Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Photo courtesy of graur razva ionut on
Okay, let’s talk about flashbacks.  Flashbacks are an important part of most narrative storytelling, as we all experience those times when we think about our distant past.  So, it’s really important to learn how to write them well.

A heads-up: while there is some objective advice in today’s post, such as the mechanics of flashbacks, I want you to be aware that there is also a lot of my personal opinion in here. My opinion is not law.  I think it’s good advice, but I’m not conceited enough to think that my way is the only way.

Something that I see a lot from new writers (and occasionally from experienced ones) is that they indicate flashbacks using italics. This can in fact be done.  It’s not a bad method per se – in fact, Jay Kristoff uses it in Stormdancer.  (While Stormdancer is his breakthrough novel, I doubt that he’s a writing rookie.) He also uses another method commonly used – using line, chapter, or page breaks to demarcate (set apart) where the flashback begins and ends. I do think it’s a little ungraceful, but it works and it didn’t ruin the story for me. Even one of my favorite authors uses this in one of his series, but the flashbacks he wrote without this method were far superior.

Another way to write flashbacks, by way of explaining history, is to use the character’s dreams. It’s really easy to do it this way, but easy does not equal awesome. Personally, I really dislike this. It’s overused and a little unrealistic, since most people don't dream exact scenes from their pasts. It can work, such as in cases of PTSD where people really do re-live what happened in their dreams.  If you’ve done this in your writing, don’t feel bad. I’m not saying you are a bad writer or anything like that.  I’m not even saying you have to change it – after all, it’s your story, and only you can make that decision. But it is kind of an easy way out, and the easy way out isn’t generally the best way.

An exception to this is for letting characters relive traumatic events, but it works best if you only give the tiiiiniest little tease. It leaves the reader hungry for more. If you do the whole memory in a dream, in one big clump, it can disrupt the flow.

The preferred way, at least according to academics, is the in-story flashback.  This, instead of being set apart by visual aids or dreams, is set apart by tense changes.  This is the way I was taught to write flashbacks in either my junior or senior year of high school. (The curriculum I used was Writing Strands, which is a great resource if you ever want to look at it over a summer or something like that.) There are a set of pretty rigid rules as far as using the tense changes themselves, but don’t worry – there’s still plenty of room for creativity.

Before we get to the tense rules of writing a flashback, I’d like to put in my two cents about all of this. Every single method I’ve listed can be used to write flashbacks, and every single method can be used well.  However, the first two have disadvantages that the third one doesn’t.

I have written both in-story (without being visually set apart) flashbacks and flashbacks that were set apart physically.  In my PERSONAL OPINION (that means that you should take this with a grain of salt, and decide for yourself what you think), in-story flashbacks are by far superior.  You don’t disrupt the flow of the story, and you don’t practically shout to the reader: “Hey! Lookit! A flaaashbaaack!!” There is a time and a place for visually set apart flashbacks, but they tend to be cumbersome and ungraceful, in my opinion. (Keep in mind that I am including my own work in this category, so don’t feel bad or like I’m putting you down if you have done this.)

So, how do you use tense changes to write flashbacks?  Perhaps the easiest way to start is with this chart demonstrating what tenses should be used when.

Flashbacks are simply the character thinking back to something that has already happened.  If past tense is your main tense, then you will use the past perfect for this regardless of how long ago in the story arc the flashback happened. However, if you’re using present as your main tense, you’ll want to use the regular past tense for things that happened, say, earlier that day or the day before.  For things that happened a long time ago, you’ll want to use past perfect tense.

Now that we have that established, here are the steps of writing an in-story flashback.

Step 1 – the lead-in

This is how you cue your reader to the fact that they are about to be reading a flashback.  It could be as simple as, “He remembered a time in his life when he had been happy,” or you can use more complex, creative things too.  Either way, you want there to be an obvious indication that we’re about to learn about something that has already happened.

Step 2 – the lead-in tense change

If you’re writing in present tense and are writing about something that happened very recently in the story, you’ll simply switch to past tense for the duration of the flashback. Easy enough, right?

The trick comes when you’re writing in past tense or you’re bringing up the distant past.  Have you ever tried to write an entire paragraph in past perfect? It’s obnoxious to write, and it’s obnoxious to read.  So what you do, after you’ve got your lead-in sentence that cues us to be on the lookout for a flashback, is write two to four sentences in past perfect. How many you write depends on how long the flashback is. The rest of the flashback can then be using the simple past tense.  If the flashback is really, really long, it doesn’t hurt to throw in another sentence in past perfect here and there, just to help the reader remember that this is still a flashback.

Step 3 – the ending tense change

Assuming that you are writing in past tense or the distant past, the last two to four sentences of your flashback should be written in past perfect. This is a solid reminder everything mentioned is in fact in the past and has already come to pass.  Once this has been finished, you switch back to your main tense.

Step 4 – the jolt back to the present

Just like the lead-in tells the reader a flashback is about to happen, this out-tro of sorts lets them know that it is over.  Generally, working the word ‘now’ into the sentence somehow is a really good way to do it, but there are a lot of opportunities for creativity.

So, more or less, that’s how an in-story flashback works. If you want to, you can combine this with the visual separation techniques for a very stark contrast. (This is all about the style you want to achieve. Kristoff did this in Stormdancer and it worked well.) As I said, I’ve discovered that I like the subtlety of in-story flashbacks better than the other method.

If you decide to write a dream flashback, then don’t use the tense change rules. Dreams are something that the character actively experiences, so all you need to do is indicate that the character is dreaming and then relate the events in your main tense. It’s a good idea to avoid not telling the reader that something is a dream, unless it’s a very brief dream.  If you have a big ol’ long dream, it can be annoying for your readers to suddenly discover that what they thought was actually happening happened a long time ago. (At least, this is what the writing books tell me.)

Think carefully about which type of flashback works best for your story. It won’t always be the same, and you may use multiple methods per story.  But when you want a smooth, even flow and readability to story, then the in-story flashback really works the best.

Share any thoughts or questions in the comments!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Be Tense!

Image courtesy of digitalart at
All right, I realize that the title of today’s post is a cheap pun – and I used it a few weeks back – but I just couldn’t resist. I think it’s funny, so it must be, amirite? Huh? Anybody?

Okay, since I can practically hear the eyes rolling, I’ll get to the point.

As you may have surmised, today’s post is about verb tense in narrative. As a quick review, tense is the timeframe in which a verb is being used. There are three basic tenses in English: future, present, and past.  Another one that you need to know about for storytelling is a subcategory of past: pluperfect, or, as it’s more commonly known, past perfect.

“Pluperfect” is a fancy term I learned in my Latin class. It’s what people call past perfect when they want to sound fancy, as if they are wearing top hats and monocles.

Now you too can be fancy. Go impress your English teachers.

So anyway, future tense, indicated with a ‘will’ or ‘shall’ construction (“I shall go” or “you will leave”), is almost never used as a main tense in narrative storytelling. Certainly, your narrator might say, “I will get to that in a minute,” or something similar, but I have yet to see an entire narrative in future tense. It just plain doesn’t work.

Present tense, on the other hand, indicated by an -s suffix or no suffix construction (she walks, I eat), is often used in narrative.  A good example of this is in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read them, they are a fairly easy read, so check them out for the example. If you have read them, go back and give it a quick glance. You’ll see that most of the verbs are in present tense – unless Katniss is reminiscing (looking back) or planning ahead.

Present tense is a great choice in storytelling because it gives the reader a sense of immediacy.  It gives the impression that what’s going on in the story is happening RIGHT NOW. The reader feels that they are living the story along with the characters, rather than reading about something that happened.  This isn’t to say that past tense, which we’ll get to in a minute, can’t also be exciting, but something about that present tense makes it seem urgent.

Side note: outside of narrative, present tense should always be used in the synopsis (summary) of a story or other writing. This is especially important in writing essays and book reports. Even if the original writing is in the past tense, discuss it using present tense verbs. For example: “Harry tells Hermione that they need to find the invisibility cloak.” If you’re talking about another type of writing, do the same thing: “Vossler says that synopses always use the present tense.”

Now go impress your English teachers.

Anyway, past tense, usually indicated with an -ed suffix (I jumped, he talked), is probably the most common main tense in narrative. Keep in mind that past tense is where the most verb irregularities occur, so keep an eye out for that (ate, went, swam, and hung, just to name a few). Past tense is the most natural-feeling way to tell a story. We typically think of stories as something that have already happened: “Hey, let me tell you this story about my childhood!” This is especially true if the story is set in a past era. In fact, we practically live in the past tense. I don’t mean that we live in the past, I mean that we use and think of things in terms of the past tense. The present happens so briefly that it barely has time to register.  Something that happened mere seconds ago has already become past, so we think of it in those terms.

Even when we think about what we are currently doing, we don’t typically use a simple present tense. You don’t really think “I walk to the post office,” on your way to the post office. You think “I am walking to the post office,” which is the present participle of ‘to walk.’ Now, you might think of generalities in present tense, such as “I don’t drive to the post office, I walk to the post office,” but if you pay much attention to your personal verb use, you’ll notice a surprising amount of past tense.

This is what makes past tense such a natural choice for narrative. It clicks with the way that we typically think of the world, so when we read a story in past tense, it still feels like it’s happening at the moment – albeit without the same urgency that present tense offers.  For this reason, it’s also easier to write in past than in present.  Don’t confuse ‘easier’ with poorer quality, or even better quality.  The story you are telling will determine what the best tense choice is.

Present tense and past tense are your two choices for a main tense in storytelling.  One of these will be your reference point, and all of your other verb tenses will be chosen with one of these in mind.

So, if past and present are you choices for storytelling, what’s up with that pluperfect thingy I was talking about?

Pluperfect (I love sounding fancy, since I don’t have a top hat or monocle) is indicated by a ‘had’ construction (I had danced, he had cried). It is a really important thing in storytelling, particularly if your main tense is past, because it is what you will use for flashbacks and references to things that have happened already. 

So let’s kind of break down what past perfect really is. Why ‘perfect’?

You’re probably thinking, “Oh, no...she’s going to pull out the Latin again, isn’t she?”

Why yes, yes I am.

The root of ‘perfect’ is fect, which comes from the Latin verb facere. Facere means ‘to make,’ and you’ll see it in a ton of our words: manufacture (originally meaning to make with your hands), deface (to ruin or ‘unmake’ something).  In English, we typically think that perfect means “without flaw.”  But in Latin, it means completely made, or finished.  The ‘making’ part of it has already taken place. So, when you see ‘perfect’ as part of a verb tense, it is referring the fact that the verb is already completed.

Think of ‘past perfect’ as ‘past completed’ or ‘past something that has already happened.’  The past tense of present tense verbs is the past tense. The past tense of past tense verbs is the past perfect tense.

Are you confused yet?

Think of it this way. When you’re writing in the present tense and you want to talk about something that already happened, you just switch to the past tense. Imagine your narrative goes something like this:

I walk to the store, thinking about how I walked to the store last week, too.

But, if you’re writing in the past tense as your main tense, you switch to past perfect when you’re talking about something that already happened.

I walked to the store, thinking about how I had walked to the store last week, too.

Hopefully that makes a little more sense. Next week, I’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of how to write flashbacks.

So, to recap: past and present are your two choices for the main tense in storytelling. You’ll still use a lot of them in your overall piece, but which ones you choose at any given moment depends on whether past or present is your main tense.

Share any thoughts or questions in the comments!

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Hiatus...Sort of

Hello, everyone. I have a big writing project with a deadline that I am getting behind on, and so I need to step up my time commitment on that.  Unfortunately, time budgeting is a zero-sum game, which means that some other things have to go if I'm going to do this.

So, what this means is that I'm going to be doing a semi-hiatus for at least the rest of February and probably some into March. I'll still be doing Word-Craft Wednesdays and the Word of the Week, but Mondays and Fridays are temporarily on vacation. All being well, I'll go back to my regular posting schedule in April, but I'm going to have some big editing projects then, so I can't swear in a court of law that all will go back to normal.

I want to be able to have posts for you as often as possible, but as you can imagine, blogging takes a huge chunk of writing time and energy. So don't despair, if you're the type who's prone to do so (or if for some bizarre reason, not having posts from me would actually cause you to despair). I'll still be around! If you don't want to have check back to see whether I've posted something or not, feel free to subscribe and get notifications sent straight to your inbox.

See you on Wednesdays and Thursdays!

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Sounds of Poetry

Hi! I decided to do a vlog about how poetry is affected by the sounds of words. So, without further ado:

Here is the poem that I discuss in the video:

"A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach"
by Richard Snyder (1971)

She turns them over in her slow hands,
As did the sea sending them to her;
Broken bits from the mazarine maze,
They are the calmest things on this sand.

The unbroken children splash and shout,
Rough as surf, gay as their nesting towels.
But she plays soberly with the sea’s
Small change and hums back to it its slow vowels.

[Snyder, Richard. “A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Seventh ed.  Eds. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 1999. 732]

Here's a great essay about the meaning of this poem, if you're so interested.

Also, here are some links to some of the other poems I mention in the video.

The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls (Tennyson)

Break, Break, Break (Tennyson)

The Second Coming (Yeats)

Also, one poem that I don't mention in the vid but is totally awesome: Goblin Market (Rossetti)

Share any thoughts or questions in the comments!

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Word of the Week: Dichotomy

Welcome back to Thursday! Before I get to the Word of the Week, I thought I would fill you in on the answer to the question I asked in yesterday's post. In the song, Weird Al says "Try your best to not drool." The problem with this sentence is that it contains a split infinitive: "to not drool." While many don't care about this old rule anymore, it is best not to split infinitives. The correct way of saying it would be: "Try your best not to drool." Doesn't that read so much more nicely? Now, on to the Word of the Week!

Word: dichotomy

How you say it: [dahy-kot-uh-mee]

What it is: noun

How to pluralize it: dichotomies

What it means: 1.) division into two parts, kinds, etc.; subdivision into halves or pairs. 2.) division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action. 3.) Botany. a mode of branching by constant forking, as in some stems, in veins of leaves, etc. 4.) Astronomy. the phase of the moon or of an inferior planet when half of its disk is visible. (Definition courtesy of

[Side note: unless you're into botany or astronomy, meanings 1 and 2 will be the most common usage of the word.)

Use it three times and it's yours! Using a word three times can help it stick in your memory.

After Josh broke up with her, Emma found herself trapped in a dichotomy of love and hate.

The experiment was set up as a dichotomy between white rats and gray rats.

Some think that the body and spirit exist in unity rather than dichotomy.

Share your three sentences in the comments!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Word Crimes

Well, this is embarrassing.

Yeah, it's Wednesday.

Yeah, I forgot.

No, I don't have my post about tense ready. :'(

But, it's Word-Craft Wednesday, right? So let's learn a little bit about grammar from the great Weird Al Yankovic!

Seriously, I love this video. You have to watch it!

Some of my favorite features include:
  • Letters that are not in the word 'espresso' 
  • Things for which quotation marks ought not be used
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference (it's in there!)
  • The difference between 'good' and 'well'


For as awesome as it is, however, there is one grammar error that Weird Al himself makes in this music video. First person to find it wins a prize!

That's a lie. I don't have a prize for you. But if you want to pretend I do, do whatever makes you happy.

Okay, so next week I'll do a discussion on tense in narrative writing. Yeesh.

What's your favorite part of this music video? Did you spot the error? Sound off in the comments!

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Writer's Block

Let’s talk about some ways to bust through writer’s block!

No, seriously.  I’m all ears.

I’ve had more than one request for covering the topic of dealing with writer’s block – but I’m afraid that it’s pretty much the blind reading the blind. Writer’s block is one of those mysteries I have yet to develop a solution for.  I’ve read countless articles, blog posts, books, etc. about how to overcome it, but I really haven’t found a solution that works for me, every time.  Here are a few of the things I have seen suggested, so feel free to give them a try.

  • Exercise before you sit down to write
  • Write while standing (put your notepaper or computer on a high counter)
  • Write while sitting on an exercise ball instead of on a chair
  • Brainstorm while exercising (this one works for me most frequently, when the exercise is walking)
  • Think about something else for a while; clean house, watch a TV show, etc. before going back to your writing
  • Work on a different writing project temporarily
  • Try meditating or deep breathing exercises to relax and clear your mind
  • Do a warm-up writing exercise
  • Listen to music that motivates or inspires you
  • Find a friend who can be a sounding board for ideas

I have personally had success with these in varying degrees. But a lot of times, writer’s block feels like a antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria, where each type of ‘treatment’ works partially, but then results in a vengeful relapse.  Most frequently, I have success with walking around while brainstorming, trying to act out how scenes will go. Then, I have all of these great ideas…

…which somehow don’t make it through the keyboard.  Sometimes, I just sit and stare at the monitor.

Most of the time, I have project-specific writer’s block. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this might be the more common problem. There are some people who are of the opinion that if you have a long period of blockage on a specific project, then you need to dump it and move on to another, in the same way that you would dump a bad relationship. However, I think this is a bad policy.  It leads to a cycle of starting things and never finishing them, which has honestly been a problem for me my whole life.

My problem is that I tend to give up at the first sign of mental resistance, when perseverance would probably make a difference (in the same way it does with housework or chores).  This is especially crippling when I have true writer’s block – where I really can’t seem to write anything. But for when it’s just a specific project, I tend to work on frivolous side projects in an effort to break through the writer’s block on the main project. Sometimes, it works.

Usually, it doesn’t.

What this says to me is that perseverance is really the only way to actually get through writer’s block. There is one solution that tends to work, but it requires pushing past that resistance: fake it ‘til you make it. It seems disingenuous. You’re not writing from your soul! But let’s face it, if the soul isn’t writing when you need to be, then you need to take action.  You can’t edit a blank page, etc. etc.

All of this great advice won’t do anything for you unless you’re willing to try to crash through the brick wall yourself.  So that’s that. Can’t write? Write anyway! It seems to overlook the main problem, which is that you can’t write.


This is the real question. Why can’t you write? You’re capable of it, so what’s the issue? A lot of times, it goes deeper than that simple feeling of helplessness you have when you look at your computer screen.  This is where we get to talk about fancy psychological stuff.  Victoria Lynn Schmidt, author of the book “Book in a Month,” suggests that the reason we have writer’s block is because we actually are resisting the writing.  It’s not that the writing eludes us – it’s that we are subconsciously holding it back.

If you have a project that you really hate, it’s obvious where the resistance is coming from.  But what if it’s a project that you’re really passionate about? What then?
Well, what happens when you’ve finished writing something? You have to edit it. You have to critique it. You have to be mean to it. You’re going on a quest to find all of the flaws in the work you’ve done.  And, chances are, you’re going to have other people help you in this process, which is even worse.

In other words, when you finish a writing project, you are rewarded for your labor with even more grueling labor, and it can be really depressing.  Subconsciously, you think, “If I never finish this project, I’ll never have to criticize it.” This is really unproductive thinking. Criticizing it can’t be any worse than sitting there feeling miserable about the fact that you can’t write.

Schmidt suggests that if you find the true core of your writing anxieties, acknowledge and address that fear, then you will be able to break past the writer’s block. Once you’ve done that, then all of the tricks that I listed above should be able to help you.

But, it’s not a one-and-done process. You have to keep working on it, or it comes back.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that writer’s block doesn’t have any one single cure. It’s a constant process.  It doesn’t matter what method you use – the point is that you keep trying anyway.  Don’t resign yourself to it. 

I hope that this has helped some. Like I said, I’m all ears for methods of breaking through the block.

Maybe someday we’ll find the cure.

Have you tried any of the methods I listed above? How did they work out for you? Do you have a favorite writer’s-block-busting technique? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Third-Person POV

Photo courtesy of graur razva ionut on
Woo-hoo! It’s Word-Craft Wednesday on a Friday! Since I totally didn’t get my third-person POV piece written in time for Wednesday, I decided to post it today instead. Don’t worry, though – just because it’s Word-Craft Wednesday on a Friday doesn’t mean that your weekend is delayed. (Thank goodness!)

By the way, if you find any typos in here, I am blaming them on my cat, who decided that my lap belongs to her, not my laptop. I am typing with the cat pretty much on my hands, and she is purring quite contentedly.

So, let’s talk a little about third-person POV. You already know the basics – you use third-person pronouns. But let’s break it down a little further. There are three types of third-person narrative: omniscient, objective, and subjective.  Since subjective is a lot like first-person, and we just talked about that last Wednesday, let’s do a quick comparison and contrast between the two.

Third-Person Subjective (Limited)

I will just straight up admit that this is my favorite narrative POV to use and to read. For whatever reason, writing first person doesn’t come naturally to me, and I tend to have a harder time getting into books written in first person. This isn’t to say that I dislike first-person narrative, it’s just not my natural inclination.

A lot of the ‘rules’ of first-person narrative apply to third-person limited as well. A lot of the reading that I have done, however, seems to indicate that third-person limited allows for a little more leeway when describing your character. It’s easier to slip that kind of stuff in there without disrupting the narration – the reader is already in a mindset of observing this character rather than seeing through his/her eyes, so it won’t seem jarring.


It won’t seem as jarring, but it is way, waaay to easy to abuse this. You only get a tiny bit more leeway than you do in first person. Character description is like an energy drink: it’s awesome in just the right amount, but too much will make people want to steer clear of you (yes, I speak from experience here).

If you want your narrative to be rich in description (and why wouldn’t you?), the key is not to focus on the POV character. Focus on landscapes and rooms, focus on the other characters, focus on the sounds and sights and smells and sensations your POV character is experiencing. This is what will make your narrative seem more real to the reader.

The benefit of third-person limited, as I have said before, is that you immediately give the reader a person to latch onto – sort of a companion that they can follow through the story. The drawback? It’s…well, limited.

Third-Person Objective

This is the narrative point of view that almost all theatre and film is told from. It’s sometimes called “camera lens” or “fly-on-the-wall” narrative. I say ‘almost,’ because any film where you ‘hear’ the thoughts inside the character’s head is not strictly fly-on-the-wall. Plus, some movies and shows have the main character narrating them (such as the excellent show Burn Notice).

Basically, when you write from this POV, you have to write the narrative like it’s a movie. No peeking into people’s heads. You don’t get to know how the character feels. All you get from your character, in order to indicate that, are facial expressions. Think of how actors portray characters. That is what your narrative voice needs to do. This mode of storytelling, more than any other, relies on showing, not telling. You can’t say, “She was sad.” You have to say, “She frowned,” or “She wept.” So, it’s definitely one of the more challenging ways to tell a story. Now, “show, don’t tell” is really important no matter what, but it’s crucial for third-person objective.

The benefit of third-person objective is that you really allow your reader to draw their own conclusions. Books intended to be very thought-provoking work well with this type of narration. It’s an artful form of storytelling. The drawback? It’s hard to write.

Third-Person Omniscient

Have you ever taken an open-book test and discovered that it was almost harder than taking a multiple choice test?

That’s kind of what third-person omniscient is like. You have so much freedom, and so many things to cover, that sometimes you have to pick and choose what to relate. This can be really challenging, sort of the way that when you take an open book test, there are a couple of things that might answer the question, but you’re not sure which one your teacher is looking for.

On the other hand, because you get to choose what to tell or what not to tell, you have to ability to make your reader think one thing when something else is the way things actually are.(This is known as the untrustworthy narrator.) It’s actually pretty fun, but it requires a lot of planning to pull it off.

One of the most important things to remember is that your narrator still is, in a way, a character of the story. This means that your narrator needs to have a consistent voice. Just the way that in first-person or third-person limited POVs you need to use a consistent vocabulary and style of telling things, this applies for an omniscient POV. This means that if you do explore people’s feelings and thoughts, you need to do it in a way that sounds like the unique voice of the narrator, not the voice of the character whose mind you are exploring. (Unless you have the thoughts in italics or quotation marks. Current style favors italics, but both are acceptable.) If you just slip into something like third-person limited anytime you jump inside somebody’s thoughts, you are no longer following an omniscient POV. You are doing something called ‘head-hopping,’ and it’s considered a rather egregious error by the writing industry.

That being said, third-person omniscient really has the benefit of freedom.  While you can’t get away with everything, you don’t have limitations the way you do for the other narrative POVs. The drawback? You need to be careful. Your readers don’t want to know every single detail, and some details will just bog the story down. As with real life, freedom frequently comes with its own set of limitations. The tough part is that you have to set them down.

So, there’s your crash-course in third-person narrative POVs. This is far from comprehensive, but it’s a little bit deeper of a look into the concept. If you’re enjoying this series of Word-Craft Wednesdays (or Friday, as the case may be today), you’ll probably really like Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. It’s a comprehensive look at this very topic, and he really tackles the nitty-gritty details.

Next week’s Word-Craft Wednesday will touch on tense in storytelling (and yes, it still has to do with POV and narrative). I mentioned this briefly when I talked about first-person POV, but it’s certainly worthy of its own blog post.

What thoughts do you have on third-person narrative forms? Sound off in the comments.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Word of the Week: Salacious

Time for another new word!

Word: salacious

How you say it: [suh-ley-shuhs]

What it is: adjective

What it means: 1.) lustful or lecherous. 2.) (when said of writings, pictures, etc.) obscene; grossly indecent.  (Definition courtesy of

Use it three times and it’s yours! Using a word three times can help it stick in your memory.

Anyone who desires to be a role model should not display any salacious behavior.

Billy was suspended for a week when he brought a salacious magazine to school.

Everything being produced by Hollywood these days seems salacious in one way or another.

Share your three sentences in the comments!

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Time Management

Hi! Does everybody else know it is Wednesday?  I'm hoping not, because then no one will notice that it's supposed to be Word-Craft Wednesday, and then no one will notice that due to my poor time management skills, I won't have my post on third-person POV written.

Crud. You noticed.

So, since I hate to leave you without anything to read, I'm re-blogging my previous post about time management. It seems kind of appropriate. Don't worry, I'll actually read it myself, and hopefully it will remind me to actually make time in advance when it comes to important, you know, blog posts or whatever.

I promise I'll be back with all kinds of POV goodness next time.  We'll have Wednesday on a Friday! (Admittedly, this is not nearly as fun as having Friday on a Thursday.)

So. Without further ado, a little advice on managing your time as a writer.  Have a great Wednesday!

Image courtesy of digitalart at
When it comes to being a writer, you have to deal with time management issues a lot.

If you’re a younger writer, in high school or college, you already have a lot of demands on your time.  Classes, homework, and extracurricular activities occupy a significant amount of your attention. Then, if you live at home, there are the chores that your parents insist you help out with.  If you’re at college, eventually you will have to deal with the fact that your dorm room is so messy that you couldn’t swear in a court of law that Jimmy Hoffa is not buried under your pile of junk. Plus, you probably have some friends or family who want to spend time with you, or your favorite show is on, or you want to catch up with all of the latest posts on lolcats or FunnyorDie.

If you’re an older writer, you probably have a full time job. You might be working on a post-graduate degree.  Possibly, you have kids.  You are solely responsible for taking care of your residence (unless you have a significant other or kids, but they make almost as much work as they help out with).  You have to do all or some of the shopping.  If you have a family or a significant other, there’s good chance that they’ll want to spend time with you, or your favorite show is on, or you want to catch up with all of the latest posts on lolcats or FunnyorDie, or, if you’re really sophisticated, you want to read the news.

Then, there are all the other things you want to do or might already be doing.  Say you want to get into an exercise routine.  Well, that’s at least another 30 – 45 minutes out of your day, or an hour if you’re taking some kind of class.  Maybe you want to pick up a musical instrument.  That’s an additional 30 minutes per day, if you really want to put practice into it.  Maybe you want to spend more time reading. If you want to get through a book in any decent amount of time, that’s going to be at least an hour a day, and maybe three or four hours on the weekend.

All of this in sixteen hours a day.  That’s already pretty stressful.

And you want to be writing on top of all of that?

When it comes to writing, I think that I and several of the writers that I know allow our writing to fall by the wayside before anything else.  Writing isn’t necessarily a priority, and even some of things we have to do are easy by comparison.  Exercising can be difficult, but you sure don’t have to concentrate as much while you’re doing it.  If you’re in school or work, you spend close to eight hours working your buns off on things that require a lot of concentration.  That can leave you drained.  What are you going to choose after that? Writing, or lolcats?

Probably lolcats, if that’s your thing.

Clearly, writing is difficult to make time for, at least once the thrill of a new project has worn off.  Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m speaking from my own personal experience and nobody else deals with this.  But I’m operating on a pretty strong hunch that I’m not the only one.

So how do you make time for writing? The same way you make time for anything else.  This requires planning ahead (something I’m not terribly good at).

First, set a goal of how many hours per week you’d like to work on your writing. The most important thing here is to be realistic.  If you have forty hours worth of school, work, or whatever, don’t set a goal of twenty hours a week on writing.  Depending on how busy you are, ten hours might still be too much. But if you can swing it, five hours will still get you quite a long way.  Try to budget some time every day, but if you have a specific day where you have more free time, plan to do the bulk of your work that day.

For example, let’s say that you have a lot of time on Saturday mornings, most of which you spend sleeping in.  Get up earlier (but still later than you wake the rest of the time) and put in two hours of writing between when you wake up and noon.  If your goal is five hours a week, now you only have to divide 3 hours between the other six days. That’s only thirty minutes a day. How much time do you spend dinking around on the internet?  Probably more than thirty minutes.  If you normally spend an hour on the internet, cut that down to 30 minutes and use the other 30 minutes for writing.

It’s not about abandoning other activities in favor of writing.  It’s about balancing out the other ‘time wasters’ like video games, internet browsing, or whatever your favorite time-suck activity is.  As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  You don’t want to take away your favorite activities, or writing will not be fun anymore.  But if you cut down on some of your favorite things to make room for writing, you will still be able to have fun and you’ll be more likely to actually write instead of putting it off.

Now, five hours is not a magic number.  The truth is that ten minutes of writing a day is better than no writing.  (I’m always trying to convince my guitar students of this when it comes to practicing their instrument.)  If you can only swing 60 minutes for the whole week, that’s better than none.  It will take you much longer to get projects finished, but if you hadn’t been writing at all, 60 minutes is in fact infinitely more.  One minute a week would be infinitely more.  Math is fun like that.

If you want to make more time for writing, it can be done.  It’s not about finding time for it, it’s about making time for it.  And no amount of time is too small, unless that time is zero.

You will eventually finish something in ten minutes per week.

It is impossible to finish something in zero minutes per week.

On the other hand, if your schedule varies, you might put in no minutes one week and 10 hours the next.  This is okay.  Nevertheless, you need to plan ahead.  Planning ahead can be a pain, but won’t it be worth it in the end?

Develop these skills now, while you’re young.  You won’t regret it.

How would you describe your current time management skills?  What would be a realistic goal for you to set, and how could you divide that based on your current schedule?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Totally Random Tuesdays: Help!

Welcome back to Totally Random Tuesdays! Firstly, I want to start by thanking everybody who helped me top 2000 page hits! You are the best – and a big, huge thanks to all my repeat viewers! Considering how hard it is for most blogs to tread water, and that this blog just launched last September, I’m really excited to see that so many people have come here. (At least, I hope it’s not just one person who has come to my blog 2000 times.)

Since all of you are so awesome, I would love it if you could help me out by taking a quick survey. It’s only nine questions. I really want to make sure that I am helping as many writers as I can, so if you help me out today, you’ll help me help other writers! (Should I write the word ‘help’ one more time?) If everybody who reads this post would help me out, that would make my day!

Please copy and paste the survey into the comments and remove all of the answers except for yours. If you’d like to expand on any of the questions, feel free to do so. I have anonymous commenting enabled, so if you don't have a Google account or want to leave your name, that's no problem.  I need all the feedback I can get!

1. How old are you?
a. under 14
b. between 14 and 22 (target audience)
c. over 22

2. Do feel like the content of this blog is
a. too complicated for the target audience
b. too dumbed down
c. about right

3. How did you find this blog?
a. Facebook
b. Twitter
c. Google Plus
d. Search Engine
e. other

4. Are you a friend and/or family member of the author?
a. yes
b. yes, though we became friends through correspondence
c. no

5. Would you describe yourself as a writer?
a. no, but would like to be a writer at some point
b. yes, but not a ‘serious’ writer
c. no, and I probably never will
d. yes, absolutely

6. Would you recommend this blog to your friends/family?
a. yes
b. no

7. Do you find the content on this blog to be useful and/or entertaining?
a. yes
b. no
c. I don’t have internet, but I love surveys.  

8. How often do you read this blog? 
a. this is my first time here
b. regularly
c. occasionally

9. What kind of things would you like to see covered in the future?

Thank you so much! Once again, you guys are the best!

Please share this on your favorite social network so I can help as many writers as possible!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mary Sue Who?

Image courtesy of Petr Kratochvil at
I know some writers who, more or less, live in fear that their female protagonist is a “Mary Sue.”

Ah, the dreaded, hated Mary Sue. Once you’ve heard what the expression means and have seen the pure contempt and derision that awaits, it’s natural to want to avoid the phenomenon. 

So, what exactly is a Mary Sue?

The term was originally coined in fan fiction circles to describe overly perfect female characters, particularly ones who were also badly written. You know, a female character that is all confidence, can fly, can make time turn back by singing, can make men melt with a single glance, and so on and so on. Oftentimes, the Mary Sue is also incredibly beautiful and is basically talented at everything. She becomes the center of the whole storyline and, to be honest, is more or less living out the author’s dream life. Like Barbie, but in storytelling form.

Don’t worry – there is a male equivalent too: Gary Stu. But to be honest, I frequently see guy characters called Mary Sues anyway.

So, there’s a lot of negativity surrounding the concept. There’s a lot of vitriol (acidic hatred) toward Mary Sues, and particularly towards the ones who write about them. It’s no wonder that many people are terrified of discovering that their protagonist is a Mary Sue.

But here’s the thing: outside the scope of fan fiction, I don’t think that the Mary Sue actually exists. Part of the definition of a Mary Sue is that she usurps the importance of the characters from the show – and since people who read fan fiction want to read about those characters for some weird reason, they’re not overly amused by Mary Sues. 

Without that key part of the Mary Sue definition, I feel like the concept loses a lot.  Yet I still see people grousing about it when it comes to original storytelling.

“Oh, Yukiko from Stormdancer is so overly perfect – what a Mary Sue.”

“Skye is a total Mary Sue. I really expect better from Agents of Shield.”

“Agent Carter is such a Mary Sue. What’s up with that, Marvel?” (Marvel’s Agent Carter)

“I can’t stand Korra. She’s a Mary Sue.” (The Legend of Korra)

“April from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has become nothing more than a stupid Mary Sue.”

“Katniss is a Mary Sue. Why do so many people like her?” (The Hunger Games)

“Twilight Sparkle is a Mary Sue.” (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

Okay, seriously – I lost faith in humanity the minute I saw that last one. (Thanks, late night YouTube-ing.) Yes, there are people who literally think that Twilight Sparkle – from a show targeted at people under the age of 7 – is a Mary Sue.  Seriously.

And you know what I see happening in all of this?

There is real contempt for strong female characters. Really. I’m sure that Buffy had similar claims leveled against her. So did River from Firefly. Possibly Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. It’s getting to the point where even little girls are going to have to hear this kind of negativity about their favorite resident alicorn – since Twilight Sparkle is smart and magical and can always save the day. (I know some little girls who idolize that pony, and it is totally adorable.) You know, I kind of made light of the Super Bowl commercial yesterday where they discussed the concept of “like a girl” being an insult (especially since it was sponsored by Always®), but there is something to be said for it.

It doesn’t make it any better that sometimes male characters get called Mary Sues, such as the protagonist from Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind.  I still think there is a kind of latent sexism about it. This idea hinges on the concept that if women aren’t portrayed as prissy, insecure emotional basket-cases, then they are a Mary Sue. And like telling a guy he does something “like a girl” is an insult, calling a male character a Mary Sue is supposed to be even more insulting than calling a female character one.

I don’t identify as feminist, so the fact that I think this ought to tell you something.

And if that’s not what people mean, that girls have to be prissy and not strong, then we seriously need to stop using the term outside of fan fiction circles. We have a whole world of classic descriptors to discuss the problem. Really, the problem is that the character is presented as too perfect. Perfection is uninteresting. It’s flat. If your character is already too perfect, there’s nowhere to go, really. There are great terms for this: one-dimensional character, flat character, uninteresting character, and so on. Yet these aren’t considered insults on the level of Mary Sue, despite the fact that they mean basically the same thing.

So, don’t live in fear of your character being a Mary Sue. Don’t live in fear at all. Just make sure that your character isn’t flat. You can do this by incorporating the old Aristotelian concept of “The Fatal Flaw.” If you haven’t already, you’ll probably be learning about good old Aristotle’s “rules” for writing plays. One of them is that the character needs a fatal flaw. In most cases, the Greek tragedies had hubris (overwhelming pride) as their fatal flaw.

For example: Yukiko’s flaw is that she doesn’t listen. It gets her in trouble. (Granted, I have to agree that Yukiko wasn’t a super-complex character, but she wasn’t perfect.) Skye’s fatal flaw is that she is too trusting at first (and it really is almost fatal). Agent Carter’s fatal flaw is loyalty. Yes, that is a flaw, especially in an espionage, back-stabbing setting. Korra’s fatal flaw is a combination of hubris and self-doubt. April’s flaw is that she constantly overestimates what she is capable of. Katniss’ fatal flaw is her desperation. Twilight Sparkle’s flaw…

Twilight Sparkle doesn’t need to have a flaw, people. She’s a character for a little kid’s show. Kids actually need to have heroes without flaws; they need to have the understanding that there are greater powers out there that can save them, people that they can aspire to be. Flawed characters are for older audiences. I can’t even believe that people get so worked up about My Little Pony. It’s an entertaining show – I’m not arguing about that. But the first rule in storytelling is KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Please, let the little girls have their perfect alicorn princess that they want to grow up to be just like. Seriously.

And for the record, if Twilight Sparkle had a flaw, it would be that she is obsessive-compulsive.

Should you aspire to make your characters interesting, and not overly perfect? Yeah, absolutely. But if someone tells you that your character a Mary Sue, ask them what they really mean by that. If they say it’s that the character is too perfect, then it’s a valid complaint (unless you’re writing a children’s book). Ask what they think might make the character more interesting. Ask yourself how you could make the character more interesting.

If the reason is that the character has a bunch of guys vying (competing) over her, then just ignore it. Love triangles have been around for centuries. If people don’t like that, then the issue isn’t that the character is a Mary Sue, it’s that your critique partner doesn’t like love triangles.

So, let’s stop using the Mary Sue moniker outside of fan fiction circles, okay? It actually has validity in fan fiction. Outside of that, it’s just claptrap that allows people to say something negative without expressing why.

Now, I know that some of my readers here do write fan fiction. So, how do you avoid writing a Mary Sue character?

It’s actually pretty easy. Firstly, don’t let the character upstage the main characters from the show. If you’re telling a story from an original character’s perspective, that’s fine, but still keep the overall focus on the main characters. Secondly, make sure your character has a fatal flaw of some kind – some personality hitch that is a constant obstacle to her/him.

The most important thing to remember, in and outside of fan fiction, is that if somebody calls your character a Mary Sue but can’t tell you what they really mean by it, it’s a comment you can safely disregard.

All right. That’s enough ranting. I’d really like to start a discussion on this, so feel free to share your thoughts, especially if you disagree with me. I welcome debate as long as everyone is respectful about it.

Fire away in the comments! 

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