MBM: Never Pity the Adverb, by Anthony Mercado

Welcome to the ninth day of



Today, Anthony Mercado is tackling the subject of adverbs. 

Anthony is one of those talented people I mentioned above. He comes from a great background in journalism where he learned to write with power and brevity.

His wife, Mary, gave that great post last week about The Art of Accepting Criticism. They’re a fun couple to hang around. They know the coolest stuff and have entertaining stories.

Anthony is quick to make me laugh with his dry sense of humor. He and Mary are the kind of people I try to glean as much as I can while I’m with them.

Today Anthony is going to help us strengthen our writing with a great post entitled,


Never Pity the Adverb, by Anthony Mercado

“Just the facts verbs ma’am. Just the facts verbs.” ~ Joe Friday  A conscientious writer

The genesis of my shameful use of adjectives and adverbs is traced back to elementary school. Every teacher at Buena Vista Elementary gave this assignment in September: write a 200 word essay about what you did last summer.

You’ve heard the term, “stuffing the ballot box.” I, like many other school kids, “stuffed” the paper by beefing up the nothing essay with more of nothing—adjectives and, worse yet, adverbs. I knew it and the teacher knew it. The first sentence of my first draft probably started like this,

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MBM: Beating A Dead Horse (WIP), by Julie L Casey

Welcome to the third day of MARCH BOOK MADNESS!

.Today, author Julie L. Casey is here.


Julie’s book, How I Became A Teenage Survivalist, will be released next month from Pants On Fire Press. It’s already receiving a lot of attention, and it looks awesome (see the book trailer below). It’s about Bracken, a teenage boy living in the Midwest when the sun hits the world with an unseen surge of electromagnetic fury, which cripples power stations and burns transformers to crispy nuggets of regret. Bracken and those he loves have to learn to survive without electricity. I can’t wait to read it!

Here’s the book trailer:



Today, Julie’s taking a humorous approach about when to throw in the towel on a manuscript.Juliee1


JULIE L. CASEY: Beating a Dead Horse (for writers)

Have you ever had a work-in-progress that seems dead or flat? Maybe the words won’t flow or your writing lacks inspiration, and everything you try to do to improve it just seems like you’re beating a dead horse. Many things go through your mind at that point to justify your lack of ability to resuscitate the horse (aka your WIP).

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MBM: Weeding Your Words, by Charissa Stastny



Welcome to the first day of


You can read more about March Book Madness here, but basically it’s an excuse for me to discuss everything about writing, editing, and reading books with some amazing authors and readers.

Fun, fun, fun!

Because I had so many awesome people agree to post, there will be a few extra days in March. 

Here’s the schedule:

The collective talent listed above . . . Wow! It’s going to be a great month.


To start MARCH BOOK MADNESS, we have author, Charissa Stastny. Charissa’s second book was just released, entitled Secret Keepers. You can read about it here. It’s a sequel to Eyes of Light, a romantic suspense which I read and loved. Charissa has a way of creating realistic characters that are flawed but lovable. P6902052lus she’s great at teaching cultures. I learned a lot about Guatemala and organized crime while I read. I’m anxious to read the sequel to find out what happens to Suvi, James, and Austan.

Today Charissa’s discussing the daunting task of editing out pesky, weedy words.

Take it away, Charissa.

.weed words3



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Writing Tip #5: Trim the Fat

Well, it’s time to trim the manuscript. 


I’m so long-winded, it’s horrible. Every time I do another draft, my manuscript gains a few thousand words. Yikes!

But…some words are easy to cut. And painless. They’re the same words that bog down sentences and paragraphs. The best part is once they’re gone, I don’t miss them a bit. 

One of the last things I do with a manuscript is use the “Control F” function. Find and Replace, the writer’s best friend. Think of it like Search and DestroyOnce I feel my manuscript is “done”, I hunt for useless words that slipped in. Then I zap them and sit back, amazed at how quickly my word count drops. 

It’s awesome.

If you’ve been writing for awhile, you probably have your own list of excess words. I’ve gathered some over the years, but since I needed to go through this process this week, I put all my lists together in one place. I figured I’d post it here for you to peruse (and for me to use in future manuscripts).



  1. There are times when you need a “THAT” or a “JUST” to make a sentence work.
  2. Sometimes — and all you diehards don’t shoot me for saying this! — you need an adverb. Sorry, sorry, sorry! That’s just my opinion. Seriously, don’t shoot me. (See, I just used an adverb–and the word “JUST”. Ha!!!!)
  3. Depending on how your characters speak, you may need to leave some unnecessary words in to make the character sound authentic. Example: Teenagers throw tons of extra words into their speech (like, so, that). Same with southerners. Know your characters and be careful not to ruin their “Voice” when you strip your manuscript. In fact, if you cut those words from all places except where your character says them, it will strengthen their voice.


Because of those three reasons, I maybe cut half of the “useless” words, but it still adds up. THE POINT OF THE LIST BELOW IS TO GIVE YOU IDEAS OF WHERE YOU MIGHT  HAVE EXCESS. It’s tedious skimming your manuscript for every word, reading every sentence to see if the word is needed, but it’s worth the effort.  I just cut 2,500 words this week. 


Okay. Ready?

Here’s my list:

  1. about   
  2. actually
  3. almost 
  4. although             
  5. appears               
  6. approximately  
  7. back      
  8. basically              
  9. close to               
  10. enough               
  11. even     
  12. eventually          
  13. exactly 
  14. feel, felt, feeling             
  15. finally   
  16. for a moment   
  17. get        
  18. go/going          
  19. had       
  20. hear/heard        
  21. in spite of           
  22. just       
  23. kind of 
  24. know    
  25. like        
  26. look/looked 
  27. nearly  
  28. notice  
  29. now      
  30. one       
  31. perhaps              
  32. practically           
  33. quite    
  34. rather  
  35. realize  
  36. really    
  37. saw, see, seen 
  38. seems/seemed  
  39. simply  
  40. smile/smiled
  41. so          
  42. some    
  43. somehow           
  44. somewhat         
  45. sort of  
  46. still        
  47. suddenly            
  48. then     
  49. thought               
  50. time      
  51. truly      
  52. try/tried to         
  53. turned 
  54. utterly 
  55. very      
  56. was/were          
  57. wonder               
  58. yet        
  59. (If you have words to add, comment below, and I’ll plug them in. )


There’s a great way to find your specific overused words. Paste your entire manuscript into Wordle.netI explain how this works in the post here.

After three days of this tedious SEARCH and DESTROY method, I cut 2,400 words from my manuscript. Now it feels tight and concise. It reads faster and stronger, too, so it’s worth it! 

Good luck with your manuscripts!

What words do you overuse? Any I forgot? Comment here.

Side note: Readers have no idea what authors go through for them. :)

58 Words to Trim

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Writing Tip #4: Why You Need Beta Readers


I hate saying my book is done. Why? Because I feel like my book is never done. When people say, “Hey, did you finish your book?” Instead of boring them with a long explanation about the writing/publishing process, I try to say, “Well…I finished another draft.”

Nonetheless, I finished Augustina right before Christmas–or at least, I finished another draft. :) And then I did the scariest thing known to all mankind (maybe not, but it felt like it.)

I gave my book to readers

I sent it to friends and family–i.e. the most supportive people in the world–who agreed to read this baby of mine and give me honest feedback. I even gave them permission to be brutal, because my motto is: I’d rather fix it while I can than read about issues later on goodreads when I can’t do anything about it.

Beta readers

Having beta readers (early readers) is a necessary, yet extremely painful process for most authors. Because let’s face it. Most of us think our books are either perfect, or pretty darn close. When we ask readers to find what’s wrong in our project, we’re usually thinking, “Yeah right. Like you’re going to find anything wrong with this masterpiece. It’s flawless, I’m tellin’ ya. Simply flawless. You’re gonna laugh, cry, and hug this book until it hurts. Pulitzer Prize here I come.”

I’ve felt that way in the past. I never felt that way with AugustinaAugustina was the hardest book I’ve written. To most of you, it looks like I’ve only written one book. Sadie. I’ve actually written six now. Augustina was by far the hardest to write.

It’s about a girl who’s battered, left for dead, and needing to put the pieces of her life back together. It didn’t come easy for her to crawl out of the hole I so unfeelingly wrote for her. Quite frankly, it wasn’t easy for me to write her out of it. (What was I thinking?) Plus, Augustina has a spiritual conversion in it which–yikes–was crazy hard to write.



By the time I finished, I loved the book. I truly, truly love it now. But I still wasn’t sure if I accomplished what I hoped to accomplish. Had I gone too far or not far enough? Was it too raw or just a soap opera?

That’s why I needed early readers.

Giving your baby to a beta reader is like saying, “Here. Take this little piece of my heart, analyze it, check it for errors, and then tell me every single minuscule thing wrong with it, crush it under your foot, and give me back the shards  to see if I can put it back together with something slightly better.”

When I gave Augustina to friends and family, my fingernails went to my teeth, I paced the floor, and I tried to brace myself for the first honest feedback to come back.

Freaky scary.

If you’re an author, you know exactly what I’m talking about.


I have amazingly supportive people in my life. I sent it to a dozen or so people before Christmas and they’re starting to get back to me. Being an author for five years has hardened me to the initial cringes that accompany honest feedback, so I was prepared for the worst (or at least, I told myself I was). But all the feedback I’ve been given is good. It’s great, actually!

Firstly, so far everyone has really liked the book.


Huge sigh of relief.

Secondly, the places they’ve said are weak really are weak. I can see it. My readers seriously help me spot places that need fixing. I love it. I’m not even angry at them for it. Haha. In fact, I’m so, so, so grateful I can make the manuscript stronger.

See. I’m growing up as an author. Yay me!

So that’s my Writing Tip #4:

Have beta readers.

1) Have a lot of them.

My husband saw one thing. My sister saw something completely different. My friend is a romance reader and saw issues there, while another family member was hoping I could tweak the action. They all read differently, so have several readers. Men, women, old, young.

2) Make sure you have readers that are your target audience

If you don’t know your target audience, then you have more problems you need to work on. Once you know your audience, get beta readers from that group. Not all your beta readers need to be your target audience, in fact, some shouldn’t be. But have a good chunk. And then give their insights the most weight.

3) It’s impossible to please all the readers.

In fact, don’t try.

In the end, you need to love your own book. But in all the feedback I’ve received so far, I can fix the concerns with simple tweaking to the story. It takes nothing away from the parts I love, but instead, helps enrich the story for others.

A win-win.

If I get feedback that’s contrary to what I think, I have a handful of people to run it by to see if they agree with my beta reader. If they do, I’ll have to let it go. And like I said, I give the most weight to comments from readers in my target audience. 

(I’m going to repost what I wrote on this blog.)

4) Have a writing reader

You might need to read that again.

Try to have at least one reader who actually knows how to write. An author. Call them your writing partner or buddy or whatever—preferably something nice so they’ll keep reading—but their experience will be invaluable to you. Plus, they’ll see things in your manuscript others won’t.

I’ve been blessed with some great writing buddies the past few years. They’re insights and critiques have been invaluable to me. If you don’t know any writers, join a group. There are thousands of writer’s groups out there that meet in libraries and coffee shops all over the world. Most likely there’s one near you.

5) On the flip-side, have non-writer readers.

Before I sent Sadie to my publisher, I had around 25 people read it. And then as I worked with the editor, I had several more follow behind to see if what I changed worked. The huge majority of your readers in the future won’t be authors. Having non-writer readers will help make sure you aren’t overwriting your story.

6) When you get harsh criticism, take a deep breath.

Your job is to figure out if 1) They’re right, or 2) They’re not. It’s probably best to give it a day or two before you fully digest the comments.

With my first book, I had several comments I didn’t particularly like. As I go back now with more experience under my belt, plus some time that has given me perspective, I can see that most of the comments were right. Most, I say. Not all.

So figure out if the comment is right or not, and if you’re still not sure, ask someone you trust who has read your book. 


Augustina is now with the publisher. I’m sure they’ll find even more that needs tweaking. I’ll go back to the drawing board and work this project a little bit more, which I’m happy to do. At the end of the day, it will be a better book because of all my early readers. If you’re one of them, THANK YOU! It helps a ton. (And if you haven’t given me feedback yet, it’s not too late. I’d still love to hear your thoughts. A book is never done until it’s on the shelf.)

Alright. That’s my thoughts on beta readers. Anything you want to add?

How have you used beta readers to help strengthen your writing? Where do you find beta readers? How do you deal with the feedback that hurts? Comment here.

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Friday Funnies and Writing Tip #3: Know Your Priorities


If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to. 

I also haven’t been writing as much as I used to, which is why I just BARELY finished Augustina this weekwhen I hoped to finish it months/years ago. 

Here’s why:

  1. I have five kids.
  2. I love my five kids.
  3. I’m a stay at home mom to my five kids, so technically it’s my job to take care of them. 


My oldest is 16 and the youngest, Jacob, is almost 5. Jacob does not attend preschool, so we’re together ALL THE TIME.

This sometimes causes issues. :)

Jacob is a pretty smart kid.

His entire motivation in life is to be seen as an equal to his older siblings and their million friends. He hates being the littlest in everything, and often he forgets that he’s not, in fact, a teenager.

Because of this desire to be ‘old’, he’s been learning to read for awhile. He has most of the smaller words down. He loves to type new words he’s learned on the computer. He’ll even ask me to open Microsoft Word for him so he can type what he knows. (Future author in the making.) If he gets stuck on a word, he’ll ask me to help him spell it so he can type it “All by myself.” 

This is what I found him typing this week:

  • Now…I need to preface this with: I was extremely sick this weeklike flat in bed with the stomach flu. It was awful. I haven’t been that sick in a long time. Because I was sick, he may have spent a little extra time on the Wii. Don’t judge me too harshly.
  • (However, if I’m being truly honest here, he was obsessed before the week started.)

As I’m helping the other kids get ready for school, he says to me,

“Mom, how do you spell FRIEND?”

I help him spell it, and then I steal a peek at his project. This is what I see on my computer:Capture

With an inward sigh—I love that kid—I smile and let him keep typing. From across the kitchen, I help with a few more words, hard ones like WORLD and THOSE.

When I check back, this is what I see:

Capture2Picture my smile fading here.

If you don’t know who Bowser is, thank your lucky stars. He has taken over our household lately. He is one of the characters on Super Mario Brothers, a stupidly addicting Wii game. I personally HATE Bowser right now. This didn’t help the relationship.

Me to Jacob: “Um, who else is your friend, buddy?”

Here’s what he added:


Me really starting to panic: “What about your friends in the neighborhood? At church? You have lots of other friends!” Doesn’t he?

Jacob: “Oh yeah. I forgot.”


He named quite a few others. (If your kid is his friend and wasn’t on the list, please don’t disown us; he honestly said their names!) But by then he was sick of typing and wanted to go play the Wii


Guess what he’s not playing today.

So here’s writing tip #3.



I love to write. It’s my escape. It’s my joy. But it’s my hobby, and I love my kids MORE.

I guess this was a little reminder that perhaps I need to spend even less time in my imagination and more time in Jacob’s.

This is our last year together before he starts school full time. I’ve had a kid at home with me for sixteen straight years and it’s going to end in nine months. Instead of wishing it away, cringing that my book STILL isn’t done, I should be enjoying these last few months with my youngest.


I thought I was doing that, but obviously I could use a little improvement. My mom reminds me that someday I will miss these days. 

Maybe your writing schedule could use some tweaking as well.

What are your priorities? If writing isn’t your job, then it probably isn’t your first priority. So how do you fit writing into your life? Or even if writing is your job, it still probably shouldn’t be FIRST on your list. So…

  1. Know your priorities.
  2. Set your priorities.
  3. Live your priorities.
  4. And don’t let anything come in your way. Not even a great story.



No. It won’t.

At best, your story will entertain someone for a depressingly short amount of time. I think one of the most powerful lessons for authors comes at the end of the Truman Show, when the whole world seems to be on the edge of their seats waiting to see if Truman will choose freedom. But the second he makes his choice, the whole world sits for two seconds contemplating his decision, and then they flip the channel to see what else is on TV. 


Our stories are great, but really, they’re not that great. They’re just entertainment, so don’t lose your priorities over it.

I have to remind myself of this often.

So if you don’t see me as much as you used to–or maybe as much as I sometimes want–it’s because I’m trying to keep my youngest from having a Wii addiction.

Right now I’m off to play dinosaurs in a different kind of pretend world. As of right now, all his dinosaurs are namedcare to guess?Bowser. My goal is to change that. :)

Have a great weekend.

How do you set priorities when it comes to writing? Do you schedule time or squeeze it in? How has your writing time changed with your life? Comment here.

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Writing Tip #2: Using Beats To Strengthen Characters And Setting

Something I’m working on is using beats to identify speakers.

What is a beat?

A beat is a pause in dialogue. For example:

My arm itches.” Greg scratched it on cue. “I hope it’s not poison ivy.”

In this case the beat is, Greg scratched it on cue. It identifies the speaker as Greg without having to say, “Greg said.”

I love using beats for many reason. Identifying the speaker is just one of them.

“Said” is basically invisible.

It’s true that the word “said” is invisible to most readers. If I had used “Greg said” instead of the other, most readers wouldn’t have noticed the words other than to subconsciously register who spoke.

But when I first started writing, I got so sick of the word ‘said.’ I wanted to substitute it with every possible alternative dialogue tag. Greg shouted. Greg whispered. Greg hummed. Greg hissed. I don’t know. There are a million possibilities.


But I quickly learned that all of those dialogue tags aren’t invisible to the reader the way “said” is. They pull the reader out of the conversation for a brief second–which is fine sometimes, but only sometimes. Paragraph after paragraph with people shouting, yelling, and even whispering can cause the reader to feel disjointed and tired. Pretty soon, they’re skimming your book, and that’s not good.

Dialogue tags should be used sparingly–which is extremely hard to do.

But beats. :) Beats are fun. 

Beats aren’t telling the reader how something was spoken. They’re a sneaky way of letting the reader know who is speaking, while enriching your story.

Beats are an excellent way to SHOW and not TELL the story.

For example, take these two sentences:

1) “Get out of my room!” Amy shouted. “I never want to see you again!”


2) “Get out of my room!” Amy hurled her book at him, knocking over her polka-dotted lava lamp. “I never want to see you again!”

Example #1 uses a dialogue tag. Technically, the word “shouted” isn’t even needed because with the exclamation points implies shouting. (By the way, use exclamation points sparingly!) Even if we used, “‘Get out of my room!” Amy said angrily,” it’s the same effect.


But in Example #2, the reader sees more than shouting. They know Amy was reading, she’s the kind of girl to own a polka-dotted lava lamp, and she’s so angry she nearly sacrificed her favorite lamp in her fit of rage. 

#2 anchors the reader to the setting. It allows them to see the room and feel her emotion.


How to write a proper beat

1) Know the setting

Visualize it in your mind. Place objects in the setting. A glass of milk. Shoes. Dead branches. Whatever. When you know the specifics, you can use them in beats. 

2) Know the emotions

Your scenes should have emotions, but you must understand them. Amy is angry. So ask yourself, What do angry people do? Throw books? Fold their arms? What if she was nervous? What do nervous people do? 

3) Know your characters

90% of communication is non-verbal. Show that in your beats. People back up when they’re scared. Their mouths twitch when they lie. We are constantly giving off millions of clues about what we’re really thinking. Your characters should, too.

But even beyond that, certain people have certain mannerisms. Really knowing your characters helps you to pick the right beats for them. Old ladies pat people’s hands. Teen boys fist bump. Flirty girls twist their hair. Whatever it is, know your characters.  

Beats are fun to write. It’s going that next level in your book.


Like all great things, moderation, moderation, moderation. Only use a beat if you need it. For example, it would be ridiculous to say, 

“Get out of my room!” Amy noticed she hadn’t dusted under her bed for a while. “I never want to see you again!”

If Amy is that furious, dust is the last thing on her mind. Know your characters and only use beats to build your scene, character, or plot.

Having a beat in every paragraph is just as exhausting as he shouted, he hissed, he hummed. Many paragraphs don’t need any beats or dialogue tags. Try going without. Let the reader fill in the blanks. Or if you need them, alternate methods. Sometimes use “she said,” sometimes use a beat. 

Beats combined with simple dialogue tags will help your book come alive. 

How do you use beats? Do you have other alternative ideas for dialogue tags? Share your thoughts BELOW.


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LDSM Midwest Conference Notes: The Hero’s Journey

I’ve been typing up my notes from the LDStorymakers Midwest Conference two weeks ago. Finally. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. I’ll start with a class I took from Don Carey on The Hero’s Journey

Sadly, I’d never heard of The Hero’s Journey before. If you haven’t either, here’s what I understand it to be:

A guy named Joseph Campbell gathered the best stories from around the world and throughout history. He found a pattern in the stories, both in outline and characters. He summarized those patterns for us.  (Read more about it here. Also, Christopher Vogler has done a lot more work on this concept. You can see his in depth website here.)

Breakdown of characters in most major stories:

  1. Hero: main character
  2. Shadows: bad guys—or could be an enemy within
  3. Mentor: great coach, teacher, or guiding principles
  4. Allies: help hero reach goal, sidekicks, buddies, girlfriends
  5. Herald: brings news of change—could be a person or event
  6. Threshold Guardians: blocks hero from reaching goal—forces or people
  7. Shape Shifter: people or things that start good and end bad, or vice versa
  8. Trickster: clowns, mischief makers


The hero embarks  on a journey that has several stages:

  • The Ordinary World: Sympathetic overview of the hero, giving background, and showing a need for a change.
  • The Call to Adventure: Something changes the situation. The hero must face the possibility of change.
  • Refusal of the Call: Hero turns away from this change (or someone close to the hero expresses fear of change).
  • Meeting with the Mentor: Hero meets someone or something that gives him training, advice, or equipment to make the journey.
  • Crossing the Threshold: Hero commits to leave the ordinary world for something extraordinary.



  • Tests, Allies, Enemies: Hero is tested and meets with experiences to teach him where his loyalty should rest (this is a significant bulk of the story)
  • Approaching the Inmost Cave: Hero and friends prepare for significant challenge
  • Ordeal (about ½ way point): Hero confronts death or faces greatest fear. Out of this challenge, comes a new life.
  • Seizing the Sword, or the Reward: Hero takes possession (control) of treasure won in ordeal. Celebration, but danger of losing treasure again.



  • Road Back (about ¾ point): Hero leaves special world to bring treasure home, often involves chase
  • Resurrection (climax of story): Hero severely tested near home. Give one last fight, battle, and hero resolves conflict
  • Return with Elixir: Hero returns home with treasure. Ordinary world is transformed.


That sums it up.

Don Carey did a great job of showing how this works in two well-known stories, Star Wars and The Sound of Music. I won’t do it here, but I would suggest you try it when you’re done reading this post. It’s a great exercise as a writer to chart the characterization and outlining of these two completely different stories to see how perfectly they fit into these explanations. By the end of his class, I felt like I could do it for any favorite book or movie.

Since the conference, I’ve done a “Hero’s Journey” for the book I’m working on, just to see how it pans out. My book, Augustina, is in the final stages of writing, yet pinpointing the signposts of my story really helped me see where the story was weak and needing more plot. And stronger characters.

It helped a ton.

The other outlining method I really like is beat sheets, specifically Blake Snyder’s, Save the Cat.

The idea is similar to The Hero’s Journey in that all stories and all hero’s follow a similar path.Without going into too much detail, this method is used for screenplays, but it translates well into fiction. In fact, there are beat sheet calculators online that I used to help me pace Augustina. Instead of minutes in a movie, I used pages. A 300 page novel would look something like this.

  • Opening Image :1
  • Theme Stated :14
  • The Set Up:1 to 27
  • The Catalyst:33
  • Debate:33 to 68

Break into ACT II

  • B Story:82
  • Fun and Games:55 to 150
  • Midpoint:150
  • The Bad Guys Close In:150 to 205
  • All is Lost :205
  • Dark Night of the Soul:205 to 232

Break Into ACT III

  • The Finale:232 to 300
  • Final Image:300


I like this method because I can see how long (approximately) each section of my hero’s adventure should be. I hope it helps you, too. Read more about it here. Or calculate your beats here.

When I started out writing fiction, I never really intended to write fiction. I just sat down and wrote. A pantser’s approach.


Flying by the seat of your pants


Since then, I’ve decided I need to do a little outlining. I’m not necessarily organized when I outline. As I mentioned, I came home from the conference and outlined my mostly-written book. But even if your book is not started, semi-written, or in the perfecting stages, I would suggest taking a look at the items listed above to see how your story fits in.

Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a book–many subconscious. As authors, we should fulfill most–if not all–of them. 

These two systems help ensure we’re doing that.

How about you? Do you outline? Have you used The Hero’s Journey (or beat sheets) to help? Or do you use something else to pace?

Comment here.