Writing is About Facing Out and Facing In

Novelists Are Public Writers, Too, Plus exercise and place to submit May 2023

Raymond Peter Clark has a new writing book out, Tell It Like It Is: A Guide to Clear and Honest Writing, and Katherine Gammon has a piece about it in Poyntor.

There are a couple excerpts in there that I’ve fallen a bit in love with and I wanted to share it with you.

This book is for what they are calling public-facing writers, which seems to be a distinction that doesn’t include novelists, which I find pretty interesting.

Novelists are also public facing writers. All writing except diaries or personal journaling is. That’s because the act of writing is the act of communicating.

You are always communicating to someone else. That someone else is not your pinky toe. That someone else is the reader.

Anyway, she writes of Clark’s advice:

Repeat your key points, but in different forms

“Tell ’em what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them,” is an old adage in writing. Clark spruces it up with advice to vary the forms of repetition: The same information in a quote, a graph and an anecdote, for example, can reduce the feeling of redundancy.

Interpret what you see into themes and make connections

Part of the job of a public writer is not just to report but to interpret: What are the emerging contained in the news event or situation? How can we help readers make sense of the world? To do so, Clark says writers should continue to learn from multiple schools of thought — science, anthropology, political science, economics, literature and more — in order to find meaning in the news, and also to explore the deeper reasons why something is happening.

It’s fun to think of these bits of advice. Often novelists are told NOT to repeat information by their agents and editors, so we too have to mask the ways that we are actually repeating something to the reader. We show them that our character is insecure, let’s say, in how they react to situations. Then we show how they grow.

But as novelists, we also have to not just lay out the facts of the story, we have to interpret those bits and images and dialogues and moments of cause and effect to make an entire world that our reader makes sense of. There’s a real push and pull that happens in this communication.

A piece of writing — any kind of piece of writing — is a contract between us and the reader. There is a moment when you hit PUBLISH on an article or a moment where your book is picked up by a reader and all your control? It’s gone.

That’s kind of beautiful (though occasionally scary) because it’s a leap of faith and trust in ourselves as writers and our readers to get it, to have explained it well, to have created it well on the page and then for the reader to create it in their own brains and hearts.

That’s pretty damn beautiful.

That’s not an AI thing. That’s a human thing. That connection. And it’s important.


This comes from Joy Harjo’s MasterClass, which is a really lovely, energizing class.


Ploughshares — Emerging Writer’s Contest


May 15, 2023

Entry Fee:


Cash Prize:


E-mail address:




Three prizes of $2,000 each and publication in Ploughshares are given annually for a poem or group of poems, a short story, and an essay. Each winner also receives a consultation with the literary agency Aevitas Creative Management. Writers who have not published a book or a chapbook with a print run of over 300 copies are eligible. Using only the online submission system, submit three to five pages of poetry or up to 6,000 words of fiction or nonfiction with a $24 entry fee, which includes a subscription to Ploughshares (there is no entry fee for current subscribers), between March 1 and May 15. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Ploughshares, Emerging Writer’s Contest, Emerson College, 120 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116. (617) 824–3757. Ellen Duffer, Managing Editor.



How To Think About Chapter Transitions?

How Do You Begin and End a Chapter?


Thanks for hanging out here for a moment with me. And good luck with your story!

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.




Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation

Yep. It’s Valentine’s Day so we are talking about how you need more than love to be happy and fulfilled. Or here, let’s rephrase it: It’s not necessarily love that makes you happy and fulfilled. And that’s what we talk about this podcast. Plus, giant pandas take each other hostage to court and giraffes have a lot of water sports.


Sparty and Pogie

Loving each other is way more important than fighting over who is alpha or blaming each other. Also, hug people when they come home and wag your tail as much as possible.





The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. 

Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.


AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.

We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream biweekly live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.

Carrie is reading one of her raw poems every once in awhile on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!

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.


Welcome To 2023, Writers

Let’s kick some butt (in a chill, non aggressive way)

Photo by Johnny Briggs on Unsplash

Hey! Thanks so much for being kind about me not posting during the holidays. It really helped be think about what and how to be helpful. I appreciate it a lot and you can expect some new things this year from me. Fingers crossed. I’m going to try to be braver about sharing advice and information and thoughts.

So . . .

Recently, a really popular YouTube author gave out some editing advice. She’s cool. She’s pretty. She’s sarcastic and fun. She’s promoting her own book.

But she also is a little bit wrong this go around because she says the first step in a professional edit is the developmental edit.

It isn’t. Not always.

The first step is often an editorial assessment. Then you revise. Then if you have a butt-ton of money because your daddy is rich and your mother’s good looking, you can hush like a little baby, don’t cry, and get a developmental edit.

Or . . .

You can realize that the first step in a developmental edit is an editorial assessment.

What are these two shiny bits of editing bling?

What is this developmental edit? An editorial assessment?

Let’s use Reedsy’s definitions, okay? Reedsy is a massive platform that connects authors to editors and other freelance professionals and makes sure that those freelancing professionals don’t suck. Full disclosure: I was recruited for Reedsy a couple of years ago and I make money there.

Here’s what that platform (that includes 1 million authors and 2,500 freelancers like me) says about those two styles:

“Editorial Assessment. This is a popular and cost-effective first step for authors, ideal for those at an early stage of their rewrites. Editors offering an editorial assessment will usually:

  • Read and analyze your manuscript;
  • Provide an evaluation in the format of a report, covering all aspects of the story, structure, and commercial viability;
  • Offer suggestions to guide your rewrites.”

And then . . .

“Developmental Editing. A nose-to-tail structural edit of your manuscript for authors who have taken their book as far as they can by themselves. A developmental edit often includes everything in an editorial assessment, plus:

  • Detailed recommendations to improve “big picture” concerns like characterization, plot, pacing, setting, etc.;
  • Specific guidance on elements of writing craft;
  • In-line suggestions and edits in the manuscript.”

So, you could go with a YouTuber’s definition or a platform’s. Totally up to you. But that’s the thing: a lot of people get a lot of money creating edicts for those of us who don’t know better.

They say:

  • These are the best ways to write.
  • These are the worst ways to write.
  • These are the best ways to start your story.
  • These are the worst ways to start your story.

And it’s all absolutes.

Here’s the thing (and I’m going to sound absolute here):

Art and writing aren’t about absolutes. There is diversity of thought and culture and literature and perception. It shouldn’t all be ‘my way or the highway.’ Your psychographics, your family, your culture, your education, your location, your gender identity, race, religion, all create who you are and your story.

Don’t Lose Yourself

When you’re trying to get published or trying to get a ton of readers, you can sometimes lose yourself and your story in the process of listening to those edicts. Stay true, okay? Learn and grow, but don’t accept absolutely everything that an influencer says as gospel. The world and you and your story is bigger than that.

Here is a photo of my cat, Koko,judging me for losing myself in the past.


Because I was just talking about Reedsy, I’m going to take one from there. Thanks, Reedsy!

Your character always makes the same promise; to change. Will they finally make it happen this time?

Write a story about someone scrambling on New Year’s Eve to fulfil their resolutions for the entire year before the clock strikes twelve.

You can submit your stories at those links as well. And enter a weekly contest.



“We have two submission periods for fiction and poetry:

December through January

August through September

“We accept nonfiction and art submissions year-round.

“Salt Hill accepts only online submissions via Submittable for poetry, fiction, nonfiction and reviews. For visual art submissions, see below. Most, if not all, of our published work is selected from unsolicited submissions.

“We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you alert us as soon as possible if your work is placed elsewhere by either adding a note to your submission through Submittable or withdrawing the full submission.

“We ask that you submit only once per genre per reading period.

“Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond individually to submission status queries. We aim to respond to submissions within three to six months.

“Unfortunately, we are not in the position to offer payment to our writers.

“Curious about what we like? Grab one of our issues, or take a dip through our online archive.


“Please submit no more than five poems at a time, in one document.”


“Please do not submit works of more than 30 pages. We accept multiple flash pieces, so long as their combined length does not exceed 30 pages. Please double space, unless the nature of your work requires special formatting.”


“The nonfiction we are interested in pushes the boundaries of the genre, making use of the techniques of fiction and poetry to tell a true story. We want memories, arguments, meditations, revelations, philosophical rants. Salt Hill is a literary journal, so please don’t send us articles or reports. We will consider nonfiction for both our print journal and our website.”

There you go! Let’s go kick some butt in 2023 or make some beautiful music or just really craft our stories the best way we can: piece by piece, word by word, hope by hope.

We’ve got this.

This content and other writing tips, etc. is over here, too.


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