On Craft

Below are quick links to my blog posts for authors on the craft of writing:

Why I don’t default trust iconic authors: Granted there are exceptions, but in my experience, there tends to be a disconnect between the most iconic authors and the rest of us. And by disconnect, I mean the wealthier and more famous an author gets and the longer they’re at that level, the more out of touch they are with evolving worldviews and how to get from word one to book deal and beyond.

Ableism in the writing community: The last two and a half years of my life have been a kind of painful hell. It took some doing, but I’m currently being worked up for a chronic Lyme diagnosis, and I’m finally getting treatment as a result, but my path out of pain is non-linear and uncertain. Now you have context for why I wrote this non-exhaustive list of writing advice that has a ring of ableism to it.

Investigating writing advice given in absolutes: Once upon a time, I decided to write fiction. I consumed as many sources of craft advice (agent blogs, how-to-write books, author Twitter threads, etc.) as I could find. That advice often came in absolutes, as in, always write a certain genre in a certain tense, never start a story with a character waking up, and definitely don’t ever use -ly adverbs.

I’ve got your list of responsible style guides: When we write words for readers, whatever our purposes or intentions, the effect is influence. We have the power to influence those who read our words, and with great power comes you know what. Here are some style resources to help you yield your power responsibly.

8 ways to invigorate silent beats in dialogue: As in real life, our characters sometimes need to pause and reflect on something before responding. This silent beat is often indicated with an ellipsis or the word finally, as in, “Yes,” she said finally. Nothing wrong with marking a beat this way, but here are some alternatives you can use to invigorate some of the beats in your dialogue.

How to de-emphasize characters: A list of ways you can un-name, de-emphasize, or delete smaller characters.

How to people scenes like R. O. Kwon: A couple of years ago, my critique partner, with respect to the first chapter of one of my books, asked me why I had only described my setting according to its non-human characteristics.

How to write abstractions as metaphorical physicality: While reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, I noticed that the author Joanna Cannon is a bit of a genius when it comes to lending physical traits to abstract concepts.

How to make sure your book is social media quotable: From a marketing standpoint, we authors want to see our books mentioned and photographed by as many readers as possible, as many times as possible, across social media and the blogosphere. I, personally, am more likely to post about a book more often, if that book has one or more quotable passages.

Plotting poisons into fiction, a list of resources: I had the privilege recently of attending a Crime Writers of Canada webinar called Plots, Plants and Poisons led by Elaine Freedman. I enjoyed the webinar so much, I asked Elaine if she would share her resource list on the literary applications of poisons with my readers. She agreed (yea!) and her annotated list of books and websites follows. I’d like to stress that I’m posting this solely as a resource for writers who are or would like to write about poisons.

How to create atmosphere in a scene through parallel action: There’s a scene in Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects that gave me goosebumps, except the action responsible for said goosebumps had nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with a parallel action.

How to strategically edit for timeline inconsistencies: For my last two books, I’ve taken a strategic approach to editing for timeline inconsistencies, and in doing so, have each time found passages where I, for instance, miscalculated someone’s age in a given year, or, when referring to an event that happened earlier in the story, wrote the wrong day.

The value in reworking your metaphors: For this post, I’ve decided to take early drafts of some of my own metaphors from my current novel, describe what wasn’t working, and then you can compare it to the revision. My hope is that this will help other writers identify issues with their own metaphorical language and rework accordingly.

My Microsoft Word manuscript template for authors: A few chapters into my first book, I got fed up with all the scrolling. The template I created comes complete with a linked chapter and scene legend at the top of the document, the ability to compare actual scene/chapter/book word counts with targets, and a function to retrieve daily word counts.

How to spice up setting with an event: In Jessica Strawser’s debut Almost Missed You, two characters have a life-changing date at Cincinnati’s Lumenocity, an orchestra-curated light-show. Anyone remember the scene when Harrison Ford’s Richard Kimble slips into Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade to evade pursuers? How much more exciting does Pride and Prejudice become once the Bennett sisters have a ball to look forward to? Some of these events are more integral to plot than others, but all of them make the stories they’re included in more interesting as a result.

Don’t kill your darlings; shelve them: One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as a new writer was how to be okay with killing my darlings. What I determined was that while some of my darlings warranted murder-by-delete-key, others deserved a less permanent fate.

The Lady Bird way to show passage of time: I was watching Lady Bird recently. It’s summer in the beginning when the protagonist breaks her arm, and then a whole bunch of stuff happens, including Thanksgiving, and then cut to her cast being taken off, and I instantly had a sense of how much time has passed.

Careful what you read while you write: At the beginning of this year, I was ready to write the last 60,000 words of a novel. Me, my laptop, and my research were tucked away in a tropical paradise, but the words I was writing, they were reading like they’d been spewed out of a meat grinder. I decided to take the day off and finish the book I was reading instead. A few pages in, I realized I had no interest in finishing the book in question. The prose was uninspired, as was I.

How to beta your book for emotional responses of readers: Test screening is to film what beta reading is to books. In film, studies are being done on technology that can gauge a test screen audience’s neuro and biometric responses. Suffice it to say, when this technology proves viable, I will not be able to afford it. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want a way to know which parts of my books make people laugh, cry, or want to throw their e-reader against the wall.

How to vary your syntactic use of metaphor: I noticed recently that Sylvia Plath, in her novel The Bell Jar, favored verbs as delivery vehicles for metaphor. Don’t get me wrong; the woman could work a metaphor along the syntactic spectrum, but the verbs really stuck out for me, and it occurred to me that in my own work, which contains a fair amount of metaphorical language, I hadn’t yet mastered Plath’s skill with verbal metaphors. Hence, this post in which I workshop one metaphorical image using different parts of speech and different phrase types.

Authors, read for what irks you: I was speaking with one of my critique partners today, and we got into this big discussion about how we dislike when characters have a misunderstanding that could have been avoided if one of them just asked the other the obvious question that everyone watching the show was thinking.

3 techniques to reduce dialogue tags and cues in group scenes: With groups of more than two speakers, scenes can become cluttered with dialogue tags and cues, which can make a passage more stilted than it needs to be. But, with one sentence, you can signal an immediate reduction in the parties to the conversation, even if they’re still technically in the scene.

9 factors to consider when trialing critique partners: When on the lookout for critique partners, a genre match is important and you should have at least one, but it isn’t always the most important factor. Take a look at these nine criteria, and the next time you’re scouting for a CP, you may want to consider placing additional emphasis on the eight that come after genre.

On balancing and weighting writing advice: You’re stuck on a question about how to use a writing device, and off to the Internet/library/bookstore you go. Perhaps you stop after article number one, thinking, certainly this must be the definitive answer, because this publishing professional has game to spare. She may well, but still your search should continue. Why? Because writing advice needs to be balanced and weighted.

2 foreshadowing techniques to reduce new information overload: Reading a book is like jumping on an exercise bike for the brain. The reason is because every sentence is a piece of information the reader needs to process. Here are two foreshadowing techniques to ease readers into new information (including but not limited to new characters, sub-themes, and subplots.)

Why your ego needs an author community: Family and friends are great, but they don’t understand author milestones, nor do they understand what it takes to achieve them. And when we fall, they don’t have the first clue how to help us up. They may start to come around, but it can take years. This is why, authors, we need to stock our author communities. Because when it comes to being an author, family and friends a cheerleading section do not make.

15 tips for interviewing experts for your novel: Interviewing has played a large role in my career as a journalist and marketer, and now, as an author. Sure, I still get all flustered when I’m reaching for a big interview, but for the most part, these fifteen tips and techniques work for me.

On Plotting: intentional versus unintentional creative thinking time: An old creative writing teacher gave the class some advice I’ll never forget. When it comes to story ideas, it’s best to ride around on the bus with it. In other words, take time to process and decide if it’s the best story and/or story direction. In my mind, there are two types of riding-around-on-the-bus-with-it.

Is your next story research light or intensive? I like to put things on spectrums. When it comes to considering how research intensive a story will be, the spectrum might look something like this.

DIY budget writing retreat: I’ve done the research for you, and here are your DIY budget writing retreat options.

How to think laterally about editor feedback: In my opinion, the editor is always right… about the existence of a problem. Or at least usually. I let feedback ping around in my head for a day or three, and more often than not, it will land in one of the following seven categories.

How to freshen up cliched expressions: I often read blogs where writers are told to avoid overused expressions like the plague. That would mean that all idiomatic and figurative language is off the table. The arguments are that triteness weakens prose, and that readers gloss over anything overused. In my humble opinion, there are ways to update cliches so that they resonate, more often than not to humorous effect.

Fixing implausibility issues in your fiction: My first editor, back before I switched genres, gave me some advice about believability issues in my manuscript that I’ll never forget.

How to think like your future book buyers: Marketers train their brains to think like their targeted consumers. Here are a few questions to ask yourself in order to get in the mindset of your future book buyers. These prompts are geared toward the craft of writing as well as the marketing side of things.

5 ways to find inspiration for the next great villain: The five methods I describe for brainstorming villains are most applicable if your manuscript or screenplay contains at least an element of the thriller, suspense, or horror genres.

5 ways to temper the preachy in your plot: We all have issues we care about, and anyone who tells you novels shouldn’t have agendas hasn’t read any lately. But how do we as authors plot issues into our manuscripts without coming off as preachy and one-sided?

My list of blog hops for authors: The benefits of blog hops are many. Sometimes called link-up parties, hops are a great way to meet other writers/bloggers and build your author community; gain traffic and engagement on your site; and I’ve even seen them used as a tool in virtual book tours.

How to polish your manuscript and query an editor: The Internet is flush with editors. So I should be able to email my favourite genre matches, and they’ll jump at the chance to work with me, right? Not necessarily. Logic dictates that editors can only take on so many projects at a time. Editor Andi Cumbo explains how to put your best foot forward.

Developing your reading list, a strategy for authors: With so many options and only so many reading hours in the day, how do we as authors narrow to the most practical reading list? The logical side of my brain needed a way to sort the options, and the result is my list of eight categories of books (and articles) we should be thinking about when determining our reading list.

Writing at the intersection of originality and what sells: For those of us at the beginning of our traditional-publishing journey, should we be striving for novel novels or aiming instead for something at the intersection of originality and what’s already selling?

Announcing new monthly blog hop for authors: The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.

2017 list of Twitter chats for writers (latest new chat added Sep 2018): Here’s my list of 31 active Twitter chats. Search the list for ones you might be interested in checking out, add a reminder to your calendar, and join in the discussions.

Literary Agent Elizabeth Copps offers advice on what comes after NaNoWriMo: Elizabeth Copps offers advice on when manuscripts are ready for agent eyes, industry standards for novel length, and how to make sure your query letter is up to snuff.

5 successful authors discuss daily word count goals: I asked five successful authors to discuss their year-round strategy and was surprised by the differences and flexibility in approaches.

Hey Authors: Are you a Word Hoarder? You should be: What if you could tap into the expanded vocabulary of authors you admire, with the end goal of using those words in your own writing? It’s easier than you think. Just start a Word Hoard.