"Notes From The Editor's Desk" was my first blog, and is still technically my author blog on Goodreads. However, I've decided to extract the spirit and move it over here, since there's no reason to send folks jet setting all over the Internet. So, if you're looking for my advice on dealing with over-used tropes and how to clean up some of the more common writing mistakes, click a link below. Share the articles amongst yourselves, and remember that donations are always welcome.
We always hear that if you want to be a better writer, then you first need to be a better reader. What a lot of us don't hear, though, is that we need to read widely, and to examine as many different techniques and styles as we can in order to make sure we've got all the tools we could ever ask for when it comes time to write our books.
Too often we just include traditional tropes and elements in our fantasy stories because it never occurs to us not to. When it comes to your magic system, though, you really need to take a few minutes to think about why you've chosen the one you have, and whether it is the one that best serves your story.
A lot of the time we end up making our bad guys carry the idiot ball in order to make the plot work. But it's really worth it to step back and ask why the villain is just standing there in no armor with their head presented to the heroes if they gain absolutely nothing for doing so.
February 24, 2021 What You Should (And Shouldn't) Expect From a Writers' Group
Writers' groups are just like any other form of community support. For some people they're an amazing resource, and a great lifeline. For others, a huge waste of time. It helps to make sure you have the proper expectations before you go in, though, if you want to have a positive experience.
February 10, 2021 It Is Always Better To Write The Thing!
Doubts and worries are a part of the writing process. Too many of us stop, giving into those voices. Ignore them! Because there is no better way to prove them right than to give up, and not finish the thing you started.
January 27, 2021 Tailor Your Story to Your Medium (Or You'll Throw Off Your Readers)
There are a lot of books out there that try to ape another medium's style and hallmarks. It's important to remember that you're writing a book, though, and that the way you're telling your story has to work as a book.
January 13 2021 Weird, Wild, and Outrageous Ideas Generate More Interest Than Bland, Safe, and Samey Stories
I've met a lot of authors and hopeful authors over my years. One thing that will immediately make your work stand out is a premise that's weird, wild, and bold, rather than something that's just the same old same. So ask, what makes your story stand out?
December 30, 2020 Don't Barrage Your Readers With Fantasy Terminology (It Doesn't Help)
We all want to create unique, fun, memorable worlds for our stories to take place in. But if you try to force feed too much terminology to your reader, they're going to shut your book and walk away before you can get to the good part.
December 16, 2020 Only You Can Prevent Passive Protagonists!
Your protagonist is, generally speaking, important to the plot. If you find they're just standing around while plot happens to them, though, then you might have made the mistake of putting a lamp in a hat and coat in the driver's seat.
December 2, 2020 Readers Are Going To Make Assumptions About Your Book (So Feel Free To Play With Them!)
I've lost track of the number of hopeful authors I've talked to who were too afraid to deviate from the norms of their genres. Readers may have expectations, but if your story will be better, more interesting, and more unique for defying them, then that's what you should do!
November 18, 2020 You Really Can't Do Too Much Research For Your Book
A lot of writers are under the mistaken impression their creativity can fill in for lack of knowledge. If you don't know something, it's better to research it than to have to write the whole thing over again. Because you screwed it up the first time.
November 4, 2020 NaNoWriMo Is Not (Generally Speaking) How Professionals Write Books
NaNoWriMo is upon us again, and that means there's a whole new crop of writers who are going to try to use this as a spring board to going pro. My two cents? You're going to get a lot more out of walking right on past Nano, and just doing what works best for you and your style.
October 21, 2020 3 Common Horror Mistakes That Can Really Ruin Your Story
It's October, and that means a lot of us are going to be trying our hands at horror. Which is why I thought I'd suggest three mistakes that you should try to avoid with your particular horror stories.
If you need to write about a hard-drinking detective in Los Angeles, a werewolf hunter in Chicago, or cyborg information broker in a near-future New York City, the biggest challenge might be believably capturing those locations, rather than any fantastical elements of your story. These are my tips for those who plan on using real-world locations as the basis for their books' settings.
September 23, 2020 Subverting Your Own Rules Isn't Clever, It's Just Bad Writing
If you're going to make rules in your setting, you need to apply those rules consistently. Otherwise you're going to hurt your credibility, and that's going to turn your readers off like a light.
September 9, 2020 For Morality To Have Meaning, It Has To Show Up On The Page
Morality is often a huge part of the characters we make, but if we don't actually establish what a character's morality is, then the audience is going to have no frame of reference for when they cross a line. So take a scene or two, and let the reader see who your character really is, and what they believe, if you're going to push the envelope later on in the story.
August 26, 2020 To Help Show Instead of Tell, Nix Your Inner Monologues
Inner monologues are a trick writers have used forever to put the audience right into a character's frame of mind. But if you're looking to work on showing instead of telling, then using this tool as sparingly as possible is one way to do that.
If you're following a style guide when you're creating, it's worth taking a moment to ask why. Who set that guide? Is it helping? Or is it just making your world and your stories that much like all the other contenders in your genre? Because if you want to stand out, one way to do that is to get as weird and wild as possible!
July 29, 2020 Maybe We Should Avoid Writing Copaganda For a While?
As someone who got their degree with the intention of writing more accurate detective stories, I say this after a great deal of thought. Maybe it's time we all took a step back, and asked whether we're writing the stories our readers need to see in a post-ACAB world.
July 15, 2020 Is World Domination The Best You Can Come Up With?
So often we cast our villains as hopeful conquerors because that's an archetype we're familiar with. Most of the time, though, we have no idea why they're actually trying to put their boots on other people's necks. So before you ask the reader to get invested in the struggle, make sure you know why the struggle is there in the first place.
July 1, 2020 A Mountain of Content (Moved With an Eye Dropper)
Sometimes on Craft of Writing week I just like to talk about projects I've been working on, and things I've finally finished. This one has been more than a year in the making, now, so I figured I'd take this week to tell all my fine readers out there about it.
June 17, 2020 The Danger of Cat's Paw Characters
Sometimes you want your audience to see things from a limited point of view, so you make sure they're looking through the eyes of a secondary protagonist who watches and observes the real main character of the story. These cat's paw characters are very useful, but there is a danger in turning them into bland, secondary vehicles because too much of your energy goes into the character that's solving your plot.
June 3, 2020 What is Your Story About? (Don't Overload Your Themes)
Messages in our stories are there, whether or not you intend them as an author. As such, the best thing you can do is figure out your story's central theme, and build around it to make sure everything is going in the same direction. If you don't know your story's theme, now might be a good time to dope it out.
May 20, 2020 Past or Present Tense: Which is Better For Your Story?
There are few things that will start fights among writers faster than talking about tense. So I thought I'd take a moment to offer some of my thoughts on present versus past tense, and how you can best use them in your story.
May 7, 2020 You're Never Going To Get Better as a Writer If You Never Start
A lot of writers get paralyzed when it comes to writing because they always worry about what will happen if their work isn't very good. I can guarantee you right now, some of it won't be. So stop worrying about that and enjoy being bad at something, because it's the only way you're going to learn to be good.
April 22, 2020 3 Tips To Make The Stakes Matter in Your Story
Keeping the stakes relatable and important is difficult to do, even for the best writers. Here's my advice on how to do just that, though.
April 8, 2020 Short and Snappy Often Wins The Writing Race
If your prose feel ponderous, and your paragraphs spin on and on for pages at a time, it might be time to step back. You're asking your reader to chew a lot of words, here, so break it into bite-sized chunks to help them enjoy things more easily.
March 25, 2020 Neal Litherland Reads "Dressing The Flesh" From His New Collection "The Rejects"
It's a crazy time out there right now. So if you have half an hour to kill, or you just want to hear what my work sounds like coming out of my own mouth, this week's upload is for you!
March 4, 2020 "If I Ever Became an Evil Overlord" Should Be Required Reading
Making villains is tough. Making compelling, thoughtful, memorable villains can sometimes feel downright impossible. The Evil Overlord List can help a lot, however.
February 19, 2020 The Pros and Cons of Using Tabletop RPGs as a Writing Tool
A lot of folks who want to be writers enjoy tabletop roleplaying games. However, it's important to remember that while these games do provide a lot of opportunities to practice one's writing and storytelling skills, they do have some potential pitfalls you need to watch for, as well.
February 6, 2020 Which Stories From "The Rejects" Would You Like To See Expanded?
"The Rejects" is my latest release, and though these short stories run the gamut of style, tone, and genre, several of them are favorites of mine. So I thought I'd ask you all, as my readers, which ones you'd like to see more of? Perhaps even a setting turned into a novel, or a series of novels?
January 22, 2020 Sometimes Having Superpowers Sucks (And That Makes Characters More Relatable)
Characters with unique abilities are a dime a dozen in our fiction, but it's worth asking how often we see the downsides of those powers? How do those things affect a character's life, and what special precautions do they need to take? These kinds of questions can be what really makes your story stand out.
January 8, 2020 Age Needs To Be More Than Just A Number For Your Characters
Long-lived characters are a staple of fantasy and sci-fi, but a lot of the time the key to making their years matter to the audience is in the presentation. You can't just slap a number onto a character and expect a big reaction... you have to show us their age, rather than tell us.
December 26, 2019 "Ready Player One," Identity, and Internal Consistency
When your world doesn't appear to abide by its own rules and logic, that's when you have a problem with internal consistency. And this becomes a teachable moment in the later parts of Ready Player One.
December 11, 2019 Fiction Creates Empathy (Yet Another Reason Diversity and Inclusion Matter)
There may be no substitute for experiences, but reading has been shown to actively affect the way our brains work in terms of how we feel empathy for others. Keep that in mind the next time you wonder why diversity and inclusion is such a big deal for so many people.
November 27, 2019 Preventing Characters From Becoming Caricatures
There's nothing more poisonous for your story than a one-dimensional character. That's why it's important to recognize the traits of a caricature, and to start fleshing them out before they can bring down the book all around them.
November 13, 2019 Older is Better: A Trope That's Become a Reflex For Many Writers
We see this trope everywhere, but we rarely think about it. So before you start waxing about the accomplishments of the elder races or ancient empires, take a moment and ask yourself what implications it has for your story, and your world.
October 30, 2019 The Red Right Hand (My Favorite Trope)
Some tropes are bad, don't get me wrong... but for others, it's all about how you use them. This trope has been one of my favorites for years, and I'll probably never get tired of using it in my own work.
October 16, 2019 The Tiffany Problem (When People Think They Know History, But Don't)
The name Tiffany was in common use in the 12th century... but how many people would flat out balk if they saw it in a piece of period fiction? That, right there, is the basis for The Tiffany Problem.
October 2, 2019 Consent on The Page (Nipping Problematic Depictions in The Bud)
This week I thought I'd get up on my soap box a bit, and talk about how poor depictions of consent are an issue in a lot of people's writing. And offering some constructive criticism for how to fix it.
September 18, 2019 Character Appearance and Personality: Tips For Showing Instead of Telling
We've all heard the advice to show, don't tell. Problem is that a lot of us think we're doing that, when we're not. For those who've had issues with this advice, here's some tips on getting the recipe just right.
September 4, 2019 Don't Worry About People Missing The Point (Because They Will)
One thing I've seen a lot of writers worry about is whether their subtext will go over a reader's head, or be taken out of context. I can tell you with authority that it's going to happen, and there's no point losing sleep over it.
August 14, 2019 Paintings on The Ceiling (Why Your World Building Needs Immediacy)
Your world should feel lived-in, real, alive, and breathing. But you also need to remember that your world is the beast of burden carrying your story. We're here to watch the knight; the horse that's carrying him isn't the star of the show.
August 1, 2019 An Examination of The Chivalric Hero
For those who have enjoyed my break down and examination of heroes and their archetypes, this week we're taking a look at one more kind of hero... the Chivalric Hero. A fan favorite during the Romantic period, aspects of them still populate our fiction to this day.
July 17, 2019 What Makes A Barbarian Hero?
Sticking with the arc of examining our storytelling tropes, this week I thought I'd talk about one of my favorite types of hero... the Barbarian Hero. What are they, how do they work, and how do you recognize them?
July 3, 2019 Getting Back To Basics When It Comes To Anti-Heroes
A lot of folks through this term around pretty loosely these days, without any understanding of what it meant, or where it came from. Looking at the evolution of the anti-hero might help you better analyze what they are, and to recognize them when you see them.
June 19, 2019 The Uncomfortable Sexism in Robert Jordan's Work
Robert Jordan has a lot of problematic things in his body of work. But you know it's bad when pulp fiction from the 1930s portrays consent better than you do.
June 5, 2019 Use Occam's Razor to Trim Your Story's Fat
How many times do the actions and motivations of the villains (and even supporting characters) get tangled into a web that's impossible to set straight? Well, take some advice from Occam's Razor, and you'll find your stories get a little easier to weave.
May 22, 2019 Chance Can Always Make Things Worse, But Never Better
If you're telling a story, chance is going to play a part in what's happening. However, that chance should always be used to make things more difficult, rather than to smooth the path for the protagonist to victory.
May 8, 2019 Stop Hoarding Notebooks (Either Use Them, Or Lose Them)
Every author I know has a stack of notebooks in their room somewhere. Take a little advice from yours truly... it's still hoarding, even if it's notebooks. Use them, or get rid of them! Perhaps as a present to one of your other writer friends?
April 24, 2019 Don't Oversell Your Twist (No One Thinks You're Clever)
Plot twists are great, and we should all use as many of them as we can get away with. But remember that these twists are spices for your story, not the meat of them. They need to be subtle, and done with care... otherwise they can ruin the whole book!
April 11 2019 Don't Define Your Book By What It ISN'T!
Too often, authors get so caught up in avoiding what the common perception of a genre is that they forget their books have to have a unique identity of their own. So instead of just focusing on what your book doesn't do, ask yourself what its positive qualities are. The rest will take care of itself.
March 27, 2019 Making Use of The Fantastical Mundane in Sci-Fi and Fantasy
If you're writing science fiction or fantasy stories, chances are that your worlds are filled with all kinds of unusual stuff. However, you need to clue your readers into what's unusual for the setting, so that they know when something is a big deal. The Fantastical Mundane is the easiest way to do this.
March 13, 2019 If You Want Your Art To Improve, You Have To Invest In It
A lot of us can't figure out why we don't get better as writers. I guarantee you that, nine times out of ten, it's because you just aren't clocking the hours you need.
February 27, 2019 "Where Does The Poop Go?" is The Most Basic (and Ignored) World Building Question
If you're making a world, it's easy to get caught up in all the big, far-reaching, sexy questions. But before you get too invested, you need to answer the nuts-and-bolts, foundational ones. You know... like where the poop goes?
February 13, 2019 There is No Such Thing As Forced Diversity
You hear a lot of talk about "forced diversity" when people discuss fiction. Ignore it. The term is meaningless, and here's why.
January 20, 2019 Remember, It's Okay To Be Expansive When Writing A Novel
A lot of us cut our books to the bone when it comes to word count... but it's important to remember that while you're trimming the fat, you can still add in some muscle. So breathe deep, because you've got a lot of space to fill.
January 16, 2019 Your Book Is Probably Never Going To Be Perfect (And That's Okay)
Too many authors drive themselves to the brink trying to make sure every "T" is crossed, and every "i" is dotted. However, mistakes slip through. It's not the end of the world.
January 2, 2019 Good Writers Understand The Rules, Before They Break Them
Whether you're a writer, a painter, or an architect, it's entirely possible to forsake the rules in favor of greater artistic achievement. But if you're going to do that, you should really understand why you're doing it to be sure you're not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
December 20, 2018 My Authorial Aspirations For The New Year
I'm not usually one for new year's resolutions... but I figured I'd at least put forth a statement of intent for 2019. If you like my work, here's what I'm planning on spending time with.
December 5, 2018 Avoid Back-Handed Inclusion In Your Book
Being more diverse and inclusive is generally a good thing. But if your version of inclusiveness involves crass stereotypes, turning these characters into jokes and parodies, or just generally being insensitive about your subject matter, don't expect anyone to laud you for the effort.
November 21, 2018 Authors, Every Awful Thing That Happens in Your Book Really Is Your Fault
If you're writing a story where things go to dark places, that's perfectly fine. If brutality and awfulness lurk down every street and around every corner, more power to you. But when someone calls you out, or demands to know why, you need more than a shrug of your shoulders as an answer.
November 7, 2018 Understanding The Flat Arc (Because Sometimes Your Characters Don't HAVE To Change)
When you think of character arcs, you probably think of positive and negative arcs. However, there is a third option; the flat arc. If you're thinking that sounds like a third rail, trust me, it can solve a great deal of your problems when it comes to understanding your plot.
October 26, 2018 The Thousand Masks of God (A Writing Trick For Fantasy)
If you find your field of the divine getting crowded, this is a handy trick you can pull to simplify things. Use it sparingly, though, and don't shirk the heavy lifting for your world-building.
October 10, 2018 Try The Hemingway App To Clean Up Your Writing
Computers can't do everything for us yet, but they can do a lot. So if you're in the market for a digital editor you can rely on, I'd recommend you give Hemingway a chance.
September 26, 2018 Fantasy Writers, If You're Just Changing Something's Name, Don't Bother
There's an obsession with being new and different in the stories you're telling that can really bog you down, creatively. But if all you do is slap on a fresh coat of paint and a new name, you haven't actually made something new. It's the same old trope, just a new color, and your audience isn't going to be impressed with that.
September 12, 2018 Does Your Masquerade Pass Muster? (Thoughts For Modern Fantasy Stories)
The masquerade is one of the most important elements of a secret-world fantasy story. Too often, though, authors just don't bother to explain how the presence of these creatures has been undetected for as long as it has.
August 29, 2018 Who's Your 5th Business?
Agents of change who have no other role in the play, the 5th Business can be quite necessary for your story. So it's a good idea to know who they are.
August 15, 2018 Remember, Fantasy Can Be Anything You Want
Too often writers think they have to tic certain boxes on a checklist in order for their work to be considered fantasy. You don't. So stretch yourself out, and see what bizarre horizons you can reach!
August 1, 2018 Authors, Remember, You Don't Have To Re-Invent The Wheel
If you're an author, chances are good you've asked how you can make your stories more unique. But if being different is your only concern, then you might easily lose sight of what you were trying to write in the first place.
July 19, 2018 Make Sure Chekhov's Gun Is Actually Loaded (Trimming The Fat In Your Story)
If you're going to spend your audience's time making them look at something that seems innocuous, make sure it will actually pay off. Otherwise you're just wasting time and page space.
July 4, 2018 The Inherent Weakness of "The Chosen One" Trope
If you're thinking about ordaining your protagonist as so special that only they can stop what's coming, I'd like to ask you to re-think that plan. Because the chosen one really isn't a great way to make a character who's relatable, interesting, and motivated.
June 21, 2018 Trouble Reaching Word Count? Try Fighter's Block!
If you have trouble powering through on a writing project, don't worry. Just load up Fighter's Block, and start typing. Make sure you hit that goal, though, or the monster will leave your hero in a crumpled heap!
June 6, 2018 The Rubber Ducky Method Can Help You Solve Plot Problems
Technically created by computer programmers, I find this particular method is useful for finding (and fixing) problems in your story. Give it a try yourself, and see what you think!
May 23, 2018 Time Isn't On Your Side As A Writer
If you're a writer, then you probably know it takes time to make good work. And while you're never too old to be successful, a lot of folks greatly underestimate just how much time it takes to produce and publish good work.
May 2, 2018 It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It (Thoughts On Word Choice)
Words communicate ideas, but they can do so much more than that. Think carefully when choosing the words you leave on the page, because they can make a big difference.
April 19, 2018 You Don't Have To Be Good To Get Published
A lot of writers think you have to meet some level of quality of skill in order to get published, and be successful. Let me take some time to disabuse you of that notion.
April 5, 2018 What Would A Woman Do? (Ask Deeper Questions About Your Characters)
Every day, without fail, I come across someone in a writers group asking what a woman, or a man, or a teenager, or a Christian, would do in response to a situation. That's a useless question. You have to be a LOT more specific.
March 21, 2018 Try 100 Years, Instead of 1,000
And now, some thoughts on timeline in stories. Particularly in fantasy stories, where we tend to stretch things out for thousands of years for no apparent reason.
March 7, 2018 Don't Put The Whole World On The Chopping Block
When you raise the stakes, the idea is to increase the tension. But if you go too far, you will ironically lose your audience's attention because it's impossible to really grasp what's at risk. Keep it manageable, and personal, and you'll have a lot more tension in your story.
February 21, 2018 Think Carefully About Your Protagonist's Reward
We often give our protagonists a happy ending without really asking about why we give them that particular reward. Whether it's the princess's hand in marriage, or just a quick roll in the hay, ask yourself why you chose that reward, and what it says about your story.
February 1, 2018 Terrible Circumstances Don't Make Your Characters Inherently More Interesting
The first instinct of a lot of creators is to kick their characters in the genitals, and beat them over the head with a chunk of concrete until they're properly bloodied. Before you do this, though, ask yourself why you're breaking bones, and destroying dreams. Because why matters.
January 17, 2018 Don't Be Afraid To Change The Rules When You Write Your Story
We rely on a huge number of genre rules and tropes when we write our stories. But if something is getting in the way, or making your story sound too samey, toss it out. It's your story, after all, and you can change anything you want. Even the assumed foundation you've never questioned before!
January 4, 2018 Repeated Phrases Are The Bane of Good Stories
If you want to be a better author, then you need to pay attention to the tics you have as a writer. Because if you start repeating yourself, people are going to notice, and they aren't going to be impressed.
December 21, 2017 Give Your Fantasy Nations A Personality
World building is a lot of fun, but it's the sort of fun you need to have behind-the-scenes where no one's watching. So, while you might have a political timeline completely built for your world, don't try to feed it to the reader. Just tell us who your nations are, and make sure they have distinct cultural personalities. That is what makes them memorable.
December 7, 2017 What Is Your Book's One-Sentence Summary?
We all like to think our books are so complex that we can't just boil them down to their basics. Well, not only can you do that, but you should. If you don't know the through line, or you can't make a short, one-breath pitch to a potential reader, you should go back to the drawing board.
November 22, 2017 Never Explain The Impossible (If Doing So Serves No Purpose)
If you have impossible elements in your story, you are not required to explain the intricate details that make them function. And, in fact, you should avoid doing so pretty much all the time. It's set dressing... don't make the play stop for ten minutes so you can have a monologue about the background.
November 9, 2017 Just Change One Thing (A Simple Formula For Modern Fantasy)
Kitchen sink settings for modern fantasy are everywhere. They've got angels and demons, wizards and vampires, faeries and werewolves... ah! If that seems overwhelming, remember, you don't have to do that. Instead, take the world, and change one thing. See what that one change makes, and what kind of stories it creates.
October 25, 2017 5 Tips For Making Character Relationships More Believable
How often do you see characters declaring they love someone, or that their kids are the most important thing in the world to them, but the sentiment rings hollow? Here are some simple ways to show without telling that there is a genuine relationship there.
October 9, 2017 Want To Be a Better Writer? Make Lots of Pots!
If you've heard the story about the pottery teacher and the grading experiment, you know where this is going. If you haven't, well, come on in and find out!
September 28, 2017 5 Writing Rules That Help You Get A Better Second Draft
Writing the first draft is hard, but writing the second draft can be murder. Here are five, handy rules I've come up with that help me, so I thought I'd share them with folks.
September 13, 2017 Tear Down The Monoliths (No Race, Religion, Etc. is Universal)
Too often in genre fiction we let entire races of creatures devolve into stereotypes. No race, no religion, and not even the whole population of a single nation all conforms to a single stereotype. So look for these lazy missteps in your work, and add a bit of depth.
August 30, 2017 The Curse of The Competent Fighter (Why Characters Need To Struggle)
There is nothing more exciting than a well choreographed fight scene; it's the icing on the cake of a solid book. But what about when you're just eating handfuls of icing? Well, that might mean you need to re-examine your protagonist's struggle, and what roadblocks you've actually put in their way.
August 16, 2017 "Trope Talk" is Required Listening For Authors
If you've been looking for a new YouTube channel that talks about the building blocks of stories, and provides insight into how you can assemble them, look no further than Trope Talks, on Overly Sarcastic Productions!
August 2, 2017 You Don't Need Permission To Be An Author
So often I meet people who want to write, but they're waiting for some excuse to do it. To think of themselves as a writer, and to embrace the art. Consider this your permission slip... now get to work!
July 17, 2017 Always Leave A Little Gas In The Tank When The Writing Day Is Done
When you're writing a novel, forward planning can save you a world of hurt. So make sure you leave a little gas in the tank for tomorrow, because if you leave fumes today, you may very well have nothing but those fumes tomorrow.
July 6, 2017 There Is No Wrong Way To Write
Writing isn't math; there is no right way or wrong way. So no matter how you choose to write, and whatever criticism someone can level at it, claiming you're writing wrong is an inherently invalid criticism. There are plenty of perfectly valid criticisms that can still be leveled at your work, but being wrong isn't one of them.
June 21, 2017 Stop Talking About How Your Writing Sucks!
We all have moments when we lose our swagger, and wonder if our books are as good as we think they are. Then there are writers who just go on and on about how bad they are... if you're protesting that much, stop wasting our time.
June 7, 2017 No One Is Going To "Steal" Your Book Idea
There are few things more pretentious than an author claiming they can't share their book idea, because all the no-talent hacks out there will steal it. Got news for you, buttercup; you ain't that special.
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.