Some of the Worst Advice I Have Seen for Writers

Writing experts abound. I don’t claim to be one of them. My articles pass along things I have learned during my 40+ years of writing in various capacities. They are also meant to counter some of the sillier and downright harmful advice I have seen these “experts” spout for writers, such as the items below.

Sentence & Paragraph Length

The current “pearl of wisdom” coming out of the mouths of many writing experts is that you should keep sentences and paragraphs short. What does this say about all those dear readers out there? The implication seems to be that anything long would confuse them. Possible, since many readers are used to seeing short stuff on social media. But should this guide your writing? In my opinion, no. Be bold. If you need a long sentence, go long. The focus needs to be on telling your story. And with the advent of AI content creation, you need to pay more attention to making your text appear to be human-created.

Show vs. Tell

This is an old chestnut that no writing expert seems to be able to explain well. Here’s my take:

Telling is descriptive. Showing is active.

Another take:

“… ‘telling’ can be useful, even necessary … ‘showing’ … allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced.”

One of the most effective ways to show is dialogue, as seen in this example:

“I just saw a meteor crash into the Wilkins’ barn!” shouted the boy to his parents. “It’s on fire!”

Another way to show is to use descriptive, specific verbiage that enables readers not to just see, but also to hear, taste, smell, and feel what is on that page or Kindle screen, as seen in this example:

A juicy, red apple sat on the window sill. A beam of sunlight shone on it, making it appear to glow. Jenny could almost taste the crisp goodness of that first bite.

You might need to tell sometimes, though. Again, you, the writer, have to follow your instinct.

Passive vs. Active Voice

Basically, this is wording a sentence showing an object being acted upon as opposed to someone doing the action, as seen in these examples:

Passive – The car was washed by the team of teens trying to raise money for their school band.

Active – Teens washed the car as part of their effort to raise money for their school band.

But is this really bad? Frankly, I don’t think so. You have to go with your instincts and see what works for you.

One expert advises:

“Use active voice instead of passive voice, unless you have a legitimate reason for using passive voice (action being more important instead of the doer).”

Yes, you can have legitimate reasons for using passive voice, such as here:

The bomb was exploded in the old building by a man seeking vengeance.

More advice:

“Use active voice when doing vivid descriptions.”


Active – Jenny took the apple off the windowsill and sunk her teeth in. (clear, concise, vivid)

Passive – The apple was taken off the windowsill by Jenny, who then sunk her teeth into it. (awkward, wordy, confusing)

Using Clichés

Clichés are things that are overused, hackneyed. That includes not just phrases, such as “he folded like a cheap suit,” but also plot devices. I used one such cliché plot device recently, the tried and true “lab results mix-up” where the results for a main character are confused at the lab with those of someone with a similar name. I was crafting a dramatic scene. The stage was set in an earlier chapter in preparation for what I had planned. When the time came, ta-da! Drama!

As with just about any writing tip or advice, you, the writer, need to figure out how and what to use. As with fat and sugar in your diet, moderation is the key. A little adds just the right touch (savory or sweet). Too much destroys that flavor and can be harmful.

“Too Many” vs. “Overusing” Adjectives & Adverbs

A well-meaning fellow writer suggested I was using too many adjectives and adverbs and should trim some out. He said that many writing experts recommended this. It’s actually a misunderstanding. Those experts advised against overusing adjectives and adverbs. That’s very different. I agree that overusing a particular word or phrase (suddenly, simply, painfully, happily, “a bit,” somewhat, “for a moment,” etc.) can make your text sound very amateurish. I discovered when reviewing some of my manuscripts that I was using “a bit” quite a bit! You may have your own favorite words and phrasing that keep cropping up as you type. Watch out for them.

As for using “too many” adjectives and adverbs, it can happen, as here:

It was a blustery, windy, cold, miserable, dull, gray day.

But it can also be necessary, as here:

It was a blustery, cold, miserable, gray winter’s day.

You gotta give your readers something to help them visualize.

Hashtag Usage

Some unnamed marketing “expert” out there says that more than two hashtags in your promo tweet/post/etc. is bad. Why? Sure, you can be excessive with your use of hashtags, but setting a maximum number? This “expert” seems to be missing the reason for you using those hashtags. They are keywords and search terms. If you’re writing a mystery, including #mystery, #mysteryfiction, #detectivefiction, and other relevant hashtags is a very good thing. Research them carefully, though, and make sure you use only appropriate hashtags. Nothing is worse than clicking on a mystery hashtag and seeing non-mysteries.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.


Using Your Personal Experiences

You broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend, got divorced, were diagnosed with a terrible disease, won first prize in a contest, were fired from a job, and so on. Well, guess what? You have a great item to use in your next short story, novella, or even as part of a novel.

Don’t waste those personal experiences. And don’t spew them out on social media as if they were a symptom of your stomach flu or a bit of rotten food that your body was rejecting. All you do by such actions is portray not only your lack of professionalism but a need for hearing people say, “You poor thing!” (See my article Let Your Social Media Reflect You.) Remember that potential readers as well as literary agents and publishers will see that mess, not just your followers.

Worst of all, you are wasting content.

These personal experiences can be nuggets of gold. You may have to spin them a bit differently, though, for your work of fiction.

Example of What Not to Do

An author who seems to sell well recently posted a long rant on Twitter about being fired from her position teaching creative writing at a university. She relayed a story that was full of bitterness and that could have been told in one tweet. She used nineteen instead. Based on her rant, I have a vision of her books as long-winded, full of that bitterness, and a cry for the pity and sympathy of others. She also seems to think that because her books sell well enough for her to write full-time, that they have literary merit and that the man who fired her should feel really sorry about doing that now. It reeked of childishness and a big “Nyah – nyah!”

Example of What to Do

Think of what a great short story this would have made, one that could have been filled with hope. Something like this:

Years ago, I was a lecturer at a university. The world was my oyster, or so I thought. Eager young things hung on my every word and thanked me at the end of the semester. All the while, I wrote, and had in fact completed my second novel. The first one was published and had a modicum of success. Some of my students had read it and had found it a good example for their own work. This second novel built upon the first, and my editor had said it would sell even better.

This made the phone call from the Dean of the College an even bigger surprise than it would have been.

“Hi, Helen, got a minute?” he had asked.

“Sure, what’s up?” I had replied, but my stomach was suddenly in a knot.

“We’re letting you go.”

“Oh? What’ve I done?”


“Any complaints about me? Someone offended by something I said?”

“No, I said. There’s nothing.”

“There has to be something, or did you just pick my name out of a hat or flip a coin?” I asked, trying not to be snarky but unable to stop myself.

“No need to be like that. Finish the semester and move on.”

“There has to be something!”

The Dean hung up.

I fumed and then sat and cried. And then I stopped crying, dried my eyes, and said, “Screw him!”

The next day I heard that he had told one of the other lecturers that my novel hadn’t sold “big enough.”

“Don’t worry about it, Helen,” she said to me. “He’s a literary snob. He thinks the ideas aren’t big enough – you know, like Victor Hugo or something – and you didn’t get any literary awards.”

I smiled and thanked her. From that moment on, I saw this change as an opportunity, one of which I would make the most use. And I have.

Over the years, I continued my writing, focusing on stories that pleased me. Leaving the stuffy world of academia had turned out to be a very positive influence. I now make my living off of those “not big enough” novels. A literary critic recently said that I was the modern Danielle Steele but not nearly as good. I just laughed and counted my royalties again. After all, that’s what matters, isn’t it? And that critic could say whatever he wanted. People bought my books.

Time to get back to writing my next novel.

Now, doesn’t that sound better than a putrid rant on social media?

Bottom Line

I try to be encouraging both on my site in these articles and on social media along with promoting my work and interacting with others in a mostly positive way. I’m hoping it will set an example for others. Obviously, she didn’t get the message, but hopefully you do. Use those experiences in a positive way. They could be the stuff of bestsellers.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

More on Dialogue

People talk. So do characters in novels and other works of fiction. And one of the most important things you can do to make reading your fiction an enjoyable and realistic activity is to handle that dialogue properly. You have several options for this.

Formatting More Casually

“Casually” does not mean leaving out quotation marks (“”) like an author I know tends to do. In fact, it’s one of the worst things you can do. I gave up trying to discern dialogue from text about halfway through the first chapter (in all fairness, that wasn’t the only issue – crudity and, frankly, sloppy writing were an issue).

Formatting more casually means, among other things, leaving out some of the “dialogue tags,” as some call them, such as “he said,” “she demanded,” and so on. Just be sure that your dialogue clearly shows who is speaking.


“What about this sale of the company?” demanded Sid.
“What about it?” asked Jim. “I own seventy-two percent of the stock.”
“I’ll be happy to buy thirty-one percent,” said Sid.
“Giving you control,” pointed out Jim.
“Well, yes, actually,” said Sid.
“I’d work for you,” stated Jim.
“If you want to stay on,” said Sid.


“What about this sale of the company?”
“What about it? I own seventy-two percent of the stock.”
“I’ll be happy to buy thirty-one percent.”
“Giving you control.”
“Well, yes, actually.”
“I’d work for you.”
“If you want to stay on.”

On the other hand, the above only works if you have no more than two people in that dialogue or if you don’t need to add in descriptions that add to the scene, like here where two people are speaking but their mood and manner need to be shown, and dialogue tags are used where needed for that purpose:

     “What are you planning to do with the land once you buy it?” asked Hal nonchalantly.
     “Well, this isn’t really about the land – or not entirely,” said Jim, a twinge of anxiety coming through in his voice. “It’s also something else, something that Rose has yet to learn.”
     “What?” asked Hal, staying nonchalant.
     “A couple things actually,” said Jim, not wanting to go into details.
     “Such as?”
     “Such as that whole business Carl cooked up,” said Jim, exasperated. “I’m hoping that my offer will soften the blow.”
     “You don’t know how strong-willed Rose is,” said Hal, suddenly sounding very serious.

Each line of dialogue should ideally start on a new line, but these days you can bend that rule a bit. In fact, sometimes I have a line of dialogue in the middle of the paragraph, as shown here:

He broke the silence and said to Jim in a tired, confidential voice, “The time has come. I’ll call you in the next couple of days. Now, if you’ll please excuse me.” He stood, shook Jim’s hand in appreciation, and went back into the house, assuming the role of party host again while Jim remained seated.

By keeping all this in one paragraph, the action is contained as well, not split by those paragraph breaks. You have to be careful, though, to keep things clear for the reader.

Another tip is that you can present the dialogue tags in either of these ways, as long as you are consistent throughout the work:

“Well, yes, actually,” said Sid.

“Well, yes, actually,” Sid said.

See also Getting the “Saids” Right.

Keeping Just Enough Realism

People’s actual speech is a bit too “real” for great dialogue. They use verbal pauses such as “um” and “uh” and trail off sentences, often changing subjects in the middle. You want to have just enough real speech to make it sound real. That includes not overdoing accents. Some “experts” say to avoid them in the dialogue and just say something like “he said in a strong French accent” to give the reader a clue. I decided to add in some accent, keeping it light, like this:

     “Mornin’, horses’re out to pasture,” he greeted her in his usual quiet, plainspoken manner.

Just as in real life, break up your dialogue with action. People often talk while doing things. Pacing, typing, dancing, eating, drinking, or a host of other activities are going on. Including these in your dialogue gives that additional touch of realism, but be sparing with it.

     “Let me have that muck fork,” said Rose, taking it from him. “You haven’t gotten these three stalls on the end yet.”

Presenting Information as Dialogue Instead of Text

All writing advice is to be taken with a grain of salt, as the saying goes, even this article. For example, “experts” advise that you should not use dialogue to present backstory. However, if properly done, you can. Dialogue is more active and tells the reader about your characters, so there’s no reason not to use it to introduce that bit of backstory. Just handle it carefully.

Getting into long chunks of dialogue is also pooh-poohed by “experts,” but again it’s a matter of how you handle it. I found that breaking up necessarily long chunks helps.

     “It was the same for Katherine and me when we left Reno all those years ago. Yes, I wanted to get away from the orchestra grind, but other burdensome and destructive forces were also creeping into our lives. Inner city living was fine with us. Then it started changing for the worse. Everyone seemed to start hollering about not having enough city services for those who deserved them, whoever those deservers were. It seemed like the majority of city inhabitants started to feel they were entitled to something or other, anything they personally wanted, this or that, without any idea or concern about how it was paid for or by whom. Dog parks, skating rinks, subsidized food hubs, public fountains, bike trails. Then came the increasing maintenance fees for these things. It was all emotional demands, with no rhyme, reason, or rational basis behind these entitlements.”
     Katherine nodded in agreement.
     “Then,” continued Henry, “many of their political representatives, their elected elites who had the answers to everything but knew nothing, jumped at the chance to save the day. We felt like the mob was taking over. Only feelings drove policy. Taxes went up, money was thrown everywhere, but all we got were fewer services. There was no budget oversight or spending accountability in any government office. Just the excuse that they never had enough money to spend.”
     Jim shook his head, having seen the same thing happening in Los Angeles.
     Henry went on, “Then special groups yelled that they were losing their ‘civil liberties’, so as they gained more ‘liberties’, we started losing our own individual rights and freedoms. Finally, our private property meant nothing to the people around us. Out-of-control graffiti and looting ensued. It felt like some invisible societal ‘black plague’ slowly coating us with chained servitude. We were choking to death, but it wasn’t from smog. We had to leave, go somewhere to breathe again. Fortunately for us, my mother and father needed some help out here, and we used that as an opportunity to take a break from city life. We had no idea if this was going to work for us out here, but it was away from what Reno was becoming.”

Making It “Golden”

Train your “ear” for how people speak in real life by listening to people around you, and then apply a modified version to your prose. You can also read what others write and see what suits you. The best trick is to read your dialogue aloud and see how it sounds. If you’re tripping over places, edit and then reread.

Bottom Line

You’re competing for readers out there. Dialogue is a great way to make your work stand out.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Time to give my fingers a rest and refill my cocoa cup.

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

Also see Some Thoughts on Dialogue.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

Switching Genres

There are two times in your life as a writer when you will very possibly find yourself switching from one genre to another. Embrace the change!

The First Switch

You get an idea. You type up that first draft. You read back through it and discover that it has morphed from that cute little romance story into a mystery or even a horror story.

This can happen whether you’re a “plotter” (you outline your plot and follow it as you work on the draft) or a “pantser” (you have any idea where your story is going but want the freedom to write “by the seat of your pants,” that is, in flow with your ideas).

An example is my manuscript for Hammil Valley Rising, which was originally titled Hammil Valley Rose. The intent was a sweet romance between a widow rancher and a bachelor rancher in that valley. The story grew to involve so much more along with that romance that I had to make extensive rearrangements and edits, turning the manuscript into the literary fiction genre.

If you really want to keep to your original genre, be prepared to dump ideas along the way that don’t fit. That takes discipline (which I apparently lack) and a willingness to abandon those ideas (which I don’t want to do).

If you go along with the change, bear in mind that you might not be able to present it to the same literary agents or publishers. And if the manuscript is part of a series, you could throw things off.

The Second Switch

You finished the manuscript for that sweet romance. You have an idea burning in your brain for a horror story. What to do?

If you are known as a writer of sweet romances, you might give your reading public a shock. You could write out the idea and save it for some later date or publish under a pseudonym. Better yet, some experts recommend that you just alert readers that this book is of a different genre.

Having written almost 2.6 million words on The Freelan Series, I had an idea for a horror story. Typing it up was almost like taking a mental vacation. And then I saw it as the start of a series and am now working on the fourth story. Meanwhile, I revisited short stories from years ago in various states of completion, revamped some, and got ideas for others. Now I switch between working on The Freelan Series, the horror series that grew out of that first story, and those other short stories. I’ve redone the site a bit to reflect this. Nothing published so far, so I don’t have to worry about people getting confused or disappointed.

Bottom Line

Being open to switching genres can free up your creativity. Whether you want that or not is your choice. Either way, write what inspires you.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

My article on genres.

Write for Yourself or the Market

These days, writers face a choice. Do we write for ourselves or for the market? Only you can answer that. And a factor in making that decision is your goal for your writing. Are you hoping to make a lot of money? Then you have to hope that what you write for yourself appeals also to that market or you have to write something for that market. Both can be rather tricky, and one can be fulfilling while the other can be frustrating.

Writing for Yourself

Not a good route if your purpose in writing is to make a living from it.

Even if you have a story idea that you love and is burning inside you and you are sure that it is absolutely, positively going to appeal to a large number of people, your book might not even get published (Harry Potter got turned down right and left).

Don’t let this stop you. Type it up. You’ll feel great relief, as I do, for having the story down on your computer, mobile device, or even scribbled on paper. As for others seeing it, be ready for a real uphill battle and little or no payback. You’ll be badgered into hiring an editor (see Types of Editing for Your Work of Fiction) before you can present it to one of the literary world gatekeepers (literary agents and traditional publishers) who, if they like it, will then badger you to make more changes until you won’t recognize what you wrote. And if you decide to go the self-publishing route, you will need to pay not just for editing, but a copyright, an ISBN, and a cover design. You will recoup these costs in about fifty years, if lucky, at least from what I have seen authors posting (one said his royalties for 2022 so far were $2.56).

Writing for the Market

This is going to take a lot of homework on your part. But it may pay off in the end.

Go to the library and ask the clerks there which books are checked out the most and what feedback if any they get from readers (at our local library a lot of newer books get returned with comments like “total garbage,” “unreadable,” “disgusting and filthy – every other word was an obscenity”). Check out sites that show what books are selling, go to the authors’ websites, and see if they have excerpts posted or go back to your local library to find those books. Bestsellers will usually be on their shelves. Check out literary agents and publisher sites to see the kind of things they are seeking (they usually just say the genre – so it’s better to actually read books that are being published and that are selling – see Publisher & Agent Fiction Genres Defined). Once you’ve done all that, come up with a smashingly good idea that is entirely your own, not a copy of anything you’ve read. Of course, there’s still no guarantee that your book will sell – or even be published.

What It Means to You

No matter which of the above you choose, if you’re a new writer, getting published and then selling is going to be tough. I say that not to be discouraging, but to give you a realistic idea of what you’re facing. Be ready. The fun part will be the writing. The rest will be sloggingly hard, dogged work.

For one thing, Amazon is the elephant in the room when it comes to selling books, and they have some cards stacked against newbie writers.

One writer said that Amazon promotes only things that are selling and has lots of positive reviews, which is totally backwards from what was done when I worked in marketing for a large retail company. The slow movers got the heaviest promotion (the fast movers practically sold themselves, so no need to make the effort). Amazon instead practically guarantees that new stuff is buried by requiring lots of positive reviews to get promoted. Be ready to spend lots of time trying to garner enough reviews to meet this criteria (and losing friends and alienating family in the process). You have two methods, as far as I can tell:

  1. practically begging people who have read your book to post a review
  2. giving away enough free copies to fill a library shelf in the hope that enough readers will post a review

Hopefully, in either case the review will be a positive one.

A writer said that when he offers free copies of his books, people download them and post nasty reviews that show they didn’t even read the book (possibly competing writers trying to sink his book). Adding insult to injury, many e-books are returned for a refund after being read.

Also be ready for libraries to reject your book (some will, others will accept it, but be persistent).

Bottom Line

Don’t let all this get you down. Just approach writing as a personal experience. Write for yourself. You’ll feel more satisfied and enjoy the process more. And frankly, if you get the book published, avoid the pressure being applied these days to give out free copies or severely limit the number of free copies to five or ten. We have to face it, the system has been set up for people to abuse, and they do.

Of course, the choice is all yours.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

Beware the “Experts”!

Lots of people are being touted these days as writing “experts.” And you can easily tell what their latest advice is by the posts you see from authors across social media who parrot that advice ad infinitum. The challenge is to determine who the real experts are (and I do not claim to be one) and assess their advice in a rational manner.

The Latest Trend

At present, writers are being advised to do two things:

  1. Put out a newsletter
  2. Offer a bit of free fiction in exchange for a person signing up for this newsletter

Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, to me there are three things wrong:

  1. Newsletters take time and are a distraction from your writing, especially if you are going to do one that will keep your subscribers from unsubscibing. (I currently subscribe to two just as a show of support to fellow authors but barely look at what they send.)
  2. People can sign up, get the freebie, and when your first newsletter arrives in the email inbox, they can unsubscribe (and will if there’s nothing in the newsletter worth their while).
  3. Giving away your writing for free cheapens it but also conditions readers to seek out such freebies instead of wanting to buy. (Yes, I posted a story on here for free, but the circumstances were exceptional. It had been posted by an online lit mag in a very improper way, so I wanted readers to see it properly.)

Other “Expert” Trends

Making matters even worse is the trend toward “simplifying” your writing to fit the extremely short attention span many people have attained thanks to TV, social media, and other influences. That means short sentences, short paragraphs, simplified language (“said” instead of “exclaimed” or other alternatives), and even simpler plot lines. This might be appropriate for some genres, but literary fiction (my genre), fantasy, science fiction, and historical fantasy need something more intriguing to the reader. Fantasy and historical fantasy genres seem to be growing in popularity, and this might be a reason for it, that is, readers want more.

Speaking of simpler plot lines, the “formula novel” is rampant these days. A romance novel contains these elements, a historical novel has those elements, and so on. Imagine authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Ayn Rand getting their work published in today’s environment. Not hardly! In fact, I saw someone post the opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and opine that they were poorly written. Now that’s chutzpah! Frankly, while I don’t accept all of Dickens’ ideas, his novels are a study in entrancing writing with a rhythm and flow that is totally lacking in what constituents modern fiction. (I recently read a flash fiction piece online that read like staccato machine gun fire. Ugh! I didn’t make it to the end despite the short length.)

Worst of all is the idea that you have to write only what literary agents say they are interested in. I actually saw a writer post that she was going to write a dystopian novel because some agents were asking for them. Another author said he had seen a lit agent say she didn’t want anymore COVID pandemic stories, so he was wondering when it would be okay to write them again (he might have meant that as sarcasm, but it didn’t seem so). Yikes! Write your story when and how you want.

That’s the biggest problem with these “experts” – a one-size-fits-all approach. But there is hope!

It’s Up to You

I encourage you to resist every little bit of “expert” advice that comes down the pike. And look into the person writing that advice. There are some legitimate experts, but they are few and far between. If you find one, stick with him or her.

As for your own efforts as an author, if your grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage are good enough for a reader to follow what you’re saying, then I encourage you by all means to start writing. As someone famous once said (I forgot who, but I saw it online recently), “you can’t edit a blank page.” Get your ideas down, and worry about the niceties later.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

Revisiting Ghosts of Writings Past

Over the years, even published writers who are successful at selling their books build up “ghosts of writings past” – bits and pieces that they may not have pursued. These could be story ideas that came to them while working on a main novel, scenes cut from that novel (don’t ever ever throw those bits away!), or just something jotted on a notepad when the writer woke up in the middle of the night with an idea. I have an abundance of these “ghosts” and have come to regard them as a treasure trove of inspiration. Pay yours a visit. You might find that some are worthy of rejuvenation.

Recently, I revisited my ghosts. Some were embarrassingly bad, childish ideas that came pouring out of me in a moment of pique or the snatches of a nightmare that I scribbled when waking in a sweat, and that I have now shoved to the back of the stack, possibly to revisit at some future date. Others have been given a chance at a new life, something you as a writer can put to your advantage, especially if you’re experiencing “writers block.”

That scene (or even that whole chapter) you cut from your novel during the editing process, which can be brutal, should never hit the trashcan sitting on your laptop or on the floor beside your desk. File it away. You may have a new story or a whole novel in the making. As for that short story, I have several that were basically sound but overly long. After paring them down (in one case from over 3,400 words to fewer than 500), they came out pretty good – in fact, good enough in my own eyes at least to enter into contests, one with a site that specializes in fantasy fiction and the other that wanted eerie entries for their latest e-zine issue. I have incorporated another short story as an event in one of my current manuscripts.

So, give your old “ghosts” a gander. Some may be total stinkers and horrific in the worst way, but you may find a “Casper” – a ghost that’s not only friendly, but could prove to be a real gem.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

This article also appears on another site as a guest post.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

When a Minor Character Becomes Major

You’re typing along about a scene with a character that you intend to have a minor role in the story or novel and suddenly realize you’ve unearthed a real nugget of gold. Your minor character has become major! What do you do now?

Option 1: Rethink Your Plot

Finding a real nugget of gold (or winning millions in the lottery) can send your life in another direction. Realizing that a minor character has much more potential and could therefore be a major character can send your plot off into a different direction. You will need to decide if you want this redirection or not. If you do, you could find yourself discovering that nugget is part of a whole vein of gold, adding a whole new dimension to your story.

For example, one of my minor characters in the manuscript covering Year 14 of the Freelan Nation is a gang leader. His role in the manuscript grew from a brief mention to being a symbol of those who have been drawn in and destroyed by the false idea of utopia. I could, of course, change his fate so that he lives and becomes an inspiration to others also caught up in that idea and steering them away to reality. The decision on that is still in progress.

Option 2: Spin Your Character Off

Rather than disrupt your plot flow, you can opt to spin the character off or grow his/her role in a sequel. Just like some popular supporting characters in TV series have been spun off over the years into their own series (Rhoda Morgenstern of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was spun off into the show Rhoda and Phyllis from that same show was spun off into Phyllis). Your formerly minor character might now get his own novel or story.

Think of Tiny Tim growing up and becoming Ebenezer Scrooge’s new clerk, replacing Tim’s father who is now retired. Or what about the pirate Smee in Peter Pan going ashore and buying a pub (inn or public house)?

Final Thoughts

Have fun with your characters and be open to them growing. You never know what treasure you’ll uncover.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

More About Characters

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

Publisher & Agent Fiction Genres Defined

Genre can decide the fate of your work of fiction (short story, novella, novel, poetry), so paying a bit of attention to what it is and how publishers and agents see it will help you gain their attention. (Agents generally go by what publishers want, so that is the focus of this list.)

This PDF file took about a week to prepare and is being presented free. You can print a copy for yourself, but please don’t mass print it without my express permission. Copying text has been turned off.

Writing Tip Publisher Agent Fiction Genres Defined

And bear in mind that this information is currently accurate but could change fairly quickly.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links to other sites and/or products.

Point of View

In writing fiction, you’re telling a story from a particular perspective. That’s a point of view (POV). The point of view you use matters. It can be limiting in some ways but lends interest in other ways. Your genre can work better with one POV than with another. Choose carefully, and once you make your choice, follow its rules. It will have a substantial impact on your readers’ perception of your story.

Different POVs

The three types of POV are:

1. First Person

Your character, usually the protagonist, tells the story and uses “I”, “me”, “we”, “our”, etc. Great for stories that are deeply personal and emotional. Many stories using this POV are told as simply stories or as a narrator writing them down or talking to the reader. The narrator may not be the protagonist but instead an observer like in The Great Gatsby or Sherlock Holmes, in which case the narrator may not be heavily involved or may be relaying what he/she has heard of events.

Advantages: Your character’s personality can be fully shown in thought, feeling, and action. You can write in either present or past tense, and use straight English or an accent, if your character has one.

Limits: Your character can only narrate the scenes in which that character has actually been or pass along what other characters tell him/her. Also, long expository narrative is a bit of a problem. You have to completely know your character, not just appearance but childhood, past experiences shaping him/her now, and so on.

Autobiographies are obviously written in first person, but this POV can work for fictional writing, too. Think carefully before choosing it, though, and be sure that the advantages are worth the limitations.

2. Second Person

Using “you” and narrating the story from the reader’s point of view.

Advantage: Great for articles and other non-fiction work.

Limit: Rarely suitable for novels. Sounds instructional or like a tech manual.

3. Third Person (Subjective or Omniscient)

The most commonly used POV for modern day fiction. Usually written in past tense but can work with present tense, too. The author narrates the story and uses “he,” “she,” “we,” “they,” etc. Choose what works best for you.


A safe and common option. A single character narrates the story, bringing the intimacy of the first person POV to third person. A lot of action happens out of narrator’s view. Dialogue tags and “tell” verbs are usually not used.


Rose sat at the kitchen table wondering about the future. Hopelessness overwhelmed her in the growing darkness as the sun set. Hearing the cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall sound the hour, she roused and felt renewed strength, knowing that she would persevere some way, somehow. (From Hammil Valley Rising.)

Advantage: Your character can convey his/her thoughts, feelings, emotions, and so on, and enables you to connect your readers to your main (narrating) character.

Limit: Can only narrate scenes which the character is present and only what he/she sees in those scenes. The character has to be interesting to hold the reader’s interest. Can get a bit wordy.


Narration is not limited to one character. You are showing the reader different scenes and narrating through the characters in each.

Advantages: Has the most freedom for you, the writer.

Limit: Readers can’t get as close to your characters and their personality. You can make up for this with careful writing. You can also tell the reader things that a single character narrating wouldn’t know first-hand.

Mixing POVs

So you picked a POV and now find yourself needing to tell something that doesn’t fit that POV. Usually, this happens when you choose first person or limited third person. No problem. If you do it right, you can mix POVs in the same manuscript, and the longer your manuscript, the more likely you are to do this.

The key to this mixing is to separate the different POV sections into chapters or sections of chapters. It can take some careful finessing but offers you more advantages and fewer limitations.


Switching POVs helps you accomplish several things. First, you can overcome your character’s bias and provide a more complete view of the story by having parts portrayed by several narrators. Second, you can portray parts of your story that happen in different locations (the old “meanwhile, back at the ranch” ploy). Third, you can reveal information that the narrator doesn’t know, creating a more tense situation (the man entering a building, not knowing that an ambush is waiting but you, the reader, knows).


Having multiple POVs can give you, the author, great flexibility and power over your story, but if you don’t implement them properly, the reader can get confused. One option is to balance out when one character narrates and then another. If you have more than two such narrators, some will need to narrate less than others. Think about which POV you will use for a particular scene, and keep that POV for that scene. Don’t switch POV until the next scene (chapter or section).

Final Thoughts

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links to other sites and/or products.