Tag Archives: #writetip

Short Fiction – the narrative essay #amwriting

We discussed micro fiction in Monday’s post. Today we’re continuing to look at writing short works by looking at the narrative essay/article. Many will wonder just what a narrative essay is.

narrative essayIf you enjoy reading magazines like the New Yorker, Harper’s, or Reader’s Digest, you have read and enjoyed many narrative essays.

A narrative essay/ article is not a newspaper article, which (usually) deals in facts – who, what, why, when, and where.

The primary purpose of an essay is to offer readers thought-provoking content. Many narrative essays take an event and play fast and loose with the facts. Some elements are exaggerated, and others might be skipped over. The same is true of how the people involved are portrayed.

It might detail an actual event but will be colored and shaped by the author’s personal point of view.

A-supposedly-fun-thing-first-edition-coverThe narrative essay conveys our experiences and ideas in a form that is easy to digest, so writing this kind of piece requires authors to have some idea of the craft of writing.

A list of highly regarded narrative essays and links to them can be found at 40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips) (rafalreyzer.com).

To write a good narrative essay, an author must understand the publishing industry’s grammar and mechanics standards. This is critical because the people who read this kind of work are dedicated readers.

Dedicated readers might vary in their level of formal education, but all are knowledgeable and will recognize when a writer is untrained.

I enjoy reading narrative essays when the author uses the opportunity to explore themes and subthemes.

Theme is vastly different from the subject of a work. Theme is an underlying idea, a thread woven through the story from the beginning to the end, binding the plot together. An example I regularly use is the movie franchise Star Wars.

  • The subject of the first three movies is the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empireand the Rebel Alliance. That is what the story is about.
  • Two of the themesexplored in those films are the bonds of friendship and the gray area between good and evil—moral ambiguity. Each character arc and every incident explores this struggle in subtle ways.

Original_New_Yorker_coverA narrative essay is a story that begins with an experience you once had. You know how that event began and ended. Just like any other form of short fiction, a narrative essay has a plot arc.

  • Make an outline as you must develop both content and structure.
  • Take some time to consider how you want your account to be perceived by the reader.

The arc of an essay is the same as that of a fictional story. It has

  • an introduction,
  • a plot,
  • characters,
  • a setting,
  • a climax,
  • a conclusion.

It’s not a memoir, so exposition must be limited. For me, the challenge is to not frontload the story. Offer the information at the moment the reader needs it. We must convey the most information with the least number of words.

If you love writing prose and choosing the right words, this might be a good medium for you.

Authors of narrative essays sometimes meet with criticism regarding the subject matter and how they present their opinions. This is because narrative essays often present profound and (sometimes) uncomfortable ideas.

A skillful writer can offer these concepts in a way that the reader feels connected to the story, even if they disagree.

Good essays express far more than mere opinion—they tell a story. The story is what keeps the reader engaged.

If you are writing about an actual event, names should be changed for your protection. This is because narrative essays are filled with information. They expose the places we go and detail the people we meet.

Harpers_Magazine_1905We don’t want to disclose too much information about ourselves or the people we have encountered. An honest narrative essay contains an author’s opinions. Sometimes those sentiments are not glowing accolades. One can lose friends if they aren’t careful.

Those who write narrative essays can make a living because literary magazines have open calls for them. Editors and publishers are seeking well-written essays/articles with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics.

Some will pay well for first publication rights.

HOWEVER – if you want to be published by a reputable magazine, you must pay strict attention to grammar and editing.

Never submit anything less than your best work. After you have finished the piece, I suggest you set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently).
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Dropped and missing words.

As I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to use your words. Readers of narrative essays have a wide vocabulary. But there is one caveat to that:

  • Never use jargon or technical terms that only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece in a publication geared for that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be bold. I enjoy reading works by authors who are adventurous in their prose.


And on that note, we must be realistic. Breaking into any sort of traditional publishing is difficult. You will have trouble selling your work at first. You haven’t gained a reputation yet, and no one knows what to expect from you.

Also, you may have gauged your audience wrong, and your work might not appeal to the first editors you send it to.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

I have said this many times, but it is true:

How you handle critiques and rejections tells editors what kind of person you are to work with. Rejection allows you to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional.

Always take the high ground. If an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, don’t be angry or upset at their remarks. No editor sends a detailed rejection unless they see promise in the author’s work.

  • Let it rest for a day or two, then respond with a simple “thank you for your time.”

367px-Saturday_evening_post_1903_11_28_aTake some time to review what you submitted, keeping those comments in mind. Then form a plan to address those issues with a rewrite.

If you received a form letter rejection, don’t reply. But do look at your work critically and try to see what can be changed to improve it.

When you receive that email of acceptance, celebrate.

There is no better feeling than when someone, whose publication you respect, liked your work enough to publish it.


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Micro Fiction: Goals and Rewards #amwriting

The habit of creative writing usually begins small. It’s an idea, something we wish someone would write. At first, it’s a hobby we must fit around our work schedule and family obligations. Somehow, that hobby grows and grows. For some of us, it becomes a second job that pays little and demands a great deal of attention.

WritingCraft_short-story-drabbleWhen a new writer decides to begin their career by embarking on writing a novel, the magnitude of the undertaking soon becomes apparent.

At first, they are fired up about the project. For several pages, the words flow. Unfortunately, the fire of enthusiasm burns low as creativity fails.

They have the idea. They have the characters. But they don’t have the skills to write something as long and involved as a novel.

Many people see that as a sign that they are untalented. They put it away and never write again.

But the truth is, the project was too ambitious for their skill level. They haven’t learned the tools of the trade and received no reward for their efforts.

I suggest people begin by writing micro fiction. Drabbles are a form of micro fiction, an entire story in exactly 100 words.

Some forms of poetry, such as haiku, are not micro fiction, as they don’t tell a fully developed story.

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013 iconWriting a drabble takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story or a 70,000-word novel, but all writing is a time commitment. When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts. Others offer one word, and still others have no prompt at all.

prompt is a word or visual image that kick-starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Prompts.

But prompts are only the beginning. To write a story of any length, we need these essential components:

  • A setting
  • One or more characters
  • A conflict
  • A resolution.

writer_at_work_nanowrimo_signI use a loose outline to break the arc of every story I write into acts, each with a specific word count. (I’ve included a graphic at the bottom of this post.)

A drabble may have only 100 words, but my process works the same as for a novel.

For a novel, I divide my outline this way: 10,000 or so words to open the story, set the scene, introduce the characters and get to the inciting incident. 50,000 or so words for the heart of the story. 10,000 or so words for the conclusion.

A micro fiction is outlined the same way:

  • I have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene.
  • I have about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story.
  • I give myself 10 – 25 words to conclude it.
  • The story must be told in precisely 100 words. (Not more, and not less—exactly 100 words.)

Writing micro fiction teaches you to tell a story without exposition.

However, you should save the clumps of exposition and backstory in a separate file because they do come in usefully as part of your world-building and character development exercises.

  • Every word you write and discard might be useful in a later story.
  • Label the file with a title that says what it is.
  • Save it in a master file that contains ideas for longer stories.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapI mentioned rewards in the title of this post. The completed story is a small gift you give yourself, and the surge of endorphins you experience in that moment of “Yes! I can write after all!” are the reward.

When you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.

I suggest you save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work. Or you might want to submit it to a drabble contest.

Contests for micro fiction abound on the internet. Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing micro fiction hones your skills, and you will have captured the heart of your brilliant idea.

Micro fictions are the distilled essence of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that one moment in time. The reader wants to know what happens next.

You will have succeeded in writing your story, and that success is a reward in itself.



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Worldbuilding part 1 – checklist for creating societies #amwriting

Worlds are comprised of plants, animals, and geology. But if intelligent life forms live in that world, societies will also exist.

WritingCraftWorldbuildingWe humans are tribal. We prefer an overarching power structure leading us because someone has to be the leader. We call that power structure a government.

As a society, the habits we develop, the gods we worship, the things we create and find beautiful, and the foods we eat are evidence of our culture.

If your society is set in modern suburbia, that culture and those values will affect your characters’ view of their world. You will still have to build that world on paper. But the information and maps are all readily available, perhaps in your own backyard.

But what if you are writing a sci-fi or fantasy novel? You must create the background material to show your world logically and without contradictions.

  • Authors must know how society works in their created cities and towns.
  • They must know the technology whether it is set in a medieval world or on a space station.

Merchants, scientists, priests, soldiers, teachers, healers, thieves – no matter the setting, each occupation has specific technology. They may also have a place in the social hierarchy, people they can and cannot associate with.

Society is always composed of many layers and classes. Below is a list of what I think of as “porch questions.”

This is the stage where I sit on the back porch and consider the world my characters will inhabit. Going somewhere quiet and pondering these questions brings clarity to my vague ideas.

The following is a list of points to consider when creating a society. Feel free to copy and paste it to a page you can print out. Jot the answers next to the questions and refer back to it if the plot raises one of these questions.

How is your society divided? Who has the wealth?

  • Is there a noble class?
  • Is there a servant class?
  • Is there a merchant class
  • Is there a large middle class?
  • Who makes up the most impoverished class?
  • Who has the power, men or women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality, and how do we treat each other?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated?
  • How are men treated?
  • How are the different races viewed?
  • Is there a cisgenderbias, or an acceptance of different gender identities?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life?
  • How is murder punished?
  • How are betrayal, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is the truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?
  • What is taboo? What is “simply not done” among that group?

WilliamBlakeImaginationLIRF05072022Power structures are the hierarchies encompassing the leaders and the people with the power. Government is an overall system of restraint and control among selected members of a group. Think of it as a pyramid, a few at the top governing a wide base of citizens.

Religion is rarely a sci-fi trope but often figures prominently in fantasy work. In sci-fi, science and technology often take the place of religion or are at odds with it. They both have similar hierarchies and fanatics, but with different job titles.

Archbishop might be replaced with Head of Research and Development.

Cardinal or Pope might be replaced with GeneralAdmiral, or CEO (Chief Executive Officer).

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities are available to them? What about transport?

  1. Hunter/Gatherers?
  2. Agricultural/farming?
  3. Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  4. Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  5. Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  6. Modern-day?
  7. Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  8. How do we get around, and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, train, or space shuttle?

Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  1. Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  2. How does the government fund itself?
  3. How are taxes levied?
  4. Is it a feudal society?
  5. Is it a clan-based society?
  6. How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  7. How do the citizens view the government?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior, and how are criminals treated?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?
Excalibur London_Film_Museum_ via Wikipedia

Excalibur, London Film Museum via Wikipedia

Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what their level of technology is. It is critical for you, as the author, to understand what weapons your characters will bring to the front. You must also know what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

A common trope in fantasy is magic, which brings up the need to train magic-gifted people. Do your sorcerers/mages rely on

  • dumb luck and experimentation?
  • apprenticing to sorcerers?
  • training by religious orders?
  • or as in the case of Harry Potter, a school of some sort? What are the rules of your magic?

The Church/Temple is the governing power in many real-world historical societies. The head of the religion is the ruler, and the higher one rises within the religious organization, the more power one has. The same is true of both universities and research facilities.

Power in the hands of only a few people offers many opportunities for mayhem. Zealous followers may inadvertently create a situation where the leader believes they are anointed by the Supreme Deity. Even better, they may become the God-Emperor/Empress.

lute-clip-artThe same sort of God complex occurs among academicians and scientists. Some people are prone to excess when presented with the opportunity to become all-powerful.

If you were unsure what your plot was before you got to this stage, now you might have a real villain, one presented to you by your society.

What sort of society do you envision in your world? How does that culture shape your characters?

Being the leader means bearing responsibility when things go wrong. Scrambling to keep things afloat occurs far more often than basking in the glory.

When things are going well, it’s good to be the queen.

However, the Tiara of Shame weighs heavily when things go awry—and that is when we have a story.


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Writing through the Block #amwriting

We all have moments where our creativity has failed us. Maybe we had an idea, but the words wouldn’t come. Or when they did, they felt stilted, awful. We feel alone and isolated in this because we are writers. The words are supposed to flow from our fingers like water down the Columbia River.

MyWritingLife2021BSome people call this writers’ block. I think of it as a temporary lull in my creativity.

I have learned to write my way through these dry spells. Usually, the work I produce at that moment is awful, and I wouldn’t share it with anyone. But I am a professional writer and the act of writing every day keeps me fit and in the habit of working.

Writing is like participating in sports or playing a musical instrument. We must practice if we want to be good at it. Doing well at writing requires some discipline on our part. I lose my momentum and purpose when I stop writing for any reason.

I lose my passion for my work.

At times, we come to a place where we can’t think of what to write. It happens to everyone, and we each handle it differently. I will share how I deal with lulls in creativity—and I know it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Before we begin, I suggest you save the file you are working on, the one you can’t seem to make headway on. Close it, and delete nothing. You will be able to use this work later, so file it properly.

mindwanderingLIRF02212023Sometimes, the problem is that your mind has seen a shiny thing, a different project that wants to be written, and you can’t focus on the job at hand. If that is the case, work on the project that is on your mind. Let that creative energy flow, and you can reconnect with the first project once the new project is out of the way.

For me, writer’s block manifests not as a block per se. It will appear as an inability to visualize a scene I must write to advance a story. If I can’t picture it, I can’t describe it.

That can be quite frustrating.

Unfortunately, some people have a different experience, one where they have no words whatsoever. They try, they struggle, and nothing comes to them.

This creates a kind of trauma. Once a person has experienced that moment of complete inability, fear of being unable to write can magnify the problem until it paralyzes them.

So what do I do when the words don’t come?

First, I open a new document. At the top of this document, I type: Where I Am Today.

  • I look around myself and see the room I am in, trying to see it with a stranger’s eyes.
  • I briefly describe what the stranger might see on entering that room.
  • Then I describe how I feel sitting in that place at that moment in time.

I write two or three paragraphs just to prove I can do it.

Next, I go somewhere else and take my notebook. I am a stranger there, so I write three more paragraphs detailing how I fit into that new space and how it makes me feel.

You could do this at the mall, a coffee shop, or the parking lot at the supermarket.

Me working in a starbucks, through the fishbowl, copyright Dan Riffero 2013

Me writing in a Seattle Starbucks, taken through a fish tank. I was the big fish in that tank! Photo by Dan Riffero.

The last exercise is more abstract: Where do I want to be? I visualize it and describe my imaginary scene as if I am looking at it.

I want to walk along the high-tide mark on a foggy beach. I want to hear the gulls and the waves. I want to feel at peace again.

It’s weird but writing about nothing in particular is like doodling. It is a form of mind wandering. It can jar your creative mind loose. With perseverance, you will be writing your other work again.

Everyone has family, jobs, and external demands that limit their writing time. Sometimes the world gets in the way of writing. We might feel unwell or have too many things to accomplish and not enough time to get it all done.

WilliamBlakeInfinityAndEternityLIRF05072022In my real life, getting our house ready to put on the market saps my creativity, but I am muddling along. Boxes here and there, getting rid of this and that—it’s exhausting. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to write.

But I sit down and get at least 100 words on paper just to prove I can. That usually leads to a more productive writing session.

The most important thing is to care for my family first. Sometimes just doing laundry can jar an idea loose, and I feel incredibly productive at the same time.

However, when I am stuck for words to write, the most important thing I do is to sit somewhere quiet and let my mind wander.

Daydreaming is good for you. It boosts the brain, making our thought process more effective. Apparently, letting the mind wander allows a kind of ‘default neural network’ to engage when our brain is at wakeful rest, like in meditation, unlike when it’s actively focused on the outside world.

Book- onstruction-sign copyWhen we daydream, our brain is free to process tasks more effectively.

This is good to know because I spend an astounding amount of time daydreaming, and I would hate to be simply wasting time.

This is how my mind works. I hope that what works for me will work for you. Remember, if you are suffering from a temporary dry spell, you are not alone. We all go through those times.

When you want to talk about it, you will find friends here.


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Characterization part 4 – Doling out the Backstory #amwriting

Every story has a past, a present, and hopefully, a future. The past shapes what we know as the here and now. The past also gives history to our characters, so when they first step onto the page, they are formed in the author’s mind and ready to begin their journey.

MyWritingLife2021Every writer knows the backstory is what tells us who the characters are as people and why they’re the way they are. At the beginning of our career, it seems logical to inform the reader of that history upfront. “Before you can understand that, you need to know this.”

As we progress, we learn not to drop the history of the intended conflict in the first five pages of a novel or to waste the first three paragraphs of a short story on it.

We understand that those are the pages and paragraphs editors look at first. From those pages, acquisitions editors will decide whether or not to continue reading the submission.

For those of us planning to go the indie route, those first five pages are what the prospective buyer sees in the “look inside” option when buying an eBook. For us, the prospective reader is the acquisition editor. They will buy the book if they like what they see on those pages.

Walls of fictional history muck up the transitions and negate our hooks. We know that infodumps block the doors from one scene to the next.

strange thoughts 2But knowing this and putting it into action are two different things.

So, how do our favorite authors deliver the backstory and still sell books?

First, they consider what must be accomplished in each scene and allow the backstory to inform the reader only when (and if) it’s needed to advance the plot.

Look at the first scene of your manuscript. Ask yourself three questions.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. How many words do you intend to devote to it?

Dialogue, both spoken and internal, is the easiest way to dole out information but can be the gateway to an infodump.

  • Don’t give your characters long paragraphs with lines and lines and lines of uninterrupted dialogue. (Trust the voice of experience, please.)

Doling out the information is a double-edged sword, one all authors must learn to wield with skill. Beginnings must be active, yet those precious first lines must step onto the stage in such a way that they are original, informative, and engaging.

After we open with our best work, the passages and chapters that follow must reflect and build upon the tone and cadence of the opening pages. If not, the reader may be disappointed and choose to not buy any more books by us.

We’re all familiar with the term ‘flatlined,’ a medical expression indicating the patient has died. When the story arc is imbalanced, it can flatline in two ways:

  • Not enough backstory: The action becomes random, an onslaught of meaningless events that make no sense.
  • Too much backstory: The pauses become halts, long passages of random info dumps that have little to do with the action.

A good way to avoid this is to have your characters briefly discuss what is on their minds. Then they will bravely muck on to the next event, keeping the story moving at a good pace.

  • Don’t allow conversations to deteriorate into bloated exposition.
  • Do set forth the necessary information.

This can be accomplished in several ways. For my novels and short stories, I tend to write in either a close third-person or first-person point of view, so my comments in this post are geared toward that style of writing.

Short moments of introspection (thinking, reminiscing, etc.) offer opportunities for doling out new information essential to the story. Their thoughts shed light on how they really feel, illuminating their secret fears or voicing knowledge, giving it to the reader at the moment it is needed.

F Scott Fitzgerald on Good Writing LIRF07252022Be aware: if you are writing from an omniscient POV, this can be tricky and lead to “head-hopping,” which can lead to confusion on the reader’s part. When I change point-of-view characters, I do a hard scene or chapter break.

Letters and messages received or written can give needed information.

Conversations between witnesses and adversarial dialogues (quarrels) can shine a light on a festering past. But remember, if you go on for too long, your reader will either skip forward and miss what was really important or close the book and walk away.

Those are only a few ways to briefly open a window for the reader to see who the characters think they are and how the other characters see them. They offer a hint of how the characters became the way they are portrayed.

In the most gripping narratives I have read, character introspection is brief but delivers crucial information. Their internal monologues illuminate a character’s motives at a particular moment in the story arc, cluing the reader in on what is happening and why.

As the plot progresses, conversation and introspection are good opportunities to deliver information not previously discussed.

Consider the most popular genre: Romance novels. These things fly off the shelves. Why?

  • Because the path to love is never straightforward, and a reward awaits the reader who sticks with it.
  • Some characters will have an air of mystery about their past that isn’t fully revealed until the end.

The pacing in a Romance novel is crucial and is something all writers can learn from:

  • It speeds up (a small reward), and
  • Then it is slowed (dangling the carrot),
  • Then, it goes a little ahead (slightly larger reward),
  • But is slowed (enticement),
  • Finally, the two overcome the circumstances and things that have barred the way to their true happiness. (Gratification and endorphins abound.)

Flaubert on writing LORF07252022Romance novels average 50,000 to 70,000 words. In shorter novels, there is no room for sweeping, epic backstories. Instead, information and backstory are meted out only as needed through conversations and internal dialogue/introspection.

All obstacles to the budding romance are followed by small rewards that keep the reader involved and make them more determined to see the happy ending.

As a reader, I can say that a long-winded rant is not a reward.

This holds true in every book and story, regardless of genre: enticement, reward, enticement, reward. In all stories, complications create tension, and information is a reward.

The combination of those elements keeps the reader reading.

It’s difficult to see bloated exposition in my own work, but one trick I have found is this: word count.

I look at each conversation and assess how many words are devoted to each character’s statement and response. Then, when I come to a passage that is inching toward a monologue, I ask myself, “What can be cut that won’t affect the flow or gut the logic of this exchange? Can some of this be moved to a later conversation?”

to err is human to edit divineEven with all the effort I apply to it, my editor will find things that don’t matter. She will gently take a metaphorical axe to it, highlighting that which doesn’t advance the story or add to the intrigue.

Sometimes we write brilliantly; other times, not so much. Sorting the diamonds from the gravel is hard when it comes to doling out the backstory, but your readers will be glad you made an effort.


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Heroes and Villains part 3 – Drawing on the Shadow Within #amwriting

Today we’re continuing to explore character creation and the dark energy the villain of a piece brings to a story.

WritingCraft_Dark_EnergyIn his book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler discusses how the villain of a piece represents the shadow. The antagonist provides the momentum of the dark side, and their influence on the protagonist and the narrative should be profound.

The shadow character serves several purposes.

  • He/she/it is usually the main antagonist and represents darkness(evil) against which light (good) is shown more clearly.
  • The shadow, whether a person, place, or thing, provides the roadblocks, the reason the protagonist must struggle.

The shadow lives within us all, and our heroes must also struggle with it. The most obvious example of this in pop culture is that of “Batman.”

About the original concept of Batman, via Wikipedia:

Batman_InfoboxBatman is a superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, and debuted in the 27th issue of the comic book Detective Comics on March 30, 1939. In the DC Universe continuity, Batman is the alias of Bruce Wayne, a wealthy American playboy, philanthropist, and industrialist who resides in Gotham CityBatman’s origin story features him swearing vengeance against criminals after witnessing the murder of his parents Thomas and Martha as a child, a vendetta tempered with the ideal of justice. He trains himself physically and intellectually, crafts a bat-inspired persona, and monitors the Gotham streets at night. Kane, Finger, and other creators accompanied Batman with supporting characters, including his sidekicks Robin and Batgirl; allies Alfred PennyworthJames Gordon, and Catwoman; and foes such as the Penguin, the RiddlerTwo-Face, and his archenemy, the Joker. [1]

Bruce Wayne is a flawed character. He is both a generous benefactor of many charities and a vigilante with little or no remorse for his actions. As Batman, he is a hero, a defender of the weak and defenseless. Much of what makes his story compelling is how he justifies indulging his darker side.

The story of Batman is complex, which is why so many movies have emerged exploring his story. We sit in theaters and applaud Batman’s dark side because it’s confined to taking on criminals.

The evil in a narrative is not always represented by a person. Sometimes war is the villain. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires—nature has a pantheon of calamities for us to overcome and no end of stories that emerge from such events.

True heroes don’t necessarily wear capes, and the evils they fight against are often disasters of epic proportions. Ordinary people can become heroes when faced with disasters of any sort.

Consider the true-life events of April 11 through the 17th, 1970. Via Wikipedia:

Apollo_13_liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HRApollo 13 (April 11–17, 1970) was the seventh crewed mission in the Apollo space program and the third meant to land on the Moon. The craft was launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank in the service module (SM) failed two days into the mission. The crew instead looped around the Moon and returned safely to Earth on April 17. The mission was commanded by Jim Lovell, with Jack Swigert as command module (CM) pilot and Fred Haise as Lunar Module (LM) pilot. Swigert was a late replacement for Ken Mattingly, who was grounded after exposure to rubella. [2]

The villain in that epic space adventure was mechanical failure. The heroic efforts of the ground crew to brainstorm ways to get the astronauts home is one of the most powerful stories of the 20th century. We were glued to the television, watching as remedies for each disaster were devised, celebrating as the crew made their way home safely.

The villains we write into our stories represent humanity’s darker side, whether they are a person, a mechanical failure, a dangerous animal, or a natural disaster. They bring ethical and moral quandaries to the story, raising questions of morality, dilemmas we should examine more closely.

When the protagonist must face and overcome the shadow on a profoundly personal level, they are placed in true danger. Which way will they go? This is where my characters have agency, and they sometimes surprise me. They may unknowingly offer up their souls if they stray from the light.

Every character has a different personality and should respond to each event differently. The freedom you allow the protagonist and antagonist to steer the events is crucial for them to emerge as real to the reader.

Sometimes my characters make their own choices. Other times, they go along as I, their creator, have planned for them. Ultimately, they do things their own way and with their own style.

Our fictional heroes must recognize and confront the darkness within themselves. As they do so, the reader also faces it. The hero must choose their own path—will they fight to uphold the light? Will they walk in that gray area between? Bruce Wayne is a good example of one who walks the gray area.

The reader forms opinions and makes choices too, and these subliminal ideas sometimes challenge their ethics.

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Batman,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Batman&oldid=1135964072 (accessed January 30, 2023).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Apollo 13,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Apollo_13&oldid=1133889788 (accessed January 30, 2023).

Image: Batman, drawn by Jim Lee for the cover of Batman: Hush. Created by       Bob Kane and Bill Finger. DC Comics; 15794th edition (December 6, 2011) (Fair Use) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Batman&oldid=1135964072 (accessed January 30, 2023).

Image: Apollo 13 Lift off, Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Apollo 13 liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HR.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Apollo_13_liftoff-KSC-70PC-160HR.jpg&oldid=560250836 (accessed January 30, 2023). Public Domain.


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The Business Side of the Business: Managing Inventory #writerlife

Today’s post is a follow-up to Monday’s post by Ellen King Rice. It is tax season, and many people will begin trying pull together the numbers needed for their federal tax returns. If you sell books at book signing events or trade shows, you are in business for yourself, and Ellen’s post details what your responsibilities are.

Its a BusinessAuthors make readers when they do in-person book signings. We have the chance to connect with potential readers on a personal level, and they might buy a paper book. If we are personable and friendly, they might tell their friends how much they liked meeting us. Those friends will buy eBooks. (We hope!)

Most shows and events will require you to have a business license if you intend to sell books in person. This means you will have a small amount of paperwork after each in-person signing, so I am revisiting a post from 2022 detailing how authors can manage an inventory of books and have the right numbers for tax purposes.

For eBook sales, you have no obligation to report sales taxes, only your royalties as listed on the 1099 issued by Amazon or Draft2Digital, or other eBook sellers.

Whether you are traditionally published or indie, if you intend to make personal appearances at local bookstores, fairs, or conventions, you will have an inventory of books on hand to manage and account for at the end of the year. But more importantly, even if you are traditionally published, you pay for the books you sell at shows. 

The good businessperson has a spreadsheet of some sort to account for this side of the business, as it will be part of your annual business tax report. An excellent method for assembling the information you will generate for your tax report is discussed the previous post, The Business Sequence for Writers. Ellen King Rice has given us a great framework for keeping our business records straight.

There is only one more skill to have, and this is only for those who intend to sell books in person. A wise author understands that good records ensure a successful business and sets up the bookkeeping system before they go to book fairs. They have a list of the stock on hand, what books are on reorder, the day they were ordered, and how long it takes for them to ship. Also, you should keep an account of your cost for each book, both for tax purposes and insurance purposes, just in case the stock of books is lost or damaged in a house fire or flood.

You can do this on notebook paper with a pencil, a ruler, and a calculator.  I began working as a bookkeeper in 1982, using the industry-standard tools of the trade for the time. We noted each transaction with a red or black pencil in a green or yellow ledger book of varying sizes (2 to 32 columns). Then, we used rulers or yardsticks to ensure that we tracked a particular item on the correct line across all the columns. The handiest electronic device on my desk was the calculator with a printout tape.

The tools for this method of accounting are still available in the stationery section of any store and are quite affordable. I have used Excel since 1993 for all my accounting purposes, but no matter how you create your spreadsheet, each title you have on hand to take to book fairs or shows has several costs associated with it.

What follows are several screenshots of a simple way to organize a spreadsheet:


The first column contains the heading Titles: under that heading, list each book you take to shows by the title. We will use Huw the Bard as our example book.

On the same line as the title, working to the right in column 2, write unit cost. This is the price you pay for each copy you must take to a show and varies from title to title by the length of the book and the trim size. On the same line as the book’s title, write the cost you pay KDP or Ingram Sparks or your publisher for that book: $4.99. (edited, thank you Judy!)

Column 3 is the current stock-on-hand at the end of the taxing quarter: Quantity in stock: 19

Column 4 is the sum of column three times column two: Inventory value: $89.11. That is what you would have to pay to replace those books. It is also what some Departments of Revenue may tax you on at the end of the year if the value of that stock is over a certain limit, say $5,000.00. My stock on hand never even approaches that limit.

This is why retail stores have end-of-the-year sales. They need to offload their inventory to keep their taxes low.

Column 5 is the retail price. This is what the book sells for at bookstores: $12.99. You set your retail price to cover the cost of replacing the book, with some revenue to cover table and vendor fees at shows and conventions, and still allow for a small profit.

Column 6 is the special show price (if you discount your books at shows): $12.00.

Column 7 is the retail value of your stock on hand. It is the sum of column 3 times column 6: $228.00.

Were you required to collect sales tax from your customers? When you apply for your business license, you will receive a pamphlet with all the taxing jurisdictions in your licensing area and their tax rates. These range between .08 and .11 here in Thurston County. Washington State has no income tax, so all our state’s revenues come from businesses and sales taxes collected at the time of purchase.

Make a note of the city or county where the books were sold, as you may be required to forward the taxes collected to the Department of Revenue or your local Business and Occupation tax collecting agency. If you are smart, you will make a second page with these columns:


At the bottom of the page for both spreadsheets, total each column. That will give you the stock expenses for all your titles. There will be no scrambling at the end of the quarter for Business and Occupation taxes if you live in a state like Washington State or at the end of the year if you live elsewhere. Be smart and set the money collected as sales tax aside because it is not yours and shouldn’t be considered part of your income.

That way, you will have it at the end of the year if you only do a few shows a year like me, or quarterly if you are out there doing shows and signings every week.

The bookkeeping side of your business should take less than an hour after each show. If you have kept your spreadsheets updated, filling out annual business tax forms for your state and federal agencies will go quickly. You will have all the numbers you need to back up your reports if you are audited.

Also (and this is important), you will know the exact number of books you have on hand in each title. You will know when it’s time to reorder more stock. There is a two-to-three-week lag in printing and shipping time, so ordering books in advance is critical. You don’t want to waste money purchasing stock you have plenty of, but you need to have a supply of your better sellers.

My personal spreadsheet is a little more detailed and is saved in the cloud as are all my business and other records. It looks like this:


Something we rarely consider is the random natural disaster, but we must be prepared. If something should happen to your stock of books due to theft, fire, or flood, you will be able to claim your business loss. Many authors are more prolific than I am.  For most of us, replacing the stock of 1 to 30 titles is an expense that is difficult to carve out of the family budget unless we have sold enough to cover that cost.

Theft is rare, as people are usually quite decent at conventions and trade shows. I’ve only had one book stolen from a table at a show in all these years—a $15.00 (show cost) loss (or $6.80 my cost).

While it disturbed me on one level, I was a bit honored that someone wanted my book that badly. The experience left me confused as to how I was supposed to feel. But on the good side, it was nice to know that shoplifters are readers too!


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Revisiting the Business Sequence for Writers, guest post by Ellen King Rice #writerlife

Today I am revisiting a guest post from last year, written by Ellen King Rice. She has great advice about the business side of this business, and information we all can use. Ellen is a successful indie author of an engrossing series of mushroom thrillers set in the Pacific Northwest.

Its a BusinessShe also wrote the brilliant, hilarious standalone novel, Larry’s Post Rapture Pet Sitting Service. If you haven’t read that book, I highly recommend it. I laughed out loud and couldn’t set the book down.

And now, here is Ellen King Rice and her advice on how to treat this business like a business.

*** *** ***

Moving from hobbyist to professional can be challenging in any field. For indie authors, financial numbers and formal paperwork matter. There are several steps, and the sequence of them can make life easier or . . . not.

The first step in finding a path through the thicket of “business stuff” is to remember past challenges conquered. For many people this may be recalling a first bicycle ride or an early cooking effort. For others there may be a wince as we remember that first round of playing “Hot Cross Buns” on an instrument. Whatever your early challenge was, you didn’t know everything when you started, but you learned quickly.

Today, let’s build a ramp up to a business set up, including tax prep work.

  1. Author’s name.

Search your name on the internet. Make sure you are aware of other writers, activists, artists and business people who share your name. In my case, there were several, including one who shared my middle initial. After some agonizing, I decided my author’s name would be Ellen King Rice even as my friends and family know me as Ellen Rice.

  1. Publisher’s Name

I highly recommend that you chose something other than your author’s name. This gives the writer flexibility to write in more than one genre. There are also times when the publishing house name gives a bit more cachet to projects. I chose Undergrowth Publishing.

  1. Tax Number

This requirement will vary by nation. In the United States, you will want an EIN tax number from the Internal Revenue Service. There is an on-line application here: IRS EIN application online.

The EIN is a Federal Tax ID number used to identify businesses.

Having a Publisher’s name and Tax number helps with getting a business license and a bank account. Of course, I didn’t know this, so I did things backwards and sideways. I tried to get a tax EIN and failed when I was faced with the question “What is your name?”  I highly recommend brisk walks and much chocolate to break up paperwork-filing sessions.

  1. Business license

Again, requirements will vary by location and jurisdiction. If you are resident of the State of Washington, you can find the details here:


I chose Sole Proprietor for my business, but some writers choose to form a Limited Liability Company.

Do you need city or county licenses? In my area, obtaining a state business license triggered a letter from the city demanding I purchase a local license. It took some research, but I determined that the local vendor’s license did not apply to my circumstances (I live in the county, and I sell books on-line).

It’s wise to learn about your community rules, but often these rule sets only apply to those who are selling in person (i.e., your online sales aren’t part of the local tax structure). Even then, there are times when small vendors or special events like an arts fair are exempted.

  1. Bank account

With your writer/publisher names sorted, a Tax EIN and your business license number, getting a business bank account should be straightforward. Mine is with the Washington State Employees Credit Union. I was able to open the business account with $50 and a $5 savings reserve. This gives me an account for Amazon expenses and deposits. I also asked for a dozen checks, which the credit union provided as a courtesy.

Credit card? A business debit card is easy to request once your account is set up, but a business credit card is hard to get. So far, I’ve managed without one.

  1. Spreadsheet and Tax Forms

Last steps! At this point, it is wise to print off the small business end-of-year-tax form that you’ll be using so you can see the information required.

In the United States, this is the Schedule C “Profit or Loss from Business” form from the IRS website. We can use this form to set up a spreadsheet, by category.

We want things set up so a “Sum this category” command will make it easy to fill out the Schedule C at the end of the year.

Details matter. Take some time looking over the Tax form for your situation. Think of it as your End-of-Year Party destination. A party in the tropics requires different prep than a party with penguins. Knowing the lines to be filled makes for clever spreadsheet set up. And, yes, it feels wonderful to be fast and accurate at year’s end.

For Americans, pay attention to Schedule C, Part I which asks what your “gross receipts or sales” are (line 1) and your “cost of goods” (say, printing 30 copies of your book) for line 4.

Next look at Part II. Lines 8 to 27 list different expense categories you can report. Line 8 is Advertising, so I want an “advertising” category when I set up my writer’s spreadsheet for the year. Line 11 is “Contract Labor”, so I’ll set up that category too. My book cover designer fees can go here. Line 18 is “Office expense.”  I set up Office Expense as a category and that’s the designation to house all my paper and printer cartridge charges.

DEFINITELY check in with a qualified tax advisor (which I am not!) to make sure what you are doing is correct before you file your taxes. All I’m encouraging here is to use the Schedule C as a guide to setting up bookkeeping for easy end-of-year number crunching.
Once you have slogged your way through all six of these steps, you should be well on your way as a writing professional. Be sure to celebrate!

Footnote for American tax filers: What happens if I don’t make money? After filling in Part I (income) and Part II (Expenses), I typically show a Net loss (line 31).  That loss amount will go onto a Schedule One form, and from there to Line 8 of the 1040 form as a negative number, which will lower my taxable income.

Thank you, Ellen, for allowing me to reprint this wonderful and enlightening post. If we intend to sell books at book signings and conventions, we have a business. If we want to avoid problems with our respective taxing agencies, we must jump through the proper hoops.

The next post in this series will revisit my post discussing book signings and book fairs, and tracking inventory for both tax and insurance purposes. The pandemic has eased, and many authors have held signings and in-person events. It doesn’t matter if we are indies or traditionally published – if we sell books in person, we need to manage our costs and protect our investments.

This something we all need to consider no matter where we live in this ever-smaller world.

EKR_author_photo_2022About Ellen King Rice:

I am a wildlife biologist who suffered a spinal cord injury many years ago. Although my days of field work are over, biology continues to intrigue me.

I am fascinated by sub-cellular level responses to ecosystem changes. I also like the predictability of animal behavior, once it is understood.

A fast-paced story filled with twists is a fun way to stimulate laughs, gasps and understanding. I work to heighten ecological awareness. I want the details and your new insights to remain in your thoughts forever.

You can find me and my books at www.ellenkingrice.com

​Please join me on Instagram at:


And on Facebook:




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The Business Side of the Business – managing submissions #amwriting

Do you consider yourself a professional writer? If writing is your real career (regardless of your day job), this is a good time to consider your path. One of the best ways to get your author name out there is by having your work published in magazines and anthologies.

Its a BusinessA new year has begun, and open calls for spring and summer contests and anthologies will start appearing in various forums that I frequent. Finding places to submit your work can be challenging, but here are links to two groups on Facebook where publishers post open calls for short stories.

Open Submission Calls for Short Story Writers (All genres, including poetry)

Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Market (speculative fiction only)

  • You must apply to be accepted into these groups and answer specific questions to prove you are legitimately seeking places to submit your work.
  • Once approved, the rules of good conduct must be followed for a happy coexistence. Troublemakers and trolls are unceremoniously ejected.

Some will be open calls for anthologies that are not paid, and others will pay royalties. Be wary and carefully research the unpaid ones to ensure that the publisher is reputable and that there is a good reason why you are being asked to donate your work for no compensation.

Don’t get sucked into submitting to “charity” anthology mills, no matter how fancy their website is. These publishers give legitimate charity anthologies a bad reputation. The only cause these vanity mills support is the publisher’s pocketbook, so they are thinly disguised vanity presses.

Despite their claims, many charity anthology mills are for profit, with less than 10% of any royalties going to the specified charity and the rest remaining as the publisher’s source of income. The only volumes they sell are the ones the individual authors can pressure their friends and families to purchase.

Epic Fails meme2

For those authors new to the mean streets of publishing, vanity anthology mills seem good because they’re guaranteed to be published by these predators. The publishers do little to no editing. So, you must ask yourself this: do you want your author name listed on the cover and forever associated with that pile of awfulness?

We must do a little research and only submit our work to publications that respect both the work they publish and their authors.

And on that note, be sure any contracts you sign limit the use of your story to that volume only, and you retain all other rights.

  • You should retain the right to republish that story after a finite amount of time has passed, usually 90 days after the anthology publication date.

SFWA has a list of predatory publishers you should avoid doing business with. They also have useful information on things that might be found in predatory contracts. You don’t need to be a member to access these. https://www.sfwa.org/

But there are legitimate calls for extremely short fiction by highly reputable publishers.

These publishers pay for the work they publish and offer reasonable contracts. The compensation will be small as the work they are buying isn’t long, but it is payment. Sometimes reputable publishers have open calls for charity anthologies and those are worth submitting to, with one or two well-known authors donating a short story and the rest will be work by up-and-coming writers.

You could be one of those up-and-coming authors–but you need to have written something that you can submit.

Writers gain proficiency in all aspects of writing fiction by writing short stories and essays. We increase our ability to tell a story with minimal exposition and learn ways to use intentional prose.

For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.

theRealStoryLIRF01102021My problem is this: all my stories want to grow longer than 1,000 words. It requires weeks of effort to get my work to fit within that parameter. So, I often write practice stories, limiting myself to telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  1. I have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.
  2. Space is limited, so the number of characters is restricted to just the important ones.
  3. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or influence the outcome.
  4. The fewer the words, the more important the theme becomes. One learns how to use a theme to their advantage.

Best of all, writing a new short story each week builds a reserve, a “bank” to draw on when I need a good piece to submit to a contest. If you select a different theme for each tale, and you may have just the right story in your files to submit to a themed anthology.

When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word “theme.” This is as important as skill as your ability to write clean and compelling prose.

When you submit your work to various places, you need to keep a record of it. Most publishers won’t accept simultaneous submissions. To avoid that, you should list:

  • what was submitted,
  • links or email addresses of where it was sent to,
  • when submissions close,
  • what date the contest ends,

To that end, I suggest you create a database for your work. I use an Excel spreadsheet that lists the title, word count, completion date, where and when I submitted the work, how much I earned for it, etc.

Below is a screenshot of what my list of submitted work looks like. I started this file in 2015 and am still using this spreadsheet to track my submissions.

List of Submitted Work

I also suggest you track your productivity by keeping a daily log of your writing sessions, a writing journal. Each time you sit down to write, make a little note to yourself of how long your writing session was and your word count at the end of the session. Make a note of the time of day you were writing as well.

It’s fun to look back and see the ebb and flow of your productivity. It’s also an excellent way to determine what time of day is your most creative.

Writing is my job. I see this little productivity diary as my way of clocking in to work. It inspires me to develop a writing routine and encourages me to write at least 100 new words every day.

In extremely short fiction such as drabbles and other flash fiction, you must include only the most essential elements of a story.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapAs a poet, I find it far easier to tell a story in 100 words than in 1,000. That 100-word story is called a drabble and is an art form in itself.

You can find publications with open calls at Submittable. Unfortunately, that site is not as useful regarding speculative fiction as it was several years ago. However, I have seen anthology calls for spec fic there. Still, poetry collections, literary anthologies, and contests use Submittable, so that is an option. https://www.submittable.com/

Some more suggestions you could implement during the forthcoming year that fall under the heading of the business of writing are:

  • Find time for education—I attend writing conferences and seminars.
  • Find time for reading—I read for two hours every evening, often longer.
  • Follow editors on Facebook, Instagram, and also their Twitter feeds if you are still using that platform. Consider following the magazines you submit to (or would like to send work to) on each social media platform you use.

This is something a fellow author suggested: keep a networking notebook. It should include the names of people in the industry you have spoken to, who they work for (if an agent or editor), their emails and/or business cards, etc., as you never know when that contact will come in handy.

Finally, you must invest in your career, and that does require a little money. You must develop the habit of saving for future expenses, so I suggest you set aside two dollars for every day you write. That isn’t much, but it adds up and can help pay for a seminar or a conference, or any number of expenses that will come up.

coins That way, you won’t be left wondering how to attend a conference and still cover your household bills.

This list of suggestions is meant for authors who intend to write professionally. It’s a business, so these little bookkeeping habits help keep me focused and on track.

In my next post, I will explore the various forms of short fiction publishers are looking for and how the market drives what they will buy.

Credits and attributions:

Coins, courtesy of Microsoft content creators, accessed December 31, 2022. Non-commercial use.


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Revisions #TheStruggleIsReal #amwriting

Making revisions is quite different from editing, although some people don’t see it that way. Editing is a process that begins when I send the final draft to my editor, usually a year or two out from when the story first lands on paper.

depthPart1revisionsLIRF05252021For me, revisions begin with the second draft and sometimes involve radical changes to the storyline or character arcs. I may take a manuscript through many drafts before finally getting the story right.

The process of revision starts when I write the final lines, finishing the first draft. I’m smarter now than I used to be, so I let that mess sit for a few weeks.

Then I go back and begin reading what I have written. As I read, I make corrections to typos and garbled sentences that I come across, although I miss as many as I catch.

I also notice plot holes, and this is where the second draft becomes work. This is where I might discover I have written myself into a far-fetched corner and my original solution was less than graceful.

Or I may find there is no tension, and the story is nothing but a series of character sketches.

Fortunately, much of what I have written can be recycled into a different project, should the need arise.

fileFolderNEVER DELETE months of work. Don’t trash what could be the seeds of another novel. Save it in an outtakes file and use it later. I give the subfile a name like HA_outtakes_20Dec2022. That file name tells me the cut chapters were last changed on December 20, 2022.

The old manuscript, version 1, will also be in that file in its original entirety.

FileDocumentThen, I give the second draft a new file name: Heavens_Altar_version_2, which becomes the version I work on out of the main file folder.

Why not just delete it? When I get to the second draft stage, I have accomplished many important things with the 3 months of work I might cut from that novel.

  • The world is solidly built.
  • The characters are firmly in my head, so their interactions will make sense in the new context.
  • Some sections I cut can be recycled into the new version, just in a different place.

Sometimes when I’m involved in creating characters, I overlook the misfortunes and struggles that create opportunities for growth. A good storyteller places obstacles on the path, events that must force a transformation upon the protagonists and their companions.

Catastrophes, even small ones on the most personal of levels, are the fertile ground from which adventure springs. When making revisions, we must ensure these growth opportunities are clearly defined, logical, and in the right place.

Events from which there is no turning back are the impetus of change, and that change is what the book is about.

Midpoint in the story’s arc is often a place where a choice is made from which there is no turning back. From that point, the narrative rises to the third plot point, an event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death. If either of these events is a non-starter, I have to either improve them or find better catastrophes.

This major event is critical because it forces the protagonist to be greater than they believed they could be. Conversely, it can break them down into their component parts.

Author-thoughtsEither way, the characters will be profoundly changed from who they thought they were on page one, becoming who they are when the final sentence is written. The character arc is formed by their experiences.

How do I find those catalysts for change? Sometimes I need an external eye to point out where I have gone wrong, and I seek ideas from my writing group.

However, most of my writing disasters are preceded by one or more points of no return. Identifying and rectifying those moments takes time. It’s why I take so long to write a book.

When I finally see what must be changed, it may take several days to visualize how to resolve it. But that time spent mind-wandering on paper is not wasted. I will have a better plot arc for my characters and still arrive at the ending I want.

I believe in the joy of writing and the elation of creating something powerful. Sometimes we lose our fire for a story because another story has captured our imagination. If that happens, set the first one aside and write the story you are passionate about.

We who are indies have the freedom to write what we want, when we want. The only deadlines we have to meet are the ones we set for ourselves.

Book- onstruction-sign copyTrue inspiration is not an everlasting firehose of ideas. Sometimes there are dry spells. If you take another look at the work you have cut and saved in an outtakes file, you might see it with fresh eyes. You might see the seeds of a different story, and the fire for writing will be reignited.

I may take my first draft through many versions before I have the story written the way I want it. The end result should be worth it—I hope.


Filed under writing