Have you ever gone on a road trip with no idea where you’re headed? A fun adventure, maybe, but sometimes we don’t want to waste that kind of gas. To get to our destination as efficiently and as low-effort as possible, maybe we grab ourselves a roadmap and make a plan.
Writing a book is the same way! Some writers might prefer “discovery drafts,” where you start writing to see where it ends up. To each their own, but if you’ve clicked on this post, you’re probably interested in a more direct route to publishing your book.
Let’s talk about the roadmap of book writing to get you there quicker: the book template.
What is a book template?
What are the contents of a book template?
Frameworks for a nonfiction book template
What’s a book template?
There are tons of forms of book templates for different genres and preferences, but a book template is essentially a plan for what to include in your book and where it goes. This can streamline the process from writing to publishing, getting your book done a lot quicker than if you were freeballing.
So why should you use a book template? A template is your roadmap. Knowing where you’re going will help you foresee obstacles, plan ahead, and get to your destination quicker.
Why waste time muddling through the order and format of a book, when you can just use a template and know exactly what you need to get done?
Before we talk about what might go into a book template, I want to mention my biggest tip for using them: personalization. Making your own template would ensure that it suits your needs and style. Feel free to take the elements listed in this blog, tweak and customize, then save YOUR book template to use for future projects.
Contents of a book template
Let’s look at the content you might find in a book template. The elements might be different based on the genre, particularly between fiction and nonfiction works.
We’re going to cover a fiction book template first, because fiction should have fewer sections and subsections–it will most likely be separated by chapters because fiction is almost always meant to be read linearly.
An example of a fiction book that might be read out of order is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or something else that turns a story into a unique format. But most often, fiction books are read from beginning to end, which makes a novel template very straightforward.
Here are elements you’d likely see in a template for fiction books:
The title. Every book needs a title! Besides the cover, your title will appear on the title page and the half-title page inside of the book, along with any subtitles and your name or pseudonym. Here’s an example of the title and half-title pages from my latest publication, Starlight:
Copyright page. The fine print of all things legal. Your copyright page includes the copyright statement and other legal details. It might also include information like the editor of the book, other contributors, or disclosures and content warnings.
Self-promo (optional). This page might be where you promote your other books or plug social handles or a newsletter. This is a great page to have if you own a business, a website, or have multiple publications. Any opportunity to reference somewhere your readers can find more content can only work to your advantage.
Acknowledgments (optional). The section might appear before your main book content or at the end. This is where you thank people who helped with the book, in life, or whatever else.
Table of contents. This is a breakdown of what is in your book and where. In fiction, this will likely be a list of chapters. If the chapters don’t have titles and the book should always be read in order, you might not exclude the table of contents page. Since Starlight is a collection of short stories, I included a table of contents page in case someone wants to find a particular story on their second read:
Prologue (optional). A prologue is a small snippet of story in the same universe as the rest of the book, but far apart from the actual story. The prologue might be a peek into the very distant past or very distant future, or it might be from a perspective different from the perspective for the rest of the book. Not every book needs a prologue, but most fiction templates will have a place for you to insert one.
Dedication (optional). This is the page you’ll see with a small ode to someone else, like “for my mother” or “to all lost children.” The dedication page is a small area to acknowledge who your story was written for. Here’s an example of the dedication page from Starlight:
The story itself! Maybe it’s a three act structure, maybe it’s The Snowflake Method, maybe it’s a different format, or maybe your template just says “STORY HERE.”
Review ask. This is something you’ll commonly see in ebooks and self-published books, where the writer asks the reader to leave a review at the end of the book. This is a great opportunity to up your book stats, but it’s obviously optional.
Read more. This is another optional opportunity to push readers toward your other works. You’ll see this page at the end of most books, especially for series, titled something like “also by the author” with a list of their other works.
Author bio. A strong author bio is a great tool to have, so spend a minute on it. Snag someone’s interest to look more into your work or writing with a cleverly composed author bio.
This list covers most elements you’d see in a fiction book template. Tweak it and twerk it to your preferences, then save your template for future books!
Nonfiction can have a much wider range of elements because nonfiction books follow a wider range of formats, but you’ll see a lot of the same elements we saw in fiction templates.
Here are some things you might see on a nonfiction book template:
Title and subtitle
Your name or pseudonym
Copyright page–gotta have that fine print.
Lead magnet. This is a great space to offer a free gift in exchange for people doing things like joining your mailing list, checking out your other books, following you on social media, or anything else you’d like to direct traffic toward.
Table of contents. In nonfiction, you’ll almost always see a table of contents. Unless it’s a memoir, most nonfiction pieces can be read in chunks, not necessarily in order. A reader might read it once, then go back to refer to certain bits later, so having a clear and thorough table of contents can really make utilizing your nonfiction book easier for readers.
Foreword (optional). A foreword is kind of the nonfiction version of a prologue. Either the author, editor, or someone else responsible for putting the book together might address the reader in a foreword to provide context or scope for the book they’re about to read.
Introduction. A forward and introduction might look like very similar things, but an introduction should specifically tell your reader what to expect from the book. In nonfiction, your introduction should cover several things:
Identify the problem–plainly state why the reader is here. What problem do they have that the book or course will solve?
Present the solution–explain that you have the answers to their problem.
Reassert your credibility–why are you qualified to give advice on this subject? Give specific reasons you’re qualified.
Show them the benefits again–look at this solution you have! It’s so helpful! They should definitely read this book to get the answers.
Give them proof–have your methods been successful? Do you have numbers that prove it? Is your own life a reflection of how your advice applied can be beneficial and fix the stated problem?
Make a promise–what will you do for the reader? How will reading this book and applying the advice and wisdom change their life? Aim big!
Warn them against waiting–why do they need to do it now? What are the possible repercussions of not taking action on the stated issue?
Prompt them to read (call to action)
Now for the content of the book itself–a nonfiction book could have a few different structures.
Let’s look at three different types of nonfiction frameworks–sequential, numerical, and problem/solution.
Structure 1: sequential framework
The Sequential Framework arranges information according to a step-by-step sequence. This framework is most effective for books that are written to describe a step-by-step process.
Et cetera, until every point of the list has been covered.
Structure 3: problem/solution framework
A problem and solution framework organizes information so readers are able to clearly identify a problem and understand the solution you have to offer. This framework is often used in combination with the numerical framework.
Those are three common frameworks for structuring the actual content of a nonfiction book. Again, templates should be customized for the specific writer and book, so feel free to take these elements and alter them into whatever format would best suit your needs!
Book templates are a powerful tool in organizing your books and streamlining the writing and publishing process. Seeing exactly what needs to be done helps you organize a plan to do it efficiently and effectively.
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!
A woman is appointed sheriff of a town she’s never heard of. A series of strange incidents make her realize something isn’t quite right–the entire town is populated by aliens who have taken the form of humans to hide out on earth. They’re perfectly nice, but assimilation is tough.
People’s consciousness can be downloaded onto chips and replaced with others. The rich and influential rent bodies loaded with whatever consciousness, abilities, and knowledge they need in a person.
A family moves into a new house. The basement has been sealed off, apparently for years. When their home improvements lead them to break into it, they find it’s covered in unidentifiable eggs.
It’s like the olympics, but on another planet and 14 solar systems are competing.
A man has heard a ringing sound his whole life. The same tone, the same volume, twenty-four hours a day. He’s seen doctors, he’s had tests, he’s tried medication. He’s learned to live with it, even ignore it. One day it stops.
The only thing stopping Maya from going to her dream college is a two-point too low ACT score and the fact that she’s now of age and her alien family has returned to fetch her. Her parents rule their planet, and it’s time for her to train in leadership, find a spouse, and take over.
A teenager buys a plant from a one-day-only farmer’s market. The market is gone when he returns to ask a few follow-up questions on why the plant ate his cat.
Aimee always knew she was smart. She’s the top of her senior class, head of the debate team, and fluent in seven languages, after all. She just didn’t know it was because her real dad was an alien.
Two friends plan to heist an entire planet with a corrupt government. Sure, they’re doing it for the people, but the money’s not too bad either.
Thousands of homeless people in a usually packed city have vanished overnight.
A man disappears for thirteen years and returns with a special ability.
Everyone in town falls asleep simultaneously, except one family.
On an alien planet, earth is merely a farm to harvest meat.
A group of animals go through a series of experimental trials that ends with them possessing comparably human intelligence. They plot escape.
Horrifically realistic dolls are manufactured as children’s toys. Their lifelikeness prompts a lonely woman to adopt one.
A couple loses their child in an accident. They take advantage of accessible cloning technology to make a new one. While the clone looks exactly like their child, it’s a different person. They dispose of the clone and try again. This goes on for decades, clones of the same person at different ages being tossed into the foster system, onto the street, into other homes–eventually, they meet.
An ancient tribe that disappeared suddenly from history returns in modern day.
A shrill tone rings out from an unknown place, heard around the world. Everyone on earth turns into a mindless slave for an unseen power–everyone who has the ability to hear, at least.
A tourist in an Egyptian tomb accidentally activates ancient, but far advanced, technology when she bleeds on a stone.
Scientists spent decades developing a technology to wipe people of emotions. This technology is available to the wealthy and powerful, and it creates a logical, peaceful society. It also creates a market for consumable, temporary emotions harvested from lower class people.
A tattoo appears when a person comes of age, dictating the beginning of their life’s quest.
A character receives a gift from their great-grandmother on her deathbed. It’s a necklace. The great-grandmother says it’s a charm for focus and clarity. When your character puts it on, her mind goes silent. That night, the great-grandmother passes away, and the character receives a letter on their doorstep with an invitation to a secret meeting. They’re part of a small collective of soldiers who work to dismantle a government with the ability to project thoughts and ideas into citizens’ minds. Your character has to sort through which thoughts were real and which were planted in their head every day up until now.
Your character is on his way to America. Four ships since the Mayflower have successfully traveled and settled. He’s excited to begin a new life in a new land and experience every adventure that comes with it. The ship is caught in a storm before it reaches America, pulled into a whirlpool and sucked below the surface to a world below the ocean.
A space explorer from Earth crash-lands on a planet where humans are considered scum. Write from the perspective of one of the aliens living on the planet.
A teenage girl invents a machine for a science project that will allow her to talk to aliens. It fails at the science fair, but later that night, she picks up a signal…
An intern monitors the communications panel for a space voyage that has long since gone dark. In the middle of the night, she receives transmission from one of the crew members, the only survivor on the ship. What does the crew member tell her?
An alien sneaks on board a spaceship from Earth, which is supposed to be in space for one full year. Write from the perspective of the alien as the crewmembers slowly turn against each other.
A thousand years into the future, a promising young scholar discovers a teenager’s MySpace page from 2009. What does he do with this information? What does the MySpace page look like?
The internet suddenly crashes completely and cannot be recovered. What does society look like ten years from now without it?
A group of friends at a high school go to an observatory after hours, and one of them disappears. The next week, the remaining friends receive strange text messages claiming to be the friend, trapped in another dimension.
Just as you lose your job as an accountant, your eccentric uncle passes away, and you inherit his farm. Everything looks great when you first move out there, but then you realize there’s something in the woods at night, people acting strangely on the property, and cryptic letters carved into trees. What was your uncle doing? What killed him?
A graduate student studies the effects of different drugs on mice, creating a drug that can double the mouse’s lifespan. He administers the drug to his dying cat, and gives his cat the ability to talk.
The moon gets stuck in the same spot in the sky, and the sun doesn’t rise. Write from the perspective of a team of scientists working in a remote location to figure out why.
A marine biologist gets a research grant to visit a remote island. While they’re scuba diving, they discover that some of the creatures in the sea aren’t like anything else on earth.
The first mission to land a human on Mars succeeds. The astronauts are exploring the planet for themselves, and they meet humans who landed thousands of years ago and have evolved for the Martian climate.
Backpackers on a mountain trip realize that the wildlife around them is loaded with surveillance equipment. Who’s spying on them? What do they want?
A cruise ship returns home, but somehow, it’s a hundred years in the future. Everyone on the cruise ship aged normally, but everyone on land in the rest of the world aged exactly one hundred years. Write from the perspective of a father with his kids on vacation.
A woman falls in love with someone in her biology class, only to learn that they were scientifically designed to be her ideal romantic partner–he has no free will of his own. What does she do?
Whenever an artist tries to draw or paint, they can only draw the same person’s face, over and over and over again. They’ve never met this person, and can’t seem to find out who it might be. They make tons of money selling this one person’s face. One day, at the opening of their new gallery, they meet the person.
When a woman cuts her finger making dinner, she realizes that beneath her skin is a thin coating of metal. She peels it back to discover circuitry. Who created her? How did she gain independence?
After the death of her mother, a little girl studies the night sky every night to see her and her mother’s favorite constellation. At midnight the night after the funeral, the constellation moves.
A mother takes her kids camping in a national park a year after the death of her husband. Her oldest son starts getting strange interference on his walkie-talkie and instructions to venture deeper into the forest–it’s his dead father’s voice on the other end of the radio.
Write the travelogue of a mechanic who’s been abducted by aliens in the hopes that she’ll fix their ship.
A kid gets a copy of the new video game everyone’s been raving about. As he plays it, the game personalizes a little more. Eventually, NPC’s in the game start saying things they shouldn’t know about the kid’s life–things he’d never told anyone else. What does he do?
A soldier fighting in a far-off space war decides to mutiny and crash-lands with her crew on planet Earth, bringing the fight with her.
A scientist receives regular transmission from what he believes to be a far-off planet. He keeps this secret to himself and develops a relationship with the person–or alien–at the other end of the line. After years of secrecy, the government finds out, and the mysterious creature must reveal themselves. What happens?
Fantasy is a popular genre for new writers to try because it’s fun, exciting, and much more accessible. It’s quicker and easier to get started with fantasy because it requires less research and preparation. You make up the rules, and you create the world!
But starting a story in any genre is hard, so we’re here to make it a little bit easier. Here are 33 fantasy writing prompts that you can use for writing exercises, story ideas, or anything else!
Characters fall through a mirror and land in a lake of a new universe.
A girl finds a box in her grandmother’s attic that’s been passed down for generations, hidden from everyone but one female descendant it is passed to. The girl’s mother died before the grandmother could pass it on, then, on her deathbed, the grandmother told the girl where to find the box. She died before she could tell her what to do with it.
Write a short story about a messenger delivering love letters between a prince and princess on opposite sides of a war.
A character is visited by a ghost in a dream every night, trying to give them a message. One night they realize they haven’t been dreaming.
An unmarked letter arrives in his mailbox. No address, no stamp. Just a key and a train ticket to his mother’s hometown.
A new family moves into town. Your character brings over a pie. Getting no answer to their knock on the front door, and it being a friendly town, the character lets themselves into the backyard to follow sounds. The form of a human greets them, but not before they see the mass of small fairies that rush together to create the facade.
The pond in the city park is a popular place. Kids swim, dads fish, there are motorboat races every summer. One day, a child notices the pond is reflecting a place much different than the park.
Write a flash fiction about a god who is struck down into a tiny fishing village where no one recognizes him.
A girl wakes up in a lake by a small village with a strange mark on her hand. A man in the village tells her it’s a curse.
A child brings a beautiful shell home from the beach. “You know, if you put your ear to it, you can hear the ocean,” their mom says. When they put their ear to the shell, they hear much more than that.
While taking a tour of a Louisiana plantation, a girl sees a figure. When she points it out, no one else in the group can see it. She sneaks away and follows the figure to an old slave house–now a gift shop. The figure is the ghost of one of the girl’s ancestors, and she has a secret to reveal.
Two girls find a dragon with a massive horde of treasure in a cave. Write from the perspective of the dragon.
A village boy harasses an elderly man. The next day, he wakes up as the man.
A cult prays to their god in a forest, and the god appears. How does the god appear, and what is their answer?
A kid in modern day sees a symbol everywhere they go. It appears more and more often. One day, they realize what triggers it.
The boy just wants to return home to his village after being stolen and sold into slavery. He boards a ship as a stowaway, but within the hour realizes he’s boarded the wrong ship, and the sailors are…not quite human.
You awake as an angel in heaven: the afterlife employment for an exceptionally-behaved human. Problem is, this is definitely not where you were supposed to end up.
Everyone in town thinks the woman who lives in the hut deep in the swamp is a witch. Turns out, she’s something much worse.
You move into a new town. The welcoming committee is friendly and obliging, but they leave you with one warning: don’t look for the voice. Under no circumstances should you look for the voice. You shrug it off as small-town quirkiness until exactly 3:00 in the morning when she starts singing.
A cruel princess abuses and replaces her noble-blood lady’s maids until her parents decide to discipline her and put an end to the cycle by promoting a tough and unshakeable drudgery maid.
Everyone is born with magic. As they age, it fades if not cultivated properly. A middle-aged woman’s magic faded to nearly nothing due to childhood neglect and abuse by her father. She has found a way to siphon magic from children, but the consequences make it where she has no volunteers…good thing for her, it doesn’t have to be given freely.
A wandering traveler is trying to hide from a ghost who wants revenge. What does the ghost want revenge for, and do they get it?
Write a story from the perspective of a werewolf attempting to live a “normal” life amongst humans.
A vampire falls in love with a member of the local church, but can’t go near the church where they live because of the religious symbols.
There’s a small island off the shore where it’s rumored a coven of mages lives in complete seclusion. One day, two siblings decide to investigate.
A young woman seeks treasure hidden by her pirate ancestor.
A group of soldiers is out at sea during a long war. They run out of food. The sea god tells them she’ll grant them a safe passage home, but only if they sacrifice one of the members aboard.
The gods have made a vow never to interfere with the dealings of mortals. War breaks out among kingdoms, and one of the lesser gods falls in love with the princess on the losing side. What happens next?
A monster has been stealing a farmer’s crop for weeks. The farmer hires a mercenary in town to investigate the source of the disappearance. Write from the perspective of the monster who has been stealing the crops.
One family barely escapes the devastation of their kingdom and seeks refuge in a strange, well-guarded town far from home. They soon realize something is wrong with the townspeople here, and maybe they aren’t as safe as they thought…
Two knights vie for the hand of the princess in a series of athletic challenges, but end up falling in love with each other.
Students on a field trip get locked in a crypt overnight. Settled to wait for morning workers to unlock it, they soon realize they’re not alone.
A princess mage meets someone in her dreams every night. She realizes it’s more than a dream, and she’s communicating with a farm mage in a neighboring kingdom. Why are they linked?
“POV” is short for point of view, meaning the point of view through which we’re seeing a piece of writing. The different types are first person, second person, third limited, and third omniscient.
In first person POV, the reader sees through the eyes of the character. In second, the reader becomes the character or the object being addressed. In third limited, the reader is told the story by a separate narrator. In third omniscient, an all-knowing narrator tells the story.
What is third person omniscient?
Third person omniscient is the point of view where the narrator knows everything. They can know any character’s thoughts, see into any scene, and know things of the past, present, and future of the story.
Third omniscient uses the pronouns “he/she/they.”
Third person limited POV
Third person limited uses “he/she/they” just like third omniscient, but it’s limited to one character’s perspective.
The point-of-view may hop between a few characters, but there is a scene break or chapter change first. While in a character’s perspective, the reader only sees what the character sees, observes what they observe, and knows what they know.
Third person omniscient examples
Third person omniscient is often obvious at the beginning of a novel, by the narrator directly addressing the reader in a story-teller voice and breaking the fourth wall.
Think of the opening line of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events:
“If you are interested in stories with a happy ending, then you are better off reading another book.”
Or the first line of The Book of The King by Jerry. B Jenkins:
“To tell the story of Owen Reeder–the whole story and not just the parts that tickle the mind and make you laugh from the belly like one who has had too much to drink–we have to go into much unpleasantness.”
Popular novels written in third omniscient point of view include Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
How to write third person omniscient
Third person omniscient has fallen from popular use in modern writing. You’ll see it nearly exclusively in classic novels (such as Little Women and Pride and Prejudice), but modern readers have trended toward novels that put them in the character’s shoes.
While it isn’t as popular as it once was, there are still a few situations in which third person omniscient POV might work.
Third omniscient is a good POV to use if you’re introducing a large cast of characters. It allows you to delve into each character’s mind without limitations, relate them to each other, and develop them without being held back by a single character’s perspective.
An omniscient perspective can also be used for style. Writers like Jane Austen and Jerry B. Jenkins use third omniscient for humor, complex storytelling, and unique voice, in addition to omniscient’s benefit of all-knowing narration.
Be cautious, because third omniscient does put a barrier between your reader and your characters. That barrier can help or hurt your story, depending on what you’re trying to do.
If you want your reader to feel what your character is feeling, third omniscient is likely keeping your reader too far away to empathize fully.
If you want to keep your reader further away from the character, third omniscient makes that easy to accomplish. In the examples above from A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Book of The King, those stories involve children in danger, being abused and neglected, and sometimes dying. Since both series are intended for children and teens, the far-off narration makes it more age-appropriate. It reminds the reader that this is just a story, so the heavy content becomes lighter.
Third person omniscient point-of-view is a tricky POV to use, even for experienced writers, so proceed with caution.
A colloquialism is a literary device that utilizes informal words or phrases, typically words or phrases that are only used under certain conditions such as: specific regions, eras, or demographics of speaker. In writing, the intentional use of colloquialisms can ground your writing in realism by giving a genuine and convincing voice to your narrative and characters.
“Colloquialism” comes from the Latin “colloquium” which simply means “conversation.” Colloquialisms are one of the elements that give fictional voices that feeling of realistic conversations.
A writer might use colloquialism to express the location, era, and society of the story. It can also be used to give believability and context to a character within that setting.
Sometimes writers use colloquialism unintentionally, just by virtue of the way they were raised, where they’re from, and their education level affecting their writing style. For example, one of my writing partners is from Texas–I started marking her writing with “cowboy verbiage” because it was so strongly Texan. She didn’t even realize some of the words and phrases were colloquial.
Let’s look at some examples of colloquialisms.
Examples of Colloquialisms
Some colloquialisms are just common abbreviations of phrases, like these:
Wanna (want to)
Gonna (going to)
Boutta (about to)
Y’all (you all)
Ain’t (am not/are not)
Some are different phrases entirely:
Score (getting something you want)
Ruckus (a disturbance, usually funny)
Buzz off (“go away” in the US)
Piss off (“go away” in the UK)
Flake (cancelling plans last minute)
Here are a few examples of colloquialisms in literature, from the short story Cane Sprouts in the collection Little Birds. In this story, Natasha returns to her southern home after living in New York for several years.
“Don’t catch me no more bullheads,” Granny calls after us. “Sick to tired of them damn fish.”
In this example, you can see the socioeconomic and educational state of the character in the double negative of “don’t catch me no more.” The way Granny change the phrase “sick and tired” by saying “sick to tired” is because her first language is French. These colloquialisms characterize her.
“Grandpa,” I try again. “It’s Nat.”
“Yeah, we got gnats ‘cause everybody leavin’ the damn door open.” He sniffs and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. “No, it’s Natasha,” I say. He peeks an eye open. “My Natasha?” He grins and strains to sit up. “Come here, mais cher!” He pulls me into a hug, roughly patting my back. “How you been?” He holds me at arm’s length. “You eat?”
In this excerpt, we characterize Grandpa the same way we characterized Granny. His first language is French, he isn’t extensively educated, and he’s clearly from southern United States.
Throughout the story, Natasha goes from speaking with syntax typical of someone from a northern state and of higher education, to using phrasing and verbiage more similar to the other characters who never left the south.
“You know,” I say. “The Coopers always have a litter of kittens running around. I could probably snatch one for you.”
Natasha using the word “snatch” to mean “catch” is an example of her slipping back into homegrown colloquialisms.
The transition shows how she’s changed over the years, but once she’s back home, she slips in with everyone else by using southern-specific terms (“Where’s the folks?”) and dropping words from sentences (“Cam, why they burn the cane?”). That characterizes her, but also gives context for how she’s changed, how long she’s been gone, and how returning home has affected her.
How to Use Colloquialisms in Writing
Now that we know what colloquialisms are, have an idea of how they’re used, and have seen a few examples of them, let’s talk about some tips for using them in your own writing.
Pay attention to how your favorite writers use colloquialisms in their stories. What does it show about the setting? What do readers learn about the characters without even realizing they’re learning it?
Get to know your characters and consider how they’d speak and the colloquialisms they might use. Employ it to let your readers get closer to your characters.
Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
Don’t overdo it! Like anything else, aim for a balance. If you overuse colloquialisms, your writing might sound unintentionally campy or silly, and that will make your world less believable.
Colloquialisms are a fun element to incorporate into your story to give it color, believability, and a credible setting.
Diction is a literary device that refers to a specific way of speaking. Writers utilize diction through things like word choice, vernacular, turn of phrase, and style.
The diction of a piece of writing can be used to convey the upbringing, education, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and lots of other things of the narrator. A good fiction writer takes the voice of their character and lets it influence the diction of their prose.
The largest role of diction is to indicate whether a piece of writing is formal or informal. From there, let’s discuss a few different types of diction.
Types of Diction
Here are some of the different types of diction. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a fuller picture of what diction is and how it can be used.
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.
Informal diction – You’ll see informal diction in real life conversations. In fiction writing, it will often appear in dialogue and in description if we are narrating with a character’s voice.
Informal diction is more relaxed, but still considered a “standard” way of speaking.
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.
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.
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.
Abstract diction – Abstract diction is intangible. It doesn’t relate to any of the senses and is often an expression of an idea or emotion.
As you can see, all forms of writing are affected by diction, whether the writer realized and used it intentionally or not.
Examples of Diction
As we speak in real life, we change diction all the time. I’m writing this blog in one tab while I have a conversation with my friends in another. Here, I’m making an effort to be grammatically correct, clear, and concise. With my friends, I’m typing fast without reading it back, using slang and inside jokes, and not worrying about how I come across. Those are two different styles of diction.
Let’s look at examples of how we can change diction in writing.
Formal vs informal
Formal: “I’m not thrilled with the circumstances.”
Informal: “I’m pissed.”
Formal: “Can you repeat the question?”
Formal: “She’s out of office at the moment.”
Informal: “She’s not here.”
Formal: “In reference to your last email,”
Informal: “But you said,”
Formal: “Submit inquiries via the designated method.”
Informal: “Send in questions.”
In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, we see Atticus Finch as a lawyer, speaking formally in court with lines like:
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by a majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
We also see interactions between he and his children, like this one:
“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t let ‘em get your goat.”
This shows a different side to Atticus–he’s a serious lawyer, capable of holding his own and gaining respect in court, but in the first example, we also see Atticus simply being a father. The contrast in his diction fleshes him out as a character and makes him feel more real.
“Well, he sot up a bank, en say anybody dat put in a dollar would get fo’ dollars mo’ at de en’ er de year.”
Jim’s upbringing (within the context of the story) is crystal clear in every line of dialogue. While this can get annoying to read (and is, uh, of questionable taste with a modern lens), this is a classic example of using diction to show who a character is and where they come from.
Why Use Diction
Diction is a way writers can influence the mood, interpretation, atmosphere, and tone of their story.
Diction can establish setting. The writer’s use of language supports story elements like setting. It grants realism and believability if the story’s diction matches its geography, era, and voice of the characters.
It can also lend to character realism. Using diction and dialect appropriate for your character brings them to life and makes them feel authentic.
The formality or informality of a piece’s diction influences tone, possibly more than any other literary device can. You can express the same idea or tell the same story a thousand times over using different tones, and the reader takeaway will be unique with each different version.
How to Use Diction in Writing
So now we know what diction is, what it’s good for, and have seen several examples of it in practice. How do we apply this to our own writing?
Here are a few tips for using diction:
Pay attention to how your favorite writers use diction in their stories. How does it change the way you see the characters and setting? Does it deepen your understanding–if so, can you express why? How would changing the tonal diction change your perception of the story?
Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
If you enlist beta readers, include a question about diction. Ask how it made them interpret the tone to see if you’ve accomplished your intent.
Get to know your characters and consider how they’d speak to different people. Try switching their diction based on the situation for realistic dialogue.
Diction is a fundamental element of writing style. It affects the tone, realism, and believability in any genre of writing, so take care to understand it and use it well!
If you want your writing to grab your readers, to call them to the emotions you want them to feel, you might try utilizing the literary device I just used twice in his sentence: personification.
What is Personification
Personification is a literary device where a nonhuman object or idea is assigned human characteristics.
An example of personification is saying a hyena laughed. Hyenas don’t laugh–laughing is a human characteristic–but that description paints a clear picture of the sound a hyena makes.
Personification pretties up a sentence. It adds layers of vividness and human perspective. Bringing an object to life by comparing it to human behavior makes it easier for human readers to connect with the object and immerse deeper into your story. You could say personification helps your words to jump from the page. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Let’s look at some examples of personification, then talk about how you can use it in your own writing.
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
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.
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.
As with any writing device, use it appropriately. Don’t slather personification onto every object you describe–use it where it is most effective, or it might become overbearing.
Personification is one of my all-time favorite forms of figurative language. It allows your reader to empathize with the setting of your story, which gives them a closer tie with your characters. Try it out!
“Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was the same as putting a red flag to a bu–the same as putting something very annoying in front of someone who was annoyed by it.” — Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is a literary device that directly refers to or describes a thing by comparing it to something it is not, showing a comparison between the two items to give the reader a deeper understanding.
A metaphor states that something is another thing, when it isn’t literally the other thing. It doesn’t mean they’re actually the same–it’s just drawing the comparison.
Metaphor is one of the most common literary devices, and for good reason! It adds layers of understanding and poetry to your prose and helps readers connect with your story in a more relatable way.
Like Pat Benatar said, love is a battlefield. Is love literally a battlefield? No. Figuratively? Sure!
There are many different types of metaphors. Let’s look at a few.
Types of metaphors:
Primary – a primary metaphor is the most basic type. It directly and simply compares one thing with another. Example: War is hell.
Complex – a complex metaphor is a combination of primary metaphors. Example: “The mist of a dream had passed across them.” — A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Implied – an implied metaphor compares two things without mentioning one of them. Example: Gloria flew down the hall. Gloria is being compared to a bird without a bird being mentioned. (Suspend your disbelief and accept that Gloria is not, in fact, a bird.)
Extended/Sustained – an extended or sustained metaphor is a metaphor that stretches through multiple sentences or paragraphs. Sometimes they can show up numerous times in a work of writing. A classic example is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief. That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
Absolute – an absolute metaphor pairs two things that have nothing to do with each other to create a striking and distinct comparison. Example: Love is a battlefield.
Mixed – a mixed metaphor is when you cross two or more metaphors to make an outrageous or silly comparison. They’re usually funny. Example: We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
Dead – a dead metaphor is essentially a cliche. It has been overused, and it’s tired and boring. Using dead metaphors in creative writing isn’t advised. Example: Dead as a doornail.
Metaphors in writing
Metaphors are used in novels, nonfiction, songs, poetry, and everything else. Here are some examples from writers you’re likely familiar with.
“The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.” — Lord of the Flies, William Golding
“But a bird that stalks / down his narrow cage / can seldom see through / his bars of rage / his wings are clipped and / his feet are tied / so he opens his throat to sing.” — Caged Bird, Maya Angelou
“Time is the moving image of eternity.” — Plato
“Life’s a climb, but the view is great.” — Hannah Montana
“The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl
“Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly.” — Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” — The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
“My breath bleeds. My heartbeat drowns my ears.” — I Am the Messenger, Markus Zusak
Simile versus metaphor
There’s a lot of confusion around similes and metaphors. Which is which? Are they the same thing? What’s the difference?
A simile is a metaphor that uses an extra word–like, as, or an equivalent word.
So a simile is a metaphor, but a metaphor is not necessarily a simile.
“Ogres are like onions.” is a simile and a metaphor because it uses the word like.
“Ogres are onions.” is not a simile, but it is still a metaphor.
How to use metaphors
When using metaphors in your own writing, you want to be original. Most metaphors that sound familiar to you are cliches. Writing a cliche that you haven’t re-worked in some way is trite and makes your writing look amateur.
However, an original metaphor can bring sharp contrast, color, and excitement to your prose. Here are some tips for using metaphors effectively:
Be original. As I said above, if you’re using a metaphor that’s been done before, make sure you’re bringing something new to it.
Be careful of overdoing it. An unpracticed writer might try to use metaphor and it comes out unintentionally unnatural or forced. Take your time working them into the rest of your prose so it flows well.
Use clear metaphors. If your metaphor makes your point harder to understand, it isn’t doing its job. A metaphor should connect the reader with the message of your writing–it should make a concept clearer and more enjoyable to read. If your metaphor doesn’t accomplish those two things, it needs another look.
Practice using metaphor in your writing by being intentional and original to give your prose an artistic edge and help your reader understand your message through contrast and comparison.
If you need a unique way to deliver an emotion or concept efficiently in your creative writing project, you might try the literary device: allusion.
In this blog, we’re going to:
Talk about an allusion is and what they’re used for
Look at some examples of allusions in different forms
Learn how to use allusions in our own writing
What is an Allusion?
An allusion is a figure of speech that indirectly refers to something or someone from another text without specifically mentioning it. An allusion is not something that’s directly focused on in text–it’s more like something the writer mentions in passing, expecting the reader to notice and understand it from general knowledge or common experience.
Using an allusion is a way to simplify the delivery of an emotion or concept–relating a new situation to a situation or thing or person the reader should already be familiar with is a creative shortcut to that connection.
Common allusions are references to characters and events in the bible, in greek mythology, and in classic literary works such as Shakespeare. These figures and events are well-known enough that most readers will understand an allusion to them.
An allusion is different from a reference in that a reference is direct, while an allusion is an indirect reference.
There are two general types of allusion: internal and external.
An external allusion is in reference to something outside the story–a separate text by a different author.
An internal allusion is in reference to something inside the story–the author referring back to something they’d mentioned earlier.
Let’s look at some different forms allusions can take.
Many allusions take the form of a reference to a character. It might be indirect, like in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech: Five score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
He’s obviously referencing Abraham Lincoln, but he doesn’t have to say his name. We know from his allusion to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (“Four score and seven years ago”) and by the mention of the Emancipation Proclamation.
But sometimes writers will directly refer to a character by their name.
You might hear someone with a sour attitude or selfish tendencies a “Scrooge”. This is an allusion to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a book most American readers are familiar with.
Maybe you’ve read a story where a character called another character by someone else’s name:
“Einstein” could be a nickname someone uses for a character who is very smart (or very dumb, if they’re using it sarcastically).
“Brutus” or “Judas” might be used if someone has been betrayed.
“Nimrod” might be used for a character who is a great hunter (or a very bad hunter). Fun fact: Bugs Bunny used the name Nimrod (a Biblical hunter) to make fun of Elmer Fudd. Because the audience didn’t understand the reference, they took context clues and assigned “nimrod” a definition akin to “stupid” or “clumsy”. In modern slang, that’s how “nimrod” is used. This is a good example of what can happen if you use an allusion that isn’t well-known enough for your audience to catch.
“Romeo” is often used to refer to a character who’s lovesick or charming. “Juliet” is also used commonly for the female equivalent.
Here are a few more examples:
“Montag stopped eating… he saw their Cheshire cat smiles burning through the walls of the house.” is a quote from Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, alluding to Alice in Wonderland. He doesn’t explain who the Cheshire cat is–he just trusts the reader to understand.
The entire book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is an allusion for the biblical story of Jesus’s crucifixion.
An allusion so common it’s cliche is saying someone “carries the world on their shoulders.” You may not even recognize it as an allusion, since it’s so widely used. It refers to Atlas, the Greek god portrayed in portraits and sculptures holding up the globe of Earth.
As you can see, allusion takes many forms, and each form does a slightly different job.
How to Use Allusions in Writing
Besides allowing you to make bigger connections with fewer words, you might use an allusion for the feeling of exclusivity it provides–readers who understand what you’re alluding to will feel closer to the story and the writer, feeling they’re in-the-know.
Allusions can also provide a certain legitimacy to a text by grounding it in a universe with another well-known, or in other way successful, piece of literature.
So how should you use allusions in your own writing? Here are a few guidelines you might follow:
Be careful not to allude to something very obscure. The point of an allusion is that the majority of your audience will understand it. If it’s impossibly niche, it loses value.
Be mindful of what you allude to! If you allude to something modern, like a person who is alive today, you run the risk of the allusion aging poorly. For example, allusions to Woody Allen or Mike Tyson might not be taken the same way that they were pre-exposure of their crimes.
Try not to use an allusion where, if your reader doesn’t understand it, the entire scene or line doesn’t make sense. There’s no allusion or reference you can make that EVERY reader would understand–just be sure the sentence or scene still makes sense, even without the inside knowledge. (Think about Bugs Bunny using “Nimrod.” Most viewers didn’t understand it, but they knew it was an insult.)
Allusions are great for making quicker connections between your subject and reader, spicing your story with an exciting and familiar reference, and giving legitimacy by grounding your text in the same universe as successful media works. Use them carefully, like with anything else in your writing, and enjoy the benefits!
If you’re looking for a way to sharpen your descriptions, pull your reader in closer to your character, and build a more relatable world in your story, a prose tool you should consider using is simile.
What is a Simile
A simile is a type of metaphor and a common literary device utilizing figurative language.
A metaphor compares something to another thing to give a more emphatic description, and a simile is a metaphor that specifically uses the word “like” or an equivalent term for the comparison.
Similes basically come in two forms. One form is common cliche phrases you likely hear often. The other is original, poetic metaphor use. We’re going to look at examples of each.
Common similes you’ve likely heard:
Cute as a kitten
Happy as a clam
Tall as a tree
Hard as a rock
Tough as nails
Sweet as honey
Dry as a bone
Stuck out like a sore thumb
Like shooting fish in a barrel
Cliche similes have their place in writing in certain circumstances, and I’ll talk about that later. Here are some excerpts from famous authors with excellent use of simile.
Examples of simile in literature:
“They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house.” — The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“. . . she tried to get rid of the kitten which had scrambled up her back and stuck like a burr just out of reach.” — Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
“Time has not stood still. It has washed over me, washed me away, as if I’m nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a careless child too near the water.” — The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“The café was like a battleship stripped for action.” — The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
“The sink-hole was set in the arid scrub, at the core of the pine island, like a lush green heart.” — The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
These similes make the descriptions more compelling and interesting! Fitzgerald’s, gives the reader a clear image of the women’s dresses and the mood of the action and scene. Doyle’s gives the reader a visceral feeling of annoyance.
Similes used effectively are a strong addition to a story’s description.
Simile vs Metaphors
You’ve probably been corrected or corrected someone about incorrectly calling a simile a metaphor or vice versa. I got news! A simile is a type of metaphor. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.
The distinction that makes a simile a simile is just one word—similes use “like,” “as,” or an equivalent.
So if anyone has ever corrected your calling a simile a metaphor, you can let them know that you were still right. 😉
How to Use Similes in Writing
Even though most similes you’ve heard regularly times are cliches (such as the first list of examples), that doesn’t mean you can’t use similes in your writing! Here are some guidelines you might want to consider when writing with similes:
Make sure you aren’t writing them as cliches! Just like any cliche, you should only use it if you’re putting an original and intentional spin on it, or if using them is one of your character’s traits. Otherwise, they can make your writing read as amateur or lazy.
Don’t overdo it! An extended metaphor is one that stretches past one sentence. Sometimes it’s a paragraph, sometimes it’s a theme in an entire book. Extended metaphors can work. Shakespeare used them often:
“But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief. That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
Tragically, not all of us can be Shakespeare. Be careful that the simile has not over-stayed its welcome. If you drag it on too long, it might get annoying to read.
Keep it clear. If your metaphor makes the subject matter harder to understand, it isn’t doing its job. Metaphors connect an idea or description to the reader by means of something they might find more familiar or more tangible. If it’s making your writing harder to understand, it’s hurting you.
Similes are a great way to spice up your writing. There are no rules to writing, so just like with any literary device, use similes in an intentional and creative way, and you’re golden!
A euphemism is a word or phrase that is used in place of something that might be shocking, inappropriate, or unpleasant to say or hear.
You might use euphemism in creative writing when you want to be subtle or coy (or when your character wants to be subtle or coy). They are also used to avoid being crude or offensive. A euphemism can convey your meaning just as clearly as a plain language explanation of the subject, but the delivery is softer. It says the same thing, but disguises the unpleasantness with semantics.
While that definition might make euphemisms seem like a positive literary device, there are a few other things to consider. In informative or academic writing, the use of euphemisms is scrutinized as dishonest or misleading. In creative writing, euphemisms could be seen as cliches, which might indicate lazy writing.
Let’s look at some examples of euphemisms and talk about if and when you should use them in your writing.
Euphemisms can take many different forms. Here are three examples:
Semantic alteration–using an entirely different phrase in place of the original
Powder room (bathroom)
Postconsumer secondary material (garbage)
Do it (have sex)
Phonetic alternation–mispronouncing words or using abbreviations
Other languages–using a foreign word in place of a common tongue phrase
Faux pas (tactless remark)
Au naturale (naked)
Ménage à trois (threesome)
(if anyone can leave an example that isn’t French in a comment, I’ll eat my hat.)
We hear and use euphemisms every day, whether we realize or not. Here are examples in a few common categories.
Euphemisms for death-related content:
Passed away (died)
Passed on (died)
Dearly departed (dead)
Kicked the bucket (died)
Euphemisms for sexual content:
Turning tricks (prostitution)
Go all the way (sex)
Do the do (sex)
Birds and bees (sex)
Batting for the other team (homosexual)
First base (kissing)
Adult (instead of saying something is alcoholic or explicit)
Euphemisms for violence:
Knock off (kill)
Collateral damage (accidental killings)
Detention camp (concentration camp)
Enhanced/advanced interrogation methods (torture)
Ethnic cleansing (genocide)
Do you see how often we use euphemism day-to-day? But just because something is a frequent occurrence in reality, does that mean it’s good practice to use in writing?
How to Use Euphemisms in Writing
You’ll find many different opinions on if and how euphemisms should be used in writing. It basically depends on the context of the piece and author intent.
Euphemisms in creative writing
Euphemisms probably aren’t something you want to use frequently in creative writing. Most euphemisms are also cliches, which should be used in an original, intentional, and creative way or not used at all.
Just like using cliches, euphemisms should be used creatively and intentionally. If they’re thrown in for ease of writing or as a shortcut, it will read as amateur.
One good reason to use a euphemism is to characterize. Like cliches, using euphemisms in dialogue or as part of the narrator’s voice is characterizing. If your character is very squeamish, proper, or innocent (or concerned with keeping an appearance of innocence), they might be someone who uses euphemisms.
Euphemisms in creative writing is an “at your own discretion” deal.
Euphemisms in academic, technical, or journalistic writing
In academic or journalistic writing, euphemisms can shield or distort the truth. They tend to make things less accurate or more misleading. In journalism, using euphemistic language will lead to scrutinization of writer bias and misinformation. It could call the publication’s reliability into question. If you look at the examples above of euphemisms for violence, you can see how a reporter might skew how an audience perceives war crimes and cruelty. Historically, euphemisms in journalism are often a hop-skip-jump from propaganda pieces.
Euphemisms in creative writing can be done if we do it the same way we do everything in creative writing: intentionally.
In nonfiction and technical writing (especially in journalism), euphemisms will likely foster distrust in your readership.
Take this information and use your best judgment to decide if euphemisms have a place in your writing project!
Writing is much more intentional than a lot of people might think. With literary devices, a writer can craft an extremely specific and intentional experience for their readers.
If you want a sentence to have particular emphasis, a character’s traits to shine through stronger, or if you want a scene to carry a heavier emotional load, you might try the literary device juxtaposition!
Juxtaposition can be used for much more than the things I listed, so let’s talk about what it is, how to use it, and look at some examples.
What is Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition, in the context of writing, is the pairing of two items or concepts to compare and contrast for effect. These items could be things like scenes, themes, words, phrases, or images.
Juxtaposition can be used to create a stronger emotional reaction in your reader. For example, a happy or uplifting scene right next to a sad scene will make the happy scene seem happier and the sad scene seem sadder.
Let’s look at a few different types of juxtaposition.
In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, we see juxtaposition in the opening prose:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
Juxtaposition is a theme throughout A Tale of Two Cities, and this opener strongly sets up for it.
Besides being used to strengthen prose, juxtaposition can be used to draw a contrast between scenes (a very dark scene next to an uplifting scene), characters, imagery, and more. Let’s look at a few more examples.
A character who juxtaposes the traits of the protagonist is called a foil. A common misconception is that a foil is synonymous with an antagonist. A foil doesn’t have to be an antagonist. A foil character can be an ally, a friend, a romantic interest, or a family member of your protagonist–they simply have traits that contrast with your main character’s.
If you pair a very grumpy character with a kind and patient character, the kind character will seem sweeter, and the grumpy character will seem more cantankerous. Think of Spongebob and Squidward or Belle and the Beast. Those are juxtaposed characters, and their proximity makes the contrast very obvious, emphasizing those traits.
More examples of juxtaposed characters:
Darcy and Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is grumpy, taciturn, and antisocial. Bingley is sweet, optimistic, and personable. Placing them as best friends contrasts and emphasizes those traits.
Tom Canty and Prince Edward in The Prince and The Pauper. This pair contrasts lifestyles and the opportunistic benefit of birth between the two.
In Looking for Alaska, Alaska is a bold, free-spirited, reckless girl with a tumultuous past and shaky present. Pudge is a relatively boring kid from an uneventful background. When he meets Alaska, the contrast between their characters makes him examine himself and his life.
In The 39 Clues series, Amy and Dan Cahill are siblings with perfectly opposite personalities. Throughout the series, they learn to understand each other and themselves more. By the end of it, they’re more similar than they are different. In this case, the juxtaposition of their character traits led to their character arcs.
Juxtaposition in that one awkward scene from Pride and Prejudice (2005)
I’ll use Pride and Prejudice for examples until I die, but in this scene, Lizzie is having a chill time exploring the manor, listening to piano music. Darcy and Georgiana have a cute moment that puts the audience at ease, so the snap and quick zoom before Lizzie runs away is more jarring. Putting a calm moment before panic makes it more impactful.
Another bit of juxtaposition in the same scene is how Lizzie is running to get away from Darcy, while he catches up to her with a calm, slow gait. That works as a metaphor for their character dynamic.
ANOTHER piece of juxtaposition is when they start talking–they speak over each other, rushed and unintelligible. Then they both stop and the silence weighs heavier between them because of that jolt of words and sounds (and pent-up affection RIP). The silence feels more painful because of their jumbled attempts at conversation right before it.
You can see an example of visual juxtaposition when it cuts from the close-in shot of Lizzie’s face to the wide shot of her running down the stairs outside. In film, that kind of juxtaposition lends to tension, pacing, and movement in a scene.
Juxtaposition is simply a literary device pairing things together to create contrast. It’s one more tool to control your stories and how they affect your readers.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
“Write your dialogue like it’s a script.” – 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.
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!
“I like to write a story starting from the resolution and working my way backward.” – 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
There are tons of literary devices and stylistic tricks to use in prose to spice it up. Many involve sound, like alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. Although commonly used in poetry, these devices can be applied to any form of creative writing.
Today we’re talking about alliteration:
What is alliteration?
What is assonance?
Examples of alliteration
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.
blinding sight/Blind eyes…like…light
See…meteors and be
Sight rhyme: near death
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:
Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations
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’sMy 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:
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?
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.
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.
Experiment! If you’ve never used alliteration before, try it out however you’d like to. Toss out all the rules I’ve laid out so far and go wild with different styles. You can learn to use alliteration more intentionally later, but experimentation is one of the best parts of writing.
Here are a few prompts to get you going:
Write your own tongue-twister
Take a poem you’ve already finished and add a few phrases of alliteration
Take words from this prompter and use them to write a poem
Write an alliterative poem using the first letter of your name
Use one of these prompts and leave the results in a comment!
Alliteration is a fun stylistic tool to practice, tweak, and keep in your writer’s toolbox.
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!
What is a trope?
Examples of tropes in fiction
How to use tropes
What is a cliche?
Examples of cliche phrases
How to repurpose a cliche in your writing
What is a trope?
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 in fiction
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 Prejudiceby 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 tropes from Pride and Prejudice are:
A mother character obsessed with her daughters getting married
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 Messengerby 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
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
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:
Consuming multiple forms of media in your genre
One-on-one conversations with minority groups included in your story that you yourself are not a part of
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’s 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
Head over heels
Only time will tell
The calm before the storm
Kiss and makeup
Woke up on the wrong side of the bed
Avoid like the plague
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
Amateur writers often default to cliches because they’re easy to write with! Cliches have been around for a while, they’ve gathered connotations, most people know what they mean–it’s like a writing shortcut: a set of words that already carry all of the meaning you want to use. However, using cliches as a shortcut just makes you look like a lazy writer. You don’t want to write something that’s already been written.
Good news! You can use cliches and still write strong prose by reinventing or repurposing the cliche.
“…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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Switch scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter. Do not switch perspective within a single scene (that’s a move for omniscient POV).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Have you finished writing it? Now you gotta edit it.
Let’s talk about editing, the different types of edits and editors, and what kind of editing your story needs.
What is editing?
Editing is the process of refining a work of writing. There are many types of edits, and there are many types of editors. The main types of editing are developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. Let’s look at those in detail, as well as examples of each.
It is helpful to note that there is a big difference between a self-edit and a professional edit.
Every book needs a professional edit! Even if the writer is a professional editor themselves, editing their own book would require taking a several year gap between writing and editing to be able to come back to it with the new perspective required.
You would effectively have to forget your entire book before you could do a proper job editing it, and even then, you’d have to have substantial editing experience to do it credibly.The short of it: hire an editor.
However, before the professional edit, is the self-edit. There are several rounds of self-editing a writer might partake in. You can also use critique partners and beta readers as tools in the editing process.
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
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.
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.
The gunfire stopped. She pressed against the stone and assessed her pistol.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Copy editing, or proof-reading, will check for technical mistakes. I’ve highlighted the changes in this excerpt.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
Read it out loud! Hearing your words–especially your character’s dialogue–helps you spot mistakes.
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.
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:
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!
A character has lied their entire life. One lie finally catches up to them.
A group of private school girls are bored and antsy–so they start a fight club.
A character tries and fails to parallel park, while a stranger watches.
A character is playing Cat’s Cradle with a rosary.
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.
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.
An old man smokes cigarettes until they burn the tips of his blackened fingers.
A foster child commits crimes to help her new family while they try to teach her not to do that.
A group of friends play a prank on their long-time bully, but it goes wrong and ends in tragedy.
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.
A character obsessed with serial killers tries to recreate one of their murders but is really bad at it.
A landscaper finds something alarming buried in a new client’s yard.
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.
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.
A group of friends play truth-or-dare. Why is one of them lying?
An immortal being is trapped in one town with advanced degrees from online studying.
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.
A student’s science experiment piques the interest of a secret agency.
Strange happenings in a ski lodge prompt a new employee to investigate.
A spelunker explores a new cave and finds a strange creature.
A girl wakes up with no memory of the night before, but she feels…off…and she has a bite mark on her arm.
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.
A boy buys a book from a used book store, but when he brings it home, he realizes it’s not a normal book.
A girl is sorting through her dead grandmother’s attic before an estate sale, and she finds an old photo album with confusing implications.
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.
A character thinks they’ve having deja vu, until they eventually start guessing what will happen next with growing accuracy.
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.
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.
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.
A character has a crush on their coworker and goes to extreme lengths to get their attention.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
A woman thinks she has a stalker. The stalker eventually speaks to her and says they were lovers in a past life.
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.)
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.
A movie theater worker finds a dusty back room with old reels of film. They watch one and immediately regret it.
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?
Nighttime fog, illuminated by an orange street lamp, drops low around a swing hanging from an oak tree. The swing creaks in the wind.
A character walks their dog on a stormy night. A shed in someone’s backyard is lit, quiet radio chatter coming from inside.
A character enters their kitchen and sees something on the floor. They stoop closer and find a tiny white worm wiggling into the floorboards.
An intern for a fashion designer discovers a secret code in a piece of clothing.
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.
Rain pelts on a flat bayou. The sun is shining through the storm, and a white crane flies parallel against the water.
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.
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.
A character visits their aging parent. Something is different about them…
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.
An adopted child learns that he has twelve other siblings. He leaves on a quest to find them all.
A character visits their father’s grave and finds a disturbing message written on his tombstone.
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.
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
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.
“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.)
Tag Before the Dialogue
Adding a dialogue tag in the beginning means that the character who is speaking is introduced before the actual quote.
Rising slowly from her chair, Emma asked, “Are we sure about this plan?”
Placing her hands on her hips, Emma said, “I doubt you know more than I do!”
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.
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.
“I thought you cared,” Emma said, “how could you let her leave?”
“I thought you cared.” Emma said, hoping to provoke him. “How could you let her leave?”
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.
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.
“Are you done?” Emma asked.
“Are you done?” asked Emma.
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.
Avoid Unnecessary 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:
Adverbial dialogue tags
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.
“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
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.
“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.
“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.
“Stop.” Emma said.
“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:
Is the dialogue itself able to convey the expression without the use of the tag?
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?
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.
[Dialogue tag] “Leve,” Emma said, “right now!”
[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.
“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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
Here’s the final battle scene from Redwall by Brian Jacques. This shows a large scale fight scene.
Cluny plucked the blazing torch from Killconey’s grasp. He flung it at the face of the oncoming warrior. Matthias deflected it with his shield in a cascade of sparks and went after the horde leader. To gain a brief respite, Cluny pushed Killconey into Matthias. The ferret grappled vainly but was cloven in two with one swift stroke. Matthias stepped over the slain ferret, whirling his sword expertly as he pursued Cluny. Ignoring his unprotected back, Matthias failed to see Fang-burn stealing up behind him. The rat raised his cutlass in both claws, but, before he could strike, Constance had hurled the net over him.
Fangbura struggled like a landed fish as the big badger picked up the net and swung it several times against the gatehouse wall. Dropping the lifeless thing, Constance plunged with a terrifying roar into a pack of weasels.
The thick tail of the Warlord flicked out venomously at Matthias’s face. He covered swiftly with his shield as the poisoned metal barb clanged harmlessly off it. Cluny tried again, this time whipping the tail speedily at the young mouse’s unprotected legs. Matthias leaped nimbly to one side and swung the sword in a flashing arc. Cluny roared with pain as it severed the tip of his tail. The bloodied stub lay on the grass with the barb still attached. Hurling the Abbot’s chair at his adversary, the rat seized an iron spike. Metal clashed on metal as the Warrior Mouse parried Cluny’s thrusts.
They battled across the green Abbey lawns, right through the center of the maelstrom of warring creatures. Oblivious to the fighting around them they sought to destroy each other, hacking, stabbing, lunging and swinging in mortal combat.
Meanwhile, teams of Sparra warriors were jointly lifting struggling rats and flying high to drop them into the middle of the Abbey pond. Ferrets had cornered a band of shrews and were threatening to massacre them when a column of otters sprang to the rescue. Keeping heavy pebbles locked in their slings, they battered continuously at the ferrets.
Cluny stood in the center of the room, his one eye straining to catch sight of Matthias in the belfry. Blood dripped from the dozen wounds die mouse warrior had inflicted upon him during the course of their battle. But now he knew he had won; the voices had been right; he would soon see the last of the mouse Warrior. “Come on down, mouse, Cluny the Scourge is waiting for you,” he cried.
Matthias stood up on the wooden beam. With one mighty blow from the blade of the ancient battle-scarred sword he severed the rope holding the Joseph Bell. It appeared to hang in space for a second, then it dropped like a massive stone.
Cluny remained riveted to the spot, his eye staring upwards. Before he had time to think it was too late. . . .
The Joseph Bell tolled its last, huge knell. The colossal weight of metal smashed Cluny the Scourge flat upon the stone floor of the bell tower.
Wearily, Matthias the Warrior descended the spiral stairs, sword in hand. He led the sobbing little friar out of his hiding place. Together they stood and stared at the Joseph Bell where it lay, cracked clean through the center. From beneath it there protruded a bloodied claw and a smashed tail.
Matthias spoke, “I kept my promise to you, Cluny. I came down. Hush now, Friar Hugo. It’s all over now. Wipe your eyes.”
Together the friends opened the door and walked out into the sunlight of a summer morning. Redwall had won the final battle.
The bodies of both armies lay scattered thick upon the grass and stones where they had fallen. Many were sparrows, shrews and woodland defenders, but they were far outnumbered by the slain rats, ferrets, weasels and stoats.
Nowhere was there one of Cluny’s infamous horde left alive.
Jacques tells a cohesive, intelligible narrative–he describes in a way that makes logical, linear sense. It isn’t just random description of random characters fighting. We stay on the main characters, we know what they’re doing and why, and he intersperses with description of the rest of the army, so we can feel the tension growing, and, eventually, know who’s winning. This shows a good balance between narrow and wide battle description.
Now that we know what different kinds of fight scenes look like, let’s look at some tips for how to write our own!
5 tips for writing a great fight scene
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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?
“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
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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!
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 is obvious. The whole point of a flash fiction is that it’s short.
Again, character is obvious. Characters are the core element of any story.
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 elementsof 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.
Emotion – what do you want your story to make your reader feel?
Character – who is your story about?
Imagery – what strong, iconic imagery will your story use?
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.
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.
Emotion – tragic sadness/regret
Character – an older woman who lives alone
Imagery – dark, drudgey, dead animals, rundown house
Inciting incident – woman collecting roadkill
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.
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:
He showered her with roses, but never asked her favorite flower.
Love is Forever
We came around the corner and there they were: young lovers, hands clasped. I drew the outline, Joe directed the crowd.
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?
Use strong nouns and verbs rather than excess adverbs and adjectives.
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.
Edit for redundant phrasing and concepts. Here’s a video about words, phrases, and scenes you can cut from your writing.
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.
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:
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!
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.
Now here are a few general tips on writing flash fiction
Don’t make it too complicated–focus on one central theme, idea, or message. Don’t try to pack in too much.
Don’t use too many characters–you should really only have one character in focus.
Utilize your title, but don’t let it give away the ending!
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.
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!
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?”
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Here we go!
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.
#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!
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.
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: 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: 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: 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: 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:
Avoid the repetition of repeating a character’s name.
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!
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 Geniuses of the Horror Genre
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:
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.
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.)
Commonly confused words – Don’t be common!
Subject-verb agreement – Be agreeable!
Wishy-washy words – Don’t be wishy-washy!
Deadwood – Prune it.
Active voice – Don’t be passive.
Parallel structure – Keep your balance!
Commas – Figure out if you use too many or too few…or just right!
Punctuation with quotation marks – “Who wants to know where that punctuation goes?”
Complete sentences vs. fragments – Understanding the difference makes the difference.
Sentence variety – Variety adds spice to your writing life.
Reading awareness – Writers need to read…for fun!
The 3 R’s – No ‘rithmetic is necessary with these 3 R’s.
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 principalis 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)
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.
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.
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 knowthey 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.
#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!) Repetitiverevising 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.
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!
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.
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:
· 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
· 5 Minute Journal
What are the 3 things that would make today great?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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? “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. . .
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.
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!
Are you ready to write a novel?! We have everything you need to know!
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.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to be prepared going into an intimidating project like writing a novel, here are some things you might want to have in place before you start drafting:
Research and worldbuilding
A solid handle on prose before you begin
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?
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)
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.
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.
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.
Books to read–these three books cover the main categories of writing a book.
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.)
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.
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:
Take a look at your outline (that you wrote, right?) and estimate how many words/pages/chapters you expect it to be.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
The decision to choose a pen name is a highly individual one arrived at after carefully considering many factors.
A previous article on the Self-Publishing site 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.
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.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when deciding upon this critically important marketing and branding decision:
Is a Pen Name Necessary When Other Authors Have Used Your Real Name? What if Your Real Name Has Already Been Taken on Social Media?
How “Old” is Your Pen Name, Figuratively Speaking? Are You Known Enough Already that You Don’t Even Need a “Real Name?”
For Very Distinct Ethnic Book Genres and Categories Does Your Pen Name Have to be Culturally Relevant?
Is the Domain Name Available for the Pen Name You Are Deciding to Use?
Do you Have a Corresponding Book Title and Cover Art in Mind For Your Pen Name?
How to Choose a Pen Name: Five Questions to Keep in Mind
Is a Pen Name Necessary When Other Authors Have Used Your Real Name? What if Your Real Name Has Already Been Taken on Social Media?
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 Name, Figuratively Speaking? Are You Known Enough Already that You Don’t Even Need a “Real Name?” (Think: Pewdiepie)
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.
For Very Distinct Book Genres and Categories Does My Pen Name Have to be Culturally Relevant? Do you have the subject matter expertise/educational background to pen under your real name?
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? Consider carefully whether you want to emphasize your name or the title of the book (along with its cover art)
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.
Using a Pen Name Generator
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.
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?”
Chesson also provides a great resource 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.
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.
Why do we need good 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 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.
Writing a good chapter requires following your mindmap & 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.
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.
Writing a good chapter involves covering one topic at a time
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 (link to my mindmap blog post). 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:
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.
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, writers could also trim any of the redundancies that they may have made while originally writing the rough draft.
How Step 3 in “How to Write a Good Chapter” Process Helped Me
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.
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.
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).
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 – Shorter chapters is a good thing too
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 – What’s in a name?
The very last thing to a good chapter is a title. When I say the very last thing, it’s the very last thing.
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!
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.
6 Tools to improve the writing process.
For drafting, editing, revising, and sharing your work, here are some things you can use!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
Backup files! Back up everything! On another hard drive, on the internet—multiple backups! Trust me! Do it!
6 Tools for your author platform.
Here are some things you can use to grow your readership, promote your book, and market yourself!
Jenna Moreci’s Skillshare 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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
3 things for you, the writer—
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.
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!
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!
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?
How long does it actually take to write a praiseworthy novel? Read on to find out.
In this post, we’re going to cover what it takes to write a great novel quickly:
Make a Plan: providing an hour-count breakdown through each step of the writing process
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.
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:
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
(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.
It doesn’t always work out so well. Not everyone starts out as a rockstar author.
Action Point #1
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 (my experience as well as some of the greats)
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?
Share your deadline from Action Step #1 on social media and with friends and family
INVEST IN YOUR CRAFT
Ask any author for the best advice to becoming a better writer, and they will say simply that you must write.
Here are some ways you can get that seat-time and valuable feedback:
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.
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.
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.
Consider Commissioning Beta-Readers and ARC. Sending Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARC) and commissioning beta readers is a great way to get early feedback.
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.
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
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!
invest part of your lunch break
use commuting times to dictate notes or scenes
hire a house cleaning service
write at work, in between responsibilities (be careful here; that’s gotten me in trouble a few times!)
replace video streaming and social media time with writing and/or researching
rearrange your sleeping schedule to find extra time
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)
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.
Here are the best podcasts for publishing, writing, and marketing:
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
#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!
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.
#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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
#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.
#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 Get
Sole control of your book's outcome
Sole control of your book's rights
Control over the story
Control over the cover
100% of royalties
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:
Creating a book worth buying
Querying an agent for representation
Your agent pitching your book to publishing companies
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.
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.
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.
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.
#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.
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:
Opening: Start with any credentials, awards, and more that would basically “qualify” you as someone worth taking a chance on.
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.
Write a short bio with details like other published works, self-published books, what you do, maybe even a fun fact about you.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
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!
Writing a Nonfiction Book During COVID-19 Social Distancing / Quarantine
A quick word before we get into the good stuff.
My team and I have noticed an increase in people wanting to finally write the book they’ve been talking about for years while they’re being forced to stay home. While not everyone has this luxury, since some of you have kids and I can imagine that’s a hassle during a time like this, we did want to provide some resources for those of you looking for something to do during this crazy and tragic time.
We actually have a book outline template generator created by one of our coaches who has written and published 30 books.
That’s right, she has a ton of experience and knows what she’s doing.
You can fill out the generator below and the template will be emailed to you right away. You will have to go do File > Make a copy in order to save this template for yourself, otherwise you can’t edit it since this is used for everyone needing a template.
Book Outline Template Generator
Choose your book type to receive a "fill-in-the-blank" book outline template you can use to plan your book.
Enter your information below to receive your free outline template!
Book Outline Template Generator
Thanks for submitting! Check your email for your book outline template.
In the meantime, check out our Book Outline Challenge.
Sit down with a sheet of paper and jot down subjects you consider yourself an authority on (you know a ton of accurate information)
Write down a few things people often ask you questions about (I originally wrote The Productive Person because many people wanted to know how I got so much done)
Think about the topics that make you talk a bunch during get-togethers/gatherings
What are you crazy passionate about?
This is a great start and you’ll likely even have a few ideas pop up as you read this. Make sure to write them down and choose the one that falls into the above two criteria I mentioned.
#2 – Do market research
One thing we do a little differently here at Self-Publishing School is teach our students how to ensure your book is hot in the market. While this isn’t necessarily “writing to market,” it does ensure you’ll bring in some income from it.
If you’re not worried about that, then this isn’t necessarily something you need to do, but we still recommend it to understand what books in your genre are doing as far as the cover, title, etc.
Here’s my process for market research for the book idea/s I’m planning to write:
Go on Amazon
Choose “Books” from the search dropdown departments
Search for something in the range of what you want to write, keywords help (publishing, paleo recipes, mental health self-help, etc.)
Take note and even save some titles/topics that are close to what you want to do
To go deeper, click on a book that is close to what you want to write about
Scroll down to”Product Details” section view the categories they’re ranking in under “Amazon Best Sellers Rank”
Repeat that exercise with various categories related to your idea.
The reason we do this is to see what’s working so you can build off of an already stable foundation.
#3 – Nail down your target audience
This is one of the most crucial steps for your book’s longevity. The more you can create a clear picture of who your avatar is, the better your book will perform and the better Amazon reviews you’ll get.
This is something that’s really special about our programs. Every one of them has 1-on-1 coaching with a highly experienced bestseller, and they go through a big deep dive on your target audience, before you even start your outline with us.
Ultimately, you want to get to the point where, when you’re writing your book, you’re speaking to one person: your ideal audience member.
This helps the book be concise, highly targetted so it will be received better by people who need it, and those who do read it will review it highly because it’s made for them.
But how do you nail down your target audience details when writing a nonfiction book?
Check out these steps:
How old are they?
What do they do for fun?
What’s their financial status?
Are they aware of their problem?
What have they done already to try to solve the problem that didn’t work?
Where have they been looking for help with this problem?
What type of style do they have?
What’s their vocabulary like?
What will their name be for your own reference?
These questions can help you get started so you know exactly who you’re writing for, what type of writing/style they respond to, and what problems and objections you’ll have to face when writing your nonfiction book.
#4 – Mindmap and outline your nonfiction book
Mindmap first, then outline.
That’s the system we follow and it’s by far the best because when your mindmap is complete, you can just pull over each topic into an orderly outline like one you (hopefully) downloaded earlier.
When it comes to this tactic, you have to sit down with no distractions and jot down everything and anything you can think of in your mindmap. Go nuts! This is not the time for thoughts like, “is this necessary here?” No.
The idea is to get out every piece of knowledge you have on the main topic that’s in the middle of your mindmap.
Then when that’s done, move on to filling out your outline in order of what topics you think should go in what order. Once your book outline is done, it’s (mostly) smooth sailing from there.
#5 – Schedule time to write your book
If you don’t put it on the calendar somewhere, it probably won’t get done.
Writing a nonfiction book isn’t something you can just shrug at and say, “I’ll get to it when I get to it,” because you and I both know there are a million things that could get in the way of that—like watching Tiger Kind on Netflix.
But if you give it space in your calendar, you’re announcing to you and everyone else that it’s a priority, it’s something you’re committed to.
Check out this great video about building a writing habit if you want to get this down better:
But we’ll also go over the main details here as well, so you can get started right away. You can also download our book outline template if you haven’t already, which has an introduction detailed and outlined (developed by one of our coaches who has 30 self-published books).
Really what you’re doing with a book introduction is selling your book. It’s more in line with copywriting than anything else. Copywriting meaning salesmanship in writing.
Which is what you need your introduction to be. Otherwise, why would they buy the book? Why else would they read the whole thing?
Now onto your introduction…
Identify the problem you’re going to solve
Present the solution you have to that problem
Reassert your credibility and why you can solve this
Show them the benefits of solving this issue
Give your reader proof as to how and why this works
Give them a huge promise, a major, bold promise
Warn them against waiting to start/reading
Prompt them to start the first chapter (if someone’s only peeking at the Amazon “Look Inside” this can prompt them to buy!)
Check out this video I filmed for y’all for more details:
#7 – Write your nonfiction book in order
Once you know the order you’ll keep your book in from the outline, write it exactly in that order. This is really important because there needs to be a sense of progression and cohesiveness overall.
If your book reads like it skips around, people will be put off by the lack of consistency in the style.
That’s why we always recommend writing it in order and not just writing whatever you want first. Trust us on this one.
It seems simple but being able to mention previous parts of the book for reference is super important for refreshing a reader’s memory and pulling them back into that same frame of mind.
#8 – Write the first draft straight through
This means no stopping to research or edit. Nope. We write our drafts completely through because this is the fastest way to make sure your draft gets done.
What we’ve found that the biggest obstacle between someone who has a book idea and someone who becomes an author is finishing that first draft.
Too many writers get caught up in making the first draft perfect and when it’s not (because it’s a first draft) they throw in the towel. Don’t be that person.
If you have places where you need to do some factual research, put the letters TK in place of data you need, and move on. You can later do a Command/Ctrl+F in order to search each of these places and provide the right information.
#9 – Do nonfiction book research
After you completed your draft and put that TK in place of research, do a Command/Ctrl+F and search those letters.
You’ll find all the areas of research you need to complete and you can go through in order, same as you did when writing. This is the best way to do research because you’ll only spend time finding exactly what you need to find instead of spending hours digging through information for stuff to “pull” into your book.
Research should be used to confirm and validate your own experiences, not as a starting point for you to start writing. It comes off as much more authentic and authoritative this way.
#10 – Self-edit your book
You’ll both love and have this part. Going back over your first draft can be a little emotionally troubling because you’ll want it to be perfect the first time.
It can feel like a setback but this is why we self-edit!
First, you got out what you needed to. Now, you chisel away the excess, sharpen the message, and drill your solution home. This is the part where you make everything merge together.
We have a full blog post on how to self-edit your book you can read to learn more about the process and what specifically you should be looking for.
#11 – Choose a nonfiction book title
You might be wondering why this is so far down on the list. Most people come up with the title before they even write…don’t they?
If they do, it’s likely not a fitting title. When students go through our Become a Bestseller program, they’re most shocked by this because our coaches instruct them to not title their book until they’re finished and have edited it.
The main reason for this is because so much can change from your idea to your outline to the finished product itself. So instead of trying to fit your book to a title that just might not work, write the book and then craft a compelling title that will actually encompass and sell the book’s content.
The time has never been better to write and publish a book. If you are thinking of writing a book but you are stressing out over all the steps to write, publish and launch to market, you should seriously consider enrolling in one of the best self-publishing courses available today.
Although all the best online courses here come highly recommended, the course content and purpose of each course varies depending on:
What you need as an author.Are you writing your first book? Scaling up your author platform to 6 figures a year?
Your budget.How much cash are you willing to invest in your self-publishing business?
Your expectations. What are you expecting by taking an online publishing program? A strong return on ROI? Can the course deliver on its promise?
If you’re a business owner looking to make a solid ROI and see how a book can help grow you business, just fill out the ROI calculator below.
Book Launch ROI Business Calculator
Just input your core offer product or service average order value to see just how much you can scale your business in the next 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years by writing and self-publishing a high quality book with Self-Publishing School!
*These results are calculated based on Self-Publishing School's Become a Bestseller and Sell More Books program costs in the ROI calculations and with our students' average books sold per day at a 5% book to appointment (or landing page) conversion rate and a 20% closing rate—book sales profit not included in final numbers. Individual results may vary.*
Want to receive personalized tips on how to sell more books right in your inbox?
But, before we dive into the best self-publishing courses on the market today, let me ask you this:
Thousands of authors—just like you—have a dream to see their books in print, on a bookshelf, or for sale online in the Amazon store, the largest ebook retailer in the world.
To get your book to the publishing stage takes a lot of work. If you are not familiar with everything needed to self publish a book, you could end up spending more money than planned or, unknowingly fall into the hands of a deceiving vanity press publisher that waits for new authors desperate to publish.
Don’t let haste or desperation lead you to a bad decision. Check out the best courses here and any questions, contact support through the course so you can be confident you’re making the right decision.
Why Self-Publish Instead of Traditional Publishing?
So yes, self-publishing can be a great path to launch your writing career. You can work from home, set up a writer’s temporary workstation at your local Starbucks, or hunker down in a library hammering away at perennial bestseller after bestseller.
Now, you might be thinking to just do it yourself without any help from a self-publishing course. I did this too, and I made a lot of mistakes that could have been avoided had I invested in a course with a built-in blueprint.
This is why I have put together a solid list of the best self-publishing courses on the market today. Only the best made this list because I know what it is like to waste money on courses that went nowhere.
I have personally been inside each of these courses so I can share with you first hand the pros and cons of each.
Why take a self-publishing course?
Good question. Take into account the marketing, networking, and getting the book ready for print. The steps are many and it is a big investment of your time and effort.
Do I need a course to write a book? Can’t I do this myself?
Yes, you can. But…
Publishing can be difficult with lots of moving parts. You start to feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air! And if you’re already spending the time to get it done, why not do it right.
The good point of joining a course is, you are not alone. And, without support, a launch teamto help launch your book, it is easy to make a lot mistakes could otherwise be avoided.
So, this is why we bring you this list of professional experts, each with years of book writing experience and marketing confidence, sharing with you the best strategies for writing, launching and selling more books. And yes, despite the flood of material out there these days, you can make money from self-publishing…if you do it right and learn from the best.
Making the Cut: The 7-Point Criteria for Choosing the Best Self Publishing Course
The instructors for each course are multi-bestselling authors with the sales and platform to show it. They are trusted by the industry with solid reputations for being honest and driving their business with integrity.
The course content is current and up to date. In an industry that is constantly changing, publishing courses can become outdated within a year. The courses here are updated regularly with additions and updates every few months.
Based on industry reviews and student satisfaction, the courses are praised and recommended by authors who have been through the programs.
The strategies and business practices of the owners do not break any rules pertaining to Amazon’s rules and are morally sound.
I have personally taken these courses and recommend each one.
The material, content and overall course is professionally packaged and high quality.
Support: When you run into trouble, you want to know that you can talk to someone and get everything sorted quickly and efficiently. No-fuss.
Take note: Several courses are open for a limited time only at certain times of the year. The enrollment period is usually every three months, but this varies.
Self Publishing School with Chandler Bolt
Self-published entrepreneur and bestselling author Chandler Bolt quit college back in 2014 and set out to write a book called The Productive Person. The book was hugely successful and Chandler soon set up an online course to help authors self publish their books…in just 90 days!
With this comprehensive go-at-your-own-pace blueprint, the school has created an easy-to-follow system to take you from first time author to course creator with three pillar courses available.
Breakdown of Course Content
When self-publishing school first started out they had a basic course for writing and publishing a book. There are now four premium courses to choose from on the platform, including a full fiction course piloted by successful self-published fiction author RE Vance.
Become a Bestseller—Blank Page to Published Author and Everything Inbetween: From blank page to published author, write your book in 90 days with this course. There are 3 modules to walk you through the program with over 4 hours of video, bonus content and an outsourcer rolodex to assist with hiring professionals for all phases of the book production along with over $1,000 in exclusive Self-Publishing School student discounts and specials.
Mindmap / Outlining
Target Audience Deep-Dive
Book Production Instructions/Guides
Marketing and Publishing
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Fundamentals of Fiction & Story: For all the fiction writers looking to learn everything you need to in order to write a high-quality fiction book that actually sells! Fiction is a different game than non-fiction, and Self-Publishing School knows that, employing a bestselling fiction coach to work through plot, the craft of writing, and selling.
Writing, editing, and mindset
Launching your book
The business of writing
Children’s book module
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Sell More Books: For authors that have already published a book and are focusing on book marketing and promotion to achieve sales results. Most often, these are business builders using their book to grow their business or those looking to make being an author their full-time job.
Email Marketing Strategies
Author Brand Strategies
Advanced Marketing Strategies
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Course Building for Authors: Building a course from your book? This premium course is made specially for those authors ready to take their platform to the next level.
Plan & Develop Your Course
Create and Upload Your Course
Market and Sell Your Course
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Each course comes with its own customized, professional workbook. The best part of these courses is that you will be assigned a personal coach after being accepted into the program.
Cost to Enroll: Speak to an SPS representative to discuss best course options and pricing, as each program price varies.
Availability: If you meet the course requirements you can start right away
Target Author: Writing your first book, advanced or pro authors, business owners or future business owners. SPS has courses to cover any level.
Enrollment Availability: If you qualify for access to the course, you will speak to a self-publishing representative who will set you up with the best course to meet your publishing goals.
The one-on-one personal coaching that comes with each course. You will get the best results by working with a professional student success coach.
One hour clarity call with your coach to drill down into your book idea.
Up to 4 weekly live online mastermind group trainings & Q&A, one with Chandler Bolt himself
Customized workbook comes with each course
Mastermind Facebook Community of 2500+ active participants.
4 premium courses to meet your publishing goals
Self Publishing School has a long track record of successful students that have written, launched and turned their dreams of being published into a reality. The course is fast-paced and doesn’t waste time on details.
Authority Pub Academy With Steve Scott and Barrie Davenport
Steve Scott [also known as S.J. Scott] is one of the biggest names when it comes to self-publishing. He has been marketing online for a long time and when the eBook craze started back in 2011, Steve was one of the first authors that as in there doing it.
With the combined talents of two bestselling authors, Authority Pub is everything you would expect it to be: A self publishing course that is focused on teaching authors to write and publish, not just a book, but focuses on building out an author platform.
In today’s overwhelming jungle of books, with thousands being published daily, Steve Scott recognised the importance of turning your book platform into a brand and a book business.
This is the strength and focus of this course, and there is loads of videos, downloads and information taught from two authors that have been engaged in the self-publishing business from the beginning.
Module 6: Advanced marketing and Scaling Up Your Author Library
Authority Pub is a plethora of knowledge and both Steve and Barrie have learned everything through years of trial and error. Authority pub is a “one-stop resource to help writers streamline the whole process.”
Cost to Enroll: $597 or 2 payments of $348
Target Author: If you are just writing your first book, or already published and looking to scale up your author platform with more content and strategies that increase long term growth, Authority Pub is for you.
6 Reasons to Enroll with Authority Pub Academy:
Advanced supplementary materials includes WordPress blog setup mastery, Canva tutorial, email walkthrough using Aweber and Evernote tips for productive writing
Course content professionally delivered via high definition videos supported by quality downloads
Solid case studies and examples of writers who have made it work
Effective advanced marketing strategies to scale up your books
The course removes any guesswork and provides students with a clear roadmap
30 day “try it, test it, apply it” money-back guarantee
As a traditionally published author who used to write for a big firm, Mark Dawson started self-publishing his action and thrillers and, to date, has sold over a million copies. Mark has published 25+ books, has three series in the works, and is constantly launching bestseller after bestseller. His monthly earnings in 2015, according to an interview in Forbes.com, Mark Dawson was being paid $450,000 a year for his works.
So, who better to learn the craft of self-publishing than an established author with both a library of successful bestsellers and the income to show it. This brings us to Self Publishing 101, Mark Dawson’s course for authors.
If you are new at self-publishing or have been publishing for a while, this course has something for everyone. You will learn the basics as well as advanced marketing strategies to scale up your author platform.
With Self Publishing 101, you’ll write, launch and market a quality book that sells. Although Mark Dawson is mainly a fiction author, the course can be customized for nonfiction writers. The same marketing strategies apply to both.
Breakdown of Course Content
Inside Self Publishing 101, the course is broken up into 8 modules that includes:
As additional bonuses, there is also a tech module that walks through how to build a website, lead magnets, email service providers, and formatting your book.
The best part of this course is the system Mark teaches for email list building through an author website. Building an email list is critical to the success of any author, and Mark and his team have these bases covered.
Cost to Enroll: $497 or 12 monthly payments of $49.00. Comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Availability: Closed after enrollment begins. Cycle is every 3-4 months.
Target Author: Beginner, intermediate and advanced authors looking to build a rock-solid fan base through email list building and advertising.
6 Reasons to Enroll with Self Publishing 101
Deep dive into the Amazon algorithm
Focuses on subscriber communication and building an email list
Bonus tech library with an introduction to using advanced apps and tools
Active Facebook group with high response time
Additional “Writing Copy for Facebook Ads” module
Reasonably priced course for the value it delivers
Your First 10k Readers with Nick Stephenson
If you are looking for a comprehensive, in-depth, no-holds-barred course on marketing tactics, Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers is that course.
The course assumes you already have a book, or a library of books, and now you want to take what you’ve got and line it all up in order to grow your list to a 10k readership…and beyond.
Your First 10k Readers is really better suited for the more seasoned author. It gets into the nitty-gritty of the Amazon algorithm, merchandising, keywords and niche marketing, email marketing, landing pages, giveaways, and what Nick calls “You’re secret sauce.”
So yeah, there’s a lot going on here.
Let’s take a look inside.
Breakdown of the Course Content
The course consists of 6 modules that you can work on at your own pace. The modules are:
Module 1: Rule the Retainers.
This includes Amazon Algorithms, Merchandising, Broad Reach VS KDP Select, and Pricing.
Module 2: Generate Endless Traffic.
This includes Keywords & Niches, Using Free Books, Smart Promotions, and The Author Dream Team
Module 3: Convert Traffic Into Fans
This includes Traffic Funnels, Optimize Your Website, Giveaways, and Events Marketing
Module 4: Build Engagement and Sell—Without Being “Salesy”
This module includes Why Readers Don’t Buy, Priming the sale, Scarcity, the Secret Sauce, Social Media Mastery, Getting Reviews, and Auto-Responders
Module 5: Launch Strategies
This module includes Launch Teams, Building Buzz, and Launch Day
Module 6: Facebook Advertising
This module includes Intro to Power Editor, How to Track Results With Pixels, and Ninja Tricks.
In addition to the 6 core modules, there is also a wide range of bonus content that includes rock star author interviews, email swipe files, and tools of the trade bonus section.
Cost to Enroll: $597 or 12 monthly payments of $59.00. Comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Availability: Enrollment anytime.
Target Author: Intermediate and advanced authors needing advanced tactics to scale up author platform and build your publishing business into an empire
With a successful blog and five bestselling books, it isn’t any surprise that Jeff has a writing course to market to his raving fans of authors: Tribe Writers.
Jeff’s course is packed with material. With the formula presented in Tribe Writers, you as the author can create your own path to creativity. There are twelve steps of a tribe writer that allows you to tailor fit the best plan while keeping your unique voice.
Tribe Writers is broken up into four individual modules:
Module 1: Honing Your Voice
Module 2: Establishing a Platform
Module 3: Expanding Your Reach
Module 4: Getting Published
In addition to the four modules, you also get:
Exclusive interviews with over a dozen authors, bloggers, and publishing experts
Access to the Tribe Writers community of 6000+ members
Live conference calls to ask questions and get help
Downloadable PDF workbook that summarizes every lesson
Admission to a private Facebook group only for students
The modules take about 2 weeks to get through but you can move at your pace.
This course comes with five additional bonuses to support you including You Are a Writer eBook + Audiobook and The Perfect Book Launch.
Where Jeff’s Tribe Writers is different from the other courses is, a strong emphasis on honing your ideas and creativity as a writer to create a unique brand. There is a strong foundation for support and networking with hundreds of other authors.
Best 6 Reasons to Enroll with Tribe Writers
Loaded with tools to help get you started
Community of writers to help you when you get stuck
Lots of valuable content and expert interviews included
Designed to show you how to find your voice and audience
Monthly conference calls to keep you on track
“12 steps of a Tribe Writer” that clearly outlines the expectations of the course.
Ready to Write and Publish Your Bestseller?
All of these courses are excellent in their own way. Depending on your budget and writing goals, you might choose one over the other.
Now that we have taken an in- depth look at the best self publishing courses for you to write your bestseller, you have a solid idea of what to expect from each course. The question is: Are you ready to write your book?
The best writing course you decide depends largely on your goals as a writer.
Do you want to build a solid library of books and focus on your author platform? Authority Pub Academy could be your best match. Let Steve Scott and Barrie Davenport guide you towards your success of being a multiple bestselling author.
Do you want to learn the essence of email list building, creating an author website and setting up landing pages that convert readers into subscribers? Self Publishing 101 could be the best choice to make.
Need more advanced marketing tools from one of the best in the business? Your First 10k Readers is the path you might consider, and…
Interested in a course that focuses on honing your creative writing talent while showing you how to connect with your unique voice? Tribe Writers with Jeff could be the best option.
Or, you might decide you need two courses and combine together for maximum impact. Self Publishing School can show you how to go from blank page to published author in 90 days. But Nick Stephenson’s course can teach you the more advanced analytics and how to really build out an online book business.
So now, make a choice. You have been sitting on this long enough. Your book won’t write itself and if you have written it already, take it to the next level.
Life is short.
Take action now.
It’s your time to write that next perennial bestseller!
Many people think they need to do something massive or be famous in order to write about their lives…
That’s not true at all.
In fact, more people can relate to regular, non-famous people and their struggles than they can those who have been in the limelight.
The reason writing about your life is important is because you have a story. You have something worth sharing that can actually change the lives of others through your trials and tribulations.
Even if you’re not ready to write a memoir, you still have something valuable to share—knowledge gained through the years or maybe you just experienced a short, influential event in your life that you believe can help other.
No matter what that story is, you can and you should tell it.
How do I write a book about myself?
One of the hardest things in life is looking inside ourselves. We spend so long looking outward, to everyone else, that when we finally decide to take a peek inside, it’s hard.
Not to mention writing a book about yourself.
The most important thing to write a book about yourself is to get really, really honest and dig into the raw and deep parts about yourself.
Nobody wants a book about you that’s all sunshine and rainbows because that’s not real life.
So here are a few steps to write a book about yourself:
Decide if you’re ready to write a book about yourself
Spend some time self-reflecting
Decide which specific experience of your life you want to focus on
Create a mindmap of the things that pop up after step #3
Take those ideas and start creating a book outline, then follow the rest of this blog post
How do you write a true story?
True stories can be tricky because you have to decide if you want people to know it’s a true story about your life. In that case, writing a memoir might be a better idea for you.
There are a few things to think about if you want to write a true story:
Do you want it to be nonfiction, more like a memoir?
Do you want it to be a chronological telling of your life, an autobiography?
Do you want to write a fiction book with certain elements of your life?
Can you truly be truthful without being biased?
It’s often not advised to write a fiction book about your life because your characters can often fall into the archetype of a “Mary Sue”. Meaning, a perfect character with no flaws.
This happens because it’s difficult for us to be unbiased about ourselves. But if you can write a true story while giving the character based on yourself real flaws, it can work.
How to Write a Book About Your Life in 10 Simple Steps
So you’ve discovered you have something to share with the world…but what you don’t know is how the heck to make it happen.
Here are our top tips for writing your life story.
Take a few minutes to free write or journal each day, focusing on one memory. A good writing prompt for this free-write session is to write about a significant 24 hours in your life. This is just to help you get started. The memories written down from this significant moment in your life will be use later to build upon to create your nonfiction narrative.
Even if you don’t ultimately use this particular memory in your overall narrative, getting into the habit of writing down memories will benefit you as a writer and help keep those memories fresh.
After you’ve written down a variety of memories—whether they’re a part of an overall narrative or a collection of essays—they now need to be organized into a coherent story in order to actually write it.
Since you’re writing your life story, technically the plotline is already there; it just has to be written down and organized in a manner that will speak to your audience.
However, if you are the more organized type and not a “pantster” like other writers, outlining what memories you want to include in your life story may help get the writing juices flowing.
Not only can an outline help you get clear on the message and order you’ll write your book, it can also help you form writing goals that will set up a writing habit. These are two keys to actually finishing your book.
Other writers struggle with writing unless they have an outline or book template, even if it’s a book outline of their own life. It all depends on you, the writer.
#3 – Pick your genre
“Creative nonﬁction has become the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities.” – Lee Gutkind, What is Creative Nonfiction?
There are several book genres that fall under the nonfiction genre: memoirs, essay collections, autobiographies, motivational books, and more.
Since you are writing a book about your life, it might feel like you have to put it in the “memoir” genre, but that’s not always the case.
In fact, it might hurt your book sales to mislabel your book as a memoir when it’s actually more of a self-help in a specific category.
An example of this is While We Slept by our own coach here at Self-Publishing School, Marcy Pusey.
While this author does label this book as a memoir, it also fits in several other categories. These Amazon categories will help you 1) reach a wider audience and 2) help you tell the story in a way that will speak to those readers.
If you’re struggling to decide whether your book about your life is a memoir or autobiography, this can help:
The main difference between memoirs and autobiographies are their focus. Memoirs focus primarily on one specific time, or “memory” of one’s life, like a battle with a disease, traveling to a foreign country, or adopting a special pet.
Autobiographies, or “biographies of oneself,” focus primarily on your entire life from start to finish—from when you were born until you die, or at least until the current moment in your life with details about achievements or notable moments.
Autobiographies also tend to be a bit more factual than creative, though there have been some very well written autobiographies published.
What if neither of these makes sense for my book about my life?
Maybe you don’t have a specific period in you want to focus on, but don’t necessarily want to tell your entire life story from start to finish. This is where a collection of personal and/or lyrical essays may be more of your style.
Think Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? Kaling is still telling her life story, or at least memorable moments in her life story, without necessarily being one complete narrative. Collections of personal essays are like the nonfiction version of a collection of short stories.
If you are still uncertain about which nonfiction subgenre to write your life story in, this is a major topic covered in the Self-Publishing School VIP course. They take you through choosing your categories that will help your book sell the most.
#4 – Research
Regardless of how you begin writing your life story—with free-writing or outlining—research can help you build on memories to create a fuller story and establish you as a credible writer.
Memories are fickle, and we don’t always remember things correctly, especially if you are writing about something that happened many years ago.
Researching for a book can seem like a daunting task. In fact, out of all the research you’ll end up doing, only a very small percentage will end up in your story. In order to find that small percentage, however, you need to do your research.
Here are some tips for book research when writing a book about your life:
List memories or facts you’re not 100% certain about
Ask family members or others close to you for details
Get quotes from those people if necessary
When writing and you come across something you need to research, simply make a note to research and keep writing so you can write faster
#5 – Identify characters and perspective
The people you have met in your life influenced you in some way, and as such, they will influence how you write your life story as well.
Here are some tips to organize these characters for your story:
Make a list of people, also known as “characters” in this case, who you want to include in your story
Write down their description: physical appearance, age, background,
Write down their relationship to you (and if you’re close or distant to them)
This will assist you in describing them in your narrative through the rule of “show don’t tell“, that way readers can visualize them and understand how they affected your life personally.
The only thing you may have to alter is a character’s real name, or names.
Changing names can protect a person’s true identity in their story. Unless you have permission to use someone’s true name, change it and include a disclaimer at the beginning of your story. Make a note in your character list of names you change, that way you can keep track of who’s who.
Also, just because this is your life story—so technically, it’s told from your point-of-view—doesn’t mean you can’t explore the perspectives of the other characters in your story.
Keeping other character’s point-of-view in mind will give your story more dimension, and will help you to avoid a one-sided, train-of-thought narrative.
#6 – Add speculation
Use “speculation” to fill in gaps in your life story. Not sure if one of your character’s motivations? Is your memory of the event a bit foggy? Using what you already know, combined with the research you’ve conducted, speculate to the best of your ability.
Here is an example of writing speculation:
“I am not sure why my parents chose to end their marriage after 15 years together. They were always private people, and after their brief announcement to me about their separation, neither of them spoke a word to me about it ever again.
Perhaps they were trying to spare me the heartache of the ordeal. I often wonder if my father’s time in the service made him distant from mother; that was the case with me. Maybe my mother, like me, became lonely as a result of that.”
Words and phrases like “perhaps,” “maybe,” and “I wonder if” show your reader that you, the narrator, are speculating.
Try to find creative ways to speculate, as well. You are, in a sense, still telling a true story; you’re using what you know to create a hypothesis about something that is still a mystery to you.
If you were to claim this hypothesis were true without facts to back it up, you could get end up in trouble.
#7 – Determine the setting
Readers want to know where your life story took place, or the setting. Like fiction, you need to consider how the setting of this story affected you as a person.
Here are some questions to help you discover the setting of your book:
Where was this place?
What did it look like?
Did you enjoy living/visiting there?
Do you remember any smells from the area?
What was the culture like there?
Were you a spectator of that culture or immersed in it?
How did the setting contribute to your experience?
What mood did that setting elicit?
Details like these affected your life tremendously—maybe more than you realize—and therefore must be included in your narrative, just as they would be if this was a fictional story.
Not only that, but this helps paint a much clearer picture for your readers and creates a more entertaining experience.
When you forget to write dialogue…the book can end up reading like a very boring textbook.
Dialogue is what gives the writing—and the story itself—life.
But that leaves the challenge of writing accurate dialogue. Unless you used a tape recorder or video to record a conversation, chances are you’re not going to recall previous conversations word-for-word.
Just write down what you remember to the best of your ability, and paraphrase if you must. If you are still on good terms with the person you’re speaking within your memory, try contacting them to be sure that their memory of the conversation is similar to yours. You can even ask them to approve any written dialogue that’s in quotes if it’s not 100% accurate to what was really said.
Write dialogue the same way it would be used in a fiction book and remember to use correct dialogue formatting and tags.
#9 – Prepare for negative pushback
Not all of us have sweet stories with cute pets. Sometimes our memories and experiences are on the dark side—for example, The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison.
This memoir focuses on the time in the author’s life where she has a sexual (and incestuous) relationship with her father. She received a huge amount of negative reactions to her story.
If you are going to write and publish a personal and scandalous true story about your life, steel yourself for these kinds of negative reactions, particularly from those in your life unhappy with you telling the story to begin with.
It’s easy to think an introduction isn’t important because so many people skip them, but did you know your book’s introduction is actually a vital sales tool if you’re a non-fiction author?
That’s why we’re here to teach you how to write a book introduction that will actually boost book sales.
But first, let’s talk about why it’s so important.
How to Write a Book Introduction
You’re about to learn about the most wonderful page in your book to boost sales. It’s going to be your secret weapon to stand out from the competition.
Amazon offers customers a chance to give your book a sneak peek before purchase. It’s called the Look Inside feature, and when shoppers click on it, they’re treated to a free preview of your book introduction.
This means you’ve been given the opportunity to grab their attention and make them reach for their wallets.
This is why, if you’re writing a nonfiction book, your introduction is crucial to your book’s ultimate success. Readers will pick up your story and make a decision about you as an author and your book based on those first few paragraphs.
If you aren’t careful it might be a preface or a foreword instead, and these are different than an introduction.
While this difference might not seem like much to you, mislabeling this section will signal your book as an amateur piece of work to your reader, harming your brand and sales in the long run.
Who would want to read a book (or many) from someone who can’t get even the introduction right?
So, what are the differences between an introduction, preface, and a foreword? Where do you use them? Can you use several of them? We’ll go through these questions in detail.
What is a preface?
A preface discusses how the book came about, the scope of the book, why the book was written, its limitations, and any acknowledgments the author or editor has.
Though they may initially seem the same, and serve the same purpose, a preface is different from an introduction. The author and/or editor of a book can write a preface, but no-one else can.
What it doesn’t do is talk about the meat of the book. It doesn’t go into the subject matter, the point of view, or arguments that the book presents.
The purpose of a preface is to let the reader know how you came to write the book.
Without delving into the book matter, it gives the author a chance to talk to the reader and let them know your story, why you decided to write this book, why the world needs this book right now (helpful if you’re writing about something that’s been written about several times before, such as the hundredth biography of a famous figure,) where you got your information from, and why you are the best author to write this book.
If you have several editions of your book, your preface is also where you discuss why there is a new edition, and what’s different from the old edition.
You have to address your selling points indirectly. This is why it’s best to have an editor’s preface or to have someone else write a foreword.
What is a foreword?
According to the Chicago Manual of Style, a foreword is written by someone other than the author or editor and is usually someone with authority to lend credibility to your book, with their name appearing at the end.
Think of a foreword as a letter of recommendation that someone with credibility writes for your book.
It’s usually by someone the reader will respect, and the foreword will contain reasons for why the reader should read the book. There are fewer rules for a foreword than a preface.
For instance, it can talk about the subject matter if desired. However, forewords tend to be short – usually one or two pages.
Many non-fiction book deals wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the foreword. Publishers are less likely to offer a major advance to first-time authors as they are untested. However, this becomes a different story if they can secure a foreword from someone of influence, (known as foreword deals in the industry.)
John Romaniello (with his co-author Adam Bornstein) was able to get an advance of more than $1,000,000 for his first book, Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha, a practically unheard of amount for a first-time author.
An introduction differs from a preface and a foreword because it’s written by the author and does talk about the subject matter.
A book introduction can include everything that would be in a preface: how the book came about, the scope of the book, why the book was written etc.
However, an introduction also supplements the subject matter of the book.
Whether by presenting a point of view the reader should take, outlining to the reader what is to come, or by teasing the writer’s conclusions.
What’s the purpose of a preface, foreword, and introduction?
Each one of these exists to sell your book in the opening pages. They exist to hook a reader who flips to the beginning of the book and gives clear reasons as to why they should read on to the end.
A potential reader or buyer will judge whether your main argument, point of view, or tone of voice is worth reading on your introduction, preface, or foreword.
If someone they admire recommends your book in the foreword, they’ll sit up and listen.
If your preface reveals some main sources that have never told their story before, they’ll be curious to read more. If your introduction shows that you’re a great writer and you know what you’re talking about, they’ll give you a chance by reading more.
Since we’re dealing with non-fiction, we haven’t discussed prologues or epilogues, though they have the same purpose; to hook the reader and sell them on why to read on.
Where do they go?
So, do you only have to choose one for your book? No.
Your book can have all three if you want, though you don’t want to go too overboard, as your reader might end up skipping it anyway, or might feel like you’re trying too hard.
Getting a foreword can be a lot of hard work if you don’t have the network or credibility to get an influencer to write one for you. And if your reader ends up skipping it, it’ll be a waste of your time.
But if you want to have all three, this is the correct formatting of where they appear in your book, (relevant sections are highlighted in bold. We provided a comprehensive overview of a book’s matter for reference:)
(Each point gets at least its own page.)
Half title page (Sometimes called the bastard title, it’s a page that has nothing but the title. No subtitle or author name.)
Blank page (Or “Also by the author…”)
Epigraph (Quote, or poem that highlights the theme of the book. Can be before main text. Optional.)
Table of contents
Book quote (optional: A quote chosen by the author based on the subject matter of the book.)
List of illustrations, tables or maps (Optional.)
Preface(Optional. Editor’s preface comes before author’s preface if you have both. If you have a separate preface for a new edition of the book it comes before the old preface.)
Abbreviations (Optional. Or in back matter.)
Chronology (Optional. Or in back matter.)
Prologue (Optional. Not applicable to non-fiction.)
Epigraph (or after the dedication and before the table of contents. Optional.)
Another half-title (Optional.)
Epilogue (Optional. Not applicable to non-fiction.)
(These are all optional.)
Chronology (Or in the front matter.)
Abbreviations (Or in the front matter.)
List of contributors
Colophon (Optional brief statement by the publishers on the book’s production, where it was printed etc.)
Authors or Editor’s bio
Invitation to review the book [Usually found in eBook formats asking readers to consider a review if they liked the book]
Don’t panic if your book doesn’t have up to half of these sections. Many of them are not necessary unless you are writing for a higher education audience.
What matters is knowing where your foreword, preface, and/or your introduction needs to go in your book.
How Your Book Introduction Will Help You Sell Books
Your book introduction serves two goals. Think of your first 1,000 words as the foundation for the rest of your book’s chapters.
Writing your introduction is going to be a useful exercise to help you distill down your ideas and to succinctly encapsulate the message of your great work into a few, short paragraphs.
The second goal of your introduction is to act as a sales pitch to intrigue readers so they’ll buy your book.
It’s intimidating, yes, and a lot of pressure is riding on just a few paragraphs. This is why writing your book introduction can be one of your first major stumbling blocks as an author.
That’s why we’re here to help you overcome this significant hurdle so you can continue merrily on the path toward your finished manuscript, and ultimately higher sales of your book once it is published.
How to an Introduction for a Book in 8 Clear Steps
Self-Publishing School created a roadmap, much like we did for mind mapping and outlining, to nail down that book introduction—and also to jumpstart your writing process for the rest of your chapters.
As we go through these 8 steps to writing your book introduction, we’re going to use the example of a book called How to Get College Scholarships.
As you read, take notes, and insert your own book’s topic into your thinking and note-taking process.
#1 – Identify the Problem
Don’t dance around the problem. What’s the problem your book promises to solve? State the problem clearly for your readers from the outset. Be straight-forward, unambiguous, and concise when you identify the issue that readers hope you can solve for them.
Don’t try to be all things to all people—you want readers to know the specific problem your book will solve for them.
Using our example of How to Get College Scholarships, the problem is simple: college is expensive, and scholarships seem out of reach for most high school students.
If you’re not quote sure of the problem you’re solving, it’s likely your target audience is unclear and that means the rest of your book will be unclear.
In our Become a Bestseller program (and all of them, really), you get 1-on-1 tailored coaching with a bestselling author about how to nail your target audience and craft an introduction meant to hook them.
#2 – Present the Solution
Now that you’ve identified the problem readers are struggling with, you’re going to make their day by telling them you’re going to share the solution in your book.
You’ve helped them with a problem AND you’ve revealed that your book holds the solution on the first page. Your book’s going to be a winner!
Directional phrases such as, “In this book, I am going to show you …” or “This book is going to solve your problem by …”
Thinking back to our example, some solutions we’d present in our book would be teaching readers how to write a good essay so you can stand out from the competition, and how to find and apply for the top scholarships.
#3 – Assert Your Credibility
Now that you’ve presented a problem and posted a solution, your next step is to convince your readers that you, the author, are qualified to help solve their problem.
What unique experience have you had with this topic?
Why are you passionate about writing this book?
Sharing your own struggles and how you overcame them is the first step to building rapport with your readers
#4 – Show Them the Benefits
How will your book improve your readers’ current circumstances? Now’s the time to really sell them on how reading your book is going to change their life for the better.
Sold! Who doesn’t want a better life? (It’s rhetorical: We all do!)
You’ve briefly touched on the solution—in our case, how to write a great essay and how to apply for scholarships. In this part of your introduction, you’re going to go a little deeper and explain what good things will happen if your readers take advantage of the information you present in your book.
In short, tell your readers what they’ll get—what knowledge or skill they will gain from reading your book and how that’s going to impact their future for the better.
In our example, the benefit of our book is that readers will go to school for free and live a life without the financial burden of student loans. Readers can achieve their dream of getting an education, without breaking the bank.
#5 – Give Them Proof
Show your readers the proof of why your book is the answer to their prayers. Give the most tangible and relatable proof you can provide.
This might require you to divulge some more private information. If you can, talk about finances, mindset, relationship, or other specific gains that are a soft spot for many people.
Here are some forms of proof to add in your book introduction:
Real stories about gains or losses
Financials–hard numbers TALK
Changes in a relationship
Any charts or graphs can also speak really loudly
Testimonials/stories from others who found success
In our example, we might share how we put ourselves or our children through school on scholarship. We might also include testimonials from other people we know who followed our advice and got a free education.
#6 – Make a Promise (The Bigger the Better)
Don’t make a promise you can’t keep, but make the biggest promise that you CAN keep. Aim high.
To come up with your promise, circle back to your books’ purpose—what is the problem your book is solving? Now promise that this book will solve their problem! It’s that easy.
You need to be able to deliver on your promises, but don’t be shy in stating what they will get in return for reading your book.
While we can’t promise someone they’ll be awarded a scholarship (after all, their grades will have a big impact there,) we can promise that we will increase their chances of getting a scholarship by showing them where to find them and the steps to take to apply.
#7 – Warn Them Against Waiting
You need to create a sense of urgency to buy so your readers know that if they pass on your book, they will regret it because readers will miss out on something really good.
A sense of urgency is created by two magic words, “RIGHT NOW!”
In our example, we would urge people to start well ahead of the scholarship application deadlines so they can submit the best applications they can. Don’t delay, or others who are in the know will snatch up those scholarships! So, let’s get started on getting you a free education RIGHT NOW!
#8 – Prompt Them to Read (Call to Action)
You want readers to continue reading your book the second they finish the introduction. To do that, you have to hint at the juicy secrets your book will reveal to them that will change their lives.
You want to intrigue them and hint at the exciting revelations you’re going to make inside the book. They will have to buy it in order to find out.
Here’s how to craft a compelling Call to Action to prompt them to read your book right away:
The scholarship tips and tricks you’re about to read have proven results. Each chapter provides new secrets that will help you stay in control of your financial future AND get a leg up on the competition for scholarships. If you follow the formula we reveal in this book, it’s highly possible you can enjoy the rest of your life unburdened by debt.
How many people can say they wrote a book detailing the most impactful moments of their lives?
And by taking this leap and diving headfirst into your memories and entire life, you’re reaching new heights for yourself and you may even enlighten others by the end of your journey.
What is a memoir?
A memoir is a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources. It’s a book about your life, the lessons learned, and key moments that shaped who you are.
We all typically think of a memoir and cringe a little at the idea of a book about someone else’s life. But that’s not all a memoir is!
Essentially, this is a book written by you about key moments in your life. You bring your memories to life in order to touch on an overarching message others can learn and grow from.
It’s like the highlight reel from your diary (if you ever had one) about the experiences that shaped your life.
And even though you’re technically writing a nonfiction book, memoirs should be more in the category of “fiction” when it comes to the style and flow of the book. It’s an entertaining read fashioned like a story…it just so happens to be true.
A memoir is unique in the fact that it covers your life’s events in a more story-like structure with an overarching theme or messaged written in.
This means that “how tos,” “motivational books,” and other topics don’t qualify as a memoir. Memoirs are very specific in the sense that it accounts for the entirety of your life with an emphasis on stories and impactful moments that lead to a great purpose.
Yes, anyone has the ability and experience to write a memoir. The biggest misconception is that you have to be famous or have to have experienced something major in order to write a memoir. But that’s not needed.
In fact, some of the most powerful memoirs can come from the “average” person detailing the biggest lessons in their life.
You have a story. Everyone has a story, and what we do here at Self-Publishing School is get that story out and into a book you can pass down for generations.
Now that you know the overall theme and message of your memoir and what will set it apart, you have to connect the dots of your life to that core focus.
Here are a few areas to think about specifically to help jog some of those memories in order to help you know how to write a memoir worth reading:
College/post high school
Hopes and dreams
There are so many areas that have a direct influence over how you perceive life as a whole. You just have to do a little digging to spark some specific memories that can circle back to the overarching theme of your memoir.
I know this is a book about yourlife but it never hurts to back up your own experiences with someone else’s – or many other people’s.
Knowing how to write a memoir involves knowing when your message will be loudest. And that’s often with additional stories from others.
Sometimes you can’t always get the message across if only you have experienced it. To get readers to relate, you might have to show them that many people experience the same thing.
One of the most powerful connections you can make to benefit from the message of your memoir is to show your readers that it’s not just you.
Others have gone through the same situations you have and came out with the same perspective.
This one requires some extensive research (and maybe even an interview or two), but possessing the ability to be credible in your readers’ eyes is crucial. And obviously, you’ll want to make sure you’re using their experiences legally in your memoir.
You can even interview family or friends who might see an experience you share differently than you.
Adding those details will strengthen your core message.
Here’s a checklist of what your memoir should include in order to “complete” and at its best:
Elements of a Memoir
A snippet of what your life is like now and why you're writing this memoir
Each memoir should have an overall theme or message that one can take away when they've finished reading.
Writing a memoir without honesty will come across on the pages. Readers will be able to tell and will be pulled out of the book because of this.
Nobody wants to read a memoir that's written like a textbook. Create entertainment value through the stories you tell.
Because you have an overall theme, it needs supporting stories from your life to back it up.
Once again, a memoir is still a book and therefore, it cannot read like a textbook. Great writing is necessary for a great book.
Your life has an arc and your memoir's purpose is to show this through lessons learned from start to end.
#4 – Write truthfully
One of the hardest parts about writing a memoir is the fact that we tend to be a wee bit biased with ourselves.>
*Gasp* You don’t say!
It’s true. Nobody really likes to admit their faults.
It’s one thing to recognize when you were wrong in life, it’s another to actually write it down for the world to see.
It’s hard. We want everyone to see the best version of ourselves and therefore, we leave out details or flat out lie to seem “better” in their eyes.
But that’s not what makes a good memoir.
In order to learn how to write a memoir that really touches people in deep, emotional ways, you have to learn to be honest.
#5 – Show, don’t tell in your memoir writing
No, this doesn’t mean you have to write a picture book. That’s not what “show” means in this case.
When it comes to creating intrigue with your writing – and trust me, you want to do this, especially for a memoir – you have to write by showing, not telling.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll just give you an overview of this writing technique, but if you’re interested in mastering the ability to pull readers in, you can check out this detailed explanation.
Essentially, showing versus telling is the way in which you describe your experiences with an emphasis on emotion.
But that doesn’t mean you should write down every feeling you had during a specific time. In fact, that’s what you want to avoid.
We’ll cover this in more detail below, but here’s a great video outlining this method ↓
#6 – Get vulnerable
Memoirs are not a time to distance yourself from your inner feelings.
You want your readers to gain a sense of who you are not only through your stories but through the voice in your writing as well.
#10 Write a memoir you’d want to read
How do you ensure others will like our memoir? Write it in a way that makes it an entertaining read for yourself!
This has a lot to do with putting your own personality into it but it’s also about crafting the structure of your novel in an entertaining manner, too.
Even though this is a memoir, there should still be a climax to keep readers intrigued. This would be when your life came to a head; where you struggled but was able to pull yourself out of the trenches and forge your own path.
That’s why we’ve put together a few tips to help you learn how to start a memoir that’s captivating and intriguing.
Let’s draw those readers in!
#1 – Be relatable
Nobody wants to read a book that’s preachy or condescending.
One major mistake many make when writing a memoir is not starting it off in a way that makes the readers connect with them.
This is one of the most important aspects of your memoir.
Do you really think people will want to read about a person’s life if they can’t relate to them?
Think about when you were most invested in a book (or even a TV show or movie). What did you like most? Could you relate to the author or the characters?
Did you understand their pain and triumph and hardships?
This is typically the best way to not only create invested readers but to gain fans. When others relate to you and see themselves in your journey, they’ll want to stick around to see how it plays out.
And that means they’ll read your whole book and any others you write.
#2 – Use emotion by showing, not telling
If you want to give a play-by-play of your life with nothing more than a list of experiences you’ve gone through, that’s fine.
Just know that doing it that way won’t hook your readers and it certainly won’t keep them.
A memoir can be a powerful tool for educating others through your life journeys, but if they’re not intrigued enough to keep reading, it’ll render your memoir pointless.
And we don’t want that.
showing and not telling, you’ll put more emotion into your writing. This technique might sound confusing but it’s actually quite easy once you learn how to do it.
Here are the basics for showing versus telling:
Use fewer tell words like “I heard,” “I felt,” “I smelled,” “I saw,” to bring readers closer
Stop explaining emotions and instead explain physical reactionsof those emotions (If you want to say “I was scared,” describe your heart hammering against your chest or the sweat beading your forehead instead)
Describe body language in more detail
Use strong verbs that coincide with the emotions you’re trying to convey (writing “crashed to the floor” instead of “fell to the floor” creates more impact)
This writing method can be tricky to master but thankfully, there are countless resources to help you figure it out.
Everybody has an interesting life if you look deep enough. What you have to determine is how your life experiences can aid and shape the lives of others.
Think about how that will manifest from what you’ve lived through before and make sure your readers know what it is from the start (which can also be done through a powerful book title).
How to Write a Memoir Tips from Experts
The best advice you can receive is from someone who’s done it before. These Self-Publishing School students (and graduates!) have first-hand knowledge when it comes to the difficulties of writing your life down on paper.
Here’s what these memoir writers want you to know.
#1 – Write from the heart
Christopher Moss, author of Hope Over Anxiety, says the best way to write your memoir is to be open about your experiences.
“Write from the heart. Show people your experience. Be as vulnerable and honest as you can. If it scares you a little, what you are writing that’s good. The reader has to feel what you are going through.”
#2 – Don’t be afraid to go with the flow
Lou A. Vendetti, who’s in the thick of writing and working toward publication of his memoir, has a few pieces of advice for you.
“Do not be afraid to deviate. If your book doesn’t follow your outline one hundred percent, then that’s okay! Don’t feel like you have to only talk about what’s in your outline. You are the author; you are the publisher, so you are the one making all of the decisions (sounds scary, huh?). In the beginning, I thought it was.”
“Don’t think that the memoir is supposed to be ‘formal.’ As an example, I use contractions in mine, which would not necessarily be used in a nonfiction book. Yes, I wanted my book to be professional, but I didn’t want to make it sound like I’m not ‘on my audience’s level.’ I wanted to keep my voice and make it as if I’m talking to my audience; as if I’m having a conversation with them.”
#3 – Review old photos and videos
Toni Crowe, author of Never a $7 Whore, says it’s best to relive your memories the best you can through photos and videos.
“My advice to new memoir writers is to take the time to review any old documents or photos that exist and to pull those memories out to examine. Doing this during the map mapping process helped me immensely.”
Famous Memoir Examples to Emulate
Sometimes it’s easier to learn by example. That way, you can fully comprehend what a memoir is in order to write your own.
These are famous memoir examples:
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses Grant
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Memoir examples by our own students:
Mile-High Missionary: A Jungle Pilot’s Memoir by Jim Manley
Walking My Momma Home: Finding Love, Grace, and Acceptance Through the Labyrinth of Dementia by Kathy Flora
Prayers, Punk Rock and Pastry by Chris Stewart
Bare Naked Bravery: How to Be Creatively Courageous by Emily Ann Peterson
Shift Happens: Turning Your Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones by Jill Rogers
Hope Dealers: The Calling, The Struggles, The Breakthroughs and The Community of Believers by Nadine Blase Psareas
What’s the difference between a book blurb and a synopsis?
A blurb serves you on the consumer marketing front, giving a glimpse into your story with just enough information to entice, holding back enough to avoid spoilers. It’s a teaser of your book, not a summary.
A synopsis will be part of your press kit and applications for things like reviews, interviews, literary agents, editors, and publishers. A synopsis summarizing the twists, turns, and conclusion of your story.
It’s essentially a condensed version of your book.
Book Blurb and Book Synopsis Examples
This is often easier seen than taught. Below are a couple of screenshots of the Amazon page for both a fiction and nonfiction book.
As you can see, the content readers use to decide whether or not they want to purchase the book is actually a blurb.
Oftentimes, synopsis (where there are spoilers and deeper detail) is usually used more to sell the book to a traditional publisher than for selling your book to readers (or for a homework assignment from school!).
What is a book synopsis?
A synopsis is a one to four page summary of your novel. The synopsis should explain the plot, main character arc, and conclusion of the book.
A common method of writing a synopsis is in a three-paragraph format.
First paragraph: introduction of character, setting, and conflict/inciting incident.
Second paragraph: major plot points, conflicts, and characters that are required for the conclusion to make sense.
Third paragraph: how the conflict is resolved, how the character changes from the start of the book.
Tips for writing a novel synopsis:
Use active voice instead of passive voice. This makes the synopsis more interesting and engaging.
Use third person point of view. This is standard.
Consider your synopsis as a representation of your writing skills. Don’t just summarize the book–summarize it in a way that portrays your writing style.
Write clear and concise copy. If your synopsis is too long or rambly, you’ll lose the reader’s interest and they might assume your novel is also too long and rambly.
Don’t try to cover too many things or include too many details. Your main plot points and character arc are all you need in a synopsis. Don’t try to include every beat and character in the book.
Don’t try to write an intriguing or mysterious hook–simply give the information required. Don’t hold something back to be mysterious. That’s something for your book blurb, which we’ll tackle below.
What is a blurb?
Often referred to as a “book description,” a blurb is a short piece, around 150 words, to promote your novel. You find blurbs on the back cover of paperbacks, the inside back cover of a hardback, and on book description pages in online stores.
Think of this as the elevator pitch of your book.
Unlike a synopsis, a blurb does not outline every major plot point of your story, and it doesn’t give spoilers.
Blurbs are extremely important to market your book. They’re for “selling” the book to the consumer.
How to write a book blurb
Let’s go over the structure, formula, and some tips for writing a good book blurb.
Here’s the structure of a book blurb:
Snappy opener. You usually have to catch the reader’s interest within the first sentence for them to continue reading the blurb.
Character introduction. All you need is your main character! Don’t worry about introducing every named character in your book. Don’t include more than two characters.
Presentation of stakes. What’s at risk in your story? What questions can you present that will make people want to read your book to find the answer?
Keywords. Especially if you’re selling online, keywords do a lot to help potential readers find your book. Make sure you’re using accurate and effective keywords for your book and genre.
A hook–why should readers buy this book? What’s the cliffhanger?
Book Blurb Formula
Most fiction blurbs you’ll see follow this kind of format:
Situation–introduce your character. Who are they, where are they, what are they up to?
Problem–what pressing issue does your character have to face? This is often the inciting incident.
Obstacles–what’s stopping them from solving the problem?
Stakes–what does the character have to lose? The last bit should also set the mood for your book.
Here are some more tips for writing a book blurb:
Read a ton of blurbs, especially blurbs from successful books in your book genre.
Work on a great first sentence. Like I said earlier, if you can’t catch interest with the opener, your reader likely won’t finish reading the blurb.
Use audience-catered language. This includes keywords, but also the way your blurb can relate to your audience. Age demographic is a great thing to consider when you’re crafting language for your particular target audience.
Offer setting. With description, word choice, and tone, let the reader know when and where the story is set.
Keep it concise. 200 words max!
Get others to read and critique your blurb. Feedback on any piece of writing is important, especially something that can make or break book sales like a blurb. Get several sets of eyes on it, and listen to the notes people give you.
Write a few different versions and experiment. You might surprise yourself with how creative you can make it.
Don’t give spoilers! That’s synopsis content.
Avoid comparing your work to a famous author’s work or a famous piece of literature. If you welcome a comparison, people will take you up on it…potentially in the reviews, and you don’t want that.
Good Book Blurb Examples
Let’s look at a few examples of blurbs from popular novels.
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
The first paragraph introduces the situation. The character, her current state, the premise, and the setting.
The second paragraph gives us the problem (she sees something shocking), the obstacles (she only gets a glimpse, she might be unreliable), and the stakes (has she harmed something?).
Some genre keywords we get are: police, investigation, shocking
And what mood are we left with from this blurb? Intrigue, mystery, and the promise of a possibly unreliable narrator make this an exciting blurb.
Sometimes a quote from the novel works as a blurb itself. Let’s look at this example.
Second, there was a part of him—and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be—that thirsted for my blood.
Third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.
The situation is that our character lives in a world where vampires exist, and they’re in close proximity to one. The problem is that the vampire wants to eat them. The obstacle and stakes (ha ha) is a wrap-up in the fact that they’re in love with the vampire that wants to eat them.
Some genre keywords we get are: vampire, blood, and love.
The mood this blurb gives us is, “Oooh, dangerous. But like, in a sexy way?”
Tobias Kaya doesn’t care about The Savior. He doesn’t care that She’s the ruler of the realm or that She purified the land, and he certainly doesn’t care that She’s of age to be married. But when competing for Her hand proves to be his last chance to save his family, he’s forced to make The Savior his priority.
Now Tobias is thrown into the Sovereign’s Tournament with nineteen other men, and each of them is fighting – and killing – for the chance to rule at The Savior’s side. Instantly, his world is plagued with violence, treachery, and manipulation, revealing the hidden ugliness of his proud realm. And when his circumstances seem especially dire, he stumbles into an unexpected romance, one that opens him up to unimaginable dangers and darkness.
Situation: Tobias is to compete for The Savior’s hand in marriage, and he absolutely doesn’t care.
Problem: Tobias has to fight for his life in a tournament.
Obstacles: Everyone’s trying to kill, manipulate, and betray him.
Mood: This blurb leaves us with a sense of urgency and danger.
If you plan to sell a book, you’ll become intimately familiar with the process of writing a compelling synopsis and blurb. They’re essential elements in a book marketing plan, and they are cornerstone elements of presenting your book to multiple levels of the book publishing industry.
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:
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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.
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:
Define realistic deadlines. Set short term and long term deadlines for each portion of your draft that breaks down your entire book.
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.
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.
#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
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:
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!
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.
Believe it or not, writing a book isn’t as difficult as it’s made to seem. At least, getting started isn’t.
We have a complete guide that will cover best practices to start writing a book asap – even today if you sit down and put your pen to paper, so to speak.
How do you begin to write a book if you never have before?
This might be hard at first but really, you can write a book even if you’re not the best writer. Chandler Bolt (the man who started Self-Publishing School) was a C- English student and still wrote and published 6 bestselling books.
The truth is that if you’re brand new to this, guidance will be the most important thing. Having someone tell you what to do and what works best will help you be the most successful and learn the most during this process.
Learning as much as you can will give you most of the knowledge you need to get it done.
But you can also get started right here with these steps for starting to write a book.
#1 – Start by setting Up Your Book Writing Environment
One of the most important things to remember if you want to start writing a book is designing a writing space that allows your creativity to flourish unhindered.
Create an environment that is designed to help you stay focused.
Whether you prefer noisy environments or absolute solitude, it’s up to you to determine which will get you into the writer’s flow.
What you want to avoid is a super messy environment, even if you think you work well in those types of spaces (like the one featured below).
If anything can distract you from writing, it’s not worth it.
Here are a few ideas to create your ideal space for writing:
Have collections of inspiration. Decorate your work area with inspiring quotes or pictures that house references to deep work.
Unclutter your space. Create an uncluttered open space to help organize not only what you need, but also your thoughts.
Be Flexible. Your creative space doesn’t need to be one spot, it can be anywhere. Even your favorite authors have discovered their best ideas in the most unexpected places.
Buy a calendar: Your book will get written faster if you have set goals for the week/day. The best way to manage this is by scheduling your time on a calendar. Schedule every hour that you commit to your author business. What gets scheduled, gets done.
Create a music playlist for inspiration: Many authors can write to the sound of their favorite tunes. Is there anything that gets you working faster? Do you write better with deeper focus when listening to rock music or classical? Set up several playlists that you can use to get into the flow of writing.
Try Multiple Locations. You won’t know how creative you can be if you don’t try different spots to write. Maybe writing from your bed is your ideal creative space. What about working in a noisy cafe? Change up your location frequently particularly if you feel creatively spent.
Here are some more tips for starting your book and putting together your writing environment:
How to Start Writing Tip
- isolate yourself from family/friends/even the family dog
- remind everyone it's YOUR time
- Turn your phone off
- Close ALL web browsers
- Close your email
- invest in a GOOD chair
- or resort to using a stand-up desk for more energy
- fill the area with motivational quotes
- make sure you're physically comfortable for the next 30 minutes or an hour
Choose Beneficial Background Noise
- turn off all sounds if it distracts you
- turn on lyric-less music to help you concentrate
- choose energizing music to help you focus
#2 – Start Writing by Developing a Writing Habit
The number one reason authors fail to publish a book is because they never finish the book they intend to publish. Why?
Because they didn’t form a good writing habit.
Feeling overwhelmed when writing a book is natural, but you must remember that this journey always begins with the first page. And in order to write your first page, you must take action.
For example, schedule your writing time daily so that you can stick to a solid writing routine that will allow you to make real progress.
This is why having a writing habit will develop your writer’s flow.
But before you can start your habit, you’ll want to know how much you need to write during each session in order to stay on track for your writing goals.
Here’s a word and page count calculator to help you figure out how many words you should be planning for in your book:
Choose your book type, genre, and audience for a word count and page number total.
Your book will have
*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*
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Your writing habit can start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself thinking that you must write your every thought on the page. You can start with a few paragraphs, a sentence, or even just a word.
The purpose of this exercise is to commit to your writing session every day until it has become second nature.
#3 – Create an Outline Before You Start Writing
A clear book outline provides clarity and direction to your story. It is also the roadmap for your book that keeps you on track and ensures you have all your ideas organized in a natural flow. And that’s not even to mention that it helps you write a lot faster, too.
There are many types of outlines you can use here.
We highly recommend starting with the mindmap outline and then moving to the sticky note method, as our students find it the most helpful.
When you get stuck or suffer writer’s block, you can always go back to your outline to find what comes next regardless of whether the book is 100 pages or 300 pages long. It will help you see the overall picture.
Learn to say “NO” to any additional projects no matter how intriguing they appear.
Create an action plan and commit to it. Learn to be selfish and practice saying “NO” often. It’s better to complete one book and get it right than to write two books with poor results.
#5 – Maintain Your Focus
Once you get into the flow of starting your book, you want to remain focused through the duration of your writing session. Any break to your concentration can set you back 20-30 minutes and disrupt your flow.
We become less efficient when we are distracted, and it can end up taking twice as long to complete our writing.
Thankfully, there are very effective techniques that can help you remain centered and in the moment.
Leave the distractions behind by doing the following:
Create a writing schedule. Schedule your writing for the same time each day. This conditioning will develop your writing habit until it becomes as natural as knowing when to brush your teeth.
Use the Pomodoro Technique. This is a time management strategy that breaks down work into intervals separated by short breaks. With a clock ticking, you will less likely be distracted by email or social media.
Turn off your phone. Your phone is the most addicting device that steals your precious attention. Don’t let it take that from you, turn it off. If you don’t want to turn it off, then download a writing software or app that limits distractions.
Have a Task Management app. Task Manager apps, like Todoist, helps you organize your tasks by their time and priority, so you know exactly what to do in what order the next day.
Disconnect from the Internet. Want to ensure you don’t get distracted by email notifications, Facebook notifications, etc.? Disconnect your computer from the Internet and enjoy distraction-free writing time.
Experiment with each of these productivity techniques and optimize your writer’s flow. By becoming a productivity expert, you will easily double your output and complete your book in no time.
#6 – Schedule Your Writing Time
Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most popular comedians of all time, and he attributes his success to his unbelievably strong writing habits. In the early days of his career, Seinfeld was asked how he managed to have such great content.
He said, “The way to be a better comic is to create better jokes, and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.”
Seinfeld used the “Calendar Method”, otherwise known as the “Don’t Break the Chain” method, and it worked like this:
Get yourself a calendar, and hang it on the wall.
For each day you write, draw an X on the calendar for that day. By the end of the week, you should have a row of Xs at the end.
If you miss a day, start over and see how long you can go before breaking the chain.
Buy yourself a calendar and get started on the “Calendar Method!” Being held accountable will keep you motivated and not “Break the Chain.”
#7 – Start by Dealing With Writing Distractions First
Distractions can hinder you and your deisre to start writing a book.
Resistance is a common obstacle that has the ability to distract us for too long. It’s a form of fear that intimidates you from writing and can throw you off your writer’s flow.
Not only do you have the distractions of everyday life, but if someone in your life has qualms with you spending time to write, it can be extra difficult to concentrate and just write.
Everyone has encountered this awful feeling, but it doesn’t have to defeat you.
Here are a few ways to deal with resistance:
Read morning affirmations. Affirmations are powerful snippets of positive words that set the tone and atmosphere for writing. An affirmation could be a quote from a writer, a motivational speech from a public figure, or an inspirational video.
Free Flow for 10 Minutes. Julia Cameron, the bestselling author of The Artist’s Way, called these morning pages, and its purpose is to clear your mind of all the anxiety and junk rolling around in your head onto a piece of paper. Write anything. You don’t have to edit, publish, or have a word count, it’s simply a 10-minute exercise to clear out heavy thoughts and prepare you for a more productive day. This is best done with pen and paper instead of typing into a document with your digital device.
Exercise. Exercising is not only good for your health but will help keep you mentally sharp. Working out will increase the blood flow to the brain which will sharpen your awareness and give you the energy you need to tackle your book.
Create a resistance plan! Figure out which methods best filter out the negative noise and get you to prepared to write.
Start Writing a Book TODAY!
If you want to become a published author, you must take ownership of your writing habits.
By following these strategies, you can have a completed book within months and be on your way to becoming a successful writer.
Ghostwriting is writing material for someone else who becomes the named author. In other words, you write the content for someone else, but it’s published under their own name.
Often, there’s a contract specifying that the author will not have any legal right to the work after it’s published to guarantee the ghost writer’s anonymity.
What do ghostwriters write?
Ghost writers are hired for a huge array of projects in all different sorts of mediums and genres.
You may have heard of ghostwriters taking on books, political speeches, or seen job postings for technical manuals, academic essays, fictional novels, or even captions on a brand’s social media posts.
Ghostwriters often use freelancing sites like Upwork or Fiverr to find work. Sometimes, ghostwriters are contracted by a company to write fiction for a set period of time.
A ghostwriter might be hired to write political speeches for one particular person. Or, a ghostwriter might be hired for a single small assignment, like writing one technical manual or specific post on a website, as well as larger projects like writing a book.
The bottom line is that ghostwriting is writing someone does for you, and you get full credit as the author and people don’t even need to know a ghostwriter wrote it.
Why using a ghostwriter is NOT a good idea for a book
We’ll get into some pros and cons of ghostwriters a little bit later but I wanted to cover just why using a ghostwriter to write a book is a poor idea.
When it comes to memoirs or other nonfiction books (and even fiction!), using a ghostwriter can seem like a great idea.
But in reality, it usually causes far more problems than anything else.
For one, they’re very expensive. Good ones are, at least. Which means you’ll dump a bunch of money into a book that’s not really yours. They can write on the information you give them and that’s yours, but you’ll know deep down you didn’t do it. And the emotional impact of that alone is worth doing it yourself.
Another reason ghostwriters aren’t the best idea for a book is the fact that they won’t get it right. They don’t know the details of what you want to write about and that means they’ll get a lot of it wrong.
Only you can tell the story inside of you. Ghostwriters can’t bring your level of passion and knowledge into the pages no matter how much information you share with them.
Plus, you think it might save you time when the reality is that you’ll have to spend even moretime giving them information, reading over their work, providing feedback and changes, only to be left with something that still isn’t what you fully want. Because what you want is in your own mind.
Our recommendation is always to write it yourself. And that’s why we developed a system to write and publish a book in only 90 days.
If you’re on the fence about a ghostwriter, listening to this podcast episode with Leif Babin, co-author of Extreme Ownership, about his process in publishing and why he refused to use a ghostwriter.
How to Hire a Ghostwriter
Now, if you still decide a ghostwriter is what you want (despite the above information), we’ve got some information that can make the process easier.
Because ghostwriters are often hired for one project or a small set of projects, the most important thing to look for is experience. Potential clients will be looking for your ability to deliver work in whatever they’re looking for. When you use a freelance site like Upwork, this often means having lots of experience and positive reviews on the site itself.
As you do more jobs on the website, more clients will rate your performance, and your on-site portfolio will grow. The more experience you have, the more desirable you are to potential clients, and the better and more high-paying jobs you’ll be able to get. Often, these websites will offer a place for you to submit your resume and some writing samples, so that employers can get a sense for your job range.
Once you’ve got an account, the best way to get jobs is to apply for lots of different gigs! As with finding any other job, the key is to cast a wide net. The wider your skillset and the more experience you have, the wider a net you can cast.
Now that we’ve discussed what ghostwriting is, what ghostwriters do, and how ghostwriters get work, we’re ready to talk about some pros and cons.
How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?
While prices vary, you can expect to pay a quality ghostwriter anywhere from $25 – $100+ an hour. Meaning a project the size of a book at a 250-page average can span upwards of $20,000 – $100,000 in some cases, depending on how many words are in your book and the scope of related services provided.
For example, if you were to use a ghostwriter from a service like ScribeWriting, you will pay $36,000 – $100,000+ for their ghostwriting packages (disclaimer: they include more than just ghostwriting services within each package which is why their prices are higher than what’s mentioned above, but you get the idea).
You can also see these prices from a company specializing in ghostwriting services called Kevin Anderson & Associates in the image below.
A high-quality ghost-written book is very expensive and often not worth the price when you can be taught how to write it yourself, and quickly.
Since the writer can’t actually take credit for their work, they charge a lot more than they would if their name was on the piece of content, whatever that may be.
What are the pros of using a ghostwriter?
You can find both pros and cons in everything, including using a ghostwriter. Here’s a breakdown of what you can gain and what you’ll lose if you go this route to finish your book.
#1 – You don’t have to spend the time to write it
Someone else takes care of that. So you don’t have to sit at a computer or notepad and write. But you still will have to take a ton of time to give the writer adequate notes, review their writing, make your own suggestions and feedback, then wait for changes.
So while you don’t have to spend the time actually writing, don’t mistake that for it saving you time (which I’ll cover below).
#2 – The writing quality might be higher
Note the “might” in this. Reason being is that even if you wrote it, it would go through a professional editor and the quality would increase significantly already.
However, many ghostwriters are “natural” writers; it comes easier to them. So if you’re worried about the quality, a ghostwriter can ensure a higher level of writing competence.
But keep in mind that a book isn’t good solely because of the writing.
#3 – Non-native speakers can benefit from native writers
Depending on the language you want to write your book in, a ghostwriter can be a great option. This is particularly true for non-native speakers looking to write a book in English.
You can hire a ghostwriter to take your writing that might be wrought with grammatical errors due to the language barrier and have them rewrite it to make sense.
#4 – Those unable to type or write can complete something written
There are a number of disabilities that can bar someone from writing a book, or writing at all. Hiring a ghostwriter can help you accomplish a huge goal or dream if you’re not able to physically perform the work necessary to write.
Now that we’ve covered the pros, let’s consider the downsides to hiring a ghostwriter to write your book.
Cons of Hiring a Ghostwriter
If you’re considering hiring a ghostwriter, you may want to consider some of these major cons first.
#1 – It won’t be your work
This is an especially bad con when it comes to writing a book. One of the biggest joys authors have when finishing a book is that they did it themselves.
It’s a major feat, one that a very small percentage of the population will ever accomplish and by hiring a ghostwriter, you’re taking that away from yourself. You’re robbing yourself of the experience of accomplishing something as major as writing a book!
#2 – It’s quite expensive for good work
Now, you can find ghostwriters online who are willing to work for cheap. But when it comes to writing…you get what you pay for.
If you’re looking to publish a book that you’ve paid a ghostwriter to write, you want it to be of the highest quality. Your name’s on it, after all.
But that also means you’ll have to pay a healthy sum for a book.
I listed some prices for services above, but just a reminder that a quality ghostwriter can go from $20,000 – $100,000 for your average book.
#3 – It takes a ton of time
Contrary to why most people go with a ghostwriter (to save time), it can actually take much longer. There’s a ton of communication involved in order for them to write the book even semi-close to what you’re imagining.
And that’s not to mention all the reviewing, feedback, and process of revisions.
One of the hardest parts about having someone else write for you is that you need to be really, really clear in your communication…or you suffer wasting even more time.
Imagine this: you send a thorough document listing what you’d like them to write about, cover, and include only to get the writing back full of misinterpretations of what you really mean.
You then have to spend the time explaining, they have to write it again…and just so you know, they’ll charge you for this time all the while.
Some ghostwriters do work over the phone and conduct interviews, which makes less room for error while they write for you. Overall, though, communication is a big issue when it comes to using a ghostwriter.
Now, some ghostwriting services have packages, which include this.
But if you choose to go with a freelance ghostwriter because they’re cheaper, you still have to pay for the cover, editing, and any other incurred expenses.
Unless you’re someone who has a significant amount of money to spend, it’s not easy to pay for a ghostwriter plus other expenses.
#6 – You can’t say “I wrote a book”
Let’s be real: sometimes the best part of writing a book is saying that you wrote a book. It directly relates back to the first con on this list.
And even though you might be able to tell people you’re an author because your name’s on the book…you can’t really tell them you wrote it. It’s still your content and your stories but you didn’t do the work of putting it together.
#7 – Nobody else will care about this as much as you
You can’t expect someone else, even someone who is being paid, to care about this book or project as much as you do.
There’s a level of passion in writing that you can’t fake. When you’re the one writing, the piece means more and comes across a