The Best Reason to Blog — 2015 Edition

by Jami Gold on November 26, 2015

in Random Musings

Path through autumn leaves with text: Finding Meaning

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. The day we eat too much food, roll our eyes at the antics of our extended family, and think about all the things we’re grateful for. Or in my case, try not to let my pending NaNoWriMo loss dampen my enjoyment of the day. *sob*

(Yes, it’s true. There is absolutely no way for me to catch up on NaNoWriMo words unless someone has a Time Turner I can borrow. Anyone? No? I guess I just need to chill and accept my loss with grace. *sigh* It’s a good thing my goal this year is to finish my story and not necessarily win NaNo. That goal is still in reach. *whew*)

This Thanksgiving post is now an annual tradition on my blog. Five years ago, I revealed that the best reason for me to blog is all of you.

The post four years ago reiterated that point with my gratitude for all the friends I’ve made via blogging and social media. Three years ago, I confessed my love of the blogging format because of the connections possible. Two years ago, I revealed that blogging for you pushes me—in a good way. Last year, I expressed my gratitude for the connections we make despite meeting only online.

And gee, what a surprise! All of you are still the best reason to blog! *smile*

The Power of Connections

This past year was huge for me—I finally became a published author! Four times over in fact. *grin*

But 99 percent of what made those four release days special was sharing the support and excitement with those I’ve connected with online and throughout the writing world. It was the shared tweets and posts, the comments of support and congratulations, and the mutual squee-ing that made those days fun.

In other words, the connections we form give meaning to our experiences. There’s a reasons Facebook and Instagram are popular sharing platforms.

Forget the phrase, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” For many of us, the reality is, “If something interesting happens to us and no one is around for us to share it with, did we fully experience it?”

For me, I know those release days would have tick-tocked by like any other day if you weren’t with me. I’m not a big-time author, I don’t have a publisher behind me, and I haven’t had any release parties, so those encouraging notes were the only special events of the day.

Looking at sales numbers? Eh, that’s not meaningful to me.

(I’ve often talked about how I don’t pay attention to numbers—blog traffic, Twitter followers, etc., and sales numbers fall into that same black hole of my mind. I’d blame my dislike of math, but really, I don’t see my failure to obsess over numbers I can’t control as a bad thing. *wink*)

Sharing the day with you? That’s meaningful to me.

Thank you, sincerely, for every book review, comment, tweet, Like, or share of this past year. I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate our connections on various topics and events. *smile*

The Power of Sharing

I’ve also been blessed with many generous guest posters this year, especially during my attempted vacation this summer (which I managed to enjoy despite the whole family becoming sick) and during this NaNoWriMo month.

I want to send out mega-thanks to all of my recent guest posters for sharing their knowledge and expertise:

Even though I’m not going to win NaNo, I’m still getting more words done on my story than I would have without their help. And even better, we all learned something beyond our experience because they chose to share what they know. Win-win!

So as you finish up NaNo or enjoy this weekend, just know that I’m most grateful to all of you and the special meaning you bring to my life. Thank you! *hugs internet*

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers
and Happy Thursday to everyone else. *smile*

Do you ever feel like experiences mean more if you share them? Do you have people to share your writing journey with? Do you appreciate when others share their knowledge and expertise? What connections are you most grateful for? Is there anything special you’re grateful for this year?

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Dictionary open to

When I first started writing, my experience with grammar was all about what sounded right, and I knew nothing about the actual rules. I’d never learned to diagram a sentence, and I had no idea what a gerund was.

Sure, my instinctive understanding—that “what sounds right” approach—was better than average. Good enough to be a technical writer and sometime-editor at any rate.

But I also understood that it was best to know the rules before breaking them, so one of the first things I did after deciding to write fiction was study the rules I was probably supposed to learn decades ago in school. *smile*

Many times, when we’re trying to correct something, we overdo it at first. If our story needs more scene setting or description, we might add too much. If we’re overusing modifiers, we might strip out too many and leave our writing stark. Or if we hear advice to start with action, we might doubt our already-good instincts and end up neglecting our characters in the first scene.

I’m no exception to that issue. That’s one reason why I strongly believe in emphasizing that virtually all writing advice should be taken as “Your Mileage May Vary” guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules.

In my early drafts, especially with my voiceless technical writing background, I struggled to relax my new knowledge of grammar enough to let my voice through. Yes, we want to avoid passive voice, but not if it requires a clunky, would-never-be-worded-that-way-by-real-people rewrite. Etc., etc. with the rest of the “rules.”

That’s why I’m so thrilled to have Julie Glover share her guest post on how to use (or even abuse) the rules of grammar to strengthen our voice. Julie has been my copyeditor for my novels, and she’s never messed with my voice, so she definitely understands this issue, but she’s also a grammar expert.

In other words, it is possible to mix these two traits, and she’s going to show us how. *smile* Please welcome Julie Glover!


Using Grammar—and Breaking the Rules—
for the Sake of Voice


Did you just have a visceral reaction to that word? Because while some writers—like me—are grammar geeks who love arguing the pros and cons of the Oxford comma, other writers stiffen with memories of red-pen-wielding English teachers ready to flay students for poor use of punctuation. Why couldn’t they just leave you alone to write your amazing story?

Whichever camp you’re in, I hope you’ve figured out by now that bad grammar makes speedbumps for your reader. For those naturally gifted in grammar, no problem. But if comma placement isn’t your thing, you need someone in your circle who can copy edit your manuscript for submission or publication.

Yet have you ever thought how grammar—the system and structure of a language—can deepen your voice?

Grammar isn’t merely parts of speech, where the commas go, or which words get capitalized. It’s a whole system of language to convey the meaning you want to give. We have societally agreed-upon rules to facilitate communication, but you can use those rules in different ways—or even break the rules—to leave the desired impression on your readers.

Let’s talk specifics for how you can wield the tools of grammar for different effects.

Effect #1: Pacing

Some genres and scenes require fast pacing, others slower. For example, if your protagonist is running through hostile terrain to escape a serial killer, you don’t want long, lackadaisical sentences that slow your reader’s pace. Instead, you want sentence structure and punctuation that shows intensity and urgency.

To achieve a faster pace, we can:

  • shorten phrases and sentences,
  • leave out unnecessary descriptors,
  • use more periods,
  • loosen the structure,
  • skip the conjunctions (such as and), or
  • use sentence fragments.

Take a passage from The Scorpio Races by YA author Maggie Stiefvater, in which she describes the main character’s ride with her friend Sean on a brilliant horse-like creature (“Corr,” a capaill usice). Written by the strict rules of grammar, we might get:

We are flying.

Corr’s skin is hot against my legs. His skin is clingy, somehow, like when the current pushes your toes into the sinking sand. I feel his pulse in my pulse and his energy in my energy. I know this is the mysterious, terrifying power of the capaill usice. We all know it, how it seizes you and confuses you. Then, before you know it, you are in the foamy ocean water. But Sean leans forward and hard against me in order to reach Corr’s mane. He ties the mane in knots. First, he ties three knots. Then he ties seven. Then he goes back to tying three. I try to focus on what he’s doing with those knots instead of his strong body pressed against mine and the way his warm cheek brushes against my hair.

Okay, fine, but Stiefvater quickens the pace and writes this instead:

We are flying.

Corr’s skin is hot against my legs—clingy, somehow, like when the current pushes your toes deeper into the sand. I feel his pulse in my pulse, his energy in mine, and I know this is the mysterious, terrifying power of the capaill usice. We all know it, how it seizes you and confuses you and then you are in the water before you know it. But Sean leans forward, hard, against me, in order to reach Corr’s mane, and ties knots in it. Three. Then seven. Then three again. I try to focus on what he’s doing instead of his body pressed against mine, his cheek against my hair.

Slowing the pace involves the opposite—stretching out sentences with longer phrases and more descriptors.

In historical author Elizabeth Essex’s Scandal in the Night, time seems to stand still when the hero and heroine come upon each other after many years of absence. Note how the scene slows in pace:

At first, she only looked at the hand he extended, roughened by weather and work with horses, and still far too brown for an Englishman. And then her gaze slid to his wrist, to the single, beaten silver bracelet he still wore.

Yes. Her disbelieving gaze ricocheted up to his face, and her eyes darkened in shock. Remembrance and confusion raced across her skin like a hot shadow, and then fled, leaving her drained of color. Even her freckles blanched. She pulled away abruptly, and pressed her hand to her throat, stumbling a little sideways, as if her world were tilting off its upright, starched axis.

Not a single fragment, several descriptive details, more dependent phrases, and longer sentences. Beyond word choice, grammar can help you achieve the right pacing.

Effect #2: Emotion

Have you considered using grammar to convey emotion? Yes, emotion.

Sentence structure, capitalization, and punctuation choices can cue the reader into your characters’ mood, tone, and feelings.

Following are a couple passages I made up to show what I mean. See if you can infer the underlying emotion.

Nobody. Just nobody. That’s who cares about Lynette and her stupid boyfriend and their long make-out session and the video evidence and the Facebook likes and the incessant buzz going all around school.

Sure, the content lets on that this narrator actually does care, regardless of what she says. Jealous, maybe? But with the two sentence fragments at the beginning and the run-on sentence with all those ands and no commas, you can hear the tone.

Here’s another one:

I stretched up on my tippy-toes and peered over the crowd, looking for him in the crowd emerging from the train. At the sight of his familiar face, my breath caught, clung, clutched to my lungs. Damn. Who knew one glance at my old boyfriend would make my heartbeat reach Call First Responders level?

You got this emotion, right? Longing, attraction, excitement.

Grammatically speaking, I did several things to tug on the thread of emotion:

  • Caught, clung, clutched is an alliteration without the and which stalls time to indicate she’s feeling something strong.
  • Expressing damn as a single-word fragment with italics gives us a peek into her head and her inability to think clearly.
  • Then I used capitalization with Call First Responders as a unique descriptor for her visceral reaction of a racing heartbeat.

Grammar, people. It’s just basic grammar.

If you want a real-world example, take a look at The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Your high school English teacher would likely make you rewrite the following sentence, but Green breaks the rules in a powerful way to show us protagonist Hazel Grace’s emotion:

As it got closer to ten, I grew more and more nervous: nervous to see Augustus; nervous to meet Peter Van Houten; nervous that my outfit was not a good outfit; nervous that we wouldn’t find the right house since all the houses in Amsterdam looked pretty similar; nervous that we would get lost and never made it back to the Filosoof; nervous nervous nervous.

A colon, semicolons, repeated word, and even that last nervous nervous nervous with no punctuation whatsoever (~gasp!~). But did you get it? Do you sympathize with that feeling? Haven’t you felt that level of nervousness before?

Let your language structure pull double-duty, by not only conveying content but emotion. Dig deeper into your prose and apply grammar rules, or break grammar rules, to effectively show what your character is feeling.

Effect #3: Characterization

Have you heard that characters need to use different dialogue to distinguish their personalities and perspectives? That advice holds true for anything you write from one person’s point of view. The way in which you craft a character’s language can tell us a lot about the character himself.

In my RWA Golden Heart® Finalist novel, Sharing Hunter, there are two points of view, Chloe and Rachel. Notice the differences not only in word choice but language structure, as they describe the same guy:

Rachel: Then the image shifted to Hunter Mills, mentally tracing the angles and curves of his body. He’d long been in my sights, the subject of secret sketches in my notebook as he sat across the room in economics. Not only was his chiseled body and face the stuff of Michelangelo sculptures, he was the best of the popular guys—the sort who deserved to be well-liked because he was genuinely nice to everyone. Including me. Hunter was…a masterpiece.

Chloe: Even from behind, that boy was hard candy that made my mouth water. Hard candy with a surprising intellect in the center, like the chewy center of a Tootsie Roll pop.

Artistic Rachel takes her sweet time describing Hunter, even pauses with an ellipses, those three dots at the end. While Chloe gets right to the point, with one of her two sentences being a fragment.

You can use what you know about grammar to cue the reader into what kind of person your POV character is:

  • Is your heroine a creative type who uses more lyrical phrases and descriptive sentences?
  • Or maybe a tough law enforcer who tends toward short sentences and fragments?
  • Is your hero a fast-paced thinker and talker with a tendency toward run-ons and hyphenated adjectives?
  • Or perhaps an overeducated professor whose language structure, even in his head, is indubitably perfectionistic?

Your grammar choices should differ depending on the character you’re writing. Look at everything, from sentence length to preferred parts of speech to punctuation to create the speaking and thinking style of your characters. Not only will your reader be able to distinguish points of view, they’ll better understand who your characters are.

Effect #4: Voice

Read a historical romance author and then a modern-day thriller author, and you’ll recognize dissimilar sentence structure and even punctuation.

Different genres have different voices, and some of that involves the acceptable length of sentences, number of adjectives and dependent clauses, and even parts of speech you might see. I’m sorry, but if you’re writing young adult and you never use a hyperbolic adverb (totally, completely, unbelievably), you haven’t hung around enough teens.

One of the ways a writer often knows what genre suits them best is discovering how they naturally write. Does their typical grammar sound more lyrical or choppy? More meandering or straightforward? You can learn a genre’s standards and write to those parameters, but you might have some clues already from your usual bent.

Your specific author voice also shows up in grammar choices you, consciously or unconsciously, make.

For instance, my critique partner and I have somewhat different voices, meaning she might use a comma where I would use an em dash (—) or she would choose sentence fragments where I would opt for a series of phrases. As long as it’s grammatically acceptable and works on the page, we uphold one another’s differences.

Of course you can go overboard with your “style”—we get it, e.e. cummings, you don’t capitalize anything—but even grammar can be molded to reflect the author you are. A quality editor will ensure your grammar is correct while respecting your own flair on the page.

Many writers unwittingly use grammar to convey the mood and message they desire. But what if you consciously developed grammar skills to make your writing more effective, more engaging, more uniquely you? What if you went back over scenes or passages with an eye to how your choices in sentence structure, punctuation, etc. could move the scene from working to wow?

Believe or not, grammar isn’t simply that thing grammar Nazis goddesses like me obsess over. It’s a skill you can sharpen and use to make your novel go from pretty darn good to Call First Responders great.


Julie GloverJulie Glover writes young adult fiction, collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for the interrobang. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®.

She teaches a YA character course for the online Lawson Academy and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.

Find Julie online at her website and on Twitter.


Thank you, Julie! This is a fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us.

A week ago, I was exchanging emails with another editor about his clients’ comma usage. Many comma rules are optional, so just that one aspect of our writing can reflect our voice. Add in all the other grammar rules and guidelines, and we can see how grammar—and our choices of when and how to break those rules—can affect our voice.

For another example, in my editing feedback, whenever I comment on a writer’s choice of paragraph breaks, I point out that they should feel free to ignore my note because their choice of where to break paragraphs can be a grammar-related voice thing. Paragraph lengths not only affect what’s emphasized in our writing, but they also create voice, pacing, and rhythm, just like our sentences do.

I also love Julie’s point about how we could look at our natural voice to see what genre might be a good match for us. Especially if we have a perfectionistic streak or harbor self-doubt about whether it’s okay to break the “rules,” we might be more comfortable with a genre that works well with our natural writing style.

However we look at it, the better we understand the rules—and the elements of our writing that affect readers (like voice, pacing, emotions, etc.)—the better we’ll be able to ensure that our readers are taking away the impression we want. If a paragraph is falling flat, we want to understand how even the little things like punctuation might be able to fix our work. *smile*

Do you consider yourself a grammar nerd? Or do you not know a comma splice from a participle phrase? Have you ever instinctively used grammar elements to strengthen or affect your writing? Do you think it’s helpful to understand the rules before we break them? Do you have any questions for Julie?

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Ampersand symbol with text: 7 Tips for Writing Partnerships

I know several authors who write with a partner. One of the writing partnerships I’m most familiar with is that of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, the team behind the Emotion Thesaurus and the new One Stop for Writers website.

But that’s non-fiction. Fiction writing with a partner is far different because tone, voice, character development, and story structure all play a part and must mesh well together for the story to work.

What if one author wants the story to go one way and the other wants something else? What if one wants a lighter, more humorous feel? What if the authors have very different ideas for a character’s flaws or motivations?

On the surface, it seems impossible. Yet successful writing partnerships are all around us. I can think of several published writing teams off the top of my head, and as they often use a single pen name in the fiction world, more books than we know are probably written by co-authors.

How do they do it? Why do they do it? What are the pros and cons? Would it work for us?

Jennifer Hale is one-half of a writing team (with Holly Mora), and she’s here today to share seven tips she’s learned along their journey. Please welcome Jennifer Hale! *smile*


7 Tips for a Successful Writing Partnership

Writing partners. Do you have one? Have you ever considered it? Sharing the work? Having a constant sounding board; an endless source of inspiration?

Or do you cringe at the idea of letting someone see inside the chaos of your creative brain? Well, sometimes, it’s really not up to you.

We’re Jenn and Holly. We’ve known each other since our high-schoolers were in kindergarten and we shared the job of room mom, way before we learned we were steered by a common muse.

Each of us spent many of our mommy years dreaming of the day when we could get the words on paper, writing ideas on Target receipts and scheming up character names with interesting pasts attached to them.

When One Thing Leads to Another…

I learned about Holly’s writing interests after a dinner party a few years ago. She had just quit her job to write. She belonged to a writing group. It was serious business. She wasn’t just thinking about it. She was actually doing it.

I told her that I’d always wanted to write, so she invited me to the next meeting. It was there, in Karen’s living room, surrounded by other serious writers, that I first considered my writing dream a real possibility.

The next year, Holly and I started a blog and began writing a regular newspaper column for the Orange County Register. We shared ideas and edited each other’s work for months. With all that collaboration, it seemed like the natural next step to co-author a book.

Co-Authorship Is a Serious Decision

As with any business venture—and writing a book is more business than most authors would like to admit—there are challenges. The crux of a writing partnership is the relationship, and when you mix in passionate opinions about fictional characters, it can get tricky.

Getting a traditional publishing deal (if that’s your goal), may also be tough. We’ve heard that some agents and editors don’t want to work with author pairs.

And don’t forget that a good book must have consistency of voice, pacing and style. Can two authors deliver that? YES!

7 Tips to Make a Writing Partnership Work

Holly and I have found that the benefits of collaboration far outweigh the challenges, truly. If you’ve ever considered such a match, here are seven powerful tips that have helped us along the way:

Tip #1: Have a Common Focus

I know it sounds like a given but it’s easy to get swept away in the excitement before ensuring that you have the same ideals.

These are the essentials:

  • genre,
  • major themes,
  • publishing goals (self, indie, traditional),
  • division of labor,
  • timelines, and
  • contingency plans.

If all those things align, your foundation is set. Details will work themselves out later. Sounds like pre-marital counseling, huh?

Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid of Giving and Receiving Criticism

If you’re not practiced in either one of these, you have work to do before you’re ready to commit to an honest, reciprocal writing partnership. Communication is critical to staving off resentment. Talk about it all and have plans in place.

For example, what do you do with that scene or character or detail that one of you absolutely adores while the other can’t stand it? Maybe it stays until the draft is complete and then it’s revisited, or maybe you have your beta readers (or husbands) vote. Talk to each other.

Tip #3: Be Willing to Be a Cheerleader

If there’s one guarantee about the writing process, it’s the occasional crisis of confidence. And when it happens, you have each other to pull out the pom-poms (otherwise known as wine or chocolate, or both), and kick that doubt out the door.

This is one of the best parts of sharing the writing journey. Motivation and excitement and perspective are in ample supply.

Tip #4: Trust Your Partner and Be Trustworthy

Honesty starts with knowing your own limitations. Knowing what you can commit to and following through on those commitments. Open communication and flexible planning are critical to keeping things balanced and moving the project forward.

Trust comes with time and experience so don’t rush it. Have lots of meetings and hash-out sessions, thoughtfully considering all the logistics before you jump into a writing relationship. (This gig really is like a marriage.)

Tip #5: Push Your Envelope and Challenge Each Other

Think outside the box and be willing to explore new ideas that take you out of your comfort zone. Safe sometimes equates to boring. Take each other on otherwise risky adventures and be open.

For example, when your partner wants to introduce a time traveler to the story and you can’t wrap your head around the space-time continuum, just go with it. See what happens. At least one of you will be able to write that part.

Tip #6: Look Forward to Writing Time

Planning and writing sessions are critical. Holly and I have a standing writing date every Monday morning. We have a few favorite spots where she gets coffee, I get tea (or a Diet Coke) and we share an array of pastries—a happy mind is a creative one, after all.

If possible, schedule writing retreats, weekends away to immerse yourself, escape from the distractions of your life, and WRITE with abandon!! If you can mix in a couple webinars on the craft and writing conferences, even better.

Tip #7: Be Understanding…and Patient…and Flexible

The excitement and motivation, the frustration and writers’ block, the disappointment and the dreaminess, all these things will ebb and flow.

There will be times when life, family, the job that pays, burn-out, rejection, or any combination thereof, will attempt to steer you off course. You may need to take a break here and there. That’s OK!

Just have a plan and talk about it. Have another project or place to focus your creative energy during those times when you and your writing partner are out of sync. But no matter what, don’t give up.

Our Process

Our process includes lots of lists and research and outlines. Our book, a Young Adult Paranormal Adventure, is written with two points of view, which simplifies things. Holly writes the male protagonist’s POV and I write the female’s, alternating chapters.

When we meet, we read what we’ve written to each other, discuss needed changes and take notes. When editing, we can easily spend twenty minutes on a sentence.

We read TONS of books on writing, in our genre and out. We listen to music, we post pictures of our characters on Facebook, we write blog posts, we have a Pinterest page dedicated to inspiration and we fall in love with our story over and over again.

Because we have each other.

Kismet. That’s what we call it. Fate. That’s what we believe.

It isn’t always easy or fast or as productive as it should. But whose writing journey is? Of one thing we are absolutely, undeniably certain: our book is infinitely better because of two hearts and two minds and two writers.

Write on, friends.


Jennifer HaleJennifer Hale writes young adult fiction with her writing partner Holly Mora. When she’s not working on FORGED, book one of The Power of 7 trilogy, you’ll find her blogging about her writing escapades and other things like the inappropriate wardrobes of teens and the truth about lice.

You can find her at their blog

Jennifer Hale's blog


Thank you, Jennifer! I think many authors have thought about writing a book with a friend, and this post gives the perfect dose of motivation—and reality. *grin*

With the wrong partner, we can be faced with endless problems, even if we successfully publish. As Jennifer said, this really is a business partnership, and an agreement or contract should be drawn up to cover the details, especially those dealing with money.

At the same time, there’s no question that many authors are successful at making their writing partnership work. With the right person, we’d always have someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to share the workload, and someone to tell us when we heading in the wrong direction.

With these tips, hopefully we have a better way to judge whether a writing friend could also be a good writing partner. And in the often lonely world of writing, maybe learning how to be a good writing partner can help us be a good writing friend as well. *smile*

Have you ever thought of writing a book with someone else? If you didn’t pursue it, why not? If you did, what happened (good or bad)? Do you have any other tips to share? Do you have any questions for Jennifer?

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Observation Scope overlooking Toronto skyline with text: How to be a Better People Watcher

We’re now past the halfway point in NaNoWriMo. Yay! (Or Boo! if you’re as behind on word count as I am.) I’m still plugging along, but I know I wouldn’t be nearly as successful without the help of my guest posters this month.

I’m excited for today’s post because it ties in so well with issues we’ve talked about before as far as showing and not telling. I’ve mentioned before that one of the things the Emotion Thesaurus book can help us with is to avoid “naming” emotions.

But Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, the brains behind the ET, also recognize that it’s best to add our own spin to all those emotional cues we use to show our characters’ emotions. In fact, their One Stop for Writers website (which takes the ET and puts it at our fingertips with several other online tools) includes a My Notes section for us to add our personalized observations.

Sounds great, right? Otherwise all the legions of writers who love the ET might start sounding too similar when we all use the same wording for emotional cues. *smile*

But how do we learn what and how to observe? How do we develop that skill and turn it into something we can use in our writing?

Laurel Garver has the answer for us. She’s practiced this skill for a long time and has tips for how to start, what to watch for, and even for how to organize our notes. Yay!

Laurel’s proposal for this guest post came on the same day I learned about the My Notes section of One Stop for Writers, and I decided that was a sign of perfect synchronicity from the universe. Her great post only reinforces that impression.

Please welcome Laurel Garver! *smile*


Harnessing Your Emotional Intelligence:
Tips for Fiction Writers

How do you know the woman behind you in line at the store is annoyed, or that your mother is happy to see you? You read their facial expressions and body language. And chances are, you’re pretty accurate at reading others, because it is a skill you’ve been perfecting since infancy.

So why is it, when you sit down to write a highly emotional scene, that you struggle to portray how your characters behave toward one another? I’d argue that you have let your innate emotional intelligence remain a subconscious function. The trick to harnessing it for your writing is to make your people-reading skill a conscious process.

Become an Observer

How do you do that? Mentally shift gears from autopilot to analyst when you’re out and about doing all the normal things you do in daily life.

Really look at that annoyed woman in the ten-customer line at Walmart.

  • How does she carry her body?
  • What does she do with her hands and arms?
  • Her legs and feet?
  • How stiff or relaxed is her spine and neck?
  • And how about her face?
  • Take a mental inventory of the shape and positioning of the eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, jaw and forehead.
  • Listen to the spontaneous sounds she emits (sighs, grunts) and words she expresses.

Next, write down everything you see and hear. The more different kinds of people you can observe (varied ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds), the more quality raw material you will have from which to build accurate, unique descriptions of characters showing emotion.

Start an Observation Journal

I was first introduced to the concept of a movement journal in a college acting course. We were required to watch people and record our observations about how they conveyed emotion through expression, gesture, and posture in order to better embody characters on stage.

I found the exercise helpful for far more than our college theatre productions. The act of analyzing postures and gestures, and further, putting them into descriptive language, radically improved my fiction writing. My characters no longer “looked sad,” they curled in on themselves with sagging brows, downturned mouths, lower lips extended in a pout.

Concentrate on the Elements that Show

Taking the time to develop your emotional intelligence from a reflex to a conscious awareness will pay off hugely in your work. Your readers will appreciate the time you take to give them the cues rather than simply labeling an emotion (“Reese looked relieved”) because they engage at a deeper level with emotions they’ve had to interpret themselves.

Think about it. What affects you more, reading that Syrian refugees “are terrified,” or seeing one refugee family huddled together? Doesn’t the naming of the emotion seem to tame it, to make it an abstract concept?

The visual that you’ve had to read for emotional cues, meanwhile, will elicit a far more visceral response. Your emotional center, rather than your think-y intellect, has been put to work making sense of it.

How to Build an Emotion-Focused Observation Journal

Observing and journaling emotional expression is a type of research you can do nearly anywhere. Those previously unproductive hours stuck at your kids’ sports practices, doctors’ waiting rooms, airports, overcrowded stores, the DMV, etc. can be transformed into a rich laboratory for character development. The data you gather can be used again and again in any fiction project.

Here are some key things to observe in developing your emotions repertoire:


Look at the subject’s general stance and note the following:

  • What parts of the body are relaxed or rigid?
  • What do you notice about the overall posture or carriage of the spine?
  • How does the subject hold his/her head and neck?
  • How about the shoulders? Are they high, low, bunched, sagging?
  • How does the subject hold his/her arms and hands?
  • What are the positions of the hips, legs, and feet?

Jot quick descriptions of each part of the subject’s posture. Draw or doodle the subject’s posture, noting key elements that make it distinct. (For example, how are defeated spines different from elated ones?)


What motions does the subject make with his or her body?

Watch how the subject moves his/her:

  • head
  • neck
  • shoulders
  • arms
  • hands
  • spine
  • hips
  • knees
  • legs
  • feet

Are the movements:

  • slow or fast?
  • gentle or violent?
  • smooth or choppy?
  • practiced or haphazard?
  • elegant or sloppy?

Jot descriptions of the gestures with as many strong verbs and bold adjectives as you can think up. Draw cartoon panels depicting the most distinct gestures.


The face is where emotion is most prevalently shown. Drawing the expression first will help you most to describe it verbally.

  • Is the forehead relaxed, or do the muscles draw it upward or downward?
  • What is the position of the eyebrows—raised, lowered, drawn together?
  • Are the eyes widened, narrowed, looking a particular direction (up, down, side to side)?
  • Are the nostrils relaxed, flared, or in-drawn?
  • How about the mouth? Is it relaxed or tight? Curved upward or downward? Somewhat twisted? Slack?
  • Do any teeth show? Is an upper, lower, or corner of a lip pinched between teeth?
  • How about the jaw? Is it relaxed or tight? Does the subject tap or grind his or her teeth behind closed lips?

Consider also the overall shape of the face as expressions combine. Sadness has more muscle slackness or droop, while agitation has pinchedness and elation has widening and openness. Have an eye to the macro of the micro so that you can also write effective emotional expression with economy.

Keep in mind that nearly everyone can and will give deceptive facial expressions in the right circumstances. Think of the faked smiles that come out each Christmas when the kids open lame, age-inappropriate gifts from a distant great aunt. In instances where you believe a subject’s face belies the real emotion, look for postures and gestures that might indicate unease or a competing emotion.


Does the subject emit any sounds when expressing the emotion? Perhaps they grunt, suck air through their teeth, growl, sniff, or throat-clear.

Try to not only name the sounds, but also replicate them phonetically. In doing this, you will notice more detail about the quality of the sound and will be better able to describe it.For example, an exasperated sigh has more low, growling tones (uuungh) in it than a resigned sigh (hiiueh).

How does the subject speak about his/her feelings? Listen especially for:

  • the tone of his/her voice
  • descriptions of their sensations (“my legs ache”)
  • indirect references that expose inner motives or concerns (“are you going to open another register?”)
  • unique slang
  • idioms (definition and examples)
  • metaphors and similes
  • hyperbole

Shamelessly steal any colorful turn of phrase that strikes you (with the caveat these are spontaneous utterances overheard in a public place).

Organize Our Journal by Emotion

A special challenge for this kind of catch-as-catch-can research is keeping it organized. I highly recommend having a dedicated journal for this purpose with each emotion given several pages for your jots and doodles. Carry it with you as you go about the daily tasks of life and you can turn previously “wasted” hours into productive craft-building time.

If creating such a tool for yourself seems daunting, consider using my ready-made observation journaling tool, Emotions in the Wild, which has guided journaling exercises to help you gather observations on 39 different emotions.


Laurel GarverLaurel Garver is a Philadelphia-based genre-hopping writer. Her latest release is Emotions in the Wild: A Writer’s Observation Journal, a tool for fiction writers. She is also author of Never Gone, young adult fiction, and Muddy-fingered Midnights, poems.

An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys singing, hiking, and geeking out about Dr. Who and Harry Potter with her husband and daughter. By day, she works as managing editor of a scholarly journal on modernist-era literary criticism. You can find her on Twitter (@LaurelGarver), Facebook, and her blog, Laurel’s Leaves.


About Emotions in the Wild: A Writer’s Observation Journal

Emotions in the Wild coverAre you seeking to make your fiction more emotionally true, your characterizations deeper, and your character interactions more dynamic?

The best way to bring more emotion to your fiction is research it “in the wild,” through observation.

Emotions in the Wild will help you do just that. This series of guided journaling exercises will help you develop both broad and deep understanding of emotion as you people watch and record your observations.

Better yet, it will keep your observations organized so that you can use them again and again to enhance any fiction project. Once completed, the Emotions in the Wild journal will become your personal “emotions bible,” your go-to source for building emotionally-charged scenes in your own authorial voice.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository


Thank you, Laurel! I love the idea of making our subconscious skills conscious (that’s a big part of what I focus on in my posts too) because you’re absolutely right that the more we’re aware of what we do subconsciously, the better we can emphasize it in our writing.

So this post is perfect for getting us to think about our natural people-watching skills. I’ve known romance authors who don’t know how to flirt themselves but can depict the actions in their stories because they’ve learned to observe the signs in others.

Even if we already have the Emotion Thesaurus memorized, adding our personal observations will help us portray those cues in our voice. Those of us subscribed to One Stop for Writers could capture our observations in a notebook or Laurel’s Emotions in the Wild journal and later transfer them to our My Notes section if we wanted.

Sometimes watching people express their emotions in a real-world setting can help us add layers or movement to our writing. Instead of a bare description of “tapping nails on a surface,” we might get ideas from watching a woman tapping her long bright-pink manicured nails on the metal edge of a Walmart conveyor belt at the check out counter.

In other words, details can bring the images we show to life. And the details we notice in the real world are a never-ending supply of ideas for our stories. *smile*

Do you enjoy people-watching? What’s the most interesting detail you’ve noticed during a mundane activity? Have you used tools from other disciplines (like this one from acting) to help you develop your writing craft? What unproductive times might your reclaim by journaling your observations of movement and emotion? Do you have other tips to add, or questions for Laurel?

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Front of columned courthouse building with text: Legally Speaking: Get the Details Right

One of the coolest aspects of being a reader (if you ask me) is the chance to live so many lives. As readers, we get to experience all types of characters, backgrounds, jobs, settings, etc. We’re not stuck with just one life.

A similar benefit applies to writers. As writers, we get to research and learn about anything we want. Depending on our genre, we might learn about rocket propulsion, the Australian outback, or modern blacksmiths.

Some writers might feel intimidated or frustrated by research, but I love it. If I’m not learning something new every day, I feel like I haven’t lived.

For me, the research necessary for a book is a great excuse to keep learning. Sometimes, I’ve even thought about what I wanted to learn about and decided on a book’s setting or a character’s situation based on what I feel like researching. *grin*

The problem comes when we think we know something, so we make assumptions without doing the research. One area many of us assume we know is the justice system.

Here in the U.S., there’s been no end to the TV shows and movies depicting lawyers and the legal system. So it’s easy to think that we “know stuff.”

In reality though, those sources don’t always get it right, and many times the legal system can touch our stories without entering a courtroom. So we might need to know more about the law than we think. As a bonus, if we expand our knowledge, we might also expand our story ideas in ways that get away from the clichés.

Today, Karen A. Wyle is here to share insights—and story ideas!—about the law, lawyers, and the justice system to help our writing. Please welcome Karen A. Wyle! *smile*


4 Legal Areas of Interest to Authors
and Story Ideas to Exploit Them

When books and movies feature lawyers and legal goings-on, the lawyers in the audience are likely to end up cringing. Divorces tried before a jury? Almost nowhere!

Defense lawyers agonizing over the possibility that the client is guilty? Not unless they’re fresh out of law school and/or entirely unfamiliar with criminal defense work.

The doctrine of double jeopardy allowing a convicted murderer to track down and kill the not-actually-dead victim? Uh-uh.

Thundering cross-examinations leading to shouted or blubbered confessions? Almost no judge would allow such treatment of a witness.

And speaking of murders and cross-examinations, they make up a pretty high percentage of legal drama, don’t they? But there’s so much more story potential to be found in the law. Here are a few scenarios you could explore without repeating either familiar plots or familiar errors.

Scenario #1: Divorce—When It Happens Makes A Big Difference

Hostility, heartbreak, struggles over property both valuable or symbolic, miscommunications: these are all likely elements in tales of a marriage falling apart. But the mechanics have changed a great deal with time, and those differences could have a big impact on your story.

Before things started changing in 1970, married couples in the U.S. could only obtain a divorce based on “fault,” usually meaning misconduct of one—and only one—of the spouses.

The “fault” could be adultery, or abandonment for some specified period of time, or deliberate infliction of physical or emotional pain (often called “cruelty”), or commission of a felony that landed a spouse in prison. Sometimes, the hardly intentional or culpable ground of “impotence” or other inability to have sexual intercourse also sufficed.

Defenses to an action for divorce included the “them too” defense, known as “recrimination.” Success with this defense resulted in a Pyrrhic victory: the mutually misbehaving couple remained married.

Story Ideas for Divorce: Faking a Fault

What if both spouses wanted out of the marriage, but neither or both had committed adultery or any of the rest? It was actually common for the spouses and their attorneys to put on a fictional performance in court, most often with the wife testifying that the husband had been physically abusive or unfaithful.

Sometimes, the couple would arrange for the wife to come home and find the husband with a supposed lover hired for the occasion, but the wife’s testimony would still contain some falsehoods as to the context of this “discovery.”

If the court decided to notice the staged nature of the event, it would find “collusion” and deny the divorce. The couple might then bite the proverbial bullet and arrange for one of them actually to commit an action that would justify the divorce.

You could take the struggle to get a divorce in as serious or farcical direction as you please. Your couple could be sophisticated types, ready to shed the marriage and move on, cheerfully contriving more and more extreme scenarios.

Or a couple who loathe the sight of each other could encounter a judge who refuses to bend the rules, and one spouse’s growing frustration could erupt in the physical violence that would at last provide adequate grounds for the divorce.

Scenario #2: Trusting Eyewitnesses Too Much

For some undoubtedly interesting reasons based in evolutionary psychology and sociology, we tend to believe people who tell us what they’ve seen and heard. If they declare it under oath, we believe it even more.

The trouble is that eyewitness testimony is far less reliable than we’re apparently programmed to assume. There’s been extensive research over the last several decades suggesting that countless people have been convicted based on the sincere but erroneous testimony of eyewitnesses.

We tend to picture our memories as a sort of recording that’s made and then remains unchanged (except for some fading). That isn’t how it actually works. We construct our memories, filling in many blanks with anything from our imaginations to unrelated details.

For example, I might see Joe Blow on the elevator, then leave the building and see a street robbery. I didn’t get a great view of the robber, but I confuse and combine the two memories, so that I remember seeing Joe Blow commit the robbery.

Over time, we also reconstruct our memories; and we believe our reconstructions at least as much as we believe the initial construct. Questioning can also plant false memories.

In one experiment, test subjects who had visited Disneyland as children were shown what looked like advertisements featuring Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. Then they were asked if on those childhood visits, they had shaken hands with an employee dressed as Bugs Bunny. Quite a few of them remembered that experience—even though Bugs Bunny isn’t a Disney character and wouldn’t (absent some unlikely practical joke) be at Disneyland at all.

Story Ideas for Eyewitnesses: False Memories

Memory distortion due to questioning is even more likely in children than in adults. These days, with allegations of sexual abuse becoming common in contested custody proceedings, it’s all too likely that either parental or official questioning may be shaping children’s memories in ways that undermine or destroy their relationship with a parent. You could tell such a story from that parent’s or a child’s point of view.

Or you could try the POV of a witness who finds it impossible to believe that their memory has been contaminated; or of a victim who testified against the person they thought had attacked them, only to come to the horrified realization years later that their memories were tainted and unreliable.

Scenario #3: When the Innocent Plead Guilty

Most cases, civil and criminal, never actually go to trial. Criminal cases are usually settled by “plea bargains.”

In a plea bargain, a prosecutor offers to let the defendant plead guilty to a lesser charge than the one the defendant initially facing, or to one of several charges, and/or to receive a lighter sentence than the defendant could get if convicted of the charged crime.

This is possible because prosecutors get to decide whether to press a particular charge. The defendant may have a lawyer present, even if they can’t afford one and the county has to pay the bill; but in that case, the lawyer will be a terribly overworked public defender who couldn’t possibly manage unless almost all their clients plead guilty.

Story Ideas for Plea Bargains: Innocent but “Guilty”

Obviously ripe for dramatic treatment: the dilemma of a falsely accused prisoner who for whatever combination of reasons (e.g., poor or no legal representation, or highly misleading circumstantial evidence) feels compelled to plead guilty and agree to years of imprisonment.

You could also focus on a judge who has some reason to doubt the guilt of a defendant who’s just “copped a plea.”

Two variants on plea bargains are “no contest” or “nolo contendere” pleas, where the defendant is essentially telling the State, “Maybe I didn’t do it, but punish me anyway,” and “Alford pleas,” where the defendant still doesn’t admit guilt, but does admit that the State has enough evidence to get a conviction.

Some states won’t accept one or the other or both of these pleas in cases involving sexual misconduct, but in those that do, a convicted defendant could find himself in a serious quandary. Sentences for sexual crimes may include, as a condition of probation or parole, an order that the defendant complete a counseling program.

Such programs typically require those attending to admit guilt. Otherwise, they’re “resisting” therapy, and could be kicked out of the counseling program. That in turn could be treated as a probation or parole violation, which could send the defiant defendant to prison.

You could vary the idea I mentioned above, with your innocent defendant succumbing to the pressure to accept a no contest or Alford plea because at least it didn’t mean admitting guilt and then being sent to one of these counseling programs.

Scenario #4: Murder Without Killing

If a defendant is something of a bad guy, and really unlucky—what in Yiddish we’d call a schlemiel—they can be guilty of murder without killing anybody.

That’s right: if somebody dies as a result of something the defendant or a partner of crime does while committing a felony, the defendant may have committed “felony murder.” And the penalty for felony murder can be just like the penalty for any other kind.

Story Ideas for Felony Murder: An Unlucky Chain of Events

States differ as to what sorts of felonies can lead to a felony murder charge if someone dies, but violent felonies are most likely to qualify. A few states include a wider range of felonies: there have been felony murder convictions upheld for helping a minor obtain alcohol or assisting in illegal drug possession.

The death doesn’t necessarily have to result directly from any act of the defendant. For example, in some states, if a police officer fires at the fleeing culprits and the bullet hits an innocent bystander or one of the defendant’s accomplices, that still counts.

The idea is that the defendant set off the chain of events that led to the shooting and the resulting death.

Traditionally, felony murder could carry the death penalty if the felony fell (so to speak) within certain categories, typically arson, rape, or robbery. However, since 1982, a felony murder conviction can’t lead to a death sentence for a defendant who participated in the felony with no intent to kill. Choose your chronology based on how dire the danger you want your defendant to face.

If you want to tell a story about someone who gets in way, way over their head, felony murder lets you do it.

Want More Ideas?

There are a great many more areas of the law, both criminal and civil, substantive and procedural, that could provide the basis for compelling fiction. Let me tantalize you with a few:

  • Entrapment: Where the police work really hard to get someone to commit a crime, and then nab the reluctant criminal.
  • Prison Experiences: Being pregnant in prison.
  • Jury Behavior: How juries can (a) misunderstand the law they’re supposed to be applying, or (b) understand it, disapprove of it, and get away with ignoring it.
  • Sentencing Quandries: “Indeterminate sentencing,” where someone could go to prison without knowing whether they’ll be out in time for their daughter’s first day of school, or still rotting there on her wedding day.

If you want more background on the ideas I’ve explained, or on those I’ve just mentioned, or on all the ones I haven’t even hinted at, you can find it in my new reference work, Closest to the Fire: A Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers. Happy writing!


Karen A WyleKaren A. Wyle is an appellate attorney with more than thirty years’ experience. A cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, she worked for law firms and the California Court of Appeal before establishing her solo practice in Bloomington, Indiana. Wyle has filed amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and seven state supreme courts.

She has also written and published five novels. One-quarter of her novel Division is set a near-future courtroom. Find Karen at her website, Facebook, or Twitter.


Closest to the Fire book coverAbout Closest to the Fire: A Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers:

Write about the law—and get it right!

The world of law and lawyers, with its suspense, its moral quandaries, and its ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter, provides wonderful material for fiction. This guide will help writers explore these many story possibilities—while avoiding the also-numerous pitfalls awaiting the unwary author.

Included throughout the book are ideas for stories or story elements based on the content and available for the readers’ use.

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Thank you, Karen! Even your book’s Table of Contents makes it obvious that the legal world intersects with the normal world far more than we’re aware.

TV and movies have made courtroom dramas near-cliché, but there are so many story ideas beyond that setting. Our story doesn’t have to be about the law or lawyers or the legal system to benefit from the drama and conflict surrounding the concepts of justice.

And just as much as we’d want to get the usage of “Objection!” and “Overruled!” right, we want to get the other scenarios right too. Now I’m hoping I haven’t messed up anything in my stories too badly. *smile*

Have you seen a story include legal elements poorly? What did they get wrong? Did any of the scenarios share information you weren’t aware of? Did any of the scenarios or story ideas spark brainstorming for you? Do you have any questions for Karen?

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5 Common Myths about Emotions — Guest: Kassandra Lamb

November 10, 2015 Writing Stuff
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We all have emotions, so we all think we know how to write them. However, sometimes the best writing comes from exposing an emotional truth that we’re hiding from ourselves. So the better we understand emotions, the better our stories will resonate with our readers.

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Self-Publishing? What’s Your Release Plan?

November 5, 2015 Writing Stuff
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A common question among those getting ready to indie publish is “Should I use pre-orders or just publish right away?” My monthly guest post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University is digging deeper into our options for our release schedule and talking about the pros and cons for each choice.

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5 Tips for Finding Point-of-View Errors — Guest: Marcy Kennedy

November 3, 2015 Writing Stuff
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As we learn writing craft, we often go through phases. Just when we think we know everything there is to know, we discover another area to learn. One area I struggle with, even though I know the rules, is out-of-POV phrases. Luckily, one of my editors is a genius at finding these, and she’s here to share her tips.

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Release News! Do Your Plans Succeed?

October 29, 2015 News
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Yesterday marked the release of my fourth book, Ironclad Devotion, and I think I’m going to collapse now. This release marks the end of my “master plan,” also known as my daisy-chain release schedule. I first came up with that plan about a year ago, and I can’t quite believe it actually worked.

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Digging into Research: Consider the Source

October 27, 2015 Writing Stuff
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Last week, we talked about how we can add diversity to our stories in a respectful way, and no matter what kind of story we write, we’re probably going to need to research something. Whether we’re referring to an aspect of diversity, a setting, or a character’s job, we can’t know everything about everything.

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