Writing Advice

Use Your Thesaurus with Caution

15 July 2017

From Lit World Interviews:

As writers, words are our friends. Our best times are when they flow from us with beauty or power. They can sometimes trip us up too though, when we overthink them. A thesaurus can be very helpful when you’re stuck for a good word, or when you want to avoid using the same word excessively in the same paragraph. It can sometimes take a nasty while to create a sentence when there’s only one word available that you can think of to convey what you want to say or project, or when you sort of remember the word you want, but it insists of hovering just south of your thinking mind. That font of awesome wordiness can also be a problem when overused. It’s not only adverb overuse that can get you in trouble, but also the use of too many big, flowery, or misinterpreted words sometimes.

. . . .

Think about those times when you were happily reading a book, totally immersed in the story, and you got to a word or sentence that made you cringe and stopped you in your tracks. Not anything sweary or rude—those things can often make for fabulous dramatic flow, but something pretentious or jarring.

Link to the rest at Lit World Interviews


How to Write a Fight Scene in 11 Steps

14 July 2017

From Better Novel Project:

I recently received this e-mail about fight scenes:

Do you have any advice for creating a fight? I am writing an action/fantasy novel, and I am inexperienced with this particular type of scene. Thank you for any advice you may have! -Sara

. . . .

Deconstructing the Action in a Fight Scene

1. The villain escalates a tense scene into a physical one.

Often, the villain spends time explaining himself before the fight begins. The hero’s primary goal is not to kill the villain, so he isn’t the one who starts the violence. The villain might also take this opportunity to threaten or taunt the hero’s loved ones.

  • After Quirrell explains himself, Harry Potter’s fight begins when Quirrell/Voldemort makes a threat: “Now give me the Stone, unless you want [your mother] to have died in vain.”
  • After James explains his intent to film Bella’s death and send it as a message to Edward, he changes from conversational to animal-like. “Then he slumped forward, into a crouch I recognized, and his pleasant smile slowly widened, grew, till it wasn’t a smile at all but a contortion of teeth, exposed and glistening.”
  • As Katniss runs to the feast table to get a backpack of medicine for Peeta, Clove goes after her. “I sprint for the table. I can sense the emergence of danger before I see it.”

2. The hero runs from the fight.

The villain is trying to stop the hero, but hero is not neccessarily trying to stop the villain.  The hero’s goal is to get what he needs and get out of there.

  • Harry attempts to run away with the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Harry sprang toward the flame door, but Voldemort screamed ‘SEIZE HIM!’ . . .”
  • Despite showing up to the fight on her own accord, Bella attempts to run away from James. “As useless as I knew it would be, as weak as my knees already were, panic took over and I bolted for the emergency door.”
  • Katniss does not stop running even though Clove is attacking her. It is more important that she gets Peeta’s medicine than it is for her to kill Clove. “I keep moving, positioning the next arrow automatically, as only someone who has hunted for years can do.”

3. The villain attempts to block the hero (with varying success).

Harry Potter and Katniss are able to put up a fight against their villains. Bella just gets beaten up.

  • When Quirrell grabs Harry’s wrist to stop him, both Harry and Quirrell feel the pain from contact. “At once, a needle-sharp pain seared across Harry’s scar; . . . he yelled, struggling with all his might, and to his surprise, Quirrell let go of him.”
  • James blocks Bella from leaving and hits her hard in the chest. “He was in front of me in a flash. . . . A crushing blow struck my chest . . .”
  • Clove throws a knife at Katniss, but Katniss uses her bow to deflect it. “Fortunately, the first knife comes whizzing in on my right side so I can hear it . . .”

Link to the rest at Better Novel Project


Should you write under a pseudonym?

14 July 2017

From author Roz Morris:

Should you use a pen name? Why might you? What problems might it cause? I rounded up a quiver of authors with noms-de-plume and asked them to answer some practical questions.

. . . .

An author name is a brand, of course, and traditional publishing has a long history of strategic pseudonymery. Names or initials might make a writer sound more exciting, more serious, more like an already famous author (JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin, anyone?). Androgynous names might do you favours if your readership is gender sensitive. A new surname might put you at a more visible part of the bookshelves or next to giants of your genre (George RR Martin again).

. . . .

Deborah Swift (@Swiftstory) has published four historical novels under the name Deborah Swift, and one novel, Past Encounters, under the name Davina Blake (here’s her Undercover Soundtrack). ‘I use a pen-name for Past Encounters because it has a narrower focus, being a close study of two relationships. My publisher was not keen on me changing to a more modern genre (WWII), and rejected the book. I did not want to go through a long submission process, so I self-published to be available for the 70th anniversary of the filming of Brief Encounter and the bombing of Dresden which feature in the story. I thought Past Encounters would attract a different kind of reader, and this has proved to be the case.’

. . . .

Wolf Pascoe (@WolfPascoe) is an anaesthetist as well as a poet and playwright, and you might have seen the Undercover Soundtrack for his poetic memoir, Breathing For Two. ‘I decided in writing about anesthesia to use a pen name for patient confidentiality. Of course, I don’t use real patient names, and I take pains to change any identifying details, but I wanted an extra layer of security. Also, as I’m still practising, I didn’t want there to be a chance that I’d encounter a new patient who might worry I’d be writing about them in the future. And finally, I’d rather not have my hospital knowing about my writing activities — this gives me more freedom to say what I want to say about the medical establishment without fear of retribution.’

Link to the rest at Nail Your Novel

Here’s a link to some Roz Morris books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.


When Should We Ignore Criticism?

8 July 2017

From freeCodeCamp:

A fairly well-known and respected graphic designer once openly criticized something I had written and shared publicly. He did a poor job with his feedback however, as his only remark—in its entirety—was: “This guy doesn’t get it.”

The feedback stung, but it also made me question the designer’s intention and understanding of what he was criticizing.

“This guy doesn’t get it.” What was the “it” he was referring to exactly? How might I begin learning how to “get” whatever “it” was? What could I do to improve and become as seemingly aware and insightful as the critic? He failed to provide any answers. His criticism was hurtful and loud, but ultimately useless.

Of course criticism is important: it can expose us to perspectives we weren’t aware of, uncover flaws in our work, and help us identify areas for learning and growing. Criticism can be generative and help us create a more complete picture of whatever it is we’re trying to do. But some criticism, while obnoxiously loud, will lack any real substance.

Knowing when to tune-in and probe or when to ignore criticism is valuable. It will save you time, help you avoid headaches and heartaches, and get you to a place where you’re growing and producing good work rather than obsessing over the impossible pursuit of perfection.

In his book Antifragile Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes:

“When you take risks, insults by small men, those who don’t risk anything, are similar to barks by nonhuman animals; you can’t feel insulted by a dog.”

In my example story, this once noble designer may have had some great years of experience, but if the only guidance he can muster to a fellow designer is: “you don’t get it,” he’s wasting his time. He wasn’t helping me, or any of his dutiful followers, just barking like an obnoxious dog.

When you hear or give criticism you must consider whether it’s additive or generative—is it offering anything that can be built on?—or is it neutral or subtractive?

If I had listened to the criticism—if I had taken the words to heart and believed that I wasn’t “getting it,” if I had done anything because of the criticism—I’d be no better off. Absolutely unchanged. Because I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue as to any reason the criticism might be true. What was the argument to be made against whatever “it” was I wasn’t getting? What was the way forward, toward understanding?

Link to the rest at freeCodeCamp


6 Websites with Great Writing Prompts

7 July 2017
Comments Off on 6 Websites with Great Writing Prompts

From Medium:

Then, the Australian stumped me with this question:

“I understand, mate. But what TOPICS should I write about?”

I’d been extolling the benefits of stream-of-consciousness writing with a new friend halfway across the world. I think I sounded like some kind of wizard.

“Start writing, and the ideas will flow!” I exclaimed, rubbing my magic crystal ball and straightening my aluminum foil hat.

Can I be honest with you? For me, that’s exactly how it works. I get 15 ideas by the time I hop out of the shower. The pour through my pores from every point of my awareness. Then, I write about one concept and come up with 6 more. This is the infinite ideas life.

But it wasn’t always that way.

. . . .


4. The Time is Now

Writing across genres has helped me better express my writing voice. Whenever I’m feeling stale, I often go write fiction or poetry.

This option from Poets and Writers is excellent simply because of the range it offers.

The Time is Now offers 3 prompts a week — one poetry, one fiction, and one nonfiction. Better still, you can filter the type of prompt you want to see based on whatever you want to write at the time.

. . . .

6. Quora


This is my all time favorite.

Quora is an endless source of writing prompts. Better still, the prompts are sourced from people filling the audience you are trying to reach.

Want to break through in personal development? There’s a topic for that.

Trying to be the next movie guru? There’s a topic for that.

Fitness entrepreneur? There’s a topic for that.

I’ve placed Quora last on the list because it requires active search for prompts, but the quality of those prompts is much higher. Better still, you can repurpose your posts there to any site for further reach.

I go to Quora for ideas first, last, and always. It provides me intimate access with exactly the folks I want to reach.

Link to the rest at Medium


Say yes to obsession

6 July 2017

From Amazon Author Insights:

It is common to speak of obsession when we speak of writing fiction. Obsession is a large part of being human, and therefore a large part of writing about being human. As writers, we are taught to write toward our own obsessions, using them as catalysts and fuel for our stories. But I have recently been considering how to use obsession—whether it’s a character’s obsession or the writer’s—on a smaller level: not only using it to help us know what to write about, but also how to write. I have come to see that the circular, specific nature of our individual minds—our consistent preoccupations and infatuations—can help us to rejuvenate our sentences, choose our words, and bring the language of our stories to life.

A student of mine recently turned in a short story in which the central character was studying abroad in Italy. It was explained that the character was depressed, that she was having trouble with her studies, and that she had a fraught relationship with her mother and father. And yet after I read the story, I remembered none of those things. What I remembered was the way the author described eating an American hamburger at an all-night diner in Rome. The way the burger was described showed us everything about how the woman felt: starved, alone, satisfied, messy, foreign, falling apart. I thought, there’s the story, right there. An American burger in Roma.

When I reread the story for a second time, I realized that the same thing happened in all the scenes that involved food: the prose lit up. There were fabulous descriptions of pasta Bolognese; soft, cloudy cheese; quick sandwiches on long baguettes. There were memories of scarfing her mother’s homemade lasagna in their dimly lit kitchen as a child. The author clearly had a knack for rendering the culinary world—perhaps even an obsession with it. She was inadvertently using food as a touchstone, a way to narrate her character’s experience, and as such, food and the act of eating it became a central theme of the story.

The problem was that the story wasn’t about food, or at least it wasn’t meant to be. So much else was happening for the character, aside from eating her way through a foreign city. But it wasn’t coming alive; you couldn’t feel it.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights


From decks to moats: the complete guide to modern office jargon

2 July 2017

From The Guardian:

If you want to add value to your tell-mode paradigm in the competitive modern workplace, you need to keep up to date with the latest business jargon. Such language is widely acknowledged to make workers feel unhappy and stressed, and cause everyone to feel as though they spend their days in a nightmare of corporate newspeak, where anything that isn’t completely meaningless must mean exactly the opposite of what it appears to say.

The problem is that while everyone knows this, everyone is also well aware that they don’t want to be the one person who is ridiculed for speaking normal English. Game theory as well as common sense dictates that being the lone voice of reason is no good to anyone. So if you can’t beat them, join them, with this selection of the hippest, most bleeding-edge horror words out there.


People are increasingly annoying one another by asking for the “deck” when it comes to a particular Powerpoint presentation, as though they are card sharks in a New Orleans saloon. Can’t you just say “file” or “slides”? But of course it makes no sense to use the word “slides” for the individual images in a slideshow: that’s an obsolete tech metaphor from the days of overhead projectors. These things – like the floppy disk icon that means “save” – will presumably live on until no one can remember what they originally meant.


We have Game of Thrones to thank for the fact that business jargon is adopting language reminiscent of fantasy medieval warfare. According to Bloomberg, “moat” is the mot du jour in Silicon Valley presentations and earnings calls. But rather than a literal body of water around a castle it is “used to describe products or services that protect a company from incursions by competitors”. The term was popularised a decade ago by the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett, but over the past year it seems that if you’re not busy building a moat, you’re digging your own grave.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Valerie for the tip.


6 Websites with Great Writing Prompts

1 July 2017

From Medium:

Then, the Australian stumped me with this question:

“I understand, mate. But what TOPICS should I write about?”

I’d been extolling the benefits of stream-of-consciousness writing with a new friend halfway across the world. I think I sounded like some kind of wizard.

“Start writing, and the ideas will flow!” I exclaimed, rubbing my magic crystal ball and straightening my aluminum foil hat.

Can I be honest with you? For me, that’s exactly how it works. I get 15 ideas by the time I hop out of the shower. The pour through my pores from every point of my awareness. Then, I write about one concept and come up with 6 more. This is the infinite ideas life.

But it wasn’t always that way.

There was I time I’d spend weeks without a single keystroke. “There’s nothing new to write,” I would say.

How silly.

Sometimes, you simply need a guide. Your creative block may not an issue of output, but of input. A single word or sentence at the right time can send you flying.

Here are the best prompt providers I’ve seen lately.

. . . .

1. Writer’s Digest Creative Prompts

Okay, Writer’s Digest is taking the top spot in no small part because of all the other resources available to aspiring authors.

Brian Kelms is an excellent person and publishes a new prompt every week. At time of writing, the latest is “Harry Potter comes to your house,” so of course I’m a fan. (Shouts out to my fellow Ravenclaws)

Link to the rest at Medium


The Opening as Part of the Closing … of the Deal

30 June 2017

From author James Scott Bell:

It’s no secret we live in the age of the declining attention span.

How ’bout those Dodgers?

Where was I? Oh yes, attention spans. Declining.

We all know the causes. Phones, tablets, the infinite galaxy known as the internet, 24/7 social media, apps, games, noise, news, and the dopamine effect that comes from escaping reality in the blink of an eye or the texting of the thumbs. These multiform avenues of distraction come in small bites, too, like a bottomless bowl of Skittles. You’ve all been there. You’re chewing a red, it’s not even down the hatch yet, and you’re already reaching for the next one, or a handful of next ones.

. . . .

We’ve done a number of first page critiques here at TKZ, because everyone knows how important it is. Because of decreasing attention spans and the “need for speed” in everything we do, those first pages are crucial because they are one of the biggest influences on a browser’s buying decision.

I recall hearing about a study years ago of bookstore browsing habits. The typical sequence: a cover captured attention; the browser picks it up and reads the dust-jacket copy, sees who the author is, then opens to the first page. If it captivates them they are within striking distance of a buying decision.

It’s the same today online. A reader on Amazon is shown other thumbnail book covers that an algorithm has determined they might be interested in. A cover attracts, you click on it, get taken to the sales page where you can look at the description (cover copy). The page offers you a “Look inside” peek. You can also download a sample.

And there we are again, at the opening pages.

For years I’ve taught that the opening page and, indeed, the opening paragraph (and even further, if you can do it, the opening line) should be about a disturbance to that character’s ordinary world. Why? Because the reader doesn’t know who the character is yet. So what’s the quickest way to get them interested? Trouble.

. . . .

Okay, then let me suggest you alter your opening page so there is something disturbing happening from the jump. After the reader buys your book you can entrance them with your style all you like. But if you don’t engage their attention-challenged sensibilities immediately, you may not get the chance.

Link to the rest at Kill Zone

Here’s a link to James Scott Bell’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.


Why Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life

27 June 2017

From Medium:

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” — J.M. Barrie

You know exactly what you want in life. But you can’t seem to get there. You have all these resolves.

You’re going to get healthy.

You’re going to write that book.

You’re going to be more present with your loved ones.

You’re going to start that home-based business.

You’re going to learn another language.

You’re going to be more patient and happy.

You’re going to get out of debt.

You’re going to be more organized.

You’re going to be a better friend.

You’re going to overcome bad habits.

But the problem is: Doing these is really hard. And it gets harder every day. Some days, it seems more realistic to just give up entirely. The whole taking one step forward and one or two steps backward pattern is getting old.

. . . .

“Keeping a personal journal a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them.” — Stephen R.Covey

Journaling daily is the most potent and powerful keystone habit you can acquire. If done correctly, you will show up better in every area of your life — every area! Without question, journaling has by far been the number one factor to everything I’ve done well in my life.

The problem is, most people have tried and failed at journaling several times. It’s something you know you should do, but can never seem to pin down.

. . . .

Most people live their lives on other people’s terms. Their days are spent achieving other people’s goals and submitting to other people’s agendas.

Their lives have not been consciously organized in such a way that they command every waking, and sleeping, moment of their life. Instead, they relentlessly react at every chance they get.

For example, most people wake up and immediately check their phone or email. In spare seconds, we hop on Facebook and check the newsfeed. We’ve become addicted to input. Or in other words, we’ve become addicted to reactively being guided by other people’s agendas.

On the other hand, Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning, wakes up and immediately writes in his journal for 30 minutes.

He does this because while he’s been sleeping, his subconscious mind has been brewing, scheming, problem-solving, and learning. So when Josh wakes up, he rushes to a quiet place and engages in a bust of intellectual and creative flow.

I recently wrote about the importance of morning routines. If I were to re-write that post now, I’d include my journal. I’ve been doing this the past few weeks and its reframed my entire approach to life. Additionally, I’ve never before had so many creative ideas crystallize.

Link to the rest at Medium

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