Monthly Archives: October 2016

Pacing Your Novel

pacing-trPacing is what keeps your novel bursting with excitement and keeps your reader hooked and begging for more.

What is pacing?

  • Pacing is the speed at which you allow your story to unfold
  • When you release bits of information or clues
  • Time lapses and various sequences of events that need to happen for the story to reach its climax

Stories in different genres are often told at different paces. For example, an adventure story must, by definition, jump from action to action while a crime mystery must unfold at a certain rate with clues along the way.

Ways to Control the Pace of Your Story

Action scenes obviously move the story along rapidly. If the character is in danger, the readeraction is carried along and on tenterhooks along the way. This finger-biting suspense helps to hasten the pace of the story.

Dialogue is another way to further the action and plot. Since dialogue is not social chit-chat, the reader can often discover plenty if two people are arguing or having a heated discussion. Dialogue that fires back and forth sets a quick tempo that hurries the pace of the novel along.

Every chapter should end on a cliffhanger. They don’t have to be major ‘who killed J.R.’ type cliffhangers, but the reader must always feel reluctant to close the book, wondering what is going to happen next.

Jumping from one character’s POV to another is another good way to set the pace of the novel. Just as the reader is invested in one character’s viewpoint, the author jumps to another and adds a layer of confusion but interest to the reader.

Leaping from one scene to another in quick succession also works well.Short chapters and scenes can quicken the pace of the novel.

verbsShort paragraphs help and zingy, powerful verbs will move the story along and keeps the reader’s interest. Long narrative paragraphs, complicated backstories and detailed exposition tends to make the story dry and could cause the reader to doze off – not what we want.

Sometimes, short fragments or phrases, especially when used for thoughts quicken the pace of the story. Try using onomatopoeic verbs as well where appropriate.Most of all, trim your words. This is best done by writing in an active voice. Passive voice is long, boring and complicated.




Backstory Basics



Backstory is all those fun, murky or intriguing little details of what happened before your hero’s crappy day that you portray on page one.

It gives reasons and excuses for events that happen in the now of your story. But it is crucial to remember that backstory isn’t now. And if you dump too much of the past in one shot, it will take the reader out of the action of the story. And leach out all the emotional power out of your story action.

What’s its Purpose

  • It’s what makes your opening page possible, inevitable, engaging.classic-backstory
  • It’s the history of both your story world and your characters. It’s the events and people who have shaped characters and story setting.
  • It is NOT your unfolding story but it is everything that makes that story possible and necessary and inescapable.

Backstory accounts for the why of the story events and actions that occur at the top of your story. It’s the explanation for your hero and villain’s attitudes and motivations and drives

How to Reveal Backstory

You can slip it in so it seems incidental, as if you were revealing something else, or you could explain it plainly so there’s no doubt you’re writing a paragraph of backstory.

Use both methods but know that they create different effects.

When backstory is dribbled in, revealed piecemeal, the reader learns a character, gradually developing an understanding of his motives. When laid out though exposition, the reader is clearly told what’s happened and perhaps how it affected character or elements of the setting such as how her father beat or abused her, or perhaps because she was forced to go to church. Who knows?

Direct explanation CAN pull the reader out of the fiction. Use it sparingly, because you don’t want the reader to feel he’s being lectured. Rather, you want them to get to know a character the same way we get to know people in the real world.

Show backstory through:

  • sections of exposition, perhaps at the top of chapters and scenes
  • dialogue
  • character thought and reflection
  • flashbacks
  • a prologue

Show backstory to:

  • reveal character motivation
  • slow the pace
  • set up subsequent scenes
  • provide meaning for events and character action and reaction
  • add veracity to a character’s stands and personality
  • provide distractions and murky motives and red herrings (yes, you can manipulate backstory for purposes other than straightforward revelation)

Remember the Paul Masson wine ads? We will serve no wine before its time? That should be your pledge regarding backstory: Never too early and always just enough.

You might also like these posts from Writer’s Digest

Voice in Writing

what-voice-should-use-useVoice is the distinct style that you bring to your writing … and you need it big time. Think about listening to a person who has a boring, flat, monotone voice. Do you phase out and almost fall asleep listening to that person? It’s the exact same thing in a novel. If the voice you choose to write in has no color, no personality and no rhythm, your reader will glaze over and toss the book.

You can develop this voice only by allowing your inner self to run free. If you constantly worry about how someone will judge you by the words you use, you’ll end up getting stuck and your dry and boring prose will show it. Forget about what others think, let you imagination soar and allow your characters to shine through.

Steps to find the right voice for your story:5-steps-to-finding-your-writing-voice

  • Know the genre of your book. After all, someone writing a kid’s book will write in a different tone to someone writing a romance.
  • Visualize the characters. One of my writers (you know who you are) is fantastic at bringing to life old Hollywood characters. When I read her versions of characters like Ava Gardner and Truman Capote, I feel they come straight to life for me. The rhythm, cadence and choice of words are bang on. You can do this by watching, listening and imitating until you get it down pat.
  • Point of View is also important as the entire story unfolds through someone’s eyes and thoughts. Even omniscient voice must have a distinct personality – that of the narrator’s.
  • Choice of words can affect the voice of a story. Teenage girls talk in a particular rhythm and use specific slang. Some of my writers are really good at transcribing this particular voice (you know who you are) and when they sometimes falter and allow their own voice to show through – it is noticeable and jarring.

tonegraphicIs Tone and Voice the Same Thing?

No. Voice provides the personality of the story while tone sets the mood. And this mood is set by the author. It depends completely on whether the author wants the story to unfold in an amusing, grave, edgy, tragic or romantic effect – you get the drift.

Movies do tone perfectly. When you see a movie, you can immediately figure out they way the director wants your mind to work by the way the music builds. Jaws is a perfect example – when that ‘dadadaddadadada’ music starts up, you just know that shark is going to come and do something horrible. We even use that sound effect in our daily life when we want that same effect. That’s the tone of the movie.

Think about these aspects when writing your novel and make sure it is consistent throughout the novel.

You might also like these links from Writer’s Digest:

Author Brand and Platform

Author Brand and Platform are words that writers keep hearing over and over again. But many writers have no idea what these words mean.



What does Author Brand and Platform Mean?

Bev Burgess Bell, local creative writing coach, will present a free ‘AUTHOR BRAND AND PLATFORM’ seminar for creative writers. This 2-hour seminar is designed to de-mystify what Brand and Platform means to a writer who has not yet published his/her first novel.

The seminar is FREE, but you need to register. Email to save your seat.


When: Monday, November 14, 2016
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at
Where: Unity Church of Mississauga, 3075 Ridgeway, Dr. Mississauga.
Cost: FREE

To reserve, or for more information, call (289) 795-0307 or email me at

Convincing Dialogue

talkThe best way to write convincing dialogue is to remember that dialogue in fiction is NOT conversation.

It is a way of furthering the plot. It is never used just for the heck of breaking up the narrative.

If you listen to people talking in daily life, they use a lot of ‘hems’ and ‘haws’ – they leave sentences hanging and sometimes lose the thread of what they want to say. Donald Trump is a perfect example. Listen to him, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. He makes no sense at all.

In fiction, people talk it perfect sentences and they don’t waste valuable time making small talk. In fact, even greetings are short and to the point, if used at all.

What Can Dialogue Do?

Dialogue in fiction is used to propel the plot and to flesh out personality traits or characteristics conversationof the people populating your story.

  • Give a character a speech impediment or accent (just don’t overdo it or it will cause problems) or even have them mis-use words. Ex: Mrs. Malaprop from Dickens
  • Use them to bring in backstory in a natural and convincing manner
  • Fill in gaps in the storyline through a dialogue between two characters
  • Gossip or talk about another character thereby allowing the reader to discover more about the absent person
  • Allow one person to eavesdrop on another’s conversation

Potential Mistakes

  • Having dialogue for the sake of it. Dialogue must always have a purpose.
  • Unnatural speech. Let the dialogue flow naturally. Make sure the speech is right for the character talking. Example: if the character is uneducated, he will talk a certain way. If a character is a teen, she will speak like someone in high school with slang words (don’t overdo or you will date your piece).
  • Very long monologues can be boring. Break up the speeches with some give and take between the characters and also make sure we know what they are doing while they are talking.
  • Dialogue tags should be unobtrusive. Once in a while, you might want to use an adjective or adverb, but use sparingly.
  • Go easy on the accents, or jargon, or slang. A word here and there to give the flavor of what you’re trying to convey goes a long way.
  • Try varying your characters’ speech patterns. We all have different ways of talking. I have a neighbor that starts every line with “Nothing …” and then launches off into a long story. Give your characters some personalized traits.

So even though dialogue is written as if two people are conversing, somehow you have to convey that it is natural. Not an easy task to do. The best way you can do this is to write the dialogue and read it out loud. When you read it out loud, certain aspects will stand out and you’ll be able to adjust so that the words flow more normally.

When you read a book you enjoy, parse it to see how the dialogue is written. I will often devour a book I enjoy and then go back and read it at leisure to understand why I enjoyed it so much. What worked? What made it so compelling? This is why it is so important to read if you want to write. You can learn so much.

RELATED POSTS from Writer’s Digest
5 Things You Can Do to Bring Your Writing Ideas (and Career) to Life
5 Tips on Writing & Illustrating Children’s Books From Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Writing the Supernatural Thriller: How to Turn Old Fables into New Tales


Description in Writing

painting“Good description is a learned skill. It’s not just a question of how to; it’s a question of how much to.” – Stephen King

Stephen King is absolutely correct that good description is a learned skill. It’s a cliché but it’s true. Words are your paintbrush and it is the only way for your reader to be able to see what you are seeing, to experience what the character is experiencing and to live vicariously through your story.

Remember though that a reader likes to use her own imagination, so use description judiciously. That’s what Stephen King means in the quote above. You don’t want to inundate the poor reader with too much so that it turns them off. They want to visualize the beautiful setting with some hints from you of course. You supply just enough to give the reader a chance to fill in the details, but still take them in the direction you want them to go.

Good description involves:

  • Writing in a sensual manner i.e using your senses. Just describing someone’s physical attributes can make your description sound boring and like an ad placed in the personals.
  • Uses original similes and metaphors, but judiciously. Too many and you risk irritating your reader.
  • Adjectives are necessary and good for description but try to go beyond just telling us thesmile color of someone’s eyes or that they smiled. What sort of smile did they use – like they knew something you didn’t? And eye color – let’s take blue for example – there are so many variations in blue eyes. Use your imagination to tell us what kind of blue eyes they are. One of my other writers described a brown eyes as mocha. I thought that was original ‘cause I hadn’t heard that before.
  • Zero in on physical characterizations that make your character stand out. John Wayne always walked with a swagger; Clark Gable had outsized ears; Jim Morrison oozed sex appeal – you get the drift.
  • See the location through your character’s eyes.
  • Show not tell is what it’s all about and you only learn by doing. Allow the reader to feel the fear that the character feels entering a haunted castle or the wonder that Hansel and Gretel would feel on finding a gingerbread house made of candy.

You might also like these links from Writer’s Digest:

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4 Tips for New Writers

aliexpress-tips-reviewTip No. 1

New writers – this is your first, best, and most important tip. DROP the ‘wannabe’ moniker and recognize that you are a writer. If you think you are a ‘wannabe’ then you’ll never be anything but that.

Tip No. 2

So what if someone writes a similar story – someone once said (can’t remember which great mind said this) there are no new stories: everyone steals from everyone else and changes it to become their own. As long as there are different elements, all will be well. After all, a mystery is a mystery, a romance is a romance and so on.   Just do it and your story will turn out different.

Ask any of my students and they will tell you that I have a terrific knack of re-writing in their voice BUT – there is no way I would ever be able to write their novels because I just don’t think like them. I have no idea what choice of words they will use, where their plot meanders off to, what their characters will do and say and what exactly will happen in their story’s climactic moment. What I’m saying here is that if I were to write someone else’s story (I’m not talking about ghostwriting) that story would end up becoming mine because of the way I think, and the words and phrases I choose to employ. My style of writing is different from yours or anyone else’s.

So if your story starts off being similar to someone else’s, chances are it will become your own after just a couple of pages or so. Copying someone else’s style is a good way to begin writing and learning the ropes. What do musicians do? They sing other people’s songs and play other people’s riffs until they feel confident in doing their own material.

Tip No. 3

Each person’s writing is unique.  One way to discover your own uniqueness is to try writing in different genres until you find the style of writing you enjoy. And of course – read, read, and read some more.

Tip No. 4

Start with a short story on something you know very well – for ex: if you come from a small town in Quebec, try your hand at a mystery that occurs in the Quebec wilderness. You’ll be able to bring that whole landscape alive – imagine something horrible happening in the aluminum mines of Shawinigan or someone falling into the vats of pulp at the paper mills in Trois Rivieres. It will give you a chance to do a nice accent for interest as well – just some ideas.

I used the Jeffrey asbestos mine (from Quebec) in one of my stories because I know Quebec fairly well.

Think about it. It’s easier to start with something small and then you can flesh it out.

Check out these links from Writer’s Digest:

From Idea to Story



There is no easy way to get from idea to story.

Ideas themselves are a snap to acquire. But what you do with them after is the key. You can get ideas in your dreams, in everyday life, in overheard conversations and on the television. You religiously jot them down in your idea notebook, but when the time comes to begin writing that masterpiece the muse has often taken wing and flown off. Those magnificent words you logged with such gusto stare back at you in meaningless mots of drivel.

Is there anything a writer can do?

Yes, there is. Keep jotting those ideas down, and then begin asking yourself some pertinent questions such as:

  • Does this idea lead anywhere?
    What does the character want?
    Is this a mystery, a romance, fantasy?
    What conflict does the main character face?
    How will he resolve this conflict?
    Does he have goals and objectives?
    Can I stuff obstacles in his way to prevent him from reaching his goal?
    What kind of change will the character experience during the process?
    Is there a way for me to populate my character’s world?
    What sort of resolution does my character want?
    Which part of the original idea excites you (the writer) most?
    How can I let my imagination run free and take this snippet of an idea and build an entire world around it?
    Can I take this boring idea and revitalize it by placing it in a genre where it would be fresh and exciting?

If you can answer these questions, then you are on a roll and should be able to flesh out your idea into a story. Start off thinking in terms of a short story if that is more helpful to you. As long as there is a beginning, a middle and an end, it will serve as a guide or synopsis for you on your way to creating a full novel-length manuscript.

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