10 Ways to Become a Stronger Writer

Every writer wants to improve their craft. But how can you strengthen your writing skills? Spoiler alert: it involves more than just writing and reading.

I don’t think there’s any writer who doesn’t want to improve their craft. There’s always something new to learn, some area you can improve. But how can you strengthen your writing skills? Spoiler alert: it involves more than just writing and reading.

#1: Reading

Writers should read a little differently than the average person. When you read a book, pay attention to the inner-workings of the story. Have a questioning, analytical mind. How did the author pull off that twist? How did she plot out that mystery? What was it about that scene that made you cry? What techniques is she using to make this setting feel so real?

These things might be hard to pay attention to on the first read when you’re engrossed in the story, so you’ll probably need to read the book a second time to analyze it. And don’t hesitate to take notes!

#2: Practicing

The best way to learn something is by doing it yourself. When you set out to write a novel for the first time everything is new and unfamiliar to you. But the more you write, the more you learn. Things you struggled to remember start to become habit, and you’re able to move on to more advanced techniques.

It’s sort of like learning a martial art–you start out as white belt, but the more you practice the more skills you gain, the more moves you learn, and the closer you come to black belt status.

#3: Studying

It always baffles me how often writers skip over this one. Reading books on writing craft is just as important as reading fiction. Today more than ever there are countless resources out there to help you improve your writing–books, courses, and websites (like this one!). You would be crazy not to take advantage of them!

Seriously. Why would you waste time trying to figure all this stuff out on your own? These writers have spent years learning the craft and are offering you valuable information that’s essentially a shortcut to help you become a better writer faster and avoid their mistakes. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?! Yes, studying the craft takes time, effort, and maybe money if you’re purchasing books or courses, but your passion is well worth investing in.

And as a side note, you don’t need to study Creative Writing in college to be an author. Anyone can study the craft, and you don’t need to go to an expensive university to do so! For some suggestions of writing resources, you can check out my resources page.

#4: Dreaming

Writing is a creative art, and writers need to tend to their imaginations like one would nurture a garden. You need to allow yourself to dream, because this is usually where your ideas come from. Set aside a little time each day to let your thoughts wander. Engage in activities that fuel your imagination.

For me, this is usually reading, watching films, browsing Pinterest, and just having quiet time to think and ask “what if.” When you don’t  allow your imagination to “play” you’ll find you become stifled, unhappy, and even depressed. Dreams are fuel for writers, and how we survive reality.

#5: Failing

As a writer, you’re not always going to get it right. You will have stories that won’t work, that will sit in your desk drawer forever and never see the light of day. And that’s okay. We learn more from our failures than we do from our success.

One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison and says, “I didn’t fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a light bulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.” To find out what works in a story, you’ll need to discover all the things that don’t work as well. Failures will make you a stronger writer. 

#6: Experimenting

Test the boundaries. Do what you haven’t seen done before. Test yourself. Write what you’re afraid to write. It might work, it might not. You never know until you try. Don’t hesitate to try writing things you normally wouldn’t write–it will challenge you and cause you to grow as a writer.

For example, I hated poetry but had to write it for several college courses. As a result, I developed a better use of language, imagery, and rhythm. I also thought I could never write outside of the fantasy genre, but now I’m writing historical fiction and loving it. Is it harder for me than writing fantasy? Yes. But it’s opened up lots of new possibilities for stories.

Experiment with writing styles, genres, plots, characters, poetry, screen writing, play writing, journalism, writing sprints, NaNoWriMo. Try new things!

#7: Traveling

See as much of the world as you can. Traveling will help you grow as both a writer and a person. You will be exposed to new landscapes, ideas, and cultures. You will taste, smell, and hear things you never have before. You’ll develop a better understanding for people who are different from you, and learn that you’re really not that different after all. You may even be inspired to set your next story in a foreign land, or fill it with more diverse characters.

#8: Learning

Be curious and always be learning. Learn about other cultures, history, psychology, sociology. Learn about the things that interest you, whether it’s cooking, herbal remedies, Greek mythology, lock picking, wilderness survival, or how to write computer code. As an author, you will need to create a wide variety of characters, and all of them will come from different backgrounds with different interests. You never know when your knowledge might come in handy!

#9: Observing

Good writers are good observers. Pay attention to the world around you. What does the inside of a New York cab smell like? How does it feel when you kiss the one you love? What sounds fill a restaurant on a busy night? Collect and remember the details from your everyday life and weave them into your writing. The more you do this, the better you’ll develop this skill, and you’ll find that creating details for things you’ve never seen or experienced becomes easier.

#10: Living

One of the most important things to do as a writer is live. Go out and experience life. Don’t always be holed up in your house hiding behind a keyboard. You need to experience and see as much as you can so you can capture it in your writing.

What is it like to walk through a forest at night? Explore a cave? Leap from a cliff into a lake? Shoot a bow? Sail on the ocean? Fly in a plane? Go out and do it.

Understand the way the world works, its horrors and intricacies. Its shades of grey. The beauty and corruption of humanity.

Draw from your experiences when you write. Use your pain, embarrassment, anger, joy. What was it like when you kissed the one you loved? When they broke your heart? When you lost someone close to you? When you broke your arm? When you were betrayed by your friend? When you held your baby sibling for the first time?

To live is to experience what it is to be human. To write is to share and explore the human experience.

How do you try to become a stronger writer? Leave me a comment below!


Simple 30 Minute Yoga Routine for Writers (No Flexibility Required!)

simple yoga routine for writersSometimes we writers get so engrossed in our stories that we forget to take care of ourselves. We’re all too familiar with stress, fatigue, and a sore back & neck from sitting hunched over our desks for hours trying to pound out those words. With NaNoWriMo coming up, I thought this would be a good time to deviate a little from my usual writing advice and help you be nice to yourself 😉

I’m in love with yoga–I always feel so fantastic after practicing! It helps me relax, control my stress, get energized, and clear my head before a writing session.

“But I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible!” you protest. Excuse me while I giggle at you. You do yoga to become flexible, not because you are flexible. I am so hopelessly inflexible that if I can do yoga, I have faith in you. Yoga is for everyone, you just have to start simple!

This yoga routine focuses on the shoulders, neck, and back, which tend to be problem areas for us writers. All of the moves are beginner level–I promise you won’t have to twist yourself into a pretzel! It takes about 30 minutes to complete the routine, a nice little break between writing sessions.

But before we get started, let’s go over some yoga basics for you newbies.

Yoga Basics

Movements–Yoga is all about slow, smooth, controlled movements. Don’t rush!

Breathing–You want to take slow, deep breaths. Focus on your breath, and allow it to “fill” your body. When you exhale, imagine you are pushing your breath out to flood through all your muscles. In yoga, you inhale when you move into a pose and exhale when you move out of the pose.

Body Awareness–Become aware of how your body moves, what feels good and what doesn’t. Pay attention to your balance.

Mind–Empty your thoughts. Focus on your breath and body, keeping your mind clear. This is a time to meditate and relax, shutting out worries, responsibilities, etc

Equipment–You can use a yoga mat if you like, or if you don’t have a mat a towel or blanket will work. You can even just use a carpeted area, which is what I usually do. Also, wear loose, non-restricting clothing.

Ready? Let’s begin!

Grab the printable PDF guide here, or keep reading below!

Part I: Meditation and Neck Sequence

All poses are accompanied with links that provide pictures and further explanation of how to do the pose correctly.

To begin, sit with your back straight and legs crossed or tucked under you, whichever feels comfortable. Place your hands gently on your knees and close your eyes in meditation pose. Relax and try to clear your mind, focusing on your breath and becoming aware of your body. Stay in this pose for 15-20 breaths (1 inhale + 1 exhale = 1 breath).

First, let’s work on loosening your neck and shoulders. Do the following, remembering to take deep breaths and move slowly:

  1. Roll your shoulders forward 8x, and then backward 8x
  2. Roll your head in gentle circles 4x to the right, then the left. Repeat.
  3. Tilt your chin toward your chest as far as you can, dropping your shoulders (don’t hunch them!). You should feel a gentle stretch along the top of your spine. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Raise chin towards ceiling. Repeat.
  4. Stretch your neck to the right and left, holding each stretch for several breaths. You can add a gentle pressure on your head with your hand if you like. (You may feel a pop in your spine, this is normal).
  5. Lace your hands behind your back and press them outward, drawing your shoulder blades together in a nice squeeze. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Release and bring hands back to knees.
  6. Shake it out! Move your neck and shoulders in whatever way feels nice.

Part II: Back and Shoulders Sequence

Now that your neck is nice and loose, let’s move on to the rest of the poses, which focus more on the back and shoulders. Remember to breathe deeply and move slowly as you do the poses. Inhale when you move into a pose, and exhale when you move out of the pose. Hold each pose for 3-8 breaths or however long is comfortable.

  1. Start in a Seated Twist (repeat 2x each side).
  2. Tuck your legs under you and transition into Cat Cow (repeat 4-6x; for this pose you don’t need to hold it, just move with your breath, moving upward on the inhale and downward on the exhale).
  3. Sink down onto your heels and stretch your arms forward in Child’s Pose.
  4. Raise up on your hands and knees again back into Cat Cow (repeat 4-6x).
  5. Sink back down into Child’s Pose.
  6. From Child’s Pose, bring your arms behind you and upward and clasp your hands together in Seal Pose. Then, return to child’s pose for few breaths.
  7. Straighten, sitting up on your knees, and lower yourself to the floor onto your belly to transition into Sphinx Pose.
  8. Push yourself up into a Cobra Pose. Don’t forget to breathe! (If this is too challenging, remain in Sphinx Pose for a few extra breaths).
  9. Lower yourself back into Sphinx Pose.
  10. Slowly move back onto your knees and sink down into Child’s Pose again.
  11. Come up onto all fours and Thread the Needle on both sides.
  12. Slowly move to lay on your back. Bring your arms over your head and reach as far as you can with your hands and feet, getting a nice stretch through your whole body. Then take turns hugging one knee and then the other up to your chest in Half Wind Relieving Pose.
  13. Lay with your palms upward at your sides and close your eyes in Corpse Pose. Remain this way for a few minutes, breathing deeply and relaxing.

You made it! See, I told you it wouldn’t be bad 😉 You should now be feeling relaxed and rejuvenated and ready to start your next writing session! Want a free PDF guide of this routine you can download and print to keep on hand? Click here!

Do you enjoy yoga? How do you relax and refresh yourself between writing sessions?


10 Signs Your Villain Might be Cheesy

No one likes a cheesy, boring villain! Here are 10 cliches to avoid so you can write a villain readers will fear instead of laugh at.

I’m not going to lie–good villains are damn hard to write. But they’re one of the most important characters in your story (arguably, the most important!), so you need to spend the time getting him right.

As a reader, you’ve probably noticed an abundance of villain cliches in books, but sometimes it’s hard to see these in your own villain. Or, maybe you’re not sure what it is exactly that makes a villain cheesy or cliched. Maybe you’re afraid you have a cheesy villain without even realizing it.

Don’t fret! With a little work (okay, maybe a lot of work), a cheesy villain can be polished into one who’s formidable. Let’s get started, shall we?

1.Theatrical Outfits

The cheesy villain dresses like he’s part of a Broadway show, or a teen going through a Goth phase. His outfits must scream ‘I’m evil.’ His wardrobe consists of black, red, leather, spikes and studs, long capes or coats, and anything printed with skulls. He wants to make sure you know he’s evil, just in case, you know, you couldn’t tell from his smoldering scowl. Bonus points if he’s ugly or disfigured, adding to his edgy appearance.

2. Stage Name

If your villain insists on dressing like a pop star, he’ll probably choose a flamboyant name that will make Lady Gaga jealous. You know, something stylishly evil like Crimson Bane or Lord Dark Skull or Damon Shadow-blood. Wait, are we naming a villain or a bad punk band?

3. Over dramatic

Like a teenager begging for attention, the cheesy villain goes out of his way to make sure you know he’s evil. He razes villages and slaughters innocents for no reason other than to prove that he really really is evil. And you should like, be totally terrified. He’s constantly snarling threats and insults, and doesn’t hesitate to torture or kill random henchman. Are you paying attention yet? No? Maybe some maniacal laughter will make you show him the respect he clearly deserves.

4. Bargain Bin Henchmen

Speaking of ill-fated henchmen, the cheesy villain always seems to employ an abundance of useless minions. They have worse aim than a firing squad of Stormtroopers and are always letting the heroes escape. You would think that someone as powerful and cunning as a villain would find a way to get the best of the best fighting for him. But apparently undying, mindless loyalty is better than competence. And taking over the world these days is expensive, you gotta cut costs somewhere.

5. Gossip Girl

Like a gossipy teen girl, the cheesy villain loves to chat. Especially about his plans. Once he’s captured the hero, he finds it necessary to explain every detail of his master scheme. He can’t help but reveal how he was behind everything, how he managed to trap the hero, and what he plans to do next. He has to brag to the hero about how brilliant and diabolical he is. Because if he doesn’t, then how will the hero appreciate his evilness? While he’s busy chatting away and taunting the hero about how he’s going to kill him, the hero will make his escape.

6. False Swagger

Cheesy villains have a certain swagger about them. They always smirk, sneer, glower, and glare. They have dark smiles and chilling laughs. They boast about how clever they are, and have an arsenal of witty and nasty insults. When they’re not making empty threats, they’re probably plucking the wings off butterflies. But really, this sort of villain is nothing more than a poser–he’s all talk and no game. He may constantly taunt the hero about how he’s going to kill him and destroy everything he loves, but it will never come to pass.

7. Awkward Dialogue

Villains tend to get the worst dialogue. If they’re not shooting off wise cracks, puns, and witty remarks like a comic book super villain, they have an aversion to contractions and speak with an eloquent malice like they’re in a High Fantasy novel…even if the story is set in 21st century New York. They often speak very on-the-nose, saying exactly what they’re thinking and being completely transparent–which most people don’t do, whether they’re evil or good. And of course, they talk way too much.

They also tend to say phrases we’ve heard a hundred times like:

  • You think you can defeat me?
  • You have no idea how long I have planned this moment.
  • Well, well, well.
  • I will take great pleasure in killing you.
  • You will never escape/defeat me/see your lover again.
  • Bonus: addresses the hero as boy/girl instead of using their name.

Cut down on your villain’s witty remarks and taunts, and give him dialogue that is time-period appropriate. And if you feel like you’ve heard a line before, change or cut it!

8. Black and White

One of the main problems with the cheesy villain is that more often than not his character is underdeveloped and flat. He is defined only by his evilness with no grey areas. He only feels anger and hatred and is evil for the sake of being evil. But villains need goals, motives, pasts, and personalities just like heroes. Don’t forget that villains are people too!

9. Overcompensating

The cheesy villain has to try so hard to act and look evil because in reality, he sucks. The hero always gets away unscathed, his plans always fail, his traps never work, his threats never come true. The more he fails, the more anxious he becomes that the hero might not take him seriously, so the harder he tries to prove his evilness. Maybe he shouldn’t have skived off so many Evil 101 classes at the Villain Academy….

10. Cat with a Mouse

If there’s one thing the cheesy villain can’t resist, it’s concocting ridiculous ways for the hero to die. Instead of killing him at once and taking care of the problem, the cheesy villain likes to play with his victim like a cat with a mouse. Why run the hero through with a sword or place a well-aimed bullet in his head? Screw efficiency. This is the moment for the villain to show his twisted creativity.

But once the villain sets up his elaborate death trap, he will scurry off to finish his evil plans, giving the hero an opportunity to escape. Stick around and make sure your most hated enemy dies a gruesome death? Ain’t nobody got time for that. The world won’t take over itself, you know.

When done well, your villain can be one of the most interesting characters in your story. What do you look for in a good villain? Share your thoughts below!



5 Ways to Hide Your Villain In Plain Sight

Sometimes, you want to hide the bad guys in your story to fool your readers--and your characters! Click to learn 5 tricks for camouflaging your villain!

Sometimes, you don’t want your readers (or your characters!) to know who the bad guys are in your story. And if you think about it, it makes sense for villains to camouflage themselves.

Villains are deceitful, cunning, and manipulative. They don’t always go around announcing they’re the bad guy! Sometimes, they need to go incognito to get what they want. And sometimes, the scariest villain is the one you didn’t see.

So how can you hide the baddies in your story for a deliciously wicked twist? You need to subvert your reader’s expectations. As in, take what your readers expect and assume about villains, and then turn that upside down. Here are 5 tricks to try!

*Note: This post contains spoilers of the following to illustrate examples: Frozen, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, The Flash season 1, Teen Wolf season 1, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. You have been warned 😉

1. Handsome and Charming

Readers often expect villains to be ugly or scary looking. Think back to all those Disney films you watched as a kid–Cruella de Vil, Jafar, Ursula, Captain Hook, Maleficent. You knew right away if the character was the bad guy because he/she was ugly or creepy. But real life isn’t always so black and white. Dark things often come in pretty packages.

In Frozen, Disney subverts the expectations they’ve been setting for their audience for years. They introduce the character of Hans, a charming and handsome prince who seems like a pretty nice guy. Him and Princess Ana seem to really hit it off. Heck, even his horse seems nice. But then we discover that while Hans might have a pretty face, inside he’s rotten to the core.

2. Helping the Hero

Readers will never suspect that a character who’s helping the hero could ever be a villain. Because why would the bad guy help the enemy, right? But he might have ulterior motives that don’t become clear until later. This type of character could be a mentor, someone the hero admires/sees as an idol, or just someone who seems to be willing to lend a helping hand. What hidden agenda might your villain be hiding?

In City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Hodge is the tutor of the main characters. But what they don’t learn until later is that he’s actually an ex-follower of the villain and was banished to the Institute, where he is trapped by a curse. He helps the characters secure an item Valentine is after–but only so he can hand it over to Valentine in exchange for his freedom.

In the t.v. series The Flash, Dr. Wells is Barry’s idol and helps him learn how to use his powers. But in reality, Wells is actually from the future and became trapped in the past when trying to kill Barry before he became the Flash. He needs Barry to become fast enough to open a portal that will allow Wells to return to his world.

3. Completely Harmless

The character in the wheel chair or coma can’t be the villain, right? I mean, it’s just not possible. Look at him, he could never hurt anyone.


In The Flash, Dr. Wells pretends to be confined to a wheel chair which makes the heroes less suspicious of him. And in the first season of MTV’s Teen Wolf, Peter Hale appeared to be in a coma, so no one suspected he could be the alpha werewolf terrorizing the town.

We expect the villain to be strong–both physically and mentally. Making him seem defenseless or harmless is a great way to camouflage him.

4. Incompetent Fool

Villains by nature are cunning, powerful, and vicious, so when we come across a character who seems to be a bumbling fool, we’re not going to suspect he’s actually a bad guy. J.K. Rowling does this brilliantly with Professor Quirrel in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. No one suspects the stuttering, timid, cowardly professor is actually working for Lord Voldemort.

5. Likability

Villains aren’t supposed to be likable. They’re dark, cruel, wicked, selfish, and unjust. So if you create a character who seems to be cheerful, kind, friendly, and even shows heroic traits, the reader won’t think they’re the villain. The more the reader likes the character, the less they’ll suspect him because they won’t want him to be a bad guy. He might even be their favorite character! That is, until he shows his true colors.

Let’s go back to Hans from Frozen. He seems sweet, charming, and a little silly/awkward, and when Ana goes looking for Elsa he helps look after the kingdom. Then when Ana’s horse returns riderless, Hans goes off in search of his love. Seems pretty heroic and honorable, right? Until we learn he just wants to marry Ana to kill Elsa and gain control of the kingdom. Talk about cold!

Have you ever read a book where the villain turned out to be a surprise? Let me know in the comments!



How to Bring Your Setting to Life

How to Bring Your Setting to Life | Want to create a realistic, vivid setting your readers will wish they could visit? Learn the secrets of creating a setting that comes to life!

I love a book that can really bring a setting to life. You know, the stories that have these places you wish you could visit, and are so detailed you’re convinced they must exist somewhere. Narnia. Hogwarts. Middle Earth. Westeros.

Er…on second thought, I’d rather not go to Westeros. I’m fine admiring that one from afar.

But I’m not just talking about fantasy books here. What about books that are set in real places? For example, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, which is set in South Carolina. The setting became a character in and of itself, and was so detailed that it made me want to visit South Carolina (which I eventually did!). I can’t imagine that book without its setting!

So how can you bring your story’s setting to life for your readers? Here are my top tips.

1.Sensory Details

In real life, our world is full of sensory experiences. To make your fictional world feel real, you need to engage the reader’s senses. Especially since your world is likely (though not always) one the reader has never been to before.

We need to be able to feel the desert sun on our face, hear the sheep bleating on an Irish farm, see two knights hurtling towards each other in a joust, taste the eye-watering spices of a chicken curry, smell freshly baked baguettes.

Writers tend to favor visual details because they’re obvious and the easiest to write. But really challenge yourself to use your other senses when you’re writing a scene.

2. Specific Details

To really bring a setting to life, use specific details over general ones. The more specific you can get, the better. Instead of a tree, say elm, poplar, cedar, or willow. Instead of a bird, say crow, chickadee, owl, or pelican. This will create a more vivid picture in your reader’s head

Also, avoid saying things like “there was a variety of fruit in the basket” or “he had a room full of complicated-looking scientific equipment” or “the walls were lined with paintings.” What kind of fruit? What sort of equipment? What type of paintings? This can be seen as lazy writing because creating specific details takes more work and a lot of times research.

Being specific doesn’t just give a more vivid picture, but it also lends credibility. When something is so detailed, readers will begin to think “How could this not be real? The author obviously knows what they’re talking about.” It shows that you’ve either done your research for historical/contemporary fiction, or have put a lot of time into developing your fantasy world.

3. Interesting Details

When you’re describing a setting, leave out the obvious details. You can’t describe everything, so you want to focus on the important stuff and leave out the clutter. The reader can fill in the blanks on her own. If you say “bedroom” the reader will automatically picture a room with a bed, dresser, and desk. We know what a bedroom looks like.

But, what’s different about this specific bedroom? What are the interesting details that make it different? Maybe the bedroom has a week old box of half-eaten pizza, a collection of dream catchers, or a shelf filled with books on big foot. Maybe there’s a mural of Justin Bieber painted on the ceiling. Or maybe there’s a giant crack in the wall with a mysterious light pouring out.

Coming up with interesting details for every setting can be a challenge, but it’s well worth the effort.

4. Similes

Similes play an important role in description. You need a way to link the unfamiliar sights and experiences of your world with something more familiar to the reader. How can we understand something we’ve never seen or experienced? It’s your job to bridge the gap with similes.

If you’re trying to describe a fantasy creature that doesn’t exist, you compare it to things we’re familiar with so we can see it: It has eyes like an owl’s, a tail like a lion’s, ridges like thorns growing out of its back.

What if you’re trying to describe the taste of Greek tzaziki sauce to someone who’s never tried it? You could say: “It tasted fresh like cucumbers and dill, with a pleasant tang.” Or what if you’re trying to describe the call of a kookaburra bird?: “The trilling sound coming from its beak sounded like laughter.” Notice that adjectives are also helpful for describing the unfamiliar, but be careful not to overuse them!

Find a way to translate the unfamiliar into the familiar so your reader isn’t left in the dark.

5. Subjectivity

What makes a setting interesting isn’t necessarily what it looks like, but what the viewpoint character notices and how she feels about it. Different people will view the same setting in different ways. They will notices different things.

One character might find a circus magical and exciting, and another might find it silly and boring. One character might admire the decor of a house, while another might admire the architectural design.

What does your character see and feel? Everything we’ve just covered–sensory, specific, and interesting details–should be filtered through your character. The similes you use should also come from your character. So, if you want to compare someone’s eyes to the sea but your hero lives in a desert and has never seen the sea, you need to find a different simile. When your character experiences new and unfamiliar things, he will pull from familiar details of his own world to bridge the gap.

6. Interaction

Your setting does no good if you paint a pretty picture that just sits there. A setting needs to do more than look pretty–it needs to work and be functional. You don’t want your keep your setting and characters separate, you want to mesh them together.

You can do this by having your characters interact with your setting. Give them “props” to handle or something to do in the scene. Maybe they’re cleaning a gun on the dining room table, rolling out cookie dough on the kitchen counter, or shelving books in a library. Your setting isn’t a museum where you can look but not touch!

Another tactic you can use is to make the character struggle against the setting. Maybe she’s biking home when it starts to storm, trying to hike through an overgrown forest, or gets lost in London while on vacation. We encounter struggles with out environment in everyday life, so showing that your setting isn’t perfect helps add realism.

What makes a setting feel real to you? Do you have any tips for making a setting come to life? Share them below!


How to Accept Your Writing (When You Feel Like the Worst Writer Ever)

How to Accept Your Writing | Feel like the worst writer ever? You're not, though some days it can be hard to remember. Learn how to find acceptance in yourself as a writer.

This past week, I was in a horrible writing rut. It was one those moods where you hate everything you write and you feel like you’re the worst writer in the world.

No fun.

I knew it wasn’t true, but I couldn’t figure out how to break free from the frustration and doubt. I started analyzing why I felt this way and unearthed my darkest writer insecurities. (Boy, we writers are a sensitive lot, aren’t we?)

And you know what I realized? I needed to work on accepting my writing, and who I am as a writer. Since this epiphany I’ve already gained a new perspective on my writing and have a better attitude towards it. I feel like I’ve made such a huge breakthrough! Seriously. I can’t even describe the feeling of peace and oneness (I don’t know how else to describe it okay!) I feel with my writing.

My writing is who I am. And who I am is enough. I am enough as a writer.

I know accepting my writing is something I will have to continue to work at, but I already feel so much more confident and content. So how can you start your journey toward accepting your writing? Here are 8 thoughts to consider.

1. Understand what constitutes good writing–and that these techniques are do-able.

The good news is you don’t have to be a literary genius to have good, clean writing. The techniques used to create good writing are ones that can be learned. And good writing does not equal pretty prose!

I feel like a lot of people get confused over what good writing looks like, and what exactly makes something “well written.” I am talking strictly about prose here, not the execution of plot or development of characters. Good writing:

  • Communicates ideas clearly
  • Uses correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation
  • Uses appropriate punctuation without overuse of dashes, ellipses, or semi-colons
  • Ensures sentences flow together smoothly and their structure is varied
  • Breaks paragraphs into appropriate sizes to control the pacing
  • Is tight without unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, or scenes
  • Uses appropriate word choice to set the mood and tone
  • Uses appropriate vocabulary for targeted audience
  • Helps the reader visualize the scene with description
  • Avoids an overabundance of description and purple prose
  • Engages the senses
  • Uses natural dialogue
  • Avoids crazy speech tags, mostly using ‘said’
  • Expresses the character’s emotions, feelings, and reactions
  • Avoids too much interior monologue
  • Avoids cliches
  • Uses strong verbs and avoids overusing adverbs
  • Avoids overusing adjectives
  • Uses specific over general nouns (i.e. Border Collie instead of dog)
  • Has a voice, whether it’s the author’s or character’s
  • Avoids info dumps and telling
  • Uses active voice rather than passive
  • Uses poetic devices such as similes and metaphors where appropriate
  • Either moves the story forward or develops the world or characters

Okay, that may seem like a lot and it is. Good writing is possible to achieve, but it isn’t easy! You have to work at it and keep practicing. But I promise eventually you will ingrain these techniques into your brain and begin to do them without thinking.

2. Pretty prose isn’t necessary, so don’t beat yourself up over it.

Beautiful, jaw-dropping prose is something that I feel is more of a talent than something that can be learned. Some writers can do it, and others can’t.

And for those of us who can’t, it can be really frustrating. But you have to remember that the quality of your story will trump your prose every time. Pretty prose isn’t necessary to becoming a successful author.

Look at J.K. Rowling. She wrote a phenomenal series with a great plot and characters, but if we’re being honest her prose isn’t all that great. But do I (or millions of other readers) care about that? Hells no! Readers will forgive poor prose if the story is amazing. But they will not forgive gorgeous prose that tells a crappy story.

So if you can’t write prose like James Joyce don’t sweat it! Work on making your plot and characters outstanding. That’s what readers are opening your book for anyway–not to oogle over pretty words.

3. Know what kind of writer your are.

Are you writing literary or commercial fiction? My guess is the second. It’s the category the majority of writers fall into. But what’s the difference?

Literary fiction–focuses on internal rather than external conflict. The plot moves slowly and goes in depth developing the characters. Also uses beautiful prose and artistic/unconventional techniques. The literary writer may only write one book and usually (though not always) writes for the sake of art rather than making a living/career. (It’s harder to make money in the literary market).

Commercial fiction–focuses more on external conflict and is written mainly as entertainment. The pace is usually faster to hold the reader’s attention. The writing is also clean and simple without being overly poetic so it is easy to understand. The commercial fiction writer usually writes multiple books (often a series) and seeks to make a career/living with their work.

Knowing which market you’re writing for can help keep things in perspective. I’m definitely a commercial fiction writer. I like to read/write for entertainment, and I want to make a career from my writing. So I don’t need to put unnecessary pressure on myself to be obscurely artistic or avant-garde, or have gorgeous prose.

4. You are not Tolstoy, Tolkien, or Hemingway (and that’s okay).

Stop comparing yourself to other authors and holding yourself to these high standards. They will crush you. And you know what? The truth is there will always be a writer who is better than you. You don’t have to be the best, and that’s OKAY!

This isn’t a competition! I know sometimes we can become perfectionists about our work, but don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. Write to the best of your ability. Your best is enough! You might not be able to write like Tolkien but guess what? Someday, you’re going to be someone’s favorite author. So who cares? Throw perfectionism out the window.

5. There will always be writers worse than you.

The funny thing about writers is we always tend to compare ourselves up instead of down. But pause for a moment and think about it. There are writers out there who write worse than you–and some of them are even published!  If they can get published then why not you?

6. Your ideas will never sound as awesome on paper as they did in your head.

This is just a frustrating fact you must accept early on. Words can’t always capture the scenes you see in your head or the emotions you feel. Sometimes they fall short. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea! You just have to do your best in translating your idea into words, even though it may seem like a dull reincarnation.

7. Understand that your first draft will be crap.

And that’s okay. First drafts are meant to be atrocious. But when you’re writing a crappy first draft it can become easy to feel like a crappy writer. You have to fight to keep things in perspective.

Try keeping a piece of your best writing handy. When you start to feel like the worst writer ever, step back and read this piece to remind yourself that’s not true. You’ll turn all this crap into gold in the editing stages!

8. Relax.

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself! You’ll suck all the fun out of writing and put a block on your brain. Accept your writing abilities and write the best story you can! Maybe one day someone out there will wish they could write like you!

Have any more ideas on how to find acceptance in your writing and yourself as a writer? Comment below, I’d love to hear them!



How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling | Learn how to create a fresh, compelling retelling of a classic fairy tale!I don’t know about you, but I love a good fairy tale retelling. I’m actually writing one right now, and have plot bunnies for several more hopping around my head. There’s just something so fun about taking an old tale and turning it into something new! (Seriously, you’ll get addicted).

If you’ve always wanted to try writing a fairy tale retelling, now is a great time to give it a shot! Retellings are currently popular in the market, both in the publishing and film industry. But how do you pull one off? Here’s my advice for creating a fresh, compelling retelling!

Psst…before we get started, click here to download the free PDF worksheets I created to go along with this post!

Do Your Research

In order to retell a story, you need to know the original. (And I’m not talking about the Disney versions). Read up on the original fairy tale and any variations it might have. You might be surprised to find the originals are a lot darker than their Disney counterparts!

Next, research existing retellings (both films and books) and take notes. Make sure you know what’s been done already so you don’t accidentally write something that’s too similar. Agents and editors want a fresh story! Also read reviews of these books and films and take notes on the reader’s opinions. What did they like and not like about the retelling? Don’t repeat mistakes other writers might have made.

Don’t Give Readers the Same Story

One of the most important things you’re going to need to decide is how similar (or different) you want your story to be from the original. The key to a successful retelling is to avoid giving readers the same story. We know that story. We can read it anywhere. A retelling that’s too similar can lead to boredom in the reader. We want something that’s new and exciting, but still feels familiar.

You don’t want to follow the original plot to a T. Your story will be predictable, and that will lead to bored readers and pages that don’t get turned because they already know what happens. You’ll need to brainstorm ways to make your plot different! You can include main plot points from the original story, or go in a completely different direction altogether and create your own plot.

Let’s look at some examples of retold fairy tale films that illustrate the different degrees of a retelling.

Original Story: Disney’s Cinderella (2015)

This one isn’t really a retelling–rather, it’s a remake. While I enjoyed this film, I couldn’t help but be somewhat bored. It follows the animated version almost exactly and didn’t introduce anything new.  While it was visually pleasing and Prince Charming was cute, I could have just watched the animated version. This is what you want to avoid–don’t remake a fairy tale, retell it!

Slight Modifications: Snow White and the Huntsman

This retelling was more interesting. Snow White is represented as a warrior trying to reclaim her throne rather than a frightened, fainting damsel who is happy to spend her days singing and cleaning. The Huntsman also takes a larger role, and the romance is with him instead of the Prince. Besides these major changes, the film remains very faithful to the original while taking a darker tone.

A Fresh Look: Maleficent

Of the films listed here, this is by far my favorite. The tale of Sleeping Beauty is retold from the villain Maleficent’s perspective, and reveals why she came to put a curse on an innocent baby. This retelling offers a fresh look at a familiar story, yet still follows the original fairly close.

Completely Revamped: Beastly

This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is drastically different from the original. It’s set in modern day and barely follows the original story line. (This isn’t a bad thing! Marissa Meyer does this with the Lunar Chronicles, creating a new plot that keeps things exciting). Instead, it takes the theme of inner beauty being more important than outer beauty and creates a new plot.

You will need to find a balance between drawing inspiration from the original tale and your own ideas. This can be tricky. Pay attention to your favorite parts and elements of the original, as well as those that are the most memorable and iconic. For example, Cinderella’s glass slipper, Red Riding Hood’s red cloak, Snow White’s poisoned apple.

This doesn’t mean that you have to include all of these things. And if doing so feels forced or contrived in your plot, then don’t! But pay attention to what gives the fairy tale its distinct feel, and what is endearing and memorable about it.

Also, look at how you might incorporate these elements in a new way. For example, in Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella), Cinder is a cyborg with a metal foot. Instead of losing a glass slipper on the palace steps, she loses her metal foot. That was a very clever way to stay true to an original plot element, yet make it new and interesting.

Make It Fresh

So how do you retell a fairy tale in a way that’s new and interesting without rehashing the original? Here are some ideas for you!

#1 Switch the Roles of the Hero and Villain

The t.v. series Once Upon a Time does this with Hook and Peter Pan, making Peter a villain and Hook tortured and brooding, eventually joining the side of the good guys.

You have to be careful with this one, though! Those who have a deep love for a character will hate seeing him become a villain. I’ll confess that at first I found the OUAT switch weird, and I was kind of sad that Peter was evil. But it ended up being really interesting and working well in the story!

#2 Use a New POV

Try telling the story from the perspective of a villain, like in Maleficent. Or, use the POV of a different character. For example, what if you were to retell Snow White from the POV of the Huntsman? A third option could be to use a dual or multi POV, switching back and forth between multiple characters. For example, you could go back and forth between Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip.

#3 Change the Time Period

Your story doesn’t have to take place in the same time period as the original. You could make it modern like Beastly, or even futuristic like Cinder.

#4 Change the Setting

You don’t have to stick to the original setting, either. What if you took the traditional European fairy tales and put them in a setting like Africa, Asia, South America, or the Middle East?

#5 Use a Different Genre

You can use genre to put a different spin on a fairy tale. What if you made Snow White into a modern thriller? Or Sleeping Beauty Steampunk? A great example of this is Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which puts a sci-fi spin on classic fairy tales.

#6 Do a Crossover

Both Once Upon a Time and the Lunar Chronicles cross over multiple fairy tale characters and story lines. This can make for an interesting story by exploring how these story lines connect, and how these characters interact with one another.

#7 Make it Dark

You can’t go wrong with going dark! There’s something strangely irresistible about a dark version of the light-hearted happily ever after we’re used to. And after all, the original tales were usually pretty dark themselves!

What are your thoughts on retelling fairy tales? What retellings have and haven’t worked for you?


How to Write a Kick-ass Synopsis for Your Novel

How to Write a Kick-ass Synopsis for Your Novel | Struggling with your #synopsis? Learn how to break down your novel into a compelling synopsis!You know what’s more terrifying than writing a novel? Writing a synopsis of your novel. Just the word ‘synopsis’ is enough to make even an experienced writer break into a cold sweat. Or run away screaming.

I’m not going to lie: writing a synopsis is hard. It’s confusing, frustrating, and overwhelming all at once. But it’s so important. Your novel may be brilliant, but if your synopsis is crap an agent or editor may never request to see it.

So how do you write a kick-ass synopsis? Let’s get down to it.

What is a synopsis?

A synopsis is a brief summary of your novel from its beginning to end, written in third person present tense. Yes, its end. You need to give away the ending! Spoilers be damned.

But here’s the trick. You’re not just giving us a play-by-play of the events in your novel. First this happens, then this happens, oh, then that happens–

Stahp. Don’t babble on like a six-year-old telling her mom about her day at school.

You need to leave stuff out. Resist the temptation to include every event, detail, and character. Only include the most important. And then tell us what happens in a compelling way.

But how do you make a synopsis compelling?

  • Cut out the clutter and tell only the most important details.
  • Use specific nouns and strong verbs
  • Avoid passive voice–keep it active
  • Use word choice and voice to reveal the tone of your story
  • Be clear and avoid wordiness
  • Reveal your character’s emotions and reactions to events

That last one is extremely important. Without it, your synopsis is just a dry, boring regurgitation of your story’s events. And word vomit isn’t going to agents and editors excited about your novel.

Remember, stories create an emotional experience for the reader. It’s why we read them. You need to give the agent/editor a taste of the emotional experience of your novel. To do that, you need to include how your character feels about what happens to him. With each turn of events, reveal his fear, excitement, hope, disappointment, etc.

Why do agents and editors want a synopsis?

Do they just enjoy torturing you? Do they sit in their little agent nests surrounded by slush piles and cackle at the thought of you slaving over your synopsis? It may feel like it, but no.

A synopsis lets the agent or editor inspect your story without having to read the book. It’s a way for them to determine if it’s worth their time. A synopsis will let them see if there are any plot holes, if the story’s all over the place, if it makes sense, and how unique (or cliched) it may be. Basically, they want to see 1) that you know what you’re doing 2) how your story is different & interesting.

How short does it have to be?

Typically, a synopsis is one single-spaced page. Yes, one. Try not to panic.

But that’s not always the case. If you have a really long novel (100k + words) you may need more space to get the story across. Always check the submission guidelines of the editor or agent first. Some will ask for a synopsis of 2-3 pages, others will want you to stick to one page. The point is, don’t make your synopsis too long. An agent doesn’t have the time or patience to read a 10 page synopsis when she has a stack of submissions to sort through.

What should I include in my synopsis?

That is the question, isn’t it? To tell, or not to tell. How do you decide? It can drive a writer mad. Here’s my break-down guide of what should be in your synopsis:

  1. A compelling hook and opening paragraph
  2. The story’s inciting incident.
  3. An introduction of your hero, including her goal, motivation, stakes, and internal/external conflict. Also let us know who she is at the beginning of the story.
  4. Any major characters who play a part in the events you will include. Tell us their relationship with the hero and how she feels about them. (Introduce them as they arise in your story’s events, not all at once).
  5. The event that causes your hero to decide to commit to the story’s problem and take action. (Why can’t she ignore it any more?)
  6. The main events that oppose your hero and keep her from achieving her goal. Also, how these events change/challenge who she is and cause her to grow.
  7. The main events that advance the story.
  8. How the relationship between your hero and any important characters changes over the course of the story. (For example, if you have a love interest).
  9. Any important plot twists.
  10. Your hero’s darkest hour/all hope is lost moment (if you have one) and what causes her to bounce back and try again.
  11. The climax–the final showdown where your story’s conflict comes to a head.
  12. The resolution of the conflict and your story’s ending. Did your hero achieve her goal or fail? Also, reveal how your hero is different at the end of the story vs. the beginning (aka the character arc).
  13. Throughout these events, remember to weave your hero’s emotions, reactions, and decisions.

It’s a lot to cram into one page, I know. You’re probably already getting the synopsis sweats. But take a deep breath. You can do this. You wrote an entire novel, by golly. You can write this synopsis. It will probably take several drafts and many tears and screaming, but you can write this.

The First Paragraph

Before you launch into a full onslaught of what happens in your book, you need to set it up for the agent or editor. Your first paragraph should try to include:

  • A first sentence that hooks the reader
  • The setting and, if relevant, the time period
  • A premise that reveals how your story is different or interesting
  • Your hero, and why she’s interesting/likable
  • The goal, conflict, and stakes

Synopsis Examples

Okay, so what the heck does a synopsis look like once you have it written? Click here to check out some examples of successful synopses that got their author’s published.

Also, keep in mind that there’s more than one way to write a synopsis! It’s up to you to organize and present the information in the best, most compelling way possible, and to decide what’s most important to include for your story.

Do you have the synopsis sweats? Share your struggles, worries, and tales of woe in the comments!


3 Steps for Creating Realistic Fantasy Races and Creatures

3 Steps for Creating Realistic Fantasy Races and Creatures | Learn how to #write realistic #fantasy races and cultures, plus a FREE worksheet!God bless Fantasy writers. I mean, seriously. We’re a crazy bunch, aren’t we?

As if it wasn’t already hard enough to write a novel and create realistic characters, we insist on quadrupling the difficulty level by creating places and races that don’t exist. Because real life is too boring for us! That stuff is for amateurs! We want a real challenge! *twitchy eyes*

Sure, Fantasy a lot of fun, but it’s also loads of work. And the expectations are high in the Fantasy genre. If you can’t create realistic races and creatures then your story is going to fall flat. No pressure, right?

I’m going to try to help out my fellow Fantasy writers here. I know this world-building stuff isn’t easy. So we’re going to break down creating a fantastical race or creature into three steps. Yep, three. Ready for this? Brace yourselves.

Psst, before you get started, click here to download the free PDF worksheets I created to go along with this post!

STEP 1: Appearance

One of the first things you’ll need to decide is what your race or creature will look like.

Now, pay attention to that word–like. Did you know it’s actually impossible for humans to create something completely new? We can only use what already exists, what we see around us. That’s why fantasy beings always look like something (usually a combination of somethings) whether it’s a human, animal, plant, or something else from nature. Observe:

Horse + Horn = Unicorn

Horse + Wings = Pegasus

Human + Pointy Ears + Immortality = Elf

Human + Fish = Mermaid

Human + Horse = Centaur

Eagle + Lion = Gryffin

See where I’m going with this? So don’t stress so much over creating something no one has ever seen before. Rather, use what’s already around you in a creative way.

If you don’t want to create a creature from scratch, another option is to use an animal that already exists, but give it a twist. For example, animals that are larger than usual, can speak, or have magical abilities.

This also applies to human-like races. You don’t have to make a fantasy race look completely foreign. They don’t have to have blue skin like they’ve just stepped out of Avatar. A lot of fantasy beings (elves, dwarves, faeries, witches/wizards) look similar to humans but with slight physical differences and/or added magical abilities.

Another option is to put a new spin on classical mythological creatures that already exist. Laini Taylor does this brilliantly with chimeras in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Another great example is Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, which is about killer unicorns. (Yes, you read that right. Killer unicorns).

Lastly, you could populate your fantasy world with races that are (gasp!) just human. In Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin’s seven kingdoms are filled with plain old human beings. Sure there are some characters with special powers, and you have the White Walkers running around, but most of the races are ordinary. Instead, he focuses on developing their cultures to make them stand out.

So let’s review your options for fantasy races/creatures:

  1.  A creative combination of elements
  2. A physical or magical twist on an animal or human
  3. Classic mythological creatures with a twist
  4. Plain human beings with distinct cultures.

STEP 2: Environment

One important element for developing a realistic Fantasy race is the environment in which that race lives. Our environment affects various aspects of our lives such as clothing, building materials, food, resources, jobs, and trade. These are all important elements of a society.

For example, Native Americans used natural resources like deer and buffalo hide to make clothing and tepees. The English had a lot of sheep, and used the wool to make cloth for clothes.

Our environment also affects what sort of food you can grow, what animals are available to hunt, and therefore what sorts of dishes can be made. In Mexico they grow chili peppers, avocados, and limes, while in Greece they grow figs, dates, and olives. Both countries have very different dishes! Also, note that when you have two countries that each have something the other does not, this can lead to either trade or war.

Another thing to consider is what sort of jobs your environment creates. If you have an area rich with coal, you’ll have a lot of coal mining jobs like in The Hunger Games. If you have a lot of land, more people might be farmers. If you’re on the coast, you’ll have a lot of fishermen.

For Fantasy creatures, think about what sort of habitat it lives in. Does it like mountains or forests? What does it eat? Is it prey to any other animals? Do people hunt it as a resource?

Put a lot of thought into the environment in which your race or creature lives and how it influences their way of life and you will add layers of realism to your story!

STEP 3: Culture

Developing a culture is probably the most daunting aspect of creating a fantasy race, which is understandable. Cultures are extremely complex. There’s a lot to think about and it can get overwhelming quick. Making up a culture for a race that doesn’t exist is no small task!

While trying to find a way to simplify what makes up a culture, I came across this article that suggests there are seven basic elements of a culture. I would argue there are more, but since some of the things that are missing like food, clothing, etc. we touched on in the last step, I feel this list fits perfectly for the purposes of our discussion.

So what are these 7 basic elements of a culture?

  1. Social Organization (family units and social classes)
  2. Customs and Traditions
  3. Religion
  4. Language
  5. Arts and Literature
  6. Governing Systems
  7. Economic Systems

I think if you spend time exploring these seven points you’re going to have a nice, fleshed out culture! Now, just because language is on here don’t think you need to create a whole new language (or several!). I would actually advise against it unless you can do it with the same finesse as Tolkien. It’s good to consider if you have races that speak different languages and how this could be important to your story, but you can imply a language barrier without actually creating the languages.

Additionally, I would suggest borrowing from cultures in real life. Tolkien did this in Lord of the Rings–for example, the people of Rohan are based off of Celtic culture. Drawing from real-life sources will help to add realism to your story.

I would also highly recommend studying sociology and history, either by taking a course or getting some books on your own. Studying these subjects will help you to understand how intricate cultures are, how they work, and how different cultures have interacted with each other over time. This will help you to write more complex and realistic cultures in your own stories.

Need More Help?

I know we covered a lot of information in this post, and when you’re trying to create a new race or creature this is all a lot to keep track of. So I whipped up some worksheets to help you out! Click here to download + print!

What are your thoughts on creating fantasy races? Share them below!



What is Theme?: Deconstructing an Elusive Concept

What is Theme? | Are you struggling to understand what #theme is and how it works in your #story? I'm breaking down this confusing concept. You know what used to drive me insane? Theme. I hated it because I could never quite understand it. I would stress over it and research it obsessively but I could never get it to click for me. I’d think I had it, but then, nope. Theme was such an elusive concept.

That was until a week or so ago, when I finally had a breakthrough. (Cue metaphorical light bulb).

I realized I needed to change the way I was defining theme. Everyone kept saying that theme was “what the story is about.” Well what does that even mean? Isn’t the plot what the story’s about? It was just too easy to get confused, and it wasn’t working for me and my way of thinking. I needed something more specific.

After mulling over it, I finally had my aha moment. Here’s my new definition:

  • Theme: a thesis that the story sets out to prove.

Some of you probably winced at the word “thesis.” “How is this more helpful?” you ask. “Theses are confusing!” I used to think so too (God knows I struggled with them in college), but they’re actually pretty simple. Observe:

  • Thesis: a theory that is presented as a premise to be proved.

Any light bulbs going off yet? No? All right, well keep these things in mind as we explore theme more in-depth. Now into the fray!

Psst…before you get started, Find Your Novels Theme WorksheetsI created to go along with this post!

What a Theme is (And isn’t)

So, what is theme exactly? It’s a hard concept to grasp because it’s very subtle. So subtle that it’s invisible in your story. Your theme is what your story is saying about humanity–human nature, human behavior, what it means to be human. All that good stuff. It’s basically the “point” you’re trying to make. Some might call this the “lesson” or “moral.”

Now, you’ll often hear people say that the theme of X story was love, loyalty, betrayal, or something of the like. The problem is, these are not themes. I think that this misunderstanding is where a lot of the confusion lies. I know this is in part where I kept getting confused. A noun is not a theme. A theme is what you have to say about love or loyalty or betrayal. It’s very specific.

I love how screenwriter Brian McDonald puts it in his book Invisible Ink:

“Competition” is not a theme. A theme might be, “Competition is sometimes a necessary evil.” Or, “Competition leads to self-destruction.” Saying that your theme is competition is like saying your theme is “red.” It really says nothing at all.

Cue the light bulbs.

How Theme Works

Since the beginning of time, stories have been used to teach lessons. Think of Aesop’s fables, Grimm’s fairy tales, or Jesus’ parables in the Bible. Though we don’t realize it, when we read a story, we are unconsciously looking for guidance, advice, or a revelation about life. That’s why stories with themes resonate so strongly with readers. We get something deeper out of it than entertainment.

Your story’s theme is what you’re trying to “teach” people. But first off, you have to figure out what it is you’re trying to say in your story. What do you want to make readers think about? How do you want to change your reader’s perspective of the world? What do you have to say about humanity?

“But what if I don’t have anything to say?”

Nonsense! Everyone has something to say. Especially writers. You have something to say, you just haven’t found it yet.

Now, remember how I said I like to think of theme as your story’s thesis? This is where that comes into play. First you develop your thesis (your theory about humanity). For example, true love never fades. Now your goal is to set out to prove this to your readers through your story. I love this way of thinking so much more because not only does it explain what a theme is, but it shows you what to do with it. A thesis must be proven.

So how do you get your point across to your readers without sounding preachy? You show instead of tell. No one wants to be preached at. But everyone loves a good story. Show us your theme through the events of your story, and the actions and decisions of your characters. Everything in your story should support your theme, just as you would use evidence to support a thesis.

It’s the story’s job to show us the theme, not the theme’s job to tell us the story.” -Lisa Cron

This is why theme is so tricky. We’re implying our point rather than stating it outright. But this is so important to do! You want theme to be subtle, not in-your-face and clunky. Don’t worry that readers might not “get it.” Some readers might not see it. Others might see something different. And you know what? That’s okay! Art will be interpreted in different ways by different people, and that’s part of the beauty of it.

Don’t frustrate yourself too much over theme. It’s not easy, especially when you’re a new writer! Heck, I’ve been writing for years and it’s still something I struggle with. I know it’s a weak area for me, one I need to work on and improve. But the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it!

What are your thoughts on theme? Have you struggled with it in your stories?