Monday, October 8, 2018

Using Figurative Language in Prose

Jessica Nelson

Although we generally associate figurative language with poetry, we use figurative language in prose and everyday speech. Like, when we come home from a bad day at work and say our coworker stamped around the office like a rampaging bull. Or when we’re describing our son’s game-winning goal (“He shot that ball from the opposite end of the field!” or, more accurately, from fifteen yards away). Or in our prose, as we describe anger like molten iron—weighing us down even as it burns us up. 

Here are the main types of figurative language: 

• Simile — a comparison between unlike things using “like” or “as” 
• Metaphor — a comparison between unlike things not using “like” or “as”; an analogy. Merriam-Webster uses “drowning in money” as their example. 
• Personification — giving human attributes/traits to non-human objects or animals, such as suggesting a ticking clock is mocking you or that a dark forest is watching you. 
• Symbolism — expressing the invisible or intangible by means of the visual or sensual (Merriam-Webster definition). 
• Hyperbole — exaggeration to create a humorous or emotional impact, such as “My backpack weighs a ton” or “We’ve had this conversation a million times.” 
• Imagery — using words to produce a visual image in the reader’s mind. I often talk about figurative language revolving around a central image. 
• Oxymoron — a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (Merriam-Webster). Google’s favorite examples are “seriously funny,” “deafening silence,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “act naturally.” 
• Onomatopoeia — sound effect words such as pop, bang, boom, thud. 
• Apostrophe — narrator speaks directly to a person who is not there or dead or to an inanimate object ( 
• Synecdoche — using a part to represent a whole, such as “the crown” to refer to the monarchy or a “suit” to refer to a business man. 
• Pun — a play on words. 

But figurative language can be more subtle, too, like the following: 

• Alliteration — beginning successive words with the same consonant or consonant sound 
• Assonance — repeated vowel sounds 
• Consonance — repeated consonant sounds, usually at the ends of words, such as “short and sweet” or “odds and ends.” 
• Anaphora — beginning each element in a series with the same word or words. A famous example is Charles Dicken’s “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” 

Figurative language is a great way to elevate prose, to create vivid descriptions that seem to move and breathe across the page. (See what I did there? That was personification.) In poetry, we can get away with some more outlandish images, but in prose, we need to keep our figurative language grounded in the world of our story. 

I’ve a had a few fiction manuscripts come across my metaphorical desk whose figurative language didn’t make sense in the context of the story. I never want to discourage prose writers from using figurative language, because it adds flavor and dynamism. But there are some things to consider when using figurative language: 

• Voice — If the story has largely been written in a no-frills style, then an effusive description of a sunset is going to seem out of place. A voice that uses plain, accessible language shouldn’t suddenly spout Shakespeare-level similes or use symbol-heavy metaphors. Figurative language should match the style and tone of the writing. For example, a description like, “the pale fingers of dawn scratched at the cloak of night, caressing the tops of the mountains and limning them in soft gold as midnight purple gave way to pastel pinks and blues” might sound out of place in a piece whose voice isn’t normally so poetic. 

• Point of View — Point of view is related to voice, but with a narrower focus. I’ve seen writers employ some truly spectacular metaphors or similes that ultimately made no sense because they were based on images or details the point of view character wouldn’t use or know about. Here’s where I’ll rat myself out: I wrote a kick-ass metaphor about a character getting angry and then having his bubble burst, and I’ll have to delete and replace it. 

“Anger spilled like molten iron through his veins, heating him from the inside, making his heart pump harder. . . . The molten iron that had coursed through him cooled and solidified, leaving him heavy and tired.” 

I was so proud of this image! I thought I had found the perfect way to describe that hot, simultaneously energizing and burdening feeling of being pissed off and the subsequent heavy, gravity-has-increased-by-one-hundred-fold sensation when someone takes the wind out of your sails*. Here’s the problem: my narrator in this scene is a twenty-year-old male whose primary interests are music and swimming. The forge-centered imagery of the molten iron heating and cooling doesn’t fit my narrator’s characterization. He doesn’t know anything about iron working. He might remember a little about lava-flow from his high-school physical science class, but I doubt that’s what he’s thinking about in this particular situation. (*metaphor and cliché) 

By using figurative language centered around an image beyond my narrator’s knowledge, I’ve drawn attention to myself as the writer. It’s like I’m standing in the middle of the prose waving a red flag and yelling, “Look at me! Am I not a fantastic writer? Look at that great metaphor!” 

Think about who is narrating your story/scene. What does he/she know? The answer can be based on where they are from or where they live now, what they like to do for fun, what they do for work, and/or their special interests. It can be based on past experiences or memories. The key is to use what the narrator already knows to craft figurative language that is relevant to the story. 

Let’s go back to my example above. For that particular scene, based on this narrator, I would write: Anger rang through his body like a cymbal crash. His heart pounded like a bass drum against his ribs, loud and staccato. His pulse thundered in his ears like a timpani’s roll. (Not as great as my molten iron image—yet. I’m still working on it.) 

• World of the story — This is a problem more for fantasy, sci-fi, or historical fiction pieces. The images we use have to make sense in the world of the story. A historical fiction tale set in the early 1600s can’t compare two horseback riders racing to NASCAR. A fantasy story set in a newly-invented world can’t use an image based on modern Earth technology. A sci-fi novel set on an alien planet can’t make allusions to Earthly objects/animals. These are very generic examples, but the point is to take note of what does and does not exist already in the world of your story. 

Here’s the catch-22. We still want to find familiar images that our readers can connect with. Let’s say we’ve set our sci-fi story on an ice-planet inhabited by enormous spider-like creatures, but our characters wouldn’t know what a spider is because spiders don’t exist in the world of the story. What do we do? We break the images down further: multiple eyes, eight spindly legs, sharp fangs that can inject venom. Those are all details that are familiar to us because we know what spiders look like, but we never had to say the word “spider.” 

Subtle ways to incorporate figurative language: 

At the 2018 West Virginia Writer’s conference, I attended Belinda Anderson’s workshop, “Poetic Devices in Prose,” and it’s from her lecture that I composed the short list of “subtle” figurative language devices seen at the top of this blog. She gave us an opening line and then gave us poetic devices to incorporate into our little stories. Here is my little story. 

The music came from somewhere in the woods . . . 

High and clear and haunting like rainfall and cricket chirps. I halted on the dirt path, my backpack slamming against my shoulder blades. The melody seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, like the earth itself was singing.

After a spellbound moment, the music faded. But as haunting and strange as the tune had been, this silence was stranger. The usual sounds of the forest did not return. Birdsong stayed silent, rustling remained quiet. The usual sounds of dusk disappeared.2 The hoots of owls, the howls of wolves, the shush and rustle of wind in the leaves—gone.3 I prayed for the return of the tweet and twitter of the cardinals and robins, for the scratch and scratch of burrowing critters, for the crunch of deer traipsing on dead leaves.4 

The last of the light faded as the sun set behind the trees, and it struck me just how long I’d stood here. I forced myself to move, but the strangest thing happened. As the woods darkened, the path grew light. Thunder rumbled and the music returned, the crisp notes of the wood flute growing frantic and harried as the melody soared, and the path grew light.5 

1. Simile and personification 
2. Alliteration 
3. Assonance 
4. Consonance and onomatopoeia 
5. Epistrophe (the opposite of anaphora) 

Note: this passage is jam-packed with figurative language because it’s a writing exercise. But look at the way the figurative language adds extra oomph to the prose. When used correctly, figurative language can add life and vitality to our prose, but we must walk the fine line between figures of speech that sound good and ones that make sense.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Contest Spotlight: Eyelands Book Awards

Welcome to Eyelands Book Awards, an international competition for both published and unpublished books, organized by Eyelands Literary Magazine in collaboration with Strange Days Publications. We have been organizing fiction competitions for the past eight years with increasing success, giving writers from all over the world the opportunity to see their work published in print and online, to share their work with fellow writers, and even to enjoy a holiday in Greece. Over the years, our competitions have been recognized as truly reliable, fair, and serious.

This year we decided to launch a new contest: Eyelands Book Awards, an international contest that gives the opportunity to a writer to win a holiday in Athens, Greece, where he/she will have the chance to talk about his/her work to Greek readers and meet Greek writers in a special ceremony. This is the grand prize for writers who have already published their book. But there’s more. Eyelands Book Awards also gives the opportunity to an unpublished writer to win a contract and see her/his book published from Strange Days Books. There are also prizes for the winners of the three different categories, as well as nominations of five writers per category. Join us. Send us your submission and win the grand prize, visit Athens, or see your book published! 

For more info please visit our website 


Book Categories: Novels, Novellas, Short Story Collections, Poetry Collections 

Grand prize (published books): Five-day holiday in Athens plus a special handmade ceramic designed especially for Eyelands Book Awards and publication (excerpts) online on our website.

Grand prize (unpublished books): Publication from Strange Days Books. 

Six more winners, one for each category of every section, also win a a special handmade ceramic designed especially for Eyelands Book Awards. 

Certification document for every prize. 

Opening: July 2, 2018 

Deadline: October 20, 2018 

Final results are to be announced on or around December 20, 2018. 

Entries accepted via email or post. Multiple and simultaneous submissions allowed.

The award will be given in a special ceremony in Athens in May 2019. 

Judges: Andriana Minou (poetry), Gregory Papadoyiannis (novels, novellas), Antonis Tsirikoudis (short stories) 

Entry fee: $30 

Friday, August 31, 2018


Shhh . . .  . Don’t tell anyone, but summer’s over—it’s time to dust off your manuscripts and work on your goals. To help you out, IFW is offering 20% OFF all editing and proofing services. TWENTY PERCENT! That’s the largest discount we’ve ever offered.

And . . . we are offering an ADDITIONAL five percent discount to the first 3 people to take advantage of this offer. (A TOTAL OF TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT OFF!)

Here’s the small print:

  1. Offer is good on editing services, proofreading services, consulting services, AND gift certificates.
  2. Offer ends on Wednesday, September 5, 2018, and all purchases must be paid by then. Paid services may be scheduled at the purchaser’s convenience.
  3. Offer is NOT good on active editing agreements or current discounted services.
  4. If you’re not ready for your edit, you can purchase a gift certificate now for 20% (or 25%, if you’re fast) off. That means you can get a $1000 gift certificate for $800 (or $750).
  5. You can also purchase gift certificates to give to the writers in your life—and, unless you tell them, they won’t know you received a discount.
  6. IFW reserves the right to refuse any manuscript. Should we refuse a manuscript after payment has been made, we will immediately refund 100% of the payment.
  7. Only the price is discounted. The service you receive is the same high quality, professional, personal service IFW is known for.
  8. Regular rate for proofreading is 1.2 cents per word. With this offer, it’s .96 or .9 cents per word. Regular rate for editing is 3 cents per word. With this offer, it’s 2.4 or 2.25 cents per word. Regular consulting services are $60 an hour. With this offer, they're $45 an hour.
  9. Offer is valid for both current clients and new clients.
  10. Learn more about our services at or learn more about Inspiration for Writers, Inc. at
  11. To accept this offer, email Sandy at State which service you want (proofreading, edit, consulting, or gift certificate), when you want it, and for how much. Sandy will send you a PayPal invoice for the amount you choose. You may schedule your service immediately or you may wait until you’re ready. We’ll be here.
  12. Questions? Email Sandy at Yep, we know it’s a holiday weekend, but Sandy will check email as frequently as possible and get back with you as soon as she can.



Friday, July 27, 2018

GUEST POST: Overcoming Writer's Block with Automatic Transcription

by Jason Kincaid

This article was originally published by Descript, and an expanded version of the article can be found here.

If you’re a writer—of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever—you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your gut that pairs poorly with the jug of coffee you drank earlier.

If you know that rumble all too well, this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Here’s the core idea: thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Of course, dictation is nothing new—and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant. (You can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot—of convenience, affordability, and accuracy—that makes it practical to use more casually. And I’ve found it increasingly useful for generating a sort of proto-first draft: an alternative approach to the painful process of converting the nebulous wisps inside your head into something you can actually work with.

I call this process idea extraction (though these ideas may be more accurately dubbed brain droppings).

Part I: Extraction

Here’s how my process works. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest—and let me know how it goes!
  • Pick a voice recorder. Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks—or when an idea flits into your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents—and you may discover new ideas along the way.
  • A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go—e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro.” These will come in handy later.
  • For me, these recordings run anywhere from 20–80 minutes. Sometimes they’re much shorter, in quick succession. Whatever works.

Part II: Transcription

Once I’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

A little background: over the last couple of years, there’s been an explosion of tools related to automatic speech recognition (ASR) thanks to huge steps forward in the underlying technologies.

Here’s how ASR works: you import your audio into the software, then the software uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect—the robots are currently in the ‘write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes, that’s fine. You just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you. Maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping—but that’s fine, too. It probably didn’t cost you much. (And good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead.)

A few more tips:

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful—and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments. (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is... @#*! where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds (better yet: Airpods), so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.
  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing—and your ideas, too.
  • I have a lot of ideas, good and bad, while I’m thinking out loud and playing music at the same time (in my case, guitar—but I suspect it applies more broadly). There’s something about playing the same four-chord song on autopilot for the thousandth time that keeps my hands busy and leaves my mind free to wander.
The old ways of doing things—whether it’s with a keyboard or pen—still have their advantages. Putting words to a page can force a sort of linear thinking that is otherwise difficult to maintain. And when it comes to editing, it’s no contest: QWERTY or bust.

But for getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards)? Consider talking to yourself. Even if you wind up with a transcript full of nothing but profanity—well, have you ever seen a transcript full of profanity? You could do a lot worse.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Why Amazon Book Reviews Disappear

by Sandy Tritt

I, like many writers, have had a problem with book reviews disappearing from Amazon. I’ve had people say they’ve left a review, but when I look, it’s not there. In some cases, I’ve actually seen the reviews but they’re gone the next day. Well, I finally found out why.

I read this article by Dave Chesson that explains it: 

And, of course, I was doing things the “wrong” way. To help writers find my book more easily, I scanned for it first and then sent them the link. However, when they clicked on that link, Amazon saw it traced back to me and figured I was trying to scam the system (still not sure how that works, but I guess it's a real thing) and deleted any reviews generated that way. Can you believe it? I have no idea how many reviews I've lost, but at this time, I have only two that have remained there--and they were from people for whom I did not provide a link. 

So, how can you provide a link to make it easier for people to find your book, either to purchase or review? The above article suggests cutting off the control data from the link generated by Amazon. For example, if I give people a link to my workbook after I’ve searched for it, this is the link generated by Amazon:

Instead, if you want to provide a link, cut off everything that comes before the “ref.” For example, this:

HOWEVER, if you really want to not only get good reviews but also move higher in the rankings, suggest purchasers or reviewers SEARCH Amazon using search words. That way, Amazon tracks how many people purchased your book or reviewed your book after SEARCHING for it, and that moves your book higher in the search results.

So, for anyone who has tried to post a review of “The PLAIN ENGLISH Writers Workbook,” or for anyone who would like to purchase this unique workbook, please go to Amazon and search for my book using the search terms "writers workbook," "writing workbook" or "workbook for writers." It appears on about the fourth page. Of course, if I get some “legitimate” reviews/sales from people doing that, maybe it will move up. 

I so much appreciate all of those who've purchased my workbook and who've tried to leave (or have left) reviews. THANK YOU!

Our books live or die according to reviews. Let’s all help each other and be sure to review the books we’ve read.

If you've had a problem or solution to a similar problem, please let us know in the comments and we'll try to help (or pass along the word). We're all in this together, you know. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Don't Forget to Back 'Em Up Blues

Jessica Nelson

Smoke curls around small, intimate tables, each lit with a flickering candle. The house-lights are down, but the stage lights burn bright. A saxophone wails a mournful melody that gradually fades into silence as the performer takes the stage and straddles a spindly chair.

We hear it all the time.

The performer takes a puff of her cigarette and blows a plumb of smoke into the hazy air.

Save, save, save. Back up your files. OneDrive, Google Drive, external hard drive, jump drive. Whatever you do, save your work.

But sometimes that isn’t enough.

Another mournful wail of the sax and a heavy thump from the bass drum.

See, I always save my work. Three, four, five times over the course of a session. But always in the same document. I mean, who saves their work each time as a new document?

Cymbal crash.

Smart people. That’s who.

A few weeks ago, I was working on an edit. A long, time-consuming, brain-mangling edit. I’d easily put sixty-plus hours into this edit over the course of a few weeks. It was due on a Thursday—plenty of time for the client to review my suggestions and make changes before the he had to turn it in on a Monday.

Takes another long drag on her cigarette and releases the smoke slowly.

On Wednesday night, I’m finishing up a few things. Checking over my comments for silly errors and the like. After all, we can’t expect our clients to take our advice if we make mistakes. Anyway, I was working on the document late Wednesday night and decided to call it quits. So I saved my work, shut down my computer, and went to bed. All was well.

Thursday morning rolls around. All I have to do is review the last few pages of comments and write up the overview letter. Easy-peasy.

A single melancholy note plays over a building drumroll.

Except that when I try to open my work, “CORRUPTED FILE. CANNOT OPEN” fills my screen.

Drumroll crescendos and then cuts out with a final boom of the bass drum.

Corrupted?! I had it open no more than twelve hours ago! How could it be corrupted?

Microsoft Word tells me I can recover what’s left of my hours of hard work, so I do. At first, it all seems to be fine. The first four pages are perfectly intact. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Until I hit page five.

Cymbal crash.

There, where the comments I had painstakingly left for my client used to be, are blank bubbles. When I open each comment, there is nothing. Not even my name as the comment’s author.

I had lost over a hundred comments.

Six hours over the course of two days spent with the tech guy later, and the file still can’t be recovered. The only silver lining to this whole debacle is that most of my line edits survived.

The sax starts its mournful melody again.

Long story short, I spent Thursday finishing the letter so my client would have something to work with while I replaced all the comments. A little after midnight on Friday (technically Saturday morning), I finish the final comment and send the document.

The sax’s melody changes as a trumpet joins it. Not so sad now, but sassy.

Here’s the moral of the story. It’s not enough to just save your document. Especially not if you’re working with a large document. Every time you save, do a “save as.” You can number each new document, or label it a, b, c, etc. You can date it, time stamp it, whatever you want. You can go back later and delete all the other versions. Just do something.

I now save the document with the desired moniker, and each subsequent saved draft gets its own number. The last one—the one I’m going to use—gets labeled “FINAL,” all in caps. How you label yours doesn’t matter. Find a method that works for you and stick with it. Don’t get lazy. Do it every time.

That way if your file becomes mysteriously corrupted between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, you still have the next latest version to work from.

The trumpet breaks out in a solo, a punchy tune akin to a battlefield bugle.

Even if you save your files a dozen times a day, none of that is going to help if your computer crashes and the hard drive gets wiped. Back. Up. Your. Files.

We all have our preferred method.

Some people use cloud storage like Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox. Any of these will work just fine.

I prefer an old-fashioned USB drive. As long as I can remember which jump drive has the latest backup.

Cymbal crash.

Back it up, ladies and gentlemen.

Or you, too, can be singing the back-‘em-up blues.

The music crescendos as the stage lights dim. The performer struts off stage, blowing a smoke ring into the fading light like a kiss.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Recovering Pantser

Charlotte Firbank-King

Reposted from the author's blog with permission. The original post can be found here.

Don’t get caught with your pants down.

Hi, my name is Charl and I’m a Pantser.

(Hi Charl.)

I’ve been clean for sixty days.

(Enthusiastic round of applause)

Thanks. Tonight, I’m sharing my journey starting with that awful day, the last straw, you know. I was tired of living in denial, being caught with my pants down.

(Sympathetic nods)

I always prided myself in being a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-lace-panties sort of writer.

(A few giggles)

But I was becoming seriously unglued and couldn’t figure out why. My stories needed multiple revisions, which is as it should be, but not when you think the story is done and dusted and ready to go to the editor.

There’s not much worse than reading your manuscript one last time and finding the plot just doesn’t gel. Finding it doesn’t gel after you’ve published is worse.

(Mumbles of agreement)

I thought I was fine—you know how it goes. First, the story is conceived in your head. Then, the embryo grows, the ideas come as you spend time thinking about it. Next thing, it becomes an obsession to write—give birth to it. Off you go and find yourself pounding away at the keyboard furiously at four every morning!

(Knowing nods)

When I was writing The Bastard, all went well, the words were just flowing. Then I realized I had a genuine problem. At first it was ignorant bliss—you know, I just went for it and all was good. Then I hit a brick wall. I had no idea how to end the story. I mean, I knew I wanted a happy ending, but how to arrive there was another mountain to climb. I left it for a few weeks—no luck. Then I left it for six months—still no luck. A year later, then two years later, and I was no better off.

Writer’s block hit me big time. I couldn’t live in denial any more. I’d hit my rock bottom.

(Hushed silence)

Of course, there’s no such thing. I know that now. Writer’s block is just an excuse for bad planning. Sure, go ahead and draft an outline or synopsis, but STOP right there!


I was at my wits end. I jumped.


Yes. I jumped from one incomplete story to the next until my head spun. Then I panicked. Oh, God, I’m not a writer; I’m a failure.

(More sympathetic nods)

Then I discovered two books. How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.

(Group leans forward in anticipation)

Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method starts with a one-line sentence—a logline—and expands from there.

Lisa Cron uses brain science. She showed me how to take advantage of the brain’s hardwired responses to stories to hook readers. Her take on how to plot a story is enlightening. Her advice is completely different from a lot of the other recovery methods out there, and trust me, I’ve been around the block!

(Knowing laughs)

So that’s basically how I got to sixty days. The Snowflake Method turned me away from the edge and Lisa Cron’s book started me on the road to recovery.

Of course, once the euphoria of early success wears off, the hard work begins. The temptation to go back to my old ways was powerful. All I have to say is, without these meetings, I wouldn’t have made it. You guys are my family.


It’s not easy going back to the drawing board when you think a novel is all but done. Oh, how I was tempted to just throw caution and my panties to the wind!

(All around chuckles)

Except, now I had an incentive! All those incomplete novels. When I got stuck, reality hit. Plot flaws popped up like little gremlins—everywhere! I hadn’t realized the extent of my problem. I had to learn that a story is like a journey—you can’t take a cross-country trip without a map!

There was a time I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I promise, use both these methods and you will be set free from pantser addiction.

Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to be rigid about planning. Take it one day at a time. Fake it till you make it, as they say. Just plan what you can and build your strength.

Thanks for listening guys. I still have a long way to go, but I’m on the road to recovery. Bring it on, ninety days!


Think of a story as a tapestry. First off, you would never start without a picture with the design and colors all mapped out—not even a freestyle tapestry. Then you need to tie off all the loose ends. Not that I do tapestry, but I can appreciate the work involved.

Writing a book is a hell of a lot of arduous work combined with ten percent talent. And it all starts with an idea. But don’t take the idea and wing it--plan! In the long run, planning makes for less hard work.


Charlotte writes historical mysteries with hot romances under the pen name C.F. King. You can find more information about her books and where to buy them here. And if you liked this article, you can find more of Charlotte's articles on her blog.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Found a New Writing Toy

Charlotte Firbank-King

 (Posted with the author's permission from her blog. Original article can be found here.)

I found a new writing toy, the voice. I've added a link below. Go about halfway down the website for step-by-step instructions for a PC. I have Microsoft Word 2010, but it works on earlier versions.

I love using this toy when I'm editing. It's like having an extra sense. Usually when you edit you rely on sight, or you read the words aloud, but even reading aloud you still read past mistakes. So, why are there still typos? Because your brain reads what it expects to see.

With this voice-over tool, it reads to me and I can instantly pick up where I forgot a period, need a comma, have too many commas, used a word twice, or the sentence just doesn't make sense. Often one will cut and paste stuff, then forget or get distracted and the sentence is gobbledygook.

The voice is pretty robotic which is a bit disconcerting at first, but if you read as the voice speaks it's fine and you get used to it.

There are some annoying things. If you abbreviate a name like Beatrice to Bea, the voice spells it out. If you use an em dash it sort of joins everything without a pause. If you have a character stutter, like "I--it can't." then it reads the first letter a I, as in "I, it can't.", but I can live with those little hiccups. I even get used to it.

I recently started converting my YA book, Akir the Warrior Boy to the Smashwords format. This book has been edited hundreds of times by me, beta readers and my editor Sandy Tritt from Inspiration For Writers Inc. and there were still typos--GGGRRR.

It's also great for editing academic works, which are usually dry as dust, just like the voice, but you will pick up typos.

I would strongly urge all writers to use this toy (tool) if you aren't already.

Here is the link:

About C.F. King (from her blog):

I had a fabulous childhood in Livingstone, Zambia. I spent my life exploring the bush. Now I live in Cape Town.

A life-long love affair with words and history made historical mystery romance a natural fit. I’ve explored southern Africa, and traveled to England and France to absorb their rich history.

I studied art and qualified at Pretoria Art College. Most of my works depict wildlife, marine creatures, or the ethnic people of Southern Africa. Writing took a backseat to my art for decades. Then I decided life was too short to stick to one thing. Despite success in the art field, I chose to concentrate on my writing.

I have three amazing children: two daughters and a son. They encourage and support everything I do. My second husband, my soulmate, was a cop. He was killed in a shooting. This tragedy drove me deeper into writing to escape grief.

I edit, ghostwrite and illustrate for a US company, Inspiration For Writers, Inc. The CEO, Sandy Tritt, is my friend, mentor and editor. Without her, I would never be where I am.

I've published four books on Amazon, and will soon publish on Smashwords to broaden my reach to readers.

Amazon link:

Monday, February 12, 2018

To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

Jessica Nelson

You’ve sat down at the computer, or with your pen and paper, and started to write. The scene is set in your mind and the words are flowing onto the page. After all that beautiful prose is complete, you realize that this is the beginning of your book—but it’s not where your story starts. So you slap the word “prologue” above what you’ve written and move on to chapter one.

Or, you’re getting ready to send your novel out to publishers, and you realize your first chapter is a little slow, so you pull out a scene from the middle or the end of your book—one filled with tension and action and suspense—and put it at the beginning to hook the reader and make them want to keep reading, and you call it the prologue.

But do you really need that prologue?

I remember reading a claim recently that most readers skip over the prologue and jump straight into chapter one. I tried to find verification for that claim, but couldn’t find anything official. What I did find was a pretty heated debate not only about whether people read the prologue, but also about whether prologues should even be used.

Let’s deal with the first question: Does anyone read the prologue?

There seems to be two diametrically opposed groups. One group insists that reading the prologue is essential. Why would the writer bother with the prologue if it wasn’t meant to be read?

The other group believes if the information in the prologue was important, then that information would appear in the meat of the story (chapter one or onward).

I personally always read the prologue. But I admit to being disappointed when the prologue is nothing more than a scene from later in the book meant to catch the reader’s attention. Especially when that scene is a word-for-word excerpt.

According to Sandy Tritt, “For the past several years, publishers and agents have shied away from prologues. They say readers don't read [prologues], so just start your book with chapter one and be done with it. The problem with many [prologues] is they simply don't capture our attention and hold it. Which is a killer for any book. So, my professional opinion is to avoid prologues (because agents and publishers have said so).”

However, Tritt acknowledges that sometimes a prologue is useful, and she has read well-done prologues and even used prologues herself.

So now we address the second question: When is a prologue effective?

An effective prologue . . .

1. . . . adds important contextual or historical background. In fantasy or science-fiction, a prologue may set up the culture and customs of the world so the forward action of the story isn’t bogged down by background information.1 In historical fiction, the prologue may introduce a particular historic event around with the story revolves or it may introduce the time period to give the rest of the story the appropriate context.2 Clive Cussler does an excellent job with this type of prologue. Cussler often includes a prologue that introduces a historical event that relates to the main conflict of the story. However, there is a fine line between effective and ineffective with this type of prologue. Tritt says, “If I wanted to give an information dump describing why my characters do what they do or to inform about an unusual setting, I would not use a prologue.”

2. . . . allows for narration from a point of view that won’t be used again. This is generally seen in mystery or crime fiction, where the prologue will be written from the point of view of the killer or the victim.3 Regarding viewpoint, Tritt says, “If you are using a full-circle plot, your first chapter and your last chapter should be in the viewpoint of the same character. Yet if something from the past and from a different character's viewpoint needs presented in real-time, then I would use a prologue to act out that scene. Alternately, if your story presents only one viewpoint throughout, yet something that happened previously in a different viewpoint needs acted out, then I would use a prologue for that scene.”

3. . . . is a scene that occurs before the starting action of the story. According to Tritt, “If the prologue contains a scene that happened prior to the main storyline of the book and it still has a bearing on the characters, and it is written with dialogue and action that holds the reader's attention, I don't have a problem with a prologue.” Sometimes this is the inciting event—the moment that sets the rest of the story in motion—but that event may occur months or years before the starting action of the story. A prologue allows the writer to introduce the inciting event without needing to add it later as a flashback or try to work it in to a revealing dialogue exchange.

An ineffective prologue . . .

1. . . . takes a scene word-for-word from somewhere else in the novel. This is usually an attempt to grab the reader’s attention when the writer isn’t confident their first chapter will capture and maintain the reader’s interest.4

2. . . . creates a general atmosphere but does not add any information about the world of the story and/or does not include any action that effects the narrative.5

3. . . . contains a background information that would be more effectively presented in pieces throughout the narrative. Tritt says, “If the background information is given in a flat and uninteresting way, I strongly suggest getting rid of the prologue and find another way to slowly give the reader the background information during the natural unwinding of the plot.”

4. . . . is boring. If the prologue isn’t interesting, then it’s only detracting from your prose.

Even if you’ve written an effective prologue, there’s a still a chance your reader won’t read it and will miss out on potentially important information. We have some alternatives to prologues:

1. Can your prologue be just as effective if you made it chapter one? This is relevant mostly to prologues that contain an inciting event or a historical milestone. Charlotte Firbank-King rarely uses prologues and instead uses subtitles in her chapters to indicate if significant time has passed from chapter one to chapter two. As Firbank-King writes, “I prefer to treat the prologue as chapter one with a subtitle or date—then one can hit chapter two with another subtitle or date, like ‘5 years later,’ or ‘1066’ in chapter one and ‘1944’ in chap two. In my YA fantasy book, I have a subtitle for each chapter and chapter one is ‘The beginning.’ Chapter two has two subtitles: ‘Attack’ and then one under that on the left that reads, ‘Six summers later.’ In adult books, I’ve used dates.”

2. If your prologue is a scene from later in the story, then maybe what you need is a more interesting chapter one. You can still use the scene or excerpt as your book blurb or as bonus before chapter one (not denoted as a prologue or as any official part of the story.) The Lifeguard by Deborah Blumenthal does this. She takes a high-tension scene from near the end of the book and includes it between the title page and chapter one, but it’s not marked as a prologue or anything else. It’s a teaser available to anyone who wants to read it, but it’s not necessary to start the book.

That said, you should always assume that your reader is starting at chapter one. If chapter one doesn’t catch and hold the reader’s interest, then maybe the story hasn’t started in the right place.

3. If the prologue contains primarily background information, then an alternative to having a prologue would be to incorporate that information throughout the text. Be careful to avoid info dumps, though.

To prologue or not to prologue? That remains the question. There is no hard-and-fast rule or a one-size-fits-all solution. It largely depends on the story and the way the prologue is written and utilized. We’ll end with some advice from Tritt: “Study what is selling, study the art of writing, and then make an informed decision about how to structure your book. There is never one-way-fits-all, so don't be afraid to buck trend if you have an intelligent and necessary reason for doing so. Good luck!”

Footnotes (additional information used as inspiration or paraphrased from other sources)
2 Daily Writing Tips
3 Daily Writing Tips
4 McAlister, Marg, “The Prologue”
5 Daily Writing Tips

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Writing Resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone! We hope this is the year you accomplish all your writing goals. Here at Inspiration for Writers, Inc., we’ve put our yearly writing-related New Year’s resolutions in writing so we’re accountable. 

I’ve always believed we’re more likely to do things if we tell other people we’re going to do them. (Like when you tell someone to remind you to do something later, you’re more likely to remember it yourself.) So in that spirit, we’re sharing our resolutions with you. 

Jessica Nelson: My writing-related New Year's Resolution is to write for fun this year. It seems like since I started college, all the writing I've done is assigned—even the creative work. Now that I've graduated, I'm going to make it a point to go back to my passion projects and work on them just because I love the stories and the characters, not because I expect anything to come from them or because I have a deadline.

Geoffrey Fuller: I resolve to finish the damn book. (If you’re wondering what “damn book” he refers to, Geoff is working on a book about the 1970 WVU co-ed murders. You can check out the podcast about the project at 

Sandy Tritt: I resolve to devote one hour a day to my personal writing. Maybe that doesn't seem like a lot, but it's much more than I've done for a long time. And, who knows? Once I put in that first hour, I may find another hour or two to add to it. We'll see. For now, I'm going to just promise the one hour.

Charlotte Firbank-King: I don’t make New Year resolutions because I’m so busy keeping promises to other people that I don’t have the wherewithal to keep promises to myself. Besides, I hate having to flick the little devil off my shoulder all the time as it whispers, “Epic fail!” However, I am going to learn the art of promoting on the internet and be more diligent about doing blogs, etc.

Stacy Tritt: I want to write more often, but I also want to work on writing more creatively again, instead of just journaling and writing for work. I resolve to write one poem or short story per month in the new year.

Rhonda Browning-White: 
• Read and study more novels. I've spent the last several years studying short stories, and I've just finished my short-story collection (about a week ago!), so I want to shift my focus to novels. 
• Finish my novel. See above. ;) 
• Submit my short-story collection for publication. This starts in a few weeks. 
• Write more blog entries. 
• Live life more creatively (and everything that means)!

What are your writing-related New Year’s resolutions? Let us know in the comments!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, successful 2018 from the IFW Family.