Thinking of padding your word count? Yeah. Don’t.

Is your book too short? Were you perhaps shooting for 50,000 words and ended up with 30k? That sucks. We’ve all been there. You may want to ask me what the solution is, aside from padding the word count to add that extra 20K, but I’m not going to answer quite yet.

I’ve seen it before: authors padding their word counts through the usage of excessive words or passages do nothing to enhance their work but instead cause the reader to slog through pages of bullshit that essentially have no relevance to the story at hand.

Why does word count matter? Well, if you want your book to be classed as a novel and not a novelette or novella, you might need as many as 40k words in your book. A novelette should have anywhere between 7,500, and 17,000 words. A novella should have about 20k-40k, and a novel would have at least 50k words total.

Most authors think they have a full novel. They sit down to write the novel, they tidy it up, and at the end, they find out that—oh shit!—my book is only 30k words! That person then does some research and finds out that for their novella to transform into a novel, they’re going to need a higher word count.

But the word count isn’t what makes the novel. It’s the content and the quality of the writing that constitutes a novel. If you panic and start adding a bunch of shit that has nothing to do with your story, yeah, you might have a novel-length piece in your hands when you’re finished, but it won’t be a great novel, and your readers aren’t going to be fooled. They’ll simply flip through the worthless passages, chapters, and sentences or they’ll give up reading because, well, your book sucks!

So what to do when you’re shy of that 50k? Well, you’ve got a few options. My absolute favorite option would be this: you wrote a novella. Cool. Why does it have to be a novel? If you have everything you need within that piece of work, and it’s shorter than novel-length, what the hell do you care? You’ve told a (presumably) good story. You’ve spent the time to write it. Maybe you had 45k to begin with, but your content editor tore you a new one and she was right, so you had to go ahead and cut the shit that was worthless in the first place. Now you have a shorter, more concise, easier to read novella instead of an almost-novel. What’s so wrong with that? If your editor has approved the work and everything is in order—so what? Leave it! It’s fine as it is! There’s no need for you to freak out over word count and start adding words/scenes that don’t matter.

Don’t make your book unreadable simply for the sake of word count. It’s reckless and it will compromise the quality of the book. Say you send that shit back to your editor, after you’ve padded the word count. Well, the editor is going to tear you another new one and just tell you to cut that shit out, anyway. So just skip the middle man and don’t add anything. Leave your novella a novella, be proud of your accomplishment, and move on with your damn life. Maybe next time you’ll have enough content for a full novel. But you don’t today, so it really doesn’t matter.

Another option would be to, I don’t know, add scenes that enhance the story and further the plot. This will be tricky after the fact and may require a rewrite because when you add scenes and passages, you have to go back through your manuscript to ensure the other details are in line with the new, added details (they won’t be), and you’ll need to tweak your entire book so the newer scenes and subplots feel organic and make sense.

Why do I advise against the second option? Because it doesn’t always work out for the best. Oftentimes, it’s easy for the editor to discern what you’ve done, which means; those added scenes? Yeah, those don’t feel original; they stand out as additions and don’t blend into the current storyline. Such scenes and subplots often feel forced. If you’re a highly skilled writer with a ton of experience, you’ll be much more likely to pull this off, but if you’re a first-time author, I’d advise you to think long and hard before attempting this because it can (and most often will) screw with the balance and pacing of your book.

The worst option is to just go ahead and pad the shit out of your manuscript against the advice of your editor and see what happens. Let me save you the hassle. Here’s what happens: your book sucks, everyone hates it, you get horrible reviews and you never write again. Does that sound pleasant to you? It doesn’t sound pleasant to me.

My point here, after rambling for almost 1,000 words, is this: don’t worry about the word count. Don’t worry over whether you have a novel, or a novella. Just write your story to the best of your ability, find a great editor, and whatever the final word count—that’s what you’ve got. Accept it.

Don’t pad your word count unless you can make those added passages relevant to your story, and/or unless they move the storyline forward.

What a short and sweet post from yours truly, huh? I just needed to get it out of my system. Next post will follow shortly, and that one will be about cutting all the words you do not absolutely need out of your manuscript.

Happy writing!


#creativewriting #contentediting #wordcount #manuscriptadvice #manuscripterrors

Avoiding Grammar and Word Usage Errors in your Manuscript

The years I have spent content editing have taught me that there are near-universal mistakes many authors (experienced or first-time; traditionally or self-published) tend to make. Regardless of experience, similar mistakes are made in their manuscripts.

I thought it might be helpful to some of you authors out there to have a list compiled of things that you should keep in mind while writing. A list of things you should absolutely avoid. While you are self-editing, please look for instances of these grammatical/ word usage errors in your own manuscripts. Replace/erase as many of them as you can.

Sure, this might fall more under the ‘copyediting’ category, but since I also copyedit, I try to keep an eye out for things like this.

So, what is the number one most common mistake I see?

Filter words! Oh boy. It’s so much fun to run across these in every single manuscript.

Look, you want your readers to be as close as possible to the perspectives of your characters. Your readers should feel as though they are viewing the world- which you have so painstakingly crafted- through the eyes of your characters. If you filter the experiences of your characters, your readers will not feel close to them.

Do I have examples of this? Only out the ass. Of course I do. I see and correct them every. Single. Day.

But let me first start by saying that there absolutely are exceptions to every single rule. In the case of filter words, there are times where their usage is acceptable. My main example of an exception would be if your character’s senses are in some way compromised.

If your character has all their wits about them and is not disabled- don’t write shit like this:

Harold started to see the leaves as they began to blow in the chaotic, constant wind.

Okay, where to start with shit like this? Well, first, assuming Harold isn’t mentally challenged or an otherwise unreliable narrator- what the fuck is wrong with him? How did he start to see shit that’s begun to blow around in ‘constant’ wind? Harold might need to see a fucking shrink. No. This isn’t what happened. Here is what happened:

The constant, chaotic wind blew the leaves through the air.

Now, that’s not a grade A sentence right there, but it sure does indicate that our friend Harold has his wits about him. And that he’s making direct observations that aren’t filtered through bullshit words that have no place in a regular human being’s thought process. Let’s stay with Harold. I don’t really want to, but let’s!

Harold heard the sirens in the distance. He felt his heart start beating faster. He knew they were coming for him.

Oh lord. Harold. Get your shit together. Here’s a better, closer, way to write the same thing:

Sirens blared in the distance. Harold’s heart pounded at the thought that those very sirens could be headed for him. After all- he had killed that goat.

So, again, not the greatest sentence in the world, but it’s arguably better. When the sentence is worded in a manner minus the filter words- the reader feels much closer to the action. Perhaps the reader will even feel what Harold is feeling. This helps to establish an emotional connection with the reader. When you properly engage the senses of your readers- you win. They experience the character’s world as the character experiences it. Non-filtered.

Other filter words are as follows:

He felt. He smelled. He realized. He knew. He saw.

You get the idea. Use direct descriptions instead of filtering your character’s experiences. Your reader will thank you for it.

What next? Oh! What about ellipses versus em-dashes?

Yeah, this is another one. It doesn’t really bother me much, however, because I understand what the author is trying to accomplish. This confusion usually occurs in dialogue. Take, for example this:

“I have to go, Gerald. The police. They’re coming for me. They’re going to arrest me and I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail with who knows what types of hooligans and riffraff and…”

“Dude, shut up. You’re stupid paranoid, okay? That goat was practically your property anyway, Harold. Let’s get our burgers and go.”

So, in this exchange (yeah, I hate Harold, too. I wasn’t particularly trying to make him likeable because I don’t care) Harold’s having a panic attack, and Harold’s friend interrupts said panic attack to attempt to calm him down. So where’s the issue?

The ellipses are the issue. Ellipses typically indicate that a character is either trailing off while speaking, or while thinking. Here would be a proper method of using them:

“I don’t think I could survive the prison life. Gang members assaulting me. I’m weak, I’m just not cut out for it. I…”

Here, Harold has trailed off. He’s lost his dialogue to his own train of thought. If you want to indicate that your character has been interrupted, instead, use an em-dash:

“I have to go, Gerald. The police. They’re coming for me. They’re going to arrest me and I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail with who knows what types of hooligans and riffraff and—”

There! That is what indicates an interruption in thought or in dialogue. The em-dash! I hope you all know how to use hyphens.

Oh, and if you have Word 2016- good fucking luck getting the em-dash into your text! I had to look it up online and figure out how to change my dash functions, but I got it. You will, too. I always say that you are more than welcome to e-mail me with questions, or general advice, but do NOT send me shit asking how to insert an em-dash in Word 2016. If you’re having trouble with that, it’s in god’s hands now. Good luck to you!

Next, let’s talk about excessive use of punctuation for the purpose of emphasis. Ugh. I hate this. I honestly hate exclamation points. I have fought many an author over their use of them. In dialogue, I don’t mind so much. But if you’re using exclamation points in your general narrative for the purpose of emphasis- stop. Stop it right now.

Your narrative should provide the tone, theme, and context needed for emphasis to be accomplished without adding exclamation points. If you fail to accomplish this, you may want to reconsider taking more writing classes, or reading more about the craft. You’re beyond my paygrade at that point.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like this:

“But, I can’t defecate in front of other people! How do you expect me to relieve myself?!”

Oh lord. The question mark/ exclamation point combo! How I love this. Look, the question mark on it’s own should be fine. The context and tone of the dialogue should reveal the exasperation of your character well enough that you should in no way need to abuse punctuation like that. However, if you must abuse punctuation and you must use the combination of an exclamation point and a question mark, please consider… the interrobang!

The interrobang is a lovely mixture of the two punctuation marks. It looks like this: ‽

I’ll enlarge it for you:

Here’s Harold’s dumb, whiny rant with the interrobang used in lieu of the question mark/exclamation point combo:

“But, I can’t defecate in front of other people! How do you expect me to relieve myself‽”

How cool is that‽

I still think it’s an abuse of punctuation, but I see it so rarely that when an author accurately uses one, I’m more proud than annoyed.

Here are a few other things that I see often:

*Tense switches. If you’re writing your story in the present tense, everything needs to happen in the present tense. Same for the past tense. Let’s check in with Harold:

Harold wandered aimlessly about the streets. He slips in a puddle and lands face-up, cursing the gods for allowing him such wretched luck.

Okay. I’ve had enough of Harold, too. Can you spot the issues here? If you can’t, then once again I would recommend that you read and write more often. I’ve been writing Harold’s story thus far in the past tense. Here is how that passage should have read:

Harold wandered aimlessly about the streets. He slipped and fell face-down into a puddle. He cursed the gods who allowed him such wretched luck.

This passage, while still rather shitty, is an example of using a consistent tense throughout. Consistency may just be the most important aspect of any manuscript. To succeed, you need to be consistent in so many things: narrative, tones, themes, plot, character arcs and development, dialogue, pacing and flow- among many others. Inconsistency will absolutely kill your story.

*Homonyms. There, there and their. Here and hear. Great and greet. Then and than. Too, two, and to. Basically, homonyms- or words that look like they may be homonyms- are a huge issue. You would think an established author would have these down. They don’t. You probably don’t either. You probably think you do, but you’ll slip up. And then you’ll hire someone like me to catch it for you. And I will. And I’ll bitch at you for it. (Not really. I’m honestly very nice and respectful of my clients. I just love my sarcasm in daily life).

*Head-hopping. This one is rather difficult for a lot of authors for some reason. This is why I always tell first-time authors that they may want to experiment with a bird’s-eye/ omniscient viewpoint. Even then, however, head-hopping can truly destroy an otherwise good story. If you are switching perspectives so often that the reader doesn’t know who they are with, or if they don’t get to spend enough time with any given character to gain an appreciation for/attachment to them, that’s obviously an issue. Try to stick with one character for at least a page. I’ve found this is the best advice for new authors. Use chapter breaks, also. They exist for a reason. Specifically if you are switching from one perspective to another.

*Harold and me vs. Harold and I.

This, oddly, is very, very common. For example:

The room wasn’t warm enough for Harold and I.

Well, that’s not right, is it? Why is it wrong? Because if you take Harold out of the equation, how would you say that? Would you say: The room wasn’t warm enough for I.?

No. You would say: The room wasn’t warm enough for me.

My advice (not to mention how I was taught to avoid the error) is to take the other person out of the equation all together. That way, you’ll know for sure whether it’s supposed to be Harold and I or Harold and me.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now! I may add to the list the more I think on it. I’m sure there are many others. I’ll have to do a list for errors in content as well. Happy writing!


#manuscripterrors #manuscriptadvice #grammaticalerrors #wordusageerrors #filterwords #contentediting #copyediting

My Freelance Content Editing Experience (so far).

I don’t know why I thought it was appropriate to write about this, and I have no idea whether you’ll find it interesting or not, but I figured I might as well document my experiences. I may also update this post as time goes on.

I’ve been content editing off and on for about six years now. I wanted to turn it into a full-time position for the past year or so, but was not allotted the opportunity to do so.

The experience of losing one’s job should be incredibly painful and terrifying. It should set one into panic mode instantaneously. It should cause terror in one’s heart over the uncertain nature even of tomorrow.

Well, not for me. Yes, I was nervous about income. But, as I shook my ex-boss’s hand and left that building for the last time, the main feeling I experienced was freedom. Opportunity. Relief.

Well, that opportunity came one day last June when I lost my full-time job!

I cancelled my subscriptions. I switched my car insurance plan to the cheapest shit imaginable, paid off what was left on my 2003 Monte Carlo, and I started placing ads EVERYWHERE. Even Craigslist.

I did NOT manage to get a single content editing job from Craigslist. I did, however, get a guy who wanted me to read and ‘edit’ his murder porn! Guess what I did? I read his murder porn and edited it! Then, way too late, I realized that this weirdo just wanted me to read his porn, so I blocked him. That was creepy. Did it put me off my mission? Nah. Creeps are a dime a dozen. Every woman (and most men) know that.

That fellow was the first to contact me.

Then, I got contacted for a ghostwriting gig which I am still trying to get going. The gentleman who e-mailed me five months ago sent me some semblance of an outline, but he has had major health issues and has been sporadically updating me since. Honestly, I would be shocked if this went anywhere. The two authors are very nice men, but it seems that they aren’t super invested in the idea. Fine. I’ll wait. Still.

Finally, two days after I lost my job – I got an offer. For actual money. A hundred bucks. For a 45,000 word manuscript. I did not want to take it. I knew the pay was beneath me, but I was attempting to establish a presence on a freelancing site. Shamefully, I took it.

I ended up practically ghostwriting the whole manuscript. This was the most in-depth content (and copy) edit I have ever done, and I was doing it for pennies.

I did get some great laughs from the book, however. I received so much entertainment from parsing that guy’s sentences, which were god-awful, and translating them to be legible. It was still tough work for even tougher pay. This was my choice, but of course I bitched about it at every opportunity. My entire family was convinced I was being scammed. I might have felt better had that been the case, after reading that manuscript.

FYI- typically, a content editor would make anywhere from forty to sixty dollars an hour doing what I did for one hundred dollars total. But I was desperate, he was desperate- it worked out in the end for the best, and I’ll tell you why:

The guy was in a tough spot financially and needed help. I couldn’t say no. I know what it is like to be broke and in need of help (the feeling was quite close to me at the moment), so the guy tugged at what was left of my heartstrings.

I managed to finish that piece in eight grueling days. BUT the author was very grateful, and he left me my first review as a content editor on that specific freelancing site. That opened the floodgates for me. I received about thirteen more jobs (of varying lengths) in the following two months. I made over $3,000 just on that site.

If it weren’t for that painful first job, I never would have gotten a second, or third, or fourth, and so on.

Things were looking up. Yes, I took low-paying jobs, but in the process, I was able to up my hourly rate to something a bit more reasonable, and I started getting more consistent work.

I have been able to be more selective when it comes to which manuscripts I accept. I won’t work for anything NEAR minimum wage because – while I may not be the best editor in the world – I do know my worth.

Luckily, I have had wonderful clients. All the authors I’ve found on that site have been grateful for my work and have left me great reviews. I’m trying to get more content editing work off that platform, however, because honestly, those sites are a race to the bottom.

I joined the EFA (Editorial Freelancer’s Association) which gave me the opportunity to get better-paying gigs.

I hate advertising myself, but I started a Facebook business page:

And I’ve actually paid to promote it. No jobs from that yet. I’m giving it time. It’s a bare-bones site that I haven’t been able to put too much effort into (haha, much like this blog).

I’ve had to learn about Search Engine Optimization, invoices, bookkeeping, and other things I could not care less about in my daily life.

Being a freelancer means that you are your own business. I am still trying to adapt to this. I always knew I was destined for a string of shitty bosses. I never would have guessed that I, myself, would populate that list!

There are some awesome things about freelance content editing, and some kinda ‘meh’ things about it as well.

The positive aspects of working as a content editor remotely are as such:

· I get to help authors who are struggling with their manuscripts. I help them arrange their words so that they appeal more to readers. Each manuscript is a puzzle, and I have to help the author make all the pieces fit. I love this part. This is what I am the most passionate about.

· I can work from anywhere so long as there is a Wi-Fi connection. This might even be the best part. If I want to leave the country tomorrow (and I had the resources to do so), I could. I could take off and go to Brazil and work from there.

· I can choose the authors I work with. Just because someone approaches me does not mean that I have to take the job. I can say no to whomever I want to say no to. This is pretty awesome. There are some clients I’ve gotten bad vibes from right out of the gate, and it is so freeing to be able to tell them in the nicest way possible that there’s no way in hell I would want to work with them. Most people are absolutely fantastic, mind you. This sort of client is very rare.

· I can also choose the genres I am content editing. I don’t have to do westerns or shitty eBooks (this is a topic for another time. Not all eBooks are shitty, okay? Just the ones that are churned out for eighty bucks a pop and then the churners manipulate Amazon’s search engines by creating fake reviewers and linking the shitty books with books that are better or have been viewed more).

· I choose my hours. I choose when I work. It’s freedom, really. The freedom I’ve always dreamt about!

· No need for pants. Really. I can’t remember the last time I put on a proper pair of pants. It has been a while.

· I can drink as much coffee as I want. I can take breaks whenever I want to. This part requires some discipline.

So those are the positives about freelance content editing. What are the negatives? Well, here we go:

· Taxes! Quarterly taxes. Yeah. I’m a business. I need to file quarterly taxes. I did not know this for the first quarter of my freelancing career, unfortunately. Apparently, when you run your own business, you need to at least save 30% of your earnings for said taxes. Huh. Who would have thought?

· I don’t really get a day off. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night countless times to respond to e-mails or messages. Same goes for weekends and holidays. This doesn’t bother me so much, however. I like having open communication with my authors.

· Feast or famine. Yeah. I’ll either have eight jobs to juggle at a time, or two. Or even NONE sometimes. This is the worst. Those famine periods can be tough. I’ve thought of going back out into the real world to get a part-time job during these periods before. Ugh. But, nine times out of ten the famine ends, and then I’m swamped.

· I work from home, so now I’m sort of a recluse. I’m a socially anxious person. I admit it. This was a dream come true for the first three months. But cabin fever is a real thing, guys. You start to go mad. The mailman files a restraining order against you. You drive to the gas station every day and pay INSIDE so you can speak to someone. The self-checkout lanes you once loved now only speak to your misery, so you wait in line for human contact. Your significant other starts to resent you because you only talk about boring shit… but this can be remedied, and I am working on volunteering and networking. Still, it can absolutely suck.

· Not knowing when I’ll have my next source of income. This one can be quite the pain. Planning and making my finances stretch has been a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

· Insurance! I have none! Good thing I’m not around all those icky sick people because I’ve become a hermit!

I’m happy. I’m doing something I love and I’m making money doing it. I’m not locked in another person’s box anymore. I’m not making someone else rich. Not that I’m making myself rich- not by a long shot, but I’m surviving.

I would recommend to anyone thinking of becoming a freelance editor that you NETWORK IN PERSON. Word of mouth will ultimately be how you gain business. Recommendations from previous clients. Get business cards. Make a website. Write a shitty blog that you don’t even want to proofread! Put your name and business out there.


Why not? I’m on one! I’ve made money there! Why would I suggest that you do anything different?

Well, they are not a reliable source of income, for one thing. For another, you can get kicked off/banned for something so innocent as applying to too many jobs without being awarded one, or for not obeying their ToS. You can’t rely on freelance sites forever. And, as mentioned before, they are a race to the bottom. People literally want to pay five dollars for an entire website to be built for them. From scratch. Yes, people take those jobs.

In some parts of the world, five American dollars is a ton of money. I am glad those people have the chance to make a decent living, so I don’t want to complain much about it. It sucks for me, yeah, but oh well. Someone out there who has a worse life than me has a chance at a better one because of this. That’s fine. I’ll sift through all the five-dollar jobs and take the thousand-dollar ones.

I really wish I had had the courage earlier in my life to move to full-time freelancing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to wake up in the morning.

Another thing I love- I never know what will happen next, or who will contact me for help.

As much as I whine about people; I like them. I like learning about my clients. In fact, I prefer to foster friendships with them. This is not a business-savvy tactic, but it is mine. I don’t care if I’m too soft or ‘nice’ to be a business owner. I disagree with the notion that you can’t be a good person and still operate a successful business. It all depends on what your version of ‘success’ is. Let me tell you what my version of success is: doing what I love, from home, and never having to put on a proper pair of pants. I’m living the dream.

#freelanceediting #contentediting

Are you a writer who knows some big words?

Do you Know Some Big Words?

Do you possess, in your linguistic arsenal, a bountiful supply of ostentatious colloquialisms and a general amount of superior verbiage?

Awesome! Keep them out of your book!

I could write a whole other post about House of Leaves, which should be subtitled: ‘Look how smaaaaaaaaart I am!’ but I’ll leave that for another day. If I get around to it.

I’ve come across two manuscripts lately where the authors’ voices are lost amongst a forest of complex language. It’s almost as if the author is trying so hard to convince themselves and others that they are great writers, that they forget everything they’ve learned about the craft of writing, and decided to take the lazy way out.

You can’t convince your readers that you’re a good writer by using SAT vocabulary. Sure, a word here and there is absolutely acceptable and may even give your passage a boost. When it’s acceptable, it’s acceptable. When it’s not, it’s eye-roll inducing and cringe-worthy.

If you’ve filled your manuscript with overly-complicated sentences that are so full of those ‘big words’ that the story becomes secondary to your need to showcase what a great big intellectual you are, well, you should probably just go ahead and douse your manuscript in gasoline. In fact, I encourage it. If writing a manuscript using English words that are as obscure to the average reader as Sanskrit, here’s how you fix it:

  • Siphon gas from your car. Don’t bother to use a hose, just suck it right from the tap.
  • Keep said gasoline inside your cheeks like a squirrel prepared for hibernation.
  • Print out your manuscript. (This is the hard part. You may be inclined to swallow the gasoline while waiting for the manuscript to print. Don’t do that. Don’t hurt yourself.)
  • One manuscript is printed, purse your lips together like you’re about to give grandma a kiss on the cheek and spray the gasoline all over the manuscript.
  • Light that shit on fire and dance as it burns.

You get the idea. It’s worthless. Yeah. I’m sorry to have to tell you that. It is. You started a story with the intention of showing off instead of sharing an idea with any substance. Your readers aren’t going to fall for that shit. You’re going to have to start over. Throw the thesaurus on the fire and learn to express yourself simply. I’m not telling you to ditch your narrative voice; in fact, I’m telling you to remove the mask you’ve placed over it.

I’m in no way advocating over-simplifying your use of language. No. I’m not asking you to ‘dumb it down,’ or go the opposite direction and write at a third-grade reading level.

Each author has a distinct voice. In fact, I’ve recently worked on a manuscript where an author managed to still maintain his voice despite his usage of complicated language to express simple concepts. I did ask him to try to imagine what the average reader is expecting from him. I also advised that if, he doesn’t want angry readers to toss his book aside in frustration, (or even the patient ones who will give the benefit of the doubt to the author by looking up his vocabulary via Bing, Google, or a dictionary), that he use the first word that comes to mind. What I believe he might have been doing was actually using a thesaurus. And I can’t knock that practice. In fact, I encourage it!

But, when you’re using the thesaurus to locate the most possibly convoluted measure of expression for a single word, you’re masking your voice. This author happens to be very talented. I think that, for him, the issue was his confidence. He was masking his voice because he feared the results of fully utilizing it. Writing is a deeply personal endeavor, one where you’re practically baring your soul to strangers. And that can be scary.

I’ve always thought the most talented writers are those who can express many things in a small space. This should be the goal of any novice who may happen to read this odd blog post. Here’s another goal for you: always move your story forward. But that’s getting off track.

My point here, is that the average reader does not give a shit about your personal vocabulary and how advanced it might be. They aren’t reading your book to gauge how intelligent you are, or how many words you know. They are reading your book because they want to be told a story. They want to be told a good story.

So, what’s the next step following lighting your pretentious manuscript on fire and cheering as it burns?

Open a new Word (or Google, or whatever the hell you use) document, and start over. Tell your story. Tell it well, and the reader will automatically know that you are intelligent. There’s no better way to showcase your intellect than by putting together a riveting tale. There is no need to show off when you’re capable of telling a great story. Or at least a good story, where the reader doesn’t have to stop every few minutes to bang their head against a wall, or pick up a dictionary to figure out what your odd, five-word string of gibberish might actually mean.

Write what comes to you, edit it to be as simple to understand as possible, find a great editor to work with on the final product, then send your work out into the world. So long as you can tell a great story – readers will continue to look for book spines with your name on them.

Happy writing!


#Manuscriptadvice #creativewritinghelp

How to Avoid Writing a Terrible Main Character


Be able to see things from many perspectives, not just your own.

It’s time! You’ve finally sat down to write that Great American Novel that’s been swishing around your noggin for the past decade? Great! Do it. Write it.

Anyone who has ever read anything about first drafts will have heard this general idea repeated ad infinitum: the first draft is the author telling themselves the story. Any subsequent draft should be geared towards telling your story to others (second draft is for your editor, third, fourth, fifth and onward are for your readers).

So, get rid of that shitty prologue and just start your story where the story actually starts, instead. Make sure you don’t begin your epic tale of redemption and scandal with your main character waking up from a dream, or brushing their teeth, etc. This establishes to the reader that you didn’t take the time to flesh out your main character beyond a mundane, just-barely-recognizable-as-a-person, human being.

Because if you had, you would have instead started your story with your main character panicking during a car chase. Of course, the main character is driving. The cops are on his/her tail, guns drawn- road blocks and tire puncturing devices in place- and the only escape in sight is certain death, life imprisonment… or, perhaps, to drive into the river. Death by cop, death of soul by life in prison, or river?

Perhaps this isn’t the best example, but you get the point. Start your story with a hook. A hook that shows your main character struggling with a decision that will ultimately affect their development throughout the rest of the novel.

If you start your book with an interesting scene, the reader is more likely to continue reading than if you start your book with Suzy picking a piece of lettuce from her snaggle tooth.

There’s a plethora of common mistakes I’ve seen authors make regarding character-building. Here are just a few:

1. The first few lines of the first chapter have nothing to do with the story because the author prioritized the boring shit every person does every day over actual character development.

The story begins! The main character is excitedly…looking in the mirror? This one is usually a cheap trick an inexperienced author uses to flesh out the character’s physical appearance for the reader. It’s a very low-effort way to describe what the character looks like. Worse- it’s boring as hell. The best way to write a fantastic character description would be through showing the reactions of other characters, at least in my experience. This is a more organic tactic that can be worked into the story. The character’s appearance is more of an aside than anything else. How important is it?

Well, you’ll get varying responses to that question. For me, it’s only important that I get a loose idea of what the main character looks like. I like to fill in the blanks myself. Other readers prefer a detailed description. Your best tactic would likely be to find a middle ground between the two, and just go with it. Or, better yet, do what serves your narrative and character the best.

If, however, the appearance of your character truly is important to the story, you will need to find more creative avenues through which to reveal how stunningly beautiful she/he is, or how horribly average-looking. If you have a beautiful character, then it’s easy to show just how glorious of a specimen he/she is through the way other characters react to him/her. If he/she is just a plain Jane/John, then that, too, should be noted through the reactions of other characters. Or, perhaps you have a scene where the character realizes that being average-looking has its advantages. That character certainly wouldn’t have to travel the murky waters of opposite (or same)-sex attraction. A friend would likely be just that- a friend- with no ulterior motives.

2. The character has no flaws.

This is another common mistake I see new authors make. The main character is perfect, or (dare I say) special.

No. Your character is not special. Definitely not special enough to have no flaws, or to have lazy flaws written-in almost as an afterthought. Clumsiness or shyness are not flaws that deeply impact the course of the story. Sorry. You’re going to have to try harder than that.

You want your character to be flawed! Flawed characters are relatable- they’re human. You want your character to make mistakes because of those flaws, and to learn from those mistakes, and develop into a new form of themselves from the experience. A well-rounded protagonist is imperative to the reader’s perception of your character as well as your story.

3. A character that is supposed to come off as flawed, but has so many flaws that are so deeply ingrained that they instead come off as an insufferable asshole.

I’ve edited numerous manuscripts that have this problem. Too many flaws. For instance, you want your main character to be a bit insecure? That’s great! That’s a common flaw that a lot of humans possess and can relate to. Wonderful. What you want to do is to show that insecurity. Have the character hang their head low after they’ve said something embarrassing, or show the character struggling to better themselves because they don’t innately have confidence. For the love of all that is holy, do not have your insecure character make a questionable decision and then proceed to question that decision a million times.

Was it right? Won’t it kill everyone? What if someone gets hurt? How could I live with myself?

Another negative symptom of a much-too insecure character can be something like this:

That was a stupid thing to do. Why would anyone want anything to do with me after that? I’m so awful. I deserve the worst.

My best friend is much more attractive. Why would this girl look at me? The way I talked to her was just ridiculous. I’m such a dumbass.

Self-flagellation only makes your character seem weak, whiny, and self-pitying. Your readers are not going to respect this character if you insist on a ton of introspection that details just how pathological that insecurity is. Of course, there are exceptions to this. After all, the mark of a wonderful writer is the ability to break rules effectively. But, for now, we’ll stick with what the average main character should and should not be.

This all goes back to the golden rule of fiction writing: show, don’t tell!

Here’s another example of a character flaw becoming a full-blown pathology: say you’ve come up with the quintessential bad boy who takes absolutely no shit from anyone. He’s the James Dean of your story, with that devil-may-care attitude, and of course he’s ridiculously good-looking. Women flock to this asshole because they simply don’t listen to the assholery that comes from his mouth, ignoring it in favor of his ‘piercing blue eyes that seem to look right through me,’ or some other trite garbage.

Many authors can take the flaw of ‘cocky’ and turn it into ‘huge, gaping asswad.’ Yes, I’ve seen this happen, too. The overly arrogant main character treats everyone like shit because he’s simply better than them in every single way, and he is acutely aware of it. He one-ups his friends, steals their women, does way, way too many drugs (as opposed to just the right amount of drugs for him to be endearing). Such a character could tempt readers to turn to drugs just to trudge through the story.

This main character has no redeeming qualities, so when the author inevitably tries to redeem them, the effort comes across as hollow and worthless.

Don’t write this character. Just don’t.

4. The character is so generic, you can’t find a single attribute or flaw that could possibly constitute even the beginning phases of a personality.

This is very common as well, and perhaps the most common mistake I’ve seen as a content editor. A lot of authors are afraid to write a character that could possibly be seen by any reader as grating, or angry, petty, self-pitying, or revenge-driven. They are afraid to anger any one reader, so they decide that the best route to take is to make a character so even-keeled and so, so, so boring that said character is essentially a cardboard cutout of a human being.

The character has no distinguishing features. They are of average intelligence. They come from an average family, their looks are generic, their thoughts are generic, their feelings are barely detectable, and their reactions to other characters are best summed up as ‘meh.’ The best example of this that I can provide you with would absolutely be the main character of the Twilight series. And yes, in case you were wondering, I am embarrassed that I read a single chapter of that series, let alone the whole thing. I just, I was waiting for it to get better. For the main character to get better. Well, it doesn’t. She doesn’t. In fact, it all just goes to hell, so don’t even waste your time. Yes, it’s a best-selling, huge money-maker. This post is not geared towards writers who only care about making an assload of money. This is for those of you who respect the craft, and hey, if you make enough to live off of- fantastic.

Don’t worry about offending readers. Write the character you want to write. Just make sure that if you want them to have a specific flaw or talent, that you don’t go overboard, or completely avoid giving them any personality traits. Make an outline. Give your character a backstory. Tell the story of the character to yourself so that you know why they are the way they are, and so you can subsequently show the reader who that character is.

For example: let’s say your main character grew up in an abusive household. Would that character likely be trusting of people? Probably not. Have them be wary when they meet a new person. Have them question the motivations of others, and not eagerly enter new relationships. Build their confidence slowly throughout the book so that the payoff when the big event occurs is as emotional for the reader as it is for the characters. Pacing is super important when it comes to character development! But I’m sure I’ll write about that at some point in the future. There’s no time for me to drone on about that one today.

This post is getting rather long, so I’ll sum it up: have some goddam empathy. If you aren’t an empathetic person, you’ll base your characters on stereotypes that ring hollow to your readers. No one will like your characters, and by extension, they’ll direct their anger at you in their scathing reviews of your effortless work.

I would explain how one gains empathy, but if you’re able to read this, I’ll assume you’re of an age where, if you don’t have it, you miiiiight be a sociopath, so no directions or advice can help you.

Happy writing!


#Writingagoodmaincharacter #Maincharacterdevelopment