Why You Need a Writing Community

Feeling all alone as a writer? It doesn't have to be that way! Learn how to find a writing community to support and encourage you during your novel journey!Writing a novel is a solitary task, and we writers tend to be introverted creatures who enjoy the seclusion and silence of our favorite activity. But sometimes, even introverts get lonely. It’s part of human nature; it’s our instinct to seek out the company of other human beings. It’s not good for us to be alone.

When I first started writing I didn’t know any other writers. My friends and family, though they supported me, didn’t understand my fascination with building plots or my enthusiasm for my characters. They didn’t understand the frustrations of plot holes and the misery of feeling as though my writing wasn’t any good. They didn’t understand why I would rather spend my evenings writing than going out to social events.

They just weren’t like me; I was a penguin among flamingos, waddling around awkwardly and feeling very out of place.

Though I loved writing, my flock of one was very lonely. I felt as though I was the only one who had experienced the excitement of writing a first novel, along with all of its fears and struggles. For years, I shuffled along this way on my own.

That is, until last year, when I entered the world of blogging and started Ink and Quills. It wasn’t until then that I discovered a community of fellow bloggers and writers—people who understood writing, understood me, were like me. An entire flock of beautiful, awkward, introverted penguins.

For the first time since I had started writing at the age of fourteen, I felt as though I had found a community where I belonged. And let me tell you, friends, it has changed my writing life! Just because the act of writing itself requires solitude doesn’t mean you should navigate your novel journey solo. No sir! This introvert will be the first to tell you—writing is so much better with community!

Benefits of a Writing Community

So why do you need a writing community? Meeting and befriending other writers online has been one of the best things to happen to me as a writer, and I wouldn’t trade these newfound friendships for anything. I’ve also been able to connect with writers from all over the world, which is pretty darn cool. But allow me to share some the benefits of building a writing tribe of your own.

1. Support and Encouragement

Writing is hard. Not just hard work, but hard emotionally and mentally. We’re plagued with all kinds of doubts, fears, and insecurities. Having writing friends I can express these concerns to—friends who have also experienced what I’m feeling and understand what I’m going through—makes a world of difference. Their kind words and encouragement help me pick myself back up again when I’m feeling down and keep writing.

2. Friendship

Having writing friends is just so. Much. Fun!

I finally have people I can nerd out with over how to construct perfect plots and characters and share my passion for story. It’s so nice to talk to people I have things in common with, and who can laugh at writing jokes and understand writer pet peeves (Such as being asked “What are you going to do with that Creative Writing degree?” Or “What’s your story about?” Or my person favorite, “How long is your story?”).

There’s nothing like being able to confide in, complain to, and converse with a fellow writer who just gets you.

3. Feedback

One of the best parts about having writing friends is having people who can give you constructive criticism about your novel (Because let’s face it, as much as your mom loved it, she doesn’t understand how to construct a story like a writer).

I was nervous when I asked my writing friends to beta read my current novel, as I had never let anyone outside of close friends and family read my work before. But it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a writer, and the feedback I received was invaluable!

4. Advice

Whether you’re uncertain if you should pursue traditional or self-publishing, or debating which direction you should take your plot, it’s great to have other writers to turn to for advice. Having writing friends who are more experienced, or who have experience in areas you don’t, is especially helpful since you can ask them for their expertise. Being able to turn to a friend for help is a great comfort to a writer!

How to Build a Writing Community

So where can you find fellow writers? Personally, I met all of my friends on Twitter. I had no idea what I was doing when I first joined Twitter or how to make friends, so I just started talking to people who seemed friendly, and who I was interested in getting to know. Some people chatted for a while only to vanish back into the Twitterverse, and that was that. Others I really hit it off with, and we continued to talk and haven’t stopped since!

It might feel awkward at first, but I’ve found that most people are friendly and enjoy talking about writing and meeting new people. You just have to be brave and take that leap to put yourself out there, which I know can be so hard for us introverts. But I promise you, the friendships you will gain are so worth stepping outside of your comfort zone!

Here are some ideas for places to meet other writers.

1. Local Writing Events

Is there anything writing-related going on near you like workshops, festivals, or conferences? What about any local meet-ups or critique groups? A quick Google search should help you uncover opportunities to meet writers in person in your area.

2. Twitter Chats

If you’re a little shy about chatting up random writers on Twitter, you could try participating in writing-related Twitter chats. That way, you can “meet” writers during the chat and then connect with them afterward if you like. A couple of chats I recommended (which are hosted by some of my own friends) are #StorySocial and #StoryCrafter, though there are many others out there!

3. NaNoWriMo

If you’ve never heard of it before NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month), is an annual “contest” held every November where participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. There’s also Camp NaNoWriMo, which is held in April and July, and allows participants to work on a project of any length.

You can connect with participants on Twitter with the hashtags #NaNoWriMo and #CampNaNoWriMo, and the websites for both contests offer forums and groups where writers can connect as well.

4. Writing Community Sites

Finally, there are lots of websites out there especially for writers where you can chat in forums, join groups, share your writing, and receive feedback. Sometimes these websites even run writing contests (One of which I’ve entered in the past, and won a signed copy of Sarah J. Mass’ Heir of Fire. Mass also got her start writing fiction on similar community sites. So they can be very worthwhile!).

Here are a few to check out: Wattpad, Penana, Figment, Story Bird, Booksie, and Story Wars.


I am so grateful for all of the amazing friends I’ve made online. My writing life feels so much more full because of them, and when I look back to the lonely beginnings of my novel journey I wonder how I survived so long without them. If you only ever follow one piece of writing advice, I ask you to make it this: Find a community, and journey with them as you write your novel.

Do you have a writing community? Have you ever felt like a penguin among flamingos? Let me know in the comments below!

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Writing 101: Choosing the Best Point of View for Your Story

Are you confused about which point of view would be the best fit for your story? Learn about the techniques involved in each one and which is the best fit for you!Years ago, I remember watching a film called Vantage Point. The plot revolved around an assassination attempt on the U.S. President, and in order to catch the would-be assassin government agents had to piece together clues from witnesses.

Each witness had a different point of view of the assassination attempt from their place in the crowd. Each one saw and experienced the moment differently. From a police officer to a news reporter to an ordinary bystander, each had a different story to tell of the same event.

And that, my friend, is point of view–the “lens” or perspective through which a story is told, and in whose voice. But just who is telling the story? In fiction, different points of view use varying techniques to give the reader a different experience. Let’s look at the options available to you as a writer.

First Person Point of View

You’ve probably come across this one before, as it’s one of the most popular points of view (POV) used in fiction, especially in Young Adult novels. In this point of view, the main character is the one telling the story. The story is written in the character’s voice using the pronouns I/me/my.

The advantage of this POV is that the reader is drawn right into the character’s head. We see the world through their eyes and hear their thoughts. It’s a very intimate perspective. As such, however, the reader is limited to what the main character knows or sees, which can be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on the story you’re trying to tell.

Examples: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Second Person Point of View

Second person point of view is when the author speaks directly to the reader using you/your. This places the reader directly into the story as though they are the main character and has a very engaging effect. Let’s look at an example from Leo Tolstoy’s short story trio, The Sevastopol Sketches:

Yes ! disenchantment certainly awaits you, if you are entering Sevastopol for the first time. In vain will you seek, on even a single countenance, for traces of anxiety, discomposure, or even of enthusiasm, readiness for death, decision, — there is nothing of the sort. You will see the tradespeople quietly engaged in the duties of their callings, so that, possibly, you may reproach yourself for superfluous raptures, you may entertain some doubt as to the justice of the ideas regarding the heroism of the defenders of Sevastopol which you have formed from stories, descriptions, and the sights and sounds on the northern side.

As you can see, second person almost turns the reader into a participant in the story.  It also makes the events more personal; it makes us feel as though we have a stake in the story and forces more internal reflection on our thoughts and feelings about what is happening.

This point of view is rarely used, and when it is, it’s usually found in short stories or parts of a novel. It’s extremely difficult to maintain second person throughout an entire novel and do it well. I would only recommend using second person in short stories or literary fiction, which experiments with the art of writing. For commercial fiction written for entertainment, it’s best to skip it.

Though it isn’t popular, authors can and have used second person successfully. For example, Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller uses second person in alternating chapters, and William Faulkner uses it in sections of his novel Absalom, Absalom!. A few brave and talented authors have even written their entire novel in second person, such as Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.

Find the Right Point of View for Your Story

Third Person Point of View

Another popular point of view which you’re probably familiar with is third person. This is the point of view used most frequently in fiction. In this point of view, the reader becomes an outsider looking in on the story as it’s told from the main character’s perspective using he/she/they.

Although the story is told from the character’s perspective, it’s told in the author’s voice (though there is one exception to this which we’ll get to in a moment!). There are three types of third person: Third Person Omniscient, Third Person Limited, and Deep Point of View.

Third Person Omniscient

“Omciscient” means “all knowing” and that’s exactly what this point of view is.

The story is narrated to the reader in the disembodied voice of an all-knowing, all-seeing god who knows what all of the characters are thinking and feeling at all times. The narrator might even slip into second person occasionally and address the reader (a huge no-no in modern fiction!) or state his own opinions. Omniscient point of view is completely unlimited, and pretty much anything goes.

Here’s a quick example:

“Did you find your keys?” Mary asked, irritated at John’s carelessness. He was always losing everything. Why can’t he be more organized? she thought. He’s always wasting my time. Her jaw clenched in anger.

John ran a hand through his hair. “No. I could have sworn I left them on the kitchen table.” He turned away from her angry face, his own frustration mounting. She thinks I’m an idiot, he thought. Why can’t I remember where they are? Desperation began to creep over him.

Do you see how in omniscient point of view we are in both character’s heads at once? This style of writing was most popular in 19th century literature, but since then reader’s tastes have changes and it’s now less favored in modern-day fiction.

Today, we call this switching back and forth between multiple character’s thoughts within the same scene “head hopping,” and it’s often frowned upon. All of the jumping around can  be disorienting to the reader and leave them confused about whose story this is supposed to be.

But what if you need the perspectives of multiple characters to tell your story? There is another technique for this which is more popular and common modern fiction, which we’ll get to in the last section.

Examples of third person omniscient novels: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Third Person Limited

This is the style of third person that is more popular with modern readers. We remain in one character’s head throughout the story, only seeing things from their perspective. This means we only hear their thoughts, feel what they feel, and know what they know.

Let’s revisit our previous example of Mary and John, for a moment. This time, I’ll limit the point of view to Mary’s perspective only:

“Did you find your keys?” Mary asked, irritated at John’s carelessness. He was always losing everything. Why can’t he be more organized? she thought. He’s always wasting my time. Her jaw clenched in anger.

John ran a hand through his hair. “No. I could have sworn I left them on the kitchen table.” He turned away from her, his lips pressed in a flat line.

Mary sighed. He couldn’t even look her in the eye, he looked like a scolded, cowering dog. Maybe she shouldn’t look so angry. She drew in a deep breath and tried to soften her features. Lord, give me patience.

Do you see the difference? We don’t know what John is thinking or feeling. We experience everything from Mary’s POV and only know what’s going on inside her head. Unlike omniscient POV which is limitless, in this POV we are “limited” to Mary’s perspective.

Examples of limited third person: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin.

Deep Point of View

Deep point of view is a style of writing that is beginning to grow in popularity. It uses third person pronouns he/she/they, but instead of using the author’s voice the story is told in hero’s voice. This brings the reader deep into the hero’s head and allows them to experience the story through the hero, feeling what they feel.

Essentially, it’s like first person except with he/she instead of I. All “evidence” of the author’s hand (phrases like he said, she felt, he wondered, etc.) are also removed to erase the distance between the reader and hero.

Let’s look at this technique in action.

Example 1 (Third Person Limited):

Kali hurried though the village. She wondered if he was already waiting for her. She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She knew she should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on talking about the chickens.

Example 2 (Deep POV):

Kali hurried through the village. Was he already waiting for her? She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on and on about the chickens. Chickens this, and eggs that. Be sure to this, don’t do it like that. Kali’s fidgety impatience had driven the details from her memory. Hopefully they weren’t too important.

Notice the difference between the two examples. The second brings you into Kali’s head by removing “interruptions” by the author like “she wondered” or “she knew.” The second example also uses more of Kali’s voice to reveal her thoughts, feelings, and perceptions–it’s almost as though she is the narrator, yet we stay in third person point of view.

This point of view can be challenging to write and is still emerging in fiction, but it’s quickly gaining popularity in the writing world because of the intimacy it creates between the reader and character.

Multiple Point of View

When you have a story that needs to be told from multiple perspectives, you have two options: you can either use third person omniscient and head hop, or you can use multiple point of view.

Multiple point of view can use third person limited, deep point of view, or first person. It stays in one character’s head at a time per scene or chapter. When the writer needs to switch to a different character’s perspective, they skip a line between scenes or begin a new chapter to signal to the reader that they are changing to a new character. In modern fiction, this technique is the preferred way of telling a story with multiple characters.

Examples: A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.

Which POV is Right for Your Story?

Are you confused about which point of view would be the best fit for your story? Learn about the techniques involved in each one and which is the best fit for you!So now that we’ve explored your options, which one should you choose?

If you’re uncertain, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. How many perspectives do I need to tell this story?
  2. Do I want to create distance or intimacy between the reader and the character?
  3. Do I want to tell the story in my own voice, or the character’s?

If you need multiple perspectives to tell your story you might use multiple POV or experiment with third person omniscient.

If you want to create intimacy between your reader and character, first person or deep point of view are the way to go. Or, you could create intimacy between the author and reader with second person.

Need a little more distance? Try third person limited or omniscient point of view.

If you want your character’s voice to really come through in your story, you’ll want to employ first person or deep point of view. Or, if you prefer to use your own voice, third person limited & omniscient and second person will all allow you to do so.

As you can see, it all depends upon the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. I don’t think there’s a “right” or “wrong” point of view, but for a new writer I would recommend  maybe starting with third person limited or first person as those as the most common and easiest of the bunch to write.

Many times, the point of view a writer chooses depends on personal preference. Some writers find first person too challenging or invasive, while others love it. Personally, I’ve always preferred third person limited (I’m now moving toward deep POV), but I do occasionally use first person. Sometimes the characters “speak” to me in first person, and sometimes I hear their story in third person.

The beauty of point of view is that each method gives the reader a different experience. As the author, it’s up to you to decide how you want your readers to experience your story. Do you want to draw them into the hero’s head? Make them a participant? Show them different perspectives through multiple characters? The power rests in your hands.

What’s your favorite point of view to read and write? Let me know in the comments below!

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Writing 101: Discover the Perfect Audience for Your Novel

Do you know who you're writing for? Discover your target audience to find the types of readers who will want to read your story!I’m going to ask you a question that writers loath even more than the dreaded “What is your story about?” Are you ready for this, writer? Brace yourself: Who is your novel for?

If your answer is somewhere between “Everyone” and “I don’t know,” it’s high time you identified your story’s target audience. You know, the readers who will find your story irresistibly appealing and snatch it right off bookstore shelves.

And spoiler alert: Your story will not appeal to every reader. It’s just not possible. As scary as it might sound, there will be readers who will hate your book and that’s okay! Your goal as an author is to delight your target readers and no one else.

So, just who did you write this story for anyways? Who would want to read your novel (besides your mom, that is)? To discover your target audience, there are two things you’ll want to consider: Reader Preferences and Reader Demographics.

Reader Preferences: the types of stories a reader most enjoys. What he/she likes to see in the stories they read.

Reader Demographics: specific readers who would enjoy, relate to, and connect with your story more so than others.

By layering elements of these two categories together, you will create your target audience. Let’s look at each one in more detail.

Reader Preferences

Genre and Sub-genre—Most readers have a preferred genre and sub-genre they enjoy. For example, my favorite genre is fantasy. Within that genre my favorite sub-genre is medieval/high fantasy, and I tend to avoid sub-genres such as paranormal or urban fantasy.

Plot vs. Character—Some readers enjoy stories that are fast-paced, full of action, and are driven by the events of the plot. Other readers enjoy stories that are driven by the characters and delve deep into character development.

Setting—Some readers might be drawn to stories set in a specific country and/or time period. For example, one reader might devour anything set in ancient Egypt while another might find stories set in modern-day Scotland irresistible.

Writing Style—Some readers like clean, straight-forward writing often found in commercial fiction, while others may enjoy the lush, poetic prose usually found in literary fiction. Additionally, some readers prefer the story to be told in third person in the author’s “voice” while others enjoy first-person stories that allow them to slip right into the character’s head.

So, for example, a target audience for The Lord of the Rings would be readers who enjoy epic high fantasy, complex fantasy worlds, and a plot-driven story with a lush literary writing style.

Or, the target audience for The Help would be readers who enjoy historical fiction that explores racial issues, settings in the Deep South, character-driven stories, and a writing style that uses the characters’ voices to tell the story.

Reader Demographics

Age—Fiction is divided into different categories according to age: Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult. It’s important to know what age you’re writing for so you can make your story relatable to the experiences and struggles of that age group. For example, a novel about high school cyber bullying is going to be more relatable to a teen than a novel about woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

Gender—Gender usually doesn’t matter when it comes to enjoying a story, but occasionally a book might appeal more to males or females. For example, romance writers tend to target a female audience. On the other hand, an author might write a novel that is more appealing to a predominantly male audience, such as a gritty war story about the bond between brothers in arms.

Of course, either of these stories could appeal to either gender. I’ve known guys who enjoyed a good chick flick, and I myself tend to enjoy war stories. Just ask yourself if your story might appeal significantly more to one gender than the other and target that gender, but keep in mind any story can be enjoyed by both genders.

Ethnicity—Readers of all cultures and races should be able to see themselves in the heroes and heroines populating fiction. We also often better relate to characters who share our race and culture. If you have a diverse cast of characters in your novel it will appeal more strongly to readers of the same race.

So, for example, if you wrote a story about a Hispanic woman who immigrated to the U.S., your story would appeal to the Hispanic demographic as well as other immigrants who could relate to the character’s experience.

Religion—Sometimes, an author might want to write a faith-based story targeted to readers of a specific religion such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. Even if the plot or overall tone of your book is not overtly religious, having a character who is Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, etc. could attract readers of that faith.

Profession & Life Experiences—Readers are drawn to characters they can relate to. If you have characters with a disease or disability, a character who is a cop, musician, nurse, etc., or characters who are struggling with family issues, racism, divorce, parenting a difficult child, readjusting to civilian life after a war, etc. it will appeal to readers who have had/are having similar experiences.

Why Identify Your Target Audience?

All of this being said, this doesn’t mean that people outside of your target audience can’t enjoy your book. Harry Potter is a terrific example of this—it originally was targeted to a Middle Grade audience, but readers of all ages have fallen in love with the story. So if that’s the case, then why should you bother identifying your target audience to begin with?

For one thing, knowing who you’re writing for and what they are looking for in a story makes it easier for you as a writer to please those readers. You can tailor your story to feel as though it was written just for them. You will be able to write a story they can relate to, and even impact them so deeply it could have a positive effect on their life. And that’s pretty powerful stuff.

Secondly, your publisher will expect you to know your book’s audience. The last thing a publisher wants is to be handed a novel you claim teen readers will love but is filled with gratuitous swearing, explicit sex scenes, and a seventeen-year-old who is having an affair with a married man. How on earth is a publisher supposed to market and sell that? You’re going to get a rejection letter.

On the other hand, if you present a publisher with a New Adult novel about the emotional struggles of a heroine who watches all of her college friends become engaged and get married while she remains single, they’ll realize that you’ve put the time into thinking about your audience. The story fits the audience, which means the publisher can market it easily.

Even if you decide to self-publish, you will still need to know your target audience. Self-publishing means marketing your book yourself, and knowing your target audience will help you to figure out where your readers hang out in real life and online, what blogs or magazines/e-zines they read, and what social media outlets they use most.

If figuring out your target audience is still making you stress, relax! Sometimes your audience doesn’t become clear until your story begins to take shape. You might start writing a Middle Grade novel only to realize halfway through you have a Young Adult novel on your hands. While knowing your audience beforehand is helpful, you can always go back and tweak your story to fit your audience.

Just continue to ask yourself: Who would enjoy this story? Who am I writing for? I promise you, there are readers out there waiting for your story. Once you are able to define your target audience, you will be able to find, delight, and reach the perfect readers for your story. And that, friend, is a huge advantage well worth having.

What do you find challenging or confusing about identifying your target audience? Let me know in the comments below!

Previous Posts in the Writing 101 Series:

Part 1: The Fundamentals of Story, Part 2: Writing Term Glossary, Part 3: Creating a Successful Hero & Villain, Part 4: Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot, Part 5: Let’s Talk Dialogue, Part 6: Setting and World-building, Part 7: Creating Effective Description, and Part 8: Tips and Resources for the Grammatically Challenged Novelist.

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Writing 101: Tips and Resources for the Grammatically Challenged Novelist

Don't let bad grammar stand between you and writing your novel! Check out these grammar resources and tips to improve your skills!Ah, grammar. The red-headed stepchild of the novel-writing process that we would much rather forget  about. Yet our dangling modifiers and askew apostrophes glare up at us from the page like brilliant eyesores, demanding we admit defeat.

Talk about sucking all the fun out of your creativity.

Writers want to be free to frolic through the fields of their imaginations, not chained down by the stuffy rules your English teacher droned on about. Who cares about past participles or semicolon placement? But our readers expect flawless grammar. And at times, it’s enough to make even the most seasoned of writers want to bash their head against their keyboard and hope for the best.

Please don’t bash your head against the keyboard.

Though a lot of anxieties and frustrations can arise over grammar, I don’t want you to let it stand between you and the novel you want to write. Fear not my grammatically challenged friend–you can learn how to wield grammar just as you can learn how to write a story.

Shall we begin?

Do You Need Good Grammar to Write a Novel?

First, I feel that there is a misconception I must clear up. I’ve had several new writers express their concerns to me about their lack of grammar savvy. They’ll say things along the lines of: “I suck at grammar, I’m worried I won’t be able to get my story published” or, “My grammar is awful, can I still write a book and become an author?”

Sound familiar? Well, I have some good news for you, friend! You don’t have to be a grammar whiz to write–and publish–a novel. I think new writers often tend to confuse good grammar with good writing, but one does not necessarily equal the other!

Good writing is knowing how to choose the most effective words, write descriptively, vividly, and concisely, and create realistic worlds, characters, and dialogue. Sure, correct grammar and spelling help, but they’re not what I use to judge the quality of a story.  Why? Because mistakes like that usually don’t survive to see the published draft.

You see, bad grammar can easily be fixed with editing; bad storytelling, however, can’t. Your skills as a storyteller are far more important than your grammar skills. An agent or publisher may overlook poor grammar if you have a fantastic story–after all, that’s why they have editors.

So my advice is this: Don’t stress yourself out over your grammar. Do the best you can, but put the majority of your efforts into building your storytelling skills.

Now, that being said, of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your grammar! Good grammar does help. Agents and publishers like to see well-polished writing because it means less work for them (or rather, their editors). Good grammar also helps make you look more professional, intelligent, and experienced.

So how can you improve your grammar skills? Keep reading for my favorite grammar resources and tips!

1. Have a Grammar Guide for Review and Reference

Buying a book (or two) on grammar to refresh your memory is a great starting point. It also helps to have one on hand for reference for those moments when you get hung up on tricky words or sentences! Here are some fantastic grammar handbooks to consider:

  1. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  2. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
  3. Merriam Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style
  4. The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar Usage

2. Use a Grammar/Spelling Checker

Most word processing programs have a built-in grammar and spelling checker that does all the work for you–underlining your mistakes and then providing suggestions for corrections which you can then fix in a couple simple clicks.

So make sure these options are turned on and you’re taking advantage of them! To turn on your grammar and spelling checker in Word go to File>Options>Proofreading and check the boxes according to your preferences.

Another grammar and spelling checker worth looking into is Grammarly. This program claims to catch even more errors than Word’s built-in proofreader!

A word of warning, however: these automatic proofreaders are a fantastic help, but they’re not perfect. I’ve noticed that occasionally they make incorrect suggestions, or miss a mistake. It doesn’t happen often but it does still happen, which is why it’s good to know your stuff and proofread your story on your own!

3. Put Your Dictionary to Use

A dictionary is a good resource to have if you find yourself frequently needing to check the spelling, definition, and proper usage of various words. My favorite dictionary resources are:

  1. Dictionary.com
  2. The Dictionary.com app
  3. The Merriam Webster Dictionary

3. Be Aware of Common Mistakes

Everyone has trouble with different words. Know which words you tend to mix up, misspell, and misuse, and be on the lookout for them. Better yet, make yourself a “cheat sheet” of your trouble words for easy reference so you can look up the correct usage quickly. Here are some resources to help you out:

  1. Common Errors in English Usage complied by English professor Paul Brians of Washington State University, and also available in e-book format for Kindle
  2. Commonly Misused Words and Phrases
  3. Commonly Misspelled Words

4. Grammar Girl is Your Friend

Stuck and need a quick answer? Search for your answer on Grammar Girl to get an easy-to-understand, simple yet thorough explanation with examples! This is my go-to resource when I get hung up on confusing things like whether to use who or whom, or where to place a tricky apostrophe or hyphen.

5. Hire an Editor

If you’ve done the best you can and you’re still worried about the grammar in your novel, you may want to consider hiring an editor before submitting it for publication. I would only recommend this if your novel is extremely rough as these services are pricey, and if your novel gets picked up by a publisher their editors will clean it up anyways.

The only exception to this is if you are self-publishing instead of going through a publisher who will provide the editors for you. Then hiring a professional editor is a must. The last thing you want is to publish a book riddled with grammar and spelling errors. Not only will it frustrate readers, but it will make you look sloppy and unprofessional.

6. Read, read, read! Write, write, write!

Finally, keep reading and writing as much as you can! The more you write and put your grammar into practice, the more you will learn. And the more you read, the more you will begin to develop a “feel” for how sentences should be constructed. Eventually, writing grammatically correct will become instinctive.

What do you find most challenging about grammar? Let me know in the comments!

Previous Posts in the Writing 101 Series:

Part 1: The Fundamentals of Story, Part 2: Writing Term Glossary, Part 3: Creating a Successful Hero & Villain, Part 4: Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot, Part 5: Let’s Talk Dialogue, Part 6: Setting and World-building, and Part 7: Creating Effective Description.

Ready for Part 9? Click here to read about Discovering the Perfect Audience for Your Novel!

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Write a Sequel That Doesn’t Disappoint: Part II

Learn 5 more ways  to write a sequel or series that leaves readers satisfied!In my last post, I shared with you 5 ways to disappointment-proof your series. Today, I’m back with Part II, as promised! (Psst, if you missed Part I catch up here!)

So without further ado, here are 5 more tips for making sure your series kicks butt!

1. Follow Through on Your Plants

No, I’m not talking about gardening here. “Plant and payoff” is a technique where a piece of information, object, character, etc. is planted in the story and is later revealed to have significance (the payoff).

This is also similar to “Chekov’s Gun,” a technique named after the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. He wisely said that if you put a gun on stage in Act I, it should be fired in Act II. He also reasoned for the opposite of this technique: if you don’t intend to fire the gun in Act II, don’t put it on the stage in Act I.

Everything in your story must have a purpose or significance. Why? Because if it doesn’t, it could lead to confusion or disappointment in readers. Savvy readers pick up on planted details and file them away for later as they read, knowing that if the author is mentioning it, it will probably be important later. They expect you to use them.

If you spend time talking about a ruby ring the reader will think, ‘this must be important’ and make a mental note of it. But if the ring never comes up again, at the end of the story they might be left scratching their heads wondering why you bothered mentioning the ring at all.

My point is, don’t add unnecessary details that will be wasted and unused. Every plant must have a payoff, or it has the potential to do more harm than good.

For example, in The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh, **spoilers** it is planted that the heroine, Shazi, has dormant magical abilities. This leads readers to expect that Shazi’s magic will be of significant importance in the plot. Especially when in the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, she tries to learn how to use her magic.

Unfortunately, there’s no satisfying payoff for this plant. Shazi’s magic doesn’t play a significant role and could have been left out without hurting the story. To apply Chekov’s Gun to this: If you don’t intend to use your heroine’s magic in book II, don’t introduce it in book I. **end spoilers**

2. Continue to Develop Your Characters

In your sequel or series, pay attention to your characters and make sure they don’t remain stagnant. They should continue to grow and change as a result of the challenges and experiences they encounter in each book. You don’t want your hero to be the same at the end of your series as he was at the beginning of book one.

You can also continue to deepen your characters by:

a) Revealing more about them and exploring their background

b) Continuing to deepen the relationships and conflicts between characters

All of these techniques are used in Game of Thrones, and its part of what makes the show continue to get even better as it goes along. The characters continue to adapt, evolve, learn, and change heart, making us wonder who they will be by the story’s end. Plus, the conflicts and interactions between characters keep us interested and riveted.

3. Foreshadow Your Plot Twists

Plot twists are fun, but if you’re going to have a plot twist you must make sure you set it up properly for your readers (This goes back to #1 with plant and payoff). But if the point of a plot twist is to surprise readers, then why should you plant clues or foreshadow?

Plot twists should be surprising, yes, but the last thing you want is for them to feel random. Foreshadowing means playing fair with readers and giving them the chance to figure out the plot twist. They should feel like if they had been paying closer attention they could have figured it out.

Clues and foreshadowing allow readers to look back and think ‘oh yes, that makes sense now, I should have realized that!’ (Or for more perceptive readers, ‘oh yes, I suspected that might be coming!’). What you don’t want is for them to look back and think ‘where in the world did that come from?’ Think of foreshadowing as the evidence that supports the surprise so the reader will believe what you’re revealing to them.

In a series, pulling off plot twists might mean foreshadowing or planting clues several books in advance. That’s why planning out your series is extremely important! Know your plot twists ahead of time, and sprinkle hints throughout your books accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll rip the proverbial rug out from under your readers and leave them feeling confused or frustrated.

(Side note: If you need examples to study, both J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin are masters at this)

4. Increase the Hero’s Difficulties

As your series begins to reach its end, things should become harder and more complicated for the hero as your series heads into its climax. His situation should become more dire, the consequences of failing more severe, the chances of succeeding more slim. He should face more obstacles, as well as strong opposition from the villain.

All of this serves to increase the tension of your story and make the hero work to achieve his goal. This will lead to a more satisfying conclusion because it will feel like the hero “earned” it.

What you don’t want to do is make things easy for him. If readers aren’t worried about what the outcome may be, they will lose interest and the climax will lose its umph. So don’t let your hero win every fight, overcome every obstacle with little effort, or face off against against a villain who’s a pushover. Otherwise, your climax will fizzle.

5. Stay True to the First Book

Finally, in some way you want to stay true to the heart of your original story. Sequels aren’t about being bigger or better; when readers want a sequel, what they really want is to once again feel the same experiences or emotions you gave them in the first story.

For example, in Harry Potter, we fall in love with the wonder and magic of the wizarding world, and are endeared by the themes of loyalty and friendship. J.K. Rowling carries these themes throughout the books, and these concepts are the heart of the series.

Examine your first book for its heart and themes. Figure out what readers will feel and experience emotionally. Then, continue to give them that emotional experience throughout your series. If you keep readers emotionally engaged in this way, it will be hard for them to find your series disappointing.

What do you look for in a sequel? What do you find disappointing? Share in the comments below!

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Write a Sequel That Doesn’t Disappoint: Part I

Writing a series is a challenge. Writing a darn good series? That's even more challenging. Learn how to write a sequel or series that leaves readers satisfied.I have a confession to make, friends: I’m getting worn out on series.

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but in the last couple of years or so I’ve been seeking out more and more stand-alone novels and even writing my own. Which is weird, considering I used to snub my nose at stand-alones, and all of the stories I wrote (and planned to write) were plotted out as trilogies.

So what changed? Well, my theory is that I’ve come down with something I’ve dubbed “Sequel Disappointment Syndrome.” One day it struck me that I’ve read very few series that are actually well-executed and deserving of their 3-7+ volumes. To be honest, the majority of series I’ve read have a fantastic first book, but the sequels fall short in comparison and disappoint.

I can’t tell you how many series I’ve come across where I think to myself, “This really would have worked better as a stand-alone.”

And honestly, I would rather read a fantastic stand-alone than a trilogy where book 1 is amazing but books 2 and 3? Um…not so much.

These days, it seems like every book is a trilogy, if not part of a longer series. I can’t help but look back at the wealth of classics like Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, and Wuthering Heights just to name a few, and wonder if their authors were onto something by making them stand-alones. When did we start feeling the need to make everything a trilogy? If these books had been written today, would they have been series instead? And would their sequels have been as good as the originals? One has to wonder.

To Write a Sequel or Not to Write a Sequel?

If you decide your story does indeed need a sequel, I must advise you to write responsibly. As a reader who has been disappointed far too many times with trilogies and series, I can tell you that the last thing you want to do is disappoint your audience.

Why?

When a reader picks up your book, they are placing their trust in you, the author. A disappointing sequel can break that trust. It can make the reader question your abilities as a storyteller. If you break a reader’s trust, not only is there a chance they might not pick up the next book in your series, but they might not pick up any other books from you period.

Ever.

Now that may seem a little harsh, but I can attest to its truth. If an author bungles a series, I won’t rush to start their next one. How do I know this one won’t be any worse than the last? Reading a series is a huge time commitment, and I’m not keen to spend my time on an author who was disappointed me in the past.

As you can see, keeping your reader’s trust is crucial. And to accomplish that, you must show them you know what you’re doing. To help you navigate the treacherous waters of writing a series, here are my tips for disappointment-proofing your sequels.

1.  Make Sure You Have Enough Story

I can’t stress this one enough: Don’t write a series because it seems like “the thing to do”; Write one because it will require more than one book to tell your story.

Don’t approach writing a story from the mindset of “I want to write a trilogy” or “I want to write a 7 book series.” You need to shift your mindset to focus on your story first and foremost. Then ask yourself: “How many books will it take to tell this story?” and go from there.

So how do you know if you have enough story to justify a series? This brings us to point #2…

2. Plan it Out

Friends, this is SO important. You need to plan out each book in your series in as much detail as you possibly can. If you’re not a plotter, you need to learn to become one. I don’t believe a series is something you can “pants” with good results.

Now, I know a lot of writers say to plan out your first book in great detail and then have general ideas for the additional books in the series. I’m going to have to say that from my own experiences, I must disagree with this approach.

Why? Let me give you an example.

I used the above method for my first trilogy in high school. The book one came together well, but the next two? They were a complete mess. I didn’t plan them well enough and they were all over the place with no direction and too much filler.

Fast forward to today. I knew my next work-in-progress would be too long for a standalone, and I had roughly plotted it out as a trilogy. By “plotting” I mean listing some ideas for each book as I had in the past.

But based on my last experience with writing a series, I wanted to make damn sure I had enough material this time. I went back and *really* plotted out the story scene-by-scene, dividing each book into 3 full acts. And you know what I realized? My story was actually a duology, not a trilogy.

Now, if I hadn’t realized this until after I had started writing, you know what would have happened? I would have run out of story and had to add filler. That means not only wasting my time, but the reader’s as well. I’ve read series where it felt like the author didn’t plan ahead. This leads to distorted, jumbled plots without clear direction, random subplots, unnecessary characters, and so on.

Now, you probably don’t need to plan out each book scene-by-scene like I did–I’m a little intense. But if you want to write a solid, amazing series, I highly encourage you to plan as much material as you can as far ahead as you can.

3. Don’t Add Filler

When you’re planning your series, make sure every scene, subplot, and character has a purpose and contributes toward the story’s end goal.

Sometimes, it’s going to be hard to choose which characters to focus on. You might create characters who become personal favorites, but don’t really play a big part in the story. You have to learn to control your feelings towards your characters and not give them more page time than they deserve.

For example, although I enjoyed Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, I felt the subplot of Mia and Jordan was unnecessary and felt more like filler. They didn’t contribute a lot to the main story and probably could have been cut (in my opinion).

In short, be purposeful and selective with your main/POV characters and accompanying subplots.

4. Don’t Rush the Ending

One thing I hate more than anything is when an author rushes the ending of a story or series. I always feel cheated when I’m taken on an emotional journey only to have it end with a flat, abrupt conclusion bereft of the emotion I had been enjoying throughout the novel.

The only reasons I can think of for why authors might rush their endings are 1) They were exhausted 2) They were bored with the story, or 3) They were afraid of making it too long.

These are all terrible reasons. Set the story aside and take a break, or write on something new for a while if you must. If books 1 & 2 were 60,000 words and book 3 needs to be 90,000 words to show the ending in-depth, then you write those extra 30,000 words.

But whatever you do, don’t half-ass your ending. You owe it to yourself, your story, and your readers to give your novel a proper conclusion with all the detail and emotion it deserves.

5. Focus, Focus, Focus!

Sequels usually work best if a common thread is woven throughout them. The books in your series should be connected by an overarching goal that ties them together, like so:

In Harry Potter, the goal is defeating Voldemort.

In The Lord of the Rings, the goal is destroying the One Ring.

In The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, the goal is stopping the evil Lunar Queen from taking over earth.

Each book in these series has its own subplots, but the main goal spans the length of the series, helping to tie the books together. As a whole, each of these series is one giant story.

Additionally, the climax of the final book in your series should be the resolution of the main goal. If readers get to your final book and the climax is not the resolution of this goal, it will likely lead to disappointment.

For example, in The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, **spoilers** there is a lot of build up regarding Khalid’s curse, and the end of book one sets up that the characters will try to break the curse in book two, The Rose and the Dagger. But in the sequel, breaking the curse wasn’t the climax of the story. The focus was elsewhere, which threw off my expectations and left me feeling disappointed. By having another event serve as the climax, I felt the story lost much of its power, focus, and emotion. **end spoilers**

Side note: The only series (that I know of) that I have seen deviate from using the same main goal throughout each book with success is C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis focuses on a new goal and story line in each book, and somehow it works well for him.

What disappoints you in a sequel? Do you prefer writing series or standalones? Share your thoughts below!

Ready for Part II? Click here!

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Writing 101: Creating Effective Description

Writing description can be overwhelming at first. What do you choose to describe? How do you describe it clearly? How can you make your reader experience your setting? Find the answers with these techniques!The purpose of description is to help readers experience your story both with their senses and emotions. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not there to look pretty or be flowery. Sure some writers can write very beautifully, but pretty prose isn’t necessary to bring your story to life. Sometimes, beautiful writing can even get in the way of or distract from the story itself!

So what tools do writers possess for bringing a setting to life through description? Let’s break down the different techniques.

Sensory Details

First, the senses. You’re probably familiar with them: sight, taste, smell, touch, and sound. Sight is the easiest to write and the one we think of first when setting up a scene, but you want to get into the habit of putting yourself into a scene and feeling it with all your senses.

What might your character be hearing? Like the whistle of a kettle or a dripping faucet? What about physical sensations, like the warmth of the sun on his skin or the feel of damp sand between his toes?

Readers want to experience what your hero is experiencing. Going beyond sight grounds readers in the story and makes the setting feel rich with detail in their minds—and this in turn makes your fictional world feel more realistic.

Manipulating Mood through Word Choice

Now that we know how to make readers experience a story with their senses, how can we make them experience it emotionally using description? This writer’s magic trick is accomplished through the subtle power of word choice.

That’s right, friend, by being intentional about the words you choose you can make the reader feel whatever you want them too—without them even realizing it! Pretty neat, huh?

But you don’t want to choose any mood for your scene. Whenever you introduce a setting, your hero should have an emotional reaction to it, and this should influence the words you use to describe it. After all, readers want to experience what the hero is experiencing, right? This means his feelings about his surroundings too.

Does the hero find this place scary? Beautiful? Peaceful? Choose words that communicate what the hero is feeling—or even better, ask yourself, “What words would my hero use to describe this?”

Let’s take a look at the power of word choice with this quick example:

The castle loomed atop the cliff, its sharp spires slicing through the clouds. The iron bars of the gate had been wrenched open and now resembled the mangled ribs of a skeleton.

Notice how I didn’t say the castle was scary or creepy, though that’s likely the impression/feeling you got. Instead, I used words like loomed, sharp, slicing, wrenched, mangled, and the comparison to a skeleton’s ribs all help create a creepy, foreboding mood.

This is also an example of showing vs.telling. Instead of telling you the castle was creepy, I showed you through my word choice. Whenever you can, opt for showing over telling when appropriate.

Film Shots

“Wait, why are we talking about film?” you ask. “What does this have to do with writing?”

Allow me to explain.

A story plays out like a film in the mind, yes? Because of this, we can steal a few film tricks and apply them to our descriptions.

When you watch a movie and a new setting is introduced, it will usually be done with an extreme long shot that includes a large amount of the landscape such as a city or farm so the viewer can see where the action will take place. This is also called an establishing shot.

Then, the camera will narrow its focus to a normal long shot, which might show something like a house, kitchen, train station, etc. where the scene will take place.

Narrow the focus again to a full shot, and this allows the viewer to see more details of the character’s costumes and their surroundings.

Narrow the focus yet again to a mid-shot and we see the characters from the waist-up, allowing us to focus on their facial expressions and emotional reactions.

Narrow the focus one more time and we have a close-up of characters facial expressions or important objects.

So how does this translate into writing? We can use this technique to organize our descriptions and help them flow clearly in the reader’s mind. You do this by starting your description with a wide “establishing” shot, and then narrowing your focus.

For example:

The barn was tucked away in a meadow between two oaks, its tin roof rusted and black paint peeling. Sam shoved open the door and glanced over the rows of empty stalls and then upward at the vaulted loft filled with moldy hay. He kicked aside a rotting bucket and a mouse darted into the shadows. Wrinkling his nose, he crouched to examine the droplets of blood soaked into the earth among the spilled grain and mouse droppings.

Notice how I started with an establishing shot and kept narrowing the focus until we had a close-up description of the blood splatters. This not only helps the reader get their bearings in the scene, but it follows the natural way we experience a place—we notice the overall picture before we begin to zero-in on tiny details.

Specific Nouns

Getting as specific as possible with nouns in your description will make your world feel more realistic and create a much sharper image in the reader’s head.

Instead of “red flowers” say “poppies,” and instead of “fancy car” say “Lamborghini.”

Also, this requires you do your research. You should be able to specifically name things in your story no matter the culture or time period, such as the character’s clothing, the food they eat, the weapons used, etc.

If you’re writing a sci-fi story and your hero walks into a room full of “scientific equipment” not only is this a lousy mental image for the reader, but its lazy writing. What sort of equipment are they using? What is it called? What does it look like? It’s your job to find out.

Balance

Finally, one of the important parts of good description is balance, or knowing what to describe and when.

For example, the middle of an intense action scene is not a good time to unload a bunch of description. The reader simply won’t care and it will just get in the way. Save the description for the slower parts of your story where you are setting up a scene or introducing a new setting, character, important object, or what-have-you.

Also, you need to be discerning about what you choose to describe because you can’t (and shouldn’t!) describe everything. You’ll end up overwhelming the reader and weakening the description because they won’t be able to remember it all. So what should you focus on?

Here are 3 things to consider:

1) Choose the most important details, or the details that make the place interesting or different.

2) Choose specific details in order to set a certain mood.

3) Choose the details your character would notice. (For example, a hunter might admire a collection of rifles while a bookworm might admire a bookshelf in the same room. Different people notice different things).

But how much description is too much? This will vary based on your writing style and the type of story you’re telling.

For example, literary fiction can have longer passages of description because readers of that genre will expect and even enjoy it. But in a Young Adult action novel you’re going to want to go light on the description because your audience will have less patience.

Basically, a good rule of thumb is to tell the audience just enough to give them a clear picture and avoid any confusion. How much detail that entails, however, is up to you.

What’s your biggest challenge when writing description? What sorts of details bring a story to life for you? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Behind on the Writing 101 series? Click to catch up! Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story), Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary), Part 3 (Creating a Successful Hero & Villain), Part 4 (Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot), Part 5 (Let’s Talk Dialogue), and Part 6 (Setting and Worldbuilding).

Ready for Part 8? Click here to learn about Tips and Resources for the Grammatically Challenged Novelist!

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10 Ways to Set a Scene With Sound: A Guest Post by Victoria Fry

Using sound in a scene will make it more vibrant for your readers. Here are 10 ways you can add more sound to your story!The following is a guest post from blogger and writing coach Victoria Fry.

One of our greatest aims as writers is to make our story come alive in the minds of our readers.  One of the best ways to do that is to imbue both its background and foreground with sensory details, though not so much that they take over and distract from the really important stuff, like whether our character will manage to wriggle out of whatever tight spot they’ve found themselves in.

When it comes to sensory description, it sometimes takes a bit of practice to think what to add, and we can fall into a trap of drawing only on cliches.  Push through that, though, and the results are worth it!

Sit back and think for a moment about how vibrant a scene could be if you used the ping of a metal baseball bat hitting a ball as your character has an emotional phone conversation in the park, or the abrupt roar of a lawnmower interrupt a romantic proposal.  It’s just that little bit richer, right?  Read on to discover ten ways (of many!) you can set a scene with sound.

1. Conversation

This is one of the aspects of sound we’re likely most familiar with as writers, but it doesn’t hurt to revisit this powerful tool, especially if you go against the grain.

Think how different a room and situation feels if people are arguing with hushed, clipped voices as opposed to wall-shaking yells, or if they’re flirting with raucous laughter instead of mincing giggles.  Pay attention to the inflections your characters place on certain words and phrases, too, and the rhythm of the conversation.

2. Weather

The emphatic pit-pat of rain on a tin roof, sliding down the flaps of a canvas tent (don’t touch the canvas or you’ll get soaked!), or crashing down in a torrent.  The howl of gale-force winds.  The gentle stillness that comes after a snowstorm, when everyone’s still tucked up at home, peeking out their windows at the thick blanket of icy white crystals.

Weather is conspicuous in both its “pay attention to ME!” and its “sssssh, you won’t even know I’m here” moments.  You don’t have to use it in every scene, but think about how its inclusion could layer into the backdrop for your scene’s setting.

3. Vehicles

I don’t know much about cars, but I know that several noises spark an uh-oh in my mind: a growling engine, a wet plop on the windshield, and a slow hiss.

Even if it’s not an “uh-oh” moment, the sound a vehicle makes is dependent on when it was made, how well it’s maintained, and what make it is (Prius, Vibe, Mazda, to give a few examples).  Some cars purr along the roadway, while others sound like they’re eating it up and spitting it out as they roar down the highway.

And don’t forget about the windshield wipers, the car stereo, the click of the seat belt …

4. Technology

If you don’t think technology has a soundtrack, then you’ve never heard a gamer frantically clicking the mouse button to take down a zombie or an online shopper spamming the refresh button in their browser to catch a flash sale. Different computer keyboards (both external and laptop ones) have different touches, some clunkier than others.

And let’s not forget the classic example of a phone slamming down on the hook, although these days it’s more likely to be a mild snick as you flip your cellphone closed or a “beep” when you hit the “end call” button (not nearly as satisfying).

5. Animals

Ah, the animal kingdom.  A snake’s rattle while walking in the desert; a deep, gruff bark from the next door neighbor’s chihuahua; a high-pitched squeak of a sneeze from a kitten.  The noise an animal makes can make a scene feel cozy and welcoming or foreboding and goosebump-inducing.

Play with the sounds your character’s pet makes when they’re being ignored, when they’re sad, when something scares them or kicks off their protective instincts.

6. The Great Outdoors

Chances are your story takes place at least partially outside (although even a story set on a space station could play on the silence beyond the station’s walls).  With that in mind, play up the natural surroundings.  Maybe it’s the ocean lapping at the shore.  Maybe dry grasses are whispering, poplars shivering in the breeze.  Maybe it’s a stone on the trail, being kicked along the path with a dull “thwok.”

7. Seasonal

If you’ve thought about outdoor and weather-related noises already, seasonal noises are a perfect way to round out a natural trio.  Have a think about where your story takes place and what time of year it is, what the weather’s been like, and then go nuts!

Your character might hear someone crunching through snow outside their window, or go for a walk in the forest amongst the crackling leaves.  Seasonal music might be playing on the radio.  A house next door to a high school will enjoy relative peace for the summer months.

8. Hobbies

Often we know that a character enjoys a particular hobby, but we don’t see them partake in it.  If that’s the case for your story, you could really be missing out.  Imagine a character seething about something as they whir along on a sewing machine, or finding a meditative rhythm in the rasp of a handsaw.  If they’re handy in the kitchen, consider the sound of pans settling in the oven or a knife cutting on a marble cutting board as opposed to a wooden one.

9. Sports

One sport alone can host all manner of sounds.

Take tennis, for example.  There’s the thwack of the ball against the tennis racket, and the way it sounds when it hits the edge of the racket versus the strings.  There’s the hush that descends over the court at professional matches.

Different tennis players make different noises after hitting particularly strenuous shots, too: some grunt, some hoot, some squeak.  Tennis shoes dancing across the court make a particular shff-shff sound.

10. Laughter and Tears

Chances are you’ve sat near that person in the movie theatre who guffaws loudly enough to drown out the sound from the film, or wrung your hands as someone you cared about burst into body-shaking sobs.  Don’t forget the silent criers, either, or the muffled laughter, the sniffly bouts of tears, the wheezing cackle.

These pinnacles of human emotion fall all over the map, and they’re incredibly hard to ignore. Someone who’s laughing or crying, no matter how quietly they go about it, will draw attention.

Observe Sound in Real Life

At the end of the day, the best way to catalog sounds for your stories is to investigate.

Watch a movie or a documentary and close your eyes for part (or all!) of it.  Go outside, sit on a park bench or at a bus stop, and document the sounds you hear.  Join someone in the kitchen when they’re making a meal and (so long as they’re not desperately in need of a sous chef!), write down all the sounds, especially the obscure ones.

Next time you’re writing, try incorporating some of these sounds into your story, and see how it feels when you read it aloud.

What are some of your favorite or most memorable sounds?  I get super nostalgic whenever I hear an ice cream truck dingling down the street!

About the Author

victoriaVictoria Fry is an avid writer and writing coach. She specializes in helping writers (re)discover the joy in their writing process through her blog, one-on-one coaching sessions, and free courses and workshops.

Her latest offering is the Create an Epic Character Foundation workbook, which she created to help writers dig deep and get to know their characters from the ground up!  Feel free to say hello on Twitter; she’s always happy to chat about gaming and knitting, along with all things writing.

Writing 101: Setting and Worldbuilding

Writers often tend to overlook setting, but a vivid, well-developed setting can be a powerful part of your story and bring it to life for readers. Learn how to set your story apart with setting and worldbuilding!What was the setting of the last book you read? New York City? Dublin? The wilds of Africa? Outer space? Where did the author take you?

Now, let me ask you another question: Did the author succeed in taking you there?

Sometimes, I read books where the setting is such an integrated part of the story and so detailed that I feel as though I’m really there.

But other times, I’ll read a book that says it’s set in Montana but the setting is so empty that it feels as though it could be taking place anywhere. Or, even worse, I’ll pick up a book and have no idea where the setting is or forget where I’m supposed to be halfway through.

When we read, we love to be taken on a journey to somewhere new where we can experience that place and its culture without ever having to leave the comfort of our home. So it’s a shame that we writers often tend to neglect setting in our stories.

Maybe it’s because we’re overwhelmed with all the other details of plot and character. Or, maybe it’s because we don’t think that setting could be that important or make that big of a difference. But don’t be fooled–setting plays an important role in your novel just like your plot and characters!

What is Setting?

A setting is the place where the story’s events unfold. Novels contain multiple settings, which can be categorized a little something like this:

  • Big picture location—the country, state, world, etc. in which your primary and small picture locations are contained.
  • Primary location—where most of the story takes place.
  • Small picture locations—additional settings where scenes take place.

Let’s look at a couple examples. First, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

  • Big picture location—The United Kingdom
  • Primary location—Hogwarts
  • Small picture locations—The Dursley’s house, the shack by the sea, Diagon Alley, Platform 9 ¾, the Forbidden Forest, the Gryffindor dormitory within Hogwarts, etc.

What about The Hunger Games?

  • Big picture location—Panem
  • Primary location—The Arena
  • Small picture locations—District 13, the Tribute’s train, the training center, the Capitol, the cornucopia within the arena, etc.

When you’re trying to figure out your story’s setting, first start the the “big picture” location. This could be a real place like Russia or California, or somewhere fictional like Westeros or Middle Earth.

Next, narrow your focus to the primary location. Where within this big picture will most of the story take place? This might be tricky to pin down if your story is split between locations, or if you have multiple story lines with characters in different locations.

For example, in Lord of the Rings the characters are on a journey and visit a variety of settings along the way. And in Game of Thrones you have many different story lines with characters spread out across a number of primary settings like the Night’s Watch, King’s Landing, Meereen, etc.

After you figure out your primary location, start exploring other settings your characters might visit during your story. These will be both within the primary location, and beyond it.

When done well, setting will make a story colorful and memorable. This is because the author is creating a place that feels real and that the reader wants to return to over and over again each time she picks up the book. You don’t want your setting to be a blank in the reader’s mind because this takes away from one of the pleasures and expectations of reading—to be taken to another place.

You should treat your setting like you would treat any other character in your story. Characters need to be developed or they will end up feeling like flat pieces of cardboard. The same goes for your setting! Take some time to sit down and get to know your setting, researching or thinking about things like:

  • The layout/geography
  • What’s beyond in the outlying areas
  • Politics, laws, and governing system
  • Culture and traditions
  • Weather
  • Local plants and animals
  • Jobs, economy, inports/exports
  • History, enemies, and allies
  • Folklore, urban legends, etc.
  • Details only locals would know
  • The hero’s feelings and opinions about the place

But now this brings us to the second point I wanted to talk about: worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding

The term “worldbuilding” is usually used when talking about fantasy and sci-fi novels. It’s the process of creating a fictional world from scratch that still feels realistic. This process could include creating races, religions, histories, currencies, mythologies, cultures, traditions, and so on.

Worldbuilding is an important part of fantasy because the reader is being taken to an unfamiliar place that doesn’t exist. That means the author needs to make it feel realistic by weaving a web of details so complex that we begin to feel that there’s no way the author could be making this all up, that this place must really exist somewhere.

One example of fantastic worldbuilding is J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world in the Harry Potter series. Her attention to detail is phenomenal—she gives the wizarding world its own currency (galleons and knuts), sweet treats (Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, anyone?), newspaper (The Daily Prophet), drinks (Butterbeer), transportation (The Knight Bus), and sport (Quidditch), just to name a few of the many details.

Rowling creates a world that is so fleshed out that you can become completely lost in it to the point where if someone came along and told you she made it all up, you’d probably call them a liar (let’s admit it, how many of us are still waiting for our Hogwarts acceptance letters?).

That is how powerful worldbuilding can be, when done well. But a word of warning: although you can get away without too much damage from lack of setting in most genres, in fantasy and sci-fi worldbuilding is critical to your story. It’s an expectation of the genre since readers turn to fantasy to be taken to a new, magical world. If you only have a cardboard world to offer, your story is going to suffer.

Worldbuilding Isn’t Just for Fantasy

Now, even though we mainly associate worldbuilding with fantasy and sci-fi, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to other genres. There is an element of worldbuilding within any story you write. The only difference is, when the story is set in the real world rather than a fantasy world, we are working with fact rather than fiction.

What do I mean? To use my own hometown as an example, let’s say your story is set in Louisville Kentucky and your hero is a jockey who will ride in the Kentucky Derby. You have two worlds to explore and build here: 1) The physical setting of Louisville Kentucky and the Churchill Downs racetrack where the Derby takes place, and 2) The culture of jockeys and horseracing.

First, your physical setting. Whereas in fantasy you would make everything up, in this type of story you’ll need to do research to learn about the layout of the city and Churchill downs, the history of these places, famous landmarks, the climate of Kentucky, how the locals speak, and so on. You’ll also need to uncover details that will bring your story to life.

For example, there are details about my hometown that outsiders likely wouldn’t know. Like we’re very picky about how you pronounce Louisville (it’s Loo-uh-vul, not Lewis-ville or Looey-ville, in case you were wondering). And even if you’re a local and you’ve never been to the Derby, you still know that Derby hats and Mint Julips are a big thing because the local news will inevitably run stories on both of these every year around Derby time.

Your job as a writer is to uncover all these quirky little details to bring the setting to life. Every place has its own culture, and your readers want to experience it. These are the details that are going to give your setting character and make it stand out.

The second “world” you’d need to delve into is that of the horse racing culture, and also the life of a jockey. You would need to get the inside information about these worlds so they’re accurate and believable.

“Worlds” like this exist all around us, and everyone belongs to one world or another. For example, you and I belong to the “world” of fiction writing. We have our own lingo, jokes, processes, etc. that outsiders wouldn’t know. Your job is to bring the reader into whatever specialized world you choose so that by the end of the story, they feel like an insider.

Either Way, There Will be Work Involved

As you can see, it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a fantasy, contemporary, or even historical fiction novel—there’s going to be a fair amount of work involved to develop a realistic setting, whether you’re making up all the details or researching them.

Having written both fantasy and historical fiction, I don’t know that one tactic or the other is really “easier.” With research it can be challenging to find the information you need, especially if you’re writing about something set in the past where you can’t visit the place at that time period or ask locals for inside information. On the other hand, creating an original, interesting fantasy world that’s detailed and realistic is no small task.

Whatever genre of story you write, take the time to put the extra effort into worldbuilding. Not only will help your story come alive and give your setting character, but it will make readers want to return to your book time and time again for a visit.

What books have you read that created believable, detailed settings that made you feel as though you were there? Tell me in the comments!

P.S. Behind on the Writing 101 series? Click to catch up! Part 1 (The Fundamentals of Story), Part 2 (Writing Term Glossary), Part 3 (Creating a Successful Hero & Villain), Part 4 (Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot), and Part 5 (Let’s Talk Dialogue).

Ready for Part 7? Click here to read about Creating Effective Description!

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The Novel Writing Roadmap: A Guest Post by Katja Kaine

In this guest post, writer Katja Kaine breaks down her process for writing a novel from developing an idea to editing the final draft!The following is a guest post from Katja Kaine, writer, blogger, and creator of The Novel Factory writing software.

When I first started writing a novel, I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark.

I wandered around for a while making a lot of false starts, finding dead ends, backtracking, and staring into the darkness. But slowly, I learned the lay of the land as I wrote my first novel. Rather than repeat this tedious and time-consuming process for each subsequent novel, I decided I needed to plan a more concise route for next time.

And so my Novel Writing Roadmap was born.

It describes each of the steps I follow to take my novel from concept to completed manuscript. It’s the guide I wish I had been handed when I first started, and I hope it will save a lot of headaches for new writers.

In this article I’ll be giving you an overview of my novel-writing process. To help make this process easier, I’ve also developed the Novel Factory software to give writers extra guidance and support, and you can learn the full details about that here.

It’s important to know that this method will not teach you to write well. I don’t go into a lot of detail about showing not telling, adverb use, punctuation and grammar, and all that jazz. It also cannot give you good ideas or write your novel for you. What it will do is teach you how to turn your story idea into a fully-fledged, well-structured manuscript. It is a map, and you will have to do the walking.

Here is an overview of the steps:

  1. Premise
  2. Skeleton
  3. Character Introductions
  4. Short Synopsis
  5. Extended Synopsis
  6. Goal to Decision Cycle
  7. Character Development
  8. Location Development
  9. Advanced Plotting
  10. Character Viewpoints
  11. Scene Blocking
  12. First Draft
  13. Theme and Variation
  14. Second Draft
  15. Final Draft

Now we’ll look at each step in more detail.

Premise

Right. Let’s get started. You’ve probably got an idea for a story. But if your idea is going to turn into a novel we need to make sure it’s got all its arms and legs. So take your idea and make sure it has:

Here’s an example:

  • a protagonist – Joanna the plumber
  • a goal – save earth from alien attack
  • a setting – Earth 2050
  • an antagonist – aliens
  • a disaster – the government turn on her

Put all those ideas into a single sentence, like this: When aliens attack Earth in the year 2050, can Joanna the plumber save the human race before the traitorous government manage to turn her into a scapegoat for the whole disaster?

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Outlining the premise in The Novel Factory

 Skeleton

There is an established set of story beats that the vast majority of blockbuster movies and books follow to create a satisfying story arc, so I recommend following these closely when you’re first starting out.

Each of these beats can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, so don’t be worried that it means your story will be like all the others. Also, once you’ve mastered them, you can deviate to your heart’s content. Here they are:

Act 1

  • Introduction to the protagonist’s world
  • Call to action / inciting incident
  • Protagonist commits to the goal

Act 2

  • Mentor teaches the protagonist
  • First challenge
  • Temptation
  • Dark moment

Act 3

  • Final Conflict
  • Return home

Expand your premise to include each of these story beats.

 Character Introductions

Your characters are the life blood of your story, so it’s good to get to know them nice and early. For step three, make notes on all the major characters in your story. Don’t worry about getting too in-depth at this stage, we just need an outline of the key broad brushstrokes of their personality, appearance and motivation. I recommend making notes on at least the following:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Physical appearance
  • Key character traits
  • Motivation
  • Summary of their role in the story
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Developing Characters in The Novel Factory

Short Synopsis

This is simple. Expand your story skeleton until it is about a page long. It should include all the key elements of your plot and anything else you think is important.

Note the word ‘short’. You will be tempted to put in much more, but the short synopsis is deliberately constrained to make you think hard about what is of key importance. You can add in more detail in the next stage.

Extended Synopsis

Now go through the Short Synopsis adding detail until it is about four pages long.

The Goal to Decision Cycle

Before you get too much further with the plot, you need to make sure it’s well structured, and not simply meandering around all over the place. One method of doing this is to pin each section to the Goal to Decision Cycle, which works like this:

Your character has a GOAL.

But when they are trying to reach that goal they encounter CONFLICT.

Things escalate and end in DISASTER.

Your character has an emotional REACTION to the disaster.

They are faced with a DILEMMA with no good options.

They make a DECISION.

Which means, your character has a new GOAL.

If you go through your story and try to identify or create each of these elements (GOAL, CONFLICT, DISASTER, REACTION DILEMMA, DECISION) then you will create a story that has momentum and feels logical to the reader, even if they don’t know why.

Note that these elements do not need to have equal weight, and how much attention you give to each of them will affect the shape and feel of your story. More exciting adventure stories will emphasize the goal to disaster section and only have a brief pass over the reaction to decision, whereas more philosophical stories will do the opposite.

Character Development

The story is really taking shape now, so let’s spend a little more time with our characters while that settles. There are a few methods you can use to get under your characters’ skin. Here are my favorites:

  • Consider their history, including: infancy, childhood, teen years, young adulthood etc., up to where they are now
  • Complete a questionnaire for them – this helps you think about new and interesting angles.
  • Think about what they ‘want’ as opposed to what they ‘need’

 Location Development

The title of this step is fairly self-explanatory. Take some time to make a list of all of your locations and make some notes about them. I like to think about all the senses, how each location changes in different scenes, how it reflects the mood and character, and I like to try to find some pictures and blueprints to aid inspiration and clarity whenever possible.

Advanced Plotting

During this step we take some time to look at the overview of our novel and make sure we have all our ducks in a row. Think about character development, plot threads, important items, clues, and foreshadowing. Make sure all of these elements tie in nicely, because it’s much easier to figure these things out now than to realize when you’re 50,000 words in that there’s a major flaw.

Character Viewpoints

The last step before you start sketching out your first draft (or pre-first draft, but we’ll get to that) is to go back and give all of your major characters their moment in the limelight. This means going through the story from their point of view.

This is a fantastic practice, because not only does it help you to develop each of the characters so that they are people in their own right and not just flat sidekicks for the protagonist, but you will add much more texture and depth to the story as a whole.

Seeing the story from the point of view of another character means you may see options the protagonist didn’t. Or you may realize that the best friend had a headache when the protagonist walked in, so instead of being clear headed and helpful, she is ratty and obstructive.

Scene Blocking

This is the last step before you actually start writing your novel properly, I promise. This is a sort of pre-first-draft. It’s not a first draft because you’re not writing actual prose; instead, you’re writing an outline about what happens in each scene beat by beat, sort of like stage directions in a play.

This stage means you can get the gist of each scene pinned down quickly, without worrying about what words you’re using or exact dialogue. Write the story all the way through in the present tense, without worrying about style. Just describe what happens in each scene, once thing after another.

First Draft

You made it! You’re ready to write your first draft. It may feel like it’s been a slog to get here, but the advantage of this is that you can probably get your first draft done in a month or so, and it will be in a hell of a lot better shape than if you hadn’t done all that planning.

When writing your first draft, don’t worry about good writing – just barrel on through as fast as you can and don’t look back. The purpose of the first draft is to get the words down. The purpose of the second draft is to make the words good.

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Story overview in The Novel Factory

Theme and Variations

You’ll probably have learned a lot during the process of writing your first draft, and hopefully made a bunch of notes. Although you may be raring to get started on your second draft, it’s worth taking a little break to let things settle.

During this time you could make sure all your notes are in the right place, revisit your sub plots, and also consider themes and foreshadowing.

Second Draft

Now you’re really getting somewhere. Go through your first draft and make it better. Sort out the grammar and punctuation, get rid of any clichés, cut repetition, make sure you’re showing not telling, and weed out unnecessary adverbs. Make it shine.

Final Draft

If you have access to feedback, then get it and use it. During the final draft you have to be patient, ruthless and have painstaking attention to detail.

Now it’s basically just a matter of editing over and over again until your fingers are bleeding or you’ve lost your mind. Once either of those two things happens, it’s probably time to draw a line in the sand and call the novel finished.

Summary

Hopefully you’ve found my novel writing process useful, and some of the stages might help you formulate your own process and achieve your dream of writing a novel that will make you proud.

What does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below, or you can chat with me on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author

katjaKatja L Kaine lives in a hippyish commune in Yorkshire with her husband, two cats, dog, escapologist baby, a chess genius and a Pole.

She spends her time furiously writing novels and short stories at breakneck speed and then pedantically combing through every word to transform them into something vaguely readable.

She is also the creator of The Novel Factory, a writing software that helps writers structure and develop their novels. You can learn more about The Novel Factory here, or browse more useful articles on writing at The Novel Factory Blog.