Author Archives: Jo Ann Schneider

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Plotting: The Idea

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My nine-year-old nephew had to write a horror story. His other aunt, who is one of my beta readers, was trying to convince him that having an outline would help him when it came time to write said story.

I wasn’t there, but I guess it was quite the process to get this awesome kid to think of characters, a setting, and a conflict.

His least favorite part? Picking names for the characters. He wanted to call them the twelve-year-old and the three-year-old. Maybe he was burned out in making decisions by this point, but there was a lot of drama.

When the other aunt was telling me about this I looked at the nephew and said, “I get it.”

Who spent all last week trying to outline a story? Me. Who had no less than three meltdowns about it? Again, me.

I’ve been thinking about sharing my outlining process for a while, and I’ve decided to start today.

Honestly, the beginning is the usually the easiest part, because ideas tend to lurk.

What do you need for an idea?

There isn’t a list, but these are the sorts of things that I start with:
The Idea


I’m talking basics:
Science Fiction
Cozy Mystery

Pretty much the area where you would find it in at the book store or the library.


Here are a few for Science Fiction:
Alien Invasion
Apocalyptic / Post Apocalyptic
First Contact
Generation Ship
Space Exploration
Time Travel


Once in a while I start with characters. For instance, I have a story I wrote for Nanowrimo that started with the idea of Leverage in space. The characters are what brought that one to life for me. Sure, it’s a science fiction action thriller, but like the television show, the characters are the backbone of the story.

The Idea

This is a crazy idea that the author builds a story around. For instance:
What if people learned to transport themselves?
What if magic was real, but it was addictive?
What if monsters walked among us?
What if a ship from the future came back to warn us about our imminent destruction?

Basically you need to start with something. Whatever works for you.

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I haven’t written much microfiction (between 6 and 300 words). This bit of twisted horror and humor is less than 250 words.

“Um, hello?”

“Oh my. Hold on. Coming. Oh dear, you weren’t supposed to wake up until I had you tied to the sacrificial altar.”

“The what? Ah. I see. Is that authentic?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Is that Aztec?”


“And what about the rack over there?”

“I got that at an estate sale. Sixteenth century.”

“Impressive. You have quite the array of ways to kill people here.”

“It’s what I do.”

“You’re going to kill me?”

“That’s right.”

“I assume if I scream no one will hear me?”


“Any particular reason you picked me?”

“You have a bright aura. I need it to survive.”


“I’m going to have to knock you out again to move you. Just a prick on your neck.”

“Sure. Whatever. But are you married to the idea of the altar?”

“Uh, well, I haven’t used it in a while. And to be honest, a knife to the heart is probably the most humane thing I have here. The ceremony isn’t long. Why?”

“What about that?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah. If I’m going to die may as well make an experience of it.”

“I—I’ve only used it once.”

“Time for number two.”

“For having such a bright aura, you are a particularly twisted person.”

“Says the guy who has a bonafide torture chamber at his disposal. Besides, we’re all supposed to do things that take us out of our comfort zones.”

“Fair point I suppose. Give me a few moments.”

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Finding ‘Ohana Review

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A summer in rural O‘ahu takes an exciting turn for two Brooklyn-raised siblings when a journal pointing to long-lost treasure sets them on an epic adventure with new friends, and leads them to reconnect with their Hawaiian heritage.

Why did I come to this movie again?

A couple of my friends called this a Hawaiian Goonies, which meant I put it on my list to watch.

5 of 5


This movie is for kids, so there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the characters. The main character, Pili, and her brother are basically horrible to each other for most of the film. They do take notice of the good relationship Casper and Hana have, which is progress.

Honestly, I didn’t expect much from the characters. I thought there was a little too much angst in the family without showing a real foundation for it, but then again, I don’t deal with teenagers much, and my family doesn’t fight, so maybe I’m the strange one. 🙂

My favorite was Hana.

4 of 5

Did I care what happened?

Yes. I thought the treasure adventure was fun and the kids got better as the show progressed.

5 of 5

Plot Holes

One thing I appreciated was the scene where they outfit the girl in short-shorts and a tiny t-shirt and the guy also in shorts with knee and elbow wrappings. Because I do hate it when someone crawls around in the jungle or caves and never gets a scratch.

There were a few moments that I shook my head, but overall it was fun enough to ignore the plot holes.

4 of 5

How many times did I yawn?

I was fine until near the end. We’ll go into that in a moment.

4 of 5

Cool Factor

Hawaii is beautiful, and they did a great job with the caves. The treasure hunt was fun. Not quite as fun as Goonies, but I enjoyed it.

4 of 5

The End

This is where I faltered. The first 7/8 of the show had little to no mysticism in it. A few things were mentioned, but it didn’t feel serious.

Then, BAM!, mysticism.

One portion of this was really, really awesome. (No spoilers here) However, I feel the writers let this moment fall short, because there weren’t any moments before this that indicated any of this stuff was real.

Give me some tension earlier. Strange winds in the caves. Voices. Characters feeling…more than they gave us.

That being said, the sort of twist at the end with their grandpa was cool.

4 of 5

Overall Enjoyment

Besides the sudden supernatural sequence near the end, I did enjoy this film.

There are a TON of shout-outs to Goonies in here. Slick shoes, the headband, the skull cave, “Hey you guys,” an impossibly long strand of pearls…the list goes on and on. If you’ve seen and remember Goonies, you can watch this show just for the references.

4 of 5

Final Score = 34

That’s a Brown Belt!

Click here to see the way the belt system works.

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In the same day, both my hubby and a friend lost the word they were going to say. As if someone, or something, had nicked it off the tip of their tongue.

Today’s Flash Fiction Friday is a glimpse into the world of the Filchers. They’re the ones to blame!

Captain Jones eyed me as I walked into the crowded briefing room and slumped into a chair. I met his gaze, daring him to call me out.

After a moment of staring into his purple eyes he blinked and kept going with his morning assignments. “We have a few changes from the previously printed schedule.”

Of course he did. I shuffled my wings and folded my arms across my chest.

The Filcher next to me, a guy named Todde, leaned in and whispered, “You’re going to end up in the trailer park again, Maxwell.”

I ignored him and the dirty look Captain Jones shot at us between the changes. A part of me listened for my name, while the other part of me brooded. Brooding was one of my super powers. It was a great way to distract people right before the spoke, which is why I was so good at my job.

Too good, apparently.

“That’s it for the basic changes,” Captain Jones said.

I sat up in confusion. Had I missed it?

“Or not,” Todde said.

I swear the Captain’s eyes sparkled as he continued. “As most of you have probably heard, we’ve been having trouble with the geeks. Their continued, inadvertent exposure to the world of magic has given an alarming number of them the ability to see us.”

Even though we’d all heard the rumors, a murmur of surprise rippled through the Filchers. The heavy weight of many eyes landed on me, and I adjusted my wings again, trying not to wince in pain.

“They can see us?”


The captain held up a hand. “The science department thinks it started with Harry Potter, and has gone downhill from there. Geeks have flexible minds. They’re willing to believe in the impossible.”

“There are more than a few of them who think they’re vampires. Or want to be vampires,” Todde said under his breath.

He’d been bitten by one just a few weeks before.

I kept my attention on Captain Jones. I’d almost been caught the day before by a woman who had laid a trap for me. A writer who dictated  her books and waited until I filched the word banished off the tip of her tongue as she was talking. It had all happened so fast. Geeks shouldn’t have reflexes like that, but she’d reached up with a bowl and a lid and tried to slam me inside of it.

A shiver ran down my spine, which tugged on my broken feathers.

“For the first time in a thousand years, we’re going to form a handful of partnerships who will take care of the geeks. If your name hasn’t been read yet, then that’s your assignment.”

Another round of muttering followed that little announcement.

“One of you will do the filching, and the other will cause a distraction.” The captain waved a wing and the screen behind him lit up with a long list. “Here are some ideas about what you can do. Normally we would train you before we sent you out, but if we don’t filch our quota of words the Appropriators will not be happy. And we all know where that leads.”

This time no one made a sound. It was basically my goal in life never to have to meet an Appropriator. I’d seen a couple come into the station, but I’d always managed to suddenly need to be somewhere else.

Todde raised his hand.


“Sir, we’re treading new ground here. Won’t the Appropriators give us some slack?”

Captain Jones’ expression turned hard, and even I squirmed under the weight of his gaze. “No, Mr. Todde. They will not.”

Todde swallowed and shrank back in his seat.

The monitor blinked, and the names of the partnerships appeared. I gritted my teeth as soon as I saw mine. Right under Todde’s.

Todde was flashy. He always tried to be fancy. I wasn’t sure that I could come up with a distraction big enough to keep him safe. I certainly didn’t trust him to do the same for me. Plus, I was injured. Why not send me to an old folk’s home? Or into a teacher’s lounge? Why was I going back to the geeks? My mouth hinged open of its own accord, and a sound of protest emerged.

Captain Jones talked over it. “Everyone not on this list is dismissed. I have a few more instructions for the rest of you.”

Our eyes met again. His mind was made up. I wondered if my uncle was trying to get me killed, or trying to get me back on the proverbial horse. Of if he was trying to keep his son alive so his wife wouldn’t kill him.

This was the problem with family; they tried just a little too hard to take care of you. In a bad way.

Todde nudged me with his elbow. “Looks like it’s you and me, cousin.”

“Yipee,” I said with as much non-enthusiasm as I could muster. Which was a lot.

Captain Jones gave me a tight smile.

I returned it.

Clearly I needed a new job.

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