The Two Main Keys to Hooking Your Readers: Curiosity and Care

Write Better Now Roundup

Have you ever been at a party and someone tells a story and you just don’t care?

Have you ever been that person telling the story and realized mid-story that everyone’s eyes have dulled over?

You feel trapped. You want the story to be over (especially if you’re the one telling it). You know something has gone wrong because you can feel it. The communication of failure is instant.

The problem with writing a novel is that you can’t see when that happens: when (Shakespeare help us all) the reader stops being hooked by the story, no longer cares about what happens.

That’s terrifying, right?

There are two major elements that keep a reader turning that page or scrolling down:

  1. Curiosity—the need to know what happens next
  2. Care—the connection and concern and emotion for the characters.

In Characters & Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card writes, “The intensity of the characters’ feeling, as long as it remains believable and bearable, will greatly intensify the reader’s feelings—whatever they are.”

So, be intense if you want your readers to care about what’s happening, but don’t be so intense that they can’t handle it.

To do that you want to give your character:

  1. A goal that the reader knows—something that matters to the character
  2. Choices that might hinder the character getting to that goal or help them
  3. Sacrifices that happen so that the reader sees that the character has an internal struggle getting to that goal.

When it comes to curiosity, that’s the hook that keeps us moving forward and wondering what will happen to the character in the story. The choices, the emotions that arrive with those choices, are what makes the reader curious about what will happen.

A MasterClass post says,

“Most techniques to hook a reader have one thing in common: They force the reader to ask questions. A good hook—whether it uses action, emotion, a strong statement, or another technique—will have your reader guessing about your characters’ motivations, backstories, and more. Maybe in high school, you learned to start an essay with a rhetorical question. Try that same technique now, but leave the actual question out of the finished piece. Instead, set up a scene that leads your reader to come up with the question on their own.”


Think of a scenario for your story (or just a scenario if you don’t have a story):

  • Zombie hamsters are coming down the street.
  • The tea mug your uncle gave you has a secret message on the bottom.
  • Your mom just told you she’s part oak tree.

Now, think of a question and write the scenario and scene toward that question.


Call for Submissions: Jewish

Deadline: Year-round

Jewish Fiction .net, a prestigious literary journal, invites submissions for its December 2023 issue. We are the only English-language journal devoted exclusively to publishing Jewish fiction, and we showcase the finest contemporary Jewish-themed writing (either written in, or translated into, English) from around the world. In our first 12 years we have published over 500 stories or novel excerpts, originally written in twenty languages and on five continents, and we have readers in 140 countries. We’ve published such eminent authors as Elie Wiesel, Savyon Liebrecht, and Aharon Appelfeld, alongside many excellent, lesser-known writers. For submission details, please visit our Submissions page at

Blink-Ink #53: Secrets

Deadline: July 15, 2023

State secrets, family secrets, trade secrets, secret sins and secret loves, entrusted secrets, cosmic secrets, childhood secrets, dark secrets taken to the grave—any sort of secret at all. Can’t keep a secret? Closely guarded treasure, or a bargaining chip. We are more interested in tales of mystery than everyday gossip. Send us your best unpublished stories of approximately 50 words about a Secret, or Secrets. Submissions are open June 1, 2023 through July 15, 2023. No attachments, poetry, bios, or AI generated content please. Send submissions in the body of an email to



Hooking Your Readers

So, this post, and way more writing tips are over on, Write Better Now! is a mostly self-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.


We’re talking about hooks here.

So, last week I talked about hooking your readers. And I promised that I’d keep talking about it.

I am keeping that promise.

Hooking your reader might make you think of pirates and nasty horror movies, but it really just means keeping your readers actually reading your book. I’ve broken it down to two sections of two hints a piece and one section with just one lonely hook.

Let’s get started!



We like stories where we can quickly identify with the main character, or at least a character, pretty early on.

Think about all the BuzzFeed quizzes that ask, “Which Succession Character Are You?” “Which Buffy Character Are You?” “Who Are You In The Wire?” “What Disney Princess Are You?”

It goes on and on.

We humans like to identify with characters who are in the stories we read or the videos we watch. It’s like a nice pat on the back that says we aren’t alone, and it creates community.


  1. Start with dialogue on the first line. It’s hard to care about the person speaking if you haven’t met them yet.

“Wow,” he said. “That is really it.”

Huh, the reader said.

2. Tell us stuff we don’t need to know.

So, in 1870 or something like that I had this great great aunt who allegedly stepped on a nail or something, not that it matters. Although, maybe it mattered to her, but yeah. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.

Neither does the reader.

3. Introduce 18 characters in the first paragraphs. It’s hard to remember who is who and who is important.

As Belinda walked inside the Timberland RV Campground in Trenton, Maine, she waved hello to Lincoln, son-in-law of the owner, a retired man with a name like Jack or something, and then she waved to Debbie, Lincoln’s wife, who was riding on a golf cart with Charlene. Peggy was perched on the back with a blonde child whose name I think is Jackie…Or maybe Sam?

Enough said, right?

4. And finally don’t describe things just for the sake of describing them.

Timberland RV Campground descended into a slight hill, managing to split itself across two town lines. It was Trenton in the front and Ellsworth in the back and the back was where there were no trees surrounding the sites, just pull-in places for the giant RVs and motorhomes and campers and busses. I have no idea which is which. I’d never been in a campground before, but they had hook-ups at some of the sites for water and sewer, or just one, and electricity. There were metal fire rings and some people had fancied up their sites with flowers and decks and lobster buoys because … Maine.

So, those were the no-nos, right? Here’s the second tip.


If possible, make your situation not quite so run-of-the-mill. You have a love story. It’s set in Paris. Okay, great. Can it be set in a tattoo parlor in Paris? Or maybe a desk shop?

Readers like both the familiar and the unexpected, so take something typical like a love story and add in a little weirdness – a love story between a human and an aquatic being. That can keep them reading.



Nobody wants to read a story where the main character is always angry or always happy or always passionate or always mellow. There are ups and downs to people’s emotions in real life (WHAT? ATTACK ON TITAN ISN’T REAL LIFE?). There should be ups and downs in your character’s emotions, too.

Some writing coaches/teachers/whatever-word-you’d-like-to-use advocate changing emotions in every scene in big ways. I think this works sometimes and sometimes it sort of lulls the reader into expecting those shifts and therefore that makes those shifts less authentic.

Authentic emotion = good

Changing emotion = good

Forced emotion = bad


Not knowing what is going to happen is a big deal when someone is reading the story. Make them wonder what might happen.

One method to do this is to not tell them everything right off. Give some elements of what is happening, but not all.

So, in the NEED series, I have the main character see a man in the woods at the side of the road and also pointing at her plane as it takes off. The reader thinks, “Wait. Who the heck is that man?”

In Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, introduces the Boy Who Lived, but what did he live through and how? The reader wonders and reads to find out…



The reader needs to care about the character. We want Mr. Potter and Ron and Hermione to survive because those kids are lovable, but we also are worried that survival might not be an option. The stakes are high and those magical bad guys are powerful. These babies aren’t superheroes. Death is possible. Near death happens all the time. We obsess that the trio might not survive.

That’s a hook.

That high stakes conflict coupled with imperfect heroes who tyr so hard? That’s the key.

And there you go. Maybe some more next week, okay?

I hope your writing is happy and you are well!

The Power of Silence In Writing

And how to put it on the page


It often surrounds us.

But sometimes it is just completely and utterly gone.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a moment of high trauma (personal or public). It’s the moment when something big happens, something so big that time feels like it slows down or stops completely. Your brain switches into another gear and you’re straining looking for clues, trying to figure out where the danger is coming from, what it is, and how to survive it. I’ve had people describe these moments when they’ve had a gun pointed at them in the parking lot of a motel, when a man has raised a fist in a dining room, when they’ve realized a loved one having a heart attack in their aunt’s living room, when they were at recess in fourth grade and a bully was heading over to give them a wedgie.

For me, one of the times I experienced this was at the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off, and I was trying to understand what was going on. Even though I was on my cell phone, the world whooshed out for a moment. My personal world was silent even in the chaos. Then the sounds of cops on radios and the cacophony of panicked voices and runners feet hard against the asphalt streets rushed back in.

As writers, we explain these moments and try to encapsulate them and sometimes? Well, sometimes we try too hard and write and write and write giant redundant paragraphs that instead of immersing our readers in the silence and shock and stress or a moment and instead overwhelm with noise.

Here’s the thing: There is a great power in silence in our world and on the page.

Silence appears on the page in a couple of places.

  • It’s in the white space. The white space is just the places on the page where there are no words.
  • It’s in the words you actually choose and how you structure them.

What do I mean by that? When we choose words on the page, those words make associations in our minds and in the readers. So, we want to pick the words sometimes that play into the silence sometimes. This is a really great device for scenes of heightened emotion and suspense.

For word choice, she cackled isn’t the same as she laughed.  Those are loud things though. For a more silent experience, she whispered isn’t the same as she said.

And for structure? You have a lot to play with.

Here is a quick example.


I heard the dog growl and then I heard a scream and wondered what might be happening, what might have caused that growl and scream.

Too much writing there, right? A lot of padding. A lot of distancing words (heard, wondered) that lessen the impact and the immediacy of the moment. Here it is with a bit more silence.


The dog growled. And then, someone’s scream shattered the air. Who was that? No. What was that?  

Add in white space to make it more tense:

The dog growled.

And then, someone’s scream shattered the air.

Who was that?


What was that?  

Add in specifics to make it even more tense:

Hackles raised, the dog growled by the mailbox, which leaned toward the darkness of the Mud Creek Road.

And then, a shrill, cackling scream shattered the humid air.

Who was that?


What was that?  

You can see all the differences in there, right?

Like any tool, you don’t want to overuse it, but you want to know about it, know that it’s there (just like you’d like to know if there was a mass of zombie gerbils trundling down the street toward your home). Sound and silence are really important tools on the page. Just like a guitarist wants to know about an entire string on her instrument and a pick and what happens to sound when you use a bridge or what happens when you tap out a beat on the guitar’s side, you want to know about all the tools you can use as a writer. 

Silence is a tool, and it’s an important one. Sound is too.

Does Your Form Match Your Function?

Thoughts on Writing Action and a Little Bit on Pacing

So, I’ve been talking a bit about action scenes lately. And one of the big adages that writing coaches and writers put out there is that you want the form to match the function.

Chuck Wendig is a big advocate of this and he writes,

“Form and function do well together across all types of writing, but this is particularly true in terms of writing action. I find that when I write action, the form of my writing moves to match the pacing of the action. I tend to like my action sequences presented as a short, sharp shock, and so the writing tends to mirror that. Shorter sentences. Sentence fragments. Blunt, brutal language. Words like rabbit punches. Like the stitching of prison shivs.

“Is this necessary? No, probably not. But there’s value in setting the pace of your scene with the clip at which you write. You don’t want to write long, languid patches of prose in writing action. We want action to be fast, exciting, engaging, and most of all, easy-to-read. Writing action is in this way like writing dialogue: you want it to come across to the readers without them halting, without them pausing to take a breath.

“That’s not to say there’s no value in slowing things down — pacing is a tricky thing. The escalation of any story has its peaks and valleys and you can give an action sequence those same valleys, too — you can collapse moments just as easily as you can drag them out. The value in that is the value of crafting tension. By pausing before the money shot, the cookie-pop, the underwear-shellacking, you’re forcing the audience to hold their breath a little bit.”

One of the most important things he says here is this: It’s tricky. You want a balance of detail and feeling/senses. You want your reader to know what’s happening but also to feel what’s happening in the scene. Each gut punch should make them flinch and worry.

There is pacing that happens within a scene as well as within a chapter as well as within the entire structure of a book.

Fight and action scenes are no different. There are places within those action scenes where you might want to slow things down.

Why is that?

Well, it’s because your job as a writer is to focus the reader on a whole bunch of things, but the main ones are:

1.   What is happening in the scene?

2.   Why is it happening?

3.   What is the harm or help that this event is doing to your main character?

4.   What are the stakes: physical and emotional?

To get that balance, you have to pick and choose what you’re going to write.

If you write every single detail and every single movement, it allows the reader to truly see the scene, BUT it also makes a lot of readers fall asleep.

What? Fall asleep in an action scene? How is that even possible?

Well, it’s possible because there’s no:

1.   Sensation. We also want bits about how it feels to fall down hard on your bum or get punched by a hamster.

2.   Stakes. There’s no emotional resonance for the character.

3.   Character revelation: You want to show subtext in this action scene. You want it to have a reason.  You don’t want it to be just fighting for the sake of fighting but it isn’t building or dismantling their character or moving the plot forward.

You can look at the simple structure of your sentences and paragraphs and analyze them for pacing:

Think about how long the sentences are.

Think about where the periods are. Where are the commas.

How long is the paragraph? How many sentences are in that paragraph?

How much white space (places with no writing) is on the page?

Short sentences and paragraphs make your writing much more clear and more clean to the reader. But they are also great resonating moments for stories.

Jesus wept.

That’s a big deal moment right there. Two short words.

Think about how different the pacing of that is compared to:

Carrie started crying because she was a little overwhelmed by getting up at 5 a.m. consistently to get all her work done and because she basically has no love of mornings, not that she has a great love of nights either. Honestly, does the woman love anything other than manatees and if not, why does she live so far from manatee habitat. Maine seems like a bad life choice for a weeping, manatee-loving woman like Carrie.

Don’t Make Your Readers Bad Swoon

Writing action scenes means picking details.

Readers, have you ever read an action scene and it made you feel dizzy?

You are not alone.

This happens when the writer wants to put every single detail of the scene inot the scene, on the page, and in your mind. This is a really kind want of a writer, but the thing is that it doesn’t really work.

Writers, I’m talking to you now. Take off your reader hat and just put on your writer hat while I tell you this: You do not want to make your readers swoony in a bad way.

When you tell us every single characters’ actions, thoughts, emotions, and placement in an action scene, it overwhelms us. So, what you want to do is pick and choose here.

You want to pick and choose:

1. The characters that have the most at stake emotionally and physically.

2. The characters that the reader is the most attached to.

The best way to deal with this is to usually try to stay super close to your protagonist during the action scene. Make sure that you are writing the scene from the viewpoint of that characters. If your puppy main character is watching a Star Wars style space battle, you want to make sure you tell it from that puppy’s point of view.

Our jobs as writers is to pick and choose the details that matter and then trust the reader to recreate that scene in their brains. We don’t want to distract them with the color of the puppy’s collar unless that matters.

If we do the opposite, if we show the reader every little action that happens, then we risk boring the hell out of them, but also we don’t give them to focus on.

Spoiler: You want them to focus on your protagonist and then maybe the antagonist. You want them to focus on the stakes, what your hero wants, and what’s standing in her way.

Think of it like this: You are a movie director. The page is your camera. You want to put the things in focus that matter.

Masterclass has this lovely tidbit.

via Masterclass

That’s all a direct quote. What I love about it is that it talks about the most important part.

You don’t want a sword fight in there just for the sake of a sword fight. That sword fight or the hamster zombie troop running down the street after you needs to be there for a purpose.

Once you have that purpose, pick the details.

I think I’ll probably talk more about this next time, too. I hope you’re doing well and safe. It’s snowing madly here right now. And poor Shaun’s just had his third cancer (in less than a year) scraped out of his hand. He’s had three types of skin cancer in one year. This is the kind of overachieving we don’t want. 🙂

our front porch. You can totally tell this isn’t staged because we still haven’t taken the cushions in for winter (Yes, it is March) and one is lopsided. 

I’m posting writing tips and things about how we’re trying to live better lives over here if you want to check it out. My regular website is here. No pressure though, obviously. Thanks for reading this! And happy writing. 

Ideas aren’t the sexy gods we think they are. Gasp!

The sexy place is the actual writing.

Almost every time that I go to a school visit and am asked questions or when I’m interviewed by newspapers, I get asked two things:

  1. Where do you get so much energy?
  2. Where do you get your ideas?

I don’t actually think of myself as having a ton of energy. Like right now, it’s 7:06 a.m. and I’ve been up since 5. I went to bed around 11. I’m a bit tired actually, and no, I don’t have any coffee or even tea in my system yet. I know! I know! You’re probably thinking what half of the people ask me in public events:

  1. How are you so weird/quirky? Does your mind really work like that?

Just kidding—sort of.

This post isn’t actually about productivity or weirdness. It’s about ideas.

Chuck Wendig recently had a post about AI where he wrote about how so many of us think that ideas are the holy grail of writing and all creativity. People are always asking:

  • Where do you get your ideas?
  • How do you know an idea is a good one?
  • How do you not lose your ideas?

Ideas are cheap. They are the extras that die on the street while the superheroes battle above them. Ideas are often barely differentiated in the scene—just a mass of them crumpled by falling cars and buildings and laser blasts.

That’s the thing.

Writing and art isn’t necessarily about the ideas. Writing and art are about the craft that sculpts that idea into a story or an art piece or a song that connects to other humans on an emotional level.

Wendig writes on his blog,

“But again, the idea is a seed, that’s it. Ideas are certainly useful, but only so far. A good idea will not be saved by poor execution, but a bad idea can be saved by excellent execution. Even simple, pedestrian ideas can be made sublime in the hands of a powerful craftsman or artist. Not every idea needs to be revolutionary. Every idea needn’t be that original — I don’t mean to suggest the plagiarism is the way to go, I only mean in the general sense, it’s very difficult (and potentially impossible) to think of a truly original story idea that hasn’t in some form been told before. The originality in a narrative comes from you, the author, the artist. The originality comes out in the execution.”

That’s the magic of being a human and not being AI when you create art. The process is where the art becomes alive, where the story becomes real, where the unexpected (rather than the program) creates spark and light and joy and beauty.

AI can’t do that. At least not yet.


Part of that is about flow.

A long time ago—back in the 1980s—this guy Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was studying happiness. He gave people pagers. Remember this was in the 1980s. Then he and his research assistants would send the people messages at random times and ask how they were doing, feeling, what they were doing, etc. It sounds a bit like when your mom texts you, honestly.

And he discovered flow. People were happy when they were super engaged in the task they were doing. People weren’t happy when they were doing nothing. They were happy when they were involved in something. Playing soccer. Playing music. Creating art. Solving a problem.

Minds were blown.

When people were in the ‘flow,’ they forgot about time, space, all the other detritus in their lives. They were focused on the now, on what they were doing. What they were doing might be writing, sports, hanging out with other humans, art, and so on… But for them the involvement was so intense that they became engaged and absorbed into it and were happy.

That might happen if you’re a reader and into reading a great book.

That might happen if you’re a painter and created something spectacular on the canvas.

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” – (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).


Lincoln Michel writes on his blog,

“The unnecessary is most necessary part of art. Art is exactly the place to let your eye linger on what fascinates it. Art isn’t an SEO optimized app or a rubric for overworked teachers to grade five-paragraph essays. Art is exactly the space—perhaps the last space left—where we can indulge, explore, and expand ourselves. If we can’t be weird, extraneous, over-the-top, discursive, and hedonistic in our art, where can we be?”

So, as a writer, flow and process, the actual act of writing your story is far more important and interesting that the original idea. What it is that happens in our minds that makes those little epiphanies, the moments where we are swept up in the flow—in the act of creating—and our prefrontal cortexes are firing on all cylinders and heading into warp drive. That’s what’s interesting.

Ideas happen everywhere. Looking at other art. Reading a book. Living a life. But process and art and writing? That is where you turn the idea into something else—something that breathes in a way that AI can’t do yet or even in a way that other people can’t do yet because it requires putting in the work so that you can get those gorgeous, beautiful, holy-poop moments.

And those moments? They’re pretty addictive.

As Wendig writes, “It’s just idea, small-i. You’re not done when you have an idea. You’ve barely even begun. The wonder is in what comes after. The wonder is in the work.”

And that’s what I wish more people talked about, not idea generators or where the ideas come from initially, but how they are shaped and formed to create a story that carries people along to somewhere new and magical, to somewhere that they might create a new and magical story from ideas that were germinated in yours. How cool is that?


More about the 8 traits for flow.

Wendig’s piece about AI and the Fetishization of Ideas

Finding Flow

Counter Craft

Showing Character’s Interior Lives

Write Better Now

If you’ve been hanging out with me this past week or so, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been talking about emotional interiority in writing characters for our novels or short stories. You may have repressed it all, that’s okay. I repress everything, too.

But in case you want to take a peek at the last few posts, here you go:

Making Your Writing Better

Showing Your Character’s Emotions

I continue all this today!

Mary Kole also has a checklist for developing character interiority, which is here:

· “What is your character doing right now (objective)? Why (motivation)? (The why is especially important.)

· What do they hope will happen?

· What do they worry will go wrong?

· How do they feel about themselves?

· How do they feel about their scene partner?

· How do they feel about their place in the plot in general?”

This is lovely, but the thing is that you don’t really want this for every single sentence of your story. Showing the character’s emotions and inner life is important in the beginning of the story. It’s important in a chapter of the story. It’s important in a scene usually. But it doesn’t have to be in every sentence.

Where is it most important?

It’s most important in the big moments and for the big emotions.

  • When you finally get your goal
  • When you learn that your dad is not your dad.
  • When you realize that because you are eight feet tall you will probably not get to do the bars on the Olympic team.
  • When a zombie is chasing you.
  • When you realize the zombie is actually your secret crush and he’s just playing.
  • When you have to ask your boss for a raise.
  • When you get fired.
  • The inciting incident of your story
  • The darkest moment of your story
  • The finale of your story.
  • When your character realizes they had it all wrong.


In the picture book world it often feels easy:

Jane was sad. What a bad day she had.

But as you move up through the age groups, emotions on the page become more and more complex. A character isn’t just lustful. They are afraid of their lust maybe? They are proud of it maybe? The emotions layer on.


Storm Writing School discusses the chain of interiority through the lens of the 2017 short story “Cat Person.”

And they create interiority as a chain of events.

1. Something stimulates a response.

2. The feelings associated with that response happen before the thought.

3. Chained interiority.

He writes that this fancy word is just:

“The stimulus for interiority is usually external but can sometimes be other interiority. That is, an external stimulus might lead to an emotion and/or a thought, which in turn leads to an emotion, which then leads to another thought.”

Robert Olen Butler says, “Moments of reference in our past come back to us in our consciousness, not as ideas or analyses about the past, but as little vivid bursts of waking dream; they come back as images, sense impressions”

When that happens it can branch into:

  • 4. Memory.
  • 5. Future and imagination.

6. Implied and unstated interiority

7. Complex feelings.

8. Indirect interiority.

9. External reaction.

10. POV character judgements.

11. Seeming

So, in this chain some things will happen, usually in this pattern, right?

Here let’s try to map it out.

Let’s start with a random tale of a Piglet betrayed by a Pooh.

Pooh bear’s face was inside Owl’s honey pot. Piglet recoiled. That was his honey pot, full of sweet honey. Pooh had told him just an hour ago that he had the best honey and given him a hug by the big tree. Will they ever hug by the big tree again?

“Are you still seriously hungry?” Piglet asked.

“I’m a still seriously many things,” Pooh said, “although maybe not so seriously.”

Piglet laughed along with Pooh even though the honey globbing down the bear’s face made Piglet’s own tummy rumble in a very unpleasant way. Maybe now, he thought, Pooh would realize that life was about more than honey and honey pots; it was about friendship, but by being jealous was he maybe hurting Pooh, too? Was life about more than friendship?

Pooh took a step back and looked away. To have been caught with his head in Owl’s honey pot like that!

Pooh gave Owl the honey pot and waddled forward, arms open. “Oh, Piglet! I am so sorry. Your face is so sad making, all frown lines and tears. You must feel terrible!!”

He was apologizing and being all nice again. Piglet knew that Pooh felt bad for his betrayal; he could tell by the extra tremor in his obviously wobbling voice and how he seemed to be trying to shoo Owl away via a hand movement behind his broad, furry back.

Pooh’s arms wrapped around Piglet in a sticky hug and his belly was soft against Piglet’s face and it seemed—for just that moment—that maybe he could possibly stop eating other animals’ honey. Or maybe that was just Piglet’s own mad hope.

1 Something stimulates a response.

Pooh bear’s face was inside Owl’s honey pot

2. The feelings associated with that response happen before the thought.

Piglet recoiled.

3. Chained interiority.

That was his honey pot, full of sweet honey.

4. Memory.

Pooh had told him just an hour ago that he had the best honey and given him a hug by the big tree.

5. Future and imagination.

Will they ever hug by the big tree again?

6. Implied and unstated interiority

“Are you still seriously hungry?” Piglet asked.

“I’m still seriously many things,” Pooh said, “although maybe not so seriously.”

7. Complex feelings.

Piglet laughed along with Pooh even though the honey globbing down the bear’s face made Piglet’s own tummy rumble in a very unpleasant way. Maybe now, he thought, Pooh would realize that life was about more than honey and honey pots; it was about friendship, but by being jealous was he maybe hurting Pooh, too? Was life about more than friendship?

8. Indirect interiority.

Pooh took a step back and looked away. To have been caught with his head in Owl’s honey pot like that!

9. External reaction.

Pooh gave Owl the honey pot and waddled forward, arms open. “Oh, Piglet! I am so sorry. Your face is so sad making, all frown lines and tears. You must feel terrible!!”

10. POV character judgements.

He was apologizing and being all nice again. Piglet knew that Pooh felt bad for his betrayal; he could tell by the extra tremor in his obviously wobbling voice and how he seemed to be trying to shoo Owl away via a hand movement behind his broad, furry back.

11. Seeming

Pooh’s arms wrapped around Piglet in a sticky hug and his belly was soft against Piglet’s face and it seemed—for just that moment—that maybe he could possibly stop eating other animals’ honey. Or maybe that was just Piglet’s own mad hope.

And there you go! Interiority as a chain in action. If you check out the Storm Writing School link below, you can see some elaboration on those steps.

Happy writing! And say hi in the comments if you’re into it.


Elements of Pacing Your Novel

There are a lot of components to pacing in your novel. You can think of it as:

  • The big picture, how fast and slow your whole novel goes. How scenes link together.
  • The scene, how fast and slow the individual scene moves
  • The page, how sentences and white space and even punctuation influence how quickly or slowly the reader moves through the story. This is the pacing of each line.

It’s linked to your novel’s structure in those individual scenes and how those scenes cycle through your story (some more active and others not so much). It’s also linked to your style and tone (your sentence length, word use, paragraph length). It also is linked to genre expectations.

When we settle in to Outlander or Game of Thrones, we’re expecting a slower pace than if we’re opening up a Tess Gerritsen novel.

So, it’s a lot, right?

It’s up to us writers to know the expectations (potentially even subverting them) and then slowing the speed up or down.

Typically, the story is the fastest paced at these moments:

1.     In the opening

2.     In the middle

3.     In the climax.

The story tends to go faster when:

1.     There’s action happening. So, an action scene. Most authors try to avoid long sentences full of clauses and detailed description and transitions here.

2.     Dialogue without a lot of setting details, transitions or other things involved.

3.     When there’s a cliff hanger. That’s basically just when the reader is compelled to turn the page to find out what happens next in the story.

4.     Scene changes.

5.     Scene changes in rapid succession.

6.     Shorter chapters.

7.     Shorter scenes.

8.     Your words are simple and concrete and your sentences are short.

9.     Your words are harsh. What do I mean here. Just when they have hard sounds. Like Gs and Cs and Ks.

The story tends to go more slowly when:

1.     There’s no action happening. So exposition or setting or a pondering scene.

2.     There are a lot of setting details, internal monologue (in paragraph form), backstory and exposition.

3.     Longer chapters.

4.     Longer scenes.

5.     Your words are complex and abstract and your sentences are long and full of colons or semicolons and clauses.

6.     Your words are softer. There aren’t those hard consonants and they make you think of more mellow things, so passive language.

Wow. I went very list-focused for this post. I hope you don’t mind. If you ever want me to explain anything more (in this post or any other), just let me know in the comments, okay?

How To Get Moody In Your Story

So, I’ve been talking a lot about creating the atmosphere or mood in a story because it’s really super important. Two weeks ago, I talked a bit about creating mood or atmosphere in your story, and last week, I shared some cool ideas from other humans.

This week we’re going to summarize and expand a little bit. So, let’s get moody together.


Talking about the world outside your character really helps people get the mood of the story.

But to do that effectively you need . . .


Seriously. Word choice is key when creating atmosphere and mood.

I walked to the bar. I ordered a drink. I sipped it.

Pretty dull, right? Kind of reads like bad stage directions. But look what happens when we start trying to show the character’s mood and the atmosphere of the setting.

I sashayed to the bar’s disco-ball lit corner.

“One super hot and sexy turtleneck sweater with extra cuddles,” I announced to the super hot and sexy bartender. He took my credit card with five quick fingers and a wink.

Two seconds later, the warm mug was in my hand, the smell of mint and rum wafting into my nose.

Let’s try another mood.

My feet stuck to the beer-soaked, beer-dried, beer-imbued wooden floor as I pushed past the giant football players that formed a wall between me and the most disgusting, germ-filled objective in my recent future: the make-shift, plywood dorm room bar that Bill and Ted set up in the edge of their quad.

“Dude? You want some?” Bill surfer drawled when I got past the barrio of testosterone and Axe body spray. He held out the keg’s hose. Something brown crusted near the nozzle. Something brown that was definitely not beer.

Swallowing hard, I managed to stay upright as someone pushed behind me. My palm struck the plywood. A splinter tore into the flesh and stuck there.“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.”

The difference here is the details and the words, right? In both bits someone wants a drink and goes to the bar to get there but they are very different moods.

A walk is not a sashay is not a tiptoe is not a gallop is not a slog. Whenever you can use verbs, nouns, adjectives and details that convey how your character feels.

To become a magistrate of words, you can check out a thesaurus. It feels like cheating, but it’s super helpful.

Those little word choices are subconscious hints to the reader that tells them things. They think, “Oh, sashaying, how happy they must be, how confident.”


When our characters talk to other people and they are the thrilling or overbearing or confusing or just plain quirky or mean, it helps create the mood that’s happening in the story.

If your characters have to whisper that can change the mood. The same goes for yelling, screeching, singing, preaching.

Sentence Structure and White Space

Readers subconsciously pick up on a lot of things that us writers put out and one of those things is sentence structure and white space (the part of the page where no words are).

The shorter the sentences, the higher the tension and faster the pace the reader goes over that page. That can make things feel more tense, more agitated, more suspenseful.

The longer the sentence and bigger the paragraph creates a more languid feel and slower mood that the reader has.


In my example of the bar earlier, one of the main differences is I didn’t do a ton of telling what they were doing. But I did in that first example where there was no mood:

I walked to the bar. I ordered a drink. I sipped it. I felt happy because I was going to get a drink and was looking forward to that Shirley Temple.

The details that us writers choose are meant to show the reader things rather than constantly telling the reader things.

I pretty much sashayed over to the bar, hand up, credit card out. “Hey, girlie!” My voice skipped over to Donna of Shirley Temple mixing fame. “I am so ready for my daily fix!”

Different right? I never say that she’s happy, but we can feel that she’s happy. And that’s what atmosphere and mood is really all about. We want to make the reader feel things.

Let’s set the mood, part two: getting atmosphere in your story


Last week, we talked a bit about creating mood or atmosphere in your story, and this week, I’m going to share some cool ideas from other humans.

What? I do not know everything? Gasp!!!!

boy wearing gray vest and pink dress shirt holding book
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Sadly, I do not. For instance today I wrote that Acadia National Park has a million visitors. It has four million. Did I know this? Yes. Did I write it? No.

Did someone tell me immediately?


Thanks to that person for letting me fix my mistake.

dog biting Thank You mail paper
Photo by Howie R on Unsplash

The thing is I am really human and that means I try to juggle a lot of things and sometimes I make errors. I try to tell myself that this is okay. That in a billion years (or 100) nobody will remember me or my errors. Usually that works. But not today.

But all of this just means:

1.     I don’t trust myself today.

2.     You get to read curated advice from cooler people instead. That’s a win!

Here, this first is from MasterClass. It’s kind of beautiful and pretty concise like art that you get off Ballard Designs.

white pillar candle on white table
Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

3 Tips for Creating Mood for Your Story via MasterClass (these three tips are all a direct quote):

  1. Use a holistic approach to mood. Since mood is made up of a combination of setting, tone, word choice, and theme, it’s important that you as a writer think about all four while you work. If you try to use only one of these tools, you’re severely limiting your ability to create a believable and pervasive mood for your story. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least three of these tools to establish your mood.
  2. Brainstorm mood words. If you’re drawing a blank when it comes to how to create a particular mood, it can help to brainstorm a list of mood words. For instance, if you know you want your story to have a creepy mood, then try making a list of different words that feel creepy to you, like these: gloomy, creak, tiptoe, moonlight, skittering, shadow, rattling. Once you’ve got a good list, pick a few of your favorites and include them in the scene.
  3. Subvert expectations. While it’s easy to go with the “expected” mood for your stories (for instance, that a story about a wedding will have a lighthearted, celebratory mood), remember that it’s not always the best choice. When you push yourself to subvert readers’ expectations, you can come up with creative and exciting combinations—for example, a wedding story with a foreboding mood, or a ghost story with a funny mood. Innovating with mood can help you create memorable, lasting writing.”

Let’s dive a tiny bit deeper into that first tip. Do I trust myself enough for that? Um, not really. Here goes anyway.

Setting is where the story is located or “set.” Set = setting, so clever a language English is.

Tone isn’t about the reader. Mood is. Tone is about the narrator and the attitude they are putting down about the events.

Word choice is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the words that you the author put on the page. Short words can make things staccato. Long words can make things mellifluous. Swear words can make things tense, emphatic or even humorous.

Theme. That’s what the story is about and what it’s trying to convey. A story that true love exists and that it will save the world and all the cavorting hamsters within it? That’s going to be part of the mood and atmosphere of the story.

So, when MasterClass is talking about how these elements work (in tip #1), the MasterClass staff authors of that blog post is just saying to weave it all together and make it create that atmosphere.


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