Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Heart of the Wizard: How to be Nice to Other Authors

Those of you who follow my blog know that I’m currently in the Master’s program for Creative Writing. In class recently, we read an article penned by a big-time literary agent in which she gave out writing advice to the newbies. While some of the advice was sound (the traditional show-don’t-tell, limit adverbs, watch punctuation), some of the advice was downright mean—and worded that way as well. Now, to be fair, this was not an assigned piece of reading for class, but it was quoted for an assignment. Since I read everything I can about writing, I decided to take notes on the article, and was surprised when I saw how cruel the literary agent was to her audience. The advice came out more like she was angry with all writers and perhaps even angry with her job in general. Initially I thought it was just me, but then I read the comments and saw that others felt the same. 

Hey, we are only human, even us writers, and occasionally we mess up. 

To that end, I thought about ways we could lift each other up as writers. We are all on the same path with the same goals, so I thought it would be better to note what is awesome in our writing instead of what we are doing wrong. Besides, it is nearly impossible to hit every single writing technique perfectly every time. We sometimes get stuck on grammar, plot structure, dialogue, theme, or characterization. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for perfection or read lists in which literary agents dole out tips, but we definitely don't need the negativity. There's enough of that in the world, and writing, for many of us, is an escape or an out.

Below is my list, and please feel free to add to the list in the comments!

If you have a writing friend, lend advice about their poetry, novel, or screenplay. I know everyone is busy and reading a manuscript takes time, but perhaps you could read a few pages of the opening or even answer a specific question they have on a character or the narrative. 

Leave a book review for another author if you can! Even if you just post a star rating on Amazon or Goodreads, this counts. As an author, I love getting reviews—not only does it help by providing feedback, it can also boost sales. 

Every writer has bad days. Some days, I feel like my writing is going well, and some days, I want to just quit forever. Send your writing friend some motivational memes. Tell them they rock! One helpful sentence can mean the world to a struggling writer. 

Find Strengths
In looking over a piece of writing, make sure to point out where the writer does a terrific job. Writers like hearing this, even if they swear they only want your constructive criticism. Writing comes from the heart, so if you can find a writer’s strength and highlight it, you will lift them more than you realize. 

Blog Buddies
Invite your writing friend to be a guest blogger if you run a blog. Or better yet, post their stories on your page (with their approval of course). You might also consider a book review blog to help spread the word about books/authors you enjoy. You would be surprised how much this helps book sales!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Conjuring a Plot: What to do When You're Stuck on a Writing Project

The other day, I spent some time talking with my writing friend about what to do when stuck on a writing project. I was surprised to hear that it happened to her too: the creative faucet, inexplicably, just stopped running. We discussed the ideas of reading more, looking over old material for inspiration, freewriting, and brainstorming. Through talking with her, I was able to break through some of the difficulties I’d been having over the summer (mainly it boiled down to my lack of reading any new books and being inspired). But getting stuck on a larger scale made me think about the inevitability of getting stuck in the middle of a manuscript on a minor plot point or turn of events. In fact, for those of us who are “pantsers” and do not plot in advance, getting stuck in the middle of a manuscript is almost guaranteed. True, some of the joy of writing is having that “yes!” moment, but what if that doesn’t come quickly enough?

If you’re stuck, or anticipate becoming stuck at some point, I’ve put together a list of ways to keep moving forward with a writing project. These are techniques that have aided me in the past or I’ve learned about through other writers or in writing classes. A few are experimental methods that some of us might find useful. As always, I welcome your comments. Let me know your advice when getting stuck in the middle of a writing project!

Make a List: “10 Things that can Happen Here”
Basically, this plan involves pulling out a notebook and jotting down every crazy thought that occurs to you. What happens between the characters? Does something go wrong in the background? A weather event? A phone call? Just keep filling the list until you find something you can work with in your novel.

Listen to Music
The best way to do this is through headphones when you’re alone. Pretend the music is the soundtrack of your novel, and make sure to note where you are stuck. Have the characters move forward in time along with the music and see what happens. You might have to change the type of music, but I would recommend some new age or world music to get you started. Try to meditate on the melody.

Read a Book
This is probably the best way to get inspired. Buy a new book or pull out one of your favorites. Maybe the book is in your writing genre, maybe it’s a book outside of your normal writing genre, but either way, it should be written well for best results. Break it down. How is the book structured? What surprises are in store for the characters? How does the author handle twists and turns in the plot? Can you take a scene and morph it to your own? Get inspired through other writers. 

Read Poetry 
Similar to reading a great work of literature, reading poetry is a fantastic way to get words and language moving through your mind. Whenever I’m stuck with phrasing or even a specific word, I don’t turn to the thesaurus but to a book of poetry. It’s amazing how the use of words in poetry can inspire a struggling writer. Find a word that intrigues you or is unique and try to set it into your scene somehow. Build around it, playfully, until a new scene or phrasing emerges.

Put the MS away for a while
Really at a loss? Put the manuscript away and let your subconscious work on it for a bit. This is a tough one, because us writers feel as though we need to work constantly. But perhaps working on something else or even giving your mind a break will trigger something. Once, I thought of a different way to structure my plot a whole year after I’d given up on a manuscript!

Writing Workshops 
Joining a writing workshop not only helps you learn about the craft, it sets you up with other writers who will be willing to help you with your project or even your writing troubles. We can all identify with a creative block, and perhaps here, others have a prescription for writer’s block or even ideas for your story!

Read the entire MS back from the beginning
I’ve used this one in the past, and even though it takes some time (depending on how far along you are), it really does help. Make connections in the narrative, find missing information or holes in the plot you can fill, and explore the history of the story. Another way this helps is that when you reach the point you’re stuck on, your mind can’t help but try to keep the narrative going. By that point, you should have something to work with.

Keep Going!
Keep writing, even if it sucks. You might get something useful out of it once you chip away. Even the best authors admit to tossing pages of writing away—often an entire day’s work. Sometimes, the writing will be horrible. We all have those days. But if we push on, something will inevitably come up. 

Writing Prompts
A quick Google search should lead you to some helpful writing prompts. While these might not have anything to do with the project you’re working on, if you step away from the project and keep writing, you might find the gears start turning again or you can use the material somehow in your current novel. Try to find prompts that match your genre. For example, you might search for writing prompts for horror writers (I just found this one:

Balloon Chart/Mapping
This one is a favorite in English classes and some Creative Writing courses. Many writers use this method, and if you’re not familiar with it, the basic idea is that you jot down a word and then connect ideas through “bubbles.” Here is an example of a simple balloon chart:

So, for example, if you’re stuck on a scene involving a ship, you would jot down “SHIP” and connect all your ideas—the first thoughts that pop into your head—until something springs to life: passengers, water, storm, drowning, shipwreck, Gilligan’s Island, etc. If nothing else, this method is fun. 

Do chores, take a shower, go for a long walk in nature. More than any of the above methods, this one should help clear your mind and get you back in balance. It’s amazing the ideas that spring to mind when I’m doing the dishes (although then my hands are wet and I can’t write down the ideas!). But never underestimate the power of stepping away for a little while to spend time in the outdoors or let your mind wander while doing some tedious cleaning. 

I hope you found these tips useful. Let me know if you do! Good luck!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Writer's Crystal Ball: 5 Ways to get to know Your Character(s)

One challenge we often face as writers is creating memorable characters. It cannot be argued that a great character with a unique voice oftentimes carries a novel, so characterization should be at the top of the list when it comes to literary techniques we want to nail. For many writers, main characters come easily or they evolve from an already realized plot. For other writers, characterization can be a struggle, particularly when dealing with side characters or characters of a different age or gender. To that end, I’ve put together a list of ways we can get to know our characters before writing them into a story (or to enhance a character during your revisions). Not only will these techniques help your story, they may also aid in strengthening your creativity and imagination.

1. Pretend you are your character for a day 

Basically, you’ll want to wake up and inhabit your character’s body. What is their sleeping position? What are they craving for breakfast? What are their daily routines/habits? How do they walk? Who do they text throughout the day? As you go about your normal daily routine, imagine doing it as your character. Find their mannerisms, brush your hair differently, laugh differently, talk to other characters in your book. 
2. Talk to your character on a park bench
This one will require some meditative skills. You could play some new age music without lyrics, or just relax in the silence and drift away. You’ll then want to envision meeting your character on a park bench, sitting beside them, and talking. What do they say about themselves? How do they look in the sunshine? What kind of conversation are you having? Are they discussing their home life? Their childhood? What they want out of life? Ask them personal things. Interview them. 
3. Write down your character’s traits and their history
We’ve all seen character lists and forms: what color hair, what color eyes, hopes and dreams, wants, likes and dislikes. Take a notebook and write down everything you can about your character, down to any freckles, moles, or beauty marks. Find their quirks, superstitions, and bad habits. Open up any book to a random page and use the first noun you spot to make up a character trait, habit, or feature (I just found the word “glasses” for example). Here is a link to one of those character forms (credit: Gotham Writers' Workshop):

4. Make a playlist of your character’s favorite songs

This is one of my favorite activities. I don’t feel like I can know a character well if I don’t know their favorite songs, so I make a playlist of what they would listen to in a normal day, when they’re happy or sad, when they’re driving in their car, or when they’re having fun on the beach. This one works very well with side characters as it’s oftentimes difficult to know them as well as our protagonist. Are they edgy and like rock music or metal? Or maybe they like 60’s music and are a bit of a hippie. What kind of character likes club music? What kind of character listens to hip-hop? 

5. Discover their voice

Does your character have a high speaking voice or a deep voice? Soft and subtle or loud and booming? Does their voice dominate a conversation? Or are they so shy we barely hear a whisper in social situations? Is it light and feminine or low and masculine? Listen to different voices on TV and movies, or perhaps you will discover their voice on your own by imagining a conversation with them. Do they have accents? Do all of their sentences sound like questions? Is there a specific word they always pronounce incorrectly? Have fun with this!

I hope these exercises help you with your writing. If you can think of any other writing activities to help with characterization, let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Love Potion: How to Structure Plot in Romance Writing

Romance writing requires a plot structure that varies a bit from other plot structures. The key to romance writing is keeping up that all-too-important tension between the two protagonists, which is an arduous task throughout a 300-400 page novel. There are seven basic parts in the romance writing plot structure, however, that should make it easier to keep up tension and move the story along.The Wizard of Writing invites you to take a long sip of Love Potion, sit back with a box of chocolates, and dive into all that is awesome and magical in plotting romance novels.

The Ordinary World 
Just diving right into a fiery romance is where many writers go wrong with romance writing. First, the reader wants to get to know our characters, including their hopes and dreams, their jobs, their family life, and their strengths and weaknesses. It also helps to note in the opening what the protagonist might be missing in his/her life that only another human being can fill in for them. In the opening chapters, try to keep interest in the story and an emphasis on upcoming plot but weave in some backstory for your protagonists here and there as well. 

The Cute Meet
Your two characters will inevitably meet up at some point, and this should not only be a unique meeting, but one that perhaps causes some initial sparks to fly. One way to do this, incredibly, is by having them hate each other at first. Opposites really do attract, so this might be emphasized in the first meeting. Or maybe they like each other only as friends at first, or perhaps the sparks fly but they ignore them because of other important goals they have to achieve. Either way, The Cute Meet should be unique and memorable.

The Complication
This is where both protagonists realize that there is something at stake if they pursue a relationship. Romantic tensions are high, and perhaps they have even shared a first kiss, but the future of the pairing is unclear. For example, this might be where a vampire wonders if he will hurt a love interest if he continues a relationship, or a prince might wonder if a peasant girl will fit into his world of royalty.

The Midpoint
At this point, the characters are facing emotional conflict about the relationship, and while romantic tensions are high, they both still have a way out of the relationship without getting too hurt in the process. This is also the point where intimacy may occur, although that is not set in stone. The Midpoint also sets up The Final Turning Point and The Black Moment, making up the final parts of the story.

The Final Turning Point
The stakes are highest for our two lovebirds here. If they continue on with a relationship, they might lose any chance of achieving set goals, they might struggle with an inner battle of some sort, or they might question the whole commitment thing altogether. Falling in love—the forever kind of love—is frightening and might leave your character(s) feeling vulnerable. Whatever happens at The Final Turning Point will determine the outcome of the relationship moving forward. This is the point of no return, the moment of ultimate decision and heightened inner conflict.

The Black Moment
Most of us are aware of The Black Moment in plot structure—even if only subconsciously—having read so many stories. This is where everything is dark, the romance is in crisis, the story is at its climax, and the relationship seems lost forever. Decisions have been made, vulnerabilities exposed, and everything is black and bleak. It is here that our characters head toward a decision that determines the fate of the relationship and perhaps even their lives. Maybe they are moving away and have to leave their soulmate behind. Maybe a truth was exposed that one feels they can never move past. Maybe lives were even at stake. The Black Moment should be emotional and read like the climax of the story.

The Ending
In the end, the characters ultimately realize they are stronger with each other and their love is true and forever. They have faced beliefs, determined their goals or let some goals go, and have struggled through the ups and downs of falling in love. This is the happily ever after, and it should leave the reader satisfied.

Bonus Breakdown of Plot Structure in Romance Writing

1. The Ordinary World
2. The Cute Meet
3. The Complication
4. The Midpoint
5. The Final Turning Point
6. The Black Moment
7. The Ending

These rules for romance writing may be broken, of course, but they give us a good idea of how to structure romance novels and how to keep romantic tension high between the two protagonists. I truly hope these help you with writing romance, whether you are writing a traditional romance novel, a specific genre of romance, or even including romantic elements in your story. It helps to think of a finish line (The Ending) and keep yourself moving along like an Olympic runner as you continue to fill in the rest of the story toward that goal. Good luck!

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Enchanted Forest: Tree Types to use in Writing

A few months ago, I offered a blog post of flower types for use in writing that seemed to go over well. I truly hope the flower types inspired you as writers, and that you were able to use the different kinds of flowers in your writing projects. To that end, I'd like to do a spin-off of that post by providing a list of tree types to use in writing. We've all come across a book or poem where the author just used the word "tree" without specifying type. We could use our imaginations to fill in the blanks, of course, but details help the reader settle into a scene a little better. For example, a specific tree might denote a certain area of the world (maple trees in New England or Canada, palm trees in Florida or California), or they might even evoke an emotion. A weeping willow does wonders just on name alone. Pine trees might remind a reader of the holidays, or better yet, the scent of the holidays. There is so much room to play around here, whether you're writing a novel or a short poem.

Below, please find a list of tree types to use in your writing. I hope these inspire you, and you mix and match trees, emotions, and story details to produce something awesome!

Willow/Weeping Willow
Balsam/Balsam Fir

Need to get specific? Here are links to more trees:

In the comments, please let me know any other tree types that come to mind!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Pinches of Pixie Dust: 20 Things that Sparkle to use in Writing

Sometimes, a scene just needs some sparkle. When writing, we might often find ourselves searching for a sparkly something-or-other that will make a scene lively and bright. This list should help when searching for a glittering, sparkling word, so please use it in writing poetry, novels, and any other kind of writing. You might also take one word from the list and base a scene, freewriting session, or poem around it. As always, I hope the list helps you in your writing. Please don't hesitate to let me know how it goes or add to the list!


  1. Diamonds
  2. Gold Coins
  3. City Lights
  4. Emerald City
  5. Sunlight
  6. Moonlight on Water
  7. Gems
  8. Crystals
  9. Eyes
  10. Dewy Grass in the Sun
  11. Glass
  12. Sequins
  13. Christmas Lights
  14. Fairies
  15. Glitter
  16. Ornaments
  17. Fireworks
  18. Nail Polish
  19. Gold Dust
  20. Raindrops on Leaves after a Sun Shower

Can you think of any other SPARKLE words? Please let me know in the comments!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Fragrant Cauldron: Using Unique Scents in Writing—Part II

Finally! With the book launch of Back to Blueberry Pond, I haven't had much time to work on my writing blog. I've missed it! Here is Part II of my special blog series: The Fragrant Cauldron: Using Unique Scents in Writing. This portion will cover scents from D-I, so please check back for more scents to come as I wind down the alphabet! As always, comments are welcome! I hope this list and this series of scents to use in writing helps your own writing. Perhaps they will inspire a story or poem of their own!


Dog Food
Dead Bodies




Fried Onions
Fruit Punch
Fruit Stand
French Fries


Grape Lifesaver
Ginger Ale
Graham Cracker


Honeydew Melon
Hot Chocolate
Hot Fudge


Ice Cream
Irish Cream

Don't forget to check out Part I of The Fragrant Cauldron series as well as my other posts on The Wizard of Writing Blog! Let me know if you think of any other scents from D-I!