formulaic isn’t all bad. The predictable narrative style and structure of each episode makes it easy for writers, especially beginning ones, to study. Besides, the stories themselves may be creative and original.

If nothing else, Death in Paradise is lighthearted entertainment with pretty scenery.

Miss Marple
The beloved Miss Jane Marple is a perennial favorite of mystery fans. Created over ninety years ago by Agatha Christie, the elderly spinster lives a quiet life in the village of St. Mary Mead—quiet until a villager is murdered and that happens with alarming frequency. Miss Marple never fails to identify the killer(s), using her powers of observation and knowledge of human nature. Sometimes she disguises her shrewdness with a dithery manner. She can always see a parallel between the latest crime and a villager, or village incident.

There are countless adaptations of the stories and a number of actors have played Miss Marple. Joan Hickson is my favorite as she best matches my picture of how the character looks, acts, and speaks.

Agatha Christie has influenced many crime writers over the years, especially with plot development. I expect she’ll do so indefinitely. I think the Columbo character played by Peter Falk often channeled Miss Marple, with his bumbling ways that concealed a sharp mind.

Touched By an Angel
Touched By an Angel was a popular American series that ran for nine seasons. It’s not a crime show, but it featured stories of troubled people who had reached turning points in their lives. As they grappled with personal demons, conflict, and tough choices, along came an angel in human form to guide them and impart God’s wisdom.

This show inspired me on many levels. At the beginning of my debut mystery, Murder at the Book Group, the main character, Hazel Rose, is standing at a crossroads. She’s at loose ends in her life and is hard pressed to make even the smallest of decisions. Solving the victim’s murder gives her the opportunity to grow and get out of her rut.


There are many shows I can recommend for writers: Brokenwood, City Homicide, Janet King, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, Orange is the New Black, Scott and Bailey, Sommerdahl, Vera, Wallander, West Wing, and Winds of War/War and Remembrance are just a few.

Writers, tell us your favorite sources for writing advice. Is TV one of them? Please share your favorite shows.

POV – Who’s Telling Your Story?

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Does it matter what Point of View you use in telling your story? Yes and no. What matters is how you want your readers to experience the story. There are three main POVs and a few variations.

Third Person Omniscient lets the writer act as the puppet master controlling every character’s words and actions and thoughts. Not that the writer doesn’t do that anyway, but in this POV each character says his lines and then the writer will chime in and tell the reader what the character is really thinking in case the words were lies or evasions and the character has hidden motives or desires, both good and bad. The reader gets to climb inside all the characters’ heads and see the story through everyone’s eyes. The writer can also keep a few things from the reader in order to build suspense and to keep those pages turning. The writer can also have one character let his inner thoughts say that he is the bad guy, but nobody will know that except him and the reader until the end of the book and the truth is revealed to everybody else. That works, too. All the writer has to do is keep those plates spinning as each character reveals more and more about themselves. This style keeps the tension and excitement high right up until the last page.

There is another version of Third Person POV called Third Person Close. That’s when the writer gets inside just one or two main characters and tells the story from their perspective. Other characters appear, but the details about them come from their speech and actions, not allowing the reader to climb inside their head and walk around with them like you can do with those few Third Person Close characters. This method also lets the main character(s) discover things by watching and listening to the other people in the story and figuring out their true intentions and sharing that with the reader. That would be when the main character has a private thought like: Ah. Check out his eyes. He’s looking at everything except me. There’s a liar if I ever saw one. The reader gets to share that little tidbit, but nobody else on the page knows it.

Another Point Of View is Second Person POV. The writer tells the story with “you” being the driving force. An example would be thus: You walk into the crowded joint and you spot the guy standing at the bar. You wonder where you saw him before and then it hits you. You’re looking at the guy who tried killing you a year ago. Are you going to give him a second chance or end it right here?

That POV is far more challenging than its alternatives and not often used in novel-length stories. It can work in a short story because the reader doesn’t have to follow that unusual method for too long of a time.

And then there is First Person POV where a single character takes you on the journey. The reader gets to know how that person thinks and reacts and grows throughout the story because the character is basically talking directly to the reader. As for the main character, he or she has to watch and listen to the other characters and figure out what they are up to and impart that finding to the reader in their thoughts and actions. But in this way the reader also gets to interpret the other characters’ movements and see if they can figure out what is really happening along with the main character.

First Person POV provides a very personal connection to the story for the reader since they are with the main character every minute of the journey, so make sure the main character is somebody the reader will like. More than once I have put down a book because I really didn’t like that particular character. I have a rule: If I wouldn’t invite the main character into my house, I won’t stick with the book that has that particular character telling the story.

I have even seen this particular POV done with more than one character doing the honors. Each character gets their own set of chapters in which to tell the story from their point of view. One writer I know, Bruce Cook (writing as Brant Randall in Blood Harvest), had an animal have his say in his own chapters along with the various humans. The reader goes from section to section watching seven different characters take the reader on the journey. The reader gets to see what the characters first think is happening and then when they go a second round, we get to see what to make of it all and find out what really happened. It worked.

There was another book (though I have forgotten the name) that had the main character do his chapters throughout the book in First Person POV and other chapters were in Third Person so we could see what others were thinking and doing when the main character wasn’t around. That worked, too.

So there are lots of options out there. It just matters how you want to tell your story and how your characters want to express their feelings. Be sure to consult them because they are an integral part of that story you are trying to tell. I kid you not. Good characters have a mind of their own and sometimes they take the writer into uncharted territory that turns out to be just what your story needed. Write On!

Something New?

by Linda O. Johnston

I love what I write, and I want to do more of it. I’m currently writing for two Harlequin Romantic Suspense series, their long-running Colton books and my own Shelter of Secrets series, as well as a mystery series called Alaska Untamed for Crooked Lane Books under my first pseudonym, Lark O. Jensen. I enjoy them all and have new books coming soon in each of them.

But my mind is at work on, yes, something new. Not sure what yet, but it’ll quite possibly be a mystery series. And it’ll have romance in it. And it’ll definitely have at least one dog.

That’s who I am, and what I write.

How did I become that way? I’ve developed my writing persona over a lot of years, and I write the kinds of things I like best.

But how about you? What is your favorite genre to write in? Your favorite kinds of characters? Any quirks, like mine of including dogs whenever possible? And do your favorite ideas morph over time or stay the same?

Think about it now. If you were going to change what you’re writing, how would you determine what came next? I have to admit I do ponder that a lot, though I recognize I’m fairly set in my ways.

Or do you always try something new? Or do you prefer staying with a particular genre?

I suppose that kind of pondering is part of the creative process. Writers write. And think. And plot. And create characters and stories, and even their own futures, to some extent.

It’s certainly who I am and what I do. And you?

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