Category Archives: Writing Tips

Writing Mistakes – 1st Person Narrator

Writing Mistakes: Is Your First-Person Narrator
Overpowering Your Story?

Stories told in first-person narrator (“I went…” vs. the
third-person narrator “she went…”) are increasingly
popular, particularly in YA fiction. This perspective can be
tricky to get right. The first-person tends to lapse into selfcentered
telling so the main character overpowers the story
at the expense of other characters and the plot.

Common pitfalls.
Beginning every sentence with “I.”


The first-person tempts writers into focusing on the
narrating character and excludes subjective nouns. The
result is a boring string of sentences all featuring the same
subject. Mix and match subjects to put life into your syntax.

Wrong: I fled down the stairs, heart pounding. I could hear
the giant clomping after me. Ahead, I could see the cellar
door offering me the chance to escape and hide. I reached
the door, wrenched it open, and dove inside.

Right: My heart pounded as I fled down the stairs. Behind
me, the giant clomped after me. Five feet ahead, the cellar
door offered an escape. I reached the door, wrenched it
open, and dove inside.

Telling thoughts instead of showing.

In first-person, everything you write is straight out of the
main character’s brain. No need to clarify the character’s
thoughts using italics or qualifying them with an “I
thought” tag.

Wrong: I couldn’t believe this was happening. Giants don’t
really exist, do they? I thought to myself. Maybe I’m dreaming.

Right: This couldn’t be happening. Giants didn’t really
exist, did they? Maybe I was dreaming.

Inserting lengthy narrative at the expense of action and dialogue.

First-person tempts the writer to share everything the
character is thinking. Beware of lengthy narrative rabbit
trails. Allow action and dialogue to carry the story.

Wrong: “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asked. I
heaved a sigh. Kirsten had no idea how insane my life had
become. She had no idea that giants—huge and ugly and
stinky—were after me… [Plus long description of giants,
narrator’s life, history of friendship etc.]

Right: “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asked. I
heaved a sigh. “You have no idea how insane my life has
become.” I threw my backpack into my locker, shot a
glance up and down the hallway, then whispered in her ear,
“Giants! Big ones!”

Include witty, conflict-ridden dialogue to convey the
important facts about giants, narrator’s life, history of
friendship, etc.

Fatal Flaws in the First Draft


  1. No signature. What did the protagonist want? What obstacle was in her way? How did she (or did she not) overcome it? What is the overarching goal that unites the short-term goals?
  2. Tension is stated, not shown. Don’t talk about being stressed. Show it.
  3. No depth to the backstory that would cause the protagonist pain or inner turmoil.
  4. All scenes must have something at stake. Every scene should show the character acting toward her desire (move the story forward). Every scene must have a goal.
  5. Too many secondary characters with no special personality. Reader shouldn’t need a scorecard.
  6. Important secondary characters fade in and out causing the reader to forget about them and then be surprised when they show up again.
  7. Not enough foreshadowing of the climatic moments. Build tension and then set off the bomb.

Emotional Amplifiers

Condensed intro from a free booklet, Emotional Amplifiers, by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, 2012


            A writer’s job is to create a meaningful emotional experience for readers. One way to do this is through their thoughts, body language, and visceral reactions. When readers are pulled in by emotional intensity, they can’t help but fall in love with, or hate our characters and their stories.
            Emotion can be manipulated by internal and external stimuli—circumstances that amplify what a character is feeling. Hunger or extreme heat can increase strain and deplete the body to the point where goals seem insurmountable. Stress can unbalance the most stable of characters, opening them up to raw emotion, rash decisions and ultimately, mistakes that send them on a crash course with disaster.
            Amplifiers also can evoke memories for readers because of their commonality. At some point, every reader has felt a burst of energy that propels them to tackle a task, or has experienced pain that sends a jarring throb through flesh and bone. Universal experiences like these help forge an empathetic link between reader and character.
            Written thoughtfully, the difficulties that arise from an amplifier will trigger a stronger emotional reader response that feels both authentic and credible. Compromising your character’s physical and mental state also creates tension, planting doubt in the reader’s mind about the hero’s ability to succeed.
            Just as characters show emotion uniquely, they should also respond in their own way to the different amplifiers. Discomfort and inconvenience can create a more poignant opportunity to show your character’s true feelings.


(Amplifiers Described: Addiction, Attraction, Boredom, Cold, Dehydration, Distraction, Exhaustion, Heat, Hunger, Illness, Inebriation, Lethargy, Pain, Relaxation, Stress)

Go to their website shown below and download a free copy.




A flashback can bring to life to a key event in your character’s past. But, constructed poorly or plopped in the wrong place, a flashback can irk a reader more than impress him.

Your Flashback Might Be Flashy If…

  1. Your flashback occurs at the right time. To pack a punch, flashbacks must be timed at precisely the right moment. Don’t give readers info in the flashback until you’ve made them curious.
  2. Your flashback is necessary. The bulk of Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride is comprised of three giant flashbacks from the respective POVs of the three protagonists. In this book, the flashbacks are necessary. Without them there would be no story.
  3. It’s length is appropriate. The length of a good flashback will depend greatly on the demands of the story. Some will be hundreds of pages, and some will be only a few sentences.
  4. It’s clearly a flashback. Use past participle verbs and other signals such as “and then she remembered…” or “back two years ago when…” so readers understand the flashback is a past event in your character’s life.

Your flashback might be flabby if…

  1. Your flashback would be more powerful told in “real time.” In an attempt to begin their stories in medias res, new authors will sometimes open their stories with a flashback that dumps backstory or sums up the story’s most interesting information. If your flashback begins just before your story and is the first domino in your row of falling dominos make it your first scene.
  2. Your flashback is too long. Although some books use large flashbacks, the vast majority of flashbacks should be no longer than a paragraph or two. Don’t jar readers out of the present narrative by dropping them into a new and disconnected scene.
  3. Your flashback is unnecessary. Authors tend to find their characters’ backstories more interesting than their readers do. If your character’s event doesn’t critically influence the plot, don’t flash back to it.
  4. Your flashback is unclear. If your flashbacks are so subtle readers don’t know you’re flashing back, they’re not going help your story. Signal the reader when your story is entering a flashback. Use past participle verbs (“she had washed the dishes that fateful day”) and don’t feel bad telling readers that your character is remembering.

Flashbacks are fun and can bring a new depth to your story’s palette. If you use them correctly, your readers will love these delightful little peeks into your characters’ pasts.

           (Summarized from a Writer’s Digest Blog)

Strengthen Your Prose

Eliminate Distancing Verbs aka Filter Words

Distancing verbs are words that filter the reader’s experience by placing them one step away from the narrative. How do they do this?

-They hedge. These words can appear hesitant or unconfident. Just say it, don’t hedge.

-They remind the reader that he/she is reading. You want to draw the reader in so he/she is absorbed into the character’s thoughts and actions.

-They are weak verbs. You can use strong verbs without turning to purple prose.

Examples of distancing verbs and words:

Realize                                   Saw

Watched                               Looked

Seemed                                 Felt

Can                                         Decided

Sounded                               Knew

Heard                                     Thought

Touched                                 Wondered

Noticed                                  Was/were able to

Noted                                     Experienced


Problem:  The water seemed to be cloudier than ever.

Fix: The water was cloudier than ever.


Problem: He thought he’d never seen a cuter dog.

Fix: He’d never seen a cuter dog.


Problem: She felt sad when she lost the race.

Fix: Tears ran down her face when she crossed the finish line in second place.


Problem: They saw two buzzards eating a dead skunk.

Fix: Two buzzards pecked at a dead skunk.


How To Save Your Story With One Single Thing


(Summarized from a blog by Jen Manuel called Margin Notes)

Your character has to want something. There should be something at stake or the reader won’t care. What if you do that and story still falls flat? There’s something missing. A tension? But how do you fix this, and easily?

An overlooked approach is to add a request moment. The request builds inherent tension in the character that has been asked for a decision, because a request assumes the character has a choice. And choice is in the heart of drama.

Shakespeare uses the request in most all of his works. Also, the Bible, as a narrative, is a series of requests from God that people failed to fulfill, starting with the request to not eat the forbidden fruit.

A request moment reveals social obligations between characters. That’s what makes it so incredibly powerful as a dramatic tool. There are three kinds of exchanges that might require a decision.

  1. Advice is the weakest kind of exchange. There is no obligation and the receiving character can take it or leave it. There is no sense of urgency.
  2. Commands are at the other end of the spectrum, but also hold little dramatic weight because they carry the notion that person doesn’t have much choice. There is pressure on the person, but a pull is created when the person has to agonize over the choice.
  3. A request implies that there is some obligation between characters. A request will automatically insert an ethical question: is he ethically obligated to fulfill the request? Will the character fulfill the request? Can he fulfill the request?

Writing Great Suspense Novels

Seven Tips on Writing Great Suspense Novels

(excerpts from Post by Tony Lee Moral on The Writer’s Dig, May 15, 2017)

  1. The number one rule of suspense is to give your reader information, i.e., there is a bomb in the room or there is a ghost in the room.
  2. Use counterpoint contrast. Per Alfred Hitchcock, “Suspense doesn’t have any value unless it’s balanced by humor.” Comedy can make your writing more dramatic and give your reader a chance to reflect on the suspense.
  3. A good story should start with an earthquake and be followed by rising tension.
  4. Never use a setting as a simple background. Use it 100%. Incorporate them into the drama.
  5. At the same time, avoid the cliché in your locations, such as staging a murder in a dark alleyway or at night. The sense of the unexpected and the idea that turmoil can erupt at any moment, will keep your readers on their guard.
  6. Keep your story moving. Use sudden switches in location to change the setting and promote suspense drama changes. Set up the locations at the beginning and use them for action later on.
  7. Avoid stereotypes whether it is the character or the plot. Make your villains attractive, so they can get near the victims.


Body Language As A Tag

Body Language as a TAG

  1. Use body language to add depth to dialog.
  2. Use it because more than 50% of human communication is non-verbal.
  3. Use it to show how your character’s emotions affect his or her actions.
  4. Use it to help you show rather than tell your reader everything.
  5. Use it in moderation. If overused, it can slow your story down.

A few ideas from

Anger or aggression: shake fist, point finger, stab finger, slam fist on a table, flushed face, throbbing veins in neck, jutting chin, clench fists, clench jaw, lower eyebrows, squint eyes, bare teeth, a wide stance, tight-lipped smile.

Boredom: yawn, avoid eye contact, tap feet, twirl a pen, doodle, fidget, slouch.

Confusion: tilt head, narrow eyes, furrowed brow, shrug.

Defensive: cross arms or legs, arms out with palms forward, hands up, place anything in front of body, hands in pockets.

Embarrassment: blush, stammer, cover face with hands, bow head, trouble maintaining eye contact, look down and away, blink back tears.

Fear: hunch shoulders, shrink back, mouth open, widen eyes, shake, tremble, freeze, rock from side to side, wrap arms around self, shaky hands.

Jealousy: tight lips, sour expression, narrow eyes, crossed arms.


Deep POV Characters


This is a technique that draws us in, so that as the reader we feel one with the POV character. It is as if you are that person. Authors like Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven King), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games), and Cassandra Clare (Shadowhunters) use this technique effectively.

It is best used in novels that seek to thrill the reader or take them on an emotional journey. It is a technique that cannot be perfected overnight.

The Basics:

Limit your character’s knowledge and only reveal the things your character actually knows to keep readers engaged. Cut our filter words like “thought, wondered, or saw.” Just state it, e.g. She wondered how bad the tornado had been. VS. How bad had it been?

Limit your dialog tags. Use attribute tags instead, e.g. “Are you okay?” she asked. VS.  Are you okay?” She reached for his hand, but he pulled it away.

Employ the ultimate show, and don’t tell. Deep POV is all about getting into your character’s head, so avoid as many instances of telling as possible.

Don’t use the passive voice. No action should be done unto someone. Someone should always do it., e.g. Her shoulder was hit. VS. He hit her shoulder.

Be careful when identifying characters. In Deep POV, your character relationships aren’t easy. Use dialog when possible, e.g. Not “John, her brother, stood next to her” but “John stood next to her.” Or “Eric, this is my brother John.”

Relate backstory with memory flashes.



Tips on Book Cover and Graphic Designs

Monday night 7pm at Lakestone Terrace 3rd floor game room, should be one of those programs you aren’t sure you need until you need it and then it’s too late to learn all you need to know fast. Book Covers are the second most important thing about publishing a great book. The first is writing a great book. Join the Writers Bloc Monday, June26, 2017 as graphic designer, Steve Torres, shares the importance of excellence in design.