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 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 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

Daniel Mason in conversation about discipline, style and the inspiration for his fourth novel

From The Bookseller:

Daniel Mason’s virtuosic fourth novel, North Woods, is the story of a single house deep in the woods of New England. The first stone is laid in a clearing by a young man who has fled the established Puritan Colony with his lover, who was promised to a wife-beating minister twice her age. This house—first a simple homestead, a cabin built of log and stone by the pair of runaways—will stand for 400 years in one form or another, and this astonishing novel tells of those who inhabit it over the centuries, both human and animal, alive and spirit.

There is Charles Osgood, originally from Northamptonshire, an English soldier who came to America for war, before becoming obsessed with growing apples. In his search for the perfect apple tree, he finds the one that has grown from the apple eaten by a Puritan militiaman years earlier. Later, a pair of spinster twins grow older on the homestead, before one commits a horrific act. Later still, a merciless slave catcher tracks his quarry; a medium is summoned to deal with rowdy spirits; a crime reporter uncovers a sensational story; a mother worries about her son, who suffers from a mental illness; and a conman seizes an opportunity. Some characters linger on, past their own lifetimes, to return as spirits. Interwoven with the human lives that span the years are the non-human ones: a lusty beetle, a prowling catamount, a squirrel burying nuts that will one day grow into a forest.

. . . .

When we meet at his publisher’s office,  the softly-spoken author, who is visiting the UK from his home in northern California, explains that he wrote the novel over the course of a single year spent in Western Massachusetts on a Guggenheim Fellowship. “California is very unchanging. We have seasons but it’s nothing like New England, so it was just astonishing to arrive in a place that was so lush, so humid, the plants are so high—it was overwhelming.”

As well as being an award-winning author—his last book, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—Mason is also assistant professor in psychiatry at Stanford University and a practising physician.

Knowing he had a year to concentrate on writing, Mason began work in the summer and his first chapter, about the runaway lovers, was set in the heat of June. The second chapter, leaping forward in time and an account of a frontier raid, was set in July. He noticed the pattern and wondered if this might be the organising principle of the novel: “What happens if I just try to write in the season that the chapter takes place in, if I limit myself? Which was good for me also, I think, because I tend to take a really long time to write. My last book took 14 years, not because I wanted it to, that’s just what happened.”

He stuck to this discipline so each of the 12 sections of the book were written during the month in which it takes place. Sometimes he didn’t finish a chapter within the month and had to go back to it later in the editing process. Sometimes he finished it early and so would wait for the month to turn before beginning the next chapter. This process surely accounts for the gorgeously vivid way the natural world is described throughout the novel. “It was exciting, I didn’t know what was going to happen next, it was almost like reading myself. I was waiting and wondering, ‘What’s this season going to be like?’ Broadly I can imagine what it’s going to be like but I’ve no idea what colours are going to appear. It felt very fresh to me to be in that place.

If the book is ultimately on natural time, that’s the timescale we are looking at: the life of a single tree or a forest rather that the people in it who are dwarfed by that larger narrative

“There were times when [this book] absolutely felt like a chore, but much less so that my other books. It always felt like I wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen and who was going to show and what the seasons would provide.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Orphan Archetype

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.

Orphan Archetype

DESCRIPTION: Orphans are characterized by trauma, neglect, and/or rejection. Having lost their own family (or never having had one to begin with), they’re driven by a need to belong and will go to great lengths to find acceptance. This makes orphans especially susceptible to manipulation and abuse which, over time, can result in them becoming withdrawn and further isolated.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Harry Potter (the Harry Potter series), Oliver Twist (Oliver Twist), Kya Clark (Where the Crawdads Sing), Simba (The Lion King), Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Alert, Cautious, Discreet, Empathetic, Humble, Independent, Intelligent, Loyal, Observant, Perceptive, Persistent, Private, Proactive, Resourceful, Spunky

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Abrasive, Apathetic, Childish, Cynical, Defensive, Dishonest, Evasive, Impulsive, Insecure, Irresponsible, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Rebellious, Reckless, Resentful, Rowdy, Self-Destructive, Stubborn, Uncooperative, Volatile, Withdrawn

Being highly observant
Sticking like glue to the trustworthy people in their life
Being highly attuned to injustice, manipulation, and other forms of abuse
Fighting for justice and equality
Having just a few close friends
Being unable to see the faults of the people they’re loyal to
Getting involved in toxic relationships (because it’s what the character is used to)
Sacrificing personal beliefs or standards if it means gaining affection from someone
Difficulty setting or maintaining personal boundaries
Being too eager when someone shows them attention
Difficulty trusting others
Becoming reconciled to isolation because it’s better than risking being hurt again
Being suspicious of people and their motives
Being jaded
Keeping people at arm’s length
Sabotaging relationships to avoid abandonment or rejection
Not rushing into new relationships or situations; taking time to evaluate them first
Being dishonest or evasive when it comes to personal information
Finding community on the fringes (through hobbies, interests, lifestyle, etc.)
Being insecure and unsure of their own worth
Struggling with depression
Abusing drugs or alcohol
Adopting a victim mentality
Being highly independent (because they’ve had to be)

Suspecting that a trusted friend is being dishonest
A friend questioning the motives of someone close to the character
Being forced to face their unresolved past trauma
Being specifically targeted by a con-artist or manipulator
Entering a new environment (school, a new job, etc.) that requires the character to start over with strangers
A love interest wanting to take the relationship to the next level

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

3 Ways Writers Block Their Success (While Thinking They’re Hard at Work)

From Jane Friedman:

In my early thirties, my aunt sent me a copy of The Secret, a movie claiming my thoughts determined my destiny. I watched it once, then shelved it, knowing I couldn’t just imagine my way to success. Yet my years as a writer and writing coach have taught me that the movie had a point. While you can’t wish your way to a book deal, your thoughts drive what you do.

Most of us spend our time dreaming of the external yes we hope to achieve—whether it’s an accepted pitch, query, or book deal. All external yeses stem from the yes inside you. But many of us lead from our no without realizing it. Those nos stem from feelings of unworthiness, doubts about our work, and fears that we’re not good enough—which are easy to trigger in a competitive field where you’re expected to cozy up with rejection.

It’s easy to spot our internal no when we’re feeling low, but many of these nos disguise themselves as hard work.

Because I recently appeared on the Hungry Authors Podcast, I divided these nos into the three hunger-based categories writers regularly fall into.

The Too Hungry Writer

Too Hungry Writers want everything yesterday, largely because they feel constantly behind. They work tirelessly on their projects, giving up time with family and friends to meet word count or revision goals. Ask them to take a break from their projects, or set a completed draft aside, and watch their eyes narrow as they mentally knock you out. How can they quit when their books must be done by a certain date (like a milestone birthday)?

While Too Hungry Authors are fierce writers with a killer work ethic, they often snack on scarcity, which feeds them lies about how there’s not enough time, or they’ll be worthy when their book gets picked up, or if they land an agent and Big Five deal.

But overwork gives them tired eyes. Muscling through revisions on manuscripts that haven’t rested will cause those tired eyes to gloss over problems. Sprinkle in impatience and a tinge of burnout and they’ll send their projects out before they’re ready.

What starts out as pre-submission optimism soon sours as the rejections pour in. Having worked hard, these external nos feel like personal failures, which leads to more scarcity thinking, which can make a Too Hungry Author ravenous.

Fortunately, you can address what you can identify, and the fixes for this problem are simple. First, make this your mantra: you and your project are on time. Repeat it to yourself until you believe it. If you can’t shake your doubts, think about the authors who raced to publish in 2020 thinking it would be their year, and the relief many experienced when their books weren’t published.

Once you’ve committed to slowing down, let projects you’ve worked on intensely rest for at least a couple of weeks, but better yet, a few months. Spend time with family and friends. Go on a vacation. Write something else. During that project’s fallow period, take a few classes to inspire you and help you see your work in a new way.

I know this will be especially hard for the Too Hungry Authors who either crawled their way out of the next category or fear falling into it.

The Writer Who Fails to Eat

Writers Who Fail to Eat put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. They want to write, but they fear that it’s too self-indulgent—or selfish—when so many other things need to be done. Some fear not being seen as productive. Others worry their efforts aren’t valuable if they’re not income producers.

So, they focus on other people’s crises, try to do everything, and overbook themselves so much there’s no time for their writing projects. A portion of these writers complain about their lack of time, but others are baffled by their lack of progress, because it seems like all they do is focus on their writing.

Take the writer who signs up for countless classes or participates in five writing groups. They give insightful feedback, tirelessly support their writing communities, and have the best book recommendations. But ask them how much time they’ve spent on their latest draft, or how much they’ve gotten done, and the answer is usually not much.

The more you prioritize others, whether it’s your clients, paid work, children, or writing group members, the more you reinforce the belief that your passions aren’t worthy of pursuing, and you’re not a person who gets things done.

The antidote is simple. Create a small writing goal (like fifteen minutes, three days a week), schedule it, and make it as regular as your bowel movements. Yes, this might mean letting something go or asking for help, but those precious few minutes will make the rest of your day more meaningful. If caregiver guilt gets in your way, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do you feel and behave when you make time for your writing?
  • How do you feel and behave when you don’t?
  • Which version represents the self you want to share with others?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

English Capitalization Rules

From The Grammarly Blog:

English capitalization rules require that certain words, like proper nouns and the first word in a sentence, start with a capital letter. Although that seems simple, some words are capitalized only in certain situations, and some words seem like they should be capitalized but are not—how can you tell which is which?

In this guide, we explain how to capitalize when writing and cover all the English capitalization rules. We also share a list of what words need to be capitalized and provide a few capitalization examples. But first let’s talk a little about capitalization in general.

English capitalization rules: When to capitalize

Knowing which types of words to capitalize is the most important part of learning English capitalization rules. Basically, there are three types of words you capitalize in English:

  • the pronoun I
  • the first word in a sentence or line of a letter (e.g., Sincerely)
  • proper nouns

That last one, proper nouns, is where a lot of the confusion comes from. Some words, like the name Albert Einstein, are always capitalized; however, others are capitalized only in certain situations and are lowercased in others. For example, directions like north and west are normally lowercased but are capitalized when they’re used as part of a geographic name, like the West Coast.

Let’s take a closer look at what words need to be capitalized and when.

What words need to be capitalized?

People’s names

Both the first and last names of a person are capitalized. Likewise, middle names, nicknames, and suffixes like Jr. are also capitalized.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Historical names that include descriptive words often follow the rules for title capitalization: Prominent words are capitalized, but small words like the or of are not.

Ivan the Terrible

Maria of Aragon


Capitalization in titles is where a lot of capitalization errors come from. The title of any piece of work—books, movies, songs, poems, podcast episodes, comic-book issues, etc.—requires capitalization, but only certain words in the title are capitalized.

What words need to be capitalized in titles? For starters, the first word in a title is always capitalized. Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs all need to be capitalized in titles as well.

Small words like articles and prepositions are generally lowercased, unless they’re the first word in a title. However, some style guides have their own preferences, so double-check if you have any doubts.

The Catcher in the Rye

Of Mice and Men


If you’re using the name of a place, capitalize it. This applies to everything from tiny Deer Creek to the massive planet Jupiter.

New York City

Lake Victoria

Keep in mind that if you are not using the name of a place but the general word to describe it, you do not capitalize that word.

The Grand Canyon is a good canyon, but I wouldn’t call it “grand.”

Countries, nationalities, and languages

In English, countries, nationalit ies, and languages are capitalized. Country names fall under the category of places, but by extension the names of the people who live there and the adjective form of their culture are also capitalized. This includes languages.


a team of Haitians

Haitian cuisine

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog

The Birth of a Book

From Writing Cooperative:

This past year I’ve had the pleasure of helping more than one friend celebrate a very special birthday.

Their book-birthday.

Each was such an exciting day for every one of those authors, marking the end point (or, perhaps not really…there’s all the marketing, book signings, promotion etc. still to come) of a very long journey.

The writing of a book parallels a pregnancy, at least in my mind it does. In both, a fully developed entity is created from nothing. This is a slow process, beginning with a spark of life, then building tiny piece by tiny piece, until the end result is nothing short of a miracle.

Of course, when you’re building a baby, your body does that building without your conscious awareness. Sure, you may feel morning sickness, and other physical discomforts, but as far as the actual creation process, you just go along for the ride, eating sleeping, working, while your body creates this miracle. Unlike writing a book, where you are COMPLETELY aware of the massive amount of work that is required.

Oh, and most often, the gestation period for a book is MUCH longer.

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about all that is required to take a book from a sparkle in someone’s mind, to an actual published piece of work, whether that be a digital copy, or one in print.

Guess what? It’s a hell of a lot of work!

A short time back, I had a glass of water sitting on my bedside table, and because I didn’t want to mark the wood, I’d pulled an old paperback from my bookcase and I’d set the glass on top of the book.

It took a moment for this flippant act to sink in. When it did, I freaked out and apologized out loud to this poor author whose blood, sweat and tears I’d so blithely used as a COASTER!

Ashamed, I gently wiped the surface of the book, (which was not damaged, by the way) and placed it carefully back into the safety of my bookcase.

How easy is it for us, as readers, to consume the words of others without giving the slightest thought to what it took to create those words. I used to do it, all the time. I devoured books in massive quantities. I read, and occasionally re-read because the book was so amazing I couldn’t get it out of my head. But more often I read and tossed aside, I read and returned to the library without a second thought, or worse, I read, and ripped apart the book— Gasp! Not physically, I’m not that big of a monster —filled condemnation for the author who had failed to entertain me like I’d expected to be entertained.

No more.

Link to the rest at Writing Cooperative

Talking About Microfiction With Sci-Fi Ya Author Sophia Hanson

From Almost an Author:

Today I’m talking with Sci-Fi YA author and fellow columnist here on Almost an Author, Sophia Hanson, about microfiction. I reached out to her after noticing her microfiction on Instagram. I have a love-hate relationship with microfiction. Fitting a piece of writing into the limited perimeters is hard enough, but toss in a time constraint and it requires some major flexing of those writing muscles!

DJS: Was the month-long Instagram challenge the first time you’d tried microfiction?

SH: I’d tried microfiction once or twice in response to Instagram contests. Cassandra Hamm holds prompt contests quarterly. They are tons of fun. I’d never done a month-long challenge before, but wanted to push myself to do the next hard thing. Thirty-one days of posting new content to prompts was definitely out of my comfort zone, and I decided to learn how to include images in the posts. I learned about Canva, tagging, and writing even when I didn’t feel inspired.

DJS: What was the hardest thing about producing microfiction?

SH: Including a whole idea/world within those fifty words, but sometimes it was just as hard to land on fifty, not forty-seven or forty-nine.

DJS: I can certainly agree with that! The exacting word count of microfiction had left me blinking at my computer screen a time or two.

In what ways did writing microfiction affect and benefit your writing?

SH: I love learning how to write tight, and I love writing to prompts. It’s a great challenge, especially when you’ve been working on a larger piece, because it helps to reset your brain and refresh those creative juices.

Link to the rest at Almost an Author

The Real Costs Of Writing A Book

From My Story Doctor:

What are the real costs of writing a book?

If you’ve been “bitten by the writing bug” then you are exceedingly aware of the pull to write — even if it isn’t an everyday activity yet. You may be working on a particular story, something that’s been yanking on your imagination for years. Or feeling the pendulum shift from exuberance from creating to the frustrations of being stuck. Maybe you are despairing that your book will never see the light of day. You may wonder if you have what it takes to become a published author. And what happens after you’re published. There are indeed many costs of writing a book. Some are obvious, like the time commitment for getting words on the page. Others may be more elusive. In fact, you might not know what you don’t know.

To help get a more comprehensive view of the costs of writing a book, this post will explore six of the biggest cost categories for writing a book.

Time Costs of writing a book

Some of your social circle might think the investment of time to be something that’s free, but is it really? It takes a long time to write a book. Even if you sit down and pants it — meaning you put pen to paper and write, not knowing where the story will take you — creating an entire book is going to take time.


There’s the pre-writing or the planning phase where you mull and daydream your story. You choose what genre to write in, what point of view to tell it in, who your characters are, where the setting is, what the stakes are if the protagonist doesn’t get what they desire, and what the story’s message will be, etc.

Brainstorming and research.

There’s brainstorming and dreaming, which can and often does lead to research. For example: A science fiction story may require you to take a deep-dive into technological manuals and articles while a historical fantasy may make you learn about our world’s history in order to provide an authentic spin, and a mystery may require you to learn about procedures that law enforcement uses, etc. You might even need to research what resources you need and which experts you need to talk to.


You have the actual putting the words on the page — either based on a plot that you created, which took time, or you’re discovery-writing, which means you’ll probably have to backtrack periodically, if and when you write yourself into corners. You may do a little of both.

Feedback and revising.

After your draft is done, you’ll probably want to get feedback for your story. You’ll more than likely want to mold it into the best story that you can. That will mean revising and editing…maybe even doing some rewriting.

Creating a platform.

You will need a platform — a social media presence, email list, and website — to create visibility to reach your potential readers, build connections and ultimately sell books. It takes time to create these, create content for them, and to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in your niche.

Querying and/or preparing to publish.

If you decide to travel a traditional path, it will take time. Time to research which agents you want to query. Write the customized query letters and synopsis. You have to prepare your query package, submit it, keep track of submissions, and wait for the agents to reply. If you land a reputable agent, it is again waiting for him or her to pitch your manuscript to the publishers. If the publisher accepts it, there are more time hurdles to cross such as more edits to your manuscript, before you see your book in the bookstore and royalty checks in your hand. And of course, you still have to market.

Or if you decide to go indie, you have the time commitment of getting the book ready and formatted for publication, finding an artist for your cover art or creating your own, procuring your ISBN numbers, publishing, getting reviews, marketing, to name some of the process.

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor

Manifesto fiction

From Nathan Bransford:

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a substantial uptick in novels crossing my desk that have an extremely overt political message. Their pitches will often cite that the world needs their new book. The authors will treat the message, and the world’s supposed need for it, as the thing that’s going to sell the book.

I call this manifesto fiction. And authors can go very, very far astray if they focus too much on the politics and not enough on the storytelling.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A lot of times I agree with the substance of the political message that’s being espoused! And, at the end of the day, everyone has to write the book they want to write.

But particularly if you’re pursuing traditional publication and if you have writing goals beyond just finishing the novel, here’s the thing you must remember: people will only buy your book if it’s a compelling story.

Focus on the storytelling and make it messy

There is a long and proud history of novels that shift culture and politics through sheer force of story, whether that’s Uncle Tom’s CabinThe JungleThe Handmaid’s Tale, or, more recently, The Hate U Give. There’s also a darker history here, including influential novels that advance racist narratives that I don’t really want to give a further platform by naming.

Knowing this, authors set about writing the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of, say climate change, sometimes with the zeal of converts.

What they forget is that the classic novels that have shifted the culture aren’t didactic diatribes about their chosen topic. The Handmaid’s Tale is not a treatise on reproductive justice, it’s an immersive alternate future that gains power through its plausibility. The Jungle is perhaps the most manifesto-y of these novels, but it’s still a gripping read focused on specific characters who Sinclair goes to great lengths to help the reader sympathize with.

The great danger of manifesto fiction is that the author will put the thumb on the scale as they craft their protagonists and villains, resulting in caricatures and stultifying plot lines. The protagonists are unduly heroic, and the villains unduly villainous. It’s blindingly obvious how things will turn out. The author’s politics are like a decoder ring that spoils what’s to come.

Authors writing didactic fiction will often fail to empathize with their villains and see the appealing traits that give them power. They fail to make it a fair fight.

If you’re going to write manifesto fiction, it’s got to be compellingly messy. We shouldn’t know who’s going to win, and both the protagonists and the villains need to represent a full spectrum of humanity.

Pitch the story, not the message

Publishing employees as a whole tend to be a disproportionately idealistic bunch, but they can only acquire what they think they can sell. And “please read this political diatribe thinly disguised as fiction” is not really a selling point.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

What I Wish I Knew As a Younger Writer

From Substack:

When I was in my early twenties and starting out as a writer, I received assorted bits of advice, some good, some bad. 

The good: a journalist at Newsday—where I had an internship as a reporter on the arts desk the summer of 1986—told me not to waste my time or go into debt pursuing a Masters in Journalism. “You’ll learn much more on the job, and you’ll get paid while you’re doing it,” she told me. I think this remains sound. While journalism has gotten way more competitive since then, I know too many writers who took on massive loans for “J-school,” only to have difficulty finding jobs with high enough salaries to pay those loans back—if they can find jobs at all.  

The bad: a woman named Helen, who ran an editorial employment agency through which I sought jobs after college, told me that when I went on interviews at magazines, newspapers, and publishing houses, I should leave at home the fairly impressive clips I’d garnered at Newsday and elsewhere before graduation. Otherwise, she cautioned, I’d seem too ambitious and unwilling to do the kind of grunt work that came with entry-level positions. 

In hindsight, it’s probably no surprise that hiding my achievements didn’t help me land the kinds of jobs I wanted. I mean, how counterintuitive was that advice? Please do highlight your achievements when applying to jobs! And don’t listen to anyone who suggests otherwise. What Helen suggested next, though, had an even bigger negative impact on my career path: that I give up on trying to write for consumer publications (mainstream periodicals read by regular people) for the foreseeable future, and instead get a job writing for a trade publication (a business periodical aimed at people who worked in a particular field). 

She said that sometimes the best way into the work you wanted was through a side door—taking jobs that weren’t quite the ones you wanted, but adjacent to them. From there, you could finagle your way into better positions. She added that if I really loved writing, I should love doing it about any subject, for any audience. That might be okay to do early, early in your writing career, before you’ve gotten any experience and are trying to get your feet wet. But I had come to her with some solid clips. Even if you don’t, I’m not sure I’d advise doing only that for too long if you’re trying to write creatively. You might find yourself burned out and sidelined, the way I was, in such a way that it’s difficult to pivot back to the kind of writing you’d prefer to do. 

Link to the rest at Substack

Six Word Stories: How to Write the Shortest Story You’ll Never Forget

From The Write Practice:

According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a short story using only six words. Ernest Hemingway’s story? It was: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

While you’re not going to be able to tell an entire life story in six words, you just might be able to catch a movement of conflict or a significant moment in a character’s life. Plus it’s fun. Let’s look at how to write a really short story.

Six word stories are a great way to practice your writing without actually having to write much. They can also be used to warm up before working on a novel or short story.

When I first heard about six word stories, I thought, “A whole story in six words? That’s impossible!”

Then I wrote my first one. It was really easy, not to mention fun! Once you write your first, you can write a whole slew of them. Let’s look at how to write one.

1. Read examples

Start by looking at some examples. A great website you can use is If you just want to look at a few examples, here are some I liked:

“Rapunzel! I am slipping! A wig?!”

Misleadingly deep puddle. Curious child missing.

“I love you, too,” she lied.

2. Choose a Moment of Conflict

Part of what makes a story, well, a story is a goal coupled with conflict. Think about the examples we listed above. Where is the moment of conflict?

Rapunzel’s suitor has a goal (reaching Rapunzel) and the conflict is that the hair he is climbing is a wig that is slipping. Oops.

The second one implies one of two stories: the child lost in a puddle OR what happens next when someone realizes the child’s fallen in. The goal will determine the conflict.

In the third one, the goal is to mislead someone. The conflict? The lie (or maybe why she lies).

Link to the rest at The Write Practice

What happens when a story loses a main character?

From The Economist:

Like elvis, he conked out, bathetically, in a bathroom, only in Logan Roy’s case it was on a private plane, en route to haggle with a Swedish billionaire over the sale of his media conglomerate, Waystar Royco. He uttered no last-gasp curse, committed no climactic act of tyranny or deceit. He was just gone.

For three and a bit seasons of scatological insults and sociopathy, back-stabbing and joyless luxury, Logan (played by Brian Cox) was the dragon around whom the viperous cast of “Succession” slithered. Then Jesse Armstrong, its creator, bumped him off with seven episodes of the final series to go. Killing a kingpin early in this way is a risky narrative move, but sometimes, if storytellers pull it off, a profound one.

Risky, because of an implicit contract with the audience or reader: that their investment in a main character will earn a return in longevity. Offing them too quickly can feel like a betrayal—even if, like Logan’s, their demise is anticipated in the show’s title. It can tilt the entire proposition of a story, if rarely as drastically as in “Psycho”, which morphed from a heist film to a slasher movie when Alfred Hitchcock sent Janet Leigh to have a shower halfway through.

Terminating a lead is a marketing headache. If they paid to see Drew Barrymore, audiences of “Scream” may have felt short-changed when, though purportedly one of its stars, she was disembowelled after 12 minutes. Mostly stars are too expensive, and too demanding, to be jettisoned early. Perhaps above all, fielding a “false protagonist”, as the trope is sometimes known, is an artistic challenge. A truism of creative writing holds that even minor characters should have their own untold stories. Kill the protagonist and you have to tell them.

Nevertheless, it is a challenge that some of the best writers and showrunners take up. Sean Bean’s character was too noble for Westeros and lost his head before the end of the first season of “Game of Thrones”. “Homeland” hanged Brody (Damian Lewis), its hero, grimly from a crane in Iran, disenchanting fans who expected an 11th-hour rescue.

For his part, Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), the suavest figure in “The Wire”, bit the dust with just over two seasons to run, midway through his transformation from gangster to businessman and in the middle of a word: “Well get on with it, motherf…” It is part of that show’s illusionless genius that his killer, Omar (Michael K. Williams), another mainstay, met a brutally random end himself, shot by a child as he bought cigarettes. At the start of act five of “Macbeth”, Shakespeare makes Lady Macbeth wander offstage madly, never to return. “She should have died hereafter,” says her miffed husband.

The value of these premature deaths lies not only in shock—maximised when a gremlin burst out of John Hurt’s chest not long into “Alien”. By confounding expectations, they make it clear that the conventional shape of a story, with its finely wrought acts and arcs, does not match the shape of a life. Real lives are precarious and messy; they tend not to end neatly or on an elegant schedule. Logan snuffs it on the day of his eldest son’s wedding (he wasn’t going anyway).

Death, in other words, is even more of a spoiler than this column.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Writer’s Block? Maybe You’re Writing in the Wrong Format

From Jane Friedman:

Earlier this year, I took a week-long writing retreat at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, California. I had an idea for a new project and had written about 10,000 words, but I wanted some focused time to dive in and figure it out.

The week started off well. I wrote 13,000 words in the first two days, exploring characters and drafting scenes that had been percolating in my head, but on the third day everything slowed down. I simply couldn’t think of what else to write.

In the past I would have called it writer’s block, but I don’t believe in writer’s block anymore. In fact, in my coaching program, I devote an entire hour-long lesson to dismantling writer’s block because I believe fervently that it’s not a thing. It’s just a catch-all phrase we use to describe other things that keep us from writing.

But sitting there, staring out the window of my cabin in Temecula at the unusually verdant valley below, I began to worry I had been wrong. What if writer’s block really IS a thing? Not only was it a concern for my immediate circumstances, but it seemed to me that if writer’s block really was a thing, I would have to write a letter of apology to every writer I’d ever worked with. Had I really been wrong all along? In my mind, a spiral of darkness opened like a gaping mouth.

But wait, I thought, I had never, in all my years of coaching, failed to help a writer get unblocked. I just had to coach myself a bit. I mentally stitched up that pit of despair and instead imagined the conversation that might take place between April Dávila the frustrated writer and April Dávila the writing coach.

Frustrated April: The words just aren’t coming.

Writing coach April: Is the material too fresh? Maybe you need to do some more research.

Frustrated April: No, I know what I want the story to be. I’ve been outlining for months.

Writing coach April: Are you maybe feeling overwhelmed, burned out?

Frustrated April: Are you kidding? (gestures at gorgeous view from my cabin that I have all to myself for a whole week) The words should be flowing like vodka at a Sean Combs party. (bangs head against the desk)

Writing coach April: Maybe you’re not writing what you think you’re writing.

Frustrated April: (lifts head) Wait… what?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Process for Fantasy World Building

From dyiMFA:

Let us begin with the very basic question: “What is world building?” If you are going to write fiction, every story needs a place to call home, where the action happens, where your characters live. This can be extraordinarily complex (as in the case of fantasy world building), or as simple as “the story takes place in the real world.” 

Whatever method you choose, the most important thing to remember is to stay consistent. If the story takes place in the real world, you do not have to deal with many of the complexities which arise in a fantasy story. 

It is when you are setting your story in another world that you need to be creative. This article deals with fantasy world building, although it can be used for almost any world building.

Where to Begin with World Building

I know building a new world is quite daunting for many people. Where to begin? Do I need to make maps? Do I need to create history, religions, political and economic systems? So many questions that need answers—Whew! Right? 

I have an acronym I use to start my personal process for building a new world: WHEW.

  • Who?
  • How?
  • Effects?
  • Why?

Each of these questions, when answered, makes up the basis of your world.

WHEW! Process for Fantasy World Building Explained

Who lives in your world?

The first question, the big question, I ask myself when I am building a new world, whether for a game campaign or for a story, is: Who lives there? 

Now you probably already have a good idea who the characters in your book will be, so that is your starting point. If you are writing a traditional epic fantasy, you may already have your book’s races in mind: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Haflings, etc. 

Your geography will probably be defined by where your races traditionally live. Elves live in the woods, Dwarves live underground, etc. This is not saying every elf is found in the forest and you will only find dwarves underground, but it is a starting point. 

If you wish to create a totally unique setting, then deciding who lives in your world will be a vital first step. If you want a story set on a water-world, then you need races which can cope with being wet. Aquatic elves, Mer-folk, etc. If you want your story to take place in a desert, then you definitely want people who can cope with the lack of water. 

Thus, deciding who lives in your story will set the basic parameters of your world.

How does your world work (magic, technology, etc.)?

How your world works is another point which needs to be decided early on, especially in fantasy world building. 

Is your world rich in magic? Or is it scarce and only available to a very few? How is it acquired? Are only some people born with the ability, or can anyone learn to cast spells? Is magic a force of mind or personality or is it a gift bestowed by the deities? Is there more than one kind of magic in your world? And what about magical objects? Does everyone and their brother carry a magic sword, or are they rare and only used by an occasional hero or villain? At what stage is technology in your world? Stone age or are there printing presses and mechanical clocks? Is some technology enhanced by magic? Or conversely, is some magic enhanced by technology?

How your world works gives you a basis to set up the systems your world needs to be a place where your story can happen. For example, if your world has an economy, then you need some kind of exchange system for goods and services. Is there money? Or is everything bartered? Does your world have civilization or is it pure barbaric savagery?

What effects make your world special and unique?

The hows spelled out above give cause for whatever effects you may wish to have. 

Is there a gold standard? If so, where does the gold come from? Only from Dwarven mines?

Link to the rest at dyiMFA

Context and subtext in dialogue: Creating layered speech

From Now Novel:

Context and subtext in dialogue helps us read place, emotion, motivation and more in speech. Use this guide to context and subtext in dialogue to write communication that comes alive in spoken and unspoken cues.

What is subtext in conversation? Definition and types

‘Subtext’ is what lies ‘beneath’ the text (sub- meaning ‘beneath’ as in ‘submarine’ or ‘substandard’). In other words, subtext is the underlying motivations, feelings, meanings – what isn’t explicitly stated.

For example, the dialogue tag and action in this example suggest that Martin’s feelings contradict what he’s saying:

“What an amazing day,” Martin said, his affect flat, as he threw himself down to lie on the couch, hoping she’d caught the sarcasm.

The motivational subtext to this dialogue might be that Martin wants someone to notice he’s had a bad day.

The emotional subtext in Martin’s sarcasm suggests frustration, angst. Perhaps the desire to vent or for someone to help him feel better.

What are different types of subtext? Read six types below.

Keep reading for eight types of context in dialogue, too, plus examples of both subtext and context from books.

Why is subtext in conversation important?

Subtext in dialogue is important because:

  1. Subtext helps to avoid on-the-nose dialogue. Real communication doesn’t all happen on the surface, in direct statements or questions and answers. People read tone, body language and other ‘sub-‘ layers of communication to understand feeling, inference, shifts and changes
  2. Subtext makes dialogue feel alive. For example, gestures in dialogue supply a sense of attitude and personality. See Lily’s mother running her finger over a surface to check for dust in the example section below (suggesting a critical nature).
  3. Subtext aids tension and ambiguity. Inference (such as in Martin implying he’s had a bad day in the example above) creates tension and ambiguity. Often there’s something more than exactly what’s being said going on.

Types of subtext in dialogue

Read definitions of six types of subtext in dialogue:

What is emotional subtext in conversation?

The unsaid emotions (e.g. anger, joy, fear) which dialogue conveys via tone, gestures, facial expressions, body language, movement.

What is motivational subtext?

The inference of what a character wants, their reason to speak. For example, a character who says ‘You know you’re my favorite person, right?’ They might be buttering someone up to ask a favor.

What is power subtext?

In dialogue, subtextual aspects that suggest power are signs of dynamics such as submission, dominance, control, passivity. Who’s in the driver’s seat, or are the power dynamics balanced?

What is cultural subtext?

Unspoken cultural (or subcultural) elements that inform conversation. For example, how a kid familiar with lingo from the video game Among Us may say something’s ‘sus’ to their parents, meaning ‘suspicious’.

What is personal subtext?

Personal subtext in conversation is a speaker’s private history, experiences or backstory. It’s the way these elements shape how a person speaks, responds.

What is psychological subtext?

The psychological subtext of conversation refers to psychological processes in dialogue (such as projection – e.g., calling someone a liar when feeling bad about having lied).

Link to the rest at Now Novel

Abandon Your Protagonist at the Side of the Road

From Writer Unboxed:

My brother is a counselor. A very good one who won’t tell any of his clients’ stories, even when our dad asks him to strip all identifying features. Dad knows better, but he’s a curious man who’s never been afraid of hearing no (which made him a great entrepreneur). One night, after refusing to answer, my brother kept thinking about how he could honor our dad’s desire to connect with him about his work.

About an hour later, he told us about an image and a corresponding therapeutic technique he’s been using with clients who’ve experienced trauma and cannot directly address what happened to them. They’ve built up so much resistance that they shut down when they try to even name it. He’s given these patients this story:

As you’ve gone through your life, when you experienced something you couldn’t face, you went on, but to survive, you left your pre-trauma self on the side of the road and went on without them. You may have done this a number of times. Let’s invite those abandoned yous to sit around the table with us and talk.

His clients have found this gentle and poignant exercise helpful. They’re able to re-connect with the self/selves who experienced the trauma and begin to deal with their misbeliefs, their unhelpful coping strategies–even if they can’t say what happened to them.

Which made me think of our protagonists.

When building our characters, we usually identify a moment in their past that is the root of the problem that will be solved in the course of our story. Whether we call it the Origin Story, The Wound, a Marker Moment, or something else, we create a before/after: Before this, I believed X, but after I believed D. They build up layers of habits, beliefs, and self-talk to cope. It is the action of the story to get them to face the results of that moment.

Using my brother’s image, the protagonist abandons their old-self on the side of the road and goes on.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Don’t rush to the inciting incident

From Nathan Bransford:

 Time for the Page Critique. First I’ll present the page without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to bankoferin, whose page is below:

Title: Proof of Love
Genre: Literary Fiction/Women’s Fiction

As Eliza entered her apartment, her phone buzzed impatiently in her back pocket. She pulled it out and glanced at the screen as she stepped out of her shoes. One new voicemail. She must have missed the call when she was underground in the subway, journeying back from a late dinner in Manhattan with Jackie and her new girlfriend. Eliza debated even listening to it; she was exhausted from uncomfortably witnessing a strange woman dote upon her friend. Not her friend. Her sponsor. Had she been jealous, of someone diverting attention normally reserved for her? Or of two people finding connection with each other?

She played the message on speaker while she undressed. With one leg out of her jeans, she froze when she heard an unmistakable voice, slow, soft, and strong. The voice of a ghost, from a life she no longer had.

“Eliza, hi, this is Owen. It’s Tuesday night, eight o’clock out here. I’m sorry I haven’t called sooner, we were hoping… well.” A deep breath crackled the line. “Your dad had a stroke. And he’d like to see you. Call me back anytime.”

Eliza slowly pulled her other leg out of her pants and circled slowly around the apartment, trying to breathe. She counted her inhale, one-two-three, and her exhale, one-two-three-four, like she was supposed to do when she wanted a drink. But instead of calming down, she felt dizzy and dashed to the bathroom to crouch over the toilet.

A lot of the pages I read in the course of my editing life feel like they’re the end result of misapplied feedback.

If I had to bet, the writer initially started the novel in a different place, but they either heard some writing advice that you have to grab the reader right away or received feedback that the opening was too slow. Eliza finding out her father had a stroke is the inciting incident where the plot kicks off, so the writer decided get there as fast as humanly possible with only some meager references to a dinner with Eliza’s sponsor to ham-handedly establish that Eliza is a) an alcoholic and b) single.

There’s no physical description to help us understand what her apartment is like (is she in a cramped three bedroom with five roommates in the Bronx or is she in a palatial Manhattan penthouse?), we don’t have any hints of what else might be going on in her life beyond alcoholism and singledom, and the news is followed by a cliched gesture explosion that doesn’t help us understand how specifically she’s thinking through this news or who Owen is.

If the previous opening was slow, the right solution was not to move the inciting incident to paragraph three. The author just needed a better mini-quest to show the protagonist in her element before the main plot kicks off. In other words, if there was a different opening before that didn’t work well, the right solution wasn’t to eliminate it, it was to fix the old opening to make it more interesting.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

The first draft is always the hardest (and why you shouldn’t fear starting over)

From Nathan Bransford:

Early in my writing career, there was little I feared more than having to rewrite any part of my novels.

I agonized over scenes so they were “perfect” the first time. I obsessively saved and re-saved anything I wrote and made sure multiple backup copies existed lest a laptop theft or fire destroy my hard work. Every time I received an edit, I peeked through my hands at the editorial letter until I saw I was safe from having to go back to the drawing board.

Now? I’ve written a placeholder opening for my new novel that’s just standing in for a better one I’ll think up later. I pressed forward on some scenes I know will be cut just to see how some ideas work on the page. I know when I’m finished I’m going to rewrite the whole thing with whatever voice I’ve crystalized by the end.

Here’s what accounts for my change in approach: I’ve learned that rewriting a novel is almost always much easier than you think it’s going to be.

The first draft is phenomenally difficult

Pushing forward on a new novel is extremely hard. Just ridiculously, mind-bogglingly hard.

It’s like trying to run a race in three or four directions at once. You’re getting to know the characters. You’re fleshing out the setting. You’re trying to see if the events you have in mind are going to work once they hit the page. You’re trying to find the voice. You’re weaving together plots and subplots. All at the same time.

Maybe your novel will spring forth in its ideal form and all of these elements will magically weave together in perfect harmony.

Good luck.

Instead, even if you write slowly and carefully, chances are you’re going to muddle through. You always have work to do when you’re finished.

And sometimes you’ll have a ton of work to do. Particularly after you confront a daunting editorial letter, sometimes you’ll need to go back and rewrite the whole thing mostly from scratch.

But take it from me: starting over isn’t something to fear.

Don’t be afraid to start over

One of the absolute most important qualities that stratifies authors between great and mediocre or worse is a willingness to confront weaknesses, bite the bullet, and do what’s necessary to improve your work. Even if that means completely scrapping what you’ve written and starting over.

Does this sound terrifying to you? Take heart: Nothing is lost.

Even if you have written a steaming pile of seemingly unusable garbage, the plot makes little sense, nothing fits together, and you are going back to Chapter 1, Scene 1 to rewrite the whole shebang, you’re not really starting from scratch.

Chances are you’ve learned a ton about the characters, the setting, the voice, and the plot. Even if your knowledge is mostly about what doesn’t work with the plot, that knowledge is phenomenally useful. Rather than trying to accomplish every single thing all at once, like you are with a first draft, you’ll be able to focus on one or two key things. It’s a huge advantage.

Every time I’ve gone back to the well for a substantial rewrite, I dreaded it like you wouldn’t believe, then wound up astonished how much easier it was to complete than I thought it was going to be.

You feel like you can “get above it” and see the forests from the trees. Scenes flow. The characters pop.

Rewriting is nothing like a first draft. It feels like you’re writing with a jetpack.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

How to Write a Narrative Essay in 5 Steps

From The Grammarly Blog:

When you have a personal story to tell and don’t want to write an entire book, a narrative essay may be the perfect fit. Unlike other types of essays, narrative essays don’t need to stick to certain requirements or include a bibliography. They have a looser structure, more creative language, and just one requirement: to tell a story.

What is a narrative essay?

A narrative essay typically tells a true story that may have a few elements changed for clarity or dramatic purposes. However, this isn’t a requirement. You can format a fictional story as a narrative essay.

Narrative essays, perhaps unsurprisingly, are defined by the presence of a narrative in the text. Rather than presenting and defending a position, as in an argumentative essay, or analyzing another text, like in an analytical essay, a narrative essay tells a coherent story. They’re often personal essays that detail specific episodes in their authors’ lives, which is why they’re popular for college essays.

Unlike most other types of essays, narrative essays have room for literary devices, such as metaphor and onomatopoeia. You can be creative in a narrative essay because you’re writing a story rather than presenting and dissecting others’ statements or work.

5 steps to writing a narrative essay

Step 1: Topic choice (or prompt given)

The first step in writing a narrative essay is to determine the topic. Sometimes, your topic is chosen for you in the form of a prompt. You might map out the topics you want to mention in the essay or think through each point you’d like to make to see how each will fit into the allotted word count (if you’re given one).

At this stage, you can also start thinking about the tone you’ll use in your essay and any stylistic choices you’d like to incorporate, such as starting each paragraph with the same phrase to create anaphora or leaving the reader with a cliffhanger ending. You can change these later if they don’t mesh with your first draft, but playing with these ideas in the idea-generating stage can help you craft multiple drafts.

Step 2: Make an outline

After you’ve explored your ideas and gotten a clear sense of what you’ll write, make an outline. An outline is a bare-bones precursor to your essay that gives a high-level view of the topics it will cover. When you’re writing, your essay outline can act as a map to follow when you’re not sure how to start or help you transition between topics once you’ve started.

Step 3: Write your narrative essay

Next, it’s time to write! With your outline as a guide, flesh out the sections you’ve listed with clear, engaging language. A narrative essay doesn’t—and shouldn’t—stick to the same requirements as an academic essay, so don’t feel a need to use formal language or summarize your essay in its introductory paragraph.

Tip: Use a first-person point of view

Most narrative essays are written from a first-person point of view. That means using pronouns such as and me when describing the experiences you explore in your essay.

Tip: Use storytelling or creative language

If you’ve ever written fiction or creative nonfiction, use the same kind of language and conventions in your narrative essay. By this, we mean using storytelling techniques, such as dialogue, flashbacks, and symbolism, to engage readers and communicate your essay’s themes.

Link to the rest at The Grammarly Blog