Category Archives: ebook

How Writing Routines Enhance Your Writing

In this post, we explore how writing routines enhance your writing.

This past week, on two separate occasions, I was asked about daily writing habits and writing routines and meeting deadlines. There is a lot of advice out there. The lists of what you should and shouldn’t do are long and often contradictory. Here’s what works for me.

How Writing Routines Enhance Your Writing

Should You Write Every Day?

We’re always told that we should write daily, and this is great advice, but what happens when daily writing becomes a chore? We know that routine trumps talent, but must we really write EVERY day? How will we find the time? How can we find the joy again?

Writing Routines

Instead of writing daily we can rather focus on writing regularly.

The word ‘routine’ does not specify how often you must write. Google says routine is ‘a sequence of actions regularly followed’. That is all you need to do. If daily writing is not working for you right now, or never did, make an appointment with yourself whether it is once a week or three times a week, but regularly is the most important word. (Once a month though, may not be enough. You need to write as much as possible, but every day isn’t compulsory.)

The first challenge is, of course, to find the time. We literally need to make it or find it. Shorter, more regular appointments may help. Finding three hours to write is a challenge but finding ten minutes is do-able. I find starting my day with a writing session or ending my day with it is easier, but if lunchtime is the only time you have, go for it.

What To Write?

The second challenge you’ll face is what to write. If you are in the middle of a novel, well, you’ll write the novel, but what if you are not?

Consider journaling or writing to a prompt or both. This will also work if your novel has stalled.

Writing is an excellent cure for not writing, but that is easier said than done. Doing mundane chores have been known to get the ideas stared, but prompts are always a win for me. The journaling is often good for the warm-up, then you can try a prompt and hopefully you can end with a few pages of your novel.

It depends on the time you have. If you only get 500 words in ten minutes between meetings that is awesome and more than enough.

TIP: Don’t google prompts. Buy a prompt book, or have a list printed out for emergencies, or sign up for the daily writing prompt. Google will gobble up your writing time.

Mindset Change

It is important not to wait for inspiration to write. The inspiration arrives while you are writing the uninspired stuff. Put pen to paper. I don’t want you to force it, but keep writing. The prompts will help.

I was on a coaching call the other day and the coach spoke about valuing your time and spending it on the things you love. That made me think about my writing. I know, above all, that it is what I want to do, but why do I moan about it?

So anyway, during the call he suggested changing your phrasing: Instead of saying ‘I have to…’, rather say, ‘I get to…’. (You can read more about it here.) It is such a small change, but it sure made a difference. Writing is a gift and I get to do it.


Another trick I use to shut up my inner critic is to publicly declare my intentions, goals and deadlines. It works for me to know ‘someone’ knows what I should be doing and is waiting for my work. It really helps.

The Last Word

I hope this post on how writing routines enhance your writing helps you with yours.

It was Dorothy Parker who said, ‘I hate writing, but I love having written.’ Forgive yourself if you don’t find joy in every day and on every page, but be grateful that you get to write a story, after all, it could have been an annual report. (If you do have to write annual reports, remind yourself that you get to write something fun afterwards. Hehe.)

Mia Botha by Mia Botha


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How to Get Writing Ideas: 9 Guaranteed Ways to Inspire Your Next Book

You’ve finally carved out a spare moment to write. You open up a blank page, and set your fingers on the keys. But then nothing comes. You need a strategy for how to get ideas for writing—now!

You check Facebook thinking you might find something to inspire you there. No luck.

You wonder if your muse is hiding under the stack of dirty dishes, so you clean every bit of grime you can find but still come up empty.

You’re at a loss for story ideas, and your creative writing time is dwindling quickly. In this post, we’ll explore some ways to help you come up with writing ideas that can inspire a premise for a great story.

How to Get Writing Ideas: 9 Guaranteed Ways to Inspire You

Whether or not you’re looking for your an idea for your first book or you’re feeling stumped after finishing your latest (published) story, you shouldn’t wait around for the muse to bless you with a brilliant book idea.

Instead, rely on yourself—trust your own imagination and passions.

To help you find inspiration instead of wait around for it, try one of these nine guaranteed ways to help you brainstorm a solid book premise: “ Coming up with story ideas doesn’t have to be a struggle! Learn how to come up with great book ideas in this post. Tweet thisTweet

1. Look Around

As we head into the holiday season, it’s likely we’re all going to be traveling at some point or another. Instead of pacing back and forth across the airport or diving right into that bestseller, take a moment to notice the people around you. They may be the protagonist and antagonist of your bestseller.

See that Mom and Dad with their toddler in the stroller? What’s their story? Who are they going to see?

See the salesman running through the terminal? Who’s he in a rush to get home to?

If you’re traveling by car, look at the family in the minivan next to you. How did they decide to watch that movie? How much stuff is in their trunk, and who’s going to call for a potty break first?

Sometimes the best way to overcome writer’s block is taking a moment to watch your surroundings. And when you’re looking, don’t forget to listen to conversations that are happening around you, too.

Sometimes the best stories come out of a regular conversation or question that you never expected.

Good writers look at real people and life experiences for story ideas—and you might be surprised how many you find when you look up!

2. Pay Attention

Author Ron Rash said his New York Times bestselling novel Serena began with the image a confident, tall, strong woman on a large white horse. He saw details of the scenery, the horse, and woman but didn’t know that meant. He just knew he couldn’t shake the image from his mind, so he wrote about it.

That woman became the main character of her own movie.

Similar to the first point, “look around,” you can pluck an interesting story idea  out of everyday events.

Sometimes you can be inspired by something posted on social media or one of your favorite books. Maybe you have a few favorite podcasts that talk about something other than writing, and this is where you pick up your next great story idea.

Pay attention to the world around you—and how you digest life, news, and current events. “ Pay attention to the world around you. Sometimes the best book ideas are right in front of your eyes! Tweet thisTweet

If there’s a topic that strikes your interest and motivates a call to action, stop for a second and think about it. Journaling about ideas that inspire you is a great starting point for you to come up with story ideas that might withstand the length or a novel—and if not, maybe it’s something that could work well for a short story.

While idea generators and creative writing prompts are great, you don’t need a list of collected ideas to spark your imagination.

Sometimes, you just need to pay attention to what already catches your attention. Taking the time to focus on something other than writing is actually an important part of the writing process.

3. Day Dream

Close your eyes for a minute. What do you see?


Brainstorming good story ideas, especially for fiction writing, requires precious time set aside for your imagination.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to leave your bed to get inspired for a book idea.

If day dreaming is how you like to come up with story ideas, maybe one of these meditative strategies will nourish your imagination:

  • Meditate for fifteen minutes. You can find lots of great resources on YouTube.
  • Wake up and participate in some morning yoga.
  • Go for a short walk.
  • When you wake up, keep your eyes closed for an extra ten minutes and listen to the world around you. What comes to mind?
  • Try this grounding technique. Acknowledge (1) Five thing you see, (2) Four things you can touch, (3) Three things you can hear, (4) Two things you can smell, and (5) One thing you can taste.

4. Change the Scenery

Look back at the little boy in the picture under “Day Dream.” He could be practicing piano in his living room. He could be practicing in a concert hall. But instead he’s outside.

Maybe his fingers work better there. I don’t know.

Maybe your fingers work better in a coffee shop. Or they prefer the library. The river. A floor.

Try sitting someplace different or in a different position and see what happens.

Sometimes all we need for new motivation is a change of scenery. However, no matter where you end up writing, I don’t recommend depending on a change of scenery for inspiration.

Before you change up your writing space, head into your writing session with a plan. This will help you focus, but also feel rejuvenated by something different when you actually write.

To learn more about planning your novel, read this post.

5. Play What If

What if the referee didn’t show up to the basketball game because he’s been murdered? What if the airplane lands in a different destination than expected?

What if the turkey burns the house down?

A game of “What if?” is one of the best ways to come up with story ideas that you never expected. Just when you think you’ve figured out the best direction for your story, questioning “What if?” actually takes your story where it needs to go.

Want a writing tip when you play try this strategy?

Don’t hold back! You have a much better chance at coming up with fantastic story possibilities if you don’t judge your ideas before writing them down.

To do this, I recommend setting a timer for 10-15 minutes and writing down a list of as many “what if” possibilities for your work-in-progress as possible. Don’t stop to think, just write!

When you’re done, you can eliminate all the ideas that don’t work. But you’re way more likely to find an idea that does work if you have a large list to consider. “ Asking “What if?” is a staple way to come up with your next great story idea. Use this strategy, or any of these nine ways to come up with a book idea, when you’re feeling stumped. Tweet thisTweet

6. Read

Allowing inspiration to come from books or movies isn’t plagiarism. Watch or read the scene then hit “pause” and let your own creativity take over rather than following the established plot-line. Think about how you would have crafted the storyline differently, and then run with it.

In fact, there are no original ideas in storytelling. The best ideas are ones that are simple, but have an edge to them.

And when you come up with a new angle to an idea that’s already been done, you know there’s an audience looking to watch or read it.

Ever heard of comparable titles? You want these when you pitch to a literary agent or editor.

You also want to be able to say why your story is the same as THIS TITLE, but different.

Try this:

  • Go find five of your favorite stories in the genre you’re writing
  • Write a premise for each of these books
  • Change the big hook that makes them this story and replace it with your own edge—something that shows irony in the story

For instance: 

A timid clownfish needs to swim across the Pacific Ocean in order to rescue his son. (Finding Nemo)

Could be…

A [change the description and animal, make it ironic] needs to [something different, a new setting] in order to rescue her daughter.

7. Use Your Own Life

If your family’s like mine, you’ve got some interesting characters. You’ve got some crazy stories of your own.

You’ve got some moments of “Is this really happening?”

You can’t make up those things.

Borrow some moments from real life and turn them into a premise that could drive a whole book (just change enough details to protect the guilty).

And don’t forget, every main character in a book needs a want—a goal. Give your protagonist this goal, and establish the stakes they are willing to get in order to get it.

8. Revisit Your Favorite Characters

Maybe they’re your own or maybe they’re someone else’s, but we’ve all got favorite characters. Put them together in a box and see what happens. Trust them to come up with a clever story all on their own.

You just get to be their scribe.

9. Start Writing

With your fingers on the keys, just start moving them. Sometimes words will come out and sometimes they won’t. Eventually something worth saving will appear. It just might take awhile.

Whatever you do just don’t keep staring at that blinking cursor. It’s a demon who whispers lies.

How to Get Ideas for Writing? Don’t Hold Your Back!

Story ideas exist everywhere. However, choosing the best idea for your book—one that inspires you to write to the end—means finding an idea and main character that you love.

Using the nine ways to find story ideas in this post is a great strategy to have when looking for your next great book idea.

At the same time, it’s important not to judge your ideas before you give them a chance.

Who knows? The next bestseller could be caked in an idea you initially thought was ridiculous until you asked, “What if?” Or maybe your own story dramatized with an event you read about  on a blog is your next great hit.

Coming up with ideas doesn’t have to be the rocky mountain generating ideas sometimes feels like.

So don’t hold back. Try out one or all of the nine strategies covered in this post. Finalize an idea that you loved, and maybe even take it to the next stage of writing by planning it out—test if it’s something that will move and inspire you until the end.

Stop worrying about the best idea. Write the idea that makes you motivated to write.

How do you find ideas when the well seems to run dry? Let us know in the comments.

By Katie Axelson


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Describing a Character’s Emotions: Problems and Solutions

Characters are the heart of a story, but what really draws readers in is their emotions. Only…showing them isn’t always easy, is it?

Like us in the real world, characters will struggle. Life is never all cherries and diamonds; in fact, it’s our writerly job to make sure reality fish-slaps our characters with painful life lessons! Big or small, these psychologically difficult moments will cause them to retreat and protect themselves emotionally, believing if they do so, it will prevent them from feeling exposed and hurt in the future.

And while we know “shielding” behavior is psychologically sound (we do it, too) and it means our characters will try to hide it when they feel vulnerable, this causes a real problem at the keyboard end of things. Why? Because no matter how hard a character is trying to hide or hold back their emotions, we writers must still show them. For readers to connect, they have to be part of that emotional experience.

(Reason #63027 why writing is HARD, right?)

A wounding event also causes emotional sensitivities to form, meaning your character may overreact when certain feelings draw near. A man who was mugged may verbally lash out at a stranger who touches his arm to ask for directions. A teenager may be unable to answer an easy question in class after forgetting the words to a song during her school’s talent show.

Not only can our characters be easily be triggered and give into their flight, flight, and freeze instincts, they may also project feelings onto others, deny them, become self-destructive, act out, or a host of other things…all of which we will need to show in a way that fits the character’s personality, comfort zone, and circumstances. It’s a tall order.

Three Tips to Show Emotion Well…Hidden or Not

  1. Know your character. So crucial. It’s the key to everything, so when you have a second, read this post to find out why. (No point reinventing the wheel.)
  2. Understand the character’s emotional range. Their “baseline” comfort zone & preferences are tied to their personality and will guide you to emotional expressiveness that will align with who they are, meaning what they do, say, and experience will ring true to readers.
  3. To avoid telling, think about the many unique ways emotion can be expressed. Writers can sometimes rely too much on expressions or gestures, so think past that steely glare or stomping foot. These tip sheets are gold:

Click here to download these tip sheets (and many more!)

Another challenge when it comes to showing readers what our characters feel is that emotions rarely show up alone. Most situations or events generate a mix of feelings, some of which may conflict with one another. For example, a character may feel…

  • Anxiety over what comes next while feeling relieved at being spared a worse fate
  • Happiness at an outcome yet being worried about what loved ones will say
  • Elation at winning but beneath it, insecurity over whether it was truly deserved
  • Gratitude at surviving along with the crushing guilt that comes with doing so when others were not so lucky

I think we can all think of moments like these. A surge of emotion hits, and we laugh through our tears, collapse in jubilation, or even attack a loved one for delivering news that nearly destroys us. While it takes a greater effort to show multiple and/or conflicting emotions, experiencing more than one thing at once is true-to-life, and so can make these story moments more genuine and gripping.

Three Tips for Showing Multiple or Conflicting Emotions

  1. With multiple emotions, show them in order. For example, if a sibling were to jump out and scare the protagonist as she’s heading down the hall toward her room, she’ll feel fear, then relief, then mock-anger. If you showed this, it might go like this: jumping back with a shriek, sagging against the wall, and then charging her sibling and shoving him to the ground.
  2. If you need to, slow things down a touch. Focus description on what is causing the character to feel a specific emotion (stimulus), and then show what they do because of it (reaction). This helps readers see an event, person, situation, etc. is affecting a character and directing their behavior, action, and choices.
  3. If the emotions are complicated or in conflict, you can also use a carefully placed thought (if it’s a POV character) or dialogue (if not). The important thing is to show the context of what’s happening. This doesn’t mean to fall into the trap of telling, rather to use realistic thoughts, questions, or comments that indicate something is influencing your character’s emotions (and therefore explains their actions).

Showing compelling emotion can be challenging, but thankfully there are many, many terrific ways to do it well. With effort, using a mix of expressions, behaviors, dialogue, thoughts, visceral sensations, vocal cues (and more!) will convey our character’s personal moments authentically, drawing readers in.



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How to Overcome the Fear Every Writer Has of Repeating Themselves

written by Bryan Hutchinson

Every writer fears the dreaded complaints about being too repetitive.

“I thought the book was great, but the author tended to repeat herself.” – “Fantastic information, but too much repetition!” – “The author is a moron, kept repeating the same lesson over and over―I got it the first time. WTF!”

In non-fiction, which this post focuses on, and in some fiction, there is a tension between repeating something too much or too little, and as writers, we must master this skill if we are to use it in the powerful, necessary way intended.

If readers do not learn from your book or article it might not be that you didn’t teach your point well enough the first time. No, the real problem could be that you didn’t teach your point enough.

Repetition is vital in the learning process because that’s the way the human brain learns and stores memories.

Repetition is a necessity

Let me say it again, repetition is a necessity.

In our fast-paced world, we are so busy that we can’t stand repetition, we simply don’t have the time for it (we say), and yet we wonder why so many talents and skills are being lost.

It’s because people don’t want to be bothered to take the time to learn something the right way. They can’t be bothered to take the necessary amount of time needed to master their talents. Welcome to the 21st century where everything is supposed to be instant. It’s just too bad the human brain hasn’t caught up.

Without repetition, there can be no mastery

Often, when people complain about repetition it is because they believe they “got it” the first time.

The brain simply isn’t a one and done machine. When we treat it like it is we forget lessons, we fail tests, and we never truly master any skills.

Imagine your favorite song without its chorus.

Now you know the reason why one-night-stands are so regrettable, unless it was with the entirely wrong person it’s because we want to repeat such a fantastic experience.

See, repetition isn’t always so horrible.

Okay, let’s refocus.

If you want the information you are sharing to stick, you must learn how to repeat yourself, hopefully without annoying your readers too much. Repetition, therefore, is also an art, which we must practice. You must master the art of rephrasing, hiding, and being boldly deliberate when there are no other options. Because otherwise, repetition can be annoying and counterproductive.

Do your readers a favor, when a point is important, repeat it; however, mix it up enough that it’s refreshing in of itself each time. Don’t get lazy by simply copying and pasting, tell a story, and show it through a different lens. I’ll give you a few examples in a moment.

It’s this fear of repeating one’s self today that has so many people failing to teach others how to become masters of their art. It goes for the students as well. We see people giving up because they’re not willing to put in the time and practice playing the same notes over and over again until their instruments, and they themselves, sing beautifully.

It’s not always about learning something new, it’s often more about learning what you already know better.

New is overrated when the student hasn’t fully embraced and mastered what she already knows.

Bruce “One-Inch Punch” Lee

Bruce Lee was remarkable not only for his skills as a fighter but also as a teacher.

Due to Bruce Lee’s intense repetitive training of one single punch thousands, perhaps millions, of times, he was able to deliver a force from one inch away that could knock an opponent off of his feet.

Some claim the punch could kill.

The punch was made so famous by Bruce Lee that today it is known simply as the One-Inch Punch. Mention the One-Inch Punch to any professional fighter and they’ll instantly know to what you’re referring to and who made it famous.

The One-Inch Punch is not possible by just any layman without intensive training, in order to master it one must attempt it thousands upon thousands of times, and even then it might not be enough. Only the truly dedicated will eventually master the famed punch.

And yet, us poor little scribblers complain when authors repeat themselves even once.

If you read any book from Bruce Lee you will soon discover how he hammers home his philosophies over and over again. His lessons have taught legions of fighters over the last half-century and are still among the most sought after books on martial arts.

So the next time you are afraid to repeat yourself because you feel you still need to bring the point home, do it. A reader might complain about it today, but years down the road when she remembers the lesson well and uses it as a master, perhaps even without realizing it, she will owe you thanks.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” ―Bruce Lee

Mix It Up

With that said, you don’t want to repeat yourself simply by copying and pasting what you already stated. What you want to do is mix it up. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  1. State it directly, as a matter of fact.
  2. Tell a story.
  3. Use personal experiences.
  4. Give readers a practice assignment.
  5. Offer a quiz to help your readers remember.
  6. State it a final time in your closing remarks.
  7. Use comedy by stating the point in a humorously unexpected way, if possible.
  8. Use osmosis by referring to another similar point or an example you previously used. Such as, I used Bruce Lee for a lesson in my book The First Draft is Not Crap and in my online course The Art of Positive Journaling.

Bestselling Authors are the Ultimate Culprits!

If you research reviews from some of the hottest non-fiction bestsellers on Amazon, you’ll find that many reviewers complain about repetition, you’ll especially find this in reviews from books by Seth Godin, Jeff Goins, and Jon Acuff, authors who happen to be some of the very best teachers of our time.

As an experiment, whenever you have a free moment, consider doing a search in the reviews from the below books for “repetitive,” or “repeats themselves,” or other variations and see how many results you get:

This is Marketing by Seth Godin (Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller.)

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins (Wall Street Journal bestseller.)

Quitter by Jon Acuff (New York Times Bestselling author of six books including a Wall Street Journal #1 Bestseller.)

Don’t be too shocked that the book with the most acclaim also has the most complaints of being too repetitive, but all of the above have negative reviews claiming the authors were too repetitive.

Here’s the thing, all of the best teachers repeat themselves, and frankly, by and large, students hate it. We’ve had to put up with this since grade school and teachers can’t seem to stop doing it and the best teachers do it the most.

Damn them for being so good.

Aristotle took the matter so seriously that he stated: “It is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency.”  Perhaps it is of no coincidence that one of his most famous sayings is:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  —Aristotle

(Translated by Will Durant from Aristotle’s texts.)

Whatever you’re great at, wherever your talent has led you, you’re here because you practiced, again and again, you repeated the methods, you repeated the exercises, you memorized them over and over again, instructors, teachers, parents, friends, whoever helped you, did so by repeating processes and instructions over and over again.

Here’s something to consider (and if you think about it, you might be one of these students), students that become true masters of their chosen art are most often the ones that come back and thank their favorite teachers for hammering home the lessons they needed to learn.

Repetition is the true kick in the ass every artist needs

An important paper on this is:

Repetition is the First Principle of Learning

University of Virginia, by ROBERT F. BRUNER


One of the biggest mistakes a teacher can make is to forego the return or repetition. The learning process is one of slow engagement with ideas; gradually the engagement builds to a critical mass when the student actually acquires the idea. Repetition matters because it can hasten and deepen the engagement process. If one cares about quality of learning, one should consciously design repetitive engagement into courses and daily teaching. To do this well is harder than it seems.

As a pool player, I used to get frustrated with one of my instructors because he would have me practice one certain routine hundreds of times and, if I’m being honest, I grew to hate that routine, but eventually, there came a time when I could shoot through the entire routine with my eyes closed.

Without realizing it my shots became fluid and reflexive, I didn’t have to think about them anymore, I could free my mind while playing and shoot more true to my goal, and I won a lot more.

If you ever get the opportunity to watch a professional billiards trick shot player and he or she closes their eyes to make a fantastical shot, it’s because they practiced that shot hundreds of times with their eyes open and thousands of times with their eyes closed.

A Few Tips on how to use Repetition to Learn Better

  1. Learn lessons at least thrice, this includes tips, articles, and books, to name a few.
  2. Space out repetition, the brain learns better when you take pauses. In other words, don’t read a book again the day after you finish it, instead wait a month or two between readings. Give yourself enough time to absorb the information and then go over it again.
  3. Use short burst repetitions. With regard to my pool routine, it was rather short and quick so waiting a month on such a routine isn’t the same as it would be for longer curve learning. In this case, I repeated the exercise directly after finishing, I did this hundreds of times a day for several weeks, then paused a few days before repeating. Basic rule: The shorter the lessons the more frequent the repetition.
  4. Learn from different mediums, such as if you read a book about, let’s say, marketing, and it’s also available as an audiobook, first read it and then listen to it, and perhaps on the third go-around, read and listen simultaneously.
  5. This last one I like a lot, but it’s a bit controversial, listen to audiobook versions of what you want to learn while you sleep. I’ve woken up from dreams about the subject I’m listening to, so I know the brain is listening even while we sleep. How well does this help? I have absolutely no idea, but belief is a powerful thing and I believe it helps me learn skills better.

With all this said, I leave you with one more lesson from Bruce Lee, perhaps the most important:

”Obey the principles without being bound by them.”

Wax on, Wax off.


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Don’t Let Excess Baggage Bring Down Your Character’s Plane

By Marissa Graff

We’ve all heard that characters need backstory, and in particular, an emotional wound that they’re carrying around when we meet them on page one. (As an aside, if you haven’t checked out Angela and Becca’s Emotional Wound Thesaurus, you’re missing out. It identifies and explores just about every major wound a character may have from life before your novel starts.)

But what happens when that wound is murky because you haven’t written out the origin scene that gave birth to it? Or, as I see even more commonly in client manuscripts, you have more than one major emotional wound for your protagonist? Giving a character a primary emotional wound is a must. But giving them excess baggage can start to sound like a stereotypical country song. It’s not uncommon that I edit manuscripts where excess baggage is wreaking havoc on both the written story and the reader’s ability to connect with it.

Consider a character who is hiding who they truly are from their parents and they are struggling with addiction and they lost a sibling and they were the victim of a crime. This type of complexity may seem like a good idea. Who doesn’t want lots of conflict, right?

But what winds up happening in a story that starts off this way is that your reader doesn’t know where to look because bags are everywhere. And perhaps worse, there’s nowhere to go in the manuscript in terms of rising tension, rising stakes, and rising action. As a result, the reader is overwhelmed by all the problems your character already has, and they don’t have a clear idea of the misbelief the character needs to let go of by the time the climax rolls around. In the same way games oftentimes have one objective, the reader seeks a sense of the character’s internal objective in order to gauge success or failure come the end of the book. They need to know how this game, otherwise known as your story, is played.

An analogy I use often with editing clients when describing what an opening must function like is the ski jump. The emotional arc “rails” you build in scene one will set up the trajectory for the rest of the novel, long after your character has taken off. If your character has a past loaded like that country song, the ski jump won’t create a strong, clear path for either your character or your reader. Instead, the beginning will feel more like a complicated freeway interchange, and you’ll have failed to give the reader the directions that point them toward where to go.

By employing one major emotional wound at your story’s onset, you ensure that the character and the reader engage in a smooth emotional trajectory because you’ve given them directed rails. Yes, complications will be born out of the primary wound as your story plays out. For example, having someone die on your watch might lead to depression or fear of trusting one’s self, which might lead to broken relationships and decreased risk-taking. But trust yourself and your story to carry those obstacles out within your story. As the obstacles build up and things become more and more complicated, the stakes will rise, as will tension. This is the arc you want for your story as it moves along, not when it starts. If the character is carrying excess baggage when we first meet them, there are very few places for them or your story to go.

Challenge yourself to identify the one primary emotional wound your character has in the very first scene. If you have more than one wound, how might you narrow down your character’s backstory so that it creates those strong, directed ski jump rails that will keep the rest of your story on track? One option is One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder, which is great for helping you zero in on just one primary wounding event.

Consider how that wound might lead to secondary difficulties throughout the course of your novel and think about how you might plot those as complications. Above all, give yourself the clarity in knowing the emotional need your character has that your story sets out to fulfill.


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How to Create Your Writing Style

Written by Joel Randall

50 years from now, how do you want to be known as a writer?

Each great author has a unique way of getting their stories across, a method for which they are known and loved. Edgar Allan Poe used a lot of description. Ernest Hemingway used many short sentences. William Shakespeare used strange, rhythmic diction. You can have a distinct professional reputation, too – you just have to create your writing style! 

The style you create is a compilation of who you are as a writer, and only you can determine how it reads for your audience. Others will look back at your work and appreciate the specific way your writing speaks for itself.

Not sure what your style is yet? Don’t worry; it takes time and practice to discover it, but that’s just all part of the fun!

The two best things you can do to discover your style are reading and writing.


As you read, you are constantly absorbing the techniques of the greats, which can point you in the right direction toward discovering your own. Here are some tips to finding your writing style as you read:

  • Pay attention to the catchy sentences that get your attention and make you want to read more. Is there a certain style the author utilizes to make reading an enjoyable adventure? How can you make a sentence like that one in your own work? You may not be fond of using big words, for example, but if you read a sentence packed with huge words, and that happens to add a comical effect, you may want to try expanding your vocabulary in the future.
  • Notice the sentence styles you dislike. Have you ever read a story that seemed like a complete waste of your time? Determine why that was. Maybe it used too many words to describe one thing. Maybe its dialogue wasn’t engaging enough. Make notes on what writing styles and techniques you find ineffective or boring so you can avoid them in your own writing.
  • Keep a notepad handy while you read, so you can note the methods that do and don’t work when forming a story. Jot down anything from punchy sentences you love, to interesting diction you want to try out in your own tales.

Your specific writing signature will differ from anyone else’s, no matter how much you mirror past writers. Whatever your writing ends up looking like, it is yours, and only you can determine what best shapes it moving forward. Explore the styles of other authors to determine what you want your writing to become – or what you definitely want to avoid – but don’t be afraid to add your own special twist to set yourself apart from the rest.


Time to start crafting your words into a masterpiece! Take note of the way you write, and what your finished product says about you as an author. Here are some tips to finding your writing style through practice:

  • Get into a comfortable environment that allows you to express your ideas well. Personally, I have found listening to music helps motivate me to write, and relaxing jazz is especially effective when I need to clear my thoughts and structure my words. Whether you write better sitting under a tree with a notepad, or in bed with a neck warmer, do whatever helps you get those creative juices flowing and your pen moving across the paper.
  • Write what you like, so it isn’t a chore. If you enjoy science fiction, then writing about an astronaut that crash-lands on Jupiter is probably going to keep you excited and engaged as you work. Creating a story you’re passionate about makes it much easier to keep writing, and less likely to lose steam.  
  • Keep a journal to help you find your voice. You can start with simple things such as writing how your day went. A diary is an effective way to get your ideas onto paper, and you can analyze the finished entries to help you find your strengths as a writer.
  • Try out random, out-of-context sentences. For example, “As I looked at my exam results, I knew it was going to be a long day.” They don’t have to make sense or go anywhere other than in your notebook, but they help you experiment with putting words together and making them sound great. You might even get some workable story ideas out of it!
  • Experiment with new things. All writers have niche genres, and whether you’ve found yours or not, you can always go dabble in more. Try your hand at poetry, a mystery, or whatever else you think you might enjoy. You may even discover you’ve got a hidden talent for sketch comedy writing that you never even knew you had.

Writing is more than putting words together; it’s about crafting the perfect sentences to form a masterpiece.

6 Sentence Structures to Try in Your Writing

Creating an outstanding writing style starts with outstanding sentences. Among the many literary devices you can apply, here are six effective sentence structures you can use to refine your writing. 

1. Long and Short Sentence Variation: Both long and short sentences have a purpose in your writing. Long sentences create rich detail, while short sentences get right to the point. By using both types of sentences in your work, you create an interesting, varied piece that readers can’t pull away from.

  • Example: “As the ink bled into my parchment, I savored the joy of writing and created the last sentence, finally finishing my novel. It was a great last sentence.”
  • Analysis: The first sentence adds depth and describes the excitement of writing, something the reader can feel. The second sentence is like a punchline that ends the story nicely without having to say too much. A short closing sentence is something impactful that a reader will remember.

2. Items in a Series: Organizing ideas in a series with punctuation offers a detailed sentence that isn’t too wordy.

  • Example: “Becoming a writer is not easy; it takes immense creativity, constant perseverance, and hard work.”
  • Analysis: The use of commas and the semicolon gives the ideas room to breathe while still crafting an informative sentence.

3. Varying Effects: If you want to show the powerful applications of something, this structure lays out a large scale of results, from just sort of interesting to fascinating.

  • Example: “From drafting an essay to creating a best-selling book, the applications for writing are all around us.”
  • Analysis: Instead of explaining all the things that writing can do, this sentence only demonstrates a couple of specific examples. This leaves the rest up to imagination, yet demonstrates how many possibilities there are under one subject’s overarching umbrella.

4. Parallelism: This technique involves using a similar construction in multiple sentences, or similar sentence parts. For example, repeating words or phrases with minor differences. 

  • Example: “Writing enhances your brain. Writing creates new dimensions. Writing turns the raw material of the world into a symphony. It all starts with writing.”
  • Analysis: All four sentences begin or end with the word “writing,” which shows the extensive applications this one occupation can have. 

5. Avoiding Unnecessary Repetition: This is a simple tactic that makes your writing significantly more exciting. You may need to occasionally repeat a word (whether for parallelism or a comedic purpose) but do what you can to change up your verbiage and use a synonym instead.

  • Bad Example: “My essay was finally finished, and as I emailed the essay to my professor, I knew he would love my essay.”
  • Good Example: “My essay was finally finished, and as I emailed the masterpiece to my teacher, I knew he would love it.”
  • Analysis: Reusing the word “essay” makes the sentence boring and needlessly repetitive. When we change “essay” into different words like “masterpiece,” we establish other elements in the story such as the speaker’s attitude and pride toward what he wrote.

6. Cause and Effect: This is a simple method to fit an entire story into a sentence. You can give the reader the result, then easily clarify how you got there.

  • Example: “In order to write, you must learn the basics.”
  • Analysis: Using a conditional, or if-then statement, is a smart way to change the sentence around a bit. You could say something like, “You must learn the basics in order to write,” but turning it into two clauses makes it easier to read and follow. 

Make Your Writing Yours

These six sentence styles and strategies may work for you, or they may not. Regardless, you should always make your writing your writing. Your personal style is what makes it appeal to the reader. If you dislike using parallelism, but love short sentences, then go with the latter. And if you keep trying things out as you continue writing, you can fine-tune that signature fingerprint you want to leave on your sentences, one nobody else could produce.

Ernest Hemmingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” Writing is personal, and once you find a style worth developing, your readers will fall in love with your unforgettable words.


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Breaking Free

By Christina Delay

Freedom is a contradictory word, don’t you think? The official definition of freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. However, follow that to its extreme and chaos reigns.

But that’s the dream of every author, right? To be free to write on our own schedule, without the hindrance of other obligations. We want our book sales or family life or work schedule to provide us this freedom so we may be the best author we can be. But what happens when we get exactly what we want?

The patooties are heading back to school for the first time in seventeen months, and I am nose-to-nose with this concept of freedom, experiencing its contradictions in all its forms: 

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Excitement for an actual work day
  • Trepidation about what to do with uninterrupted hours (or, let’s be real here, minutes)
  • Uncertainty about the right path forward
  • Elation about having a few quiet hours in the house to write and to work
  • Doubt I can meet my writing goals and deadlines again, as it has been so very long…. 

I don’t feel very free.

With the world finding a new normal, are you experiencing something similar? Whether it be back-to-school, back-to-in-office-work, or simply the end of summer approaching, it’s not surprising if we find ourselves wrestling with conflicting emotions about the next season of our life.

Ronald Reagan says we need order to have freedom.

“There can be no freedom without order, and there is no order without virtue. ”

The musical Hamilton says our freedom can never be taken away.

“Raise a glass to freedom, Something they can never take away.”

Turns out, feeling free is different from freedom. Breaking it down further, I believe that in order to feel free and experience true freedom, we must first break free…

From Expectations

Expectations are a sticky bog. Whether they be our own expectations for ourselves, others’ expectations for us, or even our expectations of others, when we start making decisions based on expectations, and our attitude and mood are affected by expectations, we lose our freedom. We are no longer able to feel free.

What expectations are you or others placing on your creative life?

  • A golden first draft
  • To make a story fit into a specific genre
  • To meet every deadline (self-imposed or contractual), regardless of what is going on in your personal life
  • More sales
  • Five star reviews
  • This book must do better than the last book
  • This book must be better than the last book
  • Reader feedback, suggestions, wish list
  • Must engage your community on social media
  • Write X amount of words or write for X amount of time every day

Can you feel the pressure building? Just writing that list made my breathing go shallow. 

Now take a moment and imagine…how would it feel to let all of that go?

What impact would it have on your creativity if you approached it with zero expectations, if you allowed yourself to simply enjoy the moments in which you have to write?

I bet it’d be pretty freeing.

From Old Habits

I don’t know about you, but I have developed some…let’s frame it as not helpful…habits over the past year.

Now is a good time to assess what lifestyle changes we’ve accepted that may no longer be beneficial to what we actually want for ourselves.

What do you want? What habits are holding you back from getting there?

As with all change, baby steps that are achievable, measurable, and realistic are key. Can you commit to taking a brainstorm walk once a week? How about going to bed 30 minutes earlier? Or meal plan once a week?

Being free to be our best creative selves starts with self-care. Self-care is not selfish. It is essential.

There is freedom in understanding what it is we want for ourselves. Now’s the time to take the steps away from unhelpful habits and move toward affirming rituals that lead us further down the path we’ve chosen.

From Upheaval

…or rather, the anxiety that upheaval can cause.

And, as I’m sure you well know, anxiety is a huge drag on creativity. 2020 was a huge upheaval year. 2021 continues to be a huge upheaval year. Throw in any personal or family changes and, well…anxiety is a fairly common emotion that’s been floating around.

Our brains are wired to avoid change. Why? Change means we’re introducing something unknown into our safe zone, triggering our brains to think we’re no longer safe. 

When we begin to understand the scientific why of our reactions to change or new information, we gain the ability to better handle the anxiety that comes hand-in-hand with upheaval. Knowing that anxiety is normal when something new is introduced into our life makes it easier to breathe through it, to know that this too will pass. 

It is okay if your creativity suffers during a time of upheaval. It is normal.

So break free from the guilt surrounding not being able to be your most creative self during a time of upheaval. Let it go, give yourself grace, and I bet you’ll quickly find yourself feeling free.

Breaking Free

I wish I had a magic button or a code word that could open a heart and mind to accepting freedom without hesitation or restraint. But I don’t.

What I do have is persistence and faith. Persistence to keep trying, to keep doing a little better each day in letting go of expectations, accepting change, and breathing through anxiety. Faith that despite the uncertainty of the immediate future, I will choose to do what’s best for me, my creativity, and my family and friends.

Easier said than done, I know. So here are some practical tips on how to move into a new season with acceptance, grace, and hopefully, some creative productivity.

  • Find a quiet time in the mornings to meditate, pray, or journal about your creative vision for this new season. Even five minutes will allow you a more centered start to your day.
  • Reach out, talk to a friend. Connection with our trusted circle of loved ones is healing, and allows for us to navigate change with a cheer squad in the background.
  • Accept that your creative work is important and necessary.
  • Set small, achievable goals, rather than big, insurmountable deadlines.
  • Remember to breathe.

There can be no freedom without order…and that order comes from our inner selves being at peace and able to flexibly move through change.

So raise a glass to freedom. And then get back to writing.


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Finding Motivation for Writers

Finding the right motivation for writers can be hard, especially when every blank page feels like an accusation. Whether this is your first creative project or if you’ve had years of practice, procrastination and writer’s block will rear their ugly heads when you most need to be productive, while words of encouragement may grow scarce. 

You know the feeling. You’ll do anything to distract yourself from the gnawing discomfort of what you should be doing. Suddenly, it seems like the perfect time to take a coffee break, make a shopping list, or clean out your linen closet, and maybe even master the art of how to fold a fitted sheet. 

How can you hit your word count when the gears just aren’t clicking? How can you finally write that great American novel, or at least create enough of an income stream to quit your obligatory day job? The good news is you can self-motivate, even when it feels like you’ll never reach that next breakthrough — here’s how. 

Why You Struggle to Write 

You’ve always loved writing, so why is it so hard to put the words on the page sometimes? Writer’s block often boils down to three key things:

1. You lack a clear objective. “I want to start a blog,” isn’t going to cut the mustard. You need a general topic and a memorable domain name. You’ll also need to generate ideas for content, but this part is super easy. A host of online tools exist to help you. If you’re writing a book, what chapter are you working on? Pro tip: outlining clarifies your objective for each day’s work. 

2. You’re distracted. Even if you have the best ideas to work on and you’re ready to go, distractions are time thieves. When you can’t think of what to say next, and your phone is sitting next to you, why not check that Facebook notification? But the next thing you know, you’ve scrolled away 30 minutes of production time. Lock your phone in a drawer, shut your office door, turn off the television — whatever you need to do to eliminate those distractions! 

3. The payoff takes time. Writing is a work of the heart, but other than a personal feeling of satisfaction, you might not receive an immediate reward for hitting your word count. This hits you especially hard when you haven’t received a dime for your work yet. After all, you still need to eat and pay the rent, which means you might already be tired from your day job when you sit down to scribble. Though the competition remains fierce, you have to put the work in well before you see any payoff and turn your writing dreams into reality. 

Tips for Staying Motivated 

What can you do when the words won’t flow? Give these tips a try to supercharge your motivation and make meaningful progress toward your writing goals. 

  • Set a schedule. This tip works particularly well if you’re in the beginning stages of your writing career, and you haven’t yet quit your day job. However, it’s imperative even for full-time writers. Set aside a specific time each day to write, then stick to it. For example, if you dream of writing a novel, pencil in 30 minutes three days per week to work on your book. Honor that obligation, even if you end up staring at the screen for a half-hour doing nothing. Eventually, boredom will drive you to type at least a few words. 
  • Establish SMART goals. Sometimes, you overwhelm yourself with lofty goals like, “I’ll finish a novel in a month.” You can set SMART goals by establishing a reachable daily word count. There’s no magic number. If you’re working full-time, writing 250 words, or one page, per day, might not seem like much. But at the end of a year, you’ve completed a book! 
  • Create a sacred space. If you’re currently writing at the kitchen table while the kids do their homework or your dog begs for treats, it’s no wonder you’re distracted. Even if you don’t have the room for a separate home office, create a special corner where you can don earbuds and shut out the world for a while each day. 
  • But switch it up sometimes. Hey, the great part about the writing life is you can do it anytime, from anywhere. Feel free to head outside for inspiration on a sunny day. Just be sure to protect your equipment and your eyes from the sun’s glare. 
  • Eliminate distractions. If you have to keep your cellphone with you — for instance, if you’re on call — turn off distracting notifications from all other apps. If you need to work in a common area in your home or in public, don noise-canceling headphones. Tell family members or roommates that when the earbuds are in, you’re off-limits (unless the house is burning down). 
  • Ask questions. When you’re stuck on what to say, think about your audience. What would they want to know more about? Why does a particular character act the way they do? What motivates them? 
  • Ask for help. Writers are typically solitary beasts, but when you get stuck, other people can help dissolve the glue. If you’re writing nonfiction, research what the competition has said on the topic. If you’re working on fiction, have a loved one help you brainstorm — sometimes, the silliest ideas turn out to be the best ones. How else do you explain the success of Sharknado?
  • Join groups. You might dig your solitude, but writing groups offer a world of ideas you can borrow. Plus, you don’t have to interact in real time. You can converse via discussion threads. 
  • Make it a competition. If you have a friend who also writes, design a contest to see who can hit their word count first. Riding solo in the game? Set a timer and see if you can beat it! 
  • Plan some rewards. This tip is super important if you’re not getting paid for your work yet. Reward yourself for each success, no matter how small. Did you write the page per day you promised? Relax with a bubble bath or treat yourself to that outfit you’ve been eyeing up. Recognizing your own successes, no matter how small, keeps you motivated for more.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize. Finally, remember that you’re a writer. Sit down and describe what your dream will look like when you achieve it. Do you want to write the next Agatha Christie-esque thriller? Do you want to make readers laugh and relate to your work? Do you want to capture some elusive truth in a coming-of-age tale that will top the best sellers lists? Pen out your goals in detail, and read them again whenever you feel the urge to procrastinate. It’s good to stop and remember why you’re working.

It’s possible to achieve your writing dreams. After all, if others have made it, you can too. When you’re feeling less than motivated, make these tips a priority and stay persistent. If you push yourself towards your word count and your goals, you’ll see your work come together, piece by piece, until one day, you’ve done it.

By Alyssa Abel


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3 Mistakes To Avoid with Your Side Characters

Everybody loves their heroes, some people even love their villains. But it’s a rare author that actively loves and spends equal time on their side characters. Sure, some of them are fun to write, but they’re not who the story is about, which is why so many of them are simply slapped on and ill-thought out. Today, I’m going to help you combat that by giving you three mistakes to avoid when creating your side characters. 

Mistake 1 — Weighing Side Characters Incorrectly

Not all side characters are created equal. While some craft teachers talk about archetypes, I prefer to look at side characters in terms of their effect and influence on the story. 

Here are the three main types of side characters:

  • Cameos are brief and fleeting, usually nameless or with a generic label “guard, receptionist, girl with the teddy”. They leave no mark on the story and are forgettable. Think the woman in the red dress in the Matrix, or Marvel comic writer Stan Lee’s appearances in the Marvel films.
  • Minor characters are still fleeting, they still don’t leave much of a mark on the story save for transactional exchanges like a barman or a shop owner. Think Mr. Filch in Harry Potter.
  • Major characters are usually scarce, only a handful of them in most stories. They have their own subplots and character arcs, they should represent the book’s theme too. Think Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter.

Too often, writers try to give minor characters character arcs, or they don’t give enough attention to a character that’s supposed to have an arc or subplot. Understanding the different types of side characters should enable you to give the right amount of page time and depth to each character.

Mistake 2 — Thinking You Need Comprehensive Character Arcs

Character arcs are easy for protagonists, you get the entire book to explore it. But side characters don’t get as much page time as protagonists. So how do you show the depth of arc you need without the side character taking over?

Well, you can’t. At least, not exactly anyway.

What you can do is create the illusion of an arc.

You’ll need to show the “what” of what they want (and the fact they don’t have it) at the start of the story. For example, early on in the Harry Potter series, we see Hermione wanting to be academically brilliant and pass all her exams. After that, you need to show a struggle to achieve the goal somewhere in the middle of your story. And, if we’re talking Harry Potter, then Hermione gets her own subplot devoted to this where she uses the Time-Turner to take more lessons than is scientifically possible. Near the end of your book, you’ll have to show the resolution i.e., Hermione passes all her exams and does well, or by the end of the series she realizes it’s not really as important as she once thought.

The beauty of a side character arc is that you can flex it up and down. Want to show a little more depth? Add another scene or two with the character grappling to change. Need to cut down your word count? Then reduce the number of scenes focusing on side character arcs.

The trick to making a side character arc work well is to connect it to the protagonist and, if possible, the theme. In Hermione’s case, her academic brilliance both impedes her friendships with Ron and Harry but also helps them at various points when she has useful bits of information about spells or wizardry.

Mistake 3 — Not Having a Reason for Existing Outside the Protagonist

To create more depth in your side characters and to make them seem realistic, use the three “whys” method.

Each side character should have:

·       A protagonist why

·       A life why

·       A scene why

The Protagonist Why

Even though you want your side characters to look like they’re full and comprehensive, ultimately, in story terms, they exist to either help or hinder your protagonist. That’s their “protagonist why”. Are they in the story to make the protagonist stop and think? To help them reflect? To protect them? Teach them? Or perhaps put obstacles and barriers in their way? You need to know what their “protagonist why” is.

The Life Why

Protagonist aside, to help create the illusion of depth, your major side characters should have something they want outside the protagonist. Do they need to come out to their family? Are they trying to get a big important job? Maybe they want to win an award. Whatever their own “life why,” if you can make it serve the story by reflecting the theme or perhaps allowing the side character’s goal to interfere with the protagonist’s all the better. For example, in the above Harry Potter example, Hermione’s “life why” is to do well academically. It interferes with her friendships in both positive and negative ways. 

Scene Why

Have you ever read a scene where half a dozen characters enter, two or three of them have a conversation, and then all six leave again? I can’t tell you the number of manuscripts I’ve read where that happens. When you have a group of characters in a scene, each character must do one or all of the following:

  • Do something
  • Say something
  • Bring information 
  • Cause a problem
  • Or fix a problem

I’m sure there are other things a character could do in a scene, but the point is, they must be doing something. If they’re not engaged in dialogue, tension creation, tension easing, or action of some kind, then they’re surplus to requirements and need to be removed. Too many instances of “surplus to requirements” and you have to question whether you need the character at all.

f you can avoid these three mistakes you will craft stronger characters. Knowing the importance of a cameo versus a major character will help you manage your cast more effectively, focusing on those characters that need the attention for the sake of your story. Remember, with side characters, it’s only the illusion of an arc you’re creating, not a comprehensive one like a protagonist. Last, try to ensure each major side character has three “whys”. Do those things and you’ll avoid the most commonly occurring mistakes with side characters and build better stories.

By Sacha Black


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Story Pacing: 4 Techniques That Help Manage Your Plot’s Timeline

As a writer of fiction, you want readers to open your book and become so absorbed they can’t put it down. It helps to be aware that so much of what happens when a reader picks up a book takes place in the subconscious mind. Readers don’t realize that it’s happening, and many writers don’t pay attention to it either.

One of those largely subconscious mechanisms is story pacing.

Story pacing is often ignored as an aspect of learning how to craft a really great story. A lot of writers don’t give it much thought, yet it’s a critically important writing technique and quite exciting to learn about.

In this post, we’ll cover story pacing in detail, and I’ll provide some crucial areas for you to work on in your books—to open up some doors you didn’t even know existed.

Story Pacing Opened My Eyes

One of the primary ways we learn how to craft story is from reading a ton of books, especially in our target genre. I’ve been an avid reader of suspense fiction for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a huge boost to my writing abilities.

So when I started writing thrillers, I felt fairly confident about my skills. I knew I had an exciting storyline, with intriguing plot points supported by well-developed characters and plenty of action.

That’s why I was so surprised when my mentor took a look at one of my stories and said: “It’s not a thriller.”

He told me I had all the right stuff for a thriller, but the pacing was off. After he showed me the same techniques that I’ll share with you in this article, I was able to give the story a better sense of urgency, shaping it into a solid thriller.

With the help of this post, you can do the same with your stories.

What is Story Pacing?

You may be thinking that story pacing is simply the tempo at which your story unfolds. True enough, on the surface. But the deeper reality is that pacing is the art of keeping readers engaged in your story and not letting them out. It’s what pulls them through to the end.

Here’s another way to think about it. In a ThrillerFest panel discussion on the topic of pacing, Lee Child said:

“Every book you’ve ever read has a timeline; it starts somewhere and finishes somewhere. Pacing is how you manage that timeline.”

He goes on to talk about how he writes the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow. Meaning he operates like a photo editor reporting on a tidal wave. The editor shows the wave coming in at a tremendous pace and then slows down the tape as it crashes into the seawall to intensify the impact and examine it in greater detail.

As writers, we have the ability to speed and slow the rate at which our readers consume a story. You can learn those techniques and master the art of pacing by structuring your story according to genre.

Pacing is Inextricably Connected With Genre

Being clear about genre is really critical to the reader’s enjoyment of your story.

To make my point, I’ll tell you about this little trick my husband likes to pull on me. Sometimes when we stop at a gas station, he’ll disappear inside and come out with a large cup and offer me the straw. Though I never know what to expect, I can’t help but form some kind of preconceived anticipation.

So maybe I’m thinking root beer or Dr. Pepper. I take a drink and—Yuck! That’s awful! What is it? And he might say it’s Squirt. Well, I like Squirt, but since it’s not what my taste buds were expecting, it disappointed.

It’s the same with genre.

Readers start a story with certain expectations, they want a particular type of reading experience. That’s why genres exist. To help readers make good choices about what they want to read.

Pacing is dependent on genre and genre springs from pacing. Like the chicken and the egg, you can’t really separate them. The genre you choose to write will dictate the story pacing and the way you pace your book will determine the genre.

Relationship between pacing and genre

If a reader picks up a thriller and the story doesn’t have fast pacing like a thriller should, they’ll put the book down or finish it in disgust and never go back to that writer’s work. Same with a cozy mystery or a slow-burn psychological suspense.

And the reader won’t even consciously register what was wrong with it. They’ll just know it disappointed.

Pacing in Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense

Let’s think of a story’s pacing like a theme park ride. When you visit a theme park, you know the kind of rides you want to experience. The ferris wheel is fun and so is the Tilt-a-Whirl, but they move at different paces. Story pacing is like that, too.

Use this analogy to take a closer look at how the pacing differs in thrillers, suspense stories, and mysteries. Each genre is a joy to read, but the experience each provides is unique.


Thrillers are roller coaster rides. You get in and strap down and then the coaster pulls slowly out of the station and starts chugging up that first hill. This is like character development, grounding the reader in the setting, and building the suspense.

By the time your reader is solidly inside the viewpoint character’s head and has learned to care about that character, we’ve reached the top of that first big drop and we plummet ahead on a wild ride of twists and turns with an occasional breather while the story builds to another thrilling drop.

Thrillers are made of fast-paced scenes.


Mysteries are more like the funhouse. They’re designed to surprise, challenge, and amuse with puzzles to solve and riddles to unravel. They’re more interactive than a thrill ride, inviting readers to participate in working out the clues.

We may have to work our way through a revolving tunnel or cross a crazy obstacle course. And there may be spurts of fast-paced activity, but the overall tone of the ride doesn’t have the frenetic qualities of a roller coaster.

Mysteries move at a moderate pace.


We might liken suspense stories to the spooky rides where you ride on a track through a series of dark and mysterious passages, accompanied by scary music and lots of atmosphere.

Some of these rides are slow, drawing out the suspense, giving you time to worry and wonder about what’s coming next. Other rides move more quickly, giving you less time to recover from the unexpected each time you turn the corner.

Suspense stories vary in pace and run the gamut.

Pacing Influences the Reader’s Experience

As with most aspects of good fiction writing, intentional story pacing provides a quality reading experience. Proper pacing allows us to control what the reader thinks and feels. We do that in obvious ways, not so obvious ways, and some really subconscious ways. As I mentioned before, a lot of pacing is effectively a subconscious control system.

We’re going to look at the nuts and bolts of pacing, but unless you realize their purpose and understand the end goal, you won’t get full value from using these tools.

The way the page looks—sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, amount of white space—sends signals to the reader about how to consume the story. Page appearance is important in pacing a book correctly.

So, before we dig into the specifics, we need to cover an absolutely key component of successful pacing.

Form Follows Content

If you’re wondering how to structure your sentences and paragraphs, look at your content. What’s going on in the story?

What is the character thinking or feeling in that moment? What should the reader be experiencing? These are what will tell you how long or short to make your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.

In general, longer sentences promote slow-burn suspense while shorter sentences can create a frantic feeling of panic.  But the number one rule to remember in story pacing is this: form must follow content.

This means that what’s happening in the story should be reflected in the way it looks on the page.

If there’s a fight scene, or some kind of fast-paced action going on, the sentences and paragraphs should be short, clipped, and surrounded by white space. If your character is arriving in a new setting and taking it in, these descriptive passages will be slower, with longer sentences and paragraphs.

Flashbacks also slow the pace as you pull the reader from the active voice of the story into a more introspective vein.

Ask yourself what’s happening, and make your form fit your content.

Some people, when they hear the term pacing, think it means fast. And in suspense fiction, that’s often what readers want. But there’s nothing wrong with an occasional slow-paced scene if that’s what the content calls for.

Good pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. “ Story pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. Tweet thisTweet

Feel free to throw out the rules of grammar if they get in the way of pacing and presenting the story. Fiction writing doesn’t always require full, grammatically correct sentences. Those rules exist to serve the story, and the story exists to serve the reader. Our job, as writers, is to serve the reader in the best way we know how. And sometimes that means breaking the rules.

Now let’s dive into the specific techniques used in pacing. We’ll look at four big ideas:

  1. Sentence structure
  2. Paragraph structure
  3. Scene and chapter structure
  4. Cliffhangers

Sentence Structure

The way you structure a scene’s sentences sends a message to the reader, usually on a subconscious level, about how fast to read. And the content of the scene will dictate the form.

Longer sentences, with lots of detail, tend to slow the pace and that’s perfect, if that’s what the content requires. Short, staccato sentences—even sentence fragments or single-word sentences with lots of white space in between—convey a fast pace. Machine gun dialogue—those terse conversations say, during a car chase—does the same thing. It speeds the pace.

Often, when there is physical movement in the story, the sentences will be shorter and when things are stationary, they’ll be longer. But that’s a generalization. Always base form on content. That’s really the only rule. Your job is to tell a story, and all the little pieces you use to do so should follow that story.

How pacing works in sentence structure

The energy of a sentence is in its kernel, subject + verb:

The woman screamed.

Sometimes you’ll need to include an object and indirect object:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar.

But keep in mind that any clauses you add will drain some of the energy:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar, cursing him for tracking mud on her Persian carpet, berating him for breaking the window.

Remember, that’s okay if it’s called for by the content. What’s going on, and how do you want the reader to feel about it? Also, be aware of rhythm. In your sentence lengths and structure, you’re setting up a cadence which conveys a certain kind of tone.

The best way to learn the structures, rhythms, and cadences of well-written scenes is to read a lot and seriously study those who have mastered your genre’s story pacing.

Action is content. If you’re writing an action scene, you can often get away with less detail and shorter sentences. Content calls for them.

But two people sitting and talking doesn’t usually qualify as action. For moments like this, to keep the reader tucked into the story, you need to use more rich, sensory details that spark emotions and opinions. Which means longer sentences.

This doesn’t mean that if the pace of the story is fast you need to leave details out. Remember, you must tell the story—everything the reader needs to get the full experience. But if the pace is fast, you must deliver the information in a more clear, concise fashion.

No matter what the pace, you’ve got to get the reader inside the viewpoint character’s head, experiencing the story through that main character—their emotions, opinions, sensory input, and perception of what’s happening in the story.

Are you picking up on the major theme of pacing? Content drives everything. “ Content drives the pace of your story—content drives everything. Tweet thisTweet

Paragraph Structure

When a reader opens a book and sees a lot of black on the page—long blocks of text—that sends a message that it should be consumed at a leisurely pace. Short paragraphs with lots of white space around them signals a fast-moving page-turner.

It encourages fast reading.

The way you structure sentences and paragraphs will influence your reader’s breathing and physical state to some extent. Even when not reading out loud, we tend to breathe in conjunction with the words on the page, and faster breathing leads to a faster heart rate.

Lots of short, punchy paragraphs literally make your book a page-turner because your reader’s eye devours them and quickly moves on. Yet, in some cases, a long, run-on sentence can leave your reader breathless, since there’s no place to pause and take a breath.

Normally-paced text varies in paragraph length. It might go from a four-line paragraph to a three-line paragraph, then five lines followed by two, and so on. About ninety percent of most books, except for climactic scenes, run along in this sort of pattern. It’s interesting to the eye and doesn’t contain lengthy, intimidating paragraphs.

This will vary by genre. Literary works will tend toward longer paragraphs, while genres such as action adventure and thrillers contain only sixty to sixty-five percent “normal” story pacing. This utilizes a lot more white space and shorter sentences and paragraphs.

Use the power of the paragraph. Especially with faster-paced fiction. Hit the return key as often as necessary. Set short, punchy sentences apart for greater impact when the situation calls for it. This is a powerful technique.

How pacing works in paragraph structure

To further explore how paragraph structure affects reader experience, let’s take an excerpt from the thriller-paced short story Kowalski’s In Love by James Rollins. In this first example, I took the liberty of restructuring the paragraphs to reflect normal pacing:

Modified excerpt from James Rollins

Now, see how it appeared in the published version:

Original excerpt from James Rollins

Do you see how the shorter paragraphs facilitate a faster pace? Notice how they give more impact to the short sentences, which stand alone in their own paragraphs.

Scene and Chapter Structure

When you write, your scenes and chapters should drive the story forward and accomplish story objectives. Where you break them should not be random, but based on content.

You should be aware, however, that readers can bog down if the chapters are too long. Most readers are comfortable with chapter lengths between 2,000 and 2,500 words. Shawn Coyne, editor and author of The Story Grid, calls these “potato chip” chapters because they’re short enough to encourage readers to indulge in just one more before turning out the light.

And then, just one more…

It’s also useful to vary the lengths of your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes to avoid falling into a monotonous pattern. It’s important to realize that readers have an instinctive sense of story pacing, and when the pacing is congruent with the content, it feels right. If something is out of sync, they’ll sense that, too.

For example, years ago, when I read Connie Willis’s WWII time travel book, Blackout, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I neared the end. Something was wrong. The pacing was off, and I realized my instincts were on target as the book came to an abrupt end—in the middle of the story.

The publishers had decided the book was too long and their solution was to chop it into two parts without any warning to the reader. I, along with thousands of other readers, was not pleased.

You want to do all you can to give readers confidence in your storytelling abilities. When they feel like they’re in good hands, readers will settle into a story and stick with it. Putting in the effort to get the pacing right will pay dividends in gaining reader trust.


Remember, the function of pacing is to pull the reader through the book to the very end. Cliffhangers are a vital part of that process and consist of scene and chapter endings and the openings that follow.

Cliffhangers don’t just occur at the end of a chapter where you decide to stop writing. They happen when you make the effort to build something compelling into that ending. Effective cliffhangers keep readers from putting the book down, bridge the gaps between chapters and scenes, and provide momentum.

Like links in a chain, the cliffhanger doesn’t stand alone. It connects to the next opening and incorporates techniques used in deep POV to ground the reader in the new setting and character, creating a seamless progression through the story.

For a detailed study on the crucial skill of writing cliffhangers, learn more from my post: Cliffhanger Meaning 101: What They Are and How Writers Use Them.

How Form Follows Content

Lots of factors enter into your reader’s experience with your book. Some of them are out of your control. Is she tired? Hungry? Just a had a fight with her husband? There’s nothing you can do about any of those things.

But you should do your best to take control of the things you can. Like the way your story looks on the page. This has a tremendous influence on your reader, though most of it happens on a subconscious level.

To get a better idea of what I mean, let’s look at an example from Dean Koontz’s thriller The Whispering Room:

Excerpt from Dean Koontz

Do you see how these terse, tight paragraphs of dialogue convey tension and move quickly like machine gun fire? This makes for a fast pace and the form follows what’s happening in the scene, a rapid back-and-forth conflict.

Now let’s examine another example, this one from Bloodline by James Rollins:

Excerpt from James Rollins

The concise sentences and paragraphs communicate tension to the reader and encourage a rapid reading, eating up the page, leading to faster page flips. They are direct and sparse, hiding nothing of the bleakness of the scene.

Here’s a contrasting example from Jeffery Deaver’s novel The Blue Nowhere:

Excerpt from Jeffery Deaver

Deaver could easily have broken this block into multiple paragraphs. Why didn’t he?

I think he did it this way because the long, unbroken paragraph mimics the droning on and on of the little girl. It also reflects the viewpoint character’s blasé attitude about murder, burying it in a pile of words as if it’s something of little significance, highlighting its trivial aspect as just part of a game.

Remember to think about what’s happening in the story and how you can use all your skills to communicate that to the reader. It’s not just the words you use, but how you arrange them on the page that affects the way your reader will experience the story.

Improving Your Story Pacing Skills

The first step in mastering pacing is awareness. Once you become aware of the subconscious signals you’re sending your readers, you can practice and improve.

However, the best way to control the pace of a story is from your own subconscious, the back brain, the creative part. Not from the critical front brain. So how does that happen?

It’s important to keep learning, studying, practicing, and polishing your skills as a writer. But to make those skills really useful, they need to be internalized and become a natural part of your writing process.

Musicians practice scales and fingering exercises. Basketball players run drills on passing, dribbling, and shooting. Dancers spend hours at the barre, practicing the basic moves. They do these things so that the techniques are available to them in concert, in the middle of a championship game, or on the stage.

We make muscle memory by repeating the proper movements until they become automatic.

For writers, this involves reading first for pleasure. And then, when you’ve found a book that grabbed you and pulled you all the way to the end, go back and study it.

Analyze and practice until you’ve internalized the skill and it becomes second nature. The first step is awareness, then comes practice. Do these things on a regular basis and eventually, the techniques and information will pass from the front of your brain into the back of your brain and become automatic.

How about you? Did you learn something new you can apply right now to your writing? Tell us about it in the comments.

By Joslyn Chase


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