A Simple Outline for Writing a Killer Book Blurb

Condensing a novel into a short, enticing book blurb that convinces readers to buy is no easy task. If you have no idea what to include in your blurb, this simple outline of the must-haves will help!In my last post, I mentioned that I’ve been working on a novella (and shared some reasons why you should write one of your own!). This week, I’ve been drafting a blurb to go along with said novella, and I’m finally ready to officially introduce you to the story! (Eep!)

Are you ready, friend? The title of my novella is THESE SAVAGE BONES, and here’s your first peek at the story:

Mexico, 1875. Twenty-three-year old Esperanza de la Rosa knows more about steam engines and electromagnetics than a proper lady should. Fiercely independent, she’s more interested in science and superstition than finding a suitor.

When Esperanza’s uncle is murdered during a festival celebrating the Day of the Dead, her world is shaken. To catch the killer, she must accept the help of the last person she wants to see—her ex-fiancé Alejandro Valladares, a gentleman turned bounty hunter with a troubled past.

Thrust into a tangled web of secrets and lies that threaten to destroy everything she thought she knew, Esperanza must uncover the truth and bring her uncle’s murderer to justice or the guilt of her failure will haunt her forever.

I’m pretty pumped about this story, and I’m excited to finally be sharing the details with you! So when will THESE SAVAGE BONES be available? I’m currently planning on an October 25th release. I’ll also be revealing the cover on October 1st, so stay tuned! (Spoiler alert: it’s amazingly gorgeous).

I’m not gonna lie though, writing that blurb was hard. Which is why today I want to share with you what I learned about writing a blurb so that hopefully you’ll have an easier time of it than I did!

What is a Book Blurb?

A blurb is the description of the story found on the back cover of a book. It’s brief–no more than 100-150 words–and creates interest in the story without giving away major spoilers or the ending.

Basically, the name of the game with a blurb is to entice readers to buy your book. Now, that’s a lot of pressure to condense a 50,000+ word novel into 150 words or less in a way that will convince readers to buy. Where do you even begin?

There are many different ways to write & organize a book blurb, but today I’m going to try to simplify the process for you by breaking it down into two main sections: 1) The hero before the story’s issue, and 2) The hero after the issue is introduced. In both sections, I’ll share the must-haves you’ll need to include to make your blurb work.

Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!

Part 1: Set the Stage

This part of the blurb is a quick snapshot that shows “the calm before the storm” before the hero’s life is turned upside down. It introduces a) the hero, b) the setting, and c) the hero’s life before the story begins.

A. The Hero

When you introduce your hero in your blurb, you want to accomplish two things: 1) give the reader a feel for what the hero is like, and 2) create interest in the hero.

To quickly acquaint the reader with your hero, mention his profession and/or the role he identifies with. Is he a police officer? Retired soldier? Stay-at-home father? Starving artist? College student?  Also, try to use adjectives to sum up what your character is like such as adventurous, street-smart, reckless, outcast, etc.

Next, you want to highlight the most interesting aspects of your hero. Is he a starving artist by day and a master art forger by night? Is he hiding magical powers? Is he on the high school football team but secretly practices ballet? Let readers know what makes him stand out!

Here are some examples of character description in book blurbs:

“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

“Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations.” (Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

“Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought.” (Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor)

“Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.” (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)

B. The Setting

You don’t have to mention the setting, but it can help set the mood for your book and also attract readers with an interest in that setting.

The only exception to this is if you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy—then including the setting in your blurb is a must. For historical fiction, you’ll want to mention the time-period and place, and with fantasy you’ll need to introduce the reader to the world you’ve created. Here are a few examples.

Fantasy Settings

“In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.” (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

“But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.” (Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

Historical Fiction Settings

“It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own.” (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.” (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)

“World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide.” (Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys)

C. Current Situation in Life, Dreams, Desires, etc.

This is optional, but you could provide the reader with a quick snapshot of what the hero’s life is like before the story begins. Do they have a perfect life with everything they’ve ever wanted before it’s suddenly torn away? Do they have plans to attend an Ivy League school before those hopes are suddenly dashed?

Revealing these sorts of details can provide a nice contrast to the disaster that’s about to befall the hero, help characterize the hero, and create sympathy in the reader. Consider whether your hero’s “before” might be worth mentioning.

For example, in the blurb from Cinder, look at the second sentence that goes on to further describe our heroine:

“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness.”

This snippet gives us a little peek into what Cinder’s life is currently like, and it’s pretty dismal. This helps create sympathy in the reader and already puts us on Cinder’s side.

Part 2: Introduce the Problem

This part of the blurb is the big “But when…” that a) reveals the problem that’s about to turn the hero’s life upside down and thus begin our story. It also lets the reader know b) what the hero is setting out to accomplish, c) what opposition or obstacles are standing in his way, and d) what’s at stake. Let’s look at a few examples.

Example 1: “But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

A. What’s the problem? Cinder is mixed up in an “intergalactic struggle” and a “forbidden attraction.”

B. What’s her goal? “She must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”

C. What’s standing in her way? She’s “caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal.”

D. What’s at stake? “Her world’s future.”

Example 2: “Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.  (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

A. What’s the problem? Katniss is “forced to represent her district in the Games.”

B. What’s her goal? Surviving and winning the games.

C. What’s standing in her way? She must “kill or be killed,” and the blurb hints that the changing terrain and rules as well as the audience might also pose obstacles.

D. What’s at stake? Katniss’ life.

Example 3: “Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone… Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.” (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo)

A. What’s the problem? Kaz needs to assemble a crew to pull off a “deadly heist.”

B. What’s his goal? Pulling off the heist and becoming rich.

C. What’s standing in his way? The heist is described as “deadly” and “impossible” which suggests this won’t be easy. It’s also implied there will be internal conflict within the band of criminals with the line “if they don’t kill each other first.”

D. What’s at stake? If he succeeds, the heist will make Kaz “rich beyond his wildest dreams.”  On the other hand, “Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction.”

Condensing a novel into a short, enticing book blurb that convinces readers to buy is no easy task. If you have no idea what to include in your blurb, this simple outline of the must-haves will help!Whatever information you choose to include in your blurb, just make sure you keep it short and sweet and arouse the reader’s curiosity.

Remember, the blurb is about teasing readers with your story and enticing them to (hopefully) buy. You don’t have to include every detail, but make sure you include just enough to get readers itching to pick up your book.

Also, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on my blurb for THESE SAVAGE BONES! Does it make you interested to read the story? Let me know in the comments below!

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5 Reasons Why You Should Write a Novella

The popularity of novellas is growing. Discover 5 reasons why you should write a novella of your own!Over the past several weeks or so, I’ve been experimenting with a form of fiction I’ve never tried before: the novella. If you don’t already know, a novella runs between 20,000 and 40,000 words, and can be read in a couple of sittings. It’s like a longish short story for writers who suck at keeping short stories short (aka me).

Writers usually avoid novellas because publishers typically don’t want them. Not because there isn’t a market for them, but because they’re not as cost-effective for the publisher as a full-length novel. And as we all know, at the end of the day publishing is a business.

But with the advent of self-publishing and the digital age, the publishing world is changing. Writers can now bypass traditional publishing houses and publish novellas themselves inexpensively in the form of e-books. This means we can now target that market of readers who enjoy novellas that we couldn’t reach before.

And that’s pretty cool, especially since novellas are growing in popularity. Still not convinced? Read on to learn the benefits of writing a novella, and maybe you’ll even decide to write one yourself!

1. Explore New Ideas

If you’re like me, you probably have quite a few ideas for stories. I currently have a running list of around 20-something ideas I’m itching to explore. But alas, as much as it pains me to admit, I know I will only be able to write so many novels in my lifetime.

So what’s a writer to do? One option would be to turn some of those ideas into short stories. But again, if you’re like me you probably suck at writing them. There’s just so much to explore, and not enough time or page space in a short story. Novellas, on the other hand, allow you to go more in-depth with plot and characters without committing to a full-length novel.

This is great if you need to get an idea out of your system, or need take a break from a series and write something different between installments. You could also write a novella between drafts of a novel. Have an idea that’s too long to be a short story but too short to be a novel? Instead of throwing it away, turn it into a novella.

Not only do novellas take less time to write and allow you to get some plot bunnies out of your head, but they also give your readers something to snack on while waiting for your next novel. Sounds like a win to me!

2. Expand on Your Novel

One great use for novellas is to expand on your novel or series. Maybe there’s a character whose story you want to explore further, or maybe you want to write a prequel about what takes place before the novel. Or, maybe you want to write a story set in the fantasy world you created but follow a different set of characters than your novel.

There are a lot of fun options you could explore! Plus, your readers will love it. Fans of your novel or series will enjoy being able to delve deeper into their favorite characters or explore other parts of your fantasy world. A novella will allow those who don’t wish to leave your story to linger a little longer even after they’ve finished your novel.

3. Build a Readership

Novellas can be a great way to build your readership. You could self-publish a novella (or several) before publishing your novel. Putting your work out there will help you find readers who will love your stuff–and you! If they enjoy your novella they’ll likely become interested in what you write next.

Besides building interest in your work in general, you can also use novellas to build interest around a specific novel. For example, consider writing a novella that’s a prequel to your novel or is set in the same world if you’re writing a fantasy. This will help you find readers who will be interested in your novel before it’s even published!

Additionally, after your novel is published you could continue to use that novella as a way to gain new readers by offering it for free. If readers get hooked on your free novella, they’ll likely buy your novel!

4. Create an Additional Stream of Income

One of the sad truths about being an author is that it’s hard to make a living writing fiction, though it certainly isn’t impossible. More and more now, authors are choosing to self-publish novellas (or even novels) after being traditionally published.

Why?

Well, not only is an author’s advance split into two or three installments that could be spread out over a period of time as long as a year, but after publication an author only receives a royalty check twice a year. Not to mention, after your book is published it must earn back its advance before you start receiving royalties. Which means it’ll be a while before you see that first royalty check.

Talk about a sporadic paycheck.

Self-publishing means you have control over when and how often you decide to publish. And with a platform like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, you receive a monthly royalty check  which means a steadier income. You’ll also get a bigger cut of the profits versus what you’ll receive from a traditional publisher.

Of course, to build a decent income stream off of novellas you’ll need to write a handful. But considering they take less time to write than a novel, it’s not such a bad strategy. You’ll be able to put work out faster, and the more stories you get out there the more opportunities you have to attract readers. Novellas offer an additional income stream while growing your audience, which means more buyers for your future books.

5. Appeal to Busy Readers

If you haven’t already noticed, people nowadays lead busy lives and have short attention spans. Most people would rather invest a couple hours into watching a movie than days or weeks reading a book.

Also, since it seems every book is now part of a series, this means an even bigger investment of time. A reader might be reluctant to make that kind of commitment. If they don’t have time to read one book, how are they going to read three, or five, or eight? And no one likes to be left hanging on a story.

Novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan said in an article in The New Yorker that, “To sit with a novella is analogous to watching a play or a longish movie.” There are plenty of people out there (including myself) who love to read but struggle to find the time, yet most of us can squeeze in a movie here or there.

Novellas are a perfect option for busy readers because they can be finished in one or two sittings and have a little more meat to them than a short story. This allows reader to enjoy a great story without having to make a huge time commitment–just like watching a movie.


So, have I convinced you to try writing a novella of your own? I’ll confess, I’m having quite a bit of fun writing mine. It’s a murder mystery which is something I’ve never written before, and it’s nice to be able to explore a new genre and idea without committing a year or longer to writing a full-length novel.

I do plan to self-publish this novella, and I hope I’ll be able to share it with you soon! Until then, have you read or written any novellas yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations–pop them into the comments below!

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How to Write a Novel in 20 Steps

Want to write your first novel but don't know where to begin? Learn the step-by-step creative process behind writing a novel in this video tutorial! (Plus, there is most definitely a free checklist involved).So you’ve decided to write your first novel (high fives for you, friend!) and you’re eager to get started. But where exactly do you begin? Should you outline your plot first? Or should you start by developing your characters? But wait–what about research?

What’s a writer to do?

For a new writer, the road to a finished novel can be a little hazy at first, especially when you’ve never been through the writing process before. In this 15-minute video tutorial, I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process I follow to write a novel. This is a process I’ve refined over the past 11 years of practice and experimenting.

After watching this tutorial you’ll get a better feel for the creative process behind writing a novel, and have a clear idea of where to begin and the steps you’ll need to take to reach a finished product.

Plus, I’ve created a free checklist for this process which you can download below the video! Ready to go more in-depth? Then be sure to check out my free 100+ page e-book “Writing 101” (which also includes the checklist), which you can also download below!

Freebies!

Click below to grab the free downloads mentioned in the video!

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I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, friend! Thoughts or questions? Share them in the comments below!

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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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