Cat at laptop, writing fiction

Mitten’s 2013 Camp NaNo effort


At the next stop sign we pass a junkyard. Rusted body parts, strewn all around the yard, lean up against the chain links like they’re begging for release.

Can you see that the use of like here isn’t a clichéd simile (like a flash, like a hurricane) or an average description (Rusted body parts are strewn  around the yard)? Read the rest of this entry »

Telling sentences begin like this:  I stand…  Sara looks around…  He waits with a…   We wish …   I sit here…Bob looks to the …

These are forms of you the writer telling the reader about the character. We can hear you saying these words. Your voice is at the forefront.

That may be fine for one line of narration. But to slip into scenes that show you  have to make a shift in your writing.  A writer’s voice needs to fade into the background. She needs to narrate her story from there. Read the rest of this entry »

When you write fiction or memoir,

what is it you truly do?

Can you list the types of writing you engage in line to line?

Do you know that there are different parts to your work?

Read the rest of this entry »

Do your novel’s characters seem bland? A bit too average? Nothing setting them apart from anyone else you have walking around in your pages?

Want to work on that?  Here’s how.

The trick here (and for novices it is tricky) is to come at this problem backwards.

Don’t say to yourself, Humm, I need to make this gal or guy more quirky.  They just do the same old things everyone does. How can they be more I don’t know, better? This character needs more—umph!

Instead, work from what you know.

Don’t think of your characters at all yet. Just think of things you know about people.

What do you know about boys, girls, men, or women?

Not what we all know – that general stuff, those are just clichés that society knows about people.

I’m talking about what you’ve personally experienced in your life about boys, classmates, brothers, girls, cousins, men, nieces, women, or ex’s.

These are the bits of knowledge that bring your writing up a notch, and bring your characters to life.

The tricky part is that what you know is applied randomly.

So don’t ask yourself  What do I know about private investigators, or single dads, or bad boyfriends?

That’s coming at things head on.

We’re trying for tricky here – and what needs tricking is your preconceived notions of what you think you know about boys, classmates, brothers, girls, cousins, men, nieces, women, or ex’s.

For instance: I know that an old friend of mine, when he cooked, would talk to himself in a low voice all though the prep; lovingly narrating every move he made.

That quirk of self-talk in the kitchen is something unique that I can take from my actual life knowledge and use as a character’s quirk— in any of my novels. Luckily, it could be used differently on any PI, or a single dad, or a bad boyfriend character I write.

Drawing on character knowledge of this sort will work far better than those societal clichés we all assume we know about people. He is a silent type. She can be a harridan. Teens are disgruntled or sullen.

Those things are rather abstract. The act of self-talk in a character is a bit more concrete.

Now, if you feel you’re not a novice, perhaps you’re a 2nd Tier writer, there is even more you can do.

Ask yourself how this character’s quirk would differ from character to character? That is refining uniqueness for the needs of your story. It also exercises refinement of how you might use the character trait in your character.

How can it be applied on that investigator? How can it be switched up so that it’s nothing as how it would be used for a single dad, or a bad boyfriend? How can you do some serious writing to find what’s uniquely characteristic about your characters?

If all three of these characters are in your story, and you run this exercise for all three of them, one will work a lot better than the others and that is who you’ll give this quirky habit to.

To find that out you’ll need to put that found quirk into a unique circumstance or scene. It doesn’t have to do with your plot (though that’s good if it does); it is there to heighten your characters’ uniqueness so that the reader sees him as real.


Private investigatorhe’s contemplating going to AA and the self-talk he does waiting in his car while on a case is his way hearing what he’ll sound like if he ever gets up the courage to go to a meeting.

 Single dadHe’s outside the kid’s room, in the hallway, and overhears his two sons mimicking that self-talk Dad does and in a flash, realizes he’s doing okay by them after all, no matter what anyone says.

 Bad boyfriendHe’s there on the couch after a fight, doing that self-talk thing again. But this time your character hears him running baby names options, mixing them with his last name, then a hyphenated version of the FMC’s and his. For one moment in your story, this person is more than a clichéd version of all those other bad boyfriends.

Here’s the final tip of the day:

This is what the experts mean when they tell you that you need to write what you know.

My Call for Submissions for your 200 word excerpts is still open.

Click the link to find out about it.

My Life’s Work

May 6, 2013

Attention, Sweden, Netherlands and Finland readers,

 In the last 30 days, my blog’s received 36 views from your countries. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

For the interest, and the return hits. I work often with international clients.

Feel free to contact me for coaching and story-editing services.

Now, on to today’s post:

In my opinion, I’m reading too many self-published novels that could have used some editing before their authors let their work out in public.

When we’re the only arbiter of what is ready for print we can allow our less than best efforts to be published. I think the problem is we don’t look hard enough at our own work. It may be the fact that self-publishing novice writers are in too much of a hurry to think beyond ‘getting it out there’.

Unfortunately, the whole idea about writing novels isn’t getting it out there – it’s writing something that won’t disappoint your readers with its level of craft or skill.

Look at these blog reviews for my short story collection, Claiming One:

What struck me first about the writing is the narrative voice.  It is distinct, commanding, and engaging… The triumph of their stories was due in part to the writers’ craftsmanship and vision, but also to the honesty of the narrative which grounded the fictive worlds deeply in reality.

–         Roof Beam Reader blog

 They were all hard hitting in their own way, each of the characters touching and affecting, which I loved about the book.  The writing was very tight, not overly descriptive, but each of the stories painted a picture in my head that stuck with me.

–         Indie Reviews blog

 The stories in this collection are intimate and reflective. They will leave you with a sense of wonder when you finish each one. As with all short stories, there is a sense that you’ve been left to ponder that there is more than what is on the page. The characters came alive in most of the stories… I usually only read “The Greatest American Short Stories” and “The Greatest American Mystery Short Stories,” so she had a very high bar.

–         Book End Babes blog

To receive reviews like this you need to do the work. You need to not settle for just good enough, common effort. Are you doing that extra work with your writing?

I don’t like having book purchases disappoint me so often. I want every great story idea that the book blurb promises delivered between the covers. I want to see great writing.  This is why I coach 1-on-1 and offer story-editing services.

Aside from being a writer myself, I also want to stop and engage each new writer long enough to help clean up their manuscripts.  To be over-romantic about it, it’s my life’s work; helping new writers to be better than what I now see offered in the self-published fiction and memoir market.

 Novices have great ideas, they want to build wondrous worlds, and accomplish their brave plans, I know I do. But not everyone has enough practice to recognize when their stories have too much summary narration. When there is clunky dialogue on the page. When their overuse of cliches is ruining those great ideas, and brave plans.

That’s what story editors are for. That’s what you learn from coaching. That’s why I want to help.

My blog posts here, and my website with the 52 lessons, are a start. But 1-on-1 work is also offered. I’ve worked well with writers in the US and internationally.   Contact me, don’t let your potential readers down.


You can’t teach someone to write fiction in a single pass.  Writing happens in layers, and the coaching of the craft of writing also happens in layers.

At the base, there’s the mechanics of grammar and punctuation rules, some novices can meet with me and already have a sound understanding of this, while some may need a session because these things were never learned in school.  Read the rest of this entry »

After this July’s release of my non-fiction ‘Tell Me (How to Write) a Story, the next book I’m working on is going to be a collection of excerpts from novices, in first draft, which I’ll edit into first revision and last revision samples, coaching as we go through the excerpts.

I’m titling it ‘Revision for Beginners’ and I’m calling for submissions of first draft excerpts. I expect a publication date of mid 2014.

I’m looking for any 200 words from your Work In Progress.CallForSubmission

I am NOT looking for wonderfully polished excerpts.

The goal is to have your excerpt help others learn the art of revision.

I’ll be selecting 20 excerpts, and I’ll be editing them to a first pass stage, and then onto a further round of edits.

Each round is accompanied with coaching info and the how & why the edits are made.

Your work will be attributed to you by your name, pen name, or NaNoWroMo screen name as you choose.

Each contributor will receive 3 printed copies of the book. As well as one ARC (advanced reader’s copy) in mobi format, to be used if you are a blogger and wish to review the book, or know a blogger who you’d like to allow a review.

If you’re interested, please send your excerpt to you submission with a subject line of ‘Revision for Beginners

If you’ve gotten something from these posts, or if I’ve already worked with you on edits or coaching – give a shout-out in the comments.  Let’s hear if I’ve made a difference in your work.

This weeks thoughts:

I read a lot of blogs written by novice writers. Whether they’re blogging about wanting to write, about trying to write, or posting their work for us to read (in all versions of revision), there’s an underlying thing happening.

They’re risking those thoughts, plans, and words with the online world. And that should be applauded.  It takes guts to face exposure, and judgments from readers.

Some of us want to help those novices. But, how do you visit someone’s site and leave a comment saying,

 “Hey, I read this, great start! You want some help making that story better?”

It’s a tricky thing. Involving the fragility of the ego and its dreams.  Personally, I want to read wonderful stories.

And I want to  be able to tell others, “You’ve got to read this!” and mean it with all my heart.

But, most of all, I want to help the world to write a better story.  Without hurting anyone’s feelings because I pointed out that help might be needed. That can be a Hard Truth to hear.

That should be the type of comment coming from someone who knows you and wants you to be the best writer you can become. And sometimes that comment can be followed by pointing them to someone who offers coaching and editor-work.

My brand of help involves working with your story’s structure and concentrating on content edits. Showing you the craft of writing elements within sentence and paragraph work.

Not so much with the things a novice can do on their own: punctuation or line edits to fix small things.  My clients work jsut (< see what I did there?) as diligently as I do on bettering their writing.

So if you read this blog regularly (and it seems folks from over 50 countries keep coming back: Hello, Mongolia!) and if you know of a new writer who can use some help with their stories, novels, or memoirs, let them know I coach and edit. Point them to the posts here.

Or even better, give them a Gift of Coaching.

Make it a birthday, or Valentine’s day, or Because-I-Believe-In-You gift of an hour or two of working with someone who wants to help.

Why send writers to see me? Why see me yourself?

Because my main goal for students is facilitating their own innate skills; bridging that space between what’s in their mind and heart, and what is on their page.

I have the ability to ‘midwife’ images and intuitions. And my empathy and intuitive feelings of unity form the cornerstone of my Bridge to Story coaching program.

If you want to get mushy, you can even say that my subtle gifts of heart and imagination allow me to easily enter into the inner world of others (others have, thanks Liz Greene!).

Steampunk, fan fiction, memoir, mainstream, chick lit or Bronies, I’m there with you.

As you surf and explore online you may find that some writing coaches charge what seem like high rates for a novice. My goal is never to charge what I think I can get from my writers.  Rather, I do this for you; and ask the least that I can get away with.

Risk learning. See the contact info on the side bar and spread the word to those writers you love.


One of the NaNo participants and I worked on critiquing an excerpt of hers. She had a good start, a good story and a nice voice in telling it. So my only feedback had to do with “telling”, where she could be “showing” in her excerpt.

Once she had my feedback many follow-up questions came up.

She wrote:

Phew. I’ve never had anything critiqued before and I had no idea what to expect. Your positive comments really make me feel better about my ability as a writer, so thank you for that. I do have some questions, though. I hope I don’t come off as being stubborn or defensive. It’s not my intention.

In the first paragraph, I’m not sure why the things you mentioned need work. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding, but you seem to be saying that I shouldn’t have the descriptions in there. I thought that describing was important.

So we went back and forth several times, until finally. I showed her what I meant with a physical edit of her original version.

We started with her work- I gave the feedback right in the body of her work:

Before: with a bit too much info-dumping of the bits of story you want to get across to the reader. Look at the bits I call out in the feedback.

“I’m sorry, stepmother. I couldn’t sleep, so I came here to read, but I must have been more tired than I thought.” Genevieve said. <<Good work here, clean and storytelling in how you put this.
“Well, a volume of our victories is certainly one way to cure insomnia.” Lydia smiled at her stepdaughter sympathetically.

“It’s actually very interesting. Telling this for the reader>> [It tells of how our kingdom was born and the seven champions  who founded it all those centuries ago.”] Genevieve said, perking up and forgetting her bad dream. “I only wish I could find out more about who they were and what they did before founding this country. Especially the grand lady who became the first queen More telling things to the reader here>>[of  Catranonia alongside Rudolphus, the first king.] He loved her so much, he even named the Shire after her–”

Lydia put up a hand to stop Genevieve and laughed lightly.

“Yes, I know. I had to learn all of these things before your father would marry me, after all.”

“Oh, of course.” Genevieve looked away sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”

After: where the info is not lost, but now it’s incorporated into the storytelling, so it feels less reader-feeder-ish.

“I’m sorry, stepmother. I couldn’t sleep, so I came here to read,” Genevieve said, “but I must have been more tired than I thought.”

Queen Lydia smiled at her stepdaughter sympathetically, as Genevieve rushed on,
“It’s actually very interesting, how our kingdom was born.” She said, perking up and forgetting her bad dream. “I only wish I could find out who they were all those centuries ago, the seven champions. What they did before founding this country. Especially Catranonia, the grand lady, becoming the first queen alongside king Rudolphus… He loved her so much, even naming the Shire afte–”

Lydia put up a hand to stop Genevieve and laughed lightly. “Yes, I know. I had to learn all these things before your father would marry me, after all.”

“Oh, of course.” Genevieve looked away sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”


These of course are the smallest of changes. And a majority of the original text was retained. Editing doesn’t have to mean re-writing a scene from scratch when you get feedback saying you work has too much info dumping, and not enough storytelling.

The novice I worked with wrote this once she saw the two versions side by side:

Ok, now that I’ve read your edited version, I do think I understand what you meant. Instead of separating the majority of description and such into its own clumps, I should be including it with the actions & as dialogue. Also, it should be more spread out through the scene instead of just  together in one place. I guess that’s what they call an “info dump”? I thought you were telling me to get rid of it all, but I thought I must be misunderstanding because that didn’t make sense.

The things I showed her with my feedback, calling out narration and description and such in the story, were the mixing of telling with showing in the story first.
The really good stories show us the story with less telling.
Which is why I was able to call those bits out to her attention. Because they came across as telling, and not mixed into in scene writing, and she really did have a good story going here.

How about your work. After reading these two examples of before and after clean-ups, can you see ways to bring your story’s information bits into its narration & dialogue?

So many novices offer critiques to other novices about form and style. And often they both miss the fact that fiction isn’t, and shouldn’t be gone about as, essay writing.

They are two different animals.

I read a long time ago that what’s going on while characters say things is just as good writing as using a tag to tell the reader how something was said.

Here’s an example of what I mean. This excerpt below shows a school counselor taking to a girl who’s had a bit of a meltdown in welding class.

Read the rest of this entry »