Tag: write tip

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.

The Negative Trait Thesaurus-Recommended

The Negative Trait Thesaurus-Recommended

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s thesauri are a common sight on many writers’ bookshelves. These books offer tons of information is a simple to reference form. Get the complete review here.

Crafting your Inciting Incident NaNoWriMo day 5

Crafting your Inciting Incident NaNoWriMo day 5

Inciting incident: the point of no return

The first part of your book has been devoted to establishing normal, building your character’s world, introducing themes, and stakes. All the pieces are in place for your inciting incident.

And now doomCrafting your inciting incident

The inciting incident is the event that forces the main character to action. It is the one event that sets him on his path. Before this moment he could continue his normal life. Once the inciting incident happens, everything changes.

  • Prim is chosen for the Hunger Games
  • Gandalf invites Bilbo on a quest
  • Hagrid gives Harry a letter

The inciting incident changes something. While many inciting incidents throw your character’s world into chaos, the change does not have to be negative. Harry’s letter was probably the best thing to happen to the boy. But it did change his life. Once Harry knew who he was, his life had been altered permanently.

An inciting incident:

  1. Forces the characters to act
  2. It is the point of no return

An effective inciting incident:

Must be the results of the setup

This is the moment you’ve been building toward. (I’m looking at you pantsers.) Otherwise, it won’t make sense, and readers will feel duped. Imagine if Prim had been chosen for a beauty contest? The opening chapters in the Hunger Games established Katniss as a skilled hunter and demonstrated her need to protect Prim. None of that would have been pertinent if Prim had been chosen for a pageant.

Can’t have an easy solution

crafting your inciting incidentHow many times have you been turned off by a book or movie where for some inexplicable reason the main character responded to a crisis with the dumbest, most complex response imaginable. Your character doesn’t need to helicopter jump to the top floor of a building when it has a perfectly good elevator.

Must be logical

This means if you want your teen to knowingly date an assassin, you need to craft your set-up so that it’s believable. Just like the Hunger Games example above, the inciting incident is the event that changes the world (normal life) you have just established for your character. It can’t be random. It must challenge the status quo.

Must be personal to the main character

Katniss volunteered because Prim was her sister. Harry wanted an escape from his miserable life. The inciting incident can’t be something that happens far away. It must happen to the character, and it must threaten him personally.

Reflects the stakes already established

As you are establishing your character’s world, you will show the reader what your character holds dear, the thing he doesn’t want to lose. Make sure your inciting incident threatens that thing. In Inside Out, Joy believes making Reily perpetually happy is her personal mission, but Sadness’s actions threaten the status quo, forcing Joy to act.

Everything in your opening chapters leads to this moment

Inciting incident is the moment everything changes for your main character. It is the result of your set up, the carefully crafted event that sends your hero on his path. Make sure yours is up to the task.

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Hooks versus Themes NaNoWriMo day 3

Hooks versus Themes NaNoWriMo day 3

Hooks versus themes.The difference between theme and hook can be confusing. Learn what they are and why your story needs them.

Scene Planning Worksheet

Scene Planning Worksheet

Scene planning worksheets will give you a simple framework to brainstorm your ideas so you will be ready when you actually have time to write.

What’s the deal with Passive Voice?

What’s the deal with Passive Voice?


We’ve all heard the writing advice, “Avoid passive voice,” but many writers seem to be confused about what passive voice really means. Rather than waste time demonizing “was” and “is” writers need to know what passive voice really is and when to use it correctly. (Yes, there is a place for it!)

What is Passive Voice anyway?

I’m a member of several Facebook writing groups. In one of these groups, members like to post two sentences and ask which one sounds better. I find this practice to be useless, since, without the surrounding context, it’s impossible to determine which sentence works best. At its worst, this has inspired lengthy commentary of compounding bad advice that, if heeded, would lead an unsuspecting writer down a horrible path.

One of these recent discussions was a writer asking for advice on rewriting her sentence in active voice.

The room was cold and drafty.

This isn’t passive voice.

The verb was/is does not automatically mean the sentence is in the passive voice.

Passive voice is a sentence whose subject does not perform the action.

“John was attacked by wild dogs.” -passive. John is the subject, but the dogs are performing the action.

“Wild dogs attacked John.”– active. Dogs is the subject and the dogs are performing the action.

Use the zombie test to check for passive voice

Definitive guide to using passive voice

One of my favorite ways to check for passive voice is to use the “by zombies” trick. (If anyone knows the original inventor of this device, please let me know in the comments so I can credit it.) If you can insert “by zombies” after the main verb and the sentence makes sense, then you have passive voice.

John was attacked (by zombies) Passive voice. John is the subject of the sentence, but he is not performing the action “attacked.”

John attacked (by zombies) Active voice. John is the subject and he is performing the action.

However, this test is not fool-proof

John was annoyed (by zombies) Not passive.

In this instance, annoyed is functioning as an adjective. Annoyed describes John’s emotional state making this a linking verb rather than passive voice. This is an exceptional case because annoyed can be either an adjective or a verb depending on context. If the sentence were “John was annoyed by zombies,” the word’s function in that sentence is unclear. Is John feeling annoyed about zombies in general, (in which case annoyed would be an adjective and the sentence: active voice- linking verb) or are the zombies actively antagonizing poor John? (Which would indicate passive voice.)

Was/is doesn’t always mean passive voice.

Every time I see someone post on Twitter that they are removing every instance of the verb “to be” from their manuscripts, I shudder. There is nothing wrong with these verbs. They are an important part of the English language.

Active vs. passive voice and action vs. linking verbs

Most of the confusion seems to come from the close association of action verbs with active voice. These are not synonymous. Active voice is a sentence whose subject performs the action. Action verbs describe what a subject does: run, jump, stand etc.

Active voice sentences can use either action verbs or linking verbs.

John smelled the flowers. (Active voice-Action verb)
John smelled like flowers. (Active voice-Linking verb)

Notice that some verbs can function as action or linking verbs. In the first sentence John is performing the action: smelled. In the second example smelled connects to subject (John) to the words that describe him (flowers).

Linking verbs are those that connect a subject to the word or words that describe the subject.

The most common linking verbs are forms of to be: am, is, are, was, were, being, been. Other linking verbs include, appear, become, feel, grow, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, taste, and turn.

John is angry
John feels sad
John looks tired.

These are all active voice but use linking verbs.

Another important usage of forms of “to be” is the progressive tense.

Progressive tense combines a form of “to be” with an action verb.

John was sitting in a chair.

Eliminating the helping verb (was) in this case would change the meaning of the sentence.

John sat in the chair.

In the first example, John was already in the chair when the scene began. In the second example, John began the scene standing and then sat at some point during the scene. Blindly eliminating every “to be” verb from your manuscript is a recipe for disaster.

So why do so many writing advice blogs seem to hate the verb “to be?”

The problem comes in amateur usage.

Correctly using Passive voice

As a normal rule, passive voice should be avoided because it confuses the subject and action creating a weaker sentence. However, there are times when the use of passive voice is necessary to create a desired effect.

For example, this is the opening sentence from my query letter

18-year-old Koa only has a few months left to complete a year-long solo tour of her oceanic kingdom when she is attacked by pirates who want to steal her water dragon.

In this sentence, I chose to use passive voice to keep the focus on Koa, rather than switch to the pirates. I could have broken the sentence into two, but that would have changed the weight of the paragraph. Since the first two sentences of the query introduce the two POV characters, I wanted them to have equal weight. Giving one character more sentences would have thrown off the balance between them.

Using passive voice is acceptable if you want to keep the focus on the recipient or if the party performing the action is unimportant or unknown.

John was mugged. Passive voice. We don’t know who mugged John.
The papers were lost. Passive voice. We don’t know who lost the papers.

Correctly using Linking verbs

Overuse of linking verbs can lead to pages of static descriptions and characters who do nothing.

Writing bloggers will tell you to combat this with “active settings” or similar devices. For example,

The wall was tall. becomes The wall loomed over us.

However, active settings can also be overdone. Consider:

It was raining the day they brought John’s body home.

The amateur rewrite might try:
Rain poured from the sky the day they brought John’s body home. (Which sounds ridiculous, where else would rain come from?)
Rain soaked into our bones the day they brought John’s body home. (ick, overly dramatic and sounds like writing pa-twey!)

There’s nothing wrong with “It was raining.” It sounds natural because this is the way people actually speak. Avoiding all linking verbs will leave your prose sounding overworked and unnatural.

Correctly using Progressive tenses

Unless you are overusing this construction, there is no reason to eliminate progressive tenses from your writing.

Everyone has a demon. Mine is sitting in a beat up leather recliner smoking a menthol.

In this sentence, the demon is already sitting in the chair when the narration begins. Eliminating the “is” would change the meaning of the sentence. Again, there is nothing wrong with using forms of “to be.”

Stop demonizing was and is

Forms of the verb “to be” have a place in your writing. Progressive tenses, linking verbs, and even passive voice are tools in your writing arsenal. All three are useful and should not be thoughtlessly eliminated. Examine each instance and see if you are using them correctly, and that you are achieving the desired effect. Rather than demonizing “to be,” master its use and take your writing to the next level.

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Is Overused I-Construction making your MC a narcissist?

Is Overused I-Construction making your MC a narcissist?

The most frequent problem I see with drafts written in first person is the overuse of I-construction sentences, or its close cousin, “me” as object.

Writing Rebelliously

Writing Rebelliously

Writers should take more chances. Straying from the formula and worrying less about what will sell. Writers should listen to their own stories and do what the story demands.

Plot Convenience

Plot Convenience

Why Plot Convenience is bad

This week’s shredding is from a first draft. The author was having trouble making the opening work and wanted a second look. Her initial feedback had been the standard, (but vague enough to be meaningless): get to the action sooner.

That wasn’t the problem. The inciting incident (finding a magic wand) was only a few pages into the book. She had started in the right place, took a few pages to establish normal, develop the character, all while showing the sequence of events that lead up to the inciting incident. The stakes needed raising and there was too much telling, but it was a draft, and these were easy fixes.

Then, it hit me.

The MC happened to be closing the store alone for the first time, which happened to be same night as the dance she really wanted to go to, which distracted her enough to drop something on the floor, which necessitated her going into the closet for the broom, which happened to be overly stuffed, which forced her to…which caused… In other words, the MC found the magic wand through a literary Rube Goldberg.

Well, that’s convenient.

There are plenty of examples of small, seemingly insignificant events have changed history, but lining up a chain of coincidences to get your plot moving is a recipe for disaster. Your story will feel contrived. As a result of this one flaw, I started questioning everything else that happened in the MS. Like, why would anyone leave such a powerful artifact in a shoebox? How could this possibly be the first time the MS had ever needed to sweep the floor in a store that she’s been working in for months? Suddenly everything felt false.

Are your characters making things happen or are they victims of circumstance?

Unless the theme of your manuscript is the random chaos of the universe and how it has the power to change history, you are much better off putting your characters in charge of their own fates. There are plenty of examples that effectively use coincidence as a launching point for a story. Jim Butcher uses this theme to begin his Furies of Calderon series. He succeeds for three reasons. First, he draws attention to it through a mini-preface at the beginning of the prologue. Second, he shows Tavi actively making the seemingly insignificant choice, and finally, everything that happens after results from deliberate choice.

Are solutions magically appearing when your characters need them?

Coincidence can also destroy your plot if it provides solutions. The TV show Sleepy Hollow is notorious for this. No matter what the problem is, Crane just happens to have fought one during the revolution or knows exactly which book to consult in the massive occult library that no one else in the town seems to know about. Never mind that this library was inexplicably assembled in plain sight in a Puritan region during a time where having such things could get a person executed for witchcraft. Oh, and it somehow survived down to the present day completely intact.

What to do instead:

When you map out your plot:

  1. Your character’s choices must be the driving force behind the story.
    The story would have felt more authentic if the MC had decided to work the odd shift because she needed an excuse not to go to the dance. Maybe the guy she liked never asked her and closing the creep-tastic shop alone on a Friday night was much better than watching Mr. Love Interest dance with other girls.
  2. Use circumstances, or coincidences to complicate their situation, (NEVER as a solution)
    Later the MC rushes off to save her BFF with her new magic wand, oh and it’s the worst snowstorm of the year, and she’s never driven in snow.
  3. If your MC really is a hapless boob who gets blindsided by the plot, make it clear in your prose that this is a deliberate choice.
    And then write a “how-to” because making a victim MC sympathetic, rather than pathetic, is a master-level skill.

Characters need to be in charge of their own fates. Their circumstances and the story that unfolds around them need to be a direct result of their choices. Make sure your characters are driving the plot and not simply reacting to whatever the world is doing to them. Give them a goal and have them take steps to achieve that goal, rather than have them stumble into the plot blindly. This will make your story more authentic, and your characters more interesting.

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Writing Logical Pitches

Writing Logical Pitches

Whether on Twitter, pitch contests, or in a query, effective pitches must tell a logical story