Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The Problem With Flash Forwards as an Opening Scene

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

If you have to flash forward to hook a reader, you’re not starting in the right place.

I admit, flash forwards are a big pet peeve of mine. I find them awkward and pointless, because they’re trying to get me interested in “an exciting part” of the story without doing any work to actually create that emotional connection. Obviously, taste vary, but for me, they’re a trick, a bait and switch, and they fail more times than work.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a flash forward is a device that starts with a scene from later in the story, then jumps back in time to show how the characters ended up in that situation. On TV shows, it’s the “twenty-four hours earlier” text that shows up after the opening scene where we see the hero in dire straits.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Decisions, Decisions: Creating Character Choices That Matter

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A plot is just the series of choices a character makes in a story.

Making a decision is one of the most important things your characters will ever do. Not only does it drive the plot, it creates tension and unpredictability in the story. Readers turn the page to see what happens next, and decisions are all about the "next."

But there's a catch.

Readers have to care about the outcome of that choice.


“Should I have the eggs or the cereal?” is a choice, but no one is going to stay up late to see how that turns out. Because the other half of choosing is the fear that you're making the wrong choice.

(Here’s more with The Impossible Choice: A Surefire Way to Hook Your Readers)

Now, here's where it gets tricky.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Three Questions to Get to the Heart of Your Story

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The story is why readers picked up your book. 

Writing is such a strange thing. As writers, we get these characters and stories in our heads and put them down on paper. Sometimes we know exactly what happens and write what we imagine, other times we have a character shouting in our heads and we transcribe what they tell us. We all have different processes and write with different voices.

What I find interesting, is that no matter what genre we write in or what age group we write for, one thing stays the same.

The story.

Not the plot, not the series of events that unfold, but the story that causes those events to happen as they do. Because story is bigger than plot or any of the other mechanical and technical aspects of writing. It’s the heart and soul of an idea and what brings the reader along for the ride.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Finding the Right Balance with Your Stage Directions

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Awkward stage direction can turn an otherwise good scene into a clunky mess, but the right balance of action and character thought lets the reader sail on through.

No matter what type of novel you’re writing, at some point you’ll have to describe how the characters move about and interact with the world—the stage direction. Like the theater, you’re directing how your “actors” move on the stage (or the page in this case). 

Sometimes the direction is basic, such as “she walked across the room.” Other times, it’s a complicated fight scene involving six guys and an eight-legged monster. Or it’s a show of emotion, such as when someone “curls into a ball and cries.”

Monday, August 14, 2023

Stuck on a Scene? Try This Trick to Get it Moving Again

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The problem isn’t always where you think it is.

Before I dive in today, I'm also guest posting over at Writers in the Storm, sharing tips on How to Make Clich├ęs Work for You. Come on over and say hello.

Unless you’re very, very lucky, at some point in your writing you’re going to get stuck. You’ll write yourself into a corner and won’t be able to figure out how to get your protagonist where they need to go, or maybe you’ll have no idea what the conflict is supposed to be. You’ll sit at the keyboard and grow more and more frustrated by the minute until you want to scream. Or take up botany.

It’s not writer’s block—you can write, it’s just that the scene has stalled and you don’t know what to do to get it moving again.

Instead of struggling to fix the scene that’s not working, try this:

Monday, August 07, 2023

7 Ways Your Characters Can Screw up Their Decisions

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Making the wrong choice isn't good in life, but it's great for plotting a novel.

As people, we want to make the right choice, so it's only natural that those are the choices that first come to us as we write a scene. The problem there, is that "doing the right thing" doesn't usually cause the wonderful conflict we need to craft compelling stories. (But when it does it's writing gold.) 

Lifehack had a great post about how not to mess up your decisions. The writer in me instantly saw what a fantastic guide it was for crafting characters with bad decision-making skills, which of course makes for more interesting plots. Nobody likes a smarty pants who gets everything right all the time. We want characters with flaws, and issues, who make snap judgements and totally mess things up while trying to make things better.

You really don't want your characters to act like they've three weeks to consider their options just because you took that long to write the scene (and probably had input from fellow writers and friends, too). A decision made in the heat of the moment isn't the same as one made after weeks of considering.

And characters making "in the heat of the moment" decisions can make or break your plot.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Behind the Red Pen: What to Look for When Vetting an Editor

By Jaire Sims, @JaireSims


Part of the Indie Authors Series

JH: Choosing the right editor for your manuscript is more than just picking the first name on a list or result page. Jaire Sims shares what you need to know when vetting an editor for your novel.


Jaire Sims lives, works, and writes where he was born and raised, Chicago. After spending years with social anxiety and undergoing counseling, he was eventually diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Still, he overcame the challenges before him, graduating from Monmouth College with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies. Off and on, he worked on and eventually published his debut novel, Getting By, named a finalist in the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Jaire hopes to inspire and nurture aspiring authors and, through his work, champion marginalized voices facing similar struggles to him.

Website | Goodreads Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube

Take it away Jaire…

Monday, July 31, 2023

Are You Missing These Opportunities to Write a Better Story?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Transform your story by mining its hidden gems.

One of the many reasons I adore my critique groups is that they push me to tell better stories. When I slack off, they call me on it. When I miss something, they point it out. When I’m not sure what works and throw all kinds of gunk into a scene, they tell me what worked and what needs to go.

After a while, their words started echoing in my head even when we weren’t meeting. When I slack off, miss something, or have too much gunk, and I hear what I know they’re going to say when they read those pages.

Which makes me change it.

Granted, I don’t catch everything, and my changes aren’t always the right changes, but it’s made me much more aware of what I’m doing when I’m drafting a novel. I’m much better now at spotting the gems hidden in the rough words and turning them into diamonds (or at least cubic zirconia).

I guarantee you’re not taking advantage of all the hidden gems in your story.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Put Up Your Dukes: Crafting Dynamic Fight Scenes

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A strong fight scene is more than just who throws the punches.

One of the first fight scenes I ever wrote was for a fantasy novel, so it involved swords and daggers and a lot of fancy footwork. I wanted to keep track of who did what and where they were, so I used little pewter figures from my D&D box. Step-by-step, I moved the figures around and had my "characters" act out the fight.

While this was a useful way to keep track of the movements, it made for a pretty boring scene, because I focused way too much on the mechanics and not enough on the story.

This is a common problem with fight scenes. Describing the fight isn't the same as showing the action.

Monday, July 17, 2023

How to Create a Strong Mentor Character

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Mentors are a great tool for telling your protagonist what to do, without telling you protagonist what to do.

The Mentor is one of the more common character archetypes in storytelling, because protagonists need someone to talk to and guide them as they struggle through the plot. The Mentor offers insight, wisdom, and even tools to solve the protagonist’s problems in the novel and helps them grow as the story unfolds.

While often portrayed as the "wise old man" type, the Mentor can be any age, sex, or race (or even species).
  • Yoda mentors Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back
  • Polgara mentors Garion in The Belariad series
  • Charlotte mentors Wilbur in Charlotte's Web
The Mentor can even be the love interest, such as Like Wilson's character, Emmett, who both helps and eventually falls for Reese Witherspoon's Elle in Legally Blonde.