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January 15, 2018 by in category The Write Life tagged as , , , , ,

Yesterday my husband and I decided to inaugurate the MoviePass cards our son gave us for Christmas. With one swipe (and $10 a month) we can see as many movies as we like at any theater.

Our first movie would be The Post at our local theater. It took both of us, and the manager, to figure out how to make the card work (which in hindsight should not have been necessary if we understood our phone settings). Finally, we swiped our cards only to find that The Post was sold out. That pushed us to our default selection: any movie that was not sold out. We ended up in a nearly empty theater watching Jumanji, the 20-year-later sequel to Robin William’s wonderful movie by the same name.

Jumanji is a fanciful action-adventure movie about a game that sucks people into an alternate universe and in order to get home, the player must win the game. In William’s version, he was the only one who disappeared. This version has an ensemble cast that includes The Rock, Jack Black and two other actors we weren’t familiar with but who were perfectly cast.

The movie began, the music was ominous, the set up delightful, the locations beautiful and the direction energetic. The kids in the theater reacted with oohs, aahs, and other exclamations of delight.

Oh, wait! That was me oohing and aahing!

Yep, I loved every bit of that movie and when I got home I realized the reason I loved it was because I lost myself in the storytelling. Everyone from the screenwriter to the lighting guy and cast was on board with the creative vision. The premise was quickly and clearly established. Casting was based on character and not on what looks that the producers deemed ‘sexy and salable’. The computer-generated stunts did not overpower the story nor did they last so long that the viewer could literally leave, have dinner and come back and they would still be crashing about on screen. If something fantastic happened – like characters dying and getting shot into space and suddenly falling back to earth again without injury – the viewer accepted it because it quickly became apparent that each piece of this story had a purpose. There was always a payoff that made sense. Threads were wrapped up at the end. The story built to a conclusion and didn’t present it. But better than anything, the actors never broke character. The adult actors were asked to channel their teenage counterparts in the real world that had been left behind. I have seen this transference in movies before but too often the adult actor simply remains an adult. The last time I saw this plot point beautifully executed was in Tom Hanks’s Big.

So, here’s what I want you to do. Before you write another word, before you start editing, go see Jumanji. It is one of the best lessons in pitch-perfect storytelling I’ve had in a very long time. As for me, I’m going back to work and give my manuscript the Jumanji treatment because the devilish details are what make for a heavenly story.



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Loss for Words by @DeniseMColby

November 12, 2017 by in category The Writing Journey tagged as , , ,

loss for words | denise m. colby | a slice of orange

I’m at a loss for words. 


Me.  Someone who can talk incessantly. Who never seems to max out my words each day.

Why is it when I don’t have time to write, ideas and words flow in my mind? When I’m driving, in the shower, at a kids event.  It seems that I have no issue coming up with blog post ideas and story ideas to explore or messages to write.  I’m just not in a position to actually write them.

Why is it when I don’t have time to write, ideas and words flow in my mind?

But today?  Nothing.  I even left my house to work specifically on my NaNo work and write my blog post and guess what?  My brain is mush.  I want to curl up and take a nap.

Actually I think it’s because I’m exhausted.  My bandwidth is maxed.  And there’s good reason.

My husband and I are coaching my younger son’s robotics team.  We have our FIRST Lego League tournament this weekend and we’ve been pulling more than double shifts.

We have six 7th graders on our team.  Our robotics table is a large table with Lego missions all over it and our robot is made out of Lego’s.  We program it to accomplish as many missions as possible in 2 1/2 minutes.  Pretty cool.

But wait, there’s more.

Loss for Words | Denise M. Colby | A Slice of OrangeWe have a five minute project presentation as well.  Each year is a different theme and we have to find a real world problem within the theme and innovate a new solution.  This years theme is Hydro Dynamics.  Anything to do with human use of water.

As the kids did their initial research, they stumbled onto how much water is used to make shirts.  The information we found out is fascinating.  Textile mills all over the world use a process called Wet Processing to shape, color and finish clothing.  Not only do they use A LOT of water, the runoff is full of chemicals, so the water is not reused and pollutes the environment.

There are a number of solutions out there but there are over 15,000 mills in China alone.  So getting each and every one to change takes time and money.  And honestly their isn’t enough incentive to change.

Some brands such as Nike, Adidas, Levi and Patagonia are doing something about it and we reached out to several of them.  Eileen Fisher gave us the most detailed information.  We talked with their R&D chemist and learned more than we could ever put into our presentation.  But she gave us the idea we needed for our solution.

See most of us don’t know water is used to make shirts.  So awareness is key.  If you can change people’s buying habits, it just might be the catalyst for real change.  If we ask our favorite brands if they track and measure their water use, they in turn will ask their suppliers.

Loss for Words | Denise M. Colby | A Slice of Orange

So the kids created a website to build awareness and tell people what they can do to help.  We tie-dyed our own shirts and learned first-hand how much water is needed to rinse off the dye.  We made word searches and coloring pages, as well as a glossary page of all the terms they learned over the past ten weeks. They showed to it to their friends, teachers and families and asked them to take a survey.  Out of 38 respondents, 61% didn’t know that water was used to make shirts and 68% said they would change how they shop.  We took all this information and put it into a presentation. And the kids created a fun skit to go with it.

They decided to call themselves Fiber Friends (think justice league – Fiber Friends Unite).  Water waster owns a textile plant and wastes water.  Batman, Flash, Blue Lantern, Aquaman and Wonder Woman (we have one girl and 5 boys on the team), capture Water Waster and upgrade the plant to save water.  They do a great job and have lots of fun at the same time.

What I love about it is it’s just another form of storytelling and I’ve been able to help guide them in creating it.  They learn so much with this entire program – research, problem solving, presentation skills, working together as a team.

Loss for Words | Denise M. Colby | A Slice of Orange

I’ll have to update you on how we do, but in the meantime if you want to take a look at their website, here’s the link: https://ffunite.wixsite.com/fiberfriendsunite

Hugs & Blessings,



Denise Colby |The Writing Journey

Although new to the writing fiction world, Denise Colby has over 20+ years experience in marketing, creating different forms of content and copy for promotional materials. Taking the lessons learned from creating her own author brand Denise M. Colby, Denise enjoys sharing her combined knowledge with other authors.

If you are interested in a marketing evaluation and would like help in developing a strategy for your author brand you can find out more here http://denisemcolby.com/marketing-for-authors/

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Are you a Storyteller?

August 26, 2015 by in category Blogs tagged as , , ,

Author Shannon Donnelly is stopping by today to talk about storytelling.

There are workshops on dialogue, on character, on marketing your book, and just about everything else to do with writing and stories. But let’s talk about the big picture for a minute—let’s talk about the art of being a story teller.

Edgar Rice Burroughs taught me a lot about being a story teller. He was a prolific writer—he also was not at times a very good writer, but he knew how to spin a yarn as they used to say. I went through a phase where I devoured all of his books, but one stands out in memory as being awful. Truly terrible. But I kept reading…and wondering as I turned the page. The Oakdale Affair is about a bear in a cellar. Really. It’s melodramatic, has stiff dialogue, and you still turn the pages. It keeps pulling you forward. Burroughs was a story teller.

So how to do you learn this art of storytelling? I’m doing a workshop on this that goes into depth, but let’s just cover ten tips here that can help you be a better story teller:

1-Read a lot.Yes, it’s obvious, but most folks don’t give this enough weight. Read across genres. Read cereal boxes—short is harder than long. Read everything—and read with a critical eye. Take apart stories that make you keep turning the page, and take apart ones that don’t. Read to see how a story is spun on a page.

2-Master technique.You want to get the technical stuff out of the way. If commas baffle you, nail them down and figure them out. Get a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and make it your bible. Make your sentence clean and clear. Write enough that technique no longer makes your story stumble.

3-Focus on character.Story is character and character is story. There’s a reason Burroughs is remembered for Tarzan—one of the most famous of all fictional characters. Not only did Burroughs exploit Tarzan, he was smart enough as a story teller to know he needed a great character to carry the story. Story is character and character is story. Focus on your characters more than your plots.

4-Figure out your theme. Every story is about something. You will also probably write about the same theme for most of your life. Figure out what it is that is your theme—what makes you hot under the collar or uncomfortable? What gets your blood moving fast? Write about something that matters to you—that will make your story matter, too.

5-Develop your voice.Write a lot. The only way you’ll find your voice is by writing. Write poetry. Write bad poetry. You don’t have to show this to anyone. Get the bad writing out of your system to get to the good stuff. Write in a journal. Write by hand. Write as a habit. Your voice will come out on its own eventually.

6-Learn how to structure. What this means is you need to know how to pace the reader and escalate the tension and conflict. That keeps the reader turning pages. These things come from learning craft—and some technical tricks that really do work. Read a lot and you’ll see other writers using these same techniques. Take apart Dan Brown, Burroughs, and other writers who sell a lot of books. There’s a reason why they do and it all comes back to story and characters—and keeping readers engaged.

7-Dramatize and twist.Stories are bigger than life—they’re dramatized. Learn how to make stories (and that means characters and dialogue) a little more, a little bigger and better than life. This means characters say things we’ve all wanted to say at times, and events happen in ways that we’ve always wanted them to. Surprise your readers—but keep it familiar. That formula has been shown to create hit songs and it works with hit stories, too.

8-Use setting as a character. There’s a reason Tarzan exists in his mythical jungle as “king of the beasts” with his Tarzan call. Tarzan’s setting is part of his story—it’s a main character. Create great settings. Push them to be fantastic, amazing, rich, vibrant, complex. Develop your settings as you would any other character. Use them as metaphors as visual clues to theme as contrasts.

9-Hit the key beats.A story teller knows the audience expects certain beats in a story—just like we all expect certain beats in a song. If you miss these beats, the story seems to stumble, and if it stumbles too much, the reader is thrown out. It takes care and time to master the art of weaving in beats without being obvious—and it takes practice. This is where you read to see the beats in the story, and then you apply that to your stories.

10-Payoff the read.A great story reaches an inevitable and satisfying ending. You want twists and turns, but you don’t want to go so far out there with your story that you lose your readers. Part of this means you write to satisfy yourself, but you also write to satisfy the reader. Keep this in mind. And know that the greater the ordeal for the character, the more time you need to take to bring the reader back down to regular life. Always work toward that satisfying ending—the one that seems so perfect that the story could not end any other way. If you set up that ending in the beginning, you’ll be a great storyteller.

Want to tackle this topic in more depth? OCCRWA’s September online class is Storytelling for Writers, with Shannon Donnelly. For information and to register please visit



Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a nomination for Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA award, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklistand other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”

Her latest Regency romance, Lady Chance, is just out on Amazon.com. In addition to her Regency romances, she is the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the SF/Paranormal, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of Amazon.com and includes the Historical romances, The Cardros Ruby and Paths of Desire.

She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and has also written computer games and offers editing and writing workshops, and will be teaching a workshop for OCC on ‘Breaking Down Writers Block’. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at shannondonnelly.com, facebook.com/sdwriter, and twitter/sdwriter.


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Michael Hauge Storytelling Mastery Workshop

March 3, 2014 by in category Blogs tagged as , , , , , ,
March 29, 2014
One-day special workshop
Michael Hauge 

“Storytelling Mastery for Romance Writers”
During this special, all-day seminar, Hollywood script and story consultant Micahel Hauge, best-selling author of Writing Screenplays that Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read, will present his unique approach to creating compelling fiction and to eliciting emotion in your readers. For more information and to reserve your spot, please click here.
If you attend the workshop on Saturday, you may also sign up for Michael’s Special Advanced Workshop on Sunday.
Both Saturday and Sunday take place at the Embassy Suites in Brea, CA. There is a special room rate at the hotel for Saturday night for those attendees who want to stay over. All information can be found at http://www.occrwa.org/michael-hauge-workshop-saturday.html

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