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Query Swap Returns

Query Swap Returns

Query Swap (#QuerySwap) Twitter event Coming June 1, 2018 It’s Query Swap time again To help you polish your query, I’m hosting Query Swap (#QuerySwap) from 8am-8pm EST on June 1, 2018 Your hook is your selling point. It has to be perfect. But getting […]

Your Novel This Month needs ARC readers

Your Novel This Month needs ARC readers

I have an announcement It’s Friday and I usually have a writing-related post, but today I’m taking a break for a special announcement In just a few short months I will be releasing my first writing book. Based on my “Beginner’s Guide to NaNoWriMo” blog […]

Amnesia as a plot device-authortoolbox

Amnesia as a plot device-authortoolbox

How to use amnesia as a plot device

Recently I was slogging through an ARC (and I do mean slogging) trying to figure out why I can’t get into the story. It’s a great idea. Something I’ve never read before. Time travel kid, alternate timelines, and a unique idea of using time as a web, which allows those with the ‘power’ to pull objects from alternate timelines into the character’s present. It should be awesome, but something was off.

The main character kept “remembering” plot-changing information, and then life went on as if nothing happened. In other words, the reader was never prepared for anything.

Preparation keeps plots from feeling contrived

Lack of preparation in fantasy is a disaster waiting to happen. Particularly one that categorized as magical realism. If you have a scruffy wizard grinding things with his mortar and pestle and something behind him explodes without explanation, the reader will forgive it. At Merlin’s table we expect magical things to happen. If the same thing happens at John Smith’s kitchen table, your reader is going to say, “Wait, what?”

In this particular book, the main character (MC) would inexplicably “remember” things when it was convenient for the plot.

During monster attack
MC: “But I’ve never touched a sword in my life.”
Sidekick: “Here hold mine.”
Never before mentioned memories of being Zorro flood back into the MC.

All enemies are dead.
MC shows no surprise at remembering being Zorro.

While this is a stripped down example, it is an accurate outline of something I had noticed throughout the book.

No, no, no, just no.

What to do instead

Using Amnesia as a plot device-www.themansucriptshredder.comThere are plenty of movies where an MC rediscovers lost memories. The Bourne Identity is a great example. In the movie, Jason Bourne doesn’t suddenly remember all his skills. In first fight scene he initially doesn’t fight back until the policeman touches him. The sensation triggers a sensory memory, which is a separate memory from the repressed cognitive one. Jason realizes the sensation of being attacked is familiar, and he follows the tactile memory. We see Matt Damon portray this internal dialogue through facial expressions, first surprise, hesitation, and then finally curiosity as he explores the memory. The entire sequence feels believable, despite the reality that a smaller Jason Bourne could not really wire-jitsu two much bigger men who were also trained in hand-to-hand fighting.

What to do instead

1. Plant a seed in a previous chapter.

Rather than have the master swordsman memory come out of nowhere, the author should have alluded to the skill earlier. Since the MC is a kid (Never mind that the Zorro memory in question occurred when he was 10 years old.) He could have easily been swinging a stick around in the woods and had a flash of familiarity. Find some realistic way of alluding to a hidden skill. In the Long Kiss Goodnight, ex-assassin Gena Davis is chopping vegetables in the kitchen and rediscovers her forgotten knife skills. She makes the wrong conclusion, (that she used to be a chef) but the hint is there: she’s really good with a knife.

2. The discovery

Take the reader through the process of rediscovering a forgotten or innate skill.

  1. Surprise
    Internal dialogue: “This feels familiar” (recovered memory) or “What just happened?” (innate skill)
  2. Confusion
    Internal dialogue: “Why do I know this?” (memory) or “How did I do that?” (innate skill)
  3. Test the waters
    If your MC suddenly remembers he was Zorro in a past life, he is still going to be tentative the first time he uses his skills. He can gain confidence quickly, but the first few strokes will be restrained. Similarly, if your MC discovers his telekinesis, let him test it by moving a glass on a table, not by stopping a train.
  4. Build the new skill
    Character has a small success (or let her fail a few times, even better.)
  5. Then move on to bigger things

3. Take time to process

Discovering a new incredible gift will affect your main character. I hate it when the MC suddenly has a strange power and is “taking it so well.” Cat Winters does a great job with this in “A Cure for Dreaming. (Affiliate, but I really liked the book.)” Olivia’s sudden magical ability affects her interactions with everyone in the story, and as a result, her relationships with those around her change. Winters also explores the Olivia’s fears that the ability will be permanent and how it will affect the rest of her life. These are thoughts a person would really have. The main character needed time to adjust emotionally to her new abilities. Even a helpful skill would take time to adjust to. If your MC is no different after attaining a skill than she was before, it will not feel authentic.

I’m only a third of the way through this book, and I’m hoping that these issues will work themselves out since I love the concept. But if I were at the bookstore, this one would have gone back on the shelf. As a reader I enjoy being surprised, but I hate being confused. Avoid this pitfall by preparing your readers properly. Then the magic will feel real.

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

This article is part of the author toolbox blog hop

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

A few final things

First: Announcing my bookYour Novel, This

Based on my “Beginner’s Guide to NaNoWriMo” blog posts, this book breaks down contemporary plot structure into daily writing goals in order to guide the novice writer through the entire month. I’m currently looking for ARC reviewers, Bloggers, and/or Podcasters for the publicity campaign for the August release. If you’d like to participate send me an email michelekellerauthor(at)gmail Thanks!

Second: #QuerySwap



If you are a querying author, don’t forget about #QuerySwap on June 1. It’s a Twitter party where you pitch your book, find a new critique partner and exchange feedback on query letters. All for free. For more information click here

If you found this article useful, please share it with other writers on social media. Thanks

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Spring Writing Goals-IWSG

Spring Writing Goals-IWSG

Spring is the time for: This is my post for The Insecure Writers Support Group: a monthly blog hop therapy group for writers. (If you’re here for my writing lessons and have no need for this warm-fuzzy-feeling stuff, I’ll see you on Friday.) The awesome […]

Eliminating Word Crutches

Eliminating Word Crutches

Every writer has words or phrases that habitually show up in their work. These crutches bog down a manuscript and make it feel repetitive. Don’t let overused words ruin your novel

Free Cricut Planner Stickers: May

Free Cricut Planner Stickers: May

The May Planner Stickers are here

These stickers are optimized for Cricut cutting machines. Just print and cut on shipping labels or Cricut sticker paper.

(click here for the full directions)

(Just getting started, click here)

May 1

I love Art Nouveau. Something about the decadence of it. And the deep rose and earthy color scheme reminds me of wine and chocolate.

free cricut planner stickers

Click here for May 1 Stickers

May 2

This sweet Mother’s Day layout is simple and functional.

free cricut planner stickers

May 2 Stickers

May 3

Summer sun is just around the corner. This breezy nature layout is just a glimpse of what’s to come.

free cricut planner stickers

May 3 Stickers

May 4

This layout is a riot of colorful birds and flowers. Enjoy this celebration of spring.

free cricut planner stickers

May 4 Stickers

Hope you enjoy using these stickers as much as I enjoyed making them. Drop me a line if there’s something you’d like to see.

If you enjoyed these stickers, please share this post on social media. Thanks!

Beta readers: When to Ignore Them

Beta readers: When to Ignore Them

Having too many beta readers swamps the new writer with advice, and that isn’t always helpful. Don’t let beta feedback trap you in an endless editing loop. Learn to evaluate writing advice and take back control of your story.

Realistically Introducing Magic-authortoolbox

Realistically Introducing Magic-authortoolbox

Introducing your readers to your magic system takes careful consideration. Don’t blindside them with the supernatural. Prepare them properly and they will be ready to believe anything.

Revision Checklist Printable

Revision Checklist Printable

Print this Handy Revision Checklist

Getting stuck in an editing loop can destroy your forward momentum. This printable revision checklist will keep you on track by  helping you do the right edits in the right order.

Click here for printable revision checklist

The Manuscript Shredder’s Novel Revision and Editing Checklist

Stage 1

Step 1: Take a break

Step 2: Make a scene list with a 1- or 2-line description. (Skip if you have an outline.)Printable revision

Step 3: First pass

Using your outline:

  • Identify any scenes that do not move your plot forward and cut them. (These are usually world-building exposition and character-building scenes that don’t have lasting consequences for the plot) Make a note of any important information in these scenes and make a plan to add it to another scene.
  • Identify any characters that do not move the plot forward. (These will likely be eliminated in the useless scene purge.) And consider combining secondary characters that serve the same purpose.
  • Identify any subplots that do not impact the main plot, consider cutting these. Again, make sure any important information is inserted into another scene.
  • Identify plot holes
  • Now make a short description of your character arc and check them for logical progression.
  • If you use the XXX trick, (typing XXX when you cannot remember a word or detail.) do a “find/replace” and fill in those missing vocabulary words.

Step 4: First rewrite: Go back through and fix those issues from the first pass.

Step 5: Second pass- Scene level edits

  • Are all the scenes complete?
  • Do scenes end in the right place, or do they stretch on too long?
  • Is the pacing too fast? Too slow?
  • Do your scenes contain useless filler or chit-chat dialogue?
  • Are any scenes missing or out of order?
  • Does characterization follow a logical progression?
  • Are your character reactions consistent with his/her place in the character arc?
  • Make sure your secondary characters make appearances throughout the story.
  • Use spell-check to fix any spelling errors or incorrect words for clarity, otherwise, leave the grammar alone. Do not waste time reworking sentences or paragraphs at this stage, as you have not finalized which scenes will remain in the story.

Step 6: alpha readers

What’s the difference between alpha readers and beta readers?

Alpha readers are the readers who read your book when it is still in its generation stages. These readers will give you feedback on overall structure, characterization, or world-building. Alpha readers focus on big-picture items. (If you’re working with a professional editor, this stage is called a developmental edit, substantive edit, or manuscript evaluation.)

  • Step 7: Second rewrite Using the feedback from your alpha readers, solidify your plot line and character arcs.

Stage 2

Now you are ready to look at the smaller details

Step 8: Third Pass Focus on the prose.

    • Check your MRU’s.(yes, I’m still on about those.)
    • Eliminate unnecessary exposition
    • Eliminate unnecessary words or phrases. (And make sure you are not using commas to tack things into sentences where they don’t belong.)
    • Eliminate unnecessary passive voice (not all passive voice is bad)
    • Look for stronger verbs, etc. (Again, not all adverbs are bad. Use your best judgment)
    • Double check your sentence constructions. Look out for repetitive sentence starts, participle phrase abuse, or otherwise convoluted sentence structures.
    • Check for POV errors and author intrusion
    • Eliminate unintentional distancing: phrases like I felt, I thought, I saw, etc. (deep POV)
    • Eliminate consistency errors

Step 9: Beta Readers

Don’t get caught in an editing loop trying to please everyone. You will never succeed. A beta reader may not like your book. That’s ok. If you got good feedback at the alpha stage, then you shouldn’t need to make huge changes.

      • Make any changes you agree with

You are ready to move to stage three. If you are working with a professional editor at this stage you will be getting a line edit.

Stage Three

Step 10: Copy edits

Spelling, punctuation, and grammar. If you are having trouble focusing on these tiny details, do this edit from the back to the front. By reading the novel backward, you are forced to look at each sentence individually, and you won’t fall into the trap of just reading the novel.

After this edit is finished, you are ready to query. (Although, if you land an agent, then you will likely do this process over again with her.)

If you are planning to self-publish, you will need to prepare your manuscript for publication. (Which is a whole other checklist.)

If you found this article useful, please share it with other writers on social media. Thanks!

Have something to add? Leave a comment. I love hearing from readers.

Reclaiming the Creative Drive IWSG

Reclaiming the Creative Drive IWSG

What I do when I get into a writing funk (Well, after the coffee, the chocolate, and moping around the house for days.) My road to recovery in three steps:


The Negative Trait Thesaurus-Recommended

The Negative Trait Thesaurus-Recommended

The Manuscript Shredder recommends: The Negative Trait Thesaurus

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s thesauri are a common sight on many writers’ bookshelves. Why? These books offer tons of information is a simple to reference form. Where many books on writing are long essays intended to be read from cover to cover, these books are organized as reference materials allowing writers to find the answer to their question quickly and get back to writing.

Why would I need a Negative Trait Thesaurus?negative trait thesaurus

Characters need flaws. (No, being an adorable klutz doesn’t count.) Real people have flaws. Your characters should too. Flaws will make them more relatable and more realistic.

Without flaws, your characters cannot grow or change. Flaws are also sources of tension and conflict. These are critical for propelling your character into action. No conflict means no story.

(Need more information on creating character flaws? click here)

Character flaws also allow you to set up a dynamic relationship between the hero and the villain. The contemporary villain is no longer allowed to sit in a dark tower and think evil thoughts. He must be actively trying to keep our hero down. The most effective villains are those that mirror the hero’s flaw. For example, in the Lego Batman movie, Batman’s flaw was his inability to form meaningful relationships. The Joker mirrored this flaw by always working with a team of villains. Every time they two fought, Batman was alone and the Joker had an enormous crew. This dynamic emphasized Batman’s flaw and brought an additional layer of tension to the relationship.

What’s great about the Negative Trait Thesaurus?

  1. This book is the blueprint for planning character arcs. It is simple to reference and easy to understand. Ackerman and Puglisi have stripped the information down and presented it in a clear, concise format that won’t have you wasting hours searching for answers.
  2. The book is comprehensive, covering over 200 different character flaws. You will never run of personal demons to give your characters.
  3. The book also has short essays on using the material to improve your writing. These compact articles provide valuable insight without wasting space.

What’s not so great?

This book is a starting point, not an answer key. Adhering too closely to the suggestions can lead to formulaic writing. Make sure you add your own unique perspective to your characters.

Add the Negative Trait Thesaurus to your writer’s library

Ackerman and Puglisi have created a superb reference for writers. While I like most of the books in this series, The Negative Trait Thesaurus is my favorite. If you only have funds for one, choose this one.

A link to the book (Affiliate)


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