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Monday, April 22, 2013

Digging Deeper . . .

by Ellen


For my blog post this week, I’ll be talking about rewriting. Not surface revision, but deep, down digging . . .      

So let me share with you some new avenues that I have discovered this time around while rewriting my novel, Justus.


Books are important for research and bettering one’s craft. For this rewrite, I read books on craft that I had not read before, and as I read, I took notes and applied these to bettering my story.

Below are two books I highly recommend.        

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.   This book is amazing. Every chapter is filled with practical information. For example, the first chapter is called, How to Hook a Reader. Cognitive Secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future. Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.  Later chapters unfold explaining how our brains react to story, and what compels us to want to turn the pages from one chapter to the next.    

 Make a Scene, Creating a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. My last blog post was on this book. The author explains throughout the book how important compelling characters are, and how well-written scenes make us believe we are there, in real time.  


Archaeological blogs and sites: My story takes place in Carnuntum and the surrounding mountains of Germania. In ancient times, Carnuntum was Roman occupied. For my rewrite, I found an amazing site, Carnuntum Archaeological Park . Most everything I needed for creating a more believable ancient world along the Danube River was found here . . . but it’s in German, which I’m a little rusty at. The park archaeologists do reply in English! For example, I needed to know what sort of bridge crossed the Danube near Carnuntum, stone or pontoon.  Answer, pontoon. Also, during my rewrite, I wanted my barbarian character, Roland, to fight in the arena as a gladiator. As I dug deeper into the Carnuntum site, I discovered that a coliseum second to that in Rome and Pompeii was located in Carnuntum. Problem solved. This site also provided YouTube videos of re-enactments and the history of the area.

A good site to direct you to other archaeological websites and blogs is Archaeology, Trowels and Tools.  


 In my rewrite, my main character changed dramatically. He grew externally and internally through the new scenes I created. His old name no longer fit, so I decided he needed a new one, a more solid name . . . an actual name of a Roman soldier. I searched the roster of the Gemina XIV, a legion stationed where my story begins, in Carnuntum. I found a soldier with a name that fit my character, Gaius Antonius Justus. My character became Justus.

Toxic Parents by Susan Forward, Ph.D.  This is a New York Times Bestseller on dysfunctional parents. My main character, Justus, has a toxic parent, his father, who riddles him with guilt and self-doubt. With Toxic Parent, I was able to develop this conflict between father and son on a higher level with true-life examples. I’ve found that books on psychology are great sources for developing characters.


If you are stumped by something historical, here are two ways to discover the answer.

Write to a university professor: In my rewrite, Justus is given a sword by Roland, the German warrior chief. I needed a special sword, one that was revered by the warriors of this time. I came across a professor in Germany who is an expert on swords made from a blue-like steel with ripple-like watermarks, called Damascus steel. I emailed him my question . . .  Were there swords like these among the German barbarians? He replied yes, and shared more information with me. Needless to say, I was very happy.

YouTube: My book needed new chapters on sword fighting and wrestling. Before the rewrite, I had fallen into the old trap of “telling and not showing.” So how do you learn sword fighting, like a legionnaire or a German warrior, or wrestling, or shooting a bow and arrow properly? You watch YouTube.  I took notes, studying Viking and Roman reenactments over and over, not to mention all the clips on martial arts. YouTube is a great resource for authors!


A critique group can make any story stronger. Other sets of eyes evaluate and see things that you may have not. The Monkeys have helped me numerous times, picking up on funky sentence structure, scenes that don’t work, and unnecessary description, which I have a tendency to add. Just one member saying “I don’t get this” makes me take a more critical look at my work, digging deeper and deeper into my story.    

So, I hope if you are “digging deeper” into your story, the ending will be a beautiful book!

And remember, as Roald Dahl said, Good Writing is Essentially Rewriting   


  1. Great stuff here Ellen. Thanks for info!

  2. I think it's the archaeologist in me. Thanks, Craig!

  3. Thanks, Ellen! These are great tips.

  4. Thanks, Marilyn. Always helps to dig deep into your story, get down below the surface :)