Friday, June 8, 2018

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

First off, thank you so much for your patience with the Wizard of Writing blog over the last few months. I was accepted into a teaching assistant position at my university, and that has taken up much of my time. I hope to balance out my schedule soon, but in the meantime, here is the final installment of the popular Fragrant Cauldron series. As with the prior blog posts, I hope these scents find their way into your writing and make the narrative pop and sizzle. This final installment of the series will focus on scents from S-Z. Have fun with these!

Soda Pop
Sugar Cookies
Suntan Lotion
Seabreeze (salty air)
Spring (air, flowers, rain)
Smoothie (fruit)
Sugar Plums
Sweet Pea

Trees, Timber
Tropical (fruit)


Vanilla Extract
Vick’s Vaporub

Wassail (drink)


Zombies (hey, I'm sure they smell like something)

Let us know if you think of any other scents, and also let us know how you use these in your writing! Do you have a love interest who smells of a particular shampoo or flower? What wintertime scents are included in your holiday story? Did you use tropical scents to set the scene on an island vacation? Let us know!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Wizard's Sketchpad: A Writer's Guide to Drawing out Scenes

I am horrible at drawing. So bad, that it’s a bit of a family joke, especially when we play any kind of drawing game, like Pictionary. My aliens look like Christmas trees and my horses look like clouds. At best. So when I once read in a book on writing the importance of sketching out scenes, I decided never to attempt it, even though I thought it might help with the writing process. Recently, I started a manuscript in which a map of the town would be beneficial, so I, with hesitation and shakiness, sketched out a rough, rough draft of a map, filling in a few sites, landmarks, stores, and locations. I had to start over quite a few times, but when I finally sat down to write with my map in front of me, the writing process was definitely easier. I was able to move characters around within the town, and I began to know their favorite places. This helped with characterization and other elements of writing such as plot and setting.

I then took it a step further, knowing that my drawing was not perfect, but it made sense to me. I zoomed in on the map and drew up the insides of stores, restaurants, and churches, the details of the town’s lake and hiking trails, and even mapped out the entire high school (the novel is YA). Some of it doesn’t make sense (a few roads aren’t connected, for example), but it was enough to get me going and help me “see” the town I was working with for this particular manuscript. To that end, I’ve researched a little more, and, using this and my own experience with drawing out scenes, I’m providing lists and examples that might be helpful to you and get you started with sketching. Hopefully you’re better at drawing than I am. You certainly can’t be worse!

As mentioned above, even a rough sketch of a map can be helpful to your writing. Your readers will appreciate the detail and the accuracy of your setting, and you might even find your character in places you had not initially intended. Here are a few suggestions for mapping out your town or location: 

Roadways: streets, roads, avenues, alleyways, drives, outlets, main thoroughfare
Transportation: bridges, railroad tracks, highways, overpasses, airports, shipping/boating
Natural Elements: lakes, ponds, rivers, oceans, hiking trails, wooded areas, forests, dams, state parks, marshes, caves, mountains
Town Staples: parks, landmarks, cemeteries, libraries, town hall, historical center, historical district, statues, post office, churches
Business: grocery stores, restaurants (pizza, Chinese, American, Bar and Grill, Indian, Italian, diners, etc.), hardware stores, ice cream shops, bakery, bank, book store, bed and bath stores, pet store, hotels and inns, office buildings
Entertainment: skating rinks, bowling alleys, arcades, opera house or theater, movies, mall
Schools: grammar school, middle school, high school, private school, Catholic school, colleges
Other: town lines (what towns border your town?), farms, pumpkin patches, apple orchards, factories, town green or other gathering places, festival sites, mansions, downtown areas
Fantasy/Sci-fi: galaxies, other lands, spaceports, royal kingdoms, star systems, creature lairs

I hope these locations help you fill up your map. If you think of other locations, please let us know in the comments! 

If you’re really good at drawing and you have an important scene, you might consider drawing it out first. Maybe your characters are having an argument at the edge of a cliff, and positioning is everything. Or perhaps you just want an overview of every detail of a scene. You might sketch up a character’s bedroom, for example, filling in bed position, dresser, stereo, photographs, mirrors, and other little things that might let the reader know a bit more about the character. Sketching out scenes might also serve as a “snapshot” should you need to reference something later on, like where a specific item is located. 

If you’re brave enough, you might also consider sketching out your characters. This might help you “see” them better, filling in the many details of their physical appearance. For example, you might include their hair color and style, the color of their eyes, the length of their nose, the shape of their mouth, and even what kind of clothes they wear. I would definitely suggest doing this early on, even before starting up a new manuscript. Keep these drawings in your writer’s notebook or journal for easy reference. 

Outside of the full map, this one should help you out the most. Here, you can color in an entire setting, from a full castle to a little diner inside a small town. My first sketch-out of a specific setting was a pizza restaurant. I included the color scheme, the table placements, the artwork around the restaurant, where the front ordering counter was located, the windows, and the cooking area. You might go further than that, with character placement and menus—it depends on how often you’ll use the setting and how important it is to the overall manuscript. Some other settings you might consider sketching out would include wooded areas, houses your characters will inhabit, hotels, and workplaces. 

Again, I hope these lists help you with your writing. Use your imagination, especially if you’re not strong with drawing, and know that the sky is the limit here. You can sketch out anything important in your story and keep going with details until you have something to work with that will draw readers into your full story. 

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Wizard's Spellbook: How to Construct a Writer's Journal

Here’s a secret: most of the posts on The Wizard of Writing blog were inspired by or taken directly from my personal writer’s journal. It’s a leathery black book with gold binding, and I’ve been filling it up for years. There are a few different ways to go about constructing a writer’s journal, each one quite personal, so I’m going to break down some of the techniques, as well as offer tips. As far as your own writing goes, I cannot stress the importance of a writer’s journal enough. This is where you are free to be yourself away from your poetry, short stories, plays, or novels. This is also where you can brainstorm, jot down story ideas, and sketch up character traits. Mostly, it’s a place you can turn to for inspiration.

There are a few types of writer’s journals, and you can choose one type or blend elements of many types—whatever works best for you. You’ll want to personalize this journal, keep it with you, and write in it daily. If you can’t have your writer’s journal with you, feel free to take notes in your phone and copy them over later to your journal. Make sure you love your journal, choosing pleasing types of books that relate to you and your writing, and pages that are easy to access. Spend a little money if you have to, as it will be worth it. Here are some of the types of writer's journals you might want to try out, as well as some tips and techniques for journaling that you might find useful as you fill in your pages.


This can be one separate journal or an element of your overall writer’s journal. In this type of journal, you would brainstorm ideas for stories, including plot, theme, story structure, title, setting, and marketing plans. You might be reading a novel, for example, and think of an idea for a short story based on some portion of the narrative. Or perhaps you have a dream and think the general idea might work in one of your manuscripts. You might even be inspired to write poetry based on the color of the sky at sunset. Write all of this down, so even if you don’t use it right away, you can reference it at a later time. 


In a character journal, you would keep your ideas for evolving characters, including their personalities, traits, backstories, physical features, and psychological profiles. I would recommend jotting down full histories of not only main characters, but side characters as well. You might also want to clip photos and tape them into your journal for reference. For example, you might find a photo on Pinterest of a certain eye shape you find interesting, or perhaps an odd nose length or unique hair color. Print these out (or cut out from magazines) and tape them into your journal. 


This is a pretty standard type of writer’s journal. Here, you would jot down your daily observations, including weather patterns, clips of dialogue, elements of books you found intriguing, and how you felt on a certain day. You can really look at this one as the most personal of all the writer’s journal types, almost like a diary. These are the little things you zoom in on that nobody else in the world has noticed but you. How are the clouds shaped today? What were your neighbors really arguing about? How exactly does the light fall on the lake you’ve seen while hiking? These are all your personal observations—seen as only you have seen them—and they will come in handy while you’re writing up scenes. 


This is the type of journal I currently use for writing and for inspiration when writing up my writing blog. As you might know from following The Wizard of Writing, these lists would include different types of birds, flowers, trees, textures, bodies of water, and foods. I’ve also compiled lists of specific tastes, colors, sounds, and scents. You could also categorize themes, like constructing a list of Astronomy terms, circus words, unique words, synonyms of popular words, other ways to say “walk” or “love,” and even a list of moods and tones used in writing. Basically, there are no limits, no rules. I even have one section set aside for “funny” words, including wanweird (an unhappy face), brouhaha (an uproar), and pratfall—one of my favorites—which means to fall on one’s rear. In short, you can individualize your writer’s journal, making it truly your own.

I hope these types of writer’s journals are helpful, and that you begin your own journal as soon as you can. For inspiration, here are some links to journals you might find to your liking. Have fun with this, and please let me know how you make out, or if you have any other ideas for writing journals!


Magic Themes:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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

Part III of The Fragrant Cauldron: Using Unique Scents in Writing continues with scents from J-R. The next installment should wrap up this series, and I truly hope you have enjoyed it and it has inspired you and your writing! As always, it's important to use sensory details in our writing. Scent, for most people, is linked to memory, so it's sure to conjure up something in your reader. The provided list of scents should also help you when you're stuck, and I've even heard of some writers using one particular scent to inspire an entire piece of writing! Perhaps a poem will come from your memory of jellybeans, or a short story might revolve around your grandmother's rose perfume.

Let me know if you can think of any other scents, and have fun!


Jack-O-Lantern (burning)


Keylime Pie




Milk (sour)
Macintosh Apple
Maple (syrup)
Mittens (wool, old, wet)
Mountain (air)


Noodles (buttered)
Noel (Christmastime)
New Car


Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Orange Sherbet
Oriental (incense, spice)


Pepper (black)
Pina Colada
Peanut Butter
Pipe Smoke
Peanuts (roasted)
Peppers (chili, red, green)
Potato Chips




Rags (dirty)
Root Beer
Raspberry Lemonade

Don't forget to check out my other blog: The Steps to Getting Published (co-authored with writer Emrald Sethna) if you're interested in publishing tips, writing prompts, and publishing opportunities!

Here's the link:

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 Characters

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!