how to write a novel

How to Write a Novel: 5 Key Steps Every Good Book Needs [Template]

If you misunderstand how to write a novel with the proper story structure, your book will never sell.

Harsh, but true. And that’s why we’re here to tell you the exact methods that skyrocketed the popularity of books like The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.

Here are the steps for how to write a novel:

  1. Write The Setup
  2. Create The Inciting Incident
  3. Add the First Slap of a novel
  4. Add The Second Slap
  5. End it with the Climax

But before we dive right into those, we have to understand your unique writing method in order for you to understand novel writing in a way that’s best for you.

What is a Novel?

A novel is a work of fiction told through narrative prose focusing on characters and a plot with at least some degree of realism.

Essentially, a novel is a long story in which a message, theme, and plot are revealed slowly over the course of scenes and chapters that make up a bigger storyline.

How Many Words in a Novel?

The exact number of words that make up a novel varies greatly depending on the genre and personal taste, however, a book is considered a novel if it has more than 50,000 words.

But that doesn’t mean your book will be that long. You have to learn how many words are in your novel.

Below is a table detailing how many words make up a novel in each respective genre, as some are typically longer than others.

Type of WritingWord CountPages in a Typical BookExample
Short story100 - 15,000 1 - 24 pages"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
Novella30,000 - 60,000100 - 200 pages"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess
Novel60,000 - 100,000200 - 350 pages"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": by JK Rowling
Epic Novel120,00 - 220,000+400 - 750+ pages"Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin

Keep in mind that these are a baseline. You want to make sure your novel is in the ballpark word count for your genre and target audience but just remember that you can easily go over or under depending on how well the story is crafted…

…and if it covers our 5 key milestones – it will be crafted well.

How do you plan a novel? Your Novel Structure Breakdown (& Template)

Planning a novel involves coming up with your plot, character development, knowing your audience, and outlining your book.

  1. Coming up with your plot involves knowing which genre you want to write or even utilizing a list of writing prompts to get your thoughts moving.
  2. Character development is one of the most vital parts of your novel. Take the time to know your characters and protagonist well before you start writing in order to better plot your novel to fit how they act.
  3. Your audience will dictate the type of content in your plot. You can always plot first and then decide if you’ll be writing young adult, new adult, adult, or even middle grade. Just make sure you categorize your novel correctly in order to reach the right audience.
  4. Once you know the above, you’re ready to outline your novel. First, however, you have to figure out if you’re a pantser, plotter, or somewhere in between before you can outline your book.

If you want to have a solid fill-in-the-blank template, we have a book outline template generator available above for you!

What’s the Difference Between Pantser Versus Plotter

A plotter is someone who plans out their novel with an outline before actually writing, whereas a pantser is someone who writes with seemingly no direction – they write by the seat of their pants.

Are you a plotter or a pantserFiction authors tend to fall into one of two buckets when writing their books.

Pantsers

These are writers who basically only have a few vague elements about the story in mind when they start writing, but nothing else.

One of the most famous pantsers is Stephen King. In interviews, Stephen King has said that he often has an idea of the beginning, the premise, and a vague idea how it’s all going to end – and that’s all he needs to start writing his first draft.

Plotters

These are writers who need to know every piece of their story, down to the minute detail, before they will write a single word. They have full, complete outlines that serve as a guide for their writing.

They will know who each and every one of their characters are, what their motivations are, the chapters needed for the book, chapter sections, and in some cases, even paragraphs. Probably the most famous plotter out there is James Patterson.

Knowing if you’re a plotter or pantser will dictate your entire writing process.

Clearly, it’s possible to be successful whether you’re a plotter or pantser. But here’s the harsh reality: whereas Stephen King and James Patterson sit on opposite extremes of the ‘Outline Spectrum’, most of us fall somewhere in between.

But that still doesn’t answer the question:

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

My best advice is to be something in between. Someone who looks beyond the “outline” of a novel, and identifies something much more important in their story…the 5 key milestones we’re about to reveal to you.

How to Write a Novel with 5 Key Milestones of Every Successful Novel

novel writing milestones

Most novels and movies have five key points that make up the core of their story – it’s a formula that’s been around for longer than books have.

This may not even be something authors do intentionally but rather, these are what make a story (even spoken) good and captivating.

What’s more, these milestones are something that readers have subconsciously been trained to look for when digesting a piece of fiction.

In other words, if you don’t have these five key moments, your reader is likely to turned off of your story because it didn’t meet expectations set by the hundreds (if not thousands) of stories they have already digested before yours.

Let’s get started.

#1 – The Setup when writing a novel

This is where you make your story promise and write an introduction that pulls readers in.

Here’s a solid resource for how to start a story if you need a few more tips.

You tell your reader what kind of story it will be – a comedy, drama, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi – and you give a few clues as to what they can expect. Whatever you said in these initial pages must be followed to the end of your story.

A stone-cold drama cannot turn into a slapstick comedy by the end of the story. That doesn’t mean a stone-cold drama can’t have humor in it, it just means that you can suddenly pivot and become an Adam Sandler movie.

Also, during the setup, we learn a little bit about:

  • The characters
  • Their everyday lives
  • Their challenges
  • The world they live in

We get a sense of where the story is heading.

One mistake made by first-time fiction authors is that they do not properly set up the story expectations and the reader goes in expecting one thing, only to get another.

Nothing annoys readers more, and so it is essential that during the setup phase of your novel, you set the expectations that you will meet during the book or you’ll lose those 5-star Amazon reviews that make such a difference.

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The Setup of a novel Example:

In the Hunger Games, we meet Katniss. From her surroundings, it is obvious that she is poor, and as soon as she steps outside of her wooden shack we see hovering drones.

Within the first few pages of this book, we have learned three essential things:

  • This book is a drama
  • Katniss is our heroine and she has a miserable life
  • SURPRISE! There are drones and other technologies that indicate this to be a sci-fi
  • We are about to read a dystopia set sometime in the future

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Ask yourself these questions:

– What does your story’s setup look like?
– What happens?
– What story promises do you make?

Create a list of everything your reader needs to learn in order to enter your story’s world before crafting your introduction.

#2 – The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the moment in your story when your hero’s life changes forever. It is the ‘no-going back’ moment, where nothing that happens afterwards will return your hero’s world back to normal.

Katniss volunteers, Neo takes the red pill, Dorothy lands in OZ … the aliens are here!

As soon as your inciting incident happens, your story should be full throttle towards the climax.

The most common mistake first-time authors make is that their inciting incident is reversible. That means that something could happen that would return the hero’s life back to normal.

No, no, no!

how to write a novel inciting incident quote

Your inciting incident should as final as the severing of a limb or a death of a loved one. Nothing should be able to reverse the effects of your inciting incident has on your hero.

Inciting Incident in a Novel Example:

Katniss volunteers! In the Hunger Games, the inciting incident is irreversible because – quite literally – soldiers grab Katniss, whisk her away from her world, and into the world of the games.

There is no escape.

And even if she could get away, she would be hunted by the Capital for the rest of her life. With those two simple words, “I volunteer!” her life has changed forever.

Note: There is an exception to this rule when it comes to romances.

With romances, the inciting incident is almost always when the two lovebirds meet. (Not always, but for the vast majority of romances, this is the case.) With romances, try to create an inciting incident that simultaneously shows how perfect these two people are for each other while setting up the numerous reasons why they can’t be together.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Answer these questions in full and complete the brainstorming activity.
– What is your inciting incident?
– Is it strong enough?
– Are there ways you could up the stakes or shorten the timeline?
– How can you make it your inciting incident as impactful and irreversible as possible?

Brainstorm several inciting incidents… Don’t settle for one. Take a look at your inciting incidents and ask yourself this: Which one of these is the harshest, deadliest inciting incident of the bunch. Then pick that one.

#3 – The First Slap

Now, we are away to the races for writing a novel!

Over the next few chapters, your character should be making a series of gains and losses, where the aggregate result is that their situation is slightly better than what it was at the moment of the inciting incident.

The reason why we need this upward trajectory is because we are setting up the reader for the first slap.

The first slap is the moment when everything that our hero has gained is lost in fell swoop. Your hero is brought down to zero. In other words, all gains are lost, and your hero’s situation has never been bleaker.

The greater the fall, the more engaged your reader will be.

First Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games, Katniss’s world is brought down to zero when she actually enters the Games.

Between the inciting incident on the first slap, Katniss has made several gains, garnering the attention of the Capital and making some friends along the way. But none of that matters the moment she enters the Games – and what a moment it is.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Brainstorm what your first slap can be. Like with the inciting incident, try to come up with 3-5 scenarios and pick the one that is harshest. Take a look at all the events that could potentially happen between the inciting incident and the first slap. This is a loose mind map as you are not committing to anything at this point, but do try to get a sense of whether or not your hero will be making gains and losses (with a net value of gains) and try to assess whether or not the first slap is harsh enough to truly wow your reader.
Remember, you want your readers to hate you for what you’ve done to the characters they love.

#4 -The Second Slap

Your hero has rose to the challenge! They have successfully thwarted the big evil that has been thrusted upon them by the first slap and she is doing well.

…Now it is time to bring her back to 0 again.

The second slap should be as harsh, if not harsher, than the first slap. This is the moment when the reader should be looking at your book and thinking, “Wow, this author is mean. Diabolical villain mean!”

In the second slap we are setting up for the climax, which means that the hero needs to have an out. In other words, there should be some semblance of hope.

Second Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games, the second slap is when the Game Masters announce that two tributes can survive the Games should they both be from the same district.

Katniss goes looking for Peeta, only to find him mortally wounded – he is bleeding to death and won’t survive the next few hours, let alone the rest of the Games. We know enough about Katniss to realize that Peeta dying is the worst thing that could happen to her (besides her own death).

But there is hope!

An announcement is made that there is something at the cornucopia that the Tributes need, and Katniss just knows that there is medicine there for Peeta.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Brainstorm several seconds slaps and pick the harshest one. Then ask yourself: where is the hope and how will it lead into the climax?

#5 – The Climax

The rollercoaster that you’ve put your reader on is almost over.

How to Write a Novel

The reader has gone from an engaging setup where they get to learn about your characters and world to the inciting incident where everything is turned on its head.

Then they are subjected to the first and second slaps where you embrace your inner sadomasochist in order to punish your hero and give the readers the thrills they so richly deserve.

Now it is time to wrap it all up with the climax.

There is only one rule to the climax. A rule that must be adhered to, no matter what genre you are writing in:

Make it amazing! The climax should be the moment where your reader puts down the book and goes, “Holy S&*%! That was awesome!”

Novel Climax Example:

The climax in the Hunger Games is the final confrontation between Katniss and the remaining Tributes, as well as the monsters that the Game Masters send after her. It is wrought with danger and excitement.

But what makes the climax truly kickass is the poisonous berries at the end.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Hunger Games today and read it! You’ll immediately get why this scene is so amazing.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Brainstorm your kickass climactic scene! Show us how amazing, smart, resourceful, powerful your hero is when overcoming their final obstacles, but remember to make sure it’s realistic and makes sense for your character.

There you have it: writing a novel is made much easier with your 5 key milestones. This method is particularly effective for first-time authors who are still finding their writing feet (or should I say typing fingers) and is an awesome resource that experienced writers can rely on time and again when planning their stories.

Common Questions About Writing a Novel

Now that you know the 5 key milestones of a gripping novel readers will love, let’s consider some of the common questions people have.

What should I write a novel about?

You should write a novel about any idea or theme that excites or inspires you. 

If you’re stuck for inspiration, consider using a writing prompt to give you an initial story seed your full novel can eventually bloom from. 

Many writers take inspiration for their novel from their own lives. Is there an event you’ve lived through that makes for a compelling story? How about a memorable person you’ve known that you could fictionalize?

You can also take an emotional truth you’ve experienced and apply it to a different context. Even if the situation of your novel differs from your life, the emotional authenticity will shine through. 

You can also let your imagination run riot and see where it takes you. Picture an entirely different world from ours. Go crazy brainstorming ‘what if x happened to y person’ scenarios.

How do I get started writing a novel?

Getting started with novel writing depends entirely on you and your situation.

If you already have an idea in mind, you can start by outlining your plot, or jumping straight in if you’re more of the panster school of thought.

If you don’t have an idea, you could aim to come up with as many as possible using some of the techniques you’ve read here. Coming up with a large number of novel ideas gives you a good chance of finding something you love and want to pursue further.

You can also consider setting out a project plan for your novel. How many writing sessions will you need? When will you schedule them for?

No matter how you go about starting your novel, the important thing is to build momentum and a sense of excitement to propel you forward. 

How do I choose a point of view when writing a novel?

It can be tricky to know which point of view to choose when writing a novel, especially if it’s your first time. 

The most common choices are first person and third person. 

Most published novels are written in the third person. You can read about the different points of view here and decide which is the best fit for the novel you want to write. 

Should I edit my novel as I write?

It’s often a bad idea to edit your novel as you write. Doing so results in a loss of momentum and flow that inhibits your progress towards a complete first draft. 

If you self-edit on the fly, you often end up second-guessing yourself and losing that delicious sensation of being swept away by the story. 

Are there books on how to write a novel?

Yes, there are a large number of books on novel writing. 

Some of the best out there include: 

  • On Writing by Stephen King. A mixture of King’s personal story and actionable advice on the craft of writing. Seeing King’s exact process for drafting and redrafting his work is invaluable for any aspiring novelist. 
  • How to Write Bestselling Fiction by Dean Koontz. A popular guide to crafting fiction novels, recommended by successful novelists such as Jerry Jenkins. 
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This book offers the perspective of Maass, an author who is also a literary agent. This background provides useful insight to guide your next novel.

Are you ready to start your novel writing adventure?

The 5 Key Milestones combined with a spot-on Premise and A-Story will tell you where your story starts, where it is headed and how it will end.

In other words, if you do the novel writing exercises above, you should have everything you need to get your novel to the finish line.

how to make a living writing

Make a Living Writing Books: Building Multiple Income Streams for Authors

Making a living writing is 100% possible and more so now than it ever has been before…you just have to know how to get there.

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood.
I’d type a little faster.”

— Isaac Asimov

It is every writer’s dream: to make a living writing the kind of books you love to read.

But, can really earn an income if you self-publish a book? Is it realistic?

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This is how to make a living writing:

  1. Is making a living writing possible?
  2. Learn why authors fail to make a living writing
  3. Build your author platform
  4. Scale assets and multiple income streams
  5. Use the “multiple book model”
  6. Expand your book formats
  7. Scale income streams
  8. Build an email list of raving fans
  9. Become a full-time author

You may have heard that most writers—Self-published and traditional—are starving artists who never make more than $1000 a year.

The stories are true. Many writers starve. But many sell a lot of books and do very well, if they stick with it and build multiple income streams.

I’ll just get this out of the way right now. Writing a book is hard work. Creating a sustainable platform with several income streams is harder. But, if this were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Making a living from your writing is definitely worth it and, as a writer who wants to earn cash online from their craft, it is one of the most rewarding achievements you will experience in the self-publishing business.

If you are an aspiring writer, or have already published and want to scale up your book business, find writing jobs, get some writing scholarships, or even write for online publications, let’s dive into how to turn your words into income (Yes, it can be done!).

I don’t know what starving authors are doing but, in this post, I’ll show you how to earn a living writing books through creating multiple income streams.

You will see that it is definitely possible.

You can become the top 10% that make money from your books and write from Starbucks, the beach, or that cabin in the woods everyone keeps talking about.

Making a Living as a Writer is Possible

Before the Internet became a thing, the path of a writer was a long, and often frustrating profession, guaranteeing nothing even after years of committed writing.

You have heard the stories of famous authors rejected multiple times before getting published.

As an INDIE author, the days of sifting through rejection slips are over.

You write, you publish, and you build your own book business like Jenna Moreci did creating her full-time author and Youtube business where she now gets to spend her days doing what she loves.

Check out an interview we conducted with her about how she did it:

Or, you build a business from a book. Either way, your writing is the gateway to a better life that you create and have total control over.

If you want to know what it would take for you to bring home a full-time income from your books, check out this book profit calculator. It’ll do the math and show you what you’d need to sell and how much you’d make in total:

STEP 1

Enter Your Information Below To Calculate Your Potential Book Sales

STEP 2

Want to receive personalized tips on how to sell more books right in your inbox?

CONGRATULATIONS!
Here's What You'd Earn:

Your profit per book:

In 3 months, you'll make:

In 6 months, you'll make:

In 1 year, you'll make:

Why Authors Fail to Make a Living Writing

Do you know why most authors only earn a few thousand dollars a year or less from their writing?

Here are 4 reasons authors fail to make a living writing:

  1. They only write one book. You need momentum with your book platform to generate enough monthly sales to support your lifestyle. This is possible with building out a library of books and maximizing on the earning power for each. We will look at this more later.
  2. They don’t stay current with shifting publishing trends. The self-publishing industry is constantly changing. If you aren’t staying current with what is working (and what has stopped working) your book sales plummet and you don’t reach as wide an audience as you’d like.
  3. They stick with one platform as the only source for earning income. Many authors stay with Amazon only. This makes sense considering they have 85% of the market for ebooks. And Amazon’s exclusivity program, KDP Select, makes it easy to sign over all power to the online digital giant. However, if you keep your eggs in one basket, what happens when that basket falls out of the tree? In other words, Amazon decides to make a major change to their platform overnight and, within a week, your monthly royalties get cut in half. Yes, it happens as we see time and time again.
  4. They don’t invest in the quality of their product. Poorly designed book covers, sloppy editing, a boring book description…equals a product nobody wants. If you want to make a living writing books, invest in your book (particularly getting a good book cover) so that it sells.

Bottom line: Write and publish consistently, write high-quality books people want to buy, expand your reach by publishing across multiple platforms, and stay up-to-speed on the latest marketing strategies that are working.

This is the formula most successful self-published authors are using to make a living as a writer.

Build Your Author Platform to Make Money Writing

You, as an author and creator, needs to form the mindset that this is your business—your book business. Regardless if you are a part-time author looking to get started making some extra income, or your goal is to be a full-time author, when you start making money from your “hobby”, you are turning it into a business.

When it comes to creating income from writing, it boils down to one word: Platform.

Your author platform is the structure of your writing career. It should consist of multiple income streams. This begins with your platform.

According to Michael Hyatt, bestselling author of Platform and Free to Focus, a platform is, “The means by which you connect with your existing and potential fans. It might include your company website, a blog, your Twitter and Facebook accounts, an online video show, or a podcast. It may also include your personal appearances as a public speaker, musician, or entertainer.”

As a writer, even if you are writing a book for the first time, think about what your platform means to you. This will become the structural foundation that your writing author business is built on.

If you want to make a living writing fiction or nonfiction, the approach to how you structure your income streams are similar, although the content is different.

What drives your platform, however, is the one thing that many overlook: Your author mindset. From now on, approach your craft with the mindset that this is your business.

Like every business, you have to be focused on the customer experience and products available to those customers. Delivering the right product, in this case the book they are looking for, is how to convert the curious customer into a paying one.

Components of an Author Platform

Your author platform is made up of:

A Catalog of Books: This consists of published books, and all variations of the book including paperback, hardcover, large print and audiobooks. Your books, aside from bringing in consistent revenue, act as funnels for building your subscribers list and promoting your other products. Your books could be stand-alone reads, as many nonfiction titles are, or a series of thrillers.

Email list: This is your list of raving fans that have given you permission to contact them by providing you with their email address. Your email list is at the heart of making a living, not just as an author but, anyone who is building an online platform.

Wide Distribution Model: As a self-published author, Amazon may be where you make 80% of your income. But if you have more than three books available, you want to consider opting out of Amazon’s KDP Select program and publishing wide with other platforms such as aggregators Draft2Digital, PublishDrive and Kobo. Set your print books up for sale through IngramSpark. You can tap into a huge international market that, not only will drive your book sales but, open up opportunity for international foreign rights.

Courses: As an author you could develop courses based on the content of your books. For example, take a look at what Lise Cartwright has built through her platform Hustle & Groove. Picture a multitude of courses available for when browsers or subscribers come to your site for the first time. Building online courses is a great way to expand this platform.

Website: A critical piece of your writing business is your author website. This where you stage all of your talent. You might have an author blog that brings in leads for your books and courses.

You could create content that you don’t publish on Amazon and make it exclusive to your website only. You can cross promote with other authors and set up an autoresponder email funnel to build a deeper relationship with your readers.

Your author website should include these basic features:

  • A free offer: This is free content a new subscriber downloads after opting in.
  • Featured blog posts: Your blog is an asset and potential income stream as it brings in leads through visitor traffic.
  • Course platform: Highly recommended. These are great assets to build out and easy to scale up.
  • About page: Make a dynamic introduction here.

Scalable Assets and Multiple Income Streams

Let’s get to my favorite topic: Creating multiple income streams to grow your business!

This is what I love about self-publishing. You are at the helm of your own ship and you, and only you, get to choose the direction to take.

We know that, if we write and publish lots of books, potentially our library of books grows and this generates strong passive income.

But relying on book sales only is a lot of work, and it is more work if you are selling on just one platform, Amazon.

Check out how our very own coach Lise Cartwright has built her passive income stream with books (and how she can teach you to do the same when you become a student):

As an authorpreneur, a self-publisher who writes and publishes their own books, you want to always be thinking creatively how to expand your income streams.

Let’s take a look at the list below for book assets.

  1. Book series
  2. Box sets
  3. Audiobooks
  4. Paperbacks
  5. Hardcover books
  6. Large print books

Making a Living Writing with the “Multiple Book Model”

Let’s be honest. Making money from one book can be very difficult. Most authors who earn a living as a successful writer have several, if not many, books in the pipeline.

These authors not only publish consistently but, are focused on delivering a series of books to build a valuable fan base.

The people buying your book series, once they are hooked into your series, crave more. This makes it a no-brainer for scaling up your author platform with every new book launch.

The more books you publish, the more income you can potentially earn and add more subscribers to your list.

For example, check out these popular book series:

We know that publishing consistently brings in more money and builds your platform over the long-term. But why does this model work?

how to make money writing

Your readers love new material, and so does Amazon. When your platform is active with new book releases, sales and reviews coming in consistently, the algorithm is “switched on” to help you sell more by pushing your books into the higher-traffic channels.

As your platform continues to scale up, your platform grows.

It might be slow at first, and you feel like you’re doing a lot of writing without any gains, but…that is the way it is when you begin to build.

Most fiction authors start to see a return on investment after the 4th or 5th book in a series. For nonfiction, this could happen sooner but, I certainly experienced a big shift after launching my 5th book Relaunch Your Life.


Another reason multiple books work is, new readers discovering you are almost always going to buy your other books if they like what they read. If that same reader likes your books, maybe he or she wants the course you are offering as well at 20% off.

Expanding Book Formats to Make More Money from Your Books

Don’t just settle for publishing in a single format.

We’re covering the several different types of book formats you can publish in that will increase your income from writing over time.

#1 – Boxsets

A boxset is a series of books bundled together allowing readers to purchase the series at a reduced cost per book. This is a great product to create as soon as you have 3 or more books in a series.

Check out these boxsets by popular authors:

#2 – Audiobooks

The popularity of audiobooks is on the rise. With less people reading and tuning into digital products while on the run, audiobooks are an income stream you can’t afford to leave on the table.

You can record the audiobook yourself or hire a professional. Once recorded, upload to ACX, Audible and expand into other channels for wide distribution through Find Away Voices.

#3 – Paperbacks

We live in the digital age but, paperbacks are still massively popular. In fact, 30% of my author revenue still comes through paperback sales.

With the power of Print-on-Demand, readers can buy our books through Amazon or IngramSpark, and these sites do all the heavy lifting. No inventory.

#4 – Hardcover Books

You can use IngramSparks’ powerful distribution network to create stunning hardcover versions of your book. Why not? It’s another income stream that, once set up, sells itself. You have to pay a fee of $49.00 per title and you’ll need an ISBN for each version of the book.

#5 – Large Print Books

Did you know you can offer readers another version of your book in large print form? This isn’t a huge market but, depending on the age range of your readers, a great option for children’s books or readers with impaired vision.

Ideally, you are not just selling a book. You are converting a browser into a lifelong customer. That is the real power of building a brand and an author platform.

Right now, take a few minutes to map out a rough plan for your book platform. How many books will you write this year? Is this a series of books or stand-alones? How far apart will you publish your books? Could you compliment your book by introducing a course to go with it?

Creating Scalable Income Streams

Successful 6-figure authorpreneur Joanna Penn accounts for her success to multiple income streams she calls “scalable assets” that bring in thousands of dollars every month.

Check out how she does it in the video below:

In essence, a scalable asset can be anything you create once and continue to sell over and over again.

For example, you put in over a hundred hours to write a book. Now, if you were being paid $30 an hour to write, that would be $3000 to you after the work is done. But let’s say your book sells at $4.99 as an ebook, and $12.99 for the paperback.

You consistently sell 30 eBooks a day at a 70% royalty rate, because your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99.

The paperback priced at $12.99 earns a fixed 60% royalty rate through KDP. That is roughly 182.00 per day for ebook and paperback sales. Making money with ebooks is doable and sometimes the most lucrative way to get paid.

Now, this continues for 30 days and that is: 185.00×30=$5,550. Now, I calculated this just for one book if it does really well. Imagine where you could be with five, ten or twenty books each generating their own passive income streams?

How about if you had audiobooks as well? What about foreign rights sales? A course that goes with the book?

Get the idea now.

Yes, the dream is very real. It is right in front of you, if you want it!

How can you scale up your author business right now?

How many assets can you create over the next six months?

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Build an email list of raving fans

If you haven’t started building an email list yet, you need one. Without a fan base to market your books to in the initial book launch phase, you are left to the mercy of the Amazon algorithm. Your list is the horde of fans waiting for your book release.

When you get ready to launch your next bestseller, these are the people who will help you to make it a smashing success.

A successful book launch is critical. When you Sell More Books, this is a trigger to Amazon that your book is popular and in demand. Amazon steps in to push your book into the also-bought section, the area that recommends popular items to customers when browsing.

How do you create an email list?

You can get started by offering a free gift inside your book.

This is a lead magnet that could be a:

  • Checklist
  • Action Guide
  • Audiobook
  • Free Report
  • Video Series

Your readers give you their email by signing up (what Seth Godin calls “Permission marketing) and they get added to your newsletter list. This is one of the most effective ways to sell books and continue to add to your subscribers list.

Your list is happy because they get to join you on the journey as you keep them in the loop on every writing project. Then, when close to launching, you can invite them to your launch team and offer the book for free to a segment of your list.

This helps to secure book reviews during launch week. In turn, your book sales flow in and your book has a stronger chance of sticking in the marketplace after the initial 30-days is over.

Remember: From the day your book is published, Amazon puts all books in “new releases” category. It is critical you maximize paid downloads and reviews during this 30-day period for the long-term success of the book.

Ready to Become a Full-Time Author?

Okay, you don’t have to be full time to still make money selling your books. But to make money at this, there are three things you should do consistently.

Here is a list of three action items that you, as a real author, can take to scale up your platform, sell more books, and earn good money while you sleep.

#1 – Form a writing habit

I write every morning from 5:30—7:00. This is a consistent schedule I have kept for the past 3 years and during this time I wrote and launched 12+ books.

Developing a writing habit is crucial if you want to make a living writing.

If you still have a day job (and most people do) you’ll need to find the time of day works best for you, establish your most productive writing time and make this a habit of creating content during this peak time.

Once you’ve established your best time for writing, write consistently for five days a week.

#2 – Publish consistently

If you follow the steps above and write with consistency, you can publish frequently, too.

Imagine where your (fiction or nonfiction) platform would be if you put out a book every 3-4 months. This is how you create scalable income.

Do the work now and reap the rewards later.

#3 – Communicate with your fanbase

We looked at the importance of an email list and why you need one. When you are getting ready to launch, you want to be able to shout it out to someone who is listening.

Your team of dedicated email subscribers are ready to help you launch bestseller after bestseller. But, communicating with your list is critical in between book launches.

At the very least, send out an email once every two weeks, and if you can, once a week. Provide tips, strategies, or an update on what you are working on.

Keep your tribe in the loop!

#4 – Determine Your Level of Success

You have to work out the details of what your success means to you.

How many income streams can you build, and what are they? Will you focus on the wide distribution model, or stay exclusive with Amazon?

This is different for every writer and depends on what you are comfortable with in terms of time and financial investment.

Stay focused on the big picture and scale up gradually. With every new book, you are generating potential to earn more and gain wider recognition as an author.

If you write one book and focus all your efforts on this, think of other income streams to tie in with your book and the kind of fan base you want to build. Will you offer coaching? Courses? Outsource your tech skills to help other authors?

You are an author, and now is the best time to make a living as a writer.

how to make a living writing fiction

How to Make a Living Writing Fiction: An Easy Guide

There are several paths you can take to learn how to make a living writing fiction. From traditional, to self-publishing, to hybrid publishing: they all have their benefits and letdowns.

But remember: becoming a full-time fiction writer is easier now than it has EVER been before.

But how exactly are they different, and how do you know which is right for you? Then what do you do once you’ve chosen your path?

We’re going to talk about:

  1. Traditional publishing career author route
  2. Self-publishing career author
  3. Hybrid publishing
  4. How to choose between career author options
  5. How to prepare for your author career
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How Much Does a Fiction Writer Make

Fiction writers can expect to make as much as they put into their work, but it largely depends based on their publishing method, book retail price, book sales, and royalty rate.

Self-published authors can expect to make up to 60% royalties on each sale whereas traditionally published authors typically make around 10% royalties after their advance is paid out.

What this mean for averages is that a self-published author can expect to average around $4.50 per book sale and a traditionally published author can expect around $1.50 per book sale.

What this means is that for a 300-page paperback book self-published on Amazon, retailed at $14.99 with a 60% royalty rate and Amazon charging $4.45 for printing, leaves the author with $4.54 per book sale.

This is Amazon’s formula for printing cost:

$0.85 (fixed cost) + (300 [page count] * $0.012 [per page cost]) = $4.45 (printing cost)

This is Amazon’s formula for royalties:

(Royalty rate x list price) – printing costs = royalty

0.6 x 14.99 = 8.99 | 8.99 – 4.45 = $4.54

The amount you fully earn as an author depends on how many books you have, how many sales they get monthly, and how heavily they’re marketed. A full-time fiction author running successful Amazon ads, for example, can expect to make more than a self-published author without ads.

How do you become a successful fiction writer?

To become a successful fiction writer you have to write consistently, read often, find a process that works for you, and publish at least 1 book a year on average.

This may sound like a lot, but if you truly want to have a career writing fiction, there is a good amount of upfront work, consistency, and learning the methods that lead to success in the first place.

Think of it this way: maybe people spend thousands and thousands to go to college for 2-4 years and get a degree in their field, so they can become successful in their field. You may have to put that much time in upfront, but not necessarily that much work.

If you want to learn how to become a full-time author, check out our Fundamentals of Fiction program to get started.

How to be a Full-Time Traditionally Published Fiction Author

Traditional publishing is probably the method you’re most familiar with. It’s when a book is published through a traditional publishing company, typically having gone through an agent acquired through a query process.

Publishing houses you’ve heard of might include Penguin/Random House, Harper Collins, Hatchette Book Group, and Macmillan. There are HUNDREDS more, but these three are a part of what’s referred to as “The Big Five.” Publishing with one of The Big Five is often seen as a mark of success for an author.

Most authors you know are traditionally published. Stephen King, Alice Walker, Anne Tyler, Cormac McCarthy, Neil Gaiman…

But is traditional publishing the route for you? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros of traditional publishing:

  • Money upfront! Most traditional publishers offer an advance payment for the right to publish your book. For a debut author, the average advance can be around $5,000 to $15,000. As writers grow and get more publications under their belt, this advance can be much higher.
  • Little monetary investment. If you publish traditionally, the cost of editors, designers, printing, and such are covered by the publisher.
  • Clout. Like I said, being published traditionally–particularly by a company in The Big Five–is seen as a mark of success. Many people perceive traditional publishing as the more, or only, “legitimate” form of publishing.

Cons of traditional publishing:

  • Likely no royalties/lower royalties. If and when your book has sold enough copies to surpass the advance you were paid, you may start to receive royalties per book sold. Most books will never reach this threshold. The royalty rate for traditionally published books can fall between 8% and 15%, depending on the format (ebook, paperback, hardback) and the number sold. But like I mentioned, few books reach that threshold of sales to begin receiving royalty payments in the first place.
  • Less creative control. If you have ideas for covers, formatting, marketing, or even the specific content of your book, you might be disappointed with the traditional publishing process. The creative decisions will be in the hands of your publisher, and it will be marketed in whatever way they see fit. Some publishers might ask for your input, but ultimately, the decision is theirs.
  • More barriers to entry. Like they say, if publishing a book was easy, everyone would do it. The barriers to entry for traditional publishing are extremely high. Even if you write a strong, compelling book with amazing characters and sparkling prose, that genre might not be what’s marketable right now. Publishers usually have specific types of books and authors they’re looking for–very few people are going to fit that mold. It’s very common to get rejected due to no fault of your own or your book’s–it’s just not what they’re looking for right now.
  • Longer process. Traditional publishing is a long, long, winding road of querying, rejection, revision, repeat. A manuscript could be rejected a hundred times before being accepted, if it ever is. Even after acceptance, it can take years from then until you see your book on shelves. This is why writers often have several projects going on at once in various stages.

Traditional publishing is likely the safer, more widely approved way to publish–if you can get in.

Self-Publishing for a Full-Time Fiction Career

Self-publishing has flourished into a thriving industry in the last few years. It has shifted from low-quality, cringe vanity projects to a legitimate and respected publishing option.

Self-publishing might be for you if you’re just starting out, interested in a lot of creative control, or have a special (not particularly trendy) project in mind.

It’s also an excellent option for entrepreneurs, life coaches, and other professionals to showcase their expertise, add to a product offering, supplement an online course, and countless other purposes.

Some self-publishers you may have heard of: Margaret Atwood, William Blake, Charles Dickens, Stephen King, Anais Nin, E.L. James, Rob Dircks.

Some of these authors have gone on to be traditionally published. Self-publishing can be your foothold to a traditional book deal, or it could be a main or supplemental income for as long as you’d like.

Success rarely includes fame, and there are tons of writers making a living self-publishing their books. Don’t think that self-publishing isn’t lucrative if you can’t list famous self-published authors off the top of your head.

So is self-publishing for you? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros of self-publishing fiction:

  • Creative control. You decide what happens with every aspect of design and promotion. If you’re a creative person with tons of ideas, this can be a great opportunity to have your hands in every part of the process and make it exactly what you want it to be. No one to answer to, no one to say “no”.
  • Higher royalties. Like I said, IF a traditionally published book sells enough copies to reach the threshold to receive royalties, the royalties are low. With self-publishing, your royalty rate can easily be 10 times as high as traditional royalty rates.
  • Fewer barriers to entry. The only thing stopping you from self-publishing is yourself. Everything is within your reach and control, and there are no industry barriers to publish.
  • Business control. Much like creative control, the way your book is handled and promoted is up to your publisher. If you’re your own publisher, that means it’s up to you!
    The first example to come to mind when I think about business control is my decision to offer free ebooks during the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns. If I’d traditionally published my collections, things like that wouldn’t be an option for me. If you’re the kind of person who likes to be in control of business decisions, self-publishing might be the route for you.
  • Quicker turnaround. Like we discussed earlier, traditional publishing is a LONG journey. Self-publishing can be as quick as you’d like. I know romance authors who drop an ebook once or twice a month–and make bank doing it. The process and steps of self-publishing are completely up to you, and if you want to speed produce books, there’s nothing stopping you.

Cons of self-publishing for fiction:

  • You drop the money upfront. Unlike traditional publishing, all costs of production fall to you. Editors, designers, artists, marketing–any and all costs are yours to bear.
  • No guaranteed profit. As we mentioned, most traditional publishers offer an upfront payment, regardless of how your book performs. With self-publishing, your paycheck hinges on sales.
  • Stigma. Even though self-publishing is becoming a more lucrative option for authors every year, there is still stigma around it because of the lack of barriers to entry. It’s easier, sure–but everyone knows it’s easier.

Hybrid authors

A hybrid author is the best and worst of both worlds. They self-publish and traditionally publish.

This is what I intend to do myself. Why? Because I write short story collections, a genre that is particularly impossible to catch a publisher or agent’s interest. I fully intend to continue publishing collections while I query my fantasy novel for traditional publishing. Maybe I’ll hate traditional publishing, maybe I’ll love it!

There are plenty of authors who hybrid publish.

So which publishing option is right for you?

It depends on you! Are you so excited to have creative and business control of your publications that you don’t mind the initial investment? Maybe you’re a self-publisher.

Are you in it for prestige and the potential comfort of one big paycheck? Traditional publishing might be for you.

Like me, are you a multi-genre author? Maybe you’re a hybrid!

Consider your options carefully, but let’s talk about the steps you should be taking now, regardless of your publishing route.

5 ways to prepare for your author career

Here are five things you can be doing right now, even without a finished book, to give yourself a competitive edge in your writing career.

#1 – Practice the craft

The most worthwhile time investment for a writer is, surprise, writing! Even if it isn’t to produce new content you intend to monetize, writing for practice is a great use of your time. There are loads of writing seminars you can take online. And check out free writing tutorials on YouTube!

#2 – Learn the industry

Get involved with the writing and publishing industry. Connect with writers who have found success in the publishing route you’ve chosen, as well as writers who are at your level.

See what they’re doing, note what’s working and what isn’t.

#3 – Build your platform

No matter how you’ve published, all writers benefit from a platform.

Build your readership, even before you have a book to sell, by doing the following things:

  • Social media – Set up your professional online presence with consistent branding, high-quality profile images, and regular content. Engage with readers and other writers!
  • Produce content – Before you have a book to offer, think of other things you could create to attract an audience. Here are a few ideas:
    • Start a YouTube channel – Maybe your videos are about writing, or maybe they’re not–just make sure to mention your writing projects every now and then!
    • Write a blog – Posting regular content can draw traffic to your website, putting your books, services, mailing list, and brand in front of new people.
    • Develop a course – Show your expertise in writing or another area to build credibility and establish an extra income stream. I publish classes through Skillshare, and based on the current rate of growth, those courses will be 10% of my income by the end of the year.
    • Create an aesthetic Instagram or Pinterest account – Writers and readers love aesthetics. If you’ve got a knack for it, create a post schedule, log some back content, and make a thing of it!
  • Remember to include an email list signup on your website! A mailing list is a powerful author tool.

#4 – Build a network

You’ll eventually need to know people in the industry, like editors, agents, designers, other writers, readers, reviewers–it’s great to connect with people before you need them.

Even if you don’t hire or work for a connection directly, the more people you know, the more opportunities you and your writing will be thrown in front of.

Here are some tips for building your author network:

  • Follow people in your industry on social media.
  • Be friendly! Reach out, but be mindful that writers with sizable followings get a LOT of messages every day. Smaller creators and writers are much more willing to give cold call messages a read and response.
  • Create content. Creating something other than books so you can share things more regularly can help to build your platform and network. Make something cool, and other people will notice!
  • Remember that not every connection has to be a two-way street. Make sure to follow people just for the sake of learning and being plugged in. If you’re new to Twitter (the social media platform of choice for most writers), here’s a list of starter follows you might like–
    • Writers
      • Kayla Ancrum is an amazing writer with an active, hilarious Twitter feed.
      • Joyce Carol Oates has a huge following with witty and informative tweets.
      • Aiden Thomas’ feed is always hype, colorful, and a fun place to be.
      • Terese Mason Pierre shares a ton of resources for writers, like open calls for submissions.
      • Kelly Quindlen sets a good example of how to interact with other writers. Give her a follow and see how she replies to other writers and their content.
      • John Meehan offers a perspective from the place of academic writing, as well as thoughtful takes on current issues in publishing.
    • Reviewers  
      • Fadwa is a booktuber with great videos and a topical Twitter feed.
      • Mina’s following has skyrocketed recently, and with good reason! Her stuff is insightful and funny. She’s also a booktuber.
      • If you’re more into blog reviewers instead of videos, Karina’s the one for you.
    • Other industry types you might want to follow are editors, agents, and publishers, and readers of your genre!

#5 – Ask for help when you need it

Ask for help when you need it!

If you’d like a team to guide you through the process of writing and self-publishing your book, look no further. Take the first step by scheduling a consultation with one of our Publishing Success Strategists now!

Whether you choose traditional publishing, self-publishing, or a mix of ‘em, use these tips to build a strong path into your author career.

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prowritingaid review

ProWritingAid Review (2020): Is It Right for You?

Making a glaring mistake in our work is one of our biggest fears as writers.

Naturally, we want readers to focus on the meaning and message of our language, not our grammar or style slip-ups. 

While it’s still an unbeatable move to invest in an experienced editor, you can make better use of their time by first self-editing your work with an automated tool. 

Let’s face it. Basic spelling and grammar software doesn’t get the job done. 

Instead, you need to look for something more advanced. Something like ProWritingAid. But is it worth investing in?

This ProWritingAid review will show you exactly what the tool is and what it does so you can decide if it’s a good fit for your needs.

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This ProWritingAid Review covers:

  1. What is ProWritingAid?
  2. Should you use ProWritingAid?
  3. What does ProWritingAid do?
  4. How does ProWritingAid improve your writing?
  5. A full look at the reports
  6. Can you integrate ProWritingAid with other tools?
  7. How much does ProWritingAid cost?
  8. What are the pros and cons of ProWritingAid?

1 – What is ProWritingAid?

ProWritingAid is a grammar and style tool for writers of every type. 

It goes above and beyond traditional checking tools by not only pointing out errors in your text but showing you exactly what they are and why they matter. 

The ability of ProWritingAid to assess your work and teach you how to advance as a writer is why its creators compare it to a virtual mentor rather than just another app. 

Let’s explore this AI-enhanced tool to see if it’s the right choice for you. 

2 – Should you use ProWritingAid?

Although ProWritingAid can help with any task, from a short email through to a full book, three types of authors especially should check out this tool further. 

  1. Fiction authors. If you want to succeed as a self-published fiction author, you can’t afford to let editing errors hurt the quality and credibility of your book. ProWritingAid is a great first option for self-editing, so your real editor can use their magic and experience to help your story shine.
  2. Nonfiction authors. When you’re releasing a book to inform or inspire people, you shouldn’t let anything stand in the way of the benefit they gain from your book, and self-editing helps your message hit home.
  3. Business writers. Authors in the business world need to make every word count. Enhancing the persuasive power of your copy through self-editing is the perfect first step.

If you fall into one of those groups, let’s see exactly what ProWritingAid can do for you. 

3 – What does ProWritingAid do?

Although ProWritingAid is customizable to your needs as a writer, it helps your work in 10 key ways:

  1. Identifies if you have used consistent rules for spelling, hyphenation, and the capitalization of your words. 
  2. Looks for cliche and redundant language.
  3. Finds grammatical errors in your work.
  4. Suggests mistakes with your terminology.
  5. Provides contextual thesaurus suggestions.
  6. Scans a text for instances of plagiarism.
  7. Boosts the readability of your writing. 
  8. Points out instances of repetitive wording and phrasing. 
  9. Makes your paragraph structuring better. 
  10. Highlights vagueness and complexity in your work.

If those ideas sound like they would help you write your next book with more confidence and clarity, let’s explore how to use this tool and the feedback it offers. 

4 – How does ProWritingAid improve your writing?

Let’s take a moment to think about the practicalities of using ProWritingAid to improve your book. 

You can use ProWritingAid in one of three ways:

  1. Use ProWritingAid in the Cloud. 
  2. Integrate with your browser.
  3. Download a desktop app. 
prowriting aid review desktop app
Desktop version of ProWritingAid.

After you have ProWritingAid ready to run, you can work with it by following these steps:

  1. Open up ProWritingAid. 
  2. Input your text into the interface.
  3. ProWritingAid performs a scan. 
  4. The suggestions made are highlighted in different colors. 
  5. You can check out its suggestions by hovering over the text and accepting or rejecting them.

Now that you have a basic idea of how the tool works, let’s continue this ProWritingAid review with a closer look at its 20+ reports and how they can improve your writing. 

5 – What do the reports cover?

Although the information ProWritingAid offers might seem like a lot, you can customize it to filter out anything you don’t need. 

A readability suggestion by ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid offers these 20 different reports. 

  1. Writing style. ProWritingAid identifies many of the common style errors a human editor would advise against, like too much passive voice or use of weak verbs.
  2. Grammar. As well as pointing out standard grammar mistakes, ProWritingAid also takes input from experienced copyeditors and uses their knowledge as part of the feedback on your writing. 
  3. Overused words. We all overuse certain words that we might not even be aware of. ProWritingAid doesn’t only identify them, it also suggests the amount you should reduce them by to make your writing more impactful. 
  4. Cliches and redundancies. ProWritingAid points out the times where your writing is cliched or tautological, so you can choose to simplify it as you see fit. 
  5. Sticky sentences. The sticky sentences report shows where your writing contains too many glue words or prepositions like ‘on’ or ‘in’ that fail to add any real value.
  6. Readability stats. Depending on your intended audience, you should make sure the language you use is suitable for their reading level. ProWritingAid offers full analysis using the Flesch Reading Ease score. 
  7. Repetition check. If you use the same sentences too often, it can be jarring for your reader and annoying for your editor. ProWritingAid points out the words and phrases you tend to overuse. Over time, you’ll instinctively use them less often. 
  8. Sentence length. Varying how long your sentences are is one of the best ways to keep them as engaging as possible for your reader. ProWritingAid offers a visual representation of their length so you can easily see where there are too many brief or long sentences in a row.
  9. Pronoun usage. After your text is scanned by ProWritingAid, sentences containing pronouns outside of the 4-15% level recommended by the tool are highlighted. Switching these up improves the experience for your readers. 
  10. Transitions. Around a quarter of your sentences should contain words like ‘to’ or ‘as a result’ to keep the flow of your ideas smooth and understandable. 
  11. Consistency. ProWritingAid helps to ensure your writing keeps the same approach to spelling, punctuation, and American or British English throughout. 
  12. Pacing. If you want to make sure your reader isn’t bored by meandering prose, ProWritingAid identifies sections where your pacing requires rapidity. 
  13. Dialogue tags. When your writing veers too far away from simple dialogue tags like said or asked it often loses power. ProWritingAid highlights every tag in your text so you can choose a better option where needed. 
  14. Contextual thesaurus. While thesauruses can help you find synonyms, using them in the wrong context is a recipe for disaster. ProWritingAid’s contextual thesaurus helps ensure your synonyms are suitable. 
  15. Diction. Running your text through ProWritingAid’s diction checker makes it less verbose.
  16. Alliteration. If you use alliteration in just the right amount it’s pleasing to read. Too much can be distracting or irritating. Check exactly how much alliterative wording your writing has so you can ensure it fits. 
  17. Homonyms. It’s easy to let a homonym slide into your sentence, especially if you’re dictating. You can identify and remove any embarrassing slip-ups by taking this approach. 
  18. Acronyms. Although a lot of acronyms are essential to the content you want to write, they might not be compatible with a regular spellchecker. ProWritingAid lets you identify the acronyms in your text and save them to a dedicated glossary for later recognition. 
  19. House style. If you’ve ever had to switch between writing styles mentally, you know it’s no simple feat. Make things easier by creating custom style guides that keep your writing aligned with expectation. 
  20. Plagiarism check. Plagiarism is a serious concern for authors and academics alike. You can ensure the originality of your words by paying for a plagiarism check from ProWritingAid. 
The contextual thesaurus from ProWritingAid.

6 – Can you integrate ProWritingAid with other tools?

Sometimes, it can be difficult to give up the writing apps you know and love in favor of having to learn something completely new. 

prowritingaid integration
ProWritingAid browser integration.

At this time, you can stick with your favorites to integrate ProWritingAid into seven tools used by writers. 

  1. Firefox. If you write content in Firefox, you can check your grammar and writing style without having to leave the browser environment. 
  2. Chrome. Chrome is the most popular browser on the planet as well as one of the most customizable, so it makes sense to see a ProWritingAid extension here. 
  3. Safari. ProWritingAid integrates directly into Safari to help spot your online writing errors. 
  4. Edge. Microsoft’s newest browser lets you avoid mistakes with an Edge extension. 
  5. Google Docs. If you want to combine the editing power of ProWritingAid and the collaborative power of Google Docs, you can easily integrate the two. 
  6. Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is still a popular choice for many writers. Why not make its spelling and grammar capabilities more powerful by adding ProWritingAid? 
  7. Scrivener. Scrivener is one of the most fully-featured options available to authors and writers. If you are already a Scrivener fan, you can use its project files directly with the desktop version of ProWritingAid.

It’s great to see ProWritingAid making an effort to meet writers where they already are. 

7 – How much does ProWritingAid cost?

You can either use ProWritingAid for free or pay $79 for a year’s access to its Premium features. 

  • Free. Try the free version of ProWritingAid online with a limit of 500 words per session.
  • 1-Month Premium. $20 will let you try out everything ProWritingAid is capable of for a month. 
  • 1-Year Premium. $79 gets you a year’s access to ProWritingAid Premium.
  • Lifetime. A $399 investment gives you lifetime access to ProWritingAid, including all future upgrades.
how much does prowritingaid cost
ProWritingAid cost.

Take the time to get a feel for the free tool and how it fits into your writing process before leveling up to a paid option. 

8 – What are the pros and cons of ProWritingAid?

So now that you have read this ProWritingAid review, and know what it can do and how much it costs, it’s time to think about its advantages and disadvantages to consider if it’s the right tool for you. 

Pros of ProWritingAid

  1. Powerful self-editing capabilities that save your money and your editor’s frustration.
  2. Insight into your strengths and weaknesses as a writer so you can grow over time.
  3. A wide range of integrations with different apps and platforms. 

Cons of ProWritingAid

  1. You need to pay extra to use the plagiarism check feature.
  2. Although it offers a thorough insight into your work, it’s no replacement for a real mentor or editor

Ultimately, it’s worth taking the time to try out at least the free version of ProWritingAid. Do you like its interface? Does it offer better results than whatever checking tool you currently use? 

If you like the feel of the app, think of everything you could gain from it, like:

  • The confidence to finish a first draft without your loud inner critic drowning out your flow.
  • The joy of serving your online followers with crisp, well-written copy that speaks to their pain points.
  • The power of persuasive business writing that warms people up to what you have to offer and persuades them to take action. 

ProWritingAid may not be able to replace everything a human editor does.

But what it can do is give you invaluable insight into your writing and how you can improve it.

We’re sure that if you use it, you won’t just be a more confident writer, but also a better writer. 

Why not try it out and see for yourself?

how long does it take to write a book

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

The most valuable thing a writer can learn is how long does it take to write a book.

And while most sources say it depends, we break it down for you.

Many authors, when asked how long it took to produce their debut novels, gave answers ranging from four years to a decade.

In other words, a very long time, BUT…

We’ve focused the process of writing and publishing a book, and our students are able to complete their drafts in as little as 60 days, publishing in 90 days…and we’ll teach you how.

But there is amazing news:

Writing your book can take far less time than you think. You just need to have the right mindset, a reliable system, and to stay motivated to write.

Here’s what you’ll learn about how long it takes to write a book:

  1. How to create a deadline
  2. The average time it takes to write a book
  3. How long it takes to write a 100 page book
  4. How long it takes to write a 200 page book
  5. How long it takes to write a 300 page book
  6. How to write a book faster
  7. Prioritizing to take less time to write a book
  8. Create word count goals
  9. Find accountability to write a book faster
  10. Set challenges to finish writing your book

Here at Self-Publishing School, our goal is to improve this arduous writing process. Right now, we coach our students to routinely complete a new book in just 90 days, finishing their first draft in as little as 30 days!

They are able to accomplish this by following a simple step-by-step guide that we’re going to share with you today.

How long does it take to write a book?

It can take anywhere from 2 months to a full year to write a book depending on the word count, how often you write, and how much you’re actually writing each session. A good rule of thumb is to allot at least 4 months to write a book.

Many authors report that it takes up to a year to write a book, but more recently, authors are finishing their books in as little as a month to 90 days with our specific system.

How long it takes to write a book largely depends on how much time the writer puts in to actually writing it, though.

The truth about how long it takes to write a book depends on how many words are in it.

Here’s a guideline for how long it takes to write a book:

  • 30,000 – 50,000 words: 500 words/day = 60 – 100 days
  • 50,000 – 80,000 words: 500 words/day = 100 – 160 days
  • 80,000 – 100,000 words: 500 words/day = 160 – 200 days

Essentially, the length of time it takes can be anywhere from two months to 7 months (or even longer!) depending on how often you write and how many words you write per session.

If you want a quick way to find out, fill out this word and page count calculator below and it will tell you the average time it takes to write that book:

Choose your book type, genre, and audience for a word count and page number total.

Your book will have

words

pages

*These results are based on industry standards. The total word and page count will vary from book to book and is dependent on your writing and overall book formatting*

Average Time to Write This Book: 60 days

Following the guidelines below, you can learn to supercharge your own book writing process, and you’ll become a published author much faster.

What is the average time it takes to write a book?

The average person writing a book for the first time can expect to spend anywhere from 4 months to over a year writing a book. While this might seem like it takes a long time to write a book, there are always methods to shorten this.

Taking everything above into account, the truth is that most people don’t write every day, especially if you have a family and a full-time job.

So let’s break this down a bit further for the average person living an average life that doesn’t allot daily writing time (& they don’t have our system for getting more done with less time):

  • 30,000 – 50,000 words: 500 words 3 days per week = 4 months – 7 months
  • 50,000 – 80,000 words: 500 words 3 days per week = 7 months – 11 months
  • 80,000 – 100,000 words: 500 words 3 days per week = 11 months – 1 year +

As you can see, if you maintain an average of 1500 words written per week, writing your book can span from 4 months to over a year without the right system to get it finished quickly.

self publishing school graph informing how long it takes to write a book

How long does it take to write a 100 page book?

A 100 page book is about 30,000 words. If you write more than 1500 words per week, you can expect for it to take 2 – 4 months to write a 100 page book.

How long does it take to write a 200 page book?

The average person can expect to spend 3 -7 months writing a 200 page book if they focus on writing more than 1500 words per week.

Now, this would equate to roughly 50,000 words. Many of our students can actually finish their draft of this length in only 30 days with our process.

How long does it take to write a 300 page book?

A 300 page book can take 4 – 9 months to write at an average of about 80,000 words, writing 1500 or more per week.

The average fiction book that’s at a higher level than middle grade will run about this length. In fact, the large majority of young adult books are 70,000 – 90,000 words and can take a bit longer for the full writing, revising, and self-editing process.

How to Write a Book Faster so it Doesn’t Take as Long

If you want to know how to write a book faster so it doesn’t take as long, here are our best tips.

#1 – Establishing a Strategic Deadline

Deadlines are designed to help you inch closer to completing your book by giving yourself a writing habit. It also encourages you to work every day hitting both short-term and long-term goals.

However, you won’t find success by setting arbitrary due dates. They must be set up for your book’s success.

Here are 3 ways to establish strategic deadlines:

  1. Define realistic deadlines. Set short term and long term deadlines for each portion of your draft that breaks down your entire book.
  2. Set honest expectations. If you’re only able to write 500 words a day, so be it. Don’t push yourself into thinking that you can complete an unrealistic task. Be honest with your abilities and align it with your deadline.
  3. Implement rewards. Don’t make writing a book feel like a tedious job. Reward yourself for achieving your goals! Attaching rewards to each accomplishment will make finishing your book much more aspiring to complete.
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#2 – Prioritizing Your Writing Into Tasks

What separates those who can write multiple books to those who can barely write a page is the ability to prioritize. Because there are so many competing factors that pull away our time and energy, prioritizing is actually a very hard concept to implement.

But in order to write your book, you need to establish clear priorities to get anything done.

Here are some ways to prioritize your work:

  • List out every detail of your book and turn them into tasks
  • Assess each task to identify what carries the biggest value to completing your book
  • Order tasks by its immediate priority and length of time to complete
  • Anticipate unexpected changes to your schedule, and plan an alternative schedule to stay on track

Action Step:

Make the effort and spend a few hours prioritizing your writing process. You will be surprised with how much writing you can accomplish with a well thought out task plan.

#3 – Creating Word Count Goals

One of the best ways to accelerate the writing process is to set word count goals. Like training intervals, setting up word count goals will pace how many words to write a day.

First you have to understand how many words in a novel for your genre. Once you know this, you can work backward to figure out how much you have to write each day in order to reach your deadline.

By establishing these parameters for your own success, not only will you be more likely to accomplish these goals, but you will also notice improvements to your writing.

Here’s an example of a tracking sheet you can set up in order to accomplish your word count goals:

how long does it take to write a book

We recommend writing down your daily, weekly, and monthly word count goals to not only show your current progress, but to keep you motivated until you reach the end.

It also helps to include rewards for every new milestone!

Action Step:

Start your daily word count goal to 500-1,000 words per day. By completing 1,000 words per day, you’ll be looking at your completed 30,000 word first draft in one month!

#4 – Finding Your Accountability Partner

A supportive partner can be a great soundboard, a first pair of eyes, and a protector of your sanity. They can also be the extrinsic motivation you need to meet your own deadlines and word counts.

When you have an accountability partner backing you up, it makes it harder to procrastinate because they expect great results from you!

At Self-Publishing School, we believe in the accountability system and encourage our students to pair up with other like-minded students to encourage one another and hold each other accountable for reaching goals and deadlines.

This is done through our Mastermind Community, so everyone has the same goal in mind: start writing a book and finish by self-publishing a book.

It’s a great motivating tactic and helps our students complete their books on time.

Action Step:

Find an accountability partner who is willing to encourage and hold you accountable to meet your deadlines!

#5 – Setting Challenges for Yourself

Following the same routine can get old quickly especially for something lengthy like writing the first draft of your book.

To combat the fear of boredom and add more spark to your writing project, we encourage you to set challenges for yourself!

Here are some simple challenges to set to write your book faster:

  • Double the word count you’ve originally set daily, monthly, yearly
  • Purposely tighten deadlines to increase pressure
  • Ban the use of your phone or all forms of distractions to make time for writing
  • Read your unfinished draft out loud to someone new for feedback

Action Step:

Include a few of these challenges every so often to increase the intensity of your writing. You may tack on even better rewards for each successful challenge you’ve completed.

If you ever dream of becoming a self-published author, now is the time to finally make it a reality.

By following these guidelines on how to develop a robust writing process, you will have your first book ready to self-publish in no time.

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How to Survive NaNoWriMo in 2020: 17 Top Tips for Success

You might not like to hear this.

But NaNoWriMo can often take a toll on you mentally and even creatively.

It might not make sense to you now, but you’ll understand just how much NaNoWriMo can affect you in a little bit.

First, let’s talk about what makes NaNoWriMo unique and special.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.

It’s an event that takes place over the course of November where writers from all over commit to writing 50,000 words during the month. That’s the main goal and if you accomplish this, that’s how you WIN NaNoWriMo.

So unfortunately, no, NaNoWriMo not some sort of nanobot that you can implant in your mind to write your book for you.

The entire point is to help writers have a month of very high productivity so they can get the first draft out of the way in order to pave the way for editing, rewriting, and overall polishing.

What can take writers months to accomplish (50,000 words) only needs to take one so the book gets finished faster.

Here are your daily, weekly, and total goals for NaNoWriMo. If you’re someone who likes to work on a weekly basis instead of a daily, this will help you.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

One of the best things you can do if you want to win NaNoWriMo is to prepare properly. There’s a reason those who participate dub October as Preptober.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re ready when NaNoWriMo comes to town.

#1 – Download your survival guide!

When it comes to making it through NaNoWriMo, you might need help. It’ll be a tough month and that’s why we put together this survival guide for you to follow.

It covers expanded preparation steps as well as resources to help you get through the month.

Make sure to download this if you want to win NaNoWriMo this year!

DOWNLOAD HERE!

nano cover photo

#2 – Pick a story

If you haven’t already, you have to decide which story you’re going to write. If you’re anything like me, you might have tons of book ideas bouncing around inside your head.

So how do you choose which to write and which to save for later?

Here are a few questions I like to ask myself when deciding which story to try first:

  • Which do you think about the most?
  • Which is developed the most?
  • Which one is a book you’d be most likely to pick up and read yourself?
  • Which one have you been thinking of as you read these questions?

Chances are, there’s one idea that stands out to you above all the rest. Even if the others are good, the story you’re most connected to and think about the most is the one you’ll actually enjoy writing the most.

And since you’ll be spending a great deal of time on this book over the next month, actually enjoying it is very important.

Pick the one that has your passion and run with it.

#3 – OUTLINE

I’m a personal advocate of outlining. My outlines are very detailed and I want to basically have an instruction manual for my book.

That being said, it’s understandable that not everyone works well with an outline. Maybe it’s not for you.

However, going into NaNoWriMo completely blind is a mistake.

You at least want to have an overview of the plot and the major plot points figured out so you have a direction in which to write.

For those of you who need outlining, make sure it’s done before November starts!

That clear, step-by-step overview of your book will be extremely helpful for saving time. You’ll be able to sit down and get to writing instead of spending so much time trying to figure out where your story is going.

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#4 – Join support groups

Going through something as arduous as NaNoWriMo requires some backup…preferably in the form of friends or just other people participating as well.

You all know that it’s going to be hard and therefore, you can count on support groups to help propel you through the tough times.

Support groups are your best bet to stay motivated throughout the entire month. Plus, anyone who’s a part of those groups is usually more than willing to help when you get stuck on your story, too.

So where do you find groups like these?

You can follow specific hashtags or accounts on Twitter, or you can join Facebook groups dedicated to NaNoWriMo.

Here are a few Facebook groups you can join right now to help you make it through:

#5 – Get in the right mindset

The reason NaNoWriMo is so difficult isn’t because of the fact that you’re writing a book; it’s because you’re writing so much of your book in such a short amount of time. It’s scary.

And that can be intimidating to a number of people – most of us, I’d wager to bet.

That means one of your biggest obstacles isn’t plotting your novel or making sure you’re physically prepared, it’s making sure you’re mentally ready to complete such a tough goal.

That means focusing on your inspiration, motivation, and staying positive!

You can find other methods of maintaining the right mindset in our NaNoWriMo survival guide.

#6 – Schedule your writing time

This is one of the absolute best ways to ensure you actually make it through NaNoWriMo in one piece – and even win!

It’s as simple as making a schedule for yourself and then sticking to it.

Anyone can mark their days to write on a calendar but it takes a special kind of writer to sit down daily and hit those word count goals.

We actually put together a progress tracking and planning spreadsheet that calculates your percentage completed in our NaNoWriMo survival guide! You can find what that looks like below.

You can use this all year round, not just in November. Give it a download if you want to make some real progress this month.

NaNoWriMo-Winning Habits

Being able to win NaNoWriMo is the entire goal of entering. You want to complete 50,000 words in a single month. But that’s much easier said than done.

I decided to pull out the big guns and ask for some help from my personal Twitter followers since I know many of them participate in this yearly.

Here are some of the tips I received on the thread of this tweet along with some extended tips to help you make the most of NaNoWriMo this month.

#1 – Pick a daily word count and focus on hitting that only

When you think about the overall goal of writing 50,000, you might begin to sweat, get anxious, and even feel discouraged.

Because it is a lot of words to write in a single month.

But one of the biggest tips experienced NaNoWriMo-ers have for anyone venturing to accomplish such an audacious goal is to only focus on hitting your daily goal.

So instead of thinking about it as 50,000 words a month, think of it as 1667 words a day.

This helps your mind process the amount better so you don’t get so overwhelmed.

#2 – Put together writing playlists

Inspiration doesn’t just exactly come around whenever you want it to. Sometimes it hides away like you might when winter comes around (just me?).

But the thing is, if every writer waited for inspiration to find them in order to write, hardly any of us would get our books done and we’d definitely not make it through NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words accomplished.

So instead, you might have to coax inspiration from the outskirts of your mind and one way many writers do this is through music.

Create a playlist that fits with the style of your story and turn it on whenever you sit down to write. It can serve as inspiration and a mental cue for your mind to get ready to work.

#3 – Have writing motivation and inspiration handy

Just like I mentioned above, you won’t always want to write but in order to hit your goal for November, you need to write daily (unless you want to sit and write huge chunks of words a couple days a week).

When you keep visuals, quotes, and even other novels that have inspired your own writing journey handy, it’s much easier to get in the mood to crank out some high-quality words.

#4 – Commit to NOT editing at all

This is one of the hardest parts for many who’ve done NaNoWriMo before.

They can get the words down, but only if they don’t stop to edit as they go.

Your first draft is better done than perfect, which is the entire point of NaNoWriMo in the first place. So put the editor part of your mind on hold and let your writer-brain take full ownership over the next month.

#5 – Ask friends/family to leave you alone

I realize this might sound harsh but NaNoWriMo is a commitment. You can’t have friends and family bugging you when it’s your designated writing time.

In order to succeed with NaNoWriMo, it’s best to make it clear to everyone around you that you’ll be unreachable for a specific amount of time whenever you write.

If you set that expectation early on and be stern about it, it’ll be easier to avoid this type of distraction throughout the month.

#6 – Recruit a close accountability partner

If writing groups don’t work for you because your posts get lost in the mix, pairing up with someone for one-on-one accountability might be a better option for you.

You can check-in daily and give each other support and encouragement when it gets tough.

And trust me, by the second week, you’ll need someone there to push you along and remind you why you started this lofty task in the first place.

#7 – Use a distraction-free writing app

There are a ton of writing software and apps out there designed to help you write – and write faster.

One of the best to use is an app called Freedom.

What this app does is cut off access to certain websites or apps for a determined amount of time. Whenever you try to visit those sites (like Twitter) during the time you have scheduled to write, you’ll receive this message:

This prevents you from procrastinating or getting too distracted, which hinders your word count progress.

The idea here is that this app “frees” you from the addiction and distraction of sites you know you get sucked into easily.

#8 – Turn your notifications off

This is for your phone, social media, email, and any other notifications that might pop up during your writing time.

If you use the app mentioned above, this will be a little easier, but you also have to manually keep your phone far away from you so even text messages won’t break through your concentration.

Just me, those messages will still be there by the time you’re done with writing.

#9 – Never guilt-shame yourself

This will be very hard if, for whatever reason, you don’t end up hitting your word count goal daily. You’ll start to shame yourself, even if only internally.

This isn’t productive in any way, shape, or form and it’ll only slow you down further.

Instead, you should recognize when you’re behind, and then schedule the time to catch up if hitting that 50,000 words is truly important to you.

And if you need a little bit more to help you out with this one, just remember that no matter what, you’re making progress on your book and that alone is a major accomplishment.

#10 – Just write

NaNoWriMo is all about just making progress. That progress doesn’t have to be the best version of what you can do, it just has to be progress.

You can forget all about making your manuscript all shiny and perfect. Instead, just focus on pumping out those words.

Write to the best of your ability given the time you have to hit those words.

After all, the large majority of us tend to write best once we get into the groove of just writing anyway. And that means if you shut off the self-critical part of your brain for a while, you can make some major strides.

#11 – Go easy on yourself

Cut yourself some slack. You’re not perfect and writing can be very difficult.

If something comes up and you’re not able to write for a day, just forget about it and get back on track the next.

There’s no point in driving yourself crazy over missing a few thousand words because like I said above, you’re still making progress on your book and that’s the entire point of NaNoWriMo in the first place.


how to write a book outline template

What is a Book Template?

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?
  • Fiction template
  • Nonfiction 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.

Fiction templates

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:

  1. 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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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:
  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 templates

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:

  1. Title and subtitle
  2. Your name or pseudonym
  3. Copyright page–gotta have that fine print.
  4. 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.
  5. Dedication (optional)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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:
    1. Identify the problem–plainly state why the reader is here. What problem do they have that the book or course will solve?
    2. Present the solution–explain that you have the answers to their problem.
    3. Reassert your credibility–why are you qualified to give advice on this subject? Give specific reasons you’re qualified.
    4. 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.
    5. 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?
    6. 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!
    7. 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?
    8. Prompt them to read (call to action)


Now for the content of the book itself–a nonfiction book could have a few different structures.

Nonfiction frameworks

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. 

A book that follows this type of framework is one by Lise Cartwright, Side Hustle Blueprint: How to Make an Extra $1000 in 30 Days Without Leaving Your Day Job!

The layout for a nonfiction using the sequential framework might look like this:

Step 1 

Chapter 1: First part of the process

Chapter 2: Second part of the process

Chapter 3: Third part of the process

Step 2

 

Chapter 4: First part of the next step

Chapter 5: Second part of the next step

Chapter 6: Third part of the next step

Et cetera, until the steps of the process are complete.

Structure 2: numerical framework

The Numerical Framework organizes information by listing a specific number, keys or rules to support the author’s point, then uses smaller chunks of content to support the key/rule.

A book that follows this type of framework is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

Number 1

 

Chapter 1: Introduction to the point

Chapter 2: Supporting content

Chapter 3: Summary of the point

Number 2

 

Chapter 4: Introduction of the next point

Chapter 5: Supporting content

Chapter 6: Summary of the point

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.

A book that follows this type of framework is Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The not-so-obvious secret guaranteed to transform your life before 8am.

Main Problem

Chapter 1: Introduction to the problem

Chapter 2: How the problem came to be

Chapter 3: Impact of the problem on the reader

Main Solution

Chapter 4: Introduction to the solution

Chapter 5: Supporting content

Chapter 6: Supporting content

Chapter 7: Supporting content

Chapter 8: Next steps

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.

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46 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts

If you’ve already been through our list of 400+ all-genre writing prompts, but it didn’t quite scratch that alien, other-worldly itch, no worries!

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. It’s like the olympics, but on another planet and 14 solar systems are competing.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Thousands of homeless people in a usually packed city have vanished overnight.
  11. A man disappears for thirteen years and returns with a special ability.
  12. Everyone in town falls asleep simultaneously, except one family.
  13. On an alien planet, earth is merely a farm to harvest meat.
  14. A group of animals go through a series of experimental trials that ends with them possessing comparably human intelligence. They plot escape.
  15. Horrifically realistic dolls are manufactured as children’s toys. Their lifelikeness prompts a lonely woman to adopt one.
  16. 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.
  17. An ancient tribe that disappeared suddenly from history returns in modern day.
  18. 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.
  19. A tourist in an Egyptian tomb accidentally activates ancient, but far advanced, technology when she bleeds on a stone.
  20. 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.
  21. A tattoo appears when a person comes of age, dictating the beginning of their life’s quest.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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. 
  25. 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… 
  26. 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? 
  27. 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. 
  28. 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? 
  29. The internet suddenly crashes completely and cannot be recovered. What does society look like ten years from now without it? 
  30. 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. 
  31. 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?
  32. 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.
  33. 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.
  34. 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.
  35. 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.
  36. 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?
  37. 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.
  38. 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?
  39. 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.
  40. 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?
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. Write the travelogue of a mechanic who’s been abducted by aliens in the hopes that she’ll fix their ship.
  44. 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?
  45. 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.
  46. 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?

Happy writing!

33 Fantasy Writing Prompts

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!

  1. Characters fall through a mirror and land in a lake of a new universe.
  2. 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.
  3. Write a short story about a messenger delivering love letters between a prince and princess on opposite sides of a war.
  4. 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.
  5. An unmarked letter arrives in his mailbox. No address, no stamp. Just a key and a train ticket to his mother’s hometown.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Write a flash fiction about a god who is struck down into a tiny fishing village where no one recognizes him.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Two girls find a dragon with a massive horde of treasure in a cave. Write from the perspective of the dragon.
  13. A village boy harasses an elderly man. The next day, he wakes up as the man.
  14. A cult prays to their god in a forest, and the god appears. How does the god appear, and what is their answer?
  15. A kid in modern day sees a symbol everywhere they go. It appears more and more often. One day, they realize what triggers it.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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?
  23. Write a story from the perspective of a werewolf attempting to live a “normal” life amongst humans.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. A young woman seeks treasure hidden by her pirate ancestor.
  27. 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.
  28. 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?
  29. 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.
  30. 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…
  31. Two knights vie for the hand of the princess in a series of athletic challenges, but end up falling in love with each other.
  32. 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.
  33. 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?

Happy writing!

What is a “Third Person Point of View”?

“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.

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What is Colloquialism?

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)
  • Deadset (determined)
  • 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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
  4. 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.

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What is Diction?

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.

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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?” 

Informal: “What?”

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.

Jim’s diction in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn indicates his background.

“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:

  1. 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?
  2. Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

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How to Use Personification in Your Writing

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.

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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.

Personification Examples

One of my favorite books, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, utilizes personification more often than any other book I’ve read.

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!

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ghostwriter

Metaphor: Definition and Usage

“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.

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Metaphor examples

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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How to Use an Allusion in Your Writing

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
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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.

Allusion Examples

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

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Sharpen Your Descriptions With a Simile

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.

Simile Examples

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

 “She entered with ungainly struggle like some huge awkward chicken, torn, squawking, out of its coop.” — The Adventure of the Three Gables by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“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.

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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!

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What is Euphemism?

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.

Euphemism Examples

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
    • BS
    • Shoot
    • Fudge
    • Heck
  • 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)
  • Croaked (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)
  • Self-service (masturbation)
  • First base (kissing)
  • Adult (instead of saying something is alcoholic or explicit) 

Euphemisms for violence:

  • Knock off (kill)
  • Whack (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!

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writing narrative

How to Use Juxtaposition in Your Writing

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.

Juxtaposition Examples

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.

Juxtaposed characters

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.

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creative writing

13 Creative Writing Exercises: Become a Better Writer

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

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

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

How to get better at writing

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

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

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

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

13 Creative Writing Exercises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 – Speed-write a story using a writing prompt.

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

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

A few writing prompts:

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

#6 – Write a stream of consciousness.

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

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

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

This one comes from Gloria Russell, critique professional.

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

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

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

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

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

This exercise is from Micah Klassen, Those Three Words

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

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

#10 – Edit someone else’s writing.

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

You might even glean some inspiration!

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

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

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

#12 – Practice a skill with a short story.

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

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

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

#13 – Write your MC in a different world/setting.

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Use Alliteration in Your Writing

Do you ever play with sound in your writing? 

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

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

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Today we’re talking about alliteration:

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

What is alliteration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closed my lids, and kept them close,

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

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

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

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

Your skin drapes

like an altar cloth

across words swallowed

before they’re whispered.

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

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

What is assonance?

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

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

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

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

Assonance:

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

Sight rhyme: near death

Alliteration: blinding…Blind…blaze

Examples of Alliteration

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

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

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

Alliteration in cliches

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

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

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

Alliteration in titles

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

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

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

Alliteration in poetry

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

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

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

This is an example from Abigail Giroir’s Summer Offering

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

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

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

My toga twists as I turn her.

How to use Alliteration in your writing

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

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

#1 – Don’t overdo it!

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

While pelts pattering might sound graceful in a poem,

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

Sounds considerably less graceful, doesn’t it?

#2 – Consider tone.

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

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

Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved. 

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

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

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

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

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

#3 – Try finishing your piece before you add alliteration

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

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

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

#4 – Experiment!

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

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

Here are a few prompts to get you going:

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

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

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Tropes and Clichés in Writing

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

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

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

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

What is a trope in writing?

A trope typically refers to an overused situation or plot in fiction. Using tropes in your writing isn’t necessarily wrong, but you should be careful to write with tropes in a way that isn’t trite or done-to-death.

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

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

Examples of tropes

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

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

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

Some examples of tropes from Pride and Prejudice are:

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

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

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

Some tropes in this book include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to use tropes in your writing

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

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

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

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

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

You can be aware of tropes by:

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

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

What is a cliché?

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

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

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

Examples of cliche phrases:

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

You get it.

How to use clichés in writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Writing Multiple Points of View

Have you ever started a novel with a huge cast of characters and felt like you needed to see all of their points of view? Were you quickly overwhelmed? There are ways to manage multiple POV characters! Let’s go over some basics, then look at specific tips for writing a story with multiple POVs.

We’re going to cover:

  • the different types of POV
  • how many you should use
  • which POV to use for which scenes
  • how to swap between them effectively
  • tips for writing multiple POVs
  • and some common mistakes with writing multiple POVs

What is a POV?

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

There are four common types of POV:

  1. First person (I, me, myself) – first person puts the reader closest to the character, because they are seeing the story directly through the character’s eyes–they essentially become the character and live the story through them.

  2. Second person (you) – second person is not often used in creative literature. It often puts the reader on edge, making them feel observed or judged. This can be used intentionally, so don’t rule it out if you’re wanting to try something stylistic.

  3. Third limited (he, she, they) – third person limited is a bit further from the character than first person, but we are still limited to the POV character’s perspective. We can’t hop into other character’s heads or know anything about the world that our character cannot observe.

  4. Third omniscient (he, she, they) – third omniscient POV knows everything. The story is told by an outside, omniscient narrator who knows everything about the world and characters, the past and future, with no limits to a character’s knowledge or observation.

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

How many POVs is too many?

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

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

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

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

How much will it challenge you?

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

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

Which POV character should you use for which scenes?

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

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

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

How do you switch between POVs?

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

  1. Switch scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter. Do not switch perspective within a single scene (that’s a move for omniscient POV).

  2.  When you begin a scene with a new character’s perspective, establish whose head we are in as soon as possible. One or two sentences establishing the scene is fine, then name whose perspective we’re in so the reader is grounded as quickly as possible.

  3. For that entire scene, you are in this character’s perspective. That means we don’t get internal thoughts from other characters, we don’t get information our character doesn’t have, we don’t observe things they would not be observing. If you hop around character heads in a single scene, that’s an unintentional perspective switch, and you don’t want that. Some people call it head-hopping. Head-hopping is a common mark of an amateur, and it detracts from your narrative authority.

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

Tips for writing multiple POV characters

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

  1. Give a healthy chunk of story in that character’s perspective. If you have very short scenes and jump back and forth a lot, it can be jarring. It does take a while for a reader to settle into a new perspective, so don’t jump around too frequently. Using quick and abrupt swaps occasionally might lead to more tension, so if you want the reader to be a little confused and uncomfortable, it can be stylistic. But in general, give a good amount of story before switching to another character.

  2. Each perspective must be unique from the others. Put time into developing each character and each narrative voice. This is very important. You shouldn’t have multiple main perspectives if some are significantly more developed or more important. If you have three strong characters and one just isn’t there, consider cutting the perspective. You can keep the character, but their voice might not be strong enough to hold its own. This is referring to third limited POV main characters–you might have brief glimpses into less developed characters for plot reasons, especially in third omniscient, but make sure you use them intentionally and they aren’t covering up lazy storytelling.

  3. And going off of that, each perspective character is your main character, so each one needs their own story. If you have multiple perspectives JUST for ease of storytelling, that’s lazy writing. Your main characters each need their own struggles, their own voice, and their own personality. If you only want one main character, but you absolutely need multiple perspectives to tell the story, some writers will swap between first person and third person POV–their main character is in first person POV, then we duck into some other perspectives with third person POV. It can be tricky, but it’s a little loophole if you need it.

  4. If you establish a pattern, keep it. A POV pattern is when you switch between POV characters in a specific order, either by scene or by chapter.

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

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

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

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

  2. Don’t be afraid to drop a POV character. Sometimes you’ll have an idea for the perspective characters you want, but then once you start outlining or once you start writing, one or more of them seem more like they’re side characters or they just won’t work as a POV character. If that happens, maybe you don’t need that perspective.

  3. Just to emphasize, when you’re editing, check for unintentional perspective switches. If your first person or third limited POV character doesn’t know something, the reader doesn’t know it either. You can’t have them look at another character and tell us how that character is feeling or what they’re thinking unless there’s a way for the perspective character to observe it.

Common mistakes with writing multiple POVs

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

  1. Having way too many characters to reasonably keep track of. If your reader can’t keep track of who’s who, or if they go so long without seeing a character that they forget about them, it will be hard to have them engage with the story.

  2. Unintentional perspective switches. If you’re in a limited POV and swap to another without a scene break, you’ll look like an amateur–because that’s a common writing mistake you should learn to avoid early on.

  3. Characters not having distinct voices. The same way having too many characters will confuse and disinterest your reader, having separate characters who all sound the same will confuse and disinterest. If you go to the trouble of having more than one POV character, you should give special attention to make sure they sound distinct.

  4. Re-telling the same scenes. Obviously this is boring to read, and your reader will start skimming pages. Plan your book to avoid this.

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

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

book edits

Types of Editing: Which do you need most?

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

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

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What is editing?

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

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

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

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

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

Different Types of Editing:

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

Types of Editing Examples

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

#1 – Developmental editing

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

Unedited version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited version:

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

Footsteps approached.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#2 – Line Editing

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

Unedited version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something like that,” I replied.

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

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

Edited version:

The diner hummed with conversation.

A waitress cleared her throat.

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

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

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

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

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

“Something like that.”

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

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

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

#3 – Copy Editing

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

Unedited version: 

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

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do it.

Edited version:

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

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll do it.

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

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

5 Editing Tips

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

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

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53 Contemporary Writing Prompts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Contemporary Writing Prompts

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

Contemporary Fantasy/SciFi Writing Prompts

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

Contemporary Romance Writing Prompts

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

Contemporary Horror/Mystery Writing Prompts

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

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

how to write dialogue

All About Dialogue Tags

Conversations are an important part of storytelling and are used to reveal a wealth of information: from a bonding moment, to a backstory, to a plot twist, and everything in-between.

It’s the writer’s job to ensure that the dialogue used within a conversation not only fits the character speaking, but that it flows in a realistic fashion.

In fiction writing it is vitally important that the speaker within a conversation is easily identified. This is where dialogue tags come into play.

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What are dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags are markers, little sentence clauses that follow the spoken words and act like a signpost for the reader. Their function is to attribute written dialogue to a particular character. These small phrases indicate speech, telling the reader exactly who is speaking.

For example:

“Did you hear that?” Emma asked.

The phrase ‘Emma asked’ is the dialogue tag in the sentence.

The main use of dialogue tags is to keep characters straight for the reader. Writers can also use them for: mimicking the natural rhythms in speech, breaking up long pieces of dialogue and making them more digestible, maintaining, elevating or break tension.

Tags can, and for the most part,  should be basic and simple. The words ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are the most obvious and the most used tags. However, dialogue tags can, of course, go beyond ‘said’ and ‘asked’ – we will get to that in a later.

First, let’s discuss how to properly utilize dialogue tags in a written conversation.

How to use Dialogue Tags

Dialogue sentences are made of two parts: the dialogue, which is the spoken portion of the sentence, and then the dialogue tag, which identifies the speaker. The dialogue tag is the telling part of the sentence, while the actual dialogue used is the showing.

Dialogue tags can be found in three places: either before the dialogue, in-between the actual dialogue, or after the dialogue.

The rules for punctuating dialogue and associated tags are quite precise. Commas go in particular places, as do terminal marks such as periods, exclamation points, and question marks. In this article we shall be following the rules for standard American English. (UK English uses a different set of punctuation rules.)

#1 – Tag Before the Dialogue

Adding a dialogue tag in the beginning means that the character who is speaking is introduced before the actual quote.

Examples:

Rising slowly from her chair, Emma asked, “Are we sure about this plan?”

or

Placing her hands on her hips, Emma said, “I doubt you know more than I do!”

The rules:

  • Use a comma after the dialogue tag.
  • If the dialogue is the beginning of a sentence, capitalize the first letter.
  • End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation and keep punctuation within the quotation marks.

#2 – Tag in the Middle of the Dialogue

Dialogue can be interrupted by a tag and then resume in the same sentence. The tag can also be used to separate two sentences. In both cases, this signifies a pause your character takes.

Examples:

“I thought you cared,” Emma said, “how could you let her leave?”

or

“I thought you cared.” Emma said, hoping to provoke him. “How could you let her leave?”

The rules:

  • When it is one continuous sentence, a comma is used before the dialogue tag and goes inside quotation marks.
  • A comma is used after the dialogue tag, outside of quotation marks, to reintroduce the dialogue.
  • Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
  • End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation keeping it inside the quotation marks.
  • When it is two sentences, the first sentence will end with a period and the second begins with a capital letter.

#3 – Tag After the Dialogue

Most often you will likely place your dialogue tag after the quote. Therefore, making the quote the focal point of the sentence.

Examples:

“Are you done?” Emma asked.

or

“Are you done?” asked Emma

The rules:

  • Punctuation goes inside quotation marks.
  • Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
  • End the dialogue tag with appropriate punctuation.

All the examples given up until this point have focused on using ‘said’ or ‘asked’ as part of the dialogue tags. These are the most common tags, and simply let the reader know who is talking. They serve the purpose without distracting from what is being said. 

Often times both ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are overlooked by readers, becoming invisible as they act out the conversations in their heads.

As long as ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are not overused, (repeated in every paragraph of dialogue) they will definitely fade into the background. However, if they are used in every sentence during a section of dialogue, then they will most definitely cease to be invisible.

As a writer, you never want your dialogue tags to stand out and distract, confuse, or slow the read.

Avoiding Unnecessary Dialogue Tags

The purpose of dialogue tags is to identify the speaker, not to draw attention to the writer’s broad vocabulary or their limitless ability to consult with a thesaurus.

Two common mistakes found in the use of dialogue tags are:

  1. Adverbial dialogue tags 
  2. Synonyms 

#1 – Adverbial Dialogue Tags

An adverbial dialogue tag is when an adverb modifies the verb used. They are those ‘–ly’ adverbs used to convey emotion and tone. The problem with these types of tags is they are all tell. Readers are being told how a character feels, as opposed to the words themselves showing what is happening.

Example:

“This is not your concern,” Emma said angrily.

The adverb ‘angrily’ adds nothing to this sentence. What it does instead is distract from it. A writer should want to evoke the emotion, and using adverbial dialogue tags take that away.

An example fix for the above sentence could be as follows:

“This is not your concern!” Emma said.

By using the exclamation mark you are showing the readers Emma’s emotions. There is no need for extra embellishment. When you tell the reader how a character says something, you remove the power from their spoken words. Try and refrain from using adverbial tags, instead show the reader character emotions though punctuation, dialogue, or action.

More on using action with dialogue tags later.

First, let’s discuss the second faux-pas when it comes to dialogue tags: synonyms 

#2 – Synonyms as Dialogue Tags

I like to call these types of tags, saidisims. A saidism is a synonym used to replace the word ‘said’ in a dialogue tag.

The key to realistic dialogue is keeping it simple. Using distractive synonyms such as ‘exclaimed’ and ‘uttered’ draw attention to the mechanics of the conversation you are writing.

Example:

“Emma,” she implored, “please listen.”

The word implored stands out like a sore thumb. It jarrs the reader from the moment putting the focus of the sentence on the tag, not on the dialogue. Instead of using this saidisim, you can simply use punctuation to get the point across.

Example:

“Emma,” she said, “please listen.”

By placing the word ‘please’ in italics, the writer shows the reader that the speaker is earnestly begging Emma to listen. No need to switch out ‘said’ for ‘implored.

The key to realistic dialogue is to keep it simple. Avoid searching for synonyms to use as creative descriptive dialogue tags which will only stand out. The dialogue tag should do its duty and identifying the speaker without shining light on itself.

Sometimes (emphasis on sometimes) it is indeed okay to substitute the word ‘said’ for something else. 

Example:

“Stop.” Emma said.

Versus

“Stop.” Emma muttered.

The tag ‘muttered’ adds a new understanding to the way the line of dialogue is spoken. This saidism enhances the dialogue and gives the reader a deeper grasp of the conversation. That is the key difference between the ‘intoned’ example and the ‘muttered’ example.

Substitutes for ‘said’ should be used sparingly and when they are used they need to elevate the dialogue, not distract from it.

When you find yourself using a saidisim, pause and ask yourself these two important questions:

  1. Is the dialogue itself able to convey the expression without the use of the tag?
  2. Can punctuation be used in place of the tag?

The more you write and find your own writer’s voice/style, the less you will not need to pause and question your use of dialogue tags. However, until then it’s vital to take a moment and make sure you’re getting them right.

What happens when a writer has a lot of conversational ground to cover and does not want to overwhelm the reader with repetitive dialogue tags? In that instance should the tags be avoided?

Let’s examine this in detail.

Should you avoid dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags should not be completely avoided, but their use can be reduced so as not to wear about the reader. Make sure that readers always know which character is speaking, but keep in mind that dialogue tags aren’t the only means to identify the speaker.

A safe alternative is the use of action beats along with your dialogue tags.

What are Action Beats in dialogue?

An action beat is the description of an action a character makes while talking. It serves to let the reader know not only who is talking, but also show the character in motion. An action on the same line as speech indicates that particular person was speaking.

Example:

 [Dialogue tag] “Leve,” Emma said, “right now!”

versus

 [Action beat] “Leave,” Emma pointed at the door, “right now!”

As you can see, action beats help break up dialogue, and can be used in place of dialogue tags. If you are writing a conversation with multiple speaking characters, then you don’t necessarily need to use a dialogue tag to let the reader know that there has been a change in speaker.

Action beats can turn the reader’s focus from one character to another.

Example:

 “I’m gonna kill him,” Emma said.

Victoria grinned. “Want some help?”

“I’ll need to hide the body.”

“I know the perfect place, very isolated.”

Geri let out a deep sigh as she stepped between them. “No one is killing anyone or hiding any bodies.”

In this example, there has been only one use of a dialogue tag, yet it remains clear who is speaking each line. The key is to use the tag only when it is needed. Once you identify the speaker, the reader should be able to go for several lines without needing another identifier.

An action beat can replace many words of description. We associate a frown with displeasure, clenched fists with anger, and tears with sadness. However, like any other literary device, action beats can distract the reader if overused and abused.

Remember, dialogue should sound real.

The most effective dialogue is the conversations that readers can imagine your characters speaking, without all the clutter and distractions of incorrect punctuation, repetitive tags, adverbs, or synonyms. Reading your manuscript out loud, actually hearing how the conversations sound, will be the best way to see if you have your dialogue tags right.

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How to Write a Fight Scene

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

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

What makes a good fight scene?

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

#1 – Relevance

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

Why are those characters involved? What are their goals? 

#2 – Excitement

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

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

#3 – Subtext and depth

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

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

#4 – Characterization

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

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

Examples of fight scenes

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

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

Fight Scene Examples #1

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

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

My hands reach down and grab him by the collar.

I feel like I’m outside myself.

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

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

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

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

I can smell how scared he is.

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

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

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

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

Fight Scene Example #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fight Scene Example #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLANG!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 tips for writing a great fight scene

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

#1 – Make sure you need a fight scene

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

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

Once you make sure you fight scene is necessary:

#2 – Nail the pacing

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

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

#3 – Make it interesting

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

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

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

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

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

#4 – Work in interior thoughts and dialogue

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

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

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

#5 – Avoid being unintentionally repetitive

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

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

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

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

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

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Imagery: How to Create Strong Visuals In Writing

Imagery brings your story to life. It paints a picture for your reader to connect with your characters and world, and it just makes your writing more interesting to read.

What is imagery?

Using imagery in your writing means writing tangibly with the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. We often see sight and sound in writing, but if you can incorporate the less typical senses, combine them together, and use them creatively, you’ll sculpt a much richer picture for your readers.

When you use imagery of something familiar to someone, it can even elicit certain emotions intentionally. This is a powerful writing tool.

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For example, if someone had a younger sibling and you describe the smell of baby powder, that’s a very strong olfactory memory and they’ll likely have memories of their childhood.

So if there’s a new baby in the house, what do older children typically feel? Usually either happiness or jealousy. So depending on how you frame it and the tone, you can purposely make certain readers feel something you want them to feel.

If you can learn to use imagery realistically, relatably, and with strong language, you can pull your readers into your narrative almost immediately.

Let’s look at the five senses and examples of how to use them to craft effective imagery.

Writing imagery with the 5 senses

Mastering the use of all five senses in prose takes a lot of practice. Let’s look at each sense individually with examples from one of my favorite books, I Am The Messenger.

Markus Zusak is known for using crisp and original imagery to illustrate both the mundane happenings of daily life, as well as extremely weird circumstances.

#1 – Visual

Visual imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of sight. Descriptions of things like colors, shapes, textures, and movement can all work with visual imagery.

Examples of visual imagery:

  • “At one point, she holds her hands out, forming a cup. It’s like she’s holding her heart there. It’s bleeding down her arms.”
  • “He sips on his longneck beer from start to finish and touches the whiskers that seem glued in patches on his man-boyish face.”
  • “She looks at me, and she has sunshine-colored hair in a ponytail and clear eyes, like water. The mildest blue I have ever seen.”

These examples also use subtext. In the first one, we have a description of how the woman is sitting–her physical position–but we get so much more than that.

You can see her pain, but instead of just saying “she’s hurting,” Zusak makes the connection through how she’s holding herself.

#2 – Olfactory

Olfactory imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of smell. Descriptions of things like flowers, chemicals, mold, and burning food can all work with olfactory imagery.

Example of olfactory imagery:

  • “He’s a cross between a Rottweiler and a German shepherd, and he stinks a kind of stink that’s impossible to rid him of. … The initial stink of dog slaps them in the face, and it’s all over. … I’ve even tried encouraging him to use some kind of deodorant. I’ve rubbed it under his arms in copious amounts. … During that time, he smelled like a Scandanavian toilet.”

Throughout the whole book, the main character talks about how much his dog stinks, how lazy he is, how he’s always in the way, etc., but there’s nothing he loves more than his dog.

The more he describes how gross the dog is, the more the reader can see that he clearly loves him.

#3 – Gustatory

Gustatory imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of taste. Gustatory and olfactory imagery can work together or cross over each other.

Sometimes you can taste smells, and that image might be richer than if you described it with an olfactory image.

Examples of gustatory imagery:

  • “It’s older now and a bit stale, the mud cake. But the taste is perfect.”

This quote is taken from a scene where the main character spends time with a very old woman. The subtext here is obvious.

#4 – Auditory

Auditory imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of sound. Leaves crunching under your feet, birds singing, and a stream trickling can work together to describe an early Autumn day much more effectively than visual imagery on its own.

Examples of auditory imagery:

  • “The Doorman snores. The breeze outside steps closer. The fridge buzzes.”
  • “The ridiculous first notes of “Five Hundred Miles” come on, and I feel like going berserk. Even the Proclaimers are giving me the shits tonight. Their singing’s an abomination.” 

A lot of new writers try to write with all senses and go hog wild, describing anything they can think to describe. You can see in all the examples so far that Zusak describes things that reflect how his character is feeling.

“The breeze outside steps closer” does a lot to convey the character’s apprehension–the character is alone, so he personified the breeze to make the character feel watched and nervous.

#5 – Tactile

Tactile imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of touch.

Itchy fabric, a biting cold wind, and a smooth marble describe touch, but what about thirst or the heavy feeling in your stomach when you know you’ve done something wrong?

Examples of tactile imagery: 

  • “The gun feels warm and sticky, like melting chocolate in my hand.”
  • “The girl tries to crawl inside my jacket as the noise from the bedroom reaches us from inside. She hugs me so tight I wonder how her bones survive.”
  • “I haven’t shaved, and I feel like death warmed up.”

Here are a couple extra examples that I thought did a good job of combining sense imagery.

  • “On those nights, the silence of the street is swollen. It’s scared and slippery as I wait for something to happen.”
  • “I suppose he’ll die soon. I’m expecting it, like you do for a dog that’s seventeen. There’s no way to know how I’ll react. He’ll have faced his own placid death and slipped without a sound inside himself. Mostly, I imagine I’ll crouch there at the door, fall onto him, and cry hard into the stench of his fur. I’ll wait for him to wake up, but he won’t. I’ll bury him. I’ll carry him outside, feeling his warmth turn to cold as the horizon frays and falls down in my backyard. For now, though, he’s okay. I can see him breathing. He just smells like he’s dead.”

I love the first example–he uses tactile imagery (swollen and slippery) to describe an auditory image. It’s also a good example of using labels effectively–had he said “He was scared,” that would have been weak writing. But describing the silence as “scared” is original and a great way to divert expectations of the label.

Showing vs Telling to increase imagery in writing

The easiest way to practice writing with imagery is to show instead of tell. This is probably something you’ve heard before, and with good reason: it’s one of the strongest writing skills you can develop.

Once you really understand what “showing” means, your prose will improve.

Telling is when you explain to the reader how to understand or feel something, instead of letting them experience it.

Showing is using description to convey the same things but in a subtler and more impactful way. 

For these examples, I’m going to use excerpts from my short collection, Little Birds.

Let’s look at a “telling” version of an idea, then a “showing” version.

In my story Wolverine Frogs, the character is recovering from an attack.

A “telly” way to write the last lines could have been–

“I’m ashamed that I couldn’t stop what happened. I blame myself and hate that he moved on with his life and I can’t.”

The real ending I used is–

“The skin around my nails is still raw. I keep scrubbing them, even though his blood is long gone and replaced by my own many times over.”

The second example conveys what the first one does, but it does so with concrete imagery instead of labeled emotions and abstractions.

That example is showing instead of telling what a character is feeling, but you can show when you’re describing a scene as well.

My story called Winnow has a character observing her bedroom.

I could have said–

“I still live in my childhood room. It’s dirty and old and I wish I could move out.”

But what I wrote is–

“The yellow-tinged spot in the corner of my ceiling is growing with heavy summer rains this year, stretching toward my ceiling fan. The fan is out of balance and squeaks and wheezes with every slow rotation, blurring glow-in-the-dark stars that haven’t glowed in years.”

The description I used still shows that she lives in her childhood room, it’s dingy, she isn’t happy to be there–but it uses concrete imagery to do so.

Realistic and relatable imagery

You can write with the five senses all day long, but if your audience can’t connect to your writing with familiar imagery, it’s worthless.

Relatability is what allows your reader to connect to an emotion through the image.

You can take something that your reader has most likely never experienced and make it relatable through imagery.

For example, say your main character is a hired assassin, and they’re about to make their first kill–they’re nervous! If you describe someone being nervous to assassinate another person, it (hopefully) is not something your reader will find particularly relatable.

BUT

If you describe the way they feel and how they’re acting–fumbling hands, fast heartbeat, loud swallow, clenching teeth–that sure sounds like stage fright, doesn’t it? Most people have felt that way.

Even though your reader has never experienced murder, they’ve almost definitely felt nervous! This is what imagery does–it connects your reader to your story, even without them specifically relating to it.

Imagery is great, but language still matters

Using specific details grounded in relatable senses is great–but it still gotta sound nice. Here are some of the previous examples rewritten, with the same details, but… well, worse.

Original–

 “The girl tries to crawl inside my jacket as the noise from the bedroom reaches us from inside. She hugs me so tight I wonder how her bones survive.”

A little worse–

“The girl claws at my jacket and gets close to hide from the sounds. She hugs me very tight.”

Original–

“She looks at me, and she has sunshine-colored hair in a ponytail and clear eyes, like water. The mildest blue I have ever seen.”

A little worse–

“She looks at me. Her blonde hair is in a ponytail and her eyes are blue.”

Original–

“The yellow-tinged spot in the corner of my ceiling is growing with heavy summer rains this year, stretching toward my ceiling fan. The fan is out of balance and squeaks and wheezes with every slow rotation, blurring glow-in-the-dark stars that haven’t glowed in years.”

A little worse–

“The ceiling is turning yellow where the rain leaks through. My ceiling fan squeaks loudly as it spins and blurs old glow-in-the-dark star stickers.”

Even with the same imagery, these examples became less effective when we removed the writer’s voice and original language. While you learn to write with solid imagery, pay attention to how you write it.

To strengthen your writing, show your story with relatable imagery, strong language, and all five senses!

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Flash Fiction: How To Write Mini Short Stories

Short stories have been historically seen as a lesser form of prose, favoring novels and longer pieces. But, PLOT TWIST, short stories are THE BEST!

Not only are they fun to read, but they’re an amazing form for writers to learn with. It’s quicker to get feedback turnaround, and easier to focus on specific writing skills in a short story, as opposed to a full-length book.

One form of short story is the flash fiction.

Let’s look at what a flash fiction is, what it’s made of, and how to write a good one utilizing imagery, brevity, and editing!

What is flash fiction?

A flash fiction is a short story that is typically under 1,500~ words. Very small flash fictions (under 75~ words) are called micro fictions. One of the most well-known flashes is the micro fiction: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Flash is a fun format to write, because it’s a real challenge to fit a plot or character arc into such a small space. 

Writing flash teaches the importance of making every word the most impactful it can be, so practicing with flash fiction will improve your writing in all forms.

The main elements of a flash fiction are the length, the character, and a bit of a twist at the end. 

Length of flash fiction

Length is obvious. The whole point of a flash fiction is that it’s short, very short. Flash fiction can be as short as a sentence if you want.

Character in flash fiction

Again, character is obvious. Characters are the core element of any story. Since this type of fiction is really short, the characterization will really be developed through very concrete imagery of that character’s perspective.

Twist in flash fiction

By “twist,” I mean the ending should be very impactful, and usually surprising. Your last line should be a bit of a stab to the heart.

Most flash fictions are going to be sad or tragic because, for the tiny space to have any meaning, it has to carry a very big emotion, but you can utilize any themes or emotions you’d like.

The Elements of Flash Fiction

Let’s break down five elements of flash fiction to gain a deeper understanding.

Not necessarily all stories need every one of these, and you can probably add several to the list, but these five are a great starting place if you have no idea where to begin formulating a flash fiction.

  1. Emotion – what do you want your story to make your reader feel?
  2. Character – who is your story about?
  3. Imagery – what strong, iconic imagery will your story use?
  4. Inciting incident – where will you start your story? As with all fiction, start late and end early. Start in the middle of your story. Maybe show something strange your character is doing to spark interest.
  5. Hook ending – what will your twist be?

To help you visualize these elements a bit better, I’ve broken down one of my own flash fictions from Little Birds.

  1. Emotion – tragic sadness/regret
  2. Character – an older woman who lives alone
  3. Imagery – dark, drudgey, dead animals, rundown house
  4. Inciting incident – woman collecting roadkill
  5. Hook ending – let’s read the story and see what happens!

You can see those elements and how they’re used in this story. The twist ending was that she collects dead animals to give them proper burials to console herself about not being able to bury her infant son after he burned in a house fire.

Writing Briefly

The main point of flash fiction is that it’s short–that’s what makes it flash. Writing in a small space is a big challenge. Earlier, I mentioned the six-word story about baby shoes.

That’s a micro fiction.

A couple other examples of micro fictions are:

Dandelions, Actually

He showered her with roses, but never asked her favorite flower. 

–R. Gatwood

Love is Forever

We came around the corner and there they were: young lovers, hands clasped. I drew the outline, Joe directed the crowd.

–Merrilee Faber

You can see from these examples that the titles of micro fictions can bring a lot to the story, so keep that in mind.

Your first impression might be that writing micro fiction is easier than writing longer flash fictions, but it’s probably the opposite. It’s often harder to fit a story into twenty words than into 300 words.

So how do we cut down words to make flash fiction?

  1. Use strong nouns and verbs rather than excess adverbs and adjectives.
  2. Be critical of adverbs and adjectives. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with adverbs and adjectives, but you should make sure they’re necessary. If the adjective or adverb explains something that the word it’s modifying already implies, it’s not necessary. For example, if you write, “a quiet whisper,” the adjective “quiet” doesn’t bring anything to the noun “whisper”. All whispers are quiet. But “a harsh whisper” does bring something to it–not all whispers are harsh.
  3. Edit for redundant phrasing and concepts. Here’s a video about words, phrases, and scenes you can cut from your writing.
  4. Cut most of your articles. Articles are a, an, and the, and they are almost always unnecessary. Amateur writers tend to slip in unnecessary articles without even noticing, so cut an article and read the sentence out loud. If it still makes sense, leave it out.

Use Imagery in your Flash Fiction

Using imagery in your writing means writing tangibly with the five senses. Instead of just describing sights and sounds, you can get a little more into it with smells and tastes and feelings, you can combine and cross them, and you can work on using relatable imagery.

When you use imagery of something familiar to someone, it will elicit certain emotions from them.

For example, if someone had a younger sibling and you describe the smell of baby powder in a story, that’s a very strong olfactory memory, and they’ll likely have memories of their childhood.

If there’s a new baby in the house, what do older children typically feel? Usually either happiness or jealousy. So depending on how you frame it and use tone, you can purposely make certain readers feel something you want them to feel.

The easiest way to practice writing imagery is to show instead of tell. This is one of the strongest writing skills you can develop. Once you really understand what this means, your prose will improve. Showing is especially important in shorter pieces because every sentence and word has to carry more weight.

Telling is when you explain to the reader how to understand or feel something, instead of letting them experience it.

Showing is using description to convey the same things, but in a subtler and more impactful way.

Here’s an in-depth explanation about using imagery.

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Editing your flash fiction

Don’t focus too much on writing concisely in the first draft. Write your story however you need to, because most of the process for creating a flash fiction is spent in editing

There are two basic categories of edits to make on a flash fiction:

Condensing

To clip your story into a compacted, impactful piece, you should cut out unnecessary words, use impactful synonyms, and make your writing as sharp as possible.

However, you should watch out for superfluous synonyms–the most elaborate is not always the best. Go for precision, not most obscure. A lot of new writers tend to use the most complicated words they can, which can make your writing seem forced and unnatural, and often confuse the meaning. Sometimes simplest is best!

Polishing

After you’ve left only the necessary words, make the words you do keep as effective as you can. Try out different synonyms, pay attention to connotation, and layer with subtext.

Here’s a video of live flash fiction edits that can show how different a story becomes post-edit.

General tips on writing flash fiction

  1. Don’t make it too complicated–focus on one central theme, idea, or message. Don’t try to pack in too much.
  2. Don’t use too many characters–you should really only have one character in focus.
  3. Utilize your title, but don’t let it give away the ending!
  4. Don’t try to write a flash-sized story in the first go–write it as long as you need, then focus on cutting back to the best of it in editing.
  5. Your last line should reverberate. In the above story, What Remains, I was advised to cut the line “She imagined her son with the raccoon, swaddled in the dirt” to have “The mud she stomped off her boots, the sand in the park” as the last line. Their reasoning was that it was a stronger image. While it may be easier to picture, it has significantly less emotional value–the feeling and thought you leave your reader with is very important.

Which line do you think works better as an ending?

How to publish flash fiction

Once your story is written and edited, you might consider submitting it for publication!

You can publish stories individually, or you can publish them as a collection.

A great resource for individual submissions is Submittable. It’s free to use, and you can filter submission calls by genre, length, topic, theme, etc. It’s quick to find and track submissions, and easy to use.

Traditionally publishing a collection of shorts, especially for an emerging writer, is extremely difficult and rare to accomplish.

If your heart is set on publishing a collection of shorts, good news! Self-publishing exists! I successfully self-published my first collection, Little Birds, and I can definitely recommend that route.

Now we know what a flash fiction is, what they’re made of, how to craft them in intentional and impactful ways, and some options for publication. Go write some stories!

How Many Chapters Should Your Novel Have?

If you’re embarking on the journey of writing a novel, you probably have several questions about where and how to start.

Planning and outlining your story in advance can be extremely helpful, but a big question that a lot of new authors have is “How many chapters should I have in my book?”

How many chapters should be in a novel?

The short answer is, unfortunately, that there is no one correct answer to that question. The average number of chapters in a novel, not accounting for genres or target audience is about a dozen.

However, there is no exact minimum or standard for how many chapters a novel should have. Because chapters are just places where the author decides to break up the flow of their story, you could go a more traditional route and end up with 12-28 chapters or choose to be more experimental and have as many as 200.  

Looking at some popular novels, even with similar themes and audiences, there is a great variation in overall length and number of chapters.

The first installment in the Harry Potter series totaled 17 chapters with about 77,500 words total whereas The Hunger Games topped out at 27 chapters with a word count of 99,750.

Your story is unique, and the number and length of the chapters inside it will reflect that.

Here are the things you should keep in mind while trying to determine how many chapters YOUR novel should have:

Why Do We Use Chapters?

In trying to determine the number of chapters your novel will have you must first understand WHY you might want to include chapters at all. They aren’t mandatory by any means, but they can be a very useful tool in structuring the overall story in a way that is more easily digestible to the reader.

The end of each chapter gives the reader a solid place to take a moment and process everything they’ve just read. Since it’s not always feasible to read an entire novel in one sitting, they also allow for a practical place for the reader to take a longer break and do other things. But they shouldn’t be so satisfied that they don’t want to come back and read the next chapter.

With that in mind, it makes sense to break up your book into sections that leave the reader both with some level of fulfillment but with an eagerness to know more. No one chapter should wrap up the story entirely except the very last one. At the same time, you don’t want to keep raising questions that never get answered or issues that never get resolved. That’s a surefire way to disappoint or lose the attention of your reader.

Which Books Need Chapters?

Longer novels are likely to have more chapters simply because there will be more opportunities for breaks throughout the story. But what if you’re writing a shorter story? Shorter fiction can be a great way to experiment with flow and pacing and can help familiarize you with the process of writing and dividing a piece into chapters.

Short stories, which are usually between 1,000 and 7,500 words long and very rarely have chapters. They do, however, sometimes include scene transitions and breaks to denote a change in setting or scene, or the passage of time.

Novellas are longer than short stories, but still only clock in at around 20k words at their longest. With these, the line gets a little blurrier. You could choose to forego official chapters in favor of breaks as you would for a short story or break it into defined chapters. This decision will largely depend on the overall length of the novella and the number and lengths of scenes.

Even if you’re writing non-fiction, or another type of book, chapters can be a handy tool in your writer’s toolbelt. For example, a cookbook could even be divided into chapters that focus on a certain type of dish like dessert, or a certain type of cuisine like French.

When Should I Divide My Book Into Chapters?

Now you know why you need chapters, but when is a good time to divide your book into chapters? Should you decide during the outlining phase? Should you wait until the second draft?

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to writing a book. One person may strongly advise against writing without planning your chapters first, while others will tell you it’s illogical to even CONSIDER chapters at all until you have a solid first draft.

What works for you will depend largely on your personal writing style, but these are some methods to consider:

#1 – Write First, Ask Questions Later

One way to chop your book into chapters is to just write the whole thing as a draft and then go back through later and divide it into chapters where it makes the most sense. This will work better for those who consider themselves to be “pantsers”, or those who tend to write exploratory or “zero” drafts rather than abide by a specific outline.

With this method, you would write an entire first draft without worrying about specific chapter break placement. You can then read it back, making note of where breaks would make sense. This could be after major scenes Look for places where some questions have been resolved, but there is enough tension to keep the reader craving more. You don’t necessarily need to end each chapter with a classic cliffhanger, but you can use chapter breaks to highlight building tension and keep the reader on their toes.

Another way to determine where your chapter breaks should go is by looking for natural pauses in the story. Maybe you’ve reached the end of a major event or plot point. Perhaps your protagonist has just learned something that will change the course of their storyline. Anywhere that it would make sense for the reader to ruminate about what they just read is a great place for a chapter break.

#2 – Build Chapters Into Your Outline

If you are a staunch outliner and organizational savant, you might consider breaking your story into chapters before you even begin the first draft. This method will probably work best for people who like to have very specific and thorough outlines.

Using this method, you can plan which scenes you want to include in each chapter and have them work intentionally with the overall structure of your story. This should also make the process of writing and editing your first draft easier. You can always rework them if you find out that it’s not working properly as planned, but it will give you a great jumping off point.

#3 – By the Numbers

If you don’t want to do a thorough outline, but want a good way to gauge how many chapters you should end up with, you can use an average number for whichever genre and category you are writing as a good base and go from there.

For instance, an average YA novel is between 55,000 and 80,000 words long. Most experts agree that 3,000-5,000 words per chapter is a good guideline to follow. So, 12-27 chapters for a YA novel would be a good range to start with.

From there, you can narrow it down a little more by checking out similar books within the specific genre you’re writing. Contemporary stories in the YA category tend to be shorter, whereas fantasy and sci-fi are usually longer and more complex.

Shawn Coyne from Story Grid does a great job at explaining the math of a novel here, including a breakdown of key scenes, word counts, and act structure.

What Makes A Good Chapter?

The most important thing to consider when determining how many chapters your book will have is the content, pacing, and flow of your story. You want to ensure that each chapter starts in a place that engages the reader, keeps their interest throughout, and ends in a way that leaves them wanting to know more.

Generally, you should try to resolve at least one thing by the end of each chapter, in order to give the reader some sense of satisfaction but leave the door open for them to continue reading.

How Long Should Each Chapter Be?

Chapters usually range from about 1,500 to 5,000 words. The length of each chapter will vary throughout your novel depending on how it’s paced and how much information is in each section. What genre you are writing and who you’re writing for could play a part as well. Some genres leave more room for experimentation when it comes to chapter length, but it’s important to keep your reader in mind. One chapter from Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery was comprised of a single word— “Rinse”.

Shorter chapters can greatly influence the pacing of a novel and help to build tension. Conversely, longer chapters may serve to slow a story and can be used to communicate more thoroughly. Both should be used cautiously and intentionally so that readers don’t feel like they are slogging through or being rushed through with little to no respite.

Should My Chapters Have Titles?

Titling chapters is yet another thing that mostly comes down to preference. Chapter titles aren’t usually necessary, but some authors like to include them.

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Before you decide to give the chapters in your book titles, consider the following:

#1 – Will Chapter Titles Benefit the Story?

Chapter titles can be beneficial in multiple ways. They can serve as precursory hints of what is coming in each chapter. This could help spark the reader’s interest and spur them forward in the story.

They can also be very useful in differentiating characters in stories with multiple points of view. Each chapter can be titled with the name of the character through which the story is being told.

#2 – Will Chapter Titles Benefit the Reader?

Giving your chapters titles can be practically useful for your reader as well. If a reader wants or needs to refer to something that happened in an earlier chapter, it can be easier to find what they are looking for if each chapter has a unique title that is indicative of its contents.

They can also be used to give the reader more information or insight. In Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News, she uses the names and descriptions of different sailing knots like “Love Knot” or “A Rolling Hitch” which adds to the maritime feel of the story.

#3 – Can I Just Use Numbers?

If you’re not sure that titling your chapters is necessary, or you don’t think it would be beneficial to the reader or add to your story, you can always just use numbers.

It’s simple, classic, and a perfectly good way to label your chapter breaks without distracting from the story itself.

So How Many Chapters Should I Aim For?

As previously stated, there’s no magic number. The best way to know how many chapters you should write is to write an outline or draft and see what feels most natural with your story. Then make sure that it flows properly, and the pacing is on point.

Make sure that the position of the breaks adds to the story rather than detracting from it. When you have done all of that, you should end up with a perfectly appropriate number of chapters for your novel.

However, you may want to set a chapter goal as a way to visualize your book’s structure and motivate yourself. In that case, I recommend you shoot for 15 chapters in a first draft. If you write 15 chapters at an average of 4,000 words per chapter, you’ll have a solid 60,000-word manuscript. From there you can add to or edit down to get your desired length.

What is the shortest chapter you’ve read that had a big impact on the story in some way? Tell us in the comments below how it affected the overall story. 

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How to Write a Scene: Pulling Your Reader Through the Emotions

You’ve planned out your plot, handcrafted an amazing cast of characters, and you know your major story beats. Now you just have to put pen to paper and let your magic flow.

Only one problem, the actual writing of it.

Scenes are the building blocks of your book. If you can’t write a good scene, it doesn’t matter how good your plot is, the book will fall apart.

That’s why I’m going to walk you through how to create killer scenes from planning to writing.

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Blueprint of a scene

If you’ve planned out your book enough that you’re worrying about individual scenes, then you already have all the tools you need to be able to craft a compelling scene.

The devil of it, as with many things, is in the details. You have all the tools you need, but the way you apply them to a scene is a little different. 

Every scene is just a miniature story. There is no specific length that your scene has to fill, no set number of scenes that you have to have per chapter or per book. A scene is simply a small story, focused around a specific problem, that moves the larger story along.

All your scene needs is at least one character, conflict, action, and some kind of resolution or change — the same ingredients that any story requires. Your scene may be so long that it spans an entire chapter, or it could be so short that it only fills a paragraph. All that matters is that it is complete and moves the larger story forward. 

Keep in mind, once you start writing a scene, you’re no longer in planning mode. The scene is where pen meets paper and your story starts to come alive, but that means we have to focus on the details. 

Concentrate on the sensory details. Be specific with the actions your characters are taking. Get the words right.

How do you approach creating a scene? 

So let’s focus on the details, and look at how we need to approach a scene.

Robert McKee gives an excellent framework for a scene in his book Story.

I’m going to break his framework down into a few questions that you should ask yourself before going into any scene.

  • What is the conflict? If you don’t have conflict you don’t have a scene.
  • What is the opening value? Is the character happy, sad, angry? Is everything going good, bad, etc. You need to know how things stand at the start so you know how it should change at the end.
  • What is at stake? Why is this important to the character? You may not fully reveal this to the reader yet, but you need to know why the characters are doing what they’re doing, and why it matters.
  • What happens? Break the action into beats. Plan out the major actions and reactions that need to happen in the scene. This will help you keep the pacing interesting and find the turning point, which I’ll describe more in a moment. If you prefer to write by the seat of your pants, you can come back and do this after you’ve roughed out the scene.
  • What is the closing value? Just like earlier we need to know how things stand after the scene is over. Did things change from happy to sad? Good to bad? etc. If nothing changed, then you don’t need the scene. Something important to the story needs to have changed. 
  • What is the turning point? The turning point is the moment when things irreparably changed to the closing value. 

Turning points and change are the most important part of a scene. Without change, the scene doesn’t have a purpose. The change can be in the character’s mind, their circumstances, or something else, but something important needs to change from the beginning to the end of the scene.

How big or life-shattering this change is depends on what the scene is doing — it may be a minor turning point for a minor climax in the middle of the book or the turning point of the scene may be the major turning point of your whole book.

Perhaps more importantly, though, that change needs to be meaningful to the plot. It can be as simple as your character moving a box from one side of the room to another, but that should have an important effect on a future scene. 

The effect of the change doesn’t have to be immediate, but your audience should never be able to look back and say, “what was the point of that? That didn’t lead anywhere?”

For instance, when your character moved the box from one side of the room to another. Maybe in a later scene, we discover that the box actually contained some delicate piece of measuring equipment, and by moving it, they broke a piece. So now, when the owner comes to use it they get an incorrect reading which sends the story down an entirely new path. 

Even if the scene is focused on a minor character or side plot, it should all be moving the story forward toward the overall climax.

If you can’t draw a direct line from the actions in your scene to the end climax of the book, then it probably shouldn’t be a scene you keep, and at the very least you need to work on it some more.

Laying out your scene

Now that we know what our scenes need, and what we need to know about them, we can start laying out the individual scene beats.

Pacing

One of the most important things that you need to get right when laying out your scene is the pacing. You want to shoot for a kind of ping pong pacing. An action-reaction kind of pacing. 

So instead of: 

“He went to the store, bought milk, and went home.” 

We instead want something like: 

“He went to the store, but the owner was already closing. He tries to convince the owner to let him in, the owner says no. He starts to leave depressed, the owner relents and lets him buy his milk. He goes to buy the milk, but he realizes he forgot his wallet. He and the owner fight. He runs away and steals the milk.”

That is a much more interesting scene. It has conflict, and it has a turning point. 

Action-reaction can be between two characters, your character and nature, or even your character and themselves. But the bottom line is that every action should have a reaction that is the catalyst for more action.

You use this to control the pacing and tone of your scene through the speed of the reactions, and the weight of the reactions.

If you want a light, fun tone, you may speed up the pacing, with very little time between each action-reaction pair, and each reaction may have very little weight. 

Whereas for a serious tone, you may slow it down so that the importance of the action and the impending doom of the heavy reaction can be felt by your reader.

Outlining

How deeply you plan out your story beats will depend on the kind of writer you are, whether you’re a pantser or a planner.

If you’re a pantser, and write by the seat of your pants, you may want to just start writing. And that’s ok, but you should still come back to this step afterward. Lay everything out, and make sure the scene is going where you want it to go. You may find that it needs to be reorganized, or that a part of the scene isn’t necessary.

If you’re a planner, you may want to plan out every little detail. That’s excellent, but don’t let yourself get so bogged down that you never actually write the scene.

There are practically infinite methods you can use to layout the scene itself, but most are some variation on a few tried and true methods.

Three tried and true methods are to:

  • Write out the story beats with pen and paper or in a word doc. Write in where your scene starts, and what the ending change is, and try out several methods to get from point A to point B.
  • Storyboarding can be a great method if you’re more visual. You can draw out the major beats as you see them in your head. Even if this is just using stick figures. This can be a great, quick way to picture the scene and fill in the gaps.
  • Index Cards are another fantastic method. Write your scene beats on index cards. Then physically lay them out, reorder them, or remove some. You can try out many different variations quickly without constantly rewriting.

Regardless of your method once you’ve figured out the pacing and laid out the individual story beats, you’re mostly done. You’ve done the hard part. Now you just need to fill in the gaps. 

How to start a scene

I just said that we were practically done, but that’s not entirely true. There are still two big obstacles standing in our way that lots of people get wrong. The beginning and the end.

There’s no exact way that you have to start a scene, but the general rule of thumb is you want to capture your reader’s interest quickly. 

Just like the first page and first chapter of your book need to get the reader interested enough to read on, every scene in your book needs to do the same.

So let’s look at a couple of ways you can start a scene.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but probably 90% of your scenes will start one of these ways.

  • You can start en media res. Start with an action. This is one of the easiest ways to hook your reader early on.
  • You can also start with dialogue. Dialogue is very similar to action. It should be compelling or entertaining, and just like physical action, you can start en media res. Jumping into the middle of a conversation, just when it gets juicy can be an extremely compelling way to start a scene.
  • You can also start by setting the stage for the scene. If the setting is very important to what is going to happen, or if it’s particularly interesting, then starting by describing the scene can be very important. 
  • You can start with backstory. Only do this if it’s important to the scene, but backstory can be done with dialogue, or by flashing back to the action as if it were happening now.
  • Lastly, you can begin in the mind of your narrator or main character and let their thoughts begin the scene. If you go this route, it’s recommended that you do so if there is some internal conflict.

The key to all of these is action. Something needs to be happening, or it needs to be clear that something has just or will just happen. Opening a scene where the characters are just talking about the weather isn’t good unless the point is to throw that normality on its head in a sentence or two. 

How to end a scene

Ending a scene, arguably, is much harder and more important than starting a scene.

The biggest thing to remember, like I’ve mentioned a few times by now, is that it must end with change having occurred. There should be a moment where there is no turning back.

However, once you have the change nailed down, the actual ending is very much up to you.

Here is a very incomplete list of several good ways to end a scene.

  • You can end in the middle of the action with a cliffhanger, similarly to how you may have started en medias res. Be careful about doing this too much. It can lose its appeal and become annoying if overdone.
  • You can end in a realization of some kind
  • You can end with a hint of what’s to come
  • You can end with loss.
  • You can also end with a victory or a solution to a problem. However, you should only end with a complete victory if it’s the resolution to the final climax of your book. Otherwise, you should always hint at more trouble to come.

Similarly to beginning a scene you want the end of your scene to compel the reader to keep going. Don’t give them a comfortable place to get off the ride until the final scene of the book. Make sure there is some mystery to be solved, problem to be overcome, or loss to be avenged and you’ll have people tearing through your book to get to the end.

Conclusion

Scenes can be difficult to get right, but we often make them more difficult than they need to be. 

This is where you really begin to write your book. The planning phase is over. The actual writing of it has started. If you can master creating compelling scenes, then you have the building blocks to create any book you can imagine.

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writing space

Get Out of that Writing Rut – It’s Time to Get your Fingers Typing! 

Are you struggling to finish your WIP? Are you stuck on the same page for days and you can’t even look at your draft anymore? Do you feel unmotivated and would rather watch a pot boil than write another single word?

If you’ve answered yes to all these questions, or at least, to one of them you’re on the right post!

Here we’ll help you to get back on track and get your mojo back! When I feel stuck in a rut, quotes are the first thing I look for to get me inspired and to help me get back on that motivational horse.

That is why you’re here right now. You need a gentle push and the following quotes about writing are just what you didn’t know you needed until this moment.

Are you ready to get swept by your feet? Moisturize your hands well because you’ll need the hydration after all that typing!

These are the best motivational quotes about writing:

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

This is my favorite quote of all. The reason why is quite clear, I do believe; however, if you need a little more explanation, this quote motivates me every time because the reality is if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. If you write, you become a writer. I’ve always struggled with this concept of “I’m not inspired”, “I don’t know what to write about”, I understand, and I’ve said this many times too, but now it’s time to write, not to wait.

#2 – “Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heartbreak at rejection? You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” Jennifer Salaiz

Have you been rejected? Sent your finished novel and not even heard back from them? Yeah, that’s not the best day in any of our lives, but you can’t dwell on it. You gotta stand up, shake yourself off (Taylor Swift was onto something!) and try again.

#3 – “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

There are not many quotes that inspire one quite like this one. The beauty in these words is enough to make you want to achieve this realm of artistry. Whenever I re-read it, I feel better prepared for another séance of writing. Also, this is a good reminder to describe things in depth and, if you’re ever stuck on what to write, just use Thesaurus to look for other words.

#4 – “Don’t forget— no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories you have to tell.” Charles de Lint

Sometimes we’re too afraid and doubt ourselves and our ability to tell our own stories. As if anyone else in the world could do a better job at telling them than ourselves, the people who’ve lived the story through and through. Even if your story has been told, you bring a new fresh voice to that theme. No story is the same, no writer is the same, therefore share your stories and use your voice!

#5 – “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Jodi Picoult

Let this one serve you as inspiration for that first page that has been wanting to be written for several days, months even? Or if you’re anything like me, years… And I’m not ashamed to say it, no. It happens. You get stuck to the idea of perfection, and you want it to be just right, but truth be told… if you don’t start, you can’t edit it to perfection – and you know it!

#6 – “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.” Octavia E. Butler

Whenever I read this quote, it reminds me that 5 and 10 years ago, I didn’t have the same skills at writing as I do now. Not even the same vocabulary or interests. It’s important to remember that we’re always learning and re-learning how to do things. If you can get better at playing a sport because you practice, you put in the hours, why would writing be any different? You need to write and re-write and write plenty to get better at it, to find your style and your voice.

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#7 – “The thing you are most afraid to write. Write that.” Unknown

Would you believe it if I told you I’ve had this quote on a post-it above my desk ever since I was about 12? Because I’ve most certainly had! This has motivated me to write on those extra painful days where everything seems to be going wrong and you don’t know where to turn. Those days I got really upset at school because someone said something or when I lost important people in my life. Those days were the best to write. Well, the best and the worst… I still fought to write because I knew those words would be the purest, most meaningful, and most raw I had to write. Those words would scare the [email protected] out of me, but those words were important because I’d read them later in time and be okay.

#8 – “If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.” Wally Lamb

Do you often question what you write? Do you fear no one will want to read it? I think we all do. But just in case you needed to hear this today, someone will want to read it. Someone will fall in love with it and it will mean everything to some. Others will even re-read it and fall in love with it again. Your words will be read, no matter what. There will always be an audience because people are different and they go through the motions and live different phases in life, so there will always be someone your writing is destined to.

#9 – “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

Could anyone put it any better? The need for writing is just like a hungry wolf, it needs to be fed. Knowing you have an amazing story that you could share with people not only fuels us but starves you at the same time. It needs to be let open and it begs to be told. Whenever you feel this way, don’t deny it its freedom, let it fly, and belong to the world; I promise you someone will feel it at a very deep level, and that only is enough.

#10 – “You fail only if you stop writing.” Ray Bradbury

You fail only if you stop, I’d say. You know this is right about just anything you can think of. Whenever you’re trying, you’re achieving. It might take a while, it might be in a couple of weeks, but you’ll get there if you don’t quit. This also applies to writing; even when you feel that your story is developing enough or not going in the quite right direction, just continue and see where it leads you. You might end up deleting 50 pages of work or you might end up typing for another 50. Who knows? That’s the beauty of it when you don’t stop.

#11 – “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.” Anonymous

And wouldya look at where I just found you!? On the Internet! No, don’t be ashamed and don’t click on the red cross button. I think we needed a good laugh by this point, so there you have it. I have to agree with this one too, though. Nowadays, we get so caught up by irrelevant things that we don’t give ourselves time to think and let our fingers do the job. So, yeah, it’s more about what you do with your time than if you have any talent at all. (Even though, do not let me lie, talent does help…3% maybe?)

#12 – “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann

Don’t you just love this quote? Give yourself a pat on the back, you’re a writer! You’re here because you’re struggling with motivation or inspiration for what to write next or what to write all at, so you’re officially a writer! If you weren’t, it wouldn’t be difficult for you, now would it? Not according to Thomas Mann anyway!

#13 – “This is how you do it; you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” Neil Gaiman

It is that easy… and that hard. Do you know of this new thing on social media where you make a sentence by clicking on the middle suggested word of your phone’s keyboard? Well, let me tell you, you don’t only need to make new sentences about the next Harry Potter’s book title, you can also (maybe! Proceed with caution…) get inspiration and ideas for a new piece of work. How, you ask me? Just start with a simple sentence such as “I went…” or “She screamed…” and see what your phone suggests next. It might not be a Shakespearean play, but it might help when you’ve got writer’s block and are looking for inspiration.

#14 – “It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people, it’s the fear of not writing well; something quite different.” Scott Berkun

This one reminds me of number 5 in a way. We always put so much pressure on ourselves to write something we feel is absolutely perfect. It can’t be anything else other than pure perfection and because of that, we don’t write. It’s not the writing per se, it’s really more about what we type, what words we use and how we use them. I don’t think this is conscious, but we just do it. And this is why it reminds me of that earlier quote: it does not have to be perfect, it just needs to be there, on paper. Later, you can always edit it and make it better. But first, write it.

#15 – “People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.” R.L. Stine

Do you know it? Do you feel in you? Then, don’t doubt yourself. You can do it and you will do it. You know it! So, just do it.

#16 – “Writing sometimes is about re-opening a deep ugly wound.” Catarina Pinto

I had to end this quote list with one of my own. I wrote this when I was only 14 and it has haunted me ever since. I think it’s because of how real it feels to me, but maybe that’s only because I wrote it. I wanted to leave it here for you too, though, because I want to remind you, once again, that the scariest stories are the ones that need to be let free. They’ll be the ones worth writing about and the ones that will finally let you free and able to breathe again. Trust me.

Oh, no! This is it! This is the end of our list… but…

How good were these?

I hope these have helped you in whatever way you needed. I hope they’ve given you that boost of energy and motivation you were looking for to get wrapped up into your new story. Remember that it’s ok to need inspiration every once in a while, everyone needs it. Whenever you feel like another little push, come back here and re-read these!

Don’t forget to share with us down below in the comments YOUR favorite quotes! Let us know what gets you going and help others by sharing your positive motivation hacks!

writing style

Psychic Distance in Writing

Do you find that you struggle to connect your readers with your characters? Does your MC feel distant and detached? You might need to work on your psychic distance!

Psychic distance, also known as narrative distance, is an important literary element that affects how your reader relates to your character.

A simple definition of psychic distance is how close a story’s narration is to its character.

Psychic distance in writing overview

There are multiple levels of psychic distance. You can have a very far-off, objective view of the character–take the sentence:

 “A woman sprints through the forest.”

Who is she? What’s she doing? What’s she thinking? We don’t know! We know nothing about her. Because this is an unknown character, likely an introduction, it is appropriate for the reader to be somewhat detached from her.

On the other side of this spectrum, you might have a sentence like: 

“Moss slips under my feet as I run through the forest.”

In the first example, we are far-off, objective observers of this woman. There isn’t a large sense of urgency, and we don’t have a strong emotional tie to her.

In the second example, we are the woman. We are a part of the scene, we know our footing is unstable, we feel more connected to the story.

Those are two ends of a spectrum, so a point in the middle might be:

“Carol runs through the forest, slipping on moss.”

This one is third person, a little further than the second example, but we know her name. Knowing Carol’s name puts us closer to the character than if she were just a “woman.” We might care about her a little bit more. We don’t know her thoughts, and we obviously aren’t her, but we know her name.

Psychic distance is a spectrum with endless points, and they range from very far from your character to very close to your character. To explain this a little easier, let’s pick four points, or tiers, on the psychic distance spectrum.

Let’s say tier 1 of psychic distance is objective observation, tier 2 is indirect thought, tier 3 is direct thought, and tier 4 is a stream of consciousness directly from your character.

Here’s an example paragraph with zooming psychic distance. It starts wide with objective observation, then zooms to a stream of consciousness.

“The woman walks into the forest. Carol has always loved trees. They’re so quiet and unopinionated, filtering harsh sun to a kinder glow, cutting winds to a gentler breeze, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling calm.”

Tier 1 psychic distance: objective observation

“The woman walks into the forest” is objective. We’re not in her thoughts–we are simply observing the world for what it is. This distance is great for setting the scene. Picture an opening scene of a TV show or movie: they start with an establishing shot. The outside of a house, a panning shot of a forest, maybe even an overhead angle of a city. The objective distance takes in the wider world or a glimpse of a character we don’t know yet.

In this tier, the narrator is in charge. An example that keeps wholly in this distance of narration is Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Those books tell horrible stories of child abuse and endangerment. Why is it marketed to children? Because the psychic distance is far enough away. The reader views the characters through Lemony Snicket, so far off that it isn’t nearly as emotionally impactful as it would be from a closer perspective. Imagine those same stories as a first-person account from Violet’s point-of-view. It’s much darker and heavier, isn’t it?

Keeping so far away makes it very difficult to connect reader to character, but, as in the above example, it can be done intentionally and serve the story well.

Tier 2 psychic distance: indirect thought

“Carol has always loved trees” is an indirect thought. We have a small glimpse into Carol’s head, but we’re still in a separate narrator’s perspective. That narration puts a barrier between the reader and Carol.

Think of this tier as voice-over. We’re getting inside information of a situation, but it’s not happening in real-time or up close, so it’s not as urgent as it could be.

Tier 3 psychic distance: direct thought

“They’re so quiet and unopinionated” is Carol’s direct thought. We’re much closer to her now. From this distance, we can even infer a little bit about her perspective–why would she note that the trees are quiet and unopinionated? Maybe there’s a little subtext there. Did Carol have an upsetting conversation with an overstepping friend? Maybe that’s why she’s taking a walk in the woods.

This is the most common distance you’ll see in most fiction. It’s the standard narrative closeness, and likely will become your default.

Tier 4 psychic distance: stream of conscious

From “They’re so quiet and unopinionated,” we slip right into a stream of consciousness: “filtering harsh sun into a kinder glow, cutting winds to a gentler breeze, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling calm.”

Tier 4 removed the narrator’s voice completely, and we’re feeling what Carol is feeling. She’s super into these trees. We get it, Carol.

This is as close as we get to our character. Even in third person, the narration can slip in so close that we become the character.

In that example paragraph, we started wide and ended narrow. What if we reverse it?

“The trees filter harsh sun to a kinder glow, cut winds to a gentler breeze, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale calm. Trees are so quiet and unopinionated. Carol has always loved them. The woman steps into the forest.”

How did that paragraph feel? Not as satisfying, right?

The reversed example doesn’t foster the same reader-character relationship. We don’t go into it knowing it’s Carol thinking about the trees, because we have no context for her. You want your reader to grow closer to your character–not further away. You don’t start very close, then know less.

You can zoom in and out with the distance you view your character, but you cannot zoom in and out with the distance of how you know your character.

You will hop around with psychic distance for your narrative in general, especially if you’re not in a first-person point of view, but one aspect you shouldn’t change is the closeness with which you refer to your character once you are on a first-name basis. This is one of the biggest ways new writers mess up with psychic distance–they hop around with how they refer to their character.

Inexperienced writers will often call a character by their name, David, then they’ll use a synonym in the next sentence like, the man or the prostitute. We already know his name is David, so using synonyms is zooming in and out of the reader’s intimacy with the character for no reason.

Writers who switch psychic distance in referring to characters are often trying to do one of two things:

  1. Avoid the repetition of repeating a character’s name.
  2. Remind the reader that the character is blonde by calling her the blonde.

Neither of these are good reasons to regress on psychic distance. If you feel you’re being repetitive with your character’s name, do you really need to be using their name so often? Here’s a video by Jenna Moreci about dialogue tags that might give you some ideas of how to avoid using a character’s name too often. And if you want to work in description of a character, simply describe them in a natural way instead of using a synonym for their name.

If there’s one rule to psychic distance, it’s how you use a character’s name. Apart from that, psychic distance is a fun tool to experiment with for dynamic narration! Decide what distance is going to be the most impactful for whatever you’re trying to accomplish in that sentence or in that scene, and do it intentionally.

For an example of purposely using different psychic distances, think again of how you set a scene. You start wide to establish your setting: where are we, what time is it, what’s the weather like–then we zoom into what the character is doing. A wide psychic distance is used to establish setting and context, a tighter one is for when we’re close to our character.

As with any writing advice, you should keep in mind that there are no hard and fast facts about what to do and not to do, but you have to know the rules before you break them, or you’re gonna look like an idiot. You can break the “rules,” as long as you know that you’re breaking them.

To summarize, be aware of where your psychic distance is, use it intentionally, and use it to your advantage. And once you’ve named your character, call them by their name. One of the quickest ways to spot an amateur is when they call the character by some descriptor other than their name after we are intimately familiar with the character. So watch out!

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A Roundup of the Best Horror Authors of All Time

Being a writer seems to be a great talent and an exclusive gift. Moreover, it’s hard work and relentless looking for perfection. But what about a horror writer? How have they managed to make us tremble, fear, and look behind only with their written word?

It’s clear how to describe, how to tell, but how to make readers feel what you want?

If you are looking for the answer, make sure to check how to show things in your book. You will get to know how they make emotions so real. Yeah, we have a step-by-step guide! Sorry, if we have ruined your image of a miracle when you get goosebumps while reading.

5 Best Authors of Horror Books

If things that go bump in the night and riveting tales of the dark excite you, then you’re in luck — you’ve just stumbled upon a gold mine of the 5 best horror authors.

Granted, although the ones that made it on the list are our favorite authors, they’re every bit of deserving to be here. Hell, they might just end up being your new favorite by the time you’re finished devouring this list.

So, without further ado, here’s our roundup of the best horror authors of all time:

#1 – Neil Gaiman. Welcome to cirque de souris!

First on the list is a contender whose imagination knows no bounds. Neil Gaiman is the man behind countless brilliant works of art but is highly acclaimed for two pieces in particular, namely Stargirl and Coraline.

The latter is so well-received that it was picked up by Focus Features and turned into a film with an all-star cast to boot.

Coraline explores the story of a feisty young girl who discovers a door to another realm; one where everything is exactly how it is in real life and isn’t. The magical world seems like a dream come true until she’s face to face with a pair of parents with buttons for eyes and a talking black cat that’s screaming at her to run from the impending danger.

Will Coraline listen? Or will she dig a hole so deep she won’t be able to escape?

Do not be fooled by the child-like wonder that’s brimming from each page. Gaiman is a master of dark twists and turns and has made every character so lively and detailed it’s scary. Want to become skilful in creating breathtaking protagonists? Be sure to look through our guide on how to boost your main character. 

#2 – Shirley Jackson. Shirley, shimmering, splendid

Miss Jackson’s work is so good that even Netflix couldn’t resist picking it up and running it on their streaming platform. Shirley Jackson’s reputation precedes her. A highly acclaimed horror novelist, she has a long list of work to be proud of. Her claim to fame?

A little novel entitled “The Haunting of Hill House” that’s sure to spook even the bravest of souls.

The story kicks off with 4 characters that find themselves secluded within a haunted house in an effort to prove the existence of the paranormal. What happens next, as you can imagine, is a series of unfortunate events that touch on everything from ghostly hands that prey on you in the evening, to ill-tempered spirits that roam the walls of the vast mansion.

The last paragraph is sure to get you in all sorts of moods.

#3 – Bram Stoker. Don’t let the bed bugs bite

If sinister, latent horror is the name of the game, then Bram Stoker is our man. The award-winning writer has a plethora of pieces to be proud of. His book “Dracula” has made it into the top list of many, and rightly so.

When the world fell to its knees in worship of vampirism, Bram Stoker was atop that very pedestal. 

The chart-topping classic opens with a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships’ log entries, whose narrators are the protagonists. Our clever Count Dracula is on a mission to spread his Transylvanian soil – his source of sustenance and nourishment when in need of rest and energy – to parts of the world in the hopes of having lairs in multiple states.

The ship which he boards carry 50 boxes – almost coffin-like – of silver mounds of Earth. Slowly, the men on the ship begin to disappear save for the captain who is stuck at the helm in order to navigate the waters for the count. What ensues after is an adventure of dark magic, withered garlic blossoms, and carnal infatuation that is sure to keep you up at night.

I’ll stop here. Snag the book if you haven’t read this blinding masterpiece yet!

#4 – Anne Rice. Fangs and whips and shiny things

The undisputed queen of gothic fiction and erotic literature, Anne Rice is a force to be reckoned with. Her line of sensual vampire tales buzzing with lust and carnage has made it into the hearts of many avid readers.

Best known for The Vampire Chronicles – which merited two film adaptations! – Rice has been on a roller coaster that only goes up.

In Interview with A Vampire, a wealthy man by the name of Louis de Pointe du Lac is interviewed as he claims to be a vampire. He recounts his past life as a wealthy plantation owner who suffers a tremendous loss following the death of his wife and infant child. A vampire named Lestat is on a hunt and finds Louis. Sensing his dissatisfaction with life, he offers his prey eternal life as a Vampire.

What follows after is an adventure you’d like to relive over and over and over again. And what makes the story so attractive you are not able to break away, even to sleep? Of course, dialogues! Our article on how they make dialogues so appealing reveals their secret techniques that keep you awake all night. 

#5 – Stephen King. The King of modern day horror

This wouldn’t be a roundup without the man of modern day horror himself, Mr Stephen King! His work lines the rooms of so many fans it’s incredible. King, now a household name, has produced masterpieces such as Firestarter, It, Pet Sematary, Carrie, Misery, and The Green Mile. There’s only so much this man has contributed.

Thank you, Stephen! Now, on to one of his pieces:

From the long list of his work, we’re going to dip into Misery. The film is so simple it’s fantastic. We follow Paul, a writer whose career was launched because of his work based on a fictional character named Misery Chastain. After completing his manuscript where he kills off his main character because of his boredom, he impulsively drives off to Los Angeles instead of New York City and subsequently gets stuck in a snow storm, accidentally driving himself off a cliff. 

Miraculously, he survives the crash and finds himself in the home of Annie Wilkes. It’s made known that she is a huge fan of Paul’s and despite his injuries being severe, insists on healing him herself with the use of equipment and painkillers she has lying around the house. Upon finding the final manuscript of Paul, Annie suddenly becomes blind with rage and leaves him alone for two days, visibly angry at the outcome of the story. She returns, adamant that Paul must write a new version. His disobedience and longing to escape only anger her, cutting off his foot and thumb along the process. 

Will Paul ever make it out of this hell?

Do you have a story for the world? 

Exciting things, yeah? If you have something similar in mind – a breathtaking plot that will make us whooo – don’t hide it from the world! Check our advice on how to start and good luck! Don’t be shy, write exactly what your imagination says, and leave proofreading for the editor.

You are a master, open your soul, and tell your story! 

These are our favorites. Subjective, but decent. We would like you to share your impressions after reading these masterpieces and, of course, expand this small list with new names and titles.

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Writing Rules: How to Improve Your Writing

Writers have their own style, their own vision. Do they have to follow writing rules? Technically, writers can do whatever they want, but if they want to be taken seriously, it’s good to understand standard grammar and writing principles. 

Yes, rules have exceptions, so let’s get that tidbit out of the way right away. To maximize your writing’s impact, you should still pay attention to certain guidelines. 

Instead of an entire grammar book with rules and exercises, below are the lucky 13 recommendations to remember. (They’re not all grammar, never fear! Nonetheless, many people can benefit from a grammar review.) 

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  1. Commonly confused words – Don’t be common!
  2. Subject-verb agreement – Be agreeable!
  3. Wishy-washy words – Don’t be wishy-washy!
  4. Deadwood – Prune it.
  5. Active voice – Don’t be passive.
  6. Parallel structure – Keep your balance!
  7. Commas – Figure out if you use too many or too few…or just right!
  8. Punctuation with quotation marks – “Who wants to know where that punctuation goes?”
  9. Complete sentences vs. fragments – Understanding the difference makes the difference.
  10. Sentence variety – Variety adds spice to your writing life.
  11. Reading awareness – Writers need to read…for fun!
  12. The 3 R’s – No ‘rithmetic is necessary with these 3 R’s.
  13. Say it your way Nobody says it better!

Get ready for more details!

#1 – Commonly confused words – Don’t be common!

Spelling is not the issue here; usage is. Don’t count on spellcheck; count on your own skills because the word may be spelled just fine while being used incorrectly. 

Some of the terms below have multiple meanings; the most commonly confused versions are paired or grouped below.

  • Advice – a recommendation, a personal or professional opinion, guidance. Advice is a noun, something you may receive, give, or need! My mom always gives great advice.
  • Advise – the verb form of advice; to recommend, to guide. I advise you to listen to your mother!
  • A lot – TWO words! Everybody knows what it means, but too many write this as one word. It’s two, people! The library has a lot of books.
  • Allot – If you insist on writing alot as one word, you need an extra l and the meaning changes to “dividing something into portions, assigning, designating.” Since that’s probably not what you mean, please spell a lot as two words. I allot most of the funds to the library’s book budget.
  • Already – something happened earlier. I already ate breakfast.
  • All ready – completely prepared. I am all ready to go out for breakfast.
  • Farther – physical distance away. They live farther down the road.
  • Further – greater, extended, more in depth. We must discuss this further.
  • Its – possessive pronoun showing ownership. The chunky monkey swung from its tail. 
  • It’s – contraction for it is. An apostrophe in contractions indicates a missing letter (or letters). Autocorrect on my iPhone switches my correct it’s to its, making it auto-wrong, auto-incorrect, or just wrong. It’s frustrating!
  • Many – a lot, quantity that possibly could be counted or measured. How many iguanas infiltrated the patio?
  • Much – again a large quantity but something more difficult to count or measure; a deeper extent. I love you very much.
  • Principal – a person who’s in charge. Our school principal is a PAL of a guy! 
  • Principle – code of conduct, guidelines. That goes against my principles.
  • Quite – considerably, actually. (Remember, quite is one syllable.) I am quite impressed by your writing style.
  • Quiet – no or very little noise. (Quiet has two syllables.) Be as quiet as a butterfly!
  • Stationary – not moving or changing. I would rather exercise on a stationary bike in air conditioning than sweat on a real one outside.
  • Stationery – writing materials, often with matching decorated paper and envelopes. Tip: think of the e in stationery as envelope. I stopped buying stationery years ago because I would rather e-mail people or text them.
  • Than – conjunction used for comparisons. Sweet corn is much better than canned corn.
  • Then – adverb used to indicate next in time. I hit snooze on my alarm and then went right back into my goofy dream.
  • Their – possessive pronoun showing ownership. Their screen porch is so inviting!
  • There – adverb showing a place. It’s not here; it’s over there. (Notice how here is part of there if it helps to remember “here and there.”)
  • They’re – contraction for they are. They’re 20 minutes late…again.
  • To – preposition (usually) to express where, etc. Just take it to the patio.
  • Too – adverb for very, extremely, overly, also.  The ground is too wet for planting.
  • Two – adjective for the number 2. I have published two children’s books so far.
  • Weather – noun for climate or atmosphere. It’s been a year of historic weather.
  • Whether – conjunction signifying choices or comparisons. It all depends on whether the building sells this month or not.
  • Who’s – contraction for who is. Who’s coming with me?
  • Whose – possessive pronoun showing ownership. Whose car is parked behind mine?
  • Your – possessive pronoun showing ownership. Your birthday is tomorrow!
  • You’re – contraction for you are. You’re finally done reading about these commonly confused words. 

The subject and verb need to agree in number. Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs. 

#2 – Subject-verb agreement – Be agreeable.

With a simple sentence, it is clear which word is the subject, so the verb agreement is easy. Add a prepositional phrase or other words between the subject and verb, and then agreement may get confusing. Remember that the subject can never be part of a prepositional phrase.

Easy: Beach Surprise shares an inspiring message for children about plastic straws. (subject = Beach Surprise; verb = shares)

Less easy: Beach Surprise: Unicorns, Mermaids, Flower Fairies, and Rainbow Rocks Meet at the Beach shares an inspiring message for children about plastic straws. (subject = Beach Surprise: Unicorns, Mermaids, Flower Fairies, and Rainbow Rocks Meet at the Beach; verb = shares)

Even less easy: The second children’s picture book in the Rockin’ Fairy Garden Tales shares an inspiring message for children about plastic straws. (subject = book; verb = shares)

#3 – Wishy-washy words – Don’t be wishy-washy.

You won’t find wishy-washy words as in a grammar book’s index, but you will find them in sentences that start with There is, There are, There was, There were, There will be…and so forth.  Starting sentences like this waters down your writing. Start with your subject, not an inverted order with nonessential words. Don’t postpone the subject.

Wishy-washy: There are watermelons on sale at the grocery store.

Better: Watermelons are on sale at the grocery store.

The grocery store has watermelons on sale.

Be direct. 

Talking is different from writing. You have time to choose your words and revise those words when you write. That gives you the opportunity to optimize your vocabulary and sentence structure.

People may start sentences with well, um, there, it, yeah, and other wishy-washy words before getting to the point. It’s more difficult to be eloquent when speaking…at least if you prefer writing.

Expletives are” filler words” like there are, there is, and all of those swear words that I won’t list. None is necessary to the meaning. At least swear words add impact; wishy-washy words detract. They deplete the energy from your writing.

Also wishy-washy can be the pronouns they, it, this and other ambiguous references. Be specific. What is it? Who are they? This what? Using pronouns for word variety works; using them generically dilutes your writing. 

He and she can be confusing also. 

Confusing: Ali told Juan that it was his turn to talk to the Customer Service representative. (Whose turn was it, Ali’s or Juan’s?) 

Clear: Ali told Juan, “It’s your turn to talk to the Customer Service representative.”

#4 – Deadwood – Prune it.

Just like you need to trim away dead branches from a bush or tree to help it thrive, you need to eliminate wordiness from your writing. Be concise. Don’t be redundant. 

With today’s technology, people have an overload of choices to read. They don’t want wordy. If you can say something in one word instead of three, go for one.

In writing this blog, at first I said, “The point of the apostrophe in contractions is to indicate a missing letter (or letters).” 

When proofing my piece, I trimmed some deadwood: “An apostrophe in contractions indicates a missing letter (or letters).” 

The sentence length decreased from 15 words to 10. 

#5 – Active voice – Don’t be passive.

The short version: Make the subject perform the action, use lively verbs, and limit helping verbs. A typical order would be subject –  strong verb – direct object. 

The long version: Check out What Is Passive Voice and How to Improve It with Examples. When you avoid passive voice, you achieve active voice.

#6 – Parallel structure – Keep your balance.

You want your words to be in the same grammatical form to be balanced. Parallelism is a form of grammar gymnastics; balance assists in determining a fine finish.

Not parallel: I like reading, writing, and to walk. 

Parallel: I like reading, writing, and walking.

Parallel: I like to read, to write, and to walk.

#7 – Commas – Figure out if you use too many or too few…or just right.

Commas serve as a brief pause so everything doesn’t run together. Commas clarify word relationships and make the meaning clear. 

  • Noun of direct address: Set off the person’s name with a comma or two when “speaking” directly to someone. 

Would you please check the pizza, Anthony, and see if it’s ready?

Mario, the pizza’s ready!  

With writing a letter, text, or e-mail, the same comma concept applies. Hi, Heidi!

  • Compound sentences: When independent clauses are joined by and, but, or, so, yet, for, or nor, use a comma before the coordinating conjunction.

Grammar rules aren’t that fun, but they are still important to understand.

  • Introductory elements and transitions: 

Whether you go with me or not, I need to leave at 8:00. First, I need to unload and reload the dishwasher.

 If your sentence starts with a prepositional phrase, use a comma if it’s is five words long or longer. 

In the green pantry cupboard downstairs, extra supplies are shelved alphabetically.

  • Multiple adjectives describing the same noun: When you have more than one adjective before one noun, you need a comma if the adjectives have “equal” status. To check, swap their order and see if the sentence still makes sense. Another trick is to use the word and where the comma should go.

Have you ever noticed the unofficial law of gravity where gooey, drippy food automatically falls onto white clothing?

Check: The meaning doesn’t change if you switch the order to say drippy, gooey food, or if you write gooey and drippy food. Thus, use that comma with gooey, drippy food.

But that’s not all! Because commas can be complicated, Purdue Online Writing Lab’s Extended Rules for Using Commas is a helpful resource. Above are comma rules that seem to be overlooked, but they’re not the only common comma errors. Unless you are a Comma Queen or King, please check the extended information in the Purdue link or in another reputable resource.

#8 – Punctuation with quotation marks – “Who wants to know where that punctuation goes?”

“This one is easy,” said Elena. “Put commas and periods before the quotation mark; place semicolons and colons outside of them.”

#9 – Complete sentences vs. fragments – Understanding the difference makes the difference.

In English class, the emphasis is on writing complete sentences. It’s what you do. Fragments receive red halos or frag. Things change once you leave the classroom.

Fragments are acceptable IF…

  • You know they are fragments.
  • You understand why they are fragments
  • You could write them as complete sentences if you had to, but you still chose to write them as fragments for a valid reason.
  • “Like in dialogue where most people don’t speak in complete sentences.” 
  • Or when you need words for effect. You. Know. What. I. Mean.
  • If you don’t know what I mean, focus on finding and fixing your fragments.

Envision this scenario:

You are chewing a juicy cheeseburger, and you suddenly bite down on a bone fragment. Gag! You stop chewing and try to figure out what to do. After all, it’s just minuscule piece of the bone, not the entire “hamburger bone.” (Let’s not go there!) This fragment ruins your entire burger. It makes you wonder about the background of your beef. You now have your own “beef” with whoever caused that fragment. 

To carry this over into your writing, if you haven’t mastered fragments, your validity as an author is doubted and judged as inferior. It’s that simple. 

#10 – Sentence variety – Variety adds spice to your writing life.

Let’s start with the exception. If you are writing a children’s bedtime book, then it’s good to have a repetitive sentence structure. Your goal is to lull that kid to sleep. That monotonous cadence has a purpose. 

Now for the rest of you. When you are writing up a storm, you create a pattern where the words are pouring out of you like rain while ideas keep thundering in your head despite your eyes experiencing lightning flashes from working on the computer for too long. Who has time to worry about sentence variety? 

You make the time after the flow trickles away. You go back and weed that fertile landscape of words. You revise until you have long sentences, short sentences, simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences. (You might even have fragments.) Overall, you want more short sentences than long.

You also want more short paragraphs than long. We live in a “smartphone world.” People read blogs, articles, and books on their tiny phones. Their eyes need white space to rest. People see short paragraphs and feel more inclined to read. Looking at an entire phone screen filled with miniature words repels instead of compels.

Back in that beloved English class, the teacher expected paragraphs to be at least 5-8 sentences long. You had to develop those ideas. Every paragraph required a topic sentence, supporting ideas, and summary.

Now that your English teacher is “history,” you still get to develop your ideas; just do it with paragraphs only 1-3 sentences long. (Sorry, English teachers!) 

Variety invites interest and keeps people reading.

#11 – Reading awareness – Writers need to read…for fun!

Words are your business. Beyond writing them, you need to read them. 

Be aware of popular books and the new releases in your favorite genres. You can’t copy another writer’s style, but you can appreciate it and absorb its flavor. Reading keeps you well-rounded. 

Read magazines. Study the catchy headlines and advertisements. They are indicators of trends and the public’s general interests.  Clever ads and headlines have mastered wordplay. 

Notice billboards. They have limited space and very limited time to capture people’s attention. Billboards with maybe 7 words still create profits for businesses featured on them. Words count.

Reading and writing work magically together. Keep the magic going.

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#12 – The 3 R’s – No ‘rithmetic is necessary with these 3 R’s.

Actually, we could have lots of R’s, but since we already covered read, let’s forge ahead with revise, rest, and review. Put this in a loop because you will be doing these R’s repeatedly.

Revise: Don’t keep track of how many times you revise. (See, no ‘rithmetic!) Repetitive revising is necessary, but before you overdo it, take a break. In other words…

Rest: Self-care is important. Let’s call it vital. You need time to yourself to regroup and be at your peak. Getting enough sleep is obviously important, but rest includes mental breaks. Whether it’s reading, walking, meditating, biking, weight lifting, swimming, doing yoga, or whatever, do what refreshes you. 

If you don’t put yourself first, no one else will. You are not being selfish; you are taking care of yourself. It’s the responsible thing to do, so stop feeling guilty about it. 

Review: You need to review your writing. Since you have “self-correcting eyes,” you need other people to also review your writing. They don’t know what it’s supposed to say like you do, so they will read the actual words, not what you thought you’d said.

Repeat with revise, rest, review until it finally has to end!

#13 – Say it your way – Nobody says it better!

Your writing style is an extension of how you think. People read your writing because they appreciate the way you express yourself. 

Think of magazines. They publish similar topics in every issue, yet the articles seem fresh each time. People subscribe to those magazines because the writers find interesting ways to cover the same old topics. 

With books and blogs, the topic options are vast. You could say so much on so many subjects. Pick one that energizes you, find your voice, and find your audience. People want to share your vision through your words. Say it your way. 

Rules overview

Some writers resist rules. They may have an instinctive urge to ignore grammar and just create. “If others don’t like it, then that’s their problem. They know what I mean.” 

Errors take the energy out of your writing. They are the proverbial red flag waving an alert: Beware! Self-published amateur who doesn’t care about the details of standard English.

If you hated English class because grammar never clicked for you, that’s OK. Grammar is abstract. Certain words represent certain concepts, parts of speech and punctuation rules take many chapters to explain, and who can remember everything?

Fortunately, you don’t have to remember everything. One of the fabulous perks of today’s technology is that you can search online to answer your grammar questions, and you can install computer programs to help you. 

The important thing is that you care enough to do your best in creating the best product possible. And if you have read this far, you care about learning more to improve your writing. Kudos to you! 

set writing goals

How To Create A Successful Morning Routine (And Using A Morning Routine To Write Your Book)

How many times have you hit snooze? It’s hard to get up in the morning and go right into work. The day gets busy and when five or six o’clock rolls around, working out or reading can easily seem too difficult a task. Finding time to write your book seems nearly impossible.

What if we told you there was a keystone habit that would fix this issue? You’d never want to hit snooze again and when the beginning of the day dawns, you’d actually already have your daily workout in. You’d already have a good bit of reading in. And to top it off, you’d be much better prepared to write the book you’ve always dreamed of writing. 

A thought-out morning routine is the keystone habit guaranteeing a successful day.

Our CEO, and the founder of Self-Publishing School, Chandler Bolt, shared how he started his first morning routine in 2014 when he dropped out of school. 

He quickly found it made him happier, more fulfilled, and more successful in his business. Since that morning in 2014, everything has changed for him.

Below are the details of his morning routine, how he sustains it, and what the details of getting up early actually look like.

We will cover:

1. How To Create A Successful Morning Routine

2. The Two Factors Contributing To Successful People

3. Getting Practical: The Do’s and Don’ts Of Your Morning

4. Consistency: The Key To A Life-Changing Morning Routine

5. Chandler’s Make Or Break, Daily Decision

6. How To Make Your Morning Routine Fluid And Sustainable

Keep reading to discover how to use a morning routine to write your book.

Number 1: How To Create A Morning Routine

When diving into his morning routine in this video, Chandler shares how the book The Miracle Morning, (which shares the story of his friend Hal Elrod) influenced his daily routine. The book shares details on how Hal was hit head-on by a drunk driver and told he would never walk again. Not only did Hal prove he could walk again, but a few short months later he came back strong, running two marathons back to back. As if that’s not enough, he battled and beat cancer as well. 

Hal shares his life “savers.” The acronym can be broken down and implemented for a successful morning routine:

·  Silence

·  Affirmation

·  Visualization

·  Exercise

·  Reading

·  Scribing (journaling)

Chandler uses most of these every single day, and we’ll show you how you can use them too.

Number 2: The Two Factors Contributing To Successful People

Most successful people have two things in common. The first is a morning routine. The second is reading. Why not combine the two?

The goal of a morning routine is to be able to already have a successful day before the day starts.

Especially when it comes to writing, it’s important to read on a regular basis. Writing demands creativity, and habitually giving yourself a specific amount of time devoted to reading will help you become that much better of a writer.

Number 3: Getting Practical, The Do’s and Don’ts Of Your Morning

When recommending how to create and sustain a successful morning routine, Chandler points out two practical tips.

First, he says you want to have discipline and structure. Even if you need to start with a twenty-minute routine, slowly lengthening it from there, be sure to start small so you can keep the habit every single morning for a month.

Second, your routine can change with the seasons of your life. It can be flexible, fluid, and should always be evolving. One aspect of Chandler’s morning routine is that it changes based on his personal needs. During one season of his life, he cut out one aspect of his routine in order to allow more time for stretching due to a back injury.

Remember, a morning routine is for your benefit, not for the sake of tying yourself to a stringent morning. It should be fluid because a healthy individual is always growing and changing. 

The important point is to implement it in your life and try at least some sort of routine for about a month. This will help establish a habit and allow you the time and space to hone in on what routine best helps you.

Number 3: Consistency, The Key To A Life-Changing Morning Routine

Going to bed at a certain time can be difficult, but when you know you have to get up at a certain time, it gives you that much more incentive to get a head start on sleep. When it comes to your morning routine, consistency is important. Your start and end time should be consistent as well.

When you’re first starting out, you can be a little easier with your flex time, while making sure you hit your REM cycles. Know how much sleep you need, and if you go to bed a half-hour late one night, start your morning routine a half-hour late the next morning. 

Especially when you’re writing a book, you need to be well-rested and alert. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep before starting your routine will greatly influence the quality of your writing.

However, once you get into the habit of getting up at a specific time, try to maintain a certain level of consistency.

Chandler recommends setting a consistent wake-up time and bumping it back 15 minutes at a time until you have plenty of space to complete your entire morning routine.

An abbreviated morning routine is a good place to begin. Start with a wake-up time that’s not too much earlier than your usual time (15-20 minutes) and then stair-step up to a longer routine.

As you become more accustomed to your routine and begin to see the benefits, you’ll see your morning routine is actually one of the most important parts of your day. You’ll be willing to get up on time even if you go to bed late. Having a hard stop, or cut off time, for your routine will encourage you to get up on time as well.

Chandler’s hard stop is his first, 8 am meeting. For you, it might be leaving for work at a certain time or taking your kids to school.

Number 4: Chandler’s Make Or Break, Daily Decision

Once you establish your alarm time, it’s important to decide to actually get out of bed when it goes off. It’s helpful to wake up to something positive. Your subconscious is most open to new ideas in the morning and late at night, so at these times try to focus on affirmations rather than negative things like news or email. 

Chandler’s brother recorded himself speaking affirmations to Chandler, and listening to affirmations is one of the first parts of Chandler’s routine. Below is a bullet-point list of his routine:

· Wake-Up Time: 6 am

  • Brush teeth and listen to affirmations

·  Mini workout

  • 65 pushups
  • 65 sit-ups
  • Stretching

·  5 Minute Journal

  • 3 questions
  • What are the 3 things that would make today great?
  • 3 things I’m grateful for
  • 3 written affirmations

·  Bullet-proof coffee

·  Read 30-40 minutes

·  Guided meditation

  • Head Space app
  • Calm app

·  Put on work clothes 

  • mental flip into work day

·  Make eggs for breakfast

·  First meeting (hard cut) at 8 am

Wake Up Time

You can easily take this layout and personalize it to your individual goals. For instance, maybe you’re wake up time needs to start a little later. Simply bump your time a few minutes back and work with your specific time for a month to establish the habit.

Mini Workout

Chandler is the first to say he didn’t start cranking out 65 pushups. He worked up to it. And you can do the same. He enjoys working out in the morning because when the end of his workday rolls around he doesn’t still have a tough workout to face. Personalize your workout in a way that is something you can accomplish and feel good about. You want your routine to be a definition of success and accomplishment!

5 Minute Journal

This type of journaling was started by a company run by some of Chandler’s friends, and you can use this method or create your own. One year Chandler decided to write a thank-you note every single day for the entire year. This reminded him of everything he had to be thankful for and also enabled him to show his gratitude to those important to him.

Bullet-Proof Coffee

There are countless articles online about the benefits of this specific type of coffee. Because it has so many fats in it, it curbs the appetite and allows you to get more done before breakfast. As you can see from Chandler’s morning routine, he has a good amount of reading in and his workout complete before making his first meal of the day.

Reading

As mentioned above, books are one of the two important aspects contributing to a successful person’s lifestyle. Chandler recommends the book Miracle Morning. This can not only educate you but show you how to use a morning routine to write your book. Miracle Morning is a great book for writers who want to create a specified morning routine.

Meditation

Maybe you’ve never meditated before, but realize the need for a little calm before the day gets busy. Chandler uses guided meditation apps to help bring focus and clarity to his morning. Even a few minutes of stillness and mindfulness can help establish a positive morning and an even more successful day.

Work Clothes

Although Chandler works from home, he recognizes the importance of dressing for success. Dressing for work helps him create a mental flip from his morning routine into his workday. When his first meeting time calls at 8 am, he’s dressed and ready to go in business clothes. This physical act helps him mentally get into the headspace he needs in order to have a positive, productive day.

This type of thought process can even be related to where you end up working or choosing to write your book. 

Breakfast

By this time in the day that bullet-proof coffee is probably starting to wear off. Don’t forget to fuel your body with healthy food to kick-start your workday and finish your morning routine. Chandler’s personal choice is eggs, rich in protein, and great fuel for his day.  

Remember Morning Routines Are Fluid

Chandler mentioned how he switched up his morning routine when he suffered a back injury. Hopefully, it’s not a back injury for you, but there may be another reason to switch up your routine and swap a new aspect in.

Try a different meditation app, see if you can write a thank-you card each day for a whole year, or Chandler’s personal recommendation: a cold shower. There’s nothing like a cold shower to wake you up in the morning and get your senses on full alert.

You may also want to try listening to motivational videos or an audiobook throughout parts of your routine that allow for it, such as your morning exercise or even something as simple as brushing your teeth.  

Remember, the goal of a morning routine is to already have a successful day before the day starts. Why? A productive morning routine helps lay a strong foundation for the rest of the day.

Even if you only complete your morning routine by the end of the day, you’ll know you’ve had a productive day. Perhaps you’ve even been more productive in the first few hours of your day than many people have their entire day!

Wondering where to start? Pick one or two aspects from Chandler’s list and implement it into your daily morning schedule. After a month or so, check in with your writing goals. 

You’ll be surprised how much a morning routine benefits your writing. Not only does it help you meet your daily goals before the day starts, but allows you time to read and prep for the book you’re writing.

After you’ve established your routine let us know how it’s going for you. We’d love to hear!

How to Translate Your Book Into Another Language

(Hint: Don’t ask your teenage neighbor…)

Congratulations on self-publishing your book!

This is a huge milestone, maybe one you’ve been dreaming about for years. You may be exhausted from all the work it took to transform your original idea into a book, but you’re beginning to see the impact it’s having on people’s lives.

Then one day, you realize that only English people can read your book . . . 20% or less of the world’s population. Hmmm…. what to do?

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“I know”, you think to yourself, “I’ll have my book translated!”

You decide to start with the second most common language in your country, which is perhaps Spanish.

Your teenage Spanish neighbor is bilingual, so you ask him if he would be willing to translate your book. He eagerly agrees (for an amazing price!) and the process begins. Possibilities begin to roll through your mind.

After Spanish, you could do French, German, Italian, then maybe even some Asian languages. How exciting! Here come the royalties. . .

Time out!

Hold on a minute. . . Remember how conscientious you were with your original book? You agonized over the title and subtitle, gathering feedback and making adjustments. You invested in meticulous editing and proofreading to avoid annoying your readers with typos.

You carefully selected a cover designer and spent hours perfecting your book description, painstakingly choosing categories and keywords. That attention to detail is what helped you establish your reputation as an author, and likely earned you the coveted bestseller banner on Amazon.

You may have already begun to launch a business using your book as a calling card.

Don’t throw caution to the wind now! The unfortunate truth is that a poor book translation makes an author appear naive at best, and unprofessional or even careless at worst.

I collect translation bloopers as a hobby, and below is one of my favorites from a bagel shop in the city where I live (the word “tongs” got confused with “tongue”).

The Translation Myth

There is a common belief that anyone who is bilingual is capable of translating, such as the owner of that bagel shop. This reasoning appears logical on the surface, and I used to believe it myself.

But a decade of translation studies at university, culminating in a doctoral thesis on translation quality, has changed my perspective.

Let’s explore the idea of bilingualism. People who understand two languages can certainly express ideas orally in both. Even if they can’t match sentences exactly, they can convey the same general information. In conversation, grammar rules are more relaxed, and people are generally patient while someone tries to express what they are thinking.

But it’s just not the same with books! There are standard writing practices to be respected, and readers become impatient with typos and with sentences that are hard to follow.

That’s why you spent money on an experienced editor, rather than asking your basketball buddy to proofread it just because he speaks English. You knew that talking about an idea and being able to express it properly in writing are two different things.

And that’s the crux of the translation myth. Just because your best friend speaks two languages does not automatically mean she has good writing skills. Nor does it mean that she is capable of written translation: university translation programs exist for good reason.

Translation is an art underpinned by solid “transfer” principles that can only be learned through extensive training or experience.

Obtaining a quality translation

The quality of a translation can make or break your book, so it’s important to proceed carefully. Here are nine steps for obtaining a quality translation of your book.

#1 – Polish the English version first

The appropriate time to start on a translation of your book is after the final editing and proofreading (of a printed copy) are complete. Errors that seem to be unnoticeable on a computer screen miraculously show up in print.

While proofreading almost two million words for 50 French translations published by the UPCI French Literature Cooperative, I have found errors that made me cringe.

I’m not referring to a misplaced comma overlooked by the translator or editor, but serious errors such as saying in French that the Bible was vindictive, when it should have said self-vindicating.

Ouch!

So it is important to have a clean book manuscript to hand to a translator. Otherwise, you will incur much extra time and cost by having to go back-and-forth with the translator because of changes made in the English text after the translation has already begun.

Translation is time-consuming enough without adding in this frustration.

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#2 – Choose the best language

With thousands of languages in the world, how do you choose which one(s) to translate your book into? There are several factors to consider, beyond simply determining the top languages spoken in the world.

Especially when self-publishing, you need to find out what languages are popular for digital books. The chart below shows the top ten languages used online as of December 2017.

The first consideration, if you are publishing on Amazon, is to determine if the language you are interested in is supported. Currently, books can be uploaded in over 40 languages, but some are only supported for Kindle versions, not print.

Look for countries and language groups:

  • where Amazon is investing and growing (India is first);
  • where there is less competition in your category;
  • where there is a demand for your type of book (ex. China: non-fiction, children and youth books, crime stories and romantic fiction);
  • where your book content appeals to the culture.

#3 – Allow enough time for translation

Time and quality are intrinsically connected. If someone offers to translate your 30,000-word book in 3 days, this should be an immediate red flag.

Even with the development of technological aids, it is not feasible to expect a translator to produce quality translation of more than 300-500 words per hour; this varies depending on the book content.

This means that a 30,000-word book should take a minimum of 60 hours to translate, and possibly up to 100 hours. You probably spent a similar amount of time writing your book.

Translation involves recreating content in another language, and should not be rushed. Also, try to avoid splitting the book between two or more translators to speed things up. This could result in style and terminology inconsistencies that will confuse the reader.

Be sure to leave enough time to obtain and evaluate a translation sample, as will be discussed in Step 7. If you have to do this more than once, it will probably take a week or two for each round.

#4 - Don’t Google it!

Can you remember life before Google? I remember when school projects required a trip to the library to consult an encyclopedia. Now we have instant information at our fingertips, including access to Google Translate, which is a machine translation.

Implicit in this term is that no human checks the translation for errors. Just for fun, I recently typed traduire à la pige (the French term for “freelance translation”) into Google Translate and received the response below.

I am sure you want more for your book than a stilted machine translation that doesn’t understand the context and is blind to the nuances of human emotions. Machine translation can be useful for large quantities of technical material such as manuals. But a crucial part of the process is “post-editing”, in which a trained translator corrects the mistakes made by the machine.

If you come across a translator offering “unbelievable” rates to translate your book, it is probable that they are using machine translation and then just tweaking it. They may or may not have the skills and experience to produce a final quality translation.

#5 – Set a budget

When it comes to translation quality, you really do get what you pay for. A low-priced translator generally means a hasty and possibly inaccurate translation. Your goal should be for people who buy your books in another language to have the same reading experience as your English readers. Translation rates vary widely between countries.

OTTIAQ, with whom I am certified in Quebec, reported average rates of $0.21 per word in 2018, which is higher than many countries in the world.
ProZ.com, an online community of translators, posts average rates of $0.09 to $0.14 per word.

If you were able to engage a quality translator for $0.12 per word, the cost for translating a 30,000-word book would be $3,600. This is a large investment, so make sure you do market research first to determine if your book is likely to produce sales in the language or geographical area you are considering.

It is not advisable to pay a translator by the hour, as some translators work much more slowly than others. Also, if your book is very scholarly or requires extensive terminology work, you may have to pay an above-average rate.

Find out if sales taxes are payable on the translation services provided (the sample contract under Step 8 includes taxes in the price).
One final consideration is that when you hire an individual translator, you pay them only for translation services rendered, and they have no right to royalties from the translated book.

Some aggregate translation services may offer you a lower price upfront, but expect to share in your royalties. Make sure you know what you are agreeing to.

#6 – Find a qualified translator

If your budget allows, the safest option is to hire a certified translator, meaning that a professional order or translation association has verified that the person’s translation skills meet a quality standard. You can usually check credentials online; just be aware that membership does not always equal certification.

For example, everyone accepted into Quebec’s professional order of translators (OTTIAQ) has been certified, but the American Translators Association (ATA) includes translators who simply pay a membership fee to join. ATA does have another level of translators who have earned certification by “passing a challenging three-hour exam to assess their translation skills”.

If you cannot afford to pay a certified translator, the second option is to hire someone with translation experience who can provide customer testimonials as proof of quality work. This should be someone who translates into a mother tongue so that the translation is idiomatic and easy to read.

For example, you should have a Spanish person translate your English book into Spanish; this requirement is not as relevant if the translator is certified.

If the main market for your translated book is in another country, choose a translator who is familiar with the culture and customs in that country, to avoid unknowingly offending readers.

Your translator should be familiar with the topic of your book (through work experience or personal knowledge), so the translation will be authentic. Usually, you can search a translation-provider website by both language combination and domain specialization, as shown in the OTTIAQ screenshot below.

#7 – Ask for a sample first

A translator will probably request a sample of your book in order to give you a fee estimate. It is a good practice to ask for the translation of a 500-word sample. Most translators are willing to invest the time to do a sample of this size in the hope of receiving the whole book contract.

The next step is to ask a native-language speaker with excellent writing skills, who also understands English, to compare the sample translation to the original text and give you an honest evaluation. You might have to pay a small fee for this, but it will save you problems in the long run. If the translation is into Spanish, look for a Spanish writer, editor, teacher, or even another translator, to do the independent evaluation.

You will need feedback on three aspects: fidelity, idiomaticity, and conformity.

You can do this by asking three questions:

  • Does the translation convey the same information as the original text, with no omissions or additions?
  • Is the translation idiomatic — pleasant to read in that language?
  • Does the translation conform to standard grammar and punctuation guidelines?
  • If you receive positive answers to these three questions, you can confidently sign a contract with the translator who did the sample. If not, you should find a different translator.

A translator will probably request a sample of your book in order to give you a fee estimate. It is a good practice to ask for the translation of a 500-word sample. Most translators are willing to invest the time to do a sample of this size in the hope of receiving the whole book contract.

The next step is to ask a native-language speaker with excellent writing skills, who also understands English, to compare the sample translation to the original text and give you an honest evaluation. You might have to pay a small fee for this, but it will save you problems in the long run. If the translation is into Spanish, look for a Spanish writer, editor, teacher, or even another translator, to do the independent evaluation.

You will need feedback on three aspects: fidelity, idiomaticity, and conformity.

You can do this by asking three questions:

  • Does the translation convey the same information as the original text, with no omissions or additions?
  • Is the translation idiomatic — pleasant to read in that language?
  • Does the translation conform to standard grammar and punctuation guidelines?

If you receive positive answers to these three questions, you can confidently sign a contract with the translator who did the sample. If not, you should find a different translator.

#8 – Obtain a written contract

It is important to have a written agreement with the translator of your book, in order to protect your investment. A simple one-page contract that can be signed, scanned, and returned should be enough. The sample contract below shows important information that should be included.

It is a good idea to insist on receiving the translation file if you make a payment partway through the translation process, both to verify that the work has been done, and to protect you if the translator were to have a computer breakdown.

My personal policy is that I do not hand over a translation to an individual (as opposed to a business) until they have paid me. The client is protected by my insurance through OTTIAQ, but I have no such protection against non-payment by individual clients.

In regard to insurance, not every translator has professional liability insurance even if they are certified (for example, it does not appear to be mandatory for ATA certified translators). You will need to decide your comfort and trust levels; will you only use a translator who has insurance?

If you printed 100 books and later found out there were serious errors in the translation, who would pay for the reprinting?

The good news is that when you hire an experienced translator who earns their living through translation, they are concerned about their reputation, so that should reduce the risk to you.

9 — Don’t forget the extras

Before you finalize the contract with your translator, think about translation needs beyond the actual book text, and decide on a payment structure for assistance with these items.

Some things to consider are:

  • Feedback on the title and subtitle
  • Feedback on the cover: Are the image and colors appropriate for the new reading audience? Would a different image have a stronger positive impact?
  • Translation of the back cover and the book description
  • Choosing Amazon keywords and categories
  • Creating ads and marketing materials

If you do not speak the other language, you will likely need assistance in navigating the corresponding Amazon site (ex. www.Amazon.es for Spanish books).

Finally, remember that your translated book is a separate product and will need its own ISBN. Also, be sure to choose the correct book language in the drop-down menu when you set up the book on Amazon.

IN CLOSING…

Whew! That was a lot of information, wasn’t it? But it’s always best to be well informed before plunging into a new endeavor, especially one that involves significant costs.

Obtaining a quality translation of your book will not happen overnight, but you can follow the steps above to facilitate the process.

What languages are you considering having your book translated into and why? Comment below to get the conversation started!

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How to Plan a Novel: Tools & Tips for Success

What do you need before starting a novel?

Some people start novels with absolutely no plan! Those people are very brave, and often do not finish their books very quickly.

You can prepare as much or as little as you’d like. We’re going to go over some items you could plan out in advance.

To learn how to plan a novel, we will cover:

  1. Prepare your character sheets
  2. Carry out research and worldbuilding
  3. Outline your novel
  4. Choose your educational resources
  5. Create a timeline and schedule
  6. Calculate your budget
  7. Find your writing partner
  8. Plan your novel series

Planning a Novel #1 – Characters

Having separate profile sheets for your characters is great for plotting character arcs, establishing backstories, and developing unique voices for each character.

They’re also helpful during the drafting process because it’s much easier to forget things than you might think (in my novel’s first draft, I think every single character swapped eye color at least once).

What items might you include in a character sheet?

  • Physical descriptions
  • Development tracking (how should they change at what points in the story)
  • Character story summaries (a paragraph or two about who they are, what they want, where they’ll start and end)
  • Background information
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Planning a Novel #1 – Carry out research and worldbuilding

Most novels require research and worldbuilding, especially if you’re writing historical, sci-fi, or fantasy.

Getting the big chunk of your worldbuilding out of the way before you begin drafting is helpful, because then you know the elements your characters have to work with/against. Knowing the setting helps to decide things like who your characters would be in that world (based on their upbringing and environment), their motivations and goals, their strengths and weaknesses, etc.

Worldbuilding is also helpful for plot development because things like environmental elements, politics, religion, weather, and magic systems can all contribute to conflict. Throwing characters you know into a world you understand will nearly always generate its own plot points with low effort.

Planning a Novel #3 – Outline

Any project is quicker and easier to finish with a plan! A novel’s plan is its outline.

There are countless ways to structure a story outline. Here are a few examples, like the MindMap! It can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like, but in most cases, the more detailed your outline, the easier drafting will be.

You can edit an outline as you write to keep the process flexible and exciting if that’s a writing style you prefer. An outline is simply a writing tool–use it however you’d like.

You might fully flesh your outline into a scene-by-scene summary of your novel, but if you don’t want an outline that detailed, you should at least have an idea of:

  • Your story’s POV. Will you write in first, second, third limited, or third omniscient? Will you have multiple POV characters, or just one? If you’re writing in third omniscient: what kind of voice will your narrator have, is the voice a character, are they involved with the story?
  • Your main characters. Whose story is it? Who is your protagonist? Who is your antagonist?
  • Your setting. When and where does your story take place? Is your world set in realism, magic realism, or magic? What significant worldbuilding elements will come into play?
  • At least a few plot points or an idea of what will happen in the story.

Planning a Novel #4 – Research and learn

Besides doing pre-research on your novel itself, you might do some research on the art of writing! Here are some good resources if you don’t know where to start.

You can start with our FREE training for how to write a novel, here:

Books to read:

If you’re looking to learn the main elements of writing, try these three books:

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish

Plot & Structure deals with, shockingly, plot, and structure in novels. Knowing the technicalities of formulating a novel before you even start outlining makes the writing process much smoother.

The Elements of Style

If plot and structure are a story skeleton, prosaic style is the flesh. This book breaks down how to take your story idea and write it well.

I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop

This book by Mur Lafferty teaches about honing your craft, the creative process, and how to deal with your own self-critic. It also has in-book writing exercises and story prompts!

Skillshare classes:

If you learn better with a teacher, here are a few Skillshare classes that might be helpful! (The links will give you 2 month free trials to Skillshare if you don’t have an account already.)

Novel Writing 101 – This class breaks down the absolute basics of writing a novel.

Story Structure: 8 Essentials for Outlining Your Novel or Script – This class gets into the more specific steps of outlining a story.

Plan Your Novel in 30 Days or Less! – This class holds your hand and guides you through planning each element of your story.

Writing Flash Fiction – This class teaches how to write flash fiction, which is a great way to practice writing prose, which will make your novel better.

Solid handle on prose

A lot of new writers like to jump straight into writing with a novel, but a novel is a massive undertaking! Planning a book, plot beats, developing characters, and building worlds are some of the easier things to figure out.

What takes a while to learn (based on my experience in writing and teaching) is the actual art of prose.

Learning prose is much easier to do in shorter pieces like flash fiction, short stories, poetry, and creative essays. If you learn how to write before you try to write a novel, you will (surprise) write a much stronger novel.

Planning a Novel #5 – Create a timeline and schedule

A common reason books don’t get finished is that they are often side projects for people with careers, families, and other obligations. And often, writers have no one waiting for them to finish the first draft. If you don’t have an agent, a publishing company, and/or an audience demanding a finished product, there isn’t anything holding you accountable to making steady progress on your manuscript. If this sounds like you, you need to master self-motivation!

Whether you have an outside push or not, planning your novel timeline has many benefits–including motivating you to finish.

How to schedule your novel:

  1. Take a look at your outline (that you wrote, right?) and estimate how many words/pages/chapters you expect it to be.
  2. With your estimation, decide how soon you’d like to finish your novel. On average, a traditional novelist will publish a new book every 1-3 years. A lot of writers who self-publish tend to “churn,” which means they write lower quality novels with much quicker turnaround–they might produce a few books per year. Consider how much time and effort you’d like to expend, your expectations for your novel’s quality, and your lifestyle when you’re deciding on a timeline.
  3. Once you know when you want to finish your novel, break that time into sections. How long will you take on your first, second, and third draft? Do you think you might need more drafts than that? How long for beta readers? How long for a self-edit? How long do you need for a professional editor, cover designer, illustrators, and anyone else you might hire? Write out specific deadlines for each piece of production.
  4. Keep your schedule somewhere accessible and make monthly, weekly, and daily goal lists to be sure you’re staying on track. If you fall significantly behind, adjust your schedule as needed. Editors and other professionals need to be booked ahead of time, and everyone has a different window for how much notice they need and how much time they need to finish a project, so do your research when you’re planning your production timeline.

Sample novel schedule timeline:

Here’s an example timeline for my next short story collection. I’ve input it into a Gannt chart so it’s more visual, but this shows about a year-long process, from drafting to release.

how to plan a novel chart

As you can see, most of the processes happen simultaneously. With a timeline, I know everything that should be happening and when. I made this with MS Excel’s default Gannt chart, but there are lots of different formats you can choose, even just within MS Excel, to structure and track your novel timeline.

Sample novel writing schedule:

Like I said, once you know your timeline for project completion and have broken it into specific durations, you can decide what your weekly and daily task lists should look like. My current phase of developing my short collection involves drafting, beta rounds, and self-revisions/edits.

For example, this month my tasks are:

  • Turn in a new short story to critique group on the 10th, 20th, and 30th
  • Revise (specific stories)
  • Review beta feedback and make final edits on (specific stories)

Once I’m done with drafting, workshops, and self-edits, my tasks will shift to promotion and communication with the professionals I’ve hired.

Timelines put you in control of your project.

Planning a Novel #6 – Calculate your budget

Along with a timeline, a crucial planning element on the business side of producing a book is your budget. A budget will look very different between a self-published book and a traditionally published book. If you’re traditionally published, most of the costs will be covered by your publisher.

If you’re self-publishing, the responsibility of services like a professional edit and cover design falls to you.

Here’s an example of a book budget:

planning a novel budget

Again, I just input my information into a MS Excel budget template for a visual. These items are examples of most things you might want to purchase to produce a book. I’ve over-budgeted in every category, so I’ll spend less than what I’ve estimated, but it’s better to overshoot than underestimate and have to eat unexpected costs.

From publishing my first collection, I have a reference for how much everything costs, but I also know my expected income once it releases. Based on those past numbers, I made this budget. The first time around, I kept costs as low as possible because I wasn’t sure what kind of sales I’d make. Now that I have an idea of how well my books sell, I’m freer to make more assumptions about where I can invest in higher quality production.

NOTE: Producing a novel will incur different costs than producing a short story collection. For example, I am only hiring a copy editor. For a novel, you’d do your best hiring a developmental editor as well. A professional edit on a novel typically runs between $1,000 and $3,000.

Planning a Novel #7 – Find your writing partner

This is probably the most optional thing you need for the early stages of a novel. Some writers prefer to have their first drafts all to themselves, but eventually, you’d benefit from having a writing partner.

How do you find a writing partner?

Make writer friends! A good writing partner is someone you can trust and get along with, so finding a writing partner amongst the friends you already have is a great option.

If you haven’t been able to make writing friends yet, you can reach out to other writers who have a similar skill level to you. Twitter hashtags are a great way to get into the writing community.

Try tags like #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting.

How to plan a novel – series

Some writers “pants” all the way through a series with no idea of how many books they’ll end up with or what will happen in each one. That can sometimes work, but it’s also a good way to confuse yourself into awkwardly stapling plot holes together.

A cleaner way is to have an idea of how many books your series will have and to at least roughly outline each book before your first one is published.

A method you might use to track your series is by creating a series bible. A series bible is a compilation of information about your series.

It might include:

  • Character profile sheets
  • Plot arcs for the series and individual books
  • Backstory and worldbuilding 
  • Rules about magical, religious, and political systems
  • A lexicon of made-up words, creatures, concepts, etc.

As far as timelines, schedules, and budgets for a novel series, it’s essentially the same as what we covered for individual novels–just for multiple.

Writing a novel can be as planned or unplanned as you like, but there are certainly things you can work out beforehand to give yourself a creative and professional edge!

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How to Choose a Pen Name: 5 Questions to Keep in Mind

The decision to choose a pen name is a highly individual one arrived at after carefully considering many factors.  

A previous article on Self Publishing School discussed the many benefits a pen name affords the writer.  These included: personal anonymity, strategic branding, and genre-hopping, among others.

This article discusses how to choose a pen name. As the world of book publication gets more competitive – and, particularly in the digital self-publishing arena where writers virtually anywhere in the world can publish their own works across many genres – choosing a pen name (or pseudonym) will become a more common and important thing to consider for effective branding and marketing purposes.    

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Here are five useful questions to help you learn how to choose a pen name:

  1. Is a pen name necessary when other authors have used your real name?
  2. How “old” is your pen name, figuratively speaking?  Are you known enough already?
  3. For very distinct ethnic book genres and categories, does your pen name have to be culturally relevant?
  4. Is the domain name available for the pen name you are deciding to use?
  5. Do you have a corresponding book title and cover art in mind for your pen name?
  6. Bonus – How to use pen name generators 

Thanks to many wonderful advances in technology the process of writing a book is now virtually in the hands of the creator – you, the aspiring author.  From the initial idea to publish a book to the polished final copy, just about everything in between is now in your hands.  

Whether or not you “qualify” for a pen name is no different.  It is your judgment call.  You do not want to sacrifice originality and creativity for practicality and vice versa.  

Remember, no perfect name exists – just as no perfect title or book cover art exists.  Like with most stages of the book writing process, the goal is to build momentum, stick to your writing schedule, and reach the finish line: a fully realized manuscript.  

Is a pen name necessary when other authors have used your real name?

There are as many name combinations out there as much as there are potential book titles.  But while book titles likely span endless word combinations author names are a bit more limited.  This is where you will have to be practical and creative.  

On Youtube, the second largest search engine in the world and certainly a powerful marketing tool for writers and content creators, three Youtube channels already have my name, “Gabe Muniz.”  Another channel exists under my “full name,” “Gabriel Muniz.”  

If I was to release a book right now and wanted to reach a bigger audience and expand by books publicity through various creative vlogs, etc. I would likely have to reconsider using my real name.  

But here’s the thing: what is true for one major social media platform may not be true for an immensely important commercial website.  Enter Amazon, one of the most popular book purchasing websites in the world.  On Amazon, my name was virtually unheard of.  A grand total of four products came up – none of them books and none with my name.  

Publishing a book on Amazon with my real name would seem to be a safe – even commercially viable – option.  Not so much with Youtube.  This is where having a blog with a creative name that encompasses your brand/message/passion/niche comes in.  I could easily use the name of my blog on Youtube and promote my book (written with my real name) on Youtube and elsewhere.  

Here are some scenarios where it may be wise to use a pen name in place of your real name:

  • Do you share a first and last name with somebody famous in the publishing world?   Is your name John Grisham, James Patterson, etc?   
  • Is your birth name quite long and difficult to pronounce?  Do you have a nickname that you go by that is both easy to remember and spell?  Remember, your name will be searched online and elsewhere so the easier it is to find the better for you.  
  • Is personal privacy a big deal to you?  Do you want to “test the waters” before jumping right in?  Is what you are writing about too “steamy?”  Pen names allow you to keep your public and private worlds separate.   
  • Do you simply want to get started now under a fake name and once you have built up the knowledge and experience to begin to write under your real name?  

How “old” is your pen name, figuratively speaking?  Are you known enough already?

Nobody really thinks of names as having a certain “age.”  Names,  in the popular mind, are timeless – they simply are or are not.  Some are more popular than others, sure.  But older?  

According to Dave Chesson, a popular blogger and E-book marketer, yes, names – and especially pen names – do, in fact, “give off” a certain age feel.

Dave gives the example of an instructional book that is written by a younger-sounding name.  A potential reader would likely not pick up a book written by somebody who simply sounds younger.  Instead, that same reader would be more inclined to read a book written by someone with a more mature authoritative name.

Think of the many textbooks you have seen over the years.  They all seem to have authoritative-sounding names followed by specific educational distinctions – Ph.D., M.D., J.D., etc.  Now,  of course, you cannot “fake it to make it” and include such titles after your name if you don’t possess the level of education.  The point is simply that an author’s name should ideally match the seriousness or lightheartedness of the book’s content.

So in this case, the opposite can, in fact, be true.  Say you are a practicing doctor or lawyer and you have been dying to delve into your true passion of writing a suspense-themed novel or children’s fantasy book, an official title after your name may not be needed in these cases.  

The key is for your name to tap into your reader demographic.  There are many creative ways this can happen.  Say, you are a millennial, and you regularly blog about millennials-related themes on your popular blog titled, “Millenial Mania.”  You even have a growing podcast under the same name. 

 If up to this point you haven’t released your real name for privacy reasons – this is your after-work passion up to this point – you may want to publish a book under a younger more relatable name that is also catchy and memorable: “Eddy Z,” for instance, or something to that effect.  

Consider the Youtube legend himself: Pewdiepie.  That’s not only his “stage name,” but his “pen name.”  He used it to write his popular book, “This Book Loves You.”  If your “stage name” really takes off like his why not cross-brand it?  

Last note: there are helpful tools out there to help with coming up with a pen name from a certain era.  You can, for instance, get lists of the most common names on year by year basis with a very helpful tool.  More on that later.  

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For very distinct ethnic book genres and categories, does your pen name have to be culturally relevant?

Ethnic-themed books, autobiographies, and memoirs by authors sharing intimate aspects of their particular life experiences and culture are typically written exclusively by “ethnic” authors.  That does not mean, however, that these books are read exclusively by “ethnic” readers.  

One of my favorite books in high school was the popular memoir, “When I was Puerto Rican,” which detailed a young woman’s journey from Puerto Rico to the United States.  The book dealt with the struggles of assimilation, being a bilingual Latina in a foreign culture, various rites of passage, etc.  It was a popular book that won significant acclaim and launched the author’s career.   

Now could a non-Latino person pull off the same thing under a more American-sounding name?  For a deeply personal biographical account, I would say no for obvious reasons–they haven’t lived that life.  Now for a fictional account – for somebody very versed in the culture, language, etc., they may be able to pull it off.  But even then a slight name change would be better.  (Instead of John, how about the Spanish-equivalent Juan?)

However, say a non-Latino professor of sociology has spent the last twenty years studying urban issues within a city environment where a high concentration of a minority ethnic group lives?  Can he publish that book?  Yes.  

 “When a Heart Turns Rock Solid,” a book by Timothy Black who is in fact a Sociology Professor, is one such book.  No need for a pen name in his case because his knowledge and expertise speaks for itself.  Also, notice the strong bold title.  The book sounds fictional, almost fantasy-like, but it is, in fact, a powerful biographical account of three brothers struggling with the plight of urban poverty.  

Granted, not everyone has PhD level expertise in a subject.  And, frankly, there are many more people who have strong passions for things outside of their birth ethnicity and culture.  Think of cookbooks and anime as two examples.  Pen names may or may not be necessary.  

One search on Amazon for Chinese cookbooks reveals an interesting pattern: most of the search results feature Asian names.  Not too surprising.  

But what if you aren’t Asian, have a passion for Chinese food, and believe you have what it takes to publish the latest cookbook?  This is where expertise and creativity again comes in.  While you may not need a complete name overhaul, you will want to showcase that you are both knowledgeable and respectful about the culture you are writing about – be it a cookbook, biography, etc.  

A pre-existing platform that demonstrates your passion and credibility is always useful.  Real-life experiences also help (Say you lived abroad for years, documented your experiences, etc.)  Always be mindful of pre-existing audiences and ensure that you are delivering at the same level of quality they are used to.  

Is the domain name available for the pen name you are deciding to use?

“Joe Johnson,” not your real name but the pen name you have decided to use after considering the various tips you’ve learned through reading this article, is now the name attached to your surprise bestseller.  What do you do?  

If you are lucky, you may find that no domain name exists under that particular name.  This means you can create a website under that name and, in doing so, create a marketing platform that features your future work.  

Ideally, you want to purchase your pen name’s domain prior to your book’s release.  The first thing you want to do, then, when considering a pen name is to see if a domain is available.  

Consider what happens if you do not purchase the domain name of a pen name that suddenly is associated with a popular book.  For one thing, someone else can purchase the domain and redirect traffic to their site instead of your own resulting in a loss of many would-be opportunities for broader brand exposure, increased readership, speaking engagements, etc.  

You can check to see if a domain name is available on many popular web hosting sites like siteground.com.  Try it here.

Do you have a corresponding book title and cover art in mind for your pen name?

If you look at major authors with long-established records, you notice that their names are placed prominently on the books cover either above or below the title.  This should not be the case for the beginning writer with no real track record or pre-existing audience.  It may be better to emphasize the title – especially a catchy, hard-hitting title – and the cover art to really “grab” the reader’s attention.

Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the cover.  As Seth Godin, popular author and marketing genius once stated in a popular blog post: “Tactically, the cover sells the back cover, the back cover sells the flap and by then you’ve sold the book.”  

In other words, the catchy nature, original quality, and even bold controversial naming of your book, corresponding cover art, and elevator pitch-like description, when combined, represent your “sales pitch” to your potential reading audience.  You gotta hook ‘em.  

How to use pen name generators

As one blogger put it, picking a pen name is harder than coming up with a baby name.  Think about it: picking a name for a child is just that – a name, one name.  A pen name requires that you decide upon a first and last name, a process that is even more complicated if you want to connote a certain age, reach a particular audience, emphasize a certain ethnicity, etc.  

Pen name generators are a helpful way to make this process a bit easier.  Thankfully, too, many specific pen name generators exist for different types of genres – everything from horror to Victorian. 

Probably the most popular and comprehensive of these name generators is fakenamegenerator.com.  This site enables the user to create not only a fake name but a completely fake persona, including address, phone number, occupation, place of work, etc.  You can customize the settings to take into account age, gender, and ethnicity.  These options not only help with pen name creation but with fictional character development.  

Give it a shot here.   

In Dave Chesson’s helpful article he provides various other pen name generators that are more genre-specific.  These include:

  • Namegenerator.org.uk : On this site, you are asked various questions – many of them random and unrelated – to come up with a variety of pen names
  • Fantasynamegenerators.com : for odd, awkward, and fun names, this is your place to go.  Interested in something more classy and historical?  They have a special focus on Victorian-era names too.  
  • Namegeneratorfun.com : want something edgy and cool?  This is the place to go.  
  • Seventhsanctum.com : As their tagline makes clear: “Evil names for all your evil naming needs as you may have needed to name evilly. For evil.”  A great resource for coming up with names for villains.  

Picking a name that is the “Right Age?”  

There are also great resources for coming up with age-specific names.  Babyresource.com, the world’s largest digital parenting resource, provides some helpful lists of the most common names by year.  Simply go to Google and type in, “Top baby names for 1990 Baby Center.”    

Click here for the results for 1990.  Now for 100 years further back – 1900 – click here.  The results are very interesting and telling of the changing cultural influences.  Indeed, names evoke a historical time period and context.  Give it a try.  See what year, if any at all, your name appears in.     

Self-published books have many moving parts to them, each with varying levels of strategic marketing importance.  A carefully chosen pen name is one such critical component.  By now, your creative juices should be flowing.  As with most things involving the sometimes tedious writing process you can revise and edit accordingly.  Have fun.  

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How to Write a Good Book Chapter: Steps & Examples


So you have a killer book idea, and you’ve gone through the mind mapping and outlining processes. Now it’s time to begin writing.

Of course, the actual writing is the hardest part for non-experienced writers. In this blog, though, we’re going to explain the best way to make the writing aspect of self-publishing a breeze.

We’re going to show you how to write a good chapter. My tips will mostly be useful for non-fiction authors but could also be executed for fiction.

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This guide to writing a nonfiction book chapter covers:

  1. Why do you need good nonfiction chapters?
  2. Follow your mindmap and outline
  3. Cover one topic in each chapter
  4. Complete a thorough self-edit
  5. How to write a good chapter for a fiction book
  6. Keep your paragraphs short
  7. Keep your chapter length under control
  8. Name your chapters
  9. Get ready to start writing

Why do you need good nonfiction chapters?

This should be pretty obvious, but it’s always good to start with the basics. Chapters will give your book structure. Without them, it’s hard to keep your thoughts organized. 

That’s why chapters are necessary, and if we have chapters in our book, obviously we want them to be good. Good chapters will lead to a good and even great book.

With that, let’s dive into how to construct a good chapter.

Three main steps to writing a good chapter:

  1. Follow your Mindmap & Outline
  2. Stay on one point while writing until reaching a finished thought, then move to the next
  3. Complete a thorough self-edit

Follow these three main steps, and you will be well on your way to creating a good chapter. Repeat the process, and you will have a very good manuscript.

Follow your mindmap and outline

There’s a reason why Self-Publishing School first teaches its students to mindmap and then outline their book before beginning the rough draft. Mindmapping creates a roadmap for your book while constructing an outline then connects those roads and essentially gives them names.

Here’s the beginning of the outline for my first book, His World Never Dies: The Evolution of James Bond.

book chapter outline notebook

If done correctly, the book structure is right in the mindmap and outline. It’s time to put those ideas in longer words on-page in the form of a rough draft.

The mindmap and outline should also ensure that each idea goes into the correct chapter. As important as the next step (staying with one topic within a chapter before moving to the next) is to write a good chapter, it’s even more vital that there aren’t any loose thoughts or ideas that belong in a different section of the book. 

Good outlines should prevent this from happening.

Cover one topic in each chapter

This step is most critical for rookie writers. Inexperienced writers have a tendency to bounce back and forth between ideas. That’s not a recipe for success.

When beginning your rough draft, make sure you complete your thoughts, writing down every teenie, weenie concept you may have of an idea before moving on to what’s next.

Think of writing the same way you did mind mapping. During that step, you should have written down every thought you could conceive for every general idea, which will eventually become all of your chapters. Writing works the same way.

Don’t put a limit to how many paragraphs you need for an idea — write as many (or few) graphs as you need to convey your point.

Of course, you could reach a point of redundancy, but that’s alright in the rough draft process. It’s easier to cut than it is to add. Just make sure to stay on point and transition smoothly from one idea to the next.

Tip: In order to execute those smooth transitions, use transition words such as next, secondly, thirdly, then, etc.

You can also use conjunctive adverbs such as however, but, although, even though, despite, moreover, furthermore, etc. 

Here’s a more extensive list of conjunctive adverbs:

conjunctive adverbs for your book chapter

However, (see what I did there) keep conjunctive adverbs such as however, but, and despite, to a minimal. If you use them constantly, it’s going to seem like you are contradicting every single point you make.

Second Tip: If you are still having trouble bouncing back and forth between numerous ideas, it might be best to breakdown that chapter into multiple chapters. We’ll dive into an example later.

Complete a thorough self-edit before submitting to an editor

After finishing the rough draft, it’s going to be very tempting to immediately send the manuscript to an editor. But it’s not ready. The last major step to writing a good chapter is self-editing that chapter.

You’re in luck because I also wrote a SPS blog post on self-editing. Please refer to that post for more details, but essentially, the self-edit process helps you double-check all of your work.

In the self-editing phase, you will complete several different verbal read-throughs, ensuring that each chapter stayed on point with no loose ideas that actually belong in a different section of the book. Yes, you should also catch grammar and spelling mistakes while self-editing but checking for chapter structure is arguably more critical. 

Any decent editor will be able to catch grammar or spelling errors. It will take a more advanced editor to provide advice on paragraph order and chapter structure.

Through self-editing, you can also trim any of the redundancies that you may have made while originally writing your rough draft.

How Step 3 in “How to Write a Good Chapter” Process Helped Me

When I wrote my first book, His World Never Dies: The Evolution of James Bond, my first chapter was a bit of a mess during my rough draft phase. That’s because I tried to tackle too many ideas at once.

During the outlining phase, it seemed natural to explore the popularity of the James Bond film series and how the series’ portrayal of masculinity has changed over the years into the same chapter. Bond’s masculinity is a major reason why so many men and women have loved the series over the last 57 years.

But during my self-edit, it felt as though I was bouncing between these two ideas — Bond’s popularity and masculinity — too much. The chapter felt clunky and even longer.

What’s worse, it was the first chapter of my book. I couldn’t have my audience believing my first chapter was too long and confusing.

Therefore, I decided to break that first chapter into two. That helped me stay focused on one idea. It ultimately led to a very successful first two chapters in my book.

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How to Write a Good Chapter for a Fiction Book

So far through this blog, we’ve focused on writing a good chapter for non-fiction books. Fiction is a little different. Rather than forming arguments or making points, fiction authors are telling a story.

For more information on constructing fiction books, please refer to the Self-Publishing School expert, R.E. Vance, and his numerous blog posts.

To get you started, though, you can use these same basic concepts to writing a good chapter for fiction. Following your mindmap/outline and self-editing are key for both fiction and non-fiction.

The middle step is the biggest difference, but the essential premise of the step is the same. Keep your key story elements together and ensure to tell the story in order (unless it’s portrayed in some unusual flashbacks).

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Other Things to Keep in Mind to Write a Good Chapter:

  1. Keep paragraphs on the short end
  2. Limit chapters to 3,000-4,000 words
  3. Every good chapter could use a good title

These last three things can take a good chapter and make it great.

#1 – It’s alright to keep paragraphs to 1-3 lines

These first two things are really style preference, but for me, shorter paragraphs and chapters are better. 

Millennial readers don’t like big bulky paragraphs. How do I know? Well, I’m one of them.

Books are a little different, but with web writing, short graphs are essential because it’s easier to skim, which is often all readers have time to do. 

This can apply to books in the digital age because so many people now read e-books. Shorter graphs look more appealing and less daunting on an electronic screen.

We don’t want to encourage people to skim your book, but if there’s ever a question of, “should I make this one paragraph or two?” make is two! 

#2 – Keep your chapter-length under control

Remember when you were a kid, and you were reading a really long book for English class? What was the very first thing you did before reading a chapter?

If you are anything like me, the first thing you did was count how many pages you needed to read to get to the next chapter. It was so painful when that next chapter was 20, 25, or even 30 pages away.

Because nobody wants to pause a book in the middle of a chapter. Longer chapters could mean a long time until getting a break.

Now, that doesn’t mean we want to give our readers opportunities to stop reading. But similar to 1-3 line paragraphs, shorter chapters will make the reader feel more accomplished. 

If someone asked me would I rather read a 200-page 10-chapter book or 200-page 20-chapter book, I’d definitely pick the latter. 

For a slow reader like me, it will make me feel like I’m reading through the book faster, thus making it a more enjoyable experience, if I can get through each chapter quicker.

Tip: Keep in mind that these style choices won’t matter if the content isn’t good.

It won’t matter, though, if you have nice short paragraphs and chapters if your chapter doesn’t make any sense or bounces between too many ideas.

The first two steps are far more important than the length of graphs and chapters.

#3 – Name your chapters

The very last thing to a good chapter is a title. When I say the very last thing, it’s the very last thing, and it’s not even necessary all the time. This is completely optional!

Don’t get caught up in what to call the chapter before writing it. Often times, it’s going to change anyway. Following your mindmap and outline, each author should have an idea of what each chapter is about, but there are alterations made during the writing process.

Just like in journalism, I rarely give my sports stories a name before writing them. If I did that, I’d spend the entire time writing to the title.

Write about what you want to write. Make the points you wish. Then decide on a title that fits what you just wrote — if you even want one. They aren’t necessary but a nice added feature.

Are you ready to start writing your good chapter TODAY?

Obviously, we all want to write good chapters. That leads to a good manuscript and then a good/great book. 

Following these steps, you can get to the point where you are writing good chapters with ease.

If you’re ready to start (finish) and publish your book, check out this free training by Chandler Bolt!

15 Writing Tools: Products and Practices to Improve Writers’ Lives

While writing is fulfilling and fun, it can also be extremely frustrating and draining! Here are some tools you can utilize, for free or cheap, that will make writing a little easier.

We have three lists of tools:

one for the actual process of writing, one for your author platform, and one for you, the writer.

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Here’s your list of fifteen useful writing tools:

  1. Microsoft Word
  2. Google Docs
  3. Google Keep
  4. A critique group
  5. Apps for focusing
  6. Backup files
  7. Skillshare classes
  8. Social media
  9. Press kit
  10. WordPress
  11. Pexels
  12. Canva
  13. Your workspace
  14. Blue filter glasses
  15. Wrist and hand care

Here are six tools to improve your writing process:

For drafting, editing, revising, and sharing your work, here are some things you can use!

1 – Microsoft Word

You obviously have some kind of word processor if you’re writing. I’ve used several different ones, and the Microsoft Suite has had the most reliability for me. Some others have had really nice features I’d love to have, but files kept corrupting or getting lost, and it ultimately wasn’t worth it. Microsoft Word is what I use consistently, because of the reliability and backup features.

2 – Google Docs

I use Google Docs for sharing my writing. If I’m collaborating with another writer, we’ll draft in Google Docs so we can see each other’s changes in real-time. It keeps everything together and easily accessible to different people across different devices. The commenting feature is really easy to use, and you can track edits as suggestions instead of changes, so it makes editing and critiquing really easy.

writing tools critique group

After I’ve finished a draft of a chapter on Word, I just upload it to a Google Doc, but my critique group’s email addresses, and send it off. It’s easy, all their feedback is in the same place, they can respond to each other, I can respond to them, and I have access to those notes whenever and wherever I need them.

3 – Google Keep

Google Keep is a notepad app. I use it for keeping track of ideas. I have a doc for lines, images, story ideas, character ideas. Since it’s Google, it’s accessible across all of my devices, and really convenient for jotting down thoughts. Write down your ideas as soon as you get them! They’re not gonna hang around. They’re gonna run away. You gotta grab ‘em!!

4 – A critique group

I have two critique partners and we exchange chapters on a set schedule to give each other feedback. Having other people expecting you to finish something by a certain date really helps to keep you accountable, with the added bonus of constructive feedback! It’s a win-win. Get yourself a critique partner or group.

5 – Apps for focusing.

Apps like StayFocusd and Pause For can keep you on track and writing! StayFocusd is a chrome extension that allows you a certain amount of time on designated websites before blocking you out of them. Pause For is for iPhones, and you can use it to set amounts of time not to use your phone. If you succeed, it donates money to the charity of your choice! How motivating!

6 – Back up everything!

On another hard drive, on the internet—multiple backups! Trust me! Do it!

Here are six writing tools for your author platform:

Here are some things you can use to grow your readership, promote your book, and market yourself!

1 – Jenna Moreci’s Skillshare classes.

Check out Jenna Moreci‘s classes on author platforms and releasing a book—there is so much good content in these classes. Literally anything you could possibly want to know. If you’re just starting out as a writer, or maybe you just haven’t hit your stride yet, check out Jenna’s course for building your author platform–you’ll learn about target demographics, social media, personal branding, and a ton more.

Her course on planning a book release outlines everything from setting goals and doing the prep work, to hosting giveaways and managing a street team. I could not recommend Jenna’s classes enough. Check them out to strengthen your writing platform and work smarter. If you don’t have a Skillshare account, here’s a two-month free trial!

2 – Social media

Even if you don’t have a book ready, even if you haven’t set up a website yet, you can start building your author platform on social media. It’s free, and it’s pretty easy once you know what you’re doing. The three main social media authors use are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, but which you should use depends on your target demographic. For example, if you’re writing books for people in their 40s and up, you need a Facebook page. If you’re writing young adult, Twitter and Instagram are where your audience will be. If your audience is even younger, you might use Snapchat or TikTok!

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3 – A press kit

Even if you don’t have a completed book yet, you can start making a press kit with your author information. It’s really good for sending to ARC reviewers, for interviews, etc. Once you have a book to promote, you’ll have a head start on your marketing materials since if you’ve been building your press kit as you go!

4 – WordPress

I used WordPress to build my website. I’ve used Wix and Weebly in the past, but WordPress has been my favorite so far. There are several options, each with different strengths and weaknesses depending on your goals and experience, but whichever service you choose, set up a website. If you’re not ready to buy a domain, you can use the free URL for now and start putting your website material together. You can start a blog there to get some traffic. You can also set up a mailing list–I use MailChimp. It’s easy to embed sign up forms on your website and manage your list through them. And it’s free!

5 – Pexels

Pexels is a free way to get access to a wide variety of royalty-free stock photos to create your marketing materials. I’ve used a photo from Pexels for things like my Twitter banner as well! They have great content, and it’ll really make your stuff look nice.

6 – Canva

Canva is a super simple, free online alternative to something like Photoshop to make graphics and marketing images. They have great templates and tools, and they give you dimensions for everything—YouTube thumbnails, banners, Facebook posts, Instagram stories. Use Pexels and Canva, and your stuff is gonna look dope.

Here are three tools for you, the writer:

1 – An adequate workspace.

Be it a desk, a corner, a coffee shop, or a porch–find somewhere you can dedicate to writing. It will help you get into your writing mode quicker and keep you on task, resulting in a much more productive writing session. Make sure you’ve got a supportive and comfortable chair, and don’t sit for too long! Every half or so, get up and wiggle. Wiggling is imperative.

2 – Blue filter glasses.

Looking at a computer screen for a long time gives me headaches, so I wear these boys. They’re fly as heck. It filters the light that makes your eyes ache, so you can work comfortably for longer. There are also programs you can install like f.lux that can cater your screen settings to what is easiest on your eyes. I have my f.lux set to imitate the sun, so the day starts and ends with a softer, orange light, which wakes your brain gradually, then gets you ready to wind down for bed!

3 – Wrist and hand care.

If you’re young and spry, you might not be worried about this yet, but working at a computer all day is a killer on your hands and wrists. Listen to your body and take breaks when you need to, do hand and wrist exercises (here’s a great yoga routine for it), and also look at things like stress balls, ergonomic computer accessories, and wrist rests for your keyboard. Your hands are very important and very breakable. Keep a lookout!

I hope some of these tools help you out. Happy writing!

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

So you want to become a fiction author? Maybe you even have some fantastic ideas rolling around in that noggin of yours. Why not just dust off your typewriter and clackity-clack that novel in no-time flat? Seems easy enough, right?

Wrong! 

How long does it actually take to write a praiseworthy novel? Read on to find out.

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In this post, we’re going to cover what it takes to write a great novel quickly:

  1. Make a plan for your novel
  2. What are the stages of writing a novel?
  3. Action Step 1 – Plan your rough draft
  4. Get inspired by others
  5. Action Step 2 – Get accountability
  6. Invest in the craft of novel writing
  7. Action Step 3 – Find more time
  8. Plan your future steps

By applying things you learn in this post, you’ll be shaving months (or years) off your writing time all while getting inspired to accomplish your goals.

Realistically, what are we talking here: a month, a year, two years? Ah, not so fast there, hotrod! I’ll give you a hint: it completely depends on your commitment and incorporating a solid plan.

Make a plan for your novel

Books take time, and it’s better to think about them by word count rather than the number of pages. 

Novels tend to range from 40,000 words to 150,000. Breaking that down to hours will depend on your writing speed (which will increase as you plan better and gain experience). 

Most starters are capable of writing 500 words per hour, though some have achieved mythical status such as Joanna Penn and Chris Fox with his book, 5,000 Per Hour.

Don’t get too intimidated by that! It took them years to work up to that, and dictation is a useful tool for those who can make it work.

Cut to the chase! How long?

Technically, one could write a rough draft is as few as 6 hours but it usually takes 60+. That is only the first step in producing a novel to be proud of.

What are the stages of writing a novel?

Let’s take a look at writing and releasing a 50k word novel. It also helps to have specific guidance, like Self-Publishing School, but while  you’re here, let’s break down what it takes:

  1. Have an idea and pre-write. When coming up with your idea, save those notes; they may come in handy when writing your book description later. Pre-writing is a great way to streamline your process. It includes such things as brainstorming, shaping characters, mind-mapping, world-building, and outlining. (2-20+ hours) Need help with ideas? Check out these writing prompts!
  2. Write a crappy first draft. This is the hardest obstacle to overcome as a new writer (and sometimes as a seasoned one!) Very few, if any, of your favorite books are first drafts. If you’re feeling really brave, try dictating. (6-100+ hours)
  3. Read aloud and self-edit. This is an optional step but highly recommended for new writers. (2-20+ hours)
  4. Send it to an editor. There are many types of editing, so this could vary. This prolongs the process by a matter of weeks. Let’s assume you gave enough notice and requested a quick turnaround. (10-40+ hours)
  5. Fix mistakes or rewrite. At this point, you can choose to accept all the changes in a matter of minutes, or comb through each change and comment, likely rewriting several sections. (1-30+ hours)
  6. Have it proofread. Even after this step, errors will still surface later. Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for done! Let perfect come with time, if ever. (4-40+ hours)
  7. (Optional but recommended) Sit back, relax, and try not to rewrite it again…yet! To be successful, the real next step is to start the process again with the next book. You can always revisit a book or series after you’ve grown in your craft and received plenty of reader feedback.

Based on those numbers, there is a wide range! In a perfect world—what? You don’t live in Perfectville? It’s pretty nice…or so I hear.

A quality novel can be produced in as few as 25 hours or up to 250 hours.

To be honest, even those are ambitious numbers. Based on an article that also breaks it down to hours, the range is closer to 100-500 hours. 

It doesn’t always work out so well. Not everyone starts out as a rockstar author. 

Action Step #1 – Plan a rough draft

Place a rough draft deadline on your calendar. Assuming you push hard to write 1000 words per day, your 60k draft could be done in 2 months! 

It would also be wise to get an accountability partner and post this goal on a writing group.

Get inspired by others

Let’s hear about a real person, someone I admire sometimes, but more often chastise: myself.

The first book I finished writing took me 30 days using the Self-Publishing School system #humblebrag. Honestly though, without the initial training videos, I would still be staring at a growing catalog of unfinished books.

Let’s get real though. My first novel (starting on my own and finishing with SPS Fundamentals of Fiction) took me two years to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite some more, and publish. 

Did I mention rewriting? 

Well, I did, at least six times. Most current authors don’t recommend that many revisions. It’s best to move on to the next project, then come back to it if you can later.

Don’t freak out though! Breathe, it’s okay. This will not be you, not if you follow the advice in this post.

With the Fundamentals of Fiction course, I actually wrote the drafts for books 2 and 3 in my series within a year. The latest one was around 60k words and only took me 2 months. 

I’ve gotten progressively faster and better; so can you!

Enough about an average guy. Let’s glance at the “greats” for a moment…those are the ones we really care about, am I right?

If you’ve searched this topic at all, surely you’ve seen this infographic that shows how long it took famous authors to write their wildly successful novels. I found this both encouraging and intimidating!

how long to write a novel

The thing to remember is that not all—very few in fact—were first or early novels for those authors. If you really counted the hours they invested in their craft, it would be astounding. 

That’s step one for you! (after you finish reading this post, of course)

Action Step #2 – Get accountability

Get accountability for your own writing by doing one or all of the following:

Invest in the craft of novel writing

Ask any author for the best advice to becoming a better writer, and they will say simply that you must write.

Here are seven ways you can get that seat-time and valuable feedback:

  1. Write Every Day! Go back to Action Point #1 to see how to make this happen. Aim for an hour but have grace for yourself if you can only do 15 minutes occasionally. Make mistakes, write rough (emphasis on ‘rough’) drafts, learn how to craft your stories.
  2. Be a Plotter, not a Pantser. You don’t have to be a full-blown plotter, but you need to plan as much as you can. There will still be times to write by the “seat of your pants”—hence: “pantser”—but there’s no denying the benefits of having some direction as you write.
  3. Participate in Nanowrimo. The SPS Fundamentals of Fiction crew has their own ongoing writing challenge called InNoWriLife (International Novel Writing Life) where they strive to write every day, every month.
  4. Consider Commissioning Beta-Readers and ARC. Sending Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARC) and commissioning beta readers is a great way to get early feedback.
  5. Publish a Book! SPS is a perfect program to get you there (save $250 right away with my referral, ask anytime!) The most powerful thing you’ll get is real reader feedback. By understanding and managing reader expectations, you get better all around.
  6. Learn from it! This is paramount to success and is the main reason to push so hard to get that first novel out there. Not only will the reviews give you insight, but you’ll learn through every step of this journey. The next book will be better, and you’ll write it even faster.
  7. BONUS TIP. If selling more books is your goal, break down some of the top books in your genre to identify popular tropes. Use those to guide your storylines and characters in order to maximize your book’s impact on Amazon.

You’re already on the right track by coming to this site, so kudos to you! 

Chandler Bolt has a great write-up on how long it takes to write a book, and Scott Allan is great at inspiring people to finally start. These are geared towards non-fiction, all the principles apply and are crucial to getting your novel done well and quickly!

I wished I had come across SPS a lot sooner, specifically the Fundamentals of Fiction course. Technically, it wasn’t around when I first needed it, but it’s here now and it’s better than ever! I highly recommend it. Ask me for a referral to save some scratch (for you young’n’s, that means money, cash, moula, smackaroonies).

One of its most powerful features is how it connects you to a community of aspiring authors. Besides writing and getting feedback from readers, writers need a network in order to succeed.

Action Step #3 – Find more time

Take an honest look at your weekly schedule, and see what you can drop or rearrange in order to gain an hour a day to devote to writing. Personally, I’d rather replace my Netflix time than wake up earlier, but those are both great time-finders! 

Here are six ways to find more time to write your novel:

  1. Invest part of your lunch break
  2. Use commuting times to dictate notes or scenes
  3. Hire a house cleaning service
  4. Write at work, in between responsibilities (be careful here; that’s gotten me in trouble a few times!)
  5. Replace video streaming and social media time with writing and/or researching
  6. Rearrange your sleeping schedule to find extra time

Plan your future steps

Before you leave, make sure to go back through the action points as well as devote at least one uninterrupted hour this week to writing and planning your writing. In time, make progressive steps to build that up until you are writing every day. 

The world needs to know your story; don’t deprive us of that for fear of failing or falling short. You can do this. You will do this. Let us know how we can help!

What is your biggest hangup when it comes to completing your novel? (Comment below)

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11 Best Podcasts for Publishing, Writing, & Growth

If you’re anything like me, you probably get a ton of your information from podcasts or Youtube channels—some sort of medium in which you can listen and also do something else (yay for you multitaskers!).

When it comes to this industry, there are a few publishing podcasts that provide the best, and realest, information out there.

In this post, I’ll cover some of the best podcasts on publishing and a few related to it that can help you out along the way.

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Here are the best podcasts for publishing, writing, and marketing:

  1. Self-Publishing School Podcast
  2. Writing Excuses
  3. The Book Marketing Show
  4. The Creative Penn
  5. Self-Publishing With Dale
  6. So You Want to Be a Writer
  7. Grammar Girl
  8. The Writer Files
  9. Dead Robots’ Society
  10. Helping Writers Become Authors
  11. Ditch Diggers

Continued learning makes the entire difference because…

The only way to make real change is to grow, and that often requires learning. After all, how can you do something differently if you don’t know what that something “different” is?

As an online education company helping people write and publish their books to bestseller status with our Become a Bestseller program, we know the information most don’t know or understand, and we break it down into chunks you can absorb and learn from.

That’s why we started up our own podcast again, and why we continue to put out free help for you on our Youtube channel and more!

Now let’s get into some of the best publishing podcasts, as well as great resources for writers in general.

The Best Publishing Podcasts

As we said, education is so important for continued growth, and that’s especially true when it comes to an industry so transformative as self-publishing.

It’s growing and changing every day!

That’s why we’re giving you some of the best podcasts to listen to with the most thorough, up-to-date information to learn and grow from.

#1 – Self-Publishing School Podcast

That’s right! We brought this back with brand new content hosted by Chandler Bolt, with interviews with the likes of Russell Brunson, Ruth Soukup, Pat Flynn, and plenty of new names you probably recognize coming up!

Some of our previous guests included Gary Vaynerchuk, Joanna Penn, and other experts who divulge some of their best secrets to our listeners.

Here’s one of our newest episodes with Ruth Soukup about self-publishing versus traditional and her own experience (spoiler: it’s not looking good for the traditional industry…yikes!).

You can check out more about our podcast on this page, and listen wherever you typically do!

Don’t forget to subscribe, and hit us with a review 🙂

#2 – Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses covers much more than just publishing, and it’s all done in 15-minute bite-sized chunks for easy digestion.

It’s hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler—with the occasional guest speaker!

I could put this down in the writing section since they often go through questions and topics related to actually writing, but they also cover a ton of thorough information about publishing (both traditional and self-publishing), as well as general career advice from career authors.

publishing podcasts writing excuses

#3 – The Book Marketing Show

Dave Chesson is the host of The Marketing Show as well as the man behind Kindlepreneur and their excellent Publisher Rocket product.

He covers topics ranging from launching with consistent sales, choosing between self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and other topics all authors or authors-to-be should be in-the-know of.

You can even learn how to revive a dead book!

publishing-podcasts-the-marketing-show

#4 – The Creative Penn

If there’s one thing Joanna Penn knows, it’s how to use a pen 😉

In other words, she knows her writing and publishing world, and she shares this knowledge with the rest of us via her podcast, The Creative Penn.

We’ve actually had Joanna Penn on our podcast and know she’s a just a well of knowledge when it comes to writing fiction, nonfiction, and the behind-the-scenes publishing details.

Check out her podcast wherever you listen!

#5 – Self-Publishing With Dale

Dale is a powerhouse of information in the self-publishing industry. He has a popular Youtube channel along with his podcast, Self-Publishing with Dale.

publishing podcasts - self publishing with dale

Dale’s content ranges from marketing your book as a self-published author to audiobooks, ghostwriting, and more topics authors should be aware of int his industry.

We’ve even gotten together with Dale for our own little swap of information, and to learn more about him and his specialties.

You can check out that video below!

The Best Writing Podcasts

It’s not enough to know how to publish a book successfully. You also need to make the book you’re publishing stand out above others—especially in this industry.

So to bring you help with that half of the equation are our top podcasts for writers.

#1 – So You Want to Be a Writer

Australian-based Valerie Kho and Allison Tait host this podcast that delves into the world of author interviews, cover their processes, important issues in the literary world, and overall writing guidance.

You can check out their podcast here.

#2 – Grammar Girl

This tried-and-true writing podcast is on its 770+ episode, bringing some insight into the more technical side of writing.

While you may get broader overviews from time to time, Grammar Girl is largely known for helping you understand how writing works, how the sentences fit together, and why certain things and rules are the way they are.

From episodes like “Why do we say ‘cool on your heels’?” to specific episodes highlighting how your language can affect the perception of time, you’ll be more informed and you might come up with some cool ideas for our own stories.

writing podcasts grammar girl

#3 – The Writer Files

The Writer Files podcast covers topics ranging from writing to productivity, creativity and even neuroscience.

Essentially, everything you’ll need to hack your way to writer life.

While they don’t post too often, they do have consistent uploads every two weeks max, so you’ll have something new to consume (in order to further put off your writing, I’m sure).

You can listen anywhere podcasts are published!

#4 – Dead Robots’ Society

A twist on ye old Dead Poet’s Society, Dead Robots’ Society is a podcast all about so many lovely, nerdy aspects of writing. If you like chatting Gods and Monsters, dystopian topics, and more, this might be the podcast for you!

You can check out their website right here, and download wherever you listen to podcasts!

#5 – Helping Writers Become Authors

Helping Writers Become Authors is a podcast and website dedicated to exactly as it says!

Once you begin your writing journey, there are a ton of steps involved in turning that writerhood into authordom. This writing podcast helps you along with that very initiative!

From this podcast, you’ll learn tips for writing a great opening hook to the benefits of writing and much more to take you from hobby writer to fully published author.

writing and publishing podcasts helping writers become authors

#6 – Ditch Diggers

Keeping up on the latest publishing news isn’t as easy as it seems. In the world of self-publishing, with all its moving parts, it’s important to keep up on trends and changes in the marketplace on a highly consistent basis.

That’s what Ditch Diggers helps you do.

From updates in the publishing industry to growing your audience and more, it’s there.

You can listen where podcasts are published!

Can Kids Publish Books? How 8-Year-Old Emma Sumner Published Her First Book

Chandler Bolt, six-time self-published bestselling author and creator of Self-Publishing School has hit new milestones with his business… including teaching 8-year-old Emma Sumner how to write and publish her first book.

Self-publishing at any age is a major accomplishment. Especially when you have to balance your responsibilities as an author with homework from your 3rd-grade teacher. This is why Emma Sumner is gaining media attention for The Fairies of Waterfall Island, a 10,000-word, 120-page book that is available on Amazon.

Emma has been booked for on-air interviews with local media on major networks like NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, and PBS to talk about her book and her experience with Self-Publishing School, as well as paid speaking engagements, as a kid!

Emma and her success with her book and speaking is a big reason we decided to start our PR & Speaking for Authors program.

Check out this interview from when Emma joined Chandler Bolt on Good Day Sacramento.

So how did this young girl go from no book idea to published without an agent or publishing company? She followed Chandler Bolt’s Self-Publishing School course and took action on these steps to ensure her book would be successful. 

Here are the nine steps an 8-year-old took to publish a book as a kid:

After many of our Become a Bestseller or Fundamentals of Fiction & Story students publish, their kids are so inspired to do the same.

Our student Anita Oomen and her two kids are one example, and Emma Sumner is another.

#1 Start with a Challenge

When Emma first came to me and said she wanted to write and publish a book, I wasn’t sure if this was just a passing idea in the mind of a bored grade-schooler, or if it was really going to be something she would be passionate. So I started by giving her a challenge. 

Emma’s challenge:

  • Complete 1 chapter to her story
  • Write at least 150 words
  • Create 3 different characters with backgrounds
  • Have a plan ready for the rest of the book

She came back with:

  • A handwritten story in her spiral-bound notebook that had 172 words (she made sure I counted),
  • Four distinct characters
  • A plan for a total of 10 chapters and four other characters that she would introduce later in the book.

It was clear from her effort that she was serious — so I was, too!

At that time, the 170-word story was the longest thing she had ever written. It gave her a taste of what was possible if she put forth the effort.

YOUR TURN: How can you challenge yourself? Be creative and find ways to create achievable goals and then turn them into a challenge. You can write them down as a contract with yourself, or even bring on a friend as an accountability partner to encourage and motivate you.

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#2 Build a Rewards System

Emma’s first reward was a simple one. We decided that the next morning after she finished her first 150 words I would wake up early and before I went to work I would sit down and give her story my full attention as I read it from start to finish.

The next morning I read her story and instead of giving constructive criticism, I just gave encouragement. I told her how much I loved it and left a small sticky note for her to read when she woke up.

It is vitally important in the beginning to forget about the little things like grammar or spelling and just be proud of the fact they (or you!) completed the challenge. Most children (and adults for that matter) are most vulnerable in the writing process the first time someone reads their words.

Whether you’re reading your child’s, friend’s, or your own work, focus on the good. There will be plenty of time for the rest later when it comes time to edit.

Challenge: Complete detailed descriptions of your top 4 characters.

Reward: We will go onto Fiverr.com and get someone to do a pencil drawing of the characters based off your description.

Challenge: Finish Chapter 2

Reward: I will copy your handwritten notes to the computer and teach you how to use Microsoft Word.

Challenge: Finish Chapter 10

Reward: We will sit down and write an email to a cover designer.

YOUR TURN: What is your reward? Find something that you can get excited about that will also lead to more progress with the book.

#3 Make a Plan

After Emma completed her first challenge of 150 words, we decided that we needed to have a plan for moving forward. Instead of just writing everything out and hoping it would all make sense, we sat down to plan out what we wanted to do.

Each week, we met on Saturday morning, waking up before the rest of the family. During our “strategy sessions,” we would have breakfast together and plan out the week. These planning sessions would often happen at a local coffeeshop. After the first couple weeks, we started to bring my laptop along with us so she could sit down and write for 20-30 minutes.

Here are some of the things that we would do each week:

  • Decide on goals
  • Pick out rewards
  • Talk about the story line
  • Talk about any struggles

In order to allow Emma to refer back to what we talked about each week, we would record the session with the audio recording feature of Evernote on my phone. With the recordings available to her on our iPad at home, she could just tap on the button for this week’s strategy session and review it whenever she wanted.

To hear a small clip of one of the first “Strategy Session” recordings, click here Audio for Strategy Session.

YOUR TURN: Do you have a plan? If not, it is time to start getting back to basics like mind mapping or outlining.

#4 Create Accountability [Or as Chandler Bolt calls it: Find an “Accountabilibuddy”]

For Emma, we found a great way to keep her accountable while also promoting her book and making it fun for her. Inspired by Pat Flynn and the group he created to help launch his first eBook, we created a private Facebook group filled with friends and family called “Emma’s First Book.”

Each week she would record a short video to the group and report back on her progress.

The group quickly grew from 20 people to over 200 people within a week as friends and family started to message me asking to add one of their friends or coworkers who was interested in watching Emma’s progress.

As people began to comment on her videos and post encouragement for her, we began to incorporate this as one of her rewards. If she finished the week’s goals she could spend 20 minutes commenting back to the people in her group.

YOUR TURN: Who is going to keep you accountable? Find someone in your life, in person or online, that you can meet with for 10 minutes each week and check in on your goals. They may not be writers, but maybe they have another goal in mind for weight loss or exercise, and you can work together to keep each other on track.

#5 Celebrate Big Wins

As I mentioned earlier, Emma and I would create weekly challenges and rewards to make the week-to-week process more fun and exciting, but beyond that we also celebrated each time she achieved a big milestone.

More important than just the celebration was the fact that we were doing it together. She was able to share her victories and be proud of her accomplishments, and I was there to cheer her on. During these celebrations, we did not talk about strategy and details but we just reflected on how far she had come and what more she could still do.

YOUR TURN: Who can you celebrate with? Find a friend, family member, pet, stuffed animal… anyone who can help you enjoy the wins.

#6 Hire Professional Outsourcers

Based on my experiences with publishing my own books, I knew there were four things we needed to hire professional help to accomplish: illustration, editing, cover design, and formatting.

There’s a wide range of costs for each of these items, so as a family we worked out a budget and made a decision on what we could afford.

Then we contacted outsourcers that fit our needs, based on a list of preferred contractors from Self-Publishing School.

This was a time-saver since we didn’t have to waste time or money dealing with an untested resource. Before starting with each we discussed our project, described the book and Emma’s personality, and asked some questions about their style via email to make sure they were a good fit.

We worked with people from Boston, Michigan, Mexico and even Sweden. Emma was involved in communicating with each of them by both email and video chat.

What did it all cost?

Total Invested in the book: $790*

Depending on your budget you can choose to go much lower or even much higher. The range is huge for each category. 

To get access to the Preferred Outsourcers that we used along with many others check out Self-Publishing School.

#7 Try New Things

While working on this project, Emma learned much more than just how to write a book. At each stage we took any opportunity we could to introduce a skill or technology that would expand her knowledge and comfort level.

Here are just some of the programs or skills Emma has learned during the last year:

  • Typing with Microsoft Word
  • Using a thesaurus
  • Typing and sharing documents with Google Docs
  • Using Skype to do video chats
  • Posting, commenting and doing live videos in Facebook

YOUR TURN: What new skills are you looking forward to learning? Make a list of things that you want to try and incorporate them as you go.

#8 Remove Barriers

Small points of resistance can keep you from moving the entire book forward. These little things can cause you to stop your progress, lose your inspiration, or even cast doubt that you should be writing at all. If you can identify those small roadblocks and find a way to remove them early on, then you will be more successful.

For Emma, one of her points of resistance was that she often worried so much about her spelling and grammar that she would not make any progress. She would see the red line under the word show up in Microsoft Word and get completely distracted, and then end up feeling discouraged. Then her progress or creative momentum would be ruined.

Our solution was simple: If spell check was the issue, let’s get rid of it! We disabled spell check completely and chose to forget about spelling until the entire first draft was done. Instead of having her worry about it, we let the editor handle it.

YOUR TURN: If you find something that is blocking you from moving forward, take the time to identify it and find a solution. When you think about writing (or completing) your book now, what barriers do you predict? Make a plan to get rid of it!

#9 Build a Launch Team

A launch team is a group of people chosen to help you market the book and spread the word about your book.

By the time Emma was done with her book, she had a large group of people who had been following her progress and were ready to help her by being part of her launch team.

To make it easier to get information out to the group, we created a small landing page and invited her Facebook group. We also posted to other groups including the Self-Publishing School Mastermind Community.

Starting about 2 weeks prior to launch, we began sending emails to everyone who had signed up, letting them know what to expect. One week before our official launch, we put the book up on Amazon and only notified those on the launch team. Many people on the team had never purchased a book on Amazon before, much less read a book on Kindle or left a review, so we had to be very detailed on our instructions.

She had a total of 95 people sign up to be on her launch team, and in just one day after we hit the publish button on Amazon she had 87 books purchased and 16 reviews up.

YOUR TURN: Start thinking about who will be on your launch team and how you will manage it. I strongly suggest signing up for an email service like ClickFunnels, Aweber, or MailChimp so you can collect email addresses and contact your launch team directly.

#10 Give Back

We wanted to make sure that Emma learned more than just how to write a book, and one of the biggest lessons we were able to incorporate was the idea of giving back to charity.

Here are just some of the benefits of giving back with your book:

  • Inspiration: Inspire others around you to be a part of your journey.
  • Motivation: When the book will help others either directly or indirectly, then you will have even more motivation to continue.
  • Satisfaction: Giving back to a charity to which we feel personally connected has given both Emma and me a great feeling of pride and satisfaction that would not have been possible without that participation.

In order to maximize what you can do for a cause, pick a charity that can work with you to help get the word out about the book.

Here are some things to look for:

Where is the donated or pledged money spent?

You can use websites like Charitynavigator.org or Charitywatch.org to find out more about any charity.

Does the money stay locally or go to a national or international fund?

You may want to find a charity where the money stays to help the local community.

Do they have a local chapter or contact?

It helps to have one person that knows the local area to help you set up speaking engagements

What kind of social media presence or email list do they have?

Part of raising money to donate means getting the book in front of those who will be willing to buy it. If the charity has a large contact list, they can help send that information out to more people — which will help them AND help you!

Does the charity have a marketing team?

Many large charities already have a marketing and PR team in place that can help create engaging posts or advertisements, as well as using their already established network to get your book into the media.

Don’t be afraid to ask these questions when you get in contact with the charity. After all, you want to make sure you are donating your time to the right cause.

Emma and I talked with several charities before finally deciding on Autism Speaks, a wonderful group with both national and local ties.

You can find out more about this great charity at AutismSpeaks.org

YOUR TURN: What charities or causes do you feel passionate about or connected to? Start now by using the resources above to evaluate your options.

A Dream Come True

“The Fairies of Waterfall Island” has already exceeded our wildest dreams. Every time we talk about it Emma says “I am just so excited, I never thought it would actually get this far.”

Each new step from writing to editing and now to publishing has been challenging, but the rewards have been incredible — in our relationship, in the growth I’ve seen in Emma, and in the inspiration she’s been to other children and adults.

To support Emma and her book go EmmaLovesBooks.com where you can find a link to purchase the book and more information on Emma and her journey. Remember that all proceeds for the first 3 months go to Autism Speaks.

By following Chandler Bolt’s Self-Publishing School and taking action on the challenges I gave her each week, Emma was able to successful write and publish her first book with flying colors. If an 8-year-old can do it, you can too.

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book deal

How to Get a Book Deal: The Complete Process

The only reason you’d need to learn how to get a book deal is if you’re pursuing traditional publishing, which means not self-publishing.

Book deals are when a traditional publishing company offers you a contract selling your book to them under certain conditions, like an advance, a specific royalty rate, and other requirements and specifications.

Ultimately, it means you’re going to be a traditionally published author!

But it typically takes a long time to land a book deal and if you’re writing a nonfiction book, it’s even longer with fewer chances you’ll be able to publish. Either way, our hopes are to detail the process for you so you really understand everything that goes into traditional publishing…

Everything that you could avoid if you were to self-publish a book (but that’s a topic for this blog post).

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Here’s how to get a book deal:

  1. Be sure you want a traditional book deal
  2. Write a book proposal
  3. Find an agent / query an agent
  4. Wait
  5. Get your agent!
  6. Get your proposal to publishing companies
  7. Wait
  8. Book deal offered
  9. Book deal acquired

Self-Publishing VS Traditional When it Comes to Book Deals

You only need a book deal if you’re traditionally publishing, so that’s what this blog post will follow. And while we self-publish books here at Self-Publishing School, we ensure to know and understand traditional publishing in order to better help our students (many of whom come to us after waiting years with no word on a book deal).

Here are the main differences between traditional and self-publishing:

What You GetSelf-PublishingTraditional Publishing
Sole control of your book's outcome
X
Sole control of your book's rightsX
Control over the story X
Control over the coverX
100% of royaltiesX
Editing includedX
Cover designX
MarketingXX
DeadlinesX

How do book deals work?

A book deal works by a writer querying an agent for representation, that agent pitching the project to traditional publishers, and publishers buying the rights to that book from the author.

There are a few main components of getting a book deal we’ll go over in this post:

  1. Creating a book worth buying
  2. Querying an agent for representation
  3. Your agent pitching your book to publishing companies
  4. The publishers either accepting or denying the proposal

This is a very simplified explanation, which we’ll explain in much further detail below.

How long does it take to get a book deal?

It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to get a book deal, so it varies greatly. Because of the long process and subjectivity within the traditional publishing industry, there are many hands your proposal must “pass through” before you can get a book deal.

We actually recommend that if traditionally publishing is your end-goal, your dream, that you self-publish in order to build social proof that your books sell and in order to build an audience.

While you should not query a book that’s self-published, you can pitch a brand new book to an agent and provide details about your book sales, email list, and overall platform size, which can increase your chances of an agent taking interest in you.

This happened to an SPS friend, Hal Elrod. You can hear all about how he got foreign book deals from the success of his self-published book, The Miracle Morning, here.

More than ever, both agents and publishing companies are looking to your online platform/presence in order to determine if you’ll be a good “bet” to publish.

How much do you get for a book deal?

Most first-time authors with a traditional publishing company will get between $5,000 to $10,000 as an advance. While outliers do make much more, those cases are very far and very few between and their advance is often the result of a “bidding war” between publishers.

The more offers you get for your book, the bigger your advance. This only really happens if you have the next big book idea or series and your agent is very well connected.

But ultimately, your first advance likely won’t be enough to quit your job. You’ll usually have to keep a full-time job while finishing your book and waiting for publication.

How to Get a Book Deal: Step by Step

The time has come! Let’s get into the details about how to get a book deal, broken down step by step so you can ensure the best chance of getting published.

Remember, some of these steps may vary per agent, but the overall structure of the process is the same.

#1 – Be 100% sure of your publishing decision

Nowadays, the biggest publishing decision you’ll make is choosing self-publishing or traditional publishing.

The self-publishing industry is soaring, it’s growing, and it’s very lucrative for people now. It’s nothing like it was when it first started, where books were of poor quality and anyone with Microsoft Word uploaded ramblings they called a book.

Now, there are more great books than ever (especially by people who have the right process to follow to self-publish), and they’re rivaling traditional publishing.

So why would anyone want to traditionally publish then?

Well, there’s the lure of the NYT Bestsellers list, for one. As well as the “prestige” still connected to traditional publishing because of the fact that your book has to pass through several hands, making people think your book is “better” than others.

The above is the main reason people still want to traditionally publish.

But if you’re a business owner looking to grow your business with a book or a nonfiction writer in general, self-publishing is almost always the better route unless you’re famous, very highly known, or have a massive platform.

So before going through the work and time to traditionally publish, make sure it will really work for you.

Which publishing option is the best for YOU & your unique author goals?  Get a full, deep-dive self-publishing vs traditional publishing analysis! Make  an informed decision and set yourself up for success with your book.   Get Your Analysis Here!  <https://self-publishingschool.com/lm-self-vs-traditional-publishing-analysis>

#2 – Write a killer book proposal

You want your book to sell, right?

Then you need to have something that will sell it. In this case, it’s a book proposal. This is what will convince the people with decision-making power to give your book a chance, to prove that it will sell.

You want a combination of your personality, writing skill, and a strong book description in this letter.

Here’s a great post about how to write a book proposal for the exact process.

#3 – Find a book agent / Query and agent

This is a really long, arduous path to traditional publishing that does take some luck and situational advantages into account.

The truth is that a lot of the time, knowing someone who knows someone who can get you in touch with an agent is the quickest way to find out. Otherwise, you’ll be left with the old fashioned method, which is somehow finding agents online, getting their contact info, and sending a query letter.

What’s a query letter?

A query letter is something a writer sends to literary magazines, literary agents, or other publications in order for them to request their full work. This query letter is essentially “selling” both you and your work so they’ll want to know more.

There’s a specific structure that works best for query letters in order to better sell your idea.

Here’s a basic structure of a query letter:

  1. Opening: Start with any credentials, awards, and more that would basically “qualify” you as someone worth taking a chance on.
  2. Tell then what you want them to take on. List the title, word count length, and book genre.
  3. Describe your book, but the main hook! What will set your book apart from something else? Make this concise and yes, you can include some spoilers here. Overall, you should communicate who the main character is, why we care about them, and what the overall plot is.
  4. Write a short bio with details like other published works, self-published books, what you do, maybe even a fun fact about you.
  5. Conclude the letter with some more details about if you have a series in mind, and any other requirements listed if there are guidelines for that specific agent available.
  6. Follow. The. Guidelines. You should do enough research about the agent to know if they have certain guidelines. Follow these. It only increases your chances.

If you want to increase your “luck” in terms of landing an agent, network. Figure out where these agents and editors are hanging out and make yourself available to connect with them.

Tips for networking to find an agent:

  • Go to writing conferences where editors frequent
  • Ask great questions at panels
  • Get on Twitter! So. Many. Agents.
  • Participate in writing-related hashtag games on Twitter
  • Embed yourself in the publishing world
  • Guest post on authority websites around writing and publishing (to increase credentials)

Ultimately, querying can be difficult and it’s all up to whether or not the agent is interested in your idea…or how well connected you are to people in the publishing world.

Example of a hashtag game on Twitter: #SlapDashSat, weekly themed writing sample

#4 – Wait…and wait…and wait some more

It’s a torturous part of the book deal process, but you do have to wait a while.

For the agent to check their email and get back to you.

For any agent to show interest.

And even for the agent to read your full manuscript if they requested it, which is something that may happen and is a great sign! It means they liked your query and book idea and want to see your overall writing abilities and how the story you told them about plays out.

While you’re waiting, work on your manuscript or start writing a new book!

#5 – An agent loved you, yay!

If you get an agent, congratulations!!! That is a very difficult step some writers never, ever get to. Many give up before this happens.

Having an agent means that you will most likely sell a book, but not necessarily the one you pitched to them. After you land the agent, the ball is in their court and now they get to do what they do best: their job, selling your book.

#6 – Push your proposal out via your agent

You do nothing right now, except maybe work on the second book (if this is a series) or move on to your next project.

Let your agent do their job, check in with them to see if they need anything, and keep doing what you have been and keep writing!

#7 – Wait and wait for a publisher to pick up your book

It’s a waiting game, like I said earlier. I’m not an agent and have not worked with an agent, so I don’t have all the details about how they go about selling your book, how long this takes, and what that process looks like.

But this is a great post all about what a literary agent does to actually sell your book.

The overall process is this: the book agent typically knows editors at publishing houses that specialize in the books they usually represent (which is also your book). They send these manuscripts off to them in order to gauge interest in the project based on market trends, current events, and what’s simply “hot” right now.

#8 – A deal has been offered!

If your book has interest from a publishing company, your literary agent will do the negotiating. This is another thing that comes in handy with an agent: they have the sales skills to get you the best deal.

And they will, because their pay comes as a result of your overall deal. The more you get, the more they get.

If your book has interest from more than one publishing house, a bidding war could commence! And this is great, because that’s how you get those massive, 7-figure advances.

#9 – Book deal acquired

Once you and your agent are good with the contract, you sign and BOOM, you now have a book deal!

After this, you’ll likely work with an editor, meet deadlines, and then wait until your book is up next in the publishing queue. This can take up to two or three years at times, depending on how much work the book will take to get publish-ready.

Usually, you’ll have to wait over one year minimum after you have a book deal in order for it to launch.

That’s how you get a book deal. Remember, it can take years to get a book deal for a single piece of work. Oftentimes, writers query a project while working on another project so if they don’t hear back, they can query another project.

This is one the longest processes for publishing a book and usually, publishers don’t take nonfiction books unless you have serious clout or backing.

So good luck, and let us know if you have any tips below in the comments!

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