How (Not) to Be a Brilliant Writer

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If you watch movies, you know that being a writer is an easy way to make piles and piles of money, so it's only natural that you want to be a writer. Luckily, you found this post, and by the end of these ten easy steps you'll be well on your way to becoming the Shakespeare of our time.

How to Be an Incredible, Awe-Inspiring Writer Swimming in Bundles of Cash*

  1. Dream up the Golden Book Idea. The easiest way to come up with the idea that's going to make you richer than the Queen of England is to take previously successful books and mash them together. Twilight meets The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter meets Eat, Pray, Love. Star Wars meets Eragon meets Anne of Green Gables meets The Vampire Diaries meets The Notebook. The Lord of the Rings meets The Little Prince meets The Da Vinci Code meets The Very Hungry Caterpillar meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You get the idea.

  2. Tell everyone about your brilliant novel. You'll also want to start calling literary agents at this stage. It's only fair that you give them the heads up that something that's about to change the literary world forever is in the works.

  3. Don't read. Reading is a waste of time and will only pollute your incredible writing skills. Don't even read the dictionary. Remember—you're a writer, not a reader.

  4. Talk to everyone about the trash corrupting the literary market these days. Not only will this make you sound like a knowledgeable writer, but you'll save hundreds of people from reading junk while they're waiting for your masterpiece to be released.

  5. Sit in coffee shops with your laptop. This is the essence of being a writer. Enjoy your coffee and pretend to be hard at work—one day people will marvel at the fact that they sat in the same room as you as you worked on the writing that changed their lives.

  6. Write only at the peak of your inspiration. If the muse isn't in it, you'll only write junk, which is a waste of everyone's time. Instead, enjoy the coffee smell and wait for the muse to impart the glittering, golden words that will make your writing so beautiful that readers will cry when they read it (but not you, because you're not a reader).

  7. Use big, flowery words. Simple writing is for the weak-minded. You can't change the world with your writing with plain Jane words. This is why Shakespeare made up so many new words while penning his masterpieces.

  8. Tweet about your writing every five minutes. This will not only prove to your followers that you actually write, but it'll make you instantly popular with other writers once you start telling them how game-changing your work is. Also, don't forget to use big words.

  9. Don't show anyone your work before it's published. Don't even show your mother—the temptation to plagiarize such beautiful writing will be too great. And who can blame them? You're the greatest writer to be born in centuries.

  10. Create a catch phrase. You're going to be a famous writer one day, so people will be quoting you all the time. Now is a great time to create a catch phrase, something that people will remember you by, something like, "I write beautifully, because the golden essence of the writer is within me" or something mature and thoughtful like, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful, hate me because I write better than you."

Now go forth and write, my budding, master novelists! I'll be waiting for your brilliant writing to hit the shelves.

*= Why yes, this is a sarcastic post! Please don't take any of this seriously—and for the love of all things literary, do not do these things (except maybe make a catch phrase. You know. If you want).!

Now it's your turn: what so-called "tips" would you add to the list?

How to Use Brainstorming to Edit

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So you're re-reading a scene in your WIP and as much as you hate to admit it, something's off. It's boring, or your characters aren't reacting properly, or the tone is off, or one of dozens of other writing issues is plaguing the scene and you realize that the best course of action (even though you'd rather not) is to rewrite it.

I've already written about the importance of reliving a scene instead of rewriting it, and this is an extension of that, because when you decide it's time to sit down and relive a scene, it's not always as simple as diving into the writing again.

You see, the idea of reliving a scene is to write it better than you did the first time. But if you really want to edit properly and accomplish your goal while reliving the scene, it's often a good idea to do some brainstorming before you begin to write.

Brainstorming while you're working on an edit is a little different than initial plot discovery brainstorming, because this time you're not creating the clay—you're remolding it. You already have words in front of you and a scene that has potential, but it clearly needs reworking. The foundations are already there; your job now is to manipulate it into something better.

So how to begin?

  1. Re-read the scene. In order to do an effective round of brainstorming, your writing should be fresh in your mind. While you're reading, take some notes that will help you while you edit — what do you like about the scene? Is there anything you love and want to include in the new version of the scene? Make a note of it. What definitely doesn't work? Make the list as long or short as you like, then move on to the next step. 

  2. Put the writing away. Remember, your goal isn't to rewrite what's already there—it's to relive the scene and write something better. The easiest way to ensure you don't end up rewriting the scene with the same issues is to not look at the original writing while you work on your edit. 

  3. Begin brainstorming. This is when your edit notes will come in handy. Thinking back on the scene, ask yourself what you can do to improve the issues you made note of in step one. If it's boring, what could you do to make it more interesting (assuming you need the scene at all)? If your characters aren't reacting properly, how should they be reacting? What can you do to make their actions more realistic? The golden rule to this step is this: don't settle for "I don't know." If you're unsure of how to answer a question, brainstorm ideas until you've settled on the right one. "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer. 

  4. Write. This step is pretty self-explanatory. Once your brainstorming session is complete and you know what you need to accomplish with your scene, get to work and start writing. And remember—no peeking at the original version of the scene until you've finished writing. 

The best part of using brainstorming techniques like this one while you edit is that you can do it on any scale—whether it's a chapter, a scene, a paragraph or even an entire character arc or sequence of scenes, brainstorming is an essential part of the writing process and shouldn't be overlooked while you write.

Do you use brainstorming while working on edits? What other brainstorming and editing tips do you have?

Writing: A Mind Game

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Thinking back, when I first began writing I viewed my drafts very differently. Although somewhere deep down inside I knew that first drafts were meant to be just that—a first draft—I viewed them as near-complete drafts. I'd put so much time and effort into it already that I was resistant to the idea that it could possibly need much more work. How was it possible that something so difficult to write would require even more work than what I already put into it?

So sure, I edited, but not really. They were line edits—tweaking a sentence here, and a few paragraphs there—making the writing sound better without even considering that the story might still need work.

In my mind, that first draft I slaved over didn't need major changes—it just needed a little brushing up. Needless to say, my thinking was more than a little off; it just took me a while to realize it.

Now, many years and shelved manuscripts later, I've come to realize that my thinking has changed entirely. I no longer dread editing like I used to, and before I write a single word in a new draft, I go in with a completely new mindset: I go in knowing that my first draft is just a first draft. That I have many edits ahead, and things can only get better from here. That this first draft is mine.

I once read that the first draft is largely for the writer, and over time I've truly come to believe it. The first draft is the place where you meet new characters and discover new worlds and work out the bones of the story so that you can refine and deepen the writing later on. The first draft is fun and exciting and a little bit scary, and yes, many times the writing is terrible but it doesn't matter because those words are for your eyes and your eyes only. And there's some freedom in that.

And since changing my thinking, I've noticed something else has changed—I've started to enjoy the process more. That's not to say I didn't like writing before, but I didn't exactly enjoy every stage of the process, particularly, you know, the editing. But since I've realized that I really only scratch the surface of my story with the first draft, since I've realized that editing truly allows me to dive in with a whole new understanding of what the story is really about, since I've changed my thinking, I've truly begun to enjoy the process in ways I never did before.

And this whole experience has brought one more realization: writing is a mind game.

Everything from the doubts that make you hesitate before diving into that first draft, from the heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you're faced with yet another revision, from the boulder known as writer's block to the whispers in your mind that your writing simply isn't good enough—it's all a mind game.

A mind game that we can take control of by changing our thinking. A mind game that we can use to our advantage, simply by reminding ourselves of the good of each step: whether it's the discovery of the first draft or the knowledge that every edit you make will improve your story.

I challenge you to find something good, something enjoyable in every step of the writing process. I challenge you to enjoy the writing, enjoy the editing, enjoy knowing that this is your work and that you can only make it better from here.

You're a writer, and writing stories is what you do. Now go have some fun with it.

What do you think—does your mindset really affect your writing? How so?

Writing by Hand vs. Typing: Is There a Difference?

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I hadn't paid much attention to it before, but I noticed recently that I've developed a particular writing habit that I wouldn't have expected from myself: I like to write by hand.

Now, before the groaning begins let me clear something up — when I'm not fighting with my keyboard, I'm pretty decent at typing. I'm not claiming to be superwoman over here, but I usually type at about 80 wpm-ish, give or take, so as you could imagine when I'm doing writing sprints or going for speed, there's no question that I choose typing over writing by hand. In fact, most times when I'm writing, I’ll sit down in front of the computer rather than picking up a pencil and pad of paper.

However, when my fast drafting round is complete and the time comes to begin rewriting and editing, speed is no longer my goal, and in those instances I've found that I really enjoy writing by hand.

The reason I like handwriting my revisions is simple — I'm more careful when I write by hand. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but my guess is that it has to do with the process of typing versus handwriting itself. You see, typing is largely an automatic thing — your fingers jot down the first words that come to mind and allow you to keep up with the flow of your thoughts relatively well, which makes it a really good instrument for fast-drafting.

Writing by hand, however, is a completely different animal. Unless you're Flash or otherwise ridiculously fast, hand writing takes more time — you can't just tap a button and watch a letter appear, you have to write the letter out by hand, and although it doesn't take very long, it certainly takes longer than typing. When writing by hand your thoughts often race ahead of the actual writing, and as a result of that, you have a little more time to think about the words you're actually putting on paper. In addition to this, there isn't an easy backspace button to press if you write a word or sentence you don't like, which for me at least, causes me to be more careful with what I commit to paper.

In short, writing by hand forces me to think about the words I write as I write them, something that has proven invaluable while working on revisions.

Now I'm not suggesting that you attempt to rewrite your entire WIP on paper — although more power to you if you do — but what I've found is that for those scenes that I want to scrap and relive entirely, writing by hand has proven to be an effective way to get my thoughts in order and really focus on the words as I write. My handwritten work tends to be more poetic and thoughtful than what I come up with in fast-draft mode.

So in my experience at least, the difference between writing by hand and typing is more than just the speed at which you can write — the shifting of the process itself changes the result in ways that I wouldn't have guessed had I not tried it out.

So now I'm curious — do you prefer to write by hand or type? For those of you who have done both, have you found a difference in your handwritten work versus your typed writing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Do Your Characters Fail Enough?

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I've written before about the importance of being a sadist if you're a writer and on allowing your characters to earn their victories, but it occurred to me that I missed an equally important and somewhat related point, namely, allowing your characters to fail.

Let's face it — very rarely do we as readers or writers want our characters to lose, particularly when that character is the protagonist or otherwise well liked. But allowing our characters to fail time and time again is an essential part of both plot progression and character development that writers should be careful not to overlook.

What makes character failures so important, you ask? Let's take a look at the various advantages of allowing your character to lose:

Character failures...

  • Raise the stakes. One of the easiest ways to quickly (and dramatically) raise the stakes in your story is to allow your characters to fail. For example, not only do Faramir and his men lose the battle at Osgiliath, forcing them to retreat to Minas Tirith, but when they attempt to retake the fortress he is severely wounded and most of his men are slaughtered, leaving Minas Tirith with less soldiers, a crazy, cowardly leader and another impending battle that they are sure to lose (The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien). 

  • Test your character. Failures reveal another side of our characters — it tests their strength (physical, emotional and mental), their determination and the nature of their character. Will your protagonist crumble under pressure? How does he handle failure — does it make him angry? Hopeless? More determined to succeed? Who will buckle under the pressure first? These are questions that can only be answered when your characters face failures. 

  • Emphasize the victory. The biggest and best victories are the ones that the characters have earned by persevering through the toughest odds. Victories handed to your characters on a silver platter are worthless — as they say, nothing worth having comes easily, and your character victories should be no different. 

These are just a few advantages of allowing your characters to lose, but now I'd like to hear from you — do you allow your characters to fail often? What other advantages do characters failures have?


Contrary to what the lack of reviews posted on this blog might have you believe, I’ve been reading, except I might have been slacking a little on the review front, especially as I haven’t written a review since March. Oops.

So as I’ve really enjoyed the mini book review format and it seems the easiest way to review my favorite reads of the last few months, here are my thoughts on two fabulous books:

Let’s start with the back cover copy of Insurgent by Veronica Roth:
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“One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’ initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.”
Insurgent is a fantastic (if not slightly infuriating—but in a good way) sequel. One of my favorite aspects about the Divergent trilogy is the characters—they’re complicated and layered, make (plenty) of mistakes and have their own flaws and struggles to deal with. As a bonus, Roth doesn’t rely on the traditional love triangle seen so often in YA novels—instead, she chooses to explore the complexities and difficulties of a relationship, which turned out to be very effective (and also often the source of the aforementioned frustration). 

For those of you who have read Divergent and haven’t yet picked up the sequel, I highly recommend it, and for anyone else who enjoys well-written dystopian YA books, I can’t recommend this trilogy enough.

Now the Goodreads summary of Hourglass by Myra McEntire:

“One hour to rewrite the past . . .
Photo credit: Goodreads

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back. 
So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may also change her past. 
Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?”

I’d been meaning to read Hourglass for a while, and I’m glad I finally did. Emerson’s voice is entertaining and kept me smiling throughout the story, the plot is intriguing and exciting and the romance wasn’t overdone, which was nice to see. I loved the humor scattered throughout the book and I found myself flipping through the pages to try to answer the many questions that surround Emerson’s unusual sight.

I’ll be reading the sequel (Timepiece) shortly and look forward to entering the world of Hourglass once again. For those who like paranormal YA, I suggest you add this one to your TBR list—it’s a fantastic addition to the genre.

Have you read either of these novels? What did you think? If not, feel free to share your recommendations!

How (Not) to Write Dialogue

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For whatever reason, I haven’t written much about dialogue on this blog, something that I realized must be remedied sooner rather than later. And so this post was born.

As many of you know, dialogue makes a huge impact on your writing—stilted dialogue can very easily ruin an otherwise well-written scene, while lines of great dialogue are often quoted by readers as their favorite lines from the book. But how do you ensure that you’ve written brilliant dialogue? The secrets to brilliance, my friends, are here.

How to Write Brilliantly Fantastic Dialogue That Will Leave Your Readers Clamoring for More*
  1. Make sure your characters always address each other. As your readers can’t see that your characters speaking to each other (you’re not writing a screenplay for a movie—you’re writing a book), it’s very easy for them to become confused. Who is speaking to whom? The quickest way to remedy this is to make sure your characters address each other, like so:

    “Hello Bob, how are you doing?”
    “I’m doing very well, Mary, and yourself?”
    “I couldn’t be better, Bob!
    “That’s wonderful, Mary.”
    “Isn’t it, Bob?”
    “Truly, it is, Mary.”

    And so on.

  2. Never use “said.” “Said” is about the most clichéd word in the English dictionary and must be avoided at all costs, unless you want to bore your readers to death. Besides, why would you use “said” when there are dozens of more interesting words like “remarked,” “declared,” “divulged,” “avowed,” and “proclaimed”? You wouldn’t. That’d just be silly.

  3. In fact, forget dialogue tags altogether. Who really uses dialogue tags anymore, anyway? All they do is weigh down your writing with unnecessary words. Besides, your readers will know who is speaking to who since all of your characters are addressing each other in every line.

  4. Quotation marks are cliché. Use italics to differentiate your dialogue from the rest of the writing. It looks much prettier.

  5. No cussing. There are NO circumstances when it’s ok for your characters to curse—it’s very ugly and few things will chase your readers away faster than cursing characters. Instead, use substitute words like “fairy poo,” “fiddlesticks” and “shish kabobs” to save your readers’ innocence.

  6. Formal speech is a must. If your characters don’t sound like they came out of a work of Shakespeare, you aren’t doing it right.

  7. Write out accents. How are your readers supposed to remember all of the various accents your characters have if you don’t sound them out? Hope y’all err havin’ a fantaaaastic day! looks much better than “Hope y’all are having a fantastic day, she said with a Southern accent.”

  8. Use as much punctuation as possible. Case and point: WHY AREN’T YOU USING ENOUGH PUNCTUATION?!?!?!?!?!?!?!???????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????????!!!!!!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!.....?!

  9. Strive for uniformity. It is essential that all of your characters sound the same, otherwise you risk confusing your readers with characters that don’t sound like they belong in the same book.

  10. Forget dialogue altogether. You know what? Who really needs dialogue, anyway? Silent movies were all the rage way back when, what’s to say it can’t work now? 

*The only thing your readers will be clamoring for, should you do these things, is your head on a platter. This is a sarcastic post. Please do not take these tips seriously.

Now it’s your turn: what dialogue “tips” would you add to the list?

How to Read Your Writing Objectively

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So you've finished your first draft and given it ample time to cool and it's now time to dive into the wonderful writing world of editing. But where to begin?

The key to completing an effective round of editing is to try to read your writing as objectively as possible—which can be understandably difficult, as writing is a very personal and subjective experience. You're very close to your writing–it's something that you spent hours upon hours creating, a world that you lived in for days at a time. How are you supposed to look at it objectively?

With a few easy steps, editing efficiently isn’t quite as difficult as it sounds:

  1. Take a break. Yes, I mean the cooling off period. Skipping this step makes everything else unnecessarily difficult, as it makes looking at your work objectively very near impossible. Please do not skip this step—you'll only make the editing process that much more difficult. 

  2. Go in knowing that you're going to make changes. Big changes—don't be afraid to change plot points and kill off characters and rewrite entire sections of your draft. Remember that these changes are exciting—every edit you make improves your story that much more. I know it sounds scary, but changes are good, and if you start your edit with this mindset, you've already won half the battle. 

  3. Read your writing. I've already written about the process of my first read through, so I'm not going to outline it here, but the goal of your first read through is to see your story as a whole and mark down what changes you can make to better your manuscript. This is where you decide on big changes—on adding an entirely new tangent, or creating or killing off characters, or giving your readers a better look at your protagonist's past. Whatever it is, this is where you want to think about the big edits.

  4. Read your writing again. Depending on how carefully you read your manuscript during your first reading, this step may or may not be necessary (but it certainly won't hurt). When I do my first reading, I try to distance myself from the writing—I focus more on the plot as a whole and read it relatively quickly. The second reading is the time for more detailed notes, with the big changes in mind—where will you add that extra scene? What needs to be changed to incorporate that new character? What will you toss and rewrite entirely? This is the time for a more careful round of edit notes. 

  5. Edit. Once you have your notes in place and a plan for your edits, it's now time to get to work. Remember not to look at the enormous mountain of work ahead of you—focus instead on the next edit, the next fix you have to make or scene you have to write. As long as you make steady progress (even if it's only an edit a day), you'll soon be able to look back and smile at all that you've accomplished. 

  6. Have fun. Seriously—you're a writer and this edit thing is just part of what you do. Try to have fun with the process and remember—every edit you make is improving your work, and if you ask me, that's more than enough to smile about. 

Now it's your turn: What tips do you have for reading your writing objectively?

Why Writers Should Let Their Manuscripts Cool

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So a long while ago I wrote this post on the cooling off period between writing the first draft (or any draft, for that matter) and editing, and while I got my point across, I must have consumed about fifty buckets of sugar before writing it or something, because it was just a little hyper and ADDish.

Partially because of that and partially because I’d like to write a more coherent post on the topic, I’ve decided to write about the cooling off period again because yes, it’s that important. (If you really want to read the original, I suppose you could go here. But you don’t have to. In fact, it’d probably be best if you didn’t.)

Anyway. As many writers know (and some would rather pretend they didn’t know), the cooling off period is more important than it sounds—it’s the time that allows us to take a couple steps back away from our freshly drafted WIPs, so that we can then in turn edit more objectively. It’s the pause between writing and editing—the breather, so to speak, and without it, it is very difficult to edit effectively.

Here’s why: completing a draft of a manuscript is a big accomplishment and it makes us writers feel many different emotions—everything from pride to manic excitement to sometimes a little fear and nervousness—but usually just a lot of excitement and pride. After you complete a draft, your mind is reeling with the world you’ve immersed yourself in while writing—the characters, the setting, the battles and victories and losses—all of those things are fresh in your mind, still sparkling with that wow, I really wrote this shine.

While you’re editing, however, that shine needs to go away. I’m not saying you can’t be proud of your work—but if you really want to edit, if you really want to make your work the best it can be, it requires a lot of legwork on your part and it often requires sacrifices. You have to be able to look at your words and pull out the weaknesses. You must be able to recognize the plot holes and flat characters and inconsistencies and scenes (or entire sections) that need rewriting entirely, and quite frankly, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to do all of those things when you finished writing the draft yesterday.

You need time to let your manuscript cool—to create some distance between the story you know so well and your excited feelings. Without it, editing is going to be that much more difficult and not nearly as effective as it would have been had you given it time.

I recommend waiting at least a month, but the longer you can stand to stay away, the more distance you’ll create, and the easier it will be to edit objectively—which is, ultimately, the goal.

Do you take a cooling off period between writing and editing? If so, how long? If not, why not?

Why Use Multiple POVs?

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So not too long ago I wrote a post on how to choose a POV character and once again, one of you fantabulous commenters asked a question that inspired a post—this time, on using multiple POVs. 

Adding a second or third POV into your story isn’t a decision to be taken lightly—it’s much more challenging to write two or three (or more) distinctive voices than it is to write one, and creating effective transitions between the POV shifts is tricky. On top of the technical challenges behind crafting multiple POVs into a novel, there’s the added obstacle that some readers just don’t like multiple POVs because they find the head-hopping jarring and difficult to follow. When you write multiple POVs, you run the risk that a reader may put your book down simply because they didn’t like the way you handled having more than one POV character.

However, when done correctly, multiple POVs can add an interesting dimension to your story.

Multiple POVs allow your reader to see your story from many angles—they don’t necessarily have to take one character’s word for granted, and the ability to hop between many characters’ heads can be especially interesting when the characters don’t necessarily see eye to eye. As an added bonus, it also allows you to give the reader more information than either one character has—not only do they know what Character A knows, but they have access to Character B’s mind as well.

In Across the Universe (Beth Revis), for example, the readers have access to both Amy and Elder’s thoughts, who see the events that unfold in the story from completely different perspectives as Amy is a passenger on the spaceship Godspeed who was cryogenically frozen and accidentally awakened many decades before she was supposed to be woken up, while Elder is a ship-born teenager who is being raised to become the next leader of Godspeed. Readers very quickly learn the customs, beliefs and shifts in language (i.e.: “frex” instead of another four-letter word) from Elder’s thoughts, while we sympathize with Amy who is, in essence, one of us—an Earth born girl trying to understand the new world she was thrust into.

Unlike Across the Universe, however, The Iron Fey series (Julie Kagawa) used multiple POVs in an entirely different way—while the first three books were told from Meghan Chase’s POV, the final book of the series, The Iron Knight gave readers a glimpse into winter fey Ash’s mind. Without spoiling anything, this shift in POV was necessary due to events that happened in the third book that led to Meghan and Ash’s separation, and The Iron Knight is largely about Ash trying to return to her. While the POV shift was a little more jarring as readers were already accustomed to hearing from Meghan (not Ash), I personally found the extra insight into Ash’s mind to be a fascinating experience.

There are many different ways of handling multiple POVs, but the key to writing it is to make sure that both POVs are absolutely necessary to the story. If so, it can be a great way to add an extra layer of complexity to your plot, but if not, you run the risk of losing readers who will wonder why the extra POV was necessary to begin with.

What do you think of multiple POVs in books? Do you enjoy reading or writing them? Why or why not?

Discussion: On the First Reading of Your WIP

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The first read through is a process that tends to stir up many conflicting emotions in writers—some look forward to getting the chance to read through their first completed draft, despite its less than perfect nature, while others dread creating the often large list of things that need fixing or rewriting entirely, and it’s not uncommon to feel a mix of both.

Regardless of where your feelings stand on the matter, after you've given your first draft sufficient time to cool, there does inevitably come the first read through that is necessary if you ever hope to turn that first draft into a polished novel. But what exactly should you be looking for in your first read through?

I know for me, the system of my first reading has changed drastically over time: with my very first draft I fell into the trap of doing line-edits (which I don't recommend unless your first draft is very tight to begin with), with later drafts I started developing a system of marking future edits as I progressed through the reading, and finally, with this latest read through, I made color-coded notes.

The difference between this first read through and many of my previous first readings was that this time, I had a pretty good idea of what needed fixing ahead of time. I already knew I had to pay special attention to the timeline, and that there would be many scenes and tidbits of information that would need expanding. Knowing this ahead of time allowed me to create a color coding system that would emphasize those notes as well as other edit notes in an organized way that was catered to this WIPs needs.

To give you guys an idea, here was my color coding system:

Note: I work primarily with Microsoft Word, and while I have in the past printed out my first draft (which is helpful, if you can afford the ink and paper), this time I made notes directly into Microsoft Word.

Any mention of time, I highlighted in green.

Anything that needed expanding, I highlighted in orange.

Anything that I really liked, I circled in purple (and added hearts and smiley faces).

Any emotional indicators I needed to fix, I highlighted in blue.

Any time I came across a sentence that could work as a chapter title, I underlined in light blue.

This, combined with Word's commenting feature allowed me to make some basic notes throughout the story and get a pretty good idea as to what I'll need to focus on during my edits, which is largely the goal of the first read through—you don't want to try to fix everything in your first reading, you just want to get a good idea as to what will need fixing.

While I'll soon be going through chapter by chapter and making more detailed edit notes, I've found that the first reading can really help you grasp the story as a whole—it's not about the line edits or the awkward sentences yet—it's about what you can do to improve your WIP, to take it out of the depths of the first draft and start to push it towards a polished work.

I know, however, that many people view the first reading differently, so I'm curious— what do you focus on during your first reading? Do you have a system that you use every time, or does it depend on the WIP? I'd love to hear your tips and techniques.

How to Choose a POV Character

Photo credit: davidz on Flickr
There are many factors to consider and questions to answer when you decide to write a book. What genre and age group do you want to write in? Should you write in first person or third? Past or present tense? Will you do any plotting beforehand or pants the whole thing entirely?

One of the earliest questions you must answer, however, before you even write a single word of your soon-to-be Work In Progress (or WIP, for those of you wondering) is which character will be your point of view (POV) character?

Choosing a POV character is arguably the most important part of novel-planning for limited third or first person POV stories, because it affects absolutely everything in the story—from voice, to plot points, to how (and what) information will be revealed to your readers. The POV character that you choose will affect every word in your story, because the story will be filtered through his or her lens.

But while sometimes the POV character is obvious right from the start, choosing a POV character is not always so cut and dry. In those instances when you’re not entirely sure whose POV you should write from, there are two major questions you must ask yourself:

  • Which character has the most at stake? This is the most important question—which character has the most to lose? Readers don’t want to hear from a character who has nothing to lose—that character won’t be emotionally invested in the story and so neither will your readers be. The character who will take the biggest risks, who will suffer if he doesn’t succeed, who is so emotionally invested and entangled in the story that he couldn’t remove himself from it even if he wanted to—that’s the character you want narrating your story.

    Once you’ve determined which character has the most at stake and will be most affected by the plot, you can then move on to the second question.

  • Am I invested enough in this character to stay in his/her head for 300+ pages? This is important because sometimes, especially in the early plotting of our story, we don’t know enough about our characters to really determine how interested we are in them. Before you start writing, however, it is vital that you make your character interesting enough to you that you look forward to spending the next many months living inside of his head—because when you’re writing, especially in a close POV, that’s exactly what you’re doing. If you’re not interested enough in your character to do so, you can pretty much guarantee your readers won’t be very interested either, assuming you even finish the story.

Let’s test two examples:

  • Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)—The Harry Potter series has an enormous cast of characters, but the obvious choice for POV character would be one of the main three characters—Harry, Ron and Hermione. Out of the three, Harry definitely has the most at stake—the most evil wizard of all time tried to kill him when he was an infant and left him an orphan, and now that he’s older, that same evil wizard is returning and he hasn’t forgotten about little Harry Potter. The interest bit (very slight spoiler), as we learn later on, is if Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy that led him to attack Harry when he was a baby differently, he may have tried to kill Neville Longbottom instead, and the first story would likely have been Neville Longbottom and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone, instead.

  • The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)—It could be argued that anyone chosen in the Reaping has pretty near equal stakes—there can only be one winner of the Hunger Games, so every tribute has their life on the line. Why then, did Suzanne Collins choose Katniss as a POV over Peeta or any of the other tributes? I’m sure there were many reasons, but the two that stand out to me the most are these: Katniss has a little more at stake than Peeta, in that Peeta knows his family will survive without him if he doesn’t win the Hunger Games, while Katniss isn’t so sure and (IMO) Katniss is a more interesting character than Peeta.

    That’s not to say that Peeta is boring—but he’s good with the crowd, he’s level-headed and consistent, while Katniss is terrible at public relations (a big deal for Hunger Games tributes), has a relatively short fuse, doesn’t trust anyone and is incredibly stubborn. All of these factors give her more trouble during the games, and put the readers on an emotional rollercoaster throughout the plot.

Choosing a POV character isn’t a process that should be taken lightly, but once you’ve chosen the right character to carry your story, the rest will fall into place.

How do you choose a POV character? Have you ever switched your POV character after you started writing? Share your experience in the comments below—I’d love to hear from you.

How to Write a Novel in Only 500 Words a Day

So if you follow me on Twitter or have liked my Facebook page, you might have seen this tweet enter the world of the internet a couple of days ago:

I did the math, and figuring that every blog post averages somewhere around 500 words, that means that after today, I’ll have written somewhere around 100,000 words in blog posts, and it really got me thinking. Because I almost didn't start this blog. I almost talked myself out of publishing that first post and announcing it to my (then) 100 Twitter followers.

I almost missed out on an opportunity to add 100,000 words to my writing experience in a relatively simple way.

It really got me thinking, because writing 500 words three times a week is really not that difficult—sure, choosing a topic isn’t always butterflies and rainbows, but the actual writing part of putting 500 words to paper? Not so hard.

It really got me thinking, because 100,000 words is longer than some books—and it’s definitely longer than most of my WIPs.

It really got me thinking, because I’ve often heard people say things to the effect of, I’d love to write a book, but I don’t have the time and truth be told? Time isn’t really an issue when it comes to writing a book.

Let’s just say that you’re working full time (like many writers) or going to school full time (like many writers) or have children (like many writers) or all of the above and you only have a couple hours of free time every day. That’s fair. A lot of people are busy and aren’t really swimming in an ocean of time to spare.

But there’s this misconception that writers must be drowning in extra magical free time because it takes hundreds of hours to write a novel, so if you’ve written a novel, you must have hundreds of hours to just throw around. But truth be told, most times writers don’t have that much more time than anyone else, and the dirty little secret is that you don’t need it.

Photo credit: Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr
Sure, it’s nice if you have free time, and I’m not going to pretend I don’t love the days when I can sit down and dedicate the whole day to putting in a few thousand words into the current WIP. But that’s not every day, and that’s ok.

Because all you need is enough time to write a few hundred words a day, and if you keep at it, before you know it you’ll have a novel sitting on your hard drive.

Let’s look at the math:

If you write 500 words a day five days a week, that’s 2,500 words a week or 10,000 words a month. At that rate, it’ll take you anywhere from six to ten months to finish the first draft of a novel, depending on how long your WIP is. If you write six days a week, you can finish in five to eight and a half months. That means if you write 500 words a day and take a one or two day break, you can get that novel written in less than a year.

Let’s up the ante. If you write 750 words a day five days a week, that’s 3,750 words a week or 15,000 words a month. At that rate, it’ll take you roughly four to seven months to finish first drafting.  At six days a week, you’ll be finished in three and a half to five and a half months. Not bad at all.

Writing 200 blog posts has really reminded me about the power of working in small doses. You don’t need to put in ten hours a day every day to accomplish something great. All you need is enough discipline to chip away at that novel or whatever it is you’re working on a little every day, and before you know it you’ll be looking back in awe of what you managed to accomplish with thirty minutes a day.

And let me tell you—it feels pretty good.

How do you manage your time? Do you have a specific daily writing goal or some strategy to help you progress with your WIPs? Share your experience—I’d love to hear about it.   

On Reading and Learning from Books

Photo credit: JKim1 on Flickr
After writing about reading so-called "bad books" last week, I noticed a theme cropping up in the following discussion, namely, learning from what we read.

When you're a writer, reading is more than just a hobby to pass the time— books are our bread and butter and they provide us with an arsenal of tools to use in our writing. Reading is about as optional to the writer as watching movies is to a Hollywood director or studying the brain and nervous system is to the neurosurgeon.

The great thing about reading is that especially for the writer, it's never a waste of time— whether you like the book or not, there's something to be learned.

You see, when you don't like whatever you're reading, the writer asks why— what is it about the book that you don't like? Does the pacing feel off? Are the characters not connecting with you? Does the dialogue feel forced? Once you've figured out what aspect (or aspects) feel off to you, push harder— what is it about the dialogue that makes it feel flat? How would you make it better? Why aren't the characters connecting? Is it a particular character that isn't working? Why?

On the other hand, when you love whatever you're reading, the writer asks why again— what is it about the book that really resonates with you? Is it the voice? The characters? Something about the plot itself? What exactly is working and how could you incorporate something like it into your writing?

Here are two examples from books I really enjoyed:

From Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (page 22):

"I take a sharp hit of oxygen. 'Funny. So did I.'



3 seconds pass.

He cracks a grin so wide, so amused, so refreshingly sincere it's like a clap of thunder through my body."

Honestly, you can't open to a page in Shatter Me without finding at least one poetic line full of refreshing imagery and voice. Shatter Me taught me about putting poetry back into the novel and not being afraid to break the rules.

From The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (page 53):

"When I got out of the movie, I had four text messages from Augustus.

        Tell me my copy is missing the last twenty pages or something.

        Hazel Grace, tell me I have not reached the end of this book.


        I guess Anna died and so it just ends? CRUEL. Call me when you can. Hope all's okay."

Something I absolutely loved about The Fault in Our Stars was that both Augustus and Hazel sounded like actual teenagers I could meet at my local mall. Everything from the witty (and hysterical) dialogue, to the text messages like the ones I quoted screamed authentic teenager, and I loved how genuine it felt. The Fault in Our Stars reminded me about the importance of authenticity in dialogue and narration.

Lessons like these are best absorbed when we see them in action—that is, when we see them working in a book. So go pick up a book and read. You never know what you might learn that will help your writing in the future.

Now it's your turn: What have you learned about writing from reading a book?
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