writing quotes

20+ Encouraging Writing Quotes from (Mostly) Famous Authors

As someone working on a book, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. There’s much to plot out, decisions of tone to be made, editing to be done, and then publishing and marketing. You have many a word to get up on the screen. I expect you could use some encouragement to keep working at it. 

We’ve got some encouraging quotes from those who have gone before you, those who have actually gotten the book done and then perhaps become famous because of said book.

We will provide some background of the authors to not only point out their mastery but also to provide you with some great book recommendations! 

Writers Need to Read 

As a writer, you need to know your specific genre and your craft. If you’ve never read a cozy mystery, how do you expect to write a compelling killer or all the twists and turns that a cozy requires? If you’ve never read a book on how to get the most out of hot yoga, how will you write a book on the subject? You need to know your field and how your book will be different than others out there. Reading will also help expand your vocabulary – and your mind! 

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” – Ray Bradbury

Bradbury is most well known for his iconic book, Fahrenheit 451, that has been made into a movie and graphic novels. He wrote more than 30 books, 600 short stories, not to mention his many poems and screenplays. This man wrote a lot! 

“One must be an inventor to read well. There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us learned about Ralph Waldo Emerson and his student and colleague Henry David Thoreau in high school. Alive in the 19th century, they were the fathers of  Transcendentalism. Emerson was a well-read, well-respected lecturer and published author of many essays.

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the most famous fantasy and supernatural modern novelists in this day. He’s written over 60 books, many of which have become films, miniseries, or television series. He’s most well known for It, The Shining, The Stand, and his first novel Carrie

Just Write!

While you can’t write without reading, you really can’t write a book without actually writing it! Like Chandler says, your book doesn’t have to be perfect but it does need to be written! Here are some amazing authors encouraging us to just get to it and write! 

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has written 25 novels including My Sister’s Keeper, Small Great Things and is a New York Times Best Selling author. This is also one of the most widely used encouraging writing quotes and we love it!

“If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” – Dan Poynter

Perhaps the father of self-publishing, Dan Poynter has written more than 130 books, 800 articles and was also, interestingly, a parachute designer. 

 “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

Well known for his strong mustache, Bach was the author of some of the best sellers in the 70s including Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.

“The final sentence can’t be written until the first sentence is written.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Having written nearly 60 books, plus short stories, plays and more this lady knows her stuff. Oates is a pillar in the literary fiction world. 

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”- Ernest Hemingway

Nobel Prize winner, sportsman and author of 24 books, we know Hemmingway as a master most for his The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. And if Hemmingway didn’t consider himself a master, who can?

“It doesn’t matter how many book ideas you have if you can’t finish writing your book.” – Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a modern author who has made it his job to help others write their best.

Finding Ideas

The right ideas need to be conveyed in your book. Either fiction or non-fiction, your thoughts need to be laid out well so your readers know what you mean and take away the message you want them to understand.

“The task of a writer consists of being able to make something out of an idea.” – Thomas Mann

Most well known for his 1912 book, Death in Venice, Mann was an anti-nazi German who married a Jewish woman. 

“Ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that is all important.” — George R.R. Martin

Martin’s epic Fire & Ice books have taken the world by storm in the HBO television series Game of Thrones. 

“Writing—the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye—is the great invention of the world.” – Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe was the United States of American’s 16th President who was a great orator and is most well known for abolishing slavering.

Finding the Right Words 

Once you’ve figured out what to write and how to convey it, you’ll need to do some polishing. Finding the right words to show off what you mean is everything. We encourage you to hire a professional editor who understands your genre.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain

Twain was the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn which we’re pretty sure you’ve heard of before. Clemens was famous in his time and met presidents, successful businessmen, and royalty because of his work. 

“Style means the right word. The rest matters little.” – Jules Renard

Renard was a French author, mayor, and playwright from the 1800s who used humor to tell hard stories. 

 “Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” — Sylvia Plath

Plath is a famous poet who we now understand struggled with depression and ultimately took her own life. She is most well known for her Pulitzer Prize winning poems but she also wrote short stories and novels. 

“Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.” – Jarod Kintz

Kintz is a self-published author with three books under his belt. Maybe not super famous but we still love this quote!

Your Book Can Change the World! 

Now you need some encouragement to keep going. Writing the book is half the battle! You need to keep going with publishing, marketing, and selling! The idea that YOUR BOOK can make a huge difference in the world may help you keep going when you’re feeling like throwing in the towel.

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Philip Pullman

Pullman was knighted for his writing. He is the author of the best selling His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy as well as many more books. 

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” – Martin Luther

This is the guy from the 1500s who helped start the Reformation by allegedly nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the front door of a fancy German church. He wrote many famous letters, pamphlets, sermons, as well as books. He knows about changing the world!

“Write what should not be forgotten.” – Isabel Allende

Allende has been called “the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author.” She’s authored 20 novels as well as many non-fiction pieces that focus on women’s rights.

“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”  – John Updike

Updike wrote art and literary critiques for the New Yorker and authored more than 20 books as well as short stories and poems. He is one of only three authors to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. 

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

While not really a published author, Robin Williams was a famous actor and an amazing storyteller. 

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” – Aldous Huxley

Huxley is most well known for his 1931 book Brave New World in which Big Brother is always watching. He wrote nearly 50 other books as well as essays and poems.

“For me, literacy means freedom. For the individual and for society.” – LeVar Burton

Okay, LeVar hasn’t written a ton of books but he’s READ a ton of books TO us and we all love Reading Rainbow! He still counts as a book authority.

On Failure and Rejection 

Not everyone will love your book. You will get a few one-star reviews and feel some hurt and rejection as an author. Take it as a badge of honor as these great authors have felt the same way.

“I was learning the craft; I didn’t study writing in school. Rejection was my motivation, and failure is what taught me.” – Pierce Brown

Brown’s space opera Red Rising series have each been on the New York Time’s Best Seller List. 

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C. S. Lewis

Best known for his still popular The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe series, Lewis wrote about 30 books and was a contemporary of J. R. R. Tolkien (bonus book recommendation!) who wrote the iconic Lord of the Rings series. 

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”- James Lee Burke

Burke is a prolific novel mystery author whose stories have been adapted into film.

So what are you struggling with? Which of these quotes is helping you move to the next step? If you need a help with accountability and publishing, we encourage you to look into our Self Publishing School model. Attend a webinar with Chandler this week to get started!

creative writing exercises

13 Creative Writing Exercises: Become a Better Writer

No matter where you are in your writing journey or career, there is always room to grow!

But how do we grow intentionally and in the right ways?

Today we’re going to talk about the fundamental ways that writers improve, and we’re going to try out some fun writing exercises to build your skill level and refine your writing style!

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200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres

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How to get better at writing

There are a few fundamental ways to get better at writing.

  1. Reading. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but if you aren’t a good reader, you aren’t a good writer. Reading is the most beneficial thing you can do for your writing style outside of actually writing.
    Read tons of content in your genre, but make sure you aren’t pigeonholing yourself to it. Keep your style eclectic and interesting by reading a wide range of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
    When I have a student struggling with writing enticing language, I tell them to practice with poetry. If they struggle with narrative voice, I recommend reading autobiographies. The more you read–and the more varied the content you’re reading–the stronger your writing will become.
  2. Critiquing. Reading other people’s writing with a critical eye helps you realize the issues in your own writing. Even if you don’t have a critique partner or group, you can read pieces by other author’s through a critical lens. What would you have done differently? What are the strengths and weaknesses you can find? Maybe even edit another person’s story for your own edification!
  3. Writing. And, of course, the best way to get better at writing is by writing yourself. Anything you write will make you better at it! If you’re a young writer, write whatever makes you happiest–fanfiction, movie reviews, short stories, rambling fantasy novels–if you’re learning the craft, you should write what you enjoy the most. Even professional writers should make time for writing things that they truly love to write just for the sake of writing.
    Besides writing what you enjoy, you can try some creative writing exercises to intentionally better your skills and style.

Creative writing exercises are great to loosen up the writing muscles, as a warm-up, to practice specific writing skills, or just as a fun activity when your writing project has you feeling stale.

Here are thirteen exercises you can try to sharpen your writer reflexes! 

13 Creative Writing Exercises

Becoming a better writer can’t be done by just reading and learning. You have to put these things to practice in order to see your own weaknesses as well as where you can improve.

The more you write, the better writer you’ll be.

Here is your list of 13 free creative writing exercises:

1 – Write a scene or short story using no adverbs or adjectives

This exercise trains you to focus on stronger verbs and nouns. I give this exercise to newer writers because they often default to unnecessary adverbs and adjectives as a crutch instead of refining their word choice in core parts of speech.

NOTE: There’s nothing wrong with using adverbs and adjectives effectively! But before you get a hold of your writer’s voice and personal style, they can weaken your writing.

2 – Choose a random object from the room you’re in and write an image-only poem about it

This exercise will let you practice using imagery and specific description without relying on telling

NOTE: Try using senses other than sight! What does the object feel like? Smell like? Maybe even taste like?

3 – Take a story you’ve already written and write it from the point of view of a different character

Writing the same story from a different point of view can give you an understanding of character motivation and perspective.

A story can completely change based on who’s telling it!

4 – Take one of your favorite short stories, either one you’ve written or one you’ve read, and write it in a different genre

For example, take a romance and write it as horror.

This is a super fun exercise, and it lets you practice using tone and perspective! The tone of a story can change the meaning.

5 – Speed-write a story using a writing prompt

Speed-writing helps to release judgment you might put on your stories, allowing for a more natural process. I like to speed-write when I’m stuck on a short story or a particular scene.

REMEMBER: You can always edit and delete anything you write! Don’t be afraid to write with your gut without judging it.

A few writing prompts:

  • Pull a book from your shelf, open to a random page, pick a random sentence, and use that sentence as the first line of a short story.
  • Write a story based on the last dream you can remember having.
  • Write in public (a coffee shop, a library), and eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation. Snatch a line you hear and write a story around it.
  • Take a memory of something that confused you in your childhood–write an explanation for it.
  • Listen to a song, imagine a music video, and write the story of the music video.

6 – Write a stream of consciousness

A stream of consciousness is a direct transcript of every thought you have. It’s a bit like speed-writing in that you just dump thoughts onto paper without judging them.

Giving yourself the freedom to write without second-guessing it helps to unkink writing blocks.

7 – “Write your dialogue like it’s a script”

This one comes from Gloria Russell, critique professional.

This is more of a writing strategy, but a lot of successful writers, like Jenna Moreci, suggest outlining your dialogue-heavy scenes that way before you flesh it out fully.

Oftentimes, we’ll get so caught up writing descriptions, dialogue tags, and body language cues that it distracts from the important conversation we’re writing. If you can focus on the dialogue itself on the first go, it’s easier to get a natural back-and-forth exchange, then you can write the rest of the scene around it.

8 – Free-write for ten minutes before you begin your writing day

Before athletes train, they warm up. Writing is the same! Loosen and stretch your writer muscles with a ten minute free-write session.It can be a daily journal, a writing exercise, a stream of consciousness, or anything you’d enjoy!

9 – “I like to write a story starting from the resolution and working my way backward”

This exercise is from Micah Klassen, Those Three Words

Writing a story out of order is another way to get a fresh perspective. This exercise can also give you insight on things like story structure, progression, climaxes, conclusions, and countless other story elements.

It’s a way to dissect a story and see how they’re built.

10 – Edit someone else’s writing

Thinking critically about another writer’s work helps you think critically of your own. It is good practice for problem-solving, critical observation, and revision.

You might even glean some inspiration!

11 – Revise the oldest story of yours you can find!

Maybe it’s from college, maybe high school, maybe it’s a story you wrote when you were seven–rewrite it with your current skill and life outlook

This is a helpful, fun exercise. It’s good practice, it’s inspiring to see how far you’ve come as a writer, and you might end up salvaging something into a quality story!

12 – Practice a skill with a short story

Choose a specific writing skill you’re struggling with, or just want more practice in, and write a short story focusing on that skill.

Can’t nail your dialogue? Write a dialogue-heavy short story and edit it until you’re happy with it. Bad at showing instead of telling? Write a scenic short story and focus on writing with compelling imagery and specific details.

Nailing a skill with a short story is quicker and easier than struggling with the same problem throughout longer projects.

13 – Write your MC in a different world/setting

What would your contemporary character do if flung into a science fiction scenario? What would their profession be in a different era of time? What if their socioeconomic status was completely reversed?

This is a good exercise for understanding your character at a more complex level. If you’re struggling to connect with your MC, definitely try out this exercise.

Anytime you feel stuck on a story, it’s great to do a little free-write session changing something up, like in exercises 3, 4, and 11. Sometimes you just need a perspective switch to knock the story loose.

The best way to sharpen specific writing skills is to identify the weakness and write short stories, really digging into that skill. I find it’s helpful to share those stories with other writers so they can give you feedback and let you know if you’re getting better with it.

I hope you found these exercises helpful! Feel free to share anything you’ve written from them in a comment below.

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200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres

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How to Use Alliteration in Your Writing

Do you ever play with sound in your writing? 

There are tons of literary devices and stylistic tricks to use in prose to spice it up. Many involve sound, like alliteration, assonance, and rhyme.

Although commonly used in poetry, these devices can be applied to any form of creative writing.

Today we’re talking about alliteration:

  1. What is alliteration?
  2. What is assonance?
  3. Examples of alliteration
  4. How to use alliteration in your writing

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What is alliteration?

Alliteration is a literary device where you use a series of words that all have the same beginning consonant sound. The words can be directly next to each other, or just in close enough proximity to be noticeable. As a device used for sound, it is most often utilized in poetry.

NOTE: alliteration and assonance (which I’ll get into later) don’t necessarily have to use sounds at the very beginning of words. Just like “rhyme” usually refers specifically to end rhymes but can use internal rhymes, alliteration and assonance definitionally refers to the beginning of words but can occur in the middle of words as well.

Not every word in an alliterative phrase must be alliterated, but there needs to be at least two words in close enough proximity to create the dynamic sound for it to be considered alliteration.

There are a couple of things that aren’t “perfect” alliteration–let’s call them alliteration adjacent:

Alliteration of mismatched consonants–You might have alliteration through sound and not actual consonant. This is often the case.

For example, here’s a line from Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven:

Closed my lids, and kept them close,

The consonants don’t match, but the sounds do, giving it the same audial effect of perfect alliteration.

Opposite the alliteration of mismatched consonants, you have something similar to a sight rhyme. A sight rhyme is where words look like they should rhyme, but their pronunciation does not rhyme.

Sight rhyme alliteration–Alliteration could be used as a sort of sight rhyme, where it isn’t actually alliterated in sound, but the words begin with the same letter.

Here’s an example from one of my own poems, Reredos:

Your skin drapes

like an altar cloth

across words swallowed

before they’re whispered.

Each iteration of the letter “a” has a different pronunciation, but it has the same effect of a sight rhyme, where it looks similar. This is technically not alliteration, but it is another tool you can use to craft unique prose.

Also, since it uses vowels instead of consonants, the above example is technically assonance.

What is assonance?

Similar to alliteration, assonance is the repetition of a sound, but it is the repetition of a vowel sound instead of a consonant. Using assonance will give a phrase more of a sing-songy, uplifting tune, while alliteration is more staccato and can be used for harder emphasis.

TIP: You can use assonance and alliteration intentionally by matching them to the tone of the piece. Are you telling a very harsh story? Alliteration might give you the extra hard beat for emphasis. Assonance might suit a story from the perspective of an innocent person, to romanticize an event, or in a soft description.

Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night uses assonance and alliteration in tandem:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


  • blinding sight/Blind eyes…like…light
  • See…meteors and be
  • Grave…blaze…gay…Rage, rage

Sight rhyme: near death

Alliteration: blinding…Blind…blaze

Examples of Alliteration

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of alliteration is the tongue-twister I had to learn when I was a kid taking speech lessons: “She sells seashells by the sea-shore.” The alliteration in that example is the repetition of the “S” and “SH” sounds.

But alliteration usually isn’t used in creative writing for things as campy as tongue-twisters. It’s used to enhance language, rhythm, and sound in prose and poetry. Alliteration can also be used to emphasize words, phrases, and ideas.

Alliteration is most often seen in cliches, titles, and poetry.

Alliteration in cliches

Cliches are often sing-songy, fun, silly phrases, so you’ll see alliteration and assonance pop up in common sayings, like:

  • Dead as a doornail
  • Busy as a bee
  • Right as rain
  • Method to my madness

Alliteration in cliches makes them more fun and catchier, which is what a cliche is meant to be.

Alliteration in titles

Using alliteration in titles makes them stand out, makes them more memorable (peep that alliteration), and makes them sound a bit cooler, like:

  • Black Beauty
  • Peter Pan
  • Gone Girl
  • Doctor Dolittle
  • Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations
  • Wombat Walkabout

Titles are a book’s greatest marketing tool, and alliteration is one more way to make a title stand out.

Alliteration in poetry

Alliteration in poetry lends itself to rhythm and musicality. It’s a unique tool to use for sound, so you’ll see it often in poems.

Here’s another example from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. You’ll find assonance and alliteration in many of Poe’s works, even his short stories:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary/over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore–

Quaint and curious is another example of using alliteration with mismatched consonants. 

This is an example from Abigail Giroir’s Summer Offering

Body bent, devoured,
watermelon rind grass and pregnant trees,
picked clean.

As you can see in Giroir’s excerpt, alliteration can be two directly connected words, or as far apart as an entirely different line. As long as the words are close enough together that they’re still “ringing” in your reader’s head, it’s alliteration.

BUT, like in this line from Krystal Dean’s My Roman Stomach-Heart, the more words used and the closer they are to each other, the more noticeable the effect of alliteration:

My toga twists as I turn her.

How to use Alliteration in your writing

Alliteration is great to use in shorter pieces of writing, like poetry or flash fiction, where sound and language have an emphatic importance. In something longer, like a full novel, it might seem accidental or out-of-place.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to write with alliteration.

#1 – Don’t overdo it!

If you read it back and it sound sing-songy or campy (and that isn’t your intent), you probably need to scale it back. Just like with anything, you can have too much of it. If you tip over more than four alliterated words in a row, it might be a little much. BUT it could be fun to have the same consonant repeated in alliterated phrases, spread throughout a piece.

While pelts pattering might sound graceful in a poem,

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers/a peck of pickled peppers, Peter Piper picked/if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Sounds considerably less graceful, doesn’t it?

#2 – Consider tone.

Like I said earlier, assonance and alliteration give two different vibes. Different consonant sounds can convey different emotions.

For example, the sound of the letter “B” takes considerable effort relative to other consonants. It gives you a feeling of dragging, of heaviness. Take a look at this line from Paradise Lost by John Milton:

Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved. 

You can see how alliteration used there drags, like the feet of a giant. It’s an appropriate sound for the subject matter.

Opposite, the “S” and “SH” sounds are smooth, like a slithering snake. In this example from Birches by Robert Frost, those sound repetitions are used to describe nature:

Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells.

Do you see how those sounds flow into each other? It’s reminiscent of nature, like sunshine pouring and rivers flowing.

The sounds you choose to use can reflect the tone of the subject matter.

#3 – Try finishing your piece before you add alliteration

Like a rhyme scheme, devoting a piece of writing to alliteration before you write it will narrow your word choice and restrict creativity.

Try fully drafting your piece, then editing in some alliteration where it might fit in more naturally.

It’s usually easier to edit writing to be what you’d like it to be than it is to write it that way in the first go.

#4 – Experiment!

If you’ve never used alliteration before, try it out however you’d like to. Toss out all the rules I’ve laid out so far and go wild with different styles.

You can learn to use alliteration more intentionally later, but experimentation is one of the best parts of writing.

Here are a few prompts to get you going:

  • Write your own tongue-twister
  • Take a poem you’ve already finished and add a few phrases of alliteration
  • Take words from this prompter and use them to write a poem
  • Write an alliterative poem using the first letter of your name

Use one of these prompts and leave the results in a comment!

Alliteration is a fun stylistic tool to practice, tweak, and keep in your writer’s toolbox.

[PRINTABLE] Writer’s Guide Handbook

Be A Better Writer TODAY!

From Characters & Conflict, Voice & Style, to Grammar, Dialogue Tips, and More – this handbook has everything you need to finally feel confident in your writing.

writing partners

Writing Partners: How to Find Accountability Buddies in Writing

Writing is one of the loneliest professions. Especially in early drafts, you’re on your own… Later in the process, you might work with editors, beta readers, or publishers–but when you’re writing, it’s just you.

Some writers love that! It’s why a lot of people decide to be writers. But sometimes the isolation just becomes a little too much. What’s an easy solution? A writing partner! 

Besides quelling the loneliness, a writing partner can improve your writing, keep you on track, and help you finish projects quicker.

Here’s what you’ll learn about writing partners: 

  1. What is a writing partner? 
  2. Why might you want a writing partner?
  3. What are things to look for in a writing partner?
  4. How do you find a writing partner?
  5. Writing partner vs writing groups
  6. Tips for using a writing partner
  7. Some reasons you might NOT want a writing partner

What is a writing partner?

A writing partner, or a critique partner, is another writer you can swap writing and critique with. You might read everything each other writes, you might only have a writing partner for a specific project, or you might work on a consistent schedule where you regularly exchange chapters, stories, or writing exercises.

Sometimes a writing partner is an actual collaborator for co-writing. A lot of this information and advice can apply to co-writing, but this blog will focus on a writing partner as a critique partner.

Why do you want a writing partner?

Now that we know what a writing partner is…why do we want one?

  1. Like I said, writing is solitary! It’s nice having someone in on your writing with you, there to help you brainstorm, and just to have someone to talk to. Even if they aren’t writing collaboratively, a writing partner can offer new perspectives and help you over writing humps.
  2. New perspectives. Having someone else’s eyes and opinions on your work is valuable for having a full view of what you need to improve. It’s easy to get myopia if you’re the only one looking at your writing.
  3. Regularly consuming another work-in-progress can be inspiring for your own writing! “Critiquing other’s writing sometimes inspires me in my own work. It gives me ideas or helps me figure out problems I have.” — Krystal Dean, one of my writing partners.
  4. Improve your writing. Having feedback on your writing and critiquing other’s writing are two of the most helpful activities to hone writing skills.
  5. Writing partners hold you accountable.” — Gloria Russel, another writing partner. Even if you don’t have a strict submission schedule, just having someone expecting progress on a piece can keep you on track.
  6. “It’s a nice way to ease yourself into other people reading your work and receiving critical feedback.” — Micah Klassen, my New Writer writing partner.
    If you’re new to the feedback and workshop process, a writing partner can help you get used to sharing your work in a safe and familiar environment with a friend! Letting someone you trust read your story is a lot less intimidating than sending a manuscript to a literary agent or publisher.

What are things to look for in a writing partner?

When choosing a writing partner, it’s great to be selective. You can always break off a deal with a writing partner if it isn’t working out, but it’s much easier to put time and thought into who you partner with at the beginning.

So what kind of characteristics make for a good writing partner?

Here are a few things you might look out for:

  1. Someone you get along with! You’ll spend a lot of time communicating with a writing partner, so it’s best to have someone you’re friendly with–especially because you’re critiquing each other’s writing. Regular critique requires good communication and a fair amount of trust. If you’re uncomfortable with your writing partner, or you’re just not good at communicating, it won’t be a good relationship–it might even scare you off of writing.
  2. Someone at a similar writing level as you. You want to have around the same skill and experience level to have a fair exchange of critique. Ideally, you’ll have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other’s, but you should have around the same level of skill. If one has much more experience, it likely won’t be a fair exchange.
  3. A good writer. There are lots of levels of experience in writing, but some writers are just better equipped than others. You want someone who is striving to learn, always improving, and passionate about writing.
  4. A good critiquer. I know a ton of great writers who are just awful at giving feedback. You want an attentive, observant, caring reader who knows how to communicate clearly. You can read a story and know it’s bad, but if you can’t pinpoint and express specific issues, you might not be good at critiquing others.

How do you find a writing partner?

If a writing partner sounds good to you, and now you know what to look for, how do you find one? The best place to find a writing partner is by being friends with writers! I’ve chosen my writing partners and critique groups from friends of mine who were already writers.

This has worked best for me because I already know we have good rapport AND I know they’re strong writers–I even know our personal strengths and weaknesses to be sure we complement each other.

If you don’t have a network of writer friends, you can find some:

  1. Try joining a local book club or writing group. If none exist in your area, contact your school (if you’re school-aged), library, or community center to see about starting one.
  2. If that isn’t an option, or you’re just not feeling the in-person interaction, there are tons of online book clubs and writing groups!
  3. Twitter is a great place to find other writers, especially indie writers. Some hashtags you can check are #AmWriting and #WritersCommunity

Writing partner vs writing groups

Some people prefer one-on-one writing partners, but there are benefits to having a group of writers instead:

  1. More eyes and opinions on your work
  2. More writer voices to learn from
  3. More strengths and weaknesses to balance yours
  4. A great way to build strong relationships with other writers!

In a critique group, you have the opportunity to select writers with various strengths. One might be great with writing natural and compelling dialogue, one might be a master of imagery, another might have a talent for realizing subtext and working with symbolism. The more varied your talents within a writing group, the more rounded your critiques will be.

Also consider diversity in your critique group. Different ages, genders, ethnicities, orientations, life experiences, and perspectives will give you more rounded critique. If your writing group is solely people who are very similar to you, you’ll get more standard feedback, and likely an echo chamber of thoughts you’ve already had.

If you’d like to put together a writing group, consider the following elements:

  1. Compatibility amongst everyone. Different personalities can get along great, if everyone is a good communicator.
  2. Similar goals and schedules. Make sure everyone is on board with whatever schedule and routine you decide on.
  3. Similar works in progress. If one person is a poet, one is writing an autobiography, and one is writing a science fiction novel, it’ll be difficult to determine what is due when, and feedback might be unfair. It’s obviously quicker to give feedback on a single poem than it is to give feedback on an entire chapter of a science fiction novel.

If you want a writing group but the idea of putting one together is intimidating, consider starting with one partner and growing from there.

Tips for using writer partners

Here are a few suggestions to utilize a writing partner or group to their fullest potential:

  1. Set up a schedule to swap progress on your works in progress. Having an agreed-upon schedule written out makes it much easier to hold each other accountable, and it will help limit disagreements and conflict.
  2. Use the same prompt for writing exercises. I love using this for my short story writing group. Take the same prompt, write a story or poem from it, then see what each other comes up with. It’s a ton of fun seeing the different styles and stories from each writer and it’s a great writing exercise.
  3. Do word sprints together. My favorite writing memories are staying up all night with my friends as a teenager, word sprinting for NaNoWriMo. My writing partners and I like to sprint for twenty minutes, then share our new word counts and our favorite line from that sprint. Almost anytime you can make something a collaborative effort or a fun activity, you’ll get more done.
  4. Swap stories! My partners and I have written scenes of each other’s WIPs to give a fresh perspective or to break a writing block with a scene. If you’re stuck on something, you can ask your writing partner to write a few paragraphs and see what they think should happen next. It’s unstuck me several times.
  5. Use “I” statements in feedback. Especially early on, getting criticism is hard! To be respectful of your writing partner’s work, try phrasing feedback with an “I” statement. So instead of saying something like, “this chapter is boring,” you could say, “I feel like this chapter doesn’t have enough content.” Acknowledge that your opinions are subjective to keep everything in perspective and sound less like you’re attacking them.

Some reasons you might NOT want a writing partner

Obviously, there are lots of benefits to having a writing partner or group, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone!

Here are some reasons a writing partner might not be right for you.

  1. If it will make you nervous to actually write. If you know someone is reading early drafts, you might get so in your own head that you’re too nervous to produce new content–you might second guess yourself and fall away from the project. You can always try it out, but if you realize writing partners aren’t your style, that’s fine too! Everyone has a different process.
    A solution: Maybe you have a writing partner for a second draft instead of your first one.
  2. If you work on an irregular schedule. If you can’t commit to submitting projects or feedback on a timely basis, writing partners might not work for you.
    A solution: If you can write regularly and commit to a schedule, but you and your writing partner have very different timelines, goals, and expectations, you might just need to find someone with a similar lifestyle to partner with instead.
  3. If a writing partner gives feedback in a way that makes you defensive. There are so many different types of communicators, and some of them clash. If you feel the need to defend yourself or your writing against all of your writing partner’s critique, you might need a new partner.
    A solution: Check in with yourself and see if you need to learn to accept critique better. If you’re not the problem, have an open and frank discussion with your partner about the way they present feedback. If that doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to cut ties with that writing partner and find a new one.

Writing partners are a great tool to get feedback, keep on schedule, better your craft, and build substantive relationships with other writers. Like any relationship, they take work! So use these tips to find and sustain healthy dynamics with other writers.

tropes in writing

Tropes and Clichés in Writing

We’ve all heard the terms “trope” and “cliche” before, likely in negative contexts. Did you know tropes and cliches aren’t all bad, and you can apply them in your own writing effectively?

Today we’re going to talk about what a trope and cliche are, look at some examples of each, and learn if, when, and how you should be using them in your writing!

Here’s what you should know about tropes and clichés in writing:

  1. What is a trope?
  2. Examples of tropes in fiction 
  3. How to use tropes
  4. What is a cliche?
  5. Examples of cliche phrases
  6. How to repurpose a cliche in your writing

What is a trope in writing?

A trope typically refers to a commonly occurring situation or plot in fiction. Using tropes in your writing isn’t necessarily wrong (and in fact, doing them correctly can help you create a full-time fiction income), but you should be careful to write with tropes in a way that isn’t trite or done-to-death.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use tropes–in fact, it might be impossible to write a story without any tropes.

There are countless tropes present in every story you’ll read–some are done well, some not so much.

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Examples of tropes

There are so many tropes, you’d never be able to list them all. Any work of fiction you can think of has more than one trope.

To illustrate, I’m going to pick random works from my bookshelf and list the first tropes that come to mind.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of my favorite books. You’ll find many classic romance tropes in Austen’s work–she invented plenty of them!

Some examples of tropes from Pride and Prejudice are:

  • A mother character obsessed with her daughters getting married
  • Enemies-to-lovers dynamic
  • Characters having feelings they try to ignore
  • A rich, snobby male love interest 
  • A female love interest from a more modest lifestyle
  • The charming villain (Wickham)
  • The bratty teen daughter (Lydia)
  • Opposites attract friendship (Darcy and Bingley)
  • Rich bitch (the Bingley sisters)

As you can see, tropes include characters, dynamics between them, motivations, plots, premises, among others.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is another of my favorite books (and the one I always reference to teach effective prose!).

Some tropes in this book include:

  • The anti-hero (Ed)
  • The good bad girl (Audrey)
  • Rape as drama–Ed has to help the woman whose husband regularly assaults her–this is a great example of an incredibly common trope that has run its course and does more harm than benefit. Time to think up something new, writers.
  • Will they, won’t they dynamic (Audrey and Ed’s weird romance)
  • Breaking the fourth wall–When a character or narrator addresses the audience/reader.

“Breaking the fourth wall” is a good example of how even some stylistic choices are tropes.

Let’s look at some examples from film and television.

My favorite scifi/dystopian show right now is The 100. (Must admit I have not read the book series.)

Let’s look at the tropes present in the television series:

  • Bury your gays–This is a notorious trope where an LGBT+ character (often the only one or one of very few) is killed for little to no narrative reason OR in the same way the “rape as drama” trope is used–as a harmful and arguably lazy plot device.
  • Attractive teenagers in dystopian survival scenarios–The 100 does get better in this respect, even by the end of the first season, by representing what people in these situations might actually look like. The poor kids are never clean again.
  • Mercy kill–this happens numerous times throughout the series.
  • Gray morality–a repeated theme in The 100 is how there are no good guys. The protagonists must make hard, unfair, often cruel decisions in order to save themselves and their friends. Everyone is looking out for themselves, and no one is better than anyone else.
  • Body-count competition–the Grounders keep scars/tattoos on their bodies for how many people they’ve killed.
  • Machine worship–Jaha and his followers seeing the AI as a deity falls into the machine worship trope. This is a common trope in dystopian fiction, specifically.
  • Population control–originally shown on the Ark when resources are limited in space, but it also recurs a few times later in the series as a parallel.
  • Raising a host–Nightbloods raised and collected for the Commander legacy, then in a later season by the Primes as hosts.
  • Jerk character has a point–this is when the character everyone hates or loves to hate makes the most logical argument (so almost any idea John Murphy has).

For a movie most of us have seen, let’s look at tropes in Mean Girls:

  • Rich bitch bully
  • Alpha bitch
  • Beta bitch
  • New bitch
  • Fallen bitch
  • This movie pretty much has a bitch for every bitch trope
  • Montage of characters introducing another character
  • Cool losers (Janis and Damian)
  • Bait-and-Switch–when the edit makes it look like Regina is adding Cady to the Burn Book, but she’s really adding herself
  • Dumb blonde (Karen)
  • Character eating lunch alone–bonus points because Cady eats her lunch alone in a bathroom stall.
  • Girls using Halloween as a cover to dress skimpy
  • Frenemies dynamic–nearly every friendship at some point in the movie

Most of the obvious Mean Girls tropes are character and character dynamic tropes, because that’s what the movie is about–different personalities blending and clashing.

How to use tropes in your writing

As you can see, tropes aren’t necessarily bad things. They’re just common and recognizable story elements.

Tropes should be used intentionally, because your reader will have preconceived ideas about most tropes. Think of a fantasy story with an ogre. Ogres are a creature trope. Every reader will have a different idea of an ogre when they see it presented in a story.

Maybe they have an unfounded negative feeling, just because they’re predisposed to an opinion based on the stories they’ve read with villainous ogres. Maybe they have an unfounded positive feeling, just because they’ve seen Shrek. 

Consider a writer who is unaware of the “bury your gays” trope because they don’t consume media where it has been portrayed. They might include an LGBT+ character who happens to be killed off, and they might consider that fair representation of a minority group because they simply aren’t aware that it’s a harmful trope that has been thoroughly repeated in all forms of media.

Being aware of the tropes you use is imperative, because most readers are aware of them.

You can be aware of tropes by:

  1. Consuming multiple forms of media in your genre
  2. Research
  3. One-on-one conversations with minority groups included in your story that you yourself are not a part of
  4. Hiring a sensitivity reader of that minority

In our writing, we should avoid tropes that promote harmful stereotypes or regressive perspectives on marginalized groups. Tropes are something to be aware of, but we can embrace using them intentionally!

What is a cliché?

A cliche is a phrase that is overused or stereotypical. Sometimes a trope that has been overdone, is severely dated, or was trash to begin with is referred to as a cliche or a “cliched trope.”

While “trope” is not something to be immediately associated with negative connotations, “cliche” is something to avoid or “fix”.

Cliches are indicative of amateur or lazy writing, but there are ways to write them well! I’ll get into how you can effectively write with cliches in a bit. First, let’s look at an example list of cliche phrases.

Examples of cliche phrases:

  • Gilded cage
  • Head over heels
  • Only time will tell
  • The calm before the storm
  • Kiss and makeup 
  • Woke up on the wrong side of the bed
  • Gut-wrenching
  • Avoid like the plague
  • Low-hanging fruit
  • I stopped dead in my tracks
  • Stealing candy from a baby
  • Right up your alley
  • Play your cards right
  • All bets are off
  • All in due time
  • Batten down the hatches
  • Read between the lines
  • Been there, done that
  • Put out feelers
  • Rain on my parade
  • Stabbed him in the back
  • Fire in my blood
  • Blood ran cold
  • Digging yourself into a hole
  • Get your toes wet
  • Not the brightest bulb in the box
  • Pot calling the kettle black
  • On thin ice

You get it.

How to use clichés in writing

Amateur writers often default to cliches because they’re easy to write with! Cliches have been around for a while, they’ve gathered connotations, most people know what they mean–it’s like a writing shortcut: a set of words that already carry all of the meaning you want to use.

However, using cliches as a shortcut just makes you look like a lazy writer. You don’t want to write something that’s already been written.

Good news! You can use cliches and still write strong prose by reinventing or repurposing the cliche.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers boasts this advice about re-working a cliche:

“…before going with the cliché, give some thought to the possibility of “turning” it, altering it slightly to render the phrasing less familiar. In a celebrated novel we edited, the writer used the phrase “they vanished into thin air” to avoid a lengthy, complicated explanation. We suggested a change to “they vanished into thick air,” which fit the poetic, steamy atmosphere of the European city in which the scene was set.”

If you have a cliche you’d love to use, even swapping one word–like “thick” for “thin”–might be enough to bring new life to it.

You might add to a cliche, like Taylor Swift in the song Endgame: she takes the cliche “bury the hatchet” and turns it to “I bury hatchets, but I keep maps to where I put ‘em.” She achieves the immediate cultural understanding of what it means to bury the hatchet (forgiveness, putting away old disputes) and adds a layer of keeping maps to where they are, so she can retrieve that dispute whenever she wants to.

Another example of adding to the end of a cliche is a line Harlan Ellison wrote, where he took the cliche “she looked like a million bucks” and turned it to, “she looked like a million bucks tax free.” Just a tiny glimpse of a new aspect can make a cliche impactful.

From one of my own stories, I have the line: “A child was raised on stories of crows–dark creatures with black intentions.” While not direct cliches, a black crow and a dark intent are expected. Swapping language like that is referred to as “diverting expectations”, and it is much the same concept as repurposing a cliche.

TIP: if you know a reader will easily guess how your sentence will end, you might be using tired language.

Grab some cliches from the list above and try your hand at repurposing them in a comment!

Another way you can get away with using a cliche is in dialogue. People speak in cliches, so if you have a dorky character who uses cliches, that’s fine! Anything goes in dialogue–in prose, you’re on thin ice.

We know that cliches aren’t all bad–how do we know if we’re using them well? 

Repurposing cliches, as we just saw, can you give you an original piece of writing. But a good way to think about if you’re using a cliche for the right reasons it is to ask yourself if you’re using it for clarity of meaning, since cliches are widely known and understood, or if you’re using them for a shortcut. Easy writing is most often lazy writing.

The skinny of it is: avoid cliches unless you can use them in an intentional and creative way.

Now we know the good and bad of tropes and cliches, how to spot them, and how to use them! 

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writing multiple points of view

Writing Multiple Points of View

Have you ever started a novel with a huge cast of characters and felt like you needed to see all of their points of view? Were you quickly overwhelmed? Well, writing multiple points of view is an art that can aid in this desire.

There are ways to manage multiple POV characters! Let’s go over some basics, then look at specific tips for writing a story with multiple POVs.

We’re going to cover:

  1. the different types of POV
  2. how many you should use
  3. which POV to use for which scenes
  4. how to swap between them effectively
  5. tips for writing multiple POVs
  6. and some common mistakes with writing multiple POVs

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What is a POV?

POV stands for Point of View. POV and perspective are often used interchangeably when referring to writing, but Point of View specifically means the view the reader has of the story, while perspective refers to a character’s interpretation of the world through the lens of their own experiences and personality.

There are four common types of POV:

  1. First person (I, me, myself) – first person puts the reader closest to the character, because they are seeing the story directly through the character’s eyes–they essentially become the character and live the story through them.
  2. Second person (you) second person is not often used in creative literature. It often puts the reader on edge, making them feel observed or judged. This can be used intentionally, so don’t rule it out if you’re wanting to try something stylistic.
  3. Third limited (he, she, they)third person limited is a bit further from the character than first person, but we are still limited to the POV character’s perspective. We can’t hop into other character’s heads or know anything about the world that our character cannot observe.
  4. Third omniscient (he, she, they) – third omniscient POV knows everything. The story is told by an outside, omniscient narrator who knows everything about the world and characters, the past and future, with no limits to a character’s knowledge or observation.

Your POV character is the character the reader sees the story through.

How many POVs is too many?

There aren’t any rules about how many perspective characters you can have in a novel, but it’s important to realize that there are drawbacks to having too many.

As a general fact, the more perspective characters your story has, the harder it will be to write. Each character needs their own unique voice, not only in dialogue, but in the entirety of your prose. If your characters are all exactly the same, what’s the point of having more than one perspective? Crafting main characters includes developing their backstory, motivation, personality, and several other things–if you make that main character a POV character, you have to craft a strong narrative voice for them as well.

With every POV character you add, you add a giant workload.

When you’re deciding how many POVs you can handle, consider your experience level–are you proficient enough to handle many different perspectives?

How much will it challenge you?

How much time are you willing to spend on this project?

If you’re a relatively new writer, if you want to finish your novel in under a year, or if you’re just not looking to beat your head against a desk, I wouldn’t reach for a huge character cast.

Which POV character should you use for which scenes?

If you establish a pattern for switching between characters (a pattern could be with the length of the scenes or chapters in a certain POV, the order in which we see the characters, etc.), it’s important to plot your story so that the most interesting parts are happening to the character we’re seeing through.

If you haven’t established a pattern, show scenes through the character who has the most at stake in that scene.

Particularly if you have multiple POV characters in one scene, ask yourself which character stands to lose the most. Who is the most emotionally invested in what happens in that scene? That is almost always who we should see the scene through.

How do you switch between POVs?

A perspective switch (POV switch) is when you swap from one character’s POV to the other. This is done intentionally and well if you do the 3 following things:

  1. Switch scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter. Do not switch perspective within a single scene (that’s a move for omniscient POV).
  2.  When you begin a scene with a new character’s perspective, establish whose head we are in as soon as possible. One or two sentences establishing the scene is fine, then name whose perspective we’re in so the reader is grounded as quickly as possible.
  3. For that entire scene, you are in this character’s perspective. That means we don’t get internal thoughts from other characters, we don’t get information our character doesn’t have, we don’t observe things they would not be observing. If you hop around character heads in a single scene, that’s an unintentional perspective switch, and you don’t want that. Some people call it head-hopping. Head-hopping is a common mark of an amateur, and it detracts from your narrative authority.

Those three guidelines will keep your POVs neat and easy to follow.

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Writing Multiple Points of View Characters

Once you’ve decided how many POV characters you want to use, and you know how to switch between them, apply these tips to write them well.

  1. Give a healthy chunk of story in that character’s perspective. If you have very short scenes and jump back and forth a lot, it can be jarring. It does take a while for a reader to settle into a new perspective, so don’t jump around too frequently. Using quick and abrupt swaps occasionally might lead to more tension, so if you want the reader to be a little confused and uncomfortable, it can be stylistic. But in general, give a good amount of story before switching to another character.
  2. Each perspective must be unique from the others. Put time into developing each character and each narrative voice. This is very important. You shouldn’t have multiple main perspectives if some are significantly more developed or more important. If you have three strong characters and one just isn’t there, consider cutting the perspective. You can keep the character, but their voice might not be strong enough to hold its own. This is referring to third limited POV main characters–you might have brief glimpses into less developed characters for plot reasons, especially in third omniscient, but make sure you use them intentionally and they aren’t covering up lazy storytelling.
  3. And going off of that, each perspective character is your main character, so each one needs their own story. If you have multiple perspectives JUST for ease of storytelling, that’s lazy writing. Your main characters each need their own struggles, their own voice, and their own personality. If you only want one main character, but you absolutely need multiple perspectives to tell the story, some writers will swap between first person and third person POV–their main character is in first person POV, then we duck into some other perspectives with third person POV. It can be tricky, but it’s a little loophole if you need it.
  4. If you establish a pattern, keep it. A POV pattern is when you switch between POV characters in a specific order, either by scene or by chapter.

In Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, one of the books has two POV characters. It swaps between them every other chapter until it becomes one character’s POV for several chapters because the other character has died.

In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, there are a ton characters and no pattern–the POV hops around wherever the story is. There are different ways to layer multiple perspectives, just know what you’re doing and why.

  1. Don’t be redundant. If you’re rehashing the same scene from multiple perspectives just to keep up a pattern, that isn’t fun to read.

    If you have a lot of action happening with one character while the other character isn’t really doing anything, but you’re still peeking in on them to keep up your pattern, that won’t work either. Outlining can help you can make sure interesting things are happening and the action is spread out properly.

  2. Don’t be afraid to drop a POV character. Sometimes you’ll have an idea for the perspective characters you want, but then once you start outlining or once you start writing, one or more of them seem more like they’re side characters or they just won’t work as a POV character. If that happens, maybe you don’t need that perspective.
  3. Just to emphasize, when you’re editing, check for unintentional perspective switches. If your first person or third limited POV character doesn’t know something, the reader doesn’t know it either. You can’t have them look at another character and tell us how that character is feeling or what they’re thinking unless there’s a way for the perspective character to observe it.

Common mistakes with writing multiple POVs

Here are a few things you should always avoid when you’re writing multiple POV characters.

  1. Having way too many characters to reasonably keep track of. If your reader can’t keep track of who’s who, or if they go so long without seeing a character that they forget about them, it will be hard to have them engage with the story.
  2. Unintentional perspective switches. If you’re in a limited POV and swap to another without a scene break, you’ll look like an amateur–because that’s a common writing mistake you should learn to avoid early on.
  3. Characters not having distinct voices. The same way having too many characters will confuse and disinterest your reader, having separate characters who all sound the same will confuse and disinterest. If you go to the trouble of having more than one POV character, you should give special attention to make sure they sound distinct.
  4. Re-telling the same scenes. Obviously this is boring to read, and your reader will start skimming pages. Plan your book to avoid this.

Now you know the different types of POV, how many you should use, when you should use them, how to hop between, and some general dos and don’ts!

Most writing rules can be broken, as long as you break them intentionally. If you’re giving careful consideration to your characters and the way you tell your story, you can get away with almost anything!

exposition in writing

Exposition in Writing

A writing element that is completely imperative, but extremely difficult to balance is exposition.

Too much exposition at once, presented in the wrong way, will leave your reader bored and they’ll start skimming or abandon the book entirely. Too little exposition, and your reader might be too lost to understand the story.

In the past, authors could take the entire first chapter to lay out everything about the world and characters. See how writers like Jane Austen and Daphne Du Maurier open their novels–lengthy descriptions of the protagonist, their life, their family, their social status, their struggles, their hobbies–it’s all there, right up front.

In Rebecca, Du Maurier drags on for several chapters before you really get into the story. Rebecca is one of my favorite books, but even I start skimming the first half.

In modern writing, readers have different expectations. They want to be dropped into the story and figure it out as they go. This is accomplished with hidden exposition and subtle revelations.

Let’s talk about what exposition is, look at some examples, and then learn how to use it properly!

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What is exposition?

Exposition is a literary device. It gives your reader information about events, characters, and the world around your story.

There are several ways exposition can be done well. Let’s look at a few examples from the same writer, Krystal Blaze Dean.

One way to work in exposition is outright stating information, like this opener from You Know Kaila?:

That summer sizzled in, taking my favorite classes away and sending me back to work. Our first spot of the summer was the Biloxi fair. Our trailers were parked behind a little church with a broken statue of St. Peter on the roof, one of his hands taken by the last hurricane. The fair was set up in the field beside it, the rides in a semicircle around the line of joints set up. That week, I was put on the Sizzler–a ride that spins and twists, forcing riders against the outside so they squished each other and spent most of the ride complaining about it. My buddy, Lizzie, was assigned to the ride with me and we were all set for a weekend of insanity. We were always a bad combination.

This is a great example of exposition well-done. The writer established the setting in a natural way. We know it’s Louisiana because of the references to Catholicism, hurricanes, and fair rides. We know the time of year, the weather, the age of the narrator (she’s in school), a little about her personality (intelligent, observant, troublemaker), and it established the theme and voice of the piece.

You can also show exposition through dialogue. This is a flash fiction called Visiting Hours, also by Dean.

I can’t play anything on the piano except “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But she doesn’t care.

She sits and shakes, her cheeks wrinkled up in a smile that her face can barely hold. She doesn’t flinch when I hit a key wrong and the piano clangs out an ugly note or two. Her smile doesn’t fade when the tune drops and I have to pause and think about the next key to press. She watches my hands. She says my rings amuse her because they make their own music when they hit each other.

“Oh, Dana. You’re worth every dollar your father and I put into those piano lessons.”

I smile. “Thanks, Mamma.” I’m pretty sure the piano would punch me if it could. I suck.

She clasps my hand, patting the top of it. “Play for me once more, love. I’m a bit sleepy.”

So I play the same little song again, screwing up twice. After all these times playing for her, I should be better than this.

The nurse comes in. “Ms. Jensen? It’s time for your nap.”

The old lady pats my hand again and waddles to the bed. “Next time, Dana, you can play my favorite song.”

I smile and nod. “Of course, Mamma.”

The nurse leans toward me. “Your mom’s waiting to pick you up out front, Emily. Have a good day, hon.”

I glance at the little woman in the bed, the one who calls me Dana every weekend from four to six. I smile. “I already did.”

We learn Ms. Jensen thinks Emily is her daughter through her dialogue, then we learn she isn’t through the nurse’s. Dialogue between characters is a good way to reveal exposition, but it should always be something the characters would naturally say.

The most natural way to show exposition is by revealing tiny, crucial details as they become relevant, as simply an interaction between the character and the world.

Here’s an excerpt from Malibu and Pineapple:

She smells like pineapple and rum. Her tongue tastes the same. She whispers my name, but I don’t even try to remember hers. She shoves me against the wall.

Still on the bed, barely dressed, she stares at me. Her eyes shine a little too brightly in the dim room and I wonder how much she’s had to drink.

“Whatever,” she says, snatching her shirt from the coarse, gray carpet. Without another word, she leaves, taking the taste of pineapple and rum with her. I give her a few minutes to disappear into the crowd downstairs. Then I follow, ignoring my friends at the bar. I stumble out the door, finding my car in the line of vehicles outside.

When I pull into the driveway I see the lights are on inside. I park and lock the car. Before I step out, I open the glove compartment. My ring waits, dull gold and faded white design. I put it on.

She’s in the kitchen, having a midnight snack. “Honey, I thought you weren’t going to be home until later. Isn’t it your boss’s birthday?”

I shrug. “I missed you.” I lean in and kiss her.

She hums and smiles. “Pineapple and Malibu rum. My favorite.”

“I know.”

The exposition we are shown in that excerpt:

  • The protagonist slept with someone they did not enjoy sleeping with
  • Then they pull the ring out and we know it’s an affair
  • Then we learn the wife’s favorite drink and realize guilt was tainting the interaction

Exposition is necessary to tell a story, but there are bad ways to use it. Information should be worked naturally into scenes instead of “dumped.”

An exposition dump is a load of information slapped into a story with little care to revealing it in a way that makes sense. If you read scifi or fantasy novels, you likely know exactly what I’m talking about–the writer dumps a lot of technical details all at once, they’re not really connected to the story, and it’s boring to read. So you do what? Ya skim it!

Unnatural exposition using dialogue might look something like this:

“Hi, Karen,” I said.

“Hi, Maggie” she replied. “How is your uncle? Cancer gettin’ any worse?”

“Yes. Should be any day now. Can’t wait to inherit his entire estate.”

Maggie’s uncle is dying of cancer, and she stands to inherit everything–true information for a story, but is this an interaction two people would realistically have? Nah.

So what exactly is unnatural about that interaction? For one, Karen specifying who she’s talking about and what they suffer from–Maggie would know those details. “How is your uncle? Cancer gettin’ any worse?” could simply be “How is he?”

If Maggie is waiting for her uncle to die and lowkey doesn’t care, she still wouldn’t say that outright. “Should be any day now. Can’t wait to inherit his entire estate.” could be turned into body language that displays the same sentiment, while her words are more tactful.

“Hi, Karen,” I said.

“Hi, Maggie,” she replied. “How is he?”

I shook my head, dropping my gaze to look forlorn. “Not well.”

And later in the story, more details could be revealed as they are relevant.

Exposition is important, but if it isn’t done well, it can rip your reader right out of the story. Here ae some ways you can incorporate exposition realistically.


8 tips to incorporate exposition naturally in your writing

  1. Don’t assume your reader is stupid. Sometimes writers have the inclination to spoon-feed their audience information when they could let them pick up on it. Readers are better at picking up subtlety than you might think. And if every detail and theme in your story is obvious enough for every reader to notice, it won’t be a very compelling story. You can reveal things about your world by having your characters interact with it, rather than directly telling your audience the relevant information.
  2. Include only necessary exposition. Only include what is important or relevant to your characters. Particularly in science fiction and fantasy, writers get excited about the worldbuilding they’ve done and feel like they need to MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS. The thick of it is: no one cares. Your reader doesn’t care as much as you do about your political system and religion and world history–if it doesn’t matter to the STORY you’re telling, it’s likely unnecessary.
  3. Spread your exposition throughout the story. We don’t need the first chapter to lay out every rule and fact of the world–it’s okay for the reader to have questions. You want them to have questions so they feel compelled to keep reading. So reveal information as it’s necessary and when it’s natural for it to come up. Give only enough information for the audience to follow along with what is currently happening in the story.
    TIP: outlining helps with spreading exposition, because you can see what information is revealed when.
  4. Work it in naturally. If you’re in a character’s POV, they wouldn’t naturally be explaining something very mundane to them. When you walk past a photo of your family, do you stop and think about each family member, their personality, what they do for a living, and your dynamic with each of them? Your character wouldn’t either! So how could you show a POV character’s relationships with their family? Have them interact in a scene and reveal it in a subtler way. If you can tell that a character is thinking about something for the benefit of the reader, it’s probably unnatural exposition.
  5. Show, don’t tell! This advice is beaten to death for writing, but it’s a great way to avoid unnatural exposition. Anytime you start telling the reader something, it’s probably unnatural. If you’re in a daughter’s perspective and she has a tense relationship with her father, you could literally say “she has a tense relationship with her father,” OR you could show it in a scene and let the reader realize it on their own.
  6. Mix exposition into your scenes. Facts can be revealed with action–you shouldn’t have “story scenes” and “information scenes.” I see a lot of new writers make that mistake, and, hate to tell you: readers skim information dump scenes. If you lace your necessary information INTO your scenes, it keeps the story interesting.
  7. Bury your backstory. Think of your backstory as a completely separate entity from your story. Bits of it will peek through, but they are not the same thing. Developing your backstory is to help you, the writer, tell a better story. Backstory isn’t for the reader. You don’t have to tell them all of it. Think of your backstory as your story’s shadow–it makes the image of your story richer and deeper, but it should be essentially out of consciousness.
  8. Do it well. If you must include exposition, make it brief, make it interesting, write it in a crisp and compelling way, and give it multiple jobs if you can. Tie your exposition to developing your characters or furthering your plot–don’t just have it floating in space with no other purpose.

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Exposition is somewhat of a necessary evil in storytelling. In an ideal world, your reader would inherently know all things about the universe your story takes place in, allowing you to weave a story without regard for technicalities. Unfortunately, that ain’t it. So we must grin, bear it, and use these tips to write a stellar story.

types of editing

Types of editing: which do you need most?

Have you finished writing it? Now you gotta edit it.

Let’s talk about editing, the different types of edits and editors, and what kind of editing your story needs.

What is editing?

Editing is the process of refining a work of writing. There are many types of edits, and there are many types of editors. The main types of editing are developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. Let’s look at those in detail, as well as examples of each.

It is helpful to note that there is a big difference between a self-edit and a professional edit.

Every book needs a professional edit! Even if the writer is a professional editor themselves, editing their own book would require taking a several year gap between writing and editing to be able to come back to it with the new perspective required.

You would effectively have to forget your entire book before you could do a proper job editing it, and even then, you’d have to have substantial editing experience to do it credibly. The short of it: hire an editor.

However, before the professional edit, is the self-edit. There are several rounds of self-editing a writer might partake in. You can also use critique partners and beta readers as tools in the editing process.

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Different Types of Editing

There are different types of editing that take different amounts of time, including:

  • Critiques – critiques aren’t edits, but I’m including them because I think they’re such an important part of the writing process. You can get critiques from writing partners, beta readers, or hiring a professional. Critiques should point out problems with pacing, voice, character arcs, story structure, and other macro edits.
  • Developmental editing – this is substantive editing, where you evaluate an entire manuscript for problems with plot structure, character arcs, overall story, consistency, etc. You might rearrange or delete chapters, condense, expand, or even rewrite the whole thing. Critiques should give you an idea of what to do for developmental edits.
  • Line editing – line editing is less about macro changes and more about micro changes. This is editing for things like style. It covers syntax, character dialect, realistic dialogue, verbiage, prose, etc.
  • Copy editing (proof-reading) – copy editing gets down to the tiny details, like proper sentence structure, consistent spelling, and grammar.

Types of Editing Examples

There isn’t a single form of “editing”. Different types accomplish different goals. For that reason, you may need to hire multiple editors for different types, or make sure the editor you hire has various types of editing they can commit to.

#1 – Developmental editing

Developmental editing has a bigger impact on a longer piece, like a full novel, but for the sake of brevity, this example is of a light developmental edit of a single scene. I only changed a few things, such as taking out one of the times the character is shot. Since I changed what happens in the scene, not just how it’s worded, this is a developmental edit.

Unedited version:

The man laughed as he turned raising his gun and firing. Celine dove to the ground. Stone shrapnel and dust blasted her pants. Two bullets slammed into her vest with the force of a hard punch. Pain shot from her bruised ribs as she rolled behind a large boulder.

The gunfire stopped as sat against the stone. She assessed her pistol. Footsteps came towards her. She tossed the pistol aside as she scrambled away from him. As she slid behind another boulder a bullet tore into her right calf. Blood ran from the wound further staining her pants. Dust rained down onto her as he shot in her direction.

Her heart was pounding as she listened. She was patient. She grasped the hilt of her knife with her right hand and waited.

The gun stopped firing and she jumped over the rock. She ran as fast as her injured legs would allow. The pain tore through her body with a fresh surge of adrenaline. Her hand held her knife tight. Her tired body propelled her forward. Red ran down her pants. This was her chance to end this god, this man.

Celine lunged at him. He was fast for his age. His wrinkled face stretched into a calm sneer as he caught her first strike and crushed her hand. He grinned as watched the pain spread across her face. He glared at her as she swung the knife at his face. He caught her wrist and squeezed as he laughed. She felt her grip falter.

She kicked at his leg trying to free herself.  landing several blows that he didn’t even notice. He dropped her injured hand and within a second his hand was on her throat. He squeezed hard. Her eyes bulged and her face went red as the black closed in.

Edited version:

The gunfire stopped. She pressed against the stone and assessed her pistol.

Footsteps approached.

She grabbed the hilt of her knife and jerked it from its sheath. When she saw his legs, she chucked the busted pistol as hard as she could, catching him in the ear. She scrambled to another boulder, dust raining down onto her as more bullets lodged in the cave wall. She fell into the shadows, heart pounding.

“Celine?” he called, his voice calm. He sounded like he was smiling.

Celine clenched her teeth and squatted over her feet, clutching the knife. When his slow steps finally reached her, she launched herself over the rock. Pain tore through her body with a fresh surge of adrenaline as she lunged at him.

He was fast for his age. His wrinkled face stretched into a calm sneer as he caught her first strike and crushed her hand. He glared when she swung the knife at his face, catching her wrist and squeezing as he laughed.

Her grip faltered. She kicked at his leg, landing several blows that he didn’t even seem to notice. He dropped her hand and wrapped his fist around her throat. He squeezed hard.

Her eyes bulged and her face flushed with heat as black closed in.

This developmental edit mostly toned down the violence in the scene, which makes the violence left much more impactful. Developmental editing is usually used to fix much bigger problems, but this is a good example of slight developmental edits, since the actions have been changed.

If you would like to see the full edit and reasoning behind my changes, check out this video!

#2 – Line Editing

Line editing will clean up the language of a piece, but it won’t change what actually happens in it. Here’s an example from a flash fiction.

Unedited version:

Conversation hummed around me in the diner as I waited. The waitress cleared her throat, forcing me back to earth. I looked up into her expectant face and faltered.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” I asked.

Her deep brown eyes flashed from mine to the pile of shredded napkin on the table in front of me and back.

She let out a slight chuckle and said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt, I just thought you might want a refill.” She held out the coffee pot clutched in her right hand and gave a nearly indiscernible shrug. 

“Oh. Yes, please.” I lifted my mug, glancing once again toward the entrance at the front of the little building.

“Hot date?” She asked, giving me the full force of her ‘customer service smile’.

“Something like that,” I replied.

“Well, good luck,” she said. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?”

With that, she turned and walked back toward the counter. I watched her leave, her dark ponytail bouncing against the back of her light blue uniform shirt. She really was very striking.

Edited version:

The diner hummed with conversation.

A waitress cleared her throat.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you say something?”

Her deep brown eyes flashed from mine to the pile of shredded napkin on the table in front of me and back.

She chuckled. “Sorry to interrupt. I thought you might want a refill.” She wiggled the coffee pot in her hand.

“Oh. Yes, please.” I lifted my mug, glancing at the diner entrance.

“Hot date?” she asked, giving me the full force of her customer service smile

“Something like that.”

“Well, good luck.” She turned back to walk to the counter. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” Her dark ponytail bounced against her lower back. She really was very striking.

This is a line edit, because I didn’t actually change anything that happened. I cleaned it up to be more concise and effective, but the actions are still there, whereas in the developmental edit, I changed the actual actions the characters took. Since this example is from a flash fiction, I only left the bits that I thought were absolutely necessary, so it turned out to be a bit shorter than the original.

If you’d like to see my full edit of this flash fiction, check out this video.

#3 – Copy Editing

Copy editing, or proof-reading, will check for technical mistakes. I’ve highlighted the changes in this excerpt.

Unedited version: 

Waking up everyday to that god damn shrilling tea kettle shooting steem into our kitchen, adding to the evergrowing smear on the ceiling. You’re always their, rushing to grab the handle and turn off the stove before it wakes me, but your never quick enough. You see me, and smile offering a cup of green herbal that I never refuse and also never drink. I pour it down the sink you leave. I wash my mug and yours and listen to the gravle crunching beneath the tires as you pull from the curb.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do it.

Edited version:

Waking up everyday to that goddamn shrilling tea kettle shooting steam into our kitchen, adding to the ever-growing smear on the ceiling. You’re always there, rushing to grab the handle and turn off the stove before it wakes me, but you’re never quick enough. You see me and smile, offering a cup of green herbal that I never refuse and also never drink. I pour it down the sink when you leave. I wash my mug and yours and listen to the gravel crunching beneath the tires as you pull from the curb.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll do it.

Copy editing checks for things like missing, mis-used, and misspelled words, punctuation, and syntax.

Now here are some general tips for editing most types of writing!

5 Editing Tips

  1. Editing should be done in rounds, starting with macro changes to fix problems with overall structure, then ending with grammar edits. If you edit in reverse and start with the smaller problems, you’ll make small mistakes again when you do developmental edits. Start with big edits so you don’t have to backtrack!
  2. A lot of writers benefit from editing with a physical copy, so you might print your piece! Some writers use mark-up systems with different colored highlighters for different types of edits. I like to mark with a red pen.
  3. Take some time from your piece before you try to self-edit. For short stories, I’ll wait a day or two. I just finished the first draft of my novel, and I’m waiting until the start of next month to begin my second draft! Getting some space from the piece will allow you to return to it with a fresh perspective, and that makes editing a much easier process.
  4. Read it out loud! Hearing your words–especially your character’s dialogue–helps you spot mistakes.
  5. And the most classic piece of advice on editing: kill your darlings. If something isn’t serving your story, you gotta be able to let it go. Here’s a list of things you can almost always cut from your writing to get you started on trimming.

Editing is tedious and time-consuming, but it’s the most important part of the writing process and should never be skipped or rushed! Take the time to revise and polish your story into the best version it can be.

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contemporary writing prompts

53 Contemporary Writing Prompts

There are many genres a story can fall under. One of the most common is contemporary fiction. A contemporary story happens in present-day, under usually realistic circumstances. 

However, there are subcategories of contemporary. For example, a contemporary fantasy could be a story set in present-day, and things are pretty realistic, BUT maybe ghosts are real.

Contemporary is one of my favorite genres to write, but writing is hard! Sometimes you need a little push to get started. Here are some prompts to nudge you into momentum.

You might try a writing sprint, where you set a timer and must keep writing for the duration of that time span. Don’t judge any of it until the time is up!

Here are 53 of contemporary writing prompts, broken into categories: 

  1. General Contemporary
  2. Contemporary Fantasy/SciFi
  3. Contemporary Romance
  4. Contemporary Horror/Mystery

Even though this list is categorized, feel free to use the prompts for different genres! Using one from the romance list and writing it as horror will give you a wildly different result, so if you really like one of the prompts, try to write a few different stories with it!

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General Contemporary Writing Prompts

  1. A character has lied their entire life. One lie finally catches up to them.
  2. A group of private school girls are bored and antsy–so they start a fight club.
  3. A character tries and fails to parallel park, while a stranger watches.
  4. A character is playing Cat’s Cradle with a rosary.
  5. A single elderly man has ceramic forest creatures, frilly pink towels, and lacey pillows all around his house because he could never bring himself to redecorate after his wife passed away.
  6. A character comes home, annoyed and exhausted after a long day. They go to hang their keys on the hook, and the hook falls off the wall. The character look at the hook for a moment before tossing the keys onto the floor next to it and walking away.
  7. An old man smokes cigarettes until they burn the tips of his blackened fingers.
  8. A foster child commits crimes to help her new family while they try to teach her not to do that.
  9. A group of friends play a prank on their long-time bully, but it goes wrong and ends in tragedy.
  10. A girl grows up in a cult. She escapes and survives in the forest until someone finds her, and she is adopted. She learns to adapt to mainstream culture.
  11. A character obsessed with serial killers tries to recreate one of their murders but is really bad at it.
  12. A landscaper finds something alarming buried in a new client’s yard.
  13. A character is tripping on drugs at a carnival. They walk into one of the craft tents and are enthralled with the wind chimes hanging from the ceiling.
  14. A character traps a vermin under a cup and leaves it there because they’re afraid of it. They feel bad and start feeding it, still too scared to get rid of it. The vermin becomes a kind of pet.
  15. A group of friends play truth-or-dare. Why is one of them lying?

Contemporary Fantasy/SciFi Writing Prompts

  1. An immortal being is trapped in one town with advanced degrees from online studying.
  2. Someone undergoes an operation that replaces part of their brain–they have memories of the previous person’s life and decide to accomplish something the brain donor had set out to do.
  3. A student’s science experiment piques the interest of a secret agency.
  4. Strange happenings in a ski lodge prompt a new employee to investigate.
  5. A spelunker explores a new cave and finds a strange creature.
  6. A girl wakes up with no memory of the night before, but she feels…off…and she has a bite mark on her arm.
  7. A character feeds birds in their backyard as a way to destress. Until one of the birds starts talking, and the situation becomes significantly more stressful.
  8. A boy buys a book from a used book store, but when he brings it home, he realizes it’s not a normal book.
  9. A girl is sorting through her dead grandmother’s attic before an estate sale, and she finds an old photo album with confusing implications.
  10. A character moves into a new house and hears a voice coming from a heating vent. The character establishes a rapport with the voice, even though they have no idea what it is.
  11. A character thinks they’ve having deja vu, until they eventually start guessing what will happen next with growing accuracy.
  12. An eccentric man has been digging a hole in his backyard for years–a constant pile of dirt for sale at the end of his driveway. When he disappears, a real estate agent arrives to evaluate the house for sale. When she looks into the hole, she discovers a staircase that leads into an underground world.
  13. Experiments have escaped from a research facility, and a massive search effort disrupts everyone’s daily lives. A character makes a new friend, and they deal with this new world together. Something about the friend is…strange.
  14. A character has hyper-realistic dreams about a fantasy place. The line between it and reality starts to blur–maybe being awake is the dream.

Contemporary Romance Writing Prompts

  1. A character has a crush on their coworker and goes to extreme lengths to get their attention.
  2. A character and their significant other are invited to their boss’ house for dinner. The significant other accidentally knocks over an urn of ashes when the boss is out of the room.
  3. A character is driving when they see their crush is driving the car in front of them. They rear-end them to have an excuse to interact.
  4. A soft-palmed office worker inherits their dead grandparent’s country property. They quit their job, move to a tiny town, and learn to work a farm.
  5. A character hates their extended family but feels pressured to attend the week-long family reunion. They hit it off with their cousin’s girlfriend, realizing they have feelings for her a few days in. Good news is, she’s being paid to fake-date their cousin!
  6. A seasonal lodge employee gets in a verbal dispute with someone in town during her day off. Back at work, she realizes it was one of the lodge’s wealthiest patrons. The patron sets out to make her miserable, while the patron’s son has a crush her.
  7. A woman thinks she has a stalker. The stalker eventually speaks to her and says they were lovers in a past life.
  8. A character discovers her cat has another owner. They fight over ownership of the cat, but realize…maybe it brought them together on purpose. (Probably not. It’s a cat. But let’s let them pretend.)
  9. A character receives a box of letters as inheritance from an estranged family member. They research the contents and follow the letters through places their relative had lived, meeting new friends along the way.

Contemporary Horror/Mystery Writing Prompts

  1. A movie theater worker finds a dusty back room with old reels of film. They watch one and immediately regret it.
  2. A fake psychic gets so into her con that she convinces herself and goes insane, thinking the spirits are angry with her for pretending…or is she right?
  3. Nighttime fog, illuminated by an orange street lamp, drops low around a swing hanging from an oak tree. The swing creaks in the wind.
  4. A character walks their dog on a stormy night. A shed in someone’s backyard is lit, quiet radio chatter coming from inside.
  5. A character enters their kitchen and sees something on the floor. They stoop closer and find a tiny white worm wiggling into the floorboards.
  6. An intern for a fashion designer discovers a secret code in a piece of clothing.
  7. A character is in the wedding party for a destination wedding–they arrive early to help with arrangements to find that one of the soon-to-bes has gone missing.
  8. Rain pelts on a flat bayou. The sun is shining through the storm, and a white crane flies parallel against the water.
  9. A character takes a new job as a tutor of a rich only-child in a huge, ancient mansion. The parents are aloof and estranged. Something is going on.
  10. A character is walking on the beach and finds an exotic snake that is obviously someone’s pet. They take it home and make a found pet ad. When they find the owner, they wish they hadn’t.
  11. A character visits their aging parent. Something is different about them…
  12. A group of gameshow contestants are stranded to survive two weeks on an island. By day two, someone has been murdered. The remaining contestants are alone with their cameras and a killer.
  13. An adopted child learns that he has twelve other siblings. He leaves on a quest to find them all.
  14. A character visits their father’s grave and finds a disturbing message written on his tombstone.
  15. A girl moves to New Orleans and receives a strange invitation.

I hope you enjoyed those and get a ton of new stories out of them! Here’s a list of even more writing prompts.

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200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres

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How to Write a Fight Scene

Whether they’re heated arguments, hand-to-hand combat scenes, or massive battles, fight scenes show up in most genres, and they’re really hard to nail!

Let’s talk about what makes a good fight scene, look at examples, and then discuss some tips for writing your own.

What makes a good fight scene?

While all writing, and what makes it good, is typically subjective, what you can find are similarities and “rules” that primarily make for an exciting fight scene.

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#1 – Relevance

Your fight scene shouldn’t just be there for the sake of being there. It should intertwine with your plot and characters, just like any other scene. How does it up the stakes?

Why are those characters involved? What are their goals? 

#2 – Excitement

BUT it should still be exciting! Just because your fight scene is relevant, doesn’t mean it’s allowed to be boring.

Fight scenes are one type that should always be to get your audience hyped up or entertained. They can be dramatic or upsetting, but never boring.

#3 – Subtext and depth

As with all scenes, there should be something deeper than what is happening on the page.

What is going unsaid? Why are your characters fighting? Do any of them have a secret goal or agenda that they’re covering with some other excuse? What do they stand to lose? What do they stand to gain?

#4 – Characterization

Fight scenes should have a strong character presence. If you could replace one of your characters with another character and the scene would end up the same, your characterization is not strong enough.

Even in a large battle, it should be balanced with closer shots of your main characters (or the characters we should care about most in that fight scene).

Examples of fight scenes

One of the best ways to learn what works is to dive in and learn from examples. Below are some examples of great fight scenes along with what makes them great.

When reading, start to notice what is working with a fight scene, what you like and how you can emulate it.

Fight Scene Examples #1

Here’s an example from I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. The main character beating up Gavin Rose for his own good–he doesn’t want to do it. It is very focused, nearly sterile.

There is no passion or anger, or really any emotion at all. This is a good example of how tone can affect a scene.

My hands reach down and grab him by the collar.

I feel like I’m outside myself.

I watch myself drag Gavin Rose into the bush and beat him down to the grass, the dirt, and the fallen tree branches.

My fists clutter on his face and I put a hole in his stomach.

The boy cries and begs. His voice twitches. “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me…”

I see his eyes and make sure not to meet them, and I put my fist onto his nose to eliminate any vision he might have had. He’s hurt, but I keep going. I need to make sure he can’t move by the time I’m done with him.

I can smell how scared he is.

It pours out of him. It reaches up and stuffs itself into my nose.

I see his eyes and make sure not to meet them – he doesn’t want to be associated with this. He is doing it out of duty, for Gavin’s own good. It’s clearly not something he takes pleasure in. He might even be ashamed of it.

I can smell how scared he is. It pours out of him. It reaches up and stuffs itself into my nose. – this description really shows how much the main character does not want to be doing this. The tone is evident throughout that this isn’t something enjoyable or validating. It’s business.

This scene is relevant, exciting, characterizing, and has a subtext and depth.

Fight Scene Example #2

This next excerpt is from The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. Four people fight a serpent witch:

The instrument dropped from her hands. Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were intertwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs. And that writhing green pillar was curving and swaying as if it had no joints, or else were all joints. Her head was thrown far back and while her nose grew longer and longer, every other part of her face seemed to disappear, except her eyes. Huge flaming eyes they were now, without brows or lashes.

All this takes time to write down; it happened so quickly that there was only just time to see it. Long before there was time to do anything, the change was complete, and the great serpent which the Witch had become, green as poison, thick as Jill’s waist, had flung two or three coils of its loathsome body round the Prince’s legs. Quick as lightning another great loop darted round, intending to pinion his sword-arm to his side. But the Prince was just in time. He raised his arms and got them clear: the living knot closed only round his chest — ready to crack his ribs like firewood when it drew tight.

The Prince caught the creature’s neck in his left hand, trying to squeeze it till it choked. This held its face (if you could call it a face) about five inches from his own. The forked tongue flickered horribly in and out, but could not reach him. With his right hand he drew back his sword for the strongest blow he could give.

Meanwhile Scrubb and Puddleglum had drawn their weapons and rushed to his aid. All three blows fell at once: Scrubb’s (which did not even pierce the scales and did no good) on the body of the snake below the Prince’s hand, but the Prince’s own blow and Puddleglum’s both on its neck. Even that did not quite kill it, though it began to loosen its hold on Rilian’s legs and chest. With repeated blows they hacked off its head. The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.

This fight scene tracks several characters, describing what is necessary. It doesn’t randomly hop around to tell us irrelevant things the characters are doing; it describes the important details of their interactions with each other and with the enemy.

The scene acts as a turning point for Rilian, who was previously under the serpent witch’s spell. It is relevant, exciting, and–since we see Rilian have such a big change–it is characterizing.

Fight Scene Example #3

Here’s the final battle scene from Redwall by Brian Jacques. This shows a large scale fight scene.

Cluny plucked the blazing torch from Killconey’s grasp. He flung it at the face of the oncoming warrior. Matthias deflected it with his shield in a cascade of sparks and went after the horde leader. To gain a brief respite, Cluny pushed Killconey into Matthias. The ferret grappled vainly but was cloven in two with one swift stroke. Matthias stepped over the slain ferret, whirling his sword expertly as he pursued Cluny. Ignoring his unprotected back, Matthias failed to see Fang-burn stealing up behind him. The rat raised his cutlass in both claws, but, before he could strike, Constance had hurled the net over him.

Fangbura struggled like a landed fish as the big badger picked up the net and swung it several times against the gatehouse wall. Dropping the lifeless thing, Constance plunged with a terrifying roar into a pack of weasels.

The thick tail of the Warlord flicked out venomously at Matthias’s face. He covered swiftly with his shield as the poisoned metal barb clanged harmlessly off it. Cluny tried again, this time whipping the tail speedily at the young mouse’s unprotected legs. Matthias leaped nimbly to one side and swung the sword in a flashing arc. Cluny roared with pain as it severed the tip of his tail. The bloodied stub lay on the grass with the barb still attached. Hurling the Abbot’s chair at his adversary, the rat seized an iron spike. Metal clashed on metal as the Warrior Mouse parried Cluny’s thrusts. 

They battled across the green Abbey lawns, right through the center of the maelstrom of warring creatures. Oblivious to the fighting around them they sought to destroy each other, hacking, stabbing, lunging and swinging in mortal combat.

Meanwhile, teams of Sparra warriors were jointly lifting struggling rats and flying high to drop them into the middle of the Abbey pond. Ferrets had cornered a band of shrews and were threatening to massacre them when a column of otters sprang to the rescue. Keeping heavy pebbles locked in their slings, they battered continuously at the ferrets.

Cluny stood in the center of the room, his one eye straining to catch sight of Matthias in the belfry. Blood dripped from the dozen wounds die mouse warrior had inflicted upon him during the course of their battle. But now he knew he had won; the voices had been right; he would soon see the last of the mouse Warrior. “Come on down, mouse, Cluny the Scourge is waiting for you,” he cried.

Matthias stood up on the wooden beam. With one mighty blow from the blade of the ancient battle-scarred sword he severed the rope holding the Joseph Bell. It appeared to hang in space for a second, then it dropped like a massive stone.

Cluny remained riveted to the spot, his eye staring upwards. Before he had time to think it was too late. . . .


The Joseph Bell tolled its last, huge knell. The colossal weight of metal smashed Cluny the Scourge flat upon the stone floor of the bell tower.

Wearily, Matthias the Warrior descended the spiral stairs, sword in hand. He led the sobbing little friar out of his hiding place. Together they stood and stared at the Joseph Bell where it lay, cracked clean through the center. From beneath it there protruded a bloodied claw and a smashed tail.

Matthias spoke, “I kept my promise to you, Cluny. I came down. Hush now, Friar Hugo. It’s all over now. Wipe your eyes.”

Together the friends opened the door and walked out into the sunlight of a summer morning. Redwall had won the final battle.

The bodies of both armies lay scattered thick upon the grass and stones where they had fallen. Many were sparrows, shrews and woodland defenders, but they were far outnumbered by the slain rats, ferrets, weasels and stoats.

Nowhere was there one of Cluny’s infamous horde left alive.

Jacques tells a cohesive, intelligible narrative–he describes in a way that makes logical, linear sense. It isn’t just random description of random characters fighting. We stay on the main characters, we know what they’re doing and why, and he intersperses with description of the rest of the army, so we can feel the tension growing, and, eventually, know who’s winning. This shows a good balance between narrow and wide battle description.

Now that we know what different kinds of fight scenes look like, let’s look at some tips for how to write our own! 

5 tips for writing a great fight scene

Want to write an epic fight scene of your own? These are some top tips to make sure your scene is received with sweating hands and hammering hearts.

#1 – Make sure you need a fight scene

Fight scenes are fun, but they shouldn’t be included just for the sake of having a fight scene. Like any scene, it should be imperative to your plot, characters, or (ideally) both.

Your character should have an actual motivation to fight. If they don’t, you likely don’t need to include the scene. Even if they’re acting in self-defense, there needs to be a reason that your character is being attacked.

Once you make sure you fight scene is necessary:

#2 – Nail the pacing

If your scene is too brief, you might confuse the reader. If your scene is too drawn out, your reader might get bored.

Give enough detail for it to make sense and engage, but not so much that it’s a pain to read.

#3 – Make it interesting

Instead of describing every single punch or kick or stab just to make sure your reader is following along for every muscle twitch the characters make, try to describe actions that are interesting and exciting, and actions that characterize

For example, anyone can slap someone in the face. But if your character is fierce, and maybe a little nasty, they might BITE someone. That is a more unique move, which characterizes, and it’s much more interesting to read than a slap.

Maybe your character is resourceful, so their fight scenes involve heavy interaction with the environment–grabbing weapons or using objects to trip up their opponents.

If your character is prone to panic, maybe they overthink and hesitate too much, inevitably losing the fight.

Think about your character, why they’re fighting, how they’d fight, and then make it interesting.

#4 – Work in interior thoughts and dialogue

This is a good way to break up fight scenes so they aren’t straight action (which can get boring), and it will give you another opportunity to show why the scene matters.

What’s happening with the characters internal struggle? What are they saying to each other? Maybe they have allies they’re communicating with to add a layer of action and interaction?

Their interior thoughts can also help to guide the scene and clarify your characters’ motivations.

#5 – Avoid being unintentionally repetitive

It’s easy just to describe a character, beat-for-beat, in the same sentence structure:

She grabbed a brick. She slammed it into his head. She punched him. She tripped over her own feet. She died.

So make sure you’re varying sentence length, the type of sentence, and the first words and last words of sentences.

Here’s a video that illustrates these five tips with real life examples.

Keep your fight scenes relevant and exciting, and, like with any scene, layer them to be as dynamic and characterizing as you can! 

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