5 World-building Details to Consider

World-building is one of those novel-writing bits that I could spend weeks on because it’s both fun and challenging. If you’re newer to world-building, check out the blog post I did for Paranormal Romantics earlier this month. There you’ll find some more general world-building 101 tips and tricks.

For today’s post, we’re going to focus more on the invisible pieces of your fantasy world that play into the overall structure of the place where your characters live. Because whether your MC (main character) is aware of it, or not, there are so many tiny bits and pieces that make up the world they are living in.

What are some of the things that you like to consider after you’ve gotten down the more general stuff that your characters eat, speak, live in, etc? For me, I consider what sorts of things they consider luxuries (food/clothes/house-wise). Most of my characters are pretty middle-class in their worlds, so what does luxurious food look like to them? In my real world, it’s steak, but in theirs, it might be fruit. Those are the sorts of details I find the most telling about a character. Have you ever met a friend that thinks about money in a way that feels foreign to you? How did that change the way you look at that friend? How might that play into how you treat/consider your character’s overall arch (especially if the things they consider fancy are not the norm in your fictional world)?

How much does your character know about their government and how important is the government in their day-to-day lives? Government tends to be a more general world-building aspect, but what I focus on when I’m trying to really figure out my characters is what they know about it. What their government does vs. what they know about it is a lovely detail I could spend quite a long time on when I’m world-building because this will tell me a lot about whether my character is a trees or forest concept person. It might also tell me what kind of education they have, and how much interest they have in the bigger world around them.

Who actually lives in this world you’ve built? Are they all the same? I sure hope not because that would be boring. People add so much vibrance to a world when a writer populates it realistically. Sure, there are plenty of minor character interactions that happen over the course of a story, but I find that the stories I love to read and write the most are full of interesting people. What your MC notes about the people in their world will tell your reader so much more about them than their height/hair color can. What kind of friends does your protagonist have? Who owns the shops they visit? What happens when your MC runs into a rude person in a random interaction as they travel around their city? I hope you’ll take the time to write more than hair/eye/skin color as you populate your lovely world because there’s so much more to a person than that.

Trade. What do they trade? How do they trade it? Who are the bound, set, and determined to not trade with? If your world is full of farmers, cool beans, but who is buying that food? This is also my favorite trick to add on to a world that I’ve already built. If I’ve written a story in one place, but I want it to go to another place I think about trade routes. What new kind of people can I add based on trade routes and how can that complicate what I’ve already got planned for my MC?

What do they pray to? Yep, we’re talking religion, but don’t panic 🙂 I’m not looking to convert you or your protagonist. I’m much more interested in how religion has played a role in your world’s government, trade, wars, etc. Because that’s what religion does. It greatly affects how a world and a population think, so how has it affected yours? How have these beliefs played into your character’s day-to-day life? Do they have some interesting superstition based on a long-standing religious belief? What happens when they learn that? Does it change their mind or do they continue to go along with it?

What are your favorite big world-building concepts to consider when you’re writing a character’s life? Share in the comments below.

Happy writing.


You’ve completed a draft, and now it’s time to self-edit. But, where on Earth do you start? Let’s chat through what these (because there’s more than one self-edit coming your way, dear writing friend) self-edits look like.

Draft 1 (aka the word vomit draft) self-edit:

You had this beautiful story idea, one that you really loved. So, you slaved over your computer for days, and you produced a novel. Congrats (for real because it’s hard work to write a novel)! But now that you look at it, it’s a mess. A big ole’ wordy mess. And that is perfectly okay. Draft one edits are meant for big, gaping plot holes and other major content issues. As you work over this draft look for these things:

  • Did you make any promises to your reader that you didn’t keep? Did you tell your reader you were going to have a dragon war, and then you didn’t? If so, fix it 🙂
  • Do your characters behave in a consistent manner? One that makes sense with the person you’ve written them to be? Who’s our hero? Do we know what they want? Do they know what they want? Does your bad guy do his job? Do your supporting cast members have ideas and wants of their own? How do they deal with their own secondary life problems?
  • Does your story problem make sense/does your story problem carry enough weight to warrant an entire book? Does your character know what their problem is? You laugh, but I’ve read more than one book (and maybe written one or two myself) were there story problem wasn’t clear/didn’t make sense/did have enough tension to carry a storyline.
  • Are there any major details that don’t line up with the setting/names of things/etc? Because now’s your chance to fix them.
  • Did you get lost in the middle? Aka the sagging middle is infamous for a reason. Did your story lose its steam in the middle? No worries, no is your chance to tighten your story elements and revamp.
  • Are there any scenes/characters/plot points/chapters that just need to go? Listen, I know they were good in your novel daydreams, but if they aren’t pulling their weight, they’ve got to go. Who knows, maybe they’ll end up in a different book. Novel scraps are my favorite story starters.
  • Take an extra look at the opening chapter. Is it interesting? Is it the true start of your protagonist’s story, or should we cut it and start a bit later? Remember we only need a little to understand the main character’s normal. We showed up to be entertained, so don’t drag us on too long.
  • Is there one novel-writing technique that you rely on? Listen, we all have them. That one technique that we love because we’re good at it, but we need to use all the writing tools we’ve got in our tool box. Take a look and see how many times you’ve used the same tricks. What other techniques can you use instead?
  • POV (point of view). Who is telling the story? Is it consistent?
  • Tense. Which tense are you using? Are there any hiccups where you swapped present for the past?
  • Genre tropes, did you use any? Did you over use them? Underuse them? Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a book in their desired genre. That doesn’t mean you have to follow some prescribed storyline, but you should give the people what they want (a good story with some familiar tropes).

Draft 2 (aka the I-think-I’ve-got-a-handle-on-this-story-now draft) self-edit:

You’ve tidied the major messy bits, rearranged the furniture, and now you’re ready to look at things like:

  • How’s that writing voice? Consistent? If should be, so let’s tighten and chop where we need to chop.
  • Did you read it out loud? If you’d rather plug your beloved novel into a free reader and listen to it, go for it. Either way, this thing needs to be read out loud. That way we can fix the wonky bits and catch some of those typos.
  • Please just use “said.” No, but really. Just use said. It’s a great word. It’s a lovely, humble word that often goes ignored and really should be your best friend. We all love a good “replied,” or “shouted,” but at the end of the day, “said” it the word to lean on. It’s reliable like that.
  • But can you just show me? Sometimes, readers need to be told things. But, most of the time, it’s so much better if you just show me. Dialogue is a great shower. Can you tell me via dialogue? If you can, then do it!
  • Let’s talk about your hooks. You know, those things you use to pull your reader in, to keep them turning the pages. How are they doing? Does every chapter end on a cliff hanger because that’s going to lose its appeal sooner or later. Let’s tidy up those chapter beginnings and endings.
  • While we’re at it, how are those transitions? Y’all. Transitions are more than dollar store ducktape holding your plot together. They need to be smooth so that we don’t notice we’ve started another chapter way past our bedtime. Double-check they connective tissue you’ve got going on.
  • Cut every extra THAT you can find. Trust me. There are so, so, so many. Sigh.
  • Tackle that dialogue. Is it moving the story along? Are the characters just chatting because they have nothing better to do? Can you spice up what they are and are not saying?
  • Is your story too predictable? Can you spice any scenes up? Basically, just call this self-edit the spice-it-up-and-trim-the-fat edit.
  • Has another human read this? Maybe they should. A good beta reader is a treasure. One that every writer needs. Find another human to take a look at this thing. See what they say.

Draft 3+ (aka the line edit drafts) self-edit:

We’ve tackled the big stuff. Look at you go. You’re fabulous. We’ve even tackled some of the smaller stuff. You’re really awesome. Now let’s tackle those line edits.

  • Can you say it in fewer words? You can? Great. Do it. Keep trimming until your story is a lean, mean story-telling machine.
  • We’ve all got those words/descriptions we overuse. Find yours and say it differently. Say it better.
  • How are those sentence lengths? Are they all the same? Remember generally long sentences drag pacing down, down, down. While short sentences speed things us. Either way, let’s vary those sentence lengths.
  • Don’t know which punctuation/tense/spelling/etc to use? It’s/its or they’re/their/there. Look it up, and have a stab at it. Then send it off to a professional. We know these things.
  • Is it cliche? A couple are expected but don’t go overboard with cliches, metaphors, similes, etc.
  • Word choice. Remember that alongside every word is a connotation, or what kind of emotion we associate with it. Did you use a negative word in a positive sentence?
  • Adverbs/adjectives. A little goes a long way. Do you have any extras to cut?
  • How many exclamation points are too many? These were meant to be used (in novels) sparingly. You could probably cut a few.
  • 1 space after the period.
  • Save those SAT words for the next time you take the SAT. We know you’re clever, but keep those words approachable. No need to be fancy here.

Have any fun ways you organize your draft edits? Tell us about it in the comments below! Happy writing.


Every book is made up of dozens and dozens of scenes, but how on earth do we write a good scene? What kinds of scenes exist? How long should it be? What should be included in a scene? Feeling overwhelmed? No worries, understanding a scene isn’t as tricky as it might seem. 

A scene is should follow the same ebb and flow that your novel does. What I mean is that your scenes should have a beginning, middle, and ending but on a smaller scale. Think of scenes like the baby steps or building blocks that eventually lead us to the end of the story. Things like POV and place within the story will change up what a scene needs to do, but for the most part, they behave similarly throughout. 

There are several types of scenes, but for today we’ll be covering the basic ones: building scenes, connecting scenes, and action scenes. Then we’ll chat about some good-to-know tips for the next time you sit down to write a scene. 

Building Scenes

From its name, what do you think it’s primary job is? If you guessed they are for setting up a character, place, issue, then you are right! Nice job, smarty pants! These scenes are best for slipping in a sprinkle of backstory or establishing something that we need to build off. These scenes are the foundational material we need to tell our stories. 

An opening scene doesn’t just belong at the beginning of a book. These scenes can be used throughout your novel to add plot points, characters, etc. 

How to write one: 

  • Figure out what you need the reader to know. Do they need a bit of backstory here? Do they need to understand your character’s motivation? What is it your reader needs to know and how can we tell them in a concise and entertaining way?
  • These scenes are not for info-dumping. If it can be left out, leave it out. We don’t want to put our readers to sleep, we want to keep them entertained. We want to tell a great story, and we do that by leaving out the boring or mundane details and including the things that truly matter in the story.  
  • These scenes are great for setting up story world rules and cause/effect patterns we’ll need to know throughout the story. 
  • Establish a character’s goal using an opening scene. Tell us what they want and their plan to get it. 
  • These are great setting scenes. Where are we, and what do we need to know about this place?
  • When are we, and who is here?

Connecting Scenes

These are the word bridges our readers cross to get from the beginning of a scene to the tension/action of the scene. We learned about the who in the opening part of our scene, but now we need to transition to the tension, and that’s what connection scenes do; they help a reader transition. They propel us toward the action and other juicy bits that our readers are here for. 

How to write one:

  • What do we know about transitions? They lead us from a starting place to an ending place, right? So something has to change. What can change for your character or in the story world and how can we bridge the beginning and ending together? 
  • These scenes are great for showing us a character’s reaction to something. 
  • Use a connecting scene to tell us about a character’s decision after their reaction. 
  •  These scenes tend to answer the “why” questions. We already know who and where, but why are we here?

Action Scenes

This is where the tension keeps us turning the pages well after our bedtime. These tend to be short and packed full of things like high emotion and, obviously, action.  

How to write one: 

  • Can we build tension by reminding the reader what’s at stake? Can we complicate the overall story problem? Awesome, then do it! The point is to ramp up the drama and keep your reader flipping the pages. 
  • Use these scenes to tell us about the consequences of a character’s earlier actions. 
  • These scenes are perfect for delivering a disaster to your main character. 
  • Conflict, it drives a story and makes for a fabulous action scene. 

General Good Scene Writing Tips

  • A good opening line.
  • A good ending line.
  • Tangible details. Invoke the reader’s senses. 
  • Don’t lump too many of the same kind of scenes together. If you’ve just had one heck of an action scene, give your readers a breather and slow the pace for the next scene so they can digest what just happened along with your characters. 
  • There are so many great ways to start a scene:
    • Action: explosion, car chase, natural disasters are always a welcome scene opener.  
    • Summary: what’s happened and where are we going? 
    • Character’s thoughts: use this to transition us through our ever-changing MC.
    • Dialogue: because we all love to read it and it makes the pace pick up speed.
  • As with scene opening techniques, there are scene ending ones as well:
    • End mid-action: The timer is counting down, dun dun dun!
    • Character epiphany: The light bulb has turned on, and now our MC has a new insight into their problem and how to solve it. 
    • The character discovers a massive obstacle standing in their way.
    • End it with some good, old-fashioned emotional turmoil.

Happy writing, friends!


You worked hard on your novel. I’m talking fifteen drafts, three different editors, so many beta readers, and you’re at the point where you are finally ready to send that glorious thing out into the world. Will it sink? Will it swim? You don’t care as long as you don’t have to read..er edit it again. 

So, you do your homework. You research the best indie presses. You weigh the pros and cons of going with a literary agent. After countless hours, you send your book baby out and cross your fingers that one of those publishers will like it enough to take it. 

Then you wait. 

Then you wait some more.

Just when you think no one is ever going to love your novel, you get an email that says, “Hey, this thing is pretty rad. Want to let us publish it?”

You take a selfie, post in on your favorite social media platform, and now all that’s left is to count the days until you’re the next best-selling American author, right?

Let chat about what comes after you get that glorious email that says someone else loves your novel as much as you do. Writing the novel, in some ways, was the easy part. What comes next is a steep learning curve. Here are 10 things you should know about the publishing world as a first-time novelist. 

  1. Prepare to yourself to wait. A lot. Then prepare yourself to wait some more. Seriously, don’t be in a hurry.  This is the biggest surprise I’ve had as a first-time novelist. Usually, as an editor, I’m on the other side of this process. I’m busy working my way through manuscript after manuscript tying words and tweaking format. I’m doing market research so I know how and what to say about the novel to get readers to buy it. But as the author, not editor, I forgot that all of that takes time. So, unless you’re planning to self-pub and you get to pick the publication date, prepare to wait. 
  2. You might be making that book cover all by yourself. Crazy, right? If you’re like me, you’ve long heard that you’ll get zero say in the cover art, that the publisher will know what to put on the front to make it sell. And they may. Some publishers are certainly like that, but mine wasn’t. My publisher sent me a couple of sites to find cover art and told me to have a go at it. Thank goodness for YouTube tutorials and local indie Facebook groups who are always happy to give you an opinion on your attempts at making a book cover. 
  3. You’ll need to up your social media presence. Do you have an author website? A long-forgotten Twitter account? Well, you’d better dust them off and see if you can start getting more web traffic. The simple fact is that on average there are about 1 million books published in the US alone every year. You worked crazy hard on that novel, but it’s all going to be for nothing if you can’t get people to read it. I’m not saying you have to dress up in a gorilla suit and do one of those sign flip dances to get people to pay attention to you, but it will certainly serve you well to up your followers on Twitter and do a little self-promotion. 
  4. You should be working on your next novel. Remember how I said you would be waiting? Well, why you’re waiting you might as well work on your next novel. Happy writing. 
  5. Other authors are your best resource. These writing connections of yours have been around the block and are usually more than happy to help you navigate this new world you find yourself in. They can point you toward the resources you need to read/watch/know and give you the advice you never knew you needed. One day you’ll be able to do the same as you meet another wide-eyed newbie stumble around trying to figure out what to do. 
  6. The book industry is not dying. We’ve all heard it. Books aren’t selling. Modern consumers don’t read. Well, dear writing friends, they do. Modern consumers read a lot, and it’s easier than ever to get a new book to read. The trick here is learning how to market and when to market your story. 
  7. If you’ve traditionally published, you can still go on to self publish. There’s no rule that says you have to continue to traditionally publish just because you’ve found yourself as a traditionally published author. I can’t even begin to count the number of writers I know that do both. There are pros and cons to every publishing path that exists. There are some awesome things about self-publishing, so don’t cross it off the list as an option later on just because you’ve been traditionally published. 
  8. Indie presses are not publicists. That means you’re going to have to learn how to market your own work. It’s not that your press won’t help you, it’s that the current market requires them to wear a lot of hats. This means you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get to work if you want your book to be a success. 
  9. You’re going to have to learn about the current market trends in your genre. If you want to be successful, you’re going to need to do some research about your market. Where do your readers find their next book? How do they choose? How on earth do you navigate Amazon? I know this sounds like a lot, but don’t fret. Google the current trends and reach out those author friends of yours. Ask them what book promotion things have worked for them. You’re not in this alone. Use that writing village of yours.
  10. Take time to pat yourself on the back. You may not be able to retire off your first published book, but you did it! You wrote a book that got published. If nothing else, you rock simply because you worked hard on something you love and now it’s out in the world. Way to go!

5 Common Mistakes

Is there anything worse than reading a story for two hundred pages only to have it fall flat at the climax? There sure is (though, that is also really awful). In fact, there are about a zillion oh-nos! Okay, maybe not a zillion, but there’s a healthy amount of them, so let’s talk about a few. 

1. Predictability:

You think to yourself, I’m writing a romance so of course, they have to end up together in the end, right? But the question you should be asking yourself is: how do they end up together in the end? 

The problem is that we get so used to tropes within the genres we write in that we sometimes think that there is a tried and true formula to how the story should unfold, but the truth is that fiction is fabulous in its ability to have a fun story that follows tropes while being unique in its own right. We learn about genre tropes because our readers come to our stories with certain expectations, but there is nothing that says we have to follow every single one. In fact, it’s more fun for the readers to see a trope in a fresh way; one that makes them think or one that feels relatable. 

In other words, don’t limit yourself. Keep things fun, and keep them true to the story you promised to tell your reader from chapter 1. 

2. Bad Guys:

The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. The hero and the villain are in the middle of a real confrontation. And the villain takes a deep breath so that he can tell us all of his evil plans! Whahahaha. 

Oh no! Please don’t make a boring bad guy. 

Think about your favorite villain. Do you like them because they revealed all of their evil plans? Nope. You like them because they’ve got a depth to them that makes them interesting to read about. They have their own motivation, moral code, and most importantly, the hero is in their way.

The other extreme to this is making a bad guy that is totally evil for the sake of being evil. Now, there is certainly a place for villains like this (horror, I’m looking at you), but usually, the bad guys that make us want to hate them are the ones we remember. The ones that we can sympathize with (even if we wouldn’t take things that far) are the ones we sort-of want to root for even though the hero is likable. They create a kind of conflict within us that keeps us on our toes. 

3. Lack of Conflict:

Another word for this is tension. You see, tension is the thing that keeps the story’s pacing alive. It’s the reason that the reader keeps turning the page instead of going to sleep for the night. If every problem has a nice, tidy and quick solution your reader is going to book your book down and never pick it up again. 

The trick here is to introduce us to a problem, then complicate it, then complicate it again and again. Oh, and feel free to throw in other problems. Your main character shouldn’t have things too easy in their fictional world. By the time the reader reaches the climax of the story, the problem should feel insurmountable (or at least really, really hard to solve). 

Keep in mind that tension doesn’t just come from your story problem. It can come from character relationships, situational issues, etc. Whatever the source, keep building the tension so that your protagonist has to change to overcome the problems thrown their way. 

4. Bland Characters:

Heros are always good. Damsels are always in distress. Villains are always bad. 

You cringed reading that line, didn’t you? Yeah, me too. Because it’s not true in real life or in fiction. Characters need depth. It’s one of the main reasons we’re drawn into the stories. Otherwise, we’d all chat with our kitchen tables and feel fulfilled. 

Think about the things that make people people. We have flaws, goals, dreams, etc. We have foods we hate, reasons for our quirks (thanks mom), and things we’re obsessed with. Your characters should feel the same. Think about what motivates them to go after their story goal, and think about what kinds of flaws you can introduce that complicate the path to their goal. Now, you’re on your way to having a more relatable character. 

5. Telling Instead of Showing:

Talk about cliches, right? How many times have you heard this writing advice? About a million times? There’s a good reason for that. 

It’s so easy to say Jane was mad at Tim. It’s efficient and we understand exactly what you’re trying to say. But, dear friend, this is fiction. Your reader wants to see those kick-butt wizard-level word skills of yours, so spice it up. Instead of telling us she’s mad, show us she’s mad. Which means you need to understand how your character works from the inside out. 

For example, my grandma is the cutest lady. She also has the patience of a saint, seriously. But when she gets mad, and she does, she’s feisty.  

Honorable mentions:

  • Cliches: Don’t use the same turn of phrase you would if you were chatting with a friend. Try something new.
  • No sense of setting: If you want us to see where the character ends, we have to understand where they started. Setting can absolutely be physical, but it can also be emotional. Keep that in mind as you introduce us to your character.
  • Being wordy: You will get no extra stars from modern readers for your best Charles Dickins impression. Say it in fewer words. 
  • Description lists: Why yes, my room has a desk, chair, window, several house plants, carpet, two bookshelves stuffed with books, loads of post-its sprawled across the wall, and a sleeping cat, but you don’t care about any of that stuff. You want to get a sense of my space without the actual list of items in the room. The readers want the same, so choose a couple of things to mention. Bonus points if they are things the character would actually notice and not things you, the author, thought to mention.  
  • Dialogue tags: He raged. She swooned. He growled. She yawned. AH! Don’t do it! Keep with he said/she said, and this is why. Your reader won’t notice these, even if you use them a trillion times. They will absolutely stumble over your fancy dialogue tags. Keep the dialogue tags simple, and for the love leave the adverbs alone at least 98% of the time. A well placed “he said curtly” goes a long way unless you add an adverb after every “said.”  

If you want to laugh while learning more about common mistakes, check out one of my favorite books: How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid them by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

There are plenty more don’ts in the fiction-writing process. The trick is to learn what they are and why they don’t work so that you can tell a story the best way you can. Keep learning, and keep writing. 

Happy writing, friends. 


Welcome back, writing friends. I’m a big fan of the basics. Even if you’re well schooled on writing basics, I’m guessing that there’s still something you (and I) can take away from today’s chat. So, today let’s talk about plot. What is it? How do you make one? What are some you should to do and, of course, some things you should avoid when building a plot?

What is plot: This is the literary term we use to describe the sequence of events that make up a story. Sounds easy, right? Because we’re talking about the big picture this time around, and the bigger main parts of a story, it might seem like plot is nothing more than a cake walk (and maybe it will be for your story), but if we can ways to tighten up the foundational blocks that build our story up, then hopefully we can avoid the dreaded Plot Holes—the places where details (scene, character, story, etc.) don’t connect and leave the reader confused or lacking resolution that the writer promised to give via story expectations (a.k.a. the way you wrote the story made it seem like you would explain/resolve and you didn’t and no you’ve got bad blood with your reader).

Most plots contain the following:
• Exposition
• Inciting Action/Incident
• Rising Action
• Climax
• Falling Action
• Resolution

We’ll talk more about each of these, and some helpful tips to make the most out of them. First up, we’ve got Exposition.

Exposition is nothing more than your reader’s introduction to your character’s normal every day life. This includes things like (but certainly not limited too, thank goodness)

• Setting– where does your character live? In our world? A new, made up world? What do they speak, eat, do everyday? This brief intro to your character’s world is necessary for the reader to understand your character. What do they stand to lose/gain from leaving this setting?
• Secondary Characters– now, I don’t think that every secondary character that exists in your novel-verse will show up in the exposition (how boring would that be?), but I do expect to see your MC’s interpersonal skills at lease briefly, so let’s see what kind of people exist in their every day life.
• The Problem– the very best part of the beginning of any novel is introducing the problem, and this is just the thing to transition us into the Inciting Incident.

Inciting Action/Incident is the thing that yanks our dear protagonist from their every day lives, and thrusts them into a world of chaos (or at least the rest of the story). An inciting incident is where the main action of the story begins. Our dear MC has a problem and a goal, so let the games begin (or at least the main part of the story if your main character isn’t Katniss Evergreen).

Rising Action(s) You can think of these kind of like a 5 course meal. You wouldn’t want to bring out the turkey first, right? Because your guests expect every dish to be even better than the last, and how are you going to top your great Aunt Pearl’s recipe for the best deep fried turkey on the planet? Imagine all those sad faces when you follow Aunt Pearl’s famous turkey with a $2 Aldi salad. It’s the same in the novel world. We’ve given your MC a problem, we’ve taken them out of their every day life, and now we need them to go through a series of events that continue to up the stakes (threaten or complicate their ability to accomplish their goal).

This is the part that takes up most of the book, so you’d better believe there are about a zillion blog posts, books, and YouTube videos on how to do this part right. But, to make your lives easier, I’ll just include the highlights for dos and don’ts in a lovely bulleted list set.

Dos-This part of the novel is often revered to as Act II or the middle, and as such it can suffer from something called the sagging middle syndrome. Here is just a small list of things to complicate your MC’s life and add more tension.
• Send your character off on a quest or adventure in hot pursuit of their goal.
• Complicate their problem, then complicate their lives some more.
• Send your character off on a story-problem-related chase with a series of near misses.
• Introduce a villain that is less mustache-and-evil-laugh and more relatable.
• Make your villain accomplish a lot towards their goal (thus making MC’s life harder).
• Have your character fail, and have to try again and again.
• Introduce useful information after an MC failure/chase/adventure/quest.
• Introduce a rivalry.
• Give your protagonist a temptation to make them falter.
• Have them sacrifice something important.
• Introduce a good love subplot <3
• Kill off a character.
• Reveal the true bad guy (who doesn’t love a good red herring?).

Don’t– There are so many awesome ways to write a novel, especially the rising action part, which means there are at least an equal way to poorly write the middle part of your novel. What are some ways you’ve messed up Act II in your own novels? Here are some of the things I’ve seen (or done):
• Return your MC home to wallow in self defeat for 200 pages.
• Solve every problem immediately or with coincidences.
• Send in some magical secondary character whose only job in life is to solve your MC’s problem.
• Introduce a weak villain.
• World build in the middle because you can’t think of anything else to take up story space.
• Have your protagonist succeed at everything they try. Hooray (not really) they’re a genus at everything.
• Let any subplot you introduce in Act II take over the book and forget about your main story goal.
• Break story world rules to get your character out of trouble/resurrect a dead character.
• Let your MC skip through their trials unchanged.

This is, ideally, the part of the book where your character grows and changes to become who they need to be in order to accomplish their goal and solve the story problem (or realize the true story problem). Which leads us to the Climax.

Climax the part of the story where the good guy and the bad guy face off, and the winner takes all. This is the part of the story that we’ve all worked for (you and your readers). It’s the place where hopes and dreams are dashed if your middle section didn’t live up to the hype, or the place where the reader decides that they’d rather go to work sleepy tomorrow because they just have to know what happens next. It’s all up to you dear writer. But please, for the love of all good writing, DON’T give your villain a monologue where they reveal all the deep dark secrets. It’s painful, for them and us. DO give us a kick butt series of chapters that leave us wondering how the MC will manage to pull it together in time.

Falling Action Think of this as the bridge to resolution. It’s where those remaining strands of story problems and questions begin to weave themselves together so that we can all walk calmly to the end of the story. This is the part that gives us the closure that we, the readers, need to accept the resolution. DON’T feel like you have to wrap up every single detail from the story (Nobody cares what happened to the pink shirt with the ketchup stain in chapter 2, but we do care about the subplots so wrap those puppies up). DO give us a good sense of how things have shaken out for our protagonist and the major secondary characters.

Resolution Holy cow you made it to the end of a story. Yay you. Yay the reader. This is where we get to know the MC in their new normal. Think Frodo returns to the shire/those final moments of Harry Potter’s awesome adult life where he sends his kids to Hogwarts. This is the part that we’ve all wanted, but couldn’t imagine until the MC made it through all their trials and temptations.

What plot questions do you have?

What plot issues do you seem to stumble on every draft?

What are you go to plot tricks?

Happy writing, friends!

Reading Like A Writer

Reading Like a Writer

We sit down at the computer each day ready to write. Our fingers dance across the keys and we’re sure that we’re writing the best thing (or sometimes the worst..haha) ever written. But when is the last time that you sat down to read? Not to read for ideas or because your favorite author finally released the next book in their series, but to really read. The kind of reading where we break down each chapter, scene, paragraph, line, word choice.

You see, to be a writer you absolutely have to write. It’s kind of in the job description. But the very best way to grow as a writer, and become the kind of writer you always dreamed of being is to read like one. This means keeping an active and questioning mind as you read. 

Let’s break it down into a few parts, so that the next time you read you know which questions to ask. 

Dialogue: Readers love to read dialogue, so don’t disappoint them with lame sauce dialogue. When you read an interaction that rocks ask these questions:

  • What about this exchange felt real? 
  • What about this conversation pushed the story forward? What added to the story tension?
  • Did it answer any questions you or the character had?
  • Did it give you new information? 
  • How did the author tag the dialogue? How often did they tag the dialogue?

Rhythm: Each writer’s voice has its own rhythm. Each story also has its own rhythm. So ask yourself:

  • What’s making the rhythm here? Is it word choice? Pacing?   
  • What kind of rhythm does your own writing voice have? What makes it that way?

Word choice: I’m a bit biased because I’m originally a poet, but seriously consider putting effort into your word choices. 

  • If you’ve only ever heard a word, but you’ve never read the definition, then take the time to look it up. Its definition might surprise you. How does the author make the most of word choice in this story? 
  • Take connotation into account when you choose a word. It matters. How does the writer make the connotation match with the characters/mood/tone/scene? 
  • Take the time to think about how each of your main characters talk. If they all sound the same, your reader will notice. So in this book you’re reading, how does the author make this work? What phrases distinguish each character? Jot them down. How can you do the same thing in your WIP?
  • Make sure that the word choice matches the emotions of the scene. Is this true for the story you’re reading now? How so, or how isn’t it?

Character development: Characters or plot driven? It’s an age old question, but what’s more interesting for you reading as a writer is this: how is this author developing the characters throughout the story?

  • How are the major characters different from the beginning of the story at the end of the story?
  • Why kind of events did the writer use to challenge and change the characters?
  • How did the character’s struggle to reach their goals?
  • What were their motivations?

Chapter breaks: Did you know that these also help create tension in a story? Well, now you do 🙂 So examine the story you’re reading. 

  • How do they use chapter breaks? 
  • Where do they break the scene?
  • How does this make you want to turn the page?
  • What can you do to maximize your own chapter breaks?

Imagery: They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, right? Well I hope not, because there can only ever be one Charles Dickens y’all.

  • What images did the writer include? 
  • How did they describe things?
  • What did they leave out?
  • How did your mind fill in the blanks?
  • Does the scenery fit the story? How so, or why not? 

Other pointers: 

  • Takes notes- Don’t lose the sentences or paragraphs that hit you in the feels. Mark it, or jot down the page number so that you can come back to it again and again because stringing the right words together is it’s own kind of magic. 
  • Reread books you’ve already read- There are more books in existence than you can ever read. So why not reread the books that spoke to you. There was something special about it, otherwise you wouldn’t keep thinking about it. Reread it and see if you can identify what writing techniques they used to make it awesome in the first place. 
  • What other pointers can you think of? 
  • What other questions do you ask while you’re reading a book?

6 Common Fiction Mistakes

I could go on for quite some time on this topic, but I’ll spare you (for the most part) and cover some of the top ones that I see daily as an editor.

  1. Passive Voice: Passive voice simply means that the subject of the sentence isn’t clear. It looks like this: The door was broken.

Cool, but by who? An easy trick is to avoid this is if you can add “by a zombie” and the sentence still makes sense, then you need to revise it and make it active voice. Which would look like: She kicked the door off its hinges as she made her way through the creaky, old house.

Now I know who did it, and as a bonus I also get an image. Anything that you can do to keep your reader in the present moment and focused on your characters is going to make your story keep the reader engaged. Don’t give them any reason to put your book down. We want them to stay up all night reading your awesome story, and a great way to do that is to not use passive voice or passive verbs.

2. Passive Verbs: These are your was/were sentences. It looks like this: He was sitting. They were walking by the river.

Why it’s a problem? Because it’s boring. Remember your lovely reader actually turned Netflix off to read your book! Give them a story that they can’t forget by doing your best to choose verbs that leap off the page.

If we revise “He was sitting,” it might look something like this “He slouched down further in his chair, praying that his boss didn’t notice him. The last thing he needed was another tardy mark.”

We can feel him inching down to avoid his boss, and that makes us care enough to keep reading and find out if the boss notices our poor character.

There is an awesome book that you can read about the most common mistakes that we editors see. It’s called: How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman. It’s funny and informative. Check it out.

3. Repetition: Unless you are a poet, keep your repetition to a minimum. Both your word choices and your sentence patterns. If your character always saunters and never jogs or pads through the kitchen, then your reader is going to get annoyed.

It’s an easy fix. Hop on the internet, or pick up a hard copy if that’s more your speed, and look up a thesaurus. Make sure that you take into account that each word has a connotation (what we think/feel when we hear the word) along with a definition (what the word means). A word’s connotation changes over time, so take care to use words that invoke the right emotion for the scene.

If you always write long, complex sentences your story pacing will crawl and your readers will drop like flies. If you always write super short sentences, it will be hard to carry heavy emotions and your character will feel two dimensional. Vary your sentence lengths based on what you want the reader to know and how quickly they need to know it. As a general guide mix long and short sentences. If you want the pacing to pick up, shorten your sentences. If you want us to slow down and savor something or think through something lengthen your sentences.

4. A Boring Character: Characters that feel fake, that have predictable storylines, and characters that are too good/bad are all boring. Think about the people in your own life. Why do you like them? Why do you dislike them? Your characters need the same things to make them believable. Make your story about someone that grabs a reader’s attention from the first page. Don’t be afraid to put your main character in harms way, or in loads of tough situation. Drag them through the mud, then toss some rocks in that mud puddle and drag them through it again. Beat them up. Show me how they change because of it. It will make them a better character, and you a better writer because you have to get them back on the path towards their goal. Not all your characters have to be complex, but your main cast certainly should be. You main character’s goal should fuel the story. Your major secondary characters should not exist solely because your main character needs them to populate the book and fawn over them. Your secondary characters should have goals of their own. Bonus points if those goals go against the main character’s at some point. Make a character arc sketch for each of your main cast members. Think about their motivation, what they want, why they want it, and how they get it/don’t get it and what that means for them by the end of the story.

5. The infamous info dump: Please stop info dumping. It’s bad for your reader’s health. It’s bad for your story’s health. Let’s start a movement to kill info dumps :).

It can be quite tricky to know what to share and when, so let’s talk about it.

The first chapter is your chance to win or lose a reader. Your second and third chapters are your chance to establish where/when/why we are. Keep it simple. Treat it like a first date. I want to know that your character has complex emotional trauma, but I don’t need the full story on page 1. What I need on page one is a reason to turn the page. I need some awesome word magic to suck me into this story, otherwise I’ve got 3 seasons of Kim’s Convenience to binge on Netflix.

When we enter a part of the book where we meet the villain or we need a better understanding of something so that the scene makes sense, don’t go crazy. Keep it simple. Remember your reader is after the action. They want to know what happens next. If you bog them down with a Charles Dickens-like explanation they lose interest in the character’s plight. This is a great question to bounce it off a couple of beta readers so that you can gauge if you’ve got the right balance (Keep in mind how often your beta reader reads in the genre that you are writing. If they are better versed in your genre, they will have certain expectations for explanations and will be to give you a better sense of if you are doing well or not).

There’s a really neat book that talks about the science behind a reader’s mind. So if that’s your cup of tea, check out Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. This book talks more about what engages and disengages a readers mind.

6. Tell, tell, tell and no show: You keep telling me that your character is angry, but nothing about their actions or their dialogue is convincing me that this is the case. Don’t tell me he’s angry. Show me he’s angry. It looks like this:

Tell: “Thanks.” He said angrily as he hung up the phone.

Show: “Thanks,” Paul sighed as he chucked the phone across the room. He took two big handfuls of Doritos from the open bag beside him, and stuffed them into his mouth. He chomped on them as he replayed all the things he wished that he would have said to her.

As always, happy writing friends.

A Basic Editing Guideline

Knowing when to use your beta reader or when to hire an editor can be tricky. Let’s keep this simple for today, and talk draft numbers/number of beta readers that your story has been through. The longer you write, the more that you will understand what kinds of edits you need and when.

First Drafts/First Beta Reading: This draft needs only content comments. At this point we don’t care about commas or word connotation. We need to know if this draft has big, gapping plot holes. We need to know if the character changes from start to finish. We need to know major, story changing information.

This is the draft that you need a book coach/writing group or friend to keep you accountable for if you are struggling.

Second Drafts: Some writers don’t even consider using a having a beta reader until the second draft. Again, this comes with time. When you’ve written for a while, you’ll be able to tell some of the big novel-changing plot issues on your own. Second drafts are where you want to pull in your awesome beta readers and we want to focus again on content. We want to catch those big and small plot issues. This is the draft where we can start consider individual chapters. Are they working together to build a story? What details have we missed? Do we have some misspellings? Cool, let’s right click and see how you’re supposed to spell that word.

This is the draft that you can use either an editor or book coach if you want. If you hire an editor here, you want them to do a content edit.

Third, Fourth Drafts: Hello, scenes! This is the draft where we focus on the scenes. Are they working well together. Does each scene have tension? Do they transition us from place to place both physically and emotionally, or are there places where the transition is jarring and I’m taken out of the story.

Are my sentence lengths varied? Do I have the correct connotation here? Is there a better way to say this? Is this cliché? Cool, let’s say it in an original way. We can get picky about word choice and think about the smaller components that make up a chapter.

This is a great draft to get an editor.

Fifth Drafts and on: Okay, now we can care about the commas. And if commas aren’t your thing hire an editor to line edit your story.

Happy writing friends.

6 Things That Will get Your Novel Rejected

  1. Not Doing Your Submission Homework: You’ve written a book. You’ve had it beta read. You’ve revised it. You’ve sent it to a professional editor. You’ve revised it again. And now it’s ready for the world. So you send it to several publishing houses, but you didn’t bother to compare your story to the kinds of stories that they’ve published in the last couple of years. And, you didn’t bother to send it to the right person at the publishing house. And, you didn’t bother to send in a query letter. No, you sent the entire draft. That’s cool, right? Not even a little. Any of those mistakes will land you in the slush pile and not even one pair of eyes will ever read the first sentence of your manuscript. So make sure that you are doing your homework. You don’t have to read every book that they’ve ever published, but you should not send your YA paranormal romance to a publisher that is looking for space operas.

2. Not Playing by the Genre Rules: We all love a good rule breaker, but we don’t love the bad ones. I’m not saying that you can’t genre blend, because you certainly can. But every genre has certain expectations, and if you are breaking rules in weird ways without a good reason then your readers are going to ditch your book because they came expecting your science fiction book to contain some fictional science and all you’ve given then is a one scene with an empty Petri dish and a whole lot of romance that doesn’t tie into the empty Petri dish. If you’re going to break the rules, break them on purpose. Break them because you understand them, and not because you don’t understand your genre’s tropes.

3. POV: No one is asking you to repeat the horrors that were middle school English classes, but if you are writing a story from first person you will need to know what that looks like (I turn the corner). Same goes for limited and omniscient POVS (are we inside the character’s head or outside watching them as they go through the story?). It’s okay if you can’t readily tell me what the POV definitions are right this moment. Go home and google it. Learn how to use POVs correctly, otherwise off the slush pile you will go.

4. Your Novel is too Mundane: Y’all we live boring lives. Work. Bills. Ugh, do I have to make dinner again? I’m not complaining about that necessarily, but if you want me (or any other reader) to pick up your book then your characters cannot also live boring lives that look an awful lot like mine. Action, action, action. That doesn’t mean that bullets have to go flying on every page, but it does mean that I need tension. I don’t care if it’s romantic tension, situational tension, emotional tension, etc. Readers want some drama to entertain them after yet another exhausting day of being boring.

5. I’ve Read Your Novel and I Still Don’t Know What’s at Stake: If your main character’s goals or what’s at stake if they don’t accomplish their goals is unclear then off your book goes to the slush pile. This is why we focus all our rewriting efforts on the content issues for the first couple of drafts. We want to make sure that these types of things are crystal clear from the early drafts. Beta readers are invaluable for this very reason.

6. Your Story is Unoriginal: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but your story should have some originality to it. Just as each of us is unique, your story needs quirks and charm of its own. Ask you beta readers if your story is too unoriginal, and if they say yes then brainstorm together with your writing friends on how to spice it up.