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Amnesia as a plot device-authortoolbox

Amnesia as a plot device-authortoolbox

Using amnesia in your story can lead to a contrived plot. Without proper preparation, readers will be left annoyed and confused. Don’t fall into this trap. Follow these simple tips

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 […]

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 good feedback can often be difficult or expensive. That’s why I’m organizing the Query Swap Twitter party, an all-day event for people seeking critique partners to participate in feedback exchanges on query letters or back cover blurbs. The query swap Twitter party is designed to help writers connect with other writers. And since this is an exchange, both parties will benefit.

All you need to do to participate is:

  1. Tweet a brief pitch about your MS with the tag #QuerySwap include genre and age category hashtags. (They might look familiar; they are the same as #Pitmad) No need to tweet multiple times since you can search the feed and look for a match too.
  2. Watch the feed and find someone with an MS in a similar genre, category, and tone
  3. Ask him/her to swap
  4. Exchange queries
  5. Give constructive feedback to your new Critique Partner.

Can I just recycle my #pitmad pitch?

Maybe, but it might need tweaking. In this swap, genre, category, and overall MS tone will be more important than plot in finding a good match. Someone with a snarky sensibility might be less suited to selling your Anne of Green Gables retelling, so make sure you look for a person who writes in a similar style.

example pitch:

#LGBT historic retelling of Frog Prince set in Polynesia also dragons #YA #F #R #QuerySwap


Dark portal fantasy with family drama and talking cats #MG #F #DIS #QuerySwap

Obviously, these won’t work for #pitmad, but they convey the necessary information for this event.

A word about the 280 limit: Proceed with caution, I have heard many people state they tend to skip longer pitches. (TLDR)

Want to help Query Swap Succeed? Share this post with your Facebook writing group or on social media. Every share helps!

Hashtags … (These are the same as #pitmad)

Age Categories:

#PB= Picture Book
#C = Children’s
#CB = Chapter Book
#CL = Children’s Lit
#MG = Middle Grade
#YA = Young Adult
#NA = New Adult
#A = Adult


#AA = African American
#AD = Adventure
#CF = Christian Fiction
#CON = Contemporary
#CR = Contemporary Romance
#DIS = Disabilities
#DV = Diversity
#E = Erotica
#ER = Erotic Romance
#ES = Erotica Suspense
#F = Fantasy
#H = Horror
#HA = Humor
#HF = Historical Fiction
#HR = Historical Romance
#INSP = Inspirational
#IRMC = Interracial/Multicultural
#MR = Magical Realism
#M = Mystery
#Mem = Memoir
#LF = Literary Fiction
#NF = Non-fiction
#R = Romance
#P = Paranormal
#PR = Paranormal Romance
#RS = Romantic Suspense
#S = Suspense
#SF = SciFi
#SPF = Speculative Fiction
#T = Thriller
#UF = Urban Fantasy
#W = Westerns
#WF = Woman’s Fiction

Some tips:

  1. Don’t flood the feed with pitches for the same book. Pitching multiple books is ok
  2. Pitch only if you are ready to swap queries on June 1
  3. Don’t just wait for someone to ask you first. Be proactive.
  4. Use the hashtags to simplify your search.
  5. Be polite.
  6. Remember this is a swap. Both parties must give feedback

I’m relying on writers to get the word out. Help #QuerySwap succeed. Please share via social media, reblog this post, or  share with your personal writing friends.


Questions or concerns, please leave a comment.


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

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

Making Magic feel Real

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.

A few years ago a young writer handed me her baby book and asked for some feedback. Since this was her first novel and a NaNo child, I had no idea what to expect when I clicked on the link.

From the first sentence I was immersed into a poignant modern tragedy of a woman struggling with not only the pain of infertility but also the need to justify her value as a woman against her religion’s explanation for her existence. The writing was beautiful, painful, and truthful. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.

And then a tree knocked on the door.

record scratch

Yes, you read that right, a walking, talking, tree.

All the preparation from the first chapter dissipated in one line. I was left dumbfounded. After that moment the writing completely fell apart. Whatever beauty had been grown in the first chapter, the second one killed it.

So what went wrong?

Clearly there are times (in magical realism especially) where the MC will be surprised to find that things in the world are not exactly as they seem. “iZombie,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Once Upon a Time” are three examples of shows where magic exists secretly in the contemporary world. In all these shows, the MC begins in the ordinary world but soon discovers the magical one. So why does it work in these shows and this particular MS fell short?

Magic Needs Preparation

The original story failed because it did nothing to prepare the reader for the supernatural. Instead the author set the reader up for an entirely different story, (one about infertility and religious repression) so when the supernatural element arrived, the reader felt blindsided and ultimately betrayed.

Establish normal then violate it.

The first job of any storyteller is to establish normal. This is the second function of your opening, (behind introducing your MC) Take the opportunity to establish that normal, perhaps really isn’t.Introducing magic to

a few techniques:

1. Over emphasize character’s denial of strange.

In the first chapter of Harry Potter, Rowling emphasizes repeatedly that Mr. Dursley “never has anything to do with any funny business.” She goes to so much trouble to make certain that everyone knows this, that we are all guaranteed to make the opposite assumption. We are so grounded in this assumption that by the time Mr. Dursley begins to see people dressed as wizards we know exactly what is going on.

2. Show your hand

Another technique is to show the supernatural element right away in a prologue, then introduce your MC. This technique is used much more frequently in TV and film, but can also be used in novels. However, since prologues are currently out of fashion in books, proceed with caution. Also, if your story is single 1st-person POV, having one scene from the monster’s POV could be jarring to the readers.

3. Drop hints

A third possibility is to introduce the supernatural element in small doses. A few dashes of “What was that? and “That was strange.” will prepare your audience for the bombshell. Tone will help these little seeds take hold. A glimpse of a ghost will feel more appropriate with darker prose.

4. Start with a bang

The exact opposite of little hints is to start with the supernatural, and then establish normal through his/her reaction to the event. This means that your main character will be introduced to the supernatural on or near the first page.

These are only a few ideas, but should give you a place to start. Whichever technique you decide, do not wait until the second chapter to start preparing the reader. Preparation (some hint of a magical world) must begin in the opening pages, otherwise, your readers will feel confused or blindsided.


Once you have established normal and introduced your supernatural element, don’t forget to have your characters react in a meaningful way. In the tree story, our MC invited the tree into her house and sat quietly while it talked to her for what I could only assume was the better part of an afternoon. The author gave the reason the MC just sat there and let the tree chatter away as “she was stunned.” The real reason seemed more likely that the author needed the tree to dump some backstory. In any case, it was neither believable nor effective storytelling.

What to do instead:

1. Knee jerk reaction

This is the first gut response to something. If the MC is stunned, fine, but a knee jerk reaction is the one the MC makes without thinking. After a few seconds, or perhaps a minute, the MC’s brain will begin to work again. Time to move on.

2. Initial plan

After the shock has worn off, it’s time to start thinking. While the tree was chartering away, the MC could have been sliding across the far wall, mentally calculating the number of steps between her and the shotgun, trying to remember if the bullets were still locked up. Something. A more timid MC might be planning some means of escape or even cowering in terror. Make sure the reaction matches the characterization you built in your opening.

3. The aftermath

Once the encounter is over, the MC will have to spend some time digesting the new information and integrating it into a new world view. Do not ignore this important element. Not only will this enrich your character arc, but it will make the encounter feel more believable. Even someone who has believed in ghosts their entire life with have to process the experience of finally seeing one. There is a difference between believing and knowing.

Final thoughts

Make certain the tone of your opening matches with the rest of the book. The tree book began with a somber women’s fiction feel and in the second chapter changed into a contemporary paranormal adventure. These are completely different genres making the chapters feel as if they had come from two different books. Introducing the paranormal should change the life of your main character, not the tone of the manuscript.  Take the time to prepare your readers. Lead them through your character’s discovery and response, then they too, will believe in magic.

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. 

(Psst, Authortoolbox friends, I am having surgery, so depending on my recovery, I may not be able to reciprocate comments this week, but I’ll be back next month. Cheers!)

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.

Revision Checklist Printable

Revision Checklist Printable

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.

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:

Avoiding Stage Directions

Avoiding Stage Directions

Stage Directions

What they are, why they are bad, and how to fix them

In a play, stage directions are the non-dialog actions the actor must perform. These can be used to mark entrances and exits, or they can be pantomimes of actions or emotions used to set up dialogue. Here is an example from the opening of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible:

Reverend Parris is praying now, and though we cannot hear his words, a sense of confusion hangs about him. He mumbles, then seems about to weep; then he weeps, then prays again, but his daughter does not stir on the bed.

While this is appropriate for a play, long passages with multiple actions strung together don’t work in novel writing.

“Julie, what have you done?” I shout at my sister. I race to the table and pick the figurines up, examining each one. I start setting them in their proper places, nudging them back into their exact spots, making sure they are exactly perfect. “I told you not to play with these.”

Avoiding stage directions in writing-www.themanuscriptshredder.comIn novels, “stage directions” are sections where the author begins listing a character’s visible actions without giving the thoughts or feelings associated with them. These actions lose their significance because the reader is never told why they are important. As a result, the reader is bombarded with useless information, unable to discern which actions are meaningful.

In novels, anything reported to the reader must be significant. For this reason, listing all of a character’s actions (including insignificant actions) actually creates distance. The reader never gets to see the character’s thoughts and feeling and is, therefore, left outside. A character’s thoughts and feelings are half your story, don’t forget them.

Consider the previous example with the internal dialogue replaced:

“Julie, what have done?” I shout at my sister.
No, no, no, no. I race to the table and pick up the figurines, examining each one. This is so bad.
They aren’t broken, thank God, but he’s gonna know she touched them. He’s gonna know we were in here.

I start setting them in their proper places, nudging them back into their exact spots, making sure they are exactly perfect. Please, please, please, don’t let him notice. Please, God, please.
“I told you not to play with these.”

Internal thoughts can completely change the story.

How to fix stage directions

Once you have located a section of stage directions, isolate it. Take each action and create a complete MRU. (Motivation-Reaction Unit)

Since action is part of the “reaction” portion of the MRU, you will have to work backward and find the cause. (motivation)
(Input) Motivation- what caused the action? Sensory input: see, hear, smell, etc. Can also be a sixth sense or an internal motivation
(Output) Reaction-

  • Feeling: involuntary (visceral responses: heart race, stomach drop, etc.) (show emotions)
  • Thoughts: internal dialogue
  • Physical Actions
  • Speech

If you cannot create an MRU for each action, then you don’t need them all. Pick the most important, and let the reader assume the rest.
Input- The sun glinted off the ring (vision)


  1. (Thought) His ring, the lying, cheating jerk
  2. (action) I threw back my covers, got up from my bed and stormed across my room. Then, I grabbed the ring and flung it across my room.

There are too many actions. Most can be assumed by the reader.

In the first sentence, we only need “stormed across the room.” In this passage, the reader already knew the character was in bed (this was before the excerpt) So if she stormed across the room, she couldn’t have done that unless she also threw back the covers and got out of bed. In the second sentence, we only need “flung it across the room.” We can assume she picked it up. (Now, if she used mental telepathy to will it into her hand, that would be significant.)

First Revision- (Action) I stormed across the room and flung the ring across the room (Uh oh, echo)

Final Version- (action) I stormed across the room and threw his stupid ring as hard as I could.
Input: It pinged against the wall, then, vanished into a pile of old junk.
Output: (Thought) If only getting rid of him could be that easy.
Input: A beautiful image popped into my head.
Output: (thought) Maybe it can be.

In the final version, each MRU is complete and only the most meaningful actions are given. This will help build trust with your readers because everything in the book is important. Readers will appreciate that you are not wasting their time or insulting their intelligence. Letting readers make assumptions is a sneaky way of engaging their interest.

Don’t write stage directions in your novel. Give readers only the details they really want to know.

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.

Scene and Sequel: Making them work together

Scene and Sequel: Making them work together

“Scene and sequel” doesn’t have to be mysterious writer talk. This simple formula will help you create the lean exciting plotlines readers crave. By mastering this technique, you can cut out all the dead weight and unlock your story’s true potential.