We’re Almost There….

October 25, 2013

HELP quoteMy New Author’s site is nearly up and running, I figure another week or two and things will be ready. Until then, let me set the way-back machine to an old post you might enjoy, titled: ‘Let Your Story Tell the Reader About It◄ Click to read

For some of you recent followers, it may be brand new. Either way, feel free to re-blog it or post a comment. Happy Writing everyone.

And remember, there’s a new book out:

Gotta e-reader? pick up “Tell Me (How to Write) A Story” Good, Basic Advice for Novices Ready To Write. By EJ Runyon
US: http://tinyurl.com/kkcfsjz
UK: http://tinyurl.com/kjon5ub
CA: http://tinyurl.com/klq7ls9
IN: http://tinyurl.com/lv8wnwh



I advise my coaching clients to read often and widely. I offer them novel titles and examples from novels when I want to broaden what I’ve taught them. Because if a writer has moved you with their way of setting words on the page, then that is an author to study.

If a coaching client is trying a scene with an element of narration told in summary, or of horror shown in common objects, or of emotional upheavals, extensive fighting action, dialogue where no one is saying what they really mean, or any other bit of  writing done well, I turn to novels for examples of how that can be done.

They are a novice’s best textbook.

Even novices who are attempting genre work can use an extensive reading-base to learn better writing. Moving your reading lists to outside your own genre is a smart move. So don’t stick to what you write. Go wider and deeper, use what you read as a textbook for what you want to try, or want to try avoiding in your writing.

I even show some clients the ‘Click to Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, to show them the opening pages of some self-published novels that I feel have just missed the mark of what their author may have intended. Because there are also things to learn from work that is not as stellar as its author could have it. And unfortunately, more and more Indy publications seem to fit that description in our rush to self-publish.


Want one-on-one coaching or story edits in this and other craft elements?

See the side panel for my contact info.

Make you writing all it can be before you send it off for self-publishing.


If you like the way something is written, then take notes about what you liked. These can serve as prompts to your own writing.


Let’s say your note from your reading says:

Look how this author stopped the scene on a flat phrase. There’s no reply, but I can tell what would have been next.

Then the next scene comes in on them in action.

You can use that note to build two scenes of your own, one that will end on a flat phrase, and one that will start in the middle of the action that follows.

Your story notes have just gotten a bit more precise. You have a plan now, and an example of what that plan looks like in action, there on the page. It’s almost like the textbook novels you read and take notes from are training wheels that help you get rolling with your own story.

Try it. Stop writing accidentally. Read something from an author you admire to learn how to better your writing. Open all those Look Inside views of books that are self published, take notes on what works for you. And what you see that doesn’t, that might be done better. Use that info to make your own writing stronger and cleaner.

Let’s hear from you in the comments.

During the NaNoWriMo months of April, July and November this year I’ll get a lot of emails, Skype messages, and blog posts from novice NaNo-ing writers I follow, saying,

“Today’s word count is…!!”

Some of them are starting at zero. Some are rebelling and adding on to earlier works in progress.  Everyone has a goal. Some magic number they’re aiming for.

Size is secondaryOne wrote to me of their WIP from last year, “Turning this into a novella means adding at least 15,000 more words to it.”

And I asked, “Don’t you mean, turning this into a novella means rounding out the Female MC’s overall arc and her main problem/desire?”

Because even during NaNo months, word count, if you’re not a genuine beginner, is secondary to a solidly realized storyline.

Read the rest of this entry »

First off, here’s the link for the Call for Excerpts Submissions. I’m looking for novices’ excerpts (200 words)  from your WIP for my next book, Revision for Beginners.

Now then, Today I’m talking about how hard it is to make characters life-like and less-writerly in your manuscript. If I could give every novice this writing advice, I’d be in heaven. Read the rest of this entry »


Building better characters


Karlie asked about characterization.

I also read a good post about this subject of Character  on the Blog ‘The Living Notebook’

Here is my take on this element of writing:

Read the rest of this entry »

For your reading, editing & coaching pleasure:  Sign up for Coaching or Edits ::  All About EJ   :: Oldie but Goodie Posts


Karlie asked: I would like to hear more about writing in scene, and getting into character.

Let’s look at a excerpt and then at ways to move it into scene.

iliketowrite77, a fellow NaNoWriMo writer, lent me this excerpt:


Her heart pounded as she raced through the streets, three palace guards on her heels. She threw her head back and laughed, the wind whipping through her hair. This was her favorite part – the chase. She sped through the alley and hid in a small alcove as she waited for the guards to catch up. The king had sent less agile men this time. Fool. Hadn’t he figured out by now what she had taken? She drew the sword and looked it over – Freshly polished. Perfectly balanced. It was a masterpiece. And enchanted, nonetheless. She could see why the king would want it for his plan. To take someone out with this beauty would only take one well-placed jab.

Focus, Red. The guards are coming, she chided herself.

“Through here!” one whispered. Apparently they were attempting to sneak up on her. She almost snorted with the thought.

Hide, or fight? she questioned. One of the guards tripped and fell, and the sound sliced through the silence of the night. He lay sprawled across the cobbles. She laughed to herself. Fight, she decided, and her mouth twisted into a cold smile.


My advice was to first look at the sentence structure, thinking of edits to make this chase scene even more exciting. I told this writer to look at the words she used to begin the lines.

I told her, “You can see when you line them up like this what your go-to type of sentence is. If some of them were edited to start differently, we might see things more ‘in scene’, rather than via narration.” Pronoun (Her, She, It) followed by noun or verb account for 9 line openers. A majority of her lines use mostly telling words, rather than showing ones:

(it took her a while to slip ‘into scene’, I think it happened at ‘Focus’)

Her heart. She threw. This was.

She sped. The king had. Fool.

 Hadn’t he. She drew. Perfectly balanced.

 It was. And enchanted. She could see. To take.

Focus, Red. The guards. “Through here”.

Apparently they. She almost. Hide, or fight.

One of the. He lay. She laughed. Fight, she decided.

Look at her first three openings for her lines above; they are telling the reader something. showing happend when we just see it rather than get told about it.  Of the 23 lines, 9 seem to be written in scene, rather than in narration (telling).

So take a look at any three of her ‘telling lines’ and you try an edit for scene rather than narrative. If you have your own excerpt to work with. Take it and first, highlight the ‘telling‘ lines, then figure out ways of saying it in the present tense of ‘in scene‘ writing.

Another way to try bringing thing right into scene, instead of telling us these story-facts in narration is just a shuffling of lines without even editing for structure. The only line that seems a candidate to leave out, or edit, is the one about her beating heart- (without a beating heart she’s not running anywhere). Adding in a how or why a heart is beating is a solution, if you can give that info to the reader in a non-telling way.

Consider this shuffling of the excerpt. You’ll notice that little of it was cut:

Focus, Red. The guards are coming, she chided herself.

“Through here!” one whispered. Apparently they’d sent three palace guards to sneak up on her. She almost snorted with the thought.  Head back and laughing, the wind whipping through her hair, she raced through the streets. This was her favorite part – the chase. She sped through an alley, then hid in a small alcove, waiting for them to catch up.

The king had sent less agile men this time. Hadn’t he figured out by now what she had taken? Her heart pounding fast from the race through the streets, guards on her heels, she drew the sword, looking it over. Freshly polished. Perfectly balanced. It was a masterpiece. Enchanted.

She could see why the king would want it for his plan. Fool. To take someone out with this beauty would only take one well-placed jab. Hide, or fight? she questioned. One of the guards tripped and fell,  sprawling across the cobbles. The sound sliced through the silence of the night. She laughed to herself.

Fight, she decided, and her mouth twisted into a cold smile.

Three other things to remember (or try for if they are new to you).

  1. Remove as much –ed word endings from narration as you can once you’ve slipped into scene
  2. Scenes have realistic dialogue, not exposition in the guise of characters speaking to each other.
  3. Setting within scene should be there to serve the scene, not to describe place.

Also remember that in tense situations, or when a character’s under duress, a short line is better than a longer one for heightening the tone of the scene.

Next week:


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?

Want to reach me for 1-on-1 coaching or edits to your manuscript? See my contact info to the right >>

Here’s the big secret:  It’s about writing in scene, and not telling the reader things so that they know what your story is going to be about.

That’s all there is to it.

But saying that means nothing unless you see what I mean: much like your story – it needs to seen, not told to your reader.

Some novices write their first drafts and feel pretty good about them, and then some feedback comes in suggesting they tightening the writing. And  so the novice asks questions, and rightfully, about what they thought was stuff put in for all the right reasons: to inform the reader. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Before we begin today’s post:

There are still a few opening left for this Post-NaNo offer for coaching and edit work.

So contact me for your January 2013 re-writing help.


Now, about writing in a newer way to know your characters better.

Novices are encouraged to build Character Templates to get to know their characters better.These tools help novices get a grip on the facts about who they are writing about.

They help a lot, but they aren’t the end-all of knowing your character, because lot of times when you are working with a character template, you’re basically looking at the story-facts about them.

(thanks www.epiguide.com/ep101/writing/charchart.html

Nickname, if any
(if so, explain its origin – e.g. who created it?):
Does s/he like the nickname?
Birth date:
Place of birth:
Ethnic background:
Degree of religious practice
(e.g. orthodox, casual, lapsed):
Current address:
Does s/he rent or own?
Brief description of home
(apartment, house, trailer, etc.):

While this type of knowledge about your character might help you know who they are. Can it help you see them in action? Does it help you to see them in scenes that tell a story?

Do you think that after beginning with templates there’s more to figure out?

Consider this new way of knowing your characters to take you deeper into their lives. I made this up a long time ago, it’s cool Because no 2 lists are ever the same.

It works like this:

Some of the best writing uses the character, with her actions and her reactions, her motivations, and her emotions to tell a tale.  Unless the story-facts on a Character template are an integral part of the story, where can these story-facts take us, your reader? How do they story-facts about character become the scenes you are building?

All those template answers can be used but as ‘story-facts’, but they’re not always what gets the story going.

So, once you finish with character templates, consider building yourself a Question template: questions about your character’s “what-ifs?”– the things that are going to get you from one scene to the next. The things that will brng something concrete to your story telling

Here’s some samples “What if?” questions to get your scenes going:
1. What if this character who never cries is suddenly faced with a situation where tears come, What will she do?
2. What if this character knows she’s been awful but can’t stop herself, how would she feel about not stopping, knowing she’s wrong?
3. What if this character loves somebody – how can she show it never using words?
4. What if this character has stood up for herself, but because of it all hell’s broken loose– How would she now react to this new dire situation?

You can create as many of these as you can figure out.
You can also build them for writing buddy and each of you share each others’ list so that you’re not writing from your own “what-ifs?”.

So, What actions or reactions would your characters have to these situations:

Someone refused to make any more eye-contact.

A female giggles high, the way some ladies’ do.

While walking on a city street, the new smell wafts up from an open car window.

A dog trots up and sniffs at a character’s leg.

A waiter drops a coffee pot or tray.

The smell of chili cheese fries invades a space.

The radio/TV suddenly dies, and the room is silent.

Where do you think this kind of character template will take your story?
Hope these helps someone, somewhere.