Joining me today is Sloan Ketchum, one of our coaches at SPS. She is leading our new program, “PR and Speaking for New Authors.” Sloan has interviewed over 50 podcasts, spoken on stages, and has generated a healthy income from speaking on stage. Also, Sloan is the author of the book, Beautiful Girl, You Can Do Hard Things, and has coached over 150 SPS students to date.
“PR and speaking is the easiest way – it’s the lowest common denominator in the best sense of the word.” Learning the skills and doing the SPS course work will give you the confidence to make speaking a reality. She suggests building your launch list speaking at online conferences. “You’ll be able to run into that launch with a lot of confidence knowing that you’re going to hit all those goals that you want to hit.”
“There’s a system behind PR and speaking.” Make sure to be proactive in your campaign. You’ll want to do the following three-bucket items to get PR for your brand:
Getting clear on your hook
You can book gigs by using the three-step plan: research, reach-out, and referral. Make sure to sift and develop partnerships that you have the potential to create. Start every call out with a win, and remember, “the fruit is there. We just have to sift and sort.” Start with your three to five advocate’s list and get into your feedback loop as quickly as possible.
Listen in to find out how to create a great hook, how to book gigs, and why you should get fast “no’s” when looking for gigs. Learn how to monetize your book or business, when you can get paid to speak, and other ideas on how to market yourself to build your following.
[02:38] Sloan’s first opportunity with SPS.
[03:19] Why Sloan sees speaking as a PR opportunity for authors.
[07:30] Her favorite student stories.
[11:04] Three big buckets to fill for your PR campaign.
[11:40] How can you come up with a good hook?
[14:39] Basics you need to know about booking gigs.
[19:27] Monetization process gives clear focus and measurable numbers.
[21:06] Find out which PR gigs give you the best conversion rate.
[23:18] How authors can use speaking gigs to sell books.
[25:15] Students who have had the most success in the program.
[28:00] Biggest mistakes people make from the start.
[32:33] Author Advantage Live 2020 Virtual Experience
[36:04] Advice for those starting on their journey with speaking gigs.
Joining me today James Altucher, author of Future Self, and host of the James Altucher Show podcast. A prolific and unique writer that blends analytical and creative talent into his book creation. A former hedge fund manager and computer science major, James has the ability to write humorous content with an analytical angle.
He has published two-thirds of his books by self-publishing, with his first two or three books experiments in self-publishing. He currently has three or four books that he is considering publishing. “I always think of what I call ‘professional self-publishing,’ which is that I want to do the same things that Harper-Collins will do, except I’ll do it and with the idea that I’ll hire a professional.” He distinguishes this process against “casual self-publishing” when an author writes a book without a professional team and publishes on Amazon.
“On one hand, a book is an event, and events affect every part of your life.” He has enjoyed writing since 1990 and published his first book in 2004. “I’ve enjoyed writing articles, but books are often a way to really take a consistent message and write it into a book.”
He believes that you should ask yourself, “What do you love doing? What do you need to do? and how can you combine the two elements?” James says a key to this process is that your heart and your mind should be talking. “Success comes on the other side of all these people who tell you that you can’t do it.”
His next book Skip the Line, is an extension of Choose Yourself. In all of his books, he is transparent and upfront with his feelings. “When you’re vulnerable, people do care about you because they can see that you’ve been through it also. Like when we fail, we’ve all failed at something, that is just real.”
Listen in to find out how James decides whether to self-publish or traditionally publish his next book, why controlling the marketing is critical, and what sparked James’s shift to move from financial to self-help books. Learn the top three aspects of book marketing James uses to sell his books!
[02:08] James talks about the roots of his analytical background.
[05:12] When you should publish, and when you shouldn’t publish.
[07:27] How James publishes a large amount of books.
[14:05] Books and how they fit into James’ business goals.
[16:41] What sparked the shift on writing financial to self-help books.
[20:14] James talks about developing his writing skill and how it became a format to write his stories.
[23:05] Why Choose Yourself resonated with so many readers and is selling so well.
[27:55] The process for enhancing your writing to the next level.
[31:45] Better writing equates to better headlines.
[34:15] Why vulnerability is very important.
[36:25] James talks about how good writing comes from self-awareness.
[39:29] Top book marketing practices.
[47:23] Chandler’s recommendation for book marketing.
[52:31] What different for James in the writing process of his last book.
[54:12] To create a good book, you have to be a good writer.
[56:03] Have a unique opinion when you author a book.
Joining me today is Gary Williams, the author of the book Choose Your Best Life, and is an outstanding coach at Self-Publishing School. Gary has enthusiastically assisted hundreds of students with over 4,000 hours in coaching calls to publish their book. Learn how the Myers-Briggs personality assessment can be used as a tool when you write your book and his process he has learned and refined for book writing, and how you can apply this methodology to change in your life.
Myers-Briggs test gives you an understanding of the four different types of preferences for individuals with differing personalities display. This tool can be used to find a preference type. “The goal is to identify your natural preference and to be able to uncover that so we can identify our unique personality type.”
You understand and receive information through sensing and intuition. “Those who prefer to use sense, prefer to use their concrete sensing to understand the world around them. Typically, this person prefers to receive information that is black and white, that’s concrete and very factual.” On the flip side is intuition, represented by the letter “N.” These personality types prefer theory and process information using their “sixth sense.”
“There’s this concept underneath cognitive functions, and there’s this whole deeper layering looking at the process of your mind.” Different types of personalities will write and continue the process of writing differently. Those who prefer structure will move through the more structured kind of work well, while those who prefer using their intuition will welcome the open-ended creative processes. “It’s cool to see how these different preferences can play out and manifest themselves in a journey like writing a book or completing a new project.”
Listen in to find out why you can be both a thinker and a feeler, why a sense of completion needs to happen before moving on, and why people who are “perceiver” will handle their completion goals differently.
[02:29] Gary explains the purpose and application of the Myers-Brigg test.
[04:50] There are eight different letters that result in 16 different personality types.
[05:23] Details about the four sets of pairs of the Myers-Brigg dichotomy.
[07:46] Breaking down what it means to be extroverted and introverted.
[11:46] The ladder of abstraction and how it applies to personality types.
[13:03] Defining thinking and feeling at a conceptual level.
[15:55] The real meaning behind judging and perceiving.
[22:50] Take the 16 Personalities Test linked below.
[24:22] Why a personal coach gives you a more personal experience when you’re learning.
[27:10] How personality preferences play out in the book writing process.
[31:52] Set a concrete deadline for your book and have an accountability partner.
[35:55] Gary gives tips on marketing your self-published book.
[38:14] Limiting beliefs of introverts.
[40:22] Common personality traits and habits of successful authors.
[44:41] The ability to have open reflection and dialogue is a powerful tool for successful authors.
[48:30] Grab your ticket to Author Advantage Live 2020 with the link below.
Do you find yourself giving your friends golden, flawless advice? Are you the person your siblings call when they need a pep talk? Do you make more spreadsheets than are perhaps absolutely necessary?
You might be a life coach.
Or a little life coach seed! Being a life coach can be a highly rewarding (and high paying) job. If you’re a motivated, enthusiastic person with strong reasoning and empathy skills, it might be the career path for you!
Here’s how to become a life coach:
What a life coach is and what they do
How to become a life coach
Finding your niche
Learning to be a good coach
Living a life that gets you clients
Strengthening your brand by writing a book
Creating a reliable client base by building a platform
Creating a course to spread your reach
What is a life coach?
A life coach is an expert on setting and achieving goals. They help clients identify what they want to accomplish, set timely goals, plan actionable steps to help them reach those goals, and encourage them along the way.
Much like a sports coach, a life coach is there to strategize plays, give advice, and shout encouragement from the sidelines. They might tell you things you don’t want to hear, but they’re there with a glass of water and a thumbs up to help you get those hard-to-swallow pills down.
Motivation is tough! Setting goals is tough, and achieving them is even harder. When you want to do something new, you listen to the experts. If goal creating and achieving isn’t something a person has practice with–maybe it’s even something they’ve tried and failed to do–then it might be time to bring in those experts.
But maybe goals are easy peasy for you. Maybe you’re a natural at figuring out what you want, how to get it, and then taking those actionable steps to achieve them. If that sounds like you, maybe you have the potential to become a life coach yourself.
So how do you get started?
How do you become a life coach?
To establish yourself in a new career from scratch is a BIG undertaking. There are several things you might consider doing to begin or boost your life coaching career, like finding your niche in the market, living and portraying a life that proves your worth as a coach, continued learning, writing a book, building a platform, or launching your own course!
That’s a lot all at once, so let’s break those options down–
#1 – Find Your Niche
Building a clientele for life coaching is much easier if you can focus in on a particular niche. To widely market yourself as simply a Fix-All Life-Coach might seem like you’re scooping with a bigger net, but the reality of it is: the net holes are too big, and all your catches are slipping through.
It’s too vague to really mean anything, and your fish don’t even realize the net is for them.
To grab the attention of fish– *ahem* clients who actually need your specific expertise, try narrowing to a niche. What are you an expert in? Maybe you specialize in dating and romance, health and fitness, business or finance–maybe you can coach for something very specific, like writing a book.
Once you have a niche, you can strengthen your skills and qualifications to serve that specific need, then cater your marketing to catching customers who need help in that particular area.
If you don’t know your niche, ask yourself these questions:
What three things am I most interested in?
What three things am I best at?
What three things make me different from most people?
Take some time thinking these over, and hopefully one of those answers gives you an idea to pursue!
#2 – Live a life that reflects your coach skillsets
If you and your life don’t appear to be successful, no one will trust that you can make them successful.
What have you accomplished? Are you a published author? An expert in your field? A business owner? Think of things you can put front-and-center in your branding that help prove that your methods work–because they’ve worked on your own life!
If your life is–or seems to be–a wreck, we’ve got to backtrack a few steps and get your stuff in line before we offer services to help other people.
Check that your client-facing elements are as professional and attractive as you can make them. This can mean a well-made website, a professional and consistent social media presence across the relevant platforms, testimonials or reviews, a clean and stocked portfolio (if relevant).
For a client to trust you to guide their life, make sure your life looks as shiny as it should.
#3 – Learn how to be a life coach
If you’re interested in becoming a life coach, you likely already have some qualifications. Even if that’s the case, there’s always more to learn! If you have the extra time and resources, maybe you could invest some into further learning.
Good courses for a life coach might be topics like psychology, time management, budgeting, communication, and any skills relevant to your niche.
Not only will further learning brush up your education on important parts of life coaching, but they could ALSO give you something tangible to build credibility. Courses completed can be listed on portfolios, resumes, and websites. You could even get officially certified in life coaching for that extra push of veritability!
#4 – Write a book
Now calm down–it’s not as hard as it seems, and I haven’t lost my mind. Writing and publishing a book on a subject does a lot to show that you’re the expert on that subject.
Publishing books can also draw in clients. For example, if your content is strong and you successfully plant leads, you can drive hundreds or THOUSANDS of readers to your website, newsletter, or socials to eventually convert those readers into clients.
Writing and publishing a nonfiction book for your life coaching career–like a manual, memoir, instructional booklet, or self-help book–is a lot easier than you might think, and it can pay off BIG time. Need some help getting started?
#5 – Build a platform
Selling a product or service becomes much easier when you have the people to sell it to. Building a platform just means collecting followers who are interested in your brand and what you have to offer. There are TONS of ways to build platforms.
Here are a few examples:
Writing a blog
Collecting emails for a regular newsletter with strong content
Offering content, like downloadable worksheets and ebooks, through your website
Making YouTube videos
Offering classes or services
Having a strong, recognizable brand through social media
Whichever way you choose to build your platform, having a following means having potential customers who already know you and are interested in what you offer.
Recognition and familiarity breed trust, which is crucial for establishing a relationship with life coaching clients.
As a writer, I sell more books by maintaining an online platform. I sold my first short story collection in 2018, right as I was beginning to grow my platform on YouTube. After my platform grew ten times the size, my second short story collection outsold the first collection’s ENTIRE presale period in the first twenty-four hours. A platform is the difference between a successful launch, an okay launch, and an absolute flop–no matter what you’re selling.
As a life coach, having a platform allows you to make connections with people who can become potential coaching clients.
One-on-one coaching is probably what you think of when I say “life coach,” and that’s definitely an important aspect of being a life coach. Most coaches continue having one-on-one clients for their entire career, but it is possible to transition into a wider reach with less effort.
How can we transition from one-to-one coaching to one-to-many coaching? Make your work hours worth more by reaching more people with an online course!
#6 – Create an online course
With an established platform and a full schedule of life coaching clients, how do you grow from there? One way to swap from a one-to-one coach to a one-to-many coach (or to create a hybrid career of both) is through creating a course
Using my career as an example, I offer one-on-one services for writing and marketing. I also create courses that require much less effort on my part. My customers are still getting value and high quality knowledge, as they would with a one-on-one effort, but all I have to do is initially produce the course, upload it, and promote it.
I go from reaching one person with eight hours of effort on something like a manuscript critique, to producing an entire course that HUNDREDS of people can gain access to (much more affordably on their part) with the same eight hours of effort.
If you could turn one customer served into hundreds or thousands of customers served with nearly the same amount of effort, why wouldn’t you?
There are many formats and media you can utilize for building your own course, such as:
Launching your own website to host the courses
Distributing the materials yourself through newsletters, worksheets, and/or livestreams
Using a platform like Skillshare or Udemy to post materials for wider consumption
Each platform will have different start-up costs and payoffs, so consider your options carefully.
I personally use Skillshare. Skillshare makes it easy to plan, produce, and upload courses. Once you have a few good reviews on a class, Skillshare suggests your classes to more users, and you can sit back and earn those royalties. Skillshare also offers $10 per referral, so slap your link onto class promotional materials and grab a bag for the money pouring in.
What content do you put in a course?
An easy way to generate content for an online course is to pull the core ideas from your book (you wrote one, right?) and convert it into lectures, exercises, and/or homework assignments.
Course content to complement your books (and vice versa) can create a strong platform and brand, refer sales to each other, and give your customers a full educational experience.
Writing a book is great for your platform and career. Producing a course is great for your platform and career. HIT ‘EM WITH THAT COMBO MOVE!
Even though I write fiction, my Skillshare courses are ABOUT writing fiction–this allows me to use my own writing as examples in the courses, funneling customers to buy my books after they have finished the class.
A platform + books + courses = a full-figured career with multiple streams of income.
A cohesiveness among your platform, books, and courses = cross-reference sales to bounce off of each other and grow your business even more. Load your arsenal with the full deal!
Ready to jumpstart your life coaching career by producing a course?
Have you ever gone on a road trip with no idea where you’re headed? A fun adventure, maybe, but sometimes we don’t want to waste that kind of gas.
To get to our destination as efficiently and as low-effort as possible, maybe we grab ourselves a roadmap and make a plan.
Writing a book is the same way! Some writers might prefer “discovery drafts,” where you start writing to see where it ends up. To each their own, but if you’ve clicked on this post, you’re probably interested in a more direct route to publishing your book.
Let’s talk about the roadmap of book writing to get you there quicker: the book template.
What is a book template?
What are the contents of a book template?
Frameworks for a nonfiction book template
What’s a book template?
There are tons of forms of book templates for different genres and preferences, but a book template is essentially a plan for what to include in your book and where it goes. This can streamline the process from writing to publishing, getting your book done a lot quicker than if you were freeballing.
So why should you use a book template? A template is your roadmap. Knowing where you’re going will help you foresee obstacles, plan ahead, and get to your destination quicker.
Why waste time muddling through the order and format of a book, when you can just use a template and know exactly what you need to get done?
Before we talk about what might go into a book template, I want to mention my biggest tip for using them: personalization. Making your own template would ensure that it suits your needs and style. Feel free to take the elements listed in this blog, tweak and customize, then save YOUR book template to use for future projects.
Contents of a book template
Let’s look at the content you might find in a book template. The elements might be different based on the genre, particularly between fiction and nonfiction works.
We’re going to cover a fiction book template first, because fiction should have fewer sections and subsections–it will most likely be separated by chapters because fiction is almost always meant to be read linearly.
An example of a fiction book that might be read out of order is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or something else that turns a story into a unique format. But most often, fiction books are read from beginning to end, which makes a novel template very straightforward.
Here are elements you’d likely see in a template for fiction books:
The title. Every book needs a title! Besides the cover, your title will appear on the title page and the half-title page inside of the book, along with any subtitles and your name or pseudonym. Here’s an example of the title and half-title pages from my latest publication, Starlight:
Copyright page. The fine print of all things legal. Your copyright page includes the copyright statement and other legal details. It might also include information like the editor of the book, other contributors, or disclosures and content warnings.
Self-promo (optional). This page might be where you promote your other books or plug social handles or a newsletter. This is a great page to have if you own a business, a website, or have multiple publications. Any opportunity to reference somewhere your readers can find more content can only work to your advantage.
Acknowledgments (optional). The section might appear before your main book content or at the end. This is where you thank people who helped with the book, in life, or whatever else.
Table of contents. This is a breakdown of what is in your book and where. In fiction, this will likely be a list of chapters. If the chapters don’t have titles and the book should always be read in order, you might not exclude the table of contents page. Since Starlight is a collection of short stories, I included a table of contents page in case someone wants to find a particular story on their second read:
Prologue (optional). A prologue is a small snippet of story in the same universe as the rest of the book, but far apart from the actual story. The prologue might be a peek into the very distant past or very distant future, or it might be from a perspective different from the perspective for the rest of the book. Not every book needs a prologue, but most fiction templates will have a place for you to insert one.
Dedication (optional). This is the page you’ll see with a small ode to someone else, like “for my mother” or “to all lost children.” The dedication page is a small area to acknowledge who your story was written for. Here’s an example of the dedication page from Starlight:
The story itself! Maybe it’s a three act structure, maybe it’s The Snowflake Method, maybe it’s a different format, or maybe your template just says “STORY HERE.”
Review ask. This is something you’ll commonly see in ebooks and self-published books, where the writer asks the reader to leave a review at the end of the book. This is a great opportunity to up your book stats, but it’s obviously optional.
Read more. This is another optional opportunity to push readers toward your other works. You’ll see this page at the end of most books, especially for series, titled something like “also by the author” with a list of their other works.
Author bio. A strong author bio is a great tool to have, so spend a minute on it. Snag someone’s interest to look more into your work or writing with a cleverly composed author bio.
This list covers most elements you’d see in a fiction book template. Tweak it and twerk it to your preferences, then save your template for future books!
Nonfiction can have a much wider range of elements because nonfiction books follow a wider range of formats, but you’ll see a lot of the same elements we saw in fiction templates.
Here are some things you might see on a nonfiction book template:
Title and subtitle
Your name or pseudonym
Copyright page–gotta have that fine print.
Lead magnet. This is a great space to offer a free gift in exchange for people doing things like joining your mailing list, checking out your other books, following you on social media, or anything else you’d like to direct traffic toward.
Table of contents. In nonfiction, you’ll almost always see a table of contents. Unless it’s a memoir, most nonfiction pieces can be read in chunks, not necessarily in order. A reader might read it once, then go back to refer to certain bits later, so having a clear and thorough table of contents can really make utilizing your nonfiction book easier for readers.
Foreword (optional). A foreword is kind of the nonfiction version of a prologue. Either the author, editor, or someone else responsible for putting the book together might address the reader in a foreword to provide context or scope for the book they’re about to read.
Introduction. A forward and introduction might look like very similar things, but an introduction should specifically tell your reader what to expect from the book. In nonfiction, your introduction should cover several things:
Identify the problem–plainly state why the reader is here. What problem do they have that the book or course will solve?
Present the solution–explain that you have the answers to their problem.
Reassert your credibility–why are you qualified to give advice on this subject? Give specific reasons you’re qualified.
Show them the benefits again–look at this solution you have! It’s so helpful! They should definitely read this book to get the answers.
Give them proof–have your methods been successful? Do you have numbers that prove it? Is your own life a reflection of how your advice applied can be beneficial and fix the stated problem?
Make a promise–what will you do for the reader? How will reading this book and applying the advice and wisdom change their life? Aim big!
Warn them against waiting–why do they need to do it now? What are the possible repercussions of not taking action on the stated issue?
Prompt them to read (call to action)
Now for the content of the book itself–a nonfiction book could have a few different structures.
Let’s look at three different types of nonfiction frameworks–sequential, numerical, and problem/solution.
Structure 1: sequential framework
The Sequential Framework arranges information according to a step-by-step sequence. This framework is most effective for books that are written to describe a step-by-step process.
Et cetera, until every point of the list has been covered.
Structure 3: problem/solution framework
A problem and solution framework organizes information so readers are able to clearly identify a problem and understand the solution you have to offer. This framework is often used in combination with the numerical framework.
Those are three common frameworks for structuring the actual content of a nonfiction book. Again, templates should be customized for the specific writer and book, so feel free to take these elements and alter them into whatever format would best suit your needs!
Book templates are a powerful tool in organizing your books and streamlining the writing and publishing process. Seeing exactly what needs to be done helps you organize a plan to do it efficiently and effectively.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted practically every person, and practically every industry, often in more ways than one. But we’re here to tell you that now isn’t the time to put down your pencil.
Shakespeare famously wrote not one but three tragedies – King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra – during the bubonic plague. The literary world doesn’t stop moving, even in times of crisis.
But it’s moving towards a different landscape than what many of us were anticipating. So exactly what can authors – and self-publishers in particular – expect from the publishing industry throughout 2020?
Let’s take a look…
OK, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. This year, the industry looks set to be more competitive than ever before, driven by a slew of new authors using their newfound free time to finally get to work on those short stories they’ve been wanting to start but have never been able to get around to writing.
Speaking with David Barnett at the Guardian newspaper, literary agent Juliet Mushens reported that her average 10 – 15 daily requests for representation had risen to 27, while Ireland’s Tramp Press editor Lisa Coen was said to be experiencing a threefold increase in the number of submissions received each day.
And this increased competition is expected to be greatest amongst self-publishers as writers explore alternative publishing options to reduce reliance on traditional brick and mortar publishing houses.
It’s natural that new writers breaking into the field will want to take the approach that we’ve been rooting for all along: self-publishing. And while this may mean more fierce competition for self-publishers in the industry this year, it definitely doesn’t mean that you should think about quitting.
Instead, it could be time to take a closer look at what you’re doing and optimize your strategy to ensure you stand out among the crowd. One option is to consider hiring a literary agent. We know, we know, self-publishers don’t always need an agent. But here’s the thing: literary agents don’t just work with publishing houses; they could help to get your work recognized by film and theater producers, too.
If you’re not sure how to get a literary agent, then now is the perfect time to learn. Writing a great book isn’t always enough; you’ll need to make sure you’re properly preparing your manuscript and sending out submissions to the right people, at the right time. It doesn’t hurt to have a killer query letter, either.
If there’s one thing that the publishing industry is asking for more of this year, it’s content.
Reports show that around one third of all US adults are reading more during the pandemic, with figures ranging from 28% for ‘Baby Boomers’ to 40% for ‘Millennials’. And a similar trend is being seen across the world. Nielsen reports that 2 in 5 Brits are reading more in isolation, while 58% of Canadians are reading more, and 22% are buying more books now than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The reason, of course, is that many people have more time on their hands to enjoy the things they really love, such as reading. Job loss in the United States is at its highest since the Great Depression, and while this is devastating, it is certainly good to see that many people are filling their time with literature.
Whether you use a traditional publishing house, or you’re a self-published author, demand for literary content from the publishing industry this year is expected to be greater than ever due to COVID-19.
But the big question is… what sort of themes are 2020’s audiences looking for? Read on to find out…
One of the first pieces of advice you may have been given back when you were just starting out was probably to ‘write what you know’. After all, it makes sense to talk about issues we’re familiar with.
In 2020, while that advice still stands, the boundaries are beginning to move a little, especially for fiction writers. And this is causing a pretty notable shift in demand from the modern-day publishing industry.
When you’re writing a book, you not only want to write what you know, but you want to write about something that your audience knows, too. And what do we all know this year? We all know Coronavirus.
But will a book proposal about COVID-19 really hit the mark with the 2020 publishing industry? Perhaps not. Recently, HarperCollins Editor Phoebe Morgan took to twitter with some advice for her authors.
If you’re used to writing about your life as you know it, now could be the ideal time to start branching out and exploring some new ways of getting creative. Submitting a strongly written book proposal about themes that can help readers to escape from the everyday could be your ticket to success this year.
The large scale shift from print to digital is already well underway, but authors can expect an even bigger move to alternative formats from the publishing industry in 2020 as more people spend time at home.
With worldwide stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, coupled with a widespread reluctance to be out and about, an increasing number of people are looking for easy-to-access, at-home entertainments. This means that digital books, such as ebooks and especially audiobooks, are in more demand than ever.
Audio books are already an area that we recommend self-publishers should be exploring. Last year, a report by the Audio Publishers Association found that half of all teens and adults in the US had listened to an audiobook within the past 12 months. Those are some pretty impressive statistics if you ask us!
If you want to give the publishing industry what it’s looking for this year, now is the time to start learning more about the audiobook landscape, especially distribution techniques. It might also be a good idea to chat with some authors who have ‘been there, done that’… we’ll talk more about the community later.
No matter what format you decide to release in, it can definitely be nerve-wracking launching a new book at this uncertain time, but think about this: a book on your hard drive does nothing for you. You have the technology you need to get your book in front of the right eyes… you should make use of it!
A Change in Promotional Opportunities
Social distancing regulations and a ban on large scale gatherings have meant that many of this year’s biggest literary events – events that self-publishers may rely on for marketing and promotion – have been canceled. This includes Penguin Presents, the Sydney Writers Festival in Australia, and PEN America’s World Voices Festival in New York, which had Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith in the 2020 line up.
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, there is a rapidly emerging trend in the marketing industry to delay promotional campaigns at this time. And as a writer, you may think that a lack of physical events means it’s necessary to put off your plans. We say that you should keep moving forward.
After all, it takes energy to change your plans; energy you could be pouring into your next book!
Penguin CEO Tom Weldon says that now is the time to ‘be imaginative and creative about how to develop clever solutions to promote’. This could mean shifting your approach from physical events to online events, or looking to work with others who are finding themselves in a similar situation.
Writer collaboration is expected to be a hot topic this year, with self-publishers pooling their resources to help the community thrive at this challenging time, rather than simply survive. If you haven’t already done so, start forming relationships with others in the industry. Learn and grow from each other.
And don’t forget: support from other self-publishers is just one type of support available right now…
Perhaps the most important thing authors can expect from the 2020 publishing industry is more support.
The Self-Publishing School, for example, has been giving away all resources for free for the first time ever. The platform is proud to be supporting self-publishers and the publishing industry as a whole at this challenging time by providing more than 20 writing and publishing resources free of charge this year.
And they’re not the only ones.
As self-publishing is gaining more and more momentum under the ‘new normal’, it’s expected that other online publishing channels will start to extend services to provide more support when you need it most.
Amazon’s KDP platform has already started to globalize its offerings, extending its advertising opportunities across both the US and Europe, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and the UK. Google Play and Apple are also expected to up their game this year to support self-publishers. Apple in particular is rumored to be placing an increasing focus on its Apple Books branch in the near future.
As an author – and as a self-published author especially – we can all feel like we’re not always supported by the publishing industry. But we’re confident that we can expect more from the industry this year.
Riding the Wave
It’s safe to say that 2020 isn’t the best year we could have hoped for.
But let’s look at this, this way: writers – and self-published authors in particular – are self-motivated, hardworking, entrepreneurially-minded, and certainly aren’t afraid to face a challenge head on.
This year, while the heart and soul of the publishing industry may not have changed, the pathways that we take to research, to write, to market, and to launch our ideas are becoming more and more flexible.
Ultimately, what we can expect from the publishing industry this year is an opening up of multiple different avenues to success that, while may have already existed within the literary world, have largely been overshadowed and limited by tradition; by a focus on traditional publishing houses and print.
This is the year that is going to push us all to our limits, and test us all. But it’s also the year that self-publishing really shines. This is the year we can create truly positive change across the industry.
Whether we write to entertain, to inform, to humor, to inspire, to motivate, or for any other reason, the unique challenges this year won’t harm the publishing industry; they’ll merely accelerate the much-needed change that we’ve been waiting for. Maybe 2020 won’t be that bad after all…
Joining me today is Marcy Pusey, who was one of our first students at SPS, she is the author of multiple books in multiple genres, including a memoir, self-help books, and many children’s books. A long-time SPS coach, she has helped hundreds of students write their own publication with over 3,000 coaching calls! Marcy is also the creator of the SPS Children’s Book program and works with our children’s book authors.
After seven years in the traditional publishing industry, along with attendance at conferences and participation in many clubs, she felt like she had little to show for the time and effort she placed into these activities. “Even my traditionally published books were published through a tiny press that is now sold privately to the homeschool community and curriculum settings so you can’t just buy them.” Agents who were using her book as a writing example at a conference still wouldn’t represent her as an author. She was feeling disillusioned.
“I feel wired to write, I feel that’s what I was created to do. I felt like there were so many roadblocks.” She decided to doubt that being a writer was indeed what she was meant to do.
One day, Marcy came across one of my videos. She liked the Self Publishing School concept and decided to join SPS. At the time, SPS only offered Adult Nonfiction classes. Marcy wanted to have the SPS experience and decided to come up with an idea to write an adult non-fiction book to use in the class. “This was my last-ditch effort. Can I learn how to publish my own stories, get other people out of the way, and ultimately see if this is who I thought I was – wired to write. Is this really and truly who I really am and should be doing with my life?”
Marcy debunks the myth that self-publishing is not a “real way” to publish your book. “At the end of the day, the reason I have stopped submitting to agents and editors is that I love the control I have over my own process.” She can publish a book in three months as opposed to traditional publishing takes two to three years after you find a publisher.
Listen in to find out how self-publishing is a more accessible and better way to publish your book, why traditional publishing overhead is very high, and why you don’t have creative control over your traditionally published book.
[02:23] Why Marcy decided to join Self Publishing School after traditionally publishing several books.
[03:24] Elements that Marcy felt were deceptive in the book publishing industry.
[05:20] Why Marcy chose children’s books and why she is passionate about writing in this genre.
[08:00] The many benefits of self-publishing your own books.
[12:30] How do you know if your book idea is good or which book idea should you choose?
[15:31] When you have multiple ideas, how do you decide on which book to write first?
[16:36] The process for what age group, genre and how many words to use in a children’s book.
[18:55] Let yourself get out your content, then break your written words up into sections.
[21:59] What your team should look like when you are publishing a children’s book.
[26:39] The cost of publishing a children’s book.
[30:07] Post-production work, check out upwork for options.
[32:20] Marketing, launching and making money with children’s books.
[36:20] Top three to five tips for writing your children’s book.
[40:35] How you sell to two different people – parents and kids.
[43:35] What works for children’s books when getting an idea of what works.
[46:12] If you want to be an author as your main gig.
[47:57] Look locally for children’s book events to read your book to children or your genre.
[49:55] Advice for what to consider if you’re considering writing a children’s book.
Dystopian novels had a big upswing in popularity a few years back with series like The Hunger Games. While there has been a remarkable dip in the genre, it’s important to remember that trends are cyclical.
With the current tumultuous state of the world, we can expect another jump in interest for dystopian novels.
With that in mind, why not hop ahead of the curve and get started on your own dystopian novel?
Write about a and touring after the end of the world.
During a zombie apocalypse, a woman finds a tube of her favorite lipstick from the old days–but it’s in the display window of a boutique overrun by zombies.
In the mountains, a traveler finds a survivalist school run by a doomsday prepper who doesn’t know the world has ended.
A family huddles together in a tornado shelter while the storm passes. When it lets up, they emerge in a horrible version of their world where everything has been burned to the ground.
A motorcycle gang has been keeping the peace in a small town. One day, a traveler arrives, sick with the plague that ended the world.
A salesman got rich selling equipment that was supposed to protect the nation’s citizens from the oncoming climate disaster. The equipment didn’t work.
After the government collapsed, a group of people decided to instate a child as its leader, believing they would make more morally pure decisions. How does that go?
Three teenagers find a TV abandoned in a warehouse and don’t know what it is. They finally get it to turn on. What’s playing?
A dystopian society organizes its citizens into three groups. A government member comes out and admits that the organization is completely arbitrary. What ensues?
No one’s been outside the city walls in several hundred years. A girl sneaks out.
The world’s leaders agree to immediately shut down all industrial plants, factories, and mass manufacturing in an effort to stop climate change. How does the world look five years from that decision?
A group of post-apocalyptic archaeologists uncover a building that they don’t know is a high school from 2015.
The nation’s leaders have decreed that the oldest child from every family go to military service. One family decides to hide theirs, and it works, until the child’s seventeenth birthday. What happens then?
Write about a world where people spend some or all of their time in an alternate reality simulator.
In fear of annihilation, bunkers deep below the ground are built to ensure that people can survive. The worst happens, and people are sent to live underground. What does life look like after fifty years down below?
Write from the perspective of a cave explorer logging their experience as they find the remains of human life from 2020, which was two thousand years ago.
In post-apocalyptic Texas, a group of people band together to form a Sheriff’s department to help curb crime. Write about their latest case.
Write about a world in which children are not allowed to say a single word until they turn eighteen.
A group of nomadic people travelling across an American wasteland come across a cat. The youngest girl wants to keep it, and the others want to kill it. Who prevails?
Write the journal entry of the last scientist to die when the world is overrun by a horrible plague.
In this world, a government requires citizens to be at work literally every waking hour. They are given 8 hours to sleep. One day, a citizen doesn’t clock in.
A society assigns people to their romantic partner based on a variety of genetic factors, and does not allow people to choose outside of their assignment. Of course, people fall in love who aren’t assigned all the time–write about one unassigned couple.
A horrible new species of dinosaur resurrected from unexplored caves in North America. Nothing humans had could kill them. Write about one brave person’s attempt to kill them off a hundred years after society has collapsed.
Write a story about two kids finding a stray dog in a world where it’s illegal to have pets.
A space explorer lands on a planet called ‘Earth,’ two thousand years in the future. There are no people. What’s left behind?
An intern in a dystopian world discovers that the leader of their nation is just a computer plugged into a mainframe. What do they do with this information?
Write about a society where organs can be harvested while people are still alive.
To prevent high murder rates, body cameras on installed on every citizen. You can’t turn them off, and you can’t remove them. Write from the perspective of a surveillance officer as he watches a citizen run from the law.
In a next-to-empty world, where the world has been picked to its bare bones, a lone character grave robs for supplies.
In a new age where extreme poverty is the norm, the new Gold Rush and the promise of money sends people flooding to what was once California to collect.
A cult leader takes himself and his followers underwater to live the rest of their lives beneath the sea level. They expand their original buildings and eventually create a nation, and it’s the only thing left when a meteor wipes out people on land.
In a world where people aren’t allowed to die, replacement organs and body parts are produced cheaply and sold at an outrageous upmark, people who can no longer afford replacement parts are kept alive on machinery. Write from the perspective of a worker in one of these facilities.
A secret lab produces hybrids of humans and various animals in an attempt to create a super-species of people that can survive in the changing world conditions. One of these hybrids escapes.
A character in a sparsely populated post-apocalyptic world finds an entrance to a previously unknown, thriving underground city.
In a water-covered world, resources are limited. As a form of population control, there’s a Death Lottery. With a ranking based on community usefulness and infractions committed, a random person from the lowest-ranked citizens is selected to be killed and eaten. Write from the perspective of a selected.
An EMP deprives the world of all electronics, which gives the citizens relying on cyborg brain parts to function normally an interesting problem.
Soldiers collect children between the ages of 10 and 19, because they’re the prime age to be receptive to a life-saving biological alteration in the face of mass extinction.
Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups!
Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way.
Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.
Mystery fans are a different kind of reader. They want a story that engages them and makes them think.
A lot of readers like to race the protagonist to solving the mystery, so laying out a plot with just enough detail to keep the reader’s interest but not so much that the solution is obvious is a skill mystery writers develop and hone over time.
If you want to try your shot at it, here are thirty-eight mystry writing prompts to get you started!
A bizarre heist results in an empty safe…well, empty except for the mysterious infant the burglars left behind.
Partygoers are confused to realize the birthday girl is dead and they’ve been invited to her twisted idea of postmortem amusement.
Girls at a boarding school receive anonymous threatening notes.
A team of criminals breaks into an eccentric billionaire’s home while he’s supposed to be on vacation. It’s going well, until they find the billionaire dead in the pool.
In a small town, the members of the church start to go missing–no bodies have been found. When a local news reporter arrives to cover the story, she thinks something might be up with the pastor.
The new nanny for a rich family finds some disturbing footage the security camera captured. What is the mother up to?
For some reason, one section of the trail has been blocked off for longer than any of the park rangers can remember. One backpacker sets out to discover why.
Markus sleepwalks. He sometimes dreams of distorted versions of what he did during the night, but when he wakes up clutching a bloody knife, he has absolutely no memory of what happened the night before.
A woman’s pet sitting the parakeet next door for an old woman. One morning, the parakeet is missing. Who took it? Why?
A character is flipping through their grandmother’s recipe book when they find a recipe of surprising ingredients for something that definitely isn’t food. Do they experiment to see what it is?
While on a family vacation on a remote island, a tourist discovers a local resident’s missing heirloom on the beach. The resident believes the tourist took it. What happens next?
Elizabeth snags a tutoring job for a new family on the edge of town. Her first day, the child gives her a house tour, specifically pointing out a locked door at the end of the hall that no one is allowed into. When Elizabeth sneaks in, what does she find?
Write from the perspective of a detective who is fired just before she can crack the case she’s been working on for years.
At a destination wedding, the groom goes missing. Good thing the maid of honor is a detective.
One of the town council members is draining money from the town’s funds, but the new intern can’t prove it. Yet.
At a ski resort, disaster strikes. Then it strikes again. Every time there’s a tragedy, a wolf appears. Why is it there?
On an international flight, a man is found dead in the bathroom. It looks like a natural death… Except for an hour later, someone else dies in exactly the same way.
High school students work to figure out where their friend has vanished to the night before graduation.
An intern for a Parisian designer finds a secret code stitched into one of the gowns. Who is the designer communicating with?
A politician hires an undercover cop to find out whether their spouse has been cheating, but what the undercover cop reports is much, much worse.
The day after a CEO is fired, someone breaks into their abandoned office and steals only a single hard drive. What was on that hard drive? Write from the perspective of a detective hired to get it back.
All over the country, an enormous number of people are reporting their pets missing. Where have they all gone?
A businesswoman’s grandfather dies, leaving behind a ranch. When she goes to inspect the property, she finds a corpse in his freezer.
An estranged family gathers for the funeral of their patriarch at his southern plantation. The granddaughter finds a puzzling message etched into a tombstone in the family graveyard. Is it from her grandfather?
Three sisters revisit their childhood treehouse. They find a note inside telling them it isn’t safe to go back to their homes. Why isn’t it safe? Who left the note?
Someone is turning off the utilities for every rich person in town.
One night, someone replaces every piece of famous art in a museum with a replica. Write from the perspective of the art student who notices the fakes.
Benjamin inherits a thirty-year-old parrot, and the parrot has some interesting things to say about her previous owner.
Film students rent a cabin to shoot their final movie. When they watch the footage back, there’s a stranger in the background of every shot.
The local pizza shop owner swears someone’s been trying to run his business into the ground. He hires a P.I. to find out who’s behind the strange goings-on at his restaurant. What’s been happening?
Marissa has never seen a cat in her town until one day there are thousands of them.
A girl applies to a specialized boarding school–not for the curriculum, but for the unsolved cold case murder, she’s been obsessed with for years.
Shelayne receives an anonymous letter inviting her to an unspecified event at midnight with an address deep in the French Quarter. She wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t signed with the insignia she’s seen around her grandfather’s house for years. The address brings her to a seemingly empty alleyway. A door in the wall opens.
On vacation, a teen and their family take a tour of a southern plantation. Bored, the teen lags behind to goof off. That’s when they see the ghost.
A spoiled son is snooping in his dad’s home office for some extra cash, but what he finds is proof his dad has been wiring cash to every member of their household except him…for years. What is he paying them for?
A group of friends decide to play a prank on the annoying kid in class. That night, they arrive at his house, but what they see in the window makes them leave fast.
When Micah’s best friend is blackmailed, he decides to get to the bottom of it, starting with his best friend’s ex.
A housekeeper has been with their employer through five marriages, each ending in the wife disappearing, going on an extended vacation and “deciding not to return,” or otherwise vanishing with little to no explanation. The employer is kind and generous to her, so the housekeeper works with her head down. Until the new wife arrives…and the housekeeper develops feelings for her. Should she warn her?
Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups! Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way.
Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.
Writing scene description is something all writers struggle with. What should you include? What should you exclude?
How do you get a character from Point A to Point B without it being boring and monotonous?
How do you include everything that’s important without bogging your reader with too much at once?
Here’s how to write a scene description:
How to utilize the five senses
How to know what’s relevant to describe
How POV factors into your scene description
How to spread your description
How to write scene description that isn’t boring
#1 – Utilize the five senses
When writing scene description, many writers will default to what is most accessible and obvious: sight and sound.
Sight and sound are both important and will usually be the most-utilized senses in scene description, but using all five senses can provide a much rounder, more tangible experience for your reader.
Instead of giving the reader a “picture” of the scene with one or two senses, using all five can give them an experience of the scene.
Put yourself in your character’s shoes and really think about everything they would be experiencing at that moment. Writing that experience will give you a strong setting. You can also work to create dynamic mixes of senses instead of isolating them to one specific sense.
Jennifer Giesbrecht uses strong, unique sensory descriptions in her book The Monster of Elendhaven. Let’s look at some examples.
“A thin line of blood appeared beneath the blade and snaked over the metal. Johann watched it trickle all the way to the point of the knife.”
“The Ambassador’s voice was wet, like the noise a drain makes when clogged with gristle.”
“The sailor grabbed him by the back of the neck and slammed his head into the wall–once, twice, three times–and then yanked the coin from his hand.”
“His lip split on the dock and his mouth filled with a foul mixture of grease, salt, and blood.”
“From a sailor who stank of rum and fish oil.”
“His hair was so light and fine that it required only a bit of mussing to fluff up like a dandelion.”
This is discussing how his hair looks, but it uses the sensory experience of touch.
“Florian’s eyes were the colour of light split through a glass of vodka. His wrists were so narrow that they could be snapped with one hand, the bones crushed in a strong palm as easily as the rib cage of a sparrow.”
This is discussing the physical appearance of a person through sight, but it makes the image so much richer by using the senses of sound and touch. Bones crushing and snapping is a visceral experience.
Utilizing multiple senses in your description will paint a richer scene.
#2 – Include what’s relevant
It’s easy to bog down your writing with a lot of scenery and description just for the heck of it, but you often don’t need that much. If you include too many details, your reader will get bored and may start skimming.
Stick to what’s important, interesting, and relevant, then make what you’ve included as pretty and precise as you can.
If your description isn’t relevant to the character, plot, or setting, examine if you really need to include it.
Let’s look at a scene that uses too many unnecessary details, then a revised version without those details.
Johan’s stomach groaned like some kind of dying animal. He went down the unoccupied halls of the mall where rain knocked heavily on the ceiling glass. The building had no power and the venues were all pitch black inside. The only light came from the sunlight buried behind the gunmetal clouds overhead. His olive-colored coat was heavily drenched from being outside and the jeans he wore that had once fitted nicely were overgrown and baggy.
He stopped at a directory in the center of the hall and eyed the various locations listed before finding the words Food Court, and continuing in the direction of its guiding arrow.
Near a set of still escalators along the way, he noticed a department store with a shattered window at its façade. Someone must have stolen from there long ago, he thought. Aside the broken glass on the floor was an empty shoebox. When he walked beside it, he realized from the picture imprinted on its side that it belonged to a pair of small, bright red Velcro strap boots for children.
Johan’s stomach groaned like a dying animal. He walked the ghost mall, rain knocking heavily on the glass ceiling. The building had no power, and the venues were pitch black inside. The only light seeped from behind gunmetal clouds. His olive coat was heavily drenched, and his jeans that once fit nicely sagged, cinched with a rope around his waist.
He kicked past broken glass in front of a shattered boutique window, knocking shards against an empty shoebox. The picture on its side showed a child’s pair of red Velcro boots.
We trimmed that scene from 179 words to 91 words. The revised version gave us crisper imagery and made the scene easier to follow. Find the full scene and edit here.
When it comes to writing effective scene descriptions, less is often more.
#3 – Remember the point of view
When you’re in a POV character, you’re noticing what your character is noticing, and people notice things for a reason.
If you’re in a POV character, you should be writing what they would naturally observe.
For example, one tired trope a lot of new writers fall into is the “waking up and looking at yourself in the mirror” trope:
A character wakes in their bed, like they do every day. They walk to their mirror, like they do every day. And they describe, in detail, everything about their physical appearance. They describe their room. They walk downstairs and describe the family members they see every day.
There’s no reason for someone to be thinking that intently about their mundane daily experience. It isn’t something they’re going to take the time to notice and have an inner monologue about. These kinds of sequences make it really obvious that the writer is giving exposition for the reader to understand what’s going on–it’s a bit easy, which is why it’s a favorite of less experienced writers.
Realistically, that same character might be thinking of the homework assignments they have due that day. Maybe they’re picking out an outfit. They’re not noticing that they have auburn hair or thinking about why they painted their walls green seven years ago.
When you’re looking through a POV character, you’re limited to what they’d observe or care to think about, so you can’t believably include things like really detailed descriptions of a regular part of their day.
That’s the limitation of POV. But a strength of POV is how you can utilize descriptions to characterize.
You can show the reader things about your character through what they choose to observe and the way they’re observing it.
For example, if your character enters a room full of people, they’re not going to notice and describe every single person to the same extent. It could probably go something like this:
An observation of how many people are in the room.
Maybe a description or two that applies to the entire crowd (e.g., if they’re all high-school aged, if they’re all women, if they’re all dancing, if they’re all impossibly still and quiet).
Zoom into people the character knows–maybe a group of friends has gathered in one area. The character joins them.
A general description of each friend.
A much more detailed description of one friend that we later learn the character is in love with.
If we got a full description of every person in the room, each made equal, we wouldn’t be able to notice the relationship of each to our character without being told. Choosing what to describe and when allows you to show things about your character.
#4 – Spread out your description
Don’t front-load your scenes by describing EVERYTHING at once. If you drop all of your descriptions at the beginning of a scene, it’s not as interesting, your reader may skim, and they might forget crucial details when they become important.
Instead of describing everything right away, try walking through the scene with your character.
For example, say your character is entering an enchanted valley to find a place to hide because they’re being chased by some rabid antelope. They wouldn’t logically take the time to look around the enchanted valley and notice everything because they would be busy, worrying about the rabid antelope.
So they run through some vines and enter the valley–you can give a quick description of the vines, the size of the valley, and maybe the air quality or lighting if they’re different than outside. Then IMMEDIATELY focus in on the next target–a tree they’re going to climb to hide from the antelope. While they’re running to the tree, they realize the grass they’re on is blue. When they’re climbing the tree, we learn what kind of tree it is–it’s a magic tree! The bark is furry, and it makes it hard to climb.
Once they’re in the tree, they look around the valley. They see a river, some rainbow mushrooms, some unicorns. The unicorns are eating the rainbow mushrooms and tripping out. One unicorn is laying on a couch while Bojack Horseman plays on his Roku TV, staring at his hooves, he’s giggling, but he looks scared.
If your character had broken through the vines, and we immediately got all of that description, it would seem like the character had been standing there for ten minutes, which doesn’t make any sense when there are rabid antelope in pursuit.
Spread your description by walking through the scene with your character. We don’t need to see it ALL at the beginning.
#5 – Don’t be boring
We all sometimes get carried away with writing scene descriptions. It’s easy to get caught up in our own worldbuilding, or maybe we get excited because we can so clearly SEE a scene that we want to get every detail down. That’s fine for a first draft, but you should always go back and trim down to what is necessary.
To be blunt: the reader doesn’t care.
If it isn’t something relevant to your story or your characters, you should nearly always cut it out.
Scene description is a lot like worldbuilding–it’s something the writer often puts a lot of thought into and ends up caring about way more than a reader ever could. That work you do in the background, developing your story, doesn’t always need to end up in the final product. It can just be a shadow that makes the story richer.
Keep what is relevant and necessary, then make those details as sharp and compelling as you can.
For spicy scene description, utilize the five senses, include what’s relevant, remember POV, spread it out, and don’t be boring!
Did you know romance is the highest-selling novel genre? By, like…a lot?
Everyone loves to be in love. The next best (or better?) thing is reading about love! It requires no emotional effort AND no one comes into your house to eat your food and leave wet towels on the bathroom floor.
Best of both worlds.
Romance is basically the perfect genre to read. Which could also make it the best genre to write!
A bookstore patron falls for one of the booksellers, but is too shy to speak to them. One day, they buy a book with a note tucked inside.
A distant member of a European royal family crashes their car outside a woman’s house in a rural area.
Two high schoolers who hate each other get stuck doing community service together after a senior prank goes wrong.
A woman’s on her way to her date an hour early and chats up her Lyft driver. He’s handsome and charming, and soon she realizes he’s the man she’s supposed to meet later.
Write a love story between two patrons at a cafe from the perspective of the barista.
A farmer hires a mercenary to guide her to the next town through a monster-infested forest. Their relationship is strictly professional…until it’s not.
Groups from both sides of a war clash at a crypt, searching for an ancient, powerful artifact. In battle, the crypt collapses, trapping two knights from opposite sides. They have to learn to work together if they’re going to make it out alive.
A student on a study abroad trip falls in love with the bartender at the pub down the road, and on the last day of classes before she leaves, she confesses her feelings.
While exploring an ancient castle, a woman falls down a tower. She wakes up in a monster’s lair. At first, she’s horrified, but it turns out they’re both trapped down here, and the monster isn’t so bad.
When people turn 20, a tattoo appears on their wrist–a clue to lead them to their soulmate. On your character’s 20th birthday, their wrist remains blank.
A woman is torn between man and woman vying for her affection, and when she tells them, they confess that they have feelings for one another, too.
At the party after their high school graduation, one graduate works up the nerve to confess her four-year-long crush on someone else via Snapchat. The next morning, she realizes she sent the message to the wrong person, who says that the feelings are mutual.
At a ball, a woman waits for her crush to ask her to dance. They disappear, but when the party’s ended, they meet the woman in the empty ballroom for a last dance.
A caterer regularly works at a CEO’s lavish parties and falls in love with a recurring guest.
Your character has a crush on someone in their apartment building. They find excuses to be in the common areas when the neighbor comes and goes.
A woman studying for her history degree uncovers a series of letters in a digital archive written between two lovers fighting on the European front during World War One. What do the letters say?
Your character loathes one particular coworker. They’re both working late when something traps them in the building for two days. How does their relationship change?
A high school student’s best friend and crush reveals herself to be a werewolf.
A knight swears his fealty and hand in marriage to his queen. But on his very first quest, he falls in love with a fellow knight…
While her partner is at work, a woman decides to try to cook dinner as a surprise for them. It goes spectacularly bad.
Write about a long-distance pair off the internet meeting for the first time in two years in a fast food parking lot, all from the perspective of an employee at the restaurant.
On an airplane, a woman strikes up a conversation with a stunning person and regrets not getting their number when the plane lands. When she boards the plane for her return flight, the person is in the next row over.
Two interns scouting out a possible five-star hotel for their CEO to stay on a business trip get snowed in. Luckily, the company agrees to pay for them to stay the weekend–but there’s only one room available at such short notice. And that room has only one bed.
In a failed attempt to woo a beautiful baker, your character ends up with a job at the bakery. Unfortunately, they know absolutely nothing about baking.
On a road trip across the country, a woman meets an intriguing traveler at a rest stop.
A man spends his life obsessed with a woman from a Renaissance painting. He becomes a successful scholar, researching the painter and painting. One day, he meets a woman who looks exactly like the woman from the painting.
Every night at the same time, a woman plays her violin in the town square, and a stranger puts the same amount of spare change in her case. They grow to look forward to the woman’s performances. One day, the woman vanishes.
A woman dresses to attract a man who won’t pay attention to her, but draws the attention of his best friend instead.
When his upstairs neighbor keeps blaring music, Trevor blares his own music in return. His neighbor starts incorporating Trevor’s favorite songs into his rotation. One day, Trevor goes to ask him about it.
Two people fall deeply in love. One night, one partner has a dream where, in dozens of past lifetimes, they’ve found each other and fallen in love before.
On a tour bus driving through beautiful countryside, a tourist strikes up conversation with the guide, since all the other travelers are quiet. Turns out, they have more in common than just their interest in history.
After months of building up the courage to ask out a coworker, the date goes horribly wrong.
It’s the last day of filming for the latest Hollywood rom-com. Just as they wrap things up, the actress realizes she’s got feelings for her co-star.
Your character accompanies their friend to a speed-dating event for moral support. While they aren’t interested in the dates in front of them, they find they can’t stop peeking at their friend across the room.
Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups! Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way.
Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.
Sometimes a story requires a flashback—if you can’t start at the beginning, maybe you just throw the beginning somewhere in the middle.
Do you need to tell the beginning at all? In this blog, we’re going to learn about flashbacks and if your story really needs them.
Some good reasons to use flashbacks:
To tell your story in a more compelling and clever way
To allow your reader to get invested before you go back to cover the less exciting requirements of your story
To postpone revealing information for intrigue or flow
These are all fine reasons to employ a flashback, but let’s talk about when you should and when you shouldn’t use them.
Here’s what we’ll cover for how to write flashbacks:
What are flashbacks?
How to write flashbacks
Examples of flashbacks
What are flashbacks?
Flashbacks are simply flashes back to an earlier event in a story’s narrative. They can occur at any point in a story. Most prologues are flashbacks.
Flashbacks can be tricky little guys to nail, especially in written works. I see a lot of inexperienced writers mess them up big time.
They’re either too frequent, overdone, too long, irrelevant, or awkwardly shoved into a scene they have no business interrupting.
Let’s look at ways to use flashbacks effectively.
How to write flashbacks
So what’s the best way to write a flashback? When do you use them, when do you not use them, and how do you use them well?
Here are five tips to help you write flashbacks.
#1 – Earn your flashback
If you throw in a long flashback too early in the story, you run the risk of your reader not being interested. Are they invested enough in the story to hop back in time with you? If your flashback is longer than a page or two, it may turn readers off if they haven’t grown attached enough to your characters and your story to care about extra information, like a flashback.
Save your flashbacks for a point in the story when your readers should be invested enough to time travel.
Smoothly transition into and out of your flashback.
You don’t want a flashback out of nothing. Just like a regular scene, write transitions to help it flow as a cohesive piece. A great way to do transition is with a trigger, like a character hears a word, sees a flash of something familiar, smells, tastes, feels something that reminds them of the time they’re flashing back to. This provides a logical bridge from the main storyline to the flashback.
Transitioning back out of it can be as simple as someone in the present-time saying, “Hello?” You need something to jog the character back into the present. Clear edges of the flashback gives your reader the stability they need to follow along.
On the flip side of that, negating the transitions is a great way to intentionally make your audience uncomfortable or confused. I’ll explain that in a bit.
#2 – Make sure the flashback is relevant and necessary
Don’t hop around in your timeline for no reason. It’ll make your story more difficult to follow. If you’re using a flashback, employ the same rules we mentioned for prologues:
Is it crucial for the reader’s understanding? If no, don’t use it.
Does it make sense without it? If yes, don’t use it.
Can you weave the information into a regular scene instead? If yes, don’t use it
#3 – Use the flashback sparingly
And use your flashbacks sparingly. Flashbacks are a need-to-include element in a written story because it takes more effort for the reader to settle into a flashback scene.
Carefully critique your flashback scenes for necessity and relevance.
#4 – Keep the flashback brief
You don’t need pages and pages of backstory—most of that should be worked into your regular timeline.
If you’re sure the flashback is relevant and necessary, then you should be able to hit your point quickly and get out before it drags on for too long.
#5 – Make the flashback meaningful
Your flashbacks should carry weight—they shouldn’t just be exposition or a convenient way to pass information to your reader.
Like we said, it takes effort on the reader’s part to keep up with a flashback. Don’t make them do extra work for no payoff.
Types of flashback
There are essentially two main types of flashback: A full flashback scene or a brief in-scene flashback.
For a full flashback, you need transitions, as mentioned above. Something to trigger the beginning of the flashback, something to trigger the end, and likely scene breaks or a chapter change to separate it from the original timeline. These scenes are much longer and cover a lot more ground than an in-scene flashback.
The more common flashback in novels and short stories is the in-scene flashback. Let’s look at a couple of examples to see how they’re woven into scenes without pulling the reader away from the present for a significant amount of time.
I mentioned above that sometimes you may want to confuse your audience. Here’s an excerpt from the short story, Wolverine Frogs (TW: sexual assault):
The warm sun and humidity hit my face like opening a dryer mid-cycle. I step onto the sidewalk and start down the street.
“Maya, wait up!” Andre is buttoning his shirt and running toward me barefoot.
I keep walking. “I have to get back before next period.”
“Wait.” He grabs my arm. “Maya, just look at me.”
I was pinned to the ground in the dim room, fingernails digging into the wooden floorboards, red light blinking in front of my face.
“Just look at me,” the man said through gritted teeth.
I closed my eyes tight.
“Look at me!”
I was on my stomach and he was on top of me and I couldn’t look at him if I tried. My fingers were white, gripping at the cracks on the floor.
I press my hands into the floor and push up as hard as I can. He falls off and I face him. I lunge and dig into his skin, tearing at his eyes with claws I didn’t know I had.
“Maya, stop!” Andre cries.
I’m outside, in the sun. A bird sings somewhere.
This flashback is weaved into the scene because the character is experiencing PTSD in the form of a triggered flashback. She’s confused about when and where she is, so the reader is confused about when and where they are.
The transition is subtle, indicated by switching from present to past tense. The scene is in the present tense, then, “I was pinned to the ground in the dim room,” gives us a time and scene shift. She was outside, now she’s not. It’s confusing, but clear enough to follow.
This scene isn’t set apart by a full flashback with scene breaks because it’s meant to be extremely brief and confusing. The reader is just as displaced and lost as the character.
Let’s look at an example of an in-scene flashback that isn’t intentionally confusing for the reader from Landline by Rainbow Rowell:
Her mom had turned Georgie’s childhood bedroom into the pug trophy room as soon as she graduated from high school—which was irritating because Georgie didn’t actually move out of the house until she graduated from college.
“Where else am I supposed to display their ribbons?” her mom had said when Georgie objected. “They’re award-winning dogs. You’ve got one foot out the door anyway.”
“Not currently. Currently, I have both feet on my bed.”
“Take off your shoes, Georgie. This isn’t a barn.”
This isn’t a full scene—just a bit of dialogue. It’s triggered by Georgie walking into her childhood room and remembering a conversation she’d had with her mother. It’s indicated with italics and past perfect tense (while the rest of the scene is in the past tense).
The flashback shows Georgie’s dynamic with her mother. It’s much quicker and easier to slip in while Georgie is entering her room, because it was already necessary for her to do so, and to show the relationship with her mom may have required an additional scene. This flashback saves a little time.
Flashbacks most often occur in visual storytelling, like movies, TV shows, and comic books. Let’s look at some examples.
— Flashbacks in movies examples
Flashbacks are most commonly found in screen media. Many films are nearly entirely flashback, like:
Forrest Gump, where Forrest tells his life story to random people who sit with him on the bench. This narrative scope serves several purposes: showing how people react to Forrest, how he’s accepted, and how he’s open to being friends with anyone. It’s characterizing and sets the tone for the film.
Titanic is told in a flashback from the perspective of elderly Rose. This narration leads to intrigue. We know that she survives, but we don’t know what happens to Jack until the end of the movie.
The Notebook is told in a flashback as Noah reads their story to dementia patient, Allie, from her own journal. This is stupid and serves no real purpose, which fits the quality of the rest of the story.
—Flashbacks in TV shows examples
One of the most popular flashback styles is from the TV show LOST. The audience could keep track of flashbacks by the characters and setting changing appearance, but also by the signature “whoosh” to indicate we were hopping back in time. (Here it is, if you’ve somehow been able to forget.)
—Flashbacks in books examples
Flashbacks in books aren’t nearly as common as they are in TV shows and movies. It’s much easier to transition between timelines in a visual medium—with books, you really have to work for it.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak flashes back and forward through the character’s story to create suspense and intrigue.
Other stories that famously employ flashbacks are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and The Odyssey.
Flashbacks are one more tool writers can use to build a compelling and impactful story, but they’re tricky! Use these tips to make intentional choices about the structure of your timeline so you can utilize flashbacks in a way that helps readers connect with the story.
The fantasy genre is defined as speculative fiction, often inspired by myth or folklore from the real world. The setting most often featured in fantasy is medieval or heavily inspired by the medieval era, though that is not an absolute through all fantasy stories.
Subgenres of fantasy include fairytale fantasy (inspired by fairytale or folklore), comic fantasy (humorous in tone), contemporary fantasy (usually set in the real world but including magical or supernatural elements), and gaslamp fantasy (set in Victorian or Edwardian eras, usually with gothic influence).
There are several subgenres categorized by levels or tiers of fantasy, based on how fantastical the story is. These subgenres include contemporary fantasy, low fantasy, and high fantasy.
Today we’re talking about high fantasy. For an inside perspective on writing fantasy, I reached out to bestselling science fiction and fantasy author, Jenna Moreci.
Jenna is the author of the low fantasy/science fiction novel, EVE: The Awakening, the high fantasy novelThe Savior’s Champion, and its upcoming companion novel, The Savior’s Sister (pre-order here!).
Here’s what you’ll learn about writing high fantasy:
What is high fantasy?
How to write high fantasy
High fantasy vs low fantasy
High fantasy examples
What is high fantasy?
As I mentioned, there are different levels of fantasy. High fantasy is the most fantastical level, defined by the epic nature of its setting, characters, themes, or plot. High fantasy is set in an alternative fantasy world, rather than the real world (like in contemporary fantasy).
Think of the fantasy genre as a sliding scale, with one end being a realistic, modern world with a very subtle fantasy influence, and the other end being a magical world of complete fabrication.
We’re talking about the far end of that scale: high fantasy, with completely fabricated worlds, characters, and stories.
Jenna, what attracted you to writing high fantasy?
“High fantasy has been my favorite genre since I was six years old, particularly high fantasy adventure. While my friends were pretending to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast, I was calling myself “Super Perseus” from Clash of the Titans (true story – we’ve got it on home video). Adventure, romance, and magic—in my opinion—are the perfect trifecta for entertainment. I want to be whisked away into another world. I want to battle dangers, marvel over monsters, and explore hidden powers. I want to fall in love. Writing high fantasy puts little to no limits on your creativity and imagination. It’s the closest thing there is to playing make believe as an adult—aside from LARPing, maybe, but that’s not really my thing.”
Jenna enjoys the freedom of writing a story in high fantasy, but there are certainly obstacles to overcome as well.
How to write high fantasy
High fantasy is one of the genres with the most required world-building. You’re creating completely original settings, characters, religions, political and economic systems, societies, cultures, magic systems—it’s all up to you to build.
That’s a big undertaking, and you’ll have tons to consider! To name a few elements:
Politics – What is the political climate? Who are the rulers and how did they come to power? What systems are in place, by accident or intentionally?
Religion – Monotheistic, polytheistic, actual, interpreted, proven false? Are there different religions? How do your character’s religion influence their outlooks and behavior?
Economy – Is there a system of currency? Is it trade or barter?
Weather and climate – Weather and climate can have a big impact on your setting. They can also provide an obstacle for your characters to overcome.
Species – Are your species human, humanoid, fantasy, a mix?
Magic system – What are the rules, capabilities, and limitations of your magic system?
Culture – What do your people value? How do they think, and why do they think that way? What kind of traditions and norms exist?
History – What’s happened in the world before your story takes place? How has it impacted the present?
Flora and fauna – The plants and animals that live in your world.
Character motivation – This isn’t something a lot of writers think about needing to develop when they think about a high fantasy story, but what characters want and are motivated by are incredibly influenced by their environment. The culture, history, society, religion, and everything else about your world should directly influence the things your character is trying to achieve. They’re not going to want the same things people in the real world want.
But don’t let all of that scare you off! High fantasy can be an exciting and freeing genre to try out.
Jenna, do you have any advice for writers wanting to try high fantasy?
“You are not Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, or J.K. Rowling. Don’t try to be. People remember these authors not because their stories are superior, or because their stories follow particular formats; they’re remembered because they’re original.
Mimicry isn’t going to get you far. Half the high fantasy writers out there are already trying that. Tell your own story.”
Do you think people have to read a lot of fantasy in order to write good fantasy of their own?
“I think writers need to read a lot, period, in order to gain skill in the craft. Reading within your own genre is going to be the most beneficial, but I always encourage writers to diversify. Different genres can teach different skills, and having a well-rounded wheelhouse of tricks can help separate you from other fantasy buffs.”
That’s great advice, and it certainly applies to any genre.
High fantasy vs low fantasy
The difference between high fantasy and low fantasy is simply the amount of fantastic or supernatural elements present in your story.
High fantasy, like we’ve mentioned, is when you’re crafting an entirely new world.
Low fantasy is like a contemporary fantasy story, based in the real world, likely present-day, with some amount of magical content. Maybe there are make-believe creatures, maybe dragons exist, maybe a regular human finds a portal to another universe.
Think of The Chronicles of Narnia as a mix of low fantasy and high fantasy—when the children are in the real world with the fact that other worlds exist, that could be considered low fantasy. When they’re in Narnia or the Wood Between The Worlds, that could be considered high fantasy. Overall, The Chronicles of Narnia is a high fantasy series because so much of it takes place in a completely fabricated universe.
How did you approach writing The Savior’s Series (high fantasy) differently than you approached EVE: The Awakening (low fantasy/science fiction)?
“The Savior’s Series provided a lot more freedom than EVE: The Awakening. TSC takes place in the realm of Thessen, a kingdom of my design. I got to choose the climate. I got to choose the system of government. If I wanted my characters to dress, speak, or act a certain way, I could work that into their customs. And of course, magic is always fun to play with.
While EVE takes place in the future, it’s still in our timeline on planet Earth. History had to line up. Changes in customs had to make sense. Sci-fi provides a ton more freedom than many other genres, which I do enjoy, but not quite as much as high fantasy—unless you’re inventing an entirely new planet.
Low fantasy has the double-edged sword of normalcy. On the one hand, if you struggle with world building, good news: that’s 75% done for you. On the other, normalcy creates confines you have to work within. If you’re looking for freedom to create whoever or whatever you want, that might be a problem.
High fantasy is the polar opposite. Good news: the world is your oyster. You can create whatever you please. The bad news? You have to make everything. Literally. You are starting with a completely blank page. Try not to get too overwhelmed.”
That’s a solid summary of what we discussed earlier—high fantasy gives you complete freedom to be as imaginative as you’d like, but it’s a lot of work!
High fantasy examples
When you think of fantasy stories, most of the examples you could come up with would likely be high fantasy.
Fairytale fantasy – Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine Ella Enchanted is a fairytale fantasy because of the fairytale elements—fairy godmothers, ogres, giants, elves, enchanted mirrors, magic books, curses, etc.
Dark fantasy – The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci Dark fantasy is categorized by thematic elements like gore, violence, and adult content. It has a gloomier tone, often combining with elements you’d find in horror genres. The Savior’s Champion slaughters the majority of its character cast, categorizing it as dark fantasy.
Historical fantasy – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon Outlander takes a modern (1940s) woman from a realistic setting and drops her back into the 18th century Scottish highlands.
What are your favorite fantasy books, Jenna?
“This may sound silly, considering I write adult dark fantasy, but the first book that immediately pops into my mind is Ella Enchanted. I’m a bit of a control freak, and when I read, I can’t help but think of what I would’ve done had I written the story instead. This makes it difficult for me to immerse myself fully when I read or get that book hangover feeling people are always talking about. But when I read Ella Enchanted back in the fourth grade, damn, that book ruined me in the best way. It had everything I wanted, and I was living for it. I remember finishing it and thinking, this is exactly how I want to make people feel when they read my work.
Obviously I’m not in the fourth grade anymore, and I’ve read a bunch of fantasy books I’ve enjoyed since then. And even more obviously, my work is starkly different from Ella Enchanted. But I still put that book on a pedestal for breaking through my nitpicky reader wall and giving my childhood self the exact story I needed at the time.”
Ella Enchanted is a great book. I really liked Fairest when I was a kid, by the same author. Still waiting for my film adaptation…
Writing a high fantasy story is a big undertaking! There are so many elements to consider, which can be intimidating, but the freedom to create literally any universe you want is exciting.
If high fantasy is totally new to you and you’re looking for an introduction to the genre, Jenna’s new book, The Savior’s Sister, is a good place to start!
We’ve got you covered with 46 science fiction writing prompts.
Writing is hard, and we’re here to make it a little bit easier. Try out some of these science fiction ideas for writing exercises, short stories, novel prompts, or anything else!
A woman is appointed sheriff of a town she’s never heard of. A series of strange incidents make her realize something isn’t quite right–the entire town is populated by aliens who have taken the form of humans to hide out on earth. They’re perfectly nice, but assimilation is tough.
People’s consciousness can be downloaded onto chips and replaced with others. The rich and influential rent bodies loaded with whatever consciousness, abilities, and knowledge they need in a person.
A family moves into a new house. The basement has been sealed off, apparently for years. When their home improvements lead them to break into it, they find it’s covered in unidentifiable eggs.
It’s like the olympics, but on another planet and 14 solar systems are competing.
A man has heard a ringing sound his whole life. The same tone, the same volume, twenty-four hours a day. He’s seen doctors, he’s had tests, he’s tried medication. He’s learned to live with it, even ignore it. One day it stops.
The only thing stopping Maya from going to her dream college is a two-point too low ACT score and the fact that she’s now of age and her alien family has returned to fetch her. Her parents rule their planet, and it’s time for her to train in leadership, find a spouse, and take over.
A teenager buys a plant from a one-day-only farmer’s market. The market is gone when he returns to ask a few follow-up questions on why the plant ate his cat.
Aimee always knew she was smart. She’s the top of her senior class, head of the debate team, and fluent in seven languages, after all. She just didn’t know it was because her real dad was an alien.
Two friends plan to heist an entire planet with a corrupt government. Sure, they’re doing it for the people, but the money’s not too bad either.
Thousands of homeless people in a usually packed city have vanished overnight.
A man disappears for thirteen years and returns with a special ability.
Everyone in town falls asleep simultaneously, except one family.
On an alien planet, earth is merely a farm to harvest meat.
A group of animals go through a series of experimental trials that ends with them possessing comparably human intelligence. They plot escape.
Horrifically realistic dolls are manufactured as children’s toys. Their lifelikeness prompts a lonely woman to adopt one.
A couple loses their child in an accident. They take advantage of accessible cloning technology to make a new one. While the clone looks exactly like their child, it’s a different person. They dispose of the clone and try again. This goes on for decades, clones of the same person at different ages being tossed into the foster system, onto the street, into other homes–eventually, they meet.
An ancient tribe that disappeared suddenly from history returns in modern day.
A shrill tone rings out from an unknown place, heard around the world. Everyone on earth turns into a mindless slave for an unseen power–everyone who has the ability to hear, at least.
A tourist in an Egyptian tomb accidentally activates ancient, but far advanced, technology when she bleeds on a stone.
Scientists spent decades developing a technology to wipe people of emotions. This technology is available to the wealthy and powerful, and it creates a logical, peaceful society. It also creates a market for consumable, temporary emotions harvested from lower class people.
A tattoo appears when a person comes of age, dictating the beginning of their life’s quest.
A character receives a gift from their great-grandmother on her deathbed. It’s a necklace. The great-grandmother says it’s a charm for focus and clarity. When your character puts it on, her mind goes silent. That night, the great-grandmother passes away, and the character receives a letter on their doorstep with an invitation to a secret meeting. They’re part of a small collective of soldiers who work to dismantle a government with the ability to project thoughts and ideas into citizens’ minds. Your character has to sort through which thoughts were real and which were planted in their head every day up until now.
Your character is on his way to America. Four ships since the Mayflower have successfully traveled and settled. He’s excited to begin a new life in a new land and experience every adventure that comes with it. The ship is caught in a storm before it reaches America, pulled into a whirlpool and sucked below the surface to a world below the ocean.
A space explorer from Earth crash-lands on a planet where humans are considered scum. Write from the perspective of one of the aliens living on the planet.
A teenage girl invents a machine for a science project that will allow her to talk to aliens. It fails at the science fair, but later that night, she picks up a signal…
An intern monitors the communications panel for a space voyage that has long since gone dark. In the middle of the night, she receives transmission from one of the crew members, the only survivor on the ship. What does the crew member tell her?
An alien sneaks on board a spaceship from Earth, which is supposed to be in space for one full year. Write from the perspective of the alien as the crewmembers slowly turn against each other.
A thousand years into the future, a promising young scholar discovers a teenager’s MySpace page from 2009. What does he do with this information? What does the MySpace page look like?
The internet suddenly crashes completely and cannot be recovered. What does society look like ten years from now without it?
A group of friends at a high school go to an observatory after hours, and one of them disappears. The next week, the remaining friends receive strange text messages claiming to be the friend, trapped in another dimension.
Just as you lose your job as an accountant, your eccentric uncle passes away, and you inherit his farm. Everything looks great when you first move out there, but then you realize there’s something in the woods at night, people acting strangely on the property, and cryptic letters carved into trees. What was your uncle doing? What killed him?
A graduate student studies the effects of different drugs on mice, creating a drug that can double the mouse’s lifespan. He administers the drug to his dying cat, and gives his cat the ability to talk.
The moon gets stuck in the same spot in the sky, and the sun doesn’t rise. Write from the perspective of a team of scientists working in a remote location to figure out why.
A marine biologist gets a research grant to visit a remote island. While they’re scuba diving, they discover that some of the creatures in the sea aren’t like anything else on earth.
The first mission to land a human on Mars succeeds. The astronauts are exploring the planet for themselves, and they meet humans who landed thousands of years ago and have evolved for the Martian climate.
Backpackers on a mountain trip realize that the wildlife around them is loaded with surveillance equipment. Who’s spying on them? What do they want?
A cruise ship returns home, but somehow, it’s a hundred years in the future. Everyone on the cruise ship aged normally, but everyone on land in the rest of the world aged exactly one hundred years. Write from the perspective of a father with his kids on vacation.
A woman falls in love with someone in her biology class, only to learn that they were scientifically designed to be her ideal romantic partner–he has no free will of his own. What does she do?
Whenever an artist tries to draw or paint, they can only draw the same person’s face, over and over and over again. They’ve never met this person, and can’t seem to find out who it might be. They make tons of money selling this one person’s face. One day, at the opening of their new gallery, they meet the person.
When a woman cuts her finger making dinner, she realizes that beneath her skin is a thin coating of metal. She peels it back to discover circuitry. Who created her? How did she gain independence?
After the death of her mother, a little girl studies the night sky every night to see her and her mother’s favorite constellation. At midnight the night after the funeral, the constellation moves.
A mother takes her kids camping in a national park a year after the death of her husband. Her oldest son starts getting strange interference on his walkie-talkie and instructions to venture deeper into the forest–it’s his dead father’s voice on the other end of the radio.
Write the travelogue of a mechanic who’s been abducted by aliens in the hopes that she’ll fix their ship.
A kid gets a copy of the new video game everyone’s been raving about. As he plays it, the game personalizes a little more. Eventually, NPC’s in the game start saying things they shouldn’t know about the kid’s life–things he’d never told anyone else. What does he do?
A soldier fighting in a far-off space war decides to mutiny and crash-lands with her crew on planet Earth, bringing the fight with her.
A scientist receives regular transmission from what he believes to be a far-off planet. He keeps this secret to himself and develops a relationship with the person–or alien–at the other end of the line. After years of secrecy, the government finds out, and the mysterious creature must reveal themselves. What happens?
Fantasy is a popular genre for new writers to try because it’s fun, exciting, and much more accessible. It’s quicker and easier to get started with fantasy because it requires less research and preparation.
You make up the rules, and you create the world!
But starting a story in any genre is hard, so we’re here to make it a little bit easier.
Here are 33 fantasy writing prompts that you can use for writing exercises, story ideas, or anything else!
Characters fall through a mirror and land in a lake of a new universe.
A girl finds a box in her grandmother’s attic that’s been passed down for generations, hidden from everyone but one female descendant it is passed to. The girl’s mother died before the grandmother could pass it on, then, on her deathbed, the grandmother told the girl where to find the box. She died before she could tell her what to do with it.
Write a short story about a messenger delivering love letters between a prince and princess on opposite sides of a war.
A character is visited by a ghost in a dream every night, trying to give them a message. One night they realize they haven’t been dreaming.
An unmarked letter arrives in his mailbox. No address, no stamp. Just a key and a train ticket to his mother’s hometown.
A new family moves into town. Your character brings over a pie. Getting no answer to their knock on the front door, and it being a friendly town, the character lets themselves into the backyard to follow sounds. The form of a human greets them, but not before they see the mass of small fairies that rush together to create the facade.
The pond in the city park is a popular place. Kids swim, dads fish, there are motorboat races every summer. One day, a child notices the pond is reflecting a place much different than the park.
Write a flash fiction about a god who is struck down into a tiny fishing village where no one recognizes him.
A girl wakes up in a lake by a small village with a strange mark on her hand. A man in the village tells her it’s a curse.
A child brings a beautiful shell home from the beach. “You know, if you put your ear to it, you can hear the ocean,” their mom says. When they put their ear to the shell, they hear much more than that.
While taking a tour of a Louisiana plantation, a girl sees a figure. When she points it out, no one else in the group can see it. She sneaks away and follows the figure to an old slave house–now a gift shop. The figure is the ghost of one of the girl’s ancestors, and she has a secret to reveal.
Two girls find a dragon with a massive horde of treasure in a cave. Write from the perspective of the dragon.
A village boy harasses an elderly man. The next day, he wakes up as the man.
A cult prays to their god in a forest, and the god appears. How does the god appear, and what is their answer?
A kid in modern day sees a symbol everywhere they go. It appears more and more often. One day, they realize what triggers it.
The boy just wants to return home to his village after being stolen and sold into slavery. He boards a ship as a stowaway, but within the hour realizes he’s boarded the wrong ship, and the sailors are…not quite human.
You awake as an angel in heaven: the afterlife employment for an exceptionally-behaved human. Problem is, this is definitely not where you were supposed to end up.
Everyone in town thinks the woman who lives in the hut deep in the swamp is a witch. Turns out, she’s something much worse.
You move into a new town. The welcoming committee is friendly and obliging, but they leave you with one warning: don’t look for the voice. Under no circumstances should you look for the voice. You shrug it off as small-town quirkiness until exactly 3:00 in the morning when she starts singing.
A cruel princess abuses and replaces her noble-blood lady’s maids until her parents decide to discipline her and put an end to the cycle by promoting a tough and unshakeable drudgery maid.
Everyone is born with magic. As they age, it fades if not cultivated properly. A middle-aged woman’s magic faded to nearly nothing due to childhood neglect and abuse by her father. She has found a way to siphon magic from children, but the consequences make it where she has no volunteers…good thing for her, it doesn’t have to be given freely.
A wandering traveler is trying to hide from a ghost who wants revenge. What does the ghost want revenge for, and do they get it?
Write a story from the perspective of a werewolf attempting to live a “normal” life amongst humans.
A vampire falls in love with a member of the local church, but can’t go near the church where they live because of the religious symbols.
There’s a small island off the shore where it’s rumored a coven of mages lives in complete seclusion. One day, two siblings decide to investigate.
A young woman seeks treasure hidden by her pirate ancestor.
A group of soldiers is out at sea during a long war. They run out of food. The sea god tells them she’ll grant them a safe passage home, but only if they sacrifice one of the members aboard.
The gods have made a vow never to interfere with the dealings of mortals. War breaks out among kingdoms, and one of the lesser gods falls in love with the princess on the losing side. What happens next?
A monster has been stealing a farmer’s crop for weeks. The farmer hires a mercenary in town to investigate the source of the disappearance. Write from the perspective of the monster who has been stealing the crops.
One family barely escapes the devastation of their kingdom and seeks refuge in a strange, well-guarded town far from home. They soon realize something is wrong with the townspeople here, and maybe they aren’t as safe as they thought…
Two knights vie for the hand of the princess in a series of athletic challenges, but end up falling in love with each other.
Students on a field trip get locked in a crypt overnight. Settled to wait for morning workers to unlock it, they soon realize they’re not alone.
A princess mage meets someone in her dreams every night. She realizes it’s more than a dream, and she’s communicating with a farm mage in a neighboring kingdom. Why are they linked?
“POV” is short for point of view, meaning the point of view through which we’re seeing a piece of writing. The different types are first person, second person, third limited, and third omniscient.
In first person POV, the reader sees through the eyes of the character. In second, the reader becomes the character or the object being addressed. In third limited, the reader is told the story by a separate narrator.
In third omniscient, an all-knowing narrator tells the story.
What is third person omniscient?
Third person omniscient is the point of view where the narrator knows everything. They can know any character’s thoughts, see into any scene, and know things of the past, present, and future of the story.
Third omniscient uses the pronouns “he/she/they.”
Third person limited POV
Third person limited uses “he/she/they” just like third omniscient, but it’s limited to one character’s perspective.
The point-of-view may hop between a few characters, but there is a scene break or chapter change first. While in a character’s perspective, the reader only sees what the character sees, observes what they observe, and knows what they know.
Third person omniscient examples
Third person omniscient is often obvious at the beginning of a novel, by the narrator directly addressing the reader in a story-teller voice and breaking the fourth wall.
Think of the opening line of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events:
“If you are interested in stories with a happy ending, then you are better off reading another book.”
Or the first line of The Book of The King by Jerry. B Jenkins:
“To tell the story of Owen Reeder–the whole story and not just the parts that tickle the mind and make you laugh from the belly like one who has had too much to drink–we have to go into much unpleasantness.”
Popular novels written in third omniscient point of view include Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
How to write third person omniscient
Third person omniscient has fallen from popular use in modern writing. You’ll see it nearly exclusively in classic novels (such as Little Women and Pride and Prejudice), but modern readers have trended toward novels that put them in the character’s shoes.
While it isn’t as popular as it once was, there are still a few situations in which third person omniscient POV might work.
Third omniscient is a good POV to use if you’re introducing a large cast of characters. It allows you to delve into each character’s mind without limitations, relate them to each other, and develop them without being held back by a single character’s perspective.
An omniscient perspective can also be used for style. Writers like Jane Austen and Jerry B. Jenkins use third omniscient for humor, complex storytelling, and unique voice, in addition to omniscient’s benefit of all-knowing narration.
Be cautious, because third omniscient does put a barrier between your reader and your characters. That barrier can help or hurt your story, depending on what you’re trying to do.
If you want your reader to feel what your character is feeling, third omniscient is likely keeping your reader too far away to empathize fully.
If you want to keep your reader further away from the character, third omniscient makes that easy to accomplish. In the examples above from A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Book of The King, those stories involve children in danger, being abused and neglected, and sometimes dying. Since both series are intended for children and teens, the far-off narration makes it more age-appropriate. It reminds the reader that this is just a story, so the heavy content becomes lighter.
Third person omniscient point-of-view is a tricky POV to use, even for experienced writers, so proceed with caution.
“POV” is short for point of view, meaning the point of view through which we’re seeing a piece of writing. The different types are first person, second person, third limited, and third omniscient.
In first person POV, the reader sees through the eyes of the character. In third, the reader is told the story by a separate narrator.
In second, the reader becomes the character or the object being addressed.
What is second person point of view?
Second person is the “you” perspective.
This perspective is most often used in technical writing, marketing, speeches, and nonfiction.
It is the perspective used for “directing,” like in an instruction manual, when you want to directly tell your reader what to do.
Examples of second person point of view
Second-person POV is easy to spot because of the words you, your, and yours. Here are a few examples of second person point of view that you might find in a set of instructions:
To calculate the perimeter of a rectangle, add the length of each side together.
Bring the water to a rolling boil before adding your vegetables.
In creative prose, you should try to show instead of tell.
Other common places for second person to appear are in speeches and songs.
Don’t stop believing. Hold onto that feeling. – Journey
Has anybody told you you’re a mean ass drunk? – Watsky
I don’t care where you been, how many miles, I still love you. – Watsky
Welcome to the family. – Watsky
Let me tell you ‘bout my GPA, 4 O’s, straight A’s. – Watsky
Sorry, I’ve been listening to a lot of Watsky today.
Advertising mostly uses second person point of view, because the intention is to address an audience and encourage action.
Just do it. – Nike
Save money. Live better. – Wal-Mart
Have it your way. – Burger King
Red Bull gives you wings. – Monster Energy Drink
Think outside the bun. – Taco Bell
What is second-POV good for?
Second person point of view is used most often in nonfiction, such as self-help or instructional materials.
Places second-person POV might be effective:
How to write second-person POV
Utilize second-person for projects such as the examples listed above by using “you” pronouns.
For creative pieces, here are some tips for writing with second person POV:
Have a reason to do it. If you’re writing a story or a novel, second person can be very off-putting to readers. It puts them on edge, dragging “them” through a story they have no say in. If you have a reason for the reader experience to be affected like that, then second-person might be the route for you!
Use it in the appropriate forms. Be wary of using second person POV in longer stories, because it can turn readers off. For a short story, it can easily be a stylistic and effective choice.
Vary your word usage to keep from being too repetitive. Instead of saying “you” over and over, try fitting in alternatives like “your” and “yours.” Also keep in mind the “implied you,” where the statement addresses the reader without including “you.” Example: “Move the tray to the middle rack.” The word “you” is implied at the beginning of the sentence.
These five elements are what make a story interesting, understandable, and complete.
Let’s look at some different types of short stories and the lengths of each.
How long is a short story?
There are different types of short stories, categorized by length–standard short stories, flash fictions, and microfictions.
We could also consider longer pieces of prose that aren’t quite novels, like the novella and the novellette.
Examples of short story lengths
Different categories of short stories can vary greatly in length, depending on who you ask. Here are the standard ranges for each, with examples.
A novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. The consensus for word counts on novellas is a pretty wide range! It usually lies between 15,000 and 50,000 words.
Here are a few novella titles you’re likely familiar with:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote is 26,433 words
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is28,912words
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is 30,000 words
There’s also the novella’s little sister, the novellette, which is considered to be between 7,000 and 15,000 words.
An example of a novellette is Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at 13,500 words.
Your standard short story is essentially anything shorter than a novellette. In general, anything under 10,000 words is considered to be a short story.
Here are some stories you’ve likely read that fall into the “short story” category:
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe at 2,030
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is 6,000 words
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson at 3,775
(These are all fantastic, and if you haven’t read them before, you should.)
A flash fiction is a particularly short short story, typically considered to be between 300 and 1,000 words.
From Little Birds, this flash fiction is called He Wrote Me a Song:
I knew this guy in school. His name was RJ–I don’t know what it stood for–but he used to sit with his back flat up against walls. He had to move his desk every class, but the teachers didn’t bother him about it.
RJ and I didn’t speak, but we had a routine from middle school to tenth grade where he’d hold the door open for me, we’d smile at each other, I’d loan him a pencil, we’d smile at each other. He never asked for the pencil, but the first time I saw him, he was being fussed for not having one. I slipped it into his hand that day and brought two every day after.
One day we had a fire drill. RJ stood very still next to me on the lawn. I smiled, he smiled. We didn’t say anything, but we never did. Just when the teachers were rounding us up again, I felt him slip something into my hand, and by the time I realized it was a folded piece of paper, he had disappeared into the crowd.
I waited until I was home to read it. It was a song about me. He wrote about how brave I was, like a warrior marching off to fight some great evil. The writing wasn’t great and his rhymes were forced–my name is a stupid word to rhyme with–but it was sweet. When I handed him his pencil the next day, I said, “Thanks.” He smiled.
They told us on a Wednesday, fifth period Geometry. They thought it was suicide, but I never heard for sure. I ran all the way home. I sat on my bed, hands in my lap. I remembered the warmth of his palm, pressing the slip of paper into mine.
Then I walked to my desk and pulled open the top drawer. Then the second, then all of them. I ripped clothes out of the closet, flipped my mattress. I tore my room apart, but I never found the song. And if you asked, I couldn’t recite a word.
A micro fiction is a flash fiction that doesn’t extend past a few sentences, typically fewer than 100 words.
The micro fiction everyone knows is the six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Another is Dandelions, Actually by R. Gatwood: “He showered her with roses but never asked her favorite flower.”
A longer micro fiction piece is Gator Butchering for Beginners by Kristen Arnett:
It’s easy enough to slip the skin. Wedge your knife below the bumpy ridge of spine to separate cartilage from fat; loosen tendon from pink, sticky meat. Flay everything open. Pry free the heart. It takes some nerve. What I mean is, it’ll hurt, but you can get what you crave if you want it badly enough.
Start with the head…
Short stories are great to experiment with, even if they aren’t your story form of choice. It’s easier and more effective to learn and practice specific writing techniques with shorter forms. Short stories also allow a special emphasis on imagery and language–those skills transfer easily to novels and longer pieces.
WRITING EXERCISE: try writing the same story with each type of short story. See what details are important enough to retain as your story gets shorter and shorter! How do you have to rearrange things to fit it into the limited space?
A colloquialism is a literary device that utilizes informal words or phrases, typically words or phrases that are only used under certain conditions such as: specific regions, eras, or demographics of speaker.
In writing, the intentional use of colloquialisms can ground your writing in realism by giving a genuine and convincing voice to your narrative and characters.
“Colloquialism” comes from the Latin “colloquium” which simply means “conversation.”
Colloquialisms are one of the elements that give fictional voices that feeling of realistic conversations.
A writer might use colloquialism to express the location, era, and society of the story. It can also be used to give believability and context to a character within that setting.
Sometimes writers use colloquialism unintentionally, just by virtue of the way they were raised, where they’re from, and their education level affecting their writing style.
For example, one of my writing partners is from Texas–I started marking her writing with “cowboy verbiage” because it was so strongly Texan. She didn’t even realize some of the words and phrases were colloquial.
Let’s look at some examples of colloquialisms.
Examples of Colloquialisms
Some colloquialisms are just common abbreviations of phrases, like these:
Wanna (want to)
Gonna (going to)
Boutta (about to)
Y’all (you all)
Ain’t (am not/are not)
Some are different phrases entirely:
Score (getting something you want)
Ruckus (a disturbance, usually funny)
Buzz off (“go away” in the US)
Piss off (“go away” in the UK)
Flake (cancelling plans last minute)
Here are a few examples of colloquialisms in literature, from the short story Cane Sprouts in the collection Little Birds. In this story, Natasha returns to her southern home after living in New York for several years.
“Don’t catch me no more bullheads,” Granny calls after us. “Sick to tired of them damn fish.”
In this example, you can see the socioeconomic and educational state of the character in the double negative of “don’t catch me no more.” The way Granny change the phrase “sick and tired” by saying “sick to tired” is because her first language is French. These colloquialisms characterize her.
“Grandpa,” I try again. “It’s Nat.”
“Yeah, we got gnats ‘cause everybody leavin’ the damn door open.” He sniffs and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. “No, it’s Natasha,” I say. He peeks an eye open. “My Natasha?” He grins and strains to sit up. “Come here, mais cher!” He pulls me into a hug, roughly patting my back. “How you been?” He holds me at arm’s length. “You eat?”
In this excerpt, we characterize Grandpa the same way we characterized Granny. His first language is French, he isn’t extensively educated, and he’s clearly from southern United States.
Throughout the story, Natasha goes from speaking with syntax typical of someone from a northern state and of higher education, to using phrasing and verbiage more similar to the other characters who never left the south.
“You know,” I say. “The Coopers always have a litter of kittens running around. I could probably snatch one for you.”
Natasha using the word “snatch” to mean “catch” is an example of her slipping back into homegrown colloquialisms.
The transition shows how she’s changed over the years, but once she’s back home, she slips in with everyone else by using southern-specific terms (“Where’s the folks?”) and dropping words from sentences (“Cam, why they burn the cane?”). That characterizes her, but also gives context for how she’s changed, how long she’s been gone, and how returning home has affected her.
How to Use Colloquialisms in Writing
Now that we know what colloquialisms are, have an idea of how they’re used, and have seen a few examples of them, let’s talk about some tips for using them in your own writing.
Pay attention to how your favorite writers use colloquialisms in their stories. What does it show about the setting? What do readers learn about the characters without even realizing they’re learning it?
Get to know your characters and consider how they’d speak and the colloquialisms they might use. Employ it to let your readers get closer to your characters.
Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
Don’t overdo it! Like anything else, aim for a balance. If you overuse colloquialisms, your writing might sound unintentionally campy or silly, and that will make your world less believable.
Colloquialisms are a fun element to incorporate into your story to give it color, believability, and a credible setting.
Diction is a literary device that refers to a specific way of speaking. Writers utilize diction through things like word choice, vernacular, turn of phrase, and style.
The diction of a piece of writing can be used to convey the upbringing, education, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and lots of other things of the narrator.
A good fiction writer takes the voice of their character and lets it influence the diction of their prose.
The largest role of diction is to indicate whether a piece of writing is formal or informal. From there, let’s discuss a few different types of diction.
Types of Diction
Here are some of the different types of diction. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a fuller picture of what diction is and how it can be used.
#1 – Formal diction
Think of the last speech or debate you heard. The words were likely carefully chosen, enunciated, and grammatically correct. Formal diction is used in academia, reporting, and other forms of media that require direct and clear language for understanding and credibility.
Think of the famous George W. Bush quote: “Rarely is the question asked–is our children learning.”
That silly grammar error makes it harder to take him seriously, doesn’t it? That is a good example of how well-executed formal diction lends to credibility.
#2 – Informal diction
You’ll see informal diction in real-life conversations. In fiction writing, it will often appear in dialogue and in the description if we are narrating with a character’s voice.
Informal diction is more relaxed, but still considered a “standard” way of speaking.
#3 – Colloquialism
Colloquial diction is a kind of informal diction. A colloquialism is a term or phrase used in familiar conversation, and it is typically regional.
For example, you might write a conversation between two characters from Utah and two other characters from Alabama. With the exact same conversational context and content, the verbiage will differ between the two.
Each region has different patterns of phrase and different vocabulary. This distinction is a colloquial difference.
#4 – Slang
Slang is important to consider under diction because it can say a lot about the speaker, like where they’re from, their education, how much they respect the person they’re speaking to, their comfort level, their street smarts, and their life experiences in relation to the subject matter.
#5 – Concrete diction
Concrete diction is literal and direct. This type of diction leaves no room for interpretation. For example, directly stating the color, size, or shape of something without using metaphor, symbolism, or flourish.
The table is brown.
#6 – Abstract diction
Abstract diction is intangible. It doesn’t relate to any of the senses and is often an expression of an idea or emotion.
As you can see, all forms of writing are affected by diction, whether the writer realized and used it intentionally or not.
Examples of Diction
As we speak in real life, we change diction all the time. I’m writing this blog in one tab while I have a conversation with my friends in another.
Here, I’m making an effort to be grammatically correct, clear, and concise. With my friends, I’m typing fast without reading it back, using slang and inside jokes, and not worrying about how I come across.
Those are two different styles of diction.
Let’s look at examples of how we can change diction in writing.
Formal vs informal
Formal: “I’m not thrilled with the circumstances.”
Informal: “I’m pissed.”
Formal: “Can you repeat the question?”
Formal: “She’s out of office at the moment.”
Informal: “She’s not here.”
Formal: “In reference to your last email,”
Informal: “But you said,”
Formal: “Submit inquiries via the designated method.”
Informal: “Send in questions.”
Diction In literature
In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, we see Atticus Finch as a lawyer, speaking formally in court with lines like:
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by a majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
We also see interactions between he and his children, like this one:
“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t let ‘em get your goat.”
This shows a different side to Atticus–he’s a serious lawyer, capable of holding his own and gaining respect in court, but in the first example, we also see Atticus simply being a father. The contrast in his diction fleshes him out as a character and makes him feel more real.
“Well, he sot up a bank, en say anybody dat put in a dollar would get fo’ dollars mo’ at de en’ er de year.”
Jim’s upbringing (within the context of the story) is crystal clear in every line of dialogue. While this can get annoying to read (and is, uh, of questionable taste with a modern lens), this is a classic example of using diction to show who a character is and where they come from.
Why Use Diction
Diction is a way writers can influence the mood, interpretation, atmosphere, and tone of their story.
Diction can establish setting. The writer’s use of language supports story elements like setting. It grants realism and believability if the story’s diction matches its geography, era, and voice of the characters.
It can also lend to character realism. Using diction and dialect appropriate for your character brings them to life and makes them feel authentic.
The formality or informality of a piece’s diction influences tone, possibly more than any other literary device can. You can express the same idea or tell the same story a thousand times over using different tones, and the reader takeaway will be unique with each different version.
How to Use Diction in Writing
So now we know what diction is, what it’s good for, and have seen several examples of it in practice. How do we apply this to our own writing?
Here are a few tips for using diction:
Pay attention to how your favorite writers use diction in their stories. How does it change the way you see the characters and setting? Does it deepen your understanding–if so, can you express why? How would changing the tonal diction change your perception of the story?
Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
If you enlist beta readers, include a question about diction. Ask how it made them interpret the tone to see if you’ve accomplished your intent.
Get to know your characters and consider how they’d speak to different people. Try switching their diction based on the situation for realistic dialogue.
Diction is a fundamental element of writing style. It affects the tone, realism, and believability in any genre of writing, so take care to understand it and use it well!
If you want your writing to grab your readers, to call them to the emotions you want them to feel, you might try utilizing the literary device I just used twice in his sentence: personification.
What is Personification
Personification is a literary device where a nonhuman object or idea is assigned human characteristics.
An example of personification is saying a hyena laughed. Hyenas don’t laugh–laughing is a human characteristic–but that description paints a clear picture of the sound a hyena makes.
Personification pretties up a sentence. It adds layers of vividness and human perspective. Bringing an object to life by comparing it to human behavior makes it easier for human readers to connect with the object and immerse deeper into your story. You could say personification helps your words to jump from the page. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Let’s look at some examples of personification, then talk about how you can use it in your own writing.
Most of the book is seen through the eyes of Anne, an imaginative orphan who loves to pretend everything is her friend–from trees, to rocks, to ghosts she believes live in the woods, to rivers, to the wind: everything is Anne’s friend, so everything is personified.
Here’s a paragraph that personifies a brook:
Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.
Montgomery describes the brook quietly sneaking past Mrs. Lynde’s house like it’s a person with thoughts and manners.
Here are some shorter examples of personification:
The wind whispered
The sky wept
The shadow of trees swallows me
The grass danced in the sun
The storm lashed out
The computer monitor blinked awake
Personification is pretty cool! You can see how it brings life to description by bringing life to the object being described. So how do we use personification in our own writing?
How to Write with Personification
Writing with personification can make your writing that much stronger and that much more vivid.
You should definitely be using it in your writing.
#1 – Read personification
When you’re reading, pay attention to personification and how other writers are using it. What do you like? What don’t you like?
Do some methods seem more effective than others? Just like with any literary device or type of writing, the more examples you consume, the more you can pull from to develop your own style and voice.
#2 – Pay attention to connotation and mood
Your personification should help your reader to better understand what you’re trying to convey. For example, if you’re describing the sun and you want your reader to feel positively toward it, you might write something like:
“The sun weaved its fingers through her auburn curls.”
If you describe the sun and want your reader to feel negatively, you might write something like:
“The sun scraped its claws against her scalp.”
Both examples are how the sun feels on a character’s head, but the second is significantly more hostile.
We might assume the character hates being outside, or maybe it’s just a particularly hot day. Don’t personify for the sake of personification–utilize it to help your reader connect to the story in the way you want them to.
#3 – Use it appropriately
As with any writing device, use it appropriately.
Don’t slather personification onto every object you describe–use it where it is most effective, or it might become overbearing.
Personification is one of my all-time favorite forms of figurative language. It allows your reader to empathize with the setting of your story, which gives them a closer tie with your characters. Try it out!
“Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was the same as putting a red flag to a bu–the same as putting something very annoying in front of someone who was annoyed by it.” — Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is a literary device that directly refers to or describes a thing by comparing it to something it is not, showing a comparison between the two items to give the reader a deeper understanding.
A metaphor states that something is another thing, when it isn’t literally the other thing. It doesn’t mean they’re actually the same–it’s just drawing the comparison.
Metaphor is one of the most common literary devices, and for good reason! It adds layers of understanding and poetry to your prose and helps readers connect with your story in a more relatable way.
Like Pat Benatar said, love is a battlefield. Is love literally a battlefield? No. Figuratively? Sure!
There are many different types of metaphors.
Let’s look at a few.
Types of metaphors:
Primary – a primary metaphor is the most basic type. It directly and simply compares one thing with another. Example: War is hell.
Complex – a complex metaphor is a combination of primary metaphors. Example: “The mist of a dream had passed across them.” — A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Implied – an implied metaphor compares two things without mentioning one of them. Example: Gloria flew down the hall. Gloria is being compared to a bird without a bird being mentioned. (Suspend your disbelief and accept that Gloria is not, in fact, a bird.)
Extended/Sustained – an extended or sustained metaphor is a metaphor that stretches through multiple sentences or paragraphs. Sometimes they can show up numerous times in a work of writing. A classic example is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief. That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
Absolute – an absolute metaphor pairs two things that have nothing to do with each other to create a striking and distinct comparison. Example: Love is a battlefield.
Mixed – a mixed metaphor is when you cross two or more metaphors to make an outrageous or silly comparison. They’re usually funny. Example: We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
Dead – a dead metaphor is essentially a cliche. It has been overused, and it’s tired and boring. Using dead metaphors in creative writing isn’t advised. Example: Dead as a doornail.
Metaphors in writing
Metaphors are used in novels, nonfiction, songs, poetry, and everything else. Here are some examples from writers you’re likely familiar with.
“The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.” — Lord of the Flies, William Golding
“But a bird that stalks / down his narrow cage / can seldom see through / his bars of rage / his wings are clipped and / his feet are tied / so he opens his throat to sing.” — Caged Bird, Maya Angelou
“Time is the moving image of eternity.” — Plato
“Life’s a climb, but the view is great.” — Hannah Montana
“The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl
“Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly.” — Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” — The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
“My breath bleeds. My heartbeat drowns my ears.” — I Am the Messenger, Markus Zusak
Simile versus metaphor
There’s a lot of confusion around similes and metaphors. Which is which? Are they the same thing? What’s the difference?
A simile is a metaphor that uses an extra word–like, as, or an equivalent word.
So a simile is a metaphor, but a metaphor is not necessarily a simile.
“Ogres are like onions.” is a simile and a metaphor because it uses the word like.
“Ogres are onions.” is not a simile, but it is still a metaphor.
How to use metaphors
When using metaphors in your own writing, you want to be original. Most metaphors that sound familiar to you are cliches. Writing a cliche that you haven’t re-worked in some way is trite and makes your writing look amateur.
However, an original metaphor can bring sharp contrast, color, and excitement to your prose.
Here are some tips for using metaphors effectively:
Be original. As I said above, if you’re using a metaphor that’s been done before, make sure you’re bringing something new to it.
Be careful of overdoing it. An unpracticed writer might try to use metaphor and it comes out unintentionally unnatural or forced. Take your time working them into the rest of your prose so it flows well.
Use clear metaphors. If your metaphor makes your point harder to understand, it isn’t doing its job. A metaphor should connect the reader with the message of your writing–it should make a concept clearer and more enjoyable to read. If your metaphor doesn’t accomplish those two things, it needs another look.
Practice using metaphor in your writing by being intentional and original to give your prose an artistic edge and help your reader understand your message through contrast and comparison.
If you need a unique way to deliver an emotion or concept efficiently in your creative writing project, you might try the literary device: allusion.
In this blog, we’re going to:
Talk about an allusion is and what they’re used for
Look at some examples of allusions in different forms
Learn how to use allusions in our own writing
What is an Allusion?
An allusion is a figure of speech that indirectly refers to something or someone from another text without specifically mentioning it. An allusion is not something that’s directly focused on in text–it’s more like something the writer mentions in passing, expecting the reader to notice and understand it from general knowledge or common experience.
Using an allusion is a way to simplify the delivery of an emotion or concept–relating a new situation to a situation or thing or person the reader should already be familiar with is a creative shortcut to that connection.
Common allusions are references to characters and events in the bible, in greek mythology, and in classic literary works such as Shakespeare. These figures and events are well-known enough that most readers will understand an allusion to them.
An allusion is different from a reference in that a reference is direct, while an allusion is an indirect reference.
There are two general types of allusion: internal and external.
An external allusion is in reference to something outside the story–a separate text by a different author.
An internal allusion is in reference to something inside the story–the author referring back to something they’d mentioned earlier.
Let’s look at some different forms allusions can take.
Many allusions take the form of a reference to a character. It might be indirect, like in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech: Five score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
He’s obviously referencing Abraham Lincoln, but he doesn’t have to say his name. We know from his allusion to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (“Four score and seven years ago”) and by the mention of the Emancipation Proclamation.
But sometimes writers will directly refer to a character by their name.
You might hear someone with a sour attitude or selfish tendencies a “Scrooge”. This is an allusion to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a book most American readers are familiar with.
Maybe you’ve read a story where a character called another character by someone else’s name:
“Einstein” could be a nickname someone uses for a character who is very smart (or very dumb, if they’re using it sarcastically).
“Brutus” or “Judas” might be used if someone has been betrayed.
“Nimrod” might be used for a character who is a great hunter (or a very bad hunter). Fun fact: Bugs Bunny used the name Nimrod (a Biblical hunter) to make fun of Elmer Fudd. Because the audience didn’t understand the reference, they took context clues and assigned “nimrod” a definition akin to “stupid” or “clumsy”. In modern slang, that’s how “nimrod” is used. This is a good example of what can happen if you use an allusion that isn’t well-known enough for your audience to catch.
“Romeo” is often used to refer to a character who’s lovesick or charming. “Juliet” is also used commonly for the female equivalent.
Here are a few more examples:
“Montag stopped eating… he saw their Cheshire cat smiles burning through the walls of the house.” is a quote from Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, alluding to Alice in Wonderland. He doesn’t explain who the Cheshire cat is–he just trusts the reader to understand.
The entire book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is an allusion for the biblical story of Jesus’s crucifixion.
An allusion so common it’s cliche is saying someone “carries the world on their shoulders.” You may not even recognize it as an allusion, since it’s so widely used. It refers to Atlas, the Greek god portrayed in portraits and sculptures holding up the globe of Earth.
As you can see, allusion takes many forms, and each form does a slightly different job.
How to Use Allusions in Writing
Besides allowing you to make bigger connections with fewer words, you might use an allusion for the feeling of exclusivity it provides–readers who understand what you’re alluding to will feel closer to the story and the writer, feeling they’re in-the-know.
Allusions can also provide a certain legitimacy to a text by grounding it in a universe with another well-known, or in other way successful, piece of literature.
So how should you use allusions in your own writing?
Here are a few guidelines you might follow:
Be careful not to allude to something very obscure. The point of an allusion is that the majority of your audience will understand it. If it’s impossibly niche, it loses value.
Be mindful of what you allude to! If you allude to something modern, like a person who is alive today, you run the risk of the allusion aging poorly. For example, allusions to Woody Allen or Mike Tyson might not be taken the same way that they were pre-exposure of their crimes.
Try not to use an allusion where, if your reader doesn’t understand it, the entire scene or line doesn’t make sense. There’s no allusion or reference you can make that EVERY reader would understand–just be sure the sentence or scene still makes sense, even without the inside knowledge. (Think about Bugs Bunny using “Nimrod.” Most viewers didn’t understand it, but they knew it was an insult.)
Allusions are great for making quicker connections between your subject and reader, spicing your story with an exciting and familiar reference, and giving legitimacy by grounding your text in the same universe as successful media works. Use them carefully, like with anything else in your writing, and enjoy the benefits!
If you’re looking for a way to sharpen your descriptions, pull your reader in closer to your character, and build a more relatable world in your story, a prose tool you should consider using is simile.
What is a Simile
A simile is a type of metaphor and a common literary device utilizing figurative language.
A metaphor compares something to another thing to give a more emphatic description, and a simile is a metaphor that specifically uses the word “like” or an equivalent term for the comparison.
Similes basically come in two forms. One form is common cliche phrases you likely hear often. The other is original, poetic metaphor use. We’re going to look at examples of each.
Common similes you’ve likely heard:
Cute as a kitten
Happy as a clam
Tall as a tree
Hard as a rock
Tough as nails
Sweet as honey
Dry as a bone
Stuck out like a sore thumb
Like shooting fish in a barrel
Cliche similes have their place in writing in certain circumstances, and I’ll talk about that later. Here are some excerpts from famous authors with excellent use of simile.
Examples of simile in literature:
“They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house.” — The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“. . . she tried to get rid of the kitten which had scrambled up her back and stuck like a burr just out of reach.” — Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
“Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.” — The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“The café was like a battleship stripped for action.” — The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
“The sink-hole was set in the arid scrub, at the core of the pine island, like a lush green heart.” — The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
These similes make the descriptions more compelling and interesting! Fitzgerald’s, gives the reader a clear image of the women’s dresses and the mood of the action and scene. Doyle’s gives the reader a visceral feeling of annoyance.
Similes used effectively are a strong addition to a story’s description.
Simile vs Metaphors
You’ve probably been corrected or corrected someone about incorrectly calling a simile a metaphor or vice versa. I got news! A simile is a type of metaphor. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.
The distinction that makes a simile a simile is just one word—similes use “like,” “as,” or an equivalent.
So if anyone has ever corrected your calling a simile a metaphor, you can let them know that you were still right. 😉
How to Use Similes in Writing
Even though most similes you’ve heard regularly times are cliches (such as the first list of examples), that doesn’t mean you can’t use similes in your writing!
Here are some guidelines you might want to consider when writing with similes:
Make sure you aren’t writing them as cliches!
Just like any cliche, you should only use it if you’re putting an original and intentional spin on it, or if using them is one of your character’s traits. Otherwise, they can make your writing read as amateur or lazy.
Don’t overdo it!
An extended metaphor is one that stretches past one sentence. Sometimes it’s a paragraph, sometimes it’s a theme in an entire book. Extended metaphors can work. Shakespeare used them often:
“But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief. That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
Tragically, not all of us can be Shakespeare. Be careful that the simile has not over-stayed its welcome. If you drag it on too long, it might get annoying to read.
Keep it clear.
If your metaphor makes the subject matter harder to understand, it isn’t doing its job. Metaphors connect an idea or description to the reader by means of something they might find more familiar or more tangible. If it’s making your writing harder to understand, it’s hurting you.
Similes are a great way to spice up your writing. There are no rules to writing, so just like with any literary device, use similes in an intentional and creative way, and you’re golden!
A euphemism is a word or phrase that is used in place of something that might be shocking, inappropriate, or unpleasant to say or hear.
You might use euphemism in creative writing when you want to be subtle or coy (or when your character wants to be subtle or coy). They are also used to avoid being crude or offensive.
A euphemism can convey your meaning just as clearly as a plain language explanation of the subject, but the delivery is softer. It says the same thing, but disguises the unpleasantness with semantics.
While that definition might make euphemisms seem like a positive literary device, there are a few other things to consider. In informative or academic writing, the use of euphemisms is scrutinized as dishonest or misleading. In creative writing, euphemisms could be seen as cliches, which might indicate lazy writing.
Let’s look at some examples of euphemisms and talk about if and when you should use them in your writing.
Euphemisms can take many different forms.
Here are three examples:
Semantic alteration–using an entirely different phrase in place of the original
Powder room (bathroom)
Postconsumer secondary material (garbage)
Do it (have sex)
Phonetic alternation–mispronouncing words or using abbreviations
Other languages–using a foreign word in place of a common tongue phrase
Faux pas (tactless remark)
Au naturale (naked)
Ménage à trois (threesome)
(if anyone can leave an example that isn’t French in a comment, I’ll eat my hat.)
We hear and use euphemisms every day, whether we realize or not. Here are examples in a few common categories.
Euphemisms for death-related content:
Passed away (died)
Passed on (died)
Dearly departed (dead)
Kicked the bucket (died)
Euphemisms for sexual content:
Turning tricks (prostitution)
Go all the way (sex)
Do the do (sex)
Birds and bees (sex)
Batting for the other team (homosexual)
First base (kissing)
Adult (instead of saying something is alcoholic or explicit)
Euphemisms for violence:
Knock off (kill)
Collateral damage (accidental killings)
Detention camp (concentration camp)
Enhanced/advanced interrogation methods (torture)
Ethnic cleansing (genocide)
Do you see how often we use euphemism day-to-day? But just because something is a frequent occurrence in reality, does that mean it’s good practice to use in writing?
How to Use Euphemisms in Writing
You’ll find many different opinions on if and how euphemisms should be used in writing. It basically depends on the context of the piece and author intent.
Euphemisms in creative writing
Euphemisms probably aren’t something you want to use frequently in creative writing. Most euphemisms are also cliches, which should be used in an original, intentional, and creative way or not used at all.
Just like using cliches, euphemisms should be used creatively and intentionally. If they’re thrown in for ease of writing or as a shortcut, it will read as amateur.
One good reason to use a euphemism is to characterize. Like cliches, using euphemisms in dialogue or as part of the narrator’s voice is characterizing. If your character is very squeamish, proper, or innocent (or concerned with keeping an appearance of innocence), they might be someone who uses euphemisms.
Euphemisms in creative writing is an “at your own discretion” deal.
Euphemisms in academic, technical, or journalistic writing
In academic or journalistic writing, euphemisms can shield or distort the truth. They tend to make things less accurate or more misleading. In journalism, using euphemistic language will lead to scrutinization of writer bias and misinformation. It could call the publication’s reliability into question. If you look at the examples above of euphemisms for violence, you can see how a reporter might skew how an audience perceives war crimes and cruelty. Historically, euphemisms in journalism are often a hop-skip-jump from propaganda pieces.
Euphemisms in creative writing can be done if we do it the same way we do everything in creative writing: intentionally.
In nonfiction and technical writing (especially in journalism), euphemisms will likely foster distrust in your readership.
Take this information and use your best judgment to decide if euphemisms have a place in your writing project!
Writing is much more intentional than a lot of people might think. With literary devices, a writer can craft an extremely specific and intentional experience for their readers.
If you want a sentence to have particular emphasis, a character’s traits to shine through stronger, or if you want a scene to carry a heavier emotional load, you might try the literary device juxtaposition!
Juxtaposition can be used for much more than the things I listed, so let’s talk about what it is, how to use it, and look at some examples.
What is Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition, in the context of writing, is the pairing of two items or concepts to compare and contrast for effect. These items could be things like scenes, themes, words, phrases, or images.
Juxtaposition can be used to create a stronger emotional reaction in your reader. For example, a happy or uplifting scene right next to a sad scene will make the happy scene seem happier and the sad scene seem sadder.
Let’s look at a few different types of juxtaposition.
In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, we see juxtaposition in the opening prose:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
Juxtaposition is a theme throughout A Tale of Two Cities, and this opener strongly sets up for it.
Besides being used to strengthen prose, juxtaposition can be used to draw a contrast between scenes (a very dark scene next to an uplifting scene), characters, imagery, and more. Let’s look at a few more examples.
A character who juxtaposes the traits of the protagonist is called a foil. A common misconception is that a foil is synonymous with an antagonist. A foil doesn’t have to be an antagonist. A foil character can be an ally, a friend, a romantic interest, or a family member of your protagonist–they simply have traits that contrast with your main character’s.
If you pair a very grumpy character with a kind and patient character, the kind character will seem sweeter, and the grumpy character will seem more cantankerous. Think of Spongebob and Squidward or Belle and the Beast. Those are juxtaposed characters, and their proximity makes the contrast very obvious, emphasizing those traits.
More examples of juxtaposed characters:
Darcy and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is grumpy, taciturn, and antisocial. Bingley is sweet, optimistic, and personable. Placing them as best friends contrasts and emphasizes those traits.
Tom Canty and Prince Edward in The Prince and The Pauper. This pair contrasts lifestyles and the opportunistic benefit of birth between the two.
In Looking for Alaska, Alaska is a bold, free-spirited, reckless girl with a tumultuous past and shaky present. Pudge is a relatively boring kid from an uneventful background. When he meets Alaska, the contrast between their characters makes him examine himself and his life.
In The 39 Clues series, Amy and Dan Cahill are siblings with perfectly opposite personalities. Throughout the series, they learn to understand each other and themselves more. By the end of it, they’re more similar than they are different. In this case, the juxtaposition of their character traits led to their character arcs.
Juxtaposition in that one awkward scene from Pride and Prejudice (2005)
I’ll use Pride and Prejudice for examples until I die, but in this scene, Lizzie is having a chill time exploring the manor, listening to piano music. Darcy and Georgiana have a cute moment that puts the audience at ease, so the snap and quick zoom before Lizzie runs away is more jarring. Putting a calm moment before panic makes it more impactful.
Another bit of juxtaposition in the same scene is how Lizzie is running to get away from Darcy, while he catches up to her with a calm, slow gait. That works as a metaphor for their character dynamic.
ANOTHER piece of juxtaposition is when they start talking–they speak over each other, rushed and unintelligible. Then they both stop and the silence weighs heavier between them because of that jolt of words and sounds (and pent-up affection RIP). The silence feels more painful because of their jumbled attempts at conversation right before it.
You can see an example of visual juxtaposition when it cuts from the close-in shot of Lizzie’s face to the wide shot of her running down the stairs outside. In film, that kind of juxtaposition lends to tension, pacing, and movement in a scene.
Juxtaposition is simply a literary device pairing things together to create contrast. It’s one more tool to control your stories and how they affect your readers.