Writing About Pain: Best Practices for Great Fiction

From Writers Helping Writers:

Show Don’t Tell

This one comes first, because if you want to create evocative and compelling descriptions, showing is the way to do it. Take this passage, for example:

Pain throbbed in my wrist. It radiated into my fingers. Tears sprang to my eyes.

On the surface, this description gets the job done because it adequately describes the character’s pain. But it’s not engaging. Lists seldom are—yet this is how pain is often described, as a series of symptoms or sensations. This isn’t how real pain registers, so it being described this way won’t read as authentic to readers.

Don’t stop the story to talk about what the character’s feeling. Instead, incorporate it into what’s happening. This keeps the pace moving and readers reading:

Cradling my throbbing wrist, I searched for the rope and loosed it from my belt. I drew a shuddering breath of relief to discover my fingers still worked, though the pain had me biting nearly through my lip.

This description is much better because it reveals the pain in bits and bobs as the character is going about her business. It uses words that describe the intensity and quality of the pain: throbbing and shuddering. There’s also a thought included, which is important because when agony strikes, our brains don’t stop working. The opposite is actually true, with our thoughts often going into overdrive. So including a thought that references the character’s mental state or physical discomfort is another way to show their pain to readers in an organic way.

Take Personal Factors into Account

The character’s pain level and intensity will depend on a number of factors, such as their pain tolerance, their personality, and what else is going on in the moment. Being aware of these details and knowing what they look like for your character is key for tailoring a response that is authentic for them. For more information on the factors that will determine your character’s pain response and their ability to cope with their discomfort, see the 6th post in this series.

Adhere to Your Chosen Point of View

Whether you’re telling your story in first person, third person, or omniscient viewpoint, consistency is a must, so you’ve got to stick to that point of view. If the person in pain is the one narrating, you can go deep into their perspective to show readers what’s happening inside—the pain, yes, but also the nausea, tense muscles, and the spots that appear in the character’s vision as they start to black out.

But if the victim isn’t a viewpoint character—if the reader isn’t privy to what’s happening inside their heads and bodies—you’ll need be true to that choice. Stick with external indicators that are visible to others, such as the character wincing, the hissed intake of breath through clenched teeth, the weeping of blood, or the skin going white and clammy.

Consider the Intensity of the Pain

All pain isn’t created equal, and the intensity of the pain being described will often determine the level of detail. Excruciating, agonizing pain is going to be impossible for the character to ignore; because of their focus on their own pain, more description is often necessary. On the flip side, a lot of words aren’t needed to express the mild, fleeting pain of a stubbed toe or bruised knee. The severity of the pain can guide you toward the right amount of description.

Don’t Forget about It

Remember that pain has a life of its own. Some injuries heal fast, with the pain receding quickly and steadily. Others linger. Many times, healing is a one-step-forward-two-steps-back situation, with things seeming to improve, then a relapse or reinjury causing a setback. And then there’s chronic pain, which never fully goes away.

The nature of the injury will dictate how often you return to the character’s pain and remind readers of it. Minor injuries can fade into the background without further mention. But moderate and severe hurts will take time to heal. This means your character will be feeling the pain well after it began, and you’ll have to mention it again. But when you do, the quality and intensity will be less, and your description will follow suit.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Let characters’ emotions spill in unpredictable ways

From Nathan Bransford:

One of the strangest things about writing fiction is that it often needs to make more sense than real life.

In real life, people fall into grief-stricken states of paralysis, wander around aimlessly without knowing what they’re looking for, and endlessly endure unpleasantness without trying to change anything about their circumstances. It’s extremely difficult to make those things interesting in a novel.

When we’re reading novels, it’s confusing and even frustrating when a character doesn’t act in accordance with their desires. To put it more simply: characters who care about something need to act like they care about it. They need to prioritize coherently (if not always rationally).

If they’re terrified, they need to act terrified. They shouldn’t be in the mood to stop in a place of danger and engage in endless breezy banter.

If they’re stuck, it’s helpful to see them at least try to escape so we can grasp the contours of their obstacles.

But there’s still plenty of room for humans to be human. One way you can give your character more latitude to act irrationally and convey to the reader that they really do care is to let their emotions spill out unpredictably.

A character under stress should act like it

Particularly when a writer has fallen a bit too in love with their dialogue, they can unintentionally create incongruities where it feels like a character can’t possibly care about what’s happening in the narrative if they are so unruffled that they have all the time in the world to engage in witty banter.

Now, this can be made to work. The James Bond-ish unflappable hero is an archetype for a reason. But the way to pull this off isn’t to show nothing at all getting to the protagonist. It’s to show stress building and then leaking out in unpredictable ways.

For example, a young protagonist who suffers an indignity from a teacher at school may not be able to immediately channel their frustration. If they were to lash out at the teacher, they’d get in still-more trouble, so they may well bite their tongue in the moment. But instead of simply moving on, the injustice should build and fester, and the protagonist might lash out at a safer target, like a friend or parent, or engage in some risky or uncharacteristic behavior. That acting out may well compound the stress even further.

In other words, the conflict isn’t just allowed to dissipate. It’s more like a ticking time bomb.

The most important principle here: Don’t let a good conflict go to waste!

Don’t let your character’s emotions just disappear. Pour them into an increasingly unmanageable bucket that might spill over at any time.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Not a fast writer? You can still build a successful publishing strategy

From Nail Your Novel:

The classic advice for authors, particularly indie authors, is to pump out a lot of books fast to build a big backlist and keep your readers interested. But that pace of writing and production doesn’t suit everybody.

Exhibit A, the introduction to my newsletter.

I write books slowly.

I probably won’t have a new release for a while but I’ve always got adventures to share. My newsletter is my diary of what’s mattered to be in a month, as a writer, editor, book adorer, storybrain for hire.

For a long time, slow-burn authors in the indie world weren’t getting seen or acknowledged. Most of the guidance was geared to fast producers. It seemed that if you didn’t put out several titles a year, and have a backlist that would fill a car boot, you wouldn’t be able to build a readership. What about the people whose work didn’t fit that pattern?

link to the rest at Nail Your Novel

How to Write a Compelling Transition Sentence

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

At a writers’ workshop, I once heard a beginning writer talk about how it had taken him almost all day to write a paragraph describing his character waking up in his bedroom upstairs and going to the kitchen downstairs to make breakfast.

“He made eggs and toast,” continued the writer.

“And then what happened?” I asked.

“He got some strawberry jam out of the refrigerator.”

Not much of a story, I thought. “The jam was poisoned?” I prompted.

He shook his head. “He found a body near the stove.”

Which meant the writer needed to beware the dreaded narrative-crushing, throat-clearing set up.

Which also meant he needed to learn how to write a compelling, effective transition sentence.

What is a transition sentence?

Transition sentences are the crucial bridges that link one thought to the next or one scene to the next.

Well-constructed transition sentences, unlike London Bridge, do not fall down. Instead, they structure a smooth-flowing story, ensure forward progress, escalate suspense or tension, and, in turn, create page-turning, can’t-put-it-down fiction.

We’re talking about the hard working sentences that move your story from here to there, from him to her, from good guy to bad guy.

The transition sentence seamlessly moves the reader from one character, scene, place or mood to the next.

For example:

“As up-and-coming country singer, Joe Bob Smith, knocked on the door of the Memphis company’s hottest hit maker, in cold, snowy Moscow, his sister, CIA super agent Daphne Smith, bundled in thick sheepskins, skulked along the wall surrounding the Kremlin.”

So here we are: all the way from Memphis to Moscow, from pop music headliner to tense thriller in a single sentence.

The transition sentence can also link one thought or mood to another:

“She loved him, but she was already late for work and he’d left the car’s fuel gauge pointing to empty. Which meant she would have to stop at the gas station first and would make her even later.

“Which also meant she wanted to kill him.”

Three sentences that shift the mood.

Whether the tone is mystery, thriller, or comedy depends on genre.

How to write a powerful transition sentence.

The transition sentence must be clear, simple, and direct as it moves the reader’s attention from one focus to another and provides the connective tissue that supports compelling narrative.

It might link AM and PM, Wednesday and Friday, Spring to Summer — or one place to another — from Memphis to Moscow, from the kitchen to the living room, or from one thought or mood to another.

“Leaving the hot, steamy kitchen and the winey beef stew for which she was locally celebrated, Linda Jones checked the mirror to refresh her makeup and tidy her hair. She wanted to look her best when the tall, Cary Grant lookalike United Parcel man rang her doorbell even as she fretted about what she could do to keep her husband from finding out about him.”

The well-crafted transition sentence can compress or expand time.

“As Henry Tailor gunned his silver Ferrari into merging traffic, he recalled the time almost fifteen years ago when he’d been dead broke. He’d vowed never to be poor again, and he’d lied, stolen and cheated to make his way to the top of the Hollywood heap as CEO of Colossal Pix.”

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Whiskey Priest

From Writers Helping Writers:

DESCRIPTION: A well-meaning priest, pastor, or other religious professional who exhibits moral weakness through a particular vice. Though he is acutely aware of his personal flaws, he continues to carry out his sacramental duties and takes his responsibility toward his charges seriously.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale (The Scarlet Letter), Father Donald Callahan (Salem’s Lot, The Dark Tower), Friar Tuck (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Imperius (Ladyhawke)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Cautious, Centered, Cooperative, Courteous, Diplomatic, Discreet, Empathetic, Generous, Gentle, Kind, Nurturing, Observant, Passionate, Patient, Persuasive, Private, Protective, Responsible, Spiritual, Supportive, Wise

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Addictive, Compulsive, Cowardly, Evasive, Humorless, Hypocritical, Insecure, Nosy, Self-Indulgent, Weak-Willed, Withdrawn

Struggling with personal demons
Being burdened with a dark secret
Having compassion for others
Feeling deeply compelled to serve God to the best of their ability
Feeling guilty about past mistakes or present weaknesses
Seeking redemption or forgiveness
Willingly making sacrifices for others
Being disillusioned by the cruelties and harsh realities of the world
Going to great lengths to keep his indiscretions secret
Being full of contradictions…

A situation that threatens to reveal the character’s vice
Encountering someone who challenges the priest’s beliefs
Being tempted in a new area…

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

What Are Antagonistic Proxies? And How Can They Help Your Story?

From Writers Helping Writers:

Understanding how story works means stripping it down to the basic mechanics that undergird storyform itself. At its simplest, story is protagonist versus antagonist. However, it’s important to understand the definitions. Although we most commonly (and usefully) think of protagonist and antagonist as vibrant, three-dimensional personalities, the functional reality is a bit simpler. Protagonist is the part of the story that drives the plot via a forward-moving goal. Antagonist is the corresponding part of the story that creates conflict by obstructing that forward momentum. So what are antagonistic proxies, and how do they fit into this mix?

It’s true that on a mechanical level, the antagonist is simply whoever or whatever stands between the protagonist and the ultimate goal. But when we start layering on all the enticing nuances and details that take story from a basic equation into a full-blown facsimile of real life, we start discovering a couple more rules of thumb.

One is that the antagonistic force needs to be consistent through the story. Just as the protagonist’s forward drive should create a cohesive throughline all the way through the story, from Inciting Event to Climactic Moment, so too should the antagonistic force present a united front that consistently opposes the protagonist for thematically resonant reasons.

But this gets tricky. As you deepen the complexity of your story in pursuit of that “facsimile of real life,” it can often become difficult to create logical story events and to keep the protagonist and the antagonist properly aligned throughout.

For instance:

  • Your story might not feature a specific human antagonist, but rather a series of humans who oppose the protagonist at different levels and moments.
  • Your story might not feature a human antagonist at all.
  • Your story might play out on a large scale in which it simply doesn’t make sense for protagonist and main antagonist to meet until late in the story or maybe not at all.
  • Your story is complex, as is life, and focuses on a system as the antagonist rather than a specific person or entity.
  • Your story focuses on relational goals rather than action goals, in which case the antagonist might, in fact, be the protagonist’s greatest lover, friend, or supporter (more on that in a future post).

These variations, and many more, show how antagonistic proxies can come in handy. And what are antagonistic proxies? Antagonistic proxies are exactly what they appear to be: less important characters who stand in for the main antagonist. Really, the use of antagonistic proxies is quite intuitive. There’s a reason the henchman is a universal trope!

However, using antagonistic proxies comes with some pitfalls. The most important pitfall is that when you start adding in sub-antagonists without understanding the underlying function of the antagonist’s role in story form, you can end up struggling with a chaotic story structure or a plot and/or theme that feels like it’s being pulled in many different directions. The good news is that as long you understand the function of the antagonist, you can add as many antagonistic proxies as you need without derailing your story.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Writing Techniques: Use and Abuse of “Lampshading”

From Writers Helping Writers:

What Is the “Lampshade” Technique

Believe it or not, the lampshade/lantern/lampshade-hanging technique is just this: Purposely call attention to a cliché, illogical, or contrived element, often in characters’ dialogue. By calling attention to something that threatens a readers’ suspension of disbelief, we’re essentially telling readers, “Yep, the story world thinks these elements are odd too. Just roll with it.”

The TV Tropes site includes many examples which point out how this technique isn’t new:

Sir Toby Belch: Is’t possible?
Fabian: If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.

— Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

In addition to simply using self-awareness to point out issues, lampshading can sometimes also take the opportunity to answer or justify how the situation makes sense. For example, to defuse readers’ skepticism or criticism of an event, a character might share further information after the fact, such as explaining unknown motivations:

Lampshade: “Yeah, I’m glad we won, but why did Klaus suddenly decide to help us?” Susan threw up her hands. “That makes no sense. He never wanted our team to win.”
Justification: Paula pointed down the field to the opposing team. “See that girl? Cynthia broke up with him last night—ugly scene from what I heard. Maybe he wanted her team to lose more than he didn’t want us to win.”

Depending on circumstances, lampshading can create moments that come off as winking, hilarious, clever (or too-clever-for-its-own-good), meta, lazy, handwaving away weak writing, etc. So we need to understand when lampshading will help or hurt our writing and story.

Lampshading Might Hurt Our Story When…

Lampshading done well helps keep readers immersed in our story, but lampshading done poorly risks pulling readers out of our story even more than if we had just left our writing alone.

Situations where lampshading can hurt our story or writing include:

  • Our story’s style is serious or sincere, so even mild or well-done lampshading risks a tonal change of being too-clever, meta, or jokey.
  • Our story’s narrative is strong and/or readers of our genre won’t question the plot tropes/clichés, so lampshading risks an impression of “apologizing” for lines or elements that readers may not even notice if we don’t point them out.
  • The questionable elements are part of a strong emotional moment in our story, so lampshading risks undercutting—or at least interrupting—the emotions we wanted to evoke (such as in the game-winning example above).
  • Our story naturally keeps readers at a distance—less engaged or immersed—so any lampshading, especially meta, fourth-wall-breaking, or too-clever-by-half moments (unless, of course, that’s the kind of story we’re trying to tell), risks preventing readers from taking anything seriously (e.g., if our characters don’t seem fully invested and care about the story’s events, readers might not care either).
  • The questionable elements are part of a major or important moment in our story, so lampshading, with its “don’t worry about it” and “just roll with it” attitude, risks giving readers the impression that the moment isn’t important.
  • There’s no story at all without the questionable elements, so lampshading that emphasizes the issue can make the entire story feel weak or “fake.”
  • Our characters’ reactions are believable within the story world, so lampshading risks an impression that we aren’t confident in our writing, worldbuilding, or characters.

Most importantly, as alluded to in that last bullet point, we don’t want to lampshade something simply because we’re not confident in our writing. Once per story, we might need to move the plot along with a contrived situation that we’re not entirely happy about, and maybe that event could use a lampshade, just to keep things moving. But lampshading due to self-consciousness can feel defensive, like we’re trying to avoid any-and-all criticism or essentially apologizing for our work. Instead, we should fix the problem so we can feel at least somewhat confident in our writing.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Training scenes work in movies. They (usually) suck in novels

From Nathan Bransford:

Some of the most beloved scenes in movie history involve training for combat.

Obi-Wan Kenobi making Luke put the blast shield down so he can train blind with his lightsaber in Star Wars: A New Hope. Morpheus and Neo fighting an epic, beautiful, mesmerizing joust after Neo learns kung fu in The Matrix. Take your pick from hundreds of “ragtag fighting force humorously gets their s*** together” montages.

Now, I challenge you this: Name a great training scene in a novel.

I’ll wait.

Okay, sure. Of course they exist! I list some below, and I’m sure some good ones will pop up in the comments section. But if you put the scene where Morpheus tests Neo’s kung fu into a novel, it would be a snoozer. When I’m editing novels, I often see interminable training scenes that were clearly written for the future movie adaptation rather than the actual novel at hand.

Screenplay-ize your novel at your peril. If you have movie training in scenes in mind when you’re writing a novel, you risk crafting a stinker of a scene unless you can tailor it for what works in books.

The reasons for this discrepancy reveal a whole lot about the narrative differences between good cinematic storytelling and good novelistic storytelling.

The interiority of novels

At the risk of oversimplifying, cinema is a storytelling device that favors the exterior, whereas novels favor the interior.

Cinema is visual. It’s nearly impossible to get intimately inside characters’ heads the way we can in novels. We judge cinematic characters almost entirely by their actions (hence the classic “save the cat“), rather than being attuned to their hidden motivations and desires. The occasional clunky movie voice-overs that tell us a characters’ secret thoughts are the exceptions that prove the rule.

With novels, we’re far, far more attuned to why characters are doing what they’re doing. We often know their precise hopes and dreams. We can see the way they’re thinking through their options and choices. It puts a much greater premium on how a character is prioritizing their time and energy and scenes flowing from characters actively going after the things they want in a relatively coherent way.

I am willing to stake this claim: Novels need to make more sense than movies.

That’s because when we read, we’re busy co-creating the world in our own heads. When it’s unclear why exactly a character is doing what they’re doing, it rings a much louder alarm than it does when we’re sitting back in a comfy chair in the theater and just watching things unfold on the screen.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Spotlighting Rural Crime Fiction

From The Daily Yonder:

Small-town crime is big.

There’s never been a time when readers of mystery and crime novels didn’t like stories in rustic and rural settings. James M. Cain’s 1934 crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was grabbed up by readers — and banned in Boston — for its torrid story of a murderous affair in a roadside California town.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot solved a murder in a small town in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd back in 1926. Even earlier, Arthur Conan Doyle put Sherlock Holmes and John Watson through their paces in a number of isolated estates and villages (small towns in the English countryside in particular have never suffered from a lack of fictional murders).

And, of course, Elmore Leonard brought the blueprint to the American West and the hills of Appalachia, as covered in our most recent edition.

But tales of small-town crime have become increasingly popular in recent years, and many books not only tell stories about murder and mayhem, but also about the kind of remote places that bear witness to those crimes.

One of the newest novels to explore this rich dramatic potential is Small Town Sins, published on August 1. It was written by Ken Jaworowski, an editor at The New York Times and is his first novel.

Jaworowski weaves three stories that only occasionally intersect: A nurse who befriends a dying teenager, a volunteer firefighter who finds and decides to keep $2 million, and a recovering addict who discovers new purpose — and a despicable target — after finding himself alone in the world.

Jaworowski said in an interview that there are reasons rural and small-town crime stories are so popular right now.

“There are a lot of rural stories out now — S.A. Cosby and Karen Dionne immediately come to mind — and I’d say that’s because they sell. Publishers want to make money, and rural readers are book buyers. I love New York City more than anything. I lived there for nearly a decade. But even I am a little tired of novels set in high-brow worlds populated by Yale graduates. So very few of us have been to a four-star French restaurant. But everyone has, at one time or another, been in a local bar. Readers can relate to such settings. And if your readers relate to your settings, it’s easier to draw them into the plot.”

Author Kelly J. Ford, whose new novel, The Hunt, is about a serial killer stalking an elaborate Easter egg hunt in small-town Arkansas, said in an interview there’s a universal appeal to rural crime stories.

“All small towns and rural areas have their eccentricities, but there seems to be a shared emotional experience that resonates and connect readers of these stories,” Ford said. “Even folks from larger towns or cities typically grow up in enclaves or neighborhoods, little universes with their own mythologies, criminals, and characters.

“There’s always that one family whose last name, when you hear it, whispers ‘Run.’”

A New Golden Age?

Some of today’s best practitioners of rural crime writing have been honing their craft for years. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Cold Dish, the first of author Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books. The series, now two-dozen books and counting, mixes humor, action, mysticism, and remote Western settings in its tales of modern-day Wyoming sheriff, Walt Longmire, who patrols one of the most sparsely populated areas in the United States. The books are the basis for the Longmire Netflix series. I love Johnson’s humor and always recall a detail that firmly established the books’ remote setting: In Longmire’s little town, cell phone service is dependable in just one spot in a particular parking lot.

Link to the rest at The Daily Yonder

Motif in Literature: Definition and Examples

From The Grammarly Blog:

In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five, there is a phrase that marks every death in the book: “So it goes.” The phrase is unavoidable, much like death itself, and it draws the reader’s attention to the book’s larger theme of inevitability.

The phrase “so it goes” is an example of a motif: a recurring story element with symbolic significance. Motifs direct readers’ attention to larger themes and engage them on an intuitive level. They are great tools for creating depth in your writing.

What is a motif in literature?

A motif (pronounced mow-teef) can be an object, image, sound, idea, or word. A couple of key qualities can help you determine if what you’re reading is a motif:

Motifs are repeated throughout the story. In fact, “motif” is a French word that translates to “pattern.” If you notice the same object, phrase, or symbol multiple times throughout the story, it’s probably a motif. 

Motifs point to a larger theme or concept. Oftentimes, a motif will recur in similar situations throughout the story. For instance, in the Vonnegut example above, the words “so it goes” always occur after a death is mentioned. Noticing what situations the motif appears in gives the reader insight into the larger message the author is alluding to.

What is the purpose of a motif?

The main purpose of a motif is to draw attention to a theme. Attentive readers gain access to a theme or underlying message by paying close attention to the story’s motifs. In this way, motifs can engage readers on an intuitive level. 

Writers may also use motifs for these reasons:

To enhance a mood. In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, the author hides the acronym “VFD” throughout the series to indicate the Baudelaire children are in danger. This creates an aura of suspense every time the reader notices the three letters in succession (e.g.: Volunteer Feline Detectives, Voluntary Fish Domestication).

To create symbolism. Typically, oranges are not associated with death or destruction, but in The Godfather, director Francis Ford Coppola creates a new symbol by repeatedly featuring oranges around scenes of death. For what it’s worth, the production designer has denied that the orange symbolism was intentional. Regardless of the filmmaker’s intentions, viewers have decided that oranges are one of the movie’s motifs.

Motif vs. theme

A theme is a story’s overall message or meaning. It’s what guides the narrative, causes characters to act a certain way, and gives the text a deeper meaning. Themes are typically broad and conceptual. Examples of themes in literature include mortality, good versus evil, corruption, redemption, and love.

Motifs, on the other hand, are elements that point toward that theme. For example, if a book’s underlying theme is about mortality, then an author might attach the motif of decay to their language (as William Shakespeare does in Hamlet). Every time the reader encounters worms, maggots, or skulls, they’re directed to reflect on the broader themes of death and mortality.

In short, a theme is an abstract concept that underlies the entire story. A motif is a recurring element throughout the story that points toward that theme.

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

Writing Short Stories to Jumpstart Your Novel Writing

From Writer Unboxed:

What do you do when you reach a roadblock with your novel? Do you go for a long walk? Pour a glass of wine? Vent on social media? While all those things are helpful (at least to me), I like to go to a tried-and-true backup that I know I’m good at: short-story writing.

I got my start writing short stories in college, so they’re a comfort blanket for me. And I’ve found interchanging novel-writing with short story-writing provides a unique honing of writerly skills that I would otherwise lack if I only concentrated on my novel.

Here are some of the benefits writing short stories provide:

1. You learn to complete a story arc in a finite amount of time. And I mean that both figuratively and literally. When writing short stories that you intend to submit for publication, you often have to work within finite word counts. You have drabbles, which are 100 words or less; Flash Fiction, which is usually 300-1K words; and traditional short stories, which can be anywhere from 1k-7k words. (Anything longer is considered a “long” short story or a novella.) And because it’s not a novel, which can take months to years to write, you’re usually working on short stories over the course of a few days to a few weeks. This is especially true if you’re writing for a deadline-driven contest. You learn to increase your pacing and shorten your character arcs to a few thousand words. The skills learned by working on short stories can help your novel-writing chops by allowing you to get to the heart of your story faster, which in turn gives you more real estate to flesh out the characters and the plot instead of leisurely wandering your way to them.

2. It gives you a sense of accomplishment—and more. You can (usually) write several short stories in the time it would take you to write half a novel. This directly translates into fuel you can use to finish your novel in that it can serve to kickstart your motivation as you gain writing momentum. Getting your work published and out into the world gives you an ego boost that can help you survive the Imposter Syndrome doubt that comes from wondering if your novel will ever take shape/take off/ be successful. I use these small acceptance accomplishments to remind myself why I got into this business in the first place.

3. It can add to your writing resume. It’s a known fact that plenty of good writers get passed over by agents and editors and that rejections are inevitable, regardless of the writing quality. But publications in reputable journals and magazines can add substance to your query letters, and that may lead agents to take a closer look at your work. This may especially benefit a debut novelist seeking agent representation.

4. Submitting short story queries helps hone your query-writing chops. Trust me, after writing dozens of short story queries, or even hundreds, you can use what you’ve learned to write a knockout novel query. For example, writing short story queries helped me hone my professional voice when approaching someone for paid work. It taught me to perfect my elevator pitch, as I essentially provide one for each story I submit—again, do dozens or hundreds of these and you start to gain an ear for what works and what doesn’t.

5. It gives practice for following submission guidelines. While many novel-submissions usually just involve a basic query to the agent/publisher/editor, when someone requests a partial of your manuscript, you will need to follow their submission guidelines explicitly. I learned how to tailor my short story submissions to specific formatting guidelines just the way indie publishers and small presses demand—sure, the Shunn format is a good place to start, but not every house wants it the same way, and small details missed can get your submission tossed out. It’s important to carefully research the guidelines required for EACH manuscript submission and follow them to the T.

6. It provides a much-needed mental break. Wrestling with your novel WIP can lead to burnout. I’ve been there, and in the depths of my frustration, short stories gave me the space I needed to get into another world for a while, to handle a new set of characters that had different challenges than those I wrestled with in my novel. Or, on the other hand, you might find that writing a short story set in the world of your novel helps deepen your understanding of that world and its characters. As Amazon can attest, many a successful novella was written as a spin-off to full-length novels. They sell because fans want to know more about the characters they’ve come to love, and short stories and novellas provide that desired fix

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The 3 R’s of a Successful Professional Writing Career

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

You started out with dreams of a professional writing career, didn’t you?

And then you achieved your goals, didn’t you?

But now what?

You thought being a professional, published writer would liberate you from the routine of a day job.

You also thought you’d be able to control your own time — and that you’d be the master of your fate.

And finally — at long last! — you’ve arrived at the place where you’re the boss of you.

Well, haven’t you?

And now what?

Now you find out — surprise! — that being a professional, published author can  feel a lot like being a 9-to-5 wage slave.

With a few scary gotchas for your extra added enjoyment.

Like, for instance —

That the mean, demanding, impossible-to-please boss is the ogre in the mirror.

That the Monday-to-Friday treadmill morphs into a seven-day-a week trudge.

And then there’s the weekend.



What’s a weekend?

Don’t remember those, do you?

Or that your paycheck might — or might not — arrive on time.

And, even if it does, will it cover the rent, the car payment, the baby sitter?

So what you do now that you have a successful professional writing career? Now that you’re your own boss?

IME the best way to approach the issue is to curse, cry, kvetch go back to basics.

You know, the three R’s.

1.  Routine

You can’t control the weather, the soul-sucking fight you had with your partner or your kid, or who’s gonna be the next president.

You can’t control the reality that some days will fly by, but that others will feel like you’re stuck in a wasteland, tethered to your recalcitrant WiP with Gorilla Glue.

At times you will feel inspired.

Other times you will wonder what on earth ever made you think the great/brilliant idea that would make you rich & famous would maybe turn out not to be so great/brilliant after all.

At least right now at this moment when you’re stuck, can’t figure out what happens next, and hate your $&^%# book/article/blog post. And, if things start to feel really dire, maybe even yourself.

But rather than helplessly letting the wheels come off, remember that what you can control is yourself, your creativity, and how you invest your resources and allocate your energy.

Now is when routine  — often reviled, but always reliable — can be your best friend.

Whether you’re an early morning lark or a late night owl, you already know your own best time time to sit down with your notepad or in front of your computer.

Even when you think you’re at rock bottom and are sure you have no ideas, priming the pump works.

Read something you love for inspiration.

Read something you hate because you know you can do better.

Try writing/typing something/anything until, as NYT writing mentor David Carr said, it turns into writing.

Because IME, DC was right, and it will.

Why and how is for the philosophers/neuroscientists to figure out, but — one way or another — routine almost always will get the job done.

2. Repetition

Stay with it/keep at it— word after word, day after day, week after week.

Even when you’re convinced you’ve written yourself into a box or a blank wall with a bright, blinking No Exit sign.

IME all those false starts, all those discarded drafts, will yield to sheer stubbornness or, to put it more diplomatically, determined persistence.

Sooner — or sometimes later — you will start making sense to yourself. A messy process, but an approach that — eventually — works.

When you start submitting and the rejections roll in — which they will (sorry about that) — keep at it.

Whether you’re angry, depressed, or discouraged, don’t give up. Stay determined.

Remember that it’s not just you but every writer who has ever faced a blank page or a disheartening rejection — which is everyone — has been there, done that.

In a recent interview bestselling writer Dennis Lehane (Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River) commented, “All I hear are no’s.”

. . . .

3.  Revision

Your book is finished.

You’ve typed “The End.”


But wait!

You’re not finished!

There’s more!

Glitches, aaaarghs, and wtf’s.

Plot holes, oopsies, and lapses in logic.

Enhanced by dust bunnies under the bed and dirty dishes in the sink.

It is here that “Susan” you or your editor will find that has mysteriously morphed into “Sullivan” halfway through the manuscript.

Or where the setting has inexplicably changed from heat-ravaged Houston to snow-bound North Dakota.

Or when the Grammar Gods descend from Mount Strunk & White with wrath in their eyes and author assassination in their hearts.

Wha? How did that happen? Who knows? But whatever it is, you’d better find it and fix it or feel the wrath of hundreds of ticked off readers who will not be shy about expressing their displeasure.

Besides, other, frustrating gotchas are most likely lurking in the shadows along with the cooties and cobwebs. Easy to overlook. Difficult to ferret out. Not all that tough to correct — once you find them.

Which is the reason Mother Nature created betas, editors and proofreaders. And obsessed, perfectionistic writers. (Coughs. Raises hand.)

Because I learned early on that editors will reject your manuscript and readers — if you manage to find any — will pounce and “reward” you with an Everest of one-star reviews.

Revision time.



OMG do I really have to go over that d*mn thing one more time?

Yes, you do, but consider the up side.

Here is your golden opportunity to polish your book to a dazzling, irresistible gleam.

Don’t waste it.

Take advantage, because, once your book is published, your time is up, and you will have no more opportunities to fix, tinker, fluff, or polish.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Doomsday Prepper

From Writers Helping Writers:

In 1959, Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes—”universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” He posited that every person is a blend of these 12 basic personalities. Ever since then, authors have been applying this idea to fictional characters, combining the different archetypes to come up with interesting new versions. The result is a sizable pool of character tropes that we see from one story to another.

Archetypes and tropes are popular storytelling elements because of their familiarity. Upon seeing them, readers know immediately who they’re dealing with and what role the nerd, dark lord, femme fatale, or monster hunter will play. As authors, we need to recognize the commonalities for each trope so we can write them in a recognizable way and create a rudimentary sketch for any character we want to create.

But when it comes to characters, no one wants just a sketch; we want a vibrant and striking cast full of color, depth, and contrast. Diving deeper into character creation is especially important when starting with tropes because the blessing of their familiarity is also a curse; without differentiation, the characters begin to look the same from story to story.

. . . .

Doomsday Prepper

DESCRIPTION: Paranoid and prepping for the end of the world, doomsday preppers have a very specific skillset, as well as access to resources that are in short supply elsewhere. Their knowledge and assets can be useful in certain scenarios, and these characters often become important contacts for the protagonist, supplying exactly what’s needed in the moment.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Burt and Heather Gummer (Tremors), Hershel Greene (The Walking Dead), Howard Stambler (10 Cloverfield Lane), Dale Gribble (King of the Hill)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Alert, Analytical, Cautious, Focused, Independent, Industrious, Nature-Focused, Observant, Organized, Private, Proactive, Protective, Resourceful, Responsible, Thrifty, Traditional

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Fanatical, Nervous, Obsessive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Rebellious, Stubborn, Suspicious, Uncooperative, Withdrawn

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Growing Pains: Why Coming of Age Stories Are for Everyone

From Writer Unboxed:

My second novel, which was released last March, is a coming-of-age story. The book’s protagonist is a sixteen-year-old boy. A few months before the publication date, I had a conversation with my publisher about whether the book should be marketed as a young adult novel or as adult literary fiction.

“It really could be either,” my publisher said. “I think there’s something in it for everyone.”

After weighing the pros and cons of each, we decided to go with adult literary fiction, partly because the novel contains mature content that some parents might find unsuitable for teenagers, and also because we felt that the book would have an opportunity to reach a wider audience as an adult novel.

I was happy with this decision until the book came out and one of its early readers, who also happened to be my father, sent me an email. “It’s a good book, but I don’t think it’s for the over-seventy crowd,” he wrote. “It’s hard to identify with a teenager at my age.” (For the record, he also gave the book a four on Goodreads 😐.)

I was considering asking my publisher if we could revise the book’s metadata when positive reviews started to come in, all of them from adult readers.

“I’m not a teenager,” one woman told me, “but I could really relate to the book’s main character. I’ve had some similar struggles in my life recently. I was rooting for him to succeed the whole time.”

By definition, coming-of-age stories portray a time in a character’s life when they’re undergoing a metamorphosis—in the process of becoming a better, more evolved version of themselves. For most of us, this development takes place when we’re in our late teens or early twenties. But life, especially over the past few years, doesn’t always stick to the rules. Big changes can take place in anyone’s life at any time whether we want them to or not.

If you asked someone to give you a list of their favorite books, it’s likely that at least one coming-of-age story would make the cut. Classic novels like A Catcher in the RyeThe Chocolate War, and The Outsiders occupy an eternal place in people’s hearts because we all know what it’s like when the phonies won’t get off our backs and the rich kids cheat to win.

One of my favorite novels is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Set in 1950s Minnesota, it’s the coming-of-age story of eleven-year-old Reuben Lands. The story is full of adventure, tragedy, poverty, hope, love, and miracles that feel true-to-life. I’ve read it a dozen times. Every time I read it, I’m reminded that it’s not just our circumstances that define our characters but the ways in which we choose to handle them. I’m also reminded that, if we’re open to it, it’s possible to grow and change as a person no matter our age.

Although it’s been widely read in high school English classes since it was published, Peace Like A River was intended for an adult audience.

Coming-of-age stories are universal. They occupy their own special niche in the world of storytelling. By showing us humanity at its very worst and at its finest, these stories bring to light the limitations and awesome potential that human beings possess. And because coming-of-age stories deal with themes like self-discovery, injustice, sexuality, class, and race they can also sometimes help us make sense of events that happened in our lives decades ago and the ways in which those things have become woven into our cores.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Character Type and Trope Thesaurus: Pessimist

From Writers Helping Writers:


DESCRIPTION: This doom-and-gloom character believes that if something bad can happen, it will. They tend to focus on flaws and potential pitfalls and see every opportunity as a new way that things can go wrong.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Eeyore (the Winnie the Pooh series), Marvin the Paranoid Android (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), George Costanza (Seinfeld), Sadness (Inside Out)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Alert, Analytical, Focused, Honest, Introverted, Meticulous, Observant, Pensive, Persistent, Resourceful

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Apathetic, Cowardly, Cynical, Fussy, Grumpy, Humorless, Inflexible, Inhibited, Insecure, Lazy, Martyr, Melodramatic, Morbid, Nervous, Obsessive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Uncooperative, Withdrawn, Worrywart

Noticing even the smallest details
Identifying problems and risks before they happen
Avoiding potential trouble spots others may not see coming
Being cautious
Easily identifying things that need improvement
Planning ahead
Being thorough
Always seeing the glass as half empty
Frequently frustrating others with their constant negativity
Having only a small circle of friends

Having to share space with an extreme optimist
Facing a situation with unknown factors they haven’t had time to prepare for
Being complimented for their skills or abilities

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

How to Escape Imposter Syndrome in Your Writing Life

From Writers in the Storm:

There was a time when we believed more women suffered from the Imposter Syndrome than men did. Unfortunately, time has shown that no one is immune to these feelings. It happens to all creatives, including writers, to celebrities, to politicians, to tradespeople, and to stay-at-home parents. And the phenomenon has been around for a long time.


Remember when Sally Field accepted the Oscar with her statement, “You like me. You really, really like me!” Yup. That’s a sign of that Imposter Syndrome. Aw, you say, she’s an actress, she doesn’t count. So how about Albert Einstein who said, “The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Or former President Woodrow Wilson when he said, “I use not only all the brains I have but all that I can borrow.”

Signs of Imposter Thinking

Imposter Syndrome is sneaky. It’s not always the same signs or the same way of thinking. Your brain is clever that way. It devises new ways to “protect” you. Here are some thoughts that suggest you have Imposter Syndrome.

  • Diminishing your accomplishments by saying something like “it’s not a big deal.”
  • You quit your job soon after a promotion that you felt you didn’t deserve.
  • Creating a perfect story, aka perfectionism, keeps you from completing your work. 
  • You procrastinate on things to be done. If it isn’t done, then you can’t be “found out.”
  • Insomnia and migraines have been called symptoms of imposter syndrome as well. (Please, if you are having physical symptoms such as insomnia or migraines, seek medical attention to rule out other causes for those symptoms.)
  • You look at another writer’s awards and accolades or best seller rank and think you will never be as good. You are suffering from comparison-itis, another form of imposter thinking.
  • Writer’s Block has many causes. But it can be a sign of this syndrome, especially if your thoughts are leading you to believe this temporary stoppage means you aren’t a real writer. 
  • Finally, in extreme cases, there are some who take refuge in more destructive behaviors like addiction to alcohol or drugs. Please seek professional therapy for these types of behaviors.

The Neuroscience of Imposter Syndrome

Psychologists have identified four main primal drives that helped all animals, including humans, survive. They are: fight, flight, feed, and mate. 

Few people dispute humans would not have survived much of the last two thousand years without our fight and flight mechanism. Fortunately, early humans developed a very strong, instinctual way of reacting to the threat of death that they lived with every day. 

This means that our brains instinctively give the highest priority to these drives. Instinctively, our brains look for reasons we must fight to survive first, and if fighting isn’t survivable, we instantly take flight. Once we no longer need fight-or-flight, our brains will prioritize feeding ourselves in order to survive. Finally, we mate to ensure our survival. 

Luckily, some of us have moved beyond the physical fight for survival. Many of us do not have to fight off a bear or lion or other imminent death threat. But even when we don’t have a physical death threat at our door, our brains still have that fight-or-flight instinct. So our brains look for the next “best” threat and turn it into a life-and-death issue. 

We may know logically that the “threat” is not that kind of situation, but we don’t start with our thinking-brain. We start with our feeling-brain. And we feel afraid. 

When we feel afraid, our brain kicks in the fight-or-flight instinct. We act to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, what we think is protective is not helpful in the least. But we don’t know it because our feeling brain tells our thinking brain what think and those thoughts become what we believe. Notice that there’s no logic built into our instincts. 

The good news is that we can do something. We can learn from our fears and eventually believe differently. 

Ways to Supercharge Your Writing Life Against I.S.

Stop the Argument

If the number one culprit responsible for how we behave is our feelings, how do our feelings usually manifest themselves? Self-talk. Our brains start a running dialogue that reinforces the fear of that death threat (real or not). To combat the Imposter Syndrome, we need to counteract that running dialog based on fear.

There are many ways to address our fearful, negative self-talk. First, we have to notice it. This might mean you need to meditate on the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. Journaling may help or reading self-help books or courses. Always check the bona fides of any book or mentor or therapist before choosing one. Professional organizations are the best option for finding reputable sources of help. 

If your negative self-talk includes suicidal thoughts, to talk with a therapist now. If you don’t have one or cannot afford one, reach out to your nearest public health department, your church, or in the U.S., call 988 (English and Spanish). Outside the US, try this list of international hotlines. 

On the August 6, 2023 episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, actress and writer, Kirsten Vangsness, discussed Imposter Syndrome. She suggested you can stop the argument by acknowledging you are an imposter. She says she understands that there is a part of her that constantly is trying to destroy her. Knowing that, she can recognize that self-talk and learn how to deflect or defeat it.

By acknowledging that she is an imposter, Kirsten is embracing her fear. Sometimes, simply saying I’m afraid is enough to help diminish that fear enough so you can move through the fear. 

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

What Are Plot Devices? (Why You Should Be Cautious)

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

What are plot devices? Basically, they’re exactly what they sound like: events that maneuver the plot in particular directions.

All stories are built on plot devices. In truth, everything that happens in a story is a plot device. Story structure beats are plot devices. Character arc beats are plot devices. Plot devices are the little clockwork gears that make a story run.

This means plot devices are also one of a writer’s most important tools. Need to figure out a way to get two characters to show up at the same place at the same time? A plot device is your key. Want two characters to have good reason to hate each other? Plot device!

This isn’t a bad thing. However, the term “plot device” often comes with the negative connotations associated with poorly executed moments that feel contrived or like authors are manipulating events in order to make the plot do what they want.

Now, of course, all writers must “manipulate” the plot to some extent. After all, we’re not just responsible for creating the story, we’re also responsible for steering it. We know we need to get the characters from Point A to Point B, which means coming up with plausible plot devices to move them along the road toward the final Climax.

The trick is to do so in a way that honors the entire context of the story. Each event should arise naturally from the story’s cause and effect. Any time something in a story seems to exist solely to explain a previous event or further a future event, that’s the sign of a contrived plot device. By contrast, a successful plot device is one that seems to exist solely for its own sake—as if it were just as important as any other event—which allows it to seamlessly integrate with the rest of the story.

What Are Plot Devices? 8 Possibilities

This topic is on my mind right now, as I’ve been brainstorming my way around the need for a particular plot device in my fantasy work-in-progress Wildblood. Today, I want to talk about how you can recognize obvious plot devices and then how to troubleshoot your own process to determine whether or not the plot devices will seem contrived to readers.

To get us started, here are eight possible ways plot devices may show up in your story.

1. Event

At its simplest, a plot device is something that happens in your story. It could be a birth, a death, a robbery, a wedding, a dance-off, a scam—you name it. Most of the time, we refer to these events as “beats” or “scenes.” We usually only think of them as plot devices when they seem contrived—as if the only reason an event is happening is to either facilitate a different scene or to instigate a particular emotion in readers.

For Example: In Jupiter Ascending, the main characters are betrayed by a friend—an event that exists solely to facilitate certain subsequent plot developments and that is not supported by either proper build-up or motive or by emotional consequences after the fact.

2. Info

Anything that changes the plot moves the plot, something information is capable of doing all by itself. Any time a character learns something new, that’s a plot device. Readers will always trust that new information is important to the story. However, if that information exists only to be interesting in the moment, without being paid off later, then it is likely a poorly executed plot device.

For Example: This one is common in jargon-heavy or worldbuilding-centric stories, which often drop lots of info, not all of which is necessary either for advancing the plot or even just fleshing out the world. In the adaptation of The Witcher, the “cost of magic” (demonstrated by a girl’s hand withering after performing magic) is used as a device to inform the plot early on, but then dropped from the narrative when it becomes inconvenient.

3. MacGuffin

A MacGuffin, as Alfred Hitchcock famously called it, is a thing or person that inspires pursuit throughout the story. The falcon statuette in The Maltese Falcon is one of the most famous examples. A MacGuffin can also be a person or even just a bit of information. This is a powerful plot device, but it only works well when the MacGuffin is not incidental. It needs to be there for more than just a reason to keep the characters moving; it needs to offer meaning to both plot and theme by the end.

For Example: A popular MacGuffin in recent film was the Tesseract in the MCU, which characters pursued through multiple entries in the series. Ultimately, it was a successful plot device, since it remained important to the very end of the original plotline, when it was claimed by the arch-villain Thanos as one of the Infinity Stones.

. . . .

6. Plot Twist

A plot twist can be one of the most enjoyable types of plot device. It can also be one of the most abused. A plot twist should never exist just for the sake of the twist. It should be a natural and inevitable outgrowth of everything that’s come before and should matter to what comes after. If you could pull the twist without affecting the progression of the plot, you know you’re probably looking at a manipulative plot device.

For Example: For my money, one of the most annoying plot twists was the out-of-left-field reveal in The Avengers: Age of Ultron that Clint Barton/Hawkeye had a secret family. It doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect, since the franchise built on it in subsequent episodes. But at the time, it lacked any setup and felt super-manipulative.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

Follow the Energy of Denial

From Writer Unboxed:

Twenty-some years ago, while reading a published crime novel for enjoyment, I encountered a first sentence similar to this:

I marched through the restaurant at 5 a.m. Tuesday, ignoring the stench of the dead body and the unhinged sous chef who’d found it.

This sentence immediately popped me from the story. New at the time to story analysis, it took me a while to determine that my problem was with the word “ignore.” Instead of reading on, I sat and wondered, If our first-person POV character is “ignoring” something, why did she mention it? and Does one ever get to a point when one can simply “ignore” the stench of a dead body? and How do you ignore an unhinged sous chef? In the next line, when I learned she was a police detective, I thought, Would a police detective really “ignore” aspects of a crime scene, especially a stench that might inform her that the body had been decaying there since Saturday night, when the restaurant was last open? And if she can ignore these details, should we trust her to have the instincts to solve this murder?

Make no mistake, you do want to raise questions with the opening of your novel, but these were the wrong kind. You also want your opening to be memorable, but not for these reasons. I concluded that the author was implying that this character wasn’t really a very good detective. Having lost faith in the protagonist after just one sentence, followed by a paragraph that did nothing to salvage the situation, I set down the book.

Since then, I’ve learned that creative writing doesn’t have a lot of “rules,” save one:

Give the reader no reason to put down your novel.

It may well be that you’re such a mystery lover that you would have skipped right over this issue and continued on. Reading is subjective, after all. Even so, this one sentence offers up several aspects of craft worth thinking about.

Focus on what your character is doing instead of what she isn’t

I heard this advice early on in my creative writing journey and it has proven to be a worthy guide: Rather than write about what your character doesn’t do, identify what she does do. This will help the reader accumulate details pertinent to her characterization (as opposed to ruling out who she isn’t), while also prompting you-as-author to determine what your character wants in any given scene.

[If that feels like a challenge to your creativity, I too can picture a literary novel beginning with, “Leon Adamzcyk went out to feed his birds at the crack of dawn because he was not the kind of man who wanted to talk to his neighbors.” This could begin a list of other things that Leon Adamzcyk is not, ending this opening with the line, “Problem was, Leon Adamzcyk didn’t know who he was.” Thing is, your readers would know something: he cares about the birds.]

If the detective in the opening story is assigned to this case yet she immediately ignores its specifics, show us why by giving her an alternate scene goal. Maybe her ex owns the restaurant and her first priority is to make sure he’s okay. You can still orient us to the action in the room while she is pursuing that primary goal:

I entered the restaurant at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning and marched straight toward Jimmy’s office, swinging wide around the techs at the crime scene and holding my breath against the stench produced by a corpse at least two days old.

Adding a goal is such a slight change, yet it energizes the scene while at the same time showing her experience. I’d trust this protagonist more; she has a story to tell. Her actions—as opposed to what she is trying to avoid—raise better questions: Who is Jimmy to her? Is he there, or did he leave to avoid her? Did she not look at the body because she couldn’t bear it if it had been him, or perhaps because her emotions are so buttoned up that she saved herself inner turmoil by making sure he was okay first? What is he doing when she finds him: locking his safe? Pacing, his clothes rumpled as if they were yesterday’s? Their conversation would show how she feels about their relationship status and may suggest whether she trusts him or has long suspected his involvement in shady dealings—but it is sure to raise many interesting questions. She can then circle back to get the preliminary report from the crime scene techs.

What she wants to avoid, of course, are the stakes should she not achieve her scene goal—but those dreaded consequences will feel more potent once we find out what it is this detective wants. Let her actions betray this.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Snob

From Writers Helping Writers:

In 1959, Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes—”universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” He posited that every person is a blend of these 12 basic personalities. Ever since then, authors have been applying this idea to fictional characters, combining the different archetypes to come up with interesting new versions. The result is a sizable pool of character tropes that we see from one story to another.

Archetypes and tropes are popular storytelling elements because of their familiarity. Upon seeing them, readers know immediately who they’re dealing with and what role the nerd, dark lord, femme fatale, or monster hunter will play. As authors, we need to recognize the commonalities for each trope so we can write them in a recognizable way and create a rudimentary sketch for any character we want to create.

But when it comes to characters, no one wants just a sketch; we want a vibrant and striking cast full of color, depth, and contrast. Diving deeper into character creation is especially important when starting with tropes because the blessing of their familiarity is also a curse; without differentiation, the characters begin to look the same from story to story.

But no more. The Character Type and Trope Thesaurus allows you to outline the foundational elements of each trope while also exploring how to individualize them. In this way, you’ll be able to use historically tried-and-true character types to create a cast for your story that is anything but traditional.


DESCRIPTION: Snobs look down on people below their own social or financial station. They often display an exaggerated sense of elitism and condescension because they believe they’re superior in some way.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: The Malfoys (the Harry Potter series), Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice), Tom Buchanan (The Great Gatsby), Regina George (Mean Girls), Frasier and Niles Crane (Frasier)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Ambitious, Centered, Charming, Confident, Meticulous, Passionate, Proper, Sophisticated

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Catty, Cruel, Fussy, Gossipy, Haughty, Humorless, Inflexible, Judgmental, Know-It-All, Materialistic, Nosy, Prejudiced, Pretentious, Self-Indulgent, Spoiled, Vain


  • Having a strong sense of personal identity
  • Not being easily swayed by the opinions of others
  • Paying meticulous attention to detail
  • Dressing stylishly
  • Being self-possessed and appearing confident
  • Being driven to achieve greater success and importance through self-development
  • Having discerning tastes
  • Having a deep understanding about their area of interest—art, fashion, literature, or even more mundane things, like coffee or wine
  • Associating with people they believe are worthy of their attention
  • Indulging in extravagant displays of wealth or personal achievement
  • Putting others down—publicly or privately—because of a lack of personal taste
  • Having a superiority complex
  • Believing their friends or wealth makes them worthier or more respected than others
  • Ensuring everyone around them knows how smart or accomplished they are
  • Dropping names
  • Attaching themselves to people who can improve their status
  • Gathering sycophants and groupies
  • Expounding on their opinion whenever possible
  • Excelling at finding weak spots and attacking them
  • Perfectionism
  • Sucking up to others; brownnosing
  • Congregating with other snobs who share their interests

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

You Don’t Need to Suffer to Make Art—But It Can Help

From Electric Lit:

Once at a party, I met an anesthesiologist. I’ve always been horrified and fascinated by anesthesiology, and I was a few wines in, so I cornered him.

“Where do we go?” I demanded. “When we go under, where do we go?”

He didn’t seem surprised to be accosted with this question. Instead, he moved closer to me. “Well, you are like a computer,” he said. He lifted an index finger and pressed it to the center of my forehead. “I’m just turning you OFF. I’m flipping a switch.”

I was furious. The answer was clever, but it meant nothing. It didn’t address my issue. It didn’t help me understand how he did what he did, or whether I was dying every time I went under.

Obviously, anesthesiology and writing are not the same. But novelists are also asked a similar question at every event, family gathering, therapy session, good date, or party: How did you write your novel? Over and over again. Writing a novel is wrapped in the same mystery, for most people, as going to the moon or going under anesthesia.

It’s not a question I can answer once or in one way—my relationship to writing changes as I get older, as I write more books. Some technical advice stays the same (i.e., the practices I cling to in order to finish the damn thing), but other, more existential questions fluctuate with time, my life experiences, and the political environment that encroaches on my existence. Still, here is my best crack at it: five easy steps for turning your suffering into a novel.

First You Must Suffer

It would help, for example, if your father has just died. Or, perhaps, you’ve just undergone an incredibly painful and traumatic spinal surgery. Both of my novels were directly fed by these two critical moments in life, times during which my understanding of the world around me was proven entirely wrong.

My new novel, Ripe, was written after my father died suddenly, an event that was followed shortly thereafter by the COVID-19 lockdown. My father was always telling me to write this novel—a novel about working in tech with lunatics. During the year I spent working in Silicon Valley, at the end of our phone calls, he would often say: Take notes on everything that is happening to you. One day you’re going to write a book about it and sell a million copies.

After he died, during lockdown, I was entirely alone with my grief. There was no looking away from it, there were no distractions, it was only me and the grief, which was six-foot-three, the height of my father, following me around, getting in my way, forcing guttural cries out of my body at all times of day. After a few weeks, I sat down and wrote the book he asked me to write. Ripe, even more so than my first novel, was born of grief and isolation, made in a moment in time that I’m not sure will ever happen again. But it was fuel inside of me, an agony I wanted to comprehend, make sense of, catalyze into something else, something useful, something he would be proud of.

Perhaps for some writers, like romance novelists, “Suffer” can be exchanged for “Fall in Love.” If you can write a novel without suffering, my hat is off to you. For me, the work is deeply driven by a desperation to understand the world around me.

Be Ruthless, Be Rude

We are raised (at least, I was) to be polite, kind, presentable. Often, the writing we want to do is the opposite. To write a great novel, you must be ruthless—ruthlessly honest about the people around you, the characters in your book, your perception of the world, your family, your coworkers, and, most of all, yourself.

Humanity is shown clearest in its ugliness. A character that is behaving terribly becomes suddenly understandable when you realize she is trying to have a child but cannot conceive. A depressed character might seem annoying on page one, until you realize she is pregnant and impoverished.

The writer Vidjis Hjorth has an excellent bit about this in one of her novels. Her character, who has herself just written a novel, is asked if the novel is real. The character responds that she is not interested in reality, but in the truth.

That distinction is an important way of securing freedom from the confines of what’s expected of us in our work. We have to be unconcerned about whether reality is reflected in the novel, and dedicated to ensuring our work is dealing in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly truth of being human.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

What I’ve Learned About Writing From Long-Distance Running

From Writer Unboxed:

The morning slides right off me, pooling into my cooling sleeves. Sunrise is an hour away, and already it’s close to ninety degrees, with humidity in an astronomical percentage. My body feels heavy. My brain feels heavier.

I’ve had few truly enjoyable early morning long runs since the summer began.

Some seasons are like that.

I have to remind myself of many things when I walk out the door, headlamp strapped on, hydration belt positioned on my hips, to begin my warmup of calf raises, high knees, and skip-strides. They become mantras as I slog through the miles, one at a time, the end so far removed from the beginning I can hardly imagine it.

As a (amateur) runner who logs anywhere from 55 to 65 miles every week just for fun (I know), I’ve learned a lot about writing from my long-distance running habit. It may seem strange to equate the two—one is incredibly active, the other not so much. But both use the same kind of persistent focus. Both require stamina and dedication. Both are incredibly difficult to finish strong.

Here’s what I’ve learned about writing from long-distance running.

Run the mile you’re in. Write the chapter you’re in. I don’t walk out the door for a twelve-mile run already thinking of the twelfth mile. The run would be doomed before it began. I focus only on the first mile. And then the next mile. And the third, and on and on and on.

So often, we start a story and we already can’t wait to get it done. Part of the excitement of writing is the vision we have for the end product. But if we keep our eyes focused on The End and how far we have left to go, instead of where we actually are in the project, we can easily lose our focus and our enthusiasm for the project. The finish line is so far away! We still have to get through the Fun and Games section! And the Bad Guys Close In! And the Dark Night of the Soul and everything that comes after and…maybe we should just quit. We’ll never make it.

It’s important to write the chapter we’re in. Resist the urge to measure how much farther you have to go. Find your stride in this chapter and watch the words, one after another, propel you along the path of progress.

Every day is different—some days are great, others are slogs. A coach I know tells his runners, “Today’s legs are not yesterday’s legs.” Meaning: We may not be able to perform today at the level we did yesterday.

We’ve all heard the saying “comparison is the thief of joy.” That’s true when comparing ourselves to other people, but it’s also true when comparing ourselves today to ourselves yesterday. Not every day will be a perfect productive day where we write two thousand perfect words. And we can’t put that kind of pressure on ourselves.

Some days we’re tired because we didn’t get enough sleep. Or we did too much people-ing and feel completely burned out. Or the kids are home for the summer and really like to talk and there’s no quiet corner in our house where we can find a minute to think, let alone write.

Some days are slogs. Some seasons are slogs. It’s important to remember they’re only days—or seasons. In the same way today’s writing isn’t the same as yesterday’s writing, tomorrow’s writing won’t be the same as today’s. So if you’re having an awesome writing day, be grateful. And if you’re not, have hope. Every day is a new day.

Endurance requires training. We don’t just decide we want to run fifteen miles and get out there and run a record-breaking fifteen miles without any previous running training. We also don’t just decide we want to write a book and then write a perfect book the first time we try. It takes time to build up the skills and focus to write an entire cohesive piece of writing—whether it’s an essay or a book or a short story. Nothing comes out perfect the first time.

We train. We study our craft. We develop the weaker muscles so we can write strong. We grow in our skills, and we never stop learning how to write better. Growth takes time and patience.

Sometimes you fall, but you get back up. Not everything goes the way we want it to. Sometimes our books are less successful than we’d like them to be. Sometimes we’re practically invisible. Sometimes critics say really difficult things. Sometimes we don’t know if we want to do this again. Sometimes we say the wrong thing or we take a wrong turn or we fail at something that mattered.

Falling down—making mistakes—are just opportunities for growth.

We’re human. We trip every now and then. We do our best to see the cracks in the sidewalk and all the uneven places, but no one is perfect. Let yourself feel the stun of the fall. Keep breathing. Peel yourself up from the pavement. Jog (or limp) back home. And get back out there tomorrow and do it all again.

You won’t love it all the time. Sometimes it’s too painful or it’s too dark or you’re so burned out you can’t remember why you started writing in the first place. I’ve been there. I’ve asked myself the questions, Why am doing this? Who really cares? What difference does it make?

During these difficult days, I fall back on routine. I sit down and write at the same time I always write, even if it’s the last thing I want to do. Even if all I’m writing today will be trashed tomorrow. Even if it feels like I will never ever love it again.

The hardest part is getting started. Once I get started, I feel better. I put one word in front of the other, and I make some progress, even if it’s just the progress of establishing routine and consistency. That’s important progress, too.

It’s okay to give yourself a break. I know I just espoused the virtues of pushing through resistance and writing even when you don’t want to…but there is a flip side. It’s okay to take a break. Sometimes we need a break. We’ve been overtraining, working too hard, skimping on recovery and time off. We don’t write our best when we’re burned out.

We also don’t write our best when we feel like we’re missing out on something important just to write (or run). In the same way I have to adjust my running schedules for things like birthday parties, holidays, book signings, special days with my family and friends, I also have to adjust my writing schedule for the same. Routine is good—and often necessary as a baseline. But we can’t get so obsessed with it that we lose sight of the delicate balance between work and play.

A change of scenery can be helpful. In the fall and winter seasons, I run in the dark. It’s hard to run in the dark every single day. And just when I think I don’t have it in me anymore, the seasons change and I get out at the same time, but it’s summer and the days are longer and I get to see the spectacular sunrise. It’s magical. And beautiful. And invigorating.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The Peril and Promise of Writing in First-Person POV

From Jane Friedman:

Writing a novel is all about making choices—dozens on every page. Choosing the right point of view (POV) is arguably the most influential choice a writer makes. And choosing first-person POV, well, that may be the most complicated choice of all.


Because when you build an entire story around the “I” voice, you commit to installing the reader deep inside a single skull. In the hands of a skilled writer, there’s no more fun place to hang out.

“I am the vampire Lestat.” So begins Ann Rice’s rollicking novel, and we quickly realize we are to be guided by an enormously entertaining and self-absorbed narrator with a sly sense of humor.

“Call me Ishmael.” Like Lestat, Melville’s moody anti-hero (a self-described “simple sailor”) takes us on a vivid tour of city streets with a dose of social commentary on the side, followed, in this case, by a harrowing boat ride to track down a whale.

Lestat and Ishamel are each in their own way enormously charismatic and deeply observant of the world around them. A lot happens to them; they are also agents of their own destinies, at least in some respects. These are wonderful skulls to occupy.

No wonder some of today’s best writers gravitate toward first-person because, as Anne Tyler says, “It can reveal more of the character’s self-delusions” than, say, third person.

But to effectively execute this elevated brand of first-person narrative, writers must navigate a complex set of rules and avoid any number of pitfalls that will turn a novel into a flat, dull expanse of prose. I suggest that first-person POV is the most misunderstood and also the most difficult voice to master.

Let’s explore some ground rules (not an exhaustive list!) and common pitfalls before turning our attention to whether writing in first-person is the right choice for your story. (Spoiler alert: It’s often not the best choice.)

Rule #1: Constraint

The moment you elect first-person POV, you relinquish the option to tap into an omniscient narrator who knows all, sees all, and can travel at will through time and space, or walk through walls, when called for. (This is ironclad unless you write a fantasy main character who possesses omniscient powers, but that’s the exception that proves the rule.) The narrator can only process information the way we do in the real world: through her senses. This rule straps the writer into an exquisite straitjacket.

Rule #2: Complexity

A first-person narrator can lie to himself and everyone around him, but an attentive reader will always know, or have a good guess, about what’s really going on. That’s because the first-person voice exists on two planes simultaneously. On one plane, the main character speaks his truth (however deluded) within the context of the story’s self-contained world. (Rule 1 requires this.) Meanwhile, the reader is analyzing the narrator’s motives and circumstances—and drawing conclusions about what’s really going on. The writer needs to be true to the narrator’s voice and situation while remaining aware of the reader’s craving for moral and emotional ambiguity and conflict.

While this rule also makes sense for third-person POV, it’s worth stating explicitly that using first-person doesn’t let a writer off the hook with respect to composing a layered, nuanced protagonist. Writing “I said…” or “I believe…” doesn’t equate to simplicity.

. . . .

Alas, writing drivel is easy to do when wrangling the first-person voice. Here are some of the POV traps writers often fall into while trying to master the form’s particular aspects of constraint, complexity, and character development.

Pitfall #1: Over-relying on the power of “I” 

The easiest error is to fall back on sentences that begin with “I” because, after all, you’re in the head of an “I” person. This is a prose-killing mistake. Imagine getting through an entire book with this cadence:

I walked into the living room, where both my sisters were already seated on the couch. I asked them who called this meeting. Sally said she did, but I didn’t believe her. I looked at Toni but she didn’t say a word. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but I couldn’t leave just yet.

This passage lacks meaningful context and subtext; the “I” here is rather airless. We may technically be locked into one skull, but that’s all the more reason to craft a narrator with the power to imaginatively describe interior and exterior landscapes (physical and psychological) as well as to surmise (or project) what others are thinking and feeling in relation to one another as well as toward themselves. Doing so will help you to de-center your narrator’s consciousness, so that the scene isn’t all about, or only about, them

In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green accomplishes this by turning “I” into “we” in some scenes, which essentially pulls the camera back away from a perpetual close-up:

We had a big Cancer Team meeting a couple of days later. Every so often, a bunch of doctors and social workers and physical therapists and whoever else got together around a big table in a conference room and discussed my situation…

Pitfall #2: Sticking readers with a boring narrator

If you’re going to lock us into one skull, please let it be a very busy and interesting one. (If you make the first error, you’re likely to make this one, as well.) A dull narrator has banal thoughts, participates in low-stakes events or waits passively for things to happen, and doesn’t do enough to help us get to know other characters, let alone chew on the scenery a little. These narrators aren’t people, they’re weak filters for storytelling. (If they were my tour guides at an exotic locale, I’d fire them.) They lack a distinct point of view and aren’t sufficiently wrestling with their own conscience and the outside world. A boring narrator suffocates the reader and doesn’t do enough work on their behalf. We need people like Mark Watney in Andy Weir’s The Martian, whose fierce intelligence continually shines through while he’s trapped on Mars:

First, I put on an EVA suit. Then I close the inner airlock door, leaving the outer door (which the bedroom is attached to) open. Then I tell the airlock to depressurize. It thinks it’s just pumping the air out of a small area, but it’s actually deflating the whole bedroom.

Pitfall #3: Over-limiting what the narrator can know or do

This is so damn tricky. One head, one heart. Everyone else is unknowable and your narrator can’t, in fact, see through walls, so how is she to know a murder’s taking place in the next room? In fiction, we can draw on the heightened capacities of all five senses to generate hunches, incite a narrator to action, and create every shade of emotion. We can also deploy time, through flashbacks and other devices, to give our narrator scope to think, feel, and act. A narrator may, for instance, dream that a murder is underway in the next room, and awaken to the sound of muffled screams. Life offers endless possibilities for the “I” character to venture far afield, literally and figuratively. Even interior thought can be made as lively as a high-speed car chase, as in this passage from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:

What a consternation of soul was mine that dreary afternoon! How all my brain was in tumult, and all my heart in insurrection! Yet in what darkness, what dense ignorance, was the mental battle fought! I could not answer the ceaseless inward question—why I thus suffered…

If you choose first-person, you must let your character get out and about, so to speak, and avoid assuming that we only know what they (literally) see in any given moment.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Writers, Are You Breaking the Cardinal Rule?

From Writers in the Storm:

Ah, the euphoria of holding one’s own book. Nothing compares, does it? In that moment, the months (or years) of writing, revising, editing, polishing, and finally publishing are in the rearview mirror. All we know is the joy of seeing our hard work compressed into pages and fitted with a stunning cover.

We dream of happy readers, bestseller lists, and maybe even awards.

And we can have these things…if we haven’t broken
 the cardinal rule of publishing.

As someone who studies storytelling from all angles, I can spot quickly when the cardinal rule has been broken, and every time, it guts me. Each book starts with untapped potential, ripe with the imagination of its creator, ready to bring something new and fresh to readers. But this one rule, when it’s broken, limits a book’s potential, keeping it from being all it can be.

So, what is this cardinal rule that stands above all others?

Don’t Rush.

Stories take time to write, and even longer to refine, especially as we’re all developing writers. We each have strengths and weaknesses and are building our skills as we go. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, and so may not be the best judge as to whether a story is ready to move forward.

And yet, I see writers rush toward publication, skipping some of the necessary steps to ensure their book is as strong as it can be. And unfortunately, it ends the same way – a book that wasn’t ready, and the author feeling disappointment and disillusionment when their novel fails to gain traction with readers.

Rushing Burns Bridges

With more books than people on the planet, readers have endless choice. So, the very best thing we can do is give them an amazing experience when they pick up our book, because when we do, they’ll be back for more. But if we rush and the quality isn’t there, readers notice. Not only is it unlikely they’ll stick with us as an author, but they may also leave poor reviews that dissuade others from taking a chance on our book, too.

Rushing also hurts if we’re on the hunt for an agent or publisher. If we submit something that’s clearly not ready, that’s the end of the road with that agent or editor. And what if they remember us and our rushed manuscript if we submit to them down the road…will they be less inclined to ask for sample pages?

Rushing Can Be Expensive

When we rush, we seek out editing before a story is ready for it, meaning costs go up as there’s more to fix. A reputable editor should let the writer know if the project is not ready before they get in too deep, but this is an ethical line that you can’t count on everyone to follow. And if a writer doesn’t carefully vet their editor, they might end up with someone who isn’t skilled enough to offer the level of help needed yet is happy to keep billing round after editing round.

Most of us must budget carefully when it comes to our writing, and editing costs that balloon can fill us with frustration and guilt and may cause us to question our choice of pursuing this path.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

How to Make a Cliché Work for You

From Almost an Author:

In middle grade novels, do you know what gets my goat? Stories riddled with clichés.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: cliches often come across as lazy writing. Cliches can make dialog as flat as a pancake and cause your labor of love to become as dull as dishwater. Worse, an ill-fitting cliché can throw the reader out of the story world you’ve created. Mark my words, your writing will improve if you weed out these overused sayings. But how?

Once upon a blue moon (and for a different website), I wrote a longer article detailing six ways to deal with this issue. But here, I’d like to focus on just one tried and true method that works especially well for middle grade stories. Consider it my “two-cents worth” approach because it adds humor to your story and gives you more bang for your buck.

Are you ready for this tip? It’s “Run with the cliché.”

I can explain it best like this: Take an old phrase and give it a middle grade twist by adding onto the end of it. The result may tickle your funny bone.

Look at my examples and then try this method for yourself.  

  • That problem was as old as time… but not nearly as old as the Twinkie Mom packed in my lunch today.
  • Sweet Sally. She’s always bending over backwards for people. Literally. She’s a gymnast.
  • I was left with one burning question. I guess that’s what happens when you set your homework on fire and your best friend douses the flames at the last second.
  • In my homeroom, finding a friendly face used to be a dime a dozen. Not with today’s inflation.
  • It’s hard for grandma to jog her memory. It’s more like a crawl.

Link to the rest at Almost an Author

3 Reasons Refrain in Poetry is Relevant to Freelance Writers

From Making a Living Writing:

What is Refrain in Poetry?

A refrain in poetry is a repeated word, line, or phrase that appears throughout a poem. A good example of refrain that most people will be familiar with is the chorus of a song. This is the part of a song or poem that is easy to remember. 

So what is the purpose of refrain? Well, there are a few reasons why a writer may use this poetic device. Refrain is often is used to reinforce central themes, highlight key ideas or emotions, and to create unity.

In poetry, the refrain is often found at the end of a stanza (think Edgar Allan Poe’s famous “nevermore” in The Raven) to bring everything full circle—tie elements together and leave a lasting impression. 

Why Refrain is Relevant to Freelancers

Freelance writers can use refrain-like elements in creative ways to add style and voice into their work. 

Whether you’re writing articles, copy, or social media posts, incorporating refrain can help emphasize your key points, reinforce your client’s brand and messaging, and increase the artistry in your writing. 

Refrain can change the game.

Here are three ways freelance writers can utilize refrain in poetry.

1. To Emphasize Key Points 

In any piece of writing, the key takeaway often can be summarized into a few words. Using the technique of refrain is one way of making sure your key point does not go unnoticed.

By selectively repeating a certain word or phrase, you can increase your chances of the reader picking up what you’re putting down. 

. . . .

How do you make your key points and your work memorable?

Strategically weaving repeated messaging throughout your writing can create a sense of familiarity. Readers will come to remember this refrain and it will stick with them long after they’re finished reading.

Refrain in poetry guide the reader’s attention toward significant concepts like a flashing neon sign draws the eye. Even if you don’t write poetry, you can employ this same technique in your writing to signal important ideas and arguments. 

Refrain can also be a powerful emotional tool that helps build a deeper connection with readers. When we feel emotionally connected to a writer or their message, we are more likely to engage with the content and take action. 

Refrain can change the game.

2. To Reinforce Brand

There is a lot of noise in the world and strong branding helps you stand out from the crowd Whether you’re promoting your own brand or your client’s, the message is the same—visibility is key!

How will readers connect with and remember one brand over all the others? 

Devices such as refrain in poetry help reinforce brand messaging. In this way, freelance writers contribute to a brand’s overall marketing efforts. 

Refrain can change the game. 

Whether it’s a tagline, jingle, or impactful phrase, refrain can establish brand recognition and reinforce brand identity.

Seeing and reading the same thing over and over again helps to ingrain the message into our brains and creates familiarity.

If you’re looking for ways to add flourish and pizzazz to your marketing campaigns, consider using refrain! Repetition, visibility, and consistency are all elements of strong branding so by finding creative ways to add refrain across all channels (such as social media posts, blog articles, advertising copy, etc.) you’ll create a cohesive and effective campaign with consistent messaging. 

Link to the rest at Making a Living Writing

Character Type and Trope Thesaurus: Grotesque

From Writers Helping Writers:


DESCRIPTION: A grotesque is a character whose deformities mask their likable personality and arouse pity and sympathy from others. They have extreme physical or behavioral features that can be unsettling, disturbing, or even repulsive. Because of this, grotesques can challenge preconceptions of what is beautiful and acceptable.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Frankenstein’s monster (Frankenstein), Erik/the Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera), the Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Alert, Cautious, Creative, Curious, Focused, Independent, Intelligent, Introverted, Loyal, Observant, Passionate, Pensive, Perceptive, Persistent, Private, Quirky, Resourceful, Simple

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Antisocial, Callous, Compulsive, Hostile, Jealous, Judgmental, Morbid, Obsessive, Paranoid, Possessive, Resentful, Suspicious, Uncommunicative, Uncouth, Volatile, Withdrawn


  • Withdrawing from society and living an isolated life
  • Attempting to hide their deformity
  • Approaching new people and situations with caution
  • Expecting a negative reaction from new people
  • Obsessing about a person or ideal they perceive to be perfect
  • Obtaining a sense of connection by observing social interactions from a distance
  • Being alert to potential threats
  • Emotional volatility
  • Always keeping their guard up
  • Showing staunch loyalty to anyone who shows them kindness
  • Being possessive of a friend’s time and affection
  • Exhibiting extreme responses in socially awkward situations (shutting down, fleeing, lashing out physically, etc.)
  • Doggedly pursuing an objective that could soothe their pain
  • Making do with few resources
  • Having an active imagination and vibrant inner world
  • Fantasizing about what life would be like without their deformity
  • Being critical of others
  • Scorning the vanity of others
  • Suspecting that everyone is out to get them
  • Being slow to trust
  • Seeking revenge against those who have wronged them
  • Being driven to gain the advantages their deformity has denied them
  • Being morally corrupt


  • Discovering their actions have hurt someone they care about
  • Being approached by someone who seems to be seeking friendship or romance
  • Facing a new social environment full of strangers
  • Discovering their deformity has once again kept them from achieving a goal or gaining fulfillment
  • A friend going absent or radio silent
  • Being put on display or thrust into the limelight


  • Feeling lonely and isolated but being too afraid to pursue relationships
  • Meeting someone who sees the beauty of the character’s soul but being unable to trust them
  • Wanting to meet a mentor’s expectations but lacking the tools to do so
  • Wanting to accomplish a greater purpose but being hampered by their deformity
  • Wondering if they’re being punished for their deformity—because of a past mistake, a character failing, etc.
  • Achieving public validation but not seeing themselves as worthy
  • Having to choose between gaining respect or doing the right thing

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

How to Figure Out Which Writing Advice Fits You Best

From Jane Friedman:

There’s an endless supply of advice for writers. But when you come across this oversupply of often contradictory information, how are you to parse it and figure out which advice fits you—your story, your personality, your skills, and your writing style?

The process is surprisingly similar to figuring out which clothes work for your body and lifestyle. The best way to know if something fits is to try it on—just like you would try on a pair of jeans at Target. Because just like jeans, writing advice is never one size fits all.

Here are five things to do when trying on and evaluating the fit of writing advice.

1. Check your closet—what do you need?

Just like with clothes, you don’t want to waste your time or money on pieces you don’t need. When you jump to try every piece of writing advice or new writing tool you come across, you will likely end up spending all of your time doing that instead of writing.

If you already have a jacket that is in good shape and keeps you warm and works for your climate, you wouldn’t go buy a new $400 coat just because somebody said it was the best jacket they’d ever worn. The same goes for writing. If you already have an outlining method that works for you, why spend time learning different outlining methods? You don’t need them.

So, before you try out any writing advice, first think about your current writing life. What problems do you need to solve or hurdles do you need to get over? What are you struggling to get right on the page? What’s blocking your progress toward your writing goals? If the advice doesn’t aim to solve a problem you already have, ignore it for now.

2. Gut check: are you interested in this tool or piece of advice?

Just like when choosing clothes, we often have a visceral reaction to writing advice. When you first see it, how does your mind or body react? If you are immediately intrigued and picturing yourself in that sweater, great. Grab it off the rack and add it to your fitting room to try on. If you come across a writing method that turns on a lightbulb in your brain, get ready to try it out.

But if you immediately feel yucky when you come across it, it’s probably not for you. That gut reaction is often a solid judge.

However, if what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, take a pause and consider why this new advice feels gross to you: Is it because you’ve tried it before and had a bad experience? Or is it making you uncomfortable because it’s so different from anything you’ve tried before, maybe even the opposite of what you’ve been taught?

Your gut feeling is important, but sometimes it’s worth considering new ideas, especially if the old ones aren’t working anymore. Listen to your gut but be willing to ruminate. Trying something that at first seems strange might be worth a shot.

3. Try it out.

You can’t tell if clothes fit your body unless you try them on. Writing advice is the same. Once you find something that seems like it might solve a problem and appears like it might fit, you must try it out. You can try it once or a bunch of times over a few days or weeks. See how it feels. Does it feel empowering or constricting? Does it feel authentic or forced? Does it inspire or bore? Is it moving you toward your writing goals or holding you back?

The key to trying things on is to truly try them and, if possible, try a few similar items so you can compare. Don’t just read the book or watch the webinar. If you need help planning your story or figuring out if it has narrative drive, make a Save the Cat outline and an Inside Outline. If you need help getting the words on the page without getting distracted, do some solo Pomodoro sprints and attend a writing group that does writing sprints together.

It might feel like too much time to spend when you just want to get an answer or a tool and move forward, but like grabbing the first pair of pants you see when you walk in the store and not comparing it with another size or style usually means you end up with a pair that you’re not 100% sure about. The first piece of writing advice you hear doesn’t always work out.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

What Is a Straw Man Argument? Definition and Examples

From The Grammarly Blog:

Imagine arguing with a scarecrow. You can make any argument you want and the scarecrow won’t argue back. In fact, you can do more than make any argument you want . . . you can position the scarecrow’s argument any way you want, tailoring it into the perfect position for you to argue against.

When you make a straw man argument, you’re essentially arguing against an imaginary scarecrow. It’s an easy way to make your argument sound infallible—and that’s what makes it a logical fallacy. 

What is a straw man argument?

A straw man argument, sometimes called a straw person argument or spelled strawman argument, is the logical fallacy of distorting an opposing position into an extreme version of itself and then arguing against that extreme version. In creating a straw man argument, the arguer strips the opposing point of view of any nuance and often misrepresents it in a negative light. 

The straw man fallacy is an informal fallacy, which means that the flaw lies with the arguer’s method of arguing rather than the flaws of the argument itself. The straw man fallacy avoids the opponent’s actual argument and instead argues against an inaccurate caricature of it. By doing this, the straw man fallacy is a fallacy of relevance, because with it the arguer doesn’t engage with the relevant components of their opposer’s position. 

. . . .

History of the straw man fallacy

One of the earliest references to the straw man argument dates to Martin Luther. In his 1520 book On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he claimed that one of the church’s criticisms of him was that he argued against serving the Eucharist according to one serving practice despite his never actually making that argument. He described this criticism as “they assert the very things they assail, or they set up a man of straw whom they may attack.” 

Later recognition of the straw man fallacy as a distinct logical fallacy dates to the twentieth century. Generally, scholars agree that the term originated with the idea of setting up a simplistic imagined opponent that’s easy to knock down, like a scarecrow or a military training dummy. 

How does a straw man argument work?

A straw man argument is constructed by presenting an opposing position as a warped, extreme version of itself. There are a few different ways an individual might turn a reasonable argument into a straw man:

  • Oversimplifying it: An arguer might regurgitate a complex or layered issue as a simple, black-and-white one.
  • Focusing on just one part of the opposing argument: By doing this, the arguer ignores the various factors at play and, similar to oversimplifying the opposing argument, presents a tiny sliver of it as if that sliver were the whole thing.
  • Taking it out of context: For example, an individual campaigning for better pedestrian safety measures might say, “cars are dangerous,” and their opponent could turn this into a straw man by claiming the campaigner thinks cars should be banned.
  • Presenting a fringe or extreme version of an opposing argument as the mainstream version of it: For example, one might create a straw man by claiming that all vegans are opposed to all forms of animal captivity, including pet ownership.

Straw man arguments are used in a few different ways. In a live debate, one might be used in an attempt to back the opposing debater into a corner and force them to defend an extreme or unpopular take on their position. In a piece of writing, a straw man argument makes it easy for the writer to make their position look rational and appealing. By doing this, though, the writer is giving readers a biased look at the issue they’re discussing. When readers aren’t familiar with the topic, this can give them the wrong idea and prevent them from developing well-reasoned opinions on it. And when readers are familiar with the topic, it can make the writer look foolish and cause readers to take their position less seriously. 

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

Are Your Characters Misleading Your Readers?

From Fiction University:

Things might not always be what the seem. 

One of the many strengths of point of view (POV) is that readers get to experience the story world through the eyes of your POV character. And characters can assume incorrectly, have an unfair opinion, or just flat out be wrong. 

But sometimes ambiguity sneaks in there when you don’t mean it to, and you’re not actually saying what you intended to say.

Enter the word seemed.

Seemed isn’t always what it seems. Sometimes it reads like an opinion the POV character is making, and others it reads like the author explaining what they know about the situation. And there’s a wide gray area where those two overlap, due to narrative distance and point of view.  

In general, the tighter the POV and the closer the narrative distance, the more the word seemed feels like an assumption or an opinion. The more distant the POV and narrative distance, the more told it feels.

Let’s look a little closer. 

Say you want to show the POV character making an assumption. You night write it like:

Bob seemed happy, but his smile never wavered.

Seemed in this case implies that Bob is faking being happy. The POV character senses something feels off to them, and they’re not sure they can take what they see at face value. Bob seems happy, but they don’t think he is happy, because his smile doesn’t look right to them. 

The “seemed happy” is offset by the “but his smile never wavered.” There’s visual evidence to back up the assumption. 

Compare that to:

Bob seemed happy, laughing and joking with all the kids.

The only thing in this sentence that hints that Bob may not actually be happy is the word seemed. If Bob really is happy, and his laughing and joking isn’t an act, then it inadvertently misleads the reader. There’s nothing to suggest why the character is making this assumption, which makes the POV character feel a little shifty. Are they hiding information from the reader? Did the reader miss something? Is the author telling readers something the POV doesn’t know?


In a tight POV, this could be the character’s opinion.Bob seemed happy, (becausehe) was laughing and joking with all the kids.

The because in this case is implied, not stated (because that would be telling). The “laughing and joking with all the kids” could be the evidence presented to backup why the POV character thinks Bob seems happy. But readers can’t tell for sure.

This is a good example of how context matters. The next sentence would confirm if this was the POV character’s assumption or the author butting in to tell readers Bob isn’t really happy. 

Bob seemed happy, laughing and joking with all the kids. But his smile never wavered. 

Bob seemed happy, laughing and joking with all the kids. He smiled as he chased them around the yard.

See the difference? That “but” shows readers why the POV character is making that assumption. Bob seems happy, but his smile is a clue he’s really not. 

In sentence two, the smile supports that Bob is happy, and contradicts the seemed. The POV character would think Bob was happy, because there’s no evidence to suggest he isn’t, and they wouldn’t use the word seemed. Seemed is unnecessary at best, telling at worst. 

Link to the rest at Fiction University

Thinking With Your Hands

From The Wall Street Journal:

Snobs of Northern Europe have long prided themselves, among other marks of imagined distinction, on their stillness in speech. The gesticulating Italian is a stubborn stereotype, but some drew the boundary even farther north. “A Frenchman, in telling a story that was not of the least consequence to him or to anyone else, will use a thousand gestures and contortions of his face,” Adam Smith said in a lecture in the 1760s, his hands presumably visible and steady. Even when it’s not wielded as a cudgel of nationalism, gesture is still often considered a garish ornament to rational discourse—or a cheap substitute for action, as when we dismiss something as a “political gesture.”

But it’s a mistake to ignore gesture, Susan Goldin-Meadow writes in “Thinking With Your Hands: The Surprising Science Behind How Gestures Shape Our Thoughts.” Far “more than just hand waving,” it is an “undercurrent of conversation” that expresses emotion, conveys information and aids cognition.

Ms. Goldin-Meadow is a scientist—a developmental psychologist at the University of Chicago—and “Thinking With Your Hands” is a book of science exposition, something like a lecture from a good professor. She doesn’t swaddle the facts in phony narrative or make excessive claims for their world-shaking import. She summarizes results from the literature and her own extensive research; generously cites predecessors and collaborators; and frankly admits when more work is needed. There are occasional lumps of jargon, banal formulations (“Moral education is an important topic these days because it prepares children to be fully informed and thoughtful citizens”) and overlapping accounts of the same studies. But the subject is fascinating.

Ms. Goldin-Meadow turns first to “co-speech” gestures—those we make (and make up) as we speak. Unlike “emblems” —the repertoire of culturally specific hand signs such as the thumbs-up, the “OK” circle or the ear-to-ear throat slit—they have no fixed form. They also serve a wider range of functions than emblems, not only communicating meaning to one’s listeners but also supporting our own cognition. People talking on the phone gesture, she points out, as do the congenitally blind, even when talking to other blind people.

One of her studies found that gesturing seemed to reduce the amount of mental work it took to explain the solution to a math problem. Effort was measured by asking the subjects to simultaneously recite a series of letters from memory, with more letters recited suggesting that less effort was required for the math-explanation task. (A small pleasure of “Thinking With Your Hands” is the inferential ingenuity on display in the experimental designs.) Another found that adults who gestured were better able to recount events in videos they had watched weeks earlier than those who didn’t.

Gesturing can also help to spatialize abstractions, making them more tractable for discussion. Children in one study who moved their hands while considering a moral dilemma, seemingly assigning conflicting positions to distinct spaces in front of them, appeared to be better at assimilating multiple points of view. In another experiment, children were taught the meaning of a made-up word with one specific toy used to demonstrate it. Compared with those who didn’t, the children who gestured were quicker to “generalize beyond the particulars of the learning situation” and extend the word’s application to other cases.

An expert in child development, Ms. Goldin-Meadow is especially focused on gesture’s role in education. Taking gesture seriously by noticing and encouraging it, she insists, would benefit both teachers and students. Children learning to solve certain simple equations, it turns out, often verbally describe using an unsuccessful problem-solving strategy while gesturing in a way that indicates a different, effective approach (making V shapes that group certain numbers to be added together, for example). Those who exhibit these manual-verbal mismatches, Ms. Goldin-Meadow has found, are usually the closest to achieving a breakthrough in their understanding. And students whose teachers used such mismatches in their lessons performed better than others, suggesting that gesture offers a rich channel of additional information.

Interestingly, the effect doesn’t seem to come from simply presenting two different strategies. Teachers who described two approaches verbally didn’t achieve the same boost in their classes’ learning. There’s something distinctive, Ms. Goldin-Meadow writes, about the combination of words and movement unfolding in time. (The rate is relatively stable; English speakers tend to produce one gesture per grammatical clause.) In fact, she writes, the integration of sound and gesture is a “hallmark” of humans, used even by pre-adolescent children but not by apes.

Gesture throws indirect light on the nature of human language, Ms. Goldin-Meadow argues, drawing on research into the hand signs devised by deaf children born to hearing parents or otherwise deprived of established sign language. Such “homesign” shows the same sort of organization as spoken languages do, breaking events down into discrete components (signs, words) that are then assembled into an ordered string. “It is our minds,” Ms. Goldin-Meadow concludes, “and not the handed-down languages, that provide structure” for our thoughts. Language is deep enough in our brains that even a child can invent it from scratch. By contrast, she notes, children don’t seem to invent the concept of exact numbers (as opposed to approximations) greater than five or so on their own.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Former FBI agent shares 3 things people with high emotional intelligence always do when talking to others

From CNBC:

For six years, I studied the habits and mindsets of some of the world’s most influential and successful people. I wanted to learn how they think.

In my new book, “Hidden Genius,” one person I highlight is Chris Voss. A key skill he mastered during his 24 years as one of the FBI’s lead international negotiators was emotional intelligence. The secret, according to Voss, is knowing how to listen and read people.

In 1993, for example, two men held three employees hostage at a Chase Manhattan Bank in Brooklyn, New York. Voss was the second negotiator on the phone with one of the bank robbers.

To resolve the conflict, he did three things that he says people with high emotional intelligence do when communicating with others, especially during sensitive conversations:

1. Speak Soothingly

In that 1993 negotiation, Voss used a technique that he calls “The Late Night FM DJ” voice: a declarative, soothing and downward-inflecting voice that is applicable in nearly every situation.

This tone of voice triggers a neurochemical reaction that calms your counterpart’s brain down. It then creates an involuntary response of clear-headedness in both parties.

“Genuine curiosity is a hack for emotional control,” he said in a 2018 podcast interview. “If you talk out loud in a smooth, calming voice, you can actually calm yourself down, too.”

2. Repeat statements as questions

Mirroring is an effective technique for building goodwill and gathering information. You mirror someone by repeating several key words they used in their last communication.

For example, if the bank robber says, “I had a really hard day because of all the stress I’m under,” respond with, “The stress you’re under?”

This keeps you present and emotionally sober while allowing the bank robber to continue talking.

3. Label the other person’s emotions

Voss then told the second bank robber, “It wasn’t your fault, was it?” and “You regret that this happened, right?” Both of these questions insinuated that the robber simply got roped into a bad situation.

Labeling is used to verbally identify and name your counterpart’s emotions. A good label would be responding with one of the following: “It seems like you’re in a stressful situation,” or “It looks like you’re unhappy with how things turned out.”

Link to the rest at CNBC

9 Common Dialogue Problems—And How to Fix Them

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Learning to write effective, believable dialogue is one of the toughest parts of learning to write narrative — whether fiction or memoir. We don’t want to simply transcribe the way people actually talk, with all the pointless “ums” and stammery filler-things we say in real life. But we also don’t want to write as if all our characters are English professors, speaking in complete sentences composed with perfect grammar.

What we’re looking for is believable dialogue not realistic dialogue. In fiction, we’re usually aiming for believability, not realism.

And dialogue tags! Dialogue tags are probably the biggest problem in newbie writing. Is “said” really invisible?” We want to show a little creativity, but avoid the “Tom Swifty” trap

Here are nine of the most common dialogue problems a new writer has to deal with — with some suggestions on how to fix them.

1) Big Chunks of Dialogue with no Action or Internal Thought

Talking heads are boring. Move the characters around and let them do something or feel something. We need action on the page.

I don’t mean “action” in the action-adventure sense. When Marlene is telling Bob she’s leaving him, he doesn’t have to jump out of a helicopter or stab a villain hiding behind the arras and she doesn’t have to slay a dragon or dance a minuet.

But the two of them need need to do stuff, even if it’s just clenching a fist or getting another beer. And we need to know what’s going on in their heads. Is Bob fighting back a tear? Is Marlene thinking about that little Beretta in her purse?

We don’t need a lot. Just something to give us movement and emotion.

You also don’t want to try to inject emotion with punctuation. Exclamation points are like jalapeno peppers. A few can enrich your work, but they they can easily overwhelm it.

2) Too Much Realism

As I said, realism isn’t the goal. You don’t want to keep an eavesdropping notebook and transcribe normal conversations word for word (although an eavesdropping notebook can give you some great ideas.) But mostly, in real life, people say really boring stuff.

“Hi Bob.”

“‘S’up Marlene?”

“Nothing much.”

“Gonna go to the…?”

“Dunno, you?”


“Gonna, um…?”


This is why we read fiction. It skips the boring bits of real life.

A fiction writer should aim to put “just the good parts” on the page, and that includes leaving out the normal pleasantries that people go through in real conversations.

3) Not Enough Realism

But we need the dialogue to hit a happy medium where it seems authentic.

This is why you should never let one of those AI robots loose on your novel without supervision.

If you use grammar rules for all dialogue, the third-grade dropout will speak as correctly as the lawyer or the librarian. So will the recent immigrant from Uzbekistan and the hairdresser from Queens. They’ll all sound exactly the same, and nobody will make any grammatical mistakes or use any kind of regional colloquialism.

There’s a word for grammatically perfect fiction: unbelievable.

You also have a problem when you let your characters say exactly what they’re thinking.

In real life, people seldom say exactly what they think. If your characters are revealing their souls in dialogue, it needs to be in a therapy session or major heart-to-heart with a significant other.

4) Reader-Feeder Dialogue: As-you-know-Bob

This is when your characters tell each other stuff they already know in order to fill in backstory for the benefit of the reader — aka “as-you-know-Bob” dialogue.

“As you know, Bob, we are in the lair of the Evil Queen who took our sister Marlene hostage after the battle of Curmudgeon and we have been seeking her for twelve long months…”

The writers of those CSI episodes often resort to as-you-know-Bobs to explain the science to the audience. It gets a little comical when two highly trained scientists are explaining to each other the basics of rigor mortis or how to detect cyanide poisoning.

This is another instance where “show-don’t-tell” is not always your friend. You can just tell us. Don’t put it in dialogue.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

On Self-Pity: Go Eat Worms

From The Poetry Foundation:

I like to ask people if they have a hyperbolic self-pity phrase they repeat to themselves for pleasure and comfort. One writer told me his phrase is, “You’re minor.” Another said, “For me it’s always ‘I wanna go home’ even when I’m already home.” My personal go-to is, “Nothing good ever happens to me.” This little sad-sack mantra really does seem to help. It makes my suffering theatrical. Children love screaming when nothing is wrong because something has been wrong, something will be wrong—don’t worry about the timing, just get your catharsis in when you can.

The logical leap between “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me” and “Guess I’ll go eat worms” is something I have thought about a lot. What impulse is being served? Does the speaker of these lyrics think worms are delicious (“big, fat juicy ones”)? Is it a bid for attention—is it supposed to make his enemies feel bad for him? Do the worms get you high? I go back and forth on whether the song is supposed to evoke death, the worms of the grave. But don’t the worms eat you? I think the worms are ultimately literal, a form of self-punishment. I think of Jude, in my favorite scene in Jude the Obscure, who feels so low he jumps up and down in the center of an iced-over pond hoping to fall in and drown. The ice cracks but doesn’t give, so Jude supposes he is “not a sufficiently dignified person for suicide.” What options now—what is even “less noble” than “self-extermination”? He decides to get drunk.

Bugs are useful figures in the literature of self-pity—bugs, that catchall category that includes insects and spiders and things with a thousand legs, any loathsome, creepy creature that dwells in the dirt under rocks or the slime of a drain. I once heard, anecdotally, not from an entomologist or anything, that stink bugs, an invasive species with “long, piercing-sucking mouth parts” as one pest management handbook puts it, are notorious for hanging out in spots where they are likely to get smashed and killed, such as a doorframe. Recently my husband found one perched on the edge of a tissue poking up from its box. “That’s convenient,” he said, using said tissue to crush it, then throwing the wad in the toilet. How Jude-like, these stink bugs. They must know they are stink bugs: a Kafkaesque nightmare.

. . . .

I have noticed a tendency in people, when they’re feeling rather bad, to deliberately make themselves feel worse—to dredge up all their grievances, past and present—as if, to justify bad feelings, they look for very good reasons. As Seamus Heaney writes, in his version of Sophocles’s Philoctetes, “People so deep into/Their own self-pity self-pity buoys them up.” It makes sense, in a way, this strategy—after I feel especially awful, I usually feel a little better. It’s akin to making yourself throw up as a cure for nausea. Self-pity is a strong self-cure. In a way, it is too reliable—you can get too good at self-pity. If it works when things aren’t that bad, it really works when they are bad. Or, you might say, when you most deserve the pity is when it won’t help.

Those who despise self-pity always offer perspective. In his essay “Why Bother?” Jonathan Franzen writes, “How ridiculous the self-pity of the writer in the late twentieth century can seem in light of, say, Herman Melville’s life.”

Link to the rest at The Poetry Foundation

5 Reasons Why Suburban Life is Irresistible to a Suspense Writer

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Most writers dream of penning their novels at a wooden desk in a sun-filled room with a view of the sea. That’s not where I long to be. I’m happy to be stuck in my damp shed in suburbia. This is the best place ever to find cracking storylines for my psychological suspense novels. 

Here are my top five reasons why…

Disappearing men!

I don’t mean I’m bumping them off – although obviously it’s nice plot-work when you can get it. What I mean is, in modern 2023 suburbia there’s a mass exodus of men onto the commuter train every Monday morning. Fourth wave of feminism? What’s that? Mosey on down to a suburban high-street near you on any given weekday and note it’s a man-free zone.

Granted, there’ll be the rare ‘male’ at a laptop or the glimpse of one squeezed into Lycra, but otherwise, there’ll be lots of lovely suburban women like me. As a writer, I feed off them. We’re getting together and we’re talking. Really talking. We’re putting the world to rights. We’re psychologically profiling, therapizing and pulling each other back from the brink of insanity. And we’re doing all this while we work from home, feed the dog, pretend to do the housework and shape the next generation into decent citizens.

We’re an all-female community of over-sharers. We’re connecting emotionally. We’re honing our empathy skills left, right and centre. We’re qualified to write PhDs on the human condition…. Or maybe just a little psychological suspense novel or two? This genre demands a strong emotional connection with the reader. It’s essential they relate to or sympathise with the main protagonist’s plight. Without that, there’s no suspense and no readers.

The playground assassin.

Okay, so we’ve established that there are no men about. This extends to the school gates, where us women swarm together again to pick up our kids. Sadly, it brings out the worst in us. We don’t want to be there. We’re sleep-deprived, harassed and resentful. But we want the best for our kids, so we go through the motions. And it’s high stakes. There’s a hierarchy, there are factions, there’s competition and there’s bitching. All of it hiding behind a lovely wave and a smile and an invite to the PTA fundraiser. We are not wearing our heart on our sleeves. We’re hiding that shit. We’re superhumanly two-faced. We’re complex. And we make brilliant antagonists or unreliable narrators! Is that woman a murdering, cheating bitch who just drowned her husband in the swimming pool? Or is she a sweet kind mum who bakes cookies and remembers to donate to the foodbank every Tuesday? The thing is, she’s both. And she’s the one who’s the most interesting to chat to for five minutes while we wait for our kids. She’s the best fodder for a good suspense yarn. So, head to your local primary school for some fantastic characterisation inspo.

Secrets behind clipped hedges.

While we’re disputing the height of our neighbours’ Leylandii or blocking planning application for their dormer windows, we’re sleeping with each other’s husbands or being beaten by our own. Our beautifully maintained front-drives and shiny new doors are the ideal front for hiding shocking secrets. Who’d have thought that Pete next door – such a lovely man! – would’ve taken an axe to his poor wife’s head? Only last week I was talking to him about his hydrangeas! A secret is an essential ingredient in psychological suspense fiction to up the tension. The perfectly ordinary suburban house is the best secret-keeper ever, and they don’t give them up easily. Nor should a good psychological suspense. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

8 Books That Deliver Behind-The-Scenes Drama

From Electric Lit:

I don’t know about y’all, but I love rewatching a performance after I learn that something catastrophic has gone down behind the scenes. Whether it’s the iconic 1997 Fleetwood Mac performance of “Silver Springs” in which you can watch Stevie Nicks put a curse on Lindsey Buckingham in real time, or a film like What Happened to Baby Jane, which featured an on-set rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford so legendary that Ryan Murphy had to make entire tv series about it.

When I began researching my debut novel Do Tell, I already had a longstanding love for the films of classic Hollywood. As I learned more about the backstories of the actors, directors, and studio executives of the era, I found myself revisiting the classics and pinpointing the intersection between performance and personal life. There’s something very satisfying about watching The Long, Hot Summer and knowing that Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward are about to destroy their respective marriages in the name of one of the greatest love stories in Hollywood history. 

Do Tell follows Edie O’Dare, a gossip columnist who thrives in the gray area between personal and public when it comes to the stars of Golden Age Hollywood. Edie’s livelihood is dependent on her ability to piece together what’s happening off-set—which stars are sneaking off together, who’s feuding, or why that last-minute swap of leading starlets had to happen. I love novels that explore the disparity between what the public is meant to see and what really went down. If you’re like me and you live for the drama, here’s a list of my favorites that show us the mess off-camera, behind the curtain, and backstage. 

Playhouse: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert’s story of a rundown New York City playhouse during World War II is a delectable treasure. Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar, so she heads to the city to live with her eccentric aunt who works in showbiz. Not the Broadway kind of showbiz though—the Lily Playhouse is running on castoff showgirls, recycled costumes, last minute scripts, pennies, and prayers. At the playhouse, Vivian discovers a found family with her aunt Peg and her live-in “secretary” Olive, along with the eccentric cast of characters that inhabit their world. I love how unapologetic Gilbert is with Vivian’s exploits and mistakes, because, of course, she makes the sorts of mistakes any nineteen-year-old would make if given the opportunity to run amok in the bars and clubs of New York with a legion of beautiful actors and actresses. City of Girls is a perfect novel: transportive, entertaining, and empathetic.

Reality TV Show: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Have you ever watched a reality dating show and wondered to yourself: Why aren’t more of these contestants queer? I have the book for you! Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive follows Charlie, a high-profile tech developer hoping to do some PR rehabilitation by appearing on a dating show. There are dozens of women who are meant to be competing for Charlie’s affection, but, oops, he seems to have a lot more chemistry with the show’s producer, Dev. While Dev works to create a romantic storyline for Charlie on-screen, he also has to do a lot of one-on-one coaching off camera to get Charlie up to leading-man status. What follows is a tender-hearted story about navigating through love, sexuality, mental health issues—all in the spotlight of the public eye. It’s the perfect romance for anyone who’s ever binged a dating show and thought: maybe the best on-screen chemistry isn’t always hetero. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Promise Words

From Writer Unboxed:

Are you a people watcher? Silly question. This is a blog site for fiction writers. As people pass by, you undoubtedly imagine who they are. What they’re up to. The story that will follow. That’s how your mind works. Am I wrong? Probably not.

Now, everyone forms impressions of passersby. For most people that’s where it stops. Teen shoplifter. Mom in a hurry. Off duty cop. Lost deliveryman. Are those first impressions accurate? Perhaps, perhaps not.  What’s important is that an impression is formed quickly. Science shows that first impressions are made within seven seconds, sometimes in as little as one tenth of a second. It doesn’t take long at all for us to decide what we might expect from a stranger.

The same is true for the opening lines of a novel. Very quickly, readers form an impression of the tale ahead. They rapidly know what to expect. They have a solid expectation of the experience that they are about to undergo. So, lacking an actual person walking past, what is the basis of for the reader’s first impression? What triggers its formulation? There’s only one thing that can do that: the words on the page.

There is of course the jacket or cover. Plus, the flap copy or back cover copy. Not to mention the novel’s category, shelving, blurbs, and so on. Packaging has gotten the consumer as far as opening the volume, but then the consumer begins to read and that’s where the rubber—as it were—hits the road.

Have you ever read a few lines of a novel and put it straight back onto the bookstore shelf? It’s not your thing. But wait…how do you know? You could be wrong. Nevertheless, there are certain words on that opening page that send signals that light you up, turn you off or, if nothing else, cause you to judge a tale’s nature and relative appeal. Certain words tell you what to expect.

Those words are what I call a novel’s promise words.

Promise Words and Their Signals

What are the promise words in your WIP’s opening?  To understand what they are and how they work, let’s take a look at some key words from the opening lines of some published fiction.

Here’s a list of promise words from one opening:

Grief…solitary…islands…graves…alone…avoid…waving from a distance…hurrying away…ghosts exist…the ghost of myself…

What kind of novel do you think that is going to be? A rom-com? Hardly. A ghost story? A sad story? A memory piece? What kind of protagonist will we meet? The life of the party? Um, no. The words suggest it will be a main character who is grieving, solitary, alone.

Do you agree? The impression that you’ve already formed sets your expectations for the novel. You know what kind of experience you’re in for. It’s either an experience that you want for your weekend reading or one that you’re going to return to the bookstore shelf. All on the basis of a few words.

Here’s a second set of promise words:

Shaker Heights…summer…children…burned the house down…gossip…sensational…fire engines…lunatic…something off…hopeless cause…

Well, now. What kind of tale is this going to be? A quest fantasy? Probably not. A suburban story? A tragedy? Involving madness, fire and fate? If that’s your guess then you could be right—but are you? Actually, you don’t know. You’re judging on the basis of just a few words. You have only an impression, and that’s my point.

Here’s a third set of promise words:

Carriage…Bookseller’s Row…spell…mystic signs…elegant buildings…clean streets…anywhere but here…bargaining season…no hope…a grimoire!

Pretty obvious. A fantasy but not Medieval. More likely a Gaslamp Fantasy. About what kind of protagonist? A witch or magician? Sure. But a protagonist you’re going to like?  Well, if you like tales with carriages, booksellers and spells in it then probably so. Also, notice the promise words elegant and clean. They don’t suggest either a dark tale or a dark protagonist, do they? No, I didn’t think so.

Let’s try one more:

Doorbell…writing…important scene…shelter from the rain…standing face to face…electric charge…make a wish…longing…happily ever after…

Let’s see, a horror novel? Undoubtedly not. You probably don’t need to guess hard to know in which section of the bookstore you are standing.  Is the tone and feel of the tale in your hands romantic? Light? Fun? You could be right; you could be wrong. However, really, you already know don’t you?

What matters in each case is that the writer has set down promise words and from those you have not only conjured an impression but rendered a judgment, and possibly agreed (or not) to a contract with the author. Buy this book and this is what you’re going to get.  Stick with me and this is the experience that I will deliver to you. Are you in?

All on the basis of a few promise words.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

A New Way to Think About the Lie the Character Believes

From Writers Helping Writers:

One of the simplest entry points to understanding how story works is the Lie the Character Believes. It is the fulcrum of any character arc or thematic discussion within a story. It’s also the gasoline in the engine of a character’s inner conflict—and, by extension, it can either power the outer conflict or at least be used a lens through which to view it.

As its name suggests, the Lie the Character Believes is a simplistic concept, which is exactly what makes it so valuable and utilitarian a tool for understanding story. However, as with all simplistic concepts, we must be careful not to assume it lacks complexity.

Although you can certainly frame your character’s conflict in terms of a black and white Lie/Truth dichotomy, the reality is of course more complex. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today: reality—and how the Lie the Character Believes is, in fact, a gauge of the character’s relationship with reality.

What Is the Lie the Character Believes?

the Lie the Character Believes as arguably the central principle of character transformation. For those who are new to the idea, the Lie the Character Believes is the mindset the character will be challenged to arc out of over the course of the story.

If the character succeeds in transcending the Lie, the story will follow a Positive Change Arc. If the protagonist already adheres to the story’s thematic Truth and inspires supporting characters to transcend the Lie, the story will offer a Flat Arc. And if the character fails to transcend the Lie, the story will present a Negative Change Arc (of which there are at least three variations).

The Lie is a limited perspective the character holds about himself or about the world. Up until the beginning of the story, it is a perspective that has offered relative value to the character and his ability to survive and succeed within the story’s “Normal World.” However, once the character enters the crucible of what will be the story’s Adventure World, everything changes. The Lie proves itself to no longer be a functional modus operandi. From here on the, character will be challenged to adapt to the story’s thematic Truth. Only if he succeeds in (usually painfully) the expanding his perspective will he be able to grapple with the main conflict and perhaps gain the plot goal he is pursuing.

As we explored a few weeks ago, the Lie is distinct from but still closely tied in with other aspects of the character’s primary “pain point.” The Lie will usually arise from a painful experience in the character’s past—called the Ghost—which informs her way of perceiving how the world works. Very often, the Ghost will have caused a wound the character carries with her and which makes her cling even more desperately to the Lie in the belief it is somehow protecting her. This belief may be entirely accurate, or it may simply be a trauma response.

Over the course of the character’s arc, the Lie will be systematically challenged by the events of the plot. The character will slowly begin to see another possibility—the enlarged perspective of the thematic Truth. Particularly at the story’s Midpoint, he will face a Moment of Truth, in which he is able to see the validity of the new perspective even though he is not yet willing to relinquish the familiar Lie-based mindset. By the time the character reaches the Low Moment of the Third Plot Point and is faced with the impending Climax, he will have to choose whether he is willing to sacrifice the comfortable mindsets upon which he has so far depended, in order to allow himself space to the grow into the possibilities of the bigger Truth.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

PG notes that there are a lot of links in the OP and the author of the OP provides links to a book he has written on the subject of Character Arcs.

Why Can’t a Novelist Write Like a Screenwriter?

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Recently, a blog reader asked me why readers dislike it when the POV character dies at the end of chapter one, when most TV cop shows start with the victim being murdered — and nobody complains.

As I said in my blogpost on 8 Ways Not to Start a Novel: “This classic opener for TV cop shows doesn’t work to start a novel, because readers identify with the first character they meet in a book, and if you kill off that character immediately, readers feel betrayed.”

But, as our blog reader asked, why is that? Why do they identify with a character in a novel more than one in a TV show or movie?

I had to cogitate on that for a while. I’ve been mulling over that question myself. Recently, I read a mystery where the protagonist-sleuth turned out to be the murderer. I felt I’d been tricked. When the novelist has lied, leading us to believe the POV character is the novel’s main protagonist, like in the TV cop show opener, or the POV character is pretending (to the reader) to try to solve a murder they actually committed, we feel cheated. The author is lying by omission.

But would we feel the same way if the story had been a movie?

Probably not. Look at the popularity of films like The Usual Suspects, when you find out one of the “good guys” is really the bad guy everybody’s looking for. People ate it up.

Why a New Novelist Might Want to Imitate a Screenwriter

Most of us who have grown up in the industrialized world learned storytelling from screenplays as well as books. Many younger people were exposed to much more TV and film than written word storytelling in their formative years.

This hardwired certain storytelling tropes to our brains. So when we start out we may try to tell stories using screenwriter tools, not the tools of a novelist. I know I did. My teenaged stories read like plays.

That doesn’t mean we should spend endless pages on description, but a novel needs a lot more description of characters and setting than a screenplay. And it can have plenty of internal monologue. No voice-over required.

Why Does Withholding Information Work in a Film, but Not a Novel?

My answer to the blog reader who asked me that question was this: actors.

Then: directors, lighting designers, sound engineers, composers, costumers, film editors, etc. — all those people influence the way we feel about characters in film. A film is a team endeavor. Also — a film is something a viewer sees from outside the creative process. The viewer is not on the “team.”

This is what I realized: A novel is an intimate experience between only two people: the writer and the reader.

The reader’s imagination does a lot of creative work in experiencing a novel. If the author sets a scene in a castle, every reader has an image of a castle in their heads they bring to the story. In a film there’s a crew of location people and set designers to do that job.

With a film, you’re a passive viewer. (That’s why they say watching TV is harmful for people with depression, but reading books is not.)

Because the writer/reader relationship is so intimate with a novel, the reader hates being tricked. It feels as if a trusted friend has been lying.

But when you’re a viewer, on the outside looking in, you have lots of signs and signals that this situation is about to change. Music, lighting, setting, facial expressions, etc. can show the viewer they’re not on solid ground. They know things are not to be taken at face value.

We don’t need that element of trust between screenwriter and viewer we have between novelist and reader because there are so many other creative minds working in between.

What about Unreliable Narrators?

Isn’t that trust broken by an unreliable narrator like the mendacious POV characters in Gone, Girl? What about that Girl on the Train who narrates the story but is too drunk and in denial to know what’s really going on?

Are those books violating the reader/writer bond?

Some people think so. Not everybody was happy with those books. If you check Amazon’s 1000’s of one-star reviews on those books, disappointed readers mostly say they didn’t like the characters: “too angry and unlikable” (Gone Girl) and “the weakest people you’ll ever meet.” (The Girl on the Train.)

Those readers didn’t like the characters mostly because they deceived the reader. Another reviewer called The Girl on the Train “bleak, and deceitfully constructed.”

A whole lot of other readers, of course, adored these books and made them tremendous bestsellers. I read somewhere that Paula Hawkins, who wrote The Girl in the Train, is now richer than J.K. Rowling.

So I’d never tell anybody to avoid the unreliable narrator. Personally, I enjoy those books, because I have fun reading between the lines. It’s like playing a game with the author.

You still have the close reader-writer bond, but the author is challenging the reader to a game, rather than telling a straightforward story.

Other readers may dislike the author for it, because they don’t read to play games. If you write this kind of thriller, brace yourself for some nasty one-stars. But you might cry all the way to the bank.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

I was fired by a client for using AI. I’m not going to stop because it’s doubled my output, but I’m more clear about how I use it.

From Insider:

I work a full-time job in marketing and do freelance writing on the side. 

I was juggling a lot when a longtime client commissioned me for a three-month project. It entailed writing a series of how-to guides and 56 articles for their site.

Since I couldn’t clone myself, I tried what I thought would be the next best thing: I used AI.

Convinced that I could use the new technology to meet extremely tight deadlines, I started using Jasper.ai to produce up to 20 pieces in a month for this client.

. . . .

I was using AI to clone myself as a writer

I essentially used Jasper.ai as an extension of myself.

I’d let Jasper write articles of up to 2,500 words. I used it more than alternatives such as ChatGPT or Bard because it has pre-built templates that function as prompts. 

If I needed to expand on a sentence, I’d use Jasper’s “paragraph generator” or “commands” tool. If I needed to rewrite a sentence, I’d click on “content improver.” These features helped me overcome writer’s block and quickly build out long-form articles.

Jasper did most of the work and I did minimal editing.

After working together for months, my client started using one of the first AI-content detectors. Upon discovering the content I gave them was AI-generated, they terminated our agreement and paid me less than 40% of the original fee after I’d delivered all the articles we’d agreed on.

While this was not the outcome I intended, it shifted my mindset on how to use AI to keep clients rather than lose them.

I learned a valuable lesson the hard way — AI is a tool, not something that should replace you.

Looking back, I know things weren’t right when I was letting AI do the work and not communicating this to my client.

. . . .

Here’s how I use AI differently now:

AI is now a crucial part of my initial discussions with new clients

I ask if the client’s OK with me using AI-writing tools. If not, great; I won’t use it. If they see the value or don’t care whether I use them, then I’ll use them to enhance the quality and depth of what I write.

I use AI to enhance my draft

Some writers use AI to write a draft, then edit it to sound more human. I use it the other way around.

I draft the article first, then use an AI tool to enhance it and ensure I’ve maintained the client’s tone of voice. 

I’d typically beef a draft up with some of Jasper’s templates — using the paragraph generator to expand a sentence into a paragraph, or using the content improver to rewrite text based on tone of voice or type of content. 

Sometimes, Jasper will tell me additional things I can cover, so I’ll include them and support them with expert insights and examples.

I use AI to give me ideas on sources and statistics

Similarly to ChatGPT, Jasper is vulnerable to making mistakes with sources and research; its developers remind users to fact-check any statistics the tool provides. I regard the information it gives as a placeholder that gives me ideas for the kinds of sources, statistics, or websites I can seek out myself. 

The key is always treating statistics and other hard evidence that AI produces as a suggestion.

AI helps with the tone of voice and brand voice

I’ll use Jasper to help me rewrite or add flair to a sentence using the “tone of voice” or “brand voice” features. I could even type in “Ryan Reynolds” and Jasper will rewrite a plain paragraph to sound like the actor.

AI helps with condensing large volumes of text

AI helps me summarize my research findings and insights from relevant subject-matter experts. I’ll upload snippets of a transcript, and the tool will return a condensed paragraph that still includes the salient points.

AI has cut my writing time in half

Link to the rest at Insider

Who Should Be Telling This Story?

From Writer Unboxed:

Every story is told from a point of view (POV). Who is telling the story determines the story that can be told, because it determines what the reader can know about actions, characters, events, thoughts, and motivations. The more limited the viewpoint, the more limited the reader’s access to information and the more personalized that information is. The more diffuse the viewpoint, the more comprehensive the reader’s access to information, but also the less personalized that information is. If you want to write a sweeping historical saga, a close first person viewpoint might not be the easiest. If you want to write an intimate story of personal transformation, distant third person will make your work harder.

What POV should your story be in? If the story is told through more than one character’s viewpoint, which character should be telling which scenes? Asking these simple questions can provide a strategy for editing and refining as well as drafting a story.

I am revising a work in progress from distant third person to close third person POV. I’ve already written a post about how writing in closer third person breathed more life into the characters and how that changed the story. In my revisions, I also discovered that sometimes the problems with a chapter or a scene stemmed not from whether it was ‘close enough’ third person, but whether it was being told by the wrong character. I solved several of those problem scenes by rewriting them from a different character’s POV.

The first step in that revision was choosing which character should be telling the story or scene. Particularly for complex scenes with many characters and many interwoven plot details, the best POV character was not always obvious. Each knew pieces of the story puzzle, but not all; each was there for their own reason, but didn’t know why some of the others were there.

I developed two questions that helped me determine which character provides the best POV for a scene. One question is about the emotional impact of the scene, the other is about the information needed to understand the scene.

Emotional Impact.

Which character is the most affected by the events of the chapter? That character is a good candidate to provide the point of view because their viewpoint can add the most emotional engagement to the actions and events.

Critical Story Information.

Which character knows the most—the actions, events, and information—and can reveal to the reader the essential story elements necessary to understand what’s happening in the scene and to follow the story arc into the next? That character is a good candidate to provide the point of view because they can directly impart that information to the reader as the story unfolds.
While it’s obvious that telling the scene through the most emotionally affected character keeps the stakes high, if that character can’t tell the reader the information necessary to understand what’s going on in the story, then the author has to find another way to impart that information. Those ‘other ways’ are often places where the writing breaks down. The necessary information is offered to the reader through head hopping (temporary shifts in POV), through often intrusive narrative or expository sequences, by (not always believable) fortuitous plot circumstances, or by some other contrivance. How many scenes have you read where some coincidence or red herring character imparts the missing action or information necessary to lead the characters to the next step in the plot? (Don’t get me started about Tolkien and eagles.) In any story, a couple of these coincidences are believable, but they are noticeable, and after awhile they become glaring.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

How Espionage Informed This Thriller Writer’s Fiction

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It’s almost a cliché that spy novels should be dark, gripping, ambiguous. Espionage, after all, is the shadowy business of stealing high-stakes secrets, of manipulation, deception, and betrayal. But after six years of spying for the CIA—then writing my first spy novel—I found the profession was defined by something more fundamental: the enduring weight of unanswered questions.

When I arrived in Baghdad as a first-tour case officer in November 2004, Iraq had the grim distinction of being the most dangerous place on Earth. More than 800 American soldiers had been killed at that point. Ambushes against U.S. military convoys were fouling up roads; mortar shells and rockets rained down daily on the Green Zone. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the ruthless leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQIZ), was ploughing a rapid course of destruction, responsible for more bombings, beheadings, and attacks than the world could count. My job was to find and recruit informants who could help dismantle al-Zarqawi’s network.

The violence in Baghdad was staggering. We wore armor and carried weapons; we spent most of our time hunkered down in the Green Zone, making harrowing, fleeting trips into the Red Zone in heavily fortified vehicles to pick up sources. Some nights I slept in the CIA station, which was safer than my trailer. I celebrated New Year’s in a bunker, waiting out a rocket attack.

A few months into my tour, I learned that one of my informants was remotely connected to an alleged AQIZ-affiliated terrorist. We’ll call him Qasim. He was one of the military’s most wanted targets, suspected of participating in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. Miraculously, my informant helped track Qasim down. In a seemingly unwinnable war, this felt like a huge victory.

We brought Qasim in for questioning. He admitted nothing—but we expected this. Detainees often stonewalled, sometimes reciting “72 hours” (the length of time they could be held without evidence). When dawn crept under the door, the military cuffed Qasim’s shaking hands and transported him by helo to a detention facility. The truth, I felt confident, would come out eventually.

My tour ended, and I returned to D.C., bringing back infinite particles of dust, tailspins of panic from loud noises, and a compulsion to escape traffic jams. A colleague at Langley, I learned, had questioned Qasim at a different detention facility. He was still incarcerated, still hadn’t cracked. People were starting to doubt his guilt. Or maybe it was just me.

Years passed, and my uncertainty grew. I replayed Baghdad in my mind like an unfinished sentence. Some days, I wondered whether we’d gotten it wrong. The “war on terror” was messy, imprecise. Mistakes were certainly possible: people were operating under difficult, shifting conditions, erring on the side of our national security. I didn’t blame anyone—but the irresolution plagued me. I’d escaped to a quiet place, to paraphrase Graham Greene, only to find silence shouting in my ear.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

First Page Critique: Defining the Scope of Your Memoir

From Jane Friedman:

A summary of the work being critiqued

Title: When Did You Know?
Genre: memoir

Emily was adopted at birth, and I was privileged to be present when she was born. When she first emerged, I wondered if something was wrong, she didn’t cry right away. You’re worrying too much. But at six months old, she didn’t respond with recognition when I picked her up from day care, a flat affect. Later Emily had a choking episode that might have started with a seizure. This started a series of medical tests revealing a chromosomal abnormality, a seizure disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. By this time, we had also adopted her biological sister, Madison, also at birth, an energetic blond girl who later was diagnosed with ADHD.

The memoir shares the pains and joys of parenting these girls, addressing topics such as spirituality and autism, nutrition and weight issues, fatigue, behavior management, sibling rivalry, friendships and sexuality. This book includes resources and ideas of what helped me navigate the challenges of autism parenting.

First page of When Did You Know?

“Did you know she had autism when you adopted her?”

“No, I just thought she slept a lot. We were able to take her to movies and she’d sleep through them,” I said. People would look at us as we lugged her carrier into the cinema but she’d be silent all the way through.

But even from the day she was born I wondered. I also wondered about Amber, her biological mother. I eventually found out a lot about Emily, our daughter with autism and Amber, her biological mother.

“The baby’s coming, push Amber,” the doctor said at the foot of the bed. He was surrounded by nurses and medical students in blue scrubs.

“Come look,” he told me. He knew I was the adoptive mother.

I stood behind him as a blueish, brownish dome emerged.

“Push one more time, Amber,” they said.

I stood back. Amber grunted and cried out. That must hurt so much. The baby whooshed into the doctor’s gloved hands. He held her up.

“Is there only one?” Amber asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

Earlier while I waited with Amber during labor, she mentioned that a lady in the grocery store had commented it looked like she was having twins. I was surprised she thought twins were a real possibility and that no one put her fears to rest. I paused and wondered about Amber. Just like when we first met her a few days earlier.

Continue reading the first pages, with color coding and comments by editor Hattie Fletcher.

Dear Julia,

Thanks for sharing your work and the first pages of your memoir about parenting—certainly an important story for you and one that’s potentially incredibly useful to other parents who might find themselves in a similar situation.

My first big-picture observation is that it feels a bit hard to see the shape of the story from the materials you’ve submitted. That is, your summary describes the book as a memoir that “shares the pains and joys of parenting these girls …” but that’s potentially a pretty big and abstract story. Do you plan to focus on their very early years, or the time up until they’re 18 and (perhaps) leaving the nest? Do you want to focus primarily on a specific aspect or aspects of parenting—perhaps on your experiences seeking help from the medical community, or your challenges finding a peaceful rhythm as a family? Obviously, readers don’t want to start a book already knowing the ending (at least, not usually), but in the book pitch you want to define the scope of the story more specifically.

There’s no firm rule for how much time/story a memoir can cover. A quick look at some memoirs about parenting will show you many different approaches: Anne Lamott’s classic Operating Instructions is a journey through the first year of her son’s life; Mary Louise Kelly’s It. Goes. So. Fast. is framed around her son’s last year of high school. (A one-year narrative can make a tidy frame, indeed.) But many writers tackle longer arcs: Ron Suskind’s Life, Animated covers almost two decades of his family’s efforts to use Disney movies to help his autistic son engage as fully as possible with them and the rest of the world.

Once you have established the scope of your story and your overall narrative arc, then you can think about where to first enter the story and begin to introduce your characters/family. Maybe you’re telling the story of your young daughters from Emily’s birth to the day when (I’m making stuff up now), at the ages of twelve and fourteen, both girls climbed on a bus together for a week-long group wilderness adventure. Or maybe you’re telling the story from the day of Emily’s choking episode to her high school graduation lunch. Your goal, essentially, is to find a satisfying narrative arc that will take readers on a journey with you and that will provide—even if there’s a lot of mess along the way—some degree of resolution of a central question or tension.

That being the goal, I’d question whether Emily’s birth is the most effective starting point. Birth has, of course, the obvious advantage of being a very clear beginning—Day One! On the other hand, a purely chronological organization of material can sometimes feel tedious on the page. (First, Emily was born. … In her first week … When she was two months old … And then, when she was one…)

In fact, you’re already sort of building in a bit of that framework, by starting—even if only for a few lines—with a fast-forward in order to flash back to the birth. So, for a next draft, I would be inclined to start somewhere a little farther along. And then, after you’ve established some of the conflict/tension of the overall narrative, you could jump back to the time of Emily’s birth (and even before that, it seems), and look at it through the lens of the information you later learned.

Regardless of where in the larger work the birth scene ends up, when you do get there, it might be helpful to consider the pacing of the scene. There’s a balance, usually, between spending too much time in one scene (which, like a chronological organization to a book, can become tedious) and weaving in other elements, such as reflection, description, character development, etc. It seems to me that your first pages currently bounce around quite a bit between several scenes/times, in a way that feels a bit disorienting and jumpy. Focusing more on individual times might make it easier for readers to follow the story, and also open up a little space for you to go into more detail. I’ve color-coded your first pages to show the jumps in time visually. Until the long stretch at the end, a couple days after the birth, you can see there’s a jump every few paragraphs, more or less. It might make sense to consider grouping some of the color sections into bigger sections, whether or not in chronological order.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Lover

From Writers Helping Writers:

In 1959, Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes—”universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” He posited that every person is a blend of these 12 basic personalities. Ever since then, authors have been applying this idea to fictional characters, combining the different archetypes to come up with interesting new versions. The result is a sizable pool of character tropes that we see from one story to another.

Archetypes and tropes are popular storytelling elements because of their familiarity. Upon seeing them, readers know immediately who they’re dealing with and what role the nerd, dark lord, femme fatale, or monster hunter will play. As authors, we need to recognize the commonalities for each trope so we can write them in a recognizable way and create a rudimentary sketch for any character we want to create.

But when it comes to characters, no one wants just a sketch; we want a vibrant and striking cast full of color, depth, and contrast. Diving deeper into character creation is especially important when starting with tropes because the blessing of their familiarity is also a curse; without differentiation, the characters begin to look the same from story to story.

But no more. The Character Type and Trope Thesaurus allows you to outline the foundational elements of each trope while also exploring how to individualize them. In this way, you’ll be able to use historically tried-and-true character types to create a cast for your story that is anything but traditional.

Lover Archetype

DESCRIPTION: Lovers are passionate, sensual, and devoted, seeking the bliss of togetherness and love. They live life in full, show their heart in relationships, and focus on building closeness and intimacy with those they care about. Often this involves a romantic partner, but it can also manifest as strengthening core bonds with friends or family, making them feel loved and valued. Gone too far, emotions can become volatile, leading to obsession. 

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet); Lady and the Tramp (Lady and the Tramp); Ross Geller (Friends); Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)

Affectionate, Charming, Empathetic, Flirtatious, Focused, Friendly, Generous, Gentle, Kind, Loyal, Nurturing, Passionate, Patient, Persistent, Persuasive, Playful, Protective, Sensual, Uninhibited

Addictive, Controlling, Extravagant, Foolish, Frivolous, Gullible, Impulsive, Irrational, Jealous, Melodramatic, Needy, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Possessive, Subservient, Worrywart


  • Being tuned into the emotions of others
  • Showing attentiveness and thoughtfulness
  • Accommodating loved ones and their needs
  • Seeing the best in someone
  • Seeking closeness and intimacy
  • Showing closeness through honesty and trust
  • Showing love through gifts, words of affection, acts of service, touching, and quality time
  • Encouraging others to open up and share their feelings
  • Displaying jealousy of rivals
  • Being envious of another’s close bonds or loving relationships
  • Yearning for (and seeking out) the perfect loving relationship
  • Close contact with others, frequent touching
  • Being sexually adventurous
  • Striving to make a good impression with others
  • Thinking carefully to say the right thing
  • Daydreaming and fantasizing about someone they are involved with
  • Paying compliments
  • Being an admirer of beauty
  • Caring about what others think about them
  • Being a people pleaser
  • Becoming obsessed with fixing relationship issues and erasing distance
  • Working to lift the spirits of loved ones
  • Going out of their way to be kind and helpful with loved ones
  • Experiencing life to the fullest
  • A willingness to try new things
  • Protectiveness of loved ones
  • Putting others first (sometimes to a fault)
  • Being an optimist and being energized by others who are like-minded
  • Being hit hard by betrayals and broken trust
  • Love-bombing (being too affectionate or attentive)
  • Being comfortable with emotional sharing
  • Encouraging others to share their feelings
  • A loved one setting boundaries or asking for space
  • Discovering a loved one has lied or kept something from them


  • Knowing another has a closer relationship than they do with someone they care about
  • Being asked to keep a relationship secret and private
  • Trying to build closeness with someone who has a lot of barriers and emotional shielding
  • Relationship break-ups
  • In laws with biases or prejudices against the character that prevent closeness
  • Loving someone with differing preferences (level of affection, comfort zones, sexual needs, communication styles, etc.)

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

21 Road Trip Writing Prompts

From The Right Practice:

Road trips yield great stories. Why? Because a road trip forces you, your family, your friends, or your characters into uncomfortable and new situations. Add to that the potential for various complications and conflict, and you have all the ingredients for a terrific story. 

Whether you want to write the story of a road trip you took, or one you’re planning, or a scene from your work in progress that involves a road trip, you can use the elements of plot to help you. (See our full guide here.)

Start with a character who has a goal, and then let the complications and conflict ensue. Bring their actions to a crescendo of crisis (will they make the best bad choice to get what they want?) and deliver the climax and denouement.

A road trip has a built in external goal: you want to get to your destination, usually in a specific way for a specific purpose. But all those details can get hijacked by internal conflict, car trouble, wild roadside stops, and any other complication you can dream up. Give it a try!

Twenty-one Road Trip Writing Prompts 

  1. My original prompt was simple: Write about a road trip.

You can still do that one. But here are twenty more to take for a drive. (See what I did there?)

2. A parent and adult child have to take a road trip to sort out important family business. What happens?

3. Two co-workers have to drive to a work event one state away, but the trip goes terribly wrong.

4. A group of college seniors embark on a final road trip before graduation, but at the beginning of the second day, they pick up a hitchhiker who looks a lot like one of their professors who died the year before. 

5. A newlywed couple borrows a travel trailer and sets off on a cross-country roadtrip, when…

6. A young twenty-something trying to get home makes the mistake of stopping at…

7. An older couple has to move closer to family and takes a route that has some unusual memories.

8. A multi-family caravan road trip is derailed when a sink hole drops them into another dimension.

9. A motorcycle road trip through the Rocky Mountains turns deadly when…

10. A photographer sets out to capture pictures of the last five family-owned motels along a historic route when they discover…

11. A child convinces their grandparent to drive a thousand miles to return to a family home, but when they arrive, they are shocked to find…

Link to the rest at The Write Practice

Obsession: Is It a Key Ingredient to a Story’s Success?

From Writer Unboxed:

To frame today’s subject matter, let me first give you a little background about me: I’ve been making my living as a novelist since 2007 and am now seven books into a career that’s had some wonderful highs (three NYT bestsellers and a TV-series adaptation, to name a few) as well as some crushing lows (my third novel, Exposure, was DOA in hardcover and sold so poorly that the publisher decided not to give it a paperback release). I’ve written women’s fiction, biographical-historical fiction, and general fiction, first with Ballantine Books, then with St. Martin’s Press. All of which is to say that I’ve been swinging my pickaxe at the rocks for a long time, now.

Here’s something I’ll bet you already know: for most of us mortals, writing a novel is hard. It’s damn hard, and it usually takes a long time, even if we’re able to work on it daily for hours at a stretch. Months of work. Years, sometimes. Maybe we’ve had rejections or disappointments with previous efforts, which makes choosing and writing a new novel even more challenging. How best to do it? This issue has been on my mind for a lot, lately, and came up in a conversation I had with Therese Prima—i.e. Therese Walsh—this spring. We are both currently “between books” and were discussing what it takes to make it through the long and arduous journey from premise to (ideally) publication.

As many writers do, I find story ideas everywhere I go and am forever making notes for later reference. Interesting people I’ve seen someplace form up as interesting possible characters. Interesting situations I witness become intriguing plot possibilities. When I am in between books, I feel itchy, unsettled. I need to know what’s next for me.

. . . .

So I’m perpetually exploring new story prospects—even to the point, sometimes, of drafting ten or twenty thousand words derived from the initial spark of interest, hoping for flames. In the process, I evaluate the prospects and try to determine whether they seem to be the “right” next book for me. And because I make my entire living from my novels, “right” has to take into account factors like publisher expectations, reader expectations, and career trajectory, as well as being sufficiently intriguing to me.

The course of my career has seen me writing from what’s felt like divine inspiration as well as from “Oh, sxxx, my deadline is looming, better come up with something soon.” I am capable of writing a publishable book from a place of what seems to be a “logical right choice” and have done so, but time has taught me that my best successes each arose from a place of real passion. Actually, more than passion: Obsession.

If you’ve experienced this, you know the feeling: it’s as if the story has chosen you and not the other way around. As if you’ve been enchanted. When you’re writing, you disappear into the world you’re rendering. Hours pass without your being aware of it. You emerge from the work confused for a moment as to where and when you are.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Tone in Writing: 42 Examples of Tone For All Types of Writing

From The Write Practice:

What is tone in writing and why does it matter?

Tone is key to all communication. Think of the mother telling her disrespectful child, “Watch your tone, young man.” Or the sarcastic, humorous tone of a comedian performing stand up. Or the awe filled way people speak about their favorite musician, author, or actor. Or the careful, soft tones that people use with each other when they first fall in love.

Tone is communication, sometimes more than the words being used themselves.

So then how do you use tone in writing, and how does tone influence the meaning of a writing piece?

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to use tone in all types of writing, from creative writing to academic and even business writing. You’ll learn what tone actually is in writing and how it’s conveyed. You’ll learn the forty-two types of tone in writing, plus even have a chance to test your tone recognition with a practice exercise. 

. . . .

Definition of Tone in Writing

Tone in writing refers to both the writer’s feelings and attitude towards the subject and the audience and how those feelings are expressed. Tone is one of the elements of writing, and writers convey their tone through word choice and syntax. Like tone of voice, it helps set the mood of the writing piece and influences the reader interpretation.

Examples of tone can be formal, informal, serious, humorous, sarcastic, optimistic, pessimistic, and many more (see below for all forty-two examples)

Why Does Tone Matter in Writing

I once saw a version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which the dialogue had been completely translated into various Indian dialects, including Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and more. And yet, despite not knowing any of those languages, I was amazed to find that I could follow the story perfectly, infinitely better than the average Shakespeare in the park play.

How could I understand the story so well despite the fact that it was in another language? In part, it was the skill of the actors and their body language. But one of the biggest ways that the actors communicated meaning was one thing.

Their tone of voice.

Tone is one of the most important ways we grasp the meaning of what someone is saying. If someone says, “I love you,” in an angry, sneering way, it doesn’t matter what their words are saying, the meaning will be completely changed by their tone.

In the same way, tone is crucial in writing because it significantly influences how readers interpret and react to the text. Here are a few reasons why tone is important:

  1. Tone conveys feeling. The tone reflects the writer’s attitude toward the subject and the audience, helping to shape readers’ perceptions and emotional responses.
  2. Tone can help readers understand the meaning of the text. A well-chosen tone can clarify meaning, making it easier for readers to understand the writer’s intent and message.
  3. Tone is engaging! As humans, we are designed to respond to emotion and feeling! Tone can help to engage or disengage readers. A relatable or compelling tone can draw readers in, while an off-putting tone can push them away.
  4. Tone sets the mood. Tone can set the mood or atmosphere of a piece of writing, influencing how readers feel as they go through the text.
  5. Tone persuades. In persuasive writing, tone plays a significant role in influencing how convincing or compelling your arguments are.
  6. Tone reflects professionalism. In professional or academic contexts, maintaining an appropriate tone is crucial to uphold the writer’s authority.

. . . .

42 Types of Tone in Writing Plus Examples of Tone

Tone is about feeling—the feeling of a writer toward the topic and audience. Which means that nearly any attitude or feeling can be a type of tone, not just the forty-two listed below.

However, you have to start somewhere, so here a list of common tones that can be used in writing, with an example for each type:

  1. Formal: This tone is professional, dignified, and somewhat detached.
    • Example: “Upon analysis of the data, it’s evident that the proposed hypothesis is substantiated.”
  2. Informal: This tone is casual, friendly, and conversational.
    • Example: “Hey folks, today we’ll be chatting about the latest trends in tech.”
  3. Serious: This tone is solemn and sometimes urgent, not intended to be humorous or entertaining.
    • Example: “The implications of climate change on our future generations cannot be overstated.”
  4. Humorous: This tone is light, funny, and entertaining.
    • Example: “Why don’t scientists trust atoms? Because they make up everything!”
  5. Sarcastic: This tone involves saying something but meaning the opposite, often in a sharp or cutting manner.
    • Example: “Oh great, another diet plan. Just what I needed!”
  6. Optimistic: This tone is hopeful and looks at the positive side of things.
    • Example: “Despite the setbacks, we remain confident in our ability to achieve our goals.”
  7. Pessimistic: This tone is negative and tends to focus on the worst aspects of situations.
    • Example: “Given the declining economy, it’s doubtful if small businesses can survive.”
  8. Urgent: This tone creates a sense of immediacy or importance and may call the reader to take immediate action.
    • Example: “We must act now! Every moment we waste increases the danger.”
  9. Objective: This tone is unbiased, neutral, fact based, and direct . It’s often used in scientific reports or news articles.
    • Example: “The experiment concluded with the subject showing a 25% increase in performance.”
  10. Subjective: This tone is personal, biased, and full of the personal opinions and feelings of the author. It’s often used in opinion pieces or personal essays.
    • Example: “I’ve always found the taste of coffee absolutely heavenly.”
  11. Respectful: This tone shows admiration or respect towards the subject. It’s used when talking about venerable individuals or institutions.
    • Example: “We owe our success to the ceaseless efforts of our esteemed team.”
  12. Irreverent: This tone deliberately shows lack of respect or seriousness. It’s often used in satirical or controversial pieces.
    • Example: “So much for their ‘revolutionary’ product. It’s as exciting as watching paint dry.”

Link to the rest at The Write Practice

Writing is a muddle – how to enjoy the muddle

From Nail Your Novel:

If you read my newsletter you’ll know I’m fond of horse riding. And sometimes a moment from the horsing life can bring an unexpected realisation about writing.

I was riding in the woods with a friend. We had an unplanned detour that involved scrambling up a bank. My friend laughed that her horse seemed to pause and say to her- ‘Really? You want me to go up there?’ Yes, she said, and he did it. Much later as we ambled home, she was chuckling about the bank moment. ‘I don’t want to anthropomorphise,’ she said, ‘but it was so funny the way he seemed to stop and ask me.’

‘Is that anthropomorphising?’ I said. ‘Or is it just riding?’

Hmm, we thought. And we felt very wise.

What’s this got to do with writing?

Right now I’m working on a follow-up to my travel memoir Not Quite Lost. I have a folder full of rough pieces. They’re raw ideas, the flock of birds that took off from the gunshot. Now comes the work. Tackling a muddle that somewhere has a usable idea.

And to find the useful stuff, I often have to write more muddle – scenes or anecdotes I know I’ll end up deleting, or might edit down to one line.

I used to find this a bit dispiriting. It seemed wasteful and laborious, but there was no other way. The muddle before I found the clear direction.

Now, I’ve realised I’ve started to feel differently. I’m more accepting of it. I know I’ll be deleting a lot, and wincing from time to time as things strike the wrong note. But now I don’t mind. I’m eager to write some muddle and see where it takes me.

And maybe ‘muddle’ is the wrong word for this process. I’m going to rename it.

It’s a conversation.

Writing is a conversation. A conversation with the reader about your characters or your subject or your theme. And before you are ready for the reader, you have another conversation – with the material – and that is just as involved. That conversation might last for hours or months or years. That’s where you make it its best self.

Link to the rest at Nail Your Novel

Gestures are a subtle and vital form of communication

From The Economist:

“Tie an italian’s hands behind his back,” runs an old joke, “and he’ll be speechless.” The gag rests on a national stereotype: Italians are voluble and emotional, and all that arm-waggling supposedly goes to prove it.

Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago has a rather different view. Emotions come out in lots of ways: facial expressions, posture, tone of voice and so on. But people are doing something different when they use gestures with speech, which she sums up in the title of her new book, “Thinking With Your Hands”. It is a masterly tour through a lifetime’s research.

Virtually everyone gestures, not just Italians. Experimental subjects, told after a research session that they were being watched for gestures, apologise for not having made any—but were doing so the entire time. Conference interpreters gesture in their little booths, though no one is looking. People born blind gesture when they speak, including to each other. A woman born without arms but with “phantom limb syndrome” describes how she uses her phantom arms when she talks—but not when she walks. All this suggests that cognition is, to some extent, “embodied”; thinking is not all done in your head.

. . . .

The gesture under discussion here is mostly the “co-speech” kind. It is much more abstract than mime (in which exaggerated acting tells a story). Nor are these “emblematic” gestures like a thumbs-up or a finger over the lips for “Silence!” Like words, those are fixed within cultures (but vary between them). Instead, gestures that accompany speech are a second channel of information. Subjects watch a film in which a cat runs but are told to lie and say it jumped. They do so in words—while their hands make a running motion. People who say they believe in sexual equality but gesture with their hands lower when talking about women are not indicating women’s shorter stature; they can be shown to have biases of which they may be unaware.

Gesture is also not sign language. Sign languages have clearly defined words and grammar, and differ from place to place just as spoken ones do. Professor Goldin-Meadow spends a lot of time on homesign—systems of signs typically developed by deaf children in hearing families who are not exposed to (and so never learn) a conventional sign language. Such children are essentially inventing rough but rich languages out of nothing, with features such as fixed word order and hierarchical grammatical structures much like those in fully fledged languages. Such homesign systems far outstrip their parents’ gestures; a parent’s raised finger meaning “Wait” may be adopted by a child to connote events in the future.

Returning to conventional gesture, the author keeps her focus on child development. Some students who fail at a tricky mathematics problem may gesture in a way that indicates they are on the verge of getting it; they should be taught differently from the ones whose gestures suggest that they are entirely at sea. Children who still use only one word at a time may combine a word and a gesture; this successfully predicts that two-word phrases (“Give ball”) are just around the corner. And those taught to move their hands about when discussing a moral quandary with several perspectives soon start to see the problem from different points of view.

. . . .

In “The Crown”, Lady Diana is warned that her hands may betray her real emotions, which could be dangerous; they are tied together so she can learn to speak without gesticulating. No one who reads this book could ever again think that gesturing shows only a lack of control. It is about thinking and communication, and is a sophisticated aid to both.

Link to the rest at The Economist