Posts Tagged ‘On Writing’

NaNoWriMo: Preptober Week 4

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

Hello, my pretties, and welcome back to NaNoWriMo: Preptober planning! If you missed an earlier post, have no fear! Here are some helpful links:

Week 1: Preplanning

Week 2: The Who, What & Where of Your Novel

Week 3: Outlining Your Novel

And now, for Week 4! We’re in the home stretch, so this post will focus on the practicality of writing, creating a habit that will get you in the chair every day for thirty days.

Because remember: butt + chair = productivity.

1. Break it Down

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: 50,000 words in thirty days is a huge task. The best way to tackle it is to break it down into smaller, manageable chunks.

Breaking out (and dusting off) my handy calculator, I note that this translates to 1666.66 words/day. I recommend rounding that up to 1700 words/day or about 5.5 pages. This gives you a 1000 word cushion because, yes, my pretties, you will have some days when you write 2500+ words like a freaking goddess and other days where you’re struggling to get 10 words on the screen/page.

And you know what? That’s perfectly normal. I’ve written 7 novels and 1 novella now, and that’s been my daily experience. Having daily goals helps me let go of my disappointment if I don’t hit goal every day. With some days better and some days worse, it’ll all come out in the wash.

But yes, it does mean writing every single day, which is good, because even more important than getting your 50K novel written, NaNo is best for creating a habit of writing.

So lock in those daily goals and track them somewhere you can see your progress at a glance. I use this Writing & Revision Tracker by Jamie Raintree. It’s worth the cheap price, and it will tally your productivity through the whole year. I love it.

If you’re not into high tech, a simple notebook or Bullet Journal will do.

2. Butt in Chair

Carving out writing time can be a serious challenge because a lot of us are super busy. The best way to do this is to look closely at your daily schedule and make a change.

Do you linger in bed for a half hour, looking at your phone? Do you spend hours on FaceBook? Are you level gajillion in your fave RPG? Are you binge-watching Netflix?

Use that time to write instead.

Get up early. Stay up late. Miss your favorite TV show. Get off FaceBook. Do you want people to remember that you Liked their page 10,000 times or that you wrote that awesome book they loved?

3. Turn off the Inner Editor

Okay, so you have your daily goals and your butt is in the chair. You’re staring at that blank page, and it is intimidating you the way Darth Vader intimidates Death Star employees. Your inner editor is telling you how much you suck, that your writing’s no good.

What now? 

Relax. Turn on some music that inspires you. Light a scented candle. Take a few deep breaths. Go over your outline.

Most importantly, let go of the idea of writing perfectly. Give yourself permission to suck. Give yourself permission to write crap. 

No writer, not even the most famous, most talented writer gets it right on the first try. You may have heard that “perfect is the enemy of good.” That’s more true than I can say.

More importantly, you can’t edit a blank page. And NaNo isn’t about creating a perfect bestselling novel right out of the gate. It’s about gathering your materials, getting the bones of your story down, shoveling sand into the sandbox so you can build sandcastles later.

So shovel away, my pretties. Silence the inner editor and let the words flow. Even when they suck.

4. Shut Out Those Distractions

You’ve probably also heard that writing is 10% getting words on a page and 90% staying off the Internet. This is also true. We have a million distractions at our fingertips every day. Cell phones, Internet access, TV, family, work…

First, I use noise-canceling headphones to cocoon myself in music. Not only does this close out unwanted sounds, it also signals to others in my vicinity that I don’t want to be engaged. Even if you don’t actually listen to music, have the headphones in, especially if you write at the local Starbucks.

The rest is about looking shrewdly at your habits and changing them.

  • Do you check your phone incessantly? Leave it on your nightstand.
  • Do you check the Internet all the time? Use Write or Die or another program that shuts you out of your fave sites.
  • Do you have trouble focusing? Break up your writing sessions into sprints. I use the Pomodoro technique, which breaks up your sessions into 25 minutes of work with a 5 minute break. This allows you to stretch, freshen up your coffee (tea for me!), hit the bathroom, check to make sure the kids aren’t playing Hunger Games… You know, normal stuff.

Getting rid of those distractions is key to productivity, and who knows? Less time on the Internet might just be a good thing, too.

5. Keeping motivation high

You might find that the first few days you’re really excited, and it’s easy to get motivated, but then, as the month plods onward, you realize what a lot of writers already know:

Writing is super isolating! There’s no one to pat you on the back, no one to loom over you and make sure you’re hitting your goals. It’s just you, baby. And that can be hard.

That’s where NaNo really excels. NaNoWriMo has an entire community you can engage with. From pep talks by famous authors like Neil Gaiman and Charlaine Harris to forums to special events, there’s enough here for introverts and extroverts, plotters and pantsers alike.

One of my personal tricks when motivation is low is to watch short scenes that inspire me. Those climactic battles, tear-jerker endings, heartfelt admissions. I find that reminding myself of the story moments I love helps motivate me to go write my own.

You can also try things like: taking a walk, working out, taking a shower, drawing, coloring–any endeavor where your body can move and your subconscious can be free to just…drift.

All right, my pretties! That’s all for now. I hope these posts have helped make your Preptober the best one yet!

If there’s a topic you’d like me to cover in NaNo November, drop me a line here, and I’ll do my level best.

Slán go fóill!


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NaNoWriMo: Preptober Week 3

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Welcome back, my pretties, to Preptober: Week 3! Last week, we discussed the who, what, and where of your story–your main character (MC), their Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts, and how to detail your setting.

This week, we’ll go a little deeper into the what. Namely, what happens in your book, the plot.

But first, it’s good to know that there are two basic different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Like it sounds, plotters plot out their “what happens,” while pantsers dive right in, writing away until their plot becomes evident. They “fly by the seat of their pants,” as it were.

Full disclosure: I’m a plotter with pantsing tendencies. That is, I plot heavily, using a structured outline, but if/when my characters diverge from that, I let them. Especially in the early drafting stages.

Why am I telling you this? Because my Week 3 is mostly about plotting. If that’s not your jam, don’t worry! There are plenty of articles out there for pantsing like this one from Janalyn Voight.

All righty, plotters, get ready.

Step 1: Write the short version

Through much trial and error, I’ve found that having a one-sentence pitch or summary is a great way to stay on track. It condenses your story, distilling it into its component parts.

So, write this first! In the dark of night, when you’re out in the weeds with your plot, you can come back to this to remind yourself “What in the heck am I writing again?”

I use the following template:


Let’s try it for a few well-known books:

When Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the inhumane and violent Hunger Games to save her sister, she finds herself a pawn in the corrupt Capitol’s plan to pit teenagers against each other in a brutal game of death.

When Harry Potter finds out he’s no ordinary boy but a famous wizard, he must master the classes at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to fight the world’s most deadly and infamous evil wizard, Voldemort.

See? I told you it works. 😉

If you’re having trouble with this, go back to Preptober: Week 2 and review.

Another great side effect is that you can use the one-sentence summary to query agents, publishers, editors, etc. Also, say goodbye to dreading the question, “What’s your story about?” Now when someone asks, you have a ready-made answer!

Step 2: Outline

I know, it sounds like a horrible waste of time. I promise you, it’s not. To “win” NaNoWriMo, you have to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Even the most professional writer needs help to stay on task at that rate!

There are many different ways to outline, and I’ve found it’s more of a personal choice than anything else. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat: A bit dated, but this book on screen-writing is invaluable for breaking down story into its necessary “beats.” Its easy to read and concise, and the website has beat sheets from several famous movies like Guardian of the Galaxy, Jaws, E.T., and many other movies.

Save the Cat is what I use, but try it out for yourself. Every writer is different, and your mileage may vary.

2. Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel: This novel from an industry expert details all the necessary elements of a next-level story–from emotional impacts to universal appeals and ways to make your story rise above the crowd. There’s also acompanion workbook with exercises.

3. Robert McKee’s Story: A lot of people swear by this book, which is why I’m including it. McKee breaks down story structure and character and how they relate. Very intensive and exhaustive.

In addition to these fine sources, there are tons of sites and blogs about NaNo outlining like this one from Sofia Wren on using postcards to plot out your characters, setting, etc.

No matter what outlining style you use, there are a few things to remember when plotting your story:


1. Remember your favorite books? Chances are, the characters were interesting and dynamic, and the plot was filled with dramatic, memorable events

2. To hook readers, use universal emotions: love, hate, jealousy, hope, anger, fear, etc. Readers relate easiest to characters who feel the things they do.

3. Don’t be afraid to hurt your character. A story in which nothing bad happens isn’t much of a story.

4. Have internal AND external conflict. A story with only internal conflict will seem to happen only in the MC’s head while a story with only external conflict will make a character feel emotionally distant. Ask: what does the MC stand to lose–emotionally and physically? To gain?

5. Don’t be afraid to be original. This is often the challenge of writing–how do you create something original yet also appropriate for your genre? You learn the rules of your genre, and then you break them. Purposefully.

6. Keep tension rising. In Star Wars, notice how Luke fights Tusken raiders, then stormtroopers, and only AFTER THAT, he fights Darth Vader. If he fought Vader first, the rest would seem anticlimactic. The same goes for your story–keep the action rising, the stakes rising, and the tension will rise as a result.


And that’s plotting in a nutshell. Go forth and conquer, my pretties!

Slán go fóill!


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NaNoWriMo: Preptober Week 2

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Hello, my pretties, and welcome back to Preptober: Week 2!

Last week, we went over a few things to prepare you for diving into NaNoWriMo on November 1st. This week, I’ll talk about my own process for outlining and developing a novel.

And now the obligatory credentials post: I’m a senior editor for a romance e-publisher, and I’ve helped hundreds of authors design, develop, and outline their novels.

I find it’s helpful to start basic: with the who, what, and where of your novel.


1. Who is the story about?

Every story needs a protagonist/main character (MC), and this is a great first step in planning. Designing your MC can help you nail other details down, too. As you develop her, you’ll naturally answer some questions that can be great fodder for conflict and development.

Let’s get started.

If you’re anything like me, it helps to have a few pictures for reference. I find working from a picture can give me things beyond a character’s appearance. It can inspire attitude, wit, strengths–three of the things that make your MC stand out.

My default is Pinterest, and you can see some of my Pinterest boards for Syl Skye, Rouen Rivoche, and other characters from CIRCUIT FAE here.

Once I have my picture, I start asking questions like the ones below. Feel free to skip questions entirely or skip and come back to them.

The idea is to kickstart your creative brainstorming by creating a “character sheet.”

Here are some of the questions I ask:

  1. What is her occupation? Does she enjoy this?
  2. Where was she born? Parents? Siblings?
  3. Where does she live? Does she like it there?
  4. Physical Description: What does she look like?
  5. How do her friends see her? Her enemies?
  6. Who are her friends? Her enemies? Why?
  7. Who are your real-life or fictional inspirations for this MC?
  8. What are her strengths?
  9. What are her weaknesses?
  10. What quirks does she have?
  11. What does she have to overcome in the story?
  12. Does she have a love interest?
  13. How is she better when she’s with her love interest?
  14. What’s keeping them apart?
  15. Describe her bedroom from her point of view (POV)
  16. Add any question you deem important


The goal is to create a memorable MC with strengths, weaknesses, quirks, wants, desires, and conflicts to overcome. To keep the reader’s interest, your MC must be interesting and out of the ordinary in some way, however small. 

For more on in-depth character creation, I recommend Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel.


2. What is your story about?

This one can be tough to lock down, but I find that if you’ve done your homework above, some of this is already taking shape, especially if you are writing a character-driven novel.

The “what” will be shaped by your MC’s Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts (GMCs).

This can be boiled down to three questions:

Goals: What does the MC want?

Motivations: Why does she want it?

Conflicts: What’s keeping her from getting it? 


Take Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope

Goals: To join the Academy

Motivations: Tatooine is hella boring

Conflicts: His aunt/uncle need him on the farm


I know what you’re thinking: Luke’s GMCs change as the story progresses. That’s true! And it’s perfectly all right. As an MC grows, he’s bound to change. Thus, his GMCs change. For now, though, worry about starting GMCs.

NOTE: the more “universal” you can make your MC’s GMCs, the easier you’ll snag the reader’s sympathy/empathy. So use universal emotions: love, hate, fear, jealousy, desire, honor, sorrow, etc.

I’ve always said, No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to save the world today!” No. Luke wants to go to the Academy, to follow in his father’s footsteps. This is something most people understand. It’s also what leads him to saving the world.

Likewise, Rey wants to find her family, to find acceptance, to survive. Bilbo just wants to be able to have second breakfast in peace.

So, for GMCs, universal emotions are best. Your MC’s GMCs will form the backbone of your plot.


3. Where is it set? The time and place

Setting is super important! A good setting is like a character in and of itself, and it’s good to have a bead on this early on.

Again, go back to your character sheet. Have you designed a plucky space pilot? A New York caterer? A down and out gumshoe? An MMA fighter? A dark Fae exiled from her people? Likely, details from your character sheet will inform the type of setting you’ll want.

In addition, if you’ve done your reading-in-the-genre homework, you’ll have a good idea of what settings your genre supports. But don’t be afraid to mix it up! While many fantasies are set in a secondary world like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, others are set in near-modern times like Clare’s The Mortal Instruments.

The important part is to choose a setting the MC can have opinions and feelings about. The setting isn’t going to have dialogue. It’s not going to be overt. It’s subtle, and we learn about it THROUGH the MC.

Thus, we learn that Tatooine is desolate, sandy, and boring because Luke experiences it like that. Plus, it INFORMS his character and lets us relate to him. Being on Tatooine with him, we also long for excitement. That’s why maybe we don’t feel so bad when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru get turned into crispy critters–because we know we’ll be leaving boring old Tatooine for adventure!

All righty! You should have your who, what, where now. Come back next week for bringing those together to drive your plot and conflict.


Slán go fóill!



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NaNoWriMo: Preptober Week 1

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

Hello, my pretties! November is coming up fast, and we know what that means–NaNoWriMo!

For those who might not know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It happens in November, and it challenges writers of all skill levels to complete a rough draft of approximately 50,000 words in one month.

That’s one huuuuuuuuuge task! But I’m here to help you break that huge task down into smaller, more manageable chunks, and soon, you’ll be on your way to completing that 50,000 word draft.

But first, we have to prep. And that, my pretties, is what October (Preptober) is for.

I know, I know. It’s awfully tempting to just wait until November 1st and then dive in all gleeful and in love with the shiny newness of writing our novels. But what I’ve seen is that people who don’t prep don’t finish. They lose the shiny about a week in.

Why? Because writing is hard work. It’s wonderful, but it can be very isolating. The blank page can seem like a monster just waiting to eat up your writing time and leave you with nothing but self-doubt and discouragement. Middles can sag. Endings can elude us. It can seem impossible to even start!

If you really want to hit the ground running on November 1st, then Preptober is essential.

Good news: I’m here to guide you through it!

Being successful at NaNo depends mostly on developing a habit of writing. After all, if you can’t get your butt in your writing chair, you’re not going to get many words on the page.

So say it with me: butt + chair = word count

It sounds silly, but if you’re serious, this will become your mantra in the next few months.

Okay, down to brass tacks: How do you start?

1. Learn more about NaNoWriMo

If you’re new to NaNo, head on over to the NaNoWriMo website and poke around. Start an account if that appeals. If not, no worries! The key to your best productivity is not going to be Use All the Things! Instead, it’s going to be: Use the Things That Work For You.

2. Start brainstorming!

It’s never too early to start brainstorming. If you’re lucky, you might have that awesome novel idea that’s been burning in the back of your brain–the one you just can’t wait to get out on the page. If you’re like that, great!

But if you’re not, you’ll want to start with some questions: What are my favorite books? Why did I enjoy these books? How did reading these books make me feel? Is that what I want my readers to feel? If not, then what emotions do I want to get across to my readers? If I could write any one novel and it’d be an overnight success, what would I write about?

This blog post by Denise Jaden gives some more ideas for harnessing passion to get you through your draft. I love her idea of creating a mission statement!

The key is to jumpstart your brain and your creativity. Ideally, you want a project you’re not just excited about but THRILLED about. That’s what’s going to keep your butt in the chair when the shiny wears off.

3. Gather Supplies

Whether it’s in a notebook or an app, you’ll need somewhere to jot all these ideas down. It’s a good idea to spend some time checking out the different systems like the Bullet Journal for Writers or apps like EverNote.

I use a Bullet Journal spread for monthly word count calculations along with EverNote. Since I’m often away from my desk when inspiration strikes, it’s good to have a note app that syncs across all devices.

You’ll also want to decide whether you’ll be using an app, MS Word, Scrivener, or some other program to do your daily writing. Try them out and see what works for you. There are countless programs. Some, like Scrivener, are very robust. Others are much simpler.

Again: the key is what works for you. After browsing Bullet Journaling for five seconds, you can see how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole. You can spend entire days doing Scrivener tutorials.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the time you spend checking out cool BuJo spreads and playing around with Scrivener is time you’re not writing. And that’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo, right?

To write a novel!

So I caution you to choose something that fits your needs over your wants. Trust me, you don’t need all the bells and whistles. Too much, and it’s just another noisy distraction.

My advice is: use the simplest solution that fits your needs.

4. Read in Your Genre
If you haven’t already, start reading in your genre now. Go online and search for the most popular books in your genre. See if any appeal, and start reading! The best way to get a sense of a genre is to read in it.

If you’re already pretty well versed in your novel’s genre, I recommend re-reading an old favorite, something that gets you fired up and excited about the genre.

Begin reading like a writer. Notice the cadence of the words. Note when you feel excited and when you’re turning the page. Try to see how the author accomplished that. Also note when you’re bored and skimming. Unpacking other authors’ techniques is a next-level writing skill that takes time to develop, but being aware is step one!

5. Come back next week for Preptober: Week 2!

That’s all for now, my pretties! Go forth and conquer. And if you’d like to find me on NaNo, I’m GirlyEngine. 🙂

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How to Deal With Rejection

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

As a senior editor for a romance e-publisher, oftentimes, my job is to disappoint hopeful authors, to tell them that their work is not up to par.

I often joke that my job is to tell people their book baby is ugly.

As an author, I know how criticism and rejection can sting. I know the knee-jerk reaction to call that agent, that editor, that publisher a stupid stupidface who doesn’t understand you, your work, the genre, anything.

I get it. I really do.

As writers, we’re passionate about our work! And I think it’s okay to experience that knee-jerk reaction.

With a few caveats.

1. Never, never, never vent in public. ESPECIALLY not on social media. Not even for a second. Not even if you take it down in the next five minutes.

I can guarantee you someone somewhere has a screenshot, and that outburst will come back to haunt you forever.

Why? Because it makes you look like an unprofessional jerk. Rejection and criticism are part and parcel of writing. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t expect your writing to be well-forged.

So vent in private–in private emails, messages, and groups–and only to your Circle of Trust.

2. After you’re done venting in private, go back to the rejection letter and really read it. Look at what it says and what it doesn’t say.

These people are professionals in their field. They’ve read extensively in your genre. They’re also overworked as hell. If they are taking their time to offer you good, solid critique, seriously consider taking it.

Make something out of it.

3. If you find you’re getting rejected a lot, I highly recommend a critique group or beta readers who: a) know your genre and b) will give you honest feedback.

As tempting as it may be to ask your best friend or your mom or your SO to read your work, they may not be the best person. A good crit partner or beta reader is someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in making you happy, but will give you the good with the bad in a detailed and constructive way.

Why do I recommend this? Oftentimes, we can’t see the flaws because we’re so close to the work. Oftentimes, it will take the author 3-4 drafts to figure out a problem when simply talking it out with a crit partner can provide far quicker results.

Not to mention: many of the stories I’ve rejected were ones where the author clearly, clearly, clearly did not have even one person read the work before sending it off to me.

Do you really want that acquisitions editor to be the first one to read your book?

Spoiler alert: No. No you don’t.

As with any advice, your mileage may vary here. Becoming a successful writer is a different path for everyone. I hope my advice helps you on your way!

Slán go fóill!



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What Makes a Pro?

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

In my role as an author and editor, I am often asked, what do I consider to be the hallmarks of a professional writer? How do you tell the pros from the amateurs? And most importantly, how do you become a pro?

So, I’ve compiled this non-exhaustive-but-pretty-darn-close list based on my personal experiences and interactions on both sides of the publishing industry—author side and editor side.

Being a professional writer means:

  • Being creative when you’re down or sick or hungover or having a bad day.
  • Pushing words onto the page even when they suck. A pro writer knows you can’t edit a blank page.
  • Setting daily goals. Butt + chair = productivity
  • Meeting daily goals. Pros create a habit of writing, and the notion that pro writers spend all their time surfing the internet is largely inaccurate.
  • Writing in the small spaces– in the checkout line, in the bathroom, at an Idina Menzel concert, any time an idea strikes you.
  • Not really understanding those memes like “If you make me mad I’ll put you in a book and kill you.” Good writing is not about petty grudges.
  • Working a job to support your writing career. If you’re writing to “make money,” you’re going about it all wrong.
  • Getting up early and staying up late to make your daily word count.
  • Never getting to level 80 in World of Warcraft.
  • Realizing that “perfect” is the enemy of “good.” You can only obsess over a single word or phrase for so long before the ratio of impact vs. decline in productivity shifts out of your favor.
  • Reading, reading, reading. How can you write in your genre when you don’t read in your genre?
  • Accepting that you’ll be months, if not years, behind in watching the latest TV shows.
  • Being able to take and implement criticism. Treat your book like your baby, but let it get skinned knees, let it play in the dirt. It’ll be stronger for it.
  • Always seeking to hone your craft.
  • Being respectful of other writers and celebrating their successes. One writer’s success does not take away from yours. Leave your jealousy at the door.
  • Accepting that you can’t predict the market. Boy wizard? Sparkly vampires? Who knew? Answer: no one. So write what you’re passionate about.
  • Accepting that house-cleaning will probably have to wait.
  • Plotting, plotting, plotting. Plotting some more.
  • Pantsing at least a little. Even the most strict plotline needs wiggle room for magic to happen.
  • Revision, revision, revision.
  • Being humble and gracious. Without the agents, editors, readers, crit partners, bloggers, reviewers, etc, you wouldn’t be where you are.
  • Realizing there’s no one path to success. You can take every single step JK Rowling did and still not end up at Hogwarts. Own your path. Take whatever it brings and make the most of it.
  • Knowing when to take a break and step back. Writing at the cost of friendships or family isn’t healthy. Know when to unplug.
  • Giving back to the writing community. At some point, someone probably gave you a chance, an opportunity, a critique, a kind word, a good review, an “in.” When it’s your turn, give one back.
  • Making informed choices about your writing. Pro writers know when they’re breaking the rules and why.
  • Realizing you are your reputation and much of that comes from how you portray yourself on the internet. Maintain your integrity in your dealings with everyone.
  • Putting your writing over your hobbies. Do you write once/week but spend 40 hours playing video games or binge-watching Netflix? Maybe it’s time for a change.
  • Not needing a member of the Avengers or Neil Gaiman or anyone to tell you “You should be writing.” Memes are cute, but discipline is key.
  • Hustling and making your own opportunities. (see: there’s no one path to success).
  • Understanding it’s a marathon not a sprint. NaNoWriMo is EvRyDayO.
  • Practicing to condense your book’s plot into 1-2 sentences so you can intelligently answer the dreaded question, “What do you write?”
  • Getting used to disappointment. No matter how good, how thoughtful or engaging your writing is, some people will simply not like it. It’s okay. Let it go.
  • Forging on despite a bad review, a bad cover, or a missed opportunity.
  • Believing in yourself and the worth of your writing. If you don’t, no one else will.
  • Not waiting around for the muse to strike. Want inspiration? Go find it. Hunt the muse down and tie it to the desk.
  • De-ritualizing the act of writing. You don’t need special pens or a special notebook. The magic is inside you.
  • Not waiting for a special place or a special time. The place is wherever you are. The time is now.


As always, with any writing advice, opinions differ and mileage varies. Writing is one of those odd careers where there is no one decisive path to success. I hope some of this advice helps you find your path!

Until next time, slán go fóill!


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Writing Right: Fight Scene Do’s & Don’t’s

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Fight scenes! Many writers dread writing them, and who can blame them? Writing a good fight scene is an art in itself.

Here are some of my best pieces of advice. Caveat: this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Also, for every single thing I’ve said here, I will bet you, dollars to donuts, there is a best-selling author who does exactly the opposite. The key is: use and adapt what works for you, your style, and your book. Writing is about constantly, constantly making smart decisions and breaking rules in purpose.

And now, without further ado, my Top 10 List of Do’s & Don’t’s

10. Don’t: Use an Ace When a 2 Will Do

Blasting the bad guy with a Howitzer when he doesn’t need to be blasted with a Howitzer is overkill. Overkill is risky because it can make your hero look like a bully. Instead, make the punishment fit the crime, and you’ll fulfill the reader’s sense of “rightness.”


9. Don’t: Be Afraid to Hurt Your Characters! No One Likes Captain Awesome

Aragorn’s ceremonial scratch on the cheek is bogus. No one fights off 1,000 Uruk-hai and gets a single scratch. No one. Make your heroes earn their victories. Ask yourself: how heroic is it if it’s easy?


8. Don’t: Restrict Your Chara’s Powers

Don’t give your hero time travel only to take it away every time it might become useful.  Instead, let him use the power successfully at least once to show he’s heroic.  Later, instead of restricting the power, you can make it have dire consequences.


7. Do: Be Careful in Making Your Chara an Expert 

Make sure she can pass as an expert. If your hero is a martial artist, make sure you know about the martial arts. Interview an expert if you must, but don’t ever fake it.  Readers are smart and savvy. The second your expert does something novice, it will destroy the credibility of your fight scene, your hero, your book, and all your hard work.


6. Do: Balance Your Forces

And not just because I suggest it, but because Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, suggests it. Your hero is only as good as your villain. If your villain is weak, then having your hero defeat her isn’t very heroic.


5. Do: Keep Your Level of Reality Consistent

If your fight scene is hyper-realistic, then keep in mind that people can take a whole lot less punishment than Hollywood would have us believe. Any fight with a weapon will be over quickly. Any blow to the head can result in a concussion that can take weeks or even months to recover from. Likewise, if your fight scene is stylistic, keep it stylistic.  All that flying is great in Crouching Tiger because it’s part of the style. Consistency is key.


4. Do: Keep Your Magic Consistent

Readers will believe in magic–as long as you keep the rules that govern it consistent. Gandalf shouts, “You shall not pass!” the bridge crumbles, and the Balrog falls into the center of Middle Earth. The next time Gandalf shouts, “You shall not pass!” your villain should check to make sure he’s not standing on a bridge.


3. Don’t: Fake the Facts

Do your research.  Know how a katana cuts, how many times you can fire that SIG Sauer, etc. Know the training involved in handling each weapon, the types of wounds it causes, and the mindset of the culture it comes from. A samurai of feudal Japan is going to think and act much differently than Vin Diesel in a Fast & Furious movie, and a knife fight is going to be more brutal and deadly than a fistfight.


2. Don’t: Be Afraid to Act it Out

When in DOUBT, Act it OUT.  If your hero’s opponent is taller, get someone who is taller to act out your scene with you–safely. Go to museums, Ren Faires, and dueling Meet-Ups, pick up swords and try on armor. Get a feel for what it’s like to swing a katana, a claymore, a polearm. There’s a big difference. How many times can you swing those suckers without getting tired?


1. Do: Use Short Sentences and Short Paragraphs

Describe only what is essential.  I can tell you from experience that in the thick of a fight, you don’t have time to notice that “his eyes were blue, the color of woodsmoke, and he had a salt-and-pepper beard lightly dusted with–” Really? All that in half-second before the guy punches you in the face? No. Long paragraphs signify to the reader that more time is taking place, slowing your fight scene down to a crawl.  They take longer to read and thus, they tend to leech tension.  Short sentences increase tension.


And that’s it for now. My Top Ten Do’s & Don’t’s to writing a great fight scene!

Until next time… slán go fóill!



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See some of my fight scene advice in action in Circuit Fae: Moribund, in September 2017

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Write Right: Dialogue Tags

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

I’ve been an editor for eight years now, and I’ve noticed that one of the hallmarks of a newer, inexperienced writer is “fancy” dialogue tags.

For some reason, many newer writers feel the need to spice up their tags. Maybe it’s that their creative writing instructors told them that said is too boring or that they should try to be original or shouldn’t repeat themselves.

Whatever the reason, I often feel like these authors go to the thesaurus, look up said, and then pepper their writing with all kinds of fancy tags like postulated, posed, discussed, shared, announced, declared, avouched, promulgated, and other ten-cent words.

Nothing makes an editor or a reader cringe more than this. Why? Because fancy tags are just that—fancy. They call attention to themselves. And thus, they detract from your dialogue.


For example:

“That’s Matt over there,” Joe announced.

“Oh, I know Matt,” Sally shared.

“Let’s go say hi,” Joe stated.

“No!” Sally admonished.


It’s awkward in the extreme, overwrought, and it shows a lack of sophistication in your writing. In short, it screams to your reader that you are an amateur.

The fact of the matter is that said is really the best bet. Said melts into the background and isn’t obtrusive. It doesn’t call attention to itself. It lets your dialogue have the spotlight.

But because writing is a complex art, using said exclusively isn’t the answer either. In fact, you can see that repeating said here would also be awkward.


“That’s Matt over there,” Joe said.

“Oh, I know Matt,” Sally said.

“Let’s go say hi,” Joe said.

“No!” Sally said.


So now what?

Now we use said in combination with what is called a dialogue beat—an action attributed to a specific character.


“That’s Matt over there,” Joe said.

“Oh, I know Matt,” Sally said.

“Let’s go say hi.” Joe took her arm and steered her toward Matt.

Sally jerked away. “No!”


See how the beats actually illuminate the character and the story? Here, we can tell that Sally is upset by what’s happening. Also, the saids here melt into the background. They leave the reader’s focus on the dialogue and action, not on a fancy tag.

As with any technique, using dialogue beats vs. tags is more art than science. A good trick is to read your work aloud to see if it flows well and sounds natural.

As always, thank you for reading!



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Genres Are Like Cornflakes

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

 A wise author once told me that buying a book is like buying a box of cereal. You walk down the aisle, looking at the boxes like they’re book covers, past boxes of Cheerios, Crunch Berries, Lucky Charms, Wheaties, until at last you find what you’re looking for—Cornflakes!

Yes! You know exactly what you’re getting just by grabbing that box.

Now imagine you get home and open that box, and there are Apple Jacks in there instead of Cornflakes. You’d probably be pretty annoyed. Maybe you even like Apple Jacks—goodness knows, I do—but at that moment when you grabbed that box of Cornflakes, what you wanted was—CORNFLAKES!

Your book is a lot like that. And readers come to your book with two things: 1. Genre expectations and 2. A desire to be entertained, whether that entertainment takes the form of being romanced, terrified, or gaining some escape and wonderment.

So how do we make sure we are delivering on the promise of our genre—that when a reader grabs our epic fantasy, they GET epic fantasy?

One way is the cover. Since that’s often up to your publishing house, I can’t say much except this: a good cover is worth its weight in solid-gold Cornflakes.

What I can speak to are genre expectations and the question we authors so often wrestle with: How do you serve your genre while creating something absolutely brand spanking new? How do you dance to the tune while incorporating your own moves?

Here’s what’s worked for me:


1. Read in your chosen genre

  • There’s no better way to learn the tropes and commonalities of your genre than by reading in it. Read the classics, read the new stuff, read the stuff you’ve heard was terrible but is a big seller. Read it all.
  • CAVEAT: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t read while you’re writing. All that means is you think your voice isn’t developed enough. If it’s not, the answer is to write more. Not less.

2. Read Like a Writer

  • Many of us read for pleasure or relaxation. Some read to be entertained, to be terrified or romanced or to have our thoughts engaged. But to read like a writer is to look for the technique hidden beneath the words—and, believe me, good technique is 100% invisible.
  • So how do you see technique when it’s invisible? Like this: when you’re reading and you find yourself frantically turning pages or feeling an emotion, ask, How is the author accomplishing this? Then pay special attention to the word choices, the structure, the paragraphing. Is the author creating tension by using short, snappy sentences? Is she evoking emotion by using certain words? Is the dialogue fast-paced? What verb tense is the story told in?
  • CAVEAT: Steal the technique and make it your own. Don’t try to copy

3. Read Outside Your Genre

  • Cross-genre is becoming more and more popular because of its wide appeal. This is why a lot of Hollywood blockbusters have action, romance, thriller aspects, maybe a touch of horror. Because the more universal emotions (love, fear, hatred, jealousy) you can pluck the strings of, the more you connect with your reader–and the more readers you can connect to.
  • CAVEAT: Don’t try to force a genre trope into your story at the expense of the story.

4. Ask a Reader

  • Crit group, crit group, crit group. I cannot emphasize this enough. Have a critique group, a group of people who are responsive, who know your genre, and who are avid readers. Let their knowledge work for you. They’ve read 5,000 romances. They can tell you if you’re hitting the key marks, if your hero is too jerky and pushy, if your heroine is whiny.
  • CAVEAT: Choose your crit partners carefully. Your mom or dad or bff might not be the best person for the job since s/he might be more inclined to only telling you the Good Stuff. You need someone who can also tell you the Bad Stuff.

5. Address the Tropes

  • Address. Not bow down to, not surrender to, not mindlessly adhere to. But address them. Because the reader comes with two things, and the first is expectations.
  • Genre readers like to know what they’re getting into. Most of them buy FOR the genre. I read epic fantasy because I like the epic quest, the battles, the courtly intrigue, the high language. When I buy the book with a LARPing group on the front and some sweeping mountains in the back, it better have most of this stuff in there.
  • Why?  Because when I pick up a box of Cornflakes, I want Cornflakes. If I get it home and there are Apple Jacks in there, I’m not going to be a happy camper.
  • So address those tropes and then shatter them. But don’t ignore them. Hell. No. Stephanie Meyer, whom some tout as writing the worst vampire book ever, still addressed the issue of vampires and sunlight. We’re told why Edward and the other vamps can walk out in the sun. It’s not ignored.
  • By addressing it, she gives a nod to the genre expectations and lets her readers know that she knows what these expectations and tropes are—and she’s choosing to change them. Thus, it’s a matter of choice not ignorance. To fail to address genre expectations without explanation is to risk looking like you don’t know your genre.

6. Twist the Tropes, Turn Them, Break Them

  • All else aside, I think it’s absolutely imperative to do something new. We owe it to our genres to push the boundaries, to give the reader what they want–to pay homage to the old, but also usher in the new.
  • Genre readers are well read. They’ll known in an instant if your elven archer is a knockoff of Legolas or if your child prodigy is Ender in a cheap disguise.
  • Develop your own unique characters. Your own unique voice.

That thing you’re afraid of? That’s what you’ll build your legacy on.

So, how does this whole Cornflakes metaphor shake out? Well, in the end, we write what we’re passionate about, and the best way to do that is to learn our genres top to bottom so we can address genre expectations. Thus, we make it so that when the reader opens our box of Cornflakes, she doesn’t mind if there are a few Crunch Berries in there.  They just sweeten the deal.

As always, thanks for reading!



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Top 5 Mistakes in YA

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

As a writer, I’ve tackled many different genres from romance to science fiction to urban fantasy, but until a few years ago, I’d always steered clear of YA. It was a genre I felt I knew a lot about as a reader, but very little as a writer.

Strangely though, YA kept pulling me back. On those days when I felt down or like the world was just too dark, it was always those YA books I turned to. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Chronicles of Prydain. A lot of chronicles there! Even the grade-school books pulled me back from the edge of darkness. Blanche the Blue-Nosed Witch was one of my favorites, about a young witch with a blue nose trying to fit in with the elite group of witches in Scurry #8.

But as much as I leaned on YA, I never thought I would end up writing it. And then one day, I was in a critique group—the last of my MFA—and the YA writers there told me I’d written the beginning chapter of…you guessed it—a YA. “The voice!” they said. “This is exactly what a teenage girl struggles with.” The instructor, a YA author herself, confirmed that the story would be a great YA, and so off I went on my merry way, to write in a genre I knew so little about.

As you can imagine, I made mistakes. Boy, did I made mistakes! Writing YA, as it turns out, was every bit as hard as I’d thought it would be. It’s a daunting task, to be sure, so I’m here to pass along my Top 5 Mistakes and how I corrected them.

I made them so you don’t have to.

1. Not Reading in the Genre

I’ll list this first since it was my biggest mistake. How could I expect to write YA when I didn’t have a good grasp on it? I had no knowledge of how to portray believable young adults, and yet I wanted actual young adults to read my book. Fat. Chance.

            How I Corrected It

FaceBook and Goodreads were my saviors here. I friended people who I knew were YA fans, and I asked them what was good. I joined YA groups and engaged in conversation. I asked specific questions and asked for specific recommendations (e.g., solid female characters, non-heteronormative, etc) and I said thank you for their time and answers.

In addition, I searched Goodreads for LGBT YA and came up with a list there. I looked at other people’s reading lists. Then, I went out and bought a Kindle Paperwhite, which is ONLY for e-reading, and I began downloading samples. I read and read and read. I am still reading.

Find me here on GoodReads


  • Friend other YA fans/Join YA groups on FaceBook
  • Ask for specific recommendations
  • Be polite and say thank you
  • Check Goodreads for lists of YA books
  • Read, read, read.

2. Whiny Heroine

Okay, this one was hard to admit. My heroine, while she kicked a lot of butt, kind of whined about it the entire way. That wasn’t my intent, of course. I intended to create a layered character who had real problems and needed real solutions. The problem was, like many people in real life, she complained but had no plan to change anything. This made her unlikable and a complete Miss WhinyPants

            How I Corrected It

I started to read like a writer. That is, I read, analyzing what the authors I liked did. I went back to the heroines I liked. They, too, had real problems. And sometimes they did whine a little bit. I’ll emphasize the a little bit here. But whine or not, they always had a plan. And they always picked themselves up no matter how down and out they were. They were go-getters, not stay-here-and-whiners.

When I went to my manuscript, I did two things. First, I made sure the heroine’s plight was sympathetic. To do that, I made it universal. This is because while very few people can identify with the physical and mental hardships Frodo suffers in Mordor, everyone can identify with fear of failure, fear of letting down our friends, the fear and pain of loss. That’s where to put your focus. On your hero’s very basic internal needs, wants, and desires.

Second, I allowed my characters 1-2 lines max to whine and feel sorry for themselves, and then I made them realize they’re being completely Miss WhinyPants and they need to get up and move forward. These two techniques in conjunction made it so the character was both relatable and likable. Because, it’s easy to like someone who, when faced with failure, picks herself up, dusts herself off, and tries tries again.


  • Read like a writer

  • Analyze how other authors make their heroines likable

  • Do that thing

  • Make the heroine’s plight universal

  • Make sure she has a plan

3. The Stakes Weren’t Evident

While this error happens a lot to writers in every genre, I’m listing it because it came out of my preconceived notions of what YA is.

 I made the mistake of thinking that YA had to somehow be “fluffier” than fiction for adults. Boy, was I wrong! Once I started reading in the genre, I discovered that a lot of YA tackles some serious material—drugs, abuse, rape, teen pregnancy, coming out, transitioning, suicide, loss. Let’s be honest, it’s darn tough to be a teen and pre-teen in today’s world. Kids have a lot of pressures these days, and watching heroes and heroines tackle those challenges in fiction is affirming. We need more stories like this. I’m a firm believer that most young adults would rather hear terrible truths than pretty lies.

            How I Corrected It

I stopped making it fluffy. I let my heroine get hurt. And I showed how she’s stronger for recovering, for never giving up. I let her feel pain, and I let her react to it, but I was conscious that she should be proactive and have agency and consistently adjust to the curve balls that life threw at her.


  • Stop making it fluffy

  • Let your hero get hurt

  • Have your hero make continual adjustments and keep going

4. Purple Prose

Oh, holy cats, this is my weakness in, like, everything. My first draft was seriously waxing poetic—a lot of ten-cent words and imagery, which was beautiful but extremely distancing. In YA, that just wasn’t the voice that would capture my target audience.

For the most part, YA readers want to be in the hero’s head, which means a lot of internal dialogue, a lot of close POV. The problem with that is, purple prose by its very nature is very distancing.

            How I Corrected It

First, I changed the verb tense to first person present tense. Now I know a lot of people don’t like this tense, but you really can’t beat it for immediacy and being in the mind of the POV character. And, honestly? It changed everything. It gave me more immediacy and more of a feeling of being connected to the heroine.

By no means am I advocating for anyone to change their verb tense. Do what works for you is what I’m saying. In my case, it was first-person present tense.

Second, I went for short, punchier prose with a healthy dose of snark and wit, and you know what? It worked. The characters’ voices suddenly worked because they sounded authentic.


  • Don’t clutter your story with long descriptions and overwrought text

  • Stay in the heroine’s mind and let the reader know what she thinks about all of this.

5. Wrong Age Group

So, when I first began writing YA, I thought that young adults wanted to read about other young adults their age. It seemed so elementary, right? Again, I was completely wrong. So very completely wrong. What I learned was that young adults tend to read “up.” That is, thirteen year olds want to read about fifteen and sixteen year olds. Someone once said to me, “Well, you looked up to your big brother, right?” And then it all made sense.

            How I Corrected It

I changed the ages of my protagonists to suit my target audience. In Circuit Fae, I made the primary heroine, Syl Skye, fifteen and a high school sophomore. I’m hoping younger adults see her as someone cool to look up to!


  • Young adults like to read “up.”

  • Make your heroine a few years older than your target audience

And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are any number of “big mistakes” you can make, but these are my five biggies—the Top 5 Biggest Mistakes I Made So You Don’t Have To.

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As always, thank you for reading!


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