​Don’t go down halfway through

Our football team had our opponents on the run. At halftime, we were up 32-3.

Comfortable lead. So apparently the guys decided, during halftime, to take a little nap, maybe get in the sauna, watch a little television…I dunno.

Because they left their passion in the locker room when they took the field for the second half.

Now, I’ve never played college football, but I know it’s not easy. You have to show up just to not get hurt. But there’s something that happens when you’re so far ahead you think about putting in the third string. You let go of your zeal, start looking at your watch, thinking about the burger waiting for you after the game.

Or maybe you’re just tired. You gave it all in the first half, and frankly, you need a break.

I get it.

Because I start out a story on fire, writing furiously through the first four chapters. It gets a little harder as I forge my way through chapters 7-8-9…10.

And then it’s halftime. Or at least, half-way through the book.

And I’m tired.

And I still have half the book to write.

And I really want a burger.

By the way, your character might have this moment half-way through the book, too, where they feel exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to hang up their pads and go home.

This is when they look back and see WHY they’re on this journey in the first place. They’re reminded of not only their motivation, but their greatest dream. And that the fight is worth it.

You, and your hero have to press on, or their journey–and your book–will fall apart.

Sort of like our team did. We landed penalty after penalty, gave the ball over three times with sloppy playing and suddenly the score was 21 to 32.


Don’t let the fact you have the rest of the book to write cause you to write poorly, take plotting shortcuts and short-change the emotion of your characters.

Here’s a tip. Don’t look at the entire book, the entire journey. Just take it “play by play.” Give just the next scene your very best. Then, take a little breather, and write the next scene. Just keep going, steady on, until the end.

If you need to write it poorly the first time—that’s FINE. You can give yourself permission to write poorly…as long as you don’t settle there. Go back and rewrite it.

I had a conversation a while back with an aspiring author about how to start her scenes. You can read it here. (Read the entire conversation inConversations with a Writing Coach)

Thankfully, our team woke up in the 4th quarter and pulled the game back into our hands.

So can you. If you feel like your book is sagging, tighten it up by asking:

  • What’s at stake in this scene?
  • What happens if my character doesn’t achieve their goal?
  • How can I create tension by putting my character in a sympathetic situation and making my reader care?

If you get tired half way through, and let your writing sag, your reader will close the book halfway through. And then no one gets to celebrate the final victory. Bummer!

Your story matters, and the fight is worth it!

Go! Write Something Brilliant!


Susie May

P.S. My new book,The Story Equation launched this week! Need to know how to create an ORGANIC, properly motivated character, and build an organic, powerful, yet easy plot? Check out the “SEQ!”


P.P.S. This week in Novel.Academy, we’re talking about TRENDS in publishing! Learn what’s hot, what’s not, and how you can use it to build your novel career. Check out Novel.Academy, over 100 classes on how to get published, and stay published and make your story matter!

4 Tips to Prep Your Writing Contest Entry

It’s contest season in the writing world! Perhaps you just submitted your entry to the ACFW Genesis contest earlier this week. There are lots of other contests coming up later this year for both published and unpublished writers.

Several writing friends asked me to give them feedback on their submissions, so I’ve been reading like a potential contest judge and making suggestions to strengthen their stories. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a short “consider this” checklist for any future manuscripts you might submit to a writers contest:

  1. Avoid starting a scene with dialogue. As the all-wise author of your manuscript, you know who is speaking. But the reader, who is new to both the story and the characters, doesn’t know who is speaking or why they are saying what they are saying or who they are talking to. Starting a scene, especially the first scene in your book, with dialogue creates a lot of questions for your reader — and for a contest judge.
  2. Avoid muddling up dialogue with multiple action tags. Dialogue, in and of itself, is action. Some writers like to crowd dialogue with a sentence describing some sort of action the character is doing, a.k.a. an action tag. Then comes something the character says. Then another action tag. Then more dialogue. It’s too, too much.
    1. EXAMPLE: Tony blocked the door, spreading his arms out wide. “You’re not going anywhere.” He glared at Mona, who tried to move past him. “I told you I wanted to talk to you–and I mean it.” Smooth the dialogue out by using only one action tag per segment of dialogue: “You’re not going anywhere.” Tony blocked the door, refusing to let Mona move past him. “I told you I wanted to talk to you–and I meant it.”
  3. Avoid rushing your story. Oftentimes, a contest entry is the opening scene of your manuscript, which means your Inciting Incident is included. Remember: the Inciting Incident is the event that shoves the main character out of their normal world. It can be negative (someone tries to kill them) or positive (they win the lottery). Once again, as the all-knowing author of your manuscript, you know everything else that’s going to happen to your main character(s) in the rest of the book. Don’t rush it. Pacing is an important element of good writing. Yes, you can slow your story down by dumping in too much backstory. But you can also rush your reader — and a contest judge — if you push the story ahead too quickly, writing too many pivotal elements into early scenes. 
  4. Avoid spending too much time in your character’s head. I blogged about avoiding too much  character introspection back in January, offering one tip to get out of your character’s head. Yes, there are times when your POV character is going to be thinking about things — a problem, a person, a decision. The question is: Can you rewrite the scene so instead of thinking, thinking, thinking for fifteen hundred words or more, your character is talking to someone about the situation? 

How can you apply these 4 tips to your next contest entry? 

[Tweet “4 Tips to Prep Your Writing Contest Entry by @bethvogt #tips #writingcontest #amwriting”]


Wordpainting for emotional effect!

Last week we took a look at Active Description and 4 Tips on how to wordpaint for emotional effect. 

This week, let’s take a look at incorporating those 4 Tips and Wordsmithing your description.

Once you have all the elements of FOCUS, or your metaphorical word pool, you want to start putting it together.

Obviously, when you are dealing with ACTIVE description, you’ll weave the elements in through the scene as the character moves through it.  It can be a bit more difficult with Static description to keep the story moving. I suggest 2-5 sentences of description if you have to stop the story to snapshot something.  

Now, here’s the trick: You’re creating a feeling with your description – and emotional impact or connection to your reader, so pick wisely every word. Here’s a trick I use: Think of a movie – start wide and then pull in closer, adding texture as you go.

In this scene, I wanted to give a sense of freedom, but also chaos, because Marcos and his brother Dino are late in returning home.

Apparently, the wind cared nothing for cooperation, either, dying to a trickle, leaving the skiff to barely list upon the smooth Ionian Sea. Perhaps it hadn’t helped that the elusive yet delicious barbouni had played the sea nymph, unwilling to be captured in the heat of such a glorious day. The red-mulleted delicacy flopped, angry and zealous, in the live-well of the boat’s stern, the mustard-yellow nets in a tumble at the bow.

Look at the words I use to create the feeling of freedom as well as chaos: Elusive, delicious, glorious, played the sea nymph, flopped, angry, zealous, the nets in a tumble.

In this scene: I wanted to give a sense of recklessness, the party feel of the ‘20s, as well as danger.  Let’s see how I wordpaint to give that feel.

Uncle Jimmy parked his car in a lonely alleyway between two brownstones. They got out and Markos followed him down a stairwell blocked by garbage cans. Uncle Jimmy stopped at a blackened door, knocked.

A panel in the door slid out, and eyes peered through.

“Hornsby,” Jimmy said, quietly.

The panel closed. Silence. Jimmy had removed his driving gloves and now slapped them in his hand.

A lock slid back with a click and the massive door opened.

Music spilled out as Uncle Jimmy hooked Markos’s arm and pulled him inside the basement room. “Welcome to America, boy.”

Green draperies covered the walls, tiny gaslights flickered at each round table inhabited by women with rouged lips, painted eyes, low-cut frameless dresses, some long, others fringed at the knee. They wore the brimless hats and high-heeled shoes he’d seen in storefronts. A blonde by the door, with hair cut to her chin, settled her eyes on him, a cigarette in a long black holder balanced between her fingers. She blew out a smoke ring as he passed by, her eyes trailing him.

Men in crisp suits and wide ties drank glasses of amber liquid.

Uncle Jimmy practically pushed him to the long bar.

“What is this place?


Tony’s—gin room? He’d heard the term, hadn’t really known…

I wanted to give the feeling of danger so I use descriptions like: gaslights flickered, rouged lips, painted eyes, low cut dresses, fringed, brimless, a smoke ring, eyes trailing him….

Now I’m going to stop and “snapshot” someone in the scene with a piece of Static Description.  Notice the words I use to show danger and temptation.

 At a stage at the far end of the room, a blonde sat on a stool, her low-cut red dress a siren in the dark club, crooning out a song with a husky tone that roused to life something inside him. His eyes fixed on her, the feeling growing at the way her gaze latched on him, the smile that crept up her blood-red lips. She turned and began to sing to him.

His entire body glued in place.

Behind her, a musician with man-sized bouzouki plunked out low tones, another played a shiny flute—stepping forward to solo as the woman finished, her final notes hanging in the blue haze of smoke, caressing the crowd.


[Low cut dress, crooning, husky tone, roused to life, latched, crept, blood red lips.]


The key to wordsmithing description for emotional effect is to carefully choose every single word for the nuance, feeling and emotional response, and embed them in your storyworld and description in order to add a mood or attitude to the scene.  And don’t forget perspective – remember, it all starts in the eye of the beholder.


Wordsmithing and Advanced Storyworld is the most powerful way to bring your story to life and build in the emotional connection for your reader.


Have a great writing week!

Go! Write something Brilliant!

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PS:  if you’re interested in taking your writing to a whole new emotional level, consider attending our 2016 Deep Thinker’s Retreat for advanced writers.  Check it out here!   





Extreme Wordsmithing Makeover:  4 Tips to writing ACTIVE description

Continuing our Extreme Wordsmithing Makeover series, we spent much of August diving into STATIC description and I taught you a technique called FOCUS, an acronym that reminded us to first put the description through the eyes of the POV character. Then, it gave an overview of the parts of description:  Fact, Observations, Close Up and Symbolism, all gathered together in a snapshot description, something we use to make an impression on the reader.

Today, we’re going to use the same acronym, but we’ll apply it as we move our character throughout the scene, experiencing the storyworld as we interact with the actions of the scene.

What is ACTIVE Description?

Active Description is simply putting the description through the eyes of a character then describing the scene (using all the FOCUS elements and 5 senses) as they move through it. While static description can be used powerfully to snapshot a person, place or thing, active description keeps the story moving and is integrated into the scene. (It’s important to use both in a story!)  Just like static description, active description can add a powerful emotional undercurrent to the scene.

Consider this passage from Sons of Thunder: 

Markos speared the water. The cool lick of it scooped his breath, slicked from his body the heat of the day.

He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor, kicking toward the cave. A deep thrumming rumbled his bones even as he scrabbled over the slippery rock outside the entrance. The jaws raked his skin as he levered himself through a crevice just big enough for a boy of seventeen.


Although it’s an active description, it is meant to create a sense of tension as he pushes himself into the cave.  I could have written it more simply: Fear coiled inside him as he pushed himself into the cave.  But I wanted to description to convey the emotion, and not name it directly.

Here’s another passage from the same book:

She sat at the dressing table. He knew he should turn away, but he couldn’t quite find it in him. Instead, he watched as she curled her hair tight to her face with her fingers, held it there for a moment. She rouged her cheeks, her earlobes. Lined dark kohl on her green eyes. Used her pinky to apply her blood-red lipstick.

Her gaze flickered over to him. “You like watching me get ready?”

He turned away, burying his face in his hands. Her laughter trickled high. “Oh, Markos, you’re such fun!”

His chest burned. “I’ll wait for you out in the hall.” Finding his feet, he pushed away the chair, reaching for the door. But she had crossed the room and now planted her hand over his. He turned even as she slid close, her hand on his chest. He hadn’t noticed how small she was, really, without her costumes, or wrapped in her vamp persona. Now, she seemed almost petite, even…needy. Especially since the tease had left her eyes. Her fragrance wound around him, tugging at him.


The hero is watching a girl getting dressed, and I use the description to heighten the temptation and lure for him.  The subtleties of words like blood-red, his chest burning, her fragrance winding around him, tugging-all words that suggest temptation, or being lured into trouble.

Great wordsmithing is about using every word to its full effect, and creating paragraphs that do double duty—inform as well as add feeling to the scene.  In this way, you’re adding and emotional sense to the story without telling the reader how to feel.


How do you word paint for emotional effect?

Tip #1: Create a Metaphorical word pool. As you write, your words will tend toward specific verbs and nouns.  Taking a step away from these, you’ll find that they might fall in categories of description.

For example, describing the sky, you might say that the clouds swirled against a canvass of blue.  Okay, “swirled” and “canvass” both evoke a sense of “painting.”  You now have your metaphorical category.  Look for other “painting words” as you continue the description – brush, paint, mix, blend, stir.  You can also go further, and take from the mind of the painter, or even use well known painters to bring in emotional metaphor.

Eg:  lavender splotched the canvass of blue, as if the painter, frustrated, took his brush and swept across with angry, thick strokes.


Tips #2: Pick Verbs that convey the FEELING of what you are describing.  Marcos feels like he’s being gulped, or eaten, going into the jaws of the cave, and I wanted to convey a sense of panic as he goes inside.  So I used words of violence:  Speared, rumbled, scrabbled, raked.

If I were describing a giant crater in the earth, one made by a meteor, I might use words like jagged, and ripped, and bruised.

But if I were describing a hole that would become my long desired swimming pool, I’d go with, scooped, or even carved from the earth.  By the way, sometimes, if I’m having trouble finding my metaphorical pool, I just write the description, and see what verbs I naturally use.  From there, I can find the metaphorical pool.  (I.e., in this one, I think if ice cream with the verbs I used for the pool description).


Tip #3: Give your POV character a physical response to the description.  Ie, Marcos is hot, so the water is cool, yet dangerous. He has mixed emotions about being there – so I show that in the verbs I use.

Note the subtle tension in these sentences:  The cool lick (a positive feeling) of it scooped his breath (negative), slicked from his body the heat of the day. (positive)  He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor… (negative).


Tip #4: You could also use a metaphor that captures the physical response, something that would give a similar physical response.  For example, in my pool example, I could say: Staring at the dark expanse, edged with rich, chocolate curls of earth, I tasted the cool water on my lips, sweet and sloppy, drenching me. A shiver of delight shimmed right down to my belly and I could hardly wait to dive in.

Obviously, I’m using the feeling of eating ice cream, and equating it with my dreams of diving into my pool.


Note:  Don’t use TOO many metaphors – one strong one will do.  But find the right one, and use it well.

Next week we’ll put it all together, and wordsmith our descriptions for emotional effect!


Go! Write something brilliant!

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