Posts Tagged With: writing tips

Editing Tip: 10 Ways to Get Past the First Chapter

We shall begin today’s lesson with a personal anecdote.

My current goal is to edit Chasing Nonconformity. This is going very poorly, because every time I sit down and open up the file, it begins on page 1 — also known as Chapter One. Now, logic dictates I would just skip ahead in the document to wherever I need to edit and go from there. But before I do that, I happen to notice a slight re-wording I can do on paragraph three. Okay, that’s better … oh, but I don’t like how Eris rolls her eyes in paragraph five. And I missed a comma in paragraph 7 … maybe I should keep reading …

Three hours later, Chapter One has completely changed for the zillionth time and I’m no closer to finishing the darn draft than when I started.

As I’m learning, the trick to editing a book is to get past the first chapter. Once you’ve broken through that barrier, sky’s the limit! No, I take that back. There is no limit. The first chapter is a pair of steel shackles and you are the Hulk, summoning up your anger, stoking the fires of your wrath, bigger and hotter and higher and flamier until BOOM! Free of the shackles, free of the first chapter, ready to show the rest of your story who’s boss. (relevant link)

Thus, I present to you …

10 Ways to Get Past the First Chapter

  1. Highlight Chapter 1, cut it, and paste it at the end of your document so it isn’t the first thing you see.
  2. Never turn off your computer or close your document file so you can always keep your place in the manuscript.
  3. Hire someone to slap you in the face with a lightly salted salmon fillet every time you try to edit Chapter 1.
  4. Change the font color of Chapter 1 to white text so you can’t see it.
  5. Search “Chapter 2” and don’t look at the screen until you know you’re in the right place.
  6. Hire someone to slap you in the face with a braised lamb shank every time you try to sneak back to edit Chapter 1 whilst pretending to edit the rest of the manuscript.
  7. Hire someone to scream directly in your ear every time Chapter 1 appears on-screen in order to mentally connect the first chapter with complete terror.
  8. Commit a crime and go to jail. Hard to edit Chapter 1 without a computer.
  9. Hire that guy from Inception to sneak into your mind and brainwash you into forgetting Chapter 1 exists.
  10. Summon up some basic willpower and just skip the first chapter.

As you can see, some are more practical than others. I myself will be starting with #3. I wanted to go with #6, but lamb is significantly more expensive than salmon and I am poor.

Thank you for sharing in my madness. For all those Canadians out there, Happy Thanksgiving!


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Writing Tip: Dialogue Tag DOs and DON’Ts

Today we’re talking about dialogue tags! I already rambled about them in a previous post, but I’m going to ramble some more about them now, so prepare yourself.


What is a dialogue tag?

It’s the short phrase you stick after a line of dialogue — i.e., “he said”, “she said”, etc.


Simple dialogue tag

Observe the following sentence:

“I love your socks,” he said.

That’s a simple dialogue tag — sentence of dialogue, followed by a dialogue tag. Here are some more:

“Your face is on fire!” she said.

“Are you sure?” he said.


  • You have to use a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence of dialogue that’s not a period — i.e., comma (most common), question mark (for questions), exclamation mark (for excitement!) — Using a period is effectively ending the sentence, so if you put a period after “I love your socks”, you’re ending the sentence, and then the “he said” is just randomly floating there with no attachment to anything
  • The “he said” or “she said” needs to be decapitalized. If you write something like this — “I love your socks,” He said. — you’re indicating by capitalizing the “he” that either A) God is talking, or B) you’re starting a new sentence and don’t know how to punctuate your sentence of dialogue properly.


Dialogue tag before dialogue


Staring at her beautiful face, he said, “I’d like to lick your nose.”

So here we’re reversing the order of dialogue and dialogue tag. Note:

  • You need to end the dialogue tag (and thus lead into the dialogue) with a comma or a colon — not a period, question mark, or exclamation mark. Using one of those would indicate the sentence is ending after the word “said”, which means you have a sentence reading: “Staring at her beautiful face, he said.”, which makes no sense at all


Dialogue tag in between two pieces of dialogue


“How are you doing?” he asked. “Isn’t the weather grand?”

“I wish I could agree with you,” she said, “but I have a ferret up my nose.”

Here we have two variations of “dialogue tag between two pieces of dialogue”. In the first example, we’ve got dialogue with a complete sentence (How are you doing?), and then a second complete sentence of dialogue (Isn’t the weather grand?). Since these are both complete sentences, we put a period after “he asked”. In the second example, the second bit of dialogue is continuing the first bit of dialogue, thus we stick a comma after “she said” to indicate the sentence is still on-going.


Using a descriptive sentence instead of a dialogue tag


Tracy cleared her throat. “Excuse me, can I please have one albatross-egg omelette, shaken not stirred?”

So here we know that Tracy is speaking, since the first sentence implies fairly heavily that she’s the one talking. It’s not a dialogue tag, because it’s not describing how she’s talking — you can “say”, or “exclaim”, or even “screech” out a sentence, but you certainly can’t “clear your throat” a sentence.

You can also stick the descriptive sentence after the dialogue:

“Where are you going?” Mary pouted at Roger, hoping he would come back and stay with her forever.

Again, “Mary pouted” isn’t a dialogue tag, because you can’t “pout” a sentence. It’s a sentence unrelated to the dialogue, although it still indicates she’s the one talking.

Third example, putting a descriptive sentence between two dialogues:

“My name is Jim.” I’m lying through my teeth, but she doesn’t need to know that. “What’s your name?”


  • First rule here is that you can’t punctuate dialogue tags and descriptive sentences the same way. If it’s a dialogue tag, it’s attached to the dialogue. If it’s a descriptive sentence, it’s a different sentence entirely from the dialogue. This means you can’t do something like this:

“Hey Bob,” I shake his hand, “what’s cooking?”

  • This is wrong on so many levels. Can you spot them? A) “I shake his hand” isn’t a dialogue tag, so “Hey Bob” should be ending in a period/exclamation mark to indicate the sentence is over ; B) “I shake his hand” needs to end in a period, since it’s a sentence, and sentences don’t end in commas! ; and C) “what’s cooking?” should have “what” capitalized, since it’s the start of a sentence


In conclusion …

Dialogue can be really confusing to punctuate!


Semi-related media of the day:

In this case, the “problem” referred to in the song is “punctuation rules for dialogue and dialogue tags”.

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Amateur Writing Tip — When World-building, Consider Population

Today’s amateur writing tip is courtesy of my little brother Jesse, who enjoys dissecting my story ideas and informing me why they make no logical sense. Think Spock, but taller and wearing glasses.

On one of our recent walks, we were chatting about a new fantasy story I’ve been working on. The basic premise (not to give too much away) is that monsters have over-run the ground, so humans have taken to the sky in a handful of floating cities to survive. There are still a bunch of humans on the ground, but they live in small, scattered tribes and rely on nature magic to repel the beasties. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong.

As Jesse explained to me, the driving force behind a large percentage of historical events is population. After all, when your population keeps growing and you’re running out of land, what can you do but expand? Conversely, if your population is shrinking, you’re going to be weaker, losing ground and resources, and slowly but surely heading for decline and failure.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that populations don’t remain stagnant. They either grow or shrink — unless there’s some sort of population-control in effect (see China’s one child policy). So what does this mean for world-building?

Population and world-building

Even if your fantasy world is full of wizards and dragons and whatnot who totally defy the laws of logic, your unwashed peasant masses still need to make sense, population-wise. Therefore, read on and be amazed!

A) Be wary of isolated villages

You can dot your fantasy landscape with small villages until the sun comes down, but the important thing to remember is that they cannot be isolated villages. Although isolated villages make great settings, they don’t actually make sense. If you’ve got a little village of 100 people who never interact with other villages and just live in their own little world, what happens? They inbreed, because there’s no outside blood. Inbreeding, for the record, is bad. So if you’re going to have a bunch of little villages, make sure there’s some system in place for inter-marriage between the villages. Unless you want your village to be full of inbred people, in which case, isolate those villages to your heart’s content, my friend.

Update: In response to Matthew Cook’s comment, I did a little research, and it turns out that while inbreeding is generally a bad thing, in some cases it actually can produce healthy populations with few negative consequences — so long as the village is big enough (i.e., a few hundred people or more). So, isolated villages aren’t necessarily going to turn all your characters into gibbering morons … but you should only have isolated villages if you’re ready for the consequences inherent therein! (Click here to read an essay about inbreeding in human populations.)

B) Large populations require resources

By resources, I’m talking vast tracts of farmland. Now, your city doesn’t necessarily have to be right next to farmland, or even own farmland — it just needs to have access, somehow, to food. In my case, I’ve got floating cities where all the real estate is taken up by dwellings and assorted buildings. No room for farmland there. So instead I’ve created mountain-top farming communities that provide food for the skycities in exchange for the assorted goods manufactured in the cities. Go food or go home!

C) Population affects politics

Imagine your world is overrun by monsters, gobbling up everyone in their path. You flee with the few survivors to a city in the clouds. Now, as you sit up there, struggling to rebuild your society and recover from this devastating loss of life, are you going to attempt a government coup? Of course not. You’ve got more important things to worry about – such as, for example, not dying. But jump a few hundred years down the road, and now your city is thriving. Suddenly your population is booming — what do you do with all these people? You need to get rid of them, because they’re crowding up the slums and causing problems, but there’s nowhere to send them. You turn to the government for help, but they have no idea what to do with the excess populace either. And so … BAM! Civil unrest.

D) Attempts at controlling population growth rarely end well

Ever read Ender’s Game? The world is over-populated, so the government passes a law that you can only have two children — if you have a third child, they won’t get access to health care, education, etc. But guess what? Even with all the horrible consequences of having too many children, people do it anyway. So if you’re going to explain your stagnant population as a result of population control, assume that there’s going to be a lot of unrest amongst your society about it. Unless, of course, your population control is magical in nature — then you can do whatever the heck you want. I suggest creating a spell where excess children are transformed into parakeets. You can never have too many parakeets.

Basically, what I’m trying and failing to convey here is that population matters. I know most writers would rather focus on the fun stuff, like “What should I name Jeremiah’s magical talking sword?”, or “Can I get away with making Sara both the Empress of Cavortas and the high priestess of Zinzar?”. But if you’re creating a fantasy world, you absolutely have to consider the population. You don’t have to consider for long — goodness knows you have more important things to do with your life — but please, for the love of logic, just make sure you aren’t creating a world that makes absolutely no sense. Otherwise you’ll end up with a Hunger Games scenario, where the tiny population of a single city has control over the entirety of North America, and the rest of the world has either died off or, for some bizarre reason, has chosen to have no contact with North America despite the obvious and necessary benefits of international trade.

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One writer in search of a conclusion …

I am almost finished the first draft for the sequel to Imminent Danger — currently titled Chasing Nonconformity. It’s going really well. Eris and Varrin are up to their usual shenanigans, Miguri is fluffy and wise as ever, Grashk is doing a great job hissing at everyone, the settings are bizarre and fun, and the new characters I’ve introduced are all performing very well in their respective roles. There’s just one problem: I don’t know how to end the damn book.

I thought I had it all worked out, until I was informed that the ending I had planned was too depressing for my light-hearted series. Fair enough. So I re-worked the ending. And re-worked it again. And re-worked it again. And now I’m totally baffled.

I know I need an epic battle scene, possibly involving a chase of some sort, and lots of ridiculous one-liners thrown in at totally inappropriate moments. I have the big cliffhanger worked out, but beyond that … nada.

Watching Star Wars — Attack of the Clones last night helped. I think I’ve settled on the chase sequence, followed by a dramatic showdown at the __________ (Ha! Like I’m going to reveal that.) But I still haven’t quite worked out how they’re going to enter into said chase sequence, or how to tie up all the loose ends in the dramatic showdown. Sigh.

Any tips for conclusion-writing? I had everything worked out in Imminent Danger, but the ending for the sequel is maddeningly elusive. Any and all advice is welcome.

Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!


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Amateur Writing Tip: Stuff Needs to Actually Happen in the First Chapter

Let’s begin today’s post with a mental exercise. Re-read the title of this post, and take a wild stab at what I’m going to talk about.

Did you guess that I recently gave a newly-completed manuscript titled The Elemental Guard to my mother to read during our Caribbean cruise, and she stopped reading at page 64 because, quote, “Update: Page 64 — nothing has happened yet”, and I was utterly crushed that she didn’t like it, until she explained that the problem wasn’t the story, the problem was that the build-up to the story was so slow that she was bored to tears?

I certainly hope you didn’t guess that, because that would be mind-reading. And if mind-reading existed, it would be illegal. So stop reading my mind, or I’ll call the popo on you. (Note: “popo” is super hip urban slang for “the police”.)

Anyway, I thought I would share this latest bit of writing wisdom I’ve learned with you, because I’m just awesome like that. So, basically:

Stuff needs to actually happen in the first chapter. If you haven’t introduced the main plot by the end of the first chapter, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s basically what happens in the current version of my first chapter. My daring and stalwart protagonist, Casey, wants to go on a rock climbing field trip, so he tries and fails to get his mother to sign his permission form. Then he goes to school, waffles around a bit with his friends, goes home, sleeps, goes to school, finds out his friend has forged his mother’s signature on the permission form, goes on the trip, climbs a cliff, and then falls off of it. What would you gather the plot is, from that?

Clearly the book, from the information I just gave you, is about a hapless boy who falls off stuff a lot. This is obviously incorrect, and wouldn’t make a terribly exciting story even if it were correct. Hence why you need to introduce the plot in the first chapter!!! 

This concludes my rant. Tune in tomorrow (or whenever I get around to writing the next post) for an update on iUniverse and their ongoing silliness.

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Unrelated video of the day:

I used to listen to this song all the time, but it’s disappeared from the internet and is only available in HQ on one site now. So, here it is. Enjoy!

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 65 Comments

My messy writing space (and why it is slowly sucking out my soul)

I am a messy person. This has been evident since … well, since as long as I can remember. I have gotten into multiple arguments (read: screaming matches) over the years over my inability to do the dishes, vacuum the carpet, refill the water jug, etc. I have accepted this about myself, although my living companions still live in hope that I will one day reform and become a cleaning goddess. This will never happen, but I try to encourage them by occasionally cleaning the bathroom so they don’t give up on me entirely. I haven’t been thrown out of a house/apartment yet, so I’d say my plan has been largely successful thus far.

Anyway, today’s topic is on writing spaces. I was inspired to write this post because I’ve been feeling very aimless recently when I sit down to work at my desk. And then the reason behind my aimlessness occurred to me — it’s because my desk is a disaster. If this were Jurassic Park, my desk would be the bloody remains of that goat the T-Rex chomped up. Disturbing mental images aside, check out the horror that is my sacred writing space:

20130201_141929Because that isn’t the greatest image in the world, not to mention the cherry blossoms somewhat detract from the point I’m trying to make, I will now provide a listing of everything currently scattered across my desk. Ready?

  • 4 printouts of my book cover, in various states of wrinkley-ness
  • a pricing sheet that lists the various author discounts at which I can purchase my book
  • 4 notebooks
  • a diagram of a high pressure boiler feedwater pump
  • 3 to-do lists
  • assorted papers
  • “Be Still” bookmark
  • 3 pens
  • 1 mechanical pencil
  • 2 silver sharpies
  • old book manuscript (spiral bound)
  • fancy leather binder my dad gave me for Christmas
  • Flipcam
  • glass of water
  • note with directions to London Writer’s Society meeting
  • “Im in ur cassel, advizin ur king” mousepad
  • mouse, keyboard, monitor

In case this hasn’t become apparent, the moral of the story here is that clutter stifles your creativity. This mass of junk is a reminder of all the things I have to do, or that I haven’t yet accomplished, and it’s exhausting. So if there’s one thing you should take away from this post, it’s that some mess = fine, but stupid amounts of clutter = bad.

So if you’re swimming in a sea of random papers, old journals, and a truly unnecessary number of writing utensils, just do as I do — write a post about how horrible clutter is, and then do absolutely nothing to fix it.


In other news …

I’ve been intending to do a blog tour to celebrate the release of Imminent Danger, but I keep putting it off. I had intended to continue putting it off, until the lovely and talented J.R. Wolfe informed me that she had A) read and enjoyed my book, and B) was going to post an author interview with me on her blog on Saturday, whether I liked it or not. Just kidding! Mostly …

Anyway, a few hours later the equally lovely and talented Celeste DeWolfe also requested an author interview, and before I knew it, I had somehow become involved in a mini blog tour. I will definitely be holding a longer blog tour (probably in March), so don’t despair — you, too, will have a chance to be a part of my blog tour, aka the greatest blogging event known to mankind.

I’ll post links on Saturday and Sunday to the respective lovely ladies’ blogs, where you’ll find insightful (ha!) interviews in which I reveal assorted facts about my life and writing. So stay tuned for Michelle’s Mini Magical Weekend Blog Tour! (I think MMMWBT rolls off the tongue, don’t you?)

Feel free to stop by and ask questions if you feel so inclined. Here are some example questions you might consider asking:

  • Has your giant teddy bear come to life and eaten anyone yet?
  • Why is your hair tied up in all your pictures? Do you have some sort of weird phobia about having hair on your neck?
  • Why haven’t you reviewed my book yet? ARGHHHHHH!
  • Why do you feel that bacon is the greatest and most magical foodstuff in all of creation?
  • What are your thoughts on unicycles?

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Categories: Random, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 61 Comments

Overcoming Writer’s Block (Oppa Whiteboard Style!)

If you didn’t get the song reference in the title, shame on you. Go watch this video right now.

Back? Good. Let’s move on to today’s topic …

Overcoming Writer’s Block (Oppa Whiteboard Style!)

This is a very simple technique for overcoming writer’s block. Simply follow these 10 easy steps, and you too can push past that pesky block and write the next NY Times best-seller!

  1. Buy whiteboard markers and an eraser. Don’t use old, gooky ones that you found shoved in the back of your closet. They’ll konk out halfway and then you’ll feel silly, won’t you?
  2. Sneak into your local college/university. If you don’t have a local college/university, a high school will do in a pinch.
  3. Locate a classroom with a big whiteboard. You want to find a whiteboard at least fifteen feet across, giving you lots of writing space. Smaller is okay, but you’ll have to write smaller as a result — I don’t know if you’ve tried writing small on a whiteboard, but it’s rather difficult.
  4. Check for security cameras. Unless you have permission to be in there, in which case shame on you. The instructions specifically state for you to sneak into a school, not stroll in like you own the place. Go back to Step 1 and try again.
  5. De-lid those whiteboard markers and start writing. Use lots of arrows and circles — basically, you want to use as much ink as humanly possible and completely fill that fifteen foot whiteboard with writing.
  6. Step back and admire your creation. Hopefully this process provided you with at least a few insights about your story. If not, at least it was fun!
  7. Snap some pics with your smartphone so you can actually remember what you wrote. If you didn’t bring your smartphone … sigh. Back to Step 1 with you!
  8. Erase the evidence. The last thing you want is some bleary-eyed Engineering student to wander in at 8 a.m., realize they’re looking at the plot for the next NY Times best-seller, and steal it for themselves. Trust no one!
  9. Book it, baby. You probably tripped an alarm on the way in, so you might want to vacate the scene before you get arrested.
  10. Collapse on your sofa and celebrate your successful brainstorming session with a beverage of your choice. I recommend ginger tea, especially if your stomach is feeling a bit upset from all this law-breaking and general tomfoolery.

Disclaimer: If you get arrested, don’t come crying to me. You should have known better than to listen to the internet. Trust no one!


Semi-related video of the day:

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2 Quick Blogging Tips

In my surfing of assorted blogs, I’ve found two little nit-picky issues that really annoy me because I’m ridiculous like that.

Therefore, here are my 2 Quick Blogging Tips (so that you don’t irritate your readers):

  1. Give every post a title. Otherwise what the heck am I supposed to click on to read your post?
  2. Make sure there’s a “Like” button accessible under every post. Some people disable the Like button due to personal aesthetic choice, but I feel that having to mouse up to the WordPress bar and click Like there is such a hassle. Give us both options, or we will become unnecessarily rageful! RAWR!

That’s it for now. Check in tomorrow, as I’ll have some exciting news (I hope!) to share. Maybe even a vlog. We’ll see how ye olde work goes.

Peace out, home skillets.

Unrelated image of the day:

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How to write a sequel to a novel with a kick-a** setting

Some background is probably needed to understand the title of this post. Basically, I recently re-discovered the joys of the library, and one of the books I brought home to read over Christmas was Matched by Ally Condie.

Now, I really enjoyed this book. The characters were good, but the reason I really liked it was because the dystopian society in the book was cool. It’s kind of like The Giver meets Brave New World meets … a generic YA novel (because of the obligatory love triangle). Anyway, the society was awesome.

And then I picked up the sequel, Crossed. I was obviously excited to read it, because I enjoyed the first book so much. But I quickly realized one very tragic fact — this book isn’t set in the dystopian society, it’s set in some weird chasm/valley place. And it’s great that the characters are running around and developing their personalities and overcoming adversity and so on, but I liked Matched because of the setting. Without the setting, I’ve lost interest in the characters and in the book.

It’s the same concept as the seventh Harry Potter book. The first six were amazing because it was set at freakin’ Hogwarts. Who hasn’t dreamed of going there, with the moving staircases and paintings, ghosts, Quidditch, etc.? But then book seven comes along, and suddenly we’re wandering around the wilderness for what feels like forever. I get that Harry had to leave Hogwarts due to that pesky little thing called “plot”, but imagine how much more awesome book 7 could have been if he’d stayed at Hogwarts.

Therefore, I present to you my very simple rule for writing a sequel to a book with a kick-a** setting:

Keep the story in the kick-a** setting. If you have to leave the kick-a** setting due to the plot, get back there ASAP.

I guess this rule can be waived if you come up with an even more awesome setting for the characters to go to. But that doesn’t seem to happen very often, so stick to the original rule when at all possible.

That’s all for now. I’ve once again fallen behind on my work and need to spend the day catching up. Adios, mi amigos!

Semi-related image of the day:

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Quick Editing Tip: An Easy and Effective Way to Proofread

As I mentioned in my previous post, iUniverse sent me the proofs for Imminent Danger last Thursday. As such, I have spent the entire weekend going through the proofs and making sure there aren’t any typos, odd formatting, random blank pages, etc.

I thought I’d share my proofreading method with you, since it worked out pretty well.

Step #1

Print out your book. Since this is your final proof before the book is printed, make sure you print it in its final format — e.g., two novel-sized pages printed on each 8.5×11 sheet.

The reasoning here, of course, is that if you just print out your book as a normal Word document, it doesn’t have the feel of a real book, plus you won’t be able to check that your novel formatting is correct.

Step #2

Get a red pen and a bunch of sticky notes.

Step #3 (this is the most important one)

Starting on the first page of your book, read backwards up each page, going paragraph by paragraph.

At the proof-reading stage, you’re no longer making big changes to the book. Everything is where it should be. Now you’re just looking for typos. And by reading the paragraphs backward, you’re removing yourself from the story and just concentrating on the text. I actually tried reading the entire book backwards, paragraph by paragraph, but flipping the pages was annoying so I started at the beginning instead.

Step #4

Whenever you find a typo, or just a small something you want to change, correct it with red pen and put a sticky note on that page. Then continue reading.

Step #5 

Once you’re done reading the entire book, go back and look at your suggested changes. You might not agree with some of them once you’ve had a chance to think them through. Remove the sticky note from discarded changes pages so you aren’t confused later on.

Step #6

Open up your manuscript file and make those changes! Do a quick scroll through of the document to make sure you didn’t mess up any formatting by adding/deleting things.

Voila! My foolproof proofreading method.

Unrelated image of the day:

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