Contest Winners....Step Up To The Podium!

First off, I really enjoyed reading everyone's hooks. Keep in mind, taste is subjective, but here were some of the things I looked for when considering each one and the power it had to pull me into the story:

--Did the opening prompt questions that I felt compelled to find answers for?
--Is Voice present?
--Does the hook provide an unusual combination of setting, character and circumstance?

Here's some stats you might find interesting:

--Of 71 hooks, 11 directly centered on death or funerals
--23 made the short list (with so many to choose from I had to be tough right from the start)
--9 made it to the semi finals
--6 entries would have made the the semi finals or better except their hook contained awkward phrasing/incorrect tense
(always proof your work!)
--1 person made it to the podium but wasn't a Follower in any way. It broke my heart, but I had to exclude their entry to be fair to those who are.

And now, the winners!

Bronze medalist
(2 page critique) Creative A

Her Hook: Aria fell. Once, a long time ago, she had dreamed that the sky could catch her. (I liked the lyrical quality of this opener and it made me wonder about the events that lead to this moment as well as the current action.)

Silver medalist: (5 Page critique) Delilah S. Dawson

Her hook: Blackstone Farmhouse was the dullest place on earth until about three in the morning, when the screaming started. It had been happening for weeks, but it never failed to surprise Lena. (This one promises something unusual, I think. I liked the clash of the 'routine country lifestyle' and an unexpected disturbing event.)

Gold Medalist: (10 page critique) Abby Annis

Her hook: Three seconds. That's how long it took for my life to end. (short & sweet, a bunch of questions come to mind about the POV character--questions I feel compelled to have the answers to.)

Winners can find my email here. Please contact me and I'll give some brief guidelines on what to send.

I think everyone deserves a big pat on the back. You guys did a great job with your hooks, and it was very, very hard to choose winners. Much of it came down to my own gut, which is exactly how I imagine agents and editors must ultimately decide when they sift through a deluge of queries.

Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your work with me. I'm sure there will be more hook contests to come!

Contest Closed for Is Your Hook a Gold Medalist?

Thanks everyone for their entries (and man there are a ton!) I suspect I'm going to really have a hard time narrowing it down to three winners, but narrow it down I must!

I'll post the results tomorrow--good luck, everyone!

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Waterfall


A white, frothy cascade of water falling into a plunge pool, rocky outcroppings, lichen, moss, slippery rock, lush grasses, plants and flowers, mist, spray, rainbows, ripples, droplets, trees clinging to cliffs and overhanging the pool, butterflies, birds, flies, dragonflies, animals drinking from the pool, fish in the pool, sun baked rocks, soft beds of grass nearby, tourists swimming, picnicking or taking pictures, mud, sand, shale, pebbled rock on the shoreline, weeds, cattails, ferns, shiny leaves/foliage, mossy boulders, cliffs, blue-green water, gentle waves lapping the shoreline, multi-colored pebbles, sunshine, light glittering across the water, mulit-tiered drops, ledges, crevices, cracks, wet rock platforms, caves, tree and rock-lined wide open sky above


The roar of water, water droplets pattering against rock, people speaking with raised voices, laughter, (loud) bird calls,


Water-saturated air, rich earth, green, growing things, sweet flowers perfuming the air, moss, slimy rock algae, suntan lotion or sunscreen, food odors from picnickers, pine needles (if pine/spruce trees are present)


Water, food and beverages brought in


Mist on dry skin, the cool slide of water over the skin, water resisting movement as you swim or wade, a shock of cold water touching feet, water seeping into shoes, sand, pebbles or rocks against the bottoms of your feet, tall lush grass sliding across calves, sitting on a warm rock in the sun, rough stone handholds against the palms and fingertips, slipping on a wet or algae-covered rock, the sting of an accidental scrape, feeling the hard tattoo beat of the falling water on the head and shoulders, water filling the ears, sliding hands back to slick hair back, holding a hand into the beating froth, letting the water pummel palm, diving beneath the surface, air bubbles sliding against skin, a fish bumping against a leg, stomach tightening as you dive off a ledge, squeezing water from hair, lying back on the grass or a large boulder to sun-dry, heat against the skin, warming and pulling moisture from the skin and clothes, the rubbing discomfort of wet shoes and socks, the sting of make up or sun screen getting into eyes, wiping spray off cheeks or using a shirt tail to rub it off glasses

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

Looking down from my rocky perch, mist billowed out in soft clouds where water and gravity collided. Sam waved as he treaded water below, his mouth moving but his words lost in the roar of the waterfall. I didn't need to hear him to know he was egging me on as usual. The breeze played with my hair, brushing it against my shoulders. A stray water droplet landed on my arm as I pulled in a deep breath. I could do this.

Example 2:

Rick pushed his fists into the lush grass and lifted himself free of the rippling pool. Water ran off his shoulders and tracked down his back as he dropped onto the bed of green, his chest heaving with adrenaline. The sound of the waterfall filled his ears like thundering applause, as if it too was pleased that finally, after making the trek to the top so many times, he had found the courage to jump.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

A flat boulder rose up from the center of the plunge pool, it's sun-baked surface and incredible waterfall backdrop drawing her on like a cat to a sunny window seat.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

Sandy took a deep breath and moved under the spray. Cold, watery fingers kneaded her tight shoulders with the practiced skill of a masseuse, drumming away the stress accumulated over the six month long contract dispute.

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Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: Death

Every day we interact with objects, places and sensations that affect the way we think and feel. This can be used to the writer's advantage by planting symbols in the reader's path to reinforce a specific message, feeling or idea.

Look at the setting and the character's state of mind, and then think about what you want the reader to see. Is there a descriptive symbol or two that works naturally within the scene to help foreshadow an event or theme, or create insight into the character's emotional plight?

In nature:

A fallen tree
A dead (standing) tree
Rotten tree stump
Animal bones
A bleached skull
Broken bird eggshells
A nest fallen from a tree
A spray of feathers lying on a patch of flattened grass
A dead beetle lying on its back
A harsh, barren landscape (desert, frozen tundra)
A biting, numbing wind
Cracks in lake ice
A swamp (smell and sight)
The over-sweet odor of decay
Crows, ravens
Talons, claws, sharp teeth or beak
Vultures circling or roosting
Dead leaves
The caw of a crow/raven
A silenced animal cry
Darkness falling
The hiss of a snake
A deep throated growl in the dark
An apple with a rotten core
Red poisonous berries
The wet chill of mist
Fish floating in a pond

In Society:

Passing a roadside shrine (cross, plastic flowers, etc)
A junkyard
A burned out light
Broken glass
Black smoke
A condemned building
A derelict home
A mangled rusted bike skeleton lost in the tall grass
A barn or shed with the roof caved in
A broken down/rotten fence
Peeling paint or wallpaper
Infection or decease
Funeral home
Road kill
Street thugs
The hollowed stare of a junkie
Body bags
Pirate flag
Car accident
Dead bugs on a windshield or windowsill
A broken or mangled road barrier
The color Black
A funeral procession
A hearse driving by
Silver skull jewelry
Skull tattoos
The grim reaper
Worms caught out on the sidewalk after a rain
Dead plants in planters, flowerbeds
The smell of medicine
The bleep of a heart rate monitor
Blood (a nosebleed, drops of dried blood on a sidewalk, etc)
Swords, knives or guns & ammo (on display in a store or in use)
Horror movie posters
A darkened, empty room
The Tarot death card

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with death. Some are more powerful than others. A hearse driving by your MC as she walks home from work is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a bitter winter wind ripping at your MC's clothes and freezing her cheeks may not foreshadow death on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.
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NEW! The Symbolism Thesaurus

Each thesaurus collection is built with one concept in mind--creating powerful description. So far we've looked at how to show emotion, how to create effective comparisons and contrasts, and how to weave the 5 senses into our settings. The Symbolism Thesaurus will take things a step further. Not only will this new tool help you think more carefully about what your choose to describe, it will also help you utilize symbolism to create a lasting effect on the reader.

By definition, symbolism in writing is a word, phrase or object that has a deeper meaning. Symbolism connects to readers on a higher, more intuitive level, reinforcing an important message, theme or emotion that the writer wants to convey.

This makes Symbolism a natural ingredient in description, because it encourages us to think harder about what we choose to describe and why. One of the biggest things I try to drive home in my posts is that all description must work hard to earn the right to be included. Symbolism, when used correctly, adds another layer of connection to our reader, pulling them more deeply to 'feel' as they read and it contributes to a stronger attunement to the plight of the protagonist.

Each entry of the Symbolism Thesaurus will center on a specific thematic idea found in today's fiction. Redemption, loyalty, alienation, a fall from grace...these are examples of possible entries and will show possible descriptive choices in which to help reinforce each theme or idea to your readers. The choices will center on common descriptives rather than obscure ones to make sure the symbolism translates to today's readers.

Symbolism is powerful. It affects how we feel about something--this is why it is used so often as a marketing tool. Think for a moment of a book cover and the role it plays in whether you take it to the checkout or not. I don't think anyone can deny the symbolic power of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight cover. As writers, we need to infuse our desired meaning across to our audience in every manner possible...and in our writing most of all.

Many thanks to JentheAmazing, who choose the Symbolism Thesaurus from my list of possible descriptive Thesauri for The Bookshelf Muse. I hope it will become as valuable a writing resource as the other Thesaurus Collections!

All entries for this thesaurus can be found in our SIDEBAR...enjoy!

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Contest: Is Your Hook a Gold Medalist?

Seriously! Didn't I just draw a winner for my 400 Followers Contest just a week ago? And now here we are at 500. I am BLOWN AWAY! This is like Olympic Fever, only way cooler (and I should know--I live in Canada!)

So, in honor of this big milestone and the Olympics, I'm holding another contest for Followers only (Old and New). It's easy--give me the first two sentences of your novel in the comment section along with book's genre. If your hook pulls me in the most, here's what waits for you on the winner's podium:

Bronze Medalist: a 2 page in depth critique
Silver medalist: a 5 page in depth critique
Gold Medalist: a 10 page in depth critique

All genres welcome, except for Erotica. :-) Winners will be announced March 1st. The more the merrier, so please feel free to spread the word. Thanks and good luck!

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Hotel Room


Key card entry, fire escape plan on the back of the door, closet with non-removable hangers, extra blanket/pillow & iron on top shelf, carpet, Bathroom: small with tub/shower, tiled floor and dings in the walls, fluffy white towels, extra toilet paper on the toilet tank, complementary shampoo, conditioner, cream, make up remover pads, soap and shower cap, bx of Kleenex, hair dryer attached to the wall, strong bathroom lighting, large mirror, towel bar and hook on the door, towel shelf above the toilet or in the shower. Main room: 1 or two beds with a matress-to-floor patterned coverlet, pillows, nightstand, TV attached to the wall or stand, telephone, night stand light, thermostat on the wall, cheesy themed artwork on the walls, a desk with stationary, pen, take out menus, room service/hotel guide, light, wall hook up for laptops, a small chair or two, or in larger rooms, a love seat, coffee maker with coffee, tea, sugar, powdered cream, coffee mug, water glass, ice bucket, minibar or fridge with pricing chart, trash can, TV remote, end table, heavy drapes on the windows, chest of drawers, Bible in a drawer of the night stand, bedside alarm clock, complementary paper, 'do not disturb' sign on door


The hum from air conditioning/furnace ventilation, water in the pipes inside the walls, doors opening and closing, voices from people passing out in the hall, the shower, coffee pot perking, the bing of the elevator in the hall, drinks talking to loud as they stumble down the hall to their room, laughter, kids running in the room above, traffic/construction through an open window, the phone ringing with a wake up call, TV shows, The suction sound of a fridge door being opened or shut, bottles clinking on the door of the fridge as it's opened, dropping ice into a glass, ripping open a packet of sugar or cream, the faucet turning on, swearing as you step into the shower only to find little hot water left, the gurgle of a toilet, couples arguing, kids crying as they are dragged to a room nearby after a long day, the TV sets or music from other rooms, muffled voices through the walls


Bleach, cleaners and deodorizers, old carpet, fabric, bleached towels, aromatic shampoos/conditioners/soap, coffee brewing, alcohol, cigarette smells clinging to clothing, perfume, aftershave, hair spray, sweat


Coffee, tea, water, mouthwash, toothpaste, food brought up to the room or through room service (burgers, fries, sandwiches, spaghetti, salads, soup, etc), pop and snacks from a vending machine


Sliding the plastic card into the slot, then yanking it out fast, pulling on the handle while the light blinks green, taking a try or two to get the timing right, the instant freeze of ice on the fingers as you dig a hand into the ice bucket for a few cubes, blowing on a hot cup of coffee, laying down on the soft bed after a long day, pulling shoes off weary feet, scuffing across the carpet, bare feet on carpet and tile, the plush feel of a fresh towel against the skin, a nice hot shower, lather sliding down the back and sides in the shower, pressing buttons on a remote, holding a phone to the ear without hands as you look for something on TV or root around in a suitcase, pulling the zipper past a snag on the suitcase, sitting at the end of the bed, testing the bounce/softness when you first arrive, rifling through the hotel room service menu, straightening hair in mirror before going out, lining shoes up by the door, dumping shopping bags onto the bed, then dragging out your purchases, flicking light switches, adjusting the temperature, pulling open the drapes or closing them, changing clothing, the rush of the blow dryer through the hair, fingertips against a cold can of pop or beer, plumping the pillows, yanking off the comforter, peeling back crisp, clean sheets, blotting wet face with a towel, snuggling down in the covers, breath against the pillow, sliding folded clothing into drawers or back into the suitcase, bending down or getting on one knee to check by/under the bed for things that might get left behind

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

I glared at the gloomy white ceiling, then shoved a pillow over my head. Never again would I stay in a hotel hosting a God damn family reunion. First the elevator doors were going off every ten minutes or so, dropping the drunks off. Then, to add insult to injury, these two old biddies show up, practically shouting at each other how wonderful it was to see everyone, and that Lindy's fiancee seemed like quite a catch and wasn't it just pathetic how Marvin couldn't hold a job? Yak, yak, freaking yak! I was five seconds away from storming out there in the buff to tell them it was two a.m. and they should shut the hell up.

Example 2:

I dropped my luggage and gave my husband a flirty smile before jumping onto the king sized bed. The way I sunk onto the plush bedding told me every cent we'd paid for this luxury suite was well worth it. I closed my eyes, breathing in the heady scent of the fresh roses on sitting on the sideboard. No kids, no endless mountains of laundry or owies to kiss better...just a full twenty-four hours of being Jane, not mom.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

Why didn't I ask if the room was close to the elevator? Every time the thing went past my floor my bed would shake like a plane readying for take off.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

I punched at the pillow, wondering if a bag of rocks might be easier to sleep on.

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Color Thesaurus Entry: Pink

Real World Comparisons:


Cancer ribbon
Cotton candy
Strawberry ice cream
Grapefruit flesh
Cooked shrimp
Pepto bismol
Cream Soda
Elvis' Cadillac
Bubble gum
School erasers
Water lily
Cherry Blossoms
Pink Panther
Rose quartz
Amazon River Dolphin
Hostess Snowball


Pink lemonade
Stargazer lily
Guava flesh
Cat tongue
Rare meat
Gum line
Pink eye
Earth worms


Dragon fruit
Watermelon flesh
Feather boas
Pink topaz
Scars & stretch marks

Shades of Pink:

Rose, Carnation, coral, puce, blush, fuchsia, salmon, albino, hot pink, rose, china pink,

Make every detail count

Colors are powerful descriptors, not fillers. Make sure that if you use a comparison or contrast to highlight a color, you choose the right one. Look at the setting and atmosphere you are working to create, then draw from the viewpoint character or narrator's history, education and past experiences to find the right fit.

A poor example:

Betty probed the boil at the back of Harvey's neck with her nail file. "I dunno, Harv," she said between snaps of gum. "It's pretty nasty, all right. You should go see Doc Barrows. Looks like there's a damn kid's eraser growin' out of your skin."

What's wrong with this example?

I think the tone is right, but boils are round, not rectangular, and probably the color would be a bit more intense.

A strong example:

Betty probed the boil at the back of Harvey's neck with her nail file. "I dunno, Harv," she said between snaps of gum. "It's pretty nasty, all right. You should go see Doc Barrows. Looks like there's a damn radish growing back here."

Why is this example better?

This gives a clearer image of a swollen growth and is higher up on the EW factor.

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New Look!

As most of you have noticed, I've been playing around with the template and color scheme here at The Bookshelf Muse, but as always, readability is my number one concern. If anyone is having difficulty with the new color choices (too stark, etc), please let me know and I'll mess around a bit more.

I finally found an answer to how to fix the 'undefined, undefined' text where the date should be (YAY!) but am still baffled as to why a search box is embedded in my title header like an unwanted zit. I don't have a gadget for it and have no idea how it got there. If any of my super-smert Musers know how to fix it, I would be forever grateful!

I've sent JentheAmazing several templates for new thesaurus collections to look at and choose from, so you should be seeing another descriptive tool rolling out here in the coming weeks. Each one fills a different need, so it will be interesting to see which she chooses. I can't wait!

I also have a guest post over at Heart of the Home, where I show how to make a Zebra Cake. If you want to see a cool looking cake that's high on the YUM factor, check it out!

Hope everyone had a nice Valentine's Day and long weekend. Happy writing!

EDITED TO ADD: Huge thanks to Veinglory who figured out how to get rid of the search bar in the header! Please stop by her blog and say howdy and thanks!

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Space Ship

Content contributor: The fabulous Liana Brooks


Controls, bulk head, lights, doorways that seal, ladders, rivets, metal paneling, ridges, pock marks, fire dampening foam, emergency lighting, seats, galley, head, berth, space suits, uniforms, boots, rations, weapons, stars, port holes, viewing deck, safety webbing, robot, buttons, switches, cables, boxes, labels, wooden packing crates, sterile crates, plastic/metal crates, loading equipment, uniforms, ship’s patches/badges, planets with rings, asteroids, satellites, moons, space station, enemy vessel, cargo ship, solar flare, crew members, rank insignia, captain, admiral, ensign, pilot, navigator, weapons crew, refugees, alien, large kinetic weapon (rocks), laser array, hazard signs (explosive, flammable), power core, steam vents, walkways, grates, hoses, computer panels, hologram technology


Engines humming, computer clicking, people talking, meteorites/weapons hitting the hull, bang, slap, crunch, boots on the deck plates, engines whining, hissing, lights buzzing, electronics chirping, paper rustling, waste disposal grinding, luggage dropping, cloth rubbing against cloth, air in mask, coughing, hiss of burning dust on the hull during reentry, weapons sizzling as they charge, whoomph of air as kinetic weapon recoils, crying, orders, intercom chatter, whir of computer fans, heart beating, orders relayed through intercom, automated warning system


“canned” air, recycling filters, mildew, body odors, stale smell, diesel, frying grease, burnt ozone, methane, dust, mildew, bleach, disinfectants, perfume, acid-sharp smell of hot metal, fear


Blood, tin, citrus sanitizer, fresh oxygen from plants, chalky ration bars, mildew, salt, sweat, soap, grease, imported food, fresh vegetables from hydroponics, algae wafers, water, vitamin gels


light (low gravity), heavy chest (lift off and extra gravity), dimpled buttons, sharp metal edges on repairs, textured hand grips, weightless, squishy acceleration couches, rubbery, air on skin, hard, firm, bouncy, pliant, bones grinding/organs grinding, smooth metal surface, pocked surface from damage, cloth against skin, head craned up, rubbing at back of the neck while scanning content on monitors/displays, wires to make sure cargo is secure, bump, jerking as the ship lands, jostling, exhilaration, blood rushing, heart beating fast, calm

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

Alone on the bridge, I settled into the captain's chair for the first time. Hard metal ridges rubbed against my hips and dug into my shoulder blades. I nodded to myself. This was just how it should be, for the work done here would not be easy and each moment should be a reminder of the human cost behind my decisions. I took a breath of the slightly metallic air and smiled, imagining the starry view that would greet me tomorrow, when my new crew and I set off on our first mission.

Example 2:

My fingers flew across the keyboard, recoding an override before the security system locked out our eject pods. Chaos surrounded me, people running and screaming as consoles and overhead panels shook loose in the aftershocks of the kinetic blast. I didn't know who had hit us or why, nor could I spare a thought to anything but my erratic tapping. Provided I did my part here and Devit ejected the toxin canisters in cargo before the seals broke and infected the crew, most of us would live to see the the suns rise over Omanna again.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

As the missile approached, Captain Marcus clenched his chair rails like a minister clinging to his preach pad during a solar flare.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

As we hit warp, stars streamed past the view field, reminding me of lasers skinning against a class seven force field.

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And We Have a Winner!

And before I announce it, let me say I REALLY need to get one of those contest forms for the comments. Figuring out the entries by hand hurts my brain!

*pauses, heightening anticipation*

Congratulations, JentheAmazing!

You've won not only a first chapter critique, but you will also choose the next THESAURUS COLLECTION showcased here at The Bookshelf Muse.

You'll find my email here, so give me a ping and we'll talk about what's next!

Thanks everyone for your continued support and friendship!

Contest Closed!

W-O-W people!

This contest was for hitting 400 followers, and now I'm over 470! You guys are just too good to me, you know that?

I'll post the winner tomorrow. I'm excited to be able to help someone with their WIP and to have them pick out a new thesaurus collection!

May the zombies be with you,


Final Thoughts on the Seven Deadly Sins

First off, I hope you enjoyed the Seven Deadly Sins for Novel Writing as much as I did. It helped me to put into words what I thought were the largest pitfalls and allowed me to brainstorm a system to navigate them. The first step to avoiding anything is awareness--knowledge is power.

Now my confession. While I broke down the Novel Writing Sins into 7, there's really a single sin that trumps all. Can you guess what it is?

Disappointment. If we have one job as writers, it is to never, ever disappoint the reader.

Each of us draws from a unique perspective and set of experiences when writing. We learn all we can, make decisions and take risks. We can choose to follow, alter or break the rules and techniques of writing in order to tell the story the best way we long as we achieve the most important thing.

To leave the reader feeling satified.

Readers give us time (and money!) in exchange for not just a great story but an EXPERIENCE. This is the highest form of entertainment. Having a reader close our book with a smile and a sigh...this is our goal and a reward beyond measure.
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Setting Thesaurus Entry: Pool Hall


Rows of coin operated pool tables, balls, racks, cues of different weights, chalk squares (blue the most common), bar, stools, drinks on small tables along the walls, coasters, spills, leather jackets slung on chairs and stools, cues leaning against the walls, shot glasses, beer bottles, rest, pub food (nachos, fries, wings, pizza, burgers), waitresses in tight clothing, juke box or sound system, TVs, VLT's, washrooms, small kitchen, bottles of different types of alcohol, lime/lemon wedges, coolers, crumpled bills on tables, dirty glasses, burly, rough looking men, beer signs, triple pool table lights, people leaning on pool tables, people lining up shots, money changing hands, neon lighting, signs prohibiting minors, liquor licence displayed near the bar, alcohol sponsor signage, advertisements, sports paraphernalia, beer taps, mirror behind bar, glass racks, ATM machine, cigarette machine


balls hitting each other, balls shuttling into the pockets or banking the sides, cries of disappointment, swearing, crowing at a good shot, cheering, good natured ribbing, drinkers talking loudly over the noise as they watch the players, glasses and bottles being set onto tables, the screech and scuff of a chair leg or stool being pushed back, shot glasses chinking together, noise from the TV (sports announcer) music from the sound system, laughter, slapping one another on the back, slapping down a bet on the felt, accidentally banging head or cue stick on the lights, a waitress' voice, calling in orders to the bartender or cook, cash register tape spitting out a bill, bleeps and bloops from the VLTs, the thump of cigarettes falling from their slot into the pick up tray, noise from the kitchen, a hiss from the fountain pop, the set of balls tumbling rapidly into the tray once the coins have been inserted


Beer, chalk, felt, food from the kitchen, sweat, cologne, perfume, body odor, beer breath, cigarette smoke clinging to clothing and hair, leather, oiled wood


beer, pop, vodka, rum, shots of straight liquor (rye, whiskey, tequila etc), water, crunching ice cubes, pub food (see above) coffee, salt, limes, peanuts/pretzels


The slide of a pool cue shaft along the crook of the hand, scraping the chalk cube against tip, then blowing the excess off, the weight of a server's tray loaded with drinks, leaning forward over the pool table, felt against the fingertips, a rough/chipped tabletop, sliding quarters into the slot, placing arm around a waitress' waist or shoulders, digging into pocket for change/crumpled bills, the cool press of a beer bottle/glass in the hand, cold beer sliding down throat and wetting lips, sorting balls into the triangle, sliding the white ball along the felt after a scratch, high fiving another player/partner, leaning on stick, waiting for your turn, bending down so shot is at eye level, judging the angle, bumping into other player, squeezing around other people or waiting for a person at an adjoining table to play their shot as to not interfere, hitching up jeans or settling the belt buckle by habit, raising the arm to indicate more beers to the waitress, tipping head back to drink or down a shot, shifting around on a stool, running hand along the bank, trying to read the angle needed, rubbing sweat off the forehead with the back of the hand, tapping the bar to get the bartender's attention, leaning over the jukebox, reading the playlist

Helpful hints:

--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

Arlen nodded toward a short, middle-aged man as he ducked through the narrow door, hitching the collar of his jean jacket. I smiled, watching him scan the gloomy bar and finally settle on a table in the corner. Arlen had a nose for weekend tough guys--dentist or accountants who came out to slum a bit, sloughing off their wives for the night. None of them had a lick of sense to say no when we asked them for a friendly game of pool, and by the time they left with a gut full of beer, their wallets were much lighter.

Example 2:

Amy squeezed her eyes shut and then forced them open wide, hoping the room would settle a bit. It didn't. She winced as pool balls shuttered into the retrieval tray behind her and searched the table for her purse. Her gaze wandered past an overflowing bowl of chewed lime wedges to a salt shaker and then honed in on a double stack of shot glasses. They weren't all hers...were they?

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

One quick jerk of the wrist and Joe sent the eight ball careening toward the corner pocket like a sinner running from the devil.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

In a grungy place like this you always found one--a chunky, platinum blond woman in a slinky dress, her make up caked on to mask those deep wrinkles. The predatory gleam in her eyes couldn't be hidden by smoky eyeshadow though, making the term cougar all too apt.

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Shape Thesaurus Entry: Wavy


Calla lily flowers
Water currents
Open flame
Sand dunes
Heat waves
Tidal Mega ripples
Ridge line
Sound waves
Sweet pea petals
Grass and sinuous leaves in the breeze
Tree roots
Tide lines
Ridges of the brain
Sedimentary layers
Muscles against skin


Flags in the wind
Bed skirts
Swimming pool reflection
Ripple afghan
Corrugated metal
Corrugated cardboard
Hill side
Golf courses
Shoe tread
Multi-flavored ice cream (neapolitan, butterscotch ripple, etc)
Log cabin walls
Kite tails
Hair & perms
Lines on a map
Unravelled rope, string or twine


Ruffled, curled, ripple, sinuous, snaky, squiggly, fluid, undulating, billowy

Describing a shape is best done in as few words as possible. Think of the shape as a camera snap shot--you want to capture the gist of what you mean as soon as possible so you can get on with other related (and more important) detail, and the action happening in the scene

A weak example:

As Anna danced, her silken movements flexed and curved like corrugated metal.

What's wrong with this example?

While corrugated metal is wavy in nature, it is also set in that state. Any attempt at movement would be stiff, not silken or fluid. As well, not everyone would be familiar with this type of wave and it interferes with their ability to 'see' the image being conveyed.

A strong example:

As Anna danced, her silken movements were as fluid as sweet grass kissed by a passing breeze.

Why does this work?

This comparision lines up better tp convey the image and is within the scope of experience of most readers so they will connect to it.

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Seven Deadly Sins for Novel Writing: Sin #VII

Sin #7: TMI (Too much information)

We're all guilty of this sin at some point during the writing process. The trick is finding the correct balance by the time we reach the final draft. Nothing will turn off the reader faster than long passages of hand-fed information and back story. The reader chooses a book with the expectation that they will experience something new, something that only this author can give them. If they wanted giant clots of info, they'd sign up for a night class at the local college.

Showing, then Telling

Amanda bit her lip as she paced the creaky hall, holding her elbows tight against her sides. Every few steps, her gaze darted to the front door. She...

...was practically jumping out of her skin.
...was nervous.
...said to me, "I can't stand it any longer!"

All of these are examples of Showing, then Telling. This happens when the writer doesn't trust their ability to get information across, so they follow up their showing with some telling, just to make sure the reader 'gets it'. The description here clearly shows Amanda's raw nerves. In fact, even the showing could be trimmed a bit and still get her edginess across, especially if the writer wanted to use the dialogue. The key is showing just enough to paint the scene, without overdoing it. Trust that a few STRONG details will show what needs to be shown and move on. Be wary of passages protraying emotion, as these are hot spots for showing then telling.

Info Dumps

Info dumps belong in one place only: the first draft. Don't get me wrong, information is necessary for the reader to understand the current or upcoming action and events. But the second that dip into narrative feels like a dump, something has to go. Always be aware of the pacing: find the most active and succinct way to get information across--get in and get out. With information, think bite-sized, not a full meal deal. Too much information steals the mystery away from the reader and halts the story's forward flow.

Dialogue can be a way to exchange info while keeping the scene rolling, but can also be a prime spot for dumps (sin #6).

"So Mrs. Wilkins, your sister's mother-in-law, saw the whole thing from across the street?" I asked.

Is this something that would be spoken in real life? No. That's your tell--if the dialogue feels unnatural, it is. If you're ever unsure, read it out loud.

Setting can be a backdrop to segue into a brief passing of knowledge, but again, be wary. With world building, sometimes some additional detail needs to be given, but choose carefully WHAT you elaborate on and WHY. Ask yourself, Is this for the reader's benefit to help them understand my world better, or is it really for me?

The proper way to get across info is to use a trigger in your scene that allows the writer to give information in a way that compliments the current action rather than ripping the reader away from it. Brief bits of information will feel natural and enhance the scene, pulling the reader in deeper, rather than create a big neon sign pointing to an info dump.

Avoid rehashing what the reader already knows, or details that don't have direct bearing on the current scene or character's current state of mind.


Sometimes backstory is needed, but pay close attention to the word, NEEDED. Actions and dialogue should tell us 95% of what we need to understand the character. Backstory comes into play when the motivation is not apparent through a set of actions or dialogue.

A brief dip into backstory can help us see where the character is coming from--just make sure it's not a summary of their life up to this point. If Jimmy doesn't want to get something from the pantry because that's where he was when his dad came into the kitchen and murdered his mother, we probably need to know that (provided going into the pantry in the current scene is important). Do we need to know that Jimmy was in the pantry snacking on Alpha Bits because his overweight sister always got to them first and by golly this time he was going to finish the whole box even if it made him sick, just so he could see the look on her chubby face, and maybe then she'd stop calling him names all the time, saying he was such a wimp...blah-de-blah. NO.


Occasionally, small bite-sized bits of info won't do. No, for the reader to fully understand the current action and relate to the crossroads the character is at, they need to see what happened to lead the character to this place (inside and out). Flashbacks are scenes, so in that sense, action does unfold. That does not mean they should be used frequently or lightly--while the reader relives this moment in time, they are pulled away from the current action.

The key is to be aware there is a timer on FB scenes. Vividly show what is needed so the reader will understand the character's current state of mind/significance of their predicament, then transition back to the present quickly. Long, laborious flashbacks kill forward motion. Make sure all elements work in harmony (the setting, mood, the people involved and most importantly, the action that unfolds) to maximize the FB and create the maximum impact. Every word and bit of information must work hard to be included.

Like backstory, there needs to be a tie in the present scene to allow a successful transition to the flashback. FBs should never be used to fill novel dead time (walking down the street, looking up at the ceiling, etc etc).

Too Much Thinking

This is a sin I have to be very aware of especially when writing snarky characters. Often I will have an action or dialogue and then my character has an internal snide thought about it. Used a bit, this adds humor and voice to the scene. Too much though, and it throws the pacing out of whack and interrupts the flow of dialogue and action. Pacing. I can't say it enough in regards to this sin. Be aware of those internal thoughts. Yes, we need to show internal development and internal conflict. But this does not translate into showing it all on the inside. Actions speak louder than thoughts!

Narrative Summary

Welcome to the world of telling, because yes, sometimes telling is A-ok. Events of the story do not need to be shown in full all the time. Think of a scene-only novel where the writer described every action in full from the time a character woke in bed to when they crawled back into it at the end of the day. That's a Yawn-aster right there.

NS and SCENE should work together to give texture the writing--too much of either results in the feared TMI (too much information). The problem is knowing when and how to use Narrative Summary.

If the scene is important, it should be shown, but only enough to get across what is needed. If the main action is on the third floor office of the Happy Pet Cat Litter factory, we don't need to be shown the character in the stock yard passing pallets of cat litter, then sprinting up the steps, then yanking the slip of paper with the five digit code on it, typing it on...etc etc. Narrative summary will give us a good idea of how he got to the third floor office and gets us to the main scene faster.

Areas where NS is often used:

Summarizing the passage of time
Summarizing events that need to happen or have happened which have bearing on the story, but are not important enough to be shown
To overview a state of mind over an extend period

Think of the balance of scene and narrative as a patchwork quilt. The showcase is on the patches of color, but without the stitching holding each square in place the quilt cannot be. Use Narrative Summary if needed as it is needed, and no more.

Final note: Information is imperative for readers to understand and enjoy a novel. Our job as writers is to decide what and how much is needed, and how to get this information across in a way that provides a rewarding experience for them, rather than come off as a factual download.
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