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Learn to Use Hashtags Effectively

Today I want to jump into one of the most important tool in your social media arsenal, hashtags.

Hashtags—especially for Twitter—can be incredibly valuable in helping us increase out audience. But only if we learn to use them correctly.

They’re not that hard, but there are some rules you need to follow so you’re not wasting valuable real estate in your tweets.

Hashtag Refresher

First, lets back up and evaluate the reason we’re all working at building an online presence. We are looking to deepen existing relationships and build new ones. But building new ones can be difficult if the only people we interact with are those we already know, either online or in person.

We can get a little bit of exposure to new folks by our existing connections introducing us, but that’s a time consuming way to go about it.

What if there was a way for someone to search a given social media network by topic and find new, interesting people to interact with? That would be a great way to grow our connections.

THAT, in the simplest of terms, is the purpose of using hashtags.

When you compose a social media update that includes one or two hashtags that summarize the topic—you are giving folks who wouldn’t otherwise have a connection with you—a way to find you.

Here’s an example of the correct way to do this. At the end of this post you’ll find a tweet I composed about today’s post:

Grow your #Writing platform by using hashtags correctly – via #SocialMedia expert @EdieMelson

5 Tips for Using Hashtags Correctly

  1. Don’t overload your social media updates with hashtags. The optimum number of hashtags depends on the social media network you’re on.
  • Twitter: two hashtags is best, but one or three will also work.
  • Facebook: no more than one hashtag per update, otherwise you may be unintentionally spamming your followers
  • Instagram: two hashtags is best, but one or three will also work here as well.
  1. Take time to research the best hashtags. Some hashtags are better than others. You won’t know which ones are most current unless you take time research them. The best way to do your research? Do a search on the social media network where you want to use the hashtag. You can also research a hashtag by typing it into the Google search engine and seeing what updates come up.
  1. Making up a new hashtag is fine—but ONLY if you pair it with a popular hashtag. If I wanted to try to make #TheWriteConversation into a writing hashtag, it wouldn’t do me any good unless I paired it with another popular #writing hashtag. No one is going to know to search for #TheWriteConversation unless I educate them. If I just use #TheWriteConversation, it’s no more than wasted space in my social media update.
  1. Remember a space ends the hashtag. So often I see people forget and add a space in between two words in a hashtag. Once you hit the space bar, the hashtag ends. So #Social Media is really only the hashtag #Social, instead of #SocialMedia. NOTE: this is also true of the @ sign. If I type @Edie Melson, it’s just like I’m typing @Edie, and that person is NOT me.
  1. Leave some room at the end of your tweets so your hashtags aren’t cut off if it’s retweeted. Tweets are only 140 characters long. If I use all 140 characters, then if anyone retweets it, the end will be cut off because there’s no room for the retweeters information that goes at the beginning of the tweet. I try to leave 15 – 20 blank characters, but my absolute minimum is 10. This insures at least one unchanged retweet.

Hashtag Etiquette

Try to never use more than three hashtags in any one tweet. If you can make it two that’s even better. Otherwise you end up looking like a used car sales man. If you’re trying to reach more groups, schedule multiple tweets, at different times, about the same subject and target your groups two at a time.

Always research your hashtag before you use it. Never assume it’s the correct one. For example, I was targeting military families with tweets about my devotional for military families and I thought #military would be the logical hashtag. No, turns out that hashtag is frequently used by those trying to date someone in the military. Not really the demographic I was trying to reach. The hashtag I wanted was #militaryfamily and #deployment. The best place to research hashtags is also the easiest, just type it into Google or the search engine of your choice.

I know this is a lot to digest all at once, so I’m happy to answer questions. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Using Symbolism in your Description!

A Quick and Easy Tool for Writing Description (part 2)


This month we’ve been talking about Extreme Scene Makeover and diving into description.  I introduced the acronym FOCUS, a tool I use to help me write description.  We covered F-O-CU on last week’s post (here).


First step in writing great description is to put it through the POV of your character.  It’s all about how they feel about being there.  We layer in their attitude while they describe the scene.


Once you add in perspective, then you need to dig deep into the description.


Today, let’s talk about the final and most powerful element of FOCUS: Symbolism, and how to use it to connect your reader emotionally to the description (and thus use description as another tool for emotional layering in your scene!)


In your story, you’re actually trying to communicate more than with words – you’re trying to cement a feeling for them.  It’s part of the trick you play on your reader – you subtly embed a feeling, an emotion into the world that will help you build the emotions of the character.


Word pictures are how you’ll communicate the impact the scene has on your character, and thus, your reader.  Here’s another way to look at it:  It’s the way that your character perceives the person, place or thing, summed up in a symbol.


Consider this passage:

The night had turned crisp as he walked home late under the lamplights.  He’d retired the coupe in Uncle Jimmy’s garage two blocks away and carried the coat box under his arm, his collar turned up. Snow, soft, almost ethereal, drifted from the sky, turning to diamonds under the streetlights.


The Close up – (snow under the streetlights) is turned into a word picture that conveyed the POV character’s mood.  He’s happy. He’s giving his girlfriend this expensive coat.  And he feels like a provider.


The word picture conveys the feeling or mood of your character as he relates to the scene.


How do you find it?  How do you build it?

First, look at your descriptive nouns and verbs….they might help you find that symbol.  Snowflakes are easy – they’re white and they dazzle.  So, what else is white and dazzles?  Diamonds.


Once you have the Symbol, how do you apply it?

  1. Direct Association:

Dino stared at the commander, his helmet pushed back to reveal muddy, dark hair, dark blue eyes.  His face bore days of filth, grime embedded in his grizzle, and he reeked of swamp and blood and smoke.  The batter only made him appear a bona fide hero.


This is an easy symbolism – I just say it – he’s a hero.  Sometimes we just say the word picture right out.


  1. Implied: But sometimes, and better, it’s implied. It’s when we go deeper to say, what’s the meaning behind the symbol.  And, can we use it without explaining the meaning?

Consider this scene:  The POV is fleeing from his home, trapped by his past, headed to an unknown future.  In this passage, the symbol, the Albatross  signifies his desire for escape.


Most days, he wrapped himself into his blanket—the knitted wool a mockery against the shearing wind—and traced the mischief of the seabirds. Markos watched as the birds dipped into the troughs between the waves and let themselves be lured to the stern of the boat by children offering biscuits and smoked herring smuggled from the breakfast table. Once he’d spied an albatross, and something about the great width of its wings, riding the gales without effort, lodged a bullet in his throat.


Consider this implied symbol in the passage.  The POV is lying on the sidewalk after just being thrown out of a bar fight that he started. He’s ashamed and wants to just disappear:


He skidded across the sidewalk, rolled, and landed on his face in the blackened snow. Shards of ice cut his skin even as he lay there, breathing in blades of air. Blood ran into his mouth, his lip split. His eye burned, and he couldn’t see out of it. And when he breathed in, his body turned to flame. He rolled over, sprawling on the sidewalk, his pulse slowing enough now to taste his broken parts. Overhead the stars still winked at him, as if saying, yes, Dino, we see you. He raised his arm, his fingers slowly closing over one, the brightest, until finally, he snuffed it out.


He doesn’t want heaven looking at him.


Ask:  How can you use symbolism to convey a deeper message?  This is the heart of showing.


If you’d like an in-depth class on description, check out our Storyworld video series!


Go! Write something Brilliant!


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PS—we’re opening our highly acclaimed Online Storycrafter’s Program for new students in early September.  If you’re interested in being notified when the course opens, click HERE.


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If You Don’t Know What To Do, Make ‘Em Sad

Rachel HauckRiding my bike the other day, musing over my work-in-progress while also contemplating the book “The Nightingale” which I’d just finished, I realized that there is a certain sadness to the protagonist in books I love.

In books the world loves. Not morbid sadness. Not depressed. But a certain longing if you will.

Save for Elizabeth Bennett who covered her longing for true love with “snark” and piety.

In The Nightingale, the sister protagonists had a sad upbringing. Left with a minder by their father after their mother died.

In A Hundred Summers, the heroine has two points of view. One is a certain sadness and longing, wondering if she can get back the love she lost.

Girl On A Train has a desperate kind of feel, a locked in, unsettling first person narrative that’s both irritating and intriguing.

At MBT, we talk about what the character wants as a motivator when the story opens.

But the want has to come with an innate sadness.

They can’t get what they want. What they want is lost. Or unobtainable. Or perhaps undesirable. Whatever… you get my drift.

Even if the story opens on a happy occasion, we must get the sense of impending doom.

If she’s at her bridal shower, what she wants is happily ever after. She got her man. She is a month away from being married. But…

… she’s afraid happiness will never really be hers.

… an argument with her fiancé has create suspicion about a relationship at work.

…  her best friend phoned to say she couldn’t make the wedding.

Naturally suspense, thrillers, novels involving Nazi’s (hello The Nightingale) have an inherent tension and sadness.

We know what the people want: food, warmth, peace, to live their lives without fear.

But digging down to the emotional elements, it’s not enough to want for those things, they must want for more. In The Nightingale, it was healing between the sisters, and each one with their father.

For the cop hero, he “wants” to get the bad guy for fear of a reaming from his boss.

Or he has to want to get the bad guy because the last bad guy who eluded him committed a double homicide.

Or the heroine has to escape the man stalking her for own safety as well as her young daughter.

There’s the big want — the external — but there has to be the internal, emotional want and a sadness surrounding it.

If you feel your story is lacking, asking, “What’s my protagonist sad about?”

Dig into the emotional layers.

My current protagonist is sad over the death of her best friend in Afghanistan.

But as I’m writing, I can’t get to her heart. She’s too external. Being sad over her friend is good, and a component, but what is SHE really dealing with?

She has to have a personal sadness. Over her own want. Over her own desire.

I need to dig deeper. The story is ultimately about her! The death of her friend is a catalyst to find the core of my heroine.

Make sense?

So if your protagonist seems kind of shallow, talking in circles, pause to see if you’ve really discovered their inner sadness. (Note: not depression!)

Don’t worry, the journey of the story is to turn the sadness into happiness. Or at least create satisfying resolution.

Got it?


Go write something brilliant.

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