Personal editing. Professional results.
March 15, 2024
Can that character be you?

Autofiction is one way that writers mine their lives for a novel's story. Classic novels have been disguised as autobiographies. There's David Copperfield, Look Homeward Angel, On the Road, and The Things They Carried. Yes, you can write that sort of book, presenting your life as fiction. Frankly, many readers will assume a novel is […]

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September 14, 2023
Wants vs. needs for your characters

A character knows about what they want. They are unaware of what they need. That want is external. Anna wants to gain control over her life's choices: relationships, work, pleasure. Even choosing which others she will serve. At the start of the twentieth century, that control was beyond a woman's reach — an unprivileged woman, […]

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September 1, 2023
Story tropes are your friends

We have expectations about the things we love. If you love stories (all authors do) then you have expectations about their elements. These are tropes. When they're characters in the story, they might be archetypes. When you don't like these expected elements, because they feel tired, you might call them cliches. They are a delicious […]

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May 14, 2021
Remove filters to get your POV closer

Some easy writing advice to follow, offered all the time, is show instead of tell. But it takes careful work to preserve the showing while you remove filter words from your writing. These are words that make a story less vivid and make the writer more obvious. You don’t want the latter to happen. We […]

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December 13, 2020
Give your characters agency to drive a story

When I coach authors on their stories, I advocate the relentless use of agency for their characters. Agency is not a term that is common to writing instruction. I first heard about agency in a seminar taught by novelist Jim Shepard at the Tin House Writer's Workshop. Shepard was dynamic in those classes, teaching from […]

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December 3, 2019
Open your wheelhouse: submit your requests

You might have been fortunate enough to have an agent request pages for your book. You may have taken a lot of time to make them better first. For example, if you're writing crime fiction (a mystery) you may say 1. My book is too long today 2. I don’t want my mystery to be […]

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September 22, 2019
Emotions, feelings, and the differences

Dramatic writing always begs for feelings. Or is it emotions? It's actually both things, that begging. The differences tell us when to rely on each one as we create our scenes and stories. Simple enough Rage = Emotion Contempt = Feeling Feelings are emotions refined. Emotions are raw, unconsidered, sudden and unbidden. The rage boiled […]

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October 16, 2018
Use the power of premise to pump your stories up

Most of us start a story with an idea. You develop it into a concept. Then you build a character to turn that concept into a premise. Secrets of church history hide in plain sight. What if the DaVinci art held the secrets? What if a professor of Renaissance art found secrets of church history […]

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September 24, 2018
Backstory: A rich vein to mine when plot fails you

Plot is a means to show the journey of characters, their desires, and motivations. Backstory drives your characters. If your plot is failing you, it’s probably time to write out some backstory, even it’s only a few paragraphs on each major character. Focus on seminal experiences for each person. Backstory is the motherload of ore that gives […]

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July 8, 2018
Characters can gain power from their settings

Donald Maass offers a lot of advice on writing a book that breaks out a career in Writing the Breakout Novel. In his first chapter he gives scenarios of writers with ongoing careers, already published, but sliding downward. He calls himself the agent who gets the 911 career call when the author's latest novel doesn't […]

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