Category Archives: writing tips

Keeping it together with a nonbreaking space

In a novel, when a character is quoting another speaker or writer, the conventional way of indicating this is to put single quotation marks around the quoted material. (For American novels — British works may use punctuation marks differently.) For example: “What did she say?” asked Frida. ” ‘I wouldn’t marry you if you were […]
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Why do you need an editor? Here are two good reasons: Reason #1: Writing is a foreign language, of which no one is a native speaker. Writing resembles thought but is different enough that translation is required. Inventing a story is usually the easy part; what writers struggle with is how to turn their story […]
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Voices for your characters

To maintain consistent voices for your characters, try casting real-life movie actors in their roles. For example, if your antagonist is a gritty, smart gangster (or executive) who needs to come across as both creepy and charming, imagine Robert De Niro playing him, and the dialogue will be easier to write. The featured image for […]
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Are you having fun yet?

The audience never has a better time than the artist. So write the book you want to read. Write the scene you want to experience. As much as writers complain about the process, they keep writing. The tortured Irishman in his garret, squeezing out ten words a day for decades, enjoys every minute of that […]
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Try that crazy idea

Give yourself permission to try your crazy idea. If it doesn’t work, rework it until it does. In art, greatness is newness, not mastery of existing forms. Ben Jonson, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, was an acknowledged master of the classical forms of poetry and dramaturgy. According to the critical standards of his day, he […]
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Revise or reimagine?

Sometimes, revising means polishing existing sentences and paragraphs, but sometimes it means reimagining whole scenes. You can get so absorbed in perfecting your sentences that you forget to check how the passage reads. It’s a forest/trees thing. Forget for a moment that you’re the writer, and read that revised page as though you’re a bookstore […]
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A first draft is like a Ming vase

A first draft is like a Ming vase, conceived in your brain, that falls out of your forehead and smashes to bits all over several hundred pages of printer paper. Meticulous work is required to reconstruct it. That means multiple revisions and, usually, several pairs of eyes and hands.


Semicolons: Don’t let rules-lawyers intimidate you into avoiding semicolons; they are just as acceptable and useful as commas and periods. A semicolon changes the sentence’s tone and tempo, just like changing the order of the words. It’s not right or wrong–it’s a style choice. Many people have a hard time grasping the use of this […]
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Some guidelines for revision

Don’t burden a sentence with more adjectives than are absolutely necessary. It makes them hard to swallow, like taking too big a bite of food. (“Heinrich’s oversize, powerful-looking megaphone’s ear-splitting roar would surely get those innocent, unsuspecting, dwarfish patrons off their tiny tushes.”) Use simile sparingly, because it can make you sound like a 1940’s […]
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How to use speech attribution

Speech attribution: “Don’t sweat the speech attribution thing too much,” Nelson said helpfully. “You know–the ‘he said’ part.” Thoughtfully, Pearl opined, “I’ve read that the current trend is to avoid it as much as possible, and never to use adverbs. I’ve also heard you should only use simple tags, like ‘he said’ or ‘she asked,’ […]
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