Writing Tip: Using Mental, Emotional, and Physical Reactions to Strengthen Your Scenes


Using mental, emotional, and physical reactions to strengthen scenes.png

I’ve been pondering a concept in writing lately, and that’s the importance of reactions.

I know it’s essential for characters to make choices and have motivations in every scene. That gives the story a sense of urgency and purpose. But this morning I’ve been working on something different in my WIP. Reactions. I personally think every scene should have three reactions:

  1. Mental
  2. Emotional 
  3. Physical

Mental and emotional might seem like the same thing at first — especially if you’re a man. But if you’re a woman, you know they’re not. Women can easily be thinking one thing, and suddenly break out crying for no reason. Maybe men can, too, and they just hide it better. :)

To me, a mental response involves the logic aspect of the brain, and as we all know, the logical often wars with the emotional side of us. Unless we’re Spock. Or Mr. Data. (Gotta love Star Trek.)

.And the physical responses should involve the five senses. In my opinion, mental, emotional, and physical responses are key in showing, not telling your story.

How does this work?

In each scene, something happens to your character — or it should. So ask yourself:

  • How does this affect my character mentally, emotionally, or physically?

Let me demonstrate. I’ll even demonstrate with a man, since I still think women are easier to peg emotionally.

First Example:

If your character is thrown from a horse and twists his ankle, instead of saying, Jeremy sat on the ground, hurt and angry at himself, you can say:

Mental Reaction: I’m such an idiot! I knew that horse was gonna throw me. I knew it the second I saw him! Why couldn’t I have held on two seconds longer? Or got my foot in the stirrup! (Logical aspect. Yes, there is some emotion in there, but he’s logically trying to figure out how he ended up on his backside.)

Emotional Reaction: I’m such a stupid dolt! And he threw me in front of Elizabeth?! I’m never going to live this down. She’s never going to talk to me again. Stupid #&!@ horse! (Embarrassment. Anger.  A hint of a crush going on.)

Physical Reaction: I try to stand. Pain explodes in my ankle. I stifle a groan and swear again. I look around. The fence is a couple feet behind me, but if Elizabeth sees me use it to stand up, I’ll lose all manhood. Gritting my teeth, I wipe my raw hands on my jeans, and push myself up. My legs shake. They hate me as much as I hate the horse. It takes every ounce of energy not to limp out of the corral. 

Man Thrown from horse


Second Example:

Pretend that after Jeremy masters the horse-riding, he is riding through a dark, scary forest. Don’t just tell me, “Jeremy rode through a dark, scary forest.” Show me.

Mental Response: The wall of trees stretches up on both sides of me. The sun is lost in their shadows, making it feel much later in the day than it is. I know if there was more sun, I would find the scenery beautiful. But I can’t. I don’t. (Mental/Logical response)

Emotional Response: The trees crowd in around me. They’re hiding something, I can feel it. What though? Or are they the secret themselves? It seems their dark, gnarled branches could reach out and grab me at any moment. (Emotional response–fear)

Physical Response: My eyes struggle to adjust to the lack of sun. It is cool in the forest, yet my forehead breaks out in a sweat. The woods are too silent. Too quiet. I’m a dead man

Third Example:

This last example is from Elizabeth’s POV. If Jeremy unexpectedly kisses her at the end of the story, you can say Elizabeth was surprised, even really, really, really surprised. Or . . . you can show her three reactions and let the readers figure it out:

Mental response: I stare at Jeremy in shock. He’s never looked at me twice before. Where did this kiss come from? Did he hear me talking to Mary about my crush on him? Does he just feel guilty? 

Emotional Response: I study his blue eyes, his dark hair. He’s not smiling. Why isn’t he smiling? “Don’t say it was a mistake!” I beg him silently. “Don’t tell me you are sorry. In fact, kiss me again!” 

Physical Response: My lips are still warm, my cheeks are flushed. My heart is pounding so loudly I’m sure he can hear it. 

 Man and woman kissing.jpg

Those are just a few quick examples. The beauty is all three responses can be thrown together as written, or moved around to help with the flow.

I stare at Jeremy in shock. He’s never looked at me twice before. Where did this kiss come from? Did he hear me talking to Mary about my crush on him? Does he just feel guilty? I study his blue eyes, his dark hair. He’s not smiling. Why isn’t he smiling? My lips are still warm, my cheeks are flushed. My heart is pounding so loudly I’m sure he can hear it. 

“Don’t say it was a mistake!” I beg him silently. “Don’t tell me you are sorry. In fact, kiss me again!” 

.The more I delve into my characters’ mental, emotional, and physical reactions, the more the scenes come alive.

At the same time, I am sure there’s a point of over-doing it. I can’t imagine writing about Jeremy’s reaction to seeing a McDonald’s down the street unless it’s going to affect his future decisions, and thus the story. It could easily slow the narrative. So use this tip with caution. I think. Right?

What do you guys think? How do you use mental, emotional, and physical reactions to show your story? Is there a point of overdoing it? 

Editing is Like Mulching–Plus 2 More Questions



Hey everyone, how’s your Monday going?

Personally, I’m sore and exhausted. We had a long, busy, hard-labor kind of weekend. Yet…I’m a happy camper because my yard is mulched–or at least the front yard is. And the garage is kinda sorta cleaned out (I just have a few last things to finish).

Neither of these projects were on my to-do list for Saturday, but sometimes life throws these kind of projects at you. The mulch came about because we have awesomely nice neighbors who ordered too much and gave us their leftovers. Yes!  And the unplanned garage reorg was because our huge shelf broke. No!

Both of these Saturday projects remind me of writing–editing specifically.

Here’s how.

You’re looking at a project, like I was Saturday. You’re feeling overwhelmed. You know it has to happen, but where do you start? What to fix first?

So you start digging through the junk, the dirt and mud. You pull out the weeds, the old boxes, and start chucking anything that isn’t growing or working anymore. In editing, this is the most painful part for me. I’m a word hoarder. I should probably go to therapy for this, I know, because I can’t bear to let my words go. But I have to get rid of the stuff dragging my manuscript down to get it to the next level. 


I ripped out a bunch of other plants and weeds, and left these beauties behind. Funny, I could barely see them before.


Once the big stuff is done and cleaned, you get to the next layer of putting things back into place: moving plants, sorting bikes. That kind of stuff.

In editing, this one can sometimes throw me off because there’s always the ripple effect when you move a scene, but I’m rarely disappointed. In yard work, sometimes a plant isn’t working simply because it’s in the wrong place in the garden. In the garage, sometimes things aren’t functional shoved behind four pieces of plywood. Find a more useful spot. The same thing goes for scenes. A simple move and suddenly a previously off scene shines.


We thankfully saw the shelf when it was still sagging. My car could not have survived if it and all the junk collapsed on it.


With things cleaned up and in the right spot, then comes the pretty. The finishing touches. Mulch in the case of my garden, finally organizing touches in the garage. In editing, the finishing touches involve the words themselves. Don’t just say something, shout it! Don’t just eat a donut, devour it. This by far is my favorite part of the writing process. I can spend days, weeks, or years even tweaking to get things just right. 


Digging, rearranging, and mulching has completely changed my front flower bed. I love it.
So that’s my two cents on editing. I won’t be walking anytime soon, but hey, now I have time to edit.
It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the effort!


.This post goes right along with the last two questions I have for all you writing nuts out there.

#9) Editing is like __________ (fill in the blank–no cursing please :) And mulching or cleaning the garage are already taken.)

#10) I write because ___________


PS: If you’re wondering what these questions are, I’m working on my 100th post that will feature yours and my favorite things about writing. In case you haven’t answered them yet, the other 8 questions are:

#1) Favorite writing tips?

#2) Most overused (annoying) words in writing or reading?

#3) Favorite website/blog for writing advice?

#4) Favorite authors?

#5) Favorite books on the craft of writing?

#6) Coolest author (or other public person) website?

#7) Most useful editing tips?

#8) Best part of writing?

Make sure to add your ideas to those who have already answered. The more the merrier. The 100th post will be Wednesday, barring no other foreseen Belliston catastrophes (knock on wood).

MBM: Jessica Khoury on Editing


Today is day #5 of March Book Madness. If you’ve missed any of the other posts, go check them out. They’ve been awesome. Here’s the list.      


          Lynn Wiese Sneyd: Thurs, March 8, Querying 
          Tobi Summers: Tues, March 13, Plotting vs. Plodding
          JoLynne Lyon: Thurs, March 15, Marketing
          Cassie Mae: Tues, March 20, Editing
          Jessica Khoury: Thurs, March 22, Editing
          Tricia Pease: Tues, March 27th, Reading
          Sharon Belknap: Thurs, March 29Reading
          (if it’s blue, you can click on it to go to that post) 

Today Jessica Khoury is here, author of Origin, a YA dystopian novel coming September 2012 from Razerbill/Penguin. The cover is awesome and the synopsis is even better: 

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home–and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life. Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia’s origin–a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost. This is a supremely compelling debut novel that blends the awakening romance of Matched with the mystery and jungle conspiracy of Lost. (more details here.)

Awesome, right? So I am uber-excited to have the uber-talented Jessica chat with us today on editing. 

Jessica: Thanks for having me guest post, Rebecca! It’s such an honor to be given this opportunity.
Gosh, I could write a book on editing. But I won’t, because so many already have, my favorite of which is Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, in the Write Great Fiction series. If you don’t have it, get it. If you have it but haven’t read it, read it. If you have it and have also read it, read it again. And always keep a highlighter handy because it’s stuffed with wonderful, concise advice that will change how you approach your first, second, or umpteenth draft. Most of what I know of editing I learned from this brilliant book, so if you seen anything here you want to explore further, Mr. Bell’s your man.
So there you sit. Let’s say you’ve got a first draft in your hands. It’s still warm from the printer. It’s beautiful. The day is beautiful. Life is beautiful.
But you open the first page and start to read. It’s like picking up a mug of freshly brewed hot Earl Grey and finding it’s left a stain on the coffee table. Because you start to think, Ugh… It’s horrible. I’m done. I’ll never write again. I’ll take up cross-stitching or the luge instead.
Well, don’t. One of Mr. Bell’s most priceless gems is found in the first chapter of his book, and it is this: Any problem can be fixed. Maybe your characters lack life. Maybe your plot is flat. Maybe the beginning is dull, the middle’s a muddle, or the end’s a disaster. There are oodles of way to approach these problems, and here are few ways you can start.

1)     Wait. Give yourself some time away from your manuscript. Don’t jump straight into the editing the day or even week you finish writing. (I did this; the result was my sending off a manuscript to agents that was in dire need of help. I’m lucky it got picked up at all.) During this “cool-off” period, read a lot, watch movies or whatever, go camping—anything to distract you. Reading is best, in my opinion, because it not only steals your mind away from your book, it also gets you in the “reading” mood, so you can approach your book from the perspective of an objective reader more easily.

2)     Listen to your gut. The more objectively you approach your manuscript—meaning you’re looking at it as a reader, not a writer, and that you’ve had sufficient time to “forget” the story—the easier this will be. Pay attention to your physical responses to the story. Yes, it sounds loony, but trust me on this. It works.
As you’re reading, recognize any moments when, say, your lips cringe or your abdomen tenses. These could be signs of something that’s not working. They’re the niggly little thoughts that signal a problem. Note the place it happens and see if you can figure out why it didn’t sit well with you. This is you listening to your subconscious, and it can be one of your greatest editing tools.
Often when I’m editing, I’ll ignore those tummy-turning sentences or the line of dialogue which makes my eyes wince a bit. Two, three, four times I’ll read the manuscript, and every time I’ll have the same gut response to those sections. And they don’t go away until I rework them. Often, if I persisted in ignoring my gut, I’d get my manuscript back from my agent or editor and—surprise, surprise—those same sections would be marked in red. And I’d facepalm and think Why didn’t I just listen to my gut in the first place?

3)     Spice it up. There’s always room for a little more punch, a little more zing. Pull out the most tense, important scenes in the story and ask yourself What can I add to make this even more tense? What would make the stakes even higher at this moment?

Look at the dialogue. Ask yourself, What words can I omit or add to make the voices more distinct and real?
Look at the characters. Having trouble making someone likeable? Add a pet-the-dog beat, in which the character goes out of his/her way to help someone for no reason other than their own compassion or goodness. These are great ways for you MC to win the reader’s heart early in the book, whether they’re standing up for a kid who’s being bullied, stopping the car to move a hapless turtle off the road, or simply paying for someone’s coffee when the other person discovers they’ve forgotten their wallet.
Look at your descriptions and settings. Ask yourself, What details can I add to really make this place pop? Details are so important, and go so far in making a scene three-dimensional.
This list could go on and on; there are so many different ways to edit. And remember: editing isn’t just about slogging through page after page, circling misspelled words with a red felt pen. Editing is your chance to take your novel to the next level. Editing is where the magic happens. Don’t approach it with dread but with excitement. You’ve got a whole story here! The hard part’s over! Now’s the time for the fun, the spice, the glitter, the sharpening.
Have fun with it, and you’ll do just fine.

Bio: Jessica Khoury is of Syrian and Scottish descent, and was born and raised in Toccoa, Georgia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Toccoa Falls College. Origin is her first novel. She still lives in Toccoa with her husband Ben, where she writes and coaches youth soccer. You can visit her online at www.jessicakhoury.com, on facebook, or on twitter@jkbibliophile.

Rebecca: Love the tips, Jessica! Number two spoke loudly to me because I’ve gone through my current WIP hundreds of times (maybe not, but it feels like it), yet there is one section that makes me cringe every time. I keep thinking, No, I have to have it in there. I guess today I’ll be rewriting or hitting the delete key altogether. Or maybe I can spice it up. Nope. Already tried that. Delete key here I come.

And I completely agree with what you said about details. We all love a book that becomes so vivid in our minds we can picture the whole thing–then we freak out when the movie doesn’t get it just right. (I’m hoping this doesn’t happen for me tonight at Hunger Games.) And it doesn’t even take lengthy descriptions to make it happen. Just vivid, powerful adjectives, smells, sounds, something. Spice it up, make it glitter. Love it.

Thanks again Jessica for visiting us over here. We look forward to reading your YA novel, Origin, come fall. And again, if you haven’t checked it out yet, go. Now. Here. :)

How about you? What ways have you found to spice up your manuscript? Have you had that gut reaction to a particular scene? How have you upped the stakes in your book? Have you added Origin to your to-read pile on goodreads yet?

MBM: 8 Editing Tips with Cassie Mae


Today is day #4 of March Book Madness! If you don’t know what March Book Madness is, check it out here. The gist is that I get to have some awesome authors here, talking to me and you about writing, editing, querying, and all that jazz. Fun, awesome stuff. Fun, awesome people. The schedule is:


          Lynn Wiese Sneyd: Thurs, March 8, Querying 
          Tobi Summers: Tues, March 13, Plotting vs. Plodding
          JoLynne Lyon: Thurs, March 15, Marketing
          Cassie Mae: Tues, March 20, Editing
          Jessica Khoury: Thurs, March 22, Editing
          Tricia Pease: Tues, March 27th, Reading
          Sharon Belknap: Thurs, March 29Reading 
          (Click on the blue to go to that post) 

That means today I have the hilarious and very sweet Cassie Mae sharing her thoughts on editing. I’m up to my eyeballs in editing right now, so I’m very thrilled to have some ideas. With that short intro, I’m going to let her take over. Especially since the more I write here, the more chance I have of breaking her rules in front of y’alls (no, I’m not southern). Take it away Cassie.  

Cassie: Okay, before I dive in, I have to say THANK YOU to my idol, Rebecca for asking me to guest post! I love you girl! And also, a disclaimer: I have no filter. Pretty funny considering the topic I chose to post about, lol.

Editing that sucker of a manuscript!
Gosh, editing is my favorite part. (Wut?? You crazy!) But really, it is. Know why??? Cuz I get to read through my book again, knowing all the stuff is already there, just needs to be polished.
All right, so here’s a list from what I’ve gathered about agents, and what they look for.


1) Voice
Voice. Voice. VOICE!
Do you know what voice is? Or how to achieve it in your book? Okay, I’m no expert, I’ll be the first to say, but here’s my advice. Put yourself into the character’s head. (Duh, we’re already there.) I know, but really think about it. What would your character say in response to something that surprised them?
Example: My eyebrows shot upward.
Ya, I guess that’s fine. But is that what you would think when something surprised you?
Whoa! So did not expect that! How the heck do I respond?
If you are first person, this totally works. Even in third, italicize this baby and it works too.

2) Show, don’t tell
Gosh, first draft Cassie tries real hard not to tell, but you know what? She tells a lot. So you know what editing Cassie does? She does a search and find. On what words do you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. (haha! No pun intended.)
*Felt, Feel, Feeling. (Oh gosh, please get rid of these. You don’t need them ever.)
*Saw, seen, see.
*Notice, realize, wonder. (You don’t need these either. When you are inside the mc’s head, the reader knows they notice, realize, or wonder something simply by stating it.
Example: I realize I’m drooling.
To: (I’m adding voice here too) Holy crap! I’m drooling. Gross.
*Hear, heard.
*Any and all adverbs.


3) Active voice
Make things active in your book. The characters need to be doing the thing, not starting to do the thing, or even was doing the thing.
More examples? Okay :)
Passive sentence: I started to cross the room.
Active: I crossed the room.
Passive: He was waiting by the car.
Active: He waited by the car.

4) Tense

Pick a tense. Stick with it. The whole way through your book. I’m a present tenser, so when I edit, I look for whenever past tense slips in. And it does.
Past: Did
Present: Do, Does
Past: Was, were
Present: Is, are
Ya, you get it. :)

5) Grammar/spelling
Word is great for most things, but it doesn’t catch everything. Trust me! The most common grammar mistake I come across is for dialog tags.
Wrong: “Do you ever stop talking?” She asked.
Right: “Do you ever stop talking?” she asked.
Wrong: “No. It’s not possible,” I laughed.
Right: “No. It’s not possible.” I laughed. (Okay, do you know why this is the correct way? Because laugh isn’t a dialog tag. It’s an action. If I used said, then the first version would be the correct way. Laugh, sigh, smile are all actions. So a period it is!)
Wrong: “You should really try to shut your mouth,” she said, rolling her eyes, “it could get you into trouble.”
Right: “You should really try to shut your mouth,” she said, rolling her eyes. “It could get you into trouble.” (Because these are two separate sentences, a period is used. Think of it as if the dialog tag wasn’t there at all. Would you use a period or a comma?)

6) Speaking of dialog tags…
Edit them out when you don’t need them. The voices of your characters should be enough anyway to know who’s talking. If you read this:
“Dude, you smell,” I said.
“Sorry, ran out of deodorant,” he responded.
“Go to the store, man,” I said.
“Can’t. I got practice,” he said.
“Your team is gonna hate you,” I said, laughing.
Now, some people don’t like what they call ‘floating heads’ but this is too many dialog tags IMO. Maybe adding action will help here.
“Dude, you smell.” I plug my nose and take a step back
“Sorry,” he says as he sniffs his pit. “I ran out of deodorant.”
“Go to the store, man.”
He shrugs. “Can’t. I got practice.”
“Your team is gonna hate you.”
Not the best, but better, right? One dialog tag used there.

7) Redundancies
Do your characters nod their head? Shrug their shoulders? Squint their eyes? Now, think about these active words here. What else would you shrug? Nothing right? When someone says “I shrug” what do you picture?
So no need to put the modifier. I shrug, I nod, I squint, works just fine.
Okay, so this post is getting way long! But wanted to mention one more thing.

8) Are you a ‘that’ fan?
That word will pop up in manuscripts left and right, when it can just be taken out completely.
“I worried that she’d see the empty fast food bag in the garbage.”
“I worried she’d see the empty fast food bag in the garbage.”
Same meaning, right?
Advice? If you can read the sentence without the ‘that’, then take it out!
Okay, I’m done spewing now, lol. Editing is long, but it is fun! Trust me! You’ll see how much more this stuff will help you and with each new first draft, you’ll notice the less amount of stuff you have to fix when it comes to this stuff. There’s always pacing, and plot lines and stuff like that, but I’m not going to dive into it because that would be a whole other post, lol.
Thanks again to Rebecca, and I hope this has been somewhat helpful!

Bio (written by Cassie’s hubby): Cassie doesn’t like to talk about herself (she’s lying about that btw) so she asked me to come up with a few things to introduce her to you. Her mouth doesn’t ever stop running. Even in her sleep. She laughs all the time. At nothing. I’ve stopped asking her what is so funny. When she writes, the only words I can say to grab her attention are, “Harry Potter.” She’s a nerd, but the most beautiful nerd. And she won’t believe I said that either. 

You can find Cassie over at readingwritingandlovinit.blogspot.com. Her posts will make you laugh. Plus, she’s a super nice person. Back when I was a dorky, first-time author (all of 3 months ago–and I still am btw), I had my very first book signing in a land far, far away (Salt Lake City). Cassie came to see me. Twice. How awesome is that? Love her.

As far as my thoughts on editing, I need all the help I can get, so THANK YOU, Cassie! :) Like Cassie, I actually love to edit. I love reliving the story, tweaking the plot, and enhancing the setting. The book I’m working on has been in the editing stage for three years (off and on), so yeah. Good thing I love editing. It’s great to have some new ideas. Cassie’s tips are awesome and I will be using them as soon as I’m done typing here. :) I’m sure you can, too. 

So what about you? Do you love or hate editing? What editing tricks have you used?

PS – Be sure to check back Thursday when Jessica Khoury will be adding her thoughts on editing. (Seriously a great timed week for me! I have a goal to be done with these edits next week. It must be luck or Karma or something. Awesome!) See you then!

Taking a Little Leap


Happy LEAP Day!!! I have a friend whose birthday is today and for that reason alone, I think she is the coolest person (although she’s pretty great without the awesome birthday). What a fun day today is, an extra day, and I hope you do something extra fun, extra happy, and/or extra special. I probably won’t because I’m a very dull, boring person, but I’ll feel better if you do. :) Oh, and if you have any fun Leap Day traditions, let me know. I’m sure I could check Pinterest (couldn’t I?), but I’d rather just stick around here and ask you guys. 

I might add that writing has been a huge LEAP in my life. In fact, the last leap year, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I would be an author some day. Or that I’d have a website, or a blog, or twitter, or any of the other new leaps I’ve taken. Kind of makes me curious what the next four years will bring. Even now when old friends find out I’ve written a book they look at me a long minute and say as politely as possible, “Really? You? The music lady?” Big leap. That’s probably also why it’s been so fun. 

(Reminder: it’s not too late to get a free, autographed copy of SADIE. There are over 160 entries on goodreads, but not that many on my blog. So if you want to up your chances, hop over to this blog post and drop me a note that you want to be considered.) 

Today I’m going to take a little leap and talk about myself. Christine Tyler tagged me recently and asked me to answer 11 questions. I’m only now getting around to answering. Sorry Christine. I’m slow.

1. What do you eat when you write? 

Anything and everything (okay, not everything. See #11). I’m a snacker, meaning I eat every hour or two, all day long. Bad habit I know, but it’s my body, not yours. :)

2. What do you do when you experience despair and crippling doubt? 

Curl up in the fetal position and cry. Just kidding. I don’t know. I usually take a break, do something different like read a book, play the piano, or goof around with my kids. Sometimes I’ll read the nice notes people have sent me the last few months (big thank you, by the way!). When those feelings have lost their intensity, I get back to work. They always do–thankfully. One of the few benefits to having a short attention span.

3. How did you find your first critique partner, or what are you looking for in a future CP? 
My family. Best place, right? I lucked out in that my sister-in-law Sarah was the first person to read SADIE and she’s encouraged me ever since. We swap manuscripts and bounce ideas off each other all the time. My dad has also been great in giving me writing tips and such. As far as what I look for in a CP, I appreciate someone who can tell me the brutal honest truth in a less-than-brutal way. I suppose we all do.

4. What is your biggest distraction when you write? 

Kids. I should probably state that the other way around, though. Writing is the biggest distraction to my parenting. Sometimes I have to remind myself which is the hobby and which is the life-long dream (writing is the hobby in case you didn’t catch that). I’ve set time limits on when I write and blog because of the tunnel vision I acquire when I’m in the mode. In a year and a half they’ll all be in school full time and then I will write more.

5. What character in your writing are you most proud of development-wise? Why? 

I would say the character I’m working on right now, Greg. He’s a real jerk to the main character and it was hard to let him be. Knowing the why behind him and seeing him pull out of that jerkiness has been very rewarding. He still can be a jerk at times and I struggle to rein him in (so does the MC), but if he was perfect, he wouldn’t be fun. Or real. Hopefully future readers will forgive him. I have.   

6. What is the worst thing you have ever written?

Worst? No idea. I’m sure there’s plenty to choose from, but referencing question #2, I’d rather not search my memories for an example.

7. Do you talk to yourself, get up and act things out, or make faces when you’re writing? Tell us about one of these times :D

I definitely talk to myself. I don’t get up and act things out though. Hmmm, maybe I should. Nope. Too weird for me. Sorry. The first year when I was writing, one of the kids or my hubby would walk into the room and give me a “Who are you talking to?” look. Now they don’t bother. They know I’m crazy. It’s great!

8. Where do you go for inspiration?


9. What is the hardest part about writing for you?

Letting go of a good idea in pursuit of a better idea (I posted once about this dilemma here). I tend to hoard words. I need to work on letting go. It’s not like I’m writing in stone. Things can change and that’s okay. It’s okay. I can let go now. Let go…Take a deep breath. It’s fine. 

10. If you were a world-famous author, what advice would you give aspiring authors?

World famous? Really? Wow. Ummmm…work hard and edit like crazy. Just when you think it’s done, it probably isn’t, so go back and tweak some more. And then some more. And then a little more.

11. Have you ever had Ketchup Chips? 

Sadly yes. I was introduced to Ketchup chips by my Canadian brother-in-law. He also gave me Vinegar and Pickle chips. I think there was another heinous kind in there but my mind has mercifully wiped that night from my memory. Bleh. Nasty stuff. Does anybody really like Ketchup Chips? I mean really really? 

So that’s a little bit about me. If you’d like to answer these same 11 questions, leave a comment for me and I’ll come check out your answers. However, if you say that you like Ketchup Chips, we just might have to chat.

Take a LEAP on something new today. Make it count because today only happens every four years.

related post: Rebecca Belliston interview

Writing is Like Cleaning (only better).


Quick update. SADIE is now available for the NOOK. Check it out here. I personally have a Kindle Fire for reading, but I’m sure the NOOK is just as great. 


Which reminds me…Did you know that the Kindle Fire is mentioned in the Book of Mormon? Well, maybe the device isn’t, but my kids got a good laugh out of this: 

2 Nephi 7:11 “Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled.” (based on Isaiah.) The Kindle Fire is also mentioned in Malachi. 1:10 “Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought.”

As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any NOOKs mentioned in the scriptures, but don’t let that dissuade you from buying SADIE. :)  We tried finding an “I Touch” but no such luck. 

Yes, I am easily entertained. My kids are too, thankfully.

Also, in case you were wondering, my two nephews are back home now. We are going to miss them. They were so sweet and we loved having them around, but I’m sure they’re glad to be back in their own beds. And their mom’s surgery went really well, so big relief on that account! 

Okay, on to how writing is like cleaning. (And if you don’t like to write, feel free to substitute your favorite hobby in here).

Disclaimer: I HATE TO CLEAN

Before my nephews came last week, I knew I need to clean the house top to bottom. The youngest is nearly two and I wasn’t exactly sure what he’d get into or trip over, so I felt that it was time to buckle down and find some shine. 

As I started cleaning, the most depressing thing happened. I got all the big stuff done, laundry, dishes, toys, books, and thought I was finished, but then I started to notice a few things. Fingerprints on the windows, water marks on the fridge, stains in the carpets. So with a little more elbow grease, I cleaned those things as well. Then an even more depressing thing happened. I started seeing micro-spots and dust particles and chips in the paint. I hadn’t noticed these things before because I had more pressing messes. But the cleaner my house became, the less clean it felt. Does that make sense? 

I was getting more and more depressed about it until…I left the house. Only after I ran some errands and walked back in did I truly appreciate all the work I’d done. And then I was thrilled. I patted myself on the back and thought, “Yahoo!” 

That’s when I decided writing is like cleaning (only better, because writing can’t be undone within seconds of the bus dropping off the kids–unless the kids happen to wipe out your hard drive and then it’s basically the same). My point is that our first draft takes care of the big things like plot, characters, and setting, and when we finish we take ourselves out to dinner because we’re so proud of ourselves. “I just wrote a book! Yahoo!” 

Then we decide to reread what we’ve written. That’s when we start spotting things like sentence structure, cardboard characters, and obnoxious commas. So we work, tweak, fix, and when we finally finish we take ourselves out to dinner again, Italian this time, because “Hooray! Yes, I fixed it. I’m so awesome.” And then…

You get the point. 

After the fourth or fifth (or fifteenth) draft, it starts to feel like we have the dumbest, lamest book ever written in the history of mankind. “I mean seriously, my four year old writes better than this!” 

So my advice? Leave the house. 

Walk away.

Take a break.

Maybe even clean the house. Nah. Never mind. Read a book. 

So that when you return to your manuscript (or painting, quilt, scrapbook, or whatever you love), you can see all that hard work for what it really is. Beauty.

Writing Tip Tuesday: How to spot your crutch words


I have two writing projects I’m working on right now.
The first is a sequel to SADIE. Several people have asked if there will be one and my answer is, yes! Sometime, somewhere, some day. I have 180 pages written, but . . . right now I’m trying to finish up another project. This novel, a trilogy actually, is quite different from SADIE in that it’s not religious, it’s set in the near future, and the there’s no skiing involved. Hallelujah. :) I’ll be talking more about this soon, but for now I will simply say that I’m very, very, very excited about it. However, this first book is too long. As in 100 pages too long. Ugh.

In January I set on a mission to cut it down, editing and tweaking as I go. Since then, I’ve successfully added 1500 words. Yes. I’m fully and painfully aware that I’m going the wrong way. I’ve eluded myself into thinking it’s because I’ve improved the manuscript, added plot, fixed dialogue and all that jazz. While that might be true, it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s too long.

Yesterday, I played around with this incredibly fun little website called Wordle.net.
If you haven’t heard of it, it lets you submit large sections of words and then it spews out cute little pictures of your text, highlighting your most frequently used words.
Since I didn’t explain it very well and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll show you a quick example.
This is a picture representation of the Declaration of Independence on Wordle.

Cool, right?
It’s like a synopsis without sentences. The more frequent the word, the larger it appears, giving you a feel for what this document is all about: people, laws government, states. Cool. 

As I was playing around with this fun little website, I thought to myself, “I wonder what the word limit is.” First I tried a chapter of my manuscript and when it chugged that out easily, I decided to copy my entire manuscript, all 431 pages of it. Here’s what popped out:

Ignore the names for a moment and notice that instead of cool words like ‘usurpations’ and ‘abolishing’ in big, bold letters, I have useless, space-wasting little words like ‘just’ ‘back’ and ‘get’.
No surprise that I can’t pen a document like the founding fathers, but I thought I had learned something in the past three years of writing. Apparently I still have a LONG way to go. (Btw, that little app proves yet again how amazing the Declaration of Independence is.) Thankfully writing is a process, and since this particular manuscript is still a draft (albeit the 15th one) I can do something about it. 

Note to any and all Microsoft programmers: Thank you for creating the Ctrl F function. ‘Find and Replace’ is awesome! 

Suddenly, this little entertaining application became a great writing tool. Once I started pin-pointing which words I’m addicted to, I knew what to look for as I went back through the manuscript. So far I’ve only gone through half and only with two words, but I’m happy to report that I’m down 250 words.
Crazy, right?
It’s a little time consuming because there are times when I actually need a ‘just’ or a ‘had’, but not nearly as much as I had just been using (yes, I did that on purpose). And the best part is I haven’t sacrificed a single bit of plot or dialogue. As a result, it’s tightening the manuscript like I had tried and failed to do before. 

Another quick note: Characters should have a voice, a distinct way of speaking. As part of this, I have a character who happens to use the word ‘just’ a lot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and I had to be careful not to kill his distinct voice when combing through my manuscript, so watch out for that. If anything, once you start cutting your crutch words from everywhere but that person’s dialogue, it will help strengthen their individuality.  

Well, I’m a happy lady today. And since this writing trick is not only easy but incredibly entertaining (at least for me), I thought I’d share it with all of you. Go find whatever manuscript, talk, or essay you have, and paste it into the link here. Once you have the word picture, you can hit the randomize button to see different versions of it. 
this post on wordle
Fun, fun, fun. 

Which words are you addicted to?  Did you know you were overusing them or were you surprised by what popped up?

Writing Tip Tuesday: Read Your Manuscript Aloud


Yesterday I wrote about CHOOSING to have a good day! I hope that you do today.

Today is Tuesday, so I wanted to mention another writing tip that has really improved my writing.  It’s reading the manuscript. That might sound stupid, but let me explain.

1) Read to yourself, as in out loud. Yes, you might look a little crazy if you’re talking to your computer (in dramatic fashion, no less), but I think if you’re a writer, you already know that you’re a little crazy. Now you’re just letting those around you in on the little secret—as if they don’t know it. Besides, this is something I’ve found that really helps me hear the flow of the words, inflection in the voice, or where the dialogue gets bulky. Also, sometimes it’s easy enough to type words, but until I say them aloud, I don’t actually realize that they’re tongue-twisters.
    Try teaching two toddlers twenty twirling tricks. (Did you say tricks like a toddler? Twix?)

2) Have someone read your manuscript to you and then treat them to a huge brownie sundae. That way you can hear how they interpret what you’ve written. If they aren’t getting the right feel, then maybe you need to clarify.

Can you tell I’m a little hungry right now?

3) Read to someone else. The person must be extremely patient and love you more than hot brownie sundaes, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll stop them every few minutes to scratch things out. One time I read my entire manuscript to my husband as we drove across the country (he’s the best by the way!). As I read, I started anticipating what was going to bore him, which in turn made me edit before I said it, cutting things I should have cut long before. Also, this allowed me first hand reader reactions. It was very, very useful. He’s even let me read to him over the phone during his long commute.

4) Another thing you can try is this great little feature my hubby bought me (Have I mentioned how great he is?) that goes right into Microsoft Word. It’s called NaturalReader and it takes any text and converts it to audio. Either it will read to you immediately, or you can download your text as an MP3 for someone who would rather listen to your book than read. It’s awesome. The nice robotic lady also reads exactly what is on the paper as opposed to what you think is on your paper. For example, I just played back this paragraph and where I thought it said, “bought me”, I’d actually typed, “brought me.” It’s a great editing tool.
That’s it for me today, unless you’d like me to post more pictures of chocolate covered desserts that I want but probably shouldn’t eat. 

What about you? Do you have experiences or advice with reading your manuscript out loud?