What’s Started Doesn’t Need To Be Finished

What’s Started Doesn’t Need To Be Finished

If you’re anything like me (and quit frontin’, you are), then you’ve got a thousand ideas floating around your brilliant little head. But which to write? Which to write?

A few are pretty good, but we don’t feel like tackling those ones just yet. There are short stories, poems, prose, articles and maybe even essays that sound good. But, we want to make the most of our time, so we choose the manuscript we think is the most saleable with the idea of shopping it while we pen the poems and shorts.

But then it happens. We get bored, we get discouraged, we get sidetracked by a new, shiny idea, we get (fill me in, I’m blank), and while we’d like to continue the story we’d written ninety pages of, something else just feels more appealing.

Then we get the guilt, and end up struggling between the idea of writing a book we’re no longer excited about because it might sell, or writing a novella that few, if any, agents represent.

Do we write the story we’d still like to tell and force ourselves to finish it, or press pause on that bad boy and jot down the exciting, shiny story we can probably finish in a week?

We’re inspired, not by the requirement to finish a story, but by the need to tell the one that keeps pressing at our fingertips.

Dear fellow authors, it’s okay to put a project you believe in on hold and write the one that won’t be ignored. Just because you started one doesn’t mean you have to finish it now. (Okay, contracts, deadlines, yadda yadda yadda). But if you’re reading this, you’re probably not in that boat, so it won’t matter if you stop writing the book that took you two years to get to page fifty.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and so do the words on a page. For me, writing is only rewarding if I’m enjoying it. I don’t have to edit the novel I just wrote within this week, this month, or even this decade if there are other stories I’m crazy about.

If art is fluid, if art changes with time, moods, events and such like, then does this not hold true for the process of writing?

If we lose our zeal for this amazing story we’re telling, but the plot of a novellette makes our hearts go aflutter, is it not creative negligence when we ignore that idea because we made a commitment to ourselves to finish this one first?

But what happens if you lose passion for a project indefinitely? You’re two thirds of the way through and just stop. Is it a waste? No, it’ll get written, just not now. And that’s okay. Maybe it’ll never get written, and that’s okay, too.

You’re not incapable of focusing, you’re an author and a thousand things are on your mind. You’re not the only one to put a good book on hold.

When we compel ourselves to finish the project we’ve started, we’re punishing our creative energy which (whether we like it or not) has moved on to something new. We tell ourselves we just need to sit and focus, we just need to power through, we just need to (fill me in).

What happens when we do that is we begin to dread sitting at our writing stations and procrastinate until the absolute last minute. We tire quickly, our daily productivity drops, and we may even be reluctant to do the thing we adore most—write.

What a terrible way for creativity to live. Do we really believe it’s flourishing?

If you don’t press pause on a story you’re struggling to write so you can focus on another one that’s bursting at your seams, you’re wasting your own time. What’s worse, if you force yourself to sit and finish a project you’re no longer in love with, your readers will know.

The best writing comes when passion is driving it. It’s okay to follow that passion. What’s started doesn’t need to be finished, and you’re not a failure, too hyper or incapable of completing something just because the project you believe in has taken a backseat. Write it later, or, maybe consider that it would be happier as a shorter work. If you’re anything like me, that might just be the problem.

Types of Plot Holes

Types of Plot Holes


Plot holes are those pesky little things in stories where something just doesn’t add up. They’re usually contradictions that make the plot or a “this or that” choice implausible, but they can be subtle enough to go unnoticed until someone reads closer.

            Plot holes make the reader sit back and question, wait, why did he do that when he could’ve just done this? He already stole it from her, how does she still have it?

            Plot holes come about in many ways. Sometimes they’re edited out (All-Knowing author), sometimes a chapter is moved or a vital scene is deleted, sometimes they’re edited in (author is adding dialogue and uses a tag that contradicts what MC was doing). But sometimes—and this is none of you because you clearly know better—authors are aware that the plot hole exists, yet hope readers aren’t smart enough to notice.

            Now that we know how plot holes can appear in our babies, let us talk about a few of the different types and go over some examples.

Incompetent/implausible characters

            Maybe there was something so easy and simple for the characters to have done,  yet they just don’t. Let’s take the dreadful example of an armed woman who screams “Don’t come any closer” over and over as the bad guy walks up, disarms, and kills her.

            Or, the one that really gets under my skin, someone has a phone on his/her person yet never calls the individual s/h/e “raced across town to catch.” And lo and behold, s/h/e got there thirty seconds too late. Or, if their phone is dead, never asks a stranger for help.


            Ever have a character who was capable of something in the beginning of the story, but suddenly wasn’t in a crunch moment? I’ve seen a powerful wizard make things happen without his wand before, but when it gets knocked out of his hand in battle, all of the sudden he’s powerless.

            What about a character who was rude and impolite but never cruel, yet in a pivotal moment, he was cruel? And it wasn’t because we believe he was capable of it, but because the author needed him to be.

            A character held a lamp, then all of the sudden she’s empty-handed. The outfit is different, car/item/color was wrong, law system (magical, legal etc) isn’t consistent.


            If your character sets a fire in a hospital, I expect the sprinkler system to go off (so why didn’t it?).

            Marines are not soldiers, it’s impossible to not realize someone is dying from dehydration, people limp after leg wounds, some injuries need months of therapy, not weeks (and definitely don’t insta-heal). High Fructose Corn Syrup withdrawal is real. Vegetarians don’t eat eggs, milk or fish, but ovotarians, lactotarians and pescetarians do.

            Your period piece features words or items that didn’t exist back then.


            These can be egregious or they can be subtle. MC has a cat, but on page 50 has a dog because she’s always hated cats. Narrator claimed MC was always a do-gooder, yet in chapter 20, we find out s/h/e killed antagonist’s sibling in anger.

Time/pace issues

            You and I see this issue all the time in zombie/infection pieces. In a high-intensity scene, a minor character gets bitten in the arm, 30 seconds later, they turn. They bite a secondary character we’ve grown to love, and we say our goodbyes over the course of several movie hours until they turn. (The time it takes to turn is based on convenience.)

            Timing issues are also a major problem when the time it takes a character to complete a task is unrealistic. How can a character knit a whole blanket in an hour (assuming they aren’t using gigantic yarn)?

            Time can also be a problem when it’s Tuesday, but three tomorrows later, it’s Monday (unless it’s Spec Fic where the days are muddled).

            These are also issues in character-driven pieces where the MC falls too quickly for the love interest, a child gets over a parent’s death within days, or accepts a parent’s girl/boyfriend as an authority figure without pause. Maybe the circumstance that turned two great friends into enemies is so far fetched, even Stretch Armstrong has his doubts.

False “this or that” choice.

            The house is burning and the doorknob is too hot to touch, so the character dies whilst trying to knock the door down or put the fire out (but never breaks a window or tries for the back door).

Thematic issues

            Perhaps a piece is meant to promote love and acceptance, yet vilifies certain groups—particularly those of religious, political or academic sects. If the theme is to promote love and acceptance, why is it so scornful against those with opposing ideals? Why wouldn’t it demonstrate a love for everyone and acceptance of their opinions, even if they’re contrasting?

            While this isn’t a plot hole per se, thematic issues can also glorify one thing over another, or reinforce an ism. I read a diabolical romance/scheming piece written by a homosexual man, and he didn’t realize that it glorified heterosexual relationships as ideal for the beta male (though I loved his compelling antagonist who exemplified the idea that abusive men aren’t limited to being straight).

            The thematic plot hole I’m seeing in real time is the anti-bullying campaigners bullying those who don’t share their views. It isn’t hard to find liberals (who are supposed to be against bullying) bullying conservatives (and vice verse). We all deserve our space, we all deserve to be heard, and none of us deserve to be bullied simply because our political, moral, ethical, religious, academic, or other views differ. While I respect the fact that some of my Jewish friends and professors didn’t believe in interracial relationships, they respected everyone else’s right to have one. I didn’t call them racists for their religious views, nor their parents racist (who believed it should be illegal). It’s okay to have differing opinions, but we must respect, love and value one another regardless, and allow people to be who they are as long as they aren’t hurting anybody else.

            I invite everyone to help close this real-time plot hole. Kindness is a force to be reckoned with, and I wish we’d practice it always.

Intentional plot holes

            Not all plot holes are bad. How can there possibly be any good plot holes, you ask? Well, they might be integral in farces, comedies, satires, mockumentaries, parodies, spoofs and so on. For example, Prince John’s mole in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The movie would lose some of its charm if the mole didn’t appear somewhere else on his face scene after scene, nor would we laugh as hard when he replied, “I have a mole?!” These plot holes are intentional and pay off when executed correctly.

Non-plot hole plot holes

            These are the things that might’ve been true when the story was written, but during the passage of time, become far-fetched. Airport security wasn’t what it is today, and leaving young children home alone wasn’t uncommon. Children were even mailed across the U.S. in times past. When writing historical novels or shopping “present-day” novels written some years ago, consider what might’ve worked back then that would not fly today. Perhaps that originally present-day piece ought to take place in the year it was written (especially if the would-not-flies are essential to the plot).

            Aside from intentional plot holes, these are just a sampling of the different types of plot holes that can turn a great story into a questionable one. Depending on the book, these can be ridiculous, or they can be amazing. However, for most books, plot holes are the death of a good story. Send it past readers, sensitivity audiences (not just for sensitivity, but so that you don’t have rabbis eating bacon-wrapped crab cakes) and fact check, fact check, fact check.

Character Development Vs Character Growth

Character Development Vs Character Growth

Both “character development” and “character growth” are terms often used in the writing community. Though some use them interchangeably, there is, indeed, a subtle difference.

The biggest difference between character development and character growth is that one establishes who the character is while the other depicts who the character becomes.

Character development is vital in most stories (you might not get a whole lot of that in microfiction). Character growth, however, is not. 

Character development is showing, telling or revealing information that was true about the character around the time the story began. It is best incorporated organically throughout the novel—beware of infodumping at the beginning. 

This information can be physical (height, weight, scars, deformities, amputations, tattoos). It can be mental (gender identity or sexual orientation, in/tolerance of religion/LGBTQ2S+, an ism). This information may also apply to their intellect (they’ve completed X level of education, they’re extremely artistic, they’re affluent and influential yet clueless about the world). This information can also highlight their abilities, disabilities, deficiencies/acuities or mental/physical illnesses

It’s usually revealed through backstory, but can also happen as the story progresses (Author never established Character as racist, however on page 50, he throws down a microphone so he doesn’t have to pass it to a person of color). 

Basically, character development is establishing who your character is as of the moment the story took place. 

Character growth is showing how the dynamic of the character changes from the person s/h/e was at the beginning of the story to who s/h/e becomes by the end of the story. Someone who embraced everyone at the beginning might’ve learned to hate by the end. Someone who was conflicted in the beginning may embrace their gender identity by the end. Someone who planted evidence so they could get praise for their effectiveness against the war on drugs might spearhead the campaign against eliminating dirty cops and unjust incarceration.

Character growth is vital for character-driven stories, but isn’t necessarily for action-driven stories (except for middle grade and young adult where some character growth is anticipated, on account of the protagonist’s age/mental development). 

In a character-driven story, the protagonist’s growth is the arc. In an action-driven story, overcoming an external adversary is the arc. (More here.)

Now that we understand how these two terms differ, we can also see another slight difference: character development is something the author does, whereas character growth is something the character does. I wouldn’t say I grew my characters, I’d say I developed characters with interests, physical attributes and a code, and these characters then grow through their interactions and experiences (to the point where they are no longer the same in this aspect as who they were when the story started).

In conclusion, character development is aimed at giving a character dimension by revealing who the person s/h/e was when the story began, character growth is aimed at depicting how a character’s attitude, behavior, relationships or physical attributes meaningfully change during the course of the story. 

In a sentence, character development lets us get to know the characters whereas character growth allows us to watch them transform.

Manuscript Killers: The Overts Part III, Accidentally Lethal

Manuscript Killers: The Overts Part III, Accidentally Lethal

manuscript killerAfter covering Parts I and II of Manuscript Killers, we’re moving on to Part III. This installment is reserved for the accidental fatalities where we focus on character. Why? Because terrible characters will kill our babies quick, fast, and in a hurry. How many times are women dingbats, homosexuals disgusting, people of color violent, antagonists shallow, or main characters white men who have all the answers and must educate the world around him?

            The unfortunate thing is that we as writers learn to depict characters this way. We study novels of time past, best sellers, highly rated stories reviewed by die-hard fans, and we learn a pattern. Then, subconsciously, we create in that pattern. We write characters from groups that we don’t identify with and either consciously or subconsciously depict inappropriate things because we learned this is what heroes do, this is how villains behave, and this is why the damsel needs to be saved. We write in these stereotypes because we read them.

            Publishing professionals have pardoned this ridiculousness, but now, thanks to the power of online reviews, they have to set standards regarding the way the books they represent and promote depict (or don’t depict) people. Now they’re figuring out that people want to see themselves in heroes—and to stop seeing themselves in villains.

            In this article, I’m going expose some no-no’s so that we can do better as authors.

Cisgender, straight or whitewashing by accident

            You know to avoid stereotypes when it comes to ethnicities, however, what if your people of color don’t depict their culture, but depict Caucasian values? There’s a reason women of color wear satin bonnets, and why men of color wear do-rags (and why cornrows are a preferred hairstyle).

            There’s a reason why Jewish men have beards and wear the yarmulke, and why Hindu women wear the bindi.

            Not all androphilic men are emotional and overly feminine. Not all gynephilic women are butch. However, if every one of them in your story are, then this may be a problem (depending on the book/theme/genre—think, farce/satire written by said demographic).

            Not all transgender people are transsexual—non-binary people are transgender, too. Not all queer people are fully LGBTQ2S+ supportive.

            If you portray people of a different color, religion, gender/identity, ethnicity, culture, nationality or sexuality, it is vital that, in avoiding the stereotypes, you’re not also cisgender, straight or whitewashing these characters. While it’s okay to avoid giving a homosexual man “the accent,” it’s not okay to make him notice a beautiful woman to the point of her making him nervous. As a straight woman, I can say with confidence that a conventionally beautiful woman would NEVER put me off my game, so I imagine her enchantment wouldn’t work on him, either. Just because he was born with male paraphernalia does not make him subject to a woman’s appeal.

            If you put somebody who’s “not like you” into a story in a significant way, you *must* be as intentional in depicting this person’s culture as you are with avoiding the stereotype that would destroy it. And I’m not saying that you have to be thorough with secondary characters, I’m saying don’t show your rabbi eating pork, or your Hindu cooking live lobster, or a person with curls “smoothing out her hair.” Or first-generation Asians wearing shoes in their homes.

            Research is your friend.

Cutout attributes

            Ever notice that most antagonists are all-around unattractive? Maybe their voice is whiny, they’re overweight, ugly or completely unlikable—contrasted to the amazing, fit, strong, intelligent and all-around perfect hero.

            There’s a reason anti-heroes are a thing. It’s time to stop equating beauty with goodness. Make your villain handsome. Depict her as ideal wife material. Then give your hero missing teeth, or a jagged scar across his face, or a limp, or *open-mouth, hands on cheek gasp* make him obese. Or a little person. With high sex appeal. (Again, sensitivity/accuracy audience.)

Bad guy just because

            One of the biggest issues I’ve had with books (and not even just books, but movies, shows etc) is that the villain is bad for the sake of being bad. He has no depth, no backstory, no real purpose. He’s there because the protagonist needs a nemesis.

            He’s unattractive, he has a terrible mustache, he’s everything people tend to despise, or a fanatic. This is such a two-dimensional character. For me, some of the most compelling antagonists are kind to people. They are loving to animals, generous with their money, play caregiver for someone at home, and are loved by somebody innocent (child, three-legged dog, whatever). Perhaps they never harm innocents and are “bad” because they “clean up the streets.” Give him purpose to his evil.

The hapless stereotype

            Unfortunately, secondary characters are a crutch for writers. They rely on the foolish character to need the main character to explain things to them (instead of the author putting the work into showing it).

            Don’t rely on what the world accepts as cursors in depicting your characters. Writers from the eighteen hundreds to the two thousands have relied on readers’ acceptance of ridiculous women. Do any of your favorite older books have a woman who has no ambition, no agency, no fight, no sense? These are the secondary main characters whose ineptitude has allowed the (usually male) main character to shine.

            How many women have caused accidents because of a spider, or scream uncontrollably because of some shocking image that none of the men react similarly to?

            Gay men are often “overly emotional,” and the characters excuse his behavior on account of him being gay. Women and gay men aren’t overly emotional by nature, and if someone is emotionally unbalanced, they need therapy, not an, oh, s/he’s excuse.

            We’ve studied from the greats and we learned the pattern—straight, white males are the key; silly, dependent, subservient women are their right hands; and shallow cardboard cutouts are their foes.

            But these weak, unlikely characters from novels of time past will kill your book in today’s market. Relying on tropes that authors have gotten away with for centuries is a no-can-do these days, and we’ve got to redefine what makes good primary, secondary and tertiary characters.

            This (so far) finishes the three-part series of Manuscript Killers: the Overts. Hopefully some of this proves useful as a starting point or finishing point in your quest of developing strong narratives with strong characters.

            Happy writing.

Manuscript Killers: the Overts Part II, The Isms. 

Manuscript Killers: the Overts Part II, The Isms. 

            In Part I, we examined a few manuscript killers including plot holes, over-editing as the all-knowing author, pacing, cramming, cutout attributes and repetition. This is the second installment of Manuscript Killers: the Overts, the isms. Let us begin. 

The isms

             Some authors write a story without ever realizing they’ve glorified an ism. Have a disabled character who is always thankful when some random passerby holds the door open, or helps them across the street, or saves them from walking into a busy roadway? Ever consider that in real life, they probably didn’t need the help? The ADA has worked wonders in raising awareness and influencing laws, such as requiring doors of public places to open with minimal force. So just because someone is wheelchair-bound doesn’t mean they can’t open the door. It’s a nice gesture (I like when the person in front of me holds the door), but to make that character oh so thankful because, unless this person came around, they would have been destitute is ableist. To assume that all people who struggle with mental health issues are violent is equally sanist.

             If your heroine steps back and lets a man lead while asking him to educate her about things along the way (barring experts briefing her on something), it sends a message that women prefer the backseat, or they’re incapable of common sense. If it’s important he lead, let them lead together, but don’t make her subservient. This is the accidental glorification of sexism.

             Portraying immigrants as poor speakers of the dominant language, or using color to portray a fear are isms (they were driving through a black neighborhood. Uh, okay? Ever heard of Black Wall Street? What are you implying with “black neighborhood?”).

             A common degrading and marginalizing practice is to depict religious people as fanatics. I’ve seen many apocalyptic stories that have Christians pillaging families for their virgin daughters. Uh, so atheist men don’t want your virgin daughters, just the Christian ones? How often do we see Muslims or Middle Easterners as cardboard-cutout terrorists? Is the point of stating their origin to give me a sense of them as a character, or to accept their “propensity” for violence? (Some of the kindest, most generous and gentlest people I know are Muslim.) 

            Westerners are also intolerant and capable of terrorism. A few of them shot up schools. A few others planted drugs on the people they swore to protect and serve. No demographic is immune. 

            Portraying the hero as fit and attractive juxtaposed to the heavyset and unattractive villain could be a case of lookism

Propagandism/promotional criticism 

            Ever read a book that degrades one religion to promote another? Perhaps it depicts people of faith (whatever faith) as uneducated morons who still believe in fairytales, pagans as spell-casting blood-drinkers, and atheists as immoral evildoers. 

            You’ve got to ask yourself, am I writing this to promote my own beliefs, or because this is so for the manuscript? Am I bringing my hate and intolerance into fruition, or am I just telling a story with characters who happen to be…

             Criticizing a group in order to promote one’s own is the most unattractive thing in human beings. Nothing will make me drop a book faster than –ist propaganda.

Throwing in marginalized characters and calling it diverse. 

            There’s been a recent push for diversity in novels—which is great—but comes with its drawbacks, too. In an effort to make their manuscripts “desirable” or “up with the times,” many authors feed into these blunders by adding marginalized characters for the sake of having them.

             Countless writers have tossed in members of marginalized demographics as side characters who have no arc, no background and no depth, just so they could pitch their story as being diverse. (No-no.) Conversely, many other authors have recognized the lack of marginalized characters in their own stories and include these demographics in an effort to change their own tendencies of unconscious omission. They do not use it as a marketing tool, but as a way to keep themselves accountable for inclusion. (Perfect.) There are also many authors who don’t feel the need to include marginalized characters and continue writing the way they always have. (You do you.)

             Just remember, if you include marginalized persons, keep stereotypes in mind and make a conscious effort to avoid cardboard cutouts. If your character and you don’t look the same, share the same sexuality/identity/mental capability, believe in the same deities or come from the same nations, find a sensitivity audience and a good resource to help you understand, embrace and appropriately depict their culture.

             If you resort to stereotypes thinking it’ll be fine this time, expect them to do your manuscript more harm than good—lazy writing and lazy research are finally being recognized after centuries of being called out. But one no-no from above reigns supreme: depicting a human being who isn’t like you in the same manner you would depict someone who is, and then calling it diverse. 

Manuscript Killers: The Overts, Part I

Manuscript Killers: The Overts, Part I

            After critiquing hundreds of poems, short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels, I’ve noted many manuscript killers over the years and wanted to share the list I’ve compiled so far. I call these the Overts. They can be both obvious or sneaky, and there are a lot of them. Let’s consider a few in Part I of this series.

Plot holes

            Plot holes are parts of the story that just don’t make sense—whether factually, chronologically, contradictorily or any other way, plot holes are ideas, words or events that go against the laws within the book (legal, natural, magical, character code etc).

            Plot holes are probably the biggest Overt of them all not only because it can ruin the book, but because it includes topics of Plot, Setting, Character, Theme (and let’s just throw in Style). These can be painfully obvious, but they can also be quite sneaky and even trick your readers into believing they don’t exist (until someone reads closely).

            For example, we’re given a real-world setting that couldn’t have existed. Maybe in the 1940s a couple meet at a European bistro in a town that had been blown up in real life, or someone refers to California as a state in 1845. (This does not apply to spec fic.)

            A sneaky example: a fire is set in a hospital, but the sprinkler system never goes off (however, the author has gripped us in the moment with the flames, so we don’t notice… yet. But when we do, we realize the system would have quenched the fire and prevented Bad Guy from escaping, and thus, Story from moving to its next plot point).

Over-editing as the all-knowing author (rather than a first-time reader)

            You’ve written a great story, but as you edit, you think Chapter 10 would be happier as Chapter 6. However, there’s a scene in Chapter 8 that *must* happen before Chapter 10 can take place. (A character introduction, a slap, a tryst…)

            Or, maybe, you’ve deleted a few key sentences. Because you and your betas already know this information, you overlook its necessity—however, without those words, new readers struggle with context and clarity. This is especially true for queries.

            Or you’ve written a gorgeous narrative but want to make it shorter/snappier, and end up editing out the addictive voice that would have grabbed your readers. This is especially true for queries—a lot of writers of various skill will give you feedback in forums. Be careful in applying it—I’ve seen many an author edit out beautiful voice.


            Focusing too long on the wrong thing, dragging out a scene that should’ve ended pages ago, or being too abrupt with a depiction that needs more time are pacing issues.

            Pacing can be an issue for both internal and external movement. Too many actions can be crammed into one day, or too few actions across chapters (depending on the plot and what drives the story). A subplot love story that happens too quickly (an emotionally rounded couple marry two months after meeting) or too slowly (it’s page 300, and for the thirtieth time, two good friends “almost tell each other” what everyone else knew by page 20) can be equally frustrating for readers. On the one hand, readers may find a sixty-day true love romance between two strangers unconvincing. On the other, dragging out the admission of love just so it can happen on the last page can be overkill. These are common tropes and work when done well, but the key is doing it well.

Cramming in too much

            It’s okay to make a Part II, a pamphlet, a “further reading,” a mini-series, a bonus story, a double novella, a novel + novelette in one book binding etc. It’s also just fine to take some of the points from one book and put it in a different book altogether.

            Non-spec-fic novels at 120,000+ words can be very problematic. Few people are willing to read 500 pages of romance. Have mercy on our attention spans and let us feel more accomplished by reading two novels featuring these protagonists at 60,000 words each. Or, learn to love that delete button (which to be honest is more likely the issue).

            I prefer to read novellas. If I could buy a 350-page book consisting of either two standalone novellas in a series or a single story, I’d choose the double novellas. Personally, I’m more likely to finish a so/so novella than a so/so full-length, let alone a so/so bloater.

            Disclaimer: sometimes it’s okay to write the bloater (which wouldn’t work as two shorter stories unless they were in a non-standalone series/volume, which can come with its own set of issues if readers don’t know to expect this from the beginning. Dust by Kara Swanson, The Restorer by Amanda Stevens, and Snow White and The Civil War: Survival of the Fairest by Cathleen Townsend are the first books in non-standalone volumes for stories told across multiple full-length novels. Check them out).

            Titanic is a very beautiful movie, however, few people are willing to devote three hours to it. Your Titanic may be beautiful and have a strong audience, so if it makes sense, by all means…  Word of advice? If you choose to write the one-book bloater, consider this: the length may not be attributed to story and development, but to verbosity. You’ll definitely want honest betas who aren’t shy to pinpoint where exactly they’d stop reading, and why. You’ll also want Audience betas who read such books regularly.


            If you’ve shown us once, then you don’t need to tell us again. Usually readers can connect something at the end of the book to something from the beginning, especially if the author grabbed our attention the first time. However, if hundreds of pages separate the two points and betas show a disconnect (and the first instance can’t be written any clearer), then go ahead and remind us.

            In conclusion, there are many Overts, and several ways to avoid them. Make sure your story isn’t moving too fast, or spend a third of its word count repeating itself. If you’re writing a historical, make sure the items, nouns/words, culture and places match up. Keep laws (legal, magical, moral, character’s code…) consistent. And if your word count is significantly higher than the average for its genre, consider either separating it into two pieces (even if they’re both sold in one) or—the more likely issue—get out your red pen and don’t be shy.

            In the spirit of avoiding cramming, there will be a Part II and Part III of Beware of the Overts. Keep an eye out for them.

The Guilt of Writing

The Guilt of Writing

I used to write poetry and dabbled in short stories as a kid, yet never considered penning novels until I was an adult. Now, I rarely write poetry, though shorts still sift through the deepest trenches of my mind.

For the past few years I’ve written full-length novels, helped others edit theirs, and even peeped a few shorts, articles, etc for friends. I’ve had brief hiatuses during major events and in my life, yet I’m still in the same place, striving to hone my craft and inviting people to check out my work in case they’d like to represent it.

And still, these short stories whisper in my ear, write me.

As an unpublished novelist, I felt guilty at the thought of spending precious time writing anything other than a novel—how dare I waste the resource of mental energy on something I don’t plan to publish?

I’d backed myself into the emotional corner of, nope, snag an agent first and then maybe you’ll deserve the luxury of frivoled time. I’d felt like I needed permission to write about what excited me because it isn’t a novel, and you haven’t “made it” yet.

Then one day, just to get these whispering sprites out of my ear, I wrote one.

I was in the middle of editing one novel while scribbling another, and this idea kept buzzing around like one of those mosquitoes you can hear but can’t find, and you just know it’s gonna bite you sooner or later… So, I gave in, and I wrote the whispers.

And I felt so much release. I felt so energized, revitalized, refreshed as a world builder.

Standing at only 12 pages (barely enough time to give readers a grasp on a novel’s situation), my short was the most pleasing thing I’d written that month. (Granted, it was the first day of the month…)

As a survivor of my own shackles, I wanted to share this story with other authors—both published or aspiring to be. Your story has worth. Your story even has a market. Your story has a place, and you deserve to drop whatever you’re working on to write it, even if you don’t plan on publishing it.

I was in the middle of editing one book and writing another—I had neither the time nor the right to take my attention away from the task at hand. But I did it anyway, and when I wrote the last word, I sighed with satisfaction and peace. I was riding the high of something completed, something finished, and something powerful, and it propelled me to finish what I’d started before it.

You don’t need permission to write a new exciting story—novel-length or micro. You don’t need to finish the story you’re in the middle of before moving on to another. (Okay, barring contracts and deadlines.)

But if you need to hear it, then let me scream it from your rooftop (with a harness and a bunch of inflated airbed thingies on the ground because I’m terrified of heights and exceptionally uncoordinated), WRITE OUT OF YOUR NICHE! WRITE THAT GOOFY STORY ONLY ITS AUTHOR COULD LOVE! STOP WRITING WHAT’S GOT YOU STUCK AND FRUSTRATED AND PEN WHAT KEEPS CALLING TO YOU.

Trust me, you aren’t sabotaging yourself, your dreams or your works in progress. In fact, you’re investing in them all.

Tell The Story

Tell The Story

I’ve been guilty of this because I’m a novelist. I’ve put too much emphasis on the novel.

I happily write novellas, but the idea of writing anything shorter never came naturally to me. Simple thoughts and beautiful accounts have flourished in my head, but they were all “too short.” Despite how often I dwelled on powerful events or daydreamed about how two lovers met, I struggled to find a valid reason to put them on paper.

I’d set these ideas aside, fully intent on making them scenes in a novel-length manuscript, but only recently did I realize my error—I was putting novel expectations on a story that was never meant to be longer than a few pages.

I’d only considered these images as random, irrelevant snippets of a brilliant story, but… these snippets were the brilliant story. They didn’t belong to a larger work. They were the work.

I completely dropped the ball in realizing the novel I was trying to fluff this idea into was happier as a short story.

Instead of stressing over how to make the novel satisfying, or putting the idea on a backburner until more comes to me, I now write the story as it wishes to be written, knowing that I can either add to it later, or take away from it during editing.

Hear me, dear novelist, if an idea comes to you that seems “too short” or inadequate, then accept it as a short story and write that perfect piece of flash fiction.

Hear me, dear short series veteran, if your work in progress wishes to drag across the pages, then let it and see where it goes—your delete button works (trust me, I tried it while you weren’t looking).

Very little is more freeing as authors when we remind ourselves that we don’t have to make an idea fit the word count we’re used to. Don’t compare the value of your short story with your expectations of a novel. 3 pages or 333 pages, they both are equally valid and worthy of being written.

So, write it.

Keeping Your Readers Engaged

Keeping Your Readers Engaged

reading-1223519_960_720The trick to keeping your readers engaged is to keep your writing engaging. How is this accomplished?

Opening is everything.

Have a good opening, especially with chapters. Don’t use your character brushing her teeth or tinkling while waiting for the shower water to get hot as a means of opening your chapter if that’s how the previous one started. It doesn’t work that way. Readers are mystical things. We’re easy to please… until we get annoyed. Starting every chapter the same way as the previous is a surefire way to get us there.

Short and sweet, fewer and neat.

Write a whole bunch on what you’re trying to say. Then delete 50-75% of it. Pare it down until you use the fewest words that pack the biggest punch, and trust your readers to connect the dots (but be reasonable—most people don’t want to become philosophers when reading fiction. Or, rather, most people don’t want to become philosophers just to understand your story).


Make sure there’s enough progression to keep your readers interested. Thrust them out of the daily busywork, and propel them into the next scene where, months later, the king comes and kills all of his own people because his jealousy over their simpleton lives ate at his ever-busy heart. Something.

Action, Action, Action!

If you don’t move forward with the plot, then add a bit of interesting action. Like the 5-year-old peasant who taught himself how to shoot the arrow that killed the king who slaughtered his simpleton friends and loved ones. Or Love Interest’s ___ist comment that made Romance Hero reevaluate the pursuit.

Focus on the right thing.

The most important piece I can offer is to keep in mind the overall Plot of your book. The plot isn’t about the way the waiter delivered the king’s meal, it’s about the king growing discontent with the demands and necessary ugliness of his responsibilities, or the moment where the boy started tying strings to sticks.

So, let’s not dedicate pages or even chapters to focusing on the king’s gown preparation every morning (though, talking about the newest addition to his train can add dynamic—victorious kings cut off a rivaling king’s train and add it to their own).

Your readers don’t need to see the minute details, but what they need to see is the finished product. When most people wake up, they get dressed and shower. You don’t need to show readers this; they trust your characters had to urinate and used toilet paper, or maybe even a wet wipe. And washed.

The point of the last two paragraphs is to warn you not to get focused and fixated on minutiae (trivial details) when they’re IN THE MIDDLE OF A WAR AND GUNSHOTS ARE BLARING PAST THEM, CANNONS JUST TOOK OUT THEIR VOLVO, AND THE MAN RIGHT NEXT TO MC CAUGHT A LEAD BULLET WITH HIS TEETH WITHOUT ANY OF THEM CHIPPING, TALK ABOUT HARDCORE!

The final point of the last three paragraphs: prepare your readers with what they should expect to see, and then show them the final product (not the process!). The MC is tasked with digging a quarry. Then, the hole in the quarry was deeper than anyone else’s. We don’t need to see his routine EVERY day until he completes his task. Unless that’s the point of the book.


Give your readers movement, or something new in every chapter, so they don’t feel like they’re rereading the previous one. Why do many agents pass on a book? Because the story sounds identical to another without enough differentiation. Why would a reader stop reading? Because each chapter is the same as the last and nothing has happened.

Ending is everything.

End your chapters STRONG. A good amount of them should be cliffhangers that leave your reader thumbing through pages all night without realizing it until the blue hints of sunlight stain the morning sky.

Or, end the chapter in a spot that makes the reader take a breath, a satisfied sigh, triumph.

Don’t end your chapter in an odd place, or in the middle of a scene, leaving readers feeling confused and irritated. Because readers are naturally irritable people.

Satisfying, believable actions.

It’s like having the stereotypical blond trip over nothing when she’s running away, or doesn’t look where she’s running and smashes her skull into some obvious object, or refusing to shoot the man who has a knife to her dog’s throat (I pity d foo who’d put a knife to my dog’s throat). Give your readers something they can gobble up, not something they’d spit out.

Make your story and dialog believable. Or, at the very least, plausible (think Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock The Proposal). There are times where believability is OK to be shattered—IF it fits with the character or story and is done right. Because if it doesn’t fit or isn’t done right, then it is both unbelievable, and unacceptable.

Humor is okay.

Keep humor in your story, but only if you’re good at it. I can’t tell funny jokes, and by the time I construct a brilliant comeback, the chance to deliver it is three weeks gone. However, my characters somehow excel here. Sometimes. Other characters are naturally unfunny.

The bottom line.

Avoid monotony, know the overall point of your story, don’t spend pages on insignificant scenes or detail, give your readers something fresh to consider, make sure your request to suspend disbelief is reasonable, be concise and—the advice I always, Always, ALWAYS recommend—write for yourself but edit for your readers. You may wish to indulge in minutiae because it’s important to you, but your readers don’t need the distraction. Use it like salt, not like water.

All about Imagery

All about Imagery

all-about-imageryImagery is an important part of setting, which is one of the 5 elements of a story.

Imagery is one of the most powerful tools you as a writer can use to submerse your readers into your characters’ world. However, this tool is often overlooked.

Take painters, for example. They tell stories with a single image.

Some artists paint pictures of flowers or people having lunch on a forest floor, whereas others prefer the shocking portrayal of a dead man in a melting universe.

Some artists paint landscapes with sharp images of vivid pinks contrasting against deep blacks. Others prefer pastel colors.

Even brushstrokes play a significant role in depicting their world.

Writers are artists. We tell stories with words rather than literal colors, but it is so important for us to paint the full picture and to focus on all five senses.

When a cop shows up at a crime scene, the first thing he senses is the rotting stench of decaying flesh. They almost always smell it before they see it. So, when writing about crime scenes, let your readers smell what the character smells.

If your main character cuts someone’s throat, describe the soft gurgle of the man choking on his own blood.

A sunset is rarely just one color. Especially if there’s pollution.

Surely there’s more than a sharp feeling when accidentally cutting a finger.

What about the bitter flavor of ammonia forced down the throat of a captive?

Many descriptions focus on sight, some focus on sound and a select few focus on touch, but the two other senses—taste and smell—are often overlooked. Paint. That. Picture.

And, like a painter, your style of description will be different than your colleagues’. Their audience won’t always be the same as yours, their tastes may not be the same as yours, their focus is likely to differ from yours. And that’s okay.

Some people write stories where no true evil exists. Others prefer drama, a handful will spelunk into the darkness of humanity. Some focus on spirituality, and others will build all new worlds. Find your place, take it proudly. Only one person can write your story. But whatever you do, don’t skimp on important imagery, and don’t infodump on the unnecessary.