4 Ways A Twist Ending Can Ruin Your Story

NOTE FROM JENNIFER: this is a guest post from author and story coach, Devlin Blake. Enjoy!

More so than any other story, horror and suspense endings are not always predictable. Sometimes, the hero loses. Other times, there’s something else at play that changes the story entirely at the last minute.

Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Tales From The Crypt, Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and the Sixth Sense are all remembered fondly for their great endings. So naturally, a new horror suspense writer wants to build a great twist ending into their story to make it memorable. However, if a twist isn’t done right, it will not only be ineffective, but it will make your story completely unreadable a second or third time.

These kinds of stories also don’t garner fans eager for you next book. (Or movie. Look at M. Night Shyamalan.) So let’s look at the mistakes that come with twists. (Warning, spoilers ahead.)

1. The Twist Is Obvious 

In horror and suspense genres, readers expect a twist. They don’t always get it, but they still expect it more than any other genre. This makes tricking them tough.

They’ve already seen all the twists, so now they’re just trying to figure out which twist your story has. After all, they know its coming.

Example: The Secret Window

This was not one of King’s best works, and as a movie, it was even worse. We see Rainey slowly going insane and getting blackmailed by a neighbor who shows up at all-too-convenient-of-a-time.

Even the neighbor’s name, John Shooter (shoot-her) was a dead giveaway. So there’s no surprise once we realize Rainey is Shooter and he kills his ex and her lover.

2. The Twist Breaks The Rules 

There are ‘rules’ in your story world that you set up and these rules create a contract with your reader. The contract states that this story isn’t a waste of their time. Stories that break these rules will not get a chance with a second book.

The most common way to break the rules is for the reader to discover that nothing your character did mattered. It was all some elaborate ruse, dream, or they got a reset button so they could avoid the whole thing. That makes all the vicarious experience and concern for the main character moot, since they were never in any real danger. The reader feels deflated after that, like a balloon with all its air let out.

Example: Shutter Island

Shutter Island is a great movie, the first time you see it. But after you know that Cobb is mentally ill and the entire thing has been one big show to snap him out of it—and it didn’t even work—the entire movie becomes unwatchable. I’m sure you’ve noticed how no one ever talks about this movie anymore.

3. Too Much Time Is Spent On The Twist 

Writers often spend so much time working on the twist, that they don’t spend enough time on character development, world-building or creating an interesting plot. A story with a ‘meh’ ending still has a chance at greatness if the rest of the story is there.

However, a story with great twist won’t last long if the twist is everything. The story still has to be there; the reader needs to be transported into other worlds and other viewpoints the same as any story.

Example: Alfred Hitchcock Hour

It’s surprising to think that the master of suspense had this problem, but he did. Because his half hour show was so popular, network executives decided to give him a whole hour and see how he did. The answer was, not well.

The suspense was too drawn out, which is basically the same as using short story techniques in a novel. It doesn’t work. Problems that were minor in a half hour, such as a lack of character development, became glaringly obvious in an hour format.

Today, his half hour show is remembered more fondly than his hour show.

4. It Ruins Characters The Reader Is Emotionally Invested In 

This talks about one very specific twist: the good guy who turns out to be a bad guy. While certain stories do this very well (example: The Usual Suspects), other stories get caught in the paradox.

The problem is the character we like and bonded with during the story didn’t just switch sides—he was never there in the first place. That makes our emotional investment in him feel worthless and all the actions a bit silly.

The world just became a colder place with this reveal and we don’t’ like the story as much.

Example: Angels and Demons 

This is another movie that’s only good the first time you see it. We spend the better part of the movie trying to save the Vatican leaders and getting to know the young forward-thinking priest, McKenna. While the movie is exciting and holds our interest, we discover that McKenna is the one responsible for the kidnappings and murders in the first place. Even worse, he’s not forward-thinking at all. He plans to bring back punishments on scale with the Spanish Inquisition. All that time we spent getting to know him was wasted. This makes the movie great the first time, but not the second.

Twists are a hard thing to pull off, particularly for the new writer. For every story with a great twist, there are many more with twists that don’t quite work. One of the problems with twists is that readers can see them coming a mile away.

This expectation can ruin the story if you let it. Yet if the twist is part of a well-thought out, well-written story, you can expect readers to keep re-reading your books, even after they know how it ends.

About the Author: Devlin Blake believes that craft matters and that great stories need structure and rhythm. Learning structure early in her publishing career changed everything for her. And now she coaches emerging horror and suspense writers on everything from craft to pacing to doing away with writers guilt. Devlin is able to write four books a year thanks to the systems she’s created in her writing life. Get free access to her best systems for writing your novel in between work, life and family, here.

How To Set Up A Blog Book Tour

NOTE: this is a guest post from Anni Fife, author of LUKE’S Redemption. Enjoy! –jen 

I’m a debut author, so when the reality slapped me in the face that I needed to organize the launch and publicity for my first novel, I broke out in a cold sweat: I knew nothing from nothing, and I needed to learn fast.

Completing your first novel, having it accepted by a reputable publisher (or professionally self-publishing), sweating through the editing process, contributing creative input on the cover, writing taglines and blurbs, dedications and acknowledgments, selecting favorite excerpts—this is the rollicking ride new authors love (and probably more experienced ones too!) It’s all driven by a breathless excitement at seeing your novel become a reality, and a nervous anticipation while awaiting your upcoming release date.

But somewhere between signing off on your final galley and receiving your formatted arcs, you have to start thinking about your launch and publicity. In fact, you needed to have started laying the groundwork a lot sooner. Jennifer Blanchard has mentioned numerous times that it is never too soon to create your author platform and start building your brand. Listen to her!

The basics you need are a website and a Facebook author page. Both should clearly identify your brand and be written in the style of your author voice. Once you have these—and there are plenty of informative websites and books offering advice on how to approach this task—then you can start the long-game of building your followers.

You need to be seen out-and-about on social media platforms, posting interesting stuff, commenting on other authors’ and readers’ posts, and sharing interesting blogs. And don’t forget, you need to be writing interesting content for your own blog.

Okay, enough about that. Let’s talk about Blog Tours.

What is a Blog Tour?

A specific period of time when your book is promoted across selected websites and blogs that are relevant to your target audience. The time can vary from one day to a week, a few weeks or even longer. The duration of your tour is based on the goal of your promotion.

A blog tour is like a book signing tour, except you are doing it online. It works for authors who are located in remote areas, have limited funds, or may be shy when it comes to public speaking. The fundamental aim of blog tours is to build relationships with your potential readers and industry influencers.

Blog tours do not necessarily spike sales. Their main success lies in increasing awareness of your book and your author name.

What are the different types of Blog Tours?

A regular Blog Tour includes content from your Media Kit (details below) and a unique article. This can be anything from an interview with the author or characters from your book, an interesting essay about your novel or about writing in general.

The blog host guides the content and tone. Often the blog host has daily or general themes that you need to accommodate. Don’t be shy to offer blog hosts unique ideas for your post, as well.

PRO TIP: Bloggers love exclusive and original content that fits their site guidelines 

Make sure your promotional company, or the blogger you are approaching, is aware you are willing to provide unique, original content. This will increase your chances of securing quality blogs stops.

Blog tours range from a few days to months.  Example: I have a four-month tour booked with one blog stop a week. The goal is to keep my name in the public eye over a sustained period of time. I selected this route to address my debut author status. I decided it was equally important to market my name as well as my book.

There are three main types of blog book tours:

  • A Book Blast is a one-day tour where you send the same content out over multiple blogs. Aim for at least 20 blogs. It is usually used for a book release day, a cover reveal, or an event like a one-day promotion or Blog Hop. The idea is to try and saturate as many blogs as possible with your promotional content. Some promotional companies also offer Twitter Blasts where they blast approximately six tweets to their followers over one day.
  • A Blurb Blitz Tour is like an extended Book Blast. For the duration of the tour, you stop on a different blog each day. The content for each blog is the same, and usually consists of your book cover, a blurb, a selection of excerpts, an author bio and picture, and your social media and buy links. This is the ideal tour to publicize a new release or to build awareness of your book in the weeks prior to your release.
  • A Review Tour offers blog hosts the opportunity to review your book. Credible reviews are difficult to come by so this is a great tour to receive guaranteed reviews of your book. Be aware that guaranteed reviews do not equate to guaranteed good reviews. However, as you are paying for the promotion, a reviewer will normally agree not to post a review that is less than three stars until after the tour is finished. Each stop usually also includes material from your media kit.

Note: Amazon has changed its rules for posting reviews, and it is possible that they might delete reviews received from a paid review tour.

Selecting a suitable blog tour

Promotional companies offer a variety of tours, but generally they are a derivative of the tours I have described above.

When booking a tour, it is important to be clear about what you want to achieve. List your goals and select the tour that most meets your needs. Ensure that it falls in with your launch or promotional plan and rollout schedule.

Giveaways

Most blog tours are accompanied by a giveaway competition where authors offer readers the opportunity to win a copy of their book, a gift voucher, a selection of swag, or other items. To enter the giveaway, the reader is offered a selection of tasks to complete, from interacting with the author’s social media to joining their mailing list.

There is no doubt that giveaways do increase traffic to your blog stop. The value of your giveaway is dependent on the size of your pocket and your feelings about giveaways in general. Personally, I prefer small giveaways. A valuable giveaway skirts too close to bribery for me.

There is also an opportunity to offer a prize to your blog hosts. I like this, as it is a great opportunity to thank your blog hosts.

How do you set up your blog tour?

There are numerous companies that specialize in book promotional tours. A lot of them tend to concentrate on a specific genre. Don’t be shy to ask your network of author friends for recommendations. If you fancy a couple of different companies, follow them for a while on social media and see how effective you find them.

Once you have made a selection, it’s as simple as making a booking. Prices are fairly reasonable and clearly displayed on their websites.

PRO TIP: You need to book your tour at least six to eight weeks in advance.

The following two recommendations are promotional companies that specialize in romance that I have personally had dealings with:

  • Goddess Fish Promotions–I selected Goddess Fish Promotions for my debut release. They came highly recommended from my publisher and author friends. I’ve found them to be reliable and efficient. But their banners are boring! If I use them again, I will request more interesting banners. Note: Several days ago they informed me they have hired a graphics artist to improve their banners.
  • Magic of Book Promotions–this company came highly recommended. Tami Adams is very hands-on, and I found her helpful in the quoting stage. GFP were more suitable for my needs but I wouldn’t hesitate to use Tami in the future.

Organizing your own blog tour

If your budget is tight (or non-existent) don’t panic. It just means you have to work harder.

PRO TIP: Start as far in advance as possible.

  • Search for blogs that are relevant to your genre and start interacting with them. Follow the blogger’s social media links, and get a feel for the style and taste of the blogger. If you have an idea for a guest post, write to the blogger and suggest it to them. Write a succinct query letter that clearly states who you are, what you would like from the blogger, and what you have to offer. Include information about your book and a brief excerpt. Don’t forget to indicate to the blogger that you are familiar with their blog.
  • Ask your author network to recommend blogs sites they have appeared on. Don’t be shy to ask them to recommend you to these bloggers.
  • Connect with other authors–A lot of authors have their own blogs and use them to spotlight other authors. If you think one is suitable for your book, request a guest spot. Most are very amenable. If you are a debut author, ask for help. I promise you, you’ll receive it.
  • Find the most influential bloggers with the largest traffic. Look at the amount of comments posts generate. They should average around eight. If they are consistently less than eight or zero, avoid them. Their traffic is not worth your time. Often one large blog will lead you to another as they often share each other’s links. They all need content. Don’t be cautious about offering yours.
  • Write up a schedule and start to plan your tour. Limit your stops to one per day. (Unless you are planning a book blast.) All your stops do not have to offer exclusive content, you can mix it up (though it is highly recommended). Alternate unique guest posts with general book spotlights. Don’t underestimate the amount of work it takes to write the content required for unique guest spots.

I suggest sending requests to around 35 to 40 bloggers with the goal of securing 10 to 12 spots. If you get more, great!

PRO TIP: When organizing a blog tour, don’t make a request for a review the primary aim of your query letter. Reviews are like hen’s teeth and bloggers are inundated with requests. I suggest you separate review requests from your blog tour. If you get them, consider them cream. (I send out requests for reviews on a near daily basis. It is time consuming but it is a numbers game. The more requests you send, the higher your odds of getting a ‘yes’.)

Your Blog Tour Is Happening. Here Are Some Tips

  • Inform all of your blog hosts that your book is available for review if they so choose. Ensure you have a copy of it in different formats—PDF, MOBI and EPUB are the most popular.
  • Send your content requirement to each blog well in advance. Be meticulous. Your reputation is on the line.
  • Once your tour starts, work hard to promote it across your social media platforms and don’t hesitate to ask your friends and network groups to share your social media posts and re-tweet your tweets. Remember: the more you help promote their promotions, the more they will be inclined to help you when you need it.
  • Most blog hosts will post on Facebook and Tweet your blog post on the day you are scheduled to appear. Make sure you share their posts and re-tweet their tweets.
  • Visit the blog early on post day–thank your host and welcome his/her readers in the comments. Let them know you welcome their questions.
  • Check your blog post hourly. Try and respond to comments as quickly as possible. Respond to each and every comment, even if it is just to thank the reader for popping by.
  • Remember to post a sign off comment on the blog at the end of the night. Thank the host and readers again. Inform the readers of where you will be stopping next.
  • Arrange your own giveaway. I suggest you run it for the duration of your tour. You can use a company like Rafflecopter to organize it for you.

Your Media Kit

You need to have the following content available for all of your blog hosts:

  • Book cover image
  • Blurb (150 to 200 words)
  • A selection of excerpts–three is good. If you write erotic or erotica, make sure you have a combination of excerpts that include a PG-rated version. (Around 300 words)
  • A biography (150 words)
  • A picture of yourself
  • Your website
  • Your Facebook author page link
  • Your Amazon author page and/or Goodreads profile page
  • Any additional social media links–Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
  • Links to buy your book

Share With Us

Phew! That’s a lot of information, but I hope it helps you. If you have any questions, comment away and I will answer wherever I can.

lukesredemption_w11043_750About the Author: Anni Fife left a successful career in television to fulfill her lifelong passion, writing. In the space of one month, she shut her business, packed up her city life, and moved to a small seaside village to begin her new life…as an author. LUKE’s Redemption is Anni’s debut novel. Anni loves spending hours on the beach searching for pansy shells, more hours drinking red wine with her gals, and the most hours writing steamy romance novels filled with hot alpha men, and the sassy intelligent women they can’t live without. She is currently working on her second novel, GRAY’s Promise.

How To Go From Idea to Published Novel: A Timeline

NOTE: This is a guest post from my client, Zara Quentin, who just published her debut novel, Airwoman. Enjoy! –jen

How long does it take to write a novel? Years? Decades? You’ve probably been writing for some time–you may even have more than one ‘bottom-drawer’ novel (AKA: practice novel), right?

That’s how it was for me—years of writing drafts I couldn’t bring myself to revise, because I didn’t think it was worth the time or the energy.

In 2015, all that changed. I decided I was going to publish a book in 2016. I’d been fooling around with my writing dream for years, expecting a published novel to be many more years in the making—if it ever happened at all.

I remember making that decision—it changed the way I thought about writing.

Here is a timeline of how I wrote and published, Airwoman: Book 1:

The First Three Months: Idea to Planning (August to October 2015)

I distinctly remember getting the idea for Airwoman. My main character, Jade Gariq (though I didn’t know her name back then), came to me one dark and stormy night in mid-August 2015. She perched on my windowsill, wings and all. She was running from something, seeking refuge. She intrigued me.

Soon after that, in early September, Story Coach, Jennifer Blanchard, ran a free 7-day story planning challenge in the 1% Writers Facebook Group (which I’m a member of) and I started to flesh out my idea based on the character who had visited me that night. I really enjoyed the challenge and decided I’d try NaNoWriMo, which was a few months away. So when Jennifer opened up her NaNoWriMo 6-week story development course, I decided to get on board.

It was around this time that I made the decision to publish my novel in 2016. Call it a mid-life crisis moment, but I suddenly realized that, after having my third child, life wasn’t going to get any less busy. Not in the short term. If I wanted to pursue my writing, I just had to do it. I had to make time for it.

A few days after I’d made that decision, I got an email from Jennifer, revealing her Novel By Next Year course, which involved having her as a coach and guide through the planning, drafting and publishing stages.

It felt like fate. I was in.

So for the rest of September and October, I planned Airwoman: Book 1 until I had a scene roadmap of the entire novel. I had never planned to this extent before—but instead of being bored by the planning, it made me excited to get started writing.

At the end of October, I moved (somewhat unexpectedly) with my family from New Zealand (where we had been living for two years) back to Australia. With three young children, and a house full of stuff, it was full on. In consultation with Jennifer, I put the roadmap aside for a couple of weeks, let NaNoWriMo pass me by, and focused on the move.

Sometimes, life happens, right?

First Draft – Facing the Blank Page (November 2016 – January 2016)

It was about mid-November before I was able to focus on writing again. I took a week or so to look over my scene roadmap again and tweak it in a few places. Then I took a deep breath and dove into writing the first draft.

The first draft is a daunting time for a writer–facing the blank page. However, with a detailed roadmap, it was easier than ever. I didn’t wonder what to write in the next scene. Instead, I thought about the detail of it. I watched the movie of the scene inside my head, then transcribed it onto the page.

And so I wrote. Every day.

Every single day for about two months. I wrote every evening after the kids had gone to bed, during their nap-time (if they went down). I snatched whatever time I could for writing.

I had a goal of writing 500 words per day at least–a small goal, not too daunting. Usually once 500 words is written, I’ll write a lot more. But on an off-day, I gave myself permission to hit 500 words then stop.

I finished the first draft just after New Year, in early January 2016. The first draft came out to about 80,000 words.

My Manuscript Rested – I Did Not (January – February 216)

Although I already had some ideas about how I could improve my first draft, I was determined to give the manuscript a proper rest so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. I had a six week break before I read through it again.

But I was not idle during this time.

Instead, I set up my author website, a blog and my social media accounts. I developed my brand and the focus for my blog. I worked on, not just creating the platforms, but being active on those forums regularly.

I announced to the world I was a writer and that I was publishing a book. This took a lot of courage–finally confessing to being a writer and giving myself a public deadline.

Suddenly, my decision back in September 2015 seemed to loom. October wasn’t all that far away and I had to finish a book. A whole book! What was I thinking?

Taking A Deep Breath. And Plunging Into Revisions (March to June 2016)

In March, I dared to read through my first draft. Happily, it wasn’t as bad as I feared, though it definitely needed work.

During the first draft phase, Jennifer had been reading through my draft week by week and sending feedback, which I’d held over for the revision phase as I’d wanted to just get the first draft down on the page. She then read through the whole draft again and provided me with copious notes, which I put together with my own to make my revision schedule.

After a first read through, I read it again and made more notes about what needed to change. Then I made a revision roadmap—listing each scene, the changes that needed to be made and a timeline of events. I also drew up some maps of my story world, which helped me to keep track of the action throughout the story.

I learned a lot from the revision process. Firstly, though I would consider world-building to be one of my strengths, more often than not, it didn’t make its way onto the page. I often had my characters moving through a blank canvas and, though I saw the backdrop in my head, readers wouldn’t have that advantage. During my revisions, I needed to set the scene.

I also had to flesh out characterization and character motivations in some cases. A few events needed to be switched around or fleshed out for greater impact.

I also learned that revision wasn’t a chore of a task, as I had always imagined it would be. I actually enjoyed the opportunity to improve the story. That became my goal—working out how to make the story better.

Once I had completed the revision roadmap, I dove into the redraft (the second draft). During this phase, I went through my manuscript scene by scene, taking what I could from the first draft and altering, rewriting or scrapping things depending on what needed to be done. This took most of March and April.

Once that was finished, I read it through again and fixed some consistency errors, made a few more tweaks.

Then, as luck would have it, at the end of June, my family and I had to move interstate (again, somewhat unexpectedly). That took another couple of weeks out of the writing process as I managed yet another move. Luckily, I was in a position to send what I considered the third draft to a developmental editor and some Beta Readers.

An Outside Opinion: Biting My Fingernails and More Revision (July to September 2016)

It was a nerve-wracking time, sending out my manuscript to people I didn’t know and who hadn’t been with me on this journey so far. When they didn’t immediately get back to me, I feared the worst. What if they hated it and were trying to find a way to phrase it nicely? I had to remind myself that they also had busy schedules.

In the meantime, I started to liaise with to my cover designer. It was an interesting process because-–despite wanting something amazing–I really had no idea of what I wanted on the cover. My cover was in his hands! Thankfully, he came back with a number of ideas, which we then discussed so that he understood what I liked and didn’t like, and where we would go with it.

One-by-one, at the end of July and early August, the editor and Beta Readers came back to me with their comments. Despite my fears, their feedback was encouraging. They’d liked the story, but showed me ways to improve it. I really grew as a writer through this feedback. In pointing out where the manuscript needed improvement, I learned both what I’m good at, and what I need to work on. Their advice helped me to improve Airwoman, but I believe it will also help me to improve my future writing too.

At this point, I set down to revise my manuscript again, and also set a date for publication: October 25th! The date loomed on my calendar as I realized how little time there was left.

I revised through August until I felt the manuscript didn’t need any more tweaking. In early September, I got to proofreading. In September, I also worked with the cover designer to finalize the cover. At the end of September the final manuscript went to the formatter to format it for print and Kindle.

a4-airwoman-coverAll Systems Go for Launch (October 2016)

When I picked October 25 for the publication date, I had hoped to have a month to promote the book before it came out. In the end, I had about three weeks as I waited until the final cover, the pre-order was set up on Amazon (along with relevant links) and a free preview was available on my site.

During this time, I went back and forth with the formatter, making sure the interior was as I wanted it, and correcting those last typos (always some!). I set up my author profile on Amazon and Goodreads. I also started blogging about the inspiration behind my book, sharing photos and contacting book bloggers and reviewers to garner interest in reviewing it.

I set up a Virtual Launch Party on Facebook and did some guest posting, trying to get word out about my novel. The marketing was new for me, but I found I enjoyed it—it was a challenge to think about ways to promote my book.

Finally, the big day came. I held my book in my hands. It went out into the world where other people could read it. It was the height of vulnerability—allowing complete strangers to read and comment on my book which, as every writer would know, is like baring their very soul for others to comment o.

But I did it. In a little over a year, I published my debut novel, Airwoman: Book 1. It felt so good.

That’s Just the Beginning

It was one hell of a year! I’ve grown more in the last year as a writer, than I had in the many years of writing before that. By finally giving myself permission to invest in my dream, I took a big leap in learning—about story craft, about myself as a writer and about the publication process. I’m very lucky that I had Jennifer Blanchard to hold my hand throughout the process. Without her, I doubt I would have come so far so soon. Having someone to bounce ideas off, read my work, encourage and guide me has been invaluable.

I’m pleased to have achieved my goal, but this is not the end. I’m not a one-book writer. Obviously Airwoman: Book 1 is the first in a series. I’ve got a series overview fleshed out and have planned the second book. I’m itching to get started on it.

The writer’s journey is an exciting ride, and I’m only at the beginning.

Share With Us

How far along are you on your writer journey? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

About the Author: Zara Quentin is the author of Airwoman: Book 1. She inherited a love of travel from her parents, who took her and her sister on trips to the United States, Europe, and Asia as children. Zara now resides in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. She is currently working on the next instalment in the Airwoman series. You can read the first three chapters of Airwoman for free here.

———–

If you want help taking your story from idea to published, just like Zara did, be sure to apply to work with me and my team of self-publishing pros. You can fill out the application here.

5 Ways to Plot Your Novel 

NOTE: This is a guest post from award-winning author, Janice Hardy. 

I’m fortunate that plotting is a lot of fun for me. Figuring out goals and tough choices for my characters is one of my favorite aspects of writing, and I love putting my characters in impossible situations just to see how they’ll get out if it.

Not every writer has as much fun potting, however, so if you’re a writer who finds plotting more chore than joyride, I’ve discovered a few tricks to make it easier. And hopefully, a little bit more fun.

1. Follow the Problem

Some stories revolve around a major problem that must be solved or else. To solve this big problem, the protagonist must first overcome a series of smaller problems along the way. When we look at what the protagonist has to do at each step, the plot emerges. Most of the major turning points of the plot will be steps to solving this big problem, and they’ll form a logical path from start to finish.

To plot a problem-centric story, start with your core conflict. Think about what caused it, what it’s doing to the main characters and story world, and what has to be done to fix it. Let the problems guide you to your plot and follow the steps that take your characters from the page one problem all the way to the resolution on the final page.

Great for: Writers who like to focus on what happens in the story, and those who find it easier to create the situations of the story first. It’s also good for plot-focused stories where the events are more important than the character journey, such as thrillers or mysteries.

2. Follow the Characters

Since a character’s choices drive the plot, focusing on what she wants and why will lead you through your story. These plots often focus more on how a character grows and changes, and the choices that shape those changes. The major turning points will revolve around your character’s needs and desires, hopes and dreams, and what she does to achieve those needs.

To follow your character, start with the one thing your protagonist wants or needs and think about the things she will (or won’t) do to meet that need. What impossible choices will she face? What will push her to her breaking point? What must she do that she’s never been brave enough to do before?

Great for: Character-driven writers and stories where the focus is on the characters and how they grow. It’s also good for stories with strong character arcs that illustrate themes or explore human nature.

3. Follow the Individual Arcs

If plotting out an entire novel seems daunting, try taking it in smaller chucks. Plots forms arcs—beginning > middle > ending. The steps of the plot follow this same structure, so plotting your novel one small arc at a time allows you to move forward without having to figure out what happens farther into the novel.

If you think about your novel in small story arcs, start with your opening scene (or favorite moment–no one says you have to plot in order). Figure out where that leads and how that problem is solved. Once your protagonist finishes that arc, take the next problem and do the same thing. Look at your various arcs and determine how they link together to tell your larger tale.

Great for: Pantsers who don’t want to know how everything works out ahead of time. It’s also good for writers who imagine their stories in vignettes and prefer to write the scenes that excite them the most first.

4. Follow the Mystery

Some plots exist solely to answer a question, such as, “Who killed the baker?” Exploring the story questions of who, how, and why create the key moments of the plot. The plot exists to reveal a secret or find a truth, and the characters work with–and against–each other to that end.

If you have a mystery plot, start with the mystery and decide what questions the protagonist will have to ask to solve that mystery. Who will she need to talk to? Where will she need to go? What lies might she encounter? What half-truths might distract her?

Great for: Writers who enjoy the puzzle side of plotting, and who want to keep readers in the dark as long as possible. It’s also good for genres such as mysteries or suspense, where the focus in on the mystery more than the characters.

5. Follow the Emotion

For novels that are all about the emotions (such as romances), the plot focuses on the relationships and how the characters interact. The key turning points of the plot will be emotional ones, usually denoting important steps in that relationship or internal growth (or lack thereof).

If you have an emotional story, start with your characters and how they feel, and explore how their emotions will change. Who are the people contributing to their lives? How do those people affect their emotional states? What emotion do they wish to get rid of? How do they want to feel?

Great for: Writers who want to explore relationships and how people interact. It’s also good for romances or any story that seeks to explore an emotional truth.

There’s no right way to write, so don’t worry if your process follows a different path than most. If an aspect of a story appeals to you and inspires you to write that story, let it guide you to the perfect plot the way you like to write.

Share With Us

What kind of writer are you?

———– 

About the Author: Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy

pynw-2x3Looking for tips on plotting your novel? Check out my book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you develop your idea into a novel. For a hands-on approach, try my Planning Your Novel Workbook.  Revising your novel? Check out my newest book, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

“Will It Ever Get Any Easier?” One Writer’s Journey Into Craft

NOTE: This is a guest post by Stephanie Raffelock 

The very first novel that I ever wrote was one big face-plant, replete with a black eye. Like so many writers before me, I believed that because I’d read a lot of books, I could write one. I mean, how hard can it be, right?

A story analysis with writing guru, Larry Brooks, revealed a crucial missing element to my efforts. My 65,000-word narrative was not even remotely close to an actual story. Enter Jennifer Blanchard, courtesy of an introduction via Mr. Brooks.

She remains one of the most important relationships in my writing life.

Deciding to work with Jennifer was a big investment, both in time and in money. Nonetheless my eyes had been opened to the fact that creating a novel was going to involve a little bit more than just reading one.

In fact, I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t realized learning the craft of something before claiming it as your art was arrogant as well as ignorant. So it was with a fair amount of humility that I gave myself to becoming a student of story. I gave myself to the pursuit of craft.

 Enter the Process

Meeting on the phone one time per week, Jennifer started me out by brainstorming a dozen “what ifs.” This was the how she ushered me into “discovering my story.”

Writers have lots and lots of ideas, but the story must be discovered, courted, wooed into existence. Each week she took me to the next step. Concept and Premise. Synopsis. Character background. Plot Points. Pinch Points. Resolve. And then we started the beat sheet, which would grow into a detailed scene list. As the structure came together, I created a personal code by which I worked: Complete the assignment. Finish on time. Don’t push back. Stay open.

By the time I was given the green light to begin writing my prose, the process was easeful. I knew my story, knew exactly where I was going and I skated to the finish line. I completed two sets of revisions and then sent it off to a professional copy editor.

In the end, I birthed–with the help of a wise “mid-wife”–my first real novel, a novel that garnered me representation with a good New York City literary agency. 

Novel Number Two

Yes, I worked with Jennifer again, certain that I would need her expertise to help birth another creation. On this go around however, she pushed. She held back answers, offering instead more questions. It was a more difficult task, but again I completed a novel. However on this novel, I decided that the execution, meaning the narrative, was off somehow, so I shelved it, promising that I would return and revisit once my ideas about the piece had cooked and simmered a bit more.

I have no issue whatsoever with shelving something that doesn’t feel like it’s my best. I am not in the business of saving or salvaging work. I crank out about 150,000 words per year between novel writing and essays and I know that not everything I write is going to be good.

Third Time’s A Charm

Jennifer guided novel number three into existence with just four phone calls. From there, I sprinted to the finish line. I like this manuscript a lot. I know that it’s a good story. It is on its first set of revisions and my goal is to have it on my agent’s desk by December 1. It is my Plan B novel.

Here’s the thing about traditional publishing; first of all it moves at glacial speed. Second, there are no guarantees that your first novel will sell, so you need to keep writing and keep writing well. Sometimes your first novel sells because your third one did and the publisher decided to go back and pick up the first one. I am in it for the long haul, so I will keep writing.

Integration (AKA: “Will This Ever Get Any Easier?”) 

I will start a new novel in January 2017, unless I am lucky enough to be re-writing one of my first two novels because a publisher wants it. The next project will likely begin with a phone call to Jennifer. I’ll get to go through my synopsis and each plot point with her. Then I’ll be on my own. After writing three novels, I’m to a place where I understand craft and how to use it in my own story.

Most good authors have a team. Go-to people with whom they can discuss and hash out their works. Jennifer will always be a part of my team.

Here’s What Makes You Integrate the Craft and Novel Development Process

Here’s what will help you integrate craft: Repetition and study. Read all of Larry Brooks’ books and all of Jennifer’s blog posts on story. Participate in her Facebook group. And find a few blogs that emphasize craft and sign up for those too. I like Steven Pressfield, Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. Take workshops and keep reading the novelists that you admire.

In the beginning, working in the long-form format of the novel will seem daunting. As you keep studying and practicing it becomes easier. Then you’ll be able to see for yourself when your Midpoint is thin, and you will begin to notice when you need more conflict and tension. It will occur to you one day that dialogue is in fact, action.

But you have to be committed for the long haul. You never stop being a student of story. You never stop investing in yourself. If the first novel doesn’t sell, you don’t cry, you create a Plan B.

 Eventually it gets easier and you start to feel like a pro, because honestly writing novels is not for the faint of heart. It requires the strength and courage of determination and tenacity. It demands that you keep learning the same thing over and over again, each time on a deeper level.

To some this may sound too hard. For me, it sounds like a perfect way to spend my days. I say of prayer of thanks each morning that I get to get up and write today!

About the Author: Stephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. Her debut novel is represented by Dystel Goderich Literary Management in New York. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter and receive an appreciation gift: “The Writers Dinner,” a unique vision for an entertaining evening. 

 

I’m humbled to hear my students and clients sharing experiences like the one you just read in Stephanie’s guest post. My mission is to EMPOWER you to UNDERSTAND and be able to effectively IMPLEMENT craft in your stories. 

I want you to walk away from working with me–regardless of if you’re doing private coaching or a group workshop–and feel like you could do this again, all on your own. (Not that you have to be on your own, but I want you to be able to be.)

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year and DON’T want to waste your 50,000 words, but want to write 50,000 words that you can actually do something with, be sure to check out my sixth-annual NaNo prep workshop, Novel University: NaNo Edition. It’s an idea-to-draft workshop that uses the power of story planning combined with the momentum of NaNoWriMo to help you say, “2016 is the year I FINALLY wrote a cohesive novel!”

Not only will this workshop help you plan and develop your story before you write it starting November 1, but it will give you a REPEATABLE PROCESS that you can use with every story you write from here on out. You’ll know what questions to ask, what information you need to know, and how it all works together.

Process and an integration of craft are PRICELESS when it comes to being a successful novelist.

>> Learn more about Novel University: NaNo Edition here 

The Most Important Ingredient in Every Novel (And One Proven Way to Deliver It to Readers)

Note from Jen: This is a guest post from my badass bud, David Villalva. He’s awesome. You need to check out his site here

The epiphany struck in the bathroom.

I stood in front of the mirror as my inner voice revealed I was meant to write novels.

That revelation forced me to unleash the story living inside my head. I wrote everyday by the seat of my pants, and less than a year later, I celebrated the completion of a first draft.

During my first read through, it took me all of a few minutes to realize my story sucked all kinds of suck.

That’s because my story lacked focus. Every character drifted without purpose. Uh oh, I’d written a two-hundred plus page hopeless opus.

This enlightenment encouraged me to start looking into authors who had actually written and published novels. I ended up investing in an author’s lecture series where he asked one simple question:

“What’s the number one thing that readers want in a novel?”

I froze because I hadn’t considered that question. Of course, I knew why I wanted to write my story, but what would future readers want from it?

Did they want my story to inspire them? Educate them? Change them?

The author’s lecture shared the answer, but all I needed to do was look inside the very definition of the word, “story.”

Story (noun): An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Novelists Must First and Foremost Entertain Readers

People want a form of escapism. They’re begging you to transport them into your created world, but it better be entertaining upon arrival.

Because if it falls short of their expectations, they’ll hop back into reality, and look for another novel that offers the right recipe of leisure. (Or cruise Facebook, Twitterest, Instachat, uh, you get the point…)

Quick poll:

  • Why did you read the last novel you purchased or borrowed?
  • Did you read it to be inspired by the author?
  • To be changed?

Come on, you probably read its synopsis, thought it looked fun, and leapt inside. If you got more than entertainment, that was a cherry on top.

Entertainment is the greatest common denominator among fiction readers.

Except far too many emerging novelists misplace the importance of this core ingredient. Heck, even well-known authors end up getting sidetracked during portions of their story.

Ever heard this one about a popular or trending novel? “Just get through the first fifty pages because then it gets really good.”

Do you really want someone talking about your story like that?

Of course not! Your goal is to captivate the reader on page one, and keep them hooked every chapter thereafter.

Fortunately, there’s a proven approach that you can use to increase your chances of giving readers what they want.

Explore the Proven Structure Living Inside Novels

Novels are pieces of art but even the most creative art often comes to life within a proven framework.

We all know that novels have a hook and climax, right? Well, it turns out the hook and climax are just two of the plot milestones inside a novel’s plot structure. There’s also a proven scene structure that moves your readers and characters throughout an overarching plotline.

I recommend emerging novelists explore the principles of story structure for the following reasons:

1. Readers expect to be entertained by a well-designed story.

People subconsciously know stories should have a special rhythm to them.

Readers have been encouraged to receive stories in a certain way because story structure has been infused into novels for decades. So audiences expect to experience plot milestones at specific intervals, meaning plot points occur at well-timed moments to deliver maximum impact.

And then there’s scene structure which helps pace readers to inhale, exhale, process, and absorb all of those special moments in your story.

2. Story structure focuses your ideas.

It’s a beautiful thing to be blessed with exciting story ideas except it can feel like a curse when you’re not sure how to use them.

Story structure can help you arrange your ideas inside a novel’s proven foundation. Don’t worry, this isn’t like painting by numbers because that approach tells you what colors to use. Story structure is more comparable to building a house.

Every house needs a solid foundation to make sure the big bad wolf can’t blow it down. But once that foundation is established, its interior and exterior can be customized in unique ways.

3. Story structure can solidify your mastery of the craft.

You may have instinctively picked up story structure through years of reading and writing.

I was amazed the first time I compared one of my drafts against story structure’s basic principles. That was the moment in my storytelling journey where I became lucid to how the pieces fit.

What if you’re already using some story structure principles without realizing it? Better yet, why not discover if story structure’s full potential can help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world?

Create Your Story With Purpose

People read novels to be entertained. It’s that simple.

So let’s take advantage of a proven approach that helps us give readers the entertainment they’re seeking.

Fortunately, story structure can help you, too! It can focus your ideas, solidify principles you’re instinctively using already, and help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world.

Straight up, story structure isn’t going anywhere. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re open to going anywhere with it.

About the Author: David Villalva helps novelists write stories that connect with readers. Connect with him HERE to receive a free visual guide that illustrates the plot and scene structures used in best-selling novels and screenplays.

Why You Need to Start Trusting the Process (And How To Do It)

NOTE: this is a guest post from Mary DeRosa Hughes of the Grateful Scribe

A few weeks ago, my best friend and fellow writer Kelly called me up on the verge of a panic attack. She was swamped with projects, when one of her clients came to her with an assignment she had no time for: writing employee profiles for a group of highly successful metropolitan realtors. Never one to disappoint a customer, she asked if I could pinch-hit for her.

I had room in my work schedule, so I accepted the assignment. After her breathing returned to normal, she gave me the details.

“They need a full page bio for each realtor. Twenty five of them. In five days.”

So it’s a tight timeline. 

“And you also have to interview everyone. ”

Now it’s a really tight timeline.

Then she hit me with the final piece: “Just a heads up:  they’re insanely busy people.  If you get five minutes of their time, that’d be a serious miracle. As in turning-water-into-wine kind of miracle.”

Uh oh.

Kelly was relieved, but my anxiety-fueled monkey mind was off to the races.

I have to track down twenty five real estate agents who barely have time to breathe, let alone talk to me. And if they do give me five minutes of their time, they’ll probably be hostile because they could have used those precious minutes to sell sixteen condo units. I’ll never get anything good from them, so the profiles will be horrible. Why did I say I would do this?

But then the chatter stopped. And I shifted from questioning my sanity to questioning my lack of faith, in myself and in the Universe.

I have been writing professionally for almost 20 years. I believe infinite wisdom is at work in everything. The Universe sent me this assignment for a reason.

So why do I think I can’t handle this?  I have to embrace it and trust the process.  Believing fully that everything will work out.

After pondering that for a moment,  I logged into my email, pulled up the contact numbers for every agent and started dialing.

My initial call was simply to set a time for us to chat. But surprisingly, quite a few of them agreed to let me interview them right on the spot, and they offered up some great info. Many of them even spent well over the coveted five minutes with me.
Several days later, I turned in the project, feeling not only relief, but a renewed sense of confidence, in both myself and the Universe.

Learning to trust the process is great for everything from supporting your work in the world to your mental and physical health. But what exactly can you do to snap into “trust autopilot” when faced with scenarios that are unfamiliar, nerve wracking or downright scary?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Inventory Your “Work Outs” (and I don’t mean time at the gym)
– How many times have things you initially doubted and stressed over actually worked out? Probably more often than not, right?

Keep a list of all the successes you’ve had when you just relaxed, took action and let the Universe orchestrate the “How.” When you feel like your sense of trust is headed for the exit, grab that list and read it.

Stop Fearing The Fear – As long as you are learning, growing and trying new things, you will encounter at least some level of fear at the outset of whatever you’re doing.

And contrary to what your churning stomach and racing heart may seem to indicate, you’re not going to die. Honestly.

You are actually becoming more alive by facing – and conquering – these uncomfortable feelings.

Curtail the “Cursed Hows” – You’ve set your intention. You’ve put positive energy around the situation. You believe that the Universe will deliver an awesome end result.

But…you can’t stop thinking of how it will all come together. Which people will or won’t cooperate? Where will the money come from? Is this going to take a week? A month? Forever?

When you catch yourself running this tape-loop in your head, stop.

Then remind yourself that you’re dealing with a powerful, loving,  unlimited creative force with riches and resources far beyond what you can imagine.  And all of them will be at your disposal the moment you choose to trust the process.

Share With Us

What steps can you take to learn to trust the process in your own life?

About the Author:

About the Author: Mary DeRosa Hughes is a freelance writer and blogger based in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has been writing professionally for over 18  years, with experience ranging from corporate video scripts and motion picture screenplays to marketing copy and website content. Her short film Anniversary was an Official Selection of the 2013 Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York, U.K.  She is also working on the rewrite of her first fiction novel, and is excited to be releasing her second short film Waiting For Goodbye in the summer of 2016.

If you’re ready to trust the process and want to up-level your writing life and get serious about putting your words out into the world, check out the Bestselling Author Mastermind for high-level accountability and kick-ass motivation. 

Image courtesy of farhad pocha

Here’s A Scene-Writing Exercise You Should Try

Note: This is a guest post from my client, Stephanie Raffelock, a novelist and blogger. Enjoy!–jen

If I possess the virtue of patience, even a little bit, it is deeply hidden under mounds of enthusiasm that doesn’t want to wait around for anything. But recently, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts that has brought me to the place of making friends with the dreaded “patience.”

I have added a step to my writing process and it is serving me well. It has to do with what to do when you get stuck writing a scene, OR how to prevent getting stuck in the first place.

A Scene Development Exercise

As I began novel number five, I did so under the design of structure. I am a huge fan of structure as it relates to story because story without structure isn’t really a story—it’s a narrative or a portrait at best. At worst, it is a ramble.

Student of story, yes I am, but that does not necessarily make me a patient student and I use that disclaimer as I find the main reason people do not do the work of construction and preparation before they write a single word of prose is because they are eager to just start writing and get on with it!  Writers often fall in love with their words, when they should be falling in love with their story.

I feel your pain. I’ve been there. So what was I thinking when I added another “step” to an already lengthy preparation process?

Here’s what I was thinking:  When you write a story, you must be the God of the world you have created. You must know every detail of the place and every detail of the characters you have placed in it. When you do not know all of the details, you might fall back or rely on coincidence and cliché. The thing about coincidence and cliché is that they strip your story of meaning. They are nasty little buggers.

Recently I started writing my new novel and I did so with preparation. I sketched out my concept and premise, wrote a short synopsis, plugged in the milestones (i.e plot points and pinch points) and then backed out of them into my scenes. I have a 40-plus page detailed scene list.

Now you would think that would be enough, but I keep remembering this thing about being the all-seeing, all-knowing God of the world I’ve created. So when I write, I look at the scene I am doing for that day. I know the mission of the scene. I know what the protagonist wants and what stands in their way. I know how the scene will move the story forward. But, as you know, you can see all of that neatly spelled out for you and still wonder how you are going to create a thousand words out of it.

Enter the Yellow Legal Pad. I’ve just looked at my scene for the day and now I pick up my Yellow Legal Pad and I begin to write down every question and every answer I can think of about that scene. Where is it? What time of day is it, exactly? What kind of watch was he wearing that let you know the time? What did he have for breakfast. How is he feeling. Did he sleep well last night. And I go on and on and on.

Now most of those things will never make it into my story, but after several pages of this, the scene (because I already know how it moves the story forward ) is beginning to flesh out. I circle a few things that inspire and inform, and the rest is just the rest. It gets tossed.

I am the God of the world I created and I know everything about every scene and character and that’s why I can write a good story and that’s how I stay un-stuck.

Why This Works

Writing longhand does an interesting thing to your brain. It uses a different part than typing on a keyboard. It slows you down. And when you are slowed down, you become more thoughtful about your creation.

Think about when you first started writing, I’ll bet you were like me. I’ll bet you filled spiral notebooks with everything from lyrics and poetry to short stories and character sketches. I don’t write much longhand these days. I have two computers and a damn iPad and even email myself to remind myself to do stuff!

But I have fallen in love with the Yellow Legal Pad, and yes, it does deserve to be capitalized. I may buy stock in the Yellow Legal Pad company. A couple of them are always sitting on the table next to me when I write in the morning. And interestingly, I look forward to picking them up and riffing on my plot and my characters.

That’s my new step. A new addition to prep.

I love this Robert McKee quote: “Do the work, tell the truth and the results will follow.” The work that he speaks of is preparation. The truth is about how well you know the character so that cliché never exits their mouth onto your page, and the results, well the result is good, tight professional work.

Adding in this one step to my process is making my prose better and it is helping me to tell the most compelling story that I can. Seemed like it was worth sharing.

Share With Us

How do you develop the scenes in your story? 

About the Author: Stephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. Her debut novel is represented by Dystel Goderich Literary Management in New York. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter and receive an appreciation gift: “The Writers Dinner,” a unique vision for an entertaining evening. 

Image courtesy of Jonathan Aquino

Story Structure and Success Mindset for Emerging Novelists

I’m super excited to share that I was interviewed on Lorna Faith’s podcast, Create A Story You Love. We talked about story structure and we covered one of my favorite topics: success mindset.

Grab a snack, prop your feet up and give this a watch.

Want to learn more about Students of Story, the membership site and community I talked about in the podcast? Go here.

How To Make the Most of the Words That Tell Your Story (And Why It Matters)

This guest post from Rachel Starr Thomson is adapted from the new book she co-authored, 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing.

Fatal Flaws FINAL ebook cover

The author’s new book; available now on Amazon.

In the book I recently cowrote with four other editors (including, C.S. Lakin, who has guest posted here before), we wrote an entire chapter on finding (and fixing) pesky adverbs and weasel words. These are words that tell instead of show, that clutter up the page with useless or repetitive information, that make reading a weighty slog instead of an immersion we barely notice because we care so much about the story itself.

The checklist at the end identifies weasel words to look out for excessive or overuse of:

  • Speech tags instead of interspersing with action beats
  • Adverbs overall
  • Prepositional phrases (“He went into the house, picked up the dog, opened the cupboard, took out a beer, and sat down on the couch.”)
  • “To be” verbs (“I was going, he is feeling bad,” etc.)
  • Superfluous words and phrases (“just, very, started to, began to,” etc.)
  • “Telling words” (“he knew, he felt, he thought, he wondered,” etc.)
  • Bodily movements that can feel tedious and repetitive

But you might wonder why all this even matters. Are we just being pedantic? Who cares what words are used as long as the story gets told?

Fair question. In fact, though, you might as well ask why directors don’t just shoot their movies on an iPhone. The story would still get told, right?

Truth is, words matter. They are your camera. And your script. And the skill of your actors. And your soundtrack.

Sentence-level choices affect the way your entire story is conveyed. You won’t get across a high concept using gutter speech. You can have the best story in the world and still sabotage it with poor word choices.

Clutter

One of the best ways to identify poor word choice is to figure out how much clutter your manuscript is dragging around. You know that guy who keeps so much junk in his car—flyers, old fast food wrappers, empty water bottles—that he can’t give you a lift without shoving a backseat’s worth of crap over? You don’t want your book to feel like that.

This is where excessive verbiage comes in. The “to be” verbs; obtrusive “tellers” like he thought, he knew, he felt; overused prepositional phrases: all of these just cause clutter. Readers have to shove them over to find the story.

Write tight. Use strong, simple verbs (he ran, not he moved quickly and rapidly.) Imply some actions (he grabbed a beer from the fridge after work, not when he got home from work and entered the door, he crossed the floor, went into the kitchen, opened the fridge door, and grabbed a beer). Get out from between your character and your reader (where was he? not he wondered where he was.)

Clutter and cadence are closely related. Cadence is improved through use of poetic technique—alliteration and assonance, meter and rhyme. But it starts with cutting the clutter.

Dialogue

Adverbs tend to show up most in dialogue. They’re scorned not because they are bad words, in and of themselves, but because they tend toward telling where writers could show with just a bit more effort. Nine times of ten, the dialogue itself will convey “angrily” or “sadly” or “nervously.” And it should.

But dialogue is a pit for all kinds of poor word choices. A few more pointers:

Use said: it’s invisible. Shouted, whined, pouted, shrugged, laughed, gritted, seethed, cajoled, and implored are not (and half of those aren’t even types of speech. Nobody can shrug a sentence).

You don’t need to use speech tags for every line. Use paragraphing and action beats to let readers know who’s speaking and keep the dialogue anchored in the real world, not floating out in white space.

Beware of “body emotions.” You know the kind: people expressing emotion through body language like raised eyebrows, pursed lips, and the ubiquitous hand run through hair (although I can never figure out what that one is supposed to convey). Some of this is great.  A lot of it is distracting. Imagine a camera that’s always focused on the actor’s nose. That’s the effect.

Metaphors and Similes

I love language. I am a writer at least as much because of Emily Dickinson as Nancy Drew. So I love what a good metaphor brings to a scene. But wow, can you get this one wrong.

As an editor I frequently point out the effect metaphors and similes have on the whole atmosphere of a scene—on its emotional impact, if you will. If a scene is supposed to convey majesty and terror, don’t compare the chill that your character experiences to brain freeze from swallowing a milkshake too fast. (I wish I was exaggerating.)

When it comes to this use of language, don’t ask how cleverly you can describe an action or sensation. Ask how you can you communicate the mood of the scene. Going back to our movie analogy, this is lighting. It changes the way we receive everything.

Don’t Sweat. Do Edit.

When you’re writing, just write. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do go back and edit it, because all that small stuff makes up the big stuff by the end. And develop your ear: through reading, through writing, through listening.

Words matter. They are the stuff of our written dreams.

Share With Us

What tips do you have for editing your writing?

About the Author: Rachel Starr Thomson is the author of eighteen novels. As an editor and writing coach, she has helped writers achieve their best work for over a decade—so she’s thrilled to contribute to The Writer’s Toolbox series, which gives fiction writers everything they need to know to create compelling, solid stories. The newest release—5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writingis available here, and features more than sixty detailed Before and After examples of flawed and corrected passages to help authors learn to spot flaws in their writing. You can check out all Rachel’s books at her website.