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Custom Presentations

How do you tell your stories?

All stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, benefit from suspense.

When suspense-building tools are used properly, you’ll create page-turners readers can’t put down.


A must-attend for every writer.

—Lynda Keever, Florida Magazine Association


Great instructor. A one-day textbook.

—Lamar Flowers, Clemson University


I left Jane's keynote raring to go. Brilliant!

—Brenda Underwood, American Express 


On target! Made me rethink old assumptions!

—Frank Reysem, Price Waterhouse Coopers 


Jane brings her experience as a college lecturer and corporate trainer to bear for every event. She can tailor her original content to your audience, or she can collaborate with you to develop customized topics.

Hosts of workshop, training programs, and corporate events Jane has led include:

Writing Conferences
Writer’s Digest Annual Conference • Sleuthfest • Permian Basin Writers Workshop • Deadly Ink • Malice Domestic • CozyCon • Writer’s Weekend Escape • Association of Writers and Writing Programs • Bouchercon  • Malice Domestic  •  Story Expo

Associations and Literary Societies
The Jane Austen Society • Sisters in Crime • Wolfe Pack • Mystery Writers of America• The American Library Association Conference • The New York Library Association • Many Others

Libraries and Library Associations
The New York Public Library • Tomball Library • Robson Library • Eastchester Library • Los Angeles Public Library • Westport Library • Many Others

Corporations and Professional Associations
American Express • Pepsi • Pfizer • Pricewaterhouse Coopers • Zenith Media • OMD • DAS • The American Association of Advertising Agencies • The American Management Association • The Hong Kong Bureau of Trade • The Singapore Health Promotion Board • Many Others

The University of Toledo • Clemson University • Ulster University• Western Connecticut State University • University of Southern Maine, Stonecoast • Many Others



I was absolutely WOWED by everyone’s writing, honesty and openness, including Jane’s, who turned a group of strangers into a family.

—Elizabeth Dougherty, MIT Endicott House


Your presentation on writing was terrific!

—Nancy Hartman, TKR Cable


Our highest rated speaker—EVER!

—Candace Cross, IBM 


You offered so many valuable strategies and tips and I know I'll refer to my voluminous notes often. I was quite touched by your warmth and generosity.

—Mary Levenson, Gulf Coast Sisters in Crime

Workshop Topics

Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot

The stories that keep readers up all night share three key characters: they’re suspenseful, well-structured, and cleverly plotted. In this comprehensive overview, you’ll discover how to write tighter, more polished first drafts by focusing on the underpinnings of effective storytelling. Specifically, we’ll discuss how to:

1. Create spine-tingling suspense by escalating conflict and raising the stakes.

We’ll assess how to optimize the story-driving potential of four kinds of conflict: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual (and how best to combine them). On the face of it, conflicts would seem to be either external or internal. However, it is only when an external situation is perceived as a conflict that the story moves forward. People’s reactions to an incident, not the incident itself, generate a conflict. In other words, all conflicts are internal.

2. Choose the structure that’s best for your story.

Structure is an organizing principle that, once set, helps you develop your through-line plot or storyline and keeps you on track as you write. Different stories lend themselves to different structures, and there is no right or wrong decision. The only mistake you can make is having no structure at all. The two broad options are linear (also called chronological) and non-linear. We’ll also review three questions designed to help you decide which structure is best for your story, considering the timeline, scope, and theme

3. Integrate plot Twists, plot Reversals, and moments of heightened Danger (TRDs) using Jane’s Plotting Roadmap to help build suspense while controlling your story’s pace.

“Plot twists” is an umbrella term, referring to three specific plotting strategies guaranteed to captivate your readers with their I-can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens-next unpredictability.

  • Plot Twists: something unexpected but not the opposite
  • Plot Reversals: something unexpected and the opposite
  • Moments of Heightened Danger: something that adds urgency and dread to the story.

When your plot Twists, plot Reversals, and moments of heightened Danger (TRDs) come at tactically sound moments, your story’s pace quickens, and your action becomes more focused.

Whether you like outlining or prefer a more organic approach to writing, Jane’s Plotting Roadmap can help you create a powerful framework for your story by ensuring you integrate captivating twists and turns (TRDs) at appropriate points in your story.

Making thoughtful, reader-focused decisions about suspense, structure, and plot helps ensure your story will resonate with readers—and those are the stories publishers want, and readers crave.

Mastering Plot Twists

The stories that keep people on the edge of their seats and up all night, from family sagas to thrillers and from romances to sci fi, are filled with unexpected twists and turns. By integrating plot twists, plot reversals, and moments of heightened danger (TRDs) at tactically sound moments, your stories will captivate readers with their I-can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens-next unpredictability. When your plot twists come at the right moments, your pace will be quicker and the action more focused, and these are the nuanced, multifaceted stories that sell, and that find a devoted reader- or viewership.

The Double Cross

Red Herrings Reimagined

One of the secrets of mystery writing success is creating complex and surprising plots, and one of the secrets of creating complex and surprising plots is a deliciously sneaky technique writers use to befuddle readers—red herrings. By using red herrings, the same way that a magician uses sleight of hand, you’ll be able to divert your readers’ attention from the actual to the illusionary; if done well, your readers will believe what they see—an irresistible way to draw them in and keep them on the edge of their seats.

The Perception Gap

On How to Use Your Characters’ Views of the World to Create Compelling and Twisty Plots

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.

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

Plotting with an Unreliable Narrator

There are five categories of unreliable narrators: (1) the innocent, the unknowing, or the misunderstood; (2) the guilty; (3) the emotionally taxed or mentally ill; (4) the incapacitated; and (5) paranormal. An unreliable narrator has to have a credible reason to be unreliable. You can’t simply add a character who lies, for example, simply because you want to hide the truth. This presentation delves into the plotting and character-development complexities associated with unreliable narrators.

The Art of Distraction

On 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

On Adding 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.


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.

Writing About Your Life

On 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.

Your Topic Idea

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.

Harnessing Creativity

How to Tap Into Your Brain and Find New Ideas That Work

Creativity can be learned. This simple idea can change lives. Research-based and grounded with illuminating examples, participants will be inspired to excel. By considering the latest research on creativity—random access, contradictory message, and free association—attendees learn specific tactics to ignite their creative fire!

Keynote Topics

Overcoming Writers Block

Find Your Inner Muse

Your internal critic feeds on your own self-doubt, anxieties, and fears. To quiet her, you must starve her out. Our internal editor is a different voice from the one that misdirects our energy by demeaning our efforts. The internal editor is smart and savvy and helps us improve our work. The internal critic shuts down creativity and mocks our editorial eye. In this speech, Jane shares practical strategies to address the three reasons writers feel blocked: fear of failure, fear of success, and perfectionism.

Four Things I Wish I'd Known

…at the Start of My Writing Career

From knowing specific craft techniques to implementing efficient promotional strategies (and skipping the rest) and from building meaningful relationships to understanding the complexities of business, this speech helps authors navigate the complex publishing landscape. Jane will discuss four crucial lessons all authors need to know, and that most only learn the hard way.

Putting First What Matters Most

Proven Strategies for Success

Understanding your own specific time- and priority-management issues from among the wide range of possibilities can lead to breakthrough insights and life-changing strategies. And it can be fun to discover how your personality affects your productivity and communication style, where your strengths really lie—and how to capitalize on them, and how to remain calm in a crisis by demonstrating true grace under pressure. In this powerful speech, Jane shares inspirational stories of success from people just like you who made the first step to empowering themselves.

Your Topic Idea

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.


Jane is fabulous—concise—fun!

—Julie Benson Nivens, IBM 


You were inspirational. I’m seeing the world differently since your keynote.

—Phyllis Gleason, American Express 


I feel energized!

—Jeff McDonald, Clemson University 


Phenomenal! Jane’s presentations are first rate.

—Karl P. Holliday, Toronto Hydro 


You are amazing. I came home with a glow.

—Lita Nelson, MIT Endicott House


I left feeling inspired, invigorated and renewed.

—Deb Carlson


Your insights and approaches are so practical, logical, and do-able.

—Mark Cheverton, Writer’s Digest Conference


Your workshop was the most helpful and practical one I’ve ever attended.

—Deborah McGonagle


A world class facilitator.

—Mike Fitzgerald, MIT Endicott House

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