May 24, 2017 The K.I.S.S. Method (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Perhaps one of the greatest methods of solving your storytelling problems, the K.I.S.S. method can fix nearly any issue you have as a writer. It whittles down your tale to the bare bones, and makes you progress from the basic, bedrock of your tale. If the skeleton is deformed, then adding muscle and fancy clothes isn't going to help.
May 10, 2017 Want To Be A Better Writer? Stop Second-Guessing Yourself
One of the hardest habits to overcome is when you second-guess your own story. It can lock you in place, and freeze your progress. Worse, it can leave you always starting, but never finishing. So nip that in the bud as soon as you can.
April 19, 2017 5 Signs You're Actually A Writer
People love to debate whether or not certain individuals are real writers. So, here's a list to help you decide if you should have that title put on your business cards or not.
April 6, 2017 Your Fantasy Novel Probably Sucks, and Professor Awesome's University Explains Why
Have you ever wondered why it is everyone you pitch your fantasy novel to seems to be looking for a way to escape the bear trap they've stepped into? Why every time you bring it up people try to change the subject to something else? Well, chances are good your idea sucks. Here's a good way to tell.
March 22, 2017 Why Do You Have Your Best Ideas In The Bathroom?
Have you ever noticed you always get creative epiphanies when you least expect them? When you're in the shower, lying in bed, or halfway through a set at the gym? Well, this week I let you in on the unique brain chemistry that makes this happen.
March 8, 2017 How A Grain of Irritation Builds A Pearl of Story
We've all read books, or seen movies, we don't like. The next time something leaves a bad taste in your mouth, don't just forget it. Ask what was wrong with it, and see if you can do it better.
February 22, 2017 Literary Polyamory: It's Okay To Write More Than One Genre
All too often writers treat their first book like a wedding ring. They're going to write this book, and then they're bound to that one genre. After all, it's what they're going to be known for. Remember, though, your literary relationship doesn't have to be closed if you don't want it to be.
February 9, 2017 Do Not Write Accents Phonetically... Seriously, Just Don't
Accents are an important part of who a character is. But, with that said, do not write their accents phonetically. All you're doing is making more work for the reader, and readers don't appreciate lifting a heavier load than is necessary.
January 25, 2017 Explicit Sexual Violence is NOT Acceptable in Mainstream Fiction
If you want your book to go mainstream, then you need to have a story that will appeal to the biggest number of people possible. One of the fastest ways to slash your potential readership is to put explicit rape scenes (plural) in your book.
January 11, 2017 Keeping a Consistent Tone Can Make or Break Your Book
Tone is sort of like pornography; you know it when you see it. More importantly, though, you don't notice tone that much, until it starts messing up. So, before you start your book, make sure you know what you want it to sound like.
December 28, 2016 We Are The Fools (And We Always Have Been)
Being a creator gives you a certain, societal power. While there will be people who tell you to shut up, and not to exercise this power, ignore them. Because you're a fool, and it's the fool's job to tell it like it is.
December 14, 2016 The 5 Worst Mistakes I Saw As An Editor
While I'm not in the red business anymore, when I was an editor I saw some truly confounding story decisions. In an effort to help authors steer around these landmines, I've put this list together.
November 30, 2016 Ethnicity, Gender, and Language in Your Novel
How we tell our stories makes a lot of difference in what our novels look like. And times change. Things that were once thought of as perfectly acceptable may be seen as ignorant and abhorrent even a few decades later. So, if you really want to stand out, do the hard work, and be mindful of your language. Particularly when it comes to social issues, gender, and ethnicity in your works.
November 16, 2016 I Believe in Love (But Not True Love)
In The Literary Mercenary's first-ever guest post, Chicago-area author Vincent Cross lays down his thoughts on romance in books, and how entire generations raised on Disney candy may not be able to handle the meat of real-world relationships. He even has a suggestion for how to change that.
November 2, 2016 Internal Consistency is What Your Novel Needs (Not Realism)
Fiction can go to some pretty strange places. And of course it isn't "realistic" when it goes there. However, the real question is whether or not the world has an internal consistency. Because if it does, you have no problems.
October 19, 2016 Take Inspiration From The Things That Piss You Off
There are few forces more powerful in the hands of a creative professional than spite. If you can harness it, you will never, ever run out of ideas, or projects.
October 5, 2016 If You're Going to Be an Author, Learn To Think in Word Count
How many times have you boasted about a project's page count? I hate to burst your bubble, but that metric is completely useless in professional circles. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to learn how to think in terms of word count instead.
September 21, 2016 It's Okay, All Authors Have Off Days
While writing is a job, it's also a craft. And sometimes, you just don't have the resources you need to do it properly. And that's fine. But you need to be able to recognize those days, step back, and allow yourself to rest.
September 7, 2016 Advice For Writing The Other, From Some of The "Others" in Question
Writing the Other is hard, and it's a frequently touchy subject. If you're going to do it, though, you need to take pains to do it right. And when you make mistakes, as you will, you need to get back up, and go back to the drawing board.
August 17, 2016 Write Your World Like A Travel Brochure (Not an Encyclopedia)
When you build a world, it can feel like there's a HUGE amount of information you need to convey. However, insinuation and context can do a lot of your work for you, and ensure you don't distract from your plot.
July 27, 2016 It's Not Illegal if Your Main Character Does It!
Have you ever read one of those stories where the protagonist, in the course of achieving his or her goals, breaks a few hundred laws, but then nothing happens? This is not just a violation of good writing, but it can break a world's internal consistency in a way that no amount of adrenaline-pumping action scenes can make up for.
July 13, 2016 A Recipe For A Hard-Boiled Mystery
Hard-boiled mysteries are some of my favorites, both as a writer and as a reader. So, this week, I thought I'd share my personal recipe for creating one of these dark little dramas.
June 29, 2016 Why You Should Eliminate "Fashion Inventories" From Your Book
Clothes make the man, or woman, more often than we might like to admit. However, if you're getting bogged down in describing what your characters are wearing, then you might want to take a step back, and ask why.
June 15, 2016 Self Care is an Important Part of Being an Author
Authors aren't known for their great eating habits, or for restraining themselves from indulging in drugs and alcohol. However, if you're going to put your fingers on the keys, you need to make sure you're properly sharpened, and that you're not going into a project with a mental injury holding you back.
June 1, 2016 What if The Entire Marvel Universe Switched Sides?
Fans of Captain America are still reeling from the latest controversy... but what if we used it as a jumping off point? An experiment in characterization, and measuring the distance that really exists between heroes and villains?
May 18, 2016 Never Hit Fast-Forward When Writing A Novel
When you have a story you really want to tell, it's tempting to sometimes skip over the tedious parts so you can see more explosions. The problem is that, without the rest of your story, said explosions are meaningless spectacle.
May 4, 2016 You Can (And Should) Force Art
Creating is not something you do with the wave of a magic wand. It's a grueling, bloody, visceral process. If you're not willing to grit your teeth and push, then your book is probably never going to get done.
April 20, 2016 Authors Need Discipline, Not Inspiration
We hear a lot of talk about inspiration, but what we don't hear a lot about is discipline. The ability to write every day, rain or shine, happy or sad, excited or bored, is a thousand times more useful than a treasure trove of great ideas. But you have to earn it.
April 6, 2016 Deadlines Are Really More Like Guidelines (If Your Publisher Didn't Set Them)
If you're stressing about not finishing your book before your deadline, take a moment and ask yourself who set it. If you set the deadline yourself, then order a drink, and give yourself an extension. Seriously, it's that easy.
March 23, 2016 Are We Done With The "Family in The Fridge" Trope Yet?
Building your character's web of friends, family, and other connections isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination. However, just shooting, stabbing, and otherwise killing them all off is lazy. Here's how you can avoid it.
March 9, 2016 There Are No New Stories To Tell (But That Shouldn't Stop You From Writing)
There's nothing new under the sun... and a lot of writers take that hard. Trust me, though, just because the plots in your story have been told before, that doesn't mean anyone has ever told them the way you're planning on telling them.
February 24, 2016 Don't Compare Yourself to Other Writers (Seriously, Don't Do It)
We all have our idols; those authors whose work moved us, and made us want to take up the craft. That's fine, but when you start comparing yourself to them, or to your contemporaries, you're opening yourself up for a sucker's game.
February 10, 2016 There's Nothing Wrong With "Said"
One of the most common things writers try to change in order to stand out is the word "said." It's an old standby for a reason, though, and you should think twice about replacing it.
January 28, 2016 How Long Should A REAL Novel Be?
If you're writing a novel, and you're wondering about acceptable word count, then worry no more! The Literary Mercenary has you covered.
January 6, 2016 4 Tips For Creating Character Quirks
Character quirks can sometimes be hard to come up with. These 4 tips will get your brain churning, and hopefully help you find the rock your characters' quirks have been hiding under.
December 23, 2015 Overlooked Writing Advice: The Cool-Down Period
So, you've finally done it. You've finally put the finishing touches on that project you've been slaving over. You're elated, and filled with the afterglow of achievement. Good for you... now put it down, and walk away. Trust me, you want to sober up before you pick up that red pen.
December 9, 2015 Are "Tortured Souls" Really Just Stunted Characters?
There's a fine line between a character who has a dark history, and a character who is completely driven by that history. If you're going to go down dark roads, you should make sure you're heading down the right one.
November 25, 2015 Avoid Inappropriate Language in Your Writing (And I'm Not Talking About Swearing)
Inappropriate language has nothing to do with how many letters make up the word. It has everything to do with the word choice you made being wildly incongruous with your setting and time period, though.
November 11, 2015 How to Format Your Manuscript (So Editors Won't Want to Stab You)
Editors are easily provoked creatures at the best of times. This simple how-to list will help you stay on their good sides by not making these basic mistakes.
October 22, 2015 What is Character Agency (And Why Do You Need It)?
Characters have to act in order to move the story. Characters to whom story happens aren't characters; they're cardboard cut-outs with lines. Agency is what makes the difference, and this week I'm explaining what it is, and how you can recognize its absence.
October 7, 2015 How to Stop Your "Everyman" Character From Becoming a Clueless Dipshit
The everyman character is a strong tradition in fiction across a variety of mediums. However, if you lean too hard on this character to filter and explain the world of your story, then said character might soon come across as an unlikable dunce, instead of a vital part of the story in question.
September 23, 2015 Fire Your Muse, And Get to Work!
The idea that you have to wait for inspiration to strike before you can get to work on your book is an idea that's more outdated than ancient Greece. Which, incidentally, is where the idea of fickle goddesses of inspiration come from.
September 9, 2015 If There's Something Wrong With Your Book, Don't Just Keep Writing
One of the most common pieces of writing advice is to just sit down, and do it. No matter what the hardship is, just keep pushing forward until you've gotten where you need to be. It sounds good... but you might need to put your book in reverse, and take another route instead of driving off a cliff.
August 26, 2015 Want To Be A Successful Author? Then Stop Quitting To Start A New Project
When the going gets tough, you're going to be tempted to start a different book. Maybe your idea isn't ready yet, or you just need to switch things up for a bit. Or maybe you're full of it, and you aren't willing to sweat to finish your book. It's your call, really.
August 12, 2015 What Does The Weapon Say About The Warrior? Tips For Writing Fighters in Your Fiction
We all love our warriors. From Conan to Kato, we can't get enough of them. But how do you tell the audience how deadly these characters are without having them take out a whole bunch of mooks? Well, let their weapons do the talking.
July 30, 2015 Routine is Great For Writers, But Terrible For Books
Writers should write every day. Routine is, in many ways, a key to success. If your entire plot is suffering from routine exhaustion, though, maybe it's time to stop looking over your lead's shoulder in chemistry, or focusing on her after school job instead of on the vampires she's slaying.
July 15, 2015 How To Recognize (And Avoid) The "Why Didn't They Just" Clause in Your Writing
Have you ever been reading something and wondered, "why didn't they just" followed by a logical course of action that would have completely solved the supposed problem? Then you are already aware that this clause exists, and that it can really kick your plot in the kneecaps if you're not careful.
July 1, 2015 Tips For Writing Modern Fantasy
Modern fantasy is a hugely popular genre, and because of that a lot of prospective writers want to throw their hats in the ring. Before you get started, you might want to take a look at some of these tips.
June 17, 2015 Writer's Block Isn't Real (So Stop Complaining About It)
Writer's block is a term that showed up in the 1950s as an excuse as to why you aren't writing. If you'd rather be doing something else then, by all means, do that thing. But don't put the blame for not getting any work done on some made-up condition.
June 4, 2015 How to Avoid Dating Your Novel
There's nothing worse than accidentally hitching your novel to a certain time period. If you want to have a book that ages well, then it's a good idea to make sure you avoid putting in any mentions your audience doesn't need to see.
May 21, 2015 Why Writing Horror is Hard
Horror is often scoffed at as a lesser genre, but making people afraid is one of the hardest things to do in print. You're holding an empty gun to your reader's head, and making him or her believe just for a moment that there's a bullet in the chamber.
May 6, 2015 Asexual Awareness in Fiction
Diversity is a big topic when it comes to fiction, and one element of the discussion is doing away with tropes or shorthand that stereotypes people. You wouldn't write a racist stereotype... so why would you do it with someone who's asexual?
April 22, 2015 Why Do Women Read So Much M/M Erotica?
If you're going to be a writer then you have to know your audience and what makes them tick. If you're thinking about appealing to women then you might be surprised to know that gay erotica stands a much better shot than the traditional bodice ripper. Why? Well, the answer might surprise you.
April 8, 2015 What is The Difference Between Tragedy and Grimdark?
There's been a lot of poo-pooing about grimdark fiction, and how it's the Johnny-come-lately ruining everyone's fun. For those who think this kind of fiction is new though, take a look over your shoulder. We've had stories like this for thousands of years now.
March 26, 2015 How to Write Flawed Characters
No one's perfect, even the fictional people who live in our books. Writing flawed characters is an art though, and this guide from the Literary Mercenary is meant to help you master that art (or at least avoid the big mis-steps).
March 11, 2015 Author's Fight Club: Rules For Writing Better Fight Scenes
Fight scenes are a big part of a lot of books, but nothing is worse than when the author falls flat on what should be an engaging bit of action. If you want 5 ways to make your fight scenes better then check out this week's Literary Mercenary.
February 25, 2015 Inspiration, Black Magic, and Spite: The Creation of "Little Gods" in The Big Bad II
The Big Bad II is the latest anthology to feature one of my stories. While "Little Gods" is set in the depths of Chicago Strange, the world's inspiration was brought about directly by so much of the same-ness I found as a reader in modern fantasy. Here's the scoop on how this dark little drama was born.
February 12, 2015 The Hazards of Writing What You Know
"Write what you know" is one of the most commonly-given pieces of advice authors get. There are hazards that come with following this advice too closely though, and this week the Literary Mercenary points some of them out.
January 28, 2015 Don't Put Real People In Your Novel... Seriously, Don't Do It
Every author goes through a phase where stories are used to work through personal issues, and often that means characters are real people the author knows wearing fake noses and mustaches. This is a bad habit, and you should really break it sooner rather than later.
January 14, 2015 Why Killing Lead Characters Is A Good Idea (Even If You're Not A Horror Author)
Have you ever wondered why there are authors who don't limit character death to sidekicks and back-ups? Who put their leads under the same Damocles Sword as everyone else? Well here's why they do it, and why you should think about giving it a try yourself.
January 2, 2015 Tips For Tightening Up Your Writing
Loose prose might look extravagant, but if you can tighten up your writing it will deliver a stronger punch. Here are four things you should look out for in the new year!
December 18, 2014 Is "Character-Driven" Being Used As An Excuse For Bad Writing?
There seems to be this conceit that you can only have stories about plot or characters, not both. This week we squash that, and point out that you can't have just one.
December 3, 2014 Why Are Magic And Technology So Often Mutually Exclusive?
It's a standard rule in so much mainstream sci fi and fantasy that magic and science just don't play well together. Why do we do that? And are there other ways to do it?
November 21, 2014 What Is A Real Writer's Daily Word Count? (Also, Why NaNoWriMo Gives You Bad Habits)
I tried to get through November ignoring NaNoWriMo... I really tried. But there's a connected issue that a lot of writers deal with; word count shaming. We need to stop that, and all of the things that come with it.
November 4, 2014 From Galvanism to Google: Tropes That Are Ruining Your Novel
Tropes exist for a reason; they draw on a shared pool of knowledge that your audience should have. However, sometimes you need to use common sense and realize that many tropes are outdated, outmoded, and have out stayed their welcome. Here's a few of them.
October 16, 2014 The Mortal Sins of Worldbuilding
If you want to avoid bad worldbuilding then just listen to what Charlie Anders has to say. What, you didn't think I had all the answers, did you?
September 30, 2014 What is Representation In Fiction, and Why Is It Important?
Representation in fiction has become a big deal lately, and it isn't one that's going to go away. What representation is, and why it's important, is something that every writer should understand before putting words on a page.
September 4, 2014 "Zen and The Art of Lazy Writing" or "Stop Giving White Guys Katanas"
The katana is perhaps one of the most famous swords in the entire world. In this entry I examine the difference between myth and legend, and point out how the blade also represents two of fiction's worst crimes; lazy writing and cultural appropriation.
August 22, 2014 The Disposable Woman: A Trope That Really Needs to Go
Ever have trouble giving your hero motivation? Don't worry about it, just off an important woman in his life! Mother, sister, lover, daughter, any of them will do! This entry talks about this disturbing trope, and what it says to women who choose to read your story.
July 31, 2014 There Are Only Two Types of Writers (Chances Are You're One Of Them)
There are only seven conflicts, and twenty types of dramatic situations. Why then should it be a shock that there are only two kinds of writers out there? There's a sliding scale, but really there's only two ways to get the job done.
July 17, 2014 Tips And Tricks For Writing Realistic Romance Novels
Romance is an unfairly maligned genre. Pulling off solid romance on the page is one of the hardest tasks a storyteller faces... and here is some advice for how to do it.
June 27, 2014 Why I Hate Batman (And What Writers Can Learn From His Character Mistakes)
Batman is perhaps one of the most famous characters in Western culture, and one of the original superheroes. That said, there are a lot of problems with him as a character; chief among those problems is that he's using methods that will never, ever achieve his stated goals.
June 11, 2014 The Five Types of Beta Readers Every Writer Should Have
Beta readers are a crucial part of the creative process. This week the Literary Mercenary lays out the five different varieties you should have, and reminds you that unless you can please all of them that your story might still need a lot of work.
May 21, 2014 How to Get Rid of a Body
Body disposal is one of the trickiest part of any thriller, horror, or murder mystery. If you've got a strong stomach, or if your audience doesn't and you want to take advantage of the fact, here are some body disposal methods you simply can't be without.
May 2, 2014 Some Tips on Writing Dystopian Societies
Dystopian societies have gotten quite popular of late, from Divergent to The Hunger Games. If you want to avoid problems with your dystopia, here are some nuggets of wisdom to chew over.
April 10, 2014 The Golden Rule of Good Writing: Don't Be Boring
There is nothing worse than a boring book. If your story's moving a little slow, and breathing a little heavy, then maybe what it needs is to slim, trim, and grab readers for more of a sprint and less of a meander. Here are some tips on how to do that.
March 26, 2014 Being Realistic: How to Avoid Straining Your Readers' Suspension of Disbelief
Suspension of disbelief is the only thing that keeps a reader reading; it's the bridge between your story and the real world. If it snaps, they shut the book. So it's important to make sure that bridge is as solid as possible by ensuring your story, world, and characters are as realistic as you can make them.
March 5, 2014 Profanity in Fiction: When It's Okay to Say "Fuck"
Profanity in fiction is a big deal to a lot of people. As such the question every author has to ask him or herself is whether the use of profanity is necessary in order to make a point and to present an honest view of the story. If so, then fucking go for it.
February 20, 2014 Multiple Perspectives in Your Novel: Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should
The point of view your story is being told from can be a hard decision to make. However, don't go overboard and decide that we need to have everyone's perspective in order to understand your story. We don't, and here's why.
January 30, 2014 The Mary Sue: What it is, and How to Avoid It
Originally created as a product of Star Trek fan fiction, Mary Sue characters have broken into standard fiction. Here's a quick list of suggestions for how to scrub your characters up to avoid them being quite so uncannily, tragically perfect.
January 14, 2014 How to Avoid the Dreaded Exposition Dump
Exposition is necessary for readers to understand what your story is about. If you give readers too much too quickly though, they'll stop. Here's some tips on dicing up your details.
January 1, 2014 "Sexy" and Other Words Writers Need to Stop Using
There's nothing wrong with being sexy, manly, beautiful, or any of a thousand other subjective words. Get them the hell out of your story, and especially out of your summaries.
December 20, 2013 Show Don't Tell: The Case for Story-Showers Vs. Storytellers
One of the oldest adages in writing is "show, don't tell". It sounds easy, but there are writers at all levels of the game who could use a little refresher on this particular part of the craft.
December 3, 2013 The Big R: Dealing With Rape in Your Fiction
Rape is a terrible thing, but it happens. When it happens in fiction though, it's important for writers to portray it properly, and to make sure that it's really necessary to the story.
November 21, 2013 Beyond the Purple: Dealing With Purple Prose in Your Writing
Purple prose is generally seen as unnecessarily flowery, overly dramatic, and kind of ridiculous. But how do you recognize it? More importantly, how do you fix it?
November 8, 2013 Under the Black Hat: Writing Believable Bad Guys
Antagonists are the essence of a good story; without them heroes and heroines have nothing to strive against. As such they need to be at least as well-written as the good guys.
October 16, 2013 How to Write Strong Female Characters
The argument over how to write a strong female character is over. Your complete guide, complete with the secrets of the masters, is here for perusal. Really though, it's easier than you think.
September 23, 2013 Making Immortals Interesting
We've all read that book. You know, the one where the plucky teenager gets the century and change vampire to fall in love with her. Did that work for you? Me either. Here's why.
July 25, 2012 Editor's Desk #4: The "And Then" Bird
The bane of any action scene, the "And Then" bird stumbles around, crying its repetitive, plaintive cry until all interest in the scene grinds to a halt.
June 30, 2012 Editor's Desk #3: Blithely Digging Your Grave With Adverbs
Adverbs are great. They use a single word to add a lot of character. Adverbs are also like zombies. One of them isn't a problem, but a lot of them can be a serious issue.
June 18, 2012 Editor's Desk #2: What's in a Name?
A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. But if you decide to name your African American lead Thor, you're going to have some 'splaining to do.
June 15, 2012 Editor's Desk #1: Passing on the Passive Voice
Nothing, and I mean nothing, kills a story faster or more efficiently than the passive voice. If you want to have a shot of keeping a reader till the end, you're going to have to take an active part.