Excerpts

Showing vs. Telling in Your Writing

Show, don’t tell. Most writers have heard this maxim at some point, whether from a teacher, an editor or an agent. But what does this writing advice mean, in practical terms? While a certain amount of exposition is unavoidable (and even useful) in your writing, it’s easy to “over-share” the minutiae...

How to Find Great Writing Ideas

In the search for story-worthy ideas, most writers are sidelined by occasional bouts of creative myopia. When it sets in—when your field of inspiration narrows—it’s easy to convince yourself that your luck has run out and all the good ideas are taken. But finding exceptional writing ideas isn’t a matter of...

How to Write Effective Dialogue

Dialogue serves several key functions in your fiction: It reveals your characters’ personalities and beliefs, heightens tension, provides an alternative to lengthy descriptive passages and, most importantly, advances your plot. The key to writing effective dialogue is compression. Dialogue in fiction shouldn’t mimic the “everydayness” of actual speech, with all of...

How to Start a Book Project

  March seems like a good checkpoint for New Year’s writing goals: Two months into the New Year, you probably have a sense of whether a resolution made in January will become a reality by December. If “start a book” was on your January to-do list, how’s it coming? If you...

The Writing Process: Step One

Prewriting. Freewriting. Mind Mapping. Clustering. If you’ve taken a creative writing or English composition class, you’ve likely encountered these terms. They represent an important step in the writing process and, in my view, the easiest and most fun. The gist of prewriting is to let ideas flow directly from your brain...

How to Find Your Narrative Voice

A strong narrative voice gives your fiction a distinctive flavor and makes it stand out in a slush pile. But many beginning novelists struggle with finding their narrative voice, and some opt out altogether by emulating another writer’s voice. That’s unfortunate, since an original voice always makes other storytelling elements —including...

Expert Tips for Writing Action Scenes

Think “action scene,” and you probably think of the Hollywood version: A character is thrust into high-stakes, physical drama (a gunfight, a daring rescue, a desperate escape) that changes her in some important way, and moves the action forward. Action scenes serve the same function in your fiction, but they need...

5 Tips for Fearless Writing

Putting ideas out in the world takes courage, so playing it safe with your writing can be an appealing strategy. Faced with limited writing time and abundant competition, you figure out what works, then follow that tried-and-true trajectory—for years, maybe. But if your go-to methods are starting to feel stagnant, and...

The Secret to Writing a Standout Picture Book

As any children’s picture book author will attest, writing for children is not easier than writing for adults. In fact, it’s probably more difficult, and here’s why: The story must appeal to a child and the adult reading it to her (not to mention editors, agents, and publishers). Picture books are...

Be Strategic in What You Consume to Boost Productivity

Today’s guest post is from Todd Henry, founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a consulting firm that helps organizations like P&G, Mattel, and State Farm generate creative ideas. He has one of the top business podcasts, The Accidental Creative. This post is an excerpt from his recently released book, The Accidental...

Creating Active Characters in YA Novels

Have you ever heard an editor or critic refer to a character as passive? Maybe, like me, you've found yourself frustrated by this term. What exactly does it mean, and what's so bad about creating a passive character? Isn't this a trait we often find in real people, especially certain teenagers,...

6 Common Plot Fixes

The following post is an excerpt from “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” by James Scott Bell, featured in the Writer’s Digest special issue, Write Your Novel in 30 Days. If you enjoy this post, check out Bell’s upcoming seminar in June on how to sell your novel. Key Questions to Ask About...

8 Easy Things To Do BEFORE You Start Your Novel

1. Buy a timer and place it next to you as you write. This will help you keep track of how long you’ve been working—and how much time you have to go. 2. Place a “Do Not Disturb” note on your office door when you’re writing, if you don’t live alone....

Agent Dan Lazar On: Query Dos and Don’ts

1. Be specific, but don’t vomit information. Saying “my novel is about a mom going through some life challenges” is vague, and remember: Vague = boring. However, be careful not to stuff your letter with so many details of your plot that it’s confusing to decipher what’s going on. Reading your...

3 Critical Steps After Rejection

Just released from Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Digest University is part market guide, part boot camp, offering keys to getting your work published. I am honored to have written the introduction to this book, which you can read in full here. In the intro, I share 3 steps you should take after...

Successful Queries: Agent Janet Reid and “Numb”

This series is called "Successful Queries" and I'm posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked. The 43rd installment in this series is...

How to Start Your Mystery Novel

No pressure, but the opening of your book is the gatekeeper in determining whether your novel will sell. If your opening is weak, it won’t matter if chapter two is a masterpiece. Editors and agents will stop reading before they get to it. This column excerpted from Hallie Ephron‘sWriting and Selling...

5 Rules for Writing YA

1. The life of the story depends on the writer’s ability to convince the reader that the protagonist is one of them. Teens despise fakes. You must know kids well enough to channel their voices, thoughts and emotions. 2. Don’t condescend to your readers. Young people won’t abide stories that suggest their...

5 Screenwriting Tips All Writers Can Learn From

No. 2: Start late. In individual scenes, don't waste valuable time on unnecessary entrances and hellos. See if a scene can be started in the middle. A writer who is willing to self-edit will often find that a scene is strengthened by cutting the first two, and often last two, lines...

6 Tips on How to Build a Platform and Sell Books

For nonfiction writers, the most significant development of the past decade has been the insistence by the publishers that authors have national platforms. For fiction writers, authors’ platforms matter less. However, it never hurts for a fiction writer to be charismatic, articulate, a vigorous promoter, and media savvy. Children’s book writers...

What If Multiple Agents Want Your Work?

OK. So you’ve sent out your e-mails, had a few responses, and now it’s down to two or more agents who’ve made you offers. You’ve politely but firmly told them that you have to speak with everyone before making a decision. Now what? E-mail them, say there are several agents interested,...