Ninja Writers Pro Tip: Tracy Clark

Ninja Writer Pro Tip #1: Be a warrior and don't lay your ink-sword down for anyone! -- Tracy Clark

Ninja Writer Pro Tips is a monthly series where an author comes to hang out with the Ninjas for a little bit and share their one best writing tip.

This month, I’m super excited to have Tracy Clark in the house!


So, Ninjas, meet Tracy Clark. Tracy, meet the Ninjas.

Hello, Ninja Writers! My name is Tracy Clark and I am an author of novels for young-adults. The Light Key Trilogy, my YA paranormal/metaphysical series, (SCINTILLATE, DEVIATE, & ILLUMINATE) is out now and I have an upcoming YA thriller, MIRAGE, releasing on July 5th. I live in my home state of Nevada where I sometimes fly, occasionally eat chocolate, and always mother my two busy teens.

(Ed. Note: Click any of the covers below to check out Tracy’s amazing books!)

How did you become a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since eighth grade when something I wrote made my best friend’s mother cry. The power of making someone feel with my words! I never forgot it. But I didn’t actually become a writer until 2008. That’s when I stopped dabbling and talking about it and actually started writing seriously and completed my first book; the first of eight so far. (My 3rd book got me my rock star agent, Michael Bourret, and it was my 4th book that sold to a publisher.) From the very beginning, I sought out mentors and critique partners who could teach me and help me improve my craft. I believe that being willing to learn, being open to criticism, and becoming involved in the writing community accelerated my journey to getting an agent and getting published.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished a historical thriller that’s currently on submission with editors. (All lucky thoughts and vibes are appreciated!) The hoping and interminable waiting never end, even after you’ve been published! I’m a shameless genre-hopper and so my next idea is a YA sci-fi, which I’ve already begun working on. My tactic to keep from going crazy when a project is out of my hands is to immediately begin the next one. There’s three reasons for that: 1) It keeps you busy while waiting  2) You have another project in the hopper if the one on submission doesn’t go anywhere, and 3) Most importantly, you keep writing! Never stop writing.

What is your one best pro tip for aspiring writers?

Ninja Writer Pro Tip #1: Be a warrior and don't lay your ink-sword down for anyone! -- Tracy Clark

My best piece of advice for aspiring writers (aside from the cheat one mentioned above to “never stop writing”) is to PERSEVERE. There will always be challenges, setbacks, time constraints, roadblocks, families that keep wanting to be fed, harsh criticisms, self-doubts, uncertainties, rejections, and sometimes champagne celebrations. The ONLY way that I can see to overcome the challenges is to keep moving forward. Not stubbornly as in you won’t open yourself to hearing feedback that will make you better, but stubbornly as in you believe you have stories in your heart that deserve to be shared and you’ll work as hard as you must. Believe in your unique voice and talent and tell your stories. Do this over and over and over until you’ve wrung them all out of you. Be a warrior and don’t lay your ink-sword down for anyone!

You can connect with Tracy on Twitter and Facebook.

BIG FAT GIVEAWAY! Books and chapter critiques, oh my!

Tracy is offering a signed copy of her book Scintillate AND a chapter critique. I’m adding in three copies of The Plotting Workshop eBook and a chapter critique of my own–so this is a giveaway of epic proportions! Head here to enter. I’ll pick SIX winners next Sunday! Don’t forget that sharing your lucky URL gives you three more chances to win for every person who uses it to enter.

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Ninja Writers Academy: Where Does Your Hero Run?

Ninja Writers Academy: Where does your hero run? This week we're talking about your hero's lair--their safe place.

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours for an hour so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, click here.


This week’s exercise should help you to flesh out your main character (MC) and bring them into brighter focus–make them more of a living, breathing person–by placing them in their space.

The Lair Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy: The Lair Assignment. This week we're talking about your hero's safe place.

I want you to close your eyes and conjure up a good mental image of your MC. Think about what they look like, how they hold themselves, what kind of clothing they wear. When was the last time they slept? Do they need a shower or are they always meticulously groomed? Do they wear vintage thrift store clothes or J. Crew straight out of the catalog or haute couture? How do they wear their hair when no one is looking? Do they wear lipstick when they don’t expect to see anyone?

No go a step further. Think about your hero’s surroundings. Where are they most comfortable? Where are they the most at home? Where do they feel safe?

Is it their bedroom? Their cubicle at work? A corner booth at a local bar?

Really look around. Get nosy. Poke into drawers, open the medicine cabinet and the fridge, look between the mattress and the box springs. Read their journal. Peek into their closet.

What color are the walls? How does their lair smell? What can they hear? Who is nearby? Who would they never invite in? Who do they wish they could share their space with?

Everyone has a lair. I bet you do. I know for sure that I do. We all have the place we go when fight-or-flight kicks in and we run. This week, I want you to think about what that place is like for your hero.

My Turn

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern day Las Vegas.

Rob Huntington is seventeen years old. He holds himself with the easy grace of a teenage athlete who has grown up knowing that he’s the Prince of Las Vegas. He’s been away at boarding school, but for him the whole world is the Nottingham Casino–and he has always known that he would inherit that world someday. He is the center of it and he has never wanted anything else. He wears basic teenage boy clothes–blue jeans, t-shirts, hoodies–but of a high quality. His father was white and his mother was African American. He inherited his mother’s coloring, except for his father’s light eyes. He wears his dark hair cut very short. He’s strong and capable, but a little pampered when the story starts. He’s aristocratic and a little arrogant.

Rob Huntington has lived most of his life in a ‘villa’ on the property of the Strip casino that his father owns. It’s modest, which captures the imagination of the city–sad Las Vegas royalty, grieving the loss of their wife and mother. For as long as Rob can remember, it has just the two of them in it. His best friend, Mattie, and her father live in the villa next door. The villas are mid-century two-bedroom cabins designed to be rented to guests.

Rob’s lair isn’t in the villa, though. The place where he goes when he has to run somewhere is the little swimming pool that was built for employees to use, but that really belonged to Rob and Mattie. Barely bigger than a hot tub, shallow and shimmering like an oasis, the pool had gone unchanged in the sixty years since it was built. It’s lined with a million glittering tiles in different shades of blue and surrounded by small, shrubby desert trees growing in planters. It’s tucked away, where guests can’t access it.

Rob and Mattie thought, when they were younger, that they were sneaking into it, but Rob’s dad knew they are the only ones who use it. They were safe in the pool and running around the casino because his employees keep an unobtrusive eye on them. They were literally surrounded by adults who are dedicated to keeping them safe. They’d run through the casino in their swimsuits, kick off their sandals as soon as the first blast of hot hair took their breath away, and sprint across the burning concrete like fire walkers. They’d splash into the water that was sometimes almost too warmed by the unrelenting sun that beat down on it, and duck into the shade of the little trees. The pool water smelled of chlorine and left their eyes red-rimmed and their vision tinted with rainbows. Mattie’s blonde hair had a green tint to it in the summer from all the time she spent swimming with Rob. The day that Rob comes home from boarding school, the day he finds out his father has died, when he can’t bear the weight of one more grieving person’s condolence, he runs to the pool and Mattie knows exactly where to find him. He hasn’t seen her in nearly two years, but when he does again, in that place, he can finally breathe and start to mourn.

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Spend sometime today thinking about your hero’s lair. Where do they go when they can’t fight anymore? Describe their safe place.

Come by Facebook and share your work today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 1 p.m. PST for office hours.

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can do that by clicking here. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.

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Ninja Writers Book Club: Weeks 1 + 2

Ninja Writers Book Club -- Weeks 1 and 2. Here are the books that Ninjas are reading for the last couple of weeks.

Every Tuesday is Book Club day at the Ninja Writers Facebook group.  Ninjas post about the books that they’re reading or a book that has inspired them or that they loved. It’s so much fun, and I always end up with a list of books that I can’t wait to read. I thought it might be fun to actually link to those books here on the blog every week. Click any of the covers to be taken to its Amazon page.

Here are the books from the first two Ninja Writer Book Club Tuesdays.

(These are affiliate links. If you buy using one of them, a few pennies will go toward supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you so much!)



Young Adult


Mystery and Suspense



Literary & Classics

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Hump Day Prompt #2: What is Your Hero Missing?

Hump Day Writing Prompt #2: What is your hero missing? Here's an exercise that will help you figure out the perfect flaw for your main character.

Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.


What is Your Hero Missing?

It can be hard sometimes to think of a really juicy flaw for your story’s hero, something that will make them someone your readers can relate to and give them a place to rise up from.

That flaw is necessary. Without it, it’s so easy to write a boring, one-dimensional character that no one cares about getting to know.

Here’s an exercise that I’ve found that helps me to deepen my main character by finding that one flaw. It has two parts.

First, I want you to think about what your hero is missing.

What is the thing that’s left a hole in their life? It might be something tangible–a missing parent, a dead child or spouse, an amputated limb, homelessness. Or it might be metaphysical–a broken heart or a crisis of faith. This is a doubly good exercise, because it will start you thinking about your hero’s motivations in the story. Think about what drives them to move out of the comfort of their ordinary life (and ordinary lives are comfortable, no matter how much discomfort might be involved in them. Human beings don’t generally like change much) and into the special, scary, unknown world of the story.

Once you’ve figured out what your hero is missing, decide how that missing thing has left them broken.

Think about what that missing thing in your hero has done to them. How has it changed them? How has it left them broken? Your hero’s flaw lies in that broken place.

My Turn

My work-in-process is a retelling of Robin Hood. My hero is a 17-year-old boy named Rob Huntington. Rob is missing both of his parents. His mother died when he was six and his father died just prior to the start of the story. He’s been away at boarding school for two years, so even when his father was alive, Rob was missing a day-to-day connection with him. Rob has had a close, but complicated relationship with his father most of his life. His father never stopped grieving for his dead wife, which caused a layer of separation between father and son that they never overcame.

This lack of parents has left Rob with a broken sense of himself. He’s always known he was his father’s heir, but he didn’t expect for that to mean anything so soon. He has always known that he would have to live up to his father’s legacy, and he’s always believed deep down that he would fail. He hides his loneliness and self-doubt with arrogance. That arrogance is the flaw that might end up being fatal. It’s what he has to push past in order to survive. He has also developed a deep need to be loved, which drives him throughout the story. It’s something he has to temper, because it keeps him from seeing that the people closest to him are dangerous.

Your Turn

Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with!

Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post, and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links.

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Ninja Writer’s Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer

The Ninja Writers Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer.

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours for an hour so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, click here.


The Ninja Writers Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer. The Boob Tube Assignment.

Okay, Ninja Writers. Today you have my permission to spend your writing time watching TV. It counts. I swear!

One way to become a better writer is to start taking in stories like a writer. You’ve probably heard the term ‘read like a writer’ before. But, watching movies or television, even listening to someone tell you a story orally, like a writer are all just as important.

To take in a story like a writer you need to pay attention to two things: What works for you and what doesn’t. And then you need to analyze the reasons why.

Get in the habit of doing this every time you read a book, watch a movie, or yes, spend an hour in front of the old Boob Tube, and you’ll start to see why it’s so important. You’ll start to see how you can incorporate what other writers do that works for you (and don’t forget, movies and TV are both created by writers) and how you can avoid the things that turn you off.

So, today I’d like you to watch an hour, or a half-hour if you’re into sit-coms, of television. It can be a re-run of a favorite episode (that’s what I’m going to do) or a random something you find on your DVR or your favorite prime-time drama. It doesn’t matter. Just put on your writer hat and sit down to pay attention.

As you’re watching, pay attention to what works for you in that particular episode. Think about character, pacing, setting, the story that you’re being told.

Then ask yourself what the writer did that made you so happy. How did they make that character that you keep coming back for? How did they draw you into that particular setting? What’s so awesome about the dialogue?

Also look for things that make you cringe a little.

What did the show writer do wrong in this episode? Was there something that just didn’t set right with you? How can you not make the same mistake?

My Turn

I watched my very favorite episode of Outlander on Starz. The one I’ve re-watched, oh, A FEW times, while I wait mostly-patiently for the new season to start. The series is based on a book that I love, by Diana Gabaldon. This points out why this exercise is good to do on TV. That book is a bazillion (okay, maybe 800) pages long. It took me a week to read the first time. The episode is an hour long.

So the episode is called The Wedding, and not surprisingly it’s the episode where the hero and heroine, Claire and Jamie, get married.

What really worked for me:

This episode is really well paced. It shifts back and forth from the present (just after the wedding) to the near past (just before and during the wedding.) That adds to the surreal feeling of the whole situation–which is a woman from the 20th century marrying a man from the 18th century, even though she’s already married in her own time. What I learned from that is that getting creative with things like time in your story can have a positive affect.

It’s beautiful to watch. The setting is a church in 18th century Scotland. Claire is given a gorgeous gown by a brothel-owner to wear. Jamie gets to wear his own clan colors for the first time and just emerges as this beautiful man all put together for his wedding day. After watching this episode, I felt like I’d been at this wedding, with these people. All of this is a good example of how just having two people talking to each other isn’t enough. I need to remember to get out of my characters’ heads sometimes and use detail to draw the reader into the story and make them feel like they are a part of it.

I love the way the after-the-wedding part came together. They don’t know each other well, although there is attraction and a general friendship there. To save Claire from a vicious captain in the English army, they have to actually consummate their marriage. They take hours to bond first, which is kind of refreshing and also has the added bonus of letting the audience get to know both of them on a deeper level. The take away here is that sexy-times don’t have to be rushed into. The lead up can be just as tantalizing and exciting.

Diana Gabaldon has manage to create two characters that I’ve cared about for a solid twenty years. Everytime I go back to them, whether it’s a new book or re-watching an episode of the TV series, it’s like visiting old friends. I think it’s the chemistry she created between them that did that. I’m not sure I’d care as much about either Claire or Jamie alone. For my own writing, this reminds me that it takes more than just creating one compelling character. How those characters interact with each other matters a lot.

What I didn’t like as much:

Once the sexy-time part started, it went on FOREVER and was very graphic. I didn’t mind the graphic part, but around the third time they did the deed I was like–really, again? I found my mind wandering to how weird it must have been for the actors to film that scene. It actually pulled me out of the narrative dream of the story (something no writer ever wants to do) and slowed the pace of the story for me some.

Other than that, this is pretty much a perfect hour of television for me.

Your Turn

Watch an episode of a television show like a writer. Think about what worked and what didn’t.

If you’d like a worksheet, I’ll email a download to you if you click here.

Come by Facebook and share your work today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 5 p.m. PST for office hours.

Are you in this week? Leave a comment and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja. See you on Facebook!

Click Here for a free download of the printable Ninja Writer Story Log and to join the Academy.

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