Tips for Writing Memoir

So we’ve been looking at how to write in different genres. This week I thought we could take a step away from fiction and look at how to write a memoir. This is a genre many people, even non writers, are interested in. So here’s some tips for how to proceed.

  • This isn’t about data or cold facts. You have a message and a story to tell. You’re still crafting a narrative and that’s crucial to remember. You’re not writing a how-to guide, so connect to your readers emotionally.
  • That said, this also isn’t fiction. Stay true to what actually happened. Be honest about yourself and your story and that genuineness will connect to your readers.
  • Have a structure to build up the action and to resolve for a satisfying conclusion. Just like writing a novel, you want to have a recognizable story structure.
  • Employ writing techniques. Develop well-rounded characters, build your scenes, and show, don’t tell. Immerse your reader into your writing.
  • Develop and stay true to your voice. Your readers are reading your tale for more than just find out what happened. They want to experience your unique and engaging writing style and be entertained by your voice. Learn more about developing your voice here.
  • Engage in emotions. It’s not just about exactly what happened, but also about what you felt and thought when it happened and in retrospect. That’s what your readers will connect to, so don’t just stick to facts.
  • Focus on a theme or message. You may have a couple of themes, but you want to stay away from having too many, which is like adding too many spices to a dish. Use theme to concentrate your writing and fine tune your story. Weave it throughout the story. You don’t want to be too heavy-handed with your theme. Trust that your reader will get your message.
  • Know your audience. As with any kind of creative writing, it helps to know who you’re writing for. Your memoir isn’t going to be for everyone, no story can be, so who will it be perfect for? How would they want you to craft your tale? Write to them.
  • Read, read, read. Read other memoirs to see how they craft their stories. The best way to learn how to write a different genre is by reading extensively in that genre. Read the really good memoirs. Read the really bad memoirs. You can learn a lot from both as to what to do and what not to do.

Hope these tips help you as you start writing your memoir. Remember to craft your story as you would any other story. Best of luck and happy writing!


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Tips for Writing a Romance

So let’s continue with our explorations of other genres. Today I want to talk about writing a romance. Now romances are a little different than the other genres we’ve explored because it’s not about big plot points. So let’s look at some tips for writing a romance.

  • Know your genre and learn the expectations that go along with romance. For instance, it’s not a romance unless it has a happy ending. Now is not the time for cynicism. It must end in a HEA or at the very least a HFN.
  • It must have well developed characters. Romance novels are more character driven than plot driven. So you need strong characters to move the story forward. And obviously the relationships between your characters must be developed as well. Make them believable and relatable.
  • Don’t make your characters perfect. No one can relate to a perfect character and truly invest themselves in your characters and story. Give your characters flaws to make them like real people.
  • Stay within the realm of the possible. You don’t want your story to seem outlandish or contrived. Make your plot and the obstacles to your love believable.
  • Avoid flowery prose to describe your characters—or anything else for that matter. Overly wrought descriptions are in poor taste. Descriptions should be natural and integral to the story. Don’t overdo it.
  • Write sex scenes with care. And write them according to your taste. Some authors like to start the action then let it fade to black, leaving the details to the reader’s imagination. Others like to describe it all. There’s no right or wrong. It comes down to what you feel comfortable writing. Don’t force a sex scene just because you feel you have to. And if you do decide to describe the action, don’t go over the top with your descriptions and comparisons. You don’t want to sound ridiculous. Stick to being accurate in naming body parts and describe the feelings involved in the scene. Focus on the feelings to add depth to the scene and make it memorable.
  • Avoid overdone tropes and clichés, like the love triangle. This is why it’s so critical to read in your genre to know what’s been done way too much. Be original. Original is good.
  • Have more relationships than just the love interest(s). We have lots of different relationships in our lives. Familial, friendships, professional, and on and on. Add depth to your story and to your characters by showcasing these other interactions.

Remember romances are not about plot points and what’s happening. We want interesting things to happen to keep our reader interested, but it’s more about the characters and how they interact with each other. Don’t be afraid to give romance writing a try. What are your best tips for writing romance? Share below and happy writing.

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Writing Mysteries

Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, some of the most iconic characters come from mystery stories. Let’s continue to explore other genres and take a look at mysteries today.

  • Just as with horror, building a suspenseful mood is key to keeping those pages turning. Every description of the setting and more should build up the atmosphere and create a sense of urgency and suspense. Build up the mystery of the situation and the characters.
  • Use red herrings. Red herrings are clues which mislead or distract the reader from who really did it. You don’t want to lie to your reader or break their trust in you, but keep them guessing who-dunnit ‘til the very end. Red herrings help to build tension and make your story a page turner. Whether this is a suspicious character, an object that seems to have a lot of significance, or a clue planted deliberately to lead everyone down the wrong trail, red herrings add to your mystery.
  • Stay away from convoluted plots. Your reader should be asking questions, but one of these questions shouldn’t be “really?” Unexpected thing can happen, but make sure your story is believable on a basic level and real to your reader. Oftentimes, simple is best when it comes to plotting. Don’t lose your reader by going over the top.
  • Focus on the ending and make it satisfying. You want to give your reader an a-ha moment when you finally reveal who did it and why. The tension, suspense, and mood of the story all builds to the big ending, so don’t disappoint with a lackluster reveal or a predictable outcome. Use red herrings to your advantage to keep your readers guessing all the way to the end.
  • Build great characters. Good writing is built with great characters. They bring your story world to life. You want a sleuth to be unique and relatable and your supporting characters to defy stereotypes and clichés. Make them fully fleshed-out and intriguing. And make them stand out. Don’t just write another Sherlock Holmes. Make your characters new and original.
  • Plant your clues throughout your story to truly make your ending satisfying. Maybe there are even clues your sleuth didn’t pick up on at first. Maybe they were focused on the red herrings instead.
  • Avoid clichés. This could be anything from a thunderstorm to set the mood to an overdone character to ten people locked in a mansion. Be original and make the story truly yours.

What are your tips for writing mysteries? Share below and happy sleuthing!


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Tips for Writing Horror

So often when we write, we stick to our preferred and known genre, but I was challenged this week to write a spooky story for my writing group and I found it really enjoyable. It got me thinking about horror and other genres I don’t commonly write. So I thought we could explore tips for how to write different genres, starting with horror today. So what makes a good horror story?

  • Horror is all about setting the right atmosphere for scary and bad things to happen. Each description must build up an eerie and unnatural world your main character has found herself in. Create the right tone for each scene and use all five senses to do so.
  • Use visceral reactions to connect the reader to what the character is experiencing. Don’t say he’s afraid, show him breaking out into a cold sweat, the hairs rising on end on his arm, and his heart pounding in his ears as he approaches the dark hallway.
  • Get the reader to care about your character before something happens to them. You want your reader invested, so they can really feel the horror of the situation. Make your character flawed and relatable.
  • Use cause and effect. Have your character make bad decisions and then have to deal with the consequences. Horror shares ties with tragedies where the main character has a fatal flaw that leads to their downfall. Show your character making mistakes and dealing with what happens next.
  • Use active language. Strong verbs, concrete nouns, and no passive voice. Passive voice is where the object of the sentence becomes the subject. So we have “The ball was thrown by Jon” instead of “Jon threw the ball.” But passive voice weakens your writing and slows your pacing down. Avoid it.
  • It’s especially important to show, don’t tell. We want to immerse the reader into each creepy scene to build the tension and suspense and get their hearts racing. Don’t pull them out of the scene by telling.
  • Give your beasties a good motivation for their actions. The scariest monsters are the ones that make the most sense. Add depth and realism to your story by giving the malevolent force a good reason why they’re doing what they’re doing.
  • Read widely in the genre. Whether that’s paranormal or psychological horror, see what other writers are doing right—or wrong—to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to their descriptions and cause and effect sequences.
  • Show the stakes. What happens if evil wins the day? Amp up your suspense by making clear what the stakes are.
  • Have a glimmer of hope. That doesn’t mean hope has to win out—remember horror is based of tragedy? But great horror allows the character to come oh so close to hope. Give your reader something to question and keep them reading until the end.
  • You must still write a good story. It’s not just about gore and screams. Your reader will expect a good tale, well-developed characters, and a convincing plot. Make it real. Make it believable.

I suggest trying new genres and if you want to try horror, these tips are a great place to start. What are your favorite tips for writing horror? Share below and happy writing!


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How to Choose Your POV

So we’ve talked about POV (point of view) before, but it’s a complicated matter, so let’s talk about how to choose the right POV for your story. POV is a big decision to make. It literally affects every single sentence you write and choosing the right POV can make or break the success of your story.

First, let’s do a quick overview of each POV (we won’t be talking about second because it isn’t commonly used for longer stories).

  • First person POV: Uses the “I” pronoun. This is the closest relationship between character and reader. This POV allows for easy access to the POV character’s thoughts and feelings. This can lead to more telling than showing. It can also be hard to describe characters and places familiar to the character, since we don’t overly describe people and places we know well. Also, the reader only knows what the POV character knows, sees, or hears. Watch out for unlikeable narrators.
  • Third person limited: Uses “s/he” pronouns or names. Similar to first person as you have access to the character’s thoughts and feelings and the reader only knows what the character knows, sees, or hears. Readers are very familiar with third person, so it’s comfortable for them to read. And it’s easier to switch POVs in third and still follow along (without head hopping). Watch out for info dumps.
  • Third person omniscient: Uses “s/he” pronouns or names. Omniscient is a complicated POV to use, so I wrote a whole post about it here. Creates the most distance between character and reader, but is all knowing. Watch out for head hopping.
  • Third person multiple: Uses “s/he” pronouns or names. Is the third person limited POV, but from various character POVs. Watch out for head hopping.

Most writers have a favorite POV they tend to use. Personally, I like to write in third person limited to avoid annoying narrators. But choosing the right POV comes down to a number of factors. Is your story character driven or plot driven? If your story focuses on one character and is character driven, first person is a great POV to use. You can get in depth with their thoughts and feelings and really develop your character. However, if your story revolves around a cast of characters and is more plot driven (actions happening to the characters), then a third person POV is a great way to go. You can switch from one character’s POV, like in multiple, to another’s as needed. Another thing to keep in mind is your strengths as a writer. If you’re not very good at writing in a certain POV, you don’t want to choose that POV for your novel. I recommend writing short stories in each POV to improve your skills.

Which POV do you prefer to use? Share below and happy writing!


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What to Blog about Once You Decide to Blog

First of all, let me apologize for my absence. I’ve had some personal things I’ve been dealing with, including the loss of a dear friend of mine. Please forgive the gap in posts, I’m hoping to get things back to normal from now on.

So I’ve recently had some questions about starting a blog. Now blogging is all about the long game. You don’t start a blog just to quit two months later, we start a blog for the ages. We need to blog about something we can talk about for a long time to come. A lot of people who want to blog know they want to start a blog, but aren’t sure of what exactly to blog about. This is a very important question to answer and get right before you begin. Of course you can change what you write about as you go along, but the less juggling you do in the beginning the better for branding. I’ll impart some wisdom I heard from Chuck Sambuchino at the writing conference I attended in March. The common idea is to write about our writing, our own personal journey to publishing or our stories. But the question can be posed, who are you that hundreds if not thousands want to read your personal, fumbling journey? No offense meant of course. But thousands of people write about the same thing and the internet is oversaturated with this type of content. Instead, write about something you can speak about with some type of expertise. Write about something that will give your readers quality content they need.

The best way to gain real readers is to be useful and write good content. Being authentic in what you write about will help you to write quality posts. So pick your subject with purpose. What do you know a lot about? What interests you? French cuisine? 1920s fashion? Regency England? Architecture?  It can be anything. It can be related to the book your writing or have written, or it can just be specific knowledge you just happen to know. Spread the knowledge. Find your readership. Move beyond personal journeys into the publishing world to content your readers will crave.

Like I said earlier, the internet is already full of blogs, both current and abandoned, that are all about one writer’s personal journey in writing. But there’s no one right way to write or to get published that you can write about definitively. So what can you write about for years to come? Make blogging more than just a task to do daily or weekly. Make it your passion project. Write about something you’re passionate about! That’s what will get you readers.

What do you blog about? Share below and happy blogging!


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Character Development and Character Arcs

Character development is the heart of our stories. It makes your reader connect to your story emotionally and brings your plot to life. Our stories are nothing without our characters. The important part of character development is change. We want our characters to change and develop so our story can develop and be more impactful. Let’s look at how to develop our characters and what character arcs are.

  • Goals and motivations. Every character needs to have a goal to work towards, even if that’s just to be left alone. But moving beyond that, we need to examine why. Why does your character have that goal? What are their motivations? Is it ambition, revenge, or selfishness? Has he lost his job and he’s reevaluating life?
  • Up the stakes. What happens if they don’t reach their goal? What are the consequences of what they’re doing? Does your character have a deadline they have to beat? Really get your readers invested in what’s going on by raising the tension.
  • Have external plot happen to the character. Things like losing a loved one or a job would greatly affect your character and force them to change and adapt. Change is what makes our stories dynamic.
  • Each character should have a flaw that actually affects them. Not something cute like being clumsy. Flaws make your characters relatable and more realistic.
  • Show, don’t tell. Develop your characters through their actions and dialogue. Don’t just say they are smart, show them figuring out the villain’s plans before anyone else does. Don’t say he’s bad, show him deceiving an old widow’s out of her money. Also use what they say and how they talk for characterization. How we communicate says a lot about how we grew up and who we are as a person.
  • Use other characters as foils or mirrors for your main characters. You can show another character with the same flaw, but who deals with it in a very different way. Or if one character is having a flat arc for a while, meaning they don’t change, you can develop a secondary character so the story isn’t flat.
  • Character arcs. Character arcs can be positive, negative, or flat. Positive and negative arcs are both dynamic, meaning the protagonist changes throughout the arc. In a positive arc, he grows and improves. In a negative arc, he can’t overcome his fatal flaw and suffers tragedy, whether physical or emotional or both. In a flat arc, the character doesn’t change. This is common for serial characters like Bond or Sherlock Holmes, where their personality and flaws stay the same from book to book.

Our characters should change and grow, that is what readers can relate to and like to see. Let your reader see your characters struggle with a flaw and learn to improve themselves. Dynamic arcs make dynamic stories. Which type of arcs do you like writing best? Share below and happy writing.

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