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Sunday, March 24

Sunday Writing Tip: Rewrite Body Parts Acting on Their Own

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Each week, I’ll offer a tip you can take and apply to your WIP to help improve it. They’ll be easy to do and shouldn’t take long, so they’ll be tips you can do without taking up your Sunday. Though I do reserve the right to offer a good tip now and then that will take longer—but only because it would apply to the entire manuscript.

This week, check for disembodied eyes, hands, fingers, heads, and feet acting on their own.


While we understand what we mean to say, sometimes we write phrases that come across as a body part doing something all on its own. Eyes dart around rooms, feet wander the streets, hands reach for things—often with unintentionally comic results.

If the body part sounds like it’s a separate entity from the character, and you’re not trying to instill that feeling, consider revising.

For more on avoiding inadvertently funny body parts in your novel, try this article:

Saturday, March 23

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Scene Make You Care About the Protagonist?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines. 

Submissions currently in the queue: Two

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through April 13.

This week’s questions:

Does this scene make you care about Nicole? Is there enough conflict to draw you in? Do you hear Nicole's voice and personality? Is the problem clear?

Market/Genre: Christian YA Contemporary

Note: This is a significant and well-done rewrite of previously submitted material. If you’d like to see how the author revised this, find the others drafts in May 2018 and July 2018.

On to the diagnosis…

Friday, March 22

What's at Stake? How to Make Readers Care About Your Story

stakes, conflict, hooks
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This week's Refresher Friday takes an updated look at making readers care about your story. Enjoy!

Like many writers, I have story ideas languishing in my files that I really like, but haven't been able to make work yet because they don't have an answer to the "who cares?" question: Why should the reader care about this person and this problem?  Until I figure out a way to make the stakes personal, to make me care, those stories will stay languished.

I know I'm not alone in this. I do a lot of critiques for a wide variety of writers. One of the most common comments I make is about the stakes. Why does this matter? Why should the reader care? Often I can see the stakes in the story, but they're general and vast, so they don't make me care. The author could put any protagonist into the lead and nothing about the consequences really changes.

Thursday, March 21

Rising Above the Average as a Writer: Regression Toward the Mean

By Dario Ciriello

Part of The Writer’s Life Series


JH: So much of publishing success is blind luck, and getting lucky twice (or more) can be harder than getting published in the first place. Dario Ciriello is back at the podium today to share thoughts on keeping success going.


We all want to succeed at our writing and produce that breakout book that hits big. And it is possible, for all of us. But it’s also necessary to understand success comes with its own challenges.

Not at first, of course. Faced with a sudden, maybe unanticipated hit, a writer, musician, or other creative will be overjoyed and exuberant. Recognition, validation, even money: what’s not to like?

But once the wave crests and the initial happy surprise gives way to considering the next project, that’s when apprehension can set in, and with good reason: how do you do it again?

Wednesday, March 20

A Fun Test to Check Your Scene's Narrative Drive

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Dusting off an oldie but goody for today. Here's a fun diagnostic quiz from 2011 to help you determine if your plot is doing its narrative job or just laying there without direction.

It's not an uncommon situation: You've finished your book, it's well written, the story is good, but for some reason the plot is just laying there, and you don't know what to do to make it better. It's not bad, but it's not making anyone eager to read it either.

Knowing a book isn't working and not knowing why can be horribly frustrating. I've had my share of flat stories, and I've found that when things aren't clicking, it's usually one of two things--lack of narrative drive (goals) or lack of stakes. Often a blend of the two, since they're very connected.

Tuesday, March 19

3 Good Reasons Not to Quit Your Night Job

By Maggie Wells, @MaggieWells1

Part of The Writer’s Life Series


JH: Finding time to write is an issue nearly every writer faces, no matter where they are in their writing journey. Maggie Wells visits the lecture hall today to share some thoughts on managing a writing life, and tips to balance work, life, and writing.


Maggie Wells is a deep-down dirty girl with a weakness for hot heroes and happy endings. By day she is buried in spreadsheets, but at night she pens tales of people tangling up the sheets. The product of a charming rogue and a shameless flirt, this mild-mannered married lady has a naughty streak a mile wide.

Fueled by supertankers of Diet Coke, Maggie juggles fictional romance and the real deal by keeping her slow-talking Southern gentleman constantly amused and their two grown children mildly embarrassed. The author of over forty published works, she believes in love without limits.

Website | Twitter | Facebook

Take it away Maggie…

Monday, March 18

Get a Clue: We All Need a Little Mystery in Our Novels

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I'm still recovering from "conference brain" after five days away. In honor of SleuthFest (which was awesome), here's a dip into the archives on why every writer should add a little mystery and wonder to their novel. Enjoy!

A good friend of mine writes mysteries, and when she first started reading my fantasies (the novels, not the other kind) she remarked that she’d never be able to make up an entire world like I did. I found it impressive that she could write in the real world and not have the luxury of making stuff up when she needed it.

Two totally different writers approaching their stories from two totally different perspectives, but what we both agreed on, was that all stories need a sense of mystery and wonder. Without mystery, stories just aren’t any fun.

I think as writers, we can get so caught up the plot and characters, showing all the cool things we created, and making sure the technical stuff is working, that we forget readers want more than just "good writing." They want a story they can get lost in. A puzzle to solve. They want to figure out the truth and be surprised.

Sunday, March 17

Sunday Writing Tip: Are They “Really” Trying?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Each week, I’ll offer a tip you can take and apply to your WIP to help improve it. They’ll be easy to do and shouldn’t take long, so they’ll be tips you can do without taking up your Sunday. Though I do reserve the right to offer a good tip now and then that will take longer—but only because it would apply to the entire manuscript.

This week, examine every instance of try and make sure it means what you intended


A character “trying to do something” can sometimes feel a little told, because we don’t actually show the action, we explain what the character “tried” to do. If the intent is to show the attempt and failure, it usually reads just fine. But if the character actually does the action they were “trying,” it can be misleading, or even confusing.

If she tries to stand, then dashes across the room, readers might be left wondering how—nothing shows her getting to her feet. She only “tried” to do it. But if she grabs the chair and pulls herself to her feet, then dashes across the room, readers can clearly see the action that got her there.

For more on the ambiguity of “try” in your novel, try this article:

Saturday, March 16

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Opening Scene Work for a MG Science Fiction Novel?

Critique By Maria D'Marco

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines. 

Submissions currently in the queue: One

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through March 23.

This week’s question:

Does my opening scene work for my MG sci-fi novel?

Market/Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction

On to the diagnosis…

Friday, March 15

How Saleable Are Short Stories? The Benefits of Writing Shorter

By Sarah Dahl, @sarahdahl13

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series


JH: With the "publish or perish" vibe of today's hectic publishing world, authors can feel pressured to release multiple novels a year. But writing short stories or novellas can be a viable alternative that lessens that pressure and still keeps readers happy. 


Novellas and even shorter works are on their way to becoming a strong literary form. They can stand alone or be extras/appetizers for bigger works of fiction. Many writers do them, and more and more readers read them. Attention spans shorten, and time to read, too. So today in our series Focus on Short Fiction we’re looking at the benefits of writing shorter, and especially saleability.

Many authors say they can’t write in the short form, and don’t see the point of mastering the craft for their business. Writing short doesn’t have to be everyone’s cup of tea. But there is a lot to gain from writing and publishing short works. Many big-name authors also do short stories in between their longer works. So there surely must be a benefit beyond mere exercise of a creative muscle.