Apr 302015


Future book writers... this.

Feb 272012

Word Choice

In most modern writing, the character will be a viewpoint character who’s actually part in the scene. However, the principle still applies in stories told from a viewpoint outside the story (e.g. the famed third-person omniscient narrator). Even a disembodied anonymous narrator has a persona, revealed by what details are presented. You get a sense of the narrator by where (s)he “aims the camera” and what words the narrator chooses to use.


Let me point out something else important about the descriptions I’ve quoted. Effie gets two sentences; Miss Wonderly gets two paragraphs. That’s an example of what I call wordspace. Here’s my rule of thumb: The more important something is, the more words it should be given so that it registers in the reader’s mind with appropriate strength.

Pacing, Not Padding

Devoting more words to something important isn’t padding, it’s pacing: building up something so that it doesn’t go by too quickly. Readers need time to absorb and appreciate what’s going on; otherwise, they don’t have a sense of the relative importance of your story’s elements (e.g. Miss Wonderly is much more important than Effie).

Of course, there can be exceptions. Sometimes you may want to brush quickly past something important so the reader doesn’t pay much attention. This is common in mystery stories, where crucial clues may be downplayed in order to sneak under the reader’s radar. Sometimes too you may choose to hit the reader with a passage that’s short and brutal rather than drawn out: you smack the reader’s mind with a hard sharp impact.

Still, most of your writing will follow the general principle: more words, more importance; few words, more forgettable. It’s comparable to the use of slow-motion in movies—when the hero finally punches out the villain, you don’t just let the punch fly past at full speed, over and done with in a fraction of a second. You slow it down; you show the impact and the villain being knocked backward; maybe you show it several times from several different angles. You show that this punch is The One that every other punch was leading up to. To do that, you have to give it enough time to happen.

via The Skill List Project: Word Choice and Wordspace at SF Novelists.

Jan 152012
Forty Questions to Test Your Manuscript
  1. How can I make the protagonist likeable or at least relatable?
  2. Are both the protagonist and the antagonist extraordinary in some way?
  3. Do they both care passionately about something?
  4. Is what they care about at the heart of their opposition?
  5. Is the antagonist just as strong or even stronger than the protagonist and just as compelling or intriguing?
  6. Do all the main characters have genuine flaws and eccentricities?
  7. Is there opposition between what the protagonist wants, her external goal, and what she needs, her internal goal?
  8. Is the protag going to experience a change of fortune: from good fortune to bad, from bad fortune to good, from good to bad to good, from bad to good to bad?
  9. How can I use the setting and season to make the situation worse for the protag?
  10. How can I make the setting more interesting and challenging?
  11. Are the protag and antag struggling within a situation readers haven’t seen before?
  12. How can I elevate the concept?
  13. What extra coolness factor can I add?
  14. What twist can I add to make this unusual?
  15. Are there logical connections between characters, plot, and theme(s)?
  16. Is the theme universal?
  17. Does the protag’s struggle exploit a universal fear?
  18. Are there high stakes–terrible consequences–if the protag fails?
  19. Does she have to make an impossible choice or sacrifice that will make her pay personally before she can win against the antag?
  20. How can I provide a test at the beginning of the manuscript to show off the trait the protag needs to change before she can win?
  21. What makes her the way she is, and how can I show that to make her initial failure understandable and relatable?
  22. How can I make the stakes even higher at every turning point while keeping them relatable?
  23. Have I got enough of a coolness or fun factor in the mid section to sell the premise and carry the second act?
  24. How do I keep the protag in conflict between two emotions so she has to fight to resolve her feelings?
  25. How can I exploit the situation and main conflict to force the characters to make active choices?
  26. How can I limit each of the character’s choices to force them to choose between something bad and something worse, force them into bad decisions, or push them into doing what they least want to do?
  27. How can I make characters behave in the most unexpected way that fits within their motivation, personality type, and background?
  28. How do I introduce a new conflict before resolving an existing one?
  29. What danger can I keep threaten, what information can I promise, what expected emotional crisis, confrontation, loss, or decision can I foreshadow to keep the reader eager to read?
  30. How can I push an expected outcome into an unexpected direction?
  31. Before the climax, how do I make it clear why the antagonist is the way he is, and how do I make him sympathetic?
  32. How can I apply lessons the protag has learned and show her character growth in the climax in a way that will echo the test she failed at the beginning?
  33. How do I make it clear enough why she has changed enough to choose differently than she did in the initial test?
  34. Can I make every conflict in a subplot real and hard to overcome?
  35. How do I resolve all the subplots and weave them together more tightly?
  36. How do I show the arcs for each of the main characters?
  37. How do I most smoothly delivere all the missing information before the climax scene?
  38. How can I the climax the toughest challenge in the manuscript?
  39. How can I make the resolution truly satisfying?
  40. How do I make sure I’ve kept my covenant with the reader?

via A Writer’s Pre-Flight Checklist.

Jan 052012

Lazette Gifford wrote an article for fmwriters.com entitled It’s Just a Phase:

The idea behind the Phase Outline method is that you write a story synopsis, working out all of your major plot issues, before beginning your novel. The Phase Outline system isn’t as structured as the Snowflake method put forth by Randy Ingermanson, but it’s more than just writing an outline (or simply writing your story ad lib).

In Lazette’s example, she wrote a 14,000 word outline that translated to a 101,000 novel. It took her two weeks to write the outline (about 1,000 words per day in the outline) and then 10 days to write the manuscript (or just over 10,000 words per day.) She says that 101,000 words of productivity would normally have required around fifty-five days prior to using the Phase Outline system. That’s a savings of over thirty days! So how does it work? Let me lay it out for ya…

First, you do all your struggling up front. Outline, World building, Idea generation, Dialogue, Plot, Conflict, Complications, Reactions, Setbacks, Goals and Resolution. It’s all done before you write a single word of your manuscript.

(This is a common theme among writers who propose that you do your outlining first, regardless of how in-depth you get) and then you don’t deviate from the outline (another common theme among the outliner crowd.) I read about outlining vs write by the seat of your pants methods in Randy Ingermanson’s Writing Fiction For Dummies. Randy breaks it in to four groups along a scale. Randy’s system (the Snowflake method) is more detail oriented than your average outline system. The Phase Outline system falls between Randy’s view of minimalist outliners (who might be more flexible about deviations from the outline) vs those who prefer detailed outlines (with no deviations, like his system).

No system is better for all writers, but some systems are better for some writers. As a writer, it’s your job to discover what systems work for you and use that. Whether you outline or write by the seat of your pants, you have to do the editing. The write by the seat of your pants crowd, consequently, have to do more editing on their first draft than outliners do… but, Outliners spend a lot more time before they write even the first word doing editing. They just edit on an outline. So you may not be saving any real time, if prose flows naturally from your pen (or keyboard). Either way, you still have to do editing after you’ve done this plot-level editing. If the prose flows, and you enjoy the thrill of discovery, then by the seat of your pants works for you and you should use it.

I’ll say it again, I’m not here to suggest that writing by the seat of your pants is less valid that outlining. Like Randy, I’m an outliner, so outlining strategies interest me.

Second, your synopsis (or outline) of your story is more detailed than just a three act synopsis. The idea is that each sentence in your Phase Outline becomes a word multiplier in your manuscript. You might write twenty-to-fifty words in your Phase Outline, but turn that in to two hundred to five hundred words in the manuscript (depending on your genre and needs.) Each sentence in your Phase Outline should provide a prompt that leads to action or dialogue that moves the story to the next phase in your outline. You can see how this works by visiting Lazette Gifford’s article and reading more.

Third, once you’re done writing your Phase Outline, go back and make sure there are no plot holes. Make sure that you’ve identified your subplots, your complications, your emotional reactions to setback, the dilemmas and decisions, and eventually, the climax, falling action and resolution of your story.

Fourth, Once your outline is solid and needs no further editing, set your word count goals by dividing the number of phases in your Phase Outline into the word count you want to reach for your manuscript. If you need ninety thousand words, and you have an outline of three hundred phases then you need to generate three hundred words per phase.

Fifth, write. Don’t modify the outline, just resolve holes that  crop up and stay as on-track to the outline as you can. If you must change something, do the best you can with making it work now, then once the manuscript is complete, edit it in post.

Thanks Lazette, I plan to give this a try.

Jan 042012

I never thought I’d have cause to refer to this, but just in case I ever do again: I present, “Peter’s Evil Overlord List“. When writing, always double check to make sure that your bad guys aren’t doing something obviously cliched and stupid.

Jan 032012

Writer’s Digest has an interesting article “50 Simple Ways to Build Your Platform in 5 Minutes a Day“.

It comes as no surprise that brainstorming is #12 on the “build your platform” list. I’m constantly amazed when I read Charles Stross’ blog, the ideas that man has and shares are pretty spectacular. I’d love to be able to write the kind of brainstorming articles that he writes. Not that I don’t have ideas, I have lots of ideas, but they currently only fit in to one of two worlds. I’m still working on that inner editor things.

It also isn’t surprising that posting reviews (chapter by chapter even) is #15 on the “build your platform” list. Mark Oshiro of markreads.net, does this. He’s read over 11 books and given his chapter-by-chapter review of his impressions. Currently, he’s reading Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring.

There’s a lot of good stuff there (reposted for my notebook, since I really like this list and would hate for it to disappear.)

Listen & Learn

1. Find Your Keepers. Clarify the kinds of readers you want to connect with now, and you’ll be glad you did later. First, jot down a quick list of all the types of readers you’ve ever had. Now, decide which groups you want to stay connected with for the long haul, and make them your keepers.

2. Start Surveillance. Google Alerts (google.com/alerts) can help you become practically omnipresent in only a few clicks. Take five to set up alerts to notify you when your name, articles, book(s), Twitter handle, site URL and/or specialty topics pop up online. When you’re alerted to people promoting your name, supporting your work or sharing your ideas, stick out your virtual hand and say, “Hey, thanks! I appreciate that.”

3. Poll for Solutions. Ask questions. You’ll get answers. If you’re wondering which online photo hosting service to use, or if others are having the same server problems that you are, try posting the question on Facebook and Twitter. I do this often, and love coming back and reading what others have said. If it’s a decision you’re making, share which advice you followed.

4. Show Respect. On social networks, follow and friend folks in your field whom you admire. Steer clear of anyone shifty, clingy or shilling stuff all the time. A good rule of thumb: Don’t promote or forward the causes of anyone online who you wouldn’t in regular life. It takes time to get to know people, but it’s worth it when your reputation is on the line.

5. Study the Competition. Jump on a search engine and type in the keywords that describe what you write about. See who pops up on your radar. Don’t be afraid of the competition; study your competitors. What are they doing better than you? Add what you learn to your to-do list.

Create Context

6. Introduce Yourself. Take a few minutes to write a brief bio you can use wherever your name appears online. Include your URL, relevant professional credentials, recent publications (online or off), significant self-published efforts and professional partnerships.

7. Show Yourself in Action. I’m willing to bet you have a whole bunch of photos of yourself out and about doing what you do. If some are shots of you writing, great. But even better if you have some decent-quality photos of you speaking, teaching a workshop, signing books or the like. Collect them, and use them to accompany your posts online.

8. Post Ads and Affiliate Links. You need to make money to invest money in your platform, so why not make the most of the resources and tools you already like? You won’t get rich from affiliate revenue, but it can add up over the course of a year and cover some of your ongoing platform expenses. It takes minutes to post an ad or affiliate link on your website or blog.

9. Hold an Event. Have an event with a time limit (like one week only, or 30 days). Create whatever type of environment is appropriate for what you write—perhaps an activity where something has to be completed in a certain amount of time so there is a ticking-clock factor (think NaNoWriMo). Create an environment that draws your tribe in, helps people interact and get to know one another, and converts folks into loyal fans who will keep coming back for more. Dream something up.

10 Grade Yourself. HubSpot makes free graders (grader.com) that can gauge the effectiveness of your website, blog, Google Alerts, Facebook page, Twitter account and more. Each grader takes less than five minutes to run. Do so periodically, and add its suggestions to your to-do list.

Contribute Content

11. Give It Away. Spread the word across your social networks for everyone to come and get whatever you can give for free. If you already wrote an article that you don’t plan to sell, why not give it away? Maybe you created something inspirational or uplifting. Give it away. People love free.

12. Brainstorm 20 Ideas. If you don’t constantly ask yourself what new ideas you have, half of them will get away. And then you’ll have to read your idea on someone else’s blog, or in a magazine or newspaper with someone else’s byline. That’s how the zeitgeist works. So get in the habit of writing down your ideas, perhaps in a special idea journal. Drain your brain into it five minutes at a time.

13. Put Your Best Forward. Make sure people who are just discovering your offerings can go straight to some of your best online writing that has passed the test of time. Otherwise it’s just going to get buried under your latest efforts. Most blogs have widgets that will do the rounding up for you. Create a way to send fans and followers straight to your best posts.

14. Recycle. Take a few minutes to pitch content you’ve already written to a new outlet. Can you find a blog, forum or association newsletter that might be interested in your topic? Put some of your old writing to work all over again for fresh eyes.

15. Review Worthy Writers. Inquiring readers want to know what books you like and why. Briefly review books as you read them and post your insights on review sites (like GoodReads, Amazon.com and Red Room). For good karma, sing the praises of your all-time favorites, too.

Cultivate Community

16. Prompt a Response. A prompt is a suggestive word or theme that cues an interactive response from others. It can be as simple as a photo, symbol or word, or as complicated as a riddle. When hosting an annual book giveaway, I asked a question each day for a month, and everyone who answered was entered in the drawing. Participants loved the prompt more than the free books. It’s a fun way to interact with your growing online community.

17. Take Five to Interact. Reply to commenters on your blog. Thank people who used your free content. Think of three people to appreciate for any reason at all. Spend a little bit of time with those who’ve gone out of their way to care about you.

18. Make an Engaging Offer. If you’re working on a project and you need people to get involved, offer something—say, a discount or kickback—to the first 50 who express interest. Create excitement for those who are willing to work with you.

19. Form Strategic Partnerships. Who do you want to partner with? Being friendly and helpful should have no strings attached—but true partnerships are mutually beneficial, formal agreements in which each party is hoping to gain something specific. List three likely partners and reach out to them.

20. Create a Quickie Blogroll. Make a quick list of writers you admire. Then search for links to their blogs or sites to create your blogroll. Position your blog as an inspiring resource by going for quality, not quantity.

Be Authentic

21. Be Yourself. Advice that tells authors to act like brands encourages us to forget to act like regular people. But social media is made for people, not robots. The fact that you’re a writer and a parent or an uncle and a Packers fan or a vegetarian makes you interesting. Your readers and fans want you to be personable, not a one-topic ever-plugging broken record. Spend five minutes making a profile more you.

22. Put Passion Into Action. Let’s say you write literary fiction. Isn’t that harder to build a platform around? Nope. Take your passion online and put it to work. Don’t assume no one cares. Assume there are a million people out there like you, and start connecting with them. Take five to write a quickie mission statement about why you’re on fire about your topic. Reread it every time you get online. It will help focus your efforts.

23. Get Together. Let folks know that you’ll be speaking or signing or teaching (or whatever else you do) near them when you travel. Make yourself accessible.

24. Spark Conversations. Other people are just as passionate about your topic as you are. So get on Google, do a Twitter search, visit forums where your topic is trending and spend five minutes participating in a chat. If nothing is happening, strike up your own conversation.

25. Share the Journey. I bet you have a lot going on right now. Surely some of it is interesting. Or perhaps you have a fresh take on what you have on your plate that others would find humorous or refreshing. Update others on what’s happening right now. Don’t try to keep your ups and downs a secret. Curious fans love to be treated like insiders.

Synergize Connections

26. Friend and Follow Media Pros. Track down media folks related to your career thrust, and friend and follow them on social networks. Never come on too strong. Just be laid-back and friendly. And if you have social-media clout, don’t be surprised if they’re looking for you, too. Influential people will come to you when your passionate action makes you stand out.

27. Say Thanks. In five minutes you could crank out a handwritten thank-you note, stick a coffee or book gift card in there, address and stamp it. Why not do this at least once a month?

28. Articulate Your Allies. Who supports your work? Whose work do you champion? Identify someone you have mutually compatible goals with, and see how you can help each other. Suggest ways to cheer each other on.

29. Generate a Q&A. Create a series of questions on a topic you find fascinating, and then get interesting people in your genre or area of expertise to answer them in any format: a video chat, a written Q&A or an audio chat. It makes compelling content.

30. Shake Things Up. Don’t be one-note. Stop agreeing with everyone about everything and take five minutes to form a rebuttal (without turning it into a rant). Take a dull topic and make it interesting by putting a new spin on it or taking a contrarian stance. Get people engaged in the conversation.

Produce Yourself

31. Capture E-mail Addresses. Use a newsletter service or RSS feed service to create a place front and center on your site where folks can sign up to receive correspondence from you or to have your blog posts delivered to their inbox.

32. Go Multimedia. Bring old content to life using fresh media. Spend five minutes practicing reading something you’ve written out loud into your smartphone. Or boil down a chapter or article into five tips off the cuff and record them unscripted. Let your words riff. Don’t try to make it perfect.

33. Ask for Feedback. To learn to do what you do better, get your audience involved. Create a five-minute feedback form and send it out.

34. Outsource Something. Take five to consider all the hats you wear: the creative, the closer, the perpetual student, the accountant, the publicist, etc. Identify a weakness that someone can help you with now. Then hire or solicit the support you need.

35. Share More. One common mistake we make is slaving over our content to make it perfect, thinking that if we do, readers will come to us. But too often, no one comes! Work hard to maximize everything you write. I’ve counted 49 ways you can use the “Share This” button to buzz content you want to champion. Get this button for your blog and browser now.

Publicize Yourself

36. Hunt and Answer. Don’t forget the traditional media. Answer media requests at Help a Reporter Out (helpareporter.com). In five minutes you can find and respond to at least one appropriate media request. Make a game of how fast you can weigh in. Every post is another way to get your name out there.

37. Grow Your List. Wherever you go, whatever you do, bring along your e-mail sign-up sheet on a clipboard. Even better if you can offer a benefit for signing up, such as a free story, checklist or special report. Never sell or share contact information.

38. Think Ahead. What do you have coming up? Keep a list of any future events and publications on your blog, in your newsletter, on social media and in your e-mail signature. Update it often.

39. Compartmentalize. Segment your e-mail lists by what folks need from you, not what you need from them. I wouldn’t send attendees of my Northwest Author Series the same correspondence that I send my former students or my e-zine subscribers. Each e-mail group gets its own type of correspondence. Reorganize your e-mail groupings.

40. Master the 5-Minute Release. Zoom in on the latest happenings, holidays and story hooks and tie your career news in with what else is going on in the world. Write five-minute mini press releases and send them out at least monthly. Short is good.

Pay it Forward

41. Round Up Resources. Round up books, websites and other resources on topics related to yours and then add them to your home page. Be helpful to others, and they’ll send people to you.

42. Boost Others. Help a fellow author or a first-timer buzz his outstanding new book, class, service or conference. If you’re a believer, become an evangelist. And if you really mean it, offer a testimonial. Why not?

43. Offer Your Services. According to Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crush It!, the best question you can ever ask on social media is, “What can I do for you?” Such a simple idea, yet so profoundly intelligent. Put it to work for you on a regular basis.

44. Be a Good Guest. Ask yourself the hard-hitting questions others don’t dare ask (but are dying to know). Now you have a compelling guest post to share on your “Freebies” page.

45. Hit the Highlights. You don’t have to give the play-by-play after you attend an event. But why not share the best of what you noticed or learned? You can even go multimedia with your coverage. Have your camera, audio recorder and video recorder ready to grab snippets of live action to share with others who wish they could’ve been there.

Strut your Stuff

46. Count Down to Every Launch. Do you have a book coming out? A new class? A new article in print? Make a big to-do about whatever you’ve got that’s new. Announce each launch without pressuring anyone to spend. The place where your service connects with your audience is the place where you create the synergy that fuels your future projects.

47. Spiff Up What’s Old. Offer some kind of promotion to entice folks to your evergreen offerings. I offer a scholarship for two of my classes, and this always pulls in fresh interest in what I teach. A scholarship, a discount, two for one, refer-a-friend—any strategy that makes something old new again is a good one.

48. Make Merchandise. Don’t try to make money with every single thing you offer. Instead, let some of your offerings create buzz for your name using services like CafePress or Zazzle. A fan who likes what you do enough to wear your name on a product becomes a salesperson for your work. Create promotional offerings and put links to them on all the pages of your website. Why not?

49. Sustain Yourself. Being active online calls for balance and patience. Clarify how and where you want to spend your energy, and filter out the rest until you can ride the net without too many wipeouts. Take five and describe exactly what you hope to accomplish in the future time you invest.

50. Break Out of Your Box. Ask yourself, “What would I create if I let myself create anything I wanted?” Let go of any old labels such as novelist, poet or journalist. What would you really get a kick out of writing, right now? Spend five minutes jotting down the truth—the whole truth and nothing but what really sounds fun. Your ability to break out of your own box will inspire others, so go for it!

Dec 262011

Melodie Wright posted another very interesting article about writing characteristics of emerging writers (which is a nicer way of saying someone who still has a lot to learn about putting words on paper.)


  1. A whole lot of nothing (i.e., copy that doesn’t move the plot along.)
  2. Rambling/useless chapters (i.e., Chapter 3 of Paolini’s book, Inheritance. No, that’s not Melodie’s example, that’s mine.)
  3. Overwriting (which is how I found the previous post I talked about.)
  4. Not enough tension (This section links to another post which has the catchy “don’t leave any place for the reader to put a bookmark”, such as putting your character to bed without introducing the next problem.)
  5. Grammatical errors (Besides the bland and generic spelling mistakes, also watch out for proper spelling but improper word use, improper contractions or use of possessives instead of plurals.)
  6. Thin Skin (Send your work out, get critiqued. Nothing is perfect, and every critique gives you fertilizer to grow your story. Change fertilier for another synonym as needed.)


Dec 262011

Melodie Wright posted a few examples of how authors can overwrite a scene.

  1. Too much telling. Telling, then showing. Consequence: Reader’s lose interest because the story doesn’t show anything, or the author treats the reader as too stupid to understand the words on the page. Solution: Show, don’t tell whenever possible. Remove any places where you tell and show, leave only the show. Anything that doesn’t move the plot along should be replaced by a tell.
  2. Purple-prose. Consequence: Sentences are over wrought which slows pacing and detracts from the drama of a conflict. Solution: If you find yourself writing purple prose often, strip out all adjectives and adverbs. Only add them after you’ve finished the basic sentence structure. Not saying something can be as powerful as saying it. Let the reader fill the empty spaces with their imagination.
  3. Excessive stage direction. (e.g., When every line of dialogue is tagged with an action.) Consequence: Dialogue is stilted and choppy. Solution: Write dialogue that implies what you want the reader to see in their head. (instead of “Here”, John Doe handed Jane Doe a set of keys, one of which was to the post office box, another to his house. Try “Here’s my house and post office box key,” John Doe said. The second doesn’t require any further expansion.)

Dec 152011


  • Get wording for enhanced vs ebook vs interactive vs digital spelled out, don’t lump together.
  • Grant rights like bookclub and second serial (i.e., the right print/distribute the first post-publish printing) but others should be held without plans to exploit
  • Foreign publishing is a subright.
  • Subrights are negotiated at the time the book or series is negotiated.
  • Subrights to avoid: “derivative rights” which means anything that can be derived from your work. Same goes for “in perpetuity”.


A list of subsidiary rights (probably not complete)