Writing Advice

I sure hope so, because I’m more than a little crazy, though I think I hide it well. Except for this blog.

We Need To Talk About The Darkest Minds and the Importance of Choice [coming soon]

Do You Need A Professional Editor?

Say you’re finished writing a book—congrats! You’ve made a few editing passes through it, roped a few of your friends and relatives into reading it, gotten their feedback, and tweaked it into what you think is an acceptable form to show to the world at large. Maybe you’ve even queried a handful of literary agents and received either “Thanks but no thanks” rejections or (more likely) radio silence…

How to Create “Real” Characters

Characters in your heard are not real people, no matter what a platitude typed in Corsiva font scrolled across a picture of a quill tells you. They are not people, and they don’t do anything you don’t make them do. To think otherwise is to have a fundamental break with reality, and please see your doctor to adjust your medication dosage accordingly…

Good Books To Read If You Wanna Be a (Better) Writer

Writers are always giving out advice on how to write, assuming for some reason that people care. I mean, you don’t see doctors prattling on to whoever will listen about the best ways to reset a bone or writing blog posts about identifying infectious diseases.

Maybe writing is unique in the sense it seems like something everyone should be capable of doing. With some sad exceptions, everybody is literate, everybody’s got “What if…?” story ideas, and everybody can tell a good story from a bad one. And yet only a tiny handful of people can sit down and complete a coherent story; even fewer a GOOD coherent story…

The Most Misunderstood “Rules” of Writing, Part 2: Grammatical Correctness

I used to wonder what was more important—wordsmithing or storytelling. This was when I was on my O. Henry Prize kick, reading dozens of beautifully written short stories that received high praise despite lacking plots or any deep meaning (to me, anyway). As a result, for a while I believed wordsmithing was more important and focused a lot on improving my prose. Then I realized short stories were a career dead end and began focusing on novels, where I came to the opposite conclusion…

The Most Misunderstood “Rules” of Writing, Part 1: Show, Don’t Tell

I’m generally of a mind that rules are lame. You don’t know how much trouble I’ve ended up in because of this attitude, being a military member and all. Example:

Me: Why can’t I put my hands in the pockets of my uniform? It’s winter and it’s cold.

Severe-Looking Instructor: Because it’s unprofessional.

Me: Frostbite is also unprofessional.

Severe-Looking Instructor: Drop and give me twenty.

I understand you can’t have a functioning society without rules. My beef is that many rules are arbitrary or unnecessary, or were made because one jerk screwed it up for everybody else, like the guy caught playing pocket pool in front of the general (and now my hands are forever cold, thanks asshole)…

3 Reasons Why You Should Never Skip The Inciting Incident

Maybe I’ve been cursed by the book gods and need to sacrifice another virgin at the secret blood altar they keep in my local library’s basement (all the best libraries have one), but I’ve had crap luck with books lately. I’ve DNF’d the last four out of five books I’ve read, primarily for story mechanics issues. They’ve either dragged or didn’t establish a solid foundation before jumping into the action, or just weren’t very compelling stories…

What You Absolutely Need To Know Before You Start Writing

In my last article, I discussed how authors often fall into the trap of obsessing over irrelevant character details at the expense of info that matters. You don’t need to know everything about a character, only certain critical details: desires, strengths, and weaknesses. The same holds true for starting a story: you don’t need to know everything, only certain things…but you NEED to know those key things…

The Only Thing You Really Need To Know About Your Characters

Please don’t tell me you’ve got a binder or notebook stuffed with pictures you found on the Internet of what your main characters look like, along with facts about them like their favorite color, the first song they danced to, their ideal vacation spot, etc. I mean, you can do that if you’re bored…okay I did that on my website as part of a promotion for my book Reckoning. But don’t mistake this for character development, because it’s not…

February 2018:

How to Write a Compelling Villain

Crack open any Storytelling 101 book and it’ll tell you conflict is your story’s engine. Every story since the history of forever has centered around someone trying to solve a problem; otherwise, it’s not a story so much as a series of anecdotes, or an aside, or your drunk uncle’s ramblings.

Stories which lack a strong central conflict feel weak or meandering…

January 2018:

How to Use Fiction to Tell the Truth

What if I told you the best fiction was all about telling the truth?

“But Shana, it’s fiction!” you might respond. “It’s not real! How is my erotic paranormal romance about shapeshifting unicorns supposed to tell the truth about anything?”

Well, let me explain…BTW, if YOU have written an erotic paranormal romance about shapeshifting unicorns, PLEASE SEND ME THE BUY LINK ASAP…

December 2017:

Four Reasons Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t Bother Writing Short Stories

I started my literary career writing short stories; thought that was my niche since I’ve got lots of ideas for which the short form is the perfect medium. Turns out short stories have their uses, but establishing your writing bona fides is not one of them.

I’ve written almost a dozen short stories and had most of them published. Here are some truisms/advice from someone who’s toiled in the trenches of the short story market…

November 2017: 

Breaking Down What a Story Actually Is…And What It Isn’t

No writing workshop is complete without a definition of a story explained to the audience of aspiring authors. They come in flavors from simple to complicated, though I prefer the simple ones.

A plot is not a story! A plot is a series of events that forms an overarching narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. A plot is stuff that happens. A story is stuff that happens for a reason, which is provided by the characters. At its very basic elements, a story is “plot plus characters.”…

October 2017:

Baking Literary Bread, Part 3: How To Solve Common Story Problems Using the Recipe

Last time, we discussed the correct order and ratio of all the necessary ingredients for a successful story: hook (page 1) -> inciting incident (anytime before plot point 1) -> plot point 1 (PP1; 20-25% mark) -> midpoint (50% mark) -> plot point 2 (PP2; 75% mark) -> climax/denoument (last 90%).

Knowing the correct order and ratio can solve a lot of issues with a manuscript that readers complain about but authors may have a hard time interpreting. Here are a few ambiguous but common problems decoded into their meaning and solution…

September 2017:

Baking Literary Bread, Part 2: The Right Recipe For Success

In my last column, I talked about the critical ingredients to craft a coherent story. You might recall my genius bread-baking metaphor: like a story, there are an infinite number of different kinds of bread you can bake, but all loaves of bread have certain ingredients in common that make it bread rather than cake or pizza. However, just knowing what ingredients to put in isn’t enough. You also need to know the ratio of each, and the order in which they should be added…

August 2017:

Baking Literary Bread, Part 1: The Basic Ingredients Every Story Must Have To Succeed

Everybody who’s ever attempted to bake a delicious loaf of bread from scratch knows firsthand the endeavor is part art, part science. The delicate balance of flavors and textures—that’s art. Ensuring the loaf doesn’t dissolve into a puddle of goo—that’s science. There are an infinite number of different kinds of bread you can bake—banana, zucchini, raisin nut, marble wheat, etc.—but they all have certain ingredients in common—flour, baking soda, salt, water—and require a certain order of preparation—mix ingredients, bake, let cool. Without the right ingredients in specific quantities and in the proper order, you end up with the aforementioned inedible goo…

July 2017:

How To Write A Good Fight/Sex Scene

Let’s be honest—the vast majority of fight/sex scenes in Hollywood and literature only exist to titillate. Most could be replaced by a sign or sentence that says “And then they have sex,” or “And then they fight.” I lump sex scenes and fight scenes together because the mechanics and purposes of both are very similar…


Words with Weight