Tag Archives: advice

Which books do you want your future children to read?

If you already have children the same question applies.

We all know you can’t force children to read certain books, it just doesn’t work. That is precisely why so many of us hated reading books in school, because they were forced upon us, instead of us willingly wanting to read those books. But if however your future children do read books, which books do you then inwardly hope that they will someday, somehow actually read, maybe even without you or anyone else forcing them to read it?

I read a really great story the other day about a woman who, when she was a little girl, her mother had quite an extensive library. It was so big in fact, that she put a bookshelf in the hallway outside of her daughters room for extra storage. She told her daughter that she could read any of the books in the book case except for the books on the top shelf.

To her delight, her daughter’s curiosity got the better of her and she secretly stole each book from the top shelf to read at night. Little did she know that her mother had deliberately placed the most prized of her collection on that shelf in hopes that her daughter would read them. By the time she was a teenager the girl had read some of the greatest literary works ever written. It just goes to show you what a little curiosity can inspire.

I wish I would have done the same for my daughter. Now at 23 I doubt she will appreciate the giant box of books I’m getting her for Christmas! Too funny, but at least she will have them. Maybe I can give her a story similar to this one…”now that you’re old enough honey, I think it’s time I introduced you to some books I forbade you as a child!” Why not right? I’ll get her something she wants too of course, I’m not that terrible 🙂

Anyway, here is a list of some that I would have placed on the top shelf had I thought of it.

My Top Shelf:

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offers a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform your life to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love. This recommendation would also include any other book he’s ever written as they are all written so eloquently and deliver a clear message that’s worth discovering, even if you felt you already knew it.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Adventurous and incite-full.  The Alchemist is an intuitive exploration of purpose, and how it takes the virtues of courage and tenacity to fulfill ones destiny. It alludes to universal truths that all things are interconnected and that while we make things complicated even when they are quite simple. This book takes you on a journey of discovery to the magic that stirs within your life.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

The travel narrative is filled with fundamental questions on how to live your life. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live . . . and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

This mind-bending Japanese novel blends two interrelated plots between 15-year-old Kafka, who is on a mission to find his mother and sister, and the older Nakata, a mentally-challenged man who has the ability to speak with cats. The two characters are on a collision course throughout Kafka on the Shore, which is a metaphysical journey filled with magical realism.

Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill

Think and Grow Rich has been called the “Granddaddy of All Motivational Literature.” The most famous of all teachers of success spent “a fortune and the better part of a lifetime of effort” to produce the “Law of Success” philosophy that forms the basis of his books and that is so powerfully summarized in this one.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan

Sagan somehow manages to explain 15 billion years of cosmic history while touching on philosophy, religion, and our society. This book is written so even those without a strong science background can understand it, and manages to convey the profound unity of the cosmos.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

In a dystopian world nearly 40 years after the second world war, what remains of Earth has been split into three superpowers after an atomic war, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.  Everyone in Oceania, including protagonist Winston Smith, is closely monitored by the government. Orwell explores issues of censorship, propaganda, and individualism in 1984 as Winston struggles to escape his monotonous existence.

The Finding of the Third Eye by Vera Stanley Alder

Alder explores the esoteric wisdom of the third eye: the hidden gate of mankind’s ascent toward god-hood. Alder was an investigator of ancient wisdom in the 1930’s. She made it her task to simplify and summarize the knowledge she gained in order to share it with others. She has a rare gift for condensing and synthesizing the essentials of esoteric teaching.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Walter Evans-Wentz

The Tibetan Book of the Dead has its origins in the treasure texts said to have been hidden away by Padmasambhava, the Lotus Guru, in Tibet in the 8th century AD so that they could be revealed at an appropriate later time. As a funerary text and guide to the afterlife, The Tibetan Book of the Dead was read aloud to the dying or recently deceased so that they could recognize the true nature of the mind and thus attain enlightenment and liberation from the suffering associated with the endless cycle of death and rebirth. If we too can recognize the true nature of the mind, each one of us can become enlightened.

The Mahabharata by Veda Vyasa

Quite possibly the oldest story ever told. The Mahabharata was written in 5561 B.C. The innermost narrative kernel of The Mahabharata tells the story of two sets of paternal first cousins, the five sons of the deceased king Pandu and the one hundred sons of blind King Dhritarashtra, who became bitter rivals and opposed each other in war for possession of the ancestral Bharata kingdom. What is dramatically interesting within this simple opposition is the large number of individual agendas the many characters pursue, and the numerous personal conflicts, ethical puzzles, subplots, and plot twists that give the story a strikingly powerful development.

Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life by Shakti Gawain

Creative Visualization has been successfully used in the fields of health, education, business, sports, and the arts for many years. Gawain explains how to use mental imagery and affirmations to produce positive changes in one’s life. The book contains meditations and exercises that are aimed at helping the practitioner channel energies in positive directions, strengthen self-esteem, improve overall health, and experience deep relaxation. This is the book that launched a movement.

The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz

Set your goals high…then exceed them! Millions of people throughout the world have improved their lives using The Magic of Thinking Big. Dr. David J. Schwartz, long regarded as one of the foremost experts on motivation, will help you sell better, manage better, earn more money, and—most important of all—find greater happiness and peace of mind.

1984 by George Orwell

Winston Smith lives in a society where the government controls people’s lives every second of the day. Alone in his small, one-room apartment, Winston dreams of a better life. Is freedom from this life of suffering possible? There must be something that the Party cannot control something like love, perhaps?

Animal Farm by George Orwell

An allegory and satirization of Soviet Communism, Animal Farm is about a group of animals who take over a farm after ousting their human master. And though everything starts alright as all the animals work together and productivity soars, their new society begins to break down as certain animals start to believe that perhaps not all animals are created equal.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Full of intrigue, love, fight scenes, and social satire, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the best revenge books ever written. It follows Edmond Dantès, a young  sailor in 19th century France who is falsely accused of being a Bonapartist traitor and imprisoned for six years. After acquiring a secret fortune from a fellow prisoner, he remakes himself and sets out to find, and repay, everyone in his old life.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, To Kill A Mockingbird is set in Maycomb, Alabama during the Depression and follows the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, the trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman, and the mysterious character Boo Radley. Despite its serious themes of rape, racial inequality, and gender roles, Lee’s story is renowned for its warmth and humor.

The Hobit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien

In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is whisked away from his comfortable, unambitious life in Hobbiton by the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves. He finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the dwarf; Legolas the elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider. J.R.R. Tolkien’s three volume masterpiece is at once a classic myth and a modern fairy tale, a story of high and heroic adventure set in the unforgettable landscape of Middle-earth.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune is to science fiction what Lord of the Rings is to fantasy. Herbert is able to create complete histories, politics, religions, and ecological systems of this feudal interstellar society.

Harry Potter the seven book set by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)The author’s imagination is vividly presented in a cast of almost believable characters attending a school we all wish we could attend. Classes like “Defense Against Dark Arts”, “Divination”, “Transfiguration”, “Arithmancy” and “Care of Magical Creatures” are written as if the author actually attended them and certainly enjoyed every minute of class. More than can be said for most of the classes I have attended. Each book in the series encompasses one year of Harry’s fascinating life. The Potter books are written in a way that can charm any age reader.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim is a man who has become unstuck in time after being abducted by aliens, specifically Tralfamadorians for their planet’s zoo. The book follows his capture, as well as his time as an American prisoner of war witnessing the firebombing of Dresden in WWII. Slaughterhouse Five is a comically-dark novel that combines both fantasy and realism.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

In the first book of the series, Arthur Dent is warned by his friend Ford Prefect, a secret researcher for the interstellar travel guide The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that Earth is about to be demolished. The pair escapes on an alien spaceship, and the book follows their bizarre adventures around the universe along with quotes from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” like: “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”

The Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

Truly a must read! The Time Quintet consists of A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. The digest box set features the art of Taeeun Yoo. A Wrinkle in Time is one of the most significant novels of our time. This fabulous, ground-breaking science-fiction and fantasy story is the first of five in the Time Quintet series about the Murry family. A Wind in the Door―When Charles Wallace falls ill, Meg, Calvin, and their teacher, Mr. Jenkins, must travel inside C.W. to make him well, and save the universe from the evil Echthros. A Swiftly Tilting Planet―The Murry and O’Keefe families enlist the help of the unicorn, Gaudior, to save the world from imminent nuclear war. Many Waters―Meg Murry, now in college, time travels with her twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys, to a desert oasis that is embroiled in war. An Acceptable Time―While spending time with her grandparents, Alex and Kate Murry, Polly O’Keefe wanders into a time 3,000 years before her own.

Imagica by Clive Barker

Imajica is an epic beyond compare: vast in conception, obsessively detailed in execution, and apocalyptic in its resolution. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger, Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie ‘oh’ pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.

That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own, but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie ‘oh’ pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.

What Are Your Top Shelf Books?

 

Totally Transform Your Next Blog Post

The Unfair Advantage Popular Writers Try to Hide

You know your writing heroes? Would you be shocked to learn that their writing is no better than yours?

Sure, the end product is better, but the first draft is just as clumsy, flabby, and downright difficult to read as any of your own writing efforts.

What popular bloggers know that many people don’t know (or don’t want to believe) is that a post isn’t finished simply because they’ve said everything they want to say. In many ways that’s just the beginning.

Think of your draft as a rough diamond. Value is hidden inside it and you need an expert gem cutter to reveal its beauty and clarity.

Which is why many top bloggers hire a professional editor to transform their rough diamonds into gleaming jewels. That’s right – someone else is helping them.

Somewhat unfair, right?

No wonder their writing seems so much better than yours. And even those bloggers who don’t use an editor have simply learned how to edit their own posts like a pro.

Fortunately, editing isn’t rocket science. If you have someone to show you how.

So let’s break down the rules that’ll help you transform your unremarkable draft into a perfectly polished post.

7 Editing Rules That Will Totally Transform Your Next Post

  • DON’T PAD YOUR PROSE WITH EMPTY FILLER WORDS
(Or: Avoid Using Grammar Expletives)

Grammar expletives are literary constructions that begin with the words it, here, or there followed by a form of the verb to be.

(Expletive comes from the Latin explere, meaning to fill. Think smelly literary landfill).

Common constructions include it is, it was, it won’t, it takes, here is, there is, there will be.

The problem? When it, here, and there refer to nouns later in the sentence or – worse – to something unnamed, they weaken your writing by shifting emphasis away from the true drivers of your sentences. And they usually require other support words such aswho, that, and when, which further dilute your writing.

Let’s look at an example:

There are some bloggers who seem to have…

The there are expletive places the sentence’s focus on some nebulous thing called thereinstead of the true focus of the sentence – some bloggers. And the writer must then use another unnecessary word – who – that’s three unnecessary words in one unfocused sentence.

Train yourself to spot instances of there, here, and it followed by a to be verb (such as is,are, was, and were) and adjust your sentences to lead with the meat and potatoes of those sentences instead.

(Tip: Use your word processor’s find functionality and search for there, here, and it and determine if you’ve used an expletive).

Other before-and-after examples:

  • It’s fun to edit – Editing is fun
  • It takes time to writeWriting takes time
  • There are many people who write – Many people write
  • There’s nothing better than blogging – Nothing’s better than blogging
  • Here are some things to consider: – Some things to consider are:

Caveat: If you previously described an object using there, here, and it, you’re not guilty of an expletive infraction. For example:

  • I love editing. It’s fun. (This is not an expletive construction since I previously described what it refers to.)

2. DON’T WEAKEN THE ACTION WITH WIMPY WORDS

(Or: Avoid Weak Verbs; Use Visceral and Action Verbs Instead)

Not only does to be conspire with it, there, and here to create nasty grammar expletives, but it’s also responsible for its own class of sentence impairing constructions.

Certain uses of to be in its various forms weaken the words that follow. The solution is to replace these lightweights with more powerful alternatives.

Let’s see some before-and-after examples:

  • She is blogging – She blogs
  • People are in love with him – People love him
  • He is aware that people love him – He knows people love him

Other verbs besides to be verbs can lack strength as well. Use visceral verbs or verbs that express some action. Let’s edit:

  • Give outOffer
  • Find outDiscover
  • Make it clearer – Clarify
  • I can’t make it to the party – I can’t attend the party
  • He went to Mexico – He traveled to Mexico
  • Think of a blogging strategy – Devise a blogging strategy

3. DON’T CRIPPLE YOUR DESCRIPTIONS WITH FEEBLE PHRASES

(Or: Avoid Weak Adjectives)

Weak adjectives sap the strength from your writing just as nefariously as weak verbs. Use the best adjectives possible when describing nouns and pronouns. And be mindful that certain words, like really and very, usually precede weak adjectives. Take a look:

  • Really badTerrible
  • Really goodGreat
  • Very bigHuge
  • Very beautifulGorgeous

Even if you don’t have a telltale really or very preceding an adjective, you can often give your writing more impact by using stronger alternatives:

  • DirtyFilthy
  • TiredExhausted
  • ScaredTerrified
  • HappyThrilled

Even worse than using weak adjectives is using weak adjectives to tell your readers what something isn’t as opposed to telling them what something is:

  • It’s not that good – It’s terrible
  • He’s not a bore – He’s hilarious
  • He’s not very smart – He’s ignorant

4. TRIM FLABBY WORDS AND PHRASES

(Or: Avoid Verbose Colloquialisms)

Today’s readers have limited time and patience for flabby writing. Their cursors hover over the back button, so say what you mean as concisely as possible before your readers vanish:

  • But the fact of the matter isBut (Avoid flabby colloquial expressions when possible)
  • Editing is absolutely essential – Editing is essential (Absolutely is redundant)
  • You’re going to have to edit your work – You’ll have to edit your work or You mustedit your work (Going to and going to have to are flabby expressions)
  • Due to the fact that editing takes time, some people avoid it – Because editing takes time, some people avoid it
  • Every single person should love editing – Every person should love editing (Single is redundant; and shouldn’t married people love editing too? 😉 )

5. DON’T PUSSYFOOT AROUND YOUR VERBS AND ADJECTIVES

(Or: Avoid Nominalization)

Nominalization occurs when a writer uses a weak noun equivalent when a stronger verb or adjective replacement is available. Like expletives, nominals usually introduce other unnecessary words when used.

Count the number of words in the before-and-after examples below, and you will witness how badly nominals weaken your writing:

  • Give your post a proofreadProofread your post (verb form)
  • Alcohol is the cause of hangovers – Alcohol causes hangovers (verb form)
  • The plane’s approach was met with the scramble of emergency crews – The planeapproached and emergency crews scrambled. (verb form)
  • He shows signs of carelessness – He is careless (adjective form)
  • She has a high level of intensity – She is intense (adjective form)

6. THROW OUT THE RULEBOOK ON PUNCTUATION

(Or: Use the Occasional Comma for Clarity)

The rules around punctuation can be complicated, even for the humble comma.

But do you truly need to know the difference between a serial comma, an Oxford comma, and a Harvard comma to write a great blog post? Of course not. (And it’s a trick question – they’re all the same.)

So my philosophy on commas is simple:

Use commas sparingly if you prefer, but if excluding a comma MAKES YOUR READER STOP READING, add another bleepin’ comma – regardless of what any comma police may say.

Let’s look at an example:

You can ignore editing and people reading your post may not notice but your ideas will get lost.

By not including a comma between editing and and, I read this sentence and asked myself, “I can ignore editing and people reading my post? Really?” Of course, readers work out the intended meaning a moment later, but by that time, they’ve already stalled.

So, regardless of what comma rule I may break by adding a comma to this sentence, as long as my readers don’t get confused and stop reading, I don’t care – and neither should you.

Let’s look at another example that needs a comma for clarity:

One day, when you find success you can pull out your golden pen and write me a thank-you letter.

By not including a comma between success and you, I read this sentence and asked myself, “Is success something you can pull out of a golden pen?”

Regardless of your stance on commas, you ultimately want your readers to keep reading. You want them to continue down your slippery slope of powerful content all the way to your call to action – without getting jarred from their trance to contemplate commas with their inner editors or a Google search.

7. BE AS MANIPULATIVE AS POSSIBLE

(Or: Use Noun Modifiers Whenever You Can)

You won’t use this technique often, but at least be mindful of it.

When we use two nouns together with the first noun modifying the second, we are using noun modifiers. I like them because they hack the flab from our writing by shortening our sentences. Let’s review some examples:

  • Tips on editing – Editing tips
  • Great advice on how to boost traffic – Great traffic-boosting advice (Traffic-boosting is a compound noun here)
  • Information regarding registration – Registration information

These sentences have prepositions between the noun sets. Whenever you spot this construction, try to implement this noun-modifying technique.

What’s Your Excuse Now?

These tips are not magical, mystical, or complicated. In fact, you could consider them downright boring, plain, and inconsequential.

But applying smart editing rules is what separates your heroes from the masses,catapults them to success, and makes readers say, “I don’t know what it is about their writing, but it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Look at is this way: You’ve expended a ton of effort on SEO, content marketing, networking, and social media promotion, all in the hopes that more people will notice your blog. So when they arrive, shouldn’t your next post blow their socks off too?

And how about your last post and the one before that? (Yes, you can apply these rules to your old posts too!)

Or are you one of those writers who think they write well enough already? Well, you might be surprised by just how many of these crimes against clarity you’re committing.

Open one of your posts right now and see how many of these editing rules you can apply.

Read each word of your post. Is the word an expletive? Is it a weak verb? A weak adjective? Does it represent nominalization or flab or break any of the other rules mentioned in this post?

Run each word of your post through this process. You will find something to improve. And your writing will be 100% more powerful as a result.

Because the search for perfection never ends.

And your writing is never too good.

Sure, proofreading and editing take time.

And yes, you’re already busy enough.

But your writing heroes edit, and they land the guest posts, book deals, and exposure you only wish you could.

So, take a break from #amwriting and start #amediting right now.

Your success will thank you.


About the Author: Shane Arthur is the copy editor for Jon Morrow’s kick-butt Guest Blogging Apprenticeship Program (aff.), where he applies these rules (and others) to polish students’ guest posts to perfection before final submission.

7 Simple Edits That Make Your Writing 100% More Powerful by Shane Arthur


 

Powerful Writing Techniques

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Take a moment, close your eyes, and recall a story that truly engaged you as a reader – one whose world and characters became completely real for you. Got one?

Now, take off your reader hat and don your analytical writer hat to think about what makes that story so captivating. What writing techniques did the author use to bring the story to life? Was it the wrenching appeal to your emotions, the vivid and brutal action scenes, or the high stakes facing a character? Mastering these and other storytelling methods is the key to writing your own engaging tale.

Just as a lion is the product of all the zebras it has eaten, a writer is the product of all the books he or she has read. Reading the works of skilled writers is a fabulous way to hone your craft and learn how to effectively employ the writing tactics that help you create your own captivating story.

Here are five great examples of writing techniques that bring the story to life for readers, as demonstrated by five accomplished writers.

1. Invoke multiple senses

When you experience a situation, you pick up more than just its sights. By describing sounds, scents, tastes and sensations, you’ll immerse readers in your story’s world.

The following scene from Saladin Ahmed’s “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela” does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into the story by using senses other than sight.

Her voice is more beautiful than any woman’s. And there is the powerful smell of jasmine and clove. A nightingale sings perfumed words at me while my mind’s eye burns with horrors that would make the Almighty turn away.

If fear did not hold your tongue, you would ask what I am. Men have called my people by many names—ghoul, demon. Does a word matter so very much? What I am, learned one, is Abdel Jameela’s wife.

For long moments I don’t speak. If I don’t speak, this nightmare will end. I will wake in Baghdad, or Beit Zujaaj. But I don’t wake.

She speaks again, and I cover my ears, though the sound is beauty itself.

The words you hear come not from my mouth, and you do not hear them with your ears. I ask you to listen with your mind and your heart. We will die, my husband and I, if you will not lend us your skill. Have you, learned one, never needed to be something other that what you are?

Cinnamon scent and the sound of an oasis wind come to me.

2. Create intriguing, complex characters

Readers want characters with whom they can sympathize (Harry Potter) or revile (Tywin Lannister) – or both. They want to get to know the characters and learn more about their experiences in the story.

In the following excerpt from “The Children of the Shark God,” Peter S. Beagle introduces us to the protagonist quickly, but in a way that makes us care about what happens to her.

Mirali’s parents were already aging when she was born, and had long since given up the hope of ever having a child — indeed, her name meant “the long-desired one.” Her father had been crippled when the mast of his boat snapped during a storm and crushed his leg, falling on him, and if it had not been for their daughter the old couple’s lives would have been hard indeed. Mirali could not go out with the fishing fleet herself, of course — as she greatly wished to do, having loved the sea from her earliest memory — but she did every kind of work for any number of island families, whether cleaning houses, marketing, minding young children, or even assisting the midwife when a birthing was difficult or there were simply too many babies coming at the same time. She was equally known as a seamstress, and also as a cook for special feasts; nor was there anyone who could mend a pandanus-leaf thatching as quickly as she, though this is generally man’s work. No drop of rain ever penetrated any pandanus roof that came under Mirali’s hands.

Nor did she complain of her labors, for she was very proud of being able to care for her mother and father as a son would have done. Because of this, she was much admired and respected in the village, and young men came courting just as though she were a great beauty. Which she was not, being small and somewhat square-made, with straight brows — considered unlucky by most — and hips that gave no promise of a large family. But she had kind eyes, deep-set under those regrettable brows, and hair as black and thick as that of any woman on the island. Many, indeed, envied her; but of that Mirali knew nothing. She had no time for envy herself, nor for young men, either.

As authors, we must give readers insight into what makes our protagonists tick. What motivates them? What are their aspirations? In this passage, we learn that Mirali, while not conventionally beautiful, is a kind soul who works hard for her parents and is appreciated by her community. And the key? We quickly start to become invested in what happens to her.

3. Evoke strong emotions

In this scene from “Frost Child” by Gillian Philip, it takes the reader a moment to realize what the child witch is feeding her newly-tamed water horse — and that moment allows the strong emotion of horror to set in.

“He’s very beautiful,” I smiled. “Make sure he’s fully tame before you bring him near the dun.”

“Of course I will. Thank you, Griogair!” She bent her head to the kelpie again, crooning, and reached for her pouch, drawing out a small chunk of meat. The creature shifted its head to take it delicately from her hand, gulping it down before taking her second offering. She stroked it as she fed it, caressing its cheekbone, its neck, its gills.

I don’t know why the first shiver of cold certainty rippled across my skin; perhaps it was her contentment, the utter obliteration of her grief; perhaps it was the realisation that she and her little bow had graduated to bigger game. The chunks of flesh she fed it were torn from something far larger than a pigeon, and as the kelpie nickered, peeling back its upper lip to sniff for more treats, I saw tiny threads of woven fabric caught on its canine teeth.

By revealing a previously undetected detail that helps readers understand the implications, the author causes them to wince and recoil — and wonder what happens next. Of course, we have many emotion-evoking arrows in our writing quivers — humor, love, determination, anger, and so on. These strong emotions keep the reader engrossed in the story and curious about the characters’ futures.

4. Use rich character voice

The voice chosen by the author has a profound impact in how readers interpret the story and view the characters. In the following excerpt from “The Adventures of Lightning Merriemouse-Jones” by Nancy and Belle Holder, the voice and sentence length quickly convey the time period and lighter tone of this comic horror story.

To begin at the beginning:

That would be instructive, but rather dull; and so we will tell you, Gentle Reader, that the intrepid Miss Merriemouse-Jones was born in 1880, a wee pup to parents who had no idea that she was destined for greatness. Protective and loving, they encouraged her to find her happiness in the environs of home — running the squeaky wheel in the nursery cage, gnawing upon whatever might sharpen her pearlescent teeth, and wrinkling her tiny pink nose most adorably when vexed.

During her girlhood, Lightning was seldom vexed. She lived agreeably in her parents’ well-appointed and fashionable abode, a hole in the wall located in the chamber of the human daughter of the house, one Maria Louisa Summerfield, whose mother was a tempestuous Spanish painter of some repute, and whose father owned a bank.

The longer sentences, combined with the choice of words like “environs,” “pearlescent,” “vexed,” “abode,” and “repute,” place the reader in a Victorian setting even without the reference to 1880. The narrator’s voice also clearly sets a tone of felicity and humor.

Just as the narrator has a distinct voice, characters should have their own unique voices to help readers distinguish one from another and to convey aspects of their personalities. Voice is a terrific tool to help readers get to know and appreciate your characters.

5. Pull the reader into the action

Of course, interesting characters and engaging dialog are important, but writing gripping action scenes is a skill all its own. Jim Butcher has mastered this skill, as shown in this excerpt from “Even Hand”:

The fomor’s creatures exploded into the hallway on a storm of frenzied roars. I couldn’t make out many details. They seemed to have been put together on the chassis of a gorilla. Their heads were squashed, ugly-looking things, with wide-gaping mouths full of shark-like teeth. The sounds they made were deep, with a frenzied edge of madness, and they piled into the corridor in a wave of massive muscle.

“Steady,” I murmured.

The creatures lurched as they moved, like cheap toys that had not been assembled properly, but they were fast, for all of that. More and more of them flooded into the hallway, and their charge was gaining mass and momentum.

“Steady,” I murmured.

Hendricks grunted. There were no words in it, but he meant, I know.

The wave of fomorian beings got close enough that I could see the patches of mold clumping their fur, and tendrils of mildew growing upon their exposed skin.

“Fire,” I said.

Hendricks and I opened up.

The new military AA-12 automatic shotguns are not the hunting weapons I first handled in my patriotically delusional youth. They are fully automatic weapons with large circular drums that rather resembled the old Tommy guns made iconic by my business predecessors in Chicago.

One pulls the trigger and shell after shell slams through the weapon. A steel target hit by bursts from an AA-12 very rapidly comes to resemble a screen door.

And we had two of them.

The slaughter was indescribable. It swept like a great broom down that hallway, tearing and shredding flesh, splattering blood on the walls and painting them most of the way to the ceiling. Behind me, Gard stood ready with a heavy-caliber big-game rifle, calmly gunning down any creature that seemed to be reluctant to die before it could reach our defensive point. We piled the bodies so deep that the corpses formed a barrier to our weapons.

A well-written action scene thrusts the reader smack into the middle of the story. It’s another way to evoke emotion and empathy for characters.

Though the protagonist in this story is actually a crime lord — not a character many of us would normally root for — you’re on his side, aren’t you? The writer’s skillful action writing has you imagining yourself behind the defensive barrier, wielding a shotgun, and praying the torrent of lead will prevent the demonic onslaught from reaching you.

Readers want to be taken on a journey to another place and time, with characters they care about and whose company they enjoy. Help your readers feel like they have a stake in your story’s outcome by using these writing techniques to bring your characters and settings to life.


If you enjoyed these excerpts, find the full stories in the new dark fantasy anthology “Beyond the Pale”

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As a writer, which books or authors do you read specifically to learn from their techniques and writing skills?

Book Cover Design

Source: http://thewritelife.com/5-powerful-writing-techniques/

Images:  (c) Can Stock Photo

Eye-Opening Writing Tips

4815205632_632ee48a71_bA lot of people think they can write or paint or draw or sing or make movies or what-have-you, but having an artistic temperament doth not make one an artist.

Even the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more. Vladimir Nabokov received a harsh rejection letter from Knopf upon submitting Lolita, which would later go on to sell fifty million copies. Sylvia Plath’s first rejection letter for The Bell Jar read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Gertrude Stein received a cruel rejection letter that mocked her style. Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way earned him a sprawling rejection letter regarding the reasons he should simply give up writing all together. Tim Burton’s first illustrated book, The Giant Zlig, got the thumbs down from Walt Disney Productions, and even Jack Kerouac’s perennial On the Road received a particularly blunt rejection letter that simply read, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

So even if you’re an utterly fantastic writer who will be remembered for decades forthcoming, you’ll still most likely receive a large dollop of criticism, rejection, and perhaps even mockery before you get there. Having been through it all these great writers offer some writing tips without pulling punches. After all, if a publishing house is going to tear into your manuscript you might as well be prepared.

Advice From the Best


The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway


Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy


If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker


Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. -Paul Theroux


I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee


You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London


Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell


There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham


If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King


Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman


Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright


If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser


Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut


Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway


Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway


Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk


  1. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain

Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman


Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde


You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury


Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman


Book Cover Design

Source: http://thoughtcatalog.com/cody-delistraty/2013/09/21-harsh-but-eye-opening-writing-tips-from-great-authors/

How to Find Your Themes

Writing fiction is about telling stories . . . but what is telling stories about?

When you tell someone a story, why are you doing this? What compels you to create lies that have about them the ring of truth; what drives you to invent people and places and events and create a context that pulls them all together and makes them seem real?

When you are creating fiction, at heart you are searching for ways to create order in the universe.

You are digging into your core beliefs on how the world works, and running imaginary people through a trial universe built on these beliefs to see how both the people and the beliefs stand up under pressure. People who write fiction tend not to accept the world at face value — in general, they are the people who always got in trouble when they were little for asking “Why?” one time too many about something that, to everyone else, seemed pretty obvious.

When you started writing fiction, you probably did so at about the same time that you discovered that not only did your parents not have all the answers to the universe, but neither did anybody else. You discovered that, if you wanted an answer to that still-nagging “Why?” you were going to have to find the answer yourself.

Writing fiction is the act of questioning the silent, unanswering infinite and demanding that the infinite cough up a reply . . . and hurry up about it, too.

It is the ultimate defiance of that stock parental response, “Because I said so.” Writing fiction is standing on the edge of the abyss of ignorance, looking across at the cliffs on the other side, and saying, “With nothing but words, I am going to build myself a bridge that takes me from here to there . . . and when I’m done, other people will be able to cross over that same bridge.” It’s an act of ultimate hubris, but of ultimate courage, too, because the abyss can eat you, and will if you slip.

So which bridges are worth building?

You can’t cover the whole abyss. You can run a thousand lines from one side to the other if you live long enough, and you won’t even cast a shadow on the voracious ignorance that lies beneath. All you can do is span the darkness with your slender threads, and build them strong enough that people can traverse them, and make them interesting enough that people will take the risk.

Which bridges are worth risking life and limb and hope and soul to create? Only those that take you to someplace you have not yet been.

And how do you decide which bridges those might be? You ask yourself the following question: To what questions in life have I not yet found a satisfactory answer?

These are some of my answers to that question:

Why do good things happen to bad people? Have you figured that one out yet? I haven’t. Why do bad things happen to good people? I’ve struggled with that one through a couple of books, and I have a couple of angles on it now, but certainly not the definitive one.

Why do we get old and die? Would living in these bodies forever be better? I’ve run with that one a couple of times now, too.

Why do we fall in love? Why do we fall out of love? Why do we hunger for the place that is just beyond the next horizon?

What is evil, and why do some people choose evil? What is good, and why do some people choose good? How are the first group of people different from the second group? How are they the same?

Is there a God, and if there is, does he or she know I’m here? And if he or she does . . . what is going on with my life?

Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Is there anything that lies beyond the realm of this moment, this breath, this place and time? Do we have souls, and if so, what does that mean? Do we have a purpose for being here? What do we mean to each other? What constitutes living a meaningful life? What is love, and why does it matter?

These have all been my themes. Perhaps they are the same questions you have wondered about. Perhaps your curiosity and doubt run in completely different directions. In either case, your themes will define the power of your work, and its meaning not only to you but to everyone who reads it.

If you choose to work with safe themes — with questions to which you already know the answer — you’ll write safe books.

You can have a very successful career writing safe books; after all, you won’t drive too hard into the core of anyone’s comfort zone, you won’t force your readers to question the meaning of their own lives, you won’t upset yourself or anyone else by reaching conclusions you don’t like or find frightening.

But you won’t grow as a writer, either, and you’ll risk becoming bored with your characters and your stories and your work.

You can have a successful career writing about the questions you haven’t answered, too. Mark Twain, my favorite writer, is also my favorite example of a man whose themes challenged the pat answers and asked the scary questions. He was a marvelous entertainer and a brilliant raconteur . . . but he also dared to look even God in the eye and say, “This doesn’t make sense to me. Explain yourself.”

In books and short stories and articles and essays and letters, again and again he held a mirror up to the world of his day and said, “Your actions belie your words, people. Your beliefs don’t fit the facts. And your hypocrisy shames you . . . you deserve better of yourselves than to act the way you do.” He wrote with everything he had. He dared the tough themes. And now, long after his death, when his colleagues who chose to write safely are nothing but footnotes in unread texts, Mark Twain continues to talk to us. His bridges across the abyss are still strong, still in use, still vital to those who want and need to get to the places he explored.

Every writer has something to say, but those writers whose works endure have dared to say something about the things that frighten them, confuse them, challenge them, and occasionally delight them.

They have not gone across the bridges built by others. They have dared to build their own.

You can find your own themes, and add power and depth to your work by daring to explore them through fiction. You can leave a worthwhile series of bridges into unknown territory, a solid series of roads away from ignorance and into knowledge that your readers can continue to use long after you are dust. In a world that cannot offer you physical immortality, you can leave something of your spirit, your courage, your hope and your integrity behind.

Find your themes — your REAL themes — and write them. I dare you.

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by Holly Lisle

Source: http://hollylisle.com/finding-your-themes/