The Perception Gap: How to Use Your Characters’ Views of the World to Create Compelling and Twisty Plots

My article by this name appeared in Writer’s Digest magazine.

What one character perceives is often profoundly different from what another character perceives. I call this dichotomy a perception gap, and capitalizing on its potential to reveal meaningful information about your characters is a reliable way to develop believable characters and deliciously intriguing plots. In this workshop, you’ll discover how opinion, bias, attitude, and biology affect perception, and how that information can help you develop complex plots.

Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot

My book by this name (Writer’s Digest Books) has been an Amazon bestseller in its category for more than a year.

By integrating these 13 thinking, writing, and revising tips into their writing processes, participants will write tighter, more polished first drafts. They’ll improve their story’s pace, while ratcheting up suspense. These tips serve both as a checklist and a mandate. The tips relate to tightening a story’s structure, adding complexity to the plot, integrating backstory, enhancing character motivation, choosing words for sensual specificity, balancing narrative with action and dialogue, and improving both productivity and professionalism.

The Art of Distraction: Using Red Herrings to Create Suspense

A red herring is a “false clue,” used by writers the way magicians use sleight of hand—the goal is to distract readers from what’s really going on. When done well, red herrings add complexity to plots and intrigue to stories. Red herrings fall into three broad categories: Human Nature (including the halo and devil effects); Details (including the ones readers miss); and Expertise (including trusting those characters with specialized knowledge). You’ll learn how to weave red herrings into your narratives, allowing you to increase suspense as you create engaging and ingenious puzzles.

Crafting Popular Fiction

SciFi, speculative fiction, horror, fantasy, mysteries, horror, paranormal, feral, and romance…all successful genre fiction share these qualities: the plot is engaging; the characters are believable; and the narrative flows and draws readers into the story. This workshop will provide a detailed overview of the craft of writing commercially viable fiction.

Writing Plot-driven Fiction

By planning out your major plot points, adding unexpected twists, and interweaving subplots, you’ll do more than improve your novel’s pace and deepen your story—you’ll ensure your novel will sparkle with page-turning thrills. Implementing tactics used by Graham Greene, Lawrence Block, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, and Alfred Hitchcock can help you add can’t-put-it-down electricity to your writing—it’s all in the way you handle plotting. In this workshop. you’ll learn a practical approach to plotting and practice putting it to work.

The Metaphor Machine: Add Richness and Texture to Your Work

Metaphors are, according to Aristotle, a sign of genius. Certainly, they are more efficient and economical than ordinary language; they give maximum meaning with a minimum of words. In addition, metaphors are generous to readers by encouraging interpretation. In this workshop, we’ll put four approaches to creating metaphors to work—whether you write fiction, non-fiction, memoir, or poetry, you’ll develop rhetorically sound images that communicate emotion on a multi-layered level.

Writing & Rhetoric in a Digital Age

Laying out a logical framework participants can use to analyze writing from a rhetorical perspective enables them to objectively assess their own work. Considering how Socratic methodology, philosophy, and logic apply to today’s writing challenges by analyzing writing examples through a lens of semiotics, a field of critical theory developed specifically for the interpretation of popular culture and its symbols and signs, equips participants to understand the importance and use of tropes. Examples vary from fashion writing to travel essays and from literary and genre novels to blogs and websites. This workshop provides specific and tangible tools participants can use to assess their own and others’ writing–and to add rhetorical heft to their own work.

Marketing for Authors

In an increasingly diverse and disorganized marketplace, authors are expected to do more to promote their work than even before. In this workshop, we’ll review the pros and cons of an array of marketing options from the traditional (e.g., tours, newsletters, and swag) to newer approaches (e.g., street teams, multi-layered social media strategies, and targeted emails). You’ll work on your two-step “elevator pitch,” determine how to approach your specific marketing challenges, and decide how to put together a “friends and family” program.

Writing the Truth

Considering the nature of truth and perception surrounding issues of racism and civil rights; religious freedom and assimilation; sex and promiscuity; and mainstreaming children with disabilities enables participants to develop the skills to persuade people that the truth you see as evident is correct, without coming across as pedantic, patronizing, or mawkish. How can concrete language and detail increase the depth of readers’ moral responses to your writing? Which underlying structure will best support your rhetorical position: bookends, progressive logic, a pyramid, an inverse pyramid, or a straight-out narrative challenge? How can you reveal emotion and attitude through incident? How can you disclose and/or argue unpopular or irreverent positions without lecturing or talking down to your readers? What’s the proper balance between information and passionate pleas for justice?

In this workshop, attendees see how the writers of three works in three different modes approached the challenge: a letter (Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”); an essay (Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon”), and a middle school mystery (Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery). In this workshop, participants discover strategies they can use in their own work, specific tactics to help hone their unique writers’ voices.

Writing Bareback

Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine), known as the queen of mysteries, wrote, “My experience of reading the manuscripts of unpublished writers is not that they are badly written or unreal or silly or badly constructed, but that they are deadly boring. They are dull.”
You’ll discover how implementing tactics used by Graham Greene, John D. MacDonald, and Alfred Hitchcock can help you add can’t-put-it-down electricity to your writing—in any genre, from crime fiction to romance and from literary to spec fiction. You’ll practice proven tactics to add tension and thrills to your fiction, plays, and screenplays.

Writing Relatable Characters

Literary agents report that the most common reason fiction doesn’t sell is that the characters aren’t relatable. If your readers don’t feel what characters feel, see what they see, and understand what they say, they won’t empathize, they won’t care what happens. Readers need to be with your characters, in that space, in that moment. As Chekov wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” We’ll move beyond the instruction of “show, don’t tell,” to see how, exactly, step-by-step, to achieve that goal.

Memories of Myself: Writing Memoirs

A memoir is a themed slice of life (unlike an autobiography, which is a chronological accounting of your life). This workshop helps you determine which structure will work best for your memoir: bookends, pyramid, reverse pyramid, or chronological narrative; decide what to include—and what is best left out; select examples and anecdotes that both support your points and maintain an engaging pace; and write dialogue that captures the emotional truth of the event and resonates with readers.

Staying Motivated in the Midst of Change

This inspirational & fun keynote speech will get your group thinking about familiar challenges in new ways. They’ll laugh and they’ll think. And they’ll leave better able to stay motivated in the face of change.

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Jane is an experienced instructional designer and curriculum developer, skilled at creating interactive, hands-on workshops that leave attendees awed! She’s delighted to work with you to create content that your readers will love.