How Technical Writing Helped Stephanie Stamm Write Novels

Thanks for visiting the blog. Pull up a chair and settle in for a while. We’ve got Stephanie Stamm with us today talking about technical writing and how it helped her write novels.

Here’s Stephanie!

For over 13 years now, I’ve made a living as a technical writer, writing, editing, and formatting policies, procedures, and training materials and managing document control systems for highly regulated industries (pharmaceutical, medical device, and food packaging manufacturers). I’ve interviewed workers (subject matter experts, we call them) about their work tasks and observed their processes, so I could write instructions and training materials for new employees. I’ve edited and proofread other people’s work. I’ve formatted countless documents, making sure they meet the company’s formatting standards and the requirements for controlled documents regarding ownership, effective dates, revision dates, and a documented history of changes.

The work is, as the job title indicates, very technical, detailed—and, you might think, as far from creative writing as it’s possible to get. That’s certainly how I felt when I first started the job. And it is true that I don’t get to exercise my creative muscles at work. I am not inventing what I write about. I’m writing instructions, and the point is to make those instructions as clear and accurate as possible. Beauty of language, clever turns of phrase, and poetic expression are irrelevant and unwanted.

How, then, could technical writing possibly help me write novels?

First, technical writing, like fiction writing, involves research, curiosity, and questions. I generally start out knowing nothing about a process for which I’m going to write instructions. I have to read manuals, interview subject matter experts, observe processes—and ask questions. Early in my tenure as a technical writer, I learned that I, as a novice, could write much more detailed instructions for a task than a person who had been performing the task for years. Yes, this is in part because I’m a writer and the subject matter expert usually isn’t. But it’s also because the subject matter expert is so familiar with his or her subject that s/he skips over steps and assumes the users of the instructions will know more than they do. As a novice, with no more knowledge of the process than a new trainee, I ask questions about steps the workers perform but don’t describe and about what should be done if something goes wrong during the process. I then include that information in the instructions.

Cover-72-DPIResearch for my novels is a different business. For A Gift of Wings, my research topics included angelology and demonology as well as different makes of motorcycles (so I could choose the appropriate ride for one of my half-angel characters). But the necessity of the research and the curiosity behind it is the same.

This leads me to the second way technical writing has helped me write fiction: it taught me to slow down and capture details. To write accurate instructions, you have to describe, as clearly as possible, how to take a process from start to finish. If you skip key steps—or even seemingly minor ones—your reader (a trainee) can get lost. The same is true for fiction. In creating a story, even a scene, we have to slow down so we can see all the narrative steps and describe enough of them for the reader to follow with ease. I can’t tighten a bolt until I’ve inserted it. Likewise, my character can’t get angry without motivation, and she can’t slam a door if she’s nowhere near one.

This slowing down and taking time to envision a scene or to describe a character’s feelings or reactions is also what enables us to capture those sensory details that bring a scene to life for the reader. How does the character move, react, respond? What sights, sounds, textures, or smells might be important? We have to take the time to inhabit the scenes we create and then to describe those scenes with just the right amount of detail to get the important bits across. While my technical instructions don’t read like novels, nor do my novels read like technical instructions, both have their source in careful observation—whether I’m observing a work process or the imaginary scene unfolding inside my head.

Finally, my time as a technical writer has enabled me to accept suggestions for revision with ease. I don’t hesitate to turn my procedure drafts over to the subject matter expert to review for accuracy and clarity. That’s part of my job. Granted, I don’t feel the same sense of ownership for my technical writing as I do for my creative efforts. Still, I know the importance of that second, third, or fourth pair of eyes. When I’m writing a novel, I’m so inside the story that I can’t see it clearly. I need other people to read my work, tell me if I’ve left out things, skipped over steps. As author, I assume the role of subject matter expert—and, in my initial drafts, I may leave out things that are obvious to me, but not so obvious to a reader. I need a critique partner, beta readers, an editor—someone to help me see the forest created by all the trees I’ve planted.

So, while technical writing may seem—and is—very different from creative writing, the two also have their commonalities. I would never have thought it when I started my technical writing career, but I’ve found it to be an excellent apprenticeship for writing fiction.

028About Stephanie:  Stephanie Stamm grew up in Kentucky and then moved to Chicago, where she lived for 10 years, before settling in Southwest Michigan. She holds an advanced degree in Religion & Literature, and has been a press operator, a teaching assistant, a research assistant, an English and Humanities instructor, a potter, and, for the last several years, a technical writer. An avid reader of fantasy, she finally decided to combine her fascination with angels, ancient religions, and world-building and write the novels she wanted to read. A Gift of Wings, the first volume of the Light-Bringer Series, is her first novel. She is currently working on the sequel, A Gift of Shadows.

Where to find Stephanie:

Cindy here again!

Thanks so much for being here Stephanie. I applied to a technical writing position but though they knew I wrote fiction they didn’t think I would be able to do technical writing because they are so different. Wish I’d had this post then to prove I could do it. 🙂

Happy writing!



Balancing facts and story in historical fiction

Hi everyone. Welcome to GWN’s blog. Relax, get a cup of whatever you have in the morning to wake you up and get ready for some tips on historical accuracy in historical fiction from Erin Farwell.

Here’s Erin!

IMG_1300_ppAn author’s job is to tell a story and to tell it well. Like a juggler with several balls in the air, a writer must keep their story balanced with regard to plot, characters, setting, and pacing. Regardless of the genre, the story must be grounded in a specific time and place. This is especially true for historical fiction, where one false move can wrench a reader from the world you’ve created. Keeping a reader engaged is both the goal and the challenge.


With historical fiction it is easy to make a misstep, creating a rift between reader and the story. Here are some of the common errors historical fiction writers make and how to avoid them:


  • Sharing your research and forgetting to tell a story. Most writers have more facts and details at their disposal than they will ever use in a book. I find this helpful when I write because I am able to understand the life of my characters even if I don’t include everything in the story. The problem occurs when a writer comes across a detail or series of facts that he or she finds fascinating and wants to share with the world. The moment your research takes precedence over plot or character development, you risk alienating the reader. If you rearrange a scene or create a convoluted set of circumstance just to share a fact that you find interesting, stop. If the detail doesn’t naturally fit in the story, it doesn’t belong there. You might use it in another project but don’t force it into this one. Keep the story your priority.


  • Highlighting a process that was different at the time the story is set than it would be today. Writing about the small details of your world will ground the story for readers and help them empathize with the characters. However sharing details is not the same as sharing processes. Unless the information is necessary to the plot, a reader doesn’t need to know the specifics of how to start a wood burning stove, milk a cow, forge a horseshoe, cook over an open fire, or weave cloth. You need to trust that your readers to have their own knowledge that they bring to the story. As a general rule of thumb, if someone living in the time the story is set would find a process unworthy of comment, so should your characters unless it is critical to your plot or character development.


  • Using modern concepts or verbiage in your story. In my novel I have a scene in which a young boy leads an adult to a house. The boy runs ahead, then back to the adult, then ahead again. As I wrote the scene I wanted to describe the boy’s behavior as being like a yoyo. A quick internet search informed me that while yoyos did exist in 1927, they had just come on the market and were only sold California. The phrase I wanted to use was not a part of society’s lexicon in 1927 so I had to find a different description. The same was true when I said someone was going to babysit a child. In 1927 you minded a child, not babysat. These may seem like small issues, unworthy of notice, but many readers will catch them and it will draw them out of the story.


  • Acknowledging a future event. Another name for this problem is author intrusion. There are times when an author might be tempted to write something like: “Little did Jeb know that the swamp he hunted in would one day be transformed into the city of Miami.” This type of phrase yanks a reader out of the world you’ve created and they may not wish to come back. The characters can only know what the typical person would know at the time the story is set and to include anything else is a disservice both to the reader and to your work.  Sometimes this situation can occur more subtly then you might be aware. One of my personal pet peeves is when a book set in the 1920s or 1930s has the phrase “World War I” rather than “the Great War.” The Great War didn’t become WWI until the Second World War started. The nuances are small but significant.


  • Placing accuracy over story. While accuracy is of great importance in historical fiction, you don’t need to be fanatical when certain issues arise. For example, if a shift in the location of a building, especially one that is not generally known to the typical reader, is a better fit for your story, do it. Just don’t put the Parthenon in France. In my novel a hotel that I use as a landmark was closed for renovations in 1927. I am probably one of five people who know this and no one else is likely to care. Originally I had written the situation accurately but later realized I had spent too much time on what was to have been a passing comment. I decided to trade pacing over fact, which was the right choice for the story.


Farwell-Shadowlands-Final Cover.inddAs writers of historical fiction we face a heavy burden. Readers expect to be taken into the past with an entertaining plot, interesting characters and historical accuracy. We are truly jugglers, balancing these expectations within the construct of our plot, pacing, characters and the story as a whole, but that is the key. As long as your research supports the story rather than becomes the story, you will avoid one of the biggest mistakes made by emerging historical novelists.

Visit Erin’s website:
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Cindy here again!

Some great points here, Erin! When I’m going back to revise my historicals I will keep these tips in mind.

Happy Writing!


Writing That Look of Love

Welcome to the blog today! We’ve got Laura Haley-McNeil talking to us about facial expressions and posture that reveal emotion in our writing.  She’s doing a draw for a lucky random commenter for a $10 egift card.

Here’s Laura!

As writers, we all know how important it is to capture the emotions of our characters. The question I always ask myself is: How does my character feel?

Writing on the computer is miraculous because when I have a question, I can easily look up the answer on the internet. So how did I find the answer to how my character(s) feel? YouTube.

There are a couple of television shows I like to watch. One is The Good Wife. Two characters from the show intrigue me: Cary and Kalinda. (Never mind that Kalinda is bi.)

I was searching YouTube for facial expressions and typed in Cary’s name. Bumcrackmosh182 and others have compiled excerpts of the scenes with Cary and Kalinda together with background music. Kalinda is cool toward Cary, but Cary is so over the top in love with her it drives me crazy.

Two other characters I like to view on YouTube are Mary and Matthew from Downton Abbey. Lolilie has compiled excerpts of their scenes.

When I look at these videos, I’m analyzing everything I see: the eyes, the mouth, the tilt of the character’s chin, their posture. Are the characters standing close together? Is there distance emotionally and physically? Is there longing? Have the characters given up? Will they walk away from each other? Have they realized this love was never meant to be but they can still love from afar? As you can see, my questions never stop.

As viewers, we can interpret anything we want in what we view. As actors, it’s important to them that they portray the correct emotion and so they work hard to make sure that we the viewer feel what they project. As writers, we struggle with the precise word that will convey what we want the reader to feel.

If you’re looking for emotions besides love, YouTube has thousands of videos depicting a broad range of emotion from fear to hate to joy to depression.

Have you found others? I’d love to hear about them. I’ll have a drawing and send a $10 ebook gift card to one lucky commenter.

Excerpt from Prelude and Fugue

Prelude and Fugue cover          “Liam Wallace?” Panic burst through me as I forced confidence into my voice, lifted my chin, and looked at the towering figure filling the doorway. My clammy hands gripped a briefcase weighted with ancient piano books. It knocked against my knees as I stood on his terraced front porch in the fading sunlight of a cool, Denver afternoon.

Though his eyes never left mine, I knew he was making the observations everyone makes about me: small, timid, weak.

“Yes.” His lean physique bore an oxford shirt and soft wool trousers, but my gaze was immediately drawn to the mass of salt and pepper curls.

“I’m Olivia St. Claire. I had called about the piano lessons.”

“Of course.” He opened the door.

I stepped into the tiled foyer paneled in dark wood. Through the arched doorway, I caught a glimpse of cathedral windows overlooking a pristine lawn. Light drifting through leaded glass splashed across a Persian carpet.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His voice carried a sense of authority, yet was gentle. He extended his hand and I started when his cuff lifted to reveal a thin scar that crossed his palm.

Cool strength closed around my fingers and unintelligible words tumbled from my mouth that would have said I was glad to meet him.

“You brought your music, I see.” His hand released mine, which reluctantly floated to the briefcase.

Unwanted sensations rushed through me, but I reminded myself a male piano teacher would have little interest in women.


Laura Haley McNeilAbout Laura:  Laura Haley-McNeil has studied piano, violin, organ and ballet. She has served on the boards of two community orchestras. She currently lives in Colorado with her husband.




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Cindy here again!

I love this, Laura! It seems so simple but I never thought of doing that to see what emotions looked like so I can write them. I’ll be spending some time on YouTube this weekend because I suck at writing emotion. This should help.

Don’t forget to comment answering Laura’s question to be entered in the draw for a chance to win a $10 egift card.

Happy writing!


Tight Writing

Please welcome Jim Jackson to the blog today. He’s talking about tight writing for which I am grateful because my rough drafts are far from tight.

Here’s Jim!


He hesitated a moment before shrugging his shoulders, finally nodding his head and, in quite an inelegant gesture, he suddenly threw up all over the shoes that she wore that day, almost entirely covering them with the contents of his poor stomach.

If I were to read such a sentence—and it was not intended to be an illustration of inelegant writing—it would be the last sentence I read of that author’s. I don’t expect to find so many egregious errors in one sentence in anything I choose to read. A gradual accumulation of such errors scattered throughout a book has the same ultimate effect on my reading pleasure: it convinces me that the author is not a fine writer. At some point, unless the story was really good, I’d give up and choose something else. Even if I struggled through that book, I’d never read another from that author.

As the title of this piece suggests, my prejudice is for tight writing over loose, sloppy stuff. I fill my first drafts with the type of errors I’ve illustrated. (Not all in one sentence, mind you.) I catch them as I self-edit, but in rewriting I invariably introduce a new problem or two. My penultimate step before sending a manuscript to readers (or to agents and publishers) is to eliminate my excesses. My last step is a final proofread.

I maintain a list of individual words I overuse, redundant or inactive phrases I unthinkingly write and other faux pas I regularly commit. I use Microsoft Word’s search function to find and then correct these potential saboteurs.

He hesitated a momentbefore shrugging his shouldersshrugged finally nodding his head and, in quite an inelegant gesturehe suddenly threw up all over the shoes that she wore that day, almost entirely covering them with the contents of his poor stomach spewed vomit on her feet.

This edited version is tight. It might even be too tight and need fleshing out with powerful action or description. For example, in reviewing the edit, I might include a description of the “inelegant gesture” to show what it was, rather than telling of its existence. However, with the initial edit I eliminated many of my pet peeves.

All hesitations are for a moment. It is impossible to shrug anything other than one’s shoulders (although one can shrug into clothes). Two delaying tactics may be one too many, but a third is tiresome (and one can only nod a head). ‘Finally’ occurs in the middle of the sentence. It is not his final act; puking his guts out is.

‘Quite’ is superfluous, and if you require the emphasis, use a more descriptive modifier. ‘Suddenly,’ rarely is. ‘Threw up’ is ugly, but not very active; ‘spew’ paints a more vivid picture. The ’all over’ doesn’t add anything (we didn’t think he vomited a single dainty drop on one toe, did we?) particularly when we are told the vomit didn’t completely cover her shoes.

Replace weak modifiers such as ‘almost’ and ‘entirely’ with specificity. The phrase ‘that she wore that day’ has too many ‘that ‘modifiers. We can assume she wore the shoes and the action did not occur over a multi-day period. Eliminate contradictions and irrelevancies. We want to know why he vomited and what her reaction was. Stomachs are not wealthy or impoverished; save ‘poor’ to describe those without money.

I commit other atrocities in early drafts, but I’ll save you and not describe all my crap writing (n.b. not all OF my crap writing). After I beat my blunders into submission, my final step is to reread the manuscript and discover errors I introduced in fixing the last batch of problems.

Bad-Policy-CoverKeeping a list of my ineffective writing habits jump-started my ability to spot and correct those errors. Many issues on my initial list rarely crop up in current writing—that self-editing occurs before I type the word or phrase. As with my speaking, I occasionally develop a new habit, which once discovered, I add to my hit list.

If you would like to learn more about self-editing I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.





About Jim: JAMES M JACKSON is the author of BAD POLICY a mystery for Barking Rain Press released March 2013, which won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s low country. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME:  How to start winning at bridge, as well as numerous short stories and essays.

Visit Jim’s website:
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Find him at Writers Who Kill:

Cindy here again!

Great post, Jim. I definitely need to keep tight writing in mind when I tackle revisions.

What about you? Do you have any favourite words you must slash during revision? Are your first drafts loose?

Happy writing!


Using Lists in Writing a Novel

Hi everyone! We’ve got Linda Rodriguez on the blog today talking about using lists in writing your novel. I love this idea and will have to start using it to ask myself questions about the book.

Here’s Linda!

hiresLindaCrop David JoelI’m a big believer in using all the help technology and professional writing books and programs can give me in writing. I’ve tried using all kinds of workbooks, charts, and forms in working on a novel. I’m even exploring Scrivener-type software programs for use in writing my next book. I’m hardly on the cutting edge, but I’m also not one of the “if it was good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me” types. Still, sometimes we look around and find simple everyday solutions to our problems, and it would be silly not to take advantage of them.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found in writing a novel is the simple, old-fashioned list. If you’re like me, you use lists to remind you what you need to do during the day, what you need to pack for a trip, what you need to buy at the grocery store, and dozens of other mundane projects, large and small. It’s easy to assume we need something more sophisticated for this complex novel (for novels are all more or less complex) that we’re trying to hold in our heads and build on paper. However, I’ve discovered that simple lists can help in several ways with making that story in our head a reality in print.

First of all, I keep running character and place lists. I write a mystery series. When I wrote the first book in my Skeet Bannion mystery series Every Last Secret, I was creating all the characters from scratch, as well as all the places in my fictional town. I wrote personality and appearance sketches for each character, but in addition, I made a list of each character as s/he appeared with a few words to note key characteristics. I did the same for places in my made-up town. This meant I could look up the full name of walk-on characters easily when I needed to much later in the book. It meant that I could easily look up the important details of the buildings on the campus and the shops on the town square as my protagonist, Skeet Bannion, walked past them or into them.

These lists tripled in value when I started the second book in the series and now the third. No one will have brown eyes in the first novel and baby-blues in one of the later books. Old Central, the 19th century castle-like mansion on the Chouteau University campus, will not morph into a 1960s Bauhaus box of a building.

Next, when I’m plotting ahead, simple lists come to my aid again. I’m a combination of outliner and follow-the-writing plotter. I like to know where the next 25-50 pages are going, plotwise—or to think I do, at least. I do this by making a list of questions that I need to answer about the book. In the beginning, I have lots of questions. The answer to only one or two may give me enough to start the next several days’ writing. I stole the idea of asking myself questions and answering them in writing from Sue Grafton. She posts to her website journals that she keeps while writing each novel, and in these, she often asks and answers these types of questions. I took it a bit further by trying to make long lists of questions that needed to be answered, which often, in turn, add more questions to the list when they are answered.

Answering the questions tells me where the story wants to go, but these lists also help me keep the subplots straight and make sure they tie in directly to the main plot, and they keep me from overlooking some detail or element that will create a plot hole or other disruption for the reader. These questions can vary from broad ones, such as “What is the book’s theme?” and “How can I ratchet up the excitement and stakes in Act II?” to more detailed, such as “What clue does Skeet get from this interview?” and “What’s on Andrew’s desk?” Such question lists come in handy during revision, as well.

During revision, I make yet another kind of simple list. As I’m reading the manuscript straight through in hard copy, I write down a list of questions as I go. I notice a weak spot and ask myself, “How can I let the reader know how much Jake meant to Skeet, as well as Karen?,” “Should I have Skeet attend Tina’s autopsy?,” and all too often, “Reads competent enough, but where’s the magic?”

After going through my lists of hundreds of big to tiny fixes and changes to make, and either making them (most) or listing by scene where in the book to make the fix (for major issues), I sit down to wrestle with 5-15 major problems from almost but not quite minor to huge and complex. This final list is my guideline through the swamps of revision. The issues on this list require changes that thread throughout part, or all, of the book. Trying to do them all at once or even to keep them in my mind all at the same time would bog me down—perhaps forever. Listing them and working my way one item at a time through that list helps me to keep my focus even while dealing with very complex situations that must be woven in and out through the length of the novel.

In short, simple lists make the complex task of writing a novel doable for me. What about you? Do you use lists in your writing? Are there other tools you use for keeping track and keeping focused as you plot, write, and revise?

every broken trustAbout Linda: Linda Rodriguez’s second Skeet Bannion novel, Every Broken Trust (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books), was selected by Las Comadres National Latino Book Club. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick, and is a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. For her books of poetry, Skin Hunger (Scapegoat Press) and Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press), Rodriguez has received many awards and fellowships. She is the president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, a founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of the Macondo Writers Community, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, and International Thriller Writers. She spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda and on Facebook at She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at

Cindy here again!

I don’t know about you but I will be using lists to help me write my next novel.

Happy writing.


Five Ws and an H

Hi everyone! Today I have Jane Toombs on the blog talking about the five Ws of writing and an H.

Here’s Jane!

wordsperfectJanet and I write so differently it’s a wonder we were able to co-author Becoming Your Own Critique Partner. But then, that was non-fiction.
So maybe I should say we write fiction very differently. Janet writes multiple drafts of her stories, whereas I do an overall synopsis for the entire book or series. I may deviate from this synopsis as I go along, but not radically.

However, we both use the who, what. when, why, where and how method of creating.

Who, of course are the two main characters. Three if there’s a villain.

What do each of them want and how that will impact the other?

When is, of course, the time period of the story.

Why is the reason for the wanting.

Where is the physical location of what’s happening.

How is the resulting story.

1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?

I actually don’t know. All I can say is that they’re characters I feel will work with the plot.

2. Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?

Plot and characters come together. As I write my synopsis, I somehow know what kind of characters will work well with this particular plot. However as I actually write the story the characters take on life and voice, so I do deviate a bit from the synopsis, which can be as fluid as it needs to be.

3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?

Pretty much–in a general way. The ending always depends on how much I deviate from the synopsis when writing the story.

4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?

If I need to do research, once I settle on the setting , I do it before I start to write, because the research often leads to a change in the synopsis. Lately, though, I tend to use settings I’m familiar with or at least have visited.

5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?

Both. If I can’t find what I need online, I know my library will have just the right book I need. Besides, I’ve been writing for so many years now that I have books about almost everything.

6. Give a short excerpt from the book you want to promote – 400 to 500 words.

I’ve just taken apart a very long historical California saga and converted it into a series of seven novellas that I had to title. As I was writing this blog, I just realized I used the five W’s and the H to come up with those titles.

Book 1 : The Bastard. And yes, he is, both literally and otherwise. But it’s because he’s illegitimate that he has created goals he needs to fulfill, which is why he does what he does. He founds a dynasty–but at what expense to both himself and others?

Book 2: The Interloper. A woman who enters the family as a companion for a daughter creates consequences that influence the following book due to what she wants as it impacts the others’ goals.

Book 3. The Dancer. This woman believes she’s reached her goal in life–but has she?

Book 4. The Rebel. A teenage daughter rebels with consequences she can’t foresee, causing others’ goals to shift and change.

Book 5. The Fixer. A problem solver for others, until he confronts his own.

Book 6. The Deceiver. The child of The Rebel, now grown. She has no real goals until life smacks her down and she learns what she needs.

Book 7. The Wild Card. A man created by past consequences from the first book forces the entire family to face the past.

Visit Jane’s website to find out more about her books:

Thanks for being here, Jane!

Happy writing!


Bringing in the Senses – by Brenna Zinn

Thanks for stopping by the blog today! I’ve got author Brenna Zinn visiting this fine Wednesday to talk about using the senses in your writing.

Take it away Brenna!

Ever run across the sweet, heady smell of honeysuckle while driving in the country? Can you close your eyes and visualize the vibrant reds and pinks of a sunset, or the pale greens of a newly budded tree? Can you imagine the brush of a feather against the backside of your knee? When you think about licking a freshly cut lemon and allowing its tangy juice to linger on your tongue, does your mouth water? Does the sound of honking of horns and screech of tires make you cringe?

Now think about what you’ve just read and how those words affected your senses. Did you smell the honeysuckle? See the reds, oranges, and greens? How about that lemon? Could you almost taste it?

The human mind tends to react to sensory suggestions, even suggestions taken in through written words. After a person experiences a sound, touch, taste, etc., the mere mention of the experienced sense can quickly evoke a sensory response.

For a writer, this is powerful information. Why? Because you can control what your readers see, smell, taste, hear, and feel simply by choosing one word over another. For example, consider the impact of changing just a few words in the following sentences.


I rubbed my hand against the furry softness of the cashmere sweater.

I rubbed my hand against the slick, almost wet skin of the snake.

I opened the door and was nearly knocked down by the oppressive heat and humidity.

I opened the door and was nearly knocked down by the frigid north wind.


Below are two paragraphs from my current work-in-progress. At least three senses (sight, sound, touch) are used to help my reader get into the scene.

     Dagger parked the Vette alongside the white picket fence framing the front yard of the Benson’s conch house. The old two story home, a combination of Victorian and Bahamian style architectures, had been built by someone in the Benson family over a hundred years ago and had stayed in the family since. Though the home was ancient, the paint job wasn’t. The last time he’d been here, the house had been a bright yellow. Now a light blue with bright white gingerbread trim, the place had never looked better.
     The sound of music drifted from somewhere inside the house as soon as Dagger killed the engine. Strolling up the steps to the covered veranda, he could feel the twangy beats of some country song vibrating over his skin. He knocked on the door several times knowing good and well no one inside could possibly hear his arrival over the din, then let himself in.

When you write, carefully sprinkle in sensory words to for greater reader involvement. You want the readers to experience what your heroines and heroes experience and become immersed in their story. If you can coax the people who buy your books to completely lose themselves in the make-believe worlds of your stories, maybe they’ll come back for more.

Me again.

Great advice, Brenna! Don’t forget to check out Brenna’s website at And follow her on Twitter @BrennaZinn.

How about you? Do you work to put the senses in your writing? Do you stick mostly with sight and sound?

Happy writing!


Your story’s logline – will you be ready?

If someone asked you what your story is about would you know the answer? Really know the answer? The logline isn’t plot, twists, sub plot, dialogue. It’s your concept. At the most basic level, it’s the spine of your story. It’s what holds everything together. Okay, now what is your story about? A lot of writers don’t. If you’re writing to publish, whether that’s through a traditional publisher or self-publishing you need a logline. They don’t just grab an editor’s or agent’s attention. They can entice readers.

There was a time when a logline was associated only with scripts. Hollywood uses them to gauge potential projects. To hook people. A good logline will prompt the listener to ask questions and want to see the movie. More and more editors and agents want to see a logline for your book. In queries or in person or online pitches they want you to condense your story down to 25 words that allows them to envision the whole story.

Why do editors and agents want loglines now? Because if you can boil your concept down to 25 words or less you know your concept. Really know it. And knowing your concept can help you stay on track when you’re writing the story. Oh, yeah, I recommend coming up with the logline BEFORE writing any of the story. When you’ve finished writing the book it’s actually a lot harder to figure out what that spine is. Boiling it down to a succinct logline is hard. You want to put in everything you think makes the story great. But you have to pick out the basics, just enough to catch someone’s interest and get them asking questions.

The general consensus is the logline should be twenty-five words or less. If you go over by a few words that’s fine. But the twenty-five word limit forces you to be as precise as possible. Trim the excess words and get right to the point. The logline should tell us WHO the story is about, WHAT he wants (Goal), and WHY he can’t have it (Conflict). A good logline will have the GMC. I like to start my loglines with the inciting incident or character motivation. Why does the protagonist need to go through this story? What prompted him to take action?

Loglines should, usually, use generic characters. A sexy librarian, a happy go lucky cop, a cursed witch. The reason for the descriptor and then noun for the character is impact. It tells you more about the character then just the name.

To stop a murder, a sexy librarian must deliver a rare first edition from the library to the man holding her sister hostage, but the library burns down.

That tells me more then: To stop a murder, Lexa Tome must deliver a rare first edition from the library to the man holding her sister hostage, but the library burns down.

Need help coming up with your logline? You’re in luck! There’s a Loglines class at Savvy Authors starting August 6th!

If you sign up for class be sure to say hi and let me know how you found out about the class.

Happy writing!


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