Monday, September 26, 2022

An Unpredictable (and Fun) Trick to Keep Your Plots Unpredictable

keeping your plots unpredictable, writing twists, plotting
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy 

To write unpredictable scenes, try being unpredictable.

Plotting a novel can be a lot of fun, but it can also get a little tedious at times—trying to figure out the next step of a puzzle, crafting the perfect response to every choice your characters make, deciding when, where, and if you need a plot twist. When the muse is on your side the story flows quickly, but when she's not?

For those days, try treating your scenes like a game of chance to kick start the muse and keep readers guessing.

All you need is a single die or a random number generator, and the courage to think outside the box. This exercise is fun, but it can also send your scene in a direction you never anticipated—and might not want to go. And that's okay. You don't have to go where the Muse of Chance sends you, but at least try to think about how that direction might affect the story.

Monday, September 19, 2022

5 Ways to Revive a Manuscript That Doesn't Work

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Difficult manuscripts often need tough love and hard choices to make them work.

Last year, I had three manuscripts for novels that didn't work. They were all stories and concepts I loved, but the drafts got less-than-stellar feedback. But I wasn't willing to give up on those stories, because I believed in them, even while they tried to kill me and my muse.

Some of them have been waiting years for me to figure out how to fix them. It took me a while, but I have a good feeling about all three of them now.

Idea #1 I threw out and started over from scratch. I even changed my POV from first to third person. The story stayed the same, but I re-addressed how I told that story.

I completed it a few months ago, and it just needs one last final critique pass. I'm delighted to report that the feedback from my beta readers is now stellar. The last time I had such overwhelmingly positive comments was when my betas were reading my debut novel, The Shifter. I'm taking this as a very good sign.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Catalyst for Character Change: The Dark Night of the Soul

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The worst moment for your protagonist is one of the best moments for your reader.

A character who truly earns their victory—whatever that may be—is one readers will root for and remember. That’s often why they read the book in the first place. They want to watch a character struggle and overcome their problems and learn something from the experience.

Even if that something is, “the best weapon to put down zombies.”

Typically, the change is more character-focused and draws from the protagonist’s emotional core, but a Dark Night of the Soul happens in plot-heavy novels, too. It just takes a slightly different form and teaches slightly different lessons.

No matter what path your protagonist takes—emotional or intellectual, internal or external, plot driven or character driven—they have one thing in common.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

How to Use Conflict to Show Character Development

By Angela Ackerman, @AngelaAckerman

Part of The How They Do It Series 

JH: If you want to know who a character truly is, put them under pressure.
 Angela Ackerman shares tips on how to show character development through conflict.

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Available in ten languages, her guides are sourced by universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. 

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Take it away Angela...

Monday, September 05, 2022

Take the Work Out of Writing a Scene

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Don’t try to write the whole scene at once.

Last week, I was having a bit of trouble writing a scene for a new book. I’d been away from writing in general, and this book in particular for a while, so I was no longer in the writing flow. I had my outline summary, I knew what the scene entailed, I just couldn’t start it. So I did what I always do when a scene doesn’t want to start.

I took my summary and turned it into the individual moments that made up the scene.

This is as easy as just hitting a hard return after a line, and turning my summary into something closer to bullet points. That let me focus on smaller moments in the scene, and not the entire thing. I didn’t have to worry about the end, because I was working on the little bit at the start.

Scenes are easier to write when you break them down into bite-sized pieces.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

How Writing a Novel Is Like Gardening

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Grow your novel into something beautiful.

For every orchid or African violet that takes meticulous care and stringent rules to thrive, there are wildflowers that bloom along the side of the road that just wound up there, blown on the wind. Each flower is beautiful, but every one found life through a different path.

Novels are the same way. They usually have to grow into beauty, often from a steaming pile of, um…fertilizer.

Luckily, even if you’re a terrible gardener (like me), you can still write a great novel. Because…

Not every (story) seed requires the same care to grow.


When I plant lantanas or impatiens, I can practically ignore them and they grow out of control. I can’t keep basil alive unless I’m constantly out there checking the soil and making sure it’s getting the right amount of sunlight (though I am having good results with hydroponic herb gardens—so maybe I need to write in the pool -grin-).

Monday, August 22, 2022

Fiction University Is Back from Hiatus

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

With some changes and updates, and more on the way.

Life is a funny thing. I went on hiatus last November to deal with my husband’s health issues, fully expecting to be blogging again by summer of 2022. I also thought the downtime would allow me to update the site, and do some of the things I’ve been wanting to do with it for years.

That totally didn’t happen.

Happy Cancerversary!
Mostly, because it took a whole lot longer to physically and mentally recover from “The Worst Year of Our Lives” than I thought it would. But that year officially ended on July 28 (we got a “Cancerversary” cake and everything), and we were able to put it behind us. 

My husband’s condition has stabilized, he’s doing well, and he’s out of danger. He’ll never be cured (Leukemia’s not that kind of cancer), but he’s in the maintenance and management stage, and now it’s a medical condition we’ll deal with like any other chronic illness.

So I got back to work, feeling a little lighter and less fatigued.

I’ve gotten some decent work done on the new site, and actually made solid progress this past week, but I’m nowhere near where I’d hoped to be by now. I’m fairly confident the relaunch will happen this year, but I’m not sure when that might be. One day, you guys will log in or check your feeds and see the announcement that the site has moved. Surprise! It’ll be fun (grin).

I still don't have the energy I used to have, but I finally feel capable of blogging again. I’m cutting waaaaay back, though. For now, I’ll post only on Monday’s, with a mix of new and updated articles. I’ll invite one or two of my regular guest authors back as well, so you’ll have the random guest author post, but there’s no set schedule anymore.

In 2023, I’ll reevaluate, and see if it makes sense to go back to daily blogging. Though with the new site, it’ll be a whole lot easier to find articles, so it might not even be necessary to blog that frequently. We’ll see how it goes.

Hugs to all, and I appreciate your patience and support over the past year.

—Janice

Monday, November 01, 2021

Fiction University Is on Hiatus Until 2022

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy


This is the last post for a while. 

I've been struggling with this for weeks now, and finally accepted that I needed to close up shop and go on hiatus for the foreseeable future. As of today, there will be no new posts on Fiction University. 

Don't worry though--the site will still be here and you'll be able to read any of the 3,000+ posts on it as usual, I just won't be posting anything new, nor will I be keeping up with guest authors or the weekly diagnostics. I'll likely be slow to answer emails and comments, though I'll do my best.

I had hoped taking September off would have helped more than it did, but October showed me that I can't manage everything on my work plate and deal with the medical issues we're currently facing (to recap for those unware--my husband was recently diagnosed with both Leukemia and a far-more-life-threatening blood disorder, and is undergoing treatment). Something had to take a back seat, and the blog made the most sense. It requires daily upkeep, and that's the area where I have the least flexibility.

I don't want to let go of everything, so I still plan to maintain the newsletter (full of tips and advice), and I might even be better at keeping up with it if that's all I need to do each month. If you haven't signed up for that and would like to, just click here.

I don't know when I'll be back, but I do plan to return. I've been wanting to update the blog anyway, and this will give me time to figure out what I want to do and then do it. I suspect I'll re-launch it somewhere between January and June 2022. I'll let everyone know when that happens. 

This was a hard decision to make, but I know it's the right one for me and my family. I'll miss you guys, and I appreciate everything you've done for me over the years.

Big hugs to all, and I'll see you next year.
--Janice

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Spouse's Guide to NaNoWriMo: Juggling Life and Writing in November

By Thomas Hardy

JH: Here's some advice on how the non-writers in your life can help you manage NaNo.

Ah, November. The thrill of Halloween is fading. A chill is in the air. Autumn leaves are putting on their best displays of the year. Pumpkin spice is in the air. And every writer I know is suddenly offline, uncommunicative and hard to find.

Yes folks, it’s NaNo time. National Novel Writing Month is here and the Starbucks gatherings sound like a herd of mice in tap shoes.

I’m married to an author. NaNo has been part of our holiday cycle for a lot of years now. It’s a period where she is doing her best to focus and make it the most productive 30 days of the year. That takes a big commitment from her and as hard as it is, it can be just as tough on a spouse. So here are a few thoughts to help you get through it together.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Follow the White Rabbit: A Pantser’s Tale

By Patricia A. Jackson, @Treistan

Part of the How They Do It Series


JH: Every writer has their own process. Patricia A. Jackson shares how she follows her pantser heart.


Patricia A. Jackson is a high school Language Arts teacher in Pennsylvania. Her debut novel, Forging A Nightmare, an urban fantasy, is due out November 2021 from Angry Robot Books.

She has also published a number of short stories in the Star Wars Universe for the WestEnd Games quarterly Star Wars Adventure Journal. Her best known works are Black Sands of Socorro, a smugglers’ sourcebook about people of color for Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game, and The Final Exit, a short story about a dark Jedi’s redemption.

When not writing, she’s gaming. Her favorite pastimes being Witcher III, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect. If she’s not grading an endless pile of flash fiction from students, Patricia runs a Dungeons & Dragons club at her high school to promote the next generation of players, writes fanfiction for her favorite Japanese anime, Psycho Pass, and rides show horses in hunter/jumper competition.

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Take it away Patricia…